• On February 12, 2015, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) released a report in their online magazine Dabiq showing photos of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christian migrant workers that they had kidnapped in the city of Sirte, Libya, and whom they threatened to kill to “avenge the alleged kidnapping of Muslim women by the Egyptian Coptic Church.”

    The Fortnight for Freedom 2016 began on June 21st and will conclude on July 4th. During these two weeks, the Church in the United States prays for, and reflects on, religious freedom. I am reminded of Pope Francis’ words at the Welcoming Ceremony at the White House this past September. He said:

    With countless other people of good will, American Catholics are concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respects their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it. 

    Religious freedom is indeed one of our nation’s most precious possessions. We enjoy the right to worship God as our consciences dictate. In some places in the world, people do not enjoy this right; indeed, some are killed for worshipping God according to their faith and their places of worship are destroyed. We have seen this tragedy in places like Iraq and Syria.

    Religious freedom is more than the right to worship or to have private devotions. Authentic religious freedom is the liberty to live one’s faith publicly and the freedom to serve. During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, we are reminded of our call to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The Church is called to be an agent of mercy in society. We do so through our individual acts of charity and also through organized charity in our Catholic parishes, schools, health care institutions, Catholic Charities, and many other Catholic organizations. Our Christian vocation requires us to care for the sick, the suffering, the poor, and the vulnerable. Yet, we increasingly face challenges from powerful groups and from government seeking to force us to violate our own beliefs if we are to engage in these works of mercy and charity. The HHS mandate is a prominent example of this unjust intrusion on authentic religious liberty.

    Speaking of religious liberty at Independence Hall in Philadelphia this past September, Pope Francis said:

    Religious freedom certainly means the right to worship God, individually and in community, as our consciences dictate. But religious liberty, by its nature, transcends places of worship and the private sphere of individuals and families. Because religion itself, the religious dimension, is not a subculture; it is part of the culture of every people and every nation.

    The Catholic Church and other churches and religious communities have been a great force for good in the United States. Our Catholic hospitals, schools, and charities serve millions of people and contribute to the welfare of our nation. Today, however, there are some who wish to privatize religion and to silence the Catholic Church and other voices of faith in the public square. This secularist ideology which often proclaims tolerance is, in truth, intolerant of those with traditional Christian convictions. They promote a new form of discrimination. We’ve seen this not only in the HHS mandate for sterilization, contraception and abortion-inducing drugs, but also in the forcing of Catholic Charities out of adoption and foster care services for refusing to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabitate. Our USCCB Migration and Refugee Services, despite its excellent performance evaluations, lost its federal contract for serving victims of human trafficking because of our refusal to refer for contraceptive and abortion services.

    Pope Francis has used the term “polite persecution” to refer to these threats to religious liberty in the United States and Europe. According to the Holy Father, this is when someone is persecuted not for confessing Christ’s name, but for wanting to demonstrate the values of the Son of God. This involves the social marginalization of Christians who, faithful to the Gospel, dissent from some cultural trends and movements.

    During this Fortnight for Freedom, it is good for us to reflect on these threats or compromises to religious liberty right here in our own country. For example, some are trying to force Catholic hospitals to provide abortions and who have even filed lawsuits to do so. Thankfully, they have thus far not been successful. We need to support strongly the Conscience Protection Act, presently before Congress, to protect individual and institutional health care providers who object to abortion. We must be ever vigilant in the face of recurring attempts to force us to violate our beliefs in our individual lives and in our institutions.

    It is important during the Fortnight for Freedom also to remember our brothers and sisters in the world who are suffering violent persecution for their faith. We must not be indifferent to their plight. It is not an exaggeration to say that we are living in a new age of martyrs. I will never forget the pictures of the young Coptic Christians in Libya in orange jumpsuits when they were about to be beheaded by ISIS early last year. These 21 martyr saints, before their barbaric killing, only cried out “Jesus, help us.” Their crime was their Christian faith, accused by the Islamic terrorists of being “people of the cross.”

    During this Fortnight, let us pray for our brothers and sisters who are victims of violent persecution in the Middle East, Africa, and other areas of the world. Some of the most ancient Christian communities of the world are being annihilated: in Syria, Iraq, and Iran. It was only recently that the U.S. State Department was convinced, thanks to the efforts of the Knights of Columbus and others, to declare the violence against these Christians a “genocide.” I invite all to support the Church’s efforts to aid these Christian communities and the many refugees from these countries through Catholic agencies like Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, and Aid to the Church in Need.

    The tragic situation faced by so many of our Christian brothers and sisters and other religious minorities in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world demands our attention. ISIS and other extremist groups invoke the name of God to commit violence and to kill. As Pope Francis teaches: Authentic religion is a source of peace and not of violence! No one must use the name of God to commit violence! To kill in the name of God is a grave sacrilege. To discriminate in the name of God is inhuman. Let us continue to pray for an end to this insidious violence and brutal persecution.

    Finally, let us not grow tired in our efforts to protect religious liberty at home and abroad. May we always cherish the gift of religious freedom, the first of human rights, a gift given to us by God our Creator!

     

    Posted on June 22, 2016, to:

  • Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades speaks to the faithful in attendance and deacons David Violi, Craig Borchard and Bob Garrow at their ordination Mass on Saturday, June 4, at St. Matthew Cathedral.

    The following is the homily preached by Bishop Rhoades at the Priesthood Ordination Mass at Saint Matthew Cathedral on June 4, 2016:

    We gather here in Saint Matthew Cathedral today to celebrate a great gift from God to the Church — the gift of the sacrament of priestly ordination.

    The priesthood is a gift: no human being is able to make himself a priest, a mediator for God. As the letter to the Hebrews says: “no one takes this honor upon himself, but only when called by God.” God has called our brothers Craig, Bob and David to the priesthood, the priesthood of His Son. And for this gift, we give thanks to God today.

    God will enter the life of these three men in a new way through ordination. The Lord will consecrate them so that they will be able to speak and act in the name of His Son. Through this consecration, they will be inserted into the life and mission of Christ, the great High Priest and Good Shepherd, in order to extend His saving mission. They will do things that no men can do by their own power. In Christ’s name, they will speak the words which absolve us of our sins. Over the offerings of bread and wine, they will speak Christ’s words that make His Body and Blood present as food for His people. How close God is to us, His beloved people, in the gifts He gives us through the ministry of the priests of His Son!

    Craig, Bob, and David, you were already consecrated to the Lord when you were baptized. You were immersed in Him. Today, you are immersed in Him again, but in a new way. Through priestly ordination, you will belong to God in a new way as you are configured to His Son, the Head and Shepherd of the Church. This is the truth of the sacrament you are about to receive. With this priestly consecration, you will receive an awesome mission: to be, in and for the Church, a humble but real sign of the one eternal Priest who is Jesus.

    In contemplating the immensity of this mission, you may feel a bit like Jeremiah when the Lord called him to be His prophet. He was afraid: “Ah, Lord God, I know not how to speak; I am too young.” Jeremiah knew his limitations and felt that he was not up to the task that God entrusted to him. God answered Jeremiah. He told him to have no fear. God was sending him on his mission and assured Jeremiah that He would be with him. He touched Jeremiah’s mouth and said: “See, I place my words in your mouth!” God gave Jeremiah a heavy responsibility, but He gave him the grace to fulfill it. The Lord does the same through priestly ordination. Deacons Craig, Bob and David, like Jeremiah, know their limitations and unworthiness. They say “yes” to the priestly mission with trust that the Lord will be with them, that His grace will sustain them. They believe in Jesus’ promise of the help of the Holy Spirit in their ministry. And, yes, God will place His words in their mouth — words like “This is my body which is given up for you” and “This is the chalice of my blood which will be poured out for you.”

    These, our brothers, are being ordained during the Jubilee Year of Mercy. This has special meaning. Pope Francis wants this to be a year “steeped in mercy, so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God.” He speaks of mercy as “the beating heart of the Gospel” and “the very foundation of the Church’s life.” This has particular relevance for priests since they are called to be living signs of God the Father’s mercy in all they say and do, and most intensely in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Saint Paul spoke of his ministry as one of reconciliation. He wrote to the Corinthians: “God has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation … So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us.”

    Like the apostle and priest, Saint Paul, Deacons Craig, Bob and David will share in Christ’s ministry of reconciliation and serve as His ambassadors. In receiving priestly ordination today, they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins. In the confessional, they will act as ambassadors of Christ, instruments of God’s merciful love and forgiveness. They will say the powerful words of absolution by means of which God reconciles sinners with Himself and with the Church.

    Craig, Bob and David, you will share in the priestly mission of Jesus to pardon and save sinners. As priests ordained during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, may you always be faithful servants and living signs of God the Father’s mercy! I encourage you to be generous with your time and make yourselves readily available for hearing confessions. I pray that as confessors, you will reveal the heart of the Good Shepherd by the manner in which you welcome, listen, counsel, and absolve those who come to you to receive the Lord’s mercy and love.

    In the Gospel of this Mass, we hear Jesus ask Peter three times: “do you love me?” Only after Peter’s affirmation of his love did Jesus give him the mission to feed and tend His sheep. Jesus did not ask Peter what his talents, gifts and skills were. He didn’t even ask the one who had denied Him whether from then on he was going to be faithful to Him. Jesus asked Peter the only thing that matters, the one thing that gives his vocation its foundation: “do you love me?” Craig, Bob and David, that’s the question that Jesus asks you today. He is asking you to love Him. Like Peter, you are answering in your hearts: “Lord, you know that I love you!”

    Pastoral ministry must be born of love. Jesus says to you today as He said to Peter: “Tend my sheep.” He is asking you to love His Bride, the Church, to love her as He loves her, and to care for her as He cares for her. Jesus is asking you to bring others to know and love Him. He also says to you today as He said to Peter: “Feed my sheep.” He is giving you the power to consecrate the Eucharist so that His people will be fed with the bread of finest wheat, the medicine of immortality, His sacred Body and Blood. He is entrusting into your hands the sacrament of His love, the Holy Eucharist, the greatest treasure He has given to the Church.

    The Eucharistic Sacrifice is the center of the Church’s life and also of the life of the priest. It is from this sacrament of Christ’s self-giving love that our brothers about to be ordained will receive the spiritual strength to serve God’s people and to fulfill their responsibilities with genuine pastoral charity. The Eucharist is truly the culmination of all the tasks and activities of the priest. Craig, Bob and David, the Church will be built up in love every time you celebrate the Eucharist. May you celebrate Holy Mass prayerfully and reverently, and model your lives on the mystery you celebrate!

    Dear brothers, we thank you for having the courage to say with Saint Peter: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you” and for accepting the beautiful task of being His ambassadors. We pray that throughout your priestly life you will learn to love Christ and His Church more and more. You have a beautiful teacher of this love for Christ and His Church: the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today is the Feast of her Immaculate Heart.

    As the Sacred Heart of Jesus symbolizes the reality of Jesus’ love, so the Immaculate Heart of Mary symbolizes the reality of Mary’s love. Craig, Bob and David, as devoted sons of Mary our mother, I pray that you will experience her maternal love ever more deeply in your priestly lives. May you be close to her Immaculate Heart! May she who is the mother of priests watch over you and protect your ministry with her love that you may be holy priests after the heart of her Son!

    Posted on June 8, 2016, to:

  • Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades addresses students during the Baccalaureate Mass for Bishop Luers High School at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

    Following is the homily delivered by Bishop Rhoades at the Baccalaureate Masses last week at the four diocesan high schools:

    In one of my high school visits this year, I met a student who was a big fan of the work of Catholic author J.R.R. Tolkien, especially his trilogy The Lord of the Rings. Since that great epic story is a favorite of mine, the student and I had a wonderful conversation about the Catholic themes in The Lord of the Rings. That conversation gave me some thoughts for this homily as I considered the journey our graduates are embarking on and the parallels between their journey and that of the heroes in The Lord of the Rings.

    If you’ve read The Lord of the Rings, or seen the movies, you may recall early in the story when the hobbit Frodo was entrusted with the task of trying to destroy the Ring of Power, the symbol of evil. The young Frodo expressed to his friend and mentor, the wizard Gandalf, his fear that he was not up to the task. Frodo said: “I wish the ring had never come to me; I wish none of this had happened.” Gandalf replied with some very wise words. He said: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world besides the forces of evil.”

    I say to our graduates what Gandalf said to Frodo: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo had to decide how to respond to the reality he was faced with. And so must you. Frodo had a mission, a difficult one, and he decided to do it, not alone, but with an amazing fellowship of friends. He drew strength and received help for his mission to destroy the evil ring from these friends who with him were committed to fight the evil forces that rose against them. Their love, their fidelity, and their self-sacrifice, amid struggles, battles, and seemingly insurmountable obstacles ultimately led to victory, even though Frodo would fall along the way.

    The Lord of the Rings is a mythological story about the cosmic struggle between good and evil. The heroes of this story persevered on the journey. They walked, they entered into the drama that unfolds between good and evil. They persevered in hope. Courage kept them going in the face of many difficulties.

    Graduates, as you go forth from high school, your journey of life continues, the human journey that shows itself to be a struggle, like the journey of Frodo and his companions, a dramatic struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness.

    Graduates, you walk this journey and enter the struggle with the virtue and gift of faith, knowing that a Person is with you who has conquered evil. That Person is not the wizard Gandalf. That Person is the Son of God, who become a man and delivered us from Satan and from sin.

    Graduates, your journey is not beginning now with graduation. This is an important moment in your journey, but there was a much more important moment, the moment your journey, your adventure, began. It was the moment of your Baptism. We thank your parents for bringing you to the waters of Baptism. At your Baptism, while tracing the sign of the cross on your foreheads, the priest or deacon said: “I now claim you for Christ our Savior by the sign of His cross.” Later, at another important moment of your journey, when you were confirmed, the bishop again traced the sign of the cross on your foreheads, saying: “be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” So as you walk the journey of life, remember that you are united to Christ, redeemed by His Precious Blood, and sealed with the Holy Spirit. You’ve probably already faced some struggles in your journey and you will face more. You will encounter temptation and evil, like the heroes in The Lord of the Rings. 

    Now what happens when we succumb to evil? There’s a character in The Lord of the Rings who shows us what happens. The seductive power of the ring tempted the hobbit Smeagol and he fell. He became Gollum. He lived in self-absorbed solitude, talking to himself, communing with no one but his “precious,” as he calls the ring. Evil doesn’t free us; it enslaves us. When we sin, we do not become free. We enter into captivity. To do the good makes us free. The imprisoning power of evil can be broken only by the transcendent power of good.

    Graduates, I pray that on your life’s journey, you will pursue the Good. But you can’t succeed in this by yourselves, by your solitary endeavor. So choose your friends and companions well. The Fellowship of the Ring, that wonderful group of friends, embarked together on their perilous journey. They were a radical community of the Good. That band of small and frail friends is like the Church. Like the early Christians, Frodo and his friends dwelt in remarkable solidarity. When one suffered, they all suffered. When one enjoyed a triumph, they all rejoiced. Their weakness became their strength. That’s our life in the Church: we’re a company of friends who love and support one another. So I encourage you, graduates, to keep this company of friends, to be active in the Church wherever you go.

    I also encourage you to be faithful to Holy Mass. When the heroes of the Fellowship needed to restore their failing strength, they ate lembas, the airy bread they had received from the elves. We eat an airy bread too when we need strength. It’s not the bread of elves, but it is the Bread of Angels: the Holy Eucharist. It is the Bread of Life and the medicine of immortality.

    Remember the hobbits also found themselves offering prayers of deliverance to a beautiful woman whom Sam called “the Lady.” She was Galadriel, a woman bathed in light, a royal woman held in reverence by the elves. She bestowed gifts on Frodo and his companions to help and protect them in their journey. It’s pretty obvious who Tolkien had in mind in creating this character. Mary is the beautiful woman who gives us gifts for our journey, whose shining light inspires us, and whose prayers assist us.

    In their difficult journey and mission, Frodo and his friends were like sheep led to the slaughter. Their love for each other required them to resist Sauron’s evil, even unto death. They repeatedly offered to lay down their lives for their friends. Our Lord says in today’s Gospel: “Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” The most important thing I can say to our graduates is also what Jesus said in today’s Gospel: “remain in His love.” Jesus said to the disciples: “Remain in my love…. I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.” If we live by these teachings, remaining in Christ’s love and loving one another, ready to lay down our life for our friends, we find joy, true joy, everlasting joy.

    Graduates, you have learned these truths in your Catholic education. I pray that you go forth with these convictions deep in your hearts, the belief that good conquers evil, that love is more powerful even than death, and that the primal reality is light, not darkness. J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythological story teaches us a most profound truth that is revealed fully in the Incarnation of the Son of God, that, as Saint John writes: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” May you go forth in that light, the light of Christ, the source of truth and goodness and beauty! I pray that you will follow Him, within the fellowship of friends that are His Church, that you will continue to mature in faith, hope, and love, and that you will grow in holiness. That’s our calling. Never underestimate your dignity and destiny! I pray you go forth with passion and purpose, with faith and with courage. May the power of the Holy Spirit guide, protect, and inspire you always!

     

    Posted on June 1, 2016, to:

  • 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: