Cardinal Seán's Blog

Cardinal Seán shares his reflections & experiences.

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New York Encounter

Hello and welcome!

Thursday I met with the new Carmelite Friars from India that will be continuing the ministry at the North Shore Mall Chapel. The Carmelites have been there since the chapel opened in 1960.  The Chapel is now the oldest tenant in the Shopping Center!


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Then, over the weekend I took part in the New York Encounter, which draws a lot of people from Boston who are involved with the movement of Communion and Liberation.


The event brings together many people, particularly young adults, around a particular cultural or religious theme. It is fashioned after what is called “Il Meeting” held every year in Rimini Italy, which brings in over 1 million people. In fact, it is the largest cultural event in Italy.

Each year they have a different theme for the gathering. This year it was “Longing for the Sea but yet not afraid.”

They had, among other things, an exhibit on the persecution of Christians throughout the world. The Archbishop of Mosul in Iraq was there with us and also the papal nuncio to the United Nations Msgr. Bernardito Auza who did such an astounding job in Haiti after the earthquake. As the Papal Nuncio to the United Nations he was very much involved in the Paris climate conference.


The talk I participated in was held Saturday and was on the topic of Laudato Si’. It was a panel of three speakers: myself; Jeffrey Sachs, who is the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University; and Rebecca Vitz Cherico of Villanova University was the moderator.





Among the many people who were with us for the Encounter were, Tim Hines; Lorenzo Berra; the head of communion and liberation from Rome, Father Julian Carron; as well as Father José Medina, who is in charge of Communion and Liberation for the United States. Many people in Boston will remember Father from his time heading our Cristo Rey Boston high school.

In addition to my Saturday talk, I celebrated the Mass for them on Sunday morning. And I would like to share my homily with you here:

John’s Gospel is certainly the most theological. We find there a depth of reflection that goes beyond what we see in the synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. John’s Gospel is written much later and represents the theological reflection and the work of the Spirit in the community of faith. John’s Gospel begins with the same words that open the Book of Genesis: “In the beginning”. Genesis goes on to describe the seven days of creation. John’s Gospel gives us seven signs, seven miracles that produce faith in the lives of Jesus’ disciples.


In the Scriptures as in life, the order of things is important. And the first miracle, the first sign, is the one worked at the Wedding Feast of Cana. I often tease my Protestant friends by pointing out how Catholic this miracle was. First of all it is performed as a result of Mary’s intercession. Secondly it involves large quantities of alcoholic beverages.

A few years ago there was a terrible scandal in Italy. It was discovered that huge quantities of wine were being distilled in chemical factories synthetically. The story circulated about the famous winemaker who on his death bed asked to speak alone with his oldest son before he expired. The young man bent over the bed so we could hear his father whose dying words were: “Son, you can make wine out of grapes too.”


Well, at Cana Jesus didn’t use any grapes, just dirty water people were washing their feet with. That of course was the sign that allowed his disciples to glimpse his glory and believe.

The whole thing is set in motion of course by Mary’s words: “They have no wine.” These words were not a criticism, or an indictment or a catty commentary on the shoddy hospitality. “They have no wine” was simply a plea for help. Mary was one of those persons who always put other people’s needs ahead of her own. And she was the first one to notice the tragic circumstances. Mary was not one to be an innocent bystander; she was quick to respond to people’s needs. Luke’s Gospel said that when Mary heard about her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy, she went with haste and spent three months taking care of the old woman who was pregnant.

“They have no wine.” There are times when we could identify with this phrase. We have all had those moments when we feel that our life has run out of wine, has run out of joy, has run out of meaning. Is it time to resurrect that great classical musical masterpiece from my youth:

“Does your chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight?

If your mother says don’t chew it, do you swallow it in spite?

Can you catch it on your tonsils?

Can you heave it left and right?

Does your chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight?

Here comes the blushing bride.

The groom is by her side.

Up to the altar just as steady as Gibraltar.

Why the groom has got the ring and it’s such a pretty thing, but as he slips it on her finger the choir begins to sing:

does your chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight?

Has the chewing gum lost its flavor? Are you out of wine?

Has your marriage, your job, your studies, your life lost its flavor?

At moments like that we can only turn to God and express to Him our poverty and need. That’s what Mary does in the Gospel and the cry of the poor pierces the heavens, and suddenly there is wine.

Too often for the Irish, whiskey is about self-medication. In the Scriptures however, wine has the connotation of joy. The psalms tell us that God has given us wine to gladden men’s hearts. And Isaiah and so many prophets speak about an abundance of wine as a sign of the arrival of the Messiah. At Cana Jesus turns 150 gallons of dirty water into the finest vintage, full-bodied, buttery, velvety, fruity flavored, delicious wine. Indeed the abundance, the superabundance of this miracle is part of the sign of God’s superabundant love for us and his desire that we be happy.

There is a difference between having fun and being happy. Maturity means reaching that point in our lives when we know the difference. Happiness is always about love, about making a gift of ourselves.

The fact is that the first of the seven signs in John’s Gospel takes place in the context of a wedding feast. James Thurber once said that the most dangerous food in the world is the wedding cake. The wedding is an event that affects the whole community, and despite the joy and celebration, a marriage is always very serious. This is particularly true of the wedding feast at Cana. We have no idea who the lucky couple was. They could have been relatives of Mary or Joseph. But they could have been Mótel, the tailor, and Tzeitel, the daughter of Tevye. Whoever they were, I hope they fired their wedding planner. The names of the young couple are not terribly important, but what they represent is crucial. For their marriage was to reinforce the great metaphor of the marriage between God and his people, between Christ and his Church.

The first reading from today’s Mass describes God’s people captive in Babylonia for 50 years when suddenly the Persians conquered Babylon and allowed God’s people to return home, to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. Isaiah’s references make it clear that God is rescuing his bride and his affection for Israel is undiminished.

The first sign is a wedding feast because Jesus, the Messiah, is the bridegroom. Msgr. Albacete’s favorite quote from the Gospel was: “How can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them?” John the Baptist, even though he fasted, describes himself as a friend of the bridegroom. Christ is the bridegroom madly in love with his bride, the Church, ready to lay down his life for her. Christ finds his happiness in bringing joy to his bride.

It is wonderful that Saint Pope John Paul II included the Wedding Feast of Cana in the luminous mysteries of the rosary. Indeed Jesus’ active ministry his book ended between two wedding banquets: the Wedding Feast of Cana and the Last Supper in the cenacle on Holy Thursday. Jesus is the bridegroom, never the widower. He does not exist separate from his bride the Church.

When Saul was persecuting the Church on the road to Damascus, the risen Christ appears to him and says Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? And when Saul says, “Who are you?” Jesus replies: “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” For to persecute the Church is to persecute Jesus. To love the Church is to love Jesus. The bride and groom are one flesh. Jesus is so united to his Church. We have all heard people say I am not religious I’m spiritual in an attempt to live a Jesus and me kind of spirituality. In reality discipleship demands being part of the community, living out our faith in the church. As I always remind people: we learn to be disciples the way we learn a language. We learn a language by living in a community that speaks that language. We learn to be disciples by living in the community of the church.

Christ the bridegroom has left us the wedding banquet in the Eucharist, a reflection of the wedding banquet of the Lamb. Here and even greater miracle than changing water into wine takes place. Here our wine and our bread become the body and blood of Christ.

In many of the parables Jesus evokes the imagery of a wedding banquet, like the parable of the wise and foolish virgins waiting for the bridegroom. One of my favorite parables is the one about the master who sends servants out to invite people to the wedding feast. It’s not always an easy assignment and some of them were roughed up. The new evangelization is in great part about inviting people to the wedding feast, bringing people to the Eucharist. It can be a challenging task but it is the greatest work of mercy that we can perform, bringing our brothers and sisters to celebrate with Christ the bridegroom.

Another beautiful aspect of the gospel of the Wedding Feast of Cana is that here we find Mary’s last words recorded in the gospel: “Do whatever He tells you.” In Luke’s Gospel describing the visitation of Mary to
Elizabeth, we are told that the infant John the Baptist dances for joy in his mother’s womb, like David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant.

Just as the Israelites carry the Ark of the Covenant with them into battle and in their sojourns in the desert, so Mary always accompanies us on the pilgrimage of life. We rejoice to hear her words. John the Baptist would have heard her greeting to Elizabeth: “Shalom Aleichem”, peace be with you.

The Gospels do not record much of Mary’s words, however, what has been communicated to us is of great importance. The Gospel indicates how when God was knocking on the door of humanity, it was Mary who opens that door in our name as she says yes to God: Fiat, be done unto me according to thy word. As Mother Teresa used to say, we need to give God permission to enter into our lives and into our history.

Mary’s first word in the Gospel is a resounding yes to God and his plan for all of us. Mary’s last word in the Gospel is the phrase that St. John communicates to us in today’s gospel account of the Wedding Feast of Cana. Mary says: “Do whatever He tells you!” If Mary’s first word in the Gospel is yes, her last word is telling us to say yes to God’s will. And Mary is also telling us to be doers of the word not just hearers of the word: “Do whatever He tells you” (These are the words I have in my Bishop’s ring: “Quodcumque dixerit facite”). To do what God tells us requires much faith and a deep trust in God’s will in God’s loving presence in our lives. To accomplish God’s will in our life we need the help and solidarity of a community of men and women who share our ideals and are striving to do what Christ tells us to do.

Father Giussani understood very well the importance of community and solidarity. I applaud your participation in this New York encounter which witnesses to the importance of communion as the path to true liberation and human freedom.

In today’s Gospel the wine steward says something very prophetic: “Most people put out the good wine first and after the guests have been drinking a while, serve the poor vintage.” Unfortunately many people begin their marriage, their studies, their vocation, their career with unbounded enthusiasm and energy, with a beautiful idealism and a desire to truly make this a better world; but as time goes on they grow cynical, self-absorbed and materialistic. Our ideal must be one of constant conversion and growth so that our commitment to a life of prayer and service will allow us to serve the very best wine at the autumn of our lives, because the guest of honor, the bridegroom is with us, changing all the dirty water into the best Chardonnay.

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Monday was, of course, Martin Luther King Day and at a time that our country is more aware of racial tensions than we have been, Martin Luther King Day is a very important moment to reflect on the message of his life and the importance of working for racial harmony and respect in our communities.


We want to assure everyone that black lives do matter in America just as much as any other life.

We realize there are so many economic and educational challenges that the black community faces in the United States, but the idealism and the challenge of Martin Luther King is to work together to create the kind of society where there is respect, love and a sense of equality and dignity.

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Also that day I met with a priest friend of mine who was visiting from Ethiopia, Father Christopher Hartley. He is a priest of the diocese of Toledo, Spain and he worked with the sisters of Mother Teresa in India; he has also worked with the Haitians in Santo Domingo, and he is now working in Ethiopia.


Father Christopher works in a challenging part of Ethiopia that is near Sudan. There is a lot of desert there and it is a very heavily Muslim area and he is 700 miles from the nearest priest though he does have the Sisters of Charity who work there.

He brought me this gift made by one of the sisters in Ethiopia — a beautiful image of Mother Teresa painted on a piece of tree bark. They are, or course, very excited and happy with the impending canonization of Mother Teresa.


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Tuesday, I headed down to Washington D.C. for meetings at the Catholic University of America and to prepare for the events around the March for Life.

As many of you are I am sure aware, a number of groups from Boston, including the group of young people led by Father Matt Williams, were unable to make the trip this year to the March for life.

Because there is not much snow here in Washington, the city does not own the equipment for snow removal that northern cities have, so it only takes a rumor of a snowstorm to paralyze The United States.

However, as I write this, the snowstorm is moving in and it does appear that it will be as bad as predicted. So, a number of groups in Boston decided it would be just too risky to make the return trip.

However, I was heartened to see there were a number of buses that managed to come, including a large group led by the Franciscans of the Primitive Observance with people from East Boston, Lynn and Lawrence as well as our seminarians from St. John’s Seminary and the Redemptoris Mater Seminary.


And despite the snow, March for Life events continued on as planned. Last night, we had the opening Mass of the Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception celebrated by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and concelebrated by hundreds of priests and dozens of Bishop and attended by thousands of the faithful.



The Mass at the Basilica is always a very inspiring event, seeing the devotion and commitment of so many people from all over the country for the Mass every year, despite the many sacrifices and obstacles that people experience.


Until my next post.

Cardinal Sean