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We can, we should, and we must: A call to hope for our Common Home

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Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter Laudato Sì: Reflecting One Year Later

In May 2006, former US Vice President Al Gore released the groundbreaking documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” While climate change debate has continued ever since, while concrete solutions seem to drip slower than maple sap in March. The question remains: are we willing to deal with this inconvenient but vital truth?

One year ago tomorrow, Pope Francis called humanity to a virtue that scarcely appeared in the environmental discourse of our era: hope. His landmark encyclical Laudato Sì on Care for our Common Home was a striking reminder that we can do something, we should do something, and we must do something. “Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home,” the Pope states (no. 13). “Hope would have us recognize that there is always a way out, that we can always redirect our steps, that we can always do something to solve our problems… Still,” the Pope admits, “we can see signs that things are now reaching a breaking point” (no. 61).

What are Francis’ proposals faced with such a breaking point? His first recommendation is “a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (no. 14). Science, religion, indigenous peoples, and the international community – every stratus of the human family has a role to play in this universal exchange with universal consequences.

But genuine change cannot be driven only at a societal level. The effectiveness of laws and regulations is limited, even when properly enforced. What is needed instead is a “selfless ecological commitment” on the part of the individual women and men of our time. Using less heating and wearing warmer clothing, the avoidance of disposable products, the reduction of water usage, recycling, purchasing and preparing a reasonable amount of food, turning off lights: “We must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world. They benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread” (no. 212).

For Pope Francis, caring for our environment also entails caring for one another. How could we care for the family home without caring for our brothers and sisters, and vice versa? “We are always capable of going out of ourselves towards the other.” We must concern ourselves with “caring for things for the sake of others,” restraining our consumption “to avoid the suffering of others or the deterioration of our surroundings.” Spurning self-centeredness and self-absorption in favour of “disinterested concern for others… [is] essential if we truly wish to care for our brothers and sisters and for the natural environment” (208).

What is the inconvenient truth? Things are not as they should be and something must be done. The question remains: what are we going to do about it? The truth is, there is still hope that we can.

Abounding in Fruitfulness: Chapter Five of Amoris Laetitia

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Reflecting on the Fifth Chapter of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family

“You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit… Thus you will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16-18, 20)

Fruitfulness is the focus of the fifth chapter of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on love in the family, Amoris Laetitia. What kind of fruit does the love of man and woman bear? What are the signs of this fruit in the world? From where is this fruit born? What is its significance for the family, for the Church, and for society? Pope Francis outlines how love overflows from the couple to the family, which they “co-create” together with God. The love of husband and wife not only inhabits the nuclear family but also flows to their extended family. The love that originates in the family spreads to unify the whole human family, and bind us together as brothers and sisters.

“Love always gives life” Pope Francis proclaims (Amoris Laetitia, 165)! Divine love gives life! Human love gives life! Love is life-giving! In the family, we see this life most concretely in the birth of children, born of their parents’ love. In this way married love mirrors the love of God – whose love is at the origin of everything that exists. The father and mother participate in the ongoing creative work of God by being His instruments in bringing forth a child that is at once His and theirs.

Their son or daughter is a “reflection of their love” who is to be “welcomed as a gift from God” (165-166). As the life-giving love between spouses mirrors the love of God, so too does parents’ love for their children. Like God’s love, it is a love that “first loves us” (1 John 4:19). Parents love their children “even before they arrive.” Children “are loved before having done anything to deserve it” (166). They are loved just because they are. Though it is often difficult to realize, it is the same with God’s love for each one of us.

Pope Francis contrasts this gratuitous love of parents for their children with the stark reality of many children today. “Rejected, abandoned, robbed of their childhood and their future” – this is the sad situation of too many children across the globe. In the words of Pope Francis: “This is shameful!” Indeed, “when speaking of children who come into the world, no sacrifice made by adults will be considered too costly or too great, if it means the child never has to feel that he or she is a mistake, or worthless or abandoned to the four winds and the arrogance of man” (166).

In a world where “scientific advances” allow us to know a child’s hair colour and potential illnesses even before his or her first breath, how important it is for every child “to feel wanted” and to be received as a gift. “We love our children because they are children, not because they are beautiful, or look or think as we do, or embody our dreams. We love them because they are children. A child is a child. The love of parents is the means by which God our Father shows his own love. He awaits the birth of each child, accepts that child unconditionally, and welcomes him or her freely” (170). The parents’ love bears fruit in the life that they give to their children, but also in the love that children receive from their parents for their entire lives. This is true even when the parents are not genetically related to their children. “Adoption is a very generous way to become parents…and not only in cases of infertility” (179, 180).

Children are a “living reflection” and “permanent sign” of the love between man and woman. Yet the fruitfulness of family love can also be experienced in many other ways. Caring for parents, reaching out to members of the extended family, embracing those in need, contributing to the good of the local community and the wider society – all are means by which the love experienced in the family flows outwards to “humanize” the world and create “human bonds” between the women and men of our day. Pope Francis aptly observes that “the family introduces fraternity into the world. From this initial experience of fraternity, nourished by affection and education at home, the style of fraternity radiates like a promise upon the whole of society” (194). This is not only a theological ideal, but an urgent call and opportunity to respond to the real needs of our time – aiding teenage mothers, assisting refugees, visiting the aging, helping young people who suffer from addictions, giving affection to handicapped persons, and reaching out to those afflicted by divorce and separation (197).

The fruitfulness of love not only radiates throughout society, it also warms and illuminates the Church. The family is fertile ground in which the seeds of faith can be sown and bear fruit from generation to generation. In this way the family is, as the Second Vatican Council noted, “a domestic church” (Lumen Gentium, 11). Families are beacons that radiate the light of Christ’s love to their friends, neighbours, and to society at large. Families are little communities of evangelization, because they are places where the Good News can be lived and spread to the world. “By their witness as well as their words, families speak to others of Jesus. They pass on the faith, they arouse a desire for God and they reflect the beauty of the Gospel and its way of life” (184). Here Pope Francis astutely observes that “very often it is grandparents who ensure that the most important values are passed down to their grandchildren, and many people can testify that they owe their initiation into the Christian life to their grandparents” (192). Saint John Paul II’s words about the future of humanity (Familiaris Consortio, 86) could likewise be said of the Church: “The future of the Church passes through the family”! As Pope Francis states earlier in Amoris Laetitia: “The Church is good for the family, and the family is good for the Church,” for the Church is itself a “family of families” (87)!

Thus the fertile love of man and woman bears fruit in the children they bear, in the family members for whom they care, in those in need to whom they reach out, in the human family as a whole, and in the life of the family of families: the Church. The love in families bears fruit, it humanizes, it educates, it spreads goodness and warmth. The love in families gives a home where faith can be learned and lived. The love in families is God’s instrument for the life of each person and the life of the world.

Loving in Ways Great and Small: Chapter Four of Amoris Laetitia

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Reflecting on the Fourth Chapter of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family

“Love and marriage, love and marriage, they go together like a horse and carriage!” So crooned Francis Albert “Frank” Sinatra in the 1950s. Sixty years later, another Francis is repeating the same lyrics, albeit with a slightly more magisterial melody.

In the fourth chapter of his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, on Love in the Family, Pope Francis sets out to “speak of love” between husband and wife in a chapter entitled “Love in Marriage” (Amoris Laetitia, 89). Beginning with profound and practical meditations on the verses of Saint Paul’s renowned Hymn to Love in 1 Corinthians 13, Pope Francis outlines all the various dimensions and manifestations of love in order to provide concrete advice for loving in daily life.

“Love is patient,
love is kind;
love is not jealous or boastful;
it is not arrogant or rude.
Love does not insist on its own way,
It is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrong,
but rejoices in the right.
Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things
endures all things” (1 Cor 13:4-7)

The Pope reflects poignantly on each of these “features of true love” (90), spending at least two paragraphs on each (91-119). These enriching reflections on the daily demands of human love truly deserve to be read in their entirety.

Particularly powerful are the Pope’s words about loves avoidance of jealousy and arrogance. “Love has no room for discomfiture at another person’s good fortune. Envy is a form of sadness provoked by another’s prosperity; it shows we are not concerned for the happiness of others but only with our own well-being. Whereas love makes us rise above ourselves, envy closes us in on ourselves. True love values the other person’s achievements. It does not see him or her as a threat… it strives to discover its own road to happiness, while allowing others to find theirs” (95). “Those who love not only refrain from speaking too much about themselves, but are focused on others; they do not need to be the centre of attention.” This means that “we do not become ‘puffed up’ before others.” Those who are arrogant have “an obsession with showing off and a loss of the sense of reality. Such people think that, because they are more ‘spiritual’ or ‘wise,’ they are more important than they really are.” Here the Pope uses Saint Paul’s adage that, “Knowledge puffs up,” whereas “love builds up” (1 Cor 8:1). “What really makes us important,” according to Pope Francis, “is a love that understands, shows concern, and embraces the weak,” this is “the real ‘power’ of the Spirit” (97).

Here Pope Francis offers very practical advice for Catholics with family members who are “less knowledgeable about the faith, weak or less sure in their convictions.” How important it is “for Christians show their love by the way they treat family members” in these situations. “At times the opposite occurs: the supposedly mature believers within the family become unbearably arrogant. Love, on the other hand, is marked by humility; if we are to understand, forgive and serve others from the heart, our pride has to be healed and our humility must increase” (98). If we are called to witness to God who is love, what a poor witness we offer by proclaiming Love in a way that does not show love.

In calling us to strive to love with self-giving generosity, Pope Francis employs the help of Saint Thomas Aquinas. In a way that echoes the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, the Angelic Doctor explains in the Summa Theologiae that “it is more proper to charity to desire to love than to desire to be love.” Indeed, “mothers, who are those who love the most, seek to love more than to be loved.” The Pope thus directs our attention to the fact that “love can transcend and overflow the demands of justice, ‘expecting nothing in return’ (Lk 6:35), and the greatest of loves can lead to ‘laying down one’s life’ for another (cf. Jn 15:13). Can such generosity, which enables us to give freely and fully, really be possible? Yes, because it is demanded by the Gospel: ‘You received without pay, give without pay’ (Mt 10:8)” (102).

Pope Francis once again offers practical advice in proclaiming a love that forgives. In forgiving others, we must first “have had the experience of being forgiven by God… If we accept that God’s love is unconditional, that the Father’s love cannot be bought or sold, then we will become capable of showing boundless love and forgiving others even if they have wronged us” (108). “My advice,” says the Pope, “is never to let the day end without making peace in the family. ‘And how am I going to make peace? By getting down on my knees? No! Just by a small gesture, a little something, and harmony with your family will be restored” (104). Pope Francis goes on to outline his “three essential words” that “daily protect and nurture love” in the family: ‘Please,’ ‘Thank you,’ and ‘Sorry’ (133).

Following his masterful meditations on Saint Paul’s Hymn to Love, Pope Francis delves into the mystery and reality of married love. “Marriage is the icon of God’s love for us… Starting with the simple ordinary things of life [spouses] can make visible the love which with Christ loves his Church and continues to give her life for her” (121). Marriage is thus the “greatest form of friendship” other than God’s love for us (123), in which human love is “infused by the Holy Spirit” so that men and women become “capable of loving one another as Christ loved us” (120).

To nurture this friendship across the years and decades requires a love that perceives the beauty in the other person, and gives them space to be the person God has created them to be. Pope Francis says that love can be deeply expressed as a “gaze” which sees the great worth of the other deserves our unconditional love. This gaze of love gives space for the crucial dialogue that enables relationships, among spouses especially, to continue to deepen and flourish. Here the Pope’s advice is simple: “Take time, quality time. This means being ready to listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say… Do not be rushed, put aside all of your own needs and worries, and make space… Develop the habit of giving real importance to the other person” (137-138).

In speaking of married love, Pope Francis offers us a blueprint for loving concretely and sincerely amidst the clamour of daily life. He calls us to love authentically and to realize that this love is most often expressed in very small ways, not only in great gestures. Being humble, saying please, asking for forgiveness, letting the other person speak – all are small things that expressing extraordinary love in ordinary ways. Beyond the lyrics Frank Sinatra, perhaps the most eloquent summary of this fourth chapter of Amoris Laetitia comes to us from Mother Teresa: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

(CNS Photo/Paul Haring)

Christ at the Heart of the Family: Chapter Three of Amoris Laetitia

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Reflecting on the Third Chapter of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family

Jesus Christ is at the heart of the family. Only in the light of his love can the love of the family be fully illuminated. This is the message of Pope Francis in the third chapter of Amoris Laetitia. He uses the chapter to “summarize the Church’s teachings on marriage and the family.” Beginning with “the gaze of Jesus,” Pope Francis calls the Church to see and follow the way of the Lord, who “looked upon the women and men whom he met with love and tenderness, accompanying their steps in truth, patience and mercy as he proclaimed the demands of the Kingdom of God” (Amoris Laetitia, 60).

Jesus in Marriage and the Family

Jesus is the key to understanding family life because, “The mystery of the Christian family can be fully understood only in the light of the Father’s infinite love revealed in Christ, who gave himself up for our sake and who continues to dwell in our midst” (59). From this Christ-centered perspective, the Pope examines the beauty of married life and the family that is born of its fruitfulness. In the person of Jesus Christ, God has entered the human reality and human drama. Human love and divine love have met like never before. God descends to transform human love and enables it to reach divine heights. God has taken on flesh. Love itself has become incarnate. We thus realize that, “The sacrament of marriage flows from the incarnation and the paschal mystery, whereby God showed the fullness of his love for humanity by becoming one of us. Neither of the spouses will be alone in facing whatever challenges may come their way” (74). For in the midst of Christian marriage God is always present, strengthening the love of each spouse for one another by the power of His love for each of them.

Because of God’s grace at work in the sacrament of marriage, the sexual union of man and woman becomes a path of sanctity for the spouses (74). This is because through the sacrament, Christ sanctifies the loving union of woman and man. “Only in contemplating Christ does a person come to know the deepest truth about human relationships. ‘Only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light…’” (77). Christian marriage thus consists of “mutual support on the path towards complete friendship with the Lord” (77).

The Approach of the Pastor

In the midst of this beautifully Christocentric vision, Pope Francis remains ever aware of the “imperfect” realities of modern families and marriages, Christian and non-Christian alike. Since “the light of Christ enlightens every person,” the Pope stresses that “seeing things with the eyes of Christ” means not only caring for those in good, happy, healthy family situations, but is also the basis of the Church’s pastoral care for those “who are living together, or are only married civilly, or are divorced and remarried” (78). In their pastoral care of those in “difficult situations and wounded families,” Pope Francis tells priests and bishops that “while clearly stating the Church’s teachings,” they are to “avoid judgments that do not take into account the complexity of various situations.” Moreover, pastors are “to be attentive, by necessity, to how people experience and endure distress because of their condition” (79).

Pastors are not to be turned off by the smell of their sheep! Rather, they are to care for their lambs as they are, seeking especially those most lost and in danger. To help them in this effort, Pope Francis reasserts the principle that Saint John Paul II outlined by in Familiaris Consortio: “Pastors must know that, for the sake of the truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations” (79; cf. FC 84). The typically Ignatian principle of discernment thus emerges as a key to Francis’ pastoral approach to the family.

The Unity of Life and Love

The Holy Father likewise addresses the questions of life that arise from love in the family, specifically contraception and artificial means of procreation. Affirming that “sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman,” the Pope underlines the reality that this conjugal union is ordered “by its very nature” to procreation (80). “The child who is born ‘does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving as its fruit and fulfilment’” (80). Here the Pope beautifully states that, “From the outset, love refuses every impulse to close in on itself; it is open to a fruitfulness that draws it beyond itself” (80). Pope Francis concludes that the sexual embrace of husband and wife must always remain open to the possibility of life, “even when for various reasons it may not always in fact beget a new life” (80).

Accordingly, new life finds its proper birthplace in the context of love between a man and a woman. “A child deserves to be born of that love, and not by any other means, for ‘he or she is not something owed to one, but is a gift,’ which is ‘the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of the parents” through which “man and woman share in the work of [God’s] creation” (81). Closedness to life robs the sexual union of its profound meaning. Removing the origin of life from the cradle of human love estranges it from its truest identity. The love of man and woman is meant to mirror the love of God, which is never closed in on itself, but springs forth from its very heart the beauty of new life.

In this way, love – and especially love between a man and woman – can be compared to water that overflows from a cup. The very nature of love is to overflow. If it ceases to overflow, no matter how much water is in the cup, the water will stagnate and gradually evaporate, and the cup will become dry. It no longer teems with fresh, life-giving water that flows outward beyond itself. So it is even in the spiritual life: God’s love is poured into us in order to flow out of us.

God has intended the married couple to be a fount where love overflows and gives life. God Himself is the Source of this love and the Giver of the life that flows from it. With Jesus Christ, Love incarnate, at its centre, the family is the place where, despite many difficulties, love and life overflow in abundance.

(Image: CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Proposing the Positive and the Pastoral: Chapter Two of Amoris Laetitia

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Reflecting on the Second Chapter of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family

“We have long thought that simply by stressing doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues, without encouraging openness to grace, we were providing sufficient support to families, strengthening the marriage bond and giving meaning to marital life. We find it difficult to present marriage more as a dynamic path to personal development and fulfillment than as a lifelong burden… We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them… Yet we have often been on the defensive, wasting pastoral energy on denouncing a decadent world without being proactive in proposing ways of finding true happiness” (Amoris Laetitia 37-38).

With these powerful sentences, Pope Francis sets out an approach to the modern family that is at once positive and pastoral. In the second chapter of Amoris Laetitia, “The Experiences and Challenges of Families,” Pope Francis begins by noting that, “the welfare of the family is decisive for the future of the world and that of the Church” (31). He thus considers the concrete realities and current problems facing families, and exhorts the Church to contribute constructively to solutions rather than simply calling out shortcomings.

Pope Francis courageously admits that, “Many people feel that the Church’s message on marriage and the family does not clearly reflect the preaching and attitudes of Jesus, who sets forth a demanding ideal yet never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individuals like the Samaritan woman or the woman caught in adultery” (38). The modern technological age provides further challenges to the formation of families, proposing a “culture of the ephemeral” where we move rapidly from relationship to relationship, connecting and disconnecting in a way that “blocks,” “disposes,” and “uses” others, and rendering ourselves “incapable of looking beyond themselves” (39). Loneliness is also an obstacle to family life, “arising from the absence of God in a person’s life and the fragility of relationships” (43), exacerbating a culture of promiscuity and preventing people from the sense of encounter that leads to meaningful relationships. In such a cultural context, “We need to find the right language, arguments and forms of witness that can help us reach the hearts of young people, appealing to their capacity for generosity, commitment, love and even heroism, and in this way inviting them to take up the challenge of marriage with enthusiasm and courage” (40).

The Pope is not blind to very real problems facing families across the globe. Unemployment and obsession with work, poverty and lack of affordable housing, polygamy and the mistreatment of women, addictions and substance abuse, migration caused by political conflicts and economic instability – all threaten the flourishing of the family, and can even lead families to break up through divorce or separation. “In such difficult situations of need, the Church must be particularly concerned to offer understanding, comfort and acceptance, rather than imposing straightaway a set of rules that only lead people to feel judged and abandoned by the very Mother called to show them God’s mercy. Rather than offering the healing power of grace and the light of the Gospel message, some would ‘indoctrinate’ that message, turning it into ‘dead stones to be hurled at others’” (49).

Here Pope Francis manifests his desire for a Church that is a field hospital in the middle of a battlefield, not an elite enclave of the pious and perfect. Healing wounds. Prescribing the medicine of mercy. Meeting people where they’re at and not simply pointing to where they “should be.” Leading people to God instead of lamenting a presumed godlessness. In a way, Pope Francis is proposing the approach that Jesus provides by giving us the Beatitudes: transcending commandments of negation (“Thou shall not…”) to provide a positive call to holiness and happiness that blesses without judging. With him, let us “seek new forms of missionary creativity” and “offer a word of truth and hope” (57). In so doing, may we transform with charity of Christ and the grace of the Gospel a world challenged in so many ways.

Julian Paparella is an intern with Salt and Light, currently working in the Montreal office.

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Holy Door opens at Midland – Perspectives Daily

Tonight on Perspectives: Pope Francis speaks of missionaries; the Holy Door opens at Midland; and a special report on the Prayer Vigil to Dry Tears.

Between Two Trinities: Chapter One of Amoris Laetitia

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Reflecting on the First Chapter of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family

Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation on love in the family, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”), is a treasure trove reflecting the beauty of family life. In his introductory paragraphs the Holy Father uses the image of a “multifaceted gem” (4) to describe the two Synods of Bishops on the Family that preceded his exhortation, given the many dimensions, questions, and concerns raised by the Synod Fathers. Indeed, the Pope has given us a veritable gem in his most recent document! Over the coming weeks, let us take one chapter at a time and discover the beauty within, beginning with Chapter One.

Titled “In the Light of the Word,” Pope Francis begins Amoris Laetitia with “an opening chapter inspired by the Scriptures, to set a proper tone” (6). Pope Francis unearths the biblical wisdom that provides the roots for the Church’s understanding of the family. He reveals the profound connection between family life and the life of the Trinity. While God is utterly transcendent – beyond us in every respect – He has nevertheless created us to share in His life and work, indeed to reflect his very nature (10). As Saint John Paul II beautifully proclaimed in his Theology of the Body, we are not only created in the image and likeness of God individually, but in our communion with one another, and especially in the union of man and woman.

“The couple that loves and begets life is a true, living icon… capable of revealing God the Creator and Saviour. For this reason, fruitful love becomes a symbol of God’s inner life” (11). Love cannot be experienced alone; we cannot love or be loved in a vacuum! Love is always shared among persons, in the case of the Trinity and in every human family. As Pope Francis writes, “the triune God is a communion of love, and the family is its living icon.” God is revealed in the love of man and woman, and His life as a Trinity of three Persons is reflected in the community the couple forms around them: the family. The family is thus related to “God’s very being” (11).

What a revelatory understanding! We are made in the image and likeness of God and therefore made to share our lives with one another, just as His life is a life shared between the Father, Son, and Hoy Spirit. To be made in the image and likeness of God is to be made to be together and to live with one another. And this sharing of life reflects the shared life of God Himself!

Pope Francis contrasts this belonging for which we are made with the solitude experienced by Adam before the creation of Eve (12). He points to the “sombre” causes of this solitude in our world today – notably family problems and disputes, tragedies and violence, rivalries between siblings and between parents, and divorce (19, 20). Jesus is not blind to these very real struggles and challenges of family life, he “knows the anxieties and tensions experienced by families and he weaves them into his parables” (21). The solution offered by the Pope is a virtue so characteristic of the ministry and teaching of Christ, “one often overlooked in our world of frenetic and superficial relationships. It is tenderness” (28).

Holy FamilyHow evident this tenderness is in the family in which God himself dwelt. Here we see another “trinity” that each family is called to model: the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The Father could have sent the Son by many different means. God could have entered humanity in many ways. Yet as Pope Francis powerfully said during the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, “And where did He send His Son – to a palace? To a city? No. He sent Him to a family. God sent Him amid a family.” The family is thus a place where the love of God can dwell. Where God Himself can dwell. Indeed, the family mirrors that communion of love that is God Himself – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

By this first chapter of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis is calling all families to be places where God can dwell, because the family images God. In the joy of loving and being loved by one another, we come to know the joy of loving and being loved by God.

Julian Paparella is an intern with Salt and Light, currently working in the Montreal office.

(CNS Photo/Paul Haring)

St. Bernard of Clairvaux: Mellifluous Monasticism

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Memorial: August 20

Considered the last of the Fathers of the Church, St. Bernard of Clairvaux has been celebrated for centuries as a man of great intellect and greater holiness. As is evident in his prolific writings, Bernard was one for whom the Word of God impregnated every aspect of the human experience. He knew the Bible by heart and was said to speak and write scripturally.

Relying solely on the pages of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Early Church Fathers in the development of his theology, Bernard rejected philosophical traditions that detracted from the integrity of the faith, and dismissed those who sought knowledge for the sake of curiosity, personal profit, or their own renown. In his seminal collection of sermons on the Song of Songs, he wrote: “There are also those who seek knowledge in order to edify, and this is charity. And there are those who seek knowledge in order to be edified, and this is prudence.”

Bernard’s theology was mirrored in his spirituality, which was grounded in his love of Sacred Scripture and his special devotion to the Blessed Virgin. He was a champion of Lectio Divina — the prayerful reading of Bible passages, and a leading figure in the explosion of Marian devotion that dominated Catholic piety in the twelfth century. For Bernard, life was a radical experience with the love of God; his was a life of fraternity, asceticism, and a daily encounter with the humanity of Christ. Love for Christ, he said, is the first step to genuine prayer.

Born in 1090 to a Burgundian family of great wealth and prestige, in 1113, he entered the premier Cistercian monastery at Cîteaux accompanied by thirty noblemen he had convinced to join him. His life’s work would be the renewal of the Cistercian order and monastic life in general, in addition to the refinement of Marian devotion and theology. Within three years of his arrival at Cîteaux, he was sent to establish a Cistercian house at Vallée d’Absinthe, which as abbot he renamed Claire Vallée, or Clairvaux. From Clairvaux, the “Valley of Lights,” he would reignite the vigour and vibrancy of Western monasticism, and return it to its roots through strict adherence to the austere Rule of St. Benedict. After overcoming its initial growing pains, under Bernard’s guidance the abbey would attract a flurry of postulants, including the saint’s widower father and five brothers.

Before long three more Cistercian monasteries would spring up to accommodate the overflow of vocations flocking to Clairvaux. All in all, Bernard’s work resulted in the foundation of 163 Cistercian monasteries across Europe. At the time of his death on this day in 1153, Clarivaux boasted 700 religious and 363 monasteries attributed their establishment to his influence. The adept abbot was known for his affection for his brother monks, and his reintegration of manual labour into the daily life of the monk, following the model and motto of St. Benedict: Ora et labora, “work and prayer.”

In addition to his pastoral duties as abbot, Bernard played an key role in the suppression of numerous heresies that arose in his day, and was charged with preaching the Second Crusade, which under his spiritual direction was wildly successful in attracting recruits: common-folk and nobility alike. In his day, he was among the most influential figures in all of Christendom, admired as the “conscience of all Europe.” He secured the election of Pope Innocent II over the antipope Analectus III, and in 1145 his disciple and confrere, Bernardo of Pisa, became Eugenius III. The example and influence of St. Bernard’s austerity revolutionized the practice of Western monasticism, and prompted Pope Alexander III’s formulation of the Code of Canon Law. His canonization in 1174 made him the first Cistercian monk to be raised to the glory of the altar, and his eloquence as a preacher gained him the title Doctor Mellifluus, which means “Honey-Sweet” or “Honey-tongued” Doctor. For ages untold, the great abbot of Clairvaux will be extolled for what Pius XII termed the “brilliance of [his] doctrine and splendor of [his] holiness” (Doctor Mellifluus 2).

May we look to his life as an example of the beauty of our faith and the simplicity with which we are to live it out. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, today and always, pray for us!

An excerpt from Sermon 83 of St. Bernard’s Sermons on the Song of Songs

“Love is sufficient of itself; it gives pleasure by itself and because of itself. It is its own merit, its own reward. Love looks for no cause outside itself, no effect beyond itself. Its profit lies in its practice. I love because I love; I love that I may love. Love is a great thing so long as it continually returns to its fountainhead, flows back to its source, always drawing from there the water which constantly replenishes it. Of all the movements, sensations and feelings of the soul, love is the only one in which the creature can respond to the Creator and make some sort of similar return however unequal though it be. For when God loves, all he desires is to be loved in return; the sole purpose of his love is to be loved, in the knowledge that those who love him are made happy by their love of him.
The Bridegroom’s love, or rather the love which is the Bridegroom, asks in return nothing but faithful love. Let the beloved, then, love in return.”

Memorare of St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, and sought thy intercession was left unaided.
Inspired with this confidence,
I fly unto thee O Virgin of Virgins, my Mother, to thee I come, before thee I stand sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate! Despise not my petitions, but, in thy mercy, hear and answer me.

Transformed from Misery by Mercy

Mary Magdalene Jesus cropped

On the Feast of Mary Magdalene – July 22

“Love the sinner, hate the sin.” The famous maxim first appeared in the letters of St. Augustine, when he wrote, “With love for humanity and hatred of sins.” Mohandas Ghandi later used it in his autobiography when he wrote: “Hate the sin and not the sinner.” But I can’t think of any figure who better exemplifies the essence of this phrase than Saint Mary Magdalene, whose feast the Church celebrate today.

What lessons can we learn from the life of Mary Magdalene? The Gospels reveal a woman marked by a past of demons, who encountered the forgiveness of Jesus and was forever changed. For Mary Magdalene, Jesus changed everything. Jesus was everything. His healing power in her life meant that she could no longer remain her old self, she was transformed, made new in the love of her Saviour. He set her free of the demons that possessed her so that she could pursue a path of discipleship, closely following Jesus and being part of the community of His friends.

What does this mean for us? I think each of us has experienced how easy it can be to become discouraged, disappointed, ashamed, and despairing when we see our own weakness. We can become mired in guilt, anger, and regret when we look at our own frailty and inadequacies. We spin a cocoon of negative emotion that has the power to paralyze us in our own selves. But Jesus never discourages us. He alone is perfect, and calls us to that same perfection. His power propels us onwards to the destiny for which we were created: an eternity of beholding His face, as Mary Magdalene did that bright Easter morning. Mary Magdalene shows us that there is something greater than our sinfulness, our shortcomings and the strife they cause. It is the Man she mistook for the Gardener, and His power to forgive and save us. We are miserable, but He is merciful, and His heart goes out to us. This is the very meaning of Mercy.

Mary Magdalene could have fixated on her demons and remained in the cycle of sin that was dominating her life. Instead, she reached out to Jesus, and allowed Him to reach out to her. She allowed his love to be more powerful than her sins, and her debilitating demons gave way to exemplary discipleship. She heard His call to: “Come, follow me.” And when you do, “Do not be afraid.”

For the Christian, our life-changing encounter with the merciful love of God through Jesus Christ is not just a one-time experience but a constant renewal brought about by the transformative power of Christ at work in our lives. This love is offered to us each day of our lives, and especially when we fail, fall, and flounder. Do we receive it? Do we accept it? Are we open to it? Do we trust in it? Do we allow it to renew us and urge us on? Does it leave us forever changed?

Mary Magdalene had not one demon but seven. Her story is relevant for us no matter what our demons may be. She was a sinner but more than that, she was loved. She allowed her life to become a response of love to the one who loved her first. Weeping she would remain with him at the foot of the the Cross, despairing as he hung dying for the world. “While it was still dark” on the first day of the week, burdened with tears and spices for burial she would venture early to His empty tomb, astonished to encounter Him anew. Especially as we approach the Jubilee Year for Mercy called by Pope Francis, let us encounter Him anew with her, trusting again in His mercy and proclaiming with her: “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18) By Him may we be forever changed.

St. Alphonsus Liguori: Doctor Most Zealous

Founding an influential religious order, championing devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, the Blessed Mother, and the Sacred Heart, and mastering Catholic Moral Theology: these are but a few of the achievements that make the life and ministry of St. Alphonsus Liguori a true gift to the Church, both for his time and ours. St. Alphonsus was born on September 27, 1696, and died two hundred and twenty five years ago today, August 1, in 1787. In the intervening years, his life was spent as a prolific spiritual writer, a renowned philosopher and theologian of the Scholastic tradition, a zealous pastor, and a man of deep personal holiness and prayer.

Born to a wealthy Neapolitan family, St. Alphonsus’s brilliant mind earned him degrees in both canon and civil law by the age of sixteen. To the satisfaction of his affluent family, he practiced law as a respected lawyer until the age of twenty seven, when he suffered a disappointing loss in court. His disappointment prompted him to seek the meaning he longed elsewhere, and so he entered the seminary and after three years of formation was ordained a priest at the age of thirty. [Read more…]