Being Christian is not the Result of an Ethical Choice

Mt Teresa cropped

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – October 26, 2014

Today’s first reading from Exodus (22:21-27) and Matthew’s Gospel story about the greatest commandment (22:34-40) challenge us in the ways that we love God and neighbour. The Exodus reading relates some specific provisions of the Law regarding widows, orphans, and the poor. The Lord reminds his people that they themselves were once strangers in a foreign land. To the strangers, widows, orphans, and the poor we must show justice and compassion. If not, the Lord himself will punish wrongdoers and defend the helpless.

The Lord deals severely with our negative attitudes and action towards others, particularly the poor, strangers, the disadvantaged, and those different from us. The authenticity of our faith, our love of God, and our relationship with Christ is measured by the way we treat others.

The readings challenge us to seek repentance and forgiveness for our negative attitudes towards others and the way we tend to treat them. Today’s Gospel contains the fundamental prayer of the Shema – the Hebrew profession of faith: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Just as we profess our faith with the Creed in Christian worship, the Jewish people profess their faith with the Shema in their synagogue services. The Shema is a summary of true religion: “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” (6:4-5).

Matthew 22:34-40 has a Marcan parallel (12:28-34) which is an exchange between Jesus and a scribe who is impressed by the way Jesus has conducted himself in the previous controversy, and compliments him for the answer he gives him. Jesus responds by saying he is, “not far from the kingdom of God” (12:34). Matthew has further developed that scene.

The scholarship of the Pharisees was the knowledge of the Law, which they regarded as the sum of wisdom and the only true learning. The position of scribe in the Jewish community was a respected place of leadership. At first glance, the scholar’s question to Jesus appears to be very honest.

The teachers of the Torah (scribes and Rabbis) had always argued about the relative importance of the commandments in the Old Testament. Scribes were the scholars and intellectuals of Judaism. The Pharisees identified 613 commandments in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). Of those 613: 248 were positive, “you shall” commandments, while 365 were negative, “you shall not” commandments. The fundamental question, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” offers Jesus an important teaching moment as he is “put to the test.”

In his response, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and the Shema, recited daily by the Jews. Even though Jesus is asked for one commandment, he provides two in his response. In combining the two commandments, Jesus goes beyond the extent of the question put to him and joins to the greatest and the first commandment, a second: love your neighbour (Leviticus 19:18). The double commandment is the source from which the whole law and the prophets are derived. Jesus does not discard other commandments. He explicitly adds: “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40). The remarkable thing about the Marcan parallel is that the “scholar” expresses agreement with Jesus by paraphrasing him without any hint of hostility or irony (Mark 12:33-34).

Love of God and neighbour not an original idea of Jesus

Love of God and love of neighbour as the fulfilment of the law is not an original idea of Jesus. It exists very early in the Hebrew Scriptures. There is something unique, however, in Jesus’ assertion that they are alike. Jesus teaches that we cannot have one without the other.

Motivation to love our neighbour springs from our love of God; our love of God is demonstrated and strengthened by our love of neighbour. Love of neighbour is not only a love that is demanded by the love of God, an achievement flowing from it; it is also in a certain sense its antecedent condition. There is no real love for God that is not, in itself, already a love for neighbour; and love for God comes to its own identity through its fulfilment in a love for neighbour.

Teaching of Moses and Jesus

Moses teaches in the Shema (cf. Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:34) – and Jesus reaffirms in today’s Gospel – that all of the commandments are summed up in the love of God and loving-kindness towards one’s neighbour. Every time that Jews recite the “Shema Israel” and when Christians recall the first and second great commandments, we are, by God’s grace, brought closer to each other. Whenever we make the sign of the Cross, we are tracing the Shema upon our bodies as we touch our head, heart, and shoulders and pledge them to God’s service.

God is Love

In light of today’s Scripture readings, let us reflect on two texts this week. The first is #42 of Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church from the Second Vatican Council:

“God is love, and he who abides in love, abides in God and God in Him.” But, God pours out his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, Who has been given to us; thus the first and most necessary gift is love, by which we love God above all things and our neighbour because of God. Indeed, in order that love, as good seed may grow and bring forth fruit in the soul, each one of the faithful must willingly hear the Word of God and accept His Will, and must complete what God has begun by their own actions with the help of God’s grace. These actions consist in the use of the sacraments and in a special way the Eucharist, frequent participation in the sacred action of the Liturgy, application of oneself to prayer, self-abnegation, lively fraternal service and the constant exercise of all the virtues. For charity, as the bond of perfection and the fullness of the law, rules over all the means of attaining holiness and gives life to these same means. It is charity which guides us to our final end. It is the love of God and the love of one’s neighbour which points out the true disciple of Christ.

The second text is from the opening paragraphs of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s first encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”), published in 2005, and beautifully summarizes the message of today’s Scripture readings:

Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction […] In acknowledging the centrality of love, Christian faith has retained the core of Israel’s faith, while at the same time giving it new depth and breadth. The pious Jew prayed daily the words of the Book of Deuteronomy which expressed the heart of his existence: “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” (6:4-5). Jesus united into a single precept this commandment of love for God and the commandment of love for neighbour found in the Book of Leviticus: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (19:18; cf. Mk 12:29-31). Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:10), love is now no longer a mere “command”; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

I once had some lengthy discussions with several good Catholics who claimed to be “prophetic” in their embrace of social justice issues in the Church. While they held up some great role models of authentic social justice in the Catholic tradition like Archbishop Oscar Romero and Dorothy Day, they were quite negative about Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and claimed that she never addressed the “systemic evils” of our day. They said that Mother Teresa never embodied authentic prophetic criticism, claiming that she was simply a safe role model for a male-dominated Church!

What has always impressed me about Mother Teresa and her sisters is that when they speak of loving God and neighbour, and “sharing poverty,” it defies the logic of many of our institutions and agencies today that prefer political agendas for the poor instead of deep, personal communion with individual poor people. The agents and instruments of this type of communion are dismissed as being irrelevant.

What the Church looks for in saints is not just good works – for that there are Nobel Peace Prizes and other such worldly awards – but solid evidence that the candidate for canonization or beatification was transformed, inwardly and outwardly, by God’s grace and embodied a deep love of God and neighbour.

Years ago when I first met Mother Teresa of Calcutta after teaching a group of her young sisters at their formation house on the outskirts of Rome, she placed firmly into my hands one of her famous business cards unlike any “business” card I had ever seen. On the front of the card were printed these words:

The fruit of silence is PRAYER.

The fruit of prayer is FAITH.

The fruit of faith is LOVE.

The fruit of love is SERVICE.

The fruit of service is PEACE.

God bless you. Mother Teresa

I still carry that card with me. There was no address, phone number, e-mail or FAX on the card. Today, we don’t need any of her contact information, as she is available to all of us in the communion of saints. May Blessed Teresa of Calcutta pray for us and teach us how to love God and neighbour in unity and harmony.

[The readings for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Exodus 22:21-27; 1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10; and Matthew 22:34-40.]

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2011 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. Book editions for Year A and C reflections are coming soon.

Francis during Paul VI Beatification: Thank you for your humble and prophetic witness

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Below you will find the full text of Pope Francis’ homily during the closing mass of the Synod and the beatification of Pope Paul VI.

We have just heard one of the most famous phrases in the entire Gospel: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mt 22:21).

Goaded by the Pharisees who wanted, as it were, to give him an exam in religion and catch him in error, Jesus gives this ironic and brilliant reply. It is a striking phrase which the Lord has bequeathed to all those who experience qualms of conscience, particularly when their comfort, their wealth, their prestige, their power and their reputation are in question. This happens all the time; it always has.

Certainly Jesus puts the stress on the second part of the phrase: “and [render] to God the things that are God’s”. This calls for acknowledging and professing ‘in the face of any sort of power’ that God alone is the Lord of mankind, that there is no other. This is the perennial newness to be discovered each day, and it requires mastering the fear which we often feel at God’s surprises.

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!”

“Rendering to God the things that are God’s” means being docile to his will, devoting our lives to him and working for his kingdom of mercy, love and peace.

Here is where our true strength is found; here is the leaven which makes it grow and the salt which gives flavour to all our efforts to combat the prevalent pessimism which the world proposes to us. Here too is where our hope is found, for when we put our hope in God we are neither fleeing from reality nor seeking an alibi: instead, we are striving to render to God what is God’s. That is why we Christians look to the future, God’s future. It is so that we can live this life to the fullest ‘with our feet firmly planted on the ground’ and respond courageously to whatever new challenges come our way.

In these days, during the extraordinary Synod of Bishops, we have seen how true this is. “Synod” means “journeying together.” And indeed pastors and lay people from every part of the world have come to Rome, bringing the voice of their particular Churches in order to help today’s families walk the path the Gospel with their gaze fixed on Jesus. It has been a great experience, in which we have lived synodality and collegiality, and felt the power of the Holy Spirit who constantly guides and renews the Church. For the Church is called to waste no time in seeking to bind up open wounds and to rekindle hope in so many people who have lost hope.

For the gift of this Synod and for the constructive spirit which everyone has shown, in union with the Apostle Paul “we give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers” (1 Th 1:2). May the Holy Spirit, who during these busy days has enabled us to work generously, in true freedom and humble creativity, continue to guide the journey which, in the Churches throughout the world, is bringing us to the Ordinary Synod of Bishops in October 2015. We have sown and we continued to sow, patiently and perseveringly, in the certainty that it is the Lord who gives growth to what we have sown (cf. 1 Cor 3:6).

On this day of the Beatification of Pope Paul VI, I think of the words with which he established the Synod of Bishops: “by carefully surveying the signs of the times, we are making every effort to adapt ways and methods to the growing needs of our time and the changing conditions of society” (Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Apostolica Sollicitudo).

When we look to this great Pope, this courageous Christian, this tireless apostle, we cannot but say in the sight of God a word as simple as it is heartfelt and important: thanks! Thank you, our dear and beloved Pope Paul VI! Thank you for your humble and prophetic witness of love for Christ and his Church!

In his personal journal, the great helmsman of the Council wrote, at the conclusion of its final session: “Perhaps the Lord has called me and preserved me for this service not because I am particularly fit for it, or so that I can govern and rescue the Church from her present difficulties, but so that I can suffer something for the Church, and in that way it will be clear that he, and no other, is her guide and saviour” (P. Macchi, Paolo VI nella sua parola, Brescia, 2001, pp. 120-121). In this humility the grandeur of Blessed Paul VI shines forth: before the advent of a secularized and hostile society, he could hold fast, with farsightedness and wisdom ‘and at times alone’ to the helm of the barque of Peter, while never losing his joy and his trust in the Lord.

Paul VI truly “rendered to God what is God’s” by devoting his whole life to the “sacred, solemn and grave task of continuing in history and extending on earth the mission of Christ” (Homily for the Rite of Coronation: Insegnamenti I, 1963, p. 26), loving the Church and leading her so that she might be “a loving mother of the whole human family and at the same time the minister of its salvation” (Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam, Prologue).

Photo Credit: CNS

Pope Francis’ Closing Remarks at Synod of Bishops

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At the end of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, Pope Francis addressed the Synod Fathers and everyone involved with the Synod. Below is the full text of the Holy Father’s remarks.

Dear Eminences, Beatitudes, Excellencies, Brothers and Sisters,

With a heart full of appreciation and gratitude I want to thank, along with you, the Lord who has accompanied and guided us in the past days, with the light of the Holy Spirit.

From the heart I thank Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod, Bishop Fabio Fabene, under-secretary, and with them I thank the Relators, Cardinal Peter Erdo, who has worked so much in these days of family mourning, and the Special Secretary Bishop Bruno Forte, the three President delegates, the transcribers, the consultors, the translators and the unknown workers, all those who have worked with true fidelity and total dedication behind the scenes and without rest. Thank you so much from the heart.

I thank all of you as well, dear Synod fathers, Fraternal Delegates, Auditors, and Assessors, for your active and fruitful participation. I will keep you in prayer asking the Lord to reward you with the abundance of His gifts of grace!

I can happily say that – with a spirit of collegiality and of synodality – we have truly lived the experience of “Synod,” a path of solidarity, a “journey together.”

And it has been “a journey” – and like every journey there were moments of running fast, as if wanting to conquer time and reach the goal as soon as possible; other moments of fatigue, as if wanting to say “enough”; other moments of enthusiasm and ardour. There were moments of profound consolation listening to the testimony of true pastors, who wisely carry in their hearts the joys and the tears of their faithful people. Moments of consolation and grace and comfort hearing the testimonies of the families who have participated in the Synod and have shared with us the beauty and the joy of their married life. A journey where the stronger feel compelled to help the less strong, where the more experienced are led to serve others, even through confrontations. And since it is a journey of human beings, with the consolations there were also moments of desolation, of tensions and temptations, of which a few possibilities could be mentioned:

– One, a temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals.

– The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness [it. buonismo], that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals.”

– The temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast (cf. Lk 4:1-4); and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick (cf Jn 8:7), that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens (Lk 11:46).

– The temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfil the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.

– The temptation to neglect the “depositum fidei” [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing! They call them “byzantinisms,” I think, these things…

Dear brothers and sisters, the temptations must not frighten or disconcert us, or even discourage us, because no disciple is greater than his master; so if Jesus Himself was tempted – and even called Beelzebul (cf. Mt 12:24) – His disciples should not expect better treatment.

Personally I would be very worried and saddened if it were not for these temptations and these animated discussions; this movement of the spirits, as St Ignatius called it (Spiritual Exercises, 6), if all were in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace. Instead, I have seen and I have heard – with joy and appreciation – speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal, of wisdom, of frankness and of courage: and of parresia. And I have felt that what was set before our eyes was the good of the Church, of families, and the “supreme law,” the “good of souls” (cf. Can. 1752). And this always – we have said it here, in the Hall – without ever putting into question the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of marriage: the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness, that openness to life (cf. Cann. 1055, 1056; and Gaudium et spes, 48).

And this is the Church, the vineyard of the Lord, the fertile Mother and the caring Teacher, who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on people’s wound; who doesn’t see humanity as a house of glass to judge or categorize people. This is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy. This is the Church, the true bride of Christ, who seeks to be faithful to her spouse and to her doctrine. It is the Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes and publicans. The Church that has the doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent, and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect! The Church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and pretends not to see him, but on the contrary feels involved and almost obliged to lift him up and to encourage him to take up the journey again and accompany him toward a definitive encounter with her Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem.

The is the Church, our Mother! And when the Church, in the variety of her charisms, expresses herself in communion, she cannot err: it is the beauty and the strength of the sensus fidei, of that supernatural sense of the faith which is bestowed by the Holy Spirit so that, together, we can all enter into the heart of the Gospel and learn to follow Jesus in our life. And this should never be seen as a source of confusion and discord.

Many commentators, or people who talk, have imagined that they see a disputatious Church where one part is against the other, doubting even the Holy Spirit, the true promoter and guarantor of the unity and harmony of the Church – the Holy Spirit who throughout history has always guided the barque, through her Ministers, even when the sea was rough and choppy, and the ministers unfaithful and sinners.

And, as I have dared to tell you , [as] I told you from the beginning of the Synod, it was necessary to live through all this with tranquillity, and with interior peace, so that the Synod would take place cum Petro and sub Petro(with Peter and under Peter), and the presence of the Pope is the guarantee of it all.

We will speak a little bit about the Pope, now, in relation to the Bishops [laughing]. So, the duty of the Pope is that of guaranteeing the unity of the Church; it is that of reminding the faithful of  their duty to faithfully follow the Gospel of Christ; it is that of reminding the pastors that their first duty is to nourish the flock – to nourish the flock – that the Lord has entrusted to them, and to seek to welcome – with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears – the lost sheep. I made a mistake here. I said welcome: [rather] to go out and find them.

His duty is to remind everyone that authority in the Church is a service, as Pope Benedict XVI clearly explained, with words I cite verbatim: “The Church is called and commits herself to exercise this kind of authority which is service and exercises it not in her own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ… through the Pastors of the Church, in fact: it is he who guides, protects and corrects them, because he loves them deeply. But the Lord Jesus, the supreme Shepherd of our souls, has willed that the Apostolic College, today the Bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter… to participate in his mission of taking care of God’s People, of educating them in the faith and of guiding, inspiring and sustaining the Christian community, or, as the Council puts it, ‘to see to it… that each member of the faithful shall be led in the Holy Spirit to the full development of his own vocation in accordance with Gospel preaching, and to sincere and active charity’ and to exercise that liberty with which Christ has set us free (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, 6)… and it is through us,” Pope Benedict continues, “that the Lord reaches souls, instructs, guards and guides them. St Augustine, in his Commentary on the Gospel of St John, says: ‘let it therefore be a commitment of love to feed the flock of the Lord’ (cf. 123, 5); this is the supreme rule of conduct for the ministers of God, an unconditional love, like that of the Good Shepherd, full of joy, given to all, attentive to those close to us and solicitous for those who are distant (cf. St Augustine, Discourse 340, 1; Discourse 46, 15), gentle towards the weakest, the little ones, the simple, the sinners, to manifest the infinite mercy of God with the reassuring words of hope (cf. ibid., Epistle, 95, 1).”

So, the Church is Christ’s – she is His bride – and all the bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter, have the task and the duty of guarding her and serving her, not as masters but as servants. The Pope, in this context, is not the supreme lord but rather the supreme servant – the “servant of the servants of God”; the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church, putting aside every personal whim, despite being – by the will of Christ Himself – the “supreme Pastor and Teacher of all the faithful” (Can. 749) and despite enjoying “supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church” (cf. Cann. 331-334).

Dear brothers and sisters, now we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families.

One year to work on the “Synodal Relatio” which is the faithful and clear summary of everything that has been said and discussed in this hall and in the small groups. It is presented to the Episcopal Conferences as “lineamenta” [guidelines].

May the Lord accompany us, and guide us in this journey for the glory of His Name, with the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of Saint Joseph. And please, do not forget to pray for me! Thank you!

This text was originally published on Vatican Radio.

A Message to the People of God

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The Synod Fathers released a short pastoral letter at the conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishop on the Family on Sunday, October 19, 2014.

We, Synod Fathers, gathered in Rome together with Pope Francis in the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, greet all families of the different continents and in particular all who follow Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We admire and are grateful for the daily witness which you offer us and the world with your fidelity, faith, hope, and love.

Each of us, pastors of the Church, grew up in a family, and we come from a great variety of backgrounds and experiences. As priests and bishops we have lived alongside families who have spoken to us and shown us the saga of their joys and their difficulties.

The preparation for this synod assembly, beginning with the questionnaire sent to the Churches around the world, has given us the opportunity to listen to the experience of many families. Our dialogue during the Synod has been mutually enriching, helping us to look at the complex situations which face families today.

We offer you the words of Christ: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20). On his journeys along the roads of the Holy Land, Jesus would enter village houses. He continues to pass even today along the streets of our cities. In your homes there are light and shadow. Challenges often present themselves and at times even great trials. The darkness can grow deep to the point of becoming a dense shadow when evil and sin work into the heart of the family.

We recognize the great challenge to remain faithful in conjugal love. Enfeebled faith and indifference to true values, individualism, impoverishment of relationships, and stress that excludes reflection leave their mark on family life. There are often crises in marriage, often confronted in haste and without the courage to have patience and reflect, to make sacrifices and to forgive one another. Failures give rise to new relationships, new couples, new civil unions, and new marriages, creating family situations which are complex and problematic, where the Christian choice is not obvious.

We think also of the burden imposed by life in the suffering that can arise with a child with special needs, with grave illness, in deterioration of old age, or in the death of a loved one. We admire the fidelity of so many families who endure these trials with courage, faith, and love. They see them not as a burden inflicted on them, but as something in which they themselves give, seeing the suffering Christ in the weakness of the flesh.

We recall the difficulties caused by economic systems, by the “the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose” (Evangelii gaudium 55) which weakens the dignity of people. We remember unemployed parents who are powerless to provide basic needs for their families, and youth who see before them days of empty expectation, who are prey to drugs and crime.

We think of so many poor families, of those who cling to boats in order to reach a shore of survival, of refugees wandering without hope in the desert, of those persecuted because of their faith and the human and spiritual values which they hold. These are stricken by the brutality of war and oppression. We remember the women who suffer violence and exploitation, victims of human trafficking, children abused by those who ought to have protected them and fostered their development, and the members of so many families who have been degraded and burdened with difficulties. “The culture of prosperity deadens us…. all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us” (Evangelii gaudium 54). We call on governments and international organizations to promote the rights of the family for the common good.

Christ wanted his Church to be a house with doors always open to welcome everyone. We warmly thank our pastors, lay faithful, and communities who accompany couples and families and care for their wounds.

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The Journey Continues… Fr. Rosica Reflects on Extraordinary Synod on the Family

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Pope Francis, Fr. Thomas Rosica and Cardinal Wuerl

Note: Fr. Thomas Rosica also serves as the English language assistant to the Holy See Press Office at the Vatican and served as English language spokesperson at the recent Synod of Bishops in Rome. He sent out the following message to English language media today.

Thanks to all of you who took such interest in the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops and provided media coverage in different ways: print, electronic, television and radio.  I did my best to try to respond to your many requests over the past three weeks. I appreciated very much the sensitivity and understanding you demonstrated in your coverage.  I would simply like to remind you of some things I wrote over the past month regarding the Synod of Bishops.

1) This was a unique experience of a Synod in that it was extraordinary – a preparatory synod – for the major one that will take place next October also on the theme of the family. Therefore the process begun last fall with the questionnaire, followed by the past two weeks of Synod, continuing through the World Meeting of Families next September in Philadelphia and culminating in the 2015 Synod, offers the church many opportunities for deepening the reflections and thoughts that were shared over the past months. This Synod and its documents are works in progress. We have only just begun the process of synod: walking together.

2) One of the great gifts of the Second Vatican Council was the establishment of the Synod of Bishops 49 years ago.  After 4 years of intense debate, hard work and newly formed friendships, solidarities and rich collaboration, the Fathers (participants) in Vatican II expressed their strong desire to then-Pope Paul VI (now Blessed Paul VI) to found the Synod of Bishops that would allow the teachings, spirit and dynamism of the Council to continue. In the normal course of history, the Synodal structure grew tired and lost some of its original dynamism.  Pope Francis, building on the foundation of his predecessors, desired to reawaken the Synodal structure and allow it to deepen its roots in the Conciliar experience and spread its wings to lead the Church forward on her journey. Using the rich imagery of Pope Francis, I would like to think that the recent Extraordinary Synod was a golden opportunity to take the Synodal structure out of the Intensive Care Unit (some thought it was Palliative Care) of the great Field Hospital of the Church and return it to the General patient wing of the Field Hospital we call Church!

3) The lenses through which we can best understand what just took place in Rome are the masterful texts of Pope Francis: his homily at the opening mass of the Synod on October 5, his opening address to the Synodal Assembly on Monday October 6, his amazing concluding address to the Synod on Saturday October 18 and the very moving homily at the Synod’s concluding mass on Sunday, October 19, 2014.

4) Rather than be overly concerned with the smaller picture of normal, synodal intrigues, details and minutiae that are part and parcel of any gathering when human beings (especially Church people!) come together, I encourage you to take the wide angle view of what has just transpired at the Vatican, and what will continue to take place around the world as the Synod Fathers and participants bring home their documents, stories, hopes, dreams, frustrations and desires for the Church and for the world.

5) The Synodal adventure and drama continues and offers to the entire world a great story.  It is a work in progress. Thank you for helping us to tell the story, and even better, to become part of it.  What has taken place here in Rome these past weeks not only relates to Catholic Christians, but to all men and women of good will who seek to leave the world a better place, and who recognize that the future of humanity passes through the family, in all that family means for us today.

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Allow me conclude by quoting from Pope Francis’ homily at yesterday’s mass of Beatification for Pope Paul VI, the author of the Synod of Bishops:

“On this day of the Beatification of Pope Paul VI, I think of the words with which he established the Synod of Bishops:by carefully surveying the signs of the times, we are making every effort to adapt ways and methods to the growing needs of our time and the changing conditions of society (Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Apostolica Sollicitudo).”

 

Thanksgiving: Ours and Theirs

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Photo Credit: CNS

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Fr. Mike Pace

Home for the holiday. Doors flung open as family gathers from near and far. A moment to thank God for the blessings of the past year.

Imagine the place you call home is Aleppo, Syria. Every family, including yours, has a member who has been raped, or martyred or broken by the psychological, material, and emotional strain of a three-year and seemingly endless war. As we in Toronto bask in the afterglow of the bounty we call Thanksgiving weekend, many of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East and elsewhere hope for at least some of the crumbs that fall from our tables.

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On Thanksgiving weekend, I was disturbed by the testimony of Munir, a Salesian priest from Aleppo who risks his life as the provincial superior of St. John Bosco’s mission in Syria, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq and Turkey. While we at home were asking ourselves whether to indulge in dark meat or white, a slice of baked ham or a second  helping of pumpkin pie, the young people he holds near to his heart were wrestling with questions of a different magnitude. Does God still exist? Does he care about our suffering? Has the rest of the world forgotten about us? Why are the world’s legitimate   powers so ineffective in responding to our plight, while so many unscrupulous forces wreak torturous havoc  on us so effectively?

To our brothers and sisters in Aleppo and elsewhere, the blessings of God seem to lie beyond a door which is open to us but closed to them.  Thanksgiving requires that we who sit at laden tables get up and open these doors and invite them in. How will I do that? How will you?

Written by Father Michael Pace SDB, Pastor, guest blogger. 

Witness: Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle

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The Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Pastoral Challenges to the Family has generated enormous interest around the world.  But there is another important event taking place that many are overlooking: the beatification of Pope Paul VI, who concluded the Second Vatican Council and inaugurated the Synod of Bishops. One of the President Delegates of the 2014 Synod is Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the Archbishop of Manila, Philippines, and a long time student of Vatican II and Pope Paul VI.

Join Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, as he discusses the invaluable contributions of Paul VI to the development of collegiality in the modern Catholic Church with one of the most dynamic and beloved pastors in the Church today.

Celebrating Pope Paul VI

Pope Paul VI carried on ceremonial throne during closing liturgy of Second Vatican Council in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

Pope Paul VI is carried on the “sedia gestatoria,” a ceremonial throne, during the closing liturgy of the Second Vatican Council in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Dec. 8,1965. Pope Francis will beatify Pope Paul today on Oct. 19 during the closing Mass of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family. The miracle needed for Pope Paul’s beatification involved the birth of a healthy baby to a mother in California after doctors had said both lives were at risk. (CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras attend prayer service in Jerusalem in January 1964

Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras attend a prayer service in Jerusalem in January 1964. (CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo) 

Pope Paul VI gives blessing before leaving for Istanbul in 1967

Pope Paul VI offers a blessing at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport before boarding a flight to Istanbul, Turkey, in 1967. 

To learn more about the Second Vatican Council, religious liberty, and ecumenism watch The Church Alive.

Deacon-structing: Mission

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Photo credit: A homeless man reads while sitting on a street corner in Washington in 2007. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

If you’re in the Church, it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore our missionary call. This is all Pope Francis talked about during his first year of papacy: go out to the peripheries; get out of the sacristies; go and make disciples of all nations. In a way, the ground was prepared by Pope Benedict with the Year of Faith and with the Synod on the New Evangelization.

Most of us know about the universal call to holiness. That message was preached over and over again during the papacy of St. John Paul II. But did you know that there is another universal call? We all have a universal call to mission

What does that mean? First of all we have to put our missionary call in its rightful place: Our Church doesn’t have a mission; the Mission has a Church! Jesus Christ left us a Mission, out of that Mission rose the Church.

And the Mission is very clear: Go and make disciples of all nations. In his book, Divine Renovation: From a Maintenance to a Missional Parish, Fr. James Mallon says that if you study the original Greek, the great commission from Matthew 28:18-20 hinges on the verb “make,” Jesus tells us to ‘go, make, baptise and teach,” but none of those make sense outside of the context of “make disciples.” That, according to Fr. Mallon, is our Mission: make disciples. That is why we go, and who we baptize and teach.

Fr. Mallon also says, as the title of the book reflects, that we need to move away from a maintenance mode in our parishes, to a missional mode. Anyone who works in an organization that has a clear mission, or that relies on promotion understands this concept. What drives our work is our mission. This is why organizations have mission statements. We have to be missional in our approach to everything we do. And this “missionality” is not just for “missionaries”, or priests and deacons or for those in the religious life. It’s for everyone. If you are baptised, you have a universal call to holiness, yes, but also to Mission. I guess that is what St. Ignatius meant when he said that we are responsible for our own holiness and also for the holiness of others.

So, how do we do that? First I would propose a change in attitude. People who truly believe in something (saving whales, providing universal healthcare, vegetarianism or even promoting one superior race of humans, abolishing slavery – pick your belief of choice) are successful only to the degree that they make that mission their life. But if you truly believe in something you are not thinking about making that thing your mission; you live it. So the first thing we have to do is really believe in the message of Jesus Christ. But more than that; we have to have an encounter with Jesus Christ, because Christianity is not just a belief-system; it is a relationship. When you fall in love with someone, you want to tell the world. One of the reasons why the Church is not “telling the world” is that we have not fallen in love.

Once we’ve fallen in love, once we’ve come to accept and believe everything Jesus has commanded, this will drive our lives. (And volumes have been written about how we “fall in love”. It begins with an attraction. Then we want to know the beloved; we learn as much as we can about the beloved; we spend time with the beloved….

Maybe that’s where you are. Maybe you have had an encounter with Jesus Christ. Maybe you have fallen in love but you’ve bought into the idea that faith is personal and private; that it’s ok to believe it but we shouldn’t share it or “push” it on others. Maybe that attitude is comforted by the idea that we are to “preach the Gospel and if necessary use words.” Let me correct you: Faith is personal but it is not private. We are meant to share it and it is meant to motivate every aspect of our lives. And, how are we to go, make, baptise and teach if we don’t use words? Actions are good, but we must use words. (I’ve written about this already in a previous post.

If that is where you are then all I would suggest is a slight shift in thinking. Begin to live intentionally. Begin to live our Mission.

Here’s what I propose. Most of us are comfortable with occasionally giving money to someone on the street. How about we find a way to let them know that we are doing what we are doing because of Jesus Christ. I agree this is may be difficult or even make you feel awkward. A simple “God bless you” after you drop the coin in the person’s cup may be the place to start.

If you are a deacon or priest (or a religious sister or brother), how about you make a point of going out in your community wearing your clerics (and your habits) and be present. Go to the coffee shop, go grocery shopping. That in itself is a witness and we don’t need a plan of evangelization in order to do that. (A note to Deacons – I am not proposing that you wear your clerics when you go out to dinner with your wife. Make it intentional. Put on your clerics and go to the coffee shop with the strict purpose of evangelising by being present in your clerics, not just for the sake of wearing clerics or pretending you are a priest.)

Did you know also that this Sunday, October 19 is World Mission Sunday? It’s a day set aside for Catholics worldwide to recommit ourselves to the Church’s missionary activity through prayer and sacrifice. It’s always celebrated on the second last Sunday in October. St. John Paul II said that World Mission Sunday is “an important day in the life of the Church because it teaches how to give: as an offering made to God, in the Eucharistic celebration and for all the missions of the world” (Redemptoris Missio 81).

This year for World Mission Sunday we are focusing on the words from Matthew 16:18 “I will build my Church”.

(Read the Pope’s message for World Mission Sunday 2014. )

Depending on where you are, there may be special intentions at Mass, a special prayer or even the homily, dedicated to this theme.

There may also be a special collection in your parish for the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. This money gets distributed among the missions and missionaries of the entire world. But more importantly, on this day, we are asked to pray for missions and missionaries and we are asked to spend an hour in adoration for missions around the world. How about, when we pray for missions and missionaries, we also pray that our lives become more missional?

And tell me how it goes. What do you suggest? How will you make disciples today?

 

Pope Paul VI presides over a meeting of the Second Vatican Council

POPE PAUL VI PRESIDES OVER MEETING OF SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL IN 1963

Pope Paul VI presides over a meeting of the Second Vatican Council in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in 1963. (CNS photo/Catholic Press Photo) 

To learn more about the Second Vatican Council watch The Church Alive series.