• “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” — The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The nation honors the legacy of Rev. King, the slain civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, with a national holiday, observed Jan. 16 this year.

    By Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades

    I am about to leave for a weeklong visit to Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. As a member of the board of directors of Catholic Relief Services, each year I travel to visit CRS projects in different countries. You may recall that last year I visited Haiti and shared with you my experience there. I am looking forward now to meeting our CRS staff and the poor whom they serve in another part of the world, the Holy Land. CRS works in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza implementing programs focused on emergency preparedness and response, livelihoods, peace building and youth development. Please remember us and those we visit in your prayers, especially praying for peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, an end to violence in the region and a just resolution of conflicts.

    During the week I am away, our nation will celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 16 and the inauguration of Donald Trump as president on Jan. 20. I was thinking how providential it is that the presidential inauguration will take place during the same week that our nation celebrates Dr. King. And then, in the following week, we will have the March for Life in Washington, which I look forward to attending with our diocesan delegation.

    During the week when I will be visiting a region that is deeply divided and polarized, where violence and terrorism is not uncommon, our nation will hopefully be brought together after a polarizing presidential election. It was sad to see the divisiveness that spilled over into families, workplaces, groups of friends and even church communities. Opposing viewpoints are common in election seasons. Political debate is healthy when people engage one another with respect and constructive dialogue. Unfortunately, this past election season revealed a dark side in politics today that, if we are not careful, can harm the common good which should be the aim of politics.

    I think of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and what he can teach us at this time in our nation’s history. At a time of deep racial divisions in our country, this Baptist preacher called people to stand together for racial justice and an end to racial discrimination and segregation. His witness inspired millions. He opted for non-violence as the Christian approach, and the only truly effective approach, for ensuring and safeguarding human dignity.

    In the public square and in politics, it is important that we bear witness to the Gospel, stand firm in the faith, and uphold the values we cherish as disciples of Jesus. This includes loving and respecting those who do not share our faith and values. We should be passionate about the protection of human life and dignity from the moment of conception until natural death, about justice for all people, including our immigrant brothers and sisters, about defending religious liberty, about protecting and caring for creation, and many other issues of importance. At the same time, we are called to work together constructively, to dialogue respectfully, and not to adopt a mindset of hostility towards those who disagree with us. We must strive to work for unity in pursuing the common good, despite differences, without falling into moral relativism.

    One of my favorite writings of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” When he was imprisoned for participation in a civil rights demonstration, he wrote about Christian discipleship and why he could not obey unjust laws. He was not a moral relativist. This Baptist preacher quoted two Catholic Doctors of the Church. “I would agree with Saint Augustine,” he wrote, “that an unjust law is no law at all;” and with Saint Thomas Aquinas “that an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law.” Interestingly, that very same week in April 1963, Pope Saint John XXIII, in his encyclical on peace, “Pacem in terris,” quoted the very same passage from Saint Thomas Aquinas. He wrote: “laws and decrees enacted in contravention of the moral order, and hence of the divine will, can have no binding form in conscience.”

    The words of Dr. King and Pope John remind us of important truths as we prepare for the presidential inauguration and the March for Life. They remind us that permissive abortion laws, like laws that promoted racial segregation, violate the higher law, are unjust and must be opposed in a non-violent way. They remind us of our Christian obligation always to defend the truth about the dignity of the human person, born or unborn, black or white, young or old, healthy or sick, and documented or undocumented. They remind us that the Church can never remain silent in the face of injustice. At the same time, the way of Jesus teaches us that we are to love those who oppose us in fulfilling our Christian obligation. In fact, love of enemies is part of living the Gospel, perhaps the most difficult part.

    As we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and approach Inauguration Day, it is good to remember the courageous struggle for civil rights led by Dr. King. The struggle for justice goes on today. It includes the defense of the right to life of the innocent unborn and of the sick and aged. It includes efforts to combat poverty and to ensure the availability of jobs that lift people out of poverty by providing just compensation. It includes efforts to provide affordable health care for all while protecting the rights of conscience. It includes a quality education for all our children and the fundamental right of parents to choose a school for their children. It includes the protection of the stability of the marriage bond and the institution of the family. It includes the protection of the security and health of our communities from violence and the dangers of drugs and pornography. Let us pray that President Trump and his administration, together with Congress and the Supreme Court, will pursue true justice in their service of our nation!

    When he spoke to the U.S. Congress in 2015, Pope Francis recalled the march that Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery “as part of the campaign to fulfill his ‘dream’ of full civil and political rights for African Americans.” The Holy Father said: “That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of ‘dreams.’  Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.” Pope Francis encouraged Americans to resolve “to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our ‘neighbors’ and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best.”

    Inspired by the witness of Dr. Martin Luther King, may we heed these words of our Holy Father. Let us pray for our government and for unity in our nation in the tireless and demanding pursuit of justice and the common good!

    Posted on January 10, 2017, to:

  • The following is the text of the homily of Bishop Rhoades at Mass on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, at Saint Mary Church in Huntington on December 31, 2016:

    Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades and several altar servers from the parish of St. Mary, Huntington, make the sign of the cross before the parish crèche following a vigil Mass on the evening of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, Dec. 31.

    Every year on January 1st, on this Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, we hear in the first reading the ancient priestly blessing from the Old Testament book of Numbers: “The Lord bless you and keep you!  The Lord let His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”

    This ancient blessing was entrusted by God, through Moses, to Aaron and his sons, that is, to the priests of Israel. It was entrusted to them as they led the people on the journey of the Exodus through the Sinai desert. Later, this blessing was used in the temple liturgy in Jerusalem. The Church carries on the tradition of this blessing, not only today, but often throughout the year since it is one of the options the priest can use for the blessing at the end of Mass. It is a prayer for God’s protection and for grace and peace — three gifts that sum up our aspirations as human beings. In our journey through life, and especially at the beginning of a new year, we ask the Lord for these blessings.

    We ask the Lord to let His face shine upon us. What does this mean? God’s face, which we see in the face of the Child Jesus in the manger, is a face of mercy and love. To ask God to shine His face upon us is to ask Him to bless us with His mercy and love. We ask the Lord to be gracious to us: to bestow upon us His saving grace, His divine life. And we ask Him to look upon us with kindness and to give us His peace.

    The Catholic Church observes January 1st as the World Day of Peace. Today, at the beginning of a new year, we pray for peace in the world, the peace that begins in our own families. We remember in prayer all who are suffering the ravages of violence, war, and terrorism, in the Holy Land and the Middle East and in so many other places where there is conflict and discord. We also pray for peace in our own country, especially in cities like Chicago where the murder rate continues to climb. We ask for God’s gift of peace in this new year 2017.

    The great priestly blessing from the book of Numbers, “The Lord let His face shine upon you,” fell upon Mary and Joseph in the most unique way, for they had the experience of beholding the true face of God. In gazing upon the face of the little infant Jesus, they were gazing upon the face of God. From the face of Jesus, a new light issued forth upon the world, the light of salvation, the greatest blessing for humanity.

    In today’s Gospel, we heard that “the shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph and the infant lying in the manger.” The grace and peace invoked in that ancient Jewish blessing descended upon the shepherds as they adored the child in the manger. And it descends upon us when we adore the Lord Jesus, especially in the Blessed Sacrament.

    The first person to be swept up by this great blessing from God was Mary. She was the first to see the face of God made man in the small fruit of her womb. Elizabeth rightly called her “blessed among women.” We honor her today as the “Mother of God.” She is the first of the blessed, the one who bore the blessing, the woman who received Jesus into herself and brought Him forth for the whole human family.

    Today’s Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, is the oldest feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Church’s calendar. We honor her who played such a great role in the mystery of the Incarnation, in the accomplishment of God’s plan of salvation. Her “yes” to God’s invitation to be the mother of His Incarnate Son teaches us to say “yes” to God’s will and to be open to His grace.

    Thanks to Mary’s “yes,” Our Savior was born. As Saint Paul wrote to the Galatians: “God sent His Son, born of a woman, … so that we might receive adoption as sons. As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’  So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then also an heir, through God.”

    We cannot foresee what this New Year 2017 will bring, but we can live each day knowing that God is our loving Father, that His Son has saved us, and that He has given us His Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts. We can live each day also knowing that Mary, the Mother of God, is also our mother, the Mother of the Church, who intercedes for us with her Son.

    As we begin this New Year, I invoke upon you and all your families and loved ones the ancient priestly blessing: “The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”

    Posted on January 3, 2017, to:

  • By Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades

    The adoration of the Magi is depicted in a 14th century painting by Giotto di Bondone. The feast of the Nativity of Christ, a holy day of obligation, is celebrated Dec. 25.

    “Let us all rejoice in the Lord, for our Savior has been born in the world. Today true peace has come down to us from heaven” (Entrance Antiphon from Christmas Mass during the Night).

    The message of the angel to the shepherds on the first Christmas remains ever new: “Today in the city of David a Savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.” The message of the birth of Jesus our Savior was spoken over 2,000 years ago, but it is a message that the Church still proclaims and will always proclaim, the message of Christmas, the message that “the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” is the Savior, not only for people long ago, but our Savior, the Savior of people today.

    Given all the advances in science and technology, especially in recent years, some may feel that we don’t really need a savior. There are those who consider man to be a self-sufficient master of his own destiny. Yet, in the depths of our being, we know otherwise. Despite humanity’s many advances, we still have poverty, injustice, hatred, violence, loneliness, addictions and other ills. In a word, there is still sin and there is death, from which no one can escape. Yes, we do need a Savior. So the message of Christmas has relevance and gives hope: “our Savior has been born in the world.”

    The Church’s task, our task, is to receive the Savior into our hearts and lives and to witness to the Savior in our words and deeds. “The Church in this world is the sacrament of salvation, the sign and the instrument of the communion of God and men” (Catechism 780). We are a community saved by Christ. We draw our strength and nourishment from His Word and His Eucharistic Body. And then we bear witness to Christ our Savior in the world. We share in His saving mission to overcome evil with good, to bring light to those in darkness, healing to those who are suffering, in sum: to bear witness to the truth and beauty and joy of the Gospel of our Savior.

    Christ does not save us from the world. He came into the world, so that through Him the world might be saved. In order to save us, the Son of God became one of us. He assumed our human nature in order to accomplish our salvation in it. He came in the flesh. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). He became truly man while remaining truly God. This is the mystery we celebrate at Christmas, the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God. It is the distinctive sign of Christian faith, a mystery unheard of in other religions. The Church confesses that “Jesus is inseparably true God and true man. He is truly the Son of God who, without ceasing to be God and Lord, became a man and our brother” (CCC 469). Why? Precisely: to save us! As we profess in the Nicene Creed: “For us men and for our salvation, He came down from heaven.”

    God revealed to Mary and Joseph that they were to name their child, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, “Jesus,” a name which means “God saves.” This is Jesus’ mission. Pope Benedict XVI once said that Jesus is “the face of the God who saves.” He gives life and this life is grace. God sent His Son into the world to fill the world with His grace. When we gaze upon the infant Jesus in the Christmas manger, we see the face of God. We see the immortal Life which became mortal. In the face of the baby Jesus, we see God’s love and humility. In Jesus, we receive the power of God’s saving grace, the grace that sanctifies us.

    God shows us His face, full of grace and mercy, in Jesus. When we open ourselves in faith to receive His grace and mercy, we receive a share in His own divine life. This is why God became man: in order to give us a share in His own divinity. At Christmas, we celebrate the amazing grace which the Lord’s mercy bestows on us. This is the message of Christmas: the good news of salvation. And that is why we sing with the angels: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.” This peace is the fruit of God’s love which is grace, mercy, and truth. And together with this peace, we have hope, the hope which has its foundation in the gift of salvation, of being set free from the darkness of sin and death. Christmas is truly a feast of hope.

    The grace, peace and joy of Christmas is for all people. Jesus was born as the Savior of the world. In the Child Jesus in the manger, we behold the Truth that sets us free and the Love that transforms our lives. We adore Him at our Christmas liturgies. Like the shepherds who adored Jesus in the manger, we are also called to spread the good news of the birth of our Savior. The Gospel of Luke tells us that the shepherds “made known the message that had been told them about this child.” We should not be afraid to share the joy of our faith with others. In fact, we have an obligation to do so: to bear witness to Jesus the Savior so that others may encounter His love, grace, and peace. As Saint Paul wrote: “God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). The Church, as the universal sacrament of salvation, has been entrusted with this truth and must go out and bring this truth to the world. Let us not be afraid to share with others the truth of the Gospel and the joy of our encounter with Christ our Savior!

    It was through the fruitful virginity of Mary that God bestowed on the human race the grace of eternal salvation. May the Mother of the Savior help us to bear witness in our world to the truth and love of her Son! May God bless you and your loved ones with joy and peace during this Christmas season! Merry Christmas to all!

     

    Posted on December 20, 2016, to:

  • The Dream Of Saint Joseph is a painting by Philippe de Champaigne.

    By Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades

    As we approach Christmas, the Church invites us to reflect on Mary and Joseph and their courageous faith. I can think of no better models for us to welcome Our Savior than our Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph. Their example invites us to accept, with openness of spirit, Jesus who is Emmanuel, God-among-us.

    This Sunday we celebrate the Fourth and Last Sunday of Advent. The Gospel this year is the account of the Angel’s Annunciation to Joseph. The Angel’s Annunciation to Mary was the Gospel for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the Gospel we will hear again this Tuesday, December 20th. These two “Annunciations” are amazing announcements of the Incarnation delivered by heavenly messengers. They also involve the amazing responses, one spoken and the other unspoken, which express the obedient faith of Mary and Joseph to God’s will and plan for our salvation.

    The angel appeared to Mary when she was awake and the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. In both Annunciations, the angel said: “Do not be afraid.” In the case of Mary, she was troubled by the greeting of the angel, not knowing what it meant. In the case of Joseph, he was in turmoil because of Mary’s pregnancy, having decided “to divorce her quietly” since he was “unwilling to expose her to shame.” They were both afraid and confused, but God’s revelation, which they accepted with obedient faith, filled them with peace. It was the revelation of the Incarnation, that the Son conceived by Mary is of the Holy Spirit.

    The angel told Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Holy Spirit will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” The angel told Joseph: “It is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” The angel told both Mary and Joseph that the child should be named “Jesus,” a name which means “God saves.”

    Mary is our exemplar and model of faith in her response to the message of the angel: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Though we have no spoken words of Saint Joseph at the Annunciation to him, the Gospel tells us that “when Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.” Both Mary and Joseph responded positively to the word of God. Saint John Paul II wrote that “Joseph is the first to share in the faith of the Mother of God,… the first to be placed by God on the path of Mary’s pilgrimage of faith.” We are called to walk that pilgrimage of faith, to walk with Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem in these final days of Advent.

    I invite you in your prayer during these final days of Advent to contemplate the mystery we prepare to celebrate, maybe even having a little spiritual conversation with Mary and Joseph. Ask them to help you to live the true spirit of Christmas, to be close to their Son. I encourage you to find some quiet time for prayer during these noisy and busy days before Christmas. There is an aura of silence around Saint Joseph (the Gospels contain none of his spoken words). Yet, that silence speaks eloquently to us of the interior life of Joseph, who, like Mary, is a model of humility and prayer. If we desire to experience the true joy of Christmas, we can learn from Mary and Joseph the secret of silence and reflection on the great mystery of the Incarnation.

    Mary and Joseph teach us that the true gift of Christmas is Jesus. The best gifts we can give to others at Christmas are not expensive presents. The best gift we can share is the love, joy, and peace of the Lord. We do so by our prayers for others, kind words and gestures, forgiveness, a welcoming home, and joyful witness. Material gifts have value too, when they are expressions of love and generosity. And let us not forget the poor in our gift-giving at Christmas! It is a wonderful custom in our diocese to take up a special collection for Catholic Charities at all our Christmas Masses, an opportunity to support the charitable works of the Church in our diocese, to share with our brothers and sisters in need.

    I encourage you to prepare for Christmas by contemplating Mary and Joseph: “Mary, the woman full of grace who had the courage to entrust herself totally to the Word of God; and Joseph, the faithful and just man who chose to believe the Lord rather than listen to the voices of doubt and human pride. With them, let us walk together toward Bethlehem” (Pope Francis).

    May this final week of Advent be a prayerful time of joyful preparation for Christmas! Through the intercession of Mary and Joseph, may we be free of all worldliness and ready to welcome anew our Savior!

    Posted on December 13, 2016, to:

  • Immaculate Conception Parish in Auburn displays this image of Our Lady.

    The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation, is one of the beautiful feasts of the Church. On this day, December 8th, we celebrate with joy that Mary, predestined by God to be the Mother of our Redeemer, was full of divine love from the very first moment of her existence. Thus, the angel Gabriel at the moment of the Annunciation, greeted her as “full of grace.”

    The Church’s belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary grew and developed through the centuries. It was an intuition of the people of God that the Mother of Christ was all-holy, that she was free of all stain of sin. For centuries, theologians debated whether or not Mary inherited original sin. If Mary were immaculately conceived, would this not be a denial of the revealed truth that all people needed redemption by Christ?

    It was a Franciscan scholar in the early 14th century, Blessed John Duns Scotus, who helped explain how the Immaculate Conception of Mary and the truth of the universality of Christ’s redemptive act could be compatible. He argued that Mary, like all human beings, needed to be redeemed by her Son. He argued that Mary was preemptively delivered by Christ’s grace from original sin. God is not limited or constrained by time. Duns Scotus’ notion of “anticipatory” redemption helped the Church discern the truth of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Mary was indeed redeemed by Jesus her Son, by anticipation. God granted her this unique grace that no other human being has received, the grace of redemption at the first moment of her existence. Thus God prepared a pure vessel for the dwelling place of His Son.

    The dogma of the Immaculate Conception was defined by Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1854. He wrote: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.” Notice: it was by the merits of her Son that Mary was redeemed, just as we are redeemed by the merits of Jesus. Mary’s unique privilege was that she received the grace of redemption at the first moment of her existence in the womb of her mother. By God’s grace, Mary also remained free of any personal sin throughout her whole life.

    At Mass on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, we hear these words of Saint Paul in the second reading: “God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before Him” (Ephesians 1: 3-4). This great blessing comes to us through faith and baptism. We become “new creatures” by our purification from sin. We become “holy and without blemish,” temples of the Holy Spirit, blessed with the supernatural life that grows by the power of God’s grace. It should not surprise us that God would prepare the mother of His Son by a special consecration, preserving her from sin from her conception so that she would be “holy and without blemish,” cleansed in advance to have the Son of God dwell in her body.

    Our vocation as Christ’s disciples to become holy, with God’s grace, shines forth in Mary’s Immaculate Conception. Pope Benedict XVI said the following: “Looking at Mary, we recognize the loftiness and beauty of God’s plan for everyone: to become holy and immaculate in love, in the image of our Creator.”

    Mary, full of grace, teaches us to say “yes” to the Lord’s will. She always said “yes” to God’s will. Her “yes” at the Annunciation (the Gospel on December 8th) opened to us the path to salvation. Through her “yes,” God’s Son became incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary teaches us to say “yes” to her Son and “no” to the deceptions of the Evil One. She teaches us to say “yes” to the Lord who destroys the power of evil with the omnipotence of His love.

    In Mary’s Immaculate Conception, we behold the beautiful revelation of God’s redeeming love in Christ. In her, the graces of the Holy Spirit were totally uninhibited by the consequences of original sin. Thus, we can have confidence when we turn to her and invoke her intercession. We can pray in the words that appear on the Miraculous Medal revealed to Saint Catherine Laboure at Paris in 1830, 24 years before the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception: “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

    We celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception during the season of Advent. Advent is a season of hope. The Immaculate Conception of Mary fills us with great hope, hope in the coming of our salvation in Christ. In the latter part of Advent, we contemplate the coming of Christ at Christmas. Naturally, we contemplate Mary His mother, who not only carried Jesus in her womb, but in her soul. She was truly the dwelling place, the tabernacle, of the Lord, where God made Himself incarnate and became present on this earth. She teaches us by her faith and love to receive the Lord into our hearts and into our souls.

    In 1846, 8 years before the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the Bishops of the United States, at the sixth provincial council of Baltimore, petitioned the Holy See that Mary, under the title of her Immaculate Conception, be named Patroness of the United States. Blessed Pope Pius IX granted this request the following year. In 1857, just three years after the proclamation of the dogma, the Diocese of Fort Wayne was established. Our first bishop, John Henry Luers, named Mary, under the title of her Immaculate Conception, the patroness of our diocese when he decided to build our Cathedral and dedicated it to the Immaculate Conception in 1860. On December 8th, therefore, we celebrate the patronal feast of our nation and of our diocese. In our prayers, let us ask our patroness, Mary, the Immaculate Conception, to intercede for our nation and our diocese.

    May we always cherish our rich heritage of devotion to Mary, the Mother of God and Mother of the Church! Blessed be her holy and Immaculate Conception! May she accompany us with her love this Advent and Christmas and throughout our pilgrimage of life!

     

    Posted on November 29, 2016, to: