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Homily of Archbishop Blase J. Cupich Wake Service for Francis Cardinal George

Cupich Wake Service Cardinal George

Homily of Archbishop Blase J. Cupich
Wake Service for Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.,
with Priests and Seminarians of the Archdiocese of Chicago
Tuesday evening. April 21, 2015
Holy Name Cathedral

“Stay with us Lord, for evening draws near.”

These words echo in the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours time and again throughout this Eastertide, as we prepare each day for nightfall. They are the words of the disciples who fled Jerusalem downcast and disappointed; the words of grieving disciples who suffered loss. They are words that remind us that the greatest works of God, the creation, the Cross and the Resurrection, are done in darkness. And they are words for us in this moment of mourning and prayer for our brother, Cardinal Francis George. They are welcomed words, for they force us to focus our attention on what is really taking place, what we are doing and also who we are as a Church and who we are as a presbyterate.

WHAT IS REALLY TAKING PLACE AND WHAT WE ARE DOING

What we claim is taking place and what we pray for is that Christ the Risen Lord, active in our midst, will bring our brother Francis to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that he may be filled with all the fullness of God.

We will hear in these days, as we have already, many well-deserved laudatory words about the Cardinal’s life and ministry. His scholarship and razor-sharp incisive mind, his leadership in this country and abroad, his tenacity and courage in the face of great suffering and disability all merit our great admiration and respect.

But, our Catholic tradition hesitates to let the past dominate these days of funeral liturgies. It considers such an approach short-sighted, so unequal to the totally other reality taking place. Our funerals are not celebrations of one’s life, a nostalgic return to past glories. Rather, they focus on the Risen Christ presently active in our midst, whose power at work in us is able to accomplish far more than we ask and far more that we can imagine.

This is what these days are about.

“Stay with us Lord, for evening draws near.”

Cardinal George wake 1

These words also bring comfort to our grieving hearts, by reminding us that the consolation offered to us in these days is not limited to the warm support and friendship we offer each other, as important and meaningful as that is. But rather, our consolation comes in knowing that we participate and contribute to Christ’s redeeming work which we pray is taking place for the Cardinal. Like Paul, together we kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant in accord with the riches of his glory that the one who shepherded this local Church may now be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may fully dwell in him. That is the consolation we want to offer you, Margaret, and your entire family. We know your loss is great, and there is pain in the deep recesses of your hearts. Be consoled in knowing that, like us, you now are joining in the work of the redeeming Christ. And we offer a special word of consolation to our brother, Fr. Dan Flens. Dan, your steady, devoted and unconditional care for the Cardinal not only in these last days, but throughout the years of service as his secretary, inspire us now to follow your good example by offering our prayerful support for Cardinal George.  Repeatedly in his final days, the Cardinal told me and others that you made possible his ministry during his years of service here. Be consoled that now, with you, we continue that support as together we join in Christ’s redeeming work. Be consoled in knowing that like the Lord, we stay with you as evening draws near.

All of this helps us appreciate more deeply who we are as Church and also who we are as a presbyterate in the bond you shared with this good shepherd and which we continue to share with each other in ordained ministry. I want to speak for a moment about each of these aspects and how these days of prayer deepen our understanding of both.

Cardinal George wake 2

WHO WE ARE AS CHURCH

What we do in these days is at the heart of the Church’s life and mission. It is the kind of Church the Pauline community in Ephesus is challenged to be as we hear in tonight’s epistle. They are invited to be more than just a congregation in Asia Minor, and instead embrace being a world-wide Church, with Christ as the head, a Church that is God’s instrument for making the Divine plan of salvation fulfilled in Christ known throughout the universe. This vision of who we are is far beyond a church that is for its own sake, but is, rather, a Church that is the means for mission in the world.

This is the ancient vision of the Church, this is the vision of the Church which the Second Vatican Council reclaimed and proclaimed anew in Gaudium et Spes, and this is the Church  Francis Eugene George generously embraced and committed his life to in loving service.

He told us as much in his selection of his Episcopal motto: To Christ be glory in the Church. These are words from the Letter to the Ephesians, in the passage read tonight, but also the passage which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council chose to conclude Gaudium et Spes.

Now to Him who is able to accomplish all things in a measure far beyond what we ask or conceive, in keeping with the power that is at work in us—to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus, down through all the ages of time without end. Amen. (Eph. 3:20-21).

This is the Church the Cardinal wanted us to be, and now it is up to us to carry on and fulfill that vision. It is a Church whose mission is to proclaim “the noble destiny of man and championing the Godlike seed which has been sown in him…Inspired by no earthly ambition, the Church seeks but a solitary goal: to carry forward the work of Christ under the lead of the befriending Spirit. And Christ entered this world to give witness to the truth, to rescue and not to sit in judgment, to serve and not to be served.” GS 3

This is the ancient vision of the Church, proclaimed by the Council Fathers in Gaudium et Spes, embraced and lived out by the Cardinal and now entrusted to us.

Cardinal George Casket with bishops

WHO WE ARE AS A PRESBYTERATE

That vision is especially entrusted to us, joined together in a presbyterate. Two symbolic actions, one at the beginning and the other at the end of these days, speak to us about how we support each other in honoring that trust. This afternoon during the Rite of Reception, the vicars, our auxiliary bishops, all of whom were ordained by Cardinal George, placed the pall on his casket, a reminder of the day he was clothed in Christ through baptism. As brother priests we might tend to focus only on strengthening each other in our vocation to the priesthood, so that we can remain faithful in our service to the People of God. But, this ritual action reminds us of the important service we can offer in challenging and encouraging each other to be faithful in our baptismal call for our ministry to the People of God to be fruitful. I often recall the very arresting comment of the late Cardinal Seper as a young bishop at the Second Vatican Council: “Remember,” he urged during the debate on priesthood, “that our ordination does not annihilate our baptism.” We need to offer each other that very foundational support, reminding each other to bring the dignity of our baptism unstained to the day of our rebirth in the resurrection.

A second symbolic action comes at the end of these days. On Thursday, the most recently ordained will carry the Cardinal’s remains from this Cathedral and accompany him to his grave. So, too, we must carry each other, care for each other not as a group closed in on itself for mutual self-preservation, but as a witness to those we serve, so that they do the same for others. It is a call to accompany each other in moments of darkness, loss and death. In this way, we are faithful to the vision of the Church entrusted to us by our ancestors in the faith, by the Council and by the shepherd, Francis, whom we accompany to the Lord in these days. And, with the Year of Mercy before us, what we do together in these days in caring for the dead, anticipates all that the Holy Father urges us to do in taking up with fresh vigor the corporal works of mercy.

Earlier I expressed condolences to Margaret, the family and Fr. Flens. But in this last moment, I want you, my brother priests and our seminarians, to know that I grieve his loss with you. Your experience with him was much deeper and longer than mine, but I can tell you that during the last months of his life and my first months as archbishop, he was unfailingly supportive to me, impressing upon me at this moment how he must have been the same for you over these past 17 years. So together in our grieving, we pray, “Stay with us Lord, for evening draws near.”

These words will keep us focused in these days and in the days ahead on what is really happening, what we are doing, who we are as Church, who we are as a presbyterate. They are words of disciples who seek comfort in a moment of painful loss, not only that they would not be left alone in their grief but in sensing that something greater than they could ever ask for or imagine is happening. They are words that remind us that the greatest works of God, the creation, the Cross and the Resurrection, are done in darkness. They are words we now make our own as we accompany our brother, Cardinal Francis George, O.M.I., and pray:

Stay with him Lord.

Cardinal Francis George, OMI, prayed the following prayer every day.
You are invited to use this prayer as part of your own prayerful mediation.

O Jesus, living in Mary, come and live in your servants,
in the spirit of your holiness, in the fullness of your power,
in the reality of your virtues, in the perfection of your ways,
in the communion of your mysteries.
Have dominion over every adverse power,
in your own Spirit, to the glory of God the Father.

Amen.

Prayer by Fr. Jean Jacques Olier, S.S. (1608-1657)
From the Prayer Book of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate

Cardinal George & Archbishop Cupich

Servant of Joy: Homily for the Funeral of Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte

Funeral_Turcotte

Friday, April 17, 2015

Below you will find the homily of Archbishop Christian Lepine at the funeral of Cardinal Turcotte.

You have come in great numbers to Mary Queen of the World Cathedral to honour Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte and to pray for him. Many of you are also taking part in this celebration via various broadcast technologies.

Our brother Jean-Claude ended his earthly pilgrimage last week when he passed away after a lengthy illness. At the end of a lifetime of service, he departed discreetly, surrounded by his family, to meet the Risen Christ. He has gathered us here today, though we are grief-stricken and are called to have hope.

Our existence in this world is not a life rooted in death but a life rooted in infinite love, which enriches us in this life and, in eternity, fills us with happiness.

This vision of life is rooted in Jesus Christ, who came into this world to reveal to us divine beauty, truth, goodness and unity.

Let us recall the Risen Christ when he appeared to the Apostles, and how they loved him and acknowledged that he was truly the Messiah, the Son of God. After having been slow to believe, they were overwhelmed with a joy that filled their hearts. They could feel the power of the Good Shepherd’s love when he said to them: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” and he gave them the mission to go forth and proclaim the Good News of Salvation.

Cardinal Turcotte Funeral Cathedral

The Apostles’ mission was centred on Jesus. For before Christ returned to his Father after his resurrection, he entrusted them with the mission to proclaim to all humanity “what they had heard, what they had seen with their eyes, what they had looked at and touched with their hands, concerning the Word of Life.”

The Church, the Apostles and their successors – the bishops – receive the mission to proclaim Jesus Christ; they start with Jesus Christ and they rely on Jesus Christ, he who promised to always be present: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Following the Apostles, Cardinal Turcotte rooted himself in Christ and chose as his episcopal motto, “Serve the Lord with Joy,” in the joy of the resurrection. At every stage of his life, he was seen as a servant of the Lord who made Jesus and Gospel values better known.

Over the past few days, following his death, many news reports, articles and testimonies have drawn attention to his qualities as a good communicator, a man close to the people, and as someone who never strayed from his family, social or spiritual roots. It has been said that, given his simple, straightforward approach, he had the ability to strike up conversation easily with people from all walks of life. He wanted to be of service to everyone by spreading God’s goodness.

All this had its source in his daily celebration of Mass. Through the window of his private chapel, he would watch as people walked along the sidewalk on their way to work and he would pray for them. He was a man whose life was Eucharist-centred, who, with his priestly heart, commended every person to the mercy of our God, who actively seeks us.

Being a man of prayer is how he ensured a fruitful ministry, for he remained continuously connected to the inexhaustible source, namely, Jesus Christ. His episcopal ministry and his wisdom in governing God’s people were born of his close communion with the Lord. Up to the end, Cardinal Turcotte wanted to celebrate the Eucharist, the presence of the living Christ.

To get closer to Jesus Christ is to get closer to the mystery of God, but also closer to being human, to one’s own humanity and to the humanity of the other, whomever he or she might be. He was interested in everything that is part of human life, with its joys and its pain.

Turcotte Collins Lacroix

In the vast area of social justice and solidarity, he wanted ever so humbly to make his contribution. Fully aware of his limitations and of those of the Church, he strove to ensure that the Church always went to great lengths to be close to the poor and attentive to every kind of poverty.

On his deathbed, his humanity shone forth in the gratitude he expressed toward everyone who attended to his health: the volunteers, orderlies, nurses, doctors and members of the religious communities. He insisted on recognizing their help and dedication.

The time has now come for Cardinal Turcotte to meet the Good Shepherd, whom he strove to follow and imitate. Today, we commend him to God’s mercy and we pray for him. We thank our Lord for having given us a servant who served with joy, who endeavoured to ensure that the Church was of service to society, and who often gathered us in this very cathedral around the Eucharist.

Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, we believe you are “the Lord” and that you are among us. We give you thanks for your presence among us and for the gift of your Word. Guide us through this difficult time for we are losing a man of prayer and service who has touched many people.

This is a time when our human words are inadequate to express the mystery of your call, addressed uniquely to each one of us. We ask you to speak to our hearts and to reveal yourself through the presence of your Holy Spirit, the Consoler. We ask you to bless our words so that through them we might be instruments of your Peace and your solace; You, who live with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen

Easter Vigil: Pope Francis’ Homily

Francis_Vigil_Mass1

Here is the official Vatican translation of Pope Francis’ Homily at the Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica on Holy Saturday evening.

Tonight is a night of vigil.  The Lord is not sleeping; the Watchman is watching over his people (cf. Ps 121:4), to bring them out of slavery and to open before them the way to freedom.

The Lord is keeping watch and, by the power of his love, he is bringing his people through the Red Sea.  He is also bringing Jesus through the abyss of death and the netherworld.

This was a night of vigil for the disciples of Jesus, a night of sadness and fear. The men remained locked in the Upper Room.  Yet, the women went to the tomb at dawn on Sunday to anoint Jesus’ body.  Their hearts were overwhelmed and they were asking themselves:  “How will we enter?  Who will roll back the stone of the tomb?…”  But here was the first sign of the great event: the large stone was already rolled back and the tomb was open!

“Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe…” (Mk 16:5).  The women were the first to see this great sign, the empty tomb; and they were the first to enter…

Risen Christ among the dead“Entering the tomb.” It is good for us, on this Vigil night, to reflect on the experience of the women, which also speaks to us.  For that is why we are here: to enter, to enter into the Mystery which God has accomplished with his vigil of love.

We cannot live Easter without entering into the mystery.  It is not something intellectual, something we only know or read about… It is more, much more!

“To enter into the mystery” means the ability to wonder, to contemplate; the ability to listen to the silence and to hear the tiny whisper amid great silence by which God speaks to us (cf 1 Kings 19:12).

To enter into the mystery demands that we not be afraid of reality: that we not be locked into ourselves, that we not flee from what we fail to understand, that we not close our eyes to problems or deny them, that we not dismiss our questions…

To enter into the mystery means going beyond our own comfort zone, beyond the laziness and indifference which hold us back, and going out in search of truth, beauty and love.  It is seeking a deeper meaning, an answer, and not an easy one, to the questions which challenge our faith, our fidelity and our very existence.

To enter into the mystery, we need humility, the lowliness to abase ourselves, to come down from the pedestal of our “I” which is so proud, of our presumption; the humility not to take ourselves so seriously, recognizing who we really are: creatures with strengths and weaknesses, sinners in need of forgiveness.  To enter into the mystery we need the lowliness that is powerlessness, the renunciation of our idols… in a word, we need to adore. Without adoration, we cannot enter into the mystery.

The women who were Jesus’ disciples teach us all of this.  They kept watch that night, together with Mary. And she, the Virgin Mother, helped them not to lose faith and hope.  As a result, they did not remain prisoners of fear and sadness, but at the first light of dawn they went out carrying their ointments, their hearts anointed with love.  They went forth and found the tomb open.  And they went in.  They had kept watch, they went forth and they entered into the Mystery.  May we learn from them to keep watch with God and with Mary our Mother, so that we too may enter into the Mystery which leads from death to life.

Good Friday: Homily of Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM, Cap. Preacher of the Papal Household

File photo of Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa preaching at Vatican

Homily of Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM, Cap. Preacher of the Papal Household, at Good Friday Serivice for the Passion of the Lord in St. Peter’s Basilica.

We have just heard the account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate. There is one point in particular in that account on which we need to pause.

 Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged him. And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and clothed him in a purple robe; they came up to him, saying, “Hail King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. . . . So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” [Ecce Homo!] (Jn 19:1-3, 5)

Among the innumerable paintings that have the Ecce Homo as their subject, there is one that has always impressed me. It is by the sixteenth-century Flemish painter, Jan Mostaert. Let me try to describe it. It will help imprint the episode better in our minds, since the artist only transcribes faithfully in paint the facts of the gospel account, especially that of Mark (see Mk 15:16-20).

Jesus has a crown of thorns on his head. A sheaf of thorny branches found in the courtyard, perhaps to light a fire, furnished the soldiers an opportunity for this parody of his royalty. Drops of blood run down his face. His mouth is half open, like someone who is having trouble breathing. On his shoulders there is heavy and worn-out mantle, more similar to tinplate than to cloth. His shoulders have cuts from recent blows during his flogging. His wrists are bound together by a coarse rope looped around twice. They have put a reed in one of his hands as a kind of scepter and a bundle of branches in the other, symbols mocking his royalty. Jesus cannot move even a finger; this is a man reduced to total powerlessness, the prototype of all the people in history with their hands bound.

Meditating on the passion, the philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote these words one day: “Christ will be in agony until the end of the world; we must not sleep during this time.”There is a sense in which these words apply to the person of Christ himself, that is, to the  head of the mystical body, and not just to its members. Not despite being risen and alive now but precisely because he is risen and alive. But let us leave aside this meaning that is too enigmatic and talk instead about the most obvious meaning of these words. Jesus is in agony until the end of the world in every man or woman who is subjected to his same torments. “You did it to me!” (Matt 25:40). He said these words not only about believers in him; he also said it about every man or woman who is hungry, naked, mistreated, or incarcerated.

For once let us not think about social evils collectively: hunger, poverty, injustice, the exploitation of the weak. These evils are spoken about often (even if it is never enough), but there is the risk that they become abstractions—categories rather than persons. Let us think instead of the suffering of individuals, people with names and specific identities; of the tortures that are decided upon in cold blood and voluntarily inflicted at this very moment by human beings on other human beings, even on babies.

XIR47615How many instances of “Ecce homo” (“Behold the man!”) there are in the world! How many prisoners who find themselves in the same situation as Jesus in Pilate’s praetorium: alone, hand-cuffed, tortured, at the mercy of rough soldiers full of hate who engage in every kind of physical and psychological cruelty and who enjoy watching people suffer. “We must not sleep; we must not leave them alone!”

The exclamation “Ecce homo!”  applies not only to victims but also to the torturers. It means, “Behold what man is capable of!” With fear and trembling, let us also say, “Behold what we human beings are capable of!” How far we are from the unstoppable march forward, from the homo sapiens sapiens (the enlightened modern human being), from the kind of man who, according to someone, was to be born from the death of God and replace him!

Christians are of course not the only victims of homicidal violence in the world, but we cannot ignore the fact that in many countries they are the most frequently intended victims.  Jesus said to his disciples one day, “The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (Jn 16:2). Perhaps never before have these words found such  precise fulfillment as they do today.

A third-century bishop, Dionysius of Alexandria, has left us a testimony of an Easter celebrated by Christians during the fierce persecutions by the Roman emperor Decius:

First we were set on and surrounded by persecutors and murderers, yet we were the only ones to keep festival even then. Every spot where we were attacked became for us a place for celebrations whether field, desert, ship, inn, or prison. The most brilliant festival of all was kept by the fulfilled martyrs, who were feasted in heaven.

This is the way Easter will be for many Christians this year, 2015 after Christ.

There was someone who, in the secular press, had the courage to denounce the disturbing indifference of world institutions and public opinion in the face of all this killing of Christians, recalling what such indifference has sometimes brought about in the past. All of us and all our institutions in the West risk being Pilates who wash our hands.

However, we are not allowed to make any denunciations today. We would be betraying the mystery we are celebrating. Jesus died, crying out, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). This prayer was not simply murmured under his breath; it was cried out so that people could hear it well. Neither is it even a prayer; it is a peremptory request made with the authority that comes from being the Son: ”Father, forgive them!” And since he himself had said that the Father heard all his prayers (see Jn 11:42), we have to believe that he heard this last prayer from the cross and consequently that the crucifiers of Christ were then forgiven by God (not of course without in some way being repentant) and are with him in paradise, to testify for all eternity to what extremes the love of God is capable of going.

Ignorance, per se, existed exclusively among the soldiers. But Jesus’ prayer is not limited to them. The divine grandeur of his forgiveness consists in the fact that it was also offered to his most relentless enemies. The excuse of ignorance is brought forward precisely for them. Even though they acted with cunning and malice, in reality they did not know what they were doing; they did not think they were nailing to the cross a man who was actually the Messiah and the Son of God! Instead of accusing his adversaries, or of forgiving them and entrusting the task of vengeance to his heavenly Father, he defended them.

Jesus Crowned with thorns Jan MostaertHe presents his disciples with an example of infinite generosity. To forgive with his same greatness of soul does not entail just a negative attitude through which one renounces wishing evil on those who do evil; it has to be transformed instead into a positive will to do good to them, even if it is only by means of a prayer to God on their behalf. “Pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44). This kind of forgiveness cannot seek recompense in the hope of divine punishment. It must be inspired by a charity that excuses one’s neighbor without, however, closing one’s eyes to the truth but, on the contrary, seeing to stop evildoers in such a way that they will do no more harm to others and to themselves.

We might want to say,  “Lord, you are asking us to do the impossible!” He would answer, “I know, but I died to give you what I am asking of you. I not only gave you thecommand to forgive and not only an heroic example of forgiveness, but through my death I also obtained for you the grace that enables you to forgive. I did not give the world just a teaching on mercy as so many others have. I am also God and I have poured out for you  rivers of mercy through my death. From them you can draw as much mercy as you want during the coming jubilee year of Mercy.”

Someone could say, “So then, does following Christ always mean surrendering oneself passively to defeat and to death?” On the contrary! He says to his disciples, “Be of good cheer” before entering into his passion: “I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). Christ has overcome the world by overcoming the evil of the world. The definitive victory of good over evil that will be manifested at the end of time has already come to pass, legally and de facto, on the cross of Christ. “Now,” he said, “is the judgment of this world” (Jn 12:31). From that day forth, evil is losing, and it is losing that much more when it seems to be triumphing more. It has already been judged and condemned in its ultimate expression with a sentence that cannot be appealed.

Jesus overcame violence not by opposing it with a greater violence but by enduring it and exposing all its injustice and futility. He inaugurated a new kind of victory that St. Augustine summed up in three words: “Victor quia victima: “Victor because victim.” It was seeing him die this way that caused the Roman centurion to exclaim, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mk 15:39). Others asked themselves what the “loud cry” emitted by the dying Jesus could mean (see Mk 15:37). The centurion, who was an expert in combatants and battles, recognized at once that it was a cry of victory.

The problem of violence disturbs us, shocks us, and it has invented new and horrendous forms of cruelty and barbarism today. We Christians are horrified at the idea that people can kill in God’s name. Someone, however, could object, “But isn’t the Bible also full of stories of violence? Isn’t God called ‘the Lord of hosts’? Isn’t the order to condemn whole cities to extermination attributed to him? Isn’t he the one who prescribes numerous cases for the death penalty in the Mosaic Law?”

If they had addressed those same objections to Jesus during his life, he would surely have responded with what he said regarding divorce: “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Mt 19:8). The same is true for violence: “at the beginning it was not so.” The first chapter of Genesis presents a world where violence is not even thinkable, neither among human beings themselves nor between people and animals. Not even to avenge the death of Abel, and therefore punish a murderer, is it permissible to kill (see Gen 4:15).

God’s true intention is expressed by the commandment “You shall not kill” more than by the exceptions to that command in the law, which are concessions to the “hardness of heart” and to people’s practices. Violence, along with sin, is unfortunately part of life, and the Old Testament, which reflects life and must be useful for life as it is, seeks through its legislation and the penalty of death at least to channel and curb violence so that it does not degenerate into personal discretion and people then tear each other apart.

Paul speaks about a period of time that is characterized by the “forbearance” of God (see Rom 3:25). God forbears violence the way he forbears polygamy, divorce, and other things, but he is preparing people for a time in which his original plan will be “recapitulated” and restored in honor, as though through a new creation. That time arrived with Jesus, who proclaims on the mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right check, turn to him the other also. . . . You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:38-39, 43-44).

The true “Sermon on the Mount” that changed history is not, however, the one spoken on a hill in Galilee but the one now proclaimed, silently, from the cross. On Calvary Christ delivers a definitive “no” to violence, setting in opposition to it not just non-violence but, even more, forgiveness, meekness, and love. Although violence will still continue to exist, it will no longer—not even remotely—be able to link itself to God and cloak itself in his authority. To do so would make the concept of God regress to primitive and crude stages in history that have been surpassed by the religious and civilized conscience of humanity.

True martyrs for Christ do not die with clenched fists but with their hands joined in prayer. We have had many recent examples of this. Christ is the one who gave the twenty-one Coptic Christians beheaded in Libya by ISIS this past February 22 the strength to die whispering the name of Jesus.

Lord Jesus Christ, we pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in the faith and for all the Ecce Homo human beings who are on the face of the earth at this moment, Christian and non-Christian. Mary, at the foot of the cross you united yourself to your Son, and you whispered, after him,  “Father, forgive them!” Help us overcome evil with good, not only on the world scene but also in our daily lives, within the walls of our homes. You “shared his sufferings as he died on the cross. Thus, in a very special way you cooperated by your obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Savior.” May you inspire the men and women of our time with thoughts of peace and mercy. And of forgiveness. Amen.

Pope Francis’ Homily at Christmas Midnight Mass

Pope Francis Christmas

December 24, 2014

At 9:30 p.m. Rome time, Pope Francis presides at the Christmas Midnight Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord. The full text of his homily is found below.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (Is 9:1). “An angel of the Lord appeared to [the shepherds] and the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Lk 2:9). This is how the liturgy of this holy Christmas night presents to us the birth of the Saviour: as the light which pierces and dispels the deepest darkness. The presence of the Lord in the midst of his people cancels the sorrow of defeat and the misery of slavery, and ushers in joy and happiness.

We too, in this blessed night, have come to the house of God. We have passed through the darkness which envelops the earth, guided by the flame of faith which illuminates our steps, and enlivened by the hope of finding the “great light”. By opening our hearts, we also can contemplate the miracle of that child-sun who, arising from on high, illuminates the horizon.

The origin of the darkness which envelops the world is lost in the night of the ages. Let us think back to that dark moment when the first crime of humanity was committed, when the hand of Cain, blinded by envy, killed his brother Abel (cf. Gen 4:8). As a result, the unfolding of the centuries has been marked by violence, wars, hatred and oppression. But God, who placed a sense of expectation within man made in his image and likeness, was waiting. He waited for so long that perhaps at a certain point it seemed he should have given up. But he could not give up because he could not deny himself (cf. 2 Tim 2:13). Therefore he continued to wait patiently in the face of the corruption of man and peoples.

Through the course of history, the light that shatters the darkness reveals to us that God is Father and that his patient fidelity is stronger than darkness and corruption. This is the message of Christmas night. God does not know outbursts of anger or impatience; he is always there, like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, waiting to catch from afar a glimpse of the lost son as he returns.

Isaiah’s prophecy announces the rising of a great light which breaks through the night. This light is born in Bethlehem and is welcomed by the loving arms of Mary, by the love of Joseph, by the wonder of the shepherds. When the angels announced the birth of the Redeemer to the shepherds, they did so with these words: “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). The “sign” is the humility of God taken to the extreme; it is the love with which, that night, he assumed our frailty, our suffering, our anxieties, our desires and our limitations. The message that everyone was expecting, that everyone was searching for in the depths of their souls, was none other than the tenderness of God: God who looks upon us with eyes full of love, who accepts our poverty, God who is in love with our smallness.

On this holy night, while we contemplate the Infant Jesus just born and placed in the manger, we are invited to reflect. How do we welcome the tenderness of God? Do I allow myself to be taken up by God, to be embraced by him, or do I prevent him from drawing close? “But I am searching for the Lord” – we could respond. Nevertheless, what is most important is not seeking him, but rather allowing him to find me and caress me with tenderness. The question put to us simply by the Infant’s presence is: do I allow God to love me?

More so, do we have the courage to welcome with tenderness the difficulties and problems of those who are near to us, or do we prefer impersonal solutions, perhaps effective but devoid of the warmth of the Gospel? How much the world needs tenderness today!

The Christian response cannot be different from God’s response to our smallness. Life must be met with goodness, with meekness. When we realize that God is in love with our smallness, that he made himself small in order to better encounter us, we cannot help but open our hearts to him, and beseech him: “Lord, help me to be like you, give me the grace of tenderness in the most difficult circumstances of life, give me the grace of closeness in the face of every need, of meekness in every conflict”.

Dear brothers and sisters, on this holy night we contemplate the Nativity scene: there “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1). People who were unassuming, open to receiving the gift of God, were the ones who saw this light. This light was not seen, however, by the arrogant, the proud, by those who made laws according to their own personal measures, who were closed off to others. Let us look to the crib and pray, asking the Blessed Mother: “O Mary, show us Jesus!”

Presentation of Gifts of Pope Francis at Ecumenical Patriarchate

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Pope Francis has presented these gifts during his visit to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Phanar:

Gift of the Holy Father to the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

The two sheets reproduced in facsimile belong to the Greek Barberinian manuscript 372 of the Vatican Apostolic Library. The original (mm. 223 x 168), in parchment, composed of 273 sheets, dates back to approximately 1060 and contains the Psalter, in addition to some liturgical readings taken from the Book of the Gospels, odes from the Old and New Testament, and texts of poetry added later, that attest to a later use of the manuscript for private devotion or liturgical celebration.

It is written in ‘Perlschrift’ calligraphy by the scribe and chrysographer Theodore of Caesarea, protopresbyter of the Monastery of Study in Constantinople, to whom the text in brown ink and the titles in gold can be attributed, while the miniatures that appear in the text can be attributed to various miniaturists and were in part successively retouched or restored. It is one of the most renown Byzantine Psalters with marginal illustrations.

The text of Psalm 18 [The heavens declare the glory of God] (ff. 32r-33r) appears on the two duplicate sheets, and the Incipit of the successive psalm (f. 33v); the fifth verse [Their voice goes out through all the earth and their words to the end of the world] of Psalm 18 is illustrated by the series of the Apostles, each one of whom is depicted seated while speaking to a group of people. The choice of such iconography refers to a Pauline quotation of this verse (Rm 10,18). The following psalm instead features David.

In the 17th Century the manuscript was given to Cardinal Francesco Boncompagni; it later belonged to the Barberini family, from whom it was bought, together with the rest of the library, by the Vatican Library in 1902.

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Gift of the Holy Father ‘Christ in the Niche of the Pallio’ presented to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew 

The mosaic is taken from the image of Christ depicted in the Confession of St. Peter, that is of his tomb, where the Sacred Pallia are kept, under the papal altar of St. Peter‚s Basilica. The mosaic is originally attributed to the Ninth Century and some parts of it are retraceable to this period, for example the face, while other parts prove to have been successively altered. This image is certainly a representative element of the Constantinian Basilica, which has since remained in its original place. It is the Christ, blessing and Teacher, while holding out the Book of the Gospel open at the words:

“Ego Sum Via Veritas Et Vita Qui Credit in Me Vivet”

The picture, 60 X 40 cm, was made by the mosaicists of the Vatican Mosaic Workshop from January to March 2014 with polychrome enamels and gilded tesserae, applied with soft stucco on a metallic base. The stucco is of the same composition as that utilized in the past centuries to apply mosaics in St. Peter’s Basilica. In crafting the mosaic, the traditional technique of cut mosaics was implemented.

Pope Francis in Turkey: Homily during Ecumenical Prayer Service in St. George’s Patriarchal Church in Phanar (Istanbul)

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Below you will find the full text of Pope Francis’ Homily during the Ecumenical Prayer Service in St. George’s Church in Istanbul:

Your Holiness, my dear Brother Bartholomew,

Each evening brings a mixed feeling of gratitude for the day which is ending and of hope-filled trust as night falls. This evening my heart is full of gratitude to God who allows me to be here in prayer with Your Holiness and with this sister Church after an eventful day during my Apostolic Visit. At the same time my heart awaits the day which we have already begun liturgically: the Feast of the Apostle Saint Andrew, Patron of this Church.

In the words of the prophet Zechariah, the Lord gives us anew in this evening prayer, the foundation that sustains our moving forward from one day to the next, the solid rock upon which we advance together in joy and hope. The foundation rock is the Lord’s promise: “Behold, I will save my people from the countries of the east and from the countries of the west… in faithfulness and in righteousness” (8:7.8).

Yes, my venerable and dear Brother Bartholomew, as I express my heartfelt “thank you” for your fraternal welcome, I sense that our joy is greater because its source is from beyond; it is not in us, not in our commitment, not in our efforts – that are certainly necessary – but in our shared trust in God’s faithfulness which lays the foundation for the reconstruction of his temple that is the Church (cf. Zech 8:9). “For there shall be a sowing of peace” (Zech 8:12); truly, a sowing of joy. It is the joy and the peace that the world cannot give, but which the Lord Jesus promised to his disciples and, as the Risen One, bestowed upon them in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Andrew and Peter heard this promise; they received this gift. They were blood brothers, yet their encounter with Christ transformed them into brothers in faith and charity. In this joyful evening, at this prayer vigil, I want to emphasize this; they became brothers in hope. What a grace, Your Holiness, to be brothers in the hope of the Risen Lord! What a grace, and what a responsibility, to walk together in this hope, sustained by the intercession of the holy Apostles and brothers, Andrew and Peter! And to know that this shared hope does non deceive us because it is founded, not upon us or our poor efforts, but rather upon God’s faithfulness.

With this joyful hope, filled with gratitude and eager expectation, I extend to Your Holiness and to all present, and to the Church of Constantinople, my warm and fraternal best wishes on the Feast of your holy Patron.

Pope Francis in Turkey: Homily at Holy Spirit Cathedral of Istanbul

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Below you will find the full text of Pope Francis’ homily during Mass at the Cathedral of Istanbul:

In the Gospel, Jesus shows himself to be the font from which those who thirst for salvation draw upon, as the Rock from whom the Father brings forth living waters for all who believe in him (cf. Jn 7:38). In openly proclaiming this prophecy in Jerusalem, Jesus heralds the gift of the Holy Spirit whom the disciples will receive after his glorification, that is, after his death and resurrection (cf. v. 39).

The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church. He gives life, he brings forth different charisms which enrich the people of God and, above all, he creates unity among believers: from the many he makes one body, the Body of Christ. The Church’s whole life and mission depend on the Holy Spirit; he fulfils all things.

The profession of faith itself, as Saint Paul reminds us in today’s first reading, is only possible because it is prompted by the Holy Spirit: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3b). When we pray, it is because the Holy Spirit inspires prayer in our heart. When we break the cycle of our self-centredness, and move beyond ourselves and go out to encounter others, to listen to them and help them, it is the Spirit of God who impels us to do so. When we find within a hitherto unknown ability to forgive, to love someone who doesn’t love us in return, it is the Spirit who has taken hold of us. When we move beyond mere self-serving words and turn to our brothers and sisters with that tenderness which warms the heart, we have indeed been touched by the Holy Spirit.

It is true that the Holy Spirit brings forth different charisms in the Church, which at first glance, may seem to create disorder. Under his guidance, however, they constitute an immense richness, because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of unity, which is not the same thing as uniformity. Only the Holy Spirit is able to kindle diversity, multiplicity and, at the same time, bring about unity. When we try to create diversity, but are closed within our own particular and exclusive ways of seeing things, we create division. When we try to create unity through our own human designs, we end up with uniformity and homogenization. If we let ourselves be led by the Spirit, however, richness, variety and diversity will never create conflict, because the Spirit spurs us to experience variety in the communion of the Church.

The diversity of members and charisms is harmonized in the Spirit of Christ, whom the Father sent and whom he continues to send, in order to achieveunity among believers. The Holy Spirit brings unity to the Church: unity in faith, unity in love, unity in interior life. The Church and other Churches and ecclesial communities are called to let themselves be guided by the Holy Spirit, and to remain always open, docile and obedient.

Ours is a hopeful perspective, but one which is also demanding. The temptation is always within us to resist the Holy Spirit, because he takes us out of our comfort zone and unsettles us; he makes us get up and drives the Church forward. It is always easier and more comfortable to settle in our sedentary and unchanging ways. In truth, the Church shows her fidelity to the Holy Spirit in as much as she does not try to control or tame him. We Christians become true missionary disciples, able to challenge consciences, when we throw off our defensiveness and allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit. He is freshness, imagination and newness.

Our defensiveness is evident when we are entrenched within our ideas and our own strengths – in which case we slip into Pelagianism – or when we are ambitious or vain. These defensive mechanisms prevent us from truly understanding other people and from opening ourselves to a sincere dialogue with them. But the Church, flowing from Pentecost, is given the fire of the Holy Spirit, which does not so much fill the mind with ideas, but enflames the heart; she is moved by the breath of the Spirit which does not transmit a power, but rather an ability to serve in love, a language which everyone is able to understand.

In our journey of faith and fraternal living, the more we allow ourselves to be humbly guided by the Spirit of the Lord, the more we will overcome misunderstandings, divisions, and disagreements and be a credible sign of unity and peace.

With this joyful conviction, I embrace all of you, dear brothers and sisters: the Syro-Catholic Patriarch, the President of the Bishops’ Conference, the Apostolic Vicar Monsignor Pel?tre, the Bishops and Eparchs, the priests and deacons, religious, lay faithful, and believers from other communities and various rites of the Catholic Church. I wish to greet with fraternal affection the Patriarch of Constantinople, His Holiness Bartholomew I, the Syro-Orthodox Metropolitan and the Armenian Apostolic Patriarchal Vicar, as well as the representatives of the Protestant communities, who have joined us in prayer for this celebration. I extend to them my gratitude for this fraternal gesture. I wish also to express my affection to the Armenian Patriarch, His Beatitude Mesrob II, assuring him of my prayers.

Brothers and sisters, let us turn our thoughts to the Virgin Mary, Mother of God. With her, who prayed with the Apostles in the Upper Room as they awaited Pentecost, let us pray to the Lord asking him to send his Holy Spirit into our hearts and to make us witnesses of his Gospel in all the world. Amen!

Archbishop Blase Cupich Homily’s During Installation Mass

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Below you find the full text of Archbishop Blase Cupich’s homily during the Installation Mass as Archbishop of Chicago:

Bienvenido, Witam, Mabuhay, Dobro dosli, Welcome

I am delighted and honoured to be your archbishop.

So many of you in this cathedral today have come – from near and so very far – friends and family, brother bishops and priests, religious, lay women and men. Former parishioners and pastors from Omaha, Rapid City, Spokane have joined us as well. Your being here consoles me with the hope that our friendships will continue to endure in the years ahead. Last night, I had a chance to welcome my brother bishops, and now I am pleased to greet our papal nuncio, Archbishop Vigano. We all know how demanding your schedule is, Archbishop, and so we offer our thanks to you, not only for being with us today, but for all you do to so ably represent Pope Francis, our Holy Father, who is well-loved and who makes us proud.

When it came to selecting a date for the installation, November 18 seemed to be a great fit. The Commemoration of the Dedication of the Basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul gives me a chance to recognize all immigrants, as I recall my own immigrant grandparents who helped establish my home parish of Saints Peter and Paul in Omaha. Additionally, the Church’s calendar today celebrates St. Philippine Duchesne, someone the Native People honored with the name Woman Who Prays Always. She reminds us of the extraordinary contribution women religious have made and continue to make to the church and society. I intend to honor and give thanks for all these people today, especially for family and immigrants, Native Americans and religious sisters – all of whom have shaped so much of our faith, our lives and our Church ministries.

But I have to admit, I had a bit of a panic attack when I saw the Gospel provided in the Lectionary for this day, which we have just heard. I realize this new responsibility is going to be demanding, but seriously folks, I don’t do “walking on water.” I can barely swim. So I hope this image in today’s Gospel is not reflective of anyone’s expectations.

In all honesty, what intrigues me about the readings for today, is how the Gospel and the first reading from Acts complement each other in the language and symbolism they share in common. The Gospel recounts Jesus, during his earthly life, walking on water, inviting Peter to join him, and Acts witnesses to how Paul and the Church, animated by the Spirit, following the resurrection, now cross the seas to evangelize and invite the Gentiles, all people, to encounter and to walk with the Risen Christ. That interplay of the two texts is so rich and captures something St. Leo the Great wrote centuries ago (cf., Catechism of the Catholic Church 1114- 1115).

Pope Leo remarked that everything which was visible in Jesus’ words and actions during his hidden life and public ministry has passed over after Christ’s resurrection into the sacraments and the life of the Church. That truth is on full display in the readings today, to the point that the Gospel is more than an account of Jesus walking on water, more than a story of Jesus revealing his divinity to the disciples by a stunning show of power. Read alongside the story of Paul’s missionary journey, this Gospel text becomes a point of reference to understand the meaning of the resurrection, how the Risen Lord is working in our midst today, and how disciples in all ages, how the Church in our time, should view its mission.

Simply put, we are to join Christ in seeking out, inviting, and accompanying, by abiding with those to whom he sends us. Each one of those aspects of our mission, seeking out, inviting and accompanying deserves a closer look.

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Seeking Out

Jesus’ walk across the waters is intentional. He has come to seek out and to save the troubled, those who are lost. But, this scene from Matthew’s Gospel offers us a new insight; it gives us a glimpse into what compels him to take up this mission. Jesus, we are told, has been on the mountain, in the quiet intimacy of prayer with his Father. That experience of sharing life with the Father is what moves him, prompts him to go out and seek others, so that they too may have this life. He is so driven in this mission that nothing stands in his way, not even the obstacle of crossing over water on his own. Sharing his life in the Father with us is the source of his enthusiasm and determination, is his motivation for seeking out the disciples and is the reason why he has come into the world.

We see a similar kind of drive and enthusiasm in people from time to time, where something so transformative and life giving happens to them, leaving them with no alternative but to spend their life sharing their experience with others. I have seen this kind of enthusiasm in great teachers. Their drive and incentive goes way beyond getting through the curriculum or earning a paycheck. What inspires the really good teacher is the transformative experience of insight that comes in learning. Really good teachers delight in seeing the light of discovery go on in their students’ eyes and they never pass up the chance to make that happen.

Marie Walsh was such a person. I brought her communion on First Fridays during my first years as a priest. A retired English teacher, she never passed up a chance to share her knowledge of literature and language. Marie suffered from diverticulitis, and could only take a small part of the host. One day, after giving her the Eucharist and a sip of water, she began to cough and so I said “Marie would you like to lay down.” She sharply muttered something, which I didn’t catch, and so I asked her, “Marie, what did you say?” She held the back of my neck, and with a laugh in her voice scolded me: “I said ‘chickens lay eggs; people lie down.’” She was correcting my grammar! It didn’t matter if she was in great pain or frail, she was going to make sure I spoke proper English.

We face in our day the formidable task of passing on the faith to the next generation, of evangelizing a modern and sometimes skeptical culture, not to mention inspiring young people to serve the Church as priests and religious. It all seems so daunting, as daunting as walking on water. We are at sea, unsteady in our approach faced with these concerns. Catechists and educators are on the front line of this struggle. So, too, parents and grandparents wonder if they are going to be the last Catholics in their family. Likewise bishops and priests find that the Good News is increasingly difficult to proclaim in the midst of great polarization in church and society.

Jesus tells all of us today to go back to where our journey of faith began, to be in touch with the joyful experience of being transformed by the intimacy God offers us, to be willing to share it with the next generation. Young people have always been attracted to authenticity of life, where words match deeds. Let’s not be afraid to let our young people know about our life with God and how it began. Like Marie Walsh, let’s stay close to them, so close that we can hold them by the neck, and tell them what it means for us to believe, and share with them how the Gospel has brought joy and meaning to us and transformed our lives. Such witness of personal faith many times has made the skeptic take a second look, has inspired vocations, and in my experience, animates our advocacy on behalf of human dignity with joy and compassion, purifying it of anger, harshness and fear.

The authenticity that comes in making our own baptismal calling the starting point for all we do is also demanded of me as your archbishop, particularly as I reach out to those who have been sexually abused by Church leaders. That starting point will always be needed for me and my brother bishops to keep fresh the serious duty to honor and keep the promises we made in 2002. Working together to protect children, to bring healing to victim survivors and to rebuild the trust that has been shattered in our communities by our mishandling is our sacred duty, as is holding each other accountable, for that is what we pledge to do.

Inviting

Jesus seeks out, but then he invites. “Come,” he says to Peter, “walk on the stormy waters with me.” Peter’s response is a brave act for an experienced fisherman. But, it is the kind of daring and boldness required today, the courage to leave our comfort zone and take an entirely new step in our faith journey, both personally and as a community. There is resistance in each of us to take that risk. We can be self-satisfied where we are. Pope Francis tells us that the temptation is to think and say “I’m religious enough, I’m Catholic enough, or for Church leaders to resist needed reform by claiming “we haven’t done that before” or “you cannot say that.”

We all have some anxiety and hesitancy to change, and I’ve noticed that many times in life we deal with the tension by joking about our resistance to change, to grow, to become more, beyond the minimum and enter more deeply into life with God. A friend who is a baseball fan tells me that when he thinks about getting into heaven, he is counting on being able “to slide in to home plate on a steal.”

One hot sultry day, I was boarding a plane and was struggling to put my carry-on bag into the overhead bin. The people behind me weren’t happy with me holding up the line as the air- conditioning wasn’t on. Finally, the man next to me, put his bag down, took mine in hand and effortlessly shoved it in the compartment, leaving me somewhat embarrassed. Then, to my surprise he said at the top of his voice for all to hear, “Well Father, will that get me to heaven?” I was so flustered, all I could think to say was, “Gee, I hope not on this flight!”

Jesus invites us, not only to take the risk of leaving our comfort zone, but also to deal with the tension involved in change, not dismissively but in a creative way, and to challenge each other to do so. Maybe, we hear that challenge today as a call to leave behind our comforting convictions that episodic Sunday Mass attendance is good enough, that we don’t really have to change our habitual bad behavior, our unhealthy dependencies, our inordinate attachments, because we can get by as we are, because they have not gotten us into any serious trouble yet, or just because we are afraid of the unknown.

Pope Francis is giving voice to this invitation in our day, by inviting the Church to come and walk with Christ, as he is always doing something new. It is an invitation to leave behind the comfort of going the familiar way. He is challenging us to recognize that Christ is always inviting us to more, to greater things. It is the kind of invitation our bishops’ conference is making to our nation to be what it has always promised to be, to protect the vulnerable, poor and weak, to treat immigrants with justice and dignity, to respect life and to be good stewards of creation. It is the invitation of Jesus, “Come, take the risk of being more.”

Accompanying

Finally, Jesus gets into the boat. I have always thought that it took more courage for Jesus to get into that boat with those disciples than for Peter to get out of it to walk on water. There was fear, doubt, jealousy even anger in that boat – a lot of unresolved conflicts as a therapist might say.

But, it is in the incomplete, the in-between and in the brokenness of our lives where Jesus comes to share his life in the Father with us. His coming to be with us, his communion with us is not for the perfect, but is for the salvation of souls, for the lost, the forlorn, and those who are adrift. His communion is not just a quick visit, but he wants to be with us to the point of making our lives the dwelling place, the home where he and the Father abide. After going to the mountain to pray, to be with his Father, he comes into our messy lives with his Father in hand, to share our lives where we are.

It is that grace of the indwelling of the Spirit, the love of the Father and the Son, which has always been the source of real, ongoing and sustainable conversion. It is the grace of mercy, totally undeserved and unearned, that brings about real lasting change and transformation and gives life.

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Conclusion

So, we as a Church should not fear leaving the security of familiar shores, the peacefulness of the mountaintop of our self-assuredness and walk into the mess. A military chaplain recently told me that soldiers easily know where to find him in the battle encampment because the chaplain’s tent is most often next to the medical tent.

While Pope Francis is famous for urging the Church to be a field hospital and pastors to know the smell of the sheep, Blessed Pope Paul VI expressed a similar sentiment with an inspiring message to my classmates nearly forty years ago on their day of ordination. This is what he said:

“Know how to accept as an invitation the very reproach which perhaps, and often unjustly, the world hurls against the Messenger of the Gospel. Know how to listen to the groan of the poor, the candid voice of the child, the thoughtful cry of youth, the complaint of the tired worker, the sigh of the suffering and the criticism of the thinker. But, ‘Never be afraid.’ The Lord has repeated it.” (Homily, June 29, 1975)

Of course as our papal nuncio reminded the bishops just last week, St. John Paul II began his pontificate with Christ’s comforting words to the disciples, “Do not fear.” Archbishop Vigano? then added: “we must not be afraid to walk with our Holy Father (Pope Francis) and to trust in the infinite value of following the Holy Spirit as our First Teacher in guiding the Church.”

That is the urging of the Word of God today. Just as Jesus left the peacefulness of his mountain top prayer to embrace the disciples in all their too human and fallible journey, so now the Church in our day is called to be faithful to its mission, the mission taken up by Paul and Peter, by putting aside her fears and the allure of false securities, and leap into the turbulent but creative waters of life in the world with the guidance of God and the charge of the Gospel.

Not being afraid is the gift that separates the disciple before and after the resurrection as we see in the responses of Peter and Paul through the readings today. Yet, it is providential that Peter experienced the terror that stormy night, for he could then uniquely witness for the Church in all ages through his successors, the power of the resurrection to vanquish all fears, disappointments, hesitations and doubts.

Peter could then witness how the resurrection is not just a past event, but an ongoing reality. He could remind us that what Jesus did in crossing the sea, he did again, by crossing from death to life, from eternity to our time, as he continues to make that crossing with us in our day. He could tell us that Jesus came back from the dead for us, to be with us. That is the reason we are not afraid – because we are not alone.

That is why now in our day Peter in his successor, Pope Francis, urges us to take up the task of crossing the seas to seek out, to invite and to accompany others, because the Risen Christ is in the boat with us.

Photo Credit:

(CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

(CNS photo/Jeff Haynes, Reuters)

(CNS photo/John Smerciak, Catholic New World)

Chicago welcomes Archbishop Blase Cupich at Prayer Vigil

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Below you will find Archbishop Blase Cupich’s homily in Holy Name Cathedral at Monday evening’s prayer service on the vigil of his installation as the Ninth Archbishop of Chicago:

The Windy City’s ablaze with gratitude & hope
Chicago welcomes Archbishop Blase Cupich at Prayer Vigil

It is only polite to begin with an expression of gratitude for the warm welcome I have just received in such a personal way from various representative officials of church and state. But before I do that, I ask your kind understanding as I attend to the important and happy task of publicly recognizing the dedicated service to the Church and to this City, of a native son of Chicago, who has distinguished himself both here and abroad as our Bishop’s Conference President, who always responded with a generosity that motivates and inspires and who has been unfailingly gracious and cordial to me, especially in these days. The Provincial of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate put it well in a recent letter to his confreres, “we are grateful for Cardinal George’s prophetic ministry in favor of the sanctity of life and dignity of the poor and marginalized. He has faced a broad spectrum of issues…and in doing so he has always brought great intelligence, insight, strong conviction and a pastoral heart to every issue and situation.” And so, on behalf of all of us, all those whose faith and lives have been enriched by your witness and your ministry, I want my first words on this occasion to be “thank you Cardinal Francis George.”

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All of you have warmly greeted me, elected officials, public servants, community leaders and diplomats, ecumenical and interfaith representatives, archdiocesan brothers and sisters representing ethnic groups, various offices and committees, religious women and men, and my own brother bishops and brother priests of Chicago. I am grateful for your welcome to this city and to this cathedral. In fact, I feel so much at home here that now I in turn welcome you not only to this cathedral, but into my heart. That is the kind of greeting I have learned from the Lakota people in South Dakota, whose welcome always comes as an exchange from one heart to another.

We are honored to have our Holy Father Pope Francis with us in the person of our Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. Welcome Archbishop and thank you for taking time from your demanding schedule to be with us. He is joined by other brother bishops from across this country and the world. All of your obligations are terribly exacting, especially at this time of the year, and my welcome to you comes with a sincere thanks for the heartwarming gift of fraternal support your presence means to all of us.

Finally, I welcome my family, my eight brothers and sisters and spouses, nephews and nieces, and extended family members, who for the most part are occupying this entire right side of the Cathedral!

The Agenda

On Saturday, September 20, the day my appointment by Pope Francis was announced, the first question at the news conference was: “What’s your agenda? What are your priorities? What’s the first thing you want to accomplish?”

I really wanted to respond: “Getting through this news conference!”

But, as for my agenda, if I have learned anything over these past four decades as a pastor, I know it is a disaster for me to have my own agenda. That is not because I don’t have dreams and hopes, or that I want to ignore the challenges and trials of life. Rather it is because I have learned that my agenda is always too small; it’s prone to be self-serving, and ultimately unworthy of the people I am called to serve. No, the agenda has to be God’s, which is beyond our imagining and our abilities. And unlike our priorities, God’s agenda has staying power, it endures.

We see that kind of divine agenda occupying the attention of Ezekiel, a prophet who oftentimes addresses the leaders of the people, pressing them to be attentive to how God is working in the world, so that they can also join in the restoration, the building up and bringing life to the people they serve.

This night, Ezekiel speaks of God’s work in the dryness that not infrequently afflicts human existence. His immediate concern is to inspire new life in the people living in exile, by offering a vision of the new city to be built by God. They have suffered the humiliating defeat by Babylon and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. The people are scattered and disconnected, with hopes broken and barren. They are like dry bones strewn carelessly to rot in an abandoned field under the scorching sun of oppression.

While the circumstances may be different, this kind of dryness is present in our modern times, a dryness that eats away at our hopes and leaves us disoriented. It is the dryness elderly and sick persons can experience when their strength gives way and their bones become unsteady, to the point that they begin to question their worth, their sense of purpose and even the faith that has heretofore directed their lives. We see that dryness caked on the faces of the homeless street people, in the fatigue of the underemployed worker cobbling together three or four low paying jobs to make ends meet, but also in the hectic pace of the successful business owner whose long hours in the office leave little time for family meals and sharing, for rest and recreation.

T. S. Elliot captures all of this so well in his epic poem, The Wasteland, where he describes how our modern lives easily become:

“A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water.”

All that’s left is “Fear in a handful of dust,”and a life in rats’ alley / where the dead men lost their bones.”

We, who are public servants, pastors, leaders know well this kind of dryness that ails the human soul and fatigues both body and spirit. We come face to face with it in the service to our citizens and the ministry to our parishioners.

But, we who serve in public life as leaders also experience our own dryness, in the tedium of attending to administrative details, which most often go unnoticed or unappreciated, in the frustration we feel as we are called upon to face enormous challenges with limited energies and shrinking resources, and whenever opportunities for real improvement are squandered by petty squabbles and divisive discourse. We both as church and civic leaders know that kind of dryness. Like Ezekiel we can look over the landscape of our life and service and lament, “how dry these bones are.”

But, the prophet draws our attention to this rather bleak scene, not to chastise or criticize, to dishearten or discourage. Rather, by crisscrossing, north and south, east and west through the vast field of dry and scattered bones, this representative, this voice of God, is consoling us with the message that the Lord of Creation, is with us, is walking through this dryness with us, the dryness we face each and every day as leaders.

And so, let us for a moment walk together with Ezekiel tonight and listen attentively as he encourages us with the three words he speaks: Spirit, People and Land – three words of comfort, words to encourage, words to help us keep our focus on all that God is doing, so that our ways may be God’s ways.

Spirit

What should not go unnoticed as Ezekiel speaks in the Spirit over the dry bones is that there is still a responsiveness, a receptivity, a sensitivity in this lifeless heap of bones. There is still something that remains, beyond the dryness and death that has smothered these dismembered skeletons. All that is needed is for the prophet, the leader in their midst, to speak in a way that inspires, to speak to the deep yearnings of the people we serve, because it is God who is keeping alive their legitimate aspirations, even when there seems to be no hope. That is why it should be beneath our dignity as leaders to speak in ways that appeal to the fears and anxieties of people rather than the hopes and yearnings God has planted in their hearts.

And when it comes to speaking to each other in moments of deep disagreement, this does not mean that we should shy away from stating our position or making our point. “We cannot engage in real dialogue unless we are conscious of our own identity,” as Pope Francis reminds us. But then he adds: “Nor can there be authentic dialogue unless we are capable of opening our minds and hearts, in empathy and sincere receptivity, to those with whom we speak….We are challenged to listen not only to the words which others speak, but to the unspoken communication of their experiences, their hopes and aspirations, their struggles and their deepest concerns…If our communication is not to be a monologue, there has to be openness of heart and mind to accepting individuals and cultures.”

That is a message for all of us, for me, for my brother priests working in parishes and other ministries, and for elected officials and public servants.

But, civil discourse is needed not just so we can get something done for the common good, but because of the impact that failing to do so has on society.

Recent studies on the involvement of young people in religion and public life bear out a common factor that discourages their participation – the harsh rhetoric and lack of comity and civility within each group and in the way leaders in both groups treat each other. A good friend of mine, who is with us tonight, advised me when I became a seminary rector, to place a high priority on developing a faculty, a team that modeled to students how adults should act. As Msgr. Lawrence Purcell, former rector of the North American College put it, “you will teach them more about a collaborative model of ministry in this way than anything you say.”

It is not surprising that parishioners, citizens and the public become uneasy and disaffected with community and public life when they see leaders speak in ways that incite fears rather than inspire hope. There is collateral damage in such tactics. But, there is an even greater promise of really accomplishing something that lasts, done by God’s grace, when we speak with the deliberate and unified aim of bringing dry bones to life. Such a commitment to civil and respectful discourse is about meeting God half way as He keeps the aspirations of those we serve alive in the struggles they face in life.

Cupich-Knocking-on-Door

People

Ezekiel also invites us to look for where God is working to build up the people. Notice that the spirit evoked brings about a rattling of the bones, not to assemble skeletons as individuals, but as a vast army. There is a dryness in many people’s lives because they have little experience of being connected in society. For them, the only economy that counts is one that depends on connections they never had and never will. So many are left unconnected because of poverty spread across generations, racism or not having mentors to guide and inspire them about the value of education, hard work, and the self-discipline needed for personal stability.

Already in the short time I have been here, I have been edified by the great work so many of you are doing through various charities, apostolates, labor unions, the business community, government programs, schools, volunteer and civic groups and you should be encouraged to know that helping people get connected, experience being a part of society, is where God is active, working and gracing you in your dedicated ministry and labors. You are using your connections to help those disconnected and that is the work of God.

Our aim should be to make sure that everyone has a place at the table of life, the mother needing prenatal and postnatal care and protection for herself and her child, the former inmate seeking a fresh start, the drug addict who needs someone to help her take one day at a time, the father and mother who want their children to have the educational opportunities other families have – this is the vast army God is inviting us to raise up with him.

Central governments in the Church and the state have enormous power to create bonds, stimulate cooperation and motivate people to work together on the local level. That has always been my approach, seeing the diocesan offices as being at the service of our parishes, to animate them while uniting and building bonds among ourselves as one local Church.

Land

The Hebrew term Ha Aretz, is not just about real estate, turf, or dirt, but it refers to the land on which God’s people live with stability, and a sense of belonging. God’s desire to bring about this sense of belonging is present in the aspirations of every migrant and immigrant, and that is why they need to be respected, treated with justice and welcomed. God is at work in giving people a life of stability, a feeling of being at home, and of living in an environment that satisfies the desires God has placed in their hearts. The work of comprehensive immigration reform is not important because it is on my agenda, but because it is on God’s.

But, there are others who feel little sense of belonging and stability. Many youth have no dreams, no real aspirations, no sustaining hope. And so they turn to a destructive world of drugs, gangs, and lethal violence.

There are no easy answers to this, but I am aware that good people within our parishes and in the city are working imaginatively to address this issue. I admire the creativity of bringing gang members together for sports and in other venues to ease growing tensions. I believe that shoring up and strengthening family life and education are also essential ingredients.

You will find in me a ready partner, but also one who believes that this work is not inconsequential, is not an option, because again, it too is on God’s agenda.

Conclusion

For me it is quite humbling as I come to offer servant leadership to this local Church to be associated with lay women and men, clergy, religious and bishops who continue to have an enormous impact in society. That is especially so as I now follow two great predecessors, Cardinal Bernardin and Cardinal George, both intellectual and spiritual leaders, but most of all pastoral men who both have been models of faith and trust in God in having to deal with serious illness as they valiantly continued to shepherd the people of God.

But, it is also true that United States has benefitted from the talents and leadership of many Chicagoans over our nation’s history, contributing common sense Midwestern values in touch with the real lives of people. We are a city that is unafraid to walk through the dry bones.

Tonight Ezekiel encourages us to continue doing so because that is where God is and where God’s agenda begins. It is an agenda that encourages me as I begin my service to welcome new friendships with other leaders in our parishes, in the business community, labor and government, because I recognize the enormous opportunity and promise that God is putting before us as we use our connections to help the disconnected, all the while respecting each other’s challenges.

It is an agenda that has its origins in the very creation of the world, for God’s plan all along has been to make this tiny speck of cosmic dust in the vast universe a land, a home for us all.Spirit, People and Land – these are God’s words to comfort and encourage, words to help us in this graced time and blessed city to keep our focus on all that God is doing, so that our ways may be God’s ways.

And, the promise tonight is that if we keep these three words close to our hearts, all the while remembering our proud heritage of contributing to the good of the nation, then not only will we get things done, but we will probably end up rattling some bones.