Throwback Thursday: Encountering the Lord on the Road to Emmaus Today

April 5th, 2018

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.  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 2018, just as it was to those disciples that first Easter.

The Faith and Work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Lives On

April 4th, 2018

Fifty years ago today on the eve of Holy Week, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., endured his own passion and death.  The assassination of this man of God who, like a modern-day Moses had led people on a journey of hope toward freedom, sent shockwaves of grief and civil unrest across the land, leaving scars in our cities that are still healing. Yet this tragic loss did not still his voice – it continues to ring out and inspire new generations in confronting the challenges of prejudice, injustice and division today.

Remembering Dr. King now 50 years later, as people of faith, we can see not only the evil of suffering and death, but also the glory of Easter.  Dr. King as well, the night before he was brutally slain, with his very last public words in a sermon on “unfulfilled dreams,” also had testified, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

Five days before he was taken from us at the young age of 39 years, Dr. King gave a sermon at the National Cathedral here in Washington taking as his starting point Jesus’ words, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).  It was Dr. King’s steadfast faith which saw him through many dark nights, and it is that faith that calls us to continue his work and see that his unfulfilled dream is more fully realized.

As I said in my pastoral letter, The Challenge of Racism Today, the intolerance and lingering racism which poison our society will not go away without a concerted awareness and effort on everyone’s part. We all have a role to play because we are all affected by it. “We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly,” said Dr. King in his National Cathedral sermon.  We are all called to come to the aid of the oppressed and lift up in all we do the dignity of every human person.

Dr. King had faced many threats to his life during his ministry and in a sermon two months before he was killed, he talked about what he would like to be said at his funeral.  He said not to mention his Nobel Peace Prize or other accolades, but simply “to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others, [that he] tried to love and serve humanity” and that he worked for justice, peace and righteousness.  Certainly, Dr. King did that, leaving a lasting legacy. Continuing his cause, we too look forward in hope with him for that day when the Lord “will wipe every tear from [people’s] eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Easter Homily: Christ is Risen, Christ is Truly Risen. Alleluia, Alleluia!

April 1st, 2018

We hear at Easter time the word, Alleluia. We hear it over and over again, Alleluia, Alleluia! As we know, it means praise the Lord. And that is what brings us to Mass today, Easter Sunday. This is a special time of praise and why we have a special word, Alleluia.

The Church calls us together today to announce the reason for our joy, Christ is risen, Christ is truly risen.

Even though we did not run here as Peter and John did to the empty tomb, we come here with the same hope to renew our faith that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. With all the other things going on in life, it would be so easy to forget that at the very core of our identity as Catholics is the recognition that Jesus Christ who died on the cross and is alive. To be renewed in this faith, we come today as millions and millions have for 2,000 years to hear all over again: the tomb is empty, the Lord is Risen, we have seen him so that you and I can profess our faith, Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

An essential part of the Easter celebration is hearing this Good News. The first homily that Peter preached and is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles is the announcement that this Jesus whom you killed is risen from the dead.

In hearing the faithful witness of that message we hope to reaffirm our own faith, our own belief that Jesus is truly risen from the dead. We were not there so we need to hear again the witness of those who were.

The four Gospel accounts, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  All relate essentially the same message:  the tomb is empty, and witnesses have seen the Risen Lord. The narrative has been so meticulously preserved.  All the successors to the apostles so carefully guarded the accounts and so thoughtfully made provision that they be written down and affirmed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

All of this was done with such precision and care so that you and I today are able to place our faith, our trust, our confidence in the words of the Scripture in the living witness of the Church. As we listened to the first reading:  The Acts of the Apostles, Peter and the Apostles — appointed witnesses to the Resurrection — begins the ministry of proclamation, telling the story.  So that witness has continued in Christ’s Church.

Where else would you and I go to hear this remarkable story? Who else can tell us with authority that the tomb is empty and that Christ truly is risen?

Today there is only one living witness to the Lord Jesus, only one witness who can say, I was there when Christ died, when he rose, when he ascended in glory, when he sent the gift of the Spirit on us.  That one remaining living witness is Christ’s mystical or new Body, his Church.

It is that Church that summons us today to hear all over again the good news — that we would not otherwise hear with confidence, Christ is Risen.

But we do more than just hear this great news.  As Pope Francis tells us in his apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, “Christ’s Resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world.”

In the sprinkling rite that is a part of our liturgy today we recall – we remember – our own baptism.

We are not bystanders looking at the empty tomb and simply listening to the witnesses tell us that Jesus is risen.  You and I are invited into the new life of the Risen Lord – a life that has the power to go on into eternity.

The sprinkling of the water reminds us of the words of the Prophet Ezekiel that are being fulfilled today: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities… I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you… I will put my spirit within you.”

In a few moments, we will all be asked to once again renew our Baptismal Promises.  I ask you to join yourself spiritually to the hundreds and hundreds of adults throughout this archdiocese who were baptized into the Church at the Easter Vigil last evening and also to unite yourself spiritually to all of us in this church and throughout the whole Church as we once again affirm our faith that Christ is risen, Christ is truly risen, and that we share that new life.

Again Pope Francis reminds us, “May we never remain on the sidelines of this march of living hope.”  We do not sit and watch as something transpires, goes on by us.  We are actively transformed changed.

Our Liturgy today is both the telling of the Good News and the action – the Eucharist – by which we become a sharer in Christ’s new life.

Finally, and at the very center of our celebration, is the Eucharistic Liturgy.  Here we do what Jesus asked us to do in memory of his death and Resurrection, we re-present that mystery in a way that we become a part of it.

As Pope, now Saint, John Paul II so beautifully taught us:  “When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the memorial of her Lord’s death and resurrection, this central event of salvation becomes really present and ‘the work of our redemption is carried out.’ (LG, 3)” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 11)

What Easter says to us is, what the Church has witnessed for 20 centuries is: Christ has risen from the dead, broken the chains of death, and done so not only for himself but also for us. Is it any wonder that the Church invests this day with so much symbolism and so much joy?

Today the words, “Christ is risen, Christ is truly risen.  Alleluia, Alleluia!” take on special significance for us because today as a result of the Eucharist not only is Christ risen, but he is risen in us.

“Because by Your Holy Cross, You have Redeemed the World”

March 30th, 2018

Today in neighborhoods across the Archdiocese of Washington, as in many places around the globe, people are walking in solemn procession behind large wooden crosses commemorating the crucifixion and death of our Lord.

Some of the processions will takes place in the context of the Stations of the Cross, stopping at various churches or at places where lives have been lost or where neighbors are experiencing homelessness or other crisis. At one and the same time, we reflect on how this human suffering is reflected in that experienced by our Lord and the hope Jesus offers in transforming the pain and misery of this world through his own Passion and death.

Echoing through the archdiocese will be one of the most familiar and cherished forms of the Way of the Cross, “We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you.” To which people reply, “Because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.” In this brief invitatory and response, Saint Alphonsus Liguori captured the essence of the article of the Creed which proclaims that “for our sake,” Jesus “was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried.”

There is so much more to this statement of faith than the simple recognition that Christ died. If by his Cross Christ had not redeemed us, his death would have little meaning. What all those who walk in procession today share with the world is that with the eyes of faith, the Apostles and all believers gaze on the cross and see much more than just the instrument of which Jesus hung until he died.

The sufferings of Jesus and the glory of his resurrection are inseparably joined in the Paschal Mystery. The preface of Easter proclaims, “By dying he destroyed our death and by rising he restored our life.” The Father saved us not only by delivering up his Son for us but also by raising him from the dead (see 1 Peter 1:3-5). It is for this reason that we say the Cross of Christ points toward and is fulfilled in the Resurrection.

When we reflect on the article of the Creed that proclaims that Jesus was crucified, died and was buried, we find ourselves joining Saint Paul, Saint Alphonsus Liguori and so many others. With them we proclaim, “we adore you O Christ and we praise you, because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.”

Throwback Thursday: Do This in Memory of Me

March 29th, 2018

St. Mary Church in Rockville – photo credit M.Hoyt, Catholic Standard

Today, Holy Thursday, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper is a retelling of the story of God’s love, a love for each one of us individually. On Holy Thursday, we hear the story of the Passover meal in the Book of Exodus and then, in the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians, how in that context, centuries later, Jesus established the new memorial at the Last Supper.

In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the relationship of the Last Supper to the events of our redemption is made explicit in the account of the institution of the Eucharist. “Do this in memory of me,” Jesus announces.

As we approach the altar of the Lord, we also rejoice in the recognition that God loves each one of us.

The great devotion we have for and exceptional care we show the Blessed Sacrament comes out of our profound faith that Jesus Christ is truly present, body and blood, soul and divinity after the consecration of the bread and wine.

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper also includes the ceremony of the washing of feet. What brings us to the table of the Lord is our love of the Lord, and what brings us to our knees to wash the feet of others is the recognition that we must see in one another Jesus Christ, and thus love one another.

The washing of the feet, like the Eucharist itself, is intended to help us once again hear the story of God’s love. Jesus washed the feet of his Apostles. This action simply reminds us that God loves each of us and in that love he calls us to love one another.

We are capable of showing love for others in many ways, maybe not as dramatically as washing their feet, but in a way that truly conveys compassion: by a word of forgiveness, by a gesture of welcome, by a sign of caring.

As we approach the altar and step forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ with a profound act of faith, let us renew in our hearts the realization that Christ who washed the feet of his disciples is present to wash away anything that would keep us from being one with him or hinder us from sharing in the joy of his new and eternal life.

On Waving Palm Branches

March 25th, 2018

Today we begin the holiest week of the liturgical year with two Gospel readings at Mass. First, at the start of the Eucharistic celebration, as a Church we stand holding palm branches and listen to the account from Saint Mark of Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. We place ourselves in the story as part of the crowd that in Jesus’ time gathered along the road to wave their branches and proclaim him King.

What is important to realize, though, is that our own waving of palms ought not simply be a symbolic gesture. In the sacred mysteries, these events – and the Passion narrative, again from Saint Mark, that we read in full in dramatic fashion later – are made present to us. We, the people hailing Christ as he rides a donkey into the Holy City on Sunday are the same people who say “Crucify him” on Friday, contributing to the suffering and death of Christ. By our participation here, we acknowledge our part in the drama – by our own sins we have separated ourselves from God and require redemption. Our sins brought about Jesus’ death, and yet by his death we are saved.

On this Palm Sunday leading to the Paschal Mystery, I encourage you to take some time to sit quietly and prayerfully reflect on how you can be something more than a passive observer of the sacred liturgies of the Triduum. This week, the Church as she has done for twenty centuries, calls Christians not just to commemorate events of long ago, but to enter the mystery. We are not bystanders. We have been invited to be participants in the mystery of our redemption.

How can you enter more fully into the mystery as it unfolds over the coming week? Making time for daily Mass and the sacrament of Reconciliation should be at the top of the list. If the daily Eucharist is not feasible, finding moments to read the Gospel each day and to pray with it will better enable you to join the liturgies on Holy Thursday and Good Friday with the right mindset. Taking the palm home to place in a prominent spot as a visual reminder of our faith, perhaps behind a crucifix, is a popular practice. Another idea is to ask the Lord to help you prepare – to open your heart and eyes and ears to see the richness of the meanings of the symbols and actions of each of the liturgies. Finally, thinking about how to make your days this week as simple and quiet as possible will help make the time special and mark the sacredness of each day of Holy Week.

May this week truly be a blessed one for you and for the whole Church of Washington.

Throwback Thursday: The Sign of Our New Life in Christ

March 22nd, 2018

Baptistry of the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle

“Your brother will rise.” These encouraging and comforting words spoken by Our Lord to Martha, grief-stricken at the death of her brother Lazarus, are part of one of the most familiar and inspiring Gospel stories.  This story of the raising of Lazarus, which was heard last Sunday on the Fifth Sunday of Lent, prepares us to enter into the mystery of death and the promise of resurrection that is at the heart of our journey through Holy Week and the Easter Triduum.

Jesus asks Martha if she believes what he has said.  On Martha’s lips we hear her own profession of faith. “I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the One who is coming into the world.”

Martha’s profession of faith is one of several in the Gospels that is a template for our own.  Every disciple of the Lord has personally to profess belief in him as Lord.  In Matthew’s Gospel, Peter is asked “Who do you say that I am?”  He replies, as must each of us if we are to be a disciple, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Today, as part of an extraordinary statement of Jesus that “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live…”,  there is the challenge, “Do you believe this?”  Martha’s response has to be our reply, the answer of every disciple “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe…”

The liturgy for the Fifth Sunday of Lent has focused our attention on the ultimate outcome of Jesus’ mission, ministry and Gospel and the events of his passion and death.  We are asked to renew our faith in the fulfillment of the Paschal Mystery – the resurrection, not just of Jesus but of each of us.

These are also the final days of preparation for the Elect, the catechumens who will make this same profession of faith and be baptized or confirmed and become full members of the Church and thus able to receive the Eucharist and live with a new found hope in the promise of the Resurrection. For Martha, it was the raising of her brother that was the sign of resurrection. For the Elect and for you and me, it is the baptismal font that is the sign of our new life in Christ at the Easter Vigil and all through the Easter season.

As we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments” (CCC 1213).  In order to demonstrate this graphically, in many churches the font sits at the entry of the church, or sometimes at another visible place in the church.

The baptistery has always been a significant aspect of church architecture.  Some Catholic churches have baptisteries.  Today the baptismal font in many churches is a significant part of the sanctuary itself.  Over the many centuries of Church life, free-standing baptisteries were also a feature.  While the Leaning Tower of Pisa may be the most famous of the three buildings that comprise the cathedral close, the magnificent baptistery is a work of art itself.

In the baptistery at Saint John Lateran, built in 440, there is an inscription above the font that is said to be written by Pope Sixtus III and it perfectly captures the renewing power of the waters of Baptism and the saving grace of the life of a Christian.   As we make the ascent to Jerusalem and Holy Week, these words of Pope Sixtus give us hope and cause for joy:

“Here is born a people of noble race, destined for Heaven,
whom the Spirit brings forth in the waters he has made fruitful.
Mother Church conceives her offspring by the breath of God,
and bears them virginally in this water.

“Hope for the Kingdom of Heaven, you who are reborn in this font.
Eternal life does not await those who are only born once.
This is the spring of life that waters the whole world,
taking its origin from the Wounds of Christ.

“Sinner, to be purified, go down into the holy water.
It receives the unregenerate and brings him forth a new man.
If you wish to be made innocent, be cleansed in this pool,
whether you are weighed down by original sin or your own.

“There is no barrier between those who are reborn
and made one by the one font, the one Spirit, and the one faith.
Let neither the number nor the kind of their sins terrify anyone;
Once reborn in this water, they will be holy.”

Bringing Gifts, Beauty and Dignity to Society

March 21st, 2018

photo credit: Catholic Standard

One of my joys is sharing with you and others the many ways that members of our spiritual family are manifesting God’s kingdom in the world.

For example, a regular volunteer for Saint Maria’s Meals program, Maria Teresa Guadalupe McMurtrie continues a special legacy when she serves dinner to the homeless and other poor outside the offices of Catholic Charities. Known for her sunny personality, she is the goddaughter of Saint Mother Teresa and helped bring up the offertory at her Canonization Mass in 2016.  Noting how her godmother “always liked to help and serve people,” Maria has taken that as her inheritance, joyously serving as well in her parish office and as an assistant at Our Lady of Mercy School.

Maria’s story, like that of many other persons with Down syndrome, is worth celebrating as we observe World Down Syndrome Day today.  As valued missionary disciples bearing witness to a culture of inclusion, they enrich society daily with the gifts they share in churches and schools, neighborhoods and workplaces, and in their friendships and in walking together with others in our common journey through life.

All of creation and each one of us is a reflection of the glory of God. By his life and love, Jesus teaches us that we are all children of God, and brothers and sisters to each other. This is a truth that our country and culture need to hear – and which people with Down syndrome illustrate with their lives – as too often they are subjected instead to the prejudices of the “throwaway culture” that places little value on the lives of many.

Thus, stories of inclusion that recognize the inherent dignity of all people are good news indeed.  For instance, it is heartening to see various companies selecting persons with Down syndrome for their ads, television shows depicting them pursuing their dreams in their daily lives, and YouTube videos where they are their own best advocates, refusing to accept the limitations that society might impose on them.

Locally, those stories include Meghan Jones, a lector and altar server at her parish who offered the second reading at the 2015 papal Mass here; Karlena Somerville, a kindergartener who simply shined with love in welcoming Pope Francis; Theresa Brogan, a senior at the Academy of the Holy Cross who serves in peer ministry to help other students grow in their faith; and many more who each day share God’s love, and by their lives testify to how each of us is a masterpiece of his creation.

“Belonging starts here.” This refrain of our archdiocesan Department of Special Needs Ministries points out that the culture of inclusion starts with us.  Walking together in solidarity, step-by-step we pray to God it will become a completed reality.

The Fifth Anniversary of the Election of Pope Francis

March 19th, 2018

Today is the Solemnity of Saint Joseph and it is also the fifth anniversary of the Mass for the Inauguration of Pope Francis.  When Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was elected and “Habemus Papam! (We have a Pope!)” was proclaimed five years ago, most people wondered who this man was.  But the excitement felt there in Saint Peter’s Square and around the world already gave one indication – he is firstly the living continuity with Peter and therefore with Jesus Christ and his Gospel.  Then, from the moment he stepped out onto the balcony, he has set a vibrant tone and witness in being a Spirit-filled missionary disciple of Jesus and his loving mercy.

In a world that thirsts for a love which does not disappoint, that is hungry for justice and more than what our materialistic, commercialized society offers, the Holy Father calls us to respond proactively with caring and kindness. Again and again, we hear him say to “go out” and embrace with Christ’s love those we encounter, particularly those on the margins of life, the poor, the vulnerable and the outcast.  What Pope Francis is doing – in his apostolic travels, homilies and writings, in his pastoral outreach to hospitals, charities, prisons and refugee camps, and in his proclaiming a Jubilee Year of Mercy – is the New Evangelization, proposing the Gospel in a living, attractive way that provides people the uncomplicated treasure of Christ’s love.

In this respect, one of Pope Francis’ great contributions to date I believe has been the reconnecting of the Church – you and me – with the energy of the Second Vatican Council, the excitement of renewal, mission and a focus on the primacy of love as the engine driving the Church, her teaching and her outreach.  The fruits of this effort have been abundant, including informing our own Archdiocesan Synod on being the best Church we can be, and in the commitment to accompanying others with love, as I discussed in the recent pastoral plan to implement Amoris Laetitia, the Holy Father’s inspiring teaching on marriage and family.

All this was on display too when we were honored and blessed with his pastoral visit to Washington in 2015.  Reminding us that we “are heirs to the bold missionary spirit of so many men and women,” Pope Francis urged us to “rejoice in the Lord” and “siempre adelante, keep moving forward” and “offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ.” Then, practicing what he preaches, he embraced and offered comfort and hope to clients of Catholic Charities, saying to them, “As it did for Joseph, faith makes us open to the quiet presence of God at every moment of our lives, in every person and in every situation.  God is present in every one of you, in each one of us.”

Five years after he was elected, we thank God for the gift of Pope Francis.  Our Chief Shepherd has given his life for the flock, a true pastor of souls.  Wishing him a happy anniversary in the traditional way, we shout out, “Viva il Papa!

Throwback Thursday: Padre Pio and Our Spiritual Journey to Holiness

March 15th, 2018

This Saturday in the season of Lent, March 17, Pope Francis is making a pastoral pilgrimage to Pietrelcina and San Giovanni Rotondo on the occasion of the centennial year of the appearance of the stigmata of Saint Padre Pio and the 50th anniversary year of his death.

One of the most popular pilgrimage sites in Italy today is San Giovanni Rotondo where, for 50 years, Padre Pio, now Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, was dedicated to a ministry of healing, both body and spirit.  Consumed by a longing to care for souls, he spent many hours each day hearing confessions and praying.  He would say, “In books we seek God, in prayer we find him. Prayer is the key which opens God’s heart.”

Padre Pio was baptized with the name of Francis, and like the saint of Assisi, he received the stigmata, bearing in his body the marks of Christ’s Passion.  He had many other mystical experiences throughout his life as well.  “Those who went to San Giovanni Rotondo to attend his Mass, to seek his counsel or to confess to him, saw in him a living image of Christ suffering and risen,” affirmed Saint Pope John Paul II.  Given his reputation for sanctity, people would write to Padre Pio, asking for prayers, and many miraculous healings have been attributed to his intercession.  He also established a hospital – the Home for the Relief of Suffering.

“By his teaching and example,” continued John Paul II, “Padre Pio invites us to pray, to receive divine mercy through the sacrament of Penance and to love our neighbor.”  He shows us the path to spiritual purification.

How often we seek the presence of saints like Padre Pio.  We ask them to intercede for us. We journey to places where they lived and where they now rest.  Going not as mere tourists for entertainment, we travel as pilgrims to experience the reality of our living faith and grow closer to God.

Pilgrimages to holy places have been undertaken from the earliest days for a number of reasons, such as seeking divine assistance, in thanksgiving, as penance for sin, or for spiritual growth and devotion.  Here within the Archdiocese of Washington there are a number of pilgrimage sites, many with great historical significance for our Catholic heritage, including:

In these sacred places and many more in this area, the pilgrim is invited to meet the mystery of God and discover his merciful love, remembering that we walk with our spiritual family, the Church and with all the saints who have already completed the journey. They help us on our way, so that we too may someday enjoy with them the blessed vision of the glory of God forever.

In this way, no longer wandering aimlessly in the desert, we advance in our ultimate pilgrimage toward the promised land of eternal life.  We do not travel alone.  We walk with our spiritual family the Church, with Padre Pio and the other saints who have already completed the journey.  They help us on our way so that we too may enter into the blessed vision of the glory of God.