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An Intense Catechism Session at High Noon

 Samaritan cropped

Third Sunday of Lent, Year A – Sunday, March 23, 2014

In order to grasp the meaning of today’s first reading from Exodus 17:3-7, we must recall what transpires in the preceding chapter. God’s little flock faced the hardship of a lack of food and protested to Moses. Just as the LORD had heard the cry of the people suffering the oppression of slavery (Exodus 3:7), God now heard their cry of starvation and provided them with nourishment in the form of manna and quail. While their lack of food had been sated in chapter 16, today’s passage confronts them with a new and dire challenge: the lack of drinkable water.

In 17:1, the narrator states this simple fact as a preface to the people’s quarrel with Moses. Perhaps taking a cue from the previous experience, Moses interprets their quarrel with him as a direct charge against God (17:2). He makes a similar move in Exodus 16:8: “What are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the LORD.” While Moses’ response centers on the conflict, God’s reaction delivers compassion. The God of Israel never condemns the grumbling Hebrews but simply instructs Moses to gather the elders, take them to a rock at Horeb, and strike it with the staff Moses had used to perform so many other miracles in Egypt. God grants Moses the reassurance of the Divine Presence: “I will be standing there in front of you” (6). In giving manna, bread from heaven, earlier, and now water (from an earthly rock), God provides for his people and shows his mastery over creation.

The two names, Massah and Meribah become synonymous with the testing of Israel’s God, “You shall not put the LORD to the test, as you tested him at Massah” (Deut 6:16; Ps 81:7). When the people put God to the test it suggests that they need to see God’s presence with them in a tangible fashion. The peoples’ action in testing God is interpreted in v.7b as their lack of belief that God is with them. As soon as it gets difficult the people’s immediate response is to doubt the presence of God.

An ironic encounter

The theme of thirsting and water continues in today’s fascinating and evocative Gospel story of the woman of Samaria and her encounter with Jesus at high noon (John 4:5-42)! The Samaritan woman is the most carefully and intensely catechized person in John’s Gospel. Today’s story is fraught with many moments of irony and several things are wrong with the whole scene at Jacob’s well deep in the heart of Samaria. First of all, the well is a public space common to both men and women, but they ought not to be there at the same time. Why does this woman come to the well at noon? Likely because the women of her village shun her for her shameless behavior. She has had five husbands and is now living with someone other than her husband (16-18). It sounds like a contemporary Hollywood epic!

For a man to speak to an unchaperoned woman in a public place is very suspicious. Jews regarded Samaritan women as ritually impure, and therefore Jews were forbidden to drink from any vessel the women had handled. The disciples are utterly shocked (once again) at Jesus’ behavior.

The startled woman asked Jesus if he thought he was greater “than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it with his sons and flocks” (12). The comic relief of the story comes to an abrupt end with Jesus’ second command, “Go, call your husband.” In the course of the dialogue with the Samaritan woman Jesus reveals that he is indeed greater than the patriarch Jacob in that he, Jesus, inaugurates a new covenant, a new cult, and a new revelation.

When Jesus offers the woman “living water,” she replies that he doesn’t even have a bucket to draw with. The woman thinks of “flowing water,” so much more desirable than stagnant cistern water. But when she hears of the water welling up to eternal life, she understands enough to say, “Sir, give me this water… .” It is the water of life, i.e., the revelation that Jesus brings. The woman is invited by Jesus to see at a whole new level: there is water and then there is living water; bread and the food which is God’s will; Jacob and Jesus; the promised Messiah and Jesus; notions about worship and genuine worship; and the list goes on and on. Jesus’ worship “in Spirit and truth” (23) is not a reference to an interior worship within one’s own spirit. The Spirit is the spirit given by God that reveals truth and enables one to worship God appropriately (14:16-17).

The woman, to whom Jesus revealed the truth in her life, left her water jugs behind and went into town to get people to come and see Jesus: “Come, look! Here is a man who told me everything that I’ve done. Is he not, maybe, the Messiah?” Wouldn’t it also make sense for us who have experienced faith to drop, now and then, whatever we are doing in order to persuade others to come to HIM, the Source?

Who are the Samaritan women today?

Allow me to take the story of the Samaritan woman and apply it to some concrete situations today. In today’s provocative Gospel, Jesus transcends cultural barriers to reach out to the unnamed Samaritan woman as an equal. Women like her are marginalized in many patriarchal societies. Women like her still do most back breaking task of fetching water for their families and their animals. We see their images so often on the news, in pictures and images that cry out to us from the Third World. These women are responsible for hard domestic work.

In a way, the woman’s request for living water in today’s Gospel story can also be symbolically interpreted as an expression of her thirst, dryness and emptiness longing to be filled. The Samaritan’s deep conversation with Jesus transforms her life totally. At the end, she leaves her jar – the emptiness, dryness, thirst- and went to the people from whom she is hiding. She shares with them her liberating encounter with Jesus the messiah. As a marginalized and perhaps excluded person, she thirsts for inclusion, and acceptance. She found in Jesus acceptance, and her true meaning and dignity for which she has searched so long!

Today, there are many “Samaritan women” in various forms longing to be liberated from life’s burden. They thirst for understanding and acceptance of who they are in society. We need only think of victims of human trafficking, especially women and girls, who need people like Jesus to listen to them, speak for them and decriminalize them. Many people look on them as criminals, social outcasts, marginalized because they become illegal migrants in search of good jobs abroad in order to support their poor families. What are the terrible situations at home that compel them to go wandering? What are the sacrifices they are making for their loved ones? We need to help them reclaim their God-given dignity.

Today’s story of the woman of Samaria is a metaphor for our own lives – often lived in deserts of alienation, sinfulness, despair. During the season of Lent in particular, we long for the refreshing waters of repentance, forgiveness and wholeness. To repent is to acknowledge our own need of life in the midst of the desert, our need of breaking down barriers that exist among us, our need of finding the living water that will truly quench our thirst. Lent invites us to join the woman of Samaria in today’s Gospel and the women of Samaria throughout the world and all those so desperately in need of life. May the Lord give us the courage to reach out to them, listen to them, feed them, and share with them the waters of life.

In his Lenten Message for 2011, Pope Emeritus Benedict wrote: 

“The question that Jesus puts to the Samaritan woman: “Give me a drink” (Jn 4: 7), …expresses the passion of God for every man and woman, and wishes to awaken in our hearts the desire for the gift of “a spring of water within, welling up for eternal life” (Jn 4:14): this is the gift of the Holy Spirit, who transforms Christians into “true worshipers,” capable of praying to the Father “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23). Only this water can extinguish our thirst for goodness, truth and beauty! Only this water, given to us by the Son, can irrigate the deserts of our restless and unsatisfied soul, until it “finds rest in God”, as per the famous words of St. Augustine.” (http://www.zenit.org/article-31816?l=english)

Living Lent this week

1. View this video of the Woman of Samaria: “Lord, Give Me This Water…” For what are you thirsting this Lenten season? Whom do you seek?

2. Reflect on these words by Jean Vanier in light of today’s Gospel of the Samaritan woman:

“Our brokenness is the wound through which the full power of God can penetrate our being and transfigure us in God. Loneliness is not something from which we must flee but the place from where we can cry out to God, where God will find us and we can find God. Yes, through our wounds the power of God can penetrate us and become like rivers of living water to irrigate the arid earth within us. Thus we may irrigate the arid earth of others so that hope and love are reborn.”

3. Read #97-98 “The word of God and Christian witness” in the Post-Synodal Exhortation “Verbum Domini.”

4. Reach out to someone on the fringe this week at high noon, perhaps not at a well but in a coffee shop, over a drink, at your kitchen table, or in a town shopping mall or public square. Listen to the person’s story of hurt, suffering, alienation, or fear. Allow the living water of Christ’s compassion to flow through you to irrigate the desert of someone’s life.

[The readings for the Third Sunday of Lent are: Exodus 17.3-7; Romans 5.1-2, 5-8; and John 4.5-42.]

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2011 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store. Book editions for Year A and C reflections are coming soon.

Venezuela welcomes missionaries of the Americas

The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and for ever (13:8). This is why the mission of God, this mission for all humanity, a mission we should all be taking seriously, calls us today to discern how best to fulfill it to our people in our day.

This call is what brings the Canadian delegation, led by Fr. Andre Gagnon, Director of the Oeuvres Pontificales Missionaires-Canada Francophone, to Venezuela for the 4th American Missionary Congress (CAM 4) and the 9th Latin American Missionary Congress (Comla 9). The city of Maracaibo, also known as the Beloved Land of the Sun, welcomes the, over 3000 missionaries from all over the American continent for this congress, which is being held in Venezuela for the first time. Since 1977, the congress has been taking place every four years. Previous host countries have been Mexico (1977, 1983), Colombia (1987), Peru (1991), Brazil (1995), Argentina (1999), Guatemala (2003), and Ecuador (2008). Initially the congress included only Latin American countries, but in 1999 it was expanded to include Canada and the United States, thus becoming Missionary Congress of the Americas or CAM, instead of just Latin American Missionary Congress, Comla.

“Missionary America, share your faith” is the motto of this event that will gather delegations from 24 countries, including some 500 priests and 50 cardinals and bishops, plus 200 religious and and hundreds of lay people. The purpose of the event is, literally to give a push to the missionary commitment of individual churches in the Americas in order to respond to the growing challenges of the great commission. It is the hope of the organizers that this event will result in a renewed interest in the missionary commitment and more specifically in the discernment of specific methods of mission. The initial push of the idea of permanent mission is a direct result of the work of the Latin American Bishops at Aparecida in 2007. It is the hope that CAM4-Comla 9 encourages and strengthens the choice to an attitude of permanent mission.

Representing the Holy Father at the gathering will be Italian cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect for the Congregation of the Evangelization of Peoples.

The theme of the event, “Missionary disciples of Jesus Christ, from America, in a secularized and pluricultural world” will be the focus of the four conferences, panel discussion and 22 thematic forums that will take place during the week. Each country is responsible for leading one of the discussion forums. Canada’s Fr. Jaime Mora of Montreal, will facilitate one on the dialogue with and announcement to non-believers. In addition to all the activities, the relics of St. Therese of Lissieux, patroness of missions has been in pilgrimage throughout Maracaibo and will be present during the congress.

The Opening ceremony and Mass of the Missionary Congress will take place on Tuesday, November 26th at the square of the Basilica Our Lady of the Rosary Chiquinquirá, patroness of the State of Zulia.

Video courtesy of Diario Panorama of Maracaibo.

General Audience: Do you know the date of your Baptism?

In case you missed it this week, or haven’t had a chance to read the full text, here is Pope Francis’ Catechesis at this week’s General Audience, with English voice over. Once again Pope Francis asks if you know the date of your Baptism. Be prepared! The Holy Father also gives out homework as part of this week’s catechesis.


Pope Francis calls for a day of prayer and fasting on Sept 7th, for peace in Syria

Pope Francis has called for a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, in the entire Mideast region, and throughout the whole world to be held this coming Saturday, September 7th, 2013. The Pope made the announcement during the course of remarks ahead of the traditional Angelus prayer this Sunday. Below, find the full text of the Holy Father’s Angelus appeal.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,


Today, dear brothers and sisters, I wish to make add my voice to the cry which rises up with increasing anguish from every part of the world, from every people, from the heart of each person, from the one great family which is humanity: it is the cry for peace! It is a cry which declares with force: we want a peaceful world, we want to be men and women of peace, and we want in our society, torn apart by divisions and conflict, that peace break out! War never again! Never again war! Peace is a precious gift, which must be promoted and protected.

There are so many conflicts in this world which cause me great suffering and worry, but in these days my heart is deeply wounded in particular by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments which are looming.

I appeal strongly for peace, an appeal which arises from the deep within me. How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed! I think of many children will not see the light of the future! With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons: I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart. There is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions which are inescapable! Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence.

With all my strength, I ask each party in this conflict to listen to the voice of their own conscience, not to close themselves in solely on their own interests, but rather to look at each other as brothers and decisively and courageously to follow the path of encounter and negotiation, and so overcome blind conflict. With similar vigour I exhort the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people.

May no effort be spared in guaranteeing humanitarian assistance to those wounded by this terrible conflict, in particular those forced to flee and the many refugees in nearby countries. May humanitarian workers, charged with the task of alleviating the sufferings of these people, be granted access so as to provide the necessary aid.

What can we do to make peace in the world? As Pope John said, it pertains to each individual to establish new relationships in human society under the mastery and guidance of justice and love (cf. John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, [11 April 1963]: AAS 55, [1963], 301-302).

All men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace. I make a forceful and urgent call to the entire Catholic Church, and also to every Christian of other confessions, as well as to followers of every religion and to those brothers and sisters who do not believe: peace is a good which overcomes every barrier, because it belongs all of humanity!

I repeat forcefully: it is neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict which builds harmony within and between peoples, but rather a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue; this is the only way to peace.

May the plea for peace rise up and touch the heart of everyone so that they may lay down their weapons and be let themselves be led by the desire for peace.

To this end, brothers and sisters, I have decided to proclaim for the whole Church on this coming September 7, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace, a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world, and I also invite each person, including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative.

On September 7, here in Saint Peter’s Square, from 19:00 until 24:00, (7:00 PM until midnight) we will gather in prayer and in a spirit of penance, invoking God’s great gift of peace upon the beloved nation of Syria and upon each situation of conflict and violence around the world. Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace! I ask all the local churches, in addition to fasting, that they gather to pray for this intention.

Let us ask Mary to help us to respond to violence, to conflict and to war, with the power of dialogue, reconciliation and love. She is our mother: may she help us to find peace; all of us are her children! Help us, Mary, to overcome this most difficult moment and to dedicate ourselves each day to building in every situation an authentic culture of encounter and peace. Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us!

Text also found on Vatican Radio website.
Video of today’s Angelus address courtesy of Vatican Television.

Catholic Charities: Reaching out to the periphery

Address by Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation at the 100th Anniversary Banquet of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto on May 16, 2013 at Villa Colombo, Toronto.

Dear Friends,

Thank you for inviting me to celebrate this momentous occasion with Catholic Charities of Toronto. As I prepared my thoughts on your hundredth anniversary, and as we at Salt and Light Television documented some of the great work of your 27 agencies spread throughout this vast Archdiocese, I realized that over the nearly twenty years of my priestly ministry in Toronto – in my capacity as pastor of the Newman Centre Catholic Mission at the University of Toronto, National Director and CEO of World Youth Day 2002 and now, head of Salt and Light Catholic Television Network – I have had dealings with Mary Centre, St. Bernadette’s Family Resource Centre, Saint Elizabeth Health Care, St. Michael’s Homes/Matt Talbot Houses, Catholic Children’s Aid Society, Covenant House, Birthright, Rosalie Hall, Rose of Durham, Rose of Sharon, The Loyola Arrupe Centre for Seniors, Providence Healthcare and the Society of Sharing. I know you well and admire your great work.

Your wonderful network of 27 agencies addresses the physical, social, emotional and economic needs of this community. You provide young people with support from neglect and physical, sexual and emotional abuse. You look after the poor- providing quality day care for children from low-income families. Your clear stance for the dignity and sacredness of human life is manifested in the support and educational services offered to young, pregnant women, young parents and their children. You care for sick, elderly and disabled seniors, including members of the Francophone community.

You give flesh and blood to what Pope Francis has been speaking about for the past two months: “you dare go to the frontiers of society which are not only the geographic frontiers but the frontiers of poverty, of exclusion and of those who are furthest from God.”

Catholic Charities are schools of the works of mercy, both corporal and spiritual. Jesus, Himself declares how closely He associates Himself with the poor to whom we are generous, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.” (Mt. 25:40)

Tonight, let us reflect on the meaning of charity, and in particular, Catholic charity. In the minds of many in our world and Church today, “charity” means donations or generous actions to aid the poor, ill, or helpless; a charitable act or work; a charitable fund, foundation, or institution; benevolent feelings especially toward those in need; doing something out of charity; leniency in judging others; forbearance; alms or Christian love; agape.

Let us go deeper and discover the origins of this charity in our Christian tradition. When Jesus stood up in the Nazareth synagogue (Lk 4:16ff) to explain his mission to his neighbors, he proclaimed good news for the poor, release for captives, sight for the blind and liberty for the oppressed. These transforming provisions of the Jubilee became the banner under which he carried out the mission entrusted to him by his Father in heaven. Jesus taught his followers to meet the spiritual and material needs of their neighbors. He told them to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick and imprisoned, and to bury the dead (Mt 25:31-46). These corporal works of mercy, called diakonia in the early Church form the basis of the social doctrine or teaching of the Church down through the ages.

The life of Jesus of Nazareth is the model of how we are called to live. His teaching has both personal and social implications. The social teachings of the Church, articulated beautifully in Papal encyclicals, shine the light of the Gospel of Christ and the Church’s moral teaching on changing social circumstances, to provide guidance and support to Christians as we seek to live our faith in the world. In this way, the teaching is both very traditional and ever new. Catholic Social doctrine flows from Jesus himself, and is built on the foundation handed on by the Apostles to the Fathers of the Church, and then received and further explored by the great Christian doctors. It is attested by the saints and by those who gave their lives for Jesus Christ in the field of justice and peace.

Pope Benedict XVI’s great encyclical Caritas in Veritate, signed and released in June 2009, is the latest in a series of social encyclicals written by our popes over the last 120 years, as the Church sought to apply its moral principles and social teaching to emerging economic and social problems.

That Social Teaching continues even until today. This morning at the Vatican, Pope Francis received five new, non-resident Ambassadors to the Holy See. They represent the countries of Kyrgyzstan, Antigua and Barbuda, Luxembourg and Botswana. In his address to the new diplomats, Pope Francis offered some profound insights on the current world situation.

“Our human family,” the Pope said, “is presently experiencing something of a turning point in its own history, if we consider the advances made in various areas. We can only praise the positive achievements which contribute to the authentic welfare of mankind, in fields such as those of health, education and communications. At the same time, we must also acknowledge that the majority of the men and women of our time continue to live daily in situations of insecurity, with dire consequences. Certain pathologies are increasing, with their psychological consequences; fear and desperation grip the hearts of many people, even in the so-called rich countries; the joy of life is diminishing; indecency and violence are on the rise; poverty is becoming more and more evident. People have to struggle to live and, frequently, to live in an undignified way.

“…The worldwide financial and economic crisis,” the pontiff observed, “seems to highlight their distortions and above all the gravely deficient human perspective, which reduces men and women to just one of their needs alone, namely, consumption. Worse yet, human beings themselves are nowadays considered as consumer goods which can be used and thrown away. We have started down the path of a disposable culture. This tendency is seen on the level of individuals and whole societies; and it is being promoted! In circumstances like these, solidarity, which is the treasure of the poor, is often considered counterproductive, opposed to the logic of finance and the economy. While the income of a minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling.”

You have asked me to offer you a Scriptural image that sums up your charitable work and can serve as a model for your future efforts of doing good for others. One particular Gospel passage that speaks eloquently to us tonight on this centenary is the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), one of the most treasured parables of the Bible. It is a provocative story that reminds us that as Christians, we are obliged to spend time with people we don’t enjoy, to be kind to our enemies, to strive for reconciliation with estranged family members, and to show our affection for people we don’t get along with.

It is a powerful story, for it speaks of the power of love that transcends all creeds and cultures and “creates” a neighbor out of a complete stranger. It is a personal parable, 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. It is a pastoral story, 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 also eminently practical, for it urges us to cross all barriers of culture and community and to go and do likewise!

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 legal loophole to demonstrate his worthiness. Jesus demonstrates the superiority of love over legalism through the parable.

The priest and Levite (vv 31-32) are religious leaders of Judaism who would have been expected to be models of “neighbor” to the victim they would pass by on the road. Levites were expected to have a special dedication to the law. The “neighbor” 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 ends up saying: “The one who treated him with 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. We can easily write cheques or send in donations on-line, but remain on the periphery, never getting our hands dirty. 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 or her as if they 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 could have easily passed by on the other side. But this outsider from Samaria stopped and knelt down beside the stranger who was hurting, and became his neighbor and brother. This stopping and stooping, this pausing and kneeling down beside the suffering is not done out of curiosity or guilt, 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 (vv 34-35).

Is this not the work of Catholic Charities? Is your work not imitating the example of the Good Samaritan who is none other then Jesus himself? More than 2,000 years after this story was first told, it continues to move people deeply. It teaches us what authentic charity, compassion, commitment and communion with others are all about. Charity, compassion, commitment and communion are the intimate nature of the Church. Pope Benedict XVI reminded us of this fact when he said: “The service of charity is also a constitutive element of the Church’s mission and an indispensable expression of her very being; (Apostolic Letter in the form of a Motu Proprio Intima Ecclesiae natura, November 11, 2012, introduction; cf. Deus caritas est, n. 25).

In his last Lenten Message to the Church as Pope earlier this year, Benedict XVI wrote (#3)” “Sometimes we tend, in fact, to reduce the term “charity” to solidarity or simply humanitarian aid. It is important, however, to remember that the greatest work of charity is evangelization, which is the “ministry of the word”. There is no action more beneficial – and therefore more charitable – towards one’s neighbour than to break the bread of the word of God, to share with him the Good News of the Gospel, to introduce him to a relationship with God: evangelization is the highest and the most integral promotion of the human person.”

On Friday, March 7 of this year, during the meetings of the College of Cardinals in the Vatican Synod Hall that preceded the Conclave, one Cardinal addressed his brothers with these moving words:

“When the Church does not come out of herself to evangelize, she becomes self-referent and then she gets sick. The evils that over the course of time happen in ecclesial institutions have their root in a self-reference and a sort of theological narcissism. In Revelation, Jesus says that he is at the door and knocks. Evidently the text refers to his knocking from outside in order to enter but I think of the times in which Jesus knocks from within so that we will let him come out. The self-referent Church keeps Jesus Christ within herself and does not let him come out.

When the Church is self-referent without realizing it, she believes she has her own light… giving way to that very great evil which is spiritual worldliness… The self-referent Church lives to give glory only to one another. In simple terms, there are two images of the Church: the evangelizing Church that comes out of herself; …and the worldly Church that lives within herself, of herself, for herself.”

Those were the words of the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires in Argentina, Jorge Mario Bergoglio. They must have had a powerful influence on the Cardinals gathered in that upper room for we know what happened to Cardinal Bergoglio several days later, on the evening of March 13, 2013 in the Sistine Chapel. Shortly after his election to the See of Peter, Pope Francis met with all of us in Rome who had worked hard in telling the world the great story of the Papal transition of February and March. The Pope explained why he chose the name Francis – not after the great Jesuit saint Francis Xavier, but Francis of Assisi. “For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!”

In his first few weeks in office, Pope Francis has outlined in broad strokes the directions he wants to take the Catholic Church: toward a stronger witness of poverty, evangelical simplicity, charity and mercy. His simple, direct words, accompanied by moving gestures, have impressed Catholics and non-Catholics. He has called for the church to be less “self-referencing” – that is, less focused on its own organizational and theological problems and more involved in what he calls the “outskirts” of humanity and the daily reality of billions of people. In so many ways, he has already taken steps that indicate he will be leading by example when it comes to reforming church governance and transforming the modern style of evangelization.

To have an impact in today’s world, Papa Francesco has repeatedly said that both priests and lay Catholics need to go beyond the church’s normal boundaries. Addressing clergy, he told them, essentially, that they should get out of the sacristy and “make it real, as shepherds among your flock.”

Pope Francis uses concise, simple, conversational oratory, tethered to words or images of immediate communicative impact. His homilies and talks are marked not by theological complexities but by examples of daily life. He quotes his grandmother. He compares Heaven to getting cataract surgery. He addresses Catholic life at the parish level. He cuts across cultural and ideological lines and simultaneously comforts and challenges practically everyone in his path. He does this so deftly that he’s even proved to be a good fit for Twitter. It’s difficult to imagine someone being more inspirational in 140 characters! His tweet on March 19, the very day of the inauguration of Petrine ministry was meant for all of us here tonight: “True power is service. The Pope must serve all people, especially the poor, the weak, the vulnerable.” In his homily for the Chrism Mass of Holy Thursday, in St. Peter’s Basilica, he made a very striking exhortation to the pastors of the Church, bishops and priests, to take on “the odor of the sheep.”

Last Sunday, during his first Canonization mass in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis warned against “gentrification of the heart” as a consequence of comfortable living, and called on the faithful to “touch the flesh of Christ” by caring for the needy.

In the first days of his Pontificate, Francis told the world that he would keep his episcopal motto: “miserando atque eligendo,” taken from a passage of the venerable Bede, Homily 22, on the Feast of Matthew, which reads: Vidit ergo Jesus publicanum, et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi, ‘Sequere me’. [Jesus therefore sees the tax collector, and since he sees by having mercy and by choosing, he says to him, ‘follow me’.]

On the Feast of St Matthew in 1953, the young Jorge Bergoglio experienced, at the age of 17, in a very special way, the loving presence of God in his life. Following confession, he felt his heart touched and he sensed the descent of the Mercy of God, who with a gaze of tender love, called him to religious life, following the example of St Ignatius of Loyola. Once he had been ordained to the episcopacy in 1992, Bishop Bergoglio, in memory of that defining event, chose, as his motto and as his programme of life, the words of St Bede: miserando atque eligendo. “Having mercy and choosing…”

The past two months have been filled with extraordinary yet simple gestures of goodness, kindness and charity, steeped in tradition, faith and the Gospels. The popularity of Pope Francis is due to a large extent to a style of preaching and speaking and to the easy, concepts on which he insists the most – mercy, forgiveness, tenderness, the poor, the “peripheries” – seen reflected in his actions and in his own person. The hope is that his words and gestures will open people’s minds and hearts to his deeper message: that Jesus Christ is the way to salvation, and that the truth and beauty of the faith offer more meaning than a culture dominated by production and consumption.

This man who came from the ends of the earth to Rome simply wishes to build up the church’s credibility so that it can more effectively preach the Gospel message – a message that continues to challenges many of the assumptions of the modern mindset. Those of us involved on the front lines of charitable institutions and programs are not only workers and agents known for our professional competencies. We must give a clear example of the Christian life. We are called to have mercy and to choose others for Christ. We are called to be witnesses. Yes, we may feed, clothe, visit, console, nurture and heal. But even more, we must give witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the words of the other Francis, the one from Assisi, we must preach the Gospel and use words if necessary. We are privileged instruments of the New Evangelization.

Dear Friends, the mission of Catholic Charities is to create neighbors, brothers and sisters out of complete strangers. We must do this with simple words, loving, patient gestures, tenderness and love as we kneel beside strangers who are hurting. Our stopping and stooping, our pausing and kneeling down beside the suffering is never done out of curiosity, guilt, efficiency or productivity, but out of sheer love.

This morning following his daily mass in the Chapel of Sancta Martha, Pope Francis met with representatives of Caritas Internationalis from every corner of the earth. He listened intently to the challenges faced by the poor in their regions. At one point in his unscripted remarks, the Pope said that one way to promote development was the example of Don Bosco, to give children the tools they need through education. The Pope then stressed once again the importance of “tenerezza,” “tenderness”, saying that at times the Church has lost sight of this. “The Church is fundamentally mother. The spirituality of Caritas must refer to this.” Pope Francis said that Caritas must “go to the peripheries to cure and promote the human being” and to bring to the Church “tenderness.” Though spoken early this morning in Rome, those very words are meant for us gathered here tonight to celebrate “Caritas Torontoniensis!”

Happy Anniversary! May the Lord reward you for all you do for his special friends who come to your agencies each day to experience the true meaning of charity, to find healing, wholeness, kindness, tenderness, and to see the face of God.

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, Unscripted

This past week Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna participated in the Leadership Conference at Holy Trinity Brompton, an Anglican parish in the heart of downtown London. Cardinal Schoenborn’s presentation was more of a Question and Answer session with Holy Trinity pastor Nicky Gumbel. He spoke about Christian Unity, Pope Francis, the Conclave, and was also asked about his family. In his characteristic style, he spoke openly and diplomatically about his family saying his family were not most exemplary of Catholics. Still, he discovered his faith and his calling at an early age. Watch the full interview in the video above.

Context’s Lorna Dueck with Fr. Thomas Rosica – Hell: Is It Real?

Source: contextwithlornadueck.com/episodes/hell-is-hell-real

There’s a lot of context to be discovered on the topic of hell. Context to be found in scripture, church history, and our own personal histories. To help us make sense of it, a Catholic and a Protestant guide, Rev. Will Ingram, Senior Pastor at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Toronto and Fr. Tom Rosica, member of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, CEO of Salt and Light Media Foundation.

Lorna’s wrap:

We started out today to ask is hell real? Whatever your view may be on hell, I love how simple Jesus makes it to avoid hell. It’s found in the book of Luke – the journalistic writer on Jesus. In Luke 23 a thief with a life of regrets is dying and he turns to Jesus and asks, “remember me when you get to Your kingdom”. Jesus says – “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise”. That’s the posture we need in facing death: “Jesus, remember me.”

Eternal life always has been and still is all about a longing for Jesus. Longing for what Jesus represents, what Jesus means, and longing to try and follow the words of Jesus. Whatever our capacity, the journey to paradise happens because of Jesus – -“you will be with me” Jesus said. We don’t often think about dying here at Context, but today, with bestsellers and movies tackling it – it was our job to do it also.


The Word Made Flesh – The Journey of the Magi, a reflection by Bishop William McGrattan

The feast of the Epiphany is celebrated in the Christmas season and through Matthew’s Gospel we become aware of the visit of the wise men or Magi who come in search of the Christ child so that they might present their gifts. It is interesting that in the homily of an early saint and bishop he preached that “this feast of the Epiphany manifests even more wonders than the feast of Christmas.” This is a bold statement but nevertheless this event in scripture raises great curiosity about its details.

In the Christmas season what might the wonders of the Epiphany event be in our lives? What can we learn from the details of the journey of the wise men, the guidance they sought, the questions they asked, the gifts they brought to Christ and finally the decision they made to return to their home country by a different route?

The identity of the Magi begins with the fact that they come from the East. It is not clear if they are from one location in the Orient or from several. We also see from scripture that we do not know exactly how many there were. This is where tradition begins to take over from scripture and we see them depicted as being three in number, coinciding with the gifts which they brought gold, frankincense and myrrh. They are also traditionally pictured as being black, white and brown in representation of all the peoples of the earth.

The reference to their being wise is also assumed to mean that they were astrologers and thus familiar with searching the stars of the heavens for meaning and direction in life. This also suggests that they were themselves pagan and unbelievers in the mysteries of God. Other traditions also referred to them as the “Three Kings” who were coming to give homage to the “infant King of the Jews”.

In this journey they first come to King Herod with questions which he could not answer and so he turns to the chief priests and scribes to learn that scriptures had foretold of such an event and that the Christ “would be born in Bethlehem of Judea”. With this new insight from scripture the wise men continued to follow the familiar sign of the star until it halts in front of the place where the child was. As their gaze comes to rest upon the child with his mother Mary they fall on their knees and give him homage. They offer gifts not to an infant king but to one who was God.

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The Word Made Flesh – Joseph: The Faithful and Wise Servant, a reflection by Bishop William McGrattan

The seasons of Advent and Christmas seem to come so quickly and to be filled with many activities to say the least.

In the everyday planning and preparations for family and community celebrations there are inevitably certain individuals who for whatever reason go unnoticed or unrecognized. They make important contributions.  They are invaluable in their presence and support but are quiet and simply unassuming in their role. If you wish to recognize them and thank them they are often reluctant to accept such praise and notoriety among the many others who are present.

It has often struck me that in the Advent and Christmas season this could quite easily describe the role of St. Joseph, if it were not for certain Gospel passages and the celebration of Feast dedicated to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph which falls  on the Sunday immediately following Christmas.

There is also a reference to Joseph at the beginning of the octave period, the eight days leading up to Christmas which the Church highlights through the praying of the O antiphons. It is in Matthew’s Gospel where he sets out the origin or genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham, and then traces his human descent by bringing his ancestral line down to his mother’s husband, Joseph.

As Saint Leo the Great states:

To speak of our Lord, the son of the blessed Virgin Mary, as true and perfect man is of no value to us if we do not believe that he descended from the line of the ancestors set out in the Gospel.

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The Word Made Flesh – Emmanuel: God With Us, a reflection by Fr. Thomas Rosica

Let us consider the Scripture stories that speak of the birth of Christ in history, about the Word becoming flesh. How do Matthew, Luke and John explain this great mystery in their Gospel accounts? What should be our response to this mystery that is prolonged in our midst through the Eucharist? What does it mean to adore the mystery of the Word made flesh?

Matthew’s Story

Matthew’s Gospel is about the scriptures being fulfilled in Jesus. In the genealogy, Jesus is the culmination point toward which Israel’s long covenant history has been leading, particularly its puzzling and tragic latter phase. Matthew agrees with his Jewish contemporaries that the exile was the last significant event before Jesus; when the angel says that Jesus will “save his people from their sins” (1:21), liberation from exile is in view.

Matthew tells us that Jesus’ birth in human history fulfills at least three biblical themes. He brings Israel into the Promised Land; “Jesus” is the Greek for “Joshua.” As Emmanuel, “God with us”, Jesus embodies God’s presence with his people (Isaiah 7:14, quoted in 1:23). As the new David, Jesus is the Messiah born at Bethlehem (2:5, fulfilling Micah 5:1-3).

In the name “Emmanuel,” we find the answer to humanity’s deepest longings for God throughout the ages. Emmanuel is both a prayer and plea (on our behalf) and a promise and declaration on God’s part. When we pronounce the word, we are really praying and pleading: “God, be with us!” And when God speaks it, the Almighty, Eternal, Omnipresent Creator of the world is telling us: “I am with you” in this Child.

The name Emmanuel is also alluded to at the end of Matthew’s Gospel where the risen Jesus assures his disciples of his continued presence: “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (28:20). God did indeed keep his promise in Jesus. Jesus truly fulfills the plan of God in word and deed, in desire and presence, in flesh and blood.

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