• On the way to Auschwitz, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades makes a point at a stop to visit the Jewish synagogue.

    See more photos from the WYD trip in the gallery.

    Last week, 137 young pilgrims, priests, seminarians, sisters, lay leaders from our diocese and I participated in World Youth Day in Krakow, an experience of faith and joy with young people from over 180 countries throughout the world. It was a beautiful gathering of Catholic youth and young adults sharing the joy of being disciples of Jesus, inspired to be apostles of mercy in the contemporary world.

    The young people from our diocese made me very proud to be their bishop. They participated wholeheartedly in the pilgrimage experience: in prayer, great camaraderie, and zeal. I am very grateful to all the diocesan and parish leaders of the pilgrimage for their hard work and dedication to our young people.

    From our arrival in Warsaw on July 22nd to our departure on August 1st, we experienced the kindness and hospitality of our Polish hosts. It was great to celebrate the 31st World Youth Day in the homeland of the founder of WYD, Pope Saint John Paul II. In many places we visited, we followed the amazing life of Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II, the principal patron saint of WYD this year, along with Saint Faustina, the messenger of Divine Mercy. Throughout our pilgrimage, we learned about many Polish saints and blesseds, prayed at their tombs, and were inspired by their heroic Christian lives.

    Our first Mass in Poland on the day we arrived was at Saint Stanislaus Kostka Church in Warsaw where Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko served. We prayed at the grave of this young priest who ministered and preached to the workers of the Solidarity labor movement and was martyred by Communist authorities in 1984. We asked Father Popieluszko, a martyr of truth and love, to intercede for us as we began our pilgrimage.

    First Mass in the chapel at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church.

    Early Saturday morning (July 23rd), we traveled from Warsaw, Poland’s political capital, to Czestochowa, Poland’s spiritual capital. We visited the Jasna Gora monastery of the Pauline monks and its Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa. I felt privileged to celebrate Holy Mass in the chapel of the Black Madonna, the famous icon of Mary, the Queen of Poland. Pope Saint John Paul II was intensely devoted to the Virgin Mary and to her icon at Czestochowa. It was a great place to spend our first full day in Poland, asking Our Lady to accompany us on our pilgrim journey. Late in the afternoon, we traveled from Czestochowa to Katowice, a city in Upper Silesia in southern Poland, our base for the next two days of pilgrimage. There we visited the small wooden church of Saint Michael the Archangel, built in 1510.

    On Sunday, July 24th, we visited Kalwaria and Wadowice. Kalwaria (“Calvary”) is a sanctuary in the Carpathian foothills with a beautiful Basilica, adjacent to the Franciscan monastery. There are 42 churches and chapels along six miles in the mountains recounting Our Lord’s Passion and Death. The young Karol Wojtyla, whose hometown of Wadowice is not far away, prayed and hiked often at Kalwaria. We spent a few hours at this holy site and were able to visit some of the chapels. I’d love to return some day to walk the six miles and visit all the chapels!

    From Kalwaria, we went to Wadowice and celebrated an afternoon Mass in the parish church where Karol Wojtyla was baptized, received his first Holy Communion, and was confirmed. It was his family’s parish where he served Mass as he grew up. The beautiful baroque church, now a basilica, under the title of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is located in the central square of Wadowice. Our group enjoyed several hours in the church and square and also toured the museum with the apartment home of the Wojtyla family, a three-room flat in a building next to the church. In Wadowice, our youth discovered the delicious ice cream made in Poland as well as the favorite dessert of Pope John Paul II, a Polish cream cake.

    In these pilgrimage spots, we met pilgrims from other countries who were also making their way to World Youth Day in Krakow. The joyful spirit of all was palpable.

    On Monday (July 25th), we left Katowice to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, the most somber time of our pilgrimage. We walked through these two camps of terror, genocide, and the Holocaust in respectful silence. Tears filled the eyes of many as we prayed at spots throughout the camps, including at the building where Saint Maximilian Kolbe was martyred, and outside the one remaining gas chamber and crematorium. At Birkenau, we walked along the train tracks on which hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting innocent captives arrived, including Saint Edith Stein. We could only walk in silence as we contemplated the incomprehensible evil and cruelty that took place there. Our pilgrimage of faith, love, and mercy met the exact opposite at Auschwitz. It was important that we visited there to remember the Nazi terror and the over 1.1 million victims killed at Auschwitz, mostly Jews, but also Poles, gypsies, Soviet prisoners of war, and homosexuals. It was also important while there to pray for an end to the terrors that continue to plague our world.

    From Auschwitz, we traveled to Krakow for a visit of several hours at the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy. It was a special grace to pray in the chapel of the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy where Saint Faustina’s relics are kept under the famous image of the merciful Jesus. There, Sister Faustina received the extraordinary grace of the revelations of Divine Mercy. After reflecting on the darkness of evil at Auschwitz, we turned to the Divine Mercy which is truly a light for the world amid the darkness. Here it was good to reflect on the truth that evil can be overcome through merciful love. In the light of Divine Mercy, we can live in hope. I thought of the words of Saint Faustina: “Mankind will not find peace until it returns with trust to God’s mercy.”

    Cardinal Sean O’Malley celebrated Mass for 2,000 of us, mostly U.S. pilgrims, that afternoon in the large new church next to the convent. The church resembles an arc and has a lower and upper basilica. The tabernacle in the upper church is shaped like the earth and has an image of the Divine Mercy above it with pictures of the apostles of Divine Mercy on either side, Saint Faustina and Saint John Paul II. Many of us also visited the new Saint John Paul II Sanctuary .5 kilometers away. It is a center devoted to the life and works of the great Polish Pope. The Shrine Church is decorated with beautiful mosaics and contains the cassock worn by Pope John Paul during his attempted assassination in 1981.

    From Tuesday, July 26th to Sunday, July 31st, we participated in the activities of World Youth Day in Krakow. It is not possible to recount in this column all the many and varied experiences during these days. In small groups, our diocesan pilgrims visited many sites in the beautiful city of Krakow, beginning with Wawel Castle and Cathedral where we prayed at the tomb of Saint Stanislaus, a bishop and martyr of the 11th century. During these days, we walked the streets and visited dozens of beautiful historic churches, praying at tombs of saints, and joining thousands of young people in celebrations in city squares, like the beautiful main Market Square with the exquisite gothic Saint Mary’s Cathedral. On Thursday, our diocesan group celebrated Mass together in the church where Saint Stanislaus was martyred in the year 1079.

    Thanks to the Knights of Columbus, U.S. pilgrims could gather for daily catechesis, Mass, and prayer at the large Tauron Arena in Krakow. Our diocesan group spent all day there on Wednesday.

    The main official events of World Youth Day began with the Opening Mass at Blonia Park on Tuesday (July 26th), celebrated by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Archbishop of Krakow, who had been the personal secretary of Pope John Paul II for many years. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims were welcomed by Cardinal Dziwisz. Two days later, we gathered again in Blonia Park to welcome the arrival of Pope Francis with much joy and excitement. The two-hour welcoming ceremony was a festive gathering with a procession of young people carrying flags from all their countries, along with banners of Saints of Mercy from all six continents. During the ceremony, a Liturgy of the Word, the Holy Father told the pilgrims that “a young person who is touched by Christ is capable of truly great things.” He praised the energy and enthusiasm of the youth and encouraged them to bring God’s love and mercy to the world.

    On Friday, July 27th, Pope Francis and the WYD pilgrims gathered again Blonia Park for the Way of the Cross. Each Station of Jesus’ Passion was linked to a corporal or spiritual work of mercy. At the end, the Holy Father called on the young people to live the works of mercy, to serve others, and to walk the path of Jesus, the Way of the Cross, the path of personal commitment and self-sacrifice. It is “the Way,” he said, “that conquers sin, evil, and death, for it leads to the radiant light of Christ’s resurrection and opens the horizons of a new and fuller life.” It was evident that the young people at WYD believe in this message and seek to live it.

    The climax of every World Youth Day is the Vigil with the Holy Father on Saturday night and the Closing Mass on Sunday morning. The youth camp out and sleep at the site (the bishops are bussed back to the hotel!) In Krakow, the Vigil and Mass were held at the “Campus Misericordiae” (“The Field of Mercy”), located about 9 kilometers from the center of Krakow, on July 30 and 31. About 1.6 million youth attended the Vigil. Three young people shared emotional testimonies. One was a young Syrian woman who shared her pain and sorrow over the destruction of her city, Aleppo. She witnessed to her faith in God amid the suffering and asked for the prayers of all. Besides the testimonies, the Vigil included choreographed performances. One that touched me especially was of Pope John Paul II forgiving his would-be assassin in his prison cell. Pope Francis gave a heartfelt homily urging the youth to offer the best of themselves and to leave a mark on the world, to practice the works of mercy, and to promote brotherhood and communion in a world beset by conflict and terrorism.

    The Closing Mass was filled with joy. Pope Francis spoke of the amazing encounter in the Gospel between Jesus and Zacchaeus and how that encounter changed Zacchaeus’ life, despite the obstacles Zacchaeus had to face in order to meet Jesus.  He said: “The Lord wants to enter your homes, to dwell in your daily lives and in your studies, your first weeks of work, your friendships and affections, your hopes and dreams. How greatly He desires that you bring all this to prayer!” At the end of the liturgy, Pope Francis announced that the next World Youth Day will held in Panama. Mass ended with the beautiful and uplifting music we had sung throughout World Youth Day.

    World Youth Day 2016 was an amazing experience. Our young pilgrims loved it and were enlivened in their faith. Often throughout the trip and at the huge liturgies, we sang the beautiful WYD hymn. The lyrics of the refrain, which our young people also learned to sing in Polish, express the theme of WYD 2016: “Blessed are the merciful, for it is mercy that shall be shown to those who show mercy.” I pray that, as a fruit of our pilgrimage, all of us will return home to live this Beatitude of Jesus with true fervor. I pray especially that our wonderful young people will be witnesses of mercy. May God, rich in mercy, pour out the gifts of His mercy onto the Church and the world!

     

     

    Posted on August 3, 2016, to:

  • Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades and Msgr. John Seltzer stand with Sister Nancy Frentz after she professed her perpetual vows of diocesan hermitage on July 11 at the St. Mother Theodore Guerin Chapel, Fort Wayne.

    The following is the homily delivered by Bishop Rhoades at the Mass of the profession of perpetual vows of diocesan hermit, Sister Nancy Frentz, on July 11, 2016, the Memorial of Saint Benedict:

    I  remember many years ago as a seminarian visiting Subiaco, about an hour and a half drive from Rome.  On the outskirts of the town, there is a large statue of Saint Benedict and a welcome sign that reads “Birthplace of Western Monasticism.”  It was in Subiaco at the age of 17 that Benedict began his consecrated life and he began that life as a hermit.  Later, many would follow him and he would found monasteries with communities of monks at Subiaco and later at Monte Cassino.  But his consecrated life began as a hermit.

    I remember visiting the monastery in Subiaco that was built around the original cave where Saint Benedict lived for three years as a hermit. Over the door of the entrance courtyard of the monastery is an inscription in Latin which translated reads:

    “If you searched for the light, Benedict, why did you chose a dark cave?  A cave doesn’t offer the light you desire.  Why have you gone to darkness to seek radiant light?”  The answer is inscribed:  “Only in a profoundly dark night do the stars brightly shine.”

    It was living in the solitude of that dark cave as a hermit that Saint Benedict was illumined by the light of Christ, enabling him to eventually go forth and to become the great Father of Western Monasticism.  It was very special to me to spend some time of prayer and reflection in that original cave.  There’s a white marble statue of a young Saint Benedict in the cave and also a fresco depicting a monk named Romanus who would bring food to Benedict each day, lowering a basket into the cave by a rope with a bell that alerted Benedict to its arrival.

    It is good to recall Saint Benedict’s three years as a hermit today as Sister Nancy makes her perpetual profession of vows as a hermit.  During those three years, Benedict was transformed through his prayer in solitude.  He grew in wisdom and holiness through the Holy Spirit’s action in his soul.  Sister Nancy does not live her eremitical life in a cold, damp cave and Sister Jane doesn’t lower a basket of food by a rope to provide her food.  But Sister Nancy does, like Benedict’s original eremitical life, live most of her day in prayerful solitude to allow the Holy Spirit to act in her soul.  We pray today that, like Saint Benedict, Sister Nancy will continue to grow in wisdom and holiness.

    In the first reading today we heard a passage from the Book of Proverbs, one of the Wisdom books of the Old Testament.  It speaks of searching for wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, like searching for a treasure.  This search is important in our life, whatever our particular vocation.  Yet, the hermit’s search is a witness to all of us where we will truly find wisdom since, as Proverbs teaches: “It is the Lord who gives wisdom.  A person’s heart must be in the right place.  The heart is the place of encounter, the place of covenant.  It is where God speaks to us.”

    In the silence and solitude of her eremitical life, Sister Nancy ponders in her heart the Word of God, her ears are attentive to God’s wisdom.  Her life, the eremitical life, is a special vocation in the Church and reminds all of us of the importance of the encounter with God in prayer, of opening our hearts to the wisdom and love of the Lord.  The heart is the place of truth, where we choose life or death.  It is the place of wisdom, where God’s wisdom enters and enlightens and refreshes our soul.

    One of the questions that arises in our hearts as disciples of Jesus is the question posed by Peter to Jesus in today’s Gospel:  “What will there be for us?”  Peter was speaking on behalf of the apostles who had left their former lives behind in order to follow Jesus.  Our Lord responds that in the new age they will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  Our Lord is foretelling their role as founders and leaders of the Church.  But then Jesus gives a general promise that applies to all of us, to all His disciples:  “everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.”

    Sister Nancy’s profession today reminds us of this promise of Jesus.  Her renunciation of wealth through her vow of poverty, for example.  The losses that the evangelical counsels entail bring about the attainment of something infinitely greater – eternal life.  Of course, it is impossible for us to achieve eternal life on our own; we must receive it as a gift from God, just as children receive what they lack from their parents.  Jesus also proclaims in the Gospels that we must keep God’s commandments in order to enter eternal life.  We must live by both truths:  accepting eternal life as God’s gift to us while striving to obey God’s commands, loving and serving others, denying ourselves, and taking up our crosses to follow Jesus.

    The evangelical counsels and the detachment they entail help us to receive the blessing Jesus promised:  eternal life.  Sister Nancy’s perpetual profession today and her consecrated life as a hermit not only help her to receive this blessing, they help us and others to set our sights on this ultimate goal of discipleship.  And I would add:  Sister Nancy’s prayers and sacrifices for the Church, especially for our priests, are a beautiful gift and help all of us to live our vocations and ultimately inherit eternal life.  As Sister Nancy prays so often for us, we pray today especially for her.  May the Lord bless her with His grace, wisdom, and love!  May He help her, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to be faithful to her vows.  Living as a hermit, may she never feel alone, but always know the presence of the Lord and the accompaniment of the community of Jesus’ disciples, the Church.

    Sister Nancy, may the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saint Benedict, and all the holy hermits among the saints in heaven, intercede for you today and every day of your consecrated life in the Lord!

    Posted on July 20, 2016, to:

  • Dear Friends in Christ,

    During the past year, I have had meetings with a committee to study and discuss the possibility of establishing a new parish on diocesan-owned land in Huntertown. Because of the significant increase in population in that area in recent years, the possibility of a new parish has been discussed for several years, going back to the time that Saint Vincent Parish built its new larger church.

    An important part of this study was the survey sent several months ago to all registered Catholics living within a five-mile radius of the Huntertown site. I received the results of the survey in February and discussed these results with the committee. In the past few months, after consultation and much reflection on the survey results, I have come to a preliminary decision. I am very grateful to all the people who responded to the survey. The many comments received, along with the survey answers, have helped me a great deal in coming to a decision.

    The majority of survey respondents (491) said they would not likely register in a new parish in Huntertown. 402 households responded that they would likely register in a new parish. 157 respondents said they were unsure.

    The survey thus shows that about 38% of Catholics in the territory of a new parish would very likely or somewhat likely join a new parish. The survey also revealed that 162 respondents would contribute to a capital campaign for a new parish. This statistic is a matter of significant concern since a strong financial commitment would be needed to move forward in the planning for a new parish.

    It was clear from the surveys that the majority of respondents were happy with their present parishes and reluctant to join a new parish. The majority of those who supported the establishment of a new parish expressed the preference for a smaller parish community. Few were dissatisfied with their parishes or significantly deterred because of travel time to church.

    I have come to the decision that it would not be prudent at this time to establish a new parish in Huntertown. This has been a difficult decision to make. It seems to me that the hard work of building a new parish, the investment of a full-time priest, and the organization of all the ministries needed for a strong parish would require a greater need and a higher level of financial commitment than the survey revealed.

    I am not ruling out the possible establishment of a parish in Huntertown in the future if the need becomes evident because of further growth in the area. This will become apparent if the present parishes in the area, particularly Saint Vincent Parish, continue to grow and if the churches become overcrowded. At this time, it appears that there is some overcrowding, but only at some liturgies on special feasts like Christmas and Easter.

    I wish to express again my deep appreciation to all who participated in the survey and especially to the pastors and committee members whose counsel helped me in arriving at a decision.

    Finally, it was very encouraging to me to learn of the satisfaction of the great majority of respondents with their present parishes. Many who prefer a new parish also were happy with their present parishes, though many of them would prefer a smaller parish. In my opinion, this information is very helpful for me and our pastors in seeking ways to engage more parishioners through small faith communities in our larger parishes.

    May the Lord bless all of you for your participation in this consultative process!

    Sincerely yours in Christ,

    Most Reverend Kevin C. Rhoades
    Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend

    Posted on July 6, 2016, to:

  • 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: