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On the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz “A Hand of Peace: Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust”

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Today on the 70th Anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, let us recall one of the great figures in world history who quietly assisted hundreds of thousands of Jews during the Nazi reign of terror and evil. For decades, the figure of Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII, has been at the center of some volatile polemics. The controversy has raged over whether the Pope did and said enough in defense of the Jews and other victims of the Nazis. The Roman Pontiff who guided the Church through the terrible years of the Second World War and the Cold War is the victim of a “black legend,” which has proven difficult to combat and is so widespread that many consider it to be more true than the actual historical facts.

Popes do not speak with the idea of pre-constituting a favourable image for future ages. They know that the fate of millions of Christians can at times depend on their every word; they have at heart the fate of men and women of flesh and blood, not the applause or fleeting approval of historians.

Let us remember some key facts about this man’s story and about history. Pope Pius XII led the Catholic Church from 1939 to 1958. Immediately before his election, the then-Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli was the Vatican Secretary of State. He, more than anyone else in the Vatican, knew what was happening in the world. Pius XII was not only the Pope of the Second World War, but a pastor who, from March 2, 1939, to October 9, 1958, had before him a world at war during very troubled times.

Those who attack Pius XII often do so for ideological reasons. The campaign against him was started in the Soviet Union and was then sustained in various Catholic environments. He took sides against the Communist world in a severe, strong and determined way. In such a way that we had to wait 30 years, until the Polish Karol Wojtyla was elected Pope, for that style to be taken up properly in a way that was fatal for Communism.

The black legend swirling around Pacelli took shape in the bitter controversies over the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, and was manipulated by forces on both sides. Pacelli cannot be the person who is blamed for something that belongs in a complex way to the world community.

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From the beginning, Hitler and his closest followers were motivated by a pathological hatred for the Catholic Church, which they appraised correctly as the most dangerous opponent to what they hoped to do in Germany. There was radical divergence between the Nazis and the Catholic Church.

Pope Pius XII was not concerned for his reputation, but with saving Jewish lives and this was the only just decision, which clearly required wisdom and a great amount of courage. The Pope protested vehemently the persecution of Jews, but he explained in 1943 that he could not speak in more dramatic or public terms without the risk of making things much worse than they were. His was a prophecy in action, which saved the lives of countless victims of the neo-pagan Nazi reign of terror, rather than potentially counter-productive public statements.

During the Second World War, and up until five years after his death, Pius XII was greatly praised by many Jewish organizations, chief Rabbis of diverse countries and especially from the United States. Robert Kempner, a Jewish lawyer and public official at the Nüremberg trials, wrote in 1964, after the appearance of Rolf Hochhuth’s “The Deputy”: “Any propagandistic position that the Church would have taken against Hitler’s government would have not only provoked suicide… but it would have hastened the execution of still more Jews and priests.”

One of the unpleasant “secondary” consequences of this black legend that falsely portrays Pope Pius XII as indulgent toward Nazism and indifferent to the fate of the victims of persecution has been to sideline or even obliterate the extraordinary teaching of this Pope who was a precursor of the Second Vatican Council. Pius XII must be remembered for his encyclical on the liturgy, his reform of the rites of Holy Week – the great preparatory work that would flow into the conciliar liturgical reform.

It is the same Pope who, in the encyclical “Humani Generis,” takes evolutionary theory into consideration. Pius XII also gave notable impetus to missionary activity with the encyclicals “Evangelii Praecones,” in 1951, and “Fidei Donum,” in 1957, highlighting the Church’s duty to proclaim the Gospel to the nations, as Vatican II would amply reaffirm.

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Papa Pacelli opened up the application of the historical-critical method to the Bible, and in the encyclical “Divino Afflante Spiritu,” established the doctrinal norms for the study of Sacred Scripture, emphasizing the importance of its role in Christian life. After Sacred Scripture, the Council’s documents cite no single author as frequently as Pope Pius XII.

Since Pacelli’s death the Church has taken great strides in forging closer relations with the Jewish faith. Pope John Paul II made Jewish-Christian relations a priority of his pontificate. He repeatedly defended the actions of Pope Pius XII while at the same time spoke of the silence and inaction of some Catholics during the Holocaust.

On Friday August 19, 2005, I was present in the historic Synagogue on Cologne’s Roonstraße as Pope Benedict XVI addressed the large assembly. In his moving address, Benedict XVI, the German Pope who grew up during the Second World War, spoke these words to the Jewish community of Cologne and representatives of Judaism in Germany, returning in spirit the meeting that took place in Mainz, Germany on November 17, 1980 between Pope John Paul II and members of the Central Jewish Committee in Germany and the Rabbinic Conference.

Benedict said:

“And in the 20th century, in the darkest period of German and European history, an insane racist ideology, born of neo-paganism, gave rise to the attempt, planned and systematically carried out by the regime, to exterminate European Jewry. The result has passed into history as the Shoah.

…I make my own the words written by my venerable Predecessor on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and I too say: “I bow my head before all those who experienced this manifestation of the mysterium iniquitatis. ” The terrible events of that time must “never cease to rouse consciences, to resolve conflicts, to inspire the building of peace” (Message for the Liberation of Auschwitz, 15 January 2005).

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Then in New York City on April 28, 2008, the Park East synagogue gave Pope Benedict XVI a warm welcome. The visit on the eve of Passover, the Jewish holiday marking the exodus from Egypt, was only the third by a pope to a Jewish house of worship after Benedict’s visit to the Cologne Synagogue in 2005, and Pope John Paul II’s visit to the Rome synagogue in 1986.

Pope Benedict XVI ended his warm address to the Jewish assembly with these words: “I encourage all of you to continue building bridges of friendship with all the many different ethnic and religious groups present in your neighborhood.”

This Papal path from the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City to Rome’s Synagogue, Cologne’s Synagogue and New York’s Park East Synagogue was opened by Eugenio Pacelli’s heroism, courage and prophetic gestures during a dark period of world history. Pacelli has been called many names. He was also known as the “Pastor Angelicus” and “Defensor Civitatis.” He is now a Servant of God, on the path to Beatification and Canonization in the Catholic Church.

It is our hope that the Salt and Light Television documentary “A Hand of Peace: Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust” sheds light and truth on this great man’s life, prophetic actions, courageous words and his significant contribution to humanity. Let us learn from his example as we extend our hands and arms in gestures of friendship and peace to the men and women of our time. Let us continue to build bridges of justice and peace to the many different ethnic and religious groups around us.

Speaking the Word of God with Authority

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Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – February 1, 2015

At the beginning of Mark’s story of the Son of God, we read of the calling of the first disciples (1:16-20) and the confrontation with evil (1:21-28). The calling, influenced by the compelling calls of the prophets (e.g., Isaiah 6:1-13; Jeremiah 1:14-19), is a model of discipleship. Jesus is not a solitary prophet but one who calls companions “to be with him;” he enters the lives of four people engaged in their ordinary occupations, simply says, “Follow me,” and they immediately leave everything to follow him.

The story of Jesus in the Capernaum synagogue inaugurates the first day of his ministry that consists of exorcisms and healings. The story reflects contemporary Jewish thought that the coming of God’s kingdom would mark the defeat of evil, which is personified in an array of demons and unclean spirits. Jesus’ word is so powerful that people abandon their occupations and follow him, and even demonic powers are powerless before it. Jesus summons people to a change of heart, to take a new look at their lives and put their trust in the good news. This is not simply a story from the past, but one that continues to speak powerfully and prophetically to people today.

On this Fourth Sunday of Ordinary time, both the first reading (Deuteronomy 18:15-20) and the Gospel (Mark 1:21-28) raise the issue of the authority of those who speak the Word of God. Authentic prophets taught with authority because God put his own words into their mouths. In the first reading, Moses tells the people that God will send a prophet from the line of the Israelites. God commands everyone to listen to this prophet, who we come to recognize as Jesus.

Jesus astonishes the people in the Capernaum synagogue with his teaching and authority. He taught with authority because he is the living Word of God. We are all witnesses to this living Word who is Jesus. We have no authority of our own; we simply proclaim his Word. Each member of the Church, by virtue of baptism and confirmation, has a prophetic role, and echoes the Word of God himself, both by words and example. We must walk our talk!

Two of the most misused and misunderstood words in our day are “prophet” and “prophetic.” In the popular mind, prophets fall into some well-worn stereotypes, always standing outside, protesting the system. They might be dressed poorly, shouting out and embarrassing the polite and the elite! For many such prophets, anger seems to be a signature emotion.

Yet in the Bible, prophecy often looks very different. There were certainly those lone prophets like Elijah and John the Baptist, but more often prophets were fully integrated into the “systems” and “structures” of their times. Think of Jeremiah, who came from the fallen priestly house of Eli; and Ezekiel, Zechariah and Isaiah were also priests and prophets of the court. Prophets appeared in the courts of the kings of Israel. In the moving story of King David, the prophet Nathan rebuked the king for adultery and murder but he was also capable of some rather discrete maneuvering in his efforts to put Solomon on the throne!

Authentic prophets were strident opponents of the status quo. They recognized and felt the injustice that kings and priests and false prophets wanted to whitewash. They shared the groans of the oppressed poor, of widows, orphans and the dispossessed, and articulated those groans in cries of woe. They denounced the system, but denounced a system in which they were often enmeshed. They experienced deeply what was wrong with that system, and did everything they could to bring about change from within the system.

It’s far too easy to denounce from a distance. Gestures of repudiation and condemnation cost so little, and adding the term prophetic may lend an aura of piety, importance and savvy to one’s reputations and works. But they don’t accomplish their goal of bringing about conversion, transformation and renewal.

Prophets in the Bible cannot afford gestures. They are called to speak the word of the Lord from within the court, often wreaking havoc in the process! Authentic prophets spoke the truth face-to-face with power, to powerful men and women whom the prophets knew intimately, frequently from their own position of power. And often, the prophets were in the employ of those whom they challenged!

Finally, a word on our own “prophetic” efforts to bring about change in the Church. I will be forever grateful to the late Jesuit Cardinal Avery Dulles for having instilled these ideas in my mind and heart years ago. The then Father Dulles said that reformers ought to speak prophetically. This may well be true, provided that the nature of prophecy be correctly understood. Father said that St. Thomas Aquinas made an essential distinction between prophecy as it functioned in the Old Testament and as it functions within the Church. The ancient prophets were sent for two purposes: “To establish the faith and to rectify behavior.” In our day, Father Dulles continued, “the faith is already founded, because the things promised of old have been fulfilled in Christ. But prophecy which has as its goal to rectify behavior neither ceases nor will ever cease.”

How do we speak the Word of God with authority today? How do we use our authority to further the Kingdom of God? How are our words, gestures, messages and lives prophetic today, in the Church and in the world?

[The readings for this Sunday are: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; and Mark 1:21-28]

(Image: “Jesus in Capernaum” by Rodolpho Amoedo)

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2008 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store.

Papal Politics and the Concept of Dialogue

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Over the weekend, Pope Francis addressed the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies. Speaking on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, the Holy Father focused on the concept of dialogue, lauding the academy for their work in furthering Christian-Islamic relations. He told them “the most effective antidote against all forms of violence is education towards the discovery and acceptance of differences.” In other words, dialogue.

Dialogue has been at the heart of so much of what Pope Francis has done over the course of his Pontificate. He’s recently demonstrated through brokering the thaw in Cuban-American relations, that it is far better for opposing sides of a conflict to talk than sabre-rattle. This is a lesson that politicians, nation states and the diplomatic community as a whole needs to come to terms with.

The reality is that in today’s world, nations are far too eager to isolate and cut-off other countries. Whether it is a refusal to engage in diplomatic relations, or the economic sanctioning of a nation, the only people who really end up suffering are average citizens. Depending on the players involved, the danger that can manifest itself from not talking can lead to terrifying outcomes.

After half a century of isolation, the United States was not able to oust the Castro brothers from power. It is a policy that was abandoned in the name of trying to find common ground, to shift “towards the discovery and acceptance of differences,” like Pope Francis said this weekend. This isn’t to say one compromises their principals, in fact the Holy Father cautioned against just that: “It would end up becoming ‘a way of deceiving others and denying them the good which we have been given to share generously with others.”

Much like the Peace of Westphalia which ended the destructive Thirty Years War in 1648, it is far better to peaceful disagree on matters of politics or faith and coexist, than to be in a constant state of active conflict, or worse killing one another.

Church-Chinese relations are arguably better today than they have been since the country’s communist revolution over half-a-century ago. Pope Francis has repeatedly expressed a desire to engage with China as soon as tomorrow, however he said the start of establishing that contact is a respectful attitude, something he says exists today. While the Holy See and the Chinese government still stand diametrically opposed to one another on a whole host of issues, dialogue, even little incremental steps, is far better than putting up an iron curtain and grabbing a pair of ear plugs.

Whether history will ultimately credit the efforts of the Holy See for a shift in the way early 21st century international relations operate, it is simply too early to tell. However the diplomatic tone and the outreach coming from Vatican City points to a Church that is prepared to engage with and talk to the world.

Pope Francis’ Homily – Solemnity of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle

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Conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
January 25, 2015

At 5:30 this evening (Rome time) in the Basilica of St. Paul outside the walls, Pope Francis presided at the celebration of Second Vespers for the Solemnity of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle. This ceremony formally concludes the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which had as its theme this year: “Give me some water to drink” (John 4:7), taken from John’s story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman. Many representatives of other Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities present in Rome took part in this ceremony. At the end of the Vespers and before the final blessings, Cardinal Kurth Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity greeted the Holy Father.

Here below is the Vatican translation of the Pope’s homily which was delivered in Italian.

On his way from Judea to Galilee, Jesus passes through Samaria. He has no problem dealing with Samaritans, who were considered by the Jews to be heretics, schismatics, separated. His attitude tells us that encounter with those who are different from ourselves can make us grow.

Weary from his journey, Jesus does not hesitate to ask the Samaritan woman for something to drink.  His thirst, however, is much more than physical: it is also a thirst for encounter, a desire to enter into dialogue with that woman and to invite her to make a journey of interior conversion. Jesus is patient, respectful of the person before him, and gradually reveals himself to her. His example encourages us to seek a serene encounter with others. To understand one another, and to grow in charity and truth, we need to pause, to accept and listen to one another. In this way, we already begin to experience unity.

The woman of Sychar asks Jesus about the place where God is truly worshiped. Jesus does not side with the mountain or the temple, but goes to the heart of the matter, breaking down every wall of division.  He speaks instead of the meaning of true worship: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:24). So many past controversies between Christians can be overcome when we put aside all polemical or apologetic approaches, and seek instead to grasp more fully what unites us, namely, our call to share in the mystery of the Father’s love revealed to us by the Son through the Holy Spirit. Christian unity will not be the fruit of subtle theoretical discussions in which each party tries to convince the other of the soundness of their opinions. We need to realize that, to plumb the depths of the mystery of God, we need one another, we need to encounter one another and to challenge one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who harmonizes diversities and overcomes conflicts.

Gradually the Samaritan woman comes to realize that the one who has asked her for a drink is able to slake her own thirst. Jesus in effect tells her that he is the source of living water which can satisfy her thirst for ever (cf. Jn 4:13-14). Our human existence is marked by boundless aspirations: we seek truth, we thirst for love, justice and freedom.  These desires can only be partially satisfied, for from the depths of our being we are prompted to seek “something more”, something capable of fully quenching our thirst. The response to these aspirations is given by God in Jesus Christ, in his paschal mystery. From the pierced side of Jesus there flowed blood and water (cf. Jn 19:34). He is the brimming fount of the water of the Holy Spirit, “the love of God poured into our hearts (Rom 5:5) on the day of our baptism. By the working of the Holy Spirit, we have become one in Christ, sons in the Son, true worshipers of the Father.  This mystery of love is the deepest ground of the unity which binds all Christians and is much greater than their historical divisions. To the extent that we humbly advance towards the Lord, then, we also draw nearer to one another.

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Her encounter with Jesus made the Samaritan women a missionary.  Having received a greater and more important gift than mere water from a well, she leaves her jar behind (cf. Jn 4:28) and runs back to tell her towns people that she has met the Christ (cf. Jn 4:29).  Her encounter with Jesus restored meaning and joy to her life, and she felt the desire to share this with others. Today there are so many men and women around us who are weary and thirsting, and who ask us Christians to give them something to drink.  It is a request which we cannot evade.

In the call to be evangelizers, all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities discover a privileged setting for closer cooperation. For this to be effective, we need to stop being self-enclosed, exclusive, and bent on imposing a uniformity based on merely human calculations (cf.Evangelii Gaudium, 131). Our shared commitment to proclaiming the Gospel enables us to overcome proselytism and competition in all their forms. All of us are at the service of the one Gospel!

In this joyful conviction, I offer a cordial and fraternal greeting to His Eminence Metropolitan Gennadios, the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch, to His Grace David Moxon, the personal representative in Rome of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and to all the representatives of the various Churches and Ecclesial Communions gathered here to celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. I am also pleased to greet the members of the Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches, and I offer them my best wishes for the fruitfulness of the plenary session to be held in these coming days. I also greet the students from the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, and the young recipients of study grants from by the Committee for Cultural Collaboration with the Orthodox Churches, centred in the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Samaritan3Also present today are men and women religious from various Churches and Ecclesial Communities who have taken part in an ecumenical meeting organized by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life, in conjunction with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, to mark the Year for Consecrated Life. Religious life, as prophetic sign of the world to come, is called to offer in our time a witness to that communion in Christ which transcends all differences and finds expression in concrete gestures of acceptance and dialogue. The pursuit of Christian unity cannot be the sole prerogative of individuals or religious communities particularly concerned with this issue.  A shared knowledge of the different traditions of consecrated life, and a fruitful exchange of experiences, can prove beneficial for the vitality of all forms of religious life in the different Churches and Ecclesial Communities.

Dear brothers and sisters, today all of us who thirst for peace and fraternity trustingly implore from our heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ the one Priest, and through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Apostle Paul and all the saints, the gift of full communion between all Christians, so that “the sacred mystery of the unity of the Church” (Unitatis Redintegratio, 2) may shine forth as the sign and instrument of reconciliation for the whole world.

Deacon-structing the Call: Conclusion part 2

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Last week I said that everyone gets called. But sometimes we don’t recognize it, because we’re distracted or ‘cause we’re not expecting it. But the call comes and looking at Scripture helps us recognize the Call when it comes.

First you have an encounter with Christ; an encounter with the Divine; then comes a calling. And it’s not we who encounter Christ; Christ comes out to encounter us. In every case, it’s God or Jesus who does the encountering (for more details on this first step, look at last week’s post).

Second: Just after the encounter, but just before the call, each person in Scripture had a profound sense of their inadequacy. They had a real sense of their uselessness and an awareness of their sinfulness. Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-2; 3-8) actually thinks that he’s going to die – that’s what happens when we’re in the presence of the divine- he says, “I am a man of unclean lips!” And Paul describes himself in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 as “one untimely born” or “abnormally born.” He is the “least of the apostles.” And he was; he used to persecute Christians. He was responsible for the arrest and even killing of some Christians. And Peter, when Jesus calls him in Luke 5:1-11, says “Go away from me, for I am a sinful man.” Each becomes aware of their sinfulness. This happens when we’re in the presence of God, but it happens before the call so that we know that whatever God is asking us to do, we will not do because we are so amazing; it is God who is going to do it through us. It’s also a good reminder of who gets called: Sinners. Sinners get called.

Last, just before the call, God asks us to do something strange or unusual. I think this is also so that we know it’s not us but God acting. Isaiah mouth is touched with a burning coal (not something I would recommend that you do at home). It makes no sense, but God says “trust me.” Paul is left blind and told to go to Damascus where Ananias will help him. Ananias is one of the guys that Paul was persecuting. “I know it doesn’t make sense; trust me.” And Peter, Peter is asked to take the boat back out. But it’s not the best time to fish and besides, there is no fish. Jesus says, “It doesn’t make any sense, but trust me.” And so, just before the call we have to trust and say, “Yes Lord, I will do what you are asking me to do.” Maybe it’s a bit of a test.

Then comes the call.

So, first you have a personal encounter with God; that encounter makes us aware of our inadequacy and last, that encounter involves trusting God. Then comes THE CALL. And this happens to everyone. God calls everyone. Everyone, at some point or another, especially if they are in a relationship with God, will be called. It’s not just for priests and people in religious life. This is one of the gifts of the Second Vatican Council: Everyone gets called. We’ve been sitting in the bleachers for way too long, it’s time for us to get on the ice!

And the call for everyone is holiness. We are all called to holiness. And we can best live our call to holiness in one of four main ways, called vocations: The single life, religious life; ordained life and married life. But it’s not our choice. They have been chosen for us. God has created us so that one of these vocations is our own personal and special way in which we can achieve holiness.

Some of you will be called to be holy through the Single Life. That’s good because not everyone is called to be married nor should everyone be married. And single people have a great gift of time – they don’t have the same family commitments and so they can serve.

And some people are called to the Ordained Life as deacons, priests or Bishops; or some are called to the Religious Life as sisters, brothers, monks, nuns, who live consecrated lives.

But most of us are called to the Married Life because that’s the way where we come closest to loving another person the way God loves us: freely, faithfully, fruitfully and totally. (St. John Paul II says in his Theology of the Body that “…the consciousness of the ‘spousal’ meaning of the body—constitutes the fundamental component of human existence in the world.” That means that living “spousally” is considered the purpose of our existence – it doesn’t mean that everyone should be married in this life – but we are all called to Marriage in the next life, for we will all be Married to the Lamb. Marriage on earth only pre-figures, points to – and sacramentally also truly is that to which it points – the Marriage in Heaven. It does mean that we are all created for this type of giving as exemplified in Married Love.) It is no coincidence nor surprise that most human beings are married for that has been written into our bodies – that’s the spousal meaning of our bodies.

But don’t forget that Marriage (as is every Vocation) is our way to holiness, to sainthood. God has given you your husband, your wife to help you be holy! You job is to help your husband or your wife to get to heaven! That’s beautiful! That’s definitely one reason why the Church takes Marriage very seriously.

Is that how you see your Marriage? This is your call to holiness. Do you live your marriage as a response to a call? Do you live your marriage as a response to a personal encounter with Christ? Do you live your marriage daily, as a personal encounter with Christ? Do you live your marriage with a keen awareness that you can’t do it alone and that you have to trust God all the way? Do you live your life, whether you’re married, single, ordained or in religious life, as a response to a call to holiness?

Mother Teresa used to say that God does not call us to do great things, but to do small things with great love. Maybe you will be called to do great things, I don’t know, but if not, do you live your life, no matter which vocation you live, doing small things with great love? Can we say yes to God?

Can we get on the holiness boat and set out into the deep?

Unsung Heros No More

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It’s a familiar story, religious women doing exceptional works and for the most part going unnoticed.  But that’s about to change. Thanks to a $900 000 dollar grant from the Conrad Hilton Foundation. The Loyola Institute for Ministry will use the grant to help Catholic sisters in the U.S. and Africa build their social media presence.

This past week, Fr. Tom Rosica, CSB and I met with the recipients of the grant in New Orleans. Having spent some time with them, all I can say is that I was blown away.  It’s inspiring to hear about their work: from housing and educating HIV orphans, to preventing human trafficking, and educating young girls in the remotest parts of the world, these ‘Brides of Christ’ are magnificent examples of Christian discipleship.

One community even has two sisters making roads into the interior of Timor-Leste to minister to the needy.

I’m delighted that Salt+Light will work closely with the Sisters, and we’re looking forward to developing a series which will highlight the Sisters’ charisms.

As we progress through the stages of this project, I look forward to sharing with you the joys and I ask you pray for us as we undertake this significant endeavour.

Stay tuned.

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The Decree on Ecumenism: 50 Years Later part 3

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On January 17, 2015, the Archdiocese of Vancouver sponsored a Symposium on Christian Unity, titled Have We Answered the Call?, at St. Francis Xavier Church, in honour of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, of Salt + Light Catholic Media Foundation, gave the keynote address titled The Decree on Ecumenism: 50 Years Later. In part 3 of his address, Fr. Rosica concludes his lecture by focusing on Pope Francis and his movement toward total Christian Unity, a process that requires time and patience.

We must live in the present moment of communion that already exists among us but which is still not a full or perfect communion. It is an intermediate situation between the “already” and the “not yet”. Full communion in the complete sense can therefore be only an eschatological hope. Here on earth the church will always be a pilgrim church struggling with tensions, schisms and apostasy.

We need to fan the flames of a new ecumenical enthusiasm. But this does not mean devising unrealistic utopias of the future. Instead of staring at the impossible, and cursing it, we have to live the already given and possible communio, and do what is possible today. Patience is the younger sister of Christian hope.

Ecumenism of Pope Francis

A central image of the Christian life for Pope Francis is the movement toward Christian unity – a movement that happens one step at a time. For Francis, it is not about waiting for others to catch up with us. It is about everyone continuing to walk with and toward the Lord, supporting and learning from the brothers and sisters whom God places on the same path. The deeper we all grow in holiness, the closer we will be to one another.

While Francis’ gestures are new, and even disconcerting to some, the idea of growth in unity being the result of growth in fidelity to Christ is not. The unity we seek requires inner conversion that is both common and personal. It is not merely a matter of cordiality, or good cooperation, it is necessary above all to strengthen our faith in God, in the God of Jesus Christ, who spoke to us and took on our flesh and blood in the incarnation.

Two months after his election to the See of Peter, in his daily homily in the chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae on May 13, 2013, Francis stressed the courageous attitude of St. Paul in the Areopagus, when, in speaking to the Athenian crowd, the Apostle to the Gentiles sought to build bridges to proclaim the Gospel. Francis called Paul’s attitude one that “seeks dialogue” and is “closer to the heart” of the listener. The Pope said that this is the reason why St. Paul was a real pontifex: a “builder of bridges and not of walls.” The Pope went on to say that this makes us think of the attitude that a Christian ought always to have.

“A Christian must proclaim Jesus Christ in such a way that He be accepted: received, not refused – and Paul knows that he has to sow the Gospel message. …Paul does not say to the Athenians: ‘This is the encyclopedia of truth. Study this and you have the truth, the truth.’ No! The truth does not enter into an encyclopedia. The truth is an encounter – it is a meeting with Supreme Truth: Jesus, the great truth. No one owns the truth. We receive the truth when we meet it.”

The Pope warned that, “Christians who are afraid to build bridges and prefer to build walls are Christians who are not sure of their faith, not sure of Jesus Christ.” The Pope exhorted Christians to do as Paul did and begin to “build bridges and to move forward.”

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Unitatis Redintegratio, we recall the words that Pope Francis shared in the Holy Sepulcher with the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on May 25, 2014 in their recommitment to, and anticipation of, full sacramental unity:

“Clearly we cannot deny the divisions which continue to exist among us, the disciples of Jesus: this sacred place makes us even more painfully aware of how tragic they are. …our disagreements must not frighten us and paralyze our progress. We need to believe that, just as the stone before the tomb was cast aside, so too every obstacle to our full communion will also be removed. This will be a grace of resurrection, of which we can have a foretaste even today. Every time we ask forgiveness of one another for our sins against other Christians and every time we find the courage to grant and receive such forgiveness, we experience the resurrection! Every time we put behind us our longstanding prejudices and find the courage to build new fraternal relationships, we confess that Christ is truly risen! Every time we reflect on the future of the Church in the light of her vocation to unity, the dawn of Easter breaks forth! Here I reiterate the hope already expressed by my predecessors for a continued dialogue with all our brothers and sisters in Christ, aimed at finding a means of exercising the specific ministry of the Bishop of Rome which, in fidelity to his mission, can be open to a new situation and can be, in the present context, a service of love and of communion acknowledged by all (cf. John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint, 95-96).

The 50th anniversary of the Vatican II Decree on Christian Unity is a moment to encourage new vision and to renew our determination that “all may be one.” We have indeed answered the call given to the Church and the churches over 50 years ago. But it is a call that continues to echo in our minds and hearts and we must continue to answer the Lord’s call each day. May the Lord rouse us even more in these days, as we are inspired by the current Bishop of Rome to work for the unity of the Church of Jesus Christ in the world. May the same Spirit that worked wonders at the Second Vatican Council send us “into the deep” so that the world may be converted to the Gospel and so be saved, to the glory of God.

I share this dream with you at the end of my presentation. It was written by a great Ecumenist, colleague and friend, Paulist Fr. Thomas Ryan in his book A Survival Guide for Ecumenically Minded Christians [Novalis 1989]:

Waiting for the day when the Spirit will make us one…

When God puts us back together again
with the aid of our willingness to cooperate
this great church will be marked by
the dignity and scholarship of the Anglicans,
the order and sacraments of the Roman Catholics,
the warm fellowship of the Methodists,
the Presbyterian desire for good preaching,
and the Lutheran respect for sound theology.

There will be the Baptist concern for individual salvation,
the Congregational respect for the rights of the lay members,
the Pentecostal reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit,
and the Quaker appreciation for silence.

We will find there the Mennonite sense of community,
the social action of the Salvation army,
and the Reformed love of the bible
all wrapped in Orthodox reverence
before the mystery of God.

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

Communicating the Family: A Privileged Place of Encounter with the Gift of Love

Pope Family

Read the message of His Holiness Pope Francis from Pontifical Council for Social Communications on the 49th World Communications Day: the importance of the family as ‘environment in which we learn to communicate’.

Pontifical Council for Social Communications 
49th World Communications Day 2015
Message of His Holiness Pope Francis

The family is a subject of profound reflection by the Church and of a process involving two Synods: the recent extraordinary assembly and the ordinary assembly scheduled for next October.  So I thought it appropriate that the theme for the next World Communications Day should have the family as its point of reference.  After all, it is in the context of the family that we first learn how to communicate.  Focusing on this context can help to make our communication more authentic and humane, while helping us to view the family in a new perspective.

We can draw inspiration from the Gospel passage which relates the visit of Mary to Elizabeth (Lk 1:39-56).  “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb’.” (vv. 41-42)

This episode first shows us how communication is a dialogue intertwined with the language of the body.  The first response to Mary’s greeting is given by the child, who leaps for joy in the womb of Elizabeth.  Joy at meeting others, which is something we learn even before being born, is, in one sense, the archetype and symbol of every other form of communication.  The womb which hosts us is the first “school” of communication, a place of listening and physical contact where we begin to familiarize ourselves with the outside world within a protected environment, with the reassuring sound of the mother’s heartbeat.  This encounter between two persons, so intimately related while still distinct from each other, an encounter so full of promise, is our first experience of communication.  It is an experience which we all share, since each of us was born of a mother.

Even after we have come into the world, in some sense we are still in a “womb”, which is the family.  A womb made up of various interrelated persons: the family is “where we learn to live with others despite our differences” (Evangelii Gaudium, 66).  Notwithstanding the differences of gender and age between them, family members accept one another because there is a bond between them.  The wider the range of these relationships and the greater the differences of age, the richer will be our living environment.  It is this bond which is at the root of language, which in turn strengthens the bond.  We do not create our language; we can use it because we have received it.  It is in the family that we learn to speak our “mother tongue”, the language of those who have gone before us. (cf. 2 Macc 7:25,27).  In the family we realize that others have preceded us, they made it possible for us to exist and in our turn to generate life and to do something good and beautiful.  We can give because we have received.  This virtuous circle is at the heart of the family’s ability to communicate among its members and with others.  More generally, it is the model for all communication.

The experience of this relationship which “precedes” us enables the family to become the setting in which the most basic form of communication, which is prayer, is handed down.  When parents put their newborn children to sleep, they frequently entrust them to God, asking that he watch over them.  When the children are a little older, parents help them to recite some simple prayers, thinking with affection of other people, such as grandparents, relatives, the sick and suffering, and all those in need of God’s help.  It was in our families that the majority of us learned the religious dimension of communication, which in the case of Christianity is permeated with love, the love that God bestows upon us and which we then offer to others.

In the family, we leaelizabethrn to embrace and support one another, to discern the meaning of facial expressions and moments of silence, to laugh and cry together with people who did not choose one other yet are so important to each other.  This greatly helps us to understand the meaning of communication as recognizing and creating closeness.  When we lessen distances by growing closer and accepting one another, we experience gratitude and joy.  Mary’s greeting and the stirring of her child are a blessing for Elizabeth; they are followed by the beautiful canticle of the Magnificat, in which Mary praises God’s loving plan for her and for her people.  A “yes” spoken with faith can have effects that go well beyond ourselves and our place in the world.  To “visit” is to open doors, not remaining closed in our little world, but rather going out to others.  So too the family comes alive as it reaches beyond itself; families who do so communicate their message of life and communion, giving comfort and hope to more fragile families, and thus build up the Church herself, which is the family of families.

More than anywhere else, the family is where we daily experience our own limits and those of others, the problems great and small entailed in living peacefully with others.  A perfect family does not exist.  We should not be fearful of imperfections, weakness or even conflict, but rather learn how to deal with them constructively.  The family, where we keep loving one another despite our limits and sins, thus becomes a school of forgiveness.  Forgiveness is itself a process of communication.  When contrition is expressed and accepted, it becomes possible to restore and rebuild the communication which broke down.  A child who has learned in the family to listen to others, to speak respectfully and to express his or her view without negating that of others, will be a force for dialogue and reconciliation in society.

When it comes to the challenges of communication, families who have children with one or more disabilities have much to teach us.  A motor, sensory or mental limitation can be a reason for closing in on ourselves, but it can also become, thanks to the love of parents, siblings, and friends, an incentive to openness, sharing and ready communication with all.  It can also help schools, parishes and associations to become more welcoming and inclusive of everyone.

In a world where people often curse, use foul language, speak badly of others, sow discord and poison our human environment by gossip, the family can teach us to understand communication as a blessing.  In situations apparently dominated by hatred and violence, where families are separated by stone walls or the no less impenetrable walls of prejudice and resentment, where there seem to be good reasons for saying “enough is enough”, it is only by blessing rather than cursing, by visiting rather than repelling, and by accepting rather than fighting, that we can break the spiral of evil, show that goodness is always possible, and educate our children to fellowship.

Today the modern media, which are an essential part of life for young people in particular, can be both a help and a hindrance to communication in and between families.  The media can be a hindrance if they become a way to avoid listening to others, to evade physical contact, to fill up every moment of silence and rest, so that we forget that “silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist.” (BENEDICT XVI, Message for the 2012 World Communications Day).  The media can help communication when they enable people to share their stories, to stay in contact with distant friends, to thank others or to seek their forgiveness, and to open the door to new encounters.  By growing daily in our awareness of the vital importance of encountering others, these “new possibilities”, we will employ technology wisely, rather than letting ourselves be dominated by it.  Here too, parents are the primary educators, but they cannot be left to their own devices.  The Christian community is called to help them in teaching children how to live in a media environment in a way consonant with the dignity of the human person and service of the common good.

The great challenge facing us today is to learn once again how to talk to one another, not simply how to generate and consume information.  The latter is a tendency which our important and influential modern communications media can encourage.  Information is important, but it is not enough.  All too often things get simplified, different positions and viewpoints are pitted against one another, and people are invited to take sides, rather than to see things as a whole.

The family, in conclusion, is not a subject of debate or a terrain for ideological skirmishes.  Rather, it is an environment in which we learn to communicate in an experience of closeness, a setting where communication takes place, a “communicating community”.  The family is a community which provides help, which celebrates life and is fruitful.  Once we realize this, we will once more be able to see how the family continues to be a rich human resource, as opposed to a problem or an institution in crisis.  At times the media can tend to present the family as a kind of abstract model which has to be accepted or rejected, defended or attacked, rather than as a living reality.  Or else a grounds for ideological clashes rather than as a setting where we can all learn what it means to communicate in a love received and returned.  Relating our experiences means realizing that our lives are bound together as a single reality, that our voices are many, and that each is unique.

Families should be seen as a resource rather than as a problem for society.  Families at their best actively communicate by their witness the beauty and the richness of the relationship between man and woman, and between parents and children.  We are not fighting to defend the past.  Rather, with patience and trust, we are working to build a better future for the world in which we live.

From the Vatican, 23 January 2015, Vigil of the Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales.

It’s worth taking another look at the “Asian Pope Francis”

FrancisTagle

For those who watched or witnessed the recent papal visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines, it’s impossible not to have noticed the involvement of Manila’s archbishop, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle. Tagle is easily the most popular Cardinal of the Catholic Church, and not just among Filipinos. He’s been likened to Pope Francis, in wide popularity, yes, but also in his humble demeanor, authenticity and strong pastoral sense.

Much has been written about Tagle since his ordination as bishop in 2001 (now 57, he was a youthful 43 at the time. In comparison, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was made bishop at 56). His appointment as Cardinal in November of 2012 came as a surprise because of his age, but even more significant was the context of that unusual consistory. A month earlier during the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he would appoint six new cardinals, which in hindsight, we know was a preemptive move leading up to his resignation on February 28th, 2013. Pope Benedict obviously wanted Tagle in the conclave.

In Pope Francis’ four day trip to the Philippines, nothing was more astonishing than the final Mass he celebrated with six-million-plus faithful Filipinos in rainy conditions. It was a record-breaking spectacle. At the end of the Mass the local bishop spoke a few words of thanks, as is the tradition, and since the celebration took place in Manila, the honor went to Cardinal Tagle.

After thanking the Pope on behalf of the people, Tagle said:

“You arrived in the Philippines three days ago. Tomorrow you will go. Every Filipino wants to go with you! Don’t be afraid, every Filipino wants to go with you—not to Rome—but to the peripheries! We want to go with you to the shanties, to prison cells, to hospitals, to the world of politics, finance, arts, sciences, culture, education, and social communications. We will go to those worlds to bring the light of Christ. Jesus is the center of your pastoral visit and the cornerstone of the Church. We will go with you, Holy Father, where the Light of Jesus is needed. Here in Luneta, the Qurino Grandstand, where heroes are revered, where newly elected presidents take office and popes meet the Filipino people; here in this place of new beginnings, please Holy Father, send us as your missionaries of light! Send us! Before you go, Holy Father, send us to spread the light of Jesus. Wherever you see the light of Jesus shining, even in Rome, even in Santa Marta, remember the Filipino people are with you in spreading the light of Jesus!”

As Cardinal Tagle spoke, he and the Pope looked at each other with great affection. There was a sense of emotion that could be felt, and it was clear to everyone that this was not a meeting of formal protocol, but a meeting of minds and hearts.

The Cardinal’s words are worth noting. They were a clear pronouncement of solidarity with the Pope and his vision of a church with Christ at its center that lives on the peripheries. The roller-coaster pontificate of Pope Francis has shown that that message is not easy to digest for some Catholics, let alone to shout from the rooftops as Tagle did.

But, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Tagle took such a stand with the current Pontiff. Yes, his humility, authenticity and pastoral sense can be likened to Francis. But Tagle has been around for a lot longer than Pope Francis. In other words, the song that Francis is singing is one Tagle knows the words to.

For example, at the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization Tagle quickly became a major player. His intervention was one of the shortest and most direct, and helped shift the discussion away from a critique of secularism, materialism and the like, to one of genuine self-reflection. He called for a Church that is more humble; a Church that is respectful of every person, especially the neglected; a Church that has the capacity for silence, knowing it does not possess the answer to every problem facing the human family. “The world,” he said, “takes delight in a simple witness to Jesus—meek and humble of heart.”

Last October during the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, I had the chance to interview Tagle after the publication of the infamous “midterm report”. The report, which used unprecedented language of inclusion and welcome regarding people with a homosexual orientation, was criticized by some bishops who wanted to critique and amend it prior to its publication.

In our interview, Tagle defended the content of the document and praised the “spirit” and “creative tension” it communicated, feeling that it was faithful to the week-one discussions. When I asked him about the spirit inside the Synod, he called it, “a spirit of listening… which led me to a rather humble stance.” This humility, he continued, reminded the bishops that the situations families find themselves in today are often complex. Juxtaposed to the ideals of the Church’s tradition, Tagle finished by asking, “Can we allow these two realities to intersect, and allow the [Holy] Spirit to surprise us?”

I reference this last quote in order to bring us back to the original thought: the parallels between Cardinal Tagle and Pope Francis. In his homily during the closing Mass of the Synod, at which Pope Paul VI was beatified, Pope Francis said in almost “Tagle-an” words:

“God is not afraid of new things! That is why he is continually surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways. He renews us: he constantly makes us “new”. A Christian who lives the Gospel is “God’s newness” in the Church and in the world. How much God loves this “newness”!”

With the powerful image of these two bishops in front of us, we might say that a good test of humility—and faith—is the degree to which we are open to and able to be surprised by God. In the context of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, that means precisely putting the reality of complex pastoral situations in dialogue with the Church’s tradition and allowing for new possibilities to emerge. What happens at part-two of the Synod in October and in the coming years is anybody’s guess; Tagle was re-appointed last November as one of the presidents for the 2015 Synod by Francis. What we do know is that with Cardinal Tagle, Pope Francis isn’t the only “voice crying out in the wilderness” (John 1:23)

Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley Homily during March for Life Vigil Mass

CardSean

Below is the prepared text of the homily Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley delivered at the March for Life Vigil Mass celebrated at the Basilica of the immaculate Conception in Washignton D.C. Jan. 21, 2015.

There is a popular diner near the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. One of the items on the menu is called “The Emergency Room” consisting of bacon, sausages, eggs, pancakes, french toast, hash browns. The clientele are people from the hood, a few Archie and Edith Bunkers, Ralph and Alice Kramdens, cops and priests. It’s the kind of place you could invite Pope Francis to. Juke box music from the 50’s and 60’s adds to the atmosphere. While having dinner there last week with Fr. O’Leary and Fr. Kickham, the phone rang. I presumed it was a telemarketer. It was Oprah Winfrey. I almost had to order “the emergency room.” She called to tell me she was reading cardinalseansblog.org and wanted to thank me for the comments I had published on the blog.

You have to feed the blog. I had shared some reflections about the film Selma. To me, one of the very moving aspects of the film is to see how people of faith came together to witness to the dignity of every human being made in the image and likeness of God. They were Protestant, Catholics, Jews, Greek Orthodox, standing together courageously. One of the ministers from Boston, a 38 year old white man, Reverend James Reel, was beaten to death leaving behind a wife and four small children. He had served for four years here in Washington D.C. at All Souls Church on 16th Street, just across from my offices at the Spanish Catholic Center. At the time of his death he was working for the Quakers in Boston as director of a housing program focusing on desegregation. Martin Luther King called him the defense attorney of the innocent in the court of public opinion. Today that is our job.

The quest for human rights and solidarity brought together people of faith to try to repair the world –to use the Jewish expression. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis says, “No one should demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanction of personal life without influence on societal and national life… The Church cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.”

We are called upon to build a better world. “The Church’s social thought,” says Pope Francis, “offers proposals, works for change and constantly points to the hope born of the loving heart of Jesus Christ.”

In the history of our country, people of faith have worked together to overcome racism and injustice. Now we come together to be the defense attorney for the innocent unborn and the vulnerable elderly and all those whose right to life is threatened. We shall overcome.

As a matter of fact, we are overcoming, but it is a well kept secret.

We have all heard of Greek Mythology and Roman Mythology. I want to talk about some American Mythology.

There are many myths that are circulating and cause a lot of harm, especially since our politicians often espouse them. First of all, you will hear that abortion is a woman’s issue; secondly, that most Americans are pro-choice, pro abortion; and thirdly, that young people are overwhelmingly in favor of the pro-choice position.

Earlier this month in an op-ed on the editorial page of the New York Times entitled, The Abortion Stereotype, Razib Kahn observes that in polling done over the last 20 years, women have been consistently more pro-life than men.

Despite the impression that a solid majority of Americans back legal abortions, the Gallup polls indicate that about the same number of Americans identify as pro-choice as do pro-life, but in fact 58% of Americans oppose all or most abortions. If abortion depended on the ballot box rather than an activist court, it would be greatly reduced.

Studies have shown that women are more pro-life than men. Certainly the maternal instincts and closeness to the source of life, dispose women to be more protective of children. So, despite the talk about “the woman’s body” and the “woman’s choice”, oftentimes the big supporter of abortion is the man who is quite happy to invest all reproductive responsibility in the woman. This creates a situation in which men can easily rationalize their irresponsibility towards women who opt not to have an abortion.

According to the Allan Gutmacher Institute, 80% of all abortions are sought by single women. With abortion as an option, a man can compel a woman to have an abortion by denying his responsibility or threatening to abandon her if she “chooses” to give birth. For the unwilling father, an abortion is a bargain compared to monthly child support payments.

Even a majority of so-called pro-choice Americans actually favor informed consent for mothers, abortion bans in the third trimester, bans on partial-birth abortions, required parental consent for minors, 24 hour waiting periods and even abortion bans in the second trimester. These are polls by Gallup, CBS and the New York Times, not by EWTN, Catholic University and the Vatican.

Another myth proclaims young people are more pro-choice, to use the terminology. Once again the polls are unanimous in showing that young Americans are the most pro-life segment of the American people.

Upon her resignation in 2012, NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) President Nancy Keegan stated that there is a large “intensity gap” among young people on the subject of abortion. We have already seen that the majority of young people are pro-life. An internal poll by NARAL shows that 51% of pro-life young people see abortion as an important electoral issue, while only 20% of pro-choice young people see abortion as an important electoral issue.

Gallup in 2010 declared that “pro-life is the new normal”. Congratulations, you are normal.

But you know there are some people who are using these American myths: that the majority of women, the majority of Americans, the majority of young people are pro-choice. It is a lie that is being foisted on the American people to try to convince people to embrace abortion with the flag and apple pie. We need to make sure that our political leaders are brought up to date and begin to take the pro-life ideals of Americans seriously.

It is good to recall that even if all the myths were true that the American people, women and youth were overwhelmingly in favor of abortion, that would not alter the sacredness of human life and our absolute obligation to protect and defend this most precious gift that is life.

In the first reading from the book of Exodus we heard about the two midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who resisted the orders of the Pharaoh to kill the babies. They were convinced of the sacredness of each and every life and were willing to submit themselves to the wrath of the Pharaoh rather than abort one innocent child.

Recently, addressing a group of Catholic doctors in Rome, the Holy Father, Pope Francis stated: “If the Hippocratic Oath commits you to always be servants of life, the Gospel pushes you further: to love life no matter what, especially when it is in need of special care and attention.” The Holy Father warns the health care workers that “The dominant thinking sometimes suggests a ‘false compassion,’ that which believes that it is helpful to women to promote abortion; and act of dignity to obtain euthanasia; a scientific breakthrough to ‘produce’ a child and to consider it to be a right rather than a gift to welcome.”

The compassion of the Gospel is that which accompanies in times of need, that is, the compassion of the Good Samaritan who “Sees, has compassion, approaches and provides concrete help.”

The Holy Father tells the doctors: “Your mission puts you in daily contact with many forms of suffering. Fidelity to the Gospel of Life and respect for life as a gift from God sometimes requires choices that are courageous and go against the current, which may become points of conscientious objection.”

The Holy Father is reminding our Catholic Healthcare workers that they must be like the valiant midwives who refused to kill the Hebrew babies at the behest of the Pharaoh.

One of the greatest challenges to people of faith in our culture is the erosion of conscience rights, the space we need as a Catholic community to carry on our ministries and works of mercy without violating God’s law and our conscience.

In a certain way the Rich Young Man in today’s Gospel reminds us of many young people today, who are asking serious questions about the meaning of our existence, why we are here and what we should do with our lives? What is true success? What is happiness?

Not only does the Rich Young Man ask the right questions, but he is asking the right person, Jesus Christ: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

When I ask confirmation candidates or classrooms I visit: How did Jesus answer the Rich Young Man? Invariably, I am told: Jesus said: “Go sell what you have, give the money to the poor and come and follow me.” That is correct, but it is not the first thing Jesus says. Jesus says if you want to inherit eternal life, keep the commandments. And the first commandment Jesus mentions is: “Thou shall not kill.”

This story of the Rich Young Man appears in all the synoptic Gospels. And Jesus’ answer always begins with: “Thou shall not kill.”

We are all here today because we are convinced that human happiness and inheriting eternal life require us to embrace this commandment: “Thou shall not kill or to express it positively, “Thou shall protect human life.”

The second command Jesus mentions: “Thou shall not commit adultery.” To express this positively, “practice chastity in your life.”

We know that unwanted pregnancies often end in abortion. Many unwanted pregnancies are the result of a culture that is always encouraging promiscuity.

People who favor legal abortion claim they want to reduce the number of abortions. One of the logical ways to reduce the number of abortions would be to discourage the promiscuous behavior that is rampant in our culture. There are many instances of positive social changes that have been brought about by public consensus reinforced in advertising, educational efforts and use of mass media.

The campaigns against smoking and the public backlash against the promotion of tobacco in movies and on TV has done much to curb smoking and has contributed much to a healthier America.

The glamorization of promiscuity needs to be reversed by having people speak out against it the way people object to demeaning media portrayals of women and African-Americans. Like these, it is not a matter of passing laws but of changing what we deem as acceptable in society.

So Jesus’ first two instructions for happiness are: “Thou shall not kill, Thou shall not commit adultery.” Protect innocent human life, embrace the discipline of chastity which protects the transmission of life.

Jesus goes on to tell the Young Man to honor his mother and father. An important part of discipleship is respecting the family, nurturing relations, preserving the Family as the sanctuary of Life.

The Rich Young Man proudly proclaims that he had observed the commandments from his youth. That is really impressive. Not every Catholic can say that. Unfortunately, the Rich Young Man was so busy congratulating himself that he was totally unprepared for what followed. Jesus says thanks for keeping the commandments, but that is not enough. Jesus tells him: “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell everything that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come and follow me.”

LifeVigilMass

The young man said to himself: I am keeping the commandments, Thou shall not kill — I’m pro-life. Thou shall not commit adultery –I follow the discipline of chastity, and now I have to help the poor with my money? It is too much.

The Rich Young Man thought it was either/or, but Jesus is telling us it is both/and. We follow the commandments, we are pro-life and we help the poor.

The Gospel says he went away sad for he had many possessions. How dangerous money can be when it becomes our master. Jesus said: “How hard it is to enter the Kingdom. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”

Chesterton once said that ever since Jesus made this statement, scientists have been trying to breed smaller camels and engineers are trying to make bigger needles!

Part of the Gospel of Life has to be about loving and helping the poor. Indeed, reducing poverty will also reduce the number of abortions. Poor and low income women account for more than half of the abortions performed each year in our country.

Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium says that just as the commandment “Thou shall not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shall not kill” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have a throw away culture that is now spreading.

The Holy Father warns us both at Lampedusa and in Evangelii Gaudium about the globalization of indifference. He says, “Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor as though they were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”

The Pro Life movement in the Catholic Church is about overcoming that indifference, indifference to the suffering of a woman in a difficult pregnancy, indifference to the voiceless child who is destined to be part of the statistic of a million killed in the womb each year, indifferent to the poverty and suffering of so many.

Indifference is our greatest enemy. We see the antidote in today’s Gospel. The Lord looks at the confused young man, and St. Marks writes: “And he loved him.” The confused young man went away sad because he did not realize how much the Lord loved him. Had he even suspected I am sure he would have given the money away gladly, but in his insecurity and fear, he leaves. He goes away sad.

Christ has given us the formula for joy in the Gospel. We must learn to look on people with love. An attitude of judgmental self righteousness is not going to change peoples’ attitudes and save babies. We need to be the field hospital not Judge Judy. We need to be the merciful face of Christ in the way we promote adoption, aware of how difficult it is for birth mothers to choose that option. We also need to expand our outreach in Project Rachel to those whose lives have been devastated by abortion.

To change people’s hearts we must love them and they must realize that we care about them. They need the witness of our love and our joy. To evangelize is to be a messenger of joy, of good news.

The rich young man went away sad. He needed to meet someone like St. Francis, another rich young man who was filled with joy after kissing the leper and giving all his money and clothes to the poor.

As Pope Francis reminds us: “When St. Paul approached the apostles in Jerusalem to discern whether he was running or had run in vain”, the key criterion of authenticity which they presented was that he should not forget the poor. This important principle, namely that the Pauline communities should not succumb to the self-centered life style of the pagans, remains timely today when a new self-centered paganism is growing. We may not always be able to reflect adequately the beauty of the Gospel, but there is one sign which we should never lack: the option for those who are least, those whom society discards.”

To me, Mother Teresa is the model of the pro-life movement because she witnessed to the preciousness of life by her care for the poor. Her first ministry was collecting the dying people on the streets of Calcutta to take them to an old abandoned Hindu temple so that she and her sisters could take care of them so that they could die with dignity, surrounded by love. She called this “doing something beautiful for God.”

What must characterize the pro-life movement is a special love for the poor, the marginalized, the suffering, and especially human life that is in danger of being discarded.

When Helen Alvaré worked our Pro-life office she always told the Bishops: “Be positive. We are not against anything, we are for something. We are for life.”

At times we might be tempted to curse those who advocate for abortions and promote and defend this barbaric practice. But Paul tells us: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.”

One of the wisest pieces of advice in Evangelii Gaudium is found in Paragraph 168. As for the moral component of catechesis, which promotes growth in fidelity to the Gospel way of life, it is helpful to stress again and again the attractiveness and the ideal (of the Gospel Way of Life). In light of that positive message, our rejection of the evils which endanger that life can be better understood. Rather than experts in dire predictions, dour judgments bent on routing out every threat and deviation, we should appear joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of the goodness and beauty which shine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel.

We shall overcome the indifference only by love. A love that will allow us to see in every unborn child a precious gift, a fellow human being.

We must direct our love and attention to wherever life is most threatened and show by our attitudes, words and actions that life is precious, and we must not kill.

We must work tirelessly to change the unjust laws, but we must work even harder to change hearts, to build a civilization of love. Solidarity and community are the antidotes to the individualism and alienation that lead people on the path of abortion and euthanasia.

The rich young man left in discouragement because what Christ asked of him was difficult. The challenges we face are great and discouragement is our greatest enemy.

But know that Jesus is looking on us with love, His love should energize and unite us. No sacrifice is too great, we must not count the cost, but press on with the full assurance that we shall overcome.

(CNS photo/Bob Roller)