Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Legacy of Saints John and John Paul: "A Church of Mercy, Which Always Hopes, Forgives and Loves"

27 APRIL 2014
At the heart of this Sunday, which concludes the Octave of Easter and which John Paul II wished to dedicate to Divine Mercy, are the glorious wounds of the risen Jesus.

He had already shown those wounds when he first appeared to the Apostles on the very evening of that day following the Sabbath, the day of the resurrection. But, as we heard, Thomas was not there that evening, and when the others told him that they had seen the Lord, he replied that unless he himself saw and touched those wounds, he would not believe. A week later, Jesus appeared once more to the disciples gathered in the Upper Room, and Thomas was present; Jesus turned to him and told him to touch his wounds. Whereupon that man, so straightforward and accustomed to testing everything personally, knelt before Jesus with the words: “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28).

The wounds of Jesus are a scandal, a stumbling block for faith, yet they are also the test of faith. That is why on the body of the risen Christ the wounds never pass away: they remain, for those wounds are the enduring sign of God’s love for us. They are essential for believing in God. Not for believing that God exists, but for believing that God is love, mercy and faithfulness. Saint Peter, quoting Isaiah, writes to Christians: “by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet 2:24, cf. Is 53:5).

Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II were not afraid to look upon the wounds of Jesus, to touch his torn hands and his pierced side. They were not ashamed of the flesh of Christ, they were not scandalized by him, by his cross; they did not despise the flesh of their brother (cf. Is 58:7), because they saw Jesus in every person who suffers and struggles. These were two men of courage, filled with the parrhesia of the Holy Spirit, and they bore witness before the Church and the world to God’s goodness and mercy.

They were priests, bishops and popes of the twentieth century. They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful – faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of man and the Lord of history; the mercy of God, shown by those five wounds, was more powerful; and more powerful too was the closeness of Mary our Mother.

In these two men, who looked upon the wounds of Christ and bore witness to his mercy, there dwelt a living hope and an indescribable and glorious joy (1 Pet 1:3,8). The hope and the joy which the risen Christ bestows on his disciples, the hope and the joy which nothing and no one can take from them. The hope and joy of Easter, forged in the crucible of self-denial, self-emptying, utter identification with sinners, even to the point of disgust at the bitterness of that chalice. Such were the hope and the joy which these two holy popes had received as a gift from the risen Lord and which they in turn bestowed in abundance upon the People of God, meriting our eternal gratitude.

This hope and this joy were palpable in the earliest community of believers, in Jerusalem, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 2:42-47), as we heard in the second reading. It was a community which lived the heart of the Gospel, love and mercy, in simplicity and fraternity.

This is also the image of the Church which the Second Vatican Council set before us. John XXIII and John Paul II cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the Church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries. Let us not forget that it is the saints who give direction and growth to the Church. In convening the Council, John XXIII showed an exquisite openness to the Holy Spirit. He let himself be led and he was for the Church a pastor, a servant-leader, led by the Spirit. This was his great service to the Church; he was the pope of openness to the Spirit.

In his own service to the People of God, John Paul II was the pope of the family. He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family. I am particularly happy to point this out as we are in the process of journeying with families towards the Synod on the family. It is surely a journey which, from his place in heaven, he guides and sustains.

May these two new saints and shepherds of God’s people intercede for the Church, so that during this two-year journey toward the Synod she may be open to the Holy Spirit in pastoral service to the family. May both of them teach us not to be scandalized by the wounds of Christ and to enter ever more deeply into the mystery of divine mercy, which always hopes and always forgives, because it always loves.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Two Saints. One Church. One Call.

In the life of a church whose memory extends across two millennia and now comprises 1.2 billion souls, it's not often that one encounters the unprecedented.

As history goes, then, we've been spoiledrepeatedly – these last 14 months. And still, yet again, here we are: as never before, tonight brings the eve of the canonization of two Popes.

Of the 265 successors of a certain Fisherman from Galilee who came to Rome, only some 80 have been raised fully to the honors of the altar. Almost all of them held the Chair at the very beginning, before a small, persecuted fold took on the trappings of Empire. Before tonight, meanwhile, the last Pope-Saint was declared in 1954 – the beloved, contadino Pius X – while, to find a second, you'd have go to back to the 1700s.

Even since that period, however, it's not just a very different world, but a renewed church whose Sacred Tradition has evolved in continuity with its long, vaunted, sometimes convoluted past. Along those lines, the joint ratification that John XXIII and John Paul II now live in the Father's House doesn't merely validate the verdict of the sensus fidelium on the holiness of their lives: it represents the ultimate recognition of their respective roles as the twin architects of the modern papacy – a munus in which a man's personality doesn't vanish at the moment he donned the white, but one that would see the Petrine charism amplified across the globe by its respective holder's gifts, talents and areas of concern, so as to restore for a new age an aspect of the office which was often obscured with time, but from its very inception had been its intended charge: that is, to be Pastor of Christ's Body on Earth.

With the rites (pdf) set to begin at 10am Vatican time (4am ET; 0800GMT) Sunday, in the packed streets and churches of Rome, the second "White Night" vigil of the last three years is already underway. And so, as it begins, let the saints come marching in: first – in Angelo Roncalli's maiden turn on the world stage – Pope St John XXIII's arrival at his 1958 coronation...

And for Pope St John Paul II, the first time the generation of the Great Jubilee saw him on American soil – Karol Wojtyla's memorable entrance into Newark's Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, which he made a Basilica in its narthex on St Francis' Day 1995....

* * *
Given the times, it wouldn't be a Big Story out of the Vatican if at least some didn't seek to find or create controversy in the hopes of grabbing at least a bit of the spotlight for themselves. Yet even for that, the millions already flooding the Square and the streets surrounding it serve yet again to deliver the last word – that when God's people come together to celebrate and affirm our own, The Church always wins.

Lest anybody forgot, that's not just a lesson for canonizations.

Sure, the day to come marks the sainting of two Popes, but Peter's Chair is only where the paths of Roncalli and Wojtyla would end. Most of all, then, even more than standing as the architects of the modern papacy, the duo being highlighted respectively blazed their trails in an era whose primary ecclesial stage was formally defined to be far beyond the Papal Apartment, in Vatican II's powerful reminder that, in the Church, holiness is not the unique province or privilege of neither the papacy nor the ordained presbyterate, but of the shared priesthood which, through Baptism, is the life and mission of all the People of God.

Clearly, that's still not enough for some. And as even the third architect of Peter's work in our time would agree, that's because the vision remains to be realized.

Whether through holy Popes or sainted souls in every walk of life, the joy of this day is rooted in something far bigger than the sum of its million-plus parts. Indeed, it comes in the Church's due celebration of the gold standard for all of us: women and men alike; lay and ordained, professed, created or elected.

As the moment draws near, perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of the moment is the degree of focus that's duly fallen on the presence of a certain onlooker, one now resigned to being well more silent than the crowd.

Of course, that wasn't always the case. Still, it was he who gave the master-class on what this Sunday celebrates just nine Easters ago. More than anything, it is – at least, it's supposed to be – the goal of all God's People: that sanctity which is possible for each of us, whatever our state in life, regardless of how far we have to go in trying to live up to it....


Sunday, April 20, 2014

"Christ Is Risen, Come and See!"

20 APRIL 2014

Dear Brothers and Sisters, a Happy and Holy Easter!

The Church throughout the world echoes the angel’s message to the women: "Do not be afraid! I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised... Come, see the place where he lay" (Mt 28:5-6).

This is the culmination of the Gospel, it is the Good News par excellence: Jesus, who was crucified, is risen! This event is the basis of our faith and our hope. If Christ were not raised, Christianity would lose its very meaning; the whole mission of the Church would lose its impulse, for this is the point from which it first set out and continues to set out ever anew. The message which Christians bring to the world is this: Jesus, Love incarnate, died on the cross for our sins, but God the Father raised him and made him the Lord of life and death. In Jesus, love has triumphed over hatred, mercy over sinfulness, goodness over evil, truth over falsehood, life over death.

That is why we tell everyone: "Come and see!" In every human situation, marked by frailty, sin and death, the Good News is no mere matter of words, but a testimony to unconditional and faithful love: it is about leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life’s troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast… "Come and see!": Love is more powerful, love gives life, love makes hope blossom in the wilderness.

With this joyful certainty in our hearts, today we turn to you, risen Lord!

Help us to seek you and to find you, to realize that we have a Father and are not orphans; that we can love and adore you.

Help us to overcome the scourge of hunger, aggravated by conflicts and by the immense wastefulness for which we are often responsible.

Enable us to protect the vulnerable, especially children, women and the elderly, who are at times exploited and abandoned.

Enable us to care for our brothers and sisters struck by the Ebola epidemic in Guinea Conakry, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and to care for those suffering from so many other diseases which are also spread through neglect and dire poverty.

Comfort all those who cannot celebrate this Easter with their loved ones because they have been unjustly torn from their affections, like the many persons, priests and laity, who in various parts of the world have been kidnapped.

Comfort those who have left their own lands to migrate to places offering hope for a better future and the possibility of living their lives in dignity and, not infrequently, of freely professing their faith.

We ask you, Lord Jesus, to put an end to all war and every conflict, whether great or small, ancient or recent.

We pray in a particular way for Syria, beloved Syria, that all those suffering the effects of the conflict can receive needed humanitarian aid and that neither side will again use deadly force, especially against the defenseless civil population, but instead boldly negotiate the peace long awaited and long overdue!

Jesus, Lord of glory, we ask you to comfort the victims of fratricidal acts of violence in Iraq and to sustain the hopes raised by the resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

We beg for an end to the conflicts in the Central African Republic and a halt to the brutal terrorist attacks in parts of Nigeria and the acts of violence in South Sudan.

We ask that hearts be turned to reconciliation and fraternal concord in Venezuela.

By your resurrection, which this year we celebrate together with the Churches that follow the Julian calendar, we ask you to enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace in Ukraine so that all those involved, with the support of the international community, will make every effort to prevent violence and, in a spirit of unity and dialogue, chart a path for the country’s future. On this day, may they be able to proclaim, as brothers and sisters, that Christ is risen, Khrystos voskres!

Lord, we pray to you for all the peoples of the earth: you who have conquered death, grant us your life, grant us your peace! "Christus surrexit, venite et videte!" ["Christ is risen, come and see!"]

Dear brothers and sisters, Buona Pasqua!


Saturday, April 19, 2014

On Easter Night, "For Each of Us, There Is A 'Galilee'"

19 APRIL 2014

The Gospel of the resurrection of Jesus Christ begins with the journey of the women to the tomb at dawn on the day after the Sabbath. They go to the tomb to honour the body of the Lord, but they find it open and empty. A mighty angel says to them: “Do not be afraid!” (Mt 28:5) and orders them to go and tell the disciples: “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee” (v. 7). The women quickly depart and on the way Jesus himself meets them and says: “Do not fear; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me” (v. 10).

After the death of the Master, the disciples had scattered; their faith had been utterly shaken, everything seemed over, all their certainties had crumbled and their hopes had died. But now that message of the women, incredible as it was, came to them like a ray of light in the darkness. The news spread: Jesus is risen as he said. And then there was his command to go to Galilee; the women had heard it twice, first from the angel and then from Jesus himself: “Let them go to Galilee; there they will see me”.

Galilee is the place where they were first called, where everything began! To return there, to return to the place where they were originally called. Jesus had walked along the shores of the lake as the fishermen were casting their nets. He had called them, and they left everything and followed him (cf. Mt 4:18-22).

To return to Galilee means to re-read everything on the basis of the cross and its victory. To re-read everything – Jesus’ preaching, his miracles, the new community, the excitement and the defections, even the betrayal – to re-read everything starting from the end, which is a new beginning, from this supreme act of love.

For each of us, too, there is a “Galilee” at the origin of our journey with Jesus. “To go to Galilee” means something beautiful, it means rediscovering our baptism as a living fountainhead, drawing new energy from the sources of our faith and our Christian experience. To return to Galilee means above all to return to that blazing light with which God’s grace touched me at the start of the journey. From that flame I can light a fire for today and every day, and bring heat and light to my brothers and sisters. That flame ignites a humble joy, a joy which sorrow and distress cannot dismay, a good, gentle joy.

In the life of every Christian, after baptism there is also a more existential “Galilee”: the experience of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ who called me to follow him and to share in his mission. In this sense, returning to Galilee means treasuring in my heart the living memory of that call, when Jesus passed my way, gazed at me with mercy and asked me to follow him. It means reviving the memory of that moment when his eyes met mine, the moment when he made me realize that he loved me.

Today, tonight, each of us can ask: What is my Galilee? Where is my Galilee? Do I remember it? Have I forgotten it? Have I gone off on roads and paths which made me forget it? Lord, help me: tell me what my Galilee is; for you know that I want to return there to encounter you and to let myself be embraced by your mercy.

The Gospel of Easter is very clear: we need to go back there, to see Jesus risen, and to become witnesses of his resurrection. This is not to go back in time; it is not a kind of nostalgia. It is returning to our first love, in order to receive the fire which Jesus has kindled in the world and to bring that fire to all people, to the very ends of the earth.

“Galilee of the Gentiles” (Mt 4:15; Is 8:23)! Horizon of the Risen Lord, horizon of the Church; intense desire of encounter.... Let us be on our way!

[Ed. Note: Vatican translation; emphases original... e Buona Pasqua a tutti!]


Friday, April 18, 2014

Adoramus te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi./

Quia per sanctam crucem tuam redemisti mundum.

From the Gospel according to Mark. 15:33-34, 37, 39

And when the sixth hour had come
there was darkness over the whole land
until the ninth hour.
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice:
"Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?",
which means:
"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.
When the centurion, who stood facing him,
saw that he thus breathed his last, he said:
"Truly this man was the Son of God".
Here we have the greatest, the most sublime work of the Son in union with the Father. Yes: in union, in the most perfect union possible, precisely at the moment when he cries: "Eloi, Eloi lama sabachthani" - "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mk 15:34; Mt 27:46).

This work finds expression in the verticality of his body stretched against the perpendicular beam of the Cross and in the horizontality of his arms stretched along the transverse beam. To gaze upon those arms one would think that in the effort they expend they embrace all humanity and all the world.

They do indeed embrace it.

Here is the man. Here is God himself. "In him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). In him: in those arms outstretched along the transverse beam of the Cross. The mystery of the Redemption.

Nailed to the Cross, pinned in that terrible position, Jesus calls on the Father (cf. Mk 15:34; Mt 27:46; Lk 23:46). All his words bear witness that he is one with the Father. "I and the Father are one" (Jn 10:30); "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (Jn 14:9); "My Father is working still, and I am working" (Jn 5:17).

Son of God, remember us,
at the hour of death.
R. Kyrie, eleison.

Son of the Father, remember us,
and by your Spirit renew the face of the earth.
R. Kyrie, eleison.

–Pope John Paul II
Meditations for the Via Crucis
Good Friday 2003

Adoramus Te, Christe et Benedicumus Tibi....

Set to begin just after 9pm in Rome (3pm ET, Noon Pacific), below is a live-feed of this Good Friday's traditional torch-lit Way of the Cross at the Colosseum in the presence of the Pope:

The meditations for this year's Via Crucis were written by Giancarlo Maria Bregantini, a Stigmatine Father who's served since 2007 as archbishop of Campobasso in Calabria.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

In Supremae Nocte Coenae....

Let us pray.

Grant, almighty God,
that, just as we are renewed
by the Supper of your Son in this present age,
so may we enjoy his banquet for all eternity,
Who lives and reigns forever and ever....
Even if this night's onetime last rubric isn't as clear as it used to be, at least its spirit remains the same.

Until tomorrow, Church, "All depart in silence.


For Rehab Patients, Francis Makes "The Act of A Slave"

Continuing the custom he began as archbishop of Buenos Aires, on this Holy Thursday night the Pope began the Paschal Triduum with the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper in a facility of "pastoral need" – this time around, a house of the Don Gnocchi Foundation, a skilled-care center in Rome's Casal del Marmo section, not far from the juvenile detention house which Francis chose for this night last year, to the enduring shock of many in the Vatican and beyond.

Contrary to last year's rites, this time around saw a complete live broadcast of the Mass by Vatican television. Until the Bergoglio change-up, for roughly a millennium the Popes celebrated the Holy Thursday liturgy at Rome's cathedral, St John Lateran, which had been the papal residence until the move to the Vatican in the 1400s.

Given off-the-cuff, homily to come... but for now, here's video of the moment likely to garner the most interest – as a contemporary setting of the Ubi Caritas strummed in the background, the washing (and, per tradition, kissing) of the feet of 12 patients, aged 16 to 86, women and men alike:


"How Did We Get This Way? And How Do We Turn Back?"

As American Catholicism's "Last Great China Shop" continues on the road of a historic renewal – and plans for a PopeStop on Francis' expected US tour in September 2015 continue apace – Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. of Philadelphia delivered the following homily (fullaudio) at this Holy Thursday's Chrism Mass in the Cathedral-Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul:


For Priests, "A Joy Which Anoints Us... Not One Which 'Greases' Us"

17 APRIL 2014

Dear Brother Priests,

In the eternal “today” of Holy Thursday, when Christ showed his love for us to the end (cf. Jn 13:1), we recall the happy day of the institution of the priesthood, as well as the day of our own priestly ordination. The Lord anointed us in Christ with the oil of gladness, and this anointing invites us to accept and appreciate this great gift: the gladness, the joy of being a priest. Priestly joy is a priceless treasure, not only for the priest himself but for the entire faithful people of God: that faithful people from which he is called to be anointed and which he, in turn, is sent to anoint.

Anointed with the oil of gladness so as to anoint others with the oil of gladness. Priestly joy has its source in the Father’s love, and the Lord wishes the joy of this Love to be “ours” and to be “complete” (Jn 15:11). I like to reflect on joy by contemplating Our Lady, for Mary, the “Mother of the living Gospel, is a wellspring of joy for God’s little ones” (Evangelii Gaudium, 288). I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that priest is very little indeed: the incomparable grandeur of the gift granted us for the ministry sets us among the least of men. The priest is the poorest of men unless Jesus enriches him by his poverty, the most useless of servants unless Jesus calls him his friend, the most ignorant of men unless Jesus patiently teaches him as he did Peter, the frailest of Christians unless the Good Shepherd strengthens him in the midst of the flock. No one is more “little” than a priest left to his own devices; and so our prayer of protection against every snare of the Evil One is the prayer of our Mother: I am a priest because he has regarded my littleness (cf. Lk 1:48). And in that littleness we find our joy.

For me, there are three significant features of our priestly joy. It is a joy which anoints us (not one which “greases” us, making us unctuous, sumptuous and presumptuous), it is a joy which is imperishable and it is a missionary joy which spreads and attracts, starting backwards – with those farthest away from us.

A joy which anoints us. In a word: it has penetrated deep within our hearts, it has shaped them and strengthened them sacramentally. The signs of the ordination liturgy speak to us of the Church’s maternal desire to pass on and share with others all that the Lord has given us: the laying on of hands, the anointing with sacred chrism, the clothing with sacred vestments, the first consecration which immediately follows… Grace fills us to the brim and overflows, fully, abundantly and entirely in each priest. We are anointed down to our very bones… and our joy, which wells up from deep within, is the echo of this anointing.

An imperishable joy. The fullness of the Gift, which no one can take away or increase, is an unfailing source of joy: an imperishable joy which the Lord has promised no one can take from us (Jn 16:22). It can lie dormant, or be clogged by sin or by life’s troubles, yet deep down it remains intact, like the embers of a burnt log beneath the ashes, and it can always be renewed. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy remains ever timely: I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands (cf. 2 Tim 1:6).

A missionary joy. I would like especially to share with you and to stress this third feature: priestly joy is deeply bound up with God’s holy and faithful people, for it is an eminently missionary joy. Our anointing is meant for anointing God’s holy and faithful people: for baptizing and confirming them, healing and sanctifying them, blessing, comforting and evangelizing them.

And since this joy is one which only springs up when the shepherd is in the midst of his flock (for even in the silence of his prayer, the shepherd who worships the Father is with his sheep), it is a “guarded joy”, watched over by the flock itself. Even in those gloomy moments when everything looks dark and a feeling of isolation takes hold of us, in those moments of listlessness and boredom which at times overcome us in our priestly life (and which I too have experienced), even in those moments God’s people are able to “guard” that joy; they are able to protect you, to embrace you and to help you open your heart to find renewed joy.

A “guarded joy”: one guarded by the flock but also guarded by three sisters who surround it, tend it and defend it: sister poverty, sister fidelity and sister obedience.

Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to poverty. The priest is poor in terms of purely human joy. He has given up so much! And because he is poor, he, who gives so much to others, has to seek his joy from the Lord and from God’s faithful people. He doesn’t need to try to create it for himself. We know that our people are very generous in thanking priests for their slightest blessing and especially for the sacraments. Many people, in speaking of the crisis of priestly identity, fail to realize that identity presupposes belonging. There is no identity – and consequently joy of life – without an active and unwavering sense of belonging to God’s faithful people (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 268). The priest who tries to find his priestly identity by soul-searching and introspection may well encounter nothing more than “exit” signs, signs that say: exit from yourself, exit to seek God in adoration, go out and give your people what was entrusted to you, for your people will make you feel and taste who you are, what your name is, what your identity is, and they will make you rejoice in that hundredfold which the Lord has promised to those who serve him. Unless you “exit” from yourself, the oil grows rancid and the anointing cannot be fruitful. Going out from ourselves presupposes self-denial; it means poverty.

Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to fidelity. Not primarily in the sense that we are all “immaculate” (would that by God’s grace we were!), for we are sinners, but in the sense of an ever renewed fidelity to the one Bride, to the Church. Here fruitfulness is key. The spiritual children which the Lord gives each priest, the children he has baptized, the families he has blessed and helped on their way, the sick he has comforted, the young people he catechizes and helps to grow, the poor he assists… all these are the “Bride” whom he rejoices to treat as his supreme and only love and to whom he is constantly faithful. It is the living Church, with a first name and a last name, which the priest shepherds in his parish or in the mission entrusted to him. That mission brings him joy whenever he is faithful to it, whenever he does all that he has to do and lets go of everything that he has to let go of, as long as he stands firm amid the flock which the Lord has entrusted to him: Feed my sheep (cf. Jn 21:16,17).

Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to obedience. An obedience to the Church in the hierarchy which gives us, as it were, not simply the external framework for our obedience: the parish to which I am sent, my ministerial assignments, my particular work … but also union with God the Father, the source of all fatherhood. It is likewise an obedience to the Church in service: in availability and readiness to serve everyone, always and as best I can, following the example of “Our Lady of Promptness” (cf. Lk 1:39, meta spoudes), who hastens to serve Elizabeth her kinswoman and is concerned for the kitchen of Cana when the wine runs out. The availability of her priests makes the Church a house with open doors, a refuge for sinners, a home for people living on the streets, a place of loving care for the sick, a camp for the young, a classroom for catechizing children about to make their First Communion… Wherever God’s people have desires or needs, there is the priest, who knows how to listen (ob-audire) and feels a loving mandate from Christ who sends him to relieve that need with mercy or to encourage those good desires with resourceful charity.

All who are called should know that genuine and complete joy does exist in this world: it is the joy of being taken from the people we love and then being sent back to them as dispensers of the gifts and counsels of Jesus, the one Good Shepherd who, with deep compassion for all the little ones and the outcasts of this earth, wearied and oppressed like sheep without a shepherd, wants to associate many others to his ministry, so as himself to remain with us and to work, in the person of his priests, for the good of his people.

On this priestly Thursday I ask the Lord Jesus to enable many young people to discover that burning zeal which joy kindles in our hearts as soon as we have the stroke of boldness needed to respond willingly to his call.

On this priestly Thursday I ask the Lord Jesus to preserve the joy sparkling in the eyes of the recently ordained who go forth to devour the world, to spend themselves fully in the midst of God's faithful people, rejoicing as they prepare their first homily, their first Mass, their first Baptism, their first confession… It is the joy of being able to share with wonder, and for the first time as God’s anointed, the treasure of the Gospel and to feel the faithful people anointing you again and in yet another way: by their requests, by bowing their heads for your blessing, by taking your hands, by bringing you their children, by pleading for their sick… Preserve, Lord, in your young priests the joy of going forth, of doing everything as if for the first time, the joy of spending their lives fully for you.

On this priestly Thursday I ask the Lord Jesus to confirm the priestly joy of those who have already ministered for some years. The joy which, without leaving their eyes, is also found on the shoulders of those who bear the burden of the ministry, those priests who, having experienced the labours of the apostolate, gather their strength and rearm themselves: “get a second wind”, as the athletes say. Lord, preserve the depth, wisdom and maturity of the joy felt by these older priests. May they be able to pray with Nehemiah: “the joy of the Lord is my strength” (cf. Neh 8:10).

Finally, on this priestly Thursday I ask the Lord Jesus to make better known the joy of elderly priests, whether healthy or infirm. It is the joy of the Cross, which springs from the knowledge that we possess an imperishable treasure in perishable earthen vessels. May these priests find happiness wherever they are; may they experience already, in the passage of the years, a taste of eternity (Guardini). May they know the joy of handing on the torch, the joy of seeing new generations of their spiritual children, and of hailing the promises from afar, smiling and at peace, in that hope which does not disappoint.


On Holy Thursday, The Priesthood, Past and Future

Even if the overwhelming bulk of Chrism Masses have already come and gone, only now have we arrived at the moment they celebrate: Holy Thursday, the "birthday" of the ministerial priesthood.

Nowadays, just a handful of US dioceses – among them Detroit, Philadelphia, St Louis, Arlington, Gary, Greensburg, Lansing, Pittsburgh and Rockville Centre – continue to hold their edition of the rite in its traditional time-slot this morning. In any case, wherever you are, let the brothers take a bow – today and always, thank you for your "yes" and all that it's allowed you to be, do and give all year... and please, please, keep it up.

In the spirit of the observance, meanwhile, it feels worthwhile to call up a unique experience over recent months, especially given the anchor reflections which might be useful for at least some out there today.

Back in mid-September, this scribe had the immense treat of taking the podium at American Catholicism's lone province-wide convocation of priests: the triennial assembly in New Orleans arranged by the dioceses of Louisiana, which has become a tradition there since 1989.

While watching it all unfold, one couldn't help but think it'd take most other provinces three years of "discernment" – read: fighting – over whether to have a gathering like it, and another three to decide the agenda, but so it goes. In any case, beyond the wonderful company, the moment and the setting provided an especially keen glimpse both of the ever-increasing challenges facing presbyterates among us, and the sense of a turning page in ecclesial life writ large.

On the latter front, a couple threads particular to the place are only set to become more widespread over the coming years: to start, with the first prominent abuse outbreak having occurred in Lafayette in 1985, Louisiana is the Stateside church's closest thing to a fully "post-abuse" reality, while its historic template of a French-Cajun dominant culture that allowed for broad contributions from others foreshadows the new future elsewhere of an institutional framework divorced from the "Irish model," whose 150-year dominance over most of the rest of the national landscape is only now reaching its end. And, indeed, another aspect that marked the days is a new one across the map, but one only set to grow – the new pontificate and, with it, the sense of a pendulum shift both in the trenches of ministry and on the hierarchical plane.

Much more could be said, but on this "feast" of the priesthood, it's best to leave the talking to the clerics. Ergo, springing from the Lousiana convention's theme of "Treasuring the past, Celebrating the present, Envisioning the future," below is the opening keynote on things past given by Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta....

(To re-clarify, the talk above was given long before the fiasco of a new, $2.2 million residence – now being sold in the wake of a firestorm that went viral – embroiled the revered Hotlanta chief in a week's worth of news-cycles over this Lent... an episode which, even now, has left no shortage of ad intra folk still scratching their heads.)

And here, the closing vision of the priesthood's future in mission as seen by Louisiana's first-ever native-son metropolitan, the Crescent City's Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who – before becoming the USCCB's most acclaimed operators and, arguably, the most beloved shepherd in his diocese of any American bishop – formed much of the state's presbyterate over his 14 years as rector of Notre Dame Seminary:

As the Roman Synod of Bishops continues to consolidate its new place at the center of Francis' governing vision, at its Chrism Mass on Tuesday, New Orleans inaugurated an Archdiocesan Synod, which is slated to run through Pentecost 2015. At present, the only other local assembly underway on these shores is in Washington, whose first-ever Synod – timed to coincide with the archdiocese's 75th anniversary as a stand-alone church – will close in June.

Back to the morning's Main Event, meanwhile, again, all good wishes and thanks to the many heroes who make up "the long black line" among us – even for all the chaos and needed prep of these days, may your Triduum be a rich, brilliant and meaningful experience.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Amid the "Oil Change and Tune-Up," A Warning Light: "Francis Is Calling Us"

Merry Chrismas to all... and to all, well, start your engines.

As this Tuesday of Holy Week brings the largest batch of Chrism Masses on these shores, this is always an especially graced moment. Still, one prelate who faced delivering his most important message of the year ahead of the Pope's word to Rome probably echoed the mind of many others on musing that "I just wish I knew what Francis was going to say" come Thursday morning.

For what it's worth, guessing ain't much use – we'll see in 36 hours, and we'll all see it together.

Whatever happens, it bears recalling that as the last papal Holy Thursday made for two of the most evocative moments of this new journey to date – the almost exhaustively-quoted call for pastors to bear the "smell of the sheep"... and the video of the evening's Mandatum in a juvenile prison – this second round brings a high bar to match, let alone clear. Yet even before the Big Man gets his turn, the deck of reflections is already filling up.

Along those lines, below is the Chrism homily given this morning in Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross by Francis' "regional assistant" for North America, Cardinal Seán O'Malley, OFM Cap.:


Sunday, April 13, 2014

"Who Am I? Where Is My Heart?"

13 APRIL 2014
This week begins with the festive procession with olive branches: all the people welcome Jesus. The children, the young people sing, praising Jesus.

But this week proceeds into the mystery of Jesus' death and his resurrection. We've heard the Passion of the Lord. So it'll do us well to ask ourselves one question: Who am I? Who am I before my Lord? Who am I before the Jesus who enters Jerusalem amid celebration? Am I able to express my joy, to praise him? Or do I keep a distance? Who am I before the Jesus who suffers?

We've heard many names, many names. The group of rulers, some priests, some Pharisees, the teachers of the law, who decided to kill him. They waited for the chance to apprehend him. Am I one of them?

We've likewise heard another name: Judas. Thirty pieces of silver. Am I like Judas? We've heard other names: the disciples who couldn't understand any of it, who fell asleep while Jesus suffered. Has my life fallen asleep? Or am I like the disciples, who didn't understand what betraying Jesus meant? Like that other disciple who wanted to settle everything with the sword: am I like them? Am I like Judas, who made a show of loving and kissing Jesus, only to hand him over, to betray him? Am I a traitor? Am I like those rulers who rushed to hold the tribunal and seek false witnesses: am I like them? And when I do these things, if I do them, do I believe that I save people with this?

Am I like Pilate? When I see that the situation's tough, I wash my hands and don't know to take my responsibility and I let them condemn – or do I condemn – people?

Am I like that crowd which didn't know whether it was taking part in a religious gathering, a trial or a circus, and chooses Barabbas? For them it's all the same: it was more fun to humiliate Jesus.

Am I like the soldiers who strike the Lord, spit on him, insult him, enjoying themselves by humiliating the Lord?

Am I like the Cyrenian who was coming home from work, was tired, but had the goodwill to help the Lord carry the cross?

Am I like those who went before the Cross and taunted Jesus: "If only he had more courage! Come down from the cross, and we'll believe in Him!" They taunted Jesus....

Am I like those courageous women, and like Jesus' Mamma, who were there, suffering in silence?

Am I like Joseph, the hidden disciple, who carries the body of Jesus with love to give it a tomb?

Am I like the two Marys who remain before the Tomb crying, praying?

Am I like those leaders who went to Pilate the following day to say: "Be on guard – this one said he would rise, so don't let them be fooled again!" and blocked his life, blocked the tomb to defend doctrine, so that life could not come out?

Where is my heart? Which of these people am I like? May this question accompany us all through this week.

[Ed. Note: Homily delivered unscripted – house translation.]


This Holy Week, "Let Us Be Drawn Toward Him... Let Us Be Healed By Him"

Yet again, the journey begins in triumph....

...and as ever, how quickly it changes. Still, it's only a shadow of the other side of this Week – and lest anybody forgot, the days now upon us are what all the rest is all about.

To one and all, every blessing, grace and goodness of this Holy Week – here's to the richest and most beautiful one you've ever known.

*  *  *
As it begins, two reflections do well to set the scene.

First, from last Tuesday at the Domus, the Pope's preach....

It is impossible for us to free ourselves from sin on our own. It’s impossible. These doctors of the law, these people who taught the law, didn’t have a clear idea on this. They believed, yes, in the forgiveness of God but considered themselves strong, self-sufficient and that they knew everything. And in the end they transformed religion, their adoration of God, into a culture with values, reflections, certain commandments of conduct to be polite and they believed, yes, that the Lord can pardon them, they knew this but they were far removed from all this.

Christianity is not a philosophical doctrine, it’s not a program for life survival or education, or for peacemaking. These are consequences. Christianity is a person, a person raised on the Cross, a person who annihilated himself to save us, who became sin. Just as sin was raised up in the desert, here God who was made man and made sin for us was raised up. All our sins were there. You cannot understand Christianity without understanding this profound humiliation of the Son of God who humbled himself and became a servant unto death, even death on a cross, in order to serve us.

The Cross is not an ornament that we must always put in the churches, there on the altar. It is not a symbol that distinguishes us from others. The Cross is mystery, the mystery of God who humbles himself, he becomes "nothing." He becomes sin. Where is your sin? "I don’t know, I have so many here." No, your sin is there, in the Cross. Go and find it there, in the wounds of the Lord and your sins will be healed, your wounds will be healed, your sins will be forgiven. The forgiveness that God gives us is not the same as cancelling a debt that we have with Him, the forgiveness that God gives us are the wounds of his Son on the Cross, raised up on the Cross. May he draw us towards Him and may we allow ourselves to be healed by him.
...and here, 25 years after she delivered the most thorough analysis you'll find of the new Rule of Francis happening only now in our midst, keeping with long tradition 'round these parts, the final call of Sr Thea Bowman at the end of her struggle with bone cancer, given days before her death at 52 on 30 March 1990:
Let us resolve to make this week holy by claiming Christ’s redemptive grace and by living holy lives. The Word became flesh and redeemed us by his holy life and holy death. This week especially, let us accept redemption by living grateful, faithful, prayerful, generous, just and holy lives.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by reading and meditating Holy Scripture. So often, we get caught up in the hurry of daily living. As individuals and as families, reserve prime time to be with Jesus, to hear the cries of the children waving palm branches, to see the Son of Man riding on an ass' colt, to feel the press of the crowd, to be caught up in the "Hosannas” and to realize how the cries of acclamation will yield to the garden of suffering, to be there and watch as Jesus is sentenced by Pilate to Calvary, to see him rejected, mocked, spat upon, beaten and forced to carry a heavy cross, to hear the echo of the hammer, to feel the agony of the torn flesh and strained muscles, to know Mary’s anguish as he hung three hours before he died.

We recoil before the atrocities of war, gang crime, domestic violence and catastrophic illness. Unless we personally and immediately are touched by suffering, it is easy to read Scripture and to walk away without contacting the redemptive suffering that makes us holy. The reality of the Word falls on deaf ears. Let us take time this week to be present to someone who suffers. Sharing the pain of a fellow human will enliven Scripture and help us enter into the holy mystery of the redemptive suffering of Christ.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by participating in the Holy Week services of the Church, not just by attending, but also by preparing, by studying the readings, entering into the Spirit, offering our services as ministers of the Word or Eucharist, decorating the church or preparing the environment for worship.

Let us sing, "Lord, have mercy," and "Hosanna." Let us praise the Lord with our whole heart and soul and mind and strength, uniting with the suffering Church throughout the world -- in Rome and Northern Ireland, in Syria and Lebanon, in South Africa and Angola, India and China, Nicaragua and El Salvador, in Washington, D.C., and Jackson, Mississippi.

Let us break bread together; let us relive the holy and redemptive mystery. Let us do it in memory of him, acknowledging in faith his real presence upon our altars.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by sharing holy peace and joy within our families, sharing family prayer on a regular basis, making every meal a holy meal where loving conversations bond family members in unity, sharing family work without grumbling, making love not war, asking forgiveness for past hurts and forgiving one another from the heart, seeking to go all the way for love as Jesus went all the way for love.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by sharing holy peace and joy with the needy, the alienated, the lonely, the sick and afflicted, the untouchable. Let us unite our sufferings, inconveniences and annoyances with the suffering of Jesus. Let us stretch ourselves, going beyond our comfort zones to unite ourselves with Christ's redemptive work.

We unite ourselves with Christ's redemptive work when we reconcile, when we make peace, when we share the good news that God is in our lives, when we reflect to our brothers and sisters God's healing, God's forgiveness, God's unconditional love.

Let us be practical, reaching out across the boundaries of race and class and status to help somebody, to encourage and affirm somebody, offering to the young an incentive to learn and grow, offering to the downtrodden resources to help themselves.

May our fasting be the kind that saves and shares with the poor, that actually contacts the needy, that gives heart to heart, that touches and nourishes and heals.

During this Holy Week when Jesus gave his life for love, let us truly love one another.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Francis: On Abuse, "We Have To Be Even Stronger"

Meeting this morning with the Paris-based International Catholic Child Bureau (BICE), the Pope set aside his prepared text to make the following comment:
I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil which some priests, quite a few in number, obviously not compared to the number of all the priests, to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children. The Church is aware of this damage, it is personal, moral damage carried out by men of the Church, and we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem, and the sanctions that must be imposed. On the contrary, we have to be even stronger. Because you cannot interfere with children.
According to Vatican Radio, the off-script was one of several spontaneous additions to what had been a brief, fairly perfunctory draft. Despite BICE's French base, Francis unusually departed from his preference for Italian to give the talk in his native Spanish.

The Pope's most direct statement yet on the clergy sex-abuse scandals which have roiled broad swaths of the Catholic world for nearly three decades, Francis' message comes three weeks after his appointment of the first eight members of a new Pontifical Commission intended to aid the church's efforts for the protection of children. Led by Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap. of Boston, the group – proposed by the "Gang of Eight" to Francis and given the go-ahead at their December meeting – includes three women, among them the prominent Irish survivor Marie Collins.

Unlike prior Vatican bodies chartered to tackle the issue, the new organ answers directly to the Pope. While the members were expected to begin contact by phone or email, the timetable of the commission's initial meeting in Rome has yet to emerge.

Since the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was granted oversight of the church's "purification" of credibly accused clergy in 2001, the office has processed the removal of over 3,000 priests from ministry, whether through dismissal from the clerical state or a sentence to a restricted life of prayer and penance.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

"You Bring the Best Outta Me, And I'll Bring the Best Outta You" – In Albany, Post-Hubbard 101

Up the Hudson from Gotham, in the capital church of the Empire State, there are middle aged pastors who, all their lives, have only ever known, walked with, lived and served under one bishop....

That is, until today.

On the flip-side, meanwhile, for the one tasked with following the longest episcopal reign modern American Catholicism is ever likely to know – a titanic 37-year tenure in the chair first held by the nation's founding cardinal – expectations were naturally just as high that this Opening Day would make a splash... and in his maiden turn before the crowd in Albany, Bishop Ed Scharfenberger did just that.

As starts go, it was, in a word, impressive – deeply so. (And while we're at it, an unusually live mic that let the principal consecrator's animated off-script commentary make the rounds deserves a very grateful honorable mention.)

The talk beginning with the beloved last Nuncio's famous first words to many of his appointees, here's something no one's been able to say since 1977 – Church, meet the new bishop of Albany:

More to come.

PHOTO: Skip Dickstein/Albany Times-Union


Tuesday, April 08, 2014

"At The Heart of It All Is Love"

As this Tuesday brings the 75th birthday of Edwin Cardinal O'Brien, we'd simply be remiss to let the moment pass without a due word.

Bronx-born and West Point-trained, while the 15th archbishop of Baltimore has spent the last three years largely off the domestic scene as Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, today's milestone bears reminding that his has been one of the more consequential ministries in the modern history of the Stateside church, a journey best explained by the turns come his way over 49 years of priesthood: Vietnam veteran and Army captain, communications chief for one archbishop of New York and secretary to another, Rector of the Pontifical North American College and Dunwoodie (twice), Shepherd of the 1.5 million American Catholics in uniform worldwide, 14th successor to John Carroll in the Premier See of these shores... only then to become John Foley's choice to follow him in leading the millennium-old protectors of the Sacred Places and the Lord's own in the Holy Land, and finally, in his own right, a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church.

As some will undoubtedly seek to project stereotypes formed elsewhere onto this story, well, you've clearly never seen Ed O'Brien struggle to compose himself on being made to leave an assignment – a people – he's come to love... and indeed, if you're going to wonder about his style of living, just remember that this is the guy who opted to take a simple apartment among Sulpicians over American Catholicism's "White House."

Especially given the current context, the space between a supposedly acceptable reflexive and the prevalent, mostly unremarked-upon reality seems to offer a useful lesson. Because, see, it's exceedingly come to pass that the discourse of these days rewards the "values" of politics, polarization, self-promotion and controversy over those of humility, fidelity and consistent witness.

When said dynamic infests a forum supposedly informed by faith, the effects aren't merely counterproductive, but utterly toxic – far from either attracting or giving life, it bears the fruit of division, demoralization, exhaustion and bitterness. And so, as the Week which, more than any other, made Jerusalem, its sacred sites and the Church they birthed Holy comes again, may we know the grace to live up to the better angels the days ahead should inspire in us, and to spread the Light that'll soon be rekindled, instead of further aiding the omission or commission that serves too often to snuff It out in the midst of a world that seeks mightily to believe.

Accordingly, today brings a moment to acknowledge the work and witness of an under-sung light among us – a cherished friend to many back home... and even more, one of the most incisive ecclesial voices of our time.

As examples go, the ultimate proof-text is O'Brien's installation homily in Baltimore, given on 1 October 2007 – the feast of the Little Flower – in the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. Its resonances only become more significant with time, the fulltext follows.

*   *   *

“My dear people of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and beyond, and those joining us by television and radio – It is an honor to be your servant. It is a privilege to be your bishop. Yet as Augustine said to the people of Hippo some sixteen centuries ago, (and I would adopt his sentiments) my deepest satisfaction, my strength, and my consolation amid the challenges that await us all, lie in the fact that I am a brother in Christ to so many of you here. Please pray for me, that I may be a good servant of this local Church. Please pray for the Church of Baltimore, that together we may all grow in the grace of our baptism – that we may all grow in faith, in hope, and in love.

I thank His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, for honoring me with this appointment and for giving me the opportunity to stand in an episcopal line that includes Archbishop John Carroll and Archbishop Martin Spalding, James Cardinal Gibbons and Lawrence Cardinal Shehan, Archbishop William Donald Borders and William Cardinal Keeler, and all the other archbishops who have made the growth of the Church in Baltimore their care.

And if some find it puzzling, even ironic, that the Holy Father should choose a native son of New York to be Archbishop of another part of the American League East – well, perhaps that is a reminder to us all of what the author of the Letter to the Hebrews meant when, pointing to the new and eternal Jerusalem, he reminded us that we have, here on this earth, “no lasting city” [Heb. 13.14].

And that, my friends, is why I have been sent among you: to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the truth about the world and the truth about us – the truth that leads us to our true and common home, the New Jerusalem, the “city of the living God” [Heb.12.22].

I am reminded, as I arrive here in Baltimore, that we are, indeed, surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” [Heb. 12.1]. In what is now the State of Maryland, the roster of those witnesses reaches back almost four centuries, to the landing of a small company of Englishmen on St. Clement’s Island on March 25, 1634. It was the feast of the Annunciation, marked by the celebration of the first Mass in Mary’s Land. As the revered patroness of our Archdiocese, may it always remain Mary’s Land.

In granting the Archdiocese of Baltimore the title of “Premier See,” the Holy See meant to honor this history. It is a history that has been of decisive importance for the Catholic Church in the United States. It is a history that has shaped our beloved Country. And it is a history that played a significant role in the life of the Catholic Church throughout the world. For the Maryland Act of Religious Toleration, adopted in 1649, was an important step – if a limited step – on the hard road that eventually led not only to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution but also, I believe, to the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom.

Maryland was home to the great majority of the tiny Catholic population in the United States at the time of our Declaration of Independence. Here, through the work of men like Archbishop John Carroll and his cousin, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Catholics demonstrated that they, too, could pledge their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to the cause of American liberty. And we have done so in every era since, without reservation.

In the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Catholic people of the early Republic demonstrated by deed as well as by argument that there was no inherent contradiction – as many bigots charged – with being completely Catholic and proudly American.

Here, began to recede what the distinguished historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr., once described as the “deepest prejudice in the history of the American people” – anti-Catholicism.

Here is where Catholics learned to defend the religious liberty of all – a defense that contributed much to the noble tradition of interfaith tolerance and collaboration that has long marked this community.

If, as Pope John Paul II often taught, religious freedom is the first of human rights, then the Catholic people of the City of Baltimore and the State of Maryland have, over more than two centuries, played a crucial role in securing one of the foundation stones of the American house of freedom. As new voices are raised in our land today, voices suggesting that moral convictions informed by Catholic faith are unwelcome in the American public square, let all of us recommit ourselves to a robust, informed, and determined defense of religious freedom as the first of the rights of Americans – a right that supports and sustains all of our efforts to shape public policy according to the first principles of justice.

And if the Maryland tradition of Catholicism and its commitment to religious freedom have been important for the United States, that same tradition has also played an valuable role in the life of the universal Church. Our dear friend, the patriarch of Catholic historians, the late Msgr. John Tracy Ellis, recounts that when the ninth archbishop of Baltimore, James Cardinal Gibbons, went to Rome to take possession of his titular church of Santa Maria in Trastevere on March 25, 1887, he preached a sermon in defense of the American relationship of Church and state. This helped accelerate the process of Catholic reflection that eventually led to the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom.

That seminal document on religious freedom in turn, reflected the insights of both Maryland’s theological scholarship – the work of Father John Courtney Murray who taught in our Archdiocese at the old Woodstock College—and the interventions of Baltimore’s Archbishop, Lawrence Cardinal Shehan during the third and fourth sessions of Vatican II. And if the Council’s teaching on religious freedom, in its turn, gave Pope John Paul II the weapon with which nonviolently to defeat European communism, well, that too was a fact of history with great resonance here, given the large numbers of Central and Eastern European Catholics who have for so long been a vital part of this Archdiocese.

It is in the light of this great tradition of religious freedom and ecumenical and inter-religious cooperation – which I pledge to continue – that I greet in a special way the leaders of other Christian communities here with us today, as well as our friends and neighbors from the Jewish and Muslim communities. And it is in light of this great tradition that I wish to offer a word of tribute to my predecessor, Cardinal Keeler: Thank you, Your Eminence, for all that you have done—surely to guide the growth of our Catholic community these 18 years, but also to remind us of and so energetically and effectively to promote the Maryland tradition of religious freedom. What a principled, kindly and generous force you have been—and with God’s help will continue to be for our Church and for the common good.

Recalling our noble history as a local church helps define the challenges that press upon us in the future.

The work of this Archdiocese takes place through 151 parishes with their schools of religious education, served by 517 priests and 1,113 religious. Our 87 Catholic schools serve 35,546 children and teenagers of all faiths. More than eleven thousand students of all faiths are enrolled in the undergraduate and graduate programs of our excellent Catholic colleges and universities that call the Archdiocese of Baltimore their home. At present, 28 seminarians are preparing for priestly service in an Archdiocese that has given many of its priestly sons to the service of the Church throughout America, and indeed throughout the world. One of them, I am grateful to say, is with us today –from Rome, the Major Penitentiary of the Catholic Church James Francis Cardinal Stafford, who has described for me in detail and with great affection his former role of urban vicar of this Archdiocese.

What bishop could fail to make his priority the increase of vocations to ordained priesthood? It will surely be my priority.

The seminarians on hand today offer convincing witness that young men – and some not so young – are willing to make the great sacrifice – to imitate Christ’s single hearted love for his Spouse, the Church. All of us should have the confidence, in the name and power of Christ, to challenge more men by personal and direct invitation to become Shepherds after the heart of Christ.

As we write a new chapter in the history of the Archdiocese of Baltimore today, I offer a special challenge to the young people of this Archdiocese: Be generous, be radically generous, in offering your lives to Christ as priests; in following what Saint Paul calls the “more excellent way” [1 Cor.12.31] as women and men in consecrated religious life; as teachers in our Catholic schools, and in work in our social service agencies. As John Paul II said to you in so many ways, in so many venues around the world, never settle for anything less than the spiritual and moral greatness of which, with God’s grace, you are capable.

At the same time, I offer a challenge to every Catholic in the Archdiocese: the challenge to a deeper, more prayerful, more active involvement in the life of your parish and of this local Church. To those of you who have remained faithful to the Church: thank you for your fidelity and generosity. I look forward to meeting you and to drawing on that deep reservoir of faithfulness and selfless service in the years ahead. To those of you who may be on the edges of our Church or who may have been estranged from the Church: please consider the arrival of this newcomer among you an invitation, from me personally and from the entire Archdiocese, to come home to the Church, and to the demanding yet life-giving Gospel of Christ. We shall welcome you with open arms and full hearts. We want you, we need you if this local Church is to be the model Christ means us to be: a model of dynamic orthodoxy; a model of worship; a model of theological creativity in fidelity to the truths of Catholic faith; a model of compassionate social service to, and effective advocacy on behalf of, the poor, the immigrant, the dispossessed, the addicted, the lonely, the frightened and the despairing.

That, too, is part of the great Maryland tradition: to take with utmost seriousness the biblical teaching that every human being is possessed of a dignity that uniquely comes from being made in the image of God, and to turn that conviction into action on behalf of those whose human dignity is threatened, or diminished, or altogether denied.

The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus sees His divine image in each of us. And that same God is offended when that image is defaced – defaced by degrading poverty, defaced by unjust discrimination, defaced by addiction and by the crime that feeds those addictions, and defaced by the horrific sexual abuse of the young.

For the times when the Church has failed to do its utmost to curb these evils, we ask God’s forgiveness and yours. I pledge, today, that I shall make every effort to ensure that whatever sins of omission or commission have been committed in the past will have no place in our future.

The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus is also offended when the first principles of justice are violated, and the weakest and most vulnerable of our fellow human beings are imperiled. “Seek justice,” the Lord tells his beloved people of Israel through his prophet Isaiah [Is.1.17]. “Do justice,” God instructs Judah through the prophet Jeremiah, “...and do no wrong to the alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place” [Jer.22.3].

It was that passion for justice that led priests of this Archdiocese to take leadership roles in the defense of the civil rights of African Americans in the early 1960s. It was that passion for justice that led Lawrence Cardinal Shehan to face down jeers and catcalls when he testified before the Baltimore City Council in 1966 on behalf of open housing legislation. And it is precisely that same passion for justice that is at the root of the Catholic Church’s combined defense of the right-to-life from conception until natural death.

The right to life is the greatest civil rights issue of our time. This is the issue that will determine whether America remains a hospitable society – committed to caring for women in crisis and their unborn children, committed to caring for those with special needs, committed to caring for the elderly and the dying – or whether America betrays our heritage and the truths on which its Founders staked their claim to independence.

In addressing these issues of life over the past four decades, the Catholic bishops of the United States have not – repeat, not – made “sectarian arguments.” The bishops have made moral arguments that can be known by anyone willing to think through the first principles of justice. It is worse than a tragedy, it is a scandal, that too many of our fellow-citizens, including our Catholic fellow-citizens, seem not to have grasped these first principles of justice or have turned their backs on them.

I pledge that I shall make every possible effort to continue and intensify the defense of the right to life that has been waged by my predecessors.

And I pledge more. No one has to have an abortion. To all of those in crisis pregnancies, I pledge our support and our financial help. Come to the Catholic Church. Let us walk with you through your time of trouble. Let us help you affirm life. Let us help you find a new life with your child, or let us help you place that child in a loving home. But please, I beg you: let us help you affirm life. Abortion need not be an “answer” in this Archdiocese.

The Church’s commitment to the dignity of human life is also the foundation on which this Archdiocese has built a historic record of work for the poor. That work, to which so many of our priests, religious, and laity have given and still are giving their lives, has touched and enriched hundreds of thousands of women, men, and children over the decades. That work has also, we must all concede, not had the results for which we might have wished, in the revitalization of this city of Baltimore.

Our city has been in crisis for decades. In 1966, Cardinal Shehan told the priests of Baltimore that, “If we don’t save the city, we can forget about the Church in the Archdiocese.” In human terms, that remains as true today as it was forty-one years ago: for to write off large parts of the city as hopeless and beyond redemption is to disregard tens of thousands of lives made in the image and likeness of God. Such disregard might be very unlikely to find forgiveness on that last day, when each of us makes an account of our stewardship, as indeed we will.

It simply cannot be the case that Marin Luther King’s dream, so magnificently articulated at the Lincoln Memorial before a crowd that included then-Archbishop Shehan, is destined to decay into the nightmare of once-flourishing neighborhoods destroyed by drugs and violence.

It simply cannot be the case that the sacrifices of so many African American families across too many decades of discrimination must go for naught.

It simply cannot be the case that the urban ministry of which the Archdiocese of Baltimore was a pioneer should or must, finally, fail, from lack of energy, lack of resources, and lack of vision.

We cannot allow this as a people, as a Church. We cannot allow large parts of our city to die. We cannot allow thousands of our neighbors to live lives of hopelessness and despair. I have no master plan for urban revitalization. But I pledge to you today that this Archdiocese will make every effort to insure that the dream that animated Dr. King and so many others of us does not die – for realizing that dream is central to the preaching of the Gospel which is the core of the Church’s existence. As I welcome you civic leaders of City, County, State, and Nation, and thank you for your presence, I pledge my commitment and collaboration in rebuilding this as a City worthy of all God’s children.

In the Gospel reading we heard a few minutes ago, our Lord speaks, as he so often did, of the “Kingdom of heaven.” It’s an image we have heard so frequently that we may have lost sight of the richness of its meaning especially for the poorest and most vulnerable. The “kingdom of heaven” is not something for the indeterminate future, a kind of Christian Oz in which we hope eventually to find ourselves. When Jesus tells his disciples and his challengers that the kingdom “is in the midst of you” [Lk. 17.21], he is telling us that, if our faith is great enough, we can live, here and now, in anticipation of that kingdom come in its fullness. Jesus, after all, is that Kingdom “in our midst.” Do we recognize him and respect him in ourselves? Do we recognize him and reverence him in every neighbor?

If our faith is great enough, we can move mountains: even the seemingly unmoveable mountains we face in both our personal lives and our life as a civic community.

[In Spanish: To the growing Hispanic community of our Archdiocese: For all the Spanish-speaking members of our communities, I offer my devoted and special greeting, and great thanks for the richness and the many contributions you bring to our Church and wider community. You carry with you a strong sense of family values and love for work. It is a privilege for me to work with you to spread the love of Christ across our diocese, especially to the poor and those who've recently come among us.]

The bishop exists to strengthen the faith of those who believe, and to call to faith those who have not yet been given this great gift. Everything I shall do among you as Archbishop of Baltimore will be directed to this end: the building up of faith in the City of Baltimore and the nine surrounding counties which reside within the precincts of this first American diocese, so that we may know that the kingdom of heaven is, indeed, among us.

May I conclude on two personal notes: The past 10 years have been a source of many graces for me. The call to serve as Archbishop for our Nation’s military has confirmed and renewed my faith in America’s integrity, goodness and self-sacrificing spirit. I thank those military members present and their families who are here today and through you I thank all our active duty families as well as those who serve our Veterans administration. Yours is a culture of generosity the likes of which has no equal in our land. You and the chaplains in your midst have never ceased to inspire me. You will always share a place in my heart and in my prayer.

And I cannot resist the hope, with so many of our bishops and priests present, that you in the military and your families will have many more Catholic chaplains to serve you—as you truly and so desperately deserve.

And the second note. The editor of our fine weekly, the Catholic Review interviewed me at length some weeks ago and left with an armful of photos used in this week’s beautifully produced special edition. As he was leaving, I happened to spot my St. Mary’s High School yearbook, Dulces Memoriae and handed it to him with the thought that there might be a human interest angle in it. Indeed, there was, unfortunately!

One of his staff gleefully informed me days later, that they discovered my Junior year report card tucked into the binding of the yearbook. And my lowest grade that year was in religion.

Even my Irish imagination had a little difficulty in putting a good spin on that but I did come up with one and it might have some relevance as I begin my ministry as your Archbishop.

Knowledge of the faith is so very important, but what you do with that knowledge is ever so much more important. Likewise the talents and gifts that God gives us – how do we spend them? And at the heart of it all is love – how selflessly do we express it? St. Therese our patron this day gives us the prayer that might be ours: “My God, I desire to love you and make you loved by others.”

I come to you no genius, and with limited talents and abilities. Nor do I know how many years of my life remain to serve as your Shepherd. But I pledge to you before God and his people: Whatever I am, and all that I have I give to you. And until that day when He calls me to judgment, I will seek to serve you with the whole-hearted love of Jesus Christ.