Fr. Rosica speaks on Media for Faith in the Public Square


“Labouring in the Vineyard: The Difference the Media makes in Religion”

Faith in the Public Square Conference
Munk School of Global Affairs – University of Toronto

August 7, 2014

Distinguished Guests,

Dear Friends,

Thank you for the privilege of offering some reflections on media during this lecture series to commemorate the anniversary of St. Augustine’s Seminary. You have asked me to speak about “The Difference that Media makes in Religion.” I wish to address the topic from a biblical perspective and begin with the founder of my Church, Jesus of Nazareth who lived at a very specific moment in history in an outpost of the Roman Empire.

Jesus was a great communicator. His life and ministry were immersed in religion, communications and “media” and we could say that he is living proof of the difference that media makes for religion! He has much to teach us about our own dealings and encounter with the world that God so loved. His language suggests an imagination that has scanned a great deal of normal human living. His good common sense, his extraordinary attentiveness to the situations and things of ordinary life bonded him with his followers. They recognized him as one who “walked his talk.”  His rootedness in God and his sheer love of humanity were open invitations to all those who lived otherwise. Jesus used parables to teach very important lessons. The indirectness of parables makes the wisdom of Jesus inaccessible to hostile literalists.

“The field is the world”

I wish to consider one of Jesus’ parables that offers us a paradigm of how the Church communicates with the world. In Matthew 13, Jesus tells the parable of the wheat and the weeds, a story unique to the evangelist and one that reveals this Gospel’s perspective on the community’s role in history. We know the parable well.  The farmer sows good seed in his field, and while he sleeps an enemy comes and sows weeds among the wheat. When the mixed crop appears, the servants come to the master terribly distressed and ask if he wants them to tear out the weeds. But the master says no, let both of them grow until harvest time and then they will be sorted.

Christ the sowerPerplexed by Jesus’ story, the disciples ask him to explain it, and so he begins, “the field is the world.” God works in the world, not simply in the church. The world is a mixed reality, a mixed bag, both good and bad, and this parable recognizes that the community cannot insulate or shield itself from the weeds.

Matthew’s Christians struggled with self-definition in the midst of the incredible, cataclysmic changes that were a kind of tsunami over both Jewish Christianity and Palestinian Judaism in the wake of the Jewish revolt against Rome and its devastating suppression in A.D. 70. And yet it was for this Jewish Christian community that Mathew wrote his story of Jesus of Nazareth – a community that was swept up in the tsunami of history – a community preoccupied about its sacred, historical roots in Judaism. Matthew had to draw from his treasure house things “both new and old” for the sake of his community.

My friends, the field is the world, and this strange mix of peoples on the peripheries of Israel is among the first recipients of Jesus’ message.  We could say that they are unanticipated target audience of Jesus’ mission as it breaks into non-Jewish world and takes root. This is what happens when the seed falls freely in the world and not just in the church.

Matthew’s Gospel reflects an amazing biblical perspective on history worth recalling today. It is the world and not simply the church that sets the agenda for our mission and moves us into God’s future. Time and again the biblical drama shows that what we often call secular events, even wrenching and destructive ones, move history forward and provide the setting for God’s words and plans to be revealed to humanity. All of Jesus’ vivid, rich, biblical metaphors reflect the drama unfolding in the world and its history that surrounded Jesus and his times: gathering and healing, reconciliation and forgiveness, renewal and hope in the midst of great suffering; lost sheep that need to be found; sinners and outcasts welcomed back into the heart of the community; broken, wounded, grieving and sick people consoled and healed; enemies forgiven; dead people raised to life and the kingdom of God announced and extending to people in real time.

Shortly after the canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II this past April, I had the privilege of spending an afternoon with Cardinal Loris Capovilla in Sotto il Monte, Italy, not far from Bergamo. Capovilla, nearly 99 years old and a newly “created” prince of the Church, served as the personal secretary to St. John XXIII. Our extremely lucid and provocative conversation left me with this conviction. The Holy Spirit is alive in the world, not just in the church, and that the Spirit blows where it will. Even the Second Vatican Council originated not solely in the prophetic intuition of Papa Giovanni but in the devastating events of World War II and its aftermath, perhaps as result of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution – events that cumulatively led the church to grapple with the realities of modernity.

In a similar way, could we not also reiterate what the great Benedict XVI taught us through his 8-year pontificate, that the devastating horrors of clerical sexual abuse of minors – as repulsive, criminal and destructive as it has been for the church and the world – could also be an opportunity for the church to repent of its clericalism and its lack of transparency, and be a time for a renewed commitment to put the protection of the vulnerable far ahead of fear of embarrassment and causing “brutta figura” for the church and its leaders? Could it be that out of the chaos of the abuse crisis, a deeper call to holiness has been planted in the hearts and minds of all those called to ministry and service in the Church?

Should we not see the great, contrasting events and movements that so profoundly affect our church and our religious communities as the work of the Holy Spirit alive in human history? For those of us involved in religious communications and media, the field is the world, which means that we must not only immerse ourselves in the church’s traditions and unfolding wisdom but also by being alert to the world and its drama where the Holy Spirit is also truly at work. The field is the world – not only as the object of evangelization, but as the catalyst of the Spirit awakening the consciousness of the church itself.

Even before he was elected Pope and assumed his new Petrine ministry, the first Pope from the new world sounded the alarm and said simply that the Church is called to boldly break out of herself and go towards the outskirts, not only the outskirts of place but also to the outskirts and the frontiers of our existence; those of the mystery of sin, of suffering, of ignorance; the outskirts of indifference, the frontiers of human wretchedness.  And he added when the Church does not break out of herself in that way she becomes self-referential and so shuts herself up in a room of stagnant air.  “The evils which as time passes afflict ecclesial institutions are rooted in self-reference, a sort of theological narcissism.”

The task of Church communicators, journalists, and broadcasters, of those interfacing with the “secular media” is to develop and use new media to communicate the Gospel and story of the Church and promote a culture of dialogue.  A single medium is no longer enough to capture the full attention of the audience. What we need to do is show the culture that we’re not against it, that we have a compelling story, and that the story can change peoples’ circumstances, their lives, and their destinies. When that happens, people will listen.  We must avoid providing what are portrayed as easy and simplistic answers for every question addressed to us. Often the right answers are difficult to accept but they must be provided.

The Papal Transition of 2013

February 11, 2013 did not only shift the plates of the earth for the Church, but marked a seismic shift in my own life.  Early that morning in Rome, Benedict XVI resigned and caught the world and the Church off guard.  Such an event had not happened for nearly 700 years! Several days later, I was invited to join the staff of the Holy See Press Office at the request of Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, to be part of an adventure that included a Papal Resignation, the Sede Vacante or Interregnum, a Conclave taking place without the atmosphere of a Papal funeral, and the surprise election of the first pope from the Americas, not just any pope, but a Jesuit pope; the first modern Pope to have been ordained to the priesthood after the Second Vatican Council. Those days would become some of the most important teaching moments that the Church has ever had on a world scale. They were vivid opportunities to illustrate today’s topic: that media could make a huge difference in the presentation of religion.

One of the most poignant moments of my Roman sojourn took place on February 28, the last day of Benedict’s pontificate.  His departure from the Apostolic Palace and the Vatican captured the heart and mind of the world. Benedict’s touching farewell from his co-workers on that crisp, Italian afternoon, the brief helicopter flight to Castel Gandolfo, his final words as Pope, reminding us that he would become “a pilgrim” in this final stage of his life, touched us deeply.  There were no dry eyes in Rome that night.  The whole departure reminded me of that emotional moment in the Acts of the Apostles (chapter 20) when Paul took leave of the elders at Ephesus.

The Sede Vacante

Once the Pontificate ended, our work in the Holy See Press Office multiplied in spades!  Over 6000 journalists descended upon Rome and they were hungry for information. Together with Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, and Msgr. Gil Tamayo from Spain, we led the daily press briefings for hundreds of accredited journalists from every corner of the globe. The Vatican strategy of spreading the table of information before the television cameras of the world began to bear fruit. I was asked to handle media requests in English and later in French, and we worked 18-hour days for six solid weeks with television, print and radio media from every corner of the globe.  I lost count after doing 165 television and radio interviews with every possible network you can imagine… first in English, then French, Spanish, Italian, and German.

“Brothers and Sisters, Good Evening!”

I will never forget the experience of that cold, rainy Wednesday evening of March 13, when the white smoke finally appeared.  With the “Habemus Papam” came the name of a stranger, and outsider, who instantly won over the crowd in the Piazza and the entire world with the words, “Fratelli e Sorelle, buona sera!” (Brothers and sisters, good evening!)  Who would believe a pontificate beginning with those simple, common words?  Never in my wild imaginings did I expect a Pope to be called Francis!  Nor could I comprehend the scene of over one hundred thousand cheering people suddenly become still and silent as Papa Francesco bowed and asked them to pray for him and pray over him. The media’s portrayal and transmission of those images made a huge difference for our religion, our Church, and for the world.

Speaking to journalists several days after his election, Pope Francis offered this insight: “Ecclesial events are certainly no more intricate than political or economic events! But they do have one particular underlying feature: they follow a pattern which does not readily correspond to the “worldly” categories which we are accustomed to use, and so it is not easy to interpret and communicate them to a wider and more varied public.”

Shortly after the papal transition last year, I was invited to New York City to meet with the heads and editorial teams of the major American television networks that had provided massive coverage of the entire papal transition period.  Similar meetings have since taken place with Canadian media outlets.  Those meetings were rather astounding and offered me and the Vatican communications machine some unique insights .

Among the common points that emerged from major television and radio networks, and many newspapers, was universal praise and gratitude expressed to the Holy See Press Office for the openness, cooperation, patience and kindness shown to the English language media in particular.  Many said that they never received such attention and care in all their years of dealing with Rome.  One woman from CBS exclaimed: “There was English!  There was English!”  There was universal appreciation expressed for the daily press briefings, accessibility, the “sound bite”, translations and commentaries in English shared with the media, and the availability of people to answer questions and offer background information in real time!

There were rave reviews about the Vatican TV coverage of Pope Benedict’s departure from the Vatican on February 28.  Many journalists and technical crews that had camped out in Rome for nearly five weeks stated how “deeply moved” they were by the images Pope Benedict’s serene departure from the Vatican on the last day of his Pontificate. Senior television commentators confessed that they wept as they watched the Pope leave the Vatican and take the helicopter ride to Castel Gandolfo. I told them that Fr. Lombardi and I were not without tears that day.

One of the senior producers of CBS 60 Minutes, a committed and engaged Catholic man, summed up what many had expressed at the meetings in New York City last year and continuing now over one year after the 2013 conclave: “February and March 2013 offered the church a golden opportunity for evangelization, education and hope and shifted the plates of the earth for our relationships with the Church.”

Over the past 17 months, I have learned that Pope Francis is the best thing going for the Catholic Church in the area of communications, religion and media. And not only for the Church! He is the clearest example of the New Evangelization. If you want to know what the New Evangelization is, it’s not a book, a text or a synod. It’s Francis. What he has done since March 13, 2013, is to force all of us to rethink the ways we communicate, the ways that we understand religion and media, and the ways that media can be at the service of religion. Having Francis as the leader has helped all those involved in Catholic communications not to hide behind walls for fear of the madding crowds, but to reach out and build bridges—not to be afraid to deal with the so-called “media.”

Initially perhaps many of us (myself included) may have thought that Pope Francis’ free-flowing interviews are more a source of consternation and frustration than opportunities to learn more about the Church, her founder and her message. But Francis has chosen many different opportunities to speak and encounter the world.  Now matter how fraught with confusion and misinterpretation those methods may sometimes be, the world is now listening to the Pope in ways that have never happened before. No longer can we simply attribute this interest to an initial fascination, a “honeymoon period”, or other infantile ways of trying to analyze what is really happening.  Let me be very honest: we are no longer in the “honeymoon” period of this Pontificate.  The world is listening because Francis and the Church have something solid to say and to offer to a world plunged in chaos, war, despair and darkness.

Pope Francis’ vision of the Church challenges all of us but in a pointed way it challenges those who are involved in the media, especially in the world of Catholic media. Francis has an amazing ability to find simple words to pose fundamental questions about the life of the Christian and of the Church. No one can deny that the “secular media” has been fascinated and mesmerized by his expressions that come from daily homilies, addresses, and messages:

“How I would like a church that is poor and for the poor!”

“Have a good Sunday, and a good lunch!”

 “Priests must be shepherds with the smell of the sheep.”

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”

“We have fallen into a “globalization of indifference.”

“Who am I to judge?”

“I want things messy and stirred up in the church.  I want the church to take to the streets!”

 “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”

“It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.”

“The papal apartment is like an inverted funnel.  It is big and spacious, but the entrance is really tight.”

“I see the Church as a field hospital after battle.”

“The image of the Church I like is that of the holy, faithful people of God.”

 “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

“The court is the leprosy of the Papacy.”

 “God never tires of forgiving us.”

“The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent.”

“I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life.”

“An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral.”

“I am conscious of the need to promote a sound “decentralization.”

I dream of a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything.”

“Mercy is the greatest of all virtues.”

“The confessional must not be a torture chamber.”

“The Church is not a tollhouse.”

 “I beg you bishops, avoid the scandal of being airport bishops!”

“We need to promote a culture of encounter.”

“Mary, a woman, is more important than bishops.”

“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

Asked if he would ever baptize Martians, Pope Francis responded: “Who am I to close the door?”

Pope Francis is challenging us to become “the tender embrace of the Church” for all who are marginalized and on the fringes and on the frontiers of the society in which we live.  We have all seen that pictures are worth a million words for Francis.

Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, (of which both Cardinal Collins and I are member and consultor) speaking recently to the celebrations of the outstanding United States Catholic Newspaper Our Sunday Visitor, said this:

“The Church has many unloving critics; critics who seem at times keen to reveal the negative aspects of the Church in order to wound it. The Church is not well served either by those who might be described as uncritical lovers; people who, often out of a misplaced sense of loyalty, try to deny the existence of tensions and problems in a manner that ultimately may damage the credibility of the Church. The Church needs a media that is not afraid to expose mistakes and failures, but whose motive is to challenge the community of believers to continue on the path of conversion, so that the Church will be more fully what it is called by Christ to be – a community that witnesses credibly in word and deed to the love of God for all humanity.  The Catholic media will not be credible if it does not confront sins, abuse, weaknesses and failings within our community but it would be less than objective and fair if it did not also point to events and happenings that point to the abiding presence of the Spirit.”

If we are to serve the cause of truth as Catholics involved in communications and media, and truly become what we say we are, we must be professional and live up to the highest professional standards of the broader profession to which we belong.  This requires balance in reporting and the normal professional standards about verifying sources. But there are several major temptations and challenges before us in this brave new world of communicating religion to the contemporary secular society around us.

There is a great temptation for us to think that we are using modern media and social communication and understand what exactly is involved in the process. It is not just a question of having a website, a blog, Twitter accounts, new-fangled gimmicks and gadgets and a You-tube channel.   There is an inherent risk of doing quick, clever, trendy, cute things with social media as if social media is going to be the true method of communication. Let’s tweet for the sake of tweeting! We tweet to send people back to links with solid content. One of the problems of social media is there’s not a lot of content. So the Church has to be vigilant and prudent about not being caught up in that tidal wave of saying we have 10,000 Twitter followers, 2 million intimate friends on Facebook or similar rather meaningless statements. We run the risk of being caught up in a sheer numbers game. How do we prepare solid, comprehensible, creative content that leaves our readers and viewers desiring something more? How do we truly bridge the gap between religion and media, especially the so-called secular media? Numbers of hits do not guarantee reception and understanding of the message! For many who are seeking deep answers, there are times when all we offer is a trivial and bickering, inward-looking, stonewalling Church which does not really reach out to the needs and challenges of living the faith in our society.


Many of us claiming to work in media and particularly in Catholic media and communications, have ended up in a very dangerous rut, stuck in our stories, and in the same old narratives and outdated, tired methods that no longer communicate and connect people. In my work for the Holy See Press Office, I recently had to respond to numerous questions from various parts of the world asking why Pope Francis speaks so frequently about the devil! I researched all of Pope Francis’ daily homilies and addresses to discover all of the places where Francis talks about the devil, and one of the interesting things he says is that diabolical works are about monologue. The works of the Spirit are about dialogue. Monologue is all about people speaking to themselves about themselves and speaking about others, not speaking with others. Works of the Spirit are those based on solid dialogue.

If we truly believe that religion and media are important for the Catholic Church today, we must not spend all of our time eliminating or putting Catholic media efforts in second and third place. We have to speak about preparing professional people to be involved in these roles. This means finding time, talent and treasure.  It means allocating proper funds to this effort.

What is the future direction of our efforts in communicating with the world? In Pope Francis’ landmark Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, he offers a critical insight into our work with the media.  I quote #34 of that document:

34.       If we attempt to put all things in a missionary key, this will also affect the way we communicate the message. In today’s world of instant communication and occasionally biased media coverage, the message we preach runs a greater risk of being distorted or reduced to some of its secondary aspects.  In this way certain issues which are part of the Church’s moral teaching are taken out of the context which gives them their meaning.  The biggest problem is when the message we preach then seems identified with those secondary aspects which, important as they are, do not in and of themselves convey the heart of Christ’s message.  We need to be realistic and not assume that our audience understands the full background to what we are saying, or is capable of relating what we say to the very heart of the Gospel which gives it meaning, beauty and attractiveness.

Let me conclude with one of my favorite “media” stories from the Acts of the Apostles (8:25-40). This exotic story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch on the road to Gaza illustrates the widening circumference of the Christian circle. Through his angel, God takes the initiative and directs Philip, his witness, to take the road from Jerusalem to Gaza.  In immediate obedience, with little information but complete trust in the God, Philip sets out and encounters an Ethiopian eunuch and his retinue. The eunuch is exotic, powerful and pious. He is also the chief treasurer of a wealthy, foreign kingdom.

What’s happening here? Philip was sent to meet with an outsider: a person of color, of complicated gender, a government official to the ruler of a foreign power. This outsider had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and was reading the prophet Isaiah while riding home in his chariot. As the chariot passed him, Philip called out to the Ethiopian: “Do you understand what you are reading?” (8:30). The Ethiopian answers, “How can I unless someone explains it to me? (8:31)” The eunuch was reading the Greek version of Isaiah 53:7-8.  The eunuch wants to know whether the prophet is talking about himself or someone else.

When the carriage arrives at some water, the eunuch exclaims, “Behold water! What is preventing me from being baptized?”  The eunuch is baptized as Philip stands with him in the water.  Though Philip is taken away suddenly, the eunuch goes on his way rejoicing. For Luke, joy is a manifestation of a person’s salvation, particularly of reception of the Holy Spirit.

The Ethiopian did not ask for a teacher, he asked for a guide. There is a big difference between the two. Teachers point and say, “Go there, do that.”  Guides reach out and say, “This is the road I travelled.  You might want to try it, but whatever road you choose, I’d like to walk it with you.” Both Philip and the eunuch end up going down in the water for the moment of baptism. Teachers say, “I told you so.” Guides come after you if you lose your way.  The Church needs teachers who are good guides, and contemporary men and women need guides and teachers who are first and foremost witnesses.

We who are entrusted with the work of communications and media in the Church, and with the daunting task of working with the secular media, must be teachers who are first and foremost good guides.  But even more, we must be what Pope Paul VI described in his ever-timely and still beautiful 1975 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”

Philip both answers the eunuch’s question and points to Jesus’ saving significance.  Philip teaches the Ethiopian that Jesus, the righteous sufferer, crucified and risen again, has won the victory over sin and death, and now repentance and forgiveness of sins are available in his name. That still remains breaking news in our day.

Let me return to Jesus.  He asked his followers to go to the peripheries – to the ends of the earth, not just to places where they felt comfortable.  He always spoke in a language that people understood and used the media that people found accessible.  He was the ultimate communicator. His incarnation was God’s greatest communication with humankind.  His challenge remains the same to us today. To do this effectively, we must engage with the traditional media and new media, whether as communicator or consumer. And we must do this as good guides, not merely teachers who tell others, especially in the secular media: “I told you so.”

Our field is indeed the world. The most effective way we can use the media is by bearing true witness to the message we seek to deliver. The strength of our message and our stories lie in the authenticity and transparency with which they are presented. When we do this, let’s not be surprised that those who receive our message might begin to believe it, share it with others, and even put it into practice in their own lives. That has certainly been my experience all these years, but most especially over the past 17 months.

-Fr. Thomas Rosica CSB

The Future of Catholic Media: An Interview with Fr. Rosica

Fr. Rosica

The Future of Catholic Media: An Interview with Father Thomas Rosica, CSB
By Sean Salai, S.J.   America,  July 28, 2014

Father Thomas Rosica, C.S.B., is a Canada-based Basilian priest and journalist. He is Chief Executive Officer of Salt and Light Television Network, consulter on the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Social Communications, English-language assistant to the Holy See Press Office, a member of the Social Communications Commission of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and president of Assumption University in Windsor, Ontario. He is also served as a newspaper columnist for the Toronto Sun and frequently contributes to newspapers across Canada. Father Rosica holds an undergraduate degree in French and Italian from St. John Fisher College in Rochester, and graduate degrees in theology and Sacred Scripture from Regis College at the University of Toronto, the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and the Ecole Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jérusalem.

On July 24, I interviewed Father Rosica about his work in America’s editorial offices. The following transcript has been edited for content and length.

You’re currently the CEO of Canada’s national Catholic television network, the president of a Catholic university, and an English-language spokesman for the Vatican. Where do you spend most of your time nowadays?

Sometimes on a highway or on a plane, but my home base is Toronto, so a lot of the work I do is from there. For the past three years, I’ve had to serve as president of Assumption University in Windsor, Ontario, which is an institution of my religious congregation, the Basilian Fathers. The university was in some difficulty, so my role was to help reorient its mission, establish policies for governance, fortify the Catholic chaplaincy and put the university back on track—which is what I’ve done. But that was a good opportunity for Salt and Light because we used the university as a venue for a number of things. We brought back to life the Christian Culture Series at Assumption University, which was one of the big contributions of that university to the Canadian church. In restoring this historic series, we televised all of the lectures this year and suddenly there’s a buzz about the lectures and about the mission of this Catholic university that exists within the University of Windsor. We’ll continue that in the coming year as well. My role at the university is adapting to the situations now present at Assumption University and my primary responsibilities are Salt and Light Television and serving as Father Federico Lombardi’s assistant at the Holy See Press Office.

How are things going at Salt and Light right now?

We’re in our 12th year. It’s been a tremendous project, a project of great surprise. I don’t think anyone, including myself, imagined it would develop into what it is. It’s not only a television network, but a Catholic media foundation. We operate on seven platforms. The selling point, the best thing about Salt and Light is that it’s ledby a group of young adults. It was the first fruit of the World Youth Day in Canada in 2002, which I was privileged to be the CEO and National Director of that blessed event and project. I had no idea I would be asked to start Salt and Light immediately after the adventure of World Youth Day 2002. Really, I have no television background; I’m a university lecturer in Scripture! So all I can say is that God has a great sense of humor. But the beauty of Salt and Light has been the young Catholics from all across Canada and from several countries around the world who have formed our team. We broadcast in English, French, Italian, Mandarin and Cantonese. We probably reach 3 million homes in Canada because it’s digital paid television, but even more interesting is the digital audience because we offer live streaming through our website. We know that people from at least 80 countries are also downloading our programs online. For the big papal events, it was over 100 countries. What’s even more important for the new evangelization is that our Chinese programming is being used in China and in Hong Kong.

What does the future look like at Assumption University?

Assumption is on the right track now. It’s the original college of the University of Windsor, one of the major state universities in Canada. Assumption University goes back to the 1850s. In 1962, it developed into the University of Windsor, but maintained its Catholic identity and charter at the core of the university. We can offer theology courses, all kinds of education programs for Catholic teachers and an outstanding chaplaincy. Like many Catholic institutions of higher learning, it struggled to find its moorings for several years. We’ve reoriented it and brought it back to the service of the church and the important Basilian charism of education in the service of the Church’s mission of evangelization.

You joined the Holy See Press Office during the papal transition last year and continue to serve as an English-language assistant there. What’s your current role at the Vatican?

Well, it’s a very interesting thing that happened. I’d been working with the Vatican through the whole World Youth Day adventure since 2000. So it wasn’t an unknown territory to me. In 2008, I was appointed the English language media attaché for the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God. I was present for the whole synod, inside the synod, and dealt with the press through that whole month of October. Shortly after that, Pope Benedict appointed me as a consulter to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Then in 2012, I was asked to service as the English-language attaché for the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization. I was there in an official capacity, but the Vatican allowed Salt and Light to be inside the synod, and we documented the whole event in ways that had never been done before. Two of our young producers, Sebastian and Charles were inside the synod and did interviews every day, producing 22 television programs in English and French. At the end of it, they produced a major documentary called “Inside the Synod.”

After the 2012 Synod, I thought that that was it until the morning of February 11, 2013, when Pope Benedict resigned. The following day, the Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi called me and said “come to Rome immediately.” Within 24 hours, I was the English-language person for the papal transition. I had to deal with the English-language press for six weeks in the Holy See Press Office. We had around 6,400 journalists, many of who were English-speaking. It was an incredible experience. Just before I left Rome after the conclave and before for Easter 2013, Father Lombardi said to me: “You’ve developed a relationship with English-language media that we’ve never had before. I want you to continue that in a somewhat official capacity. You will be the English-language assistant to the Holy See Press Office.” He also formally established a Spanish-language assistant, a young priest from Chicago who is serving in that capacity now. I asked “what does that mean?” He said “just continue that relationship.” So what started off as a daily bulletin for several hundred people during the papal transition is now a bulletin with Vatican information and often commentaries on it that I send to about 750 English-language media people every morning. Specifically, it tells them how to understand this information from an English-language perspective, and it’s become an daily teaching and communications instrument. I’ll be the English-language “spokesman” at the Synod on the Family this coming October, working closely with a great Jesuit and mentor to me, Father Lombardi.

Has the Vatican’s communications strategy changed or evolved since Francis was elected pope?

Yes. Francis is the best thing going for the Catholic Church now in the area of communications. He’s the clearest example of the New Evangelization. If you want to know what the New Evangelization is, it’s not a book, a text or a synod. It’s Francis. What he’s done is forced all of us to rethink the ways we communicate. From a practical point of view, structurally, changes are underway at the Vatican in terms of how the Holy See deals with the world and how the world deals with the church. So this recent commission they just set up—led by British Lord Chris Patten and team of outside media professionals—is now evaluating the many communications entities in the Vatican, to streamline internal communications and to find better and more effective ways to tell the story of the church to the world around us, not only in reactive but pro-active ways.

What are some positive things going on Catholic media these days?

One of the best things happening in our part of the world here is what’s happened through America Magazine. This is not a paid service announcement! Since Father Malone has been in charge, he’s raised the profile, the significance and the role of America Magazine—and shown other Catholic publications the importance of partnerships, having a clear vision and being bold and courageous in reaching out. We have nothing to lose in sharing the best of what the Catholic Church has to offer.

Having Pope Francis as the leader has helped all those involved in Catholic communications not to be hiding behind walls, trees or stones for fear of the madding crowds, but to reach out and build bridges—not to be afraid to deal with the so-called “media.” A lot of people had gotten into a very dangerous rut where they were stuck in their stories, and it became death-dealing for a lot of Catholic agencies and groups. They were stuck in the same old narratives. In the bigger picture, I think Francis is the hand of divine providence and the Holy Spirit stepping in and saying “enough is enough.” Now is the time to work together, stand up, be proud of being Catholic, interface with the world, communicate and be in dialogue. I recently did a little study of Pope Francis’ homilies and texts to find all of the places where Francis talks about the devil, and one of the interesting things he says is that diabolical works are about monologue. The works of the Spirit are about dialogue. Monologue is all about people speaking to themselves about themselves and speaking about others, not speaking with others. Works of the Spirit are those based on solid dialogue.

What you’re saying recalls the aggiornamento of the Second Vatican Council in throwing open the windows of the church to the outside world. Would you say that Catholic media is finally catching up with the rest of the church on this one?

It is. It took 50 years and, in church history, 50 years is not a big period of time. For us, we’re impatient. But it took 50 years and I really believe, with the coming of Pope Francis, that this is that third epoch that Karl Rahner talked about in “The Three Great Epochs of the Church.” In our recent Salt and Light documentary on Pope Francis, we start off the whole story with Rahner’s now-epic essay in which he speaks about the three great epochs of Church history.

What are some challenges for Catholic media today?

The first challenge, a very practical challenge, is to not just talk a good line about getting laypeople involved in Church communications and not put our money where are mouth is. If we want to get laypeople involved, we have to make priorities for budgets and funding. We can’t spend all of our time eliminating or putting Catholic media efforts in second and third place. We have to speak about preparing professional people to be involved in these roles.

Second, the old guard has to have the humility to step back and let the new generation come in.

The third challenge is the risk of doing cute things with social media as if social media is going to be the true method of communication. We don’t tweet to do cute things; we tweet to send people back to links with solid content. One of the problems of social media is there’s not a lot of content. So the church has to be careful about not being caught up in that maelstrom or wave of saying we have 10,000 twitter followers, 2 million intimate friends on Facebook or similar rather meaningless statements. Well, it may sound good, but what’s underneath all of that? I think the church runs the risk of being caught up in that numbers game. How do we prepare solid, comprehensible, creative content that leaves our readers and viewers desiring something more?

What are your hopes for the future of Catholic media?

We have to operate on many platforms. We can’t dismiss print media. It’s still valid, people still want something in their hands to read, but it’s just one way. We have to tell our stories and shout the news from the rooftops. That means you have to do it from every medium that’s possible and available. Therefore, it requires people to be proficient in all of those areas. Even older media and communications people who were not aware of the new platforms must become proficient in those areas.

Any final thoughts?

I view the work we’re doing at Salt and Light as education in the church’s mission of evangelization. I never consider communications to be some secondary or tertiary thing. It’s teaching; it’s another way to teach. Some people have said to me, “it’s too bad that you not teaching anymore since you taught scripture so well for 18 years in the faculty of theology at Toronto and in seminary in London, Ontario.” But I constantly tell them: “I am still teaching now. I just can’t see the size of the classroom!” Little did I ever dream of doing this as I sat at the feet of my Jesuit and Dominican masters in Toronto, Rome and Jerusalem!

Sean Salai, S.J., is a summer editorial intern at America.

The article The Future of Catholic Media: An Interview with Father Thomas Rosica, CSB was originally published in America Magazine on July 28, 2014

- Photo Credit: Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, CEO of Canada’s Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, participates in a press briefing in English at the Vatican March 8, 2013. Father Rosica has been assisting Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, left, Vatican spokesman, with the daily press briefings. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, Parents of Mary

By tradition Joachim and Anne are considered to be the names of the parents of Mary, the Mother of God. We have no historical evidence, however, of any elements of their lives, including their names. Any stories about Mary’s father and mother come to us through legend and tradition. We get the oldest story from a document called the Gospel of James, though in no way should this document be trusted to be factual, historical, or the Word of God. The legend told in this document says that after years of childlessness, an angel appeared to tell Anne and Joachim that they would have a child. Anne promised to dedicate this child to God (much the way that Samuel was dedicated by his mother Hannah — Anne — in I Kings).

For those who wonder what we can learn from people we know nothing about and how we can honor them, we must focus on why they are honored by the church. Whatever their names or the facts of their lives, the truth is that it was the parents of Mary who nurtured Mary, taught her, brought her up to be a worthy Mother of God. It was their teaching that led her to respond to God’s request with faith, “Let it be done to me as you will.” It was their example of parenting that Mary must have followed as she brought up her own son, Jesus. It was their faith that laid the foundation of courage and strength that allowed her to stand by the cross as her son was crucified and still believe. Such parents can be examples and models for all parents. [Read more...]

Fr. Thomas Rosica Speaks Accountability on CNN


This week,  Pope Francis met with six people who were abused by priests at some point in their lives. The three men and three women attended a special private Mass at the Santa Marta Residence, had breakfast with the pope, and then met with the Holy Father individually. The meeting raised certain questions: will true accountability from the clergy change anything?  Our team has been interviewed by several media outlets about the meeting and the issue of clerical sex abuse.  Fr. Thomas Rosica, Salt + Light CEO,  spoke to Jake Tapper on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper on July 7th.

Below is the CNN article and interview:

(CNN) – Pope Francis begged for forgiveness and promised accountability in the sprawling sex scandal that has plagued the Catholic Church all across the globe, and across generations.

Francis Monday held what were reportedly emotional meetings with six victims of abuse, hailing from Britain, Ireland and Germany.

“I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves,” the pope said in a private mass.

The new accountability measures “means that all bishop conferences, religious superiors are obligated, are required to deal with the situation, to address it, to deal with perpetrators, to care especially for victims,” said Father Thomas Rosica, English language assistant at the Holy See press office.

“When they don’t do that, certain disciplinary actions will be taken,” he said.

For more of our interview with Father Thomas Rosica, check out the video below.


Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has suffered cardiac arrest


One of the most popular devotions within the Church is devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  The geographic and historic center of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is in Paray-le-Monial, a small village in Burgundy, where St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690) lived. She was a Visitation nun to whom Jesus appeared.  The message Jesus gave this French religious, whose first vision was on Dec. 27, 1673, was an image of God that was in great contrast to the Jansenist tendency of that century. In December 1673, during Christ’s first apparition to St. Mary Margaret, he gave her this message, as she later recounted: “My Sacred Heart is so intense in its love for men, and for you in particular, that not being able to contain within it the flames of its ardent charity, they must be transmitted through all means.”

Jesus showed Himself to Sr. Margaret Mary in a way that she could understand – with a human heart aflame with love. He told her that He would be present in a special way to those devoted to His Sacred Heart and that His presence would lead to peace in families, the conversion of sinners, blessings in abundance and perseverance when death was near.

To know God’s love in Jesus and to share it with others is the central message of the gospels. There has been no change in this message for two thousand years. Ways of explaining our faith may change, forms of prayer may be altered, certain devotions may come in and out of style, but at the core is the loving heart of Jesus, which remains constant and true.

The message of the Sacred Heart is one of God’s deep and intimate love for us. Devotion to the Sacred Heart is an integral part of our Catholic heritage because it helps us to live the basic Christian message of faith and love.

The symbol of the heart

A symbol is a real sign, whereas a metaphor is only a verbal sign; a symbol is a thing that signifies another thing, but a metaphor is a word used to indicate something different from its proper meaning.  A visible heart is necessary for an image of the Sacred Heart, but this visible heart must be a symbolic heart.  We know that the symbolism of the heart is a symbolism founded upon reality and that it constitutes the special object of the devotion to the Sacred Heart.

The heart is, above all, the emblem of love, and by this characteristic, the devotion to the Sacred Heart is naturally defined. However, being directed to the loving Heart of Jesus, it naturally encounters whatever in Jesus is connected with this love.  A first extension of the devotion is from the loving Heart to the intimate knowledge of Jesus, to His sentiments and virtues, to His whole emotional and moral life; from the loving Heart to all the manifestations of Its love.

When we designate Jesus as the Sacred Heart, we mean Jesus manifesting His Heart, Jesus all loving and amiable. Jesus entire is thus recapitulated in the Sacred Heart as all is recapitulated in Jesus.

It is in the eleventh and twelfth centuries that we find the first indications of devotion to the Sacred Heart. Through the wound in the side of the wound Heart was gradually reached, and the wound in the Heart symbolized the wound of love. It was in the fervent atmosphere of the Benedictine or Cistercian monasteries that the devotion arose, although it is impossible to say positively what were its first texts or were its first votaries. To St. Gertrude, St. Mechtilde, and the author of the “Vitis mystica” it was already well known.

From the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, the devotion was propagated but it did not seem to have developed in itself. It was everywhere practised by privileged souls, and the lives of the saints and annals of different religious congregations, of the Franciscans, Dominicans, Carthusians, etc., furnish many examples of it. It was nevertheless a private, individual devotion of the mystical order.

It appears that in the sixteenth century, the devotion took a major step forward step and passed from the domain of mysticism into that of Christian asceticism.  We learn from the writings of two masters of the spiritual life, the Lanspergius (d. 1539) of the Carthusians of Cologne, and Louis of Blois (Blosius; 1566), a Benedictine and Abbot of Liessies in Hainaut. To these may be added Blessed John of Avila (d. 1569) and St. Francis de Sales, the latter of the seventeenth century.

It was to Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690), a humble Visitandine of the monastery at Paray-le Monial, that Christ chose to reveal the desires of His Heart and to confide the task of imparting new life to the devotion. There is nothing to indicated that this contemplative religious had known the devotion prior to the revelations, or at least that she had paid any attention to it.

A few days after the “great apparition”, of June, 1675, Margaret Mary made all known to Father de la Colombière, and the latter, recognizing the action of the spirit of God, consecrated himself to the Sacred Heart, directed the holy Visitandine to write an account of the apparition, and made use of every available opportunity discreetly to circulate this account through France and England.

At his death on February 15 1682, there was found in his journal of spiritual retreats a copy in his own handwriting of the account that he had requested of Margaret Mary, together with a few reflections on the usefulness of the devotion.  The little text was widely read, even at Paray, although not without being the cause of “dreadful confusion” to Margaret Mary, who, nevertheless, resolved to make the best of it and profited by the book for the spreading of her cherished devotion.

The death of Margaret Mary on October 17, 1690, did not dampen the ardour of those interested in the devotion.  In spite of all sorts of obstacles, and of the slowness of the Holy See, which in 1693 imparted indulgences to the Confraternities of the Sacred Heart and, in 1697, granted the feast to the Visitandines with the Mass of the Five Wounds, but refused a feast common to all, with special Mass and prayers, the devotion spread particularly in religious communities.

The Marseilles plague, 1720, furnished perhaps the first occasion for a solemn consecration and public worship outside of religious communities. Other cities of the South followed the example of Marseilles, and thus the devotion became a popular one.

Oftentimes, especially since about 1850, groups, congregations, and States have consecrated themselves to the Sacred Heart, and, in 1875, this consecration was made throughout the Catholic world.  Finally, on June 11, 1899, by order of Leo XIII, and with the formula prescribed by him, all mankind was solemnly consecrated to the Sacred Heart.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart Today

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has suffered cardiac arrest in recent decades.  This decline of devotion is all the more striking because of its pre-eminence in the first half of the 20th century, when so many Catholic families had a picture of Jesus and his Sacred Heart displayed in their homes, and when Thursday night holy hours and first Fridays proliferated in parishes.

Like many forms of heart disease, such atrophy could have been prevented through a healthy diet—in this case, Scripture and tradition. The heart is a powerful metaphor in the Bible, what Karl Rahner, S.J., has called a  “primordial word.” It signifies the wellspring of life, the totality of one’s being. The prophet Ezekiel, for instance, records God’s promise to change Israel’s  “heart of stone” into a “heart of flesh,” while John’s Gospel gives the heart its most profound scriptural expression: Jesus’ heart is the source of living water, of rest for the Beloved Disciple, of the church and its sacraments, of doubting Thomas’s faith.

I believe that the deepest meaning of the devotion, however, is glimpsed in a poet who does not even mention it: Dante Alighieri. At the dark bottom of Hell, Satan is frozen in ice up to his chest, crying tears and drooling bloody foam, his six wings bellowing cold wind upward. Wedged into the inverted apex of the underworld, he is locked in his own resentment, impotent and utterly alone. Hell, the Inferno makes clear, is not fire, but ice: cold, crabbed isolation. Paradise is pure communion, illuminated and warmed by the love that moves the sun and the other stars.

In today’s love-starving world, how we need to follow the example of Jesus Christ in His unspeakable love for us. If there is one adjective that describes the modern world, this world is a loveless world. This world is a selfish world. This world is so preoccupied with space and time that it gives almost no thought to eternity and the everlasting joys that await those who have served God faithfully here on earth.

How do we serve God faithfully? We serve Him only as faithfully as we serve Him lovingly, by giving ourselves to the needs of everyone whom God puts into our lives. No one reaches heaven automatically. Heaven must be dearly paid for. The price of reaching heaven is the practice of selfless love here on earth.

That is what devotion to the Sacred Heart is all about. It is the practice of selfless love toward selfish people. It is giving ourselves to persons that do not give themselves to us. In all of our lives, God has placed selfish persons who may be physically close to us, but spiritually are strangers and even enemies. That is why God places unkind, unjust, even cruel people into our lives. By loving them, we show something of the kind of love that God expects of His followers.

The Heart of the Priesthood

“If you are afraid of love, don’t ever become a priest, and don’t ever celebrate mass.  The mass will cause a torrent of interior suffering to pour down upon your soul, with one purpose only– to break you in half, so that all the people of the world can enter into your heart.”  – Thomas Merton

“If you are afraid of people, don’t celebrate mass!  Because when you start to say mass, the Spirit of God will awaken in you like a giant and break through the locks of your private sanctuary and invite all of the people of the world into your heart.”  – Thomas Merton

“If you celebrate mass, condemn your heart to the torment of love that is so vast and so insatiable that you will not resist in bearing it alone.  That love is the love of the Heart of Jesus that burns inside your miserable heart, and allows the immense weight of his mercy for all the sins of the world to fall upon you! Do you know what that love will do if you allow it to work in your soul, if you don’t resist it?  It will devour you.  It will kill you.  It will break your heart.”  – Thomas Merton

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation



This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2009 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B is now available in book form. You can order your copy of “Words Made Flesh: Volume 2, Year B” from the Salt + Light online

Young Catholics Prepare to Defend the Faith in the Public Square

blog 1Young Catholics prepare to defend the faith in the public square

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News

OTTAWA (CCN)-Three young Catholic women from Ottawa are among a group of young people 35 and under who are preparing to defend the faith, the Church and the Pope in the public square.

Danielle Breffitt, a Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) missionary in
communications; Katherine Church, a physiotherapist, and Sarah Du Broy a
communications officer for the Ottawa archdiocese participated in the first
of five training sessions offered by the Salt and Light Media Foundation.

They joined about 20 participants from Ontario and the Salt and Light TV
staff for sessions led by Salt and Light’s CEO Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, who
was CEO of the 2002 World Youth Day in Toronto, is consultor on the
Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Social Communications, English-language
assistant to the Holy See Press Office, and a member of the Social
Communications Commission of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“Everyone in there was really solid,” said Breffitt.

“It was very life-giving to be in that setting,” said Church of the training
at Salt and Light.

“It has become more and more obvious to us at Salt and Light that there is a
very distinct need for articulate persons to explain the significance of the
massive Papal transition we experienced last year and what Pope Francis is
writing, saying and doing,” said Rosica.

The training sessions originated in a proposal made in 2013 to the Assembly
of Catholic Bishops of Ontario (ACBO) and later to the Canadian Conference
of Catholic Bishops (CCCB).  Rosica said the Ontario bishops were invited to
recommend four or five young adults from their respective dioceses to
participate in the meeting.  The first training session in April attracted
about 20 young people from seven Ontario dioceses and two ecclesial

The first session in early April, took place before the canonizations of
Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, which was highlighted as the type of
event young people could prepare themselves to speak about for the media.

Rosica stressed the importance of the young people’s being “proactive, and
not in a constant reactive mode to various challenges and ecclesial crises.”

The group-in-training has been called “Catholic Perspectives” to maintain a
“unique Canadian identity,” Rosica said. He noted the success of similar
groups such as Catholic Voices UK and Catholic Comment Ireland that prepared
young, lay Catholics to comment to the media in advance of Pope Benedict’s
2010 visit to the UK and the 2012 International Eucharistic Congress in
Dublin.   Rosica said he met with the leaders of both groups. “One of the
key things I learned was the group must be fundamentally led by lay people.”

Rosica said the young people must subscribe to Catholic teaching and “want
to share the Catholic worldview in an open, confident, friendly and
respectful way.”

Du Broy said if media contact a diocese they might prefer to talk to
ordinary Catholics who are well-informed rather than a bishop or a priest.

Though they would not claim to represent the diocese officially, Du Broy
outlined a number of discussion areas the young people hope to be able to
speak about if asked:  same-sex marriage and how young adults interpret or
misinterpret it; Pope Francis’ words, homilies and gestures; the meaning of
mercy; the case for marriage; how young adults respond to Church scandals;
the Theology of the Body; big events such as World Youth Days and how to
reach out to young adults not part of it; the role of women in the Church;
understanding various rites and sacraments;  the role of clergy and
religious; and why they choose to follow the teachings of the Church.

Church said their being young adults might make listeners and viewers “more
forgiving if we put our foot in our mouths.”

But opportunities to evangelize do not just come through the media, Church
said.   Any time there is a possibility to evangelize at work, among
friends, “you have to think before you answer,” she said, noting how Pope
Francis makes his message “stick” by being simple and clear.

“The Church believes what might not be popular,” said Breffitt.  But the
Holy Spirit is “behind us” when we express our faith.  “We don’t have to be

“We always need to pray when we are asked questions,” said Du Broy. “We have
to pray before we answer.”

“It’s about witnessing, not winning an argument,” said Breffitt.

Breffitt said they know on many of the topics they would have to seek advice
and do some brushing up before appearing on the media so they “don’t say
something not correct.”

They said they appreciated the fact Rosica and the Salt and Light team have
made themselves available as resources.

“We always have more to learn,” said Church.

The training gave them practical tips on how to approach being interviewed,
punctuated with examples from Rosica’s experience fielding interviews on the
resignation of Pope Benedict and the election of Pope Francis.

“We need to ask a lot of questions before saying, ‘Yes,’” said Church. Those
questions could include who is doing the interview; will other people be
present in the room; what angle is the journalist pursuing.

Take time to pray and seek support and resources before agreeing, she said.

Preparing ahead with some key phrases that distill your message helps, said

Breffitt grew up in Ottawa, went to church as a child, but stopped when in
middle school. In Grade 10 or 11 she was invited to a Catholic youth group.
It was there she had the opportunity to experience God’s love for her.  “I
made a personal decision to follow the Lord at 16,” she said.  She served
for two years as a missionary for NET Ministries, and then joined CCO where
she has entered her third year.

“I’ve been seeing peoples’ lives change,” Breffitt said. “That definitely
helps me in my faith.  Faith isn’t lived unless it’s shared.”

Though about two thirds of young adults leave the Catholic Church at or
after university, Breffitt credits having a strong Catholic community for
cementing her faith and challenging her to be “a missionary disciple.”

Church, a cradle Catholic, was 16 years old when the principal of her school
asked her to help out when the World Youth Day Cross came to Ottawa.  She
didn’t realize she would have to play the part of Mother Elizabeth Bruyère,
wearing a costume and delivering some lines in front of 18,000 people at the
Canadian Tire Centre.  The WYD cross was on centre ice on a revolving
platform.  The only way she could deliver her monologue was to cling to the
cross so she would not fall off, she said.

She felt extremely shaky, but this event cured her of any fear of speaking
in public, she said.  When she went to WYD later in Toronto, she was
standing with her mother as the WYD Cross went by.  “Hey, that’s your
cross,” her mother said.  She remembers thinking, “That’s the cross that
saved me,” but realizing “it was so much more.”

Going to Toronto again for the media training moved her so much and “set her
on fire,” so she traveled to Rome to attend the canonizations of John Paul
II and John XXIII.  “It was like being at World Youth Day all over again,”
she said, especially to mark the canonization of Saint John Paul “who
changed my life and made [faith] so vibrant for young people.

Du Broy experienced a deep conversion at the age of eight when her parents
took her to a charismatic prayer meeting.   Her mother noticed how she was
responding and told her to close her eyes and ask God to come into her
heart.  She felt God’s presence very powerfully and kept going to Mass and
staying involved in the Church, going on to get a degree in journalism at
the University of Ottawa. “I always knew I would work for the Church in
media,” she said.

“God wants what’s best for us,” Du Broy said. “His teachings are for our


Commencement Address to the Class of 2014 University of St. Thomas


Ignite the Revolution of Tenderness and Mercy… 

Commencement Address to the Class of 2014 University of St. Thomas  
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Reliant Arena – Houston, Texas – May 17, 2014

On Saturday morning, May 17, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, delivered the commencement address to the 64th graduating class of the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. Over 6000 people attended the ceremony in Houston’s Reliant Arena. The University of St. Thomas was founded by the Congregation of St. Basil (Basilian Fathers) in 1947 and is Houston’s only Catholic university, with a total enrollment of 3,589 that includes 1,609 undergraduate students. Fr. Rosica is CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada and is President of Assumption University in Windsor, Ontario (Canada). He is English language assistant to the Holy See Press Office at the Vatican and serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the University St. Thomas in Houston, Texas.

Distinguished Guests, Dear Friends,

When I was invited to deliver the commencement address to the University of St. Thomas Class of 2014, my first reaction was: Who remembers what anyone says in a commencement address? I certainly don’t recall what was spoken at my commencements or graduations! There are other things to do on such a momentous day like today! Get the diploma and run! There’s a party waiting for us! Breathe a sigh of relief that the academic ordeal is over! Or perhaps there is a feeling of dread that the real world of work awaits me and the student loan payments must now begin! Then of course there are the parents and grandparents who made all of this possible and who are waiting with baited breath for that photo and that bear hug from dad! There are surges of pride deep in their hearts! “My son or daughter made it!” “They are no longer kids,” they say with tears in their eyes! And perhaps you are saying to yourself: “Ah shucks… it’s all so emotional!”

I have prayed long and hard these past weeks that a few of my words would stick today, unlike other commencement addresses we may have endured! I want to speak with you this morning about dreams and hopes and to stir things up on your graduation day. I want to invite you to start a revolution when you leave this arena today. First let me tell the story of two, famous, public, revolutionary figures known to each of you in this arena. You certainly heard about them in your history or political science courses. Evoking their memories always stirs up an audience like this one!

One year ago, we commemorated the 50th Anniversary of a great man’s dream – the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. When he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August 28, 1963, and looked out over a quarter of a million people who marched on Washington, he electrified the nation with his magnificent rhetoric in the now famous “I have a dream” speech.

Dr. King didn’t say, “I have a complaint.” Instead, he proclaimed to the massive crowd: “I have a dream.” He launched a revolution of civil rights, human rights and equality; of justice and freedom that were absent from what we believed to be the land of the free and home of the brave. Dr. King had a voice that inspired you to listen. His message was so well crafted and so powerfully delivered. Throughout that famous address, King repeated many times, “I Have A Dream.” That message still brings tears to the eyes of any of those who listen whether they are black or white, young or old, American or Canadian, French or Italian, Palestinian or Israeli, Catholic or Protestant, Muslim or Jew.

There was much for Dr. King to complain about for black Americans at that critical moment in American history. But Dr. King taught us that day that our complaints or critiques will never be the foundation of movements that change the world – but dreams always will. To spend our energies constantly saying what is wrong will never be enough to change the world. Nor will it ever change the Church.

Fr. Rosica with Dr. Robert Ivany, President of the University of St. Thomas

Fr. Rosica with Dr. Robert Ivany, President of the University of St. Thomas

Let me tell you about a second great world hero. Last December, the world mourned the death of the great Nelson Mandela of South Africa. He, too, had a dream and spoke about it in his Inaugural Speech as President of his country in May 1994. In that memorable address, he strove to motivate his people to move past the pain of their past so they can build their future. There had been a change in South Africa including the release of Mr. Mandela from prison. He has chosen to fan the flames of this change and move his country forward. Mr. Mandela wanted his people to understand that they are all important to their country, no matter what their origin. Through his speech Mr. Mandela began a revolution of his own to counter Apartheid and separation. He united his people together in an attempt to further the needs of the country as a whole. He inspired them to remember their dedication to the country they love and to work together to move forward.

I also want to speak to you this morning about four other individuals whose dreams and hopes, lives and witness, made a big difference in our world. You may not have heard about them in political science courses. But you certainly heard their names at UST- because their lives and visions are so intricately woven into the fabric of this university. Their names are Angelo from Italy, Karol from Poland, Josef from Germany and Jorge from Argentina. Three weeks ago Sunday, these four individuals were brought together in a very unique way in a piazza in Rome – we could say that it was an extraterrestrial party of sorts – with two watching from above and two taking part in the festivities from below. It was known as the Sunday of four Popes: two celebrating a canonization mass and two more in heaven graduating “summa cum laude” with the highest honors of our Church: they were proclaimed saints!

What united the four men was this fact: each of them experienced a name change in a small chapel in Rome; each was led to places they would have never chosen; each became a leader of a major world religion. Each was successor of Peter, a Galilean fisherman and each a Vicar of Christ on earth. Each had some wild dreams and hopes for the Church and even launched quiet revolutions by their lives. By virtue of the fact that you are soon to be a UST alumnus or alumnae, you are automatically revolutionaries for their causes.

Angelo Roncalli – St. John XXIII

First let me tell you about Angelo Roncalli, from a poor family of sharecroppers from the town of Sotto il Monte near Bergamo in northern Italy. At the age of 12, he entered the diocesan seminary at Bergamo and came under the influence of progressive leaders of the Italian social movement. He was a ordained priest in 1904, and learned early on about forms of social action and the problems of the working classes. In 1915 he was conscripted to the Italian army in World War I and served on the front lines in the medical and chaplaincy corps. In 1921 he was called to Rome by the Pope and made director of the office for missions in Italy. He was consecrated archbishop in 1925 and sent first to what was then ecclesial outposts on the periphery: Bulgaria, then to Turkey and Greece.

At the age of 64, Roncalli was chosen for the difficult post of papal ambassador to Paris, where he worked to heal the divisions caused by the Second World War. At age 72, he was made cardinal and patriarch of Venice. Known for his conservatism and deep humanity, he quickly won the affection of just about everyone. In 1958, at nearly 77 years old, he was elected Pope upon the death of Pius XII. He was expected by many to be a caretaker and transitional Pope, but he astonished the Church and the world with his energy and reforming spirit. He revolutionized the Church by calling for the Second Vatican Council in 1959 to address the burning questions of divided Christians and to bring the Church into the modern era.

On the night of October 11, 1962 – a day that began with the solemn opening of John’s greatest achievement, the Second Vatican Council, as he struggled with fatigue and the cancer ravaging his body, Papa Giovanni flung open the windows of the apartment in the Apostolic Palace and spoke to 400,000 young people who streamed to the Vatican that night. His voice still reverberates amidst the colonnades of that famous piazza 52 years later:

“I hear your voices. Mine is only a single voice. But what resounds here is the voice of the whole world; here all the world is represented. …My own person counts for nothing – it is a brother who speaks to you, who has become a father by the will of the Lord … but everyone together, in paternity and fraternity, and the grace of God, everything, everything … Let us continue, therefore, to love each other, to love each other so, by looking at each other in our encounters with one another: taking up what unites us and setting aside anything that might keep us in a bit of difficulty…

[May] our feelings always be just as they are now as we express them before heaven and before the earth: Faith, Hope, Charity, the love of God, the love of our brothers and sisters; and then everyone together helped by the holy peace of the Lord, in doing good works.

John concluded his moving address on that unforgettable, magical night:

“When you go back home, you will find your children: and give them a hug and say, “This is a hug from the Pope. You will find some tears that need to be dried: speak a good word: “The Pope is with us, especially in times of sadness and bitterness.” And then all together let us encourage one another: singing, breathing, weeping, but always full of faith in Christ who helps us and who listens to us, let us continue on our journey.”

On the day of John’s “graduation” three weeks ago in St. Peter’s Square, the current Successor of Peter said of Angelo Roncalli as he proclaimed him a saint:

“In convening the Council, John XXIII showed an exquisite openness to the Holy Spirit. He let himself be led and he was for the Church a pastor, a servant-leader. This was his great service to the Church; he was the pope of openness to the Spirit.”

What does John teach us today? Just because you have an amazing degree from this prestigious university, never let it go to your head! Be humble. Be grateful. Allow yourself to be led by the Holy Spirit, whatever your religious tradition may be. To be great, become a servant-leader. In your newly acquired scholar’s vocabulary learned at UST, remember that the most important words you can speak in any language are “Thank you” and “I’m sorry.”

When you leave this arena today and go out into that real world, you will find your moms and dads, brothers and sisters: give them a hug and say, “Thanks for putting up with me during my university studies.” Throw your arms around your grandparents and tell them that you love them. You will find among family and friends some tears that need to be dried: speak a good word! And like St. John XXIII: encourage one another: singing, breathing, weeping, but always full of faith in Christ who helps us and who listens to us along the journey.

Karol Wojtyla – St. John Paul II

Let me tell you about another great man who launched a revolution: Karol Wojtyla, the one from the foreign country who was called to Rome in 1978 to light the world on fire. He grew up in the backwoods of Krakow, Poland, in the little town called Wadowice, not far from Auschwitz where many of his Jewish friends perished in the atrocity of the Shoah. From the beginning Karol was familiar with grief, suffering and loss, having lost his mother, father and brother at a young age. He knew the emptiness and evil of communism and the fleeting ideologies of his day. He worked in a rock quarry hauling huge stones on his back.

The young Karol heard the suffering and pain of his fellow Poles. He was a philosopher and actor who at age 58 would walk onto the world stage as Vicar of Christ. He was the center stage for nearly 27 years, and where he went, the world followed. He spoke truth to power and brought evil empires to their knees in a velvet revolution that marked the end of the communist regime. Walls and iron curtains came tumbling down before him because of his immense faith in God and in human beings. He bonded with young people in an incredible way… first as the robust, athletic, mountain-climbing pope, then as a broken, bent over, immobilized man ravaged by Parkinson’s disease. His mantra and call to arms was:

Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid.”

On the day of his “graduation” three weeks ago in St. Peter’s Sqaure,

Pope Francis said of Karol Wojtyla: “In his own service to the People of God, John Paul II was the pope of the family. He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family.” Pope Francis went on to say:

“[Angelo Roncalli and Karol Wojtyla], were priests, bishops and popes of the twentieth century. They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful – faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of man and the Lord of history…”

Graduates of 2014: Learn from “Papa Wojtyla” how to cross thresholds, open doors, build bridges, embrace the cross of suffering and proclaim the Gospel of Life to the people of our time. Learn from this truly great man how to live, to forgive, to suffer and to die unto the Lord. Pray for a small portion of the fidelity of Peter’s witness and the boldness of Paul’s proclamation that were so mightily present in Karol Wojtyla – now Saint John Paul II.

Joseph Ratzinger – Pope emeritus Benedict XVI

There is still another man who teaches us a profound lesson today: the brilliant, humble, kind German theologian and master teacher, Joseph Ratzinger, now known to the world as Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI.

With John XXIII, it was a language of brotherhood, fatherhood, motherhood, goodness and kindness. With John Paul II, it was ‘Be not afraid’ – an invitation to the Church to recapture its boldness and missionary self-confidence after years of inward reflection, rumination and self doubt that followed the years of the Second Vatican Council. With Benedict XVI, it was a revolution of the intellect and his leitmotif was that reason and faith need one another. Human reason shorn of religious faith becomes skepticism and religion shorn of the self-critical capacity of human reason becomes fundamentalism and extremism. His sweet refrain and gentle plea: we must be friends with Jesus if we wish to truly live.

Your years of study at UST took place during the momentous papal transition of 2013. Previous graduates of UST would have heard the question: “Where were you on 9/11?” Your class has perhaps heard another question: “Where were you on 2/11 – February 11, 2013, the day that the pope resigned?

St. John Paul II taught us the profound lesson of suffering and death with dignity. Joseph Ratzinger taught us the meaning of sweet surrender – of not clinging to power and the throne, of prestige, tradition and privilege for their own sakes. He taught us what it means to serve the Lord with gladness, humility and joy.

What lesson can we learn from Pope emeritus Benedict XVI today? By his bold and courageous decision to resign from his Petrine Ministry, Benedict told us that we must be painfully honest with the human condition, that we cannot be enchained by history. A man who had been the champion of tradition and labeled “conservative” left us with one of the most progressive gestures made by any pope. This man known for brilliant writing, exquisite kindness, charity, gentleness, humility and clarity of teaching, offered us the epitome of a courageous and humble decision that will forever mark the papacy and the life of the Church.

If today we are basking in Pope Francis’ light, we must be forever grateful to Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict XVI who has made Francis possible for the Church and the world. We owe Benedict immense gratitude.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio – Pope Francis

How could I end these thoughts without a word about the current occupant of the Papal office – Jorge Mario Bergoglio – Pope Francis? I am certain that every single person in this assembly today has been touched in some way by this great man. For the first time in many years, ordinary people in the street are taking a new and more appreciative look at the pope and the Church. He has introduced to us a new way of speaking as he revolutionizes the ancient papacy and brings it into the modern world. Francis’ words ring out across the face of the earth with these sayings and so many more:

“How I would like a church that is poor and for the poor!”

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! Even the atheists. Everyone!”

“We have fallen into a “globalization of indifference.”

“I want things messy and stirred up in the church.  I want the church to take to the streets!”

“I see the Church as a field hospital after battle.”

“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

“God never tires of forgiving us.”

“I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life.”

“An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral.”

“Mercy is the greatest of all virtues.”

“The Church is not a tollhouse.”

“We need to promote a culture of encounter.”

“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

Aboard his return flight from Rio de Janeiro to Rome last July and in response to a journalist’s question about a gay person’s spiritual life, Pope Francis stunned the world with five simple words: “Who am I to judge?”

Last Monday there was yet another zinger during his daily homily in the chapel of his residence in the Vatican guest house. Francis said that if a band of Martians showed up tomorrow wanting to be baptized as Christians, he would happily do so. He added a rhetorical question to join his “Who am I to judge?” line about gays as a signature expression of his pastoral approach. “Who are we to close the door?”

Fr. Rosica at the podium

What lessons is Francis teaching us? He has not come to overturn doctrine and age-old beliefs that are the bedrock of our Catholic Christian faith! He wants to make those teachings understandable and part of our lives. Pope Francis opens doors to a faith that offers attractive, compelling answers to questions deep in the hearts of all men and women. There is something incredibly appealing here not only to Catholics, but to Christians… in fact to all men and women of good will. His words are addressed to an ecumenical and interfaith audience. Is it any wonder, then why the world is listening to him? Knowing we’re made for something more, knowing we have responsibilities toward one another and the freedoms we enjoy, makes us leaders in the renewal of our lives, families, communities, institutions, country, and culture.

Francis 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.  

Especially for those in the United States of America and for each of you graduates in particular, Francis stands for something much greater than division, rancor, labeling and meanness of spirit that have dominated politics and infected the Church. He calls for a church ‘of and for the poor’ that is not turned in on itself, but ‘in the streets.’ The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.” Francis speaks with authority and integrity because he has lived the church’s social teaching in his own ministry. He walks his talk and walks the walk.  

Listen to Pope Francis’ words to you – the Class of 2014, to the 194 graduates of the School of Arts and Sciences, the 454 graduates of the School of Education, to the first 27 graduates of the UST School of Nursing, to 276 graduates and undergraduates of the Cameron School of Business, to graduates of the other departments of this great university. In his stunningly beautiful and profound Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium”, Pope Francis writes:

“All around us we begin to see nurses with soul, teachers with soul, politicians with soul, people who have chosen deep down to be with others and for others. But once we separate our work from our private lives, everything turns grey and we will always be seeking recognition or asserting our needs. We stop being a people.” (#273):

He continues:

“True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness.” (#88)  

Today 1038 of you graduate from this prestigious and authentically Catholic University of St. Thomas in Houston Texas. You have been marked by the lives of these six great individuals I presented to you today: Dr. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and four great popes and leaders of the Catholic Church: Angelo Roncalli, Karol Wojtyla, Josef Ratzinger and Jorge Mario Bergoglio. They were dreamers and revolutionaries in their day and in our day. They were infused with the presence of God and the power of his Holy Spirit.

I dream that you will be articulate, intelligent defenders of the dignity and sacredness of every human being.

I dream that you will be courageous witnesses and citizens, reasoned, principled, articulate defenders of the faith and bearers and teachers of our tradition. Then the world will stop, sit up and listen to you, just as the world has stopped to listen to Martin, Nelson, Angelo, Karol, Josef and Jorge.

My great dream for you, graduates of the class of 2014, is that you join Pope Francis’ revolution of tenderness and mercy. The current Bishop of Rome continues to ignite his “merciful revolution” inside the Church and outside in the world by words and actions. And his holy fire is spreading across the face of the earth.

Become revolutionaries of tenderness, holiness and joy. Dream big dreams and share them with your friends. Hand them on to future generations. Don’t just complain and name all the things that are wrong with the world and the Church, but become the change you would like to see.

Share the goodness, discipline, knowledge and experience of community that you learned here at UST with the world around you! Go out to the geographical and existential peripheries of society to repair, rebuild and heal the Church and the world! And do it as grateful alumni of the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas!

God bless you and may the Force be with you!  

- Photos courtesy of Kim Coffman of the University of St. Thomas Marketing and Communications Office.

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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