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Sharing the new life within us: A reflection on the Feast of the Visitation

Visitation cropped

Feast of the Visitation – Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Today’s feast of the Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth invites us into a deeply personal moment of the Scriptures (Luke 1:39-56). The Precursor and the Lord are both hidden from each other. Yet even before the two women embrace, John leaped for joy in his mother’s womb, having recognized the presence of the Lord and Messiah in the womb of Mary. Both births are hailed by two beautiful canticles: the Benedictus sung by Zechariah, father of the Baptist at his son’s birth (1:68-79) and the Nunc Dimittis prayed by Simeon, the “righteous and devout” man in the Jerusalem temple, as he takes the infant Jesus in his arms (2:22-35).

There are two aspects of the Visitation scene to consider. The first is that any element of personal agenda of Mary and Elizabeth is put aside. Both had good reason to be very preoccupied with their pregnancies and all that new life brings. Both women had a right to focus on themselves for a while as they made new and radical adjustments to their daily lives. Mary reaches out to her kinswoman to help her and also to be helped by her. These two great biblical women consoled each another, shared their stories, and gave each other the gift of themselves in the midst of the new life that they must have experienced: Elizabeth after her long years of barrenness and now sudden pregnancy, and Mary, after her meeting with the heavenly messenger, and her “irregular” marriage situation and pregnancy.

Visitation IconThe second point of this moving story is Mary’s haste. Luke tells us that she undertook in haste the long and perilous trek from Nazareth to a village in the hill country of Judea. She knew clearly what she wanted and did not allow anyone or anything to stop her.

In his commentary on Luke’s Gospel, St. Ambrose of Milan describes this haste with an almost untranslatable Latin phrase, “nescit tarda molimina Spiritus Sancti gratia” which could mean: “the grace of the Holy Spirit does not know delayed efforts’ or ‘delayed efforts are foreign to the grace of the Holy Spirit.” Mary’s free choice to move forward and outward is reflective of a decision taken deep within her heart followed by immediate action.

How many things exist in our lives that we dreamed of doing, should have done, and never did? Letters that should have been written, dreams that should have been realized, gratitude that was not expressed, affection never shown, words that should have been said, etc.? Postponements and delays weigh heavily upon us, wear us down and discourage us. They gnaw away at us. How true St. Ambrose described Mary’s haste: the Spirit completely possessed the Virgin Daughter of Nazareth and compelled her to act. Such possession by God’s Spirit is the only possession worthwhile, life-giving, hopeful and joyful.

The story of the Visitation teaches us an important lesson: when Christ is growing inside of us, we will be led to people, places and situations that we never dreamed of. We will bear words of consolation and hope that are not our own. In the very act of consoling others, we will be consoled. We will be at peace, recollected, because we know that however insignificant our life and issues seem to be, from them Christ is forming himself. The women of today’s Gospel show us that it is possible to move beyond our own little personal agendas and engage in authentic ministry.

Ministry is not simply doing things for others, loving difficult people, serving the poor, teaching others. Authentic ministers allow themselves to serve and be served, taught, cared for, consoled and loved. Such moments liberate us and enable us to sing Magnificat along the journey, and celebrate the great things that God does for us and our people.

Consider the words of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997) on this feast:

In the mystery of the Annunciation and the Visitation, Mary is the very model of the life we should lead. First of all, she welcomed Jesus in her existence; then, she shared what she had received. Every time we receive Holy Communion, Jesus the Word becomes flesh in our life – gift of God who is at one and the same time beautiful, kind, unique. Thus, the first Eucharist was such: Mary’s offering of her Son in her, in whom he had set up the first altar. Mary, the only one who could affirm with absolute confidence, “this is my body”, from that first moment offered her own body, her strength, all her being, to form the Body of Christ.

(Images: Visitation by Ghirlandaio; Icon of the Visitation)

Pope Francis’ Prayer Intentions for May 2016


Join us in prayer for the intentions entrusted to us by Pope Francis. For March 2016, we join the Holy Father in praying for:

  • Respect for Women – That in every country of the world, women may be honored. 
  • Holy Rosary – That families, communities and groups may pray the Holy Rosary for evangelization and peace. 

Daily Offering Prayer
God, our Father, I offer You my day. I offer You my prayers, thoughts, words, actions, joys, and sufferings in union with the Heart of Jesus, who continues to offer Himself in the Eucharist for the salvation of the world. May the Holy Spirit, Who guided Jesus, be my guide and my strength today so that I may witness to your love. With Mary, the mother of our Lord and the Church, I pray for all Apostles of Prayer and for the prayer intentions proposed by the Holy Father this month. Amen.

Traditional Daily Offering of the Apostleship of Prayer
O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart: the salvation of souls, reparation for sin, and the reunion of all Christians. I offer them for the intentions of our bishops and of all Apostles of Prayer, and in particular for those recommended by our Holy Father this month. The Apostles of Prayer offer themselves to God each day for the good of the world, the Church, one another, and the Holy Father’s intentions.

Thank you for praying with us!

In a tradition that is centuries old, the Apostleship of Prayer publishes the Pope’s monthly prayer intentions. To become a member of the Apostleship of Prayer, you need only to offer yourself to God for his purposes each day. When you give God all the “prayers, works, joys and sufferings” of your day, you turn your entire day into a prayer for others. You are joining your will to God’s will. If you feel called to this simple, profound way of life, find out more at Apostleship of Prayer.

Caption: A woman prays in Cali, Colombia, in this April 13, 2014, file photo. (CNS photo/Christian Escobar Mora, EPA) See VATICAN-LETTER-WOMENS-DAY March 9, 2016.

Said Judas to Mary now what will you do? – Sydney Carter

Woman anointing Jesus' Feet

Said Judas to Mary now what will you do
With your ointment so rich and so rare?
I’ll pour it all over the feet of the Lord
And I’ll wipe it away with my hair, she said,
I’ll wipe it away with my hair

O Mary, O Mary, O think of the poor,
This ointment it could have been sold
And think of the blankets and think of the bread
You could buy with the silver and gold he said
You could buy with the silver and gold

Tomorrow, tomorrow I’ll think of the poor
Tomorrow she said not today
For dearer than all of the poor in the world
Is my love who is going away she said
My love who is going away

Said Jesus to Mary, “Your love is so deep,
Today you may do as you will.
Tomorrow you say I am going away,
But my body I leave with you still,” He said,
“My body I leave with you still.”

“The poor of the world Are my body,” He said
“To the end of the world they shall be.
The bread and the blankets You give to the poor
You’ll know you have given to me,” He said,
“You’ll know you have given to me.”

“My body will hang On the cross of the world,
Tomorrow,” He said, “Not today.
And Martha and Mary Will find me again
And wash all the sorrow away,” He said,
“And wash all the sorrow away.

-Sydney Carter

The Home of Joseph, the Just One in Nazareth – A Reflection on the Feast of St. Joseph


The house of Nutrition, Nazareth

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

One of the highlights of our recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land was the time spent in Nazareth and the visit to the excavations under the convent of the Sisters of Nazareth. While Nazareth is well known for the imposing Basilica of the Annunciation, built over the grotto of the Annunciation to Mary, and entrusted to the care of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, less known are the fascinating excavations under the convent of the Sisters of Nazareth just across the street from the Annunciation Basilica. The relatively unknown site of the Sisters of Nazareth has revealed a house dating to the first century and now thought to be the place where Jesus was brought up by Mary and Joseph. The house is partly made of mortar-and-stone walls, and was cut into a rocky hillside. These excavations are slowly coming to be recognized as the “House and Church of the Nutrition” (where the Holy Family settled and lived) and the nearby tomb of the Just One of Nazareth, St. Joseph.

The first excavations at the convent date back to 1884. At that time, the sisters were repairing a cistern in their cellar when they uncovered some ancient stonework, which turned out to be an underground room with a vault. The Sisters and the young girls at their school, with some workmen, dug further, and unearthed other stone structures, including two rock-cut tombs. In 1936, when Jesuit priest Henri Senès, who was an architect before becoming a priest, visited the site, he recorded in great detail the structures the Sisters had uncovered in their basement. His work remained unpublished and so it was unknown to anyone but the Sisters and the people who visited their convent. The famous Italian Franciscan archeologist, Fr. Bellarmino Bagatti (1905-1990), who investigated the site in 1937, thought the whole complex consisted of tombs. That was the opinion of most experts at that time. It seemed impossible that a Jewish house could have been built near a tomb because Jewish purity laws would have forbidden it.

In 2006, the Sisters granted the Nazareth Archaeological Project full access to the site, including Fr. Senès drawings and notes, which they had carefully stored. Archaeologists led by Ken Dark, a professor at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, and other archaeologists surveyed the site, and by combining their findings, a new analysis of Fr. Senès’ findings, notes from the Sisters’ earlier excavations and other information, reconstructed the development of the site from the first century to the present. They dated the house to the first century, and identified it as the place where people, who lived centuries after Jesus’ time, believed Jesus was raised by Mary and Joseph. “Was this the house where Jesus grew up? It is impossible to say on archaeological grounds,” Professor Dark wrote in an article published in the magazine Biblical Archaeology Review. “On the other hand, there is no good archaeological reason why such an identification should be discounted.”

Professor Dark and his team have uncovered evidence of a Crusader-era church, as well as an earlier Byzantine one, all built over the first-century stone structure. They discovered that centuries after Jesus lived, the Church of the Nutrition was built around this house and the two adjacent tombs, but the church fell into disuse in the eighth century. It was rebuilt in the 12th century, when Crusaders controlled the area, only to be burnt down in the 13th century. Both the tombs and the house were decorated with mosaics in the Byzantine period, suggesting that they were of special importance, and possibly venerated by pilgrims.

Professor Dark became convinced that this structure was venerated as the home of the Holy Family. He also discovered that the tombs were cut into the walls of the house and must have been built after it was abandoned; this would not conflict with Jewish purity laws. In fact Dark found that the rock tombs on each side of the structure precisely match a detail mentioned in the pilgrim account of Arculf, a French bishop who visited the Church of the Nutrition in the year 670 and mentioned in his pilgrimage account a church “where once there was the house in which the Lord was nourished in his infancy.” This led Dark to believe it is the same church described in Arculf’s account.


The Tomb of Joseph, Nazareth

The tomb adjacent to the first-century house is today commonly called ‘the Tomb of the Just One,’ and it was certainly venerated in the Crusader period, so perhaps they thought it was the tomb of St. Joseph.

I would like to borrow from my new profession of television production and zoom in on St. Joseph on his feast day – March 19. To “zoom” in on the foster father of the Lord gives us some profound insights into the family background of our Savior and the place where he may have been raised in Nazareth. Joseph is often overshadowed by the glory of Christ and the purity of Mary. But he, too, waited for God to speak to him and then responded with obedience. Luke and Matthew both mark Joseph’s descent from David, the greatest king of Israel (Matthew 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38). Scripture has left us with the most important knowledge about him: he was “a righteous man” (Matthew 1:18).

Joseph was a compassionate, caring man. When he discovered Mary was pregnant after they had been engaged, he knew the child was not his but was as yet unaware that she was carrying the Son of God. He planned to divorce Mary according to the law but he was concerned for her suffering and safety. Joseph was also a man of faith, obedient to whatever God asked of him without knowing the outcome. When the angel came to Joseph in a dream and told him the truth about the child Mary was carrying, Joseph immediately and without question or concern for gossip, took Mary as his wife. When the angel came again to tell him that his family was in danger, he immediately left everything he owned, all his family and friends, and fled to a strange country with his young wife and the baby. He waited in Egypt until the angel told him it was safe to go back (Matthew 2:13-23). Holy Family Statue Nazareth

We are told that Joseph was a carpenter, (more likely a builder), a man who worked to provide for his family. Joseph wasn’t a wealthy man, for when he took Jesus to the Temple to be circumcised and Mary to be purified he offered the sacrifice of two turtledoves or a pair of pigeons, allowed only for those who could not afford a lamb.

Joseph revealed in his humanity the unique role of fathers to proclaim God’s truth by word and deed. His paradoxical situation of “foster father to Jesus” draws attention to the truth about fatherhood, which is more than a mere fact of biological generation. A man is a father most when he invests himself in the spiritual and moral formation of his children. He was keenly aware, as every father should be, that he served as the representative of God the Father.

Joseph protected and provided for Jesus and Mary. He named Jesus, taught him how to pray, how to work, how to be a man. While no words or texts are attributed to him, we can be sure that Joseph pronounced two of the most important words that could ever be spoken when he named his son “Jesus” and called him “Emmanuel.” When the child stayed behind in the Temple we are told Joseph (along with Mary) searched with great anxiety for three days for him (Luke 2:48).

Joseph’s life reminds us that a home or community is not built on power and possessions but goodness; not on riches and wealth, but on faith, fidelity, purity and mutual love.

Visiting the extraordinary excavations at the convent of the Sisters of Nazareth, I cannot help but think of Joseph’s key role in salvation history, how he loved his wife, Mary, and how he taught his son so many things. The entire circumstances surrounding the discovery of the excavations in Nazareth, revealing what may indeed be the home of the Holy Family and the final resting place of St. Joseph, is a deeply moving experience and an opportunity to remember this quiet, humble, just servant of the Lord who still has much to teach us today.
The present challenges to fatherhood and masculinity cannot be understood in isolation from the culture in which we live. The effect of fatherlessness on children is deeply alarming. How many young people today have been affected by the crisis of fatherhood and paternity! How many have been deprived of a father or grandfather in their life?

It is not for naught that St. Joseph is patron of the Universal Church and principal patron of Canada. If there was ever a time when we needed a strong, holy, male role model who is a father, it is our time. And the feast of the St. Joseph this year is a very significant day to go to Joseph and beg him to send us good fathers who will head families. Joseph and Mary, more than anyone else, were the first to behold the glory of their One and Only who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Let us pray that we may imitate the humble worker from Nazareth, who listened to the Lord, treasured a gift that was not his, all the while modeling to Jesus how our own words must become flesh each day of our lives. From Nazareth’s latest discoveries, may we learn from Joseph’s example of transforming our own homes and communities into houses and centres of “nutrition” where we feed not only the body but the soul of each and every person who comes to us.

For more information:

The Antiquaries Journal,




The Simplicity of the Holy Family in Nazareth Village – #SLPilgrimage


Two weeks ago,a few of us at Salt and Light went on a pilgrimage in the Holy Land to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. In Galilee, we made our way to the place where the Holy Family’s life began, in Nazareth, where God became incarnate through His mother.

It is in this city located in the north of Israel where Mary, Joseph and Jesus experienced the simplicity of family life, of a humble life, offered to God, with all the tasks of a normal life: home maintenance, manual labor, education of Jesus, family prayer, social life…

In Nazareth, we can contemplate the spirituality of this Holy Family, which everyone can imitate in simplicity. The Holy Family of Nazareth leads a modest life. Neither poor nor rich, the family earns its daily bread by the sweat of the brow and respects the laws of its people. The family’s life is marked by prayer in the synagogue, ritual and many Judaic feasts.

But behind this modest life, the holy family lives in a reality outside the norm, with the birth of Jesus the son of God and Savior of the world.

The testimony of Jesus and his parents also show how radiant a family becomes when they lead a life in God, in simplicity and shared love. Whether we are father, mother or child, each one of us can follow the example of Joseph, Mary and Jesus.

Joseph is not a monk, but a layman. He is not an intellectual, but a craftsman. His conduct is an inspiration to husbands and fathers. Joseph the carpenter is one who gives bread and provides for the home, his wife and his son. He is a man obedient to God since, without delay, “he took with him his wife” (Mt 1, 24). He is a loving husband and a protective father as he took his family and fled to Egypt to save the life of the child Jesus. By his example and by initiating him to the practice of a carpenter Joseph enables Jesus to fit into the world of work and social life. Through his fatherhood he makes his home, with the cooperation Mary, a favorable environment for the growth and personal maturation of his son. We also know Joseph to be just and respectful of human laws: he goes to Bethlehem for the census. He circumcises Jesus. He presents him to the Lord when the days of purification of Mary are fulfilled. He travels with his wife every year to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. By his conduct, Saint Joseph reminds today’s fathers that one’s main concern should be to follow the will of God. As husband, he does not hesitate to sacrifice his human aspirations to allow Mary to be the Mother of God and fulfill within her his divine project.

Mary as mother lives in the daily routine of all mothers. She knows, like all other mothers, the joy of bringing a child into the world, the joy of seeing that child grow, and receive affection and tenderness. Like all other mothers, she also knows the day-to-day worries of a mother. She feels particularly anxious for her child, during the three days she and Joseph are looking for Jesus when he remained with the doctors of the temple. Like any mother, she knows the pain of seeing her son leave home, when Jesus begins his public life permanently. Mary is the mother par excellence. Not only does she help him grow “in wisdom, age and grace” (Lk 2, 52), she prepares him for his mission. She introduces him to the culture and traditions of the people of Israel. She also bears with him his sorrows and sufferings until his last breath on the cross. As a deeply loving mother, she could have tried to avoid the via dolorosa that was announced to her. But she does not seek to prevent her Son from doing the Father’s will. Not only did she agree to give up her only son, but at the hour when men take him away, she agrees to become the Mother of all men: “Behold your son,” said the Savior to Mary standing beside John at the foot of the cross. Far from being a possessive mother, she is a model of generosity, obedience and unconditional love. It is her YES that opens us to the incarnation of God and our own redemption.

Jesus meanwhile, during his hidden life in Nazareth, remains in the silence of an ordinary existence, and shares the condition of most men who lead a regular life: a life of manual labor, a religious life subjected the law of God, and a communal life. During his hidden years in Nazareth Jesus does not remain idle. Luke tells us that he continues to grow in wisdom, in stature and in favor with God and with man. Jesus in fact is given spiritual and religious formation and becomes an apprentice in his father’s workshop. Jesus we are told again, is a child obedient to his parents, which perfectly fulfills the 4th commandment. He is a loving son, moved by his mother’s tears. Jesus went through all the steps. In the womb, he experienced the fragility of a baby. He passed through the growth of adolescence and youth, and later fatigue, work, pain and suffering until death. He did not speed up the process. He observed every law, in humility and obedience. His life is an example of modesty and simple acceptance of the law. His example allows us to be in communion with him in a daily life made of prayer, work and family love.

This simplicity of Jesus and his parents in Nazareth is a lesson for every family. Nazareth teaches us what is family, its beauty and sacredness. The Holy Family of Nazareth is a temple of grace that shows us how to sanctify daily life through the example of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus.

Charles Le Bourgeois is a French producer for Salt + Light. Follow him on Twitter!

In the Lands Touched by God: Grateful Memories of Israel, Palestine and Jordan


We just ended a very historic pilgrimage/retreat in God’s lands. It surpassed anything I had hoped for or dreamt of over the past months… To have had the prvilege of leading 35 fellow pilgrims from across Canada and the USA as well as 14 members of our Salt and Light Television Network Staff, was a tremendous blessing. The reflections we filmed at the various locations, in English, French, Italian and Chinese languages will begin airing on our network over the next weeks and months.

Our recent Holy Lands experience made us all become a real part of the history and geography of Salvation which began in these very lands. It is a beautiful story of how God can write straight with our crooked lines.


Tourists pass quickly through places, but the places pass slowly through pilgrims, leaving them forever changed. And each of us has returned to our homes changed, renewed, strengthened in our faith and commitment to serve the Lord and the Church from our various states of life. On the long journey home on Sunday from Jordan and all day Monday and Tuesday of this week, the images and memories of the past twelve days were swirling in my mind and heart. What did this amazing pilgrimage in Israel, Palestine and Jordan teach us? The biblical story is one long pilgrimage, and a model of pilgrimage for believers. At Salt and Light Television, we who are entrusted with the ministry of communicating the good news and stories of hope and inspiration had a unique opportunity to recharge our batteries and renew our faith and belief in God and his Son, Jesus.

We visited the places mentioned in the scriptures. We experienced splendid liturgies, listened patiently to guides and others explain many things to us, encountered local people and the local communities of the three great monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Suddenly, our own meagre, pinched lives became part of this great story of salvation. Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam, Isaiah and Deborah, Mary, Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the disciples, Nathanael from Cana, the woman of Samaria, Cleopas and his wife, the Ethiopian Eunuch and Paul of Tarsus were no longer names in biblical books. We went to their towns and villages, met their people, and somehow, through those meetings, we went back in time to meet them, to share their journeys and struggles in faith, and to enjoy their age-old hospitality.TomHL4

As we read the Scriptures now, our lives are mysteriously bound to the countless tens of thousands of people who journeyed in faith here in this land, experienced the living God, and made him known through their own stories. Somehow, these lands with all their beauty and poverty, their political struggles and hopes and desires for justice, freedom and peace, all of their contradictions and ambiguities, are a reflection of our own lives.

A pilgrim spirituality for the church can only bring us to understand more deeply one of the rich themes of the Second Vatican Council: we are a pilgrim church. We are no longer a fixed society perched on a hilltop overlooking the world below, but a pilgrim people painfully journeying through the valley, journeying in solidarity with God’s people, sharing their joys and hopes, griefs and sorrows. And the journey itself binds us together and heals us of our loneliness. So often, the destination remains a dream that constantly outdistances us. Pilgrim spirituality teaches us that the meaning of life is not found at the end of the journey, but in the very journey itself. Rugged individualism, which only leads to loneliness and despair, decreases along the pilgrim journey, and a new, common spirit begins to grow among pilgrims.

On a pilgrimage we cannot haul everything along – we carry memories which do not need baggage. At the end of a pilgrimage to God’s Holy Lands, baggage of course, would have grown heavier, as is usually the case on such trips. However, the biggest item to be taken back home is memories, and these weigh nothing, pass easily through customs, and can be enjoyed for a long time. It is these memories that will breathe new life into our lives of faith, and into our Church, and transform us in the process!

I know that these memories will sustain us and guide us to Holy Week and Easter this year. I am certain that our celebration of Palm Sunday and the Easter Triduum will never be the same after the past 12 days together. May the memories of these days encourage and inspire us along our journeys and help us to recognize Jesus more and more in the breaking and sharing of the Word and the Bread.

Thanks to all who made our pilgrimage possible: to our donors and benefactors, to our staff that remained home doing double duty work for us, to our guides on the ground in Israel, Palestine and Jordan, to the Church leaders and workers who welcomed us royally along the way, and to our Middle East hosts who showed us great hospitality.

Next year in Jerusalem…


The Church of the Visitation – #SLPilgrimage

Our first full day in Jerusalem brought us to the outskirts of the city where the Church of the Visitation is located. A beautiful courtyard welcomes to pilgrims. Tiles pave the walls of the courtyard, each bearing the text of The Magnificat im a different language. I thought this was the main part of the visit: seeing the place where Mary spoke the words “My soul rejoices in my God, my spirit proclaims the greatness of the Lord” comemorated with plaques donated by various countries. What a lovely way to highlight our communion in faith, a communion that knows no geographical, political or linguistic barriers.
To my suprprise we were led up a staircase to a small church. There the walls were covered in frescos depicting the visitation and events surrounding it. Having arrived in Jerusalem from the Galilee, I thought “gee, and she did that without an air conditioned coach.” The realization struck that Mary walked, maybe took a donkey, from the serenity of Nazareth and the Galilee into the mountainous region around Jerusalem. I can’t imagine how many days that took, and how many discomforts she had to deal with. So, why would she go to this length? I remembered a comment from a non Christian acquaintance who studied interreligious dialgoue at a Catholic univeristy, “Of course, she had to check it out and confirm that it was really happening.” At the same time I recalled an icon of the visitation done by an artist I met in Vancouver. She staunchly refused to call her piece “the visitation.” Instead she calls it “The Recognition” because she is convinced that what happened in this place outside modern day Jerusalem, was the meeting of two women of deep faith. What happened when they finally set eyes on each other was the moment of recognition “we are in this together” “we have said yes to our God.” Today Visitations or Recognitions happen every time a young woman finds another woman with whom she can share her friendship and her faith.
This little, quiet corner of the world paved with the words of the Magnificat shows us – men and women – what great things God can do when we recognize each other and visit each other. What great things can happen when women of faith support each other in their “yes.”

Alicia Ambrosio is an English producer for Salt + Light. Follow her on Twitter!

Nazareth Village – #SLPilgrimage


On Saturday, February 27, 2016, we drove to Nazareth from our residence on the Mount of Beatitudes to visit the site of Mary’s home and where Jesus lived as a child.


But first we stopped off at Nazareth Village, a complete replica of what the small Nazarene village would have been looked like over two thousand years ago.

Nazareth3We saw shepherds, a carpenter’s shop, a replica of a mosque and a basketmaker, as well as what is believed to be the remains of a wine plantation.

Stepping into that village was like taking a step through time to a more simpler time in our biblical history.

Noel Ocol is the Director of Marketing for Salt + Light.

Pope Francis 2016 Lenten Message


Pope Francis released his 2016 Lenten Message based on the verse ” I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13). Read the full text of his message, titled ‘The works of mercy on the road of the Jubilee,’ below:

“I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13).
The works of mercy on the road of the Jubilee

  1. Mary, the image of a Church which evangelizes because she is evangelized

In the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, I asked that “the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 17). By calling for an attentive listening to the word of God and encouraging the initiative “24 Hours for the Lord”, I sought to stress the primacy of prayerful listening to God’s word, especially his prophetic word. The mercy of God is a proclamation made to the world, a proclamation which each Christian is called to experience at first hand. For this reason, during the season of Lent I will send out Missionaries of Mercy as a concrete sign to everyone of God’s closeness and forgiveness.

After receiving the Good News told to her by the Archangel Gabriel, Mary, in her Magnificat, prophetically sings of the mercy whereby God chose her. The Virgin of Nazareth, betrothed to Joseph, thus becomes the perfect icon of the Church which evangelizes, for she was, and continues to be, evangelized by the Holy Spirit, who made her virginal womb fruitful. In the prophetic tradition, mercy is strictly related – even on the etymological level – to the maternal womb (rahamim) and to a generous, faithful and compassionate goodness (hesed) shown within marriage and family relationships.

  1. God’s covenant with humanity: a history of mercy

The mystery of divine mercy is revealed in the history of the covenant between God and his people Israel. God shows himself ever rich in mercy, ever ready to treat his people with deep tenderness and compassion, especially at those tragic moments when infidelity ruptures the bond of the covenant, which then needs to be ratified more firmly in justice and truth. Here is a true love story, in which God plays the role of the betrayed father and husband, while Israel plays the unfaithful child and bride. These domestic images – as in the case of Hosea (cf. Hos 1-2) – show to what extent God wishes to bind himself to his people.

This love story culminates in the incarnation of God’s Son. In Christ, the Father pours forth his boundless mercy even to making him “mercy incarnate” (Misericordiae Vultus, 8). As a man, Jesus of Nazareth is a true son of Israel; he embodies that perfect hearing required of every Jew by theShema, which today too is the heart of God’s covenant with Israel: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Dt 6:4-5). As the Son of God, he is the Bridegroom who does everything to win over the love of his bride, to whom he is bound by an unconditional love which becomes visible in the eternal wedding feast.

This is the very heart of the apostolic kerygma, in which divine mercy holds a central and fundamental place. It is “the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead” (Evangelii Gaudium, 36), that first proclamation which “we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment” (ibid., 164). Mercy “expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert, and believe” (Misericordiae Vultus, 21), thus restoring his relationship with him. In Jesus crucified, God shows his desire to draw near to sinners, however far they may have strayed from him. In this way he hopes to soften the hardened heart of his Bride.

  1. The works of mercy

God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn. In an ever new miracle, divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbour and to devote ourselves to what the Church’s tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. These works remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbours in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them. On such things will we be judged. For this reason, I expressed my hope that “the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; this will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty, and to enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy” (ibid., 15). For in the poor, the flesh of Christ “becomes visible in the flesh of the tortured, the crushed, the scourged, the malnourished, and the exiled… to be acknowledged, touched, and cared for by us” (ibid.). It is the unprecedented and scandalous mystery of the extension in time of the suffering of the Innocent Lamb, the burning bush of gratuitous love. Before this love, we can, like Moses, take off our sandals (cf. Ex 3:5), especially when the poor are our brothers or sisters in Christ who are suffering for their faith.

In the light of this love, which is strong as death (cf. Song 8:6), the real poor are revealed as those who refuse to see themselves as such. They consider themselves rich, but they are actually the poorest of the poor. This is because they are slaves to sin, which leads them to use wealth and power not for the service of God and others, but to stifle within their hearts the profound sense that they too are only poor beggars. The greater their power and wealth, the more this blindness and deception can grow. It can even reach the point of being blind to Lazarus begging at their doorstep (cf. Lk 16:20-21). Lazarus, the poor man, is a figure of Christ, who through the poor pleads for our conversion. As such, he represents the possibility of conversion which God offers us and which we may well fail to see. Such blindness is often accompanied by the proud illusion of our own omnipotence, which reflects in a sinister way the diabolical “you will be like God” (Gen 3:5) which is the root of all sin. This illusion can likewise take social and political forms, as shown by the totalitarian systems of the twentieth century, and, in our own day, by the ideologies of monopolizing thought and technoscience, which would make God irrelevant and reduce man to raw material to be exploited. This illusion can also be seen in the sinful structures linked to a model of false development based on the idolatry of money, which leads to lack of concern for the fate of the poor on the part of wealthier individuals and societies; they close their doors, refusing even to see the poor.

For all of us, then, the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favourable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practising the works of mercy. In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated. By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need. By taking this path, the “proud”, the “powerful” and the “wealthy” spoken of in the Magnificat can also be embraced and undeservedly loved by the crucified Lord who died and rose for them. This love alone is the answer to that yearning for infinite happiness and love that we think we can satisfy with the idols of knowledge, power and riches. Yet the danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor, the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell. The pointed words of Abraham apply to them and to all of us: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Lk16:29). Such attentive listening will best prepare us to celebrate the final victory over sin and death of the Bridegroom, now risen, who desires to purify his Betrothed in expectation of his coming.

Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favourable a time for conversion! We ask this through the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, who, encountering the greatness of God’s mercy freely bestowed upon her, was the first to acknowledge her lowliness (cf. Lk1:48) and to call herself the Lord’s humble servant (cf. Lk1:38).

From the Vatican, 4 October 2015

Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi


CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters

Pope Francis’ Homily for Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God & World Day of Peace; Angelus Address


Pope Francis delivered the homily at Mass on New Year’s Day, the Solemnity of the Mother of God, in St. Peter’s Basilica. Below, please find the full text of the official English translation of his prepared remarks.

Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God – World Day of Peace, 1 January 2016

We have heard the words of the Apostle Paul: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman” (Gal 4:4).

What does it mean to say that Jesus was born in “the fullness of time”?  If we consider that particular moment of history, we might quickly be deluded.  Rome had subjugated a great part of the known world by her military might.  The Emperor Augustus had come to power after five civil wars.  Israel itself had been conquered by the Roman Empire and the Chosen People had lost their freedom.  For Jesus’ contemporaries, it was certainly not the best of times.  To define the fullness of time, then, we should not look to the geopolitical sphere.

Another interpretation is needed, one which views that fullness from God’s standpoint.  It is when God decided that the time had come to fulfil his promise, that the fullness of time came for humanity.  History does not determine the birth of Christ; rather, his coming into the world enables history to attain its fullness.  For this reason, the birth of the Son of God inaugurates a new era, a new computation of time, the era which witnesses the fulfilment of the ancient promise.  As the author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes: “God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the world.  He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word” (1:1-3).  The fullness of time, then, is the presence of God himself in our history.  Now we can see his glory, which shines forth in the poverty of a stable; we can be encouraged and sustained by his Word, made “little” in a baby.  Thanks to him, our time can find its fullness.

Nonetheless, this mystery constantly clashes with the dramatic experience of human history.  Each day, as we seek to be sustained by the signs of God’s presence, we encounter new signs to the contrary, negative signs which tend to make us think instead that he is absent.  The fullness of time seems to fade before the countless forms of injustice and violence which daily wound our human family.  Sometimes we ask ourselves how it is possible that human injustice persists unabated, and that the arrogance of the powerful continues to demean the weak, relegating them to the most squalid outskirts of our world.  We ask how long human evil will continue to sow violence and hatred in our world, reaping innocent victims.  How can the fullness of time have come when we are witnessing hordes of men, women and children fleeing war, hunger and persecution, ready to risk their lives simply to encounter respect for their fundamental rights?  A torrent of misery, swollen by sin, seems to contradict the fullness of time brought by Christ.

And yet this swollen torrent is powerless before the ocean of mercy which floods our world.  All of us are called to immerse ourselves in this ocean, to let ourselves be reborn, to overcome the indifference which blocks solidarity, and to leave behind the false neutrality which prevents sharing.  The grace of Christ, which brings our hope of salvation to fulfilment, leads us to cooperate with him in building an ever more just and fraternal world, a world in which every person and every creature can dwell in peace, in the harmony of God’s original creation.

At the beginning of a new year, the Church invites us to contemplate Mary’s divine maternity as an icon of peace.  In her, the ancient promise finds fulfilment.  She believed in the words of the angel, conceived her Son and thus became the Mother of the Lord.  Through her, through her “yes”, the fullness of time came about. The Gospel we have just heard tells us that the Virgin Mary “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Lk2:19).  She appears to us as a vessel filled to the brim with the memory of Jesus, as the Seat of Wisdom to whom we can have recourse to understand his teaching aright.  Today Mary makes it possible for us to grasp the meaning of events which affect us personally, events which also affect our families, our countries and the entire world.  Where philosophical reason and political negotiation cannot reach, there the power of faith, which brings the grace of Christ’s Gospel, can reach, opening ever new pathways to reason and to negotiation.

Blessed are you, Mary, for you gave the Son of God to our world.  But even more blessed are you for having believed in him.  Full of faith, you conceived Jesus first in your heart and then in your womb, and thus became the Mother of all believers (cf. Saint Augustine, Sermo 215,4).  Send us your blessing on this day consecrated to your honour.  Show us the face of Jesus your Son, who bestows upon the entire world mercy and peace.

Pope Francis: Angelus appeal for peace on New Year’s Day

Pope Francis renewed his calls for peace and goodwill throughout the Earth on Friday, New Year’s Day, the Solemnity of the Mother of God and the World Day of Peace. The Holy Father’s appeal came at the Angelus prayer with pilgrims and visitors gathered in St. Peter’s Square after Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. “Today we celebrate the World Day of Peace, whose theme is: ‘Overcome Indifference and win Peace’,” said Pope Francis. “That peace, which God the Father wants to sow in the world, must be cultivated by us,” he continued. “Not only: it must also be ‘conquered’. This involves a real struggle, a spiritual battle that takes place in our hearts, for the enemy of peace is not only war, but also indifference, which makes us think only of ourselves and creates barriers, suspicions, fears and closures [of mind and heart].”

Pope Francis went on to say, “We have, thank God, much information; but sometimes we are so inundated with news that we are distracted from reality, from the brother and sister who needs us: let us begin to open our hearts, awakening attention to the next.”

“This,” said Pope Francis, “is the way to win the peace.”

After the traditional prayer of Marian devotion, Pope Francis returned the New Year’s greetings he received the evening before from the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, and offered thanks to all those involved in peace initiatives in Rome, throughout Italy and in all the world.

“I express gratitude for the many initiatives of prayer and action for peace organized all over the world on the occasion of today’s World Day of Peace,” he said, making particular mention of the National March that took place New Year’s Eve in the city of Molfetta, under the joint sponsorship of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Caritas Internationalis, Pax Christi and Catholic Action. “It is good to know that many people, especially young people, have chosen this way of ringing in the New Year.”

The Angelus prayer followed shortly after the conclusion of Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica to mark the New Year’s Solemnity of the Mother of God, over which Pope Francis presided and at which he delivered the homily. “At the beginning of a new year,” said Pope Francis, “the Church invites us to contemplate Mary’s divine maternity as an icon of peace.  In her, the ancient promise finds fulfilment.” The Holy Father went on to say, “She believed in the words of the angel, conceived her Son and thus became the Mother of the Lord.  Through her, through her ‘yes’, the fullness of time came about.”

The Gospel reading of the day tells of how the Virgin Mary treasured all the words the Angel spoke to her, and contemplated them in her heart (Cf. Lk2:19). “She appears to us,” continued Pope Francis, “as a vessel filled to the brim with the memory of Jesus, as the Seat of Wisdom to whom we can have recourse to understand his teaching aright.”

“In this day,” he said, “Mary makes it possible for us to grasp the meaning of events which affect us personally, events which also affect our families, our countries and the entire world.”

Watch Pope Francis celebrate Mass for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God below:

CNS photo/Paul Haring