Shaking Up the Church

A recent batch of WikiLeak documents reveals high-level Clinton campaign officials and supporters suggesting that that political forces should engineer a so-called “Catholic Spring” to rebel against the “middle-ages dictatorship” of the Catholic Church (folks like me, I’d guess). The emails also indicate that organizations have been formed and funded to divide the Church, apparently with the approval and support of these same high-level operatives.

Various writers have ably pointed out how egregious are such plans to interfere with the inner life of the Roman Catholic Church. They explain that this represents a serious breach in relations between Church and state, a disregard for basic human rights and liberties, and a special mark of contempt for Catholics as well as Evangelicals. I agree with these views. I also have to note at the outset the across-the-board moral bankruptcy of the current presidential campaign. At the same time, I’d like to take the discussion in another direction.

WikiLeaks revealed political operatives hoping to shake up the Church so that it would be conformed to their view of the world. Truth to tell, the Church does need to be shaken up, but not in the way these politicos imagine. It’s Pope Francis who’s shaking up the Church in a good way through an approach far different from that of these operatives. If we follow the Pope’s lead, not only will the Church be strengthened, so too society will become a more just, peaceful, and merciful place. Let me offer a few examples.

All it takes is a look at a recent report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to know that powerful political forces insist that the Church’s social service institutions be mere extensions of the government, with a moral compass indistinguishable from that which drives government policy. But Pope Francis insists that Catholic charitable and social service institutions must be more than mere NGO’s (non-governmental organizations). Rather, they must bind up the wounds of society with the compassion of Christ who alone fully reveals the dignity of each person. The Pope teaches us to think of the Church as a field hospital, and his arresting image highlights what Catholics bring to our public work: love of our neighbors rooted in our love of God. That’s not something on offer from the government.

Powerful political forces seek to provoke strong opposition to the Church because of its teaching on marriage as between one man and one woman. Yet Pope Francis called not one but two synods on marriage because it’s urgent that we strengthen the vocation of marriage and family life. His beautiful exhortation on marriage, “The Joy of Love,” guides married couples, the young, and the Church’s pastors in renewing marriage and family in our day. In fact, he’s jolting us out of our complacency as the true meaning and purpose of marriage are obscured and family life continues to break down. Pope Francis knows that it’s the young and the poor who will suffer disproportionately if this societal trend continues. Healthy societies and a healthy Church rest on healthy families.

Powerful political forces ridicule the Church’s teaching that one’s biological sex and one’s gender cannot be separated. They would force the Church to abandon a most elemental teaching of faith and reason: “male and female He created them.” But Pope Francis has forcefully challenged contemporary gender theory because he knows it’s the potential undoing not only of marriage but of a right understanding of human identity and dignity. When young people were told “you can be anything,” it used to mean that a wide range of careers was open to them. Now it means you can be a man or a woman or some other version of sexuality and that you can, God-like, create your own alternative universe. Pope Francis knows this is false and he wants us to make sure we know it, too.

Powerful political operatives have suggested that well-educated, professional people embrace the Catholic religion because it is more acceptable than the evangelical churches, thus insulting both faith communities. They have derided Catholics who take seriously the Christian formation of their children, who have had their children baptized in the Jordan River (where Christ was baptized), and who advance principles of Catholic social teaching such as subsidiarity (which stresses the importance of addressing problems and issues at the local level when possible). It doesn’t seem to occur to these political operatives that many people embrace religious faith because they actually believe it to be true and good.

Here, too, Francis is out to shake up the Church by calling us to authenticity, to become missionary disciples who go out to the margins. He’s challenging each of us truly to encounter the living Christ and to embrace the Gospel with enthusiasm, prompting us to compassionate action outside the sanctuary, at risk not only to our social standing but even to our personal security. He is urging us to be not only true believers but indeed the Lord’s messengers who bring the joy and healing of the Gospel to the peripheries of society.

These political operatives aren’t seeking to shake up the Church; they’re seeking to domesticate it. Pope Francis wants to revitalize it. Where the tactics of these operatives reveal a view of religion as something to be informed by political values, the Holy Father, in his book “On Heaven and Earth,” makes the case that religion should be informing politics with values, not engaging in partisan politics. Let’s follow his lead, not theirs.

Third Sunday in Lent; Installation of Fr. Jesse Bolger Homily

“Your applause signals the warm welcome you have given to Father Jesse during the months that have passed since he was appointed as your pastor. You have seen the priestly goodness, the talent, the energy and the dedication he brings to his ministry here at St. Joseph’s. I thank you not only for welcoming Father Jesse but also for working closely with him as a new chapter is written in the history of this great parish.

“Let me also say a special word of welcome to Father Jesse’s parents as well as his family members who join us today along with parishioners from parishes where Father Jesse has served in the past and his many friends from near and far.”

To read the complete homily, click HERE.

Archdiocesan Mass for Consecrated Life Homily

“Thank you for taking part in this annual Archdiocesan Mass for Consecrated Life. It is an opportunity for me and for this local Church of Baltimore to recognize and give thanks for the rich and varied vocation to the consecrated life a vocation represented so well by each of you and by your communities. The charisms of your founders find expression in your many ministries that directly benefit and strengthen our fellow Catholics and the wider community. For all of this, and for so much more, please accept my heartfelt gratitude, coupled with my prayers for you and for your institutes. In a special way we honor those celebrating anniversaries of their religious profession, ranging from 25 years to 50, to 60, to 65, 70, 75, and even an 80th anniversary! Warmest thanks and congratulations!

“Due to a variety of scheduling complications, mostly of my doing, we come together deep into the season of Lent. Aside for the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, Lent has a somber, penitential character, as we journey toward the Cross and meditate frequently on the mystery of the Lord’s Passion and Death. With this in mind, we celebrate today a votive Mass in honor of ‘the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Foot of the Cross’. In fact, this Mass comes to us not from the general Roman Missal but rather from the Proper of Masses of the Order of the Servants of Mary. So, I hope that this votive Mass and its readings speak eloquently to you and to the vocation which you strive to live with generosity and joy.”

Read the complete homily HERE.

Second Sunday of Lent; St. Patrick Parade Mass Homily

“In a scene that was to repeat itself many times in our history, a priest by the name of Dolan and a physician by the name of Donovan met a ship in the Baltimore harbor arriving from famine-stricken Ireland. The year was 1847. Father Dolan wrote in his diary that the ship was ‘freighted with human misery and death’ (Cf. Spalding, Premier See, p. 139).

“These vulnerable men, women, and children – like Abram in today’s first reading – left behind their homeland and came to these shores in hope of a better life. They were fortunate to be greeted in our harbor by a compassionate priest and a devoted doctor, both of Irish descent, They assumed responsibility for the stricken people on that ship. They found shelter for the dying passengers. Father Dolan heard their confessions and anointed them while Dr. Donovan did his best to soothe their sufferings and to save any life that he could. They did not hesitate to take charge of some forty orphans on that ship and with the help of the Hibernian Society opened an orphanage to house them and to teach them a trade or to teach them how to farm (Ibid).”

Read the complete homily HERE.

First Sunday of Lent; Rite of Election Homily

“On the first Sunday of Lent the Church invites all of us, but especially those of you preparing for initiation at Easter, to confront the very human tendency to give in to temptation and to fall into sin. At the conclusion of Lent, during the Easter Vigil and on Easter Sunday, the Church will again remind us of our struggle with temptation and sin by inviting us to renounce sin so as to live the new life Christ won for us. You and I will be asked: ‘Do you renounce sin so as to live in the freedom of the children of God?’ And then: ‘Do you renounce the lure of evil, so that sin may have no mastery over you?’ And finally: ‘Do you renounce Satan, the author and prince of sin?’

“So, at the very beginning of Lent, the Church looks ahead to Easter, to the celebration of the Lord’s victory over sin by his Cross and Resurrection. The Church wants to guide us through these forty days of Lent, this intense time of prayer and self-sacrifice leading to the Easter Vigil, so that when the day of the Resurrection dawns, we will not half-heartedly pronounce our baptismal promises. No, we shall do so as disciples, as followers of Christ, who truly share in the victory of Christ over sin and death, as men and women who are truly free from the bondage, discord, and misery which sin, contrary what it promises, inflicts upon us and upon our world.”

Read the complete homily HERE.

Mass at Morgan State University Homily

“I am honored and delighted to offer Holy Mass here at historic Morgan State in this beautiful University Chapel. I would like to thank your President, Dr. David Wilson, Rev. Dr. Bernard Keels, Chaplain, as well as Dr. Victor McCrary, Vice-President for Economic Research and Development . . . for their warm invitation to celebrate this Mass.

“I have been told that I am the first Archbishop to celebrate Mass on the campus of this university in its 150-year history. Well, I have been the Archbishop of Baltimore for less than 5 of those 150 years . . . but I can promise you this: We won’t wait another 150 years to do this again, if you’ll have us back!”

Read the complete homily HERE.

Annual Archdiocesan Scout Mass Homily

“Fr. Proffitt, Msgr. Phillips, my brother deacons, and dear friends in Christ: It’s a real pleasure to be with all of you today for the annual Archdiocesan Scout Mass and Presentation of Awards. And thank you so much, Father Proffitt, for hosting us here at St. John’s.

“Let me say how grateful I am to the members of the Catholic Committee on Scouting. And I am especially happy to offer my warm congratulations to all of you who will be receiving special awards today. I admire your hard work, dedication, faith, and values. You are models for your peers and for all of us gathered with you today.”

Read the complete homily HERE.

6th Sunday A; Homily

“Some years ago, on a flight from New York to Chicago,
a man seated next to me noticed that I was dressed as a priest
and asked if he could talk to me about his problems with the Church.
Just at that moment the flight attendant told us to buckle our seatbelts
and I’ll confess that I not only buckled it
but I also made sure it was pulled a little tighter than usual.
I was getting ready for in-flight turbulence of another kind.

“But, you know, it wasn’t that way at all.
My fellow passenger was a good person; he only was feeling perplexed.
In fact, he felt like a lot of people probably feel.
‘I was raised Catholic,’ he began, ‘but I’ve fallen away.
And the reason is that there are so many rules to keep.
The Church imposes too many laws and rules on its parishioners.
We need less rules and more love!'”

Read the complete homily HERE.