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Is Not This the Carpenter, the Son of Mary?

Jesus Travelling cropped

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – July 5, 2015

We know today’s Gospel story well, perhaps too well! It would have been customary for Jesus to go to the synagogue each week during the Sabbath, and when his turn came, to read from the scriptures during the Sabbath service.

His hometown folks listened ever so attentively to his teaching because they had heard about the miracles he had performed in other towns. What signs would their hometown boy work on his own turf?

In today’s story, Jesus startled his own people with a seeming rebuke that no prophet of God can receive honor among his own people. The people of Nazareth took offense at him and refused to listen to what he had to say. They despised his preaching because he was from the working class; a carpenter, a mere layman and they despised him because of his family. Jesus could do no mighty works in their midst because they were closed and disbelieving toward him.

If people have come together to hate and to refuse to understand, then they will see no other point of view than their own, and they will refuse to love and accept others. Does the story sound familiar to us? How many times have we found ourselves in similar situations?

Homecoming

We often think that Luke is the only evangelist who records Jesus’ visit to Nazareth, “where he had been brought up” and that programmatic episode in the Nazareth synagogue (Luke 4:16). Mark and Matthew also refer to this episode, although without mentioning the name of the town, calling it simply “his hometown” or “his native place” (Mark 6:1; Matthew 13:54). There are, however, several differences between the story told by Luke and those of Mark and Matthew. In the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, people consider the humble origin of Jesus who was “the carpenter” (Mark 6:3), “the son of the carpenter” (Matthew 13:55) and use it to doubt the greatness of his mission. Luke, on the other hand, makes no mention of Jesus’ humble origins.

In Mark, Jesus’ visit to his hometown is found not at the beginning of his ministry, but after a long period of preaching the Gospel and healing, even after the talks on the parables (Mark 4:1-34) and the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:21-43). In Matthew, Jesus has also already pronounced his address on mission to the “Twelve Apostles” (10:2-42).

What was the meaning of the peoples’ questions about Jesus in Mark’s account (6:1-6) that forms this Sunday’s Gospel? “‘Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him.”

“Who do you think you are?” they seem to be asking him. Jesus sees that the questions about him correspond to a deeply possessive attitude: Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and therefore one of us? You belong to us and therefore you must do for us all that you are able to do. We own you!

“Prophets are not without honor except in their hometowns and among their own kin, and even in their own homes.” Jesus resists the possessive attitude manifested by his people. The people of Jesus’ native place were suffering from a particular form of blindness — a blindness that sometimes affects us, too. Jesus refuses to place his extraordinary gifts at the service of his own people, putting strangers first.

Vision and heart

Today’s Gospel shows how difficult it is for us to attain to a universal vision. When we are faced with someone like Jesus, someone with a generous heart, a wide vision and a great spirit, our reactions are very often filled with jealousy, selfishness, and meanness of spirit. His own people couldn’t recognize the holiness of Jesus, because they had never really accepted their own. They couldn’t honor his relationship with God because they had never fully explored their own sense of belonging to the Lord. They couldn’t see the Messiah standing right beside them, because he looked too much like one of them. Until we see ourselves as people beloved of God, miracles will be scarce and the prophets and messengers who rise among us will struggle to be heard and accepted for whom they truly are.

In today’s Gospel story, Mark tells us that Jesus was amazed at their unbelief. Listening to Jesus, his own people were initially filled with admiration in him and pride because of him. His message of liberation was marvelous. Then they recognize this young prophet as one of them and they say: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?”

The most severe critics are often people very familiar to us, a member of our family, a relative, or neighbor we rub shoulders with on a regular basis. The people of Nazareth refused to renounce their possessive attitude toward Jesus. When possessive love is obstructed it produces a violent reaction. This sort of reaction provokes many dramas of jealousy and passion. They took offence at him in Mark’s account just as “everyone in the synagogue was enraged (Luke 4:28) and they sought to kill him” (4:29) in Luke’s version of the story. Refusal to open our heart can lead to such extremes.

Jesus was bitterly criticized because he demonstrated great openness of heart, particularly toward people on the fringes and borders of society. His openness caused rising opposition that led him to the cross. In the Acts of the Apostles we read more than once that the success of St. Paul’s preaching to the gentiles provoked jealousy among some of the Jews, who opposed the Apostle and stirred up persecution against him (Acts 13:45; 17,5; 22,21-22). Also within the Christian community, we need only recall the situation in Corinth where similar possessive attitudes caused serious harm when many believers attached themselves jealously to one apostle or another; causing conflict and division in the community. Paul had to intervene forcefully (1 Corinthians 1:10-3:23).

Today’s Gospel warns us to be on guard against certain attitudes that are incompatible with the example of Jesus: the human tendency to be possessive, and egoistic and small in mind and heart. We cannot forget that Jesus is the Savior of the world (John 4:42), and not of the village, town, city or nation!

In order to approach and imitate Jesus, who is total beauty and uniqueness, the quality of magnanimity is necessary in our hearts and minds. The opposite and enemy of magnanimity is envy. Envy is that fault in the human character that cannot recognize the beauty and uniqueness of the other, and denies the other honor. Envy can no longer see because the eyes are “nailed shut,” blinded to one’s own beauty and the beauty in others. Envy inevitably leads to forms of violence and destruction, of self and of others. In order to approach and imitate Jesus, who is total beauty and uniqueness, the attitude of envy must be first acknowledged and then banished.

Magnanimity lets others be free, for the other person must become great enough to be an image of God’s beauty. Magnanimity arouses the desire in each of us for the other to receive the greatest possible satisfaction and happiness that rightly belongs to the other! Magnanimity is capable of looking beyond itself, it can grant the other what oneself perhaps bitterly lacks, and can perhaps even rejoice in the other’s goodness, greatness and beauty.

Let us pray that Jesus not be amazed at our own unbelief, but rather rejoice in our small, daily acts of fidelity to him and our service to our sisters and brothers. May the Lord grant us magnanimous hearts so that we may look far beyond ourselves and recognize the goodness, greatness and beauty of other people, instead of being jealous of their gifts. God’s power alone can save us from emptiness and poverty of spirit, from confusion and error, and from the fear of death and hopelessness. The gospel of salvation is “great news” for us today.

[The readings for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Ezekiel 2:2-5; 2:23-24; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; and Mark 6:1-6]

(Image: Jesus Travelling by James Tissot)

Changes in the Pallium Ceremony on June 29 encourage greater participation of the faithful

 

Pallia tray June 29

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

In the past on June 29, Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, newly appointed Metropolitan Archbishops took part in an ancient liturgical ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and received the pallium directly from the Pope.

Pope Francis has made changes to the public ceremony of investiture of the Pallium on Metropolitan Archbishops emphasizing that the investiture is an ecclesial event of the whole diocese, and not merely a juridical or ceremonial event. Beginning on June 29 of this year, the ceremony of investiture of the Pallium will take place in the Metropolitan Archbishops’ home dioceses and not in the Vatican.

From now on, the ceremony will be celebrated in two significant moments: the first during which the pallium will be blessed by the Pope during the Mass on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul in the Vatican; the second when it will be placed on the Metropolitan Archbishop in his own diocese, by his representative, the Apostolic Nuncio in that particular country.

It is the responsibility of the Nuncio to determine with the Metropolitan Archbishops the most opportune date, circumstances and manner to publicly and officially invest him with the pallium by mandate of the Holy Father, and with the participation of the Suffragan Bishops of that particular Province (ecclesiastically geographic area).

The pallium ceremony will continue to symbolize communion between the See of Peter and the Successor of the Apostle and those who are chosen to carry out the episcopal ministry as Metropolitan Archbishop of an Ecclesiastical Province, and it will encourage the participation of the local Church in an important moment of its life and history.

Pallium photo

The pallium is a circle of wool that hangs around the neck and shoulders with two long pieces draping one over the chest and the other along the back. It is decorated with six black crosses and weighed with pieces of lead. The wool for the pallium comes from two lambs offered every year to the Pope on January 21, Feast of St. Agnes. They are first taken to the Church of St. Agnes to be blessed. The lambs arrive wearing floral crowns, one white and one red. These represent the purity of Agnes, which the archbishops should emulate, and the martyrdom of Agnes, which the archbishops should be prepared to follow.

The lambs are then shorn and the pallia (plural of pallium) are made. On the eve of the feast of the great apostles Peter and Paul, (June 28) the pallia are stored overnight in the silver casket above Peter’s tomb in the Vatican crypt.  The following day (June 29) the pallia are given to the newly appointed metropolitan bishops, the only occasion in which more than one bishop can be seen wearing the pallium at the same time.

Symbolically, the Pope is sharing his mission to “Feed my sheep and lambs” with the archbishops. The wool over the shoulders evokes the lamb over the shoulders of the Good Shepherd.  It also reminds the archbishops of the burdens of their office.  By investing each new Archbishop with the pallium, the Holy Father confers some of his own weight and responsibilities upon him.

At his own inauguration of Petrine Ministry as Bishop of Rome on April 24, 2005, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI spoke moving words about the pallium he had received during that ceremony:

“The symbolism of the Pallium is even more concrete: the lamb’s wool is meant to represent the lost, sick or weak sheep which the shepherd places on his shoulders and carries to the waters of life. …Hence the Pallium becomes a symbol of the shepherd’s mission. …The pastor must be inspired by Christ’s holy zeal: for him it is not a matter of indifference that so many people are living in the desert.  And there are so many kinds of desert.  There is the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment, of loneliness, of destroyed love.  There is the desert of God’s darkness, the emptiness of souls no longer aware of their dignity or the goal of human life. The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.

Therefore the earth’s treasures no longer serve to build God’s garden for all to live in, but they have been made to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction. The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance.”

Arise, Live and Love Again!

Talitha koum cropped

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – June 28, 2015

Last week we witnessed Jesus’ divine power at work on the forces of nature (Mark 4:37-41). Today’s Gospel stories reveal his power over disease and death.

In these powerful accounts, Jesus reminds us of the importance of faith. Nothing is possible without faith. On the way to Jairus’ house (Mark 5), Jesus encounters interruptions, delays, and even obstacles along the road. The people in the passage transfer their uncleanness to Jesus, and to each Jesus bestows the cleansing wholeness of God. Let us consider for a moment each situation.

The hemorrhaging woman

Jesus’ miraculous healing of this woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years is narrated in three of the four Gospels (Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48). The law regarded three forms of uncleanness as serious enough to exclude the infected person from society: leprosy, uncleanness caused by bodily discharges, and impurity resulting from contact with the dead (Numbers 5:2-4). The woman in Mark 5 had a disease that made her ritually unclean (Leviticus 15:25-27). It would have excluded her from most social contact and worship at the temple. She desperately wanted Jesus to heal her, but she knew that her bleeding would cause Jesus to become ritually unclean under Jewish law.

Anyone who had one of the diseases was made unclean. Anything or anyone that one touched became unclean. Those who were unclean also suffered from estranged relationships with others and with God. Anything unclean was unfit or unworthy to be in the presence of a God who was holy. Those deemed unclean had to go through a rite of purification or cleansing in order to be welcomed back into society and into the presence of God.

The woman’s bold invasion of Jesus’ space, and her touching of Jesus’ garment, thus making Jesus unclean, could have put him off. On the contrary, Jesus not only heals the woman, but also restores her relationships with others. When Jesus calls the woman “daughter,” he established a relationship with one with whom he should not have a relationship.

Jairus’ daughter

The very touching story of Jairus’ daughter is “sandwiched” in the story about the hemorrhaging woman. Jairus was an elected leader of the local synagogue, responsible for supervising the weekly worship, operating the school, and caring for the building. Some synagogue leaders had been pressured not to support Jesus, but Jairus had not caved into that pressure. Jairus bowed before Jesus and uttered his anguished request for help: “My daughter is at the point of death. Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.” Jairus’ gesture was a significant and daring act of respect and worship.

The story continues: “Jesus took the child by the hand, and said to her, ‘Talitha koum,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise!’ The girl arose immediately and walked around” (5:41-42). By calling her “little girl,” he established the same kind of relationship with her as Jairus has with his daughter.

In each situation, Jesus’ holiness transforms the person’s uncleanness. The flow of blood is stopped. The woman is healed. The corpse comes back to life. The young girl gets out of bed. Jesus raises each person up to his level, making that individual worthy to be in the presence of God.

Jesus, the healer

In so many of the healing stories, Jesus manifests the power to give people health, healing and even to bring the dead back to life. Remember the young man of Nain in Luke 7 who had died. Jesus said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!” Luke reports that the “dead man sat up and began to speak.”

Jesus responded to the cries of the leper who begged him, “If you will, you can cure me!” Moved with compassion, Jesus gave a word of command which was proper to God and not to a mere human being: “I do will it. Be made clean!” Mark wrote: “The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean” (Mark 1:42). How can we forget the case of the paralytic who was let down through an opening made in the roof of the house, Jesus said, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home” (cf. Mk 2:1-12).

Jesus’ story continues in the Acts of the Apostles when we hear about people who “carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them” (Acts 5:15). These “wonders and signs” were performed by the apostles not in their own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ, and were therefore a further proof of his divine power.

“Talitha koum”

The story of Jairus’ daughter not only speaks about the death of a child and the raising of that young girl back to life, but it also speaks about death of the heart and spirit, a disease that affects so many young people today.

Those powerful words — “Talitha koum” (Little girl, arise) — are not only addressed to this little girl in Mark’s story, but also to many young people, perhaps to each one of us. How many young children live with fear and sadness because of divided family situations, tragedy and loss! How many young people are caught up in vicious cycles of death: drugs, abortion, pornography, violence, gangs and suicide.

Today our young people are afflicted with anxiety, discouragement and other serious psychological and even physical illnesses in alarming ways. Many don’t know what joy, love hope and truth really mean any more.

Sadness, pessimism, cynicism, meaninglessness, the desire not to live, are always bad things, but when we see or hear young people express them, our hearts are even more heavy and sad. Living in a big city such as Toronto, I have the opportunity of meeting many young people, and when I hear some of their stories of brokenness, sadness and despair, I realize how much work the churches must do to bring young people back to life.

Jesus continues today to resurrect those dead young people to life. He does so with his word, and also by sending them his disciples who, in his name, and with his very love, repeat to today’s young people his cry: “Talitha koum,” “young man, young woman, arise! Live again! Love again! You are loved!”

“Alive” in Darlinghurst

As I reflect on today’s Gospel and Jesus’ powerful words: “Talitha koum,” I recall vividly one of Benedict XVI’s special moments during World Youth Day 2008 in Australia.

The Holy Father went to the University of Notre Dame’s Sacred Heart chapel in Darlinghurst (Sydney) where he met young people with histories of drug addiction and other problems, who are following the “Alive” rehabilitation program. The Pope Emeritus recalled Moses’ words in the Old Testament:

“‘I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live in the love of the Lord your God, […] for in this your life consists.”

“It was clear what they had to do,” the Pope explained, “they had to turn away from other gods and worship the true God Who had revealed himself to Moses — and they had to obey His commandments. You might think that in today’s world, people are unlikely to start worshipping other gods. But sometimes people worship ‘other gods’ without realizing it. False ‘gods’ […] are nearly always associated with the worship of three things: material possessions, possessive love, or power.”

“Authentic love is obviously something good,” the Pope continued. “When we love, we become most fully ourselves, most fully human. But […] people often think they are being loving when actually they are being possessive or manipulative. People sometimes treat others as objects to satisfy their own needs. […] How easy it is to be deceived by the many voices in our society that advocate a permissive approach to sexuality, without regard for modesty, self-respect or the moral values that bring quality to human relationships!”

“Dear friends, I see you as ambassadors of hope to others in similar situations. You can convince them of the need to choose the path of life and shun the path of death, because you speak from experience. All through the Gospels, it was those who had taken wrong turnings who were particularly loved by Jesus, because once they recognized their mistake, they were all the more open to his healing message.

“Indeed, Jesus was often criticized by self-righteous members of society for spending so much time with such people. ‘Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ they asked. He responded: ‘It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick … I did not come to call the virtuous but sinners’ (cf. Mt 9:11-13).

“It was those who were willing to rebuild their lives who were most ready to listen to Jesus and become his disciples. You can follow in their footsteps, you too can grow particularly close to Jesus because you have chosen to turn back towards him. You can be sure that, just like the Father in the story of the prodigal son, Jesus welcomes you with open arms. He offers you unconditional love — and it is in loving friendship with him that the fullness of life is to be found.”

I am sure that Jesus was smiling upon Benedict XVI and that wonderful gathering in Sydney. Jesus’ words — “Talitha koum” — be heard every anew, Down Under and throughout our world, to invite the young and all people to rise up, to live and to love again.

[The readings for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24; 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15; and Mark 5:21-43 or 5:21-24, 35b-43]

(Image: “Talitha Koum” by Ilja Jefimowitsch Repin)

Living in a Digital World: The Context of our Mission Today

Tom_JFC

Address to US & Canadian Jesuit Formation Conference
“Global Mission in a Digital Age”

 by Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Loyola Marymount University – Los Angeles, California
June 16, 2015

Over 300 Jesuits gathered at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California this week – all Canadian and U.S. Jesuits currently in formation along with their provincials. It is the largest gathering of Jesuits in the United States in the past decade. The group includes everyone from first-year novices to men in their third year of theology. The meeting, the first in the U.S. since 2006, is being held to give these Jesuits an opportunity – sometime during their formation – to meet everyone else. The theme of the gathering, which runs from June 15-20, is “Global Mission in a Digital Age,” which reflects the fact that the mission of the Society of Jesus is no longer restricted to a Jesuit’s own province or his own country because all Jesuits need a global perspective on their ministry. Speakers at the meeting include Fr. Matt Malone, SJ, America magazine’s editor-in-chief; Fr. Timothy Kesicki, SJ, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States; Fr. Tom Rosica, C.S.B., CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation; and Fr. Peter Balleis, SJ, international director of Jesuit Refugee Services.

Dear Brothers and Friends,

Thank you very much for the privilege of addressing this great assembly of 300 young Jesuits in formation and the entire leadership of the Society of Jesus in North America and many places beyond! Standing before such intelligence and creative talent gives me much hope for the Church and for the Society of Jesus. The theme of this conference is extremely appropriate for our time: “Global Mission in a Digital Age.” Last night Fr. Matt Malone, SJ, of AMERICA Media unfolded the vast canvas of the global mission before you. Today I would like to look at the digital tools needed to prepare and paint that canvas so that it can be seen, appreciated and understood by the world. Let me begin by telling you about a great Gospel artist of our times who surprisingly models for us how a truly dynamic, global mission is lived each day.

I say “surprisingly” on purpose! Following Pope Francis’ recent pronouncements on the digital and Internet matters, several Anglophone journalists with whom I deal regularly on behalf of the Holy See Press Office have asked me: “So, is this Jesuit Pope a Luddite?” Some people may think so given recent headlines like: “Pope doesn’t use e-mail, doesn’t have a laptop, doesn’t have an iphone.” Or “Jesuit Pope takes oath to Blessed Mother in 1990 promising never to watch television again.” Or “Pope tells parents not to let children use computers in their bedrooms.”

But as you know well, such headlines often distort the message. To understand what Francis says, context counts and syntax matters. The Pope has issued no magisterial directive on how to organize households. What he offered was common-sense wisdom. In more unscripted remarks during his recent day trip to Sarajevo two Sundays ago, Pope Francis spoke both to young people and to journalists about computer usage. Prefacing his remarks to the young people with self-deprecating humility (“Obviously, I am from the Stone Age, I’m ancient!”), his admonitions remain sound today: “If you live glued to the computer and become a slave to the computer, you lose your freedom. And if you look for obscene programs on the computer, you lose your dignity.” But he also implored those digital natives to “Watch television, use the computer, but for beautiful reasons, for great things, things which help us to grow.”

To the reporter during one of those coveted in-flight press conferences on the return flight to Rome who inquired about what was meant by wasting time with television and computers, the Pope distinguished between the medium and its content. Regarding the former he makes clear that the risk comes not from the digital medium but from one’s attachment to it. Slavery of this, or any kind, is what “damages the soul and takes away freedom.” About the latter the Pope was not telling parents how to act as much as he was describing what some concerned parents do, given their legitimate fears about a child’s access to inappropriate (even dangerous) content.

We all know that computers can have terrible effect if not used properly. Easy access to personally damaging content like pornography is frightening. It is the cause of breakup many families and destroys many lives and careers. So, too, is the strength of social media to affect brain power, with research now showing that digital distractions lead young people – in many cases our students and parishioners – to be able to concentrate on a task for only 31 seconds! But computers are not the problem, nor is the Internet the problem. Our fantasies are. Removing the device does not restrict the imagination. Nor does banning the technology eliminate distraction.

Social media can make moral development a challenge, but we cannot abdicate the perennial task of education in human freedom. Therefore Jorge Bergoglio’s Stone Age wisdom in this regard is worth emphasizing: “In an age of images we must do what was done in the age of books: choose what is good for me!”

Francis’s objections to computers seem largely to be about the ways in which the Internet promotes easy access to pornography and erodes human relationships and engagement. As he himself knows, however, the Internet can bring people together as well as drive huge wedges of division between them. Technology has always done this throughout history. The newspaper brought news of other people without the need for conversation with other people. The Internet allows for proclamations – including those coming from Vatican – to reach more people faster than ever before. But let us never forget that the great digital highway is a street teeming with people who are often hurting, men & women looking for salvation or hope.

Reimagining the Body of Christ

Beginning with the oral tradition, including the teaching ministry of Jesus, and continuing through the formation of the Biblical canon to modern telecommunications, human beings have recorded and shared their faith. Contemporary communication technologies are a gift of God for the people of God. The origins of these powerful media spring from the creative energy of an omnipotent and communicating God. The history of faith is a history of communication. The Word did not become an e-mail, an SMS or text message, a probe, a quick like, or some kind of divine oracle uttered from some distant heaven long ago. Through Mary, the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us. The Word became close to real, human beings in real time. The Word became a person to be followed, enjoyed and loved! From now on, anyone who really understands that God has become human will never be able to speak and act in an inhuman way. In Jesus, the message and the messenger are united. The medium is indeed the message.

It can be easy to regard new media with bewilderment, even dread. They offer so many possibilities – and also present invasive challenges to our present religious lifestyle, threatening, for example, the existence of uninterrupted time for thought and mediation. This new media will not disappear; they are omnipresent. We must regard them as potentially helpful.

We can identify our expectations and anxieties about media, based on our commitments to human rights, justice (including the availability of media to all parts of our society), and the protection of vulnerable persons from exploitation (children, youth, women, person with special needs, minority groups). As any instrument placed in our hands, the Internet becomes what we ourselves decide. It needs to be informed and guided by a resolute commitment to the practice of solidarity in the service of the common good, within and among nations.

For Christians, Jesus is both the model of communication and the subject of communication. People are most authentic in all their social interactions when they are honest about themselves. This means that we should reflect the spirit of our faith in our Internet postings, including a commitment to justice, peace, honesty, and transparency, with a gracious, kind style. Contemporary media are not inherently evil or sinful. As the media dramatically reshapes society, Christians need to be cautious and wary of the negative side. Putting energy and creativity into positive expressions will help build a more humane media environment. We can join with other Christians in evaluating our media experiences.

St. Paul’s imagery describes our present situation well: the body of Christ is an apt metaphor for our cyber-friendships and associations. As “one body with many members,” social networks can help us “rejoice and suffer with each other” across vast distances quickly and often. The etymology that links the words communion, communication, and community takes on many dramatic and poignant illustrations because of the Internet.

What essential traits of personal identity are lacking in virtual communication? In online communication there is an absence of the nonverbal and paralinguistic communication codes, such as facial expressions and tone of voice. The “people of the Net” have always tried to overcome this “absence” by introducing strategies, means to give color and friendship to web communication. We can think of the little faces, the “emoticons,” the possibility of choosing a text color, of adding images, of writing in all caps, of synthesizing words, of using abbreviations, of exclamation points and questions marks, of repeated letters. This makes written communication draw very close to the spoken word.

Our external technologies will certainly continue to advance. What is very uncertain is whether our inner technologies of consciousness will grow along with them. We need to make sure we connect to that place inside us of ease and focus, the creative mind. This is where you and I have a critical role to play.

Tom_JFC1

Hindrance and/or help:
Pope Francis 2015 Message for World Day of Communications

In Pope Francis’ 2015 Message for the World Day of Communications which we celebrated on the feast of the Ascension this year, he reminded us that “modern media, which are an essential part of life for young people in particular, can be both a help and a hindrance to communication in and between families.

“The media can be a hindrance if they become a way to avoid listening to others, to evade physical contact, to fill up every moment of silence and rest, so that we forget that “silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist.” The media can help communication when they enable people to share their stories, to stay in contact with distant friends, to thank others or to seek their forgiveness, and to open the door to new encounters.”

Internet Challenges for Church  

One of the greatest challenges of the digital culture to the Catholic Church is its egalitarianism. Anyone can create a blog; everyone’s opinion is valid. And if a question or contradiction is posted, the digital natives expect a response and something resembling a conversation. We can choose not to enter into that cultural mindset, but we do so at great peril to the Church’s credibility and approachability in the minds of many of our contemporaries, those who are growing up in this new culture. The Internet can destroy or confuse the hierarchy of information providing that church agencies have worked so hard to establish?

Our great challenge in the era of Facebook and Twitter consists in presenting the full, beautiful message of Jesus and the teaching of the Church without being sidetracked by technology’s superficial aspects. In using the media to evangelize the masses, we must never lose sight of the need to reach and teach the individual as though he or she were the only person being addressed.

The Internet also allows individuals to indulge in anonymity, role-playing, and fantasizing and also to enter into community with others and engage in sharing. According to users’ tastes, it lends itself equally well to active participation and to passive absorption. It can be used to break down the isolation of individuals and groups or to deepen it. The Internet can be a very positive instrument for globalization. The Internet can also be a “weapon of mass destruction!” What arms inspectors didn’t find in Iraq, they should have looked to the Internet. The “reply all” button can be a deadly weapon!

Exploitation on the Internet 

The spread of the Internet also raises a number of ethical questions about matters like privacy, security and confidentiality of data, copyright and intellectual property law, pornography, hate sites, the dissemination of rumor and character assassination under the guise of news, and much else. Pornography degrades those used in its production, as well as those who are desensitized or whose values are perverted through its consumption. We must denounce pornography because we believe that it reduces the Creator’s gift of sexuality to a level that is devoid of personal dignity, commitment and spirituality. But the Internet is not only a source of problems; it is a source of great benefits to the human race. The benefits can be fully realized only if the problems are named, addressed and solved.

The downside of the “Catholic” blogosphere

 In the wild, crazy world of the blogosphere, there is the challenge of accountability and responsibility. On the Internet there is no accountability, no code of ethics, and no responsibility for one’s words and actions. It can be an international weapon of destruction, crossing time zones, borders and space. In its wake is character assassination, destruction of reputation, calumny, libel, slander and defamation.

Many of my non-Christian and non-believing friends have remarked to me that we “Catholics” have turned the Internet into a cesspool of hatred, venom and vitriol, all in the name of defending the faith! The character assassination on the Internet by those claiming to be Catholic and Christian has turned it into a graveyard of corpses strewn all around. Often times the obsessed, scrupulous, self-appointed, nostalgia-hankering virtual guardians of faith or of liturgical practices can be very disturbed, broken and angry individuals, who never found a platform or pulpit in real life and so resort to the Internet and become trolling pontiffs and holy executioners! In reality they are deeply troubled, sad and angry people. We must pray for them, for their healing and conversion!

What view do others have of us when they view our blogs? If we judged our identity based on certain “Catholic” websites and blogs on the Internet, we would be known as the people who are against everyone and everything! If anything, we should be known as the people who are for something, something positive that can transform lives and engage and impact the culture. To what degree are our blogs and websites really the expression of the wealth of the Christian patrimony and successful in transmitting the Good News that the Lord has asked us to spread?

Rediscovering deliberateness and calm:
Pope Francis’ 2014 Message for World Day of Communications

“What is it, then, that helps us, in the digital environment, to grow in humanity and mutual understanding?  We need, for example, to recover a certain sense of deliberateness and calm.  This calls for time and the ability to be silent and to listen. We need also to be patient if we want to understand those who are different from us.  People only express themselves fully when they are not merely tolerated, but know that they are truly accepted. …”

“How, then, can communication be at the service of an authentic culture of encounter?  What does it mean for us, as disciples of the Lord, to encounter others in the light of the Gospel? …How can we be “neighbourly” in our use of the communications media and in the new environment created by digital technology?  I find an answer in the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is also a parable about communication.  Those who communicate, in effect, become neighbours.  The Good Samaritan not only draws nearer to the man he finds half dead on the side of the road; he takes responsibility for him. Jesus shifts our understanding: it is not just about seeing the other as someone like myself, but of the ability to make myself like the other. Communication is really about realizing that we are all human beings, children of God.  I like seeing this power of communication as “neighbourliness”.”

New Horizons & Pastoral Challenges of Social Media

Social networks and other interactive media challenge traditional church models of communication but offer unprecedented evangelizing opportunities to the Churches. We now have an opportunity to get the Church’s message and story directly to our people without having to negotiate the filters of mainstream media. We have the opportunity to connect with young Catholics to create relationships that will last their entire lives. In social media the church needs to view itself as one participant in the dialogue among many. The traditional one-way model of communication has been replaced by a more interactive model, in which everyone participates on the same level. Likewise, the relationships created in social media are a series of overlapping networks. This fits well with the church’s focus on community but not as easily with its hierarchical structure.

Social networking sites make some types of connections easier, but as they are not tied to geography or a community governed by its own social norms; they are subject to personal whims. While many of us have gotten back in touch with friends from the past via the Internet and Social Networking sites, there’s a danger as well that online interactions can hurt our real-life relationships.

Statistics indicate that social networking sites encourage young people to place an excessive importance on the number of “friends” they have instead of the quality of their real relationships. Social networking sites also encourage a form of narcissism. The sites that encourage people to “broadcast yourself,” which is the tagline for the video-sharing Web site YouTube reinforce a belief that every mundane detail of life is worth publicizing. Many people engage in personal broadcasting just because they can, but that they are often unaware that it also transforms who they are. People are not just living in the moment, but are publicizing the moment. It is a different level of experience that has real implications for the human person.

The rapid incoming of new information forces the user to pass on to the next one without reconsidering what he just read or saw. In the long run, such a habit forms insensitive and numb personalities, as they are reading the most intimate and sometimes most horrible details of other’s lives without the need of reacting to them as they would have to in a real conversation. This digital revolution and social networking evolution could be very counterproductive for the initial concept of social networks; instead of bringing people closer together, they connect users on a level without emotions and without deeper thoughts or interactions, thus slowly contributing to a world of men and women who don’t care about each other anymore.

Lessons learned

Having worked with young adults for the past 29 years of my priestly ministry, I have observed several behavioral patterns in the area of communications. The little devices most of us carry around are so powerful that they change not only what we do, but also who we are. People repeatedly use the term “addiction” to speak about their dependence on media. Young people’s “addiction” to media may not be clinically diagnosed, but the cravings are real. Being tethered to digital technology 24/7 is not just a habit but essential to the way young people manage friendships and social lives. For many young people, going without media peeled back the curtain on a deep, hidden loneliness and anti-social behavior.

What is “news”? To some young people, news means “anything that just happened”-worldwide events and friends’ everyday thoughts.

In today’s workplace, young people who have grown up fearing conversation show up on the job wearing earphones. Walking through a college library or the headquarters of a high-tech start-up, or at times even through our Salt and Light Television studios, one sees the same thing: we are together, but each of us is in our own bubble, furiously connected to keyboards and tiny touch screens. They are working away quietly at their workstations with a whole array of technologies spread before them: laptops, iPods and multiple cell phones. Some wear discreet earphones while others wear big ones akin to helicopter pilots or operators of large machinery. No one dare break the silence with a greeting of “Hello!” In the silence of connection, people are carefully kept at bay. As we get used to being shortchanged on conversation and to getting by with less, we seem almost willing to dispense with people altogether. It is our role to tell people to look up, look at one another, and let’s start the conversation. Not too long ago, people walked with their heads up, looking at the people in the elevator, on the sidewalks or in the corridors, and at one another, greeting them, smiling and talking. Now they often walk with their heads down, typing. Even when they are with friends, partners, children, everyone is on their own devices.

One day last year, several of my staff told me about an important new skill: maintaining eye contact with someone while you text someone else; it’s hard, but it can be done, they assured me! I didn’t believe this until it happened to me this past November when during two job interviews with a young man and a young woman, they both began texting while I spoke to them and questioned them. Needless to tell you that I ended each interview with the two and thanked them applying for the work positions. I told them that there was no work available for the next few years.

In the area of communicating with one another, we are tempted to think that our cute little phrases of online connection are substantial conversation! They are not! E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram… all of these methods of communication have their places in politics, commerce, promotion, evangelization, friendship and romance! But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation. Face-to-face conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience.

Our flight from conversation can mean diminished chances to learn skills of self-reflection. It’s hard to do anything with 1850 intimate Facebook friends except connect. We think constant connection will make us feel less lonely. Many times the opposite is true. If we are unable to be alone, we are far more likely to be lonely.

Most of all, we need to remember – in between texts, tweets, probes, likes, prompts, e-mails and Facebook posts – to listen to one another, even to the boring conversations, because it is often in unedited moments, moments in which we hesitate, stammer, stutter, cry and go silent, that we reveal our deepest selves to one another.

Pope Francis warns us: “some people… want their interpersonal relationships provided by sophisticated equipment, by screens and systems which can be turned on and off”. He continues, “the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 88)

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What does this have to do with us?

What does all this have to do with the church, with pastoral ministry, with consecrated life, with the future of the Society of Jesus in North America and the other countries from which you come? Nothing – unless the church wants to be relevant to the most powerful cultural change of our time. The question for us is not whether it can make clear use of slick technology for vocation promotion, pastoral ministry, university chaplaincy, parish life, secondary school education, worship or congregational solidarity, which are seductive opportunities for appealing to younger generations and potential adherents in general. The real question is whether the Church or the Society of Jesus is going to provide any compelling leadership or counter narrative amidst this cultural tsunami inundating us each day.

In your very DNA is the desire to find God in all things: the core of Ignatian Spirituality. This is the great lesson I learned through my own Jesuit education and it is rooted in our growing awareness that God can found in every one, in every place and in everything…. even in the digital world! When we learn to pay more attention to God, we become more thankful and reverent, and through this we become more devoted to God, more deeply in love with our Creator. In all of our efforts in Social Communications and digital media, let’s remember a few key points about our citizenship in this digital universe:

Does the use of new media serve to deepen our attentiveness to the presence of God, to the risen Christ to the living Spirit, to the community gathered about us, and to the world in which we are called to minister? In the digital world, no matter how hasty, undigested, unreflected the responses may be from our audience, our patient listening must always triumph. Internet culture conditions us to think that quick, instant responses to complex questions are the most valuable responses. It is then that we consecrated religious, teachers and pastors become choreographers of immediacy rather than midwives of a slower wisdom.

We must avoid the great danger of chasing after relevance. Some people work so hard to be relevant that they spin hopelessly into irrelevance. Our mission is to always seek in-depth that solid soil of the vital relationship with God and others, a place to really build a culture of respect, of dialogue and of friendship.

To the peripheries

Jesus asked his followers to go to the ends of the earth, not just to places where they felt comfortable. He did not sit around in Capernaum waiting for people to come to him. He spoke in a language that people understood and used media that people found accessible. Using parables, he was not afraid of being seen as undignified by talking about commonplaces like mustard seeds or sheep. The Son of God did not see that as beneath him. And if he did not consider speaking in familiar styles as undignified, then why should we?

In every age the church has used whatever media ere available to spread the good news. St. Augustine practically invented the form of the autobiography; the builders of the great medieval cathedrals used stone and stained glass; the Renaissance popes used not only papal bulls but colorful frescoes; Hildegard of Bingen, some say, wrote one of the first operas; the early Jesuits used theater and stagecraft to put on morality plays for entire towns; Dorothy Day founded a newspaper; your confrère Daniel Lord, S.J., jumped into radio; Bishop Fulton Sheen used television to stunning effect; and now we have bishops, priests, sisters and brothers and Catholic lay leaders who blog and tweet. How sad it would be if we did not use the latest tools available to us to communicate the Word of God? If Jesus could talk about the birds of the air, then we can surely tweet.

We are part of this Church and we live, move and have our being within the Church. Our religious consecration – you as Jesuits and I as a Basilian in service to Christ cannot be separated from consecration in service to the Church and the bold mission of communication entrusted to the Church. One of the main themes permeating the thought of your holy founder, Ignatius of Loyola is his exhortation “Sentire cum ecclesia” or “think with the Church.” “Sentire cum ecclesia” also means to feel with the Church and to love the Church…. and dare I say to communicate with the Church and for the Church.

Questions for personal reflection

Social networking isn’t new to Christian community. But the social media tools many use for networking today are new, and those tools are changing Christian community. The new tools are generating new patterns of behavior that affect not just Christian practice, but also, potentially, patterns of belief. Thinking theologically about living in a socially networked world has become an essential task for the community of faith.

For years, the big question of our era was: How do I live constantly connected? But we are moving through that experience now and trying to ask a new question: What does it mean to incorporate a sense of presence, awareness, and wisdom within this new media era of connectedness that engages us all? 

Does online life threaten to obliterate religious tradition and memory?

What are Facebook, Twitter and even the online version of our favorite newspapers doing to our attention spans, our ability to concentrate, the quality of our worship and reflection, our relation to the corporeal world, and our relationships with people and communities therein?

What is digital citizenship and social networking doing for us? What is it doing to us? What is it doing to our sense of social boundaries? To our sense of individuality? To our friendships? We expose everything, but are we feeling anything?

Human life is inherently social. Facebook didn’t create social networking; social networking created Facebook. Communities of faith have thrived on social networking for centuries. Paul of Tarsus was a consummate organizer and networker. His letters, journeys, visits, preaching, and teaching attest to this fact.

Digital social media are real places where people gather – like a town square or fellowship hall – and we must be present in these places just as we would be present in any of these other physical locales. If we are not there, then we are ceding the space to someone else.

Pope Francis, the first Jesuit Pope is by no means a Luddite! Just because he doesn’t use an iphone, an ipad or even watch TV, he understands what authentic communication is all about. Just watch the way he connects with people and with the world. As he wrote wrote in the 48th World Communications Day message:

“…It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply “connected”; connections need to grow into true encounters.  We cannot live apart, closed in on ourselves.  We need to love and to be loved. We need tenderness.  Media strategies do not ensure beauty, goodness and truth in communication. The world of media also has to be concerned with humanity, it too is called to show tenderness. The digital world can be an environment rich in humanity; a network not of wires but of people. The impartiality of media is merely an appearance; only those who go out of themselves in their communication can become a true point of reference for others. Personal engagement is the basis of the trustworthiness of a communicator. Christian witness, thanks to the Internet, can thereby reach the peripheries of human existence.”

Field Hospitals in the Digital Universe

I leave you with this final image from the first Jesuit Pope – the powerful image of the “field hospital” which he uses often that is drawn from the Spiritual Exercises. In Ignatius’s masterful work, God sees the world as a battlefield full of the dead and wounded. Immediately after this vision, Ignatius’ own gaze narrows. He beholds Mary’s room in Nazareth as well as the Divine Persons, who say: “Let us accomplish the redemption of the human race” (SE, 107). When Jorge Mario Bergoglio speaks of the church as a “field hospital after a battle” he appeals to Ignatius’ understanding of the role of the church in light of God’s gaze upon the world: “so many people ask us to be close, they ask us for what they were asking of Jesus: closeness, nearness. It is the opposite image of a fortress under siege. The image of a church as a field hospital is not just a simple, pretty poetic metaphor; from this very image we can derive an understanding of both the church’s mission and the sacraments of salvation.

What and where are the battlefields today? We can each name a country or land where blood, terror and violence seem to have the upper hand. But the big battlefield before humanity is the digital world: one that requires no passport and travel ticket to enter. You only need a keyboard, a screen or a hand-held device. It is in that universe that many wars are waged each day and where many wounded souls live, walk or troll. It is an immense battleground that needs many field hospitals set up to bind wounds and reconcile warring parties. And in this room, there are more than 300 field hospital workers ready for deployment.

The church must shine with the light that lives within itself, it must go out and encounter human beings who – even though they believe that they do not need to hear a message of salvation—often find themselves afraid and wounded by life. In one of his well-known poems, Blessed Cardinal J.H. Newman wrote about a “kindly light.” We also find this image of light in the Encyclical Lumen fidei: “Faith is not a light that dissipates all of our shadows, but rather a light that guides our steps in the night; and this is enough for the journey” (n. 57). Therefore it is not adequate for the church to reflect the light of Christ onto human beings like a luminous yet static beacon. It must also be a torch. The light of Christ reflected in the church must not become the privilege of only a few elect who float enclosed within a safe harbor: this would be a “church clique” or a “personal blog” or “chat room” more than an ecclesial community.

In the heart and mind of Pope Francis, we need “a church that is again capable of restoring citizenship to so many of its children that walk as if in exodus. Christian citizenship is above all the result of God’s mercy. If the church is truly a mother, it needs to respond to its children from its “guts of mercy” (Lk 1:78). Not only from its heart, but precisely from its “guts.” Thus “all are able to participate in some way in the life of the Church, all can be a part of the community, and even doors of the Sacraments should not be closed for any reason”(EG, 47).

For the greater glory of God, ad majorem Dei gloriam that is the mission and responsibility of each of us who hold this digital citizenship. Thank you.

Tom_JFC2

Biography

Ordained a priest in the Congregation of St. Basil in 1986, Fr. Thomas Rosica, a native of Rochester, New York, holds advanced degrees in Theology and Sacred Scripture from Regis College in the University of Toronto, the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem. Fr. Rosica lectured in Sacred Scripture at Canadian Universities in Toronto, Windsor and London and served as Executive Director of the Newman Centre Catholic Chaplaincy at the University of Toronto from 1994-2000. He was the Canadian Bishops’ Representative to the National Christian Jewish Consultation from 1994-2008.

In June 1999, he was appointed by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops as the Chief Executive Officer and National Director of the World Youth Day and the Papal Visit of Pope John Paul II, that took place in Toronto during July, 2002.  On July 1, 2003, Fr. Rosica became the founding Chief Executive Officer of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, Canada’s first national Catholic Television Network. In that capacity, he has been Executive Producer of over 50 documentaries and hundreds of television programs for the network over the past 13 years. Salt and Light is known for the many young women and men who are the faces, minds and hearts of that very creative network.

Appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in 2009, Fr. Rosica also served as Media Attaché at three Synods of Bishops at the Vatican in 2008, 2012 and 2014. Salt and Light Television was invited to document in a very signgificant way the past two Synods of Bishops. Fr. Rosica and his team will do the same for the upcoming Synod of Bishops in October 2015.  Since the Papal Transition in 2013, he has been English language Assistant to Holy See Press Office, working closely with Fr. Federico Lombardi, and relating on a daily basis to several hundred journalists and television and radio personnel around the world. Fr. Rosica is a member of the Standing Committee on Communications for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and a member of several Boards of Governors of Institutions of Higher Learning in Canada and the United States, including the Board of the Gregorian Foundation in Rome.

Photos courtesy of Doris Yu, Communications Coordinatorof the Jesuit Conference, Washington, DC.

Even the Wind and Sea Obey Him

Calming of the Sea cropped

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – June 21, 2015

There are many biblical passages that reveal the imagery of the angry sea. The Lord redeems his people from slavery in Egypt by turning the sea against the Egyptians [Exodus 15:8]. Other times the roaring waves of the sea are tamed only after fierce struggles [Psalm 89, Isaiah 51:9-10]. The sea mythology of the Old Testament underlies the first reading, psalm and Gospel for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]. In the Scriptures, the sea becomes a hostile, angry, dangerous area.

The question of Job is one asked by humanity throughout the ages: “Why do good, innocent people suffer?” Throughout the book, Job has been asking God to justify his actions, and God’s response forms the key section of the whole book. Chapter 38 begins the next to the final section in this book, in which God finally answers the ultimatums hurled at the divine throne. God responds by firing questions at Job about creation, implying that Job cannot explain his suffering because God’s response basically challenges Job’s right to question the Almighty!

Today’s small excerpt from the magnificent speech of God surrounds the Lord with the most awesome imagery. The Lord addressed Job out of the whirlwind and questioned him about the control of the ocean waves. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” [Job 38:4]. “Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?” [Job 38:8] The implied question is: If Job cannot understand God’s providence for the sea and the powers of nature, how will he ever grasp divine care for humans? For the author of Job, power means service.

Psalm 107 points out the mercies of God as demonstrated in the fate of individuals, and provides some insights into the multiplicity of ways in which God’s loving-kindness is displayed. The psalm speaks of a variety of dangers that confront believers: travel by land, imprisonment, sickness, and travel by sea. Consider the rich images used throughout this psalm: “stormy winds that lift up the waves of the sea” [107:25]; waves that mounted up to heaven then had their courage melt away” [107:26].

The storm and the waves hold people prisoners, and now that their own resources are at an end, they realize that the Lord alone can deliver them from the grasp of these elements. In desperation the people cry out, God intervenes and the people admit indebtedness. The transformation of the storm into a gentle breeze dramatizes the Lord’s response to people in need. When the psalmist says that the waves of the sea were hushed, the Hebrew word used means not so much to be silent but rather to grow still. In fact, in biblical literature this word is used only here and in Jonah 1:11, 12 with reference to the calming down of the turbulent sea and in Proverbs 26:20 in connection with the cessation of contention.

Love at the center

In today’s second reading [2 Corinthians 5:14-17], Paul speaks of his love of Christ and his personal conviction of that love which is the central motivation in his ministry. The Greek phrase for “love of Christ” includes both our love for Christ and Christ’s love for us, whereby Christ is both the object and subject of love. Only if Christ loves us first, by dying and rising, can we love in return. Because we share in his death and resurrection, we can no longer live for ourselves but are to live a new life of service in imitation of Christ. Paul also notes that he had to change his view of Christ and see him not from a merely human standpoint but in the light of revelation in the Spirit. If we see Christ from God’s viewpoint, then we should view everyone from the same perspective. Paul then brings the passage to a climax, insisting that everyone who is in Christ is a new creation and that everything is new — “everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” [2 Corinthians 5:17]. The power of God in Jesus is a reality, which, for our benefit, restrains itself so humbly and so completely, that we experience it as holy freedom — a freedom that removes fear and gives us the courage to act.

In the New Testament, the sea almost always represents a moment of conversion. It is along the sea that Jesus calls others to join him in his prophetic ministry and outreach to the poor and the sick. A sudden squall on the Sea of Galilee provides the crisis in today’s Gospel story [Mark 4:35-41] that takes place after a full day of teaching for Jesus. The calming of the storm is also a great teaching moment for Jesus. When the disciples awake him, they address him as “Teacher.”

Throughout the entire storm at sea, Mark insists on Jesus’ calmness and rootedness in God. He is “in the stern, asleep on the cushion” [Mark 4:38], trusting in God, in contrast to the disciples, who are frightened. When they rebuke Jesus for sleeping, he rebukes them for their lack of faith. In Mark’s account, both the disciples’ words to Jesus and his responses to them are quite harsh. Matthew and Luke soften both statements, but here the disciples really rebuke Jesus — and his rebuke to them doesn’t merely speak of “little faith” but of “no faith.”

The calming of the storm reveals much to us, for as the first reading from Job has indicated, only God can control the wind and sea. Jesus does much more than quiet the storm waves roaring across the sea and tossing the boat from side to side or tipping it dangerously into the waters. Jesus shares God’s control of the seas, emerging as the new creator, bringing peace and order out of the primordial chaos and establishing himself as Ruler over the new Kingdom of Israel.

Riding the waves

Besides indicating Christ’s divine power over nature, the calming of the story suggests his power over evil — for the sea commonly symbolizes evil and chaos. The boat is already a symbol of the Church, so the story also challenges us to trust in Christ’s power so that we can persevere through the storms that assail us as individuals and as a Church. Mark writes to his own community, which experiences chaos in the Lord’s absence. It’s almost as if the Lord is sleeping — uninvolved. Jesus challenges this lack of faith and affirms his continuing presence with power.

On the sea nothing happens normally, but always in abrupt or marvelous or very difficult ways. These are moments of decision with far-reaching consequences, in which the circumstances and even the timing are not in our control. The biblical passages of Jesus on the Sea of Galilee, especially today’s calming of the storm, can help us in recognizing such moments in our own lives and in guiding us through them.

A boat was a common symbol for the Church — here it is a symbol of a storm-tossed community crying out for help. Christ seems asleep and unconcerned, but he is in total control of the situation. The statement of peace recalls the greeting of the risen Christ. With Christ we pass through the raging sea and already share in his calm strength — even though like Job our questions may remain unanswered.

Today’s readings clearly show that power must ultimately take the form of loving involvement. Who are the holders of power in our day-to-day experience? Power resides with parents, teachers, elected officials, Church leaders, and many others. The measure of genuine power is found in self-sacrifice. Parents give all for their children; teachers labor long hours for their students; pastors gladly spend themselves for their communities. The result of all this is new life for both the leader and the follower. Jesus gave his life in history’s ultimate display of power and service. His life, especially in the midst of the storms, teaches us how to live in the midst of the storms of our own lives and times.

This week, let us take some time to reflect on the following questions that flow from our Scripture texts for the day: What are my deepest fears? How have I experienced God bringing order out of the chaos of my life? How is our Church storm-tossed today, and by what signs do we know that Jesus is fully in control of the situation?

[The readings for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time for Year B are: Job 38:1, 8-11; 2 Corinthians 5:14-17; and Mark 4:35-41]

(Image: “Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee” by Rembrandt)

The Slow Progress in the Growth of God’s Kingdom

Sower Van Gogh cropped

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – June 14, 2015

The growth of plants, trees, flowers and grass, takes place very quietly and slowly, without our knowing. This growth permeates three of the four readings for this Sunday (Ezekiel 17:22-24, Psalm 92, Mark 4:26-34). Let us look at each of three readings then apply the plant images to the growth of God’s kingdom in our midst.

Today’s first reading from Ezekiel (17:22-24) is part of a lengthy allegory that combines fables from nature with concrete historical judgments, thus enabling the prophet to include the promise of future restoration in the historical framework of Judah’s own experience. In the midst of Israel’s great exile, Ezekiel knows that God does the unexpected – bringing low the high tree and making high the low. The great cedar represents the king of Judah, and the other trees are the kings of the surrounding nations. God will plant on Mount Zion in Jerusalem a young, tender sprig from the top of the same cedar. This is referring to the final king or messiah who will rise up from the house of David. This king will be enthroned in Jerusalem, atop the highest mountain of Israel (2 Samuel 7:13). Many other nations will come and find refuge under this new kingdom.

The God of Isarel always does the unexpected – bringing low the high tree and making high the low. God makes desert areas bloom and makes what may be superficially blooming wither (Ezekiel 17:24). God restores broken hearts and decimated hopes. Though the prophet Ezekiel’s words referred at first to the hopes of ancient Israel, they still resound in our midst today. Even though the worldly dynasty of David would disappear, David’s hopes would be fulfilled in a way far more glorious than he ever imagined!

We believe that the full realization of God’s kingdom is found in Jesus of Nazareth, Son of Abraham and Son of David, who came to establish the kingdom in our midst. God’s kingdom in Jesus grows in a hidden, mysterious way, independently of human efforts. The prophet Ezekiel’s words stir our hearts and minds, and remind us of God’s constant fidelity, especially when growth seems delayed or even impossible: “I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it” (17:24).

The just shall grow as tall as palms…

Psalm 92 is a psalm of praise extolling God’s providence. Two dominant images of this psalm are the cedar tree and the date palm. While the date palm can bear fruit, it lacks the lasting strength and stamina of the cedar. The cedar is mighty, but it cannot bear fruit. In biblical lands, the palm tree and the towering cedar of Lebanon suggest strength, justice, righteousness and beauty. Both the date palm and the cedar are planted deliberately in the house of the Lord. It is there, in the Sanctuary of God’s Law, that they have their roots; it is from there that they derive all their vigor and strength. Both trees are presented as models for those who wish to live lives of righteousness and justice, planted firmly in God’s presence. 

Our homeland is the Lord

St. Paul builds on the the theme of Ezekiel’s prophecy as he speaks about the mystery of our union with Christ’s death and resurrection (2 Cor 5:6-10). Paul faces the fear of his own death and admits his difficulty at wanting to be “at home in the body/away from the Lord” or “away from the body/at home with the Lord”. His confidence flows from his faith. In this life, we are separated from Christ. For this reason Paul would prefer death, “to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” At present we are citizens in exile, far away from our home. The Lord is the distant homeland, believed in but unseen (7). Paul affirms his confidence by contrasting what is of permanent value with what is only passing. Paul drives home the point that the sufferings of the present are not a valid criterion of apostleship because the true home of all believers is elsewhere.

So too with us – God is mysteriously drawing us towards our heavenly homeland. From this earthly home we prepare for our heavenly home; heaven is constantly calls us forward, instilling within us a deep longing to be with the Lord while we are still in the flesh here below. Paul’s message speaks to us today: it is only from this earthly home that we will learn and prepare for the heavenly home; the way that we live our lives here and now with the Lord will be a very good indication of how we will spend our eternity with Him.

The assurance of the harvest

In today’s well-known Gospel story of the sower, Jesus announces the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s hopes, though with a kingdom even more unexpected than Ezekiel could ever imagine. This new kingdom would not be rooted in a geographical or political reality, but rather in human hearts. In today’s parable of the sower, Mark (4:26-34) links two of Jesus’ parables, featuring the image of a growing seed to speak of the kingdom of God. In the parable of the seed growing of itself (26-29), Mark contrasts the relative inactivity of the farmer with the assurance of the harvest. The sower need only do only one thing: wait for the crop to mature and then reap the harvest. Only Mark records the parable of the seed’s growth (26-29). Sower and harvester are the same. The emphasis is on the power of the seed to grow of itself without human intervention (27). Mysteriously it produces blade and ear and full grain (28). Thus the kingdom of God initiated by Jesus in proclaiming the word develops quietly yet powerfully until it is fully established by him at the final judgment (29).

The mustard seed

The second parable is better known. Jesus uses the mustard seed to show the beginnings of the kingdom, exaggerating both the smallness of the mustard seed and the size of the mustard plant. The mustard seed is really not the smallest seed and the plant is only bush, not a tall tree. Jesus used this image to show that the kingdom will grow and flourish even though its beginnings seem very small and insignificant. The seed in Jesus’ hand is tiny, simple and unimpressive. Yet the Kingdom of God is like that.

From these small seeds will arise the great success of the Kingdom of God and of God’s Word. Since the harvest symbolizes the last judgment, it is likely that the parable also addresses the burning issue of slow progress in the growth of God’s kingdom, especially when that growth was hindered by persecution, failure or sinfulness. Patience is called for in the face of humble beginnings. Jesus reassures the crowd that growth will come; it is only at the harvest that the farmer reappears. The growth of God’s kingdom is the result of God’s power, not ours. Like the tiny mustard seed, the kingdom of God is something that grows from a tiny beginning.

The Lord uses the vivid image of the mustard seed to speak about our faith. When we have faith, the Lord will accomplish great things in us. Whenever and wherever we take ourselves and our efforts too seriously, seeking by our plans and programs to “bring forth the kingdom of God,” we will go away frustrated and sad. We must never forget that it is the Lord who sows, the Lord who waters, the Lord who reaps the harvest. We are merely servants in the vineyard. Let us beg the Lord to bless the desires he has planted deep in our hearts. As the mustard seed grows into a tree of shelter for birds, may our families and faith communities be signs of the Kingdom every person our communities is protected, respected and loved.

The silent and vigorous growth of the Church

I was very struck by Pope Benedict XVI’s use of the mustard seed imagery in his interview with journalists aboard the Papal flight to Madrid, Spain for the World Youth Day on August 18, 2011. The Holy Father was asked how the fruits of the World Youth Days can be ensured in the future? Do World Youth Days effectively produce fruits that last longer than the momentary bursts of enthusiasm? Pope Benedict responded to the questions with these words:

“God always sows in silence. The results are not immediately apparent in the statistics. And the seed the Lord scatters on the ground with the World Youth Days is like the seed of which he speaks in the Gospel: some seeds fell along the path and were lost; some fell on rocky ground and were lost, some fell upon thorns and were lost; but other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth abundant fruit.

It is exactly like this with the sowing of the WYDs: a great deal is lost — and this is human. To borrow other words from the Lord: the mustard seed was small, but it grew and became a great tree. And with yet other words: of course, a great deal is lost, we cannot say straight away that there will be an immense growth of the Church tomorrow. God does not act in this way. However, the Church grows in silence and vigorously. I know from other World Youth Days that a great many friendships were born, friendships for life; a great many experiences that God exists. And let us place trust in this silent growth, and we may be certain, even if the statistics do not tell us much, that the Lord’s seed really grows and will be for very many people the beginning of a friendship with God and with others, of a universality of thought, of a common responsibility which really shows us that these days do bear fruit.”

To those words, I say Amen! Alleluia!

Questions

  1. When was the last time that God has worked in your life, bringing about the most unexpected result?
  1. What are the necessary conditions for the Word of God to be heard?
  1. When have I been frustrated with the growth of God’s kingdom? Why?
  1. What has been my experience of World Youth Days and other great programs and activities of the Church? How have they caused me to grow?

(Image: Sower with the Setting Sun by Vincent Van Gogh)

Gems from a Day Trip: Pope Francis in Bosnia-Herzegovina – June 6, 2015

Francis arrival Sarajevo

In many cases, Pope Francis’ unscripted remarks during his brief visit to Sarajevo yestreday captured remarkably the purpose of Pope Francis’ brief, powerful, prophetic visit to this small country in Europe: to bring a message of hope to peoples who had known so much violence, bloodshed, war and enmity for so long. Yesterday’s pastoral visit to a small European country evoked in many ways Francis’ previous visit to Albania in September 2014.

From the city of Sarajevo, which had become a symbol of Europe’s fratricidal war, Pope Francis offered the world an icon of hope and peace. The scars of the war of the 1990’s are still open wounds, but Pope Francis told the political leaders of Bosnia-Herzegovina how deeply moved he was at the thousands of children of various ethnicities and religions who cheered him on as he made his way through the streets of Sarajevo. He told the leaders: “Children are the hope we should be betting on.”

Yesterday we caught sight of visibly moved Bishop of Rome who had traveled to Bosnia-Herzegovina to listen, encourage, confirm and strengthen Christians in their faith, and invite politicians, Muslims and others of good will to become peacemakers and not simply proclaimers of peace.

“Do not forget the martyrs,” Francis told his audience yesterday. “You do not have the right to forget your history, not for seeking revenge, but for building peace.” He urged forgiveness and tenderness toward former enemies.

“War means children, women, and the elderly in refugee camps; it means forced displacement of peoples; it means destroyed houses, streets, and factories; it means, above all, countless shattered lives,” he said. “You know this well, having experienced it here: how much suffering, how much destruction, how much pain!”

Yesterday in Sarajevo, Francis took up once again the cry of Blessed Paul VI to the United Nations General Assembly in 1964: “Today, dear brothers and sisters, the cry of God’s people goes up once again from this city, the cry of all men and women of good will: War never again!” The significance and impact of those words emanating yesterday from Bosnia-Herzegovina was lost on no one.

So that you do not forget yesterday’s powerful visit, I have excerpted below some of the jewels of Pope Francis’ day trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Though such words and thoughts were spoken in a specific, geographical place in Europe, their import is for the entire world.

Francis Muslim Sarajevo

Meeting with Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps
Presidential Palace

“We need to communicate with each other, to discover the gifts of each person, to promote that which unites us, and to regard our differences as an opportunity to grow in mutual respect”.

“Patience and trust are called for in such dialogue, permitting individuals, families and communities to hand on the values of their own culture and welcome the good which comes from others’ experiences. In so doing, even the deep wounds of the recent past will be set aside, so that the future may be looked to with hope, facing the daily problems that all communities experience with hearts and minds free of fear and resentment.”

Homily of the Holy Father
Mass in Koševo Stadium

“Within this atmosphere of war, like a ray of sunshine piercing the clouds, resound the words of Jesus in the Gospel: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’. This appeal is always applicable, in every generation. He does not say: ‘Blessed are the preachers of peace’, since all are capable of proclaiming peace, even in a hypocritical, or indeed duplicitous, manner. No. He says: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’, that is, those who make peace. Crafting peace is a skilled work: it requires passion, patience, experience and tenacity. Blessed are those who sow peace by their daily actions, their attitudes and acts of kindness, of fraternity, of dialogue, of mercy… These, indeed, ‘shall be called children of God’, for God sows peace, always, everywhere; in the fullness of time, he sowed in the world his Son, that we might have peace! Peacemaking is a work to be carried forward each day, step by step, without ever growing tired.

Ecumenical and Interreligious Meeting
Franciscan International Study Centre

“Through dialogue, a spirit of fraternity is recognized and developed, which unites and favours the promotion of moral values, justice, freedom and peace. Dialogue is a school of humanity and a builder of unity, which helps to build a society founded on tolerance and mutual respect.”

“Interreligious dialogue, before being a discussion of the main themes of faith, is a “conversation about human existence” (ibid.). This conversation shares the experiences of daily life in all its concreteness, with its joys and sufferings, its struggles and hopes; it takes on shared responsibilities; it plans a better future for all. We learn to live together, respecting each other’s differences freely; we know and accept one another’s identity. Through dialogue, a spirit of fraternity is recognized and developed, which unites and favours the promotion of moral values, justice, freedom and peace. Dialogue is a school of humanity and a builder of unity, which helps to build a society founded on tolerance and mutual respect.”

“This city, which in the recent past sadly became a symbol of war and destruction, today, with its variety of peoples, cultures and religions, can become again a sign of unity, a place in which diversity does not represent a threat but rather a resource, an opportunity to grow together. In a world unfortunately rent by conflicts, this land can become a message: attesting that it is possible to live together side by side, in diversity but rooted in a common humanity, building together a future of peace and brotherhood.”

“Let us not be discouraged, however, by the difficulties, but rather continue with perseverance along the way of forgiveness and reconciliation. While we seek to recall the past with honesty, thereby learning the lessons of history, we must also avoid lamentation and recrimination, letting ourselves instead be purified by God who gives us the present and the future: he is our future, he is the ultimate source of peace.”

Francis Religious Sarajevo

Meeting with Priests, Men and Women Religious and Seminarians Gathered in the Cathedral

“Dear sisters and brothers, you must not forget your history, not in order to hold grudges, but in order to create peace. Not to consider that history as something strange, but to love as they loved. In your blood, in your vocation, is the vocation and blood of these three martyrs. There is the blood and the vocation of many religious, priests and seminarians. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews, tells us not to forget those who have gone before us, those who have transmitted the Faith to us. These people have transmitted the Faith to you, and taught you how to live the Faith. The Apostle Paul tells us not to forget Jesus Christ, the first martyr. These people have followed in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. We need to restore memory in order to make peace.”

“A few words are lodged in my heart: one of these is “forgiveness”. A man and a woman who consecrate their lives to the Lord, but don’t know how to forgive, are worth nothing. Forgiving an enemy who says something bad to you, or a sister who is jealous, isn’t difficult. But forgiving someone who kicks you and hurts you, who threatens your life with a gun, that is hard to forgive. Yet they did this, and they tell us we should do the same. Something else that stays with me is the 120 days in the concentration camp. How many times the spirit of the world causes us to forget those who have preceded us with their suffering? Those days in the concentration camp were counted by the minute because every minute, every hour, was torture: living together, filthy, without food or water, in the heat and the cold, and for so long. And we who complain when our tooth hurts, or because we want a TV in our room, or more creature comforts, or we gossip about the superior because the food isn’t good enough. Don’t forget the testimonies of those who went before [us]. Think how much they suffered. Think about the six-litre blood transfusion the first priest received in order to keep him alive. Carry a cross that is worthy of Jesus Christ. Worldly sisters, priests and bishops are caricatures who are worth nothing because they do not remember the martyrs. They don’t remember Jesus Christ crucified who is our only glory.”

“I think of (the story we were told about) the militiaman who gave a pear to the sister, and the Muslim woman who lives in America now, and who fed the priest. We are all brothers and sisters, even that cruel man. I don’t know what he was thinking, but he felt the Holy Spirit. Maybe he remembered his mother when he gave that pear to the sister. And that Muslim woman who went beyond religious difference, she believed in God. Seek the God of all. We all have the possibility to seek the seeds of Good, because we are all Children of God. Blessed are you who have these witnesses so close to you. Please never forget them. May our lives grow though these memories. I think of the priest whose parents and sister died, he was left alone but he was the fruit of love, marital love. I think of the sister, she too was a daughter. I think of what the Cardinal Archbishop said: what happens to the Garden of Life? Why doesn’t it flourish? Pray for families so that they may flourish with many children and that there may be many vocations.”

“Finally, I would like to tell you that what we have heard is a story of cruelty. Today, in wars around the world, we see so much cruelty. Be the opposite of cruel: be tender, fraternal, forgiving. And carry the cross of Jesus Christ. That’s what Holy Mother Church wants of you: to be small martyrs, small witnesses of the Cross of Christ. May God bless you and please pray for me.”

Meeting with the Young People
“John Paul II” Diocesan Youth Centre

“Some young people may give in to the temptation to flee, or become self-absorbed, taking refuge in alcohol, drugs, or ideologies which preach hatred and violence. These are realities which I know well because they were “unfortunately also present in Buenos Aires, where I come from.”

“To overcome every trace of pessimism, you will need the courage to offer yourselves joyfully and with dedication to the building of a welcoming society, a society which is respectful of all differences and oriented towards a civilization of love.”

Francis Youth Sarajevo

From Prepared Remarks to Young People

“Dear young people, your joyful presence, your thirst for truth and high ideals are signs of hope! Being young does not mean being passive, but rather means being tenacious in your efforts to achieve important goals, even if this comes at a price. Being young does not mean closing your eyes to difficulties: instead, it requires a refusal to compromise or be mediocre. It does not mean escaping or fleeing, but engaging rather in solidarity with everyone, especially the weakest. The Church counts on you and will continue to count on you who are generous and capable of great energy and noble sacrifices. For this reason, together with your pastors I ask you: do not isolate yourselves, but rather be ever more united among yourselves so that you may enjoy the beauty of fraternity and be always more fruitful in your actions.”

“Everyone will see that you are Christians by how you, young Christians of Bosnia and Herzegovina, love one another and how committed you are to service. Be not afraid; do not flee from reality; be open to Christ and to your brothers and sisters. You are a vital part of that great people who make up the Church: a universal people, a people in whom all nations and cultures can receive God’s blessing and can discover the path to peace. With this people, each of you is called to follow Christ and to give your life to God and to your brothers and sisters, in the way that the Lord will reveal to you, or perhaps is revealing to you now! Will you respond? Do not be afraid. We are not alone. We are always in the presence of God our heavenly Father, with Jesus our Brother and Lord, in the Holy Spirit; and we have the Church and Mary our Mother. May she protect you and always give you the joy and courage to witness to the Gospel.”

To Journalists aboard the return flight to Rome Saturday evening

Cross war altar SarajevoQuestion to Pope Francis: “You spoke to young people about the need to exercise prudence when watching TV and using computers, you talked about “filth” and “bad fantasies.” What did you mean by this exactly?”

“There are two different elements here: method and content. Regarding the method or way of doing things, there is one that is bad for the soul and that is being too attached to the computer. This is bad for the soul and it robs you of your freedom, you become a slave of the computer. It’s interesting, so many mothers and fathers say to me: when we’re at table our children are on their phones and it’s like they are on another planet. Virtual language is a form of progress for humanity but when it drives us away from our family, from social life, from sport and from art and we are glued to it, it becomes a mental illness. Secondly, the content. Yes, there is a lot of filth that ranges from pornography to semi-pornographic content, to programmes that are empty, devoid of values; relativism and consumerism foment all this. Ad we know that consumerism is a cancer of society, relativism is a cancer of society and I will talk about this in my next encyclical. There are some very concerned parents who do not allow their children to have a computer in their rooms but in a common space in their home. These are little things that help.”

Waiting for Pope Francis’ Encyclical on the Environment

Pope_Encyclical1

Many people have contacted us about the forthcoming Papal Encyclical on the environment.  The reflections below, especially in answer to the third question, simply flow from an attentive reading of teachings on the environment in the works of both Popes Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.  Popes write encyclicals formulated on the foundations of what has already been stated by their predecessors.

The questions are:

  1. What is an encyclical?
  2. Is this Pope Francis’ first encyclical?
  3. Why is an encyclical on the environment necessary at this moment in history?

1. What is an encyclical?

A Papal Encyclical is the name typically given to a letter written by a Pope.  It can be addressed to the bishops and priests of a particular region or of the entire world, to specific groups in the Church or to the entire Catholic faithful. It can also be addressed to all people of good will. The word encyclical comes from the Greek ‘egkyklios’, ‘kyklos’ meaning a circle. It may be considered to be a ‘circular letter’. Encyclicals are used primarily for teaching.  The first encyclical was released by Pope Benedict XIV on December 3, 1740. Since then, the Popes have written over 300 encyclicals.

2. Is this Pope Francis’ first encyclical?

Lumen Fidei (English: “The Light of Faith”) is the name of the first encyclical of Pope Francis, signed on June 29, 2013, on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, and promulgated (published) on July 5, 2013, four months after his election to the papacy. The encyclical focuses its theme on faith, and completes what his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI had previously written about charity and hope, the other two theological virtues, in his encyclicals Deus caritas est(God is love) and Spe Salvi (By hope we were saved.)

Lumen Fidei was a unique document in that it is the work of two Popes. Francis took the work of Benedict, who before his resignation from the papacy had completed a first draft of the text, and added his own reflections to the document. Pope Francis expressed this collaboration in paragraph 7 of the encyclical: “These considerations on faith — in continuity with all that the Church’s magisterium has pronounced on this theological virtue — are meant to supplement what Benedict XVI had written in his encyclical letters on charity and hope. He himself had almost completed a first draft of an encyclical on faith. For this I am deeply grateful to him, and as his brother in Christ I have taken up his fine work and added a few contributions of my own.”

Pope_Encyclical2

3. Why is an encyclical on the environment necessary at this moment in history?

Since his election in March 2013, Pope Francis has very frequently shown concern for the environment, following the example of Benedict XVI who was sometimes labeled the first “Green Pope.” Benedict consistently called for the safeguarding of creation, arguing that respect for the human being and nature are one.  Ours is the world that God so loved, the world that was to receive his only Son, Jesus. We must show love and care toward the world, a gift of God’s creation.

-From the beginning of his Petrine Ministry, Pope Francis made it clear that his choice of his papal name after St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of ecology was indicative of his concern for the environment. In his inaugural Mass homily, he called on everyone to be “protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”

-On World Environment Day, June 5, 2013, Francis stressed the need to “cultivate and care” for the environment, saying it is part of God’s plan that man “nurture[s] the world with responsibility,” transforming it into a “garden, a habitable place for everyone.”

-In his June 5, 2013 address Francis said: “We are losing the attitude of wonder, contemplation, listening to creation. The implications of living in a horizontal manner is that we have moved away from God, we no longer read His signs.”

-Pope Francis has issued to the Church and the world a profound challenge to rethink the culture of waste and to contemplate seriously and act with conviction against the dynamics of an economy and finance that lack ethics. “Man is not in charge today, money is in charge, money rules.”

-As Benedict had often done, Francis links human ecology with environmental ecology, issuing a strong challenge to rethink the culture of waste and to oppose a lack of ethics in economy and finance. “I would like us all to make a serious commitment to respect and protect creation,” he said, “to be attentive to every person, to counter the culture of waste and disposable [mentality], to promote a culture of solidarity” and of living alongside others, especially on the margins, as opposed to individualism.

-In an address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See on January 13, 2014, Pope Francis noted the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in November 2013 and warned against “greedy exploitation of environmental resources.” He quoted the popular adage: “God always forgives, we sometimes forgive, but when nature – creation – is mistreated, she never forgives.”

-Ecologies that seemingly begin with the program of saving our environment quickly run their logic to the point where the environment takes absolute priority over human beings. When taken to the extreme, many make the erroneous claim that the human person is simply one of a very large number of species, all equally valuable and enjoying the same rights.

-To recover the integrity of creation, we need a renewed Christian culture.

Pope_Encyclical3

Recalling Pope Benedict’s contribution in ‘Caritas in veritate’

-For Benedict, human ecology is an imperative. Adopting a lifestyle that respects our environment and supports the research and use of clean energies that preserve the patrimony of creation and that are safe for human beings should be given political and economic priority.

-In his encyclical letter Caritas in veritate, and in subsequent writings, Pope Benedict XVI has called for the development of a “human ecology” grounded in the idea of creation as gift. “The human being will be capable of respecting other creatures only if he keeps the full meaning of life in his own heart. Without a clear defense of human life from conception until natural death; without a defense of the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman; without an authentic defense of those excluded and marginalized by society, we will never be able to speak of authentic protection of the environment.”

-Benedict called for a “change in mentality” in order to “quickly arrive at a global lifestyle that respects the covenant between humanity and nature, without which the human family risks disappearing.” He said that “every government must commit themselves to protecting nature and assisting it to carry out its essential role in the survival of humanity.”

-In his 2010 World Day of Peace Message entitled “If You Want to Cultivate Peace, protect creation”, Pope Benedict XVI used the term “human ecology.” Benedict reaffirmed the Catholic understanding of our relationship with the goods of the earth and our call to stewardship of the planet which has been given to us by the Creator as a gift.

-Benedict has called for an “integral human development” which recognizes the centrality of the human person and the primacy of our relationships with one another in family and society. He underscored the truth that creation is a gift, given to human persons by a God of love who entrusts us with responsibility for one another – and therefore for the goods which promote our human flourishing. We all have a responsibility for one another. We need to live together as good stewards of creation, recognizing the need first for a “human ecology”.

-“If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation. The quest for peace by people of good will surely would become easier if all acknowledge the indivisible relationship between God, human beings and the whole of creation. In the light of divine Revelation and in fidelity to the Church’s Tradition, Christians have their own contribution to make.”

-Pope Benedict articulated a Catholic Environmental vision which is pro-life, pro-family, pro-poor, pro-peace, pro-justice and fundamentally relational.We are to receive one another as gifts. We must never use human persons as objects. We should receive creation as a gift, our common home, to be shared with one another, and not as an object of use. Pope Benedict articulated a vision for a «human ecology» which can promote a path to authentic peace.

In addition to being the CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, Fr. Rosica is also the English language assistant to the Holy See Press Office.

Food and Drink for the Journey

Francis eucharist cropped

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Year B – Sunday, June 7, 2015

Today’s Gospel [Mark 14.12-16,22-26] links Jesus’ death with Israel’s great feast of liberation, the Passover.

At the first Passover, the blood on the doorpost prevented the death of the firstborn. The bread broken at the Last Supper symbolizes the disciples’ sharing in Jesus’ self-offering. Drinking from the cup of his blood creates a new and dynamic common bond. Jesus’ blood sanctifies and revitalizes each of us. The Eucharist has something that distinguishes it from every other kind of memorial. It is memorial and presence together, even if hidden under the signs of bread and wine.

Our Eucharistic Liturgy proclaims the one bond of life between God and his people. Just as blood that flows outward from the heart unites all the bodily members in one flow of life, so too are we united intimately with God through the precious body and blood of Jesus. The very nature of the Eucharist implies a bond with God and with the community. Our destinies are intertwined with God’s own life. We cannot be loners, for blood is a common bond.

As we celebrate the solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord this year, we realize two things: this feast is a daily one. Yet we set aside one day in the year to celebrate a feast of those feasts which we celebrate every day. Not only do we celebrate the bread and wine which become the body and blood of the Lord, we celebrate the new identity given to those who share among them Jesus’ body and blood and then become what they eat and drink.

Faith in Jesus’ resurrection can itself be an unproductive or dangerous ideology if it does not stimulate us actually to share bread with our brothers and sisters who are hungry. We are not engaging in social and political action but in sacramental celebration, a memorial or commemoration: the recollection of Jesus’ life and death, in the conviction of faith of his resurrection as Lord, sitting in God’s place of honor as the advocate of poor and oppressed people who have no bread. When we receive the Eucharist, we partake of the one who becomes food and drink for others. Each time we celebrate the Eucharist, do we realize that the Eucharistic Christ is really present as bread for the poor?

Christianity, Catholicism, the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, are not theological concepts, courses, things, ideas, passing fancies, symbols — they are a living person and his name is Jesus.

Quebec’s Eucharistic congress

At many moments of crisis and turbulence in Christian history, the Lord confirmed his real presence in the Blessed Sacrament in some rather miraculous ways. Most of these Eucharistic miracles involved incidences in which the Host has “turned into human flesh and blood.” The miracles in Bolsena and Orvieto in Italy quickly come to mind, and there is, of course, the well known Eucharistic miracle story from Lanciano, Italy. Such stories seem to be far removed from our own experiences, and are often times quite hard to believe. In recent times such miracle stories have receded from the front burners of contemporary theology and spirituality and are often relegated to the realm of eccentric piety and devotion.

As Catholics we believe that the consecrated Host is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord, under the appearances of bread and wine. Therefore, Jesus, through the Eucharistic miracles, merely manifests his presence in a more tangible way. Some tell us that we don’t really need the extraordinary manifestations to confirm what we already know and believe. They say that extraordinary miracles are not the essence of true Eucharistic piety, devotion and understanding.

I would like to reflect on an extraordinary Eucharistic event that deeply marked the Church in Canada and touched many parts of the world as well.

From June 15-22, 2008, I rediscovered what extraordinary Eucharistic miracles are all about, only this time it wasn’t in churches of old Europe. Along with 15,000 other people from throughout Canada and 75 other countries of the world, I saw the Eucharist come alive in a very powerful way in a hockey arena in Quebec City’s Pepsi Coliseum during the 49th International Eucharistic Congress.

In his homily for the opening of the congress, the 84-year-old Slovakian Cardinal Jozef Tomko, papal legate to the event, said that “Jesus is the gift of God, he is the food that feeds us and fulfills us and allows us life in eternity. The Eucharist is a person, not an object, not a dead gift. Maybe we should ask not what is the Eucharist, but who is the Eucharist?” The answer to this question, Tomko said, is Jesus in the sacramental form of bread and wine “to indicate he wanted to become our food and sustain our life.”

One of the very memorable and profound catechesis sessions of the Quebec congress was on the theme “The Eucharist, the life of Christ in our Lives” given by Bishop Louis Antonio Tagle of Imus in the Philippines, now Cardinal Tagle of Manila. Then-Bishop Tagle spoke about Eucharistic adoration outside of Mass: “Beholding Jesus, we receive and are transformed by the mystery we adore. Eucharistic adoration is similar to standing at the foot of the cross of Jesus, being a witness to his sacrifice of life and being renewed by it.”

Bishop Tagle pointed to the example of the Roman centurion who guarded Jesus on the cross as a “model of adoration.”

We learn from the centurion to face Jesus, to keep watch over him, to behold him, to contemplate him. At first the centurion spent hours watching over Jesus out of duty but ended up contemplating him in truth. What did the centurion see? We can assume that he saw the horror of suffering that preceded Jesus’ death. But I also believe that in Jesus the centurion saw incredible love, love for the God who had failed to remove this cup of suffering from him, and love for neighbors.

The prelate concluded his powerful catechesis:

I wish that Eucharistic adoration would lead us to know Jesus more as the compassionate companion of many crucified peoples of today. Let us adore Jesus who offered his life as a gift to the Father for us sinners. Let us adore him for ourselves, for the poor, for the earth, for the Church and for the life of the world.

One day during the congress in Quebec, the daily rainfall compelled me to take a taxi to the Pepsi Coliseum. The young driver, an Algerian Muslim man, asked me from where I came and then spoke to me about the congress, having encountered so many of the delegates on the streets of Quebec City. When he learned that I was from English-speaking Canada, he lit up! “What are they giving you people to eat these days?” he asked me. I looked puzzled and asked him to explain and he did so in impeccable English! He said: “I have never seen so many happy people in Quebec City since I emigrated here 10 years ago. There has to something in the food and drink. It must be awesome!”

Quebec’s Eucharistic Congress was a privileged opportunity for Canada to re-actualize the historic and cultural patrimony of holiness and social engagement of the Church that draws its roots from the Eucharistic mystery.

In his 2003 encyclical letter “Ecclesia de Eucharistia” Pope John Paul II wrote: “The Eucharist builds the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist.” The International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City did just that here in our own country.

[The readings for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ are: Exodus 24:3-8; Hebrew 9:11-15; and Mark 14:12-16, 22-26]

(Image: CNS photo/Paul Haring)

God Puts Relationship and Community First

Trinity Orta

Feast of the Holy Trinity – Sunday, May 31, 2015

One of the important dimensions of our Trinitarian God is the community of love and persons modeled for us in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. For Christians, the Trinity is the primary symbol of a community that is held together by containing diversity within itself.

If our faith is based in this Trinitarian mystery that is fundamentally a mystery of community, then all of our earthly efforts and activities must work toward building up the human community that is a reflection of God’s rich, Trinitarian life.

Today’s Deuteronomy [4:32-34,39-40] passage is an excellent point of departure for probing the depths of the mystery of the Trinity. Consider for a moment Moses’ words encouraging and exhorting the people of Israel: “From there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul. In your distress, when all these things have happened to you in time to come, you will return to the Lord your God and heed him. Because the Lord your God is a merciful God, he will neither abandon you nor destroy you; he will not forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them” (4:29-31). The whole passage speaks of the special relationship between God and Israel, linking the uniqueness of Israel’s special vocation with the uniqueness of Israel’s God.

Then in a series of rhetorical questions, Moses, knowing full well that the Lord alone is God, puts the people of Israel ‘on the stand,’ and asks them about this God of theirs: “For ask now about former ages, long before your own, ever since the day that God created human beings on the earth; ask from one end of heaven to the other: Has anything so great as this ever happened or has its like ever been heard of? Has any people ever heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire, as you have heard, and lived? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by terrifying displays of power, as the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? To you it was shown so that you would acknowledge that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him” (4:32-35).

Matthew’s commission

The majestic departure scene at the end of Matthew’s Gospel [28:16-20] relates to us Jesus’ final earthly moments and the great commission to the Church: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (19-20).

The great apostolic commission implies a service that is pastoral: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations”; liturgical: “baptizing them”; prophetic: “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”; and guaranteed by the Lord’s closeness, until the end of time. The scene gives a foretaste of the final glorious coming of the Son of Man [Matthew 26:64]. Then his triumph will be manifest to all; now it is revealed only to the disciples, who are commissioned to announce it to all nations and bring them to believe in Jesus and obey his commandments. Since universal power belongs to the risen Jesus [Matthew 28:18], he gives the eleven a mission that is truly universal. They are to make disciples of all nations.

Baptism is the means of entrance into the community of the risen one, the Church. “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”: This is perhaps the clearest expression in the New Testament of Trinitarian belief. It may have been the baptismal formula of Matthew’s church, but primarily it designates the effect of baptism, the union of those baptized with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Trinitarian language

The language of Father and Son is relational language, and reminds us that, for God, as for us, created in God’s image, relationship and community are primary. God can no more be defined by what God does than we can. God is a Being, not a Doing, just as we are human beings, not human doings. This is a point of theology, but also, with all good theology, a practical point.

To define God’s inner life in the Trinity in terms of God’s activity leads to defining humans, created in God’s image, in the same way. Those who choose to say, “In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sustainer” err in defining God by function and not by person. God is a living being who exists in intimate relationship with us.

Our God isn’t immovable. God isn’t alone. God is communication between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is the profound mystery that the liturgy for the feast of the Holy Trinity recalls: both the unspeakable reality of God and the manner in which this mystery has been given to us. The Trinity celebrates the peace and unity of the divine persons in whom the circular dance of love — “perichoresis” in Greek — continues. That unity is a dance of life and relationships, encompassing all aspects of human life.

We must constantly strive for this unity and peace of God, Jesus, and their life-giving Spirit, a peace that theological controversy never gives. Though theology is absolutely necessary, we would do well to pray more and love God more, than trying to figure out our Trinitarian God! The consolation is this: Complete understanding is not necessary for love.

Listen to St. Catherine of Siena’s famous prayer from her Dialogue on Divine Providence:

“Eternal God, eternal Trinity, you have made the blood of Christ so precious through his sharing in your divine nature. You are a mystery as deep as the sea; the more I search, the more I find, and the more I find the more I search for you. But I can never be satisfied; what I receive will ever leave me desiring more. When you fill my soul I have an ever-greater hunger, and I grow more famished for your light. I desire above all to see you, the true light, as you really are.”                  

Love can never outgrow its fascination with the puzzling aspects of the one loved. This is our approach to the Trinitarian mystery. We must love God more. On this feast, let us pray that we be caught up in the unifying and reconciling work of the Holy Spirit of God. The increasing glory of God is this progressive revelation of the Trinity.

Many times during our lives, we experience this revelation and God’s Trinitarian presence through the depth of love, communication and relationship with other people. Our God is rich in relationships, communication and love for all people. This God models to us what the dynamic Trinitarian life is all about– communication, relationship and affection. The quality of our Christian live is based on imitation of the interior life of the Trinity.

The foundation of our Trinitarian faith is dialogue, communication and a “dance of life.” Though we may struggle in understanding the Holy Trinity, we nevertheless take it into our very hands each time that we mark ourselves with the sign of the cross. Words once spoken over us at baptism become the words with which we bless ourselves in the name of the Trinity. Herein lies the meaning of this unique, one God in three Persons. I offer you this prayer for today’s feast and the coming week:

Glory to you, Father,
Who by the power of your love,
Created the world and formed us in your own image And likeness.

Glory to you, only begotten Son,
Who in your wisdom assumed our human condition
To lead us to the Kingdom.

Glory to you, Holy Spirit,
Who in your mercy sanctified us in baptism.
You work to create in us a new beginning each day.

Glory to you, Holy Trinity,
You always have been, you are and you always will be
Equally great to the end of the ages.

We adore you, we praise you, we give you thanks
Because you were pleased to reveal the depth of your mystery
To the humble, to little ones.

Grant that we may walk in faith and joyful hope until the day
When it will be ours to live in the fullness of your love
And to contemplate forever what we now believe here below:
God who is Father, Son and Spirit!  Glory to You!

May God’s Holy Trinity — in unspeakable goodness and mystery — teach us and guide us in the life that is ours, and may we grow in “God’s love poured forth into our hearts by the Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

[The readings for the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity are Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40; Romans 8:14-17; and Matthew 28:16-20]

(Image: Holy Trinity by Luca Rossetti da Orta)