Child Protection is Everyone’s Responsibility

April 14th, 2016

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. During this month, government agencies, community groups, and churches are encouraged to work together to share child-abuse and neglect prevention strategies and promote the well-being of children and families.

The responsibility of caring for and protecting children to ensure that they are in safe environments at home, at school, in our neighborhoods, and at church, belongs to each of us as a matter of charity and justice. For its part the Archdiocese of Washington has long been strongly committed to child safety in the Church and throughout society.

Now as part of that effort, the archdiocese has produced a series of innovative online videos to raise awareness of the evil of abuse of children and what we can do about it. This series is intended for all members of the community. The videos also enhance other existing safe environment training programs that archdiocesan employees and volunteers who work with children are required to take.

The video above is my introduction to the series and I invite you to view it and share it with others. To easily view subsequent videos when they are released each month, you may also choose to subscribe to our YouTube channel, WashArchdiocese.

The archdiocese has also developed a series of safety resources for parents, including advice on Internet safety, healthy teen relationships, and bullying. To view these tips and strategies, and to share them with others, please visit the Office of Child and Youth Protection website here.

Being most vulnerable, our young people need us to care for them and protect them from harm. Child Abuse Prevention Month calls all of us to be vigilant in helping to provide a safe environment for all children and to help those who are victims of abuse find healing.

The Witness of Love

April 12th, 2016

witness-of-love

“Do you love me?” It was just a few weeks ago on Good Friday that we heard Peter’s three-time denial of Jesus while the Lord was being condemned to death. On Sunday at Mass, we picked up the story a couple of weeks after Christ rose from the dead.

In the Gospel reading, we hear about Peter’s threefold profession of atoning love of Jesus which confirmed Peter in the role of shepherd and leader of all the flock: Jesus asked him, “‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ He then said to him a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, Feed my sheep’” (John 21:15-17).

The shepherding role conferred on Peter was that of leading and guiding the Church. The symbolic meaning of shepherding goes back to Jewish history at least as far as David: ‘You shall be a shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be a prince over Israel” (2 Samuel 5:2). But the same image is also used by Christ to describe His own ministry: “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14). Now Jesus asks Peter to be the supreme shepherd of that flock.

In many ways, the New Testament suggests the entirely exceptional role of Peter in the Church. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus has looked to him as a leader, saying, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church” (Matthew 16:18). At the Last Supper, the Lord said to him, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:32). Through Peter, all the faithful were to be fortified in faith in the hours of difficulty.

Thus, throughout the Book of Acts, we see Peter, the first pope, acting consistently in his role as chief shepherd and universal pastor. Peter must act as a “father” because the Church is a family. We do not relate to God solely as individuals, but also as members of his family united with Christ. In fact, the Church is the world’s first universally welcoming family.

To the Apostles as a group in association with Peter, Jesus gave a commission to exercise authority in his Church (cf. Matthew 18:18). The Apostles were sent forth as a group to convert the world, to invite others to become a part of our spiritual family and know the goodness, love and grace of Jesus Christ.

Today, Peter goes by the name of “Francis.” In his role as shepherd, he has “fed Christ’s sheep” with a beautiful teaching on family entitled Amoris Laetitia. In this Year of Mercy, our Holy Father also invites us to consider how faith is fortified and the world is converted through witness to the merciful love of God. “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life,” he affirms. “All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love” (Misericordiae Vultus, 10).

The Church is most inviting when she is a loving shepherd protecting the most vulnerable, seeking out the lost, counseling the doubtful and comforting the afflicted. In this way, strangers can become friends and those friends then become with us one people, one flock, one family in the eternal life of Jesus Christ.

Consensus Exhortation

April 11th, 2016
(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

One of the many aspects of the apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, that I find particularly noteworthy is that it expresses the Holy Father’s engagement with the bishops who attended both the 2014 and the 2015 Synods on marriage and all of the material that was a part of those two gatherings that spoke about marriage, the challenges to marriage and of course the beauty and blessings of marriage.

Following the mind and words of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Francis has placed great emphasis on his unity with the bishops as they carry out their teaching and governance role in the Church. The Council reminds us that bishops, always with and never without Peter, share a responsibility for the life of the Church. Pope Francis has called upon all of us, but especially bishops, to recognize that it is not just one voice that guides the whole Church but the action of the Holy Spirit working in the hearts and minds of the faithful but particularly in the work, ministry and charism of the bishops.

The Holy Father has highlighted, once again, the role of bishops in collaboration with him in the overall responsibilities for leadership, teaching and pastoral ministry of the Church. You may recall that in February of 2014, the Holy Father, at a consistory of the cardinals, asked us to begin to reflect on the challenges to marriage today. He then called for a Synod in 2014 that addressed the difficulties that marriage faces and reminded us of the heavily secular culture we live in, of the materialism that is a part of the mentality of many people, the individualism that dominates our culture, particularly in the Western world and in the United States, and the relativism that is at the heart of so much of the moral judgment that is made today. Here the Pope noted that it is precisely in this context that our people live and that our teaching must help them move beyond.

In the 2015 Synod, the focus was on the substance of the Church’s teaching on marriage and family and its relevance today. The Synod affirmed that there is a difference between the teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, a doctrine of the Church, and the pastoral judgment concerning relationship to the Sacraments. The two realities are greatly related but they are not the same thing. I pointed out in earlier writings, blogs, interviews and in other communications that we must be careful not to mix together as if there were no distinctions among: God’s revelation to us in Jesus Christ; the Church’s articulated doctrine; Church law which attempts to apply the teaching, and the evaluation of the specific concrete situation of each believer. The context of both Church law and the pastoral assessment is the loving, pastoral assistance of the pastors of the Church.

What this post-synodal apostolic exhortation is highlighting is both what the Synod in 2014 said about the challenges to married people and the cultures in which they live, and then what the second Synod in 2015 also said about the beauty and the blessing of marriage and our need to foster and share that wonderful teaching.

What I find so instructive in this apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, is how our Holy Father has relied on a number of theological sources including: Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Common Doctor of the Church; the Magisterium of the Church, and in particular the teaching of Saint John Paul II. Then in the efforts to hear how that teaching is lived and applied today, Pope Francis relies greatly on the consensus that came out of the two Synods and found in the relatio synodi of 2014 and the relatio finalis of 2015.

What this says is that the Pope together with bishops from around the world have for two years discussed, prayed, listened, reflected and discussed again and again how to present the Church’s teaching on marriage in a way that it is inviting and compelling and at the same time engage people who live in a marriage that does not reflect perfectly and entirely in the Church’s teaching.

Pope Francis gives an example for all of us that if we are involved in the work, ministry and particularly in the pastoral life of the Church, we have to be aware of the teaching, of the need to internalize that teaching and at the same time of the individual circumstances in which that teaching is lived.

At the end of all of the discussions and all of the reflections carried out over two full years, there emerges now this apostolic exhortation that I would call a “consensus exhortation.”

It is important to note, notwithstanding some of the news articles and blogs, that every paragraph of the final relatio of the Synod was approved by a two-thirds majority of the bishops and that nearly every paragraph received close to 95% support. What this apostolic exhortation is confirming for us is the validity and the value of the Second Vatican Council’s call for collegial reflection, that is the bishops coming together and working together, always with and never without Peter.

This apostolic exhortation highlights in an extraordinary manner the importance of the consensus that the bishops arrived at and that he as Peter, head of the Church, and in communion with his brothers, now affirms and confirms.

On Love in the Family: The Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis

April 8th, 2016
(CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

(CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

“The Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church.” With these words, Pope Francis begins his post-synodal apostolic exhortation entitled Amoris Laetitia (On Love in the Family), which was signed on March 19, the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, patron of our spiritual family, the Church.

In the opening chapters, Pope Francis discusses God’s creation and plan for marriage and family as revealed in scripture, and how it contrasts with the experiences of the family in the human condition and the challenges that families, and those who wish to form families, face in the world today. Particularly challenging is an individualism that is concerned only with one’s desires, as well as the throwaway culture that sweeps away marriage and family whenever they prove inconvenient or tiresome. Against this is needed a greater effort to help couples and families to respond better to the grace God offers them and to form their consciences as they make their own pilgrim journey through life.

The Holy Father then reminds us of the vocation of the human family which is revealed in the infinite love of the Lord who was made incarnate in a human family, and who gave himself for our sake and who continues to dwell in our midst. Quoting extensively from scripture and Church teaching, Pope Francis affirms that the common life of husband, wife and children can be steeped in and strengthened by sacramental grace. For those in irregular situations, continues the Pope, Christ inspires the Church to turn to them with love and affection to assist them in overcoming the trials they face.

At the center of the Gospel of marriage and family is love, says the Holy Father. Offering counsel to couples, family members and all of us while reflecting on Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, he explains that authentic love is patient and merciful, love is at the service of others and is marked by generosity and humility, it is neither rude nor resentful, and it rejoices with others in hope and fruitfulness. Love surmounts even the worst barriers and always brings new life. Furthermore, he emphasizes, dialogue, quality time, valuing the other person and keeping an open mind are essential for experiencing, expressing and fostering love in marriage and family life.

Sadly, as has been said, this is not always the experience of people. In the second half of his exhortation, Pope Francis provides some pastoral perspectives, saying that the Church wishes, with humility and compassion, to reach out to these people and families and help them through discernment, dialogue and prayerful support and understanding to overcome obstacles.

Without claiming to present an entire pastoral plan, the Holy Father calls for a family apostolate that offers more adequate catechesis and formation, not only of engaged and married couples and their children, but also priests, deacons, seminarians, consecrated religious, catechists, teachers, social workers, medical professionals and other pastoral workers.

Formation for marriage and family life needs to begin at an early stage, Pope Francis urges. A more intensive long-term and short-term marriage preparation, as well as continuing to accompany newly-married couples, will provide the tools needed to face trials together and thereby prevent in the first place problems that might lead to a break-up of the marriage and family. Education of children in schools, parishes and within the family with respect to caring for one another, moral virtues, socialization, fostering good habits – all these are necessary

If there is a breakdown that leads to separation or even divorce, that loving accompaniment by the Church needs to continue, said the Holy Father. “It is important that the divorced who have entered a new union should be made to feel part of the Church,” he added, and pastoral care to their children needs to be a primary concern (243-45). Likewise, the Church accompanies with love those who are co-habiting or who experience a same-sex attraction to help them to carry out God’s will in their lives.

The rule to follow in all cases, the Pope makes clear, is the love and mercy of the Lord. “It is a matter of reaching out to everyone, of needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial community and thus to experience being touched by an ‘unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous’ mercy,” he says. “No one can be condemned forever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel! Here I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves. Naturally, if someone flaunts an objective sin as if it were part of the Christian ideal, or wants to impose something other than what the Church teaches, he or she can in no way presume to teach or preach to others; this is a case of something which separates from the community (cf. Mt 18:17). Such a person needs to listen once more to the Gospel message and its call to conversion. Yet even for that person there can be some way of taking part in the life of community, whether in social service, prayer meetings or another way that his or her own initiative, together with the discernment of the parish priest, may suggest” (297).

Marriage and family, as we know from personal experiences, endure all the pains and sufferings, the trials and tribulations of the human condition. Yet, we know that with and through the Risen Christ, all things are made new. Marriage and family are revitalized and are made into the marriage and family that God wants for us.

This apostolic exhortation, which follows on the Synod of Bishops that met in October of 2014 and 2015 to discuss the challenges to marriage and family today, reflects the consensus of those meetings and many voices.

Throughout the Synod process – which was supplemented by the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, an array of books and articles, and vigorous discussion amongst many people who were following the Synod – there was universal recognition by all of the critical importance of marriage and family to humanity. More specifically, it was widely understood that a special task of the Synod, and thus the Church, was to help pastorally those who find themselves in unique or challenging situations and to patiently and lovingly accompany them with special concern, helping them to live as fully as possible the life-giving experience of Christ and his Church.

Pope Francis has used these discussions to inform this exhortation, his own pastoral teaching to aid in reflection, dialogue and pastoral practice. Over the course of 325 paragraphs in nine chapters, the Holy Father points the way to how the Church might take steps to support married couples and families in their lives, and to mercifully bring hope and healing to those who find themselves in broken and wounded situations, with a sensitivity toward the diversity of particular relationships and cultures.

The exhortation is sure to generate much discussion in the secular media, but instead of viewing it through their particular lens, I strongly suggest that you read the document itself to know what our Holy Father is really saying.

Given that this exhortation was released earlier today, it is not possible to fully analyze Amoris Laetitia, but in the coming days, I will revisit this teaching and more fully discuss the fruits that it offers us and the world. In the meantime, it falls to us now to read and reflect upon this pastoral gift from our Holy Father in this Easter season. Let us also join in his prayer:

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, in you we contemplate the splendor of true love;
to you we turn with trust Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too may be places of communion and prayer,
authentic schools of the Gospel and small domestic churches.
Holy Family of Nazareth, may families never again experience violence, rejection and division;
may all who have been hurt or scandalized find ready comfort and healing.
Holy Family of Nazareth, make us once more mindful of the sacredness and inviolability of the family, and its beauty in God’s plan.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Graciously hear our prayer.
Amen.

Sobre el Amor en la Familia: Exhortación Apostólica del papa Francisco

April 8th, 2016
(CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

(CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

“La alegría del amor que se vive en las familias es también el júbilo de la Iglesia”. Con estas palabras, el papa Francisco comienza su exhortación apostólica post-sinodal titulada Amoris Laetitia (Sobre el Amor en la Familia), que fue firmada el 19 de marzo, solemnidad de San José, patrono de nuestra familia espiritual, la Iglesia.

En los primeros capítulos, el papa Francisco discute la creación y el plan de Dios para el matrimonio y la familia como se revela en las Escrituras, y la forma en que eso contrasta con las experiencias de la familia en la condición humana y los desafíos que las familias, y aquellos que desean formar una familia, enfrentan en el mundo de hoy. Particularmente desafiante es un individualismo que se preocupa únicamente de los propios deseos, así como la cultura de usar y tirar que destruye el matrimonio y la familia cuando ellos encuentran inconvenientes o tedio. Contra esto es necesario un mayor esfuerzo para ayudar a las parejas y a las familias a responder mejor a la gracia que Dios les ofrece y a formar su conciencia mientras realizan su propia peregrinación por la vida.

El Santo Padre nos recuerda la vocación de la familia humana que se revela en el amor infinito del Señor, que se encarnó en una familia humana, que se entregó a sí mismo por nosotros, y que continúa habitando entre nosotros. Citando extensivamente las escrituras y las enseñanzas de la Iglesia, el papa Francisco afirma que la vida común de marido, mujer e hijos puede ser impregnada y fortalecida por la gracia sacramental. Para aquellos que están en situación irregular, continúa el Papa, Cristo inspira a la Iglesia para que se vuelva hacia ellos con amor y afecto para ayudarles a superar las pruebas que enfrentan.

En el centro del Evangelio del matrimonio y la familia está el amor, dice el Santo Padre. Ofreciendo consejo a las parejas, a los miembros de las familias y a todos nosotros, mientras reflexiona sobre la Primera Carta de San Pablo a los Corintios, explica que el amor auténtico es paciente y misericordioso, el amor está al servicio de los demás y está marcado por la generosidad y la humildad, no es ni grosero ni resentido, y se goza con otros en la esperanza y la fecundidad. El amor supera incluso las peores barreras y siempre trae nueva vida. Por otra parte, enfatiza, el diálogo, el tiempo de calidad, la valoración de la otra persona y mantener una mente abierta son esenciales para experimentar, expresar y promover el amor en el matrimonio y en la vida familiar.

Lamentablemente, como se ha dicho, esta no es siempre la experiencia de las personas. En la segunda mitad de su exhortación, el papa Francisco ofrece algunas perspectivas pastorales, diciendo que la Iglesia desea, con humildad y compasión, llegar a estas personas y familias y ayudarles a través del discernimiento, el diálogo y el apoyo de la oración y la comprensión para superar los obstáculos.

Sin pretender presentar todo un plan pastoral, el Santo Padre pide una pastoral familiar que ofrezca una catequesis y una formación más adecuada, no sólo para los novios y las parejas casadas y sus hijos, sino también para los sacerdotes, diáconos, seminaristas, religiosos consagrados, catequistas, maestros, trabajadores sociales, profesionales médicos y otros agentes de pastoral.

La formación para el matrimonio y la vida familiar debe comenzar en una etapa temprana, insta el papa Francisco. Una preparación más intensiva a largo y corto plazo para el matrimonio, así como continuar acompañando a las parejas de recién casados, proporcionará las herramientas necesarias para enfrentar las pruebas juntos y de ese modo evitar, en primer lugar, los problemas que podrían conducir a una ruptura del matrimonio y la familia. La educación de los niños en las escuelas, parroquias y dentro de la familia con respecto a cuidarse unos a otros, las virtudes morales, la socialización, el fomento de buenos hábitos – todos eso es necesario.

Si hay una ruptura que lleva a la separación o incluso al divorcio, ese acompañamiento amoroso de la Iglesia debe continuar, dijo el Santo Padre. “Es importante que a los divorciados que han entrado en una nueva unión se les haga sentir parte de la Iglesia”, agregó, y la atención pastoral a sus hijos debe ser una preocupación primaria (243-45). Del mismo modo, la Iglesia acompaña con amor a los que están cohabitando o que experimentan una atracción hacia el mismo sexo para ayudarles a llevar a cabo la voluntad de Dios en sus vidas.

El papa deja claro que la regla a seguir en todos los casos es el amor y la misericordia del Señor.

“Se trata de integrar a todos, se debe ayudar a cada uno a encontrar su propia manera de participar en la comunidad eclesial, para que se sienta objeto de una misericordia ‘inmerecida, incondicional y gratuita'” dice. “Nadie puede ser condenado para siempre, porque esa no es la lógica del Evangelio. No me refiero sólo a los divorciados en nueva unión sino a todos, en cualquier situación en que se encuentren. Obviamente, si alguien ostenta un pecado objetivo como si fuese parte del ideal cristiano, o quiere imponer algo diferente a lo que enseña la Iglesia, no puede pretender dar catequesis o predicar, y en ese sentido hay algo que lo separa de la comunidad (cf. Mt 18,17). Necesita volver a escuchar el anuncio del Evangelio y la invitación a la conversión. Pero aún para él puede haber alguna manera de participar en la vida de la comunidad, sea en tareas sociales, en reuniones de oración o de la manera que sugiera su propia iniciativa, junto con el discernimiento del pastor”.(297 ).

El matrimonio y la familia, como lo sabemos por experiencia personal, soportan todos los dolores y sufrimientos, las pruebas y tribulaciones de la condición humana. Sin embargo, sabemos que con y a través de Cristo Resucitado, todas las cosas son hechas nuevas. El matrimonio y la familia se revitalizan y se convierten en el matrimonio y la familia que Dios quiere para nosotros.

Esta exhortación apostólica, que sigue al Sínodo de Obispos que se reunió en octubre de 2014 y 2015 para discutir los desafíos al matrimonio y a la familia. hoy en día, refleja el consenso de esas reuniones y muchas voces.

A lo largo del proceso sinodal – que fue complementado por el Encuentro Mundial de las Familias en Filadelfia, una serie de libros y artículos, y una fuerte discusión entre muchas personas que estaban siguiendo el Sínodo – hubo un reconocimiento universal de todos sobre la importancia crítica del matrimonio y la familia para la humanidad. Más específicamente, se entendió ampliamente que una tarea especial del Sínodo, y por lo tanto de la Iglesia, era ayudar pastoralmente a aquellos que se encuentran en situaciones únicas o difíciles y acompañarlos paciente y amorosamente con especial preocupación, ayudándolos a vivir de la manera más completa que sea posible la experiencia vivificante de Cristo y de su Iglesia.

El papa Francisco ha usado estas discusiones para informar esta exhortación, su propia enseñanza pastoral para ayudar en la reflexión, el diálogo y la práctica pastoral. A lo largo de 325 puntos en nueve capítulos, el Santo Padre señala el camino de cómo la Iglesia podría tomar medidas para apoyar a las parejas casadas y a las familias en sus vidas, y para traer misericordiosamente esperanza y sanación a aquellos que se encuentran a sí mismos en situaciones fracturadas y heridas, con una sensibilidad hacia la diversidad de relaciones y culturas particulares.

La exhortación seguramente generará mucha discusión en los medios seglares, pero en vez de verla a través de su lente particular, les sugiero enérgicamente que lean el documento mismo para saber lo que nuestro Santo Padre está diciendo en realidad.

Teniendo en cuenta que esta exhortación fue dada a conocer el día de hoy, no es posible analizar plenamente Amoris Laetitia, pero en los próximos días, voy a volver a esta enseñanza y discutir con más detalle los frutos que ofrece a nosotros y al mundo. Mientras tanto, nos corresponde ahora leer y reflexionar sobre este regalo pastoral de nuestro Santo Padre en este tiempo de Pascua. Unámonos también en su oración:

Jesús, María y José, en ustedes contemplamos el esplendor del verdadero amor;
a ustedes nos dirigimos con confianza, Sagrada Familia de Nazaret,
hagan que nuestras familias puedan ser también lugares de comunión y oración,
auténticas escuelas del Evangelio y pequeñas iglesias domésticas.
Sagrada Familia de Nazaret, que las familias no experimenten nunca más la violencia, el rechazo y la división;
que todos los que han sido heridos o escandalizados encuentren disponibles comodidad y sanación.
Sagrada Familia de Nazaret, haznos una vez más conscientes del carácter sagrado e inviolable de la familia, y su belleza en el plan de Dios.
Jesús, María y José, escuchen graciosamente nuestra oración.
Amén.

Saint John Baptist de La Salle

April 7th, 2016

Saint John Baptist de La Salle

Today we celebrate the feast of the patron saint of teachers, Saint John Baptist de La Salle, who offers enduring lessons for today’s Catholic education. This late 17th century priest from Reims, France, devoted his life to educating the poor, founding the famous Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools.

Saint John Baptist de La Salle emphasized that teaching the Catholic faith is a vocation and he regarded touching students’ hearts as “the greatest miracle” that Catholic school teachers can accomplish. Like Pope Francis, he taught about the light of faith, and how Christ’s love should illuminate our lives and shine forth to others. Encouraging the Christian Brothers in their ministry, the saint once wrote, “Your faith should be for you a light which guides you in all things, and a shining light for those whom you instruct, to lead them on the path to heaven.”

Our faith in Christ is also something that is a light to guide our Catholic schools here in the Archdiocese of Washington. It is central to why they exist and the impact they can have on student’s lives. At our Catholic schools, we bring something to those we teach that no one else can. We share the story of Jesus.

Saint John Baptist de La Salle wrote about the importance of understanding that people should live “not for themselves, but for him, who died and rose for them.” The lessons that students learn about Jesus in Catholic schools, where they encounter Christ through prayer and action, transform their hearts and their lives, and inspire them to be the best people they can be and to work together to build a better world.

The network of schools established by the Christian Brothers emphasized the importance of increasing educational opportunities for all children, especially the poor. That spirit guides the Archdiocese of Washington today in our efforts to increase affordability and accessibility for our Catholic schools, so families can send their children to the school that is best for them. That is why the archdiocese has joined other community groups in supporting efforts like the successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, and the proposed Maryland Education Credit, and that is why the archdiocese awarded nearly $6 million in tuition assistance to families during the 2015-16 school year.

The academic excellence that is a hallmark of Catholic education was also something close to the heart of Saint John Baptist de La Salle, an educational innovator who pioneered training for lay teachers. The Christian Brothers under his leadership taught in the vernacular, integrated religious instruction with other subjects, grouped students according to their abilities, and stressed the importance of involving parents. That tradition of outstanding academics continues to mark our Catholic schools today, and prepare our students to make a difference in the world.

Today about 5,000 De La Salle Christian Brothers continue their founder’s teaching mission, working with lay and other religious teachers in their order’s schools and educational programs to serve 900,000 students in 77 countries. The Christian Brothers in the United States sponsor seven colleges and universities, 52 high schools and 15 elementary and middle schools.

Saint John Baptist de La Salle’s educational legacy continues in a special way in our Archdiocese of Washington in two schools sponsored by the Christian Brothers: Saint John’s College High School in Washington, established in 1851, and San Miguel School, founded in 2002.

Each year, students from Saint John’s contribute about 25,000 hours of community service. In the spirit of innovation that marked the Christian Brothers’ founder, the institution four years ago became one of the first schools in the area to offer all of its students iPads for classroom use. Noted graduates include Monsignor John Enzler, the president of Catholic Charities, and James V. Kimsey, for whom the school’s Science and Technology Center is named.

San Miguel School in Washington also reflects the de La Salle spirit by serving low-income youth, most of whom are from immigrant families. Many of the middle school’s students are the first members of their families to graduate from high school and go on to college, transforming their lives and giving them and their families hope for the future.

The Catholic identity, academic excellence and affordability and accessibility that remain cornerstones of our Catholic schools today are part of the legacy of Saint John Baptist de La Salle that live on with the Christian Brothers, their schools, students and graduates. The patron saint of teachers continues to teach us about what makes Catholic education so special and why it is so needed.

The Annunciation of the Lord

April 4th, 2016

annunciation

Traditionally, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord on March 25. But because that date this year was Good Friday, our celebration has been transferred to today.

Nevertheless, it is fitting that we pause a moment and reflect upon these two holy days together. The Annunciation commemorates the Blessed Virgin Mary’s “yes” to God when the angel appeared to her. Even more, this is also the feast of the Incarnation of the Word, the conception of Jesus, the moment when “for our salvation, he came down from heaven and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”

While we observe them separately on the liturgical calendar, the beginning of the Son of God’s human life and his Passion and death on the Cross are never far apart. God became man and came to live with us precisely so that he might die for us – and so that we might also rise with him.

The Catechism notes that the Annunciation inaugurates the “‘fullness of time,’ the time of the fulfillment of God’s promises and preparations” (CCC 484). Accordingly, since the era of grace began on this day, for a significant period in some countries the Annunciation was marked as New Year’s Day. The entry of the Lord into time was like a new creation, so it was fitting that this moment also be the beginning of a new year.

In this new creation, Mary is like a new Eve. Preserved from Original Sin from the moment of her own conception, she is in her purity, a living Ark of the Covenant, a proper dwelling place for the Holy One.   When she receives God’s message from the angel – that she would be mother of the “Son of the Most High,” who would sit on the throne of David, and of his kingdom there will be no end (Luke 1:30-33) – she responded not with pride, but with humility.

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word,” said the mother of our Lord. This response – which would transform the world – is how we too, each of us, should answer when God calls on us.

Mary’s humble “yes” is our model, yet we also know that often our personal response to God’s call is halting, intermittent and imperfect. Sin and the temptations of the world tend to hold us back. Or perhaps we are fearful of fully committing ourselves to the Lord, that by giving ourselves over to him fully and completely, we are giving up our freedom.

With the Blessed Virgin Mary, however, we can see a sublime example of Jesus’ paradoxical teaching that those who humble themselves shall be exalted. It is in losing ourselves that we find ourselves (e.g. Matthew 16:25, 23:12).

“Only the person who entrusts himself totally to God finds true freedom, the great, creative immensity of the freedom of good. The person who turns to God does not become smaller but greater, for through God and with God he becomes great, he becomes divine, he becomes truly himself,” affirmed Pope Benedict XVI. “Mary thus stands before us as a sign of comfort, encouragement and hope. She turns to us, saying: ‘Have the courage to dare with God! Try it! Do not be afraid of him! Have the courage to risk with faith! Have the courage to risk with goodness! Have the courage to risk with a pure heart! Commit yourselves to God, then you will see that it is precisely by doing so that your life will become broad and light, not boring but filled with infinite surprises, for God’s infinite goodness is never depleted!’” (Homily for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2005).

On this day of the Annunciation, which marks the moment when the Word became flesh, Mary teaches us that God does not dwell in buildings of stone, but in the living hearts of those who give themselves to him. As a temple of the Most High God, she exemplifies what each of us should be as we strive to bring Jesus to those we encounter. By following her example, by giving ourselves to God, we receive from him so much more. We give to the Lord our human life and he bestows upon us his divine life.

The Infinite Blessing of Divine Mercy

April 3rd, 2016
(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Still filled with the joy of our Lord’s Resurrection, on this day the Church sings over and over again “God’s mercy endures forever.” We find this song of praise in Psalm 118, which is the Responsorial Psalm at Mass today. The words capture perfectly the mind of the Church which, since 2001, has celebrated this eighth day of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday.

At that first celebration of this feast of mercy at the beginning of the new millennium, Saint John Paul II implored, “Let us make our own the Psalmist’s exclamation which we sang in the Responsorial Psalm: the Lord’s mercy endures forever!” Recalling the full expression of the Lord’s mercy, the Pope then said, “In order to understand thoroughly the truth of these words, let us be led by the liturgy to the heart of the event of salvation, which unites Christ’s Death and Resurrection with our lives and with the world’s history. This miracle of mercy has radically changed humanity’s destiny. It is a miracle in which is unfolded the fullness of the love of the Father who, for our redemption, does not even draw back before the sacrifice of His Only-begotten Son” (Homily for Divine Mercy Sunday, April 22, 2001).

Today’s celebration coming in the Jubilee Year of Mercy offers us a special grace. Over these past months since the opening of the Door of Mercy at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle, we have been engaged in prayer and reflection on our need for mercy and the responsibility of we who know the grace of divine mercy to share that tender love and compassion with others.

This year has also been marked by much tragedy in our own country and across the world. From the devastating loss of life through gun violence to the genocide of Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East to the recent bombing attacks in Europe, Divine Mercy Sunday offers to us a way to link mercy and peace.

Saint John Paul reflected in his second encyclical that in the humiliated and suffering Christ, believers and non-believers can admire a surprising solidarity, which binds him to our human condition beyond all imaginable measure. The Cross, even after the Resurrection of the Son of God, “speaks and never ceases to speak of God the Father, who is absolutely faithful to His eternal love for man,” he wrote, “Believing in this love means believing in mercy” (Dives in Misericordia, 7).

Sister Faustina Kowalska, whose own devotion to the Divine Mercy of God was part of the inspiration of this holy pastor for Divine Mercy Sunday, learned that “mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to my mercy” (Diary of Sister Faustina Kowalska, 300). In this Year of Mercy, we are reminded that in opening our hearts to receiving this mercy, a necessary step is to practice being merciful ourselves through spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

These acts of compassion and consolation can take place in the many interactions we have with people in our everyday lives or through the many opportunities to serve others in the ministries of the archdiocese and our parishes. Building a culture of peace begins in small expressions of mercy that spread from our hearts to our homes, to our communities and across communities and cultures.

Because we know the love of our merciful father, we as individual Christians and as a Church have a particular responsibility for sharing mercy. Pope Francis writes “An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf1 John 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy” (Evangelii Gaudium, 24).

The message of Divine Mercy is that God loves us – all of us – no matter how great our imperfections and infidelities. This mercy changes everything. It transforms the world. The darkness is overcome and life is made new again.

The Legacy of a Pope of Mercy

April 2nd, 2016
Pope John Paul II kneels at the Holy Door before shutting the large bronze door to close the Holy Year in St. Peter's Basilica on January 6, 2001. (CNS photo/Maurizio Brambatti)

Pope John Paul II kneels at the Holy Door before shutting the large bronze door to close the Holy Year in St. Peter’s Basilica on January 6, 2001. (CNS photo/Maurizio Brambatti)

Tender love and compassion are needed more than ever in our world, yet “we must admit that the practice of mercy is waning in the wider culture,” observes Pope Francis. “In some cases the word seems to have dropped out of use. However, without a witness to mercy, life becomes fruitless and sterile, as if sequestered in a barren desert” (Misericordiae Vultus, 10).

As the Church takes up this mission of mercy, we can truly look to Saint John Paul II as a saint of mercy. In his personal witness, in his priestly ministry and in his magisterial teachings, this holy shepherd of the Church who died 11 years ago today on April 2, 2005, consistently lifted up for us the blessing, grace and example of God who is rich in mercy.

This is shown in a special way in his April 2000 canonization of Sister Faustina Kowalska (1905-38), whose life and writings popularized the devotion of Divine Mercy, and whose visions formed the basis of the well-known image of Divine Mercy. In several of those visions recounted in the diary of Saint Faustina, Jesus requested a special feast of mercy. Accordingly, Pope John Paul also announced at her canonization Mass that from that time forward, the eighth day of Easter would be celebrated as “Divine Mercy Sunday.”

Mercy, the Holy Father said in his homily, is “love’s ‘second name,’ understood in its deepest and most tender aspect, in its ability to take upon itself the burden of any need and especially, in its immense capacity for forgiveness.” Mercy should inspire us to love and serve others, and in doing so, people will see “the true face of God and the true face of their brethren,” he said. “Thus the message of divine mercy is also implicitly a message about the value of every human being. Each person is precious in God’s eyes; Christ gave his life for each one.”

Twenty years earlier, in dedicating his second encyclical to God’s mercy, Pope John Paul said that mercy “corresponds not only to the most profound truth of that love which God is, but also to the whole interior truth of man and of the world which is man’s temporary homeland.” The Church professes the mercy of God “revealed in the crucified and risen Christ, not only by the word of her teaching but above all through the deepest pulsation of the life of the whole People of God,” he explained. “By means of this testimony of life, the Church fulfills the mission proper to the People of God, the mission which is a sharing in and, in a sense, a continuation of the messianic mission of Christ Himself” (Dives in Misericordia, 13).

When he appeared at his window above Saint Peter’s Square on his last Easter Sunday, the once vigorous pontiff was weakened with infirmity. He could not speak, and his hands shook as he offered his apostolic blessing to the world. Yet even as it became clear that we were witnessing his final days on this earth, John Paul continued to be that rock on which Christ founded his Church. As death approached, he became a living icon to the Gospel of Life that he proclaimed throughout his papacy.

Fittingly, this pope and saint of mercy died on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday, and he was beatified on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2011 and canonized on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2014. His last reported words were “Let me go to the house of the Father” – the destination that the great evangelist and teacher of the faith had sought for the people of the world during his pontificate of more than 26 years. The massive crowd of people in Saint Peter’s Square and around the world who had been keeping vigil and praying for him fell silent when his death was announced. In that bittersweet moment, with tears of both sorrow and gratitude in their eyes, they then began to praise God for the gift of this holy man.

In a particular way, reflecting on the life and death of Saint John Paul offers us insight on how we too can be instruments of God’s love and mercy as we face sickness and death – our own and that of others. Even at the end of his earthly life, this holy man had one final blessed lesson to impart to us in the way he met death. Then, when he breathed his last breath, it was a good and holy death.

With growing threats locally and across the United States of the legalization of physician-assisted suicide, the Church, joined by many people of other faiths and by medical professionals, promotes alternatives that respect the dignity of all human life. Recently, I was also privileged to bless the new inpatient hospice unit at Providence Hospital, which offers true mercy, care and love to the dying and their families.

As Saint John Paul II was dying, his friends and caregivers surrounded his bedside, praying the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet for him in his last hours. That love and mercy shown by this pope and saint of mercy, and to him, in his final days and hours offers us a blessed example to follow as Jesus’ missionaries of mercy in today’s world.

Encountering the Lord on the Road to Emmaus Today

March 31st, 2016

3.31.16 blog

The story that we read in the Gospel of Luke about the two disciples who encounter the Risen Lord on the road to Emmaus is in a way our story too in our lives, and the story of every Mass.

As the disciples walk from Jerusalem on the third day after the crucifixion, their eyes are downcast and they do not recognize Jesus when he joins them on the road. Instead, they are discouraged, struggling to comprehend everything that had happened in the preceding days – Jesus, the one in whom they had placed their hopes, was dead and all seemed lost. But then his tomb was found empty and some women in the group reported that angels had announced to them that Jesus was alive!

Then the mysterious stranger walking beside them opened up the scriptures to them, explaining why Jesus had to suffer and die in order to fulfill what the prophets had foretold about the kingdom of God. When they arrived in Emmaus, the disciples’ invited him to stay with them. While their visitor was with them at the table, he took bread, said a blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that, the disciples’ eyes were opened and they finally recognized Jesus in their midst, but he then vanished.

With excitement, they reflected on how their hearts had been burning when Jesus explained the scriptures to them as he walked with them. The joyous disciples then set off at once back to Jerusalem to tell the Apostles and other disciples about their encounter with Jesus (Luke 24:13-35).

Is this not our own experience? Like the disciples of Emmaus, we can lose heart and become discouraged. Although Jesus is and has been in our midst all along, walking with us, we may not realize his presence because we are perhaps distracted by the troubles and concerns of everyday life. If this happens to us, Pope Francis recommends that we read a passage of the Gospel every day and go to Communion every Sunday to receive Jesus (Regina Caeli of May 4, 2014).

When we gather together before the table of the Lord, by the prayers of the Mass, Jesus draws out our response. He opens sacred scripture to us. He is revealed to us in the Eucharist and our hearts are opened with faith and grace to recognizing his presence. Joining with him in Holy Communion, he gives life to us. In reliving the experience of the disciples of Emmaus in this way, we can rediscover the blessing of a transforming encounter with the Lord (Id.).

Another way that the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus plays out today, notes Pope Francis, is in those people who lose faith and “under the illusion of alternative ideas, now think that the Church – their Jerusalem – can no longer offer them anything meaningful and important. So they set off on the road alone, with their disappointment” (World Youth Day Address of July 28, 2013). Faced with this situation, the Holy Father says, we need a Church capable of accompanying them on their journey to offer them meaning and warm their hearts.

Pope Francis encourages us to be missionary disciples and Spirit-filled evangelizers who can help those who are wandering aimlessly or headed in the wrong direction to return to Jerusalem – to the path of God our Father. Having encountered and walked with Jesus ourselves in our lives and in the liturgy, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus we have been transformed. By our witness of this Good News, the eyes of those who are disappointed and disillusioned can be opened to Christ’s presence and possibility in their lives. By our lives of prayer and acts of love and mercy, by walking in the footsteps of Jesus, we can be to them his face and voice and hands and feet out on the crowded sidewalks, in our homes and neighborhoods, and at our work places.

The Emmaus journey is our journey as we too encounter the Risen Christ who walks with us and works through us. That road having taken us to the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we are summoned to live by Jesus’ words and imitate his actions, all of which reflect the enduring merciful love of God. In this way, Jesus, the face of the Father’s mercy, is revealed to our world, here and now in this Easter season of 2016, just as it was to those disciples that first Easter.