Hosanna! Let Us Welcome the Lord Who Still Comes to Us Today!

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Palm Sunday, Year A – Sunday, April 13, 2014

In preparation for Easter three years ago, I had the privilege of an early Lenten retreat on the events of Holy Week as I read and pondered Pope Benedict XVI’s latest book: “Jesus of Nazareth – Holy Week – From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection” (Ignatius Press, San Francisco – USA – 2011). This book should be required reading for every bishop, priest, pastoral minister and serious Catholic who would like to meet Jesus of Nazareth and deepen one’s knowledge of the very person of Jesus and the central mysteries of our faith that we celebrate this week. I could think of no better way to prepare for Holy Week and Easter than to read this masterful text. I recommend it to all those who have found these weekly Scripture texts helpful for your personal prayer and preaching of the Word of God.

Each year during Holy Week, we accompany Jesus up to Jerusalem amidst the crowds crying out “Hosanna, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” A day filled with exceeding praise and jubilation, but looming on the horizon is a wave of hatred, destruction and death. We, too, are caught up with the crowd acclaiming their Messiah and King as he descends the Mount of Olives… coming not with the trappings of a royal motorcade but on a beast of burden. What striking images of royalty, humility and divinity all packed into this paradoxical scene of Jesus’ entering his city! Full of enthusiasm, they welcome him on Palm Sunday as the King of Peace and the Bearer of Hope. Full of hate, five days later, the people demand his death on the cross.

The Gospel Passion narratives recount how the sins of some of the people and their leaders at the time of Jesus conspired to bring about the Passion and death of Christ, and thereby suggest the fundamental truth that we are all to blame. Their sins and our sins bring Christ to the cross, and He bears them willingly. And we must learn from what happened to Jesus and ask ourselves not only about the identity of those who tried, condemned and killed Him long ago, but also what killed Jesus and what vicious circles of violence, brutality, and hatred continue to crucify Him today in His brothers and sisters of the human family.

Matthew’s Passion Narrative

This year we read Matthew’s Passion Narrative (Matthew 26:14-27:66). Matthew follows his Marcan source closely but with omissions (e.g., Mark 14:51-52) and additions (e.g., Matthew 27:3-10, 19). Some of the additions indicate that he utilized traditions that he had received from elsewhere; others are due to his own theological insight (e.g., Matthew 26:28 “…for the forgiveness of sins”; Matthew 27:52). In his editing Matthew also altered Mark in some minor details. But there is no need to suppose that he knew any passion narrative other than Mark’s.

As we listen to Matthew’s account, we are caught up in Jesus’ encounter with destiny made inevitable by the strong commitments of Jesus’ mission from God and the fierce resistance of the power of death. In the first chapter of “Jesus of Nazareth” entitled “The Entrance into Jerusaelm,” Pope Benedict invites us to consider Zechariah 9:9, the text that Matthew and John quote explicitly for an understanding of “Palm Sunday”: “Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Mt 21:5; cf. Zech 9:9; Jn 12:15). Benedict writes: “He [Jesus] is a king who destroys the weapons of war, a king of peace and a king of simplicity, a king of the poor. And finally we saw that he reigns over a kingdom that stretches from sea to sea, embracing the whole world; we were reminded of the new world encompassing kingdom of Jesus that extends from sea to sea in the communities of the breaking of bread in communion with Jesus Christ, as the kingdom of his peace. None of this could be seen at the time… .” (p. 4).

The Meaning of Hosanna

“Hosanna” was originally a pilgrim blessing that priests addressed in the Temple, but when it was joined to the second part of the acclamation “who enters in the name of the Lord” it took on Messianic significance. It had become a designation of the one promised by God. It now became praise of Jesus, a greeting to him as the one who comes in the name of the Lord, the one awaited and proclaimed by all the promises.

We can ask why the word “hosanna” was preserved for us in Hebrew. Why ask didn’t the Gospels translate it into Greek? The full translation of “hosanna” could read: “Help [or save], please, O Son of David. Blessed in the name of the Lord is he who comes. Help [or save], please, O Most High.” The crowd’s welcome of Jesus with cries of “hosanna,” for help, and the waving of palm fronds, thereby invoked the liturgical formulas of Sukkot, which had already been politicized by its use in the festival of independence, the first Hanukkah. The use of this liturgical formula to welcome Jesus was clearly purposeful. Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem was followed by his cleansing of the Temple (Matthew 21:14-16). This was plainly a scenario in emulation of the Maccabean liberation, calculated to stir messianic hopes. When the crowd called “hosanna” and waved palm fronds, they knew full well what they were doing.

In the hosanna acclamation, we find an expression of the complex emotions of the pilgrims accompanying Jesus and of his disciples: joyful praise of God at the moment of the processional entry, hope that the hour of the Messiah had arrived, and at the same time a prayer that the Davidic kingship and hence God’s kingship over Israel would be reestablished (“Jesus of Nazareth” pp. 8-10).

“Hosanna” as an urgent plea to help and save is universally valid. It is perennially appropriate to the human situation. It is a one-word prayer with potential political impact to unsettle oppressors everywhere, now as in ancient days, and should thus be translated and understood.

The prophet from Nazareth

In the beginning when people had heard of the prophet from Nazareth, he did not appear to have any importance for Jerusalem, and the local inhabitants did not know him. The crowd that paid homage to Jesus at the gateway to the city was not the same crowd that later demanded his crucifixion. In this two-stage account of the failure to recognize Jesus— through a combination of indifference and fear— Benedict XVI says that we see something of the city’s tragedy of which Jesus spoke a number of times, most poignantly in his eschatological discourse.

Unique emphases of Matthew’s Passion

For Matthew, the ultimate turning point in Jesus’ history was his death and resurrection. At the very instant of Jesus’ death, a death suffered in fidelity to his mission, new life breaks out: The earth quakes, the rocks are split, the tombs are opened and the saints of old are raised from their tombs to march triumphantly into God’s city. In writing these words, Matthew evokes the great vision of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37. God breathes spirit into the bones, and they rise from the dead to become a new people. Matthew believed that out of the death of Jesus came new life for the world; out of the seeming death of the Jewish Christian mission to Israel, the early community rose to envelop the Mediterranean world and to forge a new people from Jew and gentile. Death-resurrection was not only the pattern for Jesus’ destiny but would also be the pattern for the destiny of the community itself within history.

Contemporary Meaning

What does Matthew’s passion say to us today? I am convinced that it offers us distinct biblical lenses through which we look upon this current moment of the history of the Church and the world. We receive our marching orders and pastoral plan for mission, not only from the Church but also from the world in which we live. The tremendous biblical drama found in Matthew’s passion teaches us that what we often consider to be “secular events”, even those that are destructive, damaging and even terrorizing and blinding, move us forward into God’s future for us, and set the stage for God to reveal himself to us.

Greeting the Lord in the Eucharist

I conclude with Benedict’s words on this Palm Sunday Gospel scene:

“The Church greets the Lord in the Holy Eucharist as the one who is coming now, the one who has entered into her midst. At the same time, she greets him as the one who continues to come, the one who leads us toward his coming. As pilgrims, we go up to him; as a pilgrim, he comes to us and takes us up with him in his “ascent” to the Cross and Resurrection, to the definitive Jerusalem that is already growing in the midst of this world in the communion that unites us with his body.” (Jesus of Nazareth p. 11).

[The readings for Palm Sunday are: Isaiah 50.4-7; Philippians 2.6-11; and Matthew 26.14-27.66.]

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.

“I will open your graves and have you rise from them”

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Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A – Sunday, April 6, 2014

Ezekiel’s dramatic vision and our

The historical background of today’s first reading from Ezekiel 37:12-14 is the great vision of the valley of the dry bones, one of the most spectacular panoramas in the whole of biblical literature. It dates back to the early sixth century B.C. when the hand of God came upon Ezekiel while the Jews were in captivity in Babylon. For about 150 years the political fortunes of the Jewish people had been in decline. The turning point came in 587 B.C. with the final catastrophic defeat and the beginning of the great exile for the Jewish people who were in deep despair, powerless over the situation which befell them. It is against this bleak background that Ezekiel’s dramatic vision unfolds- where the dead withered into whitened skeletons as the birds of prey had long finished destroying their flesh. What an incredible battlefield of unburied corpses! What a stench of death and decay!

The reluctant prophet Ezekiel was commanded by God to prophesy to these bones, to revive them. With the help of a massive earthquake, the bones rushed together with an eerie clamor. Sinews knitted them together, flesh and then skin clothed the corpses. The breath, “ruah”, Spirit of God came from the four extremities of the earth, as the limp bodies came “to life again and stood up on their feet, a great and immense army”. Where we now understand this incident as a pre-figuration of the resurrection of the dead, the Jews of Ezekiel’s time did not believe in such a conception of the afterlife. For them the immense resurrected army represented all the Jewish people, those from the northern kingdom who had previously fled to Assyria; those at home and those in exile in Babylon. They were to be reconstituted as a people in their own land and they would know that the one true God alone had done this.

Through the centuries, Christians have proclaimed this text during the liturgy of Easter night as we welcome new members into the Church. Ezekiel’s powerful words offer a stirring image of the God of Israel’s regenerative, restorative, renewing power for this life and for all eternity. Through the centuries, believers in the God and father of Abraham, Isaac and Jesus have taken heart in Ezekiel’s vision, because we believe it to be our story as well. We believe in the power of God’s forgiveness, the capacity of Christ and the Catholic tradition to revive us and bring us to life even when all around us seems to announce, night, darkness, death, dissolution and despair.

Christian life is a constant challenge

In writing to the community in Rome, St. Paul (8:8-11), we learn that through the cross of Jesus Christ, God broke the power of sin and pronounced sentence on it (3). Christians still retain the flesh, but it is alien to their new being, which is life in the spirit, namely the new self, governed by the Holy Spirit. Under the direction of the Holy Spirit Christians are able to fulfill the divine will that formerly found expression in the law (Romans 8:4). The same Spirit who enlivens Christians for holiness will also resurrect their bodies at the last day (11) Christian life is therefore the experience of a constant challenge to put to death the evil deeds of the body through life of the spirit (13).

Jesus’ gift of life leads to his own death

Today’s pathos-filled Gospel story, the raising of Lazarus, the longest continuous narrative in John’s Gospel (11:1-44) outside of the passion account, is the climax of the signs of Jesus. The story is situated shortly before Jesus is captured, tried and crucified. It is the event that most directly results in his condemnation by those seeking to kill him. Johannine irony is found in the fact that Jesus’ gift of life leads to his own death. Jesus was aware of the illness of his friend Lazarus and yet did not go to work a healing. In fact, he delayed for several days after Lazarus’ death, meanwhile giving his disciples lessons along the way about the light – lessons incomprehensible in the face of grave illness and death but understandable in the light shed by Lazarus’ and Christ’s resurrection.

Jesus declared to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, he will live; whoever lives and believes in me, will never die (25).” And he adds: “Do you believe this (26)?” The Lord urges us to respond just as Martha did, “Yes, Lord! We too believe, despite our doubts and our darkness; we believe in you, because you have the words of eternal life; we want to believe in you, who gives us a trustworthy hope of life beyond life, of authentic and full life in your kingdom of light and peace.”

Lord, if only you had been here…

How often have we, like Martha and Mary, blurted out those same words of pain and despair: “Lord, if only you had been here (32), my brother… or sister or mother or father or friend would not have died.” And yet today’s pathos-filled story from John’s Gospel tells us what kind of God we have… a God who “groaned in spirit and was troubled. The Greek word used to describe Jesus’ gut sentiment in v.33 tells us that he became perturbed. It is a startling Greek phrase that literally means: “He snorted in spirit,” perhaps in anger at the presence of evil (death). We witness the Lord weeping at the tomb of his friend Lazarus; a Savior deeply moved at the commotion and grief of so many friends of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. The shortest line in the whole bible is found in this Gospel story: “Jesus wept” (35).

Jesus reveals to us God who is one with us in suffering, grief and death… a God who weeps with us. God doesn’t intervene to prevent the tragedies and sufferings of life. If we had a god who simply swooped down as some “deus ex machina” to prevent human tragedy and sinfulness, then religion and faith would simply be reduced to some form of magic or fate, and we would be helpless pawns on the chessboard of some whimsical god. Where is God in the midst of human tragedies? God is there in the midst of it all, weeping. This is our God who stands in deep, human solidarity with us, and through the glory of the Incarnation, embracing fully our human condition.

Death of the heart and spirit

The story of the raising of Lazarus also speaks to us about another kind of death. We can be dead, even before we die, while we are still in this life. This is not only the death of the soul caused by sin but also rather a death that manifests itself through the absence of energy, hope, a desire to fight and to continue to life. We often refer to this reality as death of the heart or spiritual death. There are many people who are enchained in this kind of death every day because of the sad and tragic circumstances of their lives. Who can possibly reverse this situation and revive us, stir us back to life, free us from the tombs that enchain us? Who can perform the spiritual cardio-pulmonary resuscitation that will reverse such desperate situations?

For certain afflictions, there exists no human remedy. Words of encouragement often fail to effect any change. Many times people in these situations are not able to do anything, not even pray. They are like Lazarus in the tomb. They need others to do something for them. Jesus once spoke these words to his disciples: “Heal the sick, raise the dead” (Matthew 10:8). Among the corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry; giving drink to the thirsty; clothing the naked; sheltering the homeless; visiting the sick; visiting prisoners, the last one is burying the dead. Today’s Gospel tells us that in addition to this corporal work of mercy, we must also “raise the dead.”

Only the One who has entered death’s realm and engaged death itself in battle can give life to those who have died. John recounts the raising of Lazarus as a sign that transforms the tragedy into hope. Lazarus’ illness and death are the occasion for the manifestation of God’s glory. As Christians we do not expect to escape death; but we approach it with faith in the resurrection.

Implications of faith in the resurrection

Referring to the Lazarus story in his 2011 Lenten Message, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote:

“On the fifth Sunday, when the resurrection of Lazarus is proclaimed, we are faced with the ultimate mystery of our existence: “I am the resurrection and the life… Do you believe this?” (25-26). For the Christian community, it is the moment to place with sincerity – together with Martha – all of our hopes in Jesus of Nazareth: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world” (27).

Communion with Christ in this life prepares us to overcome the barrier of death, so that we may live eternally with him. Faith in the resurrection of the dead and hope in eternal life open our eyes to the ultimate meaning of our existence: God created men and women for resurrection and life, and this truth gives an authentic and definitive meaning to human history, to the personal and social lives of men and women, to culture, politics and the economy. Without the light of faith, the entire universe finishes shut within a tomb devoid of any future, any hope.”

Living Lent this week

1. View the video “Lord, If Only You Had Been Here”.

2. Immediately before his own death and resurrection Jesus proclaims the words that form the very heart of today’s Gospel story: “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). The fourth century Bishop Gregory of Nazianzus (328-389) spoke about the miracle in Bethany that prefigured Jesus’ own death and resurrection. Meditate on these moving words of St. Gregory.

“He prays, but he hears prayer. He weeps, but he puts an end to tears.
He asks where Lazarus was laid, for he was a human being;
and he raises Lazarus, for He is God.
As a sheep he is led to the slaughter 
but he is the Shepherd of Israel and now of the whole world.
He is bruised and wounded,
but he heals every disease and every infirmity.
He is lifted up and nailed to the tree,
but by the tree of life he restores us…
He lays down his life,
but he has the power to take it again;
and the veil is rent, for the mysterious doors of heaven are opened;
the rocks are cleft, the dead rise.
He dies, but he gives life, and his death destroys death.
He is buried, but he rises again.”

3. Look around you and discover one or two people who are in the throes of death, especially the death of the heart and spirit, people who have lost the will and desire to live because of what has befallen them. Reach out to them, and with your words, revive their spirit, quicken their souls, unbind them and set them free. 

[The readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent are: Ezekiel 37.12-14; Romans 8.8-11; and John 11.1-45.]

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.

The Mass is Ended — A Reflection on the 34th Anniversary of Death of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador

Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Goldamez was born in 1917 in the town of Ciudad Barrios, in the mountains of El Salvador near the border with Honduras.  Leaving school at twelve he began an apprenticeship as a carpenter, showing promise as a craftsman, but soon thought about ordination, against the desires of his family.

Fr. Romero served as a country priest before taking charge of two seminaries.  He was appointed in 1967 as Secretary General of the El Salvador National Bishops’ Conference.  He earned a reputation as an energetic administrator and his inspirational sermons were broadcast across the city of San Miguel by five radio stations.

Oscar became bishop in 1970, serving first as assistant to the aged Archbishop of San Salvador.  Within three years he was Archbishop of San Salvador.  At that time there was growing unrest in the country, as many became more aware of the great social injustices of the peasant economy.  His pulpit became a font of truth when the government censored news.  He risked his own life as he defended the poor and oppressed.  He walked among the people and listened. “I am a shepherd,” he said, “who, with his people, has begun to learn a beautiful and difficult truth: our Christian faith requires that we submerge ourselves in this world.”

Killed by an assassin’s bullet as he celebrated Mass on March 24, 1980, his last words in the sermon just minutes before his death reminded his congregation of the parable of the wheat. “Those who surrender to the service of the poor through love of Christ, will live like the grain of wheat that dies.  It only apparently dies.  If it were not to die, it would remain a solitary grain.  The harvest comes because of the grain that dies…”  He is buried in the Cathedral of San Salvador where he preached justice and defended the faith fearlessly, with boldness and courage.  The spirituality and faith behind Romero’s struggle for life flows from his belief in the God of the living who enters into human history to destroy the forces of death and allow the forces of life to heal, reconcile, and lift up those who walk in the valley of death. Poverty and death go together.

His powerful words still ring out loudly today:

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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.”
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Christmas and Pope Francis

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The following is an article written by Fr. Thomas Rosica for The Windsor Star, looking at how Christmas at the Vatican was different this year with Pope Francis at the helm.

Nine months after the momentous papal election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Vicar of Christ on earth, Supreme Pontiff and Bishop of Rome, many in the world stand in awe at how this 77-year-old man has captivated humanity in such a short period of time. His free gestures, his connection with people, especially those who are broken, sick, poor, destitute and living on the fringes of society have made the world stop and listen.

Working in the business of media in my role as head of Canada’s Salt and Light Catholic Television Network, many of my more cynical colleagues in the “secular” world have teased me about the Pope. They say: “You folks did it well! You must have paid a fortune to fix the brand, market the product and get your message out! It must have cost you a fortune!”

I smile and tell them that it cost us nothing. No one could have ever planned such a thing and a result as what we have witnessed since that cold, rainy, March night when Pope Francis made his debut on the world stage. If ever I believed in the Holy Spirit, it was during that conclave and on that night … and I saw it all up close as I was working in the Holy See Press Office a the Vatican throughout the Papal transition. This was God’s doing and the Holy Spirit’s action and not ours.

The heart and soul, the spirituality of Jorge Mario Bergoglio is about human faces: the face of Christ, of Joseph and Mary, of Saints Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola and Peter Faber. And the Pope sees the face of God in the face of the poor, the weak, the broken, the elderly and helpless children. Over the past nine months, his words both attract and perplex. They are an unvarnished call for the church and every Christian to undergo reform by standing under the gaze of Christ. In the transforming light of that face, everything else follows.

Pope Francis is a world leader preaching a global transformation, a new stimulus to international activity on behalf of the poor, inspired by something more than mere goodwill, or, worse, promises which all too often have not been kept. He acknowledges a “globalization of indifference” that has swept over the world and made us turn our backs to those most in need. He disarmingly makes us deeply uncomfortable in a way that allows us to recognize and confront the alienation from our own humanity that occurs when we seek happiness in objects rather than in relationship with God and others.

Pope Francis rejects an elitist church. He also rejects the reduction of Catholicism to hot-topic moral issues. He does not want to reduce the church to discussions of abortion, gay marriage, contraception and homosexuality. In his comments, he makes a distinction between dogmatic and moral teachings, reminding us that they do not hold the same weight. With Pope Francis, the church must re-enter public discourse with a full-throated defense of the common good that rises above bitter partisan divisions.

To be a church for the poor, the Church must elevate the issue of poverty to the very top of its political agenda, establishing poverty alongside abortion as the pre-eminent moral issues the Catholic community pursues at this moment in our national histories. Each of those issues, poverty and abortion, constitute an assault on the very core of the dignity of the human person.

Pope Francis sees and understands the Church to be a reconciler and a house of reconciliation. For him, faith enters the church through the heart of the poor, not through the heads of intellectuals. “Only the beauty of God can attract.” He reawakens in us a desire to call strangers neighbours in order to make known his beauty.

He wants the Church to speak a simple message. “At times we lose people because they don’t understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity and import an intellectualism foreign to our people” he says. The Church must present Jesus as the compassion of God.

“We need a church unafraid of going forth into their night. We need a church capable of meeting people on their way. We need a church capable of entering into their conversation.”

In a recent interview with Italy’s La Stampa newspaper, Pope Francis spoke about the meaning of Christmas. He said:

“God never gives someone a gift they are not capable of receiving. If he gives us the gift of Christmas, it is because we all have the ability to understand and receive it. All of us from the holiest of saints to the greatest of sinners; from the purest to the most corrupt among us. Even a corrupt person has this ability …”

He continued: “Christmas in this time of conflicts is a call from God who gives us this gift. Do we want to receive Him or do we prefer other gifts? In a world afflicted by war, this Christmas makes me think of God’s patience. The Bible clearly shows that God’s main virtue is that He is love. He waits for us; he never tires of waiting for us. He gives us the gift and then waits for us. This happens in the life of each and every one of us. There are those who ignore him. But God is patient and the peace and serenity of Christmas Eve is a reflection of God’s patience toward us.”

We waited patiently for you, Pope Francis. On March 13 this past year, you were an early Christmas gift to the Church and the world. Thanks for making Christmas a daily occurrence for us all.

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2013: The Year of Pope Francis

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2013 will probably go down in history as the year Pope Francis was elected, changing the face of the Church and bringing the papacy onto the streets. Fr.Thomas Rosica was interviewed recently on two CBC programs about Pope Francis and why he is having such an impact on the world in such a short time.

Fr. Rosica was on the Dec. 30 edition of The Current:

Fr. Rosica was also featured on CBC´s program: Click here for the show

The Word of God makes families holy


Feast of the Holy Family – Sunday, December 29, 2013

Today’s readings for the Feast of the Holy Family take up the tension between rights and obligations.  Our Scripture texts maintain that obligations have primacy over rights. Hence the truly human, genuinely Christian priority is not so much what others can do for me but rather what I can do for others. Preoccupation with self must be set aside as we cast ourselves in the role of servant rather than served.  Serving and selflessness are at the core of authentic family life.

Honoring fathers and mothers

Ben Sira, the early second-century B.C. author of today’s first reading from Sirach [3:2-6,12-14], offers a brief but invaluable commentary on the fourth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother.” The author describes the earthly rewards that belong to those who revere their parents. Even to old and infirm parents this respect is due; through it, the sins of children are pardoned. Failure to render respect is blasphemy and merits a curse from God [3:16].

Life in the Christian Home

The second reading from Colossians [3:12-21], deals with the Christian life as it is to be lived in the Christian home.  The characteristics of the believing family are mutual forgiveness, love, peace, and gratitude modeled on the self-giving of Christ.

A tragic adult story

In both today’s Gospel for Holy Family Sunday [Mt 2:13-15,19-23] and next Sunday’s Gospel for the Feast of the Epiphany [2:1-12], we realize once again that far from being a children’s tale, Matthew’s Infancy narrative of Jesus is a tragic adult story.  A child is born at the same time as a death-dealing power rules.  King Herod tries to co-opt the wise men to betray their journey, to end their commitment to future possibility and new life.  At the centre of the whole story of striking contrasts lies a baby who is joy.  Herod is afraid of this “great joy for all the people.”

[Mt 2:13-15,19-23] shows the family of Jesus to be clearly rooted in fidelity to God’s Word.  Joseph accepts the command to leave Israel and then return again at a later date. Joseph places the accent on obligations first. Jesus must be the cohesive center of family life.  The Holy Family is a wonderful example for us of the dignity and beauty of human and family life- it is here, in the house of Nazareth that Jesus learned how to reach out to the poor, lonely and defenseless.  It was at Nazareth that something beautiful was transmitted from Mary and Joseph to their Son, Jesus.

Joseph, the righteous man

On this Sunday dedicated to families, let us reflect on the silent witness of St. Joseph in the Christmas stories.  Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus, whose Father is God alone, and yet he lives his fatherhood fully and completely.  He is often overshadowed by the glory of Christ and the purity of Mary. But he, too, waited for God to speak to him and then responded with obedience. Luke and Matthew both mark Joseph’s descent from David, the greatest king of Israel [Mt 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38]. Scripture has left us with the most important knowledge about him: he was “a righteous man” [Mt 1:18].

Joseph was a compassionate, caring man. When he discovered Mary was pregnant after they had been engaged, he knew the child was not his but was as yet unaware that she was carrying the Son of God. He planned to divorce Mary according to the law but he was concerned for her suffering and safety. Joseph was also a man of faith, obedient to whatever God asked of him without knowing the outcome.  When the angel came again to tell him that his family was in danger, he immediately left everything he owned, all his family and friends, and fled to a strange country with his young wife and the baby. He waited in Egypt until the angel told him it was safe to go back [Mt 2:13-23].

We are told that Joseph was a carpenter, (more likely a builder), a man who worked to provide for his family. Joseph wasn’t a wealthy man, for when he took Jesus to the Temple to be circumcised and Mary to be purified he offered the sacrifice of two turtledoves or a pair of pigeons, allowed only for those who could not afford a lamb.

Joseph’s fatherhood

Joseph revealed in his humanity the unique role of fathers to proclaim God’s truth by word and deed. His paradoxical situation of “foster father to Jesus” draws attention to the truth about fatherhood, which is more than a mere fact of biological generation. A man is a father most when he invests himself in the spiritual and moral formation of his children. He was keenly aware, as every father should be, that he served as the representative of God the Father.

The Gospel, as we know, has not kept any word from Joseph, who carries out his activity in silence. It is the style that characterizes his whole existence, both before finding himself before the mystery of God’s action in his spouse, as well as when — conscious of this mystery — he is with Mary in the Nativity.  On that holy night, in Bethlehem, with Mary and the Child, is Joseph, to whom the Heavenly Father entrusted the daily care of his Son on earth, a care carried out with humility and in silence.

Joseph, faithful and wise servant

As Pope Benedict has taught us:

“What is important is not to be a useless servant, but rather a “faithful and wise servant”. The pairing of the two adjectives is not by chance. It suggests that understanding without fidelity, and fidelity without wisdom, are insufficient. One quality alone, without the other, would not enable us to assume fully the responsibility which God entrusts to us.”

In Joseph, faith is not separated from action. His faith had a decisive effect on his actions. Paradoxically, it was by acting, by carrying out his responsibilities, that he stepped aside and left God free to act, placing no obstacles in his way. Joseph is a “just man” [Mt 1:19] because his existence is “adjusted” to the word of God.

Joseph, the “foster-father” of the Lord reveals that fatherhood is more than a mere fact of biological generation. A man is a father most when he invests himself in the spiritual and moral formation of his children.  Real fathers and real men are those who communicate paternal strength and compassion.  They are men of reason in the midst of conflicting passions; men of conviction who always remain open to genuine dialogue about differences; men who ask nothing of others that they wouldn’t risk or suffer themselves.  Joseph is a chaste, faithful, hardworking, simple and just man.  He reminds us that a family, a home, a community, and a parish are not built on power and possessions but goodness; not on riches and wealth, but on faith, fidelity, purity and mutual love.

May St. Joseph strengthen us and help us to imitate the Holy Family of Nazareth, who listened attentively to God, acted upon his Word, treasured the gift of the Child Jesus, all the while modeling to us how the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us.

The Word of God in Family Life

As we continue reading Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, today it is good to consider the section #85 on “The word of God, marriage and the family.”

“The Synod also felt the need to stress the relationship between the word of God, marriage and the Christian family. Indeed, “with the proclamation of the word of God, the Church reveals to Christian families their true identity, what it is and what it must be in accordance with the Lord’s plan.”  Consequently, it must never be forgotten that the word of God is at the very origin of marriage (cf. Gen 2:24) and that Jesus himself made marriage one of the institutions of his Kingdom (cf. Mt 19:4-8), elevating to the dignity of a sacrament what was inscribed in human nature from the beginning. “In the celebration of the sacrament, a man and a woman speak a prophetic word of reciprocal self-giving, that of being ‘one flesh,’ a sign of the mystery of the union of Christ with the Church (cf. Eph 5:31-32).”  Fidelity to God’s word leads us to point out that nowadays this institution is in many ways under attack from the current mentality. In the face of widespread confusion in the sphere of affectivity, and the rise of ways of thinking which trivialize the human body and sexual differentiation, the word of God re-affirms the original goodness of the human being, created as man and woman and called to a love which is faithful, reciprocal and fruitful.

“The great mystery of marriage is the source of the essential responsibility of parents towards their children. Part of authentic parenthood is to pass on and bear witness to the meaning of life in Christ: through their fidelity and the unity of family life, spouses are the first to proclaim God’s word to their children. The ecclesial community must support and assist them in fostering family prayer, attentive hearing of the word of God, and knowledge of the Bible. To this end the Synod urged that every household have its Bible, to be kept in a worthy place and used for reading and prayer. Whatever help is needed in this regard can be provided by priests, deacons and a well-prepared laity. The Synod also recommended the formation of small communities of families, where common prayer and meditation on passages of Scripture can be cultivated.  Spouses should also remember that “the Word of God is a precious support amid the difficulties which arise in marriage and in family life.”

[The readings for the Feast of the Holy Family are: Sirach 3.2-6, 12-14; Psalm 128; Colossians 3.12-21; and Matthew 2.13-15, 19-23.]

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.

Chicago’s Archbishop celebrates 50 years of priestly ordination

Ad multos annos, Cardinal Francis George, OMI
Chicago’s Archbishop celebrates 50 years of priestly ordination

By Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

Today Cardinal Francis George, OMI, of Chicago celebrates his 50th Anniversary of priestly ordination. Sebastian Gomes and I will be present for the Eucharistic celebration in Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral as well as at the dinner to follow in the Windy City’s Drake Hotel.

Francis Eugene George was born in Chicago in 1937.  He entered the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1957 and was ordained a priest in 1963.  He served his Oblate Congregation as Provincial Superior of the Midwestern US Province from 1973-1974, and was then elected the following year, at age 37, as Vicar General of his international Congregation, a position which he held in Rome from 1974-1986.  From 1987-1990, he served as the Coordinator of the Circle of Fellows at the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Faith and Culture.  The Church recognized his remarkable qualities when Pope John Paul II named him Bishop of Yakima, Washington in 1990.  In 1996, he was appointed Archbishop of Portland, Oregon, a position he held for less than one year.  In April 1987, the Pope appointed him to the very important See of Chicago in the USA to succeed the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin.  George was the   first native Chicagoan to be Archbishop of that city.  In February 1998, Francis George was created Cardinal priest by Pope John Paul II.

Cardinal Francis George is a philosopher and theologian, a man who possesses the rather remarkable qualities of a warm, humble gentleman, a distinguished scholar and  a listening, compassionate, shepherd and faithful servant.  He has been an outstanding, gifted, leader of the Universal Church who has become an articulate teacher and pastor to people far beyond the confines of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Cardinal George has been a very good friend for many years, and a great supporter of our work at Salt and Light Catholic Television Network from the very beginning.  My friendship with him was born in Rome in 1985 when I first met him at the Oblate Generalate on Via Aurelia.  I was a newly ordained deacon and had accompanied my Basilian confrère Cardinal George Flahiff to the Extraordinary Synod on Vatican II and a special meeting of  the College of Cardinals.  The Oblates extended hospitality to us for the duration of the meetings and the kindness of then Fr. Francis George. Vicar General of his Religious Congregation, left a lasting impression upon me.  Several years later, in February 1994, our paths crossed again when Fr. George, now bishop of Yakima, Washington arrived in Jerusalem to take part in an international conference Religious Leadership in Secular Society. I was attending that conference as graduate student at Jerusalem’s Ecole Biblique et Archéologique Française.  We renewed our friendship and spent some memorable moments together in the Holy City.

Over the past 29 years, our paths have crossed many times, including Cardinal George’s memorable visit to the Newman Centre Catholic Mission at the University of Toronto in 1998 and his great lecture on the Papacy.  We have been together at World Youth Days, congresses, assemblies and conventions of all kinds, and at the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church in 2008.

During that Synod, the Cardinal gave a very eloquent address on the theme of reclaiming our biblical roots.  Synod Fathers had grappled with the fact that many of us had lost touch with the world of Scripture and of how important it was to see the hand of providence in life’s events. Cardinal George, in his role as then President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke of the “lived contexts in which believers hear the Word of God and the need for pastoral attention to conversion of the imagination, the intellect and the will.”

I still remember Cardinal George’s pointed words: “Western culture has been historically shaped in conversation with the Bible,” he said. “References to ‘the prodigal son’ or ‘the Good Samaritan’ or ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ could be taken for granted as images popularly recognizable.   …This familiarity, that has now largely disappeared from popular imagination, disappeared a generation ago from the world of art and theatre.”

“Behind this loss of biblical images lies the loss of a sense and an image of God as an actor in human history,” Cardinal George continued. “In Scripture, God is both the principal author and the principal actor. In Scripture, we encounter the living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.   …Our people, for the most part, do not live confidently in the biblical world of active spirit, of angels and demons, of the search for God’s will and God’s intentions in the midst of this world governed by God’s providence.”

“Scripture takes on the genre of fantasy fiction, and the biblical world becomes an uninhabitable embarrassment.”

“A love of Scripture,” Cardinal George said, “feeds the desire to worship in spirit and in truth, and, in turn, our worship gives God the opportunity to transform us more profoundly into the image of Christ.”

In a recent interview with Chicago’s Catholic newspaper, Cardinal George, reflecting on his priestly and episcopal ministry, said:

“What I would try to do is avoid mistakes I’ve made; but in terms in what I’ve done, it’s been what I’ve been told to do and I did it. The fundamental evangelical virtue is the obedience of faith in charity. Christ was obedient unto death. We don’t talk about obedience, but in fact we are all obedient to God or else we’re on our own, which is a way of saying we are sinners. If you’re in touch with God, you’re obedient to God. I’ve tried to be obedient to the Lord’s will as expressed by the church.”

The Cardinal has appeared in numerous interviews, programs and series of Salt and Light Television over the past decade. His intelligent, articulate reflections on so many topics have inspired our entire team and countless viewers of our programming.  We will long remember his warm hospitality to our crew when they filmed an extensive interview with the Cardinal at his Chicago residence for our major series “The Church Alive” several years ago.

Cardinal George’s WITNESS interview, airing this week on our network, gives us some great insights into his depth of knowledge and love of the Church. 

You can watch that interview here:

I have learned much from this great shepherd, teacher and friend.  May the Lord grant him health, happiness and peace on this momentous occasion of 50 years of priestly ministry.

A few of Cardinal George’s favorite things

Favorite saints? St. Francis is my patron. I was taught to love him by the Franciscan sisters who taught me in grade school, so I’ve always had a devotion to him. My mother had a great devotion to St. Anthony, whom I pray to also when I lose something. St. Therese of Lisieux is the patroness of the missions. She had a great influence on Oblate missionaries. And I suppose the most important one for all of us of course is the Blessed Virgin Mary. I’ve always felt very protected by her. She was the mother of Christ and therefore our mother too.

Favorite prayers? I like to say the Memorare. The most important prayer is the Lord’s own, the Our Father. There’s a prayer also that is in 17th century French spirituality that isn’t perhaps so well known. “Jesus, living in Mary, come and live in your servants.” It’s a classical prayer, a short one, but I say it every morning at the end of meditation because it expresses who we are, united to Christ in Mary, and how we are expected to transform our lives day by day. So beyond that, every priest prays the office for his people, and the Psalms, the Psalms are tremendously important as prayers. They express so many sentiments that are always part of one’s relationship to God, even though they are 3,000 years old. The Mass of course is the most important prayer that the church has — a great gift.

Prayer for the archdiocese? Every day I pray for people who ask me to pray for them, especially the sick. My prayer is simply that we be a praying people, close to the Lord, and let him direct us. What we have to do is keep the infrastructure strong so that the ministries can be effective, but after that, it’s individuals who are living their life in the world who are to be the agents for converting the world. The purpose of the church is to convert the world to its Savior. I would hope that everything we do in the archdiocese would be oriented toward that goal more and more clearly.

What do you want your legacy as a priest to be? I’ve been a priest for 50 years. All that I would hope people would remember is, “He tried to be a good priest.” That’s what my father told me when I told him I wanted to be a priest: “If you’re going to be a priest, be a good one.” So I would hope that people would remember that I tried to be a good priest and a good bishop, and that’s enough.

Source: Office for Radio and Television, Archdiocese of Chicago

 

Links:
From One Francis to Another

Cardinal George: An Anniversary Appreciation

Cardinal George talks about 50 years as a priest

Mary of Nazareth: Called, gifted and chosen to be with Jesus

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception – December 9, 2013

This year, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception will be celebrated on Monday, December 9 due to the fact that December 8 was an Advent Sunday this year.

On December 8, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  The Catholic belief that Mary was free from original sin from the moment of her existence was promulgated by Pope Pius IX in 1854.

While Marian devotion remains strong in the church, the Immaculate Conception is a complex concept that has interested theologians more than the ordinary faithful.  Many people still wrongly assume that the Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Christ.  In fact, it refers to the belief that Mary, by special divine favor, was without sin from the moment she was conceived.  The main stumbling block for many Catholics is original sin.  Today we are simply less and less aware of original sin.  And without that awareness, the Immaculate Conception makes no sense.

The late American Bishop Fulton Sheen put it another way in 1974, speaking about the loss of the sense of sin.  Sheen said: “It used to be that the Catholics were the only ones to believe in the Immaculate Conception. Now everyone believes he is the immaculately conceived.”

Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma in 1854, but the idea that Mary was born without the stain of sin did not appear out of the blue. It took shape after a long and complicated theological debate that, in some respects, still continues.  Already in the earliest Christian times Mary was held to be an ideal model of holiness, and by the eighth century Eastern Christians were celebrating a feast in honor of Mary’s conception. [Read more...]

Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace in Syria

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Fasting has an important place in all the great religions. The Old Testament lists fasting among the cornerstones of the spirituality of Israel: “Prayer is good when accompanied by fasting, almsgiving and justice” (Tob 12:8). Fasting implies an attitude of faith, humility and complete dependence upon God. Fasting is used to prepare to meet God (cf. Ex 34:28; 1 Kgs 19:8; Dan 9:3); to prepare for a difficult task (cf. Jgs 20:26; Es 4:16) or to seek pardon for an offence (cf. 1 Kgs 21:27); to express grief in the wake of domestic or n misfortune (cf. 1 Sam 7:6; 2 Sam 1:12; Bar 1:5). Fasting, inseparable from prayer and justice, is directed above all to conversion of heart, without which — as the Prophets declared (cf. Is 58:2-11; Jer 14:12; Zech 7:5-14) — it is meaningless.
[Read more...]