A. I am very happy to welcome all of you to the Archdiocese of Baltimore and to this, the first Cathedral of the United States. Archbishop John Carroll laid the cornerstone for this Cathedral in 1808 and oversaw its design with architect Benjamin Latrobe. The design of the dome was assisted by Thomas Jefferson. The thought was to create a Roman Catholic Cathedral that would resemble the neoclassical buildings that were under construction in the nation’s capital. This Cathedral symbolizes a new nation that recognizes fundamental freedoms, including and especially religious freedom. So I am delighted not only to welcome a community to which I feel close but indeed to welcome you as champions of religious freedom in our times.
B. The Little Sisters of the Poor have been here since April 6, 1869. You came to a city that was badly divided by the Civil War and you continue to minister in a city that remains racially divided today. Following the wisdom and example of your founder, St. Jean Jugan, you have always served those who are vulnerable and poor with a love, care, and respect that springs from the heart of the Gospel. Wherever I have had the privilege of serving – Washington, D.C., Connecticut, and now Baltimore – I have seen the affection in which you are held by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Your admirers may or may not know about the Church’s teaching on religious life but they know the genuine article when they see it…and so do I! You have my deepest admiration and my warmest thanks!
II. From the Heart of the Gospel
A. A moment ago I said that your way of life and your apostolate spring from the heart of the Gospel. How providential, then, that we have gathered on the feast day of St. Mark, the Evangelist – a disciple and companion of St. Peter and a cousin of Barnabas, St. Paul’s co-worker. If you don’t mind, I’d like to focus on just a few points about Mark and his Gospel which I think are especially applicable to you, dear sisters, and to your mission.
B. The first thing I’d mention is Mark’s relationship with St. Peter. As we read and study St. Mark’s Gospel we hear the voice of Peter for scholars tells us that this, the first of the Gospels to be written, is largely a summary of St. Peter’s preaching. So too, the Little Sisters of the Poor have listened to the voice of Peter in the person of the Holy Father, in these days, the voice of Pope Francis. In this year of mercy, he is leading the Church to focus on compassion for the poor, the needy and the vulnerable in what he calls “a throwaway culture”. When he came to visit your home in Washington, his joy was evident. Given your spirit of service, he was among kindred spirits.
C. A second point is that Mark’s Gospel was written during a time of persecution, some would say during the reign of the Emperor Nero who set Rome ablaze in 64 AD and then blamed the Christians, touching off a fierce persecution. We can get an ominous sense of that difficult time in our first reading, taken, as it happens, from the First Letter of St. Peter, where he says: “Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the Devil is prowling around looking for someone to devour. Resist him in faith, knowing that your brothers and sisters throughout the world undergo the same sufferings.” We see a bloody, ongoing persecution of Christians in the Middle East, indeed they are suffering full-blown genocide. In the West, we are suffering from Pope Francis called “polite persecution” disguised as culture, modernity, and progress. In resisting the HHS mandate, you are resisting a polite persecution, so polite in fact that many people, even Catholics, do not understand it. This is not something you wanted to do, I know how difficult it is. Yet, you are suffering in solidarity with persecuted Christians around the world, just as St. Peter exhorts us in today’s reading from his first letter.
D. A third and final point is this is St. Mark’s focus on evangelization. Following the II Vatican Council, the Church has focused on spreading the Gospel not only to far distant mission lands but also to secularized societies like our own. We have been called to rekindle that fervor for the Gospel so evident in the Gospel of St. Mark and the preaching of the Apostles. St. John Paul II urged us to “allow ourselves to be filled with the ardor of apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost” (NMI, 40). In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus giving the Apostles the commission “to preach the Gospel to every creature” – to Jews and Gentiles alike – and we listened with amazement at the signs and wonders that would accompany their witness to the Gospel. What we learn from this Gospel passage and what you have learnt from St. Jean Jugan is the importance of bearing witness to the good news with an expectant faith, asking the Lord to accompany your witness to the Gospel with signs and wonders that confirm the truth and goodness of the Gospel and show us its power. And that goes to the very heart of your charism. For your witness to Jesus and his compassion are backed up by compassionate care for the poor, the weak, and the elderly. You engage in “a charity that evangelizes” as St. John Paul II put it. Any time I walk into a home run by you, I see those signs and wonders in the joyful faces of your residents who otherwise might be neglected.
A. So let us rejoice on this feast of St. Mark, asking through the intercession of St. Jean Jugan, for courage in present trials and for continued joy in proclaiming the Gospel accompanied by the signs and wonders that only Christ’s charity can produce – so that many will open their hearts to the joy of the Gospel, to the joy of believing.
B. May God bless you and keep you always in his love!