Corpus Christi 2016 Homily

“Not long ago, I found myself on a plane seated next to a passenger who seemed agitated and anxious to talk.
Seeing my Roman collar, she asked, “Are you a Catholic priest?”
“Yes, and also a bishop,” I added parenthetically, bracing myself for turbulence.
As it turned out, she was a very nice person who just needed to talk to someone.
“I don’t feel good about myself,” she said, “I’m empty inside.
Things aren’t going well at home and sometimes I think I’m on the outs with God.”

As the conversation continued I prayed to the Holy Spirit
that her moment of distress would become a moment of peace and joy in the Lord.
Truth to tell, I’m not sure where things stood when we parted but I still pray for her, and as a priest I’m also keenly aware that she is more the rule than the exception. Many people lead stressful lives at home and at work.
Sometimes they react to the problems and inequities of life by becoming angry, defensive, and self-centered. And just when their need for God and the things of God is most apparent, they allow their relationship with the Lord and with fellow believers to trail off. They end up going it alone and they end up being alone…”

Read the full homily HERE.

Pentecost 2016

Cathedrapetri+gloriaImage by Ricardo André Frantz (User:Tetraktys) (taken by Ricardo André Frantz) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

If you or I were to walk into Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, our eye would be drawn to the enormous stained glass window at the far end of the Basilica.  It is the window of the Holy Spirit. In it, the Holy Spirit is pictured in the form of a dove, and the light streaming through that window floods the interior of St. Peter’s with a peaceful, golden light.  From the window emanate rays of gold in the form of a sunburst, illustrating that the light of the Holy Spirit and His gifts are powerful and abundant and they fill the whole Church.

Let’s keep this image in mind as we reflect on what the Feast of Pentecost means.  It has been 50 days since Easter, and on Pentecost the Lord Jesus Christ, risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, with God the Father, pours out the Holy Spirit upon the Church, flooding it with peaceful light and with the power and strength needed to continue the mission of bringing the Gospel to every nation and every person.

In the first reading we find the Apostles gathered together in the Upper Room, where Jesus had celebrated the Last Supper with them on the night before he died.  There, “with one accord, they devoted themselves to prayer” as Scripture says.  As they prayed, they remembered what Jesus recently said to them:  “Before many days,” he said, “you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit…you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”

At Pentecost, we give thanks because the Holy Spirit indeed has indeed come upon us.  In Confirmation, the Bishop asked us:  “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who came upon the Apostles at Pentecost, and today is given to you sacramentally in Confirmation?”

In the Gospel, we heard of another coming of the Holy Spirit. It was the evening of the first Easter Sunday, when the Risen Christ came to be with the Apostles.  He breathed on them, and gave them the Holy Spirit, so that they and their successors, would have from Christ the power to forgive sins.

This shows us something very important: that there exists – both in the Church and in our individual lives – an inseparable link between the forgiveness of sins and the coming of the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit who makes possible the forgiveness of sins through the ministry of priests.  Indeed, this is what we hear when we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation:  “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.”

And so, it’s the forgiveness of our sins that enables us to receive the Holy Spirit in ever greater measure. And he Holy Spirit is the most gracious of guests.  He will only come where he is invited.  If the door of our soul is closed to the Holy Spirit through sin, the Holy Spirit simply cannot come and work within us.  If the door is cracked open, even a little, the Spirit of God will seek to enter.

And how do we know whether the Holy Spirit is working within us?  First and foremost, as St. Paul tells us today, we will claim Jesus as Lord! In the Spirit, we know and love Jesus not as a mere figure of history but as the Someone who is most real and present and active in our lives. Further, we can know if the Holy Spirit is at work in us when we see evidence of spiritual gifts in our lives . . .a gift for sharing the faith others, a gift for reaching out to those in need, a gift for organizing, for getting people to volunteer . . . the list goes on.   So also, in his Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul lists the Fruits of the Holy Spirit – those traits which are the unmistakable evidence that Holy Spirit is at work in us.

They are: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  Who wouldn’t want spiritual gifts for themselves and for others? Who wouldn’t want the fruits of the Holy Spirit for themselves and those they love?

The fact is, our human talents, and efforts, and good will can only bring us so far toward acquiring these traits which we find so attractive and know to be so good.  It is the Holy Spirit who alone can ultimately give them to us.  But in order to receive them, our minds and hearts must be open to receiving them. So when we speak of the connection between the forgivenessof sins and the working of the Holy Spirit, we recall that a frequent and regular reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is absolutely essential to our life in Christ – so that the Holy Spirit can be fully at work within us, strengthening our friendship with Christ, granting us spiritual gifts to be shared with others, filling us with those fruits which are a foretaste of and preparation for Heaven.  As Saint Teresa of Ávila once put it, “The road to Heaven is heavenly.”

So on this Pentecost, coming as it does within the Year of Mercy, let us resolve  to make a good, thorough, unburdening confession soon – whether it’s been a matter of weeks, or months, or years, since our last confession.  “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,” Jesus said to the Apostles in Sunday’s Gospel, “and whose sins you retain are retained.”  And in this way, we will be fully open to the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Indeed, this is something we can fully appreciate only when we experience it, because, as Saint Cyril of Jerusalem explains,  “As light strikes the eyes of someone who comes out of darkness into the sunshine and enables them to see clearly things they could not discern before, so light floods the soul of the one counted worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit, and enables them to see things beyond the range of human vision, things hitherto undreamed of” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Living Water of the Holy Spirit).

Let me leave you with a final thought.  In the Gospel, we notice that “[t]he disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”  This was the joy of Easter – the Apostles’ joy of encountering Christ, their joy of being reunited with Christ, the joy of once again being with their Friend.  They were seeing Christ not after a separation of time and distance, but after the seemingly definitive separation of death.  But now He is risen, and he is with them in a new and powerful way; he loves them and pours forth the Holy Spirit upon them.  And the point of today’s feast is that he loves us too, and he is with us, and he pours out upon us the Holy Spirit.

And as Benedict XVI said, beneath the window of the Holy Spirit in St. Peter’s Basilica: “Yes, it is beautiful to live because I am loved and it is the Truth who loves me.  ‘The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.’

On this Pentecost these words are addressed also to us, because in faith we can see him.  In faith he comes among us and to us too he shows his hands and his side, and we rejoice.  Therefore let us pray, ‘Lord, show yourself!  Give us the gift of your presence, and we shall have the most beautiful gift, the gift of your joy.  Amen!’” (Pentecost Sunday Homily 2011).

Human Life is Sacred and Inviolable

With thanks to Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation
English language attaché, Holy See Press Office
Human Life is Sacred and Inviolable
Reflections to Guide Us as We March and Work for Life

On April 11, 2014, Pope Francis addressed the Italian Pro-Life movement with these provocative words:

“We know that human life is sacred and inviolable. Every civil right rests on the recognition of the first and fundamental right, that of life, which is not subordinate to any condition, be it quantitative, economic or, least of all, ideological. “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills…. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a ‘throw away’ culture which is now spreading” (Evangelii Gaudium #53). And in this way life, too, ends up being thrown away. One of the gravest risks our epoch faces, amid the opportunities offered by a market equipped with every technological innovation, is the divorce between economics and morality, the basic ethical norms of human nature are increasingly neglected. It is therefore necessary to express the strongest possible opposition to every direct attack on life, especially against the innocent and defenseless, and the unborn in a mother’s womb is the example of innocence par excellence. Let us remember the words of the Second Vatican Council: “Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes” (Gaudium et Spe #51).”

Today we are living in the midst of a culture that denies solidarity and takes the form of a veritable “culture of death”. This culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents that encourage an idea of society exclusively concerned with efficiency. It is a war of the powerful against the weak. There is no room in the world for anyone who, like the unborn or the dying, is a weak element in the social structure or anyone who appears completely at the mercy of others and radically dependent on them and can only communicate through the silent language of profound sharing of affection. Abortion is the most serious wound inflicted not only on individuals and their families who should provide the sanctuary for life, but inflicted as well on society and its culture, by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders. How can we forget Pope Benedict XVI’s words at the opening ceremony of World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, Australia, on July 17, 2008:

And so we are led to reflect on what place the poor and the elderly, immigrants and the voiceless, have in our societies. How can it be that domestic violence torments so many mothers and children? How can it be that the most wondrous and sacred human space – the womb – has become a place of unutterable violence?

Nor can we forget what Pope Francis wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (#214):

“It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life. On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty. Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?”

The Catholic Church’s Consistent Ethic of Life

The Roman Catholic Church holds a consistent ethic of life. The Church offers a teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness and dignity of the human person. However, opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the dignity of the human person such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself, whatever insults human dignity such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons – all of these things and more poison human society.

In economically developed countries, legislation contrary to life is very widespread, and it has already shaped moral attitudes and praxis, contributing to the spread of an anti-birth mentality; frequent attempts are made to export this mentality to other states as if it were a form of cultural progress.

“Openness to life is at the centre of true development,” wrote Pope Benedict in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate. When a society moves toward the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good. If personal and social sensitivity toward the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.” The Holy Father sums up the current global economic crisis in a remarkable way with these words: “Human costs always include economic costs, and economic dysfunctions always involve human costs.”

The burning issues of the promotion of human life, from conception to natural death, must be high on the agenda of every human being on every side of the political spectrum. They are not only the concern of the far right of the political spectrum. Many people, blinded by their own zeal and goodness, have ended up defeating the very cause for which we must all defend with every ounce of energy in our flesh and bones.

The market push towards euthanasia

If we look carefully at the great dramas of the last century, we see that as free markets toppled Communism, exaggerated consumerism and materialism infiltrated our societies and cultures. Aging populations, especially in the west, and resulting smaller workforces are now creating a market push towards euthanasia. As St. John Paul II wrote: “a right to die will inevitably give way to the duty to die.”

Most people who think that euthanasia and assisted suicide should be legal are not thinking the whole issue through. They are thinking about personal autonomy and choice. They think about what it would be like to suddenly become incapacitated and consider such a life as undignified or worthless. Perhaps they consider severely disabled people as having no quality of life. Our dignity and quality of life don’t come from what we can or cannot do. Dignity and quality of life are not matters of efficiency, proficiency and productivity. They come from a deeper place – from who we are and how we relate to each other. True compassion leads to sharing another’s pain, not killing the person whose suffering we cannot bear.

In his most recent Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis writes (#48):

“The elderly who are vulnerable and dependent are at times unfairly exploited simply for economic advantage. Many families show us that it is possible to approach the last stages of life by emphasizing the importance of a person’s sense of fulfilment and participation in the Lord’s paschal mystery. A great number of elderly people are cared for in Church institutions, where, materially and spiritually, they can live in a peaceful, family atmosphere. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are serious threats to families worldwide; in many countries, they have been legalized. The Church, while firmly opposing these practices, feels the need to assist families who take care of their elderly and infirm members”.

What is wrong with abortion, euthanasia, embryo selection, and embryonic research is not the motives of those who carry them out. So often, those motives are, on the surface, compassionate: to protect a child from being unwanted, to end pain and suffering, to help a child with a life-threatening disease. But in all these cases, the terrible truth is that it is the strong who decide the fate of the weak; human beings therefore become instruments in the hands of other human beings.

 Being pro-life is one of the deepest expressions of our baptism: we stand up as sons and daughters of the light, clothed in humility and charity, filled with conviction, speaking the truth to power with firmness, conviction and determination, and never losing joy and hope. Being Pro-Life is not an activity for a political party or a particular side of the spectrum. It is an obligation for everyone: left, right and centre! If we are Pro-Life, we must engage the culture around us, and not curse it. We must see others as Jesus does, and we must love them to life, even those who are opposed to us. To March for Life in Ottawa, Washington and in many other cities of the world means that we stand up for all human life, and we do not have a myopic view of the cause of life.  Let us strive for a consistent ethic of human life, from womb to tomb. Being pro-life in this day and age is truly prophetic, and it will bring about authentic development and enduring peace in our world.