As our official “Ad Limina” Visit to the Tombs of the two great Apostles, Peter and Paul, and our accounting to our Holy Father continues, what a great blessing to be able to celebrate the second major Feast of our Blessed Mother this week. On Day 1 of our Visit, we were privileged to be celebrating the universal Solemnity of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, the Patroness of the United States. Today, on Day 4, we rejoice that we are able to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patroness of all the Americas. And we were particularly privileged to celebrate Holy Mass very early this morning at the last of the 4 major Basilicas in Rome, the Basilica of St. Mary Major, the only one of the four dedicated to our Blessed Mother. Our bus brought us all the way across the City in pre-dawn darkness to this ancient and beloved Basilica early this morning, where we were able to celebrate Mass and pray for our Blessed Mother’s protection and grace to grow in holiness.
St. Mary Major Basilica appears to be the Basilica for which the last several Holy Fathers have had special affection. Before and after every journey that Pope Francis goes on, his general practice is to go to St. Mary Major to pray for our Blessed Mother’s special protection. It was at that altar where we celebrated our Mass this morning.
After the Mass, all the Bishops were led in procession to the Crypt of the Basilica where the relic of the true Manger which held the Christ Child on Christmas morning is held, and it was there that for the 4th time during this Visit, we recommitted ourselves to be in union with our Holy Father and to work tirelessly for the preaching of the Gospel to all the people in our Dioceses. Please know that I spiritually placed in that Manger all the intentions of all those who have asked me for special prayers, for the intentions of all the Faithful and Clergy of our Diocese, those of all my family and dear friends, and a special remembrance of all those who are in particular need of prayer.
Following the Mass, those of us who were attending the meeting at the relatively newly-formed Dicastery of “Laity, Marriage, Family Life, Youth and Human Life” began our travels there. This Dicastery is led by one of our own American Cardinals, Kevin Farrell, formerly the Bishop of Dallas. It was established by Pope Francis, bringing together several former Dicasteries into this one that is dedicated to every important aspect of human life and relationships. These offices were among the most modern and electronically well-equipped, with the capability of world wide electronic media for conferencing to all parts of the world; perhaps a sign of future ways that all these offices may go. We had a wonderful meeting with stimulating conversation that focused on marriage preparation and “Amoris Laetitiae”, young adults, lay ecclesial ministry, the various Movements within the Church, and special events such as World Youth Day, World Gathering of Families, and a first ever Special Gathering for those Ministering to the Elderly in January 2020. It was good to see Cardinal Farrell again, and I assured him that we miss him from his days of great involvement with the USCCB.
Because the next meetings had overlapped this particular meeting, we returned to the NAC until our next meetings after Lunch. During that time, I was able to have a private meeting at the Congregation for Clergy to take care of some diocesan business, and I also did a little shopping until the rains came just after noon. This was the first inclement weather we have had during our time here. It was a passing shower, and soon it was over. After returning to the NAC, and a little time for lunch and “reposo”, we headed out for our meeting at 3:30 at the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Another one of our American Cardinals, Cardinal O’Malley, serves as the President of this Commission; but he was not able to be present. Msgr. Robert Oliver, a priest of Boston, who is the Secretary for this Commission was a gracious host and facilitated the meeting for us. The Commission very hospitably provided us late afternoon snacks and refreshments, very welcome at that time of day. As you would surmise, the matters that this Commission deals with are of critical importance to the Church worldwide, and in particular to us in the United States in the midst of the crisis of credibility that the Church currently faces. This was a sobering, but very helpful and hopeful meeting.
Our bus then took us back to the Vatican where we had our 6:00 meeting at the Secretariat of State. Cardinal Parolin is the Secretary of State, the # 1 Consultor to our Holy Father, and an extremely key figure in the life of the Church around the world. He was truly gracious, soft spoken, and a clearly wise, insightful leader. We discussed many sensitive issues, and we left with the reassurance that the Church’s global concerns, while quite complex and very significant, are being addressed by our Holy Father with skill, charity and wisdom.
That meeting ended at 7:00 p.m., which was followed by a reception at the Villa Stritch which some of the Bishops attended, and for others of us, a return to the NAC for some quiet before the end of this next to the last official day of our Ad Limina Visit.
For me, the highpoint of this long and full day took place very early this morning, both at the celebration of the Eucharist at Holy Mass, followed immediately by revering the Relic of the Manger in the Crypt of the Basilica. The two are directly related. What we are preparing to celebrate at Christmas, now less than 2 weeks away, is the Birth of Jesus, Who has come to be our Savior, and Who gave Himself to us in the Eucharist to be our spiritual Food and Drink. Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem (which means “House of Bread”), was laid in a Manger (which is the box to keep the food for the animals), and He promised us that He would remain with us always In the Eucharist to be for us the Bread of Life. That was all captured this morning from one miracle (the Eucharist at Mass) to another miracle (the Birth of Jesus laid in the Manger), not to be food for the animals, but to be the Spiritual Food for us, His followers. My Christmas Card this year (which will be sent out late due to this Ad Limina Visit) tries to capture this very connection.: Jesus Birth in Bethlehem and His Gift to us of Himself in the Eucharist.
I consider what happened for me this morning to be a great early Christmas gift from Jesus, and in sharing this with you, I hope you receive it as a spiritual gift for your own reflection as well. As you continue to prepare yourself for Christmas, when you look at Jesus in the Manger, just know how much Jesus loves YOU, and wants YOU to be with Him always. You can have that oneness with Him every time you receive the Holy Eucharist, the Bread of Life for YOU. O come, o come, Emmanuel!
Faithfully yours in Christ,
+Bishop Paul J. Bradley
Bishop of Kalamazoo