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Funeral Homily for Gaetano Gagliano (1917 – 2016)

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Funeral Homily for Gaetano Gagliano (1917 – 2016)
St. Clare of Assisi Church – Woodbridge, Ontario
April 18, 2016

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

Your Eminence Cardinal Collins,
Brother Priests,
Dear Sisters, especially of the Pauline Family,
Carissima Giuseppina and my adopted Gagliano brothers and sisters,
Friends in Christ,

Gaetano Gagliano would be thrilled to see this crowd assembled in his beautiful parish church of St. Clare of Assisi today – not because you have come to honor him, but rather that you have come to adore the Lord and thank God for Gaetano’s life.

The first reading from the Book of Wisdom describes so well what we now experience: “[Gaetano’s] passing away is thought an affliction and his going forth from us, utter destruction.”  But Solomon’s Wisdom also offers us this reassuring message: “the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them…. They are at peace.” We grieve and are sad, yet isn’t it consoling to know that Gaetano, whom we loved so much, is now in the hand of God and he will not experience any torment or suffering again?  

Gaetano was husband, father, grandfather, uncle, friend and business colleague to each of us because he was alive with God every day of his life. It was not only intelligence, savvy and success that made these things happen; it was also a humble, biblical wisdom that animated his life. Gaetano’s mantra was: “Never forget that money is useful, but it also dangerous. You have worked and received your reward. Many others cannot work or have not succeeded as we have. Do not be arrogant and selfish. Never close the door to those who ask for help.” It was from that storehouse of God-given wisdom that Gaetano nourished us. Gaetano was a clever man but also a very wise man because God was always at the centre of his life.

No one who knew Gaetano needed to ask what motivated and then sustained his profound familial, ecclesial, social and charitable concern. It was rooted in his belief that we are children of a good, just and loving God, and that every human life was sacred; each of us is our brother’s and sister’s keeper.  Many speak of the Gagliano family philanthropy to so many causes.  But this generosity finds its roots in the deepest meaning of the Greek word “philanthopia” which means hospitality, love of human beings and kindness.  These were the gifts and qualities that Gaetano passed on to his entire family.  

As we gathered around his deathbed in the family home in Woodbridge early last Thursday morning, the words of St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy were etched in our minds and hearts: “I have competed well; I have finished the race;I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance… . But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it.”

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But it is today’s Gospel reading that provides us with a penetrating, personal insight into Gaetano’s life among us.  This Easter Gospel story of Jesus and Peter is set against the incredibly beautiful backdrop of the Sea of Galilee. When Peter decides to go fishing, there is a certain feeling of resignation about it, alluding to the depression and discouragement he and the other disciples must have experienced after Jesus’ death. This simple narrative offers us one of the most personal and moving commissioning stories in the Bible.  “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?  Do you love me?  Are you my friend?” [Jn 21:15] Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus during the trial and crucifixion is now canceled out by the three-fold declaration of love. There are many other questions which we can imagine Jesus having asked Peter concerning his suitability for ministry.  For example, “Simon, son of John, are you aware of the responsibilities that you are undertaking? Do you realize your weakness?  Have you thought that it is difficult to bear others’ burdens?  “Simon, son of John, do you understand?  Are you aware of how many people about you are in need of help: the poor, the hungry, the sick, the needy, and the lonely?  Where will you find bread enough to give them something to eat?” But Jesus sums them all up in a single, basic question: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?  Are you really my friend?” 

Ten years ago, as Gaetano and I were preparing to film one of the more than 150 episodes of “In Conversazione”, he arrived in our Salt and Light studios all ready to go. For Gaetano, it was always “lights, camera, action” no matter what the theme or the program!  That particular episode was meant for the Easter season. Though his theological vocabulary was limited, Gaetano’s mind and heart were constantly on fire! I was planning to discuss with him today’s passage from John’s gospel.  When I read the story to Gaetano before the cameras started rolling, he said to me: “Padre Thomas, why did Jesus have to ask Peter three times if he loved him?  What’s wrong with Peter? You would think that Peter would have realized just who this man was and not need the question asked three times!” Gaetano told me: “If Peter were here now, I would let him know just who Jesus was!”  We enjoyed a good laugh together! I am sure that Gaetano has had a few good conversations with Peter by now to clear this matter up once and for all!

Simon, son of John, do you love me? “Follow me.” Those words were also addressed to Gaetano at so many moments of his long, fruitful life. As a young boy Gaetano heard the Lord’s voice speaking to him: “Gaetano, son of Francesco, mi ami tu? Do you love me? Then leave your home in that small farming town of Cattolica di Eraclea in Sicily and go to Padre Giacomo Alberione in Alba to begin your studies for the priesthood.” But very frail health prevented this poor, young country boy from pursuing that path. Twice he was sent back home from the seminary by Fr. Alberione, who told Gaetano that perhaps another vocation awaited him. Gaetano followed the Lord’s voice through the guidance of that wise, holy priest.

Gaetano would hear the Lord’s summons again at age 38. “Gaetano, son of Francesco e Giuseppina, mi ami tu? Do you love me? Then leave your homeland and travel to Canada, with Giuseppina your wife, five small children and forty dollars in your pocket. Some would consider this leap of faith to be pure folly.  For Gaetano, he had all that was necessary to begin a new life in a foreign land: faith, family and a desire to make a difference.  By day he laid tracks for the railroad and by night he printed wedding invitations and business cards in his basement. Laid off from the railroad, he became the sole employee, working day and night at what would later become St. Joseph Corporation.

Gaglianos at Mass
“Gaetano, son of Francesco e Giuseppina, mi ami tu? Do you love me? Let your family grow… five children would become ten.  Gaetano followed the Lord once again in building a deeply Catholic, Christian family. Together  with Giuseppina they would become grandparents to 35 beautiful grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.

Still another time Gaetano heard the Lord’s call, this time through a dream in which Fr. Alberione appeared to Gaetano in the late 1990’s.  “Gaetano, son of Francesco e Giuseppina, mi ami tu? Do you love me? Then do something for mass media. You must start a television network!”  What humor the Lord has when he invites people to follow him!  A man who knew nothing about television and technology finds a priest who knows even less and together we decided to follow the Lord in this great adventure now known as Salt and Light Television. Little did I ever imagine that I, too, would be used by the Lord to help fulfill a dream and a vision passed on to an old man of 86 years who was truly evergreen!  That dream, inspired by the Lord and mediated by Blessed James Alberione, founder of the Pauline Family – five Religious Congregations, four Institutes of Consecrated Secular Life, and a Lay Association – was the wind beneath Gaetano’s wings these past 13 years.

One year ago, Gaetano heard the Lord’s call once again. “Gaetano, son of Francesco, mi ami tu? Follow me on the cross of physical suffering.” A debilitating stroke did not make him waver, even in his inability to speak and move freely. Gaetano reminded us that aging and suffering are a natural part of being human.  In a land where an insidious law of euthanasia seems to have the upper hand, and where the old and infirm are so easily put away in nursing homes and often forgotten, Gaetano was a timely and powerful reminder that our parents and grandparents, the sick, the handicapped and the dying have great value.  How blessed we all were to witness his stamina, courage, faith and love even under the guise of physical suffering over the past year! How blessed was Gaetano to receive a care that was palliative, loving, generous and compassionate! Increasingly Gaetano entered into the communion of Christ’s sufferings; he understood the truth of the words: “Someone else will fasten a belt around you.” And in this very communion with the suffering Lord, Gaetano proclaimed the Gospel with the acceptance of his suffering.

How many times have those of us close to Gaetano heard his deep regret in not fulfilling his initial dream of becoming a priest with Fr. Alberione! Several years ago Gaetano and I had a heart-to-heart talk and I told him that to some along the way, Jesus issues the invitation “Come, follow me,” but to Gaetano, he says “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” I assured Gaetano that his was one of the most priestly lives I have ever encountered. For our baptism marks us all as a priestly people.  A priestly person is one who spends himself gladly for others and lays down his life for his friends. The opposite of a priestly life is a consumer who merely buys, spends and amasses wealth and people for himself or herself.  I reminded Gaetano that Jesus never rejected his application for discipleship and ministry, but accepted it fully. For who better than Gaetano Gagliano would have enough clout and credibility to preach the Jesus story? Who better than Gaetano would be able to speak with such conviction and passion about marriage, fidelity, family life, love, charity, kindness, business ethics, hope and generosity?

Early last Thursday morning, Gaetano heard the Lord’s voice for the last time on earth. “Gaetano, son of Francesco e Giuseppina, mi ami tu? Do you love me?  Follow me.”  I am certain that Gaetano’s response was very much like Peter’s: “Lord, You know everything.  You know that I love you.”

The love of Christ was the dominant force in Gaetano’s life.  Gaetano always recognized himself as a sinner in need of God’s boundless mercy. Let us give thanks to God for the life and witness of Gaetano Gagliano. Let us thank God for the myriad of ways that we were touched by him and for the lessons we learned from him.  Let us commend him to God’s mercy and love, pray for the forgiveness of his sins, the repose of his soul, and beg the Lord to give Gaetano the crown of righteousness that awaits him because the Lord stood by him and gave him strength, so that through him, the proclamation of the Gospel was completed and many nations welcomed it because of him.

[L’amore di Cristo fu la forza dominante nella vita di Gaetano. Gaetano si è sempre riconosciuto come un peccatore bisognoso della misericordia infinita di Dio. Rendiamo grazie a Dio per la vita e la testimonianza di Gaetano Gagliano. Rendiamo grazie a Dio per la miriade di modi in cui siamo stati toccati da lui e per le lezioni che abbiamo imparato da lui. Affidiamo Gaetano alla misericordia e all’amore di Dio. Preghiamo per il perdono dei suoi peccati, il riposo della sua anima, e preghiamo il Signore di dare a Gaetano la corona di giustizia che lo attende, perché il Signore gli stava vicino e gli dava forza.  Potremo dire con fiducia che attraverso la vita e la vocazione di Gaetano Gagliano, l’annuncio del Vangelo è stato completato e molte nazioni lo hanno accolto a causa di lui.]

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Fr. Thomas Rosica talks Amoris Laetitia on CBS This Morning

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On Friday, April 8, 2016, the release date of Pope Francis’ newest Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Fr. Thomas Rosica spoke with CBS This Morning from Rome about what the release of the document means for Catholics around the world.

Comment of Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB on the Apostolic Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia”

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Having served at both Synods of 2014 and 2015 in an official capacity, the Apostolic Exhortation is a very comprehensive, accurate portrait of what both intense Synods discussed and studied.  The exhortation is striking for its breadth and detail. Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) is a rich, bold, courageous pastoral document that reflects the very positive and encouraging direction that Pope Francis sets for the Church.  Firmly rooted in the Catholic Tradition, this major teaching document offers the Church and the world many concrete reminders of the beauty of family life, despite all the challenges this life entails. Readers of this document will be pleasantly surprised at how vivid, concrete and personal this major document is. We have a Pope with a deeply pastoral heart who enters into the everyday realities of family life.

Pope Francis cautions that “not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium”. Indeed, for some questions, “each country or region … can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs. For ‘cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle… needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied’” (AL 3).

In the final paragraph of the Exhortation, the Pope affirms: “No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need constantly to grow and mature in the ability to love …All of us are called to keep striving towards something greater than ourselves and our families, and every family must feel this constant impulse. Let us make this journey as families, let us keep walking together.”  The Exhortation is positive, hopeful, realistic, encouraging, inspiring and deeply edifying.  What a great gift to us all during the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Learn more about Amoris Laetitia.

Fr. Rosica’s Reflection at the Primacy of Peter on the Sea of Galilee

In this Biblical Reflection filmed at the site of the Primacy of Peter on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, speaks about the “breakfast symphony” in two movements in John 21.

The first movement describes the appearance of the Risen Jesus to his disciples “by the Sea of Tiberias.” It is concerned with fish and fishing. The second movement presents a poignant dialogue between Jesus and Peter. The disciple who was called “rock” wept with regret in Luke 22:62 after denying his Lord.  At the sea, Peter is given an opportunity to repent and recommit himself to Jesus. It is one of the most personal and moving commissioning stories in the Bible, concerned with sheep and shepherding.

Peter is truly a model for us, as he must always remember his own failures as he undertakes leadership within the church.  Rather than incapacitating him, his remembrance enables him to be a merciful and compassionate leader. Peter learned his lesson well; he would imitate Jesus the rest of his life even to the point of giving that life as a martyr, dying upside down on a cross on the Vatican hill.

Are we prepared to go to that extreme for our faith in Jesus?

 

Salt and Light Television pays tribute to Mother Angelica

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How fitting that Mother Angelica would be called home to God on Easter Sunday 2016. This great woman of faith, evangelical boldness and joyful courage was one of the Church’s great instruments of the First Evangelization and the New Evangelization. She did in her lifetime what Church leaders in the USA had attempted for many years and never succeeded: founding a Catholic Television Network and media outlet that would serve the world. I shall never forget my first meeting with her in 2001 as I prepared to lead World Youth Day 2002 in Canada. Her sage advice, encouragement and promise of prayers at that time, shortly before her debilitating stroke, revealed a woman of great faith and creativity. She remained steadfast and joyful in the midst of her own personal suffering in her early years and her long suffering at the end of her life. Now that the torch is passed to another generation of staff and colleagues, may we all learn from her zeal, loyal witness, ingenuity and deep faith in God and her trust in good people around her. May the Risen Lord and Eternal Word welcome her into the peace of God’s kingdom. May Mother Angelica intercede for all of us working in Catholic Evangelization through the media.

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Emmaus Reflection – Fr. Rosica

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At Emmaus (El Qubeibeh), a village in the West Bank of Palestine that commemorates one of the sites where Jesus appeared to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, CEO of Salt and Light Television Network teaches about the Emmaus story to a group of Canadian and American pilgrims in the Franciscan Church of the Breaking of the Bread on March 3, 2016.

The pilgrim group also visited the neighboring Home for the Aged in the small village of El Qubeibeh to experience the Lord’s presence alive amidst abandoned elderly women from several places in the Middle East. This home is administered by the Sisters of the Divine Savior (Salvatorian Sisters).

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!”

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On Good Friday afternoon, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, preached the Tre Ore Ceremony of the Seven Last Words of Christ in St. James Cathedral in Seattle, Washington. Below is the seventh reflection based on Luke 23:44:?46

Seventh Word:

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!”

It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”:

and when he had said this, he breathed his last.

Luke 23:44:?46

From the midst of the terror and violence of Calvary comes Jesus’ piercing voice, his life breath poured out in a final prayer: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” [23:46]. The words are from Psalm 31 [v.6] and express the core of Jesus’ being – his unshakable trust in God, a trust that death itself could not destroy. Why does Luke place the words of this psalm on Jesus’ lips and not Psalm 22 from the accounts of Matthew and Mark? Could it be that Jesus prayed not one but both psalms in his final moments? What does this tell us about the Lukan Jesus’ piety and devotion?

Let’s go back to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Luke’s Gospel.  On the banks of the Jordan River, he heard the words from heaven, “You are my beloved.” Throughout this entire Gospel, Jesus lives and dies in intimate relationship with his beloved Father. Throughout the Gospel, he remains faithful to his identity. In the Sermon on the Mount on a Galilean hillside, Jesus exclaimed: “Blessed are the peacemakers, they are the sons and daughters of God.” “Love your enemies, then you will be sons and daughters of the God who lets the sun shine on the good and the bad and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” From the desert to the cross, Jesus resisted the temptation to deny his true identity, to doubt God. He trusted in God, and in the end, surrendered to God. He wants us to do the same. With his dying breath in Luke’s account, Jesus surrenders himself unconditionally to God. “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.”

The Gospel invites us to claim our true identities as sons and daughters of the God. As we prepare for our own deaths, we may wish to make Jesus’ words our own, and cultivate that interior attitude of unconditional surrender to God. If we want to be able to utter them on the day of our own deaths, we need to start saying them now, and live our way into that loving surrender of our lives to God.

It is said that the final moments of one’s life provide a snapshot or an MRI into the entire life. Jesus’ spiritual life was steeped in the Psalms of David, the prayer book of ancient Israel. The Son of God was a descendant of David and was hailed on Palm Sunday as the Son of David [Matt 21:9]. When He prayed Psalm 31 from the Cross, Jesus was expressing the leitmotif of his entire life: tremendous trust in God in the midst of agony and suffering, and even seeming abandonment. In his dying moments, Jesus reached into the depths of his experience for the words of his ancestor David. In this extraordinary moment of intimacy, He referred to Psalm 31:5 “Into your hands I commit my spirit” because He implicitly trusted in God. The two belong together: trust nurtured by intimacy; intimacy nurtured by trust. The intimate word Jesus added to the words of David wasFather. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Just before his final expression of trust, the evangelist Luke tells us that the heavy curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. Whereas as people have interpreted this event in many different ways, this detail is a clear indicator of a newly opened avenue to God. The structures of worship can be either obstacles and bridges. They both separate worshipers from and connect worshipers to the divine. But in the tearing of the temple veil we see that the formal separation between worshipers and the One who is Adored is destroyed as Jesus Himself provides free and open access. In Jesus crucified, we behold the one who is indeed our Way, our Truth, and our Life. In Jesus’ death, we experience God’s mercy for humanity.

The opposite of mercy is not justice but vengeance. Jesus did not oppose mercy to justice but to the law of retaliation: “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Ex 21:24). In forgiving sinners God is renouncing not justice but vengeance; he does not desire the death of a sinner but wants the sinner to convert and live (see Ez 18:23). On the cross Jesus did not ask his Father for vengeance. He entrusted himself into the hands of a loving Father, forgave criminals, absorbed the evil, wretchedness and sin of the human condition, and bowed his head in peace.

The Cross of Christ amassed all the arrows of evil: hatred, violence, injustice, pain, humiliation – everything that is suffered by the poor, the vulnerable, the oppressed, the exploited, the marginalized and the disgraced in our world. However, rest assured – all who are crucified in this life – that, just as in the case of Christ, the Resurrection follows the cross; that hatred, violence and injustice have no prospect; and that the future belongs to justice, love and life. Therefore, we must journey toward this end with all the resources that we have in love, faith and patience.

The words come to us with difficulty today… we are stunned and we mourn and grieve over the loss of the dearest member of our community.  Let us turn to the Scriptures and make the prayers of Jesus’ friends our prayers as we remember Jesus’ death in Jerusalem.  Perhaps we need to cry out with:  “Where are you, God?”  “If only you would have been here, our brother or sister would not have died!” And today we are given the answer: God is hanging on a tree, in the broken body of a young man – arms outstretched to embrace us, and gently asking us to climb up onto the cross with him, and look at the world from an entirely new perspective.

Or perhaps we need to cry out for mercy, asking that he not forget us in the new Jerusalem: “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” Or maybe in the midst of our despair, we recognize the source of our hope and echo the words of Jesus, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” 

And from the depth of our own darkness and shadows, we might have to pray with the Cleopas and his wife on the road to Emmaus, “Stay with us, Lord, for it is almost evening and the day is far spent.” Then perhaps we are Peter, stunned with his master’s extraordinary gentleness and patience with him, and we can only utter, “But Lord, you know that I love you.”

Let me leave you with these words from a great pastor and shepherd of the Church who was like a meteor lighting up our night for only 33 days back in 1978.  Before being elected to the See of Peter and taking the name of John Paul I, Cardinal Albino Luciani, then Patriarch of Venice, wrote a weekly column in his diocesan newspaper.  The column consisted of letters to various personalities and great figures in history.  One of the last letters he wrote was to Jesus, written in trepidation.  I quote from that deeply moving  letter:

“At this spectacle of people rushing to a Crucifix for so many centuries and from every part of the world, a question arises:  Was this only a great, beneficent man or was He a God?  You Yourself gave the answer and anyone whose eyes are not veiled by prejudice but are eager for the light will accept it.

When Peter proclaimed: “You are Christ, the Son of the living God,” You not only accepted this confession but also rewarded it.  You have always claimed for Yourself that which the Jews reserved for God.  To their scandal You forgave sins, You called Yourself master of the Sabbath, You taught with supreme authority, You declared Yourself the equal of the Father.  Several times they tried to stone You as a blasphemer, because You uttered the name of God.  When they finally took You and brought You before the high priest, he asked You solemnly: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?”  You answered, “I am; and you will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.”  You accepted even death rather than retract and deny this divine essence of yours.

I have written, but I have never before been so dissatisfied with my writing.  I feel as if I had left out the greater part of what could be said of You, that I have said badly what should have been said much better.  There is one comfort, however: the important thing is not that one person should write about Christ, but that many should love and imitate Christ. 

And fortunately – in spite of everything– this still happens.”

Cardinal Albino Luciani (Pope John Paul I)

“To Jesus: I Write in Trepidation” in Illustrissimi

Letters from Pope John Paul I

It still happens.  And it is happening today in our midst here in Seattle in this magnificent and vibrant Cathedral parish.  Whatever our words may be, there is a consolation, that if we pray them with reverence, then our prayers will be heard.  They never go unanswered.  Jesus, the great high priest intercedes for us and even gives us the words that are necessary when our human words fail.  For it was this great high priest who has marked us as his own through our baptism, and today, immerses us into the priesthood of his suffering.  He entrusted himself into the hands of his Father and he entrusts himself into our hands, that we may bear him to the world that so badly needs his message, his presence, his mercy and forgiveness. On this day when we remember Jesus’ final gift to humanity, let us entrust ourselves into the hands of a merciful God and as we make the sign of the cross, let us be mindful of that common priesthood and mission so lavishly given to each of us through Jesus’ death on the cross.

“In the Name of the Father”

depending on God, we touch our minds because we know so little how to create a world of peace and hope.

“In the Name of the Son”

depending on God, we touch the center of our body to bring acceptance to the fears and pain stemming from our own passage through death to life.

“In the Name of the Spirit”

depending on God, we embrace our heart to remember that from the center of the cross, God’s vulnerable heart can bring healing and salvation to our own.”

“It is finished.”

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On Good Friday afternoon, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, preached the Tre Ore Ceremony of the Seven Last Words of Christ in St. James Cathedral in Seattle, Washington. Below is the sixth reflection based on John 19:29-30

Sixth Word:

“It is finished.”

There was a vessel filled with common wine. So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth. When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.”

John 19:29-30

Throughout his passion narrative, the evangelist John emphasizes that Jesus’ death on the cross is the fulfillment of Sacred Scripture. Jesus’ last words are are summed up in the Greek wordtetelestai means “brought to its accomplishment.”  “It has been accomplished.” It connotes “completion,” “arriving at the intended goal,” Jesus had set out to do the will of the Father, to love his own “until the end.”

Three times God used that same word in history: first, in Genesis, to describe the achievement or completion of creation; second, in the Book of Revelation, when all creation would be done away with and a new heaven and earth would be made. Between these two extremes of the beginning and the accomplished end, there was the link of these words with the final expression of Jesus from the Cross. It is as though God’s only Son, at this horrible moment of his life when he was stripped and humiliated, seeing all prophecies fulfilled, all foreshadowings realized, and all things done for the Redemption of the human family, uttered a cry of joy: “It is achieved.” Like he has done so many times, John uses the words here with a double entendre. The word “finished” refers to the physical and temporal end of Jesus’ life. But it also tells, at the same time, about the total accomplishment of the mission entrusted to him by the Father.

In Jesus’ crucifixion we see the fulfillment of an important Jewish ritual, the annual Day of Atonement. On that day each year, the high priest entered into the inner tabernacle with an offering to atone for Israel’s sins. On Golgotha Jesus was both the victim and the great high priest. The atoning sacrifice was no longer the blood of an animal but Jesus’ own blood. No longer was it necessary for the high priest to enter into the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple, which was a symbol of the heavenly tabernacle. Now Jesus offered himself directly to his Father in heaven.

Bowing his head in a graceful and composed manner, The Word made Flesh hands over his life spirit to God. There is a luminous sense of serenity and strength as the Johannine Jesus meets death. His death is no play-acting. John makes that point in the spear thrust that follows, but in this scene on the cross, the terror of death has been defused by love.

But what exactly does Jesus’ death accomplish?  For John, Good Friday is already Pentecost. On the one hand, Jesus hands his life over to God, from whom he received it.  But he also hands it over to his disciples.  Even his bowing of his head at the moment of death can be interpreted as a nod in their direction. Out of Jesus’ death comes life for his followers. In colloquial speech today, Jesus might have said, “Mission accomplished!” It’s in your hands now!

As we gaze on the face of the crucified Jesus today, what do we see?  One who lives in the grip of anxiety, but we see with this person the seed of a new being who will be a source of empowerment not only for us, but also for those around us!  In his death, Jesus becomes for us a point of embarkation.  We all know people like this: just being in their presence, somehow seems to sort things out for us, it puts the pieces of our lives back together again.  As one of the characters in Toni Morrison’s award-winning book “Beloved” describes the effect of his lover upon him: “She gather me, man.  The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.”

There are people in each of our lives of such depth, such substance, such solidity, that others may, as it were, stand on the firm ground they provide and embark on their own lives through them.  This, of course, is the role that all of us who are leaders, teachers and parents hope to play for our students, our children, our flocks, though we do so with varying, incomplete success.  Later in life, we may be lucky enough to find such an embarkation point in a parent, a friend, a mentor, a psychotherapist, yes, even a bishop, priest, rabbi or minister.  Anything is possible!  And what a privilege it is if we ourselves become the embarkation point for others.

This wonderful process, whereby people become the solid base by means of which others may face the world, went on even amid the horrors of the Holocaust.  Let me share with you a story by the Jewish writer Yaffa Eliach, from his book Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust [pp. 177-178].

“Anna was among the tens of thousands who succumbed to the typhus epidemic in Bergen-Belsen.  Her friends gave her up for dead and told her that her struggle with death was useless. But Anna was determined to live.  She knew that if she lay down, the end would come soon and she would die like so many others around her.  So, in a delirious state, she wandered around the camp, stumbling over the dead and the dying.  But her strength gave way.  She felt that her feet were refusing to carry her any farther.  As she was struggling to get up from the cold, wet ground, she noticed in the distance a hill shrouded in gray mist.  Anna felt a strange sensation.  Instantly, the hill in the distance became a symbol of life.  She knew that if she reached the hill, she would survive, but if she failed, the typhus would triumph.

Anna attempted to walk toward the hill which continually assumed the shape of a mound of earth, a huge grave.  But the mound remained Anna’s symbol of life, and she was determined to reach it. On her hands and knees, she crawled toward the strange mound of earth that was now the essence of her survival.  After long hours passed, Anna reached her destination.  With feverish hands she touched the cold mound of earth.  With her last drop of strength, she crawled to the top of the mound and collapsed.  Tears started to run down her cheeks, real human, warm tears, her first tears since her incarceration in concentration camps some four years ago.  She began to call her father.  “Please Papa, come and help me..  I know that you, too, are in the, camp.  Please Papa, help me, for I cannot go on like this any longer.”

Suddenly, she felt a warm hand on top of her head.  It was her father stroking her just as he used to place his hand over her head every Friday night and bless her.  Anna recognized her father’s warm, comforting hands.  She began to sob even more and told him that she had no strength to live any longer.  Her father listened and caressed her head as he used to.  He did not recite the customary blessing but, instead, said, “Don’t worry, my child.  You will manage to survive for a few days, for liberation is very close.”

That occurred on Wednesday night, April 11, 1945.  On Sunday, April 15, the first British tank entered Bergen-Belsen.

When Anna was well enough to leave the hospital in the British Zone where she was recovering from typhus, she returned to Bergen-Belsen.  Only then did she learn that the huge mound of earth in the big square where she spent the fateful night of April 11 in her combat with typhus was a huge mass grave.  Among thousands of victims buried beneath the mound of earth was her father, who had perished months earlier in Bergen-Belsen.  On that night when she won her battle with death, Anna was weeping on her father’s grave.”

Yaffa Eliach’s story of Anna, the typhus victim from Bergen-Belsen, makes a similar point to the theme of embarkation announced in John’s Gospel.  Even death does not stop Anna’s father from coming to her, blessing her, promising her that she will live, and encouraging her to hold on just a little while longer.  Death cannot stop those significant persons in our lives from becoming embarkation points for us.  Indeed, their importance may even grow.  We may come to see aspects of who they were for us that we never realized when they were alive.

When such people are taken away from us so suddenly, and there is really no time to say goodbye, the pain is even greater.  Sometimes we soften the tragedy by saying that some people died natural deaths.  They weren’t shoved into gas chambers, stark naked and humiliated.  They didn’t die from starvation or typhus.  Still, from the biblical perspective, “natural death” is a misnomer because every death is a violation of the God-willed order for creation.  One thing we often hear from survivors of the Holocaust or of other great tragedies of the past centuries and even our century, is that they didn’t have time to say a proper good-bye.  Partly because guards were standing there with whips, screaming at them to keep moving.  Partly because the survivors didn’t know that they weren’t even going to see their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters again- because they didn’t know that this parting was for eternity.

Today, on this Friday that we dare call good, we experience another sort of communion.  This form of communion- with the tragedies of Jewish history, culminating in the Holocaust, and with Jesus’ death on the cross- are inextricably bound up with each other. For the death of Jesus invites us all – especially Christians and Jews – into a knowledge of our communion with one another and a recognition of the terrible brokenness of the world.  Nothing and no one can ever wrench us away any longer from that communion.  Nothing can remove our sense of belonging to, participating in, and being the beneficiaries of God’s saving encounter with Israel and with the broken world, which occurred in the crucifixion of Jesus, son of Israel and Son of God.

Today as we stand grieving, huddled together on this hill of death, surrounding the most important member of our community, and hear his final words: “It is finished.  It is accomplished”, we know in some strange and mysterious way that the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus gathers up the broken pieces of our lives, puts them all back together, in the right order, and makes us whole again.  And the world will only be healed, repaired, restored, renewed if we Christians and Jews become such points of embarkation for one another and for the world.

“I thirst.”

Word5

On Good Friday afternoon, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, preached the Tre Ore Ceremony of the Seven Last Words of Christ in St. James Cathedral in Seattle, Washington. Below is the fifth reflection based on John 19:28.

Fifth Word:

“I thirst.” 

After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.”

John 19:28

Deep within each person created in the image and likeness of God is the very desire for the Creator in whose image we were made. This desire is evoked by the words of the Psalmist: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?” (Ps 42:1-2). When we cease to thirst for the living God, our faith risks becoming a habit, it risks being extinguished, like a fire that is not fed. It risks becoming meaningless.

The theme of thirsting appears throughout the Scriptures, and in a very particular way early on in John’s Gospel during Jesus’ powerful encounter at high noon with the woman of Samaria. In that provocative scene, Jesus’ thirst was not so much for water, but for the encounter with a parched soul. Jesus needed to encounter the Samaritan woman in order to open her heart: he asks for a drink so as to bring to light her own thirst. The example of the Samaritan woman invites us to exclaim: “Jesus, give me a drink that will quench my thirst forever”.

At the climax of the Passion under the burning midday sun, stretched out on the Cross, Jesus called out: “I thirst” (Jn 19:28). According to custom, he was offered sour wine, which was commonly found among the poor and could also be described as vinegar: it was considered thirst-quenching. Jesus declined to drink it: he wanted to endure his suffering consciously (Mk 15:23). This scene on the Cross transcends the hour of Jesus’ death. On the one hand, the account is quite factual: we have the thirst of the crucified Jesus and the sour drink that the soldiers customarily administered in such cases. On the other hand, we hear an echo of Psalm 69, in which the victim laments: “for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (v. 21). It is not only Israel, but the Church, it is we ourselves who repeatedly respond to God’s bountiful love with “I thirst”: this cry of Jesus is addressed to every single person.

How could I possibly speak of Jesus’ words: “I thirst” without mentioning one who took these words to heart: Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. During my years of graduate studies in Scripture at the Biblical Institute in Rome in the late 1980s, I had the privilege of teaching the novices of the Missionaries of Charity in their formation house in Rome.  On each occasion, I joined them for Eucharistic adoration and mass in their chapel that was located in a Gypsy camp in a Roman periphery. Mother Teresa was often present for these celebrations.

Once during Lent 1988 following mass with the sisters, Mother Teresa met me in the sacristy to thank me for my service to her sisters.  I asked her why those words “I THIRST” were on the wall of the chapel. At that time I thought they had been placed there for the liturgical season of Lent. Mother Teresa took my hand and told me quite firmly that those words are found in every convent chapel of her order – taken from Jesus words from the cross in John’s Gospel.  I remember her distinctly saying to me: “They serve as a  constant reminder of the purpose of the Missionaries of Charity. They remind us what an MC is here for: to quench the thirst of Jesus for souls, for love, for kindness, for compassion, for delicate love.”

When visiting any convent chapel of the Missionaries of Charity – the religious order she founded – one is immediately struck by the simplicity and austerity of the sacred space. There are no chairs, pews, or kneelers. The sisters take their shoes off before entering the chapel and sit or kneel on the bare floor. Typically, there are no ornate pieces of religious art – just a gold tabernacle behind the altar and a statue of Our Lady near the altar. However the image that stands out most in every MC chapel I have visited in various parts of the world is the large crucifix behind the altar and the stark words painted in bold, black capital letters on the wall alongside it: “I THIRST.”

Ever since her call in 1946 to leave the Loretto Sisters in India and serve the poorest of the poor in a new community, Mother Teresa insisted that the Missionaries of Charity were founded “to satiate the thirst of Jesus,” and she included this statement in the founding Rules for her religious order: “The General End of the Missionaries of Charity is to satiate the thirst of Jesus Christ on the Cross for Love and Souls.”

What exactly does it mean: “to satiate the thirst of Jesus”? Until we know deep inside that Jesus thirsts for us, we cannot fathom who He wants to be for us, for you and for me. What specifically is Jesus thirsting for in us? Mother Teresa saw Jesus’ “I thirst” as a very personal statement spoken to each individual today, at every moment. And she said Jesus is constantly awaiting our response to His thirst. Near the end of her life, in a letter to all of the Missionaries of Charity, she made a passionate appeal to her sisters to draw closer to the thirst of Jesus and take His statement “I Thirst” more seriously in their daily lives. Mother Teresa made Jesus’ statement “I thirst” so personal that she told her sisters to imagine Jesus saying those words directly to them. She even encouraged them to put their own name before “I thirst” and hear Jesus saying those very words to each of them.

On March 4 of this year, four Missionaries of Charity – Sisters Anselm, Marguerite, Judit and Reginette were massacred in Aden, Yemen, in the nursing home where they cared for the destitute poor, most of whom were Muslims. It was an act of senseless and diabolical violence. How many times did those sisters hear the words of Jesus: “Anselm, I thirst for you!” “Marguerite, I thirst for you!” “Judit, I thirst for you!” “Reginette, I thirst for you.” In the end, these four Missionaries of Charity and the twelve lay co-workers with them gave the gift of their very lives, serving Jesus in the poorest of the poor. Because they thirsted for God and quenched the thirst of Jesus, they were brutally murdered and their skulls were smashed by their killers.

When suffering persons in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Gaza, Ethiopia, India or Sudan experienced torturing thirst, Mother Teresa and her sisters would quickly bring water to satiate thirst of the people they served. Mother Teresa and her sisters desired to satiate Jesus thirst by promptly responding to His will, by making sacrifices for Him, by loving Him in the people they serve and by entrusting their entire lives into the hands of God hands.

We may not be able to travel to the places where Mother Teresa’s sisters minister and work with the destitute poor, but can begin to satiate God’s thirst for our love by being generous with Him with our time, by giving Him attention throughout our day, by spending more of our lives with Him in prayer. Many of us, however, are hesitant to do so. We are afraid to entrust ourselves totally to Him. We cling to our own plans. Meanwhile, Jesus waits for our response as he continuously says to us, “I thirst”.

Even though Jesus no longer needs to take up his cross and walk toward Calvary, today – in me, in others – Jesus continues to endure his passion.  The small child, the child full of hunger who eats his bread crumb by crumb because he is afraid of running out of bread before running out of hunger – that is the first station of the cross. In our way of the cross we see Jesus, poor and hungry, enduring his own falls.  Are we there to offer him our help?  Are we there with our sacrifices, with our piece of bread, of real bread? Are we there to share their suffering?  Are we there, or are we rather like the proud man who crosses over to the other side of the street, glancing at the one in need yet continuing on our way because of our business, our officiousness or fear?

Jesus thirsts for us to speak out when we see the cross raised up in our sisters and brothers killed, burned alive, throats slit and decapitated by barbarous blades amid cowardly silence. And we remain silent out of political correctness or fear of guilt by association.

Jesus thirsts for us to embrace children, women and people, worn out and fearful, who flee from war and violence and who often only find death and many Pontius Pilates who wash their hands of these people.

Jesus thirsts for us to unlock the doors of our minds and hearts, especially when we pretend to befilled with knowledge and not with the spirit, when we have become scholars of death and not of life, who instead of teaching mercy and life, threaten with punishment and death, and who condemn the just.

Jesus thirsts for us to be merciful when we are so often judgmental of others and pick up stones to throw at them and crush them without ever recognizing our own sins and faults.

Jesus thirsts for us to speak out and take action when we see public officials who try to erase the Christian memory and exclude the Gospel and the Cross from public life in the name of a pagan laicism.

When Jesus breathed his last, he both handed his spirit back to the Father and handed on the Holy Spirit to the Church. The water that flowed from Jesus’ pierced side symbolizes the Spirit made available to humanity because Jesus had now been glorified in the “lifting up” on the cross (John19:34; 7:39; 12:32). His blood is a symbol of the redeeming work of the cross. Moreover in this water and blood, the early Fathers of the Church saw allusions to the life-giving Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist.

Jesus thirsts for us. He longs for us and desires to meet us at the high noons of our life to quench our thirsts. May we always thirst for him and for the life-giving water that he alone can give.  Let us never be afraid to allow this water to wash over us, cleanse us, purify us and send us out on mission to feed the hungers and quench the thirsts of the human family.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

jesus-nails

On Good Friday afternoon, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, preached the Tre Ore Ceremony of the Seven Last Words of Christ in St. James Cathedral in Seattle, Washington. Below is the fourth reflection based on Matthew 27:45-46

Fourth Word:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Matthew 27:45-46

From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?.”

Matthew 27:45-46

While most people focus on the Lord’s passion from noon to 3 pm on that fateful Friday, the evangelist Mark writes that Christ’s time on the cross began three hours earlier, at 9 am, when he was nailed to the cross. Christ’s first three hours on the cross were marked by the delusion of those present: passersby deriding him, and even those crucified with him insulting him.

The second three hours that Christ spent on the cross were characterized by silence and darkness and God’s seeming deafness to the pleas and cries of his Son. We learn in the Lord’s retreating and passing how vast a person he was among us.  Our memories of what he was like before the “retreat” or “departure” become suffused with the profound weight of post-mortem insight.  Perhaps, historically, Jesus died more as he does in Mark and Matthew than he does in Luke or John. Perhaps he cried out, “Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani… My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” rather than “Into your hands, I commend my spirit” or “It is finished.” Still, Christians cannot help seeing the story of his death in the context of who we believe him to be, of who we know him to be.

We should not be surprised that Jesus would seize upon Psalm 22 as an expression of what he was experiencing on the cross and why he was there. Psalm 22 is a lament unusual in structure and in intensity of feeling. The psalmist’s present distress is contrasted with God’s past mercy. The psalm is important in the New Testament. Its opening words occur on the lips of the crucified Jesus (Mk 15:34; Mt 27:46) and several other verses are quoted, or at least alluded to, in the accounts of Jesus’ passion (Mt 27:35, 43; Jn 19:24).  Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels do not hesitate to show Jesus in the utter agony of feeling forsaken as he faces a terrible death. In these Gospels also, Jesus began the journey of the passion with an anguished prayer, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want but what you want” (Mark 14:35-36; Matthew 26:39).

Jesus hung on the cross in the presence of mockers (Ps 22:7; Matt 27:39) who taunted him with the unlikelihood that God would deliver him (Ps 22:8; Matt 27:43; Luke 23:35) and others who cast lots for his garments (Ps 22:18), a fact noted by all of the Gospel writers. He was fully aware that this was the moment for which he had come. Insulted by various categories of people, surrounded by a darkness covering everything, at the very moment in which He is facing death, Jesus’ cry shows that along with His burden of suffering and death he experiences the abandonment and seeming deafness of God. Jesus’ cry to the Father from the cross was not immediately understood by those nearby. Some thought he was calling Elijah, asking him to prolong his life, but Jesus was quoting Psalm 22, which affirms God’s presence amid his people. Jesus prays this psalm with the awareness of the Father’s presence. Many ask how an omnipotent God could not intervene to spare his own Son?”

We must realize that Jesus’ cry is not one for help but rather a prayer for his people and all peoples. By citing the opening verse of Psalm 22, Jesus was inviting all to understand his divine mission and his intense struggle as the God-man. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” Certain similarities and dissimilarities exist between David’s experience and Christ’s. Like David, and even more than David, Jesus understood what to be eternally forsaken of God meant. As the holy, sinless, Son of the Most High God, he must have felt that in an infinitely deeper way than sinful human beings can ever know.

The haunting, burning question remains: How is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob present in the midst of such terror, destruction and loss?  Is the answer of suffering, tragedy and loss not wrapped up in that other mystery of God’s own suffering in the suffering of his Son?  Whose innocence was violated.  Who was also separated from his people.  Who also proved to be no match for the brutality of the state. Who lifted up his hands, who stretched out his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross, that everyone might come within the reach of his loving, saving embrace?

Though the darkness enveloped people on that fateful afternoon, even in such moments of darkness God is present. In the Sacred Scriptures darkness is a sign of the presence and action of evil but it can also serve to express a mysterious divine action. And it would be out of this darkness that Christ would emerge to bring life through his act of love.

As human beings, death is dark and scary and real. Even though we believe and trust in God, death can cause anxiety and anguish. Jesus does not bring us deliverance from death but deliverancethrough death. We do not suffer death alone. We live in a culture which, in many ways, is death-denying; it is afraid to take a clear look at the fact and the meaning of mortality. The cry of the psalmist is a profoundly human cry. And Jesus has made the psalmist’s cry his own and in so doing, our own cry.

Jesus suffered and died because of his fidelity to God’s will in his life. Jesus’ preaching was good news for the poor; he ate with publicans and sinners. Many, including both political and religious leaders, found this offensive and threatening. If we show fidelity to the teaching and example of Jesus, we can face similar reactions. We may not face actual death. But we can face opposition and mockery in lesser, more subtle ways that are still painful. The psalmist’s words were certainly fulfilled in the life of Jesus: “All who see me mock at me; they shake their heads” (Psalm 22:7). And they find echo and fulfillment in all those who choose to follow Jesus.

Both Matthew and Mark show us the human Jesus who entered fully into our human condition. There is no sentimental piety in their Passion accounts of Jesus’ death. The point is not that we can enter into Jesus’ cry but that Jesus has entered into ours. God is near even though it may seem like he does not hear people’s prayers or has abandoned his flock.

While Psalm 22 ends with hope and praise, those are not the words on Jesus’ lips. While there are no certain references in the New Testament to the second part of Psalm 22 (the hymn of praise), we do see in the Gospels that Jesus was vindicated. His resurrection from the dead is God’s stamp of approval on his life. Through Jesus’ crucifixion, the meaning of death has been radically changed from the inside. Instead of representing the ultimate separation, it is now the path to greater union.

Listen to the second part of Psalm 22:

I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
 For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
May your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
 For kingship belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.

All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
even the one who could not keep himself alive.
 Posterity shall serve him;
it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it.

At the end of Psalm 22, as in the Gospels, the circle of praise should go out to embrace the whole world. It is a vision of inclusiveness that breaks down all the barriers that we, as humans, are too eager to set up. The death of Christ points us forward to the day when God’s kingdom will be all in all.  Faced with difficult and painful situations, when God seems to not hear us, we must not be afraid to give him all of the weight we carry in our heart, we should not be afraid to cry out to him about our suffering. Do we understand this? Can you imagine Jesus’ feelings of isolation? Have you felt abandoned in suffering or have you abandoned your loved ones in their pain and suffering? Do you ever make the psalmist’s and Jesus’ words your own: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Shortly after his election to the See or Peter in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI spoke words that have remained with me every since. He reminded us of the message of hope that God is, and always has been, at work in human history, and that ultimately the power of love and good will overcome evil, just as eternal life conquers death.  He said:  “History is not in the hands of dark forces, of chance, or of merely human choices.  The Lord, supreme arbiter of historical events, rises above the discharge of evil energies, the vehement onslaught of Satan, the emergence of plagues and wickedness.  He knowingly guides history to the dawn of the new heaven and the new earth…” (Pope Benedict XVI General Audience of May 11, 2005).

Jesus takes upon Himself not only the suffering of His people, but also that of all men and women oppressed by evil. He takes all this to the heart of God in the certainty that His cry will be heard in the resurrection. His is a suffering in communion with us and for us; it derives from love and carries within itself redemption and the victory of love for humanity.