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
marriage.

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
strength?”

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.

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: www.spiritans.com. 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!

Through eyes of faith we can see and believe

I began my Ash Wednesday homily talking about this wonderful season of grace and how we are being offered an invitation to enter into a very powerful period in the church year. I ended it with, “Today Jesus — the one who loves us more than we can imagine — is calling us to himself in an ever-deeper way, inviting us into his endless forgiveness and mercy and asking us to return whole-heartedly to his loving embrace. His outstretched arms are waiting for us.”

We are now much closer to the end of this season of grace preparing for Easter. Jesus’ outstretched arms are still waiting for us. They are always waiting for us. God’s deepest desire is to have a relationship with those to whom he has called his own. In the Liturgy of the Word at the Easter Vigil we will be led on a journey through our salvation history, seeing through the eyes of faith the love with which God cared for his people, beginning with the story of creation, moving to the rescue of his people from the slavery of Pharaoh. Then God made an everlasting covenant with his people and claimed them once more as his own. We see ourselves in those stories when we recall the ways of our ancestors in faith. God is always calling us to himself.

The resurrection is woven in to the fabric of all these stories. Through eyes of faith, we can see and believe it. These stories reveal who we are as the people of God, what God has done for us, what God is doing for us, and what God will continue to do for us because of the suffering, death and resurrection of his Son.

Like the Israelite people wandered through the desert these last 40 days, and like the catechumens who have been on this forty day retreat during Lent, we too find ourselves discovering a God who has offered us a new way of living. In Lent we cast aside our covenant with death so that we can embrace the new covenant of life that Jesus offers us at Easter. Jesus has passed through death and brought us to the new and eternal covenant.

This covenant comes alive in the Easter Sacraments. This covenant will come alive when catechumens enter the waters of life. St. Paul says, “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a newness of life.” Through baptism, God has made a claim on each one of us for all eternity. We renew this relationship in a special way allowing ourselves to be embraced once again by those outstretched arms of his beloved Son.

As the catechumens and candidates will experience the power of the Holy Spirit through confirmation, that same Spirit stirs within our own hearts so that we might be strengthened once again for Christ’s mission. As stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 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).

Our new Catholics will receive food for their journey as Jesus shares with them his body and blood, the bread of life and the cup of the new and everlasting covenant in this most intimate encounter. It too, is a gift for us each time we share in this covenant.

Through the sacramental life of the church we are all subjected to the Spirit’s transforming power. The Holy Spirit leads and guides all Christians into the mission of the church and into the outstretched arms of Jesus. We are led by the Spirit into the New Evangelization – sharing the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus with others. It is the call of each of us. Our eternal life and the eternal lives of others are dependent upon it.

Pope John Paul II, in a speech to ecclesial movements and new communities, expressed it this way. “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.”

May we always be astonished by the power and glory of the resurrection, allowing the Lord Jesus to radically change us, giving us courage to go into the world to proclaim this Good News!

Through the Easter mysteries, God has intervened and spoken from the darkness, shedding his light on the world for all ages. When we embrace fully these great mysteries, we will always find ourselves in those outstretched arms, whether they are on the cross or awaiting us into eternity.

May Jesus set your hearts afire with his love, and may your Easter season be a rebirth of peace, hope and joy. My blessings and love to you all.

Is the sacrament of penance an important part of your spiritual life?

The Cathedral was packed, I am told, for the inspiring conferences given by Matthew Kelly last month. In reading one of his books, “Rediscover Catholicism: A Spiritual Guide to Living Life with Passion and Purpose,” people will easily discover that at the heart of Kelly’s message is encouragement for all of us to “become the-best-version-of-yourself.” Perhaps putting it another way, we are called to become the person whom God created us to be. As Catholics, we are all a work in progress, meaning that we are moving in a positive direction. It means that we are growing in our relationship with God and others.

In this season of Lent, this season of grace, we will experience great grace if we choose to enter into the discipline of the season leading to conversion, a metanoia, a change of heart through fasting, prayer and almsgiving. To become the person who God created us to be requires effort — constant, sometimes painful effort. But our effort will be useless unless it is rooted in God and in Christ’s redeeming mercy which comes to us through the sacrament of penance. Is the sacrament of penance an important part of your spiritual life?

We will never become the person whom God created us to be without regular use of this gift of the church. One of the great tragedies in the Catholic Church today is that this gift of Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness is rarely received or experienced only seasonally. As a human race, we have lost the sense of sin. Our moral consciences have become desensitized, and we have become less aware of any rupture of communion with God. If the sacrament of penance is a personal, intimate encounter with Christ whereby he offers us his healing, merciful love, then why do so many Catholics not make this a regular discipline in their spiritual life or stay away altogether? If we truly believe that the sacraments are a personal encounter with Jesus and his love, what keeps us away? What are we afraid of?

All sin is a rejection of God’s love and therefore damages our relationship with him, whether we are aware of it or not. Sin also damages our relationship with the body of Christ, the church. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Sin is before all else an offense against God, a rupture of communion with him. At the same time it damages communion with the church. For this reason conversion entails both God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with the church, which are expressed and accomplished liturgically by the sacrament of penance and reconciliation” (CCC #1440).

In the Code of Canon Law we read, “Those who have committed serious sin are bound by church law to confess faithfully at least once a year (#989). It is strongly recommended that the Christian faithful also confess venial sins as well” (#988). Only when we truly accept our weaknesses as being harmful to ourselves and others, will we be able to begin the conversion process. Only when we are truly honest with ourselves about our lives and remove the masks we wear through confession will we encounter Christ’s deep love bursting forth in our lives.

Jesus never sinned, yet was crucified for us and our sins. If we fail to see ourselves as sinners in need of Christ’s mercy and forgiveness, the cross of Jesus then has lost its meaning for our lives. Jesus instituted the sacrament of penance because he knows that we all need it. He did not come to condemn the world, but to save it. (John 3:17) Jesus knows the benefits for those seeking this encounter with him. He loves us so much that he has given us this avenue for mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love so that we might grow into “the-best-version-of-your- self.” Because the graces of the sacrament of penance help serve the purpose of the New Evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI speaks of the New Evangelization as beginning in the confessional.

“Now is the time for conversion! Lent is a sacred time to “free the longing that dwells in the heart of every human being so that it can reach its true height,” says the Holy Father. This season of Lent in the Year of Faith is the time to let go of the fears that keep you from receiving Jesus’ love, mercy, and forgiveness in this sacrament, and allow him to love you into holiness. Is there any good reason to continue to reject this free grace that leads to conversion and ultimately a deeper life in Christ?

It is my hope and prayer that the focus of Lent for each parish and the whole diocese in this Year of Faith is Christ’s love and mercy as experienced through the sacrament of penance. See page 22 in this issue, watch your local bulletins and the diocesan website (www.rapidcitydiocese.org) for opportunities to celebrate this sacrament of the Lord’s love.

May Mary, mother of mercy, refuge for us sinners and star of the new evangelization, accompany us on our way to the extraordinary grace of her Son’s forgiveness!

‘We all desire a peaceful world’

Each New Year brings the expectation of a better world. In light of this, I ask God, the Father of humanity, to grant us concord and peace, so that the aspirations of all for a happy and prosperous life may be achieved. These were the opening words of Pope Benedict XVI for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace on January 1, 2013.

We all desire a peaceful world. It is innate to every human person just as the love of God is written into every human heart.

The greatest challenge in opposition to a peaceful world is the lack of understanding of the true nature of the human person. Pope Benedict speaks to thiswhen he writes, “The denial of what makes up the true nature of human beings in its essential dimensions, its intrinsic capacity to know the true and the good and, ultimately, to know God himself, jeopardizes peacemaking. Without the truth about man inscribed by the Creator in the human heart, freedom and love become debased, and justice loses the ground of its exercise” [Pope Benedict XVI – Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace on January 1, 2013, 3].

But looking at the world today, one may get the sense that the reality of a peaceful world is just a wonderful utopian idea. When worldwide tensions continue to divide nations and peoples, when the gap between the rich and poor continues to widen, when life is not protected in the womb, when moral values continue on the decline and religious freedoms are taken away by government intrusion, the notion of peace seems far away.

To become authentic peacemakers, it is fundamental to keep in mind our transcendent dimension and to enter into constant dialogue with God, the Father of mercy, whereby we implore the redemption achieved for us by his only-begotten Son. In this way mankind can overcome that progressive dimming and rejection of peace which is sin in all its forms: selfishness and violence, greed and the will to power and dominion, intolerance, hatred and unjust structures [3].

Therefore, if we are to bring about a civilization where peace and justice flourish, it begins with each person looking within himself or herself seeking to discover our true nature as described by God and not defined by the secular culture or public opinion.

A society which does not respect human life in all its many aspects, beginning from conception, through its natural development and up to its natural end will never know peace. As Pope Benedict reflects, Life in its fullness is the height of peace. Anyone who loves peace cannot tolerate attacks and crimes against life [4]. Promoting any right to abortion, euthanasia, or assisted suicide poses a threat to the fundamental right to life and will never bring about peace.

A society which promotes a redefinition of marriage will never know peace because redefining what God has intended from the beginning destroys the true nature of a just society, not to mention the harm that it brings to the indispensable role of the family in society.

A society which has to continually fight for religious freedom or fight against government intrusion into the way religious organizations or people must practice their religious faith will never know peace. Peace exists when the faith of all people is accepted and valued as part of the natural structure of society, bringing forth all that is good and valuable for the common welfare.

Our Holy Father speaks of other challenges which impact the making of a peaceful society – the financial and economic challenges, the role of labor and the right to work and the injustices towards migrants and refugees. Please take the time to read Pope Benedict’s Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace found on the diocesan website. It is a wonderful message for prayer and reflection for all of us as we begin this new year.

We have a long way to go to attain the peaceful society which the Lord desires for us. It will come about when our hearts are converted to Christ, and his attitudes and ideals become our own. A peaceful society will only come about when its members are filled with the peace of Christ which comes to us only through intimacy with him through prayer. We pray for ourselves that God will make each of us true instruments of his peace in a world which so desperately needs it. We also ask God to enlighten all leaders so that, besides caring for the proper material welfare of their peoples, they may secure for them the precious gift of peace, break down the walls which divide them, strengthen the bonds of mutual love, grow in understanding, and pardon those who have done them wrong; in this way, by his power and inspiration all the peoples of the earth will experience fraternity, and the peace for which they long will ever flourish and reign among them [7].

As the New Year begins, grace and peace in abundance to all of you! May Christ’s love lead you to new heights in faith and may His peace reign in your hearts now and forever.