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Child of Light, Prince of Peace

 

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Christmas Reflection on the readings for Midnight Mass
Video of America Magazine and American Bible Society
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

Each year on Christmas Eve, the Church presents us with beautiful Scriptural readings for the traditional Christmas Midnight Liturgy. The familiar text of Isaiah 9:1-7, Psalm 96, the selection from Paul’s letter to Titus (2:11-14) and the selection from the Lukan infancy narrative (2:1-14) are filled with rich and powerful images which often do not have justice done to them because of so many other things happening around the celebration of the Savior’s birth! A closer look at the messages of the prophet Isaiah and the evangelist Luke can help us to discover words of hope and consolation offered to a world which lies in waiting for the birth of the Prince of Peace.

Immediately preceding chapter 9, Isaiah’s testimony has built up a frightening picture of the darkness and distress about to descend upon both Judah and the northern kingdom. What is this terrible fate and darkness of the people and why? After King Ahaz and his people have clearly rejected the Word of God (cf. Is 7:10-12; 8:6a) the Lord declares that he will hide his face from the house of Jacob (8:17) as an indication of his dismay and anger. In a time of anguish and panic due to the wrath of God, people have taken recourse only too easily to mediums and wizards (8:19). But Isaiah observes that it is ridiculous to consult the dead on behalf of the living. In chapter 8:16-22 we read of of the terrible fate that could overtake the people: “there is no dawn for this people”(8:20). Instead there is hunger, thirst and misery showing itself in physical as well as spiritual deprivation. People’s hearts are darkened and their spirits are greatly disturbed. They get enraged and curse their sinful king and the God whom they have forsaken.

Chapter 9 stands in total contrast to chapter 8. The opening line of 9:1 forms a transition from the darkness of 8:22. Isaiah now proclaims a message of hope and consolation as darkness and gloom give way to light and joy. The great light comes decisively into this profound darkness. It is a light which tears people away from their confusion and emptiness, from the violence and tyranny of the oppressor.

The symbols of the Assyrian oppression: the yoke of their burden, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, shall be broken (9:4). The garments of war shall feed the flames (9:5). The destruction of war-like equipment heralds an age of peace…symbolically described in 2:4 “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

The description of the royal birth in 9:6 is similar to those found in coronation rescripts of the Egyptian Pharaohs. The royal child will possess the wisdom of Solomon, the valor and piety of David, the great virtue of Moses and the patriarchs (11:2). Presumably the child spoken of would be King Hezekiah. This beloved verse clearly describes the new roles for the coming King. Contemporary kings of Judah had been disastrously advised and were powerless in warfare.

By the title “Wonderful Counsellor” the new King will have no need for advisers such as those who led Ahaz astray. Former kings of Judah had been anything but fathers to their people, and they had achieved neither peace nor prosperity. “Everlasting Father” describes the quality of his rule. Isaiah portrays a king who will not be a failure in any one of these respects.

This king’s authority shall grow continually and bring about endless “Shalom”, thus fulfilling the promises to David: “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever”(II Samuel 7:16).

The birth of this child has consequences both social and political as well. The kingdom of the future will be characterized above all by justice and righteousness– in glaring contrast to Isaiah’s contemporary Judah (cf. 5:7) and indeed to every human kingdom in some degree. The virtues of judgement, justice, and righteousness (9:7) which sustain the Davidic throne are beautifully summed up in the word “Shalom” whose Hebrew root means wholeness, harmony and completion. As a result of this new king’s reign, people will live in harmony with God, each other and nature.

It is no wonder, then, that Christians and the Church have appropriated Isaiah’s exultation of this brilliant light and royal birth for our own celebration of the birth of Jesus. Christian tradition and the Christmas liturgy have applied the royal titles of Isaiah 9:6 to the Child of Bethlehem–presenting him as “Emmanuel”, the One who is our true light and our lasting peace.

We know the Lukan Infancy narrative (Luke 2) so well that we often forget what lies at the heart of its message. It is filled with a very deceptive simplicity. Much more than a charming tale, appealing to the heart and the imagination of the believer, Luke’s story is one of God writing straight with our human, crooked lines. It is a story of poverty and simplicity, excitement and surprises, sadness and joy; a story of military occupation and oppression, a light in the darkness. Beyond the charm of the story, Luke’s message is clear: no event in our shadow-filled history of the world is alien to the coming of the Savior.

No power, however violent and oppressive, escapes the reach of God’s purposes. The Lukan Gospel story of the birth of Jesus calls for the whole world, and not only for Israel, to welcome the birth of the Son of David. We are invited to follow shepherds and kings, saints and sinners, and that long cortège of witnesses of all generations as they seek the light in the darkness and share their message of good news with a world steeped in darkness.

And yet there is a tremendous and rather terrifying paradox at the heart of the gospel story: this great heir to the Davidic line comes to inherit his ancestor’s throne in the form of a tiny, powerless baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger (2:12). There is also the joyful and saving paradox of the power of God manifested in this child…those who accept this paradox are invited to make it, in the light of the cross and the resurrection, the standard of their deepest attitudes.

Luke’s birth of the Child at Bethlehem shows us that the Lord God has indeed been faithful to these words. Our existence is an endless Advent, and these two readings for the Christmas midnight liturgy invite us once again to commit our energies to all that the Child of Bethlehem stands for and is.

He is “Wonderful Counsellor”, deeply concerned with the ultimate good and wholeness of others. His gentle advice to us never leads us into destruction but only into the fullness of life.

He is “Mighty God”, directing our human history, but also living it with us. He is more powerful than any military force or revolution, and yet his force and might are revealed in hearts and eyes meeting.

He is “Everlasting Father”, teaching us what it means to be constantly present to others, giving life, blessing life and celebrating life. He is unable to abandon us, as so many human beings are capable of doing.

He is”Prince of Peace”, the bringer of reconciliation, wholeness, harmony and completion to the human family. He knows how to nourish hope among his people. Because of him, we can live in harmony with God, each other and nature.

Is there room for such a child in our hearts at Christmas? If we allow him to truly dwell within us, then we shall know once again that in the midst of our own deep darkness and fear, from a crib in Occupied Bethlehem and a cross in Jerusalem, God’s vulnerable heart can bring light, healing and salvation to our own.

(CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

Biblical Foundations of Marian Piety and Devotion

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Video of America Magazine and American Bible Society
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

A very significant turning point in Marian piety and devotion occurred with the Second Vatican Council’s renewal and reform of the liturgy. A decade later, Pope Paul VI issued a remarkable encyclical letter on Marian devotions ‘Marialis cultus’ in 1974. In this landmark document, Pope Paul VI provided guidelines that are as relevant today as they were when first proposed more than 40 years ago. Among the important points in that papal document, we find the following:

  1. Every element of the church’s prayer life, including Marian devotions, should have a biblical imprint. The texts of prayers and songs should draw their inspiration from the Bible and be ‘imbued with the great themes of the Christian message.’ This means that they should be free of pious sentimentality and of the temptation to view Mary as more compassionate than even her Son, who is our one and only Redeemer.
  2. Marian devotions should always harmonize with the liturgy. Novenas and similar devotional practices, including again the rosary, are not to be inserted, hybrid-style, into the very celebration of the Eucharist. The Eucharistic celebration is not simply a backdrop for private prayer.
  3. Marian devotions should always be ecumenically sensitive. ‘Every care should be taken to avoid any exaggeration which could mislead other Christian brethren about the true doctrine of the Catholic Church.’ There should never be a doubt in anyone’s mind that Jesus Christ is our sole Mediator with God.
  4. ‘Devotion to the Blessed Virgin must also pay close attention to certain findings of the human sciences.’ This means that the picture of the Blessed Virgin that is presented in devotional literature and other expressions of piety must be consistent with today’s understanding of the role of women in the church and in society.

We must see Mary once again for who she is: not only the Mother of God, her most exalted role in the mystery of Redemption, but also as her Son’s disciple par excellence. When she heard the Word of God, she acted upon it. As the encyclical noted, she was ‘far from being a timidly submissive woman.’ On the contrary, ‘she was a woman who did not hesitate to proclaim that God vindicates the humble and the oppressed, and removes the powerful people of this world from their privileged positions.

Only when Marian piety is liberated from what Pope Paul VI called a ‘sterile and ephemeral sentimentality’ can there be any real hope for a renewal of authentic Marian piety in our time. For many people who do not have the luxury, privilege, money, time or perhaps desire to delve into serious Scripture studies, their only encounter with the Word of God might be through the liturgy or popular piety and devotion.

Let’s consider three important moments of Mary’s life not easily understood and try to discover new meaning and relevance for us. While Marian devotion remains strong in the church, the Immaculate Conception is a complex concept that has interested theologians more than the ordinary faithful. Many people still wrongly assume that the Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Christ. In fact, it refers to the belief that Mary, by special divine favour, was without sin from the moment she was conceived. The main stumbling block for many Catholics is original sin. Today we are simply less and less aware of original sin. And without that awareness, the Immaculate Conception makes no sense. Through the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, God was present and moving in Mary’s life from the earliest moments. God’s grace is greater than sin; it overpowers sin and death.

When Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, he referred explicitly to the biblical story of the Annunciation in Luke’s Gospel. The angel Gabriel’s salutation, “Hail, full of grace,” is understood as recognizing that Mary must always have been free from sin. No other human being collaborated in the work of redemption as Mary did. The Early Church wanted to explain in a plausible manner how God’s Son could be ‘completely human, yet without sin.’ Their answer was that the mother of God must have been without sin.

What happens to Mary happens to Christians. We are called, gifted and chosen to be with Jesus. When we honour the Mother of God under the title ‘Immaculate Conception,’ we recognize in her a model of purity, innocence, trust, childlike curiosity, reverence, and respect, living peacefully alongside a mature awareness that life isn’t simple. It’s rare to find both reverence and sophistication, idealism and realism, purity, innocence and passion, inside the same person as we find in Mary.

The second moment of Mary’s life is the Incarnation. Through the virginal birth of Jesus we are reminded that God moves powerfully in our lives too. Our response to that movement must be one of recognition, humility, openness, welcome, as well as a respect and dignity for all life, from the earliest moments to the final moments. Through the Incarnation, Mary was gifted with the Word made Flesh.

The angel didn’t ask Mary about her willingness. He announced, ‘Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.’ God didn’t ask Mary for permission. He acted ‘gently but decisively’ to save his people from their sins.

The virgin birth shows that humanity needs redeeming that it can’t bring about for itself. The fact that the human race couldn’t produce its own redeemer implies that its sin and guilt are profound and that its saviour must come from outside.

The Church celebrates Mary’s final journey into the fullness of God’s Kingdom with the dogma of the Assumption promulgated by Pius XII in 1954. As with her beginnings, so too, with the end of her life, God fulfilled in her all of the promises that he has given to us. We, too, shall be raised up into heaven as she was. In Mary we have an image of humanity and divinity at home. God is indeed comfortable in our presence and we in God’s. Through her Assumption, Mary was chosen to have a special place of honour in the Godhead.

Mary’s life can be summed up with four words that are found in the Gospels: ‘Fiat,’ in her response to the angel Gabriel; ‘Magnificat,’ as her response to God’s grace at work in her life; ‘Conservabat,’ as she cherished all these memories and events in her heart; and ‘Stabat,’ as she stood faithfully at the foot of the cross, watched her Son die for humanity, and awaited the fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy about Jesus‚ mission.

God calls each one of us through scripture in complete love and grace, and the response of the obedient mind is ‘fiat: let it be to me according to your word.’ We, too, celebrate, with our strength, the relevance of the word to new personal and especially political situations: ‘magnificat.’

We ponder in the heart what we have seen and heard: ‘conservabat.’ But Scripture tells us that Mary, too, had to learn hard things: she wanted to control her son, but could not. Her soul is pierced with the sword, as she stands ‘stabat’ at the foot of the cross. We too must wait patiently, letting the written Word tell us things that may be unexpected or even unwelcome, but which are yet salvific. We read humbly, trusting God and waiting to see his purpose unfold.

(CNS photo/Victor Aleman, Vida Nueva)

Scripture Scholarship Today

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Video of America Magazine and American Bible Society
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

As we look back over the sweeping changes in the life of the Church following Vatican II, we can never underestimate the important relation that exists between liturgy and the interpretation of the Bible. This relation is directly linked to the Church fathers who were first and foremost men of prayer, even when they were writing their learned treatises and pursing their theological investigations. They were never far from the Church’s worship. In the liturgy they came to know Christ not so much as a historical figure from the past, but as a living person present in the Eucharist. When they opened their Bibles they discovered this same Christ not only in the writings of the evangelists and St. Paul but also in the Old Testament. In the liturgy the words of the Scripture are alive and filled with the mystery of Christ.

The Church and the Word of God are inseparably linked. The Church lives on the Word of God and the Word of God echoes through the Church, in her teaching and throughout her life (cf. “Dei Verbum,” n. 8).

It is accurate to say that the Bible provided a lexicon of words for Christian speech and the liturgy a grammar of how they are to be used. This must always be a guiding principle in our own efforts to make God’s Word come alive for the Church today. If we read biblical texts and teach them only for their historical and philological accuracy or inaccuracy, we fail to read the Bible as a book of faith that is the privileged possession of a living, breathing, praying community. We forget that the Bible is more like a library than a single book.

In spite of its many accomplishments, a strictly historical approach to the Bible can only give us a medley of documents from different times and places in the ancient world. It cannot give us the book of the Church, the Scriptures as heard by Christians for centuries, the psalms imprinted on the Church‚s soul, the words and images that bear witness to the Trinity.

The key to biblical criticism is the recognition that, while the Scriptures are the word of God, they do not escape the limitations of history. It is not surprising that since then that several generations of Catholic biblical scholars has devoted themselves to catching up. Nor is it surprising that there have been excesses and criticisms along the way. The question is to what extent scientific methods of Scripture study should be used, as opposed to a more spiritual reading of the Bible. As one who has taught Scripture for many years, nothing that can help us understand the Biblical text should be excluded, just as long as we keep clear what the purpose of the different approaches are, and what their limits are as well.

How can we make Scripture once again the ‘soul of theology’ and bridge this growing divide between those who study scripture, those who teach theology, and those who are preparing for ministry in the Roman Catholic Church? How can the hearts of our students and pastoral ministers, and the faithful to whom they will minister, be set on fire by the Risen Lord who begs people to touch the text of his words?

I would like to suggest three ways to move beyond the impasse, and offer two examples of great Scripture scholars of our time who integrated the historical-critical method and their Catholic faith in remarkable ways.

Actualization

The ‘Interpretation of the Bible in the Church,’ a major document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission from 1993 emphasized the historical-critical method and accorded it primacy of place among the different methods and approaches discussed. The commission called this method ‘indispensable’ and insisted that the proper understanding of the Bible ‘not only admits the use of this method but actually requires it.’ But this important Vatican document also speaks of the importance of ‘actualization,’ a term that is new to church documents on Scripture. This term, transposed from the original French text, comes from actualiser, meaning ‘to make present to today.’

To realize the potential of actualizing the word, however, requires a change of attitude and reconsideration of the biblical formation we are presently offering in our seminaries, Faculties of Theology and universities. Actualization is necessary because biblical texts were composed in response to past circumstances and in a language conditioned by the time of their composition. Interpreting Scripture for today must not be a matter of projecting opinions or ideologies on the text, ‘but of sincerely seeking to discover what the text has to say at the present time.’ Actualization, unlike strict historical-critical exegesis, demands personal faith as a prerequisite and concerns itself with the religious meaning of the Bible. According to the commission, ‘the Church depends on exegetes, animated by the same Spirit as inspired Scripture.’

Lectio Divina

Another way of moving beyond the impasse is to rediscover the art of Lectio divina, ‘divine or holy reading,’ the continuous reading of all the Scriptures, in which each book and each section of it is successively read, studied and meditated on, understood and savoured by having recourse to the whole of biblical revelation, Old and New Testament. Thanks to this simple adherence to and humble respect for the whole biblical text, Lectio divina is an exercise in total and unconditional obedience to God who is speaking to human beings who are listening attentively to the Word.

Lectio divina does not select passages suited to themes and subjects already previously chosen with a view to needs or tastes already felt or noticed by the reader or the community engaged in the reading. It does not adopt the method of ‘biblical themes’ but prefers to keep away from any theological picking and choosing from the message of the Bible. It starts with the Word of God and follows it step by step from beginning to end. Lectio divina presupposes and takes seriously the unity of all the Scriptures.

The point of departure of Lectio Divina is ‘wonderment,’ a spirit which is accompanied by listening, silence, adoration of the divine mystery and placing oneself in front of Scripture as the Word of God. It is an ideal from which we are very far removed. Current methods of teaching Scripture do not encourage wonderment, reverence, listening, silence and adoration of the mystery of God and his divine communication with human beings.

The secret of the success of using Lectio Divina lies in the fact that we do not offer students, parishioners, young adults a philological lexicon, a catechism lesson or even a homily but rather the necessary means for them to put themselves face to face with the text so that they can try out lectio divina for themselves. Lectio divina prepares us for an encounter with the living Lord.

Experiencing the Holy Land: the Fifth Gospel

A final suggestion of moving beyond the impasse in contemporary Scripture teaching is to offer the Holy Land as a backdrop and stage for the Biblical story. It is essential to tell the biblical story in the context of a long pilgrimage against the background of the Holy Land. It is even more important to go to the land and let it speak. The Holy Land is the Fifth Gospel, the key to understanding the other four!

The psalmist praises those whose hearts are ‘set on pilgrim roads’ (Ps. 84:5). We who are entrusted with the ministry of teaching and preaching Scripture must help others to prepare themselves to make the journey ‘as pilgrims.’ Tourists pass quickly through places, but the places pass slowly through pilgrims, leaving them forever changed. Teaching the Scriptures without reference to the Holy Land, or without fostering, encouraging, and, when possible, leading others to visit it, is to tell only part of the story of the Bible.

All of the best biblical renewal programs in the world, the most eloquent Vatican documents, vision statements, and even the most current analyses of the future of the church can never substitute for the hope, power and strength of the Word of God in our individual and communal Christian lives. Documents, statements and catechisms might never renew us, but the Word of God, especially experienced in its natural habitat will.

Contemporary Scripture studies have been a great blessing to the academy and the Church. I would like to pay tribute to two remarkable individuals known to all of us, and who were good friends, professors and mentors to me. The late Passionist Fr. Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P. and the Sulpician Fr. Raymond Brown, S.S. In Frs. Stuhlmueller and Brown I observed three outstanding qualities at work, which may be instructive for other pastoral ministers and students of Scripture in their own biblical research, teaching and preaching.

First was their ability to present the Bible in an accessible way, as a ‘user-friendly’ book or library. Both men often recounted basic principles they learned in their youth: ‘Read the Bible as we would listen to a friend.’ Reading as a listener implies an openness to hear what is being said and an attitude of expectancy; listening as to a friend implies a large measure of confidence that the message will ultimately be a helpful guide for living, and sometimes for specific situations. Of course, one listens to a friend critically, that is, with the full use of one’s faculties, education and experience. By the same token, in the Catholic tradition, one never undertakes Scripture studies to master or criticize the Word, but to be mastered and criticized by it. There is a way in which we must allow the Word of God to read us.

Second was their ability to present the Biblical story as a pilgrimage, a set of stories for the long haul. How well I can still hear Fr. Stuhlmueller saying these words on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, or sitting by the lake in Galilee as we directed Scriptural renewal programs for priests and pastoral ministers in the Holy Land! After all, what is the story of our salvation if not the passage from the Paradise Lost in Genesis to the Paradise found, and symbolized beautifully, in the New Jerusalem of John’s wild dream in Revelation?

Third is the ability to see how Scripture is vivified in prayer and liturgy. For it is in the silent adoration of prayer and in the congregation’s act of worship in liturgy that the Bible comes alive. Liturgy reveals the fruits of scholarship. Hence, we must ask ourselves if our teaching and preaching leads others into celebration, prayer and adoration of the Lord of history? Or has our reliance on scientific methods and writings only compounded the confusion already found in the world?

May Fathers Stuhlmueller and Brown intercede for each of us as we study and pray God’s life-giving Word. And may our hearts be set on fire by the Risen Lord who begs us to touch the text of his words.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, delivers Christian Culture Lecture in Windsor on the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops

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On Sunday, November 23, 2014, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, delivered a lecture on the topic: “What really happened at the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops” in the Christian Culture Lecture Series at Windsor’s Assumption University. It was the first in a series of this year’s theme “The Call to Holiness.” The lecture took place in St. Paul’s Church in LaSalle, Ontario, just outside of Windsor. Salt and Light Television filmed the lecture which will air on our network early in 2015.

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Excerpt from Fr. Rosica’s lecture:

The recent extraordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme ‘Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization,’ will be remembered as a milestone in the history of the church. Blessed Paul VI shared this vision and established in Rome ‘a permanent council of bishops for the universal church,’ called ‘the Synod of Bishops’ on September 15, 1965. Many say that the October 2014 assembly was the first time since Blessed Paul VI established this organ of collegiality that the assembly functioned as a synod and not a staged gathering of pseudo-concord.

You may have heard or read that this Synod has been about changing the teaching of the Church on marriage, family life or sexual morality. This is not true! It was about the pastoral care that we try to offer each other, the ‘motherly love of the Church’, especially when facing difficult moments and experiences in family life.

You may have heard that the Synod represented a ‘defeat for Pope Francis’ or that he was disappointed at its outcome. This is not true! At the Synod, Pope Francis invited the universal Church to journey together as we reflected on the joys and hopes, dark moments and light moments of what it means to be family today.  It is a very complicated journey that involves everyone in the Church, and that requires a profound, systematic reflection on the pastoral and dogmatic issues. At the end of our two intense weeks together, Pope Francis spoke at length about his joy and satisfaction at its work. He told us to look deeply into our hearts to see how God had touched us during the Synod, and to see how we may have been tempted away from the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The Synod, he insisted, has been a spiritual journey, not a debating chamber.

In his opening address to all of us in the Synod hall on Monday morning, October 6, Pope Francis shared these words with us: “After the last Consistory (February 2014), in which there was discussion on the family, a Cardinal wrote to me saying: too bad that some Cardinals didn’t have the courage to say some things out of respect for the Pope, thinking, perhaps, that the Pope thought something different. This is not good; this is not Synodality, because it is necessary to say everything that one feels should be said in the Lord, without a merely human respect, without fear. And, at the same time, one must listen with humility and welcome with an open heart what the brothers say. With these two attitudes one practices Synodality. And so I ask you, please, to observe these fraternal attitudes in the Lord: to speak with parresia and to listen with humility.”

“It has been a great experience, in which we have lived synodality and collegiality, and felt the power of the Holy Spirit, who constantly guides and renews the church,” Pope Francis said in his homily on Sunday Oct. 19, as he closed that assembly and beatified Paul VI.

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Feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple at Jerusalem

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November 21, 2014

According to the tradition in the Eastern Church, when Mary was three years of age, Joachim and Anne took her to the Temple so that she might be consecrated to the service of the Lord. The legend says that they invited the young girls of the town to walk before her with lighted torches. As soon as they had reached the Temple, Mary, alone and unhesitatingly, went up the steps of the sanctuary where she was to remain, living in the contemplation of God and miraculously fed by the Archangel Gabriel, until the day she was espoused to Joseph, shortly before the Annunciation.

The theme of the feast is that Mary the Immaculate One, the Temple of the Living God, is offered to the Almighty in his holy house in Jerusalem. This day witnesses the bond between the Word and the Virgin predestined in eternity: this day is the fountainhead of all her privileges.

A more historical view is that the feast originates in Jerusalem in 543. In the Latin rite, it took many years for the feast to be widely accepted; it entered the Western calendar in 1585. Today, the feast celebrates the recognition of Mary as a temple in whom God dwells. In a very special way, the Blessed Virgin is herself a holy temple when she conceived the very Son of God in her immaculate womb, she became a true temple of the true God; when she cherished the word of God in her heart (see Luke 2:19, 51), loved Christ so ardently, and faithfully kept his word, the Son and the Father came to her and made their home with her, in accordance with the promise of the Lord (see John 14:23).Basilian

November 21 is the date upon which we celebrate Pro Orantibus Day marking the liturgical feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Temple. The day is dedicated to those who belong to contemplative religious orders. It’s a good opportunity to thank the Lord for the gift of so many people who, in monasteries and hermitages, dedicate themselves to God in prayer and silent work. Many contemplative communities throughout the world pray for Salt and Light Television.  For our part, we remember with gratitude these religious women of who as St Thérèse of Lisieux wrote choose to abide in the ‘heart’ of the Church.

Marian devotion has always been important for my own religious family, the Congregation of Priests of St. Basil (Basilian Fathers). Their support of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network has been constant over the past 12 years. In his History of the Basilian Fathers, Fr. Charles Roume, CSB, recalls that it was on November 21, 1822, Feast of the Presentation of Mary, that all the French confrères finally agreed to come together for their first ‘Chapter’.  They elected Fr. Joseph LaPierre as the first Superior General of the Basilian Community. For this reason, Basilians chose November 21 as our foundation day.

Here is a link to the documentary on our foundation in France after the French Revolution: http://saltandlighttv.org/whenithinkofannonay/

In remembering the Blessed Virgin Mary’s presentation in the Temple at Jerusalem on this day, we honour one whose hidden life brings light and warmth to the Church in every place. May her example give all consecrated religious, and those with whom we live and work, the courage to seek wisdom, the strength to radiate light and warmth to the Church, and the ability to become dwelling places of God’s consoling and compassionate presence on earth.

Mary_Presentation2Let us pray:

Almighty and ever living God, today we honour the memory of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose hidden life brings light and warmth to the Church in every place. Her presentation in the temple at Jerusalem reveals her as a temple where God truly lives among us. May Mary’s example give us the strength to radiate that light and warmth to the Church, and help us to be dwelling places of God’s joyful presence on earth. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

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

Fr. Thomas Rosica on CBC Radio

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Fr. Thomas Rosica sat down with Karen Mair of CBC Radio on Thursday, November 13 to talk Pope Francis and communications in the Church on Mainstreet PEI. Listen to the full interview below:

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Pope’s ecumenism said to come from friendships, bridge-building

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By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service
November 10, 2014

BALTIMORE (CNS) — Four of the daily homilies of Pope Francis over the 19 months of his pontificate in particular help explain the direction he has taken in ecumenism and interreligious efforts, said a priest who has served as a Vatican spokesman during events including the recent extraordinary Synod of Bishops.

Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, a U.S. priest who also is CEO of Salt and Light Television, Canada’s national Catholic network, said in a Nov. 9 workshop for bishops before their annual fall general assembly that Pope Francis’ daily Mass homilies and his 2013 apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), give context to his approach.

In Argentina, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio had a rabbi among his close friends and friendships with evangelicals and Pentecostals, who have participated in events at the Vatican since he became pope.

As pope, he has also reached out to other Christians, Jews and Orthodox in ways that have captivated many non-Catholics, who pore over the details of Francis’ writings and relish activities such as his Holy Thursday visit to an Italian prison to wash the feet of inmates of diverse faiths, said Father Rosica.

He said he mentioned to Pope Francis recently that people the world over are reading “Evangelii Gaudium,” as Father Rosica has discovered from the many invitations he receives to speak on the topic.

“I said to the pope, ‘Do you realize what you’re doing?’ The pope replied, ‘I think so.'”

“Building bridges is the work of ecumenism, of evangelization,” said Father Rosica. “It’s the work of going out to the whole world to proclaim the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ. Building walls is what fearful, insecure people do to protect what they have and keep others out.

“Pope Francis wants to build bridges that everyone can cross,” he said, especially the poor, those who have been marginalized and social outcasts.

“In ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ Pope Francis invites — and challenges — all of us to move beyond our ‘comfort zones,'” Father Rosica said. “He wants us to be warm, welcoming and forgiving. He wants us to eat with tax collectors and sinners; he wants us to forgive the woman caught in adultery (while admonishing her to sin no more); he wants us to welcome and respect foreigners (even our enemies), and, above all, not to judge others.”

There’s nothing new in any of that, said the priest. “It is only the Gospel message. It’s been our mission, our mandate and our story for over 2,000 years.”

OrthodoxFriendship

The four homilies Father Rosica cited date from one a month after his election as pope to as recently as Nov. 4.

In the first, he discussed the “courageous attitude of St. Paul in Areopagus, when, in speaking to the Athenian crowd, the Apostle to the Gentiles sought to build bridges to proclaim the Gospel.” The pope said an attitude such as Paul’s that seeks dialogue is “closer to the heart” of the listener and why Paul was a builder of bridges, not of walls.

Last October, Father Rosica said, Pope Francis warned Christians against behaving as though “the key is in their pocket and the door is closed.” He talked about Christians who have the key to the church in their hand but “take it away without opening the door.” People who may wish to enter find themselves on the street in front of a closed church, with excuses and justifications given for why they cannot enter, the pope said.

“Worse still,” said Father Rosica, citing the pope, they keep the door closed, don’t allow anyone to enter and in doing so, keep on the outside themselves. “When this Christian is a priest, a bishop or a pope it is worse,” said Francis.

The situation arises when “the faith passes, so to speak through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon people.”

“When a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith, he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought.” Father Rosica said the pope went on to say that when faith becomes ideology, it chases away people and distances the church from the people.

Father Rosica also quoted from an October homily this year, in which the pope spoke about unity in diversity. He used the image of a church made of living stones, as opposed to weak bricks.

“Humility, gentleness, magnanimity: These are weak things, because the humble person appears good for nothing; gentleness, meekness appear useless; generosity, being open to all, having a big heart,” Father Rosica quoted. “And then he says more: Bearing with one another through love. Bearing with one another through love, having what at heart? Preserving unity. The weaker we are with these virtues of humility, generosity, gentleness, meekness, the stronger we become as stones in this temple.”

The fourth key homily, according to Father Rosica, was the pope’s Nov. 4 teaching on the parable of the man who gave a banquet to which he invited many, but some declined.

As Pope Francis noted, Father Rosica said, “In the end the invited guests prefer their own interests rather than sharing dinner together: They do not know what it means to celebrate.”

He said that form of self-interest makes it difficult to listen to the voice of God, “when you believe that that the whole world revolves around you: there is no horizon, because you become your own horizon. And there is more behind all of this, something far deeper: fear of gratuity. We are afraid of God’s gratuity. He is so great that we fear him.”

John Paul II: A Saint for Canada

JPIICanoe

I once had a teacher who knew exactly how to keep her students focused during the day. She promised us that if we were very good, she would read us a few pages from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. She would only have to give the gentlest reminder that we would not have time for The Hobbit and there would be a swift end to our cavorting and carrying-on. As you can imagine, she had us eating out of her hand.

My love for a great story has continued, and I’ve found that the best stories are always those “based on a true story.” At Salt + Light we have a storytelling ritual, you could say, and Fr. Thomas Rosica is one of the best storytellers I know. Whenever Fr. Rosica returns to the office from a trip, he gathers everyone to celebrate Mass, and following that it’s time for our meeting around the conference table. After we have prayed and he has given us all a little token from his travels -usually a prayer card, a spiritual booklet, or some chocolates- he settles down to tell us about everything that happened.  As I said, Fr. Tom Rosica is a masterful storyteller. By the time the meeting has concluded, we feel as if we have lived through it all – the highs and the lows: the lost luggage, the inevitable poor internet connection fiascos, the exceptional encounters, the developments and the messages of encouragement.

My favourite stories, however, are the ones where he tells us of his encounters with Pope John Paul II. These stories are an incredible source of insight.  Sure, there’s something to be learned from reading great encyclicals, but to know a person firsthand and to get a sense of who he was and why he did what he did – this can only be imparted through personal experience; anything else simply doesn’t have the same impact. Moreover, Fr. Rosica’s stories are always full of meaning. Significant dates in history have moods and feelings attached to them, and there’s always a deep sense of what these things mean for us and for the world. As a scripture scholar, Fr. Rosica’s biblical imagination imbues his commentary on events with a profound love of scriptural images and also a great sense of humour.

Not everyone has the opportunity to listen to these stories firsthand, but you will certainly feel as if you are sitting around the Salt + Light conference table when you pick up the new release  John Paul II, A Saint for Canada. It’s a short book that can be read at a leisurely pace in a few hours. Filled with Fr. Rosica’s personal reflections on Pope John Paul II,  John Paul II, A Saint for Canada is a delight that will leave you with a deep appreciation for this saint and what he means for us in Canada.

To get a taste of what you can expect, you’re invited to watch our latest Catholic FOCUS featuring John Paul II.

Photo description: Father Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, is pictured reading in a kayak in this photo dated from 1955. Three years later, he was on the water with friends when he learned he had been called to Warsaw for the announcement that he was to be made a bishop. He was canonized on April 27 with Pope John XXIII. (CNS photo)

 

Witness: Cardinal George Pell

Cardinal Pell

Cardinal George Pell is one of the most well-known leaders of the Roman Catholic Church.  Appointed Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 and Archbishop of Sydney in 2001, he has been a consistent and unwavering voice in favour of traditional Catholic doctrine particularly in the Western world.  In 2008, his diocese hosted the World Youth Day and Apostolic Journey of Pope Benedict XVI which is widely regarded as one of the most efficient and well-organized WYD’s in the three decades of their existence.

A long time critic of the financial and administrative mishaps at the Vatican, Cardinal Pell was appointed by Pope Francis to his “Council of Cardinals” one month after his election as Pope.  During an extensive assessment of the various bureaucratic structures of the Vatican, the Pope decided on February 14, 2014 to create a new Secretariat for the Economy in order to oversee all financial dealings at the Vatican. Cardinal Pell was hand-picked as the Secretary.

In this exclusive interview Fr. Thomas Rosica poses the practical questions that many watchers of the Vatican have long-wondered: just what exactly does the Cardinal’s work entail?  How is it being done? What are the goals desired by the Cardinal and the Holy Father?  The work of the new Secretary, it turns out, may be an essential key to understanding the pontificate of the beloved Pope Francis and why he was elected in the first place.

Premiere: Sunday, October 12 at 8pm ET / 5pm PT

A Thanksgiving Reflection: Gratitude is the heart’s memory

Thanksgiving

The celebration of Thanksgiving in Canada makes an interesting counterpoint to the holiday celebrated by our American neighbours. While Americans remember the Pilgrims settling in the New World, Canadians give thanks for a successful harvest.  At the heart of our Thanksgiving celebration is the idea of giving thanks for the goodness of the season past. And yet how often do we simply give thanks to God for who we are and what we have when things are going well in our lives?

Thankfulness is much more than saying “Thank you” because we have to. Thankfulness is a way to experience the world, a way to perceive, a way to be surprised. Thankfulness is having open eyes and a short distance between the eyes and the heart.

In the New Testament, so much of Jesus’ ministry took place at table.  So many meals punctuate the New Testament — meals with Levi and his friends, meals with Simon the Pharisee, meals with crowds on the hillsides, meals with disciples, the ideal meals described in his parables.   You can eat your way through the gospels!  It is ultimately during the final meal that Jesus leaves us with his most precious gift in the Eucharist.

What are the features and qualities of grateful people?

Remembrance is the most precious feature of the virtue of gratitude. One of the most important qualities is the ability to say “thank you” to others and to take no one and nothing for granted. Those who possess the virtue of gratitude are truly rich. They not only know they have been blessed, but they continuously remember that all good things come from God.

To acknowledge others, to say thank you, is a mark of greatness. If our colleagues and volunteers are dispirited and unmotivated, might it have something to do with the fact that we have never expressed our gratitude to them for who they are and what they do?  The courage to thank — that is, the courage to see the gifts and experiences of this world all together as a gift — changes not only the person who gains this insight. It also changes the environment, the world, and those who surround that person.

Gratitude is creative. People bound together by gratitude are always discovering and awakening abundant sources of strength. The more thankful a person is, the richer he or she is within. Thankful people store up in their grateful memory all the good experiences of the past, just as the French proverb states: “Gratitude is the heart’s memory.”

babette'sfeastAt this time of year I have often watched Babette’s Feast, one of my favourite movies about the transforming powers of a meal. It is a story of the opening of the hearts of a small, puritanical community on the coast of Norway by the generosity of a French refugee cook. The movie, directed by Gabriel Axel, received the Academy Award in 1986 for Best Foreign Film and is a faithful adaptation of Isak Dinesen’s 1958 short story.

Here is the plot. In 19th-century Denmark, two adult sisters live in an isolated village with their father, who is the honoured pastor of a small Protestant church that is almost a sect unto itself. Although they each are presented with a real opportunity to leave the village, the sisters choose to stay with their father, to serve him and their church.

After some years, a French woman refugee, Babette, arrives at their door, begs them to take her in, and commits herself to work for them as maid/housekeeper/cook. She arrived with a note from a French singer who had passed through the area some time before, fallen in love with one of the sisters, but left disappointed. The note commends Babette to these “good people” and offhandedly mentions that she can cook.

During the intervening dozen years Babette cooks the meals the sisters are used to, plain to a fault.  But in the 12th year of her service to this family, Babette wins the French lottery, a prize of 10,000 francs. At the same time, the sisters are planning a simple celebration of the 100th anniversary of their father, the founder of their small Christian sect. They expect Babette to leave with her newfound wealth but, instead, she surprises them by offering to cook a meal for the anniversary.

Although they are secretly concerned about what Babette, a Catholic and a foreigner, might do, the sisters allow her to go ahead.

Babette uses just the tiniest opening, a modest celebration, to cook up a storm and wreak havoc in the lives of the sisters, and with their community, by such outrageous generosity.

Fulfillment received

In the end, Babette’s feast has some startling effects. The community becomes reconciled. Those at table experience the transformation and transcendence of the mundane, physical, and temporal dimensions of reality through the experience of a feast. The dinner guests at Babette’s feast encounter the divine and receive fulfillment through the physical act of eating.

If you are seeking a wonderful way of digesting your Thanksgiving meal this year, I recommend that you watch Babette’s Feast. It is a masterpiece that helps us to explore divine generosity with the image of a meal and its transforming quality. You will discover that the meal is only the scenery of this feast, not the script! May it be the same at our dining room tables this weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving and bon appetit!

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