• A detailed portion of Sandro Botticelli’s “Three Temptations of Christ” is shown in the fresco above. The art is displayed in the Sistine Chapel and dates to 1481-1482. The Italian painter from Florence lived 1445-1510.

    Every year on the First Sunday of Lent, we read about the temptations of Jesus in the desert of Judea. This year, we read the very short version in the Gospel of Mark. Saint Mark tells us that “the Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and He remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.” In the other Gospels, we read in more detail about the three temptations of Jesus by the devil.

    Jesus withstood the temptations of the devil. He helps us to withstand the temptations to sin that can lead us away from God. We are comforted by the fact that Our Lord experienced temptation, that He entered into this domain of human life. We read in the letter to the Hebrews that “because He Himself has suffered and been tempted, He is able to help those who are tempted” (2:18). We also read in that same letter: “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:15-16).

    Our Lord allowed Himself to be tempted. He has set us an example of resisting temptation with the help of grace. Out of love for us, the Son of God was tempted in every way that we are, but did not sin. He taught us to pray to the Father “lead us not into temptation.” This is the sixth petition of the Our Father.

    Have you ever found this petition strange, to ask God not to lead us into temptation? Surely, God does not lead anyone into temptation. In the New Testament letter of Saint James, we read: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’, for God cannot be tempted with evil and He Himself tempts no one” (James 1:13).

    Temptation is the invitation to do evil, to sin. God abhors evil, so we cannot say that God leads us into temptation to do evil. God wants to set us free from evil. So what does the petition “lead us not into temptation” mean? It means “do not let us yield to temptation.”

    God allows us to be tempted, but not beyond our strength. God allowed the devil to tempt Job as a test of his faith. But God did not abandon Job in this trial. And Job grew and made real spiritual progress through this process of purification. Job did not lose his faith in God even in the deep darkness of his suffering.

    Saint Paul wrote the following in his first letter to the Corinthians: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (10:13).

    Scripture teaches us that there are three sources of temptation: the flesh, the world, and the devil. The flesh represents the craving of our appetites which can become disordered and, consequently, sinful. That is one of the reasons why fasting and other penances help us in controlling our appetites. The world is really our self-centered desire to use things or people without regard to salvation and the honor and glory of God.

    The third source of temptation is the devil. Unfortunately, many do not believe in the existence of the devil or diabolical spiritual beings. The French poet Charles Baudelaire wrote that “the devil’s most cunning trick is to convince us that he does not exist.” In 1972, Blessed Pope Paul VI surprised many when he said that one of the greatest needs in the Church today is “the defense from that evil which is called the devil.” Paul VI said that “Evil is not merely a lack of something, but a positive agent, a living spiritual being, perverted and perverting… It is a departure from the picture provided by biblical and Church teachings to refuse to acknowledge the devil’s existence. … Or to explain the devil as a pseudo-reality, a conceptual, fanciful personification of the unknown cause of our misfortunes.” Pope Francis, sharing Pope Paul’s concern, speaks often about the devil and his lies.

    We are deceiving ourselves, or the devil is deceiving us, if we think Satan does not exist. Saint John’s Gospel calls him “the father of lies” (8:44). The Book of Revelation calls him “the deceiver of the whole world” (12:9).

    Whatever the source of temptation in our lives (the flesh, the world, or the devil), we pray to God the Father: “lead us not into temptation,” that is, don’t allow us to take the way that leads to sin. Don’t let me yield to temptation. Help me, Lord, to say no to the devil’s lies, no to selfish desires, no to hurting myself and my neighbor. Help me to say yes to You, yes to life, and yes to love.

    The following reflection from our Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is a practical interpretation of the sixth petition of the Our Father. Pope Benedict writes that when we pray “lead us not into temptation,” we are saying to God:

    “I know that I need trials so that my nature can be purified. When you decide to send me these trials, when you give evil some room to maneuver, as you did with Job, then please remember that my strength goes only so far. Don’t overestimate my capacity. Don’t set too wide the boundaries within which I may be tempted, and be close to me with your protecting hand when it becomes too much for me.”

    During Lent, we do battle with the temptations that have their sources in the flesh, the world, or the devil. Victory is only possible through prayer and with the help of God’s grace. May the Lord strengthen us in this battle. Let us with confidence approach the throne of grace, asking the Lord to “lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil. Amen.”

    Posted on February 17, 2015, to:

  • A man receives ashes on Ash Wednesday at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York in 2014. Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of the penitential season of Lent, is Feb. 18 this year.

    The season of Lent begins on February 18th, Ash Wednesday. In these days before Lent begins, I encourage you to think about your plans for the forty days of Lent, the penance you intend to do. Reflect on how you intend to make a good Lent, or more importantly, what God desires for you to help you to turn away from sin and draw closer to Him.

    In the prayer over the people at the end of the liturgy of Ash Wednesday, the priest prays: Pour out a spirit of compunction, O God, on those who bow before your majesty.… What does this word “compunction” mean? It means being enlightened or made aware of our sins and faults. It comes from the Latin verb “compungere” which means “to prick.” So it is a puncture, a prick of sorrow. If we’re going to make a good Lent, we need to have this sorrow for our sins. We need our consciences to be pricked. We need to recognize and be aware that we have faults. Saint John the Apostle wrote: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 

    When we have compunction of heart, we are able to see the darkness of sin in our lives. Pope Francis says: Walking in darkness means being overly pleased with ourselves, believing that we do not need salvation. That is darkness! When we continue on this road of darkness, it is not easy to turn back. So we need to honestly look at our lives, admit our sins. This is the starting point for having a good Lent. It is only through repentance and conversion that we can live our true identity as Christians, as “children of the light.”

    The essential first step in returning to God is to recognize that we are sinners and to acknowledge our sins. Think about King David in the Old Testament. He sinned gravely against the Lord and was rebuked by the prophet Nathan. David then exclaimed in prayer: I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight. David had been walking in darkness, but he repented and returned to the Lord. There are many other Biblical stories, including the parable of the prodigal son, that convey the same message. There can be no conversion without the acknowledgment of one’s own sins. Only then can we experience the love that is greater than sin: divine mercy.

    Our Savior began His public preaching with these words: Repent, and believe in the Gospel. Jesus invites us to accept the good news of His merciful love. It’s not good news if we erroneously think that we are perfect and do not need His gift of salvation. In Lent, we hear anew Jesus’ call to repent. He says (in Greek) Metanoeite, translated into English as Repent. It means to make a metanoia, a conversion, a radical change of mind and heart. It is necessary to turn away from evil in order to enter God’s kingdom of love and peace.

    We need to stand before the Lord in honesty and truth, admitting our sinfulness. Pope Francis says that “we must never masquerade before God.” This requires the virtue of humility. In this context, the Holy Father says that “shame is a virtue.” He calls it “blessed shame.” The Pope says we need to have the ability to be ashamed and that this is the virtue of the humble. The humble person is ashamed of his or her sins. Of course, Pope Francis is not talking about destructive shame in which a person hates himself. He is talking about healthy shame, which he calls “a true Christian virtue.” When one has this “blessed shame,” one then can approach the Lord with a humble heart which God says ‘He will not spurn.’

    One important Lenten resolution for all of us should be to go to confession. Ashamed of our sins, we go to Jesus and say like King David Against you, O Lord, I have sinned. Or like the prodigal son said when he returned to his father: Father, I have sinned against God and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. What did the father do? He threw his arms around his son’s neck and kissed him. He put a fine robe on him and had a banquet to celebrate his son’s return. That’s what happens every time that we go to confession. God our Father is filled with joy. He forgives us, so great is His love for us.

    Besides the sacrament of Penance, we are also called to “do penance” during Lent. This helps to reestablish the balance and harmony broken by sin, to change direction, to walk in the light and not in darkness. Outward acts of penance are very helpful for growth in our spiritual lives. They help to make amends for our sins and for those of others. I encourage you to think about what voluntary acts of penance you will offer to God this Lent. Fasting and almsgiving are especially recommended during Lent. Choose a Lenten penance or sacrifice that will help you to grow in the Christian virtues. Spiritual discipline is needed for true progress. It is a way to take up the cross of Jesus.

    Finally, I wish to emphasize the importance of Lenten prayer. I urge everyone to make a prayer resolution for Lent. Daily Mass is certainly a great resolution. Stations of the Cross is another wonderful devotion during Lent, a prayerful means to enter into the mystery of Our Lord’s passion and death. Or you may wish to try the daily rosary or daily Scripture meditations. There are an abundance of spiritual practices and devotions in our Catholic tradition. I don’t encourage you to have a dozen resolutions. Pick one or a few and be faithful to them.

    As we receive ashes on Ash Wednesday, may we do so with the intention of doing penance! Most importantly, may we heed the call of the Lord to repent and believe in the Gospel, to take up the cross and follow Him! May God bless you with a good and fruitful Lent this year!

    Posted on February 10, 2015, to:

  • Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, on a pastoral visit at Saint Joseph High School, greets student James Kiai, Senior Community award winner for January.

    Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades delivered this talk at the Light of Learning Award luncheons in Fort Wayne and South Bend last week:

    Thanks to the generosity of Quality Dining and the Fitzpatrick family, we celebrate each year this luncheon during Catholic Schools Week in which we honor and thank our teachers, principals, and benefactors. It is an event that reminds us of the gift of our Catholic schools and their important mission in the Church. That mission would not be fulfilled without the exemplary service of the outstanding educators whom we honor today. That mission would not be fulfilled without the generosity of so many who financially support our schools. And that mission would not be fulfilled without the commitment of our pastors who make Catholic education a priority in our parishes. I thank all of you.

    The theme of Catholic Schools Week this year is: Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service. I’d like to speak about each of these three aspects of Catholic education.

    First: faith. Of course, faith is at the very heart of the mission of our schools. That’s why they exist in the first place: to form children and young people for a personal and living encounter with Jesus Christ. The identity of our schools is rooted in the Gospel. Catechesis in the Catholic faith is not only a fundamental part of the academic curriculum. It is infused in the whole environment of the school where the faith is integrated into the culture and life of the community. Every winter, I spent a day at each of our four Catholic high schools. Two weeks ago, I visited Saint Joseph High School. There one of the teachers shared with me the results of a survey she had given her students asking them how their lives had changed since they first became students at Saint Joe’s. Here are some of the responses:

    + Since I started at Saint Joe’s, I have learned so much about my faith, which has helped me learn more about myself. I have been able to surrender to God and let His love change my life.

    + I have learned so much about Catholicism and discovered its beauty, and I have made some of the best friends I’ve ever had.

    + My faith in God has become ten times stronger than when I began at St. Joe’s. I have also come to appreciate life a thousand times more. 

    + My faith life has matured and grown since I began here at Saint Joe.

    + I have been been brought closer to God through the Saint Joe community.

    + My faith has grown since I became a student here. I am now comfortable sharing my faith with other people my age. 

    So many other responses reflect the same sentiments. Many write that they have become stronger in their faith and many describe their experience as “life-changing.” I’m sure that a survey at our other high schools would reveal similar results. It is clear that formation in the faith is a hallmark of our Catholic schools, one that is bearing fruit in the lives of our young people.

    The second aspect of our Catholic schools highlighted this year is knowledge. We have a responsibility to provide our young people with an academically rigorous program of education. This is not separate from their formation in the faith since our academic curriculum seeks to integrate faith, culture, and life. Catholic values are an integral part of every subject that is taught. This shows that we are about the education of the whole child, the formation of the whole person: spiritual, intellectual, psychological, social, moral, and physical. Catholic education aims at the integral formation of the human person. The pursuit of knowledge is not just about learning facts and figures, as important as they may be. It is about the pursuit of wisdom and truth, an education for life and not just for a career. Success in measurement of accomplishing this goal is not always easy. But we can point to many outcomes that illustrate the success of our Catholic schools: test scores, high school graduation rates and attendance at colleges. All the sociological data illustrate the academic excellence of the 6,568 Catholic schools in the United States. We can proud of this. However, what gives me the greatest pride is our formation of young people as missionary disciples of Jesus. I wish to point out as well that we must never be satisfied to rest on our laurels. We must never be self-satisfied, but strive for greater academic excellence and stronger faith formation.

    The third aspect of this year’s Catholic Schools Week theme is service. Why is this so important? Because what our students learn is not meant to remain in their heads. It is to be lived. We don’t just want our young people to hear the Gospel. We teach them to respond to the Gospel. If our students are truly evangelized, they become witnesses to Christ in their lives. They go forth to serve others, especially the poor, the marginalized, the sick and the suffering, and the vulnerable. Several hundred of our Catholic school students were with me last week at the March for Life in Washington. This is just one sign of how our young people are taught to bear witness. They learn to respect life and to love and serve the most vulnerable in our human family, the unborn. On the other end of the spectrum of life, I see many of our Catholic school students reaching out to the elderly and helping them, visiting nursing homes, bringing the joy of their faith to those who may be lonely or neglected. I could give many other examples of the service our students do in their local communities. Service is indeed a hallmark of Catholic school education.

    Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge, and Service. That’s what we strive to be. The connection between all three is necessary. Thanks to our educators, our students see the essential connection between faith and reason, between knowledge and goodness, between truth and beauty, between justice and charity, between intellect and virtue.

    Thanks again to all of you. We are all partners in this noble endeavor of Catholic education. May God bless you and may God bless our Catholic school communities!

     

    Posted on January 28, 2015, to:

  • CNS photo/courtesy of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities
    Mother Marianne Cope is pictured in a circa 1883 photograph. The teacher and hospital administrator spent more than three decades ministering to those with leprosy on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. She was canonized Oct. 21, 2012.

    Following is the homily given by Bishop Rhoades at the January 23rd Mass for diocesan participants in the March for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. 

    It is wonderful to gather here in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on this day after the national March for Life. I thank all of you who came to Washington to bear witness to the sanctity of human life, particularly my brothers and sisters from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. One of our former bishops, Archbishop John Noll, was responsible for the raising of funds to build this beautiful National Shrine. And it is here in this house of Mary that we gather in prayer this morning, asking our Blessed Mother’s intercession for the cause of life, for an end to abortion, and for a new culture of life in our nation.

    We just heard the Gospel of the appointment of the Twelve Apostles. Saint Mark tells us that Jesus “appointed Twelve, whom he also named Apostles, that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.” Saint Mark then listed the names of the twelve apostles. I invite you to read that list and then add your name to the list. Why? Because this is our vocation too. Jesus has appointed you and me “to be with him” and He sends us forth to bear witness to Him in the world. Now it’s true that we do this according to our particular state-in-life vocations. A bishop is a successor of the apostles in the full sense of possessing apostolic authority. But in a more general sense, all the baptized are apostles. The name “apostle” means “one who is sent.”

    Pope Francis has been emphasizing this mission of going out, going forth, into the world. The Holy Father is very critical of a self-referential Church, one that just looks at and serves itself. He is insistent in teaching us that the Church must go out, must be missionary, and he says that this is the task of every Christian, to be a missionary disciple. The Holy Father never tires of teaching us, and showing us by his example, that we must especially go out to those on the margins or peripheries of society: to the poor, the marginalized, the needy, the suffering, and the vulnerable. Regarding our care for the vulnerable, Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium: “Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this. Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative. Yet this defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems.”

    As we think about the vocation of the apostles and our vocation as missionary disciples, the Gospel we are to bring is the Gospel of life. There is no other Gospel. It is the Gospel of Jesus, the Gospel of love and grace. Pope Francis says: “Anyone who is Christian has a duty to bear witness to the Gospel: to protect life courageously and lovingly in all its phases.” Notice the adverbs: courageously and lovingly. Truth and charity! Never one without the other! We must reject “false compassion.” Pope Francis says: “The predominant school of thought sometimes leads to ‘false compassion’ which holds that it is a benefit to women to promote abortion; an act of dignity to perform euthanasia; a scientific breakthrough to ‘produce’ a child, considered as a right rather than a gift to be welcomed; or to using human lives as laboratory animals, allegedly in order to save others.” No, these are falsehoods. True compassion is rooted in the truth about the dignity of all human life. Fidelity to the Gospel calls us to love life always and in every stage and condition as a gift from God. Fidelity to the Gospel also calls us to show mercy and bring healing to women and men harmed by the wounds of an abortion.

    Today we are celebrating the feast of a recently canonized American saint who was a heroic witness to the Gospel of life, Saint Marianne Cope. This religious superior of the Sisters of Saint Francis of Syracuse, New York, responded to a request to go to Hawaii to care for leprosy patients. She responded with enthusiasm and without fear. She and other sisters managed a hospital for lepers in Honolulu and also a home to care for the daughters of patients with leprosy. Later, when Father Damian of Molokai, the Apostle to Lepers, contracted the disease, Mother Marianne went to Molokai to care for him and other outcasts on the island. She continued Father Damien’s work on Molokai after he died, an incredibly difficult ministry. Mother Marianne served with serenity and trust in God and allayed the other sisters’ fear of catching leprosy. She was totally devoted to the lepers, seeing each of them as beloved children of God. She bore witness to the Gospel of life by serving Jesus in the person of the lepers. She put her own life and health at risk to live to the full God’s call to love the suffering and abandoned. She became their mother and has been called “the mother of lepers.” When he canonized her in 2012, Pope Benedict said: “At a time when little could be done for those suffering from this terrible disease, Marianne Cope showed the highest love, courage and enthusiasm. She is a shining and energetic example of the best of the tradition of Catholic nursing sisters and of the spirit of her beloved Saint Francis.”

    I am glad that we’re celebrating the feast of Saint Marianne Cope today. Because what we need in our pro-life efforts is what Mother Marianne exemplified: love, courage, and enthusiasm. That’s what we need as missionary disciples, as apostles. May the Lord help us to serve the Gospel of life with love, courage, and enthusiasm! May the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Marianne Cope intercede for us!

    Posted on January 20, 2015, to:

  • The octave of prayer for Christian Unity falls between the feast of St. Peter’s Chair on Jan. 18 and the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on Jan. 25. The icon of Sts. Peter and Paul is shown above.

    In a recent discussion about ecumenism and the quest for Christian unity, someone said to me that he thought it was a “pipe dream,” in other words, an illusory hope, a fantasy, a dream that is impossible to achieve. I responded that Christian unity is an illusory hope if we think that it can be achieved by our own human efforts, but that with the help of God’s grace, it is not a “pipe dream.” Christian unity is first and foremost a gift of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. And we are called to cooperate with His grace. That is why we celebrate each year the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This year it begins on Sunday, January 18th, and ends on Sunday, January 25th.

    This past November marked the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of the Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council. We can rejoice and give thanks that the Council’s teaching on ecumenism has been broadly received. Much healing has occurred in the relations between Catholics and other Christians. There has been much greater acceptance of one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, recognizing the profound unity we share that comes from Baptism. There has certainly been a very positive change in mentality, along with a growing commitment to fulfill the will of Jesus expressed in His prayer to the Father on the eve of His Passion “that they may all be one.”

    There have been many positive fruits in our ecumenical endeavors the past 50 years. Christians of different churches and communities often pray together and also work together in the service of the needy. Pope Francis has also spoken about “the ecumenism of blood,” Christians of different churches and communities who have been persecuted and martyred for their faith. As the Holy Father has said: “Those who persecute Christ in His faithful make no differentiation between confessions: they persecute them simply because they are Christians.”

    Though there has been much progress towards Christian unity in the past 50 years, the journey toward full unity is not easy. There is still significant disagreement among Christians on various doctrinal matters. One great achievement has been the Joint Declaration on Justification between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation. Yet, there is still disagreement on many doctrinal matters between Catholics and Protestants of various denominations. I serve as the Catholic Co-Chair of the International Reformed-Catholic Theological Dialogue and can testify to the great challenges we face in our search for convergence on various matters. I think especially of new disagreements in moral teachings that I find especially painful and which make our journey toward unity more complicated.

    The theological dialogues between the Catholic Church and various other Christian Churches and Communions have been fruitful, yet also frustrating at times. Pope Francis says that “we must not surrender to discouragement and resignation, but continue to trust in God who plants in the hearts of Christians the seeds of love and of unity, in order to confront with renewed momentum today’s ecumenical challenges: to cultivate spiritual ecumenism, to turn to advantage the ecumenism of blood, to walk together on the path of the Gospel.” The Holy Father’s words remind me that we must constantly implore the help of God’s grace and the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. That is why the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is so important. I encourage all to remember this important intention in your prayers during the coming week.

    Spiritual ecumenism is of the utmost importance. In its Decree on Ecumenism, the Second Vatican Council taught: “Change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and can rightly be called spiritual ecumenism.” “Ecumenism,” Pope Francis says, “is a spiritual process, one which takes place in faithful obedience to the Father, in fulfillment of the will of Christ and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

    I am glad to see ecumenical initiatives in parishes and other groups throughout our diocese. It is a joy to see Catholics and other Christians working together in so many works of charity and also in prayer and discussion groups. An authentic ecumenical spirit is part of being Catholic. We desire to grow with our separated brothers and sisters in the communion which already unites us. Though that communion is imperfect, it is nonetheless real.

    In a society and culture that is increasingly less concerned about God, increasingly secularized, the pursuit of full Christian unity must be a priority. The Church’s work of evangelization is hindered by the division among Christians. When Jesus prayed to the Father “that they all may be one,” He said “so that the world may believe that You have sent me.” The Second Vatican Council said that the division among Christians “openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages that most holy cause, the preaching of the Gospel to every creature.” That is why the Catholic Church’s commitment to ecumenism remains a priority.

    Again, I encourage you to offer prayers for Christian unity this coming week. I also recommend to our priests the celebration of one of the Masses for the Unity of Christians contained in the Roman Missal during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The following prayer is one of the Collects of the Mass for the Unity of Christians:

    Almighty ever-living God, who gather what is scattered and keep together what you gathered, look kindly on the flock of your Son, that those whom one Baptism has consecrated may be joined together by integrity of faith and united in the bond of charity. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

     

    Posted on January 13, 2015, to: