Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis: Mass For Peace And Reconciliation

Korea13-13

Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis
Mass For Peace And Reconciliation
Seoul, Myeong-dong Cathedral
18 August 2014

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As my stay in Korea draws to a close, I thank God for the many blessings he has bestowed upon this beloved country, and in a special way, upon the Church in Korea.  Among those blessings I especially treasure the experience we have all had in these recent days of the presence of so many young pilgrims from throughout Asia.  Their love of Jesus and their enthusiasm for the spread of his Kingdom have been an inspiration to us all.

My visit now culminates in this celebration of Mass, in which we implore from God the grace of peace and reconciliation.  This prayer has a particular resonance on the Korean peninsula.  Today’s Mass is first and foremost a prayer for reconciliation in this Korean family.  In the Gospel, Jesus tells us how powerful is our prayer when two or three of us join in asking for something (cf. Mt 18:19-20).  How much more when an entire people raises its heartfelt plea to heaven!

The first reading presents God’s promise to restore to unity and prosperity a people dispersed by disaster and division.  For us, as for the people of Israel, this is a promise full of hope: it points to a future which God is even now preparing for us.  Yet this promise is inseparably tied to a command: the command to return to God and wholeheartedly obey his law (cf. Dt 30:2-3).  God’s gifts of reconciliation, unity and peace are inseparably linked to the grace of conversion, a change of heart which can alter the course of our lives and our history, as individuals and as a people.

At this Mass, we naturally hear this promise in the context of the historical experience of the Korean people, an experience of division and conflict which has lasted for well over sixty years.  But God’s urgent summons to conversion also challenges Christ’s followers in Korea to examine the quality of their own contribution to the building of a truly just and humane society.  It challenges each of you to reflect on the extent to which you, as individuals and communities, show evangelical concern for the less fortunate, the marginalized, those without work and those who do not share in the prosperity of the many.  And it challenges you, as Christians and Koreans, firmly to reject a mindset shaped by suspicion, confrontation and competition, and instead to shape a culture formed by the teaching of the Gospel and the noblest traditional values of the Korean people.

In today’s Gospel, Peter asks the Lord: “If my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him?  As many as seven times?”  To which the Lord replies: “Not seven times, I tell you, but seventy times seven” (Mt 18:21-22).  These words go to the very heart of Jesus’ message of reconciliation and peace.  In obedience to his command, we ask our heavenly Father daily to forgive us our sins, “as we forgive those who sin against us”.  Unless we are prepared to do this, how can we honestly pray for peace and reconciliation?

Jesus asks us to believe that forgiveness is the door which leads to reconciliation.  In telling us to forgive our brothers unreservedly, he is asking us to do something utterly radical, but he also gives us the grace to do it.  What appears, from a human perspective, to be impossible, impractical and even at times repugnant, he makes possible and fruitful through the infinite power of his cross.  The cross of Christ reveals the power of God to bridge every division, to heal every wound, and to reestablish the original bonds of brotherly love.

This, then, is the message which I leave you as I conclude my visit to Korea.  Trust in the power of Christ’s cross!  Welcome its reconciling grace into your own hearts and share that grace with others!  I ask you to bear convincing witness to Christ’s message of forgiveness in your homes, in your communities and at every level of national life.  I am confident that, in a spirit of friendship and cooperation with other Christians, with the followers of other religions, and with all men and women of good will concerned for the future of Korean society, you will be a leaven of the Kingdom of God in this land.  Thus our prayers for peace and reconciliation will rise to God from ever more pure hearts and, by his gracious gift, obtain that precious good for which we all long.

Let us pray, then, for the emergence of new opportunities for dialogue, encounter and the resolution of differences, for continued generosity in providing humanitarian assistance to those in need, and for an ever greater recognition that all Koreans are brothers and sisters, members of one family, one people.

Before leaving Korea, I wish to thank the President of Republic, the civil and ecclesiastical authorities and all those who in any way helped to make this visit possible.  I especially wish to address a word of personal appreciation to the priests of Korea, who daily labor in the service of the Gospel and the building up of God’s people in faith, hope and love.  I ask you, as ambassadors of Christ and ministers of his reconciling love (cf. 2 Cor 5:18-20), to continue to build bridges of respect, trust and harmonious cooperation in your parishes, among yourselves, and with your bishops.  Your example of unreserved love for the Lord, your faithfulness and dedication to your ministry, and your charitable concern for those in need, contribute greatly to the work of reconciliation and peace in this country.

Dear brothers and sisters, God calls us to return to him and to hearken to his voice, and he promises to establish us on the land in even greater peace and prosperity than our ancestors knew.  May Christ’s followers in Korea prepare for the dawning of that new day, when this land of the morning calm will rejoice in God’s richest blessings of harmony and peace!  Amen.

Pope Francis’ Homily for Korean Martyrs Beatification Mass


korean martyrs
2014073406korea
Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis

Mass for the Beatification of the Korean Martyrs Seoul,

Gwanghwamun Gate August 16, 2014

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? (Rom 8:35).  With these words, Saint Paul speaks of the glory of our faith in Jesus: not only has Christ risen from the dead and ascended to heaven, but he has united us to himself and he grants us a share in his eternal life.  Christ is victorious and his victory is ours!

Today we celebrate this victory in Paul Yun Ji-chung and his 123 companions.  Their names now stand alongside those of the holy martyrs Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Chong Hasang and companions, to whom I just paid homage.  All of them lived and died for Christ, and now they reign with him in joy and in glory.  With Saint Paul, they tell us that, in the death and resurrection of his Son, God has granted us the greatest victory of all.  For “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39).

The victory of the martyrs, their witness to the power of God’s love, continues to bear fruit today in Korea, in the Church which received growth from their sacrifice.  Our celebration of Blessed Paul and Companions provides us with the opportunity to return to the first moments, the infancy as it were, of the Church in Korea.  It invites you, the Catholics of Korea, to remember the great things which God has wrought in this land and to treasure the legacy of faith and charity entrusted to you by your forebears.

In God’s mysterious providence, the Christian faith was not brought to the shores of Korea through missionaries; rather, it entered through the hearts and minds of the Korean people themselves.  It was prompted by intellectual curiosity, the search for religious truth.  Through an initial encounter with the Gospel, the first Korean Christians opened their minds to Jesus.  They wanted to know more about this Christ who suffered, died, and rose from the dead.  Learning about Jesus soon led to an encounter with the Lord, the first baptisms, the yearning for a full sacramental and ecclesial life, and the beginnings of missionary outreach.  It also bore fruit in communities inspired by the early Church, in which the believers were truly one in mind and heart, regardless of traditional social differences, and held all things in common (cf. Acts 4:32).

This history tells us much about the importance, the dignity and the beauty of the vocation of the laity.  I greet the many lay faithful present, and in particular the Christian families who daily by their example teach the faith and the reconciling love of Christ to our young.  In a special way, too, I greet the many priests present; by their dedicated ministry they pass on the rich patrimony of faith cultivated by past generations of Korean Catholics.

Today’s Gospel contains an important message for all of us.  Jesus asks the Father to consecrate us in truth, and to protect us from the world.

First of all, it is significant that, while Jesus asks the Father to consecrate and protect us, he does not ask him to take us out of the world.  We know that he sends his disciples forth to be a leaven of holiness and truth in the world: the salt of the earth, the light of the world.  In this, the martyrs show us the way.

Soon after the first seeds of faith were planted in this land, the martyrs and the Christian community had to choose between following Jesus or the world.  They had heard the Lord’s warning that the world would hate them because of him (Jn 17:14); they knew the cost of discipleship.  For many, this meant persecution, and later flight to the mountains, where they formed Catholic villages.  They were willing to make great sacrifices and let themselves be stripped of whatever kept them from Christ – possessions and land, prestige and honor – for they knew that Christ alone was their true treasure.

So often we today can find our faith challenged by the world, and in countless ways we are asked to compromise our faith, to water down the radical demands of the Gospel and to conform to the spirit of this age.  Yet the martyrs call out to us to put Christ first and to see all else in this world in relation to him and his eternal Kingdom.  They challenge us to think about what, if anything, we ourselves would be willing to die for.

The example of the martyrs also teaches us the importance of charity in the life of faith.  It was the purity of their witness to Christ, expressed in an acceptance of the equal dignity of all the baptized, which led them to a form of fraternal life that challenged the rigid social structures of their day.  It was their refusal to separate the twin commandment of love of God and love of neighbor which impelled them to such great solicitude for the needs of the brethren.  Their example has much to say to us who live in societies where, alongside immense wealth, dire poverty is silently growing; where the cry of the poor is seldom heeded; and where Christ continues to call out to us, asking us to love and serve him by tending to our brothers and sisters in need.

If we follow the lead of the martyrs and take the Lord at his word, then we will understand the sublime freedom and joy with which they went to their death.  We will also see today’s celebration as embracing the countless anonymous martyrs, in this country and throughout the world, who, especially in the last century, gave their lives for Christ or suffered grave persecution for his name.

Today is a day of great rejoicing for all Koreans.  The heritage of Blessed Paul Yun Ji-chung and his companions – their integrity in the search for truth, their fidelity to the highest principles of the religion which they chose to embrace, and their testimony of charity and solidarity with all – these are part of the rich history of the Korean people.  The legacy of the martyrs can inspire all men and women of good will to work in harmony for a more just, free and reconciled society, thus contributing to peace and the protection of authentically human values in this country and in our world.

May the prayers of all the Korean martyrs, in union with those of Our Lady, Mother of the Church, obtain for us the grace of perseverance in faith and in every good work, holiness and purity of heart, and apostolic zeal in bearing witness to Jesus in this beloved country, throughout Asia, and to the ends of the earth.  Amen.

crop

Proclaiming the Word: Part Five

Homily1

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been sharing with you some of the content from a conference in homiletics that I recently attended as part of St. Augustine’s Seminary’s 100th anniversary celebrations (Read part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4). There are many ways to prepare a homily, but preaching experts agree that homilies must be first and foremost scriptural. They must also be liturgical and pastoral. Some would even suggest that they have to be dogmatic or catechetical by definition, since in a homily, we are learning something about our faith.

One thing that all presenters at the conference agreed is that before we even worry about preparing a homily, we need to prepare the homilist. If the preacher is not a man of prayer, who is in daily relationship with the Word, who is also a man who is in relationship with his congregation (a listener of the Word and of the people), then it doesn’t matter how eloquent he is as a speaker or how brilliant the text of his homilies are.

Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel says that “the homily is the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people.” (EG 135) He adds, “The preacher must know the heart of his community, in order to realize where its desire for God is alive and ardent, as well as where that dialogue, once loving, has been thwarted and is now barren.” (EG 137).

At the end of the conference, Toronto’s Cardinal Collins reminded us that ultimately it is the Holy Spirit who is the source of our preaching. Pope Francis says that “it is God ho seeks out to reach out to others through the preacher, and that he displays his power through human words.” (EG 136) I have to admit that every time I have to preach I am humbled that the words are given to me and that if God is touching people through my homilies, it is exactly that: God is touching people and I am merely an instrument. This is a gift and perhaps I won’t always have this gift.

I do caution preachers that, although we have to trust the Holy Spirit, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have to prepare. It also doesn’t mean that since God will do the “touching” that we don’t have to worry about how we are to deliver a homily. Earlier I wrote that a great writer of homilies, who is a great reader, is not a great preacher. Let me share with you three things I learned about communication while I was in theatre school.

1) Written language is different than spoken language. Plays are written how people speak. This is different than a work of non-fiction. Consider the difference between reading the news online or in a newspaper, and listening to the news on radio or watching it on TV. If you are listening you cannot go back and re-read something that you missed. Because of this TV or radio newscasts tend to be simpler in nature, while the written news tends to have more information.

Look at this news item: “35-year-old wife and mother-of-three, Mary Smith dies in multi-car pileup during winter storm on Hwy 402 outside of London after dropping her children off at school.” Here we have one sentence with ten pieces of information. To read this is OK, because if you can’t remember how old she was or how many children she had, you can go back and read it. If you heard that on radio, by the time you heard the end of the sentence, you wouldn’t remember the first part. There’s too much information in one sentence. If you were to listen to this newscast it would have to be different: “Today’s snowstorm claimed a life outside London today. Mary Smith had just dropped off her three kids at school.”  As preachers we have to consider that people are listening and not reading with us. We have to give them the information in small doses. This also forces us to focus on the important information. Is it important that she was a mother or that she was 35-years old? Is it important that it was on Hwy 402 or just outside of London? Using short sentences forces us to be simple and focus on the essential. It also guarantees that the listeners will remember what we tell them.

Written language is also different in that when we write we tend to use proper grammar and full sentences. This is not something that we do in conversation. Sometimes I’ll close my eyes when a preacher is reading and I’m amazed that it doesn’t sound like they are reading. That’s because what they are reading is written in “spoken” language. I had a pastor once who was the opposite. He never read; he memorized his homilies. But if you closed your eyes, it sounded like he was reading, because what he memorized was written in “written” language (and his tone was always a “reading” tone).

Consider this: “The Lord’s missionary mandate includes a call to growth in faith: “Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:20). Hence it is clear that the first proclamation also calls for ongoing formation and maturation.” (EG 160) This was written by Pope Francis for The Joy of the Gospel. While it is not a lot of information and it is not hard to understand, it is meant to be read. Had Pope Francis spoken this same message it would have been different. Perhaps: “When Jesus tells us at the end of the Gospel of Matthew to ‘go make disciples’, he is also telling us to grow in our faith. The great commission is not just ‘go and make disciples’ or just ‘baptise them’ but it also includes ‘teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.’ That means that when proclaiming that Jesus is Lord, also means that we must teach.” I’ve paraphrased and explained a bit around the key message, because when we preach, I believe we have to do that. Use language that people use, and explain all the things that they may not get. Stay away from ‘big’ words like “proclamation” and “maturation”, even “formation”. Also stay away from statements or phrases you’d never use in conversation like “missionary mandate.” Instead, in conversation you say, “the mandate to be missionaries”.

My advice: Write it like you would say it. If you would say, “Ok, so this guy says to me that when he was about 8 years old he was at like a shopping mall or something – I’m not sure where he was – and there was this toy store. Now, he didn’t go in, but in the window he saw a toy detective set. And he goes, “it was great! It had everything you need to be a young detective.” If that’s how you would tell the story, then tell it that way. When we speak we begin sentences with “and” and “but” – we also end sentences with prepositions – that’s how we use spoken language. Our homilies are spoken language. There is something about spoken language that will keep people’s attention and they will feel that you are speaking to them. Reading a text that is written in full sentences is very impersonal and it’s no surprise that people tune out.

2) There are two types of communication: verbal and non-verbal. Verbal is everything that has to do with words; what we say (or write). Non-verbal is everything else: how we say it. About 75% of our communication is non-verbal. That means that most of the time we are communicating non-verbally. It means that even when we are not saying anything, we are still communicating. It also means that the most important part of our communication is not WHAT we are saying, but HOW we are saying it. (Canadian philosopher of communication theory, Marshall McLuhan had it right when he said that “the medium is the message.”) How we say something helps communicate what we are saying. Non-verbal communication is not just gestures, but also our tone, our volume, our eye contact and our emphasis. Saying something very deliberately and softly shows that it is important – people have to strain to hear it. Using sarcasm changes the complete meaning of a sentence. Putting the emphasis on different words may also change the meaning of what is written. Consider this:

I did NOT say that you stole money. (Empathic)

I did not SAY that you stole money. (But I did think it)

I did not say that YOU stole money. (But one of you did)

I did not say that you STOLE money. (But you did take it)

I did not say that you stole MONEY. (But you stole something else)

These are five sentences that use the same words in the same order, but that have five completely different meanings.

Good communicators are 100% aware of their non-verbal communication. This is probably the main reason why I am against reading homilies. When we read we tend to eliminate all non-verbal communication; everything sounds the same. In fact, what is being communicated non-verbally is that “we are reading.” Don’t underestimate the power of your non-verbal communication.

3) There is no such thing as a monologue. In a  play, even if only one character is speaking, or there is only one character on stage, the scene is always a dialogue. Just because the other person is not on stage, can’t be seen or is not responding verbally, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a response. A good homily is not a monologue, but a dialogue. Remember that most communication is non-verbal. A congregation is actively listening. That means they are responding. They are nodding, they are thinking about what you are saying; they may be falling asleep. All of that is a direct response to what you are saying. If a baby cries in the middle of a homily, maybe it’s best not to ignore it. If you say something and directly across from you someone makes a face indicating that they do not understand what you just said, maybe you need to explain. Remember, a homily is alive. It is a dialogue.

Let me end by sharing with you what a non-Catholic friend said to me one time that she went to Mass with me and the priest read the homily: “If he doesn’t know it, how am I supposed to know it?” My response: “You’re right. If he’s going to read it, might as well photocopy it and pass it around and I can read it myself.”

As preachers we need to share the joy of the Gospel. That means we have to be joyful; it’s OK to smile. We have to be passionate about what we’re talking about. Pope Francis says that “a person who is not convinced, enthusiastic, certain and in love, will convince nobody.” (EG 266) We also have to smell like the sheep (EG 24). Maybe that means knowing them, using their language, walking among them, looking at them while we speak to them, listening to them and not hiding behind a pulpit. Let’s not be afraid to get off script and proclaim the Good News with renewed ardour and light the world aflame with the joy of the Gospel.

Proclaiming the Word: Part Four

blog 2

Proclaiming the Word: Part Four

Last time we looked at why a homily must be scriptural, pastoral, catechetical and liturgical and that there should be one key message (focus) and one suggestion as to how we can respond to that message (function). These are great suggestions for organizing your text. However, no matter what, the preacher must ultimately stand in front of a group of people and communicate. This is where I see most homiletics courses failing (and I’m sad to say was missing in the preaching conference at St. Augustine’s).

Being a great writer of homilies and a great reader of texts, does not make one a great preacher. The first talk at the conference was by Fr. James Sullivan, OP. I will never forget when he said that, “to read someone else’s text is not preaching.” He added, “don’t read at all, even if it’s your own text.” I will deal with this during our last installment of this series.

Before we get to that, after we’ve zeroed in on a focus and function and have an idea of how to make it scriptural, catechetical, pastoral and liturgical, we still need to be able to communicate this message in a way that people will listen and can relate.

Fr. Guerric DeBona, OSB uses another homiletic model that he has taken from best-selling business and executive education writers, Chip and Dan Heath that is labelled, “SUCCESs.” This model is one that makes sense to me and so I’d like to explore how I can prepare a homily to make sure that all  (or most ) of the SUCCESs elements are present.

S – Simple: I have addressed this above. Focus on one point. This is the purpose of having a key statement or a focus. I must add that it does not need to be complicated. Sometimes the fact that it is just one idea does not guarantee that the message will be simple. I am a great fan of children’s homilies. I think most people are. The children understand. The teens understand. The parents understand. By force, these homilies have to be simple. It’s not a bad idea to keep this in mind.

U – Unexpected: This is a classic communications strategy. It is important to keep in mind that it is not done for the purposes of being gimmicky. It can only be done if it makes sense with the focus and function. I think the best example of using something that is unexpected is when a preacher does not have an answer, or begins a homily with, “I don’t understand…” or “I hate this about Christianity…” (I can see how I can “hate” having to love everyone, or the fact that being a Christian means that we will be criticised or persecuted, or that we have to carry our cross.) This can be an effective tool, because many people sitting in the pews will identify with our struggles.

C – Concrete: Again, having a clear focus will help with this. To me, being concrete means that the images and examples that I use have to be tangible. It is not very easy for people who are listening to grasp nebulous, abstract ideas or concepts. We have to give them concrete examples, things that they can relate to. For an idea or image to be concrete it has to be specific. It’s not enough to say, “In some countries they deal with some challenges when it comes to education.” That is too general. Tell them which countries and what the challenges are: “In Panama, most kids quit school before they get to highschool…” for example. Furthermore, it is my experience working in drama and as an actor, that when we have a concrete image of what we are talking about (as when speaking about something personal), it gets communicated best. It is as if the image that we have in our mind, is formed in the minds of the listeners. A good question to ask is, “how does this look, smell, feel, taste or sound.”

C – Credible: To me credibility has to do with the authenticity of the preacher and with the language he uses. If I am using words that no one can understand or language that is condescending or authoritative, I will not be credible. If I am not able to bring myself into my preaching (not that I have to talk about myself), then it will be hard for the listeners to believe me, to relate to me. In many ways, communication is about relationship and as such, a homily is not a monologue but a dialogue. People in the congregation may not verbally respond, but they are listening, reacting; images are forming in their minds. A good preacher is looking at them, his non-verbal language nuancing how his message is being received (this is why I don’t believe that reading a text, no matter how brilliant the text is, is good enough). The CATH White Paper suggests as one of the Preaching Competencies that a homily must be personal. I believe that this is what it means. It has to be authentic and loving.

E – Emotions: This is why movies, TV, music, video games, pictures and advertising are so effective: They are not intellectual; they are emotional. A good movie or song may have an intellectual message, but what makes it connect with people, what makes it move people, is that it speaks to the heart. Advertising works because people are not supposed to think about the ad. If people think about the ad, it no longer works. A good documentary or even newspaper story is most effective when it incorporates something emotional. The easiest way to use emotion is to be specific and to tell stories.

S- Stories: People love stories. Jesus himself used stories to explain ideas that cannot be explained. Some of the most memorable homilies for me have been stories (another reason why children’s homilies are effective).

The CATH White Paper lists that one of the Preaching Competencies, is “Clarifying.” While I have already covered elements of this category (doctrinal, pastoral, simple), I’d like to expand a bit, since this is an important goal of a homily: A homily needs to make a point that is worth making. It is not just giving good advice or a good bible study. A good homily helps the Word come alive in people’s lives and does so responsibly, pastorally and theologically. This is good news. It should be life-changing. People should leave the Church moved to action, like the wise men who “went another way” after they met the Christ, or the disciples of Emmaus whose hearts were burning within them.

Using the above model, in preparing for a homily, I will always ask myself, is it simple, is it unexpected, is it concrete, is it credible,  is it emotional and did I use stories. Lastly, I will ask myself, is this a message that I would like to hear and that is news to me. I have amassed quite a list of questions to help me prepare, but I think that it is a good way to stay focused on the purpose of a homily.

Come back next time and I’ll give you some tips that I learned in Theatre school about communicating a message and bringing a written text to life.

Proclaiming the Word: Part Three

Last time  I wrote about what makes a good homily and what is an image of a preacher.  At the preaching conference, most of the presenters dedicated their talks to how a homilist should prepare. “Prepare the homilist; not the homily” was a phrase used by Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto during the keynote opening address. This, of course, does not mean that a preacher should not prepare the homily. Here’s how I think a homilist should prepare.

A good preacher must first be a person of the Gospels. Both Fr. Guerric DeBona, OSB in his book Preaching Effectively, Revitalizing Your Church as well as the USCCB publication, Fulfilled in Your Hearing speak of being “listeners of the Word” and “listeners of the people.” Not only do I have to be knowledgeable of Scripture, but I must pray the Scriptures. I must let the Scriptures speak to me – not just while preparing a homily, but all the time. The practice of Lectio Divina and the Office of Readings as is the Liturgy of the Hours, are an integral part of this. In fact, out of the eight presenters during the conference, five of them spoke of the importance of Lectio Divina.

When I approach the Scriptures I am not just reading and/or praying. I also go to the Scriptures to look for hope. I must ask myself, where is the hope in this reading? Where is the good news? Fulfilled in Your Hearing suggests that preachers go to the Scriptures asking four questions:

1-What is the human situation to which these texts were originally addressed?

2-To what human concerns and questions might these same texts have spoken through the Church’s history?

3-What is the human situation to which they can speak today? And

4-How can they help us to understand, to interpret our lives in such a way that we can turn to God with praise and thanksgiving?

In order to help the People of God find meaning for themselves in the Gospel message, I must ask these questions. I must ask these questions every time I read Scripture, so that they become second nature to my relationship with the Scriptures.

But, I began last time, by defining a homily as a witness that is honest, truthful and authentic. It needs to be clear, simple and concrete. It also needs to be pastoral, sacramental, liturgical and doctrinal. And so, I need to ask myself all these questions. I also need to zero in on the key message that I hope to share. This will force me to have one message and not a confusion of ideas. I need to think of concrete ways to share and interpret this message. It may require research. It may require looking at current affairs or examples from popular culture. The key message needs to be something about Christ or God. It is not enough to say, for example, that “today’s message is that we need to go to confession.” That is not Christ-centred. The Christological message about confession is that Christ forgives all our sins! That is good news! But, it may not be sufficient to say that Christ forgives all our sins – how do we respond to this good news?

And so an important approach for me is to find a key message. Fr. DeBona calls it the “pearl” or “focus.” The focus has to be about Christ or God. Then I have to find what Fr. DeBona calls the “function.” The function has to be an action with which the congregation can respond to the “focus.” For example, if the focus is that Christ forgives all our sins, the function can be that we need to be repentant and approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

In 1999 the Catholic Association of Teachers of Homiletics (CATH) updated its 1992 “Report on Homiletics Curriculum and Preaching Professor Certification”. The resulting document is titled, Roman Catholic Homiletic Preaching Competencies, but is referred to as the “CATH White Paper”. According to the “white paper” the homily needs to be sacramental and liturgical. One way of achieving this is to find part of the “function” (the response to the “Focus”) in how we respond through the Sacraments and through the Liturgy. It is always appropriate to lead out of the homily inviting people to enter into the next movement of the Liturgy. This should not be hard if the homily is indeed inviting us to praise and thanksgiving.

Lastly, I think that the homily needs to be doctrinal. This can simply mean that the truths that are being shared are not the preacher’s personal truths, but the truths of the Church. We have to be sure that what we are sharing is part of the Teaching Office of the Church. And so, to use the above example – to tell people that Christ will forgive our sins in the quiet of our bedroom, may need some further explanation if we are to be true to the fullness of the Church’s Teaching on the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Being doctrinal may mean, on occasion, that the preacher has to teach an important point of doctrine. This sometimes takes place on a special feast, where it may be appropriate to share briefly about a historical point (why we celebrate the Triumph of the Cross, or the Chair of Peter, for example). It is important, if we do so, that this is not the main focus of the homily. We have to remember that the focus needs to be Christ or God-centred.

And so we agree that the preacher has to be a man of prayer and a man of the Gospels. I spoke the first time that the preacher has to also be a listener of the people; the preacher must know his congregation. Today we looked at some ways a preacher can help focus on what the message of a particular homily is. Next time we will look at some more tips for making your homily effective and memorable.

Proclaiming the Word: Part Two

As I wrote last Sunday, last week I attended a preaching conference as part of St. Augustine’s Seminary 100th anniversary events. It was a who’s who in preaching, with all the talks by homiletics experts from all over North America.

I think about homilies all the time. Not so much because I have to prepare one at least once a month, but because I have to listen to one at least once a week. I’m also a public speaker, and TV and radio host, so I am thinking about communication all the time.

After the conference I dug out a paper I wrote when I was in formation for the Permanent Diaconate for our homiletics course. One of the main questions we had then (and that I still have now) is “what is a homily?”. How would you respond to that question?

Here’s my definition: A homily is a joyful, loving, passionate, clear, simple and concrete teaching/learning, challenge and witness that empowers and encourages to action and to growth the people of God through the power of the Word. A good homily needs to be truthful, authentic and honest, as well as sacramental, liturgical, scriptural, pastoral, doctrinal and Christological. Our homiletics professor, Deacon Peter Lovrick thought that was a tall order.

But I think that an outstanding homily has to be authentic, personal, loving and honest. If I want to be an outstanding preacher, I need to speak with authority and joy. I have to use concrete images, stories and other tools, such as music or art to share the Good News.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a very helpful little document on preaching called “Fulfilled in Your Hearing”. According to that publication, a preacher is a “mediator of meaning, representing both the community and the Lord”. This makes sense to me. It means that the preacher is so much more that someone who interprets Scripture: “The preacher acts as a mediator, making connections between the real lives of people who believe in Jesus Christ but are not always sure what difference faith can make in their lives, and the God who calls us into ever deeper communion with himself and with one another.” The document continues, “Especially in the Eucharistic celebration, the sign of God’s saving presence among his people, the preacher is called to point to the signs of God’s presence in the lives of his people so that, in joyous recognition of that presence, they may join the angels and saints to proclaim God’s glory and sing with them their unending hymn of praise.”

To me, while the above deals with the purpose of a homily at a higher level (that a preacher’s job is really to lead people to thanksgiving and praise) the role of the preacher is much more specific. Homilies that move me are ones that are personal and spoken with honesty and truth. They are pastoral in that they help me make connections between the realities of my life and the realities of the Gospel. A good homily doesn’t always give answers, but helps us see how God is present and acting in our lives, in the midst of whatever reality we may be facing. Fulfilled in Your Hearing clarifies this: “What the Word of God offers us is a way to interpret our human lives, a way to face the ambiguities and challenges of the human condition, not a pat answer to every problem and question that comes along.” In this way, in order for a homily to be pastoral, it has to be scriptural and also Christological.

I was eager to meet Fr. Guerric DeBona, OSB at the conference because we studied with his book Preaching Effectively, Revitalizing Your Church. In it he offers four models of preaching, as described by Robert Waznak (who has written many books on preaching, the most popular, An Introduction to the Homily). The four models are: The Herald; the Witness; the Teacher and the Interpreter. (Preaching Effectively, pages 156-162)

HERALD: The word herald is taken from the New Testament Greek word, “kerusein”, which literally means, “to proclaim”. I like the image of the proclaimer (more so than the word herald) which really does not mean much to me. After all, Jesus himself sent us to the ends of the earth to proclaim the good news (Mark 16:15) and the Second Vatican Council Document, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, states clearly that the primary duty of priests (and deacons) is the proclamation of the Gospel to all. (Chapter II, Section 1, #4)

John the Baptist is the image of the herald for me. While other prophets, like Isaiah or Jeremiah are also proclaimers of the Word, John the Baptist literally proclaims THE Word, who is Christ. He is the voice crying out in the wilderness. (Mark 1:2-3) Like John the Baptist, a proclaimer is more than just someone who speaks. To proclaim is to announce passionately; to declare publicly. Proclaim it from the housetops  (Matthew 10:27) was Pope John Paul II’s message in 2005 to those responsible for Communications. (Apostolic Letter, The Rapid Development, John Paul II) and a message he repeated to pilgrims at World Youth Day 2002. To proclaim requires something important that has to be said. We cannot proclaim in secret. Proclamation requires a large voice, for the message is monumental. If proclamation required a musical instrument, it would not be a flute, but a trumpet!

WITNESS/TEACHER: If the Gospel of Mark ends with Jesus‚ command that we are to proclaim the good news to the whole creation, (Mark 16:15) the Book of Acts tells us how we are about to do this. The author of the Book of Acts describes the same event slightly differently: Before his ascension, Jesus tells the disciples, that they will be clothed with power from on high and they will be his witnesses throughout the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8) If Mark says that we are to proclaim, Luke in Acts tells us that we are to do so by witnessing! Fr. DeBona uses a wonderful explanation of the power of witness, taken from Paul VI’s On Evangelization in the Modern World. Paul VI wrote that people are looking for authenticity, truth and honesty and therefore they respond more to witnesses than to teachers. In fact, if they respond to teachers, it is because these teachers are witnesses first. While the image of teacher is not entirely a bad one for me, sometimes we associate teachers with someone who is authoritative and who speaks above the listeners. Sometimes teachers are more concerned with being heard and with teaching than they are with relating. It is because of this that I prefer to use the image of proclaimer and witness, than that of teacher, although, I do believe that there is a place for teaching during a homily.

INTERPRETER: The last image Robert Waznak proposes is that of an interpreter. This is an image that is also found in Fulfilled in Your Hearing, as we saw above. While the meaning of the word may be accurate, it is not an image that for me conjures up warmth and relationship. To me, an interpreter is merely someone concerned with meaning and ideas. I think that a preacher is much more. A preacher interprets the Gospel into the realities of the listeners, but more importantly does so in a spirit of hope.

ANOTHER IMAGE: The end of the Gospel of Luke leaves us with a wonderful image of a preacher: Jesus himself. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus opens up the Scriptures to the two travellers. (Luke 24:13-35) At the end, they were left with hearts burning within them. (Luke 24:32) Every outstanding homily has left me with my heart burning within me. How do we do this? I think that first of all the preacher’s heart has to be burning. Fr. Guerric DeBona offers a wonderful image: John Wesley was once asked about the source of his effective preaching. Wesley said, “I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn.”

MY IMAGE OF PREACHER: To me, a preacher is like a bon-fire that signals to a great distance and also gives warmth and invites people to gather. A preacher is also like a trumpet playing a warm melody. It carries importance and royal authority. His message is moving and touches the heart. It proclaims and witnesses to the good news. For these reasons, the word that best conjures up the image of a preacher for me is evangelisor.  The word evangelisor, by definition, is someone who shares or spreads the good news, the Gospel. An evangelisor is a proclaimer and a witness. An evangelisor sometimes teaches and sometimes interprets (as Jesus did on the road to Emmaus). I hope to be a preacher who, first and foremost is the bringer of good news. But not just any good news: the Good News of Jesus Christ. I hope to proclaim it, as it is the most important news there is to share. I hope to do so passionately and with joy. I hope to be a voice crying out in the wilderness. I hope to set myself on fire with the Word and, by the Grace of God, this fire will spread to those all around.

Come back on Sunday to find out how I think all homilists should prepare and please, tell me what you think. What do you think defines a good homily? What is your image of a preacher? Share your thoughts with us.

“The Lord has freed me from all my fears” – Pope Francis’ Homily for Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul

peter

At 9:30 this morning in St. Peter’s Basilica. Pope Francis presided over the liturgy for the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul. During the Eucharistic celebration, he presented the pallium to 24 Metropolitan Archbishops (three more were unable to attend the mass and will receive the pallium at a later date in their Metropolitan Sees). According to the tradition, an official delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople was present at today’s ceremony, headed by the Metropolitan of Pergamum John (Zizioulas), co-President of the International Mixed Commission of Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.  Also part of the delegation was Archbishop of Telmissos Job and Patriarchal Archdeacon John Chryssavgis.  During the mass, Pope Francis delivered the following homily that focused on the importance for pastors of placing their entire confidence in the Lord.:

On this Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, the principal patrons of Rome, we welcome with joy and gratitude the Delegation sent by the Ecumenical Patriarch, our venerable and beloved brother Bartholomaios, and led by Metropolitan Ioannis. Let us ask the Lord that this visit too may strengthen our fraternal bonds as we journey toward that full communion between the two sister Churches which we so greatly desire. “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod” (Acts12:11).

When Peter began his ministry to the Christian community of Jerusalem, great fear was still in the air because of Herod’s persecution of members of the Church. There had been the killing of James, and then the imprisonment of Peter himself, in order to placate the people.

While Peter was imprisoned and in chains, he heard the voice of the angel telling him, “Get up quickly… dress yourself and put on your sandals… Put on your mantle and follow me!” (Acts 12:7-8). The chains fell from him and the door of the prison opened before him. Peter realized that the Lord had “rescued him from the hand of Herod”; he realized that the Lord had freed him from fear and from chains. Yes, the Lord liberates us from every fear and from all that enslaves us, so that we can be truly free.

Today’s liturgical celebration expresses this truth well in the refrain of the Responsorial Psalm: “The Lord has freed me from all my fears”. The problem for us, then, is fear and looking for refuge in our pastoral responsibilities. I wonder, dear brother bishops, are we afraid? What are we afraid of? And if we are afraid, what forms of refuge do we seek, in our pastoral life, to find security? Do we look for support from those who wield worldly power? Or do we let ourselves be deceived by the pride which seeks gratification and recognition, thinking that these will offer us security? Where do we find our security?

The witness of the Apostle Peter reminds us that our true refuge is trust in God. Trust in God banishes all fear and sets us free from every form of slavery and all worldly temptation.

Today the Bishop of Rome and other bishops, particularly the metropolitans who have received the pallium, feel challenged by the example of Saint  Peter to assess to what extent each of us puts his trust in the Lord. Peter recovered this trust when Jesus said to him three times: “Feed my sheep” (Jn 21:15,16,17). Peter thrice confessed his love for Jesus, thus making up for his threefold denial of Christ during the passion. Peter still regrets the  disappointment which he caused the Lord on the night of his betrayal. Now that the Lord asks him: “Do you love me?”, Peter does not trust himself and his own strength, but instead entrusts himself to Jesus and his mercy: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” (Jn 21:17). Precisely at this moment fear, insecurity and cowardice dissipate.

Peter experienced how God’s fidelity is always greater than our acts of infidelity, stronger than our denials. He realizes that the God’s fidelity dispels our fears and exceeds every human reckoning. Today Jesus also asks us: “Do you love me?”. He does so because he knows our fears and our struggles. Peter shows us the way: we need to trust in the Lord, who “knows everything” that is in us, not counting on our capacity to be faithful, but on his unshakable fidelity. Jesus never abandons us, for he cannot deny himself (cf. 2 Tim 2:13). The fidelity which God constantly shows to us pastors, far in excess of our merits, is the source of our confidence and our peace. The Lord’s fidelity to us keeps kindled within us the desire to serve him and to serve our sisters and brothers in charity. The love of Jesus must suffice for Peter. He must no longer yield to the temptation to curiosity, jealousy, as when, seeing John nearby, he asks Jesus: “Lord, what about this man?” (Jn 21:21). But Jesus says to him in reply: “What is it to you? Follow me” (Jn 21:22).

This experience of Peter is a message for us too, dear brother archbishops. Today the Lord repeats to me, to you, and to all pastors: Follow me! Waste no time in questioning or in useless chattering; do not dwell on secondary things, but look to what is essential and follow me. Follow me without regard for the difficulties. Follow me in preaching the Gospel. Follow me by the witness of a life shaped by the grace you received in baptism and holy orders. Follow me by speaking of me to those with whom you live, day after day, in your work, your conversations and among your friends. Follow me by proclaiming the Gospel to all, especially to the least among us, so that no one will fail to hear the word of life which sets us free from every fear and enables us to trust in the faithfulness of God.

Appeal for peace and dialogue in Iraq

Following the Angelus on Sunday, Pope Francis again appealed for peace and dialogue in Iraq. “The news coming from Iraq is unfortunately very painful,” he said. “I join the bishops of the country in appealing to governments that, through dialogue, it might be possible to preserve national unity and avoid war.”
The Holy Father also expressed his concern for refugees in Iraq: “I am close to the thousands of families, especially Christian, who have had to leave their homes and who are in grave danger.”
“Violence begets violence,” Pope Francis declared. “Dialogue is the only way to peace.”

The Pope concluded his appeal with a prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary: “Let us pray to the Virgin Mary, that she might safeguard the people of Iraq.”

Mosaic June 29 (2)

Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi’s Homily for Divine Mercy Sunday

Bonazzi-blog-pic

Apostolic Nuncio to Canada, Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi’s homily at Vancouver’s mega celebration for Two Popes Two Saints on Sunday April 27, 2014.

I greet all of you with great joy. I bring and offer each one of you the greetings and paternal affection of Pope Francis. In the communion of the great family that is the Church, Pope Francis is spiritually here with us: he thanks you and blesses you.

I thank your beloved Pastor, Archbishop Michael Miller, who wanted to give me a gift: to be with you and share with you the experience of celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday on the very day when in Rome, in the presence of a great multitude, Pope Francis proclaimed as saints, two great Popes: Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II.

I will first ask you a favor: have mercy on my poor English. I rely very much upon the generosity of your attentive listening. I know, indeed, that the attention and love of those who are listening give beauty and flavor to the words of the speaker. I invite you all to be protagonists in this moment: you, listening with love; me offering to you these modest words! Thank you.

Some beautiful words of Pope Benedict XVI help me to begin my homely. In his encyclical Letter, dedicated to hope, he wrote, “Human life is a journey. Towards what destination? How do we find the way? Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route. The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives. They are lights of hope. Certainly, Jesus Christ is the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history.” (Spe Salvi, no. 49)

Dear brothers and sisters: Jesus Christ, the Crucified and Risen, the Sun par excellence, accompanies us in this liturgical celebration. Let us allow the Risen Lord to take us by the hand. He is among us, just as he stood among his disciples on Easter evening, in the Upper Room, where they had gathered in fear and with the doors closed. We are today the Upper Room, the Cenacle. Jesus himself comes into our midst and says to us, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:26)

Let us ask: who were the people Jesus greeted when he said “Peace be with you.”? We know: they were his disciples, the apostles, who, at his arrest, fled and abandoned Jesus; one even came to deny him!

We are not so different from those disciples. We also – if we are honest – must acknowledge having denied and betrayed the love of God. We do this all those times when in our choices we are saying: “You do not interest me. I do not need your love, nor your commandments. I prefer to do what pleases me.”

What happens when Jesus appears to the disciples and shows them his hands and side marked by the wounds of the crucifixion? It is a moment of great commotion. The Gospel says, “The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” The gospel does not tell us the reason for this joy but we can easily guess. We can think that, in different ways, each disciple may have thought, “I abandoned him and he comes to look for me; I betrayed the friendship of my master and he comes again to call me friend; I thought it was all over and he tells me that everything can start again; we distanced ourselves from him and he reunites us to himself and to one another.” For the disciples it is a new experience of that love which is rich in mercy (Eph. 2:4), and which Jesus taught – let us think of the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-25) – which Jesus taught and especially by his life manifested, taking care of the poor, the sick, the sinners. The disciples discover that Jesus offers them the opportunity to rise up after the fall and that he is calling them to a new beginning.

“Peace be with you” Jesus says again and continues, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” As if to say, “I have shown you the love, forgiveness and mercy of the Father: now you have to be the witnesses of the love and mercy of the Father! Go and tell others that there is no tear that cannot be dried, no sin that cannot be forgiven…”

“Receive the Holy Spirit.” Precisely because it is not within our own strength that we can forgive, Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit who had made him exclaim on the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) As we know, it is on the day of our baptism that each of us received the Holy Spirit. That day a love making us capable of loving as Jesus loves including forgiving, was given to us. Let this love flow forth from us. Let this love come alive in us. The Christian is a person forgiven who forgives; he is a child of God who, receiving the mercy of God becomes merciful.

After reminding that – in the journey of our life – Jesus is the true light, Pope Benedict XVI continues, “But to reach him we also need lights close by – people who shine with his light and so guide us along our way.” Who are these “lights close by”? We know them. They are, firstly, the Virgin Mary whom with profound trust we call “Star of the Sea”, and the saints, these friends of God who are our friends, our treasures. In a particular way we can apply to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to the saints the saying: “Who finds a friend finds a treasure.”

Saint Pope John XXIII and Saint Pope John Paul II are two new treasures, two great friends that the Church gives us.

Pope John Paul II was a great apostle of mercy, by his teaching and above all, by the witness of his life. Permit me to recall with you what I consider to be the most significant example: his meeting with Ali Agca, the young Turk who had attempted to assassinate him. It was on December 27, 1983. Two years after the attempt on May 13, 1981. Pope John Paul II had gone to pay a visit to his would-be assassin in the Roman prison of Rebibbia. A personal meeting of 15 minutes took place. Leaning towards each other – the man who had used violence and the man who had suffered from violence – they looked and listened with love to each other. Once the meeting ended, the Pope went to visit some 200 women detained in the same prison and shared with them what he had experienced in the encounter with Ali Agca. He said: “We met as men and as brothers, because we are all brothers and all the events of our lives must lead us to fraternity.”

I have always been struck by this episode and witness. John Paul II teaches us that all life experiences, even the most painful, lead us to fraternity. It is not true – says the Pope now Saint – that discord and hatred can only generate more discord and more hatred. No! The evil that unfortunately lives within the human heart can be stopped. It’s enough to allow mercy to work within us: mercy which is the gift of the Crucified and Risen Lord, the gift that enables us to overcome evil with good, to transform enmity into friendship, and therefore to increase fraternity within the human family.

In particular, John Paul II has taught us that forgiveness and mercy are something more than pious intentions when they promote brotherhood: in other words when they lead us to see one another and treat one another as God sees and treats us: as his children. For this to happen it is necessary to constantly overcome all those emotional, temperamental, cultural and social obstacles that our personal or collective history may build. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female” – the apostle Paul used to remind the Christian community of Galatia – “for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28) In the context of the history of Canada these words may be translated in this way: there is neither English or French, Filipino or Chinese, Polish or Mexican… or rather… there are English and French, Filipinos and Chinese, Polish and Mexicans – because the Lord respects and promotes our own history and individuality – but above all, we are all brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.

A few words now on Saint Pope John XXIII. He was born in the region where I too was born: Bergamo. It is also for this reason that your Archbishop kindly did me the honor of asking me to speak to you today. Pope John XXIII. What can we say about him?

He who had been affectionately called il Papa buono, “the good Pope” had a secret. He was faithful to a resolution made as a young priest: to transform into an opportunity for goodness every situation of life, thanks to the power of prayer and charity. He pledged to keep himself from all bitterness, to avoid anger and personal outbursts, to have for all a happy and smiling patience. He made as his own, the aspiration taken from the Gospel, “Jesus, meek and humble of heart (Mt. 11:29), make my heart like unto thine.” Belonging to a family of humble and modest farmers, he knew that it was precisely the meek and gentle that Jesus promised would “inherit the earth.” (Mt. 5:5) Yes, in the end, it is neither violence nor arrogance but goodness, the spirit of kindness, gentleness and peace that conquers hearts. Of all these things, Saint Pope John XXIII is a living example.

Lord, help us to be instruments of peace and mercy. Help us to give and to receive pardon. Help us to see in others not strangers but brothers and sisters, perhaps different but always brothers and sisters, and to work together to build a civilization of love. Then we will rejoice. Then all of us, like the disciples when they saw the Lord, will experience joy. The true joy. Amen.

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...]