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Ambassadors for Christ and Ministers of God’s Justice

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Ambassadors for Christ and Ministers of God’s Justice
A Biblical Reflection for Ash Wednesday, Year C
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

Ash Wednesday makes one’s faith very visible and public.  Not offensively, but also not easy to miss, the sign of our faith shows up in the office, at school, on buses and subways, in lines at grocery store, or at the gas station.  This small symbol of the cross of ashes on our foreheads expresses an important truth:  faith doesn’t happen only at church, but lives among us, in public, every day.

The Scripture texts for the liturgy of Ash Wednesday do not only remind us of sin and death; they are a loud call to overcome sin, to be converted to Christ and the Gospel and to prepare for the new life of Easter.  I would like to offer some reflections on what it means to be reconciled to God, to be an “Ambassador for Christ” [II Cor 5:20-21], and the meaning of authentic piety and devotion as outlined in Matthew’s Gospel text for today’s liturgy [6:1-6, 16-18].  I will conclude with some thoughts on Pope Francis 2016 Lenten Message that has as its theme: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13). The works of mercy on the road of the Jubilee.

Be reconciled to God!

Today – the liturgy tells us – is the “acceptable time” for our reconciliation with God.  Reconciliation is a gratuitous gift of God.  Reconciliation must involve everyone: individuals, families, nations and peoples.  In the passage from II Corinthians 5:20-21, Paul encouraged the fractious Corinthian community to recognize that God has “reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” [5:18].  Paul speaks of “the new creation in Christ” [cf. II Cor 5:17] and goes on to tell us: “God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, not holding individuals’ faults against them, and he has entrusted to us the news that we are reconciled… the appeal we make in Christ’s name is: be reconciled to God” [II Cor 5:19-20].

When we speak of the world as reconciled to God, we are speaking not only of individuals but also of every community: families, communities, clans, tribes, nations and states. In his providence, God made covenant after covenant with the human family: the covenant with our first parents in the Garden of Eden; the covenant with Noah after the Flood and the covenant with Abraham.  In the Book of Joshua we learn about the covenant made with Israel, when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in the land of Egypt. And God has now made the final and definitive covenant with all of humanity in Jesus Christ, who reconciled individual men and women — as well as entire nations — to God by his Passion, Death and Resurrection.

In the sacrament of the Eucharist, we celebrate the mystery of our redemption and full reconciliation with God.  It is through his passion, death and resurrection that Jesus has saved the world.  Before receiving the body and blood of the Lord, we show that we are at peace with one another. The Eucharist is celebrated by a reconciled community.  When the celebration is ended, we are sent out to spread this peace and message of reconciliation to others.

Ambassadors for Christ

Because we have been entrusted with this message of reconciliation, we are “ambassadors for Christ” [5:20].  The mission that we have been given is one of high rank. It is a mission that ennobles us. Because we have been called to be ambassadors, we have to be true and loyal to the one we represent.  An ambassador is known by his or her credentials. Ambassadors must give credible proof that they have been sent. As ambassadors of Christ we too must give proof of our mission. And the greatest proof is our own fidelity to the Christian way of life.

If we are reconciled with God, with ourselves and with others, and if we in turn foster Christ’s reconciliation in society, we can make a convincing claim to be ambassadors of the Prince of Peace.  Just as God took the initiative in sending his son to reconcile the world, so he expects us to take the initiative to restore harmony to a broken world and an often-divided Church.

Can we apply this Christian vision, this wonderful mission of reconciliation, to our own situations?  Can we put it into practice among family, friends and community members and try over and over again when we fail?  It is very sad when grudges are carried for long periods of time, when people refuse to speak together, when the joy of attending reunions or celebrations is denied someone, perhaps for a misdemeanor that occurred long ago and whose circumstances are practically forgotten!

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Jesus’ three-fold process of self-denial

Matthew’s Gospel [6:1-6, 16-18] issues a warning against doing good in order to be seen and gives three examples for right living: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  In each, the conduct of the hypocrites [6:2] is contrasted with the behavior demanded of the disciples. The sayings about reward found here and elsewhere [Matthew 5:12, 46; 10:41-42] show that this is a genuine element of Christian moral exhortation.

Let us look closely at what the Gospel demands of us in this threefold process of self-denial:  we must pray: “Go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in private.”  We must fast: “No one must see you are fasting but your Father.”  We must give alms: “Keep your deeds of mercy secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”  There is nothing ambiguous about what is required of us this season.  Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the pillars of the Lenten journey for Christians.  This is the piety, the devotion and the sincerity that the Lord seeks from us this Lent.

Here is an excerpt from Pope Francis’ Message for Lent this year: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13). The works of mercy on the road of the Jubilee.

The works of mercy

God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn. In an ever new miracle, divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbour and to devote ourselves to what the Church’s tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. These works remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbours in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them. On such things will we be judged. For this reason, I expressed my hope that “the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; this will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty, and to enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy” (ibid., 15). For in the poor, the flesh of Christ “becomes visible in the flesh of the tortured, the crushed, the scourged, the malnourished, and the exiled… to be acknowledged, touched, and cared for by us” (ibid.). It is the unprecedented and scandalous mystery of the extension in time of the suffering of the Innocent Lamb, the burning bush of gratuitous love. Before this love, we can, like Moses, take off our sandals (cf. Ex 3:5), especially when the poor are our brothers or sisters in Christ who are suffering for their faith.

In the light of this love, which is strong as death (cf. Song 8:6), the real poor are revealed as those who refuse to see themselves as such. They consider themselves rich, but they are actually the poorest of the poor. This is because they are slaves to sin, which leads them to use wealth and power not for the service of God and others, but to stifle within their hearts the profound sense that they too are only poor beggars. The greater their power and wealth, the more this blindness and deception can grow. It can even reach the point of being blind to Lazarus begging at their doorstep (cf. Lk 16:20-21). Lazarus, the poor man, is a figure of Christ, who through the poor pleads for our conversion. As such, he represents the possibility of conversion which God offers us and which we may well fail to see. Such blindness is often accompanied by the proud illusion of our own omnipotence, which reflects in a sinister way the diabolical “you will be like God” (Gen 3:5) which is the root of all sin. This illusion can likewise take social and political forms, as shown by the totalitarian systems of the twentieth century, and, in our own day, by the ideologies of monopolizing thought and technoscience, which would make God irrelevant and reduce man to raw material to be exploited. This illusion can also be seen in the sinful structures linked to a model of false development based on the idolatry of money, which leads to lack of concern for the fate of the poor on the part of wealthier individuals and societies; they close their doors, refusing even to see the poor.

For all of us, then, the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favourable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practising the works of mercy. In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated. By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need. By taking this path, the “proud”, the “powerful” and the “wealthy” spoken of in the Magnificat can also be embraced and undeservedly loved by the crucified Lord who died and rose for them. This love alone is the answer to that yearning for infinite happiness and love that we think we can satisfy with the idols of knowledge, power and riches. Yet the danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor, the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell. The pointed words of Abraham apply to them and to all of us: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Lk 16:29). Such attentive listening will best prepare us to celebrate the final victory over sin and death of the Bridegroom, now risen, who desires to purify his Betrothed in expectation of his coming.

Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favourable a time for conversion! We ask this through the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, who, encountering the greatness of God’s mercy freely bestowed upon her, was the first to acknowledge her lowliness (cf. Lk 1:48) and to call herself the Lord’s humble servant (cf. Lk 1:38).”

Temptations Correspond to Our Vulnerabilities

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First Sunday of Lent, Year C – February 14, 2016

An ancient proverb says: “Good habits result from resisting temptation.” On Ash Wednesday we heard three fundamental orientations for this season in the rich Scripture readings: almsgiving, prayer and fasting.

Lent is a season of solidarity, of sharing, of openness to our neighbor, especially toward the most needy. Lent is also the favorable time for personal and community prayer, nourished by the Word of God as proclaimed each day in the liturgy. This year at the beginning of Lent, we are invited to focus our attention on Luke’s account of the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. How can we develop some good habits this Lent as we strive to overcome our temptations?

Led by the Spirit into the wilderness

Most of us are very familiar with the three graphic temptations of Jesus as related by Matthew and Luke in their Gospel accounts of Jesus in the desert. As a result of the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism (Luke 3:21-22), that same Spirit leads Jesus into the desert for 40 days to be tempted by the devil. The mention of 40 days recalls the 40 years of the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites during the Exodus (Deuteronomy 8:2).

At the outset we must ask ourselves as countless people have asked throughout the ages: How could it be said that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into temptation? If Jesus was God, and God is incapable of being tempted, how could Jesus have been tempted? Such questions arise when we consider the temptations of Christ. How do we reconcile what we know about God, Jesus, and temptation, with what is said to have happened in the gospel accounts regarding Christ‚s temptations?

Lukan aspects of the temptations of Christ

Let us consider several important aspects of this Sunday’s Gospel story of Jesus tempted. The Holy Spirit did not lead Jesus into temptation. The Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. The evil one would utilize the moment of Jesus‚ physical weakness and exhaustion in the desert to tempt him. Satan would consider this “an opportune time,” and he would look for other “seasons” as well. The devil did the tempting, not the Holy Spirit!

Neither Matthew (4:1-11) nor Luke claim to represent the chronological sequence of the temptations. Luke may have reflected on the scene from the standpoint of geography, relating the two in the wilderness first, and then the one on the temple’s pinnacle. Matthew records that after the temptation on the high mountain, Jesus said, “Away from me, Satan.” Matthew’s order, therefore, may be the chronological sequence, but there is no contradiction between the two evangelists.

Luke represents the three specific temptations as occurring after the 40 days of fasting (4:2-3). The Lord may have endured many temptations during the 40 days, but the three temptations were the culminating, most intense testing, of Jesus‚ wilderness solitude. Luke’s temptations conclude on the parapet of the temple in Jerusalem, the city of destiny in the third Gospel. It is in Jerusalem that Jesus will ultimately face his destiny (9:51; 13:33).

In the first temptation in the desert, Jesus responds to the evil one, not by denying human dependence on sustenance (food), but rather by putting human life and the human journey in perspective. Those who follow Jesus cannot become dependent on the things of this world. When we are so dependent on material things, and not on God, we give in to temptation and sin.

The second temptation deals with the adoration of the devil rather than God. Jesus once again reminds the evil one that God is in control. This is so important for us to hear and believe, especially when our own temptations seem to overpower us, when everything around us might indicate shadows, darkness and evil. It is God who is ultimately in charge of our destiny.

In the third temptation, the devil asks for a revelation or manifestation of God’s love in favor of Jesus. Jesus answers the evil one by saying that he doesn’t have to prove that God loves him.

Luke says that the devil left him when he “had ended every temptation” (4:13). Are we to understand that the devil never tempted the Lord again? Luke 4:13 indicates that the devil’s temptations ended on that occasion “for a season,” or “until an opportune time.” The devil’s opportune time will occur before the passion and death of Jesus (22:3, 31-32, 53). It was after Jesus endured the desert wilderness that he withstood temptation. Alone and defenseless against the wind and the weather, exposed to both day and night, and even exposed to the seeming absence of God, this experience of desert wilderness is a part of human growth and maturity.

Our temptations

At the very beginning of his campaign for this world and for each one of us, Jesus openly confronted the enemy. He began his fight using the power of Scripture during a night of doubt, confusion, and temptation. It will do us well not to forget Jesus‚ example, so that we won’t be seduced by the devil’s deception. We are tempted in the same ways Jesus was — wanting to have power over life and death, wanting to control our economic futures, putting our appetite for food ahead of our appetite for God. But trusting in God, as Jesus did, will make us strong.

Temptation is everything that makes us small, ugly, and mean. Temptation uses the trickiest moves that the evil one can think up. And his power is greater and stronger than our own human power. The more the devil has control of us, the less we want to acknowledge that he is fighting for every millimeter of this earth. Jesus didn’t let him get away with that.

Jesus’ desert experience raises important questions for us. What are some of the “desert” experiences I have experienced in my life? What desert experience am I living through right now? When and how do I find moments of contemplation in the midst of a busy life? How have I lived in the midst of my own desert wilderness? Have I been courageous and persistent in fighting with the demons? How have I resisted transforming my own deserts into places of abundant life?

Far from creating a great divide between Jesus Christ and ourselves, our own trials and weaknesses have become the privileged place of our encounter with him, and not only with him, but with God himself, thanks to this man of the cross. Jesus has been tested in all respects like us — he knows all of our difficulties; he is a tried man; he knows our condition from the inside and from the outside — by this did he acquire a profound capacity for compassion. For one must have suffered in order to truly feel for others. From Jesus we learn that God is present and sustaining us in the midst of test, temptation and yes, even sinfulness.

As Christians, we are in a constant fight with the desires born of our sinful natures. We are unable to resist temptation without God’s grace. We are called to trust the Lord (not ourselves) for strength to resist temptation before it becomes sin. It is not the temptation itself that leads us to sin, but the lack of resistance and trust in the Lord for deliverance.

Christ identifies with our struggles

Jesus, the friend of tax collectors and sinners, knew well that temptation could simply overcome people. Victims of poverty, ignorance, prejudice, oppression, abuse, violence and drugs reveal to us how easily people can be driven beyond endurance. Those who pray with Jesus share his profound sense of ultimate human helplessness and dependence.

Christ was human and He can identify with our struggles. Hebrews 4:14-16 says, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Lord, lead us not into temptation! Rather, guide us into the pathways of justice, love and peace during these Lenten days. Give us the grace and fidelity to be faithful to our God and Father in heaven. Give us the courage to accept who we really are and where we should be.

[The readings for the 1st Sunday of Lent are: Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Romans 10:8-13; and Luke 4:1-13]

(Image: “Jesus Tempted” by Tissot)

St. Josephina Bakhita – Model of True Emancipation

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Called the “Madre Moretta” (the Black Mother), Josephina Bakhita was a former slave who became a Canossian Sister (Institute of St. Magdalene of Canossa) in Italy. She was born in the Sudan, in northeastern Africa, about 1870, and at the age of nine was stolen by slavers. The slave traders gave her the name Bakhita, meaning “the Lucky One.” She escaped from these slavers only to be caught by another, who took her as a gift to his daughter in El Obeid. There she was treated well until she broke a vase. Then she was sold to a Turkish officer who sold her again in the market in Khartoum. She was brought by the Italian vice-council, who returned to Italy, taking Josephine with him. There she was given to a Signora Michieli in Genoa. She was sent to a convent by her new owner, to be educated in the school operated by the Daughters of Charity of Canossa. Josephina became a Christian on January 9, 1890, and was baptized by the cardinal patriarch. She refused to leave the convent after discovering her religious vocation, despite the demands of Signora Michieli, who claimed ownership. The cardinal patriarch and the king’s procurator were called upon to mediate the matter, and they decided in favor of Josephina’s vocation. Josephina was welcomed into the Canossian convent, and she made her novitiate and took religious vows. Her holiness and devotion were demonstrated in her labors as a cook, gate keeper, and keeper of linens. It was obvious that God had brought Josephina out of Africa to glorify him among the Europeans. With this in mind, Josephina, the Madre Moretta, traveled throughout Italy to raise funds for the missions. She served as a Canossian for half a century, dying in Schio, Italy, on February 8, 1947, and was revered by the people of her adopted land. She has not been forgotten by the Sudanese either. Her portrait hangs in the cathedral at Khartoum.

Pope John Paul II beatified Josephina on May 17, 1992, in the presence of three hundred Canossian Sisters and pilgrims, many from the Sudan. The Holy Father declared:

In our time, in which the unbridled race for power, money, and pleasure is the cause of so much distrust, violence, and loneliness, Sister Bakhita has been given to us once more by the Lord as a universal sister, so that she can reveal to us the secret of true happiness: the Beatitudes….Here is a message of heroic goodness modeled on the goodness of the Heavenly Father.

During his homily at her canonization Mass in St. Peter’s Square, Pope John Paul II said that in St. Josephine Bakhita:

We find a shining advocate of genuine emancipation. The history of her life inspires not passive acceptance but the firm resolve to work effectively to free girls and women from oppression and violence, and to return them to their dignity in the full exercise of their rights.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.
Former National Director and C.E.O., World Youth Day 2002
C.E.O., Salt and Light Catholic Television Network, Canada

Setting Out Into the Deep and Casting Nets

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Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – February 7, 2016

The Sea of Galilee is a fresh water lake about 12 miles long and six miles wide. It lies some 685 feet below sea level and is about 200 feet deep. Fishing was and still is an important industry on the lake. The sea is surrounded by high hills on all sides. The great difference between the air on the top of these hills and the air on the low-lying water can cause sudden, violent storms. This body of water is referred to in Numbers 34:11 as the Sea of Kinnereth (from the Hebrew word “kinnor” meaning little harp). In the New Testament, it is referred to as Lake of Genesereth, Lake of Tiberias, and the Sea of Galilee. Jesus’ preaching centered around its shores.

According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus called his first disciples away from their fishing fleets on the Sea of Galilee. It was a natural barrier between the Jewish side on the west and the Gentile side on the east. The Gospel of Mark, in particular, has Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee in a boat on a number of occasions. These crossings turn the Sea of Galilee into a bridge bringing Jew and Gentile together through Jesus’ preaching and healing activities.

In the New Testament, the sea represents the moment of conversion. On the sea nothing happens normally, but always in abrupt, marvelous or very difficult ways. Some of the most dramatic nature miracles of Jesus take place on the Sea of Galilee. Mark tells the story of Jesus calming the sea after a squall had blown up, threatening the lives of the disciples (4:35). He also describes how Jesus walked on the waters of this sea and revealed himself to his disciples as “I am” (6:45 ff). In John we have the moving post-resurrection breakfast scene of Peter’s confession of faith and Jesus’ confidence in Peter, the repentant sinner (Chapter 21).

The acceptance of Jesus

Today’s Gospel story (Luke 5:1-11) takes place on the sea and has been transposed from Mark 1:16-20, which places it immediately after Jesus makes his appearance in Galilee. By this transposition Luke uses this example of Simon’s acceptance of Jesus to counter the earlier rejection of him by his hometown people.

Since several incidents dealing with Jesus’ power and authority have already been narrated, Luke creates a plausible context for the acceptance of Jesus by Simon and his partners. It is not difficult to observe the similarity between the wondrous catch of fish reported in Luke 4 and 5 and Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance in John 21:1-11.

There are traces in Luke’s story that the post-resurrection context is the original one: in Luke 4:8, Simon addresses Jesus as Lord [a post-resurrection title for Jesus — see Luke 24:34; Acts 2:36 — that has been read back into the historical ministry of Jesus] and recognizes himself as a sinner. As used by Luke, the incident looks forward to Peter’s leadership in Acts (Luke 6:14; 9:20; 22:31-32; 24:34; Acts 1:15; 2:14-40; 10:11-18; 15:7-12) and symbolizes the future success of Peter as fisherman (Acts 2:41).

Into the deep

In today’s Gospel scene, Jesus is teaching by the shore and the crowds press in on him. Jesus spots the boat of Simon and gets in it, and asks him to launch out a bit from the shore so that he can preach from there. When finished, he tells Simon to take the boat into the deep water and let down his nets. Simon is wary: “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing!” These are the weary words of a veteran who knew how frustrating the sea could be. But there was something about this Galilean that made one want to comply, so Simon let down his nets.

Despite the frustration of the nightlong toil, Simon’s willingness to follow Jesus’ suggestion to put out the nets into deeper waters prepares for the miracle about to happen. Simon is brought personally into the sphere of Jesus’ mighty power, and that experience becomes the basis of a promise that is made to him. Though Simon, conscious of his utter sinfulness and unworthiness to associate with such a person as Jesus drops to his knees in reaction, he is reassured by Jesus, who promises him that he will play a role of gathering human beings into the kingdom that Jesus has come to preach. This he will do much as a fisherman gathers in fish in his net.

What follows is the “miraculous catch” — a whole school of fish, straining the nets and the boats to the breaking point. Peter sinks to his knees in awe before this mysterious figure: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” In other words: “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinner. If you only knew to whom you were speaking! My spirit is dull and my heart faint. I am a burden to all my companions and a laughingstock to those who know their trade. Depart from me, a sinner!”

But Jesus assures the awestruck disciple: “Do not be afraid, Simon, from now on you will be catching people.” It was as though Jesus said to this discouraged Galilean fisherman: “I shall not depart from you. I know who you are. I know your past, but that is not what is important to me. I need your hands, your feet, your heart and your very life. There is hope for you! I have cast my nets wide, and you are my best catch. See how the net is breaking and the boat begins to sink. You have labored and toiled for many years without hope. Come now to labor and spend yourself with me. I will teach you to walk on water, to cast a net of light into the waters above the abyss. Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”

A compelling call

In Mark’s account of this scene (1:16-20) and Matthew’s (4:18-22) the fishermen who follow Jesus leave their nets and their father; in Luke, they leave everything (see also Luke 5:28; 12:33; 14:33; 18:22), an indication of Luke’s theme of complete detachment from material possessions. Discipleship is a powerful, compelling call to a new life: a call away from routine, away from frustration, to new purpose.

Jesus, himself, was now calling them to be fishers of people, to be engaged in the struggle with the raging waters of the sea, the sea that was both the source of their livelihood, their food, but also the sea that was a mystery, a threat and chaos, the sea that could take their lives as well as feed them.

All in together

Jesus gets into Peter’s boat in order to teach the crowds; and from the Bark of Peter, the Church, he continues to teach the whole world. At certain times, during Church history, and perhaps in our own history, it might seem as if the light of the Spirit had been all but extinguished and that Jesus is no longer with us in the boat.

But let us be honest and realize that the flame never went out and the presence of the Lord has never disappeared. The Church goes on, saving souls and journeying to its final harbor. In that blessed realm, beyond the seas of this life, all the things which threaten God’s Church in this world will be gone for ever.

We all are in this boat together with the Lord himself. We must trust the Lord to show us the way, to bring us to our goals safely, and to feed our souls on the journey. We will no doubt encounter problems — there will be days when we cast out our nets all day long, and at the end of the day, there might be nothing to show for it.

At those times, we must listen to the Lord, as Peter did, and cast the nets again into the deep — for it is our faith that is being tested — not as to whether we profess it or not — but as to whether we are ready to do something about it or not.

We are not sailing on Noah’s Ark or on the Titanic. We are on the waters with Jesus. I am reminded of the words Brother Luis de León, a mystical Spanish writer of the 16th century once wrote: “The more you navigate in God, the more seas you discover.” The Lord does not abandon those who come seeking His mercy and His forgiveness. He walks upon the waters. He calms the storm. He guides the boat into safe harbor, and brings with Him the great catch, the great feast, to which we are all summoned — the daily feast of His Body and Blood, our food for eternal life.

Questions for Reflection this week:

What have been the moments of your conversion? Have you experienced a “call” to discipleship? What experiences or people in your life have been instrumental in deepening your faith?

Are you able to identify with the disciples at sea? Is it possible to be a committed disciple of Jesus, yet still experience weakness and failure?
Let us pray:

I pray that I may live to fish until my dying day. 
And when it comes to my last cast,
Then I most humbly pray,
When in the Lord’s great landing net,
And peacefully asleep,
That in his mercy I be judged big enough to keep. Amen.

[The readings for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 or 15:3-8, 11; and Luke 5:1-11]

Sharing the Joy of the Gospel With the Media and Through the Media

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*Cardinal Foley addressing Catholic Media Convention Banquet in 2011 in Pittsburgh.*

The third annual John Cardinal Foley Lecture on Social Communications
by FR. THOMAS ROSICA, C.S.B.

Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia
February 1, 2016

INTRODUCTION
by Rev. Thomas F. Dailey, O.S.F.S.

Good evening and welcome to Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary for this, the third annual Foley Lecture in Social Communications.

This series honors the legacy of Cardinal JOHN PATRICK FOLEY, a native of Philadelphia and long-time President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. In his work at the Vatican, Cardinal Foley saw the world as “as an interconnected globe humming with electronic transmissions – a chattering planet nestled in the provident silence of space.” In that world he recognized and championed the decisive importance of social communications as the means for determining our culture.

We are blessed this evening to have as our lecturer one who keeps that humming globe and chattering planet in motion, in terms of how the Church interacts with contemporary culture.

A priest in the Congregation of St. Basil, he holds advanced degrees in Sacred Scripture from Regis College in Toronto, the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, and the École Biblique in Jerusalem.

For him, the hum of global transmissions first became a reality when he served for three years as national director of World Youth Day and the visit of Pope John Paul II that took place in Toronto in 2002.

Following that he founded the Salt & Light Catholic Media Foundation and still serves as its Chief Executive Officer. As Canada’s first Catholic Television Network, and now reaching across continents, Salt & Light TV plays a vital part in determining Catholic culture through the medium of story-telling, with the aim of bringing people closer to Christ and to our faith.

But, since 2008 he hasn’t had much experience with what Cardinal Foley described as the silence of space. That’s because he’s in constant connection with Rome as a member of the staff of the Holy See Press Office. As an official spokesperson, he brings news about Pope Francis and the Vatican to the entire English-speaking world through his daily interactions with the media.

Tonight we are honored that he has come here as the third John Cardinal Foley Lecturer. Please join me in welcoming … Fr. Thomas Rosica.

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Sharing the Joy of the Gospel With the Media and Through the Media 
The John Cardinal Foley Lecture on Social Communications
Vianney Hall – St. Charles Borromeo Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
February 1, 2016

Archbishop Chaput,
Bishop Senior,
Dear Friends,

Thank you for the privilege of addressing you this evening in this lecture series in memory of a great friend and mentor, the late Cardinal John Foley. I wish to thank Fr. Thomas Dailey, OSFS, who heads up the Foley Chair of Social Communications and the Cardinal Foley Lecture series here at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. Your hospitality and kindness these past few days is much appreciated! You have invited me to speak about “Sharing the Joy of the Gospel: With the Media and Through the Media”, a very fitting topic for the man after whom this series is named. For that is exactly what Father, then Archbishop, then Cardinal Foley did his entire life: he lived and shared the Gospel of joy with the media and through the media to the entire world.

First let’s take a panoramic view of how people have communicated the faith through the ages. 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, shared and communicated their faith. The history of faith is a history of communication. For Christians, the Word did not become a divine oracle from some distant heaven, a FAX, an e-mail, an SMS or text message, a probe, a prompt, a quick like, or some other new fangled way to grab our attention. 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 that moment onward, 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 and the life and witness of the messenger is a itself a vital part of the message.

In every age the Church has used whatever media are 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 to teach us a powerful lesson about God’s dwelling place among us; Renaissance popes used not only papal bulls but colorful frescoes; Hildegard of Bingen wrote one of the first operas; Francis de Sales wrote thousands of letters to people; the early Jesuits used theater and stagecraft to put on morality plays for entire towns; Dorothy Day founded a newspaper that still exists today: The Catholic Worker; Jesuit Fr. Daniel Lord, jumped into radio; Bishop Fulton Sheen used television to a stunning effect; Bishop Robert Barron has dazzled us all with his masterful teaching videos, and now we have popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, sisters and brothers and tons of Catholic laity blogging and tweeting like mad! How sad it would be if we did not use the latest tools available to us to communicate and share the Word of God!

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*Cardinal John Foley and Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, at 2008 Catholic Media Convention in Toronto, Canada.*

New Floodgates of Communication

In nearly three years at the helm of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis has opened the floodgates of communication in an institution that has been somewhat cloistered for centuries. Yes, his two immediate predecessors, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI communicated through the media, but something new is afoot with Francis. Pope Francis is now among the top global newsmakers of our time. He has brought renewed visibility to the papacy and to the Church. While it is no exaggeration that a pope has never been so widely quoted by the secular press, it could also be said that the pope’s intentions have never been so widely misinterpreted. He is not quite “conservative” nor entirely “progressive”. His message is filled with paradoxes because life is a paradox and Christian life is a great paradox. The world is listening to him because Francis models a solid consistency: the one between his words and deeds, and that between its current papal mission and life eternal. People listen to him because he walks the talk and walks the walk. He speaks our talk. Francis is the world’s shepherd and a beautiful model and example of the new evangelization in action.

What is the most important achievement of Pope Francis? He has rebranded Catholicism and the papacy. Prior to Pope Francis, when many people on the street were asked: “What is the Catholic Church all about? What does the pope stand for?,” the response would often be, “Catholics, well they are against abortion, gay marriage and birth control.” “They are known for the sex abuse crisis that has terribly marred and weakened their moral authority and credibility.”

Today, the response is somewhat different. What do they say about us now? What do they say about the Pope? People are speaking about our leader who is unafraid to confront the sins and evils that have marred us. We have a pope who is concerned about the environment, about mercy, compassion and love, and a deep passion, care and concern for the poor. Pope Francis has won over a great part of the media. By no means is this an indication that the teachings of the Church and message of the Gospel have been fully understood or received by all.  Nevertheless, something has shifted in terms of Church-media relations. Many of my colleagues in the “secular” media industry have said that Francis has made it fun to be a religion reporter and journalist again. He has changed the image of the church so much that prestigious graduate schools of business and management are now using him as a case study in rebranding. He has also ruffled many feathers and upset some folks because of his free-flowing, unscripted remarks at times, and he raises a few eyebrows now and then!

Initially perhaps many of us (myself included) may have thought that Pope Francis’ accessibility, free-flowing interviews, homilies and quotes are more a source of consternation and frustration than opportunities to deepen knowledge about the Church, her founder and her message. But Francis has chosen many different opportunities to speak and encounter the world. No matter how fraught with the potential or real confusion and misinterpretation those methods may sometimes be, the world is now listening to the Pope in ways that have not happened for a long, long time. No longer can we simply attribute this interest to an initial fascination, a “honeymoon period”, or other cynical ways of trying to dismiss what is really happening. The world is listening because Francis and the Church have something solid to say and to offer to a world plunged in chaos, war, terror, violence, moral deprivation, despair and darkness. Francis has given us an opportunity to teach, catechize and evangelize those establishments, agencies and individuals that bring us the news and the consumers of that news.

The inability of commentators to pigeonhole Francis into a single category is frustrating to some people. Francis does not compromise on the hot-button issues that divide the Church from the secular West – a gap that liberals would like to close by modernizing doctrine. Yet he is also not a pope for the Catholic Right. For him contrasting positions, held together in tension, loyal to fundamentals but open to the action of the Holy Spirit, are necessary to forge a new, better consensus and the differences make for an honest, open discussion.

Look at what Pope Francis said to the special session of the US Congress last September and how he said it. He didn’t scold, chastise, excoriate, condemn or excommunicate those powerful women and men sitting before him – many of them Catholics! Rather he urged lawmakers to build on their great history, to draw from their deepest principles. He reminded them of the good they have done in the past, which serves as an example of the good they can and should do in the future:

“Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.”

This was hardly a call to overthrow the system that the pope’s more radical-minded fans would have us believe. Instead, he asked us to call on all that is best, good, and true in our society. The other day, in a taxi ride from downtown Philadelphia to the seminary, when the driver realized where he was taking me, he remarked: “Hey buddy, this is the Pope’s house in Philly!” I smiled and told him I knew that. He then immediately asked me if I had watched the Pope’s televised address to the US Congress last September. I said that I certainly did! He remarked: “You know what he did that day, he called for our better angels!”

Francis’ words to congress in that historic gathering in the Chamber of the House of Representatives that morning did not fall on the deaf ears of the media and the millions who watched that historic event. Tenor and tone, eye-contact and gesture, kindness, gentleness and firmness all met together and did indeed call forth our better angels. What a profound moment of evangelization that September morning! We owe a debt of gratitude to the public media of this country and many other countries who brought us the stunning, wall-to-wall coverage and the powerful messages of the Pope last September in Cuba and in America. And here I must honestly admit that the secular media of this country, in particular the major networks did a far better job in allowing the Pope to speak to us rather than having that message filtered, distorted, editorialized and minimized by some commentators claiming to represent, faithful Catholic communication networks. I teased my colleagues at CNN, with whom I worked closely those days that they should have been called the Catholic News Network during the blessed days the Pope was among us.

One of the critiques of Francis’ Petrine Ministry and teaching heard in these parts is that the Pope is not speaking out enough against abortion. I hear this criticism often. I assure you that Pope Francis is profoundly Pro-Life. He offers to the Church and the world a consistent ethic of life, from its earliest moments of conception to natural death, from womb to tomb. Pope Francis is doing what the Bishop of Rome and successor of Peter should do, positioning the evil of abortion within its proper moral context, the failure to recognize the dignity of every single human person at every age and stage of life. Procured abortion is only one of the poisonous fruits from the rotted tree growing in the corrupted garden of a culture of death.

Over the past years, Pope Francis has strongly denounced efforts to redefine marriage, and issued a thundering condemnation of abortion, euthanasia, and in-vitro fertilization, calling them “sins against God.” As late as January 22 of this year, he addressed the Roman Rota with these words: “The Church… can show the unfailing merciful love of God to families – especially those wounded by sin and the trials of life – and, at the same time, proclaim the essential truth of marriage according to God’s design.” Pope Francis avoids any opportunity that can lend itself to political manipulation of his person and his words. He is very clear in giving positive messages even in the most complex situations. He is never “against” someone. He understands the Church to be of the people and not of political or cultural elites.

We are unlikely to forget Pope Francis’ magnificent, unscripted reflection at the great vigil of the World Meeting of Families on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in this very city, the night of September 26, 2015. It was a stunning catechesis on marriage and family life:

“When the man and his wife went astray and walked away from God, God did not leave them alone. Such was his love. So great was his love that he began to walk with mankind, he began to walk alongside his people, until the right time came and then he gave the greatest demonstration of love: his Son. And where did he send his Son? To a palace, to a city, to an office building? He sent him to a family. God came into the world in a family. And he could do this because that family was a family with a heart open to love, a family whose doors were open.”

I would like to consider three ways that the Pope is joyfully communicating to us, often through the media, core teachings of our faith, foundational principles of Catholic life: Joy, Ecology and the Environment, and Mercy.

Joy, the weapon of mass construction

In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis invites and challenges all of us to move beyond our “comfort zones.” He asks us to rediscover the joy of being Christian.

“Consequently, an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that “delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow… And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervour, who have first received the joy of Christ”. [EG #10]

Francis wants us to be warm, welcoming and forgiving as Jesus has modeled to us on every page of the New Testament. This morning in Rome at the Jubilee of Consecrated Life, Pope Francis reminded thousands of religious women and men that we have a Lord and Master “who shared in the joy of the spouses in Cana of Galilee and the anguish of the widow of Nain; a Lord and Master who enters into the house of Jairus, touched by death, and the house of Bethany, perfumed with nard. He took upon Himself illness and suffering, to the point of giving His life in ransom. Following Christ means going where He went; taking upon oneself, like the good Samaritan, the wounded we encounter along the road; going in search of the lost sheep. To be, like Jesus, close to the people; sharing their joys and pains, showing with our love the paternal face of God and the maternal caress of the Church.”

Francis wants us to eat with tax collectors and sinners; he wants us to forgive the woman caught in adultery (while admonishing her to sin no more); he wants us to welcome and respect foreigners (even our enemies), and, above all, not to judge others. He has spoken simply, powerfully and beautifully about returning to lost unity, a desire to achieve a missing fullness, a disarming invitation to simply come together to witness to the beauty of the love of Christ. He wants to build bridges that everyone can cross. He is especially conscious of the poor and those who have been marginalized – social outcasts kept on the fringes of society.

On being close to the people he writes: “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others.”

Pope Francis models that “a church which ‘goes forth’ is a church whose doors are open…. Often it is better simply to slow down, to put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others, to stop rushing from one thing to another and to remain with someone who has faltered along the way.”

Evangelization must be an invitation to respond to God’s love and to seek the good in others, he says. “If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our greatest risk. It would mean that it is not the Gospel which is being preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options.”

The church’s internal “wars” – the tendency to form groups of “elites,” to impose certain ideas and even to engage in “persecutions which appear as veritable witch hunts” – are all a counter-witness to evangelization. “Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?”

In his meeting with the United States Bishops in St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, DC, on September 23, 2015, Francis said:

“It is not about preaching complicated doctrines, but joyfully proclaiming Christ who died and rose for our sake. The “style” of our mission should make our hearers feel that the message we preach is meant “for us”.  May the word of God grant meaning and fullness to every aspect of their lives; may the sacraments nourish them with that food which they cannot procure for themselves; may the closeness of the shepherd make them long once again for the Father’s embrace. Be vigilant that the flock may always encounter in the heart of their pastor that “taste of eternity” which they seek in vain in the things of this world.  May they always hear from you a word of appreciation for their efforts to confirm in liberty and justice the prosperity in which this land abounds.” 

He reminded his brother bishops: “…We are promoters of the culture of encounter. We are living sacraments of the embrace between God’s riches and our poverty. We are witnesses of the abasement and the condescension of God who anticipates in love our every response. …Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love (Mt 20:1-16).”

And he took leave of them with these words:

“…Only a Church which can gather around the family fire remains able to attract others. And not any fire, but the one which blazed forth on Easter morn. The risen Lord continues to challenge the Church’s pastors through the quiet plea of so many of our brothers and sisters: “Have you something to eat?” We need to recognize the Lord’s voice, as the apostles did on the shore of the lake of Tiberius (Jn 21:4-12). It becomes even more urgent to grow in the certainty that the embers of his presence, kindled in the fire of his passion, precede us and will never die out. Whenever this certainty weakens, we end up being caretakers of ash, and not guardians and dispensers of the true light and the warmth which causes our hearts to burn within us (Lk 24:32).”

These words are not only addressed to the shepherds and pastors of the American Church but to each and each one of us here tonight. What he says and how he says it offers us a unique model of authentic communication and connection with people.

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*Cardinal Foley addressing Catholic Media Convention Banquet in 2011 in Pittsburgh.*

Ecology and the Environment

Pope Francis’ tone in his recent encyclical Laudato Sì is passionate, personal and urgent. He has drafted this major letter with the mind and heart of a disciple of Jesus and the pen and voice of a prophet who has seen and personally experienced the grave injustices and ugliness that human beings can cause on this earth. The encyclical On the Care of our Common Home is addressed to “everyone living on this planet” and calls for a new way of looking at things. We face an urgent crisis, when the earth has begun to look more and more like, in the Pope’s vivid image, “an immense pile of filth”. Still, the document is hopeful, reminding us that because God is with us, all of us can strive to change course. We can move towards an “ecological conversion” in which we can listen to the “cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”. This is a deeply uncomfortable encyclical because it is not content simply to face up to the institutional and moral issues of climate change and environmental degradation, but addresses the deeper tragedy of humanity itself.

Never before has the public media spoken so much about what many have wrongly called “The Climate Change Manifesto!” More than any other encyclical, “Laudato Sí” draws from the experiences of people around the world, referencing the findings of bishops’ conferences from Brazil, New Zealand, Southern Africa, Bolivia, Portugal, Germany, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, Australia, Canada and the United States.

What is the story within the story of “Laudato Sì”? It is an overview of the environmental crisis from a religious point of view. Until now, the dialogue about the environment has been framed mainly using political, scientific and economic language. Now, the language of faith enters the discussion – clearly, decisively and systematically.

When the environmental world and many people not of our faith or tradition welcome the Pope as a powerful ally and the religious Right dismisses him as a disingenuous radical, socialist or a communist, these have missed the essential point. This is the Gospel call, as disconcertingly direct today as was Jesus’s confrontation with the rich young man, the scribes and the Pharisees, or the moneychangers in the Temple. That’s the unique quality of the encyclical. It is not just the declaration of assent to a program of international environmental action, but also the prophetic voice of the Church. It is therefore far more fundamentally disturbing and uncomfortable, demanding an individual response that will change our lives forever.

Laudato Sì is a perfect example of how the Church, at the highest level, understands the modern world, enters into a profound dialogue with the world, and repeats again her age-old message of salvation in a new way.  Laudato Sì is rooted in the concrete realities of our times. With Laudato Sì Pope Francis is laying the groundwork for a new Christian humanism, rooted in the simple and beautiful image of Jesus that he presents for the world’s consideration. For in the end, it is in the name and mission of Jesus of Nazareth that the Pope issues his call to conversion – a compelling invitation to each of us to look at the earth and all of its creatures with the loving eyes and heart of Jesus Christ. With Laudato Sì, we learn to cherish the world God so loved and adore the Son given to us by the Father.

Mercy

In the well-known programmatic Jubilee text of Luke 4, we read that Jesus “stood up to read, and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written: The spirit of the Lord has been given to me…” (Lk 4:16-18; Is 61:1). Very significantly the last line of Isaiah read by Jesus says: “to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour” (Lk 4:19; Is 61:2), and immediately afterwards, Jesus’ message was a declaration that precisely “this text” was being fulfilled on that day. The expression of Isaiah 61:2 “year of the Lord’s favour” clearly refers to the prescriptions in the Book of Leviticus on the Jubilee Year (Lev 25:10-13). Therefore at Nazareth Jesus was proclaiming a Jubilee Year.

But there is something very odd about the Isaiah quotation on Jesus’ lips. The Gospel does not quote the whole phrase of Isaiah, which includes two compliments of the object after the verb “proclaim” in Is 61:2. The Gospel quotes only the first “the Lord’s year of favor” neglecting the second which is “a day of vengeance for our God”. The quotation of Isaiah foresees two aspects of divine intervention, the first being the liberation of the Jewish people, the other punishment of her enemies. The Gospel has not retained this opposition! The omission has two consequences: a) the message contains nothing negative; b) it is implicitly universal. There is no suggestion of distinction between Jews and non-Jews. This is discreet preparation for the universal nature of the Gospel message, which will become explicit after the death and resurrection of Jesus: when the most fundamental liberation, from sin will be proclaimed “in his name to all people” (Lk 24:47). Universal openness is an essential character of the proclamation of the Good News and the sharing of our story.

On March 13 last year, Pope Francis surprised the world by announcing a Jubilee of Mercy that began this past December. Francis wants this jubilee to go deeper spiritually and to be a far-reaching Christian witness of mercy to the world.  Mercy is a theme very dear to Pope Francis, in his episcopal motto: miserando atque eligendo, literally, “Chosen Through the Eyes of Mercy.” During the first Angelus after his election to the See of Peter, Pope Francis stated: “Feeling mercy, that this word changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient” (March 17, 2013).

For Pope Francis, mercy is the interpretative key to the Gospel of Jesus. Francis had his first profound experience of God’s mercy at age 17, when on his way to a high school dance, he went to confession and felt the call to the priesthood. Throughout his priestly ministry, he has sought to give concrete expression to God’s mercy by word and deed because he believes, as he wrote recently: “Mercy is not just a pastoral attitude; it is the very substance of the Gospel message.”

What is the story within the story of the Jubilee of Mercy?  Pope Francis wants to bring the whole church, starting with the cardinals, bishops, priests and consecrated persons, to open themselves to God’s mercy and to find concrete, creative ways to put mercy into practice in their areas of ministry.

As Bishop of Rome, he is blazing the trail by word and deed, showing what mercy means in relation to the poor, the homeless, prisoners, immigrants, the sick and the persecuted. They are for him “the flesh of Christ.” In this same optic of mercy, he has called for the abolition of the death penalty and life-imprisonment “the hidden death penalty”.

In his homily to new cardinals on February 15 last year, Pope Francis recalled that “the church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement.” This means “welcoming the repentant prodigal son; healing the wounds of sin with courage and determination; rolling up our sleeves and not standing by and watching passively the suffering of the world.”

Pope Francis’ art of communicating

For the 48th World Communications Day message in 2014, Pope Francis wrote:

“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 “neighborly” 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 neighbors. 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”.”

In his 2015 Message for the World Day of Communications, Francis 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.”

In this year’s message for the 2016 World Day of Communications, Francis writes:

“Communication has the power to build bridges, to enable encounter and inclusion, and thus to enrich society. How beautiful it is when people select their words and actions with care, in the effort to avoid misunderstandings, to heal wounded memories and to build peace and harmony. Words can build bridges between individuals and within families, social groups and peoples. This is possible both in the material world and the digital world. Our words and actions should be such as to help us all escape the vicious circles of condemnation and vengeance which continue to ensnare individuals and nations, encouraging expressions of hatred. The words of Christians ought to be a constant encouragement to communion and, even in those cases where they must firmly condemn evil, they should never try to rupture relationships and communication.”

“Our primary task is to uphold the truth with love.”

“It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal. Social networks can facilitate relationships and promote the good of society, but they can also lead to further polarization and division between individuals and groups.”

Field Hospitals

Let me conclude by taking up one of Pope Francis favorite images which has certainly been seized by the media: the powerful image of the “field hospital.” This expression is not unique to Francis, but is drawn from the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. When Francis 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, that 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. Field hospitals by their very nature indicate a battleground, a struggle, suffering, confusion, emergency and they foster dialogue and encounter, conversation and meeting, consolation, compassion and the binding of wounds. Because my topic this evening is specifically about communications and media, I would like to indicate two areas where field hospitals are badly needed. And not only hospitals but caregivers willing to step into the battle and bring healing.

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*Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, Cardinal John Foley and Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB at mass in Salt and Light Studio Chapel during Catholic Media Convention in May, 2008.*

New Media and Young People

There is no question that the Church has entered the whole world of New Media with bravado and great zeal. I am concerned at times that we do so without careful reflection on what is really happening in this new 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 teachers and pastors become choreographers of immediacy rather than midwives of a slower wisdom. 

Many times in the new media culture, our flight from conversation can mean diminished chances to learn skills of self-reflection. It’s hard to do anything with 2000 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 text messages, 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.

In today’s schools, universities and workplaces, so many people who have grown up fearing conversation show up at school or on the job wearing earphones. Walking through big newsrooms of the TV or Radio networks, visiting journalists at major newspapers, strolling through university and seminary libraries and sleek downtown offices 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. We are working away quietly at workstations with a whole array of technologies spread before them: laptops, iPads, iPods, and multiple cell phones. No one dares to break the silence with a greeting of  “Hello!” “How are you?” “How was your weekend?” In the silence of supposed connection, people are carefully kept at bay. We keep one another at bay. We seem almost willing to dispense with people altogether. It is our role to tell people to look up, look at one another, and to start the conversation again.  The Word became flesh… not an e-mail, text or prompt or probe!

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.” (EG #88)

The Digital World and Catholic Blogosphere

Let me identify a second battleground where a field hospital is badly needed.  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 also 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.

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 mass 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, condemnation and excommunication all in the name of defending the faith!  The character assassination on the Internet by those claiming to be faithful Catholics and Christians has turned it into a graveyard of filth and of corpses strewn all around.

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?

In Vianney Hall this evening, there are dozens of field hospital workers ready for deployment. On these new battlefields today, 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.” 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.

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*Fr. Rosica blessing body of Cardinal Foley before his funeral mass in Philadelphia’s Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul – December 16, 2011.*

Cardinal John Foley

If Vatican Communications are undergoing a massive reform at present, so much of this is due to the quiet, painstaking, often hidden and underappreciated, groundbreaking work of the late Cardinal Foley. Everything I have said in this presentation was found in the life of Cardinal Foley, especially in the 23 years that he headed the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. His goodness, kindness, humanity and humor, genuine interest in others and compassion for them, was the joy of the Gospel for countless people who encountered him, especially for tens of thousands of journalists and media personnel who had the privilege of interacting with him. John Patrick Foley of Philadelphia won the hearts of tens of thousands of people because he opened doors for them, listened, smiled, accompanied, laughed and shared their lot. He admonished when necessary, but did it in charity.

Three things Cardinal Foley taught me will always remain with me. As I prepared to lead World Youth Day 2002 in Canada, he told me to be sure to spend much time with journalists, leading them by the hand, never dismissing foolish questions, challenging where necessary, answering when possible, and thanking them always when they did a good job. I remember well one of his mantras to me: “We are very good at criticizing, complaining and writing people off when they have done a poor job in covering a story or smearing us. We do a terrible job in thanking them when they got it right.”

Second, the Cardinal told me that every single encounter with journalists must be considered a moment of catechesis and evangelization. Even though we may not use those words explicitly, he said: “Use every opportunity as a teaching moment.”Always be kind. Always express gratitude for their interest in us, even though some of it is misplaced, misguided or misinformed.”

Thirdly, the Cardinal told me at the height of the hoopla over the DaVinci Code back in 2004, “When well meaning Catholics demand that we protest booksellers, writers, movie houses for presenting negative or even false images of the Church, don’t join those crusades. They only help to increase sales of books and break box office sales records! Rather, seize the opportunity to present the alternative story which is the truth.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan described the late Cardinal with these accurate words during his very moving homily at Cardinal Foley’s funeral on December 16, 2011 here in Philadelphia:

[His] was “A courtesy that was so impeccable and the thoughtfulness that was so unfailing that we might not be surprised to find his photograph in the “pictionary” for the entry on “gentleman.” “A holiness in “His Foleyness” that was evident without being overbearing; A depth to his intellect which could express itself with warmth and childlikeness.”

Cardinal John Patrick Foley laid the groundwork for Pope Francis’ dynamic, creative and successful outreach to the world through the media. Over 23 years of often hidden work at our headquarters on the Tiber, John Patrick Foley sowed the seeds for a new springtime of evangelization in the Church. May this good shepherd of Philadelphia rest in peace, intercede for us, continue to inspire us and show us how to be good communicators, how to work closely with the media, and through them, to teach the world.


Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

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 has 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.

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.

Appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in 2009, Fr. Rosica also served as Media Attaché at four Synods of Bishops at the Vatican in 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2015. Since the Papal Transition in 2013, he has been English language Assistant to Holy See Press Office. Fr. Rosica a member of several Boards of Governors of Institutions of Higher Learning, including the Board of the Gregorian University Foundation in Rome.

The Cost of Authentic Prophecy

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Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – January 31, 2016

Today’s Old Testament reading from Jeremiah (1:4-5, 17-19) and Gospel passage from Luke (4:21-30) offer us an opportunity to reflect on the blessings, burdens and risks of authentic prophets in our Judeo-Christian tradition.

Among the Biblical prophets, we probably know Jeremiah best of all. The son of the priest Hilkiah, he was born in Anathoth — eight miles northeast of Jerusalem — and was called very early to carry out his prophetic mission, perhaps in 626, during the reign of Josiah (Jeremiah 22:16).

Jeremiah was so young that he begged the Lord to allow him to lead a normal life and to spare him the task of scourging the people of Israel and prophesying an invasion of foreigners “from the north” who would deport the Jews and destroy Solomon’s Temple.

Jeremiah saw the catastrophe of his people as an inevitable consequence of the guilt of an entire people who no longer remembered its history. The Hebrews, blindly counting on the Covenant guaranteed by the Lord, and on the Ark preserved in the Temple, felt that the Lord was with them, and as a result they could allow themselves any kind of sin!

Having pulled out from under the yoke of the Lord, Jeremiah told the chosen people that they would fall under the yoke of strangers. But the task assigned to him by God was not only destructive: “Look, today I have set you over the nations and kingdoms, to uproot and to knock down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (1:10). It was also to build and to plant, then. But first it was necessary to uproot so that true growth could occur.

Jeremiah prefigures Christ

Jeremiah has often been seen as a figure foreshadowing Christ. Not only does he speak in God’s name and predict the future, but his very life and ministry have prophetic overtones.

Just as Jesus would do after him, Jeremiah foretold the destruction of the Temple, wept over the future ruin of Jerusalem, condemned the conduct of the priests, was misunderstood by his countrymen, and was humiliated and sentenced to death. Yet the prophet’s condemnation of sin and prophecies of misfortune are always linked to a message of hope and the prospects for rebirth, for return from the Babylonian exile.

Christ, too, in order to affirm his victory over death, would first have to endure the cross on Calvary. The prophet Jeremiah’s very life prepares for the acceptance of the bitterness of the cross and the glory of the resurrection. We should not be surprised then, when Jesus asked his disciples what people were saying about him, they answered, “Some say You are John the Baptist, others the prophet Elijah, others Jeremiah.”

The madding crowd in Nazareth

Today’s Gospel story (Luke 4:21-30) is a continuation of Jesus’ great inaugural moment in the Nazareth that we read last Sunday. In the Nazareth synagogue, Jesus set forth his universal mission repeating the words of the prophet Isaiah (61:1-2).

Into this scene of hometown pride in Nazareth, Jesus brings confusion. A murmur of excitement rippled through the congregation. “Is not this Joseph’s son? Don’t we know this son of Nazareth?”

Yet Jesus knows that his townspeople want to possess him for themselves: “Do here in your own town what we have heard you did in Capernaum.” But he refuses to do so. “No prophet is accepted in his own native place.” Jesus resists the possessive attitude manifested by his people. Jesus refuses to place his extraordinary gifts at the service of his own people, putting strangers first.

The references to Elijah and Elisha (Luke 4:25-26) serve several purposes in this episode: They emphasize Luke’s portrait of Jesus as a prophet like Elijah and Elisha; they help to explain why the initial admiration of the people turns to rejection; and they provide the scriptural justification for the future Christian mission to the Gentiles.

The mood in the synagogue turned rather ugly. The crowd grew terribly envious of one of their own and tried to get rid of him (4:22-30). Jesus did not succeed in making himself heard and understood and he had to depart in haste — for his life (4:30). The rejection of Jesus in his own hometown hints at the greater rejection of him by Israel (Acts 13:46).

Reason for discontent

The people of Nazareth took offense at him and refused to listen to what Jesus 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?

The most severe critics are often people very familiar to us, members of our families, relatives, members of our communities, neighbors 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. “Everyone in the synagogue was enraged (Luke 4:28-29) and they sought to kill him.” Refusal to open our heart can lead to such extremes.

Universal vision

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 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 were suffering from a particular form of blindness.

They couldn’t honor Jesus’ relationship with God because they had never fully explored their own sense of belonging to the God. 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.

Called to be prophets

Jesus was called to break boundaries and take God’s message of salvation to unexpected people and unexpected places. Obviously, pain and hostility must be endured before Jesus’ new age comes to glory.

Through our common baptism, each of us is called to be a prophet for the Kingdom of God. We will encounter many reactions from those to whom we are sent, not all of them positive. Like Jeremiah and Jesus, unswerving dedication bold courage, and deep, biblical hope must be our trademarks.

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!

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 still “Good News” for us today. How do we speak the Word of God with authority today? How do we share the “Good News” with others? How do we use our authority to further the Kingdom of God? How are our words, gestures, messages and lives prophetic today, in the Church and in the world?

[The readings for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13 or 13:4-13; and Luke 4:21-30]

(Image: “Jesus rejected at Nazareth” by James Tissot)

The Bare Facts and Bare Feet of the Last Supper

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Biblical and Pastoral Reflection on Feet Washing on Holy Thursday
By Father Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation
English language attaché, Holy See Press Office

Both the Jewish and Christian traditions view eating and feasting as more than simply an opportunity to refuel the body, enjoy certain delicacies, or celebrate a particular occasion. Eating and feasting became for both traditions, encounters with transcendent realities and even union with the divine. In the New Testament, so much of Jesus’ own ministry took place during meals at table.

Jesus attends many meals throughout the four Gospels: with Levi and his business colleagues, with Simon the Pharisee, with Lazarus and his sisters in Bethany, with Zacchaeus and the crowd in Jericho, with outcasts and centurions, with crowds on Galilean hillsides, and with disciples in their homes. It is ultimately during the final meal that Jesus leaves us with his most precious gift in the Eucharist. The Scripture readings for Holy Thursday root us deeply in our Jewish past: celebrating the Passover with the Jewish people, receiving from St. Paul that which was handed on to him, namely the Eucharistic banquet, and looking at Jesus squarely in the face as he kneels before us to wash our feet in humble service. Instead of presenting to us one of the synoptic Gospel stories of the “institution” of the Eucharist, the Church offers us John’s account of the disturbing posture of the Master kneeling before his friends to wash their feet in a gesture of humility and service.

As Jesus wraps a towel around his waist, takes a pitcher of water, stoops down and begins washing the feet of his disciples, he teaches his friends that liberation and new life are won not in presiding over multitudes from royal thrones nor by the quantity of bloody sacrifices offered on temple altars but by walking with the lowly and poor and serving them as a foot washer along the journey. It is as though the whole history of salvation ends tonight just as it begins — with bare feet and the voice of God speaking to us through his own flesh and blood: “As I have done for you, so you must also do.” The washing of the feet is integral to the Last Supper. It is the evangelist John’s way of saying to Christ’s followers throughout the ages: “You must remember his sacrifice in the Mass, but you must also remember his admonition to go out and serve the world.”

At the Last Supper, Jesus teaches us that true authority in the Church comes from being a servant, from laying down our lives for our friends. His life is a feast for the poor and for sinners. It must be the same for those who receive the Lord’s body and blood. From the Eucharist must flow a certain style of communitarian life, a genuine care for our neighbors, and for strangers.

Three years ago on Holy Thursday evening, Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 young people at a Roman Juvenile Detention Center, including young women, and two Muslims. That Pope Francis washed the feet of young men and women in a detention centre in Rome on his first Holy Thursday, and has continued that gesture over the past Holy Thursdays in a centre for the elderly and infirm and then a maximum security facility in Rome, should call our minds and hearts to the simple and spontaneous gesture of love, affection, forgiveness and mercy that have been the hallmarks of the Bishop of Rome since his election in March 2013. Just as Jesus gave an example to his disciples in the humble gesture of foot washing, so too the Vicar of Christ offers us an example that we might learn from it and imitate this gesture.

Pope Francis’ simple gesture of washing the feet speaks for itself. He has taught the world profound messages over the past three years of his Petrine ministry to the world.  He has brought many to Jesus Christ through the simplicity of his messages and gestures. He shows us how to put the Eucharist into practice in our daily lives.

The Duty and Obligation of being Pro-Life

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What does it mean to be pro-life?

To be actively pro-life is to contribute to the renewal of society through the promotion of the common good. It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted. Remember the prophetic words of Pope Paul VI:

Every crime against life is an attack on peace, especially if it strikes at the moral conduct of people…But where human rights are truly professed and publicly recognized and defended, peace becomes the joyful and operative climate of life in society.

Abortion is without a doubt the most serious wound inflicted not only on individuals and their families who should provide the sanctuary for life, but inflicted as well on society and its culture, by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders. We must never lose sight of the atrocities against the unborn, the untold and too-seldom spoken of pain and lingering anguish experienced by those who have been involved in abortions.

I know about the tragedy of abortion and I know about the good work of many people involved in the pro-life Movement who work hard to prevent this tragedy. However a singular focus on abortion as the arbiter of what it means to be “pro-life” has severely narrowed our national discourse about moral values in the public square. People claiming to be fervently Catholic, always right, and blinded by their own zeal and goodness, have ended up defeating the very cause for which we must all defend with every ounce of energy in our flesh and bones. Their anger vitiates their efforts.

Could it be that some of us are turned off or even repelled by current definitions or behaviors of some of those people claiming to be pro-life, yet manifesting a tunnel vision? The Roman Catholic Church offers a consistent teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness and the dignity of the human person: a 20/20 vision for which we must strive each day if we claim to be pro-life. Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. We must strive to see the whole picture, not with tunnel vision.

What is also troubling are those who claim to be on the “left”, always championing human and civil rights, respecting and upholding the dignity and freedom of others. This of course has included the protection of individual rights, and the efforts of government to care for the weak, sick and disadvantaged. Why then are the extension to the unborn of the human right to life, and opposition to the culture of death, not central issues on the “left?” They must be, for they are clearly matters of justice and human rights.

A few years ago, Cardinal Séan O’Malley wrote to the people of Boston with these words:

If any cause is motivated by judgment, anger or vindictiveness, it will be doomed to marginalization and failure. Jesus’ words to us were that we must love one another as He loves us… Our ability to change people’s hearts and help them to grasp the dignity of each and every life, from the first moment of conception to the last moment of natural death, is directly related to our ability to increase love and unity in the church, for our proclamation of the Truth is hindered when we are divided and fighting with each other.

We cannot ignore the other great challenge faced by humanity today–the serious question of mercy killing, or euthanasia as it is sometimes called, no longer found in abstract cases and theories. It concerns ordinary people and is debated not only in Parliament but also around dinner tables and in classrooms. Aging populations, especially in the west, and resulting smaller workforces are now creating a market push towards euthanasia. As Pope John Paul II wrote: “a right to die will inevitably give way to the duty to die.” This issue strikes to the very core of who we are and what we believe. Even when not motivated by the refusal to be burdened with the life of someone who is suffering, euthanasia must be called a false and misguided mercy. True compassion leads to sharing another’s pain, not killing the person whose suffering we cannot bear.

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Furthering the Common Good

Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the dignity of the human person such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself, whatever insults human dignity such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons… all of these things and more poison human society.

It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted.

In Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, (Truth in Charity), the Holy Father addresses clearly the dignity and respect for human life:

Openness to life is at the centre of true development… When a society moves toward the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good. If personal and social sensitivity toward the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.

Engaging the Culture Around Us

Being pro-life does not give us the right and license to say and do whatever we wish, to malign, condemn and destroy other human beings who do not share our views. We must never forget the principles of civility, Gospel charity, ethics, and justice. Jesus came to engage the culture of his day, and we must engage the culture of our day. We must avoid the sight impairment and myopia that often afflict people of good will who are blinded by their own zeal and are unable to see the whole picture. Being pro-life is not an activity for a political party or a particular side of the spectrum. It is an obligation for everyone: left, right and centre! If we are pro-life, we must engage the culture around us, and not curse it. We must see others as Jesus does, and we must love them to life, even those who are opposed to us. Being pro-life in this day and age is truly prophetic, and it will bring about authentic development and enduring peace in our world.

We are all invited pray these words each day, especially during this week:

LupitaEternal Father, Source of Life, strengthen us with your Holy Spirit to receive the abundance of life you have promised.
Open our hearts to see and desire the beauty of your plan for life and love.
Make our love generous and self-giving so that we may be blessed with joy.
Grant us great trust in your mercy.
Forgive us for not receiving your gift of life and heal us from the effects of the culture of death.
Instill in us and all people reverence for every human life.
Inspire and protect our efforts on behalf of those most vulnerable especially the unborn, the sick and the elderly.
We ask this in the Name of Jesus, who by His Cross makes all things new. Amen.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

Father Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO Salt + Light Catholic Media Foundation

(CNS photo/Bob Roller)
(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Ezra and Nehemiah Revive the Faith

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Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – January 24, 2016

Today’s first reading is taken from the Book of Nehemiah, a book that tells of the reconstitution of the Jewish community after the Exile, the dispersion and the destruction of Jerusalem.

It tells the story of the new beginnings of a community and is full of hope, even through great difficulties still loomed ahead. The priest, Ezra, and a layman, Nehemiah, lived in the time when the people of Israel had been returned to their land after the years of the Babylonian Captivity and it was clearly a time of rebuilding. The people had lost the connections to their faith.

Ezra and Nehemiah were commissioned by the Lord to teach what had been lost, to rebuild the communal structures, to inspire the people once again to the high ideals of their Jewish faith — so that they could begin to live a healthy social and religious life.

The moving scene depicted in today’s first reading was the moment of the public re-proclamation of the law on which this community’s life was based. The gathered assembly listened to this proclamation in a deeply spiritual atmosphere. Some began to weep for joy at being able once again to listen freely to the Word of God after the tragedy of the destruction of Jerusalem and to begin salvation history once again. Nehemiah cautioned them, saying that it was a feast day and that in order to have strength from the Lord, it was necessary to rejoice, expressing gratitude for God’s gifts. Ultimately the Word of God is strength and joy.

What is our own reaction to this powerful scene? This reading is an invitation to each person, and especially to pastoral ministers, to thank God for his fidelity and his gifts and to thank all who have served as co-workers in rebuilding the foundations of our faith and our Church each day.

Luke’s pastoral strategy

The Gospel according to Luke is the only one of the synoptic gospels to begin with a literary prologue (1:1-4). Luke acknowledges his debt to earlier eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, but claims that his contribution is a complete and accurate account, told in an orderly manner, and intended to provide Theophilus (“friend of God”) and other readers with certainty about earlier teachings they have received. Luke is not telling people that what they previously learned was wrong. Rather, he confirms them in their faith, affirms them in their desire to know more about Jesus, and also puts things in order for them so that faith will be strengthened. Such a pastoral strategy is still very effective in transmitting the faith today.

Hometown boy returns

Luke is not the only evangelist who records Jesus’ visit to Nazareth “where he had been brought up” (4:16). Mark and Matthew also refer to this episode, although without mentioning the name of the town, referred to simply as “his home town” (Mark 6:1; Matthew 13:54). There are however several differences between the story told by Luke and those of Mark and Matthew. In Mark, Jesus’ visit to his home town is found not at the beginning of his ministry, but after a long period of preaching the Gospel and healing, even after the discourse in parables (4:1-34) and the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter (5:21-43). In Matthew, Jesus has also already pronounced his address on mission to the “Twelve Apostles” (10:2-42).

Luke chose to give this episode first place in his narration of the ministry of Jesus. At first sight we could think that it was Luke’s intention to correct the chronology of Mark and Matthew. A detail of his story demonstrates however that this supposition is incorrect: As Jesus preaches he says that the people in Nazareth will say to him: “We have heard all that has happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own countryside” (4:23). These words show that before going to Nazareth, Jesus had begun his ministry in Capernaum and had already provoked great admiration among the people, to the point that his fame had reached Nazareth.

An electric moment

When Jesus stood in the Nazareth synagogue, it was an “electric” moment. He took the Isaiah scroll and began to read from chapter 61. The text from Isaiah was taken from a collection of poems about the last days, which foretold the redemption of Jerusalem and symbolized the renewal of the people of Israel. When these words are placed on Jesus’ lips, they identify him as the messianic prophet of the final times, and they announce his mission: to proclaim the Good News, liberate men and women, and tell them of God’s grace. The whole of Jesus’ ministry therefore must be understood in this perspective.

Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written: “The spirit of the Lord has been given to me!” (4:16-18; Is 61:1). Very significantly the last line of Isaiah read by Jesus says: “to proclaim the Lord’s year of favor” (4:19; Is 61:2), and immediately afterwards, Jesus’ message was a declaration that precisely “this text” was being fulfilled on that day. The expression of Isaiah 61:2 “year of the Lord’s favor” clearly refers to the prescriptions in the Book of Leviticus on the jubilee year (Leviticus 25:10-13).

Luke’s story of Jesus in the synagogue does not quote the whole phrase of Isaiah, which includes two compliments of the object after the verb “proclaim” in Is 61:2. The Gospel quotes only the first (“the Lord’s year of favor”) neglecting the second which is “a day of vengeance for our God”. The prophecy of Isaiah foresees two aspects of divine intervention, the first the liberation of the Jewish people, the other punishment of her enemies. The Gospel has not retained this opposition. The omission clearly has two consequences: a) the message contains nothing negative; b) it is implicitly universal. There is no suggestion of distinction between Jews and non-Jews. Universal openness is an essential character of the ministry and preaching of Jesus, especially in the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.

Today’s Gospel scene ends with Jesus telling his hearers that he is the fulfillment of the prophetic words of Isaiah. In asserting that his words are fulfilled “today,” Jesus is saying in effect that the inauguration of his public ministry marks the beginning of the final times and the entry of divine salvation into human history. Through Jesus’ own appropriation of Isaiah’s words to his own ministry, he was reminding us that that history did not cover up the triumphs and disasters, the fidelities and infidelities of Israel throughout the ages. Rather, history made them stand out.

The time had come for Jesus to take history into his own hands, to confront it with his own person, to make a difference, and to remind his hearers that God had not abandoned their cries, their hopes, their sufferings, their dreams. God would fulfill them in his own Son who was standing in their very midst in the Nazareth synagogue. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah, bringing glad tidings and proclaiming liberty to captives. Not everyone will embrace this good news, as the rest of the Gospel will show us.

The failed evangelist

If we continue reading today’s Gospel story, we realize that the mood of excitement, awe and wonder quickly change when the prophet of Nazareth doesn’t speak the words that the local people wanted him to say. After Jesus sets forth the major points of his ministry in the opening scene in the Nazareth synagogue (Luke 4:16-21), the crowd grows terribly envious of one of their own and tries to get rid of him (4:22-30). Jesus did not succeed in making himself heard and understood and he had to depart in haste… for his life (4:30).

The first images of the ministry of Jesus are of a man who is defeated, unheeded and unwelcome. The people of Nazareth refused to hear his central message of liberation, freedom and reconciliation; they heard an approximation of it, highly colored by their own attitudes.

Our response to God’s Word

Like the people of Israel in the first reading, who gathered around the priest Ezra and listened to the word of God with deep emotion (Nehemiah 8:5), we, too stand to hear God’s saving message and feel his presence in this and every liturgy. Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people, their hands raised high, answered: ‘Amen, Amen'” (8:6). With this great “Amen” at the end of every Eucharistic prayer, we acknowledge the real presence on the altar, the living and eternal Word of the Father.

With the people gathered in the Nazareth synagogue, we, too, see and hear God’s Word fulfilled in the person of Jesus, the Word made flesh. To this proclamation, our voices also cry out: “Amen.” “I believe!” May the Spirit that anointed Jesus build us up into one body and send us forth to proclaim God’s freedom and favor for all people.

[The readings for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30 or 12:12-14, 27; and Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21]

When Cronos is Transformed into Kairos

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Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – January 17, 2016

Last Sunday gave us an opportunity to reflect on Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, and our own baptismal commitment. The wedding feast of Cana of today’s Gospel (John 2:1-11) is a manifestation of God’s glory and it continues the theme of Christ’s Epiphany and Baptism — of Jesus inaugurating his divine mission on earth.

The evocative text from Evening Prayer on the Feast of the Epiphany reads: “Three mysteries mark this holy day: today the star leads the Magi to the infant Christ; today water is changed into wine for the wedding feast; today Christ wills to be baptized by John in the river Jordan to bring us salvation.” Each event is accompanied by a theophany, by startling evidence of divine intervention; the star, the water into wine, the voice from heaven and the dove.

The story of the wedding feast in Cana may have been constructed from a real event in Jesus’ life. A careful reading of the text allows us to recognize the hand of the evangelist John reconstructing the scene, building in multiple layers of symbolic meaning. Today we look at the water becoming wine, the ordinary becoming extraordinary, and the beginnings of the Messianic age. The miracle at Cana foretells the way in which Jesus will accomplish his mission — by shedding his blood on the cross.

Key points of the story

Let us consider several key points of this highly symbolic Gospel story that has no parallel story in the other Gospels. “Sign” (semeion) is John’s symbolic term for Jesus’ wondrous deeds. John is interested primarily in what the “signs” (semeia) signify: God’s intervention in human history in a new way through Jesus. At Cana, symbol and reality meet: The human marriage of two young people is the occasion to speak of another marriage, the one between Christ and the Church, which will be achieved in “his hour” on the cross. At Cana in Galilee, we encounter the first sign when Jesus manifests his glory and the disciples believe.

The Mother of Jesus

The principal guest on the occasion of this wedding was not Jesus Himself but his mother, and the Gospel says that Jesus was also there as well as His apostles (1-2). The mother of Jesus is never named in John’s Gospel. The title “Woman,” used by Jesus for his mother is a normal, polite form of address, but unattested in reference to one’s mother (see John 19:26 where she is referred to as Woman and Mother.)

Mary appears symbolically; her function is to complete the call of the disciples. She is the catalyst for the sign that leads to the disciples’ expression of faith. Her words to the servants at the wedding banquet: “Do whatever He tells you” (2:5) are an invitation to all peoples to become part of the new people of God. Both at Cana and at Calvary in the fourth Gospel, Mary represents not only her maternity and physical relationship with her son, but also her highly symbolic role of “Woman” and “Mother” of God’s people.

Jesus’ response to Mary’s request is: “My hour has not yet come.” In other words, it was not yet time to completely reveal his glory. That would happen on the cross. But Jesus’ words to Mary are not the only indication to what this story is really about. The miracle, itself, the changing of water into wine, means that the old covenant between heaven and earth will be changed into something entirely new. At Mary’s word to her Son, a sad situation is transformed. At Jesus’ words to the servants at the wedding feast, the miracle takes place.

The “hour”

An important aspect of the Cana story is the use and meaning of “the hour”.  In the New Testament, the Greek word for hour, “hora” is more often used in reference to kairos time than to cronos time: “The hour [hora] comes and now is when the true worshiper” (4:23-24). “Hora” is used in many gospel stories of mighty works to identify the moment of healing, and in those cases it is usually translated “instantly.”  The “hour” spoken of by Jesus at Cana is that of his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension (John 13:1).

“Cronos” time measures ordinary occurrences and leaves the impression — often false — that we can control it. We can enter it into our Blackberries, iPhones and agendas and deal with time and events on our own terms.

“Kairos” time, on the other hand, represents discontinuity, when an unexpected barrier forces one to move off a planned course and adjust to new realities. Jesus’ hour, his appointed time or “kairos” moment, appeared before he wanted or expected it. Jesus had one schedule in mind; circumstances pushed him in another direction.

The wedding at Cana

Many levels of interpretation have existed for this symbolic Gospel story. One way is to view the story as a description of the contrast between what Jesus was about to offer and the inadequacy of Judaism. According to this view, Judaism had exhausted itself, run dry or empty. The finely fermented wine of Christianity was about to supplant the ordinary water of Judaism.

A second interpretation often considers the joy that characterizes the emerging realm of God. Jesus had an opportunity to announce himself to people brought together by the happiness of the union of two lives. The Lord’s revelation turned out to be a party within a party, a celebration within a celebration, a marriage within a marriage.  This perspective builds firmly on Jewish tradition where weddings are sacred moments. The first reading for today’s liturgy from Isaiah 62 begins with a wedding metaphor; the vindication of the divine will mean that Judah is no longer forsaken or desolate, for Judah will be the bride of none other than the Holy One of Israel.

The third and perhaps most profound layer of meaning shows how the disruption of “cronos” time can be transformed into an event of “kairos” time. Jesus had been expecting an introductory moment that he could identify and control. Instead, his “hora” came upon him unexpectedly, pushed on him by circumstances and by his persistent mother!

Jesus gives new life to these nuptials in Cana.  He does not provide vintage wine at the start when the palates are sharp but when the wedding banquet is in full swing! The Jesus of John’s Gospel saved the good wine until the “now” of a first disclosure of his glory (10). It was a manifestation or an epiphany, and it was meant to be that — observed later in the Church as the Epiphany on the feast of Dionysius, January 6 in our calendar, when it was reputed in the Greek world the god Dionysius turned water into wine.

Breakthrough moments

So often in our individual and community lives, in our various ministries, parishes and daily lives, we simply plod along from day to day, living with a sense of hopelessness, monotony or heaviness. We are locked into a “cronos” time, and cannot see how God wishes to break through the ordinary moments of life and transform our existence and our history into something extraordinary. The Lord invites us to allow him to fill the structures and jars of our existence with the new wine of his presence. When we listen to the Lord and do whatever he tells us, the ordinariness of our lives becomes extraordinary, the empty jars of water become filled with new wine, and we literally become the feast for one another.

The Cana Gospel episode points out to the couple a way to not fall into this situation or get out of if they are already in it: Invite Jesus to your wedding! What happens in all marriages happens in the wedding feast at Cana. It begins with enthusiasm and joy (symbolized by the wine); but the initial enthusiasm, like the wine at Cana, comes to wane with the passage of time. Then things are done no longer for love and with joy, but out of habit and routine. It descends upon the family, if we are not careful, like a cloud of sadness and boredom. Of such couples it must sadly be said: “They have no more wine!”

Today’s marvelous Gospel story is neither about Mary’s intercession nor about Jesus’ rebuke of his mother. The story is ultimately about the disclosure in ordinary family festive circumstances of the hidden glory of Jesus the Son. It is not about excessive drinking at Jewish weddings! It is neither about norms, traditions and rules of family life nor even about marriage. Nor is it about Judaism as empty and Christianity as being full.

John’s story of the wedding at Cana invites us to consider seriously whether we think that the master of the feast who gives the command: “Fill the jars with water” can make all things new in our own lives.  One’s hour comes — the kairos moment presents itself — at the intersection of frustrated plans and openness to the Divine.  Cana teaches us that the Messiah of the world had to adjust his schedule when events took a surprising turn. The story of Jesus’ coming-out event as told by John demonstrates his spiritual flexibility.  How can our “cronos” time be transformed into “kairos” — a real moment of breakthrough and hope, of promise and new possibility?

Today let us beg the Lord and his Mother to make us faithful stewards, ready to do whatever Jesus tells us and eager to share with others the wine he provides.  When we listen to the Lord and do whatever he tells us, the ordinariness of our lives becomes extraordinary, the empty jugs of water become filled with new wine, our cronos moments are transformed into kairos moments, and we become the feast for one another.

[The readings for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Isaiah 62:1-5; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; and John 2:1-11]