This weekend I am traveling east for a number of engagements. On Thursday, January 19th, I will be traveling to the Pontifical College Josephinum, one of the seminaries where our diocese sends men for their priestly formation. It is a good opportunity not only to meet with the seminary rector and formation team about the progress of our seminarians, but also to meet individually with the eight young men from our diocese who are studying for the priesthood at the Josephinum, to discuss their spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral formation as well as their ongoing vocational discernment.
On Friday, I will celebrate the community Mass at the Josephinum. I noticed that the Gospel that day recounts Jesus’ appointment of the twelve apostles. Our Lord sums up the duties of the Twelve in two simple phrases: “to be with him” and “that he might send them forth.” For priests and future priests, these are important words to contemplate. I intend to speak to the seminarians about their call “to be with Jesus,” to live in friendship and communion with him. This is at the very heart of the vocation to the priesthood. Only one who lives in intimate friendship with Christ can truly proclaim him to others.
What the Church needs most in her priests is that we be men of God, men in friendship with Christ. Only then are we able to be good priests for our people. In my homily, I will encourage the seminarians to see their time in the seminary as like the time the apostles spent with Jesus, learning from him, being with him, before being sent out on mission. For priests and seminarians, indeed for all of us, there are beautiful forms of prayer that nourish our friendship with Jesus and our life in Him: daily Holy Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharistic adoration, lectio divina, and the holy rosary.
I will leave the Josephinum on Friday and drive to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in my former diocese, to celebrate the Sanctity of Life Mass, a commitment I made quite some time ago, for the Order of Malta. This esteemed order, linked to the Holy See, has been a religious Order since the year 1113, when it was recognized by Pope Paschal II. It continues to follow its original principles — the defense of the Catholic faith and service to those who suffer.
At the Mass for the Order of Malta, which is also open to all, I will speak about the sanctity of life, offering some reflections on the Genesis story of Cain and Abel. Blessed John Paul II, in his great encyclical The Gospel of Life, wrote about this story of the first murder and said that this page of the Book of Genesis is “a page rewritten daily, with inexorable and degrading frequency, in the book of human history.” It is a page rewritten daily here in the United States of America where there is an average of 42 homicides each day and over 3,000 abortions each day.
We can learn so much today from the story of Cain and Abel. Human life is sacred. The blood of Abel cried out to God. The blood of the innocent continues to cry out today, the innocent victims of abortion, infanticide, homicide, war, and terrorism. Violence against human life continues in the millions who suffer from hunger and poverty, from human trafficking and drug trafficking, and a vast array of other threats to the dignity of human life.
When God asked Cain “where is your brother Abel?” Cain tried to cover up his crime with a lie. He said “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer to that question is “yes, we are.” Whether our brother or sister is a tiny baby in the mother’s womb or a child suffering from malnutrition in Africa, a teenager who has been drawn into a drug addiction or an elderly and lonely person in a nursing home, we are called to recognize each person as our brother or sister. God entrusts us to one another. And God entrusts to us women who have had abortions, women who suffer such deep wounds, psychological and spiritual problems, resulting from the abortion of their babies. We are called to reach out to them with the love and mercy of Jesus.
After the Mass in Lancaster, I will head to Washington, D.C., for the weekend activities of the annual March for Life. I am looking forward to Mass on Sunday with the hundreds of people, mostly youth, from our diocese who will join me for a 3:00 PM Mass at Saint Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington. Sunday, January 22nd, is the 39th anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade decision in which a whole segment of our human family became excluded from the protection of the law and from the recognition that all people are created equal.
For the past 39 years, pre-born human beings have been unprotected and over 50 million unborn children have been legally killed in our nation. The culture of death prevailed as the Supreme Court committed our nation to an irrational determination of who counts as a human being, according to location, within or outside the womb. The Supreme Court insisted on calling unborn human life “potential human life,” as if passage through the birth canal turns a potential human being into an actual human being! Who of us would say that we were not yet persons when we lived in our mothers’ wombs?
At our diocesan Mass in Washington, I will reflect on the words of Jesus in this Sunday’s Gospel: “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Each of us individually is called to continual conversion, which is necessary for growth in holiness. Repentance or conversion is something deeply personal. And it is a life-long task. We all know areas of our life which need reform. We are truly blessed as Catholics with the gift of the sacrament of Reconciliation which makes sacramentally present Jesus’ call to conversion and restores us to God’s grace.
Conversion also has a social and communal dimension. On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we think of the repentance and conversion needed in our nation for the legal killing of so many millions of unborn children. Our country needs a metanoia, a change of mentality, one that recognizes the value and inviolability of human life and that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral.
I look forward to participating again in the March for Life on Monday, January 23rd. Many busloads of people are coming from our diocese to participate. Prior to the March, I will be concelebrating the Youth Mass at the Verizon Center in downtown D.C.
After the March, I will continue on to Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, to visit our nine diocesan seminarians studying there. As at the Josephinum, I will meet with the seminary rector as well as individually with our young men about their growth in priestly formation. I will also have the opportunity to celebrate Holy Mass for the Mount community on Tuesday, January 24th, the Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales, an exemplary priest and bishop.
I intend to speak to the community at Mount Saint Mary’s about the priestly virtues of Saint Francis de Sales as an example for us today. In his day, Francis’ task was the re-evangelization of the diocese of Geneva after the Protestant Reformation. He was quite successful in reviving Catholicism in the region. Thousands converted to the Catholic faith.
Our task today is the new evangelization within a culture of increasing secularism and relativism. The Church needs priests to be men of prayer like Saint Francis de Sales, men devoted to the Holy Eucharist, imbued with the spirit of pastoral charity, and intellectually prepared to proclaim and defend the Catholic faith. We need priests, like Saint Francis de Sales, who have a missionary spirit and pastoral zeal for the mission of the new evangelization.
Please pray for our priests and seminarians, and for Bishop D’Arcy and me. And, especially this weekend, please pray for a new culture of life in our nation and throughout the world. May the Blessed Virgin Mary and Blessed John Paul II intercede for us that we will always be strong in our defense of the sanctity of human life!