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Pope Francis 2016 Lenten Message

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Pope Francis released his 2016 Lenten Message based on the verse ” I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13). Read the full text of his message, titled ‘The works of mercy on the road of the Jubilee,’ below:

“I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13).
The works of mercy on the road of the Jubilee

  1. Mary, the image of a Church which evangelizes because she is evangelized

In the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, I asked that “the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 17). By calling for an attentive listening to the word of God and encouraging the initiative “24 Hours for the Lord”, I sought to stress the primacy of prayerful listening to God’s word, especially his prophetic word. The mercy of God is a proclamation made to the world, a proclamation which each Christian is called to experience at first hand. For this reason, during the season of Lent I will send out Missionaries of Mercy as a concrete sign to everyone of God’s closeness and forgiveness.

After receiving the Good News told to her by the Archangel Gabriel, Mary, in her Magnificat, prophetically sings of the mercy whereby God chose her. The Virgin of Nazareth, betrothed to Joseph, thus becomes the perfect icon of the Church which evangelizes, for she was, and continues to be, evangelized by the Holy Spirit, who made her virginal womb fruitful. In the prophetic tradition, mercy is strictly related – even on the etymological level – to the maternal womb (rahamim) and to a generous, faithful and compassionate goodness (hesed) shown within marriage and family relationships.

  1. God’s covenant with humanity: a history of mercy

The mystery of divine mercy is revealed in the history of the covenant between God and his people Israel. God shows himself ever rich in mercy, ever ready to treat his people with deep tenderness and compassion, especially at those tragic moments when infidelity ruptures the bond of the covenant, which then needs to be ratified more firmly in justice and truth. Here is a true love story, in which God plays the role of the betrayed father and husband, while Israel plays the unfaithful child and bride. These domestic images – as in the case of Hosea (cf. Hos 1-2) – show to what extent God wishes to bind himself to his people.

This love story culminates in the incarnation of God’s Son. In Christ, the Father pours forth his boundless mercy even to making him “mercy incarnate” (Misericordiae Vultus, 8). As a man, Jesus of Nazareth is a true son of Israel; he embodies that perfect hearing required of every Jew by theShema, which today too is the heart of God’s covenant with Israel: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Dt 6:4-5). As the Son of God, he is the Bridegroom who does everything to win over the love of his bride, to whom he is bound by an unconditional love which becomes visible in the eternal wedding feast.

This is the very heart of the apostolic kerygma, in which divine mercy holds a central and fundamental place. It is “the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead” (Evangelii Gaudium, 36), that first proclamation which “we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment” (ibid., 164). Mercy “expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert, and believe” (Misericordiae Vultus, 21), thus restoring his relationship with him. In Jesus crucified, God shows his desire to draw near to sinners, however far they may have strayed from him. In this way he hopes to soften the hardened heart of his Bride.

  1. The works of mercy

God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn. In an ever new miracle, divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbour and to devote ourselves to what the Church’s tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. These works remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbours in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them. On such things will we be judged. For this reason, I expressed my hope that “the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; this will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty, and to enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy” (ibid., 15). For in the poor, the flesh of Christ “becomes visible in the flesh of the tortured, the crushed, the scourged, the malnourished, and the exiled… to be acknowledged, touched, and cared for by us” (ibid.). It is the unprecedented and scandalous mystery of the extension in time of the suffering of the Innocent Lamb, the burning bush of gratuitous love. Before this love, we can, like Moses, take off our sandals (cf. Ex 3:5), especially when the poor are our brothers or sisters in Christ who are suffering for their faith.

In the light of this love, which is strong as death (cf. Song 8:6), the real poor are revealed as those who refuse to see themselves as such. They consider themselves rich, but they are actually the poorest of the poor. This is because they are slaves to sin, which leads them to use wealth and power not for the service of God and others, but to stifle within their hearts the profound sense that they too are only poor beggars. The greater their power and wealth, the more this blindness and deception can grow. It can even reach the point of being blind to Lazarus begging at their doorstep (cf. Lk 16:20-21). Lazarus, the poor man, is a figure of Christ, who through the poor pleads for our conversion. As such, he represents the possibility of conversion which God offers us and which we may well fail to see. Such blindness is often accompanied by the proud illusion of our own omnipotence, which reflects in a sinister way the diabolical “you will be like God” (Gen 3:5) which is the root of all sin. This illusion can likewise take social and political forms, as shown by the totalitarian systems of the twentieth century, and, in our own day, by the ideologies of monopolizing thought and technoscience, which would make God irrelevant and reduce man to raw material to be exploited. This illusion can also be seen in the sinful structures linked to a model of false development based on the idolatry of money, which leads to lack of concern for the fate of the poor on the part of wealthier individuals and societies; they close their doors, refusing even to see the poor.

For all of us, then, the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favourable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practising the works of mercy. In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated. By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need. By taking this path, the “proud”, the “powerful” and the “wealthy” spoken of in the Magnificat can also be embraced and undeservedly loved by the crucified Lord who died and rose for them. This love alone is the answer to that yearning for infinite happiness and love that we think we can satisfy with the idols of knowledge, power and riches. Yet the danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor, the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell. The pointed words of Abraham apply to them and to all of us: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Lk16:29). Such attentive listening will best prepare us to celebrate the final victory over sin and death of the Bridegroom, now risen, who desires to purify his Betrothed in expectation of his coming.

Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favourable a time for conversion! We ask this through the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, who, encountering the greatness of God’s mercy freely bestowed upon her, was the first to acknowledge her lowliness (cf. Lk1:48) and to call herself the Lord’s humble servant (cf. Lk1:38).

From the Vatican, 4 October 2015

Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi

FRANCISCUS

CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters

Pope Francis at Ecumenical Vespers Homily: Walk the way of unity

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Pope Francis asked for ‘mercy and forgiveness’ for the way Christians have behaved towards each other, saying we cannot let the weight of past faults continue to contaminate our relationships. The Pope’s words came in his homily at an ecumenical celebration of Vespers on Monday evening in the Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls marking the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In his prepared remarks, the Holy Father focused on the need for divided Christian communities to walk together in the way of the Lord, in the knowledge that unity is a gift of heaven and in the understanding that all service rendered to the cause of the one Gospel builds up the one true Church and gives glory to the one Lord, Jesus Christ.

“While we journey together toward full communion,” said Pope Francis, “we can begin already to develop many forms of cooperation in order to favor the spread of the Gospel – and walking together, we become aware that we are already united in the name of the Lord.”

Pope Francis placed his reflections in the key of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, saying that as Bishop of Rome, he wanted “to ask for forgiveness for the behaviour of Catholics towards Christians of other Churches” which has not reflected Gospel values. At the same time, he said, “I invite all Catholics to forgive if they – today or in the past – have been offended by other Christians”. “In this extraordinary Jubilee year of mercy, we must always keep in mind that there cannot be an authentic search for Christian unity without trusting fully in the Father’s mercy,” he said. “God’s mercy,” the Pope said, “will renew our relationships.”

Pope Francis told representatives of the other Christian Churches and communities present in the Basilica that we can make progress on the path to full visible communion “not only when we come closer to each other, but above all as we convert ourselves to the Lord”. At the start of Vespers, the Pope invited Orthodox Metropolitan Gennadios, representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and Anglican Archbishop David Moxon to walk with him through the Holy Door of the Basilica, while at the end of the celebration he invited them to join him in giving the final blessing.

Text courtesy of Vatican Radio.

Pope Francis’ Homily for Christian Unity Vespers

Pope Francis delivered the homily at the closing Vespers of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in the Basilica of St. Paul “Outside the Walls” in Rome on Monday evening. Below, please find Vatican Radio’s full English translation of the Holy Father’s prepared remarks.

“I am the least of the Apostles … because I persecuted the Church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace in me was not without effect.” That’s how the Apostle Paul sums up the significance of his conversion. Coming after his dramatic encounter with the Risen Christ on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus, it is not primarily a moral conversion but rather an transforming experience of the grace of Christ, and at the same time, a call to the new mission of announcing to everyone the Jesus that he previously persecuted by persecuting the disciples of Christ. At that moment, in fact, Paul understands that there is a real and transcendent union between the eternally living Christ and his followers: Jesus lives and is present in them and they live in him. The vocation to be an Apostle is founded not on Paul’s human merits, which he considers to be ‘the least’ and ‘unworthy’, but rather on the infinite goodness of God who chose him and entrusted him with his ministry.

St Paul also bears witness to a similar understanding of what happened on the road to Damascus in his first letter to Timothy: I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” The overflowing mercy of God is the sole reason upon which Paul’s ministry is based and at the same time it is that which the Apostle must announce to the everyone.

The experience of St Paul is similar to that of the community to which the Apostle Peter writes his first letter. St Peter is writing to members of small and fragile communities, exposed to threats of persecution, and he applies to them the glorious titles attributed to the holy people of God: a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession. For those first Christians, like today for all of us baptized Christians, it is a source of comfort and of constant amazement to know that we have been chosen to be part of God’s plan of salvation, put into effect through Jesus Christ and through the Church. “Why Lord? Why me? Why is it us?” Here we touch the mystery of mercy and of God’s choice. The Father loves us all and wants to save us all, and for this reason He calls some people conquering them through His grace, so that through them His love can reach all people. The mission of the whole people of God is to announce the marvelous works of the Lord, first and foremost the Pasqual mystery of Christ, through which we have passed from the darkness of sin and death to the splendor of His new and eternal life.

In light of the Word of God which we have been listening to, and which has guided us during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we can truly affirm that all of us, believers in Christ, have been called to proclaim the mighty works of God. Beyond the differences which still separate us, we recognise with joy that at the origin of our Christian  life there is always a call from God Himself. We can make progress on the path to full visible communion between us Christians not only when we come closer to each other, but above all as we convert ourselves to the Lord, who through His grace, chooses and calls us to be His disciples. And converting ourselves means letting the Lord live and work in us. For this reason, when Christians of different Churches listen to the Word of God together and seek to put it into practice, they make important steps towards unity.it is not only the call which unites us, but we also share the same mission to proclaim to all the marvelous works of God. Like St Paul, and like the people to whom St Peter is writing, we too cannot fail to announce God’s merciful love which has conquered and transformed us. While we are moving towards full communion among Christians, we can already develop many forms of cooperation to aid the spread of the Gospel.  By walking and working together, we realise that we are already united in the name of the Lord.

In this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, we must always keep in mind that there cannot be an authentic search for Christian unity without trusting fully in the Father’s mercy. We ask first of all for forgiveness for the sins of our divisions, which are an open wound in the Body of Christ. As Bishop of Rome and pastor of the Catholic Church, I want to ask for mercy and forgiveness for the behavior of Catholics towards Christians of other Churches which has not reflected Gospel values. At the same time, I invite all Catholic brothers and sisters to forgive if they, today or in the past, have been offended by other Christians. We cannot cancel out what has happened, but we do not want to let the weight of past faults continue to contaminate our relationships. God’s mercy will renew our relationships.

In this atmosphere of intense prayer, I extend fraternal greetings to his Eminence Metropolitan Gennadios, representing the Ecumenical Patriarch, to His Grace David Moxon, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s personal representative in Rome, and all the representatives of the other Churches and ecclesial communities who are gathered here this evening. With them we walked through the Holy Door of this Basilica to remind ourselves that the only door which leads to salvation is Jesus Christ our Lord, the merciful face of the Father. I cordially greet also the young Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox students who are here in Rome with the support of the Committee for Cultural Collaboration with the orthodox churches, working through the Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, as well as the students from the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey who are visiting Rome to deepen their knowledge of the Catholic Church.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us unite ourselves with the prayer that Jesus Christ prayed to his Father: “May they be one, so that the world may believe”. Unity is the gift of mercy from God the Father. In front of the tomb of St Paul, the apostle and martyr, kept here in this splendid Basilica, we feel that our humble request is sustained by the intercession of the multitudes of Christian martyrs, past and present. They replied generously to the call of the Lord, they gave faithful witness with their lives to the wonderful works that God has done for us and they already enjoy full communion in the presence of God the Father. Sustained by their example and comforted by their intercessions, we make our humble prayer to God.

The Bare Facts and Bare Feet of the Last Supper

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Biblical and Pastoral Reflection on Feet Washing on Holy Thursday
By Father Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation
English language attaché, Holy See Press Office

Both the Jewish and Christian traditions view eating and feasting as more than simply an opportunity to refuel the body, enjoy certain delicacies, or celebrate a particular occasion. Eating and feasting became for both traditions, encounters with transcendent realities and even union with the divine. In the New Testament, so much of Jesus’ own ministry took place during meals at table.

Jesus attends many meals throughout the four Gospels: with Levi and his business colleagues, with Simon the Pharisee, with Lazarus and his sisters in Bethany, with Zacchaeus and the crowd in Jericho, with outcasts and centurions, with crowds on Galilean hillsides, and with disciples in their homes. It is ultimately during the final meal that Jesus leaves us with his most precious gift in the Eucharist. The Scripture readings for Holy Thursday root us deeply in our Jewish past: celebrating the Passover with the Jewish people, receiving from St. Paul that which was handed on to him, namely the Eucharistic banquet, and looking at Jesus squarely in the face as he kneels before us to wash our feet in humble service. Instead of presenting to us one of the synoptic Gospel stories of the “institution” of the Eucharist, the Church offers us John’s account of the disturbing posture of the Master kneeling before his friends to wash their feet in a gesture of humility and service.

As Jesus wraps a towel around his waist, takes a pitcher of water, stoops down and begins washing the feet of his disciples, he teaches his friends that liberation and new life are won not in presiding over multitudes from royal thrones nor by the quantity of bloody sacrifices offered on temple altars but by walking with the lowly and poor and serving them as a foot washer along the journey. It is as though the whole history of salvation ends tonight just as it begins — with bare feet and the voice of God speaking to us through his own flesh and blood: “As I have done for you, so you must also do.” The washing of the feet is integral to the Last Supper. It is the evangelist John’s way of saying to Christ’s followers throughout the ages: “You must remember his sacrifice in the Mass, but you must also remember his admonition to go out and serve the world.”

At the Last Supper, Jesus teaches us that true authority in the Church comes from being a servant, from laying down our lives for our friends. His life is a feast for the poor and for sinners. It must be the same for those who receive the Lord’s body and blood. From the Eucharist must flow a certain style of communitarian life, a genuine care for our neighbors, and for strangers.

Three years ago on Holy Thursday evening, Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 young people at a Roman Juvenile Detention Center, including young women, and two Muslims. That Pope Francis washed the feet of young men and women in a detention centre in Rome on his first Holy Thursday, and has continued that gesture over the past Holy Thursdays in a centre for the elderly and infirm and then a maximum security facility in Rome, should call our minds and hearts to the simple and spontaneous gesture of love, affection, forgiveness and mercy that have been the hallmarks of the Bishop of Rome since his election in March 2013. Just as Jesus gave an example to his disciples in the humble gesture of foot washing, so too the Vicar of Christ offers us an example that we might learn from it and imitate this gesture.

Pope Francis’ simple gesture of washing the feet speaks for itself. He has taught the world profound messages over the past three years of his Petrine ministry to the world.  He has brought many to Jesus Christ through the simplicity of his messages and gestures. He shows us how to put the Eucharist into practice in our daily lives.

Deacon-structing Mercy: Doctrine

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With Pope Francis’ changes to the Holy Thursday liturgy last week, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a young man during the Christmas holiday. He was visiting from Europe and was expressing concern about where Pope Francis seems to be taking the Church. He said that among his circle of friends and acquaintances everyone is concerned that the Pope seems too relaxed on doctrine and putting too much emphasis on feelings, on people, on the “pastoral”. He didn’t actually say it in these words – he said things like, “it’s not the way” and “this is not how the Pope is supposed to behave” (I paraphrase). He also echoed the concern that many seem to have about the Pope making changes.

Let me say, first and foremost that no one needs to be afraid that Pope Francis is going to change Doctrine. Doctrine is Doctrine and no Pope has the authority to change it. I fully believe that the Holy Spirit is in charge and the Holy Spirit was in charge during the Conclave. The Holy Spirit is always guiding the Church.  We have the Pope that is right for this time. Pope Francis is as solid a Catholic as they come. That means his Doctrine is solid.

Now, are you concerned about doctrine being diluted? No worries. Read carefully what Francis says (not what others say he said). No diluting here.  Concerned about what he does? Well, here’s where we should be following his lead.

Pope Francis is reminding us that, ultimately, everything we believe is reflected in how we navigate through the messiness of life. Oh, if life were clean and neat! Oh, if the Church were a clean and sterile museum! But it isn’t; it’s a field hospital.  Field hospitals are full of blood, sweat and injuries, and amputees and there’s yelling and sometimes swearing and… well, you get what I mean.

But the doctors in the field hospital would not be able to do their work in the messiness of the place, had they not gone to medical school. If they didn’t know their doctrine, they would not be able to function in such a place. In fact, some doctors who are used to an urban emergency room cannot function in a field hospital, where they lack equipment and resources; sometimes there’s no electricity; no antibiotics; no anesthesia. You need doctrine and experience in order to navigate through the messiness of life.

“Doctrine is about ideas and ideas are always clear,” my uncle said to me once during a lovely brunch while I argued with him about abortion. “But we don’t live in a world of ideas; we live in a real world of broken and bruised people.” He’s right. But it’s having those clear ideas that allows us to find our way in the darkness and fogginess of that very real world.

Doctrine is what we can hang-on to while we wade in the murkiness of the waters. But wade in the waters we must. Grasping doctrine tightly with one hand and with the other hand rolling up our sleeves and pant legs.

This is why Pope Francis has called for a Year of Mercy.  Perhaps it’s because he’s confident that we know our doctrine. We are secure in our doctrine; we had St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI to work with us on doctrine; now it’s time to put it into practice.

And the only way to put doctrine into practice (and that’s really the only purpose, otherwise it’s useless – just ideas) is to always look at it and filter it through a pastoral lens. Being pastoral doesn’t mean going against the Magisterium. I would argue that the Magisterium calls us to be merciful and pastoral (in the true sense of the word; how does a shepherd take care of the sheep?).

Perhaps not coincidentally, today’s Gospel reading (3rd Sunday, Ordinary Time, Cycle C) has Jesus taking his missional cue from Isaiah: “…to proclaim good news to the poor… to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18)  That should be our missional cue as well: Everything we do, whether teaching, preaching and correcting (using solid doctrine) must be done as we proclaim good news. No matter what, we must always give hope. All our actions must proclaim freedom. We do all we do with compassion and love. That’s being pastoral. Maybe we need to be reminded of this. That’s why we need a Year of Mercy.

Maybe someday we’ll have a Year of Justice, I doubt it, but I don’t know; for now let’s have a Year of Mercy. That means a Year of pastoral approach: a year of not following just the words of the Law but learning and working through the Spirit of the Law.

In the next couple of weeks, I’d like to look at the difference between Justice and Mercy and why we are only capable of mercy.

CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters


DcnPedro

Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Pope Francis’ Message for the 50th World Day of Social Communications

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Pope Francis released his message for the 50th World Day of Communications, to take place on May 8, 2016. Read the full text of the message below:

Communication and Mercy: A Fruitful Encounter

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Holy Year of Mercy invites all of us to reflect on the relationship between communication and mercy. The Church, in union with Christ, the living incarnation of the Father of Mercies, is called to practise mercy as the distinctive trait of all that she is and does. What we say and how we say it, our every word and gesture, ought to express God’s compassion, tenderness and forgiveness for all. Love, by its nature, is communication; it leads to openness and sharing. If our hearts and actions are inspired by charity, by divine love, then our communication will be touched by God’s own power.

As sons and daughters of God, we are called to communicate with everyone, without exception. In a particular way, the Church’s words and actions are all meant to convey mercy, to touch people’s hearts and to sustain them on their journey to that fullness of life which Jesus Christ was sent by the Father to bring to all. This means that we ourselves must be willing to accept the warmth of Mother Church and to share that warmth with others, so that Jesus may be known and loved. That warmth is what gives substance to the word of faith; by our preaching and witness, it ignites the “spark” which gives them life.

Communication has the power to build bridges, to enable encounter and inclusion, and thus to enrich society. How beautiful it is when people select their words and actions with care, in the effort to avoid misunderstandings, to heal wounded memories and to build peace and harmony. Words can build bridges between individuals and within families, social groups and peoples. This is possible both in the material world and the digital world. Our words and actions should be such as to help us all escape the vicious circles of condemnation and vengeance which continue to ensnare individuals and nations, encouraging expressions of hatred. The words of Christians ought to be a constant encouragement to communion and, even in those cases where they must firmly condemn evil, they should never try to rupture relationships and communication.

For this reason, I would like to invite all people of good will to rediscover the power of mercy to heal wounded relationships and to restore peace and harmony to families and communities. All of us know how many ways ancient wounds and lingering resentments can entrap individuals and stand in the way of communication and reconciliation. The same holds true for relationships between peoples. In every case, mercy is able to create a new kind of speech and dialogue. Shakespeare put it eloquently when he said: “The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed: it blesseth him that gives and him that takes” (The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene I).

Our political and diplomatic language would do well to be inspired by mercy, which never loses hope. I ask those with institutional and political responsibility, and those charged with forming public opinion, to remain especially attentive to the way they speak of those who think or act differently or those who may have made mistakes. It is easy to yield to the temptation to exploit such situations to stoke the flames of mistrust, fear and hatred. Instead, courage is needed to guide people towards processes of reconciliation. It is precisely such positive and creative boldness which offers real solutions to ancient conflicts and the opportunity to build lasting peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt 5:7-9)

How I wish that our own way of communicating, as well as our service as pastors of the Church, may never suggest a prideful and triumphant superiority over an enemy, or demean those whom the world considers lost and easily discarded. Mercy can help mitigate life’s troubles and offer warmth to those who have known only the coldness of judgment. May our way of communicating help to overcome the mindset that neatly separates sinners from the righteous. We can and we must judge situations of sin – such as violence, corruption and exploitation – but we may not judge individuals, since only God can see into the depths of their hearts. It is our task to admonish those who err and to denounce the evil and injustice of certain ways of acting, for the sake of setting victims free and raising up those who have fallen. The Gospel of John tells us that “the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32). The truth is ultimately Christ himself, whose gentle mercy is the yardstick for measuring the way we proclaim the truth and condemn injustice. Our primary task is to uphold the truth with love (cf. Eph 4:15). Only words spoken with love and accompanied by meekness and mercy can touch our sinful hearts. Harsh and moralistic words and actions risk further alienating those whom we wish to lead to conversion and freedom, reinforcing their sense of rejection and defensiveness.

Some feel that a vision of society rooted in mercy is hopelessly idealistic or excessively indulgent. But let us try and recall our first experience of relationships, within our families. Our parents loved us and valued us for who we are more than for our abilities and achievements. Parents naturally want the best for their children, but that love is never dependent on their meeting certain conditions. The family home is one place where we are always welcome (cf. Lk 15:11-32). I would like to encourage everyone to see society not as a forum where strangers compete and try to come out on top, but above all as a home or a family, where the door is always open and where everyone feels welcome.

For this to happen, we must first listen. Communicating means sharing, and sharing demands listening and acceptance. Listening is much more than simply hearing. Hearing is about receiving information, while listening is about communication, and calls for closeness. Listening allows us to get things right, and not simply to be passive onlookers, users or consumers. Listening also means being able to share questions and doubts, to journey side by side, to banish all claims to absolute power and to put our abilities and gifts at the service of the common good.

Listening is never easy. Many times it is easier to play deaf. Listening means paying attention, wanting to understand, to value, to respect and to ponder what the other person says. It involves a sort of martyrdom or self-sacrifice, as we try to imitate Moses before the burning bush: we have to remove our sandals when standing on the “holy ground” of our encounter with the one who speaks to me (cf. Ex 3:5). Knowing how to listen is an immense grace, it is a gift which we need to ask for and then make every effort to practice.

Emails, text messages, social networks and chats can also be fully human forms of communication. It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal. Social networks can facilitate relationships and promote the good of society, but they can also lead to further polarization and division between individuals and groups. The digital world is a public square, a meeting-place where we can either encourage or demean one another, engage in a meaningful discussion or unfair attacks. I pray that this Jubilee Year, lived in mercy, “may open us to even more fervent dialogue so that we might know and understand one another better; and that it may eliminate every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination” (Misericordiae Vultus, 23). The internet can help us to be better citizens. Access to digital networks entails a responsibility for our neighbour whom we do not see but who is nonetheless real and has a dignity which must be respected. The internet can be used wisely to build a society which is healthy and open to sharing.

Communication, wherever and however it takes place, has opened up broader horizons for many people. This is a gift of God which involves a great responsibility. I like to refer to this power of communication as “closeness”. The encounter between communication and mercy will be fruitful to the degree that it generates a closeness which cares, comforts, heals, accompanies and celebrates. In a broken, fragmented and polarized world, to communicate with mercy means to help create a healthy, free and fraternal closeness between the children of God and all our brothers and sisters in the one human family.

From the Vatican, 24 January 2016
FRANCISCUS

Fr. Rosica’s Address at the Theological Symposium in Cebu – The Field is the World: Evangelizing the Secular World

TR IEC 2016 Symposium 3

From January 20 – January 22, 2016, the Theological Symposium of the 2016 International Eucharist Congress took place in Cebu, Philippines. Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, gave the following address on Evangelization:

Address of Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Theological Symposium of the 2016 International Eucharistic Congress
Cebu, Philippines – January 22, 2016

Your Eminences,
Your Excellencies,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Thank you for the privilege of addressing the International Theological Symposium in the Philippines that is part of the 51st International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu. You have invited me to reflect on the theme of “Evangelizing the Secular World”, a topic that has been at the heart of my ministry for the past 30 years. Because I am a student, teacher and lover of Scripture, I wish to develop the theme through the lenses of the New Testament which has provided me with the vision, energy, dynamism and images for my ministry these past years.

Why is Evangelization so challenging today? Why do we often encounter such massive ignorance of or indifference to the message of Jesus Christ? Why is God being pushed the sidelines of so many of our societies and cultures? We may wonder at times why people aren’t turned on by our stories, our ministry, and why the young aren’t interested in whom we are and what we do. Did we ever stop to think that maybe part of the reason is that we aren’t telling our story in the right way, or maybe not at all? Do we view our lives against the backdrop of salvation history and biblical history? How can we recapture the treasure and dynamism of the Word of God? How do we speak the Word of God with authority today? If the power of God’s Word in Sacred Scripture is to be felt in the life and mission of the Church, we must be vigilant to ensure that Sacred Scripture has a primordial place in our lives.

I believe that a great part of the difficulties we experience in our efforts to evangelize is due to ignorance of the Scriptures. To quote the Early Church Father and Doctor of the Church, Jerome, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” This biblical ignorance or illiteracy is directly related to our efforts to evangelize the culture around us. How can we make Scripture once again the core of our evangelizing efforts in the world? How can the hearts of people be set on fire by the Risen Lord who begs people to touch the text of his words and be deeply moved by these words?

Whenever I have spoken about Evangelization, I have heard several fears from many Catholics, which can be obstacles to our becoming an evangelizing Church. First, in an attempt to be “polite”, and motivated by a false sense of ecumenism or interreligious dialogue, people do not want to impose upon others or imply that they are superior to them in some way.

Second, many Catholics fear the very word “evangelizing” because they are afraid of being asked questions they cannot answer. Overcoming this obstacle means that we must learn more about Christ, the Bible and the Church’s teachings, history and our rich tradition.

The third obstacle is the crisis of biblical literacy. To evangelize means to spread the good news of Jesus Christ found in the New Testament. How can we possibly announce this Good News when the target audience does not know the vocabulary, language and imagery of this Good News?

This point was driven home many times during the 2008 Vatican Synod of Bishops on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. I was an eyewitness of that ecclesial event, having served as the English language media attaché of the Synod. No one made the point more succinctly than the late Cardinal Francis George, OMI, of Chicago. In his brief yet pointed presentation, Cardinal George said: “Behind this loss of biblical images lies the loss of a sense and an image of God as an actor in human history.  …In Scripture, God is both the principal author and the principal actor. In Scripture, we encounter the living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. …Our people, for the most part, do not live confidently in the biblical world of active spirit, of angels and demons, of the search for God’s will and God’s intentions in the midst of this world governed by God’s providence. …Scripture takes on the genre of fantasy fiction, and the biblical world becomes an uninhabitable embarrassment.”

I also think that we lack a sense of urgency of our mission and frequently give in to nostalgia. I will explain those points later in this presentation.

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Consider Jesus

I invite you to consider Jesus, the evangelizer par excellence who offers us a proven method of proclaiming and living the Good News. He was a master teacher and a perfect communicator and he is the model for all who seek to communicate the Good News and evangelize our culture today. Jesus used parables to teach very important lessons. By parables, Jesus attempted to convey the true nature of a loving and benevolent God. These marvelous stories bear witness to a God who hears the cries of the poor and defends the orphans, widows and immigrants. The God of the Bible suffers with the people. God comes among us as a vulnerable baby born among the homeless, lives as an immigrant and refugee life, associates with the outcasts and compares the kingdom to receiving a little child. This God is then executed and buried in a borrowed tomb. The indirectness of parables makes the wisdom of Jesus inaccessible to hostile literalists. Jesus used parables to respond to the disciples’ and apostles’ burning questions about the presence of God, their lives with him and the challenges and crises they endured ministering in his name.   

The Parable of the Sower

Many stories of the Gospel have Jesus glancing around for something to use as an illustration of his message. One such story is the parable of the sower – a remarkable study in contrasts. To Jesus’ Galilean listeners who were close to the earth, the image of sowing seeds was a very familiar one. The parable is startling on several accounts. First of all it portrays a sower who is apparently careless. He scatters the seed with reckless abandon even in those areas where there is virtually no chance for growth. The first seed that falls on the path has no opportunity to grow. The second seed falls on rocky ground, grows quickly, and dies as quickly. The third seed falls among thorns and has its life submerged by a stronger force. Finally the fourth seed falls on good soil and produces fruit – to astonishing, unknown, and unthinkable proportions. The normal harvest in a good year might be sevenfold, but never thirty or sixty, much less one hundred! The life-bearing potential of the seed is beyond imagination! The final yield is earth shattering! In the end, the parable portrays the sower as lavish and extravagant rather than foolish and wasteful.

I wish to focus on Matthew’s parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23). In the explanation of the parable (vv. 18-23) the emphasis is on the various types of soil upon which the seed falls, i.e. on the dispositions with which the preaching of Jesus is received (cf. parallels in Mark 4:14-20; Luke 8:11-15). The four types of recipients envisaged are: (1) those who never accept the word of the kingdom (Matthew 13:19); (2) those who believe for a while but fall away because of persecution (13:20-21); (3) those who believe, but in whom the word is choked by worldly anxiety and the seduction of riches (13:22); and (4) those who respond to the word and produce fruit abundantly (13:23).

Matthew incorporates almost of Mark’s version of the parable but adds his own perspective. There is a striking line in Matthew’s explanation of this parable. Puzzled by Jesus’ story, the disciples ask him to explain it, and he begins, “the field is the world and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom” (v.38). God works in the world, not simply in the church. The world is a mixed reality, both good and bad but the community cannot insulate itself from the weeds. Complete deliverance from evil comes only in the end time when, in the words of the parable, the just will shine “like the sun”; in the meantime, the community’s place is precisely in the world, in the midst of the weeds and the wheat.

Matthew’s community struggled with self-definition in the midst of the cataclysmic changes that flooded over both Jewish Christianity and Palestinian Judaism in the wake of the Jewish revolt against Rome and its devastating suppression in A.D. 70.  Matthew wrote his Gospel for such a Jewish Christian community caught in the great tsunami of history, anxious about its connection to its sacred historical roots in Judaism and trembling before a future that promised substantial and perhaps even devastating changes.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus begins his public ministry by insisting that his mission is only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But Jesus begins to anticipate this turning point from an exclusive focus on Israel to an inclusive mission to the Jews and Gentiles in the body of the Gospel as he encounters Gentiles who, in a sense, force their way onto the Gospel stage! We caught glimpses of this widening mission in the enchanting Christmas Magi who read the stars and come seeking the Messiah; or the Roman centurion of Capernaum who begs Jesus to heal his sick servant and evokes in Jesus a vision of a future mission beyond the boundaries of Israel. How can we forget the Canaanite woman who breaks down Jesus’ resistance by her insistent pleas on behalf of her sick daughter or the Gadarene demoniac whose terrible plight reaches Jesus as he comes ashore in the alien territory of the Decapolis. In that provocative story, life encounters death, enchained among the tombs.

Matthew’s Gospel reminds us that the field in which our God-given destiny unfolds is the world and not simply the church; the Spirit is alive in the world, and there in the mix of weeds and wheat. Time and again the biblical drama shows that what we might call secular events, even horrific, wrenching and destructive ones, move history forward and provide the setting for God’s revelation. The field is the world, and this strange array of peoples on the peripheries and outside the perimeter of biblical Israel breaks into the Gospel arena and becomes a vital part of Jesus’ mission. This is what happens when the seed falls unpredictably in the world and not just in the church.

As my colleague and mentor, Fr. Donald Senior, CP, brilliantly points out in his essay on “Biblical Reflections On Discernment of Who We Are and Where We Are Going”:

“Israel was not formed in an airtight vacuum but took shape in interaction with Canaanite and other ancient Middle Eastern cultures. Interaction with those cultures gave to Israel its language, its culture, much of its religious symbolism and ritual, its architecture, its form of government. The fundamental intuitions and symbols that became the language of biblical faith were born in the heart of Israel’s own historical experience: the trauma of oppression; the aspirations for nationhood and a unifying political structure; the merging of a capital city and a central sanctuary; the tragedy of failure and exile; the tenacious hope of ultimate peace and security.”

Fr. Senior continues: “Thus so many of Jesus’ own religious symbols, drawn from the strong repertoire of Judaism, are metaphors of gathering and healing, of reconciliation and forgiveness, of renewal and unquenchable hope in the midst of great suffering. The lost sheep is to be found; the sinner and outcast drawn in; the broken and sick healed; the enemy forgiven; the dead raised and the reign of God announced as drawing near. All of these reflect the drama unfolding in the world and its history that surrounded Jesus and his times.”

The field is the world, and our way forward to the future prepared for us by God must come not only by immersing ourselves in the church’s traditions and unfolding wisdom but also by being alert to the world and its drama where the Spirit is also at work. In fact, we have to be careful that we do not become overly absorbed in the domestic life of the church but constantly turn our face to the world, to our place in it and our responsibility for it. The field is the world – not only as the object of the Christian mission in history, but as the catalyst of the Spirit awakening the consciousness of the church itself.

Urgency

Pope Francis is inviting us to become witnesses, missionaries and disciples in the world. That is our evangelizing mission today. It is not new. He has brought new urgency, new passion and new authenticity and transparency to this mission. For Pope Francis, authentic power is service. He is reminding us day in and day out that evangelizing is neither social ministry nor spiritual ministry; it is both. The more we show genuine concern and effective action for alleviating social ills and liberating the poor, the more believable will the gospel be. Conversely, social ministry will transcend itself only if the gospel is explicitly proclaimed side by side with action and concern.

If we decide to wait until our Church and the entire Catholic community is in exemplary spiritual condition, with all questions and doubts resolved, all scandals over, all required funds safely and surely in the bank to provide for our programs and schools, all controversies ended, all Christians and Catholics living in total harmony, nothing will ever get done! 

Christ did not found the Church for saints and angels, but for sinners- people like us who strive for goodness and greatness yet know that the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. For over two thousand years, we have not been in perfect order and we never will be! Even while telling us to preach the good news of hope, liberation and salvation, Christ warned us that scandals would always plague our footsteps (Luke 17:1-2). In St. Paul’s letters, the sins and excesses that he addressed were committed not only by the pagans but also by the early Christians. The Church has been “dysfunctional” from the very beginning! We are sinful people in need of conversion. But what consolation to know that the Lord is walking with us. He is in the boat with us, even when he appears to be sleeping. He has not abandoned us.

Nostalgia

Pope Francis refers very frequently to the magnificent post-resurrection narrative of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Having written my thesis on that marvelous passage, a question has often lingered in my mind: why did Luke alone spend so much time relating the Emmaus event, unique to his Gospel? The story was most likely told in response to Jesus’ continuing historical absence and its perception as a loss to Jesus’ followers. The main theme of the story is truly recognition of the Lord, not just recognition of his bodily presence, but of his powerful presence in the Scriptures and in the action of the breaking of the bread. The issue is how Luke uses the story to teach his readers in 80 A.D. They might have been saying to themselves that 50-60 years ago: “People were so fortunate to have seen the Risen Lord with their very eyes.” “If only the Lord were here with us today!” The two disciples could have easily and understandably succumbed to ecclesial nostalgia!

Nostalgia would cause people to say that having been there, back then, might make a difference in the way that they think and believe today!  But Luke says that even those who were there weren’t able to recognize Jesus until the Scriptures were “opened” and the “eucharistic” meal was shared. The bottom line is this: a past generation is not more fortunate or blessed to have encountered the risen Jesus than is a generation that hasn’t seen him! Faith in Jesus transcends all history, space and time. Christians of Luke’s time and Christians of our time have the same essential elements necessary for recognizing the Lord: Sacred Scripture and the Eucharist.

How is Jesus alive and present among us? Do our hearts burn with love for the Lord? Do we allow the hearts of others to burn for Jesus? Or are we the cause of heartburn of another kind for the people to whom we are sent? Do people avoid us because of our coldness? When have we experienced that strange and wonderful feeling of “the burning heart” as we listened to the Word of God at the Eucharist or in private prayer? When have we given in to nostalgia, in our personal and ecclesial lives of faith? Is our own friendship with Christ contagious? Do we truly believe that he is walking with us on the road, in all the ups and downs of our histories?

To the Bishops of the United States on September 23, 2015 in Washington, DC, Pope Francis concluded his splendid address with these words:

“Consequently, only a Church which can gather around the family fire remains able to attract others. And not any fire, but the one which blazed forth on Easter morn. The risen Lord continues to challenge the Church’s pastors through the quiet plea of so many of our brothers and sisters: “Have you something to eat?” We need to recognize the Lord’s voice, as the apostles did on the shore of the lake of Tiberius (Jn 21:4-12). It becomes even more urgent to grow in the certainty that the embers of his presence, kindled in the fire of his passion, precede us and will never die out. Whenever this certainty weakens, we end up being caretakers of ash, and not guardians and dispensers of the true light and the warmth which causes our hearts to burn within us (Lk 24:32).”

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Mercy

Last March 2015, Pope Francis surprised the world by announcing a Jubilee Year of Mercy that formally began this past December. Francis wants this jubilee to go deeper spiritually and to be a far-reaching Christian witness of mercy to the world. Mercy is a theme very dear to Pope Francis, as is expressed in the episcopal motto he had chosen: “miserando atque eligendo”, literally, “Chosen Through the Eyes of Mercy.” During the first Angelus after his election to the See of Peter, Pope Francis stated: “Feeling mercy, that this word changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient” (Angelus, March 17, 2013).

In the English edition of the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium the term mercy appears 32 times. In his Angelus address on January 11, 2015, he stated: “There is so much need of mercy today, and it is important that the lay faithful live it and bring it into different social environments. Go forth! We are living in the age of mercy, this is the age of mercy”.

In his 2015 Lenten Message, the Holy Father expressed: “How greatly I desire that all those places where the Church is present, especially our parishes and our communities, may become islands of mercy in the midst of the sea of indifference!” He has repeated this thought: “Mercy is not just a pastoral attitude; it is the very substance of the Gospel message.”

Pope Francis wants to bring the whole church, starting with the cardinals, bishops, priests and consecrated persons, to open themselves to God’s mercy and to find concrete, creative ways to put mercy into practice in their areas of ministry. As Bishop of Rome, he is blazing the trail by word and deed, showing what mercy means in relation to the poor, the homeless, prisoners, immigrants, the sick and the persecuted. They are for him “the flesh of Christ.” In his homily to new cardinals on February 15, 2015, Pope Francis recalled that “the church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement.” This means “welcoming the repentant prodigal son; healing the wounds of sin with courage and determination; rolling up our sleeves and not standing by and watching passively the suffering of the world.”

Two weeks ago, Pope Francis’ personal book, “The Name of God is Mercy” was simultaneously released throughout the world.  The main theme of the book is mercy, and the Pope’s reasons for proclaiming a Holy Year of Mercy. The centrality of mercy, Francis says, is “Jesus’ most important message.” Mercy is essential because all people are sinners, in need of God’s forgiveness and grace, and it’s especially necessary today, at a time when “humanity is wounded,” suffering from “the many slaveries of the third millennium” — not just war and poverty and social exclusion, but also fatalism, hardheartedness and self-righteousness.

The theme of mercy also provides Pope Francis with a metaphor for articulating his broader aim of shaking up the Roman Catholic Church, which he laid out in detail in “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) that was issued in November 2013. 

“The Church condemns sin because it has to relay the truth: ‘this is a sin’. But at the same time, it embraces the sinner who recognizes himself as such, it welcomes him, it speaks to him of the infinite mercy of God. Jesus forgave even those who crucified and scorned him.”

“To follow the way of the Lord, the Church is called upon to dispense its mercy over all those who recognize themselves as sinners, who assume responsibility for the evil they have committed, and who feel in need of forgiveness. The Church does not exist to condemn people, but to bring about an encounter with the visceral love of God’s mercy.”

Pope Francis doesn’t have easy answers to the great issues, crises and questions of our time, let alone answers and solutions he seeks to impose. He clearly realizes that the field of Evangelization is the world in which we live, the world that God so loved.  He wants to create a culture and a process in which we can better discern the Holy Spirit’s answers to those questions, not necessarily in an absolute way, but in a way that makes sense in our own time.

Boldness

In the Acts of the Apostles 4:31, we meet one of the first crises of Evangelization faced by the early Church, and how the Spirit was present in the midst of it all. Peter and John were arrested and brought before the officials and were interrogated, threatened and ordered to speak no longer in the name of Jesus the Lord. Once released Peter and John returned to the community and it was at this point that the community utters a remarkable prayer. The occasion of the prayer is not a result of actual harm inflicted on the believers but rather the fact that the Word of God was chained, impeded by force, threatened and suffocated. When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word with boldness. What do we mean by boldness? 

The word in the New Testament is “parresia”, not “parousia” which refers to the final coming of Christ. The parresia is the boldness that is the fruit of courage. Despite the threats, despite the challenges, despite the difficulties, despite the very fact of losing one’s life, we must not enchain the Word any longer but speak that Word with courage and with boldness. 

There is nothing politically correct about preaching and living the Gospel. In fact, the Gospel message is at times completely incorrect in the eyes and ways of the world! The gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed with boldness and courage. It is a boldness that does not overpower, that is not rude, that does not bully, that is never disrespectful, that never shows off or flaunts gifts that one has received – but where the Spirit has been so lavishly poured out upon individuals and as a faith community, the church has an obligation to announce and to proclaim Jesus Christ boldly, unapologetically and unabashedly. We must be bold and creative in our pastoral efforts with young people. Speaking the Word boldly is prerequisite for the work of Evangelization.

Gospel Joy

In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis invites and challenges all of us to move beyond our “comfort zones.” He wants us to be warm, welcoming and forgiving. He wants us to eat with tax collectors and sinners; he wants us to forgive the woman caught in adultery (while admonishing her to sin no more); he wants us to welcome and respect foreigners (even our enemies), and, above all, not to judge others. He has spoken simply, powerfully and beautifully about returning to lost unity, a desire to achieve a missing fullness, a disarming invitation to simply come together to witness to the beauty of the love of Christ. He wants to build bridges that everyone can cross. He is especially conscious of the poor and those who have been marginalized, social outcasts kept on the fringes of society. On the need for joy in evangelizing Francis has written: “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter…. An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!”

On being close to the people he writes: “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others.”

He models that “a church which ‘goes forth’ is a church whose doors are open…. Often it is better simply to slow down, to put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others, to stop rushing from one thing to another and to remain with someone who has faltered along the way.”

The church needs to preach salvation, not doctrine. An imbalance occurs when the church speaks “more about law than about grace, more about the church than about Christ, more about the pope than about God’s word.”

Evangelization must be an invitation to respond to God’s love and to seek the good in others, he says. “If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our greatest risk. It would mean that it is not the Gospel which is being preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options.”

On the need to keep the doors to the sacraments open: “The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

The church’s internal “wars” – the tendency to form groups of “elites,” to impose certain ideas and even to engage in “persecutions which appear as veritable witch hunts” – are all a counter-witness to evangelization. “Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?”

In his homily during the “Mass for the Evangelization of Peoples,” celebrated in Quito’s Parque Bicentenario (Bicentennial Park) last July 7, 2015, Pope Francis focused on the theme of unity and independence. The Holy Father spoke of Jesus’ cry for unity at the Last Supper, and Latin America’s cry for independence which is commemorated in the Park where the Liturgy took place. “I would like to see these two cries joined together,” he said, “under the beautiful challenge of Evangelization.” He continued, “We evangelize not with grand words, or complicated concepts, but with ‘the joy of the Gospel’.”

“Evangelization can be a way to unite our hopes, concerns, ideals and even utopian visions. We believe this and we make it our cry. I have already said that, “in our world, especially in some countries, different forms of war and conflict are re-emerging, yet we Christians remain steadfast in our intention to respect others, to heal wounds, to build bridges, to strengthen relationships and to ‘bear one another’s burdens’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 67).”

TR IEC 2016 Symposium 2 (1)

Laudato Sì: Instrument of Evangelization

“Laudato Sì” is a privileged instrument of Evangelization of our contemporary world because it strives to answer the deeper questions about ecology and the environment within God’s revelation as found in his creation and the teachings of the Catholic Church. At this critical moment in history, what is at stake is not just our respect for biodiversity, but our very survival. Scientists calculate that those most harmed by global warming in the future will be the most vulnerable and marginalized. The dignity and rights of human beings are intimately and integrally related to the beauty and the rights of the earth itself. After all, who will dare to speak for the voiceless resources of our planet? Who will step up to protect the silent diversity of its species? Will our generation accept responsibility for pushing our environment over the tipping-point?

At the heart Laudato Sì is this question: “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” Pope Francis continues: “This question does not have to do with the environment alone and in isolation; the issue cannot be approached piecemeal”. (LS §160) This leads us to ask ourselves about the meaning of existence and its values at the base of social life: “What is the purpose of our life in this world? Why are we here? What is the goal of our work and all our efforts? What need does the earth have of us?” (LS §160)

Laudato Si’ must be read not only as a work of Catholic social teaching, but also as an effective instrument of the first Evangelization and the new Evangelization, and a witness to ecumenism and interreligious dialogue. Pope Francis’ letter reflects a profound confidence and openness to the world. He draws on an ecumenical and interdisciplinary range of authorities — from scientists, saints and theologians to international agencies; from other world religious leaders to previous popes and Catholic bishops conferences in every continent and even a Sufi mystic in one of his footnotes.

Pope Francis’ tone is passionate, personal and urgent. He has drafted this major encyclical letter with the mind and heart of a disciple of Jesus and the pen and voice of a prophet who has seen and personally experienced the grave injustices and ugliness that human beings can cause on this earth.

Laudato Sì is a perfect example of how the Church, at the highest level, understands the modern world, enters into a profound dialogue with the world, and repeats again her age-old message of salvation in a new way. Laudato Sì is rooted in the concrete realities of our times. Some have criticized the Pope for not mentioning the name of Jesus until he is almost 13,000 words into his long document. But “the gaze of Jesus” is at the heart of the pope’s vision in Laudato Si’, even if the Lord’s name is hardly mentioned. With Laudato Sì Pope Francis is laying the groundwork for a new Christian humanism, rooted in the simple and beautiful image of Jesus that he presents for the world’s consideration. For in the end, it is in the name and mission of Jesus of Nazareth that the Pope issues his call to conversion – a compelling invitation to each of us to look at the earth and all of its creatures with the loving eyes and heart of Jesus Christ. This is clearly a first Evangelization for those who may encounter Jesus for the first time, and a new Evangelization or wake-up call to those who once knew Jesus and grew distant from him. With Laudato Sì, we learn to cherish the world God so loved and adore the Son given to us by the Father.

Conclusion

If we wish to be ambassadors, instruments, bearers of the message of Gaudium et Spes, icons of Evangelii Gaudium, and heralds of Laudato Sì in our contemporary world, we must be in direct contact with Jesus of Nazareth, who is the alpha and omega and the joy and hope of the human family. We must have a relationship with Him. We encounter Jesus in the Church, in the sacraments and in the liturgy and in the handiwork of God’s creation. Take heed of Pope Francis’ words addressed to future apostolic nuncios at the Vatican’s Diplomatic Academy (June 25, 2015):

“It is not possible to represent someone without reflecting their features, without evoking their face.”

“Do not lose sight of the face of He Who is at the origin of your journey.”

“I urge you not to expect ready ground, but to take courage and plough it with your own two hands — without tractors or other more efficient tools which we can never be sure of. Prepare the ground yourselves for the sowing, and wait with God’s patience for the harvest, of which perhaps you may not be the beneficiaries; do not fish in aquariums or farms, but have the courage to move away from the safety of what is already known and cast your nets and fishing rods out into less predictable places. Don’t grow used to eating packaged fish.”

“Teach prayer by praying, announce the faith by believing; offer witness by living!”

Let me leave you with this one final thought, inspired by the great apostle to the Gentiles, Paul of Tarsus. In Paul’s first letter to the people of Corinth, he exclaims: For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (I Cor 9:16). 

Paul doesn’t say that one would be “damned” for not proclaiming the Gospel, for not evangelizing. We must understand the “woe” against the background of prophetic statements elsewhere in the Scriptures (cf. Isaiah 45:9; Hosea 7:13; see also Matthew 23:13-36). It is a woe of suffering and punishment.  Paul calls down grief upon himself should he fail to preach the Gospel, should he abdicate his responsibility to evangelize. “Woe to me if I fail to proclaim the gospel!” Paul challenges each one of us on what it means to be called, commissioned to serve God and our neighbor and to proclaim the gospel and evangelize in our day.

For Paul, evangelizing is truly a matter of necessity, of compulsion, of apostolic imperative. It is the gospel that is for all people, the gospel that drives him to reach out to both Jew and to Gentile, to those struggling under the burden of the law and those who whistle in the dark, blissfully ignorant of the Gospel’s demands. For Paul the Gospel is needed by both kinds of people, it is the one thing that is for all people.   

For those of us who claim to be evangelists or who strive to proclaim, preach and live God’s Word, we must ask what truly motivates us for the work that we share as co-workers with Paul in the proclamation of the gospel. That motivation must be joy, and never anger, recrimination, condemnation, hostility, arrogance, meanness or harshness. It must be the joy that inhabited Jesus, the joy that animated the great apostle to the Gentiles and that animates Pope Francis, who really is an embodiment of New Evangelization in today’s world.

The late Fr. Walter Burghardt, another great Jesuit from the Americas, once preached a homily at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., for the First Sunday in Lent in which he quoted Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous remark that “These Christians don’t look redeemed.” Fr. Burghardt concluded: “For your penance, look redeemed.” Something for us to remember…

Pope Francis looks and acts redeemed. He is imitating Jesus, the great teacher and communicator who has redeemed humanity.  Francis is simply inviting us to imitate the Redeemer in word and deed. Is it any wonder that so many people are looking to Francis, listening to him and learning from his example of evangelical joy and simplicity? Only in this way will the world believe our message and give Jesus Christ a chance.

Fr. Burghardt’s challenge is also addressed to us today: “Go out and look redeemed!” Go and announce the joy of the Gospel of Jesus! Go and be his joy and hope for the world! It is not only a penitential burden but a heavenly and earthly delight.


Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

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

In June 1999, he was appointed by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops as the Chief Executive Officer and National Director of the World Youth Day and the Papal Visit of Pope John Paul II, that took place in Toronto during July, 2002.  On July 1, 2003, Fr. Rosica became the founding Chief Executive Officer of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, Canada’s first national Catholic Television Network.


Appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in 2009, Fr. Rosica also served as Media Attaché at four Synods of Bishops at the Vatican in 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2015. Since the Papal Transition in 2013, he has been English language Assistant to Holy See Press Office. Fr. Rosica is a member of the Standing Committee on Communications for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and a member of several Boards of Governors of Institutions of Higher Learning, including the Board of the Gregorian University Foundation in Rome.

 

KofC Presents Marching for Life Around the World

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In anticipation of the National March for Life to take place on Capitol Hill on Friday, January 22, 2016, despite the impending winter storm, the Knights of Columbus released a video highlighting various Marches for Life from all across the globe. See the video below for glimpses of the Pro-Life movement from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Italy, Ireland and more.

What about Catholic unity?

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(US bishops listen to a speaker during their annual general assembly in November 2015. CNS photo/Bob Roller)

It’s the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, a celebratory yet solemn week when Christians recall what unites them and reflect on the challenges still preventing full, sacramental unity. Over the past few years I’ve had the chance to meet a number of Christians of various traditions who work in the field of ecumenism at the institutional and local levels. I’m always deeply impressed and inspired by their resolve, pastoral and theological sensitivity and joy, frankly, despite the slow, uphill battle they are fighting.

Ecumenical dialogue over the past fifty years has brought us a long way. First, the problem of division among Christians was named for what it was: a “scandal” and “contradiction” to Christ according to Vatican Council II, and from there the dialogue was propelled forward. Then methodologies for effective dialogue and occasions for encounter and listening were created. There have been bumps along the road and, as I mentioned, serious challenges remain. But no one can deny that over the years a spirit of mutual respect and charity has come to define ecumenical dialogue between the churches.

Now, contrast that spirit with the one we sometimes find in the Catholic Church among those who disagree on any number of theological or pastoral issues. Notable absences: mutual respect and charity.  How can that be?

For hundreds of years Protestants and Catholics adopted an “us against them” attitude that defined, in part, their ecclesial identities. Today that attitude is impossible to maintain theologically, not least because it’s simply anti-Christian. But it has not gone away. Instead it’s been redirected at fellow Catholics. A quick search on the internet will unearth a number of Catholic commentators who define their “catholicity” by the apparent “unorthodoxy” of other Catholics. Hmmm.

Recently I read Ross Douthat’s “A Crisis of Conservative Catholicism” in which he admirably sketches a portrait of the conservative branch of the American church as it stands two-and-a-half years into the pontificate of Pope Francis. The published lecture was quick to draw responses from Michael Sean Winters and Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ both of the National Catholic Reporter (unsurprisingly, as Douthat explicitly called out the NCR in his lecture), revealing a clear divide in American Catholic understanding.

Let me be clear.This is not a critique of Douthat, Winters or Reese for a lack of charity or respect in their discourse. In fact, I applaud Douthat for his sincere attempt to critically examine the conservative narrative, and likewise Winters and Reese for their rich and respectful critiques of Douthat.

I mention this recent public discussion because permeating Douthat’s analysis—sincere as it may be—is the Reformation-old “us against them” attitude which has been reincarnated in the Catholic Church in the US over the past fifty years (and to a lesser but significant degree in Canada). This kind of suspicion or outright mistrust between decidedly conservative and liberal Catholics would not fly in any serious ecumenical dialogue today. But it’s allowed more and more to run rampant in the Catholic Church.

It took a church council, Vatican II—the highest expression of authority in the Catholic Church—to kick start participation in the ecumenical movement, which eventually transformed the old attitudes of mistrust. Can the current internal crisis be addressed and the Catholic Church once again set down a path toward unity? It will require new methodologies for effective dialogue and occasions for encounter and listening. Another council may not be necessary, but like Vatican II, it seems to me that the responsibility for this task is squarely in the hands of the bishops.

So, perhaps during this week of prayer for Christian unity, Catholics (including Catholic bishops) can also reflect on the meaning of unity within the Catholic Church itself and pray that the Holy Spirit removes mistrust and inspires charity. Though the ecumenical movement has not achieved its goal of full unity among Christians, the maturation of the dialogue over the past fifty years and the mutual respect and charity with which it is practiced today are noteworthy achievements from which Catholics can learn a great deal.

“We must never forget that we are pilgrims journeying alongside one another. This means that we must have sincere trust in our fellow pilgrims, putting aside all suspicion or mistrust, and turn our gaze to what we are all seeking: the radiant peace of God’s face.”
Pope Francis on Ecumenical Dialogue (Evangelii Gaudium, 244)


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On Further Reflection
In the complex world of the 21st century there are more questions than answers. The challenge for the Church is to find new and effective ways of bringing the Gospel message into the conversation.  For her part, the Church can act as a much needed voice for dialogue, reason and charity. On Further Reflection invites readers to go beyond the headlines to see the deeper realities affecting the church and society.  Sebastian Gomes is a producer and host at Salt+Light TV.

The Duty and Obligation of being Pro-Life

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What does it mean to be pro-life?

To be actively pro-life is to contribute to the renewal of society through the promotion of the common good. It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted. Remember the prophetic words of Pope Paul VI:

Every crime against life is an attack on peace, especially if it strikes at the moral conduct of people…But where human rights are truly professed and publicly recognized and defended, peace becomes the joyful and operative climate of life in society.

Abortion is without a doubt 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. 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.

I know about the tragedy of abortion and I know about the good work of many people involved in the pro-life Movement who work hard to prevent this tragedy. However a singular focus on abortion as the arbiter of what it means to be “pro-life” has severely narrowed our national discourse about moral values in the public square. People claiming to be fervently Catholic, always right, and 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. Their anger vitiates their efforts.

Could it be that some of us are turned off or even repelled by current definitions or behaviors of some of those people claiming to be pro-life, yet manifesting a tunnel vision? The Roman Catholic Church offers a consistent teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness and the dignity of the human person: a 20/20 vision for which we must strive each day if we claim to be pro-life. Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. We must strive to see the whole picture, not with tunnel vision.

What is also troubling are those who claim to be on the “left”, always championing human and civil rights, respecting and upholding the dignity and freedom of others. This of course has included the protection of individual rights, and the efforts of government to care for the weak, sick and disadvantaged. Why then are the extension to the unborn of the human right to life, and opposition to the culture of death, not central issues on the “left?” They must be, for they are clearly matters of justice and human rights.

A few years ago, Cardinal Séan O’Malley wrote to the people of Boston with these words:

If any cause is motivated by judgment, anger or vindictiveness, it will be doomed to marginalization and failure. Jesus’ words to us were that we must love one another as He loves us… Our ability to change people’s hearts and help them to grasp the dignity of each and every life, from the first moment of conception to the last moment of natural death, is directly related to our ability to increase love and unity in the church, for our proclamation of the Truth is hindered when we are divided and fighting with each other.

We cannot 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 concerns ordinary people and is debated not only in Parliament but also around dinner tables and in classrooms. Aging populations, especially in the west, and resulting smaller workforces are now creating a market push towards euthanasia. As Pope John Paul II wrote: “a right to die will inevitably give way to the duty to die.” 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.

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Furthering the Common Good

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.

It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted.

In Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, (Truth in Charity), the Holy Father addresses clearly the dignity and respect for human life:

Openness to life is at the centre of true development… 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.

Engaging the Culture Around Us

Being pro-life does not give us the right and license to say and do whatever we wish, to malign, condemn and destroy other human beings who do not share our views. We must never forget the principles of civility, Gospel charity, ethics, and justice. Jesus came to engage the culture of his day, and we must engage the culture of our day. We must avoid the sight impairment and myopia that often afflict people of good will who are blinded by their own zeal and are unable to see the whole picture. 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. Being pro-life in this day and age is truly prophetic, and it will bring about authentic development and enduring peace in our world.

We are all invited pray these words each day, especially during this week:

LupitaEternal Father, Source of Life, strengthen us with your Holy Spirit to receive the abundance of life you have promised.
Open our hearts to see and desire the beauty of your plan for life and love.
Make our love generous and self-giving so that we may be blessed with joy.
Grant us great trust in your mercy.
Forgive us for not receiving your gift of life and heal us from the effects of the culture of death.
Instill in us and all people reverence for every human life.
Inspire and protect our efforts on behalf of those most vulnerable especially the unborn, the sick and the elderly.
We ask this in the Name of Jesus, who by His Cross makes all things new. Amen.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

Father Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO Salt + Light Catholic Media Foundation

(CNS photo/Bob Roller)
(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Sign the Joint Declaration on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

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This past October 29, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) launched a joint Declaration on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. The sponsoring signatories to the Declaration intend now to engage in a concerted effort in view of obtaining signatures from a wide spectrum of people in Canada who agree with the principles outlined in the Declaration. The number of signatures has grown to 2,264 as of January 12, 2016.

At the launching of the Declaration at the National Press Gallery in Ottawa on Parliament Hill, the CCCB and EFC were assisted likewise by Rabbi Dr. Reuven P. Bulka, C.M., from the Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa, and Imam Samy Metwally from the Ottawa Main Mosque/Ottawa Muslim Association. At the time of its release, the Declaration had 56 signatories from Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical, Jewish and Muslim faith leaders across Canada.

The invitation to sign the Declaration is now open to all people in Canada who agree with the principles of the Declaration. Signatures are added on line. The Declaration and the signatory option can be accessed below:

Sign the Declaration.

Learn more about Euthanasia by watching the Salt + Light film Turning the Tide.