Sunday, November 25, 2012

First things first!

Last Sunday after Pentecost. November 25th, 2012

With Advent coming up quickly, I have begun to think about how I could make this Advent a good one; in other words, to make it truly a time of diligent preparation for the coming of the Christ Child Liturgically at Christmas, in order that He could come more fully spiritually into the Inn of my heart. As our readings begin to take on more of an apocalyptic theme we discover that more we are prepared for His coming Liturgically at Christmas and at every Mass, and so the more we allow Him spiritually into our hearts and become united to Him.

This union with Christ allows us to endure all of the difficulties of this present age; it strengthens us to remain faithful to Christ in the assaults against our faith, hope and love. United to Jesus in love we can resist the world, the flesh and the devil along with all his minions, be they of flesh or of spirit. We discover that Christ thinks thoughts of peace and not of affliction for those who call upon Him; and he will free them from their captivity, captivity to sin.

Union with Christ also prepares us for His final coming at the end of the world or at the end of our lives which ever comes first, and to do so with The more fully we are united to Christ and to His Church the more fear of the things and end of this present age subsides and even more so the more fear of facing our end subsides and is transformed into great joy and even longing expectation.

If there is one thing that can be said about our present age, is that so many live as if they will never die. They have cast off the things of God and so have cast off any concern for their ultimate end; for their death that will place them before Jesus Christ the King of Kings who will judge them according to how they lived their lives in their body. They will then receive their just reward, life forever in the bliss of eternal intimacy with the Holy Trinity or an eternity of separation for the same Holy Trinity, the God who is Love.

In this year of Faith, we are called to make this advent the best one of our lives. Part of this is of course growing in our faith through intense prayer, faithful reception of the sacraments and studing and learning our Catholic Faith, and in particular in this year of faith returning to the documents of Vatican II. But making this advent our best one yet it is also a call, better yet, an invitation to partake ever more intensely in the imperative of the New Evangelization which is an imperative of the Year of Faith.

Recently this invitation, this call, was brought out so eloquently by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York in his Presidential Address given at the opening session of the USCCB Plenary in Baltimore. The Cardinal was addressing his brother bishops, but his words are just as appropriate for each one of us. His address to the bishops needs to be heard by each of us and taken to heart by each one of us present here. His message is of such vital importance, not only for our advent but also for the troubling times in which we live. It address deserves to be heard.

Cardinal Dolan began by admitting the fact that the bishops have "a lot on our plate" as they commences their annual meeting, urgent issues very worthy of our solicitude as pastors – He mentioned the suffering in vast areas caused by Hurricane Sandy, the imperative to the New Evangelization, the invitation offered by the Year of Faith, and our continued dialogue, engagement, and prophetic challenge to our culture over urgent issues such as the protection of human life, the defense of marriage, the promotion of human dignity in the lives of the poor, the immigrant, those in danger from war and persecution throughout the world, and our continued efforts to defend our first and most cherished freedom -- all issues the Cardinal said, calling for our renewed and enthusiastic commitment.

But then continuing, the Cardinal said, “I stand before you this morning to say simply: first things first! We gather as disciples of, as friends of, as believers in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, "the Way, the Truth and the Life," who exhorted us to "seek first the Kingdom of God." This is good advice for us as we look to begin advent in this year of faith and seek to bring about the new evangelization that we are all called to participate in.
“First things first” the Cardinal said; and then he said, “We cannot engage culture unless we let Him (Jesus) first engage us; we cannot dialogue with others unless we first dialogue with Him; we cannot challenge unless we first let Him challenge us. The Venerable Servant of God, Fulton J. Sheen, once commented, "The first word of Jesus in the Gospel was 'come'; the last word of Jesus was 'go'."

Fifty years ago, on October 11, 1962, Blessed John XXIII courageously convened the Second Vatican Council "the greatest concern of which," he insisted, "is that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously." (Allocution on the occasion of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, Gaudet mater ecclesia).

We gather for our plenary assembly in our nation's premiere see, at the close of the XIII Ordinary General Synod of Bishops, still near the beginning of the Year of Faith. Both occasions have the same origin, the same goal expressed by Blessed John XXIII: the effective transmission of the faith for the transformation of the world.

A year ago we began our visits ad limina Petri et Pauli. I know you join me in expressing deep gratitude for the extraordinary affection, warmth and fraternal care with which our Holy Father welcomed us.

But Pope Benedict did not stop with his gracious hospitality. No. He also gave us plenty of fatherly advice -- for our ministry as pastors of the Church and our personal role in the New Evangelization.

Here's an especially striking example from his first ad limina address: "Evangelization," the Successor of St. Peter noted, ". . . appears not simply a task to be undertaken ad extra; we ourselves are the first to need re-evangelization. As with all spiritual crises, whether of individuals or communities, we know that the ultimate answer can only be born of a searching, critical and ongoing self-assessment and conversion in the light of Christ's truth."

As we bishops at the just concluded Synod of Bishops confessed in our closing message:
"We, however, should never think that the new evangelization does not concern us as Bishops personally. In these days voices among the Bishops were raised to recall that the Church must first of all heed the Word before she can evangelize the world. The invitation to evangelize becomes a call to conversion."

"We Bishops firmly believe that we must convert ourselves first to the power of Jesus Christ who alone can make all things new, above all our poor existence. With humility we must recognize that the poverty and weaknesses of Jesus' disciples, especially us, his ministers, weigh on the credibility of the mission. We are certainly aware – we bishops first of all – that we can never really be equal to the Lord's calling and mandate to proclaim His Gospel to the nations. We… do not hesitate to recognize our personal sins. We are, however, also convinced that the Lord's Spirit is capable of renewing His Church and rendering her garment resplendent if we let Him mold us." (Final Message of the Synod of Bishops to the People of God, October 28, 2012)

The New Evangelization reminds us that the very agents of evangelization – you and me -- will never achieve that abundant harvest Blessed John XXIII described unless we are willing and eager to first be evangelized ourselves. Only those themselves first evangelized can then evangelize. As St. Bernard put it so well, "If you want to be a channel, you must first be a reservoir."

I would suggest this morning that this reservoir of our lives and ministry, when it comes especially to the New Evangelization, must first be filled with the spirit of interior conversion born of our own renewal. That's the way we become channels of a truly effective transformation of the world, through our own witness of a penitential heart, and our own full embrace of the Sacrament of Penance.
"To believers also the Church must ever preach faith and penance," declared the council fathers in the very first of the documents to appear, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. (SC, n. 9)

To be sure, the sacraments of initiation - - Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist - - charge, challenge, and equip the agents of evangelization. Without those sacraments, we remain isolated, unredeemed, timid and unfed.

But, the Sacrament of Reconciliation evangelizes the evangelizers (what a great description of the fruit of Confession), and it does so as it brings us sacramentally into contact with Jesus, who calls us to conversion of heart, and allows us to answer his invitation to repentance -- a repentance from within that can then transform the world without.

What an irony that despite the call of the Second Vatican Council for a renewal of the Sacrament of Penance, what we got instead was its near disappearance.

We became very good in the years following the Council in calling for the reform of structures, systems, institutions, and people other than ourselves. That, too, is important; it can transform our society and world. But did we fail along the way to realize that in no way can the New Evangelization be reduced to a program, a process, or a call to structural reform; that it is first and foremost a deeply personal conversion within? "The Kingdom of God is within," as Jesus taught.

The premier answer to the question "What's wrong with the world?" "what's wrong with the church?" is not politics, the economy, secularism, sectarianism, globalization or global warming . . .none of these, as significant as they are. As Chesterton wrote, "The answer to the question 'What's wrong with the world?' is just two words: 'I am,'"

I am! Admitting that leads to conversion of heart and repentance, the marrow of the Gospel-invitation. I remember the insightful words of a holy priest well known to many of us from his long apostolate to priests and seminarians in Rome, Monsignor Charles Elmer, wondering aloud from time to time if, following the close of the Council, we had sadly become a Church that forgot how to kneel. If we want the New Evangelization to work, it starts on our knees.

Remember a few years back, when Cardinal Cahal Daly led us in our June retreat? Speaking somberly of the Church in his home country, he observed, "The Church in Ireland is in the dirt on her knees." Then he paused, and concluded, "Maybe that's where the Church is at her best."

We kneel in the Sacrament of Penance because we are profoundly sorry for our faults and our sins, serious obstacles to the New Evangelization. But then we stand forgiven, resolute to return to the work entrusted to us - as evangelizers of the Gospel of Mercy.

I recall a conversation about a year ago with one of our brother bishops, newly ordained, attending his first plenary assembly. I asked his impressions of the meeting. "Well organized, informative, enjoyable," he replied, but he went on to observe that it was one moment in particular that had the greatest impact on him. It was during our closing Holy Hour, as he entered the large room next to the chapel, to see dozens and dozens of bishops lined up to approach the Sacrament of Penance. This new Bishop told me that he felt that moment had more of an influence upon him than anything else at the meeting.

Who can forget the prophetic words of repentance from Blessed John Paul II, during the Great Jubilee, as he expressed contrition – publically and repeatedly - for the sins of the past? He mentioned the shame of the slave trade, the horrors of the holocaust, the death and destruction wrought by the crusades, the injustices of the conquest of the new world, and the violence of religious wars, to name only a few.

I remember during the celebration of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Ireland last June, when Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Papal Legate, expressed this so forcefully as he spoke on behalf of the Holy Father at the penitential shrine of St. Patrick's Purgatory: "I come here with the specific intention of seeking forgiveness, from God and from the victims, for the grave sin of sexual abuse of children by clerics. . . In the name of the Church, I apologize once again to the victims, some of which I have met here in Lough Derg."

And so it turns to us, my brothers. How will we make the Year of Faith a time to renew the Sacrament of Penance, in our own loves and in the lives of our beloved people whom we serve? Once again, we will later this week approach the Sacrament of Penance.

And we'll have the opportunity during this meeting to approve a simple pastoral invitation to all our faithful to join us in renewing our appreciation for and use of the Sacrament. We will "Keep the Light On" during the upcoming Advent Season!

The work of our Conference during the coming year includes reflections on re-embracing Friday as a particular day of penance, including the possible re-institution of abstinence on all Fridays of the year, not just during Lent. Our pastoral plan offers numerous resources for catechesis on the Sacrament of Penance, and the manifold graces that come to us from the frequent use of confession. Next June we will gather in a special assembly as brother bishops to pray and reflect on the mission entrusted to us by the Church, including our witness to personal conversion in Jesus Christ, and so to the New Evangelization.

We work at giving our people good examples of humble, repentant pastors, aware of our own personal and corporate sins, constantly responding to the call of Jesus to interior conversion. Remember the Curé of Ars? When a concerned group of his worried supporters came to him with a stinging protest letter from a number of parishioners, demanding the bishop to remove John Vianney as their curé, claiming he was a sinner, ignorant, and awkward, St. John Vianney took the letter, read it carefully ... and signed the petition!

As I began my talk this morning, my brothers, so I would like to end it, with Blessed John XXIII.
It was the Sunday angelus of October 28, 1962.The message the Holy Father delivered on that bright Roman afternoon never even mentions the phrase New Evangelization. But it strikes right at the heart of the mission entrusted to each of us as shepherds.
"I feel something touching my spirit that leads to serenity," Good Pope John remarked. "The word of the Gospel is not silent. It resonates from one end of the world to the other, and finds the way of the heart. Dangers and sorrows, human prudence and wisdom, everything needs to dissolve into a song of love, into a renewed invitation, pleading all to desire and wish for the establishment of the Kingdom of Christ. A kingdom of truth and life; a kingdom of holiness and grace; a kingdom of justice, love and peace."

How could we not see it alive in those holy men and women of every time and place, the heroic evangelizers of our faith, including most recently St. Kateri Tekakwitha and St. Marianne Cope?

We have beheld it in the Church's unrelenting corporal and spiritual works of mercy, in the heroic witness of persecuted Christians, in the Church's defense of unborn human life, the care of our elders and the terminally ill, advocacy for the unemployed, those in poverty, our immigrant brothers and sisters, victims of terror and violence throughout our world, of all faiths and creeds, and in our defense of religious freedom, marriage and family.

And, I have suggested today, that as we "come and go" in response to the invitation of Jesus, we begin with the Sacrament of Penance. This is the sacrament of the New Evangelization, for as Pope Benedict reminds us, "We cannot speak about the new evangelization without a sincere desire to conversion." (Homily for the Opening of the XIII Ordinary General Synod of Bishops).

With this as my presidential address, I know I risk the criticism. I can hear it now: "With all the controversies and urgent matters for the Church, Dolan spoke of conversion of heart through the Sacrament of Penance. Can you believe it?"
To which I reply, "You better believe it!"

First things first! Let us this advent listen to Cardinal Dolan and with everything on our plate; with all the great concerns in our world, let us put first things first.

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But how can they call on him in Whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? Romans 10: 13-15.

Heavenly Father,

Pour forth your Holy Ghost to inspire me with these words from Holy Scripture.

Stir in my soul the desire to renew my faith and deepen my relationship with your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ so that I might truly believe in and truly live the Good News.

Open my heart to hear the Gospel and grant me the confidence to proclaim the Good News to others.

Pour out Your Spirit, so that I might be strengthened to go forth and witness to the Gospel in my everyday life through my words and actions.

In moments of hesitation, remind me:
If not me, then who will proclaim the Gospel?
If not now, then when will the Gospel be proclaimed?
If not the truth of the Gospel, then what shall I proclaim?

God, Our Father, I pray that through the Holy Ghost I might hear the call for the New Evangelization to deepen my faith, grow in confidence to proclaim the Gospel and boldly witness to the saving grace of your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The importance of election and how believers should conduct themselves in the voting both.

Our late Pope, Blessed John Paul II released a letter for the whole world entitled, Christi Fidelis laiti-the Christian faithful. He said in this Encyclical letter (meaning a letter to encircle the globe for all men to hear) “Above the common outcry which is justly made on behalf of human rights; for example the right to health; to home, to work, to family, to culture is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other human rights, is not defended with maximum determination (my emphasis).”

John Paul went on to say that “human dignity is the most precious possession of a individual. The value of one person transcends the entire material world.”

This bears repeating!!! The value of one person transcends the entire material world!

The Church as never ceased to proclaim that all human rights are universal, indivisible, inter-dependent and interrelated.

In fact, the representatives of the Catholic Church to the United Nations have never fail to emphasis this fact of human dignity. The recognition of the gift in which we all share is the very basis for everything that we do whether spiritual economic or social. Without this recognition of the human dignity of every human being born or unborn there is no reason to speak of human rights or freedom.

And so it is very clear that the right to life is the first in our consideration of what is important in a given election.

The protection of human life is the fundamental realization and respect for human rights. Without this realization, this respect for human life, no other discussion for human rights can continue.

And so the Church will never yield in the face of all the violations that the right to life that every human being receives from individuals or from those in authority.

When the bishops of world came together in the 1960’s in what is know as the Second Vatican Council, they said and taught the great truth that all offenses against human life, including genocide, murder and abortion are poison for human society.

The relationship and inter connectedness between the recognition of human dignity, the right to life and the protection of other human rights and fundamental freedom are the fundamental action.

Too many people refuse to discuss the human dignity of every human person; refuse to recognize that gift that binds all human beings together-the gift of human dignity.

The right to life is the fundamental good to preserve in any election. There are those even within the Church who will try to distort and hide this fact which is commonsense. Without life, we don’t have anything.

Let us not let any candidate continue in any discussion of human rights, such as health care or social welfare, when such candidate refuses to recognize the human dignity and the right to life of every human person including the human person within the womb. And contrary to what some candidates of both political parties say, it is a scientific fact, not a matter of faith, that Human life begins at conception; and so, it is a scientific fact that it is a Human Person that is present at conception.

We would never vote for a candidate who doesn’t denounce terrorism but says, “I disagree with you on terrorism but I support health care reform.”

Any candidate who did not denounce terrorism would be unfit for public office. So too the candidate who does not denounce abortion, euthanasia, experimentation on life or other crimes against the human person; he or she is unfit for public office!

This is not just a matter of faith; it is a matter of human dignity and the protection of the life of every human person.

We are all bound together as human persons. Unless we protect one another and each human person we will all suffer the consequences. Our vote has eternal consequence for us and for other souls. As Catholics and believers, we cannot vote for a pro-death candidate without placing our soul in mortal peril! And I would add here, any person believer or not places their soul in mortal danger who votes for a candidate who denies the right to life of every human person. This so by reason of that truth which is written on every human heart. There are things that we all can not not know.

Solidarity binding us together as human beings. As the saying in the Jewish faith goes, “To save one life is to save the world!” Holy Mary Mother of God and mother of every human person, Pray for us. Amen.