Pope Francis’ Homily for the Conclusion of the Year of Faith

Christ the King

Today’s solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, the crowning of the liturgical year, also marks the conclusion of the Year of Faith opened by Pope Benedict XVI, to whom our thoughts now turn with affection and gratitude. By this providential initiative, he gave us an opportunity to rediscover the beauty of the journey of faith begun on the day of our Baptism, which made us children of God and brothers and sisters in the Church. A journey which has as its ultimate end our full encounter with God, and throughout which the Holy Spirit purifies us, lifts us up and sanctifies us, so that we may enter into the happiness for which our hearts long.

I offer a cordial greeting to the Patriarchs and Major Archbishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches present. The exchange of peace which I will share with them is above all a sign of the appreciation of the Bishop of Rome for these communities which have confessed the name of Christ with exemplary faithfulness, often at a high price.

With this gesture, through them, I would like to reach all those Christians living in the Holy Land, in Syria and in the entire East, and obtain for them the gift of peace and concord.

The Scripture readings proclaimed to us have as their common theme the centrality of Christ. Christ as the centre of creation, the centre of his people and the centre of history.

1. The apostle Paul, in the second reading, taken from the letter to the Colossians, offers us a profound vision of the centrality of Jesus. He presents Christ to us as the first-born of all creation: in him, through him and for him all things were created. He is the centre of all things, he is the beginning. God has given him the fullness, the totality, so that in him all things might be reconciled (cf. Col 1:12-20).

This image enables to see that Jesus is the centre of creation; and so the attitude demanded of us as true believers is that of recognizing and accepting in our lives the centrality of Jesus Christ, in our thoughts, in our words and in our works. When this centre is lost, when it is replaced by something else, only harm can result for everything around us and for ourselves.

2. Besides being the centre of creation, Christ is the centre of the people of God. We see this in the first reading which describes the time when the tribes of Israel came to look for David and anointed him king of Israel before the Lord (cf. 2 Sam 5:1-3). In searching for an ideal king, the people were seeking God himself: a God who would be close to them, who would accompany them on their journey, who would be a brother to them.

Christ, the descendant of King David, is the brother around whom God’s people come together. It is he who cares for his people, for all of us, even at the price of his life. In him we are all one; united with him, we share a single journey, a single destiny.

3. Finally, Christ is the centre of the history of the human race and of every man and woman. To him we can bring the joys and the hopes, the sorrows and troubles which are part of our lives. When Jesus is the centre, light shines even amid the darkest times of our lives; he gives us hope, as he does to the good thief in today’s Gospel.

While all the others treat Jesus with disdain, “If you are the Christ, the Messiah King, save yourself by coming down from the cross!” the thief who went astray in his life but now repents, clinging to the crucified Jesus, begs him: “Remember me, when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42). And Jesus promises him: “Today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43). Jesus speaks only a word of forgiveness, not of condemnation; whenever anyone finds the courage to ask for this forgiveness, the Lord does not let such a petition go unheard.

Jesus promise to the good thief gives us great hope: it tells us that God’s grace is always greater than the prayer which sought it. The Lord always grants more than what he has been asked: you ask him to remember you, and he brings you into his Kingdom!

Let us ask the Lord to remember us, in the certainty that by his mercy we will be able to share his glory in paradise. Amen!

Remembering September 11, 2001


From Pope John Paul II’s Evening Address to young people
Toronto, Downsview Park
Saturday July 27, 2002

The new millennium opened with two contrasting scenarios: one, the sight of multitudes of pilgrims coming to Rome during the Great Jubilee to pass through the Holy Door which is Christ, our Savior and Redeemer; and the other, the terrible terrorist attack on New York, an image that is a sort of icon of a world in which hostility and hatred seem to prevail.

The question that arises is dramatic: on what foundations must we build the new historical era that is emerging from the great transformations of the twentieth century? Is it enough to rely on the technological revolution now taking place, which seems to respond only to criteria of productivity and efficiency, without reference to the individual’s spiritual dimension or to any universally shared ethical values? Is it right to be content with provisional answers to the ultimate questions, and to abandon life to the impulses of instinct, to short-lived sensations or passing fads?

The question will not go away: on what foundations, on what certainties should we build our lives and the life of the community to which we belong?

Prayer of Pope Benedict XVI
Visit to Ground Zero, New York
Sunday April 20, 2008

O God of love, compassion, and healing,
look on us, people of many different faiths and traditions,
who gather today at this site,
the scene of incredible violence and pain.
We ask you in your goodness
to give eternal light and peace
to all who died here—
the heroic first-responders:
our fire fighters, police officers,
emergency service workers, and Port Authority personnel,
[Read more...]

“Show us Jesus” – Homily of Pope Francis at Aparecida

Aparecida confetti cropped

Homily of Pope Francis at the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, July 24, 2013

My Brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

What joy I feel as I come to the house of the Mother of every Brazilian, the Shrine of our Lady of Aparecida! The day after my election as Bishop of Rome, I visited the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome, in order to entrust my ministry as the Successor of Peter to Our Lady. Today I have come here to ask Mary our Mother for the success of World Youth Day and to place at her feet the life of the people of Latin America.

There is something that I would like to say first of all. Six years ago the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean was held in this Shrine. Something beautiful took place here, which I witnessed at first hand. I saw how the Bishops – who were discussing the theme of encountering Christ, discipleship and mission – felt encouraged, supported and in some way inspired by the thousands of pilgrims who came here day after day to entrust their lives to Our Lady. That Conference was a great moment of Church. It can truly be said that the Aparecida Document was born of this interplay between the labours of the Bishops and the simple faith of the pilgrims, under Mary’s maternal protection. When the Church looks for Jesus, she always knocks at his Mother’s door and asks: “Show us Jesus.” It is from Mary that the Church learns true discipleship. That is why the Church always goes out on mission in the footsteps of Mary.

Today, looking forward to the World Youth Day which has brought me to Brazil, I too come to knock on the door of the house of Mary – who loved and raised Jesus – that she may help all of us, pastors of God’s people, parents and educators, to pass on to our young people the values that can help them build a nation and a world which are more just, united and fraternal. For this reason I would like to speak of three simple attitudes: hopefulness, openness to being surprised by God, and living in joy.

1. Hopefulness. The second reading of the Mass presents a dramatic scene: a woman – an image of Mary and the Church – is being pursued by a Dragon – the devil – who wants to devour her child. But the scene is not one of death but of life, because God intervenes and saves the child (cf. Rev 12:13a, 15-16a). How many difficulties are present in the life of every individual, among our people, in our communities; yet as great as these may seem, God never allows us to be overwhelmed by them. In the face of those moments of discouragement we experience in life, in our efforts to evangelize or to embody our faith as parents within the family, I would like to say forcefully: Always know in your heart that God is by your side; he never abandons you! Let us never lose hope! Let us never allow it to die in our hearts! The “dragon”, evil, is present in our history, but it does not have the upper hand. The one with the upper hand is God, and God is our hope! It is true that nowadays, to some extent, everyone, including our young people, feels attracted by the many idols which take the place of God and appear to offer hope: money, success, power, pleasure. Often a growing sense of loneliness and emptiness in the hearts of many people leads them to seek satisfaction in these ephemeral idols. Dear brothers and sisters, let us be lights of hope! Let us maintain a positive outlook on reality. Let us encourage the generosity which is typical of the young and help them to work actively in building a better world. Young people are a powerful engine for the Church and for society. They do not need material things alone; also and above all, they need to have held up to them those nonmaterial values which are the spiritual heart of a people, the memory of a people. In this Shrine, which is part of the memory of Brazil, we can almost read those values: spirituality, generosity, solidarity, perseverance, fraternity, joy; they are values whose deepest root is in the Christian faith.

2. The second attitude: openness to being surprised by God. Anyone who is a man or a woman of hope – the great hope which faith gives us – knows that even in the midst of difficulties God acts and he surprises us. The history of this Shrine is a good example: three fishermen, after a day of catching no fish, found something unexpected in the waters of the Parnaíba River: an image of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. Whoever would have thought that the site of a fruitless fishing expedition would become the place where all Brazilians can feel that they are children of one Mother? God always surprises us, like the new wine in the Gospel we have just heard. God always saves the best for us. But he asks us to let ourselves be surprised by his love, to accept his surprises. Let us trust God! Cut off from him, the wine of joy, the wine of hope, runs out. If we draw near to him, if we stay with him, what seems to be cold water, difficulty, sin, is changed into the new wine of friendship with him.

3. The third attitude: living in joy. Dear friends, if we walk in hope, allowing ourselves to be surprised by the new wine which Jesus offers us, we have joy in our hearts and we cannot fail to be witnesses of this joy. Christians are joyful, they are never gloomy. God is at our side. We have a Mother who always intercedes for the life of her children, for us, as Queen Esther did in the first reading (cf Est 5:3). Jesus has shown us that the face of God is that of a loving Father. Sin and death have been defeated. Christians cannot be pessimists! They do not look like someone in constant mourning. If we are truly in love with Christ and if we sense how much he loves us, our heart will “light up” with a joy that spreads to everyone around us. As Benedict XVI said: “the disciple knows that without Christ, there is no light, no hope, no love, no future” (Inaugural Address, Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, Aparecida, 13 May 2007, 3).

Dear friends, we have come to knock at the door of Mary’s house. She has opened it for us, she has let us in and she shows us her Son. Now she asks us to “do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). Yes, dear Mother, we are committed to doing whatever Jesus tells us! And we will do it with hope, trusting in God’s surprises and full of joy. Amen.

Perspectives Daily – Wednesday, July 3

Tonight on Perspectives: John Paul II and John XXIII could be canonized as early as this fall, Pope Francis speaks about meeting Jesus in the poor and suffering, and CNS Rome Bureau on Pope Francis’ first encyclical.

Pope Francis on Pentecost Sunday: Newness, Harmony and Mission

Large crowd gathers in St. Peter's Square during canonization Mass at Vatican

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today we contemplate and re-live in the liturgy the outpouring of the Holy Spirit sent by the risen Christ upon his Church; an event of grace which filled the Upper Room in Jerusalem and then spread throughout the world.

But what happened on that day, so distant from us and yet so close as to touch the very depths of our hearts? Luke gives us the answer in the passage of the Acts of the Apostles which we have heard (2:1-11). The evangelist brings us back to Jerusalem, to the Upper Room where the apostles were gathered. The first element which draws our attention is the sound which suddenly came from heaven ?like the rush of a violent wind?, and filled the house; then the ?tongues as of fire? which divided and came to rest on each of the apostles. Sound and tongues of fire: these are clear, concrete signs which touch the apostles not only from without but also within: deep in their minds and hearts. As a result, ?all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit?, who unleashed his irresistible power with amazing consequences: they all ?began to speak in different languages, as the Spirit gave them ability?. A completely unexpected scene opens up before our eyes: a great crowd gathers, astonished because each one heard the apostles speaking in his own language. They all experience something new, something which had never happened before: ?We hear them, each of us, speaking our own language?. And what is it that they are they speaking about? ?God?s deeds of power?.

In the light of this passage from Acts, I would like to reflect on three words linked to the working of the Holy Spirit: newness, harmony and mission.

1. Newness always makes us a bit fearful, because we feel more secure if we have everything under control, if we are the ones who build, programme and plan our lives in accordance with our own ideas, our own comfort, our own preferences. This is also the case when it comes to God. Often we follow him, we accept him, but only up to a certain point. It is hard to abandon ourselves to him with complete trust, allowing the Holy Spirit to be the soul and guide of our lives in our every decision. We fear that God may force us to strike out on new paths and leave behind our all too narrow, closed and selfish horizons in order to become open to his own. Yet throughout the history of salvation, whenever God reveals himself, he brings newness and change, and demands our complete trust: Noah, mocked by all, builds an ark and is saved; Abram leaves his land with only a promise in hand; Moses stands up to the might of Pharaoh and leads his people to freedom; the apostles, huddled fearfully in the Upper Room, go forth with courage to proclaim the Gospel. This is not a question of novelty for novelty?s sake, the search for something new to relieve our boredom, as is so often the case in our own day. The newness which God brings into our life is something that actually brings fulfillment, that gives true joy, true serenity, because God loves us and desires only our good. Let us ask ourselves: Are we open to ?God?s surprises?? Or are we closed and fearful before the newness of the Holy Spirit? Do we have the courage to strike out along the new paths which God?s newness sets before us, or do we resist, barricaded in transient structures which have lost their capacity for openness to what is new?

2. A second thought: the Holy Spirit would appear to create disorder in the Church, since he brings the diversity of charisms and gifts; yet all this, by his working, is a great source of wealth, for the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of unity, which does not mean uniformity, but which leads everything back to harmony. In the Church, it is the Holy Spirit who creates harmony. One of Fathers of the Church has an expression which I love: the Holy Spirit himself is harmony ? ?Ipse harmonia est?. Only the Spirit can awaken diversity, plurality and multiplicity, while at the same time building unity. Here too, when we are the ones who try to create diversity and close ourselves up in what makes us different and other, we bring division. When we are the ones who want to build unity in accordance with our human plans, we end up creating uniformity, standardization. But if instead we let ourselve be guided by the Spirit, richness, variety and diversity never become a source of conflict, because he impels us to experience variety within the communion of the Church. Journeying together in the Church, under the guidance of her pastors who possess a special charism and ministry, is a sign of the working of the Holy Spirit. Having a sense of the Church is something fundamental for every Christian, every community and every movement. It is the Church which brings Christ to me, and me to Christ; parallel journeys are dangerous! When we venture beyond (proagon) the Church?s teaching and community, and do not remain in them, we are not one with the God of Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Jn 9). So let us ask ourselves: Am I open to the harmony of the Holy Spirit, overcoming every form of exclusivity? Do I let myself be guided by him, living in the Church and with the Church?

3. A final point. The older theologians used to say that the soul is a kind of sailboat, the Holy Spirit is the wind which fills its sails and drives it forward, and the gusts of wind are the gifts of the Spirit. Lacking his impulse and his grace, we do not go forward. The Holy Spirit draws us into the mystery of the living God and saves us from the threat of a Church which is gnostic and self-referential, closed in on herself; he impels us to open the doors and go forth to proclaim and bear witness to the good news of the Gospel, to communicate the joy of faith, the encounter with Christ. The Holy Spirit is the soul of mission. The events that took place in Jerusalem almost two thousand years ago are not something far removed from us; they are events which affect us and become a lived experience in each of us. The Pentecost of the Upper Room in Jerusalem is the beginning, a beginning which endures. The Holy Spirit is the supreme gift of the risen Christ to his apostles, yet he wants that gift to reach everyone. As we heard in the Gospel, Jesus says: ?I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to remain with you forever? (Jn 14:16). It is the Paraclete Spirit, the ?Comforter?, who grants us the courage to take to the streets of the world, bringing the Gospel! The Holy Spirit makes us look to the horizon and drive us to the very outskirts of existence in order to proclaim life in Jesus Christ. Let us ask ourselves: do we tend to stay closed in on ourselves, on our group, or do we let the Holy Spirit open us to mission?

Today?s liturgy is a great prayer which the Church, in union with Jesus, raises up to the Father, asking him to renew the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. May each of us, and every group and movement, in the harmony of the Church, cry out to the Father and implore this gift. Today too, as at her origins, the Church, in union with Mary, cries out:?Veni, Sancte Spiritus! Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love!? Amen.

Photo Courtesy of CNS

Perspectives Daily – Wednesday, Apr. 24

Tonight on Perspectives: Pope Francis reflects on the Last Judgement, two new events for the Year of Faith are unveiled, and we feature Archbishop Francis Chullikatt’s statement on eradicating poverty at the United Nations.

Pope Francis’ Easter Vigil homily

Preaching at the first Easter Vigil of his pontificate, Pope Francis urged us not to be closed to the newness that God wants to bring into our lives. The Holy Father said that nothing remains as it was before, not only in the lives of the women at the tomb, but also in our own lives and in the history of mankind.  “Jesus is not dead, he has risen, he is alive!  He does not simply return to life; rather, he is life itself, because he is the Son of God, the living God,” he concluded.

Published here is a complete (and official) version of Pope Francis’ homily. See video above and message below.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, In the Gospel of this radiant night of the Easter Vigil, we first meet the women who go the tomb of Jesus with spices to anoint his body (cf. Lk 24:1-3). They go to perform an act of compassion, a traditional act of affection and love for a dear departed person, just as we would. They had followed Jesus, they had listened to his words, they had felt understood by him in their dignity and they had accompanied him to the very end, to Calvary and to the moment when he was taken down from the cross. We can imagine their feelings as they make their way to the tomb: a certain sadness, sorrow that Jesus had left them, he had died, his life had come to an end. Life would now go on as before. Yet the women continued to feel love, the love for Jesus which now led them to his tomb. But at this point, something completely new and unexpected happens, something which upsets their hearts and their plans, something which will upset their whole life: they see the stone removed from before the tomb, they draw near and they do not find the Lord’s body. It is an event which leaves them perplexed, hesitant, full of questions: “What happened?”, “What is the meaning of all this?” (cf. Lk 24:4). Doesn’t the same thing also happen to us when something completely new occurs in our everyday life? We stop short, we don’t understand, we don’t know what to do. Newness often makes us fearful, including the newness which God brings us, the newness which God asks of us. We are like the Apostles in the Gospel: often we would prefer to hold on to our own security, to stand in front of a tomb, to think about someone who has died, someone who ultimately lives on only as a memory, like the great historical figures from the past. We are afraid of God’s surprises; we are afraid of God’s surprises! He always surprises us!

Dear brothers and sisters, let us not be closed to the newness that God wants to bring into our lives! Are we often weary, disheartened and sad? Do we feel weighed down by our sins? Do we think that we won’t be able to cope? Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence, let us never give up: there are no situations which God cannot change, there is no sin which he cannot forgive if only we open ourselves to him.

2. But let us return to the Gospel, to the women, and take one step further. They find the tomb empty, the body of Jesus is not there, something new has happened, but all this still doesn’t tell them anything certain: it raises questions; it leaves them confused, without offering an answer. And suddenly there are two men in dazzling clothes who say: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; but has risen” (Lk 24:5-6). What was a simple act, done surely out of love – going to the tomb – has now turned into an event, a truly life-changing event. Nothing remains as it was before, not only in the lives of those women, but also in our own lives and in the history of mankind. Jesus is not dead, he has risen, he is alive! He does not simply return to life; rather, he is life itself, because he is the Son of God, the living God (cf. Num 14:21-28; Deut 5:26; Josh 3:10). Jesus no longer belongs to the past, but lives in the present and is projected towards the future; he is the everlasting “today” of God. This is how the newness of God appears to the women, the disciples and all of us: as victory over sin, evil and death, over everything that crushes life and makes it seem less human. And this is a message meant for me and for you, dear sister, dear brother. How often does Love have to tell us: Why do you look for the living among the dead? Our daily problems and worries can wrap us up in ourselves, in sadness and bitterness… and that is where death is. That is not the place to look for the One who is alive! Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed. If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do.

3. There is one last little element that I would like to emphasize in the Gospel for this Easter Vigil. The women encounter the newness of God. Jesus has risen, he is alive! But faced with empty tomb and the two men in brilliant clothes, their first reaction is one of fear: “they were terrified and bowed their faced to the ground”, Saint Luke tells us – they didn’t even have courage to look. But when they hear the message of the Resurrection, they accept it in faith. And the two men in dazzling clothes tell them something of crucial importance: “Remember what he told you when he was still in Galilee… And they remembered his words” (Lk 24:6,8). They are asked to remember their encounter with Jesus, to remember his words, his actions, his life; and it is precisely this loving remembrance of their experience with the Master that enables the women to master their fear and to bring the message of the Resurrection to the Apostles and all the others (cf. Lk 24:9). To remember what God has done and continues to do for me, for us, to remember the road we have travelled; this is what opens our hearts to hope for the future. May we learn to remember everything that God has done in our lives.

On this radiant night, let us invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary, who treasured all these events in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19,51) and ask the Lord to give us a share in his Resurrection. May he open us to the newness that transforms. May he make us men and women capable of remembering all that he has done in our own lives and in the history of our world. May he help us to feel his presence as the one who is alive and at work in our midst. And may he teach us each day not to look among the dead for the Living One. Amen.

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Credit: CNS photo

Learning to Read Signs of Love

Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year C – March 10, 2013
The readings for this Sunday are: Joshua 5:9a, 10-12; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; and Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Chapter 15 of Luke’s Gospel is often referred to as the “Lost and Found Collection” of the New Testament since it begins with the parable of lost sheep (vv 1-7), followed by the parable of lost coin (vv 8-10), reaching its crescendo in the parable of prodigal son (vv 11-32).

The Prodigal Son story in today’s Gospel is one of those rare gems that captivates the mind of every listener, then and now. The parable epitomizes Luke’s gifts as a storyteller — his ability to “paint” a scene with such vividness and sensitivity to human relationships that it can echo with each person’s lived experience.

At different times in our lives, most of us have played each of these roles: that of the doting, loving, apparently overindulgent parent; that of the younger son who experiences being brought low by sinfulness and pride, and desperately in need of mercy; the older son, who is responsible and above reproach, and who is frustrated by the generosity and leniency with which the weaknesses and sins of others are dealt with.

There is some of each of these characters in each one of us.  Luke’s unique and marvellous parable of the Prodigal Son was originally aimed at Jesus’ respectable contemporaries who resented his fraternizing with tax collectors and other disreputable types.

In his 1984 apostolic exhortation “Reconciliatio et Pænitentia” that followed the Synod on Reconciliation, Pope John Paul II wrote: “The parable of the prodigal son is above all the story of the inexpressible love of a Father-God — who offers to his son when he comes back to him the gift of full reconciliation. [...] It therefore reminds us of the need for a profound transformation of hearts through the rediscovery of the Father’s mercy and through victory over misunderstanding and over hostility among brothers and sisters.”

Portraits of 3 characters

In the ancient Jewish world, the right of “primogeniture” (being the first-born male in a family) meant that the eldest son received a double share of his father’s inheritance. Thus, the younger son would have received roughly one-third of the value of his father’s property and possessions. But the very fact of asking for his inheritance (v 12) would have been a grave insult to his father, suggesting that his father was “taking too long to die,” and that he had become impatient with waiting for the old man’s death.

The younger son obviously goes off to a pagan (Gentile) nation (v 13), since no self-respecting Jewish farmer would raise pigs — an animal that was considered non-kosher. The son apparently traveled a long way, imagining that he would find in some other country the happiness and excitement he had apparently not found in his own land. The result was just the opposite: he is reduced to indentured slavery, is forced to tend unclean animals, and being ill-fed, he is slowly starving to death (v 17).

We are told that younger boy “squandered his property” (v 13). Once again, this is certainly a possible meaning of the Greek noun (ousia), but it also has the sense of “his very being, himself.” Not only did the young man recklessly surrender his money and property but he surrendered himself as well: he “lost” who and what he was.

We read that the younger son “came to himself” (v 17). Perhaps it is sufficient to say that the young man came to realize how foolish he had been and so “came to his senses.” That is a prelude to repentance, even if not repentance itself.

The prodigal father

In one of the most poignant scenes of “an expectant father,” the old owner of this plantation sees the son, even while the boy is a long way off, walking home slowly, awkwardly and ashamed of his state (v 20). It is the father who takes the first step, who chooses to go out and meet his wayward son en route, instead of waiting for him to come crawling home.

The father’s actions would have been considered highly inappropriate and a source of shame. The father’s reaction is an overflowing of love, compassion and tenderness: he “falls on his son’s neck,” hugging and kissing him, and demands that the symbols of his freedom and of his status within the family — the best robe, sandals, ring — be restored to him, as if nothing had happened (v 22).

This father would have been well within his rights to turn the son away, on the basis of his deeply insulting actions, and the shame he had caused his family. We can only imagine that village hostility would have been substantial upon the younger son’s return. Village families would be afraid their own younger sons would get similar ideas!

The disease of entitlement

The reaction of the elder son (vv 25-29) is one of righteous indignation: His words quickly make it clear that, although he has done his filial duty, it has apparently not been out of any sense of love or generosity; instead, he feels that he has been imposed upon, has “slaved away” for years for his father without appropriate gestures of gratitude. He focuses, not on what he has been given, but on what he feels he has been deprived of. He suffers from the terrible disease of entitlement!

The elder son is very concrete in condemning his brother’s behavior, speaking of how he has “devoured your money with prostitutes” (v 30). Did rumors about the younger boy’s actions eventually filter back to his hometown and family? Or is the elder son simply imagining the worst about his brother, and describing him in the harshest possible terms?

The elder son has “written off” his sibling in his heart, and now refers to him only as “this son of yours” — he may be your son, but he is no longer my brother! It is, Jesus says, possible to seem to be a son without really being a son in one’s heart, and that is what the elder brother reveals by his reaction.

Isn’t it interesting that the one who was believed to be free, reveals himself to have felt like a slave, and he who remained in the father’s house reveals himself to have felt like an alien and an outsider, not to have felt like a son at all?

Working out reconciliation

This deeply moving parable highlights two of Luke’s characteristic emphases: God’s welcome of sinners and those considered socially and religiously unacceptable, and the rejoicing and celebration that are meant to accompany that welcome, that are meant to respond to the repentance that God invites.

The generous father of both sons welcomes back the youth who squandered his inheritance but does not repudiate the older son who protests the father’s prodigality yet remains faithful to him. “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (v 31). The restoration of the son who “was dead and has come to life.” who “was lost and has been found” (v 32), does not invalidate the fidelity of the older son. The younger son, restored to the father’s household, must make a new beginning in the life of fidelity. Reconciled to God, both sons must work out together their reconciliation with each other.

Does the elder son finally make peace with his brother and welcome him back? Does he find it in his heart to forgive, and to share in the father’s rejoicing? Or does he, in the final accounting, find himself even more alienated than his younger brother had been? Where is the mother in this story? What was her response? We are left hoping for a conclusion that Jesus never provides. That’s what the parables are all about: They invite us to enter into the story and to find the answers in our own lives and times.

The parable of “The Wayward Son” or “The Prodigal Father” or the “Indignant Elder Brother” can cause much grief for us, as we see ourselves and our motives exposed for what they really are. The prodigal Father squanders his own love on our pettiness, our meanness, our diffidence, and our arrogance.

Open fields

For my Lenten reading this year, I came across the little gem of a book “Love Alone is Credible” by Hans Urs Von Balthasar (Ignatius Press, 2004). Toward the end of the book, these words jumped off the page: “Once a person learns to read the signs of love and thus to believe it, loves leads him into the open field wherein he himself can love.

“If the prodigal son had not believed that the father’s love was already there waiting for him, he would not have been able to make the journey home — even if his father’s love welcomes him in a way he never would have dreamed of.

‘The decisive thing is that the sinner has heard of a love that could be, and really is, there for him; he is not the one who has to bring himself into line with God; God has always already seen in him the loveless sinner, a beloved child and has looked upon him and conferred dignity upon him in light of this love” (p. 103).

Ministry entrusted to us

Today’s second reading from St. Paul (2 Corinthians 5:17-21) summarizes beautifully Luke’s masterful Gospel parable of the Prodigal Son. Paul attempts to explain the meaning of God’s reconciling action by a variety of different categories; his attention keeps moving rapidly back and forth from God’s act to his own ministry as well.

If we are reconciled with God, with ourselves and with others, and if we in turn foster Christ’s reconciliation in society, we can make a convincing claim to be ambassadors of the Prince of Peace. Just as God took the initiative in sending his son to reconcile the world, so he expects us to take the initiative to restore harmony to a broken world, to wounded families, and an often-divided Church.

On this fourth Sunday of Lent, may we, who have been forgiven so much, embrace as brothers and sisters every sinner who joins us in the feast of forgiveness we celebrate in the Eucharistic liturgy.

Along our Lenten journey on the road to the Father, may a song of gratitude and joy burst forth in the wilderness of our hearts and the deserts of our vengeance, meanness and hardness of hearts. May God teach us to read the signs of love in the world today, and gladden our hearts at the Word that sends us on our way in reconciliation and peace.

Year C of “Words Made Flesh” will be published by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops Publishing Service during the course of the year 2013. Year B can still be purchased through Salt + Light’s online store. Sign up for our email news letter to be notified as soon as Year C is available: saltandlighttv.org/subscribe/

Homily – Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Earlier today in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI baptized 20 babies inside the Sistine Chapel. There was an underlying tone in Benedict’s address this year. He urged couples and godparents to lead their lives as an example of true Christian virtue even though it may seem unfashionable.

If you missed this morning’s festivities from Rome, join S+L’s Alicia Ambrosio and Andrew Santos for repeat coverage of today’s Mass and Baptism on:

Sunday, January 13

9:00 pm ET / 6:00 pm PT:  Mass and Baptism from the Vatican
Repeat: 1:00 am ET / 10:00 pm PT

Published below is a translation of his homily in English, as provided by our friends at Vatican Radio.

Dear brothers and sisters!

The joy arising from the celebration of Christmas finds its completion today in the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. To this joy is added another reason for those of us who are gathered here: in the Sacrament of Baptism that will soon be administered to these infants, the living and active presence of the Holy Spirit is manifested, enriching the Church with new children, enlivening and making them grow, and we cannot help but rejoice. I wish to extend a special greeting to you, dear parents and godparents, who today bear witness to your faith by requesting Baptism for these children, because they are regenerated to new life in Christ and become part of the community of believers. [Read more...]

The Epiphany of the Lord: Homily of Pope Benedict XVI

On Sunday, January 6 Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass for the Epiphany of Our Lord at St. Peter’s Basilica. During the Mass he also ordained four archbishops, including his own personal secretary, Monsignor Georg Ganswein. Below is the full text of his homily.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

For the Church which believes and prays, the Wise Men from the East who, guided by the star, made their way to the manger of Bethlehem, are only the beginning of a great procession which winds throughout history. Thus the liturgy reads the Gospel which relates the journey of the Wise Men, together with the magnificent prophetic visions of the sixtieth chapter of the Book of Isaiah and Psalm 71, which depict in bold imagery the pilgrimage of the peoples to Jerusalem. Like the shepherds, who as the first visitors to the newborn Child in the manger, embodied the poor of Israel and more generally those humble souls who live in deep interior closeness to Jesus, so the men from the East embody the world of the peoples, the Church of the Gentiles – the men and women who in every age set out on the way which leads to the Child of Bethlehem, to offer him homage as the Son of God and to bow down before him. The Church calls this feast “Epiphany” – the appearance of the Godhead. If we consider the fact that from the very beginning men and women of every place, of every continent, of all the different cultures, mentalities and lifestyles, have been on the way to Christ, then we can truly say that this pilgrimage and this encounter with God in the form of a Child is an epiphany of God’s goodness and loving kindness for humanity (cf. Tit 3:4).

[Read more...]