• The outdoor Nativity scene from 2012 is from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne. Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades writes in this week’s column, “The joy of Christmas cannot be dispelled since the light of Christ cannot be extinguished by the darkness of evil and death if we live in His love.”

    We are about to celebrate the joyful mystery of the Nativity of the Lord. God comes down among us, and we ascend to God. Christmas is the mystery of this marvelous exchange. In the Liturgy of the Hours, we read:

    O marvelous exchange! Man’s Creator has become man, born of the Virgin. We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share our humanity.

    The Church invites us to rejoice on the feast of Our Savior’s birth. Joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, a hallmark of the Christian life. Yet, we know that with life’s problems and challenges, it is not always easy to live in joy. Christmas reminds us of the reason for our joy: the Lord is near; He saves us; He loves us.

    The prophet Isaiah wrote long ago: I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; for He has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of salvation.” That’s really the secret of true joy: it is “in God.” This is why one can have joy even in the midst of suffering. Just think of the Christian martyrs. In so many accounts, we read that, approaching death, they were joyful. That’s hard to grasp. But they had joy even in such horrible circumstances because of their knowledge that God was with them. They felt His love and tenderness. They trusted in their salvation.

    Jesus prayed for our joy at the Last Supper. He prayed to the Father that His joy might be in His disciples and that their joy might be complete. We find the source of the joy in Jesus, our Savior, through prayer and charity. Even in the midst of trials and tribulations, we can know joy.

    I pray that all may experience the joy of the Lord this Christmas. Pope Francis speaks often about how, as Christians, we are to be messengers of the joy of the Gospel. In the world, there is often a lack of joy. Many seek pleasures that do not bring authentic joy. To be messengers of joy, we must first experience the joy of the Gospel in our own hearts. This comes about when we listen with faith and perseverance to the Word of God and when we allow ourselves to experience the love of God and His consolation in our life. Only then can we bring that joy to others.

    Pope Francis teaches us about listening to the Lord in prayer and hearing Him say to each of us: “You are important to me; I love you; I am counting on you.” Joy is born from this encounter with Jesus and His love, especially through prayer.

    Real joy, even in the midst of hardships, is the gift of knowing that we are loved, that Jesus is with us, not only that He came to save us 2,000 years ago, but that He saves us now. This is the true joy of Christmas. It is a joy that is deep and interior, that one can have even in the midst of life’s challenges: grief at the death of a loved one, a debilitating illness, poverty, homelessness, etc. I think a lot these days about our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq who have lost their homes and belongings and are living as refugees. They refused to deny their faith in Christ. And even though they seem to have lost everything, they haven’t. They have not lost their greatest possession: Jesus and their faith in Him. And so they are able, even in their suffering, to experience the joy of Christmas.

    The prophet Isaiah wrote: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. In the midst of the horror of imprisonment by the Nazis and being taken to Auschwitz, Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) wrote: “The star of Bethlehem is a star in the darkness of night even today.” The joy of Christmas cannot be dispelled since the light of Christ cannot be extinguished by the darkness of evil and death if we live in His love.

    We are called like the shepherds to bring the true joy of Christmas, the joy of the Gospel, to others. I invite you to reach out to someone who is hurting during this season. Reach out to them with the love of Christ, the joy of the Gospel.

    When the angel Gabriel greeted Mary at the Annunciation, he said: Rejoice, full of grace! Gabriel invited Mary to a deep joy. She conceived the Son of God and carried Him in her womb. She went in haste to bring the joy that she held in her womb, the joy of her Son, to Elizabeth. And when she did, the unborn John the Baptist leapt for joy in his mother Elizabeth’s womb. Joy is contagious.

    We are called to imitate Mary by going out to bring the joy of faith in Christ to the world. The joy of Christmas, the joy of the Gospel, is meant for all people. This is the joy we should mean when we say to others Merry Christmas! We are not wishing them superficial merriment, something that is fleeting and transitory. We are wishing them the joy of God’s amazing love, the joy of God who comes as a tiny infant lying in a manger. May you all experience and share with others the true joy of Christmas!

    Posted on December 16, 2014, to:

  • Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, ordained Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades for the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on Dec. 9, 2004. Above, Cardinal Rigali anoints Bishop Rhoades with chrism oil during the ordination rite. Lower photo, Cardinal Rigali places the miter on Bishop Rhoades. Bishop Rhoades was installed the Ninth Bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend on Jan. 13, 2010.

    The following is the text of Bishop Rhoades’ homily on December 8, 2014 in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne:

    It is with special joy and gratitude that I celebrate this Mass on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the title of our beautiful cathedral, the patroness of our diocese and nation. Tomorrow, December 9th, the feast of Saint Juan Diego, is my 10th anniversary of episcopal ordination. My heart is filled with gratitude to God for the gift and privilege of serving as a successor of the apostles these past ten years. My heart is also filled with gratitude to you and all the faithful of our diocese for your love and goodness to me during the past five years that I have been privileged to serve as your bishop. Half of my life and ministry as a bishop was in Harrisburg and half of my life and ministry as a bishop has been here in Fort Wayne-South Bend. It’s hard to believe it has been ten years already. I think back to December 9th, 2004 and the joy of my family and friends that day. It was Pope Saint John Paul II who named me as a bishop at the age of 46, a huge surprise to me. God is a God of surprises, Pope Francis says. It’s true. Another big surprise came when Pope Benedict XVI transferred me to Fort Wayne-South Bend. These surprises have all been blessings for which I thank the Lord.

    The greatest surprise and greatest event of grace in human history was the Incarnation, the great mystery of God becoming man. We heard the surprising announcement of the Incarnation in our Gospel today. Imagine Mary’s surprise (shock really) when the angel Gabriel said to her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

    Though Mary was surprised and even naturally afraid, God had prepared her for the awesome vocation to be the Mother of His Son. He prepared her by preserving her from all stain of original sin from the moment of her conception. In view of the merits of His Son, God enriched her with the rich fullness of His grace. That’s why Gabriel would greet her as “full of grace.” This is the beautiful mystery we celebrate today: the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

    I have always felt close to Mary throughout my life, including these past 10 years as a bishop. I think back to the Marian year we celebrated in the diocese of Harrisburg when I was bishop there and also of the Marian consecration here in our diocese this past summer. Pope Saint John Paul II used to speak about “the Marian thread in his life.” Inspired by the great John Paul, I also see a Marian thread in my life. It is good today for all of us in this diocese, which has Immaculate Mary as our patroness, to think about our relationship with Mary — are we close to her? Do we practice devotion to her? She is our model of holiness. She is our loving mother who protects us and leads us to her Son. She is an advocate of grace for us. Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote that “the Blessed Virgin was so full of grace that it overflows onto all mankind.” She then surpasses even the angels. In every struggle or danger, we can find refuge in her. She’s involved in our salvation. Love for Mary helps us tremendously to live a deep spiritual life of love with her Son. As I mentioned, I was ordained a bishop on December 9th, the feast of Saint Juan Diego. Interestingly, 500 years ago the feast of the Immaculate Conception was celebrated throughout the Spanish empire on December 9th. December 9, 1531, was the date of the first apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe to the humble Indian, Juan Diego. At the fourth and final apparition, Mary said some beautiful words to Juan Diego, words that have meant so much to me and given me so much joy and consolation these past ten years. They express our Blessed Mother’s love and tenderness. Our Lady told Juan Diego to put these words into his heart. I invite all of you to do the same. Mary says: “Am I not here, I, who am your mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”

    “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

     

    Posted on December 10, 2014, to:

  • Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades spent two days in Assisi, time for prayer, reflection and hiking. He celebrated Mass each day in the 13th century Basilica of Saint Francis, in the Lower Basilica on Nov. 27 and in the crypt chapel at the tomb of Saint Francis on Nov. 28.

    I’d like to share with you in this additional column about my recent pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi during Thanksgiving week. The reason for my trip was to present to our Holy Father, Pope Francis, President Carol Mooney and a student representative from Saint Mary’s College who presented to the Pope 250 letters from young Catholic women of Saint Mary’s College and throughout the United States. The letters contained many beautiful and touching reflections by these young women about their Catholic faith. They also shared their ideas for “the new evangelization” of women their age in the United States. The Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization supported this project and arranged for the presentation at the end of the papal audience on November 26th.

    While in Rome, I had the opportunity to celebrate Mass for the Saint Mary’s students who are studying for a semester or year abroad in Rome. They got up early to attend the Mass at the beautiful Basilica of Sant’Andrea della Valle, near their hotel. Deacon Royce Gregerson, a seminarian of our diocese studying in Rome, served as deacon at the Mass. I was happy to spend some time with Deacon Royce and also with Father Francis Chukwuma who is working on his doctorate in canon law at the Lateran University. Father Francis, a priest of the Diocese of Awka, Nigeria, has served in our diocesan tribunal and also as pastor of Saint Joseph Parish in Bluffton. Both Father Francis and Deacon Royce are happy and doing well and, of course, working hard in their studies.

    It was a joy and an honor to meet Pope Francis twice during the week. I concelebrated Mass with the Holy Father in the chapel of his residence on November 24th and spoke with him after Mass. He gave a beautiful homily on the Gospel of the poor widow who gave all she had in the temple. The Pope spoke of how the poor widow is an image of the Church and our calling. Then I was able to meet him again on November 26th at the end of his public audience. On both occasions, I spoke to the Holy Father a little about our diocese and asked for his blessing upon the priests and faithful of our diocese. On both occasions, Pope Francis humbly asked for our prayers. On Wednesday, he shared with me that he needs our prayers. I can only imagine the heavy responsibilities of the Pope. I promised him my prayers and told him I would share his request for prayers with you.

    At the papal audience, I sat next to Archbishop Amel Nona, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul in Iraq, and Bishop John Vadakel of Bijnor, India. We spoke for about an hour before the audience began. I was deeply moved by the conversation with both bishops. Bishop John Vadakel’s diocese is a Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy in the north of India in the Himalayan Mountains. Less than one tenth of 1 percent of the population is Catholic (3,705 Catholics among 3.5 million people). They live in some danger from Hindu extremists. His is truly a missionary diocese, yet the diocese runs 26 Catholic schools, 12 health centers, and other social service institutions.

    Archbishop Nona’s archdiocese has been decimated by ISIS. Some of the faithful have been killed. The previous archbishop was kidnapped and murdered in 2008. There were over 25,000 Catholics in the Mosul Archdiocese before the 2003 war. Before ISIS took control earlier this year, there were approximately 10,000 Catholics. Almost all have now fled. There are hardly any Catholics left in his archdiocese, so Archbishop Nona leads and serves them “in exile,” so to speak. Many live in churches, schools, and refugee camps in Kurdistan, northern Iraq. The archbishop now lives in the city of Irbil where the largest number of his faithful now reside. Archbishop Nona told me that he doesn’t have much hope that his people will return to Mosul even if ISIS is expelled, since the Christians were already living in danger and persecuted prior to the invasion and occupation by ISIS. He said that radical Islamic extremists were already residing in Mosul and had welcomed ISIS. The Archbishop, however, has some hope that some of his people may return to smaller villages in his archdiocese where there had been good relations between Christians and Muslims.

    Archbishop Nona and I shared the hope of staying in touch. I was thinking that perhaps we can help him and the archdiocese of Mosul in future rebuilding, if indeed they return and try to rebuild their churches and communities.

    I was grateful to spend two days of prayer in Assisi before returning home this past Sunday. I was grateful to celebrate Mass at the Tomb of Saint Francis. And I prayed for all of you in both Rome and Assisi.

    May this season of Advent be for all of us a time of joy and prayer!

    Posted on December 2, 2014, to:

  • This painting by the Dutch painter Rembrandt from 1634 depicts St. John the Baptist preaching.

    In this season of Advent, we frequently encounter in the readings of the liturgy the austere figure of Saint John the Baptist, the Precursor of the Lord. He preached in the wilderness of Judea. His mission was to prepare and clear the way for the Lord. He called the people to repent of their sins and to correct every injustice.

    During these weeks of Advent, while we prepare for the celebration of Christmas, it is important that we hear the voice of John the Baptist and respond to his appeal for conversion. In this holy season, through the voice of John, the Church invites us to open our hearts to receive the Son of God. Unfortunately, we can easily lose the focus of faith during these weeks before Christmas and fall into the materialistic mindset of our culture. We must not allow the voice of John the Baptist to be drowned out by the noise around us.

    Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths. These words of Isaiah foretold the message and mission of John the Baptist. This call to prepare the way of the Lord and to make straight His paths was urgent and is still urgent. God came in the Person of His Son when the Word became flesh. This is what we celebrate at Christmas. He still comes today. The Lord invites us to receive Him and His gift of salvation. God invites us to accept His Son into our lives, to be His disciples in the world today.

    What does it mean to make straight His paths? There are so many crooked paths that we can be tempted to walk. We can get off track in our Christian lives, falling into sin, walking along roads that deviate from our faith. There are many temptations to stray from the path of the Lord and to get lost along the way, to stray from the Gospel. During Advent, it is good to make straight the path of the Lord in our hearts by examining our lives, clearing the way for the Lord to act in us with His grace. It is important to look at our lives and to see where our choices and actions have not been in harmony with the Gospel. The sacrament of Penance is a great way for all of us to heed the call of John the Baptist to repentance and conversion.

    Advent is a season of commitment and conversion in preparation for the Lord’s coming. It is also a time of joy since we are preparing for the celebration of Our Savior’s birth. This joy comes from faith in the Incarnation, in the fact that Jesus brings us salvation. In the midst of so much darkness in our world, we see light, the light of Christ that overcomes the darkness of sin, selfishness, and death. The Lord comes. He is not a distant God; He is Emmanuel (God-with-us). This is the cause of our joy, the true joy of Christmas that God not only exists, but that He comes to us and is close to us always. He came to earth to be with us and to share in our human condition. He came to save us and He is with us even now. He is with us in the Church and in the Holy Eucharist. He is always at our side, no matter the challenges and problems we encounter. He loves us and He saves us.

    To experience the true joy and peace of Christmas, we need to prepare ourselves during these weeks of Advent. I mentioned that confession is a great way to prepare for Christmas. Prayer is also so important. Maybe you can find some time to attend a few daily Masses during Advent, a great way to put the focus on the true meaning of Christmas. We can so easily get caught up in the secularism of our culture’s observance of Christmas, including the materialism that surrounds us. In a consumer society, we can be tempted to seek joy in things, but things really do not bring us fulfillment. When we neglect the spiritual, we end up living Christmas as a merely external holiday. It is so much more: it is the feast of the Son of God who came to bring us peace, life, and true joy.

    Besides confession and prayer, I would like to recommend an act of charity as a way to prepare the way of the Lord and to observe the true meaning of Christmas. There are many opportunities to give a gift to the poor and needy during this season, or to make a visit to someone who is sick or lonely. To practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, to reach out to those in need, is an integral part of our faith. To be mindful of those who are hurting and to bring them Christ’s love is a great way to live the true meaning of Christmas.

    During these weeks of Advent, let us make sure that we listen to the voice of John the Baptist so as to make room for Jesus, the Word who saves us, and to welcome Him into our hearts. Let us keep our focus on the Child in the manger and make sure that we preserve the primacy of God in our life.

    This week we will celebrate two beautiful feasts of Mary: the Immaculate Conception on December 8th and Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th. Mary is the Virgin of Advent. She awaited and prepared silently and prayerfully for the birth of her Son. May she intercede for us, that we will be ready to receive anew, in our hearts and in our whole lives, our Savior, Christ the Lord!

    Posted on December 2, 2014, to:

  • The Year of Consecrated Life, announced by Pope Francis, begins this coming Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, and will end on February 2, 2016, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Pope Francis proclaimed this special year which also marks the 50th anniversary of the decree on religious life entitled Perfectae Caritatis of the Second Vatican Council.

    This special year is an opportunity for us to grow in our appreciation of the gift of the consecrated life to the Church. It is also an opportunity to highlight this vocation and to invite young people to consider the possible call to follow Christ in the consecrated life.

    What is the consecrated life? It is way of life that includes the profession of the three evangelical counsels: poverty, chastity, and obedience. The Catechism teaches that the state of consecrated life is thus one way of experiencing a ‘more intimate’ consecration, rooted in Baptism and dedicated totally to God. In the consecrated life, Christ’s faithful, moved by the Holy Spirit, propose to follow Christ more nearly, to give themselves to God who is loved above all and, pursuing the perfection of charity in the service of the Kingdom, to signify and proclaim in the Church the glory of the world to come (CCC 916).

    There are various forms of consecrated life in the Church. We are probably most familiar with what is called “the religious life.” This is the life of religious sisters, brothers, and priests who live a common life in a religious community. We are blessed in our diocese with many religious sisters, brothers, and priests. We have motherhouses of the following religious communities in our diocese: the Congregation of Holy Cross (sisters, brothers, and priests), the Sisters of Saint Francis of Perpetual Adoration, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, and the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Victory. There is also a novitiate of the Conventual Franciscan Friars in our diocese.

    We are also blessed in our diocese with three communities that are “on the road” to becoming religious institutes: the Franciscan Brothers Minor, the Franciscan Sisters Minor, and the Poor Sisters of Saint Clare (a cloistered, contemplative community).

    Besides “the religious life,” there are also other forms of consecrated life in the Church. These include secular institutes (whose members live in the world); consecrated virgins; and consecrated hermits. All these forms of consecrated life are lived within a permanent state of life recognized by the Church.

    I think we need a renewed appreciation of the consecrated life as a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. Some are quite pessimistic about the future of consecrated life in the context of today’s society and culture. But I am not so pessimistic. Realistically, we have seen a steep decline in the number of consecrated men and women. Yet, I believe that the tide can be turned. I believe that God is still calling men and women to radically follow the Gospel as religious brothers, sisters and priests; as consecrated virgins; as hermits; and as members of secular institutes. Pope Saint John Paul II called the consecrated life “an integral part of the Church’s life.” He said (and I agree) that “the Church and society itself need people capable of devoting themselves totally to God and to others for the love of God.”

    Ultimately, embracing the consecrated life is a response to God’s love. Those who embrace this life desire to love and serve the Lord with great generosity, devoting their whole lives to the service of Christ and His Church. I hope and pray that the Year of Consecrated Life, in highlighting this beautiful vocation, will be an occasion for fresh efforts in the promotion of vocations to the consecrated life.

    In a homily last year at a Mass with seminarians and novices, Pope Francis said the following: People today certainly need words, but most of all they need us to bear witness to the mercy and tenderness of the Lord which warms the heart, rekindles hope, and attracts people towards the good. What a joy it is to bring God’s consolation to others! I think this is a good description of the mission of consecrated women and men in the Church: to bring to others the consolation of God and to bear witness to His mercy. Of course, this mission will only be fruitful if the consecrated men and women themselves have experienced the Lord’s mercy and consolation. This is why prayer is a central part of the life of consecrated men and women. Liturgical and personal prayer is integral to every form of consecrated life.

    I hope that this Year of Consecrated Life will bear much good fruit for the Church in our diocese and beyond. I hope it will be a time of special blessing for all our brothers and sisters who are living in this state of life. Let us pray for them, their fidelity, and their growth in holiness. Let us also pray for an increase in vocations to the consecrated life in our diocese and throughout the world.

     

    Posted on November 25, 2014, to: