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Integral Ecology and the Horizon of Hope: Concern for the Poor and for Creation in the Ministry of Pope Francis

Cardinal_Turkson_Blog

Pope Francis’ universal prayer intention for April is for Creation: That people may learn to respect creation and care for it as a gift of God. The environment is a topic that many do not expect the Church to be vocal on, but if you followed Pope Benedict’s many addresses, you would know that he spoke about the environment and ecology quite often. We also now that the topic is close to Pope Francis’ heart: Pope Francis’ second Encyclical will be on this very topic.

This is very exciting for us at S+L and especially for me, since for the last four years, I have been working on a six-part documentary series titled Creation, that looks at the ecological teachings of the Catholic Church.

If you’re wondering what those teachings are, recently, Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (the council under which the encyclical will be released), delivered the Trócaire 2015 Lenten Lecture at Saint Patrick’s Pontifical University in Maynooth, Ireland. Trócare is the overseas aid agency of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. The Trócaire theme for Lent 2015 highlights the growing problem of drought as a result of climate change. Cardinal Turkson’s address was titled  Integral Ecology and the Horizon of Hope: Concern for the Poor and for Creation in the Ministry of Pope Francis.

This address gives us a very good idea of what Pope Francis’ encyclical’s content and direction will be.

Introduction

Your Grace, Archbishop Martin, Brother Bishops, Seminarians, ladies and gentlemen, I thank Éamonn for his very kind introduction. I also thank Bishop William Crean, Chairman of Trócaire and Monsignor Hugh Connolly, President of Maynooth for their warm welcome and for the invitation to give the Annual Trócaire Lenten lecture in Maynooth. I have learned that in the very distinguished history of this University, thousands of men and women have left these halls over the years to bring the Gospel of charity and justice to the four corners of the world. I am aware of the leading role played by this University in dialogues between faith and science, between philosophy and praxis, between economics and development, and between environmental sciences and policy decisions regarding climate change.

This evening, I am also very conscious that the Irish people themselves have an outstanding reputation for generous giving and for commitment to development issues. According to the Charities Aid Foundation World Giving Index, Ireland is consistently among the five most generous countries of the world. It is the most generous country in Northern Europe. So when I come to Ireland, I already know that people in Ireland really do care about outreach to those in need, commitment to development aid, and engagement with the issues of international development. On behalf of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, I acknowledge and pay tribute to your tremendous generosity and compassion. I am glad to have this opportunity to pay particular tribute to the outstanding work of Trócaire. As the development agency of the Irish Bishops’ Conference and a member of Caritas Internationalis, Trócaire is a worthy ambassador of Ireland’s compassion and concern for justice across the world. Its professionalism and experience also make it a world leader and a respected voice in terms of insight into issues of international development and a leader in working for a more just world.

Misericordia in Latin, or Trócaire in Irish or Mercy in English: this has become a keyword in the ministry of Pope Francis. As in the Scriptures, Pope Francis often associates mercy and tenderness. Indeed, in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, he appeals to all of us to bring about a “revolution of tenderness,” a revolution of the heart. For “there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor” when our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests, or when our national life and economy become caught up in their own interests.

Pope Francis intends to publish an encyclical letter later this year on the theme of human ecology. It will explore the relationship between care for creation, integral human development and concern for the poor. The timing of the encyclical is significant: 2015 is a critical year for humanity. In July, nations will gather for the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa. In September, the U.N. General Assembly should agree on a new set of sustainable development goals running until 2030. In December, the Climate Change Conference in Paris will receive the plans and commitments of each Government to slow or reduce global warming. The coming 10 months are crucial, then, for decisions about international development, human flourishing and care for the common home we call planet Earth.

So this evening is a good time to look at the relationship between development, concern for the poor and responsibility for the environment in the ministry of Pope Francis. I do so under the title: “Integral ecology and the horizon of hope: concern for the poor and for creation in the ministry of Pope Francis.” I will focus on four principles of integral ecology. Through his teaching on these themes, Pope Francis is promoting integral ecology as the key to addressing the inter-related issues of human ecology, development and the natural environment.

The Holy Father has echoed the sense of crisis that many in the scientific and development communities convey about the precarious state of our planet and of the poor. What he adds to the conversation about future approaches is the particular perspective of Catholic Social thought, rooted in the Sacred Scriptures and natural reason. This offers something unique and vital to the efforts of the international community. Ultimately, of course, what Pope Francis seeks to bring to this sense of crisis is the “warmth of hope”. Indeed, from his very first homily as Pope, a fundamental aim of his ministry has been to point us to the “horizon of hope” in the midst of those he has called the “Herods,” the “omens of destruction and death” that so often “accompany the advance of this world.” In that spirit of hope, let me reflect on the four themes that are woven through the ministry and teaching of Pope Francis on integral ecology.

First Principle: The call to be protectors is integral and all-embracing

The first principle is this: that the call to be protectors is integral and all-embracing. We are called to protect and care for both creation and the human person. These concepts are reciprocal and, together, they make for authentic and sustainable human development.

At the inaugural Mass of his Petrine Ministry, Pope Francis put the protection of creation to the very forefront of his own ministry and the vocation of every Christian. He offered St Joseph as a model of protecting Christ in our lives, “so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation,” and explained that the vocation of being a protector “has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone.” Its scope is very broad; it involves

“protecting creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi shows us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives…they protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness.”

Clearly this is not some narrow agenda for the greening the Church or the world. It is a vision of care and protection that embraces the human person and the human environment in all possible dimensions.

Saint Pope John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on human ecology.

In his insistence on an integral, relational vocation of protector, Pope Francis continues the thought of his two predecessors. In his social encyclical, Solicitudo rei socialis, Saint John Paul II spoke of the need to respect the constituent and inter-related elements of the natural world: “One cannot use with impunity the different categories of beings…animals, plants, the natural elements – simply as one wishes, according to one’s own economic needs. On the contrary, one must take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system, which is precisely the cosmos.” A recently republished pastoral of the Irish Bishops echoes his point: “Our earth is complex, its systems of life are interdependent and finely balanced. Small changes in one part of the planet’s rhythms and systems can have significant, if not dramatic consequences for the whole of the earth and its creatures.” For the natural environment to be respected, the human environment and its objective moral structure must also be respected.  When we ignore or neglect one, it has a destructive impact on the other.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI also had this point as a central theme in his teaching. Some called him the “Green Pope” because of the priority he gave to concern over our destruction of nature. He echoed the call of Saint John Paul II to “change our way of life… [to] eliminate the structural causes of global economic dysfunction, and to correct models of growth that seem incapable of guaranteeing respect for the environment and for integral human development.”

Pope Benedict’s message for the 43rd World Day of Peace in 2010 was abundantly clear: “The book of nature is one and indivisible; it includes not only the environment but also individual, family and social ethics. Our duties towards the environment flow from our duties towards the person, considered both individually and in relation to others.” On this basis too, in Caritas in Veritate, he famously called contemporary society to a serious review of its lifestyle, which is so often prone to hedonism and consumerism, regardless of their harmful consequences. What is needed, he said, is an effective shift in mentality which can lead to the adoption of “new lifestyles” in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments.

It is such integral ecology that Pope Francis took up, in eminently pastoral terms, in his inaugural homily. He does so again in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium when he calls all people to a new solidarity, “the creation of a new mind-set which thinks in terms of community and the priority of the life of all over the appropriation of goods by a few” (n.188).

Second Principle: care for creation is a virtue in its own right

Compelled by the scientific evidence for climate change, we are called to care for humanity and to respect the grammar of nature as virtues in their own right.  This is the second principle that underpins Pope Francis’ approach to integral ecology as the basis for authentic development.

In an airplane interview while returning from Korea last August, the Holy Father said that one of the challenges he faces in his encyclical on ecology is how to address the scientific debate about climate change and its origins. Is it the outcome of cyclical processes of nature, of human activities (anthropogenic), or perhaps both? What is not contested is that our planet is getting warmer. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has undertaken the most comprehensive assessment of climate change. Its November 2014 Synthesis Report was as stark as it was challenging. In the words of Thomas Stocker, the co-chair of the IPCC Working Group I: “Our assessment finds that the atmosphere and oceans have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, sea level has risen and the concentration of carbon dioxide has increased to a level unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.”

Yet even the compelling consensus of over 800 scientists of the IPCC will have its critics and its challengers. For Pope Francis, however, this is not the point. For the Christian, to care for God’s ongoing work of creation is a duty, irrespective of the causes of climate change. To care for creation, to develop and live an integral ecology as the basis for development and peace in the world, is a fundamental Christian duty. As Pope Francis put it in his morning homily at Santa Marta on 9 February, it is wrong and a distraction to contrast “green” and “Christian.” In fact, “a Christian who doesn’t safeguard creation, who doesn’t make it flourish, is a Christian who isn’t concerned with God’s work, that work born of God’s love for us.”

In this, Pope Francis is affirming a truth revealed in the first pages of Sacred Scripture. In the second creation account of the Book of Genesis, humankind is placed in the Garden by the Creator to “till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). These concepts of “tilling” and “keeping” involve a vital and reciprocal relationship between humanity and the created world. They involve humankind, every individual and every community in a sacred duty to draw from the goodness of the earth, and at the same time to care for the earth in a way that ensures its continued fruitfulness for future generations.

Justice in this context is essentially a relational term. Its defining quality is fidelity to the demands of the threefold relationship within which each of us stands and upon which each of us depends for life itself: our relationship with the Creator, with our neighbour, and with the natural environment in which we live. To neglect or violate one of these relationships is an offense, quite literally a sin. In the Scriptures, the “just person” is one who maintains these relationships by respecting the demands that they entail. The just person is one who therefore preserves communion with God, with neighbour and with the land, and by doing so, also makes peace!  The various holiness and justice codes of the Old Testament are unequivocal. Those who till and keep the land have a responsibility to share it fruits with others, especially the poor, the stranger, the widow and the orphan. The law of the Covenant is clear; the gift of the land and its fruitfulness belongs to the whole people of Israel together.

So when Pope Francis says that destroying the environment is a grave sin; when he says that it is not large families that cause poverty but an economic culture that puts money and profit ahead of people; when he says that we cannot save the environment without also addressing the profound injustices in the distribution of the goods of the earth; when he says that this is “an economy that kills” – he is not making some political comment about the relative merits of capitalism and communism. He is rather restating ancient Biblical teaching. He is pointing to the fact that being a protector of creation, of the poor, of the dignity of every human person is a sine qua non of being Christian, of being fully human. He is pointing to the ominous signs in nature that suggest that humanity may now have tilled too much and kept too little, that our relationship with the Creator, with our neighbour, especially the poor, and with the environment has become fundamentally “un-kept”, and that we are now at serious risk of a concomitant human, environmental and relational degradation.

Third principle: we will – we must – care for what we cherish and revere

Thirdly, binding regulations, policies, and targets are necessary tools for addressing poverty and climate change, but they are unlikely to prove effective without moral conversion and a change of heart. Think of the present Pope’s choice of the name Francis. Saint Francis of Assisi is an example par excellence of a lived and integral ecology. In fact, Saint Pope John Paul II had declared him the patron saint of those who promote ecology. His love for creation, for creatures and for the poor, are one, they form an integral whole. And the prior and fundamental source of that integrated whole was his religious faith. In pointing to Saint Francis as a model, Pope Francis holds that a truly practical and sustainable integral approach to ecology, has to draw on more than the scientific, the material and the economic, more than laws and policies. When Saint Francis gazed upon the heavens, when he surveyed the wonder and beauty of the animals, he did not respond to them with the abstract formulae of science or the utilitarian eye of the economist. His response was one of awe, wonder and fraternity. He sang of “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon.” In other words, his response was that of reverence – of a deep and relational respect based on kinship and fraternity, the kinship with God, our neighbour and the land spoken of in the book of Genesis and praised throughout the wisdom literature and the psalms.

There have been many attempts in recent years to implement international agreements on development goals, carbon emission targets and climate change limits, with varying degrees of success. For example, the Millennium Development Goals – many of which sought to remedy the particular crises that I have mentioned – have only achieved partial success, with half remaining unfulfilled. For instance, between 1.2 and 1.5 billion people are still mired in “extreme poverty.” Global inequalities continue to widen. Sub-Saharan Africa has the second highest rate of economic growth in the world (after developing Asia). Nevertheless, the region remains locked in a negative cycle of poverty and underdevelopment, with development aid shifting away from some of the poorest countries. The wealth of the top 1% has grown 60% in the last twenty years, and it continued to grow through the global economic crisis. Despite the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change signed in Rio in 1992 and subsequent agreements, global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) continue their upward trend, almost 50 per cent above 1990 levels. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has reached a level last seen 3 million years ago – when the planet was significantly warmer than it is today. Millions of hectares of forest are lost every year, many species are being driven closer to extinction, and renewable water resources are becoming scarcer.

The list could go on. Certainly international agreements are important, they can help. But they are not enough in themselves to sustain change in human behaviour. As Saint John Paul II put it, we require an “ecological conversion,” a radical and fundamental change in our attitudes to creation, to the poor and to the priorities of the global economy. By pointing us to the example of Saint Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis teaches the world that the ancient wisdom, insights and values of religious faith, most notably the tradition of Catholic Social Doctrine, can contribute something of value to the search for sustainable development, based on an integral ecology. Genuine “ecological conversion” involves the whole person. Commitment assumes a relationship, an emotional and relational attachment. It is the kind of kinship and fraternity with creation, creatures and the poor that flowed so clearly and directly from the relationship between Saint Francis and the Creator.

This is why the cultural trend of relegating religious language, religious motivation and religious faith to the sphere of the purely private and personal undermines a vital and powerful source of meaning and action in the common effort to address both climate change and sustainable development. The Judaeo-Christian insight into creation can transform our relationship from that of remote observers or technical managers of nature, to that of “brother and sister,” of nurturer and protector of all. Religious insights into creation in this sense can help to orient and integrate us as humans within the wider universe, to identify what is most important to us, what we revere, sustain and protect as sacred. Giving space to the religious voice and to its ancient experience, wisdom and insight therefore can transform our attitudes to creation and to others in a way that purely scientific, economic or political approaches are less likely to achieve. What more radical and comprehensive charter for sustainable development and environmental care do we have after all than the Beatitudes, than the call to generosity that permeates Evangelii Gaudium: the command to go the extra mile, to give to the least, to give our tunic as well as our cloak to the one who asks us.

Fourth principle: the call to dialogue and a new global solidarity

Fourthly, for Pope Francis, integral ecology, as the basis for justice and development in the world, requires a new global solidarity, one in which everyone has a part to play and every action, no matter how small, can make a difference.

During World Youth Day celebrations in Brazil in July 2013, this call to solidarity became most explicit in his address to Varginha, a favela community. Pope Francis noted that the rich could learn much from the poor about solidarity: “I would like to make an appeal to those in possession of greater resources, to public authorities and to all people of good will who are working for social justice: never tire of working for a more just world, marked by greater solidarity… The culture of selfishness and individualism that often prevails in our society is not what builds up and leads to a more habitable world: it is the culture of solidarity that does so, seeing others not as rivals or statistics, but brothers and sisters.”

The Holy Father then added that giving “bread to the hungry,” while required by justice, is not enough for human happiness. “There is neither real promotion of the common good nor real human development when there is ignorance of the fundamental pillars that govern a nation, its nonmaterial goods,” he said. The Pope identified those goods as life; family; “integral education, which cannot be reduced to the mere transmission of information for the purposes of generating profit”; health, “including the spiritual dimension” of well-being; and security, which he said can be achieved “only by changing human hearts.”

As this year’s Drop in the Ocean campaign by Trócaire implies, and as the Pastoral Letter of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, The Cry of the Earth, points out, “Action at a global level, as well as every individual action which contributes to integral human development and global solidarity, helps to construct a more sustainable environment and therefore, a better world.” Thanks to the Trócaire box in many homes and classrooms during Lent, you already know how little gestures add up to make a difference.

Conclusion: Let us become artisans of the revolution of tenderness

Allow me to summarize all that I have said this evening:

  • The threats that arise from global inequality and the destruction of the environment are inter-related; and they are the greatest threats we face as a human family today.
  • In responding to this combined threat, every action counts. We all have a part to play in protecting and sustaining what Pope Francis has repeatedly called our common home.
  • Our efforts in this regard require an integral approach to ecology, not one limited to scientific, economic or technical solutions.
  • At the heart of this integral ecology is the call to dialogue and a new solidarity, a changing of human hearts in which the good of the human person, and not the pursuit of profit, is the key value that directs our search for the global, the universal common good.

In this, we have the core elements of an integral ecology which in turn provides the basis for authentic and sustainable approaches to human development.

In conveying my thanks to you once again for the honour of giving this annual Lenten lecture, and in commending Trócaire for its excellent and timely Climate Justice campaign, I encourage you to give great attention to the forthcoming encyclical from Pope Francis on the themes we have just considered.  As we confront the threat of environmental catastrophe on a global scale, I am confident that a shaft of light will break through the heavy clouds and bring us what Pope Francis describes as the warmth of hope! Most importantly, as we become revolutionaries of tenderness overcoming the world’s pervasive inequities, these years can indeed initiate a millennium of respect for life, of care for God’s creation, of solidarity and síocháin.  Peace!

Thank you for listening.

(CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Deacon-structing: A Memorial

Crucifix

I set out to deacon-struct Holy Week and soon found that I was faced with a monumental task. I looked at each of the key moments of the Passion: the entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, Gethsemane, the trial, the way of the Cross and crucifixion… the burial… there is so much there. I have always been drawn to the mysteries of Holy Week and the more I study and pray with these mysteries, the more I feel I am over my head.

I guess that’s why it’s a Mystery. When we use the word “mystery” in our Faith, we don’t mean it’s something that has to be solved, like an Agatha Christie novel. Rather, it means that it is something so profound, so amazing, so vast, that it cannot be fully understood in human terms; it cannot be fully explained in human language. And so we are called to understand it only in part and to stand at the foot of the Mystery and contemplate it; to gaze upon it and let it change us. As Pope Francis says so beautifully in Joy of the Gospel with regards to the neighbour: “remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other” (EG 169). That’s what we do when faced with Mystery.

And that’s how we should approach Holy Week. It is not something to “understand” but something to behold: to gaze upon. We are called to walk with Jesus through his passion and death.

But that doesn’t mean that we are not meant to try to understand it as much as possible. This understanding can help us enter more deeply into the Mystery of the Passion.

For example, a few times I have been honoured to be part of a Jewish Seder meal. This is the Passover meal that Jesus would have been celebrating. I remember coming out from the meal with a whole new understanding of the Mass. Once we know what the ritual of the Seder is, we come to appreciate what Scriptures tell us about the Last Supper much more deeply. For example, why are they dipping bread in a dish (Mk. 14:20; Jn 13:26)? Which of the four ritual cups of wine is the cup that Jesus is says is “the cup of the New Covenant” (Mt. 17:28; Mk 14:24; Lk 22:20)? What is the hymn that they sang when it says, “after they had sung the hymn…” (Mt. 26:30; Mk 14:26)? Or the fact that in the synoptic Gospels Jesus dies on the day after Passover (Mt. 26:17; Mk 14:12; Lk 22:7) , but according to the Gospel of John, it was the day of preparation for the Passover (Jn 19:31). There is so much there and I don’t think I could do it justice. It is certainly enough for a lifetime of prayer and meditation.

But today I can’t stop thinking about one thing: The Cross. We have no idea what people at the time thought about or felt about this instrument of torture and death. When Jesus said “pick up your cross and follow me” (Mt. 16:24; Lk 9:23) what did people think? Was that a common expression at the time? Would he have said today, “pick up your electric chair and follow me?”

 And the fact that almost immediately, the followers of Jesus seemed to embrace this “Cross.” I’m sure they remembered Jesus saying “pick up your cross and follow me” but did they remember him saying “do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19)?

Did they understand that it is through the Cross that Jesus saves us? That it is through the Cross that Jesus makes all things new: by destroying death forever and forgiving our sins. I wonder when they started signing themselves with this sign, the “sign of the Cross.”

I wonder if they began signing themselves with this sign as a reminder of who they were: As a reminder of the love of God. Did they remember what Jesus told Nicodemus that “God so loved the world that he “gave” his only Son? (John 3:16?) Did they think that this thing that Jesus did for all of us they were called to do for others?

What did Jesus mean when He said, “do this in memory of me?” I don’t think he was just talking about eating bread and drinking wine. Was He speaking about washing each other’s feet? Did he mean going up on the Cross like him? I’m pretty sure He wasn’t talking about merely “remembering” him.

In Spanish, when Jesus said, “do this in memory of me,” He says, “hagan esto en conmemoración mia.” That means something closer to “do this to honour me.” It is not about remembering Jesus. That when we remember Jesus we are to do something or when we do something we are to remember Jesus. I suppose it could mean that, but I think it means that we are to do something so as to commemorate Jesus and what He did for us. Commemorate is not just to remember. It is not just to honour. According to the Oxford Dictionary, commemorate means “to keep in the memory by means of a celebration or ceremony” and “to be a memorial to.” But I don’t even think this is exactly what Jesus meant. After all, He didn’t say “do this to commemorate me” (hagan esto para conmemorarme). Perhaps, “do this so that it is a memorial to me and to what I have done.”

St. Paul refers to this very moment in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 11:23-26). To them he writes that, “whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Our “eating of this bread” (which symbolically can mean doing all the things I mentioned above) is a proclamation of the Lord’s death and a reminder and sign that He will come again.

It’s almost as if when we celebrate the sacrifice of the Eucharist, we are transported back in time to the foot of the Cross. Not that Christ dies again everytime we are at Mass, but that we are taken right back there and we are part of that sacrifice once more. I don’t know how to explain it better; we don’t recreate the sacrifice of the Cross. We don’t repeat the sacrifice of the Cross. Rather, it’s more like God makes us present to the sacrifice of the Cross, which it happening all the time in Kairos time. This is the commemoration, the memorial, the proclamation. It is more than just a memory, although a memory, more than just an honouring, although very much in honour.

In fact, memory is very important in Jewish tradition. For a Jew to “remember” actually had this significance: to make present again that which had already taken place. Many Jewish prayers and Psalms call us to “remember.” For the Jews at the time, and to this day, the Passover meal is a “participation” in the Exodus. The Passover for Jews is a memorial, a remembering, but also a “making present” the deliverance that God had granted their ancestors with the exodus from Egypt.

And we “do this” in a very special way every time we celebrate the Eucharist. But let me offer a very simple way that all of us can “remember” in a practical way, every day. We remember by making the Sign of the Cross. When I sign myself with the Cross, I am calling to mind all of this. Especially, I am calling to mind the sacrifice that I am called to do like Jesus on the Cross. I am reminded that I am called to die to my own petty ego needs; my own desire to be loved and to be special; my own needs to be right and to be needed. I am called to “die to myself.” I am called to sacrifice my own needs for the needs of others. As a husband, that is what I am called to do: put my wife’s needs before mine. Every time. As a father, I am called to place my children’s needs before mine. Every time. As a Christian, I am called to put others’ needs before mine. Of course, this doesn’t mean I become a throw rug for everyone to walk on but it does mean that I am called to consider other people’s needs to be more important than mine, every time. This, I believe, is true freedom: freedom from my own petty needs. And that is what Jesus did on the Cross: He set us free!

And when I remember, by making the Sign of the Cross, I do it in the name of the Father, of the Son and the Holy Spirit – a reminder of another awesome Mystery – the Mystery of the Holy Trinity. Not only do I remember in my mind, but also in my mind, my thoughts, my knowledge, my head; and in my heart, in my feelings, in my emotions and soul; and with my arms, through my actions, my service. It also reminds me that I am to love God back; with all my mind; with all my soul and my heart; and all my strength, and to love my neighbour as myself.

This Holy Week, let us walk with Jesus and let us remember. When we do, at Mass and at daily prayer; every time we make the Sign of the Cross; every time you put other people’s needs before your own – when we wash others’ feet, when we “remove our sandals at the sacred ground of the other” – remember the memorial. Let Christ be present to you and let yourself be present to him.
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Send me your comments – especially if you know what the original Aramaic is for “do this in memory of me.”

 

(CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

 

Waiting to exhale

File photo of Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa preaching at Vatican

The Lenten Season is, par excellence, the time of inspiration.  At this time, we take deep breaths; we fill the lungs of our soul with the Holy Spirit and thus, without our realizing it, our breath will have the scent of Christ. Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, First Lenten homily for 2015 reflecting on Evangelii Gaudium

A good friend of mine recently shared with me a website promoting the premiere of  National Geographic’s film Killing Jesus.  The movie charts the political and historical conflicts that led to the execution of Jesus. Its main draw being that it explores the differing perspectives on who Jesus was and how that affected the telling of his story.

All of which got me thinking about the Passion narrative; because, every time I think about it, I can’t help but ask myself whose actions would be my own? Some years ago I imagined myself as Mary Magdalene or Veronica but more recently I’ve been wondering what if I’m Peter or worse, Judas?

Trying to understand the motivations of those who interacted with Jesus is not easy. Most of the time, I’m left thinking, what’s that even supposed to mean?

So to help me dive deeper into the story, I’ve been revisiting the homilies of Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa. Anyone who has read or listened to Fr. Cantalamessa knows that there’s a very good reason that he is the preacher to the papal household. His homilies are excellent.  There are several reasons, but I’ll keep it to three.

POETIC USE OF IMAGERY

First his poetic use of imagery, I recall  during the Good Friday service in 2013 he made reference to a short story by Franz Kafka called an Imperial Message. He used the story as a metaphor for ourselves in relation to Holy Spirit. And if you’ve ever read any Kafka you know his surreal, nightmarish depictions will leave you disturbed. But given Fr. Cantalamessa’s point – that we need to get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit do its work – it was a point worth making!

ACCESSIBLE

Secondly, even though I gain a tremendous amount of insight (theological and historical) from his homilies they’re always accessible. He has this amazing way of providing broad scope but always bringing it back to everyday realities  (not unlike my other favourite homilist, Papa Francesco). For example, in his homily for the 2014 Good Friday service he reflected on Judas and his role in Christ’s Passion. And boy did he bring it home:

 

One can betray Jesus for other kinds of compensation than 30 pieces of silver. A man who betrays his wife, or a wife her husband, betrays Christ. The minister of God who is unfaithful to his state in life, or instead of feeding the sheep entrusted to him feeds himself, betrays Jesus. Whoever betrays their conscience betrays Jesus. Even I can betray him at this very moment — and it makes me tremble — if while preaching about Judas I am more concerned about the audience’s approval than about participating in the immense sorrow of the Savior. There was a mitigating circumstance in Judas’ case that that I do not have. He did not know who Jesus was and considered him to be only “a righteous man”; he did not know, as we do, that he was the Son of God.

GREAT CONNECTIONS

And lastly, I love his homilies because he makes connections to great literature and music which reminds me that I’m joined with all humanity in contemplating the great questions of life. All of which is very inspiring.  So in the words of Fr. Cantalamessa,  I invite you to take some time this week to be inspired, so that you too may have “the scent of Christ”.

________

From March 30 to April 6 Salt + Light will bring you full coverage of the Holy Week and Easter liturgies led by Pope Francis.

Photo credit: CNS

Loyola vs. Quebec: the new reality of confessional secularism

Loyola
(Photo: loyola.ca)

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that Quebec’s Minister of Education infringed upon the religious freedom of Loyola, a private Catholic high school in Montreal, by requiring the school to teach all aspects of the province’s Ethics and Religious Culture Program (ERC) from a neutral perspective, i.e. from a non-confessional, or specifically non-Catholic perspective.

This decision has sparked an animated conversation across Canada about religious freedom and the role of government, or as it’s traditionally known, the question of the separation of church and state.  One of my colleagues recently wrote on the proper role of the state in matters of religion and morals.  Here I offer the following reflection on another essential consideration, namely, the growing phenomenon of what we might call “confessional secularism,” that is, the transformation of a purely neutral secularism into a belief system; a faith.

A simple timeline of the six-year legal battle between Loyola and the Minister can be found at the end of this column.  For more background information visit Loyola’s website or read the Supreme Court’s decision.

Reading between the lines
From the outset, it is important to note that the dispute was not over the content or goals of the ERC Program.  Loyola does not object to the “recognition of others,” “pursuing the common good,” or promoting “openness to human rights, diversity and respect for others,” as outlined in the course.  On the contrary, these objectives are central to the mission of the school.  And historically speaking, the Catholic Church itself is responsible, in part, for embedding into modern society the fundamental principles of rights, equality, liberty and justice from which these goals originate.

The problem is the Minister’s insistence on the strict implementation of the ERC Program from a “neutral” perspective.  According to the Supreme Court, the Minister’s insistence suggests that, “engagement with an individual’s own religion on his or her own terms can be presumed to impair respect for others.”  In other words, the Minister made an irrational assessment of the Catholic perspective: that from a Catholic perspective it is impossible to teach children to respect others and promote dialogue and the common good, as articulated in the ERC course. (According to the Minister the perspective must be neutral, i.e. secular.)

The Court perceptively refuted this assessment of the Minister. In perhaps the most penetrating statement in the majority decision, the Court went beyond simply arguing that the Minister had violated the school’s religious freedom.  It also stated that preventing Loyola from teaching Catholicism from a Catholic perspective “does little to further the ERC Program’s objectives.”  This observation of the Court can form the basis of our consideration of “confessional secularism”.

Calling a spade a spade
As I understand it, confessional secularism is the result of transforming the fundamental tenets of secularism into a belief system.  It is one thing to promote a secular state that is neutral in matters of religion; it is quite another to promote a secular state that adopts secularism as a religion.  Confessional secularism is like any other religion insofar as a certain belief system is held to be true above other belief systems.

If we keep this in mind and follow the line of thought of the Supreme Court, we find the Minister’s insistence that Loyola teach Catholicism from a neutral perspective to be counterintuitive. We would expect to see the Minister uphold at all costs the integrity of the ERC Program.  Instead, we see the Minister insist on a strictly secular approach to religion and ethics that limits the religious freedom of a Catholic institution and thus undermines the very goals of the ERC Program, which were designed to celebrate openness and diversity.  How can this be?

I remember reading G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy for the first time, and being struck by a similar phenomenon. In the book, Chesterton reflects on the prevailing anti-Christian attitudes of the early 1900’s in Europe. Like many of his contemporaries he was open to new and progressive ideas, and traditional Christianity was largely seen by the intelligentsia as primitive and authoritarian.  The young and agnostic Chesterton celebrated these various critiques of Christianity, but then became alarmed by the inconsistencies he found in them.  At one point he wrote:

“It looked not so much as if Christianity was bad enough to include any vices, but rather as if any stick was good enough to beat Christianity with. What again could this astonishing thing [Christianity] be like which people were so anxious to contradict, that in doing so they did not mind contradicting themselves?”

We might pose a similar question to Quebec’s Minister of Education: What is it about the Catholic perspective on issues of religion and ethics that the government is so anxious to contradict, that in doing so it does not mind contradicting its own goals for the ERC Program?

I do not have a definitive answer to this question.  Nor is it the competency of the Court to try to answer it.  However, the Court did conclude that, “A secular state respects religious differences, it does not seek to extinguish them.”

We must acknowledge the reality of confessional secularism in our society today.  Forceful expressions of it seem to spring more frequently out of Quebec, but it is not a stagnant phenomenon and certainly not isolated in Quebec.  The subtle leap from a purely neutral secularism to confessional secularism is one that more and more Canadians are making.  It is indeed a leap of faith.

The difficulty with confessional secularism is not that secularism has become a new religion, but that its proponents sometimes fail to recognize it as such.  The Loyola case proved this definitively.  If confessional secularists are willing to recognize their belief system as a belief system, then Canadians should do as they have always done: welcome with open arms another group into our pluralist society.  But if proponents of this new religion advocate a kind of official atheism in the name of neutral secularism, then Loyola vs. Quebec won’t be the last case of religious freedom before the Supreme Court.

Timeline of events
2008

  • Quebec’s Ministry of Education, Sport and Leisure introduces its Ethics and Religious Culture Program (ERC)
  • Loyola applies for an exemption from the course, asking the Minister to allow the school to teach the content and goals of the program from a Catholic perspective
  • The Minister refuses an exemption to Loyola

2009

  • Loyola takes the matter to the Quebec Superior Court

2010

  • The Quebec Superior Court concludes that the decision to refuse Loyola’s request was invalid because it assumed the content and goals of the program could not be taught from a confessional (Catholic) perspective
  • The Minister appeals the Court’s decision

2012

  • The Quebec Court of Appeal overturns the Superior Court’s ruling

2013

  • Loyola takes the matter to the Supreme Court of Canada

2015

  • The Supreme Court of Canada overturns the Court of Appeal and rules that the Minister infringed upon the religious freedom of Loyola

Digital Citizenship: Your Voice Matters

THiNK

Noel-BlogWelcome to S+L’s Weekly News Round-Up. As the Director of Marketing and Communications here at S+L, many interesting Catholic news stories and articles come across my desk on a daily basis. Some of them we’ll cover on our different television programs and others I’d like to share with you on this blog.

This blog column is where I’ll point out some of the more interesting news pieces that I’ve come across over the past week! Enjoy!

This week on the Weekly News Round-Up, I thought I might do something a little different than the usual headlines I showcase. I’ll get back to that next week.

Instead, I thought I might share my experiences from an event that I had the great honor to speak at.

Yesterday, I was invited to speak to over 150 students from the Calgary Catholic School Board at their annual Digital Citizenship Conference, this year titled Your Voice Matters.

At this event, I was greeted by an enthusiastic bunch of junior high school students (grades 7-9) and their teachers at the Conservatory building of the Calgary Zoo, where I was asked to talk to them about Promoting a Catholic Presence on Social Media.

What a fantastic reception! The kids were engaging, funny and all around enthusiastic about their faith.

I was very appreciative of the kind hospitality the organizers Charmaine Monteiro, Stephanie Proctor and Andrea Gillier gave me and the many others who made my visit and stay a trip to remember!

What follows is my text of my speech. I hope you enjoy!

Thank you for the amazing and warm introduction! I’m very happy to be here to talk to you all. I love Calgary.

So earlier today, I had a chance to listen to both Julie and Paul. And I have to say, what wonderful speakers.

You are very lucky to have such great and talented speakers to help you navigate through this webspace we call the Digital Continent.

Before we begin, I’d like to ask a few questions…

First of all, can I get a show of hands…

  • How many of you out there are Catholic or Christian?
  • How many of you out there are on Facebook?
  • On Twitter?
  • On Instagram?
  • How many of you follow Pope Francis on Twitter?
  • Finally, how many of you have actually retweeted, shared, or liked a post by Pope Francis?

Very interesting indeed. Well, I’m happy to say that you’ve all passed and after this session, you can go see your teacher to redeem the extra bonus marks!.

Ok, in all seriousness, I’m here to take you along a different tangent from this mornings talks and talk about 4 main things:

  1. Why put yourselves out there as Catholics?
  2. What’s in it for you & what can you expect by doing so.
  3. I want to show you some great and fun sites you can share content from.
  4. Introduce you to one of the greatest communicators in recent history.

And to kick off this session, I’d like to say we’ve done it. My television station, Salt and Light TV, which broadcasts all over Canada, the US and now in Europe, have been doing it for the past 12 years.

We’ve been putting ourselves out there and now we’re in over 3 million homes and growing. Have a look:

Session 1 – So why put yourselves out there as Christians

And by “putting yourselves out there,” I mean: WHY

  • make a public statement of your Catholic beliefs on line?
  • share posts and pictures that promote your faith’s value?
  • follow the Pope and other Catholic speakers and figures?
  • be virtuous, thoughtful and positive with your comments and activities online?

And the answer to the “why” question is in this video.

This is what happens when you put yourselves out there.

Have a look:

Now when you do that, keep in mind that you will get criticized, sometimes laughed at, maybe called names like a bible thumper, holy-roller, Jesus Lover… or whatever, AND you may even lose the respect of some friends.

Be prepared for hostility for your beliefs, no matter what they are. That kind of sucks right?

BUT consider this. Consider what’s in it for you!

  • You’ll soon realize that you’re not alone in your beliefs.
  • You’ll gain new friends who share the same beliefs and struggles.
  • You’ll be part of a global movement, a global network of young Catholics.
  • You’ll be part of the solution not the problem.
  • You’ll connect with like-minded friends.
  • You’ll be exposed to experiences and people that you’d never have known if you didn’t
  • You become part of a world-wide posse of people who share the same values and will support you.

So consider this thought. The first person that benefits by putting yourself out and affirming your Catholic beliefs there is you. The second person that benefits is everyone else around you.

In essence, you become the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World EXACTLY what St. Pope John Paul II specifically asked us to do.

Let me ask this:

  • Who loves junk food? – Show of hands
    • Who loves fries, chips, burgers, pizza?
    • What happens when you consume that kinds of food every day, day in and out?
    • Whats happens to your body? Anyone?
    • Who out there body-builds and hits the gym and exercises?
    • What kinds of food to you consume?

The reason I bring this up is because 90% of the content on the internet is like junk-food of various degrees but junk food nevertheless

Seriously. Fake, cheap, junk, filled with negativity, criticism, hate, abuse, bullying. IF you consume that crap day in and out, your mind will conform to those values and attitudes, then you become part of the problem.

However, if you are careful of what you put in your body, like a body-builder, you become different, strong… in your mind and attitude. You are what you consume and that saying doesn’t just apply to food. It applies to everything you consume, so be careful with what you consume for your mind.

Has anyone heard of the actor Mark Wahlberg, from Transformers? He really came out about his catholic faith on CNN. Check it out:

Now that is brutally honest. He took a lot of heat for that online.

There are many other high profile celebrities and hollywood A-listers that are putting themselves out there on social media because of the reasons we spoke about. Yeah, they’re not always be perfect but neither are we. They have the same struggles as we do, if not amplified, by their celebrity status. Celebs like Mel Gibson, Stephen Colbert, Martin Sheen, Jim Caviezel and so many others are proclaiming themselves Catholic/

And the reason why they are putting themselves out there as Catholics can be summarized in this little clip. Have a look:

Session 2 – How

In this session, I’d like to talk to you about how to put yourselves out there as good Catholics. And to begin, the easiest way is simply to like, post and share good Christian/Catholic content on whatever social media platform you use. It’s that simple.

You don’t need to make grand proclamations, you don’t need to be on CNN or make video clips to post on Youtube. Simply like, post and share good Christian/Catholic content that represents your faith, content that is positive, hope-filled and optimistic.

As a digital citizen, you have an opportunity to take a stand on issues and truly define yourselves to the world.

So I thought it would be kind of cool to have a look at some of the sites I personally like and some that we use at Salt and Light TV.

Here are a few of my favourite ones:

Session 3 – St. John Paul II

In this final session, I’d like to take a moment to talk to you about one of the greatest communicators of our time, of my time. Someone who by the very nature of his heart, and not by his job, put himself out there, in a way that none of his predecessors have done so in the past.

He did this at a time where the global and political environment was harsh against religion; at a time when being religious, let alone Catholic, could mean imprisonment or even death.

He was great not because it was his job to be great, but because of the suffering he endured throughout his life. He was renowned for NOT being bitter or harsh, but for courage and optimism in the face of evil, and the light of hope he spread in this world.

This person personally reached out to the youth of the world and hence started what has become one of greatest youth gatherings in the world. It happens every 2-3 years: World Youth Day.

The person I’m talking about is none other than Pope John Paul II or St. JPII. Have a look:

Be Not Afraid was his message to you, the youth. Be the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World.

When you stand up for your beliefs, no matter WHAT they are, you’ll be criticized, antagonized, laughed at and, in some cases, villainized?

But. Be Not Afraid.

When you stand up to be a shining example of what’s good in the world, of what’s right in the world, of what’s just in the world, haters will try to extinguish that light with negativity and cruelness, especially in the digital world.

But dont worry. St. JPII reminds us that You are not what they say you are. Let me remind you who you are.

As the next generation of young, dynamic Catholics, we need to be present and available where people are spending much of their time – online. We have to take JPII’s call to evangelize on the digital continent very seriously and why?

Because YOU are the hope for the future. You are the beacons of light and hope that generations before and generations ahead will look to.

We have to stand up and freely and openly state: We Are Catholic!

Finally, to wrap up my time with you, I’d like to show you one last video.

If Social Media existed during the time of Jesus this is how things may have looked:

Now take that message, your message, and spread it with hope and joy throughout the world. Your world – the digital continent.

Thank you!

image003

Here I am, the servant of the Lord

Fiat

Mediation for the Solemnity of the Annunciation
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

The Church’s celebration of the Annunciation is believed to date to the early 5th century, possibly finding its origins around the Council of Ephesus (c 431). Earlier names for the Feast were Festum Incarnationis, and Conceptio Christi. In the Eastern Churches, the Annunciation is a feast of Christ, and in the Latin Church even though the focus has been more on Mary, it is still called the Annunciation of the Lord. The Annunciation has always been celebrated on March 25, exactly nine months before Christmas Day. Some ancient Christian writers believed that God created the world on March 25 and that the fall of Adam and the Crucifixion also took place March 25. The secular calendar was changed to begin the year on January 1.

Annunciation icon

When we reflect on the Annunciation to Mary, and her acceptance of the angel’s message, we also reflect on our own vocation – our own calling from God. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” – an echo of Mary’s “Be it done unto me according to your word.” Each time we commit ourselves to embracing God’s call and accepting his will, we mark a new point on the path of our relationship with Him. For the rest of her life, Mary pondered her extraordinary encounter with God, turning the weight of the angel’s message over and over again in her heart. From the manger to the Cross, Mary’s life was radically changed – her relationship with God profoundly deepened – the moment she said, “Yes.”

Mary of Nazareth is rooted in the faith of her ancestors, and yet now an angel has appeared in the midst of everyday life, extending a startling invitation. “You have found favour with God,” the angel says, “and you will conceive and bear his Son.” She received and welcomed God’s Word in the fullest sense – becoming impregnated with it, and bearing it to the world.

Imagine yourself in Mary’s place, asked to say “yes” to a divine plan so vast, so profound and so seemingly impossible that you cannot comprehend it. “How can this be?” she asks, bewildered. Will we accept God’s love and gift of new life and bring it joyously to those around us? Will we trust in his providence, even when we can’t see the path ahead? Amid the noise of everyday life, will we listen for and embrace his call?

Standing in the middle of the present day city of Nazareth in Galilee is the mammoth basilica of the Annunciation, built around what is believed to be the cave and dwelling of Mary. A small inscription is found on the altar in this grotto-like room at the heart of the basilica. This cave commemorates the place where Mary received the message from the angel Gabriel that she would “conceive and bear a son and give him the name Jesus (Luke 1:31). The Latin inscription reads “Verbum caro hic factum est” (Here the word became flesh).

That inscription in the grotto of the Annunciation is profound, otherworldly, earth shaking, life changing, dizzying and awesome. The words “Verbum caro hic factum est” are not found on an ex-voto plaque in the cave of the Nativity in Bethlehem, nor engraved on the outer walls of the Temple ruins or on governmental tourist offices in Jerusalem. They are affixed to an altar deep within the imposing structure of Nazareth’s centerpiece of the Annunciation. “This is where the word became flesh.” This is where history was changed because Mary said “yes.”

It is Mary above all others who can teach us what it means to live by faith, and how to respond when God’s providence Verbum caro hic factum estdisrupts the daily course of our lives, overturning its rhythms and expectations. Who better than Mary to walk with us and strengthen us on life’s journey? Who better than this faithful disciple, who endured the poverty of Bethlehem, the squalor of a stable, the experience of being a refugee, can show us how to cling to God when all seems to be lost? This faithful Daughter of Zion hoped beyond all hope and longed for the day when “the rich will be sent away with empty hands” and “the poor will have all good things” (Luke 1:53).

Even Mary was troubled by the angel’s revelation that she would bear God’s son. Mary’s raw faith is a living witness to the radial, unpredictable and ultimate triumph of the Good News of her Son, Jesus Christ. Despite her fears and uncertainty over how this promise could be fulfilled, she still answered “Yes.”

Are we able to respond to God this way? What prevents me from wholeheartedly accepting God’s call? What fears stand in the way? What prevents me from hearing God’s call? Do I purposefully use noise to avoid his voice? Am I uncomfortable with silence?

Focus on the image of Annunciation

WJW Annunciation art

  • See how the Holy Spirit comes to Mary. In the centre of this powerful apparition is a person with a human face.
  • Notice how Mary hears the news – seated on the floor, her garments spread around her, in a very quiet and private part of her home in Nazareth.
  • Imagine Mary’s emotions and deepest feelings during this awesome encounter.

Praying with the Roman Missal

Preface for the Solemnity of the Annunciation of May

“The Mystery of the Incarnation”

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord.

For the Virgin Mary heard with faith
that the Christ was to be born among men
and for men’s sake by the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit.

Lovingly she bore him in her immaculate womb,
that the promises to the children of Israel
might come about and the hope of nations
be accomplished beyond all telling.

Through him the host of Angels adores your majesty
and rejoices in your presence for ever.

May our voices, we pray,
join with theirs in one chorus of exultant praise,
as we acclaim: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts…

From: Where Jesus Walked
Biblical Meditations on the artwork of The Roman Missal for Canada With prayers from the Missal for reflection and meditation

By Father Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2012

Order your copy here.

Where Jesus Walked sm 1

The Passion of Jesus Is Our Reason for Hope

Carracci Flagellation cropped

Palm Sunday, Year B – Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Passion, suffering, death and resurrection of the Lord are the very themes that unite us as a Christian people and a Church during Holy Week.

This year on Palm Sunday, we listen attentively to Mark’s Passion story of Jesus’ final days and hours on earth. It is a story of striking contrasts. As we hear anew this moving story, Jesus’ passion penetrates the numbness of our lives. This week in particular, we have a privileged opportunity to learn from what happened to Jesus and discover not only the identity of those who tried, condemned and killed him long ago, but also what killed Jesus and what vicious circles of violence, brutality, hatred and jealousy continue to crucify him today in his brothers and sisters of the human family.

Zooming in on Mark’s Passion narrative

Mark’s account (Mark 11:1-10) of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is the most subdued version of the event in the New Testament. For some reason the evangelist places much emphasis on the donkey in this account. It was the custom for pilgrims to enter Jerusalem on foot. Only kings and rulers would “ride” into the city — most often on great steeds and horses and in ostentatious processions, in order to make their presence known. Jesus, a different kind of king, chooses to ride into the city, not on a majestic stallion but on the back of a young beast of burden.

By being led through the city on the back of a lowly donkey, Jesus comes as a king whose rule is not about being served but serving. His kingdom is not built on might but on compassion and generous service. The donkey Jesus mounts sends us back to the words of the ancient prophet, Zechariah, who foretold this scene five centuries before: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey . . . ”

In Mark’s jarring Passion story, we witness the anguish of Jesus who has been totally abandoned by friends and disciples. Jesus is resigned to his fate. He makes no response to Judas when he betrays him nor to Pilate during his interrogation. In Mark, Pilate makes no effort to save him, as the Roman procurator does in the other three Gospels.

As he does throughout his Gospel, Mark depicts the utter of failure of the disciples to provide any support to Jesus or to even understand what is happening. The enigmatic, young male disciple who flees naked into the night when Jesus is arrested is a powerful symbol in Mark’s Gospel of his followers who initially left family and friends behind to follow Jesus. Now that the heat is on, they leave everything behind to flee from him.

When we remember the events of that first Holy Week – from the upper room to Gethsemane, from Pilate’s judgment seat to Golgotha, from the cross to the empty tomb, Jesus turns our world and its value system upside down. He teaches us that true authority is found in dedicated service and generosity to others; greatness is centered in humility; the just and loving will be exalted by God in God’s good time.

Viewing Mark’s Passion through the lenses of fidelity

In the midst of Mark’s stories of betrayal and violence, the evangelist inserts a dramatic story of exquisite fidelity. While Jesus visits Simon the Leper in Bethany on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives, an anonymous woman breaks, open her alabaster jar of costly perfumed oil, and anoints Jesus’ head in good, royal, biblical fashion (14:3-9). As the fragrance of the oil fills the room, those with Jesus are shocked at the woman’s extravagant gesture. But Jesus defends her. She had performed an act of true fidelity and love, he tells them, “for she has anticipated anointing my body for burial” (14:8). For this, Jesus promises, she would be remembered wherever the Gospel would be preached (14:9). This woman is the only one in all of the New Testament to be so greatly honored.

While his male disciples and apostles clearly manifest a bold track record of failure, betrayal and abandonment, this anonymous woman embodies boldness, courage, love and fidelity. What an example! Though she may not fully understand the significance of her symbolic and prophetic act of anointing him, nor the timeliness of her action, she only desires simply to be with him and to express to him lavish love and attention.

Is this not what each of us is called to do during Holy Week in particular? Is it not to love Jesus and to be attentive to him throughout the final tragic movements of the symphony of his earthly life, and in the midst of all of the setbacks, failures and betrayals of our own lives? Our lives must be like the woman’s jar of expensive ointment poured out so lavishly on the Lord in the final moments of his life on earth.

Who, if not the condemned Savior?

At the conclusion of the Stations of the Cross at Rome’s Colosseum on Good Friday night in the Jubilee Year 2000, Pope John Paul II spoke these moving and powerful words:

“Who, if not the condemned Savior, can fully understand the pain of those unjustly condemned?

Who, if not the King scorned and humiliated, can meet the expectations of the countless men and women who live without hope or dignity?

Who, if not the crucified Son of God, can know the sorrow and loneliness of so many lives shattered and without a future?”

What a Savior we have! He truly understands our human condition. He walks with us and shares our sorrows, loneliness and suffering. How do we respond to such outlandish love and genuine solidarity? Passion Sunday invites us to put on what Paul calls the “attitude of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:6-11) in his passion and death: to “empty” ourselves of our own interests, fears and needs for the sake of others. May we reach out to heal those who are hurting and comfort the despairing around us despite our own denials and betrayals.

During the moving liturgies of Holy Week, we are given the special grace to carry on, with joy and in hope, despite rejection, humiliation and suffering. In this way, the Passion of Jesus becomes a reason for hope and a moment of grace for all us as we seek the reign of God in our own lives — however lonely and painful that search may be. Holy Week gives us the consolation and the conviction that we are not alone.

[The readings for this Sunday are: Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Mark 14:1-15:47 or 15:1-39. For use with RCIA, Mark 11:1-10 or John 12:12-16]

(Image: The Flagellation of Christ by Annibale Carracci)

Freedom from Religion – The Canadian Edition

Religious_Freedom

Freedom of religion, it is something that generally speaking, Canadians take for granted. You can wake-up on Sunday mornings, and drive/walk/ride to the local parish. The music plays, the congregation prays, the priest offers the sacrifice of the mass. For most, the conversation ends right there, freedom of religion delivered, your social contract with the state lives to see another day. However there is so much more to it than that. Faith is so much more than being able to assemble. Challenges to those rights are not always as overt as the violence and discrimination faced by our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.

Cue up 2008, Montreal, Quebec: a private Catholic Boys’ High School called Loyola, takes issue with the new provincially mandated Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) program. In the wake of doing away with religious schools, the government created a secular ethics program, which seeks to give students a “balanced” look at different faiths. Loyola being a private institution, applied to the Ministry of Education for an exemption. While not objecting to the bulk of the program, the school felt that it could not and should not have to teach Catholicism from a “neutral” or “unbiased” point of view. Administrators argued that it would be impossible and simply not right for teachers to have to leave their faith at the door for a period of each day.

With the government not willing to back down and Loyola not willing to compromise their beliefs, the battle went the way of the courts resulting in a ruling in Loyola’s favor. The government appealed and won, setting up a highly touted main event in the Supreme Court. Ultimately it was Loyola’s day, as just last week, the highest court in the land ruled that the provincial government had indeed infringed on the religious freedoms of the school.

There is no shortage of important points to be unpacked from this case, but the one that stands at the forefront, is the overarching reach of the state. The Government of Quebec has argued that it must equip young people for the future, for the secular society of which they are supposed to be productive members. They also believe that they have a vehicle in the form of the ERC to do so and that it belongs in Catholic private schools. However at what point did the state assume the powers of parents, families and Churches? It is not the job of state to teach people how to be moral. Certainly the state must legislate and enforce laws, however morality has rarely been the forte of governments throughout history.

The state cannot and should not have to try to protect people from themselves. This move, which follows the abolition of religious schools in the province, is at the very least, the tacit admission that faith plays an important role in forming people’s moral compass. However it isn’t the government’s job to mould society or its people. All of that comes organically through formation delivered by families, as well as the Churches and communities they are a part of. The government’s role in all of this is to preserve freedom. That freedom gives parents the chance to foster children in what they believe to be an appropriate environment, allowing them flourish and become their own person.

Yet in the case of Loyola, we have seen the opposite transpire. The government has de facto abdicated its responsibility as the guarantor of such an environment and in fact become the culprit. How sad, that this pivot comes as we make such incredible advances in the sciences and the arts. With all of this great knowledge there are those who argue that they must protect people from themselves, from what their faith may teach them. All of this to ensure, that people grow up to be productive members of an increasingly self-secularized society.

Canadians can be grateful that the justice system has fulfilled its mandate and upheld the laws of the land. However it is unlikely to inhibit such attempts curtailing the religious freedoms people of faith hold so fundamentally close to their hearts. If this case has taught Catholics anything, it is that they must be thankful for and respectful of the rights and freedoms of all. These come from God, the creator, whose authority and age, outstrips and predates any piece of legislation conceived. These freedoms are great and powerful and as with any great powers, come great responsibilities. Faith must be used to build a better world, to create a more just society and ultimately inform and inspire people to lives of virtue.

The Transformative Leadership of two Latin American Pastors

Romero preaching

Excerpt from the Concluding Address by Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Congress of the Angelicum Foundation of Santiago, Chile
& the University of St. Thomas (Houston)
Houston, Texas – March 21, 2015

Dear Friends,

As the last speaker of the conference, it is my duty to address the topic, Reconciliation and Community: A Call for Transforming Leadership. I will do so by considering the lives and styles of leadership of two Latin American pastors. The first is a Jesuit, the former Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires – Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

 Francis to crowd in NaplesAs Archbishop of Argentina’s capital – a diocese with more than three million inhabitants – Cardinal Bergoglio developed and implemented a pastoral missionary plan based on communion and evangelization. He had four main goals: open and brotherly communities, an informed laity playing a lead role, evangelization efforts addressed to every inhabitant of the city, and assistance to the poor and the sick. He asked priests and lay people to work closely together in the work of evangelization and education of the people. During many years of fruitful pastoral ministry, Cardinal Bergoglio insisted, “Teachers of the faith need to get out of their cave,” and the clergy “out of the sacristy.” He required parish priests to live with their people, and in the same conditions as their people, even in radical simplicity and poverty. Authentic pastors should have the “odor of the sheep” if they are to be effective and credible.

When Cardinal Bergoglio spoke of social justice, he called people first of all to pick up the Catechism and to rediscover the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. His project was and remains very simple: if you follow Christ, you understand that “trampling upon a person’s dignity is a serious sin.”

“My people are poor and I am one of them,” Cardinal Bergoglio said so often, explaining his decision to live in an apartment above a school and cook his own meals. He frequented the Villas Miserias, advised his priests to show mercy and apostolic courage and to keep their doors open to everyone. One year before his election to the See of Peter, the Cardinal wrote a pastoral letter in which he reprimanded his own priests for refusing the Sacrament of Baptism to the children of single mothers.

His life was radically changed two years ago March 13 when “Padre Jorge,” as he was known by so many in Argentina, became Pope Francis. We have all witnessed and been recipients of his Petrine Ministry for the past two years. Since his election as Bishop of Rome, he has captured the mind and heart not only of the Church but also of the world. He has not changed a single doctrine of the Church but has ushered in a way of speaking, a new style of leadership that has shaken the Church and impacted the world.

Some call him a revolutionary. At the heart of his message is a transformative call to reconciliation and mercy. As leader of the Catholic Church, he asks us to let go of different forms of thinking and the desire to impose certain ideas at all costs. He proposes a humble way of committed people who base their lives on Gospel living. For Francis, compassion and mercy can truly change the world. This is the Christian revolution: namely a conversion to the origin of the Gospel message as a way to the future, a true revolution of tenderness and mercy.

Listen to three sections of his “Mission Statement” or Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium:

88…For just as some people want a purely spiritual Christ, without flesh and without the cross, they also want their interpersonal relationships provided by sophisticated equipment, by screens and systems which can be turned on and off on command. Meanwhile, the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction. True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness.

100…It always pains me greatly to discover how some Christian communities, and even consecrated persons, can tolerate different forms of enmity, division, calumny, defamation, vendetta, jealousy and the desire to impose certain ideas at all costs, even to persecutions which appear as veritable witch hunts. Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?

229…The sign of this unity and reconciliation of all things in him is peace. Christ “is our peace” (Eph 2:14). The Gospel message always begins with a greeting of peace, and peace at all times crowns and confirms the relations between the disciples. Peace is possible because the Lord has overcome the world and its constant conflict “by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col 1:20). But if we look more closely at these biblical texts, we find that the locus of this reconciliation of differences is within ourselves, in our own lives, ever threatened as they are by fragmentation and breakdown. If hearts are shattered in thousands of pieces, it is not easy to create authentic peace in society.

An attitude that seeks dialogue, builds bridges and opens doors

Francis & elderly

Two months after his election as Bishop of Rome, in his daily homily of May 13, 2013 in the chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae, Pope 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 said that this is the attitude that a Christian ought always to have.

            “A Christian,” Francis said, “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. The we receive the truth when we meet it.”

…Pope Francis’ electrifying homily to the new Cardinals in St. Peter’s Basilica on February 15 of this year is one of the most significant addresses that he has given in his two-year pontificate. Centered on “the Gospel of the marginalized,” it provides a road map for Catholic Church leaders and educators. Commenting on Jesus’ cure of the leper in Mark’s Gospel, he said, “Compassion leads Jesus to concrete action: he reinstates the marginalized!” Jesus responds “immediately” to the leper’s plea “without waiting to study the situation and all its possible consequences” because “for Jesus, what matters above all is reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family!”

“This is scandalous to some people but Jesus is not afraid of this kind of scandal! He does not think of the closed-minded who are scandalized even by a work of healing, scandalized before any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes, by any caress or sign of tenderness that does not fit into their usual thinking and their ritual purity. He wanted to reinstate the outcast, to save those outside the camp.”

Francis finds the contemporary Church at a crossroads: “There are two ways of thinking and of having faith: we can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost.” There is “the thinking of the doctors of the law, which would remove the danger by casting out the diseased person,” and “the thinking of God, who in his mercy embraces and accepts by reinstating him and turning evil into good, condemnation into salvation and exclusion into proclamation.”

“These two ways of thinking are present throughout the church’s history: casting off and reinstating,” Francis said. He recalled that Sts. Peter and Paul caused scandal, faced criticism, resistance and even hostility for following the path of reinstatement. Francis, and many of those who have embraced his message and strive to follow his example are also being criticized today for the same things: for not casting off but striving to reinstate those who are on the peripheries for a variety of reasons.

…In healing the leper, “Jesus does not harm the healthy. Rather, he frees them from fear. He does not endanger them, but gives them a brother. He does not devalue the law but instead values those for whom God gave the law. Indeed, Jesus frees the healthy from the temptation of the ‘older brother.’”

In an address on March 14 of this year to the Union of Italian Catholic Educators, the Pope addressed them as colleagues, saying: “Indeed, the duty of a good teacher – all the more for a Christian teacher – is to love his or her more difficult, weaker, more disadvantaged students with greater intensity. Jesus would say, if you love only those who study, who are well educated, what merit have you? Any teacher can do well with such students. I ask you to love “difficult” students more … and there are some who really try our patience, but we have to love them more… those who do not want to study, those who find themselves in difficult conditions, the disabled and foreigners, who today pose a great challenge for schools.”

Pope Francis told his audience: “If a professional association of Christian teachers wants to bear witness to their inspiration today, then it is called to engage in the peripheries of the school, which cannot be abandoned to marginalization, exclusion, ignorance, crime.”

The Church of Francis is the Church of Jesus Christ

Francis Pope of Mercy

Where is Pope Francis leading the Church? What does he want the bishops to do? What does he expect of us, ordained ministers? And what is he modeling for laymen and women? For Francis the Church is first of all reconciler. In his address to the Brazilian bishops during World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Francis said that “from the beginning, God’s message was one of restoring what was broken, reuniting what had been divided,” Francis explained. “Walls, chasms, differences which still exist today are destined to disappear. The church cannot neglect this lesson: She is called to be a means of reconciliation.”

Francis wants the church to be an instrument of reconciliation and welcome, a church capable of warming hearts, a church that is not bent over on herself but always seeking those on the periphery and those who are lost, a church capable of leading people home. Pope Francis takes every opportunity he can to ask his brother bishops, priests, pastoral ministers and lay leaders: Are we still a church capable of warming hearts? A church capable of leading people back to Jerusalem? Of bringing them home? Jerusalem is where our roots are: Scripture, catechesis, sacraments, community, friendship with the Lord, Mary and the apostles. … Are we still able to speak of these roots in a way that will revive a sense of wonder at their beauty?

Pope Francis is neither conservative nor liberal but a radical who wants to bring about a revolution of mercy. In Evangelii Gaudium, he invites and challenges all of us to move beyond our “comfort zones.” He wants us to be warm, welcoming and forgiving. He wants us to eat with tax collectors and sinners; he wants us to forgive the woman caught in adultery (while admonishing her to sin no more); he wants us to welcome and respect foreigners (even our enemies), and, above all, not to judge others.

Francis kissing feet 2

For Pope Francis, authentic power is service: Power in the Church is not about who kisses one’s hand but how many feet one can wash in the service of Christ. Pope Francis made this clear when he visited a youth detention center on his first Holy Thursday in Rome in 2013 and chose to wash the feet of young offenders, including two young women and two Muslims. He continued that tradition last year by washing the feet of elderly women and men and those with severe handicaps. Next week he will wash the feet of 12 prisoners at Rome’s Rebibbia prison – incarcerated women and men. If we do not learn this Christian rule, we will never be able to understand Jesus’ true message on power and be effective teachers, educators and pastoral workers.

The Christian realism of the “Joy of the Gospel” is beyond reactionary ideology and pie-in-the sky spirituality. A little compassion can move the world, Francis says. That is the Christian revolution at the core of Francis’ Petrine ministry, a conversion to the origin of the Gospel message as a way to the future, a revolution of mercy. There is nothing new here. It is only the Gospel message. It’s been our mission, our mandate and our story for over 2,000 years.

Oscar Romero

Romero Blessed image sm

The second Latin American pastor was also an Archbishop – the chief Shepherd of San Salvador – Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Goldamez, born in 1917 in the town of Ciudad Barrios, in the mountains of El Salvador near the border with Honduras. After serving as a country pastor and rector of two seminaries, he became bishop then archbishop at time of great social unrest in his country. His pulpit became a source of truth when the government censored news. Romero walked among the people and listened. “I am a shepherd,” he said, “who, with his people, has begun to learn a beautiful and difficult truth: our Christian faith requires that we submerge ourselves in this world.”

Through his life and ministry, Archbishop Romero taught us that thinking with the Church meant to be rooted in God, loving and defending the poor, and out of fidelity, paying the price for doing so. He risked his own life as he defended the poor and oppressed. He laid down his life for his friends.

The spirituality and faith behind his struggle for life flowed from his belief in the God of the living who enters into human history to destroy the forces of death and allow the forces of life to heal, reconcile, and lift up those who walk in the valley of death. Romero taught us that poverty and death go together.

Oscar Romero’s life also speaks to us today by virtue of his untiring call for dialogue and negotiation. In a society that was terribly polarized, a society in which the usual way to relate to persons with whom one disagreed was to assassinate them, Romero always tried to open a space for communication, conversation, and understanding. In 1980, Romero brought the opposing sides of the government of El Salvador together for hours of talks, urging that the junta be given another chance. His example of bridge-building can be of particular importance to any nation today where change is often seen as a process of the oppressed taking on the pinstripes of the oppressors.

Oscar Romero’s untiring efforts on behalf of the poor give flesh and blood to the words of Mary’s Magnificat in the New Testament. In making her own the words of Hannah of the Old Testament’s prayer of praise to God, Mary reminds us that “God has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.” But God has not put the lowly up on the thrones of their oppressors! The problem is the thrones themselves that serve as a constant temptation to power, distortion, violence, abuse and manipulation. Romero’s life offers a completely different model of societal transformation. His plea for forgiveness, reconciliation and mercy is of paramount significance. Oscar Romero modeled for us the opposite of what the world models. The world thrives on manipulative, exploitative, competitive power. Romero embodied nutritive and integrative power: power on behalf of the other and a power shared with others.

Murdered in cold blood by an assassin’s bullet as he celebrated Mass in a hospital on March 24, 1980, his last words in the sermon just minutes before his death reminded his congregation of the parable of the wheat. “Those who surrender to the service of the poor through love of Christ, will live like the grain of wheat that dies. It only apparently dies. If it were not to die, it would remain a solitary grain. The harvest comes because of the grain that dies…”

…Oscar Romero testified that the church must be the voice of the voiceless and the incessant defender of life. The church must passionately pursue justice, but without identifying itself with any one particular party or any one particular ideology. This can be a very difficult and challenging struggle, a veritable mine field or high wire balancing act. To walk this tightrope was especially challenging in the El Salvador of the ‘70s, which was so highly politicized that people were often not seen as persons, but instead, were identified only on the basis of their belonging to political parties or organizations.

…Jesuit Fr. Rutilio Grande, Archbishop Oscar Romero, the Maryknoll Missionaries and the Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador were pastorsRomero with young men, university professors, teachers and lay missionaries who were brutally murdered because of the questions which they asked about justice and peace; because they sought the truth of very difficult situations of suffering and massive injustice; because they believed dearly in the value of a Catholic, critical education, which put into practice what the best elements of our Church stand for. Each person was disciple, missionary, educator and evangelist and each was killed because the education and evangelization which they shared with their students and flocks touched the enormity of human suffering and pain all around them in El Salvador.

Here in our peaceful and at times surreal environment of higher learning, we may ask ourselves if this is what Catholic Education, adult catechesis and evangelization programs are suppose to do: to kill people and make martyrs? And the ultimate answer may be yes. What happened in El Salvador to these men and women and what continues to happen to similar people around the world who are authentic teachers, disciples and witnesses is not so much a barbarous and bizarre anomaly… because authentic Catholic education, true evangelization and missionary discipleship must educate and evangelize men and women into the disciplined sensitivity toward the suffering in the world whoever and wherever they may be. This is part of the education and evangelization called for by the Gospel. For without a specific Gospel-rooted effort to bring about such a religious and humane education and evangelization in our educational and pastoral milieus today, we will simply graduate and form people unaware of pain, suffering and the real cost of being Christian and being disciples.

Pope Francis is doing exactly the same thing for us as he leads and guides the Church. He has a passion for the poor, the immigrant, the forgotten, and the “throw-aways.” He is the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere, and the first from Latin America; these are the areas of the world where poverty is so great. Francis is inviting us to become witnesses, missionaries and disciples. That is our mission today. It is not new. Francis has brought new urgency, new passion, and I would suggest, new authenticity to this mission.

If we fail to understand the modus operandi of Francis of Buenos Aires and Oscar of El Salvador, we risk transforming the living realities of both Archbishops into framed diplomas, coveted degrees, documents in files, books on shelves, academic seminars, monuments, statues and holy cards to admire, and not people to imitate to emulate. We must ask ourselves at a university conference like this one, “How do faith and a Christian understanding of education transform the lives of Catholic laity in the world? How are the tenets of Catholic education and evangelization making a difference in lives of Catholics and many who are peering in from the peripheries.

Teaching and preaching is the art of leaving vestiges in students and those who listen to us, and all good teachers and preachers must ask what vestiges they wish to leave in their hearers. Good and effective teachers and preachers have usually had excellent teachers and preachers themselves. The highest compliment we can pay to our own teachers and pastors is to try to imitate them or incorporate their methods into our own lives. People may listen to us because we are good teachers and preachers, but they will truly learn from us, be inspired by us, be changed by us, and even imitate or emulate us because we are first and foremost disciples and witnesses.

Both Francis and soon-to-be-Blessed Oscar are disciples and missionaries, role models and Gospel witnesses, agents of reconciliation and builders of communities of faith. Francis leads the Church on earth, and Oscar watches over us from the heavenly Jerusalem. Let us learn from the examples of these two great pastors, teachers and missionary disciples from Latin America. 

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

Deacon-structing St. Joseph

St_Joseph_1

When Joseph awoke he did as the angel of the Lord had directed him…
(From the Gospel for March 19, the Solemnity of Joseph, the Husband of Mary, Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24)

Last week, I ended by saying that I would deacon-struct Holy Week, but I can’t let this week go by without saying something about my favourite Saint. Sometimes, because it’s Lent we may overlook some feasts or solemnities that fall during the season. It’s hard to ignore the Feast of St. Patrick, but how many really pay attention to the Solemnity of St. Joseph?

There isn’t much that we know about Joseph. We know that his Father’s name was Jacob and that he was the husband of Mary. We know that before they lived together he found out she was pregnant and instead of shaming her or causing scandal, he decided to divorce her quietly. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that he was an upright man, a man of principle. We also know that he was a righteous man who followed the law: He observed religious law – we know he went to Jerusalem for the Jewish festivals. He also followed civil law – he went to Bethlehem for the census. We also know that Joseph had dreams. God spoke to him in his dreams and he followed his dreams.

One thing we don’t know about Joseph are his words. In all of the Gospels, no where do we ever hear anything Joseph says. He never says anything. But he’s a man of action: He does what the angel tells him; he takes Mary as his wife; he goes to Bethlehem; he finds a place to stay for the night; he takes his family to Egypt. He’s a man of action – not a man of words.

For centuries, scholars and artists have tried to figure out Joseph’s words. One of my favourite Christmas songs is Joseph’s Song by Michael Card. In it, Joseph prays:

“How can it be, this baby in my arms, sleeping now, so peacefully. The son of God, the angel said, how could it be? O Lord I know he’s not my own, not of my flesh, not of my bone. Still Father let this baby be the son of my love.”

Then Joseph prays:

“Father show me where I fit into this plan of yours. How can a man be father to the son of God? Lord, for all my life I’ve been a simple carpenter… how can I raise a king? How can I raise a king?”

I like this song because to me it shows what Joseph models perfectly: He was a man after God’s will. He longed to know God’s will and searched to see how he fit into the Father’s plan.

And just like God had a plan for Joseph, God has a plan for each one of us. The plan does not need to be more than that He wants us to be upright and righteous. He wants us to be loving parents, loving husbands and wives. God wants us to follow the law: observe the commandments. But, just like Joseph in the song, we may feel that we don’t have anything to contribute, that we are nothing but simple carpenters. Just like Joseph we may never see the fruit of our work. We may never reap the harvest. The first reading on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, March 19, is from the Book of Samuel (2 Samuel 7:4-5, 12-14, 16). In it, we hear about a promise to King David. We hear about it in Psalm 89 as well: “The son of David will live forever” or “his line will continue forever.” In the second reading for the same feast day (Romans 4:13, 16-18, 22) Paul tells the Romans about another upright man who never saw the fruit of his work: Abraham. He did God’s will, but never saw the fulfilment of God’s promise to him.

But the promise was fulfilled. St. Joseph may have been a simple carpenter, who did not amount to much during his life, but today, 2000 years later, he is venerated as one of the greatest saints in the Church. Every March 19th we celebrate the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary. There aren’t a lot of Saints for whom we have solemnities. The Church has been observing this feast since the 10th century and it has been a universal feast since the 16thcentury. And Joseph gets another feast day on May 1st: Feast of St. Joseph, the Worker. Except for Mary, no other saint has more than one feast day.

St. Joseph is the patron saint of husbands, of fathers, the patron saint of families, the patron saint of homes and the patron saint of workers. Joseph is also the unofficial patron saint against doubt and hesitation, of fighting against communism and of a good and happy death. We also believe that Joseph prays for all pregnant women, for immigrants, travellers and for those buying or selling a house.

In 1870, Pope Pius IX declared St. Joseph patron of the universal Church. He is the Patron of the Universal Church! And for us in our country, we should know that St. Joseph is the principal patron of Canada. That’s a huge responsibility for a man of so few words. But it’s a perfect job for a man of action.

As we journey through Lent – especially when we gather around the Eucharistic table, let’s pray to St. Joseph. Let him guide us and help us open our hearts to God’s plan for us: that we may be upright and righteous; that we may be men and women after God’s will; that we may be able to pray, “Father show me how I fit into this plan of yours.” And dream. Let God speak to you in your dreams and then get up and do as the angel of the Lord directs you. God has a great plan for everyone. Even for a simple carpenter.