• Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio, painted this piece of artwork depicting The Calling of St. Matthew. It was completed in 1599-1600 for the Contarelli Chapel in the church of the French congregation, San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, where it remains today.

    The apostle and evangelist, Saint Matthew, is the secondary patron of our diocese. His feast day is September 21st. Though his feast is not celebrated this year since it falls on a Sunday, it will be celebrated at Saint Matthew Cathedral since, as titular patron of our co-cathedral, it is observed as a Solemnity there according to liturgical law. I will be celebrating Confirmations at Saint Matthew’s on Sunday, confirming the young people on their patronal feast day.

    I’ve been reflecting on the significance of our secondary patron. Matthew was one of the Twelve chosen by Jesus to preach the Gospel to the world. He did so not only orally, but also by writing. The tradition of the ancient Church attributes to him the authorship of the first Gospel. It was written to Christians of Jewish background.

    I think about some unique features of Saint Matthew’s Gospel. Thanks to Saint Matthew, we have the account of the visit of the Magi, showing the child Jesus adored even by Gentiles (chapter 2). Thanks to Saint Matthew, we have the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5 to 7). And thanks to Saint Matthew, we have an abundance of teaching on “the Kingdom of heaven.” Saint Matthew’s Gospel is even called the “Gospel of the Kingdom.” Saint Matthew shows how the Kingdom of God, predicted in the Old Testament, is now present in the life of Jesus and in the life of the messianic people He founded and convoked, the Church.

    In reflecting on our secondary patron himself, it is good to remember that he was a “publican,” that is, a tax collector. Tax collectors are often linked with sinners and prostitutes when mentioned in the Gospels. Jesus chose as one of the Twelve a man who was regarded as a public sinner. Matthew (also called Levi) was a collaborator with the Roman occupiers and their unjust and greedy treatment of the people of God. Tax collectors were also examples of being miserly and taking extra money from the people. Remember Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, who became rich by defrauding people.

    Pope Benedict XVI once said that Jesus’ choice of a tax collector to be an apostle demonstrates that Our Lord excludes no one from His friendship. Many were shocked that Jesus called Matthew to follow Him. They were further shocked when Jesus attended a large dinner that Matthew hosted in his house, a gathering that included other tax collectors and sinners in attendance. On that occasion, Jesus explained His rationale and mission: Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners (Mark 2: 17).

    The choice of Matthew reminds us of an important and fundamental truth of our faith. It is the good news of the Gospel: God offers His grace to sinners! He is rich in mercy!

    Pope Francis’ motto as a bishop and now as the pope hearkens back to the calling of Matthew, the tax collector. His motto is miserando atque eligendo (having mercy and choosing). These words comes from a homily of Saint Bede on the calling of Matthew where he wrote that Jesus saw a publican, looking upon him with mercy and choosing him, said to him: “Follow me.” The Vatican issued a statement after Pope Francis’ election explaining his choice of this motto. It said:

    “The Holy Father, Francis’ motto comes from a homily by the Venerable Bede, a priest, commenting on the Gospel passage of Saint Matthew’s call, where he writes Vidit ergo Iesus publicanum et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi: ‘Sequere me’ (Jesus saw a publican, looking upon him with mercy and choosing him, said to him: ‘Follow me’).

    The homily (of Saint Bede) is a tribute to Divine Mercy and can be found in the Liturgy of the Hours for Saint Matthew’s feast day. It takes on a special role in the spiritual life of the Pope. In fact, on the Feast of Saint Matthew, September 21, in the year 1953, the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio experienced, at the age of seventeen years, in a very special way, the loving presence of God in his life. Following a confession, he felt his heart touched and sensed the descent of the mercy of God, who with a look of tender love, called him to the religious life, following the example of Saint Ignatius of Loyola.

    When chosen as a Bishop, Bishop Bergoglio recalled this moment of the beginning of his special consecration in the Church and decided to choose Saint Bede’s expression as his motto and programme for life: Miserando atque eligendo (He showed mercy and called him), which is now in the Papal Coat of Arms.”

    When we think of our diocese’s secondary patron, we can be reminded of the Divine Mercy. Jesus looked upon Matthew the tax collector with great mercy and chose him to be an apostle. Pope Francis experienced this gaze of Jesus at the age of 17 and discovered his own vocation. God filled the young Jorge Bergoglio with His love on that day back in 1953, September 21, the feast of Saint Matthew. God touched his life and the future Pope found his vocation. Pope Francis says that on that day, he felt in a very special way “the loving presence of God in his life” and that God was gazing upon him “with a look of tender love.” He sensed the “descent of the mercy of God.” He felt what Saint Matthew felt when Jesus called him to be an apostle.

    It is in prayer and in the sacrament of Penance that we too can experience God’s loving presence and the descent of His mercy. There is another tax collector whom we read about in the Gospel of Luke, the one who went up to the temple to pray, along with a Pharisee. This anonymous tax collector humbly trusted in divine mercy while the Pharisee boasted about his own perfection. The humble tax collector would not even lift up his eyes to heaven. He beat his breast and said: “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Jesus said: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

    Matthew got up from his station as a tax collector to follow Jesus. He became a great apostle and an evangelist. He teaches us God’s saving mercy. He gives us all hope. I invite you to pray the following prayer, the Collect from the Mass of the Feast of Saint Matthew, the secondary patron of our diocese:

    O God, who with untold mercy were pleased to choose as an Apostle Saint Matthew, the tax collector, grant that, sustained by his example and intercession, we may merit to hold firm in following you. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

    Posted on September 16, 2014, to:

  • Our hearts are moved by the terrible suffering of Christians and other innocent victims of violence in Iraq and Syria.

    Several weeks ago, Pope Francis wrote to the Secretary General of the United Nations urging the international community to do all they can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against these ethnic and religious minorities. He decried how “Christians and other religious minorities have been forced to flee from their homes and witness the destruction of their places of worship and religious patrimony.”

    Since January, about 1.2 million people have been displaced in Iraq as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has taken control of large areas of those countries. Christians and other religious minorities have been singled out for attack, simply for their faith. They were given a choice: abandon their Christian faith and convert to Islam, pay an exorbitant “infidel tax,” or die. Many have been killed. Over 100,000 have fled, refusing to renounce their Christian faith. What an example of faith and courage they are for us and for the world!

    It is tragic to see the destruction of the Church in Iraq, where the faith has been lived and the Church has been alive since the early centuries of Christianity. The Islamic State militants overtook the city of Mosul and have captured many of the Christian villages and cities in the surrounding area. The Christians have fled, leaving their homes and businesses. They had to leave behind their possessions, often escaping with only the clothes on their backs. But they left with something more valuable and precious: their faith in Christ.

    It is important that we stand in solidarity with these brothers and sisters in Christ through our prayers and financial support. Many of them are now living in community centers (churches, schools, parking lots) in the northern city of Irbil and in refugee camps elsewhere, like in Jordan, where they have been welcomed by King Abdullah and the Catholic community there. Our own Catholic Relief Services is among the organizations assisting the refugees with food, water, clothing, and shelter. CRS also is able to provide psychological and social support, trauma healing, education for the children, and help with longer-term resettlement.

    On the weekend of September 6th and 7th, we will be taking up a Special Collection for the Middle East in all of our parishes. These funds will be used by CRS and other Catholic agencies working in partnership with the local Church to meet the most urgent humanitarian needs facing the peoples in Iraq, Syria, Gaza, and surrounding countries where refugees have fled. Collection funds will also be used to support Church programs to aid persecuted Christians and to respond to rebuilding needs of Catholic dioceses in the impacted areas. Thank you for your support of this special collection.

    We cannot abandon or ignore our suffering brothers and sisters. They need to know that we are with them and have not forgotten them. We need to pray for them and help them with their needs. We and the international community must not be silent in the face of the persecution and destruction that has taken place and continues to take place.

    The contempt for human life and religious liberty displayed by the Islamic State must be opposed. Their barbaric acts of terrorism must be condemned in the most absolute terms. Such acts strike at the heart of human dignity and are an offense against all humanity. The Church teaches the right to use force for purposes of legitimate defense as well as the duty to protect and help innocent victims who are not able to defend themselves from acts of aggression. The atrocities committed by the Islamic State must be condemned and their criminal activity stopped.

    We saw the cruelty of ISIS in the murder of 40-year old American journalist James Foley two weeks ago. After two years of captivity, this Catholic man was brutally executed by decapitation. By all accounts, James Foley was a strong, loving, and courageous man of faith. Looking at the photo of him in the video before the execution, his eyes showed strength and resolve. I could not help think that this strength came from his faith. I read that in captivity, he showed courage and hope. He would pray the rosary on his fingers. His cruel death might seem like a defeat. I don’t think so, not in the larger scheme. Our Lord’s death and resurrection teaches us the victory of life and love. We pray that James Foley and so many other innocent victims of the Islamic State are received into the joy and peace of heaven.

    We can be encouraged and inspired by the example of James Foley and the thousands of other Catholics who will not deny their faith, will not embrace hatred, and will not despair. Let us be spiritually close to them. Let us pray for those who are persecuted, those who are refugees, and for those who have died. Let us pray that our nation and the international community will stop the crimes against humanity being committed in the Middle East. And let us pray that the militants of ISIS will cease their terror campaign.

    Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us!

    Posted on September 2, 2014, to:

  • Amelia Martinez holds up a sign as she and members of her family gather July 15 in support of undocumented immigrants in Oracle, Ariz. Dozens in the small community are donating their time, talent and treasure to make sure children fleeing danger in their home countries are welcomed and supported.

    America is facing a humanitarian crisis: tens of thousands of children coming to the United States unaccompanied by a parent or guardian, a majority from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, where violence has permeated the fabric of their communities. They come here to escape desperate circumstances. They have faced new perils every step along the way.

    It is important to understand the root causes of this crisis, why these children are coming to the United States. Violence and poverty in their home communities has made life all but impossible. Gangs rule in many places and recruit children. They terrorize students and teachers in schools. They control whole neighborhoods, outnumbering the police. Many young people and their parents live in constant fear.

    Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world. El Salvador and Guatemala have the 4th and 5th highest murder rate in the world. Drug cartels have strengthened their hold on these countries as shipping routes for drugs to Mexico and the United States. Children are specifically targeted to join gangs and are threatened with death or rape or both. The governments of these countries are increasingly unable to protect these children and their citizens.

    Many Americans are concerned about the violation of our immigration laws. I urge you not to look at these children through an enforcement lens, but through a child protection lens. In fact, a number of these children could qualify for refugee protection, consistent with U.S. and international law. Most importantly, I urge you to look at this issue through the lens of the Gospel, with the eyes of faith, faith in the One who said: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matthew 25:35) and who also said: Whoever receives a child such as this in my name receives me (Matthew 18:5).

    This issue is not just a political one. It is a moral one. Sadly, there has been a lot of political posturing regarding this issue, forgetting or ignoring the fact that this issue involves at-risk children! Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has called for the care and protection of these children. In a recent letter, he wrote: “Such an humanitarian emergency demands as its first measure the urgent protection and properly taking in of the children.” The Holy Father also said that the root causes of their flight should be addressed, such as violence and endemic poverty.

    I was thinking recently about the refugees taken in by other nations, such as Lebanon and Jordan, which each host one million Syrian refugees. We have 60,000 children who have entered our country since October, the majority of whom could qualify for international protection as refugees. It would be morally wrong to send them back to their home countries without due process, without the chance to go before an immigration judge. God forbid that they be forced to return to possible harm or even death at the hands of gangs and criminal networks! We need to protect these children who, without protection, are vulnerable to trafficking, kidnapping, extortion and other abuses.

    The Catholic Church continues to be at the forefront in efforts to help these children. Catholic Relief Services is working on behalf of these vulnerable children in tough neighborhoods in Central America. Catholic Charities USA is engaged in activities both at the national and local level responding to the needs of the thousands of children coming to the United States, working with government agencies to find shelter for the children, finding bilingual volunteers and certified social workers. Migration and Refugee Services (a department of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) is providing community-based services to support the reunification of unaccompanied children with their family members in the United States. This program serves as an alternative to detention, allowing children to live with their families while they undergo immigration proceedings. USCCB/MRS also provides community-based residential services to unaccompanied refugee and immigrant children through its network of 12 Unaccompanied Refugee Minor foster care programs.

    Many have asked me how they can help these children. Of course, we must keep them in our prayers. We can provide donations to Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities, or the USCCB Migration and Refugee Services. Our own diocesan Catholic Charities is looking at the possibility of how we can help with caring for these children. I also invite you to contact our elected representatives in Washington, urging them to protect these children. We need to strengthen protections for unaccompanied, migrating children, focusing on the best interest of the children. We must continue to advocate for family reunification as an essential part of immigration reform. Resettlement in the United States should be allowed for those who cannot return safely to their countries of origin. And we should assist the Central American countries in protecting their own children from violence, gangs, and other criminal organizations, the root causes of their migration north.

    We must not look at these unaccompanied minors as mere numbers or statistics. These are real children, human beings created in the image and likeness of God. They are our young brothers and sisters in Christ. They are children of God and must be treated with dignity and respect, care and compassion.

    May our Lord bless them and our Blessed Mother watch over them! And may God forgive us and our nation if we turn our backs on them. To neglect to receive and to help these children is to neglect to receive and to help Jesus.

    Posted on August 5, 2014, to:

  • “A faith centered on Christ and on the power of His grace inspired the mission of the first Christians,” says the encyclical “Lumen Fidei” (“The Light of Faith”) from Pope Francis. Pictured is the painting “Christ Salvator Mundi” by Quentin Metsys.

    Relativism claims there is no objective truth. Proclaiming and living the truth of the Gospel can be more challenging today than it was 30 or 40 years ago due to strong currents of relativism in our culture today. Even the objective and universal truth about the nature and meaning of marriage is doubted or rejected by many today. Many truths of the Gospel and of natural law are dismissed as mere “opinions.”

    In this cultural context, committed Christians are often criticized as being narrow-minded, intolerant, or even bigoted for standing up for the rights of the unborn or for the dignity of marriage. To speak of the inalienable right to life of every human being or the essential male-female complementarity for a true marriage opens one to criticism or even ostracism in some places.

    Lest one thinks that committed Christians are only criticized on issues of human life, sexuality, and marriage, attacks and accusations also arise when one affirms fundamental principles of Catholic social teaching (e.g. the universal destination of goods). We’ve seen this, for example, when Pope Francis has spoken of the “idolatry of money” and against economic injustices in the world.

    There are not two Gospels: a “pro-life” Gospel and a “social justice” Gospel. There is one Gospel, the Gospel of Jesus Christ: the Gospel of life, the Gospel of peace, the Gospel of love. Adhering to the truth of the one Gospel opens one to criticism from those who embrace contrasting political ideologies.

    Where does all this leave the committed Catholic individual, family, or community? We should remind ourselves of Jesus’ words: we are “in the world,” but we are not to be “of the world.” We are called to live Christ’s teaching and obey the commandments, to adhere to divine truth. The Church in this age of relativism is calling people back to the reality of objective truth. This is part of the new evangelization. This truth, of course, must be embraced not only theoretically, but in everyday life.

    In today’s cultural context, some committed Christians think we need to withdraw from today’s culture, kind of like the Amish community. I have much respect and admiration for our Amish brothers and sisters, but I don’t think we should withdraw from our engagement with the world. Some say we should close many of our Catholic institutions because of government attempts to coerce us to violate our beliefs (e.g. HHS mandate). Though we must be faithful to Catholic teaching in all our institutions and apostolates, I don’t think the answer is giving up or surrendering, closing or withdrawing. Though it is difficult and sometimes quite discouraging (e.g. recent defeats in our efforts to defend marriage), we are still called to evangelize our culture.

    Some fear engaging the culture because of the danger of assimilation to the values of the culture. This is indeed a danger. We see the danger especially to our children and young people who are influenced or led into error by some entertainment media or in some educational settings. That is one reason I think we need our Catholic schools today more than ever. Parents need to be especially vigilant today concerning the moral formation of their children lest they embrace the destructive relativism so prevalent in our culture.

    Not everything about today’s culture is bad. Good discernment is always needed — affirming the good and opposing the bad. True discernment is carried out in the light of faith and right reason. This is necessary for good moral decision-making and for how to live “in the world,” but not “of the world.”

    We can easily become discouraged given the increasing hostility of our culture to the perennial teachings and values of the Catholic faith. It is good to remember that there have been many periods of Church history worse than our situation today. There have always been persecutions and martyrs. There are many places in the world today where Christians are suffering and even dying for the faith.

    I think sometimes about the difficult situation of the early Christians. They lived out their beliefs in an often very hostile culture. They loved one another and built Christian communities. They loved their enemies. And they spoke out. They spread the good news of salvation in Christ. They converted many to the Lord. They weren’t discouraged because they were such a small minority in the pagan Roman Empire with its many values and practices contrary to the Gospel. They persevered in the faith. They shared the Gospel. They lived “in the world,” but not “of the world.” They accomplished, by God’s grace, a Christian revolution as Christ’s Church was planted and grew in the Mediterranean region and beyond.

    We shouldn’t let discouraging statistics, cultural trends, or political defeats get us down. How do we avoid discouragement? We must not forget the treasures we possess. We have Christ and His Gospel, the sacraments and the Church, Mary and the saints. We have hope in the One who has conquered the world by His death and resurrection. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The only thing we should ever be afraid of is losing or turning away from Him. We are called to bear witness to Him today and everyday, to live the truth with love. This is how the early Christians evangelized the culture of the Roman Empire. This is how we can evangelize our culture today. We must put the Gospel into practice in our daily lives and live as true disciples of Jesus Christ!

    Posted on July 22, 2014, to:

  • St. Maximilian Kolbe’s devotion to the Blessed Mother is studied as part of the “33 Days to Morning Glory” retreat in preparation of consecration to Jesus through the Blessed Mother. Throughout his life and to the very end, Father Kolbe experienced help and inspiration from Mary, whom he affectionately called “the Immaculate.” He had a lifetime devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and let himself be led by her hand. He established little “cities of the Immaculate” in Poland and Japan. These were centers of great apostolic and missionary work, under the banner of the Immaculate Conception.

    This Sunday, July 13th, we begin our spiritual journey of 33 days in preparation for our consecration to Jesus through Mary. So many people throughout our diocese have shared with me their joyful anticipation of these days when we will prepare as individuals and communities to make the Marian consecration on August 15th. I think it is a beautiful thing that we will be meditating on the same spiritual reflections during these 33 days, creating a real “spiritual communion” among us. We will together be guided by the lives and examples of Saint Louis Marie de Montfort, Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Saint John Paul II.

    You may wish to view the audio-visual introduction that I have prepared for the beginning of the 33 Days. It can be found on our diocesan website’s homepage.

    Why does Father Gaitley (whose book we are using) speak of the 33 days until our Marian consecration as 33 Days to MORNING GLORY? He explains on page 20: I chose this part of the title (Morning Glory) because I think it best captures what Marian consecration is all about: A new way of life in Christ. The act of consecrating oneself to Jesus through Mary marks the beginning of a gloriously new day, a new dawn, a brand new morning in one’s spiritual journey. It’s a fresh start, and it changes everything. Father Gaitley then goes on to explain how making his own consecration to Mary was an experience of a gloriously new morning in his own spiritual journey.

    My hope for the Marian consecration we will make is precisely this: a new impetus for all of us in our journey of faith. From my own experience, our mother Mary truly does help us grow in Christ and to live more fully our baptismal promises. As Father Gaitley writes: The whole goal of true devotion to Mary is our ongoing, post-baptismal transformation in Christ (page 109).

    In the second week of our 33 days of preparation, we will be guided by the wisdom of a great apostle of Marian consecration, Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe. You probably know about his heroic death as a “martyr of charity” in Auschwitz. While he was imprisoned in Auschwitz, at the end of July 1941, three prisoners escaped the concentration camp. The Nazi SS picked ten men to be starved to death in order to deter further escape attempts. One of the ten cried out for them to spare his life since he had a wife and children who needed him. Father Kolbe stepped forward and asked that they take him in place of the man who had cried out. And so they did.

    Father Kolbe led the other condemned prisoners in prayer and songs as they lay starving in an underground bunker. He encouraged them in faith. After two weeks, they were all dead, except for Father Kolbe. The guards then gave him a lethal injection of carbolic acid. Witnesses say he died praying the Hail Mary. His body was cremated the next day, August 15th, 1941, the feast of Our Lady’s Assumption.

    In Auschwitz, a place of unspeakable hatred and evil, Father Kolbe brought goodness and love. He made himself like Christ by laying down his life for a brother. Throughout his life and to the very end, Father Kolbe experienced help and inspiration from Mary, whom he affectionately called “the Immaculate.” He had a lifetime devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and let himself be led by her hand. He established little “cities of the Immaculate” in Poland and Japan. These were centers of great apostolic and missionary work, under the banner of the Immaculate Conception.

    Like Father Kolbe, we can find in Mary Immaculate a support in difficult times and a sure guide to holiness. We allow ourselves, like Father Kolbe, to be led to Jesus by the hand of Mary. The day before we make our consecration, August 14th, is the feast of Saint Maximilian Kolbe. It is the day he was killed by that lethal injection. We know that his life was not a defeat. His death was a victory, a triumph of love over hate, of grace over sin.

    My brothers and sisters, Saint Maximilian Kolbe teaches us that when we welcome Mary into our lives, she brings us to a deeper knowledge and love of the Gospel. And when we consecrate ourselves to her, we become instruments of divine love and mercy in her hands. So let’s let Mary take us by the hand and lead us on our pilgrim way to heaven!

    Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe, pray for us! O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

    Posted on July 8, 2014, to: