Although I have never mentioned it publicly for fear that my nieces and nephews might disown me, I am a big fan of country music. Kenny Chesney is one of my favorite recording artists. One of his famous recordings is called "Back Where I Come From." The title and the lyrics invite all of us to recall "from where we come," for as my beloved mother and father would often say: "Never forget who you are; never forget your roots."
I come from a row home in Southwest Philadelphia, where my family shared a porch with next door neighbors who became our long-time friends. Everyone knew each other and neighbors were more like family. Where I come from, most people did not have much money, but that did not seem to matter, because we had what truly counted.
Where I come from, our Catholic faith united people and we even identified ourselves by our home parishes. Where I come from, Catholic education was the highest of priorities, and parents and teachers worked together to educate and form our young people.
Where I come from, like so many others raised decades ago, Sundays were sacred. Families attended Mass together and usually had dinner at the same table, where grandmom and grandpop held the places of honor. Where I come from, moms and dads, like so many today, persevered in their promise to remain faithful to their sacramental vows and would offer any sacrifice necessary for the benefit of their children. Where I come from, parents and children and brothers and sisters did not have modern technological tools available to them and so actually communicated with one another face to face, heart to heart. Where I come from, people actually talked to one another, and rarely was there the need to argue and fiercely debate. Where I come from, television shows did not have to warn about "adult content."
Where I come from, no one questioned the sacredness of all human life; the newly born were welcomed with great joy, as precious blessings from God, the source of all Life. Where I come from, it was recognized and celebrated that our ancestors from other places in the world, including my grandparents who left Ireland, had strived harder than ever to make our great nation one truly under God, with liberty and justice for all.
Where I come from, vocations to the Church were upheld. When a son or daughter, or family friend announced they felt called to be a priest, Brother or Sister, it was a source of joy.
Like so many of you, I realize that I was truly blessed to grow up with a loving mother and father who devoted their entire lives to their children. I also was fortunate to have an older brother who would do anything to support and protect me.
I am not being merely nostalgic and simply wanting things to be “the way they were back then.” I understand that where I came from was not perfect, and that others today might inaccurately call that world, in the words of Kenny Chesney, a "backward place." But I am as proud as anyone of my upbringing and believe with all my heart that the realities that shaped and formed me and so many of you are needed more than ever today. The present and future offer much hope and, with God's grace, it is our turn to transform the world in which we live. What a privilege!
As a Church and a society, we must lift up the vocation of those called to live the Sacrament of Matrimony. We must foster vocations to the Priesthood and Consecrated Life. Daily, we must remain true to the basics of the Gospel and the call to love God with all our heart, mind and soul and to love one another without exception, especially those who are misunderstood and most need our compassion and assistance.
We need be convinced that our lives here on earth are merely a journey leading us to the life to come, where we will celebrate the fullness of joy and peace in the Kingdom of Heaven, forever and ever. In the meantime, never forget from where you come and who you are called to be.
This month, as Pope Francis comes to address the World Meeting of Families, let us pray for him and for all families, convinced, as our Holy Father has repeatedly told us, that the stronger family life is, the stronger society will be.