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Tuesday, December 11, 2018
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Catechesis

Homily of Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York and Chairman of the USCCB Pro-Life Committee 5:30 pm, Thursday, January 26, 2017 Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, DC

“We have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary . . .” consoling words we heard in this evening’s reading from the Bible . . . . . . and here we gather in this splendid shrine of the Mother of Jesus, whom He gave to us as our mother, too, from His cross before He died.

The Italians, the Spanish-speaking, would call this, not a shrine, but a santuario, a sanctuary. How fitting indeed that we would assemble in a sanctuary, as we seek protection, grace, mercy, and guidance in a holy, safe, secure place that reeks of the divine, that envelops us in God’s embrace, where we sense the presence of our heavenly mother, as we are renewed by prayer, encouraged by the solidarity of so many brothers and sisters in the faith, as we are heartened by His Word, as we are nourished by the bread of angels, as we are sent out in confidence for our pro-life testimony tomorrow.

“We do indeed have confidence within this sanctuary.” Our ancestors in the faith, the People of Israel, sought such divine solace in their sanctuaries, remember? Mary and Joseph brought Jesus annually to the sanctuary of the temple in Jerusalem, didn’t they? Throughout Church history, those scared, in trouble or need, those on the run escaping pursuers, would claim the right of sanctuary as they rushed frightened and breathless into the safety of their Father’s house, the sanctuaries of great churches like this one; The pilgrims who left religious harassment in England sought such sanctuary in this land we now, with them, gratefully cherish as our earthly home;

Our grandparents and ancestors continued that grand tradition, coming to this country as immigrants, with hardly anything but the clothes on their back, but clinging within to that “pearl of great price,” their faith, which inspired dreams and hopes for safety and security in a land they approached as a sanctuary; Today, refugees and immigrants continue to believe that this nation is still a sanctuary, as they arrive with relief and thanksgiving, and we pray they are never let down!

We come together this evening in a church we call a sanctuary, in a land historically termed a sanctuary, on a planet the creator intended as an environment of a sanctuary . . . . . . to reclaim the belief of nature and supernature that a mother’s womb is the primal sanctuary, where a helpless, innocent, fragile, tiny baby is safe, secure, nurtured and protected.

Should it shock us, as Pope Francis asks in his ongoing global examination of conscience, that a culture that violently intrudes upon the life of a baby in the sanctuary of his or her mother’s womb, would soon lose reverence for all places intended by God as safe, secure, and nurturing; that such a society would begin to treat the sanctuary of the earth’s environment as a toxic waste dump; would begin to consider homes and neighborhoods as dangerous instead of as sanctuaries where families are protected and fostered; would commence to approach the poor as bothersome instead of brothers; would lock the doors to a nation celebrated as a sanctuary to scared, scarred, and shivering immigrants eager for a new home, and would burden the dying with guilt for peacefully and patiently savoring each day until God takes them, pressuring them instead to suicide?

Can any of us be safe, can any of us claim a sanctuary anywhere when the first and most significant sanctuary of them all, the mother’s womb protecting a tiny life, can be raided and ravaged?

I think this evening of another sanctuary, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and the massive square leading into it, brilliantly designed by Bernini. When asked about the geometry of the massive colonnades surrounding the square, the artist explained that these were the arms of God, the outreach of Jesus gathering us in, the embrace of our Mother Mary and holy Mother Church, tenderly protecting her children.  

Behold our model, our paradigm . . . a sanctuary which beckons us, where we are safe and secure in our mother’s tender yet strong embrace, where the Creator Himself assures us of protection and life itself, a sanctuary God has designed for us to protect our lives now and in eternity. Behold the baby in the sanctuary of the womb. Once that’s violated, once a society deems it legal to invade it, the integrity of the natural and the supernatural are ruptured . . . and we have no place safe and secure left to go.

We praise you, dear God, for your assurances and encouragement of this evening; we have confidence in the sacredness of sanctuary, you intended to protect your children and we entrust to you all our efforts to uphold the sacredness of human life.

Blessings Help Us to Grow

Blessings are called “sacramentals” because they prepare us to receive the grace of the sacraments and help us to grow to be more like Christ (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1670).

These blessings are drawn from the Church’s liturgy and from the Book of Blessings. They consist of prayer, Scripture, and sometimes a special ritual sign (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1668).

People are accustomed to seeing bishops, priests, and deacons blessing objects or persons in the name of the Church. Indeed, “the more a blessing concerns ecclesial and sacramental life, the more is its administration reserved to the ordained ministry” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1669), often with the participation of the local parish community gathered in prayer.

Whenever an ordained minister is present, he should be called upon to give the blessing. However, there are other blessings, like the ones contained in [Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers], that can be prayed by anyone who has been baptized, “in virtue of the universal priesthood, a dignity they possess because of their baptism and confirmation” (Book of Blessings, no. 18).

The blessings given by laypersons in this book are exercised because of their special office, such as parents on behalf of their children. Right after telling his disciples to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,” Jesus instructs them to “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk 6:28). St. Paul echoes the Lord’s command when he exhorts the Romans to “bless those who persecute [you], bless and do not curse them” (Rom 12:14). St. Peter urges that each time we are on the receiving end of evil, we should return “a blessing, because to this you were called, that you might inherit a blessing” (1 Pt 3:9). This is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “every baptized person is called to be a ‘blessing,’ and to bless” (no. 1669; see Gn 12:2; Lk 6:28; Rom 12:14; 1 Pt 3:9). Like the Lord into whom they have been baptized, parents should bless and pray for their children.

Each one of us should remember the sick and those who suffer. Each time we gather around the family table, we should bless God and the food he has given us. On special occasions, we will observe the traditions of the season, sanctifying by prayer and blessing all the seasons of grace that God has given to us.

This article is an excerpt taken from Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers (Washington, DC: USCCB, 2007) vii-viii.

Copyright © 2007, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington DC. All rights reserved.

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