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Salt + Light Television wins 2016 Gabriel Award for Religious Television Station of the Year

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On Thursday, June 2, 2016 Salt + Light Television will be presented with its sixth Gabriel Award for Religious Television Station of the Year at the 51st Catholic Media Conference in St. Louis, Missouri.

Salt + Light Television is Canada’s only national, award-winning Catholic television network that offers a variety of programs, live event coverage, series, documentaries and other hope-filled content. The network is available on various cable and satellite carriers in Canada and throughout the world via online streaming, on-demand videos, various Social Media platforms and a yearly magazine.

“I accept this honor once again for Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation Network as a tribute to our late founder, Gaetano Gagliano, who left us at the age of 99 this past spring,” said Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation. “His bold, visionary leadership enabled and enobled us to offer the flavor of the Gospel and the light of Christ to Canada and far beyond over the past 14 years. On behalf of our entire staff, I thank the Catholic Academy for this award  as we pray in gratitude for Gaetano Gagliano’s vision of Catholic Media as a privileged instrument of the new Evangelization.”

Since 1965, the Catholic Academy of Communications Professionals has honoured works of excellence in film, television and radio programs.  The Catholic Academy addresses commercial and religious broadcasters, producers, and filmmakers to produce films and programs that serve and enrich the community.

Born on the wings of World Youth Day 2002 in Canada, Salt + Light is a unique instrument of the New Evangelization. It is dedicated to being, and helping others become, the salt of the earth and the light of the world. The mission of Salt +Light is to proclaim Jesus Christ and the joy of the Gospel to the world by telling stories of hope that bring people closer to Christ and the Catholic faith.

 

Sharing the new life within us: A reflection on the Feast of the Visitation

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Feast of the Visitation – Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Today’s feast of the Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth invites us into a deeply personal moment of the Scriptures (Luke 1:39-56). The Precursor and the Lord are both hidden from each other. Yet even before the two women embrace, John leaped for joy in his mother’s womb, having recognized the presence of the Lord and Messiah in the womb of Mary. Both births are hailed by two beautiful canticles: the Benedictus sung by Zechariah, father of the Baptist at his son’s birth (1:68-79) and the Nunc Dimittis prayed by Simeon, the “righteous and devout” man in the Jerusalem temple, as he takes the infant Jesus in his arms (2:22-35).

There are two aspects of the Visitation scene to consider. The first is that any element of personal agenda of Mary and Elizabeth is put aside. Both had good reason to be very preoccupied with their pregnancies and all that new life brings. Both women had a right to focus on themselves for a while as they made new and radical adjustments to their daily lives. Mary reaches out to her kinswoman to help her and also to be helped by her. These two great biblical women consoled each another, shared their stories, and gave each other the gift of themselves in the midst of the new life that they must have experienced: Elizabeth after her long years of barrenness and now sudden pregnancy, and Mary, after her meeting with the heavenly messenger, and her “irregular” marriage situation and pregnancy.

Visitation IconThe second point of this moving story is Mary’s haste. Luke tells us that she undertook in haste the long and perilous trek from Nazareth to a village in the hill country of Judea. She knew clearly what she wanted and did not allow anyone or anything to stop her.

In his commentary on Luke’s Gospel, St. Ambrose of Milan describes this haste with an almost untranslatable Latin phrase, “nescit tarda molimina Spiritus Sancti gratia” which could mean: “the grace of the Holy Spirit does not know delayed efforts’ or ‘delayed efforts are foreign to the grace of the Holy Spirit.” Mary’s free choice to move forward and outward is reflective of a decision taken deep within her heart followed by immediate action.

How many things exist in our lives that we dreamed of doing, should have done, and never did? Letters that should have been written, dreams that should have been realized, gratitude that was not expressed, affection never shown, words that should have been said, etc.? Postponements and delays weigh heavily upon us, wear us down and discourage us. They gnaw away at us. How true St. Ambrose described Mary’s haste: the Spirit completely possessed the Virgin Daughter of Nazareth and compelled her to act. Such possession by God’s Spirit is the only possession worthwhile, life-giving, hopeful and joyful.

The story of the Visitation teaches us an important lesson: when Christ is growing inside of us, we will be led to people, places and situations that we never dreamed of. We will bear words of consolation and hope that are not our own. In the very act of consoling others, we will be consoled. We will be at peace, recollected, because we know that however insignificant our life and issues seem to be, from them Christ is forming himself. The women of today’s Gospel show us that it is possible to move beyond our own little personal agendas and engage in authentic ministry.

Ministry is not simply doing things for others, loving difficult people, serving the poor, teaching others. Authentic ministers allow themselves to serve and be served, taught, cared for, consoled and loved. Such moments liberate us and enable us to sing Magnificat along the journey, and celebrate the great things that God does for us and our people.

Consider the words of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997) on this feast:

In the mystery of the Annunciation and the Visitation, Mary is the very model of the life we should lead. First of all, she welcomed Jesus in her existence; then, she shared what she had received. Every time we receive Holy Communion, Jesus the Word becomes flesh in our life – gift of God who is at one and the same time beautiful, kind, unique. Thus, the first Eucharist was such: Mary’s offering of her Son in her, in whom he had set up the first altar. Mary, the only one who could affirm with absolute confidence, “this is my body”, from that first moment offered her own body, her strength, all her being, to form the Body of Christ.

(Images: Visitation by Ghirlandaio; Icon of the Visitation)

The Mighty Power & Unwavering Faith of Two Biblical Widows

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Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – June 5, 2016

In today’s first reading from the Elijah cycle in I Kings, the great prophet of the Old Testament did not set out on his journey until he received his commission from God. It is essential to be in communication with God through listening to God’s Word before setting out on mission. Elijah was recognized publicly as having the Word of the Lord in his mouth, the one who deals with life and death in his own breath, prayer and body; the one who lives on the kindness of the poor and who knows the life of the fringe on the outside of society; the one who flees for fear of his life. Elijah, called the “troubler” or “disturber” Israel by King Ahab, lives his life between raging passion and violence, between gentle tenderness and deep prayer.

In Sunday’s Old Testament narrative, Elijah is told to go to Zarephath (v.9), which is part of Sidon. That verse contains three commands: “arise,” “go,” and “stay.” The prophet will be tested with each of these commands through faith, trust, obedience, availability and commitment. When Elijah is told to “arise”, it is not only a physical movement from one place to another, but a spiritual one. For Elijah, following the Lord obediently is the result of his own spiritual reawakening.

Elijah & widow of ZarephathThe second command, “go to Zarephath” involves the idea of a journey, including risks, hardships and dangers. Elijah is sent to a specific place, Zarephath, which means “a smelting place, a place of testing.” Zarephath was in the land of Sidon, which belonged to the wicked Jezebel.   Elijah is not going on retreat nor on some kind of exotic vacation!

The third command, “stay there” was a great challenge to his own commitment, trust and vision as a man of God who was simply seeking to serve the Lord and do the Lord’s will. Elijah’s provision would come from a poor, destitute, depressed widow facing starvation in the pagan nation of the Sidonians, who represented the forces clearly opposed to Israel’s God. Elijah encounters a woman who would look after him, a person not living in a large house and sharing her excess with itinerant prophets, but rather one barely existing at the gate of the city, collecting a few sticks since she had no fuel at home to cook even a meager meal. This poor woman would give all she had to assist the prophet.

The God who commanded the ravens and provided for Elijah in the desert (I Kings 17:1-7), was the same God who had commanded the widow and would provide for the prophet through her. At Zarephath, the poor woman listened to Elijah’s instruction and it was just as he had promised according to the Word of the Lord. She saw the power of God and the widow, her son and Elijah were all sustained.

Example of a poor widow’s generosity

What lessons can we learn from this passage about the remarkable widow and the devout, fiery prophet? The widow of Zarephath was challenged by the prophet Elijah to share what little she had, in spite of her desperate circumstances. Because of this poor woman’s generosity and goodness, and Elijah’s faithfulness, God strengthened the prophet’s faith and renewed his capacity for ministry. The Lord used the prophet to bring consolation and peace of mind and heart to the widow and her son.

Authentic ministry is always mutual: we set out to help others and we end up being helped and blessed by the very people we set out to help! The Lord will provide for us, beyond outward appearances of weakness, failure, fatigue, trepidation and fear. God always does far more than we can ever ask for or imagine!

This striking Old Testament story forces us to ask some serious questions of our own lives. How have I responded to the needs of those around us when we’ve felt that we’ve got little or nothing to give? Do we worry that there will not be enough for us if we give away our money or our time?

Elijah exhorted the widow with the words, “Do not be afraid.” This same admonition is repeated in the Gospels and was also the refrain of St. John Paul II’s long, fruitful, prophetic Petrine ministry: “Be not afraid!” How does fear affect our lives and keep us from obeying the spirit of the Lord? Do we cling to those things that cannot help us, forgetting to trust in the goodness of God?

The widow of Zarephath was generous with Elijah. She gave to the limit of her resources, and God rewarded both the widow and her son. Do we have that same radical faith and trust? Do we behave as if we are owners of our talents and resources or simply as if we are God’s steward?

This reading causes us to make some firm resolves with our own lives. Let me suggest a few concrete actions based on this story from the First Book of Kings. It is important to consider our own willingness to be generous with both material goods and with our very being. Perhaps this week we can ask God for the grace to respond charitably to those who ask of us, whether it is a worthwhile charity or the neighbor, friend or colleague who simply needs to talk and to be heard. The well-to-do who put money in the treasury were never condemned by Jesus; he simply pointed out the nature of their contribution. They gave from their surplus, and thus it did not “cost” them as much to give. Do we have a surplus from which to contribute? If so, do we use this money in the best way possible?

How do we consider our charitable giving? Are we concerned with the poor, the sick, the homeless, refugees and those on the peripheries of society? Do we use our wealth to help create a culture of life? Or are we more interested in building up our personal security? Perhaps we can pray this week for wisdom and a spirit of generosity so that we will use our money to help further the kingdom of God.

The only son of another widow

Let’s consider another story of a biblical widow from the New Testament. Just prior to today’s Gospel story in Luke 7, Jesus’ power was displayed for a Gentile whose servant was dying; in today’s episode of the grieving woman from Nain, it is displayed toward a widowed mother whose only son has already died. Jesus’ power over death prepares for his reply to John’s disciples in Luke 7:22: “the dead are raised.” This resuscitation of the woman’s only son clearly alludes to the prophet Elijah’s resurrection of the only son of a widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8-24 – today’s first reading ) and leads to the reaction of the crowd: “A great prophet has arisen in our midst” (Luke 7:16).

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We cannot read this Gospel without thinking back to the prophet Elijah who is the memory, the echo of Jesus, the Gospel prophet who raises from the dead the only son of a poor, grieving widow. And because of this, the people recognize that Jesus is truly a prophet in word and deed. Most people are afraid of prophets because they disrupt our life and relationships, challenge us and expose our motives. What is this story all about if not God loving us and revealing himself to us in the distressing guise of the poor, the widowed, the orphaned of his day and of our day. This Gospel story of pathos teaches us what it means to give people back to each other as Elijah did to the widow in his day and Jesus did to this widow in Nain.

Prophecy calls all of us as the people of God to repentance, transformation, boldness, courage and faithfulness. It calls us to create a culture of encounter. What draws prophecy and compassion together and integrates them is the person of Jesus. He is the human Son of God standing both as the Word from all eternity and the Word spoken in this time and place. It is Jesus’ passion for obedience, for truth, and his compassion for sinners and the poor that pulls the two together and makes them whole and holy. The presence of the Spirit in Jesus and in all of us is what negotiates and translates the common ground between prophecy and compassion.

Our belief in the resurrection

If in Jesus’ resurrection we were dealing simply with the miracle of a resuscitated corpse, it would ultimately be of no concern to us. The miracle of a resuscitated corpse would indicate that Jesus’ resurrection was equivalent to the raising of the son of the widow of Nain (Lk 7:11–17), the daughter of Jairus (Mk 5:22–24, 35–43), and Lazarus (Jn 11:1–44). After a certain period of time, these individuals returned to their former lives and would then eventually experience a final death.

In the three cases of resurrection reported in the gospels, all the successive physical aspects of death are mentioned. Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus when she was still lying on her bed, He raised the son of the widow of Nain while he was being carried out in a coffin, and He raised Lazarus who was already buried and decomposing. Jesus’s power over death is absolute. This applies just as much to different degrees of spiritual death as it does to different degrees of physical death, and the gospel accounts of resurrection indicate symbolically how Jesus restores life to sinners.

Jesus’ power to raise people from the dead is not dependent upon whether a person has just died, has been dead for days, or is already decomposing. In today’s Gospel, the only son of the widow is twice as traumatic for the woman because she is now childless as well as spouseless. In each of the three accounts of Jesus raising people to life (Jairus, Lazarus and the widow’s son), it is the compassion that Jesus felt for the sorrowing relatives which was the primary cause of the miracle. When Jesus has compassion on the widow, saying, “Do not weep,” He is not asking her to cheer up. Instead, it is a foreshadowing of his power. He will remove the cause of her tears and simultaneously give His disciples a preview of God wiping away all tears.

The two processions of death and life 

Luke is the only one to record the raising of a widow’s son. There were two processions that day in Nain. One was a funeral procession carrying the dead body of the young boy to the town cemetery. That procession was filled with despair, grief, sorrow and the helplessness and hopelessness of our human lot. The second procession, led by Jesus, was the procession of life en route to reverse humankind’s tragic journey to the grave. This procession offered hope, peace, salvation and eternal life to those who weep and mourn.

While the Gospel story of the widow’s son allows us to experience Jesus’ deep compassion, it cannot be ignored that the miracles of resurrection have another cause also: they demonstrate that Jesus has all power over life and death. The story reveals the unmistakable authority with which Jesus (by a sign) stopped the procession; then the solemn and directive of the words, “I say to you, arise”; and the fact that Luke, who in the first verses of the chapter 7 speaks simply of “Jesus”, now uses the word “Lord”, for this was an encounter in which the Lord of life confronted death and human grief. And Jesus’ power is awesome.

Resurrection is never an isolated, privatized hidden incident. Men and women of the resurrection motivate others to do something new. People of the Resurrection know how hard it is to come back from the dead. Resurrection gives meaning and joy in the midst of anguish, violence, grief and suffering. If we believe in the resurrection of Jesus, we beg to differ with the darkness and the night. We never accept situations the way they are. We become leaders of processions of life, ready to intersect with the many processions of death around us. We risk touching the dead and the outcasts – all those who sit in the shadows of death and exist on the fringes and peripheries of life. We repeat the words of Jesus: “Live again, love again, arise.” We restore grieving, suffering people to communities and circles of life and reconnect them with those from whom they have been separated.

[The readings for the Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time are: I Kings 17:8-9; 17-21a; 22-24; Galatians 1:11-19; and Luke 7:11-17.]

(Image: Jesus and the Widow of Nain by James Tissot)

Two Eyes & a Smile, Innocence & Goodness

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Photo credit: Salt + Light


Remembering Cardinal Loris Capovilla & the Saint he served so well…

St. John XXIII’s personal secretary, Cardinal Loris Capovilla died Thursday at the age of 100. It is not possible to speak of him without speaking of Pope John XIII, and to speak of them both is to speak of the Second Vatican Council. Shortly after the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II two years ago, Sebastian Gomes and I had the great privilege of spending a day in Sotto il Monte and visiting with Cardinal Capovilla. I shall never forget our lively conversation that day, as well as the day I spent last year after the October 2014 Synod of Bishops at the Vatican when I returned to Sotto il Monte to film a long interview with the Cardinal who was then 99 and still going strong.

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Photo credit: Salt + Light

During our first visit with the Cardinal in 2014, he shared with us his memories of the Second Vatican Council and where the whole idea started. A few weeks after the conclave which elected Cardinal Angelo Roncalli as Pope in 1958, Pope John XXIII called his faithful young secretary, Monsignor Capovilla, to his office in the Apostolic Palace. The Pope told him, “My desk is piling up with problems: with questions, requests, hopes. What is really necessary is a Council.”

“I kept quiet,” said Capovilla.

The Pope responded, “I have asked myself why my secretary, when I confide in him says nothing! But I know why,” he continued, “You think I’m old. You worry! You mean well, but you think I’ll make a mess out of this enormous task; that I don’t have time! Because you think like a commander, like a bank director! But that’s not the way you reason with faith. To receive a great inspiration, and regard it with admiration, and imagine your pleasure in it, is already of great merit. If God allows one to carry on with collaborators, who encourage one to move ahead, even better! And if one begins only with the first preparatory commission, that is of great merit. If one dies, another will come. It is a great honor just to begin!”

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Photo credit: CNS

Cardinal Loris continued to tell us story after story about the behind the scenes activities that led to the opening of the historic Council on October 11, 1962. The time spent with this holy, little man has left a deep and lasting impression on me, on Sebastian, and on some friends who were with us.

Capovilla also spoke with much emotion about the death of the ailing pontiff on June 3, 1963, only a few months after the Council began. On that warm, Roman June evening, only a few people were gathered around the Pope’s death bed in the Papal apartment. Capovilla told us: “I said to him, Holy Father there are only a few of us here in this room, but if you were to look out of your window onto the piazza you would see crowds of people. I thought he’d reply in his usual reserved manner, but instead he responded: “naturally that’s the way it should be because the Pope is dying, I love them, they love me.”

Cardinal Capovilla also told us the story of when he was kneeling at the bedside of the dying Pope. The Pope called him over and whispered, “When this is all over, be sure and go see your mother.”

To the end, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was a human being, more concerned with his faithfulness than his image, more concerned with those around him than with his own desires.

Pope John’s personal secretary has often highlighted how rather than cultivate nostalgia, Papa Giovanni, the new saint proclaimed by Pope Francis, look towards the future. Capovilla told me last year in our final meeting and interview:

“We are not custodians of a shrine, a reliquary or a museum. As Pope John himself said we are called to cultivate a garden where the seed of the Word, of the Word Incarnate is set in an effort to foster the Advent of a New Pentecost, a new Easter, a new Spring. Not just for our personal happiness but for the happiness of all of humanity. It’s a long journey, we are far from our final destination, one that is not there merely to safeguard but to share with the people of the world”.

St. John XXIII has gone down in history as the ordinary man who astonished the world, by launching the Catholic Church into one of its most momentous epochs by calling the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. With an infectious warmth and vision, John stressed the relevance of the church in a rapidly changing society and made the church’s deepest truths stand out in the modern world. But according to Cardinal Capovilla, his faithful and loyal secretary and friend, to describe Pope John all that one need to say is: “Two eyes and a smile, innocence and goodness”.

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Photo credit: Archives in Sotto il Monte

Cardinal Capovilla also had high praise for Pope Francis, who created him a cardinal in February 2014. Speaking to me last year about Francis’ first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Cardinal Capovilla reiterated to us how much the Gospel is the good news. But he also stressed this point to us: “What is this good news? It’s that I am a son of God and God does not abandon me. It’s wonderful to hear Pope Francis say almost every day that God does not reject anyone but accepts everyone”.

Now that Loris is united with his former boss and friend, John, may the two of them intercede for us and help us to keep alive the spirit and messages of the Second Vatican Council, and may they teach us to never forget that if we wish to change the world and the Church, what is required above is a smile, innocence and goodness.

Cardinal Capovilla’s funeral will take place on Monday morning, May 30 in the parish church of Sotto il Monte, near Bergamo.  He will be laid to rest in the cemetery of the ancient Abbey of Fontanella of Sotto il Monte, close to his priest friend Fr. David Maria Turoldo.

Loris and St. John, pray for us!

The Sacrament of Nonviolence Makes Martyrs for the Truth

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Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ – Sunday, May 29th, 2016

Four Gospels tell the wonder-filled story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes that has been situated geographically at Tabgha, the place of the seven springs on the Northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. Today’s Gospel looks back to the rich theology and spirituality of Israel, and also forward to contemplate the idea of life in God’s kingdom as a banquet at which the Messiah, himself, will preside.

Mark’s readers saw this incident as an anticipation of the Last Supper (14:22) and the messianic banquet, both of which were celebrated in the community’s Eucharists. Matthew’s addition of the number of people present and fed is very important, because the total figure could well have come to 20,000 or 30,000 people. Since the total Jewish population of Palestine at the time of Jesus is estimated at half a million, Jesus is presented as feeding a tenth of the population. This gives the feeding stories a social character, which makes them different from healing stories or the accounts in the other Gospels.

Luke, of all the evangelists, immediately links this feeding account with Jesus’ prediction of his passion and his instructions about bearing one’s cross daily (9:18-27). To celebrate the Eucharist in memory of Jesus (22:19) is to share not only his mission (9:1-6) but also his dedication and destiny, symbolized by the cross (9:18-27). The Eucharist is intended to nourish and strengthen us for continuing faithfully in our way of life.

Feeding the new Israel

Let us situate today’s Gospel passage (Luke 9:11-17) in Luke’s Gospel. Chapter 9 begins with the mission of the 12: they are sent to proclaim the kingdom, to have power over demons, to bring the good news to the people, and to cure their diseases. Jesus gives his disciples who have just returned from preaching and curing God’s people, a new charge: they are to feed reconstituted Israel with the Eucharist.

Luke teaches us two important lessons in today’s Gospel. First Jesus welcomes this vast crowd of common folk, even though “the Twelve” wanted to send them away. Luke’s use of ” the Twelve” to indicate a special group of disciples, is a reflection of the significance of that number in the traditions among the people of Israel. In particular, it recalls the twelve tribes of Israel. By using the term “Twelve,” Luke indicates that being chosen to serve in a particular way is not an excuse for distancing oneself from the crowd, the common people. On the contrary, the Twelve, like Jesus, must be welcoming.

Second, Jesus teaches that the disciples are to share whatever they have. In the sharing there will be more than enough. Logic and human reason say, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish.”  But Jesus asks that these meager provisions, as well as the generosity of the disciples, be stretched to their limits. Of all the evangelists, Luke stresses the fact that salvation reaches into the practical realities of human life.

The Sacrament of Nonviolence

The Eucharist sums up all the teaching, passion and death of Jesus, and his nonviolent way must be at the heart of the Eucharist. Luke’s passion narrative is about the Lamb, who goes to his death rejecting violence, loving enemies, returning good for evil, praying for his persecutors. The Eucharist, therefore, is truly the sacrament of nonviolence. The way of Jesus to conquer evil and violence must be the Christian way: the way of nonviolence, of love and forgiveness. The nonviolent way of Jesus is historically at the heart of his teaching, and at the same time at the heart of his passion and death.

Man of the Eucharist and Martyr for the Truth

We see this how this Eucharistic reality was lived out in the life of a young Polish priest, Father Jerzy Popieluszko (1947-1984) who was beatified as a martyr on the feast of Corpus Christi, June 6, 2010, in Warsaw’s Pilsudski Square. I wish to tell you a little about this remarkable priest who has been a hero and role model to me for the past many years.

Jerzy Popieluszko was born on Sept. 14, 1947, in the village of Okopy in Eastern Poland. He was from a strong Roman Catholic family. After secondary school, Jerzy entered the seminary in Warsaw, rather than the local seminary in Bialystok. His training was interrupted by two years of military service, during which he was beaten several times for living his Christian faith.

After ordination, the young priest, who never enjoyed good health, held several appointments before his final appointment to the parish of St. Stanislas Kostka in Warsaw. He worked part-time in the parish, which enabled him to work as well with medical personnel. As a result of his close work with health care personnel, he was asked to organize the medical teams during Pope John Paul II’s visits to Poland in 1979 and Warsaw in 1983.

August 1980 saw the beginning of the Solidarity trade union in Poland. Workers from the Warsaw steel plant, who were on strike in support of the shipyards on the Baltic Sea, requested a priest to say Mass for them. The lot fell to Father Jerzy. He stayed with the workers night and day. Solidarity represented for him a vision that he had first learned from St. Maximilian Kolbe: that of spiritual freedom amidst physical enslavement. It was this vision of the truth about the vocation of every man and woman, which Father Jerzy promoted amongst the workers by his presence.

On Dec. 13, 1981, the communist authorities imposed martial law, arresting many Solidarity activists and launching a program of harassment and retaliation against others. Many who had been on strike lost their jobs, and so their ability to support their families; others were beaten up on the streets and left for dead. Father Popieluszko became an important focus in a welfare program to support families affected by martial law.

He regularly attended the trials of Solidarity activists, sitting prominently in court with their families so that the prisoners could see that they were not forgotten. It was in the courtroom that he had the idea for a monthly Mass for the country, to be celebrated for all the imprisoned and their families. It was not a political demonstration — Father Popieluszko specifically asked his congregation not to display banners or chant slogans. His Masses for the Fatherland became well known not only in Warsaw, but throughout Poland, often attracting 15,000 to 20,000 people. Father Popieluszko insisted that change should be brought about peacefully; the sign of peace was one of the most poignant moments of each Mass for the country.

Father Popieluszko was neither a social nor a political activist, but a Catholic priest faithful to the Gospel. He wasn’t a forceful speaker, but someone of deep conviction and integrity. His sanctity lay in fundamental righteousness that gave people hope even in horrendous situations. He knew that all totalitarian systems are based on terror and intimidation. The Communists saw him as an enemy because he freed people from fear of the system. He exposed the hypocrisy of the Communist regime and he taught believers how to confront totalitarianism. How often Jerzy made St. Paul’s words his own in his preaching: ” Fight evil with good.”

On Oct. 19, 1984, the young priest was kidnapped by security agents on his way back to Warsaw after a visit to a parish in the neighboring town of Bydgoszcz. He was savagely beaten until he lost consciousness, and his body was tied up in such a way that he would strangle himself by moving. His weighted body was then thrown into a deep reservoir. His killers carried out their task with unprecedented brutality, which shows their hatred of the faith that the priest embodied. Jerzy’s driver, who managed to escape, told what had happened to the press. On Oct. 30, Popieluszko’s bound and gagged body was found in the freezing waters of a reservoir near Wloclawek. Fr. Jerzy’s brutal murder was widely believed to have hastened the collapse of communist rule in Poland.

Father Jerzy’s funeral was a massive public demonstration with over 400,000 people in attendance. Official delegations of Solidarity appeared from throughout the whole country for the first time since the imposition of martial law. He was buried in the front yard of his parish church of St. Stanislaw Kostka, and since that day, 17 million have visited his tomb.

Over the past 20 years, I have been privileged to pray several times at his grave in the Warsaw working suburb, and to witness the extraordinary effect that this young priest has had on so many young people. He promoted respect for human rights, for the rights of workers and the dignity of persons, all in the light of the Gospel. He practiced, for Poland and for the whole world, the virtues of courage, of fidelity to God, to the cross of Christ and the Gospel, love of God and of the homeland. He represented patriotism in the Christian sense, as a cultural and social virtue. He was deeply devoted to the Eucharist. More than 80 streets and squares in Poland have been named after Father Jerzy. Hundreds of statues and memorial plaques have been unveiled to him; some 18,000 schools, charities, youth groups and discussion clubs have been named after him.

Because the murdered priest is being proclaimed a martyr for hatred of the faith, Popieluszko’s beatification process did not require evidence of a miracle. The formal verification of a miracle is not necessary, even though many have been reported. His beatification is an example for priests, in the light of his total fidelity to Christ. Father Jerzy provides a model for us, calling us to strive that what we say and do outwardly should always agree with our inward conscience.

Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko, Man of the Eucharist, Martyr for the Truth, your life was broken and shared with the multitudes. The blood of your martyrdom has become the seed of faith for your homeland and for the Church. You are a priest forever, in the line of Melchizedek (Psalm 110). Pray for us.

[The readings for Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ are: Genesis 14:18-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 9:11b-17]

We Give You Thanks for Your Great Glory

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Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity – Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

On the Sunday that follows Pentecost, we celebrate the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Thanks to the Holy Spirit, who helps us understand Jesus’ words and guides us to the whole truth, believers can have a personal experience of the intimacy of God himself, discovering that he is not infinite solitude but communion of light and love, life given and received in an eternal dialogue between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.

Lady Wisdom, the communicator

Today’s first reading from Proverbs (8:22-31) speaks about Lady Wisdom, the person created by God before the creation of the world to communicate God’s love and to guide us in peaceful living. Wisdom in many ways parallels the New Testament Holy Spirit. Even if we are unable to rationally explain the Trinity, we still are required to manifest the triune God by our actions.

The Book of Proverbs is the most “earthy” of all the books of the Bible. Within this collection of short, pragmatic sayings, which fill most of the book, there is a beautiful, mystical reflection in Chapter 8. “Lady Wisdom” is personified (given human traits) in an attempt to describe the ways in which God chooses to reveal divine nature.

Wisdom is presented as something very intimately involved with God, and in later writings wisdom is perceived as the quality human beings need to discern God’s activity in the world. Wisdom’s superiority over all things is due to her origin before them. While wisdom is seen to emanate from God’s mysterious abode, still it is most visible to us, “established in the sky,” across “the sea [and] its limit,” over the “surface of God’s earth.” Wisdom was poured forth, begotten by God at the beginning, and as God’s co-worker wisdom directed creation and found delight in the human race.

Experience and discernment

The poetry of Proverbs is meant to give us a sense of the beauty and permanence — indeed, the eternal quality — of wisdom. In all those attributes, wisdom is Godlike. It is also God’s gift to human beings, the gift that enables them to see beyond the literal and into the deeper significance of life’s events. Wisdom in many ways parallels the New Testament Holy Spirit. Wisdom is in no way equated with intellectual prowess or an accumulation of information or mere data. Instead, it is more closely associated with experience and discernment. Above all, it is a spiritual entity, not independent of thought and logic but far superior to it.

The effects of justification

In his letter to the Romans (5:1-5), Paul begins to discuss the Christian faith in Christ Jesus, and he presents the Christian experience in itself and explains how salvation is assured for the upright. In today’s passage, the mystery of the Holy Trinity moves out of theological formulation and becomes an active ingredient, a leaven, in daily life. The first effect of justification the Christian experiences is peace; reconciliation replaces estrangement. The second effect of justification is confident hope.

Once justified, the Christian is reconciled to God and experiences a peace that distressing troubles and sufferings cannot upset, a hope that knows no disappointments, and a confidence of salvation in Jesus. The statement about hope is a typically Pauline paradox: The Christian who boasts puts the boast in something that is wholly beyond ordinary human powers — in hope. Verse 5 contains the powerful assurance that (such) hope does not disappoint us. The Christian will never be embarrassed by a disappointed hope; implicit is a comparison with merely human hope, which can deceive. God’s Spirit must direct our lives, modeling them and fashioning them on the life and words of Jesus.

Hope and Christian optimism

Verse 5 also contains the expression “God’s love” — not to be understood as our love of God, but God’s love of us. Paul speaks of the love with which God moves toward us. This love is expressed through Jesus and is perpetuated by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to draw us back to the love of God. Paul assures us that even suffering can enable us to endure, to develop character and to hope for victory, with Jesus as our model. The gift of the Spirit is not only the proof but also the medium of the outpouring of God’s love. It signifies the divine presence to the justified.

Toward a deeper understanding

In John’s Gospel (16:12-15), the disciples could not bear all that Jesus had to tell them. First they needed the assurance that only his triumph over death could bring. Three times the Spirit of truth is said to engage the Church. The Spirit will “declare” to us what is to come (v 13). The Spirit will “declare” to us what the Spirit has taken from Christ (v 14). The Spirit will take what is of Christ and “declare” it to us (v 15).

Three times the same verb is used to describe the same activity, anaggellein: to announce or to proclaim something again. It means that the Spirit will continue what has been realized in Christ. But the Holy Spirit will interpret it for us, will probe its deeper meaning, will make it understood in different cultures and contexts. This idea of the “revelation of the things to come” did not mean that the Paraclete could make any sort of prophetic revelations about the future, but that the Paraclete guided the community in its understanding of Jesus as the fulfillment of everything that had been promised in Scripture.

Mission and vocation

The Spirit leads the Church into truth through this ceaseless activity, through the declarative interpretation of what is of Christ, so that the experience of faith might move toward a deeper understanding of what is in Christ. This is a rich and profound concept that describes beautifully the vocation and mission of the true shepherd and priestly person: We are called to interpret the experience of faith that allows for deeper understanding and knowledge of God in the life of every person and in the life of the world.

Our mission is truly “to take what is of Christ and to declare it,” to interpret it, to profess it, to tell it over and over again to the world. “To take what is of Christ” indicates a profoundly personal contact with Christ through prayer, contemplation, and study. In the Spirit, we are to bring what is of Christ to a new understanding, to a new realization in the temporal order. We are called to build a civilization of justice, love and peace based on our knowledge of and relationship to Jesus Christ.

Experiencing glory

The increasing glory of God is this progressive revelation of the Trinity. What is the experience of glory for us? It is not euphoria, bliss or ecstasy, although those elements may indeed be present in those who have profound experiences of God’s presence in their lives. When the presence and idea of God comes to dominate our consciousness and our loves, when it becomes almost palpably present with the intensity of deeper meaning and love, this is glory.

When the experience of God sustains us in the midst of excruciating pain and suffering, spiritual darkness and emptiness, crisis and confusion, we have a foretaste of God’s glory. No matter what befalls us, we have a profound awareness that God is with us, that God surrounds us, protects us and holds us in the palm of his hand. St. Paul says that this is the hope for the glory in which human beings are called to exult. So great a gift of God is this that every Sunday the Church prays: “We give you thanks for your great glory.”

Communication

The Trinity is communication between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is the profound mystery which today’s liturgy for the feast of the Holy Trinity recalls: both the unspeakable reality of God and the manner in which this mystery has been given to us. Though we may struggle with the Holy Trinity, we nevertheless take it into our very hands each time that we mark ourselves with the sign of the cross.

I conclude with this excerpt on the Trinity as Mystery from the dialogue “On Divine Providence” by St. Catherine of Siena (Cap 167, Gratiarum actio ad Trinitatem). It is used in the Roman Office of Readings for the liturgical memorial of this great saint of the Church, whose feast is celebrated each year on April 29. It is a magnificent prayer to the Trinity that we could pray each day.

“Eternal God, eternal Trinity, you have made the blood of Christ so precious through his sharing in your divine nature. You are a mystery as deep as the sea; the more I search, the more I find, and the more I find the more I search for you. But I can never be satisfied; what I receive will ever leave me desiring more. When you fill my soul I have an even greater hunger, and I grow more famished for your light. I desire above all to see you, the true light, as you really are.

“I have tasted and seen the depth of your mystery and the beauty of your creation with the light of my understanding. I have clothed myself with your likeness and have seen what I shall be. Eternal Father, you have given me a share in your power and the wisdom that Christ claims as his own, and your Holy Spirit has given me the desire to love you. You are my Creator, eternal Trinity, and I am your creature. You have made of me a new creation in the blood of your Son, and I know that you are moved with love at the beauty of your creation, for you have enlightened me.”

[The readings for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity are: Proverbs 8:22-31; Romans 5:1-5; and John 16:12-15]

(Image: Fresco of the Holy Trinity by Luca Rossetti da Orta)

There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted

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There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted
A reflection on Euthanasia

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
May 12, 2016

The Supreme Court of Canada decided on February 6, 2015 that Canadians have a legal right to ask for and receive a doctor’s help in killing themselves. Originally the court gave Parliament one year to pass a new law to replace sections of the Criminal Code which had previously forbidden assisted suicide. A fall election and a slow process of review made it impossible for the politicians to meet the original deadline, which was then extended six months. Bill C-14 “An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying)” passed second reading April 22, 2016. Bill C-14, no matter how it may be amended, is an affront to human dignity, an erosion of human solidarity, and a danger to all vulnerable persons. It is a fundamentally unjust law. Why should we absolutely and categorically disagree with any attempt at justifying or supporting a ‘right’ to assisted suicide or euthanasia? In light of the very sad and deeply troubling decision of the Supreme Court of Canada overturning Canada’s euthanasia law, I offer you these reflections.  

There is nothing new about people becoming terminally ill, suffering, wanting to die, and our being able to kill them. Right-to-die movements have gained momentum at a time of anxiety about aging populations; people who are older than 65 represent the fastest growing demographic in the United States, Canada, and much of Europe.

Let’s look beyond our borders to witness the ambiguous and destructive powers of the proponents of a right-to-death. In Belgium, a country that some are justifiably calling “the killing fields”, euthanasia is now embraced as an emblem of enlightenment, liberation and progress, signs that the country has freed itself from its deeply Catholic roots and heritage. Belgium was the second country in the world, after the Netherlands, to decriminalize euthanasia; it was followed by Luxembourg, in 2009, and, this year, by Canada and Colombia. Switzerland has allowed assisted suicide since 1942. The United States Supreme Court has recognized that citizens have legitimate concerns about prolonged deaths in institutional settings, but in 1997 it ruled that death is not a constitutionally protected right, leaving questions about assisted suicide to be resolved by each state. Several months after the ruling, the state of Oregon passed a law that allows doctors to prescribe lethal drugs for patients who have less than six months to live. In 2008, the State of Washington adopted a similar law; Montana decriminalized assisted suicide the following year; and Vermont legalized it in 2013.

In Oregon and Switzerland, studies have shown that people who request death are less motivated by physical pain than by the desire to remain autonomous. In Belgium and in the Netherlands, where patients can be euthanized without even having a terminal illness, the laws seem to have permeated the medical establishment more deeply than elsewhere, perhaps because of the central role granted to doctors: in the majority of cases, it is the doctor, not the patient, who performs the final act. In the past five years, euthanasia and assisted-suicide deaths in the Netherlands have doubled, and in Belgium they have increased by more than a hundred and fifty per cent. Although most of the Belgian patients had cancer, people were euthanized because they had autism, anorexia, borderline personality disorder, chronic-fatigue syndrome, partial paralysis, blindness coupled with deafness, and manic depression.

Laws allowing euthanasia or doctor-assisted-death seem to be motivated less by the desires of the elderly than by the concerns of a younger generation, whose members derive comfort from the knowledge that they can control the end of their lives. Belgian laws have created a new understanding of suicide as a medical treatment, totally divorced of its tragic and moral dimensions.

Why is the case against euthanasia so hard to establish? When personal and societal values were consistent, widely shared and based on shared religion, the case against euthanasia was simple. God commanded: “You shall not kill.” In secular societies based on intense individualism, the case for euthanasia is simple: Individuals have the right to choose the manner, time and place of their death. In contrast, in such societies the case against euthanasia is complex. Is anyone concerned any longer about harm caused to the entire community rather than being obsessed with personal and individual preferences?

Death has now been professionalized, technologized, depersonalized and dehumanized. Facing those realities makes euthanasia seem an attractive option and easier to introduce and accept. Conversations about death used to take place in religious conversation and in churches, synagogues, mosques and temples during worship services.  Such conversations were serious and always had moral dimensions. No so any longer. Death talk is on radio and TV talk shows and in unreflective media.  It is so often cheap conversation for such a serious topic.  And the moral dimension is absent.

Our parliaments and courts have replaced our religious centres. That has resulted in the legalization of societal ethical and moral debates, including in relation to death. It is not surprising, therefore, that the euthanasia debate centres on its legalization. The vast exposure to death that we are subjected to in both current-affairs and entertainment programs might have overwhelmed our sensitivity to the awesomeness of death as well as inflicting it.

Mainstream media has caused great confusion about the topic of euthanasia and has been extremely deceptive in its portrayal of human suffering and compassion.  Most people who think that euthanasia and assisted suicide should be legal are not thinking the whole issue through. They are thinking about personal autonomy and choice. They think about what it would be like to suddenly become incapacitated and consider such a life as undignified or worthless. Perhaps they consider severely disabled people as having no quality of life.  Our dignity and quality of life don’t come from what we can or cannot do. Dignity and quality of life are not matters of efficiency, proficiency and productivity.  They come from a deeper place – from who we are and how we relate to each other.

There are solid secular arguments against euthanasia: legalizing euthanasia would harm the very important shared societal value of respect for life, and change the basic norm that we must not kill one another. It would also harm the two main institutions – law and medicine.  These pillars of society are more important in a secular society than in a religious one for upholding the value of respect for life. And, it would harm people’s trust in medicine and make them fearful of seeking treatment.

Our society has lost sight of the sacred nature of human life. As Catholic Christians we are deeply committed to the protection of life from its earliest moments to its final moments. When people today speak about a “good death,” they usually refer to an attempt to control the end of one’s life, even through physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia. The Christian notion of a good death, however, is death not as a good end, but a good transition, that requires faith, proper acceptance and readiness. The dimension of the Paschal mystery of suffering, death and resurrection has been absent from our end of life conversation and discussion.

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When life is not respected, should we be surprised that other rights will sooner or later be threatened? Aging populations, especially in the west, and resulting smaller workforces are now creating a market push towards euthanasia. As St. John Paul II wrote: “a right to die will inevitably give way to the duty to die.”

What is wrong with abortion, euthanasia, embryo selection, and embryonic research is not the motives of those who carry them out. So often, those motives are, on the surface, compassionate: to protect a child from being unwanted, to end pain and suffering, to help a child with a life-threatening disease. But in all these cases, the terrible truth is that it is the strong who decide the fate of the weak; human beings therefore become instruments in the hands of other human beings.

Pope Francis has criticized those who support a right to euthanasia for people suffering painful or terminal illnesses, saying that they spread a “lie” that lives affected by such illnesses are not worth living. In his annual message for the World Day of the Sick, celebrated by the Catholic church each February 11, Francis criticizes the phrase “quality of life,” frequently used by those who advocate for euthanasia rights to emphasize the pain suffered by some ill persons who might choose to medically end their lives if given the chance by law. Francis makes the critique in a section of the message that emphasizes the importance of spending time with those who are sick or ill. Pope Francis first asks that the Holy Spirit “grant us the grace to appreciate the value of our often unspoken willingness to spend time with these sisters and brothers who, thanks to our closeness and affection, feel more loved and comforted.” In his 2016 Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis writes (#48): “Euthanasia and assisted suicide are serious threats to families worldwide; in many countries, they have been legalized. The Church, while firmly opposing these practices, feels the need to assist families who take care of their elderly and infirm members”.

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. Nor can we 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 has arrived on our shores and it has invaded our lives. 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. The best way to know if we are still in any way a Christian society is to see how we treat our most vulnerable people, the ones with little or no claim on public attention, the ones without beauty, strength or intelligence.

The Roman Catholic Church holds a consistent ethic of life. The Church offers a teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness and dignity of the human person. However, opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. 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. In economically developed countries, legislation contrary to life is very widespread: frequent attempts are made to export this mentality to other states as if it were a form of cultural progress.

Suicide as a mode of euthanasia contradicts the fundamental responsibility that human beings have to protect one another and to enhance the quality of health and social care which every human life deserves, from conception to natural death. The proposed Canadian legislation for physician-assisted-death or suicide threatens to throw non-complying doctors and nurses out of their jobs and risks closing Catholic hospitals. Second, it does nothing to limit the ways in which assisted suicide may be proposed or offered to vulnerable people.

An absence of conscience protections at the federal level for those health-care professionals and institutions who refuse to take part or directly refer for assisted suicide means provincial regulators could set up a patchwork of conflicting policies that would result in fewer doctors and hospitals available to Canadians. Just when our health-care system requires more resources, not less, the federal government must not allow lower jurisdictions to drive conscientious health-care practitioners from their professions. Laws that would make medicine the agent of death on demand, are a clear violation of the sacrosanct duty of health-care providers to heal, and the responsibility of legislators and citizens to assure and provide protection for all, especially those persons most at risk.

We have a responsibility to confront the intrusion of euthanasia in our society – especially if we are to understand our moral obligation as caregivers for incapacitated persons, and our civic obligation to protect those who lack the capacity to express their will but are still human, still living, and still deserving of equal protection under the law.  There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted from conception to natural death, from womb to tomb.

 

Fr. Rosica Receives Distinguished Communicator Award from Brooklyn’s DeSales Media Group

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Watch Fr. Thoms Rosica, CSB, deliver the keynote above!

To commemorate World Communications Day this past Sunday, DeSales Media Group, the communications ministry of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, hosted today the 25th diocesan World Communications Day Catholic Media Conference at the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge. Blessed Paul VI in 1967 established World Communications Day as a time to explore how modern means of social communication can best be utilized by the Church. Pope Francis has selected the theme “Communication and Mercy: A Fruitful Encounter.”

What was once a local celebration has grown into a full-scale conference of media influencers. The purpose is to connect, inspire and bring together Catholic television, print and digital content creators, entertainers, innovators and media executives.

Two years ago, the Most Rev. Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, received the Francis DeSales Distinguished Communicator Award. Upon winning, he spoke about the urgency of being proficient in social media.

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During this year’s conference, the Diocese of Brooklyn honored Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B. with the St. Francis DeSales Distinguished Communicator Award. Pope Benedict XVI appointed Rosica to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in 2009. Since the Papal Transition in 2013, Fr. Rosica has worked closely with Rev. Federico Lombardi, SJ, and has related on a daily basis to several hundred English language journalists and television and radio personnel around the world. During this time, he also served as media attaché at four Synods of Bishops at the Vatican in 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2015. At Salt + Light, he has been executive producer of more than 50 documentaries and hundreds of television programs for the network during the past 13 years.

Upon reception of the prestigious award from Brooklyn’s Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and the DeSales Media Group, Fr. Rosica delivered the following address:

Address of Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Catholic Media Conference of the DeSales Media Group
New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn, New York – May 11, 2016

Bishop DiMarzio,
Monsignor Harrington,
Dear Friends of De Sales Media Group,

You have honored me with the St. Francis DeSales Distinguished Communicator Award this morning, but I wish to pay tribute to you, the De Sales Media Group, which I consider to be one of the finest Catholic media operations in North America. Your group, named after St. Francis DeSales, patron saint of writers and journalists, has specialized in the delivery of Catholic news, information, entertainment and religious programs on many platforms simultaneously. Your creative works have crossed and united borders, cultures and generations and your cable channel, with which we at Salt and Light Television have the great pleasure of collaborating, has a unique, contemporary mission on air and on line, always adapting itself to your new audiences. What I admire very much about your work is that you have avoided the great temptation in religious communications and broadcasting to remain prisoners of nostalgia, enchained by the past. Instead, your activities are firmly rooted in the Catholic tradition and pointed to a future of hope. You open doors to a faith that offers attractive, compelling answers to questions deep in the hearts of all men and women.

Isn’t this the heart of the Petrine Ministry of Pope Francis? Aren’t these the lessons he has been teaching us over the past three years? Contrary to some voices which think he is a great revolutionary who has rocked the boat, or even sunk the ship, Francis has not overturned doctrine and age-old beliefs that are the bedrock of our Catholic Christian faith. He simply wishes to make those teachings understandable and part of our lives. Pope Francis has the boldness and courage to ask deep questions and he is unafraid to start a conversation and remain with it. Francis rejects the reduction of Catholicism to hot-topic moral issues. He does not want to reduce the church only to discussions and heated debates. Pope Francis makes a distinction between dogmatic and moral teachings, reminding us that they do not hold the same weight. With Francis, the church must re-enter public discourse with a full-throated defense of the common good that rises above bitter partisan divisions that have poisoned our cultures in North America.

We must stand for something much greater than division, rancor, labeling and meanness of spirit that have dominated politics and infected the Church. He calls for a church ‘of and for the poor’ that is not turned in on itself, but ‘in the streets.’ He reminds us forcefully that the culture of prosperity deadens us. Francis speaks with authority and integrity because he has lived the church’s social teaching in his own ministry.  His love for Jesus Christ is contagious and we are all infected by it. This elderly bishop from Argentina walks his talk and walks the walk.

In his highly appropriate and timely message for this year’s World Day of Communications, celebrated on Ascension Sunday, Francis chose Communication and Mercy: A Fruitful Encounter as the theme of this year’s Communication Day. At the heart of the 2016 message is the mercy of God. It is so complementary to the special Jubilee Year of Mercy being experienced throughout the whole Church, which, Pope Francis says, “is called to practice mercy as the distinctive trait of all that she is and does … Our primary task is to uphold the truth with love.”  

Some of the key points from this year’s World Communications Day message are the following:

  • We are reminded that to communicate in an authentic manner we must be able to ‘listen’ to, rather than merely ‘hear’, when we encounter another.”
  • If our hearts and actions are inspired by charity, by divine love, then our communication will be touched by God’s own power.
  • As sons and daughters of God, we are called to communicate with everyone, without exception.
  • 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 political and diplomatic language would do well to be inspired by mercy, which never loses hope.
  • Mercy can help mitigate life’s troubles and offer warmth to those who have known only the coldness of judgment.  May our way of communicating help to overcome the mind-set that neatly separates sinners from the righteous.  We can and we must judge situations of sin – such as violence, corruption and exploitation – but we may not judge individuals, since only God can see into the depths of their hearts.
  • Our primary task is to uphold the truth with love.
  • Listening is never easy.  Many times it is easier to play deaf.  Listening means paying attention, wanting to understand, to value, to respect and to ponder what the other person says.

The necessity of dialogue

Time and time again over the past three years, Francis has reminded us of the necessity of dialogue with others, and this is a very important part of our mission in the area of Catholic media and broadcasting. Each and every one of us is called to be an instrument and agent of peace, by uniting and not dividing, by extinguishing hatred and not holding on to it, by opening paths to dialogue and not by constructing new walls. When he addressed the bishops of the United States gathered in St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, DC last September 23, 2015, Pope Francis said to his brother bishops of the US:

“And yet 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).”

“The path ahead, then, is dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society. I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly. The richer the heritage which you are called to share with parrhesia, the more eloquent should be the humility with which you should offer it. Do not be afraid to set out on that “exodus” which is necessary for all authentic dialogue. Otherwise, we fail to understand the thinking of others, or to realize deep down that the brother or sister we wish to reach and redeem, with the power and the closeness of love, counts more than their positions, distant as they may be from what we hold as true and certain. Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.”

Last Friday as he received the prestigious Charlemagne prize in a special ceremony in the Vatican, Pope Francis once again emphasized the necessity and capacity for dialogue. He spoke these provocative words to the audience that included leaders of many European nations and governments:

“If there is one word that we should never tire of repeating, it is this: dialogue. We are called to promote a culture of dialogue by every possible means and thus to rebuild the fabric of society. The culture of dialogue entails a true apprenticeship and a discipline that enables us to view others as valid dialogue partners, to respect the foreigner, the immigrant and people from different cultures as worthy of being listened to. Today we urgently need to engage all the members of society in building “a culture which privileges dialogue as a form of encounter” and in creating “a means for building consensus and agreement while seeking the goal of a just, responsive and inclusive society” (Evangelii Gaudium, 239). Peace will be lasting in the measure that we arm our children with the weapons of dialogue, that we teach them to fight the good fight of encounter and negotiation. In this way, we will bequeath to them a culture capable of devising strategies of life, not death, and of inclusion, not exclusion.”

“This culture of dialogue should be an integral part of the education imparted in our schools, cutting across disciplinary lines and helping to give young people the tools needed to settle conflicts differently than we are accustomed to do. Today we urgently need to build “coalitions” that are not only military and economic, but cultural, educational, philosophical and religious. Coalitions that can make clear that, behind many conflicts, there is often in play the power of economic groups. Coalitions capable of defending people from being exploited for improper ends. Let us arm our people with the culture of dialogue and encounter.”

These words not only referred to the political and diplomatic efforts of nations, but also the vocation and mission of each of us involved in Catholic communications, broadcasting and media. How do we allow our media platforms to become transmitters of the rich and beautiful Catholic tradition while at the same time serving as instruments of dialogue with the peoples, traditions and cultures around us? How do our platforms and various entities “build bridges between individuals and within families, social groups and peoples?” How do we become agents and vehicles of tenderness and mercy?  Or do we simply contribute to the acrimony, division, vengeance, condemnation and hatred present in so many parts of the world? In his vision and blueprint for ministry, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis criticizes forces within the church who seem to lust for “veritable witch hunts,” asking rhetorically, “Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?”

Francis wants the church to be an instrument of reconciliation and welcome, a church capable of warming hearts, a church that is not bent over on herself but always seeking those on the periphery and those who are lost, a church capable of leading people home.

Francis has rebranded Catholicism

After three years at the helm of the Church, we must ask ourselves: 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 I dare say that 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 and for displaced peoples roaming the face of this earth. 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!

The inability of some media 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.

Francis wants us to be warm, welcoming and forgiving as Jesus has modeled to us on every page of the New Testament. 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.

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.”

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.

I offer you two areas where field hospitals are badly needed in our media and communications efforts, projects and programs. And not only hospitals are needed but caregivers willing to step into the battle and bring healing.

New Media and Authentic Catholic Communications

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, unreflective the responses may be from our audience, our patient listening must always triumph. Internet and digital culture condition 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.  

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 in our media efforts.  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. 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, websites and programming the expression of the wealth of the Christian patrimony and successful in transmitting the Good News that the Lord has asked us to spread?

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, all in the name of defending the faith!  The character assassination on the Internet by those claiming to be Catholic and Christian has turned it into a graveyard of corpses strewn all around. Often times the obsessed, scrupulous, self-appointed, nostalgia-hankering virtual guardians of faith or of liturgical practices are very disturbed, broken and angry individuals, who never found a platform or pulpit in real life and so resort to the Internet and become trolling pontiffs and holy executioners!  In reality they are deeply troubled, sad and angry people. We must pray for them, for their healing and conversion!

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. 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 or ghetto network of communications for the elite, the clean, the perfect and the saved.  This would be a “church clique” or a “personal blog” or “chat room” more than an ecclesial community.

From the Pope’s Message for this year’s World Day of Communcations, we must never forget this critical point:

“Communication, wherever and however it takes place, has opened up broader horizons for many people. This is a gift of God which involves a great responsibility. I like to refer to this power of communication as “closeness”. The encounter between communication and mercy will be fruitful to the degree that it generates a closeness which cares, comforts, heals, accompanies and celebrates. In a broken, fragmented and polarized world, to communicate with mercy means to help create a healthy, free and fraternal closeness between the children of God and all our brothers and sisters in the one human family.”

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Thank you for the privilege of being here with you.  Thank you for the honor you have given me with the St. Francis DeSales Award. If we remember Francis de Sales today, is it not for the call to holiness for all people in all walks of life, the necessity of living in the “present moment” as the privileged opportunity to know and live God’s will, the goodness of creation, the centrality of love and freedom in one’s relationship with God and the world, the sanctity of the “ordinary” done “passionately well” and the gentleness, humility, optimism and joy that come from living in truthfulness? In the person of Pope Francis, we have a great role model who has given flesh and blood to Francis DeSales’ modus operandi. Francis of Buenos Aires is a mover and shaker of human hearts and consciences, a living witness to what happens when communications and mercy meet. Let us learn from him how to model this badly needed kindness, goodness, mercy and joy to a wounded world and broken humanity around us.


Biography of 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. In that capacity, he has been Executive Producer of over 50 documentaries and hundreds of television programs for the network over the past 13 years. Salt and Light is known for the many young women and men who are the faces, minds and hearts of that very creative 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, working closely with Fr. Federico Lombardi, and relating on a daily basis to several hundred English language journalists and television and radio personnel around the world.

Fr. Rosica is a member of several Boards of Governors of Institutions of Higher Learning, including the Board of the Gregorian University Consortium Foundation in Rome.  He has received honors from the Governments of Great Britain, Italy and Israel as well as an Honorary Doctorate from Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania.  In June 2015, Fr. Rosica was awarded the Clarion Award by the Catholic Academy of Communication Professionals in North America. The Academy honored him as “Broadcaster, Filmmaker and Church Spokesman whose portrayal of the Catholic Church brings the light of the Gospel to millions.”


Photos: Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, Msgr. Kieran Harrington, Vicar for Communications and Head of DeSales Media Group. Photo courtesy of DeSales Media Group by Robert Longo

The Humble, Yet Powerful Beginning of a New Age

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Solemnity of Pentecost – Sunday, May 15th, 2016

We know the story well (Acts 2:1-11) – it is the dawn of the day of Pentecost and the followers of Jesus are gathered to wait and pray. This new day begins with an explosion of sounds from heaven, and a violent wind. The story is reminiscent of the mighty wind that hovered over the waters in the Genesis creation story. What was first heard was then seen – tongues like fire (2:3). The first gift of the Holy Spirit is the gift of speech in different languages.

The scene quickly shifts from the inside upper room, where the disciples are gathered, to the Jerusalem streets outside the house. There the Gospel is already drawing crowds together. Out in the streets, “devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem” (2:5) confront the Church, and their initial response is bewilderment (2:6). The “tongues” spoken of are obviously various languages of “every nation under heaven,” since each foreigner exclaims: “We hear, each of us, in our own native language” (2:8).

Luke’s roll call of the nations – Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes (2:9-10) – makes it very clear that no nationality is excluded from the proclamation of the Good News. In these few lines, Luke gives us a glimpse in miniature of the whole plot of the Acts of the Apostles.

Authentic Christian spirituality

Chapter 8 of Paul’s letter to the Romans addresses the elements of authentic spirituality (8:8-17). To please God is the goal of human life striven for by both Jew and Christian, yet this goal cannot be attained by those who are dominated by self (“in the flesh”). In order to please God, one must be “in the Spirit,” i.e., living “according to the Spirit” (8:5).

According to Paul, the baptized Christian is not only “in the Spirit,” but the Spirit is now said to dwell in him or her. Paul insists that attachment to Christ is only possible by the “spiritualization” of human beings. This attachment is no mere external identification with the cause of Christ, or even a grateful recognition of what he once did for humanity. Rather, the Christian who belongs to Christ is the one empowered to “live for God” through the vitalizing influence of his Spirit.

Without the Spirit, the source of Christian vitality, the human “body” is like a corpse because of the influence of sin, but in union with Christ the human “spirit” lives, for the Holy Spirit raises the dead to life. The Spirit not only gives new life, but also establishes for human beings the relationship of an adopted son and daughter and heir. It is the Spirit that animates and activates the Christian and makes one a child of God. The theme of sonship in Romans is Paul’s attempt to describe the new status of the Christian in relation to God. Christians have received the Spirit (of Christ or God), but this is not a “spirit” in the sense of a disposition or mentality that a slave would have. Animated by God’s Spirit, the Christian cannot have the attitude of a slave, for the Spirit sets free. Through the Spirit the Christian proclaims that God is Father.

Pentecost in the Gospel of John

Today’s Gospel scene takes place on the night of the first Easter. Only this initial appearance of Jesus to his disciples (John 20:19-23) has parallels in the other Gospels (cf. Luke 24:36-39; Mark 16:14-18). The first appearance is both intense and focused. It is evening and the doors are bolted shut. Anxious disciples are sealed inside. A suspicious, hostile world is forced tightly outside. Jesus is missing. Suddenly, the Risen One defies locked doors, blocked hearts, and distorted vision and simply appears.

The meeting with the Risen Lord in John’s account is the humble yet powerful beginning of a new age: fear is transformed into joy; pain is changed to peace and trust; flight and hiding become courage and mission. Division and hatred are vanquished by the gift of the Holy Spirit – by God’s love revealed in Jesus and through his power to remove evil and sinfulness.

Jesus “breathing on them” (20:22) recalls Genesis 2:7, where God breathed on the first man and gave him life. Just as Adam’s life came from God, so now the disciples’ new spiritual life comes from Jesus. This action is also reminiscent of the revivification of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37. It is the evangelist John’s version of Pentecost.

“Peace be with you” is the greeting and gift of the Risen Lord. The Hebrew word shalom means re-establishing the full meaning of things. Biblical peace is not only a pact that allows for a peaceful life, or indicates the opposite of a time of war. Rather, peace refers to the well-being of daily existence, to one’s state of living in harmony with nature, with oneself and with God. Concretely, this peace means blessing, rest, honour, richness, health, and life. The gift of peace that Jesus entrusted to his first disciples becomes a promise and a prayer shared with the entire Christian community.

The mission and the power of Jesus are entrusted into the poor, limited, and fragile hands of his Apostles. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, his own mission continues in them, granting the power to forgive sins and the possibility of reconciliation and intimacy with the Father.

Courageous heralds of the Gospel

The Holy Spirit renewed the Apostles from within, filling them with a power that would give them courage to go out and boldly proclaim that “Christ has died and is risen!” Frightened fishermen have become courageous heralds of the Gospel. Even their enemies could not understand how “uneducated and ordinary men” (Acts 4:13) could show such courage and endure difficulties, suffering, and persecution with joy. Nothing could stop them. To those who tried to silence them they replied: “We cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). This is how the Church was born, and from the day of Pentecost she has not ceased to spread the Good News “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

At Pentecost, the full meaning of Jesus’ life and message is poured into our hearts by the Spirit alive in the community. The movement of the Spirit in people results in gifts and talents. This movement does not reach its end in individuals. Rather, it is supposed to have a ripple effect so that our unique abilities promote the common good. The Spirit’s gifts are many: teaching, instructing, healing, consoling, forgiving, and encouraging. The Spirit will increase our gifts to the extent that we love Jesus and our brothers and sisters, obey the commandments, and freely share what we have so lavishly received with others.

Christian hope: a gift of the Spirit

Hope is one of the true manifestations of the Spirit at Pentecost. For the world of sound bites, hope usually means that we make ourselves believe that everything is going to turn out all right. We use the word hope lightly and cheaply. This is not the hope of Christians. We must be icons of hope, a people with a new vision, a people that learn to see the world through the lenses of Christ, the Spirit, and the Church.

The Second Vatican Council encouraged Christians to read the signs of the times, and for Pope John XXIII these were signs of hope and glimpses of the Kingdom’s presence in our midst. The Kingdom manifests itself through the gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, courage, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. And the Spirit’s fruits make the Kingdom palpable and palatable: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long-suffering, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, and chastity.

It is also possible to follow a via negativa and to say where the Kingdom is not. Where there is no justice, no peace, no sharing, no mutual trust, no forgiveness – there is no Kingdom. Where there is rancour, envy, distrust, hatred, ignorance, indifference, unchastity, cynicism – there is no Kingdom and certainly no life.

In God himself, all is joy

A second manifestation of the Spirit at Pentecost is joy. Pope Paul VI’s 1975 Apostolic Letter on Christian Joy – Gaudete in Domino – describes this joy in the following way:

Let the agitated members of various groups therefore reject the excesses of systematic and destructive criticism! Without departing from a realistic viewpoint, let Christian communities become centres of optimism where all the members resolutely endeavour to perceive the positive aspect of people and events. “Love does not rejoice in what is wrong but rejoices with the truth. There is no limit to love’s forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to endure.”

The attainment of such an outlook is not just a matter of psychology. It is also a fruit of the Holy Spirit. This Spirit, who dwells fully in the person of Jesus, made Him during His earthly life so alert to the joys of daily life, so tactful and persuasive for putting sinners back on the road to a new youth of heart and mind! It is this same Spirit who animated the Blessed Virgin and each of the saints. It is this same Spirit who still today gives to so many Christians the joy of living day by day their particular vocation, in the peace and hope which surpass setbacks and sufferings. It is the Spirit of Pentecost who today leads very many followers of Christ along the paths of prayer, in the cheerfulness of filial praise, towards the humble and joyous service of the disinherited and of those on the margins of society. For joy cannot be dissociated from sharing. In God Himself, all is joy because all is giving.

[The readings for Pentecost are: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23.]

(Image: Pentecost by Jean Restout)

Human Life is Sacred and Inviolable: Reflections to Guide Us as We March and Work for Life

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

On April 11, 2014, Pope Francis addressed the Italian Pro-Life movement with these provocative words:

“We know that human life is sacred and inviolable. Every civil right rests on the recognition of the first and fundamental right, that of life, which is not subordinate to any condition, be it quantitative, economic or, least of all, ideological. “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills…. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a ‘throw away’ culture which is now spreading” (Evangelii Gaudium #53). And in this way life, too, ends up being thrown away. One of the gravest risks our epoch faces, amid the opportunities offered by a market equipped with every technological innovation, is the divorce between economics and morality, the basic ethical norms of human nature are increasingly neglected. It is therefore necessary to express the strongest possible opposition to every direct attack on life, especially against the innocent and defenseless, and the unborn in a mother’s womb is the example of innocence par excellence. Let us remember the words of the Second Vatican Council: “Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes” (Gaudium et Spe #51).”

Today we are living in the midst of a culture that denies solidarity and takes the form of a veritable “culture of death”. This culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents that encourage an idea of society exclusively concerned with efficiency. It is a war of the powerful against the weak. There is no room in the world for anyone who, like the unborn or the dying, is a weak element in the social structure or anyone who appears completely at the mercy of others and radically dependent on them and can only communicate through the silent language of profound sharing of affection. Abortion is 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. How can we forget Pope Benedict XVI’s words at the opening ceremony of World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, Australia, on July 17, 2008:

“And so we are led to reflect on what place the poor and the elderly, immigrants and the voiceless, have in our societies. How can it be that domestic violence torments so many mothers and children? How can it be that the most wondrous and sacred human space – the womb – has become a place of unutterable violence?”

Nor can we forget what Pope Francis wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (#214):

“It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life. On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty. Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?”

The Catholic Church’s Consistent Ethic of Life

The Roman Catholic Church holds a consistent ethic of life. The Church offers a teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness and dignity of the human person. However, opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. 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.

In economically developed countries, legislation contrary to life is very widespread, and it has already shaped moral attitudes and praxis, contributing to the spread of an anti-birth mentality; frequent attempts are made to export this mentality to other states as if it were a form of cultural progress.

“Openness to life is at the centre of true development,” wrote Pope Benedict in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate. 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.” The Holy Father sums up the current global economic crisis in a remarkable way with these words: “Human costs always include economic costs, and economic dysfunctions always involve human costs.”

The burning issues of the promotion of human life, from conception to natural death, must be high on the agenda of every human being on every side of the political spectrum. They are not only the concern of the far right of the political spectrum. Many people, 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.

The market push towards euthanasia

If we look carefully at the great dramas of the last century, we see that as free markets toppled Communism, exaggerated consumerism and materialism infiltrated our societies and cultures. Aging populations, especially in the west, and resulting smaller workforces are now creating a market push towards euthanasia. As St. John Paul II wrote: “a right to die will inevitably give way to the duty to die.”

Most people who think that euthanasia and assisted suicide should be legal are not thinking the whole issue through. They are thinking about personal autonomy and choice. They think about what it would be like to suddenly become incapacitated and consider such a life as undignified or worthless. Perhaps they consider severely disabled people as having no quality of life. Our dignity and quality of life don’t come from what we can or cannot do. Dignity and quality of life are not matters of efficiency, proficiency and productivity. They come from a deeper place – from who we are and how we relate to each other. True compassion leads to sharing another’s pain, not killing the person whose suffering we cannot bear.

In his most recent Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis writes (#48):

“The elderly who are vulnerable and dependent are at times unfairly exploited simply for economic advantage. Many families show us that it is possible to approach the last stages of life by emphasizing the importance of a person’s sense of fulfilment and participation in the Lord’s paschal mystery. A great number of elderly people are cared for in Church institutions, where, materially and spiritually, they can live in a peaceful, family atmosphere. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are serious threats to families worldwide; in many countries, they have been legalized. The Church, while firmly opposing these practices, feels the need to assist families who take care of their elderly and infirm members”.

What is wrong with abortion, euthanasia, embryo selection, and embryonic research is not the motives of those who carry them out. So often, those motives are, on the surface, compassionate: to protect a child from being unwanted, to end pain and suffering, to help a child with a life-threatening disease. But in all these cases, the terrible truth is that it is the strong who decide the fate of the weak; human beings therefore become instruments in the hands of other human beings.

Being pro-life is one of the deepest expressions of our baptism: we stand up as sons and daughters of the light, clothed in humility and charity, filled with conviction, speaking the truth to power with firmness, conviction and determination, and never losing joy and hope. 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. To March for Life in Ottawa, Washington and in many other cities of the world means that we stand up for all human life, and we do not have a myopic view of the cause of life. Let us strive for a consistent ethic of human life, from womb to tomb. Being pro-life in this day and age is truly prophetic, and it will bring about authentic development and enduring peace in our world.

Read more: Taking the Gospel of Life to the Streets in Ottawa and Many Other Cities