Cardinal Seán's Blog

Cardinal Seán O’Malley shares his reflections and experiences

Month: October 2006

Covering A Variety Of Topics This Week: Order of the Holy Sepulchre, Halloween and All Saints/All Souls, Por Cristo & More


Good afternoon. I hope that this post finds in good health and spirits. Hopefully you had a good week.

Last weekend, I had the joy of serving as Celebrant for the annual Mass and Investiture Ceremony at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston for the United States Northeastern Lieutanancy of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. We were honored to have number of Bishops and priests concelebrating the Mass, including Bishop Coleman, Bishop Malone, Bishop McCormack, Bishop McManus, Bishop Matano, Bishop Gibbs and Bishop Boles. On the night before, there was Memorial Mass for the Order and Bishop McDonnell from Springfield shared a wonderful homily with us.

One of the very old organizations in the Church are the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre. Originally they were a military order in the Church who guarded the holy places in the Holy Land and always had a very strong connection with Palestine. In modern times it has maintained those ties to support the works of the Church in the Holy Land. In particular, they support the schools, the clinics, hospitals, and churches that are located there. Also, they are supportive of the Christian community there, which ethnically is largely Arab.

Members of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre commit themselves to try to be faithful Catholics, faithful to life of prayer and to be supportive of the works of mercy carried out by the Church in the Holy Land. In these days thats very important because so many of the worlds problems can be traced right to the situation in Palestine. All of us need to be aware of the penchants of the sufferings and support by prayer and whatever contribution we can make to that part of the world to help them to a lasting just peace.

I mentioned that Bishop Sal Matano, the Bishop of Vermont, was present. He actually was Priest Knight Candidate who was invested during the ceremonies. We are proud that a number of priests were invested as well, including our own Fr. Peter Uglietto, rector of Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston. It was also wonderful to see a many young men and women join the Order. We were proud to have our own Jay Fadden invested as well. Many of you know Jay from BCTV, where he and Fr. Bob Reed are doing a wonderful job spreading the word of our Lord and reaching out to many Catholics of our Archdiocese. Fr. Roger Landry, brother of our own Scot Landry, the Archdioceses Secretary for Institutional Advancement/Chief Development Officer, was also invested during the ceremony.

As the Archbishop of Boston, I serve as Grand Prior for the Order and during the investiture ceremony, I presented each candidate the Orders insignia and then each candidate received their stoleboth are pictured below.


The insignia of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.


Presenting Fr. Roger Landry the Orders insignia.


As part of the Investiture Ceremonies, the first Knight Candidate is presented the spurs and sword, accepting on behalf of all the Candidates.


We were honored to have a number of Bishops present for this occasion.


Our own Jay Fadden from BCTV with other Knight Candidates.


Knights and Ladies of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre.


As you can see, we had a number of Bishops and Priests who joined us for the ceremonies and Mass.

I’d like to share my homily from the Holy Sepulchre Mass with you here in this post:

Holy Sepulchre Mass on October 22nd, 2006

When I go to Rome and see the inscription S.P.Q.R. on sewer covers, post offices, and other pedestrian locations, I am amused and saddened by what the French would call the banalization of this glorious symbol. Colleen McCullough, the great Australian authority on classical Rome, recounts how Roman Senators traveled around the Mediterranean world accompanied only by two lictors. Yet in their presence, kings would abdicate, armies would surrender, the high and mighty in every land received them with reverence and the even awe. S.P.Q.R. Senatus Populusque Romanus was carried on the standards that conquered the world. Now comedians have a host of droll interpretations in Italy for the once proud S.P.Q.R.

This is important for us to understand our symbols and their power. I often relate the story of a family where the daughter was ashamed of her mother because her mothers hands were disfigured. She always insisted her mother wear gloves. Only after the mothers death did her father tell her that the mothers scars were a result of a terrible fire in their house. The mother had risked her life and burnt her hands rescuing that very daughter. She never wanted the daughter to know so as not to make her feel guilty or responsible.

When the woman realized that those scars which had been a source of embarrassment were really badges of honor, wounds of self-sacrificing love, signs of heroism her eyes were finally opened.

When we see the cross, what do we see? Two sticks? A religious symbol? Does the cross speak to us as it spoke to Francis? Or is it something we take for granted as part of the landscape? We can never look at the cross with indifference. We must not allow the cross to be simply a piece of jewelry, an amulet, or a decoration. The cross speaks to the believer.

The cross is the symbol of our Christian Faith. It is a bold symbol. At first, Christians were content with the fish as a symbol. The Greek word for fish is an acrostic spelling the word fish from the first letters of the words Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.

The cross as an instrument of capital punishment would seem a dark sign, like a gallows or a hangmans noose. But very quickly all inhibitors were overcome and within a few years after the Crucifixion of Jesus the cross became the sign of the Christian Community, with evidence of a wall cross in Pompeii at the time of the volcanic eruptions in the year 79 A.D. St. Justin Martyr, writing around 150 A.D. already refers to the cross as the standard Christian symbol. Tortullian in his treatise, De Corona, written in 211 A.D., says that Christians seldom do anything without making the sign of the cross.

Accordingly, we begin and end our Eucharist with the sign of the Cross and an invocation of the Trinitythe two most defining aspects of our Catholic Faith.

In the Order of the Holy Sepulcher we wear the Jerusalem Cross. It is also called the Crusaders Cross and represents the Great Commissionery, Christ, who commands the spread of the Gospel to the ends of the earth, the four corners represented by the small crosses, a mission that started in Jerusalem, the large cross. The four small crosses are seen as also representing the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John with Christ in the center, broadcast by missionaries carrying the Gospels to the ends of the earth. The five crosses are also a sign representing the five wounds of Christ, the small crosses for the hands and feet, the large cross for the pierced heart of Jesus.


Jay Fadden holding his cape, bearing the Jerusalem Cross.

For us believers, the cross is a powerful sign. St. Francis called the cross his book. There he read the greatest love story in history that God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son to be our Savior. Jesus empties Himself, takes on the form of a slave and dies on the cross for love of us.

The cross is a sign of transformation and redemption. It is a sign of love, and when Jesus invites us to take up the cross of discipleship, He is really asking us to live a life of sacrificial love.

When Jesus is arrested in the Garden, the disciples fled. Peter tries to follow Jesus at a safe distanceuntil he hears the rooster crow and repents of his cowardice. How often we try to follow Jesus at a safe distance, but the Lord is inviting us to follow Him up close, to invite His humility and love.

Here in the Holy Cross Cathedral we have a wonderful stain glass window, which depicts the Emperor Heraclius as he carries the cross toward Calvary. The relics of the True Cross found by St. Helena in the 300 hundreds were captured by the Persians who held the cross for 14 years until the Emperor Heraclius was able to recover the True Cross and return it to Jerusalem, to Mount Calvary. The event was made famous by a spectacular miracle that is depicted in this window.


Stain glass window, depicting the Emperor Heraclius as he carries the cross toward Calvary.


Closer view of the beautiful window.


An even closer look.

When the Emperor tried to carry the cross up the Via Dolorosa to Calvary, he was unable to advance. The more he tried, the more he seemed to be held back. Heraclius and those with him were dumbfounded at this.

Then Zacharias, shown in the window, who was the bishop of Jerusalem said: Consider, O Emperor, how poorly you are imitating the poverty and humility of Jesus when you carry His cross in these triumphal robes.

Then Heraclius removed his crown and his jewels, shoes and rich garments, which can be seen on the ground in the window. He was then able to go forward without difficulty and could place the cross on the same spot on Calvary from which it had been taken by the Persians.

To take up the Cross, we too must divest ourselves. In the second reading, St. Paul speaks of Christs kenosis, His self-emptying, quoting an ancient Christian hymn. Pauls words which introduce the hymn are: Have the same sentiments, the same attitude as Jesus had. He who though He was in the form of God, emptied Himself.

When we empty ourselves of selfishness, of fear, of noise, of vanity, then the cross is no longer crushing and His yoke is sweet, and His burden is light because we have learned from Him who is meek and humble of heart.

I never tire of saying that: For God nothing is improvised. Pope Benedict in his writings underscored the connection between the Old and New Testaments. Todays first lesson and Gospel are a wonderful example of this.

The story from the Old Testament is a great one. People are complaining about the food. (It was our favorite pastime in the seminary.) The punishment in the Old Testament times was dramatic: Snakes appeared and bit the complainers. Moses intercedes for Gods people who regret their callous ingratitude and God forgives them; but it happens in a way that is already pointing to an event that will take place 1400 years later on Calvary.

God has Moses make an image of a snake and place it on a pole. (For those fundamentalists who berate us for religious images, we are reminded that at times God had the Israelites make statues of angels and in this case animals.) When those who had been bitten looked upon the serpent on the pole, they were cured.

In the Gospel, Jesus deciphers the Old Testament symbolism indicating that He is to be lifted up on a pole like those images of the serpent in the days of Moses, so that those who believe in Jesus may not perish, but have eternal life.

Jesus places this in the context of Gods love. He says in todays Gospel: God so loved the world that He gave up His only begotten Son, so that those who believe in Him might not perish.

Today, the Church invites us to raise our eyes to the seraph on the pole, to Jesus on the cross. Look at this spectacle with eyes of faith. See the transforming love, the self-sacrificing love, the life-giving love that is the basis of our Catholic Faith.

Let us ask for the grace to really see the cross, to penetrate its mystery, to be moved by the love it betokens. Greater love has no one than He who lays down His life for His friends. Jesus, the friend of sinners, has laid down His life for us. Whilst we were still in sin, He died for us. Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim, is the beautiful hymn that we sing so often. It is a challenge to lift the cross. To do that, we must divest ourselves.

But, Christ is counting on us to make His love known. Only when we truly embrace the cross and stop following Jesus at a safe distance can we truly proclaim the love of Christ as credible witnesses and mentors to new generations of believers.

To wear the cross is a privilege and a responsibility, to lift the cross on high so that all who look up and glimpse Christs love can be healed of the wounds of sin and live a new life in Gods love.

We adore thee, O Christ, and we bless thee because by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.


The Cross at the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at the Cathedral, containing a relic of The True Cross.


The relic is in this part of the Cross.

On Tuesday night, I met with the Boston University Campus Ministry group. BU is a very large institution and they claim that they have the most Catholics of any college in the area. They certainly have a wonderful Campus Ministry program there. I always enjoy my visits there. It was very edifying to me that so many young people would come together to be with their Bishop and to have an opportunity for dialogue. After I shared some reflections with the rather large group of students, I had an opportunity to answer some the students questions and there were many thoughtful questions asked and I am grateful for the groups interest for dialogue.

Sister Olga was also there. She is a diocesan hermit, a sister whos from Iraq. Her long spiritual odyssey has brought her to the United States and Boston. Its been a great blessing for us. She does extraordinary work on the Boston University campus and she is a very inspiring religious woman.


I was impressed by the large turnout of students at Boston University.


I always enjoy my visits to Boston University.


There are many students with strong faith at Boston University.


I enjoyed greeting the students after the formal program.


Greeting students.


Posing with the BU Campus Ministry Staff


Our good friend, Sister Olga Yaqob, M.V.M.

Halloween falls on Tuesday next week. The Eve of All Saints is the Christian meaning for Halloween. I believe that in Ireland, in Pagan times, it was the New Year. Halloween comes from All Hallows Eve – All-Saints Eve, the night before All Saints Day. For us in the Church, All-Saints Day is a Holy Day, a day people come to Mass to honor all of our Saints in heaven, including those who are not canonized and dont have a specific feast day. That feast day is followed immediately by All Souls Day on the 2nd. That is when we pray for all the souls in purgatory. So in many ways the Month of November is dedicated to all Saints and all other words that wing of the Church that has already passed into eternity and are still part of who we are.

We often make the distinction of the Church Suffering, the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant. The Church Suffering being those who are in purgatory in a state of purification and preparation for entrance into Gods presence. Church Militant are those of us who are here on the pilgrimage of life, struggling to be good disciples. The Church Triumphant are those who are already in Glory.

When I was a child, Halloween was a very fun type of celebration because we would go out Trick-or-Treating and get as many bags of candy as you could LOL and dress up in sort of homemade costumes. People felt very safe. There has been a very dark element introduced into Halloween that is disturbing – the satanic, the wicca, and these kinds of things that didnt exist before. I think for that reason a lot of parents now look for ways to Halloween parties, look for very safe environments to celebrate, whereas when I was growing up, we felt very safe. As I said, wed go out and fill one bag of candy and then go back home and fill another bag…LOL!

Wed make our own costumes I can recall going out as a pirate in those days it was all homemade costumes. Now its all very elaborate. I remember for kids, it was always a lot of fun and it didnt have any of theses dark elements that have been introduced into Halloween. It wasnt as commercial either. Everybody certainly bought candy and expected kids to come to the house.

I would certainly encourage people not to let it become a dark feast. I know that many of the Catholic Schools have had children dress up as different Saints, tying it back to All-Saints, which I think is a nice way to do it. It gives children the fun of dressing up and having a party, but still having a message as each child learns about the Saint that they are imitating. Certainly children need to be warned about the dangers of satanic cults and witchcraft and those kinds of things that are out there.

So, please be safe this Halloween. Also wed like to stress the fact that we have these two very important feasts, All-Saints and All-Souls Day. One of our very important practices in the Church is prayer for the dead. All-Souls Day, like Christmas, is also the only day when a priest is allowed to celebrate three Masses without a special pastoral reason. One of the reasons is that the Church recognizes the importance of prayer for the dead. In the Missal, there are actually three separate Masses for November 2nd.

We are very grateful to Emmanuel College for hosting us Thursday night for a wonderful fundraiser for Caritas Por Cristo, which is an organization related to our Catholic health system. Por Critso maintains clinics and other activities in Ecuador and supports medical and social needs in various places in Latin America. Its a wonderful organization. The fact that we have in the Archdiocese the St. James Society where our men are working in Latin America, particularly in Ecuador, where the principle activities of Caritas Por Cristo take place. It provides a wonderful synergism in these outreach activities of the Archdiocese. Boston Catholics should be proud of all that they do for the Church Universalthe long tradition of having sent literally hundreds of me to Latin America to work in the St. James Society and the wonderful outreach that Por Cristo is providing a way for many volunteer doctors and nurses, and many other healthcare workers, to participate in this outreach.

I also wanted to mention that we had a wonderful Mass at St. Columbkille on Sunday to celebrate the partnership between Boston College, the Archdiocese and the Parish of St. Columbkille. It was a beautiful parish celebration, marking the beginning of the school and celebrating this partnership. We are very grateful for their support of all our Catholic Colleges to Catholic education in the Archdiocese. St. Columbkille is in Brighton, close to BC, and this wonderful opportunity ensures a bright future for excellence in Catholic education at St. Columbkille.


Posing for a picture in a classroom at St. Columbkille School with Msgr. William Fay, Pastor of St. Columbkille Parish, Fr. William Leahy, President of Boston College and Fr. Joseph OKeefe, Dean of the Lynch School.


Fr. Leahy concelebrating the Mass.


During the celebration, St. Columbkille students treated us all to some lovely songs.


I am very proud of our Catholic School Students and the hard work and dedication of our teachers, administrators and Catholic School supporters and friends.

I received a comment and question from Karen recently:

What do you think young people really hunger for in our parishes?

Dear Cardinal Sean,

Thank you for this blog. Your response to Lisas question is eagerly awaited. No doubt, you see the best and worst as Cardinal Archbishop.

In the trenches, though the picture is bleak. By their teenage years, most are lost to the Church, as the hungers that young people identify are fed elsewehere. Their natural appetite for God is suffocated by both the secular world and by the fluff that is dished out in parish programs. Christ has gotten lost in the guidelines and platitudes, and most young people, with no knowledge of Him and no awareness that they even need Him, spend the time (that is required of them) in church looking for the Exit signs.

You recently wrote that the greatest heresy of the modern age is the denial of sin. If we deny sin, do we know God? And, if we dont know God, isnt that a crisis? This is not written with any sense of hopelessness, but with frustration over the inaction that persists despite widespread catechetical failures affecting generations of Catholics. The question in my mind is not how to teach the truth, but whether to teach it. And, when looked at that way, its not really a question at all. Its a challenge. Will the Archdiocese of Boston rise to it?
Comment by Karen

Thank you for your comment. You pose an excellent question. I think all people have a hunger for God. Sometimes we disguise that hunger for God with other kinds of hungersfor noise, for entertainment, for fun. But, the basic hunger we have is for a happiness that can come only by being united with God, who is our origin and our destiny.

Following up on my post about the Theology On Tap Program (TOT), Jon asks:

May the Lord bring you His Peace.

Is there a TOT for us married 40 somethings? This sounds like an awesome program. Also, please pray for me as I discern a Franciscan vocation for my state in life.


Comment by Jon

Jon, I am not aware of a specific TOT program for 40-somethings. However, I would encourage you and all others to attend this year’s Mens or Womens Conference. All Saints Day, November 1, is the traditional opening of registration for the Boston Catholic Men’s and Women’s Conferences. The Conferences were started two years ago by a group of lay business people, including our own Scot Landry, in order to provide an experience in Lent for Catholics to come together to grow in their faith.

The first Men’s Conference drew 2,200 in 2005. Last year, 5,200 men attended the Men’s Conference and 3,300 women came to the Women’s Conference (on just 6 weeks of planning). This year we hope each Conference will draw more than 5,000 Catholics from our Archdiocese.

The Conferences in 2007 will be on St. Patrick’s Day weekend (Saturday March 17 for the men; Sunday March 18 for the women). What a great joy it will be for me to have such a large gathering of Catholics to celebrate the patronal feast of our Archdiocese. At the end of the Men’s Conference, we will have our traditional St. Patrick’s Day Mass open to all Catholics (regardless of whether they attended the Conference).

Id be happy to share more information about the Conferences with you in future posts, including guest speakers and schedules. In the meantime, I would encourage you, and everyone, to learn more about the Conferences at: and

I hope you enjoy all the pictures in this weeks post. Im also going to start including a picture of the week in each of my weekly posts.

Picture of the Week:


The Cathedral of the Holy Cross during the Holy Sepulchre Mass.

Have a wonderful weekend. I hope you and your family and friends have a happy and safe Halloween and a joyous and prayerful celebration for All Saints and All Souls Days.

Until my post next Friday….

God Bless,

Cardinal Sen

October 2006