Ignore God’s goodness at your own risk

Archbishop Aquila

In these times of trial, it is easy to forget or overlook the stories of faith, joy and vibrant life that are a part of the fabric of our Church. The Psalms remind us, it is essential to “call to mind the deeds of the Lord” and to “remember his wonders” (Psalm 77:11), since failing to do so can lead to despair and a hardened heart. To help us all celebrate God’s goodness, I would like to recall a few moments where I’ve seen it recently.

As 2019 began, I had the privilege to see and be a part of one of God’s wonders. After spending several days on retreat with my fellow bishops at Mundelein Seminary, I made the short trip from Chicago to Indianapolis, where the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) was holding its biennial SEEK conference for students wanting to encounter Jesus and seek the truth.

It’s hard to describe the energy and enthusiasm that the more than 17,000 students from 626 campuses brought to the event, but a few moments from the gathering might give you a glimpse of the experience.

Saturday night, the vast conference room was filled with young people adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and coming to him for healing in reconciliation. In the words of Amy Gasper, who spoke to The Criterion, “You get to see how hungry people are for the Lord. It makes my heart leap for joy.”

I had the privilege of hearing confessions for over two hours and seeing the healing Jesus brought to young people as they heard the words of absolution pronounced over them. They experienced the mercy and tenderness of Jesus welcoming them home and the great joy in heaven over one repentant sinner.

During the Mass on Sunday morning, the Solemnity of the Epiphany, I encouraged the young people in attendance to allow the grace of their relationship with Christ, the light of Christ in them, to overcome the darkness that the world and the Church are experiencing. What I said in my homily applies to everyone: “Jesus can heal any wound. He can restore any disorder. He can bring light into darkness.”  We must put our faith, our full trust and confidence in Jesus!

A few days later, I spoke from the west steps of the Colorado Capitol to a crowd of energetic, joyful pro-lifers from northern Colorado and beyond who came to stand up for the unborn at the Celebrate Life March. Despite the snow storm just a day before, thousands of people cheered the witness of the McGarrity family, who have eight children, four of them with Down Syndrome. The crowd cheered their generous embrace of life and laughed along with the excited shouts from their kids.

A short while later, downtown Denver witnessed doctors, nurses, moms, dads, children, a mariachi band, Native American dancers and so many others marching through its streets to publicly support life at every stage, from conception to natural death.

Then on Friday, Jan. 18, the nation witnessed what organizers called the largest pro-life March for Life in recent memory. By and large, most of the people marching were from Catholic parishes, schools, universities and apostolates. The march had a strong presence of young people, a palpable atmosphere of love, a sense of unity and hope.

The message of hope was also present in Pope Francis’ words during the Jan. 16 General Audience, in which he reflected on the Lord’s Prayer and the fact that God’s love for us is not impacted by our sins and shortcomings. “God is looking for you, even if you do not seek Him,” he said to the crowd. “God loves you, even if you have forgotten about Him. God sees beauty in you, even if you think you have squandered all your talents in vain.”

We need to adopt God’s view of ourselves and the Church, asking him for the grace to see and love as he does. The Holy Spirit is at work in the Church, bringing healing to those in darkness and encouraging people to shine the light of Christ in the world. The evil one would like us to wallow in despair and convince us that things are hopeless.  Place your hope in Jesus and turn to him for healing. You will not be disappointed, and then you will become the light of the world!

Featured image provided by FOCUS

COMING UP: Thomas Fitzsimons: The unsung Catholic Founding Father 

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As our nation celebrates the day of its independence and subsequent founding as a country on July 4, a look back some lesser-knowCatholic history of this historic event seems warranted.  

George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin: these are names every American knows. Pull out your wallet and you’ll likely see at least one of their faces on the money you carry aroundAnd while this nation was founded on principles rooted in Christianity, none of these men were Catholic. In fact, of the men history calls the Founding Fathers of America, only two were. 

Many may already be familiar with Founding Father Charles Carroll, a Catholic and signer of the Declaration of Independence, and whose brother John was the first Catholic bishop assigned to what would become the United States. However, Carroll was not the only Catholic who played a role in the founding of our country. The other was Thomas Fitzsimons, a name that is not mentioned much (if at all) in U.S. history classes but deserves to be recognized nonetheless.  

The unwieldy named Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, published in 1887, paints a vivid picture of Fitzsimons and the way his faith informed his character. While the other Founding Fathers were meeting and deliberating about the Declaration of Independence, Fitzsimons joined the Continental Army anfought on the frontlines against the British army. 

Captain Fitzsimons commanded his company of militia until 1778, when France entered the war. British troops withdrew from Pennsylvania and began to focus on the southern states. It was at this time that Fitzsimons became more involved in politics at the state level. In 1782, he became a delegate at the Continental Congress. In 1786, he was elected as a Pennsylvania state legislator and served for three terms until 1789. In 1787, he was selected to represent Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Congress, where the United States Constitution was written and ratified. He, along with Daniel Carroll, were the only two Catholics to sign to Constitution. 

Born in Belfast, Ireland in 1741, not much else is known about Fitzsimons’ family. He had three brothers – Nicholas, Andrew and John – and one sister, Ann. He and his family immigrated to America as early as 1760, where they became residents of Philadelphia. It was here that Fitzsimons would stake his claim as a businessman and politician. 

In 1763, Fitzsimons married Catharine Meade, whose brother, George Meade, would later go into business with Fitzsimons and build one of the most successful commercial trade houses in Philadelphia. Throughout his life, Fitzsimons was in close correspondence with Bishop John Carrollthese letters revealed insights into the Catholic Founding Father’s personal life. In a letter to Bishop Carroll in 1808, Fitzsimons wrote of being married to Catharine for 45 years. Additionally, local baptismal records show that he and Catharine stood as sponsors at the baptisms of three of Meade’s children. 

In 1774, Fitzsimons began his first foray into politics when he was elected as one of 13 Provincial Deputies who were given authority to call a general meeting of the citizens. It is believed he was the first Catholic to have ever held public office in the budding United States. Even so, anti-Catholic bigotry was common at the time and did exist within some of his fellow statesmen, such as John Adams, who once said in an address to the people of Great Britain that the Catholic faith was “a religion that has deluged your island in blood and dispersed impiety, bigotry, persecution, murder and rebellion through every part of the world.” 

Fitzsimons’ first stint in public office was brief, only lasting from May to July, but it was a foreshadowing his future involvement in state affairs. As the Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, Fitzsimons formed a company of soldiers to fight against the British army. He was assigned to the Third Battalion under Col. Cadwalader and Lieut. Col. John Nixon, who was the grandson of a Catholic. Behind the scenes, as George Washington and the like organized committees and framed what would become the Declaration of Independence, Fitzsimons ascended to the rank of Captain and continued to serve his country as a soldier and patriot.

In addition to his tenure as a commanding officer and politician, Fitzsimons also found success in other ventures. In 1781, he helped found the Bank of North America, the United States’ first de facto central bank, and served as its director until 1803. The latter years of his life were spent primarily in private business, but he maintained a consistent interest in public affairs; even Fitzsimons wasn’t exempt from the old adage, “once a politician, always a politician.” 

Through all of these endeavors, and even after befalling troubled financial times in the early 1800s, Fitzsimons remained a diligent philanthropist. He gave immense support to St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia and was invested in the improvement of public education in the commonwealth. As one of his contemporaries wrote after his death in 1811, “he died in the esteem, affection and gratitude of all classes of his fellow citizens.” 

Fitzsimons was buried in the graveyard of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia, which is now part of Independence National Historical Park. His name may not be a household one like Washington or Jefferson, but Fitzsimons can be remembered as something of an unsung Founding Father of the United Statesa man whose life of quiet faith, humble service and admirable patriotism exemplifies the values that this country was founded upon in a simple yet profound way.