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Abraham and Jesus Teach Us to Pray

Abraham Praying cropped

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – July 24, 2016

The biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, home to Abraham’s nephew Lot, were full of sin. Israelite tradition is unanimous in ascribing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah to the wickedness of these cities, but tradition varies in regard to the nature of this wickedness.

In many earlier interpretations, the sin of Sodom was homosexuality (Genesis 19:4-5), also known as sodomy; but according to Isaiah (1:3-10), it was a lack of social justice. Ezekiel (16:46-51) described it as a disregard for the poor, whereas Jeremiah (23:14) saw it as general immorality. Further studies have revealed that the sin of Sodom the grievous sin of inhospitality in the biblical world – an assault on weak and helpless visitors who, according to justice and tradition ought to have been protected from danger (Ezekiel 16:49).

Biblical bargaining session
Today’s first reading from Genesis (18:20-32) presents the famous bargaining session between God and Abraham over the destruction of the two cities. When Abraham heard that God was going to judge the cities where his nephew lived, he began with a general question: will you destroy the innocent along with the guilty (18:23)?  Abraham appeals to God’s better nature, as one does when one is trying to persuade a powerful person to do the right thing!

God starts at 50, if there are 50 righteous men, Sodom will not be destroyed, and Abraham gradually brings God down to 10. A subtle difference emerges in the way God speaks of the matter: God says that if a certain number of righteous persons are found in the city, God will not destroy it (18:28-32). Interestingly, after Abraham has rested his case on the basis of the righteous 50, God does not say, “I will not destroy it,” but that “I will spare the whole place for their sake” (18:26).

This intriguing story of Abraham interceding for Sodom is not really about a numbers game but about the significance of salvation for the righteous in a corrupt community. Abraham’s fervent intercession points to the central theme of biblical faith: the steadfast love of God that refuses to be frustrated even in the context of immoral societies and cultures and sinful people. Christian theology teaches us that humanity is saved by the life of one righteous person!

Elements of good negotiation
What are the essential elements of good negotiation? First, the demand or request must be clearly articulated and understood. Second, the logic behind the demand or request must be presented and agreed upon. Third, the person requesting or demanding must persist in the negotiation. What are ultimately required are clarity, logic, and persistence. We cannot give up!

Abraham involved all three of these in his prayer to God. Abraham pointed to Lot’s faith and character, not to the fact that Lot was related to him by blood. While he never clearly stated his request, Abraham clearly made his point to God: save those who worship you and act morally! Be faithful to those who are faithful to you; be merciful to those who treat others with mercy. Abraham persisted until God and he agreed upon the number 10 (18:26-32).

The number 10 did not only tell us the size of Lot’s family; it revealed the minimum number of believers necessary to form a community of faith. It gave the raison d’être for a minyan in the Jewish tradition. Judaism refers to the quorum of 10 male Jewish adults required for certain religious obligations. Ten was the minimum number needed for public prayer, and the minimum number needed to hold services at a synagogue.

When we pray to God, we should take Abraham’s example to heart. We must pray with a clear request, seek God’s will, and persist in prayer – even when we pray for something small. How are we clear in our prayer, logical in its implications, and persistent in its petition? How does our prayer reflect these wonderful Abrahamic qualities?

Centrality of prayer in Christian life
Throughout Luke’s Gospel, Jesus at prayer is a model for us. In each prayerful moment, Jesus lives out the story of God’s great dialogue with the human family by remaining totally open to the power of God. We must pray unceasingly, for prayer is a sign of our faith in God. Prayer is not something that we use to put pressure on God to get our own way. Authentic prayer opens us up to the action of God’s Spirit, bringing us in line with God’s desires, and making us into true disciples, obedient to Jesus and to the Father who has sent him. Prayer becomes one of the ways by which we follow Jesus in the Christian life.

Three episodes concerned with prayer
In today’s Gospel scene, Luke presents three episodes concerned with prayer (11:1-13). The first (11:1-4) recounts Jesus teaching his disciples the Christian communal prayer, the “Our Father”; the second (11:5-8), the importance of persistence in prayer; and the third (11:9-13), the effectiveness of prayer.

The Matthean version of the “Our Father” (6:9-15) occurs in the context of the “Sermon on the Mount”; the shorter Lucan version is presented while Jesus is at prayer and his disciples ask him to teach them to pray just as John taught his disciples to pray (11:1-4). His disciples watch him from afar, and are keenly aware of the intensity and intimacy of his prayer with God. Jesus responds to them by teaching them the Our Father. Jesus presents them with an example of a Christian communal prayer that stresses the fatherhood of God and acknowledges him as the one to whom the Christian disciple owes daily sustenance (11:3), forgiveness (11:4), and deliverance from the final trial (11:4).

The prayer of the community

The “Our Father” is taught to the Twelve in their role as disciples, not just as individuals to be converted but also as persons already co-responsible for the community. This prayer is an apostolic prayer, because it is said in the plural and takes for granted one’s awareness of a people, of co-responsibility, of solidarity – linking each of us to the other.

When we pray “thy kingdom come,” we reveal our deepest longing to see the day when the triumphant, sovereign lordship of our loving God will no longer be a mere hope clung to desperately by faith, but a manifest reality in all human affairs. Our souls can never be entirely content until God’s honour is fully vindicated in all creation. These words utter a heartfelt plea: when will the reign of evil and death end?

When we beg for bread, we are really pleading for more than food. We beg the author of life for all the necessities of life: “God, give us what we need in order to enjoy the gift of life – bread for today and bread for tomorrow, to sustain us as a community.”

We ask God to forgive our sins as we forgive everyone their debts to us. This may possibly reflect Luke’s concern that possessions not hinder community fellowship. The final petition is most likely eschatological: do not lead us into trial: i.e. the final, great and ultimate test and agony of evil before the end.

The “Our Father” becomes the prayer of the poor, of those who plod along – weary, hungering, and struggling for faith, meaning, and strength. It is perhaps the first prayer we ever learn, and the last prayer we ever say before we close our eyes on this life.

God’s assurance of good gifts
The parable of the friend at midnight is found nowhere else in the New Testament. Its message, too, is about prayer and its point is that if our friends answer importunate or shameless appeals, how much greater still God, who desires to give us the Kingdom (12:32). The concluding section (11:9-13) builds on the previous section. The analogy moves from friends to parents: if parents give good gifts, how much more so will God. Prayer is continual asking, seeking, knocking, but this persistence is within a parent-child relationship, which assures good gifts. Authentic prayer opens us up to the action of God’s Spirit, bringing us in line with God’s desires, and making us into true disciples, obedient to Jesus and to the Father who has sent him.

I conclude this reflection by offering you two thoughts on Luke’s great lesson on prayer in today’s Gospel. First, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #239:

By calling God “Father,” the language of faith indicates two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority; and that he is at the same time goodness and loving care for all his children. God’s parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood (cf. Is 66:13; Ps 131:2.), which emphasizes God’s immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature. The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for man. But this experience also tells us that human parents are fallible and can disfigure the face of fatherhood and motherhood. We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard (cf. Ps 27:10; Eph 3:14; Is 49:15): no one is father as God is Father.

I also draw your attention to one of Cardinal John Henry Newman’s homilies on today’s Gospel. The great cardinal wrote in the 19th century words that still ring out clearly today:

He (Jesus) gave the prayer and used it. His Apostles used it; all the Saints ever since have used it. When we use it we seem to join company with them. Who does not think himself brought nearer to any celebrated man in history, by seeing his house, or his furniture, or his handwriting, or the very books that were his? Thus does the Lord’s Prayer bring us near to Christ, and to His disciples in every age.

No wonder, then, that in past times good men thought this Form of prayer so sacred, that it seemed to them impossible to say it too often, as if some especial grace went with the use of it. Nor can we use it too often; it contains in itself a sort of plea for Christ’s listening to us; we cannot, so that we keep our thoughts fixed on its petitions, and use our minds as well as our lips when we repeat it. And what is true of the Lord’s Prayer, is in its measure true of most of those prayers which our Church teaches us to use. It is true of the Psalms also, and of the Creeds; all of which have become sacred, from the memory of saints departed who have used them, and whom we hope one day to meet in heaven.

[The readings for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Genesis 18:20-32; Colossians 2:12-14; and Luke 11:1-13.]

(Image: God’s Promises to Abraham by James Tissot)

St. Faustina Kowalska and St. John Paul II: Patron Saints of World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow

JPIIFaustina

Pope John Paul II’s interest in Divine Mercy goes back to the days of his youth in Krakow when Karol Wojtyla was an eyewitness to so much evil and suffering during World War II in occupied Poland. He witnessed the round ups of many people who were sent to concentration camps and slave labor. In his hometown of Wadowice, he had many Jewish friends who would later die in the Holocaust. During that time of terror and fear, Karol Wojtyla decided to enter Cardinal Sapieha’s clandestine seminary in Krakow. He experienced the need for God’s mercy and humanity’s need to be merciful to one another. While in the seminary, he met another seminarian, Andrew Deskur (who would later become Cardinal), who introduced Karol to the message of the Divine Mercy, as revealed to the Polish mystic nun, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, who died at the age of 33 in 1938.

The Pope of Divine Mercy

At the beginning of his pontificate in 1981, Pope John Paul II wrote an entire encyclical dedicated to Divine Mercy – “Dives in Misericordia” (Rich in Mercy) illustrating that the heart of the mission of Jesus Christ was to reveal the merciful love of the Father. In 1993 when Pope John Paul II beatified Sr. Faustina Kowalska, he stated in the homily for her beatification mass: “Her mission continues and is yielding astonishing fruit. It is truly marvelous how her devotion to the merciful Jesus is spreading in our contemporary world, and gaining so many human hearts!”

Four years later in 1997, the Holy Father visited Blessed Faustina’s tomb in Lagiewniki, Poland, and preached powerful words: “There is nothing that man needs more than Divine Mercy…. From here went out the message of Mercy that Christ Himself chose to pass on to our generation through Blessed Faustina.”

In the Jubilee year 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized Sr. Faustina – making her the first canonized saint of the new millennium – and established “Divine Mercy Sunday” as a special title for the Second Sunday of Easter for the universal Church. Pope John Paul II spoke these words in the homily: “Jesus shows His hands and His side [to the Apostles]. He points, that is, to the wounds of the Passion, especially the wound in His Heart, the source from which flows the great wave of mercy poured out on humanity.”

One year later, in his homily for Divine Mercy Sunday in 2001, the Pope called the message of mercy entrusted to St. Faustina: “The appropriate and incisive answer that God wanted to offer to the questions and expectations of human beings in our time, marked by terrible tragedies…. Divine Mercy! This is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity at the dawn of the third millennium.”

Again in Lagiewniki, Poland in 2002, at the dedication of the new Shrine of Divine Mercy, the Holy Father consecrated the whole world to Divine Mercy, saying: “I do so with the burning desire that the message of God’s merciful love, proclaimed here through St. Faustina, may be made known to all the peoples of the earth, and fill their hearts with hope.”

In his Regina Caeli address of April 23, 2006, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said: “The mystery of God’s merciful love was at the centre of the pontificate of my venerated predecessor.” Now that same Providence has desired that this year, on Divine Mercy Sunday, three years after he was beatified on this same feast, Pope John Paul II, the great apostle and ambassador of Divine Mercy, will be proclaimed a saint.

Mercy is our hallmark

We must ask ourselves: what is new about this message of Divine Mercy? Why did Pope John Paul II insist so much on this aspect of God’s love in our time? Is this not the same devotion as that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus? Mercy is an important Christian virtue, much different from justice and retribution. While recognizing the real pain of injury and the rationale for the justification of punishment, mercy takes a different approach in redressing the injury. Mercy strives to radically change the condition and the soul of the perpetrator to resist doing evil, often by revealing love and one’s true beauty. If any punishment is enforced, it must be for salvation, not for vengeance or retribution. This is very messy business in our day and a very complex message… but it is the only way if we wish to go forward and be leaven for the world today; if we truly wish to be salt and light in a culture that has lost the flavor of the Gospel and the light of Christ.

Where hatred and the thirst for revenge dominate, where war brings suffering and death to the innocent, abuse has destroyed countless innocent lives, the grace of mercy is needed in order to settle human minds and hearts and to bring about healing and peace. Wherever respect for human life and dignity are lacking, there is need of God’s merciful love, in whose light we see the inexpressible value of every human being. Mercy is needed to insure that every injustice in the world will come to an end. The message of mercy is that God loves us – all of us – no matter how great our sins. God’s mercy is greater than our sins, so that we will call upon Him with trust, receive His mercy, and let it flow through us to others. Essentially, mercy means the understanding of weakness, the capacity to forgive.

Apostle of Divine Mercy

Throughout his priestly and Episcopal ministry, and especially during his entire Pontificate, Pope John Paul II preached God’s mercy, wrote about it, and most of all lived it. He offered forgiveness to the man who was destined to kill him in St. Peter’s Square. The Pope who witnessed the scandal of divisions among Christians and the atrocities against the Jewish people as he grew up did everything in his power to heal the wounds caused by the historic conflicts between Catholics and other Christian churches, and especially with the Jewish people.

I shall never forget the stirring words of St. John Paul II spoke at the concluding mass of World Youth Day at Downsview Park in Toronto on July 28, 2002. These words keep us focused on the importance and necessity of mercy in the Church today.

“…At difficult moments in the Church’s life, the pursuit of holiness becomes even more urgent. And holiness is not a question of age; it is a matter of living in the Holy Spirit…”

“…Do not let that hope die! Stake your lives on it! We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.”

Let us pray with joy and gratitude:

O God, who are rich in mercy
and who willed that Saint John Paul II
should preside as Pope over your universal Church,
grant, we pray, that instructed by his teaching,
we may open our hearts to the saving grace of Christ,
the sole Redeemer of mankind.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God forever and ever. Amen.


 

Photo WYD Krakow

Let us storm heaven with our prayers

Pray for Nice

The barbaric and cowardly terrorist attack this past Thursday evening on the iconic Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France on Bastille Day, France’s national holiday, leaves us all deeply shaken. As French President Hollande addressed the nation on French television late Thursday evening, he said “Bastille Day day is a symbol of liberty, and human rights are denied by fanatics and France is quite clearly their target.”

According to French prosecutor Francois Molins, 10 children and teenagers are among the 84 dead after a man drove a truck through a Bastille Day event on the crowded Promenade des Anglais. Many remain in critical condition, hovering between life and death.

The attack comes only eight months and a day after gunmen and suicide bombers from the so-called Islamic State struck Paris on November 13, 2015, killing 130 people. Four months ago, Belgian Islamists linked to the Paris attackers killed 32 people at a Brussels airport. ISIS has now claimed responsibility for the deadly attack, claming that the perpetrator was one of its “soldiers.”

In a telegram sent on his behalf by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Pope Francis has condemned the terror attack in Nice and expressed his profound sadness and his spiritual closeness to the French people. Addressed to the Bishop of Nice André Marceau, the telegram noted that whilst France was celebrating its national day “blind violence has once again hit the nation” in the city of Nice whose victims include many children. It said the Pope once again “condemned such acts” and expressed his “profound sadness and his spiritual closeness to the French people.”

The telegram continued by saying that Pope Francis “entrusts to the Mercy of God those who have lost their lives” and he shares “the pain of the bereaved families” and also expressed his sympathy to those wounded. The Pope concluded by imploring from God the gift of “peace and harmony” and invoking divine blessings on the families affected by this tragedy and all the people of France.

Heart France

Terrorist attacks are always regarded as unconscionable violations of human life, but they seem especially heinous when children are involved. To kill in the name of religion is not only an offense to God, but it is also a defeat for humanity. No situation can justify such criminal activity, which covers the perpetrators with infamy, and it is all the more deplorable when it hides behind religion, thereby bringing the pure truth of God down to the level of the terrorists’ own blindness and moral perversion.

ISIS and any form of terrorism in the name of God is an aberration of religion. ISIS’ manipulation and distortion of the massive refugee crisis to infiltrate terrorists into other countries is criminal and evil. We must distinguish between true religion and the twisted religion used to justify hatred and violence. True religion leads people to healing, peace, solidarity and desires to make the world a better place. True religion respects the sacredness and dignity of the human person. True religion invites people to respond to crises with mercy, charity and hospitality.

In Pope Francis’ Message for the 49th World Day of Peace (January 1, 2016) entitled “Overcome Indifference and Win Peace”, the Bishop of Rome writes:

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

5. This then is why “it is absolutely essential for the Church and for the credibility of her message that she herself live and testify to mercy. Her language and her gestures must transmit mercy, so as to touch the hearts of all people and inspire them once more to find the road that leads to the Father. The Church’s first truth is the love of Christ. The Church makes herself a servant of this love and mediates it to all people: a love that forgives and expresses itself in the gift of oneself. Consequently, wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. In our parishes, communities, associations and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy.

We too, then, are called to make compassion, love, mercy and solidarity a true way of life, a rule of conduct in our relationships with one another. This requires the conversion of our hearts: the grace of God has to turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, open to others in authentic solidarity. For solidarity is much more than a “feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far”. Solidarity is “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all”, because compassion flows from fraternity.”

Let us pray for all those who lost their lives tragically on Thursday night in Nice. Let us remember families that have been decimated and all those who mourn the loss of life of loved ones and friends. Let us storm heaven and beg the Lord to rain down justice, mercy and peace on France and on all countries that have been terribly afflicted with this reign of terror and violence.

World Youth Days: The Moments of Catechesis

YouthCatechesis

During his Angelus address on July 28, 2002 at the conclusion of the 17th World Youth Day in Toronto, Pope John Paul II said: “This World Youth Day must mark a re-awakening of pastoral attention to the young in Canada. May the enthusiasm of this moment be the spark that is needed to launch a new era of powerful witness to the gospel!… My wish for all of you who are here is that the commitments you have made during these days of faith and celebration will bring forth abundant fruits of dedication and witness. May you always treasure the memory of Toronto!”

The experiences of young people during World Youth Days leave a deep and lasting impression upon them and also serve as a catalyst and impulse for new commitments and initiatives. What do young people experience during World Youth Days? Who do they encounter? The principal elements of World Youth Days contribute greatly to an effective pastoral ministry with young people and with them. These elements – Christ, Sacred Scripture, catechesis, the sacraments (especially Reconciliation and Eucharist), piety, devotion, the World Youth Day Cross, the saints, together with the moments of pilgrimage, the Youth Festival, social service projects, vocations – hopefully find a central place in our pastoral efforts with young people.

Dolan1
A very positive fruit of World Youth Days is the Scriptural theme assigned to each event. The theme of 31st World Youth Day, Krakow 2016 is “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7).

During the major international World Youth Days in various countries of the world, hundreds of Bishops and Cardinals also attend as catechists. Each day during the World Youth Day week, thousands of young people gather around their bishops and cardinals to hear teachings, “catecheses”, reflections based on the Word of God. This novel invention has taken on a life of its own, and become an intrinsic part of the international celebrations of faith and youth culture.

Here is a look at how this year’s theme of this year’s international celebration in Krakow as well as how that theme will be developed through the daily catecheses or teachings of the bishops of the world chosen to be bishop catechists. Catechesis will generally be given in the bishop’s first language. Each of the three catecheses will be held in a different venue.

On July 27, 28 and 29 July catechesis will be given in different languages for the young people present in Krakow. About three hundred bishops from around the world will serve as catechists. Each bishop catechist will give three catecheses on the topics below. I share them here not only for those attending World Youth Day in Krakow but for the many groups who are unable to travel to Poland and will celebrate World Youth Days at home, gathered around their bishops and pastors.

OMalley1

Wednesday 27 July – 1st catechesis
Topic: Now is the time of mercy!

References:
“Many question in their hearts: why a Jubilee of Mercy today? Simply because the Church, in this time of great historical change, is called to offer more evident signs of God’s presence and closeness. This is a time for the Church to rediscover the meaning of the mission entrusted to her by the Lord on the day of Easter: to be a sign and an instrument of the Father’s mercy (cf. Jn 20:21-23). A year in which to be touched by the Lord Jesus and to be transformed by his mercy, so that we may become witnesses to mercy” (Pope Francis, Homily during First Vespers of Divine Mercy Sunday, 11 April 2015).
Scripture: Lk 4:1-21?

Thursday 28 July – 2nd catechesis ?
Topic: Let us allow ourselves to be touched by Christ’s mercy

References:
“You, dear young man, dear young woman, have you ever felt the gaze of everlasting love upon you, a gaze that looks beyond your sins, limitations and failings, and continues to have faith in you and to look upon your life with hope? Do you realize how precious you are to God, who has given you everything out of love?” (Pope Francis, WYD Message 2016).
Scripture: Lk 15: 1-10?

Friday 29 July – 3rd catechesis ?
Topic: Lord, make me an instrument of your mercy!

References:
“Help me, O Lord, that my eyes may be merciful, so that I may never suspect or judge from appearances, but look for what is beautiful in my neighbours’ souls and come to their rescue.

Help me, that my ears may be merciful, so that I may give heed to my neighbours’ needs and not be indifferent to their pains and moanings.

Help me, O Lord, that my tongue may be merciful, so that I should never speak negatively of my neighbour, but have a word of comfort and forgiveness for all.

Help me, O Lord, that my hands may be merciful and filled with good deeds.

Help me, that my feet may be merciful, so that I may hurry to assist my neighbour, overcoming my own fatigue and weariness.

Help me, O Lord, that my heart may be merciful so that I myself may feel all the sufferings of my neighbour” (St. Faustina Kowalska Diary, 163).
Scripture – Mt 25: 31-46

Bishops are encouraged to give extemporaneous teachings that offer examples and significant anecdotes. Young people appreciate simple authoritative replies to their questions. That is why bishops are strongly encouraged to bring their own stories and witness into the catechesis, and to present the young people with examples of positive role-models (lives of saints; young “heroes” like Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati and Blessed Chiara Luce Badano; the patrons of WYD 2016 St. John Paul II and St. Faustina).

Bishop catechists are asked to develop the day’s topic in a talk of around 20 minutes. This is followed by adequate time for questions by the young people and answers by the bishop. Each day, catechesis will conclude with Holy Mass presided by the bishop catechist who will give a short homily. The Mass readings are as follows:

Wednesday 27 July
Catechesis topic: Now is the time of mercy!
Votive Mass of the Divine Mercy – Eucharistic prayer V/C
Eph 2: 4-10
Ps 135 (136) ?(R/ His mercy endures forever) ?
Jn 8:1-11

Thursday 28 July ?
Catechesis topic: Let us allow ourselves to be touched by Christ’s mercy ?
Mass for reconciliation – Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation I
2Cor 5:17-21
Ps 50 (51) ?(R/ Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness) ?
Lk 15:1-3.11-32

Friday 29 July ?
Catechesis topic: Lord, make me an instrument of your mercy! ?
Votive Mass Mary, Queen & Mother of Mercy – Preface of Blessed Virgin Mary II
Col 3:12-17
Ps 102 (103) ?(R/ The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting) ?
Lk 1: 39-55

During the three days of catechesis, all the groups of young people will be invited, in turn, to take part in the Pilgrimage of Mercy that will go from the John Paul II Shrine to the Divine Mercy Shrine.

Bishop catechists, pastors and youth leaders are invited to use Pope Francis’ Message to the Youth of the World for the 31st World Youth Day for their catechesis preparation. It is available in various languages on the Vatican website.


Photos: World Youth Day Archives

The Art of Biblical Hospitality

Mary and Martha cropped

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – July 17, 2016

What does it mean to be hospitable? Biblical stories extol hospitality as both a duty and a work of mercy. The desert “Bedouin” hospitality is a necessity for survival; and since this necessity falls equally upon everyone, any guest is entitled to hospitality from any host. The guest, once accepted by the host, is sacred, and must be protected from any danger even at the cost of the life of members of the family.

The good host makes a feast for his guest unlike any that is ever prepared for his own family. The duty of the host to protect the guest is illustrated by the stories of Lot at Sodom (Genesis 19:1, 8) and the man of Gibeah (Judges 19:16-24). Job boasts of hospitality (Job 31:23). God is most certainly the generous host (Psalms 15:1; 23:5).

Many stories from the Books of Kings also speak of hospitality. Each of the four stories of Chapter 4 describes in some way the power of God, at work in the prophet Elisha, breaking into hopeless situations and shattering them with a word of life. One of those stories is about a couple from the village of Shunem (just over the hill from the New Testament village of Nain in northern Israel) who provide food and lodging for the prophet Elisha. He in turn promises them a son, even though they had been married for a long time and remained childless.

The couple cares for a stranger who had impressed them by his dedication to God, prayer, and social concerns. What the couple does seems quite simple at first – after all, they seem to be influential people. Nonetheless, they interrupt their ordinary activities and private lives to care for Elisha, first with food at their table, then with overnight accommodations. And in their giving to him, they received much more in return – the promise of new life, despite the bitter years of barrenness. Their own gift to Elisha was magnified beyond their comprehension.

Abraham and Sarah welcome the world
Today’s first reading from Genesis 18:1-10 presents Abraham as the model of the generous and hospitable host. In the charming biblical story, Abraham and Sarah welcomed the messengers of God with opened arms at the oaks of Mamre. Abraham is host, bringing water for the washing of feet and providing the shade of a tree for rest. The meal is a banquet, humorously described as “a little bread”: a bushel of flour, curds, milk, and a choice calf! Sarah remains in the tent; society’s customs forbid her from mingling with the male guests. She does the cooking, and nine months later the promise is fulfilled in the birth of her son, Isaac.

During the outdoor meal at the oaks of Mamre, God’s word was shared in a carefully staged play. Hospitality is an art form that requires careful staging! The strangers at Mamre (whom we know to be God and his angels) come to dinner to deliver a message: God promises Abraham and Sarah that the barren will rejoice.

Abraham’s hospitality may appear to us to be a bit too lavish and excessive, but we must never forget the demanding tradition of the Middle East from which springs the Christian conviction regarding hospitality: in the guest, Christ is seen. In our every conversation, he is the silent listener.

Hospitality in the New Testament
The Greek word for hospitality is philanthropia, meaning love of human beings, kindness. The virtue of hospitality is praised in the New Testament and it is enumerated among the works of charity by which we will be judged (Matthew 25:35ff). Jesus depends on it (Mark 1:29ff; 2:15ff; etc.). He regards it as important in the parables (Luke 10:34-35; 11:5ff; etc.). God’s hospitality is an essential part of his message (cf. the divine generosity in Luke 14:16ff; 12:37; 13:29; etc.). Jesus had no home and was frequently a guest (Luke 7:36ff; 9:51ff; 10:389ff; 14:1ff).

It was the practice of Paul on his journeys first to visit the Jews and to stay with them, and to stay with the Gentiles only if the Jews refused him (Acts 14:28; 15:33; 16:15, 34; 17:1ff; 18:3, 27; 21:16). With the rapid growth and expansion of the Church, organization was needed, and we are told that fourth-century Antioch cared daily for 3,000 widows, sick, and strangers. Bishops and widows were especially expected to be hospitable both privately and officially. Bigger churches and sanctuaries later set up hospices, and where care focused on the sick. These developed into hospitals.

Hospitality, Bethany style
Today’s Gospel is the delightful story of Martha and her sister Mary in Bethany (Luke 10:38-42). It illustrates the importance of hearing the words of the teacher and the concern with women in Luke’s Gospel. The Gospel story about Mary and Martha has often been used to provide guidelines as to how women are to act. The truth of the matter is that it doesn’t have much to do with the roles that any particular individuals should play. It points out that God doesn’t just look at how well we carry out our duties. No man or woman should lose him or herself in busyness. Mary of Bethany understood that.

Martha is so caught up in the many demands put upon her by societal and cultural rules for serving guests. In reality, there is little that is needed – or rather, only one thing. Much of Martha’s anxiety and concern in serving has more to do with conforming to society’s demands or with the desire of the host or hostess to shine as a model of accomplished and generous hospitality.

Verse 39 presents us with a unique image: Mary sitting at the feet of the Master. Against the backdrop of first-century Palestinian Judaism, that a woman would assume the posture of a disciple at the master’s feet is nothing short of remarkable (cf. Luke 8:35; Acts 22:3)! It reveals a characteristic attitude of Jesus toward women in the third gospel (cf. Luke 8:2-3).

Activity, passivity, or receptivity?
Mary of Bethany, disciple of the Lord, has chosen the most important thing required in welcoming others – her presence and full attention, so that it is her guest who shines. Martha and Mary stand forever as symbols of the two modes of life between which we continually oscillate. Activity can become a shield against facing the issues and questions and truths that must be allowed to surface if we are to survive. There are times when we simply must contemplate, must step back, must think, if we are to be capable of returning to meaningful activity.

The key of the Gospel story is not found in the tension of activity versus passivity, but in receptivity. The one necessity in welcoming others into one’s home or community is being present to them – listening to what they have to say, as Mary does in today’s Gospel.

Hospitality’s enemy
Thus far we have considered the positive aspects, elements, and manifestations of hospitality. But hospitality has an enemy: selfishness and pride. When we are so wrapped up with ourselves, our own problems and difficulties, or we wish to jealously preserve what we have and exclude foreigners and strangers from our lives and riches, we are inhospitable. Too much introspection and inwardness will prevent us from truly being present to others. Or perhaps we are so concerned with external appearances, and so caught up with the details and activity, that we have no time for listening and welcoming.

At the dinner party in Bethany, Martha learned a profound lesson: perhaps a simple pita bread was better than a full Middle Eastern feast, if it got her out of the kitchen and in the company of such an important guest as was sitting in the living room with her sister, Mary. Perhaps Martha was finally able to sit down and grasp the full impact of what was unfolding in her very home – that her own sister was behaving as a true disciple of this man Jesus. And hopefully Martha discovered that the meal was only the scenery, not the script!

Hospitality, Cardinal Newman style
On September 19, 2010, in Birmingham, England, the long awaited beatification ceremony took place for the beloved and great Victorian Catholic theologian, John Henry Cardinal Newman. Cardinal Newman was born in troubled times, which knew not only political and military upheaval but also great turbulence of soul. He journeyed from Anglicanism to Catholicism and used his great intellect and masterful writing ability to win over thousands of people to Christ and the Roman Catholic Church. He was an exemplary model of graciousness and hospitality, especially to young men and women at the university. He is the patron of university Catholic chaplaincies around the world known as “Newman Centres.”

In preparation for Cardinal Newman’s beatification, I read once again his homilies based on the Sunday Gospels. I was struck by his reflections on today’s Gospel of Martha, Mary, and their honoured guest in Bethany.

Newman wrote the following about today’s Gospel scene:

There are busy men and men of leisure, who have no part in Him; there are others, who are not without fault, as altogether sacrificing leisure to business, or business to leisure. But putting aside the thought of the untrue and of the extravagant, still after all there remain two classes of Christians – those who are like Martha, those like Mary; and both of them glorify Him in their own line, whether of labour or of quiet, in either case proving themselves to be not their own, but bought with a price, set on obeying, and constant in obeying His will. If they labour, it is for His sake; and if they adore, it is still from love of Him.

And further, these two classes of His disciples do not choose for themselves their course of service, but are allotted it by Him. Martha might be the elder, Mary the younger. I do not say that it is never left to a Christian to choose his own path, whether He will minister with the Angels or adore with the Seraphim; often it is: and well may he bless God if he has it in his power freely to choose that good portion which our Saviour especially praises. But, for the most part, each has his own place marked out for him, if he will take it, in the course of His providence; at least there can be no doubt who are intended for worldly cares. The necessity of getting a livelihood, the calls of a family, the duties of station and office, these are God’s tokens, tracing out Martha’s path for the many.

Questions for Reflection
Here are some questions to reflect upon this week, as individuals and as parish communities.

How do I (we) practice hospitality?

What are the signs of a hospitable community?

What are the enemies of hospitality?

How can we become more hospitable?

Do I (we) really love other human beings?

[The readings for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Genesis 18:1-10a; Colossians 1:24-28; and Luke 10:38-42.]

(Image: Jesus with Mary and Martha by Alessandro Allori)

Grazie Padre Federico Lombardi, SJ: “vir bonus dicendi peritus”

Lombardi Sala Stampa logo copy

Tribute from Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

Thank you, Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ for all that you have taught us these past years from Rome through Vatican Television, Vatican Radio and the Holy See Press Office. You have worked in the world of Catholic journalism and communications for over 30 years. I have had the privelege and pleasure, since 1999, to work with you on various Vatican events and projects, beginning with the Great Jubilee in 2000 and then World Youth Day 2002. We have collaborated on Synods, Papal Transitions, and a Jesuit papacy! It has been a close, warm, great collaboration up to this day. I have learned so much from your gentle, quiet ways, your sensus ecclesiae, your humor and your ability to multi-task with such serenity. We have shared together some deeply moving Church experiences these past years.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi, left, meets the media at the Vatican, Friday, March 8, 2013. The Vatican says the conclave to elect a new pope will likely start in the first few days of next week. The Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters that cardinals will vote Friday afternoon on the start date of the conclave but said it was "likely" they would choose Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. The cardinals have been attending pre-conclave meetings to discuss the problems of the church and decide who among them is best suited to fix them as pope. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino) ** Usable by LA and DC Only **

In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the participants in a congress promoted by Archbishop Claudio Celli and the Pontifical Council for Social Communications on the identity and mission of communications faculties in Catholic universities. The Pope’s significant message to that gathering in Rome finds an echo today with your departure from the Holy See Press Office. Pope emeritus Benedict XVI said:

“A communicator can attempt to inform, to educate, to entertain, to convince, to comfort; but the final worth of any communication lies in its truthfulness. In one of the earliest reflections on the nature of communication, Plato highlighted the dangers of any type of communication that seeks to promote the aims and purposes of the communicator or those by whom he or she is employed without consideration for the truth of what is communicated. No less worth recalling is Cato the Elder’s sober definition of the orator; vir bonus dicendi peritus – “a good or honest man skilled in communicating.”

The art of communication is by its nature linked to an ethical value, to the virtues that are the foundation of morality. These words call to mind Fr. Federico Lombardi: “vir bonus dicendi peritus”, a good and honest man skilled in communicating. In fact that is exactly what he has been doing for over thirty years in the business of Catholic journalism and communications. You taught us how to wear the many hats of ecclesial service with humility, joy, dignity and conviction. Grazie mille!

TomLombardi

Reflection on the World Youth Day Cross

PopeWYDCross

At the heart of every World Youth Day is a very simple, powerful, ancient Christian symbol: two large planks of wood, known as the World Youth Day Cross, that many have called the “Olympic Torch” of the huge Catholic Festival of young people. The World Youth Day cross has many names: the Jubilee Cross, the Pilgrim Cross, the Youth Cross. In 1984, at the close of the 1983 Holy Year of the Redemption at the Vatican, Pope John Paul II entrusted to the young people of the world a simple, twelve-foot wooden Cross, asking them to carry it across the world as a sign of the love which the Lord Jesus has for humankind and “to proclaim to everyone that only in Christ who died and is risen is there salvation and redemption.” Since that day, carried by generous hands and loving hearts, the Cross has made a long, uninterrupted pilgrimage across the continents, to demonstrate, as Pope John Paul II had said, “the Cross walks with young people and young people walk with the Cross.”

WYD IconThe cross does not journey alone. Since 2003 it has been accompanied by an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary. a copy of the Icon of our Lady known as the ‘Salus Populi Romani’. The original from which this Icon has been copied is considered by some to be from the eighth century, and is housed in a chapel in the Basilica of St Mary Major in Rome. Pope John Paul II entrusted to the youth an icon of the Blessed Mother that would accompany the cross. “It will be a sign of Mary’s motherly presence close to young people who are called, like the Apostle John, to welcome her into their lives.”

The World Youth Day Cross and Icon speak to us of the two focal points of the message of Christianity: of the Cradle and of the Cross; of Christ who was born of Mary, and of Christ who was crucified for us; of Christmas and Good Friday; of the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery. The Icon and Cross, therefore, are potent symbols of the joy and suffering that we experience in our Christian pilgrimage.

The memories of the World Youth Day 2002 Cross Pilgrimage throughout Canada continue to stir many hearts and evoke wonderful memories many years after the great pilgrimage began in our land on April 11, 2001. The WYD Cross literally touched the three oceans that border Canada. It visited our cities, towns, and rural areas, inviting throngs of people into the streets for processions, prayers, all-night vigils, tears, and moments of reconciliation, healing, and peace.

Such expressions of popular piety had been absent for far too many years from the Canadian ecclesial landscape. In the midst of the carefully orchestrated pilgrimage throughout the 72 dioceses of Canada, the Cross took a detour in February 2002, which was not part of the normal World Youth Day preparations in previous host countries. A convoy of buses left Toronto early on a cold Sunday morning, accompanied by representatives of Canadian police, ambulance, and fire fighters, and set out with the WYD Cross in tow for 48 hours in New York City.

After a Sunday evening Mass in Manhattan’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral and an early morning Mass with the Vatican’s Permanent Observer at the United Nations, we carried the cross to Ground Zero, into the “pit,” to pray for the victims of the September 11th tragedies at the World Trade Centre and elsewhere throughout the United States. The visit, which received international media coverage, was a sign of hope, consolation, solidarity, and peace to the people of America and the entire world, struggling to understand the evil, terror, violence, and death-dealing forces that humanity experienced on September 11, 2001.

The journey into Ground Zero was for us a very public act of defiance and courage. Six young people from the World Youth Day 2002 National Team carried the large cross up to the special platform built for the families of the victims of the World Trade Centre tragedy. While they processed with the cross, the rest of us sang the Taizé refrain: “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.” As the cross was placed in its metal stand at the edge of the huge crater where the twin towers once stood, the singing grew louder. It was an act of defiance because there, in a place that spoke loudly of destruction, devastation, terror, and death, we raised up a wooden cross – an instrument of death that has been transformed into the central life-giving symbol of the Christian faith. The significance of the action was lost on no one.

The Cross of Jesus Christ blessed and marked World Youth Day 2002 in an extraordinary fashion. Each catechetical site was graced by a replica of the World Youth Day Cross. It was present at each of the main ceremonies. It led our processions, called us to prayer and reflection, healed us, reconciled us, and touched our hearts. Its memory lingers among us several years later.

Cross Icon Brazilian pilgrims

Who can ever forget the hauntingly beautiful images of the World Youth Day Cross leading over half a million people – mostly on their knees – in the Stations of the Cross on Friday evening, July 26, 2002: up Toronto’s majestic University Avenue, passing before its court houses, the American Consulate, Government Buildings, hospitals, the university, Provincial Parliament, and various museums? A principal street of a great city was transformed into a contemporary Via Dolorosa, while over a billion people watched the scenes of this modern-day passion play unfold via satellite and television.

During the closing Eucharistic celebration on Sunday, July 28, 2002, the Holy Father presented to young pilgrims in the crowd of more than 850,000 people gathered with him small wooden crosses, hand made by young people living in the poorest barrios of Bogotá and Medellín in Colombia. World Youth Day 2002 chose to have the crosses made in a land that has had its share of cross over the past years.

Because we follow a crucified Christ, we enter into solidarity with the world’s suffering masses. We experience the power and love of God through the vulnerable and suffering. The Cross teaches us that what could have remained hideous and beyond remembrance is transformed into beauty, hope, and a continuous call to heroic goodness.

At the conclusion of the closing Eucharistic liturgy, the elderly Pontiff told young people not to be afraid “to follow Christ on the royal road of the Cross! At difficult moments in the Church’s life, the pursuit of holiness becomes even more urgent.” He invited his young friends to “learn from that cross.”

When all the commotion and frenzied activity of World Youth Day was over, I was convinced that one of the lasting memories that would remain in our country was that simple, wooden Cross, which was such a huge blessing and source of consolation, healing, strength, and peace to the hundreds of thousands of people who embraced it, touched it, kissed it, learned from it, and allowed themselves to be touched by the awesome message and memory of the One who died upon it.

To celebrate the Triumph of the Cross is to acknowledge the full, cruciform achievement of Jesus’ career. Jesus asks us to courageously choose a life similar to his own. Suffering cannot be avoided nor ignored by those who follow Christ. Following Jesus implies suffering and a cross. The mark of the Messiah is to become the mark of his disciples.

 

Fr. Rosica was National Director and CEO of World Youth Day 2002 in Canada

Photos are courtesy of World Youth Day 2002 archives and may be used freely.

Loving Means Acting Like the Good Samaritan

Good Samaritan cropped

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – July 10, 2016

The story of the Good Samaritan in today’s Gospel (Luke 10:25-37) is one of the most treasured parables of the Bible. During my studies in the Holy Land, no matter how many times I traveled that perilous yet spectacular highway from Jerusalem to Jericho, I always found myself musing on Luke’s provocative story.

Luke’s story is powerful, for it speaks of the power of love that transcends all creeds and cultures and “creates” a neighbour out of a complete stranger. The parable is personal, for it describes with profound simplicity the birth of a human relationship that has a personal, physical touch, transcending social and cultural taboos, as one person binds the wounds of another. The parable is a pastoral one, for it is filled with the mystery of care and concern that is at the heart of what is best in human beings. The story is primarily practical, for it urges us to cross all barriers of culture and community and to go and do likewise!

Let us look closely at Luke’s parable. The legal expert who responds to Jesus’ counter-question is certainly a good and upright man. The words, “wished to justify himself” may often be understood to mean that the lawyer was looking for some loophole to demonstrate his worthiness (10:29). In fact, the lawyer wishes to be sure that he understands just what “love your neighbour” really implies. In response to a question from this Jewish legal expert about inheriting eternal life, Jesus illustrates the superiority of love over legalism by means of this beautiful parable.

The priest and Levite (10:31-32) are religious representatives of Judaism who would have been expected to be models of “neighbour” to the victim they would pass by on the road. Levites were expected to have a special dedication to the law. The identity of the “neighbour” requested by the legal expert turns out to be a Samaritan, the enemy of the Jew. Samaritans were hated by the lawyer’s racial group. In the end, the lawyer is even unable to say that it was the Samaritan who showed compassion. He resorts to the description, “The one who treated him with compassion” (10:37).

Spectator sport

To show compassion is to suffer with the wounded and the suffering, to share their pain and agony. Compassion does not leave us indifferent or insensitive to another’s pain but calls for solidarity with the suffering. This is how Jesus, the Good Samaritan par excellence, showed compassion. At times we can be like the priest and the scribe who, on seeing the wounded man, passed by on the other side. We can be silent spectators afraid to involve ourselves and dirty our hands.

Compassion demands that we get out of ourselves as we reach out to others in need. It means that we get our hands and even our reputations dirty. Indifference is worse than hostility. The hostile person at least acknowledges the presence of the other while reacting violently to it; the indifferent person, on the other hand, ignores the other and treats him as if he did not exist. That was the kind of indifference and insensitivity shown by the priest and the Levite who passed by on the other side, leaving the wounded and waylaid traveler completely alone.

The Good Samaritan shows us what compassion and commitment are all about. He could have easily passed by on the other side. He could have closed his heart and refused to respond to a genuine need. But he stopped and knelt down beside the stranger who was hurting. At that moment, a neighbour was born. Everyone who stops beside the suffering of another person, whatever form it may take, is a Good Samaritan. This stopping and stooping, this pausing and kneeling down beside the suffering, is not done out of curiosity but out of love. The Samaritan’s compassion brings him to perform a whole series of actions. First he bandaged his wounds, then he took the wounded man to an inn to care for him, and before leaving, he gives the innkeeper the necessary money to take care of him (10:34-35).

Loving means acting like the Good Samaritan. We know that Jesus himself is the model of the Good Samaritan; although he was God, he did not hesitate to humble himself to the point of becoming a man and giving his life for us. More than 2,000 years after this story was first told, it continues to move people deeply. It teaches us what authentic compassion, commitment, and communion with others are all about.

Concept of neighbour

In his 2005 encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est (On Christian Love), Benedict XVI wrote (#15):

The parable of the Good Samaritan (cf. Luke 10:25-37) offers two particularly important clarifications. Until that time, the concept of “neighbour” was understood as referring essentially to one’s countrymen and to foreigners who had settled in the land of Israel; in other words, to the closely-knit community of a single country or people. This limit is now abolished. Anyone who needs me, and whom I can help, is my neighbour. The concept of “neighbour” is now universalized, yet it remains concrete. Despite being extended to all mankind, it is not reduced to a generic, abstract and undemanding expression of love, but calls for my own practical commitment here and now.

The Church has the duty to interpret ever anew this relationship between near and far with regard to the actual daily life of her members. Lastly, we should especially mention the great parable of the Last Judgment (cf. Matthew 25:31-46), in which love becomes the criterion for the definitive decision about a human life’s worth or lack thereof. Jesus identifies himself with those in need, with the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). Love of God and love of neighbour have become one: in the least of the brethren we find Jesus himself, and in Jesus we find God.

A good knight

When I reflect on the ways that this parable has taken on flesh in human history, I cannot help but think of Father Michael McGivney, a parish priest who lived in 19th century America. He ministered to his flock with Christ-like compassion. Father McGivney recognized the material and spiritual poverty of so many members of the Catholic community of his day, and he understood that it was part of the lay vocation to become actively involved in offering assistance to brothers and sisters in need. He knew that it is not only priests and religious who have a vocation, but that every Christian is called by Christ to carry out a particular mission in the Church. He left a lasting legacy in founding and establishing the Knights of Columbus, a lay Catholic fraternal organization that now has close to 1.8 million members worldwide. On August 14, 1890, Father McGivney, a priest of the Diocese of Hartford, Connecticut, died at the young age of 38 years old.

The Knights of Columbus are nothing more than the continuation of the parable of the Good Samaritan in history. This fraternal order specializes in preparing other Good Samaritans for our time. Like the Good Samaritan, Christ’s care for the sick and the suffering was an inspiration to Father McGivney who, as a priest, sought to be a living sign of Christ for the people he served.

Father McGivney and his brother Knights throughout history have been binding the wounds of those they discovered lying by the wayside of history and helping restore them to health and strength. In so doing, they imitate Christ, who came that we might have life in abundance.

“Nowhere is the face of our Church more attractive than in our open embrace of our neighbour,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson once wrote. “Each encounter with those in need is actually an opportunity to create a civilization of love, one person, one act at a time.”

Prayer for canonization

The existence of the Knights of Columbus in the Church and in the world is cause for rejoicing and thanksgiving. They give flesh and blood to today’s wonderful Gospel story. I encourage you to pray for the intercession of Father McGivney and ask him to help you become a Good Samaritan to those around you. Pray for the courage to reach out beyond boundaries, the boldness to get your hands dirty as you touch the outcast, and the grace and consolation to recognize the face of Jesus in those to whom you minister.

God our Father, 
Protector of the poor and defender of the widow and orphan, you called your priest, Father Michael J. McGivney, to be an apostle of Christian family life and to lead the young to the generous service of their neighbour.

Through the example of his life and virtue may we follow your Son, Jesus Christ, more closely, fulfilling his commandment of charity and building up his Body, which is the Church. Let the inspiration of your servant prompt us to greater confidence in your love so that we may continue his work of caring for the needy and the outcast.

We humbly ask that you glorify your servant Father Michael J. McGivney on earth according to the design of your holy will.

Through his intercession, grant the favour I now present. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

[The readings for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Colossians 1:15-20; and Luke 10:25-37.]

(Image: The Good Samaritan by William Henry Margetson)

World Youth Days: Retrospect and Prospect

WYD 2000 San Pietro copy

What we learned from World Youth Day 2002 in Canada
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

In preparation for World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Poland later this month, I have prepared a series of reflections that I will share with you in the coming weeks. I write these thoughts from Canada, especially today on our country’s national day: “Canada Day.” I had the privilege of serving as the National Director and Chief Executive Officer of World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto, Canada. It was a unique, unforgettable experience that changed my life and the lives of the hundreds of young adults who world closely with me in preparation of that blessed event. Fourteen years after the great event of World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto, we are still reaping the benefits of those blessed days when joy and hope invaded our nation, from sea to sea to sea! One of the first fruits of Canada’s international event in 2002 was the birth of Salt and Light Catholic Television Network in 2003 – a unique media platform which now enters its fourteenth year.

As we prepare for the next edition of World Youth Day in Krakow later this month, let us ask how the vision and hope of St. John Paul II have impacted our own efforts in pastoral ministry with young people. The experiences of World Youth Days in recent years have brought much new life to each of the countries where the great events have taken place. One of the important goals of World Youth Day is to instill hope and vibrancy in the church – to differ with the cynicism, despair, and meaninglessness so prevalent in the world today. Pope John Paul II knew well that our world today offers fragmentation, loneliness, alienation, and rampant globalization that exploit the poor.

What have the joy, exuberance, and creativity surrounding World Youth Days in Canada (2002), Cologne (2005), Sydney (2008), Madrid (2011) and Rio de Janiero (2013) taught us, and how have they transformed youth and young adult ministry in our local churches and dioceses? How have we initiated a “preferential option” for young people in the church today? How can we give the flavor of the gospel and the light of Christ to the world today? Let us consider seven aspects of World Youth Days. I will use our own Toronto experience as a mirror or backdrop but know that these aspects apply to each World Youth Day, no matter where it took place.

1. Pope John Paul’s biblical theme for WYD 2002 in Canada was providential and highly appropriate for our Canadian society and a world steeped in mediocrity and darkness. “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14). During World Youth Days, bishops and cardinals serve as teachers and catechists. Thousands of young people gather around them to hear reflections based on the Word of God, and in particular on the theme of the event. This novel invention has taken on a life of its own, becoming an intrinsic part of the celebrations. How many times was this evoked at the 2008 Synod of Bishops in Rome, that focused on “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church!” The catechetical teaching sessions on Scripture have become not only a unique encounter between generations, but also an opportunity to proclaim and preach the Word of God across cultures, offering to young people concrete possibilities for living a biblically rooted life.

Does the bible play a significant part in our ministry with young people? What biblical stories and images animate our pastoral initiatives with young people? How often have we turned elsewhere to find “themes”, “ideas”, “fillers” for our work with young people, rather than drawing our deepest inspiration from biblical stories, biblical language, biblical themes that no consulting agency, pop-jargon or fleeting trend can offer?

2. World Youth Days offer deeply prayerful celebrations of the Eucharist, and opportunities to experience the Eucharistic Lord in moments of quiet prayer, adoration, communal and individual worship. Liturgies of World Youth Day are prepared and planned with great diligence, care, precision and tremendous beauty. Through these moments young people are offered privileged moments of encounter with Jesus himself. These moments are enhanced by the careful selection of liturgical music that is not in competition with the world of theatre, spectacle and the surrounding din of noise and emptiness. And yet what do we do when the young people who have experienced such tremendous moments “come down from the mountain” and return to our parish communities?

WYDCross

3. During WYD 2002 in Toronto, over 100,000 young people celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Through this sacrament Christ lets us meet him and brings out the best in us. In our pastoral work with young people, do we present this sacrament as a privileged encounter with Christ who heals, forgives and liberates us?

4. World Youth Days offer the Church profound moments to deepen our Christian piety and devotion. In Canada during 2001-2002, the historic, 43,000-km pilgrimage of the WYD Cross and the powerful presentation of the Stations of the Cross were a provocative, profound witness of the Christian story in the heart of a modern city. Many of us in Canada were convinced that if, for some reason, the World Youth Day event itself would have to be cancelled because of the horrendous results of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the pilgrimage of the Cross had already worked its miracles across our vast land and united the Church in ways that nothing was ever able to do previously.

5. During his pontificate, John Paul II proclaimed 1,338 Blesseds and 482 Saints. Young adults need heroes and heroines today, and the Pope gave us outstanding models of holiness and humanity. Nine young blesseds and saints were patrons of WYD 2002; several more were patrons for WYD 2005. Pope Benedict XVI spoke to that great assembly of over one million young people gathered in prayer at Marienfeld in 2005, exclaiming: “The saints…are the true reformers. Now I want to express this in an even more radical way: only from the saints, only from God does true revolution come, the definitive way to change the world.”

Is the teaching of the Blesseds and Saints an integral part of our catechesis, Evangelization, formation of young people? In a world that desperately seeks authentic heroes and heroines, how often do we present the Blesseds and Saints as the real role models for young people today?

6. One of the significant contributions of World Youth Day 2002 to the universal Church and to young people throughout the world was the highly successful Vocations Pavilion at Exhibition Place in Toronto. The security personnel informed us that 50-55,000 young people visited the pavilion each day for the week of World Youth Day 2002. Subsequent World Youth Days in various countries followed the example of Toronto in offering very visible and participatory vocation centres at their celebrations or World Youth Day.

The phenomenon of World Youth Days has become a powerful seedbed for vocations to the priesthood, consecrated life, and lay ecclesial ministries. Whether it is because those who have already sensed a call choose to attend World Youth Days out of their strong faith life, or because World Youth Day awakens young adults for the first time to the special call of God, World Youth Days can be a moment of life-changing discernment.

Over the past fourteen years, I have received hundreds of letters, testimonies, witnesses from young people speak convincingly that their vocations were born at large vigil ceremonies with John Paul II, during the Sacrament of Reconciliation at World Youth Days and in the midst of catechesis sessions. A whole new generation of young adults identifies the World Youth Day experiences to be critical in their discernment process. In working with Catholic young adults, we have the responsibility and obligation to raise the subject of priestly, religious, and lay ministry vocations with openness, conviction, pastoral sensitivity and common sense.

7. I would like to refer to this point as “overcoming the crisis of ideologies” that has plagued my generation and several other generations. Excessive tensions arising from church politics, gender issues, liturgical practices, language, false interpretations of the Second Vatican Council – all of these influence today’s candidates for ordained ministry, religious life, and pastoral involvement in the Church. The grumblings, discontent, cynicism, fatigue, unfair labeling and pigeonholing of others, the lack of charity and hope of my generation and older generations rise to fever pitch, and keep us blinded to a new generation of young people who might be much more serious about Church, God and discipleship of Jesus than we are! Many of my generation do not wish to admit this fact.

How many times have I heard university chaplains, vocation directors, formation directors and youth ministers express fears and even disdain over the pious and devotional practices of today’s generation of young people. Such piety and devotion are not to be downplayed or dismissed in vocational and priestly formation work. They can indeed become a creative foundation upon which we can build for the future. Piety and devotion can be springboards to mature faith.

JP II WYD 2002 flags Wittman copy

World Youth Day does not belong to one Pope

In remarks at the concluding Mass of World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, Australia, Cardinal George Pell thanked Pope Benedict XVI for his presence at Australia’s great event. Sydney’s Archibshop said that World Youth Day acts as an antidote to images of Catholicism as in decline or wracked by controversy. “It shows the church as it really is, alive with evangelical energy.” Your Cardinal, George Pell concluded his address to Pope Benedict XVI at Randwick Race Course with these prophetic and affirming words:

“Your Holiness, the World Youth Days were the invention of Pope John Paul the Great. The World Youth Day in Cologne was already announced before your election. You decided to continue the World Youth Days and to hold this one in Sydney. We are profoundly grateful for this decision, indicating that the World Youth Days do not belong to one pope, or even one generation, but are now an ordinary part of the life of the Church. The John Paul II generation – young and old alike – is proud to be faithful sons and daughters of Pope Benedict.”

World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto was not a show, a rave party, a protest, or photo opportunity. It was an invitation and a proposal for something new. Against a global background of terror and fear, economic collapse in many countries, and ecclesial scandals, World Youth Day 2002 presented a bold, alternative vision of compelling beauty, hope, and joy… a vision and energy.

We may choose to speak of our World Youth Days as something in the past – that brightened the shadows and monotony of our lives at one shining moment in history in 2002 or in 2005, 2008, 2011 or 2013. Some may wish to call those golden days of July 2002 or subsequent summers “Camelot” moments. That is one way to consider the WYD – fading memories of extraordinary moments in national histories.

There is, however, another way: the Gospel way. The Gospel story is not about “Camelot” but about “Magnificat”, constantly inviting Christians to take up Mary’s hymn of praise and thanksgiving for the ways that Almighty God breaks through human history here and now. This way is not only nourished by memories, however good and beautiful they may be. The resurrection of Jesus is not a memory of a distant, past event, but it is Good News that continues to be fulfilled today – here and now. The Christian story is neither folklore nor nostalgia – a trip down triumphal church lane. JPII TR AIrport [MS] copy

As we in Canada continue to bask in the glorious light of the summer of 2002 in Canada, we must be honest and admit that World Youth Days offer no panacea or quick fix to the problems and challenges of our times, or the challenges facing the Church today as we reach out to younger generations. Instead, World Youth Days offer a new framework and new lenses through which we look at the Church and the world, and build our common future. One thing is clear: no one could go away from Toronto 2002 thinking that it is possible to compartmentalize the faith or reduce it to a few rules and regulations and Sunday observances.

World Youth Day 2002 and the visit of St. John Paul II brought Toronto not gold, silver and bronze medals, but something even greater: it gave Canada its soul. Through those blessed days, we experienced once again the fulfillment of the Second Vatican Council’s desires: together we were witnesses to the Council’s hopes and dreams for the Church and for humanity, when every nation, every tribe, came together to worship the Lord. Now let us pray together that the Generations of John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis, will truly become the Spirit’s joyful witnesses to the ends of the earth… that they may be truly become Catholic, universal, open to the world.

PRAYER FOR WYD KRAKOW 2016

“God, merciful Father,
in your Son, Jesus Christ, you have revealed your love
and poured it out upon us in the Holy Spirit, the Comforter,
We entrust to you today the destiny of the world
and of every man and woman”.
We entrust to you in a special way
young people of every language, people and nation:
guide and protect them as they walk the complex paths
of the world today
and give them the grace to reap abundant fruits
from their experience of the Krakow World Youth Day.

Heavenly Father,
grant that we may bear witness to your mercy.
Teach us how to convey the faith to those in doubt,
hope to those who are discouraged,
love to those who feel indifferent,
forgiveness to those who have done wrong
and joy to those who are unhappy.
Allow the spark of merciful love
that you have enkindled within us
become a fire that can transform hearts
and renew the face of the earth.

Mary, Mother of Mercy, pray for us.
Saint John Paul II, pray for us.
Saint Faustina, pray for us.


Credit: Bill Witman and World Youth Day 2002 Archives.

Fr. Rosica’s Reflection at the Primacy of Peter on the Sea of Galilee

In this Biblical Reflection filmed at the site of the Primacy of Peter on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, speaks about the “breakfast symphony” in two movements in John 21.

The first movement describes the appearance of the Risen Jesus to his disciples “by the Sea of Tiberias.” It is concerned with fish and fishing. The second movement presents a poignant dialogue between Jesus and Peter. The disciple who was called “rock” wept with regret in Luke 22:62 after denying his Lord.  At the sea, Peter is given an opportunity to repent and recommit himself to Jesus. It is one of the most personal and moving commissioning stories in the Bible, concerned with sheep and shepherding.

Peter is truly a model for us, as he must always remember his own failures as he undertakes leadership within the church.  Rather than incapacitating him, his remembrance enables him to be a merciful and compassionate leader. Peter learned his lesson well; he would imitate Jesus the rest of his life even to the point of giving that life as a martyr, dying upside down on a cross on the Vatican hill.

Are we prepared to go to that extreme for our faith in Jesus?