One’s ‘yes’ is at the heart of Christmas

Christmas decorations began going up well before Thanksgiving Day. I received my first Christmas card
a few days prior to Thanksgiving Day. We began the season of Advent three days after Thanksgiving
Day. As we all know, the season of Advent continues until the celebration of Christmas. The official end
of the Christmas season is the feast of the Baptism of the Lord (the Sunday following the feast of
Epiphany) after which Ordinary Time begins.

This is a very special time for all of us as we prepare and celebrate the world’s most important event in
human history, the Son of God coming among us to save us and lead us back to the Father for all
eternity. Has there ever been a greater gift? But I wonder if we will see the celebration continue until
January 12, 2014, in our culture, in our cities, in our parishes? Undoubtedly, no! For many, the
decorations will be taken down shortly after Christmas Day. All will be put away until next November.
Life will return to its wintry normal. As the world moves into “ordinary time,” the birth of our Savior,
the greatest expression of the Father’s love, will be just a memory.

In moving toward and into the Christmas season, it is important to reflect upon the impact and meaning
of this salvific event in our lives. But it must extend far beyond just this time of the year. In other words,
the real meaning of Christmas is part of our past but must also be part of our present and future. The real
meaning of Christmas defines who we are and to what the birth of this child call us. This gift should
continue to impact us every day in how we choose to follow Christ. A continuous reflection on this
beautiful event will never cease to move us into a deeper relationship with the Lord.

So how do we prolong our reflection on the importance of this event far beyond the celebration of
Christmas and the Christmas season? I believe that it first begins by reflecting upon the “heart” of the
matter. It is all about two important things, first, the profound love of the Father for us, his children and
our salvation, God’s “yes” for us. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that
everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son
into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)

Second is the response of the two most important individuals in the history of salvation, Jesus and Mary.
As we read in John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the
Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2). Jesus first said “yes” to the Father,
leaving his rightful place to come among us as a man, born of the Virgin Mary. It was his obedience to
the Father which set into motion our salvation. It was also his “yes” when he “humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8) that fulfilled the covenant love of the
Trinity.But it was also Mary’s “yes” that allowed her to become the tabernacle that held the Son of God, the
“Word made flesh.” When this young virgin said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be
done to me according to your word,” (Luke 1:38) she, too, gave God permission to use her for his divine
purposes so that his kingdom might be established and fulfilled on this earth.

Jesus and Mary are the cause of our celebration during this season. It was their unyielding faith, their
unwavering hope, and their deep trust in God’s love that precipitated their selfless responses. Their
“yes” released upon the world a new life of grace, holiness and redemption.

From this we can see how important one’s “yes” to God will be. You and I are invited to respond
likewise each and every day. Like Mary, we too are called to be the living receptacles of Christ’s love in
the world. Like Mary, our “yes” to this invitation has divine consequences. Though the season of
Christmas ends on January 12, we prolong our reflection on the importance of this event when we allow
the Holy Spirit to continue to reveal to us the magnitude of the one lying in a manger, Jesus,
“Emmanuel,” God with us. Each day in our reflection, we ask the Lord Jesus to be born anew in our
hearts so that like Mary, we too will say, “May it be done to me according to your word.”
As we come to the end of this Advent season and move toward the season of Christmas, be assured of
my prayers for you and your families.

During this time of celebration, may the Lord bring you the gift of unyielding faith, the blessing of
unwavering hope and the grace of deep trust in his love. A Blessed Christmas to all of you.

What do I own and what owns me?

In Luke’s Gospel, chapter 12, Jesus shares a parable which always makes me nervous because of its
challenge. I always wonder if I am living up to the challenge. He says, “Much will be required of the
person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” I
believe that we all have been entrusted with much, and perhaps some have been entrusted with more.
Each of us has to figure out which category we fit in — the much or the more. These are the only two
categories which Jesus mentions, perhaps the reason being that we have all been given much.

As mentioned, discipleship is not about volunteering and stewardship is not about money, but
surrendering the totality of our lives to the Lord. Answering the call to discipleship is always an option.
To become a disciple of Jesus is a choice. When we embrace a life of stewardship, it shapes and molds
our understanding of who we are as disciples. Christian stewards recognize God as the origin of life, the
giver of freedom and the source of all things. Jesus’ disciples are grateful for the gifts they have received
— time, talent and treasure — and are eager to use them to show their love for God and for one another.
Discipleship and stewardship are linked realities that create the fabric of Catholic life whereby each day
is lived intentionally in an intimate, personal relationship with the Lord, whereby our heart says, “I don’t
own anything. All belongs to the Lord.” In other words, stewardship is living out the Eucharist that we
celebrate. Therefore it is both spiritual and practical.

Last month in our reflection on stewardship, I focused on the stewardship of talent. We continue our
reflection this month on the stewardship of treasure. If stewardship is planned giving and does not leave
giving to chance, then it challenges us to plan. It asks us to deliberately appraise what we are doing with
our time, our talent, and our treasure.

The Bible devotes about 500 verses to prayer; less than 500 verses to faith; but more than 2000 verses to
money and possessions. It seems that the use of our possession and treasure is very important in the eyes
of God. Each of us must ask the fundamental questions regarding the gifts and resources we possess.
“What do I own and what owns me? Have I become a slave to the very gifts and resources that I think I
‘own’ or do I dare to take the risk and recognize God as the real source of who I am and what I possess?
Can I trust in a good and gracious God to be with me in all that occurs in my life?”

God has given us everything in our lives that is good, including our treasure. We have earned nothing.
Though we might be paid a good salary by the company we work for, it has come as the result of the
brains and the abilities God has given us. Have we earned those? They were freely given to us by God. We have developed them and used them; we must be stewards of them, so that we can make a difference
in the world and not for our own selfish purposes.

A life of stewardship is accepting all graciously (with gratitude); cherishing them and tending them in a
responsible manner; sharing them in justice and love with others; and returning them to the Lord with

Stewardship of treasure implies that we give, not because we feel obligated by the needs of others, the
needs of the church, or this institution or that charity, but because we are grateful to God for what God
has given us. We therefore respond to God’s call, thus having our own “need to give” fulfilled. It is
giving from the heart. It’s all in the attitude and one’s understanding of what it means to be good

Because stewardship is planned giving, we assess our treasure and then make a conscious decision as to
how much will become the “first fruits” that we return to God through our sacrificial giving. Statistics
show that Catholics give a smaller percentage of their incomes to the church or other charities than any
other denomination. How many people have given the same amount for the last 5 years, 10 years or 20
years, though their income has gone up? This means their sacrifice has gone down.

We often give God what is left over after we have taken care of our own personal wants and needs.
Whereas being a good steward means we give back to God the first fruits so that God can continue his
creative work in the world. From a biblical standpoint, ten percent is considered the first fruits. People
have many reasons as to why they don’t give more.

But the stewardship way of life is not about giving gifts equal to that of our neighbor, but in giving an
equal sacrifice. I would suspect it doesn’t matter to God regarding the amount of dollars given, number
of hours spent or amount of talent provided. God looks at our gifts as an extension of the love and
obedience with which they are given, and the proportion of resources from which they come. In other
words, God looks at our hearts. Faithful disciples prayerfully reflect upon what God has given them and
trusts that God will provide perhaps not for all their wants, but certainly for all their needs. As Catholic
stewards, we are called to a life of sacrificial giving. The greater our trust, the greater our sacrifice!
What we give back to God in gratitude is to be our sacrifice. Jesus gave his life as a sacrifice. How do
we imitate him?

There are three parts to stewardship — time, talents and treasure. Take away the stewardship of time
and talent — a life of stewardship collapses. Take away the stewardship of treasure — a life of
stewardship also collapses. A life of stewardship is counter-cultural to our materialistic, individualistic
society. You and I are called to be caretakers, not owners, of our time, talents and treasures. “Much will
be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted
with more.”

In conclusion, from the book of Proverbs: “Honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits
of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will be bursting with wine”
(Proverbs 3:9-10).

Surrender all aspects of life to stewardship

I want to reiterate that stewardship is at the very heart of our call to discipleship. Discipleship is not
about volunteering, and stewardship is not about money, but surrendering all aspects of our lives to the
Lord. Stewardship has the power to shape and mold our understanding of who we are as disciples.
Christian stewards recognize God as the origin of life, the giver of freedom, and the source of all things.
Jesus’ disciples are grateful for the gifts they have received and are eager to use them to show their love
for God and for one another. Discipleship and stewardship are linked realities that create the fabric of
Catholic life whereby each day is lived intentionally in an intimate, personal relationship with the Lord.

If stewardship does not leave giving to chance, then it challenges us to plan. It asks us to deliberately
appraise what we are doing with our time, our talent, and our treasure. Deliberately appraising what we
are doing with our talents begins with a few questions.

What are your greatest talents? How are they being given back to God with gratitude so that his
kingdom can be furthered here on earth? What are your underdeveloped talents that you are afraid to
share — those talents which you consider to be insignificant or not yet polished?

No matter what our talents — big or small, perfected or unperfected — they all belong to God. He will
use them all, further perfecting them all to build you up and to build up his kingdom at the same time.
All of our gifts and talents have been given to us for a purpose, not for our own sake, but for the sake of

So many Catholics hold back and stay on the sidelines as observers in the game of life we call the
kingdom of God. But what does holding back our gifts and talents do for us?

Why do pastors have to keep asking people to come forward for the ministry to which God is inviting
them? Let us forego the notion of volunteerism, looking at all of us as part of a team with a common
mission, the mission of Jesus Christ. It will not only change our lives, but the lives of those to whom we
minister. If we desire greater fulfillment in life, more joy, more satisfaction and meaning, it comes
through sharing and giving ourselves away because, as St. Francis shared, “it is in giving that we

The Lord sees our talents and gifts from a wider view than we see them in ourselves. They have been
given to us for some specific purpose in the mind of God to be used for what he has reserved for each of
us individually to fulfill our mission in life. If we do not know what that might be, then perhaps we
should find ways in which to share our talents until we discover that specific purpose. The Lord will
continue to develop our talents along the way, even those lesser ones we seem to think that we do not
have. This has been my experience over the past nineteen years of priesthood.

Putting everything back into the hands of God can be risky business. God will stretch us, will take us
out of our comfort zones, will lead us through ongoing conversion, but in the process will bless us 100
fold, manifesting his deep love for us through the process. How can we say “No” to this? Discipleship
and stewardship develop the whole person — our gifts and talents are increased along the way. The Lord
makes a return to us in proportion to our return to him, not just in this life, but in the life to come, which
is really what is most important.

Recall in the Gospel where Zacchaeus had an encounter with Jesus that changed everything for him.
Zacchaeus, a tax collector, stole from others to make himself wealthy. In this encounter, perhaps the first
time in his life where he felt love accepting him, Jesus healed the darkest corners of his heart. No
amount of money nor all the things money could buy could take the place of the freedom of heart which
Zacchaeus experienced through this encounter. He was now free to give it all away. “Behold, half of my
possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone, I shall repay it
four times over” (Luke 19:8). Real conversion took place for Zacchaeus. He could now live his life for

The tithing of our talents, as mentioned earlier, is planned giving, deliberately appraising what we are
doing with them for the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ. This begins by tithing our time in prayer,
that daily encounter with the Lord Jesus, seeking his desires for our lives, and then stepping off the
sidelines into the playing field with great trust and confidence.

When we come to the Eucharist, we see it as the greatest sign and instrument of charity whereby we
participate in the stewardship of Jesus himself. Christ has given us all that he has and is, in totality. Our
participation in his act of charity, in his act of stewardship, implies that we bring all that we are and
have, uniting ourselves and these tremendous gifts and talents to His saving sacrifice. Then, having
received from Christ’s own stewardship, “if this celebration is to be sincere and thorough, it will lead to
various works of charity and mutual help, as well as to missionary activity and to different forms of
Christian witness” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 6)

What can be done with God’s gift of time?

In my last month’s West River Catholic article, I put forth a true definition of stewardship and its importance for each of us in answering our call to discipleship. My purpose in doing so is to begin to “prime the pump” for the implementation of a comprehensive stewardship process in the Diocese of Rapid City. A stewardship advisory committee and a clergy stewardship committee are currently developing this plan for implementation. As I mentioned last month, being good stewards is at the heart of discipleship and the New Evangelization.

Jesus said, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing” (Lk 12:49). He wants all of his disciples to be “on fire” for him and the faith. This, too, is my desire because if this were to become the reality, not only would the parishes be transformed, but also the diocese would be transformed into “a new creation.” Vibrant, active stewards are the key to making parish communities come alive in faith. But in order for this to happen, we must change the default notion of stewardship that it is all about money. This way of thinking only diminishes what it means to be good stewards of what God has given to us.

As I wrote last month, Christian stewards respond in a particular way to the call of being a disciple. Stewardship has the power to shape and mold our understanding of our lives and the way in which we live. Jesus’ disciples and Christian stewards recognize God as the origin of life, the giver of freedom, and the source of all things.

Jesus’ disciples are grateful for the gifts they have received and are eager to use them to show their love for God and for one another. Discipleship and stewardship are linked realities and make up the fabric of Catholic life in which each day is lived intentionally in an intimate, personal relationship with the Lord.

No matter what age we are, if we are to fulfill our mission, our personal vocation, stewardship must be an integral part of that role. Therefore stewardship is not about money. Stewardship is about receiving all of God’s gifts (time, talent and treasure) gratefully, cultivating them responsibly, sharing them lovingly in justice with others, and then returning them with increase to the Lord. Stewardship can be likened to a three-legged stool. If one leg is broken or missing, then the stool will not be able to stand on its own. It will collapse.

In my WRC articles over the next three months, stewardship will be broken down into the three main parts, time, talent, and treasure, with this month’s article focusing on stewardship of time.

A true understanding of stewardship begins with taking care of and sharing the gift of time. Stewardship of time involves the realization that none of us “owns” time. We are all given the same amount of time (168 hours in each week), and planning a careful schedule in order to have time to work, to rest, to play, to serve and to pray is vital in the stewardship of our physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual lives. Remember that all we are and have is a gift from God to be received gratefully, cultivated responsibly, shared lovingly, and then returned to the Lord with increase. This includes the gift of time. In a busy society like ours, time is one of the most precious possessions we have. How we spend our time is perhaps the clearest indication of our progress in the life of a Christian discipleship.

What portion of our 24 hours each day or 168 hours each week are we giving back to God out of gratitude for this gift of time? How much of our time do we tithe to the Lord? The scriptures do not specifically require us to tithe our time, but the Lord does require us to give back the first fruits to him in all things. A faithful steward gives of his time because he or she has a great heart for God. Giving back a percentage of our time speaks to our desire to give God priority in our lives and to fulfill our call “to love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves” (Mk 12:30-31).

People often say they don’t have enough time for all that is required of them. But we do because God has given it to us and he asks us to manage it so that we can give it back to him with increase. Yes, it can be challenging but not impossible. It is all in how we prioritize, beginning with the priority of time for our prayer life. I have always found that if prayer is a priority, we will have plenty of time for everything else. This is the generosity of God. Tithing time for prayer has real value!

So as we can see, discipleship is not about volunteering, and stewardship is not about money but surrendering our lives and all aspects of it to the Lord. I would hope that when we come to the end our of lives and meet the Lord face to face, we would all like to hear him say to us, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Come and share your Master’s joy” (Mt 25:21).

Live out the baptismal call by putting faith into action

One of the great myths among many Catholics today is regarding the notion of stewardship. When the
word comes up at Mass in the homily, frequently what goes through a person’s mind is the thought,
“Here comes another talk about money.” One can easily derive such a thought because often times,
stewardship has been related to or connected to asking for money or an increased giving. Yes, there is a
connection, but to think of stewardship only in regards to money is to greatly diminish what it means to
be a good steward. To think that stewardship is all about money is a huge myth!

All of you are very important in the life of your parish community. I don’t think most Catholics realize
just how much they are needed. You are not just another parish member but an integral part of the body
of Christ. Do you know just how crucial you are?

At the very heart of the Year of Faith and the New Evangelization is helping others to answer their call
to discipleship in the service of God and his church. “Each of us — clergy, religious, lay person;
married, single; adult, child — has a personal vocation. God intends each one of us to play a unique role
in carrying out his divine plan. The challenge then, is to understand our role — our vocation — and to
respond generously to this call from God. Christian vocation entails the practice of Stewardship.”
These words come from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on
Stewardship and are very important for each of us as we seek to follow the Lord’s call in our lives,
living out our personal call to discipleship. Another way to interpret this is to say that in a Catholic
parish, the idea of volunteerism should not exist. Volunteerism connotes that we can choose to share our
time and talents or we can choose not to. Again from the USCCB pastoral letter, “For Christians
though, the only choice we have is whether we want to live out our baptismal call, our life in Christ. The
laity are active (or called to be active) collaborators in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, sharing in his
saving work.” Therefore, it is not about volunteering but about discipleship.
To be a disciple of Jesus Christ, a certain way of life is required. “If anyone wishes to come after me,
he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will
lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole
world yet lose or forfeit himself” (Luke 9:23-25)? As one can see, discipleship is not about volunteering
but about surrendering our lives and all aspects of it to the Lord.

  1. As members of his church, to be a follower of Jesus, to be his servant has a few implications:
    Mature disciples make a conscious decision to follow Jesus, no matter what the cost.
  2. Christian disciples experience ongoing conversion — life-shaping changes of mind and heart that deepen their commitment in serving the Lord.
  3. Christian stewards respond in a particular way to the call to be a disciple. Stewardship has the power to shape and mold our understanding of our lives and the way in which we live. Becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ naturally leads to the practice of stewardship. It is what we do after we say “I believe.”
  4. Jesus’ disciples or Christian stewards recognize God as the origin of life, the giver of freedom, and the source of all things. Jesus’ disciples are grateful for the gifts they have received and are eager to use them to show their love for God and for one another.
  5. Discipleship and stewardship are linked realities and make up the fabric of a Christian life in which each day is lived in an intimate, personal relationship with the Lord.

No matter what age we are, if we are to fulfill our mission, our personal vocation, stewardship must be
an integral part of that role. Therefore, stewardship is not about money. Stewardship is about receiving
all of God’s gifts (time, talent, and treasure) gratefully, cultivating them responsibly, sharing them
lovingly in justice with others, and then, returning them with increase to the Lord.

In the Sunday readings these past few weeks, Jesus has challenged us to reflect upon how we are living
out our call to discipleship. He wants to awaken our hearts and minds to an active faith, challenging us
to seek the things of heaven and turning away from the worldly things in our culture, which consume
our lives here on earth. “Wherever your treasure is, there your heart will be” (Luke 12:34).

Jesus’ sacrifice was a sign of his gratitude, praise and trust in God. Jesus gave from his substance, not
from what was left over at the end of the day. Sacrifice means giving from our substance so that we can
be changed by our giving. Our sharing in his Paschal mystery brings us to see that our sacrifices
represent our gratitude, praise, and trust in God. The offering of a significant portion of our time, talent
and treasure is also a sign of giving the whole of our lives to God. Then our lives are transformed by this

In the end, we will be judged, not by how much we have accomplished or how much we have
accumulated; not by how famous or important we have become; but by how faithful to Christ we were in
putting our faith into action.

All people deserve love, respect and compassion

It has been about three weeks now since the two decisions regarding marriage were handed down by the
U.S. Supreme Court. Many went into the streets celebrating this “new” freedom. However, it was truly a
sad day for the institution of marriage in this country. I echo the words of Cardinal Timothy Dolan of
New York, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: “The Court got it wrong.
The federal government ought to respect the truth that marriage is the union of one man and one
woman, even where states fail to do so. The preservation of liberty and justice requires that all laws,
federal and state, respect the truth, including the truth about marriage.”

The Court’s decision in the Proposition 8 case is also very disappointing. While the U.S. Supreme Court
did not itself strike down Proposition 8, where it goes from here remains in question. In any event, it
missed the important opportunity to uphold the voices of over seven million Californians who voted to
protect marriage’s unique meaning. One redeeming note is that the Court did not formally redefine
marriage, though one could say that an additional meaning was granted.

With these decisions, the federal government will now have to recognize same-sex “marriage” in states
that provide for it. This was not a decision for freedom, but a grave injustice that undercuts true freedom
and equality. When we speak of justice, it does not require that different things be treated the same.
Government at all levels has a duty to recognize and uphold marriage’s unique meaning for the greater
good of society. Fortunately, the Court did not hold that the Constitution would require a redefinition of

It is clear that these decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court shift our public conversation back to the central
question: What is marriage? Marriage is a natural institution, predating both religion and government,
and is grounded in the nature of the human person. Every human society in the entire history of the
human race, regardless of cultural variations, has always understood marriage as a sexual union between
a man and a woman with the purpose of procreating and educating children. The traditional family has
always been the very foundation of society. Therefore, the common good of all, especially for our
children, depends upon a society that strives to uphold the truth of marriage. This is not about a religious
viewpoint. Though Jesus elevated marriage to a sacrament, the complementarity of man and woman and
the natural meaning of marriage can be known through reason without appealing to scripture.

True marriage brings a man and a woman into a covenantal relationship for life. Marriage connects
children with their moms and dads, and therefore we should work together to protect and strengthen it. It
gives children the best chance of being raised by their own father and mother together. Fathers and
mothers are not interchangeable. Our laws and culture should work together to make it more likely that
children will be raised, as far as possible, by both, for their good and the good of society.

As society goes down this unnatural road, we do not know the end result of this experiment of same sex marriage. Sociologists tell us that children raised in a family with two dads or two moms is clearly very different than being raised with a father and a mother. We do not know what the end result of this experiment will look like one hundred years from now. But the outcome will not be good because it is not in line with the designs for humanity by God, our Creator.

Has the slippery slope begun? The final outcome of these decisions is yet unknown. But they will have
ramifications that will trigger additional action within all three branches of federal government that has
not yet been delineated, and which could affect all institutions, including those which are Catholic.
Following the decision of the Court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, President Barack Obama,
while supporting the decision, stated that he would not force religious institutions to conduct gay
marriages when he said, “On an issue as sensitive as this, knowing that Americans hold a wide range of
views based on deeply held beliefs, maintaining our nation’s commitment to religious freedom is also
vital. How religious institutions define and consecrate marriage has always been up to those
institutions. Nothing about this decision — which applies only to civil marriages — changes that.” This
statement is a contradiction as we Catholics continue to fight for our religious freedom because of the
Health and Human Services mandate to provide contraception, sterilization and abortifacients as part of
health care to our employees. The nation’s commitment to religious freedom has not been maintained. It
has been taken away. Therefore, I have very little confidence that this promise will be kept.
Affirming the true definition of marriage denies no one his or her basic rights. Protecting marriage
affirms the basic rights and equal dignity of women and men and safeguards the basic rights and equal
protection of children.

All people deserve love and respect, including those who experience same-sex attractions. This reality
calls for our compassion, sensitivity, and pastoral care. But no one, especially children, is served by
redefining marriage. Unjust discrimination is always wrong. Treating different things differently is not
unjust discrimination. Protecting marriage is a matter of justice and builds a culture of life: pro-woman,
pro-man, pro-child, pro-family, pro-life, pro-society.

Marriage is a great gift to men, women, children, and society. For the common good of all, true marriage
needs to be strengthened, not redefined. We must also redouble our efforts in protecting this great
institution, continuing to stand for the truth of marriage and the good of children. The future of our
society depends upon it.

A basic freedom, religious liberty is eroding

The fight for religious liberty continues. And it must. Each day as I read news articles on the Internet
and listen to various news programs on television, I discover more and more examples of violations of
religious freedom and other basic freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution on which this country was
founded. Some of the recent scandals in government agencies whereby certain groups are targeted
because of their traditional views and religious values speak volumes of how basic freedoms and rights
are being taken away or greatly diminished.

This situation is not only sad, but it is inexcusable. Groups or organizations who believe in traditional
marriage, who believe in the right to life from conception to its natural end, who favor adoption to
families with both a father and a mother, and who believe that companies should not be forced to
provide contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs to their employees, among other things,
are being persecuted and their right to free speech and public debate is being violated.

This is an unprecedented violation of religious liberty by the federal government and certain agencies.
Government intrusion and taking away the rights on which this country was founded is un-American.
This threat to religious freedom is larger than any single issue we face and has its roots in the secularism
of our culture.

Because this is of utmost importance for our church and our country, the U.S. bishops have called for
another Fortnight for Freedom, a two-week period of prayer and action, to address many current
challenges to religious liberty. It is very timely because of the fact that August 1 is the deadline for
religious organizations to comply with the Health and Human Services mandate to provide
contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs to their employees. The timeliness is also
important because during the Fortnight for Freedom, the United States Supreme Court rulings that could
redefine marriage will likely be handed down as well. Those decisions could have a profound impact on
religious freedom for many, many generations to come. Religious liberty concerns present themselves in
other areas such as immigration and humanitarian services as well.

We will be celebrating Independence Day soon. When we celebrate this national holiday, what are on
the hearts and minds of many people are the freedoms that we enjoy in this country. This day
commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, which announced that
the thirteen American colonies who regarded themselves as independent states were no longer a part of
the British Empire. Instead a new nation was formed — the United States of America.

Two lines in the Declaration are important for us on this day. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”The truth is that these “certain unalienable rights” belong to God because, as stated, they are “endowed by our Creator” to each of us — the right to life and religious freedom. Religious liberty, the “most cherished of American freedoms” and rooted deeply in the dignity of the human person, is being eroded. When people are denied and hindered from professing and living their religion or faith, human dignity is offended, resulting in a threat to justice and peace.

As Catholics and Americans whose faith is the driving force of our lives and who believe that faith plays
an important role in working for the common good of all, we must intensify our prayers and fasting for a
new birth of freedom in our beloved country so that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as outlined
by the Declaration of Independence, will be preserved for all of us.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Pa., in a homily at the closing of last
year’s Fortnight for Freedom stated: “The purpose of religious liberty is to create the context for true
freedom. Religious liberty is a foundational right. It’s necessary for a good society. But it can never be
sufficient for human happiness. It’s not an end in itself. In the end, we defend religious liberty in order
to live the deeper freedom that is discipleship in Jesus Christ. What good is religious freedom,
consecrated in the law, if we don’t then use that freedom to seek God with our whole mind and soul and

This last sentence is very important in why this Fortnight for Freedom is so important. The role of the
church and all her disciples is to elevate and challenge our culture to higher and more virtuous ways of
living. Therefore, religious freedom makes us a better society and a better nation. As Archbishop Chaput
stated, religious liberty enables us to live in true freedom that only comes through Jesus Christ. Without
religious freedom, we, the church, cannot fulfill our duty as Christians, as disciples of Jesus Christ. It is
religious freedom that allows committed Christians to live a life of true discipleship, a life which leads
to true happiness, true fulfillment and ultimately to heaven. Are these not worth fighting for?

Therefore, I invite all people of the diocese to a fortnight of fasting and prayer and to take the time to
participate in the Fortnight for Freedom in your local parishes. There will be an ecumenical discussion
on religious liberty at our Cathedral at 7 p.m. on the evening of July 2. Please come and join us.

Sharing the Master’s Joy

Catholic Stewardship is not about money – it’s about following Christ and making the best use of the things he has given us.

New Evangelization reminds all of discipleship

Happy Pentecost to you all! Pope Benedict XVI shared these words in the second year of his pontificate: “But what does it mean to love Christ? It means trusting him even in times of trial, following him faithfully even on the Via Crucis, in the hope that soon the morning of resurrection will come. Entrusting ourselves to Christ, we lose everything, we gain everything.”

As we look at today’s challenges, you and I are called to continue to entrust ourselves to Christ, so that we might “gain everything,” even though the cross may feel very heavy at times. As the move to remove God, Jesus, Christianity, and faith from our society continues to become more pervasive and insidious, the cross may seem to be heavier than it has ever been. We must continue to respond with courage, with great fervor, and with an even greater trust in God. “I am with you always, until the end of the age,” Jesus tells us.

We, the Church are facing very challenging times right now. There is a great battle happening in our country. Some might think that it is a political battle — the left against the right; the conservatives against the liberals; the conservative media against the liberal media; the pro-lifers against the pro-choicers; the traditional marriage people against the gay marriage people; those who care about religious liberty against those who want God or any notion of faith out of the public sphere.

While all of this is true — there is a political battle going on and we must continue to do all that we can to fight it — this is not the greater battle. From my perspective, this political and cultural battle is only a by-product of a greater battle, and perhaps we should call it a war. It is a spiritual war that the Evil One has waged upon this country. These political issues, while very important for the wholeness and health of our society, are merely battles within this great war. The real or greater battle is spiritual.

Pope Francis alluded to this as well when speaking about a bill in Argentina to approve same-sex “marriage.” He wrote: “Let’s not be naïve. We are not talking about a simple political battle; this is a destructive pretension against the plan of God.”

This spiritual battle has resulted in a collapse of Christian society today and is being experienced even more so in the Catholic Church. Jesus is under attack and has been taken off the cross so that Christianity can fit into the relativistic, secularized mindset that dominates our culture. For many, Jesus has been recreated into their own image and likeness, where everything feels safe, comfortable, and non-sacrificial. Truth has been reduced to subjectivity and relativity, in other words, “What I think it is.” Faith is being pushed more and more into a merely private and personal realm. Many want “freedom from religion.” This is why we are currently in the battle for religious freedom and for the defense of marriage. This is why this Year of Faith and the New Evangelization are so important for the Church and for our world.

A recent extensive survey taken by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life studied the shifts in the U.S. religious landscape by interviewing more than 35,000 Americans age 18 and older. Among other things, the survey revealed that one-in-four Americans ages 18-29 say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion. It also showed that Catholicism has experienced the greatest net losses as a result of changes in affiliation. While nearly one-in-three Americans were raised in the Catholic faith, today fewer than one-in-four describe themselves as Catholic. These losses would have been more pronounced were it not for the offsetting impact of immigration.

As long as Catholics are leaving the Church or are no longer describing themselves as Catholics, it speaks clearly that the secularism in our culture has severely influenced the way people think regarding the Church and how they see the place of religion in the public and political sphere. This trend could perhaps lead to discouragement, apathy and indifference. This study speaks volumes of the great need for evangelization, a need for intensified prayer and fasting for our country and her leaders, and a need to make use of the ways to make our Catholic voice heard. We cannot and will not give up the fight!

Again, this is why all of us must take seriously this Year of Faith and the New Evangelization. Its importance for the life of the Church and for our world cannot be understated. We each must look seriously at our own call to discipleship. Jesus continues to invite us into a deeper relationship through our own personal daily encounter with him in prayer, in the sacramental life of the Church, and reaching out to others. It is the Holy Spirit who leads us to drink “living water” (John 4:10).

No matter how much knowledge we have about the Catholic faith, no matter how old we are, not matter if we are a bishop, a priest, deacon, religious, or a layperson, Jesus’ invitation to drink this “living water” is never ending. It helps us to become who we have been created to be. St. Catherine of Siena stated, “If you are what you are meant to be, you would set the world on fire.”

We live in a narcissistic world where many people of all ages are seeking power and happiness on their own, thus leaving their hearts empty, and those moments of happiness are fleeting leaving no experience of lasting, unshakable joy. What is needed more than anything else is for people to experience the joy of being definitively loved by God. And those who have experienced this love need to communicate it.

In the words of Pope Benedict, “That’s what evangelization is — the communication in words and in life, in prayer and in silence, and action and in suffering, of a love that both embraces man and infinitely surpasses him, and therefore of joy. This joy can sometimes be demanding and difficult. It is, after all, a joy ‘bigger’ than man because it comes from God. But precisely for that reason, it is the only joy that can satisfy the insatiable hunger of the human heart.”

Pope Francis recently wrote, “This joy helps us to be each day more fruitful, spending ourselves and unraveling ourselves in the service of the holy faithful people of God. This joy will grow increasingly to the degree that we take seriously the pastoral conversion that the Church asks of us.”

This love, this joy, is at the heart of the Gospel. It is at the heart of the Catholic faith. Catholicism is a love story. I believe many Catholics are in a loveless relationship with God, meaning they are not serious about it. The Catholic faith makes sense for those who are in this love relationship. Once we have encountered Christ in a personal, intimate way, we are compelled to share this good news. St. Paul said, “The love of Christ compels us” (2 Cor 5:14).

Each of us must encounter Jesus in our own intimate and personal way, letting his love, his mercy, his presence “burn” inside of us so much that it transforms us totally. Only then can this love radiate
through everything we do and say — in both our silences and suffering, as well as in our happiness and joy.
In a recent homily by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in speaking about evangelization, he offered an image of the Church as a babysitter. He said, “The Church cannot be merely a babysitter who takes care of the child just to get him to sleep. That would make her a “slumbering” Church. Instead, the members of the Church, the baptized, must evangelize. When we do this, the Church becomes a mother who generates children, capable of bringing Christ to the world.”

He further said, “Let us ask the Lord for the grace to become baptized persons who are brave and sure that the Holy Spirit who is in us, received at baptism, always moves us to proclaim Jesus Christ with our life, our testimony and even with our words.”

All baptized and confirmed Catholics have been commissioned for this work. The Holy Spirit always propels us to take a more evangelical path but we resist it. As Catholics who love the Lord, you and I must submit to the Holy Spirit and go forward to where God leads each of us along the path of holiness, to share this love, this joy that is at the heart of the Gospel.

Evangelization is intentional. It is not only intentional, but it comes from living life at the cross of Jesus Christ. This is the place where divine life and holiness for us emanates. I believe that the cross of Jesus Christ is at the heart of this spiritual battle in which we find ourselves.

The Lord has so much more for us, beyond what we can imagine, but we have not been open to it. As long as we seek the things of this world, and turn away from the Lord and the teachings of his Church, we will not receive what he desires for us.

The depth of Christ’s love is found on the Cross. But as people go through daily life, this seems to be forgotten, or perhaps rejected. But is it at the heart of the Christian life. Many have chosen to follow Jesus in a safe, comfortable, and non-sacrificial. This is not the definition of discipleship.

The hot button issues today in our culture which reject the teachings of our Catholic faith are the result of people rejecting the place of suffering in their lives. A narcissistic society like ours seeks to live out of its passions. For the narcissist, a life of fulfillment comes through their passions and desires, despite the consequences and regardless of what might be better for the sake of society or the greater good. Narcissism keeps people from seeing beyond their own desires and passions. It rejects all suffering. Therefore the cross of Jesus makes no sense and is ultimately rejected, either knowingly or unknowingly. This is at the heart of this spiritual battle in our culture today.

In this New Evangelization, it is up to us to proclaim Christ crucified. As Pope Francis shares, “When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, (lay people), but not disciples of the Lord. I would like that all of us might have the courage – the courage – to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Cross of the Lord: to build the Church on the Blood of the Lord, which is shed on the Cross, and to profess the one glory, Christ Crucified. In this way, the Church will go forward.”

The Church’s celebration of the feast of Pentecost has just passed. As a diocese we have completed the Novena to the Holy Spirit. But we must continue to pray for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us, our Church, our country, and our world. The thrust of the beginnings of the Church must be rekindled and we must ask the Holy Spirit to fill us with the ardor of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost.

“The Father always hears the prayer of his Son’s Church which … expresses her faith in the power of the Spirit. As fire transforms into itself everything it touches, so the Holy Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever is subjected to his power” (CCC #1127).

Let us ask Our Lady of Perpetual Help to obtain for the Church today a renewed Pentecost, one that will increase in everyone the joy of living and witnessing the Gospel.

Faith grows when we rediscover his love day by day

We have just celebrated this great feast of the Resurrection and have now moved into the seven weeks of Easter leading to the great feast of Pentecost. Often times, the feast of Pentecost seems to be rather neglected in the life of many Catholics. Yes, it comes seven weeks following Easter, but its prominence in the life of the local church is much diminished and is given little attention in comparison to Christmas and Easter. In fact, the celebration of the Easter season often times becomes not much different than Ordinary Time in the church, unfortunately. We fall back into life as usual. We have taken away its luster, diminishing its importance. In taking away its luster, so too has gone its power. It is time to reclaim and celebrate it to the fullest.

Being five months into the Year of Faith, perhaps the initial inertia has somewhat diminished because at times it is challenging to carry a momentum over a period of twelve months. We need constant reminders of our call to the New Evangelization and the need to keep our gaze fixed upon Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of all human existence.

In Porta Fidei, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about how Christ “sends us through the highways of the world to proclaim his Gospel to all the peoples of the earth (cf. Mt 28:19). Through his love, Jesus Christ attracts to himself the people of every generation: In rediscovering his love day by day, the missionary commitment of believers attains force and vigor that can never fade away. Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy. It makes us fruitful, because it expands our hearts in hope and enables us to bear life-giving witness: indeed, it opens the hearts and minds of those who listen to respond to the Lord’s invitation to adhere to his word and become his disciples.” (Porta Fidei, #7)

This cannot and will not happen without the power of the Holy Spirit active in our lives. We must rekindle in ourselves the thrust of the beginnings of the church and ask the Holy Spirit to fill us with the ardor of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost.

Each of you has received the power of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. But for many, the power of the Holy Spirit has remained dormant. If the Spirit was alive in all Catholics, the churches would be overflowing. So many Catholics have not asked for or prayed for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, have not expected such a gift, and have not opened their hearts to such a gift. The Lord Jesus has already given the Spirit to us, but He is waiting for us to let him ignite the fire; which means we must want this fire to be ignited and pray each day that it is ignited. But it also takes letting go of what “I” want and seeking what the Lord wants for “me.”

Our society is a mess! The Evil One is alive and very active in this culture war as we fight for religious freedom, for the rights of the unborn and the elderly, for traditional family values, and for moral values which reflect Gospel teaching. We need the Holy Spirit to help us in this battle. We need the Holy Spirit to be our source of strength in living our Christian life. We need the Holy Spirit to keep us strong in the face of all the challenges we face as individuals, as a society, as a church.

Therefore, I am asking every parish across our diocese to join with me in praying a Novena to the Holy Spirit in preparation for Pentecost. All of us need a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We need it in our culture, our society, our families, our parishes. This Year of Faith has beckoned each of us to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. This can only happen through the power of the Holy Spirit, that same Spirit that transformed the lives of those disciples in the upper room at Pentecost.

Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote, “Whenever the spirit intervenes, he leaves people astonished. He brings about events of amazing newness; he radically changes persons in history. He also distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank, makes him fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up the church.” (Speech with Ecclesial Movements and New Communities, May 30, 1998)

The Holy Spirit radically changed the early disciples from fearful, scared, lost men and women into courageous witnesses to Christ and enlightened heralds of his word. It was the Spirit who guided them along the difficult and new paths of mission, that same mission that has been given to every baptized person. We ask the Holy Spirit to bring about an amazing newness among us.

Let us all join together for nine consecutive days for prayer and reflection on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, inviting the power of the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon each of us, our parishes, and our diocese. The Novena to the Holy Spirit will be provided by your parishes or can be found on this website: Watch your parish bulletins for more details regarding how this will be celebrated in your particular parish.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love!