Homily of His Eminence Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington
Mass of the Holy Spirit
Upper Church, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Aug. 31, 2017

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is always a joy to celebrate this Mass of the Holy Spirit to inaugurate the academic year of The Catholic University of America. I want to recognize, in a particular way, President John Garvey, the administration of the University, the deans and academic faculty of the University manifested in its many schools, and finally, in a most particular manner, the students of Catholic University and the incoming freshman class – the Class of 2021 – all of you from every state of the Union and from 90 countries around the world.

In a special way, I welcome all of you who are joining us through the kindness of the Eternal Word Television Network.

Catholic University is a very special place.  It is a university.  Students, faculty and administration gather here in the time honored, human exploration of the truth – the search for the truth.  

But our university does this in the context of its Catholic identity. Thus, we begin our academic year invoking an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  It is in the light of faith that we try to understand the human condition.  Our Catholic faith is part of the very context of our University experience.  Our origins are found in the decision of the United States bishops to establish an institution of higher learning that comes out of the heart of the Church.  

Our faith is one that we deepen, enrich and explore, here on this campus, thanks to the opportunities provided by the faculty and the engagement of this large student body.

At the same time, we realize that each of us who accepts Jesus as Lord is challenged to share that faith. We are very conscious of the call of Pope Francis, annunciated over and over again, that we are to be missionary disciples, that we are to be evangelizing disciples.

Our call grows out of the charge of Jesus as he was preparing to return to his Father in glory: “You will be my witnesses.”

The effectiveness of the witness to the faith is recognized in actions more than words.  In the Gospel today, Jesus reads the scriptural text of the Prophet Isaiah but then says look around and see what I am doing, see my works, see my actions and you will see that this text is being fulfilled in your sight.  How is this possible?  How can you and I be visible witnesses?  How do we have the courage not just to say our faith but live our faith?  

In the first reading from the Prophet Ezekiel we are told that it is only in the power of the Holy Spirit that you and I can do this.  But that power is real.  God places his Spirit within in so that we do have the ability not only to say the words of faith but to live them.  The second reading tells us of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, of the characteristics of someone who lives that gift and power of the Holy Spirit.

Today, I would like to share and reflect with you on some of the characteristics of the evangelizing witness.  What should be our identifying qualities?  Of all the many, I will name only five: boldness or courage, connectedness to the Church, a sense of urgency, compassion and joy.  

All of these are expressions of the outpouring, the anointing and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are empowering spiritual gifts given to the baptized and confirmed for the building of the body of Christ, the Church. They are wisdom, understanding, counsel or right judgment, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord.

A word that, in the Acts of the Apostles, describes them after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is “bold.”  Peter boldly stands up and preaches the Good News of the Resurrection. Paul boldly announces the Word in frenetic movement around the Roman world.  Today, the New Evangelization must show a similar gift of fortitude, courage, boldness borne of confidence in Christ.  We cannot be lukewarm, but must be on fire with the Spirit.  

Two gifts that come to mind related to boldness are fortitude and wisdom. Fortitude allows us to stay the course despite pressures and resistance inviting us to turn away. Today’s secular culture requires missionary disciples to move forward with the strength of the Holy Spirit. The gift of wisdom also tells us with clarity - who we are - children of God and in whose name we dare go out.

Connectedness to the Church is another characteristic of the disciple.  It manifests the Holy Spirit’s gifts of piety, fear of the Lord and counsel at work within us. Piety serves to align all endeavors in the Church‘s ministry and proclamation to the glory of God, within the Church he established. Fear of the Lord leads us to refuse anything less in our relationship with Christ than everything Christ offers us, and that must include his Church. Counsel is that gift guided by the gift of wisdom that directs our discernment of how to best proclaim the saving message of the Gospel.

The evangelizing disciples needs a connectedness with the one Church, her one Gospel and her pastoral presence to verify the truth of what we profess.  The authentication of our message of everlasting life depends on our communion with the Church and solidarity with her pastors.  

Another needed quality is a sense of urgency.  We see in Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth how the Gospel recounts that Mary set off in haste on a long and difficult journey.  There is no time to be lost because the ministry is so important.  Once again, we experience what our Holy Father, Pope Francis, tells us is the need to go out, to encounter and engage. The gift of the Spirit is not a personal possession – a talent to be buried. Rather, it is a gift that carries with it a sense of outreach. “Always forward.”

This too has been a consistent theme of Pope Francis.  Like the angels who appeared after Jesus ascended to heaven and said to the Apostles, “Why are you standing there looking at the sky?” – effectively telling them, “Don’t just stand there.  Do something!  You have your commission. Do what you’ve been told to do.” – our Holy Father is saying likewise, “We have talked about the New Evangelization, about what it is and what it entails.  Now, go out and do it!”  We have been called to missionary discipleship, it is time now for us to rise and be on our way.

This brings us to the quality of compassion or mercy. The evangelizing disciple is free to extend the merciful hand of God precisely because he or she has already received the bounty of God’s forgiveness. It is now our turn to do likewise, mindful of the petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

As evangelizing disciples, our declaration should always be that of Pope Francis: “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy” (Evangelii Gaudium, 3). Again, as Pope Francis put it, “The Church is commissioned to announce the mercy of God, the beating heart of the Gospel, which in its own way must penetrate the heart and mind of every person” (Misericordiae Vultus, 12). In mercy, the gift of piety is above all manifest as the palpable manner in which Christ’s faithful and tender love reaches out through his disciples.

Finally, when we look around and see the vast field waiting for us to sow seeds of new life, we must do so with joy.  As you know, the exhortation Evangelii Gaudium is translated as “The Joy of the Gospel.”  The document opens with the sentence, “The Joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus” (1).

Our message should be one that inspires others to follow us along the path to the kingdom of God.  We should make our own, the words of Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium, “I invite all Christians everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them” (3).

Dear brothers and sisters, our joy is rooted in the fact that God has looked on us and shown us great mercy.  May the mercy and compassion we show to others be a manifestation of our joy.  


This is a new moment in the life of the Church, a new moment for us as we begin the new academic year, and a new personal Pentecost as we renew the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  It is our turn in the long history of the Church simply to believe, to say and to live the announcement: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.