Sunday, April 23, 2017

Proof For God: Divine Mercy

The Incredulity of St. Thomas
-Caravaggio (1571-1610)

(Divine Mercy Sunday-Year A; This homily was given on April 22 & 23, 2017 at St. Adalbert Church in Providence, RI and April 23 at Our Lady of Consolation Church in Pawtucket, RI; See 1 Peter 1:3-9 and John 20:19-31)

Science is very much in the spotlight these days.  The “March for Science” took place in Washington, DC on April 22, and many satellite “marches” were organized around the globe to coincide with Earth Day.  Does science present challenges to our faith?  Back in 2011, I was able to participate in an international conference on the vegetative state.  Gathering in the City of Munich with 15 other researchers across Europe, we spent a week together learning about brain injury and how society responds to this challenging issue.  Naturally, several of the participants wanted to know why a Catholic priest was interested in this subject.  I explained how I was there to present the Catholic perspective on caring for patients in the vegetative state, particularly the teachings of the late Pope John Paul II (later to be St. John Paul II).  

After several days together, we had a great opportunity to share a traditional Bavarian dinner.  In the middle of the meal, one of my colleagues asked me a question that surprised me.  Being a professed atheist, she asked, “How can you study all the things we are learning about here, and still believe in God?”  I asked her what she meant, and she explained how the findings of science can be verified by experiments; that is truth.  So how can someone believe in things that cannot be proven?  I said that belief in God, and the things He has revealed, are no less true than a scientific experiment.  She disagreed.

I suddenly remembered that she had spoken often that week about her two sons.  She absolutely adored those boys.  After a brief pause, I asked her, “Do you love your sons?”  She was somewhat taken aback by the question.  “Of course, I do,” she retorted.  “Oh,” I said, and then cautiously added, “Do you think that they love you?”  She flushed for a moment, and then added, with certainty, “Yes, I do.”  Then I said: “Prove it.”

We both began to smile when she realized the reason I asked her those questions.  I explained how my faith and love for God are true, and no less so than a scientific experiment.  “The way that God loves me, and you,” I explained, “is true, as true as your love for your children, and their love for you.”  Some things cannot be proven in a laboratory, but that does not mean they are not true.  

In our Gospel for this Divine Mercy Sunday, the disciples are gathered together in a locked room in Jerusalem, filled with fear and disbelief.  They were incredulous, and for good reason.  The man that they loved most—Jesus of Nazareth, whom they were convinced was the Messiah—was arrested before them, scourged and crucified.  They stood by in stark disbelief as Jesus’ dead body was taken down from the cross and then laid in the tomb.  Truly, they experienced a crisis of faith if there ever was one.  

Suddenly Christ walks into the room, through the locked door, and announces, “Peace be with you” (John 2:19).  He was alive!  They saw Him.  To make sure that they understood precisely what they were seeing, St. John relates how “he showed them his hands and his side” (John 20:20).  These were eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  This was an historical event that was witnessed by credible people, who testified to it and later wrote it down.  

But Thomas the Apostle was not with them.

Thomas would not believe what the other disciples told him.  He defiantly declared, Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).  

One week later Thomas gets his opportunity.  Once again, Jesus walks into the locked room and announces, “Peace with you.”  And then He invites Thomas to inspect the nail marks, to place his hand into His wounded side.  Astounded, Thomas exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).   Thomas, along with the other disciples, believed in the resurrection because they had seen the risen Lord.  They believed in Jesus because they had proof, and there was no denying it.  They saw the wounds with their own eyes.  But they also believed, and perhaps even more so, because of what those wounds represented. 

The wounds of Jesus Christ are the marks of love and the proof that God loved us enough to die for us on the cross.  The marks in His body are a sure sign for those first disciples, and for us, that God’s love is present, that His love remains for us, and that He desires us to enter into eternal life with Him.  St. Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, phrases it this way:

God PROVES his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
—Romans 5:8

The Divine Mercy is proof for the existence of God; it is all the proof we could ever need to remind us that we are loved, called, forgiven, healed, wanted, and waited for by God.  God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

The immediate question, however, that we are confronted with in the second reading this weekend, is whether or not we can prove our love for God.  St. Peter, who was a witness to the sufferings of Jesus Christ, addresses this very challenge of suffering in the early Church.  He encourages them:

In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may PROVE to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
—1 Peter 1:6-7

The reality of the cross should not surprise any one of us as followers of Christ.  Our Lord was betrayed by the very ones He trusted and loved; when we experience betrayal, we do well to remember that.  Christ was rejected.  Often.  We need not be surprised when we are not accepted or loved by the people around us.  The experience of the cross is not a sign that something has gone wrong in our spiritual journey with Christ.  In fact, He assured us that it would be a reality for us, even as it was with Him (see Luke 9:23 and Luke 14:27).  St. Peter reminds us, as well: 

Although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith . . . may PROVE to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

The image of the Divine Mercy that Jesus entrusted to St. Faustina is marked by the powerful phrase: “Jesus, I Trust in You.”  That is faith.  When we experience betrayal, rejection, suffering, sorrow, we entrust ourselves to Jesus Christ.  We make an act of faith and commit ourselves to following Him, even and especially when the road is dark and there seems like there is little hope.  We place our hope in the promises of God, and not the shaky foundations of useless promises abundant in our culture today.  Our love for God is proven in the fires of adversity, but it is a love that flows from His own generous cross and the Divine Mercy that first captivated us.  “We love, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19), and that love is constant.

Friends in Christ, the question of God’s existence and whether or not He loves us has already been answered definitively by Jesus Christ.  God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.  But the question that remains for us to answer in this coming week is whether or not we will love Him, whether or not we will place our trust in His mercy.  Are you and I willing to answer, “Yes,” to that question?  Prove it.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Passion for Communion

(Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord-Year A; This homily was given on April 9, 2017 at St. John's Chapel in Meriden, CT.; See Matthew 26:14-27:66)

“Jesus, may your Divine Blood enter my veins, to make me live the generosity of the cross at every moment.”
—St. Josemaría Escrivá, The Forge, #780

Those beautiful words, from St. Josemaría Escrivá, are not intended to be received metaphorically; they are no mere figure of speech.  Those words are the literal reality of the sacramental life and the power of God in our daily lives.  The cross is intimidating, exhausting, overwhelming.  Each of us bears some cross as true disciples of the Lord.  I know that some people here this morning bear several of them.  Yet it is the Blood of Jesus Christ, poured out for us here in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist, that allows us to live out the “generosity of the cross at every moment.”  

Yet in the Gospel we just listened to, the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, we hear about the first disciples who received that Divine Gift, and hours later they failed our Lord utterly and completely.  The Blood of Jesus Christ was coursing through their veins, and they did not remain faithful to Him.

St. Peter, we know, will deny Jesus three times.  All of them will abandon Him and flee.  But in the Garden of Gethsemane they were not even able to do that much!  St. Matthew relates how they were drowsy and eventually fell asleep.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his book, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, indicates how this call for vigilance “also points ahead to the later history of Christianity.”  He explains how the drowsiness of the disciples is what allows the power of the Evil One to cause so much harm down through the centuries.  He writes:

“Such drowsiness deadens the soul, so that it remains undisturbed by the power of the Evil One at work in the world and by all the injustice and suffering ravaging the earth.  In its state of numbness, the soul prefers not to see all this; it is easily persuaded that things cannot be so bad, so as to continue in the self-satisfaction of its own comfortable existence.”
—Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI 
Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, pp. 153

One of the most violent and dangerous places in the world today is Syria.  The images of the atrocities committed in that place, and across the Middle East, reveal to the entire world the gravity of this desperate situation.  Is it any wonder, then, that the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem has struggled internally to find unity and fruitfulness in these days?  A strong and vital Church in that region of the world would have the power to stave off the evil that threatens so many.  Is it any wonder, then, that the Evil One would work so very hard to divide the Church in that place?  Is it any surprise to us, however, that Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa should suffer so much to bring unity and stability to that historic diocese?  Or think about the great evil of abortion in our own part of the world.  Are we not also lulled into complacency, preferring “not to see all this,” and “persuaded that things cannot be so bad”?

You have heard the expression before: “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”  Those words are often attributed to the Irish philosopher, Edmund Burke.  But if you read the works of Edmund Burke, you will not find those words anywhere.  What Burke actually wrote was:

“When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” 

We cannot defeat evil simply by “doing something.”  We associate.  We gather together.  We are brought together in communion, or we perish.  We associate in communion with Jesus Christ and each other, or we die.  There is no other path for human flourishing and the victory of God.

What a tremendous inspiration then, to read the words of Archbishop Pizzaballa in his letter to his diocese at the beginning of the Lenten Season: “I decided to convene a gathering of all the diocesan priests of the Latin Patriarchate.”  He chose, at that time, to offer insights and to listen to their own suggestions and opinions.  He shared the great joy in seeing “that those gathered were committed to working through these problems, willing to face honestly the reality and ready to engage whole heartedly in the necessary steps to set us back on the right path.”  This is the association and communion that allows “the divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4).  

This association and communion, of course, goes back to the very foundations of the Church.  The disciples, in the Passion narrative this morning, have totally failed our Lord and flagged in the generosity God called them to.  Yet show me these men in fifty days plus three, gathered together in the Upper Room with Our Lady, when the fire of the Holy Spirit falls upon them and sends them out as witnesses to the ends of the earth!  These are the same men that will gather together, day by day, united in the breaking of the bread “with glad and generous hearts” (see Acts 2:43-47).  Daily did our Lord add to the number and the vitality of those who gathered in His name!  They were united together in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist, and that is what enabled them to transform the world as they knew it.  

As we enter into this, the most holy of all weeks of the Liturgical Year, we are invited to share in that same source of strength, power and love.  Our Lord comes to us here, to this altar, and pours out His Body and His Blood for us, to bring us together and allow us to accomplish His great work in whatever corner of His Kingdom He sends us to.  This morning, we pray:

Lord Jesus Christ, may your Divine Blood course through our veins, and flow deeply into every dimension of our lives, so that we may live the generosity of the cross at every moment of this Holy Week.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Animated, Awoken, Alive!

Pulpit in St. Bavo's Cathedral, in the City of Ghent, Belgium

(4th Sunday of Lent-Year A; This homily was given on March 25, 2017 at St. Eugene's Church in Chepachet, R.I. and March 26, 2017 at St. Peter's Church in Warwick, R.I.  See 1 Samuel 16:1-13, Ephesians 5:8-14 and John 9:1-41)

Most of us are familiar with the name, Helen Keller.  Unlike the man in the gospel this weekend, Helen Keller was born with the faculty of sight.  It was at the age of two that, struck by an unknown illness, she began to lose both sight and hearing.  Before she even realized what was taking place, her young life was locked into a world or darkness and silence.  The last word that she held on to was, "water," and that, also, was soon forgotten.

After several, painful years of trying to communicate with their dear daughter, a ray of hope dawned for Helen's parents.  There was a woman, they were told, who had a special gift for working with the blind and the deaf.  Her name was Anne Sullivan, and she was considered to be a "miracle worker."  You might remember the movie about Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan by that same name.  Anne had remarkable success with "word associations," a technique in which she would place an object in the person's hand, and then tap out syllables or letters on the palm of the other hand, signifying the name of the object.

Anne Sullivan's initial efforts were met with complete failure.  Nothing seemed to work and a defiant young Helen became almost impossible to manage.  Then one day Sullivan poured cold water into Helen Keller's hand and tapped in the word "water."  Suddenly the last word that two-year-old Helen had forgotten became the first one she remembered. Along with it, a flood of memories came pouring through.  By the end of the day she had learned thirty more words!  Before she died, Helen Keller had spoken to presidents and heads of state, written an autobiography and books of poetry, and had literally connected to hundreds of thousands of people all over the world.  All of it began with just a handful of water.

That would surprise a lot of people, but it should not surprise us.  God, who is the original Miracle Worker, does that all the time!  In the Sacrament of Baptism, with words and just a handful of water, God reconnects us to spiritual life, opening the door to heaven itself and a world beyond our wildest imaginations.  In Baptism, Christ connects us to an entire web of relationships and friendships within His Church here on earth, and in the life to come.  Our lives are literally transformed by God in the Sacrament of Baptism, through faith and a handful of water.

The readings for this Laetare Sunday help us to see the remarkable vitality and resilience of the Catholic faith and the sacraments given to us by Christ.  Our First Reading relates the story of David, chosen by God and anointed as king of Israel.  The description found in 1 Samuel is vivid and provocative.  God chooses the most unlikely of instruments and the anointing of this future king takes place before his brothers; they are an impressive lot, though not chosen.  The oil of God's favor falls upon the youngest, the shepherd, "and from that day on, the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David" (1 Samuel 16:13).

The spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.  The Holy Spirit continued to favor David.  God's Spirit was persistent in helping him and guiding him in his life and mission for the people of Israel.  David would be one of the most charismatic and successful leaders in that nation's history . . . and also, at times, one of its greatest disappointments.  David, of course, as we read in Scripture itself, would commit the sin of adultery with Bathsheba, and the sin of murder to cover it up.  He would totally and completely fail God and the people.  And yet, as soon as David is confronted with that failure, he comes back to God with a depth of devotion second to none. The spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.   God never gave up on David, even when he failed.  The Holy Spirit never stopped pursuing David and seeking to draw him ever closer to Himself.  The spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.

Even so, in the Sacrament of Baptism, does God pursue us and persistently press upon us to draw us into a deeper communion with Christ and the Church.  Baptism is one of several sacraments in the Church that can never be repeated.  If we were to commit apostasy, deny the faith or denounce God Himself; if we were to fall into a lifetime of grave and serious sin and live very far from all that God had created us for; we could return to God and to the Church but could never be re-baptized.  The reason is that the waters of grace that we encountered on the day of our baptism are perennial and God's grace is persistent.

We need only to return to the Lord with an open heart and a spirit of repentance and He begins immediately to draw us back into communion with Himself and the Church.  The spirit of the Lord rushed upon us the day we were baptized!  In truth, the Spirit of the Lord rushes upon us here, even now, drawing us ever closer to Christ.  The Holy Spirit rushes upon us when we receive the sacramental grace of forgiveness and absolution in the Sacrament of Penance.  The sacraments of the Church have the power to reanimate our spiritual lives and renew us once again, restoring us to the goodness we were created for. How awesome and powerful are the Sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation!

Of course, for the baptized Christian, the very presence and person of Christ is Himself the source of great awakening and life-giving renewal. In our Second Reading for this weekend, St. Paul tells us that Jesus Christ has the power to illumine our hearts and produce in us "every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth" (Ephesians 5:9).  Christ is the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never overcome it (John 1:5).  St. Paul relates, in fact, that the light of Christ has the power to wake us up in the spiritual life and raise our souls from the dead:

Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.
—Ephesians 5:14

St. Paul would be the first to tell us that this amazing transformation happens, in a preeminent way, when we listen to the Word of God in Sacred Scripture (see 2 Timothy 3:16).  We also find that same lesson in the history of the Church.  In the years following the Protestant Reformation, many of those who had left the Catholic Church began to claim that they alone had a firm grasp on the meaning of Sacred Scripture.  They claimed fidelity to the word of God while they caricatured Catholics as believing only in the pope and the sacraments. In response to this claim, the Catholic Churches throughout Europe began to construct enormous, wood-carved pulpits as high as twenty feet, ornamented with various sculptures and vibrant biblical scenes. The message being sent was that the word of God, just as much as the sacraments and fidelity to the Vicar of Christ, mattered and made a difference in the lives of the Catholic faithful.

In the Flemish City of Ghent, in St. Bavo’s Cathedral, there is a magnificent wooden pulpit that is as ornate as it is enormous. There is a sculpture of an old man set into the base of that pulpit, with a blanket being pulled off from over his head; he appears almost to be holding onto it desperately as angels blow their trumpets and other heavenly beings lift high the cross of Christ. At the base of that sculpture are the words of St. Paul, which we find in our second reading this morning:

Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.
—Ephesians 5:14

The word of God, like the waters of baptism and the grace of sacramental absolution, has the power to reanimate our spiritual lives and shed the light of Jesus Christ forth into our hearts.  When we hear the word of God proclaimed in the Liturgy, or when we take the time to meditate on the Psalms or some passage from the Bible, we allow the light of Christ to shine into our darkness and illumine the path before us.  Do we take seriously this power of God's word to transform the spiritual life we have received from Him?  Do we allow the Sacred Scriptures to direct and guide our baptismal call to sanctity?  Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give YOU light!

Finally, in our Gospel this weekend, we see in the man born blind the path that Jesus traces out for all the baptized.  He was desperate for healing and cried out in his need.  Suddenly Christ heals him, but in the strangest of ways.  Jesus spat on the ground!  The Son of God "spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes" (John 9:6).  How odd is that?  Then Jesus tells him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam.  Now, certainly Christ does not need to make clay with spittle and rub it into this man's eyes; the man born blind does not need to wash his face in a pool to be healed.  Christ could have simply spoken to this man and it would have been enough.  But we are physical, not simply spiritual.  We need to feel Christ, physically, to hear His voice, to be touched by Him and to experience with our entire being the healing power of the living God.  Christ, who was incarnate of the Virgin Mary for the very purpose of revealing the fullness of redemptive love, institutes the sacraments of the Church to meet this very need we have to experience God physically and spiritually:

In baptism water is poured over our heads and we are cleansed from sin; new life in the Holy Spirit comes to us as the doorway to eternal life is thrown wide open.

In the Eucharist bread and wine become the very body and blood of Christ, nourishing us and strengthening us for the journey of faith and the path of holiness.

In the Sacrament of Reconciliation we hear Jesus' words spoken out loud, setting us free by His generous gift of love on Calvary: "I absolve you of your sins."

And so it is with all the sacraments, beginning with the amazing gift of baptism.  But, of course, the sacraments are not magic.  They require our response if they are to bear fruit sufficient for the life that God desires.  The man born blind was healed, but he had to continue in that healing gift by responding to the God who gave him sight.  He persevered through the doubt and even discouragement of those around him, and eventually came face-to-face with Christ once again.  Jesus invites him to a life of faith, belief in the Son of Man.  When the man goes on to question who this Son of Man is, Christ appeals to the man's senses, seeking to engage him completely in his spiritual and physical nature: "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he" (John 9:37).  John relates, then, how the man believed in Christ, and worshiped Him.

Friends in Christ, we live in a world that has grown increasingly blind and deaf to the things of God.  God is seeking to bring healing to a broken world and sight for the spiritually blind.  Christ has come to bring light to those who dwell in darkness.  But that will only happen when we are willing to live out our baptismal call to holiness and to be the light of Jesus Christ in this world.  God is counting on us, this week, to live the Gospel and to be fully engaged in the sacramental life of the Church.  Christ is seeking to shine His light into the lives of all those who sleep, awakening them with His life-giving word.  How are we called to be the Christians capable of making Him known in a world desperately in need of renewal and new life?  God can transform the entire world with words, faith and a handful of water, but He humbly chooses to do so through His body, the Church.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Transfiguration: Changed and Transformed by Christ

Transfiguration by Raffaello (1483-1520)

(Second Sunday of Lent-Year A; This homily was given on March 11 & 12, 2017 at St. Anthony's Church, Pawtucket, R.I.  See Genesis 12:1-4 and Matthew 17:1-9)

Change is difficult.  All of us can identify with how difficult, and sometimes even overwhelming, change can be.  Whether it be some sudden alteration that catches us completely by surprise, or some new circumstance that we have totally anticipated, changes in life can be a real challenge. 

In the Catholic vision of things, however, change is not only inevitable, but even necessary for our growth in the spiritual life.  This season of Lent is about repentance, having a change in heart and being open to the graces that God pours out into our lives.  Touched by God, we can . . . and should be . . .  open to embracing His plan for our lives in the midst of countless changes.  We can . . . and should be . . . able to recognize the places where we need to change in the way that we live and the way that we love.  Blessed John Henry Newman, 19th Century theologian and Cardinal of the Church, explains it this way:

“In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”
—Blessed John Henry Newman, 
The Development of Christian Doctrine, Ch.1, 1.7

Without change we cannot become the men and women God has always called us to be.  “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”

I mention that today because the readings for this Second Sunday of Lent are about change.  In our First Reading from the Book of Genesis, Abram (whose very name God will change to Abraham) is called by God to leave his homeland and journey to a place that he has never seen before.  God bids him:

Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.
—Genesis 12:1

It has been said that moving is one of the most stressful and difficult changes we can experience in life; not to move into a new house after one has just received a job promotion, but to move away from what is familiar and to start again in an unknown place.  Abram is asked by God to leave everything, to move to a foreign land.  Those of you in this parish who have moved here from the Azores, or from Cape Verde, know exactly what that kind of change is like.  Yet Abram was obedient to God in the midst of that difficult change.  He responded in faith and allowed God to transform him and make him the father of our faith (Romans 4:16).

In the Gospel for this weekend there is an even more dramatic change.  Jesus Christ goes to the top of Mount Tabor with Peter, James and John.   St. Matthew’s Gospel describes what happened next:

He was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.
—Matthew 17:2

His entire body and His very appearance completely changed before them!  They saw His glory, the glory that He possessed with the Father before time began, and the glory that He would share with the Father after His resurrection from the dead.   But why would Christ choose to appear before them in all His glory?

St. Leo the Great, in a sermon dating back to the 5th Century, explains that Christ was transfigured before Peter, James and John for two reasons.  Firstly, He wanted them to see His glory so that they would not be scandalized by the cross and become discouraged in their apostolic mission.  In other words, these men would witness Jesus Christ rejected by men, betrayed, beaten and crucified.  The Messiah that they loved would be killed.  That would be enough to discourage anyone!  Seeing Christ in glory now, they would remember the way the story ends.  Even in the days following the passion of Christ, these disciples would remember—despite all appearances to the contrary—that Jesus’ end is glory, not shame.  

The second reason for the transfiguration, according to St. Leo the Great, is so that these disciples would know that this is what God is calling them to, as well.  They, too, will experience rejection and persecution for their faith in Christ.  They will also endure humiliating trials and even cruel tortures.  Whatever the disappointments and sorrows of this life, in the end the Christian is called to be with Christ in glory.  That does not make the crosses of this life easy, but it does help us to live as people of hope.  These disciples lived as apostles of hope in a world that was thirsting for God.  They doled out hope like candy before the children of this world, and the world as they knew it would never be the same.  The transfiguration of Christ was a major part of that transformative power at the heart of their apostolic ministry.

To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.   These disciples allowed the glory of God and the power of Christ to change their lives and orient their faith.  Because they responded to God, like Abraham, God was able to use them to transform the culture they lived in.  They were changed by God’s grace and then sent forth into the world to transform the world around them.  This is at the heart of the Sacred Scriptures for us on this Second Sunday of Lent, and it is the great message of the Christian faith: God has the power to change our lives—if we let Him—and then to send us out to be instruments of transformation in the world we live in.

Down through the centuries the Church has always taken up this transformative and life-giving mission.  It is the Church that founded hospitals to tend to the sick and the suffering, the elderly and the infirm.  It is the Church that founded universities and facilitated the education of entire cultures.  The Church has always strived to follow the mandate of Jesus Christ to care for the bodily and spiritual needs of those with whom Christ identifies Himself: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

That work of the Gospel continues even here, even now, in the many ministries and apostolic works that take place in our own diocese. 

In the City of Providence, Emmanuel House continues to serve hundreds of people each month who have no place to live and nothing to eat.  In weather as cold as we have been experiencing, we thank God that there are people serving and providing for the needs of the homeless at Emmanuel House.  

At the same time, we can consider Bishop Tobin’s “Keep the Heat On” campaign.  Each year thousands of dollars are donated to assist people in cities across our state so that they can keep their homes heated and live in safety and dignity.  Can you imagine what it would be like if, after this Mass today, you were to go home in this weather and discover that there was no heat in your house?  Because of the generosity of so many people, there is heat today for many, many warm and grateful people.  

More than that, the Diocese of Providence provides immigration and refugee services for people like Abraham, and like so many of our own families, who have journeyed from a distant and foreign land and are struggling to make a new beginning here in our own communities.  

Catholic Charities provides senior centers that assist the elderly with so many of the vital tasks and services that we all take for granted so often.  In a culture where the rights and even the lives of our elderly citizens are often at risk, the Church responds even now to make a brighter future filled with hope.

Finally, I would like to mention the Seminary of Our Lady of Providence, where I serve as rector.  We have twenty-two young men studying for the priesthood, men who will one day preach the Gospel and celebrate the Sacraments for those who long to see the face of God.  Our very existence as a seminary depends upon the generosity of parishioners like you who give each year to the Catholic Charity Fund Appeal.  Today I would like to express my gratitude for all who have given so generously to provide us with the material and spiritual needs that allow us to form priests for the future of our Church.  

In conclusion, I would like to ask for your generosity in continuing this great work of the Gospel, in its many different facets, throughout the Diocese of Providence.  Perhaps you have a regular amount that you contribute each year, or perhaps you have never before considered the importance of making a contribution to Catholic Charities.  Even the smallest change, and certainly an openness to what God is asking of each of us, could make a major difference in the lives of so many people in the coming year alone.  

As we begin the Catholic Charity Fund Appeal once again this year, may God truly change our hearts and continue to make us instruments of transformation in the world around us.  In our charity towards those in need, in the way that we see each other, and especially in the way that we receive God in our lives, may we be open to the many changes that life brings.  For, in the words of Blessed John Henry Newman, “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”