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Give Us This Bread Always!

Last Supper Bouveret cropped

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – August 2, 2015

We can certainly understand God’s frustration with his people in today’s first reading from Exodus (16:2-4,12-15).

The God of Israel has just delivered his people from slavery and has set them on the way to their promised land. Yet after crossing the Red Sea and celebrating their victory, the first recorded action in the Sinai proves to be grumbling and dissatisfaction, first over the bitter water at Mara (Exodus 15:22-27), and then more complaining and nostalgic longing for the fleshpots in the land of Egypt, where they were able to eat their fill!

Into this setting of ingratitude and lamentation, God rains down bread from heaven (manna) and quail for their food. The Exodus passage (16:2-4,12-15) contrasts the nonbeliever (who grumbles that the manna and quail are meager nourishment) with the believer (who sees these as God’s generous gifts to the hungry).

A different kind of food

In today’s Gospel text (John 6:24-35) that follows the miraculous multiplication of the loaves, Jesus says to the crowds who were seeking him: “Truly, truly I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you” (John 6:26-27).

Jesus’ hearers continue the conversation and ask him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” (John 6:28). Jesus answers: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29). It is an exhortation to have faith in the Son of Man, in the giver of the food that does not perish. Without faith in him whom the Father has sent, it is not possible to recognize and accept this gift which does not pass away.

The miraculous multiplication of the loaves had not evoked the expected response of faith in those who had been eyewitnesses of that event. They wanted a new sign: “Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat'” (John 6:30-31). The disciples gathered around Jesus expecting a sign like the manna, which their ancestors had eaten in the desert. But Jesus exhorts them to expect something more than a mere repetition of the miracle of the manna, to expect a different kind of food. He says: “It was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (Jn 6:32-33).

Along with physical hunger there is within each of us another hunger, a more basic hunger, which cannot be satisfied by ordinary food. It is a hunger for life, a hunger for eternity, nostalgia for God. The sign of the manna was the proclamation of the coming of Christ who was to satisfy our hunger for eternity by Himself becoming the “living bread” that “gives life to the world.”

What is so startling about Jesus’ remarks in this discourse is that he is not claiming to be another Moses, or one more messenger in along line of human prophets. In giving us the bread of life, Jesus does not offer temporary nourishment, he gives us the eternal bread of his word. It will not pass away. It will nourish and give life forever. Jesus is this bread, and in offering to share it with us he calls us to faith in him.

Jesus invites us to “come to him,” “believe in him,” “look upon him,” “be drawn to him,” “hear him,” and to “learn of him.” All of these verbs invite the active response of our faith (cf. John 6:36, 37, 40, 44, 45). His word is nourishment for our faith.

Those who heard Jesus ask him to fulfill what had been proclaimed by the sign of the manna, perhaps without being conscious of how far their request would go: “Lord, give us this bread always” (John 6:34). How eloquent is this request! How generous and how amazing is its fulfillment! “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.”

Grumblings and ideologies

How difficult it was for Jesus’ hearers to make this passage from the sign to the mystery indicated by that sign, from daily bread to the bread “which endures to eternal life”! Nor is it easy for us, the people of the 21st century to make such passages in our own life, from sign to mystery.

At times our grumblings and murmurings about the Eucharist and the Church often rise to fevered pitch, not much different than the grumbling and murmuring of Israel in the desert. Excessive tensions arising from Church politics, gender issues, liturgical practices, language — all of these influence today’s Eucharist — and can lead us to a feeling of God’s absence.

Our Eucharistic celebrations are not taking place at Massah and Meribah — places of murmuring in the desert. We are often stuck in endless arguments between devotion and liturgy, or in a constant dispute between charity and justice. When devotion is treated as the enemy of liturgy and charity as the betrayer of justice, or when liturgy is reduced to private devotion and justice not recognized as constitutive to the Gospel.

Adoration rediscovered

Here is one concrete example to illustrate the above point about liturgy and devotion. Many of my generation have responded very negatively to the younger generation’s rediscovery of Eucharistic adoration and devotion.

Benedict XVI put a great emphasis on Eucharistic adoration and devotion in Catholic life. Many of us have failed to see that our public worship is intimately related to adoration, so much so that that they could be considered as one. Piety and devotion can be springboards to mature faith. Each time we gather together to celebrate the Eucharist as the Christian community, we profess, together with the whole Church, our faith in Christ the Eucharist, in Christ — the living bread and the bread of life.

During the 49th International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City that took place in 2008, then-Bishop Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines, now Cardinal-Archbishop of Manila, delivered a remarkable catechesis that concluded with a profound explanation of the meaning of authentic Adoration of the Eucharist.

Bishop Tagle said:

“In the Eucharist, the Church joins Jesus in adoring the God of life. But the practice of Eucharistic adoration enlivens some features of worship. We believe that the presence of Christ in the Eucharist continues beyond the liturgy. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament connotes being present, resting, and beholding. In adoration, we are present to Jesus whose sacrifice is ever present to us. Abiding in him, we are assimilated more deeply into his self-giving. Beholding Jesus, we receive and are transformed by the mystery we adore. Eucharistic adoration is similar to standing at the foot of the Cross of Jesus, being a witness to his sacrifice of life and being renewed by it. The sacrifice or spiritual worship of Jesus on the cross is his supreme act of adoration.”

This week let us ask ourselves: What does Jesus’ Eucharistic presence mean for us? Does our participation in the weekly (and for some, daily) celebration of the Lord’s meal transform us into people of gratitude, loving kindness and justice? Let us consider what Jesus requires of us who partake of the Eucharistic banquet. In what ways does the Eucharist symbolize the life we are living and our life symbolize the Eucharist? How do we express gratitude? Is the Eucharist the spiritual exercise giving direction to our life?

May our Eucharistic celebrations continue to transform our parish communities and the society around us into a civilization of love! May they nourish in us a hunger and thirst for justice. May our longing for the Eucharist make us ever more patient and kind with one another. Let us pray that we may truly become what we receive in the Eucharistic meal.

[The readings for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15; Ephesians 4:17, 20-24; and John 6:24-35]

(Image: The Last Supper by Pascal-Adolphe-Jean Dagnan-Bouveret)

Gaudium et Spes at 50

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Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, a frequent contributor to ZENIT, is CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada.  He also serves as English language Media Attaché to the Holy See Press Office.

The following is the keynote address delivered by Fr. Rosica to the Association of United States Catholic Priests in St. Louis, Missouri on June 30th, 2015.

Dear Brothers in Christ,

Thank you for the invitation to address your annual conference. You have invited me to reflect on one of the most important documents of the Second Vatican Council – Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World as it nears its “golden jubilee” this December. In an attempt to diminish or dismiss the great significance of this core document of the Council, many have tried to classify Vatican II as a “pastoral council” that did not address dogmatic issues. At the beginning of this presentation, let me offer this fundamental principle: the Second Vatican Council offered a new model of merging between so-called pastoral and doctrinal councils. The standard refrain that Vatican II was a pastoral council and therefore did not propose new doctrines of the church is incorrect. Vatican II was a pastoral council by its teachings, i.e., its doctrines. The Council was therefore pastoral by being doctrinal.

Fifty years after its promulgation, who of us cannot still be moved by the opening words of that landmark conciliar document?

The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.

There is an interesting history to the birth of this Pastoral Constitution. Such a document was not planned from the outset of the Council. It was toward the close of the first session of the Council, on December 4, 1962, that Belgian Cardinal Leo Suenens spoke of the need for the Church to address the world and not just to be occupied with internal Church matters. The very next day, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini of Milan (who was to become Paul VI by the next session) seconded Suenens’ proposal. And then, on December 6, Cardinal Lercaro of Bologna echoed the views of Montini and Suenens. So, thanks to the support of three of the most influential and respected Council fathers, a statement on church and world became a topic for the next session of the Council!

The final result was the longest document of the Council, indeed the longest document ever produced by any of the 21 ecumenical Councils in a 2,000 year history: Gaudium et Spes,the Pastoral Constitution on The Church in the Modern World. The document is divided into two parts. The first part lays out theological and pastoral perspectives and principles about the Church in the world. The second part addresses five areas of what it calls “special urgency.”

Once the basic anthropology of Christian humanism is presented in chapters one through three, the fourth chapter moves to a reflection on how the mission of the Church must be redefined. This method of re-conceptualizing the mission of the Church is already hinted at in the oft-quoted paragraph four of the introduction to the Constitution: “To carry out such a task, the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. . . . We must therefore recognize and understand the world in which we live, its expectations, its longings, its often dramatic characteristics.”

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council were men who had experienced two world wars, the horror of the Holocaust, the onset of the nuclear weaponry, the hostility of communism, the awesome and only partially understood impact of science and technology all these elements of their lived experience forced them to a non-internal definition of the Church. The Church had to be understood in its relationship to the world they knew. The message of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World is in many ways the hope that the Council wished to offer the world.

The Pastoral Constitution encouraged a new model of church/world engagement. Previous models were no longer adequate: the minority sect within the Roman empire, the alliance of Church and Constantinian state, the medieval institution of Christendom, the battered and battering Church of post-Reformation Europe, the established Church of the ancien regime, and the isolated and triumphalistic Church of the 19th century.

Gaudium et Spes suggested a Church with a new strategy for the Church’s presence in the world, one which emphasized neither withdrawal, triumphalism, nor assimilation, but critical conversation (listening and speaking) along with principled cooperation with other social institutions and communities of people. The mission of the Church needed to be expressed in social categories and had, therefore, to take seriously the realities of secularization and pluralism.

In the two thousand year history of the Church, it had never happened that an ecumenical Council would focus with such profound pastoral involvement on the temporal events of humanity.  The Council Fathers confronted theologically the fundamental questions that have always plagued the human heart: “What is man? What is the meaning of suffering, of evil, of death, that notwithstanding any kind of progress, continue to exist?” (GS, 10).  Sounding out the “mystery of man” by the light of the Word of God, the Council Fathers also strongly committed the Christian community, which was called to offer a specific contribution to “render more human the entire family of men” (GS, 40).

One of the great gifts of Gaudium et Spes was its appeal for the personal witness and “illuminating” initiatives of lay people- encouraging them to assume greater roles in the life of the Church and the world.  (cf. GS, 43). This still remains one of the great urgencies and hopes of the Church of our times.

Above all, Gaudium et Spes presents Jesus Christ as the Light of the world, the “lumen gentium” who illuminates the mystery of man, not only for Christians, but also for the entire human family; he reveals man to himself; he calls everyone to the same identical destiny, and, through the Holy Spirit, “offers to everyone the possibility to come into contact” with his definitive victory over death (GS, 22).  We could sum up the entire document with these five points:

1.    The Church works to build a world that acknowledges and promotes the dignity, life and freedom of each human person.

2.    The Church works to create conditions of justice and peace in which individuals and communities and can truly flourish.

3.    The Church is present in the activity of the international community.

4.    The Church’s universal religious mission does not allow her to be identified with any particular political, economic or social system.

5.    The Church contributes to the establishment and consolidation of peace within the human community in accordance with God’s law, a peace that is the fruit of the work of true justice.

When Gaudium et Spes was promulgated, many Catholics wondered why the church wanted to engage the world and whether the church had any business being concerned with political and economic issues and peacemaking. The council’s intention was to come in contact with people of all walks of life as sign of respect for their dignity. The council was very clear that it presents this teaching for no other reason than to evangelize. This means to share the good news. It is not so much to present a parallel government, a parallel economic system. It presents valuable insight coming from revelation and presents modest contribution to humanity as it searches for a better life, a better world.

When the Church commits herself to works of justice on a human level (and there are few institutions in the world which accomplish what the Catholic Church accomplishes for the poor and disadvantaged), the world praises the Church.  But when the Church’s work for justice touches on issues and problems which the world no longer sees as bound up with human dignity, like protecting the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death, or when the Church confesses that justice also includes our responsibilities toward God himself, then the world often rejects our message.

CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo

Why is Pope Francis so Obsessed With The Devil?

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logo-cnn-2 As published on CNN July 20, 2015
(CNN) Pope Francis seems to be obsessed with the devil.

 

His tweets and homilies about the devil, Satan, the Accuser, the Evil One, the Father of Lies, the Ancient Serpent, the Tempter, the Seducer, the Great Dragon, the Enemy and just plain “demon” are now legion.

For Francis, the devil is not a myth, but a real person. Many modern people may greet the Pope’s insistence on the devil with a dismissive, cultural affectation, indifference, or at the most indulgent curiosity.

Yet Francis refers to the devil continually. He does not believe him to be a myth, but a real person, the most insidious enemy of the church. Several of my theologian colleagues have said that he has gone a bit overboard with the devil and hell! We may be tempted to ask, why in the devil is Pope Francis so involved with the prince of demons?

This intelligent Jesuit Pope is diving into deep theological waters, places where very few modern Catholic clerics wish to tread.

Francis’ seeming preoccupation with the devil is not a theological or eschatological question as much as a call to arms, an invitation to immediate action, offering very concrete steps to do combat with the devil and the reign of evil in the world today.

In his homilies, Francis warns people strongly to avoid discouragement, to seize hope, to move on with courage and not to fall prey to negativity or cynicism.

He is drawing on the fundamental insight of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, the Pope’s own religious family. With his continual references to the devil, Pope Francis parts ways with the current preaching in the church, which is far too silent about the devil and his insidious ways or reduces him to a mere metaphor.

During the first months of Francis’ pontificate in 2013, the Evil One appeared frequently in his messages. In his first major address to the cardinals who elected him, the Argentine pontiff reminded them: “Let us never yield to pessimism, to that bitterness that the devil offers us every day.”

In several daily homilies in the chapel of the Vatican guest house, the Pope shared devilish stories with the small congregations rapt in attention as he homilized on taboo topics.

He has offered guidelines on how to rout the demon’s strategy: First, it is Jesus who battles the devil.

The second is that “we cannot obtain the victory of Jesus over evil and the devil by halves,” for as Christ said in the Gospel of Matthew, “who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.”

James Tissot - Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness

James Tissot – Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness

The Pope has stressed that we must not be naive: “The demon is shrewd: he is never cast out forever, this will only happen on the last day.”

Francis has also issued calls to arms in his homilies: “The devil also exists in the 21st century, and we need to learn from the Gospel how to battle against him,” the Pope warned, adding that Christians should not be “naive” about the evil one’s ways. The devil is anything but a relic of the past, the pontiff said.

Acknowledging the devil’s shrewdness, Francis once preached: “The devil is intelligent, he knows more theology than all the theologians together.”

Before a crowd of people on Palm Sunday in 2013, the newly elected Pope even dared to say that when Christians face trials, Jesus is near, but so is “the enemy — the devil,” who “comes, often disguised as an angel and slyly speaks his word to us.”

Most recently, on July 12, in the prepared text he was to deliver (in typical fashion he instead gave a masterful, unscripted address to 600,000 young people at a rally in Paraguay), the Pope presented the job description of the devil:

“Friends: the devil is a con artist. He makes promises after promise, but he never delivers. He’ll never really do anything he says. He doesn’t make good on his promises. He makes you want things which he can’t give, whether you get them or not. He makes you put your hopes in things which will never make you happy.

“… He is a con artist because he tells us that we have to abandon our friends, and never to stand by anyone. Everything is based on appearances. He makes you think that your worth depends on how much you possess.”

Since the beginning of his papacy, Francis has been warning that whoever wants to follow Jesus must be aware of the reality of the devil. The life of every Christian is a constant battle against evil, just as Jesus during his life had to struggle against the devil and his many temptations.

For Francis, the spirit of evil ultimately does not want our holiness, he does not want our Christian witness, he does not want us to be disciples of Christ.

In all of these references to the devil and his many disguises, Pope Francis wishes to call everyone back to reality. The devil is so frequently active in our lives and in the church, drawing us into negativity, cynicism, despair, meanness of spirit, sadness and nostalgia.

We must react to the devil, Francis says, as did Jesus, who replied with the Word of God. With the prince of this world one cannot dialogue.

Dialogue is necessary among us, it is necessary for peace, it is an attitude that we must have among ourselves in order to hear each other, to understand each other. Dialogue is born from charity, from love.

But with the Dark Prince one cannot dialogue; one can only respond with the Word of God that defends us.

The devil has made a comeback in this pontificate and is playing an important role in Francis’ ministry. Francis is dead serious about the devil! And he takes every opportunity he can to tell the devil to get the hell out of our lives and our world.

It’s not that Francis has been focusing on the evil one’s power, nor has he been mesmerized by the Harry Potter movies or by a desire to do sequels to the “Exorcist” movie: This Pope doesn’t watch TV!

All of the temptations Francis speaks about so often are the realistic flip side to the heart of the Argentine Jesuit Pope’s message about the world that is charged with the grandeur, mercy, presence and fidelity of God. Those powers are far greater than the devil’s antics.

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

It Is Never Enough, Until We Give It Away

Kurelek cropped

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – July 26, 2015

Today’s Old Testament reading from 2 Kings 4:42-44 is a fitting prelude to John’s version of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes (6:1-21). The author of Kings tells us about one of Elisha’s servants who doubts that 20 loaves of barley is enough to feed 100 people. Elisha, however, trusts the promise of the Lord and overrules his servant. The miracle vindicates Elisha’s trust. The numbers fed are modest in comparison with the feeding of the 5,000 in John’s Gospel!

Bread is a symbol of the person and work of Jesus in John’s great Eucharistic teaching in Chapter 6, and this Eucharistic theme continues over the next four weeks of Scripture readings. Today’s Gospel is John’s marvelous story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. The various accounts of the multiplication of loaves and fishes, two each in Mark and in Matthew and one each in Luke and in John, indicate the wide interest of the early Church in their Eucharistic gatherings (e.g., Mark 6:41; 8:6; 14:22); and recall also the sign of bread in Exodus 16; Deuteronomy 8:3-16; Psalm 78:24-25; 105:40; Wisdom 16:20-21. The miraculous event, recounted by the four evangelists, points forward to the idea of life in God’s kingdom as a banquet at which the Messiah will preside.

Unique perspectives

Mark’s readers saw this incident as an anticipation of the Last Supper (14:22) and the messianic banquet, both of which were celebrated in the community’s Eucharists.

Matthew’s addition of the number of people present and fed is significant, because the total figure could well have come to 20,000 or 30,000 people and the miracle is repeated again in 15:38. The sheer numbers of those fed give the feeding stories a distinct social character.

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

Johannine details

John’s multiplication story is a central part of Jesus’ important teaching on the Bread of Life (6:1-15). This story is immediately followed by Jesus’ walking on water. John’s multiplication story has been expanded in the introduction by the addition of 1) the vague chronological marker “after these things”; 2) the specification of the place, Lake of Tiberias. This is also the place of the appearance of the risen Lord in John 21:1; 3) the motivation for the crowd — they have seen Jesus’ healings (signs); 4) the reference to the impending “Passover of the Jews.”

As in other Johannine miracle stories, the initiative for this miracle clearly lies with Jesus. Philip does not perceive that Jesus’ question is an appeal to his faith and simply refers to the amount of money required. Jesus teases Philip to have bigger dreams and better hopes rather than to reduce them down to reality. In verses 14-15, the crowds respond correctly that Jesus is the messianic prophet, but misunderstand what they are really saying. The true nature of Jesus’ kingship, which is not that of a national liberator, will only be revealed at his trial (18:33-37; 19:12-15).

One unique Johannine touch is the role of the young boy in this miracle story. What human reason did not dare to hope became a reality with Jesus thanks to a young boy’s generous heart.

Living bread

The multiplication of the loaves is an enduring image of the Eucharist. Jesus wanted to use this humble gift of a few loaves and fishes to feed a multitude, and more (12 baskets were left!). Logic and human reason often say to us, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish.” But Jesus asks that even such meager provisions as these, together with the trust and generosity of disciples of every age, be stretched to their limits. “Let’s see. It will never be enough until we start to give it away.”

For the believer, Jesus is much more than a miracle worker; he himself is heavenly food. The believer will never again experience hunger or thirst. As bread sustains life, Jesus will sustain all who approach him in faith. To acknowledge Jesus as the living bread is the ultimate expression of God’s love in Christ’s death and glorification.

Prolonging the miracle

Whenever I read the miracle stories of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, I recall these stirring words from Pope John Paul II’s 1998 Apostolic Letter “Dies Domini” — On Keeping the Lord’s Day (No. 71). These words illustrate what lies at the heart of today’s miracle of the loaves and fishes and challenge each of us about our duties to truly put the Eucharist into practice in daily life:

“The teachings of the Apostles struck a sympathetic chord from the earliest centuries, and evoked strong echoes in the preaching of the Fathers of the Church.

“St. Ambrose addressed words of fire to the rich who presumed to fulfill their religious obligations by attending church without sharing their goods with the poor, and who perhaps even exploited them: ‘You who are rich, do you hear what the Lord God says? Yet you come into church not to give to the poor but to take instead.’

“St. John Chrysostom is no less demanding: ‘Do you wish to honor the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk only then to neglect him outside where he suffers cold and nakedness. He who said: ‘This is my body’ is the same One who said: ‘You saw me hungry and you gave me no food,’ and ‘Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me’ … What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices, when he is dying of hunger? Start by satisfying his hunger, and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well.’

“These words effectively remind the Christian community of the duty to make the Eucharist the place where fraternity becomes practical solidarity, where the last are the first in the minds and attentions of the brethren, where Christ himself — through the generous gifts from the rich to the very poor — may somehow prolong in time the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves.”

Questions for reflection

What does Jesus’ Eucharistic presence mean for us? Does our participation in the weekly and daily celebrations of the Lord’s meal transform us into people of gratitude, loving kindness, justice and charity? In what ways does the Eucharist symbolize the life we are living and our life symbolize the Eucharist? How do we express gratitude? Is the Eucharist giving direction to our life?

Do we not often wonder where we shall get the means to accomplish what seems good and necessary? Today’s miracle reveals the extraordinary resources of life within each of us. In order to sustain our hopes, we must believe in miracles. We must feast on the Body and Blood of the Lord for our real energy and life.

[The readings for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time are: 2 Kings 4:42-44; Ephesians 4:1-6; and John 6:1-15]

(Image: Mural of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes by William Kurelek at St. Thomas More College, Saskatoon)

Fr. Rosica on Relevant Radio: Pope Francis is giving us a wonderful simplicity of life

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On Monday, July 13, 2015, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CEO of Salt + Light Catholic Media Foundation, was featured on Relevant Radio’s Morning Air with John Harper. Listen to the full interview that covers topics ranging from the Pope’s recent trip to South America to Laudato Si and his upcoming trip to Cuba, the United States and the World Meeting of Families.

 

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CNS photo/Paul Haring

Jesus, the Compassionate Shepherd of God

Jesus Shepherd Tissot cropped

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – July 19, 2015

The themes of sheep and shepherding flow though the Scripture readings for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B). The moving Gospel story of Jesus having compassion on the crowds that were “like sheep without a shepherd” helps us to focus on his ministry of teaching, reconciling and shepherding.

Literature of antiquity often referred to the person responsible for guiding a community as a shepherd. Likewise, the Old Testament frequently described the Lord himself as the shepherd of his people. Individuals invoked him as “my shepherd” (Psalm 23:1), and the community prayed to him as the “Shepherd of Israel” (Psalm 80:1).

In the New Testament, the image of the shepherd expresses great authority and responsibility. Nourishing the flock means that the shepherd must protect them from heresy, ever ready to defend the sheep from marauders. John tells us that Jesus himself proclaimed that he fulfilled Israel’s hope for the coming of the good shepherd: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

When Jesus withdraws with his disciples to a deserted place to rest, he attracts a great number of people to follow them. Toward this people of the new exodus Jesus is moved with pity; he satisfies their spiritual hunger by teaching them many things, thus gradually showing himself the faithful shepherd of a new Israel.

When the Scriptures describe Jesus as having pity on his flock because they were “like sheep without a shepherd” in Mark 6:30-34, such an image is not original to Jesus in the Gospels. The image is drawn from Ezekiel 34, where God unleashes his anger at the shepherds of Israel who have fattened themselves on the weak and vulnerable, instead of caring for them (Ezekiel 34:10-12).

Sheep without a shepherd

Jesus’ compassion is much more than a fleeting or temporary feeling of regret or sorrow. It is rather a deep anguish, a gut-wrenching type of anxiety and sorrow over the condition of people. Jesus was describing the spiritual lives of those who were living outside of the salvation so freely offered by God. Jesus felt gut-wrenching anguish over the souls of these people who were facing spiritual starvation without someone to feed them, teach them, and lead them to true spiritual nourishment. They were in danger without a shepherd to protect them from false teaching. Like sheep without the good shepherd, they were alone and vulnerable to the attacks of the evil one, who roams around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

“Like sheep without a shepherd” is an accurate description of the spiritual lives of many 21st-century Christians in the world today. The expression describes many of our contemporaries who are directionless, helpless, and very vulnerable to the seductions and attacks of the evil one. “Sheep without a shepherd” are more than just a little lost. They are more than just a little vulnerable. They are facing danger and destruction.

Jesus’ Compassion

Jesus saw the sick and his compassion healed them. He saw those possessed by demons and his compassion freed them. He told the story of a king who was owed a huge debt by his servant. When the servant could not pay, the king ordered him thrown into slavery, along with his family. When the servant pleaded for mercy the king “had compassion” on him and forgave the huge debt.

Jesus spoke about a man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. That poor fellow fell among thieves who beat him, robbed him and left him to die. Two high-ranking religious officials passed by him, but a Samaritan stopped and “had compassion” on him. He bandaged the man’s wounds and carried him to an inn where he nursed him through the night. The next day he paid the bill and gave the innkeeper his credit line, saying, “If he needs more, charge it to me.”

Who can forget the thought-provoking story of the younger son who took his inheritance and squandered it in loose living? One day he “came to himself” and returned to his father’s house, not hoping to be restored as a son, but wanting only to be hired as a servant. His father saw him coming and “had compassion” on him. Before the son could even utter his speech of repentance, the father placed on him a ring and robe and shoes and called for a royal feast.

The compassion of Jesus heals and feeds, forgives huge debts, nurses hurt bodies back to health and welcomes home sinners, restoring them to a place of honor. Jesus will not let his compassion stay with God or in heaven. He commands us: “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.”

Jesus did a lot more than just feel compassion for those in today’s Gospel story from Mark 6. His strong emotion moved him to act, far beyond what any shepherd would be expected to do for his sheep. The authentic shepherd, who models his or her life on Jesus, must love the people entrusted to him and imitate Jesus.

Where will we find such compassion for ourselves?

From time to time, despite our best intentions, we find ourselves among those in need, those who are like sheep without a shepherd. At times we ask ourselves: “Where on earth can we find this compassion to share with others?” I have learned that only in solitude before God, faced only with ourselves, can we learn the compassion of God. Perhaps it is not by accident that in the thick of his ministry and burdened by the unrelenting needs and demands of the crowd, Jesus called his disciples to join him in the desert: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.”

Could it not be the same for us, that away from the hustle and bustle of the everyday demands, we retreat in order to wrestle with our own hearts before God? And there we learn mercy and become in our day bearers of the compassion of Christ.

Leading people out

One of the most powerful and moving reflections on the theme of compassionate shepherding is found in the homily of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI during the Mass of Inauguration of his Petrine Ministry on April 24, 2005:

“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.”

This week may our prayer be for awareness, compassion and courage. Let us beg the Lord to make us more aware of the vast and growing deserts in which our contemporaries, and perhaps even we are living today. Let us ask the Lord to give us his compassion for those who truly are sheep without shepherds. And let us pray for courage to help lead our friends out of their deserts and into the places of life and friendship with Christ, the Good Shepherd.

[The readings for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Ephesians 2:13-18; and Mark 6:30-34]

(Image: “Jesus the Good Shepherd” by James Tissot)

Pope in Paraguay: Summary of Impromptu Address to Young People – Costanera

Pope_Paraguay_Costanera

Below you will find the full text of Pope Francis’ impromptu address to the youth in Paraguay:

Dear Young People, Good Afternoon!

After having read the Gospel, Orlando came up to me and said, “I ask you to pray for the freedom of each one of us, of everyone”. This is the blessing which Orlando asked for each one of us. It is the blessing which all of us together now pray for: freedom. Freedom is a gift that God gives us, but we have to know how to accept it. We have to be able to have a free heart, because we all know that in the world there are so many things that bind our hearts and prevent them from being free. Exploitation, lack of means to survive, drug addiction, sadness, all those things take away our freedom. And so we can all thank Orlando for having asked for this blessing of having a free heart, a heart that can say what it thinks, that can express what it feels, and can act according to how it thinks and feels. That is a free heart! And that is what we are going to ask for together: the blessing which Orlando requested for all. Repeat with me: “Lord Jesus, give me a heart that is free, that I may not be a slave to all the snares in the world. That I may not be a slave to comfort and deception. That I may not be a slave to the good life. That I may not be a slave to vice. That I may not be a slave to a false freedom, which means doing what I want at every moment”. Thank you Orlando, for making us realize that we need to ask God for a heart that is free. Ask him for this everyday!

We heard two testimonies: from Liz and from Manuel. Liz has taught us all something. Just as Orlando taught us how to pray for a heart that is free, Liz, by sharing her experience, teaches us that we must not be like Pontius Pilate and wash our hands of things. Liz could quite easily have put her mother into one home, and her grandmother into another home, and then gone on to enjoy her youth, following the path of studies she desired. But Liz said, “No, there is my mother, and my grandmother”. Liz became a servant, and much more: she became a servant for her mother and her grandmother. And she did it with such love! She did it to the point, as she herself said, that the roles were reversed in her family, and she ended up being a mother to her mother, in the way she cared for her. Her mother, with that cruel illness which confuses everything. She still gives herself fully, even today, at age twenty-five, serving her mother and her grandmother. All by herself? Not at all. She told us two things that can help us. She talked about an angel, an aunt who for her was like an angel; and she talked about getting together with her friends on weekends, with a youth group committed to evangelization, a youth group that strengthened her faith. And those two angels, the aunt who watched out for her and the youth group, gave her the strength to keep going. This is what we call solidarity. What do we call it? [The young people all respond: “Solidarity!”]. This happens when we take interest in other people’s problems. There she found a haven to rest her weary heart. But there’s something still missing here. She didn’t say: “I do this and that is it”. She studied. She is a nurse. And what helps her is the solidarity she received from you, from your youth group, the solidarity she received from that aunt who was like an angel. All these helped her move forward. And today, at age twenty-five, she enjoys the grace that Orlando showed us how to pray for: she has a free heart. Liz is obeying the Fourth Commandment: “Honor your Father and your Mother”. Liz offers her life in service to her mother. It is indeed a high degree of solidarity, the highest degree of love. This is witness. “Father, is it possible to love?” There you have a person who shows us how to love.

So first of all: freedom, a free heart. So all together: [The young people repeat each phrase.] First: a free heart. Second: a solidarity that accompanies. Solidarity. This is the lesson of this testimony. And Manuel was not a spoiled child. He is not “a good kid”. He was never a “kid”, a young person who had it easy in life. He used strong words: “I was taken advantage of, I was mistreated, I risked falling into addiction, and I was alone”. Exploitation, mistreatment, and loneliness. But instead of going out and getting in trouble, instead of going out to steal, he found a job. Instead of wanting to take revenge on life, he looked ahead. And Manuel used a beautiful phrase: “I could move forward because in the situation I was in, it was hard even to talk about a future”. How many young people, how many of you, today have the opportunity to study, to sit at the table with your family every day, not to worry about the essentials. How many of you enjoy this? Altogether, those of you who have these things, let us say, “Thank you Lord!” [The young people repeat the phrase]. We have here a testimony from a young man who from childhood knew what it was to feel pain, sadness, to be exploited, mistreated, not to have food and to be alone. Lord, save all those young people who are in those conditions! And for ourselves let us pray, “Thank you, Lord!”. Everyone: “Thank you, Lord!”.

Freedom of heart. Do you remember? Freedom of heart. That is what Orlando told us. And service and solidarity. That is what Liz told us. Hope, employment, making an effort to live and to move forward. That is what Manuel told us. As you can see, life is not easy for many young people. And I want you to understand this, and I want you to keep it always in mind: “If my life is relatively easy, there are other young men and women whose lives are not relatively easy”. What is more, desperation drives them to crime, drives them to get involved in corruption. To those young people we want to say that we are close to them, we want to lend them a helping hand, we want to support them, with solidarity, love, and hope.

There were two things that Liz and Manuel both said. Two things that are beautiful. Listen to them. Liz said that she began to know Jesus and that this meant opening the door to hope. And Manuel said: “I came to know God as my strength”. To know God is strength. In other words, to know God, to draw closer to Jesus, is hope and strength. And that is what we need from young people today: young people full of hope and strength. We don’t want “namby-pambies”, young people who are just there, lukewarm, unable to say either yes or no. We don’t want young people who tire quickly and who are always weary, with bored faces. We want young people who are strong. We want young people full of hope and strength. Why? Because they know Jesus, because they know God. Because they have a heart that is free. A heart that is free, please repeat this. [The young people repeat each word]. Solidarity, work, hope, effort. To know Jesus. To know God, my strength. Can a young person who lives this way have a bored look on his face? [“No”!]. A sad heart? [“No!”]. This then is the path! But it is a path that requires sacrifice, it requires going against the tide. The plan… The plan is to go against the tide. Jesus said: “Happy are those who are poor in spirit”. He does not say, “Happy are the rich, those who make lots of money”. No. Those who are poor in spirit, those who are capable of approaching and understanding those who are poor. Jesus does not say: “Happy are those who have a good time of it”, but rather: “Happy are those who can suffer for the pain of others”. I would ask you to read at home, later on, the Beatitudes, which are in the fifth chapter of Saint Matthew’s Gospel. Which chapter? [“The fifth!”] Which Gospel? [“Saint Matthew!”]. Read them and think about them; they will do you a lot of good.

I must thank you Liz; I thank you, Manuel, and I thank you, Orlando. A free heart, which is the way it should be. I have to go now [“No!”] The other day, a priest jokingly said to me: “Yes, keep telling young people to make a ruckus. But afterwards, we are the ones who have to clear it up”. So make a ruckus! But also help in cleaning it up. Two things: make a ruckus, but do a good job of it! A ruckus that brings a free heart, a ruckus that brings solidarity, a ruckus that brings us hope, a ruckus that comes from knowing Jesus and knowing that God, once I know him, is my strength. That is the kind of ruckus which you should make.

I already knew your questions, because I had them beforehand, so I wrote down some words for you, to share with you. But it’s boring to read a speech, so I am leaving it with the bishop in charge of the youth apostolate so that he can publish it. And now, before going [“No!”], I ask you, first of all, to continue to pray for me; second, that you carry on creating a ruckus; and third, that you organize that ruckus without ruining anything. And together now, in silence, let us raise our hearts to God. Each from the heart, in a quiet voice, let us repeat these words:

“Lord Jesus, I thank you for being here, I thank you because you gave me brothers and a sister like Manuel, Orlando, and Liz. I thank you because you have given us many brothers and sisters like them. They found you, Jesus. They know you, Jesus. They know that you, their God, are their strength. Jesus, I pray for all those young boys and girls who do not know that you are their strength and who are afraid to live, afraid to be happy, afraid to have dreams. Jesus, teach them how to dream, to dream big, to dream beautiful things, things which, although they seem ordinary, are things which enlarge the heart. Lord Jesus, give us strength. Give us a free heart. Give us hope. Give us love and teach us how to serve. Amen.”

And now I will give you my blessing and I ask you please, to pray for me and to pray for all the many young people who do not have the grace which you have had: the grace of knowing Jesus, who gives you hope, who gives you a free heart, and who makes you strong.

Note from Fr. Thomas Rosica:

As promised in the previous bulletin, I am sending you a summary of Pope Francis’ unscripted remarks to over 600,000 young people gathered the riverfront near the Presidential Palace for the final event of his Apostolic Journey. The meeting consisted of an allegorical representation of the situation of young people today.  Responding to questions from the testimony of a young woman and man, Liz and Manuel, and a third young man, Orlando, who read the Gospel of the Beatitudes, Pope Francis set aside his prepared remarks saying: “speeches are boring.” He than gave a stirring address to the huge crowd.  

Allow me to speak as one who led a World Youth Day in Canada in 2002, and one who has worked on several World Youth Days and large youth events in several countries.  I have never experienced anything as I did this evening. Pope Francis connected with the crowd, and indeed with young people around the world.  This evening’s meeting with young people was a fitting conclusion to a remarkable homecoming of sorts for a man whom the Cardinals chose from the ends of the earth in 2013. Thanks to the ZENIT International News Service for this report.  A full transcipt of the Pope’s remarks will be forthcoming.

Pope Urges Paraguayan Youth to Pray for a Free Heart
Tells Them They Will Have to Go Against the Current,
Depend on Jesus Who Gives Strength and Hope

Paraguay, July 12, 2015 – On the Riverfront

Pope Francis wrapped up his nine-day, three-nation apostolic trip to South America this evening amid the exuberant enthusiasm of hundreds of thousands of Paraguayan young people. The Holy Father spoke to them entirely off-the-cuff, joking that “discourses are boring,” and asking that his prepared text be made available for later reflection.

He spoke briefly, drawing largely from the testimonies of two young people who shared their stories. The first, a young woman named Liz, explained that she is 25 years old and is caring for her mother, who has Alzheimer’s, and her grandmother. Her mother, she said, thinks that their roles are reversed and that she (the mother) is the child of her daughter. She explained how she has to help her to shower, to change her diapers and care for her.

The second person who spoke, a young man named Manuel, explained how when he was a child, he had to leave his parent’s home and go to the capital city to work, because his parents could not support him. There in the capital, he was mistreated and exploited. Now at the age of 18, after meeting God through a youth ministry, he says he is ready to serve others.

When the Pope began speaking, he explained that the young man who read the Gospel after the testimonies, a youth named Orlando, when he came to greet the Pope after the reading, asked him to pray for the grace of liberty for each person present.

“Liberty is a gift that God gives but we have to know how to receive it,” the Holy Father said. He explained that we have to learn how to have a free heart, since in the world, there are so many ties that bind the heart: Exploitation, a lack of things needed to survive, drug addiction, sadness. “All these things take away our liberty.”

He led the youth in a prayer: “Lord Jesus, give me a free heart,” he prayed, “that I might not be a slave to all the traps of the world, that I might not be a slave to comfort, to deception, that I might not be a slave of the good life, … a slave of vice … a slave of a false liberty, which is doing what I like in every moment.”

Francis told the young people to ask for this grace every day.

Solidarity

Then drawing from the testimony of the young woman, he said that she gives the lesson of not being like Pontius Pilate. He noted how easy it would be to put her mom in one care home, her grandma in another, and to live her young life carefree.

Instead, she became as a servant, he said, and serves with affection. “And this is called solidarity. when we take up the burdens of others,” he said. She has the grace that Orlando asked for, the Pontiff said, the grace of a free heart. She has a very high level of solidarity, he said, a very high level of love. “There is someone who teaches us to love.”

Turning then to Manuel’s testimony, he led the crowd in a prayer of gratitude, reminding them that so many youth do not have the opportunity to study, to have their meals provided by their family, to have what they need.

“As you see, life is not easy for many youth. I want you to understand this. I want you to get this in your head,” he said. If for me, life has been relatively easy, there are many youth for whom it hasn’t been easy.

Francis continued, noting how both of those who spoke mentioned knowing Jesus. “I began to get to know Jesus. To know Jesus. And this is to open the door to hope. I got to know Jesus, my strength,” he said, citing the youths. “To know Jesus is fortitude. To know Jesus is hope and fortitude. And this is what we need of young people today.”

He urged the youth to flee from being young people of “neither yes nor no,” who live tired, with a face of boredom. We need young people who are strong, with hope and strength. Who have hope and strength because they know Jesus and know God. Because they have a free heart.

“But for this,” the Pope cautioned, “you need sacrifice. You have to go against the current. The Beatitudes that we read a bit ago are Jesus’ plan for us. And it is a plan against the current.”

He told the young people to go home and read the Beatitudes. “They are in the fifth chapter of Matthew,” he said, and then tested the youth to see if they were listening: “What chapter?” and they responded, “fifth.” “Of which Gospel?” “Of Matthew.”

In this last event of the Pope’s apostolic trip in Paraguay, the Holy Father told the young people, “I have to go.”

“No!” they shouted back.

But the Pontiff brought them to silence as he led them again in prayer: “Everyone now in silence, we are going to lift up our hearts, each one,” he said. Lord Jesus, I thank you because I am here. Thank you because you gave me brothers such as Liz and Manuel. … Jesus I pray for the young people who don’t know that you are their strength and are afraid of living, of being happy, who are afraid of dreaming.”

“Jesus teaches us to dream,” he said, “to dream big, to dream of wonderful things. … Jesus gives us strength, gives us a free heart, gives us hope, gives us love.”

“Pray for me,” he concluded, “and for so many people who don’t have the grace that you have, of having known Jesus.”

Several minutes later, after a farewell ceremony with the president at the airport, just before 7:30 local time, the Pope boarded the plane that is taking him back to Rome. The Alitalia flight is scheduled to arrive after 1:00 p.m.Rome time Monday afternoon.

CNS photo/Paul Haring

Jesus Sends Us to Teach and Heal

The Twelve cropped

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – July 12, 2015

When the Gospels relate to us the call extended by Jesus to his young disciples and apostles, it is always done in a very compassionate way. Jesus looks upon those whom he calls; he loves them, challenges them and calls them to be something they could hardly fathom!

Today’s Gospel (Mark 6:7-13) is about the formation of those who will eventually spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Mark sees the teaching and work of the apostles as an extension of Jesus’ teaching and work. In Mark’s story, the preparation for the mission of the Twelve is seen in the call of the first disciples to be fishers of men (Mark 1:16-20), then of the Twelve set apart to be with Jesus and to receive authority to preach and expel demons (3:13-19). Now they are given the specific mission to exercise that authority in word and power as representatives of Jesus during the time of their formation.

In Mark’s call story, Jesus does not mention any prohibition to visit pagan territory and to enter Samaritan towns. These differences indicate a certain adaptation to conditions in and outside of Palestine and suggest in Mark’s account a later activity in the Church. For the rest, Jesus required of his apostles a total dependence on God for food and shelter (Cf. Mark 6:35-44; 8:1-9). Remaining in the same house as a guest (6:10), rather than moving to another offering greater comfort avoided any impression of seeking advantage for oneself and prevented dishonor to one’s host. Why does Jesus tell the apostles to “travel light” with little or no provision? He wants his disciples to be dependent on him and not on themselves. He promises to work through and in each person called for his glory. The significance of shaking the dust off one’s feet served as testimony against those who rejected the call to repentance.

Help or hindrance?

One of the frequent themes of Mark’s Gospel is the ignorance of the disciples. When we read the whole Gospel, we realize that the disciples are as much a hindrance as a help to Jesus. They do not understand Jesus’ words or support him in his mission. Repeatedly Jesus rebukes them for their inability to see and comprehend and for their hardness of heart. But when the disciples misunderstand Jesus and in other ways fail him, they are doing more than simply trying his patience. They are serving as agents of testing. As ones who “think the things of humans,” rather than the things of God, they cannot comprehend that the straight and narrow path lying before Jesus must necessarily end at the cross. And so they act in ways that threaten to lead Jesus astray.

Many times we find ourselves asking, “Why did Mark portray the disciples in such a bad light?” But Mark’s earliest readers would have focused not on Mark’s literary strategies but on the events depicted in the narrative. They would have asked something like this: “What could it mean that the disciples whom we know as great leaders were so weak and acted so shamefully?” And the answer to that question would have been obvious: God had opened the eyes of the disciples, and had transformed them from ones who misunderstood and tested Jesus into worthy servants, even fearless leaders. There is hope for us! These famous call stories were remembered by Christians who knew the reality of their own weakness and failure, yet who also trusted in the presence of the Lord who triumphed over fear.

In Jesus’ Name

What kind of authority and power does the Lord want us to exercise on his behalf? Jesus gave his apostles both the power and the authority to speak and to act in his name. He commanded them to do the works that he did: to cast out evil spirits, to heal, and to speak the word of God, the good news of the Gospel, which they received from Jesus. When Jesus spoke of power and authority he did something unheard of. He wedded power and authority with love and humility. The “world” and the “flesh” seek power for selfish gain. Jesus teaches us to use it for the good of our neighbor. Following Jesus is a risk, as every new way of life is. Each of us is called to teach as Jesus taught and to heal boldly and compassionately as he did.

Law, Prophets and Writings

In light of the first reading from the book of the prophet Amos (7:12-15) I would also like to offer some reflections on Jesus in relation to the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings of the Old Testament. On the one hand, Jesus knows the Law perfectly and observes it with devotion. On the other hand, however, He shows Himself perfectly free with regard to the Law. He wishes to give the authentic interpretation of the Law. He goes so far as to declare Himself the new lawgiver, with an authority equal to that of God. He Himself is the fulfillment of the Law (Cf. Romans 10:4).

Jesus also shows that He is the genuine continuation of the prophets in His message and His life. Like them, He proclaims faith in the “God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob” (Matthew 2:32). He defends the rights of God and of the poor (cf. Matthew 11:20-24). On the other hand, Jesus does not hesitate to declare Himself greater than all of them. He is superior to them, not only in the prophetic line, but He is the first, as the origin and source of all prophetic inspiration.

He is greater than Jonah and Solomon (Cf. Matthew 12:41-43; Luke 11:31-32). He is greater than Moses and he is first of all the prophets before John (John 1:15), Moses (John 6:46) and Abraham (John 8:56-58). And it is important to note that His primacy is not only temporal, but existential. His “before” is infinite, because it is eternal: “Abraham, your father, rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad. […] Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I Am” (John 8:56-58).

Jesus also presents Himself as a fulfillment of the wisdom literature in the Old Testament. Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets by embodying this awareness in Himself: He embodies the way and reforms it by the witness He gives throughout His life, and even in His death. There is a radical change in values, as if a new creation would emerge from a creation undergoing a major upheaval.

By His death, Jesus explains the apparent contradiction of these values in the wisdom literature, and opens the path which had seemed to become as impasse for humankind. For those who follow Jesus, and hopefully that is each one of us, we must walk in his footsteps, enduring all of his misunderstanding, suffering, and even death, in order to truly be his disciples. The more we probe the depths of the very Scriptures which he fulfilled with his life, the more we will become like him.

Extended call

Spend some time this week reflecting on how the Lord has called you to be a disciple. In what ways have you felt the personal call of Christ? How does Christ make a difference in your life? What has his call demanded of you? What experiences or people in your life have been instrumental in deepening your faith? Is it possible to be a committed disciple of Jesus, yet still experience weakness and failure? In what ways can you, as a disciple of Jesus, share in his mission of teaching and healing today? To whom are you being sent, to teach and to heal?

[The readings for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Amos 7:12-15; Ephesians 1:3-14 or Ephesians 1:3-10; and Mark 6:7-13]

(Image: “Jesus Chooses the Twelve” by James Tissot)

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

Pope_In_SouthAmerica1

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 countries, 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 Asunción. 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 traveled 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.

Pope_In_SouthAmerica2

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 Compañia”. 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 Asunción.

After arriving in Paraguay, the Pope will pay a courtesy visit to the president in the Palacio de los López, where he will also meet with the authorities and the diplomatic corps. On Saturday July 11, he will visit the “Niños de Acosta Ñu” General Paediatric Hospital and will subsequently officiate at Mass in the square of the Marian sanctuary of Caacupé. In the afternoon he will meet with representatives of civil society in the León Condou Stadium of the San José 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 Asunción. Sunday the 12 will begin with a visit to the people of Bañado Norte in the Chapel of San Juan Bautista, and Mass in the Ñu Guazú 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?

Jesus Travelling cropped

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)