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The Advent Season’s Brightest Jewels

Antiphons

During the final week of Advent the Church offers us an intense time of preparation for the feast of the Nativity, and the Roman Church in particular sings a series of antiphons at Vespers that magnificently set forth the nature of the coming One. I offer you a rendering of this “season’s brightest jewels” that can help us understand more clearly how Jesus has fulfilled the hopes, dreams and aspirations of Israel.

O antiphons 1December 17 O Wisdom, O Holy Word of God (Sir. 24:3), you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care (Wisd. of Solomon 8:1). Come and show your people the way to salvation (Isa. 40:3-5).

December 18 O Sacred Lord of Ancient Israel (Exod. 6:2, 3, 12), who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush (Exod. 3:2), who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

December 19 O Flower of Jesse’s Stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples (Isa. 11:10; Rom. 15:12); kings stand silent in your presence (Isa. 5:15); the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid (Hab. 2:3; Heb. 10:37).

December 20 O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel, controlling at your will the gate of heaven (Isa. 22:22; Rev. 3:7); come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom (Isa. 42:7; Ps. 107:14; Luke 1:79).

December 21 O Radiant Dawn (Zech. 6:12), splendor of eternal light (Heb. 1:3), sun of justice (Mal 4:2): come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death (Luke 1:78-79; Isa. 9:2).

December 22 O King of all the Nations, the only joy of every human heart (Hag 2:8); O Keystone (Isa. 28:16) of the mighty human arch (Eph. 2:14); come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust (Gen. 2:7).

December 23 O Emmanuel (Isa. 7:14; 8:8), king and lawgiver (Isa. 33:22), desire of the nations (Gen. 49:10), Savior of all, come and set us free, Lord our God.

How Do We Solve a Problem Like Maria?

Annunciation cropped

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B – December 21, 2014

“The Sound of Music” stage play and I are the same age — both from that vintage year of 1959 — and the film version was the first “motion picture” I saw as child in the mid 1960’s with my family. God alone knows how many times I have seen it since on stage, at the theater and on television!

The famed Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “The Sound of Music” has been delighting audiences around the world for decades, making theatres across the globe “alive” with the sound of music. This magnificent production first opened in England under the direction of Andrew Lloyd Weber, and arguably contains the best-loved songs of all time.

Solving the problem of Maria von Trapp

One of the memorable songs of the play is “Maria,” sometimes known as “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” It is sung brilliantly by Sister Berthe, Sister Sophia, Sister Margaretta and the Mother Abbess at the Benedictine Nonnberg Abbey in Salzburg, Austria. The nuns are exasperated with Maria for being too frivolous, flighty and frolicsome for the decorous and austere life at the abbey. It is said that when Oscar Hammerstein II wrote the lyrics for this song, he was taken by the detail of her wearing curlers in her hair under her wimple!

When older Austrians in Salzburg speak of Maria, it is the “Gottesmutter,” the Mother of the Lord! When the foreigners, especially North Americans, arrive in Salzburg and speak about Maria, it is usually the other one: Maria Augusta Kutschera, later Maria Augusta von Trapp, who was a teacher in the abbey school after World War I and whose life was the basis for the film “The Sound of Music.”

Because of this Maria, the abbey acquired international fame, to the consternation of some of the sisters! Having visited Nonnberg Abbey on several occasions while I was studying German in nearby Bavaria, I spoke with a few of the elderly sisters about the impact of “The Sound of Music” on their life. The prioress told me that they have no plaques up about Maria von Trapp and her escapades at the abbey nor in Salzburg! One elderly sister said to me, with a smile, “Das ist nur Hollywood!” (That is only Hollywood!)

Solving the problem of Maria von Nazareth

The Gospel story of the Annunciation presents another Maria, the great heroine of the Christmas stories — Mary of Nazareth — the willing link between humanity and God. She is the disciple par excellence who introduces us to the goodness and humanity of God. She received and welcomed God’s word in the fullest sense, not knowing how the story would finally end. She did not always understand that word throughout Jesus’ life but she trusted and constantly recaptured the initial response she had given the angel and literally “kept it alive,” “tossed it around,” “pondered it” in her heart (Luke 2:19). At Calvary she experienced the full responsibility of her “yes.” We have discovered in the few Scripture passages relating to her that she was a woman of deep faith, compassion, and she was very attentive to the needs of others.

Maria von Trapp followed the captain and his little musical family through the Alpine mountain passes of Austria, fleeing a neo-pagan, evil regime that tried to deny the existence of God and God’s chosen people. Some would say that they lived happily ever after in Vermont in the United States, and that their musical reputation lives on through the stage production enchanting Toronto audiences at present. The hills are still alive with their music!

The “problem” of Maria of Nazareth began when she entertained a strange, heavenly visitor named Gabriel. The young woman of Nazareth was greatly troubled as she discovered that she would bear a son who would be Savior and Son of the Most High.

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” The angel left her and then the music began: “Magnificat anima mea Dominum.” It would become a refrain filling the world with the sound of its powerful music down through the ages.

The message Mary received catapulted her on a trajectory far beyond tiny, sleepy Nazareth and that little strip of land called Israel and Palestine in the Middle East. Mary’s “yes” would impact the entire world, and change human history.

Problem solved

Mary of Nazareth accepted her “problem” and resolved it through her obedience, fidelity, trust, hope and quiet joy. At that first moment in Nazareth, she could not foresee the brutal ending of the story of this child within her. Only on a hillside in Calvary, years later, would she experience the full responsibility of her “yes” that forever changed the history of humanity.

If there are no plaques commemorating Maria von Trapp’s encounter with destiny at Nonnberg Abbey, there is one small plaque commemorating Mary of Nazareth’s life-changing meeting in her hometown. Standing in the middle of the present day city of Nazareth in Galilee is the mammoth basilica of the Annunciation, built around what is believed to be the cave and dwelling of Mary. A small inscription is found on the altar in this grotto-like room that commemorates the place where Mary received the message from the angel Gabriel that she would “conceive and bear a son and give him the name Jesus” (Luke 1:31). The Latin inscription reads “Verbum caro hic factum est” (Here the word became flesh).

I can still remember the sensation I had when I knelt before that altar for the first time in 1988. That inscription in the grotto of the Annunciation is profound, otherworldly, earth shaking, life changing, dizzying and awesome. The words “Verbum caro hic factum est” are not found on an ex-voto plaque in the cave of the Nativity in Bethlehem, nor engraved on the outer walls of the Temple ruins or on governmental tourist offices in Jerusalem. They are affixed to an altar deep within the imposing structure of Nazareth’s centerpiece of the Annunciation. “This is where the word became flesh.” This is where history was changed because Mary said “yes.”

Could such words be applied to our own lives, to our families, communities, and churches — “Here the word becomes flesh”? Do we know how to listen to God’s Word, meditate upon it and live it each day? Do we put that word into action in our daily lives? Are we faithful, hopeful, loving, and inviting in our discourse and living? What powerful words to be said about Christians — that their words become flesh!

However beautiful and catchy are the tunes of Maria of Salzburg, the music of the other Maria, the one from Nazareth, surpasses anything I have ever heard.

[The readings for this Sunday are 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38]

Rejoicing and Waiting

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Third Sunday of Advent, Year B – December 14, 2014

Advent is the season of the prophets and the Scripture readings of these weeks before Christmas help us to focus our vision and deepen our longing for the Messiah.

In this year’s Gospel for the Third Sunday of Advent, the figure of John the Baptist appears once again on the stage of salvation history. John’s whole mission was a preparation for the Messiah’s coming. When the time had come, John led his own disciples to Jesus and indicated to them the Messiah, the True Light, and the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. John, himself, was not the light. He came to testify to the light. He didn’t spend time thinking about his shadow. He just allowed the light to shine on him.

John considered himself to be less than a slave to Jesus, “There is one among you whom you do not recognize — the one coming after me — the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to unfasten” (John 1:26-27). When John’s own disciples came to him and were troubled about the meaning of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, he answered them confidently: “No one can receive anything except what is given them from above.” John says he is only the friend of the bridegroom, the one who must decrease while his master increases (John 3:25-30). The Baptizer defined his humanity in terms of its limitations.

In one of the most poignant scenes of Luke’s Gospel, John the Baptist is imprisoned by Herod Antipas because of his public rebuke of the tetrarch for his adulterous and incestuous marriage with Herodias (Matthew 4:12; Mark 1:14; Luke 3:19). Alone, dejected and near the end of his life, John the Baptist, hailed as the “greatest of all prophets,” had to ask the question, “Are you really the Messiah?” John probably expected a fiery social reformer to come and bring about the Kingdom, certainly not someone who would associate with the poor, the lame, the blind, outcasts and sinners. Yet Christ comes in the most unexpected ways and often in the most unlikely people.

Jesus invites John to look around and see the works that had already been accomplished in the midst of people. The blind recovered their sight and the lame were walking again. Diseases and illness were healed and all those who were deaf could hear. The Good News was now preached to the poor. That was the greatest wonder of all! This is a great consolation for us. We should never be surprised if we often find ourselves asking the same question — “Is Christian living really worth it?” “Is Jesus really the answer to all the evils and sadness of the world and of our own lives?

The crowds came to John and asked him, “What then shall we do?” The Baptist advises no one to leave the world they are in, however ambiguous it may be. Rather he told those with two coats to share one with those who had none. Likewise, those with an abundance of food were to share with the hungry. Tax collectors were told to collect no more than was appointed to them. Soldiers were to rob no one by violence or by false accusation. They were to be content with their wages. What were people to do to prepare for the imminent coming of the Messiah? To be generous, just, honest, grateful and compassionate (cf. Luke 3:10-14).

John the Baptist’s life and mission reminds us how badly we need a Savior to save us, in order that we might be all that we are called to be and do all that we have to do to live in the Light. How are we courageous and prophetic in our Christian witness to the Light, who has already come into our world? So often we fail to recognize the one among us who is our True Light.

May John the Baptist give us strength and courage to bear the light to others, and the generosity and ability to rejoice as we wait. “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing,” Paul writes in his letter to the Thessalonians. We can also reverse the order of these two sentences: “Pray without ceasing, so that we will be able to rejoice always.”

In prayer we experience God’s gathering up all of our concerns and hopes into his own infinite love and wisdom, his setting us back on our feet, and his giving us fullness of life and light.

[The readings for this Sunday are Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28]

Biblical Foundations of Marian Piety and Devotion

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Video of America Magazine and American Bible Society
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

A very significant turning point in Marian piety and devotion occurred with the Second Vatican Council’s renewal and reform of the liturgy. A decade later, Pope Paul VI issued a remarkable encyclical letter on Marian devotions ‘Marialis cultus’ in 1974. In this landmark document, Pope Paul VI provided guidelines that are as relevant today as they were when first proposed more than 40 years ago. Among the important points in that papal document, we find the following:

  1. Every element of the church’s prayer life, including Marian devotions, should have a biblical imprint. The texts of prayers and songs should draw their inspiration from the Bible and be ‘imbued with the great themes of the Christian message.’ This means that they should be free of pious sentimentality and of the temptation to view Mary as more compassionate than even her Son, who is our one and only Redeemer.
  2. Marian devotions should always harmonize with the liturgy. Novenas and similar devotional practices, including again the rosary, are not to be inserted, hybrid-style, into the very celebration of the Eucharist. The Eucharistic celebration is not simply a backdrop for private prayer.
  3. Marian devotions should always be ecumenically sensitive. ‘Every care should be taken to avoid any exaggeration which could mislead other Christian brethren about the true doctrine of the Catholic Church.’ There should never be a doubt in anyone’s mind that Jesus Christ is our sole Mediator with God.
  4. ‘Devotion to the Blessed Virgin must also pay close attention to certain findings of the human sciences.’ This means that the picture of the Blessed Virgin that is presented in devotional literature and other expressions of piety must be consistent with today’s understanding of the role of women in the church and in society.

We must see Mary once again for who she is: not only the Mother of God, her most exalted role in the mystery of Redemption, but also as her Son’s disciple par excellence. When she heard the Word of God, she acted upon it. As the encyclical noted, she was ‘far from being a timidly submissive woman.’ On the contrary, ‘she was a woman who did not hesitate to proclaim that God vindicates the humble and the oppressed, and removes the powerful people of this world from their privileged positions.

Only when Marian piety is liberated from what Pope Paul VI called a ‘sterile and ephemeral sentimentality’ can there be any real hope for a renewal of authentic Marian piety in our time. For many people who do not have the luxury, privilege, money, time or perhaps desire to delve into serious Scripture studies, their only encounter with the Word of God might be through the liturgy or popular piety and devotion.

Let’s consider three important moments of Mary’s life not easily understood and try to discover new meaning and relevance for us. While Marian devotion remains strong in the church, the Immaculate Conception is a complex concept that has interested theologians more than the ordinary faithful. Many people still wrongly assume that the Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Christ. In fact, it refers to the belief that Mary, by special divine favour, was without sin from the moment she was conceived. The main stumbling block for many Catholics is original sin. Today we are simply less and less aware of original sin. And without that awareness, the Immaculate Conception makes no sense. Through the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, God was present and moving in Mary’s life from the earliest moments. God’s grace is greater than sin; it overpowers sin and death.

When Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, he referred explicitly to the biblical story of the Annunciation in Luke’s Gospel. The angel Gabriel’s salutation, “Hail, full of grace,” is understood as recognizing that Mary must always have been free from sin. No other human being collaborated in the work of redemption as Mary did. The Early Church wanted to explain in a plausible manner how God’s Son could be ‘completely human, yet without sin.’ Their answer was that the mother of God must have been without sin.

What happens to Mary happens to Christians. We are called, gifted and chosen to be with Jesus. When we honour the Mother of God under the title ‘Immaculate Conception,’ we recognize in her a model of purity, innocence, trust, childlike curiosity, reverence, and respect, living peacefully alongside a mature awareness that life isn’t simple. It’s rare to find both reverence and sophistication, idealism and realism, purity, innocence and passion, inside the same person as we find in Mary.

The second moment of Mary’s life is the Incarnation. Through the virginal birth of Jesus we are reminded that God moves powerfully in our lives too. Our response to that movement must be one of recognition, humility, openness, welcome, as well as a respect and dignity for all life, from the earliest moments to the final moments. Through the Incarnation, Mary was gifted with the Word made Flesh.

The angel didn’t ask Mary about her willingness. He announced, ‘Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.’ God didn’t ask Mary for permission. He acted ‘gently but decisively’ to save his people from their sins.

The virgin birth shows that humanity needs redeeming that it can’t bring about for itself. The fact that the human race couldn’t produce its own redeemer implies that its sin and guilt are profound and that its saviour must come from outside.

The Church celebrates Mary’s final journey into the fullness of God’s Kingdom with the dogma of the Assumption promulgated by Pius XII in 1954. As with her beginnings, so too, with the end of her life, God fulfilled in her all of the promises that he has given to us. We, too, shall be raised up into heaven as she was. In Mary we have an image of humanity and divinity at home. God is indeed comfortable in our presence and we in God’s. Through her Assumption, Mary was chosen to have a special place of honour in the Godhead.

Mary’s life can be summed up with four words that are found in the Gospels: ‘Fiat,’ in her response to the angel Gabriel; ‘Magnificat,’ as her response to God’s grace at work in her life; ‘Conservabat,’ as she cherished all these memories and events in her heart; and ‘Stabat,’ as she stood faithfully at the foot of the cross, watched her Son die for humanity, and awaited the fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy about Jesus‚ mission.

God calls each one of us through scripture in complete love and grace, and the response of the obedient mind is ‘fiat: let it be to me according to your word.’ We, too, celebrate, with our strength, the relevance of the word to new personal and especially political situations: ‘magnificat.’

We ponder in the heart what we have seen and heard: ‘conservabat.’ But Scripture tells us that Mary, too, had to learn hard things: she wanted to control her son, but could not. Her soul is pierced with the sword, as she stands ‘stabat’ at the foot of the cross. We too must wait patiently, letting the written Word tell us things that may be unexpected or even unwelcome, but which are yet salvific. We read humbly, trusting God and waiting to see his purpose unfold.

(CNS photo/Victor Aleman, Vida Nueva)

Scripture Scholarship Today

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Video of America Magazine and American Bible Society
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

As we look back over the sweeping changes in the life of the Church following Vatican II, we can never underestimate the important relation that exists between liturgy and the interpretation of the Bible. This relation is directly linked to the Church fathers who were first and foremost men of prayer, even when they were writing their learned treatises and pursing their theological investigations. They were never far from the Church’s worship. In the liturgy they came to know Christ not so much as a historical figure from the past, but as a living person present in the Eucharist. When they opened their Bibles they discovered this same Christ not only in the writings of the evangelists and St. Paul but also in the Old Testament. In the liturgy the words of the Scripture are alive and filled with the mystery of Christ.

The Church and the Word of God are inseparably linked. The Church lives on the Word of God and the Word of God echoes through the Church, in her teaching and throughout her life (cf. “Dei Verbum,” n. 8).

It is accurate to say that the Bible provided a lexicon of words for Christian speech and the liturgy a grammar of how they are to be used. This must always be a guiding principle in our own efforts to make God’s Word come alive for the Church today. If we read biblical texts and teach them only for their historical and philological accuracy or inaccuracy, we fail to read the Bible as a book of faith that is the privileged possession of a living, breathing, praying community. We forget that the Bible is more like a library than a single book.

In spite of its many accomplishments, a strictly historical approach to the Bible can only give us a medley of documents from different times and places in the ancient world. It cannot give us the book of the Church, the Scriptures as heard by Christians for centuries, the psalms imprinted on the Church‚s soul, the words and images that bear witness to the Trinity.

The key to biblical criticism is the recognition that, while the Scriptures are the word of God, they do not escape the limitations of history. It is not surprising that since then that several generations of Catholic biblical scholars has devoted themselves to catching up. Nor is it surprising that there have been excesses and criticisms along the way. The question is to what extent scientific methods of Scripture study should be used, as opposed to a more spiritual reading of the Bible. As one who has taught Scripture for many years, nothing that can help us understand the Biblical text should be excluded, just as long as we keep clear what the purpose of the different approaches are, and what their limits are as well.

How can we make Scripture once again the ‘soul of theology’ and bridge this growing divide between those who study scripture, those who teach theology, and those who are preparing for ministry in the Roman Catholic Church? How can the hearts of our students and pastoral ministers, and the faithful to whom they will minister, be set on fire by the Risen Lord who begs people to touch the text of his words?

I would like to suggest three ways to move beyond the impasse, and offer two examples of great Scripture scholars of our time who integrated the historical-critical method and their Catholic faith in remarkable ways.

Actualization

The ‘Interpretation of the Bible in the Church,’ a major document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission from 1993 emphasized the historical-critical method and accorded it primacy of place among the different methods and approaches discussed. The commission called this method ‘indispensable’ and insisted that the proper understanding of the Bible ‘not only admits the use of this method but actually requires it.’ But this important Vatican document also speaks of the importance of ‘actualization,’ a term that is new to church documents on Scripture. This term, transposed from the original French text, comes from actualiser, meaning ‘to make present to today.’

To realize the potential of actualizing the word, however, requires a change of attitude and reconsideration of the biblical formation we are presently offering in our seminaries, Faculties of Theology and universities. Actualization is necessary because biblical texts were composed in response to past circumstances and in a language conditioned by the time of their composition. Interpreting Scripture for today must not be a matter of projecting opinions or ideologies on the text, ‘but of sincerely seeking to discover what the text has to say at the present time.’ Actualization, unlike strict historical-critical exegesis, demands personal faith as a prerequisite and concerns itself with the religious meaning of the Bible. According to the commission, ‘the Church depends on exegetes, animated by the same Spirit as inspired Scripture.’

Lectio Divina

Another way of moving beyond the impasse is to rediscover the art of Lectio divina, ‘divine or holy reading,’ the continuous reading of all the Scriptures, in which each book and each section of it is successively read, studied and meditated on, understood and savoured by having recourse to the whole of biblical revelation, Old and New Testament. Thanks to this simple adherence to and humble respect for the whole biblical text, Lectio divina is an exercise in total and unconditional obedience to God who is speaking to human beings who are listening attentively to the Word.

Lectio divina does not select passages suited to themes and subjects already previously chosen with a view to needs or tastes already felt or noticed by the reader or the community engaged in the reading. It does not adopt the method of ‘biblical themes’ but prefers to keep away from any theological picking and choosing from the message of the Bible. It starts with the Word of God and follows it step by step from beginning to end. Lectio divina presupposes and takes seriously the unity of all the Scriptures.

The point of departure of Lectio Divina is ‘wonderment,’ a spirit which is accompanied by listening, silence, adoration of the divine mystery and placing oneself in front of Scripture as the Word of God. It is an ideal from which we are very far removed. Current methods of teaching Scripture do not encourage wonderment, reverence, listening, silence and adoration of the mystery of God and his divine communication with human beings.

The secret of the success of using Lectio Divina lies in the fact that we do not offer students, parishioners, young adults a philological lexicon, a catechism lesson or even a homily but rather the necessary means for them to put themselves face to face with the text so that they can try out lectio divina for themselves. Lectio divina prepares us for an encounter with the living Lord.

Experiencing the Holy Land: the Fifth Gospel

A final suggestion of moving beyond the impasse in contemporary Scripture teaching is to offer the Holy Land as a backdrop and stage for the Biblical story. It is essential to tell the biblical story in the context of a long pilgrimage against the background of the Holy Land. It is even more important to go to the land and let it speak. The Holy Land is the Fifth Gospel, the key to understanding the other four!

The psalmist praises those whose hearts are ‘set on pilgrim roads’ (Ps. 84:5). We who are entrusted with the ministry of teaching and preaching Scripture must help others to prepare themselves to make the journey ‘as pilgrims.’ Tourists pass quickly through places, but the places pass slowly through pilgrims, leaving them forever changed. Teaching the Scriptures without reference to the Holy Land, or without fostering, encouraging, and, when possible, leading others to visit it, is to tell only part of the story of the Bible.

All of the best biblical renewal programs in the world, the most eloquent Vatican documents, vision statements, and even the most current analyses of the future of the church can never substitute for the hope, power and strength of the Word of God in our individual and communal Christian lives. Documents, statements and catechisms might never renew us, but the Word of God, especially experienced in its natural habitat will.

Contemporary Scripture studies have been a great blessing to the academy and the Church. I would like to pay tribute to two remarkable individuals known to all of us, and who were good friends, professors and mentors to me. The late Passionist Fr. Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P. and the Sulpician Fr. Raymond Brown, S.S. In Frs. Stuhlmueller and Brown I observed three outstanding qualities at work, which may be instructive for other pastoral ministers and students of Scripture in their own biblical research, teaching and preaching.

First was their ability to present the Bible in an accessible way, as a ‘user-friendly’ book or library. Both men often recounted basic principles they learned in their youth: ‘Read the Bible as we would listen to a friend.’ Reading as a listener implies an openness to hear what is being said and an attitude of expectancy; listening as to a friend implies a large measure of confidence that the message will ultimately be a helpful guide for living, and sometimes for specific situations. Of course, one listens to a friend critically, that is, with the full use of one’s faculties, education and experience. By the same token, in the Catholic tradition, one never undertakes Scripture studies to master or criticize the Word, but to be mastered and criticized by it. There is a way in which we must allow the Word of God to read us.

Second was their ability to present the Biblical story as a pilgrimage, a set of stories for the long haul. How well I can still hear Fr. Stuhlmueller saying these words on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, or sitting by the lake in Galilee as we directed Scriptural renewal programs for priests and pastoral ministers in the Holy Land! After all, what is the story of our salvation if not the passage from the Paradise Lost in Genesis to the Paradise found, and symbolized beautifully, in the New Jerusalem of John’s wild dream in Revelation?

Third is the ability to see how Scripture is vivified in prayer and liturgy. For it is in the silent adoration of prayer and in the congregation’s act of worship in liturgy that the Bible comes alive. Liturgy reveals the fruits of scholarship. Hence, we must ask ourselves if our teaching and preaching leads others into celebration, prayer and adoration of the Lord of history? Or has our reliance on scientific methods and writings only compounded the confusion already found in the world?

May Fathers Stuhlmueller and Brown intercede for each of us as we study and pray God’s life-giving Word. And may our hearts be set on fire by the Risen Lord who begs us to touch the text of his words.

Go set all on fire!

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St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis Xavier and St. Peter Favre, the first founders of the Society of Jesus.

Remembering Francis Xavier on his feast day

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Francis Xavier

In 1541 King John of Portugal asked Ignatius of Loyola for Jesuit priests to send to the missions in India. Despite knowing he would never see his beloved companion again, Ignatius chose Francis Xavier for the mission. The last words that St. Ignatius said to Francis Xavier before he was sent on mission were: ‘Ite inflammate omnia!’ Go set all on fire!  Francis left for India, arriving at the city of Goa in 1542.

For the next ten years the missionary Francis Xavier traveled from Goa to Cape Comorin in south India, then to the East Indies, Malacca, and the Moluccas, and onward to Japan. It was Francis Xavier’s great ambition to get permission to enter China as a missionary. He died in 1552, at the age of 46, exhausted from his labours and fasts, on a small island off the coast of China with a single companion at his side.

St. Francis Xavier’s great ambition was to bring the world to Jesus Christ. Armed only with his breviary and a book of meditations, Francis preached the Gospel to the poor and sick, spending most of his time ministering to their needs. His nights were taken up in prayer. His only attention to his personal needs was to have a pair of boots. He barely ate enough to stay alive. He left behind flourishing churches that were the foundations for the Catholic faith in Asia.

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Statue of Ignatius in Jesuit Curia in Rome

I have always been impressed by the remarkable Apostolic creativity of this great teacher, pastor and missionary. As a tool for memorization of the catechism, Xavier frequently used songs and music to hand on the faith, especially with young children. He is remembered as the great baptizer.  Everything begins for us Christians through baptism. Francis Xavier offered solid catechesis in preparation for the sacrament of baptism and then he baptized the multitudes. At the end of his day at times he could no longer hold up his arm any longer due to the huge numbers of Baptisms he would do. After he finished his missionary work in one place, he would leave behind well-formed catechists to carry on with the mission of forming the people in the community. It was never about him, but about the lay catechists whom he formed and the people whom he served with such devotion. Now more than ever we  need zealous lay leaders, catechists, co-workers and partners in ministry to help us carry on the task of the first evangelization and the new evangelization.

Francis Xavier also had a very keen understanding of inculturation. While travelling to Japan, Xavier had to learn the social mores and customs of another country. If he dressed in rags, the Emperor would close his mind and heart to this itinerant Jesuit missionary. Xavier therefore dressed in the most elegant clothes fashionable and gave gifts to the Japanese Emperor, thereby winning the Emperor’s friendship and opening up the door to the preaching of the Gospel message in Japan. Is this not what St. Paul had in mind when he wrote: ‘I become all things to all men so as to win as many to Christ as possible.’

At the end of his exhausting days, Xavier spent hours in front of the Most Blessed Sacrament, praising the Lord, thanking the Lord and imploring for the sanctification and salvation of the people God placed in his path. May Xavier attain for us the fire of intensity in our prayers and in our acts of penance!

The favorite prayer of Xavier was ‘Give me souls!’ In the Office of Readings for the Feast of St. Francis Xavier, in a letter written to St. Ignatius, there is a passionate appeal for more workers to gather in the harvest, specifically reproaching the proud and learned at the Universities of Europe (especially Paris).  The words of Xavier explode with apostolic zeal and intense suffering for the salvation of immortal souls. Those words still speak to us today:

‘Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason: there is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a madman. Riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: What a tragedy:  how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you! I wish they would work as hard at this as they do at their books, and so settle their account with God for their learning and the talents entrusted to them.’ (Office of Readings, Dec. 3, Feast of St. Francis Xavier)

FrancisFire

Notice the fire extinguisher carefully placed next to founder of Society of Jesuits and his famous words: “Go set all on fire!”

 

John the Baptizer, the Advent Prophet

John the Baptist cropped

Second Sunday of Advent, Year B – December 7, 2014

One of the great stars of the Advent and Christmas stories, John the Baptizer, makes his appearance on the biblical stage today. Let us consider some of the details of John’s life and see how he is such a good model for us.

John the Baptist didn’t mince words. He got right to the point and said what needed to be said. He would speak with equally straightforward words to us — words that would zero in on the weak points of our lives. John the Baptist was a credible preacher of repentance because he had first come to love God’s word that he heard in the midst of his own desert.

He heard, experienced and lived God’s liberating word in the desert and was thus able to preach it to others so effectively because his life and message were one. One of the most discouraging things we must deal with in our lives is duplicity. How often our words, thoughts and actions are not coherent or one. The true prophets of Israel help us in our struggle against all forms of duplicity.

The desert wilderness

Throughout biblical history, leaders and visionaries have gone to the desert to see more clearly, to listen intently for God’s voice, to discover new ways to live. The Hebrew word for wilderness midvar is derived from a Semitic root that means, “to lead flocks or herds to pasture.” Eremos, the Greek word used to translate midvar, denotes a desolate and thinly populated area and, in a stricter sense, a wasteland or desert.

The term “wilderness” has two different but related meanings, referring to something judged to be wild and bewildering. It is probably the unknown (bewildering) and uncontrolled (wild) character of the place that earned it the name “wilderness.” There is also another way of understanding the meaning of desert or wilderness.

A careful look at the root of the word midvar reveals the word davar meaning “word” or “message.” The Hebraic notion of “desert” or “wilderness” is that holy place where God’s word is unbound and completely free to be heard, experienced and lived. We go to the desert to hear God’s Word, unbound and completely free.

The Spirit of God enabled the prophets to feel with God. They were able to share God’s attitudes, God’s values, God’s feelings, God’s emotions. This enabled them to see the events of their time as God saw them and to feel the same way about these events as God felt. They shared God’s anger, God’s compassion, God’s sorrow, God’s disappointment, God’s revulsion, God’s sensitivity for people, and God’s seriousness. Nor did they share these things in the abstract; they shared God’s feelings about the concrete events of their time.

John the Baptist is the Advent prophet. His image is often portrayed in the finger pointing to the one who was coming: Jesus Christ. If we are to take on John’s role of preparing the way in today’s world, our lives also will become the pointing fingers of living witnesses who demonstrate that Jesus can be found and that he is near. John gave the people of his time an experience of forgiveness and salvation, knowing full well that he himself was not the Messiah, the one who could save. Do we allow others to have experiences of God, of forgiveness and of salvation?

John the Baptist came to teach us that there is a way out of the darkness and sadness of the world and of the human condition, and that way is Jesus himself. The Messiah comes to save us from the powers of darkness and death, and to put us back on the path of peace and reconciliation so that we might find our way back to God.

The late Jesuit theologian, Father Karl Rahner, once wrote: “We have to listen to the voice of the one calling in the wilderness, even when it confesses: I am not he. You cannot choose not to listen to this voice, ‘because it is only the voice of a man.’ And, likewise, you cannot lay aside the message of the Church, because the Church is ‘not worthy to untie the shoelaces of its Lord who goes on before it.’ It is, indeed, still Advent.”

We may not have the luxury of traveling to the wilderness of Judah, nor the privilege of a week’s retreat in the Sinai desert this Advent. However, we can certainly carve out a little desert wilderness in the midst of our activity and noise this week. Let us go to that sacred place and allow the Word of God to speak to us, to heal us, to reorient us, and to lead us to the heart of Christ, whose coming we await this Advent.

[The readings for the Second Sunday of Advent are: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; 2 Peter 3:8-14; and Mark 1:1-8.]

(Image: Detail of St. John the Baptist from the “Isenheim Altarpiece” by Matthias Grunewald)

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2008 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is available in book form through our online store.

Rehearsal of the Great History of Memories

First Sunday of Advent cropped

First Sunday of Advent, Year B – Sunday, November 30, 2014

This weekend the Church enters into the liturgical season of Advent. Christians proclaim that the Messiah has indeed come and that God’s reign is “at hand.”

Advent does not change God. Advent deepens our longing and anticipation that God will do what prophets and the anointed have promised. We pray that God will yield to our need to see and feel the promise of salvation here and now.

During this time of longing and waiting for the Lord, we are invited to pray and to ponder the Word of God, but most of all, to become a reflection of the light of Christ, indeed of Christ himself. But we all know how difficult it is to mirror the light of Christ, especially when we have become disillusioned with life, accustomed to the shadowy existence of the world, or grown content with mediocrity and emptiness. Advent reminds us that we must be ready to meet the Lord at any and every moment of life. Just like a security alarm wakes up a homeowner, Advent wakes up Christians who are in danger of sleeping through their lives.

For what or for whom are we waiting in life? What virtues or gifts are we praying to receive this year? Do we long for healing and reconciliation in broken relationships? What meaning and understanding do we desire to have in the midst of our own darkness, sadness, and mystery? How are we living out our baptismal promises? What qualities of Jesus are we seeking in our own lives this Advent? Many times, the things, qualities, gifts, or people we await give us great insights into who we really are. Tell me whom you are waiting for and I will tell you who you are!

Advent is a time for opening eyes, focusing views, paying attention, keeping perspective on God’s presence in the world and in our own lives.

In the first reading from the prophet Isaiah on the first Sunday of Advent, the Almighty One breathes hope back into the heart and soul of Israel and shapes Israel and events anew just as a potter shapes his pottery.

In the second Scripture reading, writing to his beloved community at Corinth, Paul looked forward to the “Day of the Lord” when the Lord Jesus will be revealed to rescue those whom He has called. And in Gospel for the first Sunday of Advent this year, Mark’s depiction of the doorkeeper watching out for the Lord whenever he “suddenly” appears is an image of what we are expected to be doing all year long but especially during the season of Advent.

Our own baptism is a share in the royal, messianic mission of Jesus. Anyone who shares this mission also shares royal responsibilities, in particular, care for the afflicted and the hurting. Advent is a wonderful opportunity to “activate” our baptismal promises and commitment.

Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger once wrote: “The purpose of the Church’s year is continually to rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart’s memory so that it can discern the star of hope. It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us, memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope.”

This Advent, allow me to suggest that you mend a quarrel. Build peace. Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Write a love letter. Share some treasure. Give a kind answer even though you would like to respond harshly. Encourage a young person to believe in him/herself. Manifest your loyalty in word and deed. Keep a promise. Find the time. Make time. Forego a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation. Listen more. Apologize if you were wrong. Be kind even if you weren’t wrong!

Try to understand. Flout envy. Examine the demands you make on others. Think first of someone else. Appreciate. Be kind, be gentle. Laugh a little. Laugh a little more. Deserve confidence. Take up arms against malice. Decry complacency. Express gratitude. Go to Church. Stay in Church a little while longer than usual. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love. Speak it once again. Speak it even more loudly. Speak it quietly. Rejoice, for the Lord is near!

[The readings for this Sunday are Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37.]

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2008 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store.

(CNS Photo/Bob Roller)

 

Feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple at Jerusalem

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November 21, 2014

According to the tradition in the Eastern Church, when Mary was three years of age, Joachim and Anne took her to the Temple so that she might be consecrated to the service of the Lord. The legend says that they invited the young girls of the town to walk before her with lighted torches. As soon as they had reached the Temple, Mary, alone and unhesitatingly, went up the steps of the sanctuary where she was to remain, living in the contemplation of God and miraculously fed by the Archangel Gabriel, until the day she was espoused to Joseph, shortly before the Annunciation.

The theme of the feast is that Mary the Immaculate One, the Temple of the Living God, is offered to the Almighty in his holy house in Jerusalem. This day witnesses the bond between the Word and the Virgin predestined in eternity: this day is the fountainhead of all her privileges.

A more historical view is that the feast originates in Jerusalem in 543. In the Latin rite, it took many years for the feast to be widely accepted; it entered the Western calendar in 1585. Today, the feast celebrates the recognition of Mary as a temple in whom God dwells. In a very special way, the Blessed Virgin is herself a holy temple when she conceived the very Son of God in her immaculate womb, she became a true temple of the true God; when she cherished the word of God in her heart (see Luke 2:19, 51), loved Christ so ardently, and faithfully kept his word, the Son and the Father came to her and made their home with her, in accordance with the promise of the Lord (see John 14:23).Basilian

November 21 is the date upon which we celebrate Pro Orantibus Day marking the liturgical feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Temple. The day is dedicated to those who belong to contemplative religious orders. It’s a good opportunity to thank the Lord for the gift of so many people who, in monasteries and hermitages, dedicate themselves to God in prayer and silent work. Many contemplative communities throughout the world pray for Salt and Light Television.  For our part, we remember with gratitude these religious women of who as St Thérèse of Lisieux wrote choose to abide in the ‘heart’ of the Church.

Marian devotion has always been important for my own religious family, the Congregation of Priests of St. Basil (Basilian Fathers). Their support of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network has been constant over the past 12 years. In his History of the Basilian Fathers, Fr. Charles Roume, CSB, recalls that it was on November 21, 1822, Feast of the Presentation of Mary, that all the French confrères finally agreed to come together for their first ‘Chapter’.  They elected Fr. Joseph LaPierre as the first Superior General of the Basilian Community. For this reason, Basilians chose November 21 as our foundation day.

Here is a link to the documentary on our foundation in France after the French Revolution: http://saltandlighttv.org/whenithinkofannonay/

In remembering the Blessed Virgin Mary’s presentation in the Temple at Jerusalem on this day, we honour one whose hidden life brings light and warmth to the Church in every place. May her example give all consecrated religious, and those with whom we live and work, the courage to seek wisdom, the strength to radiate light and warmth to the Church, and the ability to become dwelling places of God’s consoling and compassionate presence on earth.

Mary_Presentation2Let us pray:

Almighty and ever living God, today we honour the memory of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose hidden life brings light and warmth to the Church in every place. Her presentation in the temple at Jerusalem reveals her as a temple where God truly lives among us. May Mary’s example give us the strength to radiate that light and warmth to the Church, and help us to be dwelling places of God’s joyful presence on earth. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation

The Universe Turns Upon a Cup of Water Given to the Little Ones

Miguel Pro cropped

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Year A – Sunday, November 23, 2014

During my graduate studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in the late 1980s, I had the privilege of teaching Scripture on several occasions to the Missionaries of Charity at their formation house on the outskirts of Rome. Several times when I was with the sisters, Mother Teresa of Calcutta was visiting the formation community. I will never forget that little, bent-over, Albanian-born woman sitting on the floor of the chapel as I led the sisters in biblical reflections. It was a daunting experience for me to be expounding on Sacred Scripture to someone many considered even back then a living saint; one who, without exegetical skills and ancient biblical languages in her repertoire, understood far better the meaning of God’s Word than I ever would. One evening after I had finished the lecture and was gathering my books together to begin the trip back to the Canadian College in Rome, Mother came over to speak with me. At the end of the conversation, I asked her: “How do you do it day in and day out? How do you deal with the crowds of people trying to see you when you are out in public.” She raised her hand before my face and shook her five fingers at me. “Five words,” she said; “five words: You did it to me.”

“You did it to me.”

On this final Sunday of the liturgical year, also known as the Solemnity of Christ the King, we are presented with the great scene of the final judgment (Matthew 25:31-46), peculiar to Matthew’s Gospel. The final judgment will accompany the parousia (second coming of Christ) and is the last teaching of Jesus before he goes to Jerusalem to face his crucifixion and death. The stirring refrain of today’s Gospel is found precisely in these words: “You did it to me” (25:40).

The crux of today’s Gospel is not so much trying to identify who are sheep and who are goats. The sheep that are at the Son of Man’s right hand are those that recognized and accepted the messenger and the message. The goats on his left did not recognize or accept the messenger or the message.

Christ the Lord of history and king of the universe will separate the sheep from the goats at the end of time based on whether or not they have accepted the Word of God by accepting the ambassadors who were sent to proclaim that Word. Such acceptance or rejection is ultimately acceptance or rejection of the God who sent Jesus. To reject Jesus the Son is to reject God the Father. To reject a disciple sent by Jesus is to reject Jesus himself.

Inclusion in the Royal Kingdom

The Son who “sits upon his glorious throne with all the nations gathered before him” (25:31-32) is the same one who, at the very peak of his cosmic power, reveals that the universe turns upon a cup of water given to the little ones in his name. Jesus tells us that whenever we practice works of mercy, forgiveness, and kindness, we are doing these things to him. He fully identifies himself with the needy, the marginalized, and the dependent; the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. Everyone is included in the Royal Kingdom of the humble Jesus. His reign completely overturns our notions of earthly kingship. The kingship and royalty of Jesus are of ultimate service, even to the point of laying down his life for others.

The righteous will be astonished that in caring for the needs of those who suffer, they were ministering to the Lord himself (25:37-38). The accursed (25:41) will also be astonished that their neglect of those suffering was neglect of the Lord and they will receive from him a similar fate.

When God will be all in all

In today’s second reading from the first letter to the Corinthians (15:20-26, 28), Paul describes Christ’s relations to his enemies and his Father. Paul’s vision includes cosmic dimensions as he attempts to describe the goal of all history. The reading is theological and Christological, for God is the ultimate agent in and culmination of history. In the end we are all saved by this God who has entered human history in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. When God finally rules, there will be no further resistance to his saving power. God will be all in all. This is what lies at the heart of the word “subjection” (15:28): that God may fully be God and accomplish his saving acts on our behalf.

Three final thoughts on the kingship of God’s Son

At the end of the liturgical year, and in light of the majestic scene of the final judgment, let us first consider two texts of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. First, from his Apostolic Letter of October 11, 2011, Porta Fidei, for the Indiction of the Year of Faith:

Faith without charity bears no fruit, while charity without faith would be a sentiment constantly at the mercy of doubt. Faith and charity each require the other, in such a way that each allows the other to set out along its respective path. Indeed, many Christians dedicate their lives with love to those who are lonely, marginalized or excluded, as to those who are the first with a claim on our attention and the most important for us to support, because it is in them that the reflection of Christ’s own face is seen. Through faith, we can recognize the face of the risen Lord in those who ask for our love. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). These words are a warning that must not be forgotten and a perennial invitation to return the love by which he takes care of us. It is faith that enables us to recognize Christ and it is his love that impels us to assist him whenever he becomes our neighbour along the journey of life. Supported by faith, let us look with hope at our commitment in the world, as we await “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13; cf. Rev 21:1).

The Kingdom of Christ cannot be built by force

Next, let us consider Pope Emeritus Benedict’s moving reflection on Christ’s kingship, spoken on October 26, 2011 during the celebration of the Word held on the eve of the “Day of Reflection, Dialogue and Prayer for Peace and Justice in the World: Pilgrims of Truth, Pilgrims of Peace” held in Assisi the following day.

In his homily, Pope Emeritus Benedict quoted Zechariah 9, in which God promises salvation through a king:

But the announcement does not refer to a king with human powers and force of arms. It does not refer to a king who dominates with political and military might. This is a gentle king who reigns with humility and gentleness before God and man, a king quite different from the great sovereigns of the earth.

The Apostles recalled the prophet’s words particularly following Christ’s passion, death and resurrection when, […] with the eyes of faith, they reconsidered their Master’s joyful entry into the Holy City. He rode a donkey which had been lent to Him, […] not a horse as the powerful did. He did not enter Jerusalem accompanied by a mighty army of chariots and horsemen. He is a poor king, the king of the poor of God, […] of those who have inner freedom enabling them to overcome the greed and selfishness of the world, of those who know that God alone is their treasure. […] He is a king who will make the chariots and steeds of battle disappear, who will break the weapons of war, a king who brought peace on the Cross, uniting heaven and earth and building a bridge between all mankind. The Cross is the new arch of peace, the sign and instrument of reconciliation, […] the sign that love is stronger that any form of violence or oppression, stronger than death. Evil is overcome through goodness, through love.

The kingdom that Christ inaugurates is universal. The horizon of this poor and meek king is not the territorial horizon of a State, it is the confines of the world. He creates communion. He creates unity. And where do we see His announcement take concrete form today? In the great network of Eucharistic communities covering the earth, wherein the prophecy of Zechariah re-emerges in splendour. […] Everywhere, in all cultures, […] He comes and is present; and by entering into communion with Him, mankind is united into a single body, overcoming divisions, rivalry and rancour. The Lord comes in the Eucharist to divest us of our selfishness, our fixations which exclude others, to make us a single body, a single kingdom of peace in a divided world. […]

How can we build this kingdom of peace in which Christ is king? […] Like Jesus, the messengers of peace of His kingdom must begin a journey. […] They must journey, but not with the might of war or the force of power. […] It is not with power, force or violence that Christ’s kingdom of peace grows, but with the giving of self, with love carried to its extreme consequences, even towards out enemies. Jesus does not conquer the world by force of arms but by the power of the Cross, which is the true guarantee of victory.

Viva Cristo Rey!

Finally, let us remember the life of a young martyred Mexican Jesuit who was deeply devoted to Christ the King: Blessed Miguel Agustin Pro, S.J. (1891-1927). Born January 13, 1891, at Guadalupe Zacatecas, Mexico, Miguel “Miguelito” Pro was the son of a mining engineer and a pious and charitable mother. From his earliest days, Miguel had a special affinity for the working classes, which he kept all of his life. At age 20, he entered the Jesuit novitiate and shortly thereafter was exiled because of the Mexican Revolution. He traveled to the United States, Spain, Nicaragua, and Belgium, where he was ordained a priest in 1925. Father Pro suffered from chronic stomach ailments and when after several operations his health did not improve, his Jesuit superiors allowed him to return to Mexico in 1926 despite the horrible religious persecution underway in Mexico.

Churches were closed and priests fled into hiding. Father Pro spent the rest of his life in a secret ministry to Mexican Catholics. He strengthened people in their faith and was deeply involved in serving the poor in Mexico City. He was known for wearing all kinds of disguises that enabled him to work quietly among the poor. Miguel would dress as a beggar and go during the night to baptize infants, bless marriages, and celebrate Mass. He would appear in jail dressed as a police officer to bring Holy Viaticum to condemned Catholics. When going to wealthy neighbourhoods to provide for the poor, he would show up at the doorstep dressed as a fashionable executive with a fresh flower on his lapel. His was the stuff of a modern spy movie or award winning television series! However in all that he did, Fr. Pro always remained obedient to his superiors and was filled with the joy of serving Christ, his King.

He was falsely accused in the bombing attempt on a former Mexican president and declared a wanted man. Handed over to the police, he was sentenced to death without recourse to any legal process. On the day of his execution by a firing squad, Fr. Pro forgave his executioners, bravely refused the blindfold and died proclaiming, Viva Cristo Rey, “Long live Christ the King!”

The image of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta standing before me and raising those five fingers before my face is engraved on my memory, especially when I listen to today’s Gospel of the last judgment. “You did it to me.” The image of Blessed Miguel Pro, boldly kneeling before his executioners and forgiving them, before proclaiming the real kingship of the non-violent Lord is also deep within me.

Vindicated in the court of heaven

When we listen attentively to today’s first reading from the prophet Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17, and today’s powerful Gospel, how could we not have the images of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Blessed Miguel Pro before our eyes, as well as all of those women and men like them throughout history who tend the Lord’s scattered sheep, rescuing them when it was cloudy and dark, pasturing them, and giving them rest? Their work of shepherding, binding up the sick and healing them gives flesh and blood to today’s Gospel. “You did it to me.” Today we have the consolation that our acts of mercy toward God’s little ones are already vindicated in the court of heaven, because God sees everything from above, and is the ultimate beneficiary of any of our poor yet sincere efforts to care for the needy, the marginalized, and the dependent; the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned citizens of God’s kingdom.

Christ the King

Our faith is rooted firmly in Jesus of Nazareth who was declared a king at his execution. He was not a king who craved for power, nor a dictator who dominated and trampled underfoot those who encountered him. In his kingdom, his poor subjects were cherished and loved; they were his friends, the little ones, his brothers and sisters who partook in his very life. Worldly kingdoms will come and go. The kingdom of Jesus Christ will never pass away. Together with Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Blessed Miguel Pro of Mexico, let us acclaim our King: Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King, now and forever.

[The readings for the Solemnity of Christ the King are: Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15:-17; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; Matthew 25:31-46.]

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2011 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store. Book editions for Year A and C reflections are coming soon.

(Image: Fr. Miguel Pro; CNS Photo)