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Setting Out Into the Deep and Casting Nets

Depart from Me cropped

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – February 7, 2016

The Sea of Galilee is a fresh water lake about 12 miles long and six miles wide. It lies some 685 feet below sea level and is about 200 feet deep. Fishing was and still is an important industry on the lake. The sea is surrounded by high hills on all sides. The great difference between the air on the top of these hills and the air on the low-lying water can cause sudden, violent storms. This body of water is referred to in Numbers 34:11 as the Sea of Kinnereth (from the Hebrew word “kinnor” meaning little harp). In the New Testament, it is referred to as Lake of Genesereth, Lake of Tiberias, and the Sea of Galilee. Jesus’ preaching centered around its shores.

According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus called his first disciples away from their fishing fleets on the Sea of Galilee. It was a natural barrier between the Jewish side on the west and the Gentile side on the east. The Gospel of Mark, in particular, has Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee in a boat on a number of occasions. These crossings turn the Sea of Galilee into a bridge bringing Jew and Gentile together through Jesus’ preaching and healing activities.

In the New Testament, the sea represents the moment of conversion. On the sea nothing happens normally, but always in abrupt, marvelous or very difficult ways. Some of the most dramatic nature miracles of Jesus take place on the Sea of Galilee. Mark tells the story of Jesus calming the sea after a squall had blown up, threatening the lives of the disciples (4:35). He also describes how Jesus walked on the waters of this sea and revealed himself to his disciples as “I am” (6:45 ff). In John we have the moving post-resurrection breakfast scene of Peter’s confession of faith and Jesus’ confidence in Peter, the repentant sinner (Chapter 21).

The acceptance of Jesus

Today’s Gospel story (Luke 5:1-11) takes place on the sea and has been transposed from Mark 1:16-20, which places it immediately after Jesus makes his appearance in Galilee. By this transposition Luke uses this example of Simon’s acceptance of Jesus to counter the earlier rejection of him by his hometown people.

Since several incidents dealing with Jesus’ power and authority have already been narrated, Luke creates a plausible context for the acceptance of Jesus by Simon and his partners. It is not difficult to observe the similarity between the wondrous catch of fish reported in Luke 4 and 5 and Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance in John 21:1-11.

There are traces in Luke’s story that the post-resurrection context is the original one: in Luke 4:8, Simon addresses Jesus as Lord [a post-resurrection title for Jesus — see Luke 24:34; Acts 2:36 — that has been read back into the historical ministry of Jesus] and recognizes himself as a sinner. As used by Luke, the incident looks forward to Peter’s leadership in Acts (Luke 6:14; 9:20; 22:31-32; 24:34; Acts 1:15; 2:14-40; 10:11-18; 15:7-12) and symbolizes the future success of Peter as fisherman (Acts 2:41).

Into the deep

In today’s Gospel scene, Jesus is teaching by the shore and the crowds press in on him. Jesus spots the boat of Simon and gets in it, and asks him to launch out a bit from the shore so that he can preach from there. When finished, he tells Simon to take the boat into the deep water and let down his nets. Simon is wary: “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing!” These are the weary words of a veteran who knew how frustrating the sea could be. But there was something about this Galilean that made one want to comply, so Simon let down his nets.

Despite the frustration of the nightlong toil, Simon’s willingness to follow Jesus’ suggestion to put out the nets into deeper waters prepares for the miracle about to happen. Simon is brought personally into the sphere of Jesus’ mighty power, and that experience becomes the basis of a promise that is made to him. Though Simon, conscious of his utter sinfulness and unworthiness to associate with such a person as Jesus drops to his knees in reaction, he is reassured by Jesus, who promises him that he will play a role of gathering human beings into the kingdom that Jesus has come to preach. This he will do much as a fisherman gathers in fish in his net.

What follows is the “miraculous catch” — a whole school of fish, straining the nets and the boats to the breaking point. Peter sinks to his knees in awe before this mysterious figure: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” In other words: “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinner. If you only knew to whom you were speaking! My spirit is dull and my heart faint. I am a burden to all my companions and a laughingstock to those who know their trade. Depart from me, a sinner!”

But Jesus assures the awestruck disciple: “Do not be afraid, Simon, from now on you will be catching people.” It was as though Jesus said to this discouraged Galilean fisherman: “I shall not depart from you. I know who you are. I know your past, but that is not what is important to me. I need your hands, your feet, your heart and your very life. There is hope for you! I have cast my nets wide, and you are my best catch. See how the net is breaking and the boat begins to sink. You have labored and toiled for many years without hope. Come now to labor and spend yourself with me. I will teach you to walk on water, to cast a net of light into the waters above the abyss. Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”

A compelling call

In Mark’s account of this scene (1:16-20) and Matthew’s (4:18-22) the fishermen who follow Jesus leave their nets and their father; in Luke, they leave everything (see also Luke 5:28; 12:33; 14:33; 18:22), an indication of Luke’s theme of complete detachment from material possessions. Discipleship is a powerful, compelling call to a new life: a call away from routine, away from frustration, to new purpose.

Jesus, himself, was now calling them to be fishers of people, to be engaged in the struggle with the raging waters of the sea, the sea that was both the source of their livelihood, their food, but also the sea that was a mystery, a threat and chaos, the sea that could take their lives as well as feed them.

All in together

Jesus gets into Peter’s boat in order to teach the crowds; and from the Bark of Peter, the Church, he continues to teach the whole world. At certain times, during Church history, and perhaps in our own history, it might seem as if the light of the Spirit had been all but extinguished and that Jesus is no longer with us in the boat.

But let us be honest and realize that the flame never went out and the presence of the Lord has never disappeared. The Church goes on, saving souls and journeying to its final harbor. In that blessed realm, beyond the seas of this life, all the things which threaten God’s Church in this world will be gone for ever.

We all are in this boat together with the Lord himself. We must trust the Lord to show us the way, to bring us to our goals safely, and to feed our souls on the journey. We will no doubt encounter problems — there will be days when we cast out our nets all day long, and at the end of the day, there might be nothing to show for it.

At those times, we must listen to the Lord, as Peter did, and cast the nets again into the deep — for it is our faith that is being tested — not as to whether we profess it or not — but as to whether we are ready to do something about it or not.

We are not sailing on Noah’s Ark or on the Titanic. We are on the waters with Jesus. I am reminded of the words Brother Luis de León, a mystical Spanish writer of the 16th century once wrote: “The more you navigate in God, the more seas you discover.” The Lord does not abandon those who come seeking His mercy and His forgiveness. He walks upon the waters. He calms the storm. He guides the boat into safe harbor, and brings with Him the great catch, the great feast, to which we are all summoned — the daily feast of His Body and Blood, our food for eternal life.

Questions for Reflection this week:

What have been the moments of your conversion? Have you experienced a “call” to discipleship? What experiences or people in your life have been instrumental in deepening your faith?

Are you able to identify with the disciples at sea? Is it possible to be a committed disciple of Jesus, yet still experience weakness and failure?
Let us pray:

I pray that I may live to fish until my dying day. 
And when it comes to my last cast,
Then I most humbly pray,
When in the Lord’s great landing net,
And peacefully asleep,
That in his mercy I be judged big enough to keep. Amen.

[The readings for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 or 15:3-8, 11; and Luke 5:1-11]

Sharing the Joy of the Gospel With the Media and Through the Media

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*Cardinal Foley addressing Catholic Media Convention Banquet in 2011 in Pittsburgh.*

The third annual John Cardinal Foley Lecture on Social Communications
by FR. THOMAS ROSICA, C.S.B.

Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia
February 1, 2016

INTRODUCTION
by Rev. Thomas F. Dailey, O.S.F.S.

Good evening and welcome to Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary for this, the third annual Foley Lecture in Social Communications.

This series honors the legacy of Cardinal JOHN PATRICK FOLEY, a native of Philadelphia and long-time President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. In his work at the Vatican, Cardinal Foley saw the world as “as an interconnected globe humming with electronic transmissions – a chattering planet nestled in the provident silence of space.” In that world he recognized and championed the decisive importance of social communications as the means for determining our culture.

We are blessed this evening to have as our lecturer one who keeps that humming globe and chattering planet in motion, in terms of how the Church interacts with contemporary culture.

A priest in the Congregation of St. Basil, he holds advanced degrees in Sacred Scripture from Regis College in Toronto, the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, and the École Biblique in Jerusalem.

For him, the hum of global transmissions first became a reality when he served for three years as national director of World Youth Day and the visit of Pope John Paul II that took place in Toronto in 2002.

Following that he founded the Salt & Light Catholic Media Foundation and still serves as its Chief Executive Officer. As Canada’s first Catholic Television Network, and now reaching across continents, Salt & Light TV plays a vital part in determining Catholic culture through the medium of story-telling, with the aim of bringing people closer to Christ and to our faith.

But, since 2008 he hasn’t had much experience with what Cardinal Foley described as the silence of space. That’s because he’s in constant connection with Rome as a member of the staff of the Holy See Press Office. As an official spokesperson, he brings news about Pope Francis and the Vatican to the entire English-speaking world through his daily interactions with the media.

Tonight we are honored that he has come here as the third John Cardinal Foley Lecturer. Please join me in welcoming … Fr. Thomas Rosica.

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Sharing the Joy of the Gospel With the Media and Through the Media 
The John Cardinal Foley Lecture on Social Communications
Vianney Hall – St. Charles Borromeo Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
February 1, 2016

Archbishop Chaput,
Bishop Senior,
Dear Friends,

Thank you for the privilege of addressing you this evening in this lecture series in memory of a great friend and mentor, the late Cardinal John Foley. I wish to thank Fr. Thomas Dailey, OSFS, who heads up the Foley Chair of Social Communications and the Cardinal Foley Lecture series here at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. Your hospitality and kindness these past few days is much appreciated! You have invited me to speak about “Sharing the Joy of the Gospel: With the Media and Through the Media”, a very fitting topic for the man after whom this series is named. For that is exactly what Father, then Archbishop, then Cardinal Foley did his entire life: he lived and shared the Gospel of joy with the media and through the media to the entire world.

First let’s take a panoramic view of how people have communicated the faith through the ages. Beginning with the oral tradition, including the teaching ministry of Jesus, and continuing through the formation of the Biblical canon to modern telecommunications, human beings have recorded, shared and communicated their faith. The history of faith is a history of communication. For Christians, the Word did not become a divine oracle from some distant heaven, a FAX, an e-mail, an SMS or text message, a probe, a prompt, a quick like, or some other new fangled way to grab our attention. Through Mary, the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us. The Word became close to real, human beings in real time. The Word became a person to be followed, enjoyed and loved! From that moment onward, anyone who really understands that God has become human will never be able to speak and act in an inhuman way. In Jesus, the message and the messenger are united. The medium is indeed the message and the life and witness of the messenger is a itself a vital part of the message.

In every age the Church has used whatever media are available to spread the good news. St. Augustine practically invented the form of the autobiography; the builders of the great medieval cathedrals used stone and stained glass to teach us a powerful lesson about God’s dwelling place among us; Renaissance popes used not only papal bulls but colorful frescoes; Hildegard of Bingen wrote one of the first operas; Francis de Sales wrote thousands of letters to people; the early Jesuits used theater and stagecraft to put on morality plays for entire towns; Dorothy Day founded a newspaper that still exists today: The Catholic Worker; Jesuit Fr. Daniel Lord, jumped into radio; Bishop Fulton Sheen used television to a stunning effect; Bishop Robert Barron has dazzled us all with his masterful teaching videos, and now we have popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, sisters and brothers and tons of Catholic laity blogging and tweeting like mad! How sad it would be if we did not use the latest tools available to us to communicate and share the Word of God!

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*Cardinal John Foley and Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, at 2008 Catholic Media Convention in Toronto, Canada.*

New Floodgates of Communication

In nearly three years at the helm of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis has opened the floodgates of communication in an institution that has been somewhat cloistered for centuries. Yes, his two immediate predecessors, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI communicated through the media, but something new is afoot with Francis. Pope Francis is now among the top global newsmakers of our time. He has brought renewed visibility to the papacy and to the Church. While it is no exaggeration that a pope has never been so widely quoted by the secular press, it could also be said that the pope’s intentions have never been so widely misinterpreted. He is not quite “conservative” nor entirely “progressive”. His message is filled with paradoxes because life is a paradox and Christian life is a great paradox. The world is listening to him because Francis models a solid consistency: the one between his words and deeds, and that between its current papal mission and life eternal. People listen to him because he walks the talk and walks the walk. He speaks our talk. Francis is the world’s shepherd and a beautiful model and example of the new evangelization in action.

What is the most important achievement of Pope Francis? He has rebranded Catholicism and the papacy. Prior to Pope Francis, when many people on the street were asked: “What is the Catholic Church all about? What does the pope stand for?,” the response would often be, “Catholics, well they are against abortion, gay marriage and birth control.” “They are known for the sex abuse crisis that has terribly marred and weakened their moral authority and credibility.”

Today, the response is somewhat different. What do they say about us now? What do they say about the Pope? People are speaking about our leader who is unafraid to confront the sins and evils that have marred us. We have a pope who is concerned about the environment, about mercy, compassion and love, and a deep passion, care and concern for the poor. Pope Francis has won over a great part of the media. By no means is this an indication that the teachings of the Church and message of the Gospel have been fully understood or received by all.  Nevertheless, something has shifted in terms of Church-media relations. Many of my colleagues in the “secular” media industry have said that Francis has made it fun to be a religion reporter and journalist again. He has changed the image of the church so much that prestigious graduate schools of business and management are now using him as a case study in rebranding. He has also ruffled many feathers and upset some folks because of his free-flowing, unscripted remarks at times, and he raises a few eyebrows now and then!

Initially perhaps many of us (myself included) may have thought that Pope Francis’ accessibility, free-flowing interviews, homilies and quotes are more a source of consternation and frustration than opportunities to deepen knowledge about the Church, her founder and her message. But Francis has chosen many different opportunities to speak and encounter the world. No matter how fraught with the potential or real confusion and misinterpretation those methods may sometimes be, the world is now listening to the Pope in ways that have not happened for a long, long time. No longer can we simply attribute this interest to an initial fascination, a “honeymoon period”, or other cynical ways of trying to dismiss what is really happening. The world is listening because Francis and the Church have something solid to say and to offer to a world plunged in chaos, war, terror, violence, moral deprivation, despair and darkness. Francis has given us an opportunity to teach, catechize and evangelize those establishments, agencies and individuals that bring us the news and the consumers of that news.

The inability of commentators to pigeonhole Francis into a single category is frustrating to some people. Francis does not compromise on the hot-button issues that divide the Church from the secular West – a gap that liberals would like to close by modernizing doctrine. Yet he is also not a pope for the Catholic Right. For him contrasting positions, held together in tension, loyal to fundamentals but open to the action of the Holy Spirit, are necessary to forge a new, better consensus and the differences make for an honest, open discussion.

Look at what Pope Francis said to the special session of the US Congress last September and how he said it. He didn’t scold, chastise, excoriate, condemn or excommunicate those powerful women and men sitting before him – many of them Catholics! Rather he urged lawmakers to build on their great history, to draw from their deepest principles. He reminded them of the good they have done in the past, which serves as an example of the good they can and should do in the future:

“Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.”

This was hardly a call to overthrow the system that the pope’s more radical-minded fans would have us believe. Instead, he asked us to call on all that is best, good, and true in our society. The other day, in a taxi ride from downtown Philadelphia to the seminary, when the driver realized where he was taking me, he remarked: “Hey buddy, this is the Pope’s house in Philly!” I smiled and told him I knew that. He then immediately asked me if I had watched the Pope’s televised address to the US Congress last September. I said that I certainly did! He remarked: “You know what he did that day, he called for our better angels!”

Francis’ words to congress in that historic gathering in the Chamber of the House of Representatives that morning did not fall on the deaf ears of the media and the millions who watched that historic event. Tenor and tone, eye-contact and gesture, kindness, gentleness and firmness all met together and did indeed call forth our better angels. What a profound moment of evangelization that September morning! We owe a debt of gratitude to the public media of this country and many other countries who brought us the stunning, wall-to-wall coverage and the powerful messages of the Pope last September in Cuba and in America. And here I must honestly admit that the secular media of this country, in particular the major networks did a far better job in allowing the Pope to speak to us rather than having that message filtered, distorted, editorialized and minimized by some commentators claiming to represent, faithful Catholic communication networks. I teased my colleagues at CNN, with whom I worked closely those days that they should have been called the Catholic News Network during the blessed days the Pope was among us.

One of the critiques of Francis’ Petrine Ministry and teaching heard in these parts is that the Pope is not speaking out enough against abortion. I hear this criticism often. I assure you that Pope Francis is profoundly Pro-Life. He offers to the Church and the world a consistent ethic of life, from its earliest moments of conception to natural death, from womb to tomb. Pope Francis is doing what the Bishop of Rome and successor of Peter should do, positioning the evil of abortion within its proper moral context, the failure to recognize the dignity of every single human person at every age and stage of life. Procured abortion is only one of the poisonous fruits from the rotted tree growing in the corrupted garden of a culture of death.

Over the past years, Pope Francis has strongly denounced efforts to redefine marriage, and issued a thundering condemnation of abortion, euthanasia, and in-vitro fertilization, calling them “sins against God.” As late as January 22 of this year, he addressed the Roman Rota with these words: “The Church… can show the unfailing merciful love of God to families – especially those wounded by sin and the trials of life – and, at the same time, proclaim the essential truth of marriage according to God’s design.” Pope Francis avoids any opportunity that can lend itself to political manipulation of his person and his words. He is very clear in giving positive messages even in the most complex situations. He is never “against” someone. He understands the Church to be of the people and not of political or cultural elites.

We are unlikely to forget Pope Francis’ magnificent, unscripted reflection at the great vigil of the World Meeting of Families on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in this very city, the night of September 26, 2015. It was a stunning catechesis on marriage and family life:

“When the man and his wife went astray and walked away from God, God did not leave them alone. Such was his love. So great was his love that he began to walk with mankind, he began to walk alongside his people, until the right time came and then he gave the greatest demonstration of love: his Son. And where did he send his Son? To a palace, to a city, to an office building? He sent him to a family. God came into the world in a family. And he could do this because that family was a family with a heart open to love, a family whose doors were open.”

I would like to consider three ways that the Pope is joyfully communicating to us, often through the media, core teachings of our faith, foundational principles of Catholic life: Joy, Ecology and the Environment, and Mercy.

Joy, the weapon of mass construction

In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis invites and challenges all of us to move beyond our “comfort zones.” He asks us to rediscover the joy of being Christian.

“Consequently, an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that “delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow… And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervour, who have first received the joy of Christ”. [EG #10]

Francis wants us to be warm, welcoming and forgiving as Jesus has modeled to us on every page of the New Testament. This morning in Rome at the Jubilee of Consecrated Life, Pope Francis reminded thousands of religious women and men that we have a Lord and Master “who shared in the joy of the spouses in Cana of Galilee and the anguish of the widow of Nain; a Lord and Master who enters into the house of Jairus, touched by death, and the house of Bethany, perfumed with nard. He took upon Himself illness and suffering, to the point of giving His life in ransom. Following Christ means going where He went; taking upon oneself, like the good Samaritan, the wounded we encounter along the road; going in search of the lost sheep. To be, like Jesus, close to the people; sharing their joys and pains, showing with our love the paternal face of God and the maternal caress of the Church.”

Francis wants us to eat with tax collectors and sinners; he wants us to forgive the woman caught in adultery (while admonishing her to sin no more); he wants us to welcome and respect foreigners (even our enemies), and, above all, not to judge others. He has spoken simply, powerfully and beautifully about returning to lost unity, a desire to achieve a missing fullness, a disarming invitation to simply come together to witness to the beauty of the love of Christ. He wants to build bridges that everyone can cross. He is especially conscious of the poor and those who have been marginalized – social outcasts kept on the fringes of society.

On being close to the people he writes: “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others.”

Pope Francis models that “a church which ‘goes forth’ is a church whose doors are open…. Often it is better simply to slow down, to put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others, to stop rushing from one thing to another and to remain with someone who has faltered along the way.”

Evangelization must be an invitation to respond to God’s love and to seek the good in others, he says. “If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our greatest risk. It would mean that it is not the Gospel which is being preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options.”

The church’s internal “wars” – the tendency to form groups of “elites,” to impose certain ideas and even to engage in “persecutions which appear as veritable witch hunts” – are all a counter-witness to evangelization. “Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?”

In his meeting with the United States Bishops in St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, DC, on September 23, 2015, Francis said:

“It is not about preaching complicated doctrines, but joyfully proclaiming Christ who died and rose for our sake. The “style” of our mission should make our hearers feel that the message we preach is meant “for us”.  May the word of God grant meaning and fullness to every aspect of their lives; may the sacraments nourish them with that food which they cannot procure for themselves; may the closeness of the shepherd make them long once again for the Father’s embrace. Be vigilant that the flock may always encounter in the heart of their pastor that “taste of eternity” which they seek in vain in the things of this world.  May they always hear from you a word of appreciation for their efforts to confirm in liberty and justice the prosperity in which this land abounds.” 

He reminded his brother bishops: “…We are promoters of the culture of encounter. We are living sacraments of the embrace between God’s riches and our poverty. We are witnesses of the abasement and the condescension of God who anticipates in love our every response. …Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love (Mt 20:1-16).”

And he took leave of them with these words:

“…Only a Church which can gather around the family fire remains able to attract others. And not any fire, but the one which blazed forth on Easter morn. The risen Lord continues to challenge the Church’s pastors through the quiet plea of so many of our brothers and sisters: “Have you something to eat?” We need to recognize the Lord’s voice, as the apostles did on the shore of the lake of Tiberius (Jn 21:4-12). It becomes even more urgent to grow in the certainty that the embers of his presence, kindled in the fire of his passion, precede us and will never die out. Whenever this certainty weakens, we end up being caretakers of ash, and not guardians and dispensers of the true light and the warmth which causes our hearts to burn within us (Lk 24:32).”

These words are not only addressed to the shepherds and pastors of the American Church but to each and each one of us here tonight. What he says and how he says it offers us a unique model of authentic communication and connection with people.

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*Cardinal Foley addressing Catholic Media Convention Banquet in 2011 in Pittsburgh.*

Ecology and the Environment

Pope Francis’ tone in his recent encyclical Laudato Sì is passionate, personal and urgent. He has drafted this major letter with the mind and heart of a disciple of Jesus and the pen and voice of a prophet who has seen and personally experienced the grave injustices and ugliness that human beings can cause on this earth. The encyclical On the Care of our Common Home is addressed to “everyone living on this planet” and calls for a new way of looking at things. We face an urgent crisis, when the earth has begun to look more and more like, in the Pope’s vivid image, “an immense pile of filth”. Still, the document is hopeful, reminding us that because God is with us, all of us can strive to change course. We can move towards an “ecological conversion” in which we can listen to the “cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”. This is a deeply uncomfortable encyclical because it is not content simply to face up to the institutional and moral issues of climate change and environmental degradation, but addresses the deeper tragedy of humanity itself.

Never before has the public media spoken so much about what many have wrongly called “The Climate Change Manifesto!” More than any other encyclical, “Laudato Sí” draws from the experiences of people around the world, referencing the findings of bishops’ conferences from Brazil, New Zealand, Southern Africa, Bolivia, Portugal, Germany, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, Australia, Canada and the United States.

What is the story within the story of “Laudato Sì”? It is an overview of the environmental crisis from a religious point of view. Until now, the dialogue about the environment has been framed mainly using political, scientific and economic language. Now, the language of faith enters the discussion – clearly, decisively and systematically.

When the environmental world and many people not of our faith or tradition welcome the Pope as a powerful ally and the religious Right dismisses him as a disingenuous radical, socialist or a communist, these have missed the essential point. This is the Gospel call, as disconcertingly direct today as was Jesus’s confrontation with the rich young man, the scribes and the Pharisees, or the moneychangers in the Temple. That’s the unique quality of the encyclical. It is not just the declaration of assent to a program of international environmental action, but also the prophetic voice of the Church. It is therefore far more fundamentally disturbing and uncomfortable, demanding an individual response that will change our lives forever.

Laudato Sì is a perfect example of how the Church, at the highest level, understands the modern world, enters into a profound dialogue with the world, and repeats again her age-old message of salvation in a new way.  Laudato Sì is rooted in the concrete realities of our times. With Laudato Sì Pope Francis is laying the groundwork for a new Christian humanism, rooted in the simple and beautiful image of Jesus that he presents for the world’s consideration. For in the end, it is in the name and mission of Jesus of Nazareth that the Pope issues his call to conversion – a compelling invitation to each of us to look at the earth and all of its creatures with the loving eyes and heart of Jesus Christ. With Laudato Sì, we learn to cherish the world God so loved and adore the Son given to us by the Father.

Mercy

In the well-known programmatic Jubilee text of Luke 4, we read that Jesus “stood up to read, and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written: The spirit of the Lord has been given to me…” (Lk 4:16-18; Is 61:1). Very significantly the last line of Isaiah read by Jesus says: “to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour” (Lk 4:19; Is 61:2), and immediately afterwards, Jesus’ message was a declaration that precisely “this text” was being fulfilled on that day. The expression of Isaiah 61:2 “year of the Lord’s favour” clearly refers to the prescriptions in the Book of Leviticus on the Jubilee Year (Lev 25:10-13). Therefore at Nazareth Jesus was proclaiming a Jubilee Year.

But there is something very odd about the Isaiah quotation on Jesus’ lips. The Gospel does not quote the whole phrase of Isaiah, which includes two compliments of the object after the verb “proclaim” in Is 61:2. The Gospel quotes only the first “the Lord’s year of favor” neglecting the second which is “a day of vengeance for our God”. The quotation of Isaiah foresees two aspects of divine intervention, the first being the liberation of the Jewish people, the other punishment of her enemies. The Gospel has not retained this opposition! The omission has two consequences: a) the message contains nothing negative; b) it is implicitly universal. There is no suggestion of distinction between Jews and non-Jews. This is discreet preparation for the universal nature of the Gospel message, which will become explicit after the death and resurrection of Jesus: when the most fundamental liberation, from sin will be proclaimed “in his name to all people” (Lk 24:47). Universal openness is an essential character of the proclamation of the Good News and the sharing of our story.

On March 13 last year, Pope Francis surprised the world by announcing a Jubilee of Mercy that began this past December. Francis wants this jubilee to go deeper spiritually and to be a far-reaching Christian witness of mercy to the world.  Mercy is a theme very dear to Pope Francis, in his episcopal motto: miserando atque eligendo, literally, “Chosen Through the Eyes of Mercy.” During the first Angelus after his election to the See of Peter, Pope Francis stated: “Feeling mercy, that this word changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient” (March 17, 2013).

For Pope Francis, mercy is the interpretative key to the Gospel of Jesus. Francis had his first profound experience of God’s mercy at age 17, when on his way to a high school dance, he went to confession and felt the call to the priesthood. Throughout his priestly ministry, he has sought to give concrete expression to God’s mercy by word and deed because he believes, as he wrote recently: “Mercy is not just a pastoral attitude; it is the very substance of the Gospel message.”

What is the story within the story of the Jubilee of Mercy?  Pope Francis wants to bring the whole church, starting with the cardinals, bishops, priests and consecrated persons, to open themselves to God’s mercy and to find concrete, creative ways to put mercy into practice in their areas of ministry.

As Bishop of Rome, he is blazing the trail by word and deed, showing what mercy means in relation to the poor, the homeless, prisoners, immigrants, the sick and the persecuted. They are for him “the flesh of Christ.” In this same optic of mercy, he has called for the abolition of the death penalty and life-imprisonment “the hidden death penalty”.

In his homily to new cardinals on February 15 last year, Pope Francis recalled that “the church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement.” This means “welcoming the repentant prodigal son; healing the wounds of sin with courage and determination; rolling up our sleeves and not standing by and watching passively the suffering of the world.”

Pope Francis’ art of communicating

For the 48th World Communications Day message in 2014, Pope Francis wrote:

“How, then, can communication be at the service of an authentic culture of encounter? What does it mean for us, as disciples of the Lord, to encounter others in the light of the Gospel?…How can we be “neighborly” in our use of the communications media and in the new environment created by digital technology? I find an answer in the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is also a parable about communication. Those who communicate, in effect, become neighbors. The Good Samaritan not only draws nearer to the man he finds half dead on the side of the road; he takes responsibility for him. Jesus shifts our understanding: it is not just about seeing the other as someone like myself, but of the ability to make myself like the other. Communication is really about realizing that we are all human beings, children of God. I like seeing this power of communication as “neighbourliness”.”

In his 2015 Message for the World Day of Communications, Francis reminded us that “modern media, which are an essential part of life for young people in particular, can be both a help and a hindrance to communication in and between families.”

“The media can be a hindrance if they become a way to avoid listening to others, to evade physical contact, to fill up every moment of silence and rest, so that we forget that “silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist.” The media can help communication when they enable people to share their stories, to stay in contact with distant friends, to thank others or to seek their forgiveness, and to open the door to new encounters.”

In this year’s message for the 2016 World Day of Communications, Francis writes:

“Communication has the power to build bridges, to enable encounter and inclusion, and thus to enrich society. How beautiful it is when people select their words and actions with care, in the effort to avoid misunderstandings, to heal wounded memories and to build peace and harmony. Words can build bridges between individuals and within families, social groups and peoples. This is possible both in the material world and the digital world. Our words and actions should be such as to help us all escape the vicious circles of condemnation and vengeance which continue to ensnare individuals and nations, encouraging expressions of hatred. The words of Christians ought to be a constant encouragement to communion and, even in those cases where they must firmly condemn evil, they should never try to rupture relationships and communication.”

“Our primary task is to uphold the truth with love.”

“It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal. Social networks can facilitate relationships and promote the good of society, but they can also lead to further polarization and division between individuals and groups.”

Field Hospitals

Let me conclude by taking up one of Pope Francis favorite images which has certainly been seized by the media: the powerful image of the “field hospital.” This expression is not unique to Francis, but is drawn from the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. When Francis speaks of the church as a “field hospital after a battle” he appeals to Ignatius’ understanding of the role of the church in light of God’s gaze upon the world: “so many people ask us to be close, that ask us for what they were asking of Jesus: closeness, nearness.”  It is the opposite image of a fortress under siege. The image of a church as a field hospital is not just a simple, pretty poetic metaphor; from this very image we can derive an understanding of both the church’s mission and the sacraments of salvation. Field hospitals by their very nature indicate a battleground, a struggle, suffering, confusion, emergency and they foster dialogue and encounter, conversation and meeting, consolation, compassion and the binding of wounds. Because my topic this evening is specifically about communications and media, I would like to indicate two areas where field hospitals are badly needed. And not only hospitals but caregivers willing to step into the battle and bring healing.

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*Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, Cardinal John Foley and Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB at mass in Salt and Light Studio Chapel during Catholic Media Convention in May, 2008.*

New Media and Young People

There is no question that the Church has entered the whole world of New Media with bravado and great zeal. I am concerned at times that we do so without careful reflection on what is really happening in this new universe. Does the use of new media serve to deepen our attentiveness to the presence of God, to the risen Christ to the living Spirit, to the community gathered about us, and to the world in which we are called to minister? In the digital world, no matter how hasty, undigested, unreflected the responses may be from our audience, our patient listening must always triumph. Internet culture conditions us to think that quick, instant responses to complex questions are the most valuable responses. It is then that we teachers and pastors become choreographers of immediacy rather than midwives of a slower wisdom. 

Many times in the new media culture, our flight from conversation can mean diminished chances to learn skills of self-reflection. It’s hard to do anything with 2000 intimate Facebook friends except connect. We think constant connection will make us feel less lonely. Many times the opposite is true. If we are unable to be alone, we are far more likely to be lonely.

Most of all, we need to remember – in between text messages, tweets, probes, likes, prompts, e-mails and Facebook posts – to listen to one another, even to the boring conversations, because it is often in unedited moments, moments in which we hesitate, stammer, stutter, cry and go silent, that we reveal our deepest selves to one another.

In today’s schools, universities and workplaces, so many people who have grown up fearing conversation show up at school or on the job wearing earphones. Walking through big newsrooms of the TV or Radio networks, visiting journalists at major newspapers, strolling through university and seminary libraries and sleek downtown offices or at times even through our Salt and Light Television studios, one sees the same thing: we are together, but each of us is in our own bubble, furiously connected to keyboards and tiny touch screens. We are working away quietly at workstations with a whole array of technologies spread before them: laptops, iPads, iPods, and multiple cell phones. No one dares to break the silence with a greeting of  “Hello!” “How are you?” “How was your weekend?” In the silence of supposed connection, people are carefully kept at bay. We keep one another at bay. We seem almost willing to dispense with people altogether. It is our role to tell people to look up, look at one another, and to start the conversation again.  The Word became flesh… not an e-mail, text or prompt or probe!

Pope Francis warns us:

“some people… want their interpersonal relationships provided by sophisticated equipment, by screens and systems which can be turned on and off”. He continues, “the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us.” (EG #88)

The Digital World and Catholic Blogosphere

Let me identify a second battleground where a field hospital is badly needed.  We can each name a country or land where blood, terror and violence seem to have the upper hand.  But the big battlefield before humanity is also the digital world: one that requires no passport and travel ticket to enter.  You only need a keyboard, a screen or a hand-held device.  It is in that universe that many wars are waged each day and where many wounded souls live, walk or troll. It is an immense battleground that needs many field hospitals set up to bind wounds and reconcile warring parties.

In the wild, crazy world of the blogosphere, there is the challenge of accountability and responsibility. On the Internet there is no accountability, no code of ethics, and no responsibility for one’s words and actions. It can be an international weapon of mass destruction, crossing time zones, borders and space. In its wake is character assassination, destruction of reputation, calumny, libel, slander and defamation.

Many of my non-Christian and non-believing friends have remarked to me that we “Catholics” have turned the Internet into a cesspool of hatred, venom and vitriol, condemnation and excommunication all in the name of defending the faith!  The character assassination on the Internet by those claiming to be faithful Catholics and Christians has turned it into a graveyard of filth and of corpses strewn all around.

What view do others have of us when they view our blogs? If we judged our identity based on certain “Catholic” websites and blogs on the Internet, we would be known as the people who are against everyone and everything! If anything, we should be known as the people who are for something, something positive that can transform lives and engage and impact the culture. To what degree are our blogs and websites really the expression of the wealth of the Christian patrimony and successful in transmitting the Good News that the Lord has asked us to spread?

In Vianney Hall this evening, there are dozens of field hospital workers ready for deployment. On these new battlefields today, the Church must shine with the light that lives within itself, it must go out and encounter human beings who – even though they believe that they do not need to hear a message of salvation – often find themselves afraid and wounded by life. In one of his well-known poems, Blessed Cardinal J.H. Newman wrote about a “kindly light.” The light of Christ reflected in the Church must not become the privilege of only a few elect who float enclosed within a safe harbor: this would be a “church clique” or a “personal blog” or “chat room” more than an ecclesial community.

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*Fr. Rosica blessing body of Cardinal Foley before his funeral mass in Philadelphia’s Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul – December 16, 2011.*

Cardinal John Foley

If Vatican Communications are undergoing a massive reform at present, so much of this is due to the quiet, painstaking, often hidden and underappreciated, groundbreaking work of the late Cardinal Foley. Everything I have said in this presentation was found in the life of Cardinal Foley, especially in the 23 years that he headed the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. His goodness, kindness, humanity and humor, genuine interest in others and compassion for them, was the joy of the Gospel for countless people who encountered him, especially for tens of thousands of journalists and media personnel who had the privilege of interacting with him. John Patrick Foley of Philadelphia won the hearts of tens of thousands of people because he opened doors for them, listened, smiled, accompanied, laughed and shared their lot. He admonished when necessary, but did it in charity.

Three things Cardinal Foley taught me will always remain with me. As I prepared to lead World Youth Day 2002 in Canada, he told me to be sure to spend much time with journalists, leading them by the hand, never dismissing foolish questions, challenging where necessary, answering when possible, and thanking them always when they did a good job. I remember well one of his mantras to me: “We are very good at criticizing, complaining and writing people off when they have done a poor job in covering a story or smearing us. We do a terrible job in thanking them when they got it right.”

Second, the Cardinal told me that every single encounter with journalists must be considered a moment of catechesis and evangelization. Even though we may not use those words explicitly, he said: “Use every opportunity as a teaching moment.”Always be kind. Always express gratitude for their interest in us, even though some of it is misplaced, misguided or misinformed.”

Thirdly, the Cardinal told me at the height of the hoopla over the DaVinci Code back in 2004, “When well meaning Catholics demand that we protest booksellers, writers, movie houses for presenting negative or even false images of the Church, don’t join those crusades. They only help to increase sales of books and break box office sales records! Rather, seize the opportunity to present the alternative story which is the truth.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan described the late Cardinal with these accurate words during his very moving homily at Cardinal Foley’s funeral on December 16, 2011 here in Philadelphia:

[His] was “A courtesy that was so impeccable and the thoughtfulness that was so unfailing that we might not be surprised to find his photograph in the “pictionary” for the entry on “gentleman.” “A holiness in “His Foleyness” that was evident without being overbearing; A depth to his intellect which could express itself with warmth and childlikeness.”

Cardinal John Patrick Foley laid the groundwork for Pope Francis’ dynamic, creative and successful outreach to the world through the media. Over 23 years of often hidden work at our headquarters on the Tiber, John Patrick Foley sowed the seeds for a new springtime of evangelization in the Church. May this good shepherd of Philadelphia rest in peace, intercede for us, continue to inspire us and show us how to be good communicators, how to work closely with the media, and through them, to teach the world.


Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

Ordained a priest in the Congregation of St. Basil in 1986, Fr. Thomas Rosica, a native of Rochester, New York, holds advanced degrees in Theology and Sacred Scripture from Regis College in the University of Toronto, the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem.  Fr. Rosica has lectured in Sacred Scripture at Canadian Universities in Toronto, Windsor and London and served as Executive Director of the Newman Centre Catholic Chaplaincy at the University of Toronto from 1994-2000.

In June 1999, he was appointed by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops as the Chief Executive Officer and National Director of the World Youth Day and the Papal Visit of Pope John Paul II, that took place in Toronto during July, 2002.  On July 1, 2003, Fr. Rosica became the founding Chief Executive Officer of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, Canada’s first national Catholic Television Network.

Appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in 2009, Fr. Rosica also served as Media Attaché at four Synods of Bishops at the Vatican in 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2015. Since the Papal Transition in 2013, he has been English language Assistant to Holy See Press Office. Fr. Rosica a member of several Boards of Governors of Institutions of Higher Learning, including the Board of the Gregorian University Foundation in Rome.

The Cost of Authentic Prophecy

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Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – January 31, 2016

Today’s Old Testament reading from Jeremiah (1:4-5, 17-19) and Gospel passage from Luke (4:21-30) offer us an opportunity to reflect on the blessings, burdens and risks of authentic prophets in our Judeo-Christian tradition.

Among the Biblical prophets, we probably know Jeremiah best of all. The son of the priest Hilkiah, he was born in Anathoth — eight miles northeast of Jerusalem — and was called very early to carry out his prophetic mission, perhaps in 626, during the reign of Josiah (Jeremiah 22:16).

Jeremiah was so young that he begged the Lord to allow him to lead a normal life and to spare him the task of scourging the people of Israel and prophesying an invasion of foreigners “from the north” who would deport the Jews and destroy Solomon’s Temple.

Jeremiah saw the catastrophe of his people as an inevitable consequence of the guilt of an entire people who no longer remembered its history. The Hebrews, blindly counting on the Covenant guaranteed by the Lord, and on the Ark preserved in the Temple, felt that the Lord was with them, and as a result they could allow themselves any kind of sin!

Having pulled out from under the yoke of the Lord, Jeremiah told the chosen people that they would fall under the yoke of strangers. But the task assigned to him by God was not only destructive: “Look, today I have set you over the nations and kingdoms, to uproot and to knock down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (1:10). It was also to build and to plant, then. But first it was necessary to uproot so that true growth could occur.

Jeremiah prefigures Christ

Jeremiah has often been seen as a figure foreshadowing Christ. Not only does he speak in God’s name and predict the future, but his very life and ministry have prophetic overtones.

Just as Jesus would do after him, Jeremiah foretold the destruction of the Temple, wept over the future ruin of Jerusalem, condemned the conduct of the priests, was misunderstood by his countrymen, and was humiliated and sentenced to death. Yet the prophet’s condemnation of sin and prophecies of misfortune are always linked to a message of hope and the prospects for rebirth, for return from the Babylonian exile.

Christ, too, in order to affirm his victory over death, would first have to endure the cross on Calvary. The prophet Jeremiah’s very life prepares for the acceptance of the bitterness of the cross and the glory of the resurrection. We should not be surprised then, when Jesus asked his disciples what people were saying about him, they answered, “Some say You are John the Baptist, others the prophet Elijah, others Jeremiah.”

The madding crowd in Nazareth

Today’s Gospel story (Luke 4:21-30) is a continuation of Jesus’ great inaugural moment in the Nazareth that we read last Sunday. In the Nazareth synagogue, Jesus set forth his universal mission repeating the words of the prophet Isaiah (61:1-2).

Into this scene of hometown pride in Nazareth, Jesus brings confusion. A murmur of excitement rippled through the congregation. “Is not this Joseph’s son? Don’t we know this son of Nazareth?”

Yet Jesus knows that his townspeople want to possess him for themselves: “Do here in your own town what we have heard you did in Capernaum.” But he refuses to do so. “No prophet is accepted in his own native place.” Jesus resists the possessive attitude manifested by his people. Jesus refuses to place his extraordinary gifts at the service of his own people, putting strangers first.

The references to Elijah and Elisha (Luke 4:25-26) serve several purposes in this episode: They emphasize Luke’s portrait of Jesus as a prophet like Elijah and Elisha; they help to explain why the initial admiration of the people turns to rejection; and they provide the scriptural justification for the future Christian mission to the Gentiles.

The mood in the synagogue turned rather ugly. The crowd grew terribly envious of one of their own and tried to get rid of him (4:22-30). Jesus did not succeed in making himself heard and understood and he had to depart in haste — for his life (4:30). The rejection of Jesus in his own hometown hints at the greater rejection of him by Israel (Acts 13:46).

Reason for discontent

The people of Nazareth took offense at him and refused to listen to what Jesus had to say. They despised his preaching because he was from the working class; a carpenter, a mere layman and they despised him because of his family. Jesus could do no mighty works in their midst because they were closed and disbelieving toward him.

If people have come together to hate and to refuse to understand, then they will see no other point of view than their own and they will refuse to love and accept others. Does the story sound familiar to us? How many times have we found ourselves in similar situations?

The most severe critics are often people very familiar to us, members of our families, relatives, members of our communities, neighbors we rub shoulders with on a regular basis. The people of Nazareth refused to renounce their possessive attitude toward Jesus. When possessive love is obstructed it produces a violent reaction. This sort of reaction provokes many dramas of jealousy and passion. “Everyone in the synagogue was enraged (Luke 4:28-29) and they sought to kill him.” Refusal to open our heart can lead to such extremes.

Universal vision

Jesus was bitterly criticized because he demonstrated great openness of heart, particularly toward people on the fringes and borders of society. His openness caused rising opposition that led him to the cross.

In the Acts of the Apostles we read more than once that the success of St. Paul’s preaching to the gentiles provoked jealousy among some of the Jews, who opposed the Apostle and stirred up persecution against him (Acts 13:45; 17,5; 22,21-22). Also within the Christian community, we need only recall the situation in Corinth where similar possessive attitudes caused serious harm when many believers attached themselves jealously to one apostle or another; causing conflict and division in the community. Paul had to intervene forcefully (1 Corinthians 1:10-3:23).

Today’s Gospel shows how difficult it is for us to attain to a universal vision. When we are faced with someone like Jesus, someone with a generous heart, a wide vision and a great spirit, our reactions are very often filled with jealousy, selfishness, and meanness of spirit. His own people couldn’t recognize the holiness of Jesus, because they had never really accepted their own. They were suffering from a particular form of blindness.

They couldn’t honor Jesus’ relationship with God because they had never fully explored their own sense of belonging to the God. They couldn’t see the Messiah standing right beside them, because he looked too much like one of them. Until we see ourselves as people beloved of God, miracles will be scarce and the prophets and messengers who rise among us will struggle to be heard and accepted for whom they truly are.

Called to be prophets

Jesus was called to break boundaries and take God’s message of salvation to unexpected people and unexpected places. Obviously, pain and hostility must be endured before Jesus’ new age comes to glory.

Through our common baptism, each of us is called to be a prophet for the Kingdom of God. We will encounter many reactions from those to whom we are sent, not all of them positive. Like Jeremiah and Jesus, unswerving dedication bold courage, and deep, biblical hope must be our trademarks.

Today’s Gospel warns us to be on guard against certain attitudes that are incompatible with the example of Jesus: the human tendency to be possessive, and egoistic and small in mind and heart. We cannot forget that Jesus is the Savior of the world (John 4:42), and not of the village, town, city or nation!

Let us pray that Jesus not be amazed at our own unbelief, but rather rejoice in our small, daily acts of fidelity to him and our service to our sisters and brothers. May the Lord grant us magnanimous hearts so that we may look far beyond ourselves and recognize the goodness, greatness and beauty of other people, instead of being jealous of their gifts.

God’s power alone can save us from emptiness and poverty of spirit, from confusion and error, and from the fear of death and hopelessness. The gospel of salvation is still “Good News” for us today. How do we speak the Word of God with authority today? How do we share the “Good News” with others? How do we use our authority to further the Kingdom of God? How are our words, gestures, messages and lives prophetic today, in the Church and in the world?

[The readings for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13 or 13:4-13; and Luke 4:21-30]

(Image: “Jesus rejected at Nazareth” by James Tissot)

The Bare Facts and Bare Feet of the Last Supper

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Biblical and Pastoral Reflection on Feet Washing on Holy Thursday
By Father Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation
English language attaché, Holy See Press Office

Both the Jewish and Christian traditions view eating and feasting as more than simply an opportunity to refuel the body, enjoy certain delicacies, or celebrate a particular occasion. Eating and feasting became for both traditions, encounters with transcendent realities and even union with the divine. In the New Testament, so much of Jesus’ own ministry took place during meals at table.

Jesus attends many meals throughout the four Gospels: with Levi and his business colleagues, with Simon the Pharisee, with Lazarus and his sisters in Bethany, with Zacchaeus and the crowd in Jericho, with outcasts and centurions, with crowds on Galilean hillsides, and with disciples in their homes. It is ultimately during the final meal that Jesus leaves us with his most precious gift in the Eucharist. The Scripture readings for Holy Thursday root us deeply in our Jewish past: celebrating the Passover with the Jewish people, receiving from St. Paul that which was handed on to him, namely the Eucharistic banquet, and looking at Jesus squarely in the face as he kneels before us to wash our feet in humble service. Instead of presenting to us one of the synoptic Gospel stories of the “institution” of the Eucharist, the Church offers us John’s account of the disturbing posture of the Master kneeling before his friends to wash their feet in a gesture of humility and service.

As Jesus wraps a towel around his waist, takes a pitcher of water, stoops down and begins washing the feet of his disciples, he teaches his friends that liberation and new life are won not in presiding over multitudes from royal thrones nor by the quantity of bloody sacrifices offered on temple altars but by walking with the lowly and poor and serving them as a foot washer along the journey. It is as though the whole history of salvation ends tonight just as it begins — with bare feet and the voice of God speaking to us through his own flesh and blood: “As I have done for you, so you must also do.” The washing of the feet is integral to the Last Supper. It is the evangelist John’s way of saying to Christ’s followers throughout the ages: “You must remember his sacrifice in the Mass, but you must also remember his admonition to go out and serve the world.”

At the Last Supper, Jesus teaches us that true authority in the Church comes from being a servant, from laying down our lives for our friends. His life is a feast for the poor and for sinners. It must be the same for those who receive the Lord’s body and blood. From the Eucharist must flow a certain style of communitarian life, a genuine care for our neighbors, and for strangers.

Three years ago on Holy Thursday evening, Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 young people at a Roman Juvenile Detention Center, including young women, and two Muslims. That Pope Francis washed the feet of young men and women in a detention centre in Rome on his first Holy Thursday, and has continued that gesture over the past Holy Thursdays in a centre for the elderly and infirm and then a maximum security facility in Rome, should call our minds and hearts to the simple and spontaneous gesture of love, affection, forgiveness and mercy that have been the hallmarks of the Bishop of Rome since his election in March 2013. Just as Jesus gave an example to his disciples in the humble gesture of foot washing, so too the Vicar of Christ offers us an example that we might learn from it and imitate this gesture.

Pope Francis’ simple gesture of washing the feet speaks for itself. He has taught the world profound messages over the past three years of his Petrine ministry to the world.  He has brought many to Jesus Christ through the simplicity of his messages and gestures. He shows us how to put the Eucharist into practice in our daily lives.

Fr. Rosica’s Address at the Theological Symposium in Cebu – The Field is the World: Evangelizing the Secular World

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From January 20 – January 22, 2016, the Theological Symposium of the 2016 International Eucharist Congress took place in Cebu, Philippines. Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, gave the following address on Evangelization:

Address of Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Theological Symposium of the 2016 International Eucharistic Congress
Cebu, Philippines – January 22, 2016

Your Eminences,
Your Excellencies,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Thank you for the privilege of addressing the International Theological Symposium in the Philippines that is part of the 51st International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu. You have invited me to reflect on the theme of “Evangelizing the Secular World”, a topic that has been at the heart of my ministry for the past 30 years. Because I am a student, teacher and lover of Scripture, I wish to develop the theme through the lenses of the New Testament which has provided me with the vision, energy, dynamism and images for my ministry these past years.

Why is Evangelization so challenging today? Why do we often encounter such massive ignorance of or indifference to the message of Jesus Christ? Why is God being pushed the sidelines of so many of our societies and cultures? We may wonder at times why people aren’t turned on by our stories, our ministry, and why the young aren’t interested in whom we are and what we do. Did we ever stop to think that maybe part of the reason is that we aren’t telling our story in the right way, or maybe not at all? Do we view our lives against the backdrop of salvation history and biblical history? How can we recapture the treasure and dynamism of the Word of God? How do we speak the Word of God with authority today? If the power of God’s Word in Sacred Scripture is to be felt in the life and mission of the Church, we must be vigilant to ensure that Sacred Scripture has a primordial place in our lives.

I believe that a great part of the difficulties we experience in our efforts to evangelize is due to ignorance of the Scriptures. To quote the Early Church Father and Doctor of the Church, Jerome, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” This biblical ignorance or illiteracy is directly related to our efforts to evangelize the culture around us. How can we make Scripture once again the core of our evangelizing efforts in the world? How can the hearts of people be set on fire by the Risen Lord who begs people to touch the text of his words and be deeply moved by these words?

Whenever I have spoken about Evangelization, I have heard several fears from many Catholics, which can be obstacles to our becoming an evangelizing Church. First, in an attempt to be “polite”, and motivated by a false sense of ecumenism or interreligious dialogue, people do not want to impose upon others or imply that they are superior to them in some way.

Second, many Catholics fear the very word “evangelizing” because they are afraid of being asked questions they cannot answer. Overcoming this obstacle means that we must learn more about Christ, the Bible and the Church’s teachings, history and our rich tradition.

The third obstacle is the crisis of biblical literacy. To evangelize means to spread the good news of Jesus Christ found in the New Testament. How can we possibly announce this Good News when the target audience does not know the vocabulary, language and imagery of this Good News?

This point was driven home many times during the 2008 Vatican Synod of Bishops on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. I was an eyewitness of that ecclesial event, having served as the English language media attaché of the Synod. No one made the point more succinctly than the late Cardinal Francis George, OMI, of Chicago. In his brief yet pointed presentation, Cardinal George said: “Behind this loss of biblical images lies the loss of a sense and an image of God as an actor in human history.  …In Scripture, God is both the principal author and the principal actor. In Scripture, we encounter the living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. …Our people, for the most part, do not live confidently in the biblical world of active spirit, of angels and demons, of the search for God’s will and God’s intentions in the midst of this world governed by God’s providence. …Scripture takes on the genre of fantasy fiction, and the biblical world becomes an uninhabitable embarrassment.”

I also think that we lack a sense of urgency of our mission and frequently give in to nostalgia. I will explain those points later in this presentation.

TR Evangelization Humility

Consider Jesus

I invite you to consider Jesus, the evangelizer par excellence who offers us a proven method of proclaiming and living the Good News. He was a master teacher and a perfect communicator and he is the model for all who seek to communicate the Good News and evangelize our culture today. Jesus used parables to teach very important lessons. By parables, Jesus attempted to convey the true nature of a loving and benevolent God. These marvelous stories bear witness to a God who hears the cries of the poor and defends the orphans, widows and immigrants. The God of the Bible suffers with the people. God comes among us as a vulnerable baby born among the homeless, lives as an immigrant and refugee life, associates with the outcasts and compares the kingdom to receiving a little child. This God is then executed and buried in a borrowed tomb. The indirectness of parables makes the wisdom of Jesus inaccessible to hostile literalists. Jesus used parables to respond to the disciples’ and apostles’ burning questions about the presence of God, their lives with him and the challenges and crises they endured ministering in his name.   

The Parable of the Sower

Many stories of the Gospel have Jesus glancing around for something to use as an illustration of his message. One such story is the parable of the sower – a remarkable study in contrasts. To Jesus’ Galilean listeners who were close to the earth, the image of sowing seeds was a very familiar one. The parable is startling on several accounts. First of all it portrays a sower who is apparently careless. He scatters the seed with reckless abandon even in those areas where there is virtually no chance for growth. The first seed that falls on the path has no opportunity to grow. The second seed falls on rocky ground, grows quickly, and dies as quickly. The third seed falls among thorns and has its life submerged by a stronger force. Finally the fourth seed falls on good soil and produces fruit – to astonishing, unknown, and unthinkable proportions. The normal harvest in a good year might be sevenfold, but never thirty or sixty, much less one hundred! The life-bearing potential of the seed is beyond imagination! The final yield is earth shattering! In the end, the parable portrays the sower as lavish and extravagant rather than foolish and wasteful.

I wish to focus on Matthew’s parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23). In the explanation of the parable (vv. 18-23) the emphasis is on the various types of soil upon which the seed falls, i.e. on the dispositions with which the preaching of Jesus is received (cf. parallels in Mark 4:14-20; Luke 8:11-15). The four types of recipients envisaged are: (1) those who never accept the word of the kingdom (Matthew 13:19); (2) those who believe for a while but fall away because of persecution (13:20-21); (3) those who believe, but in whom the word is choked by worldly anxiety and the seduction of riches (13:22); and (4) those who respond to the word and produce fruit abundantly (13:23).

Matthew incorporates almost of Mark’s version of the parable but adds his own perspective. There is a striking line in Matthew’s explanation of this parable. Puzzled by Jesus’ story, the disciples ask him to explain it, and he begins, “the field is the world and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom” (v.38). God works in the world, not simply in the church. The world is a mixed reality, both good and bad but the community cannot insulate itself from the weeds. Complete deliverance from evil comes only in the end time when, in the words of the parable, the just will shine “like the sun”; in the meantime, the community’s place is precisely in the world, in the midst of the weeds and the wheat.

Matthew’s community struggled with self-definition in the midst of the cataclysmic changes that flooded over both Jewish Christianity and Palestinian Judaism in the wake of the Jewish revolt against Rome and its devastating suppression in A.D. 70.  Matthew wrote his Gospel for such a Jewish Christian community caught in the great tsunami of history, anxious about its connection to its sacred historical roots in Judaism and trembling before a future that promised substantial and perhaps even devastating changes.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus begins his public ministry by insisting that his mission is only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But Jesus begins to anticipate this turning point from an exclusive focus on Israel to an inclusive mission to the Jews and Gentiles in the body of the Gospel as he encounters Gentiles who, in a sense, force their way onto the Gospel stage! We caught glimpses of this widening mission in the enchanting Christmas Magi who read the stars and come seeking the Messiah; or the Roman centurion of Capernaum who begs Jesus to heal his sick servant and evokes in Jesus a vision of a future mission beyond the boundaries of Israel. How can we forget the Canaanite woman who breaks down Jesus’ resistance by her insistent pleas on behalf of her sick daughter or the Gadarene demoniac whose terrible plight reaches Jesus as he comes ashore in the alien territory of the Decapolis. In that provocative story, life encounters death, enchained among the tombs.

Matthew’s Gospel reminds us that the field in which our God-given destiny unfolds is the world and not simply the church; the Spirit is alive in the world, and there in the mix of weeds and wheat. Time and again the biblical drama shows that what we might call secular events, even horrific, wrenching and destructive ones, move history forward and provide the setting for God’s revelation. The field is the world, and this strange array of peoples on the peripheries and outside the perimeter of biblical Israel breaks into the Gospel arena and becomes a vital part of Jesus’ mission. This is what happens when the seed falls unpredictably in the world and not just in the church.

As my colleague and mentor, Fr. Donald Senior, CP, brilliantly points out in his essay on “Biblical Reflections On Discernment of Who We Are and Where We Are Going”:

“Israel was not formed in an airtight vacuum but took shape in interaction with Canaanite and other ancient Middle Eastern cultures. Interaction with those cultures gave to Israel its language, its culture, much of its religious symbolism and ritual, its architecture, its form of government. The fundamental intuitions and symbols that became the language of biblical faith were born in the heart of Israel’s own historical experience: the trauma of oppression; the aspirations for nationhood and a unifying political structure; the merging of a capital city and a central sanctuary; the tragedy of failure and exile; the tenacious hope of ultimate peace and security.”

Fr. Senior continues: “Thus so many of Jesus’ own religious symbols, drawn from the strong repertoire of Judaism, are metaphors of gathering and healing, of reconciliation and forgiveness, of renewal and unquenchable hope in the midst of great suffering. The lost sheep is to be found; the sinner and outcast drawn in; the broken and sick healed; the enemy forgiven; the dead raised and the reign of God announced as drawing near. All of these reflect the drama unfolding in the world and its history that surrounded Jesus and his times.”

The field is the world, and our way forward to the future prepared for us by God must come not only by immersing ourselves in the church’s traditions and unfolding wisdom but also by being alert to the world and its drama where the Spirit is also at work. In fact, we have to be careful that we do not become overly absorbed in the domestic life of the church but constantly turn our face to the world, to our place in it and our responsibility for it. The field is the world – not only as the object of the Christian mission in history, but as the catalyst of the Spirit awakening the consciousness of the church itself.

Urgency

Pope Francis is inviting us to become witnesses, missionaries and disciples in the world. That is our evangelizing mission today. It is not new. He has brought new urgency, new passion and new authenticity and transparency to this mission. For Pope Francis, authentic power is service. He is reminding us day in and day out that evangelizing is neither social ministry nor spiritual ministry; it is both. The more we show genuine concern and effective action for alleviating social ills and liberating the poor, the more believable will the gospel be. Conversely, social ministry will transcend itself only if the gospel is explicitly proclaimed side by side with action and concern.

If we decide to wait until our Church and the entire Catholic community is in exemplary spiritual condition, with all questions and doubts resolved, all scandals over, all required funds safely and surely in the bank to provide for our programs and schools, all controversies ended, all Christians and Catholics living in total harmony, nothing will ever get done! 

Christ did not found the Church for saints and angels, but for sinners- people like us who strive for goodness and greatness yet know that the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. For over two thousand years, we have not been in perfect order and we never will be! Even while telling us to preach the good news of hope, liberation and salvation, Christ warned us that scandals would always plague our footsteps (Luke 17:1-2). In St. Paul’s letters, the sins and excesses that he addressed were committed not only by the pagans but also by the early Christians. The Church has been “dysfunctional” from the very beginning! We are sinful people in need of conversion. But what consolation to know that the Lord is walking with us. He is in the boat with us, even when he appears to be sleeping. He has not abandoned us.

Nostalgia

Pope Francis refers very frequently to the magnificent post-resurrection narrative of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Having written my thesis on that marvelous passage, a question has often lingered in my mind: why did Luke alone spend so much time relating the Emmaus event, unique to his Gospel? The story was most likely told in response to Jesus’ continuing historical absence and its perception as a loss to Jesus’ followers. The main theme of the story is truly recognition of the Lord, not just recognition of his bodily presence, but of his powerful presence in the Scriptures and in the action of the breaking of the bread. The issue is how Luke uses the story to teach his readers in 80 A.D. They might have been saying to themselves that 50-60 years ago: “People were so fortunate to have seen the Risen Lord with their very eyes.” “If only the Lord were here with us today!” The two disciples could have easily and understandably succumbed to ecclesial nostalgia!

Nostalgia would cause people to say that having been there, back then, might make a difference in the way that they think and believe today!  But Luke says that even those who were there weren’t able to recognize Jesus until the Scriptures were “opened” and the “eucharistic” meal was shared. The bottom line is this: a past generation is not more fortunate or blessed to have encountered the risen Jesus than is a generation that hasn’t seen him! Faith in Jesus transcends all history, space and time. Christians of Luke’s time and Christians of our time have the same essential elements necessary for recognizing the Lord: Sacred Scripture and the Eucharist.

How is Jesus alive and present among us? Do our hearts burn with love for the Lord? Do we allow the hearts of others to burn for Jesus? Or are we the cause of heartburn of another kind for the people to whom we are sent? Do people avoid us because of our coldness? When have we experienced that strange and wonderful feeling of “the burning heart” as we listened to the Word of God at the Eucharist or in private prayer? When have we given in to nostalgia, in our personal and ecclesial lives of faith? Is our own friendship with Christ contagious? Do we truly believe that he is walking with us on the road, in all the ups and downs of our histories?

To the Bishops of the United States on September 23, 2015 in Washington, DC, Pope Francis concluded his splendid address with these words:

“Consequently, only a Church which can gather around the family fire remains able to attract others. And not any fire, but the one which blazed forth on Easter morn. The risen Lord continues to challenge the Church’s pastors through the quiet plea of so many of our brothers and sisters: “Have you something to eat?” We need to recognize the Lord’s voice, as the apostles did on the shore of the lake of Tiberius (Jn 21:4-12). It becomes even more urgent to grow in the certainty that the embers of his presence, kindled in the fire of his passion, precede us and will never die out. Whenever this certainty weakens, we end up being caretakers of ash, and not guardians and dispensers of the true light and the warmth which causes our hearts to burn within us (Lk 24:32).”

TR on Pedro Calungsod

Mercy

Last March 2015, Pope Francis surprised the world by announcing a Jubilee Year of Mercy that formally began this past December. Francis wants this jubilee to go deeper spiritually and to be a far-reaching Christian witness of mercy to the world. Mercy is a theme very dear to Pope Francis, as is expressed in the episcopal motto he had chosen: “miserando atque eligendo”, literally, “Chosen Through the Eyes of Mercy.” During the first Angelus after his election to the See of Peter, Pope Francis stated: “Feeling mercy, that this word changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient” (Angelus, March 17, 2013).

In the English edition of the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium the term mercy appears 32 times. In his Angelus address on January 11, 2015, he stated: “There is so much need of mercy today, and it is important that the lay faithful live it and bring it into different social environments. Go forth! We are living in the age of mercy, this is the age of mercy”.

In his 2015 Lenten Message, the Holy Father expressed: “How greatly I desire that all those places where the Church is present, especially our parishes and our communities, may become islands of mercy in the midst of the sea of indifference!” He has repeated this thought: “Mercy is not just a pastoral attitude; it is the very substance of the Gospel message.”

Pope Francis wants to bring the whole church, starting with the cardinals, bishops, priests and consecrated persons, to open themselves to God’s mercy and to find concrete, creative ways to put mercy into practice in their areas of ministry. As Bishop of Rome, he is blazing the trail by word and deed, showing what mercy means in relation to the poor, the homeless, prisoners, immigrants, the sick and the persecuted. They are for him “the flesh of Christ.” In his homily to new cardinals on February 15, 2015, Pope Francis recalled that “the church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement.” This means “welcoming the repentant prodigal son; healing the wounds of sin with courage and determination; rolling up our sleeves and not standing by and watching passively the suffering of the world.”

Two weeks ago, Pope Francis’ personal book, “The Name of God is Mercy” was simultaneously released throughout the world.  The main theme of the book is mercy, and the Pope’s reasons for proclaiming a Holy Year of Mercy. The centrality of mercy, Francis says, is “Jesus’ most important message.” Mercy is essential because all people are sinners, in need of God’s forgiveness and grace, and it’s especially necessary today, at a time when “humanity is wounded,” suffering from “the many slaveries of the third millennium” — not just war and poverty and social exclusion, but also fatalism, hardheartedness and self-righteousness.

The theme of mercy also provides Pope Francis with a metaphor for articulating his broader aim of shaking up the Roman Catholic Church, which he laid out in detail in “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) that was issued in November 2013. 

“The Church condemns sin because it has to relay the truth: ‘this is a sin’. But at the same time, it embraces the sinner who recognizes himself as such, it welcomes him, it speaks to him of the infinite mercy of God. Jesus forgave even those who crucified and scorned him.”

“To follow the way of the Lord, the Church is called upon to dispense its mercy over all those who recognize themselves as sinners, who assume responsibility for the evil they have committed, and who feel in need of forgiveness. The Church does not exist to condemn people, but to bring about an encounter with the visceral love of God’s mercy.”

Pope Francis doesn’t have easy answers to the great issues, crises and questions of our time, let alone answers and solutions he seeks to impose. He clearly realizes that the field of Evangelization is the world in which we live, the world that God so loved.  He wants to create a culture and a process in which we can better discern the Holy Spirit’s answers to those questions, not necessarily in an absolute way, but in a way that makes sense in our own time.

Boldness

In the Acts of the Apostles 4:31, we meet one of the first crises of Evangelization faced by the early Church, and how the Spirit was present in the midst of it all. Peter and John were arrested and brought before the officials and were interrogated, threatened and ordered to speak no longer in the name of Jesus the Lord. Once released Peter and John returned to the community and it was at this point that the community utters a remarkable prayer. The occasion of the prayer is not a result of actual harm inflicted on the believers but rather the fact that the Word of God was chained, impeded by force, threatened and suffocated. When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word with boldness. What do we mean by boldness? 

The word in the New Testament is “parresia”, not “parousia” which refers to the final coming of Christ. The parresia is the boldness that is the fruit of courage. Despite the threats, despite the challenges, despite the difficulties, despite the very fact of losing one’s life, we must not enchain the Word any longer but speak that Word with courage and with boldness. 

There is nothing politically correct about preaching and living the Gospel. In fact, the Gospel message is at times completely incorrect in the eyes and ways of the world! The gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed with boldness and courage. It is a boldness that does not overpower, that is not rude, that does not bully, that is never disrespectful, that never shows off or flaunts gifts that one has received – but where the Spirit has been so lavishly poured out upon individuals and as a faith community, the church has an obligation to announce and to proclaim Jesus Christ boldly, unapologetically and unabashedly. We must be bold and creative in our pastoral efforts with young people. Speaking the Word boldly is prerequisite for the work of Evangelization.

Gospel Joy

In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis invites and challenges all of us to move beyond our “comfort zones.” He wants us to be warm, welcoming and forgiving. He wants us to eat with tax collectors and sinners; he wants us to forgive the woman caught in adultery (while admonishing her to sin no more); he wants us to welcome and respect foreigners (even our enemies), and, above all, not to judge others. He has spoken simply, powerfully and beautifully about returning to lost unity, a desire to achieve a missing fullness, a disarming invitation to simply come together to witness to the beauty of the love of Christ. He wants to build bridges that everyone can cross. He is especially conscious of the poor and those who have been marginalized, social outcasts kept on the fringes of society. On the need for joy in evangelizing Francis has written: “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter…. An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!”

On being close to the people he writes: “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others.”

He models that “a church which ‘goes forth’ is a church whose doors are open…. Often it is better simply to slow down, to put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others, to stop rushing from one thing to another and to remain with someone who has faltered along the way.”

The church needs to preach salvation, not doctrine. An imbalance occurs when the church speaks “more about law than about grace, more about the church than about Christ, more about the pope than about God’s word.”

Evangelization must be an invitation to respond to God’s love and to seek the good in others, he says. “If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our greatest risk. It would mean that it is not the Gospel which is being preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options.”

On the need to keep the doors to the sacraments open: “The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

The church’s internal “wars” – the tendency to form groups of “elites,” to impose certain ideas and even to engage in “persecutions which appear as veritable witch hunts” – are all a counter-witness to evangelization. “Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?”

In his homily during the “Mass for the Evangelization of Peoples,” celebrated in Quito’s Parque Bicentenario (Bicentennial Park) last July 7, 2015, Pope Francis focused on the theme of unity and independence. The Holy Father spoke of Jesus’ cry for unity at the Last Supper, and Latin America’s cry for independence which is commemorated in the Park where the Liturgy took place. “I would like to see these two cries joined together,” he said, “under the beautiful challenge of Evangelization.” He continued, “We evangelize not with grand words, or complicated concepts, but with ‘the joy of the Gospel’.”

“Evangelization can be a way to unite our hopes, concerns, ideals and even utopian visions. We believe this and we make it our cry. I have already said that, “in our world, especially in some countries, different forms of war and conflict are re-emerging, yet we Christians remain steadfast in our intention to respect others, to heal wounds, to build bridges, to strengthen relationships and to ‘bear one another’s burdens’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 67).”

TR IEC 2016 Symposium 2 (1)

Laudato Sì: Instrument of Evangelization

“Laudato Sì” is a privileged instrument of Evangelization of our contemporary world because it strives to answer the deeper questions about ecology and the environment within God’s revelation as found in his creation and the teachings of the Catholic Church. At this critical moment in history, what is at stake is not just our respect for biodiversity, but our very survival. Scientists calculate that those most harmed by global warming in the future will be the most vulnerable and marginalized. The dignity and rights of human beings are intimately and integrally related to the beauty and the rights of the earth itself. After all, who will dare to speak for the voiceless resources of our planet? Who will step up to protect the silent diversity of its species? Will our generation accept responsibility for pushing our environment over the tipping-point?

At the heart Laudato Sì is this question: “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” Pope Francis continues: “This question does not have to do with the environment alone and in isolation; the issue cannot be approached piecemeal”. (LS §160) This leads us to ask ourselves about the meaning of existence and its values at the base of social life: “What is the purpose of our life in this world? Why are we here? What is the goal of our work and all our efforts? What need does the earth have of us?” (LS §160)

Laudato Si’ must be read not only as a work of Catholic social teaching, but also as an effective instrument of the first Evangelization and the new Evangelization, and a witness to ecumenism and interreligious dialogue. Pope Francis’ letter reflects a profound confidence and openness to the world. He draws on an ecumenical and interdisciplinary range of authorities — from scientists, saints and theologians to international agencies; from other world religious leaders to previous popes and Catholic bishops conferences in every continent and even a Sufi mystic in one of his footnotes.

Pope Francis’ tone is passionate, personal and urgent. He has drafted this major encyclical letter with the mind and heart of a disciple of Jesus and the pen and voice of a prophet who has seen and personally experienced the grave injustices and ugliness that human beings can cause on this earth.

Laudato Sì is a perfect example of how the Church, at the highest level, understands the modern world, enters into a profound dialogue with the world, and repeats again her age-old message of salvation in a new way. Laudato Sì is rooted in the concrete realities of our times. Some have criticized the Pope for not mentioning the name of Jesus until he is almost 13,000 words into his long document. But “the gaze of Jesus” is at the heart of the pope’s vision in Laudato Si’, even if the Lord’s name is hardly mentioned. With Laudato Sì Pope Francis is laying the groundwork for a new Christian humanism, rooted in the simple and beautiful image of Jesus that he presents for the world’s consideration. For in the end, it is in the name and mission of Jesus of Nazareth that the Pope issues his call to conversion – a compelling invitation to each of us to look at the earth and all of its creatures with the loving eyes and heart of Jesus Christ. This is clearly a first Evangelization for those who may encounter Jesus for the first time, and a new Evangelization or wake-up call to those who once knew Jesus and grew distant from him. With Laudato Sì, we learn to cherish the world God so loved and adore the Son given to us by the Father.

Conclusion

If we wish to be ambassadors, instruments, bearers of the message of Gaudium et Spes, icons of Evangelii Gaudium, and heralds of Laudato Sì in our contemporary world, we must be in direct contact with Jesus of Nazareth, who is the alpha and omega and the joy and hope of the human family. We must have a relationship with Him. We encounter Jesus in the Church, in the sacraments and in the liturgy and in the handiwork of God’s creation. Take heed of Pope Francis’ words addressed to future apostolic nuncios at the Vatican’s Diplomatic Academy (June 25, 2015):

“It is not possible to represent someone without reflecting their features, without evoking their face.”

“Do not lose sight of the face of He Who is at the origin of your journey.”

“I urge you not to expect ready ground, but to take courage and plough it with your own two hands — without tractors or other more efficient tools which we can never be sure of. Prepare the ground yourselves for the sowing, and wait with God’s patience for the harvest, of which perhaps you may not be the beneficiaries; do not fish in aquariums or farms, but have the courage to move away from the safety of what is already known and cast your nets and fishing rods out into less predictable places. Don’t grow used to eating packaged fish.”

“Teach prayer by praying, announce the faith by believing; offer witness by living!”

Let me leave you with this one final thought, inspired by the great apostle to the Gentiles, Paul of Tarsus. In Paul’s first letter to the people of Corinth, he exclaims: For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (I Cor 9:16). 

Paul doesn’t say that one would be “damned” for not proclaiming the Gospel, for not evangelizing. We must understand the “woe” against the background of prophetic statements elsewhere in the Scriptures (cf. Isaiah 45:9; Hosea 7:13; see also Matthew 23:13-36). It is a woe of suffering and punishment.  Paul calls down grief upon himself should he fail to preach the Gospel, should he abdicate his responsibility to evangelize. “Woe to me if I fail to proclaim the gospel!” Paul challenges each one of us on what it means to be called, commissioned to serve God and our neighbor and to proclaim the gospel and evangelize in our day.

For Paul, evangelizing is truly a matter of necessity, of compulsion, of apostolic imperative. It is the gospel that is for all people, the gospel that drives him to reach out to both Jew and to Gentile, to those struggling under the burden of the law and those who whistle in the dark, blissfully ignorant of the Gospel’s demands. For Paul the Gospel is needed by both kinds of people, it is the one thing that is for all people.   

For those of us who claim to be evangelists or who strive to proclaim, preach and live God’s Word, we must ask what truly motivates us for the work that we share as co-workers with Paul in the proclamation of the gospel. That motivation must be joy, and never anger, recrimination, condemnation, hostility, arrogance, meanness or harshness. It must be the joy that inhabited Jesus, the joy that animated the great apostle to the Gentiles and that animates Pope Francis, who really is an embodiment of New Evangelization in today’s world.

The late Fr. Walter Burghardt, another great Jesuit from the Americas, once preached a homily at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., for the First Sunday in Lent in which he quoted Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous remark that “These Christians don’t look redeemed.” Fr. Burghardt concluded: “For your penance, look redeemed.” Something for us to remember…

Pope Francis looks and acts redeemed. He is imitating Jesus, the great teacher and communicator who has redeemed humanity.  Francis is simply inviting us to imitate the Redeemer in word and deed. Is it any wonder that so many people are looking to Francis, listening to him and learning from his example of evangelical joy and simplicity? Only in this way will the world believe our message and give Jesus Christ a chance.

Fr. Burghardt’s challenge is also addressed to us today: “Go out and look redeemed!” Go and announce the joy of the Gospel of Jesus! Go and be his joy and hope for the world! It is not only a penitential burden but a heavenly and earthly delight.


Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

Ordained a priest in the Congregation of St. Basil in 1986, Fr. Thomas Rosica, a native of Rochester, New York, holds advanced degrees in Theology and Sacred Scripture from Regis College in the University of Toronto, the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem.  Fr. Rosica has lectured in Sacred Scripture at Canadian Universities in Toronto, Windsor and London and served as Executive Director of the Newman Centre Catholic Chaplaincy at the University of Toronto from 1994-2000.

In June 1999, he was appointed by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops as the Chief Executive Officer and National Director of the World Youth Day and the Papal Visit of Pope John Paul II, that took place in Toronto during July, 2002.  On July 1, 2003, Fr. Rosica became the founding Chief Executive Officer of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, Canada’s first national Catholic Television Network.


Appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in 2009, Fr. Rosica also served as Media Attaché at four Synods of Bishops at the Vatican in 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2015. Since the Papal Transition in 2013, he has been English language Assistant to Holy See Press Office. Fr. Rosica is a member of the Standing Committee on Communications for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and a member of several Boards of Governors of Institutions of Higher Learning, including the Board of the Gregorian University Foundation in Rome.

 

The Duty and Obligation of being Pro-Life

ProLife

What does it mean to be pro-life?

To be actively pro-life is to contribute to the renewal of society through the promotion of the common good. It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted. Remember the prophetic words of Pope Paul VI:

Every crime against life is an attack on peace, especially if it strikes at the moral conduct of people…But where human rights are truly professed and publicly recognized and defended, peace becomes the joyful and operative climate of life in society.

Abortion is without a doubt the most serious wound inflicted not only on individuals and their families who should provide the sanctuary for life, but inflicted as well on society and its culture, by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders. We must never lose sight of the atrocities against the unborn, the untold and too-seldom spoken of pain and lingering anguish experienced by those who have been involved in abortions.

I know about the tragedy of abortion and I know about the good work of many people involved in the pro-life Movement who work hard to prevent this tragedy. However a singular focus on abortion as the arbiter of what it means to be “pro-life” has severely narrowed our national discourse about moral values in the public square. People claiming to be fervently Catholic, always right, and blinded by their own zeal and goodness, have ended up defeating the very cause for which we must all defend with every ounce of energy in our flesh and bones. Their anger vitiates their efforts.

Could it be that some of us are turned off or even repelled by current definitions or behaviors of some of those people claiming to be pro-life, yet manifesting a tunnel vision? The Roman Catholic Church offers a consistent teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness and the dignity of the human person: a 20/20 vision for which we must strive each day if we claim to be pro-life. Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. We must strive to see the whole picture, not with tunnel vision.

What is also troubling are those who claim to be on the “left”, always championing human and civil rights, respecting and upholding the dignity and freedom of others. This of course has included the protection of individual rights, and the efforts of government to care for the weak, sick and disadvantaged. Why then are the extension to the unborn of the human right to life, and opposition to the culture of death, not central issues on the “left?” They must be, for they are clearly matters of justice and human rights.

A few years ago, Cardinal Séan O’Malley wrote to the people of Boston with these words:

If any cause is motivated by judgment, anger or vindictiveness, it will be doomed to marginalization and failure. Jesus’ words to us were that we must love one another as He loves us… Our ability to change people’s hearts and help them to grasp the dignity of each and every life, from the first moment of conception to the last moment of natural death, is directly related to our ability to increase love and unity in the church, for our proclamation of the Truth is hindered when we are divided and fighting with each other.

We cannot ignore the other great challenge faced by humanity today–the serious question of mercy killing, or euthanasia as it is sometimes called, no longer found in abstract cases and theories. It concerns ordinary people and is debated not only in Parliament but also around dinner tables and in classrooms. Aging populations, especially in the west, and resulting smaller workforces are now creating a market push towards euthanasia. As Pope John Paul II wrote: “a right to die will inevitably give way to the duty to die.” This issue strikes to the very core of who we are and what we believe. Even when not motivated by the refusal to be burdened with the life of someone who is suffering, euthanasia must be called a false and misguided mercy. True compassion leads to sharing another’s pain, not killing the person whose suffering we cannot bear.

FrancisBaby

Furthering the Common Good

Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the dignity of the human person such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself, whatever insults human dignity such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons… all of these things and more poison human society.

It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted.

In Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, (Truth in Charity), the Holy Father addresses clearly the dignity and respect for human life:

Openness to life is at the centre of true development… When a society moves toward the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good. If personal and social sensitivity toward the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.

Engaging the Culture Around Us

Being pro-life does not give us the right and license to say and do whatever we wish, to malign, condemn and destroy other human beings who do not share our views. We must never forget the principles of civility, Gospel charity, ethics, and justice. Jesus came to engage the culture of his day, and we must engage the culture of our day. We must avoid the sight impairment and myopia that often afflict people of good will who are blinded by their own zeal and are unable to see the whole picture. Being pro-life is not an activity for a political party or a particular side of the spectrum. It is an obligation for everyone: left, right and centre! If we are pro-life, we must engage the culture around us, and not curse it. We must see others as Jesus does, and we must love them to life, even those who are opposed to us. Being pro-life in this day and age is truly prophetic, and it will bring about authentic development and enduring peace in our world.

We are all invited pray these words each day, especially during this week:

LupitaEternal Father, Source of Life, strengthen us with your Holy Spirit to receive the abundance of life you have promised.
Open our hearts to see and desire the beauty of your plan for life and love.
Make our love generous and self-giving so that we may be blessed with joy.
Grant us great trust in your mercy.
Forgive us for not receiving your gift of life and heal us from the effects of the culture of death.
Instill in us and all people reverence for every human life.
Inspire and protect our efforts on behalf of those most vulnerable especially the unborn, the sick and the elderly.
We ask this in the Name of Jesus, who by His Cross makes all things new. Amen.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

Father Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO Salt + Light Catholic Media Foundation

(CNS photo/Bob Roller)
(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Ezra and Nehemiah Revive the Faith

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Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – January 24, 2016

Today’s first reading is taken from the Book of Nehemiah, a book that tells of the reconstitution of the Jewish community after the Exile, the dispersion and the destruction of Jerusalem.

It tells the story of the new beginnings of a community and is full of hope, even through great difficulties still loomed ahead. The priest, Ezra, and a layman, Nehemiah, lived in the time when the people of Israel had been returned to their land after the years of the Babylonian Captivity and it was clearly a time of rebuilding. The people had lost the connections to their faith.

Ezra and Nehemiah were commissioned by the Lord to teach what had been lost, to rebuild the communal structures, to inspire the people once again to the high ideals of their Jewish faith — so that they could begin to live a healthy social and religious life.

The moving scene depicted in today’s first reading was the moment of the public re-proclamation of the law on which this community’s life was based. The gathered assembly listened to this proclamation in a deeply spiritual atmosphere. Some began to weep for joy at being able once again to listen freely to the Word of God after the tragedy of the destruction of Jerusalem and to begin salvation history once again. Nehemiah cautioned them, saying that it was a feast day and that in order to have strength from the Lord, it was necessary to rejoice, expressing gratitude for God’s gifts. Ultimately the Word of God is strength and joy.

What is our own reaction to this powerful scene? This reading is an invitation to each person, and especially to pastoral ministers, to thank God for his fidelity and his gifts and to thank all who have served as co-workers in rebuilding the foundations of our faith and our Church each day.

Luke’s pastoral strategy

The Gospel according to Luke is the only one of the synoptic gospels to begin with a literary prologue (1:1-4). Luke acknowledges his debt to earlier eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, but claims that his contribution is a complete and accurate account, told in an orderly manner, and intended to provide Theophilus (“friend of God”) and other readers with certainty about earlier teachings they have received. Luke is not telling people that what they previously learned was wrong. Rather, he confirms them in their faith, affirms them in their desire to know more about Jesus, and also puts things in order for them so that faith will be strengthened. Such a pastoral strategy is still very effective in transmitting the faith today.

Hometown boy returns

Luke is not the only evangelist who records Jesus’ visit to Nazareth “where he had been brought up” (4:16). Mark and Matthew also refer to this episode, although without mentioning the name of the town, referred to simply as “his home town” (Mark 6:1; Matthew 13:54). There are however several differences between the story told by Luke and those of Mark and Matthew. In Mark, Jesus’ visit to his home town is found not at the beginning of his ministry, but after a long period of preaching the Gospel and healing, even after the discourse in parables (4:1-34) and the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter (5:21-43). In Matthew, Jesus has also already pronounced his address on mission to the “Twelve Apostles” (10:2-42).

Luke chose to give this episode first place in his narration of the ministry of Jesus. At first sight we could think that it was Luke’s intention to correct the chronology of Mark and Matthew. A detail of his story demonstrates however that this supposition is incorrect: As Jesus preaches he says that the people in Nazareth will say to him: “We have heard all that has happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own countryside” (4:23). These words show that before going to Nazareth, Jesus had begun his ministry in Capernaum and had already provoked great admiration among the people, to the point that his fame had reached Nazareth.

An electric moment

When Jesus stood in the Nazareth synagogue, it was an “electric” moment. He took the Isaiah scroll and began to read from chapter 61. The text from Isaiah was taken from a collection of poems about the last days, which foretold the redemption of Jerusalem and symbolized the renewal of the people of Israel. When these words are placed on Jesus’ lips, they identify him as the messianic prophet of the final times, and they announce his mission: to proclaim the Good News, liberate men and women, and tell them of God’s grace. The whole of Jesus’ ministry therefore must be understood in this perspective.

Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written: “The spirit of the Lord has been given to me!” (4:16-18; Is 61:1). Very significantly the last line of Isaiah read by Jesus says: “to proclaim the Lord’s year of favor” (4:19; Is 61:2), and immediately afterwards, Jesus’ message was a declaration that precisely “this text” was being fulfilled on that day. The expression of Isaiah 61:2 “year of the Lord’s favor” clearly refers to the prescriptions in the Book of Leviticus on the jubilee year (Leviticus 25:10-13).

Luke’s story of Jesus in the synagogue does not quote the whole phrase of Isaiah, which includes two compliments of the object after the verb “proclaim” in Is 61:2. The Gospel quotes only the first (“the Lord’s year of favor”) neglecting the second which is “a day of vengeance for our God”. The prophecy of Isaiah foresees two aspects of divine intervention, the first the liberation of the Jewish people, the other punishment of her enemies. The Gospel has not retained this opposition. The omission clearly has two consequences: a) the message contains nothing negative; b) it is implicitly universal. There is no suggestion of distinction between Jews and non-Jews. Universal openness is an essential character of the ministry and preaching of Jesus, especially in the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.

Today’s Gospel scene ends with Jesus telling his hearers that he is the fulfillment of the prophetic words of Isaiah. In asserting that his words are fulfilled “today,” Jesus is saying in effect that the inauguration of his public ministry marks the beginning of the final times and the entry of divine salvation into human history. Through Jesus’ own appropriation of Isaiah’s words to his own ministry, he was reminding us that that history did not cover up the triumphs and disasters, the fidelities and infidelities of Israel throughout the ages. Rather, history made them stand out.

The time had come for Jesus to take history into his own hands, to confront it with his own person, to make a difference, and to remind his hearers that God had not abandoned their cries, their hopes, their sufferings, their dreams. God would fulfill them in his own Son who was standing in their very midst in the Nazareth synagogue. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah, bringing glad tidings and proclaiming liberty to captives. Not everyone will embrace this good news, as the rest of the Gospel will show us.

The failed evangelist

If we continue reading today’s Gospel story, we realize that the mood of excitement, awe and wonder quickly change when the prophet of Nazareth doesn’t speak the words that the local people wanted him to say. After Jesus sets forth the major points of his ministry in the opening scene in the Nazareth synagogue (Luke 4:16-21), the crowd grows terribly envious of one of their own and tries to get rid of him (4:22-30). Jesus did not succeed in making himself heard and understood and he had to depart in haste… for his life (4:30).

The first images of the ministry of Jesus are of a man who is defeated, unheeded and unwelcome. The people of Nazareth refused to hear his central message of liberation, freedom and reconciliation; they heard an approximation of it, highly colored by their own attitudes.

Our response to God’s Word

Like the people of Israel in the first reading, who gathered around the priest Ezra and listened to the word of God with deep emotion (Nehemiah 8:5), we, too stand to hear God’s saving message and feel his presence in this and every liturgy. Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people, their hands raised high, answered: ‘Amen, Amen'” (8:6). With this great “Amen” at the end of every Eucharistic prayer, we acknowledge the real presence on the altar, the living and eternal Word of the Father.

With the people gathered in the Nazareth synagogue, we, too, see and hear God’s Word fulfilled in the person of Jesus, the Word made flesh. To this proclamation, our voices also cry out: “Amen.” “I believe!” May the Spirit that anointed Jesus build us up into one body and send us forth to proclaim God’s freedom and favor for all people.

[The readings for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30 or 12:12-14, 27; and Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21]

When Cronos is Transformed into Kairos

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Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – January 17, 2016

Last Sunday gave us an opportunity to reflect on Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, and our own baptismal commitment. The wedding feast of Cana of today’s Gospel (John 2:1-11) is a manifestation of God’s glory and it continues the theme of Christ’s Epiphany and Baptism — of Jesus inaugurating his divine mission on earth.

The evocative text from Evening Prayer on the Feast of the Epiphany reads: “Three mysteries mark this holy day: today the star leads the Magi to the infant Christ; today water is changed into wine for the wedding feast; today Christ wills to be baptized by John in the river Jordan to bring us salvation.” Each event is accompanied by a theophany, by startling evidence of divine intervention; the star, the water into wine, the voice from heaven and the dove.

The story of the wedding feast in Cana may have been constructed from a real event in Jesus’ life. A careful reading of the text allows us to recognize the hand of the evangelist John reconstructing the scene, building in multiple layers of symbolic meaning. Today we look at the water becoming wine, the ordinary becoming extraordinary, and the beginnings of the Messianic age. The miracle at Cana foretells the way in which Jesus will accomplish his mission — by shedding his blood on the cross.

Key points of the story

Let us consider several key points of this highly symbolic Gospel story that has no parallel story in the other Gospels. “Sign” (semeion) is John’s symbolic term for Jesus’ wondrous deeds. John is interested primarily in what the “signs” (semeia) signify: God’s intervention in human history in a new way through Jesus. At Cana, symbol and reality meet: The human marriage of two young people is the occasion to speak of another marriage, the one between Christ and the Church, which will be achieved in “his hour” on the cross. At Cana in Galilee, we encounter the first sign when Jesus manifests his glory and the disciples believe.

The Mother of Jesus

The principal guest on the occasion of this wedding was not Jesus Himself but his mother, and the Gospel says that Jesus was also there as well as His apostles (1-2). The mother of Jesus is never named in John’s Gospel. The title “Woman,” used by Jesus for his mother is a normal, polite form of address, but unattested in reference to one’s mother (see John 19:26 where she is referred to as Woman and Mother.)

Mary appears symbolically; her function is to complete the call of the disciples. She is the catalyst for the sign that leads to the disciples’ expression of faith. Her words to the servants at the wedding banquet: “Do whatever He tells you” (2:5) are an invitation to all peoples to become part of the new people of God. Both at Cana and at Calvary in the fourth Gospel, Mary represents not only her maternity and physical relationship with her son, but also her highly symbolic role of “Woman” and “Mother” of God’s people.

Jesus’ response to Mary’s request is: “My hour has not yet come.” In other words, it was not yet time to completely reveal his glory. That would happen on the cross. But Jesus’ words to Mary are not the only indication to what this story is really about. The miracle, itself, the changing of water into wine, means that the old covenant between heaven and earth will be changed into something entirely new. At Mary’s word to her Son, a sad situation is transformed. At Jesus’ words to the servants at the wedding feast, the miracle takes place.

The “hour”

An important aspect of the Cana story is the use and meaning of “the hour”.  In the New Testament, the Greek word for hour, “hora” is more often used in reference to kairos time than to cronos time: “The hour [hora] comes and now is when the true worshiper” (4:23-24). “Hora” is used in many gospel stories of mighty works to identify the moment of healing, and in those cases it is usually translated “instantly.”  The “hour” spoken of by Jesus at Cana is that of his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension (John 13:1).

“Cronos” time measures ordinary occurrences and leaves the impression — often false — that we can control it. We can enter it into our Blackberries, iPhones and agendas and deal with time and events on our own terms.

“Kairos” time, on the other hand, represents discontinuity, when an unexpected barrier forces one to move off a planned course and adjust to new realities. Jesus’ hour, his appointed time or “kairos” moment, appeared before he wanted or expected it. Jesus had one schedule in mind; circumstances pushed him in another direction.

The wedding at Cana

Many levels of interpretation have existed for this symbolic Gospel story. One way is to view the story as a description of the contrast between what Jesus was about to offer and the inadequacy of Judaism. According to this view, Judaism had exhausted itself, run dry or empty. The finely fermented wine of Christianity was about to supplant the ordinary water of Judaism.

A second interpretation often considers the joy that characterizes the emerging realm of God. Jesus had an opportunity to announce himself to people brought together by the happiness of the union of two lives. The Lord’s revelation turned out to be a party within a party, a celebration within a celebration, a marriage within a marriage.  This perspective builds firmly on Jewish tradition where weddings are sacred moments. The first reading for today’s liturgy from Isaiah 62 begins with a wedding metaphor; the vindication of the divine will mean that Judah is no longer forsaken or desolate, for Judah will be the bride of none other than the Holy One of Israel.

The third and perhaps most profound layer of meaning shows how the disruption of “cronos” time can be transformed into an event of “kairos” time. Jesus had been expecting an introductory moment that he could identify and control. Instead, his “hora” came upon him unexpectedly, pushed on him by circumstances and by his persistent mother!

Jesus gives new life to these nuptials in Cana.  He does not provide vintage wine at the start when the palates are sharp but when the wedding banquet is in full swing! The Jesus of John’s Gospel saved the good wine until the “now” of a first disclosure of his glory (10). It was a manifestation or an epiphany, and it was meant to be that — observed later in the Church as the Epiphany on the feast of Dionysius, January 6 in our calendar, when it was reputed in the Greek world the god Dionysius turned water into wine.

Breakthrough moments

So often in our individual and community lives, in our various ministries, parishes and daily lives, we simply plod along from day to day, living with a sense of hopelessness, monotony or heaviness. We are locked into a “cronos” time, and cannot see how God wishes to break through the ordinary moments of life and transform our existence and our history into something extraordinary. The Lord invites us to allow him to fill the structures and jars of our existence with the new wine of his presence. When we listen to the Lord and do whatever he tells us, the ordinariness of our lives becomes extraordinary, the empty jars of water become filled with new wine, and we literally become the feast for one another.

The Cana Gospel episode points out to the couple a way to not fall into this situation or get out of if they are already in it: Invite Jesus to your wedding! What happens in all marriages happens in the wedding feast at Cana. It begins with enthusiasm and joy (symbolized by the wine); but the initial enthusiasm, like the wine at Cana, comes to wane with the passage of time. Then things are done no longer for love and with joy, but out of habit and routine. It descends upon the family, if we are not careful, like a cloud of sadness and boredom. Of such couples it must sadly be said: “They have no more wine!”

Today’s marvelous Gospel story is neither about Mary’s intercession nor about Jesus’ rebuke of his mother. The story is ultimately about the disclosure in ordinary family festive circumstances of the hidden glory of Jesus the Son. It is not about excessive drinking at Jewish weddings! It is neither about norms, traditions and rules of family life nor even about marriage. Nor is it about Judaism as empty and Christianity as being full.

John’s story of the wedding at Cana invites us to consider seriously whether we think that the master of the feast who gives the command: “Fill the jars with water” can make all things new in our own lives.  One’s hour comes — the kairos moment presents itself — at the intersection of frustrated plans and openness to the Divine.  Cana teaches us that the Messiah of the world had to adjust his schedule when events took a surprising turn. The story of Jesus’ coming-out event as told by John demonstrates his spiritual flexibility.  How can our “cronos” time be transformed into “kairos” — a real moment of breakthrough and hope, of promise and new possibility?

Today let us beg the Lord and his Mother to make us faithful stewards, ready to do whatever Jesus tells us and eager to share with others the wine he provides.  When we listen to the Lord and do whatever he tells us, the ordinariness of our lives becomes extraordinary, the empty jugs of water become filled with new wine, our cronos moments are transformed into kairos moments, and we become the feast for one another.

[The readings for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Isaiah 62:1-5; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; and John 2:1-11]

Baptism is a Call to a Prophetic Career

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Baptism of our Lord, Year C – Sunday, January 10, 2016

The theme of Christ’s epiphany — of Jesus inaugurating his divine mission on earth — reaches its fulfillment in the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The feast seemingly brings an end to the Christmas season, but Christmas really ends with the feast of the Presentation of the Lord on Feb. 2.

In today’s Gospel story (Luke 3:15-16, 21-22), Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee after the baptism preached by John. In describing the expectation of the people (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 (2:25-26, 37-38). John the Baptist tells of one far greater than he, one with a more powerful baptism.

In contrast to John’s baptism with water, Jesus is said to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Luke 3:16). From the point of view of the early Christian community, the Spirit and fire must have been understood in the light of the fire symbolism of the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). As part of John’s preaching, the Spirit and fire should be related to their purifying and refining characteristics (Ezekiel 36:25-27; Malachi 3:2-3).

When Jesus is baptized, the voice from heaven booms out and names him: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” This affirmation is the defining moment for the prophet from Nazareth. It is God’s declaration of love to God’s new Israel; it is God’s naming to supreme accountability; it is God’s surprise for the world of the proud and powerful.

Through his baptism by John in the muddy waters of the Jordan, Jesus opens the possibility to us of accepting our human condition and of connecting with God the way we were intended to. Jesus accepts the human condition, and this includes suffering and death. He stretched his arms out in the Jordan River and on the cross. In the Jordan, Jesus received his commission. On the cross he completed it. Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan identifies him deeply with the people he has come to redeem.

We, too, are called to a prophetic career.

When we were baptized into Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death. Our baptism is a public, prophetic and royal anointing. We receive the life of the Church and are called to sustain that faith life. Faith is about concern for others. Faith is a public — not private — responsibility.

Baptism is a call to a prophetic career. How we live that out may vary from person to person. The ways may not be as dramatic as the adventures of an Isaiah or a John the Baptist, yet they are in that same great prophetic tradition. To be prophetic is to become involved and to get our hands and feet dirty.

Through our own baptism, we can become a light to others, just as Jesus is a light to us, and to the world. Our own baptism fills us with a certain boldness, confidence and enthusiasm, reminding us that the Gospel must be proclaimed with gratitude for its proven beauty.

When we slowly discover the demands of that faith, and where the way of repentance leads, when we can tell good from evil; when we search for what God wants to do in our lives and ask him to help us accomplish it; when we learn as much as we can about God and his world; when we come near to God, then — at that moment — the person for whom the heavens opened is revealed also to us.

Baptism in today’s Church

In many parts of the world today, baptizing children has already become the exception. The number of unbaptized infants, children, young people, and adults is on the rise. The decline in the practice of baptism is the result of an erosion of family ties and a departure from the Church. During numerous priests’ retreats, gatherings of priests and pastors, I have often heard it discussed that when the priest does not see visible signs of the practice of faith, then the Church would have the right to refuse the sacraments to people, especially baptism. It is a very complex question.

Could we not, however also listen anew to the Gospel missionary injunction to “baptize, preach and teach” not by waiting for the people to come to us but by going out to meet the people where they are in today’s messy world? What is demanded of us is a new missionary fervor and zeal that do not require extraordinary events. It is in ordinary, daily life that mission work is done. Baptism is absolutely fundamental to this fervor and zeal.

The sacraments are for the life of men and women as they are, not as we would like them to be! I can hear Saint Pope John Paul II crying out to us: “Duc in altum!” It is not in the shallow, familiar waters that you will find those who most need you!

The dilemma of withholding baptism and other sacraments from those believed to be unfit because they are not practicing has always been present in the Church. It is a dilemma that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger experienced personally as a young man, and finally resolved later in life. Listen to what Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, said in replying to a related question from a priest of Bressanone in northern Italy, in a public question-and-answer session with the clergy of the diocese on Aug. 6, 2008. The priest, Father Paolo Rizzi, a pastor and professor of theology, asked Benedict XVI a question about baptism, confirmation, and first communion:

“Holy Father, 35 years ago I thought that we were beginning to be a little flock, a minority community, more or less everywhere in Europe; that we should therefore administer the sacraments only to those who are truly committed to Christian life. Then, partly because of the style of John Paul II’s Pontificate, I thought things through again. If it is possible to make predictions for the future, what do you think? What pastoral approaches can you suggest to us?”

Benedict XVI responded with these words, so fitting for us on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord this year:

“I must say that I took a similar route to yours. When I was younger I was rather severe. I said: the sacraments are sacraments of faith, and where faith does not exist, where the practice of faith does not exist, the Sacrament cannot be conferred either. And then I always used to talk to my parish priests when I was Archbishop of Munich: here too there were two factions, one severe and one broad-minded. Then I too, with time, came to realize that we must follow, rather, the example of the Lord, who was very open even with people on the margins of Israel of that time. He was a Lord of mercy, too open — according to many official authorities — with sinners, welcoming them or letting them invite him to their dinners, drawing them to him in his communion. […]

“I would say, therefore, that in the context of the catechesis of children, that work with parents is very important. And this is precisely one of the opportunities to meet with parents, making the life of faith also present to the adults, because, it seems to me, they themselves can relearn the faith from the children and understand that this great solemnity is only meaningful, true and authentic if it is celebrated in the context of a journey with Jesus, in the context of a life of faith. Thus, one should endeavor to convince parents, through their children, of the need for a preparatory journey that is expressed in participation in the mysteries and that begins to make these mysteries loved. […]

“I would say that this is definitely an inadequate answer, but the pedagogy of faith is always a journey and we must accept today’s situations. Yet, we must also open them more to each person, so that the result is not only an external memory of things that endures but that their hearts that have truly been touched. The moment when we are convinced the heart is touched — it has felt a little of Jesus’ love, it has felt a little the desire to move along these lines and in this direction, that is the moment when, it seems to me, we can say that we have made a true catechesis. The proper meaning of catechesis, in fact, must be this: to bring the flame of Jesus’ love, even if it is a small one, to the hearts of children, and through the children to their parents, thus reopening the places of faith of our time.”

May today’s feast of the Lord’s Baptism be an invitation to each of you to remember with gratitude and renew your own baptismal promises. Relive the moment of the water that rushed over you. Pray that the grace of your own baptism will help you to be light to others and to the world, and give you the strength and courage to make a difference in the world and in the Church. 

[The readings for the feast of the Baptism of the Lord are: Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7, or Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Acts 10:34-38, or Timothy 2:11-14; 3:4-7; and Luke 3:15-16, 21-22]

Praying in Paris During Octave of Christmas

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Bataclan Paris 1In Paris, France for several days after Christmas to attend some meetings, I walked over to Place de le République on Tuesday afternoon this week to visit the memorial that was set up after the terrorist attacks of November 13, 2015 in the French capital. Having heard of the site from several friends here, I did not imagine the size of the spontaneous memorial nor the huge crowds that I would find… many in prayer.
I spent an hour in the square Tuesday afternoon and saw hundreds of people moving quietly around the monument in the middle of the square – praying, kneeling, touching photos of those who were tragically killed on that November black Friday weeks before. There were adults praying the rosary, young people chanting some hymns from Taizé, Muslims bowing down on their prayer rugs, and tourists from many countries simply walking around the monument and taking photos. I saw signs asking that people remember not only those who died in France, but those who lost their lives in Beirut, Lebanon; in the Russian plane tragedy, in San Bernardino, California and several other places in the world.

Bataclan Paris 2I spoke with one of the young national police officers guarding the area. He told me that the crowds had not diminished over the past six weeks, and that there were even greater crowds down the boulevard in the 11th arrondissement, near the Bataclan theater that was site of the greatest loss of lives in the recent Paris attacks: eighty-nine people were massacred inside the theater that night. I made the 5-minute walk to that area and was very moved by what I saw. Hundreds of people walking in front of the Bataclan café and theater and hundreds more across the street walking before another spontaneous memorial. Many people continued to bring flowers, light small candles and leave personal messages. This memorial contained personal effects of many of those who lost lives: t-shirts and other articles of clothing, a bicycle belonging to one of the victims, stuffed animals, religious pictures, statues, and hundreds of personal messages written by school children around the world, letters from family members of those who lost their lives, and striking photos of those who died. So many were young adults who were enjoying themselves at a concert that night.

Bataclan Paris 3The whole sight left me with a deep feeling of loss, sadness, and bewilderment in this Octave of Christmas 2015.While neighboring Parisian stores and shops were packed with shoppers purchasing sale items to satisfy personal needs and pleasures, in Place de la République and at the Bataclan, many French citizens and hundreds of tourists were experiencing much emptiness, loss and fear. Terrorist 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 human relations and destroy trust and solidarity, making use of all means, including religion, to oppose every attempt to build a peaceful life together.

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. Bataclan Paris 4ISIS 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. We must distinguish between true religion and the twisted religion used to justify hatred and violence. True religion leads people to healing, peace, solidarity 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 Pope Francis’ Message for the 49th World Day of Peace (January 1, 2016) entitled “Overcome Indifference and Win Peace”, the Bishop of Rome writes:

2. Sadly, war and terrorism, accompanied by kidnapping, ethnic or religious persecution and the misuse of power, marked the past year from start to finish. In many parts of the world, these have became so common as to constitute a real “third world war fought piecemeal”. Yet some events of the year now ending inspire me, in looking ahead to the New Year, to encourage everyone not to lose hope in our human ability to conquer evil and to combat resignation and indifference. They demonstrate our capacity to show solidarity and to rise above self-interest, apathy and indifference in the face of critical situations.

Bataclan Paris 65. This then is why “it is absolutely essential for the Church and for the credibility of her message that she herself live and testify to mercy. Her language and her gestures must transmit mercy, so as to touch the hearts of all people and inspire them once more to find the road that leads to the Father. The Church’s first truth is the love of Christ. The Church makes herself a servant of this love and mediates it to all people: a love that forgives and expresses itself in the gift of oneself. Consequently, wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. In our parishes, communities, associations and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy.”
We too, then, are called to make compassion, love, mercy and solidarity a true way of life, a rule of conduct in our relationships with one another. This requires the conversion of our hearts: the grace of God has to turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, open to others in authentic solidarity. For solidarity is much more than a “feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far”. Solidarity is “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all”, because compassion flows from fraternity.”

Bataclan Paris 8My visit to Place de la République and the Bataclan during the Octave of Christmas this year gave me much more than I ever anticipated. The Christmas story was brought to life in a stark and vivid way for me. Beyond the tinsel, glitter and shallowness of the commercial Christmas spirit, the unforgettable images of hundreds of people in mourning and shock reminded me of the importance of human solidarity that transcends all divisions, of compassion which heals deep wounds of loneliness and loss, and prayer to a God of mercy, peace and charity, which holds us all together when we are hurting and grieving.

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