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A Burning Love for the Father’s House

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Third Sunday of Lent, Year B – March 8, 2015

In the Scripture readings for the Third Sunday of Lent (Year B), I would like to focus our reflection on two powerful images present in the texts: that of Jesus purifying Jerusalem’s Temple, and St. Paul’s message of the cross of Jesus Christ. Both the purifying action of Jesus and Paul’s understanding of the cross can be of tremendous help to us as we grow in our knowledge and love of Jesus Christ this Lenten season.

John’s account of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple is in sharp contrast to the other Gospel accounts of this dramatic story. In the Synoptic Gospels, this scene takes place at the end of the “Palm Sunday Procession” into the holy city. With the people shouting out in triumph, Jesus entered into the temple area, not to do homage but to challenge the temple and its leaders. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and upset the stalls of those selling birds and animals for the sacrifice. What a teaching moment this was! Jesus quoted from the Scriptures: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations … but you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17, Isaiah 56:6-7, Jeremiah 7:11).

In the Fourth Gospel, the cleansing of the temple takes place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and not at the beginning of the events of the last days of Jesus’ life. The startling words and actions of Jesus in the temple, whether they are from the Synoptic accounts or John’s account, took on new meaning for later generations of Christians. “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” The temple was not a commercial center or shopping mall but rather a holy place of the Father. Like the prophets before him, Jesus tried to awaken the hearts of his people.

Jesus’ disciples recall him saying in the temple the words of Psalm 68:10: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” I have often understood this verse to mean: “I am filled with a burning love for your house.” When the magnificent Temple of Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Romans, and both Jews and Christians grieved at its loss, the followers of Jesus recalled this incident in the temple. Now they could see new meaning in it; it was a sign that the old temple was finished but a new temple was to be built. This new temple would not be of stone and wood and gold. It would be a living temple of holy people (I Peter 2:4-6; Ephesians 2:19-22).

Extreme Jesus

One intriguing aspect of today’s Gospel story is the portrait of an angry Jesus in the temple-cleansing scene that gives way to two extremes in our own image of the Lord. Some people wish to transform an otherwise passive Christ into a whip-cracking revolutionary.

Others would like to excise any human qualities of Jesus and paint a very meek, bland character, who smiled, kept silent and never rocked the boat. The errors of the old extreme, however, do not justify a new extremism.

Jesus was not exclusively, not even primarily, concerned with social reform. Rather, he was filled with a deep devotion and burning love for his Father and the things of his Father. He wanted to form new people, created in God’s image, who are sustained by his love, and bring that love to others. Jesus’ disciples and apostles recognized him as a passionate figure — one who was committed to life and to losing it for the sake of truth and fidelity.

Have we given in to these extremes in our own understanding of and relationship with Jesus? Are we passionate about anything in our lives today? Are we filled with a deep and burning love for the things of God and for his Son, Jesus?

Message of the Cross

In writing to the people of Corinth, Paul was addressing numerous disorders and scandals that were present. True communion and unity were threatened by groups and internal divisions that seriously compromised the unity of the Body of Christ. Rather than appealing to complex theological or philosophical words of wisdom to resolve the difficulties, Paul announces Christ to this community: Christ crucified. Paul’s strength is not found in persuasive language, but rather, paradoxically, in the weakness of one who trusts only in the “power of God” (I Corinthians 2:1-4).

In St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (1:18, 22-25), we hear about “the message of the cross that is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” For St. Paul, the cross represents the center of his theology: To say cross means to say salvation as grace given to every creature.

Paul’s simple message of the cross is scandal and foolishness. He states this strongly with the words: “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. It was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”

The “scandal” and the “foolishness” of the cross are precisely in the fact that where there seems to be only failure, sorrow and defeat, precisely there, is all the power of the boundless love of God. The cross is the expression of love and love is the true power that is revealed precisely in this seeming weakness.

St. Paul has experienced this even in his own flesh, and he gives us testimony of this in various passages of his spiritual journey, which have become important points of departure for every disciple of Jesus: “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness'” (2 Corinthians 12:9); and even “God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something” (1 Corinthians 1:28).

The Apostle to the Gentiles identifies himself to such a degree with Christ that he also, even in the midst of so many trials, lives in the faith of the Son of God who loved him and gave himself up for his sins and those of everyone (cf. Galatians 1:4; 2:20).

Today, as we contemplate Jesus’ burning love for the things of his Father, and the saving mystery of his cross, let us pray these words:

O God, whose foolishness is wise and whose weakness is strong,
by the working of your grace in the disciplines of Lent
cleanse the temple of your Church and purify the sanctuary of our hearts.

May we be filled with a burning love for your house,
and may obedience to your commandments
absorb and surround us along this Lenten journey.

We ask this through Jesus Christ, the man of the cross,
your power and your wisdom,
the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever. Amen.

[The readings for this Sunday are: Exodus 20:1-17 or 20:1-3, 7-8, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 and John 2:13-25. For use with RCIA, Exodus 17:3-7; Romans 5:1-2, 5-8 and John 4:5-42 or 4:5-15, 19b-26, 39a, 40-42]

Happy Birthday Fr. Rosica!

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We, the staff of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, wish to express our admiration and appreciation for Fr. Rosica our CEO, on the occasion of his birthday, March 3rd.  Each of us owes a debt of gratitude to Fr. Rosica for his belief in us and continual support of our ministry to be “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.” (Matt 5:13-14)

We wish especially to recognize him for all he has accomplished in his unwavering service to the Church over the past year: as a priest of the Congregation of St. Basil; as the president and vice-chancellor of Assumption University in Windsor, ON; as an assistant to the spokesperson for the Holy See Press Office; and as chief executive officer of Salt and Light.  Our Lord has generously blessed Fr. Rosica with the gifts and talents to carry out these wide-ranging and highly demanding ministries.  He is a laborer in the Lord’s vineyard who never tires of proclaiming the joy of the Gospel.

And so, we invite you, our readers, viewers, friends and generous supporters to join us in giving thanks to God the Almighty and Eternal Father, and praise to his Son Jesus, “the first and greatest evangelizer,” (EG, 12) for Fr. Rosica, in wishing him a very happy and blessed birthday, and praying for him and the work of Salt and Light today and throughout the year!

 

It Always Comes Down to Money

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This past week, the Italian media was littered with headlines claiming financial misdoings at the Vatican. Perhaps this isn’t terribly shocking given that their tendency for sensationalism with all things Church and all the issues the Holy See has faced in the last couple of years. However it was where the fingers were pointed that managed to raise the eyebrows of not just the Italian, but also the world’s media.

It was the contention of L’Espresso, a popular Italian magazine that the Vatican’s new Secretariat for the Economy was guilty of excessive spending. This came after the magazine was given leaked internal financial receipts of the Secretariat. Not only that, but they reported that the Prefect of the new office, Cardinal George Pell was called to the carpet by Pope Francis as a result of the spending. So there is the narrative, the very department that was established to clean up the Vatican is found guilty of being financially irresponsible.

That is the narrative of L’Espresso and they’re entitled to their opinion, however let’s take a little closer look at the situation.

Not long after the leak, the director of the Holy See Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi sought to clarify the situation, emphatically denying the allegations of the magazine. He noted that the Secretariat, which only employs 12 people, was in fact operating well under budget. Contrary to claims, there was in fact no meeting on overspending held between Francis and Cardinal Pell.

So on one side we have an Italian periodical claiming to have uncovered improprieties, and on the other we have a no-nonsense Australian Cardinal who finds himself in a very frustrating position.

When Cardinal Pell was called to the Vatican last year and asked to take on the dubious task of reforming the financial apparatuses of the Holy See, it could be described as nothing short of a thankless posting. The task given to him by the Holy Father was to root out the discrepancies, the malpractice, the overspending and overall financial mishandlings of the Vatican. That a finance department with such freedom to audit and open the books was established was nothing short of revolutionary. But like in any revolution, there will always be those who don’t quite take to the winds of change.

Perhaps it was a clash of cultures, concern over style, methodology or uncovering inconvenient truths. Whatever it was, someone was frustrated enough with Pell and company to throw what they thought to be his dirty laundry to the wolves to chew up and spit out. History has proven that whether it is governments, mafias, financial institutions or any powerful entity, once you go for their kitty, the gloves are off. Sadly, it appears the Church may very well not be immune to such tactics.

It is no secret that in recent months, various departments of the Vatican were discovered to have had significant holdings. While nothing about these holdings was reported to have been against the law, they simply flew under the radar. However in the new era of oversight that has already reformed institutions like the Vatican Bank, it cannot come as a big surprise that there would be some individuals who might be resistant to change. While there is no way of knowing for certain, the expediency with which the Vatican cleared Pell’s name should be indication of the faith they have in him to do his work.

It was never going to be easy cleaning up the Vatican’s finances. However like so many things in this world, someone inevitably has to get down into the dirt and grime and clean up the mess that nobody else has. It is a thankless job, however one that is wholly necessary for the future of the Church in the 21st century.

Deacon-structing Lent: part 2

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Now that in part 1 we’ve taken care of questions regarding fasting and abstinence, let’s focus on the meaning of Lent.

We all know that Lent is the 40 days leading us to Easter. But what really is Lent?  Why are penance and suffering associated with Lent? What is the value of suffering? Let me tell you the story of my friend Eileen.*

Eileen has a great husband and a beautiful daughter. They have a nice little house in a good part of town. Her husband Paul* has a good job. They have a car. Her daughter Melanie* goes to a good school.  They are a good Catholic family. They go to Church and they’re involved in their Parish. Eileen has Multiple Sclerosis, but she’s doing very well. It is not advanced. Life is good and full of many blessings.

One day, when Melanie is about 13, Eileen finds out that Paul has been cheating on her. In a second their life has changed. Eileen can’t live with this betrayal. She leaves Paul.  Instantly, Melanie’s life has changed completely: from living in a nice house, with a car, in a nice neighbourhood – to living in a two-bedroom apartment with her now, single Mom, in a not-so-nice area of town and having to take public transit. Eileen’s MS starts to advance. Now, Melanie has to spend more time at home, helping her Mom. She is now 15, a time when she would rather be spending more time with her friends. But she is coping. Life for Eileen is getting harder and harder: divorce and disease, but still, life continues; they make the most of it; they’re still involved in their parish. There is still contact with Paul, who spends time with Melanie and visits occasionally. Then one day, when Melanie is 17, just a few days after Christmas, she is driving home after going out to a friend’s birthday. No one has been drinking and there is no speeding. The weather is not bad. Melanie changed cars to be with a friend who was going to be driving alone. The car hits a patch of ice, spins out into the opposite lane into an incoming vehicle – that is not speeding, just going the legal 60km/h – but hits straight onto the passenger side where Melanie is sitting, effectively crushing her. She is unconscious and shortly after she reaches the hospital, dies. 17 years old.  Divorce, disease and now death. I heard the news of Melanie’s death shortly after I heard about the Tsunami in South Asia. Divorce, disease, death and disaster….

And so I spent my Christmas season trying to make sense of this; trying to see why suffering exists; why is it such a part of our lives?

We are told that suffering glorifies us. Suffering sanctifies us. That means that suffering makes us Saints. This seems completely ridiculous to me. However if you look at the Middle Ages – a time in history that is not well-known for technical or scientific advances and not well-known for great Church leadership – this time produced many Saints; Saints that took suffering seriously. There’s Saint Rose of Lima (1586 –1617) who wore a cilice, a belt with spikes on it, wore a hair shirt and rubbed pepper on her face so she wouldn’t be attractive. There are so many others. I guess I don’t need to tell you about all the people who willingly gave up everything to be poor; who made strange choices like choosing to walk barefoot, even in winter! Look at St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226). Did all these people become Saints because of their suffering? I don’t think so. Certain suffering may sanctify us, but that doesn’t mean we have to go looking for suffering!

If I were to ask you why there’s suffering in the world, maybe you’d tell me that it’s because suffering makes us better people; because we learn from our suffering; it makes us stronger; it helps us understand those who are less fortunate and it gives us an opportunity to be compassionate to others and to realise that we need God. I guess that’s why we have so many clichés about darkness preceding light.

A cliché is an expression or phrase that expresses a stereotype. Like: “It has to be dark for you to see the stars.” Or “in darkness is when the stars shine brightest.” Or, “It has to be raining for you to see the rainbow” or, “you have to climb through the thorns to get to the rose.” These are clichés. But they are clichés because they are true. Here’s another one: “Winter has to come before the Spring.” They all mean that we need to go through suffering in order to experience the good stuff. Suffering makes us better people. That’s the way it is. There is something about this created world (and fallen world) that simply is that way. But why?  Why does it have to be that way?  God is God; God could have had anything make us better people. Anything could sanctify us. Why would salvation depend on suffering? Why can’t it be something else? Why can’t salvation depend on partying? I would say that those clichés are true also in that they point to something about the essence of God.

God became a human being and lived on earth as a human, with all the human things: born in a stable, got lost in Jerusalem, had to go to school and make friends; had to work hard – life in those days wasn’t easy.  Then he was arrested, tortured in the most horrible way and killed in the most horrible way.  That’s the God we believe in: A God who is arrested, tortured and killed.  A God who reigns by hanging on a Cross. It makes no sense. That’s why St. Paul says it’s a folly (1 Cor 1:18-25). I don’t get it but I don’t think we have to understand it. That’s why St. Paul also calls it a stumbling block (1 Cor 1:23).  But God doesn’t ask me to understand. That’s the story of Job. Job goes through incredible suffering and God never tells him why. Jesus goes through incredible suffering and God is absent (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34). [I wrote a reflection on the Cross a few years ago and explored many of these themes.]

But we know that suffering can be redemptive. There are people who suffer for no reason; that suffering has no meaning. But there are people who suffer out of love. There are people who offer their suffering because of love. That suffering becomes redemptive. That’s the suffering of Jesus on the Cross. That’s why His suffering is redemptive. That’s the suffering that saves.

I may not understand why we have to suffer**, but I know that God is a God who suffers with us. That acceptance is also redemptive. Lent is a great opportunity to remind us of this love. Our small acts of penance are a reminder of this love. Lent encourages us to offer up our suffering out of love.

Come back next week and let’s see what Scriptures have to say about all this.


*Not their real names.
**For a real good in-depth look at suffering, you may want to watch In Your Faith, Season 1; Episode 2, (If God is a God of Love) Why do Bad Things Happen?
You may also be interested in Fr. Rosica’s Lenten and Easter Reflections, available now on DVD.

Pope Francis’ Prayer Intentions for March 2015

 

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Join us in prayer for the intentions entrusted to us by Pope Francis. For March 2015, we join the Holy Father in praying for:

  • Scientists. That those involved in scientific research may serve the well-being of the whole human person.
  • Contribution of Women. That the unique contribution of women to the life of the Church may be recognized always.

Daily Offering Prayer
God, our Father, I offer You my day. I offer You my prayers, thoughts, words, actions, joys, and sufferings in union with the Heart of Jesus, who continues to offer Himself in the Eucharist for the salvation of the world. May the Holy Spirit, Who guided Jesus, be my guide and my strength today so that I may witness to your love. With Mary, the mother of our Lord and the Church, I pray for all Apostles of Prayer and for the prayer intentions proposed by the Holy Father this month. Amen.

Traditional Daily Offering of the Apostleship of Prayer
O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart: the salvation of souls, reparation for sin, and the reunion of all Christians. I offer them for the intentions of our bishops and of all Apostles of Prayer, and in particular for those recommended by our Holy Father this month. The Apostles of Prayer offer themselves to God each day for the good of the world, the Church, one another, and the Holy Father’s intentions.

Thank you for praying with us!

In a tradition that is centuries old, the Apostleship of Prayer publishes the Pope’s monthly prayer intentions. To become a member of the Apostleship of Prayer, you need only to offer yourself to God for his purposes each day. When you give God all the “prayers, works, joys and sufferings” of your day, you turn your entire day into a prayer for others. You are joining your will to God’s will. If you feel called to this simple, profound way of life, find out more at Apostleship of Prayer.

Pope Francis: Chiara Lubich, luminous exemplary life

CHIARA LUBICH PICTURED IN ROME IN 1997

Recently, Pope Francis announced the cause for Chiara Lubich’s canonization opened! Definitely cause for celebration!

Chiara, a young lay women, founded the movement when she was just 23 years old. Today Focolare or Work of Mary, present in 180 countries globally, is an international community of men and women that promotes unity and universal brotherhood. What started out as an experiment among friends in the war-torn city of Trent in 1943 has since borne extraordinary fruits. In the 70 years since its founding, the movement has already yielded a Blessed! To find out more about Focolare watch our Catholic Focus episodes, Focolare: The Work of Mary. We also recommend that you check out Fr. Thomas Rosica’s Witness Interview with Maria Voce, President of Focolare.

CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo

Cardinal Wuerl: “We have succeeded in electing a pastor.”

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Point of View: Interpreting the Francis Effect is a S+L series that goes deeper into the important questions surrounding the person and pontificate of Pope Francis.  The series consists of a selection of the full interviews from S+L’s original documentary The Francis Effect.

This week: Cardinal Donald Wuerl

On the evening of February 28th, 2013, the world watched the historic departure and official resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. The atmosphere in Rome was somber, and everyone felt a little empty and anxious. As part of our coverage that night I had the opportunity to interview Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, who had generously made himself available to the media.

I asked him, “How do you feel?! Having witnessed all of this, knowing Pope Benedict well, and now turning to the daunting task of electing his successor?” To my surprise, he looked at me and smiled and said confidently, “I have so much hope at this moment! What Pope Benedict has taught us through this incredibly humble gesture, is that we can and should do things differently—that we don’t have to be afraid, because the Lord is with us.”

The next time I saw Cardinal Wuerl he was doing an interview with Scott Pelley of CBS, minutes after Pope Francis had appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s for the first time. It was cold and late on March 13th; the Cardinal was in a satellite studio at the North American College and I was watching Scott conduct the live interview from their studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square. Scott, knowing that he couldn’t get a detailed play-by-play of the election, asked the Cardinal what he and the others had accomplished. The Cardinal, who looked exhausted yet relieved, smiled enthusiastically and said, “We have succeeded in electing a pastor.”

The Church and the world have experienced the “Francis effect” for two years now, and there’s no sign of the Pope slowing down anytime soon. There are many Catholics around the world who have come alive or found a second wind because of his ministry. One of them is Cardinal Wuerl, the pastor and teacher who, as you will see, speaks with conviction and clarity; a shepherd who is close to the people and equally close to Francis; a witness to the joy of the Gospel.

Watch Episode 9 of Point of View: Interpreting the Francis Effect
Airs Sunday, March 1, 2015
9:00
pm ET / 6:00pm PT
Only on Salt and Light Television.

Freedom and authority: not just a church matter pt. 1

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A perennial and penetrating question exists within the Catholic Church that goes to the very heart of its institutional being, namely the freedom of individual conscience vis-à-vis the authority of the Church. In terms of expressing one’s conscience, the question might be put this way: what are the limits to public opinion within the Church considering that she insists on adherence to central teachings and at the same time upholds and promotes the freedom of each person’s conscience? (CCC, 1782)

This question arose in a dramatic way five-hundred years ago around the criticisms of the Augustinian monk Martin Luther. Naturally, church authorities responded defensively. They couldn’t have predicted what was to come: a veritable tsunami of religious and social reform in the name of freedom that was hitherto unimaginable in the medieval world. The religious, social, cultural and political effects of the Protestant Reformation have been felt up to this day.

The Catholic Church came to terms with the reality of this question—at least officially—at the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s. In the revolutionary constitution on the Church in the Modern World we find statements that express this development clearly, for example:

Let it be recognized that all the faithful, whether clerics or laity, possess a lawful freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought and of expressing their mind with humility and courage in those matters on which they enjoy competence.” (62)

Yet, in the five decades since the Council the question of public opinion in the Catholic Church has not gone away. St. John Paul II was pope for half of that period of time, and opinions among the faithful vary as to the degree to which he implemented and embodied this particular teaching of the Council.

One very clear articulation of his belief in it came in a 1995 encyclical called Ut unum sint (On the Commitment to Ecumenism)—a document that gets far too little publicity in the Catholic world but is indispensable for understanding contemporary ecumenism, and more immediately, the bureaucratic reforms of Pope Francis and the manner in which he exercises the Petrine ministry.

John Paul was conscious of the long and painful history of separation between Christians dating back to the Protestant Reformation and beyond. As a Council Father, he was also conscious of the deep and sincere desire for Christian unity expressed by Pope John XXIII and the vast majority of his brother bishops. Reflecting on the difficult work for unity in ut unum sint, he wrote:

“I am convinced that I have a particular responsibility in this regard, above all in acknowledging the ecumenical aspirations of the majority of the Christian Communities and in heeding the request made of me to find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation.” (95)

To “find a way of exercising the primacy which is… open to a new situation” implies taking an honest and critical look at how it has been exercised up to this point, which in turn raises the question of freedom of expression of those within the Church who wish to offer their critique. The gravity of the question is even more pronounced when we realize that the “primacy” John Paul referred to is not some peripheral teaching, but a fundamental Catholic doctrine.

In his analysis of ut unum sint, Archbishop John Quinn dove into this question of criticism in the Catholic Church, pointing out the long history of disagreement between popes, bishops and the faithful and its implications for today:

“To attempt to create the illusion of unanimity or even consensus where it does not exist and cannot exist is to run the risk of diminishing the moral authority and credibility of the Church. To portray all criticism and disagreement as disloyalty or lack of faith is a grave injustice.” (The Reform of the Papacy)

In light of all this, one can appreciate the import of raising the question of freedom of expression vis-à-vis the authority of the Church regarding ecumenism. But as I said above, this is a perennial and penetrating question and therefore transcends any one topic.

It’s fascinating, for example, to look through this lens at the current debate going on in the Church about marriage and family life. I say “debate” quite intentionally because that is exactly what it is. I don’t wish to get into the nuances of each argument. More broadly though, what is truly fascinating is not that the debate is taking place, but that it was sought and initiated by the pope—Pope Francis. He said explicitly at the close of last October’s synod on the family that, “I would be very worried and saddened… if all were in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace.” (Read the address here)

A strong argument could be made that the approach of Pope Francis to the question of marriage and family life today is similar to the approach of Pope John Paul to the question of exercising the primacy back in 1995. Both expressed a desire for openness and honesty in a discussion on matters of grave import. The difference with Pope Francis—and this might account for the sense of novelty we feel—is that he communicates so clearly for all to understand.

The result of Francis’ unambiguous call for open discussion and debate on marriage and family life has been exactly that: open discussion and debate. Suddenly those who—for whatever reason—had previously tempered their call for an honest examination of the issue, now feel empowered to speak. Those who are fearful of any change to the current understanding of the Church’s teaching are equally vocal. Nobody knows what is going to happen in the end, but it is evident that the debate is a fruit of the seeds planted at the Council after a long and tumultuous history, nurtured by John Paul in his own way, and now growing rather quickly under Francis. A development, not in theory or doctrine, but in practice is taking place regarding this question of freedom of expression in the Catholic Church. As the saying goes, the toothpaste is out of the tube.

It was necessary to reflect briefly on this question inside the Catholic Church in order to be able to reflect on it outside as well. Freedom of expression vis-à-vis authority within a civil society is an equally weighty matter, and it happens to be front and center right now as the Canadian government moves forward with bill C-51 that would grant extraordinary powers to CSIS and the RCMP in their battle against domestic terrorism. For Canadians, questions of individual liberty and freedom of expression have been thrust on the table. What are we to make of the Conservatives’ approach to this discussion? How can the Church’s experience on the matter inform the debate? As the story develops, I will reflect on those questions next week…

Evangelization and Families

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On February 24-25, 2015 in Victoria, British Columbia, Fr. Thomas Rosica addressed the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Western Canada on the themes of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family and on Evangelization and Families. The text of his address on “Evangelization and Families” is found below:

Your Excellencies,

In his homily at the Canonization Mass for Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II last April, Pope Francis described John Paul II with these words:

“In his own service to the People of God, Saint John Paul II was the pope of the family. He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family. I am particularly happy to point this out as we are in the process of journeying with families towards the Synod on the family. It is surely a journey which, from his place in heaven, he guides and sustains.”

Reflecting on the legacy of St. John Paul II, there is no question that he was a preeminent champion of marriage and family life. He believed that the family would play a vital role in the new springtime of evangelization and was much more than mere bystander in the Church’s evangelizing mission. He presented a deeply positive and bold view of marriage and family life. He was confident that no ideology, however daunting, can extinguish what God has set in motion. While the family finds itself in the midst of an eroding cultural crisis, facing militant attempts to redefine marriage contrary to reason and the Gospel, John Paul II reoriented our gaze to the truth of Christian marriage as a fruit of the redemption of Christ. How many times did he say: “The future of humanity passes through the family!”

John Paul II’s writings on this topic “Original Unity of Man and Woman”Familiaris Consortio” and “Letter to Families,” presented the family as rooted in the economy of salvation: God’s act of creating the world and offering salvation through Christ—with an important role to play in the order of redemption. The family, as such, must continue the work of Christ and this work must begin first within itself, within each individual family before flowing outward to the extended community.

John Paul wished for us to understand the truth about ourselves and not settle for reductions of our personhood. Marriage faces the same reductionist onslaught which assails us, and this is the reason, in an era of anthropological confusion—who and what is a man and a woman? – that marriage between the two is under attack. Without a proper understanding of who we are, the purpose and meaning of marriage cannot be understood in its fullness.

Holy Family 2The Evangelizing Mission of the Family

The “future of evangelization,” insisted St. John Paul, “depends in great part on the Church of the home” (Familiaris Consortio 52). In Redemptor Hominis, he wrote that “the missionary attitude always begins with a feeling of deep esteem for what is in man” (RH 12). In a seemingly radical statement John Paul proclaimed that “Man is the primary and fundamental way for the Church, the way traced out by Christ Himself, the way that leads invariably through the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption” (RH 14). In his 1994 “Letter to Families”, he repeated this theme, stating that “Christ entrusted man to the Church; he entrusted man to her as the way of her mission and ministry.

The lingering question for John Paul II was this: How can the family begin to evangelize and build a civilization of love? He notes that in order for the family to be a sign of Christ’s presence in the world and to take up its mission as evangelizing community, each member of the family, particularly the spouses, must end the reign of sin in their lives (cf. FC 63). You cannot bear fruit if you are severed from the vine, you cannot give what you do not have. In order for the family to participate in this task it has to be constantly nourished and sustained at the wellspring of grace in the Liturgy. Furthermore “the little domestic Church, like the greater Church, needs to be constantly and intensely evangelized: hence its duty regarding permanent education in faith” (FC 51).

John Paul II left us with a rich, impressive, profound and lofty theology of marriage and family life. His vision flowed from the inherent dignity of every man and woman, of every human being. Some people may be intimidated by John Paul’s reflections, seeing them as daunting, too philosophical and overly academic. Yet, despite the scholarship and depth of his writing, Pope John Paul II had no intention of having his teachings about the human person remain only on the academic level. I think you will agree that his reflections are deeply Christological and Trinitarian, and they are meant to change lives.

Pope Benedict XVI

Throughout his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI turned attention on many occasions to the sacrament of marriage and family life. The transmission of the faith from one generation to the next has always found a natural home in the family. In a May 2009 homily in Nazareth, he suggested that children need the benefits of a “human ecology,” need to be raised in “a milieu” where they learn: “To love and to cherish others. To be honest and respectful to all. To practice the virtues of mercy and forgiveness.”

At the Milan World Meeting of Families in 2012, Pope Benedict XVI said: “Falling in love is a wonderful thing.” However, the pope described falling in love as the start of a couple’s journey, not its highest point. Something “more wonderful still” awaits the couple, he said. Responding to a question asked during a June 2, 2012 “evening of witness” in Milan by an engaged couple from Madagascar, the pope said: “I often think of the wedding feast of Cana. The first wine is very fine: This is falling in love. But it does not last until the end: A second wine has to come later, it has to ferment and grow, to mature…The definitive love that can truly become this ‘second wine is more wonderful still; it is better than the first wine. And this is what we must seek.”

“Discover the greatness and beauty of marriage,” Pope Benedict said to young people participating in the March 2010 International Youth Forum south of Rome. In a message to the forum, he wrote: “The relationship between the man and the woman reflects divine love in a quite special way; therefore the conjugal bond acquires an immense dignity.”

Because “human beings are made for love,” the pope said, “their lives are completely fulfilled only if they are lived in love.” He explained that “the vocation to love takes different forms according to the state of life,” one being marriage.

Over the years, at different times and speaking from different perspectives, Pope Benedict directed attention both to marriage’s “greatness and beauty” and to family life’s essential roles. Viewing the family as evangelization’s natural home, Pope Benedict began the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization with the words: “a new evangelization is unthinkable without acknowledging a specific responsibility to proclaim the Gospel to families and to sustain them in their task of education.”

In his 2012 Apostolic Exhortation on the Church in the Middle East, he wrote: “Called to live a Christlike love each day, the Christian family is a privileged expression of the church’s presence and mission in the world.”

The Challenge of Evangelii Gaudium

Let us consider how Pope Francis is opening up the theological vision of his two immediate predecessors. In his first apostolic exhortation, on “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis takes the magnificent theology of John Paul II and Benedict XVI and shows us how to apply it in the trenches, in the peripheries of ordinary, daily life. This application is not without immense challenges. “The process of secularization tends to reduce the faith and the Church to sphere of the private and personal. Furthermore, by completely rejecting the transcendent, it has produced a growing deterioration of ethics, a weakening of the sense of personal and collective sin, and a steady increase in relativism” (64).

66. (EG) The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. In the case of the family, the weakening of these bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children. Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensible contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple.

LETTER OF POPE FRANCIS TO FAMILIES
From the Vatican, February 2, 2014
Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Dear families,

I am writing this letter to you on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. The evangelist Luke tells us that the Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph, in keeping with the Law of Moses, took the Baby Jesus to the temple to offer him to the Lord, and that an elderly man and woman, Simeon and Anna, moved by the Holy Spirit, went to meet them and acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah (cf. Lk 2:22-38). Simeon took him in his arms and thanked God that he had finally “seen” salvation. Anna, despite her advanced age, found new vigour and began to speak to everyone about the Baby. It is a beautiful image: two young parents and two elderly people, brought together by Jesus. He is the one who brings together and unites generations! He is the inexhaustible font of that love which overcomes every occasion of self-absorption, solitude, and sadness. In your journey as a family, you share so many beautiful moments: meals, rest, housework, leisure, prayer, trips and pilgrimages, and times of mutual support… Nevertheless, if there is no love then there is no joy, and authentic love comes to us from Jesus. He offers us his word, which illuminates our path; he gives us the Bread of life which sustains us on our journey.”

In Rio de Janeiro during the mega-World Youth Day of 2013, Francis offered us five key elements of marriage and family life:

  • Thursday, July 25 Address to Community of Varginha (Manguinhos): 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 non-material goods: life, which is a gift of God, a value always to be protected and promoted; the family, the foundation of coexistence and a remedy against social fragmentation; integral education, which cannot be reduced to the mere transmission of information for the purposes of generating profit; health, which must seek the integral well-being of the person, including the spiritual dimension, essential for human balance and healthy coexistence; security, in the conviction that violence can be overcome only by changing human hearts.”
  • Friday, July 26 Angelus:How precious is the family as the privileged place for transmitting the faith! Speaking about family life, I would like to say one thing: today, as Brazil and the Church around the world celebrate this feast of Saints Joachim and Anne, Grandparents Day is also being celebrated. How important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human and religious heritage which is so essential for each and every society! How important it is to have intergenerational exchanges and dialogues, especially within the context of the family.”

  • Saturday, July 27 Interview on Radio Catedral (radio broadcasting station of the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro): “Not only would I say that the family is important for the evangelization of the new world. The family is important, and it is necessary for the survival of humanity. Without the family, the cultural survival of the human race would be at risk. The family, whether we like it or not, is the foundation.

  • Sunday, July 28 Address to the World Youth Day Volunteers: “God calls you to make definitive choices, and he has a plan for each of you: to discover that plan and to respond to your vocation is to move forward toward personal fulfillment. God calls each of us to be holy, to live his life, but he has a particular path for each one of us. Some are called to holiness through family life in the sacrament of Marriage. Today, there are those who say that marriage is out of fashion. Is it out of fashion? In a culture of relativism and the ephemeral, many preach the importance of ‘enjoying’ the moment. They say that it is not worth making a life-long commitment, making a definitive decision, ‘for ever’, because we do not know what tomorrow will bring. I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love. I have confidence in you and I pray for you. Have the courage ‘to swim against the tide’. And also have the courage to be happy.”

  •  Sunday, July 28 Address to the Bishops of Brazil: “In mission, also on a continental level, it is very important to reaffirm the family, which remains the essential cell of society and the Church; young people, who are the face of the Church’s future; women, who play a fundamental role in passing on the faith and who are a daily source of strength in a society that carries this faith forward and renews it.”

Last November 2014, Pope Francis addressed a Colloquium being held at the Vatican on the theme “The Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage.” Contrary to some thoughts circulating about this meeting, the colloquium was not called to serve as a corrective to October’s Synod. Francis began his address by dwelling on the word “complementarity”: “a previous word, with multiple meanings.” Although complementarity can refer “situations where one of two things adds to, completes, or fulfills a lack in the other” it also means much more than that. Christians, he said, “find its deepest meaning in the first Letter to the Corinthians where Saint Paul tells us that the Spirit has endowed each of us with different gifts so that-just as the human body’s members work together for the good of the whole-everyone’s gifts can work together for the benefit of each.”

“Complementarity is at the root of marriage and family.” Although there are tensions in families, the family also provides the framework in which those tensions can be resolved.” He said that complementarity should not be confused with a simplistic notion that “all the roles and relations of the sexes are fixed in a single, static pattern.” Rather, “complementarity will take many forms as each man and woman brings his or her distinctive contributions to their marriage and to the formation of their children.”

Pope Francis said that the crisis in the family has produced a crisis “of human ecology,” similar to the crisis that affects the natural environment. “Although the human race has come to understand the need to address conditions that menace our natural environments, we have been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well, slower in our culture, and also in our Catholic Church. It is therefore essential that we foster a new human ecology and advance it.”

To do that, the Pope said, “It is necessary first to promote the fundamental pillars that govern a nation: its non-material goods.” He noted that the family is the foundation of society, and that children have the right to grow up in a family with a mother and a father “capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”

He also called on participants in the Colloquium “to lift up yet another truth about marriage: that permanent commitment to solidarity, fidelity, and fruitful love responds to the deepest longings of the human heart.” This is especially important for young people “who represent our future.” Finally, Pope Francis said the family is not an ideological concept, but an “anthropological fact.” That is, the family is not a “conservative” or a “progressive” notion, but is a reality that transcends ideological labels.

During his recent trip to Manila, Francis held a meeting with 20,000 Filipino families in which he blasted the “ideological colonization” of the family. It refers to the strongly held belief among many Catholics in places such as Africa, Latin America, and Asia that Western governments and NGOs, as well as international bodies such as the United Nations, are using their control over development aid to impose their agendas. That same night in Manila, Francis again departed from his prepared text to offer a strong defense of Pope Paul VI and his controversial 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae that upheld the contraception ban.

“He (Paul VI) had the strength to defend openness to life at a time when many people were worried about population growth.”

On the return flight from Manila to Rome, Francis gave a long answer to a question asked of him about the meaning of ideological colonization. He told a story from his time as an Argentinian bishop about a government education minister needing a loan to build schools for the poor, and getting an offer on the condition that textbooks in these schools contain references to “gender theory.” This phrase refers to the idea that sexual identity is a social construct, not part of any natural law, and thus all types of sexual orientations and behaviors are perfectly acceptable. Francis described this colonization as an assault on the right of peoples to make their own choices and to preserve their own identity.

Some headlines from that in-flight news conference focused on the pope’s green light to limit the size of Catholic families, in part because he served up an irresistible sound-bite: “To be good Catholics, we don’t have to breed like rabbits.” Yet as insiders parse the pope’s words, they’ll discover that he was in no way talking about contraception, since he once again praised Paul VI and even said that Pope Paul was trying to ward off a “neo-Malthusian” ideology of population control.

Holy Family 4Family as Domestic Church

The family functions as a small “domestic church” that can be a privileged route to evangelization. Cardinal Kasper has spoken and written about the rediscovery of the “gospel of the family,” the vision of the family in the Book of Genesis and in God’s plan. Kasper reflects on the structures of sin within the family, including family problems, tensions between men and women, and the suffering of women and mothers. But Cardinal Kasper also said that the main purpose of his now well-known address to the cardinals in consistory in February 2014 was to deepen the theological understanding of challenges facing the family, ahead of the first synod on that subject to be held in the Vatican last October. While the Church must remain faithful to its teaching on the indissolubility of the sacrament of marriage, it is vital to “help, support, encourage” those experiencing difficulties in their family life. “The Church has to be close to them, to help, support and encourage them, to find a way between ‘rigorism’ (strictness) – which cannot be the way of normal Christians – and a pure ‘laxism’ (leniency) …I think this can be the only approach of the Church today…”

Pope Francis and Cardinal Kasper maintain the full teaching of the Church but the teaching has to be applied to concrete situations, as Jesus did and as Pope Francis does very often. The doctrine of the Church is not an ideology in the clouds. It’s about a God who wishes to be present and close to his people. Since the topic of this presentation is about challenges facing marriage and family life. I would like to propose to you several Scripture passages for your consideration. Passages which remind us that though we should strive for the highest ideals, we must also recognize and accept people where they are at.

Emmanuel, the Prayer and the Promise

Matthew’s infancy narrative (1:1-25), provides a wide-angle view of the Incarnation event, against a rich, biblical panorama. More than Mark and Luke, Matthew stresses the Jewish origin of Jesus: the genealogy presents him as “son of David, son of Abraham” (1:1) and goes back no further. Matthew is concerned with 14 generations, probably because 14 is the numerical value of the Hebrew letters forming the name of David.

While the genealogy shows the continuity of God’s providential plan from Abraham on, discontinuity and irregularity are also present. The women Tamar (1:3), Rahab and Ruth (1:5), and the wife of Uriah, Bathsheba (1:6), bore their sons through unions that were in varying degrees strange and unexpected.

These “irregularities” culminate in the great “irregularity” of the Messiah’s birth of a young virgin. Matthew has drawn our attention to the peculiarities of these biblical women of the Old Testament, perhaps in order to warn us that something even stranger is coming, or perhaps to enable us, when the news is announced, to connect it with God’s strange way of operating in the past. Our God writes straight with crooked lines, and Jesus’ genealogy is living proof of that fact!

From Joseph’s perspective

Matthew’s story is told from Joseph’s point of view, while the more familiar account from Luke is told from the perspective of Mary. Joseph, a righteous man, is presented as a devout observer of the Mosaic Law (1:19). His betrothal to Mary was the first part of the marriage, constituting a man and woman as husband and wife. Subsequent infidelity was considered adultery. Some months after the betrothal, the husband would take his wife into his home, at which time normal married life began. Joseph’s decision to divorce Mary is overcome by the heavenly command that he take her into his home and accept the child as his own. The natural genealogical line is broken, but the promises to David are fulfilled; through Joseph’s adoption the child belongs to the family of David.

Joseph protected and provided for Jesus and Mary. He named Jesus, taught him how to pray, how to work, how to be a man. While no words or texts are attributed to him, we can be sure that Joseph pronounced two of the most important words that could ever be spoken, when he named his son “Jesus” and called him “Emmanuel.” At Christmas Eve each year, it becomes clear to us that the story of the birth of a baby in Bethlehem was no idyllic country folk tale. It was the true fulfillment of the hopes and longings, dreams and desires of the people of ancient Israel.

What do we learn from this powerful story of Jesus’ origins? God never abandons humanity, but rather enters into all that frequently makes life on earth so difficult. In the name “Emmanuel,” we find the answer to humanity’s deepest longings for God throughout the ages. Emmanuel is both a prayer and plea on our behalf, and a promise and declaration on God’s. When we pronounce the word, we are really praying and pleading: “God, be with us!” And when God speaks it, the Almighty, Eternal, Omnipresent Creator of the world is telling us: “I am with you” in this Child. The name Emmanuel is also alluded to at the end of Matthew’s Gospel where the Risen Jesus assures his disciples of his continued presence: “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (28:20).

The Future of Humanity Passes Through the Family
Reflection on the Holy Family

There is a Gospel story unique to Luke (2:41-52) that relates an incident from Jesus’ youth. Luke’s infancy narrative, however scarce in details concerning the first part of Jesus’ life, mentions that “his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover” (2:41), an indication of their piety, and of their fidelity to the law and to the tradition of Israel.

“When Jesus was 12 years old, they went up according to custom. When they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, without his parents knowing it” (2:42-43). After searching for three days, “they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (2:46). Jesus’ mysterious words to his parents seem to subdue their joy at finding him: “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (2:49) The later question can also be translated, “Did you not know that I must be immersed in my Father’s work?” In either case, Jesus refers to God as his Father. His divine sonship, and his obedience to his heavenly Father’s will, take precedence over his ties to his family.

Apart from this event, the whole period of the infancy and youth of Jesus is passed over in silence in the Gospel. It is the time of his “hidden life,” summarized by Luke in two simple statements: Jesus “went down with [Mary and Joseph] and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51); and “He progressed steadily in wisdom and age and grace before God and men” (Luke 2:52). With this episode, the infancy narrative ends just as it began, in the setting of the Jerusalem Temple. We learn from the Gospels that Jesus lived in his own family, in the house of Joseph, who took the place of a father in regard to Mary’s Son by assisting and protecting him, and gradually training him in his own trade of carpentry. Indeed, the people of the town of Nazareth regarded him as “the carpenter’s son” (Matthew 13:55), asking with surprise: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” (Mark 6:3).

Besides his mother, they mentioned also his “brothers” and his “sisters,” who lived at Nazareth. It was they who, as the evangelist Mark mentions, sought to dissuade Jesus from his activity of teaching (Mark 3:21). Evidently, they did not find in him anything to justify the beginning of a public ministry. They thought that Jesus was just like any other Israelite, and should remain such.

Does the story sound familiar? The anxiety and misunderstanding experienced by the Holy Family should not be hidden from families today that experience similar situations. We have often presented the Holy Family of Nazareth as the picture perfect snapshot of family life, without any blemish or difficulty. When we connect people with the real, daily life situations of the Holy Family, and allow the utter humanity of Mary, Joseph and Jesus to shine through, contemporary families will look to them for inspiration, intercession and hope.

In the midst of last October’s Extraordinary Synod, Peter Manseauoct wrote an article for the New York Times in which he asked the fundamental question: What is a Catholic Family?” (NYT October 17, 2014), He concluded his article with these words:

“…a woman who conceived a child before she was married, a chaste stepfather who nearly divorced her as a result, and that original sign of contradiction, the human son of God. A church that claims to descend from this most untraditional of domestic arrangements might ask itself: Was any family ever more irregular than that?”

It was through the irregularity at the beginning, ordinary daily living, and daily acts of faithfulness, kindness, generosity and love that surrounded Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, that provided for him a beautiful environment in which to grow and mature. Holiness flows from wholeness and goodness.

School of Nazareth

The moving words of Pope Paul VI spoken in Nazareth on January 5, 1964, are a beautiful reflection on the mystery of Nazareth and of the Holy Family. His words inspire all of us to imitate God’s family in their beautiful values of silence, family life, and work. He said:

Nazareth is a kind of school where we may begin to discover what Christ’s life was like and even to understand his Gospel. Here we can observe and ponder the simple appeal of the way God’s Son came to be known, profound yet full of hidden meaning.

First we learn from its silence. If only we could once again appreciate its great value. We need this wonderful state of mind, beset, as we are, by the cacophony of strident protests and conflicting claims so characteristic of these turbulent times. The silence of Nazareth should teach us how to meditate in peace and quiet, to reflect on the deeply spiritual, and to be open to the voice of God’s inner wisdom and the counsel of his true teachers. Nazareth can teach us the value of study and preparation, of meditation, of a well-ordered personal spiritual life, and of silent prayer that is known only to God.

Second, we learn about family life. May Nazareth serve as a model of what the family should be. May it show us the family’s holy and enduring character and exemplifying its basic function in society: a community of love and sharing, beautiful for the problems it poses and the rewards it brings – in sum, the perfect setting for rearing children – and for this there is no substitute. 

Finally, in Nazareth, the home of a craftsman’s son, we learn about work and the discipline it entails. I would especially like to recognize its value – demanding yet redeeming – and to give it proper respect. I would remind everyone that work has its own dignity. On the other hand, it is not an end in itself. Its value and free character, however, derive not only from its place in the economic system, as they say, but rather from the purpose it serves.

Holy Family 3Contemporary Challenges for Marriage and Family Life

As bishops, priests and the entire Christian community, and as society in general, we must do more to encourage the committed relationship of man and woman that remains so basic to all civilizations, and has proven to be the best support for the rights and needs of children. The Christian family is no longer capable of singularly transmitting the faith to the next generation, and neither is the parish, even though it continues to be the indispensable structure for the Church’s pastoral mission in any given place. As the keystone of society, the family is the most favorable environment in which to welcome children.

We must reflect carefully on the social consequences involved in the redefinition of marriage, examining all that is entailed if society no longer gives a privileged place and fundamental value to the lifelong union of a man and a woman in matrimony. Care must be taken with the language we use to describe these consequences. Parishes, dioceses, and lay movements that do not have creative pastoral strategies and vocational programs about marriage for young people leave the door open to tremendous moral confusion and misunderstanding, misinformation, emptiness.

At the same time, we cannot forget that other bonds of love and interdependency, of commitment and mutual responsibility exist in society. They may be good; they may even be recognized in law. They are not the same as marriage: they are something else. No extension of terminology for legal purposes will change the observable reality that only the committed union of a man and a woman carries not only the bond of interdependency between the two adults, but the inherent capacity to bring forth children.

“The future of humanity passes through the family,” as Saint John Paul II would say so often. The foundation of society is the family. And the foundation of the family is marriage. The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman. The family is the most favorable environment in which children can be born and raised. We need young adults to say “I do” with joy, conviction, faith, and hope. They are our future and our hope. Without married people, we cannot build the future of society and the Church. Without committed, married people, our world will not give rise to the holy families of today.

The recently published Directory for Homilies includes two sections on marriage and family life:

From the Directory for Homilies

  1. The institution of the family faces great challenges in various parts of the world today, and it is entirely appropriate for the homilist to speak about these. However, rather than simply giving a moral exhortation on family values, the preacher should take his cue from the Scripture readings of this day to speak of the Christian family as a school of discipleship. Christ, whose birth we are celebrating, came into the world to do the will of his Father, such an obedience that is docile towards the movements of the Holy Spirit has a place in the life of every Christian family. Joseph obeys the angel and takes the Child and his Mother into Egypt (Year A); Mary and Joseph obey the Law by presenting their Baby in the Temple (Year B) and going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover (Year C); Jesus for his part is obedient to his earthly parents, but his desire to be in his Father’s house is even greater (Year C). As Christians, we are also members of another family, which gathers around the family table of the altar to be fed on the sacrifice that came about because Christ was obedient unto death. We should see our own families as a domestic Church in which we put into practice the pattern of self-sacrificing love we encounter in the Eucharist. Thus all Christian families open outward to become part of Jesus’ new and larger family: “For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mk 3:35).
  1. This understanding of the Christian meaning of family life assists the preacher in speaking about the reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. The Apostle’s instruction that wives should be subordinate to their husbands can be disturbing to people of our day; if the homilist does not plan to speak about this directive, it might be more prudent to use the shorter version of the reading. However, the difficult passages of Scripture often have the most to teach us, and this reading provides an opportunity for the homilist to address a theme that may be uncongenial to modern ears, but which in fact does make a valuable and necessary point when properly understood. We can gain insight into the meaning of this text by consulting a similar one, Eph 5:21-6:4. There also Paul is speaking about the mutual responsibilities of family life. The key sentence is this: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21). The originality of the Apostle’s teaching is not that wives should be submissive to their husbands; that was simply presumed in the culture of his day. What is new, and distinctively Christian, is, first, that such submission should be mutual: if the wife is to obey her husband, the husband in turn should, like Christ, lay down his very life for his wife. Secondly, the motive for this mutual subordination is not simply for the sake of harmony in the family or the good of society: no, it is made out of reverence for Christ. In other words, mutual submission in the family is an expression of Christian discipleship; the family home is, or should be, a place where we manifest our love for God by laying down our lives for one another. The homilist can challenge his hearers to make real in their own relationships that self-sacrificial love which is at the heart of Christ’s life and mission, and which we celebrate in our “family meal” of the Eucharist.

Conclusion

We need new strategies, new language, and creative pastoral outreach to encourage young adults to consider sacramental marriage and family life. We must develop better methods of evangelization and catechesis to convince young adults that marriage is good, beautiful and worthwhile! We must discover new avenues of communication and outreach to those recently married. What do we provide for them? How do we thank the thousands of couples who, day in and day out, before our very eyes, lay down their lives for others and serve the Lord and their families with great generosity. And let us never forget those who have loved and lost, and those who have suffered the pain of separation, divorce and alienation. May our field hospitals provide for them healing, consolation and loving welcome.

Pope Francis reminds us each day in word and by his actions of the importance of being close to people and accompanying them along the way. In Evangelii Gaudium, Francis devotes much attention to the homily at mass. I consider this a brilliant pastoral strategy to reach people today and let them know of the beauty of marriage and family life.

“The homily joins the living hearts of the Lord and his people. The people are silent and listen as God speaks.”

“The preacher is called to recognize in the people the living water of their faith and culture; where the desire for God is ardent and alive, as well as where the dialogue with God has broken down.”

“The Church preaches as a mother. There is trust in children when their mother speaks. Both mother and child listen to each other. Their conversation can lead to learning and correction.”

“Our preaching is to be maternal: close to the people, with a warm tone of voice, unpretentious and joyful.”

“When Jesus preached he looked beyond the weaknesses and failings of the people. He preached with mercy and kindness. He was filled with the joy of the spirit. He preached the truth with the beauty of images.”

“Our challenge as preachers is to communicate the truth of God’s love and to encourage the joyful living of good lives.”

“Our task is to help our people desire the joy of God’s embrace.”

Surfer Dude Saint

Sufer_Saint

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!

4lentWe’re now into the second week of Lent and I’m wondering how everyone is doing with their resolutions. I’m sure many of you (not all) are probably a bit grumpy from the withdrawal caused by your ambitious resolutions: abstaining from sugar, coffee, junk food, tv or whatever you’ve decided to give up for Lent. Some of you are probably wondering why only Christians have to give something up.

Well, I’m not sure if you’ve seen this, but apparently it’s not only us Catholics giving up things for Lent! Did you see the #Muslims4Lent campaign where Muslims show Solidarity with Christians by giving things up for Lent? It seems like we Christians are being supported by our Muslim brothers and sisters! Read about it here.

Now here is a very interesting character coming up for sainthood. When you think of a surfer dude, you don’t often think of a saintly seminarian. Let me introduce you to Guido Schaffer, a seminarian from Brazil who died just weeks before his ordination to priesthood. Check out the story here.

We all know them: friends, families and co-workers who are Catholic by birth but non-practicing, yet mildly curious about their grandmother’s religion. These are the seeds of conversion. Ever thought about what books you can give them to pique their interest? Well, then check this article out: Top Ten Books to Give Fallen Away Catholics. In addition to those books, I’d also throw into that list: The Call To Sainthood.

Now if your particular friend, family member or co-worker who is Catholic by birth, but non-practicing and yet mildly curious about their grandmother’s religion, happens to be big into twitter, here is another article that you can forward to them entitled: Top 24 Catholics to Follow on Twitter plus 1 Protestant.

And to close off that religious conversion with your particular friend, family member or co-worker who is Catholic by birth but non-practicing yet mildly curious about their grandmother’s religion, you can always throw them this: the top 10 reasons why it’s great to be Catholic. :)

Pop_Quiz

OK pop quiz time… I never would have imagined how many of you readers would actually email me to say that you love the quizzes! So be it. Here are 2 pretty cool quizzes that I personally enjoyed last week.

QUIZ 1: Can You Fill in the Blanks of These Bible Verses?

QUIZ 2: Did The Pope said that?

Just to set the bar, I got 8 on quiz 1 and 7 on quiz 2. These are more difficult than I thought!

Nutella

Finally now, who in the world hasn’t heard of Nutella, that hazelnut-chocolatey goodness that you spread on your toast in the morning? Did you know that the founder, Michele Ferrero, attributes its success to Our Lady of Lourdes? Read about it here.

That’s it for this week folks. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on these stories. If you have any interesting stories yourself, please feel free to send them to me!

I hope you enjoy these little stories! I certainly have. Till next week!

– Noel