• An etching by Jan Luyken from the Phillip Medhurst Collection of Bible illustrations housed at Belgrave Hall, Leicester, England.

    By Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades

    Do you believe in the Son of Man? That question of Jesus to the blind man whom He had cured is the climax of the Gospel we will hear this coming Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent. Jesus had cured him of his physical blindness, but that was only the beginning of the story. Jesus was intent on doing infinitely more for him — to bring him to a greater light, the vision of faith in Him as the Light of the world. Jesus gave the man born blind physical sight so that he would come to see with the new eyes of faith the truth about Him, about life and about its destiny.

    I invite you to meditate on the journey of faith of the man born blind. At first, he didn’t know who Jesus was. Gradually, he came to recognize Jesus as a man of God, a prophet, then he came to believe that Jesus is the Son of Man, the Son of God. Jesus asked him: Do you believe in the Son of Man? Very honestly, the blind man asked in reply: Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him? Jesus told him that it was He. The man then said: I do believe, Lord. And then he worshipped Jesus.

    We’re all on this journey of faith. We can call it “a baptismal journey.” That’s how Lent began — a journey of catechumens, a journey to baptism, to illumination by the light of Christ. Through Baptism, we received the light of Christ. We will remember this in a dramatic way in the liturgy of the Easter Vigil. But after Baptism, we can fall back into darkness because of our sins. That’s why we have this season of Lent, a time of conversion and spiritual renewal, to live our true identity as those St. Paul calls “children of light.”

    During Lent, we remember in prayer all the people who will receive the sacraments at Easter. We pray for all those who will be baptized as well as those already baptized who will be received into full communion in the Catholic Church. They have all been on a journey of faith. In the sacrament of Confirmation, they will receive an increase and deepening of the grace of their Baptism, thus becoming more firmly united to Christ and His Church. Confirmation will give them the special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread the light of Christ to others.

    In the first reading this Sunday, we read about Samuel anointing David as king. Notice what happened:  Scripture says that the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David. The young shepherd David was chosen by God and filled with the Spirit to serve as king. The Spirit of the Lord also rushes upon us in Baptism and Confirmation, equipping us for service in God’s Kingdom.

    A whole new world opened up for the blind man when he professed his faith in Jesus and worshipped Him. He entered into a new relationship with God by following Christ. The same happens to us. We learn to adapt our life to the will of God and to bring Christ’s light to our neighbors. When we receive the light of Christ, when we follow Him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, our lives are changed. The Lord teaches us wisdom and He fills our hearts with love, if we but open ourselves to Him. We learn to live as children of light, the light which St. Paul says “produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.”

    May the Lord bless our brothers and sisters who in just three weeks will receive the Easter sacraments!  May these sacraments help them to live each day as children of light!  May the Lord cure all of us from the darkness of confusion and sin present in this world and give us His light during this Lenten season to purify our hearts and to renew our Christian love!

    Posted on March 22, 2017, to:

  • Carl Heinrich Bloch’s painting, “Woman at the Well,” from the Chapel at Frederiksborg Palace in Copenhagen.

    By Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades

    This Sunday, the Third Sunday of Lent, we will hear in the Gospel the story of the encounter and conversation of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. I invite you to think about the thirst of Jesus and the thirst of the woman in the Gospel, representing also our thirst, the thirst of our souls.

    First, let’s think about Jesus being thirsty. On the surface, Jesus was naturally thirsty. He had been on a long journey on foot and He sat down beside Jacob’s well in the midday heat. Jesus asks the woman for a drink of water. It was quite unusual for a Jewish man to speak to a Samaritan and a woman. But our Lord does so with a deeper motive. He is thirsty for water, yes, but He is also thirsty for the salvation of the Samaritan woman. St. Augustine wrote: Although Jesus asked for a drink, His real thirst was for this woman’s faith. 

    We see this thirst of Jesus again when He is hanging on the cross. Some of His last words at the crucifixion were: I thirst. Yes, Jesus was physically thirsty, but these words have deeper meaning. He is thirsty for our salvation, thirsty for our faith and our love. St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta often meditated on these words of Jesus from the cross. She recognized their deeper meaning. Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity. In every convent of the sisters throughout the world, the words “I thirst” are displayed beneath an arm of the crucifix.

    Mother Teresa wanted the sisters to meditate on these words, to realize that Jesus is thirsting for our love, our affection, our intimate attachment to Him, and our sharing of His passion. God is thirsting for us to come forward to satiate His thirst by giving Him our love and by spreading the love of His heart. God is thirsty for souls. Jesus was thirsty for the soul of the Samaritan woman and brought her to faith. She, in the end, went forth to bring the Good News to her people.

    When we look at the crucifix, it is good to remember Jesus’ words: I thirst. God thirsts for us. He thirsts for you and for me. What specifically is Jesus thirsting for in us? He longs for our love, our attention, our devotion, the total entrusting of our lives to Him. Reflecting on Jesus’ words from the cross, Mother Teresa said: “At this most difficult time He proclaimed, ‘I thirst.’ And people thought He was thirsty in an ordinary way and they gave Him vinegar…; but it was not for that thirst; it was for our love, our affection, that intimate attachment to Him, and that sharing of His passion.”

    In prayer, I invite you to hear Jesus saying to you: “I thirst.” Imagine Jesus saying those words personally and directly to you. We can then respond to these words by being generous with Jesus with our time, giving Him attention throughout our day, and spending time with Him in prayer. Mother Teresa also taught that we satiate Christ’s thirst by loving Him in our neighbor, those people He places in our lives, especially those in most need of our care and attention. Jesus thirsts for us to surrender our lives to Him, to entrust ourselves to Him.

    The other part of today’s Gospel to consider is the thirst of the Samaritan woman. She went every day to the well to draw water. Yes, this was a physical necessity. But again there is something deeper here. The woman had many disappointments in her life. Like all of us, she was thirsty for meaning in her life. She was thirsty for love. Jesus pointed out to her that she had been married five times and now was living with a sixth man. Her life-thirst was not being satisfied. She was unhappy. She wasn’t finding authentic love. She didn’t find anyone or anything to satisfy the deep longing of her heart until she met Jesus.

    Our Lord spoke to the Samaritan woman about the living water He would give, the water that would truly quench her thirst and become in her “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” This is the water we all thirst for, the living water of the Holy Spirit, the water that satisfies our infinite thirst. Pope Francis wrote about this in these words: “Man of every time and place desires a full and beautiful life, just and good, a life that is not threatened by death but that can mature and grow to fullness. Man is like a traveler who, crossing the deserts of life, thirsts for the living water: gushing and fresh, capable of quenching his deep desire for light, love, beauty, and peace. We all feel this desire! And Jesus gives us this living water: He is the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and whom Jesus pours out into our hearts. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,’ Jesus tells us.”

    Lent is a time for us to quench our thirst, to rediscover the meaning of our life in Christ. This is a special time to encounter Jesus like the Samaritan woman at the well, and to be transformed by our encounter with Jesus, like she was. The Lord wants to give us living water. This is why He came to earth, that we might have life and have it abundantly. Sin is an obstacle to that full life in Christ, so we have this time of Lent for our deeper conversion to the Lord.

    The Church invites us to drink from the living waters of the Holy Spirit. Then, like the Samaritan woman, we are no longer thirsty. In fact, we are transformed into missionary disciples, who go forth to bring the Good News to others, like the Samaritan woman did and like Mother Teresa did, going forth then to spread the love of Christ and satiate His thirst for the salvation of souls.

    Posted on March 14, 2017, to:

  • Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades places ashes on the forehead of a student from Bishop Dwenger High School during a pastoral visit in 2015.

    The following is the text of the homily of Bishop Rhoades on Ash Wednesday at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne, a Lenten message for the whole diocese:

    “Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.” These words of the prophet Joel introduce us to the season of Lent. They teach us that the basic feature of this time of grace, these 40 days of Lent, is conversion of our hearts. Lent is a time to get back on the right path by detaching ourselves from whatever keeps us distant from God. That’s why we do works of penance during these 40 days. They are not done for their own sake, but with a higher purpose: inner renewal and conversion.

    We pray more during Lent. We deny ourselves certain foods or drink. Hopefully, we also practice almsgiving more fervently. And amidst these penitential practices, we are asking pardon of the Lord for our offenses. It is the conversion of our hearts, interior change, that is most important. We pray in the words of King David in Psalm 51: “A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.”

    We observe these 40 days of Lent not as isolated individuals, but as members of the community of the Church. Repentance and conversion is deeply personal, taking place in each of our hearts. When we go to confession, for example, it is individual. Yet, our reconciliation also involves the community. When we are restored to God’s grace in the sacrament of Penance, we are also reconciled with the Church. The sacrament repairs or restores our communion with the Church. It “has also a revitalizing effect on the life of the Church which suffered from the sin of one of her members” (CCC 1469).

    So we don’t journey through Lent as isolated individuals, but together as brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. Notice that the prophet Joel called the whole community to repentance. He said: “Blow the trumpet in Zion! Proclaim a fast, call an assembly; Gather the people, notify the congregation; assemble the elders, gather the children …”  There was what St. John Paul II called “a penitential mobilization.” That’s what this season of Lent is: a penitential mobilization. All of us, young and old, children and elders; no one is left out. That’s why the Church has communal penances during Lent, like today, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday: We all fast. And on every Friday of Lent, we abstain from meat. So besides our individual Lenten penances, we do these common penances as a community, showing that we are all in this together.

    It is beautiful to see how many attend daily Mass during Lent, gathering with brothers and sisters every day during this holy season. It is beautiful to see communities in our parishes and schools doing almsgiving together, engaging in projects like Operation Rice Bowl to assist the needy around the world. It is beautiful during Lent to gather together to meditate on the Lord’s Passion through the Stations of the Cross. I encourage you in these communal practices, a way to walk together on the penitential journey of Lent, while also doing private penance, individual acts, “going to your inner room,” as Jesus says in the Gospel, knowing that “your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

    The Church calls us to a penitential mobilization. You’ve heard that call. That’s why you are here at this Ash Wednesday liturgy. As individuals and as a community, today we recognize, in the ceremony of the ashes, that we are creatures, made of dust and destined to return to dust. We also recognize that we are sinners, in need of God’s pardon in order to be able to live according to the Gospel. We hear St. Paul’s exhortation: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

    Even more important than receiving ashes today is our receiving the Holy Eucharist. The Lord comes to strengthen us with His grace and to revive our love. The Eucharist helps us to resist the temptation of sin. In Holy Communion, we receive the Lord who is the Way that leads us to salvation, the Truth that sets us free, and the Life that knows no death!

    I hope and pray that you will have a good and fruitful Lent. Let’s not waste this opportunity to draw closer to the Lord. Let us live this season well. By God’s grace, may our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving renew us in our Christian life!  Let us walk together in this Lenten journey and pray for one another. May our Blessed Mother Mary walk with us and support us with her prayers during these 40 days, so that purified in our hearts, we will be able to celebrate Easter with the deep joy that comes from authentic conversion!

     

    Posted on March 1, 2017, to:

  • This is the third part of the talk given by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades on Feb. 7 at St. Louis Besancon Parish. The last two issues of Today’s Catholic contained the first two parts, on the observance of Sunday and on daily prayer.

    Daily prayer is essential for our growth in the Christian life and in holiness, in being a Catholic every day of the week. Yet, we must remember the important counsel of St. Teresa of Avila: that the water is for the flowers. The graces we receive in prayer help us to grow in the virtues. If our prayer is not bearing good fruit, it is not authentic. That’s the only way we can judge the authenticity of our prayer is, are we growing in the virtues — especially the theological virtues of faith, hope and love?

    If we’re not growing in our vocations, becoming a better bishop or priest, religious or lay person, a better husband and father, a better wife and mother, a better son or daughter, brother or sister, then something is wrong. Our daily prayer helps us to grow in Christ. Growth in Christian life and holiness doesn’t take place apart from or aside from our vocation. For example, the way of holiness, the path of salvation and sanctification, for a married person is not apart from marriage, but in the marriage. It is impossible for a married person and parent to be growing in holiness but not growing as a good husband and father or wife and mother.

    Prayer without growth in love is not fruitful. We can’t judge the goodness or effectiveness of our prayer by how we feel when or after we pray. It can only be judged by the fruits. If one spends an hour in eucharistic adoration and then goes out and curses at a neighbor, then one’s heart was not really open to receive the Lord and His grace during the Holy Hour.

    Prayer needs to be connected to life, especially our particular vocation. Prayer helps us to live our common vocation as disciples of the Lord and our state-in-life vocation as married, ordained or consecrated religious or as a widowed or single person. Prayer must be connected also to our personal vocation as unique individuals within our particular state in life. To live as an authentic Christian is to live as an intentional disciple of Christ in our personal life and vocation, in our family and in our work. How do we do this? I’ve focused on daily prayer as the necessary ingredient. But that prayer must be real. Our hearts must be open to divine grace and cooperate with that grace.

    One way to articulate all this is a famous quote from Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman. He said: “God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work.”

    God has given each of us natural gifts that we should develop and use to their fullest potential. He gives us supernatural gifts, graces to help us, including the gift of faith. Prayer keeps us focused on this, on God’s plan and His will. Otherwise, we lose sight of our purpose.

    We can easily be tempted to compartmentalize our life. We won’t grow in holiness if Sunday Mass is it and is separated from the realities of our daily life. We shouldn’t even compartmentalize our play and recreation from our life of discipleship, any more than we should compartmentalize our family or work life from our prayer life. We are called to live an integrated life. That’s the life of true discipleship! It’s down to earth. It’s real Christianity. It’s a constant process of conversion.

    Living as intentional disciples challenges us every day in our relationships, in our decisions and in our work. We are challenged by the Gospel, the words and the life of Jesus. To be an intentional disciple of Jesus Christ means living life with a purpose. That purpose, as the Catechism says, is “to know, to love, and to serve God in this life and to be happy with Him forever in the next.” Our purpose should not be to accumulate wealth or to strive for fame and celebrity. When we have earthly success, it should be ordered not to ourselves, but to God and to others. A life of discipleship is a life of detachment from these lesser goods. Daily prayer helps us to live with this perspective.

    We must admit that we all make mistakes along the way. We mess up. We sin. As intentional disciples, we recognize that we are sinners in need of forgiveness. We know that we need to go to confession regularly in order to grow in holiness and to receive the grace to resist temptations.

    To be an authentic Catholic, an intentional disciple, in our culture today can be particularly challenging. I often tell our young people that it takes courage to be Catholic today. The vocation of the Catholic laity is to bring the truth of the Gospel into the world. Remember the question Jesus once posed to the disciples, “when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8). We should ponder this question and ask if we are doing our part.

    St. John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord is an example for us since we are called to prepare the way for Christ’s second coming. This begins with our own lives and families and work. Do other people see God at work in our lives? Do they see goodness and generosity, mercy and love in us? Can they recognize that we are disciples of Jesus Christ by the way we speak?

    We can ask ourselves, perhaps in prayer in the morning, what do I intend to do today to learn, to live, and to spread the teachings of Jesus Christ? How can I bring Christ’s love into my home today? What can I do with my children today to help them to draw closer to the Lord? How can I bring peace to a situation of conflict or unity where there is discord? The Prayer of Saint Francis is a wonderful prayer: “Lord make me an instrument of your peace, where there is hatred let me bring love… .”

    A wife and mother can ask herself, how can I be more like the Blessed Mother today? A husband and father can ask himself, how can I be more like St. Joseph today? We must not compartmentalize faith and family. I always encourage parents to be devoted to the Holy Family who show us the way to live together in faith, hope, and love.

    Parents have the duty to provide for their children’s spiritual, psychological, physical, intellectual, and moral growth. It’s a tremendous responsibility. Most of the social ills in our country can be traced back to the family. Most of the social goods can also be traced back to the family. We certainly need more families of faith and prayer. No family is perfect, but family life is still beautiful when there is unity and peace in the Lord.

    Work is also part of our lives that should not be compartmentalized from faith. The Church teaches that work honors the gifts of our Creator and the talents received from Him. Do we recognize this when we go to work or is our work something we see as lacking in meaning? What a difference it makes when we view work as the Church views human work: “as a means of sanctification and a way of animating earthly realities with the spirit of Christ” (CCC 2427).

    Prayer helps us to live a unified, integrated life, not a divided, compartmentalized life. It helps us to see meaning and purpose in everything, the meaning and purpose that comes from God our Creator and Redeemer.

    Our work should be a prayer. When we pray the Morning Offering, we offer all our work that day to God. Our work, however mundane it may seem sometimes, is a way to offer praise to our Creator and to grow in holiness. But we have to do our work with purpose — to serve God, to provide for our families, and to serve others. Then it truly becomes a means of sanctification for us. Every job is an opportunity for growth in holiness. A salesperson speaking kindly and helpfully to a customer. A teacher imparting knowledge to a student, with care for that student’s growth. A homemaker laundering clothes or cooking a meal, with love for the members of the family being provided for. A garbage collector making the neighborhood cleaner for the community, taking care of our common home. Every work has value and dignity when done in the right spirit.

    We are to be God’s fellow-workers, St. Paul says. And we should never underestimate the evangelizing potential of our living as faithful disciples of Christ, as good Catholics, in the workplace.

    I hope some of the reflections I have shared are helpful to you as you seek to live the Catholic faith every day, beyond Sunday. Every day we can and we should draw closer to God, through prayer, and within our families and our work. Discipleship is not a part-time job; it’s a full-time life of faith. It’s living life with meaning and purpose. It’s living life as an adventure of faith with Jesus Christ as our leader, our shepherd, and our Savior and with the Holy Spirit as our advocate, counselor and guide. It is a life focused on giving glory to God and on salvation, our own and the salvation of others. Thus it is an intentional life and a unified life, not a compartmentalized life. It is a life in which our goal is holiness. As St. Paul wrote (which I quoted at the beginning of this talk): “For this is the will of God… your sanctification.”

    Posted on February 22, 2017, to:

  • The following is an excerpt from a talk given by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades on Feb. 7 at St. Louis Besancon Parish.

    Individual copies or a subscription to the Magnificat periodical can be obtained through local Catholic bookstores, magnificat.com and us.magnificat.net.

    A central component of living as a disciple of Jesus, of pursuing the call to holiness in our everyday life, is prayer. Many people already have a good daily regimen of prayer. Some attend daily Mass. Others struggle to maintain a daily routine of prayer. I would like to describe some practices of prayer for your consideration, wherever you might be in your prayer life.

    Of course, every Catholic should have a discipline of daily prayer. One size does not fit all when it comes to how we pray. The wonderful thing is that the Catholic Church has such a rich treasury of prayers, devotions, and spiritual practices. The most important thing is not “how” we pray, but “that” we pray, that we converse with God as the Lord of our life, with God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

    Prayer when we get up in the morning, when we go to bed at night, and when we eat are staples of a daily regimen of prayer.

    Prayer upon rising in the morning  

    Priests, deacons and religious are required every morning to pray Lauds, the Morning Prayer of the Church, from the Liturgy of the Hours. Some lay people also pray Lauds. It is a beautiful prayer with psalms, a reading, and intercessions. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to pray. Some lay people use the wonderful little book “Magnificat,” which includes a shorter version of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, as well as the readings and prayers of daily Mass. It is a great resource that I highly recommend. I know many Catholics who have grown in their prayer life by using the monthly published Magnificat booklets.

    Morning Prayer is a great way to sanctify one’s day, all one’s activities and works of the day. Whether or not one uses the Liturgy of the Hours or Magnificat, what is most important is that one begins his or her day giving praise and thanks to God and offering one’s day to Him.

    For many Catholics, a great and simple way to begin the day is to pray the Morning Offering. I have it taped to the mirror in my bathroom!  It reminds us of the common priesthood of all the baptized because it is an offering, an act of sacrifice, which is a priestly act. There are different versions of the Morning Offering, but each one is basically a prayer offering everything that day to God, including our works, joys, and sufferings. We are giving our day to God.

    It is also good when we make our Morning Offering to offer some specific prayers for spouses and children, for coworkers perhaps, and for the needy, the sick, and the dying, including those individuals who have asked for our prayers or whom we have promised to pray for. If we anticipate a difficult situation that day, like a challenging meeting or encounter, it is good to ask the Lord in advance for wisdom and patience.

    Beginning our day with prayer should be a daily habit. I read a story about the actor Denzel Washington giving advice to a group of young actors. He said something surprising. He said to them: “Put your shoes way under the bed at night so that you gotta get on your knees in the morning to find them. And while you’re down there thank God for grace and mercy and understanding.” Great advice — if we put our shoes way under our bed, getting down on our knees to get them may remind us to stay on our knees for a few minutes to pray in the morning!

    Night Prayer  

    Like prayer in the morning, prayer at night before going to bed should be part of our daily routine. As with Morning Prayer, priests, deacons and religious are required to pray Night Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. The monthly Magnificat booklet also includes this Night Prayer. Night prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours only takes about five minutes. Whether or not we use this official prayer of the Church, the important thing is that we end our day with prayer.

    As I recommended the Morning Offering upon rising, I recommend the Act of Contrition when going to bed. Many of us learned this custom as children. Before saying the Act of Contrition, I was taught to think back over the day and to give thanks to God for specific blessings: and then to think back over the day and ask God pardon for my sins that day.

    Prayer of thanksgiving is very important before we go to bed. It is a reminder of God’s goodness and love. The examination of conscience and Act of Contrition are also important. It takes humility and is good for our souls to express sorrow for our sins and to express the desire to change and to live in God’s grace. Of course, we can offer the Act of Contrition any time during the day, but it is good to do so at the end of a day — to review our day, trying to see it as God saw it. The Holy Spirit’s gift of wisdom enables us to see things as God sees things.

    We should look not only at any moral failure in our actions, but also in our words and our thoughts, as well as our sins of omission, what we have failed to do. This shouldn’t be a scrupulous scrutiny — it only takes a few minutes. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith.”  This daily examen helps us to have a healthy self-knowledge. This is good for the spiritual life. With that knowledge, we can more consciously be resolved to fight against particular temptations and sins.

    The end of our day, like the beginning of our day, can be an act of prayer. That’s what is key. The hinges of our day are focused on the Lord.

    Grace before meals  

    This should be a regular habit in our lives. It is good to be aware that the food we eat is a gift from God and that our companions at a meal are also a gift. We are acknowledging God’s presence and goodness every time we say grace. We can pray before meals in spontaneous words or with the traditional “Bless us, O Lord,” prayer. It is a small thing, but if done attentively and deliberately, it helps us to cultivate an awareness of God at mealtime. Grace at meals reminds us that God is with us as He was with His people when Jesus shared meals with the disciples and others.

    Posted on February 14, 2017, to: