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.

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“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.