Bishop’s Column

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

As it was in 1968, ‘Humanae Vitae’ is a needed examination of conscience

July 16, 2018

Fifty years ago, many events — wars, violence, demonstrations, protests— shook the world.  One such event was Blessed — soon to be Saint — Pope Paul VI’s delivery of his encyclical “Humanae Vitae” (“On Human Life”) on July 25, 1968.  In it, our Holy Father wrote about the Church’s belief in the sanctity of all human life and the immorality of artificial contraception. His message remains as timely today as it was when first issued.

Paul VI did not draw massive support in stating the Church’s opposition to artificial contraception. In fact, he was vilified by many. He was a “sign of contradiction” (Lk 2:34) when it came to teaching and warning Catholics in particular and society in general about the immorality of artificial contraception.

This is the cover of a 50th anniversary edition of “Humanae Vitae” with related papal texts and published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. (CNS)

I was 6 years old when the encyclical was issued, and unaware until much later of its message. But living through the past five decades, I firmly believe the contraceptive mentality of which Paul VI spoke in “Humanae Vitae” — the deliberate obstruction of the capacity to transmit life inherent by God’s design in the act of married love — is at the root of issues regarding human sexuality manifest in today’s culture.

Around us, we see misguided definitions of marriage and gender, the ingrained nature of the abortion trade, an increasing number of divorces, the objectifying of men, women and children (as evidenced in human trafficking and the proliferation of pornography), and a disregard for the dignity of the human person from conception to natural death.

In “Humanae Vitae,” Paul VI acknowledges cultural concerns about social responsibility, population growth, and the role and rights of women in society. He notes the personal challenge that parents face in making decisions about their families. Yet, he also rightly affirms that Jesus laid the foundation for our moral understanding of our humanity and that we should not accommodate aspects of our human sexuality for the sake of convenience.

These ideas set forth a solid framework for understanding the intrinsic value of human life. St. Pope John Paul II developed that framework in 129 public audience addresses between September 1979 and November 1984; they are now known as the “Theology of the Body.”

Pope Benedict XVI further elaborated when exploring the nature of God and his relationship to humanity in his first encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est” (“God is Love”).  Pope Francis carried forward this same framework in his encyclical “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), emphasizing the importance of married love.

Message for all

Paul VI addressed “Humanae Vitae” primarily to married couples, public authorities, scientists, medical professionals, parents, theologians, and clergy. But he gave fair warning to all, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, that a more widespread acceptance and use of contraception would ultimately tear at the moral fabric of culture in three distinct ways. Each has come to pass in the last 50 years.

The first way was an increase in marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Rising divorce rates, the coarsening of popular culture and the entertainment industry demonstrate the truth of Paul VI’s vision.

The second way was his profound warning that a widespread acceptance of contraception would create a culture where there is a loss of respect for women. This is clearly evidenced in the $13 billion pornography industry, addiction to which has become so ubiquitous that it is considered a public health crisis.

Finally, Paul VI considered further developments with contraception would enable elected officials to abuse their public authority. This too has happened — most recently in attempts to force Catholic-sponsored charitable institutions to violate our sincerely held teachings by making us pay for or subsidize contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.

God’s law over man’s law

In “Humanae Vitae,” Paul VI reminded us of what has always been true — in all things, God’s law has primacy over man’s law:

“The teaching of the Church regarding the proper regulation of birth is a promulgation of the law of God himself. And yet there is no doubt that to many it will appear not merely difficult but even impossible to observe. Now it is true that like all good things which are outstanding for their nobility and for the benefits which they confer on men, so this law demands from individual men and women, from families and from human society, a resolute purpose and great endurance. (Emphasis added).

“Indeed, it cannot be observed unless God comes to their help with the grace by which the goodwill of men is sustained and strengthened. But to those who consider this matter diligently it will indeed be evident that this endurance enhances man’s dignity and confers benefits on human society” (20).

It does indeed take a resolute purpose and great endurance to faithfully carry out God’s law.  But, as Paul VI emphasized, God provides married couples with the grace to do just that. It is available when they open their hearts to God, place him at the center of their marriage, and know that he will sustain them in living the teachings of the Church.

The Diocesan Center for Marriage, Family & Life provides a variety of resources to help individuals, couples and parishes to integrate these teachings into their daily lives. God is gracious with his mercy and compassion — especially for married couples. Indeed, that grace is available to all who put God at the center of their lives.

Powerful statement

“Humanae Vitae” is often referred to as “the birth control encyclical.” But to see it as only that is to miss its greater message. It is a powerful statement of one of the principles of Catholic social teaching: that life and the dignity of the human person is God-given, not man-made.

“Humanae Vitae” gives us a roadmap to advocate for and to be witnesses to the dignity of human life in our private lives and in the public square.

As the Church marks the 50th anniversary of this fundamental document, I urge the faithful of our diocese to read and reflect upon the truths Paul VI presented to us. When read in its entirety, “Humanae Vitae” is not only an instruction about marital love, but an examination of conscience about familial and societal love — an examination that is needed as much today as it was in 1968.

Collaboration helps build Kingdom of God on earth

July 2, 2018

One of the responsibilities — and joys! — of a diocesan bishop is to ordain men to the diaconate and priesthood. I had the privilege of doing both for the first time as bishop of the Diocese of Richmond, ordaining deacons on May 19, and priests on June 2.

Deacons and priests are theologically an extension of the bishop’s ministry. They are very deeply linked with me in that I call them to support me in my primary roles as teacher, priest and shepherd.

As the bishops of the Second Vatican Council wrote, the clergy’s connection with their bishop is “in a spirit of trust and generosity,” and they “take upon themselves, as far as they are able, his duties and the burden of his care, and discharge them with a daily interest” (Lumen Gentium, 28). Very simply, they are my closest collaborators.

Our ordination of five transitional deacons and three priests bodes well for our diocese. Those ordinations are the result of an increase in the number of men who have been discerning a call to the priesthood and who have been guided by our vocations office in that journey. But that’s just part of it.

Answering that call from God requires years of formation in which men are instructed, tested and evaluated so they know in their hearts they are, in fact, prepared to serve the Lord and his Church. The process for recognizing that call is intense and extensive; discernment of their vocation is strengthened in the context of their personal, intellectual, pastoral and spiritual formation.

These men grew up in families where their vocations were nurtured, where faith was taught and practiced. Their vocations are also cultivated in vibrant parish communities that are intentional in their support of those discerning a vocation, and who encourage and rejoice when one is called to the priesthood or religious life. I am grateful to the families and parishes that provide those environments in which vocations can take root.

In preparing for the future, fostering vocations to the priesthood involves the sacrifice and support of our entire Church community. We commit, through our Annual Diocesan Appeal, the financial resources needed to provide our seminarians with thorough personal and theological formation, as well as with the pastoral experiences they need in order to be qualified, effective priests.

As they grow in faith and discern their calling, we, as a Church, discern with them, helping them recognize if they are being asked to serve as priests or in another way. We walk with them, exercising patience as they gain knowledge and experience relative to their vocation.

Please keep our deacons and priests in your prayers. Pray that their love of Jesus deepens, pray that as proclaimers of the Word of God, they will always, as the Rite of Ordination of Deacons instructs them, “believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach,” and as the Rite of Ordination of Priests instructs: “understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross.”

Also important to the life of the Church are those who serve in lay ministry. On Saturday, June 23, I commissioned 12 lay ecclesial ministers who had completed formation through our diocesan Lay Ecclesial Ministry Institute (LEMI).

All Catholics, by virtue of our baptism, are called to discipleship, but, as you read in the last issue of The Catholic Virginian, each of the men and women I commissioned has been called to serve in a specific way. Theirs is an “explicit faith commitment” — a term used by the U.S. bishops in our 2005 document on lay ministry titled “Co-workers in the Vineyard of the Lord.”

The formation for lay ecclesial ministers parallels that of priests and deacons as it focuses upon the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral development of those called to serve. The ministries in which they are engaged, e.g., education, catechetical, youth, campus, etc., are vital to the life of our faith communities in particular and for the Church as a whole.

Lay ecclesial ministers are not an “elite” group set apart from others, but from among the laity they have made a commitment to use their particular gifts to bring people closer to Christ. They minister in collaboration with priests and deacons, in distinct but complementary ways, to build the kingdom of God on earth.

As you keep our priests and deacons in prayer, please keep our lay ecclesial ministers in your prayers that their ministries will continue to prove fruitful in the Vineyard of the Lord.

St. Barnabas shows us how to serve the Church

June 4, 2018

One of the questions I was asked when I was appointed bishop of the Diocese of Richmond was, “Who is your patron saint?”

While Barry is not a derivative of Barnabas, I consider St. Barnabas as my patron because I was born on his feast day — June 11. (My confirmation name is James, chosen for St. James the Less, known as the brother of our Lord. He was the first bishop of Jerusalem).

What we know about St. Barnabas — his name is translated “son of encouragement” — we learn from the Acts of the Apostles. We know that he was generous, one who was willing to sacrifice what he owned for the good of the Christian community (4:36).

St. Barnabas may have had one of the most difficult tasks within the early Church: introducing Saul, aka Paul, to the apostles. One can only imagine just how difficult it was for him to arrange that meeting.

Although Paul had undergone his conversion on the way to Damascus, the apostles were still wary of him as they knew him only as the persecutor of Christians. Now one of the disciples wanted them to meet this notorious murderer face-to-face! We don’t know the details of that encounter, but we know St. Barnabas convinced the apostles that Paul truly had converted and was ready and worthy to proclaim the Gospel.

St. Barnabas can best be seen as a servant of the Church and as a facilitator for evangelization. He was a servant in that he was willing to do whatever was needed to fortify and grow the Christian community, including traveling with St. Mark to Cyprus in order to proclaim the Gospel. As a facilitator, he was instrumental in helping Paul bring the Gospel to people who otherwise might not have heard it, traveling with him to Antioch.

In some ways, we can all identify with St. Barnabas because, although he was not among the 12 chosen apostles, he worked in support of the apostolic mission. In fact, because he was so close to the mission, like St. Paul, he is remembered and celebrated as one of the apostles. Yet, as did others who came after the apostles, he helped sustain the life and work of the Church — something all of us are called to do.

My role straddles both of these areas. As a bishop, I am a successor to the apostles. Like the apostles, my role is to safeguard apostolic tradition and the teaching of the Church. I am called to teach the faith, celebrate the sacraments and provide oversight or governance for the institutions and charitable works of the Church.

My role in our diocese is to facilitate and support the proclamation of the Word that is carried out in our parishes among pastors and catechists. As bishop, I not only lead and guide that work, but I ensure they have all the support they need for the work. In these roles, I find much inspiration from the life of St. Barnabas.

There is another aspect of St. Barnabas’ life that inspires me. He was trusting of and dependent upon the guidance of the Holy Spirt in living and proclaiming the Gospel. In Acts 11:24, he is described as “a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” Two chapters later, we learn that when he and Paul were being driven out of Antioch, they were “continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (52).

St. Barnabas reminds us how we are called to serve our Church, and that when we serve, we allow the Holy Spirit to work through us in order that we may worthily proclaim — and live — the Word of God.

Say prayer of thanksgiving when you hear ‘gave their lives for us’

May 21, 2018

This year we are fortunate that the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Memorial Day and the Solemnity of the Body and Blood Christ (Corpus Christi) are all celebrated within a span of eight days. We are fortunate because they provide us with an opportunity to remember those who have sacrificed their lives for us.

When we celebrate Mass, we are bringing into the present Christ’s one, everlasting sacrifice of his life so that we may all enjoy eternal salvation. Recall the words heard when the bread and wine are consecrated to become the body and blood of Christ: “Do this in remembrance of me.”

This memorial — this Eucharist — is not only a remembrance of Christ’s ultimate act of love, but it is an opportunity for us to give thanks for that sacrifice,  and to dedicate ourselves to living as Christ taught and lived so that we will experience the beatific vision — seeing God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, face to face, when we die. That would not happen had God not sent his Son to redeem us from our sins.

On Memorial Day, I will be privileged to celebrate the annual Mass for the Fallen at Holy Trinity Parish, Norfolk, beginning at 10 a.m. Just as in Eucharist we remember the sacrifice Jesus made for us, so too when we commemorate Memorial Day we remember those who gave their lives for us in military service.

When we hear or read “gave their lives for us,” we need to stop, take time to realize what that means, and to say a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving because, due to their sacrifices,  we remain blessed with freedoms that are at  the heart of our nation. We are free to express our faith and to live it as we were called to live  it when we were baptized.

In remembering the impact of “gave their lives for us,” we bring into the present their  sacrifices, whether they be decades ago or of  recent memory. In that remembrance we need only imagine how empty our lives would be had they not given theirs. Consider the void in which we would live if we did not have the freedom to proclaim and live the Gospel, if we did not have the freedom to celebrate and receive the Eucharist.

As our deceased servicemen and servicewomen were children, siblings, spouses, and parents, we must remember the impact their deaths had upon their families. We pray for the survivors of the deceased as they live with the pain of that loss.

As Catholics and as Americans, our remembrances on these two solemnities and the national holiday are linked to the past, but not isolated in it. Rather, they are part of our daily lives. In the Eucharist, we are sustained by the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior. Because members of our armed forces sacrificed their lives, we are sustained by the freedoms we cherish.

Share the gift you received from the Holy Spirit

May 7, 2018

This month there is much for Catholics to celebrate. Our biggest celebration is Pentecost — the birth of our Church. We hear how the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and how they continued to preach what Jesus had instructed. When we hear that reading from Acts 2:1-11, we should realize it is not only a story about the early Church, but it is our story.

In baptism and confirmation, we receive the Holy Spirit, and we, as disciples of Jesus, are called to proclaim — in words and actions — what he taught.

As you read this, I am in the midst of a stretch of seven weeks in which I am administering the sacrament of confirmation to hundreds of teens at regional confirmation Masses in 35 parishes throughout our diocese. Each confirmation has had young people from as many as seven parishes in their region gathering together to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

It is an honor for me to seal “with the gift of the Holy Spirit” our young people and to celebrate this step in their faith development, as it indicates their willingness to affirm their faith and to be witnesses of that faith.

These celebrations are also a time for those of us who have been confirmed — no matter how long ago — to reflect upon our reception of the sacrament, how we are growing in our faith, and how we are using the gifts of the Holy Spirit — wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord.

We must remind ourselves, as I remind the confirmands, that confirmation is not a stopping point in our faith lives. In many ways it is actually a beginning, expressing a maturation of our faith and accepting the responsibility of living and sharing that faith in the world. It is a renewal, another opportunity to grow in our relationship with Jesus as we call upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit in how we live and in all we do.

My devotion to the Holy Spirit is an important part of my priesthood. I attribute that devotion to my father’s involvement in the Charismatic Renewal, and in seeing what an impact that had on his spiritual life and on that of our family. He embraced and trusted the Holy Spirit, and he taught us to do the same.

In celebrating the birth of our Church, pay special attention to the instruction from St. Paul that the Holy Spirit has given a gift to each of us — “the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7). Take that to heart, recognize that gift in your life, and commit to sharing it — to being the witnesses of Jesus Christ that our confirmation inspires us to be.

* * * * *

The Holy Spirit incorporates us into the Body of Christ. Throughout history the Church has been seen as our mother because the Church gives and nurtures us in the life of Christ. So, it seems especially fitting that as we celebrate Pentecost, the birth of the Church and our birth into the life of faith, that we also celebrate and recognize our mothers on Mother’s Day.

We are already celebrating our Blessed Mother this month; how fitting that we can also celebrate our blessed mothers. However you recognize your mother on this day, be it with a visit, phone call, card, or gift, take time to intentionally pray for her. Thank God for the life she gave you and for the sacrifices she has made on your behalf.

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 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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