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There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted

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There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted
A reflection on Euthanasia

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
May 12, 2016

The Supreme Court of Canada decided on February 6, 2015 that Canadians have a legal right to ask for and receive a doctor’s help in killing themselves. Originally the court gave Parliament one year to pass a new law to replace sections of the Criminal Code which had previously forbidden assisted suicide. A fall election and a slow process of review made it impossible for the politicians to meet the original deadline, which was then extended six months. Bill C-14 “An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying)” passed second reading April 22, 2016. Bill C-14, no matter how it may be amended, is an affront to human dignity, an erosion of human solidarity, and a danger to all vulnerable persons. It is a fundamentally unjust law. Why should we absolutely and categorically disagree with any attempt at justifying or supporting a ‘right’ to assisted suicide or euthanasia? In light of the very sad and deeply troubling decision of the Supreme Court of Canada overturning Canada’s euthanasia law, I offer you these reflections.  

There is nothing new about people becoming terminally ill, suffering, wanting to die, and our being able to kill them. Right-to-die movements have gained momentum at a time of anxiety about aging populations; people who are older than 65 represent the fastest growing demographic in the United States, Canada, and much of Europe.

Let’s look beyond our borders to witness the ambiguous and destructive powers of the proponents of a right-to-death. In Belgium, a country that some are justifiably calling “the killing fields”, euthanasia is now embraced as an emblem of enlightenment, liberation and progress, signs that the country has freed itself from its deeply Catholic roots and heritage. Belgium was the second country in the world, after the Netherlands, to decriminalize euthanasia; it was followed by Luxembourg, in 2009, and, this year, by Canada and Colombia. Switzerland has allowed assisted suicide since 1942. The United States Supreme Court has recognized that citizens have legitimate concerns about prolonged deaths in institutional settings, but in 1997 it ruled that death is not a constitutionally protected right, leaving questions about assisted suicide to be resolved by each state. Several months after the ruling, the state of Oregon passed a law that allows doctors to prescribe lethal drugs for patients who have less than six months to live. In 2008, the State of Washington adopted a similar law; Montana decriminalized assisted suicide the following year; and Vermont legalized it in 2013.

In Oregon and Switzerland, studies have shown that people who request death are less motivated by physical pain than by the desire to remain autonomous. In Belgium and in the Netherlands, where patients can be euthanized without even having a terminal illness, the laws seem to have permeated the medical establishment more deeply than elsewhere, perhaps because of the central role granted to doctors: in the majority of cases, it is the doctor, not the patient, who performs the final act. In the past five years, euthanasia and assisted-suicide deaths in the Netherlands have doubled, and in Belgium they have increased by more than a hundred and fifty per cent. Although most of the Belgian patients had cancer, people were euthanized because they had autism, anorexia, borderline personality disorder, chronic-fatigue syndrome, partial paralysis, blindness coupled with deafness, and manic depression.

Laws allowing euthanasia or doctor-assisted-death seem to be motivated less by the desires of the elderly than by the concerns of a younger generation, whose members derive comfort from the knowledge that they can control the end of their lives. Belgian laws have created a new understanding of suicide as a medical treatment, totally divorced of its tragic and moral dimensions.

Why is the case against euthanasia so hard to establish? When personal and societal values were consistent, widely shared and based on shared religion, the case against euthanasia was simple. God commanded: “You shall not kill.” In secular societies based on intense individualism, the case for euthanasia is simple: Individuals have the right to choose the manner, time and place of their death. In contrast, in such societies the case against euthanasia is complex. Is anyone concerned any longer about harm caused to the entire community rather than being obsessed with personal and individual preferences?

Death has now been professionalized, technologized, depersonalized and dehumanized. Facing those realities makes euthanasia seem an attractive option and easier to introduce and accept. Conversations about death used to take place in religious conversation and in churches, synagogues, mosques and temples during worship services.  Such conversations were serious and always had moral dimensions. No so any longer. Death talk is on radio and TV talk shows and in unreflective media.  It is so often cheap conversation for such a serious topic.  And the moral dimension is absent.

Our parliaments and courts have replaced our religious centres. That has resulted in the legalization of societal ethical and moral debates, including in relation to death. It is not surprising, therefore, that the euthanasia debate centres on its legalization. The vast exposure to death that we are subjected to in both current-affairs and entertainment programs might have overwhelmed our sensitivity to the awesomeness of death as well as inflicting it.

Mainstream media has caused great confusion about the topic of euthanasia and has been extremely deceptive in its portrayal of human suffering and compassion.  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.

There are solid secular arguments against euthanasia: legalizing euthanasia would harm the very important shared societal value of respect for life, and change the basic norm that we must not kill one another. It would also harm the two main institutions – law and medicine.  These pillars of society are more important in a secular society than in a religious one for upholding the value of respect for life. And, it would harm people’s trust in medicine and make them fearful of seeking treatment.

Our society has lost sight of the sacred nature of human life. As Catholic Christians we are deeply committed to the protection of life from its earliest moments to its final moments. When people today speak about a “good death,” they usually refer to an attempt to control the end of one’s life, even through physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia. The Christian notion of a good death, however, is death not as a good end, but a good transition, that requires faith, proper acceptance and readiness. The dimension of the Paschal mystery of suffering, death and resurrection has been absent from our end of life conversation and discussion.

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When life is not respected, should we be surprised that other rights will sooner or later be threatened? 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.”

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.

Pope Francis has criticized those who support a right to euthanasia for people suffering painful or terminal illnesses, saying that they spread a “lie” that lives affected by such illnesses are not worth living. In his annual message for the World Day of the Sick, celebrated by the Catholic church each February 11, Francis criticizes the phrase “quality of life,” frequently used by those who advocate for euthanasia rights to emphasize the pain suffered by some ill persons who might choose to medically end their lives if given the chance by law. Francis makes the critique in a section of the message that emphasizes the importance of spending time with those who are sick or ill. Pope Francis first asks that the Holy Spirit “grant us the grace to appreciate the value of our often unspoken willingness to spend time with these sisters and brothers who, thanks to our closeness and affection, feel more loved and comforted.” In his 2016 Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis writes (#48): “Euthanasia and assisted suicide are serious threats to families worldwide; in many countries, they have been legalized. The Church, while firmly opposing these practices, feels the need to assist families who take care of their elderly and infirm members”.

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. Nor can we 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 has arrived on our shores and it has invaded our lives. 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. The best way to know if we are still in any way a Christian society is to see how we treat our most vulnerable people, the ones with little or no claim on public attention, the ones without beauty, strength or intelligence.

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: frequent attempts are made to export this mentality to other states as if it were a form of cultural progress.

Suicide as a mode of euthanasia contradicts the fundamental responsibility that human beings have to protect one another and to enhance the quality of health and social care which every human life deserves, from conception to natural death. The proposed Canadian legislation for physician-assisted-death or suicide threatens to throw non-complying doctors and nurses out of their jobs and risks closing Catholic hospitals. Second, it does nothing to limit the ways in which assisted suicide may be proposed or offered to vulnerable people.

An absence of conscience protections at the federal level for those health-care professionals and institutions who refuse to take part or directly refer for assisted suicide means provincial regulators could set up a patchwork of conflicting policies that would result in fewer doctors and hospitals available to Canadians. Just when our health-care system requires more resources, not less, the federal government must not allow lower jurisdictions to drive conscientious health-care practitioners from their professions. Laws that would make medicine the agent of death on demand, are a clear violation of the sacrosanct duty of health-care providers to heal, and the responsibility of legislators and citizens to assure and provide protection for all, especially those persons most at risk.

We have a responsibility to confront the intrusion of euthanasia in our society – especially if we are to understand our moral obligation as caregivers for incapacitated persons, and our civic obligation to protect those who lack the capacity to express their will but are still human, still living, and still deserving of equal protection under the law.  There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted from conception to natural death, from womb to tomb.

 

Fr. Rosica Receives Distinguished Communicator Award from Brooklyn’s DeSales Media Group

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Watch Fr. Thoms Rosica, CSB, deliver the keynote above!

To commemorate World Communications Day this past Sunday, DeSales Media Group, the communications ministry of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, hosted today the 25th diocesan World Communications Day Catholic Media Conference at the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge. Blessed Paul VI in 1967 established World Communications Day as a time to explore how modern means of social communication can best be utilized by the Church. Pope Francis has selected the theme “Communication and Mercy: A Fruitful Encounter.”

What was once a local celebration has grown into a full-scale conference of media influencers. The purpose is to connect, inspire and bring together Catholic television, print and digital content creators, entertainers, innovators and media executives.

Two years ago, the Most Rev. Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, received the Francis DeSales Distinguished Communicator Award. Upon winning, he spoke about the urgency of being proficient in social media.

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During this year’s conference, the Diocese of Brooklyn honored Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B. with the St. Francis DeSales Distinguished Communicator Award. Pope Benedict XVI appointed Rosica to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in 2009. Since the Papal Transition in 2013, Fr. Rosica has worked closely with Rev. Federico Lombardi, SJ, and has related on a daily basis to several hundred English language journalists and television and radio personnel around the world. During this time, he also served as media attaché at four Synods of Bishops at the Vatican in 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2015. At Salt + Light, he has been executive producer of more than 50 documentaries and hundreds of television programs for the network during the past 13 years.

Upon reception of the prestigious award from Brooklyn’s Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and the DeSales Media Group, Fr. Rosica delivered the following address:

Address of Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Catholic Media Conference of the DeSales Media Group
New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn, New York – May 11, 2016

Bishop DiMarzio,
Monsignor Harrington,
Dear Friends of De Sales Media Group,

You have honored me with the St. Francis DeSales Distinguished Communicator Award this morning, but I wish to pay tribute to you, the De Sales Media Group, which I consider to be one of the finest Catholic media operations in North America. Your group, named after St. Francis DeSales, patron saint of writers and journalists, has specialized in the delivery of Catholic news, information, entertainment and religious programs on many platforms simultaneously. Your creative works have crossed and united borders, cultures and generations and your cable channel, with which we at Salt and Light Television have the great pleasure of collaborating, has a unique, contemporary mission on air and on line, always adapting itself to your new audiences. What I admire very much about your work is that you have avoided the great temptation in religious communications and broadcasting to remain prisoners of nostalgia, enchained by the past. Instead, your activities are firmly rooted in the Catholic tradition and pointed to a future of hope. You open doors to a faith that offers attractive, compelling answers to questions deep in the hearts of all men and women.

Isn’t this the heart of the Petrine Ministry of Pope Francis? Aren’t these the lessons he has been teaching us over the past three years? Contrary to some voices which think he is a great revolutionary who has rocked the boat, or even sunk the ship, Francis has not overturned doctrine and age-old beliefs that are the bedrock of our Catholic Christian faith. He simply wishes to make those teachings understandable and part of our lives. Pope Francis has the boldness and courage to ask deep questions and he is unafraid to start a conversation and remain with it. Francis rejects the reduction of Catholicism to hot-topic moral issues. He does not want to reduce the church only to discussions and heated debates. Pope Francis makes a distinction between dogmatic and moral teachings, reminding us that they do not hold the same weight. With Francis, the church must re-enter public discourse with a full-throated defense of the common good that rises above bitter partisan divisions that have poisoned our cultures in North America.

We must stand for something much greater than division, rancor, labeling and meanness of spirit that have dominated politics and infected the Church. He calls for a church ‘of and for the poor’ that is not turned in on itself, but ‘in the streets.’ He reminds us forcefully that the culture of prosperity deadens us. Francis speaks with authority and integrity because he has lived the church’s social teaching in his own ministry.  His love for Jesus Christ is contagious and we are all infected by it. This elderly bishop from Argentina walks his talk and walks the walk.

In his highly appropriate and timely message for this year’s World Day of Communications, celebrated on Ascension Sunday, Francis chose Communication and Mercy: A Fruitful Encounter as the theme of this year’s Communication Day. At the heart of the 2016 message is the mercy of God. It is so complementary to the special Jubilee Year of Mercy being experienced throughout the whole Church, which, Pope Francis says, “is called to practice mercy as the distinctive trait of all that she is and does … Our primary task is to uphold the truth with love.”  

Some of the key points from this year’s World Communications Day message are the following:

  • We are reminded that to communicate in an authentic manner we must be able to ‘listen’ to, rather than merely ‘hear’, when we encounter another.”
  • If our hearts and actions are inspired by charity, by divine love, then our communication will be touched by God’s own power.
  • As sons and daughters of God, we are called to communicate with everyone, without exception.
  • Christians ought to be a constant encouragement to communion and, even in those cases where they must firmly condemn evil, they should never try to rupture relationships and communication.
  • Our political and diplomatic language would do well to be inspired by mercy, which never loses hope.
  • Mercy can help mitigate life’s troubles and offer warmth to those who have known only the coldness of judgment.  May our way of communicating help to overcome the mind-set that neatly separates sinners from the righteous.  We can and we must judge situations of sin – such as violence, corruption and exploitation – but we may not judge individuals, since only God can see into the depths of their hearts.
  • Our primary task is to uphold the truth with love.
  • Listening is never easy.  Many times it is easier to play deaf.  Listening means paying attention, wanting to understand, to value, to respect and to ponder what the other person says.

The necessity of dialogue

Time and time again over the past three years, Francis has reminded us of the necessity of dialogue with others, and this is a very important part of our mission in the area of Catholic media and broadcasting. Each and every one of us is called to be an instrument and agent of peace, by uniting and not dividing, by extinguishing hatred and not holding on to it, by opening paths to dialogue and not by constructing new walls. When he addressed the bishops of the United States gathered in St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, DC last September 23, 2015, Pope Francis said to his brother bishops of the US:

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

“The path ahead, then, is dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society. I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly. The richer the heritage which you are called to share with parrhesia, the more eloquent should be the humility with which you should offer it. Do not be afraid to set out on that “exodus” which is necessary for all authentic dialogue. Otherwise, we fail to understand the thinking of others, or to realize deep down that the brother or sister we wish to reach and redeem, with the power and the closeness of love, counts more than their positions, distant as they may be from what we hold as true and certain. Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.”

Last Friday as he received the prestigious Charlemagne prize in a special ceremony in the Vatican, Pope Francis once again emphasized the necessity and capacity for dialogue. He spoke these provocative words to the audience that included leaders of many European nations and governments:

“If there is one word that we should never tire of repeating, it is this: dialogue. We are called to promote a culture of dialogue by every possible means and thus to rebuild the fabric of society. The culture of dialogue entails a true apprenticeship and a discipline that enables us to view others as valid dialogue partners, to respect the foreigner, the immigrant and people from different cultures as worthy of being listened to. Today we urgently need to engage all the members of society in building “a culture which privileges dialogue as a form of encounter” and in creating “a means for building consensus and agreement while seeking the goal of a just, responsive and inclusive society” (Evangelii Gaudium, 239). Peace will be lasting in the measure that we arm our children with the weapons of dialogue, that we teach them to fight the good fight of encounter and negotiation. In this way, we will bequeath to them a culture capable of devising strategies of life, not death, and of inclusion, not exclusion.”

“This culture of dialogue should be an integral part of the education imparted in our schools, cutting across disciplinary lines and helping to give young people the tools needed to settle conflicts differently than we are accustomed to do. Today we urgently need to build “coalitions” that are not only military and economic, but cultural, educational, philosophical and religious. Coalitions that can make clear that, behind many conflicts, there is often in play the power of economic groups. Coalitions capable of defending people from being exploited for improper ends. Let us arm our people with the culture of dialogue and encounter.”

These words not only referred to the political and diplomatic efforts of nations, but also the vocation and mission of each of us involved in Catholic communications, broadcasting and media. How do we allow our media platforms to become transmitters of the rich and beautiful Catholic tradition while at the same time serving as instruments of dialogue with the peoples, traditions and cultures around us? How do our platforms and various entities “build bridges between individuals and within families, social groups and peoples?” How do we become agents and vehicles of tenderness and mercy?  Or do we simply contribute to the acrimony, division, vengeance, condemnation and hatred present in so many parts of the world? In his vision and blueprint for ministry, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis criticizes forces within the church who seem to lust for “veritable witch hunts,” asking rhetorically, “Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?”

Francis wants the church to be an instrument of reconciliation and welcome, a church capable of warming hearts, a church that is not bent over on herself but always seeking those on the periphery and those who are lost, a church capable of leading people home.

Francis has rebranded Catholicism

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

Today I dare say that the response is somewhat different. What do they say about us now? What do they say about the Pope? People are speaking about our leader who is unafraid to confront the sins and evils that have marred us. We have a Pope who is concerned about the environment, about mercy, compassion and love, and a deep passion, care and concern for the poor and for displaced peoples roaming the face of this earth. Pope Francis has won over a great part of the media. By no means is this an indication that the teachings of the Church and message of the Gospel have been fully understood or received by all.  

Nevertheless, something has shifted in terms of Church-media relations. Many of my colleagues in the “secular” media industry have said that Francis has made it fun to be a religion reporter and journalist again. He has changed the image of the church so much that prestigious graduate schools of business and management are now using him as a case study in rebranding. He has also ruffled many feathers and upset some folks because of his free-flowing, unscripted remarks at times, and he raises a few eyebrows now and then!

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

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

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

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

Field Hospitals

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

I offer you two areas where field hospitals are badly needed in our media and communications efforts, projects and programs. And not only hospitals are needed but caregivers willing to step into the battle and bring healing.

New Media and Authentic Catholic Communications

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

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

The Digital World and Catholic Blogosphere

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

In the wild, crazy world of the blogosphere, there is the challenge of accountability and responsibility. On the Internet there is no accountability, no code of ethics, and no responsibility for one’s words and actions.  It can be an international weapon of mass destruction, crossing time zones, borders and space. In its wake is character assassination, destruction of reputation, calumny, libel, slander and defamation. What view do others have of us when they view our blogs?  If we judged our identity based on certain “Catholic” websites and blogs on the Internet, we would be known as the people who are against everyone and everything!  If anything, we should be known as the people who are for something, something positive that can transform lives and engage and impact the culture.  To what degree are our blogs, websites and programming the expression of the wealth of the Christian patrimony and successful in transmitting the Good News that the Lord has asked us to spread?

Many of my non-Christian and non-believing friends have remarked to me that we “Catholics” have turned the Internet into a cesspool of hatred, venom and vitriol, all in the name of defending the faith!  The character assassination on the Internet by those claiming to be Catholic and Christian has turned it into a graveyard of corpses strewn all around. Often times the obsessed, scrupulous, self-appointed, nostalgia-hankering virtual guardians of faith or of liturgical practices are very disturbed, broken and angry individuals, who never found a platform or pulpit in real life and so resort to the Internet and become trolling pontiffs and holy executioners!  In reality they are deeply troubled, sad and angry people. We must pray for them, for their healing and conversion!

On these new battlefields today, the Church must shine with the light that lives within itself, it must go out and encounter human beings who – even though they believe that they do not need to hear a message of salvation – often find themselves afraid and wounded by life. The light of Christ reflected in the Church must not become the privilege of only a few elect who float enclosed within a safe harbor or ghetto network of communications for the elite, the clean, the perfect and the saved.  This would be a “church clique” or a “personal blog” or “chat room” more than an ecclesial community.

From the Pope’s Message for this year’s World Day of Communcations, we must never forget this critical point:

“Communication, wherever and however it takes place, has opened up broader horizons for many people. This is a gift of God which involves a great responsibility. I like to refer to this power of communication as “closeness”. The encounter between communication and mercy will be fruitful to the degree that it generates a closeness which cares, comforts, heals, accompanies and celebrates. In a broken, fragmented and polarized world, to communicate with mercy means to help create a healthy, free and fraternal closeness between the children of God and all our brothers and sisters in the one human family.”

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Thank you for the privilege of being here with you.  Thank you for the honor you have given me with the St. Francis DeSales Award. If we remember Francis de Sales today, is it not for the call to holiness for all people in all walks of life, the necessity of living in the “present moment” as the privileged opportunity to know and live God’s will, the goodness of creation, the centrality of love and freedom in one’s relationship with God and the world, the sanctity of the “ordinary” done “passionately well” and the gentleness, humility, optimism and joy that come from living in truthfulness? In the person of Pope Francis, we have a great role model who has given flesh and blood to Francis DeSales’ modus operandi. Francis of Buenos Aires is a mover and shaker of human hearts and consciences, a living witness to what happens when communications and mercy meet. Let us learn from him how to model this badly needed kindness, goodness, mercy and joy to a wounded world and broken humanity around us.


Biography of Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

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

In June 1999, he was appointed by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops as the Chief Executive Officer and National Director of the World Youth Day and the Papal Visit of Pope John Paul II, that took place in Toronto during July, 2002.  On July 1, 2003, Fr. Rosica became the founding Chief Executive Officer of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, Canada’s first national Catholic Television Network. In that capacity, he has been Executive Producer of over 50 documentaries and hundreds of television programs for the network over the past 13 years. Salt and Light is known for the many young women and men who are the faces, minds and hearts of that very creative network.

Appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in 2009, Fr. Rosica also served as Media Attaché at four Synods of Bishops at the Vatican in 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2015. Since the Papal Transition in 2013, he has been English language Assistant to Holy See Press Office, working closely with Fr. Federico Lombardi, and relating on a daily basis to several hundred English language journalists and television and radio personnel around the world.

Fr. Rosica is a member of several Boards of Governors of Institutions of Higher Learning, including the Board of the Gregorian University Consortium Foundation in Rome.  He has received honors from the Governments of Great Britain, Italy and Israel as well as an Honorary Doctorate from Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania.  In June 2015, Fr. Rosica was awarded the Clarion Award by the Catholic Academy of Communication Professionals in North America. The Academy honored him as “Broadcaster, Filmmaker and Church Spokesman whose portrayal of the Catholic Church brings the light of the Gospel to millions.”


Photos: Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, Msgr. Kieran Harrington, Vicar for Communications and Head of DeSales Media Group. Photo courtesy of DeSales Media Group by Robert Longo

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.