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Vatican Connection: March 20

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On Saturday, March 21, Pope Francis is set to spend a day visiting Pompeii and Naples. Though short, this trip is yet another reminder of the pontiff’s preferential option for the poor and marginalized.

Aside from a visit to a sanctuary in Pompeii and a meeting with the sick at Basilica of Gesu Nuovo, the pope is visiting Scampia, a bedroom suburb best known as the setting of the film Gomorrah; Poggioreale, an overcrowded prison; and meeting with youth at an iconic seaside promenade.

The suburb of Scampia is best known today as the setting of the film “Gomorrah” and home to what is considered an example of failed civic architecture. The “Vele di Scampia” or the “Sails of Scampia” is concrete house complex designed and built from 1962 to 1975. The sail shaped concrete buildings with outdoor staircases were part of a larger complex of buildings. The project incorporated large outdoor spaces between buildings that were meant to serve as piazzas and soccer fields.

The reaction to the completed complex was less than enthusiastic. Maintenance was not a priority and living conditions soon deteriorated. Instead of becoming a mini-city bursting with life, Scampia became the only place that disadvantaged families could afford to live. The mafia also moved in.

While not all residents are involved with organized crime, Scampia is not an easy place to live and residents don’t have many opportunities available to improve their situation. Given his past declaration about Mafia members being “excommunicated” or removed from God’s love, expect strong words from Pope Francis during his meeting with residents in St. John Paul II Square.

The next stop on his itinerary is scheduled to be Poggioreale Prison, home to 1900 inmates. Pope Francis will greet inmates, many of whom probably lived in Scampia at some point in their lives. The pope is scheduled to have lunch with a group of inmates at Poggioreale and give a speech.

Following his visit to the prison, Pope Francis will stop at the cathedral where he will venerate the relic of St. Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples. That relic is a vial of the saint’s coagulated blood. Three times a year the dark grains of dried blood become liquid once again and take on bright red colour. The miracle usually occurs on the first Saturday of May, the 19 of September, and the 16 of December. Studies conducted in 1988 determined that the substance contained in the two vials housed in the reliquary is indeed blood. The miracle doesn’t work like clockwork. There have been times when the blood did not liquify on those dates, or liquified just before or just after the usual days.

In a recently published book the Archbishop of Naples, Cardinal Crecenzio Seppe, recounted the story of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Naples and the St. Gennaro’s relics. Cardinal Seppe recounts that although it seemed as though the pontiff could not pull himself away from the reliquary, the saint’s blood did not liquify. Even though there is no reason to expect the saint’s blood to become liquid before the pope, this will be a point of interest for some Neapolitans now that their expectations have been raised.

*****

The Scottish cardinal who resigned in 2013 after allegations of sexual misconduct were brought against him, has now given up the “rights and privilleges” of being a Cardinal. Pope Francis has accepted Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s resignation.  Cardinal O’Brien will no longer serve on any pontifical councils or committees, nor will take part in consistory or an eventual conclave to elect a new pope. In a statement, the Catholic Church in Scotland said Cardinal O’Brien will be reduced to a strictly private life.

Cardinal Wuerl: “We have succeeded in electing a pastor.”

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Point of View: Interpreting the Francis Effect is a S+L series that goes deeper into the important questions surrounding the person and pontificate of Pope Francis.  The series consists of a selection of the full interviews from S+L’s original documentary The Francis Effect.

This week: Cardinal Donald Wuerl

On the evening of February 28th, 2013, the world watched the historic departure and official resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. The atmosphere in Rome was somber, and everyone felt a little empty and anxious. As part of our coverage that night I had the opportunity to interview Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, who had generously made himself available to the media.

I asked him, “How do you feel?! Having witnessed all of this, knowing Pope Benedict well, and now turning to the daunting task of electing his successor?” To my surprise, he looked at me and smiled and said confidently, “I have so much hope at this moment! What Pope Benedict has taught us through this incredibly humble gesture, is that we can and should do things differently—that we don’t have to be afraid, because the Lord is with us.”

The next time I saw Cardinal Wuerl he was doing an interview with Scott Pelley of CBS, minutes after Pope Francis had appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s for the first time. It was cold and late on March 13th; the Cardinal was in a satellite studio at the North American College and I was watching Scott conduct the live interview from their studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square. Scott, knowing that he couldn’t get a detailed play-by-play of the election, asked the Cardinal what he and the others had accomplished. The Cardinal, who looked exhausted yet relieved, smiled enthusiastically and said, “We have succeeded in electing a pastor.”

The Church and the world have experienced the “Francis effect” for two years now, and there’s no sign of the Pope slowing down anytime soon. There are many Catholics around the world who have come alive or found a second wind because of his ministry. One of them is Cardinal Wuerl, the pastor and teacher who, as you will see, speaks with conviction and clarity; a shepherd who is close to the people and equally close to Francis; a witness to the joy of the Gospel.

Watch Episode 9 of Point of View: Interpreting the Francis Effect
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Evangelization and Families

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On February 24-25, 2015 in Victoria, British Columbia, Fr. Thomas Rosica addressed the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Western Canada on the themes of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family and on Evangelization and Families. The text of his address on “Evangelization and Families” is found below:

Your Excellencies,

In his homily at the Canonization Mass for Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II last April, Pope Francis described John Paul II with these words:

“In his own service to the People of God, Saint John Paul II was the pope of the family. He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family. I am particularly happy to point this out as we are in the process of journeying with families towards the Synod on the family. It is surely a journey which, from his place in heaven, he guides and sustains.”

Reflecting on the legacy of St. John Paul II, there is no question that he was a preeminent champion of marriage and family life. He believed that the family would play a vital role in the new springtime of evangelization and was much more than mere bystander in the Church’s evangelizing mission. He presented a deeply positive and bold view of marriage and family life. He was confident that no ideology, however daunting, can extinguish what God has set in motion. While the family finds itself in the midst of an eroding cultural crisis, facing militant attempts to redefine marriage contrary to reason and the Gospel, John Paul II reoriented our gaze to the truth of Christian marriage as a fruit of the redemption of Christ. How many times did he say: “The future of humanity passes through the family!”

John Paul II’s writings on this topic “Original Unity of Man and Woman”Familiaris Consortio” and “Letter to Families,” presented the family as rooted in the economy of salvation: God’s act of creating the world and offering salvation through Christ—with an important role to play in the order of redemption. The family, as such, must continue the work of Christ and this work must begin first within itself, within each individual family before flowing outward to the extended community.

John Paul wished for us to understand the truth about ourselves and not settle for reductions of our personhood. Marriage faces the same reductionist onslaught which assails us, and this is the reason, in an era of anthropological confusion—who and what is a man and a woman? – that marriage between the two is under attack. Without a proper understanding of who we are, the purpose and meaning of marriage cannot be understood in its fullness.

Holy Family 2The Evangelizing Mission of the Family

The “future of evangelization,” insisted St. John Paul, “depends in great part on the Church of the home” (Familiaris Consortio 52). In Redemptor Hominis, he wrote that “the missionary attitude always begins with a feeling of deep esteem for what is in man” (RH 12). In a seemingly radical statement John Paul proclaimed that “Man is the primary and fundamental way for the Church, the way traced out by Christ Himself, the way that leads invariably through the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption” (RH 14). In his 1994 “Letter to Families”, he repeated this theme, stating that “Christ entrusted man to the Church; he entrusted man to her as the way of her mission and ministry.

The lingering question for John Paul II was this: How can the family begin to evangelize and build a civilization of love? He notes that in order for the family to be a sign of Christ’s presence in the world and to take up its mission as evangelizing community, each member of the family, particularly the spouses, must end the reign of sin in their lives (cf. FC 63). You cannot bear fruit if you are severed from the vine, you cannot give what you do not have. In order for the family to participate in this task it has to be constantly nourished and sustained at the wellspring of grace in the Liturgy. Furthermore “the little domestic Church, like the greater Church, needs to be constantly and intensely evangelized: hence its duty regarding permanent education in faith” (FC 51).

John Paul II left us with a rich, impressive, profound and lofty theology of marriage and family life. His vision flowed from the inherent dignity of every man and woman, of every human being. Some people may be intimidated by John Paul’s reflections, seeing them as daunting, too philosophical and overly academic. Yet, despite the scholarship and depth of his writing, Pope John Paul II had no intention of having his teachings about the human person remain only on the academic level. I think you will agree that his reflections are deeply Christological and Trinitarian, and they are meant to change lives.

Pope Benedict XVI

Throughout his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI turned attention on many occasions to the sacrament of marriage and family life. The transmission of the faith from one generation to the next has always found a natural home in the family. In a May 2009 homily in Nazareth, he suggested that children need the benefits of a “human ecology,” need to be raised in “a milieu” where they learn: “To love and to cherish others. To be honest and respectful to all. To practice the virtues of mercy and forgiveness.”

At the Milan World Meeting of Families in 2012, Pope Benedict XVI said: “Falling in love is a wonderful thing.” However, the pope described falling in love as the start of a couple’s journey, not its highest point. Something “more wonderful still” awaits the couple, he said. Responding to a question asked during a June 2, 2012 “evening of witness” in Milan by an engaged couple from Madagascar, the pope said: “I often think of the wedding feast of Cana. The first wine is very fine: This is falling in love. But it does not last until the end: A second wine has to come later, it has to ferment and grow, to mature…The definitive love that can truly become this ‘second wine is more wonderful still; it is better than the first wine. And this is what we must seek.”

“Discover the greatness and beauty of marriage,” Pope Benedict said to young people participating in the March 2010 International Youth Forum south of Rome. In a message to the forum, he wrote: “The relationship between the man and the woman reflects divine love in a quite special way; therefore the conjugal bond acquires an immense dignity.”

Because “human beings are made for love,” the pope said, “their lives are completely fulfilled only if they are lived in love.” He explained that “the vocation to love takes different forms according to the state of life,” one being marriage.

Over the years, at different times and speaking from different perspectives, Pope Benedict directed attention both to marriage’s “greatness and beauty” and to family life’s essential roles. Viewing the family as evangelization’s natural home, Pope Benedict began the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization with the words: “a new evangelization is unthinkable without acknowledging a specific responsibility to proclaim the Gospel to families and to sustain them in their task of education.”

In his 2012 Apostolic Exhortation on the Church in the Middle East, he wrote: “Called to live a Christlike love each day, the Christian family is a privileged expression of the church’s presence and mission in the world.”

The Challenge of Evangelii Gaudium

Let us consider how Pope Francis is opening up the theological vision of his two immediate predecessors. In his first apostolic exhortation, on “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis takes the magnificent theology of John Paul II and Benedict XVI and shows us how to apply it in the trenches, in the peripheries of ordinary, daily life. This application is not without immense challenges. “The process of secularization tends to reduce the faith and the Church to sphere of the private and personal. Furthermore, by completely rejecting the transcendent, it has produced a growing deterioration of ethics, a weakening of the sense of personal and collective sin, and a steady increase in relativism” (64).

66. (EG) The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. In the case of the family, the weakening of these bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children. Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensible contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple.

LETTER OF POPE FRANCIS TO FAMILIES
From the Vatican, February 2, 2014
Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Dear families,

I am writing this letter to you on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. The evangelist Luke tells us that the Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph, in keeping with the Law of Moses, took the Baby Jesus to the temple to offer him to the Lord, and that an elderly man and woman, Simeon and Anna, moved by the Holy Spirit, went to meet them and acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah (cf. Lk 2:22-38). Simeon took him in his arms and thanked God that he had finally “seen” salvation. Anna, despite her advanced age, found new vigour and began to speak to everyone about the Baby. It is a beautiful image: two young parents and two elderly people, brought together by Jesus. He is the one who brings together and unites generations! He is the inexhaustible font of that love which overcomes every occasion of self-absorption, solitude, and sadness. In your journey as a family, you share so many beautiful moments: meals, rest, housework, leisure, prayer, trips and pilgrimages, and times of mutual support… Nevertheless, if there is no love then there is no joy, and authentic love comes to us from Jesus. He offers us his word, which illuminates our path; he gives us the Bread of life which sustains us on our journey.”

In Rio de Janeiro during the mega-World Youth Day of 2013, Francis offered us five key elements of marriage and family life:

  • Thursday, July 25 Address to Community of Varginha (Manguinhos): There is neither real promotion of the common good nor real human development when there is ignorance of the fundamental pillars that govern a nation, its non-material goods: life, which is a gift of God, a value always to be protected and promoted; the family, the foundation of coexistence and a remedy against social fragmentation; integral education, which cannot be reduced to the mere transmission of information for the purposes of generating profit; health, which must seek the integral well-being of the person, including the spiritual dimension, essential for human balance and healthy coexistence; security, in the conviction that violence can be overcome only by changing human hearts.”
  • Friday, July 26 Angelus:How precious is the family as the privileged place for transmitting the faith! Speaking about family life, I would like to say one thing: today, as Brazil and the Church around the world celebrate this feast of Saints Joachim and Anne, Grandparents Day is also being celebrated. How important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human and religious heritage which is so essential for each and every society! How important it is to have intergenerational exchanges and dialogues, especially within the context of the family.”

  • Saturday, July 27 Interview on Radio Catedral (radio broadcasting station of the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro): “Not only would I say that the family is important for the evangelization of the new world. The family is important, and it is necessary for the survival of humanity. Without the family, the cultural survival of the human race would be at risk. The family, whether we like it or not, is the foundation.

  • Sunday, July 28 Address to the World Youth Day Volunteers: “God calls you to make definitive choices, and he has a plan for each of you: to discover that plan and to respond to your vocation is to move forward toward personal fulfillment. God calls each of us to be holy, to live his life, but he has a particular path for each one of us. Some are called to holiness through family life in the sacrament of Marriage. Today, there are those who say that marriage is out of fashion. Is it out of fashion? In a culture of relativism and the ephemeral, many preach the importance of ‘enjoying’ the moment. They say that it is not worth making a life-long commitment, making a definitive decision, ‘for ever’, because we do not know what tomorrow will bring. I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love. I have confidence in you and I pray for you. Have the courage ‘to swim against the tide’. And also have the courage to be happy.”

  •  Sunday, July 28 Address to the Bishops of Brazil: “In mission, also on a continental level, it is very important to reaffirm the family, which remains the essential cell of society and the Church; young people, who are the face of the Church’s future; women, who play a fundamental role in passing on the faith and who are a daily source of strength in a society that carries this faith forward and renews it.”

Last November 2014, Pope Francis addressed a Colloquium being held at the Vatican on the theme “The Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage.” Contrary to some thoughts circulating about this meeting, the colloquium was not called to serve as a corrective to October’s Synod. Francis began his address by dwelling on the word “complementarity”: “a previous word, with multiple meanings.” Although complementarity can refer “situations where one of two things adds to, completes, or fulfills a lack in the other” it also means much more than that. Christians, he said, “find its deepest meaning in the first Letter to the Corinthians where Saint Paul tells us that the Spirit has endowed each of us with different gifts so that-just as the human body’s members work together for the good of the whole-everyone’s gifts can work together for the benefit of each.”

“Complementarity is at the root of marriage and family.” Although there are tensions in families, the family also provides the framework in which those tensions can be resolved.” He said that complementarity should not be confused with a simplistic notion that “all the roles and relations of the sexes are fixed in a single, static pattern.” Rather, “complementarity will take many forms as each man and woman brings his or her distinctive contributions to their marriage and to the formation of their children.”

Pope Francis said that the crisis in the family has produced a crisis “of human ecology,” similar to the crisis that affects the natural environment. “Although the human race has come to understand the need to address conditions that menace our natural environments, we have been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well, slower in our culture, and also in our Catholic Church. It is therefore essential that we foster a new human ecology and advance it.”

To do that, the Pope said, “It is necessary first to promote the fundamental pillars that govern a nation: its non-material goods.” He noted that the family is the foundation of society, and that children have the right to grow up in a family with a mother and a father “capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”

He also called on participants in the Colloquium “to lift up yet another truth about marriage: that permanent commitment to solidarity, fidelity, and fruitful love responds to the deepest longings of the human heart.” This is especially important for young people “who represent our future.” Finally, Pope Francis said the family is not an ideological concept, but an “anthropological fact.” That is, the family is not a “conservative” or a “progressive” notion, but is a reality that transcends ideological labels.

During his recent trip to Manila, Francis held a meeting with 20,000 Filipino families in which he blasted the “ideological colonization” of the family. It refers to the strongly held belief among many Catholics in places such as Africa, Latin America, and Asia that Western governments and NGOs, as well as international bodies such as the United Nations, are using their control over development aid to impose their agendas. That same night in Manila, Francis again departed from his prepared text to offer a strong defense of Pope Paul VI and his controversial 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae that upheld the contraception ban.

“He (Paul VI) had the strength to defend openness to life at a time when many people were worried about population growth.”

On the return flight from Manila to Rome, Francis gave a long answer to a question asked of him about the meaning of ideological colonization. He told a story from his time as an Argentinian bishop about a government education minister needing a loan to build schools for the poor, and getting an offer on the condition that textbooks in these schools contain references to “gender theory.” This phrase refers to the idea that sexual identity is a social construct, not part of any natural law, and thus all types of sexual orientations and behaviors are perfectly acceptable. Francis described this colonization as an assault on the right of peoples to make their own choices and to preserve their own identity.

Some headlines from that in-flight news conference focused on the pope’s green light to limit the size of Catholic families, in part because he served up an irresistible sound-bite: “To be good Catholics, we don’t have to breed like rabbits.” Yet as insiders parse the pope’s words, they’ll discover that he was in no way talking about contraception, since he once again praised Paul VI and even said that Pope Paul was trying to ward off a “neo-Malthusian” ideology of population control.

Holy Family 4Family as Domestic Church

The family functions as a small “domestic church” that can be a privileged route to evangelization. Cardinal Kasper has spoken and written about the rediscovery of the “gospel of the family,” the vision of the family in the Book of Genesis and in God’s plan. Kasper reflects on the structures of sin within the family, including family problems, tensions between men and women, and the suffering of women and mothers. But Cardinal Kasper also said that the main purpose of his now well-known address to the cardinals in consistory in February 2014 was to deepen the theological understanding of challenges facing the family, ahead of the first synod on that subject to be held in the Vatican last October. While the Church must remain faithful to its teaching on the indissolubility of the sacrament of marriage, it is vital to “help, support, encourage” those experiencing difficulties in their family life. “The Church has to be close to them, to help, support and encourage them, to find a way between ‘rigorism’ (strictness) – which cannot be the way of normal Christians – and a pure ‘laxism’ (leniency) …I think this can be the only approach of the Church today…”

Pope Francis and Cardinal Kasper maintain the full teaching of the Church but the teaching has to be applied to concrete situations, as Jesus did and as Pope Francis does very often. The doctrine of the Church is not an ideology in the clouds. It’s about a God who wishes to be present and close to his people. Since the topic of this presentation is about challenges facing marriage and family life. I would like to propose to you several Scripture passages for your consideration. Passages which remind us that though we should strive for the highest ideals, we must also recognize and accept people where they are at.

Emmanuel, the Prayer and the Promise

Matthew’s infancy narrative (1:1-25), provides a wide-angle view of the Incarnation event, against a rich, biblical panorama. More than Mark and Luke, Matthew stresses the Jewish origin of Jesus: the genealogy presents him as “son of David, son of Abraham” (1:1) and goes back no further. Matthew is concerned with 14 generations, probably because 14 is the numerical value of the Hebrew letters forming the name of David.

While the genealogy shows the continuity of God’s providential plan from Abraham on, discontinuity and irregularity are also present. The women Tamar (1:3), Rahab and Ruth (1:5), and the wife of Uriah, Bathsheba (1:6), bore their sons through unions that were in varying degrees strange and unexpected.

These “irregularities” culminate in the great “irregularity” of the Messiah’s birth of a young virgin. Matthew has drawn our attention to the peculiarities of these biblical women of the Old Testament, perhaps in order to warn us that something even stranger is coming, or perhaps to enable us, when the news is announced, to connect it with God’s strange way of operating in the past. Our God writes straight with crooked lines, and Jesus’ genealogy is living proof of that fact!

From Joseph’s perspective

Matthew’s story is told from Joseph’s point of view, while the more familiar account from Luke is told from the perspective of Mary. Joseph, a righteous man, is presented as a devout observer of the Mosaic Law (1:19). His betrothal to Mary was the first part of the marriage, constituting a man and woman as husband and wife. Subsequent infidelity was considered adultery. Some months after the betrothal, the husband would take his wife into his home, at which time normal married life began. Joseph’s decision to divorce Mary is overcome by the heavenly command that he take her into his home and accept the child as his own. The natural genealogical line is broken, but the promises to David are fulfilled; through Joseph’s adoption the child belongs to the family of David.

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.” At Christmas Eve each year, it becomes clear to us that the story of the birth of a baby in Bethlehem was no idyllic country folk tale. It was the true fulfillment of the hopes and longings, dreams and desires of the people of ancient Israel.

What do we learn from this powerful story of Jesus’ origins? God never abandons humanity, but rather enters into all that frequently makes life on earth so difficult. In the name “Emmanuel,” we find the answer to humanity’s deepest longings for God throughout the ages. Emmanuel is both a prayer and plea on our behalf, and a promise and declaration on God’s. When we pronounce the word, we are really praying and pleading: “God, be with us!” And when God speaks it, the Almighty, Eternal, Omnipresent Creator of the world is telling us: “I am with you” in this Child. The name Emmanuel is also alluded to at the end of Matthew’s Gospel where the Risen Jesus assures his disciples of his continued presence: “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (28:20).

The Future of Humanity Passes Through the Family
Reflection on the Holy Family

There is a Gospel story unique to Luke (2:41-52) that relates an incident from Jesus’ youth. Luke’s infancy narrative, 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, and of their fidelity to the law and to the tradition of Israel.

“When Jesus was 12 years old, they went up according to custom. When they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, without his parents knowing it” (2:42-43). 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) The later question can also be translated, “Did you not know that I must be immersed in my Father’s work?” In either case, 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 time 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 carpentry. Indeed, the people of the town of Nazareth regarded him as “the carpenter’s son” (Matthew 13:55), asking 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 public ministry. They thought that Jesus was just like any other Israelite, and should remain such.

Does the story sound familiar? The anxiety and misunderstanding experienced by the Holy Family should not be hidden from families today that experience similar situations. We have often presented the Holy Family of Nazareth as the picture perfect snapshot of family life, without any blemish or difficulty. When we connect people with the real, daily life situations of the Holy Family, and allow the utter humanity of Mary, Joseph and Jesus to shine through, contemporary families will look to them for inspiration, intercession and hope.

In the midst of last October’s Extraordinary Synod, Peter Manseauoct wrote an article for the New York Times in which he asked the fundamental question: What is a Catholic Family?” (NYT October 17, 2014), He concluded his article with these words:

“…a woman who conceived a child before she was married, a chaste stepfather who nearly divorced her as a result, and that original sign of contradiction, the human son of God. A church that claims to descend from this most untraditional of domestic arrangements might ask itself: Was any family ever more irregular than that?”

It was through the irregularity at the beginning, ordinary daily living, and daily acts of faithfulness, kindness, generosity and love that surrounded Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, that provided for him a beautiful environment in which to grow and mature. Holiness flows from wholeness and goodness.

School of Nazareth

The moving words of Pope Paul VI spoken in Nazareth on January 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.

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.

Holy Family 3Contemporary Challenges for Marriage and Family Life

As bishops, priests and the entire Christian community, and as 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. The Christian family is no longer capable of singularly transmitting 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 the keystone of society, the family is the most favorable environment in which to welcome 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 matrimony. Care must be taken with the language we use to describe these consequences. 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.

“The future of humanity passes through the family,” as Saint John Paul II would say so often. 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. The family is the most favorable environment in which children can be born and raised. We need young adults to say “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, our world will not give rise to the holy families of today.

The recently published Directory for Homilies includes two sections on marriage and family life:

From the Directory for Homilies

  1. The institution of the family faces great challenges in various parts of the world today, and it is entirely appropriate for the homilist to speak about these. However, rather than simply giving a moral exhortation on family values, the preacher should take his cue from the Scripture readings of this day to speak of the Christian family as a school of discipleship. Christ, whose birth we are celebrating, came into the world to do the will of his Father, such an obedience that is docile towards the movements of the Holy Spirit has a place in the life of every Christian family. Joseph obeys the angel and takes the Child and his Mother into Egypt (Year A); Mary and Joseph obey the Law by presenting their Baby in the Temple (Year B) and going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover (Year C); Jesus for his part is obedient to his earthly parents, but his desire to be in his Father’s house is even greater (Year C). As Christians, we are also members of another family, which gathers around the family table of the altar to be fed on the sacrifice that came about because Christ was obedient unto death. We should see our own families as a domestic Church in which we put into practice the pattern of self-sacrificing love we encounter in the Eucharist. Thus all Christian families open outward to become part of Jesus’ new and larger family: “For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mk 3:35).
  1. This understanding of the Christian meaning of family life assists the preacher in speaking about the reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. The Apostle’s instruction that wives should be subordinate to their husbands can be disturbing to people of our day; if the homilist does not plan to speak about this directive, it might be more prudent to use the shorter version of the reading. However, the difficult passages of Scripture often have the most to teach us, and this reading provides an opportunity for the homilist to address a theme that may be uncongenial to modern ears, but which in fact does make a valuable and necessary point when properly understood. We can gain insight into the meaning of this text by consulting a similar one, Eph 5:21-6:4. There also Paul is speaking about the mutual responsibilities of family life. The key sentence is this: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21). The originality of the Apostle’s teaching is not that wives should be submissive to their husbands; that was simply presumed in the culture of his day. What is new, and distinctively Christian, is, first, that such submission should be mutual: if the wife is to obey her husband, the husband in turn should, like Christ, lay down his very life for his wife. Secondly, the motive for this mutual subordination is not simply for the sake of harmony in the family or the good of society: no, it is made out of reverence for Christ. In other words, mutual submission in the family is an expression of Christian discipleship; the family home is, or should be, a place where we manifest our love for God by laying down our lives for one another. The homilist can challenge his hearers to make real in their own relationships that self-sacrificial love which is at the heart of Christ’s life and mission, and which we celebrate in our “family meal” of the Eucharist.

Conclusion

We need new strategies, new language, and creative pastoral outreach to encourage young adults to consider sacramental marriage and family life. We must develop better methods of evangelization and catechesis to convince young adults that marriage is good, beautiful and worthwhile! We must discover new avenues of communication and outreach to those recently married. What do we provide for them? How do we thank the thousands of couples who, day in and day out, before our very eyes, lay down their lives for others and serve the Lord and their families with great generosity. And let us never forget those who have loved and lost, and those who have suffered the pain of separation, divorce and alienation. May our field hospitals provide for them healing, consolation and loving welcome.

Pope Francis reminds us each day in word and by his actions of the importance of being close to people and accompanying them along the way. In Evangelii Gaudium, Francis devotes much attention to the homily at mass. I consider this a brilliant pastoral strategy to reach people today and let them know of the beauty of marriage and family life.

“The homily joins the living hearts of the Lord and his people. The people are silent and listen as God speaks.”

“The preacher is called to recognize in the people the living water of their faith and culture; where the desire for God is ardent and alive, as well as where the dialogue with God has broken down.”

“The Church preaches as a mother. There is trust in children when their mother speaks. Both mother and child listen to each other. Their conversation can lead to learning and correction.”

“Our preaching is to be maternal: close to the people, with a warm tone of voice, unpretentious and joyful.”

“When Jesus preached he looked beyond the weaknesses and failings of the people. He preached with mercy and kindness. He was filled with the joy of the spirit. He preached the truth with the beauty of images.”

“Our challenge as preachers is to communicate the truth of God’s love and to encourage the joyful living of good lives.”

“Our task is to help our people desire the joy of God’s embrace.”

Archbishop Oscar Romero: Blessed and Defender of the Poor and Justice

RomeroParade
RomeroPortraitVatican City, 4 February 2015 (VIS) – This morning in the Holy See Press Office Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family and postulator of the cause for the beatification of Oscar Arnulfo Romero, presented the figure of the Salvadoran archbishop assassinated in 1980 while celebrating Mass and whose martyrdom was acknowledged yesterday with the signing of the necessary decree by Pope Francis. Historian Roberto Morozzo della Rocca, professor of modern history at the University of Rome III and author of a biography of Oscar Romero, also participated in the conference. Extensive extracts of Archbishop Paglia’s presentation are published below.
“It is an extraordinary gift for all of the Church at the beginning of this millennium to see rise to the altar a pastor who gave his life for his people; and this is true for all Christians. This can be seen in the attention of the Anglican Church, which has placed a statue of Romero in the facade of Westminster Abbey alongside those of Martin Luther King and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and for all of society that regards him as a defender of the poor and of peace. Gratitude is also due to Benedict XVI, who followed the cause from the very beginning and on 20 December 2012 – just over a month before his resignation – decided to unblock the process to enable it to follow the regular itinerary”.
“The work of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, with Cardinal Angelo Amato, S.D.B., has been careful and attentive. The unanimity of both the commission of cardinals and the commission of theologians confirmed his martyrdom in odium fidei. … The martyrdom of Romero has given meaning and strength to many Salvadoran families who lost relatives and friends during the civil war. His memory immediately became the memory of other victims, perhaps less illustrious, of the violence”.
“Following a lengthy procedure that encountered many difficulties, on account of opposition due to both the archbishop’s thought and pastoral action, and the situation of conflict that developed in relation to him, the itinerary finally reached its conclusion. Romero becomes, as it were, the first of a long line of contemporary New Martyrs. 24 March – the day of his death – became, by decision of the Italian Episcopal Conference, the “Day for Prayer for Missionary Martyrs”. The United Nations have proclaimed that day “International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims”.
Romero mural wall
The world has changed greatly since 1980, but that pastor from a small Central American country speaks powerfully. It is not without significance that his beatification will take place precisely when there is for the first time in history a Latin American Pope who wants a ‘poor Church, for the poor’. It is a providential coincidence”.
Romero the pastor
“Romero believed in his role as a bishop and primate of his country, and he considered himself responsible for the population, especially the poorest. Therefore, he took upon himself the bloodshed, pain and violence, denouncing their causes in his charismatic Sunday preaching that was listened to on the radio by the entire nation. We might say that it was a ‘pastoral conversion’, with the assumption by Romero of a strength that was indispensable in the crisis that beset the country. He transformed himself into a defensor civitatis following the tradition of the ancient Fathers of the Church, defending the persecuted clergy, protecting the poor, and affirming human rights”.
“The climate of persecution was palpable. However, Romero clearly became the defender of the poor in the face of cruel repression. After two years as archbishop of San Salvador, Romero counted thirty lost priests – killed, expelled or forced to flee from death. The death squads killed scores of catechists from the base communities, and many faithful disappeared from these communities. The Church was the main target of accusation and therefore the hardest hit. Romero resisted and accepted giving his life to defend his people”.
RomeroDeathAssassinated at the altar during Mass
“He was killed at the altar. Killing him was intended to strike at the Church that flowed from Vatican Council II. His death – as the detailed documentary examination clearly showed – was not only politically motivated, but due also to hatred for a faith that, combined with charity, would not stay silent when faced with the injustices that implacably and cruelly afflicted the poor and their defenders. His assassination at the altar – without doubt a more uncertain death as it meant shooting from a distance of thirty metres rather than an attempt from a shorter range – had a symbolic nature that resounded as as terrible warning for whoever wished to follow the same route. John Paul II himself – who was well aware of the other two saints killed at the altar, St. Stanislaus of Krakow and St. Thomas Becket of Canterbury – noted effectively, ‘they killed him precisely at the most sacred moment, during the highest and most divine act. … A bishop of God’s Church was assassinated while he exercised his sanctifying mission, offering the Eucharist’. On a number of occasions he repeated forcefully, ‘Romero is ours, Romero is of the Church!’”.
Romero and the poor
“Romero had always loved the poor. As a very young priest in San Miguel he was accused of communism because he asked the rich to give a fair salary to the peasant coffee cultivators. He told them that not only did they act against justice, but also that they themselves opened the doors to communism”.
“Romero understood increasingly clearly that being a pastor to all meant starting with the poor. Placing the poor at the centre of the pastoral concerns of the Church and therefore of all Christians, including the rich, was the new pastoral way. His preferential love for the poor not only did not attenuate his love for his country, but on the contrary supported it. In this sense, Romero was not partisan, although to some he appeared that way; rather, he was a pastor who sought the common good of all, starting however with the poor. He never ceased to seek out the way for the pacification of the country.
Romero, man of God and of the Church
Romero was a man of God, a man of prayer, of obedience and love for the people. He prayed a lot … and he was harsh on himself, a severity linked to an old-fashioned spirituality made up of sacrifices. He had a ‘linear’ spiritual life, in spite of having a character that was not always easy – rigorous with himself, intransigent, tormented. But in prayer he found rest, peace and strength. When he had to make complicated or difficult decisions, he withdrew in prayer”.
“He was a bishop faithful to the magisterium. From his papers there clearly emerges his familiarity with the documents of Vatican Council II, Medellin, Puebla, the social doctrine of the Church and other pontifical texts in general. … It has often been said that Romero was suborned by liberation theology. Once, a journalist asked him, ‘Do you agree with liberation theology?’. He answered, ‘Yes, of course. But there are two forms of liberation theology. There is the one that sees liberation solely as material liberation. The other is that of Paul VI. I am with Paul VI’”.

On the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz “A Hand of Peace: Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust”

Pius-XII-Jews

Today on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau German Nazi Concentration in Poland, let us recall one of the great figures in world history who quietly assisted hundreds of thousands of Jews during the Nazi reign of terror and evil. For decades, the figure of Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII, has been at the center of some volatile polemics. The controversy has raged over whether the Pope did and said enough in defense of the Jews and other victims of the Nazis. The Roman Pontiff who guided the Church through the terrible years of the Second World War and the Cold War is the victim of a “black legend,” which has proven difficult to combat and is so widespread that many consider it to be more true than the actual historical facts.

Popes do not speak with the idea of pre-constituting a favourable image for future ages. They know that the fate of millions of Christians can at times depend on their every word; they have at heart the fate of men and women of flesh and blood, not the applause or fleeting approval of historians.

Let us remember some key facts about this man’s story and about history. Pope Pius XII led the Catholic Church from 1939 to 1958. Immediately before his election, the then-Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli was the Vatican Secretary of State. He, more than anyone else in the Vatican, knew what was happening in the world. Pius XII was not only the Pope of the Second World War, but a pastor who, from March 2, 1939, to October 9, 1958, had before him a world at war during very troubled times.

Those who attack Pius XII often do so for ideological reasons. The campaign against him was started in the Soviet Union and was then sustained in various Catholic environments. He took sides against the Communist world in a severe, strong and determined way. In such a way that we had to wait 30 years, until the Polish Karol Wojtyla was elected Pope, for that style to be taken up properly in a way that was fatal for Communism.

The black legend swirling around Pacelli took shape in the bitter controversies over the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, and was manipulated by forces on both sides. Pacelli cannot be the person who is blamed for something that belongs in a complex way to the world community.

Arbeit-macht-frei-gates

From the beginning, Hitler and his closest followers were motivated by a pathological hatred for the Catholic Church, which they appraised correctly as the most dangerous opponent to what they hoped to do in Germany. There was radical divergence between the Nazis and the Catholic Church.

Pope Pius XII was not concerned for his reputation, but with saving Jewish lives and this was the only just decision, which clearly required wisdom and a great amount of courage. The Pope protested vehemently the persecution of Jews, but he explained in 1943 that he could not speak in more dramatic or public terms without the risk of making things much worse than they were. His was a prophecy in action, which saved the lives of countless victims of the neo-pagan Nazi reign of terror, rather than potentially counter-productive public statements.

During the Second World War, and up until five years after his death, Pius XII was greatly praised by many Jewish organizations, chief Rabbis of diverse countries and especially from the United States. Robert Kempner, a Jewish lawyer and public official at the Nüremberg trials, wrote in 1964, after the appearance of Rolf Hochhuth’s “The Deputy”: “Any propagandistic position that the Church would have taken against Hitler’s government would have not only provoked suicide… but it would have hastened the execution of still more Jews and priests.”

One of the unpleasant “secondary” consequences of this black legend that falsely portrays Pope Pius XII as indulgent toward Nazism and indifferent to the fate of the victims of persecution has been to sideline or even obliterate the extraordinary teaching of this Pope who was a precursor of the Second Vatican Council. Pius XII must be remembered for his encyclical on the liturgy, his reform of the rites of Holy Week – the great preparatory work that would flow into the conciliar liturgical reform.

It is the same Pope who, in the encyclical “Humani Generis,” takes evolutionary theory into consideration. Pius XII also gave notable impetus to missionary activity with the encyclicals “Evangelii Praecones,” in 1951, and “Fidei Donum,” in 1957, highlighting the Church’s duty to proclaim the Gospel to the nations, as Vatican II would amply reaffirm.

Auschwitz

Papa Pacelli opened up the application of the historical-critical method to the Bible, and in the encyclical “Divino Afflante Spiritu,” established the doctrinal norms for the study of Sacred Scripture, emphasizing the importance of its role in Christian life. After Sacred Scripture, the Council’s documents cite no single author as frequently as Pope Pius XII.

Since Pacelli’s death the Church has taken great strides in forging closer relations with the Jewish faith. Pope John Paul II made Jewish-Christian relations a priority of his pontificate. He repeatedly defended the actions of Pope Pius XII while at the same time spoke of the silence and inaction of some Catholics during the Holocaust.

On Friday August 19, 2005, I was present in the historic Synagogue on Cologne’s Roonstraße as Pope Benedict XVI addressed the large assembly. In his moving address, Benedict XVI, the German Pope who grew up during the Second World War, spoke these words to the Jewish community of Cologne and representatives of Judaism in Germany, returning in spirit the meeting that took place in Mainz, Germany on November 17, 1980 between Pope John Paul II and members of the Central Jewish Committee in Germany and the Rabbinic Conference.

Benedict said:

“And in the 20th century, in the darkest period of German and European history, an insane racist ideology, born of neo-paganism, gave rise to the attempt, planned and systematically carried out by the regime, to exterminate European Jewry. The result has passed into history as the Shoah.

…I make my own the words written by my venerable Predecessor on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and I too say: “I bow my head before all those who experienced this manifestation of the mysterium iniquitatis. ” The terrible events of that time must “never cease to rouse consciences, to resolve conflicts, to inspire the building of peace” (Message for the Liberation of Auschwitz, 15 January 2005).

KZ-RR-tracks-Auschwitz

Then in New York City on April 28, 2008, the Park East synagogue gave Pope Benedict XVI a warm welcome. The visit on the eve of Passover, the Jewish holiday marking the exodus from Egypt, was only the third by a pope to a Jewish house of worship after Benedict’s visit to the Cologne Synagogue in 2005, and Pope John Paul II’s visit to the Rome synagogue in 1986.

Pope Benedict XVI ended his warm address to the Jewish assembly with these words: “I encourage all of you to continue building bridges of friendship with all the many different ethnic and religious groups present in your neighborhood.”

This Papal path from the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City to Rome’s Synagogue, Cologne’s Synagogue and New York’s Park East Synagogue was opened by Eugenio Pacelli’s heroism, courage and prophetic gestures during a dark period of world history. Pacelli has been called many names. He was also known as the “Pastor Angelicus” and “Defensor Civitatis.” He is now a Servant of God, on the path to Beatification and Canonization in the Catholic Church.

It is our hope that the Salt and Light Television documentary “A Hand of Peace: Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust” sheds light and truth on this great man’s life, prophetic actions, courageous words and his significant contribution to humanity. Let us learn from his example as we extend our hands and arms in gestures of friendship and peace to the men and women of our time. Let us continue to build bridges of justice and peace to the many different ethnic and religious groups around us.

Preparing for Pope Francis’ Visit to Turkey

Pope_Francis_Turkey

On Thursday while Americans feast on turkey on Thanksgiving Day, Pope Francis prepares for his three-day Apostolic Journey to Turkey for another kind of feast: of ecumenical relations, interreligious dialogue and peace. Breaking another record for papal trips, Pope Francis on Friday sets off on his second international journey this week alone, travelling to the Turkish cities of Ankara and Istanbul. Just three days after his trip to Strasbourg for meetings with the European Parliament and Council of Europe, the Pope is responding to the invitation of both the government of Turkey and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the Orthodox world.

Francis is the fourth pope to travel to Turkey, following in the footsteps of his predecessors, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, while Archbishop Angelo Roncalli is also remembered with great affection by the Turkish people, as he served as apostolic delegate there for nine years before being elected Pope John XXIII.

Let us join Pope Francis in praying that “Peter’s visit to his brother Andrew may bring fruits of peace, sincere dialogue between religions and harmony in the Turkish nation.”

Visits of Ecumenical Patriarchs to Rome and Popes to the Ecumenical Patriarchate

The official meetings of the Primates of the Churches have always been ecclesiastical events of great importance, for the reinforcement, and hopefully, the restoration of the unity of faith in the nexus of love. Such visits are in accordance with the commandment of the Divine Founder of the Church, our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate, with its open and ecumenical spirit, developed a series of ecumenical initiatives of historical importance in the well-known Encyclicals of 1902, 1904 and 1920. These encyclicals aimed at the unity of all Christians in the communion of faith and sacraments. These initiatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate have led to a Theological Dialogue of the Orthodox Church with the sister Roman-Catholic Church “on equal terms.”

It has been the goal that beyond all other fraternal gestures, the mutual visits of Popes to Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarchs to Rome have marked a new era in the relations between the two Churches. It has helped in the understanding of the people of God, that there be effort, from both sides, for the achievement of the unity, so “that all may be one”, according to the words of the Lord in His High Priestly Prayer (John: 17).

The Visits of the Popes of Rome to Constantinople during the First Millennium

During the first millennium, there were no visits of the Primate of Constantinople to Rome, because New Rome had become the capital of the Empire.

In 536, Pope Agapetus of Rome accompanied by five bishops, visited Constantinople on a diplomatic mission for the Ostrogoth King Theodahad of Italy.

Vigilius, who was a Papal representative in Constantinople before his election as Pope, ascended the Papal Throne of Rome with the assistance of the Empress Theodora. Pope Vigilius came to Constantinople in 547 during a period of theological upheaval. He returned again in 552, but died before he could return.

The Papal Throne was not officially invited and did not participate in the Quinisext Ecumenical Council, which was convened for the institution of Canons. Pope Constantine went to Constantinople with an entourage of clergy and laity, where he was welcomed with great honours. He then departed for Nicomedia, where he met with Emperor Justinian II. Pope Constantine recognized under these terms the Quinisext Ecumenical Council and returned to Rome in 711.

The Efforts for Unification of the Two Churches after the Schism (1054)

The journey of Patriarch Joseph of Constantinople to Italy (1438-1439)

The Emperor of Byzantium John VIII Palaiologos headed the mission of the Orthodox that would discuss the issue of the reunification of the Churches in the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-1439). Among the members of this delegation was Patriarch Joseph who was accompanied by many hierarchs. During his meeting with the Pope in Ferrara the protocol that demanded kissing the foot of the Pontiff was not followed, and so they exchanged the kiss of peace standing. The main goal of the Orthodox delegation in this Council was to accomplish the union of the Churches without surrendering in matters of faith. Nevertheless, even from the preliminary discussions, the Orthodox were divided in two groups: the ones who were in favor of the union and those who were against it. This division grew even more after the transfer of the Council to Florence.

Patriarch Joseph was hesitantly following the unionist policy of the Emperor, who was interested mainly in securing military aid from the West, in order to save the state from the Ottoman threat. The participation of Patriarch Joseph in the work of the Council was limited, because he suffered from dropsy, whereas most of the Orthodox bishops refused to surrender in matters of faith. The Emperor, watching this situation, was worried about the outcome of this Council and he pressured the bishops for a conciliatory signing of the union. In the end, the Synodical members of the Eastern Church, with the exception of Mark of Ephesus, Eugenikos, came together in the residence of the ill Patriarch and signed the document of the unification (3 June 1439). After a few days, but before the Council of Florence came to an end, the ill Patriarch Joseph passed away and was buried in the Church of Santa Maria Novella. The so-called Union of Florence was never accepted in the East.

The first contacts of Patriarch Athenagoras with the Roman-Catholic Church

This Patriarch from Epirus, Greece with his discernment, his diligence, hard work and the spirit of love that distinguished him, gave new inspiration to the ecumenical mission of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Besides his primary interest for the improvement of the relations of all Orthodox Churches, he worked with intense zeal and dedication for the rekindling of the relations of the Orthodox with the other Churches.

From the illness of Pope Pius XII that led to his death on October 9, 1958, and through the entire reign of Pope John XXIII, Patriarch Athenagoras expressed his friendly intentions, his fraternal feelings and his genuine interest for the rapprochement of the two Churches. Alongside the numerous exchanges of letters, there had been frequent mutual visits in Constantinople and Rome of the members of pertinent Committees for the promotion of the issue of unification.

The relations between the two Churches began to make slow but firm steps of progress. When Patriarch Athenagoras was informed about the dire state of the health of Pope John XXIII, he sent a telegram (30 May 1963) wishing for a fast recovery. The passing away of the elder Pope John XXIII of Rome deeply saddened him.

Paul VI, who ascended the Throne of Rome after Pope John XXIII, continued the efforts for better relations between the two Churches.

The Patriarch was informed also officially by a Papal delegate, (9 December 1963) about an upcoming pilgrimage of the Pope to Jerusalem. The Patriarch wrote to the Pope (26 December 1963), telling him of his desire to meet with him in Jerusalem. With a telegram to the Patriarch (30 December 1963), the Pope expressed his joy about their upcoming meeting.

The Meeting of the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras with the Pope Paul VI in Jerusalem (5-6 January 1964)

The Primates of the two Churches met in an atmosphere of joy and excitement on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, where they exchanged the kiss of peace. Patriarch Athenagoras in addressing Pope Paul VI during his visit to the Delegation of the Holy See to the Mount of Olives (5 January 1964) described their meeting as historical and blessed, and he added: “the Christian world lived for centuries the night of division. Its eyes have become heavy by looking at the darkness. May our meeting here become the twilight of a shining and holy day, in which the Christian generations to come, will receive the sacred body and blood of our Lord from the same Cup, in love and peace and unity, praising and glorifying the one Lord and Savior of all.”

The historic meeting of Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem. (January 5-6, 1964.) 

In his reply, Pope Paul VI during his visit to the Patriarchal residence in the Mount of Olives (6 January 1964) referred to the unrealized wish of the Patriarch for a meeting with his predecessor, Pope John XXIII due to the untimely death of the latter. He highlighted the fact that their present meeting bore witness to the will “that brings us to the very skillful task of overcoming the discords and removing obstacles; for it is this will, to follow steadily the way that is acknowledged by all, that leads towards concord and reconciliation.”

The visit of Pope Paul VI to the Ecumenical Patriarchate (25 July 1967)

After these auspicious ecclesiastical events, Pope Paul VI wrote a letter to Patriarch Athenagoras (13 July 1967) expressing his desire to visit the Phanar “in order to strengthen the bonds of faith, love and friendship.” The Patriarch welcomed with excitement this historical decision, and the Pope went to Constantinople on 25 July 1967. In his address to Patriarch Athenagoras, in the Patriarchal Church, he noted: “In the light of our love to Christ and in our fraternal love to one another we discover even more the deep identity of our faith, and the points in which we still disagree, must not prevent us from comprehending this deep unity.”

In his reply, Patriarch Athenagoras, underlined as their main goal: “to join that which is divided, with mutual ecclesiastical actions, wherever that might be possible, affirming the common points of faith and rule, directing thus the Theological Dialogue to the beginning of a wholesome community, in the most foundational of faith and of the devout and structural freedom of theological thought, that has been inspired by our common Fathers, and of the variety of local traditions, as it has been pleasing to the Church from the very beginning.”

The visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras to the Church of Rome (26-28 October 1967)

Following this historical and successful visit of the Pope to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Patriarch Athenagoras notified the Pope with a letter (6 October 1967) of his desire to visit Rome. This visit took place on 26 October 1967.

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Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras at the Basilica of St. Peter, 1967.

In the common declaration of the two Church leaders that was issued at the end of the Patriarch’s visit to Rome (28 October 1967), it was stressed that “while recognizing that in the journey towards the unity of all Christians there is still a long way to go, and that between the Roman-Catholic and Orthodox Churches there still exist points to be clarified and obstacles to be overcome before arriving at the unity in the profession of faith which is necessary for reestablishment of full communion, they rejoice at the fact that their meeting has played a part in helping their Churches to make a further discovery of themselves as sister Churches.”

On 30 November 1979, the feast day of the Holy and Glorious Apostle Andrew, the First-Called, and also Feast Day of the Throne of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Pope John Paul II of Rome, of blessed memory, together with his entourage, visited the Ecumenical Patriarchate and attended the Divine Liturgy that was celebrated in the Patriarchal Cathedral. The Pope was welcomed by Patriarch Demetrios of blessed memory, together with all the Synodical and local Hierarchs, as well as with other Hierarchs from abroad.

Pope John Paul II and Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios, November 30, 1979.

In the Joint Declaration of the Pope and the Patriarch, which was issued in the Phanar on 30 November, after the end of the discussion of the two Primates and with the participation of memebers of the two Commissions on the Dialogue, they stressed their gratitude to their predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras. They stated that the Theological Dialogue does not aim only at the restoration of full communion between the two sisters Churches, Roman-Catholic and Orthodox, but also at the unity of the entire Christian world.

The visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios to the Church of Rome (3-7 December 1987)

To reciprocate the visit of Pope John Paul II of Rome to the Ecumenical Patriarchate on 29-30 November 1979, Patriarch Demetrios visited the Church of Rome from 3 to 7 December 1987. His stay in Rome affirmed the will of the Patriarch and of the Church in Constantinople to strengthen the relations from both sides and the bonds of love for reconciliation and unity.

This visit was not simply one of etiquette. It was an historic meeting of the Primates of the Churches of the East and West, as well as a message that was addressed to the entire world. It coincided also with the anniversary of 1200 years from the convening of the 7th Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 787 that led to the triumph of the Orthodox faith.

The Pope and the Patriarch, together from the Balcony of Blessings, addressed a greeting to the people who had gathered on St. Peter’s Square.

The First Visit of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the Church of Rome (27-30 June 1995)

After his election and enthronement on the Patriarchal Throne of Constantinople, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew visited the Church of Rome with his entourage from 27 to 30 June 1995, in order to participate in the festivities of the Feast Day of the Throne of Rome. The Patriarch was welcomed by a numerous delegation of Pope John Paul II of Rome, of blessed memory.

During his stay in the Church of Old Rome, the Ecumenical Patriarch visited the Community of Saint Egidio, the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, the Basilica of St. John of the Lateran, as well as the homonymous Pontific University. He visited also the French Seminary, where he stayed during his Post-Graduate studies (1963-1966).

On 29 June, the Feast Day of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, the Ecumenical Patriarch attended together with his entourage, the festive Divine Liturgy that was celebrated by the Pope, in the Basilica of St. Peter. After the reading of the biblical passages, the two Primates, recited the Creed in Greek without the addition of the Filioque. In the evening of the same day, in the residence of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Tower of St. John, the two Primates signed a Joint Declaration on the end of the visit of His All Holiness to the Pope.

In this Declaration, they commended the initiatives of their Predecessors, of blessed memory, Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI, and their meetings in Jerusalem, and later on in the Phanar and in Rome for the lifting of the old anathemas, the peace of the Churches, and reconciliation; they also referred to the mutual visits of Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Demetrios for the encouragement of the Dialogue of love and truth, which was proven very fruitful. It was therefore possible for this dialogue to continue in an effective way and to proclaim that the two Churches recognize each other as Sisters, jointly responsible for the preservation of the One Church of God, in faith to the divine plan, especially in the matter of unity.

The Second Visit of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the Church of Rome (23-25 January 2002)

On 23 January 2002, His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, together with His entourage, visited Rome once again. The following day, 24 January, he participated in the Day of Prayer for Peace, organized by Pope John Paul II of Rome. This Prayer Day took place in Assisi, and among the participants were His Beatitude, Patriarch Ignatius of Alexandria, and His Beatitude, Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, as well as representatives of many other Orthodox Churches and numerous representatives of many denominations and religions. During this event, the Ecumenical Patriarch prayed for peace in the world and gave a speech on “Testimony to Peace.”

On 25 January, the Ecumenical Patriarch had a private meeting with the Pope.

The Third Visit of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the Church of Rome (28 June – 2 July 2004)

The third visit of His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the Church of Rome took place after the official invitation from Pope John Paul II, of blessed memory, to participate in the Feast Day of the Throne of the Church of Rome, and to celebrate the 40th Anniversary from the historical meeting of their predecessors in the Holy Land. In the evening of 29 June, the Ecumenical Patriarch, together with his entourage, attended the Divine Liturgy that was celebrated by the Pope, in honor of the Firsts among the Apostles, Peter and Paul in the square of the Basilica of St. Peter. The two Primates exchanged the kiss of peace and blessed the faithful who were gathered there.

The Vatican Common Declaration of the two Patriarchs took place on the 40th Anniversary of the meeting of the Primates, of blessed memory, of the two Churches, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope John Paul II sign the Common Declaration at the Vatican. 

In the morning of Wednesday, 30 June, the official bilateral discussions of the Delegations of the two Churches took place. His All-Holiness, expressing a Pan-Orthodox request, asked the Pope for the return of the Holy Relics of the Holy Patriarchs and Great Teachers of the Undivided Church, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom to the Church of Constantinople, a request that was granted during the fourth visit.

The Fourth Visit of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the Church of Rome (26-27 November 2004)

On Friday, 26 November, His All Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew traveled, together with his entourage, to the Church of Rome in order to receive, by the Primate of the Roman-Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II, of blessed memory, the Holy Relics of the two Holy Hierarchs, Great Teachers of the Undivided Church, and His Predecessors on the Throne of the Holy and Great Church of Christ in Constantinople, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom. The Sacred shrines of the two Holy men were kept in the Venerable Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople until 1204, when they were removed and taken away by the Crusaders and were brought first to Venice, and later on to Rome, to be safeguarded in the Venerable Church of St. Peter.

Pope John Paul II and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the ceremony returning the relics of St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory the Theologian to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. 

On the morning of 27 November, during a fitting ceremony in the Basilica of St. Peter, the Pope himself, of blessed memory, handed over the Holy Relics of the two Holy Fathers to His All Holiness for their return to their home, after the passing of eight whole centuries. The Holy Relics, on their journey from Rome to Constantinople, were accompanied by the Ecumenical Patriarch and his entourage, together with an official Pontific Delegation, headed by Cardinal Walter Kasper, who attended the Feast Day of the Throne of the Ecumenical Patriarchate on 30 November.

The Journey of His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the Church of Rome for the funeral service of Pope John Paul II of Rome (7-8 April 2005)

Late in the evening on Saturday, 2 April 2005, Pope John Paul II of Rome, fell asleep in the Lord, after a long illness.

The same evening the Ecumenical Patriarchate issued an official Statement on the passing away of His Holiness. His All-Holiness, together with His entourage, went to Rome in the evening of Thursday, 7 April, in order to personally attend the following day the funeral service for His Holiness, with whom he had met four times in the last decade and had cooperated closely to promote relations between the two Churches.

The Patriarch, after arriving at the airport, went straight to Saint Peter’s Basilica, where he prayed in front of the deceased, who was lying in state for the people to pay their last respects to the Pope of blessed memory. The Patriarch placed on the body of the Pope a cross of white flowers.

The Visit of Pope Benedict XVI of Rome to the Ecumenical Patriarchate (November 29 – December 1, 2006)

In November of 2006, the official visit of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI of Rome to the Phanar during the Feast-day of the Throne of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, continued this radiant tradition of the past decades.

Pope Benedict XVI continued the work of his predecessors, initiating this visit shortly after his enthronement on the Apostolic Throne of Rome, after the official invitation of His All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, to attend the festivities on November 30, the Feast Day of the Holy and Glorious Apostle Andrew the First-Called, the Feast Day of the Throne of the Holy and Great Church of Christ in Constantinople.

Pope Benedict and Ecumenical Patriarch at the Phanar, November 30, 2006.

This visit to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the leading Church in the Orthodox world, of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI of Rome, who is a profound Theologian and a renowned University Professor and who knows well the Orthodox Church and Theology, constituted a point of hope for the reinforcement of the climate of mutual trust between the two Churches, as well as for the successful continuation and outcome of the Theological Dialogue which aims at the unity of the Churches, when the Lord will grant it.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew attends Interfaith Peace Summit hosted by Pope Benedict XVI in Naples (21 October 2007)

His All-Holiness was invited by Pope Benedict XVI to attend the 3rd interfaith peace summit, which was held in Naples. Previous summits were in Assisi by Pope John Paul II (1986 and 2002).

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew visits Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican (6 March 2008)

On the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the Oriental Pontifical Institute, where His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew completed his doctoral studies in canon law, the Ecumenical Patriarch was invited to address the faculty and students of the institute on the subject of “Theology, Liturgy and Silence.” He also visited Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, where he held private conversations and joint prayers in the papal chapel.

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Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew visits Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican (28-30 June 2008)

On the occasion of the official inauguration of the Pauline Year, His All-Holiness attended the vesperal service at the abbey of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew participated in the XII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Sistine Chapel (18 October 2008)

For the first time in history, at the invitation of the Pope of Rome, the Ecumenical Patriarch addressed the Synod of Roman Catholic bishops in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. The subject of the address by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was: “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.” For the full text of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s address, click here.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew attends Interfaith Peace Summit hosted by Pope Benedict XVI in Assisi (27 October 2011)

His All-Holiness attended and addressed the 4th interfaith peace summit, which was hosted by Pope Benedict in Assisi.

The Visit of His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the Church of Rome on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Vatican Council II (10-11 October 2012)

In October of 2012, His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew traveled, together with his entourage, to the Church of Rome on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Vatican Council II. At the invitation of the Pope, His All-Holiness addresses the crowds at St. Peter’s Square.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, 2012.

The Journey of His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the Church of Rome for the inaugural mass of Pope Francis (19-20 March 2013)

His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew becomes the first Ecumenical Patriarch to ever attend the installation of a Pope.

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Vatican after Pope Francis’ installation as Pope. 

The Apostolic Pilgrimage of Pope Francis and His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to Jerusalem to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras (25-26 May 2014)

Now once again, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will meet in Jerusalem to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their predecessors’ meeting.  This meeting of the venerable Primates of the leading Sees of Christendom has great significance. On the one hand, because is constitutes the unanimous recognition of the fruitful Dialogue of Charity for the relations of the two Churches, and on the other hand, because it lights, through the validity of their exemplary authority, the way of the official Theological Dialogue for overcoming the traumatic experiences of the past. This common course in the way of unity is a command of the divine Founder of the Church, our Lord Jesus Christ, and it is the common mission of the venerable Primates of the two Churches.

Information courtesy of Vatican Radio SEDOC.

Vatican Connections: October 31, 2014

VatiConnections

Things are returning to a normal pace at the Vatican after the end of the extraordinary synod. Pope Francis kept a full schedule this week, which included his daily masses, a meeting with members of popular movements from around the world (non-religious movements that advocate for worker’s rights, indigenous land rights, fair wages, and access to housing) and he unveiled a bronze bust of a his predecessor. At that unveiling he also said the so-called “big bang theory” is not incompatible with faith. This sparked a media frenzy, quickly quelled when Catholic scholars pointed out that it was indeed a Catholic priest who first developed the big bang theory.

Another memorable quote was delivered during the pope’s talk to the members of popular movements. He said “we see with sadness that [these three things] are increasingly unattainable for most people: land, roof, and work. It’s strange but when I talk about these things, some people feel the pope is communist.” Pope Francis went on to say that these three things are actually at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine. This leads to an interesting point: how many people actually know what is in the Church’s social doctrine? For those who are curious, the compendium of social doctrine of the Church can be found here.

Other notable events this week: a new batch of consultors have been named to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

 

Pope Francis Writes to Exorcists – Perspectives Daily

Francis

Today on Perspectives, Pope Francis unveils a bust of his predecessor, writes to exorcists meeting in Rome, a new church is built in Cuba for the first time in over half a century and CNS goes to El Salvador.

Jesus’ Resurrection: A Footprint Within History but Pointing Beyond

Jesus Risen cropped

Easter Sunday – Sunday, April 20, 2014

In reading the resurrection chapters of the four gospels, the differences of the four accounts are very obvious. Not one of the evangelists recounts Jesus’ resurrection itself. It is an event taking place within the mystery of God between Jesus and the Father. By its very nature the resurrection event lies outside human experience. What lessons can we learn about resurrection from each of the Gospel accounts, particularly from Matthew’s story that we hear proclaimed today?

Mark’s account

In the earliest Gospel account in Mark’s Gospel (chapter 16) the last scene is a startling one… for the story ends with (v 8) “[The women] came out and fled from the tomb, for they were possessed by fear and trembling, and they said nothing to anyone. The most striking aspect of Mark’s ending is we never encounter the Risen Lord. Instead, we see an awe-inspiring, almost eerie scene. In the darkness of early morning, the women arrive at the tomb to accomplish a nearly impossible task. These women are the only ones who follow Jesus to the foot of the cross and to the tomb. They find the tomb opened and empty, and are greeted by a heavenly figure who gives them a commission: “Go and tell his disciples and Peter that he goes before you into Galilee; there you will see him as he told you” (v 7). Mark’s resurrection account is meant to disturb the Christian reader; to undo the ease that makes one forget that the call to discipleship is the call to the cross. Readers of Mark’s account are invited to view their lives in the shadow of the cross.

Matthew’s account

Matthew tells the story of the resurrection in four scenes: the women’s experience at the tomb (28:1-7); their short encounter with the risen Lord (8-10); the Jewish leaders’ attempt to suppress the story (11-15); the appearance to the disciples in Galilee (16-20). The final scene, ending with the Great Commission (19-20) stands on its own as a programmatic conclusion to the entire gospel. The women present in Matthew’s resurrection chapter do not witness the resurrection. They do experience the earthquake, the appearance of the angel, the emptiness of the tomb- all of which are signs or traces of divine activity that has brought these things about.

Matthew literally makes Jesus present in the last scene of the gospel on the mountain where Jesus had directed the disciples to go (28:16-20). At the end of the gospel, he points us back to the first programmatic sermon of Jesus on the mountain in Galilee (5:1-7:21). Matthew’s meek and humble Jesus is the teacher as well as the example of meekness and humility. In revising Mark’s Gospel, Matthew deliberately completes the picture of Jesus and of the Christian life. The bleak image and invitation of the cross and the dead Jesus are filled out with a living and present Jesus, whose words, reflected upon the Scriptures of Israel, offer a consoling and learnable “way” to disciples willing to learn from him. Matthew issues the call to learn of the meek and humble Jesus.

Luke’s account

The Easter chapter of Luke’s Gospel (24), like a beautiful symphony, presents us with a biblically oriented pastoral practice and distinct way of Christian living: in the first movement (vv.1-12) God, alone breaks open a helpless situation. In the second movement of the marvelous story of Jesus and the disciples on the road to Emmaus (13-35), God, in the person of Jesus, accompanies people on their journeys through despair. The stories of the third movement (36-53) lead people into an experience of community.

John’s account

John tells of appearances of the Risen Lord in both Jerusalem and Galilee. The resurrection stories of the fourth gospel are a series of encounters between Jesus and his followers that reveal diverse faith reactions. Whether these encounters are with Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple, Mary Magdalene, the disciples or Thomas, the whole scenario reminds us that in the range of belief there are different degrees of readiness and different factors that cause people to come to faith.

The nature of Jesus’ resurrection

Pope Benedict XVI writes about “The Nature of Jesus’ Resurrection and Its Historical Significance” in “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week – From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection” (Ignatius Press, San Francisco – USA – 2011). I would like to highlight several points made by Pope Benedict in this masterful text:

“Jesus did not simply return to normal biological life as one who, by the laws of biology, would eventually have to die again.”

“Jesus is not a ghost (“spirit”). In other words, he does not belong to the realm of the dead but is somehow able to reveal himself in the realm of the living.”

“…the encounters with the risen Lord are not the same as mystical experiences, in which the human spirit is momentarily drawn aloft out of itself and perceives the realm of the divine and eternal, only to return then to the normal horizon of its existence. Mystical experience is a temporary removal of the soul’s spatial and cognitive limitations.” (pp. 272-273)

Benedict continues:

“[The resurrection] is a historical event that nevertheless bursts open the dimensions of history and transcends it. Perhaps we may draw upon analogical language here, inadequate in many ways, yet still able to open up a path toward understanding: as already anticipated in the first section of this chapter, we could regard the Resurrection as something akin to a radical “evolutionary leap”, in which a new dimension of life emerges, a new dimension of human existence.” (p. 273)

“As something that breaks out of history and transcends it, the Resurrection nevertheless has its origin within history and up to a certain point still belongs there. Perhaps we could put it this way: Jesus’ Resurrection points beyond history but has left a footprint within history. Therefore it can be attested by witnesses as an event of an entirely new kind.” (p. 275)

Fathoming the Resurrection Today

In our highly technological world, the reality of the resurrection becomes increasingly difficult to fathom. So many spend their lives explaining it away rather than probing the depths of its mystery. And they try to do this alone, separated from a believing community of Christians, locked in the prison of self and of ideas, frozen before a computer screen as they try to fathom what happened on Easter morning. Some people state quite frankly that the whole story is simply out of date. But resurrection is not a matter of the head, of theory and ideas, but a matter of the heart that can only be experienced and learned through a community’s worship and liturgy. To be fully experienced and grasped, the resurrection requires an environment of hauntingly beautiful music, of smoke and incense, bread and wine, murmurs of greeting and shouts of joy, dazzling colors and most of all, three-dimensional bodies of real people, even those who aren’t necessarily “regulars” of our parish communities, who gather together every year to hear the Easter proclamation.

One doesn’t sit at a computer and tap out “Jesus is risen.” It has to be performed and enacted. If the resurrection were meant to be a historically verifiable occurrence, God wouldn’t have performed it in the dark without eyewitnesses. Resurrection was an event transacted between God the Father and God the Son by the power of God the Holy Spirit. Not a single Gospel tells us how it happened. We don’t know what he looked like when he was no longer dead, whether he burst the tomb in glory or came out like Lazarus, slowly unwrapping his shroud and squinting with wonder against the dawn of Easter morning in a garden in Jerusalem.

The proper environment for resurrection

How shall we find words for the resurrection? How can we give expression to the conquest of death and the harrowing of hell and the washing which has joined us to God’s life? There are no words– there are only the wrong words – metaphors, chains of images, verbal icons – that invite us into a mystery beyond words.

For four years I lived in the Holy City of Jerusalem and visited the remains of the Church building that houses the place of Calvary and the Holy Sepulcher hundreds of times. It is truly holy ground for Christians and being there never failed once to move me. That old building is truly a microcosm of our own lives, our hearts and our Church. In the midst of the dark, dirty and chaotic Holy Sepulcher Basilica is the tomb of Jesus, a shrine to the risen Christ. But he is not there. All around that tomb are the remnants of 2000 years of dreadfully human corruption. Nevertheless it is the most important shrine and holy place for Christians. Christ is risen from the dead!

At Calvary, and elsewhere in the Holy Land, corruption seems so rampant…but God shall be victorious, because 70 feet away from Calvary there is a tomb which is empty. And there is also another startling truth about that Church and the moments which it commemorates: every single one of us has within us a shrine to the risen Christ. That shrine is our first love for him, and him alone. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Do we truly live as children of the light, of the Living One? The Resurrection of Jesus is the sign that God is ultimately going to win.

In the midst of all the chaos found in the Holy Sepulcher building, I found that if I knelt long enough in some corner of the Church amidst religious groups seemingly at war with each other, disquiet disappeared and I often experienced a strange peace and deep joy and consolation because of the resurrection of the man who was God’s Son and our Savior. The only way to discern, detect and discover the presence of the Risen Lord is on one’s knees, in the midst of the chaos of the Church and the world.

Jesus’ victory over death belongs to the Church’s ongoing pastoral and sacramental life and its mission to the world. The church is the community of those who have the competence to recognize Jesus as the risen Lord. It specializes in discerning the Risen One. As long as we remain in dialogue with Jesus, our darkness will give way to dawn, and we will become “competent” for witness. In an age which places so much weight on competency, we would do well to focus every now and then on our competence to discern resurrection.

What is the resurrection? Pope Benedict explains it so well in his book “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week – From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection”:

“It is part of the mystery of God that he acts so gently, that he only gradually builds up his history within the great history of mankind; that he becomes man and so can be overlooked by his contemporaries and by the decisive forces within history; that he suffers and dies and that, having risen again, he chooses to come to mankind only through the faith of the disciples to whom he reveals himself; that he continues to knock gently at the doors of our hearts and slowly opens our eyes if we open our doors to him. And yet—is not this the truly divine way? Not to overwhelm with external power, but to give freedom, to offer and elicit love. And if we really think about it, is it not what seems so small that is truly great?” (p. 276)

[The readings for Easter Sunday are: Acts 10.34a, 37-43; Colossians 3.1-4 or 1 Corinthians 5.6b-8; and John 20.1-18.]

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2011 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store. Book editions for Year A and C reflections are coming soon.

Sacramentum and Exemplum: the Gift and the Task

Last Supper cropped

Holy Thursday – Thursday, April 17, 2014

Holy Thursday formally concludes the Lenten season. On this night we enter into the three days that are the center of our liturgical year, and indeed of the Christian faith. The scripture readings root us deeply in our Jewish past…celebrating the Passover with the Jewish people (Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14), receiving from St. Paul (I Cor 11:23-26) that which was handed on to him, namely the Eucharist, and looking at Jesus square in the face as he kneels before us to wash our feet in humble service (John 13:1-15). Remembering is at the heart of this celebration.

On this night, Lord invites us to return with him to the Upper Room, to enable us to penetrate the depths of his Paschal Mystery. On the eve of his death, he gave us two signs that are renewed every year in the liturgy. First, the sign of the washing of the Apostles’ feet, through which Jesus left his friends an example of love that reveals itself in humble, concrete service. Second, Jesus consecrated bread and wine as the sacrament of his Body and his Blood, given in sacrifice for our salvation.

A night of remembering

Let us first consider the Eucharist as a memorial. In the Book of Exodus, we read: “God remembered his covenant with ‘Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob” (Exodus 2:24). The book of Deuteronomy states: “You shall remember the Lord your God” (8:18). “You shall remember what the Lord your God did” (7:18). The memory of God and men and women in the Bible is intimately linked together and constitutes a fundamental component of the life of the people of God. However, this remembering is not a mere commemoration of something that happened long ago, but rather of a “zikkaron,” (Hebrew) namely, a “memorial.” It is the proclamation of the mighty works that God has done for us throughout the ages and continues to do for us now. In the liturgical celebration of these events, they become in a certain way present and real (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1363). The memorial recalls a bond of the covenant that never fails: “The Lord has been mindful of us; he will bless us” (Psalm 115:12). Authentic biblical faith involves the fruitful remembrance of the wonderful works of our salvation.

In the Old Testament, the “memorial” par excellence of God’s works in history was the paschal liturgy of Exodus. Every time the people of Israel celebrated Passover, God offered them the gift of freedom and salvation. In the celebration of Passover, the two memories intersected, the divine and the human, – saving grace and acknowledged faith: “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast of the Lord…. And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memory between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand the Lord has brought you out of Egypt” (Exodus 12:14; 13:9).

At the heart of the Eucharist: remembering

This meeting of the memory of God and of human beings lies at the center of the Eucharist, which is the “memorial” of the Christian Passover par excellence. At the heart of the celebration of the sacrifice of Christ is the act of remembering. We remember the sacrifice of Christ, this unique event, fulfilled “once and for all” (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12,26; 10:12), whose graces we continue to receive throughout history. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). The Eucharist therefore is a memorial of the death of Christ, but it is also the presence of his sacrifice and anticipation of his glorious coming. We can certainly understand Paul’s exhortation to Timothy: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David” (II Timothy 2:8). This remembrance lives and works in a special way in the Eucharist.

To remember is to bring the heart back in memory and affection, but it is also celebration of a presence ever with us. The Eucharist arouses in us the memory of Christ’s love. In the Eucharist, Christians nourish the hope of the final meeting with their Lord. The Eucharist is the memorial in the full sense: the bread and the wine, through the action of the Holy Spirit, truly become the Body and Blood of Christ, who gives himself to be the food of men and women on their earthly pilgrimage. To stay faithful to this mandate, to abide in him like branches joined to the vine and to love as he loved, it is necessary to be nourished with his Body and his Blood. In telling the Apostles: “Do this in memory of me,” the Lord bound the Church to the living memorial of his Passover.

The New Passover

In his masterful book “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week – From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection” (Ignatius Press, San Francisco – USA – 2011), Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI explains very carefully and clearly what the Last Supper really was. He writes:

“One thing emerges clearly from the entire tradition: essentially, this farewell meal was not the old Passover, but the new one, which Jesus accomplished in this context. Even though the meal that Jesus shared with the Twelve was not a Passover meal according to the ritual prescriptions of Judaism, nevertheless, in retrospect, the inner connection of the whole event with Jesus’ death and Resurrection stood out clearly. It was Jesus’ Passover. And in this sense he both did and did not celebrate the Passover: the old rituals could not be carried out – when their time came, Jesus had already died. But he had given himself, and thus he had truly celebrated the Passover with them. The old was not abolished; it was simply brought to its full meaning.” (p. 114)

The Washing of the Feet

Pope Benedict writes beautifully about the washing of the feet that is at the heart of the Holy Thursday Gospel (Jn 13:1-15). Benedict explains:

“Let us return to chapter 13 of Saint John’s Gospel. “You are clean”, says Jesus to his disciples. The gift of purity is an act of God. Man cannot make himself fit for God, whatever systems of purification he may follow. ‘You are clean’—in Jesus’ wonderfully simple statement, the grandeur of the mystery of Christ is somehow encapsulated. It is the God who comes down to us who makes us clean. Purity is a gift.” (p. 61)

“Yet an objection springs to mind. A few verses later, Jesus says: ‘If I, then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you’ (Jn 13:14–15). Does this not after all suggest a purely moral conception of Christianity?” (p. 61)

Sacramentum and exemplum

“The Fathers expressed the difference between these two aspects, as well as their mutual relationship, using the categories of sacramentum and exemplum: by sacramentum they mean, not any particular sacrament, but rather the entire mystery of Christ—his life and death—in which he draws close to us, enters us through his Spirit, and transforms us. But precisely because this sacramentum truly ‘cleanses’ us, renewing us from within, it also unleashes a dynamic of new life. The command to do as Jesus did is no mere moral appendix to the mystery, let alone an antithesis to it. It follows from the inner dynamic of gift with which the Lord renews us and draws us into what is his.” (p. 62)

“The gift—the sacramentum—becomes an exemplum, an example, while always remaining a gift. To be a Christian is primarily a gift, which then unfolds in the dynamic of living and acting in and around the gift.” (p. 65)

Concluding his reflection on the washing of the feet, Benedict writes:

“…Looking back over the whole chapter on the washing of the feet, we may say that in this humble gesture, expressing the entire ministry of Jesus’ life and death, the Lord stands before us as the servant of God—he who for our sake became one who serves, who carries our burden and so grants us true purity, the capacity to draw close to God. In the second Suffering Servant Song from Isaiah, there is a phrase that in some sense anticipates the essence of John’s theology of the Passion: The Lord said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’” (pp.74-75)

Holy Thursday and the Ministerial Priesthood

As I write these words for Holy Week, this Saturday I mark 28 years of ordained priesthood. Over these years I have returned to the Holy Thursday Gospel countless times to draw strength and inspiration for what I strive to be each day: an ordained minister who keeps alive the memory of Jesus among the people, and who serves the community as foot washer and servant. What an incredible model of priesthood we find in tonight’s Gospel: the Lord and Saviour of the world who kneels before us to wash our feet in a gesture of humility and service!

The very nature of the Eucharist implies a bond with God and with the community. Our destinies are intertwined. It is this “intertwining” that lies at the heart of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, and our priesthood. When we receive the Eucharist, we partake of the one who becomes food and drink for others. So must it be for us who receive the Lord’s body and blood: our lives, too, must become a feast for the poor. We too must become food and drink for the hungry.

Throughout his life, Jesus is a priestly model of compassion. He was a priestly person who lived for others, who offered up everyone and everything to the God who loved him. That’s the only kind of priesthood that makes a difference, and that matters, then and now. The very opposite of a priest is a consumer, one who buys and amasses things. A priestly person is one who spends himself or herself gladly for others. This evening’s celebration of the Lord’s supper invites us to look at what we have done with our baptism, and how we are a Eucharistic and Priestly people. We must look at our own priesthood, whether it be the priesthood of the baptized or the ministerial priesthood, and ask ourselves for whom we really live and who we really love. Do we spend ourselves gladly for others?

If I am an ordained priest and called “Father”, it is not simply because I have a prestigious academic background, a good formation, a title, or a place of privilege in society or in the Church. The crises facing the priesthood at present throughout the world remind us that there is no place for prestige, privilege, rank or upward mobility. It is about humble service and intercessory prayer for those entrusted to us by the Lord.

One is a priest because one is ultimately a servant. This means that I try to lay down my life publicly for the community. The title “Father” reflects the relationship that exists between priests and the people they serve. It is an awesome, daunting, beautiful relationship that at its best, generates life and communicates love. Jesus teaches us in the profound Gospel story for Holy Thursday that the true source of authority in the Church comes from living the life of a servant, from laying down our lives for our friends. The only authority and power found in the priesthood is Gospel authority that comes from living the Paschal mystery. Tonight in particular, I and all ordained ministers must ask ourselves: do we really function as one who keeps the memory of Jesus alive in the community; as one who elicits the act of faith from people; as one who builds up God’s community that is the Church? Are we foot washers and servants? Do we pattern our living and dying on Jesus Christ, the eternal priest of compassion and service?

I give thanks to God in a very special way for the privilege granted to me these past years, in particular, to break open God’s Word for the world through these weekly reflections. I am grateful for the countless messages I receive every week from people throughout the world who have found these reflections helpful. Oremus pro invicem.

Holy Thursday in Summary

Here are some key points to remember about Holy Thursday from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

In what way did Christ offer himself to the Father?

620. The entire life of Christ was a free offering to the Father to carry out his plan of salvation. He gave “his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45) and in this way he reconciled all of humanity with God. His suffering and death showed how his humanity was the free and perfect instrument of that divine love which desires the salvation of all people.

How is Jesus’ offering expressed at the Last Supper?

621. At the Last Supper with his apostles on the eve of his passion Jesus anticipated, that is, both symbolized his free self-offering and made it really present: “This is my Body which is given for you” (Luke 22:19), “This is my Blood which is poured out…” (Matthew 26:28) Thus he both instituted the Eucharist as the “memorial” (1 Corinthians 11:25) of his sacrifice and instituted his apostles as priests of the new covenant.

What happened in the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane?

612. Despite the horror which death represented for the sacred humanity of Jesus “who is the Author of Life” (Acts 3:15), the human will of the Son of God remained faithful to the will of the Father for our salvation. Jesus accepted the duty to carry our sins in his Body “becoming obedient unto death” (Philippians 2:8).

What are the results of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross?

622-623. Jesus freely offered his life as an expiatory sacrifice, that is, he made reparation for our sins with the full obedience of his love unto death. This love “to the end” (John 13:1) of the Son of God reconciled all of humanity with the Father. The paschal sacrifice of Christ, therefore, redeems humanity in a way that is unique, perfect, and definitive; and it opens up for them communion with God.

[The readings for Holy Thursday are: Isaiah 61.1-3a, 6a, 8b-9; Revelation 1.4-8; and Luke 4.16-21.]

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2011 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store. Book editions for Year A and C reflections are coming soon.