Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

As we celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the Archdiocese, we look back… on July 16, 1978 when the first Mass was held at St. Monica Church, Northford.
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Archbishop Blair's Column

“Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel,” says St. Paul (1 Cor 9:16). You and I believe in Jesus Christ because Catholics over the last 2,000 years have not failed to hand on the Christian faith. Christ has been “preached,” as St. Paul says, and not just in words but in the “living gospel” exemplified by believers, including our own ancestors, relatives, friends and associates (and hopefully us, too), whose lives bear witness, even heroic witness, to Jesus and the truth of the Gospel.

The Christian faith has been handed on not only by individual believers, but by the very society and culture of peoples for whom the faith was part of their ethnic or national identity. Many things we take for granted in Western civilization were profoundly shaped by Judeo-Christian faith, whether it be the arts and sciences, political life and law, our calendar and customs, even our very names. You could say that traditional culture was not only evangelized, but also evangelizing. 

Today in our Western world, we witness the dismantling of this older social culture, a separation of secular culture from the practice of religion and the destruction of a certain balance between the social and religious dimensions of the human person. Religion is relegated to the private sphere, and is even blamed for oppression and conflicts. Christian beliefs are no longer formative of culture, and no longer have a decisive influence on the arts and sciences, public life or moral and ethical issues. Blessed Pope Paul VI said, “The split between the Gospel and culture is undoubtedly the tragedy of our time.”

A world which builds its culture without reference to God, and chooses to become what Pope Francis describes as “self-referential” eventually becomes an inhuman world, a spiritual desert.

If our world is to be truly human, and not a spiritual desert or a technical machine; if it is to be a place of justice and peace where human beings can flourish spiritually and morally, as well as materially; and if the world is to be redeemed for eternal life, then we have to rise to the challenge. To use one of Our Lord’s own images, we cannot let the Gospel “salt,” which preserved the world from corruption, get trampled underfoot. Nor can we let the light of Christ be hidden under a bushel basket. To us, he says: “You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world!” (Mt 5:13 ff)

Today, there is a new urgency for each of us to be personally engaged, to profess the faith, in fullness and with renewed conviction, confidence and hope. How and when and where we do this is determined by our state in life. The laity, in particular, are called to live their faith “in the world” in all the circumstances and endeavors of life, beginning with the family.

What the Gospel brings cannot be reduced to an ethical humanism or a mere philanthropy. Those who live a kind of secular humanism — ethically and charitably — may not be far from the kingdom of God, but only Christ, in all his mysteries, is the kingdom. He is “the way, and the truth and the life,” and he continues to teach, sanctify and shepherd his flock, in fullness, in his holy Catholic Church. To those people who are sincerely searching, you and I are called to be “good angels” of grace, inviting them into the fullness of that truth.

The unfamiliar word “evangelization” should not put us off. Evangelium is the Latin (and Greek) word for “gospel,” which is the old English word for “good news.” Evangelization simply means sharing with others the “Good News” of Jesus Christ. 

Evangelization cannot be reduced to being a crusader against a godless world. There are many positive values of American culture that, rightly understood, can lead people to the Gospel, such as equality, freedom, openness, participation in decision-making, communication and social responsibility. People need to understand that Christian faith is not opposed to these values — or to human happiness. As Pope Francis often points out, the Catholic faith is not a list of prohibitions, but Gospel truths that lead to human flourishing in this life and in eternity.

If we believe that Jesus is the world’s savior and that the Church is his sacramental Body, and if we really love our neighbor, we will want to bring that “Good News” to everyone we meet. That’s the evangelization for which we need to work and pray.

Let me share with you some spiritual wisdom from a great bishop, St. Francis de Sales. When we face some trial or tribulation, he says this:

As I grow older and look back at my life, like all of us, I have much for which to be grateful. I realize just how blessed I have been with the opportunities that have been given to me by the Church from my seminary days until now, including the years I lived in Rome. I have had many opportunities to experience different countries and languages. And any Catholic who travels broadly will know just how universal our Catholic Church is, and how it is possible to be at Mass or a shrine overseas and to feel at home spiritually with people of different lands and nations.

Our unifying bond, of course, is the Lordship of Jesus and our membership in his body by faith and baptism. But inseparably linked to this is the motherhood of Mary and her unique and abiding role in the mystery of salvation. When Jesus said “behold your mother” to the beloved disciple John at the foot of the cross, his words were meant not for John alone, but for every disciple until the end of time. And so wherever the Church is in the world, Mary is venerated under various titles of honor and devotion.

At the Annunciation, Mary became the mother of the Incarnate Word and gave him human flesh. Now we are the members of Christ’s body and we receive his flesh and blood in the holy Eucharist. It is the same body and blood Mary gave him that we now share. Spiritually, therefore, she is our mother, too, in the most profound, salvific and intimate way imaginable.

At the beginning of her son’s public ministry at the wedding feast at Cana, Mary pointed to him and said: “Do whatever he tells you.” And after he had ascended into heaven, she was with the apostles in the Upper Room before Pentecost, imploring the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. This same fervent prayer on her part is at work today and until the end of time. St. Louis de Montfort wrote, “[I]t is through Mary that the salvation of the world began, and it is through Mary that it must be consummated.” Who better than she can show us the way to live a life in the Holy Spirit, a life of faith, hope and love?

During the five years I worked in the Vatican Secretariat of State, I and some other American priests offered daily morning Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. One of the altars we used was adorned with an image of Mary with the Latin inscription Mater Ecclesiae (Mother of the Church). It had been erected by Blessed (soon to be Saint) Pope Paul VI, who had officially bestowed this title upon Mary in 1964 during the Second Vatican Council. Pope Francis has now designated the Monday after Pentecost Sunday as a liturgical memorial in honor of “Mary, Mother of the Church” to be observed annually at the Masses celebrated on that day.

As archbishop of Hartford, I have been renewing annually the consecration of our archdiocese to Mary by offering a public “prayer of entrustment,” at the ordination liturgy for our new priests, and I will do so again on June 23 this year. However, I am eager to have as many people as possible join me in reciting this prayer, which I also say privately every day. I offer it to the faithful of the archdiocese in the hope that as we face the opportunities and the challenges of missionary discipleship in our time, we may be protected from evil and strengthened in the practice of our faith at the intercession of the Mother of God.

May the crucified and risen Christ fill your life with light and joy! As St. Paul says: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. … But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 15:17, 20) So, let us rejoice with confidence!

What we read in the Gospel and what we celebrate at the liturgy from one season to another are not simply a historical remembrance of things past. Scripture and the mysteries of redemption are living realities here and now because the risen Christ is alive and active. Having passed outside of space and time (something impossible for us to comprehend), Jesus is always simply “present” in both dimensions. Easter is “today” every bit as much as it was 2,000 years ago.

Even in time, our observance of Easter is more than a once-a-year occurrence. From the earliest centuries, Christians have recognized that every first day of the week every Sunday  is a little Easter. St. Augustine says Sunday is “a sacrament of Easter.” And St. Jerome writes: “Sunday is the day of the resurrection, it is the day of Christians, it is our day.”

“It is our day,” and yet it is increasingly evident that we Christians are abandoning what is ours in the relentless drive toward a secular society. The observance of every Sunday by faithful attendance at Mass, refraining from unnecessary business and servile work, making it a day for parish and family all these things are no longer part of the lifestyle of many who consider themselves Catholic. 

The earliest Christians observed Sunday at all costs even though it was a secular workday in the Ancient World. Sometimes they paid with their lives. To the Roman authorities, the martyrs of Abitina in North Africa said: “Without fear of any kind we have celebrated the Lord’s Supper, because it cannot be missed; that is our law. … We cannot live without the Lord’s Supper.”

“We cannot live without the Lord’s Supper.” To find this kind of faith on a vast scale today one must turn to places like Africa and Asia, where the Church is growing by leaps and bounds, and where people walk miles and spend the whole day to celebrate Sunday. One thinks, too, of people under Communist persecution who often paid a very heavy price to “keep holy the Lord’s Day.”

And us? I leave it for each of us to examine our conscience and to ponder where we are headed as a Church and as a nation in which a majority of the population considers itself Christian. We estimate that less than 25 percent of registered Catholics in the Archdiocese of Hartford are at Mass on any given Sunday. This is consistent with various estimates of Mass attendance throughout the United States. 

Sunday Mass is a fulfillment of the Third Commandment (“Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day”). The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults explains: “Sunday observance fulfills the interior law inscribed in the human heart to render God visible and public worship as a sign of radical dependence upon God and as gratitude for all the blessings we have received.” And the Catechism of the Catholic Church states the traditional teaching: “Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin” unless excused for a serious reason such as illness. (CCC 2181)

Let me conclude by offering for your personal (and family) reflection the following discussion questions taken directly from the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (p. 369)

• What is your Sunday like? How can it become a balance of worship, restful reflection and personal spiritual renewal? What pressures make this a challenge for you, and what can you do about them? How does Sunday Mass enrich your life, your relationships and the rest of your week?

• What can be done to free up poor people from unfair working practices that deprive them of the gift of the Christian Sunday? How can families reverse the trend sponsored by those who schedule athletic events for children and young people on Sunday morning?

• How does consumerism eat away at the Christian ideals of Sunday? What are ways that family gatherings could again become a regular feature of Sunday life?

May the risen Christ renew us as members of his Body, the Church, not just on Easter Sunday, but every Sunday “until he comes again.”

When I was a parish priest, I often heard confessions of the elementary and religious education students. The first confessions of second-graders, in particular, called to mind the words of Christ: “Unless you become like little children you cannot enter the kingdom of God.” There is an openness and trust among the very young that enable them to truly “celebrate” the forgiveness that is Christ’s gift in the confessional.

With fewer adults going to confession, it is often said that people are afraid to go to the sacrament of reconciliation, or that they simply don’t believe that it is necessary. There is a lot of truth to that assessment, but I think there is also another reason.

As we grow older, we find ourselves confessing the same things, and we begin to think that somehow we have failed or that the sacrament of penance has failed. We begin to feel embarrassed at having to repeat the same things, or we think we have nothing to confess. So we stop going.

I think that there are two approaches that we should keep in mind to remedy this problem.

The first is the need to develop a more mature examination of conscience. If we are growing spiritually, we realize that our sins in grade school are augmented by new temptations in high school and college. These, in turn, change as we grow older. Spiritual maturity is also marked by the realization that sin is not just a transgression against a moral law. Rather, sin means “missing the mark” by what I do or fail to do when it comes to the supreme law that we are to “love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves.”

I often quote the saying that “the only tragedy in life is not to become a saint.” We cannot fulfill the purpose for which we were created unless we become saints (either here and/or in purgatory). Sainthood is to be found not in some unreal perfection, but in our constant struggle against sin, with the help of confession, until our dying day. Holiness is the standard by which our eternal destiny will be measured. It must also be the guiding standard of our examination of conscience.

A second way of approaching an aversion to confession is to reflect more deeply on what it means to be a sinner. The truth is that every single person remains a sinner to his or her dying day. That is why Christ alone is the Savior, and that is why we need him. Only he can save us. Furthermore the personality, temptations and sins of one person are not those of another. Whatever our particular infirmities, Christ says: “Healthy people do not need a doctor; sick people do. I have come, not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

All the great saints have had a profound sense of their wretchedness and weakness, their inability to save themselves, and they all went to confession frequently.

This Lent, I hope many more people in our archdiocese will to go to the sacrament of reconciliation and start to go regularly. Confessions are being heard in all of our parishes every Monday during this season. Don’t be put off because it has been a very long time since your last confession and you have forgotten what to do or say. The priest is there to help you. What is important is that you come. We will take care of the rest.

Neglecting confession is to our spiritual impoverishment and peril, because it was divinely instituted by Christ for our healing, peace and, above all, growth in holiness. Lent is a perfect time to focus on this sacrament of conversion, penance, forgiveness and reconciliation.

In conclusion, I want to echo the words of St. Paul: “We are ambassadors for Christ, God as it were appealing through us. We implore you, in Christ’s name: be reconciled to God! ... Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor 5:20; 6:2) I hope that you will make a special effort to go to confession this Lent, especially if you have not been for a long time. I know that you will be happy if you do.

Now that we’ve begun a new year, I wish you a happy and healthy 2018. This month I want to say something about an important aspect of archdiocesan life, namely, our stewardship of financial resources.

In the Bible, and the New Testament in particular, there are many references to money — the collection and use of it, the grave dangers and the opportunities for good that it presents. Whether it was Jesus himself and the Twelve Apostles, or the earliest Christians, provisions were made for the collection and use of money for communal upkeep and for helping the needy.

The economic life of the world today is much more complex than then, but the basics remain the same. The Church is blessed with many generous donors who sustain not only their local parish communities but a host of ministerial and charitable activities that serve not only the internal life of the Church but the wider community as well.

To be proactive and to plan wisely for the future, new things are afoot for the archdiocese, and I would like to provide some background information.

There are many services that parishes receive from the archdiocese. For example, all parish legal expenses and matters having to do with human resources are covered by the archdiocese.

For the operations of the archdiocese, there is an annual assessment called the cathedraticum, which is calculated on certain line items of a parish’s annual income. Surprisingly, the actual dollar amount of the cathedraticum received from the parishes by the archdiocese has not changed in more than 40 years, and a long overdue adjustment will occur in 2018. To be more equitable, the new formula is a graduated one, so some parishes will see a decline in their assessment, but those with higher incomes will see an increase.

I also want to assure you that reductions in spending have been made, and are being made, to the archdiocesan annual budget in consultation with the Archdiocesan Finance Council, and an annual published reporting of that budget is in preparation for 2018. The Archdiocese of Hartford remains committed to the highest standards of fiscal integrity, transparency and accountability as we meet today’s many challenges.

The other source of archdiocesan income is what I would describe as the “bread and butter” fundraiser of archdiocesan life — the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal (AAA). I say “bread and butter” because whatever is collected for the AAA in a given year is spent in that year for basic activities, including charity, and an accounting is given annually for all the various components that are part and parcel of the AAA — everything from our seminarians’ education to the approximately 250 local charities throughout the archdiocese that receive financial support in the name of the Catholic people.

We need to be alert to the changes that are taking place in donations. The AAA has grown in recent years thanks to the increased generosity of those who contribute. However, there also has been a decline in the number of donors.

This is happening in many places because of demographics and a diminishing number of older Catholics who are not being replaced by a younger generation as open to participating in the life of the Church and making a contribution.

That is part of the reason that we need to consider new approaches for the future.

The recently established Hartford Bishops’ Foundation (HBF) serves a different but complementary purpose to the AAA. HBF creates a way for donors, major donors in particular, to make significant gifts or memorial gifts to be invested and managed for special needs such as the repair of the cathedral or the long-term religious and charitable activities of both archdiocesan entities and parishes. It serves the Church in the archdiocese, but it has its own lay board and leadership, and its own articles of incorporation. I am deeply grateful to the many outstanding lay leaders who have accepted my invitation to serve on the HBF.

Unlike the AAA, the funds collected by the HBF are not spent for current operations or immediate needs, but are set aside precisely to create a long-term fund from which HBF grants can be made over time for projects, entities and services that are part of Church life, such as education and charity, and that help to create more vibrant parishes. The proceeds of the very successful 2017 HBF Gala are earmarked for Catholic education in all its forms, including catechesis and evangelization. The funds raised are not for immediate spending, but for grants to benefit archdiocesan and parish activities in these areas. There are also plans for an archdiocesan capital campaign through the HBF that will benefit parishes as well as archdiocesan services and outreach.

The three financial “pillars” that I have described are meant to ensure a sustainable future for our mission at every level — archdiocesan and parochial, short-term and long-term, spiritual and material, inwardly in Church life and outwardly in charity and social engagement for the good of all. I cannot thank you enough for your generosity.

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will.” Thus reads the Gloria at Mass, to be sung at Christmas. In the words of our former pope, Benedict: “God’s glory and peace on earth are inseparable. Where God is excluded, there is a breakdown of peace in the world.”

As we approach Christmas 2017, it would be nice to say that peace reigns in our hearts and homes, our communities and country, our parishes and the Church herself. Yet we know it is not so. Today, many souls, even in the Church, are far from peaceful. Many people feel beset, besieged and insecure in the face of the many uncertainties and threats to world peace and social well-being; to marriage and family and to faith itself. A lack of inner peace leads to the anger and hostility that afflict so many people when they believe themselves to be offended, injured or thwarted in some way.

It can be argued that as long as people are people there will always be turmoil, division and strife. However, the angels were able to proclaim peace to the shepherds in Bethlehem even as King Herod was sharpening his sword to kill the newborn Messiah. It is possible to enjoy peace as a gift of God even in the midst of the raging of the world, the flesh and the devil — provided that God is with us, and we are with God.

For God to be with us, and we with God, we have to let our lives be guided by certain truths of faith.

The first truth is that whatever life brings, God’s providence guides and governs everything. “To those who love God all things work together unto good,” St. Paul writes. When at Christmas we hear “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will,” we should be mindful of all the terrible hardships and threats that the Holy Family was experiencing at that moment in Bethlehem. Jesus said, “I have come to bring, not peace, but the sword.” His earthly life began with the massacre of the innocents by the sword, and his life ended with a lance thrust through his side. Yet to those who put all their faith and hope in God, Jesus promises the peace that the world cannot give. God is never far from us and, provided we stay close to him, we will be at peace.

Another truth is that God sees all. He will be the just judge of everything that happens in life, so there’s no need for our blood pressure to soar when we witness evil and injustice, or for our hearts to sink when all seems lost. At the judgment, God will bring to light the secrets of every heart, and on everything that has ever happened in this world the light of his truth will shine. Then he will give to          each person what his or her conduct deserves. We are moved by the birth of the infant Jesus at Christmas, but let’s not forget what he said: “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” (Jn 9:39)

Last, but not least, our lives ought to be guided by the truth of the Incarnation. By becoming man in the Person of the Son, God chose to redeem us precisely “in the flesh.” As one spiritual author put it, “God understands our human ‘mess’ firsthand.” He lived and died amid the “mess” that we fallen creatures have made of life. But as St. Paul teaches, Jesus “is our peace” precisely because he has “broken down” all the walls of separation and alienation that we have created in ourselves, among ourselves and with God.” (cf. Eph 2:14)

As we prepare for Christmas this year, may each of us seek to create a place for God, not only in our own hearts and homes, but in our society and in our world, so that we can know peace. God is increasingly being shut out of so much of life. There is little room or time for him in the lives of many people. Yet Christ is always looking to be born anew in human hearts, so that the joyful message of the angels at Christmas can be fulfilled: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will.”

May you and your loved ones be blessed with all the peace and joy that Christmas is meant to bring.