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Pope Francis will experience massive changes in climate, temperature and altitude in Latin America beginning on Sunday

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For the second time since his election on March 13, 2013, Pope Francis is returning to the continent of his birth – Latin America – on a journey which will see him interact and communicate in his own language – Spanish. The journey is to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, which is scheduled to last from July 5-13, 2015. The underlying theme of the journey to all three counties, ravaged by conquest, exploitation and conflict in years not so long gone by is that of reconciliation and renewal.

This is the first time Pope Francis will visit three different nations during a single journey. Just as he did in Europe by choosing Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina as the first nations to reach out to at the beginning of his pontificate, here too Pope Francis is starting with the “peripheries” as far as the Latin American and global scenarios are concerned.

It will also be the first journey in which Spanish, the Pope’s mother-tongue is spoken throughout, giving him plenty of occasions to set aside prepared texts (including 22 official discourses) and to talk and converse freely with his audiences.

Climate Change

In just seven days, Pope Francis will be experiencing enormous changes in climate, temperature and altitude: from 3°  to 40° Centigrade, from sea level to over 4,100 meters above sea level as he travels from the Atlantic to the Andes and in between. A quick glance at the Pope’s schedule (found below) highlights the fact that the journey will be intense.

All in all, Pope Francis is to spend 48 hours in each country, and each time he will be involved in a number of “common” events such as an audience with each President; a “sit-down” with the bishops, an encounter with civil society (representatives of business, indigenous people, the world of education, culture); a meeting with consecrated men and women. In each country he will also be involved in other events and situations as he is scheduled to visit a home for the aged run by the Sisters of Mother Teresa in Ecuador, a prison (one of the largest in Latin America) and a meeting with members of the World Meeting of Popular Movements in Bolivia; a children’s hospital and a slum area in Paraguay.

Another important feature of the journey will be a Marian one as Pope Francis will gather in prayer before the “Virgen Dolorosa” in Quito and before Our Lady of Caacupé 40 km from Asuncion. One important characteristic of the whole journey relates to the wealth of traditions, cultures and languages that are present on the territory. The Pope’s respect for the diversity and value of each of these is also reflected in all of the liturgies and celebrations.

Saint John Paul II travelled to all three nations: Ecuador in 1985, Bolivia and Paraguay in 1988 where he had a memorable meeting with minors, canonized Rocco Gonzales and was witness to the last days of General Alfredo Stroessner’s cruel dictatorship.

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Schedule

The Pope will leave Rome’s Fiumicino airport at 9 a.m. on Sunday, July 5 and will arrive at the Mariscal Sucre airport in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, at 3 p.m. local time, where the welcome ceremony will be held. On Monday, the 6th, he will proceed to Guayaquil to celebrate Mass in the shrine of Divine Mercy, after which he will lunch at the Colegio Javier with the Jesuit community. Upon return to Quito, he will pay a courtesy visit to the Ecuadorian president in the presidential palace and will subsequently visit the Cathedral. In the morning of Tuesday, July 7, he will meet with the bishops of Ecuador in the Congress Centre of the Bicentenary park, where he will celebrate Mass. In the afternoon he will encounter representatives of schools and universities in the Pontifical University of Ecuador, and later, representatives of civil society in the Church of San Francisco, after which he will pay a private visit to the “Iglesia de la Compania”. On Wednesday, July 8, he will first visit the Rest Home of the Missionaries of Charity, and will then meet with clergy, men and women religious and seminarians at the national Marian shrine, El Quinche. On the same day he will depart by air for Bolivia.

Upon arrival at the airport of El Alto in La Paz, he will give an address and, following the welcome ceremony, will transfer to the Government Palace to pay a courtesy visit to the president. From there, he will go to the Cathedral of La Paz, where he will meet with the civil authorities, after which he will travel by air to Santa Cruz de la Sierra where he will spend the night. On Thursday July 9, he will celebrate Mass in the the square of Cristo Redentor, and will meet with men and women religious in the Don Bosco school, after which he will participate in the World Meeting of Popular Movements in the Expo trade fair centre. On Friday, the 10th he will visit the Santa Cruz-Palmasola re-education centre and, in the same morning, will meet with the bishops of Bolivia in the parish church of Santa Cruz. The Pope will leave Bolivia from the Viru Viru airport in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, destined for Paraguay; his aircraft is expected to land at around 3 p.m. local time in the Silvio Pettirossi airport of Asuncion.

After arriving in Paraguay, the Pope will pay a courtesy visit to the president in the Palacio de Lopez, where he will also meet with the authorities and the diplomatic corps. On Saturday July 11, he will visit the “Ninos de Acosta Nu” general paediatric hospital and will subsequently officiate at Mass in the square of the Marian sanctuary of Caacupe. In the afternoon he will meet with representatives of civil society in the Leon Condou stadium of the San Jose school. The day will conclude with the celebration of vespers with the bishops, priests, deacons, men and women religious, seminarians and Catholic movements in the metropolitan cathedral of Our Lady of Asuncion. Sunday the 12 will begin with a visit to the people of Banado Norte in the Chapel of San Juan Batista, and Mass in the Nu Guazu field. The Holy Father will meet the bishops of Paraguay in the Cultural Centre of the apostolic nunciature, where they will then dine. His last engagement will be a meeting with young people at the Costanera riverside area. At 7 p.m. local time Francis will depart by air for Rome, where he is expected to arrive on Monday July 13 at around 1.45 p.m.

Be sure to stay tuned to Salt and Light for our extensive coverage of the Pope’s journey to Latin America.

Is Not This the Carpenter, the Son of Mary?

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Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – July 5, 2015

We know today’s Gospel story well, perhaps too well! It would have been customary for Jesus to go to the synagogue each week during the Sabbath, and when his turn came, to read from the scriptures during the Sabbath service.

His hometown folks listened ever so attentively to his teaching because they had heard about the miracles he had performed in other towns. What signs would their hometown boy work on his own turf?

In today’s story, Jesus startled his own people with a seeming rebuke that no prophet of God can receive honor among his own people. The people of Nazareth took offense at him and refused to listen to what he had to say. They despised his preaching because he was from the working class; a carpenter, a mere layman and they despised him because of his family. Jesus could do no mighty works in their midst because they were closed and disbelieving toward him.

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

Homecoming

We often think that Luke is the only evangelist who records Jesus’ visit to Nazareth, “where he had been brought up” and that programmatic episode in the Nazareth synagogue (Luke 4:16). Mark and Matthew also refer to this episode, although without mentioning the name of the town, calling it simply “his hometown” or “his native place” (Mark 6:1; Matthew 13:54). There are, however, several differences between the story told by Luke and those of Mark and Matthew. In the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, people consider the humble origin of Jesus who was “the carpenter” (Mark 6:3), “the son of the carpenter” (Matthew 13:55) and use it to doubt the greatness of his mission. Luke, on the other hand, makes no mention of Jesus’ humble origins.

In Mark, Jesus’ visit to his hometown is found not at the beginning of his ministry, but after a long period of preaching the Gospel and healing, even after the talks on the parables (Mark 4:1-34) and the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:21-43). In Matthew, Jesus has also already pronounced his address on mission to the “Twelve Apostles” (10:2-42).

What was the meaning of the peoples’ questions about Jesus in Mark’s account (6:1-6) that forms this Sunday’s Gospel? “‘Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him.”

“Who do you think you are?” they seem to be asking him. Jesus sees that the questions about him correspond to a deeply possessive attitude: Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and therefore one of us? You belong to us and therefore you must do for us all that you are able to do. We own you!

“Prophets are not without honor except in their hometowns and among their own kin, and even in their own homes.” Jesus resists the possessive attitude manifested by his people. The people of Jesus’ native place were suffering from a particular form of blindness — a blindness that sometimes affects us, too. Jesus refuses to place his extraordinary gifts at the service of his own people, putting strangers first.

Vision and heart

Today’s Gospel shows how difficult it is for us to attain to a universal vision. When we are faced with someone like Jesus, someone with a generous heart, a wide vision and a great spirit, our reactions are very often filled with jealousy, selfishness, and meanness of spirit. His own people couldn’t recognize the holiness of Jesus, because they had never really accepted their own. They couldn’t honor his relationship with God because they had never fully explored their own sense of belonging to the Lord. They couldn’t see the Messiah standing right beside them, because he looked too much like one of them. Until we see ourselves as people beloved of God, miracles will be scarce and the prophets and messengers who rise among us will struggle to be heard and accepted for whom they truly are.

In today’s Gospel story, Mark tells us that Jesus was amazed at their unbelief. Listening to Jesus, his own people were initially filled with admiration in him and pride because of him. His message of liberation was marvelous. Then they recognize this young prophet as one of them and they say: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?”

The most severe critics are often people very familiar to us, a member of our family, a relative, or neighbor we rub shoulders with on a regular basis. The people of Nazareth refused to renounce their possessive attitude toward Jesus. When possessive love is obstructed it produces a violent reaction. This sort of reaction provokes many dramas of jealousy and passion. They took offence at him in Mark’s account just as “everyone in the synagogue was enraged (Luke 4:28) and they sought to kill him” (4:29) in Luke’s version of the story. Refusal to open our heart can lead to such extremes.

Jesus was bitterly criticized because he demonstrated great openness of heart, particularly toward people on the fringes and borders of society. His openness caused rising opposition that led him to the cross. In the Acts of the Apostles we read more than once that the success of St. Paul’s preaching to the gentiles provoked jealousy among some of the Jews, who opposed the Apostle and stirred up persecution against him (Acts 13:45; 17,5; 22,21-22). Also within the Christian community, we need only recall the situation in Corinth where similar possessive attitudes caused serious harm when many believers attached themselves jealously to one apostle or another; causing conflict and division in the community. Paul had to intervene forcefully (1 Corinthians 1:10-3:23).

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

In order to approach and imitate Jesus, who is total beauty and uniqueness, the quality of magnanimity is necessary in our hearts and minds. The opposite and enemy of magnanimity is envy. Envy is that fault in the human character that cannot recognize the beauty and uniqueness of the other, and denies the other honor. Envy can no longer see because the eyes are “nailed shut,” blinded to one’s own beauty and the beauty in others. Envy inevitably leads to forms of violence and destruction, of self and of others. In order to approach and imitate Jesus, who is total beauty and uniqueness, the attitude of envy must be first acknowledged and then banished.

Magnanimity lets others be free, for the other person must become great enough to be an image of God’s beauty. Magnanimity arouses the desire in each of us for the other to receive the greatest possible satisfaction and happiness that rightly belongs to the other! Magnanimity is capable of looking beyond itself, it can grant the other what oneself perhaps bitterly lacks, and can perhaps even rejoice in the other’s goodness, greatness and beauty.

Let us pray that Jesus not be amazed at our own unbelief, but rather rejoice in our small, daily acts of fidelity to him and our service to our sisters and brothers. May the Lord grant us magnanimous hearts so that we may look far beyond ourselves and recognize the goodness, greatness and beauty of other people, instead of being jealous of their gifts. God’s power alone can save us from emptiness and poverty of spirit, from confusion and error, and from the fear of death and hopelessness. The gospel of salvation is “great news” for us today.

[The readings for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Ezekiel 2:2-5; 2:23-24; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; and Mark 6:1-6]

(Image: Jesus Travelling by James Tissot)

Changes in the Pallium Ceremony on June 29 encourage greater participation of the faithful

 

Pallia tray June 29

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

In the past on June 29, Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, newly appointed Metropolitan Archbishops took part in an ancient liturgical ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and received the pallium directly from the Pope.

Pope Francis has made changes to the public ceremony of investiture of the Pallium on Metropolitan Archbishops emphasizing that the investiture is an ecclesial event of the whole diocese, and not merely a juridical or ceremonial event. Beginning on June 29 of this year, the ceremony of investiture of the Pallium will take place in the Metropolitan Archbishops’ home dioceses and not in the Vatican.

From now on, the ceremony will be celebrated in two significant moments: the first during which the pallium will be blessed by the Pope during the Mass on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul in the Vatican; the second when it will be placed on the Metropolitan Archbishop in his own diocese, by his representative, the Apostolic Nuncio in that particular country.

It is the responsibility of the Nuncio to determine with the Metropolitan Archbishops the most opportune date, circumstances and manner to publicly and officially invest him with the pallium by mandate of the Holy Father, and with the participation of the Suffragan Bishops of that particular Province (ecclesiastically geographic area).

The pallium ceremony will continue to symbolize communion between the See of Peter and the Successor of the Apostle and those who are chosen to carry out the episcopal ministry as Metropolitan Archbishop of an Ecclesiastical Province, and it will encourage the participation of the local Church in an important moment of its life and history.

Pallium photo

The pallium is a circle of wool that hangs around the neck and shoulders with two long pieces draping one over the chest and the other along the back. It is decorated with six black crosses and weighed with pieces of lead. The wool for the pallium comes from two lambs offered every year to the Pope on January 21, Feast of St. Agnes. They are first taken to the Church of St. Agnes to be blessed. The lambs arrive wearing floral crowns, one white and one red. These represent the purity of Agnes, which the archbishops should emulate, and the martyrdom of Agnes, which the archbishops should be prepared to follow.

The lambs are then shorn and the pallia (plural of pallium) are made. On the eve of the feast of the great apostles Peter and Paul, (June 28) the pallia are stored overnight in the silver casket above Peter’s tomb in the Vatican crypt.  The following day (June 29) the pallia are given to the newly appointed metropolitan bishops, the only occasion in which more than one bishop can be seen wearing the pallium at the same time.

Symbolically, the Pope is sharing his mission to “Feed my sheep and lambs” with the archbishops. The wool over the shoulders evokes the lamb over the shoulders of the Good Shepherd.  It also reminds the archbishops of the burdens of their office.  By investing each new Archbishop with the pallium, the Holy Father confers some of his own weight and responsibilities upon him.

At his own inauguration of Petrine Ministry as Bishop of Rome on April 24, 2005, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI spoke moving words about the pallium he had received during that ceremony:

“The symbolism of the Pallium is even more concrete: the lamb’s wool is meant to represent the lost, sick or weak sheep which the shepherd places on his shoulders and carries to the waters of life. …Hence the Pallium becomes a symbol of the shepherd’s mission. …The pastor must be inspired by Christ’s holy zeal: for him it is not a matter of indifference that so many people are living in the desert.  And there are so many kinds of desert.  There is the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment, of loneliness, of destroyed love.  There is the desert of God’s darkness, the emptiness of souls no longer aware of their dignity or the goal of human life. The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.

Therefore the earth’s treasures no longer serve to build God’s garden for all to live in, but they have been made to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction. The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance.”

Laudato Sì, Signore, for the Story Within the Story

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On Friday, June 26, 2015 Fr. Thomas Rosica gave the keynote address during the Catholic Media Convention held in Buffalo, New York. Read the full text of his address, Laudato Si, Signore, for the Story Within the Story, below:

Keynote Address to the Catholic Media Convention
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

 Hyatt Regency Hotel – Buffalo, New York
June 26, 2015

Thank you for the privilege of addressing this important gathering of Catholic journalists and media colleagues from throughout North America. This afternoon I would like to speak to you about Pope Francis and how he is communicating with the Church and the world over the past two years. To begin, I wish to share a meeting I had earlier this winter as I met with senior journalists at the ABC Television Network in New York City on behalf of the Holy See Press Office. During our conversation about Pope Francis, the senior producer of the ABC evening news who had headed up the network’s coverage of the Papal Transition two years ago remarked: “Look, Fr. Tom, whether one is Catholic or Protestant, Jew or Muslim, left or right, or nothing at all, for many of us for whom the Church was on a distant horizon, we have all been brought into the heart of the Church and the Gospel and find the story incredible, fascinating and inviting.”

Incredible, Fascinating and inviting: three words that sum up well what many of us are experiencing as we try to tell the story of the Church and the current Bishop of Rome to the world around us. I would like to offer you five hermeneutical keys to understanding what is happening in five areas of the Church today: Communication, Christian Unity, the Synod of Bishops, Ecology and Mercy. For each of these areas, it is far too easy to remain on the surface, to be captivated by quick headlines, great photo opportunities and buzz-catching expressions attributed to Pope Francis. For each of these important areas, there is a story within a story. Our work as Catholic media is not to remain on the surface but to go to the deeper level of that story within the story.

  1. Communications

Following Pope Francis’ recent pronouncements on digital and Internet matters, several journalists with whom I deal regularly wrote or called asking me: “So, is this Jesuit Pope a Luddite?” Some people may think so given recent headlines like: “Pope doesn’t use e-mail, doesn’t have a laptop, doesn’t have an i-phone.” Or “Jesuit Pope takes oath to Blessed Mother in 1990 promising never to watch television again.” Or “Pope tells parents not to let children use computers in their bedrooms.”

But as you know well, such headlines often distort the message. To understand what Francis says, context counts and syntax matters. The Pope has issued no magisterial directive on how to organize households. What he offered was common-sense wisdom. In more unscripted remarks during his recent day trip to Sarajevo three weeks ago, Pope Francis spoke both to young people and to journalists about computer usage. Prefacing his remarks to the young people with self-deprecating humility “Obviously, I am from the Stone Age, I’m ancient!”, his admonitions remain sound today: “If you live glued to the computer and become a slave to the computer, you lose your freedom. And if you look for obscene programs on the computer, you lose your dignity.” But he also implored those digital natives to “Watch television, use the computer, but for beautiful reasons, for great things, things which help us to grow.”

The question for us is not whether we use technology, computers, Internet and Social Media for our Catholic media efforts, program promotion, pastoral ministry, parish life, education, worship or congregational solidarity. The real question is whether the Church is going to provide any compelling leadership or counter narrative amidst to how the world uses these powerful instruments to communicate with others.

The new Social Media tools are generating new patterns of behavior that affect not just Christian practice, but also, potentially, patterns of belief. Thinking theologically about living in a socially networked world has become an essential task for the community of faith… especially for those of us in Catholic media.

For years, the big question of our era was: How do I live constantly connected? But we are moving through that experience now and trying to ask a new question: What does it mean to incorporate a sense of presence, awareness, and wisdom within this new media era of connectedness that engages us all? 

Pope Francis, the first Jesuit Pope is by no means a Luddite! Just because he doesn’t use an i-phone, an i-pad or even watch TV, he understands what authentic communication is all about. Just watch the way he connects with people and with the world. In his major encyclical “Laudato Sì” released last week, he entitled a section: “Decline in the quality of Human Life and the Breakdown of Society.” In that section he wrote:

  1. …Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affection Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences. For this reason, we should be concerned that, alongside the exciting possibilities offered by these media, a deep and melancholic dissatisfaction with interpersonal relations, or a harmful sense of isolation, can also arise.”

“Laudato Sì” Signore, for the wisdom of Pope Francis in helping us to go beyond the surface of communications and understand the real meaning of communications in today’s Church and world.

  1. Christian Unity

Over the past two years, we have all reported in one way or another on some of the great ecumenical gestures of Pope Francis. We are moved by the Bishop of Rome during his historic visit to Phanar in Turkey, bowing before the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and asking for his blessing. We delight in the scenes of Evangelical pastors dining with the Pope at Santa Marta, of Pentecostals blessing the Bishop of Rome at assemblies, or the Pope sending a video via i-phone to Protestant friends. We have witnessed Pope Francis’ grand gestures, bold apologies and warm embraces with leaders of our sister Churches. Earlier this week during his brief pastoral visit to the Italian industrial city of Turin, Pope Francis visited a Waldensian temple in Turin. Although numbering only about 30,000 members, the Waldensian Evangelical Church is an important dialogue partner with the Catholic Church, as it is one of the only non-Catholic Christian communities native to Italy.

Recalling the painful relationship between the Waldensian Evangelical Church and the Roman Catholic Church in Italy, Francis spoke of the new fraternity that “allows us to grasp the profound ties that already unite us. He then referred specifically to the violence and disputes that took place with that ecclesial community “committed in the name of the faith itself.” Pope Francis then asked for forgiveness for “the non-Christian attitudes and behavior” of the Catholic Church against Waldensians.

There are stories within stories within stories behind each of these gestures, actions, apologies and moments of fraternity and solidarity. What are they and how do we report on them? Or do we simply choose to remain on the surface of the events?

Pope Francis has energized the ecumenical movement, not just with the mainline Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant Churches, but especially with the fast-growing movement of Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity, that he got to know well during his years as archbishop of Buenos Aires. These movements should challenge the old-established Churches to renewal, especially in the face of common persecution in places where Christians are being martyred for their faith.

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Here is the uniqueness of Pope Francis’ ecumenical efforts: A central image of the Christian life is the movement toward Christian unity – a movement that happens one step at a time. For Francis, it is not about waiting for others to catch up with us. It is about everyone continuing to walk with and toward the Lord, supporting and learning from the brothers and sisters whom God places on the same path. The deeper we all grow in holiness, the closer we will be to one another. While Francis’ gestures are new and even disconcerting to some, the idea of growth in unity being the result of growth in fidelity to Christ is not. The unity we seek requires inner conversion that is both common and personal. It is not merely a matter of cordiality, or good cooperation, it is necessary above all to strengthen our faith in God, in the God of Jesus Christ, who spoke to us and took on our flesh and blood in the incarnation.

“Laudato Sì” Signore for Pope Francis who has the humility to ask for forgiveness for our meanness and violent actions, our lack of charity and hope, and for renewing our ecumenical efforts that ‘all may be one.’

  1. Synod of Bishops

Many of you undoubtedly followed last October’s Extraordinary Synod and you may have received indications or impressions that the Synod was a time of great tension, revealing differing opinions within the Church. I believe that the October 2014 assembly was the first time since Blessed Paul VI established this organ of collegiality that the assembly functioned as a synod and not a staged gathering of pseudo-concord. You may have heard or read, or perhaps incorrectly reported or wrote that the Extraordinary Synod was about changing the teaching of the Church on marriage, family life or sexual morality. This is not true. It was about the pastoral care that the Church strives to people, the ‘motherly love of the Church’, especially when facing difficult moments and experiences in family life.

You may have heard that the Synod represented a ‘defeat for Pope Francis’ or that he was disappointed at its outcome. This is totally false. At the Synod, Pope Francis invited the universal Church to journey together as we reflected on the joys and hopes, dark moments and light moments of what it means to be family today.

At the end of our two intense weeks together, Pope Francis spoke at length about his joy and satisfaction at its work. He told us to look deeply into our hearts to see how God had touched us during the Synod, and to see how we may have been tempted away from the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The Synod, he insisted, has been a spiritual journey, not a debating chamber. If you have not read his masterful address of Saturday evening, October 18, 2014, I strongly encourage you to do so. It is a very important text and confirms once again that there is a story within the story of our journey from Synod to Synod.

Blessed Paul VI created the Synod of Bishops in 1965 to give the world’s bishops a voice – a sounding board that would advise the pope on various aspects of the Church’s life. From the beginning, synodal assemblies would be consultative, not legislative. These global gatherings have never produced new dogma or overturned Church teachings. The majority of Synods took place during the long pontificate of St. John Paul II. The final documents of these meetings are called “Apostolic Exhortations” and clearly bear the mark of the reigning Pontiff.

No one can deny that the synodal process and structure had grown tired with the passage of time, and there seemed little opportunity for evaluation or renewal. One of the most important contributions of the recent Synod, and hopefully a constitutive part of future Synods is the rediscovery of the synodal process. Synods are not about taking a poll or voting in a democratic way on Church teaching and practice but they embody a humble openness to the fact that the Lord is leading the pilgrim church through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Across the Western world, the collapse of the cultural narrative of marriage means fewer marrying and more and more children born into families lacking necessary stability. This is a serious challenge, because the family is the “school of humanity” according to Gaudium et Spes, the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” (n. 52), and also the “domestic church,” the locus of spiritual life for most ordinary people, as well as the primary vehicle for learning and handing on faith down the generations. How many times did St. John Paul II say that the “future of humanity passes through the family?”

I would like to conclude this section with the words of Pope Francis himself at the closing of the Synod, with which he summarized the synodal experience as a “journey” moving towards the next stage of the Synod to take place in 2015.

Many commentators, or people who talk, have imagined that they see a disputatious Church where one part is against the other, doubting even the Holy Spirit, the true promoter and guarantor of the unity and harmony of the Church – the Holy Spirit who throughout history has always guided the barque, through her Ministers, even when the sea was rough and choppy, and the ministers unfaithful and sinners.

And, as I have dared to tell you, as I told you from the beginning of the Synod, it was necessary to live through all this with tranquillity, and with interior peace, so that the Synod would take place cum Petro and sub Petro (with Peter and under Peter), and the presence of the Pope is the guarantee of it all.

“Laudato Sì” Signore, for Pope Francis who has revived the Synodal process and invited the whole Church to speak and act with parresía – Gospel boldness and courage as we discern the Lord’s path for us at this moment in history.

  1. Ecology

Last week’s encyclical, “Laudato Sì” “On the Care of our Common Home” – is addressed to “everyone living on this planet” calls for a new way of looking at things. We face an urgent crisis, when the earth has begun to look more and more like, in Francis’s vivid image, “an immense pile of filth”. Still, the document is hopeful, reminding us that because God is with us, all of us can strive to change course. We can move towards an “ecological conversion” in which we can listen to the “cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”. To use religious language, what the Pope is calling for is conversion. This is a deeply uncomfortable encyclical because it is not content simply to face up to the institutional and moral issues of climate change and environmental degradation, but addresses the deeper tragedy of humanity itself.

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

Against those who argue that a papal encyclical on the environment has no real authority, Pope Francis explicitly states that “Laudato Sí” is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching”. It continues the church’s reflection on modern-day problems that began with Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum, on capital and labor, published in 1891.

More than any other encyclical, “Laudato Sí” draws from the experiences of people around the world, referencing the findings of bishops’ conferences from Brazil, New Zealand, Southern Africa, Bolivia, Portugal, Germany, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, Australia, Canada and the United States.

In our presentations of “Laudato Sí” to the world, we have an obligation to present the full picture of this landmark papal document. When the environmental world welcomes the Pope as a powerful ally and the religious Right dismisses him as a disingenuous radical, socialist or a communist, these have missed the essential point. This is the Gospel call, as disconcertingly direct today as was Jesus’s confrontation with the rich young man, the scribes and the Pharisees, or the moneychangers in the Temple. That’s the unique quality of the encyclical. It is not just the declaration of assent to a programme of international environmental action, but also the prophetic voice of the Church. It is therefore far more fundamentally disturbing and uncomfortable, demanding an individual response that will change our lives forever.

“Laudato Sì” Signore for Pope Francis who reminds us that we simply cannot save the world from the consequences of climate change if we continue to consume at a rate which is possible because it is only available to the few. We need to hear “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”.

  1. Mercy

On March 13, Pope Francis surprised the world by a Jubilee of Mercy beginning this coming December. Francis wants this jubilee to go deeper spiritually and to be a far-reaching Christian witness of mercy to the world.

            Mercy is a theme very dear to Pope Francis, as is expressed in the episcopal motto he had chosen: “miserando atque eligendo”, from the homily of Saint Bede the Venerable during which he commented on the Gospel passage of the calling of Saint Matthew: (Jesus therefore sees the tax collector, and since he sees by having mercy and by choosing, he says to him, ‘follow me’). This homily is a tribute to divine mercy.

During the first Angelus after his elections, Pope Francis stated: “Feeling mercy, that this word changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient” (Angelus, March 17, 2013).

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

In his 2015 Lenten Message, the Holy Father expressed: “How greatly I desire that all those places where the Church is present, especially our parishes and our communities, may become islands of mercy in the midst of the sea of indifference!”

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

What is the story within the story of the Jubilee of Mercy? Pope Francis wants to bring the whole church, starting with the cardinals, bishops, priests and consecrated persons, to open themselves to God’s mercy and to find concrete, creative ways to put mercy into practice in their areas of ministry. As Bishop of Rome, he is blazing the trail by word and deed, showing what mercy means in relation to the poor, the homeless, prisoners, immigrants, the sick and the persecuted. They are for him “the flesh of Christ.” In this same optic of mercy, he recently called for the abolition of the death penalty and life-imprisonment (“the hidden death penalty”).

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

Pope Francis doesn’t have easy answers to the great issues of our time, let alone answers he seeks to impose. He wants to create a culture and a process in which we can better discern the Holy Spirit’s answers to those questions, not necessarily in an absolute way, but in a way that makes sense in our own time. Pope Francis has written, we cannot “allow our hope to be dimmed by facile answers and solutions which block our progress, ‘fragmenting’ time and changing it into space. Time is always much greater than space. Space hardens processes, whereas time propels toward the future and encourages us to go forward in hope.”

“Laudato Sì” Signore for Pope Francis’ understanding that “The way of the church is not to condemn anyone for eternity”; rather “it is to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart.” This is what the Holy Father wants to happen during the Jubilee of Mercy.

Field Hospitals in today’s world

I leave you with this final image from the first Jesuit Pope – the powerful image of the “field hospital” which he uses often that is drawn from the Spiritual Exercises. 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.

What and where are the battlefields today? Are some of them not in the very areas of Communication, Christian Unity, the Synod of Bishops, Ecology and Mercy? For precisely in these areas we suffer from miscommunication, deafness, monologue, disunity, misunderstanding and misinterpretation, misuse of the earth, violence, hatred and unforgiveness.

Each of us can name a country or region, a city or a town where blood, terror and violence seem to have the upper hand. One big battlefield before humanity is in the very field of communications – our field – one that requires no passport and travel ticket to enter. It is in this 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. They need to learn how to communicate, how to listen, how to discern, how to find the truth of what is happening in the Church. And in this room, there are close to 300 field hospital workers ready for deployment. In the heart and mind of Pope Francis, we need “a church that is again capable of restoring citizenship to so many of its children that walk as if in exodus. Christian citizenship is above all the result of God’s mercy. Each of you has the power to restore that citizenship to so many people who are wandering and lost.

On the late afternoon of March 13, 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio received the call to go, rebuild, repair, renew and heal the church. There are those who delight in describing the new Pope as a bold, brazen revolutionary sent to rock the boat. Others think he has come to cause a massive shipwreck. But the only revolution that Pope Francis has inaugurated is a revolution of tenderness, the very words he used in his recent major letter on “The Joy of the Gospel.” [Evangelii Gaudium #88]

And the second revolution he has inaugurated is the revolution of normalcy. What he is doing is normal human, Christian behavior. These are the revolutions at the heart and soul of Pope Francis’ ministry. This Bishop of Rome demands a lot while preaching about a God of mercy, by engaging joyfully with nonbelievers, atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and those sitting on the fences of life- many who thought that Christianity has nothing left to add to the equations of life.

I go back to those words of my colleague, Eric, at the ABC network: “We have all been brought into the heart of the Church and the Gospel and find the story incredible, fascinating and inviting.” We need the Francis revolution of tenderness, mercy and normalcy now more than ever before. Be sure to tell that story to the world.

Fr. Thomas Rosica receives Clarion Award from Catholic Academy of Communication Professionals

Gabriel Clarion Award 2015

Clarion Award 2015 TRDuring the awards banquet of the Catholic Academy of Communication Professionals taking place during the 2015 International Media Convention in Buffalo, New York, this year’s Clarion Award was presented to Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada and English Language Media Attache to the Holy See Press Office. The Clarion Award recognizes “a timely contribution to Catholic communicators through organizational service; through creativity in a communications effort or product; through service to a diocese, institution or religious order; at a personal or career milestone; through excellence in communications leadership, ecumenical cooperation or industry collaboration.”

Fr. Rosica was honoured as “Broadcaster, Filmmaker and Church Spokesman whose portrayal of the Catholic Church brings the light of the Gospel to millions.”

Fr. Rosica is founding CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network since 2003. Previous winners of the Clarion Award have been Scott Landry, former head of Catholic Voices USA; Fr. Robert Barron, Rector and President of the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary in Chicago, and John Thavis, former head of the Rome bureau of Catholic News Service.

Gabriel Awards Frank Devine 60 Minutes TR

Arise, Live and Love Again!

Talitha koum cropped

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – June 28, 2015

Last week we witnessed Jesus’ divine power at work on the forces of nature (Mark 4:37-41). Today’s Gospel stories reveal his power over disease and death.

In these powerful accounts, Jesus reminds us of the importance of faith. Nothing is possible without faith. On the way to Jairus’ house (Mark 5), Jesus encounters interruptions, delays, and even obstacles along the road. The people in the passage transfer their uncleanness to Jesus, and to each Jesus bestows the cleansing wholeness of God. Let us consider for a moment each situation.

The hemorrhaging woman

Jesus’ miraculous healing of this woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years is narrated in three of the four Gospels (Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48). The law regarded three forms of uncleanness as serious enough to exclude the infected person from society: leprosy, uncleanness caused by bodily discharges, and impurity resulting from contact with the dead (Numbers 5:2-4). The woman in Mark 5 had a disease that made her ritually unclean (Leviticus 15:25-27). It would have excluded her from most social contact and worship at the temple. She desperately wanted Jesus to heal her, but she knew that her bleeding would cause Jesus to become ritually unclean under Jewish law.

Anyone who had one of the diseases was made unclean. Anything or anyone that one touched became unclean. Those who were unclean also suffered from estranged relationships with others and with God. Anything unclean was unfit or unworthy to be in the presence of a God who was holy. Those deemed unclean had to go through a rite of purification or cleansing in order to be welcomed back into society and into the presence of God.

The woman’s bold invasion of Jesus’ space, and her touching of Jesus’ garment, thus making Jesus unclean, could have put him off. On the contrary, Jesus not only heals the woman, but also restores her relationships with others. When Jesus calls the woman “daughter,” he established a relationship with one with whom he should not have a relationship.

Jairus’ daughter

The very touching story of Jairus’ daughter is “sandwiched” in the story about the hemorrhaging woman. Jairus was an elected leader of the local synagogue, responsible for supervising the weekly worship, operating the school, and caring for the building. Some synagogue leaders had been pressured not to support Jesus, but Jairus had not caved into that pressure. Jairus bowed before Jesus and uttered his anguished request for help: “My daughter is at the point of death. Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.” Jairus’ gesture was a significant and daring act of respect and worship.

The story continues: “Jesus took the child by the hand, and said to her, ‘Talitha koum,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise!’ The girl arose immediately and walked around” (5:41-42). By calling her “little girl,” he established the same kind of relationship with her as Jairus has with his daughter.

In each situation, Jesus’ holiness transforms the person’s uncleanness. The flow of blood is stopped. The woman is healed. The corpse comes back to life. The young girl gets out of bed. Jesus raises each person up to his level, making that individual worthy to be in the presence of God.

Jesus, the healer

In so many of the healing stories, Jesus manifests the power to give people health, healing and even to bring the dead back to life. Remember the young man of Nain in Luke 7 who had died. Jesus said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!” Luke reports that the “dead man sat up and began to speak.”

Jesus responded to the cries of the leper who begged him, “If you will, you can cure me!” Moved with compassion, Jesus gave a word of command which was proper to God and not to a mere human being: “I do will it. Be made clean!” Mark wrote: “The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean” (Mark 1:42). How can we forget the case of the paralytic who was let down through an opening made in the roof of the house, Jesus said, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home” (cf. Mk 2:1-12).

Jesus’ story continues in the Acts of the Apostles when we hear about people who “carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them” (Acts 5:15). These “wonders and signs” were performed by the apostles not in their own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ, and were therefore a further proof of his divine power.

“Talitha koum”

The story of Jairus’ daughter not only speaks about the death of a child and the raising of that young girl back to life, but it also speaks about death of the heart and spirit, a disease that affects so many young people today.

Those powerful words — “Talitha koum” (Little girl, arise) — are not only addressed to this little girl in Mark’s story, but also to many young people, perhaps to each one of us. How many young children live with fear and sadness because of divided family situations, tragedy and loss! How many young people are caught up in vicious cycles of death: drugs, abortion, pornography, violence, gangs and suicide.

Today our young people are afflicted with anxiety, discouragement and other serious psychological and even physical illnesses in alarming ways. Many don’t know what joy, love hope and truth really mean any more.

Sadness, pessimism, cynicism, meaninglessness, the desire not to live, are always bad things, but when we see or hear young people express them, our hearts are even more heavy and sad. Living in a big city such as Toronto, I have the opportunity of meeting many young people, and when I hear some of their stories of brokenness, sadness and despair, I realize how much work the churches must do to bring young people back to life.

Jesus continues today to resurrect those dead young people to life. He does so with his word, and also by sending them his disciples who, in his name, and with his very love, repeat to today’s young people his cry: “Talitha koum,” “young man, young woman, arise! Live again! Love again! You are loved!”

“Alive” in Darlinghurst

As I reflect on today’s Gospel and Jesus’ powerful words: “Talitha koum,” I recall vividly one of Benedict XVI’s special moments during World Youth Day 2008 in Australia.

The Holy Father went to the University of Notre Dame’s Sacred Heart chapel in Darlinghurst (Sydney) where he met young people with histories of drug addiction and other problems, who are following the “Alive” rehabilitation program. The Pope Emeritus recalled Moses’ words in the Old Testament:

“‘I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live in the love of the Lord your God, […] for in this your life consists.”

“It was clear what they had to do,” the Pope explained, “they had to turn away from other gods and worship the true God Who had revealed himself to Moses — and they had to obey His commandments. You might think that in today’s world, people are unlikely to start worshipping other gods. But sometimes people worship ‘other gods’ without realizing it. False ‘gods’ […] are nearly always associated with the worship of three things: material possessions, possessive love, or power.”

“Authentic love is obviously something good,” the Pope continued. “When we love, we become most fully ourselves, most fully human. But […] people often think they are being loving when actually they are being possessive or manipulative. People sometimes treat others as objects to satisfy their own needs. […] How easy it is to be deceived by the many voices in our society that advocate a permissive approach to sexuality, without regard for modesty, self-respect or the moral values that bring quality to human relationships!”

“Dear friends, I see you as ambassadors of hope to others in similar situations. You can convince them of the need to choose the path of life and shun the path of death, because you speak from experience. All through the Gospels, it was those who had taken wrong turnings who were particularly loved by Jesus, because once they recognized their mistake, they were all the more open to his healing message.

“Indeed, Jesus was often criticized by self-righteous members of society for spending so much time with such people. ‘Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ they asked. He responded: ‘It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick … I did not come to call the virtuous but sinners’ (cf. Mt 9:11-13).

“It was those who were willing to rebuild their lives who were most ready to listen to Jesus and become his disciples. You can follow in their footsteps, you too can grow particularly close to Jesus because you have chosen to turn back towards him. You can be sure that, just like the Father in the story of the prodigal son, Jesus welcomes you with open arms. He offers you unconditional love — and it is in loving friendship with him that the fullness of life is to be found.”

I am sure that Jesus was smiling upon Benedict XVI and that wonderful gathering in Sydney. Jesus’ words — “Talitha koum” — be heard every anew, Down Under and throughout our world, to invite the young and all people to rise up, to live and to love again.

[The readings for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24; 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15; and Mark 5:21-43 or 5:21-24, 35b-43]

(Image: “Talitha Koum” by Ilja Jefimowitsch Repin)

“Let us walk together toward the Lord…” How the Bishop of Rome is tracing new paths of unity for the Churches

Orientale Lumen Conference 2015 DC

On Thursday, June 18, 2015, the date Laudato Si was released, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, addressed the Orientale Lumen XIX Conference in Washington, DC. Read the full text of his address below. 

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Orientale Lumen XIX Conference – Washington, DC – June 18, 2015
“The Bishop of Rome: Past, Present and Future”

Your Excellencies,
Brothers and Sisters of the Orthodox Churches,
Dear Friends,

The Council’s Vision of Christian Unity

St. John XXIII convoked the Second Vatican Council for two specific purposes: aggiornamento – bringing the Church into the Modern World and presenting the enticing mystery of the Church to the Modern World; and second, for the cause of Christian Unity – for the whole oikumene. One of the main achievements of the Council in the mid-1960s was to find a theological logic to break down the walls between Christian churches, and to usher in a new era of dialogue and partnership that we now refer to as “ecumenism.”

Vatican II articulated a new theology of Church. While the fullness of the Church, according to Catholic doctrine, may exist only in Catholicism, there are nevertheless precious elements of it to be found outside that deserve our honor and respect. Interestingly enough, this theme emerged once again at the recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome and evoked once again those great lively discussions and impassioned debates that surrounded and continue to flow from the expression “subsistit in” from Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church – Lumen Gentium. Nevertheless, no one can deny the dynamic conversations that took place among us at the Synod as we sought to find a vocabulary and expression to name the new situations of our time and find the presence of God in them.

The ultimate goal of ecumenism is the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer that his disciples would be one so the world would believe. What we long for is full unity in faith and the sacraments. The most important result of the past half-century is not the wealth of doctrinal agreements that have been drawn up by resulting dialogue commissions, but rather the rediscovery of each other as baptized Christians, whichever denomination or Christian community we may belong to. All theological discussion must be firmly rooted in the real-life experience of individual believers.

We must be honest, however and realize that many of the great expectations raised by the Second Vatican Council half a century ago have not been fulfilled and the work of implementing its prophetic vision has only just begun. There is no doubt in my mind that Pope Francis has energized the ecumenical movement, not just with the mainline Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant Churches, but especially with the fast-growing movement of Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity, that he got to know well during his years as archbishop of Buenos Aires. These movements should challenge the old-established Churches to renewal, especially in the face of common persecution in places where Christians are being martyred for their faith.

A central image of the Christian life for Pope Francis is the movement toward Christian unity – a movement that happens one step at a time. For Francis, it is not about waiting for others to catch up with us. It is about everyone continuing to walk with and toward the Lord, supporting and learning from the brothers and sisters whom God places on the same path. The deeper we all grow in holiness, the closer we will be to one another. While Francis’ gestures are new, and even disconcerting to some, the idea of growth in unity being the result of growth in fidelity to Christ is not. The unity we seek requires inner conversion that is both common and personal. It is not merely a matter of cordiality, or good cooperation, it is necessary above all to strengthen our faith in God, in the God of Jesus Christ, who spoke to us and took on our flesh and blood in the incarnation.

TR Gift Orientale Lumen Conference 2015

Four Biblical Reflections and Four Perspectives

I would like to refer to four daily homilies of the Bishop of Rome over the past two years that may very well be a hermeneutical key to understanding Pope Francis’ ecumenical and interreligious efforts. Two months after his election to the See of Peter, in his daily homily in the chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae on May 13, 2013, Pope Francis stressed the courageous attitude of St. Paul in the Areopagus, when, in speaking to the Athenian crowd, the Apostle to the Gentiles sought to build bridges to proclaim the Gospel. Francis called Paul’s attitude one that “seeks dialogue” and is “closer to the heart” of the listener. The Pope said that this is the reason why St Paul was a real pontifex: a “builder of bridges and not of walls.” The Pope went on to say that this makes us think of the attitude that a Christian ought always to have.

“A Christian must proclaim Jesus Christ in such a way that He be accepted: received, not refused – and Paul knows that he has to sow the Gospel message. …Paul does not say to the Athenians: ‘This is the encyclopedia of truth. Study this and you have the truth, the truth.’ No! The truth does not enter into an encyclopedia. The truth is an encounter – it is a meeting with Supreme Truth: Jesus, the great truth. No one owns the truth. We receive the truth when we meet it.”

The Pope warned that, “Christians who are afraid to build bridges and prefer to build walls are Christians who are not sure of their faith, not sure of Jesus Christ.” The Pope exhorted Christians to do as Paul did and begin to “build bridges and to move forward.”

On October 13, 2013 in the Chapel of the Domus, Pope Francis warned Christians against behaving as though the “key is in [their] pocket, and the door closed.” He reiterated that without prayer, one abandons the faith and descends into ideology and moralism. “Woe to you, scholars of the law! You have taken away the key of knowledge!” (Luke 11:52)

Francis continued: “Jesus speaks to us about the image of the lock; it is “the image of those Christians who have the key in their hand, but take it away, without opening the door. Worse still, they keep the door closed and don’t allow anyone to enter.In so doing, they themselves do not enter. …The lack of Christian witness does this, and when this Christian is a priest, a bishop or a Pope it is worse.”

“But how does it happen that a Christian falls into this attitude of keeping the key to the Church in his pocket, with the door closed?”

“The faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon people. In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. …And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements.”

“The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh?”

Then on October 24, 2014, Francis spoke about unity in diversity in his daily homily in the Domus Chapel. “Every Christian is called to work for the unity of the Church, allowing ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit who creates unity in diversity.” “Building the unity of the Church is the work of the Church and of every Christian throughout history”.

Pope Francis noted that when the Apostle Peter speaks of the Church, he speaks of a temple made of living stones, that is us. The Pope warned that the opposite to this is “that other temple of pride, which was the Tower of Babel. The first temple “brings unity”, the second is the symbol of disunity, lack of understanding, the diversity of languages. Pope Francis then posed a question: How is “this temple built?” The Apostle Peter said “that we were living stones in this building”. Saint Paul on the other hand “advises us not to be stones, to be weak bricks”. The advice of the Apostle to the Gentiles in building this unity is “weak advice, according to human thought”.

“Humility, gentleness, magnanimity: These are weak things, because the humble person appears good for nothing; gentleness, meekness appear useless… . The weaker we are with these virtues of humility, generosity, gentleness, meekness, the stronger we become as stones in this Temple”.

“The hope to which we have been called; the hope of journeying towards the Lord; the hope of living in a living Church, made of living stones, with the power of the Holy Spirit. Only in the ground plan of hope can we move forward in the unity of the Church. We have been called to a great hope. Let’s go there! But with the strength that Jesus prayer’ for unity gives us; with docility to the Holy Spirit, who is capable of making living stones from bricks; and with the hope of finding the Lord who has called us, to encounter Him in the fullness of time”.

Last November 4, 2014, Pope Francis once again illustrated the qualities to be avoided and those to be embraced if we wish to be instruments of unity and reconciliation in the Church today. Francis based his homily on the parable recounted in the daily Gospel of the man who gave a great banquet to which he invited many. The Pope said that this parable makes us think, because “we all like being invited to dinners”. But there was something about this dinner that three guests did not like, and these guests are an example of many of us.

One person says that he has to go and examine his field, he needs to see it in order to feel “powerful, vanity, pride and he prefers this to sitting at table among others.” Another guest had just bought five oxen and thus is taken up with his business and doesn’t want to waste time with other people. The last guest excuses himself saying that he is married and doesn’t want to bring his bride to the dinner. He wanted to keep her affection all to himself: selfishness. Pope Francis noted: “In the end the invited guests prefer their own interests rather than sharing dinner together: They do not know what it means to celebrate”.

“It is so difficult to listen to the voice of Jesus, the voice of God, when you believe that that the whole world revolves around you: there is no horizon, because you become your own horizon. And there is more behind all of this, something far deeper: fear of gratuity. We are afraid of God’s gratuity. He is so great that we fear Him”.

“Compel them, for here is the celebration. Gratuity. Compel that heart, that soul to believe in God’s gratuity, that God’s gift is free, that salvation cannot be bought: it is a great gift, the love of God … is the greatest gift! This is gratuity.”

“Today, the Church asks us not to be afraid of the gratuitousness of God”.

In these four brief, daily homilies, I believe that we have four very distinct lenses or hermeneutical keys through which me may understand Pope Francis’ modus operandi in relating to other Christians and people of good will of other faith communities.

1) Paul does not say to the Athenians: “This is the encyclopedia of truth. Study this and you have the truth, the truth.” The truth does not enter into an encyclopedia. The truth is an encounter – it is a meeting with Supreme Truth: Jesus, the great truth. No one owns the truth. We receive the truth when we meet it in a person. His name is Jesus. Francis warns that, Christians who are afraid to build bridges and prefer to build walls are Christians who are not sure of their faith, not sure of Jesus Christ. The Pope exhorted Christians to do as Paul did and begin to “build bridges and to move forward.”

2) Faith that passes through a distiller becomes an ideology- because ideologies are rigid, always and because Christian ideology is rigid, moralistic, ethical, but without kindness; this Christian ideology is a serious illness.

3) “Humility, gentleness, magnanimity: These are weak things, because the humble person appears good for nothing; gentleness, meekness on the surface appear useless; yet generosity means being open to all, having a big heart. The weaker we are with these virtues of humility, generosity, gentleness, meekness, the stronger we become as stones in this Temple.

4) It is so difficult to listen to the voice of Jesus, the voice of God, when you believe that that the whole world revolves around you: there is no horizon, because you become your own horizon. Yet there is something deeper underlying all of this: the fear of gratuity. We are afraid of God’s gratuity. He is so great that we fear Him.

Orientale Lumen Group 2015

Francis and Orthodox Christianity

With Pope Francis we are witnessing a growing cooperation among the recognized leaders from the Eastern Orthodox Churches. The idea of Orthodox Christians being able to learn from the Pope of Rome appears foreign to many of us. The renewed Roman efforts of outreach to Orthodox Christians have not passed unnoticed. Orthodox Christians are learning from the unique witness of Pope Francis. He is in many ways a bishop who reflects the Christianity of the first millennium when the Church was undivided. Pope Francis also models a form of leadership that is badly needed in Orthodox Christianity today. Let me offer a few lessons that Francis is offering to the East.

The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople was present at the first moments of the Petrine Ministry of Francis in March 2013. From May 24-25, 2014 the Ecumenical Patriarch and Pope Francis welcomed each other in Jerusalem to observe the anniversary of the historic encounter between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and the subsequent lifting of mutual anathemas. Following the historic visit to the Holy Land, Patriarch Bartholomew travelled to Rome last May 2014 and joined Pope Francis and the Presidents of Israel and Palestine in a very historic prayer for peace in the Vatican Gardens.

In his landmark encyclical released today “Laudato Si’” On Care for our Common Home”, released this morning, three specific paragraphs refer to Patriarch Bartholomew:

United by the same concern

7. Outside the Catholic Church, other Churches and Christian communities – and other religions as well – have expressed deep concern and offered valuable reflections on issues which all of us find disturbing. To give just one striking example, I would mention the statements made by the beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, with whom we share the hope of full ecclesial communion.

8. Patriarch Bartholomew has spoken in particular of the need for each of us to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet, for “inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage”, we are called to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation”. He has repeatedly stated this firmly and persuasively, challenging us to acknowledge our sins against creation: “For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins”. For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”.

9. At the same time, Bartholomew has drawn attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which require that we look for solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms. He asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which “entails learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed and compulsion”.

As Christians, we are also called “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbours on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet”.

In presenting the encyclical at the large Press Conference in the New Synod Hall of the Vatican earlier this morning, Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon, speaking on behalf of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholmew, devoted a large part of his intervention to the ecumenism in “Laudato si’”, and mentioned that in 1989 the Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios published an encyclical addressed to all Christians and persons of good will warning of the seriousness of the ecological problem and its theological and spiritual implications, and in the same year he proposed the dedication of 1 September every year to prayer for the environment. This date, according to the Orthodox calendar, is the first day of the ecclesiastical year and now devoted to the environment. The Metropolitan proposed the adoption by all Christians of this day for prayer for the environment.

Metropolitan John said: “I believe that the significance of the papal Encyclical Laudato si’ is not limited to the subject of ecology as such. I see in it an important ecumenical dimension in that it brings the divided Christians before a common task which they must face together. We live at a time when fundamental existential problems overwhelm our traditional divisions and relativise them almost to the point of extinction. Look, for example, at what is happening today in the Middle East: do those who persecute the Christians ask them to which Church or Confession they belong? Christian unity in such cases is de facto realised by persecution and blood – an ecumenism of martyrdom”.

He continued: “The threat posed to us by the ecological crisis similarly bypasses or transcends our traditional divisions. The danger facing our common home, the planet on which we live, is described in the Encyclical in a way leaving no doubt about the existential risk we are confronted with. This risk is common to all of us regardless of our ecclesiastical or confessional identities. Equally common must be our effort to prevent the catastrophic consequences of the present situation. Pope Francis’ Encyclical is a call to unity – unity in prayer for the environment, in the same Gospel of Creation, in the conversion of our hearts and our lifestyles to respect and love everyone and everything given to us by God”.

Metropolitan John’s presence at a Vatican Press Conference presenting a papal encyclical was truly unprecedented and a great sign and portent of ecumenism and the deepening relationship that exists between our churches.

What is it about Francis’ exercise of the Petrine ministry that is so enticing to the Orthodox? And vice-versa! I would like to refer to three distinctive qualities emerging from the Papacy of Pope Francis. The Bishop of Rome is teaching us each day that authentic power is service. There is no place for the trappings of power, privilege and prestige in the exercise of Francis’ Petrine ministry. Francis shocked many on that first Holy Thursday night in 2013 when he visited a youth detention center in Rome and chose to wash the feet of young offenders, including one who was an Orthodox Christian. If we do not learn this Christian rule and posture of servanthood, we will never be able to understand Jesus’ true message about true power.

Second, Francis has taught us about life on the peripheries of society. Pope Francis challenges Orthodox Christians with the following words: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.” A risk-taking Church that is not afraid to fail is much healthier than a Church that is focused on institutional security and closed in on itself. Such a lesson is not only meant for the Churches of the West.

Third, Francis has repeatedly taught us that evangelization, by its very nature a “noisy” business. Pope Francis provided this bold exhortation to young people in Rio de Janeiro: “Let me tell you what I hope will be the outcome of World Youth Day: I hope there will be noise. … I want you to make yourselves heard in your dioceses, I want the noise to go out, I want the Church to go out onto the streets, I want us to resist everything worldly, everything static, everything comfortable, everything to do with clericalism, everything that might make us closed in on ourselves.”

Francis has written: “Christians of the East and West must give common witness so that, strengthened by the Spirit of the risen Christ, they may disseminate the message of salvation to the entire world.”

Both Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew are not only motivated by the cause of ecumenism but also by forming a united front against the persecution of Christianity in the Middle East where the number of Catholics and Orthodox have dwindled over the past couple decades. In November 2014, Pope Francis was the fourth pontiff to visit Turkey after Pope Benedict XVI in 2006, Pope John Paul II in 1979 and Pope Paul VI in 1967. His visit came three days after Francis addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg during a difficult time for people of various religions in the Middle East and at a time that Turkey is hosting more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees.

Evangelicals and Pentecostals

Let us be very honest and admit that Anglicanism and Orthodoxy today represent a minority of non-Catholic Christians. According to a 2011 Pew Forum report, about half of the world’s Christians are Catholic, 12 percent are Orthodox, and 37 percent are “Protestants, broadly defined.” The same study reported that there are about 279 million Pentecostal Christians and 305 million charismatic Christians in the world and that Pentecostal and charismatic Christians together make up about 27 percent of all Christians and more than 8 percent of the world’s total population.

There are roughly 285 million Evangelicals worldwide, which means that, together, Evangelicals and Pentecostals total nearly 400 million. Meanwhile, the number of “historic Protestants” (Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, etc.) and Anglicans continues to shrink overall. Through his focusing on Evangelicals and Pentecostals rather than “historical” Protestant denominations, Pope Francis has taken a new approach to ecumenical efforts that has upset some of the major denominations and even those who claim to be seasoned, ecumenical experts! Several of my theologian colleagues and friends, and those immersed in formal ecumenical studies and work have commented to me over the past few months: “What on earth is the Pope doing with those “sects” or “fundamentalist new groups?” They might be missing some very important lessons that the Bishop of Rome is teaching us.

Francis and the World Evangelical Alliance

Pope Francis has approached ecumenism characterized through personal relationships specifically addressed to the world of Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity and somewhat disconnected from the “official” efforts and initiatives of those who work through formal structures and agencies in the area of ecumenism. Recently Pope Francis addressed a delegation of the World Evangelical Alliance at the Vatican. Francis said: “Whenever we put ourselves entirely and lovingly at the service of the Gospel, we become ever more fruitful branches of that vine which is Christ, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13). This truth is grounded in our Baptism, by which we share in the fruits of Christ’s death and resurrection. Baptism is God’s priceless gift which we have in common (cf. Gal 3:27). Thanks to this gift, we no longer live a purely earthly existence; we now live in the power of the Spirit.

Francis has said that our divisions mar the beauty of the seamless robe of Christ, yet they do not completely destroy the profound unity brought about by grace in all the baptized (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, 13). The effectiveness of the Christian message would no doubt be greater were Christians to overcome their divisions, and together celebrate the sacraments, spread the word of God, and bear witness to charity.”

This outreach to Evangelicals and Pentecostals is most certainly influenced by then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio’s pastoral ministry in Latin America, and his now famous Aparecida document from the 2007 Latin American Bishops’ Meeting in Brazil. There was a strong wake-up call given to us last July 2014 when the Bishop of Rome went on a “private” visit to a Pentecostal church in Caserta, Italy. The event concluded with a historic first: an apology from the Pope for anything involvement Catholics may have had in the persecution of Pentecostals in Italy in the 1930s.

Francis spoke of that one sin present among Christians since apostolic times, and definitely not a divine trait: name-calling. On the path of Christian life, “when we stop and spend too much time looking at each other, we start a different journey, an ugly one,” the pope said. In the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul criticizes early Christians who, bragging and promoting rivalry, started saying, “I belong to Paul” or “I belong to Apollos,” rather than “I belong to Jesus.”

Francis’ ecumenical strategy in all of these efforts is not sheep stealing. His motto is not “swim the Tiber” nor his mantra: “Rome sweet home.” Bishop Tony Palmer pointed this out: “Pope Francis pulled me up on more than one occasion when I used the expression ‘coming home to the Catholic Church.’ He said, ‘Don’t use this term.’ He told me, ‘No one is coming home. You are journeying towards us and we are journeying towards you and we will meet in the middle. We will meet on the road as we seek each other.’”

This thought is powerfully confirmed in Francis’ stunning exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium”: “We must never forget that we are pilgrims journeying alongside one another. This means that we must have sincere trust in our fellow pilgrims, putting aside all suspicions or mistrust, and turn our gaze to what we are all seeking: the radiant peace of God’s face for “it is not just a matter of being informed but of reaping what the Spirit has sown in them, which is also meant to be a gift for us.”

Pope Francis’ ecumenical efforts with Evangelical and Pentecostal leaders has inaugurated a new era of serious, ecumenical discussion but this has sounded several alarms in various ecumenical quarters! Through these messages and efforts, Francis 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.

Bishop John Michael Bishop - Orientale Lumen Conference

Efforts with the Charismatic Communities

Francis is an evangelical pope and the Church of the 21st century has a charismatic face. When Pope Francis met with members of the “Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowship” in Rome for its Sixteenth International Conference, he touched on several themes in his address to the group, beginning with the idea of “unity in diversity.” “Unity does not imply uniformity,” the Pope said. “It does not necessarily mean doing everything together or thinking in the same way. Nor does it signify a loss of identity. Unity in diversity is actually the opposite: it involves the joyful recognition and acceptance of the various gifts which the Holy Spirit gives to each one and the placing of these gifts at the service of all members of the Church.” Francis reminded his audience that “the Charismatic Renewal is, by its very nature, ecumenical.”

“Catholic Fraternity, do not forget your origins, do not forget that the Charismatic Renewal is, by its very nature, ecumenical. Blessed Paul VI commented on this in the magnificent Apostolic Exhortation on evangelization which is highly relevant in our own day: “The power of evangelization will find itself considerably diminished if those who proclaim the Gospel are divided among themselves in all sorts of ways. Is this not perhaps one of the great sicknesses of evangelization today?”

“Remember: seek the unity which is the work of the Holy Spirit and do not be afraid of diversity. The breathing of Christians draws in the new air of the Holy Spirit and then exhales it upon the world: it is the prayer of praise and missionary outreach. Share baptism in the Holy Spirit with everyone in the Church. Spiritual ecumenism and the ecumenism of blood. The unity of the Body of Christ. Prepare the Bride for the Bridegroom who comes! One Bride only! (Rev 22:17).”

Francis’ approach to ecumenism has a very charismatic character, as he himself explains in this excerpt from a book recently published Italian Renewal in the Holy Spirit (RnS), entitled “Il Cardinale Bergoglio al Rinnovamento”: “I don’t believe in a definitive ecumenism, much less do I believe in the ecumenism that as its first step gets us to agree on a theological level. I think we must progress in unity, participating together in prayer and in the works of charity. And this I find in the Renewal. Now and then we get together with a few pastors and stop and pray together for about an hour. This has been made possible thanks to the Charismatic Renewal, both on the evangelical side and on the Catholic side.”

Pope Francis & Orientale Lumen Foundation

Pope Francis also addressed delegates taking part in an ecumenical pilgrimage, promoted by the Orientale Lumen Foundation and led by the Orthodox Metropolitan, Kallistos of Diokleia. The Pope said this journey towards an interior renewal is “absolutely essential” in order to make progress along the road leading to reconciliation and full communion between all believers in Christ.

“Every Christian pilgrimage is not only a geographical journey, but also and above all an opportunity to take a path of inner renewal taking us ever closer to Christ our Lord,” said Pope Francis to the members of the Oriental Lumen Foundation in America, who are meeting in Rome in these days as part of an ecumenical pilgrimage.

“These dimensions are absolutely essential to proceed along the road that leads us to reconciliation and full communion among all believers in Christ. There is no true ecumenical dialogue without openness to inner renewal and the search for greater fidelity to Christ and to His will”.”

Relations with Judaism

Because of some wonderful relationships and friendships with rabbis in Buenos Aires, Francis has brought personal relationships into his pastoral ministry in Rome. I am convinced that if get the relationships right, everything else will follow. It’s all about relationships. Is this not the real legacy of Nostra Aetate? Pope Francis never met the great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. But the more I see Francis in action, I cannot help but think that Heschel’s influence is hidden in Francis’ heart and mind. Rabbi Abraham Skorka of Argentina, one of Pope Francis’ closest friends is convinced of this fact. Rabbi Skorka accompanied Francis to the Holy Land in May, and in 2010 they co-authored a book, On Heaven and Earth.

God’s Continuous Search for Us

Pope Francis sounded very much like Rabbi Heschel in the interview with Jesuit journals in September 2013. “God is in every person’s life,” he said repeatedly. “You can, you must try to seek God in every human life.” Francis also shares Rabbi Heschel’s criticism of religion when it “speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion.” The pope has repeatedly warned against clericalism, for example. “The risk that we must avoid is priests and bishops falling into clericalism, which is a distortion of religion,” he explained in his dialogue with Rabbi Skorka. “When a priest leads a diocese or a parish, he has to listen to his community, to make mature decisions and lead the community accordingly. In contrast, when the priest imposes himself, when in some way he says, ‘I am the boss here,’ he falls into clericalism.” Francis’ warning to newly appointed bishops in September 2013, that careerism is “a form of cancer,” echoed Rabbi Heschel’s remark in a now famous address to the American Medical Association years ago: “According to my own medical theory, more people die of success than of cancer.”

The Vocation and Mission of “Pontifex”

Building bridges is the work of evangelization, the work of going out to the whole world to proclaim the Good News of our salvation in Jesus Christ. Building walls is what fearful, insecure people do to protect what they have and to keep others out. Pope Francis wants to build bridges that everyone can cross. In “Evangelii Gaudium” Pope Francis invites and challenges all of us to move beyond our “comfort zones.” He wants us to be warm, welcoming and forgiving. He wants us to eat with tax collectors and sinners; he wants us to forgive the woman caught in adultery (while admonishing her to sin no more); he wants us to welcome and respect foreigners (even our enemies), and, above all, not to judge others.

Dear Friends, the challenge of the Council fathers must be taken up by the young generation and not succumb to new tensions that threaten the quest for full, visible unity of the whole Christian family. Unity is a gift of the Spirit. What better time to take seriously this urgent call to each one of us to conversion, reconciliation and rededication to the cause of healing the divided Body of Christ? There is nothing new here. It is only the Gospel message. It’s been our mission, our mandate and our story for over 2,000 years. It is the mission of every single Christian, and most especially the vocation of those who work day and night, untiringly, patiently, and joyfully that “all may be one” so the world might believe in Jesus and the God and father of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who sent His son to the world that God so loved. Let us build bridges together, and learn from the gentle, vivid, powerful and deeply human lessons that our Pontifex is teaching us.

Fr. Rosica’s Interview on CBC National Morning with Heather Hiscox

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June 18, 2015
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, interviewed from Washington, DC by CBC’s Heather Hiscox shortly after Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter “Laudato Sì” was presented to the world.

Courtesy of CBC Television.

Living in a Digital World: The Context of our Mission Today

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Address to US & Canadian Jesuit Formation Conference
“Global Mission in a Digital Age”

 by Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Loyola Marymount University – Los Angeles, California
June 16, 2015

Over 300 Jesuits gathered at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California this week – all Canadian and U.S. Jesuits currently in formation along with their provincials. It is the largest gathering of Jesuits in the United States in the past decade. The group includes everyone from first-year novices to men in their third year of theology. The meeting, the first in the U.S. since 2006, is being held to give these Jesuits an opportunity – sometime during their formation – to meet everyone else. The theme of the gathering, which runs from June 15-20, is “Global Mission in a Digital Age,” which reflects the fact that the mission of the Society of Jesus is no longer restricted to a Jesuit’s own province or his own country because all Jesuits need a global perspective on their ministry. Speakers at the meeting include Fr. Matt Malone, SJ, America magazine’s editor-in-chief; Fr. Timothy Kesicki, SJ, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States; Fr. Tom Rosica, C.S.B., CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation; and Fr. Peter Balleis, SJ, international director of Jesuit Refugee Services.

Dear Brothers and Friends,

Thank you very much for the privilege of addressing this great assembly of 300 young Jesuits in formation and the entire leadership of the Society of Jesus in North America and many places beyond! Standing before such intelligence and creative talent gives me much hope for the Church and for the Society of Jesus. The theme of this conference is extremely appropriate for our time: “Global Mission in a Digital Age.” Last night Fr. Matt Malone, SJ, of AMERICA Media unfolded the vast canvas of the global mission before you. Today I would like to look at the digital tools needed to prepare and paint that canvas so that it can be seen, appreciated and understood by the world. Let me begin by telling you about a great Gospel artist of our times who surprisingly models for us how a truly dynamic, global mission is lived each day.

I say “surprisingly” on purpose! Following Pope Francis’ recent pronouncements on the digital and Internet matters, several Anglophone journalists with whom I deal regularly on behalf of the Holy See Press Office have asked me: “So, is this Jesuit Pope a Luddite?” Some people may think so given recent headlines like: “Pope doesn’t use e-mail, doesn’t have a laptop, doesn’t have an iphone.” Or “Jesuit Pope takes oath to Blessed Mother in 1990 promising never to watch television again.” Or “Pope tells parents not to let children use computers in their bedrooms.”

But as you know well, such headlines often distort the message. To understand what Francis says, context counts and syntax matters. The Pope has issued no magisterial directive on how to organize households. What he offered was common-sense wisdom. In more unscripted remarks during his recent day trip to Sarajevo two Sundays ago, Pope Francis spoke both to young people and to journalists about computer usage. Prefacing his remarks to the young people with self-deprecating humility (“Obviously, I am from the Stone Age, I’m ancient!”), his admonitions remain sound today: “If you live glued to the computer and become a slave to the computer, you lose your freedom. And if you look for obscene programs on the computer, you lose your dignity.” But he also implored those digital natives to “Watch television, use the computer, but for beautiful reasons, for great things, things which help us to grow.”

To the reporter during one of those coveted in-flight press conferences on the return flight to Rome who inquired about what was meant by wasting time with television and computers, the Pope distinguished between the medium and its content. Regarding the former he makes clear that the risk comes not from the digital medium but from one’s attachment to it. Slavery of this, or any kind, is what “damages the soul and takes away freedom.” About the latter the Pope was not telling parents how to act as much as he was describing what some concerned parents do, given their legitimate fears about a child’s access to inappropriate (even dangerous) content.

We all know that computers can have terrible effect if not used properly. Easy access to personally damaging content like pornography is frightening. It is the cause of breakup many families and destroys many lives and careers. So, too, is the strength of social media to affect brain power, with research now showing that digital distractions lead young people – in many cases our students and parishioners – to be able to concentrate on a task for only 31 seconds! But computers are not the problem, nor is the Internet the problem. Our fantasies are. Removing the device does not restrict the imagination. Nor does banning the technology eliminate distraction.

Social media can make moral development a challenge, but we cannot abdicate the perennial task of education in human freedom. Therefore Jorge Bergoglio’s Stone Age wisdom in this regard is worth emphasizing: “In an age of images we must do what was done in the age of books: choose what is good for me!”

Francis’s objections to computers seem largely to be about the ways in which the Internet promotes easy access to pornography and erodes human relationships and engagement. As he himself knows, however, the Internet can bring people together as well as drive huge wedges of division between them. Technology has always done this throughout history. The newspaper brought news of other people without the need for conversation with other people. The Internet allows for proclamations – including those coming from Vatican – to reach more people faster than ever before. But let us never forget that the great digital highway is a street teeming with people who are often hurting, men & women looking for salvation or hope.

Reimagining the Body of Christ

Beginning with the oral tradition, including the teaching ministry of Jesus, and continuing through the formation of the Biblical canon to modern telecommunications, human beings have recorded and shared their faith. Contemporary communication technologies are a gift of God for the people of God. The origins of these powerful media spring from the creative energy of an omnipotent and communicating God. The history of faith is a history of communication. The Word did not become an e-mail, an SMS or text message, a probe, a quick like, or some kind of divine oracle uttered from some distant heaven long ago. Through Mary, the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us. The Word became close to real, human beings in real time. The Word became a person to be followed, enjoyed and loved! From now on, anyone who really understands that God has become human will never be able to speak and act in an inhuman way. In Jesus, the message and the messenger are united. The medium is indeed the message.

It can be easy to regard new media with bewilderment, even dread. They offer so many possibilities – and also present invasive challenges to our present religious lifestyle, threatening, for example, the existence of uninterrupted time for thought and mediation. This new media will not disappear; they are omnipresent. We must regard them as potentially helpful.

We can identify our expectations and anxieties about media, based on our commitments to human rights, justice (including the availability of media to all parts of our society), and the protection of vulnerable persons from exploitation (children, youth, women, person with special needs, minority groups). As any instrument placed in our hands, the Internet becomes what we ourselves decide. It needs to be informed and guided by a resolute commitment to the practice of solidarity in the service of the common good, within and among nations.

For Christians, Jesus is both the model of communication and the subject of communication. People are most authentic in all their social interactions when they are honest about themselves. This means that we should reflect the spirit of our faith in our Internet postings, including a commitment to justice, peace, honesty, and transparency, with a gracious, kind style. Contemporary media are not inherently evil or sinful. As the media dramatically reshapes society, Christians need to be cautious and wary of the negative side. Putting energy and creativity into positive expressions will help build a more humane media environment. We can join with other Christians in evaluating our media experiences.

St. Paul’s imagery describes our present situation well: the body of Christ is an apt metaphor for our cyber-friendships and associations. As “one body with many members,” social networks can help us “rejoice and suffer with each other” across vast distances quickly and often. The etymology that links the words communion, communication, and community takes on many dramatic and poignant illustrations because of the Internet.

What essential traits of personal identity are lacking in virtual communication? In online communication there is an absence of the nonverbal and paralinguistic communication codes, such as facial expressions and tone of voice. The “people of the Net” have always tried to overcome this “absence” by introducing strategies, means to give color and friendship to web communication. We can think of the little faces, the “emoticons,” the possibility of choosing a text color, of adding images, of writing in all caps, of synthesizing words, of using abbreviations, of exclamation points and questions marks, of repeated letters. This makes written communication draw very close to the spoken word.

Our external technologies will certainly continue to advance. What is very uncertain is whether our inner technologies of consciousness will grow along with them. We need to make sure we connect to that place inside us of ease and focus, the creative mind. This is where you and I have a critical role to play.

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Hindrance and/or help:
Pope Francis 2015 Message for World Day of Communications

In Pope Francis’ 2015 Message for the World Day of Communications which we celebrated on the feast of the Ascension this year, he reminded us that “modern media, which are an essential part of life for young people in particular, can be both a help and a hindrance to communication in and between families.

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

Internet Challenges for Church  

One of the greatest challenges of the digital culture to the Catholic Church is its egalitarianism. Anyone can create a blog; everyone’s opinion is valid. And if a question or contradiction is posted, the digital natives expect a response and something resembling a conversation. We can choose not to enter into that cultural mindset, but we do so at great peril to the Church’s credibility and approachability in the minds of many of our contemporaries, those who are growing up in this new culture. The Internet can destroy or confuse the hierarchy of information providing that church agencies have worked so hard to establish?

Our great challenge in the era of Facebook and Twitter consists in presenting the full, beautiful message of Jesus and the teaching of the Church without being sidetracked by technology’s superficial aspects. In using the media to evangelize the masses, we must never lose sight of the need to reach and teach the individual as though he or she were the only person being addressed.

The Internet also allows individuals to indulge in anonymity, role-playing, and fantasizing and also to enter into community with others and engage in sharing. According to users’ tastes, it lends itself equally well to active participation and to passive absorption. It can be used to break down the isolation of individuals and groups or to deepen it. The Internet can be a very positive instrument for globalization. The Internet can also be a “weapon of mass destruction!” What arms inspectors didn’t find in Iraq, they should have looked to the Internet. The “reply all” button can be a deadly weapon!

Exploitation on the Internet 

The spread of the Internet also raises a number of ethical questions about matters like privacy, security and confidentiality of data, copyright and intellectual property law, pornography, hate sites, the dissemination of rumor and character assassination under the guise of news, and much else. Pornography degrades those used in its production, as well as those who are desensitized or whose values are perverted through its consumption. We must denounce pornography because we believe that it reduces the Creator’s gift of sexuality to a level that is devoid of personal dignity, commitment and spirituality. But the Internet is not only a source of problems; it is a source of great benefits to the human race. The benefits can be fully realized only if the problems are named, addressed and solved.

The downside of the “Catholic” blogosphere

 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 destruction, crossing time zones, borders and space. In its wake is character assassination, destruction of reputation, calumny, libel, slander and defamation.

Many of my non-Christian and non-believing friends have remarked to me that we “Catholics” have turned the Internet into a cesspool of hatred, venom and vitriol, 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 can be 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!

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

Rediscovering deliberateness and calm:
Pope Francis’ 2014 Message for World Day of Communications

“What is it, then, that helps us, in the digital environment, to grow in humanity and mutual understanding?  We need, for example, to recover a certain sense of deliberateness and calm.  This calls for time and the ability to be silent and to listen. We need also to be patient if we want to understand those who are different from us.  People only express themselves fully when they are not merely tolerated, but know that they are truly accepted. …”

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

New Horizons & Pastoral Challenges of Social Media

Social networks and other interactive media challenge traditional church models of communication but offer unprecedented evangelizing opportunities to the Churches. We now have an opportunity to get the Church’s message and story directly to our people without having to negotiate the filters of mainstream media. We have the opportunity to connect with young Catholics to create relationships that will last their entire lives. In social media the church needs to view itself as one participant in the dialogue among many. The traditional one-way model of communication has been replaced by a more interactive model, in which everyone participates on the same level. Likewise, the relationships created in social media are a series of overlapping networks. This fits well with the church’s focus on community but not as easily with its hierarchical structure.

Social networking sites make some types of connections easier, but as they are not tied to geography or a community governed by its own social norms; they are subject to personal whims. While many of us have gotten back in touch with friends from the past via the Internet and Social Networking sites, there’s a danger as well that online interactions can hurt our real-life relationships.

Statistics indicate that social networking sites encourage young people to place an excessive importance on the number of “friends” they have instead of the quality of their real relationships. Social networking sites also encourage a form of narcissism. The sites that encourage people to “broadcast yourself,” which is the tagline for the video-sharing Web site YouTube reinforce a belief that every mundane detail of life is worth publicizing. Many people engage in personal broadcasting just because they can, but that they are often unaware that it also transforms who they are. People are not just living in the moment, but are publicizing the moment. It is a different level of experience that has real implications for the human person.

The rapid incoming of new information forces the user to pass on to the next one without reconsidering what he just read or saw. In the long run, such a habit forms insensitive and numb personalities, as they are reading the most intimate and sometimes most horrible details of other’s lives without the need of reacting to them as they would have to in a real conversation. This digital revolution and social networking evolution could be very counterproductive for the initial concept of social networks; instead of bringing people closer together, they connect users on a level without emotions and without deeper thoughts or interactions, thus slowly contributing to a world of men and women who don’t care about each other anymore.

Lessons learned

Having worked with young adults for the past 29 years of my priestly ministry, I have observed several behavioral patterns in the area of communications. The little devices most of us carry around are so powerful that they change not only what we do, but also who we are. People repeatedly use the term “addiction” to speak about their dependence on media. Young people’s “addiction” to media may not be clinically diagnosed, but the cravings are real. Being tethered to digital technology 24/7 is not just a habit but essential to the way young people manage friendships and social lives. For many young people, going without media peeled back the curtain on a deep, hidden loneliness and anti-social behavior.

What is “news”? To some young people, news means “anything that just happened”-worldwide events and friends’ everyday thoughts.

In today’s workplace, young people who have grown up fearing conversation show up on the job wearing earphones. Walking through a college library or the headquarters of a high-tech start-up, or at times even through our Salt and Light Television studios, one sees the same thing: we are together, but each of us is in our own bubble, furiously connected to keyboards and tiny touch screens. They are working away quietly at their workstations with a whole array of technologies spread before them: laptops, iPods and multiple cell phones. Some wear discreet earphones while others wear big ones akin to helicopter pilots or operators of large machinery. No one dare break the silence with a greeting of “Hello!” In the silence of connection, people are carefully kept at bay. As we get used to being shortchanged on conversation and to getting by with less, we seem almost willing to dispense with people altogether. It is our role to tell people to look up, look at one another, and let’s start the conversation. Not too long ago, people walked with their heads up, looking at the people in the elevator, on the sidewalks or in the corridors, and at one another, greeting them, smiling and talking. Now they often walk with their heads down, typing. Even when they are with friends, partners, children, everyone is on their own devices.

One day last year, several of my staff told me about an important new skill: maintaining eye contact with someone while you text someone else; it’s hard, but it can be done, they assured me! I didn’t believe this until it happened to me this past November when during two job interviews with a young man and a young woman, they both began texting while I spoke to them and questioned them. Needless to tell you that I ended each interview with the two and thanked them applying for the work positions. I told them that there was no work available for the next few years.

In the area of communicating with one another, we are tempted to think that our cute little phrases of online connection are substantial conversation! They are not! E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram… all of these methods of communication have their places in politics, commerce, promotion, evangelization, friendship and romance! But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation. Face-to-face conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience.

Our flight from conversation can mean diminished chances to learn skills of self-reflection. It’s hard to do anything with 1850 intimate Facebook friends except connect. We think constant connection will make us feel less lonely. Many times the opposite is true. If we are unable to be alone, we are far more likely to be lonely.

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

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.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 88)

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What does this have to do with us?

What does all this have to do with the church, with pastoral ministry, with consecrated life, with the future of the Society of Jesus in North America and the other countries from which you come? Nothing – unless the church wants to be relevant to the most powerful cultural change of our time. The question for us is not whether it can make clear use of slick technology for vocation promotion, pastoral ministry, university chaplaincy, parish life, secondary school education, worship or congregational solidarity, which are seductive opportunities for appealing to younger generations and potential adherents in general. The real question is whether the Church or the Society of Jesus is going to provide any compelling leadership or counter narrative amidst this cultural tsunami inundating us each day.

In your very DNA is the desire to find God in all things: the core of Ignatian Spirituality. This is the great lesson I learned through my own Jesuit education and it is rooted in our growing awareness that God can found in every one, in every place and in everything…. even in the digital world! When we learn to pay more attention to God, we become more thankful and reverent, and through this we become more devoted to God, more deeply in love with our Creator. In all of our efforts in Social Communications and digital media, let’s remember a few key points about our citizenship in this digital universe:

Does the use of new media serve to deepen our attentiveness to the presence of God, to the risen Christ to the living Spirit, to the community gathered about us, and to the world in which we are called to minister? In the digital world, no matter how hasty, undigested, unreflected the responses may be from our audience, our patient listening must always triumph. Internet culture conditions us to think that quick, instant responses to complex questions are the most valuable responses. It is then that we consecrated religious, teachers and pastors become choreographers of immediacy rather than midwives of a slower wisdom.

We must avoid the great danger of chasing after relevance. Some people work so hard to be relevant that they spin hopelessly into irrelevance. Our mission is to always seek in-depth that solid soil of the vital relationship with God and others, a place to really build a culture of respect, of dialogue and of friendship.

To the peripheries

Jesus asked his followers to go to the ends of the earth, not just to places where they felt comfortable. He did not sit around in Capernaum waiting for people to come to him. He spoke in a language that people understood and used media that people found accessible. Using parables, he was not afraid of being seen as undignified by talking about commonplaces like mustard seeds or sheep. The Son of God did not see that as beneath him. And if he did not consider speaking in familiar styles as undignified, then why should we?

In every age the church has used whatever media ere available to spread the good news. St. Augustine practically invented the form of the autobiography; the builders of the great medieval cathedrals used stone and stained glass; the Renaissance popes used not only papal bulls but colorful frescoes; Hildegard of Bingen, some say, wrote one of the first operas; the early Jesuits used theater and stagecraft to put on morality plays for entire towns; Dorothy Day founded a newspaper; your confrère Daniel Lord, S.J., jumped into radio; Bishop Fulton Sheen used television to stunning effect; and now we have bishops, priests, sisters and brothers and Catholic lay leaders who blog and tweet. How sad it would be if we did not use the latest tools available to us to communicate the Word of God? If Jesus could talk about the birds of the air, then we can surely tweet.

We are part of this Church and we live, move and have our being within the Church. Our religious consecration – you as Jesuits and I as a Basilian in service to Christ cannot be separated from consecration in service to the Church and the bold mission of communication entrusted to the Church. One of the main themes permeating the thought of your holy founder, Ignatius of Loyola is his exhortation “Sentire cum ecclesia” or “think with the Church.” “Sentire cum ecclesia” also means to feel with the Church and to love the Church…. and dare I say to communicate with the Church and for the Church.

Questions for personal reflection

Social networking isn’t new to Christian community. But the social media tools many use for networking today are new, and those tools are changing Christian community. The new tools are generating new patterns of behavior that affect not just Christian practice, but also, potentially, patterns of belief. Thinking theologically about living in a socially networked world has become an essential task for the community of faith.

For years, the big question of our era was: How do I live constantly connected? But we are moving through that experience now and trying to ask a new question: What does it mean to incorporate a sense of presence, awareness, and wisdom within this new media era of connectedness that engages us all? 

Does online life threaten to obliterate religious tradition and memory?

What are Facebook, Twitter and even the online version of our favorite newspapers doing to our attention spans, our ability to concentrate, the quality of our worship and reflection, our relation to the corporeal world, and our relationships with people and communities therein?

What is digital citizenship and social networking doing for us? What is it doing to us? What is it doing to our sense of social boundaries? To our sense of individuality? To our friendships? We expose everything, but are we feeling anything?

Human life is inherently social. Facebook didn’t create social networking; social networking created Facebook. Communities of faith have thrived on social networking for centuries. Paul of Tarsus was a consummate organizer and networker. His letters, journeys, visits, preaching, and teaching attest to this fact.

Digital social media are real places where people gather – like a town square or fellowship hall – and we must be present in these places just as we would be present in any of these other physical locales. If we are not there, then we are ceding the space to someone else.

Pope Francis, the first Jesuit Pope is by no means a Luddite! Just because he doesn’t use an iphone, an ipad or even watch TV, he understands what authentic communication is all about. Just watch the way he connects with people and with the world. As he wrote wrote in the 48th World Communications Day message:

“…It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply “connected”; connections need to grow into true encounters.  We cannot live apart, closed in on ourselves.  We need to love and to be loved. We need tenderness.  Media strategies do not ensure beauty, goodness and truth in communication. The world of media also has to be concerned with humanity, it too is called to show tenderness. The digital world can be an environment rich in humanity; a network not of wires but of people. The impartiality of media is merely an appearance; only those who go out of themselves in their communication can become a true point of reference for others. Personal engagement is the basis of the trustworthiness of a communicator. Christian witness, thanks to the Internet, can thereby reach the peripheries of human existence.”

Field Hospitals in the Digital Universe

I leave you with this final image from the first Jesuit Pope – the powerful image of the “field hospital” which he uses often that is drawn from the Spiritual Exercises. In Ignatius’s masterful work, God sees the world as a battlefield full of the dead and wounded. Immediately after this vision, Ignatius’ own gaze narrows. He beholds Mary’s room in Nazareth as well as the Divine Persons, who say: “Let us accomplish the redemption of the human race” (SE, 107). When Jorge Mario Bergoglio 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, they 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.

What and where are the battlefields today? 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 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. And in this room, there are more than 300 field hospital workers ready for deployment.

The church must shine with the light that lives within itself, it must go out and encounter human beings who – even though they believe that they do not need to hear a message of salvation—often find themselves afraid and wounded by life. In one of his well-known poems, Blessed Cardinal J.H. Newman wrote about a “kindly light.” We also find this image of light in the Encyclical Lumen fidei: “Faith is not a light that dissipates all of our shadows, but rather a light that guides our steps in the night; and this is enough for the journey” (n. 57). Therefore it is not adequate for the church to reflect the light of Christ onto human beings like a luminous yet static beacon. It must also be a torch. The light of Christ reflected in the church must not become the privilege of only a few elect who float enclosed within a safe harbor: this would be a “church clique” or a “personal blog” or “chat room” more than an ecclesial community.

In the heart and mind of Pope Francis, we need “a church that is again capable of restoring citizenship to so many of its children that walk as if in exodus. Christian citizenship is above all the result of God’s mercy. If the church is truly a mother, it needs to respond to its children from its “guts of mercy” (Lk 1:78). Not only from its heart, but precisely from its “guts.” Thus “all are able to participate in some way in the life of the Church, all can be a part of the community, and even doors of the Sacraments should not be closed for any reason”(EG, 47).

For the greater glory of God, ad majorem Dei gloriam that is the mission and responsibility of each of us who hold this digital citizenship. Thank you.

Tom_JFC2

Biography

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 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. He was the Canadian Bishops’ Representative to the National Christian Jewish Consultation from 1994-2008.

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 three Synods of Bishops at the Vatican in 2008, 2012 and 2014. Salt and Light Television was invited to document in a very signgificant way the past two Synods of Bishops. Fr. Rosica and his team will do the same for the upcoming Synod of Bishops in October 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 journalists and television and radio personnel around the world. Fr. Rosica is a member of the Standing Committee on Communications for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and a member of several Boards of Governors of Institutions of Higher Learning in Canada and the United States, including the Board of the Gregorian Foundation in Rome.

Photos courtesy of Doris Yu, Communications Coordinatorof the Jesuit Conference, Washington, DC.

Even the Wind and Sea Obey Him

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Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – June 21, 2015

There are many biblical passages that reveal the imagery of the angry sea. The Lord redeems his people from slavery in Egypt by turning the sea against the Egyptians [Exodus 15:8]. Other times the roaring waves of the sea are tamed only after fierce struggles [Psalm 89, Isaiah 51:9-10]. The sea mythology of the Old Testament underlies the first reading, psalm and Gospel for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]. In the Scriptures, the sea becomes a hostile, angry, dangerous area.

The question of Job is one asked by humanity throughout the ages: “Why do good, innocent people suffer?” Throughout the book, Job has been asking God to justify his actions, and God’s response forms the key section of the whole book. Chapter 38 begins the next to the final section in this book, in which God finally answers the ultimatums hurled at the divine throne. God responds by firing questions at Job about creation, implying that Job cannot explain his suffering because God’s response basically challenges Job’s right to question the Almighty!

Today’s small excerpt from the magnificent speech of God surrounds the Lord with the most awesome imagery. The Lord addressed Job out of the whirlwind and questioned him about the control of the ocean waves. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” [Job 38:4]. “Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?” [Job 38:8] The implied question is: If Job cannot understand God’s providence for the sea and the powers of nature, how will he ever grasp divine care for humans? For the author of Job, power means service.

Psalm 107 points out the mercies of God as demonstrated in the fate of individuals, and provides some insights into the multiplicity of ways in which God’s loving-kindness is displayed. The psalm speaks of a variety of dangers that confront believers: travel by land, imprisonment, sickness, and travel by sea. Consider the rich images used throughout this psalm: “stormy winds that lift up the waves of the sea” [107:25]; waves that mounted up to heaven then had their courage melt away” [107:26].

The storm and the waves hold people prisoners, and now that their own resources are at an end, they realize that the Lord alone can deliver them from the grasp of these elements. In desperation the people cry out, God intervenes and the people admit indebtedness. The transformation of the storm into a gentle breeze dramatizes the Lord’s response to people in need. When the psalmist says that the waves of the sea were hushed, the Hebrew word used means not so much to be silent but rather to grow still. In fact, in biblical literature this word is used only here and in Jonah 1:11, 12 with reference to the calming down of the turbulent sea and in Proverbs 26:20 in connection with the cessation of contention.

Love at the center

In today’s second reading [2 Corinthians 5:14-17], Paul speaks of his love of Christ and his personal conviction of that love which is the central motivation in his ministry. The Greek phrase for “love of Christ” includes both our love for Christ and Christ’s love for us, whereby Christ is both the object and subject of love. Only if Christ loves us first, by dying and rising, can we love in return. Because we share in his death and resurrection, we can no longer live for ourselves but are to live a new life of service in imitation of Christ. Paul also notes that he had to change his view of Christ and see him not from a merely human standpoint but in the light of revelation in the Spirit. If we see Christ from God’s viewpoint, then we should view everyone from the same perspective. Paul then brings the passage to a climax, insisting that everyone who is in Christ is a new creation and that everything is new — “everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” [2 Corinthians 5:17]. The power of God in Jesus is a reality, which, for our benefit, restrains itself so humbly and so completely, that we experience it as holy freedom — a freedom that removes fear and gives us the courage to act.

In the New Testament, the sea almost always represents a moment of conversion. It is along the sea that Jesus calls others to join him in his prophetic ministry and outreach to the poor and the sick. A sudden squall on the Sea of Galilee provides the crisis in today’s Gospel story [Mark 4:35-41] that takes place after a full day of teaching for Jesus. The calming of the storm is also a great teaching moment for Jesus. When the disciples awake him, they address him as “Teacher.”

Throughout the entire storm at sea, Mark insists on Jesus’ calmness and rootedness in God. He is “in the stern, asleep on the cushion” [Mark 4:38], trusting in God, in contrast to the disciples, who are frightened. When they rebuke Jesus for sleeping, he rebukes them for their lack of faith. In Mark’s account, both the disciples’ words to Jesus and his responses to them are quite harsh. Matthew and Luke soften both statements, but here the disciples really rebuke Jesus — and his rebuke to them doesn’t merely speak of “little faith” but of “no faith.”

The calming of the storm reveals much to us, for as the first reading from Job has indicated, only God can control the wind and sea. Jesus does much more than quiet the storm waves roaring across the sea and tossing the boat from side to side or tipping it dangerously into the waters. Jesus shares God’s control of the seas, emerging as the new creator, bringing peace and order out of the primordial chaos and establishing himself as Ruler over the new Kingdom of Israel.

Riding the waves

Besides indicating Christ’s divine power over nature, the calming of the story suggests his power over evil — for the sea commonly symbolizes evil and chaos. The boat is already a symbol of the Church, so the story also challenges us to trust in Christ’s power so that we can persevere through the storms that assail us as individuals and as a Church. Mark writes to his own community, which experiences chaos in the Lord’s absence. It’s almost as if the Lord is sleeping — uninvolved. Jesus challenges this lack of faith and affirms his continuing presence with power.

On the sea nothing happens normally, but always in abrupt or marvelous or very difficult ways. These are moments of decision with far-reaching consequences, in which the circumstances and even the timing are not in our control. The biblical passages of Jesus on the Sea of Galilee, especially today’s calming of the storm, can help us in recognizing such moments in our own lives and in guiding us through them.

A boat was a common symbol for the Church — here it is a symbol of a storm-tossed community crying out for help. Christ seems asleep and unconcerned, but he is in total control of the situation. The statement of peace recalls the greeting of the risen Christ. With Christ we pass through the raging sea and already share in his calm strength — even though like Job our questions may remain unanswered.

Today’s readings clearly show that power must ultimately take the form of loving involvement. Who are the holders of power in our day-to-day experience? Power resides with parents, teachers, elected officials, Church leaders, and many others. The measure of genuine power is found in self-sacrifice. Parents give all for their children; teachers labor long hours for their students; pastors gladly spend themselves for their communities. The result of all this is new life for both the leader and the follower. Jesus gave his life in history’s ultimate display of power and service. His life, especially in the midst of the storms, teaches us how to live in the midst of the storms of our own lives and times.

This week, let us take some time to reflect on the following questions that flow from our Scripture texts for the day: What are my deepest fears? How have I experienced God bringing order out of the chaos of my life? How is our Church storm-tossed today, and by what signs do we know that Jesus is fully in control of the situation?

[The readings for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time for Year B are: Job 38:1, 8-11; 2 Corinthians 5:14-17; and Mark 4:35-41]

(Image: “Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee” by Rembrandt)