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Council of Jerusalem, the Advocate, and Pastoral Strategy

Pentecost El Greco cropped

Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C – May 1, 2016

The early Church community in Jerusalem was not without its problems! Several of the controversies are evident in today’s first reading from Chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles.

When some of the converted Pharisees of Jerusalem discover the results of the first missionary journey of Paul (15:1-5), they urge that the Gentiles be taught to follow the Mosaic Law. Recognizing the authority of the Church in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas go there to settle the question of whether Gentiles can embrace a form of Christianity that does not include this obligation. The Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-35) marks the official rejection of the rigid view that Gentile converts were obliged to observe the Mosaic Law completely. From here to the end of the book of Acts, Paul and the Gentile mission become the focus of Luke’s writing.

Early Church controversies

If the Gentiles are to become Christian, does that imply they must observe the customs of the Jewish converts to Christianity? This would mean imposing circumcision, dietary restrictions, and marriage regulations. The scene from today’s first reading not only presents us with one of the first great controversies of the Early Church, but also gives us some excellent insights into our own understanding of tradition and continuity, and the resolution of conflicts in the Church.

In the reading from the Book of Acts, some unauthorized members of the Jerusalem Church tried to insist upon circumcision as a necessity for salvation within the church at Antioch. The classical problem of the Early Church revolved around the necessity of the Mosaic Law for salvation. Jesus certainly kept it perfectly, from his birth, for he was circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2:21) and he never annulled the force of the Mosaic Law. In fact he states quite clearly: “Do not think I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come, not to abolish them, but to fulfil them” (Matthew 5:17). Yet Peter on the impulse of the Spirit, had baptized the household of the Roman centurion Cornelius without requiring circumcision.

The Apostles and elders gathered for deliberation and came to an agreement with the Mother Church at Jerusalem that the Mosaic laws were not to be required, nor the many traditions of the rabbis. The converts, out of courtesy, were asked not to partake of blood, nor of animals improperly slaughtered without draining the blood, nor of strangled animals for the same reason, nor of marriages within certain blood bonds.

Tradition and history

The Council of Jerusalem therefore settled a doctrinal issue about circumcision and the Mosaic Law, but did it in a way that preserved peace. This is a very good model for handling questions of tradition, continuity, and conflict today. Both the theological issues and the feelings of people are very important. Peter and Paul show a remarkable respect for the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the lives of ordinary people and situations. Even when the Spirit seemed to shatter the sacred traditions that existed for centuries, Peter and Paul knew that the Holy Spirit was not bound by tradition and history.

Neither Peter nor Paul were afraid of taking their cases and questions to the leaders of the whole Church. Through prayer, fasting, consultation, and voting, decisions are made. Underlying all of this is the desire to preserve peace at all costs, without compromising on principles and human rights. After all, Jesus’ farewell gift to the Church is peace, not division and discord. Our judgments and decisions must lead us and all future generations to our final goal, the New Jerusalem established on earth, the reign of justice, joy, and peace among us.

Defense attorney

Today’s Gospel reading (John 14:23-29) reminds us that those who encounter Christ and enter into a friendly relationship with him welcome into their hearts Trinitarian Communion itself, in accordance with Jesus’ promise to his disciples: “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (14:23).

In John 14:16 Jesus says that he will send “another Advocate” to be on our side. John uses the Greek word parakletos, which literally means “one called alongside,” and a standard use of the term is for one called alongside to help in a legal situation as a defense attorney. There is a legal tone to some of what Jesus says about the Advocate, yet the picture is more exactly that of a prosecuting attorney.

Jesus himself is going to be crucified and die; in the eyes of the world he will be judged, found guilty, and convicted. Yet after his death, the “paraclete” will come forward and reverse the sentence by convicting the world and providing Jesus’ innocence (16:8-11).

Jesus was our first Advocate with the Father. The new Advocate is not a kind of a proxy sent to replace the absent Lord: on the contrary, it assures his presence as well as the Father’s. They will “come to” the one who remains faithful to Jesus’ word, and they will dwell “with” him. Not with the others – those who do not love the Lord and do not keep his word.

The Paraclete dwells in everyone who loves Jesus and keeps the commandments, and so his presence is not limited by time (14:15-17). This may be the way in which the coming of the Paraclete is “better.” These words of Jesus about the Paraclete illustrate beautifully how the audience to which he speaks at the Last Supper extends beyond those present at that moment in history. Jesus’ words are also addressed to us today.

The Paraclete is just as present in the modern disciples of Jesus as he was in the first generation. No one should think that Jesus has abandoned his Church in our times. He continues to send us God’s Spirit of Truth. We are told in the Gospel that the “one whom the Father will send will teach us everything, and remind us of all that Jesus has said to us” (14:26). This reminding or calling to memory is beautifully expressed in a new term used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church to describe the work of the paraclete: “The Holy Spirit is the Church’s living memory” (#1099). The Holy Spirit will increase our gifts to the extent that we love Jesus and our brothers and sisters, dwell in his Word, obey the commandments, and generously share with others what we have so freely received.

A model

The Council of Jerusalem left us a model for dealing with difficult situations in the Church. Both the theological issues and the feelings of people were very important for the Apostles. Even when the Spirit seemed to shatter the sacred traditions that existed for centuries, Peter and Paul knew that the Holy Spirit was not bound by tradition and history. May we who follow in that same tradition and history be ever open to the working of the Spirit in our day, and in so doing be agents of the Advocate for the Church and the world.

[The readings for this Sunday are: Acts 15:1-2,22-29; Revelation 21:10-14,22-23; and John 14:23-29]

(Image: Pentecost by El Greco)

Voice of the Good Shepherd

Lost sheep

Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C – April 17, 2016

As we move away from the day of Christ’s resurrection, the Sunday Scripture readings for the Easter Season help to deepen our understanding of what happened to Jesus and to the Church through his triumph over death. On the Second Sunday of Easter, we looked carefully at the wounds of Christ and renewed friendship with him at table in a locked upper room.

The Third Sunday of Easter this year (C) enabled us to peer into the intimate lakeshore scene, leading us through the ruins of denial and despair, and offering us a chance to recommit ourselves to loving Christ as friends.

On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, we encounter the Good Shepherd who is really the beautiful or noble shepherd who knows his flock intimately. “Good Shepherd Sunday” is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations in the Church. In all three liturgical cycles, the Fourth Sunday of Easter presents a passage from John’s Gospel about the Good Shepherd.

In the Old Testament, God himself is represented as the shepherd of his people. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). “He is our God and we are his people whom he shepherds” (Psalm 95:7). The future Messiah is also described with the image of the shepherd: “Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care” (Isaiah 40:11).

In the Bible and the ancient Near East, “shepherd” was also a political title that stressed the obligation of kings to provide for their subjects. The title connoted total concern for and dedication to others. Shepherd and host are both images set against the background of the desert, where the protector of the sheep is also the protector of the desert traveler, offering hospitality and safety from enemies. The rod is a defensive weapon against wild animals, while the staff is a supportive instrument; they symbolize concern and loyalty.

Ideal image

This ideal image of the shepherd finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. He is the “Good Shepherd” who goes in search of the lost sheep; he feels compassion for the people because he sees them “as sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36); he calls his disciples “the little flock” (Luke 12:32). Peter calls Jesus “the shepherd of our souls” (1 Peter 2:25) and the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of him as “the great shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20).

Today’s Gospel passage (John 10:27-30) highlights two important characteristics of Jesus’ role as shepherd. The first has to do with the reciprocal knowledge that the sheep and shepherd have: “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me.” The sheep remained for many years in the company of the shepherd who knew the character of each one and gave them affectionate names. Thus it is with Jesus and his disciples: He knows his disciples “by name,” intimately. He loves them with a personal love that treats each as if they were the only one who existed for him.

There is also a second aspect of the shepherd’s vocation in today’s Gospel. The shepherd gives his life to his sheep and for his sheep, and no one can take them out of his hand. Wild animals and thieves were a nightmare and constant threat for the shepherds of Israel. Herein lies the difference between the true shepherd who shepherds the family’s flock, and the hired hand who works only for the pay he receives, who does not love, and indeed often hates, the sheep. When the mercenary is confronted with danger, he flees and leaves the sheep at the mercy of the wolf or bandits; the true shepherd courageously faces the danger to save the flock.

The sheep are far more than a responsibility to the Good Shepherd: They are the object of the shepherd’s love and concern. Thus, the shepherd’s devotion to them is completely unselfish; the Good Shepherd is willing to die for the sheep rather than abandon them. To the hired hand, the sheep are merely a commodity, to be watched over only so they can provide wool and mutton.

Gift from God

Today’s Gospel passage presents to us one of the deepest mysteries of the human spirit. Faith, the ability to hear and to follow a call, is a gift to Jesus and a gift to the followers of Jesus. Why are some capable of hearing that leads to faith? Why are some capable of recognizing the Father in the words of Jesus? The only answer presented is that faith is a gift. Our God and his Son are shepherds that care for us and know us and even love us in our stubbornness, deafness and diffidence. Do we really rejoice in hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd?

I cannot help but call to mind the profound teaching on the Good Shepherd that was offered to us by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI during the Mass of inauguration of his Petrine Ministry five years ago, on Sunday, April 24, 2005, at the Vatican. In his very first homily as the Successor of Peter, Benedict XVI said: “One of the basic characteristics of a shepherd must be to love the people entrusted to him, even as he loves Christ Whom he serves. ‘Feed my sheep,’ says Christ to Peter, and now, at this moment, He says it to me as well. Feeding means loving, and loving also means being ready to suffer. Loving means giving the sheep what is truly good, the nourishment of God’s truth, of God’s word, the nourishment of His presence, which He gives us in the Blessed Sacrament.”

External and internal deserts

Benedict XVI continued:

“For the Fathers of the Church, the parable of the lost sheep, which the shepherd seeks in the desert, was an image of the mystery of Christ and the Church. The human race — every one of us — is the sheep lost in the desert which no longer knows the way. The Son of God will not let this happen; he cannot abandon humanity in so wretched a condition. He leaps to his feet and abandons the glory of heaven, in order to go in search of the sheep and pursue it, all the way to the Cross. He takes it upon his shoulders and carries our humanity; he carries us all — he is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. […]

“The pastor must be inspired by Christ’s holy zeal: For him it is not a matter of indifference that so many people are living in the desert. And there are so many kinds of desert. There is the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment, of loneliness, of destroyed love. There is the desert of God’s darkness, the emptiness of souls no longer aware of their dignity or the goal of human life. The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast. Therefore the earth’s treasures no longer serve to build God’s garden for all to live in, but they have been made to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction. The Church as a whole and all her pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, toward friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance.

“One of the basic characteristics of a shepherd must be to love the people entrusted to him, even as he loves Christ whom he serves. ‘Feed my sheep,’ says Christ to Peter, and now, at this moment, he says it to me as well. Feeding means loving, and loving also means being ready to suffer. Loving means giving the sheep what is truly good, the nourishment of God’s truth, of God’s word, the nourishment of his presence, which he gives us in the Blessed Sacrament. My dear friends — at this moment I can only say: pray for me, that I may learn to love the Lord more and more. Pray for me, that I may learn to love his flock more and more — in other words, you, the holy Church, each one of you and all of you together. Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves. Let us pray for one another, that the Lord will carry us and that we will learn to carry one another.

“Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him. The task of the shepherd — the task of the fisher of men — can often seem wearisome. But it is beautiful and wonderful, because it is truly a service to joy, to God’s joy which longs to break into the world.”


[The readings for the 4th Sunday of Easter are: Acts 13:14, 43-52; Revelation 7:9, 14b-17; John 10:27-30]

(Image: The Good Shepherd finding the Lost Sheep by Jeremy Sams)

Holy Week with Salt + Light

holy_week_with_salt_light_610x343

Join Salt + Light for Holy Week as we prepare for the coming of Christ on Easter Sunday! See below for all shows and times, beginning on Palm Sunday:

Palm Sunday

Read Pope Francis’ Homily here.

Pope Francis celebrates Palm Sunday Mass at the Vatican on
Sunday, March 20, 2016 – 12:00 pm ET (9:00 am PT)

Perspectives Weekly: A Common Date for Easter?

Guest host Sebastian Gomes leads a discussion on the initiative to set a common date for Easter between the Catholic and Orthodox churches on Wednesday, March 23, 2016 –  7:05 pm ET (4:05 pm PT)

  • Repeats:
    • Wed, Mar 23, 2016 11:05 pm ET (8:05 pm PT),
    • Thu, Mar 24, 2016 7:05 am ET (4:05 am PT),
    • Sat, Mar 26, 2016 3:00 am ET (12:00 am PT)

Holy Thursday: Chrism Mass

Read Pope Francis’ Homily here.

Pope Francis celebrates the Chrism Mass, remembering the institution of the priesthood, at St. Peter’s Basilica on Thursday, March 24, 2016 – 9:30 am ET (6:30 am PT)

Holy Thursday: Mass of the Lord’s Supper 

Read Pope Francis’ Homily here.

Pope Francis celebrates the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday, March 24, 2016 – 12:00 pm ET (9:00 am PT)

  • Repeats:
    • Thu, Mar 24, 2016 7:30 pm ET (4:30 pm PT),
    • Thu, Mar 24, 2016 11:35 pm ET (8:35 pm PT)

Holy Hour from the Garden of the Gethsemane 

The Custos of the Holy Land leads a prayer service in the Garden of Gesthsemane to commemorate Jesus time in the garden before his passion and death on Thursday, March 24, 2016 – 3:00 pm ET (12:00 pm PT)  

  • Repeats:
    • Thu, Mar 24, 2016 9:30 pm ET (6:30 pm PT),
    • Fri, Mar 25, 2016 1:35 am ET (Thu, Mar 24, 2016 10:35 pm PT)

Good Friday: The Passion of the Lord

Read Fr. Cantalamessa’s homily here.

The celebration of the Passion of the Lord, presided by Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Basilica on Friday, March 25, 2016 – 12:00 pm ET (9:00 am PT)

Good Friday: Stations of the Cross 

Read Pope Francis’ Way of the Cross here.
Closing prayer. 

Pope Francis leads the Stations of the Cross at Rome’s iconic Colosseum on Friday, March 25, 2016 – 4:00 pm ET (1:00 pm PT)

  • Repeats:
    • Fri, Mar 25, 2016 8:30 pm ET (5:30 pm PT),
    • Sat, Mar 26, 2016 12:00 am ET (Fri, Mar 25, 2016 9:00 pm PT)

Holy Week: Easter Vigil 

Read Pope Francis’ homily here.

Pope Francis celebrates the Easter Vigil at St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday, March 26, 2016 –  3:30 pm ET (12:30 pm PT)

The Passion of the Christ 

In Mel Gibson’s version of Christ’s crucifixion, based on the New Testament, Judas expedites the downfall of Jesus (Jim Caviezel) by handing him over to the Roman Empire’s handpicked officials. To the horror of his mother, Mary (Maia Morgenstern), Magdalen (Monica Bellucci), whom he saved from damnation, and his disciples, Jesus is condemned to death. He is tortured as he drags a crucifix to nearby Calvary, where he is nailed to the cross. He dies, but not before a last act of grace. Airs Saturday, March 26, 2016 – 11:00 pm ET (8:00 pm PT)

Holy Week: Easter Sunday Mass/Urbi et Orbi

Pope Francis celebrates Easter Sunday Mass at the Vatican on Sunday, March 27, 2016 – 9:00 am ET (6:00 am PT) 

  • Repeats:
    • Sun, Mar 27, 2016 12:30 pm ET( 9:30 am PT),
    • Sun, Mar 27, 2016 7:00 pm ET (4:00 pm PT),
    • Sun, Mar 27, 2016 11:30 pm ET (8:30 pm PT)

Pope Francis’ Easter “Urbi et Orbi” Adddress

PopeEaster

At 10 am today, Easter Sunday and the Resurrection of the Lord, the Holy Father Pope Francis presides in Saint Peter’s Square at the solemn celebration of the Mass of the day. At the celebration, which begins with the ritual of “Resurrexit,” faithful of Rome and pilgrims from all over the world particpate in this mass on the occasion of Easter. At this mass, the Pope does not give a homily.  At the end of mass, Pope Francis delivers his “Urbi et Orbi  blessing and Easter Message to the Church and the world.

“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures for ever” (Ps 135:1)

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Happy Easter!

Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God’s mercy, out of love for us, died on the cross, and out of love he rose again from the dead. That is why we proclaim today: Jesus is Lord!

His resurrection fulfils the prophecy of the Psalm: God’s mercy endures for ever; it never dies. We can trust him completely, and we thank him because for our sake he descended into the depths of the abyss.

Before the spiritual and moral abysses of mankind, before the chasms that open up in hearts and provoke hatred and death, only an infinite mercy can bring us salvation. Only God can fill those chasms with his love, prevent us from falling into them and help us to continue our journey together towards the land of freedom and life.

The glorious Easter message, that Jesus, who was crucified is not here but risen (cf. Mt 28:5- 6), offers us the comforting assurance that the abyss of death has been bridged and, with it, all mourning, lamentation and pain (cf. Rev 21:4). The Lord, who suffered abandonment by his disciples, the burden of an unjust condemnation and shame of an ignominious death, now makes us sharers of his immortal life and enables us to see with his eyes of love and compassion those who hunger and thirst, strangers and prisoners, the marginalized and the outcast, the victims of oppression and violence. Our world is full of persons suffering in body and spirit, even as the daily news is full of stories of brutal crimes which often take place within homes, and large-scale armed conflicts which cause indescribable suffering to entire peoples.

The risen Christ points out paths of hope to beloved Syria, a country torn by a lengthy conflict, with its sad wake of destruction, death, contempt for humanitarian law and the breakdown of civil concord. To the power of the risen Lord we entrust the talks now in course, that good will and the cooperation of all will bear fruit in peace and initiate the building of a fraternal society respectful of the dignity and rights of each citizen. May the message of life, proclaimed by the Angel beside the overturned stone of the tomb, overcome hardened hearts and promote a fruitful encounter of peoples and cultures in other areas of the Mediterranean and the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, Yemen and Libya. May the image of the new man, shining on the face of Christ, favour concord between Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land, as well as patience, openness and daily commitment to laying the foundations of a just and lasting peace through direct and sincere negotiations. May the Lord of life also accompany efforts to attain a definitive solution to the war in Ukraine, inspiring and sustaining initiatives of humanitarian aid, including the liberation of those who are detained.

The Lord Jesus, our peace (Eph 2:14), by his resurrection triumphed over evil and sin. May he draw us closer on this Easter feast to the victims of terrorism, that blind and brutal form of violence which continues to shed blood in different parts of the world, as in the recent attacks in Belgium, Turkey, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Côte d’Ivoire. May he water the seeds of hope and prospects for peace in Africa; I think in particular of Burundi, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, marked by political and social tensions.

With the weapons of love, God has defeated selfishness and death. His son Jesus is the door of mercy wide open to all. May his Easter message be felt ever more powerfully by the beloved people of Venezuela in the difficult conditions which they are experiencing, and by those responsible for the country’s future, that everyone may work for the common good, seeking spaces of dialogue and cooperation with all. May efforts be made everywhere to promote the culture of counter, justice and reciprocal respect, which alone can guarantee the spiritual and material welfare of all people.

The Easter message of the risen Christ, a message of life for all humanity, echoes down the ages and invites us not to forget those men and women seeking a better future, an ever more numerous throng of migrants and refugees – including many children – fleeing from war, hunger, poverty and social injustice. All too often, these brothers and sisters of ours meet along the way with death or, in any event, rejection by those who could offer them welcome and assistance. May the forthcoming World Humanitarian Summit not fail to be centred on the human person and his or her dignity, and to come up with policies capable of assisting and protecting the victims of conflicts and other emergencies, especially those who are most vulnerable and all those persecuted for ethnic and religious reasons.

On this glorious day, “let the earth rejoice, in shining splendour” (cf. Easter Proclamation), even though it is so often mistreated and greedily exploited, resulting in an alteration of natural equilibria. I think especially of those areas affected by climate change, which not infrequently causes drought or violent flooding, which then lead to food crises in different parts of the world.

Along with our brothers and sisters persecuted for their faith and their fidelity to the name of Christ, and before the evil that seems to have the upper hand in the life of so many people, let us hear once again the comforting words of the Lord: “Take courage; I have conquered the world! (Jn 16:33). Today is the radiant day of this victory, for Christ has trampled death and destruction underfoot. By his resurrection he has brought life and immortality to light (cf. 2 Tim 1:10). “He has made us pass from enslavement to freedom, from sadness to joy, from mourning to jubilation, from darkness to light, from slavery to redemption. Therefore let us acclaim in his presence: Alleluia!” (Melito of Sardis, Easter Homily).

To those in our society who have lost all hope and joy in life, to the elderly who struggle alone and feel their strength waning, to young people who seem to have no future, to all I once more address the words of the Risen One: “See, I am making all things new… To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life” (Rev 21:5-6). May this comforting message of Jesus help each of us to set out anew with greater courage to blaze trails of reconciliation with God and with all our brothers and sisters.

Easter Message of His Beatitude Sviatoslav of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church

Sviatislav

EASTER MESSAGE OF HIS BEATITUDE SVIATOSLAV

Most Reverend Archbishops and Bishops,
Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers,
Venerable Brothers and Sisters, Dearly Beloved in Christ of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church

Christ is Risen!

The first-born male from the virginal womb – Christ, who, as a man, has been called Lamb and unblemished, not having the stain of sin. He is our Pasch and, as true God, is called perfect.
Paschal Canon, Ode 4, Second Hymn

Beloved in Christ!

Once again we gather in Ukraine and throughout the world to greet one another on the glorious feast of our Lord’s Resurrection: “Christ is risen!” This joyful greeting for us Christians is the beginning and end of our preaching, the core of our faith, the foundation of our hope, and fulfillment of our love. Although this is already the third time that we celebrate Christ’s Pasch in the context of a new way of the cross for the Ukrainian people—war and cruelty by the forces of evil—time and again this feast renews us in the joy and hope of God’s children, assured of God’s victory over diabolical treachery, mendacity, and malice.

The first-born male from the virginal womb – Christ, who, as a man, has been called Lamb

How mysterious is the depth of divine mercy to humankind! Our Lord “did not utterly turn away from His creature, which He made, nor did He forget the work of His hands” (see Anaphora of St. Basil the Great). At a critical moment in human history the Eternal God, Creator of the Universe, quietly, without great fanfare, entered into human history in an unheard of and unexpected manner. The Only-begotten Son of God became the first-born of the Virgin from Nazareth so that, as the only Holy and Pure One, without the stain of sin, He might offer Himself as a sacrifice for our salvation.

Does God truly require human sacrifice? Certainly not! It is we, created in the image and likeness of God, who need to offer our life to God, order our life according to His commandments, and acknowledge before God that everything we are belongs to Him. The only One who was capable of offering such a perfect sacrifice to God the Father was the God-man, Jesus Christ, the Immaculate Lamb, who, even though He was Innocent, offered Himself to God on behalf of all humankind, and thus opened for us the path to eternal life by His resurrection from the dead.

He is our Pascha and, as true God, is called perfect.

The Pasch-Passover of the Old Testament remembers a remarkable event, when the Almighty Lord liberated His chosen people from Egyptian bondage, and the angel of death “bypassed” every home, which was marked on its doorpost by the blood of the paschal lamb. That is, in fact, the first meaning of the Hebrew word for the feast, pesach, which conveys the image of divine punishment “passing over,” or “passing by.” Thus, when we sing that Christ is “our Pasch,” we magnify the One, through whom we have been given the possibility to avoid the consequences of our sins, provided we make a determined decision to leave the captivity of sin and passions, repent and follow His Gospel. For He has saved us by His own blood! “Know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you” (1 Peter 1:18-20).

Not all are able to receive this message of salvation. To speak of the Christ-Lamb, crucified on the cross, in today’s world seems as problematic as it was in the times of the earliest Christians. This was St. Paul’s understanding when he wrote: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart’” (1 Corinthians 1:18-19). Even though Christ’s Gospel is being preached now for almost two thousand years, often it seems that the world, even one that calls itself “Christian,” still understands only the language of riches, affluence, power, weaponry, and might. Manifestations of the folly of the mighty of this world never disappear from the arena of history. They take on different forms: empires, reichs, unions, federations, led by individuals, who propose themselves instead of God, and impose on others their own depravation as a measure of truth.

However, in every generation there will also be those, who understand God’s ways, know how to be gentle lambs of God in the history of their people, who follow God’s gentleness, humility, meekness, spirit of sacrifice, who understand that not only do crosses and suffering pass, but that without them there is no resurrection. In our circumstances among such individuals are thousands of the best sons and daughters of our people, who sacrifice their lives for our freedom and independence. Precisely in the Risen Christ, our Unblemished Lamb, we come to understand the paschal value of their pure sacrifice, which leads us out of the house of captivity, the meaning of Ukraine’s suffering at the start of the new millennium.

Most often, it is in weakness and infirmity that God’s power and God’s wisdom is revealed. What is important is not to allow oneself to be tempted, or deceived, or discouraged in our fight, for that, against which we struggle, is merely a manifestation of the unclean spirit, who shakes, falls to the ground, foams at the mouth and convulses, for it knows that by the blood of the unblemished Paschal Lamb its end is near (see Mark 9:17-27). The Risen Christ, who through suffering and death carries us over to resurrection and eternal life, comes to us today showing us the wounds on His glorified body. As then he spoke to his frightened apostles, so today he says to us, his disciples: “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” (Luke 24:38).

How much have we already experienced the “impossible” made possible for those, who firmly kept their faith in the Risen Lord! Seventy years ago the evil one decided once again to crucify our people and drag our Church into the grave. However, to the surprise of the entire world, she rose and became stronger than at any time in her history. At the Lviv pseudo-sobor of 1946 the enemy attempted to forcibly separate us from unity with the successor to the apostle Peter. Today we are living witness to how the blood of the martyrs and confessors of our Church has forever sealed this Catholic unity and become a force of resilience and resurrection for Ukraine, a force for the unity of its people, and a catalyst for social renewal. Indeed, through such a witnessing of faith in the resurrection an authentic unification of the Churches of Ukraine is possible, a restoration of the unity of the Churches of Kyivan Christianity, which we have received as an inheritance from Prince Volodymyr, equal-to-the-apostles.

Beloved in Christ! The Risen Lord calls us to perfection. Indeed, He Himself is the only source of every perfection—our Saviour, who completes and makes precious and lasting the fruit of our efforts. If we are still far from perfection, if our state is not yet that of which we dream, we do not have reason to abandon our effort: to build, live and struggle for God and Ukraine, for Christ is our Pasch.

I greet all of you with today’s feast, or rather, with Christ’s spiritual victory this day over the power of the enemy and the realm of evil. Once again to all of you, in Ukraine and throughout the world, I send my heartfelt festive greeting, and sincerely wish you the blessings of the Resurrection of our Lord, a tasty sharing of our traditional blessed egg, and a Paschal joy that is full of light.

The grace of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Christ is risen! – Truly, He is risen!

+ SVIATOSLAV

Given in Kyiv at the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ,
March 20, 2016 A.D.

Pope Francis Homily at Holy Thursday Chrism Mass

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On the morning of Holy Thursday, Pope Francis celebrated the Mass of Chrism at St Peter’s Basilica. During the Holy Mass, the Holy Father blessed the sacred oils (Chrism, the oil of catechumens, and the oil of the sick), which will be used during the Easter Vigil, and in liturgical celebrations throughout the year.

In his homily during the Mass, Pope Francis once again on the theme of mercy, speaking especially of two areas in which the Lord shows “an excess of mercy”: in encounter, and in forgiveness.

Below, please find the full text of Pope Francis’ prepared homily for the Chrism Mass:

Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis
Mass of the Chrism
March 24, 2016 

After hearing Jesus read from the Prophet Isaiah and say: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk4:21), the congregation in the synagogue of Nazareth might well have burst into applause. They might have then wept for joy, as did the people when Nehemiah and Ezra the priest read from the book of the Law found while they were rebuilding the walls. But the Gospels tell us that Jesus’ townspeople did the opposite; they closed their hearts to him and sent him off. At first, “all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words that came from his mouth” (4:22). But then an insidious question began to make the rounds: “Is this not the son of Joseph, the carpenter?” (4:22). And then, “they were filled with rage” (4:28). They wanted to throw him off the cliff. This was in fulfilment of the elderly Simeon’s prophecy to the Virgin Mary that he would be “a sign of contradiction” (2:34). By his words and actions, Jesus lays bare the secrets of the heart of every man and woman.

Where the Lord proclaims the Gospel of the Father’s unconditional mercy to the poor, the outcast and the oppressed, is the very place we are called to take a stand, to “fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Tim6:12). His battle is not against men and women, but against the devil (cf. Eph6:12), the enemy of humanity. But the Lord “passes through the midst” of all those who would stop him and “continues on his way” (Lk4:30). Jesus does not fight to build power. If he breaks down walls and challenges our sense of security, he does this to open the flood gates of that mercy which, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, he wants to pour out upon our world. A mercy which expands; it proclaims and brings newness; it heals, liberates and proclaims the year of the Lord’s favour.

The mercy of our God is infinite and indescribable. We express the power of this mystery as an “ever greater” mercy, a mercy in motion, a mercy that each day seeks to make progress, taking small steps forward and advancing in that wasteland where indifference and violence have predominated.

This was the way of the Good Samaritan, who “showed mercy” (cf. Lk10:37): he was moved, he drew near to the unconscious man, he bandaged his wounds, took him to the inn, stayed there that evening and promised to return and cover any further cost. This is the way of mercy, which gathers together small gestures. Without demeaning, it grows with each helpful sign and act of love. Every one of us, looking at our own lives as God does, can try to remember the ways in which the Lord has been merciful towards us, how he has been much more merciful than we imagined. In this we can find the courage to ask him to take a step further and to reveal yet more of his mercy in the future: “Show us, Lord, your mercy” (Ps 85:8). This paradoxical way of praying to an ever more merciful God, helps us to tear down those walls with which we try to contain the abundant greatness of his heart. It is good for us to break out of our set ways, because it is proper to the Heart of God to overflow with tenderness, with ever more to give. For the Lord prefers something to be wasted rather than one drop of mercy be held back. He would rather have many seeds be carried off by the birds of the air than have one seed be missing, since each of those seeds has the capacity to bear abundant fruit, thirtyfold, sixtyfold, even a hundredfold.

As priests, we are witnesses to and ministers of the ever-increasing abundance of the Father’s mercy; we have the rewarding and consoling task of incarnating mercy, as Jesus did, who “went about doing good and healing” (Acts10:38) in a thousand ways so that it could touch everyone. We can help to inculturate mercy, so that each person can embrace it and experience it personally. This will help all people truly understand and practise mercy with creativity, in ways that respect their local cultures and families.

Today, during this Holy Thursday of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, I would like to speak of two areas in which the Lord shows excess in mercy. Based on his example, we also should not hesitate in showing excess. The first area I am referring to is encounter; the second is God’s forgiveness, which shames us while also giving us dignity.

The first area where we see Godshowing excess in his ever-increasing mercy is that of encounter. He gives himself completely and in such a way that every encounter leads to rejoicing. In the parable of the Merciful Father we are astounded by the man who runs, deeply moved, to his son, and throws his arms around him; we see how he embraces his son, kisses him, puts a ring on his finger, and then gives him his sandals, thus showing that he is a son and not a servant. Finally, he gives orders to everyone and organizes a party. In contemplating with awe this superabundance of the Father’s joy that is freely and boundlessly expressed when his son returns, we should not be fearful of exaggerating our gratitude. Our attitude should be that of the poor leper who, seeing himself healed, leaves his nine friends who go off to do what Jesus ordered, and goes back to kneel at the feet of the Lord, glorifying and thanking God aloud.

Mercy restores everything; it restores dignity to each person. This is why effusive gratitude is the proper response: we have to go the party, to put on our best clothes, to cast off the rancour of the elder brother, to rejoice and give thanks… Only in this way, participating fully in such rejoicing, is it possible to think straight, to ask for forgiveness, and see more clearly how to make up for the evil we have committed. It would be good for us to ask ourselves: after going to confession, do I rejoice? Or do I move on immediately to the next thing, as we would after going to the doctor, when we hear that the test results are not so bad and put them back in their envelope? And when I give alms, do I give time to the person who receives them to express their gratitude, do I celebrate the smile and the blessings that the poor offer, or do I continue on in haste with my own affairs after tossing in a coin?

The second area in which we see how God exceeds in his ever greater mercy isforgiveness itself.  God does not only forgive incalculable debts, as he does to that servant who begs for mercy but is then miserly to his own debtor; he also enables us to move directly from the most shameful disgrace to the highest dignity without any intermediary stages. The Lords allows the forgiven woman to wash his feet with her tears. As soon as Simon confesses his sin and begs Jesus to send him away, the Lord raises him to be a fisher of men. We, however, tend to separate these two attitudes: when we are ashamed of our sins, we hide ourselves and walk around with our heads down, like Adam and Eve; and when we are raised up to some dignity, we try to cover up our sins and take pleasure in being seen, almost showing off.

Our response to God’s superabundant forgiveness should be always to preservethathealthy tension between a dignified shame and a shamed dignity. It is the attitude of one who seeks a humble and lowly place, but who can also allow the Lord to raise him up for the good of the mission, without complacency. The model that the Gospel consecrates, and which can help us when we confess our sins, is Peter, who allowed himself to be questioned about his love for the Lord, but who also renewed his acceptance of the ministry of shepherding the flock which the Lord had entrusted to him.

To grow in this “dignity which is capable of humbling itself”, and which delivers us from thinking that we are more or are less than what we are by grace, can help us understand the words of the prophet Isaiah that immediately follow the passage our Lord read in the synagogue at Nazareth: “You will be called priests of the Lord, ministers of our God” (Is 61:6). It is people who are poor, hungry, prisoners of war, without a future, cast to one side and rejected, that the Lord transforms into a priestly people.

As priests, we identify with people who are excluded, people the Lord saves. We remind ourselves that there are countless masses of people who are poor, uneducated, prisoners, who find themselves in such situations because others oppress them. But we too remember that each of us knows the extent to which we too are often blind, lacking the radiant light of faith, not because we do not have the Gospel close at hand, but because of an excess of complicated theology. We feel that our soul thirsts for spirituality, not for a lack of Living Water which we only sip from, but because of an excessive “bubbly” spirituality, a “light” spirituality. We feel ourselves also trapped, not so much by insurmountable stone walls or steel enclosures that affect many peoples, but rather by a digital, virtual worldliness that is opened and closed by a simple click. We are oppressed, not by threats and pressures, like so many poor people, but by the allure of a thousand commercial advertisements which we cannot shrug off to walk ahead, freely, along paths that lead us to love of our brothers and sisters, to the Lord’s flock, to the sheep who wait for the voice of their shepherds.

Jesus comes to redeem us, to send us out, to transform us from being poor and blind, imprisoned and oppressed, to become ministers of mercy and consolation. He says to us, using the words the prophet Ezekiel spoke to the people who sold themselves and betrayed the Lord: “I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth… Then you will remember your ways, and be ashamed when I take your sisters, both your elder and your younger, and give them to you as daughters, but not on account of the covenant with you. I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I forgive you all that you have done, says the Lord God” (Ezek 16:60-63).

In this Jubilee Year we celebrate our Father with hearts full of gratitude, and we pray to him that “he remember his mercy forever”; let us receive, with a dignity that is able to humble itself, the mercy revealed in the wounded flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us ask him to cleanse us of all sin and free us from every evil. And with the grace of the Holy Spirit let us commit ourselves anew to bringing God’s mercy to all men and women, and performing those works which the Spirit inspires in each of us for the common good of the entire People of God.

Is finding a common date for Easter possible?

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(Guest host Sebastian Gomes interviews Fr. Peter Galadza of the Sheptytsky Institute about the ecumenical implications of finding a common date for Easter between the churches of the east and west.)

In May of 2014, Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Alexandria, Egypt sent a letter to Pope Francis. In it he expressed his desire to establish a single date for all Christian Churches to celebrate Easter. Since the 16th century the Catholic and Orthodox churches have used different calendars to calculate the date of Easter. But in modern times as Christian persecution has become rampant in many parts of the world, Christians are seeing more of what they have—and should have—in common. Pope Francis, who has proven to be a bold advocate for Christian unity, has not initiated anything officially, but said in an unscripted remark at a priests retreat last June that, “We have to come to an agreement” for a common date on Easter. Since then other Christian leaders have backed the proposal, including the head of the Anglican Communion Justin Welby, and Patriarch Aphrem the 2nd of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch.  The practical question of how a common date could be established is still up for debate. So too are the potential ecumenical implications.

A new episode of Perspectives: The Weekly Edition examines this question of finding a common date for Easter.  Guest host Sebastian Gomes and Fr. Peter Galadza, a liturgist from the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church, discuss the history of the Julian and Gregorian calendars and what it will take to bring the churches of the east and the west together in a very tangible way in the 21st century.

Perspectives: A Common Date for Easter?
Wednesday, March 23 at 7:05pmET
Monday, March 28 at 7:05pmET

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre – #SLPilgrimage

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Some of the Salt + Light team are in the Holy Land on pilgrimage. We are also preparing something special for you to watch in the near future. Stay tuned! In the meantime, here is the text of a reflection that was recorded at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. 

Over the past 7 days, many of us from Salt and Light have been here in the Holy Land on retreat, reflecting on what it means to live and follow in the footsteps of Christ.

Since being here, we have followed the life of Jesus. From where he was born in Bethlehem, to where he grew up in Nazareth. From where he preached on the Mount of Beatitudes, to where he  performed miracles at the Sea of Galilee and now, to this very place – where He was crucified, died, was buried and rose from the dead…

The biblical events that took place here over 2000 years ago are interlinked, as is the Paschal mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ, which was fulfilled after thousands of years of prophecy, within the very walls of this massive church. You can feel it. This very place is the source from which all mankind receives salvation and life.

Within these walls contain the most important place for Christians. For over 2 thousand years, pilgrims have come from all over the world just to see Calvary and the Tomb of Christ.

This building enshrines the last hours of Christ on earth who, made man, died for our salvation. Therefore, as I reflect on the fundamental importance of this place, it becomes very clear that this place is indeed THE wellspring from which the salvation for mankind springs forth. This place is truly the cornerstone of our Catholic faith.

Now, despite this building’s remarkable legacy, I have no intention of diving into a historical account, except to say that the decision to erect this church here is said to have been the result of lobbying on the part of St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, 300 years after the Crucifixion.

Now the original appearance of this church remains uncertain, owing to the many changes that has taken place on the site since 326 AD, when construction first began under Constantine .

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Also known as the Church of the Resurrection by early Christians, this church is within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem and surrounded by markets and souvenir shops. Today, it is home to the Eastern Orthodoxy, the Oriental Orthodoxy and to the Roman Catholic Church.

I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the spiritual significance, of this place, the Sepulchre, the empty Tomb of Christ.

Patriarch Bartholomew summarized it best when Pope Francis visited this site during the historical Papal Visit back in May of 2014. He stated:

“The first and greatest message from this empty Sepulcher is that death..“this last enemy” of ours, the source of all fears and passions, has been conquered. It no longer holds the final word in our life. It has been overcome by love, by Him, who voluntarily accepted to endure death for the sake of others. Every death for the sake of love, for the sake of another, is transformed into life, true life. “Christ is risen from the dead, by death trampling down death, and to those in the tombs, He has granted life.”

Nonetheless, there is another message that emanates from this venerable Tomb, the Sepulcher.

This is the message that history cannot be programme, that the ultimate word in history does not belong to man, but to God.

In vain did the guards of secular power watch over this Tomb.

In vain did they place a very large stone against the door of the Tomb, so that none could roll it away.

In vain are the long-term strategies of the world’s powerful – everything is eventually contingent upon the judgment and will of God. Every effort of contemporary humanity to shape its future alone and without God constitutes vain conceit.

Finally now, I leave you with this thought. Even with the masses of pilgrims that you see walking to and fro and in all directions in what you’d expect to see in a shopping mall rather than in this holy place, you can still fall on your knees and proclaim with joy, “Alleluia, Jesus is Risen, He is not here.” Regardless of the Christian denomination you belong to, you can be certain that this is the very place that witnessed the Glory of God in Jesus Christ.

Without a doubt, to be present within these walls here, where Christ spent his last painful moments on earth, suffering for our flawed humanity, in his single greatest act of love, as the Son of God, is truly a very humbling experience.

Indeed, Alleluia!, Jesus is Risen, He is not here.

Noel Ocol is the Director of Marketing for Salt + Light.

In the Lands Touched by God: Grateful Memories of Israel, Palestine and Jordan

TomBDay

We just ended a very historic pilgrimage/retreat in God’s lands. It surpassed anything I had hoped for or dreamt of over the past months… To have had the prvilege of leading 35 fellow pilgrims from across Canada and the USA as well as 14 members of our Salt and Light Television Network Staff, was a tremendous blessing. The reflections we filmed at the various locations, in English, French, Italian and Chinese languages will begin airing on our network over the next weeks and months.

Our recent Holy Lands experience made us all become a real part of the history and geography of Salvation which began in these very lands. It is a beautiful story of how God can write straight with our crooked lines.

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Tourists pass quickly through places, but the places pass slowly through pilgrims, leaving them forever changed. And each of us has returned to our homes changed, renewed, strengthened in our faith and commitment to serve the Lord and the Church from our various states of life. On the long journey home on Sunday from Jordan and all day Monday and Tuesday of this week, the images and memories of the past twelve days were swirling in my mind and heart. What did this amazing pilgrimage in Israel, Palestine and Jordan teach us? The biblical story is one long pilgrimage, and a model of pilgrimage for believers. At Salt and Light Television, we who are entrusted with the ministry of communicating the good news and stories of hope and inspiration had a unique opportunity to recharge our batteries and renew our faith and belief in God and his Son, Jesus.

We visited the places mentioned in the scriptures. We experienced splendid liturgies, listened patiently to guides and others explain many things to us, encountered local people and the local communities of the three great monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Suddenly, our own meagre, pinched lives became part of this great story of salvation. Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam, Isaiah and Deborah, Mary, Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the disciples, Nathanael from Cana, the woman of Samaria, Cleopas and his wife, the Ethiopian Eunuch and Paul of Tarsus were no longer names in biblical books. We went to their towns and villages, met their people, and somehow, through those meetings, we went back in time to meet them, to share their journeys and struggles in faith, and to enjoy their age-old hospitality.TomHL4

As we read the Scriptures now, our lives are mysteriously bound to the countless tens of thousands of people who journeyed in faith here in this land, experienced the living God, and made him known through their own stories. Somehow, these lands with all their beauty and poverty, their political struggles and hopes and desires for justice, freedom and peace, all of their contradictions and ambiguities, are a reflection of our own lives.

A pilgrim spirituality for the church can only bring us to understand more deeply one of the rich themes of the Second Vatican Council: we are a pilgrim church. We are no longer a fixed society perched on a hilltop overlooking the world below, but a pilgrim people painfully journeying through the valley, journeying in solidarity with God’s people, sharing their joys and hopes, griefs and sorrows. And the journey itself binds us together and heals us of our loneliness. So often, the destination remains a dream that constantly outdistances us. Pilgrim spirituality teaches us that the meaning of life is not found at the end of the journey, but in the very journey itself. Rugged individualism, which only leads to loneliness and despair, decreases along the pilgrim journey, and a new, common spirit begins to grow among pilgrims.

On a pilgrimage we cannot haul everything along – we carry memories which do not need baggage. At the end of a pilgrimage to God’s Holy Lands, baggage of course, would have grown heavier, as is usually the case on such trips. However, the biggest item to be taken back home is memories, and these weigh nothing, pass easily through customs, and can be enjoyed for a long time. It is these memories that will breathe new life into our lives of faith, and into our Church, and transform us in the process!

I know that these memories will sustain us and guide us to Holy Week and Easter this year. I am certain that our celebration of Palm Sunday and the Easter Triduum will never be the same after the past 12 days together. May the memories of these days encourage and inspire us along our journeys and help us to recognize Jesus more and more in the breaking and sharing of the Word and the Bread.

Thanks to all who made our pilgrimage possible: to our donors and benefactors, to our staff that remained home doing double duty work for us, to our guides on the ground in Israel, Palestine and Jordan, to the Church leaders and workers who welcomed us royally along the way, and to our Middle East hosts who showed us great hospitality.

Next year in Jerusalem…

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Deacon-structing New Life

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It is not hard to find images of new life everywhere to highlight the joy and Good News of Easter – especially in this part of the world in at springtime! (Maybe these bunnies are a bit too much, but you get my point – and they are cute.)

But recently, I’ve been doing quite a bit of traveling that has also been a constant reminder to me that our world- our fallen world, with all its suffering and brokenness- is full of life and that life is being made new all the time.

And so, this week, and for the next couple of weeks, let me “deacon-struct” new life: not to “take it apart”, but to reflect on that gift that has been granted to all humans: the gift to begin again.

One of my favourite canticles from Scripture is commonly known as the Canticle of the Three Youths or the Canticle of Daniel. It is, according to Daniel 3:57-88, 56, one of the “songs” sung by the three young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Ananias, Azarias, Mishael) as they were in the furnace that King Nebuchadnezzar had thrown them in. It is a beautiful song of praise to God: “Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord – praise and exult him above all forever!” The canticle names all the creatures who praise the Lord: “angels of Lord, sun and moon, stars of heaven, shower and dew, ice and snow, nights and days, lightning and clouds, mountains, hills, seas and rivers, beasts wild and tame; all creation bless the Lord, praise and exult his name above all forever!”

This Canticle is sung with Morning Prayer at every Solemnity and so we are praying it daily throughout the Easter Octave. I have been praying it in a special way since we began working on Creation, a six-part series that will look at the Church’s Ecological teachings. Filming for Creation has taken us all over North America and we have seen “all creatures” and we have also seen “all creatures bless the Lord.”

Many of the stories we are telling in Creation are stories that show how we must care for God’s Creation. Sometimes our care for Creation is not what it should be; we are not the stewards or caretakers that God intended us to be from the beginning. When we don’t respect Creation or don’t live in the balance between the Natural and the Human Ecology, it sometimes leads to death. That is part of the fallen-ness of Creation. But when we do respect Creation, when we live in the balance and harmony, it is very much life-giving.

And that is the Good News of Easter.

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One place that we visited which is full of new life is the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, FL. It is a fascinating place.

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You may have heard about CMA since this is the place where both Dolphin Tale films were made. The films tell the story of Winter and Hope, two dolphins who were orphaned at a very young age and the stories are based on this facility. In fact, Winter and Hope are real dolphins who still live at CMA.

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Clearwater Marine Aquarium is not a typical aquarium. You will not find a “dolphin show” here. CMA is primarily a rehab hospital for animals. Animals are rescued and brought here for rehabilitation and hopeful release back into the wild. In some cases, if the animal is not able to survive in the wild, they are able to stay at CMA or are taken to live at another facility that can care for them.

Turtle in Surgery

CMA is also an educational institution. Every day hundreds of children come through the facility – many school groups come too. During a visit, you may have the opportunity to watch while they do surgery. When we were there they were working on a turtle.

Winter

Winter is the protagonist of both films. “Dolphin Tale” is the story of how she lost her tail and survived against all odds. This story is the one that has made CMA famous. It is also a story that has moved so many people. It is truly a story of new life – not just because of how Winter survived against all odds, but because of what she is now giving back to all who come to see her. Daily, people with various disabilities and challenges, war veterans and amputees, come to see her and are inspired by her will to live and to help give meaning to others.

Hope

There are three resident dolphins at CMA. Hope is another dolphin who was found when she was very young. Here she is being fed after a training exercise. Hope was introduced in Dolphin Tale 2.

Nicholas

Nicholas is the only male of the three dolphins. Young people can come to CMA to be “trainers for the day” and learn all about the animals, how to train them and how to care for them. You can see the white blotches on Nicholas’ back. It is damage from sun exposure from when they found him as a baby.

Abby and Winter

Senior Trainer Abby Stone works with Winter at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. When we interviewed Abby she said that she believes Winter knows that she is helping people. You see, Winter does not have a tail and so in order to swim as most dolphins she requires a prosthetic tail. She wears her prosthetic tail about 30 minutes every day for therapy purposes only. We had the chance to watch as Abby worked with Winter and her “tail”.

Being at CMA was truly inspiring. Despite the secular environment, I was brought very deeply into the Mystery of God’s Creation. We are all Creation and we are all to live in harmony with each other– being at CMA truly helped me understand that not just humans and angels bless the Lord, but also flowers and trees, stars of heaven; birds of the air and beasts wild and tame; all the earth blesses the Lord. Even “dolphins and all water creatures bless the Lord” (Daniel 3:79).

 

Canticle of Daniel
Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord;
Praise and exalt him above all forever.
Angels of the Lord, bless the Lord;
You heavens, bless the Lord;
All you waters above the heavens, bless the Lord.
All you hosts of the Lord; bless the Lord.
Sun and moon, bless the Lord;
Stars of heaven, bless the Lord.
Every shower and dew, bless the Lord;
All you winds, bless the Lord.
Fire and heat, bless the Lord;
Cold and chill, bless the Lord.
Dew and rain, bless the Lord;
Frost and cold, bless the Lord.
Ice and snow, bless the Lord;
Nights and days, bless the Lord.
Light and darkness bless the Lord;
Lightning and clouds, bless the Lord.
Let the earth bless the Lord;
Praise and exalt him above all forever.
Mountains and hills, bless the Lord
Everything growing from the earth, bless the Lord.
You springs, bless the Lord;
Seas and rivers, bless the Lord.
You dolphins and all water creatures, bless the Lord;
All you birds of the air, bless the Lord.
All you beasts, wild and tame, bless the Lord;
Praise and exalt him above all forever.
You sons of men, bless the Lord;
O Israel, bless the Lord.
Priests of the Lord, bless the Lord;
Servants of the Lord, bless the Lord.
Spirits and souls of the just, bless the Lord;
Holy men of humble heart, bless the Lord.
Ananias, Azarias, Mishael, bless the Lord;
Praise and exalt him above all forever.
Let us bless the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost;
Let us praise and exalt God above all forever.
Blessed are you in the firmament of heaven;
Praiseworthy and glorious forever.


Photo: Public Domain