Anyone driving around Oakland and the East End these days faces the serious danger of being swallowed up in hundreds of crazy potholes, some large enough to do serious damage to your car and everyone inside the car as well. It is unbelievable that we citizens of the East End neighborhood have the scrouge of driving on such deplorable roads – and most of the major roads are affected – roads that one would expect to find in an undeveloped country but certainly not in what is supposed to be one of the most livable cities in the country. We deserve better from the City of Pittsburgh in maintaining our roads and fixing those potholes that pose a serious risk to all of us. But as I get behind the wheel every day and find myself swerving this way and that way to avoid the danger and to protect my car and my own person from harm, it suddenly dawned on me that this is what the Lenten season is helping us to do in our spiritual journey. The road to God and to eternal life is anything but smooth and easy. There are serious potholes that we must avoid everyday in travelling the pathway of faith in order to attain the holiness of life God desires for each of us as his beloved children. Lent wants to help us become more attentive to those dangers on our spiritual journey so that we can avoid serious harm to our souls. We can lose ourselves so easily in the sinkholes of self-centered living, in pride and self-interest. We can become engulfed and lost in those large empty craters of materialism and self-indulgence that deaden our senses to the life of the Spirit. We all too often fall into the pit of greed, envy, lust, judging others, not being able to forgive, our lack of generosity and kindness instead of walking the path of loving God and neighbor that is the only road to heaven. We can be swallowed up quickly by our daily crosses and sufferings and lose sight of the pathway we must walk in faith. Lent calls us to deeper prayer, to fasting and sacrifice, to works of charity and goodness, so that we can avoid those potholes along the pathway of faith and hold fast to road of life God has invited us to walk. It is God’s grace that enables us to steer the course on the right path. Unfortunately I did some serious damage to my car when I hit a pothole – and my car needed to be repaired and realigned at no small cost. May this Lent be a time of grace and renewal for each of us, giving us the wisdom and strength, to avoid being swallowed up by those potholes in life that seek to pull us out of alignment with God and our faith. Through our Lenten disciplines we will find it easier to hold fast to the road that God calls us to travel each day – the road to eternal life.
Our hearts and prayers go out to all the victims of the terrible school shooting in Parkland, Florida. We grieve with our nation as we mourn the loss of innocent life – once again the result of hatred that can so easily grip the human heart and lead to such tragic violence. We stand with the families and loved ones of those who have lost their lives, we pray for their eternal rest, and we remember those who have been injured both physically and emotionally that God’s healing grace will touch their hearts and bring them strength and peace. Each of us as a good neighbor must be vigilant in caring for those around us, in pointing out the signs of those who are acting strangely. Don’t be silent; don’t be afraid to notify authorities; don’t wait until it is too late and then wish you had said something earlier. Sadly, in our country we have lost our core values of decency and respect for others – especially those we might disagree with. We are all brothers and sisters, made in the image and likeness of God. There is no place in our hearts as Christians and as Americans for hatred, bigotry, prejudice, name-calling, vitriol, bullying, or discrimination. These are things that lead to violence and we must do all we can to teach our children and young people to respect others, to love their neighbor, treat others as we would hope to be treated ourselves. This has to be a big part of the solution we are all trying to find in the face of such a senseless tragedy.
Today the Church asks that we pray for the legal protection of unborn children. It is a day of sadness for us as we recall the infamous decision of the United States Supreme Court on January 22, 1973 legalizing abortion in the United States. We remember today the millions of unborn children who have been slaughtered – the holy innocents. Many in our nation have attempted to dismiss the atrocity of abortion in the name of a woman’s right to choose but authentic freedom never permits a choice that takes the life of another innocent human being. There is no question that life begins at conception; medical science has long come to that same conclusion. Faith and reason never contradict each other because all truth comes from the God who created everything in the first place. Some claim that abortion is a political issue or a personal choice that a person must make for herself. But as people of faith we know differently. Every human life is sacred; it has an inherent dignity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God along is the Lord of life from its beginning to its end; no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.”
And so we weep today for the millions of unborn babies who have been destroyed by abortion. We pray for those who have made those choices that they will know God’s mercy and healing. We pray for pregnant women – especially those facing unwanted or difficult pregnancies – that they will be met with assistance and compassion they need to carry their babies to term. We pray for our President, elected officials and judges in our country that they will gain a true moral compass and work to protect and to defend the sacredness of life. We pray for all of our citizens in this nation that we might learn to be come faithful stewards and protectors of human life at every stage, but especially that we might be defenders of the unborn who have no voice of their own. St. Pope John Paul II said that the true measure of a country’s greatness is how well it treasures and protects its most vulnerable citizens. This past Friday, tens and tens of thousands of people – many of them youth and young people from across our nation – gathered in Washington DC to provide that voice for the protection of unborn children and to once again call for an end to the great evil and sin of abortion. We were all encouraged by the presence of President Trump – the first sitting President ever to speak live to those participating in the annual March for Life. His message was loud and strong and gives us all hope: “Today I’m honored and really proud to be the first president to stand with you here at the White House to address the 45th March for Life, that’s very very special, 45th March for Life, and this is a truly remarkable group. Today tens of thousands of families, students, and patriots, and really just great citizens gather here in our nations Capitol. You come from many backgrounds, and many places, but you all come for one beautiful cause, to build a society where life is celebrated and protected and cherished. The March for Life is a movement born out of love: you love your families; you love your neighbors; you love our nation; and you love every child born and unborn, because you believe that every life is sacred, that every child is a precious gift from God. We know that life is the greatest miracle of all. We see it in the eyes of every new mother who cradles that wonderful, innocent, and glorious-newborn child in her loving arms. I want to thank every person here today and all across our country who works with such big hearts and tireless devotion to make sure that parents have the caring support they need to choose life.”
Today I set before you death and life. Choose Life. Choose Love. Choose to be a voice for the unborn in the womb. Choose God’s way over death and destruction. Be a pro life advocate and stand with the Truth. As Pope Francis reminded us: “To serve human life is to serve God.”
We come now to the close of our Christmas celebration with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, celebrated this year on Monday, January 8. What a glorious celebration it has been for the Cathedral parish family! We have been blessed to have so many people participate in our liturgies for this Christmas season. It would be impossible not to have been inspired and uplifted by the joy, the love and the hope that this season brings to our hearts, our families and our world. It is my fervent prayer that these special gifts of Christmas will be experienced by all of you throughout this year of 2018. Sadly, all too many people are filled with anxiety and fear as they go about their lives each day and these feelings can all too often blind us to the beauty of God’s loving presence constantly at work in our lives. We must look more often to the Lord himself, Emmanuel, God with us, as our source of life and grace, as the only way to know true and lasting happiness, fulfillment, joy and peace in our lives each day. God’s love, given to us in Jesus Christ, has conquered evil and sin, hatred and selfishness, and every darkness that afflicts human life. Look to the Lord. Open your hearts in daily prayer. Come to Mass more frequently. Read the Scriptures. Become more involved in the parish. These are the real resolutions for this new year that will change your lives!
We join in celebrating this awesome feast today in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This day recalls the apparitions of Mary at the hill of Tepayac from December 9-12, 1531 to the native convert St. Juan Diego. She was declared patroness of the Americas by Pope Pius XII. Her miraculous image given on the tilma or mantle of Juan Diego has become a source of devotion, strength, inspiration and hope for the people of Mexico, for all of us who inhabit the Americas, and for the faithful of the Church everywhere. We reflect on those beautiful words she spoke to St. Juan Diego: “Do not let your heart be disturbed. Do not fear. Am I, your Mother not here? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Are you not in the folds of my arms? What more do you need?” Mary is speaking these same words to our hearts today. We are invited to lay our fears, worries and anxieties at the feet of Our Lady. She is our Mother, our advocate and protector, given to us by Jesus himself as he hung dying on the Cross for our redemption. “Behold your Mother!” What beautiful words; what a precious gift! Mary desires to wrap us in her mantle, in her tilma, of love. She always comes to help us, to intercede for us, to lead us to the loving heart of her Son, and to guide us to our place in heaven. But Mary invites us as well to stronger faith and to greater trust in God. She said yes to God with her whole heart and her whole being. “My soul proclaims the greatness of God; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” She did not hold anything back. What God asked and wanted, she would try her best to do. We are asked to do the same.
Our Lady of Guadalupe asked St. Juan Diego to build a shrine in her name. This was to be a place of refuge and peace where people would find God’s love, his compassion, help, comfort and mercy. But Our Lady is calling us to build a shrine with our lives. We must be the place of refuge and hope, of kindness and compassion, of tenderness, love and joy for all we meet each day. As Archbishop Gomez said in his homily today: “So let us go out and do that today! Let us fly to her protection today and every day! She will never let us down. And let us try to live by her example – listening to God in prayer and seeking to serve others in love.” Que viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!
Advent is a season of special grace that calls the faithful to be alert and be prepared for the coming of Christ. Our minds focus immediately on the coming of the Lord at Christmas as we prepare to commemorate the birthday of our Savior and the mystery of the Incarnation. Advent calls us to be attentive and to be careful that we keep Christ in Christmas. All around us are the pulls of secularism, commercialism and materialism. Our response must be one to remind the world of why we have this season – it is to remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ into the world, the mystery of God becoming one like us in all things but sin, so that the darkness of sin could be eradicated by God’s saving power and human redemption won through the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. Be careful not to water down Christmas. We must unapologetically and forcefully remind the world that Christmas is a Christian holiday – one in which we take great pride in celebrating – because it is the birthday of our beloved Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Lord of all Life.
I encourage everyone, especially our families, to make this season of Advent a time of holiness and grace. Prepare well to celebrate the birthday of Christ by growing in faith. Read the Scriptures; pray the rosary and reflect on the mysteries of Jesus Christ; light the advent candles at home on your table and pray that God’s light will slowly diminish the reality of sin in your own life and in the world; go to confession and receive the healing power of God’s grace to prepare your heart to receive Christ in the Eucharist; attend Mass at least one additional day each week in Advent and realize the fruits that come to those who come to Mass daily. Make this season a time of preparation so the Christ-child will find a worthy place in your heart and home to dwell more completely with his love.