• Immaculate Conception Parish in Auburn displays this image of Our Lady.

    The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation, is one of the beautiful feasts of the Church. On this day, December 8th, we celebrate with joy that Mary, predestined by God to be the Mother of our Redeemer, was full of divine love from the very first moment of her existence. Thus, the angel Gabriel at the moment of the Annunciation, greeted her as “full of grace.”

    The Church’s belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary grew and developed through the centuries. It was an intuition of the people of God that the Mother of Christ was all-holy, that she was free of all stain of sin. For centuries, theologians debated whether or not Mary inherited original sin. If Mary were immaculately conceived, would this not be a denial of the revealed truth that all people needed redemption by Christ?

    It was a Franciscan scholar in the early 14th century, Blessed John Duns Scotus, who helped explain how the Immaculate Conception of Mary and the truth of the universality of Christ’s redemptive act could be compatible. He argued that Mary, like all human beings, needed to be redeemed by her Son. He argued that Mary was preemptively delivered by Christ’s grace from original sin. God is not limited or constrained by time. Duns Scotus’ notion of “anticipatory” redemption helped the Church discern the truth of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Mary was indeed redeemed by Jesus her Son, by anticipation. God granted her this unique grace that no other human being has received, the grace of redemption at the first moment of her existence. Thus God prepared a pure vessel for the dwelling place of His Son.

    The dogma of the Immaculate Conception was defined by Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1854. He wrote: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.” Notice: it was by the merits of her Son that Mary was redeemed, just as we are redeemed by the merits of Jesus. Mary’s unique privilege was that she received the grace of redemption at the first moment of her existence in the womb of her mother. By God’s grace, Mary also remained free of any personal sin throughout her whole life.

    At Mass on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, we hear these words of Saint Paul in the second reading: “God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before Him” (Ephesians 1: 3-4). This great blessing comes to us through faith and baptism. We become “new creatures” by our purification from sin. We become “holy and without blemish,” temples of the Holy Spirit, blessed with the supernatural life that grows by the power of God’s grace. It should not surprise us that God would prepare the mother of His Son by a special consecration, preserving her from sin from her conception so that she would be “holy and without blemish,” cleansed in advance to have the Son of God dwell in her body.

    Our vocation as Christ’s disciples to become holy, with God’s grace, shines forth in Mary’s Immaculate Conception. Pope Benedict XVI said the following: “Looking at Mary, we recognize the loftiness and beauty of God’s plan for everyone: to become holy and immaculate in love, in the image of our Creator.”

    Mary, full of grace, teaches us to say “yes” to the Lord’s will. She always said “yes” to God’s will. Her “yes” at the Annunciation (the Gospel on December 8th) opened to us the path to salvation. Through her “yes,” God’s Son became incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary teaches us to say “yes” to her Son and “no” to the deceptions of the Evil One. She teaches us to say “yes” to the Lord who destroys the power of evil with the omnipotence of His love.

    In Mary’s Immaculate Conception, we behold the beautiful revelation of God’s redeeming love in Christ. In her, the graces of the Holy Spirit were totally uninhibited by the consequences of original sin. Thus, we can have confidence when we turn to her and invoke her intercession. We can pray in the words that appear on the Miraculous Medal revealed to Saint Catherine Laboure at Paris in 1830, 24 years before the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception: “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

    We celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception during the season of Advent. Advent is a season of hope. The Immaculate Conception of Mary fills us with great hope, hope in the coming of our salvation in Christ. In the latter part of Advent, we contemplate the coming of Christ at Christmas. Naturally, we contemplate Mary His mother, who not only carried Jesus in her womb, but in her soul. She was truly the dwelling place, the tabernacle, of the Lord, where God made Himself incarnate and became present on this earth. She teaches us by her faith and love to receive the Lord into our hearts and into our souls.

    In 1846, 8 years before the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the Bishops of the United States, at the sixth provincial council of Baltimore, petitioned the Holy See that Mary, under the title of her Immaculate Conception, be named Patroness of the United States. Blessed Pope Pius IX granted this request the following year. In 1857, just three years after the proclamation of the dogma, the Diocese of Fort Wayne was established. Our first bishop, John Henry Luers, named Mary, under the title of her Immaculate Conception, the patroness of our diocese when he decided to build our Cathedral and dedicated it to the Immaculate Conception in 1860. On December 8th, therefore, we celebrate the patronal feast of our nation and of our diocese. In our prayers, let us ask our patroness, Mary, the Immaculate Conception, to intercede for our nation and our diocese.

    May we always cherish our rich heritage of devotion to Mary, the Mother of God and Mother of the Church! Blessed be her holy and Immaculate Conception! May she accompany us with her love this Advent and Christmas and throughout our pilgrimage of life!

     

    Posted on November 29, 2016, to:

  • We are about to begin the holy season of Advent, the beginning of a new liturgical year. Advent is a time of preparation for Christ’s coming, the joyful celebration of His first coming at Christmas and the anticipation of His second coming at the end of time. At the same time, we acknowledge Christ’s presence among us even now.

    Advent is a season of joyful hope in the Lord who comes to save us. The Scripture readings of Advent teach us to be vigilant for the coming of the Lord. In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus says to the disciples: “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” Jesus is speaking about His second coming. We are to be alert as we await the coming of the Lord, ready to meet Him who is our Savior and our Judge.

    Indeed, Advent is a season of waiting, but it is not a passive waiting. We are called to actively await the coming of the Lord. This means being prepared through conversion and the active practice of our faith. We are to be alert and not asleep in our lives of faith, not complacent in our spiritual lives. As Saint Peter writes: “Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith.” If we are too complacent in our spiritual lives, we more easily fall into sin.

    Advent is a time when the Church calls us to wake up. In fact, the Church tells us not only to walk toward Christ, but to run towards Him. This is what we pray in the Collect (Opening Prayer) of Mass on the First Sunday of Advent: “Grant your faithful, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at His coming…”. What a prayer! We are asking God to grant us the resolve not just to walk, but to run to meet His Anointed One (Christ). This is a great prayer for Advent when we do a lot of running around: shopping, decorating, going to parties, etc. But Advent should be primarily about running to meet the Lord!

    We should not just wait to meet the Lord. We should run to meet the Lord! This should be our firm resolve during Advent: to run forth to meet Christ, as the Collect says, “with righteous deeds at His coming.” It is good for us to think about what righteous deeds we will do this Advent. Perhaps a visit to someone who is lonely, a special gift for the poor at Christmas, a word of forgiveness to someone who has offended us, or an act of kindness to a family member we may take for granted.

    With the commercialization of Christmas in our culture, it can be difficult to keep focus on the true meaning of this season. One way to do so is to run more often toward Christ and less often to the shopping mall. One can run forth to meet Christ by attending Mass on a weekday during Advent or stopping in church to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. One can run forth to meet Christ by approaching His mother in the prayer of the rosary and contemplating the joyful mysteries of her Son’s coming.

    Advent is also a time of conversion, to rise up like the prodigal son to return to the father, our heavenly Father. The prodigal son, who had left home and squandered his inheritance, returned with humility and contrition to ask his father’s pardon. He hastened to see his father with hope that his father would be merciful to him. The father, indeed rich in mercy, not only waited for his son, he ran out to embrace him when he saw him. Like that father, the heavenly Father looks for us to return to Him. He waits for us and runs to embrace us when we go to confession. I can think of no better way to prepare for the Lord’s coming than going to confession during Advent. I encourage all to hasten home to the Church, like the prodigal son, to receive the Father’s merciful embrace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

    The Lord comes to us. Let us not only wait for His coming during this Advent, let’s run to Him. Let us hasten to meet Him in prayer, in the sacraments, and in righteous deeds. Several times in his letters, Saint Paul uses the idea of running a race as an image for our journey of faith. I leave you with one of these passages from Saint Paul for your meditation as we begin the Advent season:

    “Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

    May we run to meet our Savior during this blessed season of His coming!

     

    Posted on November 21, 2016, to:

  • The following is the homily of Bishop Rhoades at the Mass concluding the Jubilee Year of Mercy in the diocese on Saturday, November 12th, in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne:

    Deborah Kriegbaum and Jan Scher pray before entering the Holy Doors at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne, for the closing Mass of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

    Jesus’ words about the destruction of the temple must have been shocking to the people. The temple had stood as the house of God for 1000 years, since the time of King Solomon, except for the 70 years when it lay in ruins after the Babylonian conquest. The destruction of the temple in Jerusalem would mean the end of Jewish religious life, a life that was centered on the worship of God in that temple.

    When Jesus was asked when the temple would be destroyed, He then went on to speak about other things that would happen: human disasters like wars and insurrections as well as natural disasters: earthquakes, famines, and plagues.

    We know from history that Jesus’ prophecy about the destruction of the temple was fulfilled in the year 70 AD when the Roman armies conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. History is also replete with the human and natural disasters which Jesus spoke about. We still see these disasters happening today: wars, earthquakes, epidemics, etc.

    In the Gospel today, Jesus also prophesies about the persecution of his followers by both religious and civil authorities. All one has to do is read the Acts of the Apostles to see that this indeed happened in the early decades of the Church’s history. Such persecution has occurred throughout history. Even today, one only needs to read the newspapers and read about the persecution of Christians in many parts of the world, including the brutal persecution by ISIS.

    Reflecting on this Gospel and Our Lord’s words about the destruction of the temple, about human and natural disasters, and about persecution, what are we to do? Our Lord teaches us. First, in the face of these things, the Lord tells us not to be deceived. He says not to follow false teachers. He tells us to be on guard against those who use His name and claim to speak for Him, saying the end of the world is here. These false prophets arise now and then. We shouldn’t follow them.

    Another thing Jesus tells us is not to be terrified by the calamities He speaks about. How often Our Lord says in the Gospels not to be afraid. He wants us to face difficulties, tragedies, and even persecutions with trust in Him and His loving mercy.

    In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, we have contemplated the mercy of God. This has been a beautiful time to contemplate God’s steadfast love. When we do so, we learn to trust God and our fears are overcome. We learn to persevere amid trials and tribulations because we believe as we pray in the psalms that God’s mercy endures forever. He is always at our side with His love and protection.

    I think the last sentence of today’s Gospel is perhaps the most important. Our Lord says: “By your perseverance, you will secure your lives.” Perseverance, endurance, determination: we usually think of these words in the arena of sports or other areas in which we strive for excellence. But we need to think about the need for perseverance, endurance, and determination in our spiritual lives, in our lives as disciples of Jesus.

    Faith can be shaken by the things Jesus speaks about in the Gospel today: human and natural disasters and persecution. We can even be tempted by the struggles and difficulties of life to forsake Christ and His Church. The Lord is saying no. He is telling us to persevere with hope because ultimately everything, the world and history and each of our lives are in His hands. No matter what happens in our lives, the Lord is with us with His mercy and love. His mercy and love will never fail. And if we ever doubt this, all we have to do is look at the crucifix. The crucified Jesus shows us that evil is overcome by good and that love is more powerful than sin and hatred. His Resurrection shows that love is even more powerful than death.

    The Lord invites us to face the daily events of our lives, including pain and suffering, with trust in His mercy and providential love. Even when bad things happen or things don’t work out the way we wish, we need not fear because God is with us. He is always Emmanuel.

    Some people fear the future. That fear can be paralyzing. Because Donald Trump was elected president, some are very afraid about the future and speak of his election as a calamity. If Hillary Clinton had been elected, others would feel the same way. But for us who are disciples of Jesus, the dramas of human history, including political elections, are not the ultimate word. The ultimate word is THE WORD, the Word made flesh who dwelt among us. We don’t ignore politics or our responsibilities on earth to build a culture of life and civilization of love and to serve the cause of peace and justice. We pray for our political leaders, including our new president and other elected officials. And in everything, we look to the One who is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the Lord of history. He is our shepherd and Lord, our hope and our salvation.

    As we come to the end of this time of grace, this Jubilee Year of Mercy, I invite you to persevere in mercy. I’ve been edified seeing you and the faithful all over our diocese living Pope Francis’ call to mercy. So many have been bearing witness to God’s mercy by reaching out to the poor and needy through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Thousands have prayed in our two cathedrals and at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and received the Jubilee indulgence. For this, we give thanks to God, the Father of mercies.

    The Jubilee pilgrimages are ending but our pilgrimage of faith continues. The motto of the Jubilee Year “Merciful like the Father” should still be the motto of our journey of life. “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful,” Jesus says. This is our program of life and the program of the Church’s life. May we continue to embrace God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us! And may Mary, our mother of mercy, continue to teach and inspire us to be heralds and instruments of mercy in a world so in need of God’s mercy. May we never grow tired of extending mercy! Instead, may we persevere in living the Gospel of mercy, remembering Jesus’ promise: “By your perseverance, you will secure your lives.”

     

    Posted on November 15, 2016, to:

  • The following is the text of the homily delivered by Bishop Rhoades at Mass on All Souls’ Day, November 2, 2016, at the Catholic Cemetery, Fort Wayne:

    Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades celebrates the Holy Mass on Nov. 2, the Commemoration of All Souls, at Catholic Cemetery in Fort Wayne.

    Pope Saint John XXIII once said that “devotion to the memory of the dead is one of the most beautiful expressions of the Catholic spirit.” We are here today because of our devotion to the memory of the dead, all our deceased loved ones, all those buried here in our Catholic cemetery and elsewhere. This devotion is indeed a beautiful expression of the Catholic spirit because it is an expression of our love. Praying for the dead is an act of love. It is one of the spiritual works of mercy.

    We have a great responsibility in charity to accompany with our prayers and sacrifices those who have gone before us. We have a responsibility to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who have died and are not yet purified. This is a holy responsibility: to pray for the holy souls in purgatory, thus helping them to reach the heavenly kingdom, that they may see God face to face and obtain the joy of the saints in heaven.

    All Souls’ Day is an important day for us as Catholics. It expresses something very natural within us — the urge to pray for our departed loved ones. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, once said that “praying for one’s departed loved ones is a far too immediate urge to be suppressed; it is a most beautiful manifestation of solidarity, love and assistance, reaching beyond the barrier of death. The happiness or unhappiness of a person dear to me, who has now crossed to the other shore, depends in part on whether I remember or forget him or her; he or she does not stop needing my love.”

    So we are here today in this holy place, our Catholic cemetery, to remember and to pray for the faithful departed, for the holy souls in purgatory. We gather here in faith and hope, a faith and hope that is founded in the death and resurrection of Jesus. We just heard Saint Mark’s account of Jesus’ death and then the discovery of the empty tomb by the three women on Easter Sunday morning. They heard the wonderful words of the angel: “Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him.” We would not be here today if it were not for our faith in the resurrection of Jesus. It is the crowning truth of our faith.

    We pray for the faithful departed because we believe that their life is changed, not ended. Their bodies are in the tombs of this and other cemeteries. The bodies of the dead decay, but their souls have gone to meet God. And, through the power of Jesus’ Resurrection, on the last day, God will grant incorruptible life to their bodies by reuniting them with their souls. How this will happen exceeds our imagination and understanding, yet we believe with Saint Paul that Christ will change our lowly body to be like His glorious Body. Our belief in the resurrection of the body is why the Church insists that we honor and treat with dignity the bodies of the deceased. Their graves are a sign of hope and promise in the resurrection.

    The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the greatest prayer we can offer for the faithful departed. The practice of offering Masses for the dead comes down to us from the earliest centuries of the Church. On her deathbed, Saint Monica said to her son Saint Augustine: “Lay this body wherever it may be. Let no care of it disturb you: this only I ask of you, that you should remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.” And Saint Augustine did. And at Mass we remember at the altar of the Lord our beloved family members and friends who have died.

    Yesterday, the Solemnity of All Saints, and today, the Commemoration of All Souls, remind us that the communion of saints goes beyond earthly life, beyond death, and endures forever. It is a spiritual communion that was born in Baptism and is not broken by death. “All baptized persons here on earth, the souls in Purgatory and all the blessed who are already in Paradise make one great Family. This communion between earth and heaven is realized especially in intercessory prayer” (Pope Francis). We are intimately united with one another in the Body of Christ. Our ecclesial solidarity through prayer is most evident and most powerful at the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The love of Christ unites us in a bond that not even death can destroy. This bond is strengthened when we remember one another, including the faithful departed, in our prayers.

    As we approach the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, I encourage all to practice the spiritual work of mercy of praying for the faithful departed, the holy souls who are eager for our prayers. Let us help them on their final journey with our love by accompanying them with our prayers and sacrifices.

    “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.”

     

    Posted on November 8, 2016, to:

  • This election season has certainly been disappointing for many of us, especially for faithful Catholics who hold a high view of public life as a service to the common good. We expect politicians to reflect our best aspirations as citizens. The presidential campaign, in particular, demonstrates that a new politics is needed in America, one that practices civility and that addresses fundamental issues so important for the flourishing of society, based on the fundamental principles of human life and dignity, justice, and peace.

    I have given several speeches the past few months on political responsibility and voting. You may wish to read the speech I gave this past week at the University of Saint Francis, previously given at Saint Jude Parish in Fort Wayne and broadcast on Redeemer Radio. This speech developed points from other similar talks that I had given on both sides of the diocese. The speech is posted on our diocesan website. Even better, I recommend, if you have not already done so, to read the latest revision of the document of the U.S. Bishops: “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” a document which I use and reflect upon in my talks.

    In making our political choices, including voting in the upcoming election, it is imperative that we morally discern our choices with well-formed consciences. Our consciences should be formed in accord with the truths of our faith and the moral teachings of the Church. We then must prudently decide which candidates to vote for, making a judgment on whom we think would best serve the common good of our community, nation, and world.

    The Catechism defines the common good as “the sum of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily” (#1906). The common good concerns the life of all. Of course, one cannot speak of serving the common good if one doesn’t protect the most fundamental good — the right to life, the right that makes all other rights possible.

    The fundamental and core principle of Catholic moral and social teaching is respect for the life and dignity of the human person. The common good, properly understood, presupposes this principle. Besides the right to life, the common good also includes concern for other rights connected to human life and dignity, including food and shelter, education and employment, health care and housing. For the sake of the common good, the rights of the family must be fostered and protected. Also, the common good is threatened and harmed when the right to religious freedom is not upheld. The right to live our faith and values must be respected and not undermined by the government. Religious liberty is part of human dignity and a basic human right.

    Saint John Paul II spoke a great deal about the principle of solidarity, an obligation of our faith that is necessary for the common good. How little we have heard about this important principle in the political campaigns this year!  Pope John Paul wrote: “Solidarity is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis 38).

    Solidarity has to do with the good of our neighbor. It includes concern not only for our fellow Americans, but for all people. It especially includes care for our vulnerable brothers and sisters: those at the beginning and end of life, the unborn and the elderly; the poor; refugees and immigrants; the oppressed and the persecuted. Solidarity is both a principle and a virtue. Only when there is solidarity is there true peace. In the words of the great John Paul: “peace is the fruit of solidarity.”

    I encourage all to exercise good moral discernment and the virtue of prudence when voting for various political offices on the national, state, and local levels. I encourage all to exercise their right to vote. Voting is not only a right; it is also a serious responsibility.

    Some want me or our priests to endorse or oppose particular candidates or political parties. This is not our role. Our role is to hand on the Church’s moral and social teaching, to help Catholics to form their consciences correctly. It is the role of lay people, not the clergy, to run for public office, to be involved in political parties, etc.

    As Catholics, we all have an obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of society. We must bring to the public square what our faith teaches about human dignity, the sacredness of human life, the truth about marriage and the family, the dignity of work, economic justice, care for the environment, etc. These are not optional topics of our faith. We contribute to the wellbeing of our society and culture when we bring our moral convictions to the public square. The Catholic Church brings a consistent moral framework for assessing issues, political platforms, and campaigns. In this increasingly secularist culture, there are those who wish to silence our voice in the public square. Our faith requires us not to remain silent.

    In the revised introduction to the bishops’ document on faithful citizenship, we discuss some particular issues that we are deeply concerned about, issues that should be considered when we consider candidates for various offices:

    + The ongoing destruction of over one million innocent human lives each year by abortion.

    + Physician-assisted suicide.

    + The redefinition of marriage — the vital cell of society — by the courts, political bodies, and increasingly by American culture itself.

    + The excessive consumption of material goods and the destruction of natural resources, which harm both the environment and the poor.

    + The deadly attacks on our fellow Christians and religious minorities throughout the world.

    + The narrowing definition of religious freedom, which threatens both individual conscience and the freedom of the Church to serve.

    + Economic policies that fail to prioritize the poor, at home or abroad.

    + A broken immigration system in our country and a worldwide refugee crisis.

    + Wars, terror, and violence that threaten every aspect of human life and dignity.

    In preparing to vote, we should consider all the above issues (and others) as we evaluate the candidates up for election to various offices on the federal, state, and local levels. At the same time, we recognize that not all issues are morally equivalent nor carry the same weight. This matter is treated in more detail in “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” and in my recent speeches. The bishops warn against two extremes: making all issues morally equivalent and dismissing or ignoring important issues.

    Some elected offices have more responsibilities than others regarding certain issues, something to be taken into consideration in our prudential judgments. It is also important to look at the character of the candidates up for election.

    In sum, I encourage you to vote and to think deeply and clearly before you vote. Study the issues and the candidates in light of Church teaching. Be sure that your conscience is well-formed. Exercise prudence in your choices. Don’t put being Democrat or Republican ahead of your identity as a Catholic, as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

    Finally, let us not forget the power and necessity of prayer. Let us pray for our nation and all those who will be elected to public office. May the Holy Spirit inspire all to serve the common good!

     

    Posted on October 26, 2016, to: