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What Pope Francis Really Said About Abortion

Pope_Abortion

On Sept. 1, Pope Francis extended to priests worldwide the authority to absolve women for the sin of abortion as a part of The Year of Mercy, which begins on Dec. 8. The announcement was widely reported in the secular press as a major change in church practice. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B., head of Canada’s Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and English language media attaché to the Holy See Press Office, explains what is new—and what’s not—in Francis’ words.

1) Is Pope Francis the first to speak about abortion, forgiveness and mercy?

Pope John Paul II expressed the desire of the church to be a vehicle for concern and reconciliation to anyone hurting from an abortion decision. In his encyclical, The Gospel of Life, he reminds women who have had an abortion of God’s love and forgiveness. “If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.”

At the end of The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II wrote these unprecedented, deeply moving words:

I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors that may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life.

2) Do reserved sins still exist that can only be forgiven by a bishop?

An important change in the 1983 Code of Canon Law (CIC) from the 1917 Code is the disappearance of “reserved sins.” The 1917 Code allowed for the Holy See as well as a diocesan bishop in his own See to “reserve” absolution of certain sins. In the 1983 Code there are no longer any such reserved “sins” but a number of reserved cases which carry certain canonical penalties (i.e. “censures”) still remain. In most cases, the sacrament of reconciliation will involve only the absolution of a penitent of sin. However in some cases, the sin being confessed also carries with it an automatic, legal penalty (latae sententiae).

The confessor should keep in mind that the commission of some sins may also involve actions which carry certain penalties. Of these penalties, the confessor can remit some definitively, others he can remit “temporarily,” until the penitent has recourse to the proper authority, and some for which recourse to the proper authority must be made prior to remission. Even in these cases in which recourse must be made for remission of the particular penalty, the confessor can absolve the sin within the sacramental forum. In the case of danger of death the confessor can remit validly and licitly virtually all penalties (cf. CIC 976, 977).

It is also important to keep in mind that while the remission of the penalty may also occur within the context of the celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation, this juridical action of remission is distinct from the sacramental absolution of the penitent’s sins, even when the single prayer of absolution serves both purposes of sacramental absolution from sin as well as the remission of a canonical penalty.

Abortion is one of the most common type of latae sententiae case the priest is likely to hear in confession. If the sin of abortion is confessed, the priest should first consider whether the automatic censure actually applies. In many cases, in light of these sorts of considerations we could reasonably conclude that the penitent probably did not incur an automatic excommunication. Hence, there will not be any censure that needs to be remitted, and the abortion may be absolved as would any other serious sin.

3) What is unique about today’s message about abortion? What does it mean for us today?

Pope Francis has been a pastor and shepherd in Argentina for many years. He knows the pain and suffering of his flock, and is keenly aware of the tragic consequences of abortion. The Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy is another opportunity for him and for the church to offer people the gift of forgiveness and mercy, especially when it involves grave sins and accompanying alienation caused by sin. Abortion has been legal in the United States since 1973. Unfortunately large numbers of women know all too well the anguish and grief that can follow an abortion decision. These women recognize that what they did was wrong but mistakenly believe that they have committed an unforgivable sin and have become separated from their relationship with God. Thinking that they are unique in experiencing this type of suffering, they all too often silently endure the emotional and physical manifestations of this trauma alone.

The pressures exerted on many women to abort lead to “an existential and moral ordeal,” Pope Francis wrote in his letter today. “I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. …When such a woman has repented and seeks absolution in the sacrament of confession, the forgiveness of God cannot be denied.”

Pope Francis urged priests to welcome to the sacrament women who have had an abortion, explain “the gravity of the sin committed” and indicate to them “a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with his presence.”

Although church law generally requires priests to have special permission, called faculties, from his bishop to grant absolution to a person who has procured or helped another to procure an abortion, Pope Francis said today that he has decided “to concede to all priests for the jubilee year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it.”

As followers of Christ our response to abortion must be two-fold. We must never forget the child whose life is lost to abortion. Each child is valuable and precious in God’s eyes, and in our hearts. At the same time we must recognize and address the very real need of women to find healing after an abortion experience. The Catholic Church, while never minimizing the grave evil that is abortion, has been at the forefront in offering hope for healing and reconciliation from the pain of an abortion experience.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is one essential element in the post-abortion healing process. In this sacrament, the penitent is guided by the grace of Christ in a conversion that leads us back to the Father, overcomes the tragic alienation of sin and restores harmony. Effective pastoral post-abortion outreach is accomplished not only by priests and professional counselors, but also by every Christian responding with compassion and prayer for all people hurting from abortion. We must bring to light the very real pain of post-abortion trauma. It is important to let those suffering in silence know that they are not alone and that there is compassionate help available. Often, we may not know the secret that a neighbor, a family member, or a fellow parishioner holds, namely that he or she participated in the evil of abortion. Only by our willingness to “hate the sin but love the sinner,” and the Spirit’s gentle urging, may someone come forth to share this sin and begin the road to reconciliation and healing.

Here again is the abridged statement I have given to many who have asked for commentary on the Pope Francis’ words in today’s letter:

“Forgiveness of the sin of abortion does not condone abortion nor minimize its grave effects. The newness is clearly Pope Francis’ pastoral approach. Bishops have granted priests permission to forgive the sin. The fact that today’s statement is coming from the Pope and in such a moving, pastoral way, is more evidence of the great pastoral approach and concern of Pope Francis. That people come to confession today to confess abortion and other grave sins in a spirit of true repentance is cause for us in the Church to thank God and to put into practice the mission of the Good and Merciful shepherd who came to seek out those who were lost.”

Originally published in America magazine.

Saints of the Church in Philadelphia: St. Katharine Drexel (1858 – 1955)

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Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 26, 1858, Katharine Drexel was the second of three daughters of Francis Anthony Drexel. Francis was a nationally and internationally well-known banker and philanthropist. Francis’ first wife Hannah gave birth to a daughter Elizabeth and three years later to Katharine in 1858. Never fully recovered from childbirth, Hannah died five weeks after Katharine’s birth. In 1860 Francis married Emma Bouvier. In 1863 Louise was born. Family prayer was integrated into their daily life. Emma opened the doors of the Drexel home three afternoons a week to the poor. When they were old enough, the three girls helped her distribute clothing, food, medicine, rent money, etc. They learned that wealth was a gift to be shared with those in need.

The three Drexel girls were educated at home by tutors. They had the added advantage of touring parts of the United States and Europe with their parents. By word and example Emma and Francis taught their daughters that wealth was meant to be shared with those in need. Three afternoons a week Emma opened the doors of their home to serve the needs of the poor. When the girls were old enough, they assisted their mother. When Francis purchased a summer home in Torresdale, Pa., Katharine and Elizabeth taught Sunday school classes for the children of employees and neighbors. Their local pastor, Rev. James O’Connor (who later became bishop of Omaha), became a family friend and Katharine’s spiritual director.

When the family took a trip to the Western part of the United States, Katharine, as a young woman, saw the plight and destitution of the native Indian-Americans. This experience aroused her desire to do something specific to help alleviate their condition. At Francis’ death in 1885, besides providing for his daughters, he left $14,000,000 to charity. This was the beginning of Katharine’s lifelong personal and financial support of numerous missions and missionaries in the United States. The first school she established was St. Catherine Indian School in Santa Fe, New Mexico (1887).

Katharine DrexelLater, when visiting Pope Leo XIII in Rome, and asking him for missionaries to staff some of the Indian missions that she as a lay person was financing, she was surprised to hear the Pope suggest that she become a missionary herself. After consultation with her spiritual director, Bishop James O’Connor, she made the decision to give herself totally to God, along with her inheritance, through service to American Indians and Afro-Americans.

Her wealth was now transformed into a poverty of spirit that became a daily constant in a life supported only by the bare necessities. On February 12, 1891, she professed her first vows as a religious, founding the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament whose dedication would be to share the message of the Gospel and the life of the Eucharist among American Indians and Afro-Americans.

Always a woman of intense prayer, Katharine found in the Eucharist the source of her love for the poor and oppressed and of her concern to reach out to combat the effects of racism. Knowing that many Afro-Americans were far from free, still living in substandard conditions as sharecroppers or underpaid menials, denied education and constitutional rights enjoyed by others, she felt a compassionate urgency to help change racial attitudes in the United States.

The plantation at that time was an entrenched social institution in which black people continued to be victims of oppression. This was a deep affront to Katharine’s sense of justice. The need for quality education loomed before her, and she discussed this need with some who shared her concern about the inequality of education for Afro-Americans in the cities. Restrictions of the law also prevented them in the rural South from obtaining a basic education.

Founding and staffing schools for both Native Americans and Afro-Americans throughout the country became a priority for Katharine and her congregation. During her lifetime, she opened, staffed and directly supported nearly 60 schools and missions, especially in the West and Southwest United States. Her crowning educational focus was the establishment in 1925 of Xavier University of Louisiana, the only predominantly Afro-American Catholic institution of higher learning in the United States. Religious education, social service, visiting in homes, in hospitals and in prisons were also included in the ministries of Katharine and the Sisters.

In her quiet way, Katharine combined prayerful and total dependence on Divine Providence with determined activism. Her joyous incisiveness, attuned to the Holy Spirit, penetrated obstacles and facilitated her advances for social justice. Through the prophetic witness of Katharine Drexel’s initiative, the Church in the United States was enabled to become aware of the grave domestic need for an apostolate among Native Americans and Afro-Americans. She did not hesitate to speak out against injustice, taking a public stance when racial discrimination was in evidence.

St. Katharine DrexelFor the last 18 years of her life she was rendered almost completely immobile because of a serious illness. During these years she gave herself to a life of adoration and contemplation as she had desired from early childhood. She died on March 3, 1955.

Katharine left a four-fold dynamic legacy to her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, who continue her apostolate today, and indeed to all peoples:

  • her love for the Eucharist, her spirit of prayer, and her Eucharistic perspective on the unity of all peoples;
  • her undaunted spirit of courageous initiative in addressing social iniquities among minorities — one hundred years before such concern aroused public interest in the United States;
  • her belief in the importance of quality education for all, and her efforts to achieve it;
  • her total giving of self, of her inheritance and all material goods in selfless service of the victims of injustice.

Mother Katharine Drexel’s cause for beatification was introduced in 1966. Pope John Paul II formally declared Drexel “Venerable” on January 26, 1987, and beatified her on November 20, 1988 after concluding that Robert Gutherman was miraculously cured of deafness in 1974 after his family prayed for Mother Drexel’s intercession. Mother Drexel was canonized on October 1, 2000, the second American-born saint (Elizabeth Ann Seton was the first native-born US citizen canonized, in 1975). Canonization occurred after the Vatican determined that two-year-old Amy Wall had been miraculously healed of nerve deafness in both ears through Katharine Drexel’s intercession in 1994.

Here is an excerpt of Pope John Paul II’s homily during the mass of canonization in 2000:

“In the second reading of today’s liturgy, the Apostle James rebukes the rich who trust in their wealth and treat the poor unjustly. Mother Katharine Drexel was born into wealth in Philadelphia in the United States. But from her parents she learned that her family’s possessions were not for them alone but were meant to be shared with the less fortunate. As a young woman, she was deeply distressed by the poverty and hopeless conditions endured by many Native Americans and Afro-Americans. She began to devote her fortune to missionary and educational work among the poorest members of society. Later, she understood that more was needed. With great courage and confidence in God’s grace, she chose to give not just her fortune but her whole life totally to the Lord.

To her religious community, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, she taught a spirituality based on prayerful union with the Eucharistic Lord and zealous service of the poor and the victims of racial discrimination. Her apostolate helped to bring about a growing awareness of the need to combat all forms of racism through education and social services. Katharine Drexel is an excellent example of that practical charity and generous solidarity with the less fortunate which has long been the distinguishing mark of American Catholics.

May her example help young people in particular to appreciate that no greater treasure can be found in this world than in following Christ with an undivided heart and in using generously the gifts we have received for the service of others and for the building of a more just and fraternal world.”

Link to full text of Canonization Homily:

Link to Shrine
http://www.katharinedrexel.org/national-shrine/
Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament
1663 Bristol Pike, Bensalem, Pennsylvania 19020

Quality Communication

El Greco Blind cropped

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – September 6, 2015

In the magnificent piece of biblical poetry in Isaiah 35:4-7 (today’s first reading) the prophet Isaiah announces the end of the Babylonian captivity.

The Exodus of God’s people from bondage in Egypt became a model for thinking about salvation and a symbol of the great pilgrimage of the human family towards God. The prophet Isaiah encountered a dispirited community of exiles. Isaiah responded by recalling the joyous memories of the Exodus from Egypt.

A second Exodus is in store, symbolized by the healing granted to the blind, the lame, and the mute, and new life to the dead. Delivered and saved by God, all peoples shall return to their own land by way of the desert, in a new exodus. Isaiah prophecies that there shall be one, pure road, and it will be called the way of holiness upon which the redeemed shall walk.

In the midst of the desert, streams will break forth. God’s saving power also embraces afflicted humans, healing every ill that comes upon people. Isaiah addressed specific afflictions that God would heal: “then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.”

Isaiah’s prediction of this abundant, new life underlies Mark’s understanding of Jesus’ cure of “a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech” (Mark 7:31-37]). Mark’s story of the healing of this hearing and speech impaired man invites us to consider some important points about sickness and suffering in the New Testament.

Sick people in the Bible are those who have fallen from an appropriate human state or condition of human integrity or wholeness. Jesus heals people by restoring them to a proper state: Those who are leprous are made clean, blind people see, mute persons speak, etc.

We have little information about how Jesus’ healings episodes were accomplished. Jesus did not perform miracles as someone waving a magic wand or clicking his fingers. The man cured by Jesus was deaf and dumb; he could not communicate with others, hear his voice and express his feelings and needs. The sigh uttered by Jesus at the moment of touching the ears of the deaf man tells us that he identified with people’s suffering; he participated deeply in their misfortune and made it his own burden.

“Ephphatha, Be opened!”

The early Church was so impressed by the healing miracle of the deaf man that it attached deep significance to it, incorporating the Lord’s action into the Baptismal Rite of new Christians. To this day, the minister of baptism puts his fingers into our ears and touches the tip of our tongue, repeating Jesus’ word: “Ephphatha, Be opened!” He has made both the deaf hear and the dumb speak.

We learn by hearing and listening

Sight deals with things, while hearing deals with human beings. Sight has to do with science, with observation, with objectivity. Hearing has to do with personal relationships, with subjectivity. When I use my eyes to look at people or things, I am in complete control of the information that comes to me, for I can shut my eyes when I wish. When I am reading the words of scripture by myself, I can close my eyes and stop reading. But the ear is unlike the eye. I cannot shut my ear. The only way I can stop the sound is to leave the room!

We learn about other people by hearing and listening to what they have to say. Language reveals the inside of another person, something sight can never do. If we want to learn about God, we must listen to His Word with all our heart, all our soul and all our mind.

Looking at Him, if it were possible, would not tell us anything. After all, Satan appeared as an angel of light, while God appeared as the broken, mangled body of a young man dying on a cross. Who would have believed this without eyes and ears of faith?

When we read the Bible, do we “hear” what it says? The Bible does not tell us to read the Word of God but to hear it, to listen to it. That is the great Jewish prayer: “Shema, Israel,” “Hear, O Israel.” Someone else must read the Word so that I may hear it and truly understand it.

Biblical faith cannot be individualistic but must be communal. Speaking and hearing involve mutual submission. Mutual respect and submission is the essence of community, and the only way I can get away from hearing is to leave the room, to leave the community and go off by myself. Sadly this is the case for many who have left the Church community and claim to have found freedom, autonomy, and truth in solitude, away from the community of faith!

What they have found is not solitude, but loneliness, selfishness and rugged individualism. Authentic hearing and listening involve submission to authority and membership in community.

Physical and spiritual deafness

The healing stories reflect Jesus’ intimate, powerful relationship with God and his great compassion. He healed with words, touch and physical means. Physical deafness and spiritual deafness are alike; Jesus confronted one type in the man born deaf, the other type in the Pharisees and others who were unreceptive of his message. Jesus was concerned not only with physical infirmity but also spiritual impairment and moral deafness.

Our contemporary world has grown deaf to the words of Jesus, but it is not a physical deafness, it is a spiritual deafness caused by sin. We have become so used to sin that we take it as normal and we have become deafened and blinded to Jesus and his daily call to us.

If deafness and dumbness consist in the inability to communicate plainly with one’s neighbor or to have good relationships, then we must acknowledge that each of us is in some way impaired in our hearing and speech. What decides the quality of our communication, hearing and speech is not simply to speak or not to speak or hear, but to do so or not to do so out of love.

We are blind and deaf when we show favoritism or discrimination because of the status and wealth of other people (see James 2:1-5). We fail to recall that divine favor consists in God’s election and promises (James 2:5).

We are deaf when we do not hear the cry for help raised to us and we prefer to put indifference between our neighbor and ourselves. In doing so we oppress the poor and blaspheme the name of Christ (James 2:6-7).

Parents are deaf when they do not understand that certain dysfunctional behaviors of their children betray deep-seated cries for attention and love.

We are deaf when turn inward and close ourselves to the world because of selfishness, pride, resentment, anger, jealousy and our inability to forgive others.

We are deaf when we refuse to recognize those who suffer in the world around us, and do not acknowledge glaring situations of inequality, injustice, poverty and the devastation of war.

We are deaf when we refuse to hear the cry of the unborn, of those whose lives are in danger because they are elderly, handicapped, and chronically ill, while others wish to end their lives out of misguided mercy.

Beethoven’s deafness

The German composer and virtuoso pianist Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was one of the most loved composers of all time. What I never knew until recently was that Beethoven started losing his hearing at the age of 28. The deafness gave Beethoven insights into that which existed beyond that which could be seen and heard.

Beethoven was aware of the oneness of music with God from a very early age. And he was conscious of this while composing his music. “Ever since my childhood my heart and soul have been imbued with the tender feeling of goodwill. And I have always been inclined to accomplish great things.” In many of his letters Beethoven expresses his desire to serve God and humanity with his music. “Almighty God, you see into my heart … and you know it’s filled with loved for humanity and a desire to do good.”

Beethoven’s life is a paradox. On one hand, his solitary life was burdened by his deafness and on the other his spiritual insights flashed through his music. Many a times his deafness drove him to the edge and he cursed it. Yet, he also accepted it. It may have been out of frustration, but there was an acceptance of the divine will.

Today may the words Jesus spoke over the deaf man be addressed once again to each of us: “Ephphatha, be opened!” May our ears, eyes and hearts be opened to the Gospel!

[The readings for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Isaiah 35:4-7a; James 2:1-5; and Mark 7:31-37]

(Image: “Christ Healing the Blind” by El Greco)

Saints of the Church in Philadelphia – John Nepomucene, C.Ss.R. (1811-1860)

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John Nepomucene Neumann was born on March 28, 1811 in Bohemia, the Czech portion of the present Czechoslovakia. He graduated from a nearby college in Bohemia and then applied to the seminary. John distinguished himself not only in his theological studies, but also in the natural sciences. Besides mastering Latin, Greek and Hebrew, he learned to speak fluently at least eight modern languages, including various Slavic dialects.

During his seminary studies, John had read with great interest the quarterly reports of the Missionary Society of St. Leopold containing accounts of the pioneering work being done in the United States. On the morning of February 8, 1836, he left his native home and made the trip across Europe on foot. Several months later, he set sail for New York aboard a 210-foot, three-masted ship loaded to capacity with emigrants. Six weeks later, the ship entered the harbor of New York.

A few days after arriving in New York, John Neumann sought out and met the bishop, John Dubois. Bishop Dubois had only 36 priests to care for 200,000 Catholics living in all of New York State and half of lower New Jersey. In June of 1836, the bishop ordained John Neumann as a sub-deacon, a deacon, and as a priest, all within on week’s time. Young Fr. John Neumann devoted himself to the pastoral care of all the outlying places in the parish of Buffalo for four years. From his headquarters near Buffalo, he made frequent journeys on foot in all kinds of weather to points ten or twenty miles distant, visiting the settlers on their scattered farms.

Fr. Neumann could not long keep up the strenuous work he was doing. He began to suffer from fevers that lasted as long as three months. At Easter time, 1840, he had a complete breakdown; and after recovering to some extent, he made up his mind to join the Redemptorists. After being accepted into the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, John was directed to go to Pittsburgh. He was the first novice of the Redemptorists in the United States and, in 1847, he became the head of the American Redemptorists. He also wrote several German Language Catechisms and a German Bible history. Files of the US State Department show that Bishop Neumann became a naturalized citizen of the United States at Baltimore on February 10, 1848, renouncing allegiance to the Emperor of Austria in whose realm he was born on March 28, 1811.

St. John Nepomucene NeumannIn 1852, he was appointed Bishop of Philadelphia and he accepted the appointment only because Pope Pius IX commanded him to do so. Neumann the fourth bishop of Philadelphia, and held that position from 1852 to 1860. On his 41st birthday, Neumann was consecrated bishop of Philadelphia by Archbishop Francis Kenrick at St. Alphonsus Church in Baltimore, in 1852. The Diocese of Philadelphia was at this time the largest in the country, comprising eastern Pennsylvania, western New Jersey, and all of Delaware.

Bishop Neumann was the first in the United States to introduce the Forty Hours Devotion in his diocese. Italian immigrants remember Bishop Neumann as the founder of the first national parish for Italians in the United States. At a time when there was no priest to speak their language, no one to care for them, Bishop Neumann, who had studied Italian as a seminarian in Bohemia, gathered them together in his private chapel and preached to them in their mother tongue. In 1855 he purchased a Methodist Church in South Philadelphia, dedicated it to St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, and gave them one of his seminary professors, Vincentian Father John Tornatore, to be their pastor.

From the beginning, Bishop Neumann promoted the establishment of parochial schools. There were only two such schools in 1852, but by 1860 they numbered nearly 100. He is responsible for establishing the first unified system of Catholic schools under a diocesan board. This took place a fortnight before the Plenary Council at Baltimore would seconded his proposals.

Bishop Neumann was the founder of a religious order for women, the Third Order of St. Francis of Glen Riddle, whose Rule he drafted in 1855 after returning from Rome for the solemn promulgation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The School Sisters of Notre Dame likewise regard Bishop Neumann as their secondary founder, their “father in America.” In 1847, Father John Neumann, superior of the Redemptorist Order at the time, welcomed the first band of these teaching sisters from Munich. He found them a home in Baltimore and then provided them with teaching assignments in his Order’s parish schools at Baltimore, Pittsburgh, New York, Buffalo and Philadelphia.

Though Bishop Neumann had suffered from frequent illnesses, his sudden death, at the age of 48, was wholly unexpected. On January 8, 1860, he went out in the afternoon to attend to some business matters and was walking back when he suffered a stroke and died. At his own request Bishop Neumann was buried in a basement crypt in Saint Peter’s Church where he would be with his Redemptorist confreres.

The cause of his beatification was begun in 1886. Ten years later, he received the title of “Venerable.” In February 1963, Pope John XXIII issued the proclamation for his beatification, but the ceremony was delayed by the death of Pope John and Pope Paul VI beatified him on October 13, 1963. In a personal letter to each bishop of the world, before the opening of the Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII asked each bishop to aim at achieving the heights of personal sanctity in order to assure its success. He reminded them of their first and highest mission of carrying on a constant policy of instruction and of pastoral visitation so that they can say: “I know my sheep, each and every one,” and that one of the great blessings that can come to a diocese is a bishop who sanctifies, who keeps watch and who sacrifices himself. All these qualities are pre-eminent in the life and holiness of Bishop Neumann, the shepherd declared Blessed during the Second Vatican Council.

Philadelphia skyline

Neumann’s canonization followed in June of 1977. Known for a lifetime of pastoral work, especially among poor German immigrants, Bishop John Neumann was the first American man to be named saint. His feast day was established on January 5th.

Pilgrims came from all over the world to his tomb in St. Peter’s Church in Philadelphia. From his native Bohemia, from Germany and Holland they came to claim allegiance to one of their own. In 1976 during the International Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia, then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II) visited the shrine and prayed at Neumann’s tomb.

Excerpt of Homily of Pope Paul VI
CANONIZATION OF JOHN NEPOMUCENE NEUMANN
HOMILY OF PAUL VI
Sunday June 19, 1977

“Greetings to you, Brethren, and sons and daughters of the United States of America! We welcome you in the name of the Lord! The entire Catholic Church, here, at the tomb of the Apostle Peter, welcomes you with festive joy. And together with you, the entire Catholic Church sings a hymn of heavenly victory to Saint John Nepomucene Neumann, who receives the honor of one who lives in the glory of Christ.

In a few brief words we shall describe for the other pilgrims some details of his life, which are already known to you.

…We ask ourselves today: what is the meaning of this extraordinary event, the meaning of this canonization? It is the celebration of holiness. And what is holiness? It is human perfection, human love raised up to its highest level in Christ, in God.

At the time of John Neumann, America represented new values and new hopes. Bishop Neumann saw these in their relationship to the ultimate, supreme possession to which humanity is destined. With Saint Paul he could testify that “all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3, 22). And with Augustine he knew that our hearts are restless, until they rest in the Lord.

His love for people was authentic brotherly love. It was real charity: missionary and pastoral charity. It meant that he gave himself to others. Like Jesus the Good Shepherd, he lay down his life for the sheep, for Christ’s flock: to provide for their needs, to lead them to salvation. And today, with the Evangelist, we solemnly proclaim : “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15, 13).

John Neumann’s pastoral zeal was manifested in many ways. Through faithful John Neumann CSsRand persevering service, he brought to completion the generosity of his initial act of missionary dedication. He helped children to satisfy their need for truth, their need for Christian doctrine, for the teaching of Jesus in their lives. He did this both by catechetical instruction and by promoting, with relentless energy, the Catholic school system in the United States. And we still remember the words of our late Apostolic Delegate in Washington, the beloved Cardinal Amleto Cicognani: “You Americans”, he said, “possess two great treasures: the Catholic school and the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. Guard them like the apple of your eye” (Cfr. Epistola 2 iunii 1963).

And who can fail to admire all the loving concern that John Neumann showed for God’s people, through his priestly ministry and his pastoral visitations as a Bishop? He deeply loved the Sacramental of Reconciliation: and like a worthy son of Saint Alphonsus he transmitted the pardon and the healing power of the Redeemer into the lives of innumerable sons and daughters of the Church. He was close to the sick; he was at home with the poor; he was a friend to sinners. And today he is the honor of all immigrants, and from the viewpoint of the Beatitudes the symbol of Christian success.

John Neumann bore the image of Christ. He experienced, in his innermost being, the need to proclaim by word and example the wisdom and power of God, and to preach the crucified Christ. And in the Passion of the Lord he found strength and the inspiration of his ministry: Passio Christi conforta me!

…There are many who have lived and are still living the divine command of generous love. For love still means giving oneself for others, because Love has come down to humanity; and from humanity love goes back to its divine source! How many men and women make this plan of God the program of their lives! Our praise goes to the clergy, religious and Catholic laity of America who, in following the Gospel, live according to this plan of sacrifice and service. Saint John Neumann is a true example for all of us in this regard. It is not enough to acquire the good things of the earth, for these can even be dangerous, if they stop or impede our love from rising to its source and reaching its goal. Let us always remember that the greatest and the first commandment is this: “You shall love the Lord your God” (Matth. 22, 36).

True humanism in Christianity. True Christianity-we repeat is the sacrifice of self for others, because of Christ, because of God. It is shown by signs; it is manifested in deeds. Christianity is sensitive to the suffering and oppression and sorrow of others, to poverty, to all human needs, the first of which is truth.

Our ceremony today is indeed the celebration of holiness. At the same time, it is a prophetic anticipation-for the Church, for the United States, for the world-of a renewal in love: love for God, love for neighbor. And in this vital charity, beloved sons and daughters, let us go forward together, to build up a real civilization of love. Saint John Neumann, by the living power of your example and by the intercession of your prayers, help us today and for ever.”

Find the full text here.

National Shrine of St. John Neumann in Philadelphia
http://www.stjohnneumann.org/

Remembering a Prophet of the New Evangelization: John Paul I 37 years after his election to the See of Peter


Thirty-seven years ago August 26, Cardinal Albino Luciani, Patriarch of Venice was elected Pope after the death of the Servant of God Blessed Paul VI. The conclave of 101 cardinals lasted 2 days and he was elected on the fourth ballot. Luciani took the name of John Paul I – the first pope to have two names. He wanted to continue the work of Pope Paul VI and Pope John XXIII.

Luciani was born in Canale d’Agordo near Belluno, Italy, on October 17, 1912. He entered the seminary at 11 years old, was ordained a priest at 23 years old, and was the Patriarch of Venice from 1969 until he became pope on September 3, 1978. Luciani held a theology degree from Gregorian University in Rome.

Because of his rural background and his ability to explain the catechism with such clarity and simplicity, Pope John Paul I was called “The Peasant Pope.” But he was known most for being “The Smiling Pope.” [Read more…]

Caught Up in the Externals

Christ and the Pharisees cropped

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – August 30, 2015

How many times have we heard, or perhaps even said ourselves: “So-and-so is a Pharisee.” “That person is so Pharisaical.” “They are caught up in Pharisaism.”

Today’s Gospel (Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23) offers us a good opportunity to understand the role of the Pharisees in Judaism, and why Jesus and others had such strong feelings against their behavior. Who were the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, and who are their modern-day contemporaries?

Let me try to simplify a very complex topic to help us understand today’s Gospel. The Pharisees sought to make the Law come alive in every Jew, by interpreting its commandments in such a way as to adapt them to the various spheres of life.

The doctrine of the Pharisees is not opposed to that of Christianity. At the time of Jesus, the Pharisees were the “conservative party” within Judaism. They adhered strictly to the Torah and the Talmud and were outwardly very moral people. They were the leaders of the majority of the Jews and were revered by their followers for their religious zeal and dedication. Their main opposition was the party of the Sadducees, who were the “liberal party” within Judaism. The Sadducees were popular among the high-class minority.

Pharisees are mentioned when John the Baptist condemns them and the Sadducees in Matthew 3:7-10: “But seeing many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, offspring of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Why would John the Baptizer say that the Pharisees, who were outwardly moral, zealous, and religious, were the offspring of vipers?

Jesus reserved his harshest words for the Pharisees as well. In Matthew 16:6, Jesus warned the disciples, “Watch and take heed from the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” What were the disciples to beware of? Were they to beware of the immorality of the Pharisees and Sadducees?

Adherence to the law

The Pharisees in Jesus’ time promoted adherence to the law with a genuine interior response and advocated ordinary day-to-day spirituality. There were some Pharisees who were caught up only in external prescriptions, but they would have been criticized by other Pharisees even as the prophet Isaiah criticized hypocrisy in the past. Similarly, Jesus reprimanded aberrant Pharisees occasionally and had some clashes with them over his reinterpretation of the law. Jesus did not condemn Pharisaism as such or all Pharisees.

The Pharisees “relied on themselves, that they are righteous.” They believed that their own works — their doing what God commands and their abstaining from what God forbids — were what gained and maintained God’s favor and recommended them to God. The Pharisees self-righteously and hypocritically despised all others who did not meet the same standard of law keeping that they met.

They would not eat with the tax collectors and other sinners, because they were self-righteously aloof. They spent their time murmuring about who was eating and drinking with Jesus. Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32).

No etiquette lesson!

In today’s Gospel passage, (Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23), the Pharisees and scribes come from Jerusalem to investigate Jesus. Jesus abolishes the practice of ritual purity and the distinction between clean and unclean foods. The watchdogs of religious tradition cite Jesus for running a rather lax operation! Some of his disciples were eating with unwashed hands (Mark 7:2). Pharisees and scribes seize this infraction of the law and challenge Jesus, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” (v. 5).

Jesus doesn’t respond with an etiquette lesson or an explanation of personal hygiene. Instead, he calls the Pharisees and scribes what they are: “you hypocrites” (v. 6). Quoting Isaiah, Jesus exposes the condition of the legalists’ hearts. They cling to human precepts and put their trust in the traditions of their elders over the commandment of God (v. 8).

Against the Pharisees’ narrow, legalistic, and external practices of piety in matters of purification (Mark 7:2-5), external worship (7:6-7), and observance of commandments, Jesus sets in opposition the true moral intent of the divine law (7:8-13).

But he goes beyond contrasting the law and Pharisaic interpretation of it. Mark 7:14-15 in effect sets aside the law itself in respect to clean and unclean food. Jesus’ point is well taken — and most Pharisees would have agreed — that internal attitude is more important than the externals of the law.

Pharisaical notion of sin

Jesus rejects the Pharisees’ and the scribes’ notion of sin. For Jesus, sin is the human spirit gone wrong, not a failure to distinguish between types of food. Jesus’ attitude toward sin is consistent with his views regarding the Sabbath. The letter of the law without compassion is dehumanizing.

We can see how Jesus wants his message to be made known to the Pharisees and scribes (vv. 1-8), the crowd (“Listen to me, all of you, and understand” vv. 14-15) and his disciples (vv. 21-23). It is good news to all that God doesn’t desire legalism. Instead, because of what God has done in Jesus Christ, the Father offers a new kind of life. One doesn’t have to worry about how well one is obeying the rules and keeping oneself clean.

Having been made clean, we are now free to use our hands to serve others. We might even get them dirty in the process. God gives freedom from the law. God offers his grace. That is the same good news we get to share as we serve the legal-minded, the crowds, and even the disciples of Jesus who are around us.

Contemporary Pharisees

Who are the modern-day Pharisees and their followers? The blind modern-day Pharisees and their blind followers are very religious, moral, zealous people. They strive to keep God’s law, and they are zealous in their religious duties. They diligently attend Church every Sunday. They are hardworking, outwardly upright citizens. They keep themselves from and preach against moral evil.

In addition to being moral and religious and zealous, modern-day Pharisees and their followers do not believe that salvation is conditioned on the work of Christ alone; instead, they believe that salvation is ultimately up to human efforts and what the sinner adds to Christ’s work!

In contrast to the modern-day Pharisees and their followers, true Christians are those who boast in Christ crucified and no other, meaning that they believe that Christ’s work ensured the salvation of all whom He represented and is the only thing that makes the difference between salvation and condemnation. They know that their own efforts form absolutely no part of their acceptance before God. They rest in Christ alone as their only hope, knowing that it is the work of Christ by the grace of God that guarantees salvation.

Jesus showed that only those who were sinners in need of a healer, who do not have righteousness in themselves, who are devoid of divine entitlement, who do not deserve to be in fellowship with God, are the ones He came to call to repentance.

The medicine of mercy

Whenever I hear Jesus’ words about legalism in today’s Gospel, I cannot help but recall with gratitude and emotion Pope John XXIII. In his historic, opening address on Oct. 11, 1962, at the beginning of the momentous Second Vatican Council, John XXIII made it clear that he did not call Vatican II to refute errors or to clarify points of doctrine. The Church today, he insisted, must employ the “medicine of mercy rather than that of severity.”

The “Good Pope” as he was called, rejected the opinions of those around him who were “always forecasting disaster.” He referred to them as “prophets of gloom” who lacked a sense of history, which is “the teacher of life.” Divine Providence, he declared, was leading the world into a new and better order of human relations. “And everything, even human differences, leads to the greater good of the Church.”

“Papa Roncalli” was a human being, more concerned with his faithfulness than his image, more concerned with those around him than with his own desires. With an infectious warmth and vision, he stressed the relevance of the church in a rapidly changing society and made the church’s deepest truths stand out in the modern world. He knew that the letter of the law without compassion is dehumanizing.

“Papa Giovanni” was beatified by his successor, John Paul II in 2000. In 2014 he was canonized together with John Paul by Pope Francis. May he soften the hearts of the modern-day Pharisees and Sadducees who are alive and well in the Church and world today!

[The readings for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27; and Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23]

(Image: “Christ and the Pharisees” by Ernst Zimmerman)

Who was Junípero Serra and why is he becoming a Saint?

Junipero Serra in US Capitol Statuary Hall

During his Apostolic Visit to the United States of America next month, Pope Francis will celebrate the Mass of Canonization of Blessed Junípero Miguel José Serra Ferrer  (Fray Junipero Serra) at 4:15 p.m. at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Wednesday afternoon,September 23, 2015. Earlier that same day, he will be formally welcomed at the White House by US President Barack Obama and also meet with the Bishops of the United States at St. Matthew’s Cathedral.

Blessed Junipero Serra (1713 – 1784), a Franciscan Missionary, died at the aged of 70 at the St Charles Borromeo Mission in Carmel, Monterey (California) in 1784, where he is now buried under the sanctuary floor. Pope Francis has recently said that Serra’s work of evangelization “reminds us of the first “12 Franciscan apostles” who were pioneers of the Christian faith in Mexico… . He ushered in a new springtime of evangelization in those immense territories, extending from Florida to California, which, in the previous two hundred years, had been reached by missionaries from Spain.”

Some experts are writing these days about Serra’s negative effects and impact on indigenous persons, Serra defended the indigenous peoples against abuses by the colonizers. The canonization of Blessed Serra, like those of other American saints, speaks to the deep spiritual roots and holiness of America. Among the many questions I have received about Blessed Junipero Serra’s life, ministry in California in the 18th century, and appropriateness and timing of his canonization, are those regarding the very meaning of canonization and holiness as well as the potentially negative impact that this canonization could have upon Native (indigineous) peoples throughout the world.

When social justice struggles become the ideological test for the veneration of martyrs, blessed and saints, we must ask some deeper questions. That persons are declared “Blessed” or “Saint” is not a statement about perfection. It does not mean that the person was without imperfection, blindness, deafness or sin. Nor is it a 360-degree evaluation of the pastoral agenda of the Petrine Ministry of the current Pope or of the Vatican.

Martyrdom, beatification and canonization mean that persons lived their lives with God, relying totally on God’s infinite mercy, going forward with God’s strength and power, believing in the impossible, loving one’s enemies and persecutors, forgiving in the midst of evil and violence, hoping beyond all hope, and leaving the world a better place. Though they may have experienced moral solitude, they manifested incredible hope and peace and brought many people to God. The proclamation of new saints and blesseds invites us to look beyond the labels and stereotypes that we often place on the martyrs, blessed, saints and all holy men and women, and consider the ultimate witness and gifts of their lives to God. We must learn from their examples of how they transformed hatred and violence into love, and only love. Having willed the one thing in their lives, the martyrs, saints and blesseds allowed themselves to be touched by God at the core of their beings that was beyond words, conceptualization, imagination and feeling. Such persons let those around them know that there is a force or spirit animating their lives that is not of this world, but the next.  They let us catch a glimpse of the greatness and holiness to which we are all called, and show us the face of God as we journey on our pilgrim way on earth.

It is hoped that this background information would address the matters of the meaning of canonization and holiness as well as provide for you numerous texts of both St. John Paul II and Pope Francis that provide important elements of Blessed Junipero Serra’s life and ministry. The frequent references to Blessed Serra by both Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis answer some of the questions people are asking on the eve of Serra’s canonization in Washington.

Who Was Junipero Serra?

Junípero Serra was born in 1713 in Majorca, Spain, a son of Antonio Nadal Serra and Margarita Rosa Ferrer who spent their lives as farmers. In Petra, Spain, Serra attended the primary school of the Franciscans conducted at the friary of San Bernardino. At the age of fifteen he was taken by his parents to Palma to be placed in the charge of a cathedral canon, and he began to assist at classes in philosophy held in the Franciscan monastery of San Francisco.

He took the name Junípero when he joined the Franciscan order in 1730. He taught for more than a decade before going to Mexico in 1749. After working as a missionary in Sierra Gorda and Mexico City, Serra was sent to California. He made the trip by foot despite having terrible sores on his legs. Once he reached California, Serra established his first mission, San Diego de Alcalá, in 1769. He built eight more missions over the next thirteen years: San Antonio de Padua; San Gabriel, Arcángel; San Luis, Obispo de Tolosa; San Juan Capistrano; San Francisco de Asis; and San Buenaventura. Serra worked tirelessly tirelessly to maintain the missions and is credited with helping the Spanish establish a presence in California.

Serra died in 1784 at Mission San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo located in present-day Carmel, California. The site is now home to the National Shrine to Blessed Junípero Serra, and many visitors go there each year to honor the famous missionary.

Full Text of Biography of Serra from Franciscan Website.

Serra Stamp

Excerpt of HOMILY OF POPE FRANCIS

EUCHARISTIC CELEBRATION AT THE PONTIFICAL NORTH AMERICAN COLLEGE

Janiculum Hill, Rome
Saturday May 2, 2015

“What made Friar Junípero leave his home and country, his family, university chair and Franciscan community in Mallorca to go to the ends of the earth? Certainly, it was the desire to proclaim the Gospel ad gentes, that heartfelt impulse which seeks to share with those farthest away the gift of encountering Christ: a gift that he had first received and experienced in all its truth and beauty. Like Paul and Barnabas, like the disciples in Antioch and in all of Judea, he was filled with joy and the Holy Spirit in spreading the word of the Lord. Such zeal excites us, it challenges us! These missionary disciples who have encountered Jesus, the Son of God, who have come to know him through his merciful Father, moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit, went out to all the geographical, social and existential peripheries, to bear witness to charity. They challenge us! Sometimes we stop and thoughtfully examine their strengths and, above all, their weaknesses and their shortcomings. But I wonder if today we are able to respond with the same generosity and courage to the call of God, who invites us to leave everything in order to worship him, to follow him, to rediscover him in the face of the poor, to proclaim him to those who have not known Christ and, therefore, have not experienced the embrace of his mercy. Friar Junípero’s witness calls upon us to get involved, personally, in the mission to the whole continent, which finds its roots in Evangelii Gaudium.

Full text found here.

Excerpt from ADDRESS OF POPE JOHN PAUL II
TO THE BISHOPS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
ON THEIR «AD LIMINA» VISIT

Wednesday June 8, 1988

“One event of those days has a very special relevance now. It is the visit that I made to the Basilica of Carmel and to the tomb of Fray Junipero Serra. In less than three months from now, some of us will gather again here as the Church beatifies him, officially proclaiming him worthy of honour and imitation by all. In venerating “the Apostle of California” at his tomb I spoke of his contribution, which was “to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the dawn of a new age.” I also endeavoured to present his essential message, which is the constant need to evangelize. In that context I stated: “Like Father Serra and his Franciscan brethren, we too are called to be evangelizers, to share actively in the Church’s mission of making disciples of all people”.

Full text found at here.

Excerpt from ADDRESS OF POPE JOHN PAUL II

Basilica of the Mission of San Carlos in Carmel
Thursday, September 17, 1987

Junipero SerraI come today as a pilgrim to this Mission of San Carlos, which so powerfully evokes the heroic spirit and heroic deeds of Fray Junípero Serra and which enshrines his mortal remains. This serene and beautiful place is truly the historical and spiritual heart of California. All the missions of El Camino Real bear witness to the challenges and heroism of an earlier time, but not a time forgotten or without significance for the California of today and the Church of today.

These buildings and the men who gave them life, especially their spiritual father, Junípero Serra, are reminders of an age of discovery and exploration. The missions are the result of a conscious moral decision made by people of faith in a situation that presented many human possibilities, both good and bad, with respect to the future of this land and its native peoples. It was a decision rooted in a love of God and neighbour. It was a decision to proclaim the Gospelof Jesus Christ at the dawn of a new age, which was extremely important for both the European settlers and the Native Americans.

Very often, at crucial moments in human affairs, God raises up men and women whom he thrusts into roles of decisive importance for the future development of both society and the Church. Although their story unfolds within the ordinary circumstances of daily life, they become larger than life within the perspective of history. We rejoice all the more when their achievement is coupled with a holiness of life that can truly be called heroic. So it is withJunípero Serra, who in the providence of God was destined to be the Apostle of California, and to have a permanent influence over the spiritual patrimony of this land and its people, whatever their religion might be. This apostolic awareness is captured in the words ascribed to him: “In California is my life and there, God willing, I hope to die”. Through Christ’s Paschal Mystery, that death has become a seed in the soil of this state that continues to bear fruit “thirty – or sixty – or a hundred-fold” (Matth. 13, 9).

Father Serra was a man convinced of the Church’s mission, conferred upon her by Christ himself, to evangelize the world, to “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Ibid. 28, 19). The way in which he fulfilled that mission corresponds faithfully to the Church’s vision today of what evangelization means: “… the Church evangelizes when she seeks to convert, solely through the divine power of the message she proclaims, both the personal and collective consciences of people, the activities in which they engage, and the lives and concrete milieux which are theirs” Pauli VI Evangelii Nuntiandi, 18).

He not only brought the Gospel to the Native Americans, but as one who lived the Gospel he also became their defender and champion. At the age of sixty he journeyed from Carmel to Mexico City to intervene with the Viceroy on their behalf – a journey which twice brought him close to death – and presented his now famous Representación with its “bill of rights”, which had as their aim the betterment of every phase of missionary activity in California, particularly the spiritual and physical well-being of its Native Americans.

Father Serra and his fellow missionaries shared the conviction found everywhere in the New Testament that the Gospel is a matter of life and salvation. They believed that in offering to people Jesus Christ, they were doingsomething of immense value, importance and dignity. What other explanation can there be for the hardships that they freely and gladly endured, like Saint Paul and all the other great missionaries before them: difficult and dangerous travel, illness and isolation, an ascetical life-style, arduous labour, and also, like Saint Paul, that “concern for all the churches” (2Cor. 11, 28) which Junípero Serra, in particular, experienced as Presidente of the California missions in the face of every vicissitude, disappointment and opposition.

Dear brothers and sisters: like Father Serra and his Franciscan brethren, we too are called to be evangelizers, to share actively in the Church’s mission of making disciples of all people. The way in which we fulfil that mission will be different from theirs. But their lives speak to us still because of their sure faith that the Gospel is true, and because of their passionate belief in the value of bringing that saving truth to others at great personal cost. Much to be envied are those who can give their lives for something greater than themselves in loving service to others. This, more than words or deeds alone, is what draws people to Christ.

This single-mindedness is not reserved for great missionaries in exotic places. It must be at the heart of each priest’s ministry and the evangelical witness of every religious. It is the key to their personal sense of well-being, happiness and fulfilment in what they are and what they do. This single-mindedness is also essential to the Christian witness of the Catholic laity. The covenant of love between two people in marriage and the successful sharing of faith with children require the effort of a lifetime. If couples cease believing in their marriage as a sacrament before God, or treat religion as anything less than a matter of salvation, then the Christian witness they might have given to the world is lost. Those who are unmarried must also be steadfast in fulfilling their duties in life if they are to bring Christ to the world in which they live.

“In him who is the source of my strength I have strength for everything” (Phil. 4, 13). These words of the great missionary, Saint Paul, remind us that our strength is not our own. Even in the martyrs and saints, as the liturgy reminds us, it is “(God’s) power shining through our human weakness” (Praefatio Martyrum). It is the strength that inspired Father Serra’s motto: “always forward, never back”. It is the strength that one senses in this place of prayer so filled with his presence. It is the strength that can make each one of us, dear brothers and sisters, missionaries of Jesus Christ, witnesses of his message, doers of his word.

Full text found at here.

MEETING WITH THE NATIVE PEOPLES OF THE AMERICAS

Excerpt from ADDRESS OF POPE JOHN PAUL II

Memorial Coliseum, Phoenix
Monday September 14, 1987

Serra in US Capitol Statuary Hall 2“One priest who deserves special mention among the missionaries is the beloved Fray Junipero Serra, who travelled throughout Lower and Upper California. He had frequent clashes with the civil authorities over the treatment of Indians. In 1773 he presented to the Viceroy in Mexico City aRepresentación, which is sometimes termed a “Bill of Rights” for Indians. The Church had long been convinced of the need to protect them from exploitation. Already in 1537, my predecessor Pope Paul III proclaimed the dignity and rights of the native peoples of the Americas by insisting that they not be deprived of their freedom or the possession of their property. In Spain the Dominican priest, Francisco de Vitoria, became the staunch advocate of the rights of the Indians and formulated the basis for international law regarding the rights of peoples.

Unfortunately not all the members of the Church lived up to their Christian responsibilities. But let us not dwell excessively on mistakes and wrongs, even as we commit ourselves to overcoming their present effects. Let us also be grateful to those who came to this land, faithful to the teachings of Jesus, witnesses of his new commandment of love. These men and women, with good hearts and good minds, shared knowledge and skills from their own cultures and shared their most precious heritage, the faith, as well. Now, we are called to learn from the mistakes of the past and we must work together for reconciliation and healing, as brothers and sisters in Christ. “

Full text found at here.

Do You Also Wish to Go Away?

Depart from Me cropped

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – August 23, 2015

In today’s Gospel (John 6:60-69), we hear of the mixed reactions of Jesus’ disciples to the Bread of Life discourse that we have heard over the past weeks. Jesus provided bread, but his bread is not like the manna that God provided in the wilderness; this bread is himself, his very life; and those who eat it “will live forever.”

As is often the case in John’s Gospel, small, ordinary words such as bread and life are loaded with theological meaning. Centuries of Eucharistic theology and reflection give us a way to understand these words, but at the time they were first spoken, they were more than puzzling — they probably were offensive to some people. Rightly reading the mood of his audience, Jesus says, “Does this offend you?”

Jesus’ challenge sets up a critical turning point in the Gospel. Not only are we told that one of Jesus’ followers would betray him; we also learn that some of those who had been following Jesus “turned back and no longer went about with him.”

The group gets smaller as the stakes get higher. Whatever explanation Jesus gives, some choose to walk away, thus revoking their loyalty. John uses the word “disciples” for those who turn back. These were not casual or seasonal listeners: They were disciples who knew him and were most likely known by him.

You too?

Then Jesus called the Twelve together and put the question to them straightforward: “Do you also wish to go away?”

Peter plays the role of spokesperson, just as he does in the other Gospels: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” While the words are different, this exchange is much the same as Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi. There, Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?” — to which Peter responds, “You are the Messiah” (Mark 8:27-30). In both cases, the miracle of the feeding is the backdrop for the crucial question: who is Jesus really?

Paul’s marriage challenge

If we want to find out how the relationship between a man and woman in marriage should be according to the Bible, we must look at the relationship between Christ and the Church. In today’s second reading from the letter to the community at Ephesus, Paul exhorts married Christians to a strong mutual love.

At the origin and center of every Christian marriage, there must be love: “You, husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.” Paul’s teaching on Christian marriage was difficult then as it is today.

Holding with Genesis 2:24 that marriage is a divine institution (Ephesians 5:31), Paul sees Christian marriage as taking on a new meaning symbolic of the intimate relationship of love between Christ and the Church. The wife should serve her husband in the same spirit as that of the church’s service to Christ (Ephesians 5:22, 24), and the husband should care for his wife with the devotion of Christ to the church (Ephesians 5:25-30).

Paul gives to the Genesis passage its highest meaning in the light of the union of Christ and the Church, of which Christ-like loyalty and devotion in Christian marriage are a clear reflection (Ephesians 5:31-33).

Parts of today’s Ephesians reading can be problematic, especially when one takes the line, “wives should be subordinate to their husbands,” out of context. Some have justified abuse of their spouse by taking this line (Ephesians 5:22) completely out of context. They have justified their bad behavior, but the passage (v. 21-33) refers to the mutual submission of husband and wife out of love for Christ: “Husbands should love their wives as they love their own body, as Christ loves the Church.”

The Scriptures cannot be used to justify violence toward, or abuse of, any other human being. The Gospel calls all of us to show mutual care and respect to one another. This must be present in any healthy marriage or other committed relationship.

This mutual love and respect must also extend to relationships between nations and other groups of people. It must be reflected in the structures and rules of our society. Mutuality and loving, selfless service are the keys to an authentic, loving marriage, and of just relationships.

Foundations of society

In his third encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate,” Benedict XVI wrote:

“It is thus becoming a social and even economic necessity once more to hold up to future generations the beauty of marriage and the family, and the fact that these institutions correspond to the deepest needs and dignity of the person.

“In view of this, states are called to enact policies promoting the centrality and the integrity of the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman, the primary vital cell of society, and to assume responsibility for its economic and fiscal needs, while respecting its essentially relational character” (44).

Though “Caritas in Veritate” is touted as a response to the economic crisis of the time, but is much more than that. A defense of family, the sanctity of life, a caution to not undermine the importance of human dignity: The Holy Father prudently explores each area, dissecting each topic on its own, as well as relating it to economics.

Regardless of any economic aspect, the wisdom shared concerning these areas stands on its own. It serves us well to take note of this as we strive for authentic human development. This is not some antiquated teaching or remnant of the past. It is the living foundation for the present and the future of humanity. And like many of Jesus’ words, some will take offense at this and “walk away.”

Without married people, we cannot build the future of society and the Church. I am convinced beyond any doubt that from solid families will come forth vocations to serve the church. The “vocation crisis” in many parts of the world is due in great part to the break up and dissolution of the family.

A scandalous teaching

The depth and significance of Christ’s message, and the teaching of the Church, scandalizes, in the sense that it is often a stumbling block for the disbeliever and it is a test for the believer.

The theme of scandal, in the New Testament is connected with faith, as free acceptance of the mystery of Christ. Before the Gospel we cannot remain indifferent, lukewarm or evasive: The Lord calls each of us personally asking us to declare ourselves for him (cf. Matthew 10:32-33).

When we are faced with the difficult teachings of Jesus and the Church, do we also wish to go away? Is it not true that many times, because of the complexity of the issues, and the pressures of the society around us, we may wish to “go away?”

Peter’s response to Jesus’ question — “Do you also wish to go away?” — in today’s Gospel is striking. He doesn’t say, “yes, of course,” but he doesn’t quite say “no” either.

Instead, in good Gospel-style, he answers back with another question: “To whom else can we go?” It is not the most flattering answer in the world, but it is honest. Peter and the others stay with Jesus precisely because he has been a source of life for them. Jesus liberated them and given them a new life.

Following Jesus and the teaching of the Church may not always be easy, or pleasant, or even totally comprehensible, but when it comes to the eternal-life business, there’s not much out there in the way of alternatives.

This week let us not forget the words of Jesus: “Whoever eats me will live because of me.” Let us give witness to our Catholic faith and to God’s plan that marriage be the sacred union of one man and one woman, to family life as the foundation of our society.

Blessed are we if we do not take offense, but are led by these words to abundant life.

[The readings for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b; Ephesians 5:21-32 or 5:2a, 25-32; and John 6:60-69]

Archbishop John Carroll, SJ (1735-1815) First Bishop of the United States of America

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Continuing the preparation for the visit of Pope Francis to the United States next month, I offer you this background text on the first bishop of the United States. I have prepared it to provide an historical context to John Carroll’s Jesuit formation and the arrival of the first Jesuit Pope among us.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB


Much is written these days about the fact that Pope Francis is the first Jesuit Pope. When Pope Francis touches down in the USA on September 22, 2015, he will be visiting a Church whose first leader was also a member of the Society of Jesus. John Carroll, SJ, Archbishop of Baltimore was the first bishop of the United States of America. Born at Upper Marlboro, Maryland on January 8, 1735, he died in Baltimore on December 3, 1815. John was the fourth of seven children of Daniel Carroll and Eleanor Darnall. He attended the Jesuit grammar school Bohemia in Cecil County, Maryland. He then went abroad to St. Omer’s College in French Flanders for six years. His father Daniel died in 1750, and in 1753 John Carroll joined the Society of Jesus. In 1755 he began his studies of philosophy and theology at Liège (Belgium), and after fourteen years of studies was ordained priest at the age of thirty-four in 1761. The next four years he spent at St.-Omer and at Liège teaching philosophy and theology. Fr. Carroll took final vows in the Society of Jesus in 1771. In 1773 while Fr. Carroll was in Europe, Pope Clement XIV published the Bull suppressing and dissolving the Society of Jesus.

Carroll John Bishop This sad and painful news reached Carroll on September 5, 1773, and John’s Jesuit life ended. Suddenly he had to provide for his future course of life. The following spring he returned to Maryland to live with his mother. John Carroll began the life of a missionary in Maryland and Virginia. As a result of laws discriminating against Catholics, there was no public Catholic Church in Maryland. Catholics were forbidden public worship. John celebrated daily mass in his mother’s house and built a tiny frame chapel on his mother’s estate where he celebrated Sunday mass. He spent his time studying ancient literature.

In 1776, John accompanied Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Chase, and his cousin Charles Carroll on a mission to Canada. The mission was unsuccessful in winning Canada over to the American side in the Revolution. John journeyed back to Philadelphia, caring for an ailing Benjamin Franklin. (Franklin would remember John Carroll’s kindness later when asked by the Vatican to recommend a priest who would become the first bishop of the United States.)

After 1783 John Carroll became a vigorous defender of Catholic rights in the new nation. Carroll also advised the Vatican that the United States needed a diocesan bishop chosen by its own clergy. The Maryland clergy sent a petition to Rome dated November 6, 1783, requesting permission for the missionaries in Maryland to nominate a superior who should have some of the powers of a bishop. The Vatican agreed with the proposal and in 1786 Baltimore was named the first diocese of the United States with John Carroll as its bishop. Fr. Carroll took up his residence in Baltimore (1786-1787), where even Protestants were charmed by his sermons delivered in old St. Peter’s church. In 1790 John traveled to England for his episcopal consecration, which took place in a chapel at Lulworth Castle, England on August 15, through the imposition of hands of the Rt. Rev. Charles Walmesley, Senior Vicar Apostolic of England.

John Carroll Founder Georgetown UniversityReturning to America, Bishop Carroll took an active part in municipal affairs, especially in establishing schools, Catholic and non-Catholic, being president of the Female Humane Charity School of the City of Baltimore, one of three trustees for St. John’s College at Annapolis, founder of Georgetown College in 1791, (which would become Georgetown University), head of the Library Company, the pioneer of the Maryland Historical Society, and President of the trustees of Baltimore College (1803). For the training of priests he invited the Sulpicians from France, who established St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. Carroll also encouraged Elizabeth Seton to establish the American Sisters of Charity for the education of young girls. Elizabeth Ann Seton was proclaimed a saint in 1975 by Pope Paul VI.

Bishop Carroll appealed to the US Congress for the need of a constitutional provision for the protection and maintenance of religious liberty, and we can be grateful to Carroll for the provision in Article Six, Section 3, of the US Constitution, which declares that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States”, and also the first amendment, passed this same year by the first Congress, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

In 1792 Bishop Carroll interceded with George Washington regarding missions among the Indians; eventually the President recommended to Congress a civilizing and Christianizing policy among the Indians, one result of which was the acceptance of the services of a Catholic priest, to whom a small yearly salary was allowed.

Bishop Carroll conferred the Sacrament of Holy Orders for the first time in 1793 on Rev. Stephen Badin, the first priest ordained within the limits of the original thirteen of the United States. In 1795, Carroll ordained to the priesthood Prince Demetrius Gallitzin who was to add 6,000 converts to his flock. In 1798, Bishop Carroll won an interesting and important lawsuit in Pennsylvania, the famous Fromm Case, which decided: “The Bishop of Baltimore has the sole episcopal authority over the Catholic Church of the United States. Every Catholic congregation within the United States is subject to his inspection; and without authority from him no Catholic priest can exercise any pastoral function over any congregation within the United States.”

After the death of George Washington, Bishop Carroll issued a circular to his clergy on December 29, 1799, regarding the commemoration of February 22 as a day of mourning, giving directions for “such action as would be in conformity with the spirit of the Church, while attesting to the country the sorrow and regret experienced by Catholics at the great national loss.”

By unanimous vote, the United States Congress in conjunction with the clergy of all denominations and congregations of Christians throughout the United States, invited Bishop Carroll to preach a panegyric (eulogy of high praise) for the deceased President of the United States in St. Peter’s Church in Baltimore on February 22, 1800. It was considered by all present and those who heard about it as one of the most masterful orations ever presented for the first President of the United States.

In 1808, Bishop Carroll became Archbishop of Baltimore, with suffragan sees at New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Bardstown. John Carroll was bishop and archbishop of Baltimore for 35 years. He proved to be an astute leader while facing so many difficulties of establishing the Church in a new, democratic environment. When he was near death, Archbishop Carroll said, “Of those things that give me most consolation at the present moment, one is that I have always been attached to the practice of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary; that I have established it among the people under my care, and placed my diocese under her protection.”

When Carroll died in 1815, there was great mourning and sadness over the loss of such a great shepherd. A Baltimore newspaper of the day said of the funeral ceremonies: “We have never witnessed a funeral procession where so many of eminent respectability and standing among us followed the train of mourners. Distinctions of rank, of wealth, of religious opinion were laid aside in the great testimony of respect to the memory of the man.”

Another Baltimore paper said: “In him religion assumed its most attractive and amiable form, and his character conciliated for the body over which he presided, respect and consideration from the liberal, the enlightened of all ranks and denominations; for they saw that his life accorded with the benign doctrines of that religion which he professed. In controversy he was temperate yet compelling, considerate yet uncompromising.”

One hundred ninety-five years after Ignatius of Loyola founded the Society of Jesus in 1540 to reach people around the world with the Gospel and help them find God in whatever they did and wherever they were, John Carroll entered the world in Maryland. Upon entering the Society of Jesus in 1753, Carroll sought God in all things, all situations and all people, including the painful experience of exile after the suppression of the Society of Jesus. Like Ignatius his spiritual father, Carroll put into practice all that Ignatius taught, and became a great, good and founding shepherd and first Jesuit bishop of the American Church.

When the first Jesuit Pope visits the United States in September 2015, it will be cause for rejoicing and a moment of gratitude that Ignatius’ vision and Pope Francis’ Petrine and Ignatian Ministry have found a home in the United States of America from the very beginnings of this great nation. May the brilliant vision of Ignatius of Loyola and the courageous Petrine ministry of Francis of Buenos Aires help all people to become more thankful and reverent, more devoted to God, and more deeply in love with the Creator.

A Reflection for the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary – August 15

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Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(CNS photo/Victor Aleman, Vida Nueva)