February 5, 2015
Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
Monday, February 2, was the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, when we celebrate—not Groundhog Day!—but the bringing of the infant Jesus—forty days old—to the Temple by our Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph, to be consecrated to the Lord. It’s the fourth Joyful mystery of the rosary and, according to an older Catholic tradition, the end of the forty-day season of Christmas.
Feast of Consecrated Life
Since 1997, this feast has also been celebrated as the World Day for Consecrated Life, as Saint John Paul II explained when he instituted it: “The Virgin Mother who carries Jesus to the temple so that he can be offered to the Father expresses very well the figure of the Church who continues to offer her sons and daughters to the heavenly Father, associating them with the one oblation of Christ, cause and model of all consecration in the Church.”
This year, the World Day for Consecrated Life takes on added significance, as it falls within the Year of Consecrated Life declared by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, who himself lived consecrated life as a member of the Society of Jesus. This special year—begun on the First Sunday of Advent last November and continuing until next year’s Feast of the Presentation—invites all Catholics to give thanks to God for the gift of our religious brothers and sisters, and for all those consecrated to the Lord. We pray for them, for their holiness and happiness, and for the vibrancy of the charisms which they live. May they be blessed with many new vocations, for the Church sure needs consecrated life!
I have spoken often about the great blessing that religious sisters were to me and my family when I was growing up, and how essential they were in teaching me the faith and nurturing my priestly vocation. I give thanks today for all the consecrated men and women serving so beautifully in the Archdiocese of New York, the history of which is in great part a history of their heroic zeal. I thank them and salute them for their service to the Lord and their witness to their fellow disciples. I am also delighted that in our own archdiocese we have several communities which are growing both in numbers and confidence in the mission which the Lord has entrusted to them. May their number increase!
We need our consecrated men and women, for as Pope Francis writes, “the old saying will always be true: ‘Where there are religious, there is joy’. We are called to know and show that God is able to fill our hearts to the brim with happiness; that we need not seek our happiness elsewhere; that the authentic fraternity found in our communities increases our joy; and that our total self-giving in service to the Church, to families and young people, to the elderly and the poor, brings us life-long personal fulfillment.”
We join our prayers today to those of the Church universal, thanking God for the gift of consecrated life and for those who live it generously and faithfully!
A Feast for Family Life
This feast of the Presentation of the Lord also has a family dimension. In the biblical account we see the Holy Family faithful to Jewish custom; coming to the temple of Jerusalem, a place to which they would return frequently, giving us a model of prayer and worship in family life. Indeed, it is family prayer that often makes it possible for young people to answer with joy and generosity the vocation to consecrated life. Saint John Paul II reminded us of this truth in his great charter for consecrated life, Vita Consecrata:
We must remember that if parents do not live the values of the Gospel, the young man or woman will find it very difficult to discern the calling, to understand the need for the sacrifices which must be faced, and to appreciate the beauty of the goal to be achieved. For it is in the family that young people have their first experience of Gospel values and of the love which gives itself to God and to others. They also need to be trained in the responsible use of their own freedom, so that they will be prepared to live, as their vocation demands, in accordance with the loftiest spiritual realities.
I pray that you, Christian families, united with the Lord through prayer and the sacramental life, will create homes where vocations are welcomed.
The link between family life and consecrated life is essential. Both are needed for the health of the Church and the health of society as a whole. I enthusiastically united myself to the words of the Holy Father on his recent apostolic visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, when he spoke of the joy it brought him to meet families, especially large families. “Healthy families are essential to the life of a society,” Pope Francis said. “It gives consolation and hope to see so many large families that welcome children as a gift from God. They know that every child is a blessing.”
Toward the Synod on the Family
We celebrated this Feast of the Presentation between two important meetings of the Synod of Bishops on the vocation and mission of the family. Last October we had an “extraordinary assembly” to prepare us for this coming October’s “ordinary assembly.” There was an enormous amount of attention paid to the work of the Synod, which is an evangelical opportunity, even if at times the events of the Synod and their coverage in the global media caused confusion. Whenever the spirit of worldly confusion appears, we need to return with greater prayer and attentiveness to the Word of God, so that we might appreciate anew the truth of Jesus Christ the foundation of our communion as His disciples.
The preparation for the Synod requires prayer by the whole Church, so that her pastors may be guided by the Spirit of God and not the worldly spirit that the Holy Father so often warns us about. For that reason, Pope Francis chose this feast last year to write a special Letter to Families, inviting the whole Church to offer earnest prayer for the Synod.
The Holy Father wrote this to families:
This [Synod] will involve all the People of God—bishops, priests, consecrated men and women, and lay faithful of the particular Churches of the entire world—all of whom are actively participating in preparations for the meeting through practical suggestions and the crucial support of prayer. Such support on your part, dear families, is especially significant and more necessary than ever. This Synod Assembly is dedicated in a special way to you, to your vocation and mission in the Church and in society; to the challenges of marriage, of family life, of the education of children; and the role of the family in the life of the Church. I ask you, therefore, to pray intensely to the Holy Spirit, so that the Spirit may illumine the Synod Fathers and guide them in their important task.
We are looking forward to welcoming the Holy Father to New York in September. The main purpose of his visit to the United States is to participate in the World Meeting of Families, which will be held in Philadelphia. He will visit New York in the context of that meeting, just a few days ahead of the Synod on the Family. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if we could tell Pope Francis when he visits us that we have been praying “intensely to the Holy Spirit” for the Synod, just as he had asked us to?
Guided by the Pope of the Family
The choice of this feast last year for the Holy Father’s letter to families was deliberate. Pope Francis wanted to commemorate with his letter the twentieth anniversary of another Letter to Families, which Saint John Pau II wrote on February 2, 1994. You will recall that at the canonization Mass of John Paul last Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis specifically invoked our new saint in the context of preparing for the Synod:
In his own service to the People of God, Saint John Paul II was the pope of the family. He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family. I am particularly happy to point this out as we are in the process of journeying with families towards the Synod on the family. It is surely a journey which, from his place in heaven, he guides and sustains.
The guidance of Saint John Paul is indispensable, as Pope Francis indicated. I hope that the teaching of Pope St. John Paul will be central to October’s synod.
Saint John Paul II is the great apostle of the family in our time. In addition to his memorable pastoral care of families in Krakow as a young priest and a bishop, he gave to us two significant documents which need to be studied in depth: Familiaris/Consortio, the fruit of the 1980 Synod on the Family, published on November 22, 1981; and the Letter to Families, published on this feast in 1994 to mark the Year of the Family declared by the United Nations. Saint John Paul taught us better than anyone else in our time that doctrine and pastoral practice are inseparably linked, and that the purpose of pastoral practice is to faithfully present the truth of the Gospel precisely as good news for today’s families. The family magisterium of Saint John Paul, which addresses so many complex and contested questions, is therefore an indispensable guide for the work of the Synod.
To those Catholics who have been disturbed by some reports about last year’s Synod, I recommend to them fervent prayer to John Paul, the holy pope of the family, to guide the Church from heaven. It is not possible to imagine that the Synod would not deepen the teaching of Saint John Paul II. Rather than contradict the teaching of Familiaris/Consortio and the Letter to Families, the Synod has as its task to strengthen that teaching. Toward the end of the Letter to Families, Saint John Paul issues an invitation to us which is most relevant today:
The history of mankind, the history of salvation, passes by way of the family. In these pages I have tried to show how the family is placed at the center of the great struggle between good and evil, between life and death, between love and all that is opposed to love. To the family is entrusted the task of striving, first and foremost, to unleash the forces of good, the source of which is found in Christ the Redeemer of man...What I offer, then, is an invitation: an invitation addressed especially to you, dearly beloved husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters. It is an invitation to all the particular Churches to remain united in the teaching of the apostolic truth.
The teaching of apostolic truth is the task of the Bishops, and therefore the task of every Synod of Bishops. The upcoming Synod must “ensure that the Church remains in the truth of Christ” in presenting the teaching of the Lord Jesus as essential good news for the family today.
I conclude these brief thoughts on this week’s Feast of the Presentation of the Lord with heartfelt thanksgiving to God for the innumerable examples of holiness that surround us here—in the countless numbers of holy and happy families, which inspire me, and in the witness of so many consecrated men and women, upon whose prayer all of us depend so much!
The Year of Consecrated Life, the World Meeting of Families, the papal visit to New York, the Synod of Bishops—the year ahead is one full of blessings for our archdiocese, for the Church in the United States, for the Church universal. Open our hearts to all that the Lord Jesus wishes to give us this year!
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, pray for us!