Hong Kong Bishop Ordinations

Hong Kong Bishop Ordinations

On Saturday, August 30, there will be three auxiliary bishops ordained in the Diocese of Hongkong. They are Mgr Michael Yeung Ming-cheung, vicar general of the diocese and a member of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum; Mgr Stephen Lee Bun Sang, vicar of Opus Dei for East Asia; and Fr. Joseph Ha Chi-shing, a former superior of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor in Hong Kong.

This ordination of the three Chinese auxiliary bishops will be remembered as one of the most significant events in the history of Catholic Church in China. The most obvious reason is that after August 30, there will be two Cardinals and three bishops serving the 400,000 Catholics in Hongkong: Cardinal John Tong, Bishop of Hongkong, and Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, SDB, Bishop emeritus, along with the three new bishops.

It is puzzling for Catholics and non-Catholics from outside of the region, especially us in Canada and the US, to understand reasoning behind the Holy Father’s decision to appoint three auxiliary bishops at once, and have five bishops serving a city diocese that does not seem to have a mass number of Catholics. However, it will be much easier to understand the motivation of the Holy Father when we think of the Church in China with 15 million plus Catholics who are under severe persecutions by the government and many bishops and priests are still in jail in under house arrests.

The Diocese of Hongkong has always been in unique position especially after the British handed over the sovereignty to the Communist Chinese in 1997. This is one of the only two Catholic dioceses in Communist China that are not being controlled by the Central Government, or does not belong to the government controlled Catholic Patriotic Association. (The other one is the small diocese of Macau. The city was handed over by the Portuguese to the Chinese in 1999.) In other words, the diocese of Hongkong (along with Macau) is the rare one that can preach freely the Good News of the Lord while in full Communion with the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome.

The Hongkong Diocese has played a significant role in confronting the persecutions of the Catholic Church in China. It has sent priests, theology scholars, Bibles in Chinese, books and other much needed resources for the needs of the Catholics in China, the priestly formation, and to serve as communication channels between the Under Ground Church and Rome. The Diocese also works in good faith with the state controlled Catholic Patriotic Association (which does not recognize the Pope as the successor of Peter and leader of the Catholic Church) in hope of converting their political stand against the Pope’s supremacy in the matter of faith and moral and loosening the state control in religious matters.

The future of the Church in China and Hongkong are of one. As the Chinese government becomes more aware of the need to connect with the developed countries that value religious freedom and human rights, the role of the Diocese of Hongkong will become more important for it has all of the advantage to serve as a bridge between the Church in China and the rest of the Universal Church.  I urge you all to pray for the Church in China as what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has taught us to pray to Our Lady of Sheshen. Sheshen is a mountain outside of Shanghai where a basilica was built and consecrated to Our Lady for her protection of Christians during riots. In 2008, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has declared May 24 as the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China.

I wish the three newly ordained bishops be full of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ for all the challenges that they will face in their new roles.

Bosco Chan, MTS (St Michaels’ College)

Aug 29, 2014

The Passion of John the Baptist

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On August 29, the Church remembers the death of St. John the Baptist, a prophet who was put to death through beheading because he spoke the truth.

There is no Gospel that begins the story of Jesus’ public ministry without first telling the reader about the life and mission of John the Baptist.  John’s preceding Jesus was clearly fixed in the Christian tradition, so much, that in two of the three Gospels that begin their story before the public ministry with Jesus’ first appearance on earth, John the Baptist is brought forth to precede the appearance as well.

John the Baptist was a man of the desert and began his preaching in the desert:  “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his path”  (Mk. 1:3; Mt. 3:3).  His long years in the desert before his appearance as a preacher and teacher of repentance (Lk. 1:80) were the source and time for many possibilities.  When the time had come, John led his own disciples to Jesus and indicated to them the Messiah, the True Light, and the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Jesus’ own testimony to John makes the Baptizer the greatest of all Israelite heroes (Mt. 11:7-19; Lk. 7:24-35).  Jesus also testifies to John’s greatness in calling him a “witness to the truth, a burning and shining lamp” (Jn. 5:33-56).

John considered himself to be less than a slave to Jesus, “There is one among you whom you do not recognize- the one coming after me- the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to unfasten” (John 1:26-27).  When John’s own disciples came to him and were troubled about the meaning of Jesus’ baptizing in the Jordan, he answered them confidently:  “No one can receive anything except what is given them from heaven…” John says that he is only the friend of the bridegroom, the one who must decrease while his master increases (Jn. 3:25-30).  The Baptizer defined his humanity in terms of its limitations.

John experienced the loneliness of an authentic prophet of Israel when he was the only one willing to say a truth that everyone knew, that King Herod was living with the divorced wife of his brother.  John is finally imprisoned by Herod Antipas because of his public rebuke of the tetrarch for his adulterous and incestuous marriage with Herodias (Mt. 4:12; Mk. 1:14; Lk. 3:19).  John was executed as a result of the foolish pledge made by Herod during a drunken orgy (Mt. 14:1-2;  Mk. 6:14-28;  Lk. 9:7-9).  Just as the Baptist and the Messiah are closely linked in their births so too are their fates so closely intertwined.

O God, who willed that Saint John the Baptist
should go ahead of your Son
both in his birth and in his death,
grant that, as he died a Martyr for truth and justice,
we, too, may fight hard
for the confession of what you teach.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Image: The Beheading of John the Baptist by Caravaggio 

The Original Dynamic Duo


During my research for the Church Alive series I came across this epic CNS file photo of Pope Paul VI and Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. The photo’s caption reads, “Paul VI, who served in Poland during his early priesthood, held the future Pope John Paul II in high regard.” Not only do they both look like don dadas, but they’re the original dynamic duo when it comes to the Second Vatican Council. Although John XXIII called the Council, Paul VI was the person who actually did all the work. He’s responsible for promulgating the major documents that came out of the Council. Pope John Paul II, moreover, was the person who enacted the Council’s vision throughout his reign as one of the longest serving pontiffs in Church history.

So if you want to know what the New Evangelization is, just take a page out of either one of these men’s lives. I highly recommend Pope Paul VI’s Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi: although this document was penned just under forty years ago, it reads as if it was written yesterday.

And if you really want to up your game, check out the Church Alive series! This is a sure way to level up when it comes to this huge and sometimes intimidating topic. Included in our DVD set is a 75-page study guide which is very handy literally and figuratively: its small and fits in the palm of your hand and it gives you all the goods like bios, resources, synopses, and study questions.

As Robin would say: Holy History, Batman!

 

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Credit: CNS file photo

Daily Perspectives – Pope Francis warns against jealousy

Tonight on Perspectives: Pope Francis warns against jealousy in Christian communities, hunger and panic spread in Western Africa as government officials try to stop the spread of Ebola, and S+L launches onto ROKU TV.

Following Jesus implies suffering and a cross

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Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – August 31, 2014

Today’s Gospel from Matthew 16:21-27 presents us with the first prediction of Jesus’ passion. It follows the story told in Mark 8:31-33 and serves as a corrective to the misunderstanding of Jesus’ Messiahship as solely one of glory and triumph. Matthew’s account of the first passion prediction is also about the sufferings of the Son of Man. In the New Testament Greek text, Matthew’s formulation is almost identical with the pre-Pauline fragment of the kerygma in 1 Corinthians 15:4 and also with Hosea 6:2, which many take to be the Old Testament background to the confession that Jesus was raised on the third day.

By his addition of the words “from that time on” (16:21), Matthew has emphasized that Jesus’ revelation of his coming suffering and death marks a new phase of the Gospel. Immediately following Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus “began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (16:21). We are told that in response to Jesus’ statement, Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you” (16:22). But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (16:23).

Peter’s refusal

Peter’s refusal to accept Jesus’ predicted suffering and death is seen as a satanic attempt to deflect Jesus from his God-appointed course, and the disciple is addressed in terms that recall Jesus’ dismissal of the devil in the temptation account (Matthew 4:10: “Get away, Satan!”). Peter’s satanic purpose is emphasized by Matthew’s addition to the Marcan source of the words “You are a stumbling block to me.” A readiness to follow Jesus even to giving up one’s life for him is the condition for true discipleship, which will be repaid by the Lord at the final judgment (16:24-28).

What is behind Peter’s refusal to accept Jesus’ suffering and death? Peter gives voice to the bewilderment and dismay of the other apostles at Jesus’ announcement of his imminent passion. “This cannot be, Lord! This should not be! It just isn’t fair or right!” Such a reaction portrays Peter’s and our own inability to understand the mystery of God at work in Jesus, and in our lives. Peter and the others are confronted with the harsh reality of God’s designs, completely unacceptable from the perspective of human logic. To undergo great suffering at the hands of the religious authorities, to take up a cross, to be killed – is this all part of Jesus’ package? Are there no incentives or benefits? Wouldn’t it be better to erase the cross and suffering from the whole plan? Is it really necessary? Is Jesus experiencing some form of depression in saying these things?

From “Rock” to scandalon

Just last week at Caesarea Philippi, Peter was called “Rock.” Now he is called scandalon – a stumbling block or stone! Jesus reminds Peter that he understands nothing of the reality and mystery of God’s designs for him and for us!

Jesus tells his disciples if they want to become his followers, they must deny themselves, and take up their cross, and follow him (16:24). What does it mean, “to deny oneself”? To deny someone is to disown him and to deny oneself is to disown oneself as the centre of one’s existence. Think for a moment of Peter who would later deny his friend and Lord – “I do not know him!” (26:74) It means precisely that for us as well. To deny myself means that I no longer know myself, I no longer take my own life into account, I no longer think of myself – I am no longer at the centre of my universe. But the action does not stop there: the whole force of this injunction rests on Jesus’ invitation “Follow me.” Everything said before and after are the necessary prerequisites for being able to love Jesus and stay with him, and to continue staying with him.

Following Jesus

This teaching of Jesus to the small group of the Twelve can be summarized as follows: “Whoever has accepted the personal call to follow me, must accept me as I am.” Following Jesus implies suffering and a cross! The mark of the Messiah is to become the mark of his disciples! They are to get behind him and follow him as he goes up to Jerusalem.

That which gives fullness of meaning to the cross is to carry it behind Jesus, not in a journey of anguished solitude, hopeless wandering or rebellion, but rather in a journey sustained and nourished by the presence of the Lord. Jesus asks us to courageously choose a life similar to his own. Those who would follow Jesus cannot avoid suffering. God’s ways are not our ways – today we are encouraged to conform our ways to God’s.

Discerning God’s will

Since Christ marks the termination of the Mosaic Law as the primary source of guidance for God’s people, the Apostle Paul explains in his letter to the Romans (12:1-2) how Christians can function – in the light of the gift of justification through faith – in their relation to one another and to the state. The Mosaic code included elaborate directions on sacrifices and other cultic observances. The Gospel, however, invites believers to present their bodies as a living sacrifice (12:1). Instead of being limited by specific legal maxims, Christians are liberated for the exercise of good judgment as they are confronted with the many and varied decisions required in the course of daily life. Paul invites Christians to be “transformed by the renewal of their minds, so that they may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (12:2).

Grasping the mystery of Christ

In his homily at the concluding Mass of World Youth Day at the Cuatro Vientos Airforce base in Madrid, Spain on Sunday, August 21, 2011, Pope Emeritus Benedict said this of our belief in Jesus Christ:

Faith is more than just empirical or historical facts; it is an ability to grasp the mystery of Christ’s person in all its depth. Yet faith is not the result of human effort, of human reasoning, but rather a gift of God: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” Faith starts with God, who opens his heart to us and invites us to share in his own divine life. Faith does not simply provide information about who Christ is; rather, it entails a personal relationship with Christ, a surrender of our whole person, with all our understanding, will and feelings, to God’s self-revelation. So Jesus’ question: “But who do you say that I am?”, is ultimately a challenge to the disciples to make a personal decision in his regard. Faith in Christ and discipleship are strictly interconnected.

And, since faith involves following the Master, it must become constantly stronger, deeper and more mature, to the extent that it leads to a closer and more intense relationship with Jesus. Peter and the other disciples also had to grow in this way, until their encounter with the Risen Lord opened their eyes to the fullness of faith.

Dear young people, today Christ is asking you the same question which he asked the Apostles: “Who do you say that I am?” Respond to him with generosity and courage, as befits young hearts like your own. Say to him: “Jesus, I know that you are the Son of God, who have given your life for me. I want to follow you faithfully and to be led by your word. You know me and you love me. I place my trust in you and I put my whole life into your hands. I want you to be the power that strengthens me and the joy which never leaves me.”

The Church’s fundamental mission

Returning to the Lineamenta for the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization that took place in October 2012, we find a striking connection between today’s Gospel reading and section #10, entitled “The First Evangelization Pastoral Solicitude and the New Evangelization”:

The new evangelization is the name given to the Church’s project of undertaking anew her fundamental mission, her identity and reason for existence. Consequently, it is not limited to delineated, well-defined regions only, but is a way to explain and put into practice the apostolic legacy in and for our times. In the project of the new evangelization, the Church desires to bring her unique message into today’s world and the present discussion, namely, to proclaim the Kingdom of God, begun in Christ Jesus. No part of the Church is exempt from this project. The Christian Churches of ancient origin must deal with the problem of the many who have abandoned the practice of the faith; the younger Churches, through the process of inculturation, must continually take measures allowing them to bring the Gospel to everyday life, a process which not only purifies and elevates culture, but, above all, opens culture to the newness of the Gospel. Generally speaking, every Christian community must rededicate itself to its programme of pastoral care which seems to become more difficult and in danger of falling into a routine, and thus little able to communicate its original aims and goals.

A new evangelization is synonymous with mission, requiring the capacity to set out anew, go beyond boundaries and broaden horizons. The new evangelization is the opposite of self-sufficiency, a withdrawal into oneself, a status quo mentality and an idea that pastoral programmes are simply to proceed as they did in the past. Today, a “business as usual” attitude can no longer be the case. Some local Churches, already engaged in renewal, reconfirm the fact that now is the time for the Church to call upon every Christian community to evaluate their pastoral practice on the basis of the missionary character of their programmes and activities.

Questions for reflection this week

1) What have been the principal obstacles and the most challenging efforts to raise the question of God in today’s world? What have been the results of asking such a question?

2) Have I ever “rebuked” God for an outcome or situation I wasn’t expecting? In the end, what did I learn from this experience? Did I grow from it?

3) Do my expectations of who Jesus is and what he wants from me keep me closed and resistant to anything beyond those boundaries? How do I form my ideas of Christ and His will? What are they grounded in – the truths transmitted by the Catholic faith, or something else?

4) When do I make sacrifices for my faith, my family, or others? Are they done grudgingly or with an attitude of joy?

[The readings for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Jeremiah 20:7-9; Roman 12:1-2; and Matthew 16:21-27.]

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2011 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store. Book editions for Year A and C reflections are coming soon.

Do Monkeys Go To Heaven?

Do Monkeys Go To Heaven?

“Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them.” Psalm 111:2

Do Monkeys Go to Heaven?  And by that I don’t mean you and me. Real monkeys, you know the ones that climb in trees or apparently pose for selfies (true story).  Well, that’s the question posed by a new book by Fr. John McCarthy, SJ an expert in boreal forest ecology. The book is a compilation of his musings on everything from Our Lady to monkeys, and everything in between.  Although the title of the book suggests something light and cheeky, I’d liken reading this book to the delight of eating a chocolate cake (only to realize it was actually a bowl of bran).  The ol’ bait and switch, in a good way.  I enjoyed it so much that we’ll feature Fr. John McCarthy and his book Do Monkeys Go to Heaven on an upcoming episode of Catholic Focus, so stay tuned for that!

Even though concerns about the environment are pressing, let’s get real, the minute you pull out a long list of encyclicals one should read (and no, Church nerds I’m not talking to you here) most people’s first reaction is “ain’t nobody got time for that. No matter how much you admire the Popes, or the Church, or monkeys.

And herein lies the rub…

Although these encyclicals are great, can you imagine reading a 32 page blog or 60 000 character tweet?  Consider today’s mediums, the reality is people’s attention spans are growing shorter and shorter.   When it comes to the written medium, it’s a situation of diminishing returns; the more one writes, the less one is inclined to read.  So perhaps, it’s time to the get back the basics. As St. Paul says, there are two books by which we can come to know God, the book of nature and the good book.  And what better way to contemplate the divine than with the rediscovery of awe?  I suspect that’s what Jesus meant when he invited us to become like children; it’s an invitation to childlike curiosity and wonder at the goodness of the created order. It’s only when you see how smart ravens really are, or delight in the superb complexity of a beetle that your imagination gets fired up and you start asking the really important questions – why do we exist, and how did we get here?  It’s then that you intuit that creation is precious and fragile and that our fate as human beings is intricately intertwined with the environment – but enough from me; I’ll leave the last word to the Pixies.

Okay I have to add one more thing: another great resource for those who want to get a crash course in how the new evangelization can be a bridge between the church’s theology of creation and the growing concern for the environment is the Church Alive Series Episode 12. We’ve even short listed the encyclicals, in our super-nifty study guide, just in case you wanted to get into the meaty stuff. We promise you won’t be disappointed!

Who the hell is the devil (Part 3)?

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So far we’ve looked at what the Scriptures and tradition tell us about the “prince of darkness”. But is this whole “devil” thing something of the past?

I remember watching the film The Exorcist and thinking that the whole scenario didn’t seem real to me. I don’t think demons sit around behind a tree waiting for some poor little girl to go by so they can jump out to posses her. I think that people have to cooperate with evil. You have to be really far away from God for the devil to be able to attack you like that.

According to Matt Baglio, author of The Rite, possession is the result of a person moving far away from God. He says that over a period of time, if you move far enough away, you make it possible for demons to step in. It’s not hard to move away from God. We may think that we are “religious” but if in our actions and deep beliefs we refuse to give up control of any aspect of our lives to God or have a continue pattern of sin, no matter how small (and remember sin is merely saying no to God), we are, in effect moving away from God. We don’t have to specifically dedicate ourselves to evil or play with Ouija Boards to invite the devil in. However, adds Baglio, if you’ve already begun distancing yourself from God, then playing with the occult will make possession easier.

I remember the first time I baptized a child I noticed that one of the prayers during the Rite of Baptism is called “exorcism”. This of course, does not mean that we believe the child is possessed, but it does mean that we acknowledge that there is evil in the world. During that prayer, the Priest or Deacon commands any impure spirits who might be present to depart from the person to be baptised. Also, remember that Baptism removes our original sin (for more on Baptism read, What is Baptism? and in this prayer we ask that Original Sin be removed:

“Almighty and ever-living God, you sent your only Son into the world to cast out the power of Satan, spirit of evil, to rescue man from the kingdom of darkness, and bring him into the splendor of your kingdom of light. We pray for this child: set him (her) free from original sin, make him (her) a temple of your glory, and send your Holy Spirit to dwell with him (her). We ask this through Christ our Lord.”

So obviously the Church believes in the existence of the devil as real. And if you still have doubts, I’m sure you’ve been around some time when you’ve had to make a “question-and-answer” style profession of Faith, (it happens during the rite of Baptism and during Confirmation – if you’ve been to an Easter Vigil you’ve done it). After we profess our Faith, the priest asks: “Do you reject Satan and all that is evil?” (And the correct answer is “I do” in case you’re wondering.)

Not only does the Church teach that Satan is real, but we believe in demonic possession. In fact, the Catholic Church is the only Christian denomination that prayers or rituals that have to do with expelling demons. I don’t know how common exorcisms are, but I’ve read that one in 5000 cases of reported demonic possession are actually cases of real possession.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines an exorcism:

“When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism. Jesus performed exorcisms (Mk l:25f.) and from him the Church has received the power and office of exorcising (Mk 3:15: 6:7, 13: 16:17). In a simple form, exorcism is performed at the celebration of Baptism. The solemn exorcism, called ‘a major exorcism,’ can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the Bishop. The priest must proceed with prudence, strictly observing the rules established by the Church. “Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church. Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter: treating this is the concern of medical science. Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness (cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 1172).” (CCC 1673)

In 1998, The 1614 Catholic Rite of Exorcism was updated and now includes a stipulation that no exorcism is to be performed until all other avenues have been exhausted. We have to be careful that we’re not dealing with a mental illness or some other psychological problem. That means that doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists must be consulted first in order to eliminate all medical causes before an exorcism can be considered.

One of the first books I read that had anything to do with exorcisms was M. Scott Peck’s People of the Lie. Peck was a psychiatrist who actually became a Christian after he could not medically nor scientifically explain some of his patient’s behaviours or symptoms. In fact Scott Peck diagnosed some of his patients with “demonic possession”. (Another good book by Scott Peck on this topic is Glimpses of the Devil.)

The Roman Ritual of Exorcism lists the criteria for determining whether someone is possessed and requires an exorcism: “Speaking many words in unknown languages or understanding them; revealing distant or hidden things; displaying strength beyond one’s condition, together with a vehement aversion to God, Our Lady, the saints, the cross and sacred images.”

The Church takes possession very seriously. Every Diocese has to have an official exorcist. However, in most cases this is either the bishop or the bishop can appoint a priest as the diocesan exorcist.

It’s easy to get caught up with the drama of possession or exorcisms; however, the real danger of evil is not demonic possession, but rather in being deceived. Remember, Satan is a liar and deceiver. Possession is too obvious. Satan wants to work undetected and is trying really hard to make people believe he is not real. That is probably one of his biggest triumphs. Remember he is a liar.

He also likes to confuse, like making you think that something is good, when in fact it isn’t. A good example of this is making you think that it’s OK not to go to Mass because you need to spend time with your family – and God is really a loving and merciful God who wants you to spend time with your family (which is true and a good thing) and He doesn’t really care if you go to Mass or not (which is not true) – when in fact, going to Mass is very important. (The devil is good a half-truths; things that sound true or are partly true but are not completely true, in order to confuse.)

In short, Satan always wants us to pick something good at the expense of what God has promised… which is always something better.

When thinking about evil we must remember the fact that Jesus’ death defeated Satan forever. “Why is he still around?” you may ask. Maybe we are living what the Book of Revelation says about Satan being allowed to deceive the nations for a little while (Rev 20:7-8). Scott Peck liked to say that the devil has been defeated; we’re just in the clean-up operation.

I don’t know if Satan is on the run. It doesn’t matter. As long as there is God; people can choose “not God”. As long as there is Goodness, Truth and Beauty, people can choose the opposite of those. There is light, but we can always choose the darkness. And sometimes we end up choosing the darkness without really knowing what we are doing.

All of us can choose God or choose the absence of God, which is evil.  But if we choose God, Satan has no real power over us. It is a battle, but in this battle, God is on our side.

That’s why Pope John Paul II asked us to add the Prayer to St. Michael to our daily prayers:

“St. Michael, Archangel defend us in battle.

Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.

May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,

and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Hosts,

by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all evil spirits

who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls.”

Feast of Mary, Queen of Heaven

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August 22: Feast of Mary, Queen of Heaven
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.

One week after the Solemn Feast of Mary’s Assumption into heaven, the church celebrates the Mother of God as Queen of Heaven.  In the fourth century St. Ephrem called Mary “Lady” and “Queen.” Later Church fathers and doctors continued to use the title. Hymns of the 11th to 13th centuries address Mary as queen: “Hail, Holy Queen,” “Hail, Queen of Heaven,” “Queen of Heaven.” The Dominican rosary and the Franciscan crown as well as numerous invocations in Mary’s litany celebrate her queenship.

It was Pope Pius XII who established this feast in 1954. But Mary’s queenship has roots in Scripture. At the Annunciation, Gabriel announced that Mary’s Son would receive the throne of David and rule forever. At the Visitation, Elizabeth calls Mary “mother of my Lord.” As in all the mysteries of Mary’s life, Mary is closely associated with Jesus: Her queenship is a share in Jesus’ kingship. We can also recall that in the Old Testament the mother of the king has great influence in court.

In his 1954 encyclical To the Queen of Heaven, Pope Pius XII points out that Mary deserves the title because she is Mother of God, because she is closely associated as the New Eve with Jesus’ redemptive work, because of her preeminent perfection and because of her intercessory power.

Taken up into heaven, Mary shows us the way to God, the way to heaven, the way to life. She shows it to her children baptized in Christ and to all people of good will. She opens this way especially to the little ones and to the poor, those who are dear to divine mercy. The Queen of the world reveals to individuals and to nations the power of the love of God whose plan upsets that of the proud, pulls down the mighty from their thrones and exalts the humble, fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich empty away (cf. Lk 1:51-53).

Mary’s earthly life is a journey of faith, hope and love, an exemplary way of holiness which began with the enthusiasm of her “fiat”, the exultation of the “Magnificat”, contemplative reflection in everyday life, perseverance in the dark night of the Passion until she could share in the joy of her divine Son in the radiant dawn of the Resurrection.  She is an outstanding model for each of us, and her Assumption into heaven reminds us that there is hope for you and me… what happens to the Virgin daughter of Nazareth at the end of her earthly pilgrimage will happen to each of us if we are faithful and obedient as she was.

We believe that because of the obedience and fidelity of the Blessed Virgin MaryQueenship of Mary 2jpeg, at the end of her earthly life, she was assumed both body and soul into heavenly glory.  The glory of the Mother of the Savior is a cause of immense joy to all her children, a joy that knows the far-reaching resonance of the sentiment that is typical of popular piety, even though it cannot be reduced to it. It is, so to speak, a theological joy, firmly rooted in the paschal mystery. In this sense, the Virgin is “causa nostrae laetitiae — the cause of our joy”.

Catholics believe that after her Assumption into heaven Mary was crowned as Queen of heaven and earth.  What kind of queen is she?  How does she manifest the kingdom of God in her reign?  As we remember Mary, Queen of heaven, we also think of earthly kings and queens.  So often we are caught up in and confused by their power, seeming successes and riches.  Today we will consider how we view power and success.  If God chooses the lowly to fulfill His plan, how then should we think of those who are far from the corridors of earthly power?  Let us pray for the grace to value humility and obedience above fame and authority, and seek to imitate Mary’s lowliness of heart.  Let us look for opportunities to serve those less fortunate than we are.  Let us meditate on the virtues of Mary, our Queen.  She was not proud or grand; she humbly and patiently received God’s word and surrendered her life to His plan, not her own.  Let us ask God to grant us those same heavenly virtues that will allow Him to guide and direct our path in life.

“She who was lowest in her own eyes says without tremor that she was highest in God’s eyes. She was glad because he was glad of it and for no other reason.” Thomas Merton

Holy Mary, Queen of heaven, pray for us.

Latin Text of the Salve Regina

Salve, Regina, Mater misericordiae,
vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve.
ad te clamamus exsules filii Hevae,
ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes
in hac lacrimarum valle.
Eia, ergo, advocata nostra, illos tuos
misericordes oculos ad nos converte;
et Iesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui,
nobis post hoc exsilium ostende.
O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria.

V. Ora pro nobis sancta Dei Genetrix.
R. Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.

Traditional English Translation

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve;
to thee do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
thine eyes of mercy toward us;
and after this our exile,
show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

V. Pray for us O holy Mother of God,
R. that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Tonight on Perspectives: Support for Christians in Iraq

Tonight on Perspectives: Support for Christians in Iraq, prayers for Gaza and condolences for Pope Francis flood in after family members die in a tragic car crash.

 

Let Us Not Forget that Peter Holds the Keys

Peter Keys cropped

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – August 24, 2014

During my graduate studies in Israel in the 1990s, I spent time with the Israeli archaeological team working on the excavations of Caesarea Philippi in northern Israel. Caesarea Philippi is situated about twenty miles north of the Sea of Galilee in the territory that had been ruled by Philip the tetrarch, a son of Herod the Great, from 4 BC until his death in 34 AD. He rebuilt the town of Paneas, naming it Caesarea in honour of the emperor, and Philippi (“of Philip”) to distinguish it from the seaport in Samaria that was also called Caesarea.

The place is now known as “Banias,” a deformation of the word “Paneas” referring to the Greek god Pan. At the time of Jesus, a fertility cult was thriving in the pagan temple to Pan at this location on the northern border of Israel and Syria at the foot of majestic Mount Hermon. It was here, in this centre of sexual excess and pagan worship to the Greek god Pan that Jesus inquired about the disciples’ understanding of his Messiahship. It was here that Peter acclaimed Jesus as the Messiah of the one true God. What a stunning backdrop for today’s dramatic Gospel story from Matthew 16:13-20!

Today’s Gospel story has parallels in Mark 8:27-29 and Luke 9:18-20. Matthew’s account attributes the confession to a divine revelation granted to Peter alone (16:17) and makes Peter the rock on which Jesus will build his Church (16:18) as well as the disciple whose authority in the Church on earth will be confirmed in heaven (i.e. by God; 16:19). In light of the rich Greek mythological background associated with this impressive site in Northern Israel, let us consider several words and expressions used in today’s Gospel.

“You are the Messiah”

In response to Jesus’ question (16:13) – “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” – the disciples list a whole series of labels that people have applied to Jesus. These names reveal the various expectations that surfaced about him. Some thought of him as an Elijah, working toward a real confrontation with the powers that be. Some saw him more like Jeremiah, no less vehement but concentrating more on the inner journey, the private side of life.

When Jesus asked Peter the critical question – “Who do you say that I am?” – Peter answered him: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (16:15-16). Given the majestic backdrop of today’s Gospel story, was Peter in fact pronouncing a death sentence upon all other gods, especially Pan, that were standing about him by acclaiming Jesus as the Son of the Living God? Did Pan’s death bring about an authority crisis for Tiberias and his potential to inherit the power of Augustus?

Son of the living God

“Son of God” must be understood against the Greek mythological background of the site where Peter’s confession occurred. The Greek god Pan was associated with a mountain in Arkadia and a grotto in Attika. Since Arkadia was not rich in large cattle, the goat was its characteristic beast and Pan was thus half-goat in shape. Pan became a universal god in Greek mythology, popular with shepherds, farmers, and peasants. In general Pan is amorous as is the nature of a god whose chief business it was to make his flocks fertile! He supposedly loved caves, mountains, and lonely places, and was a very musical creature; his instrument was the panpipe! Pan was a son of Zeus, therefore a son of god!

Peter declares Jesus to be “the Son of the living God.” The addition of this exalted title to the original Marcan confession of “You are the Messiah” (Mark 8:27-29) eliminates whatever ambiguity was attached to the Messianic title. Peter’s declaration cannot help but take into consideration the Greek mythological background that was associated with Caesarea Philippi!

Flesh and blood

In verse 17, Jesus acknowledges Peter’s declaration saying to him: “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” “Flesh and blood” is a Semitic expression for human beings, especially in their weakness. That Peter reveals Jesus’ true identity indicates that his knowledge is not through human means but through a revelation from God. This is similar to Paul’s description of his recognition of who Jesus was in Galatians 1:15-16: “…when God…was pleased to reveal his Son to me…”


You are the rock

Pope Francis passes the statue of St. PeterIn verse 18, Jesus revels Peter’s new identity:“You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” (16:18). The Aramaic word kepa – meaning “rock” and transliterated into Greek as Kephas –is the name by which Peter is called in the Pauline letters (1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:4; Galatians 1:18; 2:9, 11, 14) except in Galatians 2:7-8, where “Peter” is used. Petros (“Peter”) is likewise used in John 1:42. The presumed original Aramaic of Jesus’ statement would have been, in English, “You are the Rock (Kepa) and upon this rock (kepa) I will build my Church.” When Jesus declared Peter to be the rock upon which the Church would be built, was he referring to the massive stones which surrounded him in this area, and which housed temples to pagan gods and a secular leader? Were the deaths of the Great Pan and of Christ, both occurring under Pontius Pilate’s procuratorship, somehow linked? Did early Christians wish to see a link between these two events as Eusebius points out in his writings?

Matthew’s use of “church”

Matthew is the only evangelist to use the word “Church” (Greek ekklesia), here in verse 17. The word is used twice in today’s Gospel text. What might be the possibilities for the Aramaic original that would have been spoken by Jesus himself? Jesus’ “Church” means the community that he will gather and that, like a building, will have Peter as its solid foundation. That function of Peter consists in his being a witness to Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

The gates of Hades

Is the reference to “the Gates of Hades not prevailing over the Church” (16:18) in some way referring to the massive cave believed to be the entrance into the underworld, and from which gush up the mighty waters of the river Jordan? In the time of Jesus and of the New Testament writers, the predominant conception of Hades (Sheol) among Jews and Christians was the abode of the dead, not a place of punishment. The ancients believed that the Jordan sprang up in a large cave that is the centrepiece of the national park now situated at the mouth of the Jordan at Banias. The mouth of this cave was also believed to be one of the entrances into the underworld (Hades/Sheol). Once one entered this cave, there was no return to the land of the living.

This realm or abode was sometimes believed to house not only the human dead but also the demonic agents of death and destruction. In Jewish apocalyptic language, the end times also implied that the powers of cosmic chaos, retained since creation, would break forth from their restraint and bring about unparalleled tribulation and destruction on the earth. This power was kept welled up in a cave within the bowels of the earth. Scripture scholars have written that the image of the Gates of Hades is one of rulers of the underworld bursting forward from the gates of their heavily guarded, walled city to attack God’s people on earth. This image is certainly vivid when one understands it in its geographical context of Paneas.

Location, location, location

Paneas (Banias) and its rich and ancient history have set the stage for a new drama: one that will not be the adoration of a pagan god nor of the state, but adoration of the Son of the Living God, by the one upon whom the Church is built. It is certainly no coincidence that at Caesarea Philippi (Banias), Jesus was acclaimed by Peter to be the Son of the Living God. One cannot imagine that the massive rocks at the foot of Mount Hermon did not influence the Gospel writer, no less the speaker of the words, Jesus himself. A cave that ancients believed to house the destructive powers of the universe is suddenly said, not to withhold its destructive powers, but that these destructive powers shall not prevail against the power of the church. An ancient god who was said to possess the keys of the underworld is suddenly replaced by a mortal, Peter, now said to possess the keys of the Kingdom of heaven.

The keys of the kingdom

The image of the keys found in verse 19 is probably drawn from today’s first reading from Isaiah 22:15-25, where Eliakim, succeeding Shebnah as master of the palace, is given “the key of the house of David,” which he authoritatively “opens” and “shuts” (Isaiah 22:22).

In Matthew 18:18 all of the disciples are given the power of binding and loosing, but the context of the verse suggests that a special power or authority is given to Peter. That the keys are those to the Kingdom of heaven and that Peter’s exercise of authority in the Church on earth will be confirmed in heaven show an intimate connection between, but not an identification of, the Church and the Kingdom of heaven. The Church is the battleground between the powers of Hades and the powers of heaven. How many times over the past years have we felt that the gates of Hades have swung open on the Church, releasing upon it the fire and fury of hell?

In the midst of the storms, however, let us take heart and realize that Peter is given the keys that unlock the gates of heaven. Those gates too will swing open, and the kingly power of God break forth from heaven to enter the arena against the demons we face. Our faith assures us that Hades will not prevail against the Church because God will be powerfully at work in it, revealing his purposes for it and imparting the heavenly power necessary to fulfil these purposes.

Our own Caesarea Philippi moments

The struggle to identify Jesus and his role as Messiah continues today. Some say individual Christians and the whole Church should be Elijah figures, publicly confronting systems, institutions, and national policies. That was the way Elijah saw his task. Some say, like Jeremiah, that the reign of Christ, through his Church, is the personal and private side of life. Indeed, there are many in our world today who would like to reduce religion and faith to an exclusively private affair.

Jesus probes beyond both approaches and asks, “You, who do you say I am?” In Peter’s response, “You are Messiah,” blurted out with his characteristic impetuosity, we are given a concept that involves both of the approaches and transcends them. The Messiah came into society – and into individual lives – in a total way, reconciling the distinction between public and private. The quality of our response to this decisive question is the best gauge of the quality of our discipleship.

Everyone at some stage must come to Caesarea Philippi and provide an answer to “Who do you say I am?” Where are the Caesarea Philippis in my life where I have been challenged to identify Christ as who he really is for me, for the Church, and for the world?

Like Peter, do I struggle to accept how God acts in the world – through, as Pope Emeritus Benedict said, “the defenseless power of love” (Youth Vigil, XX World Youth Day, Cologne, Germany)? How does love transform scenes of tragedy and suffering today? How have I seen the power of God’s love at work in the trials and tragedies of my own life? In the storms of life, what consolation have I received because I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ?

[The readings for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Isaiah 22:15, 19-23; Romans 11:33-36; and Matthew 16:13-20.]

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2011 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store. Book editions for Year A and C reflections are coming soon.