Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut
Friday, August 18, 2017

Archbishop Blair's Column

This year, 2017, marks the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima in Portugal. At the end of September, I will be leading an archdiocesan pilgrimage to Fatima to commemorate the centenary.

Fatima is an example of a “private revelation” made to chosen individuals, the authenticity of which is accepted by the Church only after careful examination and discernment. The relatively few private revelations that have been formally approved by the Church through the centuries have these purposes: to help people understand what the Scriptures call “the signs of the times” and to lead them to respond with faith.

The message of Our Lady in 1917 came amid the horrors of world war and revolution that were only the beginning of a century scarred by tremendous evils and crimes against God and humanity. Her message, however, is timeless precisely because it is the Gospel message of conversion, prayer, penance and sacrifice.

Like you, I pray for many things. I have a whole list of intentions for the Archdiocese of Hartford that are part of my prayers to God, to Our Lady and to the saints and angels. “Pray without ceasing,” St. Paul writes, and in the literal translation of Luke 11: 9, Jesus says, “Keep on asking … keep on seeking … keep on knocking …” and you will receive.

If we look more deeply at the Scriptures, however, we will find an extremely important secret about prayer. Those whose prayers are heard are those who accompany their prayers with acts of penance and sacrifice. 

The great prayers of the Bible are offered to God amid the rigors of the desert, the stripping away of earthly signs of pride and, especially, by mortification and fasting. Sinless though he was, Jesus himself fasted when he prayed, as an example to us that the human soul and body, mind and heart, must be freed and purified in order to ascend in adoration to the all-holy God.

Scripture teaches us that our Christian life and our prayers are at the service of a plan much greater than ourselves. When we connect the dots between prayer, penance and sacrifice, we understand that we are united to Christ in his fasting and prayer, and in his self-emptying sacrifice of expiation for the redemption of the world. All of our needs and desires are subject to the will of God for our salvation and the salvation of the world.

These scriptural truths have been lived by the saints throughout history. The words and works of the saints constitute the great spiritual treasury of our Catholic faith. Yet isn’t it that nowadays, the call to conversion, prayer, penance and sacrifice is often muted, sometimes to the point of near silence?

I am reminded of an old “Hagar the Horrible” comic strip in which Hagar climbs a steep mountain during a blizzard in search of a guru. “What is the key to happiness?” Hagar asks. “Abstinence, poverty, fasting and celibacy,” the guru answers. After a pause, Hagar asks, “Is there someone else up here I could talk to?”

A life of conversion, prayer, penance and sacrifice is not a welcome message to the ears of a sinful world or our sinful selves, even when the message comes from our mother in heaven. Yet if Mary’s message was urgent in 1917, imagine how much more urgent it is today!

I leave you with the words and the prayer of the angel spoken to the children of Fatima: “Pray, pray, pray very much! The Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy on you. Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High. ... Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended and in supplication for the conversion of sinners.”

Most Holy Trinity,Father, Son and Holy Spirit,I adore You profoundly.I offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinityof Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world,in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges andindifferences by which He is offended.By the infinite merits of the Sacred Heart of Jesusand the Immaculate Heart of Mary,I beg the conversion of poor sinners. Amen.

To live is to change; and to be perfect is to have changed often.” This favorite saying of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman offers some timely wisdom as we implement a pastoral plan for the Archdiocese of Hartford. Some individuals will no doubt be upset, hurt or alienated as a result of change, and I regret that deeply and keep them in my prayers. But many more will make the transition in a positive spirit, either welcoming or being welcomed into newly configured parish communities. That is as it should be, since we are all one family of Catholic faith in this local Church of the Archdiocese of Hartford.

The whole point of developing and implementing a comprehensive plan, as we have done, is so that parishes do not have to live under a cloud of uncertainty. Now that the changes have been announced, I believe that the archdiocese is in a much better position to provide pastoral care in the coming years, notwithstanding fewer priests. It is my hope that all our parishes will grow and thrive.

How does a parish grow and thrive? 

When I was a boy in the 1950s and early 1960s, if you were Catholic, chances were very strong that you sent your children to Catholic school, went to Mass every Sunday and were catechized by the Baltimore Catechism. The number of practicing Catholics in our country was so great that the Church had no need to go to the people; the people came to the Church. There were many converts to Catholicism, especially at the time of marriage. When it came to spreading the Catholic faith, most Catholics only thought of faraway mission lands.

Within the Church, a sense of Catholic identity that was once taken for granted has been greatly weakened. Meatless Fridays; the rosary and benediction; wearing the scapular; traditions surrounding Christmas, Lent and Easter; not to mention the strength of family life and moral teachings — these things are, in many cases, not even known, much less practiced, by a great number of today’s Catholics. All these things were expressions of a strong and coherent identity, a Catholic life lived according to the Gospel.

For millions of people, nothing has really replaced that sense of identity. It now has become urgent to bring the Catholic faith to our own backyard, among our family, neighbors and friends and in the workplace, community, our schools and nation. Our country is filled with people who have no church, have drifted away from church or are alienated from church. The word “nuns” used to mean religious sisters; now “nones” refers to the growing number of people who, when asked about their religion, say they belong to “none.”

For a parish to grow and thrive, the challenge is for every parishioner to realize that being Catholic also means being evangelical, a missionary, a witness for the faith. Jesus says, “Go and make disciples of all the nations.” St. Paul exclaims, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.” And St. Peter writes: “Should anyone ask you the reason for this hope of yours, be ever ready to reply, but speak gently and respectfully.”

Almost 60 years ago, Pope St. John XXIII envisioned the Second Vatican Council as a new Pentecost in our time. Pentecost was the day on which the Holy Spirit first came down upon the Church with power in the form of tongues of flame. The apostles, locked in the Upper Room out of fear, were emboldened to go out and preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth, as Jesus had commanded them.

The mission that each of us has by baptism and confirmation is to bear witness to Christ in truth and charity, and to invite others to our shared communion of faith and sacramental life. For divine help in fulfilling this mission, I ask that you participate in the novena that was announced last month and is published at www.archdioceseofhartford.org and www.catholictranscript.org; that is, nine days of prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit leading up to Pentecost Sunday on June 4.

May our heart’s desire be for a new Pentecost in our time, in our archdiocese, in our world. God bless you.

abp column celibacy bm may17Photo by Bob Mullen

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Not too long ago, media attention was focused on a comment by Pope Francis about studying the possibility of priestly ordination for select married men in remote places that are in dire need of a priest to celebrate the sacraments. “But,” he cautioned, “optional celibacy isn’t the solution.”

 It is true that celibacy is not absolutely required for priestly ordination. The Latin Catholic Church already has some priests who were married before they were received into the Catholic Church and then ordained, as have the Eastern Catholic Churches. What is troubling is that so many Catholics have little or no appreciation of the scriptural origins and spiritual value of celibacy.

abp column 4 eas vigil candles abb bm webDuring Holy Week, we are going to celebrate the work of our salvation that once took place in time, and, which now, continues sacramentally until the end of time.

Familiarity with the story can blind us to the reality of these great events. The paschal mystery (the Passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ) is not just past history or a myth. It is not just a morality play with some lessons for everyday life. It is nothing less than victory over sin and death.

In the paschal mystery, the Most Holy Trinity is fully revealed as a God of total self-giving love. The Father gives his Son for us. The Son gives his all for us. And the Holy Spirit is the gift that unites us to the divine love. Self-sacrificing love unto death, even death on the cross, is the only path to redemption, to resurrection and life. It is the only way out of human misery, the only answer to the longings of the human heart.

DURING LENT, WE HEAR THE REFRAIN: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” What exactly does this mean? Get rid of your bad habits and vices? Accept the teachings of the New Testament? Yes, indeed, but first and foremost it means cleaving — heart, mind and soul — to the person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the Gospel, the “Good News.” Being a Christian believer involves not only renouncing sin and self, but first and foremost establishing a personal relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior — an encounter that blossoms into a lifelong commitment. It’s like climbing a mountain, planting and nurturing a seed, laboring on a building and, yes, carrying a cross, in the sure knowledge that Christ has already accomplished our success and victory. It is a hard road that we walk, but we walk it with Christ. The mystery of his own dying and rising is accomplished in us every day.

Welcome to the Catholic Transcript magazine, a new full-color publication that will dynamically advance the tradition of a beloved, respected, award-winning newspaper with roots going back to the year 1829.

In magazine format, the Catholic Transcript will continue to be the communications centerpiece of Catholic news and information for our archdiocesan family of faith. And its visibility and relevance will be greatly enhanced thanks to its digital presence, social media interconnectivity, evangelizing content and distribution 10 times a year to more than double the number of Catholic households than in the recent past.

All this is a direct response to the Your Voice Counts survey, in which a majority of respondents and focus group participants requested content that is more evangelizing and catechetical in nature, while at the same time not neglecting news about the archdiocese and the Church at large. We are eager to share the Good News of the Gospel with everyone, even to the “peripheries” outside our own comfort zone, in the words of Pope Francis, in the hope of drawing them to Christ and into the communion of Catholic faith and practice.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ, I wish all of you a holy Advent and a Christmas filled with joy and peace. Once again this year, I urge everyone to “keep Christ in Christmas,” because without him there is no joy or peace.

In the midst of so much materialism and commotion, together let’s make a concerted effort to focus on the spiritual – on prayer and penance – so that we can be made worthy to receive Christ the Lord and to bring him to a world so much in need of healing and peace. I especially ask that we pray for peace in the Middle East, and other places of grave conflict where so many people suffer, including our own military and their families.

In January, you will be receiving something new from the Archdiocese of Hartford. I’m referring to the inaugural edition of the Catholic Transcript in a different format. While it was quite challenging to raise the bar of excellence on an award-winning publication that readers have loved since 1829, the newspaper is being transformed into a full-color magazine. It will now be sent 10 times a year, on a complimentary basis, to more than 192,000 Catholic households in the archdiocese. That is more than a doubling in circulation.

A revamped Catholic Transcript is just part of a broader effort that our local church is making to revitalize, with God’s grace, our practice of the faith and the witness to the Gospel that we are called to give to one another and to the wider community.

Responding to invaluable input from “Your Voice Counts” survey and focus group respondents, we have preserved the most popular elements of the Catholic Transcript newspaper, while honoring the request for a publication that is more purposefully evangelical and catechetical. Mindful of the ways that young adults converse and interact within digital “social communities,” the new Catholic Transcript magazine will include an interconnection with social media, incorporating a mobile app that will soon be available to every parish in the archdiocese.

What better time than the New Year to introduce a new way for me and for the Archdiocese of Hartford to communicate with you on an ongoing basis – a New Year bright with the promise of God’s redeeming and transforming love.

The new Catholic Transcript will also be an essential instrument for wider education and accurate information regarding archdiocesan-wide pastoral planning. I hope that you enjoyed the mailing that was sent recently to our 192,000 Catholic households in anticipation of the new Catholic Transcript magazine. It includes a comprehensive “Stewards for Tomorrow” report prepared by the Office of Pastoral Planning. This is meant to engage you in the pastoral planning process now under way throughout the three counties that comprise the Archdiocese of Hartford.

As we prepare for 2017, Pope Francis challenges us to evangelical “boldness” and creativity as “missionary disciples” “capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, languages and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.” (Evangelii Gaudium 27) Simply put, Our Holy Father sees the challenges and opportunities that present themselves at a crossroads that he calls “not an age of change, but the change of an age.”

During this season of material gift-giving, we need to be attentive to the spiritual God-given gifts with which we have been blessed – most especially our potential to do great things for Christ and the Gospel, not by any power of our own, but by opening ourselves to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We are not the masters, but only the stewards of the Lord’s vineyard. To be good stewards, we have to use our God-given faith and intelligence to cultivate new ways for the church to grow and thrive. Let’s not ever underestimate the power of welcoming others, or the importance of new ideas or solutions, as small as they may first appear. As children, we used to look through a kaleidoscope and be amazed when one seemingly minute fleck of color would shift and suddenly a new, more beautiful shape would emerge. In pastoral planning, too, may our collective imaginations be kaleidoscopic with possibility!

There are many effective and creative initiatives that are taking place, both in our archdiocese and nationally, to reinvigorate Catholic life and practice, marriage and family, evangelization and catechesis, parishes and schools. I pray that through new and renewed communications vehicles like the Catholic Transcript magazine, we will be a closer family of faith, committed to promoting spiritual vitality, organizational efficacy and accountability and social and financial responsibility.

Wishing you and all your loved ones a happy, healthy and Holy Christmas, and a very blessed 2017!