Pray for Peace

August 7th, 2014
Pope Francis delivers Angelus prayer from window of Apostolic Palace at Vatican

Pope Francis prays the July 20 Angelus from the window of the Apostolic Palace in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Pope Francis called for prayers, dialogue, and peace, as the last Iraqi Christians flee Mosul. (CNS photo/Giampiero Sposito, Reuters)

This has been a difficult summer across the globe – in addition to ongoing unrest in Israel and Palestine, and the shooting down of a passenger airplane over Ukraine, a couple of weeks ago, we saw the expulsion of Christians from their homes in Mosul, Iraq.  At that time, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops urged the U.S. government to take action to help these beleaguered people.  Since then, the situation has only gotten worse.

In recent days, militants have captured the ancient Christian village of Qaraqoush and other Christian towns on the plain of Nineveh in Iraq.  Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Baghdad, Louis Raphael I Sako, tells of a humanitarian catastrophe, with tens of thousands being forced to flee, the sick, the elderly, infants and pregnant women among them. “We appeal with sadness and pain to the conscience of all,” he said recently, imploring “all people of good will and the United Nations and the European Union, to save these innocent people from death. We hope it’s not too late!”

On behalf of the entire Church, Pope Francis has urgently called on the international community to protect all those affected or threatened by the violence, and to guarantee all necessary assistance to the great multitude of people who have been driven from their homes.  Their fate depends entirely on the solidarity of others.

In addition, the bishops of the United States have joined our Holy Father in making an impassioned appeal that the whole Church and all the faithful raise up with one voice a ceaseless prayer, imploring the Holy Spirit to send the gift of peace. There will be a special day of prayer in the dioceses of the United States on August 17.  Joining with the whole Church, praying with one voice a prayer composed by Patriarch Sako, let us pray for peace in the hope of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lord,
The plight of [the people of Iraq]
is deep and the suffering of Christians
is severe and frightening.
Therefore, we ask you Lord
to spare [their] lives, and to grant [them] patience,
and courage to continue [their] witness of Christian values
with trust and hope.
Lord, peace is the foundation of life;
Grant us all the peace and stability that will enable us
to live with each other without fear and anxiety,
and with dignity and joy.
Glory be to you forever.  Amen.

#TBT blog post from July 19, 2012

August 7th, 2014

The Bible as Summer Reading – Praying with Sacred Scripture 

Bible-reading

For many people, part of planning for vacation is heading off to the bookstore or the library or logging on to Amazon.com to purchase books for your reading pleasure. Some people work on a list throughout the year and know exactly what they want to read. Others like to browse and see what captures their attention. Whatever your practice, why not pack your Bible and give yourself more time to savor God’s word?

Though the Bible is a collection of writings composed over the course of many centuries, we believe that God is the author of all of these sacred writings. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that “through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely” (CCC, 102).

The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation teaches us that “in the sacred books the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to his children and talks with them. And such is the force and power of the word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life” (Dei Verbum, 21). As you become more familiar with Sacred Scripture you will begin to appreciate that though all express God’s word, Sacred Scripture is cast in a rich variety of literary forms; mystical Psalm prayers, poetry, historical narratives, beloved parables, straightforward wisdom sayings and, of course, the four Gospels that tell the story of the life and teaching of Jesus and the New Testament letters describing more fully what it means to be a Christian and to follow Christ’s way.

Sacred Scripture is a precious gift from God to his people and the priceless patrimony of the Church. The Word of God helps us to both know and to praise the living God. Given the richness of God’s revelation, is it any wonder that he has entrusted Sacred Scripture to the teaching office of his Church to protect, interpret, apply and proclaim? Making a commitment to the daily reading of Sacred Scripture is a way of rejoicing and thanking God for the wondrous gift of God’s revelation to us in these sacred texts.  The Holy Spirit can open our minds to better understand Sacred Scripture and make it come alive in our lives. This is why the prayerful reading of the Word of God is so important.

There are many ways you can take up a prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture. You can read along with the Church using the cycle of readings we read at Mass. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops posts the daily readings.  This site offers not only the readings of the day, but short video reflections that may help your own meditation and prayer.

You might decide to read a book of Sacred Scripture, particularly one from the New Testament, beginning to end. This practice helps you enter into the mind of the writer and gain a deeper appreciation for the audience the writer had in mind as he gathered the teaching and preaching of Jesus together in the form of an account, a letter or a book. For example, the Gospel of Mark can easily be read in one sitting. It is short, but you can feel the excitement of people coming to recognize that this man Jesus was someone special, someone worth following, someone who was suggesting a whole new way of living.  The Gospel of Saint Mark leads us to the proclamation of the centurion at the foot of the cross who said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39).

On the other hand, the Gospel of John is longer and more poetic, it is meant to be read slowly and with time to meditate on the rich imagery John uses to tell the story of Jesus. You could choose to read a Psalm a day. It is edifying to think that the Psalms are the very prayers that Our Lord recited as a child and a young man. It is surprising how well the Psalms continue to capture feelings of joy or despair, fear or exultation. The book of Kings and the book of Samuel are examples of accounts of a religious history. They are historical stories that trace the saving action of God in the life of the Israelites, God’s chosen people.

Whichever book of the Bible you choose to read, begin by offering a short prayer of gratitude for the gift of the Word and ask God to help you recognize in your reading a living word you can take into your daily life.

The Passionate Love of Pope Paul VI for Christ and His Church

August 5th, 2014
Pope Paul VI leads the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum in Rome in 1977.  (CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

Pope Paul VI leads the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum in Rome in 1977. (CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

Pope Francis revealed in his recent interview with the Roman daily newspaper, Il Messaggero, that Pope Paul VI, whose beatification the Church will celebrate in October, has been a great light for him.  Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI likewise attested to the profound influence of Pope Paul on them – from his teachings and steadfast guidance of the Church through the storms of cultural upheaval, to his pioneering practice of overseas apostolic journeys and a more humble papacy.

Many people today are too young to remember or have known Pope Paul, who died 36 years ago tomorrow, but I can never forget that time which formed my priestly ministry.  My seminary formation in Rome began in September of the year in which Pope Paul VI was elected, June 1963.  I still have and cherish both the photo of myself being presented to him in July of the following year and the book he gave to each of the North American College seminarians, a collection of his talks as Archbishop of Milan on the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints.  Later when I was serving with the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy, I had an opportunity to experience close up Pope Paul’s pastoral shepherding of the Church.

At his election as Pope, Giovanni Battista Montini took the name of the Apostle to the Gentiles, and he immediately declared his intention to complete the Second Vatican Council, which had begun the year before.  We seminarians had a sense first-hand during this period that something very wonderful was happening – the Church was undergoing a moment of renewal, rededication and recommitment.  We were also reminded during those years that while the Church was in the process of being made new again, that renewal was anchored in her history, in the living continuity of the great Apostolic Tradition.

In his first encyclical, published 50 years ago tomorrow, Pope Paul took up the question of the Church, much like the Council itself and more recently our own Archdiocesan Synod.  “We believe that it is a duty of the Church at the present time to strive toward a clearer and deeper awareness of itself and its mission in the world, and of the treasury of truth of which it is heir and custodian,” he wrote. “By doing this it will find a more revealing light, new energy and increased joy in the fulfillment of its own mission, and discover better ways of augmenting the effectiveness and fruitfulness of its contacts with the world” (Ecclesiam Suam, 18).

The Pope then went on to discuss the imperative of charitable dialogue with the world in which the Church lives.  “The very nature of the gifts which Christ has given the Church demands that they be extended to others and shared with others,” he stressed.  “The Church can regard no one as excluded from its motherly embrace, no one as outside the scope of its motherly care” (Id., 64, 94).

Pope Paul was a true pastor.  Throughout his life, often in very trying circumstances, he dedicated his energies to serving the Lord and his Church in the work of salvation, transforming humanity with the love of Christ and making it new.

“Few have known, as he, to interpret the anxieties, desires, toils and aspirations of the men of our century,” Saint John Paul II would say of Pope Paul.  “He wished to walk at their side; to do this he made himself a pilgrim on their roads, meeting them where they lived and struggled to build a world of greater attention and respect for the dignity of every human being.”

This service to the Lord and his sisters and brothers in the human family came at a time of cultural turmoil.  But through it all, during which he was in a sense “poured out like a libation” like his namesake, Pope Paul competed well and kept the faith (cf. 2 Timothy 4:6-7) while setting the stage for the New Evangelization.  Thanks be to God for sending us such an inspiring shepherd and servant of his kingdom.

To Be The Best Church We Can Be

August 2nd, 2014
Synod-Mass2014

Cardinal Wuerl and Archbishop Lori at the Archdiocese of Washington Synod Mass.

This year, we have been celebrating a milestone – specifically, the 75 years that our family of faith has been manifesting the kingdom of God since the Archdiocese of Washington was established in 1939.  Looking back at this heritage, and to the roots of our Catholic ancestors who arrived here in 1634, we also look to the future, and it has been appropriate during this time to engage in some introspection, to ask if we are the best Church we can be.

Given this historic moment, with all the challenges to our living fully our Catholic faith today, I thought it right to undertake this ecclesial self-examination and plan for the future in the form of an Archdiocesan Synod.

What followed over the next couple of years was a great deal of prayer, reflection, discussion and consensus among a representative cross-section of our faith family who shared their ideas about what we are doing well and how we might improve, particularly in the areas of worship, education, community, service, and stewardship and administration.

Concurrent with the culmination of our Synod on Pentecost, I published a pastoral letter, Manifesting the Kingdom, in which I explain how the Synod should be interpreted in the context of the recent teachings of the Church, particularly the call to the New Evangelization and life in the Spirit.  This pastoral letter is intended to guide our local Church as we now implement the work of the Synod.

Once I visited a school on a cold and wet winter morning and asked the assembled students, “Why would we be here on such a miserable day?”  One fourth-grader stood with great pride and answered, “I come to this school so that I can get a life.”  His schoolmates nodded and applauded.

What this youngster said about his Catholic school should be true of all the ministries of the Church.  They exist to give others a life through an encounter with the One who is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).  Are we doing that in our archdiocese?  Do we reflect Christ’s light in the world? Are we the best Church we can be?

At 75 years, we are a young Church in many ways, but we are also a Church of achievement, accomplishment and experience.  We praise God for these blessings.  However, we know that we could do better.  We dare not be complacent.

In the New Testament are many letters from Saint Paul to various churches where the seeds of the Gospel had been sown.  The missionary Apostle gave thanks to God that the Church had taken root and sprouted, but many of these letters also dealt with difficulties and problems that had arisen.  In chapter two of the Book of Revelation, the Lord himself addresses seven churches, giving praise for the good in them, but also advising them to do better and in some cases rebuking them.  He concludes each assessment of the respective churches with the words, “Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Our Archdiocesan Synod was a time to listen to the Spirit and fully take stock, with honesty and humility, of the condition of our spiritual home.  In this prayerful process, the spiritual and pastoral priorities of our local Church were examined to establish stable reference points for ecclesial life and practice, particularly so the New Evangelization might permeate every aspect of the life of our Church.  Upon consideration of the recommendations of the Synod members, formal statutes have been enacted.  In addition, existing policies have been reviewed and, where necessary, updated.

On Pentecost, at the conclusion of the Synod, we gave thanks for the outpouring of the Spirit.  We now pray that God continue to bless our efforts as our family of faith implements the fruitful work of the Synod. May what we do now and in the future hasten the realization of our prayer, “Thy Kingdom come.”

The Scourge of War, the Blessing of Peace

July 30th, 2014
Pope Paul VI makes a special appeal for world peace in 1965 at the United Nations headquarters in New York. "No more war, war never again," he declared to the General Assembly. (CNS photo/Yutaka Nagata, U.N.)

Pope Paul VI makes a special appeal for world peace in 1965 at the United Nations headquarters in New York. (CNS photo/Yutaka Nagata, U.N.)

One hundred years ago this week began what is perhaps the greatest calamity in mankind’s history.  They called it the “Great War” and later a “World War.”  Before it was over, more than 16 million people would be slain and another 20 million wounded.  Moreover, the stage was set for an even greater conflagration, followed by years of proxy wars.

Among the primary causes of World War I were distrust among peoples and lingering resentments from past conflicts.  With bewildering swiftness, nation after nation mobilized their militaries and then declared war on one another.  Crowds in the street cheered and men eagerly hurried to enlist so they could join in.

After the American Civil War, General William T. Sherman famously remarked that there are some “who look on war as all glory, but it is all hell.”

Pope Benedict XV – who was elected when Pope Pius X died a few weeks after the outbreak of war – would dedicate his pontificate to restoring peace.  In his first encyclical, he confirms Sherman’s assessment of war – “There is no limit to the measure of ruin and of slaughter; day by day the earth is drenched with newly-shed blood, and is covered with the bodies of the wounded and of the slain. Who would imagine, as we see them thus filled with hatred of one another, that they are all of one common stock, all of the same nature, all members of the same human society? Who would recognize brothers, whose Father is in Heaven?” Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum.

The long teaching of the Church is that under certain conditions, war might be justified.  Precisely because of the value of human life, we have a solemn duty to protect life when it is threatened.  A war of aggression is intrinsically immoral, but those who are attacked unjustly have a right of legitimate defense, which might involve deadly force against other combatants, but never against innocent civilian populations (CCC 2307-17).

Even if justifiable, war in every case is a tragedy.  Because of the evils and injustices that all war brings with it, we must do everything reasonably possible to avoid it.  Thus, when Pope Paul VI became the first pontiff to address the United Nations in 1965, he emphatically pleaded, “Never one against the other, never, never again. . . . No more war, war never again. It is peace, peace which must guide the destinies of peoples and of all mankind.”

The Church recognizes that peace is not merely the absence of conflict; rather, it is the tranquility of order and justice according to God’s eternal law of love and truth (Gaudium et Spes, 78).  With his embrace of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and his hosting of Israeli and Palestinian leaders to pray for peace at Pentecost, Pope Francis shows the way toward genuine and lasting peace – reconciliation and fraternity.

This is not a naïve dream of our Holy Father.  America’s own national experience demonstrates that it is the key to peace.  The principle of “with malice toward none, with charity for all,” as President Lincoln said toward the end of the Civil War – which finds its roots in Jesus’ remarkable injunction to forgive one another and love our enemy – has led the United States time and again to make friends of enemies.  We are friends with Great Britain, Spain, Germany, Japan and Italy.  We have welcomed the Vietnamese and Iraqi people to our shores.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).  Our efforts toward peace are grounded in the knowledge that we are one human family, that God is Father of all.  Jesus sets before us a world of those who hunger and thirst for holiness, justice, mercy, righteousness and compassion for our sisters and brothers. To the extent that each of us participates in that effort there will be just a little bit more light, harmony and love in the world.  There will be genuine peace.

Our Redeemer is Christ Jesus

July 28th, 2014
St. Paul by Philippe Champaigne

St. Paul by Philippe de Champaigne

“What do I need to do to be assured of going to heaven?” This is a question that many of us have thought about, if not actually asked a priest or a teacher or a friend.  One of the most “famous” people to ask the question is the rich young man in the Gospels (Matthew 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-22, Luke 18:18-23). Like many of us, the man felt he was doing all the right things and he wanted some definitive assurance it was enough. Jesus’ answer was not comforting!

Saint Paul also takes up the question because in his travels he found that people were debating about whether you earn salvation or whether it comes with believing in Jesus.  Paul was clear – our salvation is a gift from God, won for us by Jesus in his redemptive works (Romans 3:23-26).

Jesus preached that “only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven” will enter the kingdom of God (cf. Matthew 7:21). It is by leading a life pleasing to God, obeying his commandments, all rooted in the demanding commandment of love, that we live in the world the life we have received. By doing the will of God in charity we grow in the divine life we have received.

The Christian is not called merely to conversion followed by a static preservation of a gift once received. Christ has given us new life, a life that must be dynamic and grow.

Paul insists – “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).  By ever becoming more intensely alive in the Lord, who is Truth and Love, and by exercising this life in union with him in personal prayer and in liturgy and in deeds of love, we also prepare for the heavenly life to which all earthly sharing in Christ’s life is ordered as its final crown and final perfection.

All our prayer, worship and works of love in this world are imperfect. Paul reminds us that we live in a state of faith and obscurity, and in a world still suffering, awaiting final redemption (cf. Romans 8:22-23).

There are people and things of this world that would seek to keep us from that redemption.  The people in Rome, no less today, faced temptations and opposition.  But Paul tells them to have hope.  “If God is for us, who can be against us?” he points out. “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).

While the works of a Christian may bring this world ever closer to conformity with the plan of God’s kingdom, that kingdom cannot be perfected here. What we strive after in living now the life of Christ will be fully realized only when we have come to see God face-to-face, and in his light rejoice in the utter victory of Christ over all sin, death and imperfection (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:24-28).

The grace of God, which moves us to good deeds and builds up the Body of Christ, merits eternal life for us. It is not our own power which makes our good deeds so effective, so fruitful. We ourselves could never initiate or draw out our own resources to bring about life forever with God. Rather, it is Jesus who merits for us all the holiness we hope for.

It is the Lord’s generosity that enlarges our life by his grace, so that we may truly believe and love, that we may truly share in the work of God. In that hope, Paul assures us, we are saved (Romans 8:24).

This is the fourth installment in a series on Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans. 

A History of Manifesting the Kingdom: The Catholic Impact on Our Community

July 25th, 2014

Once at a meeting, I heard a man ask, “What does the Church bring to society?” When people pose such questions as a challenge, deep down they seem to be expressing a note of hope. Somewhere they heard the promise of Jesus and his Good News, and they long for it to be true.

Our family of faith does a great deal of good for a lot of people today.  Many of the contributions made by the various agencies, groups and people of this local Church are highlighted in a booklet, Catholic Impact 2014, which was released by the archdiocese on Pentecost concurrently with the publication of my pastoral letter, Manifesting the Kingdom.

One of the primary ways the Lord continues to provide and care for humanity is through us, through the body of Christ we call the Church, co-workers for his kingdom.  To the extent that Jesus reigns within us, explains Pope Francis, “the life of society will be a setting for universal fraternity, justice, peace and dignity. Both Christian preaching and life, then, are meant to have an impact on society” (Evangelii gaudium, 180).

Since its establishment by Pope Pius XII 75 years ago, the Church of Washington has made a significant impact on our community, manifesting Christ’s kingdom of truth and life, justice, love and peace. Yet this is only one chapter in a much longer story that goes back to the time when Catholic settlers first made landfall in Maryland in 1634, and then still further back, to the time when the Apostles and first disciples who walked with Jesus almost 2,000 years ago took up his great commission to be his witnesses. For two millennia, our Church through its outreach has brought Christ’s teaching, healing and loving service to our world.

At each Mass, we encounter Christ in the word of God that is proclaimed and in the Eucharist that we receive. Then, at the end of Mass, we are called to go forth, and bring Christ to our world.

Catholic Impact tells the continuing story of how Jesus’ love, mercy and hope unfolds every day in our own community, from the rising of the sun to its setting. That work of manifesting God’s kingdom is carried out in a special way in our Catholic educational, social service and health care programs. Our Catholic schools and parish religious education programs carry out the work of Christ the teacher, bringing his saving truth to people of all ages. Our Catholic social service agencies like Catholic Charities; St. Ann’s Center for Children, Youth and Families; Victory Housing programs; and the Center for Deaf Ministries continue Jesus’ call to love and serve the poor. Likewise, our Catholic hospitals, nursing homes and other health care institutions reflect the presence of Christ who healed the sick.

“Faith teaches us to see that every man and woman represents a blessing for me, that the light of God’s face shines on me through the faces of my brothers and sisters,” affirms Pope Francis.  “How many benefits has the gaze of Christian faith brought to the city of men for their common life!  Thanks to faith we have come to understand the unique dignity of each person, something which was not clearly seen in antiquity” (Lumen fidei, 54).

Over the years, Catholic agencies, ministries and everyday men and women have made a profound difference in the lives of millions of our sisters and brothers in this area regardless of religion, race, gender, nationality, or sexual orientation.  The stories highlighted in Catholic Impact are just a few examples of how Christ transforms our hearts, and then we in turn change our world by bringing to others the vision of a more fully and authentic human life, hope for a better world, and a way of life which seeks to establish a culture of solidarity and communion.

Our local Church makes an integral contribution to the well-being of this community in a way that enriches us all. Now it’s our turn to manifest the kingdom, and impact our community with Christ’s teaching, healing and loving service to the poor.

Happy Birthday Archdiocese of Washington!

July 22nd, 2014

Papal Bull

Today we celebrate a special moment in our history.  On this day 75 years ago, July 22, 1939, the Archdiocese of Washington was born.

When Pope Pius XII issued his papal bull establishing the archdiocese at the request of my predecessor, Archbishop Michael J. Curley, it only included the District of Columbia. Eight years later, upon the death of our founding shepherd, the archdiocese was expanded to include the Maryland counties of Saint Mary’s, Charles, Calvert, Prince George’s and Montgomery.  Today, the archdiocese includes more than 620,000 Catholics and each weekend, Masses are celebrated in more than 20 languages in our churches and chapels.

While the archdiocese had its beginning 75 years ago, the story of our Church goes back much further, with roots in the colonial era, when Maryland’s first settlers landed on Saint Clement’s Island and celebrated the first Mass in the English colonies in 1634. Those pioneer Catholic colonists established Maryland as the birthplace of religious freedom in the United States.

From the beginning, the lives of the Catholic community in what is now the Archdiocese of Washington have been rooted in prayer. People who live along city streets, in suburban neighborhoods and in the rural countryside find a spiritual home in the archdiocese’s 139 parishes and nine missions.  Where priests once ministered to their flocks in Maryland and Washington on horseback and by boat, the Church of Washington now connects with its flock in the digital age, through the pulpit and via social media.

In an enduring way, the people of this local Church have participated in the mission of manifesting God’s kingdom in the world.  The crucible of the Great Depression shaped the faith of the first members of the newly formed archdiocese in 1939.  Soon they would demonstrate a spirit of generosity and sacrifice in serving their country overseas and at home during World War II. In the post-war years, many new churches and schools were built throughout the archdiocese to serve the growing Catholic population. The churches where our Catholics now pray and the schools where our children now learn stand as living reminders of the faith and generosity of earlier generations of Catholics in the archdiocese.

Our Catholic schools in this area began when our country did. For generations, Catholic schools in the archdiocese have educated leaders for our Church, our community and our nation. Partnerships among parish, school and community groups have helped develop innovative programs at local Catholic schools, like the bilingual Spanish immersion program at Sacred Heart School in Washington, the work study program at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, the global learning curriculum at Saint Francis International School in Silver Spring, the classics curriculum at Saint Jerome School in Hyattsville, and of course Archbishop Carroll High School, which continues to provide an excellent academic and faith-based education to a student population that includes a majority of financially distressed students who come from some of the most difficult neighborhoods in the city.

Catholic Charities founded in Washington in 1929 helped people during the Depression, and now in a new millennium, Catholic Charities is the largest private social services provider in this metropolitan area, bringing help and hope to 116,000 people annually in more than 65 programs at 48 locations.

The Daughters of Charity started Providence Hospital in Washington during the Civil War years, and today it continues as one of four Catholic hospitals in the area providing state-of-the-art health care and millions of dollars in care to the poor each year.

The theme of this 75th anniversary year is “Manifesting the Kingdom.” This reflects the faith and service of generations of Catholics who have brought Christ’s love and hope to our community and our world.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus taught, served the poor and healed the sick, and for 75 years this archdiocese has continued to carry out that work of faith.  Thankful for the legacy left us by earlier generations of Catholics, now we look forward to the future. Now it is our turn. As witnesses to Christ, his Gospel, his kingdom, each and every one of us can make a difference.

The Grace of New Life in Christ

July 21st, 2014

Saint Paul Writing, Pier Francesco Sacchi

As we pick up our reflections on Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans, we now focus on what it means to experience new life in Jesus Christ. The great missionary was always grateful that he had been called to make known to the nations God’s plan for our salvation. “To me, though I am the least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the plan for the mystery hidden for all ages in God who created all things” (Ephesians 3:8-9).

The mystery unfolds as we learn that the world was made so that created persons might in Christ come to share the blessed life of the Trinity. As we learned in last week’s reflection on freedom, men and women can only come to God freely. The freedom God gave created persons to love him and live in harmony with one another also made it possible for us to reject his call and sin.

In his Letter to the Romans, Paul speaks of the dehumanizing consequences of sin in human life. These effects could be seen with brutal clarity in the pagan society in the midst of which the young Church lived (cf. Romans 1:18-32). There one saw people who were “foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless” (Romans 1:31), who made for themselves on earth a life that was a beginning of hell.

Yet, Paul’s message is one of hope. He says, “We know that in everything, God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). God is able to overcome in Christ all the evil that sin created and to make even suffering and pain instruments of his healing love.

How can this not be heard as good news for all of us who have experienced the suffering and pain that come in life and that come with committing sin?

The life Christ gives us frees us from the deep wounds inflicted by sin.  It enables us to be more authentically human, to be the women and men of good that God made us to be.

Paul had tasted bitter helplessness before he received the Lord’s mercy and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The grace of realizing how one should live, of knowing the right thing to do, does not of itself give the power to live that way. “I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate,” he cried. “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh.  I can will what I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do . . . Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body?” (Romans 7:14-15, 18-19, 24).

The frustration that Saint Paul is describing has been experienced by many. Saint Augustine wrote of similar anxious struggles just before his own conversion, of his disgust with the evil he himself did, and of his powerlessness to avoid it (cf. Confessions, 8:11).  There is a solution though.

This precisely is the gift of Christ: the power to do the good and avoid the evil.  “The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death. For what the law, weakened by the flesh, was powerless to do, this God has done” (Romans 8:2-3).

God’s grace liberates; it gives us freedom. Grace supposes freedom of choice, for grace is not forced on us, but offered to us.  This liberating grace is precious. Without the grace of Christ, we are hard-pressed in every way. Unruly desires, fears and anger incline us toward sin.  But the freedom grace offers is rich and real, if we choose to accept and grow in it.

This is the third installment in a series on Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans.

The Mission and Blessing of Manifesting the Kingdom

July 19th, 2014

Manifesting the Kingdom

Manifesting the kingdom of God – this is the mission and blessing given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Gospels tell us that Jesus “went around all Galilee…proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23).  This kingdom is spiritual and not a political realm, and its final fulfillment will be realized in eternity.  Yet Christ’s kingdom is rooted in this temporal world.

The kingdom entered human history through Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate.  No mere poetic metaphor, this kingdom is a living reality – it is the presence of God.  “Before all things,” the Second Vatican Council teaches, “the kingdom is clearly visible in the very Person of Christ” (Lumen gentium, 5).  Entering this kingdom means being one with the Lord. His royal throne is the wood of the Cross and the law of his realm is love and truth.

When Jesus was put to death, the kingdom did not end, for he rose again on the third day.  When the Risen Lord ascended to heaven, the kingdom was not removed from us, it continues on to this very day. It falls to us now to manifest, to make present, by our fraternal love, the beginnings of the kingdom here and now.

Jesus laid the foundation for the enduring presence of his kingdom in the Church – the Body of Christ.  The Catholic Church is the enduring, visible yet spiritual, structured yet Spirit-led, human yet divine presence of Christ in the world today.  While not the fullness of the kingdom, the Church is the beginning, the outward sign and instrument of that kingdom coming to be among us, of communion with God and of unity among all people (Lumen gentium, 1).  In the Church, the Lord shows the kingdom to us as something visible, a community called together by him, of which he is the Good Shepherd, the true and lasting head.

The book of the Acts of the Apostles tells us that before Jesus returned to his Father in glory, he charged his disciples, “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).  Those words echo in our ears and hearts.  The continuation of the mission of Christ the Redeemer is what we are called to today.  The call is to bring all things to Christ and make this temporal order a truly blessed expression of God’s love, truth and justice.

For two millennia, it has been the work of the whole Church, all of the People of God, every member of the Body of Christ, to show forth to the world the presence of our Savior and Lord, one of us who is also the Son of God.  You and I are called to be, in our very lives, an epiphany of the Lord to those we encounter, a bright shining light so that others might be led to him like the Great Star of Bethlehem led the wise men to Jesus on that glorious Christmas day.

The kingdom of God offers humanity a different way of seeing life and the world around us.  We bring a fuller vision of life than that offered by the secular society that lives as if God did not exist.  In the Sermon on the Mount, we hear of a new way of life – a life of beatitude – and how it involves the merciful, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who mourn, the peacemakers, the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3-16).

Reflecting upon this Good News gives us a whole new way of looking at life.  It offers us hope, stirring within us expectations of a fuller life and a better world.  In Jesus, we learn the secret of true joy, which does not consist in having a lot of things – no amount of worldly goods can ever satisfy the longings of the human heart – but in knowing we are loved by the Lord who chose to become one of us, sharing in our human lives so that we might share in his divine life.

This is the first in a series based on excerpts from the pastoral letter, “Manifesting the Kingdom.”