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Here I am, the servant of the Lord

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Mediation for the Solemnity of the Annunciation
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

The Church’s celebration of the Annunciation is believed to date to the early 5th century, possibly finding its origins around the Council of Ephesus (c 431). Earlier names for the Feast were Festum Incarnationis, and Conceptio Christi. In the Eastern Churches, the Annunciation is a feast of Christ, and in the Latin Church even though the focus has been more on Mary, it is still called the Annunciation of the Lord. The Annunciation has always been celebrated on March 25, exactly nine months before Christmas Day. Some ancient Christian writers believed that God created the world on March 25 and that the fall of Adam and the Crucifixion also took place March 25. The secular calendar was changed to begin the year on January 1.

Annunciation icon

When we reflect on the Annunciation to Mary, and her acceptance of the angel’s message, we also reflect on our own vocation – our own calling from God. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” – an echo of Mary’s “Be it done unto me according to your word.” Each time we commit ourselves to embracing God’s call and accepting his will, we mark a new point on the path of our relationship with Him. For the rest of her life, Mary pondered her extraordinary encounter with God, turning the weight of the angel’s message over and over again in her heart. From the manger to the Cross, Mary’s life was radically changed – her relationship with God profoundly deepened – the moment she said, “Yes.”

Mary of Nazareth is rooted in the faith of her ancestors, and yet now an angel has appeared in the midst of everyday life, extending a startling invitation. “You have found favour with God,” the angel says, “and you will conceive and bear his Son.” She received and welcomed God’s Word in the fullest sense – becoming impregnated with it, and bearing it to the world.

Imagine yourself in Mary’s place, asked to say “yes” to a divine plan so vast, so profound and so seemingly impossible that you cannot comprehend it. “How can this be?” she asks, bewildered. Will we accept God’s love and gift of new life and bring it joyously to those around us? Will we trust in his providence, even when we can’t see the path ahead? Amid the noise of everyday life, will we listen for and embrace his call?

Standing in the middle of the present day city of Nazareth in Galilee is the mammoth basilica of the Annunciation, built around what is believed to be the cave and dwelling of Mary. A small inscription is found on the altar in this grotto-like room at the heart of the basilica. This cave commemorates the place where Mary received the message from the angel Gabriel that she would “conceive and bear a son and give him the name Jesus (Luke 1:31). The Latin inscription reads “Verbum caro hic factum est” (Here the word became flesh).

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

It is Mary above all others who can teach us what it means to live by faith, and how to respond when God’s providence Verbum caro hic factum estdisrupts the daily course of our lives, overturning its rhythms and expectations. Who better than Mary to walk with us and strengthen us on life’s journey? Who better than this faithful disciple, who endured the poverty of Bethlehem, the squalor of a stable, the experience of being a refugee, can show us how to cling to God when all seems to be lost? This faithful Daughter of Zion hoped beyond all hope and longed for the day when “the rich will be sent away with empty hands” and “the poor will have all good things” (Luke 1:53).

Even Mary was troubled by the angel’s revelation that she would bear God’s son. Mary’s raw faith is a living witness to the radial, unpredictable and ultimate triumph of the Good News of her Son, Jesus Christ. Despite her fears and uncertainty over how this promise could be fulfilled, she still answered “Yes.”

Are we able to respond to God this way? What prevents me from wholeheartedly accepting God’s call? What fears stand in the way? What prevents me from hearing God’s call? Do I purposefully use noise to avoid his voice? Am I uncomfortable with silence?

Focus on the image of Annunciation

WJW Annunciation art

  • See how the Holy Spirit comes to Mary. In the centre of this powerful apparition is a person with a human face.
  • Notice how Mary hears the news – seated on the floor, her garments spread around her, in a very quiet and private part of her home in Nazareth.
  • Imagine Mary’s emotions and deepest feelings during this awesome encounter.

Praying with the Roman Missal

Preface for the Solemnity of the Annunciation of May

“The Mystery of the Incarnation”

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord.

For the Virgin Mary heard with faith
that the Christ was to be born among men
and for men’s sake by the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit.

Lovingly she bore him in her immaculate womb,
that the promises to the children of Israel
might come about and the hope of nations
be accomplished beyond all telling.

Through him the host of Angels adores your majesty
and rejoices in your presence for ever.

May our voices, we pray,
join with theirs in one chorus of exultant praise,
as we acclaim: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts…

From: Where Jesus Walked
Biblical Meditations on the artwork of The Roman Missal for Canada With prayers from the Missal for reflection and meditation

By Father Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2012

Order your copy here.

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The Passion of Jesus Is Our Reason for Hope

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Palm Sunday, Year B – Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Passion, suffering, death and resurrection of the Lord are the very themes that unite us as a Christian people and a Church during Holy Week.

This year on Palm Sunday, we listen attentively to Mark’s Passion story of Jesus’ final days and hours on earth. It is a story of striking contrasts. As we hear anew this moving story, Jesus’ passion penetrates the numbness of our lives. This week in particular, we have a privileged opportunity to learn from what happened to Jesus and discover not only the identity of those who tried, condemned and killed him long ago, but also what killed Jesus and what vicious circles of violence, brutality, hatred and jealousy continue to crucify him today in his brothers and sisters of the human family.

Zooming in on Mark’s Passion narrative

Mark’s account (Mark 11:1-10) of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is the most subdued version of the event in the New Testament. For some reason the evangelist places much emphasis on the donkey in this account. It was the custom for pilgrims to enter Jerusalem on foot. Only kings and rulers would “ride” into the city — most often on great steeds and horses and in ostentatious processions, in order to make their presence known. Jesus, a different kind of king, chooses to ride into the city, not on a majestic stallion but on the back of a young beast of burden.

By being led through the city on the back of a lowly donkey, Jesus comes as a king whose rule is not about being served but serving. His kingdom is not built on might but on compassion and generous service. The donkey Jesus mounts sends us back to the words of the ancient prophet, Zechariah, who foretold this scene five centuries before: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey . . . ”

In Mark’s jarring Passion story, we witness the anguish of Jesus who has been totally abandoned by friends and disciples. Jesus is resigned to his fate. He makes no response to Judas when he betrays him nor to Pilate during his interrogation. In Mark, Pilate makes no effort to save him, as the Roman procurator does in the other three Gospels.

As he does throughout his Gospel, Mark depicts the utter of failure of the disciples to provide any support to Jesus or to even understand what is happening. The enigmatic, young male disciple who flees naked into the night when Jesus is arrested is a powerful symbol in Mark’s Gospel of his followers who initially left family and friends behind to follow Jesus. Now that the heat is on, they leave everything behind to flee from him.

When we remember the events of that first Holy Week – from the upper room to Gethsemane, from Pilate’s judgment seat to Golgotha, from the cross to the empty tomb, Jesus turns our world and its value system upside down. He teaches us that true authority is found in dedicated service and generosity to others; greatness is centered in humility; the just and loving will be exalted by God in God’s good time.

Viewing Mark’s Passion through the lenses of fidelity

In the midst of Mark’s stories of betrayal and violence, the evangelist inserts a dramatic story of exquisite fidelity. While Jesus visits Simon the Leper in Bethany on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives, an anonymous woman breaks, open her alabaster jar of costly perfumed oil, and anoints Jesus’ head in good, royal, biblical fashion (14:3-9). As the fragrance of the oil fills the room, those with Jesus are shocked at the woman’s extravagant gesture. But Jesus defends her. She had performed an act of true fidelity and love, he tells them, “for she has anticipated anointing my body for burial” (14:8). For this, Jesus promises, she would be remembered wherever the Gospel would be preached (14:9). This woman is the only one in all of the New Testament to be so greatly honored.

While his male disciples and apostles clearly manifest a bold track record of failure, betrayal and abandonment, this anonymous woman embodies boldness, courage, love and fidelity. What an example! Though she may not fully understand the significance of her symbolic and prophetic act of anointing him, nor the timeliness of her action, she only desires simply to be with him and to express to him lavish love and attention.

Is this not what each of us is called to do during Holy Week in particular? Is it not to love Jesus and to be attentive to him throughout the final tragic movements of the symphony of his earthly life, and in the midst of all of the setbacks, failures and betrayals of our own lives? Our lives must be like the woman’s jar of expensive ointment poured out so lavishly on the Lord in the final moments of his life on earth.

Who, if not the condemned Savior?

At the conclusion of the Stations of the Cross at Rome’s Colosseum on Good Friday night in the Jubilee Year 2000, Pope John Paul II spoke these moving and powerful words:

“Who, if not the condemned Savior, can fully understand the pain of those unjustly condemned?

Who, if not the King scorned and humiliated, can meet the expectations of the countless men and women who live without hope or dignity?

Who, if not the crucified Son of God, can know the sorrow and loneliness of so many lives shattered and without a future?”

What a Savior we have! He truly understands our human condition. He walks with us and shares our sorrows, loneliness and suffering. How do we respond to such outlandish love and genuine solidarity? Passion Sunday invites us to put on what Paul calls the “attitude of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:6-11) in his passion and death: to “empty” ourselves of our own interests, fears and needs for the sake of others. May we reach out to heal those who are hurting and comfort the despairing around us despite our own denials and betrayals.

During the moving liturgies of Holy Week, we are given the special grace to carry on, with joy and in hope, despite rejection, humiliation and suffering. In this way, the Passion of Jesus becomes a reason for hope and a moment of grace for all us as we seek the reign of God in our own lives — however lonely and painful that search may be. Holy Week gives us the consolation and the conviction that we are not alone.

[The readings for this Sunday are: Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Mark 14:1-15:47 or 15:1-39. For use with RCIA, Mark 11:1-10 or John 12:12-16]

(Image: The Flagellation of Christ by Annibale Carracci)

The Transformative Leadership of two Latin American Pastors

Romero preaching

Excerpt from the Concluding Address by Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Congress of the Angelicum Foundation of Santiago, Chile
& the University of St. Thomas (Houston)
Houston, Texas – March 21, 2015

Dear Friends,

As the last speaker of the conference, it is my duty to address the topic, Reconciliation and Community: A Call for Transforming Leadership. I will do so by considering the lives and styles of leadership of two Latin American pastors. The first is a Jesuit, the former Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires – Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

 Francis to crowd in NaplesAs Archbishop of Argentina’s capital – a diocese with more than three million inhabitants – Cardinal Bergoglio developed and implemented a pastoral missionary plan based on communion and evangelization. He had four main goals: open and brotherly communities, an informed laity playing a lead role, evangelization efforts addressed to every inhabitant of the city, and assistance to the poor and the sick. He asked priests and lay people to work closely together in the work of evangelization and education of the people. During many years of fruitful pastoral ministry, Cardinal Bergoglio insisted, “Teachers of the faith need to get out of their cave,” and the clergy “out of the sacristy.” He required parish priests to live with their people, and in the same conditions as their people, even in radical simplicity and poverty. Authentic pastors should have the “odor of the sheep” if they are to be effective and credible.

When Cardinal Bergoglio spoke of social justice, he called people first of all to pick up the Catechism and to rediscover the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. His project was and remains very simple: if you follow Christ, you understand that “trampling upon a person’s dignity is a serious sin.”

“My people are poor and I am one of them,” Cardinal Bergoglio said so often, explaining his decision to live in an apartment above a school and cook his own meals. He frequented the Villas Miserias, advised his priests to show mercy and apostolic courage and to keep their doors open to everyone. One year before his election to the See of Peter, the Cardinal wrote a pastoral letter in which he reprimanded his own priests for refusing the Sacrament of Baptism to the children of single mothers.

His life was radically changed two years ago March 13 when “Padre Jorge,” as he was known by so many in Argentina, became Pope Francis. We have all witnessed and been recipients of his Petrine Ministry for the past two years. Since his election as Bishop of Rome, he has captured the mind and heart not only of the Church but also of the world. He has not changed a single doctrine of the Church but has ushered in a way of speaking, a new style of leadership that has shaken the Church and impacted the world.

Some call him a revolutionary. At the heart of his message is a transformative call to reconciliation and mercy. As leader of the Catholic Church, he asks us to let go of different forms of thinking and the desire to impose certain ideas at all costs. He proposes a humble way of committed people who base their lives on Gospel living. For Francis, compassion and mercy can truly change the world. This is the Christian revolution: namely a conversion to the origin of the Gospel message as a way to the future, a true revolution of tenderness and mercy.

Listen to three sections of his “Mission Statement” or Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium:

88…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.

100…It always pains me greatly to discover how some Christian communities, and even consecrated persons, can tolerate different forms of enmity, division, calumny, defamation, vendetta, jealousy and the desire to impose certain ideas at all costs, even to persecutions which appear as veritable witch hunts. Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?

229…The sign of this unity and reconciliation of all things in him is peace. Christ “is our peace” (Eph 2:14). The Gospel message always begins with a greeting of peace, and peace at all times crowns and confirms the relations between the disciples. Peace is possible because the Lord has overcome the world and its constant conflict “by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col 1:20). But if we look more closely at these biblical texts, we find that the locus of this reconciliation of differences is within ourselves, in our own lives, ever threatened as they are by fragmentation and breakdown. If hearts are shattered in thousands of pieces, it is not easy to create authentic peace in society.

An attitude that seeks dialogue, builds bridges and opens doors

Francis & elderly

Two months after his election as Bishop of Rome, in his daily homily of May 13, 2013 in the chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae, Pope Francis stressed the courageous attitude of St. Paul in the Areopagus, when, in speaking to the Athenian crowd, the Apostle to the Gentiles sought to build bridges to proclaim the Gospel. Francis called Paul’s attitude one that “seeks dialogue” and is “closer to the heart” of the listener. The Pope said that this is the reason why St Paul was a real pontifex: a “builder of bridges” and not of walls. The Pope said that this is the attitude that a Christian ought always to have.

            “A Christian,” Francis said, “must proclaim Jesus Christ in such a way that He be accepted: received, not refused – and Paul knows that he has to sow the Gospel message. …Paul does not say to the Athenians: ‘This is the encyclopedia of truth. Study this and you have the truth, the truth.’ No! The truth does not enter into an encyclopedia. The truth is an encounter – it is a meeting with Supreme Truth: Jesus, the great truth. No one owns the truth. The we receive the truth when we meet it.”

…Pope Francis’ electrifying homily to the new Cardinals in St. Peter’s Basilica on February 15 of this year is one of the most significant addresses that he has given in his two-year pontificate. Centered on “the Gospel of the marginalized,” it provides a road map for Catholic Church leaders and educators. Commenting on Jesus’ cure of the leper in Mark’s Gospel, he said, “Compassion leads Jesus to concrete action: he reinstates the marginalized!” Jesus responds “immediately” to the leper’s plea “without waiting to study the situation and all its possible consequences” because “for Jesus, what matters above all is reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family!”

“This is scandalous to some people but Jesus is not afraid of this kind of scandal! He does not think of the closed-minded who are scandalized even by a work of healing, scandalized before any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes, by any caress or sign of tenderness that does not fit into their usual thinking and their ritual purity. He wanted to reinstate the outcast, to save those outside the camp.”

Francis finds the contemporary Church at a crossroads: “There are two ways of thinking and of having faith: we can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost.” There is “the thinking of the doctors of the law, which would remove the danger by casting out the diseased person,” and “the thinking of God, who in his mercy embraces and accepts by reinstating him and turning evil into good, condemnation into salvation and exclusion into proclamation.”

“These two ways of thinking are present throughout the church’s history: casting off and reinstating,” Francis said. He recalled that Sts. Peter and Paul caused scandal, faced criticism, resistance and even hostility for following the path of reinstatement. Francis, and many of those who have embraced his message and strive to follow his example are also being criticized today for the same things: for not casting off but striving to reinstate those who are on the peripheries for a variety of reasons.

…In healing the leper, “Jesus does not harm the healthy. Rather, he frees them from fear. He does not endanger them, but gives them a brother. He does not devalue the law but instead values those for whom God gave the law. Indeed, Jesus frees the healthy from the temptation of the ‘older brother.’”

In an address on March 14 of this year to the Union of Italian Catholic Educators, the Pope addressed them as colleagues, saying: “Indeed, the duty of a good teacher – all the more for a Christian teacher – is to love his or her more difficult, weaker, more disadvantaged students with greater intensity. Jesus would say, if you love only those who study, who are well educated, what merit have you? Any teacher can do well with such students. I ask you to love “difficult” students more … and there are some who really try our patience, but we have to love them more… those who do not want to study, those who find themselves in difficult conditions, the disabled and foreigners, who today pose a great challenge for schools.”

Pope Francis told his audience: “If a professional association of Christian teachers wants to bear witness to their inspiration today, then it is called to engage in the peripheries of the school, which cannot be abandoned to marginalization, exclusion, ignorance, crime.”

The Church of Francis is the Church of Jesus Christ

Francis Pope of Mercy

Where is Pope Francis leading the Church? What does he want the bishops to do? What does he expect of us, ordained ministers? And what is he modeling for laymen and women? For Francis the Church is first of all reconciler. In his address to the Brazilian bishops during World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Francis said that “from the beginning, God’s message was one of restoring what was broken, reuniting what had been divided,” Francis explained. “Walls, chasms, differences which still exist today are destined to disappear. The church cannot neglect this lesson: She is called to be a means of reconciliation.”

Francis wants the church to be an instrument of reconciliation and welcome, a church capable of warming hearts, a church that is not bent over on herself but always seeking those on the periphery and those who are lost, a church capable of leading people home. Pope Francis takes every opportunity he can to ask his brother bishops, priests, pastoral ministers and lay leaders: Are we still a church capable of warming hearts? A church capable of leading people back to Jerusalem? Of bringing them home? Jerusalem is where our roots are: Scripture, catechesis, sacraments, community, friendship with the Lord, Mary and the apostles. … Are we still able to speak of these roots in a way that will revive a sense of wonder at their beauty?

Pope Francis is neither conservative nor liberal but a radical who wants to bring about a revolution of mercy. In Evangelii Gaudium, he invites and challenges all of us to move beyond our “comfort zones.” He wants us to be warm, welcoming and forgiving. He 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.

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For Pope Francis, authentic power is service: Power in the Church is not about who kisses one’s hand but how many feet one can wash in the service of Christ. Pope Francis made this clear when he visited a youth detention center on his first Holy Thursday in Rome in 2013 and chose to wash the feet of young offenders, including two young women and two Muslims. He continued that tradition last year by washing the feet of elderly women and men and those with severe handicaps. Next week he will wash the feet of 12 prisoners at Rome’s Rebibbia prison – incarcerated women and men. If we do not learn this Christian rule, we will never be able to understand Jesus’ true message on power and be effective teachers, educators and pastoral workers.

The Christian realism of the “Joy of the Gospel” is beyond reactionary ideology and pie-in-the sky spirituality. A little compassion can move the world, Francis says. That is the Christian revolution at the core of Francis’ Petrine ministry, a conversion to the origin of the Gospel message as a way to the future, a revolution of mercy. There is nothing new here. It is only the Gospel message. It’s been our mission, our mandate and our story for over 2,000 years.

Oscar Romero

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The second Latin American pastor was also an Archbishop – the chief Shepherd of San Salvador – Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Goldamez, born in 1917 in the town of Ciudad Barrios, in the mountains of El Salvador near the border with Honduras. After serving as a country pastor and rector of two seminaries, he became bishop then archbishop at time of great social unrest in his country. His pulpit became a source of truth when the government censored news. Romero walked among the people and listened. “I am a shepherd,” he said, “who, with his people, has begun to learn a beautiful and difficult truth: our Christian faith requires that we submerge ourselves in this world.”

Through his life and ministry, Archbishop Romero taught us that thinking with the Church meant to be rooted in God, loving and defending the poor, and out of fidelity, paying the price for doing so. He risked his own life as he defended the poor and oppressed. He laid down his life for his friends.

The spirituality and faith behind his struggle for life flowed from his belief in the God of the living who enters into human history to destroy the forces of death and allow the forces of life to heal, reconcile, and lift up those who walk in the valley of death. Romero taught us that poverty and death go together.

Oscar Romero’s life also speaks to us today by virtue of his untiring call for dialogue and negotiation. In a society that was terribly polarized, a society in which the usual way to relate to persons with whom one disagreed was to assassinate them, Romero always tried to open a space for communication, conversation, and understanding. In 1980, Romero brought the opposing sides of the government of El Salvador together for hours of talks, urging that the junta be given another chance. His example of bridge-building can be of particular importance to any nation today where change is often seen as a process of the oppressed taking on the pinstripes of the oppressors.

Oscar Romero’s untiring efforts on behalf of the poor give flesh and blood to the words of Mary’s Magnificat in the New Testament. In making her own the words of Hannah of the Old Testament’s prayer of praise to God, Mary reminds us that “God has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.” But God has not put the lowly up on the thrones of their oppressors! The problem is the thrones themselves that serve as a constant temptation to power, distortion, violence, abuse and manipulation. Romero’s life offers a completely different model of societal transformation. His plea for forgiveness, reconciliation and mercy is of paramount significance. Oscar Romero modeled for us the opposite of what the world models. The world thrives on manipulative, exploitative, competitive power. Romero embodied nutritive and integrative power: power on behalf of the other and a power shared with others.

Murdered in cold blood by an assassin’s bullet as he celebrated Mass in a hospital on March 24, 1980, his last words in the sermon just minutes before his death reminded his congregation of the parable of the wheat. “Those who surrender to the service of the poor through love of Christ, will live like the grain of wheat that dies. It only apparently dies. If it were not to die, it would remain a solitary grain. The harvest comes because of the grain that dies…”

…Oscar Romero testified that the church must be the voice of the voiceless and the incessant defender of life. The church must passionately pursue justice, but without identifying itself with any one particular party or any one particular ideology. This can be a very difficult and challenging struggle, a veritable mine field or high wire balancing act. To walk this tightrope was especially challenging in the El Salvador of the ‘70s, which was so highly politicized that people were often not seen as persons, but instead, were identified only on the basis of their belonging to political parties or organizations.

…Jesuit Fr. Rutilio Grande, Archbishop Oscar Romero, the Maryknoll Missionaries and the Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador were pastorsRomero with young men, university professors, teachers and lay missionaries who were brutally murdered because of the questions which they asked about justice and peace; because they sought the truth of very difficult situations of suffering and massive injustice; because they believed dearly in the value of a Catholic, critical education, which put into practice what the best elements of our Church stand for. Each person was disciple, missionary, educator and evangelist and each was killed because the education and evangelization which they shared with their students and flocks touched the enormity of human suffering and pain all around them in El Salvador.

Here in our peaceful and at times surreal environment of higher learning, we may ask ourselves if this is what Catholic Education, adult catechesis and evangelization programs are suppose to do: to kill people and make martyrs? And the ultimate answer may be yes. What happened in El Salvador to these men and women and what continues to happen to similar people around the world who are authentic teachers, disciples and witnesses is not so much a barbarous and bizarre anomaly… because authentic Catholic education, true evangelization and missionary discipleship must educate and evangelize men and women into the disciplined sensitivity toward the suffering in the world whoever and wherever they may be. This is part of the education and evangelization called for by the Gospel. For without a specific Gospel-rooted effort to bring about such a religious and humane education and evangelization in our educational and pastoral milieus today, we will simply graduate and form people unaware of pain, suffering and the real cost of being Christian and being disciples.

Pope Francis is doing exactly the same thing for us as he leads and guides the Church. He has a passion for the poor, the immigrant, the forgotten, and the “throw-aways.” He is the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere, and the first from Latin America; these are the areas of the world where poverty is so great. Francis is inviting us to become witnesses, missionaries and disciples. That is our mission today. It is not new. Francis has brought new urgency, new passion, and I would suggest, new authenticity to this mission.

If we fail to understand the modus operandi of Francis of Buenos Aires and Oscar of El Salvador, we risk transforming the living realities of both Archbishops into framed diplomas, coveted degrees, documents in files, books on shelves, academic seminars, monuments, statues and holy cards to admire, and not people to imitate to emulate. We must ask ourselves at a university conference like this one, “How do faith and a Christian understanding of education transform the lives of Catholic laity in the world? How are the tenets of Catholic education and evangelization making a difference in lives of Catholics and many who are peering in from the peripheries.

Teaching and preaching is the art of leaving vestiges in students and those who listen to us, and all good teachers and preachers must ask what vestiges they wish to leave in their hearers. Good and effective teachers and preachers have usually had excellent teachers and preachers themselves. The highest compliment we can pay to our own teachers and pastors is to try to imitate them or incorporate their methods into our own lives. People may listen to us because we are good teachers and preachers, but they will truly learn from us, be inspired by us, be changed by us, and even imitate or emulate us because we are first and foremost disciples and witnesses.

Both Francis and soon-to-be-Blessed Oscar are disciples and missionaries, role models and Gospel witnesses, agents of reconciliation and builders of communities of faith. Francis leads the Church on earth, and Oscar watches over us from the heavenly Jerusalem. Let us learn from the examples of these two great pastors, teachers and missionary disciples from Latin America. 

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, is CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada and English language assistant to the Holy See Press Office.

Forgiveness Documentary to air on Salt and Light Television

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Documentary to air on Salt and Light Television
Sunday March 22 & 29, 2014
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

Forgiveness is one of the hardest things we’re asked to do, in terms of our relationships with other people. Even the best people have a hard time getting to forgiveness, being able to forgive themselves for what they’ve done or what they’ve failed to do. People around the world, from all cultures and traditions, embrace love and forgiveness in daily life. These values are universally viewed as central to the fabric of humanity. However we define forgiveness, its power is real — and never more so when it struggles with the unforgivable.

Some say forgiveness is “a shift in thinking” toward someone who has wronged us, “such that our desire to harm that person has decreased and our desire to do him or her good (or to benefit our relationship) has increased.”

Forgiveness is a decision to let go of the desire for revenge and ill-will toward the person who wronged us. It may also include feelings of goodwill toward the other person. Forgiveness is also a natural resolution of the grief process, which is the necessary acknowledgment of pain and loss.

Forgiveness is not condoning or excusing. Forgiveness does not minimize, justify, or excuse the wrong that was done. Forgiveness also does not mean denying the harm and the feelings that the injustice produced. And forgiveness does not mean putting oneself in a position to be harmed again. Focusing on forgetting a wrong might lead to denying or suppressing feelings about it, which is not the same as forgiveness. Forgiveness has taken place when we can remember the wrong that was done without feeling resentment or a desire to pursue revenge.

Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Forgiveness is one person’s inner response to another’s perceived injustice. Reconciliation is two people coming together in mutual respect. Reconciliation requires both parties working together. Forgiveness is something that is entirely up to us. Although reconciliation may follow forgiveness, it is possible to forgive without re-establishing or continuing the relationship. The person we forgive may be deceased or no longer part of our life.

While the Christian ethos of forgiveness is still on some level widely honored as an ideal in North America today, it is not well understood, and uncomfortably coexists with equal or greater acceptance of an ethos of vengeance, one celebrated in far more movies than forgiveness.

What you are about to see is a powerful two-part documentary that will challenge our understanding of forgiveness. Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate was written, produced and directed by Helen Whitney. We at Salt and Light television are very grateful to Executive producer Paul Dietrich for sharing this provocative documentary with us. Parts one and two of the documentary provide an intimate look into the spontaneous outpouring of forgiveness: from the Amish families for the 2006 shooting of their children in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania; the struggle of ’60s radicals to cope with the serious consequences of their violent acts of protest; the shattering of a family after the mother abandons them, only to return seeking forgiveness; the legacy and divisiveness of apartheid and the aftermath of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in South Africa; the penitential journey of a modern-day Germany, confronting the horrific acts of the Holocaust; and the riveting stories of survivors of the unimaginably, brutal Rwandan genocide.

The theme of forgiveness is central to the Petrine Ministry of Pope Francis. The Pope draws our attention to the remarkable and provocative Gospel of Luke where Jesus speaks about forgiveness, and he advises us to never tire of forgiving: always forgive! Pope Francis says that Jesus “exaggerates in order to help us understand the importance of forgiveness.” “A Christian,” says Pope Francis, “who is incapable of forgiving, sins isn’t a Christian; …if you cannot forgive, neither can you receive God’s forgiveness.” In other words, we must forgive because we have been forgiven.

During the first Angelus address after his election in 2013, the Holy Father said: “Feeling mercy 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.” “God doesn’t forgive with a decree but with a caress. He forgives by caressing the wounds caused by our sins, because he is involved in forgiveness, is involved in our salvation.”

“Mercy,” Pope Francis says, “is something which is difficult to understand: it doesn’t eliminate sin,” for “it is God’s forgiveness that does this. Mercy is the manner in which God forgives.”

Inevitably, as writer Helen Whitney reveals, the new role of forgiveness in the world raises serious and complex questions: what does that say about us and the times we live in; what are its power, its limitations and in some instances its dangers; has it been cheapened or deepened… or both?

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta once said: If we really want to love we must learn how to forgive.For this reason and many more, we present to you Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate, to encourage contemplation, spark conversation, and change minds and hearts. Thank you for joining us on this provocative journey of forgiveness.

Watch clip here.

Gazing Upon the Face of Jesus

JP Good Friday cropped

Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B – March 22, 2015

The Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year B) invites us to fix our gaze upon Jesus, the model priest of suffering, compassion, and human solidarity.

First, let us consider John’s Gospel story from Chapter 12 — a fitting climax to Jesus’ public ministry. It is the last official act before the events of his passion next Sunday. There are Gentiles, non-Jews, who seek Jesus out for the first time. They do not come simply to catch a glimpse of him, to have some general audience with him, but rather to “see” him. In John’s Gospel, “seeing” Jesus is believing in him. How simple yet how stunning a request: “Sir, we would like to see Jesus” [John 12:21]!

Throughout the entire Scriptures, men and women have longed to see God, to gaze upon God’s countenance, beauty and glory. How many times in the psalms do we ask to see the face of God? “Shine your face on your servant” (Psalm 119:135). Not only do we beg to see God’s face, but we are told to look for it. “Seek my face,” says the Lord (Psalm 27:8).

But we cannot seem to find the face we are told to look for. Then the laments begin: “Do not hide your face from me” (Psalm 102:2). “Why do you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 88:14). “How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:2). We beg, we seek, but we cannot find God’s face. Then we are distraught. Moses, speaking as friend-to-friend, asked to see God’s face. But God said to him, “You cannot see my face; for no one shall see my face and live” (Exodus 33:20).

When we ask in the Psalms to see God’s face, we are really asking to see God as God truly is, to gaze into the depths of God. In the last chapter of the last book of the Scriptures, it is written: “They will see his face” (Revelation 22:4). We see God’s face revealed to us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. How often do we long to “see” the face of Jesus? Where are we seeking his face today? What do we do when we finally “see” the face of Jesus?

Garden of suffering

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews is filled with the thoughts and theology of Paul and John, but he also contemplates Jesus’ agony in the garden in relation to temple sacrifices and the priesthood according to the Hebrew Scriptures. The Old Testament never dreamed of requiring the high priest to make himself like his brothers and sisters, but was preoccupied on the contrary with separating him from them. An attitude of compassion toward sinners appeared to be incompatible with the priesthood of the Old Covenant. Furthermore, no text ever required that the high priest should be free from all sin.

Hebrews 5:7-9 presents us with a different type of priesthood — one of extraordinary compassion and solidarity. In his days on earth, Jesus shared our flesh and blood, crying out with prayers and silent tears. 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 — only by this did he acquire a profound capacity for compassion. That is the only kind of priesthood that makes a difference, and that matters, then and now.

What does this image of Jesus teach us today? Far from creating an abyss between Jesus Christ and ourselves, our own daily trials and weaknesses have become the privileged place of our encounter with him, and not only with him, but with God himself. The consequence is that from now on, not one of us can be bowed down under a painful situation without finding that Christ is, by that very fact, at our side. Jesus was “heard because of his ‘reverence’ or his ‘pious submission.'” And we are given the consolation that we, too, will be heard because of our own persistence in prayer, our reverence before God and our pious submission to his will for us.

John Paul II’s agony

We read in today’s Gospel passage that the Greeks address themselves first to Philip, who is from the village of Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee: “Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus” (John 12:22). To see Jesus, one must be led to him by an apostle. The testimony of those who lived with him, at his side, shows him to us and we cannot do without this testimony.

We need the apostolic writings, especially the Gospels, handed down to us by tradition, of which our parents, priests, deacons, teachers, catechists, preachers and other believers are witnesses and bearers of the Good News. How important and necessary it is to recognize those key people in our lives who are living witnesses and links to the tradition and the Good News about Jesus Christ! One such person for millions of people throughout the world was Karol Wojtyla, the man we know as Saint John Paul II.

Almost exactly ten years ago, the world witnessed the agony and passion of this Successor of Peter in a most public way. As we commemorate the tenth anniversary of the John Paul II’s death on April 2, I cannot help but recall those moving days and see how much he revealed to us the face of God and the image of Jesus crucified.

One of the most powerful lessons he taught us in the twilight of his Pontificate was that everyone must suffer, even the Vicar of Christ. Rather than hide his infirmities, as most public figures do, he let the whole world see what he went through. In the final act of his life, the athlete was immobilized, the distinctive, booming voice silenced, and the hand that produced voluminous encyclicals no longer able to write. Yet nothing made John Paul II waver, even the debilitating sickness hidden under the glazed Parkinsonian mask, and ultimately his inability to speak and move. Many believe that the most powerful message he preached was when the words and actions failed.

One of the unforgettable, silent, teaching moments of those final days took place on Good Friday night 2005, while the Pope, seated in his private chapel in the Vatican, viewed the television coverage of the Via Crucis from Rome’s Colosseum. At the station commemorating the death of the Lord, a television camera in the papal chapel showed the Pope embracing a cross in his hands with his cheek resting against the wood. His accepting of suffering and death needed no words. The image spoke for itself.

Several hours before his death, Pope John Paul’s last audible words were: “Let me go to the house of the Father.” In the intimate setting of prayer, as Mass was celebrated at the foot of his bed and the throngs of faithful sang below in St. Peter’s Square, he died at 9:37 p.m. on April 2. Through his public passion, suffering and death, this holy priest, Successor of the Apostles, and Servant of God, showed us the face of Jesus in a remarkable way.

[The readings for this Sunday are: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrew 5:7-9; and John 12:20-33. For use with RCIA, Ezekiel 37:12-14; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45 or 11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33b-45.]

(Image: CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

Nicodemus’ Search for the “Soul of Theology”

Jesus and Nicodemus cropped

Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B – Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Lent (Year B) features a nocturnal conversation between two important religious teachers: on the one hand a notable “teacher of Israel” named Nicodemus, and on the other, Jesus whom this Nicodemus calls a “teacher from God.”

Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. His prominent role and position in the national cabinet called the Sanhedrin made him the custodian of a great tradition. He was expected by many to be a national expert on God!

It is important to provide some background for the Gospel passage for this Sunday. The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is one of the most significant dialogues of the New Testament and his coming to Jesus secretly at night suggests the darkness of unbelief. The whole visit and conversation are shrouded in ambiguity and the Johannine penchant for strong contrasts such as darkness and light can be seen in this highly symbolic story.

Jesus speaks to Nicodemus of the need to experience the presence of God and offer oneself to him. Knowing God is much more than a gathering of theological information and data about him. In speaking about being born again from above, Jesus does not mean that one must reenter the mother’s womb for a second time; but Jesus refers to a rebirth, which the Spirit of God makes possible.

Lifted up

In today’s Gospel text, Jesus tells Nicodemus, and all who will hear this story in future generations, that the Son of Man must be lifted up on a pole so that people may gaze upon him and find healing and peace. During Israel’s sojourn in the desert, the people were afflicted by a plague of serpents. Moses raised up a serpent on a stake, and all who gazed upon it were restored to health. Both the bronze serpent and Jesus crucified symbolize human sinfulness. When Jesus is “raised up,” it is not only his suffering on the cross that is intimated. The Greek word used for “raised up” has a double meaning: both a physical lifting up from the ground, as in the crucifixion, or the spiritual lifting up which is an exultation.

What lesson does Nicodemus teach us today? He alerts us to what happens when we buy into a system and try to “master” theology, scripture, tradition, rules and regulations. He teaches us that courses in religion and theology are no substitute for faith and conviction. For Nicodemus, God is much more than information and data — God is first and foremost a friend, a lover, a Lord and a Savior, who patiently waits for us by day, and even by night. Rather than approaching Scripture as something to master, we must allow the Word of God to master us.

We know nothing more about Nicodemus, except that months afterward, he is able to postpone the inevitable clash between Jesus and the Sanhedrin. Later on, Nicodemus assists Joseph of Arimathea in retrieving the broken body of the dead Jesus.

Nicodemus and the synod

I cannot help but read the story of Nicodemus in light of the 2008 Synod of Bishops at the Vatican on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. I had the privilege of serving as the Vatican’s English language media attaché and I can tell you the experience was a rich retreat steeped in Scripture and the documents of the Second Vatican Council.

At the synod, the Holy Father and the bishops of the world addressed the present impasse in Scriptural studies, often caused by the atomization and dissection of the Scriptures, and a lack of integration of biblical studies with faith, the liturgy and lived spirituality. If Biblical texts are read and taught only for their historical and philological accuracy or inaccuracy, we fail to read the Bible as a book of faith that is the privileged possession of a living, breathing, praying community. We run the risk of selectivist and relativist interpretations of God’s Word.

Over the past 18 years of lecturing in Scripture at the Graduate School of Theology of the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto, Canada, numerous students confided in me that their Scripture courses were “without a soul,” divorced from the reality of the Church and unrelated to her liturgical life. Their simple yet revealing comments pointed toward one of the significant themes evoked during the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God.

On October 14, 2008, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI shared some profound reflections on this very topic. In his brief, crystal-clear address to the whole assembly at the Vatican, the Pope touched upon one of the important themes that emerged in spades during this synod. When Catholic biblical exegesis is divorced from the living, breathing community of faith in the Church, exegesis is reduced to historiography and nothing more. The hermeneutic of faith disappears. We reduce everything to human sources and can simply explain everything away. Ultimately, we deny the One about whom the Scriptures speak, the one whose living presence lies underneath the words.

Referring to “Dei Verbum,” the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, the Pope reaffirmed unequivocally of the importance of the historical-critical method that finds its roots in John 1:14, the Word becoming flesh. Nothing that can help us understand the Biblical text should be excluded as long as the purpose of the different approaches and their limits are kept clear.

All the while the Pope was speaking, the New Testament figure of Nicodemus was on my mind, as well as numerous other personalities who were led by Jesus beyond theories, systems, structures into the encounter with the living Lord who is the Word among us. Nicodemus certainly had an endless amount of knowledge and learning, and he developed a great system of religion in which God is categorized and analyzed. Jesus does not say that this is evil or even undesirable. He simply says that it is not enough.

Every since my years of study at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, I have carried this little prayer of St. Bonaventure in my pocket. The words are from his “Itinerarium Mentis in Deum” inviting Christians to recognize the inadequacy of “reading without repentance, knowledge without devotion, research without the impulse of wonder, prudence without the ability to surrender to joy, action divorced from religion, learning sundered from love, intelligence without humility, study unsustained by divine grace, thought without the wisdom inspired by God.”

Those words serve as a measure and guide for each of us, as we study theology and the Word of God, and allow the Word to master us. May our knowledge, learning, science and intelligence humbly lead us into an encounter, by day and by night, with Jesus Christ, the ultimate goal of our journey.

[The readings for this Sunday are: 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21. For use with RCIA: 1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41 or 9:1, 6-9, 13-17, 34-38]

(Image: “Christ and Nicodemus” by Matthias Stomer)

50 Years Ago Today: Mass in the Vernacular

Paul VI new mass

On Saturday March 7, Pope Francis will visit the church of “Ognissanti’ (All Saints) in Rome to commemorate fifty years to the day that Blessed Paul VI celebrated the Eucharist for the first time in the vernacular rather than in the customary Latin language. It was the first time a new way of celebrating mass was inaugurated after Vatican II’s Decree on the Liturgy SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM was promulgated on December 4, 1963. This important document, the first of Vatican II, was approved at the end of the second year of the Council.

When Paul VI celebrated mass 50 years ago today, he said that it was a great liturgical reform that would bring about an authentic spiritual renewal in the Church. This weekend is a good opportunity to recall some important points about the great changes that have taken place in the liturgy over the past half a century. The practices associated with the “New Mass” after the Council had their beginnings decades earlier. The reform of the liturgy did not simply begin with Vatican II. The practices introduced in 1964 had been suggested much earlier. Since the middle of the 19th century there had been an interest in various aspects of the liturgy, its history, ceremonies and music. Fr. Lambert Beauduin, a Belgian responsible for the liturgical movement in France held that the liturgy creates Christian community; it is the source and center of all Christian life – an idea that later made its way into the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the liturgy. The theological basis of the entire liturgical movement was the body of Christ. This idea “body of Christ” gained momentum and finally received papal approval in Pope Pius XII’s encyclical, Mystici Corporis Christi.

Maria Laach Abbey GermanyBenedictines were real pioneers and leaders in the international Liturgical Movement. Benedictine liturgical scholars claim that the origin of the pastoral liturgical reform was in 1924, when the first Missa recitata, or dialogue Mass, was celebrated in a crypt of Maria Laach Abbey in Germany. This German abbey played a significant role in the 20th century, particularly in the field of liturgy. The Benedictine monks of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, beginning with liturgical pioneer Fr. Virgil Michel were the founders of the Liturgical Movement in English-speaking countries. St. John’s Abbey was a real center of liturgical activity. Already in 1926, the Benedictines in Minnesota were publishing an influential liturgical journal, Orate Fratres (later renamed Worship).

Collegeville Abbey MinnesotaThe Collegeville abbey was instrumental in founding in 1940 the Benedictine Liturgical Conference that would host national meetings called Liturgical Weeks. They were attended by thousands of priests, religious and laity interested in liturgical reform. While at first the main concern of the Liturgical Movement was that people be educated about the liturgy so they could better understand and participate in it, at a later stage, liturgists decided that the people’s participation would be possible only if changes were made in the rites, and began to advocate such changes.

The First Instruction on the Proper Implementation of the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy, Inter oecumenici, was issued by the Sacred Congregation for Rites on September 26, 1964, to take effect by March 7, 1965, the first Sunday of Lent. This document specified which parts of the Mass could be in the vernacular as permitted by SC #54. The normal Sunday experience for the vast majority of Catholics continued to be the new Mass celebrated in the vernacular. The new Mass could also be celebrated in Latin, something that I do often especially in international assemblies. The use of Latin is a beautiful way to express unity rather than division.

The Extraordinary Form

We must not forget that the Second Vatican Council never asked for the creation of a new rite for the liturgy, but for greater use of the vernacular language and greater participation of the faithful. On July 7, 2007 Pope Benedict XVI released his apostolic letter “Summorum Pontificum” on the use of the Roman liturgy prior to the reform of 1970. The decree was issued “motu proprio,” a Latin term meaning on the Pope’s personal initiative in the matter. In the letter Benedict eased restrictions on the use of the 1962 Roman Missal, which was standard before the new Order of the Mass was introduced in 1970. The so-called “Tridentine” Mass an extraordinary form of the Roman Rite is not considered to be a distinct rite, but rather a different form of the same right.

Addressing fears of opponents of his apostolic letter, Benedict pointed out that the norms do not detract from the authority of Vatican II, nor do they question the liturgical reform that the council called for. In an explanatory letter that accompanied the document addressed to the bishops of the world, Benedict wrote that his decision was motivated by a desire to bring about “an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church.” In Pope Benedict’s decision about the greater use of the Tridentine Mass, there are no winners or losers. Whoever wants to appeal to the Motu proprio to ignite tensions, instead of fostering the spirit of reconciliation, will radically betray it.

The liturgy accompanies the Church on her journey through history. We have two forms of the mass: one ordinary and the other extraordinary – of a single rite of celebration of the Mass. The mystery of the death and resurrection of the Lord is so great that it cannot be identified or limited in a definitive and exclusive way with one form or the other of the rite that is celebrated. Both Popes Benedict and Francis strongly desire to support reconciliation among Catholics and to reconcile the church with its rich liturgical past. It is through the liturgy that we encounter the Lord Jesus, his death and resurrection. He is the source and summit of our life. He is our reconciliation and our lasting peace.

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.