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Ambassadors for Christ and Ministers of God’s Justice

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Ambassadors for Christ and Ministers of God’s Justice
A Biblical Reflection for Ash Wednesday, Year C
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

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

The Scripture texts for the liturgy of Ash Wednesday do not only remind us of sin and death; they are a loud call to overcome sin, to be converted to Christ and the Gospel and to prepare for the new life of Easter.  I would like to offer some reflections on what it means to be reconciled to God, to be an “Ambassador for Christ” [II Cor 5:20-21], and the meaning of authentic piety and devotion as outlined in Matthew’s Gospel text for today’s liturgy [6:1-6, 16-18].  I will conclude with some thoughts on Pope Francis 2016 Lenten Message that has as its theme: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13). The works of mercy on the road of the Jubilee.

Be reconciled to God!

Today – the liturgy tells us – is the “acceptable time” for our reconciliation with God.  Reconciliation is a gratuitous gift of God.  Reconciliation must involve everyone: individuals, families, nations and peoples.  In the passage from II Corinthians 5:20-21, Paul encouraged the fractious Corinthian community to recognize that God has “reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” [5:18].  Paul speaks of “the new creation in Christ” [cf. II Cor 5:17] and goes on to tell us: “God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, not holding individuals’ faults against them, and he has entrusted to us the news that we are reconciled… the appeal we make in Christ’s name is: be reconciled to God” [II Cor 5:19-20].

When we speak of the world as reconciled to God, we are speaking not only of individuals but also of every community: families, communities, clans, tribes, nations and states. In his providence, God made covenant after covenant with the human family: the covenant with our first parents in the Garden of Eden; the covenant with Noah after the Flood and the covenant with Abraham.  In the Book of Joshua we learn about the covenant made with Israel, when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in the land of Egypt. And God has now made the final and definitive covenant with all of humanity in Jesus Christ, who reconciled individual men and women — as well as entire nations — to God by his Passion, Death and Resurrection.

In the sacrament of the Eucharist, we celebrate the mystery of our redemption and full reconciliation with God.  It is through his passion, death and resurrection that Jesus has saved the world.  Before receiving the body and blood of the Lord, we show that we are at peace with one another. The Eucharist is celebrated by a reconciled community.  When the celebration is ended, we are sent out to spread this peace and message of reconciliation to others.

Ambassadors for Christ

Because we have been entrusted with this message of reconciliation, we are “ambassadors for Christ” [5:20].  The mission that we have been given is one of high rank. It is a mission that ennobles us. Because we have been called to be ambassadors, we have to be true and loyal to the one we represent.  An ambassador is known by his or her credentials. Ambassadors must give credible proof that they have been sent. As ambassadors of Christ we too must give proof of our mission. And the greatest proof is our own fidelity to the Christian way of life.

If we are reconciled with God, with ourselves and with others, and if we in turn foster Christ’s reconciliation in society, we can make a convincing claim to be ambassadors of the Prince of Peace.  Just as God took the initiative in sending his son to reconcile the world, so he expects us to take the initiative to restore harmony to a broken world and an often-divided Church.

Can we apply this Christian vision, this wonderful mission of reconciliation, to our own situations?  Can we put it into practice among family, friends and community members and try over and over again when we fail?  It is very sad when grudges are carried for long periods of time, when people refuse to speak together, when the joy of attending reunions or celebrations is denied someone, perhaps for a misdemeanor that occurred long ago and whose circumstances are practically forgotten!

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Jesus’ three-fold process of self-denial

Matthew’s Gospel [6:1-6, 16-18] issues a warning against doing good in order to be seen and gives three examples for right living: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  In each, the conduct of the hypocrites [6:2] is contrasted with the behavior demanded of the disciples. The sayings about reward found here and elsewhere [Matthew 5:12, 46; 10:41-42] show that this is a genuine element of Christian moral exhortation.

Let us look closely at what the Gospel demands of us in this threefold process of self-denial:  we must pray: “Go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in private.”  We must fast: “No one must see you are fasting but your Father.”  We must give alms: “Keep your deeds of mercy secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”  There is nothing ambiguous about what is required of us this season.  Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the pillars of the Lenten journey for Christians.  This is the piety, the devotion and the sincerity that the Lord seeks from us this Lent.

Here is an excerpt from Pope Francis’ Message for Lent this year: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13). The works of mercy on the road of the Jubilee.

The works of mercy

God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn. In an ever new miracle, divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbour and to devote ourselves to what the Church’s tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. These works remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbours in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them. On such things will we be judged. For this reason, I expressed my hope that “the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; this will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty, and to enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy” (ibid., 15). For in the poor, the flesh of Christ “becomes visible in the flesh of the tortured, the crushed, the scourged, the malnourished, and the exiled… to be acknowledged, touched, and cared for by us” (ibid.). It is the unprecedented and scandalous mystery of the extension in time of the suffering of the Innocent Lamb, the burning bush of gratuitous love. Before this love, we can, like Moses, take off our sandals (cf. Ex 3:5), especially when the poor are our brothers or sisters in Christ who are suffering for their faith.

In the light of this love, which is strong as death (cf. Song 8:6), the real poor are revealed as those who refuse to see themselves as such. They consider themselves rich, but they are actually the poorest of the poor. This is because they are slaves to sin, which leads them to use wealth and power not for the service of God and others, but to stifle within their hearts the profound sense that they too are only poor beggars. The greater their power and wealth, the more this blindness and deception can grow. It can even reach the point of being blind to Lazarus begging at their doorstep (cf. Lk 16:20-21). Lazarus, the poor man, is a figure of Christ, who through the poor pleads for our conversion. As such, he represents the possibility of conversion which God offers us and which we may well fail to see. Such blindness is often accompanied by the proud illusion of our own omnipotence, which reflects in a sinister way the diabolical “you will be like God” (Gen 3:5) which is the root of all sin. This illusion can likewise take social and political forms, as shown by the totalitarian systems of the twentieth century, and, in our own day, by the ideologies of monopolizing thought and technoscience, which would make God irrelevant and reduce man to raw material to be exploited. This illusion can also be seen in the sinful structures linked to a model of false development based on the idolatry of money, which leads to lack of concern for the fate of the poor on the part of wealthier individuals and societies; they close their doors, refusing even to see the poor.

For all of us, then, the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favourable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practising the works of mercy. In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated. By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need. By taking this path, the “proud”, the “powerful” and the “wealthy” spoken of in the Magnificat can also be embraced and undeservedly loved by the crucified Lord who died and rose for them. This love alone is the answer to that yearning for infinite happiness and love that we think we can satisfy with the idols of knowledge, power and riches. Yet the danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor, the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell. The pointed words of Abraham apply to them and to all of us: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Lk 16:29). Such attentive listening will best prepare us to celebrate the final victory over sin and death of the Bridegroom, now risen, who desires to purify his Betrothed in expectation of his coming.

Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favourable a time for conversion! We ask this through the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, who, encountering the greatness of God’s mercy freely bestowed upon her, was the first to acknowledge her lowliness (cf. Lk 1:48) and to call herself the Lord’s humble servant (cf. Lk 1:38).”

Sharing the Joy of the Gospel With the Media and Through the Media

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*Cardinal Foley addressing Catholic Media Convention Banquet in 2011 in Pittsburgh.*

The third annual John Cardinal Foley Lecture on Social Communications
by FR. THOMAS ROSICA, C.S.B.

Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia
February 1, 2016

INTRODUCTION
by Rev. Thomas F. Dailey, O.S.F.S.

Good evening and welcome to Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary for this, the third annual Foley Lecture in Social Communications.

This series honors the legacy of Cardinal JOHN PATRICK FOLEY, a native of Philadelphia and long-time President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. In his work at the Vatican, Cardinal Foley saw the world as “as an interconnected globe humming with electronic transmissions – a chattering planet nestled in the provident silence of space.” In that world he recognized and championed the decisive importance of social communications as the means for determining our culture.

We are blessed this evening to have as our lecturer one who keeps that humming globe and chattering planet in motion, in terms of how the Church interacts with contemporary culture.

A priest in the Congregation of St. Basil, he holds advanced degrees in Sacred Scripture from Regis College in Toronto, the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, and the École Biblique in Jerusalem.

For him, the hum of global transmissions first became a reality when he served for three years as national director of World Youth Day and the visit of Pope John Paul II that took place in Toronto in 2002.

Following that he founded the Salt & Light Catholic Media Foundation and still serves as its Chief Executive Officer. As Canada’s first Catholic Television Network, and now reaching across continents, Salt & Light TV plays a vital part in determining Catholic culture through the medium of story-telling, with the aim of bringing people closer to Christ and to our faith.

But, since 2008 he hasn’t had much experience with what Cardinal Foley described as the silence of space. That’s because he’s in constant connection with Rome as a member of the staff of the Holy See Press Office. As an official spokesperson, he brings news about Pope Francis and the Vatican to the entire English-speaking world through his daily interactions with the media.

Tonight we are honored that he has come here as the third John Cardinal Foley Lecturer. Please join me in welcoming … Fr. Thomas Rosica.

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Sharing the Joy of the Gospel With the Media and Through the Media 
The John Cardinal Foley Lecture on Social Communications
Vianney Hall – St. Charles Borromeo Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
February 1, 2016

Archbishop Chaput,
Bishop Senior,
Dear Friends,

Thank you for the privilege of addressing you this evening in this lecture series in memory of a great friend and mentor, the late Cardinal John Foley. I wish to thank Fr. Thomas Dailey, OSFS, who heads up the Foley Chair of Social Communications and the Cardinal Foley Lecture series here at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. Your hospitality and kindness these past few days is much appreciated! You have invited me to speak about “Sharing the Joy of the Gospel: With the Media and Through the Media”, a very fitting topic for the man after whom this series is named. For that is exactly what Father, then Archbishop, then Cardinal Foley did his entire life: he lived and shared the Gospel of joy with the media and through the media to the entire world.

First let’s take a panoramic view of how people have communicated the faith through the ages. Beginning with the oral tradition, including the teaching ministry of Jesus, and continuing through the formation of the Biblical canon to modern telecommunications, human beings have recorded, shared and communicated their faith. The history of faith is a history of communication. For Christians, the Word did not become a divine oracle from some distant heaven, a FAX, an e-mail, an SMS or text message, a probe, a prompt, a quick like, or some other new fangled way to grab our attention. Through Mary, the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us. The Word became close to real, human beings in real time. The Word became a person to be followed, enjoyed and loved! From that moment onward, anyone who really understands that God has become human will never be able to speak and act in an inhuman way. In Jesus, the message and the messenger are united. The medium is indeed the message and the life and witness of the messenger is a itself a vital part of the message.

In every age the Church has used whatever media are available to spread the good news. St. Augustine practically invented the form of the autobiography; the builders of the great medieval cathedrals used stone and stained glass to teach us a powerful lesson about God’s dwelling place among us; Renaissance popes used not only papal bulls but colorful frescoes; Hildegard of Bingen wrote one of the first operas; Francis de Sales wrote thousands of letters to people; the early Jesuits used theater and stagecraft to put on morality plays for entire towns; Dorothy Day founded a newspaper that still exists today: The Catholic Worker; Jesuit Fr. Daniel Lord, jumped into radio; Bishop Fulton Sheen used television to a stunning effect; Bishop Robert Barron has dazzled us all with his masterful teaching videos, and now we have popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, sisters and brothers and tons of Catholic laity blogging and tweeting like mad! How sad it would be if we did not use the latest tools available to us to communicate and share the Word of God!

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*Cardinal John Foley and Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, at 2008 Catholic Media Convention in Toronto, Canada.*

New Floodgates of Communication

In nearly three years at the helm of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis has opened the floodgates of communication in an institution that has been somewhat cloistered for centuries. Yes, his two immediate predecessors, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI communicated through the media, but something new is afoot with Francis. Pope Francis is now among the top global newsmakers of our time. He has brought renewed visibility to the papacy and to the Church. While it is no exaggeration that a pope has never been so widely quoted by the secular press, it could also be said that the pope’s intentions have never been so widely misinterpreted. He is not quite “conservative” nor entirely “progressive”. His message is filled with paradoxes because life is a paradox and Christian life is a great paradox. The world is listening to him because Francis models a solid consistency: the one between his words and deeds, and that between its current papal mission and life eternal. People listen to him because he walks the talk and walks the walk. He speaks our talk. Francis is the world’s shepherd and a beautiful model and example of the new evangelization in action.

What is the most important achievement of Pope Francis? He has rebranded Catholicism and the papacy. Prior to Pope Francis, when many people on the street were asked: “What is the Catholic Church all about? What does the pope stand for?,” the response would often be, “Catholics, well they are against abortion, gay marriage and birth control.” “They are known for the sex abuse crisis that has terribly marred and weakened their moral authority and credibility.”

Today, the response is somewhat different. What do they say about us now? What do they say about the Pope? People are speaking about our leader who is unafraid to confront the sins and evils that have marred us. We have a pope who is concerned about the environment, about mercy, compassion and love, and a deep passion, care and concern for the poor. Pope Francis has won over a great part of the media. By no means is this an indication that the teachings of the Church and message of the Gospel have been fully understood or received by all.  Nevertheless, something has shifted in terms of Church-media relations. Many of my colleagues in the “secular” media industry have said that Francis has made it fun to be a religion reporter and journalist again. He has changed the image of the church so much that prestigious graduate schools of business and management are now using him as a case study in rebranding. He has also ruffled many feathers and upset some folks because of his free-flowing, unscripted remarks at times, and he raises a few eyebrows now and then!

Initially perhaps many of us (myself included) may have thought that Pope Francis’ accessibility, free-flowing interviews, homilies and quotes are more a source of consternation and frustration than opportunities to deepen knowledge about the Church, her founder and her message. But Francis has chosen many different opportunities to speak and encounter the world. No matter how fraught with the potential or real confusion and misinterpretation those methods may sometimes be, the world is now listening to the Pope in ways that have not happened for a long, long time. No longer can we simply attribute this interest to an initial fascination, a “honeymoon period”, or other cynical ways of trying to dismiss what is really happening. The world is listening because Francis and the Church have something solid to say and to offer to a world plunged in chaos, war, terror, violence, moral deprivation, despair and darkness. Francis has given us an opportunity to teach, catechize and evangelize those establishments, agencies and individuals that bring us the news and the consumers of that news.

The inability of commentators to pigeonhole Francis into a single category is frustrating to some people. Francis does not compromise on the hot-button issues that divide the Church from the secular West – a gap that liberals would like to close by modernizing doctrine. Yet he is also not a pope for the Catholic Right. For him contrasting positions, held together in tension, loyal to fundamentals but open to the action of the Holy Spirit, are necessary to forge a new, better consensus and the differences make for an honest, open discussion.

Look at what Pope Francis said to the special session of the US Congress last September and how he said it. He didn’t scold, chastise, excoriate, condemn or excommunicate those powerful women and men sitting before him – many of them Catholics! Rather he urged lawmakers to build on their great history, to draw from their deepest principles. He reminded them of the good they have done in the past, which serves as an example of the good they can and should do in the future:

“Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.”

This was hardly a call to overthrow the system that the pope’s more radical-minded fans would have us believe. Instead, he asked us to call on all that is best, good, and true in our society. The other day, in a taxi ride from downtown Philadelphia to the seminary, when the driver realized where he was taking me, he remarked: “Hey buddy, this is the Pope’s house in Philly!” I smiled and told him I knew that. He then immediately asked me if I had watched the Pope’s televised address to the US Congress last September. I said that I certainly did! He remarked: “You know what he did that day, he called for our better angels!”

Francis’ words to congress in that historic gathering in the Chamber of the House of Representatives that morning did not fall on the deaf ears of the media and the millions who watched that historic event. Tenor and tone, eye-contact and gesture, kindness, gentleness and firmness all met together and did indeed call forth our better angels. What a profound moment of evangelization that September morning! We owe a debt of gratitude to the public media of this country and many other countries who brought us the stunning, wall-to-wall coverage and the powerful messages of the Pope last September in Cuba and in America. And here I must honestly admit that the secular media of this country, in particular the major networks did a far better job in allowing the Pope to speak to us rather than having that message filtered, distorted, editorialized and minimized by some commentators claiming to represent, faithful Catholic communication networks. I teased my colleagues at CNN, with whom I worked closely those days that they should have been called the Catholic News Network during the blessed days the Pope was among us.

One of the critiques of Francis’ Petrine Ministry and teaching heard in these parts is that the Pope is not speaking out enough against abortion. I hear this criticism often. I assure you that Pope Francis is profoundly Pro-Life. He offers to the Church and the world a consistent ethic of life, from its earliest moments of conception to natural death, from womb to tomb. Pope Francis is doing what the Bishop of Rome and successor of Peter should do, positioning the evil of abortion within its proper moral context, the failure to recognize the dignity of every single human person at every age and stage of life. Procured abortion is only one of the poisonous fruits from the rotted tree growing in the corrupted garden of a culture of death.

Over the past years, Pope Francis has strongly denounced efforts to redefine marriage, and issued a thundering condemnation of abortion, euthanasia, and in-vitro fertilization, calling them “sins against God.” As late as January 22 of this year, he addressed the Roman Rota with these words: “The Church… can show the unfailing merciful love of God to families – especially those wounded by sin and the trials of life – and, at the same time, proclaim the essential truth of marriage according to God’s design.” Pope Francis avoids any opportunity that can lend itself to political manipulation of his person and his words. He is very clear in giving positive messages even in the most complex situations. He is never “against” someone. He understands the Church to be of the people and not of political or cultural elites.

We are unlikely to forget Pope Francis’ magnificent, unscripted reflection at the great vigil of the World Meeting of Families on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in this very city, the night of September 26, 2015. It was a stunning catechesis on marriage and family life:

“When the man and his wife went astray and walked away from God, God did not leave them alone. Such was his love. So great was his love that he began to walk with mankind, he began to walk alongside his people, until the right time came and then he gave the greatest demonstration of love: his Son. And where did he send his Son? To a palace, to a city, to an office building? He sent him to a family. God came into the world in a family. And he could do this because that family was a family with a heart open to love, a family whose doors were open.”

I would like to consider three ways that the Pope is joyfully communicating to us, often through the media, core teachings of our faith, foundational principles of Catholic life: Joy, Ecology and the Environment, and Mercy.

Joy, the weapon of mass construction

In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis invites and challenges all of us to move beyond our “comfort zones.” He asks us to rediscover the joy of being Christian.

“Consequently, an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that “delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow… And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervour, who have first received the joy of Christ”. [EG #10]

Francis wants us to be warm, welcoming and forgiving as Jesus has modeled to us on every page of the New Testament. This morning in Rome at the Jubilee of Consecrated Life, Pope Francis reminded thousands of religious women and men that we have a Lord and Master “who shared in the joy of the spouses in Cana of Galilee and the anguish of the widow of Nain; a Lord and Master who enters into the house of Jairus, touched by death, and the house of Bethany, perfumed with nard. He took upon Himself illness and suffering, to the point of giving His life in ransom. Following Christ means going where He went; taking upon oneself, like the good Samaritan, the wounded we encounter along the road; going in search of the lost sheep. To be, like Jesus, close to the people; sharing their joys and pains, showing with our love the paternal face of God and the maternal caress of the Church.”

Francis wants us to eat with tax collectors and sinners; he wants us to forgive the woman caught in adultery (while admonishing her to sin no more); he wants us to welcome and respect foreigners (even our enemies), and, above all, not to judge others. He has spoken simply, powerfully and beautifully about returning to lost unity, a desire to achieve a missing fullness, a disarming invitation to simply come together to witness to the beauty of the love of Christ. He wants to build bridges that everyone can cross. He is especially conscious of the poor and those who have been marginalized – social outcasts kept on the fringes of society.

On being close to the people he writes: “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others.”

Pope Francis models that “a church which ‘goes forth’ is a church whose doors are open…. Often it is better simply to slow down, to put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others, to stop rushing from one thing to another and to remain with someone who has faltered along the way.”

Evangelization must be an invitation to respond to God’s love and to seek the good in others, he says. “If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our greatest risk. It would mean that it is not the Gospel which is being preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options.”

The church’s internal “wars” – the tendency to form groups of “elites,” to impose certain ideas and even to engage in “persecutions which appear as veritable witch hunts” – are all a counter-witness to evangelization. “Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?”

In his meeting with the United States Bishops in St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, DC, on September 23, 2015, Francis said:

“It is not about preaching complicated doctrines, but joyfully proclaiming Christ who died and rose for our sake. The “style” of our mission should make our hearers feel that the message we preach is meant “for us”.  May the word of God grant meaning and fullness to every aspect of their lives; may the sacraments nourish them with that food which they cannot procure for themselves; may the closeness of the shepherd make them long once again for the Father’s embrace. Be vigilant that the flock may always encounter in the heart of their pastor that “taste of eternity” which they seek in vain in the things of this world.  May they always hear from you a word of appreciation for their efforts to confirm in liberty and justice the prosperity in which this land abounds.” 

He reminded his brother bishops: “…We are promoters of the culture of encounter. We are living sacraments of the embrace between God’s riches and our poverty. We are witnesses of the abasement and the condescension of God who anticipates in love our every response. …Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love (Mt 20:1-16).”

And he took leave of them with these words:

“…Only a Church which can gather around the family fire remains able to attract others. And not any fire, but the one which blazed forth on Easter morn. The risen Lord continues to challenge the Church’s pastors through the quiet plea of so many of our brothers and sisters: “Have you something to eat?” We need to recognize the Lord’s voice, as the apostles did on the shore of the lake of Tiberius (Jn 21:4-12). It becomes even more urgent to grow in the certainty that the embers of his presence, kindled in the fire of his passion, precede us and will never die out. Whenever this certainty weakens, we end up being caretakers of ash, and not guardians and dispensers of the true light and the warmth which causes our hearts to burn within us (Lk 24:32).”

These words are not only addressed to the shepherds and pastors of the American Church but to each and each one of us here tonight. What he says and how he says it offers us a unique model of authentic communication and connection with people.

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*Cardinal Foley addressing Catholic Media Convention Banquet in 2011 in Pittsburgh.*

Ecology and the Environment

Pope Francis’ tone in his recent encyclical Laudato Sì is passionate, personal and urgent. He has drafted this major letter with the mind and heart of a disciple of Jesus and the pen and voice of a prophet who has seen and personally experienced the grave injustices and ugliness that human beings can cause on this earth. The encyclical On the Care of our Common Home is addressed to “everyone living on this planet” and calls for a new way of looking at things. We face an urgent crisis, when the earth has begun to look more and more like, in the Pope’s vivid image, “an immense pile of filth”. Still, the document is hopeful, reminding us that because God is with us, all of us can strive to change course. We can move towards an “ecological conversion” in which we can listen to the “cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”. This is a deeply uncomfortable encyclical because it is not content simply to face up to the institutional and moral issues of climate change and environmental degradation, but addresses the deeper tragedy of humanity itself.

Never before has the public media spoken so much about what many have wrongly called “The Climate Change Manifesto!” More than any other encyclical, “Laudato Sí” draws from the experiences of people around the world, referencing the findings of bishops’ conferences from Brazil, New Zealand, Southern Africa, Bolivia, Portugal, Germany, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, Australia, Canada and the United States.

What is the story within the story of “Laudato Sì”? It is an overview of the environmental crisis from a religious point of view. Until now, the dialogue about the environment has been framed mainly using political, scientific and economic language. Now, the language of faith enters the discussion – clearly, decisively and systematically.

When the environmental world and many people not of our faith or tradition welcome the Pope as a powerful ally and the religious Right dismisses him as a disingenuous radical, socialist or a communist, these have missed the essential point. This is the Gospel call, as disconcertingly direct today as was Jesus’s confrontation with the rich young man, the scribes and the Pharisees, or the moneychangers in the Temple. That’s the unique quality of the encyclical. It is not just the declaration of assent to a program of international environmental action, but also the prophetic voice of the Church. It is therefore far more fundamentally disturbing and uncomfortable, demanding an individual response that will change our lives forever.

Laudato Sì is a perfect example of how the Church, at the highest level, understands the modern world, enters into a profound dialogue with the world, and repeats again her age-old message of salvation in a new way.  Laudato Sì is rooted in the concrete realities of our times. With Laudato Sì Pope Francis is laying the groundwork for a new Christian humanism, rooted in the simple and beautiful image of Jesus that he presents for the world’s consideration. For in the end, it is in the name and mission of Jesus of Nazareth that the Pope issues his call to conversion – a compelling invitation to each of us to look at the earth and all of its creatures with the loving eyes and heart of Jesus Christ. With Laudato Sì, we learn to cherish the world God so loved and adore the Son given to us by the Father.

Mercy

In the well-known programmatic Jubilee text of Luke 4, we read that Jesus “stood up to read, and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written: The spirit of the Lord has been given to me…” (Lk 4:16-18; Is 61:1). Very significantly the last line of Isaiah read by Jesus says: “to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour” (Lk 4:19; Is 61:2), and immediately afterwards, Jesus’ message was a declaration that precisely “this text” was being fulfilled on that day. The expression of Isaiah 61:2 “year of the Lord’s favour” clearly refers to the prescriptions in the Book of Leviticus on the Jubilee Year (Lev 25:10-13). Therefore at Nazareth Jesus was proclaiming a Jubilee Year.

But there is something very odd about the Isaiah quotation on Jesus’ lips. The Gospel does not quote the whole phrase of Isaiah, which includes two compliments of the object after the verb “proclaim” in Is 61:2. The Gospel quotes only the first “the Lord’s year of favor” neglecting the second which is “a day of vengeance for our God”. The quotation of Isaiah foresees two aspects of divine intervention, the first being the liberation of the Jewish people, the other punishment of her enemies. The Gospel has not retained this opposition! The omission has two consequences: a) the message contains nothing negative; b) it is implicitly universal. There is no suggestion of distinction between Jews and non-Jews. This is discreet preparation for the universal nature of the Gospel message, which will become explicit after the death and resurrection of Jesus: when the most fundamental liberation, from sin will be proclaimed “in his name to all people” (Lk 24:47). Universal openness is an essential character of the proclamation of the Good News and the sharing of our story.

On March 13 last year, Pope Francis surprised the world by announcing a Jubilee of Mercy that began this past December. Francis wants this jubilee to go deeper spiritually and to be a far-reaching Christian witness of mercy to the world.  Mercy is a theme very dear to Pope Francis, in his episcopal motto: miserando atque eligendo, literally, “Chosen Through the Eyes of Mercy.” During the first Angelus after his election to the See of Peter, Pope Francis stated: “Feeling mercy, that this word changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient” (March 17, 2013).

For Pope Francis, mercy is the interpretative key to the Gospel of Jesus. Francis had his first profound experience of God’s mercy at age 17, when on his way to a high school dance, he went to confession and felt the call to the priesthood. Throughout his priestly ministry, he has sought to give concrete expression to God’s mercy by word and deed because he believes, as he wrote recently: “Mercy is not just a pastoral attitude; it is the very substance of the Gospel message.”

What is the story within the story of the Jubilee of Mercy?  Pope Francis wants to bring the whole church, starting with the cardinals, bishops, priests and consecrated persons, to open themselves to God’s mercy and to find concrete, creative ways to put mercy into practice in their areas of ministry.

As Bishop of Rome, he is blazing the trail by word and deed, showing what mercy means in relation to the poor, the homeless, prisoners, immigrants, the sick and the persecuted. They are for him “the flesh of Christ.” In this same optic of mercy, he has called for the abolition of the death penalty and life-imprisonment “the hidden death penalty”.

In his homily to new cardinals on February 15 last year, Pope Francis recalled that “the church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement.” This means “welcoming the repentant prodigal son; healing the wounds of sin with courage and determination; rolling up our sleeves and not standing by and watching passively the suffering of the world.”

Pope Francis’ art of communicating

For the 48th World Communications Day message in 2014, Pope Francis wrote:

“How, then, can communication be at the service of an authentic culture of encounter? What does it mean for us, as disciples of the Lord, to encounter others in the light of the Gospel?…How can we be “neighborly” in our use of the communications media and in the new environment created by digital technology? I find an answer in the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is also a parable about communication. Those who communicate, in effect, become neighbors. The Good Samaritan not only draws nearer to the man he finds half dead on the side of the road; he takes responsibility for him. Jesus shifts our understanding: it is not just about seeing the other as someone like myself, but of the ability to make myself like the other. Communication is really about realizing that we are all human beings, children of God. I like seeing this power of communication as “neighbourliness”.”

In his 2015 Message for the World Day of Communications, Francis reminded us that “modern media, which are an essential part of life for young people in particular, can be both a help and a hindrance to communication in and between families.”

“The media can be a hindrance if they become a way to avoid listening to others, to evade physical contact, to fill up every moment of silence and rest, so that we forget that “silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist.” The media can help communication when they enable people to share their stories, to stay in contact with distant friends, to thank others or to seek their forgiveness, and to open the door to new encounters.”

In this year’s message for the 2016 World Day of Communications, Francis writes:

“Communication has the power to build bridges, to enable encounter and inclusion, and thus to enrich society. How beautiful it is when people select their words and actions with care, in the effort to avoid misunderstandings, to heal wounded memories and to build peace and harmony. Words can build bridges between individuals and within families, social groups and peoples. This is possible both in the material world and the digital world. Our words and actions should be such as to help us all escape the vicious circles of condemnation and vengeance which continue to ensnare individuals and nations, encouraging expressions of hatred. The words of Christians ought to be a constant encouragement to communion and, even in those cases where they must firmly condemn evil, they should never try to rupture relationships and communication.”

“Our primary task is to uphold the truth with love.”

“It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal. Social networks can facilitate relationships and promote the good of society, but they can also lead to further polarization and division between individuals and groups.”

Field Hospitals

Let me conclude by taking up one of Pope Francis favorite images which has certainly been seized by the media: the powerful image of the “field hospital.” This expression is not unique to Francis, but is drawn from the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. When Francis speaks of the church as a “field hospital after a battle” he appeals to Ignatius’ understanding of the role of the church in light of God’s gaze upon the world: “so many people ask us to be close, that ask us for what they were asking of Jesus: closeness, nearness.”  It is the opposite image of a fortress under siege. The image of a church as a field hospital is not just a simple, pretty poetic metaphor; from this very image we can derive an understanding of both the church’s mission and the sacraments of salvation. Field hospitals by their very nature indicate a battleground, a struggle, suffering, confusion, emergency and they foster dialogue and encounter, conversation and meeting, consolation, compassion and the binding of wounds. Because my topic this evening is specifically about communications and media, I would like to indicate two areas where field hospitals are badly needed. And not only hospitals but caregivers willing to step into the battle and bring healing.

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*Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, Cardinal John Foley and Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB at mass in Salt and Light Studio Chapel during Catholic Media Convention in May, 2008.*

New Media and Young People

There is no question that the Church has entered the whole world of New Media with bravado and great zeal. I am concerned at times that we do so without careful reflection on what is really happening in this new universe. Does the use of new media serve to deepen our attentiveness to the presence of God, to the risen Christ to the living Spirit, to the community gathered about us, and to the world in which we are called to minister? In the digital world, no matter how hasty, undigested, unreflected the responses may be from our audience, our patient listening must always triumph. Internet culture conditions us to think that quick, instant responses to complex questions are the most valuable responses. It is then that we teachers and pastors become choreographers of immediacy rather than midwives of a slower wisdom. 

Many times in the new media culture, our flight from conversation can mean diminished chances to learn skills of self-reflection. It’s hard to do anything with 2000 intimate Facebook friends except connect. We think constant connection will make us feel less lonely. Many times the opposite is true. If we are unable to be alone, we are far more likely to be lonely.

Most of all, we need to remember – in between text messages, tweets, probes, likes, prompts, e-mails and Facebook posts – to listen to one another, even to the boring conversations, because it is often in unedited moments, moments in which we hesitate, stammer, stutter, cry and go silent, that we reveal our deepest selves to one another.

In today’s schools, universities and workplaces, so many people who have grown up fearing conversation show up at school or on the job wearing earphones. Walking through big newsrooms of the TV or Radio networks, visiting journalists at major newspapers, strolling through university and seminary libraries and sleek downtown offices or at times even through our Salt and Light Television studios, one sees the same thing: we are together, but each of us is in our own bubble, furiously connected to keyboards and tiny touch screens. We are working away quietly at workstations with a whole array of technologies spread before them: laptops, iPads, iPods, and multiple cell phones. No one dares to break the silence with a greeting of  “Hello!” “How are you?” “How was your weekend?” In the silence of supposed connection, people are carefully kept at bay. We keep one another at bay. We seem almost willing to dispense with people altogether. It is our role to tell people to look up, look at one another, and to start the conversation again.  The Word became flesh… not an e-mail, text or prompt or probe!

Pope Francis warns us:

“some people… want their interpersonal relationships provided by sophisticated equipment, by screens and systems which can be turned on and off”. He continues, “the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us.” (EG #88)

The Digital World and Catholic Blogosphere

Let me identify a second battleground where a field hospital is badly needed.  We can each name a country or land where blood, terror and violence seem to have the upper hand.  But the big battlefield before humanity is also the digital world: one that requires no passport and travel ticket to enter.  You only need a keyboard, a screen or a hand-held device.  It is in that universe that many wars are waged each day and where many wounded souls live, walk or troll. It is an immense battleground that needs many field hospitals set up to bind wounds and reconcile warring parties.

In the wild, crazy world of the blogosphere, there is the challenge of accountability and responsibility. On the Internet there is no accountability, no code of ethics, and no responsibility for one’s words and actions. It can be an international weapon of mass destruction, crossing time zones, borders and space. In its wake is character assassination, destruction of reputation, calumny, libel, slander and defamation.

Many of my non-Christian and non-believing friends have remarked to me that we “Catholics” have turned the Internet into a cesspool of hatred, venom and vitriol, condemnation and excommunication all in the name of defending the faith!  The character assassination on the Internet by those claiming to be faithful Catholics and Christians has turned it into a graveyard of filth and of corpses strewn all around.

What view do others have of us when they view our blogs? If we judged our identity based on certain “Catholic” websites and blogs on the Internet, we would be known as the people who are against everyone and everything! If anything, we should be known as the people who are for something, something positive that can transform lives and engage and impact the culture. To what degree are our blogs and websites really the expression of the wealth of the Christian patrimony and successful in transmitting the Good News that the Lord has asked us to spread?

In Vianney Hall this evening, there are dozens of field hospital workers ready for deployment. On these new battlefields today, the Church must shine with the light that lives within itself, it must go out and encounter human beings who – even though they believe that they do not need to hear a message of salvation – often find themselves afraid and wounded by life. In one of his well-known poems, Blessed Cardinal J.H. Newman wrote about a “kindly light.” The light of Christ reflected in the Church must not become the privilege of only a few elect who float enclosed within a safe harbor: this would be a “church clique” or a “personal blog” or “chat room” more than an ecclesial community.

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*Fr. Rosica blessing body of Cardinal Foley before his funeral mass in Philadelphia’s Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul – December 16, 2011.*

Cardinal John Foley

If Vatican Communications are undergoing a massive reform at present, so much of this is due to the quiet, painstaking, often hidden and underappreciated, groundbreaking work of the late Cardinal Foley. Everything I have said in this presentation was found in the life of Cardinal Foley, especially in the 23 years that he headed the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. His goodness, kindness, humanity and humor, genuine interest in others and compassion for them, was the joy of the Gospel for countless people who encountered him, especially for tens of thousands of journalists and media personnel who had the privilege of interacting with him. John Patrick Foley of Philadelphia won the hearts of tens of thousands of people because he opened doors for them, listened, smiled, accompanied, laughed and shared their lot. He admonished when necessary, but did it in charity.

Three things Cardinal Foley taught me will always remain with me. As I prepared to lead World Youth Day 2002 in Canada, he told me to be sure to spend much time with journalists, leading them by the hand, never dismissing foolish questions, challenging where necessary, answering when possible, and thanking them always when they did a good job. I remember well one of his mantras to me: “We are very good at criticizing, complaining and writing people off when they have done a poor job in covering a story or smearing us. We do a terrible job in thanking them when they got it right.”

Second, the Cardinal told me that every single encounter with journalists must be considered a moment of catechesis and evangelization. Even though we may not use those words explicitly, he said: “Use every opportunity as a teaching moment.”Always be kind. Always express gratitude for their interest in us, even though some of it is misplaced, misguided or misinformed.”

Thirdly, the Cardinal told me at the height of the hoopla over the DaVinci Code back in 2004, “When well meaning Catholics demand that we protest booksellers, writers, movie houses for presenting negative or even false images of the Church, don’t join those crusades. They only help to increase sales of books and break box office sales records! Rather, seize the opportunity to present the alternative story which is the truth.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan described the late Cardinal with these accurate words during his very moving homily at Cardinal Foley’s funeral on December 16, 2011 here in Philadelphia:

[His] was “A courtesy that was so impeccable and the thoughtfulness that was so unfailing that we might not be surprised to find his photograph in the “pictionary” for the entry on “gentleman.” “A holiness in “His Foleyness” that was evident without being overbearing; A depth to his intellect which could express itself with warmth and childlikeness.”

Cardinal John Patrick Foley laid the groundwork for Pope Francis’ dynamic, creative and successful outreach to the world through the media. Over 23 years of often hidden work at our headquarters on the Tiber, John Patrick Foley sowed the seeds for a new springtime of evangelization in the Church. May this good shepherd of Philadelphia rest in peace, intercede for us, continue to inspire us and show us how to be good communicators, how to work closely with the media, and through them, to teach the world.


Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

Ordained a priest in the Congregation of St. Basil in 1986, Fr. Thomas Rosica, a native of Rochester, New York, holds advanced degrees in Theology and Sacred Scripture from Regis College in the University of Toronto, the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem.  Fr. Rosica has lectured in Sacred Scripture at Canadian Universities in Toronto, Windsor and London and served as Executive Director of the Newman Centre Catholic Chaplaincy at the University of Toronto from 1994-2000.

In June 1999, he was appointed by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops as the Chief Executive Officer and National Director of the World Youth Day and the Papal Visit of Pope John Paul II, that took place in Toronto during July, 2002.  On July 1, 2003, Fr. Rosica became the founding Chief Executive Officer of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, Canada’s first national Catholic Television Network.

Appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in 2009, Fr. Rosica also served as Media Attaché at four Synods of Bishops at the Vatican in 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2015. Since the Papal Transition in 2013, he has been English language Assistant to Holy See Press Office. Fr. Rosica a member of several Boards of Governors of Institutions of Higher Learning, including the Board of the Gregorian University Foundation in Rome.

Inside the Synod 2015: A Review

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The 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World focused largely on the family, language and church teaching. Join Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB and Italian Producer Matteo Ciofi as they delve deep into these issues in a special Italian-language episode of Inside the Synod. Episode premieres Sunday, January 31, 2016 at 4 pm ET.

 

The Duty and Obligation of being Pro-Life

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What does it mean to be pro-life?

To be actively pro-life is to contribute to the renewal of society through the promotion of the common good. It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted. Remember the prophetic words of Pope Paul VI:

Every crime against life is an attack on peace, especially if it strikes at the moral conduct of people…But where human rights are truly professed and publicly recognized and defended, peace becomes the joyful and operative climate of life in society.

Abortion is without a doubt the most serious wound inflicted not only on individuals and their families who should provide the sanctuary for life, but inflicted as well on society and its culture, by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders. We must never lose sight of the atrocities against the unborn, the untold and too-seldom spoken of pain and lingering anguish experienced by those who have been involved in abortions.

I know about the tragedy of abortion and I know about the good work of many people involved in the pro-life Movement who work hard to prevent this tragedy. However a singular focus on abortion as the arbiter of what it means to be “pro-life” has severely narrowed our national discourse about moral values in the public square. People claiming to be fervently Catholic, always right, and blinded by their own zeal and goodness, have ended up defeating the very cause for which we must all defend with every ounce of energy in our flesh and bones. Their anger vitiates their efforts.

Could it be that some of us are turned off or even repelled by current definitions or behaviors of some of those people claiming to be pro-life, yet manifesting a tunnel vision? The Roman Catholic Church offers a consistent teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness and the dignity of the human person: a 20/20 vision for which we must strive each day if we claim to be pro-life. Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. We must strive to see the whole picture, not with tunnel vision.

What is also troubling are those who claim to be on the “left”, always championing human and civil rights, respecting and upholding the dignity and freedom of others. This of course has included the protection of individual rights, and the efforts of government to care for the weak, sick and disadvantaged. Why then are the extension to the unborn of the human right to life, and opposition to the culture of death, not central issues on the “left?” They must be, for they are clearly matters of justice and human rights.

A few years ago, Cardinal Séan O’Malley wrote to the people of Boston with these words:

If any cause is motivated by judgment, anger or vindictiveness, it will be doomed to marginalization and failure. Jesus’ words to us were that we must love one another as He loves us… Our ability to change people’s hearts and help them to grasp the dignity of each and every life, from the first moment of conception to the last moment of natural death, is directly related to our ability to increase love and unity in the church, for our proclamation of the Truth is hindered when we are divided and fighting with each other.

We cannot ignore the other great challenge faced by humanity today–the serious question of mercy killing, or euthanasia as it is sometimes called, no longer found in abstract cases and theories. It concerns ordinary people and is debated not only in Parliament but also around dinner tables and in classrooms. Aging populations, especially in the west, and resulting smaller workforces are now creating a market push towards euthanasia. As Pope John Paul II wrote: “a right to die will inevitably give way to the duty to die.” This issue strikes to the very core of who we are and what we believe. Even when not motivated by the refusal to be burdened with the life of someone who is suffering, euthanasia must be called a false and misguided mercy. True compassion leads to sharing another’s pain, not killing the person whose suffering we cannot bear.

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Furthering the Common Good

Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the dignity of the human person such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself, whatever insults human dignity such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons… all of these things and more poison human society.

It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted.

In Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, (Truth in Charity), the Holy Father addresses clearly the dignity and respect for human life:

Openness to life is at the centre of true development… When a society moves toward the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good. If personal and social sensitivity toward the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.

Engaging the Culture Around Us

Being pro-life does not give us the right and license to say and do whatever we wish, to malign, condemn and destroy other human beings who do not share our views. We must never forget the principles of civility, Gospel charity, ethics, and justice. Jesus came to engage the culture of his day, and we must engage the culture of our day. We must avoid the sight impairment and myopia that often afflict people of good will who are blinded by their own zeal and are unable to see the whole picture. Being pro-life is not an activity for a political party or a particular side of the spectrum. It is an obligation for everyone: left, right and centre! If we are pro-life, we must engage the culture around us, and not curse it. We must see others as Jesus does, and we must love them to life, even those who are opposed to us. Being pro-life in this day and age is truly prophetic, and it will bring about authentic development and enduring peace in our world.

We are all invited pray these words each day, especially during this week:

LupitaEternal Father, Source of Life, strengthen us with your Holy Spirit to receive the abundance of life you have promised.
Open our hearts to see and desire the beauty of your plan for life and love.
Make our love generous and self-giving so that we may be blessed with joy.
Grant us great trust in your mercy.
Forgive us for not receiving your gift of life and heal us from the effects of the culture of death.
Instill in us and all people reverence for every human life.
Inspire and protect our efforts on behalf of those most vulnerable especially the unborn, the sick and the elderly.
We ask this in the Name of Jesus, who by His Cross makes all things new. Amen.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

Father Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO Salt + Light Catholic Media Foundation

(CNS photo/Bob Roller)
(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Why the message of Christmas is needed, especially now

Palestinian Manan Abu Abuayash holds her baby Maram, 6 months, while lighting candles Dec. 20 in the Church of the Nativity where tradition believes Christ was born in Bethlehem, West Bank. Few tourists are visiting Bethlehem this Christmas season because of the recent violence between Israelis and Palestinians. (CNS photo/Debbie Hill)

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, wrote a special Christmas piece for CNN. Read an excerpt below:

The drama of Jesus’ birth in Palestine, taking place under occupation in an outpost of the Roman Empire over 2000 years ago, reminds us that the elite and powerful, those who benefited most from keeping the status quo, were the least open to the coming of the Kingdom, to new insights, to solutions to the injustices and the heartbreaks of this world.

Continue reading the full piece on CNN here.

Remembering ourselves through Jesus at Christmas

A Nativity scene and Christmas tree decorate the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican Dec. 15. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

A Nativity scene and Christmas tree decorate the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican Dec. 15. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Each Christmas season, as carols fill the December air, we remember ourselves.

We’re awakened by this remembering as we treasure Christmas memories. A nostalgic escape, this process of remembering is a profoundly human act. In the Bethlehem story, we see ourselves. If in the birth of Jesus, God’s only son (a mystery known as Incarnation), we discover beauty, simplicity, poverty and vulnerability. Then we can find that same God in the simplicity and poverty and vulnerability of our lives, our relationships and our society.

There is a profoundly simple message in the Christmas story for all women and men of good will.

The Word of God took flesh in the womb of a young girl of Nazareth, who trusted a strange angelic visitor. She was in an irregular situation: Her husband, not the father of the child she was carrying, could have disowned her. But an angel appeared to him in a dream, and Joseph cherished Mary and the child to be born.

The child was greeted at his birth not by the powerful and mighty, nor by leaders of the religious establishment of the day. Rather it was the poor – shepherds and strangers, probably Zorastrian astrologers from the East – who came to pay homage to this helpless baby in a manger.

No one described the whole scene better than Pope Francis this past September at a Vigil Ceremony for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. He told the crowd of over one million people gathered on Benjamin Franklin Parkway: “And where did God send his Son? To a palace, to a city, to an office building? He sent him to a family. God came into the world in a family. And he could do this because that family was a family with a heart open to love, a family whose doors were open.”

This little family was humble, poor, faithful and knew the life of refugees, having to flee to Egypt (or most likely Gaza) to avoid the terror of a despotic ruler.

The feast of Christmas reminds humanity of one profound message: that God has mixed with the human family and loved them all – the women and the men, the weak and the strong, the rich and the poor, those who love and those who hate.

And only God knows who is close and who is far from him. Who are we to judge?

At Christmas we are taught where to find God: in the midst of humanity, in the thick and thin of the human race, in the smiles and tears of every newborn baby, in the wrinkled faces of the elderly. We find Him in the suffering of the dying, in the hospitality to strangers and the poor among us, in the cherished gift of friendship, and in the welcome of refugees. And we can find Him in the bold, courageous leadership of a young Prime Minister who goes against the tide of other political leaders not far from our borders, who have put up barriers and shields to keep strangers out because of fear.

Anyone who really understands that God became human at one shining moment in human history over 2,000 years ago in an outpost of the Roman Empire will never be able to speak and act in an inhumane way.

That is what the real spirit of Christmas is all about.

Thomas Rosica
The Globe and Mail
Thursday, Dec. 24, 2015

Father Thomas Rosica is the CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and assistant to the Holy See Press Office.


*This article was originally published in The Globe and Mail.

The Face of Mercy in Calcutta’s Gutters: Mother Teresa to be proclaimed a Saint

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Teresa Calcutta window detailBlessed Teresa of Calcutta will be proclaimed a saint in 2016. On Thursday afternoon, Pope Francis authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate a decree regarding a miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Teresa (nee Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu). The Pope’s approval for these decrees came during a private audience with Cardinal Angelo Amato SDB, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Blessed Teresa, known around the world as Mother Teresa was born August 26, 1910 in Skopje, then part of the Kosovo Vilayet in the Ottoman Empire, into a Kosovar Albanian family. She was foundress of the Congregation of the Missionaries of Charity and the Missionaries of Charity. It’s been eighteen years since Mother Teresa suffered a heart attack and died at 87 years old on Sept. 5, 1997 in Calcutta.  She would have turned 105 years old this year. The day after she died, she was set to lead an interfaith memorial prayer service in Calcutta for her friend, Diana, Princess of Wales, who had been tragically killed in a car accident one week earlier.

I commentated her funeral for several national television networks in Canada, which marked my first time ever doing commentary on television!  The pomp, precision and somber majesty of Princess Diana’s London farewell one week earlier were hardly visible in the chaotic scenes of Mother Teresa’s simple wooden casket riding on a gun carriage through the mobbed and chaotic streets of Calcutta for her State funeral.

Mother Teresa’s life was not a sound byte, but rather a metaphor for selfless devotion and holiness.  Her most famous work began in 1950 with the opening of the first Nirmal Hriday (Tender Heart) home for the dying and destitute in Calcutta.  Mother’s words remain inscribed on the walls of that home: “Nowadays the most horrible disease is not leprosy or tuberculosis. It is the feeling to be undesirable, rejected, abandoned by all.”

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There are critics in the Church who say that Mother Teresa personified a “pre-Vatican-Council” view of faith and did not address systemic evils.  She is politely and sometimes unpolitely dismissed because her life is hardly “prophetic” in the eyes of some people.  In fact, many saints and blessed are dismissed by such folks who have no understanding of the meaning of biblical prophecy.  They criticize Mother and her followers for their relentless condemnation of abortion.  Some have said that in Mother Teresa, there was no element of prophetic criticism in her teachings and her lifestyle.  Instead of acting sensibly by applying for government grants to create programs to eliminate poverty, Mother Teresa and her sisters moved into neighborhoods and befriended people.  Their houses often become oases of hope and peace, like the ones in Canada. When Mother Teresa speaks of ‘sharing poverty,’ she defies the logic of institutions that prefer agendas for the poor, not communion with individual poor people. Agents and instruments of communion are often called irrelevant and not considered by the world.

Mother Teresa holding childn in armsThough Mother Teresa left this world scene eighteen years ago, this tiny nun made the news big time several years ago with the publication of her letters. Many journalists, magazine editors, television newscasters and bloggers completely distorted the story with their sensational headlines: “Mother Teresa’s secret life: crisis and darkness,” or  “Calcutta’s Saint was an atheist,” or even “Mother and the Absent One.”  Some commentators wrote: “She lost her faith and the Church rewards her for it.” These people seem unaware that those who prepared Mother’s Beatification in 2003 cited the letters as proof of her exceptional faith and not the absence of it.

Mother Teresa tells us in those deeply personal messages that she once felt God’s powerful presence and heard Jesus speak to her. Then God withdrew and Jesus was silent. What Mother Teresa experienced thereafter was faith devoid of any emotional consolation. In the end Mother Teresa had to rely on raw faith, hope and charity. These are the virtues of all Christians, not just the spiritual elite. She was one of us after all.

What the Church looks for in saints is not just good works – for that there are Nobel Peace Prizes and other such worldly awards – but solid evidence that the candidate for canonization or beatification was transformed, inwardly and outwardly, by God’s grace and embodied a deep love of God and neighbour.

Years ago, during my graduate studies in Rome, I met Mother Teresa of Calcutta several times while I was teaching her sisters in a slum neighborhood on the outskirts of the Eternal City. At the end of our first visit, she blessed my forehead before placing into my hands one of her famous business cards unlike any I had ever seen.

On one side of the card were these words: “The fruit of silence is PRAYER. The fruit of prayer is FAITH. The fruit of faith is LOVE. The fruit of love is SERVICE. The fruit of service is PEACE. God bless you. –Mother Teresa.”

I still carry that card with me. There was no address, phone number, e-mail FAX number, or Twitter handle on the card. Mother Teresa didn’t need an address back then. Today, we don’t need any of her contact information, as she is available to all of us in the communion of saints. Everyone knows where she is and how to reach her.  She still has her hands full with our requests.

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Mother Teresa was proclaimed blessed by her friend, St. John Paul II, on October 19, 2003. A crowning gift of the Jubilee of Mercy will be Mother Teresa’s canonization by Pope Francis in 2016. Let us ask this great woman of faith to intercede for a world at war, nations filled with fear, terror and dread. May this tiny woman and towering spiritual giant help us to open the doors of our nations, communities, homes and hearts to welcome strangers and offer them hospitality and love. May soon-to-be St. Teresa of Calcutta pray for us and teach us how to love God and neighbor in unity and harmony. May she teach us how to be the face of mercy and charity in our world today.

The Advent Season’s Brightest Jewels

AventJewels

During the final week of Advent the Church offers us an intense time of preparation for the feast of the Nativity, and the Roman Church in particular sings a series of antiphons at Vespers that magnificently set forth the nature of the coming One.  I offer you a rendering of this “season’s brightest jewels” that can help us understand more clearly how Jesus has fulfilled the hopes, dreams and aspirations of Israel.

December 17  O Wisdom, O Holy Word of God (Sir. 24:3), you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care (Wisd. of Solomon  8:1).  Come and show your people the way to salvation (Isa. 40:3-5).

December 18  O Sacred Lord of Ancient Israel (Exod. 6:2, 3, 12), who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush (Exod. 3:2), who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain:  come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

December 19  O Flower of Jesse’s Stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples (Isa. 11:10; Rom. 15:12); kings stand silent in your presence (Isa. 5:15); the nations bow down in worship before you.  Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid (Hab. 2:3; Heb. 10:37).

December 20  O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel, controlling at your will the gate of heaven (Isa. 22:22; Rev. 3:7); come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom (Isa. 42:7; Ps. 107:14; Luke 1:79).

December 21  O Radiant Dawn (Zech. 6:12), splendor of eternal light (Heb. 1:3), sun of justice (Mal 4:2):  come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death (Luke 1:78-79; Isa. 9:2).

December 22  O King of all the Nations, the only joy of every human heart (Hag 2:8); O Keystone (Isa. 28:16) of the mighty human arch (Eph. 2:14); come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust (Gen. 2:7).

December 23  O Emmanuel (Isa. 7:14; 8:8), king and lawgiver (Isa. 33:22), desire of the nations (Gen. 49:10), Savior of all, come and set us free, Lord our God.

photo courtesy of CNS

Why should we care for the environment?

TomCreation

Why should we care for the environment? This is the question that Salt and Light Television Network, in partnership with the Environmental Science and Studies Department of the University Of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, attempts to answer with the brilliant documentary series: Creation. Production for this comprehensive six-part series, made possible by the Hilary Weston Foundation for Youth, began in 2011 during the Pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI.  Little did we imagine back then how and when this splendid series would be completed and crowned with the masterful encyclical, Laudato Sì’ of Pope Francis – a Papal teaching that would bring together the major themes presented by our Creation series!

Many around the world have grappled with the urgent questions of the environment and ecology by focusing on political and ideological solutions that may be noble and good, but are often lacking in deeper meaning and purpose. In Creation, Producer and Host, Deacon Pedro Guevara-Mann joins a Franciscan Sister, Environmental Scientist and Professor, Sister Damien Marie Savino, FSE, on a quest to answer the deeper questions about ecology and the environment within God’s revelation as found in his creation and the teachings of the Catholic Church.

At this critical moment in history, what is at stake is not just our respect for biodiversity, but our very survival. Scientists calculate that those most harmed by global warming in the future will be the most vulnerable and marginalized. Creation presents the ecological crisis that is directly related to the ethical challenge of eliminating poverty and advocating human rights. The dignity and rights of human beings are intimately and integrally related to the beauty and the rights of the earth itself. After all, who will dare to speak for the voiceless resources of our planet? Who will step up to protect the silent diversity of its species? Will our generation accept responsibility for pushing our environment over the tipping-point?

It is our hope that this series is will be a significant contribution to environmental education that is important in developing new awareness and solid, Christian spirituality that promotes a new way of thinking about human beings, life, society and our relationship with nature. Christian spirituality has a precious contribution to make in responding to the environment crisis because it “can motivate us to a more passionate concern for the protection of our world,” (LS §216) according to Pope Francis. For Francis, spirituality does not mean turning away from the world. There is a mystical meaning to be found in everything in the universe. A good spirituality finds God not only in the interior of our hearts but also in creatures outside of ourselves, whether it be “in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face.” (LS §233)

Pope Francis tells us that if we do not embrace this new spirituality and way of thinking and being today, “…the paradigm of consumerism will continue to advance, with the help of the media and the highly effective workings of the market.” (LS §215)

At the heart of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ and indeed of our Creation series, we find this question: What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” Pope Francis continues: “This question does not have to do with the environment alone and in isolation; the issue cannot be approached piecemeal”. (LS §160) This leads us to ask ourselves about the meaning of existence and its values at the base of social life: “What is the purpose of our life in this world? Why are we here? What is the goal of our work and all our efforts? What need does the earth have of us?” (LS §160)

Pope Francis teaches us that “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”(LS §217)

“An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness,” (LS §230) but it is also civic and political and “makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world.” (LS §231)

At the conclusion of Laudato Si, the Bishop of Rome offers two profound and striking prayers. In the first prayer, we recognize God’s presence in all of creation and ask him to pour upon us his love so that we can rescue the abandoned and forgotten. We ask for healing so we can protect the world and not prey upon it. “Teach us,” we pray, “to discover the worth of each thing, to be filled with awe and contemplation, to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature.” And the prayer concludes, “Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle for justice, love and peace.”(LS §246)

In the final prayer, we acknowledge not only the Creator but also the Son “who became part of this earth.” We profess that in his risen glory he is alive in every creature. And we recognize the Holy Spirit guiding the world “towards the Father’s love” and accompanying “creation as it groans in travail.”(LS §246)

We ask the Triune Lord to “teach us to contemplate you in the beauty of the universe” and to “show us our place in this world as channels of your love for all the creatures of this earth.”(LS §246)

Those prayers are a fitting conclusion to our six-part series, Creation produced by Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada. We invite you to watch this series, use it as a catalyst for study, reflection and bold, courageous action.

Thanks to all those who have made this wonderful series possible.

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Explaining Catholic Teaching on Mary

ThomasRosicaBible

Father Thomas Rosica, C.S.B., explains the Immaculate Conception and other Catholic teachings on Mary, the mother of God, and reflects on what an authentic revival of Marian piety and devotion might look like. This video is part of a new series of reflections on Scripture from America and the American Bible Society.