How we answered Christ’s knock in 2016

Archbishop Aquila

“The Word who found a dwelling in Mary’s womb comes to knock on the heart of every person” at Christmas, Pope St. John Paul II said. Jesus is the Father’s merciful response to humanity, and he continues to knock on every human heart. As we celebrate Christmas and the beginning of 2017, it is the perfect time to lift our hearts in gratitude to the Father for his help in responding to that knock in 2016 and ponder in our hearts how we will do so next year.

As I look back at 2016, I am deeply grateful for the many, many people who have generously responded to Jesus’ call for them. The people of the archdiocese are a real gift to me, and so I would like to give praise to God by recalling some of this past year’s major works of mercy that occurred in the Year of Mercy.

The unborn are close to my heart, so the first area I would like to highlight involves the efforts to protect and support those whose lives are in danger. The Church faithfully stood up in defense of life at its most vulnerable stages by gathering for the March for Life at the Capitol last January. In March, we built on that momentum by gathering close to 2,000 people to process with the Blessed Sacrament around Planned Parenthood in Stapleton. This public witness and our prayers for the unborn are a crucial component of the effort to build a culture of life and reject the throwaway culture in which we live.

Another important aspect of mercy which creates a culture that embraces life is providing material support for mothers in crisis pregnancies. Through Catholic Charities and its launch of the Marisol Health clinics in Lafayette and Denver, we are now able to provide full OB/GYN care for expectant mothers, family care after birth, and in the near future, a place to stay for homeless mothers and their newborns.

Even though the coalition against Proposition 106 was not ultimately successful in convincing our fellow citizens to vote against the measure that legalized doctor-assisted suicide, the Church was faithful in standing up against the culture of death. We can all benefit from seeing this with the outlook of St. Mother Teresa, who said, “God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful.” It was truly edifying to see all the yard signs, hear from pastors about their efforts to educate the faithful and the number of people who were positively impacted by the campaign. Going forward, the archdiocese will work to continue to educate people on end-of-life decisions and the care that is available in those trying circumstances.

Pope Francis, through his declaration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, focused the entire Church on becoming more aware of our need to receive and give mercy. He did this by emphasizing the importance of encountering Jesus, urging priests to make Christ’s mercy through Confession more available, granting indulgences, and encouraging everyone to carry out works of mercy. Many of the priests shared with me that people were returning to Confession after years away from the sacrament. There is truth in the teaching of Jesus, that there is more joy over one repentant sinner than the ninety-nine righteous (Lk. 15:7). As archbishop I tasted that joy, as did the priests hearing confessions.

I was also encouraged to see how people throughout the archdiocese gladly embraced the Jubilee Year, with thousands of people passing through the five holy doors, hundreds going on pilgrimage and countless works of mercy being performed.

In a particular way, our archdiocese focused on the Servant of God Julia Greeley as our model for imitating the mercy of Christ. On December 18, I had the blessing of officially opened Julia’s cause for beatification and canonization. This was a historic event, since it is the first time the archdiocese has begun the process of investigating a person who lived in our midst. Julia’s witness of mercy and selfless charity were evident in her committed service to the poor, bringing them food, clothes, medicine and her loving presence, despite being mistreated and poor herself.

Julia’s life and her dedication to the Sacred Heart, her love for the Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin, remind me of another knock on the door that the archdiocese experienced in 2016. This past August, Pope Francis appointed Bishop Jorge Rodriguez to serve as an auxiliary bishop for our archdiocese. The events surrounding the bishop’s ordination in November made apparent the generosity of the people of northern Colorado. So many of you expressed your love for Bishop Rodriguez and gratitude for the Holy Father’s appointment.

For his episcopal motto, Bishop Rodriguez chose, “His mercy is from generation to generation.” His motto is a reminder to each of us that it is God’s mercy that sustains us and gives us the strength to respond when he calls us to follow him. In the coming year, I ask each of you to pray and reflect on how you will respond to God when he knocks on the door of your heart. Continue my dearest brothers and sisters to grow in the merciful love of the Father! Like the Virgin Mary, may you allow him to enter and give you the grace to follow his call for you.

May God bless you in this Christmas season and fill you with his joy!

COMING UP: Remembering John Paul the Great: Three new books

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

When teaching college students a few years ago, I was shocked when I asked my students to tell me what they knew about Pope St. John Paul II. It wasn’t much. We went on to read George Weigel’s definitive biography of John Paul, Witness to Hope (Harper Perennial, 2004), and the students were blown away by the greatness and compelling life of the Pope. The class made me realize how quickly the memory of even monumental figures can fade away if we do not work deliberately to continue their legacy.

The first place to begin “getting to know” John Paul better would be Weigel’s biography, mentioned above, along with the sequel, The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II — The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (Random House, 2010). In addition, I would recommend John Paul’s interview book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (Knopf, 1995) and his trilogy of greatest encyclicals: Fides et Ratio, Evangelium Vitae, and Veritatis Splendor. The great Pope left us an enormous legacy of writings to explore, but especially relevant now are his “Letter to Families,” Familiaris Consortio (an exhortation on the family), and the Theology of the Body.

For those looking go deeper in their knowledge of John Paul, three new books can help us to remember and continue his great work for the renewal of Church and society.

George Weigel, Lessons in Hope: My Unexpected Life with St. John Paul II (Basic Books, 2017)

The final volume of a tryptic of the Pope, Weigel provides a memoir of his interactions with John Paul and an account of how he became his biographer. For those who love Witness to Hope, Weigel provides a fascinating account of how the book came about, tracing his work within the Vatican, Poland, and across the world. It narrates his own story as seminarian, lay theology student, writer, and his activity in politics, including writing speeches for a leader of the pro-life movement in Congress. His work caught John Paul’s attention, especially his book chronicling the Church’s role in the fall of Communism, The Final Revolution. Weigel gives testimony to the providence that prepared him to write John Paul’s biography and the friendship they developed in their common witness to the hope that comes from Christ.

Paul Kengor, The Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century (ISI, 2017)

This book traces not only the remarkable working friendship of Regan and John Paul, but narrates the entire story of the struggle between European Communism and the Church. Surprisingly, the book’s common thread comes from Our Lady of Fatima, predicting Russia’s errors and uniting the faithful in prayer, as well as guiding not only John Paul but also Reagan. The two men recognized their providential role in what Reagan called the Divine Plan to end Communism in Europe. Portraits of many other key characters (on both sides) emerge: Stalin, Pope Pius XII, Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Bishop Fulton Sheen, and Gorbachev. Kengor presents extraordinary connections between the two figures: both were actors, deep men of prayer, survived assassination attempts only months apart, and played key leadership roles in the world. The book presents ground breaking research to make a compelling and undeniable case that the two great men worked together closely and succeeded in bringing freedom to Eastern Europe.

Pope St. John Paul II/Karol Wojtyła, In God’s Hands: The Spiritual Diaries 1962-2003 (Harper One, 2017)

This book gives us inside access to John Paul’s prayer life by presenting notes of his regular retreats from his time as a bishop through most of his papacy. It’s somewhat misnamed, as the book consists in his notebooks responding to the retreat material, not a normal diary. It reinforces what we know about the Pope: his strong focus on the Eucharist, his Marian spirituality of uniting our intentions to her fiat, and his concern as a bishop for the evangelization of his people. There are many gems, such as the following: “The most appropriate effects of the redemption in the human being are deeds that stem from it – deeds that through Mary are rooted in Christ, through one’s belong it Her, and that are simultaneously in accordance with Christ’s law, with His gospel” (10). The book will not disappoint those looking to enter more deeply into the spirituality of John Paul.