Hello and welcome!
Sunday was, of course, Divine Mercy Sunday and so I was very happy to celebrate a televised Mass the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. This was followed by three hours of prayer and adoration carried live on The CatholicTV Network.
Divine Mercy is such an important devotion in the life of the Church, which spread so quickly after John Paul II’s introduction of St. Faustina to the Universal Church and, of course, his canonizing her in the year 2000 and designating the Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday.
In my homily, I reflected on how the Divine Mercy image itself parallels the description of Jesus appearing to the Apostles because, in the image, Christ appears with wounded hands and showing his wounded side. In today’s world, in which there is so much suffering, there is such a great hunger among people to experience God’s loving mercy.
That day, I was also able to speak to Father Robert Będziński, the director of the St. Pope John Paul II Divine Mercy Shrine in Salem. He was live-streaming the Divine Mercy Chaplet and Stations of the Cross live from the shrine, and I was very happy to hear that the shrine has been doing a great deal of outreach in the Salem area.
On Monday, we held a webinar for priests and parish leaders to begin a conversation about what the process of reopening our parishes might look like. We were very pleased with the great response to our invitation – there were over 450 participants.
Although we are approaching the peak of coronavirus infections in our area and we are one of the hotspots of COVID-19 (third in the nation, after New York and New Jersey), we want to begin to plan for how we can have a staged reopening of our churches and ministries. So, this was an initial conversation, and we have asked people for their ideas about how this can be done.
I see that, in Italy, the bishops’ conference is beginning conversations with the civil authorities. Here, we are trying to support the government’s plans for public safety. I am also very, very aware that the elderly and immigrants — two of the largest demographics in the life of the Church here in the Archdiocese of Boston — are also the groups in which there have been the most deaths due to coronavirus. So, as anxious as we all are to begin the public celebration of Masses and other sacraments, we want to be very careful and do it in a way that is responsible.
We have people studying this issue and coming up with proposals so that, when we get to the point where we are ready to begin the first phase of reopening, we will have a plan in place that will allow us to begin to have public celebrations once again. We will be having more of these webinars, which are such a good way for people to bring their questions and suggestions to the leadership of the archdiocese.
Every six weeks or so, it has been my custom to meet with our priests who have been ordained within the last five years. Currently, that group consists of about 40 or so priests.
Usually, we gather for a meal, a holy hour and a time of dialogue about ministry, spirituality and the life of the Church. However, with the current social distancing restrictions, we are unable to gather in the way that we usually do. So, we are beginning to hold these meetings by way of videoconference.
Monday was our first such gathering, and I think it went very well. The young priests always enjoy the opportunity to be together, even virtually.
Of course, much of the discussion was around what is happening in the parishes in this time and the state of the Church and our country. I am always so gratified to hear of the ways that our priests continue to reach out to their parishioners in whatever way they can, and I wanted to share with you this picture of one of our young priests visiting a family and giving them a blessing.
I led them in Vespers and then gave them a homily on the Vespers reading. We also had a short report from President of the American Association, Dr. Peter Kelly.
As I told them in my remarks, the very vocation of the Order of Malta is, in a special way, care for the sick. They have a thousand year tradition of care for the sick and the poor. So, they have a very important role to play in the current pandemic, trying to make sure that people have the material and spiritual support that they need during this time.
So, I was very happy to be able to join them for the Vespers ceremony and I understand that they are going to do this regularly going forward.
On Thursday, we had another of our meetings of The Papal Foundation. Of course, The Papal Foundation is very anxious to help the Holy Father address the crisis brought about by the pandemic in many parts of the world.
I am very grateful to the members of foundation for all the time that they give to this organization and their support of the Holy Father and the works of mercy that are carried out in his name.
As I mentioned last week, we have established a team of priests who are going to be bringing the Anointing of the Sick to COVID-19 patients in hospitals. These priests cannot use their regular oil stocks because the oils could become contaminated. We also realize that perhaps some of our priests are running low on Oil of the Sick because it has already been more than a year since our last Chrism Mass. So, this week, I had a special blessing of the oils at the cathedral rectory.
The Sister Disciples were good enough to prepare these special plastic containers that will be distributed to the priests on our COVID-19 response team that will allow the oil to be dispensed as needed.
We are very grateful to the priests who have volunteered to serve in this ministry, and we ask everyone to pray for them, their mission and their safety.
In the same way that I sent a letter to all our seminarians during Lent, and to our priests during Holy Week, this week I wanted to address a message of encouragement and solidarity to our permanent deacons, their wives and families. I wanted to encourage them in the role that they have in our parishes and also asked them to be attentive to what will need to be done as we begin to reopen our parishes.
In particular, I pointed to the need to have in place a bereavement ministry that will allow us to reach out to families who have lost loved ones during this time when we could not have funeral Masses or wakes. There will be a great need to organize memorial Masses for these people, our brothers and sisters, many of whom died alone and whose families who were unable to have formal rituals of bereavement to bring closure.
I would like to share the video of my message in English and Spanish with you here, accompanied by the text of my address in English.
One of the great joys of the Easter liturgies is hearing the readings from the Acts of the Apostles. I’ve always loved this book in the New Testament that has been called the Gospel of the Spirit. It’s a continuation of Luke’s Gospel and shows us how the Risen Christ sent the Spirit to enliven the community, to guide us and to sanctify us. It’s in the Acts of the Apostles that we see how the Spirit led the Church to ordain the seven, “The Magnificent Seven,” deacons.
I always say that there is nothing improvised in the New Testament. Isaiah, the prophet, speaks to us continuously about the suffering servant and although many of Jesus’s contemporaries were looking for a strong military leader in the Messiah, the prophecies pointed to the humble carpenter of Nazareth who came to serve and not to be served.
We see at the heart of the celebration of the first Eucharist that Jesus gives us a dramatic gesture of the washing of the feet of his disciples. Here we see the image of Jesus, in his kenosis, his self-emptying, his humiliation and death.
The foot washing is an action of service for others, symbolic of the service he will render in laying down his life for others; that is why Jesus can claim that the foot washing is necessary if the disciples are to share in his heritage and that it will render the disciples clean: to have a part with Jesus through washing means to be part of that self-giving love which will bring Jesus’ life to an end, symbolically anticipated by the foot washing.
Furthermore, those who would be leaders in the community of disciples are to be identified by their own self-sacrificing love in imitation of that self-emptying of Christ. Those who have a share in the apostolic ministry freely accept this aspect of Christ’s identity as part of their own. Ministry is centered on the Eucharist: it flows from the minister’s participation in Christ’s own sacrifice of himself, celebrated within the form of a sacred memorial meal. The diaconia of apostolic ministry is Eucharistic, a breaking and sharing of one’s life for the building up of the Body in memory of Christ.
So, the washing of the feet at the Last Supper is a preview of coming attractions. It speaks to us about Jesus’s death, but it also underscores the servant leadership that he wants to communicate to his disciples. This simple gesture of loving service points to the diaconate.
One of the great achievements of the Second Vatican Council was to lift up for us the order of deacons and the treasures that this vocation can bring to our Church. As a young priest working with immigrants where we had a terrible shortage of priests, I asked permission from Cardinal Hickey to begin a diaconate training program in Spanish for the Archdiocese of Washington. It afforded me the opportunity to learn so much about this new vocation in the Church, which restored the diaconate of the early Church. I saw up close the sacrifices that the candidates and their wives made to be part of the formation; I saw the generosity in their commitment to the service of the community of faith; I saw the impact that their ministry had on so many communities. Being part of that diaconate training program has made me a true believer in the permanent diaconate.
That is why I have expanded our diaconate program at a time when other bishops are reducing theirs. I have seen up close all the good that can be accomplished through the training of candidates and their wives and the extraordinary ministry that is a result of the order of deacons in the Church.
Just as the diaconate is born from the work of the Spirit guiding the Church, the same Spirit will continue to guide the diaconate in the Church of the 21st century, making ever more visible the servanthood of Christ present in our Church.
In these strange times in which we live, the traditional forms of ministry are all challenged by the circumstances imposed upon us by the pandemic.
Ironically enough, social distancing is actually an expression of concern for the common good and the welfare of the most vulnerable. At the same time, it makes it difficult for us to gather as a people and to interact with the freedom to which we have become accustomed. More than ever, the vocation of the deacon is crucial for the Church’s response. The deacon is ordained to evangelize, but especially by serving the poor and by being a healer in a divided world. We need deacons who can be community builders and can inspire, motivate, and encourage our parishioners. The deacon is a visible link between the love and worship of God and the love and care of neighbor. The married deacon operates within the context of family and work, bringing a special sensitivity to such issues as the dignity of marriage and the family. The presence of our deacons in hospitals, prisons, diocesan offices and special ministries, in addition to the invaluable work that is carried on in the parish communities, has been an extraordinary grace for our local Church. The fact that many deacons come from ethnic communities that lack sufficient numbers of priests is also a very important contribution to the life and ministries of the Archdiocese.
As I always raise with the priests, the basis for our ministry is always our interior life, our friendship with the Risen Lord. That is the source of our motivation and strength to be able to share with others the relationship that we have cultivated by a life of prayer and sacraments.
Therefore, it is crucial to have a rule of life, a plan of action, to maintain a careful balance in our life and to make sure that each day there is time and space for God. Without a plan, without discipline, the life of prayer can be reduced to sporadic attempts that end in fits and starts. It is only a rule of life that will allow us to progress on the path to holiness.
The present crisis means that so many people have lost loved ones and have been unable to gather for a wake or a funeral Mass. I am grateful for the deacons who have been doing graveside services. I would urge the deacon community to begin to plan for a time when we can reopen our churches and reach out to those who lost loved ones during this period of the lockdown. We need a special bereavement ministry to help these families whose loved ones often died alone and who did not have the benefit of the Eucharist celebrated in the community. It will be an important opportunity to reconnect with our parishioners. We will need our deacons to help in this much-needed ministry.
We are also painfully aware of the fact that many people are losing their gainful employment, and that some of our deacons and their family members may well lose their jobs and economic security. We must try to monitor these situations and look for ways to be helpful.
It is hard to understand the predicament our world is in. There will be much suffering and deprivation. The strong faith and witness of our deacons will be a great source of consolation for our faith communities and society. Hence, the ever heightened urgency to cultivate the interior life that will generate the strength and serenity that is needed to face the challenges ahead.
Our parishes and schools will find themselves in very challenging economic situations that will require painful and drastic decisions. In the midst of all of this pain, the deacon must be a man of healing and of hope.
We must never become so overwhelmed by our lack of material resources that we lose sight of our mission, which is to announce the Good News that Jesus Christ has conquered sin and death for us, that we are called to be his disciples. The deacons will need to work closely with their priests and parish leaders to plan for a future fraught with uncertainties. We must do this with the spirit of faith, hope in God’s loving providence and courage to act boldly to ensure that we can be faithful to our mission.
From the time of the Acts of the Apostles, the deacons have been involved in ethnic ministries. A sizable percentage of the Catholics of the archdiocese are immigrants. We have been and always will be an immigrant church. Our immigrants face many challenges, particularly those who are here without the benefit of documents.
We must be sensitive to the horrendous situations they find themselves in, and we must look for ways to be present to them and help them.
Let me say a word of gratitude to the wives and families of our deacons who lovingly support our deacons and indeed participate in their ministry and service in countless ways. Your generosity and sacrifices are a source of blessings for our faith community, and we all owe you a great debt of gratitude.
The Easter season proclaims that the Cross leads to the Resurrection. Our God is so good and so loving, he can always bring good out of evil. Out of the pain and suffering of this pandemic, our world will emerge a better place if the present suffering leads us to deeper conversion and truly to be a people of loving service, animated by the joy of the Gospel and a deep sense of solidarity and connectedness with suffering humanity. The fact that the whole world is suffering this together may help us to realize, as Pope Francis says, that this planet is our common home.
We must learn to live here together in love and in peace. In these challenging times, our deacons have a heightened role, modeling a discipleship of healing and service.
Know that you and your families are in my prayers each day. May the presence of the Risen Lord in your hearts give you the grace and strength for the task ahead.
Finally, Thursday was the feast of St. George, the name day of the Holy Father. As something of a gift, I sent the Holy Father a poem that is attributed to Mario Benedetti. It is a very beautiful poem and very appropriate for the time in which we are living.
Cuando la tormenta pase
Cuando la tormenta pase
Y se amansen los caminos
y seamos sobrevivientes
de un naufragio colectivo.
Con el corazón lloroso
y el destino bendecido
nos sentiremos dichosos
tan sólo por estar vivos.
Y le daremos un abrazo
al primer desconocido
y alabaremos la suerte
de conservar un amigo.
Y entonces recordaremos
todo aquello que perdimos
y de una vez aprenderemos
todo lo que no aprendimos.
Ya no tendremos envidia
pues todos habrán sufrido.
Ya no tendremos desidia
Seremos más compasivos.
Valdrá más lo que es de todos
Que lo jamás conseguido
Seremos más generosos
Y mucho más comprometidos
Entenderemos lo frágil
que significa estar vivos
por quien está y quien se ha ido.
Extrañaremos al viejo
que pedía un peso en el mercado,
que no supimos su nombre
y siempre estuvo a tu lado.
Y quizás el viejo pobre
era tu Dios disfrazado.
Nunca preguntaste el nombre
porque estabas apurado.
Y todo será un milagro
Y todo será un legado
Y se respetará la vida,
la vida que hemos ganado.
Cuando la tormenta pase
te pido Dios, apenado,
que nos devuelvas mejores,
como nos habías soñado.
When the storm passes
When the storm passes
and the roads are tamed
and let’s be survivors
of a collective shipwreck.
With a weeping heart
and our fate blessed
we will feel happy
just to be alive.
And we will give a hug
to the first unknown person
and we will praise the good fortune
to have kept a friend.
And then we will remember
all that we lost
and once for all we will learn
everything we did not learn.
We will no longer be envious
for all will have suffered.
We will no longer be lazy,
we will be more compassionate.
What belongs to all
will be worth more than ever.
We will be more generous
and much more committed.
We will understand how fragile
what it means to be alive;
we will sweat empathy
for who is and who is gone.
We will miss the old man
who asked for alms in the market,
we didn’t know his name
and was always by your side.
And maybe the poor old man
was your God in disguise.
You never asked the name
because you were in a hurry.
And everything will be a miracle
and everything will be a legacy.
And life will be respected,
the life we have earned.
When the storm passes
I ask God, full of sorrow,
that you return us better people,
Just like you dreamed of us.
Until next week,