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A Message from Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

From today’s first reading at Mass

Jeremiah 18:18-20

 The people of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem said,
“Come, let us contrive a plot against Jeremiah.
It will not mean the loss of instruction from the priests,
nor of counsel from the wise, nor of messages from the prophets.
And so, let us destroy him by his own tongue;
let us carefully note his every word.”

Heed me, O LORD,
and listen to what my adversaries say.
Must good be repaid with evil
that they should dig a pit to take my life?
Remember that I stood before you
to speak in their behalf,
to turn away your wrath from them.

As the CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network, I am not a high-ranking Vatican official nor a member of the hierarchy of the Church as erroneously claimed in several recent blogs.  In addition to my work at Salt and Light, I have had the privilege of serving since 2013 in a volunteer capacity as English language assistant to the Holy See Press Office.  I relate on a daily basis to hundreds of English language journalists around the world.  I know that this daily service has been encouraged and appreciated by the Vatican and by hundreds of journalists all over the world.

I fully support the teaching of the Church and welcome Pope Francis’ invitation to the whole Church to reflect seriously on the foundations of our faith. The recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops has invited us to mature, honest dialogue and conversation and to find new ways and a new language to communicate the ancient story of the Church and our beautiful, unchanging doctrine to future generations.

Mature expressions of differences are welcome.  It is one thing to have differing opinions on church matters. However, there is fine line between difference of opinion and blatant destruction of person’s lives and reputations. Having been strongly advised to respond, as an individual and in no institutional capacity to the Vatican or to my place of work, to the continuous false, slanderous statements of a blogger over a long period of time that resulted in gross distortion, misinformation, many phone calls, letters and clear threats from callers based on the repeated false information contained in the blog, it was never my intention to sue, but rather to issue a letter to “cease and desist” the frivolous calumny. A legal firm, offering its service pro bono to us, issued a letter to cease and desist. No lawsuit was ever launched against the blogger! The matter is now closed.

Popes Benedict XVI and Francis have taught clearly that the Internet and blogs can be of tremendous service to the up-building of the Church and of humanity. They have never taught that blogs and social media should be used, in the name of fidelity, to engender slander, hatred, reviling and destroying.

In a world torn apart by hatred, terror and violence, often through the gross distortion of religion, we must be much more attentive to our use of social media and how it is used to unite rather than destroy humanity. Many in the Catholic blogosphere have contributed enormously to the spread of the faith, the defense of all that is good and beautiful about our faith and our Church, and the opening of dialogue among strangers. They are to be congratulated and encouraged. Others have chosen to turn the blogosphere into a black hole of vitriol, anger and profound sadness. As Catholics, the great privilege and freedom of expression and access to social media also have certain obligations of decency, integrity, honesty and charity that reveal who we really are as a faith community.

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

A Burning Love for the Father’s House

Jesus Temple cropped

Third Sunday of Lent, Year B – March 8, 2015

In the Scripture readings for the Third Sunday of Lent (Year B), I would like to focus our reflection on two powerful images present in the texts: that of Jesus purifying Jerusalem’s Temple, and St. Paul’s message of the cross of Jesus Christ. Both the purifying action of Jesus and Paul’s understanding of the cross can be of tremendous help to us as we grow in our knowledge and love of Jesus Christ this Lenten season.

John’s account of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple is in sharp contrast to the other Gospel accounts of this dramatic story. In the Synoptic Gospels, this scene takes place at the end of the “Palm Sunday Procession” into the holy city. With the people shouting out in triumph, Jesus entered into the temple area, not to do homage but to challenge the temple and its leaders. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and upset the stalls of those selling birds and animals for the sacrifice. What a teaching moment this was! Jesus quoted from the Scriptures: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations … but you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17, Isaiah 56:6-7, Jeremiah 7:11).

In the Fourth Gospel, the cleansing of the temple takes place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and not at the beginning of the events of the last days of Jesus’ life. The startling words and actions of Jesus in the temple, whether they are from the Synoptic accounts or John’s account, took on new meaning for later generations of Christians. “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” The temple was not a commercial center or shopping mall but rather a holy place of the Father. Like the prophets before him, Jesus tried to awaken the hearts of his people.

Jesus’ disciples recall him saying in the temple the words of Psalm 68:10: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” I have often understood this verse to mean: “I am filled with a burning love for your house.” When the magnificent Temple of Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Romans, and both Jews and Christians grieved at its loss, the followers of Jesus recalled this incident in the temple. Now they could see new meaning in it; it was a sign that the old temple was finished but a new temple was to be built. This new temple would not be of stone and wood and gold. It would be a living temple of holy people (I Peter 2:4-6; Ephesians 2:19-22).

Extreme Jesus

One intriguing aspect of today’s Gospel story is the portrait of an angry Jesus in the temple-cleansing scene that gives way to two extremes in our own image of the Lord. Some people wish to transform an otherwise passive Christ into a whip-cracking revolutionary.

Others would like to excise any human qualities of Jesus and paint a very meek, bland character, who smiled, kept silent and never rocked the boat. The errors of the old extreme, however, do not justify a new extremism.

Jesus was not exclusively, not even primarily, concerned with social reform. Rather, he was filled with a deep devotion and burning love for his Father and the things of his Father. He wanted to form new people, created in God’s image, who are sustained by his love, and bring that love to others. Jesus’ disciples and apostles recognized him as a passionate figure — one who was committed to life and to losing it for the sake of truth and fidelity.

Have we given in to these extremes in our own understanding of and relationship with Jesus? Are we passionate about anything in our lives today? Are we filled with a deep and burning love for the things of God and for his Son, Jesus?

Message of the Cross

In writing to the people of Corinth, Paul was addressing numerous disorders and scandals that were present. True communion and unity were threatened by groups and internal divisions that seriously compromised the unity of the Body of Christ. Rather than appealing to complex theological or philosophical words of wisdom to resolve the difficulties, Paul announces Christ to this community: Christ crucified. Paul’s strength is not found in persuasive language, but rather, paradoxically, in the weakness of one who trusts only in the “power of God” (I Corinthians 2:1-4).

In St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (1:18, 22-25), we hear about “the message of the cross that is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” For St. Paul, the cross represents the center of his theology: To say cross means to say salvation as grace given to every creature.

Paul’s simple message of the cross is scandal and foolishness. He states this strongly with the words: “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. It was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”

The “scandal” and the “foolishness” of the cross are precisely in the fact that where there seems to be only failure, sorrow and defeat, precisely there, is all the power of the boundless love of God. The cross is the expression of love and love is the true power that is revealed precisely in this seeming weakness.

St. Paul has experienced this even in his own flesh, and he gives us testimony of this in various passages of his spiritual journey, which have become important points of departure for every disciple of Jesus: “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness'” (2 Corinthians 12:9); and even “God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something” (1 Corinthians 1:28).

The Apostle to the Gentiles identifies himself to such a degree with Christ that he also, even in the midst of so many trials, lives in the faith of the Son of God who loved him and gave himself up for his sins and those of everyone (cf. Galatians 1:4; 2:20).

Today, as we contemplate Jesus’ burning love for the things of his Father, and the saving mystery of his cross, let us pray these words:

O God, whose foolishness is wise and whose weakness is strong,
by the working of your grace in the disciplines of Lent
cleanse the temple of your Church and purify the sanctuary of our hearts.

May we be filled with a burning love for your house,
and may obedience to your commandments
absorb and surround us along this Lenten journey.

We ask this through Jesus Christ, the man of the cross,
your power and your wisdom,
the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever. Amen.

[The readings for this Sunday are: Exodus 20:1-17 or 20:1-3, 7-8, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 and John 2:13-25. For use with RCIA, Exodus 17:3-7; Romans 5:1-2, 5-8 and John 4:5-42 or 4:5-15, 19b-26, 39a, 40-42]

Moriah, Tabor, Calvary: Darkness Can Be Radiant

Transfiguration

Second Sunday of Lent, Year B – March 1, 2015

Moriah. Sinai. Nebo. Carmel. Horeb. Gilboa. Gerizim. Mount of Beatitudes. Tabor. Hermon. Zion. Mount of Olives. Calvary. Golgotha. Mountains are often used in the Bible as the stages of important encounters between God and his people. Though we may have never visited the lands of the Bible, we are all familiar with these biblical mountains and the great events of our salvation history that took place there.

Today’s Old Testament and Gospel reading take place on two important biblical mountains– Mount Moriah and Mount Tabor. Both readings give us profound insights into our God and his Son, Jesus, who is our Savior. First let us consider the story of the sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham as portrayed in Genesis 22:1-19. The story is called the Akedah in Hebrew (Anglicization of the Aramaic word for “binding”) and it easily provokes scandal for the modern mind: What sort of God is this who can command a father to kill his own son?

How many pagan voices were assailing Abraham at this moment? What would a contemporary father do if he were to be called on to sacrifice his only son to God? He would be thought mad if he even considered it — and unfaithful to God as well. What a poignant story indeed! “Take your son, your only son Isaac whom you love … and offer him as a burnt offering. … So Abraham rose early in the morning.” Because Abraham listened to the Lord’s messenger, his only son’s life was spared. The binding of Isaac, then, is a symbol of life, not death, for Abraham is forbidden to sacrifice his son.

What happens on Mount Moriah finds an echo in what happens atop Mount Tabor and Mount Calvary in the New Testament: The mounts Moriah, Tabor and Calvary are significant places of vision in the Bible. For on these peaks, we see a God who never abandons us in our deepest despair, terror and death. God is with us through thick and thin, through day and night.

These mountains teach us that it is only when we are willing to let go of what we love most and cherish most in this life, to offer it back to God, the giver of all good gifts, that we can ever hope to receive it back in ways we never dreamed of or imagined. Only then will we experience resurrection, healing, consoling light and new life.

We can only speculate on what lies behind the story of the Transfiguration — one of the Gospel’s most mysterious and awesome visions (Mark 9:2-8; Matthew 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-36). Peter, James and John had an overwhelming experience with the Lord on Mount Tabor. Following the night of temptation and preceding the blackness of Golgotha, the glorious rays of the Transfiguration burst forth. Before their eyes, the Jesus they had known and with whom they walked became transfigured. His countenance was radiant; his garments streaming with white light. At his side, enveloped in glory, stood Moses, the mighty liberator, who had led Israel out of slavery, and Elijah, the greatest of Israel’s prophets.

Jesus needed the light and affirmation of the mountaintop experience in his own life. In the midst of his passion predictions, he needed Mount Tabor, to strengthen him as he descended into the Jordan Valley and made his way up to Jerusalem. For every disciple since, it is the same. Those who follow Jesus must ascend the mountain to catch a glimpse of the mystery of God’s presence in our world and in our lives.

And yet Mark’s story of Jesus transfigured reminds us that gazing in contemplation is not enough. The disciples are told to listen to Jesus, the Beloved of God, and then return to their daily routine down in the valley.

The awesome Gospel story of the Transfiguration gives us an opportunity to look at some of our own mountaintop experiences. How have such experiences shed light on the shadows and darkness of life? What would our lives be without some of these peak experiences? How often do we turn to those few but significant experiences for strength, courage and perspective? How has the mountaintop experience enabled us to listen more attentively to God’s voice — a voice calling us to fidelity and authenticity in our belief? When we’re down in the valley we often can’t see Christ’s glory.

The most consoling message of the Transfiguration is perhaps for those who suffer, and those who witness the deformation of their own bodies and the bodies of their loved ones. Even Jesus will be disfigured in the passion, but will rise with a glorious body with which he will live for eternity and, faith tells us, with which he will meet us after death.

So many voices assail us that we find it difficult to listen to God’s voice. Before light envelops us, we need to go through darkness. Before the heavens open up, we need to go through the mud and dirt. We must experience both mountains — Tabor and Golgotha — in order to see the glory of God. The Transfiguration teaches us that God’s brilliant life included death, and there is no way around it — only through it.

It also reminds us that the terrifying darkness can be radiant and dazzling. During moments of transfiguration, God penetrates the hardened, incredulous, even disquieting regions within us, about which we really do not know what to do, and he leaves upon them the imprint of his own face, in all its radiant and dazzling glory and beauty.

[The readings for this Sunday are: Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Romans 8:31b-34; and Mark 9:2-10.]

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2009 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store.

The Ways of the Desert

Jesus Tempted cropped

First Sunday of Lent, Year B – February 22, 2015

Does anyone really look forward to Lent? What is it about Lent that excites us? What aspects of the Lenten journey test us? The Scriptural readings for this season are carefully chosen so as to replay salvation history before our very eyes.

Let us begin with Jesus in the desert — the Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent. The desert sun and the pangs of hunger and thirst conjured up the demon for him. Mark presents Jesus wrestling with the power of Satan, alone and silent in the desert wastes. Mark’s version of the temptations of Jesus does not mention three temptations, nor does it say that Jesus fasted. Mark’s whole focus is on presenting the temptations of Jesus as part of the great struggle between good and evil, between God and Satan.

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 deserts? Have I been courageous and persistent in fighting with the demons? How have I resisted transforming my own deserts into places of abundant life?

In Matthew and Luke there is an ongoing conversation, as the prince of evil attempts to turn Jesus aside from the faith and integrity at the heart of his messianic mission. But if Israel had failed in the desert, Jesus would not. His bond with his Father was too strong for even the demons of the desert to break.

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.

God’s in charge

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 important for us to hear and believe, especially when our own temptations seem to overpower us, when everything around us might indicate failure, 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 to anyone that God loves him.

Temptation is everything that makes us small, ugly, and mean. Temptation uses the trickiest moves that the evil one can think up. 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. 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. We must never forget Jesus’ example, so that we won’t be seduced by the devil’s deception.

From Jesus we learn that God is present and sustaining us in the midst of test, temptation and even sinfulness. We realize that we must have some spiritual space in our lives where we can strip away the false things that cling to us and breathe new life into our dreams and begin again. We come to believe that God can take the parched surface of our hope and make it bloom. These are the lessons of the desert. That is why we need – even in the activity of our daily lives and work, moments of prayer, of stillness, of listening to the voice of God.

We meet God in the midst of our deserts of sinfulness, selfishness, jealousy, efficiency, isolation, cynicism and despair. And in the midst of the desert we hear what God will do if we open our hearts to him and allow him to make our own deserts bloom. The ways of the desert were deep within the heart of Jesus, and it must be the same for all who would follow him.

[The readings for this Sunday are: Genesis 9:8-15; 1 Peter 3:18-22 and Mark 1:12-15]

(Image: “Jesus Tempted in the Desert” by James Tissot)

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2009 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store.

Overcoming a Globalization of Indifference

Overcoming cropped

Biblical Reflection for Ash Wednesday – February 18, 2015

On Ash Wednesday the Church begins her great Lenten journey with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. For centuries, Lent has been a very intense spiritual journey and experience for the followers of Jesus Christ. Why are there 40 days in Lent? It took 40 days for sinfulness to drown in the flood before a new creation could inherit the earth. It took 40 years for the generation of slaves to die before the freeborn could enter the Promised Land. For 40 days Moses, Elijah and Jesus fasted and prayed to prepare themselves for a life’s work. Lent invites us to turn from our own selves, from our sin, to come together in community. Self-denial is the way we express our repentance. Self-denial is threefold, advises Matthew’s Gospel.

We pray: “Go to your room, close your door, and pray to your Father in private.”

We fast: “No one must see you are fasting but your Father.”

We give alms: “Keep your deeds of mercy secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

The central theme of Pope Francis’ Lenten message this year is indifference, a topic that the Holy Father has addressed on a number of occasions. Indifference is an important concept to explain the different phenomena of the modern world. One of the most significant moments when Pope Francis spoke of this indifference was during his short but highly significant visit to the island of Lampedeusa, off the coast of Sicily, in July 2013.  There he spoke of “the globalization of indifference,” not merely as a geographical phenomenon, but also a cultural one. The Lenten season is always a time of conversion, change and renewal. It is a time for overcoming this globalization of indifference and entering into a new phase in which we recognize the difference between the self and the other, between one lifestyle and another, between oneself and God. This year’s Lenten Message presents three areas in which indifference must be overcome: the Church, the community and the individual.

Pope Francis speaks about the necessary conversion and the new heart that can beat within us. The key step in all social reconstruction and cultural renewal is change in the individual. The Gospel provides the keys for achieving this change in the person, which then affects the whole social fabric. Pope Francis warns however that conversion does not have its purpose in a better society, but in the knowledge of Christ and in becoming like Him.

We can see clearly in Pope Francis’ teaching that he calls us to go beyond a faith that serves only to care for oneself and one’s own well being. Indifference stems from an attitude to life in which otherness does not make a difference and so each person withdraws into himself. Faith also can become instrumental in this search for self.  Our path, Francis explained, is must take us further, “beyond ourselves”, so that we “live our faith by looking at Christ and in Him we find the Father and brothers and sisters who await us”.

Indifference must also be overcome in Christian communities, which are required to be “islands of mercy in a world dominated by the globalization of indifference.” The Christian community can already overcome this indifference, it can show the world that one can live differently and that it can become the city on a hill mentioned in the Gospel. Beginning with this Lent season, Christian community life, where one lives for the other, can be not merely a vague dream but instead a living reality; rather than a distant dream, a living sign of the presence of God’s mercy in Christ.

One of the important practives during Lent is fasting.  It helps us not to be reduced to pure “consumers”; it helps us to acquire the precious “fruit of the Spirit,” which is “self-control,” it predisposes us to the encounter with God. We must empty ourselves in order to be filled by God. Fasting creates authentic solidarity with millions of hungry people throughout the world. But we must not forget that there are alternative forms of fasting and abstinence from food. We can practice fasting from smoking and drinking. This not only benefits the soul but also the body. There is fasting from violent and sexual pictures that television, movies, magazines and Internet bombard us with daily as they distort human dignity. There is the fasting from condemning and dismissing others — a practice so prevalent in today’s Church.

“For now is the acceptable time! Now is the day of salvation!” We need Lent to help us recognize that our identity and mission are rooted in Jesus’ dying and rising. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the pillars of the Lenten journey for Christians. They help us to overcome a globalization of indifference by helping us to focus on what is real.

Lent is a time to fast from certain things, but also a time to feast on others. Fast from discontent, anger, bitterness, self-concern, discouragement, laziness, suspicion, guilt. Feast on gratitude, patience, forgiveness, compassion for others, hope, commitment, truth, and the mercy of God. Lent is just such a time of fasting and feasting!

(Image: Pope Francis in Lampedusa, CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via CPP)

On the Significance and Role of Cardinals

CardinalsConcelebration

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

In light of the important meetings of Cardinals taking place this week at the Vatican that culminate in tomorrow’s ceremony for the “creation” of 20 new cardinals, I offer this brief explanation of the role of Cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church.

Cardinals are chosen by the Holy Father to serve as his principal assistants and advisers in the central administration of church affairs. Collectively, they form the College of Cardinals. The word cardinal is derived from two early Latin terms, cardo and cardinis. The English translation has rendered these two words as “hinge,” to signify that important device that serves as a juncture for two opposing forces and that affords harmony as a result. As a hinge permits a door to hang easily upon a framed portal, it was believed that the cardinals facilitated an easy relationship between the theological and governmental roles of the hierarchy of the Church. The role of the College of Cardinals remains a pivotal one in the Church of our time.

The cardinals’ color red of his robes symbolizes the blood shed by martyrs and witnesses for the faith. Giving public, clear witness to the faith lies at the heart of each Cardinal’s mission. At the consistory of Cardinals in November 2010, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI addressed the new Cardinals at the Eucharistic celebration inaugurating their new ministry with these words:

“This ministry is difficult because it is not in line with the human way of thinking — with that natural logic which, moreover, continues to be active within us too. But this is and always remains our primary service, the service of faith that transforms the whole of life: believing that Jesus is God, that he is the King precisely because he reached that point, because he loved us to the very end. And we must witness and proclaim this paradoxical kingship as he, the King, did, that is, by following his own way and striving to adopt his same logic, the logic of humility and service, of the grain of wheat which dies to bear fruit.”

At last year’s ceremonies for the creation of new Cardinals (February 22, 2014), Pope Francis described the cardinal’s critical role with these words:

“And as we are thus “con-voked”, “called to himself” by our one Teacher, I will tell you what the Church needs: she needs you, your cooperation, and even more your communion, with me and among yourselves. The Church needs your courage, to proclaim the Gospel at all times, both in season and out of season, and to bear witness to the truth. The Church needs your prayer for the progress of Christ’s flock, that prayer – let us not forget this! – which, along with the proclamation of the Word, is the primary task of the Bishop. The Church needs your compassion, especially at this time of pain and suffering for so many countries throughout the world. Let us together express our spiritual closeness to the ecclesial communities and to all Christians suffering from discrimination and persecution. We must fight every form of discrimination! The Church needs our prayer for them, that they may be firm in faith and capable of responding to evil with good. And this prayer of ours extends to every man and women suffering injustice on account of their religious convictions.

The Church needs us also to be peacemakers, building peace by our words, our hopes and our prayers. Building peace! Being peacemakers! Let us therefore invoke peace and reconciliation for those peoples presently experiencing violence, exclusion and war.”

Cardinals-Consistory

Cardinals have the responsibility of advising the Pope when he convenes a Consistory (special meeting of cardinals). The primary role of cardinals is that of meeting together at the resignation or death of a pope to elect his successor. They have no real power, except during the period between popes known as sede vacante. Originally their role was devised as a sort of bridge between the theological and governing roles of the hierarchy of the Church.

In the case of Pope Francis, the new Cardinals assist him to enact the reforms he began shortly after his election as Bishop of Rome and leader of the Roman Catholic Church. This includes a revamp of the governance of the Catholic Church and the reform of the financial structures in the central government of the Church. Also under Pope Francis, cardinals are playing a key role in addressing head-on the sex abuse scandal and the protection of minors that has plagued the Catholic Church for the past years.

Opening the Consistory on February 12, 2015, Pope Francis stressed that the aim of the Curial reform “is always that of promoting greater harmony in the work of the various dicasteries and offices, in order to achieve more effective collaboration in that absolute transparency which builds authentic synodality and collegiality.”

“Reform is not an end in itself, but a way of giving strong Christian witness; to promote more effective evangelization; to promote a fruitful ecumenical spirit; and to encourage a more constructive dialogue with all.”

The Pope went on to say that this reform was “strongly advocated by the majority of cardinals” in the pre-conclave meetings, and is intended to “enhance the identity of the Roman Curia itself, which is to assist Peter’s successor in the exercise of his supreme pastoral office for the good and in the service of the universal Church and the particular Churches, in order to strengthen the unity of faith and the communion of the people of God, and to promote the mission of the Church in the world.”

When each new cardinal climbs the steps to the main altar of St. Peter’s Basilica and kneels before Pope Francis to receive the red berretta, he begins a form of public martyrdom. If he is a residential archbishop or bishop, He not only represents his local church but his entire nation. As Cardinal, he does not lord it over others, but continues to serve the Church through the logic of humility and service – a logic which has distinguished his priestly and episcopal ministry for many years.

WuerlTRIn becoming a cardinal, one becomes a hinge, a door, a public witness, and a peacemaker. Cardinals have the great responsibility of being instruments and agents of communion, harmony, compassion and mercy, constantly reaching out, listening to all generations, consulting, dialoguing with the secular and the sacred, and facilitating the complex but necessary relationship between the theological and governmental roles of the hierarchy of the Church. At the heart of the cardinal’s vocation and mission is a passion for the unity of the Church and a deep desire to be at the service of the successor of Peter.

An excellent example of a cardinal’s vocation and mission can be found in this moving text written this past week by the Cardinal archbishop of Washington, DC, Donald Wuerl. Cardinal Wuerl has taken to heart the critical role of cardinal at this moment in Church history.

Read it here: The Pope, Touchstone of Faith and Unity

 

Let Us Not Fear the Sepulchers of This Earth

Lepers Christ cropped

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – February 15, 2015

The first reading for this Sunday outlines the harsh laws for people with skin diseases usually labeled correctly or incorrectly as a form of leprosy (Leviticus 13:1-2; 44-46).

Throughout history, few diseases have been as dreaded as the horrible affliction known as leprosy. It was so common and severe among ancient peoples that God gave Moses extensive instructions to deal with it as evidenced in chapters 13 and 14 from Leviticus. The belief that only God could heal leprosy is key to understanding today’s miracle that proves Jesus’ identity.

Leprosy in the Bible appears in two principle forms. Both start with discoloration of a patch of skin. The disease becomes systemic and involves the internal organs as well as the skin. Marked deformity of the hands and feet occur when the tissues between the bones deteriorate and disappear.

In Jesus’ time, lepers were forced to exist outside the community, separated from family and friends and thus deprived of the experience of any form of human interaction. We read in Leviticus 13:45-46 that lepers were to wear torn clothes, let their hair be disheveled, and live outside the camp. These homeless individuals were to cry “Unclean, unclean!” when a person without leprosy approached them. Lepers suffered both the disease and ostracism from society. In the end, both realities destroy their victims’ lives. One may indeed wonder which was worse: the social ostracism experienced or the devastating skin lesions.

Mark 1:40 tells us that the leper appears abruptly in front of Jesus: “begging him and kneeling before him.” The news about Jesus’ miraculous powers has gotten around, even to the reviled and outcast leper. “If you choose, you can make me clean,” the leper tells Jesus. In even approaching Jesus, the leper has violated the Levitical code. By saying, “If you choose, you can make me clean,” the leper not only indicates his absolute faith in Jesus’ ability to cleanse him of his disease, but also actually challenges Jesus to act. In the ancient Mediterranean world, touching a leper was a radical act. By touching the reviled outcast, Jesus openly defied Levitical law. Only a priest could declare that someone was cured of the skin disease. As required by ancient law, Jesus sent the man to a priest for verification. Even though Jesus asked him not to, the man went about telling everyone of this great miracle.

My encounter with lepers

I had never encountered leprosy until I was pursuing my graduate studies in Scripture in the Holy Land. In 1992, I was invited by the Religious Sisters of the Sacred Heart to come down to Egypt from Jerusalem and spend several weeks teaching and preaching Scripture — first in Cairo, then down (or up!) the Nile River into Upper Egypt. We visited many of the very poor Christian villages where the sisters and other religious worked among the poorest of the poor. That journey remains engraved in my memory, for the remarkable women religious encountered along the way, and for the horrible human situations of suffering that we witnessed.

When we arrived in one of the Egyptian villages along the Nile, one of the sisters took me outside the central part of town, to an area where lepers and severely handicapped people were kept, in chains, in underground areas hidden away from civilization. It was like entering tombs of the living dead. Their lot was worse than animals. The stench was overpowering, the misery shocking, the suffering incredible.

I descended into several hovels, blessed the people with my best Arabic and said some prayers with each person. The sister accompanying me said: “Simply touch them. You have no idea what the touch means, when they are kept as animals and monsters.”

I laid hands on many of these women and men and touched their disfigured faces and bodies. Tears streamed down my face as the women and men and several children shrieked at first then wept openly. They reached out to hug and embrace me. Then we all shared bottles of Coca Cola! Those unforgettable days, deep in the heart of Egypt, taught me what the social and physical condition of lepers must have been at the time of Jesus. There was not much difference between then and now.

As we read the story of Jesus among the outcasts, let us recall with gratitude the lives of three remarkable people in our Catholic tradition who worked with lepers and dared to touch and embrace those who were afflicted with that debilitating disease.

First, Blessed Joseph DeVeuster, (known as Father Damian of Molokai) who was born in Belgium in 1840, entered the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts at the age of 20 and was sent as a missionary to the Hawaiian Islands. After nine years of priestly work, he obtained permission in 1873 to labor among the abandoned lepers on Molokai. With Blessed Father Damien, let us pray that we not fear the sepulchers of this earth. He descended into the lepers’ colony of Molokai — then considered “the cemetery and hell of the living” — and from the first sermon embraced all those unfortunate people saying simply: “We lepers.” And to the first sick person who said, “Be careful, Father, you might get my disease” he replied, “I am my own, if the sickness takes my body away God will give me another one.”

Becoming a leper himself in 1885, he died in April 1889, a victim of his charity for others. In 1994, Pope John Paul II proclaimed him Blessed. In 2009, he was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI.

Second, Saint Marianne Cope (1838–1918), mother to Molokai lepers. In the 1880s, Sister Marianne, as superior of her congregation of the Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse, responded to a call to assist with the care of lepers on the island of Molokai, Hawaii. She worked with Father Damien and with the outcasts of society as they were abandoned on the shores of the island, never to return to their families.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, about 10% of the Hansenites (people with leprosy) on Molokai and the Peninsula of Kalaupapa were Buddhists. Many practiced the native, indigenous religions of the Polynesian Islands. Some were Protestant and some were Catholic. Sister Marianne loved them all and showed her selfless compassion to those suffering from Hansen’s disease. People of all religions of the islands still honor and revere Father Damien and Mother Marianne who brought healing to body and soul.

Be not afraid

Finally, let us recall with gratitude Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997), who was never afraid to see and touch the face of Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor.

Mother Teresa wrote:

“The fullness of our heart becomes visible in our actions: how I behave with this leper, how I behave with this dying person, how I behave with this homeless person. Sometimes, it is more difficult to work with down-and-outs than with the people who are dying in our hospices, for the latter are at peace, waiting to go to God soon.

“You can draw near to the sick person, to the leper, and be convinced that you are touching the body of Christ. But when it is a drunk person yelling, it is more difficult to think that you are face-to-face with Jesus hidden in him. How pure and loving must our hands be in order to show compassion for those beings!

“To see Jesus in the spiritually most deprived person requires a pure heart. The more disfigured the image of God is in a person, the greater must our faith and our veneration be in our search for the face of Jesus and in our ministry of love for him.”

Most people will never encounter lepers. Nor will we know what it means to be completely ostracized by society. But there are other forms of leprosy today, which destroy human beings, kill their hope and spirit, and isolate them from society. Who are the modern lepers in our lives, suffering with physical diseases that stigmatize, isolate and shun, and cut others off from the land of the living? What are the social conditions today that force people to become the living dead, relegating them to cemeteries and dungeons of profound indignity, poverty, despair, isolation, violence, sadness, depression, homelessness, addiction and mental illness?

Let us not fear the sepulchers of this earth. Let us enter those hovels and bring a word of consolation and a gesture of healing to others. In the words of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta: “Let us do so with a sense of profound gratitude and with piety. Our love and our joy in serving must be in proportion to the degree to which our task is repugnant.”

[The readings for this Sunday are: Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46; 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1; and Mark 1:40-45]

(Image: “The Healing of Ten Lepers” by James Tissot)

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

“Death not a good End but a good Transition” Confronting the Reality of Euthanasia

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In light of the very sad and deeply troubling decision of the Supreme Court of Canada overturning Canada’s euthanasia law, I share these words with our readers.

The mainstream media has caused great confusion about the topic of euthanasia and has been extremely deceptive in its portrayal of human suffering and compassion.  Most people who think that euthanasia and assisted suicide should be legal are not thinking the whole issue through. They are thinking about personal autonomy and choice. They think about what it would be like to suddenly become incapacitated and consider such a life as undignified or worthless. Perhaps they consider severely disabled people as having no quality of life.  Our dignity and quality of life don’t come from what we can or cannot do. Dignity and quality of life are not matters of efficiency, proficiency and productivity.  They come from a deeper place– from who we are and how we relate to each other.

The notion that euthanasia and/or assisted suicide can be a reality for us in Canada should come as a wake-up call to all Canadians, not just because of the notion that all life is sacred from conception to natural death, but simply because of whom such a law would affect most, the most vulnerable; the chronically ill, who are a strain on the health care system; the elderly who have been abandoned and who have no one to speak on their behalf, and who feel they may be a burden to others; and the disabled who have to fight every day to maintain their own integrity and dignity.

Our society has lost sight of the sacred nature of human life. As Catholic Christians we are deeply committed to the protection of life from its earliest moments to its final moments. When people today speak about a “good death,” they usually refer to an attempt to control the end of one’s life, even through physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia. The Christian notion of a good death, however, is death not as a good end, but a good transition, that requires faith, proper acceptance and readiness.

What is wrong with abortion, euthanasia, embryo selection, and embryonic research is not the motives of those who carry them out. So often, those motives are, on the surface, compassionate: to protect a child from being unwanted, to end pain and suffering, to help a child with a life-threatening disease. But in all these cases, the terrible truth is that it is the strong who decide the fate of the weak; human beings therefore become instruments in the hands of other human beings.

JP II sufferingSt. John Paul II taught us how to respect the frail and the vulnerable. Nine years ago, as he died before the eyes of the entire world, John Paul showed us true dignity in the face of death. Rather than hide his infirmities, as most public figures do, he let the whole world see what he went through in the final phase of his life. He offered us a paradoxical image of happiness. Who can say his life was not fruitful, when his body was able to climb snow-capped summits or vacation on Strawberry Island in Lake Simcoe in 2002? Who doesn’t feel the paradoxical influence of his presence, when his voice was muted?

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. Nor can we 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 has arrived on our shores and it has invaded our lives.

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. The best way to know if we are still in any way a Christian society is to see how we treat our most vulnerable people, the ones with little or no claim on public attention, the ones without beauty, strength or intelligence.

Human life and human dignity encounter many obstacles in the world today, especially in North America. When life is not respected, should we be surprised that other rights will sooner or later be threatened? If we look carefully at the great dramas of the last century, we see that as free markets toppled Communism, exaggerated consumerism and materialism infiltrated our societies and cultures. Aging populations, especially in the west, and resulting smaller workforces are now creating a market push towards euthanasia. As St. John Paul II wrote: “a right to die will inevitably give way to the duty to die.”

In a very powerful message addressed to the Pontifical Academy for Life this past February, Pope Francis wrote about a very current theme, dear to the Church. “In our society there is a tyrannical dominance of an economic logic that excludes and at times kills, and of which nowadays we find many victims, starting with the elderly”. He affirmed that we see the existence of a “throwaway” culture, in which those who are excluded are not only exploited but also rejected and cast aside.

In the face of this discrimination, Pope Francis considered the anthropological question of the value of man and of what may be the basis of this value. “Health is without doubt an important value, but it does not determine the value of a person. Furthermore, health is not by itself a guarantee of happiness, which may indeed by experienced even by those in a precarious state of health”. Therefore, he added, “poor health and disability are never a good reason to exclude or, worse, eliminate a person; and the most serious deprivation that the elderly suffer is not the weakening of the body or the consequent disability, but rather abandonment, exclusion, and a lack of love”.

The Pope emphasized the importance of listening to the young and the old whenever we wish to understand the signs of the times, and commented that “a society is truly welcoming to life when it recognizes its value also in old age, in disability, in serious illness, and even when it is at its close; when it teaches that the call to human realization does not exclude suffering but instead teaches to see in the sick and suffering a gift to the entire community, a presence that calls for solidarity and responsibility”.

As Catholics and Christians, we have a responsibility to confront the intrusion of euthanasia in our society – especially if we are to understand our moral obligation as caregivers for incapacitated persons, and our civic obligation to protect those who lack the capacity to express their will but are still human, still living, and still deserving of equal protection under the law.  There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted.

February 06, 2015

Healing the Fevers of Life

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Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – February 8, 2015

The centerpiece of the stone ruins of the village of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee’s northwest shore is the black octagonal Church of the Panis Vitae (Bread of Life), built directly above what is believed to be Simon Peter’s house, the setting for this weekend’s Gospel story [Mark 1:29-39]. One of my mentors and teachers, the late Passionist Father Carroll Stuhlmueller, once told me that the real centerpiece of Capernaum should be a huge memorial statue dedicated to the mothers-in-law of the world!

Try for a moment just to imagine the setting of this day in the life of Jesus. The newly constituted group of disciples who had left their nets, boats, hired servants, and even their father, to follow the Lord [1:16-20] are delighted in his presence. Jesus’ words and actions completely overpower evil. His personality is so compelling and attractive. Leaving the synagogue where an evil spirit has been overcome, Jesus and his disciples walk only a few feet before encountering further evils of human sickness, prejudice and taboo. We read: “The whole city gathered together about the door” [1:33-34]. What a commotion!

In Mark’s Gospel, the very first healing by Jesus involves a woman. He approaches Simon’s mother-in-law as she lay in bed with fever. He takes her by the hand and raises her to health [1:31]. Such actions were unacceptable for any man — let alone someone who claimed to be a religious figure or leader. Not only does he touch the sick woman, but also he then allows her to serve him and his disciples. Because of the strict laws of ritual purity at that time, Jesus broke this taboo by taking her by the hand, raising her to health, and allowing her to serve him at table.

Peter’s mother-in-law’s response to the healing of Jesus is the discipleship of lowly service, a model to which Jesus will repeatedly invite his followers to embrace throughout the Gospel and which he models through his own life. Some will say that the purpose of this weekend’s Gospel story is to remind us that this woman’s place is in the home. That is not the purpose of the story. The mother-in-law’s action is in sharp contrast to that of her son-in-law, Simon, who calls to Jesus’ attention the crowd that is clamoring for more healings [1:37] but does nothing, himself, about them.

In Mark’s Gospel stories of the poor widow [12:41-44], the woman with the ointment [14:3-9], the women at the cross [15:40-41], and the women at the tomb [16:1], women represent the correct response to Jesus’ invitation to discipleship. They stand in sharp contrast to the great insensitivity and misunderstanding of the male disciples. The presence of Jesus brings wholeness, holiness and dignity to women. How often do our hurtful, human customs prevent people from truly experiencing wholeness, holiness and dignity?

In the Old Testament reading from Job [7:1-7], Job doesn’t know it yet, but he is part of a “test” designed between Satan and God. Prior to Sunday’s verses, Job has endured immense suffering and loss. He knows that the shallow theological explanations of his friends are not God’s ways; but still, he is at a loss to understand his own suffering. Job complains of hard labor, sleepless nights, a dreadful disease and the brevity of his hopeless life. For Job, all of life is a terrible fever! How often do we experience “Job” moments in our own life as our fevers burn away?

The healing of Simon’s mother-in-law proclaims Jesus’ power to heal all sorts of fevers. Around the year 400 A.D., St. Jerome preached on Sunday’s Gospel text in Bethlehem: “O that he would come to our house and enter and heal the fever of our sins by his command. For each and every one of us suffers from fever. When I grow angry, I am feverish. So many vices, so many fevers. But let us ask the apostles to call upon Jesus to come to us and touch our hand, for if he touches our hand, at once the fever flees” [“Corpus Christianorum,” LXXVIII 468].

With Jesus, healing of mind and body becomes a clear sign that the Kingdom of God is already present. Jesus’ healing Word of power reaches the whole person: it heals the body and even more important, it restores those who suffer to a healthy relationship with God and with the community.

May we pray with confidence the words of Cardinal John Henry Newman’s Sermon on Wisdom and Innocence: “May he support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in his mercy may he give us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last.”

Finally, it is important to recognize what Jesus did after he healed the woman in Sunday’s story. He took time away to strengthen himself through prayer. Do we do the same in the midst of our busy worlds in which we live, in the midst of the burning fevers of life and the burdens of our daily work?

May these first moments of Jesus’ ministry in Mark’s Gospel teach us to recognize the goodness which God brings into our lives, but also that this goodness is not ours to horde for ourselves. The healing power of Jesus is still effective today — reaching out to us to heal us and restore us to life.

[The readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Job 7:1-4, 6-7; 1 Corinthians 9:16-9, 22-23; and Mark 1:29-39.]

(Image: “Jesus Healing the Mother-in-law of Simon Peter” by John Bridges)

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

“To take Jesus in our hands and enfold him in our arms…”

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The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord – Monday, February 2, 2015

In 1997, Saint John Paul II established the special Day of Consecrated Life to coincide with the Feast of the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem (February 2).  The Pope gave three reasons for his selection of February 2 as a special day for religious women and men: first, to praise and thank the Lord for the gift of consecrated life; second, to promote the knowledge and appreciation of consecrated women and men by all the People of God; and third, to invite all those who have dedicated their life to the cause of the Gospel to celebrate the wonderful ways that Lord has worked through them.

The special scripture readings for the Feast are the readings for Sunday (Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 24:7,8,9,10; Hebrews 2:14-18; and Luke 2:22-40).

Biblical background

According to the Mosaic law (Leviticus 12:2-8), a woman who gives birth to a boy is unable for forty days to touch anything sacred or to enter the temple area by reason of her legal impurity. At the end of this period she is required to offer a year-old lamb as a burnt offering and a turtledove or young pigeon as an expiation of sin. The woman who could not afford a lamb offered instead two turtledoves or two young pigeons, as Mary and Joseph do in today’s Gospel. They took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord: as the firstborn son (Luke 2:7) Jesus was consecrated to the Lord as the law required (Exodus 13:2, 12), but there was no requirement that this be done at the temple. The concept of a presentation at the temple is probably derived from 1 Sam 1:24-28, where Hannah offers the child Samuel for sanctuary services. The law further stipulated (Numbers 3:47-48) that the firstborn son should be redeemed by the parents through their payment of five shekels to a member of a priestly family. Luke remains silent about this legal requirement.

Let us reflect on the very poignant Gospel scene of the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple found in chapter 2 of Luke’s Infancy narrative (2:22-38). In this touching scene, we encounter four individuals who embrace the new life of Jesus held in their arms: the elderly and faithful Simeon, the old, wise prophetess Anna, and the young couple, Mary and Joseph, who in faithful obedience offer their child to the Lord.  Luke writes that “when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, the old Simeon took the baby into his arms and blessed God” (Lk 2:27-28). At that point the evangelist places on Simeon’s lips the canticle Nunc Dimittis – this beautiful prayer is really an anthology of the prayer of ancient Israel.  The liturgy has us repeat it daily at night prayer:  “My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel” (2:30-32).

The Holy Spirit was at work in Simeon and also in the life of the prophetess Anna who, having remained a widow since her youth, “never left the Temple, but worshipped night and day with fasting and prayer” (2:37). She was a woman consecrated to God and, in the light of God’s Spirit, especially capable of grasping God’s plan and interpreting God’s commands. “And coming forward at that very time, Anna gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2:38). Like Simeon she too, without a doubt was moved by the Holy Spirit in her encounter with Jesus.

PL15.1The prophetic words of Simeon and Anna not only announced the Savior’s coming into the world and his presence in Israel’s midst, but also his redemptive sacrifice. This second part of the prophecy was directed precisely to Mary, mother of the Savior: “He is destined for the rise and fall of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (2:34-35).

Two important perspectives for the Consecrated life flow from this deeply touching Gospel story.  The Presentation of God’s own son into Jerusalem’s majestic temple takes place amidst the many comings and goings of various people, busy with their work: priests and Levites taking turns to be on duty; crowds of devout pilgrims anxious to encounter the God of Israel in his earthly dwelling in Jerusalem. Yet none of them noticed anything special about the scene unfolding before them. Jesus was a child like the others, a first-born son of very simple, humble, holy parents.

The temple priests, too, were incapable of recognizing the signs of the new and special presence of the Messiah and Saviour. Rather it was two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, who were able to discover the great newness present in the person of the child Jesus. Because they were led by the Holy Spirit, Simeon and Anna found in this Child the fulfillment of their patient waiting and faithful watchfulness.  Upon seeing the Child, Simeon and Anna understood that he was the long Awaited One.  He was the fulfillment of their hopes and dreams.

Simeon and Anna, coupled with the simplicity and piety of Mary, Joseph and the baby reveal the sheer humanity of this meeting.  The old man holds the child in his arms – the torch of life somehow spanning two generations of faithful Jews.  Holding this child in his arms, he knows that he is holding his very future close to his heart.  What contentment to know that he is embracing in his arms the continuity of his own life! Simeon has hoped, he has believed and now his hope, in the shape of a baby, is here, full of vitality and future promise.  The old man rejoices that others will continue his work; he is happy that in his own decline there is indeed a reawakening, a rebirth, a future that is opening up.

Anna, too, is not afraid to bless the newness and challenge that this child brings.  It is not easy for the old person that lies within each one of us to welcome the new, to take the baby up in our arms.  There is always the fear that the baby will not survive, that the newborn will not share the same ideals, that this child will betray our ideals and in so doing put us aside and take our place. Though elderly, Simeon and Anna embodied a hopeful, youthful vision. They were evergreen.

PL15.2This story is played out each time I have visited my elderly confrères in our various retirement homes and congregational infirmary.  There are those who rejoice in us younger brothers, like Simeon and Anna, because they see us carrying the torch forward.  And there are those who fear that we will not survive, that we will betray their ideals and not pay attention to them because they are simply old.  If we hope to be consecrated men and women of vision in the Church today, it is because we are standing on the shoulders of giants, of those who have gone before us.  We must never forget this fact.  Each time we have attempted to go forward, not remembering what and who went before us, we have paid a dear price.

The second unique perspective of Luke’s Presentation Gospel scene is that of bearing Christ to the world. If our religious congregations, our local communities, our educational institutions, our parish structures, our varied apostolic works do not bear Jesus to the world, and do not speak about him openly, then we are not fulfilling the mission entrusted to us by God and the Church.

The newness, effectiveness, power of proclamation of our educational and pastoral efforts do not primarily consist in the use of dazzling, original methods or techniques, which certainly have their effectiveness, but in being filled with the Holy Spirit and allowing ourselves to be guided by Him. The novelty of authentic proclamation of the Good News lies in immersing ourselves deeply in the mystery of Christ, the assimilation of His Word and of His presence in the Eucharist, so that He Himself, the living Jesus, can act and speak through poor instruments like us.

Pope Francis is a magnificent example of the New Evangelization in the flesh. He speaks so often about the “culture of encounter” that brings us face to face with other human beings.  If you want to know what Evangelization looks like, feels likes, smells like look at Francis, himself an elderly man, who lives the Gospel of Joy.  Pope Francis as not lost his hopeful, youthful vision.  He, too, is evergreen.

In paragraph #88 of his recent Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” the Bishop of Rome writes:

“Many try to escape from others and take refuge in the comfort of their privacy or in a small circle of close friends, renouncing the realism of the social aspect of the Gospel. For just as some people want a purely spiritual Christ, without flesh and without the cross, they also want their interpersonal relationships provided by sophisticated equipment, by screens and systems which can be turned on and off on command. Meanwhile, 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 in our close and continuous interaction. True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness.

A Kairos Moment

When Mary and Joseph arrived at Jerusalem’s Temple, with the Child Jesus in their arms, it was not just one more ordinary moment in the life of an old priest and a faithful prophetess on duty that day.  It was the divinely appointed moment.  Ordinary time “chronos” was suddenly transformed into “the moment from God.”

Because we live in this very same kairos, the “appointed time and hour” of our history, we cannot speak of the future of the Church, the future of our parish community, the future of our dioceses and religious congregations,, the future of our activities of education and evangelization, indeed the future of anything!  The only real issue for us is Jesus and the future of the Church, Jesus and the future of our parish community, Jesus and the future of our dioceses and religious communities, Jesus and the future of our educational and pastoral programs and activities, Jesus and the future of everything!  Too often our look at the future is purely scientific or sociological, with no reference to Jesus, the Gospel or the action of the Spirit in history and in the church.

On this special day when we give thanks to God for the Consecrated Life, we must ask ourselves some significant questions.   Why do some of our contemporaries – brothers and sisters in religious life – see and find Christ, while others do not? What opens the eyes and the heart? What is lacking in those who remain indifferent? Does our self-assurance, the claim to knowing reality, the presumption of having formulated a definitive judgment on everything not close us off and make our hearts insensitive to the newness of God? How often are we dead certain of the idea that we have formed of the world, of the Church, of the consecrated life, and no longer let ourselves be involved in the curiosity and intimacy of an adventure with God who wants to meet us and draw us closer to Him?

How frequently do we place our confidence in ourselves rather than in the Child of Bethlehem, and we do not think it possible that God could be so great as to make himself small so as to come really close to us?  How could it be that God’s glory and power are revealed in a helpless Baby?

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, and the carefully chosen words of Simeon’s prayer invite us into contemplation and adoration of the Word made flesh, dwelling powerfully among us.  We all lead busy lives.  We do important, good works.  Many of our lives are deeply enmeshed with the institutions and enterprises we serve.  At times are we not so caught up with the comings and goings of so many people in our daily existence, that we forget to notice Jesus in our midst?

Jesus, who comes to us in the distressing disguise of the poor, the unbalanced, the angry, sad and confused people who make up our worlds?  Jesus, who comes to us from very simple, humble, holy parents who cannot do anything for us, except simply to be there?  Could it be that we consecrated women and men, like those in Jerusalem’s temple, are incapable of recognizing the signs of the new and special presence of the Messiah and Saviour?  And when we do encounter the radical newness that is Jesus, will we hold the baby in our arms, welcome him, make room for him in our lives?  Will the ‘newness’ he brings really enter into our lives or will we try to put the old and the new together hoping that the newness of God will cause us minimum disturbance?

How do we see God’s glory in our lives?  Do we thirst for justice and peace?    What are the new situations and who are the new people who have entered our lives in the last little while?  What new realities are we avoiding or afraid of or rebelling against?  How are we truly light and salvation for other people? Are we capable of warming human hearts by our lives?  Do we radiate joy or announce despair? Do we live the Gospel of joy?

I conclude with the striking words of a great theologian and teacher of the second century, Origen (185-223).  They are from his homily on Luke’s account of the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple:

“Simeon knew that no one could release a man from the prison of the body with hope of life to come, except the one whom he enfolded in his arms. Hence, he also says to him, “Now you dismiss your servant, Lord, in peace” (Lk 8,44). For, as long as I did not hold Christ, as long as my arms did not enfold him, I was imprisoned, and unable to escape from my bounds. But this is true not only of Simeon, but of the whole human race. Anyone who departs from this world, anyone who is released from prison and the house of those in chains, to go forth and reign, should take Jesus in his hands. He should enfold him with his arms, and fully grasp him in his bosom. Then he will be able to go in joy where he longs to go… .”

Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B., is CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada and President of Assumption University in Windsor, Ontario. He is also English Language Assistant to the Holy See Press Office.

[The readings for the Presentation of the Lord are: Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 24:7,8,9,10; Hebrews 2:14-18; and Luke 2:22-40.]