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Two Eyes & a Smile, Innocence & Goodness

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Photo credit: Salt + Light


Remembering Cardinal Loris Capovilla & the Saint he served so well…

St. John XXIII’s personal secretary, Cardinal Loris Capovilla died Thursday at the age of 100. It is not possible to speak of him without speaking of Pope John XIII, and to speak of them both is to speak of the Second Vatican Council. Shortly after the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II two years ago, Sebastian Gomes and I had the great privilege of spending a day in Sotto il Monte and visiting with Cardinal Capovilla. I shall never forget our lively conversation that day, as well as the day I spent last year after the October 2014 Synod of Bishops at the Vatican when I returned to Sotto il Monte to film a long interview with the Cardinal who was then 99 and still going strong.

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Photo credit: Salt + Light

During our first visit with the Cardinal in 2014, he shared with us his memories of the Second Vatican Council and where the whole idea started. A few weeks after the conclave which elected Cardinal Angelo Roncalli as Pope in 1958, Pope John XXIII called his faithful young secretary, Monsignor Capovilla, to his office in the Apostolic Palace. The Pope told him, “My desk is piling up with problems: with questions, requests, hopes. What is really necessary is a Council.”

“I kept quiet,” said Capovilla.

The Pope responded, “I have asked myself why my secretary, when I confide in him says nothing! But I know why,” he continued, “You think I’m old. You worry! You mean well, but you think I’ll make a mess out of this enormous task; that I don’t have time! Because you think like a commander, like a bank director! But that’s not the way you reason with faith. To receive a great inspiration, and regard it with admiration, and imagine your pleasure in it, is already of great merit. If God allows one to carry on with collaborators, who encourage one to move ahead, even better! And if one begins only with the first preparatory commission, that is of great merit. If one dies, another will come. It is a great honor just to begin!”

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Photo credit: CNS

Cardinal Loris continued to tell us story after story about the behind the scenes activities that led to the opening of the historic Council on October 11, 1962. The time spent with this holy, little man has left a deep and lasting impression on me, on Sebastian, and on some friends who were with us.

Capovilla also spoke with much emotion about the death of the ailing pontiff on June 3, 1963, only a few months after the Council began. On that warm, Roman June evening, only a few people were gathered around the Pope’s death bed in the Papal apartment. Capovilla told us: “I said to him, Holy Father there are only a few of us here in this room, but if you were to look out of your window onto the piazza you would see crowds of people. I thought he’d reply in his usual reserved manner, but instead he responded: “naturally that’s the way it should be because the Pope is dying, I love them, they love me.”

Cardinal Capovilla also told us the story of when he was kneeling at the bedside of the dying Pope. The Pope called him over and whispered, “When this is all over, be sure and go see your mother.”

To the end, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was a human being, more concerned with his faithfulness than his image, more concerned with those around him than with his own desires.

Pope John’s personal secretary has often highlighted how rather than cultivate nostalgia, Papa Giovanni, the new saint proclaimed by Pope Francis, look towards the future. Capovilla told me last year in our final meeting and interview:

“We are not custodians of a shrine, a reliquary or a museum. As Pope John himself said we are called to cultivate a garden where the seed of the Word, of the Word Incarnate is set in an effort to foster the Advent of a New Pentecost, a new Easter, a new Spring. Not just for our personal happiness but for the happiness of all of humanity. It’s a long journey, we are far from our final destination, one that is not there merely to safeguard but to share with the people of the world”.

St. John XXIII has gone down in history as the ordinary man who astonished the world, by launching the Catholic Church into one of its most momentous epochs by calling the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. With an infectious warmth and vision, John stressed the relevance of the church in a rapidly changing society and made the church’s deepest truths stand out in the modern world. But according to Cardinal Capovilla, his faithful and loyal secretary and friend, to describe Pope John all that one need to say is: “Two eyes and a smile, innocence and goodness”.

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Photo credit: Archives in Sotto il Monte

Cardinal Capovilla also had high praise for Pope Francis, who created him a cardinal in February 2014. Speaking to me last year about Francis’ first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Cardinal Capovilla reiterated to us how much the Gospel is the good news. But he also stressed this point to us: “What is this good news? It’s that I am a son of God and God does not abandon me. It’s wonderful to hear Pope Francis say almost every day that God does not reject anyone but accepts everyone”.

Now that Loris is united with his former boss and friend, John, may the two of them intercede for us and help us to keep alive the spirit and messages of the Second Vatican Council, and may they teach us to never forget that if we wish to change the world and the Church, what is required above is a smile, innocence and goodness.

Cardinal Capovilla’s funeral will take place on Monday morning, May 30 in the parish church of Sotto il Monte, near Bergamo.  He will be laid to rest in the cemetery of the ancient Abbey of Fontanella of Sotto il Monte, close to his priest friend Fr. David Maria Turoldo.

Loris and St. John, pray for us!

The Sacrament of Nonviolence Makes Martyrs for the Truth

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Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ – Sunday, May 29th, 2016

Four Gospels tell the wonder-filled story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes that has been situated geographically at Tabgha, the place of the seven springs on the Northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. Today’s Gospel looks back to the rich theology and spirituality of Israel, and also forward to contemplate the idea of life in God’s kingdom as a banquet at which the Messiah, himself, will preside.

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 very important, because the total figure could well have come to 20,000 or 30,000 people. Since the total Jewish population of Palestine at the time of Jesus is estimated at half a million, Jesus is presented as feeding a tenth of the population. This gives the feeding stories a social character, which makes them different from healing stories or the accounts in the other Gospels.

Luke, of all the evangelists, immediately links this 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 intended to nourish and strengthen us for continuing faithfully in our way of life.

Feeding the new Israel

Let us situate today’s Gospel passage (Luke 9:11-17) in Luke’s Gospel. Chapter 9 begins with the mission of the 12: they are sent to proclaim the kingdom, to have power over demons, to bring the good news to the people, and to cure their diseases. Jesus gives his disciples who have just returned from preaching and curing God’s people, a new charge: they are to feed reconstituted Israel with the Eucharist.

Luke teaches us two important lessons in today’s Gospel. First Jesus welcomes this vast crowd of common folk, even though “the Twelve” wanted to send them away. Luke’s use of ” the Twelve” to indicate a special group of disciples, is a reflection of the significance of that number in the traditions among the people of Israel. In particular, it recalls the twelve tribes of Israel. By using the term “Twelve,” Luke indicates that being chosen to serve in a particular way is not an excuse for distancing oneself from the crowd, the common people. On the contrary, the Twelve, like Jesus, must be welcoming.

Second, Jesus teaches that the disciples are to share whatever they have. In the sharing there will be more than enough. Logic and human reason say, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish.”  But Jesus asks that these meager provisions, as well as the generosity of the disciples, be stretched to their limits. Of all the evangelists, Luke stresses the fact that salvation reaches into the practical realities of human life.

The Sacrament of Nonviolence

The Eucharist sums up all the teaching, passion and death of Jesus, and his nonviolent way must be at the heart of the Eucharist. Luke’s passion narrative is about the Lamb, who goes to his death rejecting violence, loving enemies, returning good for evil, praying for his persecutors. The Eucharist, therefore, is truly the sacrament of nonviolence. The way of Jesus to conquer evil and violence must be the Christian way: the way of nonviolence, of love and forgiveness. The nonviolent way of Jesus is historically at the heart of his teaching, and at the same time at the heart of his passion and death.

Man of the Eucharist and Martyr for the Truth

We see this how this Eucharistic reality was lived out in the life of a young Polish priest, Father Jerzy Popieluszko (1947-1984) who was beatified as a martyr on the feast of Corpus Christi, June 6, 2010, in Warsaw’s Pilsudski Square. I wish to tell you a little about this remarkable priest who has been a hero and role model to me for the past many years.

Jerzy Popieluszko was born on Sept. 14, 1947, in the village of Okopy in Eastern Poland. He was from a strong Roman Catholic family. After secondary school, Jerzy entered the seminary in Warsaw, rather than the local seminary in Bialystok. His training was interrupted by two years of military service, during which he was beaten several times for living his Christian faith.

After ordination, the young priest, who never enjoyed good health, held several appointments before his final appointment to the parish of St. Stanislas Kostka in Warsaw. He worked part-time in the parish, which enabled him to work as well with medical personnel. As a result of his close work with health care personnel, he was asked to organize the medical teams during Pope John Paul II’s visits to Poland in 1979 and Warsaw in 1983.

August 1980 saw the beginning of the Solidarity trade union in Poland. Workers from the Warsaw steel plant, who were on strike in support of the shipyards on the Baltic Sea, requested a priest to say Mass for them. The lot fell to Father Jerzy. He stayed with the workers night and day. Solidarity represented for him a vision that he had first learned from St. Maximilian Kolbe: that of spiritual freedom amidst physical enslavement. It was this vision of the truth about the vocation of every man and woman, which Father Jerzy promoted amongst the workers by his presence.

On Dec. 13, 1981, the communist authorities imposed martial law, arresting many Solidarity activists and launching a program of harassment and retaliation against others. Many who had been on strike lost their jobs, and so their ability to support their families; others were beaten up on the streets and left for dead. Father Popieluszko became an important focus in a welfare program to support families affected by martial law.

He regularly attended the trials of Solidarity activists, sitting prominently in court with their families so that the prisoners could see that they were not forgotten. It was in the courtroom that he had the idea for a monthly Mass for the country, to be celebrated for all the imprisoned and their families. It was not a political demonstration — Father Popieluszko specifically asked his congregation not to display banners or chant slogans. His Masses for the Fatherland became well known not only in Warsaw, but throughout Poland, often attracting 15,000 to 20,000 people. Father Popieluszko insisted that change should be brought about peacefully; the sign of peace was one of the most poignant moments of each Mass for the country.

Father Popieluszko was neither a social nor a political activist, but a Catholic priest faithful to the Gospel. He wasn’t a forceful speaker, but someone of deep conviction and integrity. His sanctity lay in fundamental righteousness that gave people hope even in horrendous situations. He knew that all totalitarian systems are based on terror and intimidation. The Communists saw him as an enemy because he freed people from fear of the system. He exposed the hypocrisy of the Communist regime and he taught believers how to confront totalitarianism. How often Jerzy made St. Paul’s words his own in his preaching: ” Fight evil with good.”

On Oct. 19, 1984, the young priest was kidnapped by security agents on his way back to Warsaw after a visit to a parish in the neighboring town of Bydgoszcz. He was savagely beaten until he lost consciousness, and his body was tied up in such a way that he would strangle himself by moving. His weighted body was then thrown into a deep reservoir. His killers carried out their task with unprecedented brutality, which shows their hatred of the faith that the priest embodied. Jerzy’s driver, who managed to escape, told what had happened to the press. On Oct. 30, Popieluszko’s bound and gagged body was found in the freezing waters of a reservoir near Wloclawek. Fr. Jerzy’s brutal murder was widely believed to have hastened the collapse of communist rule in Poland.

Father Jerzy’s funeral was a massive public demonstration with over 400,000 people in attendance. Official delegations of Solidarity appeared from throughout the whole country for the first time since the imposition of martial law. He was buried in the front yard of his parish church of St. Stanislaw Kostka, and since that day, 17 million have visited his tomb.

Over the past 20 years, I have been privileged to pray several times at his grave in the Warsaw working suburb, and to witness the extraordinary effect that this young priest has had on so many young people. He promoted respect for human rights, for the rights of workers and the dignity of persons, all in the light of the Gospel. He practiced, for Poland and for the whole world, the virtues of courage, of fidelity to God, to the cross of Christ and the Gospel, love of God and of the homeland. He represented patriotism in the Christian sense, as a cultural and social virtue. He was deeply devoted to the Eucharist. More than 80 streets and squares in Poland have been named after Father Jerzy. Hundreds of statues and memorial plaques have been unveiled to him; some 18,000 schools, charities, youth groups and discussion clubs have been named after him.

Because the murdered priest is being proclaimed a martyr for hatred of the faith, Popieluszko’s beatification process did not require evidence of a miracle. The formal verification of a miracle is not necessary, even though many have been reported. His beatification is an example for priests, in the light of his total fidelity to Christ. Father Jerzy provides a model for us, calling us to strive that what we say and do outwardly should always agree with our inward conscience.

Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko, Man of the Eucharist, Martyr for the Truth, your life was broken and shared with the multitudes. The blood of your martyrdom has become the seed of faith for your homeland and for the Church. You are a priest forever, in the line of Melchizedek (Psalm 110). Pray for us.

[The readings for Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ are: Genesis 14:18-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 9:11b-17]

We Give You Thanks for Your Great Glory

Trinity Orta

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity – Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

On the Sunday that follows Pentecost, we celebrate the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Thanks to the Holy Spirit, who helps us understand Jesus’ words and guides us to the whole truth, believers can have a personal experience of the intimacy of God himself, discovering that he is not infinite solitude but communion of light and love, life given and received in an eternal dialogue between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.

Lady Wisdom, the communicator

Today’s first reading from Proverbs (8:22-31) speaks about Lady Wisdom, the person created by God before the creation of the world to communicate God’s love and to guide us in peaceful living. Wisdom in many ways parallels the New Testament Holy Spirit. Even if we are unable to rationally explain the Trinity, we still are required to manifest the triune God by our actions.

The Book of Proverbs is the most “earthy” of all the books of the Bible. Within this collection of short, pragmatic sayings, which fill most of the book, there is a beautiful, mystical reflection in Chapter 8. “Lady Wisdom” is personified (given human traits) in an attempt to describe the ways in which God chooses to reveal divine nature.

Wisdom is presented as something very intimately involved with God, and in later writings wisdom is perceived as the quality human beings need to discern God’s activity in the world. Wisdom’s superiority over all things is due to her origin before them. While wisdom is seen to emanate from God’s mysterious abode, still it is most visible to us, “established in the sky,” across “the sea [and] its limit,” over the “surface of God’s earth.” Wisdom was poured forth, begotten by God at the beginning, and as God’s co-worker wisdom directed creation and found delight in the human race.

Experience and discernment

The poetry of Proverbs is meant to give us a sense of the beauty and permanence — indeed, the eternal quality — of wisdom. In all those attributes, wisdom is Godlike. It is also God’s gift to human beings, the gift that enables them to see beyond the literal and into the deeper significance of life’s events. Wisdom in many ways parallels the New Testament Holy Spirit. Wisdom is in no way equated with intellectual prowess or an accumulation of information or mere data. Instead, it is more closely associated with experience and discernment. Above all, it is a spiritual entity, not independent of thought and logic but far superior to it.

The effects of justification

In his letter to the Romans (5:1-5), Paul begins to discuss the Christian faith in Christ Jesus, and he presents the Christian experience in itself and explains how salvation is assured for the upright. In today’s passage, the mystery of the Holy Trinity moves out of theological formulation and becomes an active ingredient, a leaven, in daily life. The first effect of justification the Christian experiences is peace; reconciliation replaces estrangement. The second effect of justification is confident hope.

Once justified, the Christian is reconciled to God and experiences a peace that distressing troubles and sufferings cannot upset, a hope that knows no disappointments, and a confidence of salvation in Jesus. The statement about hope is a typically Pauline paradox: The Christian who boasts puts the boast in something that is wholly beyond ordinary human powers — in hope. Verse 5 contains the powerful assurance that (such) hope does not disappoint us. The Christian will never be embarrassed by a disappointed hope; implicit is a comparison with merely human hope, which can deceive. God’s Spirit must direct our lives, modeling them and fashioning them on the life and words of Jesus.

Hope and Christian optimism

Verse 5 also contains the expression “God’s love” — not to be understood as our love of God, but God’s love of us. Paul speaks of the love with which God moves toward us. This love is expressed through Jesus and is perpetuated by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to draw us back to the love of God. Paul assures us that even suffering can enable us to endure, to develop character and to hope for victory, with Jesus as our model. The gift of the Spirit is not only the proof but also the medium of the outpouring of God’s love. It signifies the divine presence to the justified.

Toward a deeper understanding

In John’s Gospel (16:12-15), the disciples could not bear all that Jesus had to tell them. First they needed the assurance that only his triumph over death could bring. Three times the Spirit of truth is said to engage the Church. The Spirit will “declare” to us what is to come (v 13). The Spirit will “declare” to us what the Spirit has taken from Christ (v 14). The Spirit will take what is of Christ and “declare” it to us (v 15).

Three times the same verb is used to describe the same activity, anaggellein: to announce or to proclaim something again. It means that the Spirit will continue what has been realized in Christ. But the Holy Spirit will interpret it for us, will probe its deeper meaning, will make it understood in different cultures and contexts. This idea of the “revelation of the things to come” did not mean that the Paraclete could make any sort of prophetic revelations about the future, but that the Paraclete guided the community in its understanding of Jesus as the fulfillment of everything that had been promised in Scripture.

Mission and vocation

The Spirit leads the Church into truth through this ceaseless activity, through the declarative interpretation of what is of Christ, so that the experience of faith might move toward a deeper understanding of what is in Christ. This is a rich and profound concept that describes beautifully the vocation and mission of the true shepherd and priestly person: We are called to interpret the experience of faith that allows for deeper understanding and knowledge of God in the life of every person and in the life of the world.

Our mission is truly “to take what is of Christ and to declare it,” to interpret it, to profess it, to tell it over and over again to the world. “To take what is of Christ” indicates a profoundly personal contact with Christ through prayer, contemplation, and study. In the Spirit, we are to bring what is of Christ to a new understanding, to a new realization in the temporal order. We are called to build a civilization of justice, love and peace based on our knowledge of and relationship to Jesus Christ.

Experiencing glory

The increasing glory of God is this progressive revelation of the Trinity. What is the experience of glory for us? It is not euphoria, bliss or ecstasy, although those elements may indeed be present in those who have profound experiences of God’s presence in their lives. When the presence and idea of God comes to dominate our consciousness and our loves, when it becomes almost palpably present with the intensity of deeper meaning and love, this is glory.

When the experience of God sustains us in the midst of excruciating pain and suffering, spiritual darkness and emptiness, crisis and confusion, we have a foretaste of God’s glory. No matter what befalls us, we have a profound awareness that God is with us, that God surrounds us, protects us and holds us in the palm of his hand. St. Paul says that this is the hope for the glory in which human beings are called to exult. So great a gift of God is this that every Sunday the Church prays: “We give you thanks for your great glory.”

Communication

The Trinity is communication between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is the profound mystery which today’s 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. Though we may struggle with the Holy Trinity, we nevertheless take it into our very hands each time that we mark ourselves with the sign of the cross.

I conclude with this excerpt on the Trinity as Mystery from the dialogue “On Divine Providence” by St. Catherine of Siena (Cap 167, Gratiarum actio ad Trinitatem). It is used in the Roman Office of Readings for the liturgical memorial of this great saint of the Church, whose feast is celebrated each year on April 29. It is a magnificent prayer to the Trinity that we could pray each day.

“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 even greater hunger, and I grow more famished for your light. I desire above all to see you, the true light, as you really are.

“I have tasted and seen the depth of your mystery and the beauty of your creation with the light of my understanding. I have clothed myself with your likeness and have seen what I shall be. Eternal Father, you have given me a share in your power and the wisdom that Christ claims as his own, and your Holy Spirit has given me the desire to love you. You are my Creator, eternal Trinity, and I am your creature. You have made of me a new creation in the blood of your Son, and I know that you are moved with love at the beauty of your creation, for you have enlightened me.”

[The readings for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity are: Proverbs 8:22-31; Romans 5:1-5; and John 16:12-15]

(Image: Fresco of the Holy Trinity by Luca Rossetti da Orta)

There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted

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There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted
A reflection on Euthanasia

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
May 12, 2016

The Supreme Court of Canada decided on February 6, 2015 that Canadians have a legal right to ask for and receive a doctor’s help in killing themselves. Originally the court gave Parliament one year to pass a new law to replace sections of the Criminal Code which had previously forbidden assisted suicide. A fall election and a slow process of review made it impossible for the politicians to meet the original deadline, which was then extended six months. Bill C-14 “An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying)” passed second reading April 22, 2016. Bill C-14, no matter how it may be amended, is an affront to human dignity, an erosion of human solidarity, and a danger to all vulnerable persons. It is a fundamentally unjust law. Why should we absolutely and categorically disagree with any attempt at justifying or supporting a ‘right’ to assisted suicide or euthanasia? In light of the very sad and deeply troubling decision of the Supreme Court of Canada overturning Canada’s euthanasia law, I offer you these reflections.  

There is nothing new about people becoming terminally ill, suffering, wanting to die, and our being able to kill them. Right-to-die movements have gained momentum at a time of anxiety about aging populations; people who are older than 65 represent the fastest growing demographic in the United States, Canada, and much of Europe.

Let’s look beyond our borders to witness the ambiguous and destructive powers of the proponents of a right-to-death. In Belgium, a country that some are justifiably calling “the killing fields”, euthanasia is now embraced as an emblem of enlightenment, liberation and progress, signs that the country has freed itself from its deeply Catholic roots and heritage. Belgium was the second country in the world, after the Netherlands, to decriminalize euthanasia; it was followed by Luxembourg, in 2009, and, this year, by Canada and Colombia. Switzerland has allowed assisted suicide since 1942. The United States Supreme Court has recognized that citizens have legitimate concerns about prolonged deaths in institutional settings, but in 1997 it ruled that death is not a constitutionally protected right, leaving questions about assisted suicide to be resolved by each state. Several months after the ruling, the state of Oregon passed a law that allows doctors to prescribe lethal drugs for patients who have less than six months to live. In 2008, the State of Washington adopted a similar law; Montana decriminalized assisted suicide the following year; and Vermont legalized it in 2013.

In Oregon and Switzerland, studies have shown that people who request death are less motivated by physical pain than by the desire to remain autonomous. In Belgium and in the Netherlands, where patients can be euthanized without even having a terminal illness, the laws seem to have permeated the medical establishment more deeply than elsewhere, perhaps because of the central role granted to doctors: in the majority of cases, it is the doctor, not the patient, who performs the final act. In the past five years, euthanasia and assisted-suicide deaths in the Netherlands have doubled, and in Belgium they have increased by more than a hundred and fifty per cent. Although most of the Belgian patients had cancer, people were euthanized because they had autism, anorexia, borderline personality disorder, chronic-fatigue syndrome, partial paralysis, blindness coupled with deafness, and manic depression.

Laws allowing euthanasia or doctor-assisted-death seem to be motivated less by the desires of the elderly than by the concerns of a younger generation, whose members derive comfort from the knowledge that they can control the end of their lives. Belgian laws have created a new understanding of suicide as a medical treatment, totally divorced of its tragic and moral dimensions.

Why is the case against euthanasia so hard to establish? When personal and societal values were consistent, widely shared and based on shared religion, the case against euthanasia was simple. God commanded: “You shall not kill.” In secular societies based on intense individualism, the case for euthanasia is simple: Individuals have the right to choose the manner, time and place of their death. In contrast, in such societies the case against euthanasia is complex. Is anyone concerned any longer about harm caused to the entire community rather than being obsessed with personal and individual preferences?

Death has now been professionalized, technologized, depersonalized and dehumanized. Facing those realities makes euthanasia seem an attractive option and easier to introduce and accept. Conversations about death used to take place in religious conversation and in churches, synagogues, mosques and temples during worship services.  Such conversations were serious and always had moral dimensions. No so any longer. Death talk is on radio and TV talk shows and in unreflective media.  It is so often cheap conversation for such a serious topic.  And the moral dimension is absent.

Our parliaments and courts have replaced our religious centres. That has resulted in the legalization of societal ethical and moral debates, including in relation to death. It is not surprising, therefore, that the euthanasia debate centres on its legalization. The vast exposure to death that we are subjected to in both current-affairs and entertainment programs might have overwhelmed our sensitivity to the awesomeness of death as well as inflicting it.

Mainstream media has caused great confusion about the topic of euthanasia and has been extremely deceptive in its portrayal of human suffering and compassion.  Most people who think that euthanasia and assisted suicide should be legal are not thinking the whole issue through. They are thinking about personal autonomy and choice. They think about what it would be like to suddenly become incapacitated and consider such a life as undignified or worthless. Perhaps they consider severely disabled people as having no quality of life.  Our dignity and quality of life don’t come from what we can or cannot do. Dignity and quality of life are not matters of efficiency, proficiency and productivity.  They come from a deeper place – from who we are and how we relate to each other.

There are solid secular arguments against euthanasia: legalizing euthanasia would harm the very important shared societal value of respect for life, and change the basic norm that we must not kill one another. It would also harm the two main institutions – law and medicine.  These pillars of society are more important in a secular society than in a religious one for upholding the value of respect for life. And, it would harm people’s trust in medicine and make them fearful of seeking treatment.

Our society has lost sight of the sacred nature of human life. As Catholic Christians we are deeply committed to the protection of life from its earliest moments to its final moments. When people today speak about a “good death,” they usually refer to an attempt to control the end of one’s life, even through physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia. The Christian notion of a good death, however, is death not as a good end, but a good transition, that requires faith, proper acceptance and readiness. The dimension of the Paschal mystery of suffering, death and resurrection has been absent from our end of life conversation and discussion.

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When life is not respected, should we be surprised that other rights will sooner or later be threatened? 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.”

What is wrong with abortion, euthanasia, embryo selection, and embryonic research is not the motives of those who carry them out. So often, those motives are, on the surface, compassionate: to protect a child from being unwanted, to end pain and suffering, to help a child with a life-threatening disease. But in all these cases, the terrible truth is that it is the strong who decide the fate of the weak; human beings therefore become instruments in the hands of other human beings.

Pope Francis has criticized those who support a right to euthanasia for people suffering painful or terminal illnesses, saying that they spread a “lie” that lives affected by such illnesses are not worth living. In his annual message for the World Day of the Sick, celebrated by the Catholic church each February 11, Francis criticizes the phrase “quality of life,” frequently used by those who advocate for euthanasia rights to emphasize the pain suffered by some ill persons who might choose to medically end their lives if given the chance by law. Francis makes the critique in a section of the message that emphasizes the importance of spending time with those who are sick or ill. Pope Francis first asks that the Holy Spirit “grant us the grace to appreciate the value of our often unspoken willingness to spend time with these sisters and brothers who, thanks to our closeness and affection, feel more loved and comforted.” In his 2016 Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis writes (#48): “Euthanasia and assisted suicide are serious threats to families worldwide; in many countries, they have been legalized. The Church, while firmly opposing these practices, feels the need to assist families who take care of their elderly and infirm members”.

We must never lose sight of the atrocities against the unborn, the untold and too-seldom spoken of pain and lingering anguish experienced by those who have been involved in abortions. Nor can we ignore the other great challenge faced by humanity today – the serious question of mercy killing, or euthanasia as it is sometimes called, no longer found in abstract cases and theories. It has arrived on our shores and it has invaded our lives. This issue strikes to the very core of who we are and what we believe. Even when not motivated by the refusal to be burdened with the life of someone who is suffering, euthanasia must be called a false and misguided mercy. True compassion leads to sharing another’s pain, not killing the person whose suffering we cannot bear. The best way to know if we are still in any way a Christian society is to see how we treat our most vulnerable people, the ones with little or no claim on public attention, the ones without beauty, strength or intelligence.

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. In economically developed countries, legislation contrary to life is very widespread: frequent attempts are made to export this mentality to other states as if it were a form of cultural progress.

Suicide as a mode of euthanasia contradicts the fundamental responsibility that human beings have to protect one another and to enhance the quality of health and social care which every human life deserves, from conception to natural death. The proposed Canadian legislation for physician-assisted-death or suicide threatens to throw non-complying doctors and nurses out of their jobs and risks closing Catholic hospitals. Second, it does nothing to limit the ways in which assisted suicide may be proposed or offered to vulnerable people.

An absence of conscience protections at the federal level for those health-care professionals and institutions who refuse to take part or directly refer for assisted suicide means provincial regulators could set up a patchwork of conflicting policies that would result in fewer doctors and hospitals available to Canadians. Just when our health-care system requires more resources, not less, the federal government must not allow lower jurisdictions to drive conscientious health-care practitioners from their professions. Laws that would make medicine the agent of death on demand, are a clear violation of the sacrosanct duty of health-care providers to heal, and the responsibility of legislators and citizens to assure and provide protection for all, especially those persons most at risk.

We have a responsibility to confront the intrusion of euthanasia in our society – especially if we are to understand our moral obligation as caregivers for incapacitated persons, and our civic obligation to protect those who lack the capacity to express their will but are still human, still living, and still deserving of equal protection under the law.  There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted from conception to natural death, from womb to tomb.

 

The Humble, Yet Powerful Beginning of a New Age

Pentecost Restout cropped

Solemnity of Pentecost – Sunday, May 15th, 2016

We know the story well (Acts 2:1-11) – it is the dawn of the day of Pentecost and the followers of Jesus are gathered to wait and pray. This new day begins with an explosion of sounds from heaven, and a violent wind. The story is reminiscent of the mighty wind that hovered over the waters in the Genesis creation story. What was first heard was then seen – tongues like fire (2:3). The first gift of the Holy Spirit is the gift of speech in different languages.

The scene quickly shifts from the inside upper room, where the disciples are gathered, to the Jerusalem streets outside the house. There the Gospel is already drawing crowds together. Out in the streets, “devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem” (2:5) confront the Church, and their initial response is bewilderment (2:6). The “tongues” spoken of are obviously various languages of “every nation under heaven,” since each foreigner exclaims: “We hear, each of us, in our own native language” (2:8).

Luke’s roll call of the nations – Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes (2:9-10) – makes it very clear that no nationality is excluded from the proclamation of the Good News. In these few lines, Luke gives us a glimpse in miniature of the whole plot of the Acts of the Apostles.

Authentic Christian spirituality

Chapter 8 of Paul’s letter to the Romans addresses the elements of authentic spirituality (8:8-17). To please God is the goal of human life striven for by both Jew and Christian, yet this goal cannot be attained by those who are dominated by self (“in the flesh”). In order to please God, one must be “in the Spirit,” i.e., living “according to the Spirit” (8:5).

According to Paul, the baptized Christian is not only “in the Spirit,” but the Spirit is now said to dwell in him or her. Paul insists that attachment to Christ is only possible by the “spiritualization” of human beings. This attachment is no mere external identification with the cause of Christ, or even a grateful recognition of what he once did for humanity. Rather, the Christian who belongs to Christ is the one empowered to “live for God” through the vitalizing influence of his Spirit.

Without the Spirit, the source of Christian vitality, the human “body” is like a corpse because of the influence of sin, but in union with Christ the human “spirit” lives, for the Holy Spirit raises the dead to life. The Spirit not only gives new life, but also establishes for human beings the relationship of an adopted son and daughter and heir. It is the Spirit that animates and activates the Christian and makes one a child of God. The theme of sonship in Romans is Paul’s attempt to describe the new status of the Christian in relation to God. Christians have received the Spirit (of Christ or God), but this is not a “spirit” in the sense of a disposition or mentality that a slave would have. Animated by God’s Spirit, the Christian cannot have the attitude of a slave, for the Spirit sets free. Through the Spirit the Christian proclaims that God is Father.

Pentecost in the Gospel of John

Today’s Gospel scene takes place on the night of the first Easter. Only this initial appearance of Jesus to his disciples (John 20:19-23) has parallels in the other Gospels (cf. Luke 24:36-39; Mark 16:14-18). The first appearance is both intense and focused. It is evening and the doors are bolted shut. Anxious disciples are sealed inside. A suspicious, hostile world is forced tightly outside. Jesus is missing. Suddenly, the Risen One defies locked doors, blocked hearts, and distorted vision and simply appears.

The meeting with the Risen Lord in John’s account is the humble yet powerful beginning of a new age: fear is transformed into joy; pain is changed to peace and trust; flight and hiding become courage and mission. Division and hatred are vanquished by the gift of the Holy Spirit – by God’s love revealed in Jesus and through his power to remove evil and sinfulness.

Jesus “breathing on them” (20:22) recalls Genesis 2:7, where God breathed on the first man and gave him life. Just as Adam’s life came from God, so now the disciples’ new spiritual life comes from Jesus. This action is also reminiscent of the revivification of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37. It is the evangelist John’s version of Pentecost.

“Peace be with you” is the greeting and gift of the Risen Lord. The Hebrew word shalom means re-establishing the full meaning of things. Biblical peace is not only a pact that allows for a peaceful life, or indicates the opposite of a time of war. Rather, peace refers to the well-being of daily existence, to one’s state of living in harmony with nature, with oneself and with God. Concretely, this peace means blessing, rest, honour, richness, health, and life. The gift of peace that Jesus entrusted to his first disciples becomes a promise and a prayer shared with the entire Christian community.

The mission and the power of Jesus are entrusted into the poor, limited, and fragile hands of his Apostles. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, his own mission continues in them, granting the power to forgive sins and the possibility of reconciliation and intimacy with the Father.

Courageous heralds of the Gospel

The Holy Spirit renewed the Apostles from within, filling them with a power that would give them courage to go out and boldly proclaim that “Christ has died and is risen!” Frightened fishermen have become courageous heralds of the Gospel. Even their enemies could not understand how “uneducated and ordinary men” (Acts 4:13) could show such courage and endure difficulties, suffering, and persecution with joy. Nothing could stop them. To those who tried to silence them they replied: “We cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). This is how the Church was born, and from the day of Pentecost she has not ceased to spread the Good News “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

At Pentecost, the full meaning of Jesus’ life and message is poured into our hearts by the Spirit alive in the community. The movement of the Spirit in people results in gifts and talents. This movement does not reach its end in individuals. Rather, it is supposed to have a ripple effect so that our unique abilities promote the common good. The Spirit’s gifts are many: teaching, instructing, healing, consoling, forgiving, and encouraging. The Spirit will increase our gifts to the extent that we love Jesus and our brothers and sisters, obey the commandments, and freely share what we have so lavishly received with others.

Christian hope: a gift of the Spirit

Hope is one of the true manifestations of the Spirit at Pentecost. For the world of sound bites, hope usually means that we make ourselves believe that everything is going to turn out all right. We use the word hope lightly and cheaply. This is not the hope of Christians. We must be icons of hope, a people with a new vision, a people that learn to see the world through the lenses of Christ, the Spirit, and the Church.

The Second Vatican Council encouraged Christians to read the signs of the times, and for Pope John XXIII these were signs of hope and glimpses of the Kingdom’s presence in our midst. The Kingdom manifests itself through the gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, courage, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. And the Spirit’s fruits make the Kingdom palpable and palatable: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long-suffering, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, and chastity.

It is also possible to follow a via negativa and to say where the Kingdom is not. Where there is no justice, no peace, no sharing, no mutual trust, no forgiveness – there is no Kingdom. Where there is rancour, envy, distrust, hatred, ignorance, indifference, unchastity, cynicism – there is no Kingdom and certainly no life.

In God himself, all is joy

A second manifestation of the Spirit at Pentecost is joy. Pope Paul VI’s 1975 Apostolic Letter on Christian Joy – Gaudete in Domino – describes this joy in the following way:

Let the agitated members of various groups therefore reject the excesses of systematic and destructive criticism! Without departing from a realistic viewpoint, let Christian communities become centres of optimism where all the members resolutely endeavour to perceive the positive aspect of people and events. “Love does not rejoice in what is wrong but rejoices with the truth. There is no limit to love’s forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to endure.”

The attainment of such an outlook is not just a matter of psychology. It is also a fruit of the Holy Spirit. This Spirit, who dwells fully in the person of Jesus, made Him during His earthly life so alert to the joys of daily life, so tactful and persuasive for putting sinners back on the road to a new youth of heart and mind! It is this same Spirit who animated the Blessed Virgin and each of the saints. It is this same Spirit who still today gives to so many Christians the joy of living day by day their particular vocation, in the peace and hope which surpass setbacks and sufferings. It is the Spirit of Pentecost who today leads very many followers of Christ along the paths of prayer, in the cheerfulness of filial praise, towards the humble and joyous service of the disinherited and of those on the margins of society. For joy cannot be dissociated from sharing. In God Himself, all is joy because all is giving.

[The readings for Pentecost are: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23.]

(Image: Pentecost by Jean Restout)

Human Life is Sacred and Inviolable: Reflections to Guide Us as We March and Work for Life

M4L1

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

On April 11, 2014, Pope Francis addressed the Italian Pro-Life movement with these provocative words:

“We know that human life is sacred and inviolable. Every civil right rests on the recognition of the first and fundamental right, that of life, which is not subordinate to any condition, be it quantitative, economic or, least of all, ideological. “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills…. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a ‘throw away’ culture which is now spreading” (Evangelii Gaudium #53). And in this way life, too, ends up being thrown away. 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” (Gaudium et Spe #51).”

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. 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. How can we forget Pope Benedict XVI’s words at the opening ceremony of World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, Australia, on July 17, 2008:

“And so we are led to reflect on what place the poor and the elderly, immigrants and the voiceless, have in our societies. How can it be that domestic violence torments so many mothers and children? How can it be that the most wondrous and sacred human space – the womb – has become a place of unutterable violence?”

Nor can we forget what Pope Francis wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (#214):

“It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life. On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty. Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?”

The Catholic Church’s 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.

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,” wrote Pope Benedict in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate. 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.” The Holy Father sums 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 burning issues of the promotion of human life, from conception to natural death, must be high on the agenda of every human being on every side of the political spectrum. They are not only the concern of the far right of the political spectrum. Many people, blinded by their own zeal and goodness, have ended up defeating the very cause for which we must all defend with every ounce of energy in our flesh and bones.

The market push towards euthanasia

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.”

Most people who think that euthanasia and assisted suicide should be legal are not thinking the whole issue through. They are thinking about personal autonomy and choice. They think about what it would be like to suddenly become incapacitated and consider such a life as undignified or worthless. Perhaps they consider severely disabled people as having no quality of life. Our dignity and quality of life don’t come from what we can or cannot do. Dignity and quality of life are not matters of efficiency, proficiency and productivity. They come from a deeper place – from who we are and how we relate to each other. True compassion leads to sharing another’s pain, not killing the person whose suffering we cannot bear.

In his most recent Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis writes (#48):

“The elderly who are vulnerable and dependent are at times unfairly exploited simply for economic advantage. Many families show us that it is possible to approach the last stages of life by emphasizing the importance of a person’s sense of fulfilment and participation in the Lord’s paschal mystery. A great number of elderly people are cared for in Church institutions, where, materially and spiritually, they can live in a peaceful, family atmosphere. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are serious threats to families worldwide; in many countries, they have been legalized. The Church, while firmly opposing these practices, feels the need to assist families who take care of their elderly and infirm members”.

What is wrong with abortion, euthanasia, embryo selection, and embryonic research is not the motives of those who carry them out. So often, those motives are, on the surface, compassionate: to protect a child from being unwanted, to end pain and suffering, to help a child with a life-threatening disease. But in all these cases, the terrible truth is that it is the strong who decide the fate of the weak; human beings therefore become instruments in the hands of other human beings.

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 to power 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. To March for Life in Ottawa, Washington and in many other cities of the world means that we stand up for all human life, and we do not have a myopic view of the cause of life. Let us strive for a consistent ethic of human life, from womb to tomb. Being pro-life in this day and age is truly prophetic, and it will bring about authentic development and enduring peace in our world.

Read more: Taking the Gospel of Life to the Streets in Ottawa and Many Other Cities 

In Jesus, the Future Has Already Begun!

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Solemnity of the Ascension – Sunday, May 8th, 2016

Just as Jerusalem was the city of destiny in the Gospel of Luke (the place where salvation was accomplished), so here at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, Jerusalem occupies a central position. It is the starting point for the mission of the Christian disciples to “the ends of the earth,” the place where the apostles were situated and the doctrinal focal point in the early days of the community (Acts 15:2, 6).

The first verses of today’s first reading (Acts 1:1-2) connect the book of Acts with the Gospel of Luke, and show that the apostles were instructed by the risen Jesus (vv 3-5). The disciples were anxious for answers. They asked, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” They thought “the promise of the Father” would bring about an age of political sovereignty such as the nation had enjoyed under the reign of King David. But Jesus’ answer made clear that this is not what the promise is all about. Neither would the promise give them a glimpse of the end times, for “it is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set” for the end of time. The promise was not going to make their lives easier by restoring political or national dominance or by granting divine insight. When they received the Spirit they too would be baptized in fire. They would be empowered to take on the role of Christ: to teach and to nourish and to serve, to be ignored, to suffer and to die for him.

After speaking, Jesus was lifted up into the heavens before his friends. Just imagine this awesome scene! How does it feel to them to watch their Lord and Master leave? The angels’ words to the “men of Galilee” 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.”

The 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. 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!

Beginning From Jerusalem

The resurrection appearances in Luke’s Gospel take place in and around Jerusalem. Luke brings his Gospel story about the time of Jesus to a close (vv 50-53) with the report of the ascension. The Gospel ends as it began (1:9), in the Jerusalem temple (v 53). Luke will also begin the story of the time of the church with a recounting of the ascension. In Luke’s Resurrection chapter, the evangelist recounts the ascension of Jesus on Easter Sunday night, thereby closely associating it with the resurrection.

As I have pointed out in previous Easter reflections, Chapter 24 of Luke’s Gospel can be divided into four major sections: a) the story of the women at the tomb, which ends with Peter’s visit to the tomb to check it (vv 1-12); b) the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, which culminates in their learning that the Lord had also appeared to Peter (vv 13-35); c) the appearance of the Lord to his disciples at a meal, which culminates with their commissioning by Jesus (vv 36-49); and d) Jesus’ ascension into heaven (vv 50-52).

What should probably be understood as one event (resurrection, glorification, ascension, sending of the Spirit — the paschal mystery) has been historicized by Luke when he writes of a visible ascension of Jesus after 40 days and the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost. For Luke, the ascension marks the end of the appearances of Jesus except for the extraordinary appearance to Paul. With regard to Luke’s understanding of salvation history, the ascension also marks the end of the time of Jesus (Luke 24:50-53) and signals the beginning of the time of the Church.

Conformity to the Jewish Scriptures

The final scene of Luke’s Gospel emphasizes that what is written in the Jewish Scriptures must of necessity be fulfilled because it reveals the plan of God which cannot fail to be accomplished. The life, death and resurrection of Christ are fully in accord with the Scriptures. The clearest expression of this is found in the words addressed by the risen Christ to his disciples: “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you — that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (24:44). This statement shows the basis of the necessity for the paschal mystery of Jesus, affirmed in numerous passages in the Gospels: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering … and after three days rise again”; “But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled which say it must happen this way?” (Matthew 26:54); “This Scripture must be fulfilled in me” (Luke 22:37).

Present in a thousand places

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 the entire world for all time be complete.

In his “ascension” Jesus made a commitment to the earth that we live in. His footprints are not etched for tourists to view in the stone beneath us. But they are visible in the hearts of those who follow him. As he gave up the ability to be present in one place, he gained the capability of being present in a thousand places. When Jesus vanished, he filled the earth with the presence of God. God’s presence is still here and is available for us as the ultimate fulfillment of all our dreams. 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. And through us he wants to become even more present, especially as his Church.

Profound lesson

The Ascension of Our Lord teaches us a profound lesson about possessing and being possessed. Through his ascension, Jesus shows that clinging to him in time and history serves no purpose. Nor does he cling to the human beings around him, unwilling to let them go free in order to continue their Gospel mission. Rather, his whole life, death and resurrection teach us to accept everyone and everything as a gift, on loan to us.

It is not good to cling tightly to relationships or to hoard earthly treasures. Today let us learn to revere all that we have with deep gratitude, and hold everything in open hands. During our times of prayer, let us open our hands and surrender all the important treasures and relationships of our lives to God. Let us be aware of our feelings toward others, and toward the things we have. Let us spend time expressing our gratitude to God for each gift and relationship. And most important of all, let us find some concrete ways to express our love and gratitude to people we often take for granted, including Jesus.

Just as the Risen Lord entrusted himself into the hands of such pathetic, broken people, he does the same to us. The full significance of the Ascension reminds us that Christ accepts our lack of self-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.

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 the entire 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!

“He whom you love is no longer where he was before. He is now wherever you are.”
(St. John Chrysostom)

[The readings for the Ascension of the Lord are: Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:17-23 or Hebrews 9:24-28; Luke 24:46-53]

Council of Jerusalem, the Advocate, and Pastoral Strategy

Pentecost El Greco cropped

Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C – May 1, 2016

The early Church community in Jerusalem was not without its problems! Several of the controversies are evident in today’s first reading from Chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles.

When some of the converted Pharisees of Jerusalem discover the results of the first missionary journey of Paul (15:1-5), they urge that the Gentiles be taught to follow the Mosaic Law. Recognizing the authority of the Church in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas go there to settle the question of whether Gentiles can embrace a form of Christianity that does not include this obligation. The Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-35) marks the official rejection of the rigid view that Gentile converts were obliged to observe the Mosaic Law completely. From here to the end of the book of Acts, Paul and the Gentile mission become the focus of Luke’s writing.

Early Church controversies

If the Gentiles are to become Christian, does that imply they must observe the customs of the Jewish converts to Christianity? This would mean imposing circumcision, dietary restrictions, and marriage regulations. The scene from today’s first reading not only presents us with one of the first great controversies of the Early Church, but also gives us some excellent insights into our own understanding of tradition and continuity, and the resolution of conflicts in the Church.

In the reading from the Book of Acts, some unauthorized members of the Jerusalem Church tried to insist upon circumcision as a necessity for salvation within the church at Antioch. The classical problem of the Early Church revolved around the necessity of the Mosaic Law for salvation. Jesus certainly kept it perfectly, from his birth, for he was circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2:21) and he never annulled the force of the Mosaic Law. In fact he states quite clearly: “Do not think I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come, not to abolish them, but to fulfil them” (Matthew 5:17). Yet Peter on the impulse of the Spirit, had baptized the household of the Roman centurion Cornelius without requiring circumcision.

The Apostles and elders gathered for deliberation and came to an agreement with the Mother Church at Jerusalem that the Mosaic laws were not to be required, nor the many traditions of the rabbis. The converts, out of courtesy, were asked not to partake of blood, nor of animals improperly slaughtered without draining the blood, nor of strangled animals for the same reason, nor of marriages within certain blood bonds.

Tradition and history

The Council of Jerusalem therefore settled a doctrinal issue about circumcision and the Mosaic Law, but did it in a way that preserved peace. This is a very good model for handling questions of tradition, continuity, and conflict today. Both the theological issues and the feelings of people are very important. Peter and Paul show a remarkable respect for the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the lives of ordinary people and situations. Even when the Spirit seemed to shatter the sacred traditions that existed for centuries, Peter and Paul knew that the Holy Spirit was not bound by tradition and history.

Neither Peter nor Paul were afraid of taking their cases and questions to the leaders of the whole Church. Through prayer, fasting, consultation, and voting, decisions are made. Underlying all of this is the desire to preserve peace at all costs, without compromising on principles and human rights. After all, Jesus’ farewell gift to the Church is peace, not division and discord. Our judgments and decisions must lead us and all future generations to our final goal, the New Jerusalem established on earth, the reign of justice, joy, and peace among us.

Defense attorney

Today’s Gospel reading (John 14:23-29) reminds us that those who encounter Christ and enter into a friendly relationship with him welcome into their hearts Trinitarian Communion itself, in accordance with Jesus’ promise to his disciples: “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (14:23).

In John 14:16 Jesus says that he will send “another Advocate” to be on our side. John uses the Greek word parakletos, which literally means “one called alongside,” and a standard use of the term is for one called alongside to help in a legal situation as a defense attorney. There is a legal tone to some of what Jesus says about the Advocate, yet the picture is more exactly that of a prosecuting attorney.

Jesus himself is going to be crucified and die; in the eyes of the world he will be judged, found guilty, and convicted. Yet after his death, the “paraclete” will come forward and reverse the sentence by convicting the world and providing Jesus’ innocence (16:8-11).

Jesus was our first Advocate with the Father. The new Advocate is not a kind of a proxy sent to replace the absent Lord: on the contrary, it assures his presence as well as the Father’s. They will “come to” the one who remains faithful to Jesus’ word, and they will dwell “with” him. Not with the others – those who do not love the Lord and do not keep his word.

The Paraclete dwells in everyone who loves Jesus and keeps the commandments, and so his presence is not limited by time (14:15-17). This may be the way in which the coming of the Paraclete is “better.” These words of Jesus about the Paraclete illustrate beautifully how the audience to which he speaks at the Last Supper extends beyond those present at that moment in history. Jesus’ words are also addressed to us today.

The Paraclete is just as present in the modern disciples of Jesus as he was in the first generation. No one should think that Jesus has abandoned his Church in our times. He continues to send us God’s Spirit of Truth. We are told in the Gospel that the “one whom the Father will send will teach us everything, and remind us of all that Jesus has said to us” (14:26). This reminding or calling to memory is beautifully expressed in a new term used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church to describe the work of the paraclete: “The Holy Spirit is the Church’s living memory” (#1099). The Holy Spirit will increase our gifts to the extent that we love Jesus and our brothers and sisters, dwell in his Word, obey the commandments, and generously share with others what we have so freely received.

A model

The Council of Jerusalem left us a model for dealing with difficult situations in the Church. Both the theological issues and the feelings of people were very important for the Apostles. Even when the Spirit seemed to shatter the sacred traditions that existed for centuries, Peter and Paul knew that the Holy Spirit was not bound by tradition and history. May we who follow in that same tradition and history be ever open to the working of the Spirit in our day, and in so doing be agents of the Advocate for the Church and the world.

[The readings for this Sunday are: Acts 15:1-2,22-29; Revelation 21:10-14,22-23; and John 14:23-29]

(Image: Pentecost by El Greco)

The New Jerusalem, Coming Down Out of Heaven From God

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Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C – April 24, 2016

In light of today’s second reading from the book of Revelation (21:1-5a), I wish to offer some reflections on the Holy City of Jerusalem and its important place in Christian spirituality.

There is a wonderful rabbinic saying from the Babylonian Talmud (Kiddushin 49b) that reveals heaven, earth and Jerusalem as the essential components of the Hebrew soul. The rabbis say: “As the world was being created, God gave out 10 portions of joy to the world and nine were given to Jerusalem; 10 portions of beauty God gave to the world and nine were for Jerusalem; 10 portions of suffering God gave to the world and nine were for Jerusalem.”

Jerusalem is the city where the joys, aspirations and pains of humanity converge. It is the city where dreams are dreamt and either realized or shattered. A well-known medieval map shows Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple at the center of the world, the continents of Europe, Africa, and Asia fanning out from the center like gigantic petals. It is a vision of world redemption arising from Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the heart of the world and the center of history.

The history of salvation revealed in the Bible is situated between two visions which form the beginning and the end of the human drama: The vision of paradise lost in the book of Genesis and the vision of the new Jerusalem which descends from God in the book of Revelation. We come from God, and we return to him. These two visions are the two beacons which shed their light on everything that comes between them concerning the history and fate of humankind made up of human suffering and joy.

Jerusalem in the Old Testament

Jerusalem, as a symbol of the land itself, is called holy and the city is a symbol of the assurance of the saving power of God: “Just as the mountains are around Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about His people” (Psalm 125:2). The psalmist extols the Holy City with these rousing exclamations: “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ And now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:1-2). “May my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I forget you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my greatest joy” [Psalm 137:6).

No one better anticipated Jerusalem’s future than Isaiah, the eighth-century Hebrew prophet-poet. After predicting the world’s destruction, Isaiah located his messianic vision of future redemption in Jerusalem’s hills. He prophesied that one day all the nations will end their warring and gather in final reconciliation on the highest hill, the hill called Zion (Jerusalem). From Zion, the “mountain of the house of the Lord,” the divine Law of Justice will come forth. Listen to Isaiah’s words (Isaiah 2:1-5): “In days to come the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.”

Jerusalem for Christians

The Gospel of Luke and his subsequent account of the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles depicts Jerusalem in a highly positive manner. Luke’s Gospel begins and ends in the Temple of Jerusalem. The opening scene depicts the announcement of the forthcoming conception and birth of John the Baptist to Zachary, John’s father, a priest who by lot entered the sanctuary to burn incense (Luke 1:10). The Gospel closes with the disciples of Jesus celebrating in the Temple each day as they await the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost (Luke 24:52-53).

There are other indications in early Christian Scriptures and writings of the great spiritual significance of Jerusalem. Paul’s reaching out to the Gentiles with the message of the Gospel included a constant appeal for the “poor” of the Church in Jerusalem and Judea. It was intended to symbolize the solidarity of Church members of Jewish and Gentile origins. For Paul, who contrasted the Jerusalem below and the Jerusalem above in his epistle to the Galatians, Jerusalem remained an important anchor and reference point.

Apocalyptic Jerusalem

For Christians, Jerusalem is the city of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the center of history and of the world. It is also the city whose name evokes the new city of the future: the New Jerusalem as mentioned in today’s second reading from Revelation 21. John’s wild dream speaks of a city from God, by God and with God. The author describes the New Jerusalem as the goal of human history. Jerusalem is to be a model for what life with God will be “in the end.” The Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel touched upon this theme with his description of the holy city: “JERUSALEM should be everywhere and JERUSALEM IS everywhere where a person strives for PEACE, where the heart is opened to PRAYER, to GENEROSITY, to THANKSGIVING.”

City of God for three great religions

Jerusalem is the City of God, God’s sanctuary, the place where every believer — Jew, Christian or Muslim has heard the Word of God, and because of that, wishes to adore God. This religious necessity is also an essential part of the human, individual and collective identity: It consists of persons and a people. The religious memory is also a national memory for the Jew and the Muslim in particular. For Christians, Jerusalem was and remains the Mother Church, the birthplace of the first Christian community.

Questions for reflection

Why is Jerusalem such an important city? What does Jerusalem mean for me? What aspects of Judaism and Islam have enlightened me and helped me with my own faith? How do I envision the future of Jerusalem?

When I think of the Church, what image comes to mind? How does my image of the Church reflect my experience as being part of the Church? If we are to be a living temple of God, what qualities should characterize us as church? What symbol do you think most unites us as a Christian people?

All of the inhabitants of Jerusalem are struggling today with the foundation of a society at once just and secure. The continuing drama of the Holy Land is a drama of faith. How long will religion be the cause of wars and disputes among believers? It is not for this reason that God has revealed himself to us or spoken to us in these holy places, but rather for the salvation of the human race, and for the love of humanity, the only constructive instrument and the only way that leads to justice.

How do I envision the future of Jerusalem? What religious symbols and metaphors nurture my vision of this holy city? Does my religious imagination lead me to a vision of peace and justice or does it engender feelings of hatred, exclusion and violence?

Fidelity to Jerusalem and Rome

I conclude with this prayer written by Jesuit Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, which appears in his book “Due Pellegrini per la Giustizia” (Centro Ambrosiano: Edizioni Piemme, 1992). I have prayed these words often during my years of study in both Rome and Jerusalem.

“Lord Our God,
We Praise you and we bless you for Jerusalem,
Because you have given this city to us
As the symbol of the story of God and the story of humanity;
The sign of your love for us and of your forgiveness for our sins;
The symbol of our earthly pilgrimage toward you,
A pilgrimage that involves so many difficulties and so many conflicts.

“We pray for Jerusalem and for all of our Jewish
And Arab brothers and sisters.
We give you thanks, Lord,
Because you have called us to serve Christ
And to carry his cross today in the Church,
The Church that has its center in Rome;
Since you have called us to be one with your Son,
You teach us to give a name to our oneness with him,
In the words of Ignatius of Loyola,

“The true bride of Christ our Lord, who is our Holy Mother Church
We thank you for the Church and for Rome
That is the image of unity
And the pilgrimage toward this unity,
And for the trials that we must undergo to achieve this unity.

“We ask you that we may be faithful to Jerusalem and to Rome,
To your Son and to the Church,
In this common journey of humanity
Toward the heart of the Trinity,
Toward the contemplation of your face
Of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.”

[The readings for the 5th Sunday of Easter are: Acts 14:21-27; Revelation 21:1-5a; John 13:31-33a, 34-35]

(Image: Jerusalem and the Temple by James Tissot)

Funeral Homily for Gaetano Gagliano (1917 – 2016)

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Funeral Homily for Gaetano Gagliano (1917 – 2016)
St. Clare of Assisi Church – Woodbridge, Ontario
April 18, 2016

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

Your Eminence Cardinal Collins,
Brother Priests,
Dear Sisters, especially of the Pauline Family,
Carissima Giuseppina and my adopted Gagliano brothers and sisters,
Friends in Christ,

Gaetano Gagliano would be thrilled to see this crowd assembled in his beautiful parish church of St. Clare of Assisi today – not because you have come to honor him, but rather that you have come to adore the Lord and thank God for Gaetano’s life.

The first reading from the Book of Wisdom describes so well what we now experience: “[Gaetano’s] passing away is thought an affliction and his going forth from us, utter destruction.”  But Solomon’s Wisdom also offers us this reassuring message: “the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them…. They are at peace.” We grieve and are sad, yet isn’t it consoling to know that Gaetano, whom we loved so much, is now in the hand of God and he will not experience any torment or suffering again?  

Gaetano was husband, father, grandfather, uncle, friend and business colleague to each of us because he was alive with God every day of his life. It was not only intelligence, savvy and success that made these things happen; it was also a humble, biblical wisdom that animated his life. Gaetano’s mantra was: “Never forget that money is useful, but it also dangerous. You have worked and received your reward. Many others cannot work or have not succeeded as we have. Do not be arrogant and selfish. Never close the door to those who ask for help.” It was from that storehouse of God-given wisdom that Gaetano nourished us. Gaetano was a clever man but also a very wise man because God was always at the centre of his life.

No one who knew Gaetano needed to ask what motivated and then sustained his profound familial, ecclesial, social and charitable concern. It was rooted in his belief that we are children of a good, just and loving God, and that every human life was sacred; each of us is our brother’s and sister’s keeper.  Many speak of the Gagliano family philanthropy to so many causes.  But this generosity finds its roots in the deepest meaning of the Greek word “philanthopia” which means hospitality, love of human beings and kindness.  These were the gifts and qualities that Gaetano passed on to his entire family.  

As we gathered around his deathbed in the family home in Woodbridge early last Thursday morning, the words of St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy were etched in our minds and hearts: “I have competed well; I have finished the race;I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance… . But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it.”

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But it is today’s Gospel reading that provides us with a penetrating, personal insight into Gaetano’s life among us.  This Easter Gospel story of Jesus and Peter is set against the incredibly beautiful backdrop of the Sea of Galilee. When Peter decides to go fishing, there is a certain feeling of resignation about it, alluding to the depression and discouragement he and the other disciples must have experienced after Jesus’ death. This simple narrative offers us one of the most personal and moving commissioning stories in the Bible.  “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?  Do you love me?  Are you my friend?” [Jn 21:15] Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus during the trial and crucifixion is now canceled out by the three-fold declaration of love. There are many other questions which we can imagine Jesus having asked Peter concerning his suitability for ministry.  For example, “Simon, son of John, are you aware of the responsibilities that you are undertaking? Do you realize your weakness?  Have you thought that it is difficult to bear others’ burdens?  “Simon, son of John, do you understand?  Are you aware of how many people about you are in need of help: the poor, the hungry, the sick, the needy, and the lonely?  Where will you find bread enough to give them something to eat?” But Jesus sums them all up in a single, basic question: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?  Are you really my friend?” 

Ten years ago, as Gaetano and I were preparing to film one of the more than 150 episodes of “In Conversazione”, he arrived in our Salt and Light studios all ready to go. For Gaetano, it was always “lights, camera, action” no matter what the theme or the program!  That particular episode was meant for the Easter season. Though his theological vocabulary was limited, Gaetano’s mind and heart were constantly on fire! I was planning to discuss with him today’s passage from John’s gospel.  When I read the story to Gaetano before the cameras started rolling, he said to me: “Padre Thomas, why did Jesus have to ask Peter three times if he loved him?  What’s wrong with Peter? You would think that Peter would have realized just who this man was and not need the question asked three times!” Gaetano told me: “If Peter were here now, I would let him know just who Jesus was!”  We enjoyed a good laugh together! I am sure that Gaetano has had a few good conversations with Peter by now to clear this matter up once and for all!

Simon, son of John, do you love me? “Follow me.” Those words were also addressed to Gaetano at so many moments of his long, fruitful life. As a young boy Gaetano heard the Lord’s voice speaking to him: “Gaetano, son of Francesco, mi ami tu? Do you love me? Then leave your home in that small farming town of Cattolica di Eraclea in Sicily and go to Padre Giacomo Alberione in Alba to begin your studies for the priesthood.” But very frail health prevented this poor, young country boy from pursuing that path. Twice he was sent back home from the seminary by Fr. Alberione, who told Gaetano that perhaps another vocation awaited him. Gaetano followed the Lord’s voice through the guidance of that wise, holy priest.

Gaetano would hear the Lord’s summons again at age 38. “Gaetano, son of Francesco e Giuseppina, mi ami tu? Do you love me? Then leave your homeland and travel to Canada, with Giuseppina your wife, five small children and forty dollars in your pocket. Some would consider this leap of faith to be pure folly.  For Gaetano, he had all that was necessary to begin a new life in a foreign land: faith, family and a desire to make a difference.  By day he laid tracks for the railroad and by night he printed wedding invitations and business cards in his basement. Laid off from the railroad, he became the sole employee, working day and night at what would later become St. Joseph Corporation.

Gaglianos at Mass
“Gaetano, son of Francesco e Giuseppina, mi ami tu? Do you love me? Let your family grow… five children would become ten.  Gaetano followed the Lord once again in building a deeply Catholic, Christian family. Together  with Giuseppina they would become grandparents to 35 beautiful grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.

Still another time Gaetano heard the Lord’s call, this time through a dream in which Fr. Alberione appeared to Gaetano in the late 1990’s.  “Gaetano, son of Francesco e Giuseppina, mi ami tu? Do you love me? Then do something for mass media. You must start a television network!”  What humor the Lord has when he invites people to follow him!  A man who knew nothing about television and technology finds a priest who knows even less and together we decided to follow the Lord in this great adventure now known as Salt and Light Television. Little did I ever imagine that I, too, would be used by the Lord to help fulfill a dream and a vision passed on to an old man of 86 years who was truly evergreen!  That dream, inspired by the Lord and mediated by Blessed James Alberione, founder of the Pauline Family – five Religious Congregations, four Institutes of Consecrated Secular Life, and a Lay Association – was the wind beneath Gaetano’s wings these past 13 years.

One year ago, Gaetano heard the Lord’s call once again. “Gaetano, son of Francesco, mi ami tu? Follow me on the cross of physical suffering.” A debilitating stroke did not make him waver, even in his inability to speak and move freely. Gaetano reminded us that aging and suffering are a natural part of being human.  In a land where an insidious law of euthanasia seems to have the upper hand, and where the old and infirm are so easily put away in nursing homes and often forgotten, Gaetano was a timely and powerful reminder that our parents and grandparents, the sick, the handicapped and the dying have great value.  How blessed we all were to witness his stamina, courage, faith and love even under the guise of physical suffering over the past year! How blessed was Gaetano to receive a care that was palliative, loving, generous and compassionate! Increasingly Gaetano entered into the communion of Christ’s sufferings; he understood the truth of the words: “Someone else will fasten a belt around you.” And in this very communion with the suffering Lord, Gaetano proclaimed the Gospel with the acceptance of his suffering.

How many times have those of us close to Gaetano heard his deep regret in not fulfilling his initial dream of becoming a priest with Fr. Alberione! Several years ago Gaetano and I had a heart-to-heart talk and I told him that to some along the way, Jesus issues the invitation “Come, follow me,” but to Gaetano, he says “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” I assured Gaetano that his was one of the most priestly lives I have ever encountered. For our baptism marks us all as a priestly people.  A priestly person is one who spends himself gladly for others and lays down his life for his friends. The opposite of a priestly life is a consumer who merely buys, spends and amasses wealth and people for himself or herself.  I reminded Gaetano that Jesus never rejected his application for discipleship and ministry, but accepted it fully. For who better than Gaetano Gagliano would have enough clout and credibility to preach the Jesus story? Who better than Gaetano would be able to speak with such conviction and passion about marriage, fidelity, family life, love, charity, kindness, business ethics, hope and generosity?

Early last Thursday morning, Gaetano heard the Lord’s voice for the last time on earth. “Gaetano, son of Francesco e Giuseppina, mi ami tu? Do you love me?  Follow me.”  I am certain that Gaetano’s response was very much like Peter’s: “Lord, You know everything.  You know that I love you.”

The love of Christ was the dominant force in Gaetano’s life.  Gaetano always recognized himself as a sinner in need of God’s boundless mercy. Let us give thanks to God for the life and witness of Gaetano Gagliano. Let us thank God for the myriad of ways that we were touched by him and for the lessons we learned from him.  Let us commend him to God’s mercy and love, pray for the forgiveness of his sins, the repose of his soul, and beg the Lord to give Gaetano the crown of righteousness that awaits him because the Lord stood by him and gave him strength, so that through him, the proclamation of the Gospel was completed and many nations welcomed it because of him.

[L’amore di Cristo fu la forza dominante nella vita di Gaetano. Gaetano si è sempre riconosciuto come un peccatore bisognoso della misericordia infinita di Dio. Rendiamo grazie a Dio per la vita e la testimonianza di Gaetano Gagliano. Rendiamo grazie a Dio per la miriade di modi in cui siamo stati toccati da lui e per le lezioni che abbiamo imparato da lui. Affidiamo Gaetano alla misericordia e all’amore di Dio. Preghiamo per il perdono dei suoi peccati, il riposo della sua anima, e preghiamo il Signore di dare a Gaetano la corona di giustizia che lo attende, perché il Signore gli stava vicino e gli dava forza.  Potremo dire con fiducia che attraverso la vita e la vocazione di Gaetano Gagliano, l’annuncio del Vangelo è stato completato e molte nazioni lo hanno accolto a causa di lui.]

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