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.
Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Andrew, one of the 12 men chosen by Jesus to carry on his mission, and to build and to lead the Church. We know almost nothing about him from the Scriptures. But we do know that Jesus saw him, along with his brother Simon, as they fished along the sea. As he gazed upon them we can only imagine what he saw – but something led him to call out, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” It was an most unconventional way to choose followers, especially to choose men who would be given such a daunting and nearly impossible task. But we can imagine that Jesus saw into their hearts, he saw their goodness, their human potential as beloved sons of the Father, created and fashioned in his own image and likeness. Over time, Jesus’ love, his friendship, his teaching and ministry would lead Andrew, and his brother Simon, despite their faults and weaknesses, to become apostles, leaders, and martyrs for the faith.
God sees us with those same eyes. He looks into our hearts and sees our goodness, our beauty, our potential for greatness. We too have been fashioned after the likeness of God himself. We are more glorious and higher than angels themselves. But we know how often sin mars our appearance; how weakness and laziness can hinder us from becoming whom God desires. And all too often we fall to see others the way God sees them. We are quick to judge; all to hasty to point out another’s defects. Look at the world today in its pleasure at seeing people fall from grace, and how all too many people can easily criticize and demonize the behavior and sins of others, but fail to see and to admit their own imperfections and sins. Its a great danger to our salvation.
We know that God sees us with different eyes than the world does. We are his beloved children. He sees the our inherent dignity and goodness and he offers his grace to help us grow from sinner to saint each and every day. Knowing how God sees us should give us courage and strength to work at becoming that person he created us to be – through gaining virture, through prayer and good deeds and through sacramental grace. But it should also help us to be far less judgmental of others, far more careful to point out someone else’s sins and failings. Can we not see them as God sees – with eyes of love and hope, with eyes of forgiveness and kindness. After all, we are called not only to work towards our own salvation, but to help all those around us to get into heaven as well.
It is hard to believe that Representative Paul Ryan and other legislators are being so loudly criticized by some other politicians for “offering thoughts and prayers” on the horrific shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. As the Speaker of the House made clear: “It’s disappointing, it’s sad, and this is what you’ll get from the far secular left. People who do not have faith don’t understand faith, I guess I’d have to say. And it is the right thing to do is to pray in moments like this, because you know what? Prayer works. And I know you believe that, and I believe that and when you hear the secular left doing this thing, it’s no wonder you have so much polarization and disunity in this country when people think like that.”
As people of faith, we know the power of prayer; we believe in the power of prayer. It is the most natural and important thing to do for people of faith in times of crisis, in tragedy, and in darkness to turn to God. God is Love. We know that in and through the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross, all evil, sin and even death has been conquered once and for all. Death has no more power over us. But we also know that evil and sin are still part of the human condition and through our sinful humnan condition, evil can break into the lives of all of us – anytime and anywhere. How important it is that we turn to God and lift up the needs of the dead and injured to He who is the source of all life and all good. God hears the prayers of the poor and in his mercy he always answers his people – not always in the way you hope or think is best, but in the way that God knows is best for his people. He stands with us in our sadness, in our grief, in our tragedy and in death. It is the Lord alone who is our strength, our consolation and our hope. In a beautiful witness to the power of prayer, Reverend Frank Pomeroy, pastor of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, who lost his 14-year-old daughter and at least 25 other church members in Sunday’s mass shooting, told reporters on Monday that he has decided to “lean into the Lord. I don’t understand, but I know my God does.” Our hearts go out to him and all those who have lost loved ones and to our Christian brothers and sisters who belong to that faith community.
So yes we proudly lift our prayers to God and call upon his power and his love to bring peace to world, to convert human hearts, to bring healing and reconciliation to our nation and to our world. It is a real problem that so many people don’t turn to God in times like this. There are many who don’t believe we need God. But we know differently and as people of faith, as Catholics, we are committed to bringing our faith and our prayers into the hearts and lives of all those around us. Please remember in your prayers every day those who have been killed and wounded in yet another horrific killing spree in our country. Please pray that God’s heart will overflow with healing, with mercy and with love. Pray that God’s power will end the hatred that leads to violence and war. Pray every day with the greatest trust in God that he will be our strength and our hope even in the darkest times of life.
On October 24, 1906, the solemn consecration and dedication of Saint Paul Cathedral with its patron, Saint Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. With much fanfare and celebration the outside walls were sprinkled with salt and water and the inside walls were anointed with oil – in twelve places – in honor of the 12 apostles – each spot marked with a cross representing the Blessed Trinity and a metal clasp to hold a candle – 12 of them that are lit each year on the anniversary of the dedication – affirming that the Cathedral continues to be the sign of Christ’s light to the world. On October 24, 2017, we celebrate the 111th anniversary of this magnificent Cathedral Church ─ the Mother Church of our diocese. In a special way we remember several groups of people. First, we remember those whose sacrifices have made all of this possible – bishops, our former pastors and clergy, religious, lay faithful, all those whose labors and vision built this Cathedral – and all those benefactors who have helped to sustain it. Second – we remember Bishop Zubik, the Shepherd of this diocese, whose Cathedral this is – his chair stands as a constant reminder to us to pray for him and his ministry – as well as all the faithful of this diocese. Third – we remember today all the members of our parish family who bring such life and vitality each and every day to this Cathedral and to the work of faith. We remember so many who give of their time and talent in service to our parish . So often this work may go unseen but it is so important – each and every act is an act of love, given in service to God and his people.
From the beginning of God’s relationship with his chosen people, there have been those holy places that are filled with divine presence – the tent with the Ten Commandments, the Temple of Solomon, the catacombs, churches and cathedrals over many generations – these are the physical, concrete signs, of God’s almighty presence. The beauty and magnificence speak to the deeper realities for our love of God, of our awe at his majesty, our reverence, and devotion at his care for us. Yes, Saint Paul Cahthedral is a majestic building – architecturally and artistically stunning – but it is first and foremost a house of prayer. It is that place where we are met and embraced by the saving love of God. It is where we are sustained by the sacramental life of the Church : baptisms that bring new life, confession that lifts our sins away through the mercy of God, confirmation that strengthens us in the Holy Spirit; the anointing the sick that heals and strengthens us in our illness; marriage that forms that bond of life-long love, ordinations that configure a man to Christ for service to his people; and the Eucharist that feeds and nourishes us with the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. This is our spiritual home and it speaks as well, to our eternal home that awaits us in heaven. The Church looks to the final fulfillment that awaits each of us and the whole of creation in the Kingdom of God.
But this feast is more than a commemoration of a building. Buildings come and go – it is hard to imagine that this Cathedral would ever not be here – but they thought the same with the Temple in Jerusalem. St. Augustine said “Every time we gather to celebrate the dedication of the Church, we also recall that we ourselves are temples of the Holy Spirit.” Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” St Peter calls us the living stones, the stones God uses to construct His Kingdom. The foundation or cornerstone is Jesus Christ, but we are his Body, the Church. The Second Vatican Council spoke of us as the people of God, each of us is called to build the edifice of holiness, faith, love and grace in our lives. Buildings are secondary to the faith that underlies them. The Cathedral is a living monument, not a museum. It is alive because it brings us into the presence of God. It leads us to faith in Jesus Christ and to embrace our neighbor in love. The Church invites us into a living, personal encounter with Jesus Christ and calls us to be a chosen race, a holy nation, a people set apart. Our patron Saint Paul is a special source of inspiration and grace to us – both as a parish family and individually. He knew the grace of God that led him to conversion and to faith; he knew his need for God’s grace . He endured many sufferings and trials but was always filled with such joy and courage as he set out to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to everyone. This is the same call of Pope Francis to each of us as believers – to be joyful witnesses of the Gospel – leading others to the mercy and love of God through our conviction and joyful spirit.
Yes we rejoice in the magnificence of this building today as we celebrate the 111th anniversary of its dedication; but in doing so we are challenged to look more deeply into our own hearts. How well are becoming the living stones that Christ needs to build up his Body, The Church, through our faithfulness, our charity, our courage and joy, in giving witness to all we believe as we seek to live our faith each and every day?
Terrorism is destroying lives. Hatred and division have struck the heart of our own country. Prejudice and racism are deeply rooted in so many hearts. Abortion destroys millions of innocent lives. Gender ideology is wreaking havoc. Scandals, unbelief, and division continue to rack the Church. Across the globe and in our own homes, problems abound. Sometimes, watching the news or reading the headlines becomes an occasion for us to throw up our hands with the overwhelming feeling that the world is falling apart. And yet, Our Lady told us in Fatima, “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” That is, Mary’s Heart, so completely given to Jesus, will be victorious over all evil. As we come to the close of this celebratory year of the 100th anniversary of Our Lady’s apparitions in Fatima, let these words of our Heavenly Mother resound in our ears as the final word from God about what is happening in our times. Our Lady is the guiding star that God gives to us to navigate these difficult and treacherous times. She comes to us as a Mother to turn our gaze away from the crumbling walls around us and to fix them on her Son Jesus Christ who never fails and is always in control.
There are problems in the world, in the Church, in our families and in our own lives that simply cannot be resolved by human means, no matter how excellent. Today Bishop Zubik will consecrate the Diocese of Pittsburgh to Our Lady of Fatima. This weekend at all the Masses, we will consecrate our parish and our families to Our Lady. In this consecration to our Lady of Fatima, we are being led to a deeper belonging to Our Lady which always means a deeper belonging to Jesus Christ. This act of consecration is a surrendering of everything to the incomparable care and power of the Queen of Heaven. In effect we are saying, “Mother, we cannot do this ourselves. You take care of it. You come and have your triumph here.” What we know with certainty is that through this consecration, Our Lady will be able to bring about transformation and new life in ways that we cannot imagine. Pray the Rosary regularly. Offer every hardship and difficult for the conversion of sinners. “O my Jesus, it is for love of You, in reparation for the offenses committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and for the conversion of poor sinners.”
This afternoon a group of people from the Wellsboro Baptist Church out of Topeka Kansas made our Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh the scene of their vile and hate-filled protests. They marched down Fifth Avenue, at one point standing in front of Saint Paul Cathedral, carrying signs denigrating the Pope, Catholics, and homosexuals among others – the actual language on those signs does not bear repeating here. They are known for disrupting funerals of veterans with their hate speech. Of course their real hope is to goad the anti-protestors into responding in kind – with angry, hateful speech and actions – which only incites the media to cover these events with gusto. The great numbers of law enforcement personnel present spoke to the seriousness of this threat. But the best response is to ignore their bigotry and hatred as they exercise their freedom of speech. And of course pray that God’s mercy will touch their hearts. But we need to make one thing perfectly clear: calling themselves Christian is a complete misnomer, a contradiction and falsity. Their signs proclaim that “God hates”. St. John teaches us that God is love. Christian faith professes faith in a God who is total, unconditional, perfect love – God cannot hate – hatred is inimical to the divine nature. When asked by the scribe to name the most important commandment of the law, Jesus was clear to answer: To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; this is the greatest of all the commandments. And the second, Jesus said, is like it: to love your neighbor as yourself. The whole of Christian faith is rooted in love – a love that manifests itself in forgiveness, mercy, compassion, kindness, understanding, and tolerance. We are all sinners who fall short of the mark; yet God still loves each and every one of us. He constantly seeks the conversion of every sinner – each of us – as we learn with the help of grace to embrace more and more fully each day God’s ways. But each day we are sure of one thing – that the God who created us and desires our salvation continues to love us and hold us in the palm of his hand. There is no place in a Christian heart for hatred, for bigotry, for prejudice, for denigrating people who are different from us or who have made different life choices. We are called to love our neighbor, even to love our enemy – that is the Christian way. We who follow Jesus Christ are sent out into the world to share God’s love with joyful hearts, sharing the truth of God’s word not with judgement and condemnation but with conviction and true openness. There is no hate in God, there is no hate in the heart of Jesus Christ, and there can be no hate in the heart of any one claiming to be Christian. Yes there might have been a hate walk in Oakland this afternoon by a few people calling themselves Christians, but for most of us, it was nothing but a display of hate, ignorance and bigotry that has no foothold in the minds and hearts of the good people of our beautiful Pittsburgh community and the many people of different faiths that share deep bonds of respect, unity, understanding and friendship with each other. I must admit, however, that yesterday I prayed for rain and boy did God answer my prayer not just with rain, but with a deluge just about the time they arrived at the Cathedral!
Today the Church celebrates the feast of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos. Blessed Francis was a Redemptorist priest sent from Germany to care for the German speaking Catholic immigrants in the United States. Interestingly he was assigned to Saint Philomena Parish, in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh, where he worked for almost three years as the assistant to the pastor, Saint John Neumann! Blessed Francis lived and worked at St. Philomena Parish for nearly 9 years – truly a patron saint for Pittsburgh! He was then sent around the country as a missionary and preacher, confessor and spiritual director. A piece of trivia about Blessed Francis is his meeting with President Abraham Lincoln in which he persuaded the president to exempt priests and clergy from serving as soldiers in the Civil Way due to their holy vows; they would not be there to fight but to provide for the spiritual welfare of the soldiers as military chaplains. He contracted yellow fever in New Orleans and died at the age of 48. St. Pope John Paul II beatified Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos on April 9, 2000. The holiness of this saint is seen in his joyful and cheerful performance of his daily duties, bearing all crosses and sufferings with patience, and yearning to bring Christ and the Gospel to everyone around him. He teaches us that true holiness is possible to all people in every walk of life if we seek to serve God and neighbor from a full and devoted heart. I share with you the 10 practical guides to holiness taught by Blessed Francis: (1) Go to Mass with deepest devotion; (2) Spend a half hour to reflect upon your main failing and make a resolution to avoid it; (3) Do spiritual reading for at least 15 minutes each day; (4) pray the rosary daily; (5) Visit the Blessed Sacrament daily if possible and if not meditate on the Passion of Christ each evening; (6) conclude each day with an examination of conscience; (7) go to confession once a month; (8) choose a special patron every month and select one virtue of that saint to imitate during that month; (9) begin and end every activity with a Hail Mary; (10) be joyful in your duties each day. Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos pray for us!
Our prayers and sympathies go out to all the victims of the most recent shooting rampage in Las Vegas last evening. We lift up in prayer those who have died and their families, as well as the many who have been injured. We pray for the community of Las Vegas as they struggle to make sense out of this horrific tragedy. The face of evil and sin can raise its ugly head anytime, anywhere and when it does our security and safety, as well as a sense of justice, are shattered. For a brief moment the force of hatred destroys innocent human life and mars the bonds of unity that so typically join us together in our nation and our communities. We grieve with those shot and wounded so senselessly. But we also see the light of goodness and human compassion in those brave men and women who race to the scene and put their own lives at risk for others: the law enforcement personnel, medical personnel, and so many good Samaritans who simply jump in and do whatever they can to help their neighbors in need. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, President of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops reminded us today: “In the end, the only response is to do good – for no matter what the darkness, it will never overcome the light.” Let us each commit ourselves to prayer. Pray for those whose died and those whose lives are now shattered by violence. Pray for peace, healing and reconciliation for our nation and all our citizens. Pray that God will bring the dead safely home to life in his Kingdom. Pray that each of us might always strive to do good, to bring light, love, kindness and unity. May be filled with hope and strength as we reflect on the words from Saint John’s gospel as he reminds us of the power of Jesus Christ: “In him was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”