Hello and welcome,
Like all of you, I’m sure, I was shocked and dismayed by events at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. On Thursday, I issued this statement calling for peace and unity that I would like to share with you:
The beginning of the Prayer of St. Francis is familiar to most of us: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” And it is peace we need in our nation today, united by the common good of our people. The violence witnessed in our nation’s capital yesterday serves only to inflame our divisions and pit citizen against citizen at a time we need to be united. We reject all forms of violence, including the acts of those who stormed our Capitol. We pray for those who lost their lives and for their loved ones and for the injured. We live in a divided nation and the challenges our nation faces are significant.
Our recovery from yesterday’s assault will require the best talents of our civic leaders. Very soon President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris will be sworn in to lead our country. In the spirit of what makes America a beacon of light and democracy for the entire world we must set aside our divisions and together go about the work of helping to lift people out of poverty, healing the sick, welcoming the immigrant and address systemic racism, and many other tasks.
Let us heed the words of St. Francis’ simple prayer: “where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.”
They have been doing a great deal of renovations to my titular church in Rome, Santa Maria Della Vittoria, which is in the care of the Carmelite Friars. They are very happy that the work is completed, and the church looks just spectacular.
I want to express my congratulations to the new rector, Father Angelo Campana, OCD, and to all of the friars of the community who worked so hard to make the beautiful renovations possible. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, I have not been able to visit for several months, but I look forward to being able to celebrate Mass with the community there at some point in 2021.
Thursday was, of course, New Year’s Eve, and ordinarily, I would have joined the Oblates of the Virgin Mary at St. Clement’s Eucharistic Shrine for our annual Holy Hour and midnight Mass to ring in the New Year. However, this year, because of restrictions that are in place and the curfew in Boston, we decided instead to hold a live-streamed Mass at the cathedral. (We are very grateful for the help of our cathedral music director Richard Clark in arranging the live stream.)
I would like to share my homily at that Mass with you here:
For many years now, this Mass on the Feast of Mary Mother of God has been celebrated as a Pro-Life Mass here in the Archdiocese of Boston. Last year we gathered at St. Clement’s Shrine with so many young people and look forward to next year when we will be able to bring people together personally for a Holy Hour and a Mass to conclude the old year and ring in the New Year, honoring our Blessed Mother and recommitting ourselves to work for the Gospel of Life.
Sadly, this year-end has seen an expansion of abortion in many states and now in Argentina. We have likewise seen so many executions taking place. Tonight, as we formulate our resolutions for a new year, we want to recommit to defend life in a consistent fashion across the spectrum of existence from conception to natural death. Our commitment to human dignity includes our unwavering opposition to abortion, capital punishment and physician-assisted suicide. We will also continue to defend life by protecting immigrants and refugees seeking our assistance, by serving the poor in our communities and by a constant appeal to others in our society to see the fragile ties which hold us together as a community.
We must strive to be better people, to live our discipleship more coherently, courageously, generously, and joyfully so as to be able to help change people’s hearts. Our commitment to the Gospel of Life is to work for just laws in our land and in our world, but most of all, we must work to change people’s hearts so that there will always be a place at the table for every child that comes into this world.
We are so grateful to have Marianne Luthin with us tonight for this Mass. She is a true apostle for life and has been involved in every aspect of the Pro-Life activities of the archdiocese. We are particularly grateful for the work that she, her team and volunteers do for the Project Rachel Ministry. I also want to thank the Knights of Columbus for their unwavering commitment and for the ultrasound equipment, which has saved thousands of lives.
Today, as we celebrate Mary’s motherhood, which took place under difficult circumstances, we want to pray for all women who are struggling in difficult pregnancies in a whole host of circumstances such as poverty, homelessness, addiction, violence, and all the losses brought about by the pandemic. We pray for women in these dire circumstances and offer to help them in any way we can.
We pray for birthmothers who made the courageous decision of entrusting their child to a loving adoptive family. We pray for those families that joyfully and generously adopt the child and make it one of their own.
We pray too for those couples who have been unable to conceive and long to have children.
We entrust all of these intentions to the loving care of Mary the Mother of God, and our Mother.
In most countries of the world, Mother’s Day is observed in the month of May, which happens to be the month of the Blessed Mother. Some Catholic countries celebrate Mother’s Day on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady. But I would say that the Church’s Mother’s Day is today, January 1, the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God. It takes place one week after our observance of the birth of Christ. We gather to congratulate Mary on the birth of her son, who is both God and man, Christ the Savior of the world.
Mary is Christ’s first disciple who says yes to God and, in doing so, changes the course of history. Mother Teresa used to like to say: “Give God permission.” At the Annunciation, God sends the Angel Gabriel to tell Mary that she has been chosen to be the Mother of the Messiah, and Mary, without understanding how all of this could happen, with great faith and trust, embraces the will of God and says: “Be it unto me according to thy word.” From that moment, she was the Mother of Christ who became incarnate in her womb at Nazareth. In the Basilica of the Annunciation, there is a grotto where the actual Annunciation took place. There they have erected an altar with the Latin inscription: “Hic Verbum caro factum est.” “Here the Word of God became flesh.”
Nine months later, Mary gives birth to the Christ child in the stable at Bethlehem. After the miraculous conception of this child, Mary could’ve expected a more glamorous venue for his birth, but Mary is a disciple who walks by faith alone, always trusting in God’s loving plan.
We begin this New Year by celebrating her motherhood and faithfulness narrated at the beginning of the Gospel, where she becomes the Mother of God. At the end of the Gospel, Jesus from the cross gives her to us as our mother: “Behold thy Mother.” Today we rejoice that Mary is the Mother of Christ and our Mother as well.
The custom was, when I was a young priest, that we would wash the feet of 12 men on Holy Thursday at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. It was never easy to find 12 men willing to have their feet washed in public and in church. In my Hispanic parish, it just wasn’t very macho. One year, one of our apostles, that is, a man who was to have his feet washed, had to work or fell sick, and at the last minute, I had to find a volunteer. I went into the church right before the Mass and latched onto an unsuspecting soul and invited them into the sacristy to join the other apostles. He had no idea what he was getting into and was very shocked when he realized what was going to happen. The interesting thing is that the experience of having his feet washed as part of the Holy Thursday Mass and representing one of the apostles at the Last Supper had a profound effect on this man who, before that, very seldom went to church. That night, he was there because his wife or his girlfriend had dragged him there.
After that, he came every Sunday and became very active in the life of the community. He said that that simple gesture made him realize that God had blessed him, and with God’s blessing, he had to live a life of discipleship and service.
It was not that he had not been blessed before, but at that moment, he realized that God was blessing him. When we come to realize how much God has blessed us, then we will begin to live our life differently. We will come to know that we are never alone, that God’s love engulfs us and never fails us, even when we failed him. Hopefully, at this Eucharist we will realize that Jesus Christ has come to share our life, to wash our feet, and to invite us to be part of his family.
Each year our New Year’s celebration has as the first reading, the first word of God announced at Mass, a passage from the Book of Numbers in the Old Testament. It is a blessing.
It is God’s instruction to Moses on how Aaron and the priests were to bless the people of Israel saying: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace. So shall the priest invoke my name upon the Israelites, and I will bless them.”
The same blessing was used constantly by St. Francis of Assisi and is sometimes used at the conclusion of Mass, but to me, it is very significant that it is the first word of God proclaimed as we begin a new year. We come to receive a blessing and to ask God to bless this New Year that begins today.
In many countries, the custom is to celebrate a “Te Deum,” a hymn of praise, in thanksgiving to God for all the blessings that we have received in the past year. Dag Hammarskjold once said the prayer: “For all that has been, thanks Lord, thanks. For all that will be yes Lord, yes.” That is a beautiful New Year’s sentiment.
When we go for an eye examination, we are happy when the optometrist tells us that our vision is 20/20. However, the year 2020 for most of us does not betoken good vision, but rather a challenging year that we are happy to see in the rearview mirror.
Roma Downing has written a book called “Box of Butterflies” in which she tries to discover the unexpected blessings all around us. As we end 2020, we want to count our blessings, even the blessings in disguise.
To me, one of the most interesting figures in the Gospels is Simon of Cyrene. There’s not too much information about him, but it can be fun to connect the dots and fill in with a little imagination and literary license. We know that Simon of Cyrene was forced to help Jesus carry the Cross of Calvary. Like many people in Jerusalem on that Good Friday, he was coming home from work or going to the market, and he’s suddenly grabbed by the Roman soldiers and forced to help a criminal carry his cross. How humiliating to be thrust into a public spectacle of this nature. I’m sure that he was embarrassed, felt put upon, angry, perhaps frightened. Scholars speculate that being from Cyrene in northern Africa, he was probably Black, and perhaps he felt singled out for that reason.
The curious thing is that what was the worst day in Simon’s life turned out to be the best. I feel sure that in his old age Simon gathered his grandchildren and told them again and again about the day that he was chosen to help Jesus carry the cross, the day Simon became part of the Gospel story. The New Testament speaks of two of the leaders in the early Christian community as being Rufus and Alexander, the sons of Simon. Scholars have said that’s probably the same Simon who helped carry the cross, was converted to Christianity, and raised his sons in the faith.
All of us have received blessings in disguise that have allowed us to overcome our limitations, have new and greater opportunities, be better people. I have a friend whose wife has Alzheimer’s. He told me that this experience has made him a better husband, a better man.
Many of us, like Simon of Cyrene, have been forced to carry the cross that we have not volunteered for. We may have done so begrudgingly and perhaps only later did we discover that in those trying moments we were close to God and his love.
This pandemic has occasioned so much suffering in our world, so much loss, so much death. As we end the year 2020, like Mary, we want to ponder all of these things in our heart to try and discover what God is saying to us and how close He is to us.
We begin this New Year and the Church’s Mother’s Day, asking Mary our mother to help us be better disciples and more conscious of the many blessings we receive each day, even the blessings in disguise, which are often the ones that are the most powerful and make us grow into better people.
I wish you all a blessed New Year, filled with love and peace.
In addition to being the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, January 1 is also Haitian Independence Day. So, ever since coming to Boston, it has been my practice to have a Mass here at the cathedral with the archdiocese’s Haitian community on that day. However, we decided that this year we would be able to accommodate more people by having them celebrate simultaneous Masses in their parishes rather than inviting them to the cathedral and potentially having to turn people away. We are hopeful that we will be able to celebrate all together once again on January 1, 2022.
Sunday, I was very happy to celebrate a live-streamed Mass for the Epiphany with the Boston Area Order of Malta.
With us in person at the cathedral were Boston Area Co-Chairs, Craig and Nancy Gibson; the President of the Order of Malta American Association, Dr. Peter Kelly and his wife, Linda; the Chancellor of Order of Malta American Association, Ed Delaney; and Order of Malta Chaplains Msgr. Kevin O’Leary, Msgr. James Moroney and Father Brian Kiely.
Wednesday, I went to St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, which is just up the street from the cathedral, to greet Metropolitan Methodios and the Greek Orthodox community as they celebrated the Feast of the Theophany. I was accompanied by Vito Nicastro from our Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
Our Ge’ez Rite Catholic community at the cathedral follows the same calendar as the Greek Orthodox. So, as we were returning from St. John the Evangelist Church, I stopped in as they were beginning to gather for their own celebration. I was very happy to greet them and wish them all a very Merry Christmas.
Thursday morning, we had a Zoom meeting of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. This was a gathering with the heads of the commission’s different working groups with Msgr. Oliver and the staff in Rome to receive reports on the activities that have been carried out.
One of the responsibilities of the commission is to participate in leadership training. So, we have been working together with the major superiors of religious congregations to give online seminars on various aspects of safeguarding. The pandemic has curtailed much of our in-person work — for example, the conference that we are planning for Poland has been delayed until September — but we are doing as much as we can virtually. In fact, the online sessions have been a very effective way of reaching a great many people during the pandemic.
Also on Thursday, we had a meeting of our archdiocesan Review Board. This is the body that advises us on individual cases of clergy sexual abuse and also makes recommendations on policies and procedures.
During our meeting, we heard a presentation by Vivian Soper, the director of our Office of Pastoral Support and Outreach, who spoke on preparations for the upcoming audit that will ensure the archdiocese is in compliance with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ child protection policies.
We have a wonderful group of people who serve with us on this board, including a rabbi, a judge, a victim-survivor of sexual abuse, a psychologist, and others with expertise in various relevant fields. We are very blessed to have this group of men and women who are well-credentialed for this task, which is not an easy one. It’s a difficult area to be working in, but they do so generously and very conscientiously. We are very grateful for their service
Finally, we were very happy to be visited this week by Father Brendan Buckley, a Capuchin friar who had been pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes in Jamaica Plain and is now pastor at St. Michael- St. Malachy Parish in Brooklyn. He was in town to give a retreat to the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth.
It was his first time back in Boston, and he had not yet had an opportunity to see the renovations to the cathedral. So, I was glad to give him a tour.
We are very grateful for his visit and his availability to give a retreat to the sisters.
Until next week,