• The following is the text of the homily of Bishop Rhoades at the Ordination Mass of new deacons on May 21, 2011, in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

    Today is a day of joy for me, our priests and deacons, and for all the faithful of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend as we celebrate the ordination of the first class of permanent deacons in our diocese since 1983. It is a day of joy for the devoted wives of our candidates and for their families. And it is a day of joy for our beloved Bishop Emeritus. Bishop D’Arcy instituted the formation program for the eleven men who today will be ordained as deacons of the Church. I wish to thank Bishop D’Arcy as well as the director of the program, Mary Szymczak, and all who assisted in the formation of these men for diaconal ministry.

    We give thanks to the Lord for the gift that he entrusts to these 11 men through the sacrament of Holy Orders. The call they have received is indeed a treasured gift, a gift for the Church in our diocese, a gift that will bear fruit for the exciting mission of the new evangelization here in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

    Our candidates have worked hard to prepare themselves theologically, spiritually, and pastorally in order to be ready for this day. They realize, however, that this does not mean that ordination is something that one merits. It is a grace freely bestowed by our Risen Lord. They accept that gift today with humility, seeing it as a privileged opportunity to share in our Lord’s Paschal Mystery and in the apostolic mission of the Church. This beautiful ordination liturgy teaches us an important lesson when our candidates, before they are ordained, lie prostrate on the floor of this cathedral. This humble posture of prayer manifests that they receive Holy Orders not as something they merit, but as a gift — they lie prostrate in a state of prayer before they are ordained, while together we offer supplication to the Lord and invoke his blessing as well as the prayers of all the angels and saints.

    My brothers about to be ordained deacons, through the laying on of hands and the prayer of ordination, you will be strengthened by the gift of the sevenfold grace of the Holy Spirit for the faithful carrying out of the work of the diaconal ministry. Through this sacramental encounter, you will receive a unique share in the Church’s ministry. You have looked forward to this day with enthusiasm and expectation. I know you are ready to give of yourselves in service and in prayer for your brothers and sisters, for the whole Church. I thank you for your generous response to the Lord’s call! The Lord has chosen you to cooperate with him in the work of salvation, the work of the new evangelization.

    After you are ordained, I will present to you the Book of the Gospels and I will say to each one of you the following words: “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” This will be your mission: to embrace and to share Christ’s Gospel! It will be important for you to reflect on the message of the Gospel frequently and prayerfully. To proclaim the Gospel worthily in the Church’s liturgy, you must first hear that Word in your own heart and bear witness to it in your daily lives, in word and in deed. To preach to God’s people is not only an honor, it is a real commitment to holiness of life. As Saint Paul wrote to Timothy in our second reading today, deacons are to “hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.” You are called to be servants of the liberating truth of the Gospel, leading God’s people to encounter Jesus Christ and to welcome him into their lives.

    Your proclamation of the Gospel is backed up by your practical witness of charity. As you know, from the very beginnings of the Church, the practice of charity has been part of the diaconal ministry. The seven men of which the Acts of the Apostles speak were chosen “to serve at tables.” Often, in the early Church, the deacons assisted the poor. We think, for example, of the holy deacons in Rome, like the martyr, Saint Lawrence. As deacons, you are called to have a special love and concern for the poor and needy. Your ministry of charity is not just an “added extra” in your ministry — it is an essential part of your diaconal identity. Pope Benedict, in his first encyclical, reminded the whole Church that the exercise of charity is part of the Church’s very nature, “an indispensable expression of the Church’s very being.” In your service as deacons, may you be ever conscious of your mission to practice charity, to serve the poor. There are so many in our world and in our diocese who are oppressed by poverty. There are many who are afflicted by material poverty. There are also the spiritually poor and the culturally poor: those who suffer from addictions, those who have no faith in God, those who are tempted to despair, those who have known suffering in their marriages, and those who suffer from loneliness. All around us are brothers and sisters in need of Christ’s healing love. May you be signs and instruments of his love, true servants of charity!

    My brothers in Christ, your service of the word and of charity is intimately linked to your service at the altar. The Levites in the Old Testament assisted the priests in their rites of worship. In the new covenant, deacons assist the bishop and priests at the altar of the Lord. You are called to serve at the liturgy with reverence and devotion. It is an honor and a profound joy to be servants of the liturgy. The Body and Blood of our Lord is entrusted to you to be given to the faithful. Your devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, your love for the most Holy Eucharist, can be a powerful witness to those whom you serve. And, of course, it is the Eucharist that will sustain and nourish you in your diaconal ministry. May you be deacons whose lives are deeply rooted in the Eucharist, the sacrament that contains the whole spiritual good of the Church!

    I wish to say a special word of thanks to the wives of our deacon candidates. What joy must be in your hearts today! You have given your consent to your husbands’ request for ordination. The Church thanks you for your love and support of your husbands’ diaconal vocation. The diaconal vocation of your husbands will be a special grace for your marriage and family life. You and your husbands are called to grow in mutual and sacrificial love, witnessing to the sanctity of marriage and the family, a witness so very much needed in our culture today. Your example can be a great encouragement to other married couples. May you continue to help one another to grow in holiness!

    Finally, my brothers about to be ordained, I entrust you in a special way to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Blessed Mother will be with you in your diaconal life and ministry. She was with the disciples in prayer in the upper room awaiting the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. She is with us today as we await the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon you in the sacrament of Holy Orders. May Mary, the Handmaid of the Lord, intercede for you always!

    Posted on May 25, 2011, to:

  • Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades Red Mass Homily 10-3-10

    The following homily was delivered by Bishop Rhoades at the Red Mass on Respect Life Sunday, October 3, in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne. A substantial part of this homily was also contained in the Bishop’s homily at the Red Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, University of Notre Dame, on September 27th.
    Red Mass — October 3, 2010

    Today the Church throughout the United States celebrates Respect Life Sunday. And today we also celebrate here in our cathedral the annual Red Mass, asking the Holy Spirit to guide our civic officials, judges and lawyers, and all those who serve in the legal profession. It seems quite providential that we are celebrating the Red Mass on Respect Life Sunday since the defense of human life and dignity is one of the fundamental responsibilities of those in public office and in the legal profession. Indeed, it is a responsibility of us all. We are all called to be our brother’s keeper, to respect life, to love our neighbor, and to recognize Jesus in the least of our brothers and sisters. When we fulfill these responsibilities, we should say as Jesus taught in today’s Gospel: “we are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.”

    In this homily, I would like to reflect on some fundamental principles concerning truth and freedom, law and morality, in light of our celebration of this Red Mass and Respect Life Sunday.

    There is a strong tendency in our culture to consider the moral law as something in conflict with human freedom, when, in fact, God’s law promotes human freedom. It does not reduce or do away with human freedom. A problem we increasingly encounter in our culture today, perhaps most clearly exemplified in “pro-choice” rhetoric, is a misunderstanding of freedom. Our American culture highly values freedom. Our nation was founded on the principal of liberty. Our nation’s history has been marked by battles to defend freedom. But today the notion of freedom has been distorted in many ways under the influence of philosophies of relativism and subjectivism. Our founding fathers never considered freedom as independent from moral truth. They recognized freedom’s dependence upon truth, particularly the truths of natural law, which they called “self-evident,” the law written and engraved in the soul of every person by the Creator.

    When freedom is understood and promoted as license to do whatever we please, even evil, it is no longer genuine freedom. Human freedom finds its authentic and complete fulfillment precisely in accepting the truth of the moral law given by God. Sadly, some currents of thought today even question or deny the existence of moral truth and of universal and unchanging moral norms.

    For its very survival, democracy needs a solid moral foundation. The natural law is the necessary basis for civil law. There can be no freedom apart from or in opposition to the truth. A completely individualistic concept of freedom contradicts its very meaning and dignity. How often the great Pope John Paul II reminded us that “when freedom is made absolute in an individualistic way,” it “negates and destroys itself” and becomes “a factor leading to the destruction of others.” This happens “when it no longer recognizes and respects its essential link with the truth.” Pope John Paul taught that “this view of freedom leads to a serious distortion of life in society.” Of course, we see this happening in society when the original and inalienable right to life is denied or not safeguarded. Pope John Paul wrote in his great encyclical The Gospel of Life that “to claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others. This is the death of true freedom.” The democratic ideal, he said, is betrayed in its very foundation when it does not acknowledge the dignity of every human person. Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have spoken of the dangers of moral relativism, in which everything is negotiable, even the most fundamental human rights. Moral relativism undermines the common good which the state has the role to defend and promote.

    The Church has always taught the necessity of civil law being in conformity with the moral law. Recall the famous teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas who wrote that “human law is law inasmuch as it is in conformity with right reason and thus derives from the eternal law. But when a law is contrary to reason, it is called an unjust law and becomes instead an act of violence.” No human law can claim to legitimize crimes against human life and dignity. Saint Thomas taught that if a human law is somehow opposed to the natural law, then it is not really a law but rather a corruption of the law. We are rightly proud of our nation and its tradition of the rule of law, yet the Church reminds us that “the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined when the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable” (CDF, Donum Vitae).

    Two weeks ago, Pope Benedict XVI beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman during a Mass in Birmingham, England. In his homily, the Holy Father said that “in our day, when an intellectual and moral relativism threatens to sap the very foundations of our society, Newman reminds us that, as men and women made in the image and likeness of God, we were created to know the truth, to find in that truth our ultimate freedom and the fulfillment of our deepest human aspirations.” Cardinal Newman’s passion for the truth is an example for us today.

    The Lord calls all of us to embrace the truth about the dignity of human life created in His image and likeness. He calls us to love and honor, protect and defend, the life and dignity of our neighbor, especially when it is weak or threatened. This must be the concern of judges, lawyers and public officials, of laity and clergy, of Church and state. Unconditional respect for human life and dignity is the foundation of a truly free society. In the words of Pope John Paul II, “there can be no true democracy without a recognition of every person’s dignity and without respect for his or her rights.”

    In our society today, it often takes courage to stand up for the truth about the sanctity and inviolability of human life. Let us heed the words of Saint Paul from our second reading today: “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord… but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” May the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus called “the Spirit of truth,” guide and strengthen all of us to serve the truth with courage and to bear our share of hardship for the Gospel of life!

    Posted on October 4, 2010, to:

  • We began the liturgy tonight with the blessing of the Easter fire and the lighting of the Paschal candle. Our procession into this darkened cathedral behind the Paschal candle symbolized our journey of faith through darkness into light, the light of Christ. Indeed all of human history, like the Israelites’ journey through the desert to the Promised Land, is a journey seeking light, seeking paradise, seeking true happiness and peace. Where do we find it? The answer is a Person: the Lord Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead. Recall the words I spoke at the beginning of this liturgy in preparing the Paschal candle: “Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega, all time belongs to Him and all the ages, to Him be glory and power through every age forever.”

    Our catechumens and candidates here with us have been on a journey as well, seeking light, happiness, and peace. And, yes, they have found the One for whom their hearts longed: Christ the Lord. Tonight they will receive from Him the wondrous gifts of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist, the sacraments of Christian initiation. They and all of us here present have gathered for this Easter Vigil because we have chosen to follow Christ through our journey of life. We believe that He is indeed the resurrection and the life!

    At his holy vigil which Saint Augustine called the “mother of all vigils, we commemorate that holy night when our Lord rose from the dead. I invite you tonight to reflect on what it means to follow the Risen Christ. There are three things I wish to highlight about our vocation as disciples of the Risen Lord.

    Number one: following Christ means being attentive to His words. We cannot live by bread alone, Jesus says, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. We cannot live on money or career or power or success. We live on the Word of God, the Word that illumines our journey through life. God’s Word at times corrects us. It always renews us. It shows us how to live. As followers of Jesus, we need to listen to Him in His Word, contained in Sacred Scripture, to listen to Him in the events of our lives, to listen to Him in His Church, to listen to Him in the liturgy and in our personal prayers. Only in Him do we find the words of eternal life!

    Number two: following Christ means obeying His commandments. Jesus said: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” His commandments are summed up in the twofold commandment to love God and our neighbor as ourselves. Following Christ means having compassion for the suffering and having a heart for the poor. It means living a life of charity towards all. It is not enough to listen to Christ’s word: we must act upon it. Obeying his voice is the way that leads to the fullness of joy and love. The Holy Spirit received in Confirmation strengthens us to live our faith, to defend our faith, and to share our faith. The Holy Eucharist nourishes us so that we can love one another as Christ has loved us.

    Number 3: following Christ means loving His Mystical Body, the Church. Tonight, here and throughout the world, tens of thousands of people will be incorporated into Christ’s Church. They will become part of the Body of Christ. Though many, we are one Body in Christ. Our unity as Catholics is a result of our union with Christ which happens through the sacraments, especially Baptism, which unites us to Christ’s death and resurrection. The Holy Eucharist deepens our union with Christ and His Church, indeed, it takes us up into communion with Him and with one another. In His Body, the Church, we receive the gifts and assistance by which we help one another along the way of salvation. May we always love the Church, the Body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit!

    On this holy night, our catechumens will pass from death to life through the waters of Baptism. All of us who already received Baptism will renew our baptismal promises. Our candidates and catechumens will be strengthened by the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation and nourished by Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist. These wonderful Easter sacraments help us to follow Christ more closely. We rejoice that the Lord Jesus has risen from the dead and that He shares with us the gift of eternal life. I repeat again the words from the beginning of this liturgy at the preparation of the Paschal candle: “Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega, all time belongs to Him and all the ages, to Him be glory and power through every age forever. Amen.”

    Posted on April 7, 2010, to:

  • On this day, the only day of the year that the Church does not celebrate Mass, we gather to meditate on the passion and death of Our Lord. We gather in the afternoon, at the time when Jesus hung on the cross and suffered the most painful and humiliating form of punishment used by the Roman authorities at that time. In fact, the Romans used crucifixion only for the most serious of crimes.

    Our Lord suffered the excruciating pain of having His hands and feet nailed to the cross. As we heard in the Gospel of the Passion, Jesus was stripped of His garments so He hung naked on the cross, a public humiliation. And the soldiers cast lots for His tunic.

    We contemplate Jesus with His arms extended on the cross. He was immobilized. His body had no means of coping with the heat or cold. Insects swirled around him and landed on him. He was parched with thirst. As the three hours progressed, his agony grew. It became more and more difficult for him to breathe. Often those crucified would die of asphyxiation.

    But despite this most painful and humiliating way to die, Jesus on the cross never lost His freedom or true dignity. He hung on the cross courageously, intent on fulfilling the mission His Father entrusted to Him, the mission of redemption. He freely embraced in His human will the Father’s will, His Father’s love for us. On the cross, He trusted in His Father. He endured the insults and calumnies of His persecutors. And, most remarkably, He forgave them. He never stopped exercising His ministry of mercy. In Saint Luke’s account of the Passion, which we heard on Palm Sunday, we read that in the midst of such unjust torture, Jesus hanging on the cross prayed: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” On the cross, Jesus is our teacher. He teaches us by his example what He had earlier taught in words to the disciples: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28). Have you ever wondered what the world would be like if we Christians really obeyed those words? Two of the spiritual works of mercy are precisely these: forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently.

    Today, Good Friday, we also contemplate the pain and suffering of Mary standing near the cross of her son. Perhaps mothers who have experienced the death of a son or daughter know this pain of our Blessed Mother more than anyone. Imagine Mary’s pain as she watched her son suffer this most horrible of deaths. She could only be there with Him – helpless, unable to help him or comfort him. She would only be able to receive his body in her loving arms after He died and was taken down from the cross. The prophecy of Simeon at the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the temple was fulfilled on Good Friday. Simeon had told Mary: “A sword will pierce through your own soul.”

    On the cross, Jesus entrusted Saint John and all of us, indeed all Christians, to Mary and her maternal care when He said: “Woman, behold your son.” We can always turn to her, especially in times of pain and sorrow. Our Lady of Sorrows was there at the foot of the cross and she is with us in all the sorrows of our life. She is our spiritual mother, a beautiful gift to us from Jesus on the cross. John took Mary into his home. I hope we all do the same.

    According to Saint John, Jesus’ last words before handing over his spirit were: “It is finished.” What was finished? His mission! He had accomplished the Father’s will. He accomplished our redemption. He loved us to the end. And that love revealed so dramatically in the crucifixion has brought the greatest blessing to humanity: reconciliation with God, salvation, redemption. The truth of this victory of love would become evident on the third day when Jesus rose from the dead.

    In this Good Friday service, we will venerate the cross of our Lord. That veneration is not an empty gesture. It is a sign of our love for Jesus who suffered and died for us. Jesus said from the cross “I thirst.” He still thirsts. He thirsts for our love!

    Posted on April 7, 2010, to:

  • “Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.”

    With these words of Saint John at the beginning of today’s Gospel, we begin the Easter Triduum. We contemplate and we celebrate during these holy days Jesus’ hour, the hour of the redemption of the world by the redeeming love of Jesus Christ, His love unto the end, to the extreme.

    The Triduum begins with this Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper. We remember the Last Supper, the beginning of the drama of the Paschal Mystery, when our Lord instituted the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and the ordained priesthood. It is no mere coincidence nor an incidental aside that Jesus knelt before the apostles and washed their dirty feet.

    When Jesus came into the world, God descended and became a servant, a slave, in taking on, or assuming, our human nature. When his hour had come, He showed us again the humility of His Incarnation which now reached its climax in the humility of the Redemption. This is why He had come. His redemptive Passion was the very reason for His Incarnation. In the washing of the disciples’ feet, the entire mystery of Jesus Christ is expressed. In this, what redemption means becomes visible.

    Jesus took off his outer garments and tied a towel around his waist. When He became man, when He came down from His divine glory, He cast aside the clothing of His divine glory and put on the garb of a slave. At the Last Supper, this is dramatically seen again at the hour of the redemption. He who had come down from heaven, taking the form of slave, kneels before the disciples, kneels before us, and carries out for us the service of a slave. He washes our dirty feet so that we can be admitted to God’s banquet and be made worthy to take our place at His table. God descends and becomes a slave. He washes our feet, purifies us in His love, so that we can come to His table, the Eucharistic table and the table of the banquet feast of heaven.

    God gives Himself to us without reserve, to the very depths of His suffering and death. He cleanses us in the sacraments of Baptism and Penance. He is continually on His knees at our feet, carrying out for us the service of a slave, the service of purification, which makes us capable of receiving God’s grace. Why else would He say to the protesting Peter, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” We are sinners – we need His cleansing. That’s why Jesus tells Peter that His washing of his feet was necessary for him to share in Jesus’ inheritance which is eternal life. Jesus is referring to the necessity of His death. His death brings us our heritage with Him and cleanses us of sins. And, of course, this becomes actual for us through the purifying sacraments of Baptism and Penance.

    There are other words said by Jesus at the washing of the feet that are also important for our reflection this evening. He tells the apostles: “You are clean, but not all of you.” Jesus offers this great gift of purification, but not all are made clean. There is the possibility of rejecting His gift. Our Lord’s redeeming love, the gift of Himself, knows no bounds, but people can reject His love. Such rejection is rooted in the sin of pride, when one does not admit or recognize the need of purification. We can freely choose to close ourselves to God’s saving goodness and to reject His love. Judas is the sad and tragic figure who reminds us every Holy Thursday of this possibility. For him, power, money, and success were more important. He was greedy and betrayed His Master, the Lord of love, for thirty pieces of silver. When Jesus said, “You are clean, but not all of you,” He was obviously referring to Judas, but this statement also refers to those coming after Judas who would refuse His saving love, the hard of heart, the proud, who put other things before God and His love. These are the un-prodigal sons and daughters who refuse to convert and return to the house of the Father, the unrepentant, those who refuse to let Jesus wash their feet, those who reject His merciful love. We need to let the Lord remove the dirt from us with the purifying power of His love, which He does with the water of Baptism, but also in confession, the sacrament of purifying love for us who sin after receiving the purifying grace of Baptism.

    The drama of the washing of the feet ends with the important words of Jesus: “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” We are to wash one another’s feet. The service of the washing of the feet illustrates our vocation as Jesus’ disciples to imitate His love and service. This entails forgiving one another, serving one another, loving one another as He has loved us. This instruction of Jesus to wash one another’s feet is but another expression of the new commandment that He entrusted to the apostles: “love one another as I have loved you.” We serve our Lord by the charitable service of loving one another, especially the sick and the suffering, the weak and the poor. We are called to be committed to washing the feet of our brothers and sisters, expressing in gestures of mutual service the love which is the synthesis of the whole Gospel. And this is intimately connected to the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of the Lord, which nourishes us to love one another as Jesus has loved us.

    In his apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum caritatis, the Holy Father reminds us that the Eucharist is a mystery to be lived. How is it lived? By washing one another’s feet! The grace of the Holy Eucharist transforms us into Christ. Pope Benedict recalls the teaching of Saint Augustine that it is not the eucharistic food that is changed into us, but rather we are mysteriously transformed by it into Christ, into Christ who kneels down and washes the feet of the disciples, into Christ who takes up the cross and gives Himself in loving sacrifice on Calvary. That is why for us Catholics, the Eucharist is so central to our life and embraces our entire life! It equips us to live Christ’s charity in all our thoughts and deeds, to do as He has done for us!

    We firmly believe in the most holy mystery of the Eucharist. We are to devoutly celebrate every Mass and we are to intensely live the mystery we celebrate. An authentic Christian spirituality is a Eucharistic spirituality. This is our way to holiness.

    God’s love is inexhaustible. He has indeed loved us to the end. We see this in the symbolism of the washing of the feet. We will contemplate this love in a very intense way tomorrow, Good Friday. We experience this love every time we celebrate the Eucharistic sacrifice. May our lives be immersed in this great mystery of love, the love of Christ present in the most holy Eucharist!

    Posted on April 7, 2010, to: