Cardinal Seán's Blog

Cardinal Seán shares his reflections & experiences.

Archive for 2007/03


Celebrating together

This week began and ended with two different kinds of events. Last weekend we had the Men’s and Women’s Conferences which brought thousands of Catholics together to celebrate their faith. Yesterday, I attended the Anti-Defamation League�s �Nation of Immigrants� Community Seder, that gathered hundreds from many ethnic and religious backgrounds to experience the most ancient liturgy for the people of Israel.

On Saturday, the vocation novena to St. Patrick culminated in our celebration of the patronal feast day, held at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross each year. This year, Bishop John Dooher celebrated the Mass.

That same day I participated in the Boston Catholic Men�s Conference at the Convention and Exhibition Center. We were so pleased that, despite a terrible snowstorm, many men were able to make it there. Over 3,000 men participated in the day, and only one of the speakers, Patrick Madrid, was unable to arrive. I was anxious for people to hear him because he is a wonderful apologist. He has the ability to explain the Catholic faith from the biblical point-of-view. When I was in the Virgin Islands, I had him give talks down there. Patrick attempted to get another flight from Ohio but just was not able to.

It was a loss that Patrick could not be with us, but we were grateful to Andreas Widmer who filled in for him. Widmer is a former Swiss Guard and gave us a wonderful testimony about his personal experience of working with Pope John Paul II. He also included a slideshow of the Holy Father and the Swiss Guard, which I think the men enjoyed very much. This year the Swiss Guards are celebrating their 500th anniversary, so having a former Swiss Guard speak at the Men�s Conference was very appropriate.

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Andreas Widmer

Later in the day, Carl Anderson gave a superb talk. It was a real message about what Catholic men can do in society and in our democracy. He gave an account of the accomplishments of the Knights of Columbus and other Catholic men in the face of great prejudice against the Catholic Church and her teachings. Carl�s grasp on the history of Massachusetts and the vicissitudes of the Catholic community here was very good. Historically, Massachusetts Catholics have faced many challenges � with the Know Nothing Party in the 1850s and others � who have tried to impinge on the Church�s freedom and ability to carry out her mission.

Carl�s message was very, very timely. He spoke about the defense of life, the defense of the family and on the importance of protecting people�s right to live according to conscience. The challenges that we face today are very great, and it will require the dedication and determination of our Catholic laity to be able to respond to the situations we face today in our commonwealth. His talk is available at the knights of Columbus Web site.

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Supreme Knight Carl Anderson

Cardinal Peter Turkson from the Archdiocese of Cape Coast in Ghana also spoke at the conference. I have known him since he was a young priest. He talked about the Church as family and used many paradigms of the African Church to explain how our mission requires us to tell our story. He stressed that we need to initiate our young people into the history of salvation and that all Catholics must be given responsibilities in the Church. It is important that they feel they are part of the Church�s mission. They need to understand that each individual is called to live a vocation and a life of discipleship in such a way that it makes an impact on the world around us.

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Cardinal Peter Turkson

I was delighted by the talk given by twin brothers Father Roger and Scot Landry. Father Roger is a pastor in the Diocese of Fall River and editor of their newspaper, The Anchor. Scot, co-founder of the conferences, works for the archdiocese as the Secretary for Institutional Advancement and Chief Development Officer. Both men gave a powerful witness about vocation and the call of Christ to Catholic men to help rebuild the Church.

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Father Roger and Scot Landry

The music at the Men�s Conference, led Martin Doman, was also outstanding. They wrote a beautiful rendition of the Lorica prayer, also called the Breastplate of St. Patrick, which they sang many times during the day. It became the theme with the words, �Christ is before me.� That was very moving.

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The musical performances throughout the day
led by Martin Doman were inspiring

Dana Scallon, a Christian singer and Irish politician who also spoke the next day at the Women�s Conference, sang �Our Lady of Knock� at the Mass.

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In addition to the Mass, there were opportunities for the men to participate in confession and adoration. Many priests, including myself, heard confessions for many hours.

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It was encouraging to see so many eager to
partake in the sacrament of reconciliation

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Before the Mass, Father Dan Hennessey led the men in Eucharistic adoration

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I celebrated the Mass at both the Men’s and the Women’s Conferences. I am sharing with you highlights of the Saturday sermon:
At the department store and malls, we often see a sign that says: �Lost and Found.� That sign could very well be hung in our churches somewhere over the confessional � It is the lost and found department.

When we lose something important like a wallet or a wedding ring, we suffer. But a prayer to St. Anthony, we find the ring in between the cushions on the sofa, and we are filled with joy, excitement and relief. That is the way Jesus speaks about the remarkable connection between repentance and joy.

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Delivering my homily

The Gospel groups three stories about Lost and Found �the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son, the Prodigal Son who finds his way home. They all speak to us about God�s joy over one sinner who repents. And truth be told, they speak to us about the joy of a sinner who experiences God�s loving forgiveness.

The younger son, the Prodigal Son, wants to make his life without the Father. (He demands his inheritance as if the Father were already dead. The younger son would have been entitled to one third of the estate according to the Jewish practice of the time.)

Sin is when we try to live our life without God. We take all the gifts He has given us, and we resolve to use them for our own benefit and enjoyment without much thought about others� needs.

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The prodigal son�s agenda is to have fun. I always say that we arrive at maturity when we discover the difference between having fun and being happy. The son suffers a rude awakening when the money runs out. But the Gospel says, �When he came to himself.�

The Church’s task is simply to call people home, to walk the paths that God has traced on our hearts. The young man�s money ran out, he begins to feel the humiliation of his circumstances. Without money or real friends he has been reduced to taking care of the pigs — unclean animals in the Jewish religion. To stress the degradation of his situation, the parable describes the man as begging for the food they are feeding the pigs. His situation was deplorable. So, he comes to his senses and longs to be back in his father�s farm. He knows he is unworthy to be a son, but would gladly work as a farmhand. He sets out to return home, practicing his lines like a young man waiting to go to confession.

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Abraham Lincoln was asked how he was going to treat the rebellious southerners when they had finally been defeated and returned to the Union. To the surprise of his questioner who hoped for vengeance, Lincoln replied: �I would treat them as if they had never been away.�

The Father receives the Prodigal Son back not as if he had never been away, but welcomes him with such special affection and in a very public way. He exchanges his rags for the finest clothes, puts sandals on his feet and a ring on his finger.

The Father has been waiting, hoping, searching the horizon, and when he spies his boy far off, he runs out to welcome him home. Our repentance meanders along slowly, God�s mercy runs swiftly to meet us.

The Father embraces and kisses his prodigal son. And even before the Son has a chance to offer explanations, excuses or promises, he is received as a Son.

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The older son lived in a secret alienation. He did not feel appreciated and expresses his silent rage by refusing to enter the house. His anger toward the Father is deflected toward the Son whom he considers privileged and unworthy. In fact, it is the elder brother who gratuitously lists the sins of the Prodigal Son, mentioning how he wasted his father�s money on prostitutes. He then indicts the Father, �I slaved for you. You never even killed a goat for me��

But, the Father also seeks him out to comfort the elder son and to reassure him. �You are always with me. Everything I have is thine.� The Father is unconcerned about his property and his honor. He is concerned only about his sons.

The Parable defines the mercy of God and the mission of Jesus who has come to call sinners. The parable is occasioned by the grumbling of the Pharisees who refuse out of envy and resentment to accept this good news extended to the outcast. They resented others being accepted without cost. God�s mercy is challenging to the proud hearted.

The Parable speaks to us about God�s mercy and the connection between repentance and joy. Sadness and death are the fruit of sin. Repentance is a resurrection. Rejoice, your brother was dead but has come back alive. Hollywood loves sequels. I am waiting for Rocky 16 when the 85 year-old Rocky Balboa defeats the Russian by bludgeoning him with his walker.

Allow me to add a sequel to this story about a Prodigal Son, about how he returned to the man who had enslaved him and made him care for the pigs. The Prodigal Son I refer to is Patrick.

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You�ve seen the buttons that say, �Kiss me, I�m Irish.� Patrick won�t wear one because it�s tacky, and Patrick was not Irish. He was an Irish wannabe. In today�s world America is the superpower. As Americans, we feel a sense of pride, of superiority and consider our way of organizing society the best. Patrick was a citizen of the superpower of his day, the Roman Empire. They looked upon those outside the Empire as Barbarians and saw themselves as representing what was advanced, noble, the rightful rulers of the universe.

Patrick, whose name Patricius means noble, was the son of a deacon living at the edge of the Roman Empire in Britain. Although his family was Catholic, Patrick was not a devout or even practicing Catholic. He was leading a comfortable life as a son of landowning aristocracy. We have two remarkable letters that Patrick wrote that reveal much about Patrick�s spiritual journey and what he held in heart.

Just before his 16th birthday, Patrick was kidnapped by Irish pirates, a profession not unknown to the O�Malley Clan, and abducted to Ireland where he spent six lonely years as a slave in conditions that would make Angela�s Ashes sound like an advertisement for a luxury resort. Patrick was cold, hungry, lonely and afraid. Like the Prodigal Son, he was envious of the pigs and sheep he tended. Trapped in a foreign land, despondent and at the mercy of his master, Patrick�s ordeal turned him from a practical atheist to a true believer.

After six long years in a foreign country in slavery, Patrick escapes and returns home. We can imagine the joy with which his family received him. Like the family of young Shawn Hornbeck rescued in St. Louis after being kidnapped five years ago.

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A good number of priests concelebrated at the Mass

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I am sure that Patrick�s father, the Deacon Calpornius, embraced the son he never thought he would see but who longed for his return. I am sure that Patrick�s father put the finest clothes on Patrick�s back to replace the smelly rags he wore as a slave. I am sure that they killed the fatted calf to try and fatten the emaciated lad who returned like the Prodigal Son. Patrick returned dirty and starving, but inside he had changed even more than he had on the outside. He was no longer the self-centered, worldly, pleasure-seeking youth. In the horrors of bondage, Patrick discovered God. His newfound faith and intense life of prayer allowed him to survive the ordeal.

The sequel to the story of the Prodigal Son begins after Patrick�s family clean him up and feed him. The shocking revelation was that Patrick wanted to return to Ireland. He did not plan to raise an army and return to punish the pirates who captured him and humiliated him. No, he planned to return to share his newfound faith in God.

His captivity was a novitiate that prepared him to speak the difficult Irish language, eat our food, (the shortest cook book in the world is the Irish Cook Book) know the customs, the culture. It was a unique preparation that equipped him to be the Apostle of Ireland.

Patrick followed Christ�s command, to love our enemies and to do good to those who persecute us. Chesterton said, �God told us to love our neighbor and our enemy because usually it is the same people.

But what really equipped him was the grace of forgiving. By forgiving those who had wronged him, Patrick made himself available for God�s work.

Forgiving at that magnitude transforms a person. That is when Patrick became a freeman, not just when he cast off the chains of slavery, but when for love of God he could forgive his enemies who robbed him of his youth.

When John Paul II went to Regina Coeli prison to meet the man who shot him, Mehmet Ali Agca, the world was stunned. The Pope forgave him from the heart and even received his parents. When the Amish children were murdered in their school house, the world was shocked by the attitude of forgiveness.

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Distributing Holy Communion

According to the story the man who owned Patrick as a slave committed suicide when he heard that Patrick had returned to Ireland. He presumed Patrick returned for revenge. The real reason was to forgive, to love, to share his life-giving faith with them. A thousand years before Columbus arrived on these shores, Ireland was a Catholic country.

I attribute much of Patrick�s spiritual success to the great grace of forgiveness in his life. Patrick also instilled in the people he evangelized a great desire to share the faith. Hence, Ireland has become the greatest missionary country in the history of the Church. On this feast of Patrick, the Bishop, Evangelizer, I would ask every man here to live these ideals of Patrick. First of all by forgiving anyone in your life who has offended, or disappointed you. And secondly, love Christ, walk with Him and then look for ways to share that love with your family, neighbors, friends as well as strangers and maybe like Patrick even with your enemies.

On judgment day the first three hours will be to give everyone time to return borrowed books. After that we will have to listen to people say nice things about us or complain that we ignored them in their hunger or time of need. The saddest thing will be hearing the complaints from our children and friends who will say: why didn�t you tell me about Christ, why didn�t you invite me to Mass, teach me about prayer, tell me about the urgency of the Gospel, why didn�t you share your faith with me?

Two thousand years ago a small group of disciples of men gathered around Jesus, the Risen Lord as He returned to the right hand of the Father � His final orders were: �Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to observe all the commandments which I have given you and Behold I am with always, even to the end of time.

We are here because generations of Catholics passed on the faith. Now it is our turn. It takes courage to be a disciple, to announce the good news. True disciples in every period of the Church�s history have had to struggle, to suffer, to pass on the treasure of our faith.

Christ is counting on us, each of us � to live our vocation, to witness to our faith, to share a mission He gave 2000 years ago. We must live our faith or we will lose.

We must transform the world around, build a civilization of love. The word of God, the fellowship with our brothers and sisters in the faith, the Eucharist are the source of our strength as we live the mission we share.

Christ is counting on you, one man, one Catholic man � makes a difference � this big group will make a big difference.

- – -

That evening I attended the Clover Club annual St. Patrick�s Day dinner. The Clover Club is a fraternal association of men of Irish descent who gather several times a year for an evening of socializing and enjoying literary and musical entertainment. I was invited by the Club President, Mr. Gregory Plunkett, and the Dinner Chairman, Mr. James O�Connor. Jim is a member of the Archdiocesan Finance Council who last year chaired the Archdiocesan Operations Review Committee. There were over 700 in attendance at the dinner, held at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston.

It was a festive evening with singing, skits and political roasts. They roasted the governor, mayor and former governor. In a way I was glad that I was there because otherwise they probably would have been roasting me!

I closed the evening with a talk in which I shared humorous recollections of my Irish heritage as well as a spiritual reflection for the Lenten season.

- – -

On Sunday the weather was better for the Women�s Conference, and they were able to get there without problems.

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Over 4,000 women arrived at the conference. It was a very good experience for them. They had wonderful speakers. In the morning, Sister Linda Koontz gave an engaging talk that the women liked very much.
Dana Scallon, a Christian singer and Irish politician, gave a beautiful testimony of her life, interspersed with the songs she has written. She had been a member of the European parliament for five years and ran for president of Ireland. She was also on the forefront of the pro-life cause in Europe and in Ireland, specifically.

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Dana Scallon addresses the Women’s Conference

The final speaker of the day was Immaculee Ilbagiza, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide. She gave a moving testimony of that horrific experience. She spoke of the great loss of her family and her loved ones but also about the power of prayer, especially the rosary, in her life. She talked about the need to forgive ones enemies for love of God.

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She is a young beautiful girl, full of life, and it is hard to imagine how that genocide could have taken place. But the genocide is a reminder of the great evil that the human heart is capable of. As we see in the Nazi holocaust, the terrible genocide in Rwanda and our more recent history, if people separate themselves from God, great evil can be unleashed in their lives and in the world.

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At both conferences, men and women were recognized for their outstanding roles in the life of the Church. The awards were a fine recognition for people who are very involved. We congratulate those who have been singled out and thank them for all that they do for the Church and God�s people. Obviously, the awards do not mean that there are not many other people who deserve to be recognized. In fact, having recognition shows the great gifts that come to the community in so many people.

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Sister Mary Ricci Lloyd receives her award for Religious Sister of the Year

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This week I also traveled to Washington D.C. for two meetings at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, one with the immigration committee and the other with the pro-life committee. During the meeting of the immigration committee, we continued our discussions on the need for immigration reform, comprehensive immigration legislation and the Church�s work with refugees. There is much concern about refugees from Iraq, particularly the Chaldean Catholics who have had to flee that country. The bishop�s conference will be holding a convention on immigration next month in Washington in an effort to focus people�s attention on some of the needs that we face in this area of immigration.

I am also a consultant on the Pro-life committee, and we had an interesting meeting. A lot of different materials were shown on stem-cell research. Bishop Thomas Wenski from the Diocese of Orlando and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio from the Diocese of Brooklyn made a presentation on the political responsibility document that the bishops conference will publish in the near future. The document is meant to present the centrality of the pro-life message and help people understand what is meant by formation of conscience.

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On Thursday evening I participated in the Anti-Defamation League�s �Nation of Immigrants� Community Seder that took place at The Castle at Park Plaza in Boston.

Last year I gave a speech to the Jewish community in which I told them about a Seder meal that I organized in Washington with the Hispanic Community many years ago. In response to my talk, this year the ADL has organized a multicultural Seder inviting many ethnic and religious groups. Andrew Tarsy, ADL regional director and Diane Rosenbaum, Senior Associate Director did a wonderful job organizing the event. It was a lovely evening.

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Andrew Tarsy

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Every participant was asked to place a pin in a map indicating the country
of their ancestors. Of course I put mine in County Mayo

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Rabbi Neal Gold from Temple Shir Tikva, Wayland
leads us through the Seder

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Cantor El�as Rosemberg, Temple Emeth, Chestnut Hill
sang the Seder melodies wonderfully

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The booklets explained each step of the ritual.
They were very useful

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Dipping a finger in the cup of wine and dripping
ten drops in remembrance of the ten plagues of Egypt

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Eating the unleavened bread, called Matzah

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With me at the table were Marshall and Barbara Sloan.
Here I am passing Marshall the bitter herbs

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Seder meals are an important way for Catholics to have a sense of what the ritual at the Last Supper would have been and how Jesus, taking the unleavened bread and the wine, made them into the Eucharist. In the Jewish tradition the Seder is a family meal. Jesus, rather than celebrating it with his family, celebrated it with his disciples who were his spiritual family. During the Seder, children ask questions like �Why is this night different from any other night?� At that meal, St. John, being the youngest, would have been the one asking the questions. The Seder meals are helpful to understand what Jesus and His disciples did.

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The cup of wine used at the Seder meal

I was happy that the Hispanic Choir from Our Lady of Lourdes was there, with a couple of Capuchin friars accompanying them with musical instruments.

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The choir of Our Lady of Lourdes

There were a couple of Jewish youth groups that sang as well.

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The mayor was also in attendance

At the Seder, I announced that Pope Benedict XVI has named Rabbi Leon Klenicki to the Papal Order of St. Gregory.

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Rabbi Klenicki has been a pioneer in Jewish-Catholic relations for decades. His own personal experiences of anti-Semitism led the Rabbi to be a passionate advocate for education as means of dispelling religious prejudice and promoting interreligious collaboration.�

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, Pope John Paul II said, �As Christians and Jews, following the example of the faith of Abraham, we are called to be a blessing to the world. This is the common task awaiting us. It is therefore necessary for us, Christians and Jews, to first be a blessing to one another.� Rabbi Leon Klenicki�s life has been the source of blessings for all of us. We are deeply grateful for his witness and his work.

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The Seder was very well attended

In naming Rabbi Klenicki to the Papal Order of St. Gregory, Pope Benedict XVI has bestowed the highest honor the Catholic Church confers on a layperson, in recognition of �Outstanding Services Rendered to the Welfare of Society and the Church.�

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Today, as I was having lunch at my office with my friend John McNiece, my staff surprised me with an anniversary cake. It was one year ago that the Holy Father elevated me to cardinal. Time flies!

For the photo of the week I leave you with this photo of our celebration. And, in case you are wondering: yes, the cake was delicious.

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