Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pope Francis Issues Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium

Pope Francis has issued his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, which follows up on, and expands upon, the work of the Synod on the New Evangelization which met in October 2012. Below are some excerpts from the opening passages.

Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel)
His Holiness Pope Francis
Solemnity of Christ the King, November 24, 2013
1. THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.


2. The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.

3. I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” (Mt 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards! . . .

6. There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. I realize of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved. I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress: “My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is… But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness… It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lam 3:17, 21-23, 26).

7. Sometimes we are tempted to find excuses and complain, acting as if we could only be happy if a thousand conditions were met. To some extent this is because our “technological society has succeeded in multiplying occasions of pleasure, yet has found it very difficult to engender joy”. I can say that the most beautiful and natural expressions of joy which I have seen in my life were in poor people who had little to hold on to. I also think of the real joy shown by others who, even amid pressing professional obligations, were able to preserve, in detachment and simplicity, a heart full of faith. In their own way, all these instances of joy flow from the infinite love of God, who has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ. I never tire of repeating those words of Benedict XVI which take us to the very heart of the Gospel: “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”.

8. Thanks solely to this encounter – or renewed encounter – with God’s love, which blossoms into an enriching friendship, we are liberated from our narrowness and self-absorption. We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being. Here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization. For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others? . . .

17. Here I have chosen to present some guidelines which can encourage and guide the whole Church in a new phase of evangelization, one marked by enthusiasm and vitality. In this context, and on the basis of the teaching of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, I have decided, among other themes, to discuss at length the following questions:

a) the reform of the Church in her missionary outreach;
b) the temptations faced by pastoral workers;
c) the Church, understood as the entire People of God which evangelizes;
d) the homily and its preparation;
e) the inclusion of the poor in society;
f) peace and dialogue within society;
g) the spiritual motivations for mission.

18. I have dealt extensively with these topics, with a detail which some may find excessive. But I have done so, not with the intention of providing an exhaustive treatise but simply as a way of showing their important practical implications for the Church’s mission today. All of them help give shape to a definite style of evangelization which I ask you to adopt in every activity which you undertake. In this way, we can take up, amid our daily efforts, the biblical exhortation: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say: Rejoice” (Phil 4:4).
Please read the complete apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium here.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Confirmation Mass This Evening

This evening at 7:30 p.m., the Blessed Sacrament community will come together and rejoice as the Sacrament of Confirmation is conferred upon our young people by his Excellency, Richard B. Higgins, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese for the Military Services.

In Confirmation, we join in the mission of the Church to share the Good News of the Lord with others. As with the faithful at Pentecost, in Confirmation, the Holy Spirit descends and comes to dwell within the recipient as a helper and thereby transform the recipient into a clearer image of Jesus Christ to others.

The world today is in special need of effective and joyous witnesses of Christ in word and in deed. The graces received in Confirmation help one to be an effective witness, including the grace of strength to resist peer pressure to engage in any number of wrongful things that the world tempts us to do. By having this strength to say "no" to these things, and "yes" to God instead, we provide a witness and example that encourages others to avoid the wrong and do the good, we can be Good News to them.

Please come and attend tonight's Mass if you can or, if you are unable, please offer your prayers for our young people as they begin this new chapter in their lives and are sent forth to spread the love of Jesus Christ to the world.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

“Remember me, Lord, you who are at the center, you who are in your kingdom”

Today is the closing of the Year of Faith, a time given to us to foster a renewal of faith, but not in the sense of a one-time renewal and they we go back to life as before. Instead, our faith should be ever new, ever fresh and vibrant, in a constant state of turning toward the Lord, who makes all things new, and growing closer to him. Each of us are a work in progress and will be until our pilgrim journey on earth ends. So while the Year of Faith technically closes today, the spirit of this time should continue on as a life of faith remembering that the Lord is at the center of all creation and, hence, should be at the center of our lives, just as we also ask that the Lord remember us, we who are poor sinners, and that He, the King, help us and accompany us as we journey toward His heavenly kingdom.

Homily of Pope Francis
Closing of the Year of Faith

November 24, 2013
Today’s solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, the crowning of the liturgical year, also marks the conclusion of the Year of Faith opened by Pope Benedict XVI, to whom our thoughts now turn with affection and gratitude for this gift which he has given us. By this providential initiative, he gave us an opportunity to rediscover the beauty of the journey of faith begun on the day of our Baptism, which made us children of God and brothers and sisters in the Church. A journey which has as its ultimate end our full encounter with God, and throughout which the Holy Spirit purifies us, lifts us up and sanctifies us, so that we may enter into the happiness for which our hearts long. . . .

The Scripture readings proclaimed to us have as their common theme the centrality of Christ. Christ is at the center, Christ is the center. Christ is the center of creation, Christ is the center of his people and Christ is the center of history. . .

[Thus,] the attitude demanded of us as true believers is that of recognizing and accepting in our lives the centrality of Jesus Christ, in our thoughts, in our words and in our works. And so our thoughts will be Christian thoughts, thoughts of Christ. Our works will be Christian works, works of Christ; and our words will be Christian words, words of Christ. But when this center is lost, when it is replaced by something else, only harm can result for everything around us and for ourselves.

Monday, November 18, 2013

When Death Comes

It is bad enough when we are sick or injured ourselves, but it is often more painful when our loved ones are sick or hurt, especially when they are dying, observes Cardinal Donald Wuerl in the second installment of his series on the end of life. However, in this, we are not alone.
In faith and prayer, we know that in his compassion, Jesus suffers with the one who is dying and so, in watching a loved one die, we find ourselves like Mary at the foot of the Cross. He is with them in a special way in the sacrament of anointing of the sick, which should be requested whenever death is near, but is also available for any serious illness. Here, the loving and merciful hand of Christ our Savior is extended to touch the whole person, body and soul.

While we are certainly grateful for doctors and nurses, eventually all medical remedies fail no matter how great their skills. When death comes, when someone near and dear to us is suddenly ripped away, leaving a gaping wound in our own life, it can shake us as profoundly as an earthquake. It also places us before death’s arrogant claim to have the last word.

The presence of faith helps. It does not totally eliminate our sadness, but it does provide the blessed assurance that while medicine cannot save those we love or us, in the end, the Lord of Life can. He can bring real healing. He can make a reality the words, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live, and whoever is alive and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).

Thursday, November 14, 2013

U.S. Bishops Issue Statement to Defend Religious Liberty and Resist the HHS Mandate

At their recently-concluded annual meeting, the bishops of the United States issued a statement, set out below, that they stand united in their resolve to resist the heavy burden imposed on fundamental liberty presented by the so-called HHS mandate. Prominent church observer Rocco Palmo reports here on the bishops' consideration and discussion of this urgent matter at their meeting.

Background. The Affordable Care Act, enacted in March 2010, requires all employer-provided health plans to provide certain minimum coverage, including “preventive care and screenings” for women, 42 U.S.C. § 300GG–13(a)(4). The law also gives agencies authority to interpret and implement that requirement by regulation. Purporting to act pursuant to this provision pertaining to the prevention of disease, in February 2012, various governmental agencies issued an administrative rule, commonly known as the HHS mandate, which requires employers, including many Catholic institutions, to provide free coverage in their group health plans for all FDA-approved contraceptive methods, which would necessarily include abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization procedures, or face crippling fines and penalties for noncompliance (77 Fed. Reg. 8725). The rule essentially treats healthy fertility and pregnancy as illnesses. These regulations were amended, with few substantive changes, in June 2013, with an effective date of January 1, 2014, for certain faith-based employers, including Catholic institutions (78 FR 39869). The purported "exemptions" and "accomodation" in the regulations, upon closer inspection, have shown themselves to be effectively meaningless for most Catholic employers, still requiring them to violate their faith and conscience or be penalized for refusing to do so.

As the Church has stated from the beginning, such a mandate is clearly contrary to Catholic teaching, human dignity, good conscience, and the common good. Moreover, in these regulations, among other things, the government claims the authority to establish what constitutes religious ministry and what organizations are religious enough to be able to freely practice their faith. For that reason, as part of a nationwide concerted effort, many Catholic dioceses and institutions filed suit against the HHS mandate. As these legal actions show, not only is this administrative regulation not authorized or otherwise justified pursuant to the underlying Affordable Care Act, it also grossly violates fundamental natural liberty, the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, and other federal statutes.

Meanwhile, the bishops have also pursued their teaching mission, seeking to be the voice of truth and conscience, including promoting and defending religious liberty, while also remaining firm in the Church continuing to serve our society as a minister of charity.

Special Message from the Bishops of the United States
The bishops of this country have just concluded their traditional fall meeting in Baltimore and have spent time on issues important to them and their people: help to those suffering from Typhoon Haiyan; an update on the situation in Haiti; matters of worship and teaching; service to the poor; and comprehensive immigration reform. Among those priorities is the protection of religious freedom, especially as threatened by the HHS mandate.

Pope Francis has reminded us that “In the context of society, there is only one thing which the Church quite clearly demands: the freedom to proclaim the Gospel in its entirety, even when it runs counter to the world, even when it goes against the tide.”

We stand together as pastors charged with proclaiming the Gospel in its entirety. That Gospel calls us to feed the poor, heal the sick, and educate the young, and in so doing witness to our faith in its fullness. Our great ministries of service and our clergy, religious sisters and brothers, and lay faithful, especially those involved in Church apostolates, strive to answer this call every day, and the Constitution and the law protect our freedom to do so.

Yet with its coercive HHS mandate, the government is refusing to uphold its obligation to respect the rights of religious believers. Beginning in March 2012, in United for Religious Freedom, we identified three basic problems with the HHS mandate: it establishes a false architecture of religious liberty that excludes our ministries and so reduces freedom of religion to freedom of worship; it compels our ministries to participate in providing employees with abortifacient drugs and devices, sterilization, and contraception, which violates our deeply-held beliefs; and it compels our faithful people in business to act against our teachings, failing to provide them any exemption at all.

Despite our repeated efforts to work and dialogue toward a solution, those problems remain. Not only does the mandate undermine our ministries’ ability to witness to our faith, which is their core mission, but the penalties it imposes also lay a great burden on those ministries, threatening their very ability to survive and to serve the many who rely on their care.

The current impasse is all the more frustrating because the Catholic Church has long been a leading provider of, and advocate for, accessible, life-affirming health care. We would have preferred to spend these recent past years working toward this shared goal instead of resisting this intrusion into our religious liberty. We have been forced to devote time and resources to a conflict we did not start nor seek.

As the government’s implementation of the mandate against us approaches, we bishops stand united in our resolve to resist this heavy burden and protect our religious freedom. Even as each bishop struggles to address the mandate, together we are striving to develop alternate avenues of response to this difficult situation. We seek to answer the Gospel call to serve our neighbors, meet our obligation to provide our people with just health insurance, protect our religious freedom, and not be coerced to violate our consciences. We remain grateful for the unity we share in this endeavor with Americans of all other faiths, and even with those of no faith at all. It is our hope that our ministries and lay faithful will be able to continue providing insurance in a manner consistent with the faith of our Church. We will continue our efforts in Congress and especially with the promising initiatives in the courts to protect the religious freedom that ensures our ability to fulfill the Gospel by serving the common good.

This resolve is particularly providential on this feast of the patroness of immigrants, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini. She was a brave woman who brought the full vigor of her deep religious faith to the service of the sick, the poor, children, the elderly, and the immigrant. We count on her intercession, as united we obey the command of Jesus to serve the least of our brothers and sisters.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Blessed Sacrament Lovingly Remembers Rev. Terry Cramer

In this moment of sorrow, the Lord is in our midst and consoles us with his word:
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

So often we turn to our priests, asking them to console us and pray for us, especially in times of distress, such as when a loved one has died. Last evening, the Blessed Sacrament community came together to pray for one of our former priests, Rev. Terry Cramer, and offer our support and condolences to his family to console them in this difficult time. This is how Father John Cregan began his homily before a crowded church at the Memorial Mass for our former father and eternal brother in Christ.

Father Cregan recounted how so many people from all stations of life remembered Father Cramer not only for his excellent teaching in his homilies, but especially for the care and compassion he brought to others. From weddings to baptisms to funerals and much more in between, he was a priest who really cared and brought the consolation of Christ to many people. For this we give thanks to God, for the life of Terry Cramer, for his priesthood, for the joy and comfort he brought to his spiritual family at Blessed Sacrament and elsewhere.

Raising of Lazarus by Duccio
Jesus is always about life and that gives us hope, Father Cregan emphasized, noting Saint Paul's assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). As the Mass readings said, this "hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us [and] God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:5-8).

This is a great blessing and grace for which we ask God in all humility for our brother Terry as well as ourselves. Even though too often we all stray and fail to live up to the promises of Christ, our Lord in His mercy tells us, "this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it [on] the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day" (John 6:39-40).

Terry Allen Cramer was given to God in Baptism and Holy Orders, anointing him with the Holy Spirit and sealing his soul with an indelible mark as belonging to the Lord. Having been consecrated and configured to Christ, permanently marked with the sign of faith and the seal of eternal life, with our prayers to Divine Mercy for the repose of his soul, we have hope that he may know the blessed vision of God and the resurrection of the body (CCC 1272-74, 1581-84).

This Memorial Mass also reminds us that we are all family. Priests may come and go, parishioners of Blessed Sacrament may come and go, but family is forever. Even though one may leave, he or she will always be our brother or sister, one family, a loving communion in God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Nothing can separate us from this love.
God of faithfulness, in your wisdom you have called your servant Terry out of this world; release him from the bonds of sin and welcome him into your presence, so that he may enjoy eternal life and peace and be raised up in glory with all your saints.

Eternal rest grant unto all your faithful departed, O Lord. Let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Monday, November 11, 2013

"Faith helps us to see a horizon beyond this world"

Today, we honor all of our veterans who have sought to protect our nation, our liberties, our families, our lives. We pray for them all, but especially for those who gave that last full measure of devotion, sacrificing their lives so that others might live and be free.

In November, we come to the end of the liturgical calendar on the Solemnity of Christ the King, which this year also concludes the Year of Faith, which has been a time of fruitful grace for the Church and the world. Beginning with All Saints Day and All Souls Day, the month is a time set aside by the Church for us to contemplate the last things, not only the end of the entire world, but the end of our own personal worlds, that is to say, the endings of our own individual lives and the lives of our loved ones.

Last week, our neighbor across the river, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, began a series on the end of life. In his first installment, he reminds us,
as we hear on Ash Wednesday, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” One day, our bodies will fail. Death comes for us all, at least biologically, and it could come at any moment, whether after a lengthy illness or a sudden event. The ending of life on this earth, however, while it may cause some understandable apprehension, need not be cause for despair.

The Lord “is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Luke 20:38). Life in this world is preliminary to what lies ahead.
Given that death might come at any time, Cardinal Wuerl counsels, it is prudent for us to prepare.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

"Lord, for your faithful people life is changed, not ended."

Life is a wonderful thing. A great gift - the greatest of gifts and blessings - from God. But as good as life in this world is, it is not the highest good - that is, our earthly life is not the be all and end all.

As we reflect on the deaths this year of those close to us and pray for the repose of their souls, including recently Rev. Terry Cramer, we remember that we were made by God for something even better. This is something we cannot lose sight of, especially as we contemplate the horror of the loss of an estimated 10,000 lives in the Philippines in the wake of the typhoon that struck there last week. Rather, as Bishop Paul Loverde reminds us in his recent column,
there is no denying that we are pilgrims in this world, with a final destination elsewhere. Saint Paul likens us to runners in the same race, warning us that we must “Run so as to win” (1 Cor 9:24). Our eyes must be focused on the finish line and what route we are taking to get there. Eternal life is not an abstract concept, but a concrete reality. When we pass from this world, we will find ourselves face-to-face with Jesus Christ, and the manner in which we “ran the race” will determine our final and eternal dwelling. . . .

Saturday, November 9, 2013

God of Divine Mercy, Remember Your Son Terry Cramer

It is with great sadness that we have learned of the death of one of Blessed Sacrament's former priests, Rev. Terry A. Cramer, on Thursday, November 7, 2013, at the young age of 46. We remember how warm and loving he was and those who heard his homilies always came away learning just a little bit more about the faith than they knew before.

On Wednesday, November 13, there will be a visitation from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Everly Funeral Home, 10565 Main Street in Fairfax (just west of Chain Bridge Road), with a funeral service at that same location the following day at 11 a.m.

UPDATED: The Blessed Sacrament community will gather for a Memorial Mass on Tuesday, November 12, at 7 p.m. Through the Holy Spirit, the community is joined together in faith as one Body in Christ to reaffirm in sign and symbol, word and gesture, that each believer through baptism shares in Christ’s death and resurrection and can look to the day when all the elect will be raised up and united in the kingdom of light and peace.

Please pray for our former father and eternal brother in Christ.
All-powerful and merciful God, we commend to you Terry, your son, whom you have called from this life to yourself. You turn the darkness of death into the dawn of new life. In your unending mercy and love, show compassion to your son, blot out any sins he may have committed through human weakness and embrace him in your arms. In this world he has died: let him live with you forever.

Lord Jesus, our Redeemer, you willingly gave yourself up to death so that all people might be saved and pass from death into a new life. Listen to our prayers. We pray for our brother Terry and commend him to your mercy. For his sake you came down from heaven. By dying you opened the gates of life for those who believe in you. Lord Jesus, holy and compassionate: forgive Terry his sins, do not let our brother be parted from you, but by your glorious power, give him light, joy, and peace in heaven where you live forever and ever. Amen.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Service of Remembrance Tonight

Raising of Lazurus - Carl Bloch
Through music, scripture and the reading of names, we come together this evening at 7:30 p.m. to remember and pray for our loves ones who have passed from this world into eternal life in Christ.

Our music is the Requiem Mass of Gabriel Fauré, performed by the Adult Choir and the Blessed Sacrament Festival Orchestra. The Bells of Blessed Sacrament will begin and end the service.

Whether you have suffered a loss or come as a companion to one who has, this evening will be inspirational. Please join us.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Matthew Kelly Coming to Speak on March 22, 2014

Acclaimed writer and speaker Matthew Kelly is coming to the Arlington Diocese for a special event -- "Living Every Day with Passion & Purpose." Co-hosted by Blessed Sacrament and other parishes, this morning-long celebration of faith will take place on March 22, 2014, from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Saint Mary's church in Alexandria.

"Are you aching for more? Do you want to experience your faith more deeply? Draw closer to God, deepen your understanding of his plan for your life, and gain renewed passion to live that plan out."
-- This program seeks to help you to become a bold and dynamic Catholic, "living with passion and purpose."

Said one pastor about Kelly's book Rediscover Catholicism, “Continually, parishioners tell me how much they are enjoying the book, learning from it, re-reading it, sharing it with others, and discovering a side of their Catholicism they had not seen before. People continue to talk about this book, both in and out of confession.”

So, save the date, tell your friends, and get tickets here for this exciting event.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Election Day 2013

Tuesday, November 5th, is Election Day in Virginia. All Catholics capable of doing so are encouraged to fulfill the moral obligation to vote, exercising a well-formed conscience. This year, the Virginia Catholic Conference provides the results of a candidate survey of all major races to assist you. As well, Bishop Loverde of Arlington and Bishop DiLorenzo of Richmond have issued a joint letter to help Catholics make informed decisions in light of Church teachings.

"Many issues are important [but] not all issues have equal moral weight. . . . When the issue is whether to protect or deny the fundamental right to life, it outweighs other matters," Bishops Loverde and DiLorenzo explain. "This consistent ethic of life provides the proper moral foundation for our engagement in political life. As Catholics, we must seek the best ways to respond to the many needs of our neighbors, at every stage of life and in every condition. Indeed, we must be attentive to all issues that affect human life and dignity and the common good."