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Give Us This Bread Always!

Last Supper Bouveret cropped

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – August 2, 2015

We can certainly understand God’s frustration with his people in today’s first reading from Exodus (16:2-4,12-15).

The God of Israel has just delivered his people from slavery and has set them on the way to their promised land. Yet after crossing the Red Sea and celebrating their victory, the first recorded action in the Sinai proves to be grumbling and dissatisfaction, first over the bitter water at Mara (Exodus 15:22-27), and then more complaining and nostalgic longing for the fleshpots in the land of Egypt, where they were able to eat their fill!

Into this setting of ingratitude and lamentation, God rains down bread from heaven (manna) and quail for their food. The Exodus passage (16:2-4,12-15) contrasts the nonbeliever (who grumbles that the manna and quail are meager nourishment) with the believer (who sees these as God’s generous gifts to the hungry).

A different kind of food

In today’s Gospel text (John 6:24-35) that follows the miraculous multiplication of the loaves, Jesus says to the crowds who were seeking him: “Truly, truly I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you” (John 6:26-27).

Jesus’ hearers continue the conversation and ask him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” (John 6:28). Jesus answers: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29). It is an exhortation to have faith in the Son of Man, in the giver of the food that does not perish. Without faith in him whom the Father has sent, it is not possible to recognize and accept this gift which does not pass away.

The miraculous multiplication of the loaves had not evoked the expected response of faith in those who had been eyewitnesses of that event. They wanted a new sign: “Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat'” (John 6:30-31). The disciples gathered around Jesus expecting a sign like the manna, which their ancestors had eaten in the desert. But Jesus exhorts them to expect something more than a mere repetition of the miracle of the manna, to expect a different kind of food. He says: “It was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (Jn 6:32-33).

Along with physical hunger there is within each of us another hunger, a more basic hunger, which cannot be satisfied by ordinary food. It is a hunger for life, a hunger for eternity, nostalgia for God. The sign of the manna was the proclamation of the coming of Christ who was to satisfy our hunger for eternity by Himself becoming the “living bread” that “gives life to the world.”

What is so startling about Jesus’ remarks in this discourse is that he is not claiming to be another Moses, or one more messenger in along line of human prophets. In giving us the bread of life, Jesus does not offer temporary nourishment, he gives us the eternal bread of his word. It will not pass away. It will nourish and give life forever. Jesus is this bread, and in offering to share it with us he calls us to faith in him.

Jesus invites us to “come to him,” “believe in him,” “look upon him,” “be drawn to him,” “hear him,” and to “learn of him.” All of these verbs invite the active response of our faith (cf. John 6:36, 37, 40, 44, 45). His word is nourishment for our faith.

Those who heard Jesus ask him to fulfill what had been proclaimed by the sign of the manna, perhaps without being conscious of how far their request would go: “Lord, give us this bread always” (John 6:34). How eloquent is this request! How generous and how amazing is its fulfillment! “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.”

Grumblings and ideologies

How difficult it was for Jesus’ hearers to make this passage from the sign to the mystery indicated by that sign, from daily bread to the bread “which endures to eternal life”! Nor is it easy for us, the people of the 21st century to make such passages in our own life, from sign to mystery.

At times our grumblings and murmurings about the Eucharist and the Church often rise to fevered pitch, not much different than the grumbling and murmuring of Israel in the desert. Excessive tensions arising from Church politics, gender issues, liturgical practices, language — all of these influence today’s Eucharist — and can lead us to a feeling of God’s absence.

Our Eucharistic celebrations are not taking place at Massah and Meribah — places of murmuring in the desert. We are often stuck in endless arguments between devotion and liturgy, or in a constant dispute between charity and justice. When devotion is treated as the enemy of liturgy and charity as the betrayer of justice, or when liturgy is reduced to private devotion and justice not recognized as constitutive to the Gospel.

Adoration rediscovered

Here is one concrete example to illustrate the above point about liturgy and devotion. Many of my generation have responded very negatively to the younger generation’s rediscovery of Eucharistic adoration and devotion.

Benedict XVI put a great emphasis on Eucharistic adoration and devotion in Catholic life. Many of us have failed to see that our public worship is intimately related to adoration, so much so that that they could be considered as one. Piety and devotion can be springboards to mature faith. Each time we gather together to celebrate the Eucharist as the Christian community, we profess, together with the whole Church, our faith in Christ the Eucharist, in Christ — the living bread and the bread of life.

During the 49th International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City that took place in 2008, then-Bishop Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines, now Cardinal-Archbishop of Manila, delivered a remarkable catechesis that concluded with a profound explanation of the meaning of authentic Adoration of the Eucharist.

Bishop Tagle said:

“In the Eucharist, the Church joins Jesus in adoring the God of life. But the practice of Eucharistic adoration enlivens some features of worship. We believe that the presence of Christ in the Eucharist continues beyond the liturgy. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament connotes being present, resting, and beholding. In adoration, we are present to Jesus whose sacrifice is ever present to us. Abiding in him, we are assimilated more deeply into his self-giving. Beholding Jesus, we receive and are transformed by the mystery we adore. Eucharistic adoration is similar to standing at the foot of the Cross of Jesus, being a witness to his sacrifice of life and being renewed by it. The sacrifice or spiritual worship of Jesus on the cross is his supreme act of adoration.”

This week let us ask ourselves: What does Jesus’ Eucharistic presence mean for us? Does our participation in the weekly (and for some, daily) celebration of the Lord’s meal transform us into people of gratitude, loving kindness and justice? Let us consider what Jesus requires of us who partake of the Eucharistic banquet. In what ways does the Eucharist symbolize the life we are living and our life symbolize the Eucharist? How do we express gratitude? Is the Eucharist the spiritual exercise giving direction to our life?

May our Eucharistic celebrations continue to transform our parish communities and the society around us into a civilization of love! May they nourish in us a hunger and thirst for justice. May our longing for the Eucharist make us ever more patient and kind with one another. Let us pray that we may truly become what we receive in the Eucharistic meal.

[The readings for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15; Ephesians 4:17, 20-24; and John 6:24-35]

(Image: The Last Supper by Pascal-Adolphe-Jean Dagnan-Bouveret)

Why is Pope Francis so Obsessed With The Devil?

francis_cnn

logo-cnn-2 As published on CNN July 20, 2015
(CNN) Pope Francis seems to be obsessed with the devil.

 

His tweets and homilies about the devil, Satan, the Accuser, the Evil One, the Father of Lies, the Ancient Serpent, the Tempter, the Seducer, the Great Dragon, the Enemy and just plain “demon” are now legion.

For Francis, the devil is not a myth, but a real person. Many modern people may greet the Pope’s insistence on the devil with a dismissive, cultural affectation, indifference, or at the most indulgent curiosity.

Yet Francis refers to the devil continually. He does not believe him to be a myth, but a real person, the most insidious enemy of the church. Several of my theologian colleagues have said that he has gone a bit overboard with the devil and hell! We may be tempted to ask, why in the devil is Pope Francis so involved with the prince of demons?

This intelligent Jesuit Pope is diving into deep theological waters, places where very few modern Catholic clerics wish to tread.

Francis’ seeming preoccupation with the devil is not a theological or eschatological question as much as a call to arms, an invitation to immediate action, offering very concrete steps to do combat with the devil and the reign of evil in the world today.

In his homilies, Francis warns people strongly to avoid discouragement, to seize hope, to move on with courage and not to fall prey to negativity or cynicism.

He is drawing on the fundamental insight of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, the Pope’s own religious family. With his continual references to the devil, Pope Francis parts ways with the current preaching in the church, which is far too silent about the devil and his insidious ways or reduces him to a mere metaphor.

During the first months of Francis’ pontificate in 2013, the Evil One appeared frequently in his messages. In his first major address to the cardinals who elected him, the Argentine pontiff reminded them: “Let us never yield to pessimism, to that bitterness that the devil offers us every day.”

In several daily homilies in the chapel of the Vatican guest house, the Pope shared devilish stories with the small congregations rapt in attention as he homilized on taboo topics.

He has offered guidelines on how to rout the demon’s strategy: First, it is Jesus who battles the devil.

The second is that “we cannot obtain the victory of Jesus over evil and the devil by halves,” for as Christ said in the Gospel of Matthew, “who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.”

James Tissot - Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness

James Tissot – Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness

The Pope has stressed that we must not be naive: “The demon is shrewd: he is never cast out forever, this will only happen on the last day.”

Francis has also issued calls to arms in his homilies: “The devil also exists in the 21st century, and we need to learn from the Gospel how to battle against him,” the Pope warned, adding that Christians should not be “naive” about the evil one’s ways. The devil is anything but a relic of the past, the pontiff said.

Acknowledging the devil’s shrewdness, Francis once preached: “The devil is intelligent, he knows more theology than all the theologians together.”

Before a crowd of people on Palm Sunday in 2013, the newly elected Pope even dared to say that when Christians face trials, Jesus is near, but so is “the enemy — the devil,” who “comes, often disguised as an angel and slyly speaks his word to us.”

Most recently, on July 12, in the prepared text he was to deliver (in typical fashion he instead gave a masterful, unscripted address to 600,000 young people at a rally in Paraguay), the Pope presented the job description of the devil:

“Friends: the devil is a con artist. He makes promises after promise, but he never delivers. He’ll never really do anything he says. He doesn’t make good on his promises. He makes you want things which he can’t give, whether you get them or not. He makes you put your hopes in things which will never make you happy.

“… He is a con artist because he tells us that we have to abandon our friends, and never to stand by anyone. Everything is based on appearances. He makes you think that your worth depends on how much you possess.”

Since the beginning of his papacy, Francis has been warning that whoever wants to follow Jesus must be aware of the reality of the devil. The life of every Christian is a constant battle against evil, just as Jesus during his life had to struggle against the devil and his many temptations.

For Francis, the spirit of evil ultimately does not want our holiness, he does not want our Christian witness, he does not want us to be disciples of Christ.

In all of these references to the devil and his many disguises, Pope Francis wishes to call everyone back to reality. The devil is so frequently active in our lives and in the church, drawing us into negativity, cynicism, despair, meanness of spirit, sadness and nostalgia.

We must react to the devil, Francis says, as did Jesus, who replied with the Word of God. With the prince of this world one cannot dialogue.

Dialogue is necessary among us, it is necessary for peace, it is an attitude that we must have among ourselves in order to hear each other, to understand each other. Dialogue is born from charity, from love.

But with the Dark Prince one cannot dialogue; one can only respond with the Word of God that defends us.

The devil has made a comeback in this pontificate and is playing an important role in Francis’ ministry. Francis is dead serious about the devil! And he takes every opportunity he can to tell the devil to get the hell out of our lives and our world.

It’s not that Francis has been focusing on the evil one’s power, nor has he been mesmerized by the Harry Potter movies or by a desire to do sequels to the “Exorcist” movie: This Pope doesn’t watch TV!

All of the temptations Francis speaks about so often are the realistic flip side to the heart of the Argentine Jesuit Pope’s message about the world that is charged with the grandeur, mercy, presence and fidelity of God. Those powers are far greater than the devil’s antics.

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

It Is Never Enough, Until We Give It Away

Kurelek cropped

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – July 26, 2015

Today’s Old Testament reading from 2 Kings 4:42-44 is a fitting prelude to John’s version of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes (6:1-21). The author of Kings tells us about one of Elisha’s servants who doubts that 20 loaves of barley is enough to feed 100 people. Elisha, however, trusts the promise of the Lord and overrules his servant. The miracle vindicates Elisha’s trust. The numbers fed are modest in comparison with the feeding of the 5,000 in John’s Gospel!

Bread is a symbol of the person and work of Jesus in John’s great Eucharistic teaching in Chapter 6, and this Eucharistic theme continues over the next four weeks of Scripture readings. Today’s Gospel is John’s marvelous story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. The various accounts of the multiplication of loaves and fishes, two each in Mark and in Matthew and one each in Luke and in John, indicate the wide interest of the early Church in their Eucharistic gatherings (e.g., Mark 6:41; 8:6; 14:22); and recall also the sign of bread in Exodus 16; Deuteronomy 8:3-16; Psalm 78:24-25; 105:40; Wisdom 16:20-21. The miraculous event, recounted by the four evangelists, points forward to the idea of life in God’s kingdom as a banquet at which the Messiah will preside.

Unique perspectives

Mark’s readers saw this incident as an anticipation of the Last Supper (14:22) and the messianic banquet, both of which were celebrated in the community’s Eucharists.

Matthew’s addition of the number of people present and fed is significant, because the total figure could well have come to 20,000 or 30,000 people and the miracle is repeated again in 15:38. The sheer numbers of those fed give the feeding stories a distinct social character.

Luke links his feeding account with Jesus’ prediction of his passion and his instructions about bearing one’s cross daily (9:18-27). To celebrate the Eucharist in memory of Jesus (22:19) is to share not only his mission (9:1-6) but also his dedication and destiny, symbolized by the cross (9:18-27). The Eucharist is part of a journey in Luke’s Gospel, nourishing and strengthening us for continuing faithfully in our way of life.

Johannine details

John’s multiplication story is a central part of Jesus’ important teaching on the Bread of Life (6:1-15). This story is immediately followed by Jesus’ walking on water. John’s multiplication story has been expanded in the introduction by the addition of 1) the vague chronological marker “after these things”; 2) the specification of the place, Lake of Tiberias. This is also the place of the appearance of the risen Lord in John 21:1; 3) the motivation for the crowd — they have seen Jesus’ healings (signs); 4) the reference to the impending “Passover of the Jews.”

As in other Johannine miracle stories, the initiative for this miracle clearly lies with Jesus. Philip does not perceive that Jesus’ question is an appeal to his faith and simply refers to the amount of money required. Jesus teases Philip to have bigger dreams and better hopes rather than to reduce them down to reality. In verses 14-15, the crowds respond correctly that Jesus is the messianic prophet, but misunderstand what they are really saying. The true nature of Jesus’ kingship, which is not that of a national liberator, will only be revealed at his trial (18:33-37; 19:12-15).

One unique Johannine touch is the role of the young boy in this miracle story. What human reason did not dare to hope became a reality with Jesus thanks to a young boy’s generous heart.

Living bread

The multiplication of the loaves is an enduring image of the Eucharist. Jesus wanted to use this humble gift of a few loaves and fishes to feed a multitude, and more (12 baskets were left!). Logic and human reason often say to us, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish.” But Jesus asks that even such meager provisions as these, together with the trust and generosity of disciples of every age, be stretched to their limits. “Let’s see. It will never be enough until we start to give it away.”

For the believer, Jesus is much more than a miracle worker; he himself is heavenly food. The believer will never again experience hunger or thirst. As bread sustains life, Jesus will sustain all who approach him in faith. To acknowledge Jesus as the living bread is the ultimate expression of God’s love in Christ’s death and glorification.

Prolonging the miracle

Whenever I read the miracle stories of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, I recall these stirring words from Pope John Paul II’s 1998 Apostolic Letter “Dies Domini” — On Keeping the Lord’s Day (No. 71). These words illustrate what lies at the heart of today’s miracle of the loaves and fishes and challenge each of us about our duties to truly put the Eucharist into practice in daily life:

“The teachings of the Apostles struck a sympathetic chord from the earliest centuries, and evoked strong echoes in the preaching of the Fathers of the Church.

“St. Ambrose addressed words of fire to the rich who presumed to fulfill their religious obligations by attending church without sharing their goods with the poor, and who perhaps even exploited them: ‘You who are rich, do you hear what the Lord God says? Yet you come into church not to give to the poor but to take instead.’

“St. John Chrysostom is no less demanding: ‘Do you wish to honor the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk only then to neglect him outside where he suffers cold and nakedness. He who said: ‘This is my body’ is the same One who said: ‘You saw me hungry and you gave me no food,’ and ‘Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me’ … What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices, when he is dying of hunger? Start by satisfying his hunger, and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well.’

“These words effectively remind the Christian community of the duty to make the Eucharist the place where fraternity becomes practical solidarity, where the last are the first in the minds and attentions of the brethren, where Christ himself — through the generous gifts from the rich to the very poor — may somehow prolong in time the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves.”

Questions for reflection

What does Jesus’ Eucharistic presence mean for us? Does our participation in the weekly and daily celebrations of the Lord’s meal transform us into people of gratitude, loving kindness, justice and charity? In what ways does the Eucharist symbolize the life we are living and our life symbolize the Eucharist? How do we express gratitude? Is the Eucharist giving direction to our life?

Do we not often wonder where we shall get the means to accomplish what seems good and necessary? Today’s miracle reveals the extraordinary resources of life within each of us. In order to sustain our hopes, we must believe in miracles. We must feast on the Body and Blood of the Lord for our real energy and life.

[The readings for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time are: 2 Kings 4:42-44; Ephesians 4:1-6; and John 6:1-15]

(Image: Mural of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes by William Kurelek at St. Thomas More College, Saskatoon)

Jesus, the Compassionate Shepherd of God

Jesus Shepherd Tissot cropped

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – July 19, 2015

The themes of sheep and shepherding flow though the Scripture readings for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B). The moving Gospel story of Jesus having compassion on the crowds that were “like sheep without a shepherd” helps us to focus on his ministry of teaching, reconciling and shepherding.

Literature of antiquity often referred to the person responsible for guiding a community as a shepherd. Likewise, the Old Testament frequently described the Lord himself as the shepherd of his people. Individuals invoked him as “my shepherd” (Psalm 23:1), and the community prayed to him as the “Shepherd of Israel” (Psalm 80:1).

In the New Testament, the image of the shepherd expresses great authority and responsibility. Nourishing the flock means that the shepherd must protect them from heresy, ever ready to defend the sheep from marauders. John tells us that Jesus himself proclaimed that he fulfilled Israel’s hope for the coming of the good shepherd: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

When Jesus withdraws with his disciples to a deserted place to rest, he attracts a great number of people to follow them. Toward this people of the new exodus Jesus is moved with pity; he satisfies their spiritual hunger by teaching them many things, thus gradually showing himself the faithful shepherd of a new Israel.

When the Scriptures describe Jesus as having pity on his flock because they were “like sheep without a shepherd” in Mark 6:30-34, such an image is not original to Jesus in the Gospels. The image is drawn from Ezekiel 34, where God unleashes his anger at the shepherds of Israel who have fattened themselves on the weak and vulnerable, instead of caring for them (Ezekiel 34:10-12).

Sheep without a shepherd

Jesus’ compassion is much more than a fleeting or temporary feeling of regret or sorrow. It is rather a deep anguish, a gut-wrenching type of anxiety and sorrow over the condition of people. Jesus was describing the spiritual lives of those who were living outside of the salvation so freely offered by God. Jesus felt gut-wrenching anguish over the souls of these people who were facing spiritual starvation without someone to feed them, teach them, and lead them to true spiritual nourishment. They were in danger without a shepherd to protect them from false teaching. Like sheep without the good shepherd, they were alone and vulnerable to the attacks of the evil one, who roams around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

“Like sheep without a shepherd” is an accurate description of the spiritual lives of many 21st-century Christians in the world today. The expression describes many of our contemporaries who are directionless, helpless, and very vulnerable to the seductions and attacks of the evil one. “Sheep without a shepherd” are more than just a little lost. They are more than just a little vulnerable. They are facing danger and destruction.

Jesus’ Compassion

Jesus saw the sick and his compassion healed them. He saw those possessed by demons and his compassion freed them. He told the story of a king who was owed a huge debt by his servant. When the servant could not pay, the king ordered him thrown into slavery, along with his family. When the servant pleaded for mercy the king “had compassion” on him and forgave the huge debt.

Jesus spoke about a man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. That poor fellow fell among thieves who beat him, robbed him and left him to die. Two high-ranking religious officials passed by him, but a Samaritan stopped and “had compassion” on him. He bandaged the man’s wounds and carried him to an inn where he nursed him through the night. The next day he paid the bill and gave the innkeeper his credit line, saying, “If he needs more, charge it to me.”

Who can forget the thought-provoking story of the younger son who took his inheritance and squandered it in loose living? One day he “came to himself” and returned to his father’s house, not hoping to be restored as a son, but wanting only to be hired as a servant. His father saw him coming and “had compassion” on him. Before the son could even utter his speech of repentance, the father placed on him a ring and robe and shoes and called for a royal feast.

The compassion of Jesus heals and feeds, forgives huge debts, nurses hurt bodies back to health and welcomes home sinners, restoring them to a place of honor. Jesus will not let his compassion stay with God or in heaven. He commands us: “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.”

Jesus did a lot more than just feel compassion for those in today’s Gospel story from Mark 6. His strong emotion moved him to act, far beyond what any shepherd would be expected to do for his sheep. The authentic shepherd, who models his or her life on Jesus, must love the people entrusted to him and imitate Jesus.

Where will we find such compassion for ourselves?

From time to time, despite our best intentions, we find ourselves among those in need, those who are like sheep without a shepherd. At times we ask ourselves: “Where on earth can we find this compassion to share with others?” I have learned that only in solitude before God, faced only with ourselves, can we learn the compassion of God. Perhaps it is not by accident that in the thick of his ministry and burdened by the unrelenting needs and demands of the crowd, Jesus called his disciples to join him in the desert: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.”

Could it not be the same for us, that away from the hustle and bustle of the everyday demands, we retreat in order to wrestle with our own hearts before God? And there we learn mercy and become in our day bearers of the compassion of Christ.

Leading people out

One of the most powerful and moving reflections on the theme of compassionate shepherding is found in the homily of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI during the Mass of Inauguration of his Petrine Ministry on April 24, 2005:

“The pastor must be inspired by Christ’s holy zeal: for him it is not a matter of indifference that so many people are living in the desert. And there are so many kinds of desert. There is the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment, of loneliness, of destroyed love.

“There is the desert of God’s darkness, the emptiness of souls no longer aware of their dignity or the goal of human life. The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast. Therefore the earth’s treasures no longer serve to build God’s garden for all to live in, but they have been made to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction.

“The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance.”

This week may our prayer be for awareness, compassion and courage. Let us beg the Lord to make us more aware of the vast and growing deserts in which our contemporaries, and perhaps even we are living today. Let us ask the Lord to give us his compassion for those who truly are sheep without shepherds. And let us pray for courage to help lead our friends out of their deserts and into the places of life and friendship with Christ, the Good Shepherd.

[The readings for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Ephesians 2:13-18; and Mark 6:30-34]

(Image: “Jesus the Good Shepherd” by James Tissot)

Jesus Sends Us to Teach and Heal

The Twelve cropped

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – July 12, 2015

When the Gospels relate to us the call extended by Jesus to his young disciples and apostles, it is always done in a very compassionate way. Jesus looks upon those whom he calls; he loves them, challenges them and calls them to be something they could hardly fathom!

Today’s Gospel (Mark 6:7-13) is about the formation of those who will eventually spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Mark sees the teaching and work of the apostles as an extension of Jesus’ teaching and work. In Mark’s story, the preparation for the mission of the Twelve is seen in the call of the first disciples to be fishers of men (Mark 1:16-20), then of the Twelve set apart to be with Jesus and to receive authority to preach and expel demons (3:13-19). Now they are given the specific mission to exercise that authority in word and power as representatives of Jesus during the time of their formation.

In Mark’s call story, Jesus does not mention any prohibition to visit pagan territory and to enter Samaritan towns. These differences indicate a certain adaptation to conditions in and outside of Palestine and suggest in Mark’s account a later activity in the Church. For the rest, Jesus required of his apostles a total dependence on God for food and shelter (Cf. Mark 6:35-44; 8:1-9). Remaining in the same house as a guest (6:10), rather than moving to another offering greater comfort avoided any impression of seeking advantage for oneself and prevented dishonor to one’s host. Why does Jesus tell the apostles to “travel light” with little or no provision? He wants his disciples to be dependent on him and not on themselves. He promises to work through and in each person called for his glory. The significance of shaking the dust off one’s feet served as testimony against those who rejected the call to repentance.

Help or hindrance?

One of the frequent themes of Mark’s Gospel is the ignorance of the disciples. When we read the whole Gospel, we realize that the disciples are as much a hindrance as a help to Jesus. They do not understand Jesus’ words or support him in his mission. Repeatedly Jesus rebukes them for their inability to see and comprehend and for their hardness of heart. But when the disciples misunderstand Jesus and in other ways fail him, they are doing more than simply trying his patience. They are serving as agents of testing. As ones who “think the things of humans,” rather than the things of God, they cannot comprehend that the straight and narrow path lying before Jesus must necessarily end at the cross. And so they act in ways that threaten to lead Jesus astray.

Many times we find ourselves asking, “Why did Mark portray the disciples in such a bad light?” But Mark’s earliest readers would have focused not on Mark’s literary strategies but on the events depicted in the narrative. They would have asked something like this: “What could it mean that the disciples whom we know as great leaders were so weak and acted so shamefully?” And the answer to that question would have been obvious: God had opened the eyes of the disciples, and had transformed them from ones who misunderstood and tested Jesus into worthy servants, even fearless leaders. There is hope for us! These famous call stories were remembered by Christians who knew the reality of their own weakness and failure, yet who also trusted in the presence of the Lord who triumphed over fear.

In Jesus’ Name

What kind of authority and power does the Lord want us to exercise on his behalf? Jesus gave his apostles both the power and the authority to speak and to act in his name. He commanded them to do the works that he did: to cast out evil spirits, to heal, and to speak the word of God, the good news of the Gospel, which they received from Jesus. When Jesus spoke of power and authority he did something unheard of. He wedded power and authority with love and humility. The “world” and the “flesh” seek power for selfish gain. Jesus teaches us to use it for the good of our neighbor. Following Jesus is a risk, as every new way of life is. Each of us is called to teach as Jesus taught and to heal boldly and compassionately as he did.

Law, Prophets and Writings

In light of the first reading from the book of the prophet Amos (7:12-15) I would also like to offer some reflections on Jesus in relation to the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings of the Old Testament. On the one hand, Jesus knows the Law perfectly and observes it with devotion. On the other hand, however, He shows Himself perfectly free with regard to the Law. He wishes to give the authentic interpretation of the Law. He goes so far as to declare Himself the new lawgiver, with an authority equal to that of God. He Himself is the fulfillment of the Law (Cf. Romans 10:4).

Jesus also shows that He is the genuine continuation of the prophets in His message and His life. Like them, He proclaims faith in the “God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob” (Matthew 2:32). He defends the rights of God and of the poor (cf. Matthew 11:20-24). On the other hand, Jesus does not hesitate to declare Himself greater than all of them. He is superior to them, not only in the prophetic line, but He is the first, as the origin and source of all prophetic inspiration.

He is greater than Jonah and Solomon (Cf. Matthew 12:41-43; Luke 11:31-32). He is greater than Moses and he is first of all the prophets before John (John 1:15), Moses (John 6:46) and Abraham (John 8:56-58). And it is important to note that His primacy is not only temporal, but existential. His “before” is infinite, because it is eternal: “Abraham, your father, rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad. […] Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I Am” (John 8:56-58).

Jesus also presents Himself as a fulfillment of the wisdom literature in the Old Testament. Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets by embodying this awareness in Himself: He embodies the way and reforms it by the witness He gives throughout His life, and even in His death. There is a radical change in values, as if a new creation would emerge from a creation undergoing a major upheaval.

By His death, Jesus explains the apparent contradiction of these values in the wisdom literature, and opens the path which had seemed to become as impasse for humankind. For those who follow Jesus, and hopefully that is each one of us, we must walk in his footsteps, enduring all of his misunderstanding, suffering, and even death, in order to truly be his disciples. The more we probe the depths of the very Scriptures which he fulfilled with his life, the more we will become like him.

Extended call

Spend some time this week reflecting on how the Lord has called you to be a disciple. In what ways have you felt the personal call of Christ? How does Christ make a difference in your life? What has his call demanded of you? What experiences or people in your life have been instrumental in deepening your faith? Is it possible to be a committed disciple of Jesus, yet still experience weakness and failure? In what ways can you, as a disciple of Jesus, share in his mission of teaching and healing today? To whom are you being sent, to teach and to heal?

[The readings for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Amos 7:12-15; Ephesians 1:3-14 or Ephesians 1:3-10; and Mark 6:7-13]

(Image: “Jesus Chooses the Twelve” by James Tissot)

Pope Francis will experience massive changes in climate, temperature and altitude in Latin America beginning on Sunday

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For the second time since his election on March 13, 2013, Pope Francis is returning to the continent of his birth – Latin America – on a journey which will see him interact and communicate in his own language – Spanish. The journey is to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, which is scheduled to last from July 5-13, 2015. The underlying theme of the journey to all three countries, ravaged by conquest, exploitation and conflict in years not so long gone by is that of reconciliation and renewal.

This is the first time Pope Francis will visit three different nations during a single journey. Just as he did in Europe by choosing Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina as the first nations to reach out to at the beginning of his pontificate, here too Pope Francis is starting with the “peripheries” as far as the Latin American and global scenarios are concerned.

It will also be the first journey in which Spanish, the Pope’s mother-tongue is spoken throughout, giving him plenty of occasions to set aside prepared texts (including 22 official discourses) and to talk and converse freely with his audiences.

Climate Change

In just seven days, Pope Francis will be experiencing enormous changes in climate, temperature and altitude: from 3°  to 40° Centigrade, from sea level to over 4,100 meters above sea level as he travels from the Atlantic to the Andes and in between. A quick glance at the Pope’s schedule (found below) highlights the fact that the journey will be intense.

All in all, Pope Francis is to spend 48 hours in each country, and each time he will be involved in a number of “common” events such as an audience with each President; a “sit-down” with the bishops, an encounter with civil society (representatives of business, indigenous people, the world of education, culture); a meeting with consecrated men and women. In each country he will also be involved in other events and situations as he is scheduled to visit a home for the aged run by the Sisters of Mother Teresa in Ecuador, a prison (one of the largest in Latin America) and a meeting with members of the World Meeting of Popular Movements in Bolivia; a children’s hospital and a slum area in Paraguay.

Another important feature of the journey will be a Marian one as Pope Francis will gather in prayer before the “Virgen Dolorosa” in Quito and before Our Lady of Caacupé 40 km from Asunción. One important characteristic of the whole journey relates to the wealth of traditions, cultures and languages that are present on the territory. The Pope’s respect for the diversity and value of each of these is also reflected in all of the liturgies and celebrations.

Saint John Paul II traveled to all three nations: Ecuador in 1985, Bolivia and Paraguay in 1988 where he had a memorable meeting with minors, canonized Rocco Gonzales and was witness to the last days of General Alfredo Stroessner’s cruel dictatorship.

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Schedule

The Pope will leave Rome’s Fiumicino airport at 9 a.m. on Sunday, July 5 and will arrive at the Mariscal Sucre airport in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, at 3 p.m. local time, where the welcome ceremony will be held. On Monday, the 6th, he will proceed to Guayaquil to celebrate Mass in the shrine of Divine Mercy, after which he will lunch at the Colegio Javier with the Jesuit community. Upon return to Quito, he will pay a courtesy visit to the Ecuadorian president in the presidential palace and will subsequently visit the Cathedral. In the morning of Tuesday, July 7, he will meet with the bishops of Ecuador in the Congress Centre of the Bicentenary park, where he will celebrate Mass. In the afternoon he will encounter representatives of schools and universities in the Pontifical University of Ecuador, and later, representatives of civil society in the Church of San Francisco, after which he will pay a private visit to the “Iglesia de la Compañia”. On Wednesday, July 8, he will first visit the Rest Home of the Missionaries of Charity, and will then meet with clergy, men and women religious and seminarians at the national Marian shrine, El Quinche. On the same day he will depart by air for Bolivia.

Upon arrival at the airport of El Alto in La Paz, he will give an address and, following the welcome ceremony, will transfer to the Government Palace to pay a courtesy visit to the president. From there, he will go to the Cathedral of La Paz, where he will meet with the civil authorities, after which he will travel by air to Santa Cruz de la Sierra where he will spend the night. On Thursday July 9, he will celebrate Mass in the the square of Cristo Redentor, and will meet with men and women religious in the Don Bosco school, after which he will participate in the World Meeting of Popular Movements in the Expo trade fair centre. On Friday, the 10th he will visit the Santa Cruz-Palmasola Re-education Centre and, in the same morning, will meet with the bishops of Bolivia in the parish church of Santa Cruz. The Pope will leave Bolivia from the Viru Viru Airport in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, destined for Paraguay; his aircraft is expected to land at around 3 p.m. local time in the Silvio Pettirossi Airport of Asunción.

After arriving in Paraguay, the Pope will pay a courtesy visit to the president in the Palacio de los López, where he will also meet with the authorities and the diplomatic corps. On Saturday July 11, he will visit the “Niños de Acosta Ñu” General Paediatric Hospital and will subsequently officiate at Mass in the square of the Marian sanctuary of Caacupé. In the afternoon he will meet with representatives of civil society in the León Condou Stadium of the San José School. The day will conclude with the celebration of vespers with the bishops, priests, deacons, men and women religious, seminarians and Catholic movements in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of Asunción. Sunday the 12 will begin with a visit to the people of Bañado Norte in the Chapel of San Juan Bautista, and Mass in the Ñu Guazú field. The Holy Father will meet the bishops of Paraguay in the Cultural Centre of the apostolic nunciature, where they will then dine. His last engagement will be a meeting with young people at the Costanera riverside area. At 7 p.m. local time Francis will depart by air for Rome, where he is expected to arrive on Monday July 13 at around 1.45 p.m.

Be sure to stay tuned to Salt and Light for our extensive coverage of the Pope’s journey to Latin America.

Is Not This the Carpenter, the Son of Mary?

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Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – July 5, 2015

We know today’s Gospel story well, perhaps too well! It would have been customary for Jesus to go to the synagogue each week during the Sabbath, and when his turn came, to read from the scriptures during the Sabbath service.

His hometown folks listened ever so attentively to his teaching because they had heard about the miracles he had performed in other towns. What signs would their hometown boy work on his own turf?

In today’s story, Jesus startled his own people with a seeming rebuke that no prophet of God can receive honor among his own people. The people of Nazareth took offense at him and refused to listen to what he had to say. They despised his preaching because he was from the working class; a carpenter, a mere layman and they despised him because of his family. Jesus could do no mighty works in their midst because they were closed and disbelieving toward him.

If people have come together to hate and to refuse to understand, then they will see no other point of view than their own, and they will refuse to love and accept others. Does the story sound familiar to us? How many times have we found ourselves in similar situations?

Homecoming

We often think that Luke is the only evangelist who records Jesus’ visit to Nazareth, “where he had been brought up” and that programmatic episode in the Nazareth synagogue (Luke 4:16). Mark and Matthew also refer to this episode, although without mentioning the name of the town, calling it simply “his hometown” or “his native place” (Mark 6:1; Matthew 13:54). There are, however, several differences between the story told by Luke and those of Mark and Matthew. In the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, people consider the humble origin of Jesus who was “the carpenter” (Mark 6:3), “the son of the carpenter” (Matthew 13:55) and use it to doubt the greatness of his mission. Luke, on the other hand, makes no mention of Jesus’ humble origins.

In Mark, Jesus’ visit to his hometown is found not at the beginning of his ministry, but after a long period of preaching the Gospel and healing, even after the talks on the parables (Mark 4:1-34) and the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:21-43). In Matthew, Jesus has also already pronounced his address on mission to the “Twelve Apostles” (10:2-42).

What was the meaning of the peoples’ questions about Jesus in Mark’s account (6:1-6) that forms this Sunday’s Gospel? “‘Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him.”

“Who do you think you are?” they seem to be asking him. Jesus sees that the questions about him correspond to a deeply possessive attitude: Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and therefore one of us? You belong to us and therefore you must do for us all that you are able to do. We own you!

“Prophets are not without honor except in their hometowns and among their own kin, and even in their own homes.” Jesus resists the possessive attitude manifested by his people. The people of Jesus’ native place were suffering from a particular form of blindness — a blindness that sometimes affects us, too. Jesus refuses to place his extraordinary gifts at the service of his own people, putting strangers first.

Vision and heart

Today’s Gospel shows how difficult it is for us to attain to a universal vision. When we are faced with someone like Jesus, someone with a generous heart, a wide vision and a great spirit, our reactions are very often filled with jealousy, selfishness, and meanness of spirit. His own people couldn’t recognize the holiness of Jesus, because they had never really accepted their own. They couldn’t honor his relationship with God because they had never fully explored their own sense of belonging to the Lord. They couldn’t see the Messiah standing right beside them, because he looked too much like one of them. Until we see ourselves as people beloved of God, miracles will be scarce and the prophets and messengers who rise among us will struggle to be heard and accepted for whom they truly are.

In today’s Gospel story, Mark tells us that Jesus was amazed at their unbelief. Listening to Jesus, his own people were initially filled with admiration in him and pride because of him. His message of liberation was marvelous. Then they recognize this young prophet as one of them and they say: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?”

The most severe critics are often people very familiar to us, a member of our family, a relative, or neighbor we rub shoulders with on a regular basis. The people of Nazareth refused to renounce their possessive attitude toward Jesus. When possessive love is obstructed it produces a violent reaction. This sort of reaction provokes many dramas of jealousy and passion. They took offence at him in Mark’s account just as “everyone in the synagogue was enraged (Luke 4:28) and they sought to kill him” (4:29) in Luke’s version of the story. Refusal to open our heart can lead to such extremes.

Jesus was bitterly criticized because he demonstrated great openness of heart, particularly toward people on the fringes and borders of society. His openness caused rising opposition that led him to the cross. In the Acts of the Apostles we read more than once that the success of St. Paul’s preaching to the gentiles provoked jealousy among some of the Jews, who opposed the Apostle and stirred up persecution against him (Acts 13:45; 17,5; 22,21-22). Also within the Christian community, we need only recall the situation in Corinth where similar possessive attitudes caused serious harm when many believers attached themselves jealously to one apostle or another; causing conflict and division in the community. Paul had to intervene forcefully (1 Corinthians 1:10-3:23).

Today’s Gospel warns us to be on guard against certain attitudes that are incompatible with the example of Jesus: the human tendency to be possessive, and egoistic and small in mind and heart. We cannot forget that Jesus is the Savior of the world (John 4:42), and not of the village, town, city or nation!

In order to approach and imitate Jesus, who is total beauty and uniqueness, the quality of magnanimity is necessary in our hearts and minds. The opposite and enemy of magnanimity is envy. Envy is that fault in the human character that cannot recognize the beauty and uniqueness of the other, and denies the other honor. Envy can no longer see because the eyes are “nailed shut,” blinded to one’s own beauty and the beauty in others. Envy inevitably leads to forms of violence and destruction, of self and of others. In order to approach and imitate Jesus, who is total beauty and uniqueness, the attitude of envy must be first acknowledged and then banished.

Magnanimity lets others be free, for the other person must become great enough to be an image of God’s beauty. Magnanimity arouses the desire in each of us for the other to receive the greatest possible satisfaction and happiness that rightly belongs to the other! Magnanimity is capable of looking beyond itself, it can grant the other what oneself perhaps bitterly lacks, and can perhaps even rejoice in the other’s goodness, greatness and beauty.

Let us pray that Jesus not be amazed at our own unbelief, but rather rejoice in our small, daily acts of fidelity to him and our service to our sisters and brothers. May the Lord grant us magnanimous hearts so that we may look far beyond ourselves and recognize the goodness, greatness and beauty of other people, instead of being jealous of their gifts. God’s power alone can save us from emptiness and poverty of spirit, from confusion and error, and from the fear of death and hopelessness. The gospel of salvation is “great news” for us today.

[The readings for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Ezekiel 2:2-5; 2:23-24; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; and Mark 6:1-6]

(Image: Jesus Travelling by James Tissot)

Changes in the Pallium Ceremony on June 29 encourage greater participation of the faithful

 

Pallia tray June 29

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

In the past on June 29, Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, newly appointed Metropolitan Archbishops took part in an ancient liturgical ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and received the pallium directly from the Pope.

Pope Francis has made changes to the public ceremony of investiture of the Pallium on Metropolitan Archbishops emphasizing that the investiture is an ecclesial event of the whole diocese, and not merely a juridical or ceremonial event. Beginning on June 29 of this year, the ceremony of investiture of the Pallium will take place in the Metropolitan Archbishops’ home dioceses and not in the Vatican.

From now on, the ceremony will be celebrated in two significant moments: the first during which the pallium will be blessed by the Pope during the Mass on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul in the Vatican; the second when it will be placed on the Metropolitan Archbishop in his own diocese, by his representative, the Apostolic Nuncio in that particular country.

It is the responsibility of the Nuncio to determine with the Metropolitan Archbishops the most opportune date, circumstances and manner to publicly and officially invest him with the pallium by mandate of the Holy Father, and with the participation of the Suffragan Bishops of that particular Province (ecclesiastically geographic area).

The pallium ceremony will continue to symbolize communion between the See of Peter and the Successor of the Apostle and those who are chosen to carry out the episcopal ministry as Metropolitan Archbishop of an Ecclesiastical Province, and it will encourage the participation of the local Church in an important moment of its life and history.

Pallium photo

The pallium is a circle of wool that hangs around the neck and shoulders with two long pieces draping one over the chest and the other along the back. It is decorated with six black crosses and weighed with pieces of lead. The wool for the pallium comes from two lambs offered every year to the Pope on January 21, Feast of St. Agnes. They are first taken to the Church of St. Agnes to be blessed. The lambs arrive wearing floral crowns, one white and one red. These represent the purity of Agnes, which the archbishops should emulate, and the martyrdom of Agnes, which the archbishops should be prepared to follow.

The lambs are then shorn and the pallia (plural of pallium) are made. On the eve of the feast of the great apostles Peter and Paul, (June 28) the pallia are stored overnight in the silver casket above Peter’s tomb in the Vatican crypt.  The following day (June 29) the pallia are given to the newly appointed metropolitan bishops, the only occasion in which more than one bishop can be seen wearing the pallium at the same time.

Symbolically, the Pope is sharing his mission to “Feed my sheep and lambs” with the archbishops. The wool over the shoulders evokes the lamb over the shoulders of the Good Shepherd.  It also reminds the archbishops of the burdens of their office.  By investing each new Archbishop with the pallium, the Holy Father confers some of his own weight and responsibilities upon him.

At his own inauguration of Petrine Ministry as Bishop of Rome on April 24, 2005, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI spoke moving words about the pallium he had received during that ceremony:

“The symbolism of the Pallium is even more concrete: the lamb’s wool is meant to represent the lost, sick or weak sheep which the shepherd places on his shoulders and carries to the waters of life. …Hence the Pallium becomes a symbol of the shepherd’s mission. …The pastor must be inspired by Christ’s holy zeal: for him it is not a matter of indifference that so many people are living in the desert.  And there are so many kinds of desert.  There is the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment, of loneliness, of destroyed love.  There is the desert of God’s darkness, the emptiness of souls no longer aware of their dignity or the goal of human life. The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.

Therefore the earth’s treasures no longer serve to build God’s garden for all to live in, but they have been made to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction. The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance.”

Arise, Live and Love Again!

Talitha koum cropped

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – June 28, 2015

Last week we witnessed Jesus’ divine power at work on the forces of nature (Mark 4:37-41). Today’s Gospel stories reveal his power over disease and death.

In these powerful accounts, Jesus reminds us of the importance of faith. Nothing is possible without faith. On the way to Jairus’ house (Mark 5), Jesus encounters interruptions, delays, and even obstacles along the road. The people in the passage transfer their uncleanness to Jesus, and to each Jesus bestows the cleansing wholeness of God. Let us consider for a moment each situation.

The hemorrhaging woman

Jesus’ miraculous healing of this woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years is narrated in three of the four Gospels (Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48). The law regarded three forms of uncleanness as serious enough to exclude the infected person from society: leprosy, uncleanness caused by bodily discharges, and impurity resulting from contact with the dead (Numbers 5:2-4). The woman in Mark 5 had a disease that made her ritually unclean (Leviticus 15:25-27). It would have excluded her from most social contact and worship at the temple. She desperately wanted Jesus to heal her, but she knew that her bleeding would cause Jesus to become ritually unclean under Jewish law.

Anyone who had one of the diseases was made unclean. Anything or anyone that one touched became unclean. Those who were unclean also suffered from estranged relationships with others and with God. Anything unclean was unfit or unworthy to be in the presence of a God who was holy. Those deemed unclean had to go through a rite of purification or cleansing in order to be welcomed back into society and into the presence of God.

The woman’s bold invasion of Jesus’ space, and her touching of Jesus’ garment, thus making Jesus unclean, could have put him off. On the contrary, Jesus not only heals the woman, but also restores her relationships with others. When Jesus calls the woman “daughter,” he established a relationship with one with whom he should not have a relationship.

Jairus’ daughter

The very touching story of Jairus’ daughter is “sandwiched” in the story about the hemorrhaging woman. Jairus was an elected leader of the local synagogue, responsible for supervising the weekly worship, operating the school, and caring for the building. Some synagogue leaders had been pressured not to support Jesus, but Jairus had not caved into that pressure. Jairus bowed before Jesus and uttered his anguished request for help: “My daughter is at the point of death. Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.” Jairus’ gesture was a significant and daring act of respect and worship.

The story continues: “Jesus took the child by the hand, and said to her, ‘Talitha koum,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise!’ The girl arose immediately and walked around” (5:41-42). By calling her “little girl,” he established the same kind of relationship with her as Jairus has with his daughter.

In each situation, Jesus’ holiness transforms the person’s uncleanness. The flow of blood is stopped. The woman is healed. The corpse comes back to life. The young girl gets out of bed. Jesus raises each person up to his level, making that individual worthy to be in the presence of God.

Jesus, the healer

In so many of the healing stories, Jesus manifests the power to give people health, healing and even to bring the dead back to life. Remember the young man of Nain in Luke 7 who had died. Jesus said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!” Luke reports that the “dead man sat up and began to speak.”

Jesus responded to the cries of the leper who begged him, “If you will, you can cure me!” Moved with compassion, Jesus gave a word of command which was proper to God and not to a mere human being: “I do will it. Be made clean!” Mark wrote: “The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean” (Mark 1:42). How can we forget the case of the paralytic who was let down through an opening made in the roof of the house, Jesus said, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home” (cf. Mk 2:1-12).

Jesus’ story continues in the Acts of the Apostles when we hear about people who “carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them” (Acts 5:15). These “wonders and signs” were performed by the apostles not in their own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ, and were therefore a further proof of his divine power.

“Talitha koum”

The story of Jairus’ daughter not only speaks about the death of a child and the raising of that young girl back to life, but it also speaks about death of the heart and spirit, a disease that affects so many young people today.

Those powerful words — “Talitha koum” (Little girl, arise) — are not only addressed to this little girl in Mark’s story, but also to many young people, perhaps to each one of us. How many young children live with fear and sadness because of divided family situations, tragedy and loss! How many young people are caught up in vicious cycles of death: drugs, abortion, pornography, violence, gangs and suicide.

Today our young people are afflicted with anxiety, discouragement and other serious psychological and even physical illnesses in alarming ways. Many don’t know what joy, love hope and truth really mean any more.

Sadness, pessimism, cynicism, meaninglessness, the desire not to live, are always bad things, but when we see or hear young people express them, our hearts are even more heavy and sad. Living in a big city such as Toronto, I have the opportunity of meeting many young people, and when I hear some of their stories of brokenness, sadness and despair, I realize how much work the churches must do to bring young people back to life.

Jesus continues today to resurrect those dead young people to life. He does so with his word, and also by sending them his disciples who, in his name, and with his very love, repeat to today’s young people his cry: “Talitha koum,” “young man, young woman, arise! Live again! Love again! You are loved!”

“Alive” in Darlinghurst

As I reflect on today’s Gospel and Jesus’ powerful words: “Talitha koum,” I recall vividly one of Benedict XVI’s special moments during World Youth Day 2008 in Australia.

The Holy Father went to the University of Notre Dame’s Sacred Heart chapel in Darlinghurst (Sydney) where he met young people with histories of drug addiction and other problems, who are following the “Alive” rehabilitation program. The Pope Emeritus recalled Moses’ words in the Old Testament:

“‘I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live in the love of the Lord your God, […] for in this your life consists.”

“It was clear what they had to do,” the Pope explained, “they had to turn away from other gods and worship the true God Who had revealed himself to Moses — and they had to obey His commandments. You might think that in today’s world, people are unlikely to start worshipping other gods. But sometimes people worship ‘other gods’ without realizing it. False ‘gods’ […] are nearly always associated with the worship of three things: material possessions, possessive love, or power.”

“Authentic love is obviously something good,” the Pope continued. “When we love, we become most fully ourselves, most fully human. But […] people often think they are being loving when actually they are being possessive or manipulative. People sometimes treat others as objects to satisfy their own needs. […] How easy it is to be deceived by the many voices in our society that advocate a permissive approach to sexuality, without regard for modesty, self-respect or the moral values that bring quality to human relationships!”

“Dear friends, I see you as ambassadors of hope to others in similar situations. You can convince them of the need to choose the path of life and shun the path of death, because you speak from experience. All through the Gospels, it was those who had taken wrong turnings who were particularly loved by Jesus, because once they recognized their mistake, they were all the more open to his healing message.

“Indeed, Jesus was often criticized by self-righteous members of society for spending so much time with such people. ‘Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ they asked. He responded: ‘It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick … I did not come to call the virtuous but sinners’ (cf. Mt 9:11-13).

“It was those who were willing to rebuild their lives who were most ready to listen to Jesus and become his disciples. You can follow in their footsteps, you too can grow particularly close to Jesus because you have chosen to turn back towards him. You can be sure that, just like the Father in the story of the prodigal son, Jesus welcomes you with open arms. He offers you unconditional love — and it is in loving friendship with him that the fullness of life is to be found.”

I am sure that Jesus was smiling upon Benedict XVI and that wonderful gathering in Sydney. Jesus’ words — “Talitha koum” — be heard every anew, Down Under and throughout our world, to invite the young and all people to rise up, to live and to love again.

[The readings for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24; 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15; and Mark 5:21-43 or 5:21-24, 35b-43]

(Image: “Talitha Koum” by Ilja Jefimowitsch Repin)

Living in a Digital World: The Context of our Mission Today

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Address to US & Canadian Jesuit Formation Conference
“Global Mission in a Digital Age”

 by Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Loyola Marymount University – Los Angeles, California
June 16, 2015

Over 300 Jesuits gathered at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California this week – all Canadian and U.S. Jesuits currently in formation along with their provincials. It is the largest gathering of Jesuits in the United States in the past decade. The group includes everyone from first-year novices to men in their third year of theology. The meeting, the first in the U.S. since 2006, is being held to give these Jesuits an opportunity – sometime during their formation – to meet everyone else. The theme of the gathering, which runs from June 15-20, is “Global Mission in a Digital Age,” which reflects the fact that the mission of the Society of Jesus is no longer restricted to a Jesuit’s own province or his own country because all Jesuits need a global perspective on their ministry. Speakers at the meeting include Fr. Matt Malone, SJ, America magazine’s editor-in-chief; Fr. Timothy Kesicki, SJ, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States; Fr. Tom Rosica, C.S.B., CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation; and Fr. Peter Balleis, SJ, international director of Jesuit Refugee Services.

Dear Brothers and Friends,

Thank you very much for the privilege of addressing this great assembly of 300 young Jesuits in formation and the entire leadership of the Society of Jesus in North America and many places beyond! Standing before such intelligence and creative talent gives me much hope for the Church and for the Society of Jesus. The theme of this conference is extremely appropriate for our time: “Global Mission in a Digital Age.” Last night Fr. Matt Malone, SJ, of AMERICA Media unfolded the vast canvas of the global mission before you. Today I would like to look at the digital tools needed to prepare and paint that canvas so that it can be seen, appreciated and understood by the world. Let me begin by telling you about a great Gospel artist of our times who surprisingly models for us how a truly dynamic, global mission is lived each day.

I say “surprisingly” on purpose! Following Pope Francis’ recent pronouncements on the digital and Internet matters, several Anglophone journalists with whom I deal regularly on behalf of the Holy See Press Office have asked me: “So, is this Jesuit Pope a Luddite?” Some people may think so given recent headlines like: “Pope doesn’t use e-mail, doesn’t have a laptop, doesn’t have an iphone.” Or “Jesuit Pope takes oath to Blessed Mother in 1990 promising never to watch television again.” Or “Pope tells parents not to let children use computers in their bedrooms.”

But as you know well, such headlines often distort the message. To understand what Francis says, context counts and syntax matters. The Pope has issued no magisterial directive on how to organize households. What he offered was common-sense wisdom. In more unscripted remarks during his recent day trip to Sarajevo two Sundays ago, Pope Francis spoke both to young people and to journalists about computer usage. Prefacing his remarks to the young people with self-deprecating humility (“Obviously, I am from the Stone Age, I’m ancient!”), his admonitions remain sound today: “If you live glued to the computer and become a slave to the computer, you lose your freedom. And if you look for obscene programs on the computer, you lose your dignity.” But he also implored those digital natives to “Watch television, use the computer, but for beautiful reasons, for great things, things which help us to grow.”

To the reporter during one of those coveted in-flight press conferences on the return flight to Rome who inquired about what was meant by wasting time with television and computers, the Pope distinguished between the medium and its content. Regarding the former he makes clear that the risk comes not from the digital medium but from one’s attachment to it. Slavery of this, or any kind, is what “damages the soul and takes away freedom.” About the latter the Pope was not telling parents how to act as much as he was describing what some concerned parents do, given their legitimate fears about a child’s access to inappropriate (even dangerous) content.

We all know that computers can have terrible effect if not used properly. Easy access to personally damaging content like pornography is frightening. It is the cause of breakup many families and destroys many lives and careers. So, too, is the strength of social media to affect brain power, with research now showing that digital distractions lead young people – in many cases our students and parishioners – to be able to concentrate on a task for only 31 seconds! But computers are not the problem, nor is the Internet the problem. Our fantasies are. Removing the device does not restrict the imagination. Nor does banning the technology eliminate distraction.

Social media can make moral development a challenge, but we cannot abdicate the perennial task of education in human freedom. Therefore Jorge Bergoglio’s Stone Age wisdom in this regard is worth emphasizing: “In an age of images we must do what was done in the age of books: choose what is good for me!”

Francis’s objections to computers seem largely to be about the ways in which the Internet promotes easy access to pornography and erodes human relationships and engagement. As he himself knows, however, the Internet can bring people together as well as drive huge wedges of division between them. Technology has always done this throughout history. The newspaper brought news of other people without the need for conversation with other people. The Internet allows for proclamations – including those coming from Vatican – to reach more people faster than ever before. But let us never forget that the great digital highway is a street teeming with people who are often hurting, men & women looking for salvation or hope.

Reimagining the Body of Christ

Beginning with the oral tradition, including the teaching ministry of Jesus, and continuing through the formation of the Biblical canon to modern telecommunications, human beings have recorded and shared their faith. Contemporary communication technologies are a gift of God for the people of God. The origins of these powerful media spring from the creative energy of an omnipotent and communicating God. The history of faith is a history of communication. The Word did not become an e-mail, an SMS or text message, a probe, a quick like, or some kind of divine oracle uttered from some distant heaven long ago. Through Mary, the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us. The Word became close to real, human beings in real time. The Word became a person to be followed, enjoyed and loved! From now on, anyone who really understands that God has become human will never be able to speak and act in an inhuman way. In Jesus, the message and the messenger are united. The medium is indeed the message.

It can be easy to regard new media with bewilderment, even dread. They offer so many possibilities – and also present invasive challenges to our present religious lifestyle, threatening, for example, the existence of uninterrupted time for thought and mediation. This new media will not disappear; they are omnipresent. We must regard them as potentially helpful.

We can identify our expectations and anxieties about media, based on our commitments to human rights, justice (including the availability of media to all parts of our society), and the protection of vulnerable persons from exploitation (children, youth, women, person with special needs, minority groups). As any instrument placed in our hands, the Internet becomes what we ourselves decide. It needs to be informed and guided by a resolute commitment to the practice of solidarity in the service of the common good, within and among nations.

For Christians, Jesus is both the model of communication and the subject of communication. People are most authentic in all their social interactions when they are honest about themselves. This means that we should reflect the spirit of our faith in our Internet postings, including a commitment to justice, peace, honesty, and transparency, with a gracious, kind style. Contemporary media are not inherently evil or sinful. As the media dramatically reshapes society, Christians need to be cautious and wary of the negative side. Putting energy and creativity into positive expressions will help build a more humane media environment. We can join with other Christians in evaluating our media experiences.

St. Paul’s imagery describes our present situation well: the body of Christ is an apt metaphor for our cyber-friendships and associations. As “one body with many members,” social networks can help us “rejoice and suffer with each other” across vast distances quickly and often. The etymology that links the words communion, communication, and community takes on many dramatic and poignant illustrations because of the Internet.

What essential traits of personal identity are lacking in virtual communication? In online communication there is an absence of the nonverbal and paralinguistic communication codes, such as facial expressions and tone of voice. The “people of the Net” have always tried to overcome this “absence” by introducing strategies, means to give color and friendship to web communication. We can think of the little faces, the “emoticons,” the possibility of choosing a text color, of adding images, of writing in all caps, of synthesizing words, of using abbreviations, of exclamation points and questions marks, of repeated letters. This makes written communication draw very close to the spoken word.

Our external technologies will certainly continue to advance. What is very uncertain is whether our inner technologies of consciousness will grow along with them. We need to make sure we connect to that place inside us of ease and focus, the creative mind. This is where you and I have a critical role to play.

Tom_JFC1

Hindrance and/or help:
Pope Francis 2015 Message for World Day of Communications

In Pope Francis’ 2015 Message for the World Day of Communications which we celebrated on the feast of the Ascension this year, he reminded us that “modern media, which are an essential part of life for young people in particular, can be both a help and a hindrance to communication in and between families.

“The media can be a hindrance if they become a way to avoid listening to others, to evade physical contact, to fill up every moment of silence and rest, so that we forget that “silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist.” The media can help communication when they enable people to share their stories, to stay in contact with distant friends, to thank others or to seek their forgiveness, and to open the door to new encounters.”

Internet Challenges for Church  

One of the greatest challenges of the digital culture to the Catholic Church is its egalitarianism. Anyone can create a blog; everyone’s opinion is valid. And if a question or contradiction is posted, the digital natives expect a response and something resembling a conversation. We can choose not to enter into that cultural mindset, but we do so at great peril to the Church’s credibility and approachability in the minds of many of our contemporaries, those who are growing up in this new culture. The Internet can destroy or confuse the hierarchy of information providing that church agencies have worked so hard to establish?

Our great challenge in the era of Facebook and Twitter consists in presenting the full, beautiful message of Jesus and the teaching of the Church without being sidetracked by technology’s superficial aspects. In using the media to evangelize the masses, we must never lose sight of the need to reach and teach the individual as though he or she were the only person being addressed.

The Internet also allows individuals to indulge in anonymity, role-playing, and fantasizing and also to enter into community with others and engage in sharing. According to users’ tastes, it lends itself equally well to active participation and to passive absorption. It can be used to break down the isolation of individuals and groups or to deepen it. The Internet can be a very positive instrument for globalization. The Internet can also be a “weapon of mass destruction!” What arms inspectors didn’t find in Iraq, they should have looked to the Internet. The “reply all” button can be a deadly weapon!

Exploitation on the Internet 

The spread of the Internet also raises a number of ethical questions about matters like privacy, security and confidentiality of data, copyright and intellectual property law, pornography, hate sites, the dissemination of rumor and character assassination under the guise of news, and much else. Pornography degrades those used in its production, as well as those who are desensitized or whose values are perverted through its consumption. We must denounce pornography because we believe that it reduces the Creator’s gift of sexuality to a level that is devoid of personal dignity, commitment and spirituality. But the Internet is not only a source of problems; it is a source of great benefits to the human race. The benefits can be fully realized only if the problems are named, addressed and solved.

The downside of the “Catholic” blogosphere

 In the wild, crazy world of the blogosphere, there is the challenge of accountability and responsibility. On the Internet there is no accountability, no code of ethics, and no responsibility for one’s words and actions. It can be an international weapon of destruction, crossing time zones, borders and space. In its wake is character assassination, destruction of reputation, calumny, libel, slander and defamation.

Many of my non-Christian and non-believing friends have remarked to me that we “Catholics” have turned the Internet into a cesspool of hatred, venom and vitriol, all in the name of defending the faith! The character assassination on the Internet by those claiming to be Catholic and Christian has turned it into a graveyard of corpses strewn all around. Often times the obsessed, scrupulous, self-appointed, nostalgia-hankering virtual guardians of faith or of liturgical practices can be very disturbed, broken and angry individuals, who never found a platform or pulpit in real life and so resort to the Internet and become trolling pontiffs and holy executioners! In reality they are deeply troubled, sad and angry people. We must pray for them, for their healing and conversion!

What view do others have of us when they view our blogs? If we judged our identity based on certain “Catholic” websites and blogs on the Internet, we would be known as the people who are against everyone and everything! If anything, we should be known as the people who are for something, something positive that can transform lives and engage and impact the culture. To what degree are our blogs and websites really the expression of the wealth of the Christian patrimony and successful in transmitting the Good News that the Lord has asked us to spread?

Rediscovering deliberateness and calm:
Pope Francis’ 2014 Message for World Day of Communications

“What is it, then, that helps us, in the digital environment, to grow in humanity and mutual understanding?  We need, for example, to recover a certain sense of deliberateness and calm.  This calls for time and the ability to be silent and to listen. We need also to be patient if we want to understand those who are different from us.  People only express themselves fully when they are not merely tolerated, but know that they are truly accepted. …”

“How, then, can communication be at the service of an authentic culture of encounter?  What does it mean for us, as disciples of the Lord, to encounter others in the light of the Gospel? …How can we be “neighbourly” in our use of the communications media and in the new environment created by digital technology?  I find an answer in the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is also a parable about communication.  Those who communicate, in effect, become neighbours.  The Good Samaritan not only draws nearer to the man he finds half dead on the side of the road; he takes responsibility for him. Jesus shifts our understanding: it is not just about seeing the other as someone like myself, but of the ability to make myself like the other. Communication is really about realizing that we are all human beings, children of God.  I like seeing this power of communication as “neighbourliness”.”

New Horizons & Pastoral Challenges of Social Media

Social networks and other interactive media challenge traditional church models of communication but offer unprecedented evangelizing opportunities to the Churches. We now have an opportunity to get the Church’s message and story directly to our people without having to negotiate the filters of mainstream media. We have the opportunity to connect with young Catholics to create relationships that will last their entire lives. In social media the church needs to view itself as one participant in the dialogue among many. The traditional one-way model of communication has been replaced by a more interactive model, in which everyone participates on the same level. Likewise, the relationships created in social media are a series of overlapping networks. This fits well with the church’s focus on community but not as easily with its hierarchical structure.

Social networking sites make some types of connections easier, but as they are not tied to geography or a community governed by its own social norms; they are subject to personal whims. While many of us have gotten back in touch with friends from the past via the Internet and Social Networking sites, there’s a danger as well that online interactions can hurt our real-life relationships.

Statistics indicate that social networking sites encourage young people to place an excessive importance on the number of “friends” they have instead of the quality of their real relationships. Social networking sites also encourage a form of narcissism. The sites that encourage people to “broadcast yourself,” which is the tagline for the video-sharing Web site YouTube reinforce a belief that every mundane detail of life is worth publicizing. Many people engage in personal broadcasting just because they can, but that they are often unaware that it also transforms who they are. People are not just living in the moment, but are publicizing the moment. It is a different level of experience that has real implications for the human person.

The rapid incoming of new information forces the user to pass on to the next one without reconsidering what he just read or saw. In the long run, such a habit forms insensitive and numb personalities, as they are reading the most intimate and sometimes most horrible details of other’s lives without the need of reacting to them as they would have to in a real conversation. This digital revolution and social networking evolution could be very counterproductive for the initial concept of social networks; instead of bringing people closer together, they connect users on a level without emotions and without deeper thoughts or interactions, thus slowly contributing to a world of men and women who don’t care about each other anymore.

Lessons learned

Having worked with young adults for the past 29 years of my priestly ministry, I have observed several behavioral patterns in the area of communications. The little devices most of us carry around are so powerful that they change not only what we do, but also who we are. People repeatedly use the term “addiction” to speak about their dependence on media. Young people’s “addiction” to media may not be clinically diagnosed, but the cravings are real. Being tethered to digital technology 24/7 is not just a habit but essential to the way young people manage friendships and social lives. For many young people, going without media peeled back the curtain on a deep, hidden loneliness and anti-social behavior.

What is “news”? To some young people, news means “anything that just happened”-worldwide events and friends’ everyday thoughts.

In today’s workplace, young people who have grown up fearing conversation show up on the job wearing earphones. Walking through a college library or the headquarters of a high-tech start-up, or at times even through our Salt and Light Television studios, one sees the same thing: we are together, but each of us is in our own bubble, furiously connected to keyboards and tiny touch screens. They are working away quietly at their workstations with a whole array of technologies spread before them: laptops, iPods and multiple cell phones. Some wear discreet earphones while others wear big ones akin to helicopter pilots or operators of large machinery. No one dare break the silence with a greeting of “Hello!” In the silence of connection, people are carefully kept at bay. As we get used to being shortchanged on conversation and to getting by with less, we seem almost willing to dispense with people altogether. It is our role to tell people to look up, look at one another, and let’s start the conversation. Not too long ago, people walked with their heads up, looking at the people in the elevator, on the sidewalks or in the corridors, and at one another, greeting them, smiling and talking. Now they often walk with their heads down, typing. Even when they are with friends, partners, children, everyone is on their own devices.

One day last year, several of my staff told me about an important new skill: maintaining eye contact with someone while you text someone else; it’s hard, but it can be done, they assured me! I didn’t believe this until it happened to me this past November when during two job interviews with a young man and a young woman, they both began texting while I spoke to them and questioned them. Needless to tell you that I ended each interview with the two and thanked them applying for the work positions. I told them that there was no work available for the next few years.

In the area of communicating with one another, we are tempted to think that our cute little phrases of online connection are substantial conversation! They are not! E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram… all of these methods of communication have their places in politics, commerce, promotion, evangelization, friendship and romance! But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation. Face-to-face conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience.

Our flight from conversation can mean diminished chances to learn skills of self-reflection. It’s hard to do anything with 1850 intimate Facebook friends except connect. We think constant connection will make us feel less lonely. Many times the opposite is true. If we are unable to be alone, we are far more likely to be lonely.

Most of all, we need to remember – in between texts, tweets, probes, likes, prompts, e-mails and Facebook posts – to listen to one another, even to the boring conversations, because it is often in unedited moments, moments in which we hesitate, stammer, stutter, cry and go silent, that we reveal our deepest selves to one another.

Pope Francis warns us: “some people… want their interpersonal relationships provided by sophisticated equipment, by screens and systems which can be turned on and off”. He continues, “the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 88)

Jesuit Formation Conference logo (1)

What does this have to do with us?

What does all this have to do with the church, with pastoral ministry, with consecrated life, with the future of the Society of Jesus in North America and the other countries from which you come? Nothing – unless the church wants to be relevant to the most powerful cultural change of our time. The question for us is not whether it can make clear use of slick technology for vocation promotion, pastoral ministry, university chaplaincy, parish life, secondary school education, worship or congregational solidarity, which are seductive opportunities for appealing to younger generations and potential adherents in general. The real question is whether the Church or the Society of Jesus is going to provide any compelling leadership or counter narrative amidst this cultural tsunami inundating us each day.

In your very DNA is the desire to find God in all things: the core of Ignatian Spirituality. This is the great lesson I learned through my own Jesuit education and it is rooted in our growing awareness that God can found in every one, in every place and in everything…. even in the digital world! When we learn to pay more attention to God, we become more thankful and reverent, and through this we become more devoted to God, more deeply in love with our Creator. In all of our efforts in Social Communications and digital media, let’s remember a few key points about our citizenship in this digital universe:

Does the use of new media serve to deepen our attentiveness to the presence of God, to the risen Christ to the living Spirit, to the community gathered about us, and to the world in which we are called to minister? In the digital world, no matter how hasty, undigested, unreflected the responses may be from our audience, our patient listening must always triumph. Internet culture conditions us to think that quick, instant responses to complex questions are the most valuable responses. It is then that we consecrated religious, teachers and pastors become choreographers of immediacy rather than midwives of a slower wisdom.

We must avoid the great danger of chasing after relevance. Some people work so hard to be relevant that they spin hopelessly into irrelevance. Our mission is to always seek in-depth that solid soil of the vital relationship with God and others, a place to really build a culture of respect, of dialogue and of friendship.

To the peripheries

Jesus asked his followers to go to the ends of the earth, not just to places where they felt comfortable. He did not sit around in Capernaum waiting for people to come to him. He spoke in a language that people understood and used media that people found accessible. Using parables, he was not afraid of being seen as undignified by talking about commonplaces like mustard seeds or sheep. The Son of God did not see that as beneath him. And if he did not consider speaking in familiar styles as undignified, then why should we?

In every age the church has used whatever media ere available to spread the good news. St. Augustine practically invented the form of the autobiography; the builders of the great medieval cathedrals used stone and stained glass; the Renaissance popes used not only papal bulls but colorful frescoes; Hildegard of Bingen, some say, wrote one of the first operas; the early Jesuits used theater and stagecraft to put on morality plays for entire towns; Dorothy Day founded a newspaper; your confrère Daniel Lord, S.J., jumped into radio; Bishop Fulton Sheen used television to stunning effect; and now we have bishops, priests, sisters and brothers and Catholic lay leaders who blog and tweet. How sad it would be if we did not use the latest tools available to us to communicate the Word of God? If Jesus could talk about the birds of the air, then we can surely tweet.

We are part of this Church and we live, move and have our being within the Church. Our religious consecration – you as Jesuits and I as a Basilian in service to Christ cannot be separated from consecration in service to the Church and the bold mission of communication entrusted to the Church. One of the main themes permeating the thought of your holy founder, Ignatius of Loyola is his exhortation “Sentire cum ecclesia” or “think with the Church.” “Sentire cum ecclesia” also means to feel with the Church and to love the Church…. and dare I say to communicate with the Church and for the Church.

Questions for personal reflection

Social networking isn’t new to Christian community. But the social media tools many use for networking today are new, and those tools are changing Christian community. The new tools are generating new patterns of behavior that affect not just Christian practice, but also, potentially, patterns of belief. Thinking theologically about living in a socially networked world has become an essential task for the community of faith.

For years, the big question of our era was: How do I live constantly connected? But we are moving through that experience now and trying to ask a new question: What does it mean to incorporate a sense of presence, awareness, and wisdom within this new media era of connectedness that engages us all? 

Does online life threaten to obliterate religious tradition and memory?

What are Facebook, Twitter and even the online version of our favorite newspapers doing to our attention spans, our ability to concentrate, the quality of our worship and reflection, our relation to the corporeal world, and our relationships with people and communities therein?

What is digital citizenship and social networking doing for us? What is it doing to us? What is it doing to our sense of social boundaries? To our sense of individuality? To our friendships? We expose everything, but are we feeling anything?

Human life is inherently social. Facebook didn’t create social networking; social networking created Facebook. Communities of faith have thrived on social networking for centuries. Paul of Tarsus was a consummate organizer and networker. His letters, journeys, visits, preaching, and teaching attest to this fact.

Digital social media are real places where people gather – like a town square or fellowship hall – and we must be present in these places just as we would be present in any of these other physical locales. If we are not there, then we are ceding the space to someone else.

Pope Francis, the first Jesuit Pope is by no means a Luddite! Just because he doesn’t use an iphone, an ipad or even watch TV, he understands what authentic communication is all about. Just watch the way he connects with people and with the world. As he wrote wrote in the 48th World Communications Day message:

“…It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply “connected”; connections need to grow into true encounters.  We cannot live apart, closed in on ourselves.  We need to love and to be loved. We need tenderness.  Media strategies do not ensure beauty, goodness and truth in communication. The world of media also has to be concerned with humanity, it too is called to show tenderness. The digital world can be an environment rich in humanity; a network not of wires but of people. The impartiality of media is merely an appearance; only those who go out of themselves in their communication can become a true point of reference for others. Personal engagement is the basis of the trustworthiness of a communicator. Christian witness, thanks to the Internet, can thereby reach the peripheries of human existence.”

Field Hospitals in the Digital Universe

I leave you with this final image from the first Jesuit Pope – the powerful image of the “field hospital” which he uses often that is drawn from the Spiritual Exercises. In Ignatius’s masterful work, God sees the world as a battlefield full of the dead and wounded. Immediately after this vision, Ignatius’ own gaze narrows. He beholds Mary’s room in Nazareth as well as the Divine Persons, who say: “Let us accomplish the redemption of the human race” (SE, 107). When Jorge Mario Bergoglio speaks of the church as a “field hospital after a battle” he appeals to Ignatius’ understanding of the role of the church in light of God’s gaze upon the world: “so many people ask us to be close, they ask us for what they were asking of Jesus: closeness, nearness. It is the opposite image of a fortress under siege. The image of a church as a field hospital is not just a simple, pretty poetic metaphor; from this very image we can derive an understanding of both the church’s mission and the sacraments of salvation.

What and where are the battlefields today? We can each name a country or land where blood, terror and violence seem to have the upper hand. But the big battlefield before humanity is the digital world: one that requires no passport and travel ticket to enter. You only need a keyboard, a screen or a hand-held device. It is in that universe that many wars are waged each day and where many wounded souls live, walk or troll. It is an immense battleground that needs many field hospitals set up to bind wounds and reconcile warring parties. And in this room, there are more than 300 field hospital workers ready for deployment.

The church must shine with the light that lives within itself, it must go out and encounter human beings who – even though they believe that they do not need to hear a message of salvation—often find themselves afraid and wounded by life. In one of his well-known poems, Blessed Cardinal J.H. Newman wrote about a “kindly light.” We also find this image of light in the Encyclical Lumen fidei: “Faith is not a light that dissipates all of our shadows, but rather a light that guides our steps in the night; and this is enough for the journey” (n. 57). Therefore it is not adequate for the church to reflect the light of Christ onto human beings like a luminous yet static beacon. It must also be a torch. The light of Christ reflected in the church must not become the privilege of only a few elect who float enclosed within a safe harbor: this would be a “church clique” or a “personal blog” or “chat room” more than an ecclesial community.

In the heart and mind of Pope Francis, we need “a church that is again capable of restoring citizenship to so many of its children that walk as if in exodus. Christian citizenship is above all the result of God’s mercy. If the church is truly a mother, it needs to respond to its children from its “guts of mercy” (Lk 1:78). Not only from its heart, but precisely from its “guts.” Thus “all are able to participate in some way in the life of the Church, all can be a part of the community, and even doors of the Sacraments should not be closed for any reason”(EG, 47).

For the greater glory of God, ad majorem Dei gloriam that is the mission and responsibility of each of us who hold this digital citizenship. Thank you.

Tom_JFC2

Biography

Ordained a priest in the Congregation of St. Basil in 1986, Fr. Thomas Rosica, a native of Rochester, New York, holds advanced degrees in Theology and Sacred Scripture from Regis College in the University of Toronto, the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem. Fr. Rosica lectured in Sacred Scripture at Canadian Universities in Toronto, Windsor and London and served as Executive Director of the Newman Centre Catholic Chaplaincy at the University of Toronto from 1994-2000. He was the Canadian Bishops’ Representative to the National Christian Jewish Consultation from 1994-2008.

In June 1999, he was appointed by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops as the Chief Executive Officer and National Director of the World Youth Day and the Papal Visit of Pope John Paul II, that took place in Toronto during July, 2002.  On July 1, 2003, Fr. Rosica became the founding Chief Executive Officer of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, Canada’s first national Catholic Television Network. In that capacity, he has been Executive Producer of over 50 documentaries and hundreds of television programs for the network over the past 13 years. Salt and Light is known for the many young women and men who are the faces, minds and hearts of that very creative network.

Appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in 2009, Fr. Rosica also served as Media Attaché at three Synods of Bishops at the Vatican in 2008, 2012 and 2014. Salt and Light Television was invited to document in a very signgificant way the past two Synods of Bishops. Fr. Rosica and his team will do the same for the upcoming Synod of Bishops in October 2015.  Since the Papal Transition in 2013, he has been English language Assistant to Holy See Press Office, working closely with Fr. Federico Lombardi, and relating on a daily basis to several hundred journalists and television and radio personnel around the world. Fr. Rosica is a member of the Standing Committee on Communications for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and a member of several Boards of Governors of Institutions of Higher Learning in Canada and the United States, including the Board of the Gregorian Foundation in Rome.

Photos courtesy of Doris Yu, Communications Coordinatorof the Jesuit Conference, Washington, DC.