• Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades purchases a You Can Lend A Hand coupon book from Deacon Jim Fitzpatrick of Quality Dining. Each year, the company sponsors the Light of Learning Awards, which honors Catholic School educators and two administrators who express core values of Catholic education and incorporate those values into their curriculum. The luncheon also marks the beginning of the You Can Lend A Hand coupon book campaign. Quality Dining has raised more than $10 million for area Catholic schools since 1982.

    By Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades

    The following is a copy of the speech given by Bishop Rhoades at the Light of Learning luncheons in Fort Wayne and South Bend during Catholic Schools Week:

    Every year, I look forward to this Light of Learning luncheon during Catholic Schools Week. It’s an opportunity to come together to celebrate our Catholic schools and to honor those who make our schools excellent, our teachers, principals and benefactors. I wish to extend my deep thanks to all of you and my personal congratulations to all who are being honored today.

    I have often said in my speeches and writings on Catholic education that we need our Catholic schools today more than ever. I often say this for various reasons. I’ll often mention the growing secularization of our culture, moral relativism, and other currents that are having a negative effect on our young people and their faith. Today, I’d like to again speak about why we need our Catholic schools today more than ever and why I hope that we will increase the enrollment in our Catholic schools. I’d like to do so today in light of statistics, specifically the well-known results of the Pew Research Center survey that were released last year.

    As you probably read, the Christian share of the U.S. population is declining and the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing. We see this drop in Christian affiliation more pronounced among young adults. This decline has been going on for some time, but it is particularly alarming that the pace of decline is picking up. Between 2007 and 2014, in just seven years, the drop was 8%. The number of Christians in the United States fell from 78.4% to 70.6 %. Over those seven years, the number of those who identify themselves as religiously unaffiliated (the religious “nones”) increased from 16.1% to 22.8%. Most of the decline in the Christian percentage is among mainline Protestants and Catholics, with a decline also among evangelical Protestants, though at a slower rate.

    As I mentioned, the decline is most acute among young adults, the so-called millennial generation. 36% of young millennials (those between the ages of 18 and 24) are religiously unaffiliated. 34% of older millennials (those between the ages of 25 and 33) are religiously unaffiliated. This is a great challenge for the Church. I think a lot about this age group and the need to strengthen our ministry to and with young adults. It is alarming to me that only 16% of millennials identify as Catholic, lower than the estimated 20.8% of all U.S. adults who identify as Catholic, which itself is a decline in the overall adult Catholic population by 3.1% the past seven years. There are now more “religious nones” in the United States than there are Catholics (22.8% vs. 20.8%). 25.4% are evangelical Protestants and 14.7% are mainline Protestants. 5.9% of U.S. adults identify with non-Christian faiths.

    I don’t mean to overwhelm you with statistics. Looking at the whole, the largest religious group among adults in the U.S. is evangelical Protestant, followed by the religious nones, followed by Catholics, followed by mainline Protestants, followed by non-Christian faiths. A couple other significant things to note are the following:

    Racial and ethnic minorities make up 41% of U.S. Catholic adults, a significantly larger percentage than that of both evangelical and mainline Protestants (24% and 14% respectively).

    Nearly 32% of U.S. adults say they were raised Catholic. Among that group, 41% no longer identify as Catholics. 12.9% of American adults are former Catholics. At the same time, just 2% of U.S. adults have converted to Catholicism from other religious traditions. That being said, it is important also to note that 2/3 of those raised Catholic are still Catholic.

    While 22.8% of American adults say they belong to no religion, only 3.1% are atheists and 4% are agnostic.

    There has been a lot of discussion about the results of the Pew survey and various interpretations of those results. I don’t have time to talk about the various viewpoints, suggested causes for the decline in numbers of Christians, etc. I only present these statistics in light of my assertion that Catholic schools are needed today more than ever. I don’t have statistics about how the numbers of U.S. Catholics who attended Catholic schools compares to those who did not regarding their affiliation later. In any event, the main thing I want to point out is that we must be especially cognizant, in light of the statistics, of the identity and mission of our schools. They must be communities of evangelization. They must face the challenge of the diminishing Catholic and Christian population and of the growing number of religious nones. This raises a paramount issue: the education and formation of our students as committed disciples of Jesus Christ.

    Last week, during my visit to Bishop Luers High School, I met with the senior class. One of the things I spoke to them about was the decision to be a disciple of Christ as they prepare to graduate. They will enter a culture in which so many young adults are choosing to disaffiliate with their churches and join the rising number of religious nones. I hope and pray we are forming intentional disciples who are ready to enter the world with a strong faith that will withstand the assaults of secularism and relativism. In this changing religious landscape of our country, a landscape becoming more like Europe, we need to be agents of the new evangelization in our schools so our young people are formed as committed disciples of the Lord and faithful members of His Body, the Church.

    Some might say we just need to continue doing what we’re doing. I think we’re doing a good job, don’t get me wrong, but we can never settle into the status quo. If we do, we won’t be excellent. We will settle into mediocrity. In the face of the changes in our culture, we must be creative, intentional, and attentive to outcomes concerning  our mission. The #1 outcome we should be looking for is our young people’s commitment to the faith. It’s related to what should be the #1 outcome we all should be seeking: eternal life and salvation.

    Our Catholic schools are communities that live and act with the fundamental conviction stated so beautifully by Pope Francis: The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness (The Joy of the Gospel #1). That is our aim: that our children and young people experience the joy of the Gospel by encountering Jesus in their minds and hearts. Various studies have shown a general sense of disorientation especially among youth and young adults today, a disorientation resulting from a rejection of the transcendent, a growing deterioration of ethics, a steady increase in secularism and relativism. The superficiality from an information-driven society affects our young people in a significant way. We are called to teach them to live life in a profound way, the way of Jesus Christ.

    This is our first and most important task: evangelization, proclaiming Christ. Pope Francis teaches us what this means: Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and to follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendor and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties. There is an inseparable bond, our Holy Father teaches, between truth, goodness and beauty (The Joy of the Gospel #167). That’s why we need Catholic schools. We need schools of the Gospel, schools of truth, goodness, and beauty. I pray that our students, presently and after they graduate, will choose the path of Christ and live life on this higher plane. I pray that they will not only not become “religious nones,” but that they will bring to their peers who are not affiliated with religion “the joy of the Gospel.”

    Posted on February 2, 2016, to:

  • By Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades
    For more photos visit the photo gallery.

    From left, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, is shown with Carolyn Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services and Irish Archbishop Eugene Martin Nugent, the apostolic nuncio to Haiti, who hosted a dinner during Bishop Rhoades’ visit.

    As a board member of Catholic Relief Services, I participated last week in a five-day visit to Haiti. Accompanied by the CRS directors who work in Haiti, we visited several sites of CRS projects in Port-au-Prince as well as in the northern region of Haiti. Our delegation included the president and CEO of CRS, Dr. Carolyn Woo, who is from our diocese. She and her family are members of Saint Matthew Cathedral parish in South Bend. Dr. Woo is the former dean of the School of Business at Notre Dame. She has been doing an amazing job at CRS the last few years.

    I had always wanted to visit Haiti, a beautiful country known as the “Pearl of the Caribbean,” yet one that has been afflicted throughout its history by natural disasters, political instability, and extreme poverty. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, with 80% of Haitians living on less than $2 a day. Despite so much adversity, the Haitian people seem to persevere with courage and hope, rooted in a strong and vibrant faith. The people of this traditionally Catholic country have shown tremendous resiliency in the face of so many tragedies and setbacks. It is undoubtedly their faith that sustains them to move forward and not give up.

    Catholic Relief Services has served in Haiti since 1954, so the agency is well-known and appreciated. This presence and experience in Haiti over so many years enabled CRS to respond to the 2010 earthquake immediately. CRS grew to over 700 staff after the earthquake to provide emergency assistance and to resettle displaced families with suitable housing, water, and sanitation. With this earthquake recovery program completed, CRS Haiti is now back to its normal staff of about 130. The work of CRS in Haiti continues since there are still many needs for ongoing and sustainable development. During our visit, we saw several projects aimed at addressing these needs in the areas of health care, education, urban renewal, and agriculture.

    In the cities of Port-au-Prince and Cap Haitien (in the north), we saw so many people living in over-crowded, unsanitary slums and dangerous tenements. Many of the roads and streets were in need of repair. There was terrible traffic congestion. I learned that crowded cities were a result of so many people moving from rural areas to the cities since they were unable to make a living in their traditional farming occupations. Also, many moved to the cities for better access to health care and education.

    In Cap Haitien, I was reminded of the words of Pope Francis: The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth (Laudato Si 21). I thought of these words while passing the city’s shoreline by the ocean where there were piles and piles of garbage and waste. I could not understand why people would dump their garbage there, thinking this could be an area of beautiful coastal scenery. I learned that the city did not have adequate waste removal and waste management. The people had no place to deposit their trash. Amid the mounds of garbage were dogs, pigs, and goats rummaging through the refuse. I thought about the likely dangers to health because of all this waste in the streets and on the shore.

    The undignified conditions of the cities made me realize the importance of giving priority to urban renewal. CRS is active in this area with its urban programming. In Port-au-Prince we visited a poor slum called Solino. There we met a Spiritan priest who works in the neighborhood and is supported by CRS. CRS helped in building a beautiful soccer field in the neighborhood which is like an oasis in the midst of a desert. Besides providing some green space in the midst of concrete tenements, the soccer field provides a place for recreation. There are not only soccer teams, but also training programs for youth that give hope for a brighter future. CRS helps provide peace-building programs that help young people to turn away from gangs and violence. Urban programming is one of the priorities of CRS in Haiti.

    In Port-au-Prince, we also visited the beautiful new San Francois de Sales Hospital, owned and operated by the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince. The previous hospital was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake. CRS and the US Catholic Health Association provided most of the funding for the reconstruction of the hospital and the provision of medical equipment. CRS is working with the archdiocese to organize the hospital services in order to serve more patients and improve the quality of care. CRS provides technical and strategic support for the Catholic health network in Haiti. There is still much work to be done as they work on strategic planning and organization so that the hospital will soon be in full operation.

    While in Port-au-Prince, we were somewhat affected by the political turmoil of the present time. As you may have seen in the news, Haiti was supposed to have presidential elections on Sunday, January 24th, but the elections have been postponed. This situation led to public demonstrations that sometimes turned violent in the streets of Port-au-Prince. This somewhat affected our movement around the city so as to avoid the areas of the demonstrations. One of the recurring problems and impediments to Haiti’s development has been the political instability there for many decades. The Catholic Church is now the major mediator between various opposing parties in Haiti. Too often political corruption and violence have impeded social development in Haiti. Real change is needed to address Haiti’s problems and to serve the common good of the people. The Church advocates for this change in a way that avoids the violent conflicts that bring even more misery to society.

    Another priority of CRS in Haiti is its agricultural programs and projects. This is an area of strong expertise of CRS in Africa and elsewhere. We visited one of these projects in northern Haiti: a cocoa cooperative supported by CRS. We met several of the local farmers who expressed gratitude for the help of CRS in improving production and engaging the market. It was great to see the progress of this cooperative program, the people’s pride in their work and the better quality cocoa product. CRS doesn’t just provide or distribute food in poor countries. It helps the local farmers with their methods, with access to the market, thus making agriculture a more secure and sustainable livelihood. This is especially important in Haiti to prevent more people needing to move to urban slums. It is also important given the environmental deterioration in rural areas caused by deforestation and climate change.

    Though we saw poverty and suffering everywhere, I was most impacted by our visit to the border town of Ouanaminthe. There we visited a shelter run by Jesuit Refugee Services and supported by CRS. In recent months, the Dominican Republic has expelled and deported thousands of Haitian migrant workers. These are truly “the poorest of the poor.” The Jesuit shelter provides immediate assistance and support to the migrants. I met and prayed with one of the migrant workers who was rescued at the border. A few months earlier, the Dominican authorities raided the factory where he and fellow Haitian migrants were working. Trying to run away, two of his friends were shot and killed. He was also shot in his thigh, but was able to escape. He found his way to the border. I spoke and prayed with him. He most likely would have died if not for the help of the Jesuit shelter where he is receiving food and medical care. Next week, he is scheduled to have the bullet in his thigh removed in surgery at the local Catholic hospital. I saw in this man’s eyes, which filled with tears from the love he experienced at the shelter, a new sense of his own dignity as a child of God, a dignity that he had probably not felt in a very long time. It is hard for me to put into words the feeling that I had and still have in meeting this man and seeing his suffering. I saw in his face and emaciated body the face and the body of Jesus in His passion. This is why CRS exists and why we must support its mission.

    In Ouanaminthe, we also visited a center run by the Sisters of Saint John the Evangelist from Colombia, supported by CRS. They care for migrant women and children while the Jesuits care for the larger number of men. The sisters also run an educational program called “Sowers of Peace” for the local youth. We met with a group of the young people who did a skit for us on the plight of trafficked children. Child labor and human trafficking are also problems in Haiti. I celebrated Mass with the sisters and children in English and Spanish and with translation by the Jesuit priest, in Creole as well. So it was a tri-lingual Mass. Of course, we had Mass every day in Haiti at different locations.

    Each evening during our visit, we shared dinner with various groups of CRS partners, including bishops, priests, and local education and health care leaders. I learned a great deal from the dinner discussions and the innovative ideas that were shared. One evening we met with members of the Catholic Episcopal Education Commission which supervises more than 2,300 Catholic schools in Haiti. I am glad that CRS partners with this Commission and our own University of Notre Dame to support teacher training and to improve early grade literacy and other priorities of Haiti’s Catholic schools.

    We were hosted for dinner one evening by the Apostolic Nuncio to Haiti, Irish Archbishop Eugene Martin Nugent. We were both surprised to discover that we had been classmates 36 years ago at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Another surprise for me was learning while visiting with the Archbishop of Cap Haitien that he was close friends with one of the permanent deacons in the Diocese of Harrisburg whom I knew very well, a Haitian-American doctor and surgeon in Hershey who founded and supports two Catholic schools in Gonaives, Haiti.

    I cannot finish this column without sharing the deep admiration I have for the CRS staff in Haiti, most of whom are Haitians. We met with the national office staff in Port-au-Prince on our last day in Haiti. Their great commitment to their people and to the Church was evident. Having completed massive earthquake recovery efforts, CRS in Haiti still has extremely important work to do, given future disaster risk and the huge development needs in Haiti. Much work in the areas of health care, education, agriculture, and urban life remains. There is also the relatively new emergency situation of the plight of the Haitian migrants returning from the Dominican Republic.

    I hope and pray that the relationship between the Church in the United States and the Church and people of Haiti will continue to be strong. I am proud of the work of CRS and grateful for the generosity of the people of our diocese in supporting CRS. I am especially happy that so many of our parishes and also our four high schools promote various programs of CRS, including Operation Rice Bowl during the Lenten season.

    Please remember in your prayers our CRS staff and all our Haitian brothers and sisters in Christ. They are a resilient people, examples of faith and hope in the midst of the difficulties of life. May the Lord give them light and strength! And may Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the patroness of Haiti, intercede for them!

    CRS’ history in Haiti 

    Catholic Relief Services began working in Haiti in 1954 after Hurricane Hazel devastated the country and killed about 1,000 people. High population density, severe deforestation and decaying infrastructure make Haiti particularly vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes and floods.

    CRS Haiti continues its long-standing commitment to helping the Haitian people in many aspects of their lives, including sustainable development efforts after the 2010 earthquake. In Haiti, CRS responds to emergencies, provides agriculture assistance, supports education and works to enhance the health care system throughout the country.

    CRS, Celtic FC, and Solino community welcome new soccer facility

    Children play soccer at Celtic Park Haiti, which was facilitated by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the Celtic FC Foundation.

    PORT AU PRINCE, HAITI — Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the Celtic FC Foundation joined the community of Solino in Haiti for the opening of a new soccer facility, Celtic Park Haiti on Sept. 11, 2015.

    The park opened with a match of local community youth teams. This community recreational park includes a nearly regulation-size soccer field, basketball and handball courts, a stage for community events, bleachers, lavatories, lighting and new Celtic Park signage.

    “Solino is no longer in a red zone, it’s a green and white zone. We are so grateful to be a part of the launch and hope to see a Haitian wearing our Celtic colors in Scotland one day,” said Tony Hamilton, CEO of the Celtic FC Foundation who flew from Glasgow, Scotland, for the event.

    In 2010, the Haitian earthquake destroyed the Solino community. The grounds that once served as a community soccer field were turned into a camp to provide temporary housing to 700 families who lost their homes. In the months after the earthquake, CRS helped the Solino community clear drainage canals backed up with debris and garbage from other parts of the city, rebuild their homes and kick start families’ livelihoods.

    An American philanthropist, who wishes to remain anonymous, and Celtic FC fan saw firsthand the challenges faced by the people in Solino during a 2012 visit. He was moved to act.

    The spirit of the Solino community has touched a football club all the way in Scotland. “This has only been possible by a coming together of local government, the Spiritans and the private sector, to create a magnificent recreational facility for the community,” said Sean Callahan, chief operating officer for CRS.

    “The Spiritans have a long history in Solino and this is a dream come true for the community. The whole community is excited about this field,” said Father Serro Michel, of the Spiritan Community in Haiti.

    To download a PDF file of this three-page spread click here.

    Read

    Posted on January 27, 2016, to:

  • St. Francois de Sales Hospital celebrated its reopening at its original site in the heart of downtown Port-au-Prince in 2015, five years after the devastating earthquake. Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades will be visiting the hospital during his visit to Haiti this week. The rebuilding has transformed one of the country’s oldest Catholic hospitals into a modern teaching facility that will train medical professionals and serve as a model for providing quality care to the poor around the country. “The new St. Francois de Sales Hospital is more than a first-rate medical facility,” said Carolyn Woo, president and chief executive officer of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), which was instrumental in the rebuilding. “It will also be an important part of the future of medicine in Haiti through its training mission even as it provides the quality healthcare the poor of this country need and deserve.”

    One of my favorite images or metaphors of the Church is that of the Church as the Body of Christ. Saint Paul has given us this image. He writes about the Church as the Body of Christ in his first letter to the Corinthians, particularly in chapter 12, which we will hear in the second reading at Mass this coming Sunday. The reading begins:

    As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.

    This is a new image that Saint Paul uses. It is not found in the Old Testament. Paul is highlighting the unity of the Church within the multiplicity of members. As he writes also to the Romans: We, though many, are one body in Christ (12:5).

    We are the members of the Body of Christ. We are united among ourselves in virtue of our union with Christ, who is the head of the body. Our unity as members of the Church, our unity with one another, comes from Christ. We are brothers and sisters of different races, languages, and ethnicities, yet we are one because we have drunk, as Saint Paul says, of one Spirit. As head, Christ has filled the body with His divine life. He is the principle and source of our communion in love.

    It is important to remember these profound truths when there are disagreements or divisions in the Church, whether in parishes or other communities. We must always turn to Christ our head, the source of our unity. There were divisions and factions within the Christian community of Corinth. I imagine that is why Saint Paul came up with the image of the Church as the body of Christ, to teach the divided Christians to forsake their cliques. He called them to unity as one body in Christ.

    In our parishes and in our diocese, we must always be conscious of our unity as brothers and sisters in Christ and our unity in faith and mission. We must also be conscious of our unity within the universal Church. This week, I will be in Haiti with Catholic Relief Services as a member of the governing board of CRS. I look forward to visiting with our brothers and sisters who suffer extreme poverty in that poorest country of the Western hemisphere. The Church in Haiti and the Church in the United States are part of the one Body of Christ.

    I will always remember that the first decision I made as Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend was to take up the collection for the victims of the terrible earthquake in Haiti six years ago. It occurred on January 12, 2010, the day before I was installed as bishop here. It was a devastating disaster in which over 100,000 people were killed and over 1 million people left homeless. The country was in ruins. One of the purposes of our visit to Haiti this week is to see the many works of CRS in rebuilding homes and communities there.

    Back to the special collection in January   2010: I remember how edified I was to see the generosity of the people of my new diocese, your generosity — over ½ million dollars was collected here in our diocese that weekend to support the humanitarian work of CRS in the aftermath of the earthquake. This reminds me of the words of Saint Paul concerning the Church as the body of Christ: If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. I think today of the suffering Church in the Middle East. The persecuted Christians of Iraq and Syria, many of whom are refugees, are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Their suffering must be our suffering. We are called to compassion for them, to pray for these suffering members of the Body of Christ and to assist them, as we are also doing through the work of Catholic Relief Services.

    The Church is a living organism like the human body with various parts that carry out various functions. All are necessary. We have bishops, priests, deacons, religious, and laity. Together we are the Body of Christ with all our different gifts and charisms.

    Pope Pius XII used the phrase “Mystical Body of Christ”, a beautiful expression that emphasizes the spiritual life of the Church. What keeps and holds us together? The Holy Spirit! The Second Vatican Council taught: By communicating His Spirit, Christ made His brothers and sisters, called together from all nations, mystically the components of His own body (Lumen Gentium 7). We are held together by the Holy Spirit poured out upon us by Christ our Head. The Spirit builds us up in love.

    My episcopal motto Truth in Charity comes from Saint Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and is related to this theme of the Church as the Body of Christ. Saint Paul exhorts us to live the truth in love. He writes: Living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into Him who is the head, Christ (Eph 4:15). This is a question to ask ourselves often: are we living the truth in love? Do we practice what we teach? Are we growing into the full stature of Christ?

    When we reflect on this concept of the Church as the Body of Christ, we also recognize with Saint Paul the close connection of this idea with the Eucharist. The Church really becomes the Body of Christ in the Eucharist where we receive His Body and become His Body. We receive the true Body of Christ in a sacramental way in the Eucharist under the appearance of bread. Doing so, we are spiritually united to our head and to all the members of the Body. Thus we become one Body in Christ. This is why we can say that the Eucharist makes or builds the Church. Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that the Eucharist is the sacrament of the unity of the Church. It is the apex of the Church’s life.

    With these reflections, I invite you to think more deeply about the Church’s identity as more than a social group or organization. It is the Body of Christ. May the Lord help us to be His Body, the place where His love is manifest in the world!

    Posted on January 20, 2016, to:

  • The stained-glass artwork of the Magi’s visitation to the Christ Child is at St. Mary Church in Huntington. The stained glass is from the Royal Bavarian Art Institute in Germany, which crafted Gothic Revival artwork in stained-glass windows in churches throughout the world in the 1800s and early 1900s.

    The following is the text of the homily of Bishop Rhoades at the Christmas Mass during the Night at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne, on December 24, 2015:

    The celebration of Christmas during this Jubilee Year of Mercy is a beautiful occasion to give thanks to our heavenly Father who shows His mercy to humanity in the mystery of Christ’s birth. The face of the infant Jesus in the manger is the face of the Father’s mercy. It is a beautiful and innocent face, the face of a lowly infant; as we sing in the hymn Silent Night: “Holy infant, so tender and mild.”

    In another verse of Silent Night, we sing about who this infant is and about His mission: “Son of God, love’s pure light; radiant beams from thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace.” This is the great mystery of Christmas. The Son of God, sent by our merciful Father, comes to us, assumes our human nature, and lavishes upon us His redeeming grace. It is a humanly incredible event, the Nativity of Our Lord: the Son of God lying helpless in a manger. It is an event that never ceases to fill us with wonder and with awe, how much God loves us.

    God is not a distant deity, a reality known only from afar. He comes to us in the humility and poverty of a little child. He comes to bring heaven to us. He does not leave us helpless and floundering in our sins. He comes as Savior. That’s what the name Jesus means: God saves! As the angel told the shepherds: for today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. Christmas is a feast of mercy. God in His mercy has come to us to offer us the forgiveness that frees us from the oppression of sin with the power of His grace.

    How often we can become shackled by our egoism, selfishness, error, and sin. These things imprison us and bring us sadness and misery. The good news is that the Redeemer comes to set us free, to release our hearts from these things. He does so with His love and mercy if we only open our hearts to His gift, to His Son, and receive the gift of Christmas with humility and sincerity. Mary and Joseph and the shepherds are models for us of this humility and sincerity, examples of faith. As they marveled at what took place that first Christmas night, they knelt in adoration before the infant Jesus lying in the manger. And that is why we are here tonight. We have come to adore Him, the Child in the manger, our Savior, our Brother, and our Lord.

    Saint Luke tells us that Christ was born in Bethlehem. The name Bethlehem means “house of bread.” Jesus was born in the house of bread. And He was placed in a manger, a place where animals ate their food. Jesus would call himself the bread of life, the true bread come down from heaven. He is the bread of immortality, the food that gives us eternal life. So the manger, according to Saint Augustine, refers to the table of God, to which we are invited so as to receive the bread of God. The manger is like an altar. And on this altar tonight, as at every Mass, the same flesh born of the Virgin Mary, will become present as our spiritual food. The Paschal mystery of the Eucharist is already foretold in the Bethlehem manger. As Mary and Joseph and the shepherds adored Him in the manger, we adore Him tonight on the altar. The One who was concealed in the poverty of the stable in Bethlehem is concealed under the signs of bread and wine. With faith, we adore Him in the Eucharist. We adore the One whom we receive. As Saint Augustine once said: No one should eat this flesh without first adoring it… we should sin were we not to adore it.

    The Lord who came into the world as an infant in a manger and who comes to us in the Eucharist brings to the world the gifts of peace and love, grace and salvation. He brings light to a world where there is still so much darkness. 2000 years ago, there was no room in the inn for His birth. The doors were closed. Is there room for Him today? The inn is first of all the human heart. In freedom, we can open or close the door of our heart to the holy Child. The Lord seeks a dwelling place in our souls and lives. He wants to give us His peace and His love, His gift of salvation. Through us, He desires to bring love and mercy to the poor, the needy, the sick, the suffering, the lonely, the oppressed, the marginalized, and the forgotten. The Prince of Peace wants to defeat the violence in our world and the terrorism that threatens the innocent.

    To be a Christian is to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that He is true God and true man. To be a Christian is also to believe in the power of Jesus, the power of His goodness and mercy. It is the power we see in the infant lying within the wood of the manger and in the man hanging upon the wood of the cross. This is the true power of Christianity. We must reject all the deceptive ideologies that bring darkness and death and open our hearts to the truth of the Gospel that brings light and life. It is the truth that brings us true freedom and joy. It is the joy born from contemplating the face of the infant lying in the manger, knowing that He is the face of God present forever with us and for us, the face of the mercy that our world so desperately needs. May we be witnesses of that mercy and heralds of joy as disciples of Jesus, our Savior, who is Christ and Lord! May He bless all of you with His love and grace during this holy season of Christmas!

    Posted on December 29, 2015, to:

  • Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades after opening the Holy Doors at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne processes with the Book of Gospels at the Dec. 13 Mass.

    The following is the text of the homily of Bishop Rhoades at the Mass opening the Doors of Mercy of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on the Third Sunday of Advent, December 13, 2015: 

    Today is the Third Sunday of Advent which is called Gaudete Sunday. “Gaudete” means “rejoice.” So today is the Sunday of joy. Saint Paul invites the Philippians to rejoice. He writes: Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” And he gives them the reason why: because the Lord is near. We rejoice on this Third Sunday of Advent because Christmas is near. The joy of Christmas is a special joy, yet we should not forget that joy isn’t just for a day. As Pope Francis says, it is for the entire life of a Christian. It is a serene and tranquil joy, a joy that forever accompanies the Christian. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is a gift from the Lord.

    We began this liturgy with the opening of the Holy Doors of our cathedral: the Doors of Mercy. There is a profound relationship between mercy and joy. This Jubilee Year of Mercy is an invitation to joy. We rejoice because the Lord is near. He is near with His mercy. Jesus reveals to us the mercy of the Father. It is in and through that mercy that we find joy in our lives, that we find peace in our souls. When we encounter the mercy of the Lord, we are filled with joy and peace.

    Forty years ago, Blessed Pope Paul VI wrote an apostolic exhortation entitled Gaudete in Domino, Rejoice in the Lord. In that exhortation that begins with the words of Saint Paul to the Philippians that we hear on this Third Sunday of Advent, Pope Paul VI said that No one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord. He wrote that the great joy announced by the angel on Christmas night is truly for all the people. That is because God’s mercy is offered to all. God became man to save us all. When I opened the Holy Doors, the Doors of Mercy, I prayed that all who enter those doors during this Jubilee Year will feel that they are welcome here, that the Church is their home. I pray that all those who are saddened by sin will receive the joy of the Lord through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is by receiving the Lord’s mercy that we can experience anew the joy that He so desires for us.

    True joy is linked to our relationship with God. It’s much more than having a good time. We can sometimes pursue all kinds of pleasure in our lives, but we’re never truly satisfied by material and earthly pleasures. Such happiness is superficial; it doesn’t endure. Or we seek happiness by achieving success, by accomplishing things. But that happiness doesn’t last either. True joy is deeper. Think about Saint Augustine, who for many years sought happiness in various ways, sometimes in sinful behavior. Like so many people in our society today, he was searching for happiness and peace, but he couldn’t find it. Finally, by the grace of God, he realized why he was unhappy and unfulfilled. He said those famous words: our heart is restless until it rests in God. He only found true peace and joy when he encountered Christ and opened his heart to the mercy of the Father.

    There’s a lot of anxiety in the world today. There’s fear of terrorism that has even hardened people’s hearts to the suffering of refugees. There’s a lot of discouragement about the future, a certain pessimism that afflicts even the young. There is a spiritual aridity in some people’s lives that leads them to constantly complain about things — their negativity can be demoralizing to others. We see this also within our communities in the Church. I think of Pope Francis words about “sourpusses.” We must say no to a “sterile pessimism,” the Pope says. Such pessimism, or defeatism, “stifles boldness and zeal.” The Holy Father calls it “an evil spirit.” I think it pleases Satan when Christians are without joy, when we succumb to this sterile pessimism, when we wallow in negativity and complain all the time. Where is the Holy Spirit in this? He’s not there. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of joy. One who is moved by the Spirit is a person of hope and a witness of joy. It’s all about trust, trust in God’s mercy, trust in the victory of grace over sin, of life over death. It is trust in Jesus Christ, that He is the Savior. The good news of the Gospel is precisely that, good news. It is the Gospel of salvation, the Gospel of mercy.

    We all encounter difficulties in our lives. We face trials. We have crosses to carry. We can be tempted to pessimism and adopt a defeatist attitude, or we can embrace the sufferings of life with courage and hope. Isn’t this what our faith teaches us? The greatness of God’s mercy and the knowledge that the Lord is always with us gives us the strength to go forward. He is close to us always. He loves us and forgives us. We can only overcome sadness by trusting in the Lord. Even amid trials and sufferings, we can have joy, not a superficial joy, but the joy that penetrates deep in our hearts and minds when we entrust ourselves to the Lord.

    Pope Francis says that the Church is not a haven for sad people, the Church is a joyful home! And those who are sad find joy in her, they find in her true joy! It is of great importance that all people, especially those hurting as a result of sin, feel welcome in the Church, that they know that the doors of every Catholic church are doors of mercy. I pray that all those who are sad may find joy in the Church, not some superficial joy, but true joy: the joy that comes from listening to God’s word and the joy of the sacraments, the joy of worshipping God, the joy that comes from prayer and conversion. But also that they find joy through our witness of love and mercy, our welcoming spirit. May no one feel excluded from the joy brought by the Lord! I pray that when people enter our churches, they will not find embittered faces, sourpusses, self-righteous modern-day Pharisees, but will find faces which radiate the love of Jesus and the joy of the Gospel.

    My brothers and sisters, on this Gaudete Sunday, the Church rejoices because the Lord is near. Christmas is near. We will soon be gazing at the manger where we are able to savor the true joy of Christmas, contemplating in the face of the newborn Jesus the merciful face of God. As we have opened the holy doors of this cathedral, let us open the doors of our hearts to the God who became flesh and dwells among us. May all of us experience in our lives the deep joy of His salvation and bear witness to that joy in our lives!

    Posted on December 15, 2015, to: