Ambassadors for Christ

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Ash Wednesday – March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday makes one’s faith very visible and public. Not offensively — but also not easy to miss — the sign of our faith shows up in the office, at school, on buses and subways, in lines at the grocery store, or at the gas station. This small symbol of the cross of ashes on our foreheads expresses an important truth: Faith doesn’t happen only at church, but lives among us, in public, every day.

The Scripture texts for the liturgy of Ash Wednesday do not only remind us of sin and death; they are a loud call to overcome sin, to be converted to Christ and the Gospel and to prepare for the new life of Easter. I would like to offer some reflections on what it means to be reconciled to God, to be an “Ambassador for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20-21), and the meaning of authentic piety and devotion as outlined in Matthew’s Gospel text for today’s liturgy (6:1-6, 16-18). I will conclude with some thoughts on Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s profound 2010 Lenten reflection on God’s justice.

Be reconciled to God!

Today — the liturgy tells us — is the “acceptable time” for our reconciliation with God. Reconciliation is a gratuitous gift of God. Reconciliation must involve everyone: individuals, families, nations and peoples.

In the passage from 2 Corinthians 5:20-21, Paul encouraged the fractious Corinthian community to recognize that God has “reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (5:18). Paul speaks of “the new creation in Christ” (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17) and goes on to tell us: “God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, not holding individuals’ faults against them, and he has entrusted to us the news that we are reconciled. [...] The appeal we make in Christ’s name is: be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20). [Read more...]

It took 40 days…

Ash Wednesday – March 5, 2014

The readings for Ash Wednesday are: Joel 2:12-18; 2 Corinthians 5:20–6:2; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

On Ash Wednesday the Church begins her great Lenten journey with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. For centuries, Lent has been a very intense spiritual journey and experience for the followers of Jesus Christ.  Why are there 40 days in Lent? It took 40 days for sinful-ness to drown in the flood before a new creation could inherit the earth. It took 40 years for the generation of slaves to die before the freeborn could enter the Promised Land. For 40 days Moses, Elijah and Jesus fasted and prayed to prepare themselves for a life’s work.

Lent invites us to turn from our own selves, from our sin, to come together in community. Self-denial is the way we express our repentance. Self-denial is threefold, advises Matthew’s Gospel.

We pray: “Go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.”  We fast: “so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father.”  We give alms: “Beware of practising your piety before people in order to be seen by them … so that your alms may be done in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
[Read more...]

Moving Forward: From Benedict to Francis

It’s been a year since Pope Benedict shocked the world by announcing his resignation, and so much has happened since: At not even a year of Pope Francis’ papacy it’s almost as if he’s been Pope forever. Join Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB as he looks back at the historic events of the last year in Rome, with Cheridan Sanders, Alicia Ambrosio and Sebastian Gomes, who provide expert analysis.

Perspectives Daily – February 11, 2014

 Tonight on  Perspectives

Pope Francis remembers  Pope Benedict’s resignation with a Tweet

And we tell you how Canadian dioceses will observe the World Day of the Sick

Dives and Lazarus: A Story of Personal Relationships

Poor man cropped

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – September 29, 2013

In today’s first reading (Amos 6:1a, 4-7), the prophet Amos is quite serious about the complacent folk who pamper themselves at the expense of others and have apparently lost interest in the sufferings of their fellow human beings.

Amos is the great champion of the poor. The idle rich are the target of his wrath primarily because their conspicuous consumption of delicacies is always at the expense of those who lack even the bare necessities. The “lambs taken from the flock, and calves from the stall” upon which they feast are supposed to be set aside for sacrifice to the Lord; thus, they add sacrilege to their sins of gluttony. They do not lament the imminent moral collapse of Joseph (meaning the whole people); indeed, they contribute to it.

The entire scene from today’s first reading capitalizes on the stereotypes we recognize even in our own day. But there is nothing exaggerated about the promise of divine retribution — not for mere excess and self-indulgence but for the neglect of the hungry and the poor. While the social revolution inherent in Christianity is scheduled for the next world, it begins here: “God puts down the mighty and exalts the humble.” This reversal is brought about by God: the lowly will be exalted; the exalted will be brought down low.

A study in contrasts

In today’s Gospel (Luke 16:19-31), the provocative parable of the rich man and Lazarus again illustrates Luke’s concern with Jesus’ attitude toward the rich and the poor. The parable presents a remarkable study in contrasts. The oldest Greek manuscript of Luke dating from circa 175-225 A.D. records the name of the rich man as an abbreviated form of “Nineveh,” but there is very little textual support in other manuscripts for this reading. “Dives” of popular tradition is the Latin Vulgate’s translation for “rich man.”

Dives’ life was consumed in self-centered living. He is dressed nicely, eats well, lives it up every day. He is clearly on the inside. He has everything in this life that a person could want and yet he had no compassion for the poor or anyone else but himself. His values were based on gaining worldly possessions and wealth. The rich man did not have a desire to serve God nor did he feel a need for God’s guidance. He only felt a need to satisfy his own worldly desires and wants. The rich man knew Lazarus in real life (we know that because he knew his name in heaven), but he ignored him. Treatment of Lazarus on earth revealed the rich man’s true relationship to God. Since the rich man only cared about himself and was not right with God, after he died, he woke up in hell, tormented and frustrated. The rich man was not with Father Abraham in paradise like he expected to be.

Lazarus, on the other hand, lived all his life in poverty, yet his heart was right with God because he never gave up his faith in God. He is dressed in rags, hungry, struggling to survive, filled with open sores — therefore unclean, too weak to fight off the dogs. He is clearly on the outside. At his death, the angels took Lazarus immediately to Paradise to be with Abraham and God. Now in Abraham’s bosom — in heaven — Lazarus is very happy as he reclines at the great heavenly banquet with Abraham. He is on the inside!

When they were in this life, there was no chasm between Lazarus and Dives. In fact Lazarus was begging just outside Dives’ gate. The rich man could have gone out and helped Lazarus any time he felt like it. But in eternal life there is a great chasm separating heaven and hell. Jesus uses space to emphasize that this gap is uncrossable and permanent. “Send Lazarus to help me,” Dives pleads! This rich man still believes that he can command and control the situation! Some chasms cannot be crossed. There is a point of no return.

The rich man did not listen to the law and the prophets, which taught about how to love one’s neighbor (Micah 6:8). He did not love his neighbor. The prophets also predicted that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, be the friend of outcasts, etc. (cf. Micah 5:2f; 4:6, Isaiah 61:1-2). The rich man rejected that truth also. He was too good to be the friend of outcasts.

A parable of personal relationships

Luke 16 is not just about money or wealth. When we really understand the chapter, the key element in both the parables is personal relationships. Almsgiving is good but involvement is better. Ministering to the financially poor and the spiritually bankrupt develops our potential to enrich others as we are enriched in the process. Our focus must be on the well being of the poor and downtrodden. It is in giving that we receive. And God loves cheerful givers! What are we depending on? Do we think being rich means we are right with God? Do we worry enough about eternity?

John Paul II and Benedict XVI on human solidarity

As I reflect on today’s readings, the teachings of two Popes come immediately to mind. During his historic 1984 pastoral visit across Canada, Pope John Paul II delivered a stirring homily in Edmonton, Alberta, on Sept. 17, 1984. In a loud and clear voice that rang out across the airport where Mass was celebrated, he said:

“The human person lives in a community, in society. And with the community he shares hunger and thirst and sickness and malnutrition and misery and all the deficiencies that result there from. In his or her own person the human being is meant to experience the needs of others. So it is that Christ the Judge speaks of ‘one of the least of the brethren,’ and at the same time he is speaking of each and of all.

“Yes. He is speaking of the whole universal dimension of injustice and evil. He is speaking of what today we are accustomed to call the North-South contrast. Hence not only East-West, but also North-South: the increasingly wealthier North, and the increasingly poorer South.

“Yes, the South — becoming always poorer; and the North — becoming always richer. Richer too in the resources of weapons with which the superpowers and blocs can mutually threaten each other. And they threaten each other — such an argument also exists — in order not to destroy each other.

“This is a separate dimension — and according to the opinion of many it is the dimension in the forefront — of the deadly threat, which hangs over the modern world, which deserves separate attention.

“Nevertheless, in the light of Christ’s words, this poor South will judge the rich North. And the poor people and poor nations — poor in different ways, not only lacking food, but also deprived of freedom and other human rights — will judge those people who take these goods away from them, amassing to themselves the imperialistic monopoly of economic and political supremacy at the expense of others.”

Twenty-six years after Pope John Paul II spoke those powerful words in Edmonton in Canada, Pope Benedict XVI addressed these words to the British Government assembled in historic Westminster Hall in London on Sept. 17, 2010:

“The inadequacy of pragmatic, short-term solutions to complex social and ethical problems has been illustrated all too clearly by the recent global financial crisis. There is widespread agreement that the lack of a solid ethical foundation for economic activity has contributed to the grave difficulties now being experienced by millions of people throughout the world. Just as ‘every economic decision has a moral consequence,’ so too in the political field, the ethical dimension of policy has far-reaching consequences that no government can afford to ignore. [...]

“In recent years it has been encouraging to witness the positive signs of a worldwide growth in solidarity towards the poor. But to turn this solidarity into effective action calls for fresh thinking that will improve life conditions in many important areas, such as food production, clean water, job creation, education, support to families, especially migrants, and basic healthcare. Where human lives are concerned, time is always short, yet the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon to rescue financial institutions deemed ‘too big to fail.’ Surely the integral human development of the world’s peoples is no less important: here is an enterprise, worthy of the world’s attention, that is truly ‘too big to fail.’”

Humble openness to God is difficult

The rich, the powerful, and the “just” find it very difficult to be humbly open to God; they are full of confidence in their own treasures and securities. The only real security is the one based on friendship with God and service of God: to be a servant of human beings and of God after the example of Jesus of Nazareth. Exalting oneself is a form of self-reliance, as opposed to reliance on God. This makes clear why being rich, prosperous, satisfied almost naturally implies being arrogant, proud, godless. As human beings, we are radically weak and constantly try to cover up our weakness by finding security in power, wealth and status. This deception will ultimately be unmasked by God’s act of judgment. The only way to salvation is to recognize one’s weakness before God and to find one’s security in God alone. To humble oneself does not only mean lowliness and misery, but also a willing acceptance of this misery as an act of service.

[The readings for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time are the following: Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Psalm 146:7, 8-9, 9-10; 1 Timothy 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31.]

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2010 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.

(Photo courtesy CNS/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)

Behind the Scenes of a Papal Transition


Our very own Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB is currently in Rome serving as assistant to the director of the Holy See Press Office,  Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ.  In the midst of everything, Fr. Rosica was asked to write an article for CNN’s Belief Blog. You can read the post on the CNN website. Sebastian Gomes is also in Rome helping with media matters during the papal transition and sending us daily updates.

(CNN) – When my colleague and friend, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, told me to come quickly to Rome to assist him, I understood that help was needed in dealing with a deluge of media requests in the aftermath of the pope’s surprise resignation announcement on February 11.

Having run a World Youth Day in Canada in 2002 and then founded, set up and led Salt and Light Catholic Television Network in Canada since 2003, I knew something about media and press relations.  Little did I know what would be awaiting me in the Caput Mundi when I arrived more than two weeks ago.  It was not a deluge but a veritable tsunami!

The most amusing questions, however, have been those that come from people who know me from back home and those who never met me until now. … read more

Dear Holy Father: Cardinals send message to Pope Emeritus

Cardinals attends a meeting at the Synod Hall in the Vatican

The Cardinals gathered in General Congregation meetings in Rome wrote and send a telegram to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Below is the text of that telegram.

TO HIS HOLINESS
POPE EMERITUS BENEDICT XVI
CASTEL GANDOLFO

THE CARDINAL FATHERS, GATHERED AT THE VATICAN FOR THE GENERAL CONGREGATIONS IN VIEW OF THE NEXT CONCLAVE, SEND YOU THEIR DEVOTED GREETINGS AND EXPRESS THEIR RENEWED GRATITUDE FOR ALL YOUR BRILLIANT PETRINE MINISTRY AND FOR YOUR EXAMPLE OF GENEROUS PASTORAL CARE FOR THE GOOD OF THE CHURCH AND OF THE WORLD.

WITH THEIR GRATITUDE THEY HOPE TO REPRESENT THE RECOGNITION OF THE ENTIRE CHURCH FOR YOUR TIRELESS WORK IN THE VINEYARD OF THE LORD.

IN CONCLUSION, THE MEMBERS OF THE COLLEGE OF CARDINALS TRUST IN YOUR PRAYERS FOR THEM, AS WELL AS FOR THE WHOLE CHURCH.

+ CARDINAL ANGELO SODANO
DEAN OF THE COLLEGE OF CARDINALS


(photo courtesy of CNS)

Papal Transition 2013: Special Feature with Cardinal Donald Wuerl

Sebastian Gomes speaks with Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, D.C. in Rome on the final day of Pope Benedict’s Pontificate.  The Cardinal shares his thoughts on Pope Benedict’s departure, his lasting legacy, and the important characteristics of the new pope.

The shadow of Peter fell upon us in the person of Benedict XVI

A powerful image of Peter is presented to us in the Acts of the Apostles 5:15-16: “They even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.”

I have always been moved by the image of the shadow of Peter passing over the sick and afflicted. People who passed within Peter’s shadow were healed, not by Peter’s shadow, but by God’s power working through Peter. These miracles of healing attracted people to the early Church and confirmed the truth of the teachings of the Apostles and the fact that the power of God was with them. We also learn that the religious leaders who were jealous of Jesus’ power and authority saw the Apostles as a continued threat and demanded respect for themselves. The apostles weren’t demanding respect for themselves. Their goal was to bring respect and reverence to God. The Apostles had acquired the respect of the people, not because they demanded it, but because they deserved it.

That biblical image is very much on my mind and in my heart these days in Rome.  Tonight as the doors of the Papal residence at Castelgandolfo were closed and the Swiss Guard detail left their post, the See of Peter became vacant.  I cannot help but call to mind the powerful images of Pope Benedict XVI as he moved among us these past eight years and as I followed him from Rome to Germany to the United States, Australia and Spain.  He was Joseph, our brother.  As a theology student,  I was captivated by the depth of his theological writings and message.  I was ordained to the priesthood on April 19, 1986.  Nineteen years later on that very date, he was called to the throne of Peter.  We share that special date.

Joseph Ratzinger nourished my own spirituality and priestly life these past years.  He appointed me to two Synods of Bishops and to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.  And now I have the privilege of being one of the spokespersons for the Holy See as his Petrine ministry ends and his successor is elected Pope.  He is a humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord and now a humble pilgrim who enters this final stage of his life praying for the Church.

For the past eight years, the shadow of Peter fell upon us in no small way.  And that shadow, which is God’s healing touch, covers us all with mercy, healing and peace. When Pope Benedict walked among us, he did more than connect with us. He bonded. He moved multitudes. He taught the nations.  He introduced us again to Jesus Christ.  He showed remarkable courage, wisdom, compassion and humility.  He suffered bitterly at the hands of those closest to him who let him down.  He remained serene and joyful through it all.

Ubi Petrus ibi ecclesia

An ancient Latin expression, first used by St. Ambrose in the fourth century, comes to mind these days in Rome: Ubi Petrus ibi ecclesia, which translated means: Wherever Peter is, there is the Church. Peter was with us in the person of Benedict XVI.   Only time, reflection and prayer will help us to appreciate the precious gift that he has been.  The authentic shepherd, who models his or her life on Jesus, must love the people entrusted to him and imitate Jesus. Pope Benedict has done that very well.  He is Peter, who was and is still with us.

With deep emotion and profound gratitude, I pray for him tonight.

Pope’s final General Audience on Perspectives Daily – Wednesday, Feb. 27

Today on Perspectives: Pope Benedict holds the final General Audience of his Pontificate and we get analysis from on the ground in St. Peter’s Square.