• This coming Sunday, Divine Mercy Sunday, the Church will receive a great gift: two new saints. The canonization of two modern-day Popes, John XXIII and John Paul II, is an occasion for us all to celebrate and give thanks. How blessed the Church has been by their witness to the Gospel and their holiness of life!

    I remember as a young seminarian reading Pope John XXIII’s account of his inner life entitled Journal of a Soul, a kind of spiritual autobiography. Reading that book touched me deeply 30 some years ago. In reflecting on the purpose of his life two years before he died, Pope John wrote six maxims of perfection that are great counsel for us in our own spiritual journeys:

    1. Desire only to be virtuous and holy, and so be pleasing to God.

    2. Direct all things, thoughts as well as actions, to the increase, the service and the glory of Holy Church.

    3. Recognize that I have been set here by God, and therefore remain perfectly serene about all that happens, not only as regards myself but with regard to the Church, continuing to work and suffer with Christ, for her good.

    4. Entrust myself at all times to Divine Providence.

    5. Always acknowledge my own nothingness.

    6. Always arrange my day in an intelligent and orderly manner.

    I still today find these maxims to be gems of spiritual wisdom. Pope John was a man of great humility who always recognized that the disciple is not above his master (Matthew 10:24). He loved the Lord and the people he was called to serve: in Italy as a priest, then as a papal diplomat in Bulgaria, Turkey, and France, then as Patriarch of Venice, and then as Pope. He was called “Good Pope John.” His goodness touched the hearts of millions of people.

    At the Mass beatifying John XXIII in the year 2000, Pope John Paul II mentioned the image of Pope John’s smiling face and his two arms outstretched embracing the whole world. He said: How many people were won over by Pope John’s simplicity of heart! Pope John Paul also spoke about Pope John’s “prophetic insight” in convening the Second Vatican Council which “opened a season of hope for Christians and for humanity.”

    The holiness of Pope John XXIII is summed up in his last testament to the Church where he wrote: What counts the most in life is blessed Jesus Christ, his holy Church, his Gospel, truth and goodness.

    I don’t know where to begin in writing a bit about a man whom I knew to be a saint when in his presence: Pope John Paul II. Perhaps a good place to begin is to recall the words with which he began his historic 27-year pontificate: Be not afraid and Open wide the doors to Christ. The great John Paul had an unshakeable faith in Christ. He taught us to trust always in the divine mercy. He witnessed to us the hope of the Gospel.

    Pope John Paul II was a great evangelizer, traveling as Pope on 104 pastoral visits outside Italy, including seven trips to the United States. He did so to bring the Gospel, like Saint Paul, to the nations. He wrote 14 wonderful encyclicals and so many other writings and books. He gave us the theology of the body, amazing insights on human love. He established the World Youth Days. And we all know how he was a major influence in the collapse of the Iron Curtain.

    It is impossible to write in this short column about all the many accomplishments of Pope John Paul II, as a priest and bishop in Poland and as the shepherd of the universal Church. These accomplishments were the fruit of something deeper, the reason he is being canonized, namely, his sanctity.

    I would call Pope John Paul II a radical disciple of Jesus Christ. He had an inner bond with Christ, sustained by his deep prayer life. His deepest insights about our human condition and our calling were expressed in words that he helped craft in the document Guadium et Spes at the Second Vatican Council: Christ reveals man fully to himself and makes his supreme calling clear. John Paul believed this with all his heart and thus taught that “man cannot fully find himself” except by imitating Jesus Christ in the “sincere gift of himself” to others. This is what John Paul II taught and lived: the gift of himself in love. He lived this to the end. He taught us how to live and how to die “in the Lord.” He taught us not to be afraid and to open our hearts to Christ.

    Pope John Paul’s spiritual life included a profound relationship with our Blessed Mother. His motto as bishop and pope was “Totus tuus,” “All Yours.” He placed everything in the hands of our Blessed Mother. In his last will and testament, he said that he was leaving everything and everyone with whom his life and vocation brought him into contact in Mary’s motherly hands. Mary was his guide since his youth. He entrusted his life and his service to the Church to Mary.

    Pope John Paul II exhibited a strength and courage that came to him from God. And he communicated that strength to us and to the world. It is the strength of faith, of belief in Christ as the Redeemer of man. This was the title of his first encyclical: The Redeemer of Man, the thread that, according to Pope Benedict, ran through all the others.

    Even when Pope John Paul’s physical strength declined, his spiritual strength remained. This was because of his faith. He embraced the cross with Jesus and showed the whole world through his suffering how to be one with Jesus.

    We have all been blessed by the witness and example of these two amazing popes who will be canonized by Pope Francis this coming Sunday, April 27th. Let us thank the Lord for the gifts of these two new saints who led the Church with such love and fidelity. Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II, pray for us!

    Posted on April 22, 2014, to:

  • Priests from the South Bend area of the diocese renew their priestly promises at the chrism Mass celebrated by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades on Monday, April 14, at St. Matthew Cathedral. Bishop Rhoades said in his homily that chrism evokes strength. He said, “God says of King David in Psalm 89, ‘With My holy oil I have anointed him, that My hand may always be with him and that My arm may make him strong.’ These words can properly be applied to our priests, men anointed and strengthened by God to be servants in His Kingdom. My brother priests, at ordination our hands were anointed with chrism, a sign of the Holy Spirit and His power! God took our hands to make them His own in the world, to make them instruments of service to His people. In the Old Testament, anointing was the sign of being taken into service. Kings, prophets and priests were anointed for God’s service. We were anointed for God’s service, to continue the mission of Jesus.”

    Our forty days of Lenten penance have come to an end. We sing again the joyful Alleluia.

    Did you ever wonder what the word Alleluia means? Perhaps you already know. It comes from the Hebrew hallal, meaning praise the Lord. We praise God with joy and gratitude, especially at Easter. We rejoice that Christ has conquered death, that He is risen from the dead. We can repeat with Saint Paul his taunt of death: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” Death is now like a bee without a stinger. Its stinger is lodged in the body of the crucified and risen Christ. And so we sing Praise the Lord, Alleluia!

    We sing Alleluia at Easter because of the new life, the divine life, we have received through Baptism. The power of Christ’s Resurrection touches us in all the sacraments, beginning with Baptism when we were buried into Christ’s death and risen up with Him, becoming new creatures, adopted children of God. At the Easter Vigil, in our diocese and in churches throughout the world, men and women (catechumens) will be incorporated into the Church through Baptism and become our brothers and sisters in Christ. And so we sing with joy, Alleluia!

    Pope Francis has called us to be joyful missionary disciples of the Lord Jesus. It’s not just a matter of singing Alleluia at Mass. We need to live the joy of Easter in our lives. Regarding the mission of evangelization, our Holy Father wrote: an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral. Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow… (Evangelii Gaudium #10).

    As believers in the Resurrection of Jesus, our hearts should be joyful. Pope Francis writes: There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter (EV 6). This exhortation to joy doesn’t mean a superficial kind of happiness, but an interior joy, the joy that is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is a joy that endures even in the midst of suffering and trials. We see this deep spiritual joy in the lives of the Church’s martyrs. They were witnesses not only of the death of Christ, but also of His Resurrection. They sang alleluia in their hearts as they faced death.

    The Gospel at the Easter Vigil this year is Saint Matthew’s account of the angel announcing to the two women at the tomb: He is not here, for He has been raised just as He said. Saint Matthew tells us that they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to His disciples. This is the missionary joy we are all called to have as we strive to bear witness to the Risen Christ in the ordinary circumstances of our life.

    As Christ’s Church, as a community and as individuals, we are called by the Lord to go forth to bring the joy of the Gospel to all. The Lord will help us to overcome any fear. We should fear more “not going out” to others, not being missionary disciples. By its nature, the Church is missionary, a Church which goes forth. It must not be turned in on itself. Such self-centeredness is a sign of selfishness and spiritual sloth.

    May the Holy Spirit fill us with joy and renewed ardor born of Christ’s resurrection, that we may bring to all the Good News of Our Lord’s triumph over death! Alleluia! Happy Easter!

    Posted on April 15, 2014, to:

  • This stained-glass image depicts the Crucifixion of Jesus. The window is in St. Hedwig Church in South Bend.

    Holy Week is the heart of the whole liturgical year. We accompany Jesus on His journey to Calvary and to the Resurrection. Jesus’ earthly journey reached its crowning moment when He went up to Jerusalem to suffer and die for us.

    Pope Francis teaches the following: In Holy Week we live the crowning moment of this journey, of this plan of love that runs through the entire history of the relations between God and humanity. Jesus enters Jerusalem to take his last step with which he sums up the whole of his existence. He gives himself without reserve, he keeps nothing for himself, not even life.

    How will we spend this Holy Week? Will it truly be “holy” or will it be no different from other weeks of the year? How can we live Holy Week? Our Holy Father says that living Holy Week means entering more deeply into the logic of God, into the logic of the Cross, which is not primarily that of suffering and death, but rather that of love and the gift of self which brings life. It means entering into the logic of the Gospel.

    The liturgies of Holy Week help us to enter more deeply into the logic of God, the logic of the Cross, the logic of the Gospel. This is especially true of the liturgies of the Easter Triduum which begins with the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper and ends with Vespers on Easter Sunday. In these liturgies, we celebrate the greatest mysteries of the redemption. Saint Augustine called this time the triduum of the crucified, buried and risen.

    I invite and encourage you to attend the Holy Thursday Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, if you are able. At this Mass, we remember the Last Supper. We give thanks for the great gift of the Holy Eucharist. The Son of God offers Himself to us. He gives us His Body and Blood to be with us always. On this night when Jesus was betrayed, Jesus showed his love for us by giving us the Eucharist and instituting the priesthood.

    At the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the priest washes the feet of twelve people, recalling Jesus’ washing the feet of the Twelve Apostles. This represents the service and charity of Christ. We remember the new commandment of Jesus, that we love one another as He has loved us.

    I look forward to celebrating the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper at 7:30 PM at Saint Matthew’s Cathedral this year. Each year, I ask our seminarians to join me at this Mass. I hope we have a full cathedral this year.

    At the end of the Holy Thursday Mass, the Blessed Sacrament is transferred in a procession to a place of repose. There people can pray in adoration throughout the rest of the evening. I always try to read the Gospel account of the Agony in the Garden on Holy Thursday night. It is good to meditate on this sorrowful mystery, reflecting on our Lord’s deep human distress as He faced a violent death, yet with absolute trust, embraced His Father’s will with love.

    On Good Friday, we commemorate the Passion and Death of the Lord. It is the only day of the year when Mass is not celebrated. It is a day of fast and abstinence.

    I invite all to attend the liturgy of the Celebration of the Passion of the Lord, held in the afternoon. I will be celebrating the liturgy this year at 1:00 PM at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne. In this solemn liturgy, we hear Saint John’s account of the Passion of Jesus. Solemn Intercessions are prayed, followed by the solemn Adoration of the Holy Cross. Holy Communion, consecrated at the Mass on Holy Thursday, is distributed. The liturgy ends in silence.

    Good Friday is a solemn day of remembrance of Christ’s suffering and death. It is a day when we encounter in a powerful way “the logic of God: the logic of the Cross, the logic of Love.” We can feel the emotion of Jesus dying for us and giving Himself for us. It is also a day to realize that following Him means giving of ourselves in love of others, especially those who are forgotten, those in need of our love and compassion. I think it is especially appropriate that we take up a collection on Good Friday for the works of the Church in the Holy Land, to assist our suffering brothers and sisters in the very land where our Lord suffered and died for us.

    Holy Saturday should be a quiet day. That’s not easy in our culture today. In the Roman Missal we read: On Holy Saturday, the Church waits at the Lord’s tomb in prayer and fasting, meditating on his Passion and Death and on his Descent into Hell, and awaiting his Resurrection.

    The Easter Vigil is “the greatest and most noble of all solemnities.” It must take place after nightfall on Holy Saturday. Each year I celebrate the Easter Vigil at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. This year, it begins at 9:00 PM.

    The Easter Vigil has four parts: the Lucernarium (the blessing of the Easter fire and Lighting of the Paschal Candle); the Liturgy of the Word; the Baptismal Liturgy; and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. There are many readings at the Easter Vigil, from Genesis to the Gospel. The Church meditates upon the history of salvation, from Creation to the Redemption. On this holy night, we come to the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan with the Resurrection of His Son. It is the night when our catechumens are reborn in Christ through Baptism, strengthened by the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, and fed with the Bread of Heaven, the Holy Eucharist.

    The Easter Triduum continues on Easter Sunday when Mass is celebrated with great solemnity. We renew our baptismal promises at Mass on Easter Sunday. The water blessed at the Easter Vigil is sprinkled upon us, reminding us of our Baptism when we received the new life of the Risen Christ.

    Let us live Holy Week well this year! It is a time of grace which the Lord gives us to draw closer to Him, to walk in His footsteps, and to bring the light of His love to the world!

    Posted on April 8, 2014, to:

  • In my last two columns, I reflected on the Sunday Gospels of the woman at the well and of the man born blind. These profound passages from Saint John’s Gospel have a baptismal perspective: Jesus promising living water to the Samaritan woman; and Jesus, the Light of the world, giving sight to the man born blind. This Sunday’s Gospel, again from Saint John, also has a baptismal significance. The raising of Lazarus from the dead points to our rising in faith to a new and eternal life through Baptism. Water, light, and life!

    These Sundays of Lent form a stimulating baptismal journey since the first centuries of Christianity. These Gospels continue to be proclaimed and have particular meaning for our catechumens preparing for Baptism at the Easter Vigil. They have meaning for all of us as we strive, with the help of God’s grace, to live our baptismal promises.

    We are all familiar with the miracle of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. This story from the 11th chapter of John’s Gospel is frequently chosen for funeral Masses. It is good when we commend our deceased brothers and sisters to the Lord that we hear the words of Jesus to Lazarus’ sister Martha, words that give us comfort and hope: I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

    We can only imagine the surprise, maybe even consternation, of those who heard Jesus say those words. Martha believed Jesus’ words. A short time later, all were able to see the truth of Jesus’ words when, at His command, Lazarus (who had already been in the tomb for four days) came forth alive. The truth of Jesus’ proclamation that He is the resurrection and the life would become even more apparent on Easter Sunday morning with His own resurrection, the final victory over evil and death.

    The raising of Lazarus was a sign of Christ’s power over death. He is “the life” who pulls down that wall that can seem so impenetrable to us: the wall of death. It shows us Christ’s lordship over death. Christ gives us a trustworthy hope of life beyond death. We need Martha’s faith in the midst of the doubts and fears we might encounter in the face of tragedies, especially in the face of death. When Jesus asked Martha if she believed He was the resurrection and the life, she replied: Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.

    We express this faith in the resurrection in the beautiful prayer in the Roman Missal, part of the Preface at Funeral Masses: Lord, for your faithful people life is changed, not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death, we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven.

    While the Gospel of the raising of Lazarus shows Jesus’ power over physical death, it also points to Jesus’ power over spiritual death. In this vein, Saint Augustine saw the raising of Lazarus as a symbol of the sacrament of Penance. Just as burial clothes bound Lazarus, sin binds human beings. Jesus told the people to unbind the burial bands from Lazarus as he came forth from the tomb. So the Lord, through His priests, unbinds sinners from the chains of sin, from spiritual death in the sacrament of Penance. We truly experience new life, a kind of second Baptism, through this sacrament of God’s mercy.

    Saint Augustine wrote in a homily on this Gospel: Everyone who sins, dies. Every man fears the death of the flesh, few the death of the soul. In regard to the death of the flesh, which without a doubt must someday come, all guard against its coming: that is the reason for their labors. Man, destined to die, labors to avert his dying; and yet man, destined to live in eternity does not labor to avoid sinning. Lent is a season that reminds us to labor to avoid sinning. This is the point of our Lenten penance and sacrifices: interior conversion.

    It is our mission as Christians to proclaim that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. It means we live as a people of hope and that we spread that hope to others. Saint Peter wrote: Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope (1 Peter 3:15). Of course, that hope must first be real and personal, based on our encounter with Christ and His mercy, so that we can witness to the joy that arises from the gift of living hope we have received. This is the witness that evangelizes, the witness of joyful and hope-filled disciples of Jesus, those who believe that Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life.

    As we approach Holy Week, let us pray that our own faith may be strengthened, so that we, like Martha, can place all our hope in Him who is the resurrection and the life!

    May the intercession of our Blessed Mother strengthen our faith and hope in her Son, especially in moments of trial and difficulty!

    Posted on April 1, 2014, to:

  • “In the Easter liturgy, the light of the paschal candle lights countless other candles. Faith is passed on to another, just as one candle is lighted from another,” says the encyclical “Lumen Fidei” (“The Light of Faith”) from Pope Francis. Pictured are worshippers holding candles during the Easter Vigil at St. Jude Church in Mastic Beach, N.Y. In Bishop Rhoades’ column this week, he writes, “By opening our eyes to faith, to the light that comes from God, Jesus continues to cure us from the darkness of confusion and sin present in the world.”

    On our way to Easter, we walk along with those who are preparing to receive Baptism as we prepare to renew our own baptismal promises. On the Sundays of Lent, the liturgy takes us on a kind of baptismal journey through the readings of John’s Gospel. In this past Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus promised the gift of “living water” to the Samaritan woman. In this Sunday’s Gospel, we will hear the story of Jesus healing the man born blind. It is another amazing story with deep and profound meaning.

    Jesus met the man blind from birth on the streets of Jerusalem. He anointed the man’s eyes and sent him to wash in the nearby pool of Siloam. The name “Siloam” means “sent,” symbolizing Jesus as the One sent by the Father to wash away the sins of the world and to purify us through the waters of Baptism.

    The blind man obeyed Jesus’ instruction and was cured of his physical blindness. But that was only the beginning of the story. Jesus was intent on doing infinitely more for him — to bring him to a greater light, the vision of faith in Him as the Light of the world. Jesus gave this blind man physical sight so that he would come to see with the new eyes of faith the truth about Him and about life and its destiny. As Jesus once said: I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12).

    After the blind man received the gift of physical sight, he encountered the Pharisees. The Pharisees confronted him, asking him how he was now able to see. They told him that Jesus was not from God because He did this cure on the Sabbath. The man still insisted that the one who cured him was a prophet. The Pharisees then sent for the man’s parents who testified that he had been born blind. But the parents were afraid and told the Pharisees to question their son about the man who opened his eyes.

    The Pharisees again questioned the man who had been born blind, insisting that Jesus was a sinner. They ridiculed the man and accused him of being a disciple of Jesus. The man rejected their assertion that the one who cured him was a sinner. The Pharisees then threw him out of the synagogue. When Jesus heard about this, He came to the man and asked him: Do you believe in the Son of Man? This is truly the climax of the story. The man answered: Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him? Jesus told him that is was He. The man then said: I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped Jesus.

    Notice the journey of faith of the man born blind. At first, he didn’t know who Jesus was. Gradually, he came to recognize Jesus as a man of God, a prophet, then as the Son of Man. He now not only had new physical sight, but spiritual sight. The light of Christ had penetrated his heart. A whole new world opened up before him when he said: I do believe, Lord.

    By opening our eyes to faith, to the light that comes from God, Jesus continues to cure us from the darkness of confusion and sin present in this world. He gives us His light to purify our hearts and to renew our Christian love. He gives us God’s light. In Lent, we confess our blindness, our shortsightedness, and especially our pride, that sin which blinded the Pharisees from seeing and accepting the truth about Jesus.

    Through Baptism, we received the light of Christ. We will remember this in a dramatic way in the liturgy of the Easter Vigil. But after Baptism, we can fall back into darkness because of our sins. That’s why we have this season of Lent, a time of conversion and spiritual renewal, to live our true identity as children of light.

    At the end of the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus reveals to the blind man whom he had healed that he had come into the world for judgment, to separate the blind who can be healed from those who do not allow themselves to be healed because they consider themselves healthy. We can all be blinded by selfishness and pride. Jesus continues to cure us from this, like He cured the blind man. He does so in the Sacrament of Penance. And His light illumines us in the celebration of the Eucharist.

    I mentioned that a whole new world opened up to the blind man when he professed his faith in Jesus and worshipped him. He entered into a new relationship with God by following Christ. The same happens to us. We learn to adapt our life to the will of God and to bring Christ’s light to our neighbors. When we discover Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, our lives are changed. The Lord teaches us wisdom and fills our hearts with love, if we but open ourselves to Him.

    As we continue our Lenten journey, let us imitate the man born blind by embracing and worshipping Christ, the Light of the world!

    Posted on March 25, 2014, to: