• 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:

  • A stained-glass window of the Epiphany at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne.

    At the Mass I concelebrated this past November 24th with Pope Francis in Rome, the Holy Father likened the Church to the moon which does not have any light of its own to give, but reflects the light of the sun. So the Church does not shine its own light on humanity, rather the Church is to reflect the light of Christ. This image of the Church as “the mystery of the moon” is a theme from the Fathers of the Church in the early centuries of Christianity. The Church is like the moon, all its light reflected from the sun, from Christ, the light of humanity.

    I was thinking about this theme as we approach the Solemnity of the Epiphany. The theme of light abounds throughout the Christmas season. At Christmas Midnight Mass, we heard the announcement from the prophet Isaiah: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shone. On the first Christmas, the shepherds were watching over their flock at night when the angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them.

    In the Mass of Christmas Day, we heard the following words from the Prologue of Saint John’s Gospel regarding the Incarnation: What came to be through Him (the Word) was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

    The theme of light emerges again on the Solemnity of the Epiphany. The word Epiphany means “manifestation.” On this solemnity, we celebrate the manifestation of the Christ Child to the world as the light of salvation for all peoples, represented in the figure of the Magi. Significantly, a star guided the Magi to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem. The Magi were guided to Christ, the Light of the World, by the light of a star. They found the goal of their quest for “the King of the Jews” below the star. Saint Matthew tells us that they were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage.

    In my family, we always placed a star on the top of our Christmas tree. My parents taught us that the star represented the star of Bethlehem. Some families put an angel on the top of their Christmas trees. It is interesting that some scholars, following Saint John Chrysostom, hold that the star was really an angel who appeared to the Magi as light.

    As we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany this weekend and as we begin this new year 2015, we contemplate Jesus as the light and salvation of the world as well as our vocation to be the moon that shines the light of Christ in our lives and in the world. This is the universal and missionary vocation of the Church. We are called to spread throughout the world the light of the Gospel, a source of life and renewal for every person and for humanity.

    To spread the light of Christ to others, it is first necessary for us to be guided ourselves by His light. We must be illumined by the sun (the Son) if we are to give light like the moon. We are not able to spread to others the light of Christ unless we are first illumined ourselves by His light, by His life and teachings. It is good at this time of New Year’s resolutions to be resolved to live this new year in the light of faith. This includes a regular discipline of daily prayer and fidelity to Sunday Mass. In prayer and in the Eucharist, Jesus enlightens us with His wisdom, truth, and love. Jesus is not just some external light, but a light within us, the light who gives meaning and purpose to our lives. We need His light. We need His salvation. Otherwise, we are afraid and can be overcome by the darkness of the world.

    At the Epiphany, Jesus was revealed to the Magi as the light of the nations, the light of all peoples. Jesus is the light of the nations today, yet this may not seem so evident in the context of the world today. In a sense, we can say that we need a new epiphany of Christ in the world. Is this not the mission of the Church, to be the moon that reflects the light of the sun? Is this not our mission as individuals and as a community of faith, to reflect in all we say and do the light of God who in His love came to us in the manger of Bethlehem? We can reflect this light only if we remain united to Him and if, like the Magi, we worship Him.

    I invite you to meditate this weekend on the mystery of the Epiphany and the adoration of the Magi. The Magi are an example for us to open our minds and hearts to Christ and to offer Him our gifts. May Mary, the Mother of God, help us in the new year to be faithful disciples of her Son, the light of the nations!

    Posted on December 30, 2014, to:

  • 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: