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God Puts Relationship and Community First

Trinity Orta

Feast of the Holy Trinity – Sunday, May 31, 2015

One of the important dimensions of our Trinitarian God is the community of love and persons modeled for us in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. For Christians, the Trinity is the primary symbol of a community that is held together by containing diversity within itself.

If our faith is based in this Trinitarian mystery that is fundamentally a mystery of community, then all of our earthly efforts and activities must work toward building up the human community that is a reflection of God’s rich, Trinitarian life.

Today’s Deuteronomy [4:32-34,39-40] passage is an excellent point of departure for probing the depths of the mystery of the Trinity. Consider for a moment Moses’ words encouraging and exhorting the people of Israel: “From there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul. In your distress, when all these things have happened to you in time to come, you will return to the Lord your God and heed him. Because the Lord your God is a merciful God, he will neither abandon you nor destroy you; he will not forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them” (4:29-31). The whole passage speaks of the special relationship between God and Israel, linking the uniqueness of Israel’s special vocation with the uniqueness of Israel’s God.

Then in a series of rhetorical questions, Moses, knowing full well that the Lord alone is God, puts the people of Israel ‘on the stand,’ and asks them about this God of theirs: “For ask now about former ages, long before your own, ever since the day that God created human beings on the earth; ask from one end of heaven to the other: Has anything so great as this ever happened or has its like ever been heard of? Has any people ever heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire, as you have heard, and lived? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by terrifying displays of power, as the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? To you it was shown so that you would acknowledge that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him” (4:32-35).

Matthew’s commission

The majestic departure scene at the end of Matthew’s Gospel [28:16-20] relates to us Jesus’ final earthly moments and the great commission to the Church: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (19-20).

The great apostolic commission implies a service that is pastoral: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations”; liturgical: “baptizing them”; prophetic: “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”; and guaranteed by the Lord’s closeness, until the end of time. The scene gives a foretaste of the final glorious coming of the Son of Man [Matthew 26:64]. Then his triumph will be manifest to all; now it is revealed only to the disciples, who are commissioned to announce it to all nations and bring them to believe in Jesus and obey his commandments. Since universal power belongs to the risen Jesus [Matthew 28:18], he gives the eleven a mission that is truly universal. They are to make disciples of all nations.

Baptism is the means of entrance into the community of the risen one, the Church. “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”: This is perhaps the clearest expression in the New Testament of Trinitarian belief. It may have been the baptismal formula of Matthew’s church, but primarily it designates the effect of baptism, the union of those baptized with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Trinitarian language

The language of Father and Son is relational language, and reminds us that, for God, as for us, created in God’s image, relationship and community are primary. God can no more be defined by what God does than we can. God is a Being, not a Doing, just as we are human beings, not human doings. This is a point of theology, but also, with all good theology, a practical point.

To define God’s inner life in the Trinity in terms of God’s activity leads to defining humans, created in God’s image, in the same way. Those who choose to say, “In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sustainer” err in defining God by function and not by person. God is a living being who exists in intimate relationship with us.

Our God isn’t immovable. God isn’t alone. God is communication between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is the profound mystery that the liturgy for the feast of the Holy Trinity recalls: both the unspeakable reality of God and the manner in which this mystery has been given to us. The Trinity celebrates the peace and unity of the divine persons in whom the circular dance of love — “perichoresis” in Greek — continues. That unity is a dance of life and relationships, encompassing all aspects of human life.

We must constantly strive for this unity and peace of God, Jesus, and their life-giving Spirit, a peace that theological controversy never gives. Though theology is absolutely necessary, we would do well to pray more and love God more, than trying to figure out our Trinitarian God! The consolation is this: Complete understanding is not necessary for love.

Listen to St. Catherine of Siena’s famous prayer from her Dialogue on Divine Providence:

“Eternal God, eternal Trinity, you have made the blood of Christ so precious through his sharing in your divine nature. You are a mystery as deep as the sea; the more I search, the more I find, and the more I find the more I search for you. But I can never be satisfied; what I receive will ever leave me desiring more. When you fill my soul I have an ever-greater hunger, and I grow more famished for your light. I desire above all to see you, the true light, as you really are.”                  

Love can never outgrow its fascination with the puzzling aspects of the one loved. This is our approach to the Trinitarian mystery. We must love God more. On this feast, let us pray that we be caught up in the unifying and reconciling work of the Holy Spirit of God. The increasing glory of God is this progressive revelation of the Trinity.

Many times during our lives, we experience this revelation and God’s Trinitarian presence through the depth of love, communication and relationship with other people. Our God is rich in relationships, communication and love for all people. This God models to us what the dynamic Trinitarian life is all about– communication, relationship and affection. The quality of our Christian live is based on imitation of the interior life of the Trinity.

The foundation of our Trinitarian faith is dialogue, communication and a “dance of life.” Though we may struggle in understanding the Holy Trinity, we nevertheless take it into our very hands each time that we mark ourselves with the sign of the cross. Words once spoken over us at baptism become the words with which we bless ourselves in the name of the Trinity. Herein lies the meaning of this unique, one God in three Persons. I offer you this prayer for today’s feast and the coming week:

Glory to you, Father,
Who by the power of your love,
Created the world and formed us in your own image And likeness.

Glory to you, only begotten Son,
Who in your wisdom assumed our human condition
To lead us to the Kingdom.

Glory to you, Holy Spirit,
Who in your mercy sanctified us in baptism.
You work to create in us a new beginning each day.

Glory to you, Holy Trinity,
You always have been, you are and you always will be
Equally great to the end of the ages.

We adore you, we praise you, we give you thanks
Because you were pleased to reveal the depth of your mystery
To the humble, to little ones.

Grant that we may walk in faith and joyful hope until the day
When it will be ours to live in the fullness of your love
And to contemplate forever what we now believe here below:
God who is Father, Son and Spirit!  Glory to You!

May God’s Holy Trinity — in unspeakable goodness and mystery — teach us and guide us in the life that is ours, and may we grow in “God’s love poured forth into our hearts by the Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

[The readings for the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity are Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40; Romans 8:14-17; and Matthew 28:16-20]

(Image: Holy Trinity by Luca Rossetti da Orta)

Leadership Lessons of two Latin American Pastors: Oscar of San Salvador & Jorge of Buenos Aires (& Rome)

Oscar-Romero-headshot

In his message for the World Day of Peace on January 1, 1972, Blessed Paul VI wrote: “Convinced as we all are of this irrepressible cry, why do we waste time in giving peace any other foundation than Justice? …Is it just, for example, that there should be entire populations which are not granted free and normal expression of that most jealously guarded right of the human spirit, the religious right? What authority, what ideology, what historical or civil interest can arrogantly claim a right to repress and stifle the religious sentiment in its legitimate human expression?

…The problem is extremely serious and complex; it is not for us to make it worse, or to resolve it on the practical level. …But it is precisely from this place that the invitation we give to celebrate Peace resounds as an invitation to practice Justice: “Justice will bring about Peace” (Cf: Is 32:17). We repeat this today in a more incisive and dynamic formula: “If you want Peace, work for Justice”.

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

Romero-nun-holding-body

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

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

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

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

Romero-grave-El-Salvador

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

Archbishop Romero defended the right of the poor to organize and he was very critical of popular organizations that became overly or one-sidedly political. His wariness of politicization is especially important to us today as many nations, groups and even elements of the Church struggle to move from being narrowly political societies to becoming civil communities and forming a civilization of love.

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

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

What happened in El Salvador to these men and women and what continues to happen to similar people around the world who are authentic teachers, disciples and witnesses is not so much a barbarous and bizarre anomaly… because authentic Catholic Education, true Evangelization and missionary discipleship must educate and evangelize men and women into the disciplined sensitivity toward the suffering in the world whoever and wherever they may be. This is part of the education and evangelization called for by the Gospel. For without a specific Gospel-rooted effort to bring about such a religious and humane education and evangelization in our educational and pastoral milieus today, we will simply graduate and form people unaware of pain, suffering and the real cost of being Christian and being disciples.

Pope kisses infant during World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro

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

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

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

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

Pope Francis kisses foot of inmate at Rome prison

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

Pope Francis’ electrifying homily to the new Cardinals in St. Peter’s Basilica on February 15, 2015, is one of the most significant addresses that he has given in his two-year pontificate. Centered on “the Gospel of the marginalized,” it provides a road map for Catholic Church leaders and educators. Commenting on Jesus’ cure of the leper in Mark’s Gospel, he said, “Compassion leads Jesus to concrete action: he reinstates the marginalized!” Jesus responds “immediately” to the leper’s plea “without waiting to study the situation and all its possible consequences” because “for Jesus, what matters above all is reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family!”

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

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

“These two ways of thinking are present throughout the church’s history: casting off and reinstating,” Francis said. He recalled that Sts. Peter and Paul caused scandal, faced criticism, resistance and even hostility for following the path of reinstatement. Francis, and many of those who have embraced his message and strive to follow his example are also being criticized today for the same things: for not casting off but striving to reinstate those who are on the peripheries for a variety of reasons. …In healing the leper, “Jesus does not harm the healthy. Rather, he frees them from fear. He does not endanger them, but gives them a brother.

Francis_2years_3

The Church of Francis is the Church of Jesus Christ

Francis wants the church to be an instrument of reconciliation and welcome, a church capable of warming hearts, a church that is not bent over on herself but always seeking those on the periphery and those who are lost, a church capable of leading people home.

Pope Francis is neither conservative nor liberal but a radical who wants to bring about a revolution of mercy. In Evangelii Gaudium, he invites and challenges all of us to move beyond our “comfort zones.” He wants us to be warm, welcoming and forgiving. He wants us to eat with tax collectors and sinners; he wants us to forgive the woman caught in adultery (while admonishing her to sin no more); he wants us to welcome and respect foreigners (even our enemies), and, above all, not to judge others. He has spoken simply, powerfully and beautifully about returning to lost unity, a desire to achieve a missing fullness, a disarming invitation to simply come together to witness to the beauty of the love of Christ. He wants to build bridges that everyone can cross. He is especially conscious of the poor and those who have been marginalized, social outcasts kept on the fringes of society.

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

FrancisBaby

The Christian realism of the “Joy of the Gospel” is beyond reactionary ideology and pie-in-the sky spirituality. A little compassion can move the world, Francis says. That is the Christian revolution at the core of Francis’ Petrine ministry, a conversion to the origin of the Gospel message as a way to the future, a revolution of mercy.

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

Francis of Buenos Aires (and Rome) and Blessed Oscar Romero of San Salvador are disciples, shepherds and missionaries, role models and Gospel witnesses, agents of reconciliation and builders of communities of faith. Francis leads the Church on earth, and Oscar watches over us from the heavenly Jerusalem. Their longing for reconciliation of the human family and their desire for justice and peace compel us to work for justice and peace in our time. Let us learn from the bold examples of these two Latin American pastors.

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

 

Set Free the Gifts of the Spirit

Pentecost Restout cropped

Solemnity of Pentecost, Year B – Sunday, May 24, 2015

Christian theology of the Holy Spirit is rooted in Judaism. The term Spirit translates the Hebrew word (ruah) and even in the pronunciation of it we detect God’s wind and breath. The wind of God, the breath of God, the presence of God are all ways of referring to God’s presence.

The expression “Holy Spirit” was used only seven times in the Old Testament, whereas the terms “Spirit of God” or “Spirit of the Lord” occurs 67 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the very first line of the book of Genesis 1:1, God’s Spirit was gently hovering over the primordial waters waiting for the opportune moment of drawing order from that chaos.

Jesus, himself, uses the sensory image of the wind in the mysterious, nocturnal conversation with Nicodemus when he talks about the Spirit as the wind that blows where it wills [cf. John 3]. This, then, is the Spirit’s first function in the Scriptures: to be the mysterious presence of God in history, not reducible to human or earthly logic.

The second function of the Spirit in the Old Testament is that of putting things in order. The Genesis creation account [Chapter 1] reveals a descending Spirit upon this formless world and its descent produces the miracle of creation, the transformation of chaos into cosmos, of disorder, into order, of anonymity into community.

The third function of the Spirit in the Old Testament is life-giver. In Genesis 2:7, we read: “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the Spirit, the breath of life and man became a living being. As a result of this divine breath, the human creature is transformed into a living being, no longer to be simply a creature but a partner made in the image and likeness of God, with whom and to whom God speaks and confides responsibility for the world.”

The fourth function of the Holy Spirit is guide. We read in Isaiah 11: “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.” The fear of the Lord is not something that terrorizes people but could be understood as our ability to say “wow,” “awesome” before God’s handiwork and God’s creation.

The fifth function of the Spirit is healer, articulated so powerfully in the prophecy of Ezekiel 36:26-27 — “I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees.” The Spirit enters, recreates, restores to health and vanquishes sin.

The sixth function of the Holy Spirit is the universal principle. We read in Joel 3:1-2: “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh, your sons and your daughters shall prophecy, even upon the men-servants and the maid-servants, in those days I will pour out my spirit.” The day will come when all humanity will be truly possessed by the spirit and that day will coincide with the eagerly awaited Messianic age of which the prophets speak. It was this principle that captivated Jesus’activity and ministry in a remarkable way.

The seventh function of the Holy Spirit takes place on the feast of Pentecost when the disciples were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. The coming of the Holy Spirit signals the start of a world-wide mission for Christians beyond their geographic boundaries of Israel, first from Israel to Rome, and then from Rome then to the ends of the earth. It is a mission that overcomes human obstacles and has the Spirit as its driving force.

The Catholic Experience

The Holy Spirit makes the Christian experience truly Catholic and universal, open to all human experience. To be Catholic is to be universal and open to the world. Not only to Canada, North America Europe or Asia, or a certain familiar part of the world or segment of society, but it must be open to all, to every single person. The mind of Christ is not intended to be a selective mentality for a few but the perspective from which the whole world will be renewed and redeemed. An insight like this, the universal scope of salvation did not however come easily and without much pain and confusion.

In fact, the whole of the New Testament can be understood precisely as the emergence of the Catholic, the universal, in Christian life. Christianity, had it not moved from where it was particular and small would have just been a small modification of the Jewish experience, a subset of Jewish piety that was still focused in and around Jerusalem and the restoration of a literal kingdom of Israel. The first two generations of Christians discovered that Christianity could not be just that. Because they had received the Holy Spirit, which is the universal principle, the Holy Spirit opened peoples’ eyes to the universal import of the Christian truth and through the encounter with non-Jews who received the Holy Spirit.

The artists of the Middle Ages often contrasted the Tower of Babel with the “Tower” of the Upper Room. Babel symbolizes the divisions of people caused by sin. Pentecost stands for a hope that such separations are not a tragic necessity. The babbling mob of Babel compares poorly with the heartfelt unity of the Pentecost crowd. Babel was a mob. Pentecost was a community. A people without God lost the ability to communicate. A people suffused with the Spirit spoke heart to heart.

At Pentecost the full meaning of Jesus’life and message is poured into our hearts by the Spirit alive in the community. The New Testament seems to say that – for a fleeting moment – the nations of the earth paused from their customary strife and experienced a community caused by God. The brief and shining hour of Pentecost remains to charm and encourage us to this day.

World Youth Day

One of the finest teachings on the Holy Spirit in recent times took place during the prayer vigil at World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, Australia. The Saturday evening event at the Randwick Racecourse began in darkness, gradually illuminated by torches borne by dancers on the podium, representing the opening to the Holy Spirit.

“Tonight we focus our attention on how to become witnesses,” Benedict XVI told the young people in his address. “You are already well aware that our Christian witness is offered to a world which in many ways is fragile. The unity of God’s creation is weakened by wounds that run particularly deep when social relations break apart, or when the human spirit is all but crushed through the exploitation and abuse of persons. Indeed, society today is being fragmented by a way of thinking that is inherently shortsighted, because it disregards the full horizon of truth, the truth about God and about us. By its nature, relativism fails to see the whole picture. It ignores the very principles which enable us to live and flourish in unity, order and harmony.”

Yet, the Pope went on, “such attempts to construct unity in fact undermine it. To separate the Holy Spirit from Christ present in the Church’s institutional structure would compromise the unity of the Christian community, which is precisely the Spirit’s gift! […] Unfortunately the temptation to ‘go it alone’ persists. Some today portray their local community as somehow separate from the so-called institutional Church, by speaking of the former as flexible and open to the Spirit and the latter as rigid and devoid of the Spirit.”

“Let us invoke the Holy Spirit: He is the artisan of God’s works,” the Pope concluded. “Let His gifts shape you! Just as the Church travels the same journey with all humanity, so too you are called to exercise the Spirit’s gifts amidst the ups and downs of your daily life. Let your faith mature through your studies, work, sport, music and art. Let it be sustained by prayer and nurtured by the Sacraments. […] In the end, life is not about accumulation. It is much more than success. To be truly alive is to be transformed from within, open to the energy of God’s love. In accepting the power of the Holy Spirit you too can transform your families, communities and nations. Set free the gifts! Let wisdom, courage, awe and reverence be the marks of greatness!”

Come Holy Spirit!

We read in the gospels “the one whom the Father will send will teach us everything and remind us of all that Jesus has said to us” [John 14:26]. This act of reminding and recalling is stated very clearly in the Catechism of The Catholic Church [No. 1099]: “The Holy Spirit is the Church’s living memory.”  On this great feast and birth of the Church, let us pray for the gift of memory, and for the courage to move from the empowering mystery of the Upper Room to the reality of daily life.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful
And kindle in us the fire of your Love!

Lord, send us your Spirit,
And renew the face of the earth…
The face of our Church, the face of our communities,
Our own faces, our own hearts. Amen.

[The readings for the solemnity of Pentecost are: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13 or Galatians 5:16-25; and John 20:19-23 or John 15:26-27; 16:12-15]

(Image: “Pentecost” by Jean Restout)

Fulfilling the Gospel Dream

Men of Jerusalem cropped

Ascension of our Lord, Year B – Sunday, May 17, 2015

The angels’ words to the “men of Galilee” in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles for the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord (1:1-11) are painfully blunt and leave little room for misinterpretation: “Why do you stand here looking up at the skies? This Jesus who has been taken from you will return, just as you saw him go up to the heavens.”

Jesus’ disciples are given a last bit of instruction. “Don’t keep trying to stare into the future. Don’t be overly concerned about which hour he will come back.” We must not stand idly staring up into the heavens and moaning about the past, about which we can do nothing, except to bury it deeply in God’s hands and heart! The Lord will be glorified, and it follows that his disciples will also share in his glory.

As Jesus disappeared, he didn’t simply dissolve into thin air. On the day of his Ascension, one might conclude that Jesus removed himself into a new form of divine exclusion. The case is exactly the opposite. In God, Jesus is “here” in a new and very specific way. Only in his physical separation from the historical scene can his spiritual union with all the world for all time be complete. Jesus left the world one day in order to be available to all people throughout all time. He had to dissolve bonds he had made with his friends, in order to be available for everybody. In Jesus, the future has already begun!

The Ascension according to Mark’s account

There are similarities in the reports of Jesus’ Ascension found in the Synoptic Gospels — Mark, Matthew, and Luke. In each case, Jesus assigns his disciples the task of proclaiming the gospel message to the entire world.

In the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, the disciples are sent by Jesus to baptize and to preach. In Luke’s Gospel, however, the commission to baptize is not found. Instead, Jesus directs the disciples to return to Jerusalem to await the fulfillment of his promise to send them the Holy Spirit. Only the Gospels of Mark and Luke actually report Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Matthew’s Gospel concludes with Jesus’ promise to remain with his disciples forever.

The Ascension Gospel text for this year (Mark 16:15-20) is taken from the conclusion of the Gospel of Mark. Mark’s concluding chapter contains several irregularities obvious to many readers. On Easter Sunday morning in this Year B, we heard proclaimed the story of the discovery of the empty tomb by the women, and the fright and fear that accompanied these first Resurrection witnesses. Verse 8 comes to an abrupt conclusion as they flee in fright and tell no one what had transpired. This may very well be the original ending of Mark’s Gospel, but it is also possible that the more complete ending has been lost.

Some manuscripts of Mark’s Gospel include what scholars have termed the “Shorter Ending.” This ending indicates that the women told their story to Peter’s companions. A significant number of scholars believe that this ending is not original to Mark. They think that this ending was added by copyists who sought to resolve the original abrupt ending at Verse 8.

Other early manuscripts include a “Longer Ending” that scholars also believe was written by someone other than the Evangelist. Nonetheless, quotations from this “Longer Ending” are found in the writings of the early Church Fathers, and it was accepted at the Council of Trent as part of the canonical Gospel of Mark. Our Gospel for this year’s celebration of the Feast of the Ascension is taken from this “Longer Ending.”

Even if this ending to Mark’s Gospel was written by someone other than the Evangelist, in the commission that Jesus gives to his disciples, there are elements that are quite typical of Mark’s Gospel. The signs that will accompany belief in Jesus are as distinct as the action performed by Jesus during his ministry. Those who believe in Jesus will be empowered to do what Jesus himself has done.

During his ministry, Jesus sent his disciples to preach, to heal, and to drive out unclean spirits. Now they are sent again to do these things and more. From his place with God in heaven, Jesus helped his disciples, and he continues to help us as we try to live as his followers.

Only the Gospel of Mark notes that Jesus ascended to sit at the right hand of God. In noting this, Mark teaches that Jesus’ ascension affirms the glory Jesus received from God after his death and resurrection.

Garofalo Ascension of JesusThe desire for heavenly realities …

Just as the Risen Lord entrusted himself into the hands of such pathetic, broken people who were with him, he does the same to us. Our own brokenness and sinfulness are so overpowering at times that we forget that this incredible commissioning is possible, even for poor, weak, folks like us! How often do we marvel at the fact that Christ could truly inhabit us and act through our bodies, minds and hearts, and yes, even through the Church!

We know that we move toward heaven to the extent that we approach Jesus. We are assured that he hasn’t ever stopped being present with us throughout all time. The mysterious feast of the Ascension reminds us that Christ accepts our lack of confidence in ourselves. He accepts the shadowy and dark areas of our humanity. He accepts our capacity for deceit, betrayal, greed and power. And having accepted us, he calls us, gives us the eternal commission to be his people, and sends us to serve him and love him, in spite of ourselves and because of ourselves. John Henry Cardinal Newman said it well long ago:

“He calls us again and again, in order to justify us again and again – 
and again and again, and more and more,
to sanctify and glorify us.
It were well if we understood this;
but we are slow to master the great truth,
that Christ is, as it were,
walking among us, and by his hand, or eye, or voice,
bidding us follow him.”

Let’s get going and carry a piece of heaven into the world. This is the meaning of the Resurrection and the Ascension of our Lord, not one of divine abandonment of the human cause, but divine empowerment of the Gospel dream! May Christ’s dying and rising move us to make God’s glory dwell on earth. May our hope for the future inspire us in a respect for the present moment. May the desire for the heavenly realities not make us neglect our work on earth.

[The readings for the Feast of the Ascension are: Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:17-23 or Ephesians 4:1-13 or 4:1-7, 11-13; and Mark 16:15-20]

(Images: “Ascension of Jesus” by Harry Anderson; “Ascension” by Garofalo)

Loving people to life: How Pope Francis stands for life

March for LIfe Ottawa 3

This week in our nation’s capital, the annual National March for Life will include masses, prayer vigils and services, stirring talks will be given before Government buildings and marching for life on the major boulevards and thoroughfares of Ottawa. The main event, the March itself starting at Parliament Hill and continuing through downtown Ottawa, occurs on Thursday May 14. However, we have events occurring throughout the day and also the day before (Wed) and the day after (Fri). The full schedule of events reflects the multi-faceted, public, prophetic teaching moment that this week offers to us:

Wednesday May 13  

7:30 pm  Pro-life Mass
St. Theresa of the Child Jesus Parish, 95 Somerset Street West.
7:30 pm  Pro-life Prayer Service
Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church, 721b Somerset Street West.
9:00 pm Candlelight Vigil
    The Canadian Tribute to Human Rights monument, Elgin and Lisgar Streets
10:00 pm to 7:00 am  Eucharistic Adoration
    All-night Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, ending with 7:00 am Mass.  LOCATION:  St. Patrick’s Basilica, 220 Kent Street, in basement Scavi, enter by side door on either Gloucester or Nepean Streets.

Thursday May 14

10:00 am  Catholic Pro-life Mass # 1 (Bilingual)
Notre Dame Cathedral, 385 Sussex Drive, Ottawa
10:00 am  Catholic Pro-life Mass # 2 (English) 
St. Patrick’s Basilica, 220 Kent St, Ottawa
10:00 am Catholic Pro-life Mass # 3
St. Therese of the Child Jesus Parish, 95 Somerset St. W.
10:00 am  French Catholic Mass / messe pro-vie
St. Joseph Cathedral, 245 boul. St-Joseph, Gatineau (Hull sector)
10:00 am  Ecumenical Prayer and Worship Service
Sts. Peter and Paul Anglican Church, 152 Metcalfe Street, Ottawa
Organized by Anglicans For Life
10:00 am  Lutheran Worship Service
St. Luke’s Lutheran Church
326 MacKay Street, Ottawa
Organized by Lutherans For Life Canada.
11:00 am Reformed Christian Prayer Service
     First Baptist Church, 140 Laurier Ave. W.
    Co-hosted by Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church of Ottawa and ARPA Canada
12:00 noon
     Rally on Parliament Hill
1:30 pm
March through downtown Ottawa
4:00 pm       
Closing Prayer Service by Eastern Catholic Chaplaincy of Ottawa, Parliament Hill
6:00 pm Rose Dinner 
6:00 pm Youth Banquet / Dinner (for youth and chaperones only)    
Keynote Speaker: Matt Fradd, popular youth speaker on issues of sexuality, pornography and chastity
Location: Hampton Inn Ottawa, Conference & Event Centre, 200 Coventry Road, Ottawa, ON
Friday May 15 – Youth Conference
7:30 am Catholic Mass for those Youth Conference attendees who are interested
8:00 am to 3:00 pm Youth Conference & Workshops:  an intensive workshop for young people, designed to arm youth with expert knowledge and the necessary communications strategies to go back into their communities, tackling the culture of death head on, and transforming it into a culture of life, one person at a time.

March for Life Ottawa 1

A consistent ethic of life

The Roman Catholic Church holds a consistent ethic of life. The Church offers a teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness and dignity of the human person. However, opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the dignity of the human person such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself, whatever insults human dignity such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons – all of these things and more poison human society.

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

Today we are living in the midst of a culture that denies solidarity and takes the form of a veritable “culture of death”. This culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents that encourage an idea of society exclusively concerned with efficiency. It is a war of the powerful against the weak. There is no room in the world for anyone who, like the unborn or the dying, is a weak element in the social structure or anyone who appears completely at the mercy of others and radically dependent on them and can only communicate through the silent language of profound sharing of affection.  Human life has a sacred and religious value, but in no way is that value a concern only of believers.

Abortion is the most serious wound inflicted not only on individuals and their families who should provide the sanctuary for life, but inflicted as well on society and its culture, by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders.

Pope Benedict XVI on openness to life

In Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s 2009 landmark encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, (Charity in Truth), the Holy Father addressed clearly the dignity and respect for human life “which cannot in any way be detached from questions concerning the development of peoples.” Benedict wrote, “In economically developed countries, legislation contrary to life is very widespread, and it has already shaped moral attitudes and praxis, contributing to the spread of an anti-birth mentality; frequent attempts are made to export this mentality to other states as if it were a form of cultural progress.”  “Openness to life is at the centre of true development,” writes the Pope. “When a society moves toward the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good. If personal and social sensitivity toward the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.”

Pope Benedict summed up the current global economic crisis in a remarkable way with these words: “Human costs always include economic costs, and economic dysfunctions always involve human costs.” The Roman Catholic Church offers a teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness and the dignity of the human person: a 20/20 vision for which we must strive each day if we claim to be “pro-life.” We must strive to see the whole picture, not with tunnel vision.

M4L1

Pope Francis’ opposition to abortion

Last year on April 11, 2014, Pope Francis addressed the Italian Pro-Life Movement with this very moving words:

“One of the gravest risks our epoch faces, amid the opportunities offered by a market equipped with every technological innovation, is the divorce between economics and morality, the basic ethical norms of human nature are increasingly neglected. It is therefore necessary to express the strongest possible opposition to every direct attack on life, especially against the innocent and defenseless, and the unborn in a mother’s womb is the example of innocence par excellence. Let us remember the words of the Second Vatican Council: “Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes” (Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, n. 51).

…Anyone who is Christian has a duty to bear witness to the Gospel: to protect life courageously and lovingly in all its phases. I encourage you to do this always with closeness, proximity: so that every woman may feel respected as a person, heard, accepted and supported.”

Under the watchful gaze of Christ

In his address to the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations on September 20, 2013, Pope Francis categorically condemned abortion and euthanasia. But his speech did not emphasize the customary philosophical, scientific and legal arguments. Rather, his critique appealed directly to the face of Christ. “Each one of us is invited to recognize in the fragile human being the face of the Lord, who, in his human flesh, experienced the indifference and loneliness to which we often condemn the poorest.”

The condemnation of abortion drew a parallel to the infant Jesus marked for destruction by Herod even before his birth. “Each child who is unborn, but is unjustly condemned to be aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord, who, even before he was born, and then as soon as he was born, experienced the rejection of the world.” Similarly, the condemnation of euthanasia pointed to the face of Christ present in the elderly targeted for elimination. “Each old person, even if infirm or at the end of his or her days, bears the face of Christ. They cannot be discarded.”

Being pro-life is one of the deepest expressions of our baptism: we stand up as sons and daughters of the light, clothed in humility and charity, filled with conviction, speaking the truth with firmness, conviction and determination, and never losing joy and hope. Being pro-life is not an activity for a political party or a particular side of the spectrum. It is an obligation for everyone: left, right and centre! If we are pro-life, we must engage the culture around us, and not curse it. We must see others as Jesus does, and we must love them to life, even those who are opposed to us.

The litmus test for being pro-life is not only attending rallies or marches during the year in major cities of the world. The real test is what we do for life the remaining 364 days of the year, and what efforts, great and small, do we embrace to consistently and systematically oppose any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, violations of human dignity, and coercions of the will.  How do we advocate for those who endure subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, human trafficking and disgraceful working conditions? All of these things and more poison human society.  Let us pray that we may have a strong, consistent ethic for life.

In the words of Pope Francis: “Each child who is unborn, but is unjustly condemned to be aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord, who, even before he was born, and then as soon as he was born, experienced the rejection of the world.” Again: “Each old person, even if infirm or at the end of his or her days, bears the face of Christ. They cannot be discarded.”

Let us stand up for life, and see in the face of the weakest and most vulnerable people in society, the face of Christ.

Lessons learned from Pope Francis

Gannon Ceremony 2015 00

On Saturday May 9, 2015, Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania awarded the degree Doctor of Humane Letters Honoris Causa to Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB.  Fr. Rosica delivered the following Commencement Address to 800 graduates and more than 4000 guests who filled the Erie Insurance Arena on Saturday afternoon.

Commencement Address
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Gannon University – Erie, Pennsylvania – May 9, 2015

Your Excellency Bishop Persico,
Dr. Taylor, Distinguished Members of the Board of Trustees,
Professors and University Staff,
Fellow Classmates of the Class of 2015,
Dear Friends,

It is a distinct honor and privilege to stand before you today in Erie, Pennsylvania on this momentous occasion. I am very grateful to Dr. Keith Taylor and your Board of Trustees for this Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, for making me an honorary member of your class of 2015 and an alumnus of this great Catholic University. But before we go any further, fellow graduates, I want to remind you of the heroes of today’s ceremony, the real VIPs who are not sitting up here on stage but behind you and around you: your parents, families, friends, professors, counselors: those who have made great sacrifices to allow you to receive an excellent university education. Without the sacrifices, support, encouragement, love and prayers of some 4000 of them, we wouldn’t be here today. Should you not stand, turn around and show them a sign of our gratitude and affection?

I have been told that Gannon undergraduate and graduate students ending their studies today represent the worlds of humanities, education, social sciences, engineering, business, health professions and sciences… 800 of you will receive associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. In addition to students from the United States, approximately 100 international students from over 24 countries will also receive hard earned degrees. Clearly the motto of your (our) university is being realized in our midst today: Sanitas, Scientia, Sanctitas” – Health, Knowledge, Holiness.

Gannon Ceremony 2015 02I would like to speak with you today about the man who heads my organization – and yours, too – a 78-year old Argentine pastor whose name used to be Jorge Mario Bergoglio. He’s old enough to be my father and your grandfather. Now we know him simply as “Francis.” He has literally captivated the entire world since his election to the See of Peter two years ago on March 13, 2013. Elderly and often teasing the media with expressions like: “I’m growing old… with a few aches and pains. I may not be here for a long time… ”, he walks with a slight limp and is not known for fancy clothes. In fact just last Sunday on a visit to a Roman parish, he was photographed by some indiscreet Italian paparazzi who took a picture of the frayed sleeve of his white cassock and then plastered it on front pages of newspapers of Europe the following day! And yet he is one of the most youthful, dynamic, joyful human beings I have ever encountered. He is a sinner like us, relying on the mercy and compassion of God. He is not afraid.

He is evergreen. Let me tell you what kind of leader he is, and what we learn from him each day, and what you, graduates of the Class of 2015 can learn from his leadership, his vision, his commitment and his witness.

Francis is the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere, and the first from Latin America; these are the areas of the world where poverty is so great. Francis is inviting us to become witnesses, missionaries and disciples. That is our mission today. It is not new. Francis has brought new urgency, new passion, and I would suggest, new authenticity to this mission. He has surprisingly declared that God has redeemed all of us, not just Catholics. Despite his being a brilliant Jesuit intellectual who is predisposed to eloquence with words in speeches and sermons, Francis is even more effective in his teachings via his actions and through the sheer power of his example.

Gannon Ceremony 2015 05The world and the Church love Francis because he is a witness. Many young adults find hope in Pope Francis, because he constantly reminds us of what Christ reminded us: to love one another and not judge others. He has a passion for the poor, the immigrant, the forgotten, and the “throw-aways.” He’s got this thing for people on the peripheries, on the fringes and borders of life. He is modeling for us the opposite of what the world models. The world thrives on manipulative, exploitative, competitive power. Pope Francis embodies nutritive and integrative power: power on behalf of the other and a power shared with others.

He is simply reminding us of the basic Christian message that has been around for over 2000 years. The Christian story that Francis and many others model for us, strips us down to nothing in order for us to face ourselves anew. For it often happens that those we have often written off as the throw-aways and losers are not despised or rejected. In fact these people can discover something about themselves that winners can never appreciate – that they are loved and wanted simply because of who they are and not because of what they achieve. This is revealed precisely at the greatest point of dejection when Jesus died on the cross. His resurrection is not some kind of magic trick. It is a revelation that love is stronger than death, that human worth is not indexed to worldly success.

We must ask ourselves at a university graduation like ours today, “What does a Pope have to do with me on graduation day? What does someone living far away from Erie have to say to us at Gannon University? He has much to say to us because authentic Catholic Education, true Evangelization and missionary discipleship must educate and evangelize men and women into the disciplined sensitivity toward the suffering in the world whoever and wherever they may be. This is part of the education and evangelization called for by the Gospel. This is why you came to Gannon University. For without a specific Gospel-rooted effort to bring about such a religious and humane education in our educational and life situations today, we will simply graduate and form people unaware of pain, suffering and the real cost of being Christian and being disciples. Our efforts will mean precious little if we, ourselves were content to graduate from Gannon University or any other Catholic college or university magna cum mediocrity, ignorant of the Christian faith and the responsibilities and obligations that have been placed upon through our baptism.

Here are some of Pope Francis’ keys to happiness and success in his own words. In an interview published last summer in part in the Argentine weekly “Viva,” he listed his Top 10 tips for bringing greater joy to one’s life:

  1. Live and let live. Everyone should be guided by this principle which has a similar expression in Rome with the saying, “Move forward and let others do the same.”
  1. Be giving of yourself to others. People need to be open and generous toward others because if you withdraw into yourself, you run the risk of becoming egocentric. And stagnant water becomes putrid.
  1. Proceed calmly in life. Francis says that in his youth he was a stream full of rocks that he carried with him; as an adult, a rushing river; and in old age, he was still moving, but slowly, like a pool of water. He said he likes this latter image of a pool of water – to have the ability to move with kindness, humility and a calmness in life.
  1. Have a healthy sense of leisure. The pleasures of art, literature and playing together with children have been lost. Consumerism has brought us anxiety and stress, causing people to lose a healthy culture of leisure. Their time is “swallowed up” so people can’t share it with anyone. We must turn off the TV when we sit down to eat in our families because, even though television is useful for keeping up with the news, having it on during mealtime doesn’t let you communicate with each other.
  1. Sundays should be holidays. Workers should have Sundays off because Sunday is for family.
  1. Find innovative ways to create dignified jobs for young people. We need to be creative with young people. If they have no opportunities they will get into drugs and be more vulnerable to suicide.
  1. Respect and take care of nature. Environmental degradation is one of the biggest challenges we have. …I think a question that we’re not asking ourselves is: “Isn’t humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature?”
  1. Stop being negative. “Needing to talk badly about others indicates low self-esteem. That means, ‘I feel so low that instead of picking myself up I have to cut others down.'” “Letting go of negative things quickly is healthy.”
  1. Don’t proselytize; respect others’ beliefs. We can inspire others through witness so that one grows together in communicating. But the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyzes. …The church grows by attraction, not proselytizing.”
  1. Work for peace. We are living in a time of many wars, and the call for peace must be shouted out. Peace sometimes gives the impression of being quiet, but it is never quiet, peace is always proactive and dynamic.

Shortly after his election to the See of Peter two years ago, Francis startled the world in early July 2013, when he traveled spontaneously to the island of Lampedusa off the coast of Sicily – to that dangerous area were so many refugees have lost and continue to lose their lives in their journeys to freedom and safety. The Holy Father’s voice rang out across the sea as he asked the world to reflect on the tragic situation unfolding there on a daily basis:

“The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference. In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business!”

Gannon Ceremony 2015 06Fellow classmates, today as you graduate from Gannon, you are not becoming part of that massive globalization of indifference that is out there. You are entering rather into a globalization of compassion and mercy, of goodness and charity, of encounter and friendship with human beings, especially those who have so much less than you do.

Pope Benedict XVI said in Deus Caritas Est,“Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Because you have encountered the person of Jesus during your years at Gannon, whether you are Catholic or Protestant, religious, spiritual or nothing at all, you met the Lord present here in Erie and you will encounter him in countless situations in the future. Your life will change forever when you determine not just what you would like to have in life or what you want to become, but when you decide who and what you are committed to being in this world… being for others.

Use whatever life gives you at this moment to become the person of whom you have dreamed. Success is the result of making and keeping small promises: decide to hold yourself to a higher standard, decide to contribute, decide to choose your own attitude rather than allowing the environment to control you.

Do not worry about making a mistake or choosing the wrong path now and then. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all. What you leave behind is not as important as how you’ve lived. Know that you will learn from your mistakes and every wrong attempt is simply another step forward on the journey. When you fall, be sure to get up again. It is the journey that is the reward. It is God’s unending mercy that gives us new energy.

Several weeks ago at the funeral of a good friend and a great American Church leader and wonderful pastor, Cardinal Francis George, OMI, of Chicago, we were reminded at his farewell of something very moving and beautiful that he once told a group of young adults at their confirmation:

“The only thing we take with us when we die is what we have given away… the only things that endure are our relationships with God and with others… we give him all that we have, and he takes the gift and calls us when he is ready to do so…”

Our relationships with the Lord and with each other are all that endure – all else goes to the grave. It doesn’t matter what our vocation, profession or even our religion is; let us all keep these words deep in out hearts and emulate and be inspired by the extraordinary leader that is Pope Francis!

Cardinal George said of Pope Francis: “He often contrasts our planning with God’s providence. Pope Francis reminds us that the final horizon is God’s infinite love. It can never be completely responded to; but as the years here go shorter, it fills in with the realization that, just as we pray to see God face to face, so God wants to see us face to face. We give him our time, which is all that we have, and he takes the gift and calls us when he is ready to do so.”

Let me end with these words – my prayer for you on this momentous occasion – the graduation of the Class of 2015 of Gannon University:

May you employ your power for peace,
your experience and wisdom to reconcile,
your compassion to heal,
your hope to destroy despair,
your very weakness to give strength.
Remember your most precious possession is yourself.
Give it away lavishly.
And in doing so you will be blessed with Sanitas, Scientia and Sanctitas: Health, Knowledge and Holiness, all the days of your life.

Thank you.

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

Remembering today with Gratitude the Nuns in my Life

VATICAN-US-RELIGION-WOMEN

Fr. Rosica moderating Vatican Press Conference for Conclusion of Apostolic Visitaiton of Women Religious of the USA – December 16, 2014

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

We still have profound lessons to learn from the women who ran to the tomb that first Easter morning. They represented countless, nameless, yet devoted women who were part of the crowds that Jesus addressed and in the homes he frequented. They were the courageous ones who reached out fearlessly to touch the fringe of his cloak. They shouted after him; they entered his hosts’ houses uninvited, they poured most expensive, perfumed nard over his feet to the consternation of the critics. Some met him at wells at high noon. They waited on him and waited for him, and they accompanied him from Galilee to Samaria to Jerusalem. They knew the promise made to them, they welcomed him, they knew from Jesus’ own treatment of them the strength of their own testimony to him, and they were unafraid to show him great love.

In the end, they stood beneath his dying body, while the men were hiding for fear of the authorities. It was the women who ground spices for his burial and they calculated how to roll back the stone from his tomb. They attended firmly to the business of his living and dying. They were rewarded for their fidelity by being the first recipients of the Good News of the Resurrection.

Women of the Church

Whenever I read the Easter Gospels, I cannot help but think of the lives of countless women religious who greatly influenced my life from my childhood, and encouraged me to be a Christian and a priest. I remember with gratitude the Religious of the Sacred Heart and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester, my first teachers.

I recall with deep emotion the Sisters of the Holy Family of Spoleto and the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary with whom I had the privilege of working in my first years of pastoral ministry in Canada. The Sisters of Sion, the Salvatorian Sisters of Emmaus el-Quebeibeh and Nazareth and the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition showed me how to love and imitate the Lord in his own homeland during my graduate studies.

Later on the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto and Hamilton and the Sisters of Mercy of Ireland shared with me very fruitful years of ministry at the Newman Center of Toronto and most especially during World Youth Day 2002. The diminishment of many of these religious congregations in the Church is cause for sadness, yet also of profound gratitude. I regret that several
generations of young people will never have the grace of getting to know women religious as I knew them: as teachers, pastoral workers, colleagues and friends.

Though their “charisms” will live on through lay-led institutions in many instances, nothing can ever replace their presence in the life of the Church and in our own personal stories. Their lives were alabaster jars of nard poured out in active service, in decisive, courageous, prophetic works, and in watchful presence at the end. Their action on Jesus’ behalf was hopeful, positive, courageous, and unambiguous. Their active faith in him and their decisive following of him are, finally, the unchanging beauty and eloquence of the Church’s vocation. When I think of that first Easter, in an eerie, garden-like setting outside the walls of Jerusalem, I cannot help but remember the faithful women in my life who have carried the message of the Resurrection to the ends of the earth.

Goodness and Friendship Through the Ages

Last Supper Champaigne cropped

Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B – May 10, 2015

On this Sixth Sunday of Easter, I wish to offer some reflections on the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles [10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48], and then some thoughts on friendship flowing from John’s Gospel [15:9-17] and Benedict XVI’s teaching.

Christianity demands that the believer not only grasp intellectually the main tenets of the faith, but also act on them in daily life. The extraordinary story of Cornelius’ conversion in today’s first reading certainly illustrates this message. It is the longest individual narrative in the Acts of the Apostles. The theme of this narrative is divine compulsion: Peter is the least prepared to accept Cornelius into the Christian community, and he even refuses to admit him two times.

Peter had to be converted before he could convert Cornelius. Peter came to the realization that God’s gifts were given to all those who listened to the Word of God. His question “Can anyone forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” [10:47] echoes the Ethiopian’s question and Philip’s response in the earlier story: “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” [8:36].

Peter and CorneliusPeter’s actions with Cornelius had far-reaching implications. Struck at once with the exceptional sincerity, hospitality and deep goodness of Cornelius and his household, Peter spontaneously exclaimed: “God has made it clear to me that no one should call anyone unclean or impure. God shows no partiality.”

That statement broke centuries of customs, and even of theology, that Israel alone was God’ s chosen people, separated from all other nations as God’ s very own [cf. Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Exodus 19:5-6]. Peter had no choice but to baptize the household of Cornelius and he was criticized for his ‘ecumenical’ approach, but responded to his critics: “Who am I that I could withstand God?” [11:17]. When his critics heard these words, they were silenced and began to glorify God [11:18].

Paul, too, found the same spontaneous manifestation of the faith among the gentiles, and so made the exciting declaration: “We now turn to the Gentiles!” The controversy over the law was to linger for a long time, so that Paul dedicated to this topic his most comprehensive theological work: the Letter to the Romans.

I call you friends

In today’s Gospel text from St. John [15:15], we hear the powerful words: “No longer do I call you servants … but I have called you friends.” We are not useless servants but friends! The Lord calls us friends; he makes us his friends; he gives us his friendship.

Jesus defines friendship in two ways. There are no secrets between friends: Christ tells us everything he hears from the Father; he gives us his full confidence and, with confidence, also knowledge. He reveals his face to us, his heart. He shows his tenderness for us, his passionate love that goes to the folly of the cross.

If we were to name one of the most frequent and important themes of Benedict XVI’s teaching and preaching over the past four years, it would certainly be his invitation to be a friend of Jesus. He sounded this theme clearly during the Mass “for the election of the Roman Pontiff” in St. Peter’s Basilica, before the conclave. “Adult and mature is a faith profoundly rooted in friendship with Christ. This friendship opens us to all that is good and gives us the measure to discern between what is true and what is false, between deceit and truth,” he said.

I remember how moved I was as I listened to the Holy Father’s homily at the beginning of the Petrine Ministry of the Bishop of Rome on April 24, 2005. Three times during that memorable homily, Benedict XVI spoke of the importance of “friendship” with Jesus:

“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, toward friendship with the Son of God, toward the One who gives us life, and life in abundance. […]

“There is nothing more beautiful than to know him and to speak to others of our friendship with him. […]

“Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation.”

Eight months later, in his Angelus address of Jan. 15, 2006, Benedict XVI said:

“Friendship with the Teacher guarantees profound peace and serenity to the soul, even in the dark moments and in the most arduous trials. When faith meets with dark nights, in which the presence of God is no longer ‘felt’ or ‘seen,’ friendship with Jesus guarantees that in reality nothing can ever separate us from his love” (cf. Rom 8: 39).

Again on Aug. 26, 2007, the theme of friendship was front and center:

“True friendship with Jesus is expressed in the way of life: It is expressed with goodness of heart, with humility, meekness and mercy, love for justice and truth, a sincere and honest commitment to peace and reconciliation.”

We might say that this is the “identity card” that qualifies us as his real “friends”; this is the “passport” that will give us access to eternal life. How do we understand the tremendous gift of friendship in our lives?

Matter of the heart

For many years, I have looked to the life and writings of Cardinal John Henry Newman [1801-1890] as a brilliant model of friendship. Newman truly speaks heart-to-heart — “cor ad cor loquitur” — a phrase that he chose as his personal motto. There was nothing superficial about Newman’s way of relating to so many different people. He looked at them and loved them for who they were.

The beloved English Cardinal had a great appreciation for the nobility of human virtues as evidenced in the literature and history of ancient Rome and Greece. At the same time the saints that he most admired — St. Paul, the ancient Church Fathers, his spiritual father St. Philip Neri, and St. Francis De Sales — could all be described as humanly attractive

Newman had an extraordinary capacity and gift for friendship, which often translated into leadership. No one could describe Cardinal Newman as extroverted or light-hearted. We need only to glance at the many volumes of his letters and diaries, or look at the index of names in his autobiographical works, to see that he shared deep friendships with hundreds of people throughout his life. This personal influence has been exerted very powerfully upon millions of people who have read his works and discovered what friendship really means.

Authenticity

I could not write about friendship without passing along a warning to countless women and men who search for it every day. The great popularity of online social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook merits careful attention, reflection and scrutiny. It has been said that if Facebook were a country, it would be the eighth most populated nation worldwide!

We must carefully ask several questions: What is it doing for us?

These tools help to bring people together and improve social networks. For example, homebound, infirm, chronically ill and elderly people can connect with a community of others in the same situation and new bonds of solidarity are born.

But there are also related questions: What is it doing to us? What is it doing to our sense of social boundaries? To our sense of individuality? To our friendships?

Friendship in these virtual spaces is quite different from real time friendship. Friendship is a relationship that involves the sharing of mutual interests, reciprocity, trust, and the revelation of intimate details over time and within specific contexts. True friendship depends on mutual revelations, and can only flourish within the boundaries of privacy and modesty.

On social networking sites, however, there is a concept of public friendship which is not the friendship spoken of by Jesus in the Gospel, nor Benedict XVI in his wonderful writings, nor Cardinal Newman in his letters. The distance and abstraction of our online friendships and online relationships can lead to a kind of systemic desensitization as a culture if we are not wise, prudent and attentive to these new realities.

We expose everything, but are we feeling anything?

Such friendships, or rather acquaintances, are quite different from the “cor ad cor loquitur” so ardently desired and experienced by Jesus with his disciples, or by an impetuous Peter, a Roman official named Cornelius, a British Cardinal named John Henry and a German Pope named Benedict XVI who have modeled their lives on the Good Shepherd and faithful friend to every human being.

[The readings for this Sunday are: Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17.]

(Images: “Last Supper” by Philippe de Champaigne; “Peter baptizing Cornelius” by Francesco Trevisani)

Salt and Light celebrates 12 years of life tonight!

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This evening during our gala musical evening at the Koerner Concert Hall, we will present this brief video that summarizes best who we are at Salt and Light Television. The theme of our evening is “family” and we celebrate the many families – especially the Gaglianos – and so many others who have believed in us, supported us, encouraged us and followed us over the past dozen years. We also give thanks to the many religious families – congregations of men and women religious across this vast land who have supported and continue to sponsor our media ministry. Enjoy this brief video and let the images evoke tons of memories of our journey over the past years.

Thank you for your faithful support of Salt and Light, as we strive to bring the flavor of the Gospel and the light of Christ to the world around of us.

Making Our Home in Jesus

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Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B – May 3rd, 2015

In John’s Gospel (15:1-8) for the 5th Sunday of Easter, we have the image of the vine and its branches to express the relationship between Christ and his disciples. We should not be surprised that at one level it seems utterly simple, but that at other levels it fills us with a sense of mystery, awe, and beauty, always leaving us wanting more.

The branches of a vine have an intimate relationship with the vine, depending on it at all times and forming one living organism with it. The vine, which can be a bit foreign in northern climates, is natural for anyone in the Middle East, where many families possess a vine, a fig tree, or olive trees in their gardens.

Jesus tells his followers that he is the true vine, the real vine, and that they are the branches, whose task is to bear fruit by sharing his life: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Abide in me, and I in you. If you abide in me, and my words in you, ask whatever you want. Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

While the images of Christ as king and lord, teacher, shepherd and judge, have their own importance in forming our perspective on how Christ relates to us, these images need to be balanced by such images as the vine, which integrate the disciple into the life of Christ and Christ into the life of the disciple in an intimate unity and closeness that the other images might not always convey.

Today’s passage is one of the classic descriptions of authentic Christian spirituality. The image of the vine, while inviting us to a depth of spirituality, sets that personal quest within the larger context of the family of God, stretching through time from Abraham to the present day and beyond, and through space from the Middle East in the first century to the four corners of the earth today.

If Jesus is the vine, we are summoned to ‘abide,’ to ‘live,’ to make our home ‘in him.’ The Gospel text of the vine challenges us: How do we maintain intimacy with the living God as we strive to be obedient to our vocation of bearing fruit for the world? What does it mean, to ‘abide’ or ‘dwell’ in the vine, to be intimately attached to Jesus?

Abiding in Jesus includes being part of the life of the Church, committed to the daily and weekly fellowship of his people, in mutual support, prayer, common worship, sacramental life, study and not least, work for the Gospel in the world. In every Eucharistic celebration we are drawn into that intimate fellowship both with Jesus himself and with each other at his table.

Authentic Christian spirituality is the personal knowledge of Jesus Christ given to us, as the vine gives its sap to the branches, so that we can be extensions of his work, his love, his fruitbearing, his glorifying of the Father. That is the heart of the Eucharistic mystery.

And yet as soon as Jesus introduced the theme of the vine and the branches in the Gospel passage, he speaks of his Father, the vinedresser, doing two things that require a knife. Every branch that doesn’t bear fruit, the Father removes, cuts away; and every branch that does bear fruit the Father prunes, so that it may bear more fruit.

The spirituality to which this Gospel passage invites us is not one of unbridled personal development, fulfilling all the potential we might discover within ourselves. As we follow Jesus and come to know him personally, we find him calling us to submit to the pruning-knife, to cut out some things from our lives that are good in themselves and that would even have had the potential to develop into fruitbearing branches, in order that other things may flourish. Pruning is always a painful process. It is a form of loss or death. The vinedresser is never more intimately involved than when wielding the pruning-knife!

The call to abide in the vine is a call to a personal and intimate knowledge of Jesus himself, not an idea, but a living person. True disciples of Jesus are dependent on the inner presence and activity of Christ for the renewal and regeneration of their own life into one of faith and love. True disciples can only be effective in the regeneration of the lives of others when they are “plugged into Jesus,” grafted onto his life, allowing his very presence to pulsate through their minds and hearts.

The images of vine and vineyard are brought together beautifully in that well-known passage from “Lumen Gentium,” No. 6, the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church:

“The Church is a piece of land to be cultivated, the tillage of God. On that land the ancient olive tree grows whose holy roots were the Prophets and in which the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles has been brought about and will be brought about. That land, like a choice vineyard, has been planted by the heavenly Husbandman. The true vine is Christ who gives life and the power to bear abundant fruit to the branches, that is, to us, who through the Church remain in Christ without whom we can do nothing.”

To illustrate this dependency, this grafting on the Lord, let me share with you some profound words of a great woman of the Church, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross [Edith Stein] (1891-1942), Carmelite, martyr, co-patroness of Europe, and one who knew what it meant to be intimately connected to the Lord. They are taken from Chapter 6 of her “Essays on Woman” (ICS Publications).

“The notion of the Church as community of the faithful is the most accessible to human reason. Whoever believes in Christ and his gospel, hopes for the fulfillment of his promises, clings to him in love, and keeps his commandments must unite with all who are like-minded in the deepest communion of mind and heart. Those who adhered to the Lord during his stay on earth were the early seeds of the great Christian community; they spread that community and that faith which held them together, until they have been inherited by us today through the process of time.

“But, if even a natural human community is more than a loose union of single individuals, if even here we can verify a movement developing into a kind of organic unit, it must be still more true of the supernatural community of the Church. The union of the soul with Christ differs from the union among people in the world: It is a rooting and growing in him (so we are told by the parable of the vine and the branches) which begins in baptism, and which is constantly strengthened and formed through the sacraments in diverse ways. However this real union with Christ implies the growth of a genuine community among all Christians. Thus the Church forms the Mystical Body of Christ. The Body is a living Body, and the spirit which gives the Body life is Christ’s spirit, streaming from the head to all parts (Ephesians 5:23,30). The spirit which Christ radiates is the Holy Spirit; the Church is thus the temple of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:21-22).”

This week, let us pray that our belonging to Christ be profound and real, going beyond all of the turbulence that exists on life’s surface. May Christ’s very life flow through us, building up the Body of Christ that is the Church.

[The readings for this Sunday are: Acts 9:26-31; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8.]