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Friends, this month I am in Rome participating in the Synod on Synodality. My fellow US delegates and I will be meeting with participants from all over the world—cardinals, bishops, priests, and a large contingent of lay people—to discuss important matters in the life of the Church resulting from two years of listening sessions with Catholics across the globe.

The Synod will be about all of us—clergy and laity—walking together (syn-hodos, “on the way with” in Greek) under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In this measure, the synod will be very much in continuity with Vatican II’s universal call to holiness and the consistent postconciliar emphasis on a “new” evangelization. It will embody Pope Francis’ oft-stated desire for a Church that goes out from itself all the way to the margins in order to bring Christ to everyone.

Please pray for me and for all of the delegates to the synod as we commence our work. 

Veni Sancte Spiritus!

Follow the journey

A Day at the Synod

As some of you probably know, I’ve been in Rome for the past three weeks participating as a delegate at the Synod on Synodality. You might also have heard that in order to ensure the confidentiality of the proceedings, Pope Francis has asked all the members of the synod to refrain from disclosing what has been discussed. So, I won’t be providing any juicy inside information. But I thought you might find it interesting to know what a typical day at the synod is like and what the overall atmosphere is.

Men standing in crowd

Friday, November 3rd 2023

Friends, while in Rome I had the pleasure of sitting down with my friend and Word on Fire fellow John Allen Jr. to discuss his latest book “Catholics and Contempt: How Catholic Media Fuel Today’s Fights, and What to Do About It” and the various aspects of the Catholic media world today.

Thursday, November 2nd 2023

Friends, what a gift it was to stand in the very classroom where St. Thomas Aquinas taught, next to the San Domenico Maggiore church. Thomas spent his entire life writing about the mysteries of the faith, but at the end of his life, it all became silence in the presence of the great Mystery.

Wednesday, November 1st 2023

Friends, St. Thomas Aquinas is a dear spiritual friend and hero to me. Toward the end of our time in Rome, the Word on Fire team and I traveled to Naples with my good friend Fr. Paul Murray to visit San Domenico Maggiore, where Thomas Aquinas spent his final years.

It was here that Thomas taught classes and labored to write the third part of his “Summa theologiae.” It was also where he had his famous encounter with the Lord. From an icon, Thomas heard the Lord say that he had written well of him, and asked what he would have as a reward. Thomas responded, “Non nisi te Domine” (Nothing but you, Lord). I’ve taken these words as my episcopal motto.

It was incredibly moving for me to be able to celebrate Mass at a side chapel in San Domenico Maggiore, to visit the spaces where Thomas lived and taught, and to see the very icon before which Thomas uttered those words.

St. Thomas Aquinas is the Church’s greatest theologian, my hero, my patron saint, the person who, more than any other, directed me toward the priesthood. He was not only a brilliant thinker but a saint deeply in love with Jesus. We would all do well to spend more time learning from both his brilliance and his holiness.

Please pray for me through the intercession of St. Thomas Aquinas. God bless you.

Monday, October 30th 2023

Friends, as some of you may know, my episcopal motto is “Non nisi te Domine” (Nothing but you, Lord). These were the words St. Thomas Aquinas spoke when God asked him what he would have as a reward for having written so well of the Lord.

St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us!

Monday, October 30th 2023

Friends, recently, I sat down with Colm Flynn of EWTN in Rome. We sat on the rooftop of the North American College and discussed a variety of topics, including what first sparked my interest in the priesthood, the only book I’ve ever spent a little bit of money on to have a first edition, and of course, Word on Fire.

Sunday, October 29th 2023

Friends, the month-long Synod on Synodality came to a close with Mass this morning. Pope Francis reiterated the importance of spending time in Adoration, “for only through silent Adoration will the Word of God live in our words; only in his presence will we be purified, transformed, and renewed by the fire of his Spirit. Brothers and sisters, let us adore the Lord Jesus!”

I invite you to return to Adoration soon, spend time with the Lord, and be transformed by the fire of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, October 29th 2023

Friends, though San Giovanni in Laterano may be the seat of Rome, the grandeur of St. Peter’s and its importance to our faith are in a category of their own.

Emperor Constantine built the original basilica over the ground where St. Peter—fisherman, Apostle, friend of Jesus, and first pope—was purported to have been buried. Peter was killed at the order of Emperor Nero, and, according to tradition, he was crucified upside down, believing himself unworthy of being crucified in the same manner as our Lord.

Under the papacy of Pope Julius II, construction on the new St. Peter’s began. Construction took more than a century, and upon completion, St. Peter’s became one of the most recognizable, beautiful examples of Renaissance architecture in the world, even to this day. So many of its features from the dome, nave, and apse, to the many altars and side chapels, to Bernini’s baldacchino over the main papal altar, to the world-class paintings, frescos, mosaics, and statues are simply magnificent.

For scale, at the base of the dome—designed by Michelangelo—reads, “You are Peter and on this stone I will build my church and I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 16, 18-19). These letters are more than six feet tall, giving the person on the ground looking up a small gaze into the sheer magnitude of the basilica!

St. Peter’s is where popes walk out to greet the faithful for the first time. It’s where the faithful come to pay their respects when a Holy Father passes away.

Millions of pilgrims travel to St. Peter’s each year to venerate some of our most extraordinary saints, partake in the holy sacrifice of the Mass, receive absolution for their sins, and gaze upon Michelangelo’s “Pietà.”

When I look up at the dome of St. Peter’s, I see the world’s most elaborately decorated gravestone. For here is where St. Peter is buried. And then I think of Nero, emperor of Rome, who is but a memory, his empire long gone. But St. Peter remains honored here, Christianity spans the globe, and the successor of Peter reigns.

Today, reflect on the life of St. Peter. A fisherman from Galilee, his life was radically changed when he heard and accepted his mission and said yes to following Christ. Peter alone could answer, “You are the son of the living God”—a divinely inspired confession. And he is the one to whom Christ entrusted the Church.

St. Peter, pray for us!

Saturday, October 28th 2023

Friends, so much can be said about Santa Maria Maggiore. This magnificent church is one of the four major basilicas in Rome and is home to many extraordinary relics and works of art.

Legend holds that in the fourth century, the Virgin Mary revealed herself in a dream to both a wealthy Roman couple and Pope Liberius, asking for a church to be built in her honor and announcing that a miraculous event would take place.In the middle of the Roman summer, snow fell on the site where Santa Maria Maggiore now stands.

Classic in its basilica architecture, the church is adorned with truly stunning fifth-century mosaics in the triumphal arch and apse, an impressive sixteenth-century coffered ceiling, and numerous beautiful paintings and sculptures.

Walk down the staircase, and resting beneath the main altar you will find relics of the Nativity from Bethlehem. Kneeling before the five pieces of the Holy Crib is a sculpture of Pope Pius IX. You won’t soon forget the simple joy etched in his expression.

So much more could be said about Santa Maria Maggiore: the popes buried there, St. Jerome’s relics, the many paintings and statues, the importance of the Bernini family to the basilica, and the dropping of white rose petals during the annual Mass for the anniversary dedication of the basilica.

Might I instead encourage you to turn to our Blessed Mother today with the prayers that weigh on your heart, as that Roman couple did centuries ago? Offer a Memorare prayer: “Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession, was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.”

Friday, October 27th 2023

Friends, our production team captured this spectacular footage of the Rosary “aux flambeaux” in St. Peter’s Square. Each Saturday in October, the faithful gather here to recite the Rosary by torchlight.

Whether it’s been a day, a month, or a year since you last prayed the Rosary—or even if you have never prayed it before—I invite you to pray the Rosary today or tomorrow, asking for our Blessed Mother’s intercession. If you are new to the Rosary or if it’s been a while, here’s a short video to help you get started:

Tuesday, October 24th 2023

Friends, in the early fourth century, St. Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, brought the “Scala Sancta” to Rome from Jerusalem. These were the stairs Jesus ascended at Pontius Pilate’s palace before his Passion. They can be visited across the street from San Giovanni and just down the street from Santa Croce.

Many pilgrims travel to the Scala Sancta to ascend the steps on their knees as an act of devotion and piety.

Join me in contemplating Christ’s Passion and reflecting on John 18:28–38.

Sunday, October 22nd 2023

Friends, next in our pilgrimage is St. Lawrence Outside the Walls. During his reign, Emperor Constantine built an oratory over the spot where St. Lawrence—deacon and martyr—was buried. A couple of centuries later, Pope Pelagius II called for the construction of a full church, and in the thirteenth century, Pope Honorius II constructed a new church in front of the one built by Pope Pelagius II. The two churches were eventually combined, forming the basic structure of the basilica we see today.

Unfortunately, St. Lawrence Outside the Walls was bombed during World War II, and though it was reconstructed with much of the structure intact, the original exterior facade and interior fresco work are lost.

Beneath the papal altar are the remains of St. Lawrence, St. Stephen, and St. Justin, early martyrs. St. Lawrence, for whom the oratory was built and basilica is named, was a Roman deacon martyred during the persecution of Emperor Valerian. Tradition holds that St. Lawrence, keeper of the purse and responsible for the distribution of alms, knew he would be arrested, and when asked by Emperor Valerian to present the wealth of the Church, he presented the poor, orphaned, and widowed. Enraged by this, Emperor Valerian sentenced him to death on a gridiron.

Also buried here is Pope Pius IX, canonized by Pope John Paul II, whose feast we celebrate today. Pope Pius IX was the longest serving pope, convened the First Vatican Council, and promulgated the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

Saints Lawrence, Stephen, Justin, and all the martyrs, pray for us!

Pope Pius IX, pray for us!

Pope John Paul II, pray for us!

Our Blessed Mother, pray for us!

Monday, October 21st 2023

Friends, Santa Maria in Cosmedin is striking in its simplicity. This eighth-century church derives its name from its dedication to the Virgin Mary and the Greek word kosmidion (ornate).

Pilgrims flock to Santa Maria in Cosmedin to see its ancient frescos, venerate the skull of St. Valentine, and admire the choir loft.

Originally adorned and decorated by Greek monks fleeing persecution during the First Iconoclasm of the Byzantine Empire, the church took on a baroque interior at the beginning of the eighteenth century, only to have all of the additions removed less than two centuries later. The church has the tallest medieval belfry in all of Rome, and is known by tourists for the Mouth of Truth, a massive marble sculpture in the portico.

Mary, Theotokos, pray for us!

Wednesday, October 18th 2023

Friends, on the feast of St. Luke, my fellow synod delegates and I gathered for Mass at the Altar of the Chair of St. Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica. In his homily, Archbishop Gintaras Grušas remarked, “Synodality, including its structures and meetings, must be at the service of the Church’s mission of evangelization and not become an end in itself.”

Please continue praying for me, my fellow delegates, and the Holy Father. Know that you are in my prayers as well.

Tuesday, October 17th 2023

Friends, yesterday Pope Francis shared a beautiful letter in honor of the 150th anniversary of the birth of St. Thérèse of Lisieux—a great spiritual friend of mine and patroness of Word on Fire. The Little Flower understood that the path to sainthood is one filled with trust and confidence in God, a similar trust that children have in their parents. May we all have that childlike trust in the grace and mercy of God the Father.

Take a moment this evening to read Pope Francis’ letter C’EST LA CONFIANCE

St. Thérèse of Lisieux, pray for us!

Friends, tucked behind the Monument to Victor Emmanuel II sits Santa Maria in Aracoeli. With a bare facade, it might be easy to walk on by, but this minor basilica is much deserving of a trip inside.

The basilica is famous for the Santo Bambino of Aracoeli, a statue of the child Jesus carved by a Franciscan from olive wood grown in the Garden of Gethsemane. Tradition holds that many weary and sick pilgrims were healed by Santo Bambino. Each year, the statue of the child is laid in a manger on Christmas Eve, and in recent years, it has been carried in a procession.

Also housed within Santa Maria in Aracoeli are the relics of St. Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine, and the icon of Madonna Aracoeli, which holds a place of prominence above the main altar.

Santa Maria in Aracoeli has a classic basilica architecture with a main nave and two side aisles, and the church itself includes much of the original cosmatesque pavement—though this floor was damaged when the church was briefly turned into a stable in the eighteenth century—and varying Romanesque and Baroque elements.

I invite you to reflect upon Luke 2:1–7, the birth of Jesus Christ—a little child lying in a manger who had come to heal the whole world.

Monday, October 16th 2023

Friends, did you know the seat of the Bishop of Rome is actually at San Giovanni in Laterano? As such, it is the highest ranking church in the Catholic faith. St. John Lateran holds many titles of distinction besides: it is the oldest church in Rome, the oldest basilica in the Western world, and was the papal residence for centuries.

Like many of the beautiful churches of the Eternal City, San Giovanni was built during the time of ancient Rome, and down the centuries, it was expanded, destroyed by fire, and rebuilt again. The basilica we see today is a mixture of many different elements of style that, though distinct, work together to elevate the basilica’s beauty. Lining the main nave are twelve larger-than-life statues of the twelve Apostles, with St. Paul replacing St. Matthias, added in the eighteenth century.

St. John Lateran has been thrice dedicated: by Pope Sylvester to Christ the Savior, by Pope Sergius III to St. John the Baptist, and by Pope Lucius II to St. John the Evangelist.

Pope Leo XIII, well known for his encyclical “Rerum Novarum,” a foundational document for Catholic social teaching, is among the popes buried here.

St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, pray for us!

Sunday, October 15th 2023

Friends, St. Paul Outside the Walls is one of the four major basilicas in Rome, though notably, as the name suggests, it is the only one outside the ancient walls of Rome. Walk down the Via Ostiense and you’ll arrive at the basilica. With its striking mosaic above the main apse and the medallions of popes throughout the ages, the basilica is home to the relics of St. Paul and the chains that imprisoned him.

Construction first began on this church in the fourth century, when it was built by Emperor Constantine and consecrated by Pope Sylvester. Over the centuries, the basilica became a masterpiece of the Paleo-Christian, Byzantine, Renaissance, and Baroque periods. When a fire burned the basilica to the ground in the early nineteenth century, locals saved what they could and with the financial assistance of the international community the basilica was rebuilt in accord with its original design. Since being rebuilt, additional architectural features have also been added.

St. Paul, great evangelist and friend of Jesus, pray for us!

Saturday, October 14th 2023

Friends, San Pietro in Vincoli is home to the chains that bound St. Peter when he was prisoner in Jerusalem and Rome. Legend holds that when the chains from Jerusalem were presented, they miraculously fused with the chains from Rome.
An ancient church consecrated in the early fifth century, its purpose was to guard these venerated chains. As with many churches in Rome, San Pietro in Vincoli underwent many restorations, especially during the Italian High Renaissance. During this time, Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to design a sculpture for the pope’s tomb—the famous Moses.
Our production team captured beautiful imagery of the chains. Take a look, and afterward, read the twelfth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.

St. Peter, pray for us!

Friends, Santi Cosma e Damiano, in the early sixth century, became an early place of Christian worship in the Roman Forum. The relics of these saints, who were martyred around the year 300, are below the lower altar. The basilica is also known for its Marian devotion. Our Blessed Mother appeared to Pope St. Gregory the Great as he walked past the basilica one day, asking why he never visited her anymore. To this day, at the main altar, an icon of Madonna della Salute is displayed.
Restorations on the basilica have occurred throughout the ages: the entrance has moved, the floor has been raised, and a high altar has been erected. But from the sixth century through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance Era, Santi Cosma e Damian has stood in the Roman Forum as both a place of worship for Catholics and a place of refuge for pilgrims.

Please join me in prayer for the synod. Saints Cosmas and Damian, pray for us!

Thursday, October 12th 2023

Friends, while I’m in synod meetings, my production crew is journeying through Rome, capturing the great spiritual pilgrimage sights of this city and bringing them to you. Sant’Andrea della Valle is dedicated to St. Andrew the Apostle, the older brother of St. Peter. How fitting, then, that the dome of Sant’Andrea is the second largest in Rome, bested only by St. Peter’s Basilica! There is a striking painting of the crucifixion of St. Andrew at one of the altars. Rather than being crucified on a traditional cross, St. Andrew was crucified on a cross in the shape of an X and bound rather than nailed. He felt he was not worthy to die in the same manner as our Lord.

St. Andrew and St. Peter, pray for us!

Tuesday, October 10th 2023

Friends, Santa Maria sopra Minerva is the final resting place of St. Catherine of Siena and five popes, including Pope Benedict XIII.

Thursday, October 5th 2023

Friends, what do we do when humanity’s attitude toward creation moves from one of deep respect to one of technocratic power?

I spoke about technocracy at length in episode 379 of the Word on Fire Show:

Inaugural Mass

Friends, I’ve been on retreat with my fellow delegates the last few days. Keep praying for us. Tomorrow, we have a Mass of inauguration and get right to work!

Wednesday, October 4th 2023

Friends, I wanted to share a few thoughts with you about the first day of the Synod.

Tuesday, October 3rd 2023

Friends, I’ve been on retreat with my fellow delegates the last few days. Keep praying for us. Tomorrow, we have a Mass of inauguration and get right to work!

Thursday, September 28th, 2023

The Journey Begins

The work of the synod will be important. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis has stressed how prayer is integral to the synod. This emphasis should strike us as significant because prayer reminds us of not only the Church’s but also our own dependence on God in Christ and instills in us a surrender of our will to him, the purpose of which is to assist us in becoming receptive to what God wants us to see and to do.

Without this disposition of humility and receptivity born of prayer we can convince ourselves that that life of faith is self-willed and self-directed, rather than the acceptance of an invitation to become ever more like Christ through acts of mercy and service that the Lord Jesus himself has chosen for us to accomplish.

Please pray that the Lord sends forth his Holy Spirit to impart to our Holy Father, Bishop Barron, and all the participants in the Synod lively wisdom, counsel, and most importantly, faith, hope, and love.

Further Reading