Early days of the Church

During the Easter season, the first readings at Mass take us through some of the Acts of the Apostles. This book of the Bible is an incredibly dramatic account of the first days of the church that Christ founded. It begins with the Ascension of the Lord into heaven (Acts 1), and then the descent of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). The power of the Holy Spirit is revealed immediately, with the Spirit coming upon the Apostles as “tongues of fire”. The Spirit set them on fire for the Lord, and they went out and preached Christ with great courage and zeal.

As a result, “three thousand persons were added that day”, and the Catholic Church began. The Holy Spirit has been leading the Church ever since then. In fact, the Acts of the Apostles is commonly known as the “Gospel of the Holy Spirit”.

So, Acts 2 is probably the best Scriptural defense of the Catholic Church. What I mean is that when people say that the Church is a human institution only, you can say that Acts of the Apostles shows us it is led by the Holy Spirit…it is a divine institution!

This might help to answer the popular question, ‘where is that in the Bible?’ Here are answers to that question on some other beliefs and practices of the Church:

WHERE IS THAT IN THE BIBLE?? (Acts of the Apostles edition):

Confirmation – Acts 2 (again).

Pentecost was the “first Confirmation”. The Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles who had been baptized and made their first Holy Communion…!

Eucharist – Acts 2:42, 46

“They devoted themselves…to the breaking of bread”.

Holy Orders – Acts 13:3, 14:23

Apostles ordained other men as priests when “they laid hands on them” and “appointed presbyters (priests)”.

Deacons – Acts 6:1-6

The Apostles select “seven reputable men, filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom whom we shall appoint to this task” (to serve at table).

Relics – A) Acts 5:15-16 and B) Acts 19:11-12.

Healings and miracles occur through the shadow of St. Peter (A) and the hands, aprons, and handkerchiefs of St. Paul (B). The grace and power of Christ is in relics of His saints – first class (hands), second class (aprons and handkerchiefs) and third class (shadow).

May you know the peace of the risen Christ,

Fr Greg

He is Risen!

On behalf of all of us at Assumption, I wish you and your family a blessed Easter!

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta used to say, “don’t ever get so sad that you lose sight of the
Resurrection”. She would be preaching to the choir here because Assumption
parishioners live the joy of the Resurrection year-round. It’s not that you don’t ever get
sad, but it’s that your joy as a Christian trumps your sadness. Christian joy comes
from the Resurrection!

‘Why do you believe in the Resurrection?’ This is the first question for any Christian.
In fact, we are followers of Christ mainly because we believe that He rose from the
dead. St Paul wrote, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain” (1 Cor 15:17).

Here are three reasons to believe in the Resurrection.

Empty Tomb
This may seem to be obvious evidence to us, but it was the first indication of the
Resurrection to the disciples. How shocked must they have been to find the tomb of
Christ to be empty! And, what hope it must have given them…hope at first sight!
There is an excellent book, “Made for More”, by Curtis Martin which treats all of the
conspiracy theories regarding the empty tomb. Martin concludes that the only logical
theory about the empty tomb is the one presented in the Gospels, and believed by
Christians for 2,000 years.

Testimony of Witnesses
The word of those who were there at the tomb is very significant evidence. This isn’t
just about the spoken testimony that the tomb was empty and that they saw Christ in
His risen body. This is more about the testimony of their lives after the Resurrection.
They devoted themselves to spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ, with many of them
dying for the cause. And, none of them ever recanted his or her testimony! The
Resurrection of Christ changed them forever, and that fact is very meaningful
evidence.

Other Christians
It’s been said that the biggest reason people become Christian is other Christians. This
makes total sense if we are showing the joy of the risen Christ…it’s a joy that the
world cannot give. If we really believe that Christ is risen from the dead, then our
lives will be evidence of the Resurrection to those around us. We will show that God
lives! We will show that Jesus is the Son of God, and that we need to follow
everything He says. We will show that He is alive and well in the Catholic Church,
especially in the Eucharist. People will see it on our faces, in our eyes, and hopefully
in our virtue. Christ lives!

May you know the peace of the risen Christ,
Fr Greg

Seven Last Words

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

March 20, 2016

The following are profound insights and reflection questions from Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s book, “The Seven Last Words”. May you know the peace of Christ this Holy Week.

– Fr Greg

“There was never a preacher like the dying Christ. There was never a congregation like that which gathered about the pulpit of the Cross. There was never a sermon like the Seven Last Words.” – Arch. Sheen (d. 1979)

The Seven Last Words of Christ

1. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”

His executioners expected Him to cry and curse like all those who had been crucified before Him. Instead, He cried out for the Father to forgive those who were executing and mocking Him (soldiers, Pilate, Herod, etc.).

Do I forgive ‘those who trespass against’ me?

2. “This day you shall be with me in Paradise”

“No one before (the thief on the right of Christ) was ever the object of such a promise, not even Moses, nor John, not even Magdelen nor Mary!”

Like the thief, do I give my sins to Christ who will then promise me Paradise?

3. “Woman, behold thy son”

‘Thy son’ is John, who represents us (the Church). “Woman!” is the 2nd Annunciation; “behold thy son” is the 2nd Nativity. We are born of Mary in the 2nd Nativity of the spirit; Christ is born in the 1st Nativity of the flesh.

It has been said that Jesus never denies His Mother anything. Do I ask my Mother to intercede to her Son for me, my friends and family?

4. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

While He is still in union with the Father, Christ brings atonement to all those who have abandoned God, doubt God’s presence in their lives, or are indifferent towards God.

Christ knows what I’m experiencing whenever I’ve been abandoned, rejected, lonely, hurt or isolated.

5. “I thirst”

Not said to anyone there at Calvary, or even to God. He says to all mankind, “I thirst…for love!”

Christ thirsts for my love; do I thirst for His?

6. “It is finished”

Christ triumphantly says this, like an artist who puts the finishing touches on a masterpiece. His work of Redemption is finished, but not complete (see Col 1:24). As the Mystical Body of Christ, we complete Christ’s work of Redemption (by taking up our own Cross).

Do I accept crosses in my life with faith?

7. “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”

Like the Prodigal Son who returns to his father’s house, Christ is on the road back to His Father’s House after spending His divine riches of power and wisdom on all humanity for 33 years.

Do I entrust my life to my Father in Heaven?

Black Catholic Clergy Caucus Was Milestone

In our parish hall for the remainder of the month is an impressive display of African American history. As an American, I am moved and inspired to see the images of heroes like Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Jesse Owens. As pastor, I am so grateful and honored to be stationed here, especially during Black History Month.

The following are excerpts from “The History of Black Catholics in the United States” by Cyprian Davis which gives a good summation and insights into some of the Black history and Black Catholic history in our country:

“In 1955 the blacks of Montgomery, Alabama, began a boycott of buses because of segregated seating. A young black Baptist clergyman, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., became the leader of the movement. The boycott was successful, and the African American community was galvanized across the nation. Three years later, in 1958, the American (Catholic) bishops addressed racism as a moral issue and finally took an unequivocal stand. They stated for the first time that racial discrimination was immoral and unjust…

By and large Catholics, either black or white, were not in the forefront of the civil rights movement or among the leadership of the protest organizations….The massive demonstration by whites and blacks at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963, did, however, include some Catholics of diverse backgrounds as well as some Catholic organizations, including religious communities. Archbishop O’Boyle (of Washington) wa son the platform with civil rights leaders and delivered the invocation just before Martin Luther King began his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. For the first time, the Catholic Church was significantly present at a massive public demonstration under the leadership of blacks civil rights leaders…

The real change in Catholic attitudes came with the clarion call by Martin Luther King, Jr., to all of the nation’s clergy to come to Selma, Alabama, in March 1965. The response of white Catholic priests and sisters was enormous, despite the disapproval of the bishop of Mobile-Birmingham. That same year Harold Perry, S.V.D., provincial of the southern province of the Divine Word Missionaries, was named auxiliary bishop of New Orleans by Pope Paul VI, the second black Catholic bishop in American history (James Augustine Healy was the first)…

The calling of the Black Catholic Clergy Caucus was a milestone in the history of the black Catholic community. It created a solidarity among the black Catholic clergy that had never previously existed. It was a return to the tradition of black Catholic initiative that had marked the black Catholic lay congresses and the Federated Colored Catholics. The one significant change was that this time it was the clergy that had seized the initiative. The demands of the clergy became a program that was implemented or has been in the process of implementation. It was, finally, the beginning of a change of direction on the part of the American Catholic church…”

May you know the peace of Christ,

Fr Greg

Christian Africa leading light in early Christendom

While the following article from the National Black Catholic Congress was written for Black Catholic History month (November), it is fitting for us during February, Black History month in the U.S.:

Some people lambast Christianity as “a white man’s religion.” Worse yet, there have been Christians, Black and White, Protestant and even Catholic, who regard Catholicism as a “white church.” Amazingly enough, these myths and misconceptions remain entrenched in some people’s minds…

Some people forget that Christianity did not originate in Europe and even express surprise when they learn that Black Catholic History began in the Acts of the Apostles (8: 26-40) with the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch by Philip the Deacon. This text is important for several reasons. First, it chronicles the conversion of the first Black African in recorded Christian history. Second, the text suggests that the man was a wealthy, literate, and powerful emissary of the Nubian Queen and also a faithful, practicing Jew prior to his baptism. Clearly, he was not an ignorant heathen. Third, the Ethiopian Eunuch’s conversion predates the conversions of Saints Paul and Cornelius. Most significantly, many cite this conversion as the very moment when the church changed from a Hebrew and Hellenist community to the truly Universal and Catholic Church.

Black Catholics trace their faith history back to Christian antiquity long before other nations heard the “Good News.” Christian Africa was indeed a “leading light” in early Christendom. Black Catholics point to three popes who were born in Africa: Saints Victor I, Melchiades, and Gelasius I. All three shepherded the early church through tough and tumultuous times in history. Black Catholics claim many Black Saints like Saints Cyprian, Zeno, Anthony of Egypt, Moses the Black, Pachomius, Maurice, Athanasius, Pisentius, Mary of Egypt, Cyril of Alexandria, Monica of Hippo,

Augustine of Hippo, Perpetua, Felicitas, and Thecla. Some of these mystics, monastics, and martyrs literally made the church what it is today.

Not many people know that King Nzinga-a-Nkuwu Mbemba (Afonso the Good) of the Kongo and his subjects made their profession of faith thanks to the work of Portuguese missionaries one year before Christopher Columbus made his famous voyage in 1492, or that Pope Leo X consecrated the king’s son, Henrique, Titular Bishop of Utica in 1518 which was one year before Martin Luther nailed his list of ninety-five theses to the Church in Wittenberg. Bishop Henrique was the first native bishop of West Africa. However, he died in 1531. The Congolese Church and the hopes for an indigenous clergy died with him. Finally, the genocidal slave trade killed true evangelization in sub-Saharan Africa for several centuries.

Notwithstanding the moral crimes of chattel slavery, the French and Spanish missionaries ministered to their free and enslaved African population within their respective colonies. This ministry laid the foundation for Black Catholic communities within the United States, i.e. Mobile, Alabama; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Saint Augustine, Florida. It is important to note that many African-American Catholics cherish a certain Peruvian Dominican, Saint Martin de Porres, the only Black Saint from the Western Hemisphere to date.

Tragically, the American Catholic Church did not seriously commit its time and resources to minister to the African-American population during the ante-bellum or post-bellum periods. However, God made a way!!! In spite of insuperable obstacles and opposition, African-American Catholics created a remarkable movement of faith and evangelization. Many courageous people played pivotal roles within church history like Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, Mathilda Beasley, Daniel Rudd, and the Reverend Augustus Tolton. They witnessed their faith, ministered to their people, and left lasting legacies in the face of prejudice, ignorance, and indifference. One cannot read their stories without feeling tremendous joy, sorrow, and inspiration. They are truly heroic accounts!

Black History Month provides opportunities to learn and share the whole history and rich heritage of Christian Catholicism. Ubi Victoria Veritas! The Victory of Truth!

Fr. Greg

With the help of God, we will be safe and win victory over our Enemy

About two hundred years ago in France lived a very holy priest, Fr. John Vianney. Fr. Vianney loved his people, and prayed for them constantly. He was extremely devoted to hearing their confessions, spending about 15 hours a day in the confessional! Eventually, people came from all over France to go to him for Reconciliation because of his extraordinary natural and supernatural gifts. He is the only parish priest who has been canonized a saint.

In a rare outward appearance, the Devil tried to disrupt St. John Vianney’s ministry of healing. Many nights, he would attack Fr. Vianney; people heard loud and strange noises coming from the rectory. One night, they saw fire coming from Fr. Vianney’s bedroom: the Devil had lit Father’s bed on fire! At first, Fr. Vianney was afraid, but then he got used to the attacks. He finally figured out the timing of it all: every night the Devil came to attack him, a big sinner would come to Confession the next day – someone who hadn’t been to Confession in 20 or 30 or more years. With the help of Christ, St. John Vianney withstood the attacks of Satan, and won victory over him.

The Devil makes another rare appearance in today’s Gospel (Lk 4:1-13): he tempts Jesus in the desert three times. Usually, Satan works in invisible and very subtle ways. His main objective is to take people away from God without them even knowing of his presence. He has made his presence known a few times – the Garden of Eden, to Christ in the desert, and to a few people like St. John Vianney.

It’s very important for us to know that the Devil can never force us to do anything against our will. He tempts us in brilliant ways; he is much smarter than any of us. On our own, we can’t defeat him; but, with the help of God, we will be safe and win victory over our Enemy.

Christ wins victory over the Devil in the desert and in his Death and Resurrection. In the desert, he is tempted in his human nature. He wins victory for two main reasons, I believe: 1) he is fasting, and 2) he is “filled with the Spirit”. Fasting brings spiritual strength. When we deny our bodies in some way, we build up inner or spiritual strength. During Lent, we imitate Jesus’ fast of 40 days in order to build up our souls, and to resist the temptations of the Devil.

We can imitate our Lord in being “filled with the Spirit” through our reception of the sacraments. The sacraments are the primary ways for us to be filled with the Spirit.

The Church strongly encourages us to come to the Eucharist often -for example, going to daily Mass during Lent – and going to Confession. When we are filled with the Spirit, we are filled with God’s love, imitate Christ, and are ready to defeat the Devil and his temptations.

–Sincerely in Christ,

Fr Greg

Uh-oh, Lent is Coming

The following is an excellent and timely reflection from my spiritual father, Msgr. Thomas Wells. After he was murdered in 2000, parishioners from one of his parishes assembled all of his weekly bulletin columns into a book, “From the Pastor’s Desk”. Great stuff! – Fr Greg

“Uh Oh, Lent is Coming” February 25, 1996

When trivia games were so popular a few years ago, there were, inevitably, several Catholic Trivia Pursuit spin-offs. I wonder if they included questions about the three Sundays before Ash Wednesday. These Sundays, each given a long Latin name denoting the number of days before Easter, were warning signals to Catholics that Lent is on its way. The priest wore purple vestments at Mass, but no Lenten practice was observed. The person in the pew saw the purple and said, “Uh oh, Lent is coming. What am I going to do this year?”

Now, of course, the season is suddenly upon us. Every year, we receive phone calls on Ash Wednesday from people asking for Mass times because they have seen people with ashes on the street and realized what day it was. It is a shame that Lent does now kind of sneak up on us because there is great wisdom in preparing for this spiritually and psychologically important time of year.

In some ways, the Church year mirrors life. There are times of celebration (Christmas and Easter), but most of life is living from day to day, something like the Church calls ordinary time of the year.

Inevitably, though, in differing ways throughout our lives, we are forced to step back and look at where we are, where we are going and what is really important to us. In the Church year, of course, Lent invites us to that same kind of self-examination.

The three traditional practices of Lent (prayer, fasting, and almsgiving) challenge us to remember our place in the world and how easily we lose focus. The added prayer of Lent, and especially the struggle to focus on God and to give Him time that He deserves, reminds us that while we are commanded to love God with our whole being, we fall incredibly short. Likewise the challenge of fasting and, by extension, all our Lenten self-denial, give witness to the self-gratification that we so take for granted.

Whether it is time before the TV or eating between meals that we “give up”, we recognize, especially as we fail after the enthusiasm of the first few Lenten days that, talk aside, our love for God must not be so strong if we have such a hard time giving up such trivial things for love of Him.

Finally, Lent invites us to give to the poor, traditionally called almsgiving. As we consider our gift to the Cardinal’s Appeal, for example, we can examine whether we really do consider the poor, the dirty, the homeless, the mentally ill – all of the weak ones of the earth – to be our brothers and sisters. St. Paul says, “Where your heart is, there will your treasure be”.

Lent is that time of year where, especially, the Church asks us to see if our hearts recognize a brother or sister in that wretched person who seems so different from me.

The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me

“He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring glad tidings to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down,

and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.

He said to them,

‘Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing’”.

Today’s Gospel includes these amazing lines from Lk 4:15-21.

This scene is amazing because of its impact on the past, present, and future. The Lord

Jesus is reading from a scroll that went back to around 700 B.C., and had been

revered greatly by the Jewish people. He establishes that the present moment for his

hearers is the one that the prophet Isaiah was anticipating: “Today this Scripture

passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And, it points to the future which is where we

(the Church) come in with an opportunity. This Scripture passage from Isaiah and, of

course, the Gospel can be fulfilled through us!

Yes, this presents an opportunity for the promises of Isaiah about the Christ to be

fulfilled in us. Today’s second reading reminds us that we are all baptized into one

body, the Body of Christ. Christ lives through us and in us! The Spirit of the Lord is

upon us. We have been anointed in Christ to bring glad tidings to the poor, captives,

the blind, and the oppressed. And, especially during our parish’s 100th year, a year

acceptable to the Lord!

Our local Church gives us a tremendous opportunity to fulfill Isaiah in Christ,

specifically to bring glad tidings to the poor. Over the next couple of weeks, the

Archdiocese of Washington will be asking for our financial help in its extraordinary

corporal and spiritual works of mercy. We can support their daily, heavy lifting at

Catholic Charities, Anchor Mental Health, with Black and Hispanic Catholics, young

adults, families, campus ministries, and tuition assistance for Catholic students and

inner city schools. Christ began these messianic works, the Church continues them in

His name, and we can share in them.

The Cardinal’s Appeal is not “just another collection”. It is an opportunity, especially

in our Jubilee Year as well as a Year of Mercy, to honor God and His promises. It is

an opportunity to give generously to God and His people because He has given so

generously to us. “Remember that each day is God’s gift to you. What you do with it

is your gift back to God”.

–Sincerely in Christ,

Fr Greg

The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

Last week at Community Sunday, Father Gary gave a profound talk on “God and Country” in which he focused on religious freedom in our nation. He used much evidence to show that our Founding Fathers were men of deep faith in God. The introductory words of our Declaration of Independence, which he called a “creed”, establish our rights as given by God: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by God, Creator, with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” These words have immeasurable value for us as Americans every day, but they carry special weight for us on two days this week.

On Monday, January 18, the United States celebrates the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and honors the immense impact he has had in making the words of the Declaration of Independence apply to all Americans. Father Gary highlighted Dr. King in his talk, and said that he had many “scars” to show for his defense of civil rights. In the first part of his famous speech on the March on Washington in 1963, Dr. King said “when the architects of our Great Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir…It is obvious that America has defaulted on this promissory note.” His heroic words for and witness to the God-given rights of all people woke up a nation. He preached love, justice, peace, and non-violence in soaring rhetoric. But, as is the case with those who speak the truth in love, he endured many scars from the enemies of love and justice, including the ultimate scar of death.

On Monday, we are given two local opportunities to honor Dr. King. At our 12:10 Mass here on Monday, we will thank God in special ways for him. Also, the 10th annual MLK Peace Walk and Parade will occur on our street between 11 am – 2 pm on Monday. This Friday, January 22, is the annual March for Life in downtown Washington. This, too, is based on the words of our Founding Fathers that all Americans have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. This applies to all persons, including the unborn. The most fundamental human right is the right to life! We march every year on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade to peacefully and prayerfully protest the legalization of abortion which resulted from the Supreme Court’s decision on January 22, 1973. Included in the massive (predominantly Catholic) crowd will be thousands of young people, women who regret their abortions, and African-American pastors who condemn the racist foundations of abortion-provider Planned Parenthood. Dr. King would probably support this March on Washington, too (his niece is a leader in the pro-life movement). “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stridently denounced abortion as a form of genocide in many speeches.” (Lifelines, Winter 1997, p.14 online). Please make every effort to attend an event on Monday and the March on Friday. Father Gary encouraged us to defend our God-given rights, and, like MLK, to have the scars to prove it.

–Sincerely in Christ,

Fr Greg

Baptism of the Lord

Thanks be to God, we had a beautiful celebration of the Birth of Christ at Assumption. What an incredible blessing it was to be here for my first Christmas as a pastor. The liturgies were top-rate, thanks to all of our ministers and choir members. And, how exquisite does the decorated church look?! I think that’s the Christmas card for the parish next year; and maybe, for some of you. Hope you enjoyed the crèche, poinsettias, Christmas trees, lights, garland, and candles…and took a picture of it all! They will be taken down this week because the Christmas season ends with today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

Why liturgically do we make such a big jump in the life of Jesus from the Epiphany at His birth to His Baptism as an adult on consecutive Sundays? The Navarre Bible commentary provides the following answer which gives tremendous insight into the mind of the Church for these Sundays in January:

In its liturgy the Church remembers the first three solemn manifestations of Christ’s divinity:

The adoration of the Magi (Mt 2:11)

The baptism of Jesus (Lk 3:21-22)

The first miracle our Lord worked, at the wedding at Cana (Jn 2:11).

In the adoration of the Magi God revealed the divinity of Jesus by means of the star. At his baptism the voice of God the Father, coming “from heaven”, reveals to John the Baptist and to the Jewish people – and thereby to all men – this profound mystery of Christ’s divinity. At the wedding at Cana, Jesus “manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (Jn 2:11).

So, the Church is focusing last Sunday (Epiphany), today (Baptism of the Lord), and next Sunday (wedding feast at Cana) on the divinity of Christ being revealed in these three events. It’s very clear in today’s Gospel that the Father revealed that Jesus is His Son: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Lk 3:22).

We might take for granted the divine nature of Christ. But, this feast – along with the other two – highlights not only the first manifestations of Christ’s divinity, but it helps us reflect more deeply on a divine person taking on a human nature. “Come then and see new and astounding miracles: the Sun of righteousness washing in the Jordan, fire immersed in water, God sanctified by the ministry of man” (St. Proclus of Constantinople, bishop). God sanctified by the ministry of man!

The last line of that quote should get us thinking, again, about the incredible reality of the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ. But, it also leads us to ponder why Christ was baptized in the first place. In his human nature, he was “sanctified by the ministry of man”, no doubt. John’s baptism brought sanctification to the body and pointed to Christian baptism which sanctifies the soul. “I baptize you with water, but one mightier than I is coming…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”.

Each of us who have followed Christ’s lead and have been baptized with the Holy Spirit has also had the Father say the same words about us: “you are my beloved (child); with you I am well pleased”.

–Sincerely in Christ

Fr Greg