Who is pope francis?

September 10, 2023

St. John Paul II once told George Weigel, author of Witness to Hope, that the problem with many previous biographers was that they tried “to understand me from outside. But I can only be understood from inside.” The same thing might be said about and by Pope Francis, that many try to sum him up by inferences based on various things he has done: travels, gestures, homilies, discourses, messages, letters, appointments, apostolic constitutions, encyclicals, exhortations, motu proprios, chirographs, and more. How do we, however, best understand him from the inside? The best key with which to do that is his understanding of God’s mercy.

At the very moment his pontificate began, when he accepted the election of his brother cardinals, he did not say merely “Accepto,” which is the way Popes normally assent to their election. As he stated in the first of what have become many interviews, he told Fr. Antonio Spadaro he replied in Latin, “I am a sinner, but having trusted in the mercy and infinite patience of our Lord Jesus Christ and in a spirit of penance, I accept.” When Spadaro asked him in the same interview, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?,” the Holy Father replied, “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon” with mercy. He added, “I always felt my motto, Miserando atque Eligendo, was very true for me,” that the Lord, looking upon him with merciful love, chose him first to be a priest and religious, then a bishop, and finally the successor of St. Peter.

On September 21, 1953, everything in his life changed. He stopped into his parish church and saw a priest he didn’t know, Fr. Carlos Duarte Ibarra, and, without much forethought, asked him to hear his confession. He exited the confessional five minutes later, intending no longer to become a chemist but a priest. He recognized that God had been waiting for him in the confessional to fill him with his mercy and that, miserando atque eligendo, was choosing him to be a minister of that mercy to others. That conviction has been the principal leitmotif of his Christian life, priesthood, and papacy.

In a 2010 book length interview, El Jesuita, Cardinal Bergoglio said that an authentically Christian discipleship begins with our recognition that we are sinners in need of salvation and the concomitant experience that that Savior looks on us with merciful love. “For me,” he said, “feeling oneself a sinner is one of the most beautiful things that can happen, if it leads to its ultimate consequences. … When a person becomes conscious that he is a sinner and is saved by Jesus, … he discovers the greatest thing in life, that there is someone who loves him profoundly, who gave his life for him.” He lamented that many Catholics have sadly not had this fundamental Christian experience. “There are people who believe the right things, who have received catechesis and accepted the Christian faith in some way, but who do not have the experience of having been saved … and who therefore lack the experience of who they are. I believe that only we great sinners have this grace.” After his election, he added, “Only the one who has been touched and caressed by the tenderness of his mercy really knows the Lord.”

On the first of his papacy, he sought to open up both the Church and the world to this grace. In his homily at the Vatican’s parish church of St. Anne and in his meditation from his study window before a crowd of 300,000, he stressed what he discovered back on September 21, 1953, saying, “The Lord never tires of forgiving: never! It is we who tire of asking for his forgiveness. Let us ask for the grace never to tire of asking for forgiveness, because God never tires of giving his forgiveness.” He has said the “whole Gospel, all of Christianity,” is contained in the joy God has in forgiving us. The “most profound mission of Jesus,” he stated, “is the redemption of all of us sinners.” God’s “name” and “identity card” are mercy. Mercy is God’s “most powerful message.” It is “the very foundation of the Church’s life” and her “primary task.” It is “the true force that can save man and the world.”

Because of these convictions, he convoked a Jubilee of Mercy in 2015-2016 to help the Church to “rediscover the meaning of the mission entrusted to her by the Lord on the day of Easter: to be a sign and an instrument of the Father’s mercy.” For the Jubilee, he wrote two documents, The Face of Mercy and Mercy and Misery, which are both beautiful summaries of the centrality of divine mercy in the life and mission of the Church. During the Jubilee, he instituted the Missionaries of Mercy, originally about 1,100 of the 410,000 priests in the world, to be “persuasive preachers of mercy,” and “living signs of the Father’s readiness to welcome those in search of his forgiveness” through their dedication to hearing confessions. He gave them special faculties in the confessional to be able to remit the censures and heal the sins that are normally reserved only to the Holy See. At the end of the Jubilee, he extended the faculties of willing Missionaries indefinitely, and in the new apostolic constitution for the Church published last June, he made the Missionaries of the Mercy a permanent part of the structure of the Church.

Throughout his papacy, he has given greater attention to those in greatest need of God’s mercy, to those on the “existential peripheries,” to the one lost sheep, than to the 99 still in the fold. He sees this in imitation of the Lord, who “has a certain weakness of love for those who are furthest away, who are lost. He goes in search of them.” That preference has occasionally been a source of frustration to the 99, who can sometimes be left feeling confused or neglected by a Pope who prioritizes meeting with non-Catholic reporters, fallen away Catholics, critics of the Church, LGBT activists, pro-abortion politicians, tarred ecclesiastical figures, and others rather than some Cardinals or bishops who have requested appointments. The 99 can complain, to use one of Pope Francis’ most famous quips, that he has the “smell” of the lost and black sheep but not of those who are striving to follow the Good Shepherd’s voice.

Pope Francis, however, is clearly convinced that in doing so, he is following the lead of the One for whom he is earthly vicar. He sees this prioritization as a means of engagement with prodigal sons and daughters. “Let us always remember,” he wrote during the Jubilee, “that God rejoices more when one sinner returns to the fold than when ninety-nine righteous people have no need of repentance.” This focus on the lost sheep, however, does not mean that he is unaware of, or somehow blesses, their sins. He has regularly made a distinction between what he calls “sinners” and the “corrupt.” Sinners are those who recognize they’ve fallen and need God’s forgiveness the “corrupt” are those who have become so hardened in their sin that they do not repent and treat vice as virtue. He has repeatedly and fiercely called the corrupt to conversion precisely so that they might receive mercy. “Mercy exists,” he has written, “but … if you don’t recognize yourself as a sinner, it means you don’t want to receive it.”

He has sought throughout his papacy to make mercy “a verb,” by receiving and sharing it. He has, like St. John Paul II before him, prioritized hearing confessions. He has often said how much he longs “to be able to walk into a church and sit down in a confessional again!,” because he regards the priesthood as a call to be “ministers of mercy above all.” He has regularly appealed to the Catholic faithful to come to confession and not to be afraid. He has said that the Church is “called above all to be a credible witness to mercy, professing it and living it as the core of the revelation of Jesus Christ.” He has sought to be that type of credible witness throughout his priestly life and papacy. That is the best way to understand him from the inside, on his own terms.

The Courage to Live Sunday as a Christian

September 3, 2023

In June, the Supreme Court announced major decisions on affirmative action, redistricting, student loans, immigration enforcement, free speech, and religious freedom. On the last, the justices of the often deeply divided court decided unanimously to strengthen anti-discrimination protections against religious believers in the workplace. In Groff v. DeJoy, the nine justices all determined in favor of an evangelical Christian from rural Pennsylvania, Gerald Groff, whom the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) had unsuccessfully forced to work on Sundays in violation of his religious belief at the risk of losing his job. The Court said that employers should grant religious accommodation requests unless they would impose a “undue hardship” on the employer that would be “substantial in the context of an employer’s business.”

Experts say that the decision will impact not merely only believers in general not to be compelled to work on religious holy days in violation of their faith but also to dress according to their religious beliefs, from kippahs to headscarves and hijabs, to habits and crucifixes. They add that it will likewise provide a different standard by which to evaluate employees’ requests to take short prayer breaks during the day or to refuse vaccines on religious grounds, pharmacists’ petitions to ask for workarounds not to have to fill prescriptions for contraceptive or abortifacient drugs, medical staff’s appeals for Sunday shifts that permit attending Mass, and teachers’ entreaties to be exempt from referring to students by pronouns not corresponding to their biological sex — all of which can make it harder for religious believers to obtain and maintain jobs. Now, employees who feel that their requests for religious accommodation are not being seriously considered in the workplace will have much stronger cases to take their employers to court should the employers not take steps to find solutions that would not constitute a substantial hardship for the business.

Prior to Groff, the deck was stacked in favor of employers, who only needed to show that making such a religious accommodation would require them to “bear more than a de minimis cost,” meaning a small or trifling burden. That lower standard came, Justice Samuel Alito wrote in Groff, from an erroneous interpretation of a 1977 Supreme Court Case, TWA v. Hardison, which was deemed by some lower courts to define “undue hardship” in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act according to a minimalist standard of burden. That low bar was used by various employers to discriminate against religious employees in ways that never happen to other protected groups. Alito clarified that “hardship” means “something hard to bear,” and “undue” means “excessive” or “unjustifiable.” He wrote that employers now “must show that the burden of granting an accommodation would result in substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business.” While the decision is very good news for people of faith in the workplace, one question is whether Christian people of faith will seek to take advantage of it, particularly as it relates to work on Sunday.

The case of Gerald Groff can provide an examination of conscience. Groff began working for the USPS in 2012 out of the Quarryville, Pennsylvania post office. At the time, the USPS did not deliver on Sundays. In 2013, however, the USPS signed a contract with Amazon to deliver on Sundays. Groff requested a transfer to Holtwood, a small rural post office that at the time did not make Sunday deliveries. When in 2017, Holtwood likewise had to begin making Sunday deliveries, Groff offered to take extra shifts on holidays and extra shifts on weekdays to avoid working on Sunday. But when eventually other members of the small staff complained, Groff was required to work on Sunday and was progressively disciplined for not violating his conscience and coming to work. When the penalties brought him to the verge of being terminated, in January 2019, he resigned and a few months later sued the USPS under Title VII.

The June Supreme Court decision didn’t decide ultimately in his favor but sent his case back to the lower courts to determine, with the newly clarified standard, whether granting him an accommodation would be an undue substantial burden to the business of the USPS. In fidelity to the commandment to keep holy the Lord’s day, Groff was willing to shift work places, volunteer for double shifts, and national holidays, to lose his job and to go through the vicissitudes of a multiyear legal battle. How much are Catholic Christians willing to do?

In May of this year the Church marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of St. John Paul II’s apostolic letter Dies Domini on keeping the Lord’s Day holy. In it, John Paul II urged Catholics to remember that to keep the Lord’s Day holy involves not just Sunday Mass, prayer, and works of charity, but also “abstention from work.” God gave the Third Commandment, he reminded us, because the Israelites were once slaves in Egypt, implying that to do nonessential work on the sabbath is to be enslaved either to the work itself or to what it might provide. Imitating God’s rest on the seventh day, he said, is indeed “something sacred” and restorative, especially for those in poorer circumstances, who are often oppressed by long hours as well as miserable, unjust, and exploitative working conditions. He summarized that Christians “are obliged in conscience to arrange their Sunday rest in a way that allows them to take part in the Eucharist, refraining from work and activities that are incompatible with the sanctification of the Lord’s Day.”

To restate the Third Commandment’s prohibition of “work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body” (Catechism 2185) is not to become like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, or some Orthodox Jews of our own age, who specify how far one can walk, how much one can lift, or whether one can flip on or off a light switch on the Sabbath day. But it is to express the Sabbath’s sacred value and to try to ensure that it is not lost in the midst of a consumerist age prone to the ancient worship of the golden calf and to underemphasizing or forgetting altogether the human person’s spiritual needs. The freedom that the Sabbath is meant to express and reinforce is often freely squandered when Christians use that freedom to yoke themselves with unnecessary work on Sunday, from teens working at supermarkets and convenience stores, to adults enticed by premium pay in factories, to nonessential workers forced to work to deliver packages that somehow can’t wait until Monday. Sabbath work gradually grinds down individuals, weakens family, and changes culture for the worse.

But how many Christians have the faith, courage, and firm and formed conscience like Gerald Groff to refuse to do unnecessary work on Sunday? As we celebrate with gratitude our hard-won freedom, we remember that it was for freedom that we were set free and, therefore, should not squander our freedom by using it to submit to the yoke of slavery (Gal 5:1). Now that the Supreme Court has unanimously stated that employers need to make religious accommodations unless they pose a major burden on the company’s bottom line, how many will ask for such reasonable accommodation and stick to them if their bosses or human resource directors are slow to acknowledge and grant them?

In an age that prioritizes mammon over God, how many Christians will have the courage to live Sunday as Christians?

World youth day 2023

August 27, 2023

World Youth Days are not just for those who are able to attend in person but are meant to renew and rejuvenate the entire Church. They provide the occasion for Catholics of every generation to convert and become more childlike (Mt 18:3), to ponder the mystery of youth, and to confront or revisit the pivotal questions that preoccupy this phase, especially how one is to live one’s life in correspondence to God. That is why Pope Francis and young pilgrims from across the world convened in Lisbon August 2-6 for the 37th World Youth Day!

World Youth Days are a compelling experience of God, as youth leave their comfort zones and, often at considerable expense, travel great distances in search of God and what He may be asking of them. There is an inescapable focus on God, with Mass each day, the Rosary on buses, Stations of the Cross on streets, visits to Churches and shrines, the Sacrament of Confession offered simultaneously by the Pope and thousands of priests, all night vigils of prayer, and the most well-attended celebration of Mass most will ever experience. All of these help confirm that God is indeed real, loves each of us personally, and is worthy of our love and life in return.

World Youth Days are also a powerful encounter with the catholicity of the Church, as young people not only have the chance to pray on several occasions with the Pope but also to meet and grow in communion with fellow youth from all over the world. It’s not easy to grow up as a Catholic in the United States, especially as many parishes are greying and thinning, popular culture derides Catholic faith and morals, some religious leaders behave as villains rather than heroes, and many endure broken families and the temptation to hold God accountable. To be surrounded by hundreds of thousands of ebullient peers singing, laughing, and praying in various languages provides an indelible lesson that the Catholic faith is a treasure bigger and more beautiful than most had previously realized. They return fortified to live and share the faith as a source of hope and remedy for the loneliness and purposelessness that plague so many of their friends.

World Youth Days are, third, a great means to grow in the knowledge of the faith, both in times of formal catechesis with their chaplains, bishops, and zealous lay and religious apostles, but also informally through discussing their challenges and confusions with their fellow wayfarers. On many trips, young pilgrims prepare brief presentations on the saints and sanctuaries they would encounter along the way, as well as give summaries of what the popes have said on previous World Youth Days. The fruits of that work have been seen not only in the presenters, but in the impact their reflections had on their fellow spiritual travelers. It’s helped them to respond with greater confidence to what is always one of the principal papal summons of every World Youth Day: to go and teach all nations, beginning with the lost sheep of their own families and schools.

The theme which Pope Francis focused on in Lisbon was the mystery of the Visitation, specifically St. Luke’s words that “Mary arose and went with haste” (Lk 1:39). In his message preparing the Church for this encounter, the Holy Father pondered how this young girl, immediately after the Angel Gabriel appeared and she accepted to become the mother of the eternal Son of God, is a model for how every young Catholic, filled with the grace of baptism and blessed within by the Lord’s presence in Holy Communion, is summoned to get up and bring Him with urgency to others. “Mary could have focused on herself and her own worries and fears about her new condition,” Pope Francis writes. “Instead, she entrusted herself completely to God. Her thoughts turned to Elizabeth. She got up and went forth. … The young Mary did not remain paralyzed, for within her was Jesus, the power of resurrection and new life. … [She] is a model for young people on the move, who refuse to stand in front of a mirror to contemplate themselves. … Mary’s focus is always directed outwards. She is in a permanent state of exodus, going forth from herself towards that great Other who is God and towards others, her brothers and sisters, especially those in greatest need.”

Pope Francis tackles head on the type of indifference and lethargy that can lead youth not to get involved when others need help, or to wait for someone else to approve or take the lead. He gets practical and simple, urging them to think about all those who look forward just to a visit, like “the elderly, the sick, the imprisoned and refugees,” or those who are lonely and abandoned. “The real question in life,” he says, “is for whom am I living?” Mary shows us how to answer.

To have this dialogue in Lisbon was a significant choice. The Portuguese capital was one of the great launching pads to “put out into the deep” (Lk 5:4) in search of a new world. “In the 15th and 16th centuries,” Pope Francis comments, “great numbers of young people — including many missionaries — set out for worlds unknown, not least to share their experience of Jesus with other peoples and nations.” The Saturday night vigil of adoration and Sunday concluding Mass took place overlooking the majestic Vasco de Gama Bridge on the shores of the Tejo River from which the bold explorers set out. It was a setting fit to inspire the whole Church to a similar spiritual audacity.

Lisbon is important as well because it is the birthplace of St. Anthony, right across from Lisbon’s Cathedral. It’s where he first received his vocation to become a great Scripture scholar and saint of charity. The Church built over his home is a place where many young people have and can, through the prayers and example of this patron of lost things, find definitive direction. Lisbon is likewise providential because it is less than an hour’s drive from Fatima, where our Lady went in haste several times in 1917 to summon three Portuguese young people, and through them the Church, to personal conversion and to prayer and sacrifices for conversion of others. On August 5, when Pope Francis traveled to Fatima to pray with and for sick young people in the Chapel of Apparitions, it was a reminder to the whole Church to respond anew to Mary’s appeal.

Lisbon is likewise notable because of its history. The opening ceremony place in Edward VII Park, which is right next to the monumental statue and iconic roundabout of the Marquis de Pombal, who rebuilt Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake but who is infamous for his radical secularism, ruthless hatred for the Church and the clergy, and for his spiteful work to suppress the Jesuits. To have the successor of St. Peter and first Jesuit pope bring hundreds of thousands of young people to celebrate the Catholic faith and pray next to his monument is an inspiring witness to the power of Jesus’ resurrection at work in the Church, a bold summons never to be afraid, and an unforgettable opportunity to pray for the Church’s persecutors, not just today but throughout Church history.

Therefore, together with Mary, the Holy Father, and Jesus — whom Pope Francis says is “the greatest gift,” “the great message entrusted to the Church,” and the center and hero of World Youth Day — let us all go with haste to discern the movement of the Spirit in Lisbon, and from there set out anew.

A Highway that leads to the lord

August 20, 2023

On July 3, the Church marked the Feast of the Apostle Saint Thomas, whose conversion from doubt to faith after the Resurrection led to the greatest confession of Christ’s divinity in Sacred Scripture. After the Risen Jesus appeared to him and invited him to put his fingers into the wounds of His hands and place his hand in Jesus’ pierced side, the formerly doubting disciple simply cried out, “My Lord and my God!” That exclamation has become one of the most common aspirations of Catholics during the elevation of the Sacred Host and Precious Blood immediately after the consecration. Thomas’ conversion and awestruck confession are also what the Church in the United States is hoping will happen on a widescale during the ongoing Eucharistic Revival.

The Church is being called to convert from a situation of theological and practical doubt in which seven of ten do not profess faith that Christ is really, truly, and substantially present in the Eucharist and five of six Catholics skip Mass on the Lord’s day to one in which the Church will be able to proclaim in body language with reverential unison, “My Lord and my God!” to Christ present on the altar, in the tabernacle, and in the monstrance. The Eucharistic Christ invites us not merely to penetrate His wounds with our fingers and hands, but to enter into a life-changing communion with Him as we permit Him to enter fully into us and heal our wounds. He invites us all, as He said to Thomas in the Upper Room, not to “going on unbelieving, but believe.”

The life of Saint Thomas is a reminder to pray that all disciples, whether doubting or not, come to adore the Lord like the converted and faithful apostle. On July 3, we also marked another great Eucharistic confessor, although not yet as well known. Antonietta “Nennolina” Meo died of bone cancer at six-and-a-half years old in 1937 in Rome. In her few years on earth, however, she lived the Christian life with heroic virtue, as Pope Benedict XVI declared in 2007 when he proclaimed her venerable. Three days later, he said in an audience that she had left all Christians, young and all, “a shining example” that “shows that holiness is for all ages: for children and for young people, for adults and for the elderly.” She “reached the peak of Christian perfection that we are all called to scale she sped down the ‘highway’ that leads to Jesus.”

The highway that leads to Jesus was a Eucharistic life, in which she sought to conform her whole existence to her Lord and God present on the altar. This showed itself fundamentally in two ways. The first was a burning desire to receive Jesus in Holy Communion. When she was five, already suffering from bone cancer that would lead first to the amputation of her leg and then would metastasize to her hand, foot, throat, mouth and head, she longed to receive her first Holy Communion. She got her wish on Christmas 1936, just after her sixth birthday. In preparation, she did catechetical lessons with her mother each night, received her first Confession, and began to write, first with the help of her mother and then on her own, a series of moving letters to Jesus, God the Father, to the Holy Spirit, and to the Blessed Mother in which she described her longing.

On September 15, 1936, she penned, “Dear Jesus, today I am going for a walk and going to the sisters to tell them that I want to make my first Communion at Christmas. … Jesus, come soon into my heart, so that I can hold you tight and kiss you!” She would dictate or write such letters before bed and then tuck them under the statue of the Baby Jesus in her room so that he could read them while she was sleeping or help deliver them to their intended recipients. As Christmas drew near, the intensity of her longing grew. Counting down the days, she wrote that she was preparing within her a “beautiful, soft, soft little crib, dear Jesus, so that you can rest well [in] my heart.” The night of her first Communion, she knelt for an hour with hands folded in silent adoration, despite the pain that her primitive prosthetic leg was causing her. She wrote soon after, “Dear Jesus in the Eucharist, I am so very, very happy that you have come into my heart. Never leave my heart, stay for ever and ever with me. Jesus, I love you so, I want to let myself go in your arms and do what you will with me.”

Her Eucharistic desire continued to grow as Jesus in the Eucharist really became the center of her life. “Dear Jesus in the Eucharist,” she wrote, I love you so much. … I know that you suffered a lot when you were little, and I want to go to Mass every Sunday where the sacrifice of the cross is renewed and where you make an even greater sacrifice to enclose yourself in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. Dear Jesus, I will come to receive you every Sunday, but I would like to receive you every day, but Mom does not take me there.”

She also lived a Eucharistic life in her approach to the enormous suffering she experienced as a result of osteosarcoma. Her tomb rests in the Roman Basilica of the Holy Cross, dubbed “in Jerusalem” because it was the former palace of St. Helen, who brought several relics of the Lord’s Passion from Jerusalem to Rome together with dirt from the Holy Spirit that she used as the foundation for the chapel she constructed to house the relics, where they remained for 1600 years. In 1930, a new chapel was made off to the side of the Basilica, but as soon as one enters the ramp leading to the chapel, there is a small room with Nennolina’s sarcophagus, which one can’t miss returning from venerating the relics. She was placed there not just because she made all her Sacraments at the Basilica, had her funeral Mass there, and was loved by the Cistercians in charge, but because she had lived a life of intense communion with Jesus’ passion, pondered in the relics, and entered into by means of the Eucharistic sacrifice.

Nennolina demonstrated a profound and precocious comprehension for the meaning of redemptive suffering. After her leg was amputated, she wrote to Jesus, “I’m not saying to give me back my leg. I gave it to you!,” and told her mother why she gave it: “You know, mom? I offered my leg to Jesus for the conversion of poor sinners.” When others kindly told her they were praying for her to get better, she asked them rather to pray that she do God’s will. “I want to stay with Him on the Cross because I love him.” When her father was worried about how much pain she was in, she told him, “Dad, the pain is like fabric: the stronger it is, the more value it has.” When St. Pius X in 1910 lowered the age of first communion to the age of discretion, he predicted, “There will be saints among the children!” If Nennolina is eventually canonized, she will become the youngest non-martyred saint in Church history.

Through Holy Communion, Jesus seeks to make us holy, and children are often able to appreciate the reality of the holiness of the Eucharist more easily than adults. It’s one of the reasons why I have regularly used Nennolina in parish work and beyond to inspire first communicants, encouraging them to prepare little presentations on her, to read some of her Eucharistic letters aloud in class, and to imitate her longing. As Pope Benedict said in 2007, however, she is a “shining example” not just for children but for “adults and the elderly” pointing out to every Catholic the Eucharistic interstate to Christian perfection.

A Time for Parish Eucharistic Revival

August 13, 2023

The celebration of Corpus Christi in June was a special time in the Church’s liturgical calendar. It should be because we celebrate the enduring self-gift of Jesus Christ by which He fulfills His promise to remain with us always until the end of time. It should be, moreover, because the feast was directly asked for by the Lord Himself through His apparitions to the Belgian mystic St. Juliana of Liege in the early 13th century in anticipation of the Eucharistic miracle of Orvieto-Bolsena. In response to Jesus’ wondrous self-gift, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that we ought to “dare to do all we can” to express our faith, love, and gratitude. But this year’s celebration of Corpus Christi on June 11th was more special still, as it took place within the three-year-plus Eucharistic Revival in the Church in the United States and inaugurating its second and most important year: the parish phase of the Revival.

The first year was dedicated to renewal at the level of dioceses. It featured retreats and workshops for priests, diocesan officials, Catholic school teachers and catechists, as well as Conferences for Men, Women, Youth and more. The goal was to prime and equip Church leaders and more fervent and committed faithful for the year dedicated to parish renewal. On the celebration of Corpus Christi this year, each of the 17,000 parishes in the United States is being explicitly urged by the U.S. bishops to commit “to take one step further” to help grow parishioners’ Eucharistic knowledge, faith, amazement, love, and life.

Some parishes are already thriving in terms of Eucharistic piety. They have reverent, graceful, prayerful Masses with powerful preaching, beautiful music, and infectious hospitality. They feature plenty of opportunities for parishioners to come to pray with adoring love before their Eucharistic Lord. They pass on the Eucharistic faith with fire to first communicants, to RCIA candidates and others. They host 40-hour devotions, lead Eucharistic processions, even establish adoration chapels. The parish phase is a time for them to build on what they already have. Many parishes, however, are in need of a greater upgrade. While every parish is formally Eucharistic, insofar as it exists above all to celebrate the Eucharist, not every parish has made Jesus in the Eucharist the source, summit, root, and center of its parish life, activity, and culture. This is a year for parishes to dedicate themselves to improving, and for some improving substantially, their Eucharistic focus. Parishioners can be enthusiastically invited to upgrade from occasional and committed attendance from looking at Sunday Mass as an obligation to viewing it with eager love for God from showing up to Mass to really praying the Mass from going on Sunday to going also during the week.

Priests and liturgical ministers can consider how they might convey more effectively that at Mass we meet God Himself and should do so with maximal reverence, love, and gratitude. We ought to ask, with candor and courage, which options permitted to us — in terms of music, homiletic styles, Eucharistic prayers, vestments, sanctuary décor an furnishings, posture of receiving communion, and so on — more effectively communicate the sacred reality of the Lord’s presence and then choose to use those that better pass on the Church’s Eucharistic faith.

To do that, it’s wise for parishes to facilitate adoration. Adoration outside of Mass facilitates adoration within Mass. It’s a means by which we learn to love God with all our mind, heart, soul, and strength. Parishes without periods of Eucharistic adoration during the week should seek to begin. While not every parish would be able to have perpetual Eucharistic adoration at the start of the year, priests and faithful should ask themselves whether it might be a goal toward which they could effectively work together over the course of parish phase of the revival. Very small parishes could at least strive to commit to a 40-hour devotion period, once a year toward once a week.

Similarly, the Church encourages every parish to have Eucharistic processions, in which we take our love for the Lord Jesus present in the Eucharist out into the world He redeemed, out into the streets of our neighborhoods, accompanying Him just like the crowds accompanied Him in ancient Capernaum, Jericho, and Jerusalem. One of the most important ways of forming Eucharistic missionaries, those who will lovingly and courageously invite others to come or return to Mass, is by helping them overcome any sense of shame or embarrassment to proclaim their Eucharistic faith by walking with the Eucharistic Jesus in the streets.

The parish phase of the Revival should look to address the Eucharistic dimension of its catechesis. In various parishes a major issue is that many of the students in religious education and their families do not attend Mass. This year is an opportunity explicitly to ground growth in faith around the Eucharist, by reorienting all of religious education around Sunday worship. Similarly, RCIA, post-Confirmation and adult education programs can better show that the Eucharistic Jesus is the beginning and end of all that the Church does. Finally, because the Christian life has a Eucharistic form, everything that the Church does should flow from our encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist. Thus, the parish phase is an opportunity to ensure that all ministries, clubs, and activities of a parish are connected more explicitly to Jesus on the altar and in the tabernacle.

The US Bishops have published the Leaders’ Playbook for the Year of Parish Revival so that it might become “the most impactful phase of this multi-year response to the Holy Spirit.” It contains four “pillars,” each with a specific “invitation.” The first pillar is to reinvigorate worship at Mass with an invitation to focus on how the Mass is celebrated. It encourages greater beauty, reverence, and liturgical silence in the celebration of Mass, confessions before Mass, as well as personal witness on the power of the Mass. The second pillar is to create moments of personal encounter, with an appeal for every parish to host monthly “Eucharistic nights” of adoration to help people meet Jesus prayerfully in the Blessed Sacrament with the help of readings, talks, music, and confession. It also encourages parish retreats, prayer teams, and Eucharistic processions. The third is to strength faith formation through Sunday preaching series on the intrinsic connection of the Eucharist to the Paschal Mystery, the Real Presence, holiness, and Jesus’ call to evangelize and serve. It also urges a small group study series called “Jesus and the Eucharist.” The last is to form and encourage people to go out to invite at least one person back to Mass and to give special care to those in need and on the peripheries of existence. It has us imagine what would happen to our parishes if every parishioner were to reach out effectively to a fallen away family member, co-worker, and fellow student and if priests and faithful were prepared with best practices to make them feel welcome. The Playbook is an important resource to help every parish take at least “one step” forward during the parish phase. If parishes take it seriously, however, those steps could be enormous strides and create the momentum that the Revival as a whole is seeking to catalyze.

During this time of Eucharistic Revival priests and parishioners are being called together to “dare to do all they can” to make their parishes what they’re called to be, and what Jesus wants them to be: truly and thoroughly Eucharistic!

the importance of a true education

August 6, 2023

St. Thomas More was martyred because of his refusal to swear an oath of loyalty to King Henry VIII. The king defied the authority of the Pope and declared himself the head of the Church of England because he did not wish to accept the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage. Saint Thomas More’s principled resolution in refusing to swear the oath was not only the result of much reflection but also of his keen intellect, which contributed to forming his conscience in order to make wise decisions. His holy example of martyrdom demonstrates the true value of an education: the ability to apply the reality of our faith to concrete life decisions that occur on our path to holiness.

So often, we are preoccupied with statistics, no less so in the field of education. “Did I receive an A- or a B+ on my last test?” or “Is this standardized test score high enough that I will receive a scholarship?” Statistics are often indicators of academic success, and I am certainly proud of our students at Mary, Queen of Peace Catholic School for their achievement in these areas. Students in various grade levels excel in their standardized test scores and many receive various levels of recognition. Our alumni are leaders in society. While all of these achievements are laudable, there is an even richer component to Catholic education.

In a quote popularly attributed to him, Saint Thomas More wrote, “Education is not the piling on of learning, information, data, facts, skills, or abilities—that is training or instruction—but is rather making visible what is hidden as a seed.” It is not that practical subjects are unimportant, but rather that everything a student learns in the classroom should be related to who he or she is as a human person. The very first article of the Catechism teaches us, “He (God) calls man to seek Him, to know Him, and to love Him with all his strength” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1).

Without a sound education in the faith, Saint Thomas More would not have known God in the way the Catechism describes. He would not have recognized the importance of loving God with all of his strength to the point of losing his elite status in society and, eventually, his life. In a similar fashion, we too must recognize God’s call to learn about our faith and to teach that faith to others. Primarily, children learn from their parents, through their words, their instructions and, most of all, through their example. What better way to learn about the importance of prayer than by a daughter watching her mother rise early to pray each morning? How much does a son learn from a father who will occasionally give up watching a favorite sports game to spend an hour at Eucharistic Adoration? Parents know that children learn by imitation. The next time you are caught in an ethical quandary—Should I drive excessively over the speed limit? Should I cut corners on my taxes? Should I allow others to take responsibility for my mistakes? — think about the persons you wish your children to become. Yes, adults have a great responsibility in educating children, not only about the truths of the faith, but also in the way in which they live out that faith in their daily lives.

We are blessed here at Mary, Queen of Peace Parish to have a Catholic School which is committed to the mission of providing an education rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ where Catholic doctrine and values and academic excellence prepare each student for a life of faith, service, and integrity. We must always remember that the natural goods of a Catholic education are, in the end, worthless without that eternal direction and supernatural context which make Catholic education unique. To make the standards of the world the standards of our school is to build our house upon sand – and one day, the floods of secular values will do away with that house. We are committed to making our school a place of Christian witness, to continue to build our school upon the solid rock of Christ and the peace that only He can offer.

The Gospel records that Christ opened the Scriptures for His Apostles in the upper room He opened their eyes to the significance of His own life, death, and resurrection. In a similar way, a Catholic school should open the student’s eyes to the significance of his or her own life, but more importantly to the connection between the student’s life and the life of Jesus. Jesus must be taught as the principle of interpretation to life, to the world, and to one’s own destiny. To neglect to share the person of Jesus with one’s students is a grave injustice to the souls with whom we are brought into contact. We must pray for the grace and strength to proclaim His name with vigor and joy.

Young people take in much information from the world around them: at school and at the mall, from their smartphones and from their friends. Too often, youth are exposed to the falsehoods that there is no such thing as the sanctity of life, that there is no true religion and that, in the end, each person must only do what makes them happy, instead of what is right. Sadly, relativism has become prevalent in our culture, making it a challenge for young people to receive a true education which will prepare them for the challenges of living a life of holiness. For these reasons, we must vigilantly defend and teach the truth not only in our classrooms, but in our homes and workplaces, ever witnessing to our faith and the gift of life the Lord has given us.

Though we may never be called to martyrdom like Saint Thomas More, each of us is called to use our education every day. The focal point of our education is that “Man is made to live in communion with God in whom he finds happiness” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 45). When young mothers are faced with the “option” of abortion, they must recall that each of us is imbued with dignity by God and that life is precious. When an entrepreneur is offered a job in a morally corrupt corporation, he or she must remember we have a responsibility to defend the truth in the public sphere. When we are tempted to treat another with disdain because of the person’s race or creed, we must remember Christ calls us to love our neighbor.

Yes, at some point in our lives, we are each asked to make difficult decisions. These dilemmas are not easy the alternatives to making ethical decisions can often be very attractive. Hence, we must value our own true education and seek to teach others that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The next time you are confronted with a difficult decision, I challenge you to pray to Saint Thomas More for the fortitude and the wisdom to glorify the Lord with your educated choice.

He Has done all things well

July 30, 2023

In the Gospel, we glimpse the awe of those who witnessed Jesus’ miracles and good works as they were happening. Jesus made people’s hearts burn with His preaching. They had seen Him cast out demons, cure many who were sick, feed a multitude starting with few pieces of bread and fish, walk on water, and even raise a young girl from the dead. On the force of this reputation, several true friends brought a man who was deaf and mute to Jesus, begging him to lay hands on him. They were not to be let down. The Lord put his finger into the man’s ears, touched his tongue with spit, looked up to heaven, sighed, and cried out in Aramaic, “Be opened!” and the miracle was worked. Amazement seized them all. Even though Jesus told them not to say anything about the miracle, they could not help themselves. They were astounded beyond measure and cried out, “He has done all things well!”

“He has done all things well!” This line of joyful amazement should be the Christian motto. “Jesus has done all things well!” In His preaching, in His miracles, especially in His salvific passion, death, and resurrection, each of us should cry out with the astonished residents of the Decapolis that the Lord has indeed hit a home run on every swing. Everything He does flows from His infinite wisdom. Jesus really does know what is best for us — in terms of our eternal salvation — and carries it out. And His work has not stopped. He continues to listen to us in prayer. He continues to grant countless miracles through the intercession of saints. He continues to feed us with the sacrament of His Body and Blood. He has done, and continues to do, all things well.

This motto, which really is a characteristically Christian attitude, is being challenged in many segments of our culture today. This is really nothing new. The first pagans and Jewish leaders thought Jesus was a colossal failure, a criminal executed shamelessly on the electric chair of His day, a so-called king who died crowned not with gold but with thorns. Little did they know what would happen on Easter Sunday. Little could they fathom what the small band of fishermen, tax-collectors, and other relative nobodies would do in His name throughout the globe. Some people in every age continue to make the accusation that He does not do everything well. They look at the existence of physical evil in the world — babies who are born with serious infirmities, people who are victims of natural disasters, others who are victims of moral evils — and try to argue that either God must not exist, or is not all powerful and all good, or simply does not do all things well.

It is important for us to confront the objection flowing from the problem of evil. Why does suffering exist? St. John Paul II tried to answer this question in his exhortation, published 39 years ago, Salvifici Doloris, and ultimately answered that “suffering unleashes love,” the love of the incarnation, the love of the Good Samaritan, the love we see in the Gospel. Jesus takes on our suffering so that suffering can become a moral good and compassionate care can make us like God. “Suffering, which is present under so many different forms in our human world,” John Paul II wrote, “is also present in order to unleash love in the human person, that unselfish gift of one’s ‘I’ on behalf of other people, especially those who suffer.” That’s why Pope Francis, in his letter for the 30th Anniversary of the World Day of the Sick, said that each of us is called to become “Merciful like the Father” in trying to care for the sick not just “like” Jesus but together through, with, and in Jesus. Indeed, he finishes his letter on Jesus’ words, “I was sick and you visited me,” a reminder that in the care of the sick, we are called to serve, love, and even adore God.

This is a message we have to hear, announce, and live. The Lord opens up the deaf-mute’s ears and tongue so that he could fully communicate. The same Lord who did that for him — in a way that we might find a little gross, putting his fingers in his ear and spitting and touching his tongue, but was proto-sacramental — did it for us spiritually through a minister on the day of our baptism. He stuck his finger into our ear and touched our tongue and prayed, “May the Lord Jesus who made the deaf hear and the dumb speak, grant that you may soon receive his word with your ears and profess the faith with your lips, to the glory and praise of God the Father.” This points to two great truths: the most important reason why we were given ears by God was so that we might hear His word, and the most fundamental reason we were given a mouth was so that we might proclaim our faith to His glory. God wants to speak to us and have us speak to Him in prayer. He wants us to speak to others of our faith in Him, of His goodness, of how He continues to do all things well. There are of course other purposes for these faculties, but these are the priorities. God wants us to hear His voice, to listen to Jesus as He said in the Transfiguration, and to obey (ob-audire), which means to listen attentively as words to be done. Similarly, God has opened our tongues to do many things, including speaking to Him audibly. But the fundamental purpose of our speech is so that we might proclaim our faith to His praise and glory. And so, we need to ask ourselves how assiduously we are listening to the Lord’s voice and how ardently we are speaking of Him, how He does all things well, how He loves us, what He seeks to do in us.

When we think about listening to God well and speaking about Him, about hearing His word, and speaking it through a life filled with faith, we think about our Lady. In Lourdes, our Lady reminded St. Bernadette, and through her all of us, about the importance of prayerfully listening to God, leading Bernadette in prayer, and asking that a chapel be built there so that God could be heard. We think about her desire for the conversion of sinners, of those who refuse to hear and obey God, through asking St. Bernadette to pray for them and do penance for their conversion. Her self-revelation not as “Mary of Nazareth” or “the Mother of God” but as the “Immaculate Conception” is an indication of the triumph over sin, or her total enmity toward the evil one, how it is possible to live “full of grace.” When someone is attentive to God’s voice, when someone lives a life of prayer, the fruit is always charity, and that is one of the reasons why Lourdes is such an important place for our entering into God’s loving care for the sick just as Mary helped introduce Bernadette, and after her so many others, into the loving care of Him who does all things well. Our Lady asked St. Bernadette to wash herself in the waters of the spring and pointed to a place where there was just a little puddle. Bernadette dug there but all she got in her hands was mud. She wiped her face with the mud and people thought she was crazy. But later that day that puddle grew into a trickle and then a full stream was revealed. In the cold, crisp waters of that stream, over 7,000 people have claimed that they have had miraculous physical hearings, 70 of which have been fully medically vetted, but many others have never been reported. Just as Jesus, when He came to dwell on earth healed so many people who approached Him with faith, He continues to want to heal today. And Mary seeks to form there many who imitate her Son as the Good Samaritan, who come to help with the malades, the sick, rolling them in wheelchairs to the baths, in the processions, at Mass, to their residences, and so much more. It is moving to see so many other volunteers who care for pilgrims, who try to embrace them with the love with which God desires. That is an image of the Church at her best, bringing people to Christ through our Lady. The Blessed Mother came to Lourdes to help us be transformed by God’s love in such a way that we seek to share that love with others. She’s come to inspire us to help all those who are physically ill, spiritually sick, emotionally wounded or otherwise in need.

Let us ask the Lord to renew in us the graces of our baptism, so that we may hear accurately and obey assiduously the saving word He proclaims to us. Jesus has done all things well, and He wants to continue doing things well through us, unleashing His love in us and throughout His mystical body. His greatest ongoing work is what we do now in His memory. May we imitate those in the Decapolis in not being able to restrain ourselves from speaking about what He does here and may we go out to all the malades in the world and, with Mary, bring them to Him.

Praying for Pope Francis

July 2, 2023

Ten years ago this year, the 266th Peter walked out for the first time onto the Balcony of Blessing in the center of the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. After greeting us, he led us in prayer for the recently retired Pope Benedict XVI. Before he gave us his customary first blessing as the new Bishop of Rome, he asked us a “favor.” He humbly implored, “I ask you to pray to the Lord that he will bless me,” and bowed his head in silence as those in a hushed St. Peter’s Square and across the world quietly prayed for him. After giving us his blessing, he thanked us, wished us a good night, and repeated the petition, “Pray for me.”

He has been insistently asking us to pray for him ever since, in every language he can utter the phrase, at the end of almost every encounter. To pray for Pope Francis is the best way to mark his tenth anniversary. Prayer is what Catholics ought always to do first and do best. The Church prays for the Pope in every Mass from the rising of the sun to its setting. With 407,000 priests in the world, celebrating daily, Sunday, funeral and nuptial Masses, the Pope likely has 600,000 to a million Masses a day offered for him, a prayer meant to bring us into greater communion.

Catholics also pray for him in the petitions in the Liturgy of the Hours, at the beginning and end of the Rosary, and in various other spontaneous supplications made to the One whom he serves as earthly vicar. The ancient prayer for the Pope, sung regularly in the Vatican in Latin and found in prayer books and hymnals everywhere, is paraphrased from Ps 41:3: “May the Lord preserve him, give him a long life, make him blessed upon the earth, and not hand him over to the power of his enemies.” That invocation finishes with a beautiful concluding prayer that synthesizes the Church’s faith in the divine provenance and purpose of the Petrine office: “O God, Shepherd and Ruler of all the faithful, look down in your mercy upon your servant, Francis, whom you have appointed to preside over your Church, and grant, we beseech you, that both by word and example, he may edify all those under his charge so that, with the flock entrusted to him, he may arrive at length unto life everlasting.”

Pope Francis has often spoken about how much he depends on the prayers of the faithful. In his first airplane press conference, returning from World Youth Day in Brazil four months after his election, an inquiring journalist asked why he so often asked us for prayers. “We’re not used to hearing a Pope,” the reporter said, “ask so often that people pray for him.” Many people can naively think that the Pope doesn’t need prayers. If he has Jesus Christ praying for him (Lk 22:32), they can wonder, why does he need us? Moreover, if he’s supposed to be interceding for us before God, why do we need to intercede for him? Pope Francis responded to the journalist: “Because I sense that if the Lord does not help in this work of assisting the People of God to go forward, it can’t be done. I am truly conscious of my many limitations, with so many problems, and I am a sinner, as you know, and I have to ask for this. But it comes from within! I ask Our Lady, too, to pray to the Lord for me. It is a habit … that comes from my heart and also a real need in terms of my work.”

Pope Francis seems to recognize that prayers for the Pope cannot be taken for granted. When he came to the United States in 2015 and visited Our Lady Queen of Angels School in the Bronx, the Holy Father said to the students before leaving, “I want to give you some homework. Can I? It is just a little request, but a very important one. Please don’t forget to pray for me!” We’ve all received from him the same assignment.

Devout prayers for the Popes began to increase in regularity and intensity two centuries ago when Napoleon kidnapped Pope Pius VI in 1798 and brought him to live and ultimately die in Valence, France, preventing his body to be buried for five months or returned to the Vatican for more than two years. Such prayers grew when in 1809, Napoleon abducted Pope Pius VII and kept him in captivity for five years, until Napoleon and the French were finally defeated. Prior to that point, many, especially in Europe, had been tempted to view the Pope less as a spiritual figure than as the civil monarch of the Papal City States. But when the Pope was seized, maltreated, and imprisoned by a megalomaniacal dictator, Catholics throughout the globe began to pray for his safety, health, release, and intentions. Catholic piety has been positively impacted ever since.

To pray for the Pope implies a recognition that the Pope, like everyone, needs them, and with his responsibilities very likely needs them more, since Satan continuously seeks to sift the Pope like wheat (Lk 22:31). In every papacy, there are some who are better at complaining about the Pope than praying for him. It’s a good practice to challenge those who criticize the Pope whether they pray for him as much as they protest. To pray for the Pope does not mean one approves of every decision he’s made or even the general direction of the papacy. Pope Francis himself humbly recognizes his “many limitations,” “problems,” and sins, and in various pre-papal and papal interviews, he has candidly admitted that his first take on many decisions is often erroneous.

Praying for the Pope is not inconsistent with sincere concerns, for example, over the way he is handling various crises in the Church, responding to certain scandals, or handling liturgical matters. It doesn’t imply one agrees with the wisdom of everything he’s said, written, or done. It doesn’t mean one deems prudent every curial, episcopal, or cardinalatial appointment. Prayers aren’t supposed to come just from cheerleaders after all, but from every loyal spiritual son and daughter, and the more honest concerns people have, the more frequent and fervent they should pray.

Prayers for the Pope can, therefore, justly ask God to give him the wise and understanding heart that Solomon beseeched, so that he might govern God’s people wisely (1 Kings 3:9). They can implore that he grow in docility to the Holy Spirit as he seeks to guide the Church into all truth (Jn 16:13). They can beg that he be given a tongue of fire to teach and defend the faith with zeal and clarity. They can humbly beseech that God persuade him to reverse some of the reversible decisions he’s made. They can pray for the Pope’s and their own continual conversion and even, when the circumstances warrant it, for a merciful and blessed death. But sincere prayers for the Pope ought to be a daily practice for every Catholic — for his good and the good of the whole Church.

Therefore, as we mark Pope Francis’ tenth anniversary, let’s give him what he has never ceased to ask for as a “favor,” but which is in fact our loving Christian duty.