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Taking the Gospel of Life to the Streets…

FrancisBaby

Last year on April 11, 2014, Pope Francis addressed the Italian Pro-Life movement with these provocative words:

“We know that human life is sacred and inviolable. Every civil right rests on the recognition of the first and fundamental right, that of life, which is not subordinate to any condition, be it quantitative, economic or, least of all, ideological. “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills…. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a ‘throw away’ culture which is now spreading” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, n. 53). And in this way life, too, ends up being thrown away. One of the gravest risks our epoch faces, amid the opportunities offered by a market equipped with every technological innovation, is the divorce between economics and morality, the basic ethical norms of human nature are increasingly neglected. It is therefore necessary to express the strongest possible opposition to every direct attack on life, especially against the innocent and defenseless, and the unborn in a mother’s womb is the example of innocence par excellence. Let us remember the words of the Second Vatican Council: “Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes” (Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, n. 51).”

Today we are living in the midst of a culture that denies solidarity and takes the form of a veritable “culture of death”. This culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents that encourage an idea of society exclusively concerned with efficiency. It is a war of the powerful against the weak. There is no room in the world for anyone who, like the unborn or the dying, is a weak element in the social structure or anyone who appears completely at the mercy of others and radically dependent on them and can only communicate through the silent language of profound sharing of affection. Abortion is the most serious wound inflicted not only on individuals and their families who should provide the sanctuary for life, but inflicted as well on society and its culture, by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders. Let us never forget Pope Benedict XVI’s words at the opening ceremony of World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, Australia, on July 17, 2008:

And so we are led to reflect on what place the poor and the elderly, immigrants and the voiceless, have in our societies. How can it be that domestic violence torments so many mothers and children? How can it be that the most wondrous and sacred human space – the womb – has become a place of unutterable violence?

The Roman Catholic Church holds a consistent ethic of life. The Church offers a teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness and dignity of the human person. However, opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the dignity of the human person such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself, whatever insults human dignity such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons – all of these things and more poison human society.

In economically developed countries, legislation contrary to life is very widespread, and it has already shaped moral attitudes and praxis, contributing to the spread of an anti-birth mentality; frequent attempts are made to export this mentality to other states as if it were a form of cultural progress.

“Openness to life is at the centre of true development,” wrote Pope Benedict in his encyclical “Caritas in Veritate.” When a society moves toward the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good. If personal and social sensitivity toward the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.” The Holy Father sums up the current global economic crisis in a remarkable way with these words: “Human costs always include economic costs, and economic dysfunctions always involve human costs.”

The burning issues of the promotion of human life must be high on the agenda of every human being on every side of the political spectrum. They are not only the concern of the far right of the political spectrum. Many people, blinded by their own zeal and goodness, have ended up defeating the very cause for which we must all defend with every ounce of energy in our flesh and bones.

The market push towards euthanasia

FrancisElderlyIf we look carefully at the great dramas of the last century, we see that as free markets toppled Communism, exaggerated consumerism and materialism infiltrated our societies and cultures. Aging populations, especially in the west, and resulting smaller workforces are now creating a market push towards euthanasia. As St. John Paul II wrote: “a right to die will inevitably give way to the duty to die.”

Most people who think that euthanasia and assisted suicide should be legal are not thinking the whole issue through. They are thinking about personal autonomy and choice. They think about what it would be like to suddenly become incapacitated and consider such a life as undignified or worthless. Perhaps they consider severely disabled people as having no quality of life. Our dignity and quality of life don’t come from what we can or cannot do. Dignity and quality of life are not matters of efficiency, proficiency and productivity. They come from a deeper place – from who we are and how we relate to each other. True compassion leads to sharing another’s pain, not killing the person whose suffering we cannot bear.

What is wrong with abortion, euthanasia, embryo selection, and embryonic research is not the motives of those who carry them out. So often, those motives are, on the surface, compassionate: to protect a child from being unwanted, to end pain and suffering, to help a child with a life-threatening disease. But in all these cases, the terrible truth is that it is the strong who decide the fate of the weak; human beings therefore become instruments in the hands of other human beings.

Being pro-life is one of the deepest expressions of our baptism: we stand up as sons and daughters of the light, clothed in humility and charity, filled with conviction, speaking the truth to power with firmness, conviction and determination, and never losing joy and hope. Being Pro-Life is not an activity for a political party or a particular side of the spectrum. It is an obligation for everyone: left, right and centre! If we are Pro-Life, we must engage the culture around us, and not curse it. We must see others as Jesus does, and we must love them to life, even those who are opposed to us. Being pro-life in this day and age is truly prophetic, and it will bring about authentic development and enduring peace in our world.

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

 

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Duty and Obligation of being Pro-Life

ProLife

What does it mean to be pro-life?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Furthering the Common Good

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

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

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

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

Engaging the Culture Around Us

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

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

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

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

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

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

The Decree on Ecumenism: 50 Years Later part 1

 

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On January 17, 2015, the Archdiocese of Vancouver sponsored a Symposium on Christian Unity, titled Have We Answered the Call?, at St. Francis Xavier Church, in honour of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, of Salt + Light Catholic Media Foundation, gave the keynote address titled The Decree on Ecumenism: 50 Years Later. In part 1 of his address, Fr. Rosica delves into the background of Ecumenism and the Catholic Church, particularly in the context of St. John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council. Read part 1 the full text of Fr. Rosica’s address below:

Part I
Introduction and Background

The ecumenical movement, born in the twentieth century is the means by which the churches which form the house “oikos” of God, seek to live and witness before all peoples the wonders God has worked among us, especially through the crucified and risen Christ and his life-giving Spirit. We cannot forget the historical background of that century, which began with a belief in progress and turned out to be one of the darkest and bloodiest centuries in the history of humankind, with two world wars, many local wars, civil wars and ethnic conflicts, two humanity-despising totalitarian systems, concentration camps and gulags, genocides, expulsions and waves of refugees. Never before had so many people violently lost their lives in one single century. But out of the utter despair of those years, a bright light shattered the darkness: the ecumenical movement. After centuries of Christian fragmentation, a counter movement quietly began as churches became painfully aware that such a situation contradicted Jesus Christ’s will, and was a sin and a scandal. The separation of the Churches – 1500 years ago with the Ancient Oriental Churches, 1000 years ago with the Orthodox Churches, and almost 500 years ago with reformed Christianity, with a tendency to still new divisions – had seriously prejudiced the credibility of the Christian message.

Nor can we forget that this new ecumenical awareness developed in connection with the missionary movement. The birth of the ecumenical movement finds its roots in the 1910 World Missionary Conference of Edinburgh. The division of the Churches was recognized as a serious obstacle to world mission. A second impulse came from the war experiences and the national-socialist terror. In the concentration camps, courageous Christians from different Churches discovered that in their resistance against a new pagan totalitarian reign of evil, they had much more in common than what divided them. Thus, the ecumenical movement emerged fully in the second half of the 20th century. The founding of the World Council of Churches in 1948 in Amsterdam was an important milestone on the ecumenical way.

Ecumenism2John XXIII and Vatican II

Fifty-six years ago January 25, St. John XXIII announced an ecumenical council that would bring together the bishops of the Catholic Church as the Church’s most important deliberative body. In a series of meetings from 1962 to 1965 later to be known as the Second Vatican Council – the bishops of the world sought to update and renew the life of the Catholic Church. A second, related goal of the Council was “the restoration of unity among all Christians”. We must never forget that one of the two goals of the Council was Christian unity: ecumenism.

Having served early on in his career as Apostolic Visitor and later Delegate to Bulgaria where there were Eastern Rite Catholics and Orthodox Christians, but few Roman Catholics, Angelo Roncalli, who would become John XXIII, understood diversity of religion and diversity of culture. In 1934 he was transferred to Greece and Turkey as Apostolic Nuncio to those predominantly Orthodox and Islamic nations. Because of his sincere humility and his desire to build relationships and mutual understanding, he won the respect and affection of many people, especially non-Catholics. He was on the cutting edge of what would become known among Catholics as the ecumenical movement. He learned the importance of dialogue and love of neighbour, and became convinced that these were the only authentic paths to Christian unity, world peace and mutual prosperity.

The “Good Pope” understood that as each church renews its fidelity to the gospel, it grows closer to the others. The presence of 169 “fraternal” observers from other churches and ecclesial communities at the Second Vatican Council was a sign of John XXIII’s commitment to Christian unity and to the inseparable link between the Council’s desire for Catholic renewal and for ecumenical engagement. With the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church formally joined the ecumenical movement. The participation of the Roman Catholic Church in this movement is irrevocable.

This past November 21 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism: Unitatis Redintegratio. The Council Fathers approved almost unanimously the Decree: 2,137 voted in favour, only 11 against. Such a final vote revealed the positive degree to which the Episcopal conscience had evolved and matured since the 78-year old former Patriarch of Venice, only three months Bishop of Rome and believed to be merely “a transitional pope” announced three years earlier an Ecumenical Council.

The Decree on Ecumenism received an overwhelming majority vote despite having previously been the object of many heated and considerable debates. In view of the strong language of previous centuries against schism and heresy, it is not surprising that the decree was hotly debated, with many unwilling to break radically from the traditional language. In the end, however, the decree showed much generosity. It accepts that Catholics must take their share of blame for the divisions among Christians and that the living cannot be blamed for the sins of their ancestors. Other Christians are spoken of as “brothers and sisters,” and the unity that already exists is emphasized. The decree recognizes however, that obstacles remain to full communion and it urges Catholics to do their best to overcome them. The opening paragraph of the Council’s Decree states:

 “The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council. Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only. However, many Christian communions present themselves … as the true inheritors of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but differ in mind and go their different ways, as if Christ himself were divided. Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature.”

In doing research for this address, I discovered an interesting “Canadian” connection to the discussions that resulted in UR. One of the Fathers of Vatican II was then Canadian Archbishop George Flahiff, CSB, former Superior General of the Congregation of St. Basil (Basilian Fathers) and Archbishop of Winnipeg.

Archbishop Flahiff attended every session of Vatican II and spoke only once to the full assembly of bishops gathered in Council. His intervention on October 2, 1964, addressed a draft document or schema, which led to Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism that would be promulgated by Pope Paul VI a little over two months later on November 21, 1964.

Two points of Archbishop Flahiff’s speech stand out in particular, since they came to be included, almost verbatim, in the final draft of the Council’s Decree on Ecumenism. First, Flahiff lamented the many divisions between Christian ecclesial communities and polarization within the Catholic Church itself. Flahiff recognized these realities as a counter-sign to God’s kingdom. He told the assembled bishops at Vatican II that “schisms can remind the Church that she is not yet as holy as she should be and not yet perfectly obedient to her vocation to be catholic.” Second, on a more positive note, Flahiff highlighted the vital role of the Holy Spirit in ecumenical activities: “The Spirit of God himself brings forth the varied fruit he wishes and leads all Christians to greater fidelity to the will of God.”

We can certainly sense the impact of George Falhiff’s words in UR #4. On inter-Christian and intra-Catholic divisions, the decree states:

 “For although the Catholic Church has been endowed with all divinely revealed truth and with all means of grace, yet its members fail to live by them with all the fervor that they should, so that the radiance of the Church’s image is less clear in the eyes of our separated brethren and of the world at large, and the growth of God’s kingdom is delayed… The divisions among Christians prevent the Church from attaining the fullness of catholicity proper to her, in those of her sons and daughters who, though attached to her by Baptism, are yet separated from full communion with her.”

 The same paragraph of UR speaks in this way of the work of the Holy Spirit in fostering Christian unity:

“Nor should we forget that anything wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren can be a help to our own edification. Whatever is truly Christian is never contrary to what genuinely belongs to the faith; indeed, it can always bring a deeper realization of the mystery of Christ and the Church.”

UR clearly marked the opening of a new way of doing ecumenism in the Catholic Church, entering officially into the wider ecumenical movement. The conciliar decree had three parts: Part 1 outlines the Catholic principles which are still very important for Catholics today. Part 2 addresses the practice of ecumenism, the dialogue of truth and the dialogue of love, with spiritual ecumenism as the basis or the soul of all ecumenical engagement. Part 3 examines the two main splits in the Church, between East and West in the 11th century and within the Western Church in the 16th century and the different ways of resolving these problems.

Ecumenism

The Decree on Ecumenism, like any other conciliar decree or statement, never tried to address all of our present concerns regarding Christian life or Christian teaching. The documents of Vatican II reflected on Church life preceding the Council, and presented us with a framework upon which the future could be built. We must never forget that the teachings of a particular Council do not automatically become part of the life of the universal Church merely because the hierarchy of the Church has officially promulgated such documents. In this way, the Decree on Ecumenism was never a handbook of ecumenical theology nor an encyclopedia of Christian divisions. It is, more than anything, a pastoral statement, a charter for a movement and not the dogmatic decree of a static position frozen in time.

The very soul of the ecumenical movement is an ongoing conversion and a search for reconciliation among all Christians. This search is primarily a spiritual task involving the seeking of truth as we try to follow more closely the One who is the Way the Truth and the Life.

Over the past fifty years, ecumenism and the ecumenical movement have become commonplace for most Christians. While ecumenism hasn’t yet achieved full reunion, it’s still among the most visible, powerful, successful Christian movements of the late 20th century. Church leaders who promote the re-establishment of unity among all Christians described their efforts as “ecumenical.” However activity for the promotion of unity between Christians – all of whom belong to one family of faith – is to be distinguished from interfaith activities, which aim to foster understanding between Christianity and the other religions.

Since the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church has engaged in official dialogues at the international level with the Orthodox Churches of Byzantine Tradition, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Anglican Communion, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Methodist Council, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Baptist World Alliance, the Christian Church – Disciples of Christ, the Mennonites, the Pentecostal Churches, and the World Evangelical Alliance.

In Canada, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Commission for Christian Unity, Religious Relations with the Jews, and Interfaith Dialogue supports dialogues with the Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Lutheran Church-Canada, the United Church of Canada, the Polish National Catholic Church and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. The Conference of Bishops participates as a full member of the Canadian Council of Churches.

These dialogues converge in the fact that they revolve around the concept of communio as their key concept. This convergence in the concept of communio corresponds to the vision of the Second Vatican Council. The Extraordinary Synod of Bishops of 1985 stated that the communio-ecclesiology is the “central and basic idea of the Council documents”.

Today the ecumenical question can no longer be one directed only to theologians and officeholders of the different churches. The unity of Christians must be more effectively introduced to the entire people of God in a visible and tangible way. As long as Christians remain divided, ignorant of the need for unity so too will their proclamation go unnoticed or even not understood in the world today. In a world where unbelief is a rapidly growing phenomenon, Christians must continually ask themselves if they are truly working to make God’s purpose known on earth so that the world will recognize Jesus as the true Lord and Savior of the “oikoumene.”

CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo

CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano

CNS photo/courtesy of Archbishop Loris Capovilla

 

Preaching St. Paul

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Preaching St. Paul
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

Think for a moment of the way that the apostle Paul’s words have worked their way into the fabric of our English language 2,000 years later and an ocean away from his place of birth in Tarsus. How many times in a week do we hear or say something uniquely Pauline and not even realize it? Consider for instance these well-known phrases:

“A thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7).

“The letter of the law” (2 Cor 3:6).

“The twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor 15:52).

“The wages of sin” (Rom 6:23).

“The powers that be” (Rom 13:1).

“All things to all people” (1 Cor 9:22).

“Fallen from grace” (Gal 5:4).

“Fight the good fight” (1 Tm 6:12).

“Labor of love” (1 Thes 1:3).

“Bear with fools gladly” (2 Cor 11:19).

“A thief in the night” (1 Thes 5:4).

“The root of all evil” (1 Tm 6:10).

“Old wives’ tales” (1 Tm 4:7).

St. Paul has left his lasting mark on the language of us gentiles even in these parts of the world where he never set foot. And this is a very superficial means of gauging his influence. Let’s take a very brief look
at four of Paul’s letters and ask if they have any relevance for our lives today?

Let’s look at Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul was the first to preach the Gospel to the Galatians. Since they were Gentiles, he did not require them to be circumcised or to follow the Mosaic Law. He preached that it was sufficient to believe in Christ in order to share in the blessings of Israel. God had provided another way to salvation, a way which made the Law of Moses obsolete.

Paul’s mission to the Galatians was highly successful. They received the Spirit and welcomed Paul as if he were an angel of God. But after he left, other Christian missionaries, probably Jewish Christians from Jerusalem, came to Galatia and preached a different version of the Gospel. They argued that Paul had not communicated the full Gospel to the Galatians. They contended that since Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, the Galatians must accept circumcision and follow the prescriptions of the Mosaic Law if they wished to share in the full benefits of the messianic age. In other words, the Galatians had to become Jews before they could become Christians.

The problems Paul faced at Galatia are not our problems. Nonetheless, in the Christian life analogous situations arise. In American society the important question is “what do you do”? We are judged in our society by success, initiative, and achievement. We measure ourselves and others by what we accomplish.

Just as the Galatians were tempted to add the Mosaic Law to what Christ had done, so contemporary Christians are enticed to add something to what God has done in his Christ. It may not be the Law of Moses, but it may be the Law of Success or Achievement. The Gospel message Paul proclaimed to the Galatians must be announced from generation to generation.

On first reading Paul’s letter to the Romans appears to be a longer version of Galatians but Romans is not just a longer, more systematic version of Galatians, but a letter in its own right.

In Romans the audience and situation are different. Paul now writes to a mixed congregation of Gentiles and Jews. Moreover, the problems come from within the community rather than from outside. It now appears that the Gentile Christians have the upper hand, and there is a danger that they will abuse their newfound power at the expense of the Jewish Christians.

Paul faces a serious theological issue rooted in a social problem. The social problem concerned the relationship of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. How should they relate to each other within the Church? Is it possible for them to associate with each other on a basis of equality, or must one group dominate?

What is Israel’s role in salvation history? What was the purpose of the Law? Has God been faithful to Israel, or has God abandoned Israel? In Romans the very faithfulness of God is at stake.

While it may appear that the problem Paul faced in Romans has little relationship to our situation. In our day Judaism and Christianity form two distinct faiths. We do not have communities of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians struggling to live together. Is Romans hopelessly dated?

Because of what God has done in Jesus Christ, everyone has the possibility of standing in the proper relationship to God. Whereas Paul spoke of the unity between Jew and Gentile, we might proclaim the unity between Anglo and Hispanic, Black and White. Faith in Christ puts us on an equal footing before God. There are no other “entrance requirements” such as social class or privilege.

Paul stresses the profound need for salvation (Rom. 1-3); the nature of this salvation (Rom. 5-8); the faithfulness of God to his people (Rom. 9-11); and the challenge of community living (Rom. 12-15). Romans responds that God’s ways have not changed. God has always dealt with people on the basis of faith. God deals with us in the same way today. The concrete situation has changed, but the deeper issues remain.

No church provided Paul with more occasions for correspondence than that of Corinth. The questions he answered and the problems he encountered suggest that the Corinthian community was a lively church with a mind of its own. Although Paul was its founder it often opposed him.

Second Corinthians is not so easy to describe. It appears that First Corinthians did not solve the many problems at Corinth. In fact the situation deteriorated to such a point that Paul had to visit Corinth. The visit ended in humiliation for him (Paul’s “painful visit” mentioned in 2:1).

The Corinthians did not make the proper Pauline distinction between “already” and “not yet.” They were infatuated by the charismatic gifts they received with the coming of the Spirit. They reveled in their new knowledge and wisdom. They believed that they were already living in the eschaton. There was little if anything to anticipate. Consequently, they attached themselves to particular apostles whom they believed possessed special wisdom. They believed they were immune from the temptations of the flesh. They saw no danger from participating in pagan idol worship. They viewed the Eucharist as if it were a celebration of the eschaton. They overvalued ecstatic gifts such as tongues. They saw no need for a future resurrection. They were infatuated with the Superlative Apostles.

Paul’s response to the Corinthians was to proclaim the scandal of the cross: “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles”. He reminded them that the Eucharist is a proclamation of “the Lord’s death until he comes”. Most importantly, he emphasized his own share in Christ’s sufferings as the sign which authenticates his own apostleship: “we are afflicted in every way, . . . always carrying in the body the death of Jesus”. Paul opposed the Corinthians’ Theology of Glory by his Theology of the Cross. Ever so realistic, he argued that resurrection glory is a future hope, it has not yet been attained. In the meantime, Christians must share in Christ’s sufferings if they hope to attain his resurrection.

Every generation of Christians is easily seduced by a Theology of Glory which would ignore or even pass over the cross. In a consumer society there is an ever-present danger that Christians will mistake the good life for the fullness of life. In an affluent culture there is the temptation to live as though the fulness of salvation had already arrived. The basic problem Paul encountered is ours, and his solution remains as valid now as it was nearly two thousand years ago. The Christian life must pass by way of the cross before it can attain resurrection glory.

Pauline letters present answers. Our task is to raise the contemporary questions to which the answers apply.

Christian Culture Series: The Gospel of the Family: Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

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Fr. Thomas Rosica, President of Assumption University and CEO of Salt and Light Television, presents an inside look at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family and its implications for the Church and the world. This lecture was part of the Christian Culture Lecture Series created  by Assumption University in Windsor, Ontario. Episode premieres Tuesday, January 20, 2015 at 8:30 pm ET/5:30 pm PT.

 

“Sentire cum ecclesia” – Oscar Romero’s Decision

Oscar-Romero
“Sentire cum ecclesia” – Oscar Romero’s Decision
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

One of the main themes permeating the thought of St. Ignatius of Loyola is his exhortation “Sentire cum ecclesia” or “think with the Church.” “Sentire cum ecclesia” also means to feel with the Church and to love the Church. It is necessary to cultivate this communion of shared devotion, affection and purpose in a very disciplined way, for not all aspects of the Church are lovable, just as we are not always lovable as individuals.
Oscar-Romero-GlassWhat did it mean for Oscar Romero to think with the Church? Romero’s thinking with the Church went beyond intellectual assent to authoritative teaching. To think with the Church is not a matter of the head alone. It is a personal act of identification with the Church, the Body of Christ in history, sacrament of salvation in the world. To identify with the Church means to embrace its mission, the saving mission of Jesus Christ, to proclaim the Reign of God to the poor. To think with the Church is an apostolic act.

The power of the Gospel is revealed in particular historical circumstances. In San Salvador in 1980, to think with the Church meant following the pastoral direction set forth by the Second Vatican Council in “Lumen Gentium” and “Gaudium et Spes,” by Blessed Paul VI in “Evangelii Nuntiandi,” and by the Latin American bishops at Medellin and Puebla. But there was more. “Sentire cum ecclesia: or thinking with the Church demanded discernment that was attentive to the particular circumstances of the local Catholic community and to the specific needs of Salvadoran society.

Oscar Romero maintained a lifelong devotion to the Vicar of Christ on earth. His devotion to the successors of Peter did not carry over to the Vatican’s diplomats and bureaucrats. For Romero, to think with the Church meant not to think with “the powers of this world.” Romero listened to them, talked with them, but refused to align himself with them. In an informal interview granted during the 1980 Puebla Conference in Mexico, Romero spoke of having the mind of the Church, he said: “St. Ignatius would present it today as a Church that the Holy Spirit is stirring up in our people, in our communities, a Church that means not only the teaching of the Magisterium, fidelity to the pope, but also service to this people and the discernment of the signs of the times in the light of the Gospel.” Through his life, ministry, and martyrdom, Oscar Romero taught us that thinking with the Church meant to be rooted in God, loving and defending the poor, and out of fidelity, paying the price for doing so. He laid down his life for his friends. Thirty-five years later, the Church confirms that Romeo made the right decision.

Solemnity of the Epiphany: Home By Another Way

Epiphany

Enjoy James Taylor’s musical reflection on the feast of the Epiphany. Most of us know the story of the Magi coming with gifts to visit the Christ child but many may not know the rest of the story. In the end, the magi went their own way, and because they refused to be seduced by cynicism, because they allowed themselves to be surprised by this great joy, the star to which they had committed themselves appeared again. This is not only the description of the times into which Jesus was born, but also our times. When we have found our lasting joy in the midst of the encircling gloom, cynicism, despair, indifference and meaninglessness, the only thing to do is to kneel and adore.

Home By Another Way
by James Taylor
Those magic men the Magi
Some people call them wise
Or Oriental, even kings
Well anyway, those guys
They visited with Jesus
They sure enjoyed their stay
Then warned in a dream of King Herod’s scheme
They went home by another way

Yes they went home by another way
Home by another way
Maybe me and you can be wise guys too
And go home by another way
We can make it another way
Safe home as they used to say
Keep a weather eye to the chart on high
And go home another way

Steer clear of royal welcomes
Avoid a big to-do
A king who would slaughter the innocents
Will not cut a deal for you
He really, really wants those presents
He’ll comb your camel’s fur
Until his boys announce they’ve found trace amounts
Of your frankincense, gold and myrrh

Time to go home by another way
Home by another way
You have to figure that God’s saying play the odds
And go home by another way
We can make it another way
Safe home as they used to say
Keep a weather eye to the chart on high
And go home another way

Home is where they want you now
You can more or less assume that you’ll be welcome in the end
Mustn’t let King Herod haunt you so
Or fantasize his features when you’re looking at a friend

Well it pleasures me to be here
And to sing this song tonight
They tell me that life is a miracle
And I figured that they’re right
But Herod’s always out there
He’s got our cards on file
It’s a lead pipe cinch, if we give an inch
Old Herod likes to take a mile

It’s best to go home by another way
Home by another way
We got this far to a lucky star
But tomorrow is another day
We can make it another way
Safe home as they used to say
Keep a weather eye to the chart on high
And go home another way

-James Taylor

Home by Another Way by James Taylor on Grooveshark

St. Basil the Great: Father of Communal Monasticism

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Basil the Great was a strong supporter of the Nicene Creed – the profession of faith that is most commonly used when we come together to celebrate Mass. In the Universal Catholic Church, we celebrate his feast day on January 2 and so do the Anglican and Lutheran Churches. We also call to mind the incredible spirituality and impact that St. Basil the Great left on the Church in Europe.

When we begin looking at his early life, we know that St. Basil the Great was born around the year 330 AD. He came into this world through the support of a very wealthy family, in Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia. Today, Cappadocia is most widely known as Kayseri, Turkey. Shortly after he was born, his family moved to Pontus. It was at Pontus where he was schooled at home by both his father and grandmother.

Basil then returned to Caesarea in Cappadocia around the year 350-51, where he began his formal studies. It was at school where he met his life-long friend, Gregory of Nazianzus. Both Basil and Gregory studied under Libanius in Constantinople. They also spent six years in Athens. For a brief period, St. Basil practiced law and taught rhetoric in Caesarea, after returning from Athens around the year 355.
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In his most significant move yet, St. Basil put aside his legal and teaching aspirations in order to devote his life to God. In 357, St. Basil travelled to Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia to study ascetics and monasticism. Upon his return, he along with his brother Peter started a monastic settlement on his family estate. His mother Emmelia, sister Macrina and several other women joined them in living out a more fruitful and pious life.

Basil was a strong character, a burning lamp during his time. But as the fire from this lamp illumined and warmed the world, it consumed itself; as the saint’s spiritual stature grew, his body wasted away, and at the early age of forty-nine he looked like an old man. He was a great theologian, a powerful preacher, a gifted writer, the author of two rules for monastic life, a reformer of the Oriental liturgy. He died in 379, hardly forty-nine years old, yet so emaciated that only skin and bones remained, as though he had stayed alive in soul alone.

St. Basil the Great is the patron Saint for both hospital administrators and reformers. More than that, he is the patron saint for the region of Cappadocia in Turkey. This is quite significant because being a Patron Saint for the region of Cappadocia serves as a reminder to all that Christianity has a long history in that particular region, especially in Russia.

On this day, most especially, we give thanks to God for the gift of St. Basil and for the many religious women and men who serve in congregations under his patronage. We remember especially the Congregation of St. Basil (Basilian Fathers of Toronto). St. Basil, pray for us.

St. Basil, pray for us.

“It is the Holy Spirit by whom we are restored to paradise, ascend into the kingdom of heaven, and come to be adopted sons.  The Spirit gives us the confidence to call God Father, to share in Christ’s grace, to be called children of the light, to have a share in eternal glory, to be filled with every blessing, in this age and in the age to come, to see as in a mirror, as if they were already present, the gifts promised us and which, in faith, we look forward to enjoying.  If the pledges are such, what will the fulfillment be like?  And if the first-fruits are so great, what shall we say of the fullness?”
–St. Basil of Caesarea, Treatise on the Holy Spirit XV, 36

“The bread which you hold back belongs to the hungry;
the clothing which you store in your closets to the naked;
to the bare-footed the shoes which are rotting;
to the needy the silver which you have buried.”
–St. Basil of Caesarea

Basil & GregoryO what union and what estrangement!

How I was joined to a body, I do not know.  How I am the image of God and kneaded together from clay, I do not know.  This body, when it is doing well, makes war on me and when it is oppressed, it grieves me.  I love it as a fellow servant, yet turn my back on it as an enemy: flee it as a prison, and am ashamed of it as a co-heir with me.  I struggle to waste it away and I do not have any collaborator to use for the best undertakings, since I know for what purpose I have come to be and that I must ascend to God through my actions.  I spare it as a collaborator, and I have no way in which I may flee from its rebellion, nor any way in which I may not fall away from God, since I am weighed down by shackles which drag me down and hold me to the earth.  It is a gracious enemy and a treacherous friend.  O what union and what estrangement!

I embrace what I fear and fear what I love.  Before making war on it, I am reconciled with it, and before making peace discord breaks out.  What is this wisdom about me and what is this great mystery?  Perhaps since we are God’s portion and have come down from above God wants us to look always to him on account of the struggle and battle lest, having exalted and raised ourselves up on account of our dignity, we despise the Creator.  God wants the weakness which has been joined to us to serve for the education of our dignity, so that we may see that we are at once very great and very lowly, of earth and of heaven, temporal and immortal, heirs of light and fire as well as of darkness; to which ever way we might incline.  This is our mixture which, as it appears to me, exists for this reason: as we have been exalted by the divine image we bear, so may we also be humbled by our clay.  We must, brothers, care for our body as for a kinsman and fellow servant.  And if I accuse it on account of the suffering it causes, I nevertheless embrace it as a friend on account of the One who has bound us together.

St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Friend of St. Basil
Sermon 14, On the love of the Poor

Remembering Fr. Daniel Chui, CSB [1959-2014]

Daniel-Chui

Remembering Fr. Daniel Chui, CSB [1959-2014]
A Good and Gentle Witness

Homily at Wake Service – Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Cardinal Flahiff Basilian Centre – December 26, 2014

Dear Confrères,
Goretti and Sr. Maddalena and members of Fr. Daniel’s Family,
Dear Friends of Fr. Dan Chui,

The death of every Christian is always a time of sadness and loss. The death of a priest impacts the Christian community at its core, since a priest is such an important agent and instrument of God’s tenderness and mercy for the entire community. But the death of a young priest, like Daniel Chui touches us very deeply. We are truly sad to see Fr. Dan’s passing and each of us will miss him greatly. We ask ourselves tonight, why is someone so young, so good and effective taken from us in the prime of his ministry? Why was someone like Daniel afflicted so gravely with a disease that caused such prolonged suffering? What is the Lord saying to each of us – to Daniel’s family, his religious family, and to so many friends and people whom he loved and who loved him?

The top priority of an ordained pastoral minister of Christ must be that he loves Jesus Christ as the center and ground of his being. Christ is the hub toward which all the spokes of his life point and in which they are fixed. Danny modeled that for us. This good and faithful priest can be described in some words of Cyprian, third century bishop of Carthage, “We do not say great things. We live them.” Dan Chui’s death opens a door for us to reflect back on his life, which calls us not just to remember him, but to be like him, to imitate him and be a blessing for others, to let his life be a light on our lives. All of us have been deeply touched by Dan and his goodness and gentleness. Therefore today to each one of us comes his summons to live great things.

First let us turn to the well-known Gospel passage we just heard proclaimed from Matthew’s Sermon on that Galilean hillside long ago. Danny loved this passage and we spoke about it often. The beatitudes are the great charter for Christian living. They reveal God’s ultimate justice and outline Jesus’ prophetic outreach to those who live on the peripheries of society. So many people – the sick, the lame, the poor and the hungry converge on Jesus on that Galilean hillside. In this awesome biblical scene overlooking the Sea, Jesus puts biblical justice into practice by proclaiming the beatitudes. The crowds that listened to Jesus were awestruck because he spoke with authority, with the force of someone who knew the truth and offered it freely to others.

Dan Chui taught us the meaning of meekness, gentleness and tenderness. Far from being manifestations of weakness, diffidence or incapacity, Dan understood what Jesus meant in his sermon long ago. Dan’s gentleness was a sign of strength, reminding us that it takes more energy to be mean and harsh than it does to be gentle and tender. The people who listened to Fr. Dan were awestruck because he spoke with conviction and authority, with the force of someone who knew the truth and offered it freely to others.

We must hold up the beatitudes as a mirror in which we examine our own lives and consciences. Am I poor in spirit? Am I humble and merciful? Am I gentle of heart and patient with the weak and sinners? Am I pure of heart? Do I bring reconciliation and peace? Am I ‘blessed,’ in other words, happy? Jesus not only gives us what he has, but also what he is. He is holy and makes us holy. If any single human being has shown me the Beatitudes in action, it is Fr. Dan Chui, my confrère, colleague and friend.

In his Christmas midnight mass yesterday, Pope Francis reminded us that what is most important is not seeking Jesus, but rather allowing the Lord to find me and caress me with tenderness. The question put to us simply by the Infant’s presence is: do I allow God to love me? Dan Chui helped us to ask the real questions. Dan taught us to welcome with tenderness the difficulties and problems of those who are near to us rather than preferring impersonal or administrative solutions, perhaps effective but devoid of the warmth of the Gospel. How much the world needs tenderness today!

Dan would have loved Pope Francis’ concluding prayer on Christmas night: “Lord, help me to be like you, give me the grace of tenderness in the most difficult circumstances of life, give me the grace of closeness in the face of every need, of meekness in every conflict”.

Fr. Dan also embraced Jesus’ words on the Galilean hillside: to be salt and light for the world. That salt refers to the flavor of the Gospel and the light that shatters the darkness and shadows of our times. Dan brought us the flavor of the Gospel and the light of Christ, especially when our own lives and situations were tasteless and dark. Each of us witnessed Dan’s light and his good deeds, and tonight we glorify God for what we experienced.

I had the privilege of living with Dan Chui during our years together at Frassati House, the Basilian Fathers Scholasticate. He was a wonderful assistant to me. During those years both of us had “day jobs.” I was launching Salt and Light Catholic Television Network and Dan was teaching at St. Michael’s College School. Dan would return home almost each night wiped out. His pastoral heart wasn’t up to the daunting challenge of teaching math to adolescent rambunctious boys in a school that excelled not only in stellar education but in sports and hockey! Dan was adamant in sticking with the teaching, even to the detriment of his health and state of mind! To top it off, many of those “boys” were Italians. Danny would speak to me each evening and refer to the wild ones as “your people!” I still recall Dan’s perplexity at how unruly some of his students were in the classroom. Once Dan was preparing for parent-teacher meetings and trembled at dealing with the parents of one of “my people” who was giving Dan a run for the money. In addition to the young man’s behavior, the student’s parents were siding with their son against the teacher. I encouraged Dan to phone the boy’s parents in order to ask for a private meeting. Dan asked me to be with him when he called them. I spoke with them in Italian and assured them that the teacher was quite up to the occasion and that their son was perhaps in need of some “correction.” They would hear nothing of it. Weeks after the encounter with them, I met the parents at a Woodbridge parish. The mother, mortified, embraced me warmly and apologized for what her son had been doing to Fr. Dan. I will never forget what she said to me: “I told my son that he was not telling us the full story. My son never told us that his math teacher was a saint.”

Daniel was well loved in the parishes in which he worked because he was unfailingly friendly and cheerful. The joy of the priesthood finds its origin in the heart and mind of Christ. Why should priests be joyful? Because it is in our DNA as priests to be bearers of joy! Each day we perform miracles of changing bread and wine into our Lord’s body and blood, forgiving sins in his name, and representing him to others. Is it any wonder that Dan was such a happy priest?

Daniel thought himself as a servant, and proclaimed himself as servant when he ministered to God’s people. He was our brother: gentle, soft-spoken, firm in his conviction of faith, generous in his service of the Basilian congregation, of students, of parishioners of Holy Rosary and Assumption parishes in Toronto and Windsor. He was a good shepherd to the Chinese Catholic community from one end of this country to the other, to young men in formation, and to my colleagues at Salt and Light Catholic Television Network. He was not an orator who dazzled us with public allocution nor a leader who made his presence felt with bravado and spectacle. Rather, Fr. Dan spoke the language of the heart and our hearts spoke back to him.

The passing of Daniel did not take place in private, but before all of us who had the privilege of accompanying him these last months. Over the past months of Dan’s suffering, we have been deeply moved and edified at the ways that Daniel accepted the Lords’ cross and bore it… almost with joy. Throughout his illness he impressed everyone with his peaceful acceptance of whatever was happening to him. This obviously demonstrated his deep faith in a loving God.

Last Friday afternoon, with our entire staff of Salt and Light Television, we gathered around Daniel’s bedside in Anglin House and sang Christmas carols to him. Though his voice was feeble and his energies somewhat zapped, Danny was absolutely radiant. He blessed us, encouraged us and cheered us on. Many of us were unable to hide our tears. Danny’s smile was contagious to each of us in his room. Needless to say when we resumed our retreat experience that afternoon, every single person in the room remarked that they had just seen a saint in the flesh.

Nothing made Dan waver, even the debilitating sickness hidden under a feeding tube and a diminished voice. For this thin, Chinese priest with a voracious appetite, in the end he was unable to eat or drink or hardly able to speak aloud. For a priest who warmed congregations with stirring, simple words in his homilies and gentle words in the secret of the confessional, Daniel was stripped of all those abilities. In the end, the most powerful message he preached was when the words and actions failed. It was then, in the passion of Daniel Chui, that we saw what authentic compassion and communication are all about.

Over the years, many have asked me if the Basilian Fathers had any saints or blesseds among our founders. Strangely enough we don’t. We have many holy men but not any who have made the official cut to have banners hung in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. But from our very first meeting back in 1996, I always felt that Dan Chui was our saint among us. Holy Cross has Brother André and the Capuchins have Fr. Solanus Casey. We had Dan Chui.

Yesterday we celebrated the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us in the flesh. Emmanuel is a beautiful, evocative name- it is both a promise on God’s part that he will be with us always till the end of the ages. But the name Emmanuel is also a plea on our behalf begging God to be with us.

In Dan Chui, many of us felt the deep presence of God with us. Dan helped us to pray and beg for God’s presence, especially during difficult moments. And Dan helped us to recognize God’s presence with us through countless gestures of patience listening, compassionate presence, gentleness and goodness. So many people have told me that they had profound encounters of God’s mercy when they went to Dan for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Daniel, thanks for showing us what Jesus’ words on a Galilean hillside meant with your living and dying. Last Friday afternoon, I told you that your work is not done for us. You will intercede for us from above. Of that I am certain.

Danny, as the two of us along with Fr. Andrew Leung launched the Chinese Programming of Salt and Light television, you taught me these important words in Cantonese to be used often in thanksgiving with the Chinese Catholic Community Canada. But tonight, I address them to you:

Door-je, door-je, door-je-lei-mun,

ya hern doy Kanada ga wui dic bon jo,

waw doy yim yu gwong din-toy ji-chi.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you for what you have done for Salt and Light Television and for the Church in Canada and for us.”

May you rest in peace.

Emmanuel: God With Us, a reflection by Fr. Thomas Rosica

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Let us consider the Scripture stories that speak of the birth of Christ in history, about the Word becoming flesh. How do Matthew, Luke and John explain this great mystery in their Gospel accounts? What should be our response to this mystery that is prolonged in our midst through the Eucharist? What does it mean to adore the mystery of the Word made flesh?

Matthew’s Story

Matthew’s Gospel is about the scriptures being fulfilled in Jesus. In the genealogy, Jesus is the culmination point toward which Israel’s long covenant history has been leading, particularly its puzzling and tragic latter phase. Matthew agrees with his Jewish contemporaries that the exile was the last significant event before Jesus; when the angel says that Jesus will “save his people from their sins” (1:21), liberation from exile is in view.

Matthew tells us that Jesus’ birth in human history fulfills at least three biblical themes. He brings Israel into the Promised Land; “Jesus” is the Greek for “Joshua.” As Emmanuel, “God with us”, Jesus embodies God’s presence with his people (Isaiah 7:14, quoted in 1:23). As the new David, Jesus is the Messiah born at Bethlehem (2:5, fulfilling Micah 5:1-3).

In the name “Emmanuel,” we find the answer to humanity’s deepest longings for God throughout the ages. Emmanuel is both a prayer and plea (on our behalf) and a promise and declaration on God’s part. When we pronounce the word, we are really praying and pleading: “God, be with us!” And when God speaks it, the Almighty, Eternal, Omnipresent Creator of the world is telling us: “I am with you” in this Child.

The name Emmanuel is also alluded to at the end of Matthew’s Gospel where the risen Jesus assures his disciples of his continued presence: “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (28:20). God did indeed keep his promise in Jesus. Jesus truly fulfills the plan of God in word and deed, in desire and presence, in flesh and blood.

His rejection by his own people and his passion are foreshadowed by the troubled reaction of “all Jerusalem” to the question of the magi who are seeking the “newborn king of the Jews” (2:2-3), and by Herod’s attempt to have him killed. Jesus’ mission during his public life is limited “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (15:24), and he assigns the same limits to the mission of the Twelve (10:5-6). More than the other evangelists, Matthew takes great care to note that events in Jesus’ life happened “so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled” (2:23).

Luke’s Story

The Infancy Narrative of Luke’s Gospel contains some of the most touching, well-known biblical stories in the New Testament. On Christmas night we listen with awe and wonder to Luke’s beautiful Christmas story. In Luke’s story, we watch the shepherds as they tell one another the reason why they are setting off to Bethlehem: “Let us see this thing that has happened.” Literally the Greek text says: “Let us see this Word that has occurred there.” Luke presents us with the radical newness of Christmas night: the Word can be seen, touched, experienced and felt for it has become flesh.

We must raise several questions about Luke’s story…. about Mary and about the shepherds. Did the shepherds – religious outcasts from the hillside – ever anticipate the depths of the joy they suddenly found released in their hearts that when they heard the news they hurried off to Bethlehem? Perhaps the joy really did hit their feet and they surprised themselves by singing and dancing!

After four weeks of waiting for the coming of Christ, we too should be prepared to be overtaken by joy at his arrival. If we have domesticated the announcement of his birth so that we are no longer stirred by the news, something is wrong with this picture! If we are not dancing for joy, we might have missed an important part of the whole story.

Through the mystery of the Incarnation – the Word made flesh – we are not given one new, mighty and glorious throne from which our God will rule over us, but two ways by which God will reign among us: from a crib in Bethlehem and from a cross in Jerusalem. We cannot have one throne without the other. They go together. Jesus’ coming among us at Christmas reminds us that the touch of gentleness and mercy is victorious over hatred, violence, occupying forces, weapons, and monologue.

The Word Made Flesh in the Fourth Gospel

The prologue of John’s Gospel climaxes with the announcement: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14) (in Greek literally: pitched his tent among us.) It’s a form of divine camping in our midst. This presence came about though the free love of God: “In this way the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world that we might live through him” (I John 4:9).

On Christmas Day, John’s Gospel Prologue is proclaimed instead of the rather idyllic story of the shepherds and the angels. The Word is not simply a message that we can put into words. It comes as a person, a life enfleshed and enacted. In Jesus, the message and the messenger are united. The medium is indeed the message!

Through the wonder and mystery of the Incarnation, the Word did not become a philosophy, a theory, or a concept to be discussed, debated, exegeted or pondered. But the Word became a person to be followed, enjoyed and loved! So it’s all right for us to fantasize about that person’s revolutionary dreams, for a world of peace and justice, a world where no one cries and no one goes hungry… a world where the only occupation that takes place will be the Lord’s occupation of human hearts. But more than just fantasizing, Christmas asks us to believe his revolutionary dream, and to put it into practice each day.

The Word that becomes flesh is about compassion and vision, but there is also something frightening about it, a kind of desperate insistence. Our redemption is Jesus Christ. If the future were not the promise of Jesus Christ but the predictable outcome of present sociological trends, despair would overwhelm us and even kill us.

Authentic Adoration of the Word Made Flesh

In the Eucharist, the Church joins Jesus in adoring the God of life. Adoration means being present, resting, and beholding. Beholding Jesus, we receive and are transformed by the mystery we adore. Eucharistic adoration is similar to standing at the foot of the Cross of Jesus, being a witness to his sacrifice of life and being renewed by it.

In her essay entitled “The Mystery of Christmas,” (Edith Stein) wrote:

“In order to penetrate a whole human life with the divine life it is not enough to kneel once a year before the crib and let ourselves be captivated by the charm of the holy night. To achieve this, we must be in daily contact with God. […] Just as our earthly body needs its daily bread, so the divine life must be constantly fed. ‘This is the living bread that came down from heaven.’

If we make it truly our daily bread, the mystery of Christmas, the Incarnation of the Word, will daily be re-enacted in us. And this, it seems, is the surest way to remain in constant union with God. […] I am well aware that many think this an exaggerated demand. In practice it means for most of those who start the habit that they will have to rearrange their outer and inner life completely. But this is just what it is meant to do. Is it really demanding too much to make room in our life for the Eucharistic Savior, so that He may transform our life into His own?”

The ways our words become flesh

New forms of electronic communication are everywhere and being reinvented again rapidly, but God doesn’t care. God does not buy a new iPhone or get a new app (mobile application). His communication platform is the human person. The Christmas message announces a new divine presence among us. Each day of our lives we seek the personal presence of those whom we care for and who care about us. We cannot imagine to leave friendship and love at a distance. Photographs, memories, letters, e-mail, text messages and phone calls are not enough. We want to enjoy the personal presence of those who fill our minds and let us live in their hearts. We live in God’s heart, and Christmas visibly brought among us the Son of God who cares infinitely for each of us. God did not want to live that love at a distance.

The feast of Christmas reminds humanity of one profound message: that God has mixed with the human family, and loved them all- the women and the men, the weak and the strong, the rich and the poor, those who love and those who hate, those who are beautiful and those who are not. And only God, himself, knows who is close and who is far from him. From now on, we can recognize God, not in the power and glory of our temple worship, our power, prestige and numbers. At Christmas we are taught where to find God: in the midst of humanity, in the thick and thin of the human race, in the smile and tears of a newborn baby, in the suffering of strangers, in the cherished gift of friendship. From now on, anyone who really understands that God has become human will never be able to speak and act in an inhuman way.

The highpoint of Jesus’ self-communication is in the Eucharist. Let us remember that the Word did not become an e-mail, an SMS or text message, or some kind of divine oracle uttered from some distant heaven long ago. Through Mary, the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us. The Word became close to real people in real time. May the Lord bless you, as your own words become flesh.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO Salt and Light Catholic Television Network

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)