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: Pilgrimage: A journey through Church history

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“Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” Paul proclaims these words the end of the book of Acts, capping off the biblical narrative of the work of the Apostles. The story of salvation history doesn’t end with the death of the Apostles, however, but continues in the life of the Church, fulfilling the words of Paul. The Gentiles have accepted the Gospel and have built up the Kingdom of God on earth. This is our story and we continue it.

If you want to know how the story continues after Acts, I’ll be teaching a class through the Denver Catholic Catechetical School this year, called “Pilgrimage: A Journey through Church History.” It begins with the early Church and follows the story to today. The class explores the Church Fathers, the fall of Rome, the building of Christendom, the High Middles ages, the Reformation (perfect for the 500th anniversary this year), the expansion of the missions around the globe, the modern revolutions, and the Second Vatican Council. We’ll be looking at and discussing the most important historical sources and exploring the art of the various time periods. We’ll be entering into the Church’s story by allowing the key figures and events to guide us.

We see one turning point in the story in the year 430. St. Augustine lay dying in Hippo as the Vandals prepared to sack and conquer the city. Augustine lived at the end of an age as the Roman Empire slowly crumbled, but also at the beginning of a new Christian one, an age he helped forge. The great doctor of the Church thought through the implications of the rise of Christianity in an age of political decline and saw right into the heart of history. History, unlike the focus of our textbooks, finds its true course not in politics or economics, but through love.

Augustine posited that all mankind belonged to one of two cities: the City of God and the City of Man. One city took its shape by loving God before all else and the other in a love turned inward on oneself. Augustine taught us that we live as citizens of our true homeland above even within the midst of this passing world: “The glorious city of God is my theme in this work. . . . I have undertaken its defense against those who prefer their own gods to the Founder of this city—a city surpassingly glorious.” Augustine’s teaching laid the foundation for a new Christian civilization, Christendom, which sprang up amidst the ruins of Rome in Europe.

One young man unexpectedly began building the foundations for this new civilization. He was studying within the ruins of the decadent city of Rome in about the year 500 and fled the temptations of town to live as a hermit in the wilderness. Eventually, others flocked to him and he laid the foundations for monasticism throughout Western Europe. The monasteries provided the foundation upon which a new society was built. St. Benedict, for this work, has been recognized as a patron of Europe and a true father of Christendom. His Rule does not seek to build up the earthly city, but looking to the City of God to “hasten to do now what will profit us for eternity.” And this is the key to Catholic culture and history: seeking the lasting the city helps us to live better in this life, with wisdom, courage, and hope.

We are all pilgrims, living in exile in the city of this world, and journeying toward the heavenly Jerusalem: “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come” (Heb 13:14). And yet we have to build a city on earth and looking to the past provides inspiration for this great project. This is why we should study Church history, especially as our culture goes through a period of upheaval, not unlike St. Augustine’s time. We need the witness and the legacy of the saints and doctors to guide our pilgrimage as we continue the story of the Church. Looking to the past helps us to plot out our own path on our journey to eternal life.

Class details

“Pilgrimage: A Journey Through Church History,” John Paul II Center, Denver. Tuesdays, 9:00 AM. Information Sessions: Aug 1 and Sept 5, 9:00 AM. Classes begin Tuesday, September 12, 2017. Register at: https://www.regonline.com/builder/site/Default.aspx?EventID=1968327