Posts Tagged ‘St. Patrick’s Day’

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Friday, March 15th, 2013

After his appearance on the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis returned to the Domus Sancta Maria where we cardinals had all resided during the conclave (By the way, his limousine, with proper security escort, stood ready to chauffeur him back to the Domus, but, he got on the bus and rode back with all of us!).

There we had, as you might imagine, a rather festive supper. At its conclusion, a senior cardinal toasted the new Holy Father. Pope Francis stood to reply. His toast to the cardinals who had just elected him as Successor of St. Peter? “May God forgive you!”

This of course brought the house down. He then told us what he planned to do the following day, and ended by saying, “And sometime tomorrow I’ll have to stop by the Casa del Clero (a pensión for priests visiting Rome where he had been staying before the conclave) to pick up my baggage and pay my bill!

A simple observation, but it made me think: this man, seventy-six years old, will now have to move from his beloved Argentina to Rome.

Pope Francis is moving… and the Church herself is always on the move. That’s because the Church is missionary! In His parting words to His disciples, Jesus told them to “Go out to all the world!”

A man named Patrick once did that. You know the story: born probably in England (although the Italians claim he came from here in Italy!), he was kidnapped as a boy and sold into servitude in Ireland. There he came to know and love the people of that verdant, tiny island, as rough and contentious as they were, and longed to teach them the faith he had learned as a child. Even when he escaped and returned home, he could not get Ireland out of his mind, and, so, later went on the move as a bishop back to the damp turf that now claims him as patron. There, he brought the Name, message, and invitation of Jesus and His one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. St. Patrick was a missionary.

When, during the years 1845-1851, the blight and famine hit Ireland — – literally “like a plague,” resulting in the starvation of approximately two million or more people, what historians call “the greatest disaster in peace time human history” — – the people of Ireland were “on the move” in a scattering, a diaspora often compared to that of Jews from Israel after the Roman onslaught of 70 AD.

These Irish on the move, these emaciated sons and daughters of St. Patrick, came by the hundreds of thousands to the United States, with nothing of earthly value but the clothes on their back, and fond, yet tearful, memories of the people and the land they cherished, but with something of heavenly value, a “pearl of great price” in their Catholic faith. While the woman called the Statue of Liberty was not yet there in the harbor to welcome them to America, another woman was, one called Holy Mother Church. And we are proud and grateful heirs to those Irish on the move.

In a way, those Irish were missionaries, weren’t they? In humble, simple ways, they built the Church here in America, and passed the faith brought to them by Patrick on to their children.

I’m sure glad Patrick went to Ireland; I’m glad one Patrick Dolan left County Cavan, starving, in 1851; I’m glad he passed on his Catholic faith to his son, Patrick, who then passed it on to Timothy Patrick, then he to William Timothy, who passed it on to Robert Matthew, who passed it on to one Timothy Michael Dolan, who now is proud to call St. Patrick’s his cathedral, and who very much misses all of you as we’ll observe the feast day Sunday, of the one who went on the move and brought the faith to Ireland.

So, Pope Francis is in great company as he moves from Argentina to Rome. That’s just how it is in the Church.

Viva il Papa Francesco!

Viva St. Patrick!

Asking St. Joseph to Help Us Prepare for a New Pope

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

It seems so providential that we would meet here in Rome for this extraordinarily significant event during Lent.

These forty days are a sacred occasion of recalling the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus – the Paschal Mystery – uniting ourselves to the death of Jesus by dying to sin, through prayer, sacrifice, and acts of charity, so that we might rise with Him to life at Easter.

Sure enough, the Church is experiencing death, as we observe the passing of a beloved Pontiff, and await the rebirth that comes with the election of a new one.

And these days of transition allow us as the Church to die to sin, corruption, scandal, and evil, even in the members of the Church – including her leaders – so that the Church can then rise to renewed life.

It also seems providential that we undergo this passing of one Pope and the rising up of a new one during March, classically devoted to St. Joseph (whose feastday is March 19th).

St. Joseph, a man of silence – and we need quiet reflection as the College of Cardinals and members of the Church;

St. Joseph, a man who dealt with emergencies – – think of his virgin wife’s “untimely,” embarrassing pregnancy; the birth of Jesus in exile, in a stable; the flight to Egypt to escape a murdering tyrant, the three-day loss of his boy – – with calmness, trust in God, and responsibility.  What an example he is as we see so many “emergencies” in the Church and the world today!

St. Joseph, ever attentive to God’s will, placing Jesus and Mary at the heart of his life, reliable in his duties to care and protect his virgin wife and adopted son; a working-man who took pride in his profession as a carpenter.

No wonder we call him the Patron of the Church Universal.  Wouldn’t it be great to have a new Pope by his feastday?

I’m going to begin a novena to him on March 11, nine days of prayer in preparation for his feastday (two days after St. Patrick’s Day), asking him and his virgin-wife to look after the Church, and get us an inspired new Successor of St. Peter.  Will you join me?

St. Patrick’s Day

Monday, March 19th, 2012

Let me share with you a copy of Edwin Cardinal O’Brien’s homily from St. Patrick’s Day Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Here is an excerpt:

It was Archbishop John Hughes, Irish born, who to the consternation of many laid the cornerstone for this Cathedral on August 15, 1859. The City and the Nation were at that time in a deep financial depression: bank closures and unemployment were rampant. And the site he chose to build was well north of the then bustling heart of New York. His whole plan was called Hughes’ Folly, so unrealistic were the finances as well as in the timing and the choice of this very location.

Nevertheless, the dauntless Archbishop, with prophetic vision and typically Irish determination—what others might call stubbornness, insisted on the need, to erect quote “a Cathedral in the City of New York that may be worthy of our increasing numbers, intelligence and wealth as a religious community, and as a public architectural monument to the present and prospective greatness of this metropolis of the American continent.” This block on 5th Avenue between 50th and 51st St. – Hughes’ Folly?

With the interlude of the Civil War, it was not until 1879, twenty years later, that America’s first Cardinal, John Cardinal McCloskey, finally dedicated this, America’s Cathedral. And what a symbolic triumph it was for all Catholics of New York, largely immigrants, highly suspect and openly rejected by the New York elite of the day. For the Irish of New York it was especially meaningful. Transplanted from a small spot in the north Atlantic where they were forced to smuggle bread and wine and priests into hidden forests for hushed celebrations of the Eucharist on “Mass rocks”, they now had complete freedom to build their churches openly. They were now proud Americans and loyal Catholics. In complete obedience to Church teaching, they brought children into this world many of whom would become priests, nuns and brothers saturating our country’s urban centers and building the vast empire of Catholic educational and charitable institutions

You can read his whole homily here. An audio clip of the homily is available online, click here to listen.

Saint Patrick’s Day Pastoral Letter to the clergy, religious, and lay faithful of the Archdiocese of New York

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

+ Timothy M. Dolan

Archbishop of New York

The Altar and the Confessional:

A Pastoral Letter on the Sacrament of Penance

17 March 2011

Patronal Feast of Saint Patrick

My dear friends in Christ:

On this Feast of Saint Patrick, I wish the entire Archdiocese of New York an abundance of God’s blessings. May our great patron saint intercede for us, obtaining from the Almighty Father all the graces that we need as disciples of His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ!

Is there one particular grace which we can ask Saint Patrick to obtain for us? Might I suggest this year a return to the Sacrament of Penance? My fervent prayer for the Catholics of the Archdiocese of New York is that they will hear in the next weeks the beautiful, profound words of absolution pronounced in the confessional:

God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to Himself, and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the Church, may God grant you pardon and peace, and I absolve you of yours sins, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

How easily those words come to the lips of every priest; how ingrained they are in his mind; how deeply do they reside in his heart! The consoling, simple words of absolution are powerful beyond imagining!

To pronounce the sacramental absolution by which our sins are forgiven is one of primary reasons the Church and the priesthood exist. The Church is an instrument of mercy and reconciliation, for Christ Jesus, the Head of the Church, came to reconcile us to the Father. We call this sacrament “penance,” “confession,” or “reconciliation”. Call it what you will, the sacrament is essential for the life of the Catholic disciple. Every Catholic should be eager to hear those words; every priest should be eager to say them.

We have to be frank, though. Those words are not heard as often as they should be in the Church in New York. We can’t imagine Catholic life without the words of consecration – This is my body! This is my blood! Likewise Catholic life cannot be lived properly without the Sacrament of Penance. We need the forgiveness of our sins. We need the grace of this sacrament to grow in virtue.

Last year was my first Saint Patrick’s Day as Archbishop of New York, and I took advantage of our patronal feast to address a letter to the Archdiocese on the importance of Sunday Mass, Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy. I am grateful for the favourable reaction to my letter, with many priests and parishioners kindly telling me that it helped them think again about the gift of the Lord’s Day. That Sunday rest and Mass rightly orient all of our time toward our final goal as Christian pilgrims, the definitive Sabbath rest with the Lord Jesus in the company of all the saints in heaven.

This year I wish to address another fundamental part of our Catholic life which has been neglected by too many – both priests and parishioners – for too long. Given the coincidence of Saint Patrick’s Day with the season of Lent, I hope that my encouragement might bear fruit this Lent. Please God, this letter might encourage Catholics to keep the tradition of making a good confession before Easter.

Among priests one hears a joke in which a pastor tells his parishioners that he is terribly afraid of dying in the confessional. “Why?” they ask him. “Because no one would find me for days!” he replies.  Another priest told me that, after six months in his new parish, he announced to the people that he was asking the bishop for a transfer.  “You don’t need me.  I’ve sat in the confessional for half-a-year, and nobody has come.  You must all be saints.  I want to serve sinners.”  We can laugh, but I am afraid there is too much truth here. So in this Lent, on this Saint Patrick’s Day, I exhort the entire Archdiocese of New York: Experience the joy of forgiveness! Experience liberation from sin! Keep those confessionals busy! Keep your priests busy about the great work of dispensing the Lord’s mercy! Keep the Sacrament of Penance at the heart of Catholic life!

The Altar and the Confessional

Catholics the world over were both outraged and heartbroken by the massacre at the Syriac Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad last October. Terrorists, claiming to be part of a group called the “Islamic State of Iraq”, stormed the church during a Sunday evening Mass, and began to kill those present. Some 58 were murdered, and more than 70 injured. It reminded us that there are those so filled with hatred for Christ and His Church that they will kill Christians.

When the terrorists entered the church, Father Saad Abdal Tha’ir was offering Mass. Another priest, Father Waseem Tabeeh, came out of the confessional, and attempted to persuade the terrorists to let the people go, offering his life and that of Father Tha’ir in exchange. How courageous were these two young priests, Father Tha’ir only 32, and Father Tabeeh, 27! The killers rejected the plea for mercy, and both priests were then martyred. The last words of Father Tha’ir, who died before his own mother’s eyes, were, “Jesus, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”[1]

How can we not see here an image of the Lord’s own passion, His own words from the cross? The new martyrs of Baghdad have something to teach us about the Lord’s passion and the work of the Church. Is it not deeply moving to note that these two young priests were at the altar and the confessional at the moment of their supreme witness? The altar and the confessional are the two most important places in a priest’s life. Those two young priests died doing what every priest should live for – to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at the altar, and to forgive sins in the name of Jesus in the confessional.

According to one account of the massacre in Baghdad, a voice cried out in the midst of the horror, “We die? Okay, we die. But the Cross lives!” That speaker was immediately killed.[2]

Yes, between the altar and the confessional, amidst the blood of the martyrs, the Cross lives!

Holy Thursday, Easter, and the Priesthood

During Lent, of course, we prepare our hearts for Easter.  Let’s fast-forward to the Gospel account of that first Easter evening in Jerusalem:

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”(John 20:21-23)

Here we have the institution of the Sacrament of Penance, the clear biblical witness that the Lord Jesus gives to His priests the authority to forgive sins. In Saint John’s Gospel, it is also at this moment that we see most clearly the institution of the priesthood. The gifted English convert, biblical scholar and preacher, Monsignor Ronald Knox, emphasized this point and links it back to the creative work of Genesis:

“How did our Lord institute the priesthood? When he had said this he breathed on them …. With one breath, God created the whole human family; with one breath, our Lord instituted the whole Christian priesthood. As man is a beast among beasts, so the priest is a man among men; he shares their passions, their weaknesses, their disabilities. And yet, when God breathes into the face of a priest, a new thing, in a sense, comes into being, just as when God breathed into the face of that clay image he had fashioned. It was a kind of second creation, when our Lord spoke those words in the Cenacle. It brought into the world a new set of powers, infinitely exceeding all that man had ever experienced, all that man could ever expect. It was a fresh dawn of life – supernatural life.”[3]

Monsignor Knox is bold to liken the events of Easter Sunday evening to a new creation, an outpouring of the Spirit equivalent to the very act of creation itself. Bold and true, for this is the grandeur of the priesthood in regard to the forgiveness of sins. Just as only God can create the universe out of nothing, only God can forgive sins. Only He has the power. Only He has the authority. And He gives it to His Church through the institution of the priesthood!

My brother priests, we should never lose our amazement and our gratitude at this gift. The Spirit called down upon us at our ordination is the same Spirit who hovered over the waters at the dawn of creation. We need that same Holy Spirit, for the work of forgiving sins is a work as astonishing as the creation of the world – a work we can only do because the Lord Jesus explicitly entrusted it to us. Just as we rightly look to the Last Supper and the Eucharist as the origin of our priesthood, we too should look to Easter Sunday and the Sacrament of Penance as constitutive of our identity. Just as it would be impossible to imagine our priesthood without the Eucharist, it is impossible to imagine our priesthood without the ministry of reconciliation in the confessional. Our priesthood exists for the Eucharist. Our priesthood exists for the forgiveness of sins.

When I was in Rome as a seminary rector, my barber use to tease me that neither he nor I would ever go out of business. Why? “There will always be hair,” he replied. “And there will always be sin.” Even he knew that the priesthood existed for the forgiveness of sins!

My fellow Catholics, reading the four Gospel accounts together, we can see that the Sacrament of Penance is not some kind of later invention, some afterthought, something leftover, something ancillary. Rather it belongs to the very heart of Christ’s saving and redeeming work. On the day that His passion begins, the Lord Jesus gave us the Eucharist and the priesthood. On the day of the resurrection, the Lord Jesus gave us the Sacrament of Penance and, as it were, completed the institution of the priesthood. All three sacraments are born from the heart of the Church in the Cenacle; all three are inserted into the heart of the redemptive and salvific work of Christ Jesus; all are three lie at the heart of the Catholic life in every age.

Indeed, the Cross lives between the altar and the confessional!

Realizing the Seriousness of Sin

If the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance are at the very heart of the Christian life, why is the latter neglected? It is a lamentable characteristic of the Church’s life in our time. Almost thirty years ago, soon to be Blessed Pope John Paul II convoked a Synod of Bishops addressed to the very topic of Reconciliation and Penance in the Mission of the Church. The penetrating analysis of the Holy Father’s subsequent apostolic exhortation retains its force today. He wrote in 1984 that, in an age when God is pushed to the margins, the awareness of our need for forgiveness will diminish, for “the loss of the sense of sin is thus a form or consequence of the denial of God: not only in the form of atheism but also in the form of secularism.”[4]

We do not only observe a diminishing sense of sin in the secular culture around us. We find it in the Church herself. Perhaps it is an over-reaction to an earlier period, as the late Holy Father suggests:

“Some are inclined to replace exaggerated attitudes of the past with other exaggerations: From seeing sin everywhere they pass to not recognizing it anywhere; from too much emphasis on the fear of eternal punishment they pass to preaching a love of God that excludes any punishment deserved by sin; from severity in trying to correct erroneous consciences they pass to a kind of respect for conscience which excludes the duty of telling the truth.”[5]

Fair enough. Not everything was perfect decades ago when most Catholics routinely went to confession – perhaps too routinely. But whatever problems existed in the 1950s are now a half-century in the past, and subsequent generations have grown up without any knowledge of whatever excesses may have existed. They have indeed grown up without what belongs to them as part of the patrimony as Catholics – the liberating, joyful experience of God’s mercy in the sacrament of penance.

We receive the gift of mercy to the extent that we realize our need for it. We desire forgiveness only if we acknowledge the seriousness of sin. The recently-beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman expressed the magnitude of sin with his characteristic literary force:

“The Catholic Church holds it better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremest agony, as far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse.”[6]

Do we think today that Blessed John Henry Newman is right? How many of us would argue that opposite – that a little sin here and there is no big deal? How many, both inside and outside of the Church, argue that a little sin here and there is worth this technological advance, or that public policy goal, or is an acceptable means to some desired end?  As someone jokingly observed to me, “It’s the Lamb of God, not our culture, that’s supposed to take away the sins of the world!”

We just heard this past Sunday, the First Sunday of Lent, the account of the temptations of the Lord Jesus. Satan offers to Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if He would just bow down in worship. A little “devil worship” and Jesus would have the whole world! Wouldn’t that be more efficient than God’s own plan – the passion, death, resurrection, ascension, Pentecost, and two thousand years of evangelization? But no sin is worth even all the kingdoms of the world.

Blessed Cardinal Newman is only one in a tradition of saints who have spoken with great ferocity about the horror we should have for sin – including our own beloved Saint Patrick, who emphasized the essential role of penance in his conversion of Ireland.

We can speak so boldly about the horror of sin because the good news is that the Lord Jesus did not just die for sin in general, but for my sins, and yours. So our horror at sin should be accompanied by a serene confidence that forgiveness is ours should we ask for it with true contrition. Together with Saint Paul we can give thanks that where sin increases, grace abounds all the more (cf. Romans 5:20)!  We’re not “hung-up” on guilt and sin; no, we’re obsessed  with God’s mercy.

The World Speaks to Us of Our Sins

“In the midst of scandals, we have experienced what it means to be very stunned by how wretched the Church is, by how much her members fail to follow Christ. That is the one side, which we are forced to experience for our humiliation, for our real humility. The other side is that, in spite of everything, he does not release his grip on the Church. In spite of the weakness of the people in whom he shows himself, he keeps the Church in his grasp, he raises up saints in her, and makes himself present through them. I believe that these two feelings belong together: the deep shock over the wretchedness, the sinfulness of the Church – and the deep shock over the fact that he doesn’t drop this instrument, but that he works through it; that he never ceases to show himself through and in the Church.”[7]

Perhaps the trauma of the sexual abuse scandals has taught us again, in a most painful way, of the reality of sin. Pope Benedict XVI makes that point above in his recent interview book, Light of the World. Yet if we only see the wretchedness in the Church, the wretchedness in the world, the wretchedness in my own life, then we are condemned to discouragement, even to despair. We need to be shocked by our sins, as the Holy Father says, and also be shocked that Jesus keeps us in His hand. The Sacrament of Penance accomplishes this in a supreme way. We prepare for confession by examining our consciences – looking hard, as it were, at the wretchedness in our heart. Then we receive absolution of those sins, and through the ministry of the Church are invited once again to be shocked at the mercy of God!

At the height of the sexual abuse controversies last year, the Holy Father reminded us that repentance itself is a grace. It is not a burden to repent of our sins, but a blessing:

“Repentance is grace; it is a grace that we recognize our sin; it is a grace that we realize the need for renewal, for change, for the transformation of our being. Repentance, the capacity to be penitent, is a gift of grace. And I must say that we Christians, even in recent times, have often avoided the word penitence – it seemed to us too difficult. Now, under the attacks of the world that speak of our sins, we see that the capacity to repent is a grace. And we see that it is necessary to do penance, that is, to recognize what is wrong in our lives, open ourselves to forgiveness, prepare ourselves for pardon by allowing ourselves to be transformed.”[8]

Is that not exactly the case? That we have shied away from words like penance, repentance, contrition – even the basic reality of sin? We have failed to speak about them, and the now, as we have experienced so painfully, to our shame and embarrassment, we face the “attacks of the world that speak of our sins”. The attacks are real, and so too are our sins! The Christian should not wait for others to speak of his sin; we should confess it simply, repent sincerely, and be forgiven quickly!

A Confessional Culture

Funny enough, while ridiculing the Church for being “hung up” on sin and guilt, the world delights in speaking of sin, does it not? Not just the sins of priests and bishops, but of anyone who is prominent. Our culture has an almost perverse delight in detailing the sins and scandals of those in the public eye. And ordinary people are eager to get in on the action! We produce an entire genre of “reality shows” which put on public display much sinful behaviour that people should be embarrassed about, not celebrated for.   Seems as if everybody’s “going to confession” except in the sacrament!  There are a parade of talk shows in which the troubled and afflicted share their intimate secrets with a vast television audience. People use social networks to make available to all on the internet what should be treated with utmost discretion.

We have a “confessional culture.” It seems at every moment someone, somewhere is shouting for our attention, eager to confess from the rooftops what Catholics have the opportunity to whisper in the confessional. The “confessional culture” around us shouts itself hoarse for it can confess, but there is no absolution. Sin confessed but unredeemed either leads to despair or is trivialized. We see the despair in the vast anguish that fuels an enormous therapeutic industry. We see the trivialization in the celebrity scandals that become not occasions for averted eyes, but fodder for jokes.

Our culture does not need to be taught how to confess; it needs to discover where forgiveness can be found. Our culture does not need to further expose the stain of its sinfulness; it needs to discover the only One who can wash it away. We Catholics have the blessing of teaching our “confessional culture” about true mercy, but we cannot give what we do not have! I challenge the Catholics of the Archdiocese to make a good confession this Lent and then to tell one other person – perhaps a friend or relative or colleague who has been away from the sacraments for a long time – about the liberating joy of God’s mercy!

Young people have a special gift to share with us, for they often ask their priests to hear their confessions. Gatherings of Catholic youth often include confessions, for they have discovered the beauty of this sacrament. So do our wonderful newly arrived Catholics from Latin America, Asia, and Africa.  Older generations, marked perhaps by bad experiences of routine or severe confessors, should listen to this witness of a new generation, for whom a sincere confession is a joy to be celebrated, not a duty to be grudgingly endured.

A Saint Patrick’s Day Plea to Priests

My dear brother priests, are there any of us who have not, at least at one point, marvelled at the heroic service of saints such as the Curé of Ars or Padre Pio? Are there any among us, who after hearing confessions even for just an hour, feel somewhat worn out and wonder how they could have done it for ten, twelve hours a day for years on end? In some of us our initial ardor for the Sacrament of Penance has cooled, and we have begun to doubt the saintly witness we once admired. I urge you to rekindle that early desire to heroic service in the confessional! The heroism of Saint John Vianney is relevant in the 21st century! The zeal of Padre Pio is needed today in New York! Be generous in scheduling time for confessions, and don’t be shy about letting people know that you too frequently receive the Sacrament of Penance, for we all are poor sinners.

The Curé of Ars faced a situation not altogether different from what we face. Listen to how our Holy Father describes his simple and powerful pastoral solution:

This deep personal identification with the Sacrifice of the Cross led [John Mary Vianney] – by a sole inward movement – from the altar to the confessional. Priests ought never to be resigned to empty confessionals or the apparent indifference of the faithful to this sacrament. In France, at the time of the Curé of Ars, confession was no more easy or frequent than in our own day, since the upheaval caused by the revolution had long inhibited the practice of religion. Yet he sought in every way, by his preaching and his powers of persuasion, to help his parishioners to rediscover the meaning and beauty of the sacrament of Penance, presenting it as an inherent demand of the Eucharistic presence. He thus created a “virtuous” circle. By spending long hours in church before the tabernacle, he inspired the faithful to imitate him by coming to visit Jesus with the knowledge that their parish priest would be there, ready to listen and offer forgiveness. Later, the growing numbers of penitents from all over France would keep him in the confessional for up to sixteen hours a day. It was said that Ars had become “a great hospital of souls.”… From Saint John Mary Vianney we can learn to put our unfailing trust in the sacrament of Penance, to set it once more at the center of our pastoral concerns.[9]

The center! The Cross, the altar and the confessional – all at the center of our identity as priests and our pastoral work!

A Saint Patrick’s Day Plea to All Catholics

Perhaps you are now thinking that this letter is too long! If so, take it as a sign of my eagerness to use all the persuasive power God has granted me in the service of a renewal of the Sacrament of Penance. If my words are not enough, listen to two of our most recent saintly shepherds.

“No individual Christian can grow in perfection, nor can Christianity gain in vigor, except it be on the basis of penance,” wrote Blessed Pope John XXIII, on the eve of the Second Vatican Council.[10] He certainly had no intention that the Sacrament of Penance would diminish after the Council; to the contrary, he desired its flourishing.

In a few weeks, Pope John Paul the Great will be declared blessed in Rome – on Divine Mercy Sunday. He died on that liturgical feast in 2005, as if to point the Church with his last breaths toward the mercy of God, experienced supremely in the Sacrament of Penance.

“It would be an illusion to want to strive for holiness in accordance with the vocation that God has given to each one of us without frequently and fervently receiving this sacrament of conversion and sanctification,” the late Holy Father taught.[11] Frequent and fervent!

Finally, I was struck by a plea from the newly-installed Archbishop of Los Angeles, José H. Gomez, who addressed the Sacrament of Penance in his first few weeks in his new archdiocese. Uniting myself to him then, as if to encourage Catholics from one end of our beloved country to another, I make his words my own to the faithful of the Archdiocese of New York:

I encourage you to make a good confession before Easter. Even if it has been a long time. Come home to our Father! Be reconciled to God through the ministry of his Church! Don’t wait to change your life! You can hope in our Father’s mercy. You can trust in his pledge of grace to help you lead a better life. In the early Church, they called confession the “second conversion in tears.” St. Peter wept in sorrow after denying Jesus, and in his mercy Christ spoke to him the tender words of his pardon and peace. In the sacrament, we too can hear these words![12]

Thanks for paying attention!  A blessed Lent!

A blessed Feast of Saint Patrick to all!

+Timothy Michael Dolan

Archbishop of New York


[1] “A Catholic Survivor of Iraqi Church Massacre Speaks”, Giulia Mazza, Asia News (www.asianews.it), 2 December 2010.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ronald Knox. The Priestly Life: A Retreat. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1958, pp. 18-19.

[4] Venerable John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 2 December 1984, #18.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, “The Position of My Mind since 1845” in  Apologia Pro Vita Sua, 1864.

[7] Pope Benedict XVI, Light of the World, 2010, p. 175.

[8] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily for Mass with Members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, Pauline Chapel, Apostolic Palace, 15 April 2010.

[9] Pope Benedict XVI, Letter of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI Proclaiming a Year for Priests on the 150th Anniversary of the “Dies Natalis” of the Curé of Ars, 16 June 2009.

[10] Blessed John XXIII, Encyclical Letter Paenitentiam Agere, 1 July 1962, #1.

[11] Venerable John Paul II. Address to Participants in the Course on the Internal Forum organized by the Tribunal of the Apostolic Penitentiary, 27 March 2004.

[12] Most Reverend José H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles, “Lent and the pilgrimage of the prodigal son” in The Tidings, 11 March 2011.

Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Saint Patrick’s Day Letter to the Archdiocese of New York

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan

17 March 2010

My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ in the Archdiocese of New York!

This is the day which the Lord has made,

let us be glad and rejoice in it! (Psalm 118:24)

I have been eagerly looking forward to my first St. Patrick’s Day as the Archbishop of New York – there are few places that celebrate it as we do here. We observe it with the Mass, parades, festivals and maybe even the pouring of a celebratory pint! All that is good, for Saint Patrick is the patron saint of the entire archdiocese, from the cathedral in Manhattan to the upstate counties. We take pride in him and celebrate him. We ask for Saint Patrick’s intercession, that with the benefit of his prayers we may be the Catholics we ought to be.

St. Patrick’s Day is always a grand day in New York. While we can enjoy the green beer and shamrocks, it should not be a merely superficial feast for us. It should be a day of particular prayer, commending to St. Patrick the archdiocese, our parishes, our hospitals and schools, and all those who are close to us – our families, our friends, and especially anyone who is suffering. We should pray for our own growth in virtue and holiness.

It is also a good occasion to look at how we are living the Catholic faith that has been handed on to us by so many generations – for some, the faith can be traced all the way back to St. Patrick himself! Might I suggest that we look together at one important aspect of living our Catholic faith, namely the Lord’s Day?

Since my arrival in New York I have been asked about many subjects of public controversy. I have tried to answer as best I could, considering all questions as opportunities to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet the daily demands of urgent items can mean that truly important matters are not emphasized.  Can anyone doubt that Sunday, our observance of the Lord’s Day, is essential for the Catholic Church, for the vibrancy of our Catholic faith, for the clarity of our Catholic identity?

We Need Sunday Mass!

In a Catholic New York column, I mentioned that I received a Christmas card from an old friend a few months back, with the usual annual update of family news. The year previous, in 2008, his card had brought good news: he had landed a very prestigious and high-paying job as a geologist — the profession he cherished — at a mining exploration company in Montana. I was so happy for him, a friend since high school. He had explained in his card that the job was three weeks at a time, in a very isolated area of the mountains, then a week back home in Illinois with his wife and three children. He regretted being away, but he and his wife had agreed this career opportunity was well worth it.

Then came this year’s Christmas card with the news he had quit that job!  Was it the money? Hardly, the card explained, since the salary was exceptional. Lack of challenge? Just the opposite, the news went on, as he really enjoyed the work.  Why, then, had he quit?

Listen to this:  “I missed my wife and kids, and I missed Sunday Mass.  Up in the mountains, at the site, we were over a hundred miles from the nearest Catholic church, so I could only go to Mass one Sunday a month, when I was home.  The job — as much as I loved it — was ruining my marriage, my family, and my faith.  It had to go!”

Talk about an inspirational Christmas card!

The power, the meaning, the beauty, the necessity of Sunday Mass … Just ask my friend.

Anybody fifty or older can remember when faithful attendance at Sunday Mass was the norm for all Catholics.  To miss Sunday Eucharist, unless you were sick, was unheard of.  To be a “practicing Catholic” meant you were at Mass every Sunday.  Over 75% of Catholics went to Mass every Sunday.

That should still be the case. Sadly, it is not. Now, the studies tell us, only one-third of us go weekly, perhaps even less in some areas of the archdiocese.

If you want your faith to wither up and die, quit going to Sunday Mass.  As the body will die without food, the soul will expire without nourishment.  That sustenance comes at the Sunday Eucharist.

How’s this for a resolution for St. Patrick’s Day? Make Mass the centre of your Sunday!

The Sabbath as a Gift to the Jews and from the Jews

One of the joys of being Archbishop of New York is the close contact I have with our “elder brothers in the faith” – to use the wonderful phrase of the Pope John Paul II about the Jewish people. Catholics and Jews work, live, and pray together in this city as they are able to do in very few other places around the world. The welcome the Jewish people have given me here in New York has been a true blessing.

We can learn from each other, and one lesson that the elder brothers can teach the younger brothers is the importance of the Sabbath. Observance of the Sabbath is now, and has been since time immemorial, a constitutive part of being a Jew. Even if many Jews today, like Catholics, no longer observe the Sabbath, it remains a distinctive mark of identity.

The Sabbath is a gift from the Jews to the religious patrimony of the human race. What lies at the heart of this gift? It is our one protest against the tyranny of time. Or perhaps it would be better to say that it is our one refuge from the ravages of time. Or perhaps better still: It is our sanctuary from the daily, petty concerns which can easily fill up every available moment.

New York was home to one of the great rabbi scholars of the twentieth century, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel – an important contributing voice to the progress the Second Vatican Council made in our relations with the Jewish people. One of his most famous books was called simply, The Sabbath. His argument there, still fresh after almost 60 years, is that Judaism is a religion of time more than it is a religion of space. Humans can conquer space, but we are powerless before time. Words from the epilogue of that justly famous book are worth quoting at length:

“Technical civilization is man’s triumph over space. Yet time remains impervious. We can overcome distance but can neither recapture the past nor dig out the future. Man transcends space, and time transcends man. Time is man’s greatest challenge. We all take part in a procession through its realm which never comes to an end but are unable to gain a foothold in it. Its reality is apart and way from us. Space is exposed to our will; we may shape and change the things in space as we please. Time, however, is beyond our reach, beyond our power. It is both near and far, intrinsic to all experience and transcending all experience. It belongs exclusively to God.”

“Time is the process of creation, and things of space are results of creation. When looking at space we see the products of creation; when intuiting time we hear the process of creation. … Things created conceal the Creator. It is the dimension of time wherein man meets God…. On the Sabbath it is given us to share in the holiness that is in the heart of time. Even when the soul is seared, even when no prayer can come out of our tightened throats, the clean, silent rest of the Sabbath leads us to a realm of endless peace, or to the beginning of an awareness of what eternity means. There are few ideas in world of thought which contain so much spiritual power as the idea of the Sabbath.”

The power of the Sabbath! Rabbi Heschel makes the point in great depth, but the experience he speaks of is an ordinary one. It’s the daily grind – we work in the world of space, moving here and there, doing this and that. And then we do it again. And again. The Sabbath breaks though this repetition and inserts something altogether new – the taste of rest, a taste of peace, a taste of eternity. Of this Sacred Scripture speaks: there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God; for whoever enters God’s rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his. (Hebrews 4:9-10).

In recapturing our sense of Sunday, of the Christian Sabbath, it is important to grasp this key point, that the Sabbath rest is our liberation from the profane and our encounter with the sacred. The Sabbath is not rest so that we can work harder. Listen again to Rabbi Heschel:

“The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life. Man is not a beast of burden, and the Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of his work.. .. The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of the Sabbath. It is not an interlude, but the climax of living.”

Living for Sunday

Are we Catholics then living for Sunday? I am afraid if you were to ask someone today whether he lives for Sunday, he might think that you are asking whether he is a football fan!

Don’t get me wrong. I grew up in a family where no sooner were we home from Mass on Sunday than my father was putting the beer in the cooler and looking forward to the baseball game and a barbecue. But that was after we got home from Sunday Mass!

Do we Catholics think that Sunday is the “climax of living”? Do we look forward to Sunday as a day dedicated to the Lord which gives meaning and purpose to our whole week? Or have we become accustomed to a weekend mentality, wherein we sleep late, catch up on chores around the house, run errands, drive the kids to sports, do a little recreation and then fit Sunday Mass in between everything else, if at all?

Pope John Paul II, in an apostolic letter entitled Dies Domini (The Lord’s Day) wrote about the difference between the weekend mentality and a proper Christian Sunday observance.

“The custom of the ‘weekend’ has become more widespread, a weekly period of respite, spent perhaps far from home and often involving participation in cultural, political or sporting activities which are usually held on free days. This social and cultural phenomenon is by no means without its positive aspects if, while respecting true values, it can contribute to people’s development and to the advancement of the life of society as a whole. All of this responds not only to the need for rest, but also to the need for celebration which is inherent in our humanity. Unfortunately, when Sunday loses its fundamental meaning and becomes merely part of a ‘weekend’, it can happen that people stay locked within a horizon so limited that they can no longer see the heavens. Hence, though ready to celebrate, they are really incapable of doing so. The disciples of Christ, however, are asked to avoid any confusion between the celebration of Sunday, which should truly be a way of keeping the Lord’s Day holy, and the ‘weekend’, understood as a time of simple rest and relaxation.” (Dies Domini, #4)

As the pace of life quickens, we are in danger of losing weekend rest, let alone true Sabbath rest. So often our weekends have become periods of intense activity – some people might even find it a relief to get back to the regular routine on Monday morning after a frenetic weekend. In such an environment, we need Sunday all the more, to enter into the Sabbath rest of God, to worship Him, and to realize that our salvation comes not from the many good things we do, but from what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

The Church and Sunday

In that letter Dies Domini, Pope John Paul II speaks of Sunday as not only the Lord’s Day, but as the “Day of the Church”.  Just as the Sabbath – the seventh day of God’s rest – united the Jewish people and marked the covenant, Sunday expresses what most unites us as disciples of Jesus Christ. We proclaim the Risen Christ, and so our time is marked by Sunday, the first day of the week, the first day of a new creation, the day of a new covenant.

The link between the covenant with Moses and the Sabbath is explicit. After all, the Third Commandment requires us to keep holy the Sabbath. No one would argue that commandments against killing, adultery or lying are optional for Christians. The Sabbath commandment comes before them. It is at the heart of the covenant God made with Moses, shaping the Chosen People. It should be no less for us Christians, with whom God has made a new covenant in Jesus Christ. Before he was elected pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger made this point with his customary insight:

“The account of creation and the Sinai regulations about the Sabbath come from the same source. To understand the account of creation properly, one has to read the Sabbath ordinances of the Torah. Then everything becomes clear. The Sabbath is the sign of the covenant between God and man; it sums up the inward essence of the covenant. If this is so, we can now define the intention of the account of creation as follows: creation exists to be a place for the covenant God wants to make with man. The goal of creation is the covenant, the love story of God and man. The freedom and equality of men, which the Sabbath is meant to bring about, is not a merely anthropological or sociological vision; it can only be understood theo-logically. Only when man is in covenant with God does he become free.” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 26.)

The goal of creation is the covenant! The reason anything exists at all is because God wanted to make a covenant with His people. And if the crown of creation is God’s covenant, how does this act in history remain a present reality? The Sabbath keeps it alive, inserting continually in history the saving work of the Lord, revealing that history in its true depth is the story of God loving, saving, redeeming and sanctifying His people!

Sunday Mass

The idea of the Sabbath making present the covenant reminds us Catholics immediately of the Mass. In the Mass, the one sacrifice of Calvary, the new covenant ratified in the Blood of the Lord Jesus, is made present anew. It is not another sacrifice, but the one sacrifice of the Cross. Is it not repeated, as though Christ were being crucified again, but rather made present to us across time and space.

The heart of Sunday must be the Mass! How could it be anything else? The Mass is nothing else but the supreme work of the Lord Jesus, and nothing else will do to mark the Lord’s day, the day of salvation, the day of the Church!

There are many things that I have to do as Archbishop of New York, but there is nothing more central, no blessing greater, no work more important than offering the Mass on Sunday, whether it be in the morning at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, or later in the day in our parish churches. No matter how much we accomplish during the week by our efforts, nothing can compare to what God does at Mass – drawing together His people into the new covenant, fashioning them together into the communion of the Church, sanctifying them by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and nourishing them by the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus offered on the Cross for the redemption of the world! How can this not be the heart of our week? How can we not live for Sunday and the Sunday Mass?

On this first St. Patrick’s Day as Archbishop of New York, let me make this appeal to all the Catholics of the archdiocese: Make Sunday Mass once again the heart of your week! Put the Sunday Eucharist at the heart of your parishes and your families! Live once again for Sunday!

A Word to my Brother Priests

I consider it a special gift of providence that my first year here in New York has coincided with the Year for Priests. I love being a priest, I love inviting young men to become priests, I loved my years working in the formation of priests. I love the priesthood, and I love my brother priests! Without them, I could do nothing. Without them, the Church could do nothing, for we would then be without the Eucharist, without Jesus truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.

In this Year for Priests, we have heard marvellous testimonies from Catholics about how much they love their priests, and how much they appreciate the hard work they do for the sake the Gospel. Too often, the priest’s work is thankless task, but in this year our priests have heard their people thunder thank you! I add my voice to that chorus of gratitude!

If we are to recapture our sense of the Lord’s Day, our priests will lead us. We often hear people tease their priests that they only work one day a week – Sunday! That’s in good fun, for parishioners know that a priest’s work in never done, but there is something to that. For Sunday is the day of our greatest work. It is the Lord’s work, and we are at our most priestly when we consecrate the Lord’s Day by leading the people in the Lord’s own sacrifice. Many priests, who prudently begin preparing their Sunday homilies early in the week, are always thinking about the next Sunday. They live from Sunday to Sunday as it were, their eyes fixed during the week on the Lord’s Day to come. Our priests need to share that sense of Sunday with their parishioners, so that the Church as a whole lives from Sunday to Sunday.

In this year dedicated to Saint John Vianney, it was a gift to make a retreat in Ars last month with the priests of the archdiocese. It was bracing to read the saintly pastor’s homilies, which in their intensity and directness are not what we are accustomed to today. But even if we do not preach as our patron saint did during his time, we can look to him as a model for courageous preaching. Listen to what he preached soon after arriving in Ars, when he notice that Sunday observance was not what it should have been in that village:

“You keep on working, but what you earn ruins your soul and your body. If we ask those who work on Sunday, ‘What have you been doing?,’ they might answer: ‘I have been selling my soul to the devil, crucifying our Lord, and renouncing my baptism. I am doomed to hell. I shall have to weep for all eternity for nothing.’ When I behold people driving carts on Sunday, I think they are carting their souls to hell. Oh! How mistaken in his calculations is the man who toils on Sunday to earn more money or accomplish more work! Can two or three francs compensate for the wrong he has done himself by violating the law of God?”

Hearing those words, we immediately protest: Life is more complicated now and our culture makes it necessary for some to work. Fair enough, but St. John Vianney’s words remind us that we should at least feel a sense of urgency about Sunday observance. Let’s face it – we priests, myself included, have let the words “Sunday obligation” disappear from our vocabulary. But they have not disappeared from the Ten Commandments, or the precepts of the Church, or the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or simple common sense about practising our faith!

The Curé of Ars may sound harsh to our ears today, but does not the basic point remain? If we do not spare an hour or so to worship God, then does He really occupy the proper place in our life? If the Lord’s Day is apparently no different to any other day, then can we say that He is truly Lord of our life?

I urge you then, my brother priests, to be bold in inviting people back to Sunday Mass who have grown distant from it! Encourage those who are faithfully present to truly make the Lord’s Day a day of rest, a day of the Church, a day for the family. All of us need to rededicate ourselves to Sunday! So much depends on it. For if we let our Sunday observance slide, when it is so clear that the Lord desires it, how can we hope to follow the Lord’s will in more difficult things?

Permit me to make another recommendation to my brother priests. It would bear good fruit in the Year for Priests to return to the apostolic letter Dies Domini. The Pope John Paul II issued it on Pentecost 1998, and obviously it is still highly relevant. It would make good spiritual reading for priests, and might also be suitable for adult faith formation groups, Catholic reading clubs, and parish councils. A deeper study of the theological dimension of the Lord’s Day may well give rise to pastoral initiatives that would further consecrate Sunday. Here I think of the noble tradition of Sunday Vespers, for example. Or Sunday might be a time for visiting the sick and the lonely, the infirm and shut-ins within the parish. Each priest and each parish will find their own ways of celebrating Sunday precisely as the day of the Lord and the day of the Church.

Threats to Sunday

There are many threats to Sunday observance. The more obvious ones may be easier to tackle head on. Do we need to work on Sunday? For some, there may be little choice, but for others it may well be possible to clear Sunday of unnecessary work. Sometimes, it may be a moment of evangelization to tell the boss, “I would like to have Sunday to worship God and be with my family.” It may plant a seed that bear good fruit.

Another obvious challenge is Sunday recreations – particularly children’s sports and other activities. This requires a firmer stand, as recreation is not as essential as work. At the very least, children’s activities should be organized in a way that permits the family to go to Mass, together if possible. There is no denying that this will occasion some sacrifice, but the development of a child is not well-served by indicating that Sunday Mass is secondary to other things.  Social, sporting and other activities on Sunday can be a real occasion for family togetherness and fruitful rest. But if just getting to everything on Sunday leaves everyone in the family worn out, then some adjustments need to be made.

A more subtle challenge to authentic Sabbath rest is our communications technology. It is possible to be at home with the family on Sunday but engaged elsewhere, answering emails from work, text messaging friends far away rather than talking to family members in the same house. Indeed, with multiple televisions and computers in the same house, it is possible for members of the family to isolate themselves from each other. A twenty-first century update to Sunday observance may well include a deliberate setting aside of mobile phones, laptops and video games!

Objections to Sunday Mass

Many of you reading this St. Patrick’s Day message already are keeping the Lord’s Day holy. Keep it up.

How about giving this message to someone who no longer does, especially if he or she has stopped going to Sunday Mass? Get ready for the excuses:

– “Sunday is our only free time together.” (Great, what better way to spend that time than by praying together at Mass).

– “I pray my own way.” (Nice idea.  But, odds are, you don’t).

– “The sermon is boring.” (You may have a point).

– “I hate all the changes at Mass.” (see below)

– “I want more changes at Mass.” (see above)

– “Until the church makes some changes in its teaching, I’m staying away.” (But, don’t we go to Mass to ask God to change us, not to tell God how we want Him and His Church to change to suit us?)

– “Everybody there is a hypocrite and always judging me.” (Who’s judging whom here?)

. . . and the list goes on.

And the simple fact remains: the Eucharist is the most beautiful, powerful prayer that we have.  To miss it is to miss Jesus — His Word, His people, His presence, His Body and Blood.

Saint Patrick, Pray for Us!

We celebrate the saints because they remind us of what is truly important – to get to heaven! The saints are there already and they pray for us that we might follow them in drawing close to Jesus. That’s why the Blessed Mother is the greatest of all the saints, because she is the closest to her divine Son and wants nothing more than to draw us close to Him.

Our Sunday observance, above all our Sunday Eucharist, is our anticipation of that definitive Sabbath rest when we shall enter into the Lord’s Day that will have no end. We need Sunday here below so that we might not lose our path to heaven above! We live on Sunday now what we hope to live forever in heaven.

On my first Feast of Saint Patrick as Archbishop of New York, I extend to all my blessing, ask for a remembrance in your prayers, and promise you mine in return.

+Timothy Michael Dolan

Archbishop of New York