Rite of Election 2016

RiteofElection

This past Sunday, more than 800 catechumens (adults seeking Baptism) and candidates (adults seeking full reception to receive the sacraments) participated in the Rite of Election, the beginning of their final preparation for full reception into the Catholic Church.  Below is an excerpt of my homily from the Mass at Rite of Election.  Please join me in praying for those who join us in seeking to deepen our relationship with Jesus and to enter more fully into the life of the Church.

 

Whatever has brought you here – we have one thing in common: we have come to deepen our relationship with the Lord Jesus by becoming fully members of the Church, the People of God.  We are here because to one degree or another we believe that by becoming members of the Church we shall experience the love of Jesus who gave his life to save us.

 

And no sooner do you walk in the door of the church today, than you hear the Gospel reading that describes how Jesus was tempted.  It tells us that, before he began his public ministry, Jesus withdrew to the desert and while he was engaged in prayer to his heavenly Father, Satan, the father of lies, called on Jesus and tempted him three times.

 

Three different temptations: to self-satisfaction; to power and glory; and to doubt. What do these three temptations have in common? It’s this: Satan was tempting Jesus to dis-believe in God the Father’s love for him and for us. Jesus came to reveal the Father’s love and, in that love, to redeem us from our sins. Just as Jesus was preparing to preach the Good News, heal the sick, raise the dead, and then to suffer, die, and rise from the dead to save us from our sins –Satan said to him – “No! Don’t do that! Don’t do what your Father in heaven wants!”  Use your miraculous powers and gifts for yourself and for your own purposes. Set yourself up as a rival god to your Father in heaven.

 

Jesus, of course, would have none of it and quickly dismissed Satan so as to teach us how to overcome Satan when he tempts us. In his victory over temptation, we find the strength to fight temptation ourselves. But how will you, as catechumens and candidates be tested? What temptations will Satan throw in your path as you journey toward the Easter Vigil to be baptized and fully initiated into the life of the Church?

 

Along the way you no doubt will experience the ordinary temptations of daily life but I would submit that you may experience deeper temptations not unlike the temptations that Jesus experienced in the desert. As you continue taking your life of faith seriously –praying, repenting of your sins, reading Scripture, learning about the faith, opening your hearts to Christ and his love perhaps as never before –as you begin doing all these things, Satan will say to you –“Really? “Why are you wasting your time?” “What make you think God loves you?”

 

In other words, he will tempt us to disbelieve that God really does love us. Or the temptation may come in a more subtle form. The devil (who is always in the details) may tempt you to reason in this way: “Well, all these things I’m learning about the faith are nice and all, but really getting baptized and received into the Church is just a formality. If I don’t like it, I can always leave.” Or the great tempter may say to you, “You’re only doing this to please your Mom or your Dad or your spouse. Make them happy. You can drop out little by little. There’s no point to all this.”

 

So it is that Pope Francis calls you and me not to accept the faith as a mere formality but rather to allow Christ to find us, to open our hearts to him in faith and love, truly to encounter Christ and allow him to walk with us in our daily lives. In the same way Pope Benedict once said, “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty ideal but the encounter with an event, a person, (i.e., the person of Christ) who gives life a new horizon and a definitive direction.”

 

And so if you want to avoid the temptation of doubting God’s love for you or the temptation of seeing the faith as a mere formality, then join with all of us who have been a part of the Church for a long time! Join with us in seeking the grace truly to open our hearts widely to Christ, to fall in love with Christ in a quite personal and definitive way, so that the light of his love will give meaning to every part of our lives –every relationship, our daily work, our joys, our sufferings, even our sinful frailty. Join with us in walking the path of discipleship, sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to his words and letting them shape our heart of hearts. No one walks the path of faith alone – you are in good company! Come, let us be fellow disciples in the Church, the Body of Christ!

 

Jesus’ love for us doesn’t fade. The Father’s love doesn’t fade. Rather, through the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s love reaches us and does so in an especially powerful way through the Sacraments, the very Sacraments you are preparing to take part in. God’s love for you and me is for keeps! Believe in his love! Believe that God loves you in Christ deeply and personally and that no matter what you may face, his love will never fail you!

 

My prayer for you, your families, your catechists, and your friends is that your relationship with Christ, your commitment to the Church, your faith, your hope, and your love will grow only brighter and stronger day by day, month by month, year by year until you see God face to face.

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Ash Wednesday 2016

40Days

Today we begin the season of Lent.  Some see it as a time of self-denial designed only to make us miserable.  That’s really not fair. It is a season of grace, a season of mercy.  Scripture tells us not only to repent but also to buck up!  So, we might think of Lent as “spring training” for our spiritual lives or like spring house cleaning for our souls.  This is the time to renew our relationship with God, with the Church, and with everyone in our lives, including our enemies.

 

Lent is also a time when we are reminded that life is short.  When ashes are imposed, we hear the words, “Remember you are dust.”  We are reminded in the short span of our lives to focus not on what is trivial but on what is important, namely, our journey toward eternal life.  And as we see ashes on one another’s foreheads we are reminded that we are making this journey together; we are in good company; as members of the Church, we need to be helping one another along the way.

 

So, “What should we be doing for Lent?” It’s a good question but not the first question we should ask.  The first question we should ask, especially in this Year of Mercy, is this:  “Will this be the Lent when we allow God’s mercy to overtake us?”  “Will this be the Lent when we will fall deeply and irrevocably in love with God?”  “During these next six weeks, will I become convinced that God loves me?  That his love is stronger than my sins? That he sent his Son to die for my salvation?”

 

Once we are convinced that God’s mercy is real and that it’s meant for us, then our works of repentance take on new meaning.  Instead of being some added bit of drudgery in our overburdened lives, the penances and good works we do become a means of opening the doors of our hearts more widely to God’s mercy.

 

We fast from food, abstain from meat, give up alcoholic beverages, turn off the TV, lay aside the I-phone – to make room in our hearts for God.  We resolve to come to Mass each day in Lent, to spend more time in private prayer, to read the Scriptures, to adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament –because we want our relationship with God to be warm and life-giving, not cold and formal.

 

We make up our minds to go to confession in Lent early and often not to beat ourselves up for our sins but rather to take care of them –to have them forgiven by the mercy of God who rejoices when we repent.  And we also resolve to deepen our love the poor and needy during Lent, the poor who are always with us in every community of the Archdiocese.  Pope Francis urges us during this Year of Mercy to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy –clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, consoling the sorrowful…for in giving of ourselves we rediscover God’s gift of self to us.

 

My prayer for you and for myself is that this Lent will be a joyful season, joyful because the mercy of God has found us.  When these 40 days are over, may we be prepared to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus with a faith and joy we never thought possible. 

The Dog Days of… Winter

This week has been a busy one, but also a joyful one.  It began with my celebration of a Mass of Thanksgiving on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of St. Agnes Catholic School in Catonsville.  It was the perfect time to celebrate this wonderful school as the Mass occurred on the first day of Catholic Schools Week.  On Monday, I was pleased to be joined by our Chancellor of Education and Superintendent of Schools, Mr. Jim Sellinger and Dr. Barbara Edmondson, as well as several priests from Frederick County as we visited St. John Regional School for a special Catholic Schools Week Mass.  What a joy to be with the students, faculty, staff, along with parents and grandparents from St. John’s as well as neighboring Catholic schools of Visitation Academy, Mother Seton School, St. Thomas More Academy, and St. John’s Catholic Preparatory School.  Both Masses were wonderful celebrations of the gift of Catholic education and opportunities to thank the many, many people who make our schools outstanding and who sacrifice much to send their children to a Catholic school in our Archdiocese.

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The week continued with a visit to a meeting with ChristLife Young Adults, who, inspired by a deep sense of mission and fidelity to the Church, offer me great hope for the future of our Archdiocese and the wider community. 

Christ Life 

The Archdiocese was pleased to once again host the Mid-Atlantic Congress, which drew a record number of participants and bishops from throughout the United States.  I was privileged to offer the Opening Mass of the Congress and to pray with and for all who were present that the Congress be a time of spiritual renewal for them and for their ministries. 

 

Finally, the Basilica Rectory has a new addition: my dog, Bayley.  He brings welcome energy and love to the rectory and the chancery.  Pets are truly wonderful creatures God has created.  Their endless love, faithfulness, and loyalty are wonderful examples that should never go unnoticed or unappreciated! 

Bayley