Feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple at Jerusalem

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November 21, 2014

According to the tradition in the Eastern Church, when Mary was three years of age, Joachim and Anne took her to the Temple so that she might be consecrated to the service of the Lord. The legend says that they invited the young girls of the town to walk before her with lighted torches. As soon as they had reached the Temple, Mary, alone and unhesitatingly, went up the steps of the sanctuary where she was to remain, living in the contemplation of God and miraculously fed by the Archangel Gabriel, until the day she was espoused to Joseph, shortly before the Annunciation.

The theme of the feast is that Mary the Immaculate One, the Temple of the Living God, is offered to the Almighty in his holy house in Jerusalem. This day witnesses the bond between the Word and the Virgin predestined in eternity: this day is the fountainhead of all her privileges.

A more historical view is that the feast originates in Jerusalem in 543. In the Latin rite, it took many years for the feast to be widely accepted; it entered the Western calendar in 1585. Today, the feast celebrates the recognition of Mary as a temple in whom God dwells. In a very special way, the Blessed Virgin is herself a holy temple when she conceived the very Son of God in her immaculate womb, she became a true temple of the true God; when she cherished the word of God in her heart (see Luke 2:19, 51), loved Christ so ardently, and faithfully kept his word, the Son and the Father came to her and made their home with her, in accordance with the promise of the Lord (see John 14:23).Basilian

November 21 is the date upon which we celebrate Pro Orantibus Day marking the liturgical feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Temple. The day is dedicated to those who belong to contemplative religious orders. It’s a good opportunity to thank the Lord for the gift of so many people who, in monasteries and hermitages, dedicate themselves to God in prayer and silent work. Many contemplative communities throughout the world pray for Salt and Light Television.  For our part, we remember with gratitude these religious women of who as St Thérèse of Lisieux wrote choose to abide in the ‘heart’ of the Church.

Marian devotion has always been important for my own religious family, the Congregation of Priests of St. Basil (Basilian Fathers). Their support of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network has been constant over the past 12 years. In his History of the Basilian Fathers, Fr. Charles Roume, CSB, recalls that it was on November 21, 1822, Feast of the Presentation of Mary, that all the French confrères finally agreed to come together for their first ‘Chapter’.  They elected Fr. Joseph LaPierre as the first Superior General of the Basilian Community. For this reason, Basilians chose November 21 as our foundation day.

Here is a link to the documentary on our foundation in France after the French Revolution: http://saltandlighttv.org/whenithinkofannonay/

In remembering the Blessed Virgin Mary’s presentation in the Temple at Jerusalem on this day, we honour one whose hidden life brings light and warmth to the Church in every place. May her example give all consecrated religious, and those with whom we live and work, the courage to seek wisdom, the strength to radiate light and warmth to the Church, and the ability to become dwelling places of God’s consoling and compassionate presence on earth.

Mary_Presentation2Let us pray:

Almighty and ever living God, today we honour the memory of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose hidden life brings light and warmth to the Church in every place. Her presentation in the temple at Jerusalem reveals her as a temple where God truly lives among us. May Mary’s example give us the strength to radiate that light and warmth to the Church, and help us to be dwelling places of God’s joyful presence on earth. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

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

The Universe Turns Upon a Cup of Water Given to the Little Ones

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Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Year A – Sunday, November 23, 2014

During my graduate studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in the late 1980s, I had the privilege of teaching Scripture on several occasions to the Missionaries of Charity at their formation house on the outskirts of Rome. Several times when I was with the sisters, Mother Teresa of Calcutta was visiting the formation community. I will never forget that little, bent-over, Albanian-born woman sitting on the floor of the chapel as I led the sisters in biblical reflections. It was a daunting experience for me to be expounding on Sacred Scripture to someone many considered even back then a living saint; one who, without exegetical skills and ancient biblical languages in her repertoire, understood far better the meaning of God’s Word than I ever would. One evening after I had finished the lecture and was gathering my books together to begin the trip back to the Canadian College in Rome, Mother came over to speak with me. At the end of the conversation, I asked her: “How do you do it day in and day out? How do you deal with the crowds of people trying to see you when you are out in public.” She raised her hand before my face and shook her five fingers at me. “Five words,” she said; “five words: You did it to me.”

“You did it to me.”

On this final Sunday of the liturgical year, also known as the Solemnity of Christ the King, we are presented with the great scene of the final judgment (Matthew 25:31-46), peculiar to Matthew’s Gospel. The final judgment will accompany the parousia (second coming of Christ) and is the last teaching of Jesus before he goes to Jerusalem to face his crucifixion and death. The stirring refrain of today’s Gospel is found precisely in these words: “You did it to me” (25:40).

The crux of today’s Gospel is not so much trying to identify who are sheep and who are goats. The sheep that are at the Son of Man’s right hand are those that recognized and accepted the messenger and the message. The goats on his left did not recognize or accept the messenger or the message.

Christ the Lord of history and king of the universe will separate the sheep from the goats at the end of time based on whether or not they have accepted the Word of God by accepting the ambassadors who were sent to proclaim that Word. Such acceptance or rejection is ultimately acceptance or rejection of the God who sent Jesus. To reject Jesus the Son is to reject God the Father. To reject a disciple sent by Jesus is to reject Jesus himself.

Inclusion in the Royal Kingdom

The Son who “sits upon his glorious throne with all the nations gathered before him” (25:31-32) is the same one who, at the very peak of his cosmic power, reveals that the universe turns upon a cup of water given to the little ones in his name. Jesus tells us that whenever we practice works of mercy, forgiveness, and kindness, we are doing these things to him. He fully identifies himself with the needy, the marginalized, and the dependent; the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. Everyone is included in the Royal Kingdom of the humble Jesus. His reign completely overturns our notions of earthly kingship. The kingship and royalty of Jesus are of ultimate service, even to the point of laying down his life for others.

The righteous will be astonished that in caring for the needs of those who suffer, they were ministering to the Lord himself (25:37-38). The accursed (25:41) will also be astonished that their neglect of those suffering was neglect of the Lord and they will receive from him a similar fate.

When God will be all in all

In today’s second reading from the first letter to the Corinthians (15:20-26, 28), Paul describes Christ’s relations to his enemies and his Father. Paul’s vision includes cosmic dimensions as he attempts to describe the goal of all history. The reading is theological and Christological, for God is the ultimate agent in and culmination of history. In the end we are all saved by this God who has entered human history in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. When God finally rules, there will be no further resistance to his saving power. God will be all in all. This is what lies at the heart of the word “subjection” (15:28): that God may fully be God and accomplish his saving acts on our behalf.

Three final thoughts on the kingship of God’s Son

At the end of the liturgical year, and in light of the majestic scene of the final judgment, let us first consider two texts of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. First, from his Apostolic Letter of October 11, 2011, Porta Fidei, for the Indiction of the Year of Faith:

Faith without charity bears no fruit, while charity without faith would be a sentiment constantly at the mercy of doubt. Faith and charity each require the other, in such a way that each allows the other to set out along its respective path. Indeed, many Christians dedicate their lives with love to those who are lonely, marginalized or excluded, as to those who are the first with a claim on our attention and the most important for us to support, because it is in them that the reflection of Christ’s own face is seen. Through faith, we can recognize the face of the risen Lord in those who ask for our love. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). These words are a warning that must not be forgotten and a perennial invitation to return the love by which he takes care of us. It is faith that enables us to recognize Christ and it is his love that impels us to assist him whenever he becomes our neighbour along the journey of life. Supported by faith, let us look with hope at our commitment in the world, as we await “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13; cf. Rev 21:1).

The Kingdom of Christ cannot be built by force

Next, let us consider Pope Emeritus Benedict’s moving reflection on Christ’s kingship, spoken on October 26, 2011 during the celebration of the Word held on the eve of the “Day of Reflection, Dialogue and Prayer for Peace and Justice in the World: Pilgrims of Truth, Pilgrims of Peace” held in Assisi the following day.

In his homily, Pope Emeritus Benedict quoted Zechariah 9, in which God promises salvation through a king:

But the announcement does not refer to a king with human powers and force of arms. It does not refer to a king who dominates with political and military might. This is a gentle king who reigns with humility and gentleness before God and man, a king quite different from the great sovereigns of the earth.

The Apostles recalled the prophet’s words particularly following Christ’s passion, death and resurrection when, […] with the eyes of faith, they reconsidered their Master’s joyful entry into the Holy City. He rode a donkey which had been lent to Him, […] not a horse as the powerful did. He did not enter Jerusalem accompanied by a mighty army of chariots and horsemen. He is a poor king, the king of the poor of God, […] of those who have inner freedom enabling them to overcome the greed and selfishness of the world, of those who know that God alone is their treasure. […] He is a king who will make the chariots and steeds of battle disappear, who will break the weapons of war, a king who brought peace on the Cross, uniting heaven and earth and building a bridge between all mankind. The Cross is the new arch of peace, the sign and instrument of reconciliation, […] the sign that love is stronger that any form of violence or oppression, stronger than death. Evil is overcome through goodness, through love.

The kingdom that Christ inaugurates is universal. The horizon of this poor and meek king is not the territorial horizon of a State, it is the confines of the world. He creates communion. He creates unity. And where do we see His announcement take concrete form today? In the great network of Eucharistic communities covering the earth, wherein the prophecy of Zechariah re-emerges in splendour. […] Everywhere, in all cultures, […] He comes and is present; and by entering into communion with Him, mankind is united into a single body, overcoming divisions, rivalry and rancour. The Lord comes in the Eucharist to divest us of our selfishness, our fixations which exclude others, to make us a single body, a single kingdom of peace in a divided world. […]

How can we build this kingdom of peace in which Christ is king? […] Like Jesus, the messengers of peace of His kingdom must begin a journey. […] They must journey, but not with the might of war or the force of power. […] It is not with power, force or violence that Christ’s kingdom of peace grows, but with the giving of self, with love carried to its extreme consequences, even towards out enemies. Jesus does not conquer the world by force of arms but by the power of the Cross, which is the true guarantee of victory.

Viva Cristo Rey!

Finally, let us remember the life of a young martyred Mexican Jesuit who was deeply devoted to Christ the King: Blessed Miguel Agustin Pro, S.J. (1891-1927). Born January 13, 1891, at Guadalupe Zacatecas, Mexico, Miguel “Miguelito” Pro was the son of a mining engineer and a pious and charitable mother. From his earliest days, Miguel had a special affinity for the working classes, which he kept all of his life. At age 20, he entered the Jesuit novitiate and shortly thereafter was exiled because of the Mexican Revolution. He traveled to the United States, Spain, Nicaragua, and Belgium, where he was ordained a priest in 1925. Father Pro suffered from chronic stomach ailments and when after several operations his health did not improve, his Jesuit superiors allowed him to return to Mexico in 1926 despite the horrible religious persecution underway in Mexico.

Churches were closed and priests fled into hiding. Father Pro spent the rest of his life in a secret ministry to Mexican Catholics. He strengthened people in their faith and was deeply involved in serving the poor in Mexico City. He was known for wearing all kinds of disguises that enabled him to work quietly among the poor. Miguel would dress as a beggar and go during the night to baptize infants, bless marriages, and celebrate Mass. He would appear in jail dressed as a police officer to bring Holy Viaticum to condemned Catholics. When going to wealthy neighbourhoods to provide for the poor, he would show up at the doorstep dressed as a fashionable executive with a fresh flower on his lapel. His was the stuff of a modern spy movie or award winning television series! However in all that he did, Fr. Pro always remained obedient to his superiors and was filled with the joy of serving Christ, his King.

He was falsely accused in the bombing attempt on a former Mexican president and declared a wanted man. Handed over to the police, he was sentenced to death without recourse to any legal process. On the day of his execution by a firing squad, Fr. Pro forgave his executioners, bravely refused the blindfold and died proclaiming, Viva Cristo Rey, “Long live Christ the King!”

The image of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta standing before me and raising those five fingers before my face is engraved on my memory, especially when I listen to today’s Gospel of the last judgment. “You did it to me.” The image of Blessed Miguel Pro, boldly kneeling before his executioners and forgiving them, before proclaiming the real kingship of the non-violent Lord is also deep within me.

Vindicated in the court of heaven

When we listen attentively to today’s first reading from the prophet Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17, and today’s powerful Gospel, how could we not have the images of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Blessed Miguel Pro before our eyes, as well as all of those women and men like them throughout history who tend the Lord’s scattered sheep, rescuing them when it was cloudy and dark, pasturing them, and giving them rest? Their work of shepherding, binding up the sick and healing them gives flesh and blood to today’s Gospel. “You did it to me.” Today we have the consolation that our acts of mercy toward God’s little ones are already vindicated in the court of heaven, because God sees everything from above, and is the ultimate beneficiary of any of our poor yet sincere efforts to care for the needy, the marginalized, and the dependent; the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned citizens of God’s kingdom.

Christ the King

Our faith is rooted firmly in Jesus of Nazareth who was declared a king at his execution. He was not a king who craved for power, nor a dictator who dominated and trampled underfoot those who encountered him. In his kingdom, his poor subjects were cherished and loved; they were his friends, the little ones, his brothers and sisters who partook in his very life. Worldly kingdoms will come and go. The kingdom of Jesus Christ will never pass away. Together with Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Blessed Miguel Pro of Mexico, let us acclaim our King: Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King, now and forever.

[The readings for the Solemnity of Christ the King are: Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15:-17; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; Matthew 25:31-46.]

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2011 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. Book editions for Year A and C reflections are coming soon.

(Image: Fr. Miguel Pro; CNS Photo)

Jesuit Martyrs and their friends taught us the meaning of an authentic Catholic Education

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25 Years ago at the Jesuit University in El Salvador:
Jesuit Martyrs and their Friends taught us the meaning of an authentic Catholic Education

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

Today is the 25th anniversary of the martyrdom in El Salvador of six Jesuit priests together with their housekeeper and her 15 year-old daughter.  Early on the morning of November 16, 1989, commandos of the Salvadoran armed forces entered the campus of the Jesuits‚ Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), and brutally murdered the six Jesuits, together with two women who were sleeping in a parlor attached to their residence.  The soldiers made them lie on the ground on the university campus and were then ordered to shoot them in cold blood by Lieutenant José Ricardo Espinosa who had been a student of one of them at our Jesuit high school “the Externado San José.” The commandos went and shot up the two women who were sleeping in a parlor attached to the residence.

The Jesuit priests included the university rector Ignacio Ellacuría, 59, an internationally known philosopher; Segundo Montes, 56, head of the Sociology Department and the UCA‚s human rights institute; Ignacio Martín-Baró, 44, the pioneering social psychologist who headed the Psychology Department and the polling institute; theology professors Juan Ramón Moreno, 56, and Armando López, 53; and Joaquín López y López, 71, founding head of the Fe y Alegría network of schools for the poor.  Joaquín was the only native Salvadoran, the others having arrived long before from Spain as young seminarians.  Julia Elba Ramos, the wife of a caretaker at the UCA, and their daughter Celina, 16, were killed to ensure that there would be no witnesses.

The massacre was one in a long series that included the martyrdom of Fr. Rutilio Grande SJ in 1977, and those of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero and the four US missionaries: Jean Donovan, Ursuline sister Dorothy Kazel and Maryknoll sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, in 1980.  They all mixed their blood with that of tens of thousands of lesser-known civilian victims of El Salvador‚s civil war of 1981 to 1992, which moved the world with its extremes of cruelty and of heroic generosity.

Why were they killed? They all shed their blood with tens of thousands of lesser-known civilian victims of El Salvador’s civil war of 1981 to 1992. They were looking for peace, but the peace they longed for was not peace at any price. They were one with Archbishop Romero who, shortly before his martyrdom, declared: “Let it be quite clear that if we are being asked to collaborate with a pseudo-peace, a false order, based on repression and fear, we must recall that the only order and the only peace that God wants is one based on truth and justice.”

These remarkable, heroic martyrs were Jesuits and their friends believed in the value of a Catholic, critical education; because the education which they shared with their students touched the enormity of human suffering and pain all around them in El Salvador. What happened in El Salvador to these men and women and what continues to happen to similar people in Iraq, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Mexico, South America and so many other violent places on earth is not so much a barbarous tragedy; it is also an anomalous, because authentic Catholic Education educates students into a disciplined sensitivity toward the suffering in the world, whoever and wherever they may be. Without a specific Gospel-rooted effort to bring about such a religious and humane education in and within our Catholic educational institutions, we simply graduate students unaware of pain, suffering and the real cost of being Christian and being disciple.

The martyrs of El Salvador whom we gratefully remember today stood for a Church of the poor which would herald a new society, modeling equitable social relations and solidarity; a prophetic Church like the one that Archbishop Oscar Romero symbolizes, which gives credible witness to the fullness of life that God promises. These martyrs of the Catholic University of El Salvador knew they were risking their lives. They understood the cost of following Christ.  Twenty-five years later we give thanks for them, and many like them who inspire us to live up to the challenge of our own time. It is about them that Tertullian wrote long ago: “Our numbers increase every time we are cut down by you: the blood of martyrs is the seed of new Christians” (Apol. 50, 13; CCC, PL 1,603).

The faith that was planted in El Salvador during those violent years did not die with Ignacio Ellacuría, Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martín-Baró, Juan Ramón Moreno, Armando López, Joaquín López y López, Julia Elba Ramos and young Celina.

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The martyrs of El Salvador, and so many others who are brutally murdered each day are the antidotes to a culture that tells us that another person‚s presence is not necessary. In the midst of conflict, hostility, suffering and martyrdom, they remained present to the people around them.  During times and crises of immense fragmentation and division, they kept their feet firmly planted on earth and their eyes fixed on their heavenly homeland.  They model for us authentically human relationships that begin on earth and lead us into heaven.  They teach us how to make room for God in our lives.

Let us never forget the words of the Lutheran Pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

O God, early in the morning I cry to You,
Help me to pray and concentrate my thoughts on You;
I cannot do this alone.  In me there is darkness.  But with You there is light;
I am lonely but You do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with You there is help.
I am restless, but with You there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with You there is patience;
I do not understand Your ways, but You know the way for me . . .
Restore me to liberty, and enable me so to live now
that I may answer before You and before me.
Lord, whatever this day may bring, Your name be praised.  Amen.

Ignacio Ellacuría, Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martín-Baró, Juan Ramón Moreno, Armando López, Joaquín López y López, Julia Elba Ramos and young Celina, Pray for us. Give us the boldness and courage to give witness to Christ and to authentic Catholic education today.

 

Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini – Remembering the First American Saint on her Feast Day

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Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini
Remembering the First American Saint on her Feast Day
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, known to the world as ‘Mother Cabrini’ left an indelible imprint on the Church in the United States and around the world. She was the first American saint canonized in Rome in 1946. Born Maria Francesca Cabrini on July 15, 1850 in Sant’Angelo Lodigiano in Lombardy, Italy, Maria took religious vows in 1877. Three years later, she became one of the seven founding members of the Institute of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She then set up two missions in Rome all the while nursing her true dream, which was to be a missionary in China.

Mother Cabrini gained an audience with Pope Leo XII seeking his approval for this missionary endeavour. However, at this time in history, tens of thousands of Italian immigrants were arriving in the United States and in desperate need of pastoral care. Poor and destitute, cut off from their home and tradition, Italians were encountering difficulties adjusting to the Anglo Saxon, American way of life.

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The Pope told Cabrini “Go West, Not East,” telling her the Church needed her more in the USA than in China. Despite her initial hesitation she accepted the Pope’s view and soon after began her long and legendary service to the Italian immigrant community and poor she encountered in the US. She founded an orphanage in New York, which would become the first of 67 institutions she launched in New York, Chicago, Seattle, New Orleans, Denver and Los Angeles.

Mother Cabrini’s willingness to forsake her own personal ambition to evangelize in China turned into a blessing for millions of underprivileged immigrants who benefited from her ministry. Sometimes when we are determined to have our way, we should stop and listen to the voice of God, and to those we trust, to make sure we truly are following the right course.

When I was growing up in an Italian-American household, we often heard stories of the saints and blesseds from my grandparents and parents. Two Italians, of course, were at the top of the list: Mother Cabrini and Padre Pio. St. Mother Cabrini’s prayer for humility was given to us and I have kept it ever since in my Bible.

“Lord Jesus Christ, I pray that you may fortify me witMother Cabrini 1h the grace of your Holy Spirit, and give your peace to my soul, that I may be free from all needless anxiety and worry. Help me to desire always that which is pleasing and acceptable to you, so that your will may be my will.

Grant that I may be free from unholy desires, and that, for your love, I may remain obscure and unknown in this world, to be known only to you.

Do not permit me to attribute to myself the good that you perform in me and through me, but rather, referring all honor to you, may I admit only to my infirmities, so that renouncing sincerely all vainglory which comes from the world, I may aspire to that true and lasting glory that comes from you. Amen.”

 

Fr. Thomas Rosica Addresses USCCB Committee for Ecumenical & Interreligious Affairs

New Directions in Ecumenical & Interfaith Relations in the Mind & Heart of Pope Francis

Sunday November 9, 2014 – USCCB Fall Meeting – Baltimore, Maryland

Your Excellencies,

Dear Bishops of the United States,

Dear Friends,

I am very grateful to my friend, Bishop Denis Madden, for his invitation to address you today during your Fall Meeting in Baltimore. It is both a privilege and a daunting task to stand before many good shepherds of local Churches in the United States who carry immense burdens of holding the flock together these days. You have invited me to share some reflections on Pope Francis’ outreach to Christians of other churches and to people of other faith communities. I do so not just as an outside observer, critical theologian or biblical exegete, seasoned ecumenist or catholic journalist, but most especially as one who has worked closely with the Holy See Press Office since that historic night of March 13, 2013, when something new happened in the Roman Catholic Church and in the world. A new form of outreach was inaugurated that night and we are slowly trying to assess and understand its impact and meaning in our ecclesial communities.

Four Biblical Reflections and Four Perspectives

I would like to begin by recalling four daily homilies of the Bishop of Rome over the past 19 months that may very well be a hermeneutical key to understanding Pope Francis’ ecumenical and interreligious efforts. Two months after his election to the See of Peter, in his daily homily in the chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae on May 13, 2013, 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 went on to say that this makes us think of the attitude that a Christian ought always to have.

“A Christian 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. We receive the truth when we meet it.”

The Pope warned that, “Christians who are afraid to build bridges and prefer to build walls are Christians who are not sure of their faith, not sure of Jesus Christ.” The Pope exhorted Christians to do as Paul did and begin to “build bridges and to move forward.”

One year ago on October 13, 2013 in the Chapel of the Domus, Pope Francis warned Christians against behaving as though the “key is in [their] pocket, and the door closed.” He reiterated that without prayer, one abandons the faith and descends into ideology and moralism. “Woe to you, scholars of the law! You have taken away the key of knowledge!” (Luke 11:52)

Francis continued: “Jesus speaks to us about the image of the lock; it is “the image of those Christians who have the key in their hand, but take it away, without opening the door. Worse still, they keep the door closed and don’t allow anyone to enter. In so doing, they themselves do not enter. …The lack of Christian witness does this, and when this Christian is a priest, a bishop or a Pope it is worse.”

“But how does it happen that a Christian falls into this attitude of keeping the key to the Church in his pocket, with the door closed?”

“The faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon people. In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. …And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements.”

“The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh?”

This past October 24, 2014, Francis spoke about unity in diversity in his daily homily in the Domus Chapel. “Every Christian is called to work for the unity of the Church, allowing ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit who creates unity in diversity.” “Building the unity of the Church is the work of the Church and of every Christian throughout history”.

Pope Francis noted that when the Apostle Peter speaks of the Church, he speaks of a temple made of living stones, that is us. The Pope warned that the opposite to this is “that other temple of pride, which was the Tower of Babel. The first temple “brings unity”, the second is the symbol of disunity, lack of understanding, the diversity of languages. Pope Francis then posed a question: How is “this temple built?” The Apostle Peter said “that we were living stones in this building”. Saint Paul on the other hand “advises us not to be stones, to be weak bricks”. The advice of the Apostle to the Gentiles in building this unity is “weak advice, according to human thought”.

“Humility, gentleness, magnanimity: These are weak things, because the humble person appears good for nothing; gentleness, meekness appear useless… . The weaker we are with these virtues of humility, generosity, gentleness, meekness, the stronger we become as stones in this Temple”.

“The hope to which we have been called; the hope of journeying towards the Lord; the hope of living in a living Church, made of living stones, with the power of the Holy Spirit. Only in the ground plan of hope can we move forward in the unity of the Church. We have been called to a great hope. Let’s go there! But with the strength that Jesus prayer’ for unity gives us; with docility to the Holy Spirit, who is capable of making living stones from bricks; and with the hope of finding the Lord who has called us, to encounter Him in the fullness of time”.

Just last week, on November 4, 2014, Pope Francis once again illustrated the qualities to be avoided and those to be embraced if we wish to be instruments of unity and reconciliation in the Church today. Francis based his homily on the parable recounted in the daily Gospel of the man who gave a great banquet to which he invited many. The Pope said that this parable makes us think, because “we all like being invited to dinners”.  But there was something about this dinner that three guests did not like, and these guests are an example of many of us.

One person says that he has to go and examine his field, he needs to see it in order to feel “powerful, vanity, pride and he prefers this to sitting at table among others”. Another guest had just bought five oxen and thus is taken up with his business and doesn’t want to waste time with other people. The last guest excuses himself saying that he is married and doesn’t want to bring his bride to the dinner.  He wanted to keep her affection all to himself: selfishness. Pope Francis noted: “In the end the invited guests prefer their own interests rather than sharing dinner together: They do not know what it means to celebrate”.

“It is so difficult to listen to the voice of Jesus, the voice of God, when you believe that that the whole world revolves around you: there is no horizon, because you become your own horizon. And there is more behind all of this, something far deeper: fear of gratuity. We are afraid of God’s gratuity.  He is so great that we fear Him”.

“The master sends his servant to call the poor, the crippled, he sends him to the squares and the streets of the city. The Lord asks the servant to compel people to come to the dinner. “So often the Lord has to do with us the same: with trials, so many trials.”

“Compel them, for here is the celebration. Gratuity. Compel that heart, that soul to believe in God’s gratuity, that God’s gift is free, that salvation cannot be bought: it is a great gift, the love of God … is the greatest gift! This is gratuity.”

“Today, the Church asks us not to be afraid of the gratuitousness of God”.

In these four brief, daily homilies, I believe that we have four very distinct lenses or hermeneutical keys through which me may understand Pope Francis’ modus operandi in relating to other Christians and people of good will of other faith communities.

1) Paul does not say to the Athenians: “This is the encyclopedia of truth. Study this and you have the truth, the truth.” 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. We receive the truth when we meet it in a person. His name is Jesus. Francis warns that, Christians who are afraid to build bridges and prefer to build walls are Christians who are not sure of their faith, not sure of Jesus Christ. The Pope exhorted Christians to do as Paul did and begin to “build bridges and to move forward.”

2) Faith that passes through a distiller becomes an ideology- because ideologies are rigid, always and because Christian ideology is rigid, moralistic, ethical, but without kindness; this Christian ideology is a serious illness.

3) “Humility, gentleness, magnanimity: These are weak things, because the humble person appears good for nothing; gentleness, meekness on the surface appear useless; yet generosity means being open to all, having a big heart. The weaker we are with these virtues of humility, generosity, gentleness, meekness, the stronger we become as stones in this Temple.

4) It is so difficult to listen to the voice of Jesus, the voice of God, when you believe that that the whole world revolves around you: there is no horizon, because you become your own horizon.  Yet there is something deeper underlying all of this: the fear of gratuity. We are afraid of God’s gratuity.  He is so great that we fear Him.

The Council’s Vision of Christian Unity

St. John XXIII convoked the Second Vatican Council for two specific purposes: aggiornamento – bringing the Church into the Modern World and presenting the enticing mystery of the Church to Modern World; and second, for the cause of Christian Unity – for the whole oikumene. One of the main achievements of the Council in the mid-1960s was to find a theological logic to break down the walls between Christian churches, and to usher in a new era of dialogue and partnership that we now refer to as “ecumenism.

Vatican II articulated a new theology of Church. While the fullness of the Church, according to Catholic doctrine, may exist only in Catholicism, there are nevertheless precious elements of it to be found outside that deserve our honor and respect. Interestingly enough, this theme emerged once again at the recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome and evoked once again those great lively discussions and impassioned debates that surrounded and continue to flow from the expression“subsistit in” from Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church – Lumen Gentium.

Just as Vatican II taught that elements of truth and holiness can be found outside the Catholic Church, in other Christian denominations and even in other religions, some members of the recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops suggested once again that elements of truth, goodness and even holiness may be detected and even found in some imperfect yet very real situations of daily life: situations that fall far short of the ideals of the sacred institution of Catholic marriage. I am sure you know of the intense debates that followed the first, mid-term report of what happened in the Synod Aula! Numerous Synod fathers questioned the validity of the analogy of “subsistit in” in relation to sacramental marriage and those living in “irregular” situations. Nevertheless, no one can deny the dynamic conversations that took place among us at the Synod as we sought to find a vocabulary and expression to name the new situations of our time and find the presence of God in them.

Pope Francis’ Ecumenical Outreach

The ultimate goal of ecumenism is the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer that his disciples would be one so the world would believe. What we long for is full unity in faith and the sacraments. A central image of the Christian life for Pope Francis is the movement toward Christian unity – a movement that happens one step at a time. For Francis, it is not about waiting for others to catch up with us. It is about everyone continuing to walk with and toward the Lord, supporting and learning from the brothers and sisters whom God places on the same path. The deeper we all grow in holiness, the closer we will be to one another.

While Francis’ gestures are new, and even disconcerting to some, the idea of growth in unity being the result of growth in fidelity to Christ is not. The unity we seek requires inner conversion that is both common and personal. It is not merely a matter of cordiality, or good cooperation, it is necessary above all to strengthen our faith in God, in the God of Jesus Christ, who spoke to us and took on our flesh and blood in the incarnation.

Francis and Orthodox Christianity

With Pope Francis we are witnessing a growing cooperation among the recognized leaders from the Eastern Orthodox Churches. The idea of Orthodox Christians being able to learn from the Pope of Rome appears foreign to many of us. The renewed Roman efforts of outreach to Orthodox Christians have not passed unnoticed. Orthodox Christians are learning from the unique witness of Pope Francis. He is in many ways a bishop who reflects the Christianity of the first millennium when the Church was undivided. Pope Francis also models a form of leadership that is badly needed in Orthodox Christianity today. Let me offer a few lessons that Francis is offering to the East.

The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople was present at the first moments of the Petrine Ministry of Francis in March 2013. From May 24-25, 2014 the Ecumenical Patriarch and Pope Francis welcomed each other in Jerusalem to observe the anniversary of the historic encounter between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and the subsequent lifting of mutual anathemas. Following the historic visit to the Holy Land, Patriarch Bartholomew travelled to Rome and joined Pope Francis and the Presidents of Israel and Palestine in a very historic prayer for peace in the Vatican Gardens.

What is it about Francis’ exercise of the Petrine ministry that is so enticing to the Orthodox? I would like to refer to three distinctive qualities emerging from the Papacy of Pope Francis. The Bishop of Rome is teaching us each day that authentic power is service. There is no place for the trappings of power, privilege and prestige in the exercise of Francis’ Petrine ministry. Francis shocked many on that first Holy Thursday night in 2013 when he visited a youth detention center in Rome and chose to wash the feet of young offenders, including one who was an Orthodox Christian. If we do not learn this Christian rule and posture of servanthood, we will never be able to understand Jesus’ true message about true power.

Second, Francis has taught us about life on the peripheries of society. Pope Francis challenges Orthodox Christians with the following words: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.”

A risk-taking Church that is not afraid to fail is much healthier than a Church that is focused on institutional security and closed in on itself. Such a lesson is not only meant for the Churches of the West.

Third, Francis has repeatedly taught us that evangelization, by its very nature a “noisy” business. Pope Francis provided this bold exhortation to young people in Rio de Janeiro: “Let me tell you what I hope will be the outcome of World Youth Day: I hope there will be noise. … I want you to make yourselves heard in your dioceses, I want the noise to go out, I want the Church to go out onto the streets, I want us to resist everything worldly, everything static, everything comfortable, everything to do with clericalism, everything that might make us closed in on ourselves.”

Francis has written: “Christians of the East and West must give common witness so that, strengthened by the Spirit of the risen Christ, they may disseminate the message of salvation to the entire world.”

Both Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew are not only motivated by the cause of ecumenism but also by forming a united front against the persecution of Christianity in the Middle East where the number of Catholics and Orthodox have dwindled over the past couple decades. Later this month, Pope Francis will be the fourth pontiff to visit Turkey after Pope Benedict XVI in 2006, Pope John Paul II in 1979 and Pope Paul VI in 1967. His visit will come three days after he addresses the European Parliament in Strasbourg during a difficult time for people of various religions in the Middle East and at a time that Turkey is hosting more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees.

Evangelicals and Pentecostals

Let us be very honest and admit that Anglicanism and Orthodoxy today represent a minority of non-Catholic Christians. According to a 2011 Pew Forum report, about half of the world’s Christians are Catholic, 12 percent are Orthodox, and 37 percent are “Protestants, broadly defined.” The same study reported that there are about 279 million Pentecostal Christians and 305 million charismatic Christians in the world and that Pentecostal and charismatic Christians together make up about 27 percent of all Christians and more than 8 percent of the world’s total population.

There are roughly 285 million Evangelicals worldwide, which means that, together, Evangelicals and Pentecostals total nearly 400 million. Meanwhile, the number of “historic Protestants” (Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, etc.) and Anglicans continues to shrink overall. Through his focusing on Evangelicals and Pentecostals rather than “historical” Protestant denominations, Pope Francis has taken a new approach to ecumenical efforts that has upset some of the major denominations and even those who claim to be seasoned, ecumenical experts! Several of my theologian colleagues and friends, and those immersed in formal ecumenical studies and work have commented to me over the past few months: “What on earth is the Pope doing with those “sects” or “fundamentalist new groups?” They might be missing some very important lessons that the Bishop of Rome is teaching us.

Francis-Evangelists

Francis and the World Evangelical Alliance

Pope Francis has approached ecumenism characterized through personal relationships specifically addressed to the world of Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity and somewhat disconnected from the “official” efforts and initiatives of those who work through formal structures and agencies in the area of ecumenism. Recently Pope Francis addressed a delegation of the World Evangelical Alliance at the Vatican. Francis said: “Whenever we put ourselves entirely and lovingly at the service of the Gospel, we become ever more fruitful branches of that vine which is Christ, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13). This truth is grounded in our Baptism, by which we share in the fruits of Christ’s death and resurrection. Baptism is God’s priceless gift which we have in common (cf. Gal 3:27). Thanks to this gift, we no longer live a purely earthly existence; we now live in the power of the Spirit.

Francis has said that our divisions mar the beauty of the seamless robe of Christ, yet they do not completely destroy the profound unity brought about by grace in all the baptized (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, 13). The effectiveness of the Christian message would no doubt be greater were Christians to overcome their divisions, and together celebrate the sacraments, spread the word of God, and bear witness to charity.”

This outreach to Evangelicals and Pentecostals is most certainly influenced by then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio’s pastoral ministry in Latin America, and his now famous Aparecida document from the 2007 Latin American Bishops’ Meeting in Brazil. There was a strong wake-up call given to us this past July when the Bishop of Rome went on a “private” visit to a Pentecostal church in Caserta, Italy. The event concluded with a historic first: an apology from the Pope for anything involvement Catholics may have had in the persecution of Pentecostals in Italy in the 1930s.

Francis spoke of that one sin present among Christians since apostolic times, and definitely not a divine trait: name-calling. On the path of Christian life, “when we stop and spend too much time looking at each other, we start a different journey, an ugly one,” the pope said. In the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul criticizes early Christians who, bragging and promoting rivalry, started saying, “I belong to Paul” or “I belong to Apollos,” rather than “I belong to Jesus.”

Last January, Pope Francis recorded a video message to a visiting group of U.S. Pentecostals on a pastor’s iPhone. There is a wonderful story within that story. Delivering the introduction to Pope Francis’ video message was the owner of iPhone, Evangelical Episcopal Bishop Tony Palmer, founder of an ecumenical community called The Ark. Raised in South Africa, married to an Italian, and living in the UK, Palmer had met then-Cardinal Bergoglio in 2006 as a member of a delegation to the archbishop of Buenos Aires. Pope Francis phoned his old friend Tony and invited him to come and visit him the next time he was in Rome, and together they came up with the idea of the video message.

Francis’ ecumenical strategy in all of these efforts is not sheep stealing. His motto is not “swim the Tiber” nor his mantra: “Rome sweet home.” Bishop Tony Palmer pointed this out: “Pope Francis pulled me up on more than one occasion when I used the expression ‘coming home to the Catholic Church.’ He said, ‘Don’t use this term.’ He told me, ‘No one is coming home. You are journeying towards us and we are journeying towards you and we will meet in the middle. We will meet on the road as we seek each other.’”

This thought is powerfully confirmed in Francis’ stunning exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium”: “We must never forget that we are pilgrims journeying alongside one another. This means that we must have sincere trust in our fellow pilgrims, putting aside all suspicions or mistrust, and turn our gaze to what we are all seeking: the radiant peace of God’s face for “it is not just a matter of being informed but of reaping what the Spirit has sown in them, which is also meant to be a gift for us.”

On June 24 of this past year, there was another informal meeting and lunch at Domus Sanctae Martae with a high-profile international group of Evangelical and Pentecostal leaders, including Bishop Tony Palmer. This unprecedented meeting was the response to the Pope’s video message earlier this past year. Palmer would die a month later in a tragic motorcycle accident.

Pope Francis’ ecumenical efforts with Evangelical and Pentecostal leaders has inaugurated a new era of serious, ecumenical discussion but this has sounded several alarms in various ecumenical quarters! Through these messages and efforts, Francis has spoken simply, powerfully and beautifully about returning to lost unity, a desire to achieve a missing fullness, a disarming invitation to simply come together to witness to the beauty of the love of Christ.

Efforts with the Charismatic Communities

When Pope Francis met with members of the “Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowship” in Rome for its Sixteenth International Conference, he touched on several themes in his address to the group, beginning with the idea of “unity in diversity.” “Unity does not imply uniformity,” the Pope said. “It does not necessarily mean doing everything together or thinking in the same way. Nor does it signify a loss of identity. Unity in diversity is actually the opposite: it involves the joyful recognition and acceptance of the various gifts which the Holy Spirit gives to each one and the placing of these gifts at the service of all members of the Church.” Francis reminded his audience that “the Charismatic Renewal is, by its very nature, ecumenical.”

“Catholic Fraternity, do not forget your origins, do not forget that the Charismatic Renewal is, by its very nature, ecumenical. Blessed Paul VI commented on this in the magnificent Apostolic Exhortation on evangelization which is highly relevant in our own day: “The power of evangelization will find itself considerably diminished if those who proclaim the Gospel are divided among themselves in all sorts of ways. Is this not perhaps one of the great sicknesses of evangelization today?”

“Remember: seek the unity which is the work of the Holy Spirit and do not be afraid of diversity. The breathing of Christians draws in the new air of the Holy Spirit and then exhales it upon the world: it is the prayer of praise and missionary outreach. Share baptism in the Holy Spirit with everyone in the Church. Spiritual ecumenism and the ecumenism of blood. The unity of the Body of Christ. Prepare the Bride for the Bridegroom who comes! One Bride only! (Rev 22:17).”

Francis’ approach to ecumenism has a very charismatic character, as he himself explains in this excerpt from a book recently published Italian Renewal in the Holy Spirit (RnS), entitled “Il Cardinale Bergoglio al Rinnovamento”: “I don’t believe in a definitive ecumenism, much less do I believe in the ecumenism that as its first step gets us to agree on a theological level. I think we must progress in unity, participating together in prayer and in the works of charity. And this I find in the Renewal. Now and then we get together with a few pastors and stop and pray together for about an hour. This has been made possible thanks to the Charismatic Renewal, both on the evangelical side and on the Catholic side.”

Pope Francis & Orientale Lumen Foundation

Pope Francis also recently addressed delegates taking part in an ecumenical pilgrimage, promoted by the Orientale Lumen Foundation and led by the Orthodox Metropolitan, Kallistos of Diokleia. The Pope said this journey towards an interior renewal is “absolutely essential” in order to make progress along the road leading to reconciliation and full communion between all believers in Christ.

“Every Christian pilgrimage is not only a geographical journey, but also and above all an opportunity to take a path of inner renewal taking us ever closer to Christ our Lord”, said Pope Francis to the members of the Oriental Lumen Foundation in America.

“These dimensions are absolutely essential to proceed along the road that leads us to reconciliation and full communion among all believers in Christ. There is no true ecumenical dialogue without openness to inner renewal and the search for greater fidelity to Christ and to His will”.”

Relations with Judaism

Because of some wonderful relationships and friendships with rabbis in Buenos Aires, Francis has brought personal relationships into his pastoral ministry in Rome. I am convinced that if get the relationships right, everything else will follow. It’s all about relationships. Is this not the real legacy of Nostra Aetate? Pope Francis never met the great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. But the more I see Francis in action, I cannot help but think that Heschel’s influence is hidden in Francis’ heart and mind. Rabbi Abraham Skorka of Argentina, one of Pope Francis’ closest friends is convinced of this fact. Rabbi Skorka accompanied Francis to the Holy Land in May, and in 2010 they co-authored a book, On Heaven and Earth.

FrancisJustin

God’s Continuous Search for Us

Pope Francis sounded very much like Rabbi Heschel in the interview with Jesuit journals last year. “God is in every person’s life,” he said repeatedly. “You can, you must try to seek God in every human life.” Francis also shares Rabbi Heschel’s criticism of religion when it “speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion.” The pope has repeatedly warned against clericalism, for example. “The risk that we must avoid is priests and bishops falling into clericalism, which is a distortion of religion,” he explained in his dialogue with Rabbi Skorka. “When a priest leads a diocese or a parish, he has to listen to his community, to make mature decisions and lead the community accordingly. In contrast, when the priest imposes himself, when in some way he says, ‘I am the boss here,’ he falls into clericalism.” Francis’ warning to newly appointed bishops in September 2013, that careerism is “a form of cancer,” echoed Rabbi Heschel’s remark in a now famous address to the American Medical Association years ago: “According to my own medical theory, more people die of success than of cancer.”

The Vocation and Mission of “Pontifex”

On Sunday, November 9, 2014, during his Angelus Address in St. Peter’s Square for the Feast of the Dedication of his Cathedral, the Lateran Basilica, and also the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Francis spoke these words: “The fall of the Berlin Wall happened suddenly, but it was made possible by the long and arduous efforts of many people who had fought for this, prayed and suffered, some even sacrificing their lives. “These include”, he added, “ a leading role played by St. Pope John Paul II.

He prayed that, with God’s help, all men and women of good will would continue to spread a culture of encounter, with the aim of bringing down all the walls that still divide the world. He also prayed that there would be no more killing and persecution of the innocent and of those killed because of religious beliefs. Francis added, “Mankind must strive to overcome barriers of hostility and indifference to build bridges of understanding and dialogue, to make the world a whole family of peoples reconciled with each other…”

Building bridges is the work of evangelization, the work of going out to the whole world to proclaim the Good News of our salvation in Jesus Christ. Building walls is what fearful, insecure people do to protect what they have and to keep others out. Pope Francis wants to build bridges that everyone can cross. In “Evangelii Gaudium” Pope Francis 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.

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. It is the mission of every single Christian, and most especially the vocation of those who work day and night, untiringly, patiently, and joyfully that “all may be one” so the world might believe in Jesus and the God and father of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who sent His son to the world that God so loved. Let us build bridges together, and learn from the gentle, vivid, powerful and deeply human lessons that our Pontifex is teaching us.  

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada, is President and Vice-chancellor of Assumption University in Windsor, Ontario (Canada). He holds advanced degrees in Sacred Scripture from Toronto, Rome and Jerusalem, and served as the Canadian Bishops’ Representative on the National Christian-Jewish Consultation for 14 years. Since March 2013, he is also English language assistant to the Holy See Press Office, and served at the Synods of Bishops of 2008, 2012 and 2014 as English language media attaché and spokesperson.

Let’s pledge peace in remembrance

remembrance day

As we mark Armistice Day — now Remembrance Day — today, remembering is our duty and common responsibility.

What is the best way to honour those who have died in war? Parades, rallies, memorial services, moving ceremonies with old veterans and the wearing of poppies are all good and important in our Canadian culture to keep the memory of the sacrifice alive. However, they are not enough.

Honouring the memory of the fallen must also involve some active remembering and firm resolve on a daily basis to be a peacemaker. Peacemaking is a personal, a social and a political challenge: How do we live lives of love, truth, justice and freedom, and how do we advance these values through structures that shape our world?

International peace is not achieved simply by proclaiming peaceful ideals; it also requires building the structures of peace.

To commemorate Remembrance Day, we must do a careful reading of history. At home and abroad, we see the terrible human and moral costs of violence. In regional wars, in crime and terrorism, in ecological devastation and economic injustice, in abortion and renewed dependence on capital punishment in many countries, we see the tragic consequences of a growing lack of respect for human life.

Herein lie the seeds of war.

We must make a firm resolve to act. We cannot be peacemakers around the world unless we seek to protect the lives and dignity of the most vulnerable in our midst here at home. We must stand up for human life wherever it is threatened. This is the essence of a consistent ethic of life that must be at the heart of everyone who considers himself or herself to be “pro-life” and against war. This is the starting point for genuine peacemaking.

Let us recommit ourselves today to build a culture of peace and encourage a thirst for freedom amoung all peoples. The culture of peace does not accept a utilitarian philosophy that allows any means to be used, or ignores the intrinsic worth of human beings. The culture of peace disdains the unexamined life and invites the international community to probe questions such as the distribution of resources, human solidarity, and the vision that underlies political programs and policies.

All modern wars have left behind generations of soldiers whose peace of mind is forever lost to the nightmare memories of what they were required to do in the name of their cause or country. The essential role of culture is to educate, to bring about a peace of mind and heart, enabling us to be more and not just to have more. The task in a culture of peace is both to moderate and regulate all that would debase human nature.

True peacemaking can be a matter of policy only if it is first a matter of the heart. In the absence of repentance and forgiveness, no peace can endure; without a spirit of courageous charity, justice cannot be won.

We can take inspiration from the early Christian communities. St. Paul called on the Corinthians, even in the most trying circumstances, to pursue peace and bless their persecutors, never repaying evil for evil, but overcoming evil with good (Romans 12:14, 17, 21).

This is the greatest way to honour those who have given their lives for us in wars and battles. Let us pray that our dead will continue to be honoured and that we may be able to hold high the torch that they can no longer carry. Inspired by their courageous examples and love for life and freedom, let us commit ourselves to making peace in their memory.

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

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Photo credit: Cpl Shilo Adamson / Canadian Forces Combat Camera

What Christ Has Given Us Is Multiplied In Its Giving

Parable Talents cropped

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – November 16, 2014

Today’s Gospel story presents us with the last of the three parables that form Jesus’ final discourse in Matthew’s Gospel. Each of the three parables relates a different kind of accountability required of Christians as they prepare for their glorious encounter with Christ. The well-known Gospel text of the master, the slaves, and their talents (25:14-30) addresses what we do with the native abilities or talents that we have been given, those things which we hold most dear, and that which we have a tendency to possess too tightly. The central message of today’s Gospel parable concerns the spirit of responsibility with which to receive God’s Kingdom: a responsibility to God and to humanity.

Why Jesus taught the parables

We must not forget that Jesus taught the parables based on the way he saw life being lived out before his very eyes. As he taught the different parables, he neither blessed nor condemned the behaviour he described in each story. Rather, he used the way that his contemporaries were carrying out their everyday lives and activities to teach and model appropriate behaviour in view of God’s in-breaking Kingdom.

Today’s parable raises several questions and problems for us. The story seems to endorse a highly capitalistic mode of living regarding the use of one’s wealth and appears to be at odds with Jesus’ teaching on the use of money elsewhere in the Gospels. A second problem surfaces regarding the master’s method of reckoning upon his return. His behaviour towards his servants has some allegorical reference to the final judgment.

By means of this parable, was Jesus illustrating differing human capacities regarding God’s gift of the Kingdom? The first two slaves understand that the gifts they have are freely given by a God who is abundantly generous, and they therefore try to imitate the giver of all good gifts in the very ways that they live out their daily lives. Does God conform to the master described by the unhappy third slave: “a harsh man who reaps where he did not sow and gathers where he did not scatter” (25:24)?

The poverty of the cautious slave

I have always been intrigued by the reaction of the third slave whom I consider to be the “cautious” or “careful” slave. He seems to be an upright, honest man. He was not the smartest of the three, for he got the least amount of money, but if he weren’t a decent person, his master would have hardly entrusted him with a share of his money at all. The first and second slaves were shrewd operators; they knew how to play the market and doubled their investment. The third slave lived in fear because his master was a greedy, demanding man who liked his money and did not look kindly upon the foolishness and failure of those in his employ. Deciding to play it safe, the third slave refused to take any risks and thus buried his money. The rabbinical tradition taught that burying one’s money was the best security measure against theft or loss. I know many people who behave like this third slave.

The problem with the third slave is that he refused to take risks; he would not step out into the unknown. Filled with anxiety and fear, he projected his guilt upon his own master. In the end, he loses everything he owned. Had he acted with some degree of innocence, he may have received a much more understanding treatment from his master.

The moral of the story for us

Those who have a poor, limited, negative, or miserly image of God and God’s dealings with human beings, will end up treating their fellow human beings in the same poor, limited, and miserly ways. Such people are incapable of seeing the Kingdom of God unfolding before their very eyes and in their own time. Is this not the poverty and blindness of the third slave? He was incapacitated by fear, and was impeded from reaching out to those in need around him. Fear paralyzes each one of us and prevents us from reaching out to those in need around us.

The Good News of Jesus Christ is that we must abandon fear and be industrious, reliable, and creative in doing God’s will, lest we turn out to be like the third slave, “worthless, lazy louts”! To be a disciple of Christ, we have to lose our life in order to find it. If we risk ourselves for a perfect Christ we cannot see, we risk perhaps more in committing ourselves to an imperfect Church we can see. If our faith is seen as something that has to be protected, it is probably not genuine – and it certainly will not grow and mature if its fundamental approach is to “play it safe.”

Next Sunday’s magnificent Gospel scene of the last judgment presents us with the opposite example of the third slave. It will teach us that we find the deepest truth about ourselves when we move beyond our own fears and limitations and feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned.

The element of surprise in today’s parable

From the beginning of today’s parable, we are told that the master gave each slave a certain amount of money as pure gift. The master demonstrated a gratuitous generosity. The third slave pigeonholed his master and simply could not fathom that the master was being so generous. The slave seemed to be basing his actions on some kind of strict or literal justice that enabled him to justify his own miserly actions. In the end, the third slave lost everything.

When we apply this concept to God and Jesus, a lesson emerges for us. When we truly understand and appreciate the greatness of God’s gift to us in his Son Jesus, we experience a special freedom and gratitude, and we are willing to take risks. To do God’s will becomes an enterprising, risk-taking adventure, based on God’s gratuitous generosity, justice, mercy, and boundless trust in human beings. Today’s parable emphasizes actions and enterprise, and helps us to prepare the way for the great works of mercy and justice in the final judgment scene of Matthew’s Gospel.

A treasure made to be spent, invested and shared

In his Angelus address of Sunday, November 16, 2008, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI referred to today’s parable and revealed its rich teaching for us:

The “talent” was an ancient Roman coin, of great value, and precisely because of this parable’s popularity it became synonymous with personal gifts, which everyone is called to develop. In fact, the text speaks of “a man going on a journey [who] called his servants and entrusted to them his property” (Mt 25: 14). The man in the parable represents Christ himself, the servants are the disciples and the talents are the gifts that Jesus entrusts to them. These gifts, in addition to their natural qualities, thus represent the riches that the Lord Jesus has bequeathed to us as a legacy, so that we may make them productive: his Word, deposited in the Holy Gospel; Baptism, which renews us in the Holy Spirit; prayer the “Our Father” that we raise to God as his children, united in the Son; his forgiveness, which he commanded be offered to all; the Sacrament of his Body sacrificed and his Blood poured out; in a word: the Kingdom of God, which is God himself, present and alive in our midst.

This is the treasure that Jesus entrusted to his friends at the end of his brief life on earth. Today’s parable stresses the inner disposition necessary to accept and develop this gift. Fear is the wrong attitude: the servant who is afraid of his master and fears his return hides the coin in the earth and it does not produce any fruit. This happens, for example, to those who after receiving Baptism, Communion and Confirmation subsequently bury these gifts beneath a blanket of prejudice, beneath a false image of God that paralyzes faith and good works, thus betraying the Lord’s expectations. However, the parable places a greater emphasis on the good fruits brought by the disciples who, happy with the gift they received, did not keep it hidden with fear and jealousy but made it profitable by sharing it and partaking in it. Yes, what Christ has given us is multiplied in its giving!

It is a treasure made to be spent, invested and shared with all, as we are taught by the Apostle Paul, that great administrator of Jesus’ talents. The Gospel teaching that the liturgy offers us today has also had a strong effect at the historical and social level, encouraging an active and entrepreneurial spirit in the Christian people.

[The readings for the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Proverbs 31:10-13, 16-18, 20, 26, 28-31; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; and Matthew 25:14-30.]

(Image: Parable of the Talents by Willem de Poorter)

Kristallnacht: Night of the Broken Glass

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Kristallnacht: Night of the Broken Glass
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

On the night of November 9–10, 1938, the Nazis staged violent pogroms—state sanctioned, anti-Jewish riots—against the Jewish communities of Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland. These events came to be known as Kristallnacht (commonly translated as “Night of Broken Glass”), a reference to the broken windows of synagogues, Jewish-owned stores, community centers, and homes plundered and destroyed that night. Instigated by the Nazi regime, rioters burned or destroyed 267 synagogues, vandalized or looted 7,500 Jewish businesses, and killed at least 91 Jewish people. They also damaged many Jewish cemeteries, hospitals, schools, and homes as police and fire brigades stood aside.

Kristallnacht was a turning point in Nazi anti-Jewish policy that would culminate in the Holocaust—the systematic, state-sponsored mass murder of the European Jews.

On March 26, 2000, at the conclusion of his historic Jubilee pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Pope John Paul II visited the Western Wall, remnant of the ancient Jerusalem Temple, and placed a prayer in a crevice in the wall as Jews have done for centuries. This act crowned his lifelong commitment to furthering Catholic-Jewish understanding. The Pope’s prayer struck the major themes of his thoughts on Jews and Judaism: that Christians share with Jews reverence and worship of the same God, the common ancestry of Abraham to all who look to the Bible for inspiration, the unjust suffering directed against Jews over the millennia and the need for forgiveness for Christians and others who caused this suffering, the need to resolve to improve one’s future behavior in order to achieve genuine repentance, and, finally, recognition of Jews as the continuing people of God’s ongoing and eternal Covenant. After meditating at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the Pope placed in the wall a written prayer to God expressing deep sadness for all wrongs done to Jews by Christians. The prayer read:

ben“God of our fathers,
You chose Abraham and his descendants
To bring Your name to the nations;
We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those
Who in the course of history have caused these children of Yours to suffer
And asking Your forgiveness
We wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood
With the people of the Covenant.”

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Throughout his priestly, episcopal and Petrine ministry, Pope John Paul II consistently condemned anti-Semitism as a sin and acknowledged the suffering of Jews throughout the ages and in the Holocaust. He used the Hebrew word ‘Shoah’ to speak about the Holocaust. John Paul II became a true embarkation point for Christians and for Jews. He taught both Christians and Jews not to be afraid of each other, nor to fear our deep, biblical narratives that unite, rather than divide us. Nothing can remove our sense of belonging to, participating in, and being the beneficiaries of God’s saving encounter with Israel and with the broken world, which occurred in the crucifixion of Jesus, who we Christians believe to be son of Israel and Son of God.

The photo below is of the Berlin Synagogue after it had been destroyed on this night. The other photos represent the healing that has taken place between Christians and Jews through the heroic gestures of St. John Paul II and Popes Benedict XVI and Francis.

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“Mother and head of all the churches on earth”

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Dedication of the Lateran Basilica – Sunday, November 9, 2014

Today we celebrate the feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. It is known as “Mother and head of all churches on earth” because it was the original residence of the Pope. There is a formidable and significant stone inscription on the façade of the Basilica that reads: Sacrosancta Lateranensis ecclesia omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput, “Most Holy Lateran Church, of all the churches in the city and the world, the mother and head.”

Steeped in historical significance

The basilica was built by the Emperor Constantine at the beginning of the fourth century AD and was dedicated on November 9, 324, by Pope Sylvester I. The anniversary of the dedication of this church has been observed since the 12th century. An added significance to this feast is the fact that the first Holy Year was proclaimed from this church in the year 1300.

The magnificent church was first called the Basilica of the Saviour but later was also dedicated to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, and so it acquired the name of the Basilica of St. John Lateran. When the papacy was transferred to Avignon for about a century, the condition of the Lateran deteriorated so greatly that when the Pope returned to Rome he lived in two other locations before finally settling adjacent to St. Peter’s Basilica, where he lives now.

In the course of its history, St. John Lateran suffered just about as many disasters and revivals as did the papacy it hosted. Sacked by Alaric in 408 and Genseric in 455, it was rebuilt by Pope Leo the Great (440-461), and centuries later by Pope Hadrian I (772-795). The basilica was almost entirely destroyed by an earthquake in 896, and was again restored by Pope Sergius III (904-911). Later the church was heavily damaged by fires in 1308 and 1360. When the Popes returned from their sojourn in Avignon, France (1304-1377), they found their basilica and palace in such disrepair that they decided to transfer to the Vatican Basilica (also built by Constantine, it had until then served primarily as a pilgrimage church).

Several important relics are kept within the Lateran Basilica. The wooden altar on which St. Peter celebrated Mass while in Rome is believed to be inside the main altar. The heads of Saints Peter and Paul were once believed to be inside busts above the main altar. Part of the table on which the Last Supper was celebrated is said to be behind a bronze depiction of the Last Supper. At one time the basilica also contained the Holy Stairs on which Jesus is said to have walked during his trial in the house of Pontius Pilate. The stairs are marble and are now covered with wood to protect them. They are currently located in the former Lateran Palace. Pilgrims ascend them on their knees, contemplating Jesus’ Passion. As they ascend, drops of blood may be seen on the marble stairs beneath protective glass. The stairs were brought to Rome by Constantine’s mother Saint Helena.

Many important historic events have also taken place in St. John Lateran, including five Ecumenical Councils and many diocesan synods. In 1929 the Lateran Pacts, which established the territory and status of the State of Vatican City, were signed here between the Holy See and the Government of Italy.

A feast of the People of God

There are two dimensions to today’s feast: it is the celebration of a building that is the mother church of Christendom. We focus our minds and hearts on the unity and love of the whole Church that finds expression in our fidelity to the one who walks in Peter’s shoes: the Pope.

It is also the feast of the People of God who form the Church. The Second Vatican Council helps us to focus our attention on the mystery of the Church – the sign of unity and the instrument of Christ’s peace on earth.

The Cleansing of the Temple

The Gospel of John’s account of Jesus cleansing the Temple seems at first to be a bit out of place for the feast of the dedication of the Mother Church of Rome. John’s account of the cleansing of the Temple (2:13-22) stands in sharp contrast to the other Gospel accounts of this powerful story (Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48). In the Synoptic Gospels, this same scene takes place at the end of the “Palm Sunday Procession” into the holy city. With the people shouting out in triumph, he entered into the Temple area. But this time, 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 sacrifice. It was an electrifying moment. He quoted the Scriptures: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations; but you have made it a den of robbers” (Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46; Isaiah 56:6-7; Jeremiah 7:11).

John uses this incident to give meaning to Jesus’ entire ministry and he is alone among the evangelists in linking the cleansing of the Temple of Jerusalem with the prediction of its destruction. This destruction is symbolic of the end of the Old Covenant and its forms of worship. John says that Jesus was speaking about his own body rather than the temple building (2:21). The new Temple will be his resurrected Body. In the new Covenant, true worship will be “in Christ.”

John’s account of the cleansing of the Temple is quite provocative for many reasons. In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus quotes from Psalm 68:10: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” I have preferred to translate that verse: “I am filled with a burning love for your house…” The Temple was not an emporium (a mall!) but his Father’s house. Like the prophets before him, Jesus tried to awaken the hearts of his people. Their prayer had to come from the heart; their sacrifices, however good and true, were no substitute for justice.

The Messiah would purify Israel’s worship but John goes beyond that to suggest an even more radical change: Israel’s worship will not only be purified, it will also be replaced. The presence of God in Israel shall be replaced by the presence of God in the Temple which is the Body of Jesus. These startling words and actions of Jesus in the Temple took on new meaning for later generations of Christians.

One intriguing aspect of this story is the portrait of an angry Jesus contained in the cleansing scenes. These provocative images can give way to two extremes in our own image of God’s Messiah. Some people wish to transform an otherwise passive Christ pictured above many altars into a whip-cracking revolutionary. Others prefer to excise any human qualities of Jesus and paint a very meek, bland character who would never upset anyone.

The errors of the old extreme, however, do not justify a new extremism. Jesus was not exclusively – not even primarily – concerned with social reform. Jesus was filled with a deep devotion and love for his Father and the things of his Father. His disciples recognized in Jesus 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 they the right things? Are we filled with a deep and burning love for the things of God and for his Son, Jesus?

On this feast of the dedication of the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, let us pray for a strengthening of our communion with each other and with all God’s people across the face of the earth. May the Lord purify the sanctuary of our hearts, and build us up as living stones into a holy temple. May we be filled with consuming zeal for the house of the Lord, our Church, and our churches. May our communion with the Church of Rome confirm us as a vibrant, loving, hospitable universal Church, a place of welcome for all who seek God’s face.

[The readings for the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica are: Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12; 1 Corinthians 3:9b-11, 16-17; John 2:13-22.]

My God I know this place. I am home.

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Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed – Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

Why do Catholic Christians commemorate the dead during the month of November? The feast of All Souls and the month of November are sources of consolation for each of us. If our hearts are broken and suffering because of the loss of loved ones, or if we are dealing with unresolved issues about goodbyes that were never said, peace that was not made, gratitude that was not expressed – let us ask the faithful departed to intercede for us and for our own peace. The consoling doctrine of the Communion of Saints allows us to feel ever close to those who have died and gives us much hope in moments of despair and sadness.

I share with you two texts that have remained with me throughout my priestly life. In his little book Encounters with Silence, the great Jesuit theologian Fr. Karl Rahner, SJ, wrote about those who have died:

That’s why our heart is with them now, our loved ones who have taken leave of us. There is no substitute for them; there are no others who can fill the vacancy when one of those whom we really love suddenly and unexpectedly departs and is with us no longer. In true love no one can replace another, for true love loves the other person in that depth where he is uniquely and irreplaceably himself. And thus, as death has trodden roughly through our lives, every one of the departed has taken a piece of our hearts with them – and often enough – our whole heart.

As he was dying in the fall of 1996, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago wrote a moving, personal testament, The Gift of Peace, which speaks powerfully about life and death (pp. 152-153):

Many people have asked me to tell them about heaven and the afterlife. I sometimes smile at the request because I do not know any more than they do. Yet, when one young man asked if I looked forward to being united with God and all those who have gone before me, I made a connection to something I said earlier in this book. The first time I traveled with my mother and sister to my parents’ homeland of Tonadico di Primiero, in northern Italy, I felt as if I had been there before. After years of looking through my mother’s photo albums, I knew the mountains, the land, the houses, the people. As soon as we entered the valley, I said, “My God, I know this place. I am home.” Somehow I think crossing from this life into eternal life will be similar. I will be home.

May I suggest that each of you do the following during these days of November? Spend some time reflecting on those who have been close to you, who have died, and are now with the Lord.

Slowly read this Scripture passage – Wisdom 3:1-3:

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.

Remember one person close to you who has died. Bring this person’s image into your mind’s eye. As you remember his or her life, imagine the Lord Jesus escorting the person into heaven at the time of death. Finally, imagine this loved one waiting for you. Know that when your time of passing comes, the Lord and your loved ones who have gone before you will escort you into the kingdom of heaven.

End your short remembrance with this prayer:

Lord, you are the resurrection and the life. You promised that whoever believes in you will never die. Lord, through the power of your rising, help me believe in my own resurrection. Amen.

May we spend our earthly pilgrimage filling our minds with the thoughts of heaven, so that when we finally cross over into eternal life, the images we see may not be foreign, startling, or strange. Let us pray that we, too, may be able to say: “My God, I know this place. I am home.”

(Photo courtesy CNS/Dominic Ebenbichler, Reuters)