English   ·   Français   ·   Italiano     ·   中文    

John the Baptist, the Paradox of Advent

Baptista cropped

Second Sunday of Advent, Year C – December 6, 2015

In today’s Gospel text, [Luke 3:1-6] In today’s Gospel text, [Luke 3:1-6] the evangelist who is called the “scriba manuetidinis Christi” (scribe of the gentleness of Christ) by Dante Alighieri, casts the call of John the Baptist in the form of an Old Testament prophetic call (Luke 3:2) and extends the quotation from Isaiah found in Mark 1:3 (Isaiah 40:3) by the addition of Isaiah 40:4-5 in Luke 3:5-6. In doing so, Luke presents his theme of the universality of salvation, which he has announced earlier in the words of Simeon (Luke 2:30-32). Let us consider several historical details offered by Luke in today’s prophetic call story.

Tiberius Caesar succeeded Augustus as emperor in A.D. 14 and reigned until A.D. 37. The fifteenth year of his reign would have fallen between A.D. 27 and 29. Pontius Pilate was prefect of Judea from A.D. 26 until 36. The Jewish historian Josephus describes him as a greedy and ruthless prefect who had little regard for the local Jewish population and their religious practices (Luke 13:1). The Herod who is mentioned is Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who ruled over Galilee and Perea from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39.

Luke not only situates the call of John the Baptist in terms of the civil rulers of that period but he also mentions the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the religious leadership of Palestine. Annas had been high priest from A.D. 6-15. After being deposed by the Romans in A.D. 15 he was succeeded by various members of his family and eventually by his son-in-law, Caiaphas, who was high priest from A.D. 18-36.

Against the backdrop of this sweeping history, the word of God came to John in the Judean desert. Luke is alone among the New Testament writers in associating the preaching of John with a call from God. The evangelist thereby identifies John with the prophets whose ministries began with similar calls. Later on Luke separates the ministry of John the Baptist from that of Jesus by reporting the imprisonment of John before the baptism of Jesus (Luke 3:21-22). Luke uses this literary device to serve his understanding of the periods of salvation history. With John the Baptist, the time of promise, the period of Israel, comes to an end; with the baptism of Jesus and the descent of the Spirit upon him, the time of fulfillment, the period of Jesus, begins.

In his second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, Luke will introduce the third epoch in salvation history, the period of the church. In Luke 7:26 John will be described as “more than a prophet”; he is also the precursor of Jesus (Luke 7:27), a transitional figure inaugurating the period of the fulfillment of prophecy and promise.

In describing the expectation of the people (Luke 3:15), Luke is characterizing the time of John’s preaching in the same way as he had earlier described the situation of other devout Israelites in the infancy narrative (Luke 2:25-26, 37-38). In Luke 3:7-18 Luke presents the preaching of John the Baptist who urges the crowds to reform in view of the coming wrath (Luke 3:7, 9), and who offers the crowds certain standards for reforming social conduct (Luke 3:10-14), and who announces to the crowds the coming of one mightier than he (Luke 3:15-18).

John: the paradox of Advent

The true prophets of Israel help us in our struggle against all forms of duplicity. John the Baptist is the patron saint par excellence of authenticity. How often our words, thoughts and actions are incoherent! Combined in John the Baptist is the very paradox of Advent: the coming triumph of God manifest precisely in the darkness of the present evil age. John the Baptist heard, experienced and lived God’s liberating word in the desert and was thus able to preach it to others so effectively because his life and message were one. He certainly didn’t mince words. John the Baptist shatters the silence of the wilderness with his cry: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Not just “repent,” change the way we live, but repent and prepare for the coming of the kingdom of heaven which will upset all our securities and overturn anything we try to leave in place. The joy and the challenge of Advent is that in Jesus Christ our God is coming, and our aching and longing for God will be met. But this God who comes is disturbing.

There was nothing politically correct about the Baptist’s message. He got right to the point and said what needed to be said. He told the first people who came to him to share. He told the tax collectors to be just. He told the soldiers to make peace.

The Baptist taught the people of his day and our day that the Messiah comes to save us from the powers of duplicity, despair, darkness and death, and to put us back on the path of peace and reconciliation so that we might find our way back to God. John the Baptist’s life and mission remind us how badly we need a Savior to save us, in order that we might be all that we are called to be and do all that we have to do to live in the Light. So often we fail to recognize the one among us who is our Way, our Truth and our Life. This is what Advent is all about: finding our way back to God.

The transformation of our deserts

Advent is a mystery that transforms and not simply informs. Advent remains with its paradoxical combination of waiting and hastening, suffering and joy, judgment and deliverance, apocalyptic woe and eschatological hope. Unfortunately for our culture of instant gratification, hope requires incompleteness. To hope, in the true Advent fashion, is to live with the certainty of unfulfilled desire.

The God who was a highway engineer making new ways through the wilderness, a gardener turning deserts into flower gardens, is now the artist painting a new perspective of the age-old messianic promise of hope. Hope in God cannot stand still, because–as Isaiah reminds us, we hope in a God who is constantly doing a new thing. Does our hope in God hold fast in the face of chaos and confusion in our life? How do we live with the Word of God? How can we live with the silence of God?

Advent teaches us that if we are quiet in our hearts long enough, we will discover the God still carves out highways and turns the desert places of our lives into oases of wonder, life, beauty, even though nothing will be as we expected. Any transformation of the wilderness depends on water. Throughout the Old Testament God is spoken of as the one who gives or withholds water – an image easily understood by people for whom water is a precious and controlled commodity. Few of us in the First World have an idea of drought. Our water piped into our homes deprives us of an image of God as the one on whom our very existence depends; similarly, electricity deludes us in to thinking we have the darkness under control. Together they rob us of daily experiences that could give vibrancy to the Advent invitation to revisit our dependence on God, to revisit our desire for God and to discover through the night of waiting that God does indeed come.

The message of Advent is not that everything is falling to pieces. Nor is it that God is in heaven and all is therefore well with the world. Rather the message of Advent is that when every fixed star on the moral compass is wavering, when all hell is breaking loose on earth, we hear once again the Baptist’s consoling message:

Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

Yet even with the birth of Jesus, we learn that Jerusalem and Israel still awaited their redemption. The world still awaits its freedom from hunger, war, oppression, violence, persecution and suffering. We all await our redemption. Advent challenges us to look at the ways that we wait, the ways that we long for God, and the ways that we hope. What and who is the source of our Advent hope?

John the Baptist’s life can be summed up in the image of a finger pointing to the one who was coming: Jesus Christ. If we are to take on John’s role of preparing the way in today’s world, our lives also will become the pointing fingers of living witnesses who demonstrate that Jesus can be found and that he is near. Jesus is the fulfillment of our longing, our hoping and waiting. Jesus alone can transform the deserts of our lives into living gardens of beauty and nourishment for the world. Come, Lord Jesus! We need you now more than ever!

[The readings for this Sunday a
re Baruch 5.1-9; Ps 126; Philippians 1.3-6, 8-11; Luke 3.1-6]

(Image: Saint John the Baptist preaching in the Desert by Pier Francesco Mola)

Those who watch for Christ

First Advent cropped

First Sunday of Advent, Year C – November 29, 2015

Every now and then when the world seems to be falling apart and problems appear to be insurmountable, I recall with gratitude the heroes of the Velvet Revolution who helped to bring down the reign of Communism over twenty years ago. I cherish the words of hope of former Czech president Vaclav Havel, during his days of imprisonment. Those words captivated the imagination of many people as we witnessed the Communist regime finally come to an end:

The more unpropitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper that hope is. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. In short, I think that the deepest and most important form of hope, the only one that can keep us above water and urge us to good works, and the only true source of the breathtaking dimension of the human spirit and its efforts is something we get, as it were, from ‘elsewhere’.

I also turn frequently to the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s section on “The Theological Virtues” and read the paragraphs on hope (#1817-1821). I always find hope and peace of mind and heart from those paragraphs on hope. I have been particularly struck by the thoughts found in #1818 of the Catechism:

The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.

Day-to-day following of Jesus

Such thoughts are important for us as we enter the season of Advent with a bang this year- with a section from Luke’s chapter on the end times! In today’s Gospel story [21:25-28; 34-36], we can see, hear and feel Jesus’ eschatological discourse in Mark 13. The actual destruction of Jerusalem by Rome in A.D. 70 upon which Luke and his community look back [Luke 21:20-24] provides the assurance that, just as Jesus’ prediction of Jerusalem’s destruction was fulfilled, so too will be his announcement of their final redemption (21:27-28).

The evangelist Luke has made some significant alterations to Mark’s description of the end times. Luke maintains the belief in the early expectation of the end of the age but, by focusing attention throughout the Gospel on the importance of the day-to-day following of Jesus and by reinterpreting the meaning of some of the signs of the end from Mark 13, he has come to terms with what seemed to the early Christian community to be a delay of the Parousia (Second Coming). In dealing with the persecution of the disciples (21:12-19) and the destruction of Jerusalem (21:20-24) Luke is pointing to eschatological signs that have already been fulfilled.

The central message of Christianity does not consist in knowing the exact details of the end of the world. As a matter of fact, there are very few specifics about the future in Jesus’ preaching other than that God is going to accomplish his purpose and he’s going to accomplish it through Jesus. When my students would ask me about the Second Coming, I always tell them that I suspect it’s going to be as big a surprise as the first coming was. It is in God’s hands. God will bring about his Kingdom and that is what is most important.

Blameless in holiness

In the second reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians [3:12-4:2] we encounter Paul trying to strengthen his Thessalonian converts in their new faith about twenty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. For Paul, an essential part of the Christian message was the Parousia, or the Second Coming. Without that event, the drama of salvation was incomplete. Paul believed the Parousia was imminent, but preparation was required. Paul asked two things: (1) an increase in mutual and universal love and (2) the attainment of the Christian goal. The goal was holiness expressed in loving concern for one another. Holiness would be achieved through daily, ordinary acts of goodness, kindness, charity and hope.

The work of Advent

Advent confronts us and wakes us from our stupor. What is the work of Advent for each of us this year? We are invited to quietly prepare our hearts and our lives for the coming of the ever-greater one in the flesh. For what or for whom are we waiting in life? What virtues or gifts are we praying to receive this year? What material things do we seek? The people, qualities, things we await give us great insights into who we are. Advent, far from being a penitential time or a time of despair, is a time of rejoicing in hope and a time of patient waiting. God knows how impatient we are as a people and as individuals. Nevertheless, patience is a blessed virtue for which we should pray during Advent.

Long ago St. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote that almost everything about our Lord Jesus Christ is twofold:

He has two births: one from God before the ages, the other from the Virgin at the end of all ages. He has two comings: the one is hidden and resembles the falling of the dew upon a fleece; the other – the future one – on the contrary will be manifest. At his first coming, he was wrapped in linens and laid in a manger; at the second, light shall be his robe. In the first coming he endured the Cross-, heedless of its shame; in his second coming he will be in glory surrounded by an army of angels. Let us therefore not stop at his first coming but look forward to the second. We hailed him at his first coming with the words, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” And we shall hail him in the same way at his second coming. For we shall go out to meet the Lord and his angels, and, prostrating ourselves before him, we shall cry, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

As Christians, we proclaim the coming of Christ – not just a first coming but another as well that will be far more glorious than the first. The first took place under the sign of patient suffering; the second, on the contrary, will see Christ wearing the crown of God’s kingdom. Advent teaches us that there are two ways of looking at history: one is sociological and the other is religious. The first, chronos, is essentially unredeemed and cyclic. The second, xairos, is redeemed by God in Christ Jesus and becomes the possibility of providence and sacrament.

Let me leave you with some reflections on hope as we enter this most blessed season of patient longing and joyful expectation of the Lord Jesus. First, a wonderful section of the Parochial and Plain Sermons of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman:

They watch for Christ who are sensitive, eager, apprehensive in mind, who are awake, alive, quick-sighted, zealous in honoring him, who look for him in all that happens, and who would not be surprised, who would not be over-agitated or overwhelmed, if they found that he was coming at once… This then is to watch: to be detached from what is present, and to live in what is unseen; to live in the thought of Christ as he came once, and as he will come again; to desire his second coming, from our affectionate and grateful remembrance of his first.

Finally, this moving reflection on hope by the late Fr. James Keller, M.M., Founder of The Christophers:

Hope looks for the good in people instead of harping on the worst.
Hope opens doors where despair closes them.
Hope discovers what can be done instead of grumbling about what cannot.
Hope draws its power from a deep trust in God and the basic goodness of human nature.
Hope “lights a candle” instead of “cursing the darkness.”
Hope regards problems, small or large, as opportunities.
Hope cherishes no illusions, nor does it yield to cynicism.
Hope sets big goals and is not frustrated by repeated difficulties or setbacks.
Hope pushes ahead when it would be easy to quit.
Hope puts up with modest gains, realizing that “the longest journey starts with one step.”
Hope accepts misunderstandings as the price for serving the greater good of others.
Hope is a good loser because it has the divine assurance of final victory.

[The readings for this Sunday are Jeremiah 33:14-16; Ps 25; 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2; Luke 21:25-28, 34-36]

(Photo — Advent candles: CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Viva Cristo Rey! Remembering Blessed Miguel Pro, S.J. on his Feast Day

Miguel Pro SJ 3

As we near the end of the liturgical year and celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King, let us remember the life of a young martyred Mexican Jesuit who was deeply devoted to Christ the King: Blessed Miguel Agustin Pro, S.J. (1891-1927). Today, November 23 is his feast day. Born January 13, 1891, at Guadalupe Zacatecas, Mexico, Miguel “Miguelito” Pro was the son of a mining engineer and a pious and charitable mother. From his earliest days, Miguel had a special affinity for the working classes which he kept all of his life. At age 20, he entered the Jesuit novitiate and shortly thereafter was exiled because of the Mexican revolution. He traveled to the United States, Spain, Nicaragua and Belgium, where he was ordained a priest in 1925. Father Pro suffered from chronic stomach ailments and when, after several operations his health did not improve, his Jesuit superiors allowed him to return to Mexico in 1926 despite the horrible religious persecution underway in Mexico.

Miguel Pro SJChurches were closed and priests fled into hiding. Father Pro spent the rest of his life in a secret ministry to Mexican Catholics. He strengthened people in their faith and was deeply involved in serving the poor in Mexico City. He was known for wearing all kinds of disguises that enabled him to work quietly among the poor. Miguel would dress as a beggar and go during the night to baptize infants, bless marriages and celebrate Mass. He would appear in jail dressed as a police officer to bring Holy Viaticum to condemned Catholics. When going to wealthy neighborhoods to provide for the poor, he would show up at the doorstep dressed as a fashionable executive with a fresh flower on his lapel. His was the stuff of a modern spy movie or award winning television series! However in all that he did, Fr. Pro remained obedient to his superiors and was filled with the joy of serving Christ, his King.

He was falsely accused in the bombing attempt on a former Mexican president and declared a wanted man. Handed over to the police, he was sentenced to death without recourse to any legal process. On the day of his execution by a firing squad, Fr. Pro forgave his executioners, bravely refused the blindfold and died proclaiming, “Viva Cristo Rey”, “Long live Christ the King!” The image of Blessed Miguel Pro, boldly kneeling before his executioners and forgiving them, before proclaiming the real kingship of the non-violent Lord is also deep within me.

Miguel Pro SJ 2

Our faith is rooted firmly in Jesus of Nazareth who was declared a king at his execution. He was not a king who craved for power, nor a dictator who dominated and trampled underfoot those who encountered him. In his kingdom, his poor subjects were cherished and loved; they were his friends, the little ones, his brothers and sisters who partook in his very life. Worldly kingdoms will come and go. The kingdom of Jesus Christ will never pass away. Together with Blessed Miguel Pro of Mexico, let us acclaim our King: Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King, now and forever.

Feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple at Jerusalem


According to the tradition in the Eastern Church, when Mary was three years of age, Joachim and Anne took her to the Temple so that she might be consecrated to the service of the Lord. The legend says that they invited the young girls of the town to walk before her with lighted torches. As soon as they had reached the Temple, Mary, alone and unhesitatingly, went up the steps of the sanctuary where she was to remain, living in the contemplation of God and miraculously fed by the Archangel Gabriel, until the day she was espoused to Joseph, shortly before the Annunciation.

The theme of the feast is that Mary the Immaculate One, the Temple of the Living God, is offered to the Almighty in his holy house in Jerusalem. This day witnesses the bond between the Word and the Virgin predestined in eternity: this day is the fountainhead of all her privileges.

A more historical view is that the feast originates in Jerusalem in 543. In the Latin rite, it took many years for the feast to be widely accepted; it entered the Western calendar in 1585. Today, the feast celebrates the recognition of Mary as a temple in whom God dwells. In a very special way, the Blessed Virgin is herself a holy temple when she conceived the very Son of God in her immaculate womb, she became a true temple of the true God; when she cherished the word of God in her heart (see Luke 2:19, 51), loved Christ so ardently, and faithfully kept his word, the Son and the Father came to her and made their home with her, in accordance with the promise of the Lord (see John 14:23).

Basilian logoNovember 21 is the date upon which we celebrate Pro Orantibus Day marking the liturgical feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Temple. The day is dedicated to those who belong to contemplative religious orders. It’s a good opportunity to thank the Lord for the gift of so many people who, in monasteries and hermitages, dedicate themselves to God in prayer and silent work. Many contemplative communities throughout the world pray for Salt and Light Television.  For our part, we remember with gratitude these religious women of who as St Thérèse of Lisieux wrote choose to abide in the ‘heart’ of the Church.

Marian devotion has always been important for my own religious family, the Congregation of Priests of St. Basil (Basilian Fathers). Their support of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network has been constant over the past 12 years. In his History of the Basilian Fathers, Fr. Charles Roume, CSB, recalls that it was on November 21, 1822, Feast of the Presentation of Mary, that all the French confrères finally agreed to come together for their first ‘Chapter’.  They elected Fr. Joseph LaPierre as the first Superior General of the Basilian Community. For this reason, Basilians chose November 21 as our foundation day.

Here is a link to the documentary on our foundation in France after the French Revolution: http://saltandlighttv.org/whenithinkofannonay/

In remembering the Blessed Virgin Mary’s presentation in the Temple at Jerusalem on this day, we honour one whose hidden life brings light and warmth to the Church in every place. May her example give all consecrated religious, and those with whom we live and work, the courage to seek wisdom, the strength to radiate light and warmth to the Church, and the ability to become dwelling places of God’s consoling and compassionate presence on earth.


Let us pray:

Almighty and ever living God, today we honour the memory of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose hidden life brings light and warmth to the Church in every place. Her presentation in the temple at Jerusalem reveals her as a temple where God truly lives among us. May Mary’s example give us the strength to radiate that light and warmth to the Church, and help us to be dwelling places of God’s joyful presence on earth. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation

The King Who Did Not Bow Down

Christ the King cropped

Biblical Reflection for the Solemnity of Christ the King, Year B – Sunday, November 22, 2015

The liturgical year ends with the Solemnity of Christ the King. In John’s poignant trial scene of Pilate and Jesus (18:33-37), we see a great contrast between power and powerlessness.

In coming to the Romans to ensure that Jesus would be crucified, the Jewish authorities fulfilled his prophecy that he would be exalted (John 3:14; 12:32-33). Pilate asks Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?” (v 33). The accused prepares his answer with a previous question, which provokes the Roman official: “Do you ask this on your own or did others tell you about me?” (v 34).

Pilate’s arrogance does not intimidate Jesus, who then gives his own answer in the well-known words: “My kingdom is not from this world” (v 36). At once, Jesus gives the reason: “My kingdom does not use coercion, it is not imposed.” Jesus reiterates his point: “My kingdom is not from this world.”

Pilate is very astute. He does not see in Jesus’ answer a denial of his kingship. In fact, Pilate infers and insists: “So you are a king” (v 37). Jesus accepts his claim without hesitation: “You say that I am a king. For this I came into the world.”

For what? To inaugurate a world of peace and fellowship, of justice and respect for other people’s rights, of love for God and for one another. This is the kingdom that penetrates our human history, illuminating it and leading it beyond itself, a kingdom that will have no end. When we pray the Our Father, we pray for this kingdom to come in its fullness.

In this Gospel scene, Pilate reveals himself as a deeply perplexed leader as he encounters one who is Truth. What is there of Pilate inside of each of us? What prevents us from being free? What are our fears? What are our labels? What costumes and masks are we wearing in public and really don’t care to jeopardize? What is our capacity for neglecting and trampling on others for the sake of keeping up appearances, maintaining the façade, or the important job, or people’s good opinion with regard to our respectability, our reputation or good name?

The Kingdom of Jesus

In the Fourth Gospel, the focus is on the kingship of Christ. The core of Jesus’ message is the kingdom of God, and the God of Jesus Christ is the God of the kingdom, the one who has a word and an involvement in human history from which the image of the kingdom is taken. In the kingdom of Jesus, there is no distance between what is religious and temporal, but rather between domination and service.

Jesus’ kingdom is unlike the one that Pilate knows and is willingly or unwillingly part of. Pilate’s kingdom, and for that matter the Roman kingdom, was one of arbitrariness, privileges, domination and occupation. Jesus’ kingdom is built on love, justice and peace.

Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God, the kingdom of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace. This kingdom is God’s final aim and purpose in everything he has done from the beginning. It is his final act of liberation and salvation. Jesus speaks of this kingdom as a future reality, but a reality that is mysteriously already present in his being, his actions and words and in his personal destiny.

If today’s solemnity of Christ the King upsets some of us, is it not due to our own disillusionment of earthly kings and leaders, rather than the kingship of Jesus? The kingship and leadership of God’s Son refuses rank and privilege, and any attempt to be master of the world. In him there is no lust, greed and ambition for power. He, the innocent king who executes no one, is himself executed. His reign completely overturns our notions of earthly kingship. His is a kingship of ultimate service, even to the point of laying down his life for others.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus goes to his death as a king. The crucifixion is Jesus’ enthronement, the ultimate expression of royal service. Because of Christ, the coronation of suffering is no longer death, but rather eternal life. Very few can measure up to Jesus’ kingly stature, remaining powerless in the face of the powerful. Many of us resist with power, even though we resort to very refined forms of pressure and manipulation. Jesus never responded to violence with more violence.

Two crowns

The solemnity of Christ the King has had particular significance for me since I lived at Ecce Homo Convent, the Sisters of Sion Center on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem’s Old City during the years of my graduate studies in Scripture. The whole complex is built over what is believed to be Pontius Pilate’s judgment hall, the setting for today’s striking Gospel scene between Jesus and Pontius Pilate.

The holy sites in Jerusalem, which commemorate events in the life, passion and death of Jesus, often have two feasts throughout the year, feasts that remember the joyful and sorrowful aspects of Jesus’ life. Ecce Homo Center’s “patronal” feasts are the joyful solemnity of Christ the King at the end of the liturgical year, and the sorrowful feast of Jesus crowned with thorns on the first Friday of Lent.

Two feasts, two crowns, two images of Jesus the Lord set before the Christian community to ponder and imitate.

The feast of Christ the King presents us with the image of Christ crowned — first with thorns, then with the victor’s laurel hat, the evergreen crown of glory. On the day of our baptism, the crown of our head was smeared with the holy oil of chrism, that royal oil that makes us another Christos, another Anointed One. We have the power to live faithfully and love fiercely as Jesus did. The crown of glory — Christ’s very own — is promised to each of us. Which crown is found at the center of our faith and our proclamation?

Who, if not the condemned Savior?

Jesus answered the Roman governor’s questions by declaring that he was a king, but not of this world (cf. John 18: 36). He did not come to rule over peoples and territories, but to set people free from the slavery of sin and to reconcile them with God. He states: “For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice” (John 18: 37).

What is this “truth” that Christ came into the world to witness to? The whole of his life reveals that God is love: So this is the truth to which he witnessed to the full with the sacrifice of his own life on Calvary. Jesus established the kingdom of God once and for all from the cross. The way to reach this goal is long and admits of no short cuts: Indeed, every person must freely accept the truth of God’s love.

God is Love and Truth, and neither Love nor Truth are ever imposed. They stand gently knocking at the doors of our minds and hearts, waiting for us to open the door and welcome them. Yet so often we are afraid to usher in such guests into our lives and earthly kingdoms because of the serious implications associated with such gifts. Many of us resist the truth with power, while others will resort to very refined forms of pressure and manipulation to keep the Truth at bay.

As we contemplate Christ crucified, we understand something of why Christ has remained a king even up to modern times: He didn’t bow down. He who was Truth incarnate never imposed himself on others. He stood, waited and knocked. He never responded to violence with more violence.

At the conclusion of the Stations of the Cross at Rome’s Coliseum on Good Friday night in the Jubilee Year 2000, Pope John Paul II spoke these moving words: “Who, if not the condemned Savior, can fully understand the pain of those unjustly condemned?

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

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

Jesus took his wounds to heaven, and there is a place in heaven for our wounds because our king bears his in glory.

On this last Sunday of the liturgical year, our Crucified King hangs in our midst, arms outstretched in loving mercy and welcome. May we have the courage to ask him to remember us in his kingdom, the grace to imitate him in our own earthly kingdoms, and the wisdom to welcome him when he stands knocking at the doors of our lives and hearts.

[The readings for the solemnity of Christ the King are: Deuteronomy 7:13-14; Revelations 1:5-8; and John 18:33b-37]

Jesuit Martyrs and their friends taught us the meaning of an authentic Catholic Education


26 Years ago at the Jesuit University in El Salvador:
Jesuit Martyrs and their Friends taught us the meaning of an authentic Catholic Education

Today is the 26th anniversary of the martyrdom in El Salvador of six Jesuit priests together with their housekeeper and her 15 year-old daughter.  Early on the morning of November 16, 1989, commandos of the Salvadoran armed forces entered the campus of the Jesuits‚ Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), and brutally murdered the six Jesuits, together with two women who were sleeping in a parlor attached to their residence.  The soldiers made them lie on the ground on the university campus and were then ordered to shoot them in cold blood by Lieutenant José Ricardo Espinosa who had been a student of one of them at our Jesuit high school “the Externado San José.” The commandos went and shot up the two women who were sleeping in a parlor attached to the residence.

The Jesuit priests included the university rector Ignacio Ellacuría, 59, an internationally known philosopher; Segundo Montes, 56, head of the Sociology Department and the UCA‚s human rights institute; Ignacio Martín-Baró, 44, the pioneering social psychologist who headed the Psychology Department and the polling institute; theology professors Juan Ramón Moreno, 56, and Armando López, 53; and Joaquín López y López, 71, founding head of the Fe y Alegría network of schools for the poor.  Joaquín was the only native Salvadoran, the others having arrived long before from Spain as young seminarians.  Julia Elba Ramos, the wife of a caretaker at the UCA, and their daughter Celina, 16, were killed to ensure that there would be no witnesses.

The massacre was one in a long series that included the martyrdom of Fr. Rutilio Grande SJ in 1977, and those of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero and the four US missionaries: Jean Donovan, Ursuline sister Dorothy Kazel and Maryknoll sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, in 1980.  They all mixed their blood with that of tens of thousands of lesser-known civilian victims of El Salvador‚s civil war of 1981 to 1992, which moved the world with its extremes of cruelty and of heroic generosity.

Why were they killed? They all shed their blood with tens of thousands of lesser-known civilian victims of El Salvador’s civil war of 1981 to 1992. They were looking for peace, but the peace they longed for was not peace at any price. They were one with Archbishop Romero who, shortly before his martyrdom, declared: “Let it be quite clear that if we are being asked to collaborate with a pseudo-peace, a false order, based on repression and fear, we must recall that the only order and the only peace that God wants is one based on truth and justice.”

These remarkable, heroic martyrs were Jesuits and their friends believed in the value of a Catholic, critical education; because the education which they shared with their students touched the enormity of human suffering and pain all around them in El Salvador. What happened in El Salvador to these men and women and what continues to happen to similar people in Iraq, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Mexico, South America and so many other violent places on earth is not so much a barbarous tragedy; it is also an anomalous, because authentic Catholic Education educates students into a disciplined sensitivity toward the suffering in the world, whoever and wherever they may be. Without a specific Gospel-rooted effort to bring about such a religious and humane education in and within our Catholic educational institutions, we simply graduate students unaware of pain, suffering and the real cost of being Christian and being disciple.


The martyrs of El Salvador whom we gratefully remember today stood for a Church of the poor which would herald a new society, modeling equitable social relations and solidarity; a prophetic Church like the one that Archbishop Oscar Romero symbolizes, which gives credible witness to the fullness of life that God promises. These martyrs of the Catholic University of El Salvador knew they were risking their lives. They understood the cost of following Christ.  Twenty-five years later we give thanks for them, and many like them who inspire us to live up to the challenge of our own time. It is about them that Tertullian wrote long ago: “Our numbers increase every time we are cut down by you: the blood of martyrs is the seed of new Christians” (Apol. 50, 13; CCC, PL 1,603).

The faith that was planted in El Salvador during those violent years did not die with Ignacio Ellacuría, Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martín-Baró, Juan Ramón Moreno, Armando López, Joaquín López y López, Julia Elba Ramos and young Celina.

The martyrs of El Salvador, and so many others who are brutally murdered each day are the antidotes to a culture that tells us that another person‚s presence is not necessary. In the midst of conflict, hostility, suffering and martyrdom, they remained present to the people around them.  During times and crises of immense fragmentation and division, they kept their feet firmly planted on earth and their eyes fixed on their heavenly homeland.  They model for us authentically human relationships that begin on earth and lead us into heaven.  They teach us how to make room for God in our lives.

Let us never forget the words of the Lutheran Pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

O God, early in the morning I cry to You,
Help me to pray and concentrate my thoughts on You;
I cannot do this alone.  In me there is darkness.  But with You there is light;
I am lonely but You do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with You there is help.
I am restless, but with You there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with You there is patience;
I do not understand Your ways, but You know the way for me . . .
Restore me to liberty, and enable me so to live now
that I may answer before You and before me.
Lord, whatever this day may bring, Your name be praised.  Amen.

Ignacio Ellacuría, Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martín-Baró, Juan Ramón Moreno, Armando López, Joaquín López y López, Julia Elba Ramos and young Celina, Pray for us. Give us the boldness and courage to give witness to Christ and to authentic Catholic education today.

“Allahu akbar” was never a call to violence and destruction


The tragic, violent events of the past days in Beirut and Paris, as well as the recent downing of a Russian plane fill us all with rage, horror and fear and cause many of us to ask: ‘Is there still space for dialogue with Muslims?’. The answer is: yes, now more than ever.

When I returned to Canada in 1994 after having spent the final four years of my graduate studies in Sacred Scripture in Jerusalem, I was certain of one thing: Islam was becoming a growing, global concern and a great pastoral challenge for the Catholic church. Not many people believed me when I shared this with them! Though my biblical studies were at the French Dominican-run Ecole Biblique de Jérusalem and at the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, I lived in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. Many of my neighbors and friends were Muslims. I learned Arabic, studied the Koran, and delighted in the Middle Eastern hospitality that the Palestinian people offered so graciously.

In my visits and lecturing in the neighboring Arab lands of Palestine, Jordan, the Sinai and Egypt, I was very struck by the image of believers in Allah who, without caring about time or place, fell to their knees in prayer several times each day. I did not see such scenes in the great Christian cathedrals of Europe, which in many cases had become museums for throngs of paying tourists. I learned that Islam has a total organization of life that is completely different from the Catholic one: Islam embraces everything. The Muslim call to prayer: “Allahu akbar” was never meant to be a call to kill, destroy, mame and cause untold havoc and terror.

Those years in the Holy Lands for me included the first Palestinian Intifada and the first Persian Gulf War. I prayed with my Jewish friends at weekly Shabbat services and High Holy Days at the Hebrew Union College and heard vivid stories of poverty, injustice, and anger from my Palestinian friends. I experienced Ramadan with my neighbors, broke the fast with them, heard about “jihad,” the reality of suicide bombers, the growing phenomenon of false martyrdom, and witnessed the tremendous power that Muslim clerics had over their congregations. Some of this was very frightening to discover and witness.

Paris terror - peaceThe recent horrific events in Beirut and Paris, as well as the Russian plane tragedy, and the fallout thereafter have brought back the memories of my Middle Eastern experiences. As a believer in the One God, a Catholic priest, educator and one working in international media, I am convinced now more than ever that dialogue between our religions must combine both an awareness of what we have in common and what profoundly distinguishes our traditions. Islam is not a uniform religion. In fact, there is no single authority for all Muslims, and for this reason dialogue with Islam is always dialogue with various groups. No one can speak for Islam as a whole; it has no commonly regarded orthodoxy. This is not a strength. Muslims believe that the Koran comes directly from God. This makes it difficult for the Koran to be subjected to the same sort of critical analysis and reflection that has taken place among Christians and Jews over the Bible and the New Testament.

There is a noble Islam, embodied, for example, by the Kings of Morocco and Jordan, and there is also the extremist, terrorist Islam, which we must not identify with Islam as a whole; this would be a grave injustice. ISIS is not Islam. ISIS and any form of terrorism in the name of God is an aberration of religion. ISIS’ manipulation and distortion of the massive refugee crisis to infiltrate terrorists into other countries is criminal and evil. ISIS’ reign of terror, immobilizing peoples to act and filling them with fear is evil. We must distinguish between true religion and the twisted religion used to justify hatred and violence. True religion leads people to healing and peace and desires to make the world a better place. True religion respects the sacredness and dignity of the human person. True religion invites people to respond to crises with mercy, charity and hospitality.

In August 2005, after meeting with Jews at a synagogue in Cologne, Germany, during the Cologne World Youth Day, Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI met with representatives of some Muslim communities. His prophetic words then are important for the world to hear today:

“I am certain that I echo your own thoughts when I bring up one of our concerns as we notice the spread of terrorism. I know that many of you have firmly rejected, also publicly, in particular any connection between your faith and terrorism and have condemned it. I am grateful to you for this, for it contributes to the climate of trust that we need.

Candles, Paris tragedyTerrorist activity is continually recurring in various parts of the world, plunging people into grief and despair. Those who instigate and plan these attacks evidently wish to poison our relations and destroy trust, making use of all means, including religion, to oppose every attempt to build a peaceful and serene life together.

Thanks be to God, we agree on the fact that terrorism of any kind is a perverse and cruel choice which shows contempt for the sacred right to life and undermines the very foundations of all civil coexistence.

If together we can succeed in eliminating from hearts any trace of rancour, in resisting every form of intolerance and in opposing every manifestation of violence, we will turn back the wave of cruel fanaticism that endangers the lives of so many people and hinders progress towards world peace.

…The task is difficult but not impossible. The believer – and all of us, as Christians and Muslims, are believers – knows that, despite his weakness, he can count on the spiritual power of prayer.

Dear friends, I am profoundly convinced that we must not yield to the negative pressures in our midst, but must affirm the values of mutual respect, solidarity and peace. The life of every human being is sacred, both for Christians and for Muslims. There is plenty of scope for us to act together in the service of fundamental moral values.

…The lessons of the past must help us to avoid repeating the same mistakes. We must seek paths of reconciliation and learn to live with respect for each other’s identity. The defence of religious freedom, in this sense, is a permanent imperative, and respect for minorities is a clear sign of true civilization. In this regard, it is always right to recall what the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council said about relations with Muslims.

“The Church looks upon Muslims with respect. They worship the one God living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to humanity and to whose decrees, even the hidden ones, they seek to submit themselves whole-heartedly, just as Abraham, to whom the Islamic faith readily relates itself, submitted to God…. Although considerable dissensions and enmities between Christians and Muslims may have arisen in the course of the centuries, the Council urges all parties that, forgetting past things, they train themselves towards sincere mutual understanding and together maintain and promote social justice and moral values as well as peace and freedom for all people” (Declaration Nostra Aetate, n. 3).”

What we are witnessing today are extremists who try to monopolize the religious leadership, whether it is Christians, Jews or Muslims. To kill in the name of religion is not only an offence to God, but it is also a defeat for humanity. No situation can justify such criminal activity, which covers the perpetrators with infamy, and it is all the more deplorable when it hides behind religion, thereby bringing the pure truth of God down to the level of the terrorists’ own blindness and moral perversion.

Uniting our voice to that of Pope Francis, we say: ‘any violence which seeks religious justification warrants the strongest condemnation because the Omnipotent is the God of life and peace. The world expects those who claim to adore God to be men and women of peace who are capable of living as brothers and sisters, regardless of ethnic, religious, cultural or ideological differences’ (Ankara, 28 November 2014)”.

Tricolor Eiffel Tour PeaceWhat is the role of religious leadership in this crisis? It must show an equal sense for the dignity of every human being as a child of God, in order to give each one his part in the land of God. Exclusiveness or one-sidedness will harm both sides; it will harm the process of peace, the land itself and the church’s vocation as bearer of salvation for humankind. Authentic religious leadership has to deal with religious extremism, wherever it is and from whomever it comes. Muslim leaders and moderate Muslims need to condemn acts of violence and terror.

The three communities of Abrahamic faith – Muslims, Christians and Jews -– are witnessing among some adherents the exploitation and manipulation of religion, fostering fanaticism with crude idols shaped by what is evil in ourselves. Jews, Christians and Muslims today venerate Abraham as their common “father of faith” in the one God who blesses all the peoples of the Earth. God does not permit his love for one people to become an injustice to other people. Believers who demand justice, respect and equality for themselves, in the name of God should demand the same for their neighbors.

In the wake of the deadly terror attacks in Paris on Friday, in which at least 129 people were killed, and hundreds more seriously wounded, the Director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, told Vatican Radio that the upcoming Holy Year is a message of mercy to drive out fear.

“In these sad days, in which murderous violence has reared its insane, horrible head, many wonder how to respond. Some people are already asking how to live the experience of these last days of waiting before the opening of the Jubilee [of Mercy]. Be on guard: these murderers, possessed by a senseless hatred, are called ‘terrorists’ precisely because they want to spread terror. If we let ourselves be frightened, they will have already reached their first objective. This, then, is one more reason to resist with determination and courage the temptation to fear. …A message of mercy, that love of God which leads to mutual love and reconciliation. This is precisely the answer we must give in times of temptation to mistrust.”

In today’s world where God is tragically forgotten, Christians and Muslims are called in one spirit of love to defend and always promote human dignity, moral values and freedom. Our common pilgrimage to eternity must be expressed in prayer, fasting and charity, but also in joint efforts for the condemnation or terrorism and violence in the name of God, for peace and justice, for human advancement and the protection of the environment.

An underlying problem in dealing with Islamic nations is the lack of separation between religion and the state. Part of the dialogue with Islamic religious and political authorities should be aimed at helping to develop such a separation. By walking together on the path of reconciliation and renouncing in humble submission to the divine will any form of violence as a means of resolving differences, these two great world religions will be able to offer a sign of hope, radiating in the world the wisdom and mercy of that one God who created and governs the human family.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
English language attaché,
Holy See Press Office

CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation

Know That He Is Near, at the Gates

Apocalypse cropped

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – November 15, 2015

Today’s Gospel story is taken from the most difficult chapter of Mark’s Gospel (13:24-32) and is often interpreted as announcing the end of the world.

Mark 13 is often called the “little apocalypse.” Like Daniel 7-12 and the Book of Revelation, it focuses on a world of persecution. When we take the chapter as a whole, we will be able to see that we are dealing with the theme of meaning rather than chronology.

Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple (Mark 13:2) provoked questions that the four disciples put to him in private regarding the time and the sign when all these things are about to come to an end (Mark 13:3-4). The response to their questions was Jesus’ eschatological discourse prior to his imminent death. It contained instruction and consolation exhorting the disciples and the Church to faith and obedience through the trials that would confront them (Mark 13:5-13).

The sign is the presence of the desolating abomination (Mark 13:14; see Daniel 9:27), i.e., of the Roman power profaning the temple. Flight from Jerusalem is urged rather than defense of the city through misguided messianic hope (Mark 13:14-23). Intervention will occur only after destruction (Mark 13:24-27), which will happen before the end of the first Christian generation (Mark 13:28-31).

No one but the Father knows the precise time, or that of the parousia (Mark 13:32); hence the necessity of constant vigilance (Mark 13:33-37). Luke sets the parousia at a later date, after “the time of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24). See also the notes on Matthew 24:1-25,46.

Son of Man

Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel deal with two realities: Jesus himself will fulfill the Old Testament Scripture texts about the end and the disciples are not to worry about the precise time of Jesus’ second coming. When we read v. 26, we know that Jesus is the heavenly being who will come in power and glory.

Like Daniel’s Son of Man, Mark’s Jesus will return and gather his elect “from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky” (Mark 13:27). When Jesus spoke, he didn’t paint a glistening future for his disciples. He addressed the very era in which Mark’s first readers lived and, indeed, in which we ourselves live. Jesus foretold wars, earthquakes and famines, and identifies these as “the beginning of the birth pangs:” the prophesied events signal the painful advent of the new age, which comes about even as the powers of the old age struggle to prevent it.

Jesus described to the people of his day all the things that would arouse fear in people today: wars, persecution, catastrophes, scandals, and people in misery. Jesus used these predictions of distress as a basis for hope. We are invited to fix our gaze on him! I take great consolation is the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel (vv.29-31): “When you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

Eschatological testing

Eschatological testing will take a variety of forms. First, there will be betrayals. Just as Jesus was “betrayed” or “handed over” to the hands of sinners for testing, so Mark’s readers will be “betrayed” or “given over” to councils, beaten in synagogues, and called to give testimony before governors and kings. They will be “betrayed” or “given over” to death not only by their enemies, but even by their fathers and children, their own kin!

Second, false Christs and false prophets will appear, to “lead many astray.” These deceivers will promise deliverance and perform signs and wonders so as to trick people into abandoning their faith in Jesus.

Third, there will be trials or temptations even for those who enjoy relative peace and stability. Jesus speaks about this last sort of trial in his concluding parable in chapter 13, about a man who goes on a journey, having put his servants in charge and commanded his doorkeeper to “watch” or to “keep awake.” The parable suggests that Mark’s readers are in danger of failing to “watch,” of falling asleep. They are threatened by “the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things,” which Jesus elsewhere warns may choke out the seed before it matures.

Mark’s Gospel teaches us that all who follow Jesus will be put to the test. They will be tested by great affliction or by powerful seducers who do signs and wonders to lead them astray. They will be tested by the ordinary routines of daily existence and by fleshly desires. Whatever the form of the tests we face, Mark tells us that we must remain vigilant and pray, for if we have divided minds and hearts, we will fail the tests and so be unprepared to greet the master and be vindicated before him when he comes.

We shall be put to the test, but we need not fear, for Jesus has changed forever the context in which testing occurs. Because of his endurance of his own testing, Jesus offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to God, thereby rendering the cult in the Jerusalem temple obsolete. From now on, the appropriate “offerings” of the righteous will be prayers made in the gathered community of believers, rather than sacrifices made in the temple. God accepted Jesus’ self-offering as sufficient to atone for human sin; those who follow Jesus have therefore been “ransomed” from wrathful punishment by the just God. They can be confident that they are destined for salvation.

The community of those who pray

Mark indicates that in the wake of the temple’s destruction, the community of those who pray will be the “house of prayer for all nations,” the new temple to be raised up by Jesus. Single-minded prayer is the hallmark of this new community, the temple built of living stones. But how might Mark and his readers have understood this notion of “single-minded prayer”? How did one go about praying in such a manner, and what were the consequences of such prayer for daily life? Jesus promised that faithful prayer will be answered, but his promise is qualified: Those who pray must not doubt in their hearts.

In the darkness and anguish of Gethsemane, Jesus earnestly requests that God save him from the agony that lies ahead, and he is fully convinced that God can do so. But at the same time, Jesus submits himself to the will of God his Father. Jesus’ endurance, his single-mindedness, his deliberate laying aside of his own vision for himself in favor of God’s vision for him is what triumphs in the garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives. For Mark, this prayer in Gethsemane is a model of how “disciples on trial” ought to pray.

Put to the test

What are the great cataclysmic events that shake us in our world today? How are we being put to the test daily? Are experiences of rejection, or suffering, death or loss, deprivation and emptiness leading us to give up the Word of life that we once received with joy? Are our concerns about money, success at work or in school, health, release from addiction, job security, status and recognition, family or relationships choking out the word of God which has been planted in our hearts? Are we gripped by passions such as anger, grief or lust, which block us from following Jesus? Is there any joy left in our life?

The Good News of Mark’s Gospel is that we do not have to replicate Jesus’ faithfulness in time of trial by the sheer force of our own will. We do not have to face satanic tests devoid of divine power. Jesus of Nazareth has changed our situation forever. Mark phrases the Good News in terms of the empowering of believers that takes place in prayer. The Christian community is empowered to engage in single-minded prayer that cannot be derailed by fear, grief, persecution, or deceptive powers at work in the world. Jesus has atoned for human sin and undermined the very powers that seek to separate humans from God. Therefore all things are possible when we come to God in prayer.

Bigger picture

Let us never lose sight of the bigger picture of salvation history as we face the setbacks, losses and tragedies of daily life. As Christians, we are invited each day to respond to the dialectics of hope and gloom, which often have gripped our age. Collective anxiety can easily become mass hysteria in the midst of any crisis.

That is why it is so important to be firmly established in the Word of God, to draw life from that word and live in that Word. It is then that we realize the prophet Daniel’s words (12:1-3)in our daily life: “But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.”

[The readings for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Deuteronomy 12:1-3; Hebrews 10:11-14, 18; and Mark 13:24-32]

“Mother and head of all the churches on earth”


Dedication of the Lateran Basilica – Monday, November 9, 2015

Today we celebrate the feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. It is known as “Mother and head of all churches on earth” because it was the original residence of the Pope. There is a formidable and significant stone inscription on the façade of the Basilica that reads: Sacrosancta Lateranensis ecclesia omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput, “Most Holy Lateran Church, of all the churches in the city and the world, the mother and head.”

Steeped in historical significance

The basilica was built by the Emperor Constantine at the beginning of the fourth century AD and was dedicated on November 9, 324, by Pope Sylvester I. The anniversary of the dedication of this church has been observed since the 12th century. An added significance to this feast is the fact that the first Holy Year was proclaimed from this church in the year 1300.

The magnificent church was first called the Basilica of the Saviour but later was also dedicated to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, and so it acquired the name of the Basilica of St. John Lateran. When the papacy was transferred to Avignon for about a century, the condition of the Lateran deteriorated so greatly that when the Pope returned to Rome he lived in two other locations before finally settling adjacent to St. Peter’s Basilica, where he lives now.

In the course of its history, St. John Lateran suffered just about as many disasters and revivals as did the papacy it hosted. Sacked by Alaric in 408 and Genseric in 455, it was rebuilt by Pope Leo the Great (440-461), and centuries later by Pope Hadrian I (772-795). The basilica was almost entirely destroyed by an earthquake in 896, and was again restored by Pope Sergius III (904-911). Later the church was heavily damaged by fires in 1308 and 1360. When the Popes returned from their sojourn in Avignon, France (1304-1377), they found their basilica and palace in such disrepair that they decided to transfer to the Vatican Basilica (also built by Constantine, it had until then served primarily as a pilgrimage church).

Several important relics are kept within the Lateran Basilica. The wooden altar on which St. Peter celebrated Mass while in Rome is believed to be inside the main altar. The heads of Saints Peter and Paul were once believed to be inside busts above the main altar. Part of the table on which the Last Supper was celebrated is said to be behind a bronze depiction of the Last Supper. At one time the basilica also contained the Holy Stairs on which Jesus is said to have walked during his trial in the house of Pontius Pilate. The stairs are marble and are now covered with wood to protect them. They are currently located in the former Lateran Palace. Pilgrims ascend them on their knees, contemplating Jesus’ Passion. As they ascend, drops of blood may be seen on the marble stairs beneath protective glass. The stairs were brought to Rome by Constantine’s mother Saint Helena.

Many important historic events have also taken place in St. John Lateran, including five Ecumenical Councils and many diocesan synods. In 1929 the Lateran Pacts, which established the territory and status of the State of Vatican City, were signed here between the Holy See and the Government of Italy.

A feast of the People of God

There are two dimensions to today’s feast: it is the celebration of a building that is the mother church of Christendom. We focus our minds and hearts on the unity and love of the whole Church that finds expression in our fidelity to the one who walks in Peter’s shoes: the Pope.

It is also the feast of the People of God who form the Church. The Second Vatican Council helps us to focus our attention on the mystery of the Church – the sign of unity and the instrument of Christ’s peace on earth.

The Cleansing of the Temple

The Gospel of John’s account of Jesus cleansing the Temple seems at first to be a bit out of place for the feast of the dedication of the Mother Church of Rome. John’s account of the cleansing of the Temple (2:13-22) stands in sharp contrast to the other Gospel accounts of this powerful story (Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48). In the Synoptic Gospels, this same scene takes place at the end of the “Palm Sunday Procession” into the holy city. With the people shouting out in triumph, he entered into the Temple area. But this time, 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 sacrifice. It was an electrifying moment. He quoted the Scriptures: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations; but you have made it a den of robbers” (Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46; Isaiah 56:6-7; Jeremiah 7:11).

John uses this incident to give meaning to Jesus’ entire ministry and he is alone among the evangelists in linking the cleansing of the Temple of Jerusalem with the prediction of its destruction. This destruction is symbolic of the end of the Old Covenant and its forms of worship. John says that Jesus was speaking about his own body rather than the temple building (2:21). The new Temple will be his resurrected Body. In the new Covenant, true worship will be “in Christ.”

John’s account of the cleansing of the Temple is quite provocative for many reasons. In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus quotes from Psalm 68:10: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” I have preferred to translate that verse: “I am filled with a burning love for your house…” The Temple was not an emporium (a mall!) but his Father’s house. Like the prophets before him, Jesus tried to awaken the hearts of his people. Their prayer had to come from the heart; their sacrifices, however good and true, were no substitute for justice.

The Messiah would purify Israel’s worship but John goes beyond that to suggest an even more radical change: Israel’s worship will not only be purified, it will also be replaced. The presence of God in Israel shall be replaced by the presence of God in the Temple which is the Body of Jesus. These startling words and actions of Jesus in the Temple took on new meaning for later generations of Christians.

One intriguing aspect of this story is the portrait of an angry Jesus contained in the cleansing scenes. These provocative images can give way to two extremes in our own image of God’s Messiah. Some people wish to transform an otherwise passive Christ pictured above many altars into a whip-cracking revolutionary. Others prefer to excise any human qualities of Jesus and paint a very meek, bland character who would never upset anyone.

The errors of the old extreme, however, do not justify a new extremism. Jesus was not exclusively – not even primarily – concerned with social reform. Jesus was filled with a deep devotion and love for his Father and the things of his Father. His disciples recognized in Jesus 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 they the right things? Are we filled with a deep and burning love for the things of God and for his Son, Jesus?

On this feast of the dedication of the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, let us pray for a strengthening of our communion with each other and with all God’s people across the face of the earth. May the Lord purify the sanctuary of our hearts, and build us up as living stones into a holy temple. May we be filled with consuming zeal for the house of the Lord, our Church, and our churches. May our communion with the Church of Rome confirm us as a vibrant, loving, hospitable universal Church, a place of welcome for all who seek God’s face.

[The readings for the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica are: Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12; 1 Corinthians 3:9b-11, 16-17; John 2:13-22.]

Let’s pledge peace in remembrance


As we mark Armistice Day — now Remembrance Day — today, remembering is our duty and common responsibility.

What is the best way to honour those who have died in war? Parades, rallies, memorial services, moving ceremonies with old veterans and the wearing of poppies are all good and important in our Canadian culture to keep the memory of the sacrifice alive. However, they are not enough.

Honouring the memory of the fallen must also involve some active remembering and firm resolve on a daily basis to be a peacemaker. Peacemaking is a personal, a social and a political challenge: How do we live lives of love, truth, justice and freedom, and how do we advance these values through structures that shape our world?

International peace is not achieved simply by proclaiming peaceful ideals; it also requires building the structures of peace.

To commemorate Remembrance Day, we must do a careful reading of history. At home and abroad, we see the terrible human and moral costs of violence. In regional wars, in crime and terrorism, in ecological devastation and economic injustice, in abortion and renewed dependence on capital punishment in many countries, we see the tragic consequences of a growing lack of respect for human life.

Herein lie the seeds of war.

We must make a firm resolve to act. We cannot be peacemakers around the world unless we seek to protect the lives and dignity of the most vulnerable in our midst here at home. We must stand up for human life wherever it is threatened. This is the essence of a consistent ethic of life that must be at the heart of everyone who considers himself or herself to be “pro-life” and against war. This is the starting point for genuine peacemaking.

Let us recommit ourselves today to build a culture of peace and encourage a thirst for freedom amoung all peoples. The culture of peace does not accept a utilitarian philosophy that allows any means to be used, or ignores the intrinsic worth of human beings. The culture of peace disdains the unexamined life and invites the international community to probe questions such as the distribution of resources, human solidarity, and the vision that underlies political programs and policies.

All modern wars have left behind generations of soldiers whose peace of mind is forever lost to the nightmare memories of what they were required to do in the name of their cause or country. The essential role of culture is to educate, to bring about a peace of mind and heart, enabling us to be more and not just to have more. The task in a culture of peace is both to moderate and regulate all that would debase human nature.

True peacemaking can be a matter of policy only if it is first a matter of the heart. In the absence of repentance and forgiveness, no peace can endure; without a spirit of courageous charity, justice cannot be won.

We can take inspiration from the early Christian communities. St. Paul called on the Corinthians, even in the most trying circumstances, to pursue peace and bless their persecutors, never repaying evil for evil, but overcoming evil with good (Romans 12:14, 17, 21).

This is the greatest way to honour those who have given their lives for us in wars and battles. Let us pray that our dead will continue to be honoured and that we may be able to hold high the torch that they can no longer carry. Inspired by their courageous examples and love for life and freedom, let us commit ourselves to making peace in their memory.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation