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Looking towards WYD Krakow 2016 – Perspectives

We talk to the Polish Ambassador to Canada, Marcin Bosacki about World Youth Day Krakow: what to expect, why is it significant, and we ask the ambassador about his own experience as a WYD pilgrim.

Jesus Prepares Witnesses to Himself and His Ministry

Jesus seventy cropped

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – July 3, 2016

The theme of “peacefulness” appears in all three of today’s readings, and there is a definite link between the first reading from Isaiah (66:10-14) and the reading from the Gospel of Luke (10:1-12, 17-20). Isaiah’s poetry celebrates the long-awaited return of Israel from exile and imagines their triumphant return to the nurturing arms of Jerusalem, the Holy City and Mother of all cities.

There is certainly a parallel and a contradiction in today’s Gospel. Both Isaiah’s reading and the Gospel speak of the rejoicing that characterizes the return of exiled Israel to Jerusalem and the return of the disciples after a successful mission.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus, like Israel, is also journeying toward Jerusalem, where he too will be welcomed by the city – only to then suffer rejection. It is in the holy city of Jerusalem that Jesus will inaugurate the new kingdom of God by his passion and death.

The mission of the seventy-two

Only the Gospel of Luke contains two episodes in which Jesus sends out his followers on a mission: the first (Luke 9:1-6) is based on the mission in Mark 6:6b-13 and recounts the sending out of the Twelve; here in Luke 10:1-12, a similar report based on Q narrates the sending out of seventy-two. The episode continues the theme of Jesus preparing witnesses to himself and his ministry. These witnesses include not only the Twelve but also the seventy-two who may represent the Christian mission in Luke’s own day. The instructions given to the Twelve and to the seventy-two are similar in that what is said to the seventy-two in Luke 10:4 is later directed to the Twelve in Luke 22:35.

By ordering his followers to carry no moneybag and greet no one along the way (Luke 10:4), Jesus stresses the urgency of the mission and the single-mindedness required of missionaries. Attachment to material possessions should be avoided and even customary greetings should not distract from the fulfilment of the task.

Evangelization and healing

Luke relates evangelization with healing in Jesus’ commissioning of the Twelve. He summoned the disciples and sent them on mission to engage in ministries that would restore health and well-being to individuals, families, and communities. Jesus also sent the seventy-two, our predecessors, saying: “Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you’” (Luke 10:8-9).

In the sending of the seventy-two, Jesus confirms that through his disciples and those who came to believe through their word, his peace and the news that “the kingdom of God has come near to you” would be proclaimed to all the world. At their joyful return, despite rejection, Jesus rejoices at their success in the submission of the evil spirits in his name: the message is never to cease, never to give up. And yet the call to repentance that is a part of the proclamation of the kingdom brings with it a severe judgment for those who hear it and reject it. As the kingdom of God is gradually being established, evil in all its forms is being defeated; the dominion of Satan over humanity is at an end.

Proclaiming the Word brings healing

For Jesus, healing is never just the healing of the body but also mind, heart, and spirit. It is not just about making people physically better, but it is about hearts made whole, sins forgiven, and a world healed. The very proclamation of the word is meant to heal and cannot be separated from care of neighbour. As we share meals with the stranger, as the seventy-two did, we naturally build relationships, which will lead us to a deeper concern for their health and overall well-being. As we let go of our self-interest and focus on the healing needs of others we will restore God’s covenant with those who have been denied the opportunity for good health.

Healing has always been a significant concern and an ongoing activity of the Church. Reconciliation, healing, and salvation are recurring themes in Luke. Jesus called his followers to repentance and to a transformation of their old attitudes and way of living into a radically new set of relationships and attitudes.

Rejoicing in the Holy Spirit

Commenting on today’s Gospel, Pope John Paul II, in his masterful 1986 encyclical letter Dominum et Vivificantem (On the Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church and the World) wrote in #20:

Thus the evangelist Luke, who has already presented Jesus as “full of the Holy Spirit” and “led by the Spirit … in the wilderness,” tells us that, after the return of the seventy-two disciples from the mission entrusted to them by the Master, while they were joyfully recounting the fruits of their labours, “in that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said: ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was your gracious will.’” Jesus rejoices at the fatherhood of God: he rejoices because it has been given to him to reveal this fatherhood; he rejoices, finally, as at a particular outpouring of this divine fatherhood on the “little ones.” And the evangelist describes all this as “rejoicing in the Holy Spirit.”

Continuing our reflection on the Holy Lands

After the Council of Nicaea in 325, Palestine began flourishing with Constantine’s churches, especially in the three most venerated places: the Holy Sepulchre and Calvary in Jerusalem; the traditional place of Christ’s teaching on the Mount of Olives (the so-called Basilica of Eleona); and the Nativity Grotto in Bethlehem. Some of the works were supervised by Helena herself.

For the pilgrims journeying to Palestine in the 4th century, those sites constituted the core of their interests. Holy spots became so popular and desirable that one of the Christian traditions placed Jerusalem – and specifically the hill of Golgotha – at the centre of the world. This is evident on many ancient maps of the Holy Land from this period. In 333, a Christian pilgrim from Bordeaux made the journey to Jerusalem by land. As a remembrance, but more likely for the benefit of future pilgrims, he compiled a detailed record of the stages and distances on the road both there and back in his important work called the Bordeaux Itinerary.

Here in this city of Jerusalem

St. Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem (349-384 AD) had the unique privilege of presiding over the church in Jerusalem immediately after the completion of the new buildings begun during Constantine’s reign. Cyril is the envy of every bishop, pastor, chaplain, parish council, finance committee, and pastoral minister! Imagine walking into a situation where everything is newly built and no fund drives or building campaigns are needed! Cyril preached magnificent sermons within feet of the actual places of Christ’s death and resurrection. He said of Calvary, “Others only hear, but we both see and touch.” Cyril wrote: “Here in this city of Jerusalem the Spirit was poured out on the Church; here Christ was crucified; here you have before you many witnesses, the place itself of the Resurrection and towards the east on the Mount of Olives the place of the Ascension.”

In the Diary of Egeria (or Etheria), written by a wealthy Spanish woman while making her pilgrimage to the Holy Land between 381-384 (a trip that also included Sinai, Egypt, the Valley of Jordan, and Transjordanian region), we read not only about the vivid impressions made by the impact of the biblical sites, but also her vivid observation of the liturgy celebrated in the shrines. With many details she describes the Sunday and weekday celebrations throughout the liturgical year, focusing especially on the Holy Week prayers in which she participated in Jerusalem. From Egeria’s Itinerary we learn how she enjoyed the cordial reception of local Christians who met all her needs as a pilgrim, showing her biblical sites, conducting appropriate acts of worship in the spots, escorting her, giving hospitality and advice. Egeria’s positive experiences might be very indicative of the experiences shared by most pilgrims at the end of the 4th century, and of pilgrims today who have the privilege of meeting the local peoples of the Holy Land.

Those who settled in the Holy Land

Another pious practice linked to the pilgrimages was settling in the Holy Land. Some pilgrims explicitly decided to set out for the Biblical Land in order to live there, or during their sojourn made up their minds to remain there. Such is the case of St. Jerome and his women companions. After arriving in Palestine in 386 he established a community in Bethlehem. Jerome would exclaim in his writings: “Here, he was wrapped in swaddling clothes; here he was seen by shepherds, here he was pointed out by the star; here he was adored by the magi.” Jerome later wrote to his friend Paula in Rome urging her to come and live in the Holy Land. He wrote: “The whole mystery of our faith is native to this country and this city.” Nowhere else in our Christian experience can make this claim. No matter how many centuries have passed, and no matter how far Christianity has spread, Christians are wedded to the land that gave birth to Christ and Christianity.

[The readings for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, are: Isaiah 66:10-14; Galatians 6:14-18; and Luke 10:1-12, 17-20.]

(Image: Jesus sends the Seventy disciples, Two by Two by James Tissot)

The Only Question That Matters

Jesus Apostles Tissot cropped

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – June 19, 2016

The second half of Luke’s Gospel is one continuous pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the city of destiny. For Luke, the Christian journey is a joyous way illuminated by the graciousness of the Saviour of the world.

Along that way, Jesus asks a very important question of his disciples. “Who do you say that I am?” is the same question asked of every disciple in every age. From today’s Gospel onwards, Jesus is on his way to the Cross. Everything he says and does is another step toward Golgotha – where he will demonstrate perfect obedience, perfect love, and total self-giving.

The incident in today’s Gospel (Luke 9:18-24) is based on Mark 8:27-33, but Luke has eliminated Peter’s refusal to accept Jesus as suffering Son of Man (Mark 8:32), and the rebuke of Peter by Jesus (Mark 8:33). Luke also softens the harsh portrait of Peter and the other Apostles found in his Marcan source elsewhere in his Gospel. Luke 22:39-46 similarly lacks the rebuke of Peter that occurs in its Marcan source (14:37-38).

The disciples list a whole series of labels that people have applied to Jesus. And these names reveal all the different expectations held about him. Some thought of him as an Elijah, working toward a real confrontation with the powers that be. Some saw him as one of the ancient prophets.

When Jesus asks his disciples of their perception of him, he asks what people are saying about him. How do they see his work? Who is he in their minds? Probably taken aback by the question, the disciples dredge their memories for overheard remarks, snatches of shared conversation, opinions circulating in the fishing towns of the lake area. Jesus himself is aware of some of this. The replies of the disciples are varied, as are those of each of us today when Jesus, through someone else’s lips, asks us the same question, and with increasing frequency and intensity.

The concept of “Messiah” in Judaism

There was no single concept of “Messiah” in Judaism. The idea of Messiah (“anointed one”) as an ideal king descended from David is the earliest known to us, but in the Maccabaean period (about 163-63 B.C.), the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs preserved for us in Greek, give evidence of belief in a Messiah from the tribe of Levi, to which the Maccabaean family belonged. The Dead Sea Scrolls contain various other ideas: a priestly Messiah and the (lay) Messiah of Israel (1QSa); a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:18-19) who is also the star out of Jacob (Numbers 23:15-17) (4Q175); but also the Davidic Messiah (4Q174). Melchizedek is a deliverer also, but is not called Messiah (11QMelch).

To proclaim Jesus as the Messiah was a loaded and dangerous statement. It was all that Jesus’ enemies needed to use against him, and already there were many who were ready to enlist under the banner of a royal pretender. But, far more than this, such a role was not Jesus’ destiny. He would not and could not be that kind of militaristic or political Messiah.

Identifying Jesus Today

The struggle to identify Jesus and his role as Messiah continues today. Some say the individual Christian and the whole Church should be Elijah figures, confronting systems, institutions, and national policies. That was the way Elijah saw his task. We only need to read the First Book of Kings (chapters 17 to 21) to confirm this fact. Some say, like Jeremiah, that the domain of Christ, through his Church, is the personal and private side of life. Significantly, Jesus probes beyond both and asks, “You, who do you say I am?” (Luke 9:20)

In Peter’s answer, “You are Messiah” (9:20) – blurted out with his typical impetuosity – we are given a response that involves both of the concepts above and transcends them. The Messiah came into society, and into individual lives, in a total way, reconciling the distinction between public and private. The quality of our response to this question is the best gauge of the quality of our discipleship. Let us remember certain facts and truths about Jesus’ background and world mission that have prepared for Christianity to be a truly global Church:

1) Jesus was born of the political tribe of Judah – neither the priestly tribe of Levi nor the priestly family of Zaddok. Yet Jesus was not a politician.

2) Nevertheless Jesus did have a sense of politics. A world mission cannot be undertaken without serious interaction with politics.

3) Jesus established himself at Capernaum rather than in the desert or in some remote village. In his town along the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, there was a main road, tax collectors, and relations with the Roman centurion. Jesus was very much at home in Capernaum, not in Jerusalem.

4) Jesus bonded himself with all those who were sick and dying, with sinners, and those living on the fringes of society. Through his life, Jesus puts biblical justice into practice by proclaiming the Beatitudes. Authentic justice is a binding of one’s self with the sick, the disabled, the poor, and the hungry. Yet he did not neglect those who fell outside these categories. He dined with the rich and the mighty as well as the poor and downtrodden. He teaches us an authentic spirit of inclusion of all people.

5) Jesus did not preach the political kingdom of David but the Kingdom of God. He had a great ability to appeal to everyone and incorporate everything into his vision of the Kingdom.

Piecing together the mosaic

If you have ever attempted to piece together an ancient mosaic, you would know of the painstaking work involved in such an endeavour. During my biblical studies in the Holy Land, I participated in several archeological expeditions involving the discovery of ancient mosaics. Every little fragment matters in putting the whole picture together. In a similar way, when we attempt to answer Jesus’ question in today’s Gospel, “But who do you say that I am?” (Luke 9:20), we are being invited to piece together a magnificent mosaic.

In the context of today’s Gospel, Jesus will be the Messiah only when he lays down his life for others. Likewise I will be like Jesus only when I lay down my life for others. Jesus’ identity is found in doing the will of God. Luke applies the same principle to all of us as his disciples. Our true identity and purpose is found in going beyond ourselves. This task is a daily one: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). If I lose my life for Christ, I find it!

Remembering Tor Vergata 2000

One of the most powerful and memorable reflections on Jesus’ identity that I have ever experienced took place on the night of August 19, 2000 during the evening prayer vigil at Tor Vergata on the outskirts of Rome during the World Youth Day of the Great Jubilee. I shall never forget that hot night, when silence came over the crowd of over one million young people as Pope John Paul II asked them the only question that matters: “Who do you say that I am?”

The elderly Pope addressed his young friends with words that rang out over the seeming apocalyptic scene before him:

What is the meaning of this dialogue? Why does Jesus want to know what people think about him? Why does he want to know what his disciples think about him? Jesus wants his disciples to become aware of what is hidden in their own minds and hearts and to give voice to their conviction. At the same time, however, he knows that the judgment they will express will not be theirs alone, because it will reveal what God has poured into their hearts by the grace of faith.

This is what faith is all about! It is the response of the rational and free human person to the word of the living God. The questions that Jesus asks, the answers given by the Apostles, and finally by Simon Peter, are a kind of examination on the maturity of the faith of those who are closest to Christ.

It is Jesus

The Holy Father continued:

It is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.

He concluded his memorable address with these words:

Dear friends, at the dawn of the Third Millennium I see in you the “morning watchmen” (cf. Is 21:11-12). In the course of the century now past young people like you were summoned to huge gatherings to learn the ways of hatred; they were sent to fight against one another. The various godless messianic systems that tried to take the place of Christian hope have shown themselves to be truly horrendous. Today you have come together to declare that in the new century you will not let yourselves be made into tools of violence and destruction; you will defend peace, paying the price in your person if need be. You will not resign yourselves to a world where other human beings die of hunger, remain illiterate and have no work. You will defend life at every moment of its development; you will strive with all your strength to make this earth ever more livable for all people.

Who is this Jesus for us? This is indeed the only question that really matters.

[The readings for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Zechariah 12:10-11, 13:1; Galatians 3:26-29; and Luke 9:18-24]

(Image: Jesus Teaching by James Tissot)

Love as We Know It

Love As We Know It Promo

In light of the most recent exhortation by Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, Salt and Light TV wanted to remind people of what has been at the heart of the Church’s concern this past couple years, and that is the family. Salt and Light TV has been a part of this journey of the family with the Church, as Pope Francis called the Synods on the family and participated in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in September of 2015. To better prepare ourselves and our viewers for these events, we brought together stories of families from Canada and the United States to see how families live out their vocation to married life and raising a family today. Now, these stories are given new life in a 3 part series called Love as We Know It.

 

Episode One: Called to Holiness
Premiere time: Tuesday, June 7, 2016 at 8 p.m. ET
Repeats:
Wednesday, June 8, 2016 at 12:00 a.m. ET
Wednesday, June 8, 2016 at 12:30 p.m. ET
Wednesday, June 8, 2016 at 6:30 p.m. ET

 

Episode Two: Choosing Life
Premiere time: Tuesday, June 14, 2016 at 8 p.m. ET
Repeats:
Wednesday, June 15, 2016 at 12:00 a.m. ET
Wednesday, June 15, 2016 at 12:30 p.m. ET
Wednesday, June 15, 2016 at 6:30 p.m. ET

 

Episode Three: Fatherhood
Premiere time: Tuesday, June 21, 2016 at 8 p.m. ET
Repeats:
Wednesday, June 22, 2016 at 12:00 a.m. ET
Wednesday, June 22, 2016 at 12:30 p.m. ET
Wednesday, June 22, 2016 at 6:30 p.m. ET

Filming the World Meeting of Families videos, featured in this series, had a profound impact on many of us. Spending a day with a family, being invited into their homes and into their lives was a privilege. As a young Catholic still unmarried, I was especially grateful to have before me examples of couples who had made it through sometimes difficult situations, or challenging decisions. They emerged not only to have a better sense of who they were as a couple, but as a family. I can think of one family I had the opportunity of filming who was an encouragement to me: the Taylors.

They live in Erie, Pennsylvania; they have three daughters and one boy they adopted when he was just a couple years old. I won’t share with you here they’re whole story – I’ll simply encourage you to watch Love as We Know It! – but what struck me most. Despite the difficult decision to welcome a new child into their home and having to go through the tedious process required for an adoption, they did it together. Keith and Mary Jean talked about it over and over again with their daughters until it was made official. Everyone was a part of the journey. “To want to form a family is to resolve to be a part of God’s dream, to choose to dream with him, to want to build with him, to join him in this saga of building a world where no one will feel alone, unwanted or homeless” (Address of the Holy Father at the prayer vigil for the Festival of Families in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, September 26th, 2015). But this wasn’t a unique event in the life of their family. The Taylor home is open to everyone and have many times welcomed people who needed to rest, eat and play.

As the Holy Father’s post-synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia made its appearance in a long list of papal documents on the family, he reminded us once more that the ‘joy of love’ is the fruit of a family “strengthened by generosity, commitment, fidelity and patience” (AL 4). It came as a conclusion to what the Church has experienced for the past couple years – after calling two Synods on the family and supporting the 8th World Meeting of Families – and as a springboard for a renewed energy in caring for families all over the world.  

Love As We Know It Pic4

Why should particular attention be given to families? Pope Francis gave one answer several months ago to thousands gathered along the Benjamin Franklin parkway at the Festival of Families in Philadelphia, following the worldwide congress on the family: “God did not want to come into the world other than through a family. God did not want to draw near to humanity other than through a home. God did not want any other name for himself than Emmanuel (cf. Mt 1:23). He is ‘God with us’.” In the heart of the family is an opportunity to love: ourselves, God and our neighbour. Love as We Know It is really a compilation of testimonies of love as they (the families) know it, with what they’ve been given so far.

Christ at the Heart of the Family: Chapter Three of Amoris Laetitia

Family cross cropped

Reflecting on the Third Chapter of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family

Jesus Christ is at the heart of the family. Only in the light of his love can the love of the family be fully illuminated. This is the message of Pope Francis in the third chapter of Amoris Laetitia. He uses the chapter to “summarize the Church’s teachings on marriage and the family.” Beginning with “the gaze of Jesus,” Pope Francis calls the Church to see and follow the way of the Lord, who “looked upon the women and men whom he met with love and tenderness, accompanying their steps in truth, patience and mercy as he proclaimed the demands of the Kingdom of God” (Amoris Laetitia, 60).

Jesus in Marriage and the Family

Jesus is the key to understanding family life because, “The mystery of the Christian family can be fully understood only in the light of the Father’s infinite love revealed in Christ, who gave himself up for our sake and who continues to dwell in our midst” (59). From this Christ-centered perspective, the Pope examines the beauty of married life and the family that is born of its fruitfulness. In the person of Jesus Christ, God has entered the human reality and human drama. Human love and divine love have met like never before. God descends to transform human love and enables it to reach divine heights. God has taken on flesh. Love itself has become incarnate. We thus realize that, “The sacrament of marriage flows from the incarnation and the paschal mystery, whereby God showed the fullness of his love for humanity by becoming one of us. Neither of the spouses will be alone in facing whatever challenges may come their way” (74). For in the midst of Christian marriage God is always present, strengthening the love of each spouse for one another by the power of His love for each of them.

Because of God’s grace at work in the sacrament of marriage, the sexual union of man and woman becomes a path of sanctity for the spouses (74). This is because through the sacrament, Christ sanctifies the loving union of woman and man. “Only in contemplating Christ does a person come to know the deepest truth about human relationships. ‘Only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light…’” (77). Christian marriage thus consists of “mutual support on the path towards complete friendship with the Lord” (77).

The Approach of the Pastor

In the midst of this beautifully Christocentric vision, Pope Francis remains ever aware of the “imperfect” realities of modern families and marriages, Christian and non-Christian alike. Since “the light of Christ enlightens every person,” the Pope stresses that “seeing things with the eyes of Christ” means not only caring for those in good, happy, healthy family situations, but is also the basis of the Church’s pastoral care for those “who are living together, or are only married civilly, or are divorced and remarried” (78). In their pastoral care of those in “difficult situations and wounded families,” Pope Francis tells priests and bishops that “while clearly stating the Church’s teachings,” they are to “avoid judgments that do not take into account the complexity of various situations.” Moreover, pastors are “to be attentive, by necessity, to how people experience and endure distress because of their condition” (79).

Pastors are not to be turned off by the smell of their sheep! Rather, they are to care for their lambs as they are, seeking especially those most lost and in danger. To help them in this effort, Pope Francis reasserts the principle that Saint John Paul II outlined by in Familiaris Consortio: “Pastors must know that, for the sake of the truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations” (79; cf. FC 84). The typically Ignatian principle of discernment thus emerges as a key to Francis’ pastoral approach to the family.

The Unity of Life and Love

The Holy Father likewise addresses the questions of life that arise from love in the family, specifically contraception and artificial means of procreation. Affirming that “sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman,” the Pope underlines the reality that this conjugal union is ordered “by its very nature” to procreation (80). “The child who is born ‘does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving as its fruit and fulfilment’” (80). Here the Pope beautifully states that, “From the outset, love refuses every impulse to close in on itself; it is open to a fruitfulness that draws it beyond itself” (80). Pope Francis concludes that the sexual embrace of husband and wife must always remain open to the possibility of life, “even when for various reasons it may not always in fact beget a new life” (80).

Accordingly, new life finds its proper birthplace in the context of love between a man and a woman. “A child deserves to be born of that love, and not by any other means, for ‘he or she is not something owed to one, but is a gift,’ which is ‘the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of the parents” through which “man and woman share in the work of [God’s] creation” (81). Closedness to life robs the sexual union of its profound meaning. Removing the origin of life from the cradle of human love estranges it from its truest identity. The love of man and woman is meant to mirror the love of God, which is never closed in on itself, but springs forth from its very heart the beauty of new life.

In this way, love – and especially love between a man and woman – can be compared to water that overflows from a cup. The very nature of love is to overflow. If it ceases to overflow, no matter how much water is in the cup, the water will stagnate and gradually evaporate, and the cup will become dry. It no longer teems with fresh, life-giving water that flows outward beyond itself. So it is even in the spiritual life: God’s love is poured into us in order to flow out of us.

God has intended the married couple to be a fount where love overflows and gives life. God Himself is the Source of this love and the Giver of the life that flows from it. With Jesus Christ, Love incarnate, at its centre, the family is the place where, despite many difficulties, love and life overflow in abundance.

(Image: CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Reflections of his Light: The Journey of His Holiness John Paul II and the World Youth Day Cross in Canada

reflections-of-his-light-book-blog

All proceeds from the purchase of this book are to make possible Salt + Light‘s coverage of the World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland in July of 2016.

Throughout Pope John Paul II’s papacy, youth has been a priority. When he was elected Pope in 1978, John Paul II said that young people are the future of the world and the hope for the Church.

At the end of the Jubilee Year of the Redemption in 1984, the Pope invited young people to a special gathering in Rome on Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. Three hundred thousand young people attended.

It was at this celebration that the Pope entrusted the Holy Year Cross to the youth of the world. This cross is now known as the World Youth Day Cross. It has visited all the countries where WYDs have been held. In 1985 – the United Nations International Year of Youth – Pope john Paul II extended a second invitation to young people. This time, 4500,000 attended on Palm Sunday in Rome.

WYDCross

These events inspired the Pope to create WYD, which brings together young Catholics from around the world to celebrate their faith. WYD is an encounter of the youth of the world with the Holy Father and the Christian community of the host country. With a renewed faith in Jesus Christ, young people go out into the world to be witnesses to the Gospel.
The first WYD was held in Rome in 1985 on Palm Sunday. Since then, WYD celebrations have been held in Argentina, Spain, Poland, the United States, the Philippines, France and again in Italy.
At the conclusion of WYD 2000 in Rome, Pope John Paul II announced that Canada would host in 2002 in Toronto from July 23 to 28th.
The theme would be, “You are the salt of the Earth, You are the light of the World” (Matthew 5.13-14)
This book is about the Journey of His Holiness John Paul II and the World Youth Day Cross in Canada.
 

Following Jesus on the Royal Road of the Cross

Palm Sunday cropped

Palm Sunday, Year C – March 20, 2016

On Palm Sunday this year we hear two sections of Luke’s Gospel – the first at the blessing of the palms and the second at the reading of St. Luke’s Passion narrative. With the royal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (19:28-40), a new section of the Gospel begins – the ministry of Jesus in Jerusalem before his death and resurrection.

In a burst of enthusiasm, the people of Jerusalem waved palm branches and greeted Jesus as he entered the city riding on an ass. The acclamation: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord” (19:38) is only found in Luke’s Gospel where Jesus is explicitly given the title king when he enters Jerusalem in triumph. Luke has inserted this title into the words of Psalm 118:26 that heralded the arrival of the pilgrims coming to the holy city and to the temple.

Jesus is thereby acclaimed as king and as the one who comes (Malachi 3:1; Luke 7:19). The disciples’ acclamation: “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (19:38), echoes the announcement of the angels at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:14). The peace Jesus brings is associated with the salvation to be accomplished in Jerusalem. There is an internal unity between the Infancy and Passion Narratives of Luke’s Gospel.

Luke is dependent upon Mark for the composition of his Passion narrative (22:14-23:56), but he has also incorporated much of his own special tradition. Among the distinctive sections in Luke’s Passion story of Jesus are: (1) the tradition of the institution of the Eucharist (22:15-20); (2) Jesus’ farewell discourse (22:21-38); (3) the mistreatment and interrogation of Jesus (22:63-71); (4) Jesus before Herod and his second appearance before Pilate (23:6-16); (5) words addressed to the women followers on the way to the crucifixion (23:27-32); (6) words to the penitent thief (23:39-41); (7) the death of Jesus (23:46, 47b-49).

Palm of Triumph

The peaceful figure of Jesus rises above the hostility and anger of the crowds and the tortuous legal process he endures. Jesus remains a true model of reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace. In the midst of his own agony and trial, we realize the depths of Jesus’ passion for unity: he is capable of uniting even Pilate and Herod together in friendship (23:12). From the Cross, Luke presents Jesus forgiving his persecutors (23:34) and the dying Jesus allows even a thief to steal paradise! (23:43)

Throughout his account, Luke stresses the innocence of Jesus (23:4, 14-15, 22) who is the victim of the powers of evil (22:3, 31, 53) and who goes to his death in fulfilment of his Father’s will (22:42, 46). Luke emphasizes the mercy, compassion, and healing power of Jesus (22:51; 23:43) who does not go to death lonely and deserted, but is accompanied by others who follow him on the way of the Cross (23:26-31, 49).

In Luke’s moving story, the palm of triumph and the Cross of the Passion are not a contradiction. Herein lies the heart of the mystery proclaimed during Holy Week. Jesus gave himself up voluntarily to the Passion; he was not crushed by forces greater than himself. He freely faced crucifixion and in death was triumphant.

Role Models

Along the way of the Cross, Luke offers us role models who teach us to live in our daily lives Jesus’ Passion as a journey towards resurrection. As the execution detail leads Jesus from the governor’s palace to the rock quarry outside the gates of the city where public executions took place, they impound Simon of Cyrene, a passerby, to carry the Cross of Jesus. Luke’s wording makes it clear that he sees in the figure of Simon an image of discipleship: Simon takes up the cross of Jesus and carries it “behind Jesus” (23:26).

The phrase is identical to Jesus’ own teaching on discipleship: “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). Those who would live the way of Jesus must be willing to pour out their life on behalf of others. The mere fact of carrying the cross is not what is most important. Many persons in this world suffer dramatically: every people, every family has on its shoulders sorrows and burdens to bear. That which gives fullness of meaning to the cross is to carry it behind Jesus, not in a journey of anguished solitude, hopeless wandering or rebellion, but rather in a journey sustained and nourished by the presence of the Lord.

In Luke 23:27 we read, “Large crowds of people followed Jesus including many women who mourned and lamented him.” A sharing, which consists only in compassionate words or even in tears, is not enough. Each of us must be aware of our own responsibility in the drama of suffering, especially in the suffering of the just and the innocent. Jesus’ words in Luke 23:31 invite us to a realistic reading of the history of individuals and of communities. “For if these things are done when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (23:31) For example, if the innocent one is struck down in this way, what will happen to those who are responsible for the evil that comes about in the history of individuals and nations?

Jesus did not understand his earthly existence as a search for power, as a race for success or a career, as a desire to dominate others. On the contrary, as we read in today’s second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the community at Philippi, he gave up the privileges of his equality with God, took the form of a servant, became like men, and was obedient to the Father’s plan unto death on the Cross (2:6-11). In commemorating the events of Holy Week, we do much more than just recall Christ’s suffering and glorification. We actually celebrate his life and share in his victory. The saving power of his Death and Resurrection enters our lives. And Jesus becomes light and salvation for each individual and for all of humanity.

An Anniversary

Each Palm Sunday marks the anniversary of the institution of World Youth Day on Palm Sunday in 1985. Benedict XVI once described World Youth Day with the following words:

This great event, so ardently desired by Pope John Paul II, was a prophetic initiative that has borne abundant fruits, enabling new generations of Christians to come together, to listen to the Word of God, to discover the beauty of the Church and to live experiences of faith that have led many to give themselves totally to Christ.

World Youth Days, by design, draw in as many participants as possible, and remain a living memorial to Saint John Paul II, who understood instinctively why young people would respond to them. In remarks at the concluding Mass thanking Benedict XVI for his participation in Australia’s 2008 World Youth Day, Sydney’s Cardinal George Pell said that World Youth Day acts as an antidote to images of Catholicism as in decline or wracked by controversy – “It shows the Church as it really is, alive with evangelical energy.”

Cardinal Pell concluded his address to the Pope with prophetic and affirming words:

Your Holiness, the World Youth Days were the invention of Pope John Paul the Great. The World Youth Day in Cologne was already announced before your election. You decided to continue the World Youth Days and to hold this one in Sydney. We are profoundly grateful for this decision, indicating that the World Youth Days do not belong to one Pope, or even one generation, but are now an ordinary part of the life of the Church. The John Paul II generation – young and old alike – is proud to be faithful sons and daughters of Pope Benedict.

Remembering Toronto

Let me conclude by sharing the deeply moving words of Pope John Paul II in his final homily at Canada’s 2002 World Youth Day in Toronto. We need to hear these words, now more than ever. He said:

Even a tiny flame lifts the heavy lid of night. How much more light will you make, all together, if you bond as one in the communion of the Church! If you love Jesus, love the Church!

Do not be discouraged by the sins and failings of some of her members. The harm done by some priests and religious to the young and vulnerable fills us all with a deep sense of sadness and shame. But think of the vast majority of dedicated and generous priests and religious whose only wish is to serve and do good!

There are many priests, seminarians and consecrated persons here today; be close to them and support them! And if, in the depths of your hearts, you feel the same call to the priesthood or consecrated life, do not be afraid to follow Christ on the royal road of the Cross!

At difficult moments in the Church’s life, the pursuit of holiness becomes even more urgent. And holiness is not a question of age; it is a matter of living in the Holy Spirit.

May Saint John Paul II continue to watch over us and bless us from the window of the Father’s house.

[The readings for Palm Sunday are Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; and Luke 22:14-23:56 or 23:1-49]

(Image: Le cortège dans les rues de Jerusalem by James Tissot)

“The Future of Humanity Passes Through the Family”

Holy Family cropped

Feast of the Holy Family – Sunday, December 27, 2015

In the afterglow of Christmas, the Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Family, inviting the faithful to reflect on the gift and mystery of life, and in particular the blessing of family.

Today’s Gospel story (Luke 2:41-52) relates an incident from Jesus’ youth that is unique in the New Testament. Luke’s infancy Gospel, however scarce in details concerning the first part of Jesus’ life, mentions that “his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover” (2:41), an indication of their piety, their fidelity to the law and to the tradition of Israel.

“When [Jesus] was 12 years old, they went up according to custom” (2:42). “When they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, without his parents knowing it” (2:43). After searching for three days “they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (2:46).

Jesus’ mysterious words to his parents seem to subdue their joy at finding him: “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (2:49). This phrase can also be translated, “I must be immersed in my Father’s work.” In either translation, Jesus refers to God as his Father. His divine sonship, and his obedience to his heavenly Father’s will, take precedence over his ties to his family.

Apart from this event, the whole period of the infancy and youth of Jesus is passed over in silence in the Gospel. It is the period of his “hidden life,” summarized by Luke in two simple statements: Jesus “went down with [Mary and Joseph] and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51); and “He progressed steadily in wisdom and age and grace before God and men” (Luke 2:52). With this episode, the infancy narrative ends just as it began, in the setting of the Jerusalem temple.

We learn from the Gospels that Jesus lived in his own family, in the house of Joseph, who took the place of a father in regard to Mary’s son by assisting and protecting him, and gradually training him in his own trade of carpenter. The people of the town of Nazareth regarded him as “the carpenter’s son” [Matthew 13:55].

When he began to teach, his fellow citizens asked with surprise: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” (Mark 6:3). Besides his mother, they mentioned also his “brothers” and his “sisters,” who lived at Nazareth. It was they who, as the evangelist Mark mentions, sought to dissuade Jesus from his activity of teaching (Mark 3:21). Evidently, they did not find in him anything to justify the beginning of a new activity. They thought that Jesus was just like any other Israelite, and should remain such.

School of Nazareth

The words of Pope Paul VI spoken in Nazareth on Jan. 5, 1964, are a beautiful reflection on the mystery of Nazareth and of the Holy Family. His words inspire all of us to imitate God’s family in their beautiful values of silence, family life and work. He said:

“Nazareth is a kind of school where we may begin to discover what Christ’s life was like and even to understand his Gospel.  Here we can observe and ponder the simple appeal of the way God’s Son came to be known, profound yet full of hidden meaning.

“And gradually we may even learn to imitate him. Here we can learn to realize who Christ really is. And here we can sense and take account of the conditions and circumstances that surrounded and affected his life on earth: the places, the tenor of the times, the culture, the language, religious customs, in brief everything which Jesus used to make himself known to the world. […]

“First we learn from its silence. If only we could once again appreciate its great value. We need this wonderful state of mind, beset, as we are, by the cacophony of strident protests and conflicting claims so characteristic of these turbulent times.  The silence of Nazareth should teach us how to meditate in peace and quiet, to reflect on the deeply spiritual, and to be open to the voice of God’s inner wisdom and the counsel of his true teachers. Nazareth can teach us the value of study and preparation, of meditation, of a well-ordered personal spiritual life, and of silent prayer that is known only to God.

“Second, we learn about family life. May Nazareth serve as a model of what the family should be. May it show us the family’s holy and enduring character and exemplifying its basic function in society: a community of love and sharing, beautiful for the problems it poses and the rewards it brings — in sum, the perfect setting for rearing children — and for this there is no substitute.

“Finally, in Nazareth, the home of a craftsman’s son, we learn about work and the discipline it entails. I would especially like to recognize its value — demanding yet redeeming — and to give it proper respect. I would remind everyone that work has its own dignity. On the other hand, it is not an end in itself. Its value and free character, however, derive not only from its place in the economic system, as they say, but rather from the purpose it serves.”

Challenges for today

Today we are witnesses to a worrisome lack of educational environments not only outside the Church, but even within the Church. The Christian family is no longer capable on its own of passing on the faith to the next generation, and neither is the parish, even though it continues to be the indispensable structure for the Church’s pastoral mission in any given place.

As a Christian community and as a society in general, we must do more to encourage the committed relationship of man and woman that remains so basic to all civilizations, and has proven to be the best support for the rights and needs of children. We must reflect carefully on the social consequences involved in the redefinition of marriage, examining all that is entailed if society no longer gives a privileged place and fundamental value to the lifelong union of a man and a woman in marriage.

As the keystone of society, the family is the most favorable environment in which to welcome children. At the same time, freedom of conscience and religion needs to be ensured, while also respecting the dignity of all persons, whatever their sexual orientation.

Two distinct challenges emerge from this great debates of our times surrounding marriage and family life. Today’s feast of the Holy Family issues an urgent invitation, especially to lay people, to uphold the dignity of the important institution and sacrament of Marriage. Support the Marriage Preparation Programs in your parish communities. Insist that in your parishes and dioceses, there are solid vocational programs for young adults and young people. Parishes, dioceses and lay movements that do not have creative pastoral strategies and vocational programs about marriage for young people leave the door open to tremendous moral confusion and misunderstanding, misinformation, emptiness.

At the same time, we cannot forget that other bonds of love and interdependency, of commitment and mutual responsibility exist in society. They may be good; they may even be recognized in law. They are not the same as marriage; they are something else. No extension of terminology for legal purposes will change the observable reality that only the committed union of a man and a woman carries, not only the bond of interdependency between the two adults, but the inherent capacity to bring forth children.

On this feast of the Holy Family, let us recommit ourselves to building up the human family, to strengthening and enshrining marriage, to blessing and nurturing children, and to making our homes, families and parish communities holy, welcoming places for women and men of every race, language, orientation and way of life.

Foundation of society

“The future of humanity passes through the family,” as Saint John Paul II would say so often. Today’s readings remind us that the family has a vital impact on society.

The foundation of society is the family. And the foundation of the family is marriage. The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman. As the keystone of society, the family is the most favorable environment in which to welcome children.

We need young adults to say their “I do” with joy, conviction, faith and hope. They are our future and our hope. Without married people, we cannot build the future of society and the Church. Without committed, married people, we will not have holy families today.

[The readings for the feast of the Holy Family are Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14 or 1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28; Colossians 3:12-21 or 3:12-17 or 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24; and Luke 2:41-52]

The King Who Did Not Bow Down

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Biblical Reflection for the Solemnity of Christ the King, Year B – Sunday, November 22, 2015

The liturgical year ends with the Solemnity of Christ the King. In John’s poignant trial scene of Pilate and Jesus (18:33-37), we see a great contrast between power and powerlessness.

In coming to the Romans to ensure that Jesus would be crucified, the Jewish authorities fulfilled his prophecy that he would be exalted (John 3:14; 12:32-33). Pilate asks Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?” (v 33). The accused prepares his answer with a previous question, which provokes the Roman official: “Do you ask this on your own or did others tell you about me?” (v 34).

Pilate’s arrogance does not intimidate Jesus, who then gives his own answer in the well-known words: “My kingdom is not from this world” (v 36). At once, Jesus gives the reason: “My kingdom does not use coercion, it is not imposed.” Jesus reiterates his point: “My kingdom is not from this world.”

Pilate is very astute. He does not see in Jesus’ answer a denial of his kingship. In fact, Pilate infers and insists: “So you are a king” (v 37). Jesus accepts his claim without hesitation: “You say that I am a king. For this I came into the world.”

For what? To inaugurate a world of peace and fellowship, of justice and respect for other people’s rights, of love for God and for one another. This is the kingdom that penetrates our human history, illuminating it and leading it beyond itself, a kingdom that will have no end. When we pray the Our Father, we pray for this kingdom to come in its fullness.

In this Gospel scene, Pilate reveals himself as a deeply perplexed leader as he encounters one who is Truth. What is there of Pilate inside of each of us? What prevents us from being free? What are our fears? What are our labels? What costumes and masks are we wearing in public and really don’t care to jeopardize? What is our capacity for neglecting and trampling on others for the sake of keeping up appearances, maintaining the façade, or the important job, or people’s good opinion with regard to our respectability, our reputation or good name?

The Kingdom of Jesus

In the Fourth Gospel, the focus is on the kingship of Christ. The core of Jesus’ message is the kingdom of God, and the God of Jesus Christ is the God of the kingdom, the one who has a word and an involvement in human history from which the image of the kingdom is taken. In the kingdom of Jesus, there is no distance between what is religious and temporal, but rather between domination and service.

Jesus’ kingdom is unlike the one that Pilate knows and is willingly or unwillingly part of. Pilate’s kingdom, and for that matter the Roman kingdom, was one of arbitrariness, privileges, domination and occupation. Jesus’ kingdom is built on love, justice and peace.

Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God, the kingdom of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace. This kingdom is God’s final aim and purpose in everything he has done from the beginning. It is his final act of liberation and salvation. Jesus speaks of this kingdom as a future reality, but a reality that is mysteriously already present in his being, his actions and words and in his personal destiny.

If today’s solemnity of Christ the King upsets some of us, is it not due to our own disillusionment of earthly kings and leaders, rather than the kingship of Jesus? The kingship and leadership of God’s Son refuses rank and privilege, and any attempt to be master of the world. In him there is no lust, greed and ambition for power. He, the innocent king who executes no one, is himself executed. His reign completely overturns our notions of earthly kingship. His is a kingship of ultimate service, even to the point of laying down his life for others.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus goes to his death as a king. The crucifixion is Jesus’ enthronement, the ultimate expression of royal service. Because of Christ, the coronation of suffering is no longer death, but rather eternal life. Very few can measure up to Jesus’ kingly stature, remaining powerless in the face of the powerful. Many of us resist with power, even though we resort to very refined forms of pressure and manipulation. Jesus never responded to violence with more violence.

Two crowns

The solemnity of Christ the King has had particular significance for me since I lived at Ecce Homo Convent, the Sisters of Sion Center on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem’s Old City during the years of my graduate studies in Scripture. The whole complex is built over what is believed to be Pontius Pilate’s judgment hall, the setting for today’s striking Gospel scene between Jesus and Pontius Pilate.

The holy sites in Jerusalem, which commemorate events in the life, passion and death of Jesus, often have two feasts throughout the year, feasts that remember the joyful and sorrowful aspects of Jesus’ life. Ecce Homo Center’s “patronal” feasts are the joyful solemnity of Christ the King at the end of the liturgical year, and the sorrowful feast of Jesus crowned with thorns on the first Friday of Lent.

Two feasts, two crowns, two images of Jesus the Lord set before the Christian community to ponder and imitate.

The feast of Christ the King presents us with the image of Christ crowned — first with thorns, then with the victor’s laurel hat, the evergreen crown of glory. On the day of our baptism, the crown of our head was smeared with the holy oil of chrism, that royal oil that makes us another Christos, another Anointed One. We have the power to live faithfully and love fiercely as Jesus did. The crown of glory — Christ’s very own — is promised to each of us. Which crown is found at the center of our faith and our proclamation?

Who, if not the condemned Savior?

Jesus answered the Roman governor’s questions by declaring that he was a king, but not of this world (cf. John 18: 36). He did not come to rule over peoples and territories, but to set people free from the slavery of sin and to reconcile them with God. He states: “For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice” (John 18: 37).

What is this “truth” that Christ came into the world to witness to? The whole of his life reveals that God is love: So this is the truth to which he witnessed to the full with the sacrifice of his own life on Calvary. Jesus established the kingdom of God once and for all from the cross. The way to reach this goal is long and admits of no short cuts: Indeed, every person must freely accept the truth of God’s love.

God is Love and Truth, and neither Love nor Truth are ever imposed. They stand gently knocking at the doors of our minds and hearts, waiting for us to open the door and welcome them. Yet so often we are afraid to usher in such guests into our lives and earthly kingdoms because of the serious implications associated with such gifts. Many of us resist the truth with power, while others will resort to very refined forms of pressure and manipulation to keep the Truth at bay.

As we contemplate Christ crucified, we understand something of why Christ has remained a king even up to modern times: He didn’t bow down. He who was Truth incarnate never imposed himself on others. He stood, waited and knocked. He never responded to violence with more violence.

At the conclusion of the Stations of the Cross at Rome’s Coliseum on Good Friday night in the Jubilee Year 2000, Pope John Paul II spoke these moving words: “Who, if not the condemned Savior, can fully understand the pain of those unjustly condemned?

“Who, if not the King scorned and humiliated, can meet the expectations of the countless men and women who live without hope or dignity? 

“Who, if not the crucified Son of God, can know the sorrow and loneliness of so many lives shattered and without a future?”

Jesus took his wounds to heaven, and there is a place in heaven for our wounds because our king bears his in glory.

On this last Sunday of the liturgical year, our Crucified King hangs in our midst, arms outstretched in loving mercy and welcome. May we have the courage to ask him to remember us in his kingdom, the grace to imitate him in our own earthly kingdoms, and the wisdom to welcome him when he stands knocking at the doors of our lives and hearts.

[The readings for the solemnity of Christ the King are: Deuteronomy 7:13-14; Revelations 1:5-8; and John 18:33b-37]

Marriage and the Family: Humanity’s Future

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Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – October 4, 2015

Rather than commenting in detail on each of the readings for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B), I would like to offer some general reflections on marriage and family life that flow from today’s readings. In today’s Gospel (Mark 10:2-16) the Pharisees once again confront Jesus with the divisive issue of divorce and its legitimacy: “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?”

“What did Moses command you?” Jesus asked. They replied that Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss the wife. Jesus declares that the law of Moses permitted divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1) only because of the hardness of hearts (Mark 10:4-5). In citing Genesis 1:27 and 2:24, Jesus proclaims permanence to be the divine intent from the beginning concerning human marriage (Mark 10:6-8). He reaffirms this with the declaration that what God has joined together, no human being must separate (verse 9).

Jesus wisely and prudently responds to the loaded question by appealing to God’s plan of complete unity and equality in drawing men and women together in marriage. He affirms that husband and wife are united so intimately that they actually become one and indivisible. In answering a direct question that was deliberately designed to entrap him, Jesus was speaking of the nature of marriage and of that only. His emphasis is on its holiness and covenant fidelity and not on the illegitimacy of divorce. The goal of marriage is not divorce and annulment!

Divorce, annulment and remarriage

Jesus did not condemn people who did their best and ended up divorced. He was not judging such people, throwing them out of the community of the Church, or assigning them places in hell. He was only affirming the outlook taken by couples themselves when they stand before the Church’s minister and pronounce their wedding vows.

Today Catholic annulments look to many like a simple Catholic divorce. Divorce says that the reality of marriage was there in the beginning and that now the reality is broken. Annulment is a declaration that the reality was never there. The Church declares many marriages invalid because of some impediment present at the time of the marriage.

Over the years of my pastoral ministry, I have met many divorced people who feel very alienated from the Church. For many, divorce was the last thing they ever dreamed of or wanted. In many instances, it hit them unexpectedly, forcefully and tragically. No one I met ever told me that they looked forward to a divorce. They simply didn’t see any other alternative.

Some divorced men and women have erroneously been told by well-meaning people that they are excommunicated from the Catholic Church, which is certainly not true. Their pain is often enormous; their need for understanding and acceptance is great. They need unambiguous Catholic teaching to enlighten them and lead them to Christ. They need friends, people to pray for and with them, and they need God in their lives in the midst of rupture and brokenness. They deserve our understanding and our prayerful care.

A positive teaching on annulments should be offered in every parish community. Though it may be a tedious and painful process for some people, an annulment can be an instrument of grace, healing, closure, and peace of mind and heart.

The future of humanity passes through marriage and the family

In the papal encyclicals from “Humanae Vitae” (1968) to “Evangelium Vitae” (1995) and especially the apostolic exhortation “Familiaris Consortio” (1981) and the magnificent “Letter to Families” (1994), Popes Paul VI and John Paul II have dedicated much attention to marriage and the family in today’s culture. From the first year of his pontificate, John Paul II constantly emphasized: “the family is the way of the Church.” The family is a school of communion, based on the values of the Gospel.

In 2008, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” the bishops of Canada released a very important document in which they wrote (#19):

“In short, Pope Paul Vl’s encyclical ‘Humanae Vitae’ and the subsequent ‘theology of the body’ developed by Pope John Paul II issue an immense challenge to a world that is too often occupied with protecting itself against the extraordinary life potential of sexuality. In the wake of these two prophetic Popes, the Church, ‘expert in humanity,’ issues an unexpected message: Sexuality is a friend, a gift of God. It is revealed to us by the Trinitarian God who asks us to reveal it in turn in all its grandeur and dignity to our contemporaries at this start of the third millennium. The theology of the body has been compared to a revolution that would have positive effects throughout the 21st century of Christianity. We invite the faithful to be the first to experience its liberating potential.”

Signs of hope for marriage, family life and vocations

To accept Jesus’ teaching on marriage requires the openness of children and a sense of dependence on God’s strength matching the child’s sense of dependence on parents. When love is authentic, strong, sincere and firm, it is accompanied by vision, joy and creativity, new life and a desire for holiness. When married couples allow Christ to be at the center of their project, they experience deeply the peace outpoured by God — a peace that flows forth to their children and grandchildren.

The crisis of vocations in the Western world requires that we rethink not only our manner of promoting vocations, but the terrain where seeds of vocations are sown. This fertile soil for vocations is the family, the domestic Church. This reality is brought about by the presence of Christ in the home, from the graces of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and from fidelity to the Gospel and the teachings of the Church.

There are some voices in our society and Church that don’t have much hope for the sacrament of marriage and for family life. I beg to differ with such voices of doom and despair. Each of us is responsible for fostering a true culture of marriage and family life as well as a culture of vocations to the priesthood and religious or consecrated life.

In recent years, I have witnessed some very hopeful signs for marriage and family life among young adults in various parts of the world. Several years ago I had the privilege of leading two retreats for university students — one for the John Paul II Catholic Chaplaincy of Sheffield’s Hallam University in England and the other for the Catholic Students’ Association of Victoria University in British Colombia in Canada.

The wise, ecclesial leadership of university chaplains — Sister Anne Lee, NDS in Hallam and Father Dean Henderson in Victoria — gathered together some remarkable young adults from many countries of the world. They are the young men and women of the generations of John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis, freed from the ideological strangleholds and liberated from the barren, spiritual wastelands of my generation. Their eyes are fixed on Christ and they love the Church with all of her shadows and light.

I never had more open conversations about marriage and family life than I did with those students in Hallam and Victoria these past months. Many spoke openly about their parents who were divorced and alienated or simply absent from the Church. The students said that they learned from the mistakes and losses of their parents, and wanted to pursue the path of a holy marriage and family life. They desire to have Christ, the sacramental life, and the teachings of the Church at the center of their lives.

I have also been very moved and edified by the young men and women who form the staff of the Salt and Light Television Network in Canada. Their simple and clear faith, deep joy, sterling commitment, visible love of Christ and the Church and ardent desire for evangelization is inspiring. Over the past thirteen years, I have been privileged to witness the religious professions and ordinations of several Salt and Light colleagues, and to celebrate seven marriages of my staff — several who worked with me in preparing World Youth Day 2002. And now we are into the season of baptisms! It is from this generation of children that will come forth vocations for the Church. How could there not be vocations when the terrain was so fertile and the parents so open to the Gospel and to the Church?

For reflection, discussion and prayer

We must never forget that other bonds of love and interdependency, of commitment and mutual responsibility exist in society. They may be good; they may even be recognized in law. They are clearly not the same as marriage; they are something else. No extension of terminology for legal purposes will change the observable reality that only the committed union of a man and a woman carries, not only the bond of interdependency between the two adults, but the capacity to bring forth children.

This week, let us recommit ourselves to building up the human family, to strengthening marriage, to blessing and nurturing children, and to making our homes, families and parish communities holy, welcoming places for women and men of every race, language, orientation and way of life.

In our pastoral strategies, programs and preaching, how do we welcome the sanctifying role of Jesus Christ in the marriage of a man and woman? Are we ready to offer Jesus’ teaching on marriage with the openness to children? What are some of the weaknesses and painful situations that afflict marriages today? Can these marriages be saved and the brokenness in the husband-wife relationships be healed? What is the role of faith in all of this?

Let us pray today for married people, that they may grow in this awareness of the sacramentality of marriage and its capacity to reflect the love of God to our world. Let us continue to help one another to bear the blessings, burdens and crosses that the Lord has given to us. And let us never forget those who have loved and lost, and those who have suffered the pain of separation, divorce and alienation. May they find healing in the community of the Church, and welcome from those whose marriages have borne much fruit.

(Image: Holy Trinity and Holy Family by Murillo)