Supporting the Little Sisters’ Freedom to Serve

12321247_10153471704816961_956649257163793389_nI was honored to offer Mass today at St. Peter’s in Washington, D.C. for the Little Sisters of the Poor, following arguments made on their behalf before the Supreme Court of the United States.  May God bless their efforts to defend religious liberty and our collective freedom to serve!  Below is my homily from the Mass.

Well, dear sisters and dear friends, it’s been quite the day.  If you attended the oral arguments in the chambers of the Supreme Court, you heard high level argumentation and questioning. For those of us who are non-lawyers, it is glimpse at the complexities of the law.  I can only imagine the combination of exhilaration and exhaustion our legal team feels having argued before the High Court for such a noble purpose.  It has also been a day when many have come to support what we sincerely believe is a very worthy cause as well as a day when we have encountered opposition.  You have been praying for weeks on end, fasting and otherwise sacrificing, and it’s fair to say that this momentous religious freedom issue has occupied much of your time and energy.  Now the matter is in the hands of the Court and in the hands of God.

So we do well to come away and rest with the Lord, by celebrating the mystery that is “the source and summit” of our lives. Yet, even here rest seems hard to come by for today’s liturgy is filled with the intrigue created by Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, and with a certain foreboding as the hour of Jesus’ Passion and Death approaches.

Where, indeed, will we find solace and rest for our souls?

The answer, of course, is always the same. It is Jesus who gives solace and rest to our souls, even in this hour when we remember how he was betrayed and how, though innocent, he suffered to save the guilty from their sins.  In the midst of intrigue and foreboding, we find in Jesus a yoke that is easy and burden that is light.

We find in Jesus a love “stronger than sin and more powerful than death.” Thus do our souls find rest, even as controversy swirls about us.

Jesus understood that his mission would bring him face-to-face with the powers of darkness. He also understood that, through the ages, his followers would do the same. It never has been nor should it ever be easy to follow Jesus. He calls us to salt and light and leaven in the midst of a world that is often unbelieving and indifferent.

We know, of course, how hard it is to remain faithful to that mission. The tragic figure of Judas signals how easy it is for me and even for you to betray the One who loves us with a beautiful and merciful love. It also signals that “Jesus took upon himself the betrayal of all the ages, the pain caused by betrayal in every era…” (Benedict XVI).  We came today to hold fast to that love which is capable of transforming us and transforming those we are privileged to serve. We dared to argue this case before the highest court in the land because, despite our unworthiness, we want to bear witness to that love which alone conquers human darkness.

So let us be of good cheer. Let us dare to hope. Let us dare to rejoice. For with the help of many, you can say, dear sisters, “The Lord has given me a well-trained tongue….” and I’ve rejoiced to see the charity and cogency of what you have said and written in defense of religious freedom and in defense of the Church’s mission of service.

Please do not underestimate how encouraging your witness is to so many. Truly you have spoken a word “to the weary, a word that will rouse them.” Many across our country and beyond, including Pope Francis, are truly heartened by your loving and courageous witness to the faith rooted in the Lord’s own love and courage in redeeming us from our sins.      May the Lord God be our help and, if it be his holy will, may he vindicate the Church         in a case that will have far-reaching consequences, now and for the future.

As we offer again the One Sacrifice of Christ, we beg the grace of the Holy Spirit for the High Court, for our society, for our Church, and for ourselves: that we may preserve and defend the God-given gift of religious freedom now and for generations yet to be born. May God bless us and keep us always in his love.

Remembering St. Patrick in the Year of Mercy

celtic-cross-2-1409551When he announced the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis also asked bishops and religious superiors to nominate

priests whom he could commission as “missionaries of mercy” –priests who are good confessors, good preachers of the message of mercy who could travel the globe proclaiming the mercies of the Lord.

This week we celebrate the feast day of one such missionary of mercy, namely, the great St. Patrick.  The story of St. Patrick is well known but its outline bears repeating, especially in the context of this Year of Mercy.  St. Patrick lived between 386 and 461.  He was born Britain but was captured by pirates and brought to Ireland.  During his time of enslavement, he was converted to Christianity.  After six years of captivity, Patrick escaped but did not remain in his native land.  Instead, he returned to Ireland as a missionary, bringing to that country the message of mercy, salvation in Jesus Christ.  By all accounts, St. Patrick was extraordinarily successful winning over the Emerald Isle for Christ and for the Church.

St. Patrick, however, was not the original missionary of mercy.  Jesus Christ, Eternal Son of God the Father, was sent into the world to reveal the face of the Father of Mercies, to save us from our sins, to heal the wounds of sin and division, and to unite us in goodness, truth, and love.  The scriptures describe and celebrate the mighty power of God, a God who opened a pathway through the sea for the chosen people, a God who defeated the Egyptians so that his people could escape into the desert.  Now, however, in Jesus, we see the real intent of God’s mighty power.  As Pope Francis has said, God’s mercy is the mark par excellence of his omnipotence.  His mighty power is revealed in the mercy and forgiveness he extends to us.  Jesus is the original and ultimate missionary of mercy!

Sometimes when we speak of God’s mercy, we imagine that in forgiving us the Lord is quietly condoning our sins, telling us that they are not as bad as we thought.  But God’s mercy is not a “get out of jail free card” from our old Monopoly game; that really sells short how marvelous God’s mercy really is. When we welcome God’s mercy, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we allow God’s mighty power to enter our hearts not only to cleanse us of our sins but to strengthen us to sin no more, to lay aside those sins that bring so much unhappiness to ourselves and others, that cause us to lead a double life to one degree or another –those sins that make it difficult for us to live with ourselves and with our consciences.

I should imagine that St. Patrick’s conversion followed the pattern that St. Paul outlines for us.  That conversion is not a matter of trading in one set of rules for another.  No, St. Paul says, “I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord.  For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him . . .”  When we fall in love with Christ in an absolute way, those hurt feelings we hold on to, the anger and resentment we harbor, those sinful habits we cling to as closely guarded secrets –those possessions and comforts we don’t think we can live without –all that becomes worthless and we’re willing to leave it behind.  When the priest pronounces the words of absolution in confession, we hear Jesus inviting us – “Go and sin no more –and we hear St. Paul saying to us, “You can leave these sins behind –so long as you open your heart through faith in Christ to the power of the Cross and the power of the Resurrection over sin and death.”  It’s not a matter of our earning our righteousness by following the rules but rather of our allowing Christ to come and take possession of our hearts, allowing ourselves to be loved as we have never before been loved –such that we forget what lies behind and we press on to what lies ahead –namely, life in Christ Jesus beginning now but consummated fully in heaven.

That is why Patrick went to Ireland. That is why Pope Francis sent out missionaries of mercy. That is why we celebrate the Holy Mass and participate in the Sacraments–in the hope of finding that mercy which surpasses everything we’ve ever known.

24 Hours for the Lord

24Hours_Pushdown_expanded_ForBlogToday, we come together as an Archdiocese and join with our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and with Catholics throughout the world in observing 24 Hours for the Lord, one day when we give ourselves to God through prayer, Reconciliation, and Eucharistic adoration.  Pope Francis called for this special observance in Lent during this Year of Mercy so as to help us deepen our relationship with the person of Jesus Christ, to help some of us fall in love with Him for the first time, and others to fall in love with Him all over again.  Our love for Jesus is the most important step toward our lifelong journey to discipleship.  I invite you to visit our website, www.archbalt.org, and to check with your parish about how to give 24 Hours for the Lord.  May this be a time for you to grow in your love for Jesus and may you emerge from this observance inspired to share this precious gift with others!