The Sacred Heart of Jesus

June 3rd, 2016
(PHOTO Credit: CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

(PHOTO Credit: CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Jesus’ heart figures prominently in the story of salvation. During his ministry he revealed himself as “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). And upon his death on the Cross, when his side was pierced with a lance, blood and water from his heart flowed from the wound (John 19:34). Christians have always seen this as symbolic of the sacraments of salvation – baptism and the Eucharist.

Likewise, the blood and water which flowed from the heart of Jesus are also symbolic of the origin of the Church, the spouse of Christ. Citing Saint Ambrose, the Catechism teaches that just as Eve was formed from the side of Adam, so was the Church formed from the side and pierced heart of Jesus, the new Adam (CCC 766).

These events, which influenced the development of the Church’s devotion to the Sacred Heart, help us to see that the term “Sacred Heart” really stands for the entire mystery of our Savior Jesus Christ, the totality of his being – tender mercy and infinite love, the salvation of mankind. Furthermore, just as the Risen Jesus invited Thomas to put his hand into his side (John 20:27), so too does the Lord want us to enter into his side to touch the heart of our salvation.

For those who would suggest a harsh God of rigorous punitive justice, devotion to the Sacred Heart can serve as an antidote, inspiring a trust in the compassion of our Redeemer who takes upon himself the misery and sin of the world. Through the transformative power of the heart of Jesus, which is on fire for love of humanity, we are made new again.

“The Heart of Jesus is the ultimate symbol of God’s mercy,” affirms Pope Francis. And this “is not an imaginary symbol, it is a real symbol, which represents the center, the source from which salvation for all humanity gushed forth.” In particular, he says, “from the Heart of Jesus, the Lamb sacrificed on the Cross, flow forgiveness and life for all people.”

Jesus, who is fully God and fully man, came to save us from a dire situation, one from which we could never extricate ourselves through our own efforts. He came to save us from sin and death. This is accomplished in a special way in the Sacrament of Confession. Born of the heart of Jesus, it remains one of the marvels of his endless love that he would make forgiveness and spiritual renewal so readily available to us. In the simple acts of contrition, sacramental confession, absolution and penance, we are restored to a whole new life.

Confession serves a real human need that has not diminished with the passage of time. The human race has, unfortunately, not outgrown its tendency to sin. When we sin, we are injured and feel the burden of our transgressions whether we have a sense of sin or not. And when we fail to treat our wounds, when we continue to carry all that baggage with us, accumulating more along the way, it only makes life all that harder. However, Jesus came to heal us and give us rest from such burdens, and he gave his Church the power and the means to do this through this sacrament.

The fruits of Confession are manifold and profound. We experience them primarily in the order of grace. Sometimes we notice an improvement in our prayer life. Sometimes we sense renewed strength in our moral struggles. Nearly always the person who enters into the heart of Jesus in the confessional experiences the immense relief of a great weight being lifted from him or her.

Regular examinations of conscience and Confession make for a happier life. That is the promise of Jesus and the message of the Church. It is Good News that we need to proclaim to the world.

This forgiveness is a very great gift, but even that is merely a precondition for something greater – the gift of the Lord’s own divine life. God loves us in spite of our weaknesses. In fact, he loves us so much that he wants to help us overcome them. Our purpose in life – what God has planned for us – is to be transformed into Christ. For this to happen, Jesus has opened his Sacred Heart to us and, like Saint Thomas, we need only accept his invitation to enter into it.

This blog post draws from passages of my book “The Light is On for You: The Life-Changing Power of Confession (2014).”

A Day for Remembering and Giving Thanks

May 30th, 2016


As our country becomes increasingly individualistic, secular and materialistic, the risk is that we forget who we are, where we came from, and where we are going.

One example of this is the way we commemorate our holy days like Easter and Christmas, and civic holidays like Memorial Day and Labor Day. On Easter and Christmas, do we remember the religious meaning of those days while we hunt for eggs, eat candy or open presents? And today, as we celebrate Memorial Day, is that just regarded as part of a three-day weekend when swimming pools open, or is it a day when we remember in a special way our brave servicemen and women who, in the words of President Lincoln, gave their “last full measure of devotion”?

Memorial Day calls to mind Jesus’ words: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). For generations, there have been Americans willing to lay down their lives for their fellow citizens, to protect their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Each Memorial Day, we celebrate special Masses at the Catholic cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Washington, to remember those who gave their lives for our freedom. When we visit and pray together at our Catholic cemeteries, we know that we are on holy ground, made all the more hallowed by those laid to rest there who served our country in times of war and peace and are now counted among the Church Triumphant. This day, like All Souls Day, gives us the opportunity to visit our Catholic cemeteries, and pray for the souls of all the faithful departed buried there, including our family members and friends.

At our Catholic cemeteries, we are reminded that our belief in new life here on earth and eternal life in heaven is rooted in our profession of faith. Our Church is that bridge between this life and the world to come. And we remember Jesus’ assurance to us, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live forever.”

When we prayerfully remember our departed members of the military on Memorial Day, we might also remember all those in our community who served our country through public service and government work, and who have now gone home to God. We might also remember the Christians and other religious minorities being persecuted for their faith, even to the point of death, in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Praying for our suffering brothers and sisters in the Church Militant on this day, and indeed on every day, is a way to stand in solidarity with them, and also a reminder to do what we can on their behalf at a time when much of the world is silent or indifferent to their plight.

Our Washington area includes many special places that we can visit on Memorial Day and throughout the year to remember those who gave their lives for our freedom. At Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, row upon row of headstones beginning from the Civil War remind us that freedom has a cost.

On the Washington side of the Potomac River near the Lincoln Memorial, we can visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial, with it sculptures and mural wall reminding us of the sacrifices made in that conflict. Across the Reflecting Pool is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and its black stone wall engraved with the names of more than 58,000 servicemen and women who died in that war. Each name reminds us of the human cost of war, that behind every casualty figure is a person who came from a family in an American city, town or rural area, someone who died for their country so that we might remain free.

At the top of the Reflecting Pool is the National World War II Memorial honoring the 16 million American men and women who served, and the more than 400,000 who gave their lives so that others might live and be free. One of those heroic men for whom we will sound Taps and salute is Chief Petty Officer Albert E. Hayden, who was killed at Pearl Harbor and who finally returned home to Maryland earlier this month after his remains were identified in January.

On Memorial Day, we remember, we pray, and we are thankful for the sacrifice of so many of this band of brothers and sisters. The day can also remind us of our own responsibility to remain vigilant in our defense of freedom, especially our religious freedom which is increasingly being eroded by local governments and federal policies.

President Lincoln’s words in his 1863 Gettysburg Address ring true for us every Memorial Day, “that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”

Corpus Christi: Christ’s Real and Abiding Presence in the World Today

May 28th, 2016


Over the past couple of years, many parishes have returned to the practice at Mass of ringing hand bells at the elevation of the Host and Chalice. For parishioners of a certain age, this harkens back to a childhood memory of going to the sacred liturgy. It is a beautiful practice whose renewal helps call our attention to the truth of the Eucharist, which is that, at that moment, the Eucharistic species are no longer bread and wine, even though they keep the outward appearance of bread and wine. Rather, the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Jesus Christ our Savior.

Saint Paul asks: “The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16). It is indeed the body of Christ, and the priest raises it up as a perfect offering to the Father.

For many Catholics, this moment at Mass is intensely personal, some bow, some gaze at the Body and Sacred Blood in the chalice, and still others whisper a prayer under their breath (a favorite is that of the Apostle Thomas: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28)). To know Jesus is to love him. To gaze upon him is to be overwhelmed by that love. Knowing what we know – about his memorial, about this Blessed Sacrament – how can we help but adore him?

This week the Church Universal celebrates the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ – more commonly known but its old Latin name, Corpus Christi. On this day, we celebrate Jesus’ Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. In many countries, the feast is marked by a procession through the streets with the Eucharist held aloft in a monstrance, sometimes accompanied by singing and sometimes by people playing musical instruments. Here in our archdiocese, the practice of procession is experiencing a renewal, in part because we know that it is a powerful experience to be in the presence of the Living Christ for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

The American novelist William Dean Howells never got over witnessing many thousands of parishioners from Venice’s hundred churches as they moved through the city’s plaza over the course of many hours. He remembered it in many of his writings thought out his lifetime. Every year on Corpus Christi, the novelist Edith Wharton opened the garden of her chateau to the local parish so that the people would have a proper place to celebrate – and she could marvel at the spectacle. Neither Howells nor Wharton were Catholic.

It is often said that beauty attracts beauty. So even if a person does not know that they are gazing at Jesus, they do know that they are experiencing something of great beauty.

In the Eucharistic Procession, when we when we take Jesus out in to the world, the Church is making a public profession of faith and worship as God’s people journey with the Lord. In a world that is in great need, as we walk through the streets, we proclaim faith in Emmanuel, Jesus Christ, who is truly God with us.

At the end of Saint Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus makes the Church a solemn promise: “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). Through the Mass, he is truly is present to us in the Most Blessed Sacrament. But the story does not end there. The Lord in the Eucharist is also present in our tabernacles and on our altars during Adoration.

Corpus Christi is a powerful sign, but like every sign it points to something still greater. The truth is that we take Jesus into the world whenever we receive Holy Communion. We have received Christ and become one with him. We are his face and voice and hands and feet in the world.

This blog post draws from passages of the book that Mike Aquilina and I wrote, “The Mass: The Glory, the Mystery, the Tradition.”

The Nature of the Human Being, Male or Female

May 26th, 2016


Throughout history, but more acutely in our day, people have pondered the mystery of their life. The details on resumes – occupations, education, residence – really do not answer the fundamental question of our very essence. We want to know the objective and enduring truth about ourselves, “Who am I? What am I? What does it mean to be human?”

To understand this question of our nature, we must begin with the observation that we each have a body – a body that we did not personally make. We are bodily creatures and not simply spiritual beings, and we did not and cannot subjectively create ourselves.

This body is not extraneous, but goes to our very essence. The body is the outward visible sign of the reality of the person.   It is in the body that we obtain our being and existence, our primary nature and identity. It is in and through the body that we think, believe and feel, and how we experience and know things and the world around us.

We see in the body also that we are human. We are different from the birds and fish and animals. Moreover, we are persons and not mere things or mechanical objects.

In a particular way, the body also reveals to us the innate truth of our human nature that we are from the beginning made male or female. Before all else in this world, before we are able to form a single thought or make any decisions, from the very moment of our origin and conception, we have a body that is intrinsically sexually differentiated and constituted male or female in a way that cannot really be changed. Furthermore, the body reveals that man and woman are made to complement one another – they are made for love, the reality that forms the basis of family.

This is the objective, intrinsic, self-evident truth of who and what we are. Revealed in the body and discernable by right reason, this truth thus applies to all regardless of religious beliefs. Also, one’s subjective choices or beliefs cannot alter this reality – what is revealed in the body as one sex cannot be changed to the other.

For its part, religious faith confirms and expands upon this truth of human nature. Scripture teaches that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Humanity is explicitly made male and female and inherently in relationship, made in the image and likeness of God the Trinity who is Love and Truth. Thus every human is to be cherished and respected precisely as he or she is made from the moment of conception.

Jesus said that he came into the world to testify to the truth (John 18:37) and so must we who are his disciples. It is the Church’s duty “to serve humanity in different ways, but one way in particular imposes a responsibility of a quite special kind: the diakonia of the truth” (Fides et Ratio, 2). Central to this mission is proclaiming the truth of the human person. It is only in this truth that one can be free.

This service in the truth is particularly needed today. One of the enervating forces of our culture is the assertion that everything is up for grabs. What was once grasped as objective truth is now dismissed as mere construct, and there is a growing relativism that seeks to reconstruct the most fundamental realities.

Last year we saw a societal redefinition of marriage and family. Today, the concept of humanity itself is called into question with an aggressive “gender” ideology which holds that whether a person is male or female is not an objective reality, but is subjectively determined. Increasingly, those who do not go along with this new order are denounced and ostracized as bigoted. It is as if we all must now affirm that the world is flat lest we be condemned of discrimination.

Now the federal government has issued a “guidance” for “transgender students,” which says that school bathrooms and locker rooms should effectively be open to persons of the opposite sex. This development is deeply disturbing, as noted in a letter from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops objecting to this decree.

“It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality,” says Pope Francis on this very issue (Amoris Laetitia, 56). It is not an act of discrimination to assert, “We cannot say that what is false is true.” By saying this, we are not advancing an alternate ideology, but proposing and defending reality and genuine human dignity.

In the face of this cultural divide, the Church will do what we have always done – what we can only do – and that is to be a beacon of truth in the darkness, lovingly giving voice to what it means to be authentically human and helping people to appreciate themselves as they were created (cf. Amoris Laetitia, 285). This means standing firm in the truth that sexual differentiation is not a construct of the mind, much less a social construct, but is a permanent reality revealed in the body, male or female, whether or not one chooses to acknowledge or accept this reality (Id.). To do otherwise, to not testify to the truth, would be to deny our own identity as Catholics and as a Church.

Mary, Help of Christians

May 24th, 2016
Pope Francis at the Basilica of St. Mary, Help of Christians. (PHOTO CREDIT: Catholic News Agency)

Pope Francis at the Basilica of St. Mary, Help of Christians. (PHOTO CREDIT: Catholic News Agency)

The Blessed Virgin Mary is a beautiful, beloved, essential and pervasive figure in Christian life and in the Church’s calendar. She has been since the early days of the Church. Her feasts are as varied as the cultures of the world, with each having special traditions, customs, and habits of piety. For example, the Church honors Mary every Saturday, recalling both the one full day that Jesus spent in the tomb and the traditional belief that Mary was the disciple who best kept the faith on that day. The early Church took up the practice of keeping faith with her on that day each week.

Since the Middle Ages, the Church has devoted the month of May to Mary. Many parishes have “May Crownings” during this time in which a statue of the Blessed Mother is adorned with a diadem or a wreath of flowers. Many Christians also undertake pilgrimages during this month to shrines associated with the Blessed Virgin. In May, there are also three Marian feasts that are celebrated which help us to understand what Mary can teach us about being disciples.

Earlier this month, on May 13, we commemorated the Memorial of Our Lady of Fatima which recalls the appearance of the Blessed Virgin to three young children in Portugal in 1917. Mary encouraged penance, conversion and praying the rosary, warning the world of a great war and suffering, but that, “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.”

The Feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, which is celebrated today, May 24, is an older feast, dating back to the to the sixteenth century, which was not a peaceful time in Europe. In 1571, Catholics throughout the continent joined in praying the rosary in hopes of prevailing over Muslim military forces that had long sought to expand into Europe. These prayers were answered at the Battle of Lepanto on October 7, 1571, which is now the feast for Our Lady of the Rosary.

Both of these feasts highlight not only the strength we find in asking Mary’s intercession, joining our prayers to her intercession, but also the confidence that God continues to act in the world. God hears the cry of those who suffer and God responds.

The third Marian feast for May is the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin on May 31. We remember how Mary journeyed to the home of her kinswoman Elizabeth to care for her as the birth of her son, John the Baptist, drew near. In the greeting that is so beautifully recounted in the first chapter of Luke, Mary first announces the arrival of the Messiah to the people of Israel as she prays what is known as the Magnificat. “My soul magnifies the Lord and my Spirit rejoices in God, my Savior” (Luke 1:46). This is a prayer of joy and of confidence that, in staying close to Christ, we are never alone.

These celebrations, like all Marian feasts, are really celebrations of Jesus Christ, for she has no privilege that she has not received from God. In these days, we learn how to stay close to him in prayer and through the practice of charity, such as caring for a relative in a time of need, with confidence that our prayers will be answered.

To rejoice in Mary is to celebrate God’s greatest creation – the vessel he fashioned to be his own mother, the woman who would bear him into the world. In the life of the “handmaid of the Lord,” we learn what it means to say “yes” to life in the Lord and to discover in him the meaning of life.

With maternal love for us, Mary wants what is best for us – she wants Jesus for us, so she urges us, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). Then she helps us as we lead others to know and love her Son too. Her feasts not only empower us to turn to her in prayer, but also to love Jesus and others with a greater love.

To learn more about these and the other Marian feasts, I invite you to see the book that my long-time collaborator Mike Aquilina and I wrote, entitled, The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics (2014).

The Most Holy Trinity and the Nature of Humanity

May 22nd, 2016


The Most Holy Trinity is the central and most profound mystery of the Christian faith and life. While we human beings can grasp certain aspects of this ultimate truth about God, precisely as a mystery, a full understanding is beyond our limited human comprehension. Yet, this deep mystery of God’s inner life and essence is also one of the most informative, in that, reflecting on the Trinity can shed invaluable light on what it means to be a human person.

Throughout history and in cultures throughout the world people have, by reason alone and after much consideration, concluded that God exists. Yet, we could devote ourselves to study over several lifetimes and never come to the conclusion that God is a Trinity of persons – one and yet three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We know this truth and other divine mysteries in our human weakness only because the Lord has revealed them to us. And he has revealed this truth not as a matter of curious theological trivia disconnected from our everyday lives, but in order to share his divine life with us.

The mystery of the Blessed Trinity, as the mystery of God in himself, is “the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the ‘hierarchy of the truths of faith’” (CCC 234).

Since the earliest days – since before the Church was born at Pentecost – the Christian faith has been Trinitarian. When Jesus descended into the water at his baptism, for example, the bystanders hear the Father’s voice and see the Holy Spirit descend as a dove (Matthew 3:16-17). Later, Jesus will instruct his followers to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Likewise, Saint Paul offered blessings with a Trinitarian formula (2 Corinthians 13:13) and the blessings and prayers of the early Church reflect this faith in the Trinity.

The essential elements of this divine mystery are that we worship one God who is an eternal loving communion of three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – who are all equal in power, all co-eternal, and all divine. One divine nature, they differ only in that the Father is not the Son; the Son is not the Father; the Spirit is not the Son; the Spirit is not the Father. While this mystery of one and yet three might at first seem contradictory and irrational by human reckoning, if we delve deeper, we will find, like the other paradoxes of the faith, an amazing and profoundly life-changing truth.

The doctrine of the Trinity can perhaps best be understood by Scripture’s most compact definition of God: “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). Love is by its very nature relationship – it requires an “other.” The fullness of love is also by its very nature unitive. More than a mere association of individual persons, in the fullness of love there is a communion of persons – the multiplicity become one.

The Catholic author G.K. Chesterton observed that the Trinity is “simply the logical side of love.” Within God himself is Someone who loves and Someone who is loved, and there is the Love, who is a living reality as well. There is the Father and the Son, and the love which proceeds from them is not merely some warm sentiment, but a Person – the Holy Spirit.

Here too is revealed the essence of humanity. Made in the image and likeness of God – in the image and likeness of the Trinity – human beings, made male and female, are relational beings made to live in a loving fruitful communion of persons.

We see this in a particular way in the union of man and woman in marriage. As Pope Francis notes, “the couple’s fruitful relationship becomes an image for understanding and describing the mystery of God himself” as a communion of love (Amoris Laetitia, 11). That is, “the family is entrusted to a man, a woman and their children, so that they may become a communion of persons in the image of the union of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Id., 71).

As a visible sign of the Trinity, marriage and family are in turn a sign of our heavenly Father’s greater plan for all humanity, that all of his creation be united as one in and through him – a communion of saints. That is what God wants for you and me – to love and be loved – and nothing could be more wonderful, more vibrant and alive, than to share in this way in the life of the Trinity.

This blog post draws from passages of my book “Faith that Transforms Us: Reflections on the Creed (2013).”

Light the City: Come and See

May 20th, 2016

“Come and see.” This is how our Lord began gathering disciple and followers (John 1:39). Jesus met people going about the task of daily life and invited them to learn more about him and his Father by listening, praying, learning and celebrating together.

On Pentecost, we were reminded that one of fruits of receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit is to follow Jesus’ example of inviting others to “come and see.” In fact, Saint Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians states simply, “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit” (1 Corinthians 12:7). Each of us has been given particular gifts that enable us to be Christ’s witnesses.

From its very beginning, the Church has understood her responsibility to pass on the Good News. Now we are engaged in renewing our evangelizing spirit. Revitalized by the Holy Spirit, all believers are called to renew their faith and personal encounter with Jesus Christ in the Church, to deepen their appreciation of the truth of the faith, and to joyfully share it.

One of the things the Church has learned in this commitment to a New Evangelization is that there are many, many people who have learned about Jesus only incompletely, who do not know the joy of a relationship with him. They may be people who have drifted away from the Church and the practice of prayer. We want to meet these people and remind them that though they may have drifted far from God, God has not forgotten them.

Last year, the Archdiocese of Washington created an initiative called Light the City. Taking place at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle, Light the City opens the doors of our mother church to the neighborhood. On a Saturday evening, young men and women, joined by seminarians, priests and sisters, take lighted candles and go out into the neighborhood around the Cathedral to meet people where they are – on their way to and from dinner, out for a walk, heading home from work – to invite them to consider Jesus for a moment.

The invitation of the Light the City evangelizers is to “come and see.” Come spend a few minutes enjoying the beauty and quiet of the church. Come, light a candle and say a prayer for someone who could use a prayer. If the person is not sure how to pray, an offer is made to pray together.

If the person shares that they are a Catholic, the evangelizer invites that person to come and experience God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Confession, reminding him or her that it does not matter how long it has been since their last encounter with this healing grace. The “light is on” in our confessionals and our priests are ready and eager to assure people that God has never been far from them and God is ready to listen.

Our evangelizers welcome questions and have people ready to answer questions about our Christian faith and the Church. The message that these young people hope to communicate is one that will inspire others joyfully to follow us along the path of the kingdom of God. It is the message of Jesus Christ, and so they are first and foremost joyful witnesses to the love of the Lord.

Tomorrow evening in this Year of Mercy, we will again host Light the City. You are invited to join us at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. Or perhaps even sign up to be a volunteer and come an hour early for training, at 7 p.m., and be a witness to others of the joy found in our Lord and in our Church. Come and see the beauty of an invitation accepted and the people who stop into the Cathedral to encounter Jesus. Come and spend some time in prayer so that when our visitors walk into the house of God, they see people at prayer, preparing for confession, and sharing fellowship.

Through it all, we have a message of great joy: Christ is risen, Christ is with us and his love for us is forever. Whatever our circumstances, Christian witness radiates with the fruits of the Holy Spirit, with love, generosity, peace and joy (cf. Galatians 5:22). And this joy of knowing you are loved is infectious.

This blog post draws from passages of my book “New Evangelization: Passing on the Catholic Faith Today (2013).”

Pope Francis in Graduation Season

May 17th, 2016

Photo Credit: The Catholic University of America

If his schedule would allow it – and it is safe to say, it does not – Pope Francis would probably be the most in-demand commencement speaker in the world, sought out by colleges and universities, and probably high schools and elementary schools too, Catholic and non-Catholic, private and public alike.

In this season when we prepare to send the Class of 2016 onward for further studies or into the world with a vision for now and the future, we can reflect on some of the Pope’s recent words for inspiration for not only our new graduates, but for all of us.

When the Holy Father made his historic address to a joint meeting of Congress on September 24, 2015, he made a special point that he sought to “dialogue with all those young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations.” He pointed out that for many young people, “a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions.”

Pope Francis called on political leaders and all people of good will to work together for the common good. He encouraged people to follow the example of four great Americans, two of whom were Catholic, saying, “A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to ‘dream’ of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, and when it bears the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.”

The Holy Father ended his remarks to Congress by expressing hope for young people, saying, “I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream.” Then he simply said, “God bless America!”

Significantly, Pope Francis then traveled to Catholic Charities to meet with and offer love and support to the homeless and poor, and express thanks to the staff members and volunteers who stand in solidarity with them. With words and then actions, he offered a blueprint for how today’s Catholics and indeed all Americans can bring Christ’s love to their country and their world.

One day earlier, Pope Francis celebrated the first canonization Mass on U.S. soil, as he declared Father Junípero Serra, the great Franciscan missionary of 18th century California, as our nation’s newest saint. The liturgy was celebrated on the steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, facing the campus of the adjoining Catholic University of America, at the spot where the school holds its commencement exercises each spring. The congregation included thousands of Catholic University students, including many members of the Class of 2016, who would never forget that a pope once visited their campus and prayed with and spoke to them.

Pope Francis concluded his homily at the canonization Mass by encouraging people to be missionary disciples of Jesus in today’s world, just as Saint Junípero was in his times. “Father Serra had a motto which inspired his life and work, not just a saying, but above all a reality which shaped the way he lived: siempre adelante! Keep moving forward!” the Pope said. “For him, this was the way to continue experiencing the joy of the Gospel, to keep his heart from growing numb, from being anesthetized. He kept moving forward, because the Lord was waiting. He kept going, because his brothers and sisters were waiting. He kept going forward to the end of his life. Today, like him, may we be able to say: Forward! Let’s keep moving forward!”

With that mindset and work of the heart, members of the Class of 2016 and all the rest of us too, can keep dreaming and moving forward together.

Welcome News … But the Fight Continues

May 16th, 2016

Supreme Court

Earlier today, the United States Supreme Court, issued a per curiam ruling which vacates the judgments of appellate courts around the country that had upheld the HHS mandate against legal challenges brought by the Archdiocese of Washington and other religious employers. The Court’s order also returns those cases to the respective courts of appeal for further proceedings to find an approach going forward that would both protect the religious freedom of those religious employers who object to the HHS mandate and still allow the government to accomplish its purposes itself.

Although the Court’s opinion notes that it is not making any ruling on the merits of the case, it highlights “the gravity of the dispute” and insists that “the parties on remand should be afforded an opportunity to arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise.”

In short, the Court has recognized in these proceedings the vital importance of fundamental religious liberty and rights of conscience. Notwithstanding the Court’s welcome action today, as the case returns to the appellate court, there is still work to be done and there is still need for the Church and all people of faith to remain vigilant in defending religious freedom.

Throughout this struggle, we have sought to remain faithful to the teaching of the Church, which includes continuing our Gospel mission to serve others in education, health care, social services, and outreach to the poor and those most in need in a way that builds the common good. We will continue to do this work because we are resolute that it is precisely by being true to our Catholic identity in what we proclaim and in what we do that we can continue to help realize a truly good and just society where all enjoy the benefits of peace, prosperity and freedom.

Our Participation Today in the Mystery of Pentecost

May 14th, 2016


When we celebrate Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit, we need to pause and reflect on just how pervasive and ever-present the marvelous gift of the Spirit is. If we neglect the Spirit, the giver of life and font of all saving grace, then we impoverish our own lives and we remain unknown and unknowable even to ourselves.

Pentecost is not something we simply read about in history books or commemorate at Mass once a year. It is an action that we participate in; it is a significant event in our personal lives. The mystery of Pentecost happens now in our time in a special way through the sacrament of Confirmation. And it plays out each and every day of our personal lives.

Confirmation is the sacrament of the Holy Spirit. Although all of the sacraments depend upon the Holy Spirit’s grace and power, Confirmation is the rite specially associated with the third person of the Trinity.

As in the case of the other sacraments, in Confirmation each of us steps into the stream of salvation history. The great saving events are made present again to us in a real, meaningful and spiritual way. God promised his faithful people through the prophets that he would establish a New Covenant with them and pour out his Spirit upon them (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Joel 3:1-5; Ezekiel 36:25-28). Pentecost is the moment that fulfills God’s promise, and Confirmation is the application of that grace of Pentecost, with its outpouring of the gifts of the Spirit, to each individual Christian life.

Related to but distinct from Baptism, Confirmation builds on baptismal grace to fully initiate us into the Church and make us complete Christians. The gifts of the Spirit that we receive help us to personally grow in holiness and to have a deeper relationship in the love of the Lord. But more particularly, the graces of Confirmation equip us for active participation in the mission of Jesus and his apostolic Church. That is, Confirmation gives us the special spiritual strength of the Spirit to be steadfast witnesses of Christ in a world that has often opposed him and the Christian message.

Beyond the usual trials of the human condition, which may tempt us to discouragement, are pressures from our secular culture to be quiet about our Christian faith or to give in and simply go along with things we know are not right. Especially in the work of sharing the Gospel, we might feel inarticulate and inadequate.

However, we need not “go it alone” in life. The Lord has not left us to fend for ourselves in our efforts to do good and avoid evil, to love one another in truth, to manifest his kingdom in and through our lives. The gracious gift of the Holy Spirit gives us the power to be changed into all that God calls us to be and to do all that he asks us to do.

The gifts of the Spirit that we receive in this sacrament are fortitude, wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. These gifts are ours not just as a personal possession but as a means for God to reach everyone on earth with his saving message.

The Holy Spirit is stronger than all the vices and evils of the world. With him in our hearts through the sacrament of Confirmation, we have the power to overcome the weaknesses of our fallen nature, and we have the courage to be heralds of hope to a world that has great need for such witnesses of Jesus Christ.

As the Lord’s co-workers in his work of redemption (1 Corinthians 3:9; cf. Colossians 1:24), the Spirit works within us and works with us in all our uniqueness and weaknesses so that we can bear witness to the Lord in culture, art, music, literature, film, theater, law, medicine, science, education and news, and in the people we meet every day. With the Spirit, everything we do can be done to be more and more Christ-like – to be Christ in our lives – both for our good and for the salvation of others.

This blog post draws from passages of my book “Open to the Holy Spirit: Living the Gospel with Wisdom and Power.”