The coronavirus pandemic that has gripped most of the world is a crisis on so many levels that very few parts of our society have been spared its impact. Our own state has been one of the regions in our country hardest hit, so much so, that the things that have been, and are, an ordinary part of our everyday life have been put “on hold” in virtually every sphere of endeavor, including our life in the Church.
Jesus of Nazareth lived most of his life in obscurity without much notoriety or attention paid to him. The Gospels tell us about his birth in Bethlehem and, later, about his appearance in the temple at age twelve.
The Thursday before Easter is called “Holy.” Some Christian communities use the expression “Maundy” as their reference, a term less familiar to Catholics – coming from French and Latin roots – meaning “commanded.” It is a reference to the command of the Lord Jesus on that first Holy Thursday to wash the feet of his disciples: “As I have done for you, you should also do (John 13: 15).” We hear that command in tonight’s Gospel of St. John.
Did Jesus ever go to school? The Bible doesn’t say so we cannot be sure. Did you ever wonder about that? The New Testament does tell us that Jesus could read, something he had to learn somewhere. The New Testament also suggests that Jesus could write, again something he had to learn somewhere. Jesus also knew the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, since he quoted it often. Where did he learn the Jewish religion and all its rules and practices?
In my Christmas Message to the Diocese this year, I wrote “The whole world becomes different at Christmas.” Those are my words, yes, but they are not my idea. The prophet Isaiah —- 800 years before the birth of Christ —- expressed the idea this way, as we heard in our First Reading tonight, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Light makes the dark world “different.” It enables people to see. And what do we see at Christmas? “A child is born for us,” Isaiah explains, “A son is given us. Upon his shoulders dominion rests.” This is what we see; this is whom we see at Christmas. A Child. A Son. “They name him: Wonder Counselor, God-Hero, Father Forever, Prince of Peace.” It is the Child, the Son who shatters the darkness of this world and brings his light.
As Catholics in the United States, we live in two worlds: a secular world — the state— and a religious world — the Church or comparable communities defined by religious beliefs. They are distinctively different, “separate” worlds that co- exist simultaneously. In addition to rights, customs, identifying principles and traditions, each of these worlds possesses its own system of laws established to create and preserve order for the sake of the common good. It is the search for the common good inherent in each system that enables each to regard the other with respect. Some will say that neither world should influence or affect the other directly or indirectly. I am not one of them.
The great gift of growing older is a cherished treasury of memories, memories of family and friends, memories of joyful celebrations and difficult moments, memories that make us laugh and smile, memories that bring a tear to our eyes, memories of a long life most of which has filled decades of our past and which sustain us in the present, for the future. Some of the people closest to us have gone home to God while many others continue to surround us with love. We pray for them all. Today is a celebration of all our memories and of the God who gave us all the gifts that have filled our lives. Today is a celebration of the faith that joins us all together in the present and of our gratitude for that faith.
When we encounter evil in the world --- and there is plenty of it --- our response might be to turn away from God, to reject God, even to doubt God’s existence. We may think or ask ourselves, “How can God exist if he lets such terrible things happen?” Murder. Assault. Rape. Drug abuse. Gang violence. Burglary. Rampant disregard for life at all its stages, hatred for other people, for property, for the environment? These are just some of the things that the women and men in law enforcement face each day and the experience can be, often is, very dark.
We begin again. The season of Lent begins with the imposition of ashes on our foreheads in the sign of the cross. The ashes are a “mark of our repentance,” the Liturgy tells us, a sign of blessing upon the “sinner who asks for God’s forgiveness.” We are surrounded by reminders of the journey that lies ahead of us in the next 40 days: vestments changed to purple, the color of penance; the Mass stripped of “alleluias;” readings focused on conversion; fasting and abstinence are required today and on the Fridays of the season. These are all signs that help us as we “begin again,” as we seek to “be reconciled to God.”
The theme of our conference today has been “Fearless 365.” It’s been pointed out that the words “do not be afraid” appear in the Bible 365 times. That’s an interesting coincidence since there are 365 days in the year. But what does it mean to be “fearless?” To know the answer, to be “fearless,” you have to know what “fear” is.
I want to engage your imagination for a moment. Suppose the Lord God appeared to you in a dream and said to you what he said to young Solomon in the First Book of Kings (1Kgs3:4-13), Ask something of me and I will give it to you. What do you think you would say? Does a response come to mind immediately? There were no conditions or boundaries attached when the Lord God spoke to Solomon … there wasn’t a lot of time either. Ask something of me and I will give it to you.
The tragedy of abortion has continued to repeat itself millions of times in the last 45 years since the United States Supreme Court rendered its decision in its landmark case, “Roe v. Wade.” Today, the anniversary of that wrong-headed judicial pronouncement is a day tinged with sorrow and regret. It is an example of the fact that what is legal is not always moral. It is not opinion or emotion that makes it so. It is the cold and sobering reality that what is ethically and morally wrong does not always find support in what a judicial body claims to be right and true. The silent voices of over 53 million souls in the United States alone make the case.
Memories are part of our lives as human beings. They bring us back to experiences that have formed and shaped us into the people we have become now … today. Christmas is one of those experiences that create many happy memories from our earliest years. We relive those memories every year as we celebrate Christmas again and again.
Every year, the entire world pauses on December 25 to remember the birth of a Child —- not just any child but the Christ Child, the Chosen One of God, the Messiah who had been prophesied and foretold from the beginning of human history.
Good morning everyone and welcome to our Co-Cathedral. This is the first time we celebrate Catholic schools together in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral. Our beautiful Cathedral is in Trenton but last year the Vatican gave me permission to name a second Cathedral --- a Co-Cathedral --- right here in the middle of our Diocese.