• Pope Francis leads Benediction outside the Basilica of St. Mary Major on the feast of Corpus Christi in Rome June 4 of 2015.

    This coming Sunday, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord, the feast of Corpus Christi.  It is the feast of the Eucharist which Christ instituted at the Last Supper and which is the Church’s most precious treasure.

    It is an amazing truth of our faith that our Creator and Lord made Himself bread to be broken, shared and eaten. He made Himself our food to give us life, His divine life.  As Jesus said: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:54).  The same flesh and blood offered by Christ to the Father on the cross and resurrected to glory is given to us in the Eucharist.  It is the food of eternal life.  The Eucharist is truly “holy communion.”  As Saint Paul teaches: The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a communion in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a communion in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16).

    Every Holy Thursday, we remember and we celebrate the institution of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.  It is good that every year we also celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi.  On both of these days, we focus on this wonderful gift of Christ, the sacrament of His Body and Blood.  It is a gift that we can too easily take for granted or neglect to appreciate.  This precious heritage that the Lord has given to the Church is the Lord Himself who comes to meet us and to bring us the life of God.

    Each of us needs to be nourished with the love that the Lord offers us in the sacrament of the Eucharist.  It is our soul’s greatest need.  It is sad how many neglect the Sunday Eucharist, most likely due to a lack of appreciation of the greatness of this gift Jesus left us on the night before He died.  I think of our persecuted brothers and sisters in some areas of the world who go to Mass even at risk to their lives. Their faith in the Eucharist is so strong that they will not neglect Mass even if it may result in imprisonment or death.

    It is good to remember the example of the 4th century martyrs of Abitinae in North Africa.  During the persecution by the emperor Diocletian, the Sunday Eucharist was banned with the greatest severity.  Yet, many Christians courageously defied the imperial decree.  They accepted death rather than miss the Sunday Eucharist.  When arrested and asked why they defied the prohibition, they declared that it was not possible for them to live without the Eucharist, the food of the Lord.  One of the women, when asked if she had disobeyed the emperor’s decree, replied: “Yes, I went to the assembly and I celebrated the Lord’s Supper with my brothers and sisters, because I am a Christian.”

    These martyrs felt the strong inner need to celebrate and receive the Holy Eucharist.  It was only later that the Church made explicit the duty to attend Sunday Mass.  In our secularized society, it is easy not only to ignore the Sunday Mass obligation, but to forget how vital the Eucharist is for our Christian lives.  We need to hear the word of God, to gather in prayer as brothers and sisters in Christ, and to commemorate the death and resurrection of the Lord.  We need to be fed by the bread of life.  Do we really feel the need?  Our Lord said: Amen, amen, I say to you: unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you (John 6:53).

    One of my greatest joys as bishop is celebrating the Eucharist in parishes throughout our diocese.  Whether celebrating in one of our cathedrals or in one of our small rural parishes, it is a joy to gather with you to celebrate Christ’s gift of Himself in the Paschal Mystery.  It is often so edifying to witness your faith in the Eucharist, your active participation in the Mass and your reverence for the Holy Body and Blood of the Lord.

    In many parishes, the liturgy is well-prepared.  The readings are proclaimed clearly.  The music is beautiful.  In some parishes, more work needs to be done so that the sacred liturgy is celebrated with the proper dignity and beauty.  Every parish must make the celebration of the sacred liturgy, the source and summit of the Church’s life, a priority by ensuring well-prepared readers, good liturgical music, the reverent distribution of Holy Communion, and the active participation of the faithful, both interiorly and exteriorly.  At some parishes, there are vibrant liturgies where people recite the prayers and responses and sing the praises of the Lord robustly.  In some parishes, this is not the case.  I encourage all to enter into the celebration of the Eucharist with their hearts, their minds and their voices.

    The beauty of the Catholic liturgy should be evident to all those who visit our churches.  We must avoid getting into a rut, neglecting the great care that should be taken in the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist.  The Eucharist is too great to be treated casually or its celebration to be without the necessary attentiveness and careful preparation.

    Finally, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi also reminds us that the Eucharist is a mystery to be lived.  We are reminded of this at the dismissal of every Mass.  The priest or deacon says: Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord or Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life (or simply, Go forth, the Mass is ended or Go in peace). These words help us to grasp the relationship between the Mass just celebrated and our mission in the world.  The Eucharist strengthens us to live the Christian life.  It commits us to do the Lord’s will in our daily lives, to live our vocation to holiness within the world, beginning in our own families.  After sharing in the Eucharist, the sacrifice of the cross, and partaking in Christ’s self-giving love, we are equipped to live His love in our lives.  Our worship becomes our life, a Eucharistic life, as we go forth to bear witness to Christ’s love.

    On this feast of Corpus Christi, may we be renewed in our Eucharistic faith and devotion!  May we always treasure this gift of Our Lord’s Body and Blood, the sacrament of His love!

    Posted on May 25, 2016, to:

  • The Holy Spirit depicted in a window at the Vatican in Rome.

    This coming Sunday we will celebrate the culmination of the Easter season: the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles at Pentecost. This powerful manifestation of God involved a mighty wind and tongues of fire. The apostles were transformed by this experience. They became heralds of “the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11). On that day, the Church came into being and was revealed to the world.

    Celebrating the feast of Pentecost includes contemplating the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity. Pope Saint John Paul II spoke of the Holy Spirit as the “hidden God.” Though the Holy Spirit operates in the Church and in the world, He is not manifested visibly like God the Son.  The Son assumed human nature and became like us. The Holy Spirit, however, did not become man. We can only observe Him by the effects of His presence and action in us and in the world. The Holy Spirit operates as the “hidden God,” invisible in His Person.

    The “hiddenness” of the Holy Spirit may make it more difficult for many of us to relate to this Divine Person. We can relate more easily perhaps to God the Son. By becoming man, the Son entered into the realm of the experientially visible. He was able to be seen and touched. Because the Son assumed our human nature, we can relate to Him as our brother. We can relate to Jesus more easily since He became man. It may also be easier to relate to the first Person of the Blessed Trinity since we have an experience of fatherhood. Though human fatherhood is an imperfect reflection of the fatherhood of God the Father, it does help us to relate to the first Person of the Blessed Trinity. And, even though the Father remains invisible and transcendent, He is manifested in the Son. As Jesus said: He who sees me sees the Father (John 14:9).

    Even though the Holy Spirit may be more difficult to understand and relate to, it is important that we make the effort. He has been revealed to us by Jesus who often spoke about Him. Just as Jesus taught us to recognize and invoke God as Father, He also taught us the divine Personhood of the Holy Spirit. He spoke of the Holy Spirit in personal terms, as our advocate, defender, and consoler. He taught us that this Person, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father would send in His name, would teach us everything and remind us of all that He taught us (John 14:26).  These activities, “teaching and reminding,” show that the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force, but a Divine Person.

    We must avoid thinking of the Holy Spirit as a kind of impersonal cosmic power, something like “the force” in Star Wars. The Holy Spirit is a Divine Person. He is the Lord and Giver of Life, as we profess in the Creed. He is our Consoler and Advocate. Though invisible, He is real. He is at work in the Church and in the world and in our souls. He is, as we pray in the Sequence of Pentecost Sunday, “the soul’s most welcome guest.”

    When we were baptized, we were put into a close personal relationship with the three Divine Persons. We were introduced into the intimacy of the Trinity. We are reminded of this every time we make the sign of the cross and renew our relationship with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

    The Holy Spirit is a Person distinct from the Father and from the Son and, at the same time, intimately united with them. The Church speaks of the Holy Spirit “proceeding from the Father and the Son” and of being “adored and glorified” with the Father and the Son. This mystery of God’s inner life as Trinity is beyond our full comprehension, but it is central to our faith. It is beautiful to contemplate this mystery.

    On Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate a great manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Three basic elements mark this event: the sound of a mighty wind, tongues as of fire, and the charism of speaking in other languages.  These rich symbols of the Holy Spirit’s action help us to understand the Person of the Holy Spirit.

    The wind manifests the divine power at work in the Holy Spirit, the supernatural dynamism through which God transforms us from within and sanctifies us. We can’t see wind, but we can see its effects. The same with the Holy Spirit: we cannot see the Holy Spirit, but we can know Him by His effects in us. We call these effects “the fruits of the Holy Spirit.” They are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, generosity, faithfulness, modesty, chastity, and self-control. According to Saint Paul, we know that we are “walking by the Spirit” when we are growing in these fruits.

    The symbol of fire, which is the source of warmth and light, teaches us that the Holy Spirit consoles and enlightens us. Fire represents God’s presence (like at the burning bush) and love, that love which “has been poured out in our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5). Fire is also powerful and it spreads. We see at Pentecost how the apostles were filled with God’s power and strengthened in zeal for the cause of Christ.  This is the action of the Holy Spirit who gave them ardent zeal to make great sacrifices and even endure persecution and martyrdom in their mission to spread the Kingdom of Christ.

    Another remarkable sign at Pentecost was that the multitude of people of different languages who were present in Jerusalem heard the apostles speaking their own language.  In the Old Testament story of the Tower of Babel, we learn that the one language spoken by everyone was divided into many languages, thus causing the confusion of languages and disunity. The opposite happens at Pentecost. This miracle reveals to us that the Holy Spirit is the source of the Church’s unity. The Holy Spirit makes us one in Christ Jesus and integrates us within the unity that binds the Son to the Father. Through the Church, the Holy Spirit brings to spiritual unity peoples of different languages, races, nations, and cultures.

    As we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost, I invite you to be conscious of the presence of the “hidden God,” the Holy Spirit in your lives and in the life of the Church.  May the Holy Spirit sanctify us, fill us with zeal for the spread of the Gospel, and unify us in the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church!

    Posted on May 10, 2016, to:

  • Ascension (1651) by Francisco Camilo. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya – MNAC, Barcelona.

    By Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades

    This coming Sunday is the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord.  We are still within the fifty days of the Easter season which will end next Sunday, the Solemnity of Pentecost.  The feast of Christ’s Ascension into heaven is the culmination of His glorification at Easter.  On this feast of the Ascension, an integral part of the Easter Mystery, we prepare for Pentecost, like the Apostles to whom Christ promised, at the moment before His Ascension, that they would soon receive the power of the Holy Spirit.

    We should not think of the Ascension of Jesus as His definitive departure from His disciples or from this world.  Though He will no longer be physically present, the Risen Jesus begins a new kind of presence with them and also with us.  It is an invisible presence through the Holy Spirit, a presence not limited by geography or space.  It is His presence in the Church and in the sacraments.  He has not abandoned us.  In the glory of the Father, the Risen Jesus supports, guides, and intercedes for us.  From His throne of glory, Jesus sends us, His Body the Church, to evangelize the world.

    Since Christ, the Head of the Church, reigns in glory at the right hand of the Father, we live in hope.  Christ entered heaven as our Head.  Pope Saint Leo the Great taught that at the Ascension of Jesus “the glory of the Head became the hope of the Body.”  Christ’s victory is ours.  In ascending to heaven, Jesus opened for us the way to our blessed homeland and has given us the greatest hope for our journey on earth.

    Our Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, wrote the following:  “In Christ ascended into Heaven, the human being has entered into intimacy with God in a new and unheard-of way; man henceforth finds room in God forever.  ‘Heaven’:  this word Heaven does not indicate a place above the stars but something far more daring and sublime:  it indicates Christ himself, the divine Person who welcomes humanity fully and forever, the One in whom God and man are inseparably united forever….  We draw close to Heaven, indeed, we enter Heaven to the extent that we draw close to Jesus and enter into communion with him.”

    On this upcoming Solemnity of the Ascension, the Church invites us to be in profound communion with Jesus.  He is not distant from us.  He did not ascend to some far-off galaxy or enter into outer space.  He entered with His glorified body into God’s presence.  Thanks to His being with the Father, He is close to each one of us forever.  He is invisibly present in our life.  He is always close to us, though we are free to turn away from Him.

    On the feast of the Ascension, it is good to remember that Jesus takes humanity with Him into glory.  We see this beautiful truth first and foremost in His Mother.  Her Assumption into heaven is the first-fruits of our ascension into glory.  During this month of May, we honor Mary in a special way.  Many parishes and schools have May crownings, a beautiful tradition.  May Mary, the Queen of Heaven, help us to share her joy that her Son has triumphed over sin and death and has been exalted at the right hand of the Father!

    Posted on May 4, 2016, to:

  • During the fifty days of the Easter season, we celebrate with joy the Resurrection of Jesus. Since Jesus, by His Resurrection, has opened for us the way to a new life, we also celebrate with hope our future resurrection. Saint Paul wrote: Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep…. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Corinthians 15: 20-22).

    We profess in the Nicene Creed that we look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. The resurrection of the dead is closely associated with Christ’s Second Coming. The Church teaches that the resurrection of the dead will precede the Last Judgment. Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his Kingdom will have no end (Nicene Creed).

    This coming Sunday, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, we will hear in the second reading from the book of Revelation Saint John’s vision of a new heaven and a new earth and of a new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God (21:1-5). This new heaven and new earth refers to the mysterious transformation of humanity and the world that will take place at the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of time. The universe will be perfectly re-established in Christ. As Saint Paul teaches: God will bring all things in the heavens and on earth into one under Christ’s headship (Ephesians 1:10).

    We are called to live in hope of the new heaven and the new earth. We do not know when the Second Coming will occur nor do we know the way in which the universe will be transformed. It remains a mystery. Yet, we believe, as the Church teaches, that the form of this world, distorted by sin, is passing away, and we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, in which happiness will fill and surpass all the desires of peace arising in our hearts (Gaudium et spes 39, Second Vatican Council).

    I mention these things since sometimes we might feel overwhelmed by the weakness, miseries, violence, injustices, sufferings, and misfortunes of earthly life and human history. Some may even adopt a fatalistic view, become indifferent, believing that nothing can change and that there is no sense of hoping. This is not the Christian perspective. We believe that God entered the world and human history in His Son who continues to be in our midst.  Through His Church, the Lord continues to establish His kingdom of truth, justice, love, and peace in time and space, the Kingdom that will come in its fullness at the end of time, after the universal judgment.

    Our expectation of the new heaven and the new earth not only gives us hope, it is also a stimulus for our engagement with the world. We must not fall into the extremes of isolation or secularism. The Second Vatican Council emphasized our duty to penetrate and perfect the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity 5). With hope of the new heaven and the new earth, we can walk courageously in this life, cooperating with the Lord in building up His Kingdom through our works of mercy, justice, and love.

    Finally, in his vision of the new heaven and new earth. Saint John saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Revelation 21:2). The new Jerusalem appears as a bride because it symbolizes the Church, the Bride of Christ. This feminine symbol of the Church as Bride has deep meaning. It expresses the Church’s mystery as loved by Christ the Bridegroom who gives His life for His Bride. It also expresses our calling, both men and women, through the Church to be the Bride of Christ, to love Him in return. We are called to bear witness to the love of the Bridegroom in the world. In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus says: As I have loved you, so you also should love one another (John 13:34). This love of Christ and His Bride will shine forth at His Second Coming. May it shine forth even now through our witness, our “I do” to Christ the Bridegroom, our “Amen” to the Father’s love, and our “Yes” to the Holy Spirit’s grace!

    Posted on April 20, 2016, to:

  • Jesus is depicted as the good shepherd in a stained-glass window at Blessed Sacrament Church in Bolton Landing, N.Y. Good Shepherd Sunday, which is observed on the Fourth Sunday of Easter and coincides with the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, is April 17 this year.

    This Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is popularly called “Good Shepherd Sunday” since the Gospel reading is always about Jesus as the Good Shepherd. In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus speaks about giving His sheep eternal life and promises that they shall never perish.

    We see this image of Jesus as shepherd connected to the image of Jesus as the Lamb in the second reading this Sunday from the Book of Revelation.  In his vision of heaven, Saint John writes about a great multitude from every nation, race, people and tongue standing before the throne of God and before the Lamb. He writes that the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

    Jesus is the Lamb and the Shepherd. He is the Victim and the Priest. We are reminded of this at every Mass. He is the Lamb of God who offered Himself in sacrifice for us. He is the Shepherd who leads us, His sheep, to springs of life-giving water.

    Saint John’s vision in chapter 7 of the book of Revelation shows us a great multitude of people worshipping God. They are wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. White is the color of victory and resurrection. That is why we clothe the newly baptized with a white garment. Palm branches are also symbols of victory.

    One of the elders worshipping God in this vision explained to Saint John who these people are wearing the white robes and holding palm branches: These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. He is referring to the martyrs and to all faithful Christians who have endured the trials and sufferings of life in union with Jesus. By the grace of Christ, they have fought the good fight and emerged victorious.

    The words about washing their robes and making them white in the blood of the Lamb seem odd. How can clothes be made white by washing them in blood?  Clearly, this is referring to the blood of Christ that cleanses us from the dirt of sin. We wash our robes in the blood of the Lamb by accepting the Gospel, believing in Jesus, and being baptized. We survive the time of great distress by persevering in our faith, repenting often, and living the grace of our Baptism.

    It is good to remember on Good Shepherd Sunday that the Good Shepherd is also the Lamb, the Lamb that was slain, the Lamb-Shepherd that leads us to springs of life-giving water. He leads us to the sources of life, including Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. And we can only enter heaven thanks to the Blood of the Lamb, the Precious Blood of Christ. He washes us in His Blood. This is our hope, the hope of Christ’s Blood!

    Easter is a season of hope and joy. We can live in hope and joy because of the Resurrection of Jesus, because the Lamb that was slain stands on God’s throne in heaven. We live in hope and peaceful joy that we will one day join the multitude of those wearing white robes and holding palm branches and that God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

    When we read the book of Revelation, we are reminded of things in the Catholic liturgy. The Church, especially in her liturgy, is a sign of the heavenly gathering.  Saint John’s vision of heaven is a great liturgy, the center of which is Christ the Lamb, seated on a throne, worshipped by an assembly who sing, offer incense, and pray.  Our liturgy is really an anticipation of the heavenly liturgy.  In fact, at every liturgy, the saints and angels in heaven worship with us.

    At the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass, we sing the Sanctus, the words sung by the heavenly host in Revelation, chapter 4: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts. Saint John sees a throne before which burned seven flaming torches. At every Mass that the bishop celebrates, there are supposed to be seven candles on the altar.  Among the heavenly citizens are angels, martyrs, saints, and a woman clothed with the sun. In our churches, we have images and statues representing the company of the saints and, of course, the Queen of All Saints, the woman clothed with the sun, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Liturgical signs are heavenly signs.

    Whenever we celebrate the sacraments, we are participating in the eternal liturgy.  We receive grace, the water of life that flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb. And often at our liturgies, the congregation, like the assembly in heaven, includes people of various races, languages, and peoples.

    The Eucharist is “an anticipation of the heavenly glory” (CCC 1402) and unites us even now to the Church in heaven (CCC 1419). The Lord is even now in our midst, though His presence is veiled under the forms of bread and wine. After the Our Father, the priest prays that the Lord will grant us peace in our days, keep us safe from distress “as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” At every Mass, we look forward to sharing in Christ’s glory when every tear will be wiped away.  Most importantly, at every Mass, we receive the medicine of immortality, Jesus, the bread of life. We are not worthy to receive Him, but we ask that He only say the word so our soul may be healed. We pray that His Body and Blood will keep us safe for eternal life.

    The Holy Eucharist is the pledge of the glory to come. May the Good Shepherd lead us to the life-giving water and to the glory of heaven! May our robes be washed and made white in His Blood, the Blood of the Lamb!

    Posted on April 13, 2016, to: