If you are a regular reader, thanks for stopping by again this week. If this is your first time visiting, welcome.
This week I met with several different groups of people in the Archdiocese of Boston, including women religious, directors of religious education, newly ordained priests and those who are preparing to be welcomed into the Church this Easter.
Also, we announced yesterday that the 2006 Catholic Appeal raised 13.8 million dollars. Please know that I am most grateful to all who made our campaign a success. Through participating in the Appeal, Catholics express their heartfelt support for the programs and services that allow us to put our faith into action by helping meet the needs of our Catholic family and all who turn to us for assistance. To all the Catholics who gave so generously, and the pastoral leadership seen in all of our parishes, thank you. Your support of the Catholic Appeal sustains the vital work we do today, and establishes the foundation for the way forward.
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On Sunday, we welcomed over 500 catechumens (those who are not baptized) and candidates (those who are baptized but not Catholic) to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross for the Rite of Election. The Rite is one of the final steps in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (commonly referred to as the RCIA), the primary way non-Catholics are prepared to enter the Church at Easter. As in the past, the ceremony was very impressive. The number of people � including their sponsors, relatives and directors of RCIA � is so large that we split them up into two separate ceremonies. The first group filled the cathedral, and the second group was nearly as large.
The RCIA program is a wonderful opportunity for us to remind people that we are to be an evangelizing and welcoming Church. This year about 150,000 people will join the Catholic Church in the United States. The first Sunday of Lent is when they gather in the cathedrals throughout the world for the Rite of Election.
As I said in my homily on that day, holding the ceremony in the cathedral is a very important part of the symbolism of the rite, and it shows the unity of the Catholic family. It is important for those who are joining the Church to understand that they are not just becoming members of a parish. They are becoming members of a larger Church � of a diocese and of a universal Church.
In the ancient Church, the bishop performed all the baptisms. In the Western Church, we have maintained some aspect of that by having the bishops continue to do the confirmations. That way, the bishop is involved in the initiation of people into the life of the Church � the fullness of baptism in confirmation.
I want to share my homily to the candidates and catechumens with you:
A hundred thousand welcomes (maybe we should say 150,000 welcomes!). I welcome you to our Catholic Family, to our Church, into our hearts. In the United States in all our Cathedrals 150,000 new Catholics to be will be part of the Rite of Election today in preparation for their baptism and reception into the Church this Easter. The Rite of Election has nothing to do with voting, no dimpled or hanging chads. It is the ceremony where those who are �chosen� (Elect) inscribe their names in the book of the Elect. Jesus has said: �I have chosen you.� We do this ceremony in the Cathedral to show that as Catholics you are not just members of your parish community but that you are part of a larger family, the Archdiocese of Boston and the Catholic Church throughout the world. We are over one billion Catholics � you do not have to learn all of our names � we come in all sizes, shapes and colors speaking every language imaginable. We are saints and we are sinners. We are the Catholic Church founded by Jesus Christ on the Apostles who were our first Bishops.
Today�s Gospel reminds us of the questions that Jesus put to His first disciples. The first question He asks is, �Who do you say that I am?�
Sponsors, candidates, catechumens
and relatives join in prayer
It is Peter who answers in our name and in the name of all the disciples: �You are the Christ, the son of the living God.� Peter�s answer is one of the Church�s faith, faith in who Jesus is. In discovering who Jesus is, then we understand what our role is as His disciples.
Later on in the Gospel, Our Lord asks the disciples another question. He speaks to them about the Eucharist. He says, �I am the bread of life. If you do not eat of my flesh and drink of my blood you will not have life in you.� Many of the people who heard these words found them difficult to accept. They could not accept Jesus� teaching on the Eucharist and they stepped away.
Jesus then asks the second question to his disciples. �Are you going to leave me too? Are you going to abandon me?�
Peter, once again, steps up to the plate and responds: �You are the Christ. To whom shall we go? You have the words of Eternal Life.�
Peter places his trust and all of his hope in Jesus� words, in Jesus� promises. Even when we don�t understand all of their implications, our hope is in Him. He is our Savior, our Messiah.
Later on, at the end of the Gospel, after Jesus� arrest in the garden of Gethsemani, Peter � in his human weakness � tries to follow our Lord at a safe distance, but then he discovers that it is not possible. Jesus wants us to follow Him up close, to carry the cross with Him.
After the resurrection, our Blessed Savior comes back, and He asks a third question, the most important of all. �Do you love me?�
Peter, again, answers in our name, �Lord you know all things; you know that I love you.�
A moment of the Rite of Election
These questions are the questions the Lord puts to us today. Do we believe, do we hope in Him, Do we love Him? It is precisely because we believe, because we place our trust in Him, because we love Him that we are here. And we are here to be members of His Church built upon the Apostles.
We gather as a community of faith around the Eucharist, the Lord�s Supper. At Mass we obey Christ�s command given on the night before He died: �To do this in memory of me.� It is at the Eucharist when we are fed by the word of God and the Bread of Life that we are most Church.
At the Mass we find the strength to live a life of discipleship and embrace the mission that Christ has entrusted to us as people. We must witness to our faith in the risen Lord, strive to pattern our lives on Jesus� teaching and be an active member of the community of faith.
Lent is an opportunity to focus on our vocation to discipleship in the Catholic Church. Too often our modern society is suffering from a spiritual Alzheimer�s by which we forget about God. When we forget about God, we become disoriented and our behavior, our relationships, our ability to communicate are diminished.
Lent is a time to remember, to refocus, to rediscover our God and His great love for us, to embrace His plan for our lives as the path that leads to meaning and to happiness. Lent is making time and space for God in our lives through prayer and works of mercy, alms and sacrifices.
The presence of these new brothers and sisters in the faith is a reminder to the entire faith community that we must be a welcoming community and be serious about witnessing to the Catholic faith by striving to be faithful to our Catholic way of life, to live the ideals of the Gospel together with our brothers and sisters in community.
There are many outside the Church who seek to define who we are and what we believe as a Church. It is important for us to learn the teachings of the Gospel and how to live that faith with love of God all over, and in loving our neighbors as ourselves. In the past many have attacked the Church for what we believe about God and the Trinity. Today many take exception to what the Church teaches about the human person, the Gospel of Life, our dignity as made in God�s likeness. A deep understanding of the Church�s belief is an important part of discipleship. The disciple is always learning. Disciple means student.
In our history many who have joined the Church as adults have become great saints and leaders in our Church. We rejoice at the spiritual gifts that you bring to our community as you join our Church.
Lent begins with the ashes on our foreheads to remind us of our mortality and the urgency of the Gospel message. Lent is a Baptismal retreat for all our catechumens, our new Catholics, but it is also a Baptismal retreat for us who are already baptized to stir us the graces we have received and prepare ourselves spiritually for Holy Week when we will all renew our baptismal promises to follow Jesus as His disciples in the Catholic Church.
I am very grateful to our pastors, priests, deacons and lay ministers involved in our RCIA program. Jesus commissioned His followers: �to go and make disciples of all nations teaching them what I have taught you and baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son,�� The RCIA program is one important way to fulfill Christ�s command, and it is a source of blessings for the whole parish.
As you write your name in the Book of Elect know that the Lord is calling you by name as He called His disciples in the Gospels. He calls you as one more sign of His love for you. Know that you are not alone on this journey. We stand with you, we welcome you and we thank you to saying yes to God�s grace that calls you here today to become members of our Family, the Catholic Church.
The book of the Elect
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The previous Friday I met with the major superiors of congregations of women religious in the archdiocese at the Motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Brighton. I periodically meet with the major superiors of both men and women religious. Sister Marian Batho is my delegate for religious; she does an excellent job of bringing the different religious orders together to have these moments of prayer and sharing.
The gathering opened with a prayer service. Then I gave the sisters a brief update on some of the happenings in the archdiocese. We discussed the financial situation of the archdiocese, the upcoming bicentennial year, the 2010 Initiative in our Catholic schools and the recent decision to affiliate our Caritas Christi health care system with Ascension Health system.
The gathering also included a question and answer period. The sisters asked a variety of questions. For example, one question I was asked concerned the role of women religious can play in helping guide the future of the archdiocese. In response, I pointed out that we have named a sister to the Finance Council, have sisters on the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council and, of course, Sister Marian is a member of my cabinet. I also mentioned that during the process of revitalizing Catholic schools, we are going to need a pool of experts willing to serve on school boards of trustees. We think that will be a wonderful way for the sisters, who bring a great deal of experience and commitment to Catholic education, to help strengthen our boards of trustees of Catholic schools.
In another question I was asked if I planned to hold listening sessions again, as I did a couple years ago with as many as 500 sisters at a time. I told them that we may hold such sessions again, perhaps in conjunction with our celebration for World Day of Consecrated Life. This time, however, we may hold separate sessions for each region of the archdiocese.
Sister Marian Batho
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Sister Clare Bertero the director of the Office of Religious Education, organized a day of recollection for all directors of religious education on Wednesday. I celebrated Mass with them at St. John�s Seminary in Brighton. Following a lunch together, I gave a talk on prayer and the importance of being teachers of prayer � a vital part of their role as educators in the faith. It was a very nice turnout and many of our DREs were there. Sister Clare and Susan Kay do a wonderful job supporting them in their ministries.
Joining Sister Clare Bertero for lunch
Sister Clare and Susan Kay from the Office of Religious Education
organized the event
DREs play an important role in our parishes
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Later that same day I met with the priests who have been ordained within the last five years in the archdiocese. We have these gatherings, which we call Jesu Caritas meetings, several times a year. This time, about 30 priests joined our gathering at St. Mary Parish in Waltham.
We always begin with a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament. Then we pray vespers, have a meal together and reflect on different themes. At this gathering we reflected on the Holy Father�s Lenten letter, and talked about what Lent should mean in the life of a priest.
These meetings have always been wonderful moments for me. It is life-giving to be with our brothers and to reflect on themes related to the spiritual lives of priests, our ministry and the concerns we face today.
In every diocese I have been in, I have tried to have these regular meetings with recently ordained priests. They are a way of continuing their formation, building a sense of paternity and brotherhood among the priests as well as connecting them to the bishop. I am always very edified by the response of the priests.
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I�ve noticed some of you have posted comments regarding the recent federal court ruling involving two sets of Lexington parents who filed suit to be allowed to opt their children out of discussion of same-sex themes in the classroom. Massachusetts law states that parents must be notified in advance and have the option of removing their children from the classroom when their children from a classroom when �human sexual education or human sexuality issues� are presented. However, in this case, the judge ruled that the school�s discussion of same-sex marriage concerned diversity rather than human sexuality.
Obviously, the Church sees the parents as being the primary educators of their children and having a very special role that must be respected. The disturbing part of this affair is that it underscores how, by redefining marriage in Massachusetts, people�s religious rights are going to be challenged by the state. I think that people were very na�ve saying that we can change the definition of marriage and it will not have any repercussions and will not affect anyone else�s marriage or society as a whole. This situation with the Parkers and the Wirthlins is just beginning to show how far-reaching and how ill-advised the course of action embraced by our Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts was. In Canada, where same-sex marriage was legalized in 2005, they are already seeing the many different ways that people�s religious rights are being trampled because of the redefinition of marriage. So I am pleased to see that these families are attempting to address the situation through the courts, and we certainly hope they will be successful in their endeavors.
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For those of you who visit my blog from afar, we had a beautiful snow fall this week in Boston, one of the few during this unusually warm winter in New England. As my photo of the week, I have chosen this image of snow-covered trees surrounding St. John’s Seminary.
God Bless you all as we prepare ourselves through this Season of Lent to celebrate the passion, death, and glorious resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.