Bishop’s Column

 His Excellency, the Most Rev. Barry C. Knestout is Bishop of the Diocese of Richmond.

We have much to learn from our Blessed Mother

April 23, 2018

An important part of my prayer life is rooted in my devotion to our Blessed Mother. I purposely emphasize “our” as she is more than “the” Blessed Mother; she is ours. As May is designated by the Church as “the month of Mary,” this is a good time to remind ourselves that Mary has maternal care for all of us — everywhere and for all time.

Scripture records only a few instances in which Mary speaks: to the angel at the time of the Annunciation; to her cousin, Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist; to Jesus, upon finding him in the temple; and to Jesus again during the wedding feast at Cana. In each instance, her words are part of the insight we receive regarding the life and mission of her son.

One of Mary’s roles — perhaps the most important as the first and greatest of all the disciples — is her witness to her son. Recall that when she and Joseph finally found Jesus in the temple, and he told them why he was there, Scripture tells us his “mother treasured all these things in her heart” (Lk 2:51).

Imagine everything that was in her heart throughout her life! Our Lady treasures every aspect of Jesus’ life and mission: the Annunciation and Nativity, his public life to his condemnation and Crucifixion, his Resurrection, Ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit. For all that her son did for us, she was there, witnessing his miracles and listening to his teachings, knowing, through the calling she had accepted and through her faith in God, that her son truly was the Son of God.

Throughout history, artists and sculptors have provided us with thousands of images of Mary. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, has many such beautiful depictions of Our Lady. While those images can serve as inspiration for us, what is more important than how our Blessed Mother may have looked is who she is and what she provides to those who accept her embrace.

Pope Francis, in a homily on the Feast of Mary, Mother of God, Jan. 1, 2017, gives us one idea of who our Blessed Mother was:

“Mary gave us a mother’s warmth, the warmth that shelters us amid troubles, the maternal warmth that keeps anything or anyone from extinguishing in the heart of the Church the revolution of tenderness inaugurated by her Son,” he said. “Where there is a mother, there is tenderness. By her motherhood, Mary shows us that humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak but of the strong.”

Warmth. Shelter. Tenderness. Humility. These are the qualities of someone who is approachable, someone who understands our needs, our challenges. All we need to do is approach her and get to know her; she intercedes for us with her son and helps us along our pilgrim journey toward heaven.

One of the ways I have gotten to know our Blessed Mother is through recitation of the rosary. While reflecting on the joyful, sorrowful, luminous and glorious mysteries of the rosary, St. John Paul II called them a compendium of the entire Gospel.

Praying and reflecting upon these mysteries has deepened my relationship with Our Lady and with Our Lord. Whether one prays one decade, five decades, or all 20, reflecting on the mysteries, the rosary provides us with the opportunity to place ourselves in the presence of our Blessed Mother, to be immersed in what she treasured in her heart and to share with her what is in our heart. Remember, she is approachable.

As we honor Mary during May, please get to know her or get to know her better. We have much to learn from her witness, from her trust in God. In knowing her, we will also get to know Jesus better, and draw closer to him.


Conference participants demonstrate vibrancy of faith

April 9, 2018

As you read in the last issue of The Catholic Virginian, more than 400 men from our diocese gathered Saturday, March 17, at St. Bede Parish, Williamsburg, for the annual Catholic Men’s Conference. As a first-time participant, I was edified by the experience of seeing this many men coming together for prayer, reflection and fraternal support.

I liken it to what I saw at the Diocesan Youth Conference and college Summit in February, and to what, I’m told, occurs at the annual Catholic Women’s Conference in November: Catholics who seek to deepen their relationship with Our Lord, who want to grow in knowledge and practice of their faith, and who are willing to support others in that growth that they will take time to come together for this common purpose.

As bishop of our diocese, it is encouraging to witness and be a part of something that generates great interest among the participants, and which demonstrates a very vibrant aspect of our faith. Many of those who participated in the men’s conference drove a great distance to be there. That in itself speaks volumes about how much they value their faith, and how far they are willing to go to accept a unique opportunity to pray, reflect and grow in the faith.

Any event at which there is an encounter with Christ and grace is going to be fruitful to the individual participants as they accept the invitation to receive the sacrament of reconciliation, which many did, and take inventory of how they are living their faith. But that encounter reaches much further than the individual; the spiritual renewal they undergo affects their wives and children as these men strive to better fulfill their roles as husbands and fathers, which was one of the themes emphasized throughout the conference.

What also impressed me was the men’s evangelical spirit — a willingness to take what they heard and experienced back to their parishes and to share it with other men. That is a continuation of the devotion we already see among men of faith who are part of our many parish prayer groups, Bible studies and other fraternal associations like the Knights of Columbus councils and, the Men of St. Joseph.

When people are unabashedly willing to proclaim and live the Good News, it bodes well for our Catholic community — families, parishes and diocese — because it indicates a commitment by conference participants to help others grow in faith, hope and love.

I am grateful to our diocesan Office for Evangelization for the work it does in sponsoring conferences for youth, college students, men and women. When people take advantage of what these conferences offer, it is a great sign of the vibrancy of the Church in Richmond. It shows the seriousness with which people live their faith, how deeply they are engaged in it, and their desire to be a witness of it for others.


During Easter season, rejoice in new life God promised, delivered

March 26, 2018

Easter and Christmas are the two greatest feasts of the Liturgical Year. They both have a significant place in our hearts and memory. Advent and Christmas are filled with traditions of carols, gifts, and family gatherings, and Lent and Holy Week with prayer, liturgical richness, and gathering our family of faith.

I have always found Easter to be a more prayerful time with fewer social occasions and expectations. As a priest and bishop, it is a time of spiritual reflection and a renewal of commitment to discipleship and, in the case of priests, to priestly service and prayer.

Easter is always a meaningful celebration. It is not through any human understanding, but rather through our faith, that we try to understand what Christ has done for us, and why he did it. The story of his passion, death, and resurrection is more than history; it is our Mystery of Faith. It is timeless, and it relates to and impacts our lives not just once a year, but daily.

Easter has special meaning for me this year. During Lent, I have reflected on the importance — the necessity — of dying to one’s old self in order to welcome and embrace new life. Foremost has been the spiritual dying, shedding the “old man” of sin and death, as St. Paul writes, and putting on the “new man” of life and love.

In the season of fasting, penance and almsgiving, or as a result of those things, Lent has been a time of renewal, which included more time spent in prayer and reflection on Scripture in order to deepen my relationship with Christ.

This year has meant for me a more significant share in the Paschal Mystery, in dying and rising with Christ. Being named bishop of the Diocese of Richmond meant letting go of the work I was doing as a priest and bishop in the Archdiocese of Washington, and beginning a new life to shepherd the people of our diocese.

If you have undergone a major change in your life, e.g., leaving a home in which you have lived for many years, being transferred by the military, losing your job, a divorce, you have experienced a kind of “death.” You had to let go, and it was difficult.

There was a Lenten component to my letting go; giving up what you know and where you’re comfortable is a sacrifice. But there was also an Easter component — the joyful experience that comes with new life.

That new life has taken the form of immersing myself in the work and ministries of our diocese, of learning how our parishes, schools, institutions, organizations, and individuals are manifesting the Word of God to those they serve. The joy will continue in the weeks ahead as I will be conferring the sacrament of confirmation upon hundreds of youth in over 30 parishes, ordaining five transitional deacons and three priests, and commissioning 14 people as ecclesial lay ministers.

For me, Easter is a season of spiritual joy, and this year, it is a season of pastoral joy — a new opportunity to share in and witness the deep faith of our Catholic community. The latter is possible because I was willing to let go of what constituted my old self.

During this Easter season, I pray you will experience the joy we celebrate in our Risen Lord, that, as a result of Lent, you have shed your old self, and that you are renewed in faith, rejoicing in the new life God promised and delivered through his Son.


Pope Francis inspires us to be people of hope

March 12, 2018

As we celebrate the fifth anniversary of the pontificate of Pope Francis, much has been said and written about what he has meant to the world at large and the Church in particular. When commentators say, “We have never seen a pope like this,” I want to add, “The same could be said for those who preceded him.”

When we reflect upon the papacies of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, we understand that each had a different style of leadership from the other, as Pope Francis does from them. The ministry of the pope, as it is for all bishops, is to emulate who Jesus was: priest, prophet and king.

While all three exemplified those traits, each accented one of them in subtly different ways. For St. John Paul II, you would often see an emphasis on the priestly role — the one who sanctifies, who leads his people to holiness. His writings and rich reflections instructed us to express holiness in our words and actions, and he provided us with models of holiness by canonizing 469 saints during his pontificate.

Pope Benedict emphasized the prophetic role — the teacher. Some would say he was an “academic,” which he certainly was, but he was also a practical pastor, instructing us in the divine truth, helping us to know our faith so that we could better practice it.

Pope Francis, who has certainly expressed the priestly and prophetic roles as his predecessors did, has shown us kingship in a way we might not expect to see it. He expresses that kingship in his emphasis not on a regal kingship, but on a kingship rooted in servant leadership. He is the shepherd, the “pastor on the ground,” a missionary of charity, encouraging us to be one, too.

Through his words and actions, he is helping us answer two questions: How do we proclaim the Gospel in the modern age? How do we fulfill the promises of Vatican II?

One thing Pope Francis shares with his immediate predecessors is his focus on hope. St. John Paul II said, “I plead with you — never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.”

In his encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est” (God is Love), Pope Benedict XVI instructed: “Hope is practiced through the virtue of patience, which continues to do good even in the face of apparent failure, and through the virtue of humility, which accepts God’s mystery and trusts him even at times of darkness.” Pope Benedict also wrote an encyclical on hope, “Spe Salvi” (Saved in Hope) offering a profound reflection on the virtue of hope.

Pope Francis, in the inaugural Mass of his pontificate, said, “Today too, amid so much darkness, we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others. To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope; it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds; it is to bring the warmth of hope!”

Reading those words nearly five years later, we see how Pope Francis has placed hope at the heart of his life, and why he encourages us to be people of hope. The pope wants us to know and to proclaim that Christ is our hope; he wants us to embrace and live the hopefulness we find in Jesus.

Lent is an ideal time to reflect on the virtue of hope and how we live it. To help us with that reflection, we would do well to recall the words with which Pope Francis opened a series of 38 catechesis he gave last year:

“…we should not abandon hope, because God, with his love, walks with us. I hope, because God is by my side: this we can all say. Each one of us can say, I hope, I have hope, because God walks with me. He walks and he leads me by the hand. God never leaves us alone.”

Please continue to pray for our Holy Father as he leads us and inspires hope in us.


Experiencing ‘a concert of the life of the Church’

February 26, 2018

In the same year I was born, there was published a popular book written by John Steinbeck titled, “Travels with Charley: In Search of America,” in which he writes about meeting people and hearing their stories during a road trip that took him to all parts of the United States.

During a recent 19-day period, I had my own “Travels” through the Diocese of Richmond, crisscrossing the western, central and eastern parts of Virginia, celebrating Mass and visiting with thousands of you in 17 parishes, as well as in a number of schools, campus ministry centers and other Catholic entities.

It was a wonderful experience and I am grateful for your welcoming words and many expressions of kindness. I am also grateful for the chance to hear your stories, as well as your questions and concerns.

Two things in particular struck me as I learned the make-up of our diocese:

First, I am privileged to see the deep expression of faith in our parishes, the vibrant prayer and praise, and to learn of and experience the outreach — the witness to the Gospel — that is taking place across our diocese.

One example is the Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Norfolk, where the parish sponsors a ministry that serves lunch to 200 people each weekday. Those who volunteer are the face of Christ to those in need, and those in need are the face of Christ to the volunteers.

We have to keep alive in our minds and hearts that we are called to care for and support one another. In these encounters, we have the opportunity to express our love, to learn from one another, to learn from each other’s experiences and to be attentive to the needs of the other, especially those who are on the periphery of our own life and experience.

The lifeblood of our Church and our spiritual life, in which our words and actions are centered on God, is our willingness to repeatedly go out to those on the margins of life and society as an expression of love — the love Christ exemplified for us.

The second thing that made an impact upon me was the commitment to and enthusiasm for the faith I saw among our youth and young adults. I visited Charlottesville Catholic School, Roanoke Catholic School, Holy Cross Catholic School, St. John Neumann Academy, Peninsula Catholic High School, Portsmouth Catholic Regional School and Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School. I also celebrated Mass with students from the Catholic campus ministries at James Madison University, University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and William and Mary.

I was energized by our young people and the excitement they expressed as I walked through the doors of our Catholic schools and on our college campuses. It was a privilege to be so warmly greeted by our students as we see the hope and the life of the Church manifested in them.

In all that our youth and young adults have occurring at this time in their lives, they put God at the center. I was humbled by the fact that our students waited in receiving lines, as they did on a Friday night at Virginia Tech, so we could greet one another, say hello and get to know one another. I thank God for these students’ parents and others who formed them and rooted them so firmly in the faith.

When we were planning the regional Mass schedule in December, I told staff members I would not mind being exhausted at the end of the day. They took me seriously, and I’m glad they did, as those full days provided a lot of opportunities for engaging the life of the Church. I am grateful so many of you took the time to join in the celebration of Mass with me and then say hello in the receiving lines at the receptions after Mass.

For those places I haven’t yet had an opportunity to visit, I look forward to meeting many more of you as I continue to travel around our diocese in the weeks and months ahead.

What I experienced at our parishes, schools, care centers, hospitals, and campus ministries can best be described as a concert of the life of the Church, a composition expressing the beauty and vibrancy of the Church of Richmond — many people living their faith, proclaiming the Gospel with their words and actions, celebrating the sacraments and manifesting charity toward one another and especially those in need. We are, as St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1 Cor 12:12-27), that one Body of Christ with many dedicated, gifted, generous members.

I thank God for all you do and, as I said to our students and parishioners, I continue to pray for you at every Mass. I ask that you continue to pray for me in my new ministry here as I look forward to future “Travels” in which I will pray with and meet many more of you.


Emphasis on Ash Wednesday is our priority on Feb. 14

February 12, 2018

It was brought to my attention that Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday this year. It is newsworthy in that the last time this occurred was 1945. Because today Valentine’s Day is much more of a secular holiday, the fact that it falls on Ash Wednesday does not present the crisis of faith — “What are Catholics to do?” — as some may ask when St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday of Lent. (This year, it falls on a Saturday.)

Amid the deluge of cards, candy and flowers, St. Valentine has been mostly forgotten; “Saint” doesn’t even appear in secular references to “his” day.

The feast of St. Valentine was removed from the Church’s liturgical calendar in 1969 because his origin and authenticity was questioned. The saint revered for many centuries may even have been an amalgam of several individuals, but too much was uncertain or unknown, so his feast day was removed.

The pious legend presented in “Butler’s Lives of the Saints” is that St. Valentine was a priest in the third century who cured people and instructed them. According to the legend, he wrote letters from prison prior to being martyred.

What we emphasize on Ash Wednesday is far more important and enduring than the frills and the trivial many people will use to mark Feb. 14. We are marked with ashes, a sign of our sinfulness and of our willingness to repent, as well as our acceptance that everlasting life is found not on earth, but in eternity.

The words spoken as the ashes are imparted reflect those respective actions: “Turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1:15) or “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return” (Gn 3:19).

Beyond that, our emphasis, as it is every Lent, is on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Anytime is a good time to renew our prayer lives, but Lent provides an excellent time for us to fortify our prayer lives and to establish a deeper relationship with Jesus.

We not only have the Sunday Scripture readings, but you can find the daily Scripture readings at www.usccb.org. This is one of several ways to embark upon a prayerful Lenten journey.

Others include saying at least one decade of the rosary daily, and intentionally focusing upon the mystery of that decade, or participating in a parish prayer group. A key to a prayerful Lent is opening yourself to God being present and active in your heart.

Mention fasting, and you are certain to hear stories, particularly from older Catholics, about doing without particular foods and recreational activities, e.g., desserts and watching TV, respectively, during Lent. But there are other things from which we can fast — sacrifices that might be even more penitential than doing without a favorite food or form of recreation.

For example, consider fasting from gossip — something that is a destructive presence throughout our culture. Less than a month after he became pope, Pope Francis noted in a meditation at one of his daily Masses: “If, with the grace of the Spirit, we succeed in never gossiping, it will be a great and beautiful step ahead and will do everyone good.” Definitely a thought worthy of our prayer, and an action from which we need to fast, along with so many other possible bad habits or sinful actions.

There are ample opportunities on the local, national and international levels for almsgiving, e.g., mission organizations, homeless shelters, meal sites, relief efforts. In my recent visits to the regions of the diocese, I gained a deeper appreciation of the generosity of our local church and its many charitable works, as well as the many opportunities for service to the poor in our parishes. You can make this even more “Lenten” or sacrificial by contributing from your need rather than from your surplus.

Long after the Valentine’s Day cards are replaced with St. Patrick’s Day cards, and the price of Valentine’s Day candy is reduced, the prayer, fasting and almsgiving we begin on Ash Wednesday will continue to have an impact upon our own lives, as well as the lives of others. May your Lent enrich you, and may you grow closer to Our Lord during these six weeks.

Bishop Barry C. Knestout greets students following Mass in the University of Virginia Chapel, Tuesday, Jan. 23, in Charlottesville. The Mass was one of 17 regional Masses the bishop celebrated between Jan. 20 and Feb. 7. (Photo/Deborah Cox, Office of Communications)


‘Silent witness’ powerful at March for Life, beyond

January 29, 2018

I always marvel, and sometimes shake my head, when I see thousands of people watching a football game in Buffalo, Green Bay and Chicago when the temperatures are sub-freezing or sub-zero. Viewers might call them foolish; these fans call themselves dedicated.

On Friday, Jan. 19, I had the honor of joining a group that, according to some estimates, numbered more than a hundred thousand people — including the 12 buses full of participants from our diocese — for the 45th annual March for Life in Washington. I have participated in this event more than 20 times. Unlike some years, when temperatures and conditions were nasty, this year’s march was held in 40-degree weather.

No matter the weather, the participants are not foolish; they are dedicated — dedicated to protecting and promoting the sanctity of life. Unlike the aforementioned fans and teams in cold weather stadiums, the March for Life and its participants get scant, if any, coverage by the secular media. If they do, it is likely because a confrontation with pro-choice advocates occurred.

Besides the sheer number of people who participate in the March for Life annually, there are two things that make it an even more powerful statement. One is that this is a silent witness. It’s not so much because people don’t speak. They do and advocate for the unborn during the rally that preceded the march and then in the March for Life itself. No, this is silent because the popular media do not cover the March for Life as they do other social protests.

You might hear some singing and chanting or praying the rosary, but for the most part it is a silent stand — unvoiced in the popular media, but still a presence of those who hold human life, from conception to natural death, as sacred.

There are those who say we need to be more vocal about life issues. We certainly must state our views with the intensity they warrant. Yet, there is much to be said for the silent witness of those who march for life, those who silently pray not only for the victims of abortion, i.e., the babies and their mothers, but who also pray for elected officials, judicial appointees, and fellow Americans that they may understand human life must be held in highest regard in all they do.

The other thing that makes the March for Life a powerful statement is the number of Catholic youth and young adults who participate. Thanks to the efforts of our diocesan Office of Evangelization, 300 youth and young adults participated in this year’s march. That does not surprise me, as every time I have participated in this march, there have been throngs of youth and young adults.

They are not there because it is “something to do.” They are there because it is something they feel they must do. They have been formed in the faith to proclaim the Gospel with their words and actions, and this is one form of that proclamation.

These youth and young adults inspire me, as they should inspire all of us. They are busy with school, activities and work. Yet, they make a commitment to be part of this silent witness; they are willing to stand and walk silently for the unborn and other innocent people whose lives are threatened.

By the time we made it up Constitution Avenue and onto Capitol Hill, I was a little tired and had trouble staying awake on the way home. I was ready for the quiet rest of night. Yet, I was inspired by the witness of all who had gathered that Friday. They spoke by their actions and their dedication to the dignity of the unborn.

While some media outlets, by ignoring the newsworthiness of the March for Life, might desire to muzzle the voices of all who support the dignity of human life, the proclamation of the silent witnesses who marched for life spoke volumes. It is a witness we value and we need in providing dignity to all human life.


‘Home for Christmas’ has new meaning this year

December 18, 2017

As I write, an early blanket of snow is covering Virginia and the Washington area. Everything looks and feels more like Christmas — a time when thoughts naturally turn toward home.

Home! I’ve been thinking a lot about home lately. In this Advent season, I’ve been making preparations to move from the place I have lived for the vast majority of my life to a new home in Richmond.

During these past few weeks, as I have been preparing for my move to Richmond, I have experienced a lot of different emotions, They have ranged from the gratitude of being chosen by Pope Francis to be your shepherd, to sadness of having to say goodbye to the dozens of people with whom I have worked and ministered throughout my priestly and episcopal to joyfully anticipating getting to meet and build the Kingdom of God with the faithful in my new diocese.

As sadness and elation entwine themselves in my heart, I take solace in the Advent Scripture readings at Mass, as they focus us more attentively on the coming of Christ. We can imagine Joseph and Mary, heavy with child, making their way to Bethlehem, the ancient home of King David.

What were Mary and Joseph thinking as they prepared to make this trip? Joseph was concerned for the welfare of Mary and the Child she carried, the stress of the journey upon her, the apprehension about the dependability of their transportation and the safety of the road.

Mary’s attention was focused on her Child and trusting that God the Father would see them through. With the influx of people into Bethlehem, both were likely wondering, “Where will we stay?”

We know that upon reaching Bethlehem, there was no room for them at any of the inns. Instead, Our Lord had “nowhere to lay his head.” Yet without home or customary surroundings of safety and comfort, “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

There is a saying that “home is where the heart is.” We know where our Lord’s heart is – within us and his body the Church. Our Lord made His home with us and his Spirit dwells within our own hearts. His heart was pierced and he poured out his love for us. We hope for this love during our Advent journey — and for this we rejoice during the season of Christmas.

As we move into the Christmas season, my thoughts are about home — the one I’m leaving and the one to which I am coming. Anyone who has ever moved from home — be it to another neighborhood, city, state or country — does not forget home. There are the roots, the formation, the friendships, and the memories that never leave us.

People ask, “Aren’t you going to miss Washington?” Certainly, but I welcome what awaits in my new home. It will be an opportunity to put down roots, and to make new friends and memories. Most importantly, it will be another opportunity to proclaim and live the Word of God among you, and to bring others home to the Church.

So, “home for Christmas” does have a different meaning for me this year. While I will be staying in Washington for the next month, saying my farewells and celebrating Christmas, my home and my heart are with you as we approach the joy of the Incarnation of Our Lord. Wishing each of you and your families a very Merry Christmas and offering prayers for our lives together in the New Year!

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