Reconsidering Inconvenience

For pilgrims who set out to attend large-scale Church events such as a World Youth Day or a Papal Inauguration, there’s always the remote possibility that you won’t be able to secure a spot at the venue or you get sick and end up missing the event. For those who have traveled halfway around the world, this disappointment can be hard to bear. It can seem that the pilgrimage was for naught. How to deal with the disappointment? Guest blogger, Rebekah Lamb shares her experience from the recent double canonizations in Rome.

 

An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.

G.K. Chesterton, ‘All Things Considered’

By Rebekah Lamb

As soon as Pope Francis named Divine Mercy Sunday the date on which both Popes John XXIII and John Paul II would be raised to the altar of the saints, my sister and I hurried online to scour every air fair deal possible to scheme a way to get to Rome. Since we’re both grad students, managing to make a pilgrimage to Rome would be a bit of miracle in itself and, Providentially, I had barely started praying for a way to go before a professor asked me to take on some research work for her—work that ended up covering the price of my ticket! Initially, however, it was a little more difficult to see some of the Providence in our trip when we arrived in Rome as, due to crushing crowds and getting sick, I ended up having to leave my hard-won spot (before the sacred liturgy began) which was at the edge of the Via della Conciliazione, roughly five hundred meters away from Piazza San Pietro itself. It was very difficult to accept this turn of events which, in my somewhat dramatic and sleep-deprived state, seemed a great catastrophe: I had travelled solely to Rome for this moment and I was not going to be able to physically participate in the event I had anticipated for so long.

However, this disappointment became a source of grace for me during my trip: I felt called to reflect on the ways in which the saints for whom I had journeyed to Rome, to celebrate and honour, met with disappointment and embraced it as a way of entering into greater abandonment to the loving Providence of God: who sees what is truly best for us. For instance, in his well-known prayer, “The Daily Decalogue,” St. John XXIII says: “Only for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes.” As we know from the witnesses of Saints John XXIII and John Paul II, both men accepted various kinds of suffering, ordinary and extraordinary ones, as means of loving Christ and loving others. Like other kinds of suffering, disappointment expands our insight: it stretches the narrow parameters and limitations of our personal vision and expectations, reminding us that life, and by extension God’s will for us, is not determined by us and, often, doesn’t conform to our little plans. While, of course, it was natural that I was disappointed about how Divine Mercy Sunday began for me, my dejection ended up re-orienting, my way of looking at my pilgrimage to Rome, my way of reflecting upon the relationship between grace and frail human expectations and the ways in which the very city of Rome became a means by which Our Lord offered me a new way of seeing the purpose of my trip.

We can get so caught up in planning out  how our travels and trajectories should occur that we fail to see what truly matters along our way; this failure to perceive what truly matters, is, ultimately, the root of our sins (Adam and Eve sinned because they failed to see God’s commandments as good for them because their own desires over-shadowed their perception of what is truly right and good). Disappointment, for me, initially threatened to ruin my whole day as I moved away from the Vatican and saw other disappointed and exhausted pilgrims leaving the square before the canonizations began. However, by God’s grace, it ended up stretching my ability to see what my pilgrimage was really supposed to be about: an encounter, first and foremost, with Christ in Rome, a place rich in sacramental treasures of our faith. While I didn’t end up physically witnessing the canonizations, I was, during my trip, able to venerate the relics of Christ’s cross; pray at Sancta Scala (“the holy stairs” which once belonged to Pontius Pilate and which Christ would have climbed while on trial); visit churches dedicated to the martyrs and heroes of our faith; and connect with pilgrims from around the world who endured various difficulties and disappointments of their own in order to celebrate this unprecedented moment in our history in which four Popes were present in a special way at the Vatican, witnessing to the continuity between earthly and eternal life.

Remembering the suffering body of St. John Paul II, the Great, in his last years, I reflected in Rome that disappointment and unexpected “plot changes” in one’s life can be an invitation from God to rely more fully on Him so as to have our hearts purified: so we can see Him better. Every disappointment, then, and things much worse, can ultimately become a eucatastrophe: “the sudden happy turn in a story” (J.R.R. Tolkien), made possible by Christ’s life-giving love.

My disappointments, the inconveniences of getting sick and stuck in crowds too big for me to deal with, ended up becoming a spiritual adventure for me (as opposed to a frustrating inconvenience) and heightened my contemplation of what mattered most on my pilgrimage: finding ways, in every type of circumstance, to seek being close to Christ.

 Rebekah Lamb is finishing a doctorate in Victorian Literature at Western University and, as of the summer, will be an Assistant Professor of English Literature at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy (Barry’s Bay, Ontario). She will be a visiting lecturer at the Centre for Faith and Culture in Oxford, teaching at its 2014 university summer program: “‘Between Tiber and Thames: The Soul of Post-Reformation England.” She has studied in Rome, Italy as well as at the Chesterton Archives Centre, run by the Second Spring Institute in Oxford.

John Paul II, A Saint for Canada

Father Karol Wojtyla reading in canoe in 1955

I once had a teacher who knew exactly how to keep her students focused during the day. She promised us that if we were very good, she would read us a few pages from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. She would only have to give the gentlest reminder that we would not have time for The Hobbit and there would be a swift end to our cavorting and carrying-on. As you can imagine, she had us eating out of her hand.

My love for a great story has continued, and I’ve found that the best stories are always those “based on a true story”. At Salt + Light we have a storytelling ritual, you could say, and Fr. Thomas Rosica is one of the best storytellers I know. Whenever Fr. Rosica returns to the office from a trip, he gathers everyone to celebrate Mass, and following that it’s time for our meeting around the conference table. After we have prayed and he has given us all a little token from his travels -usually a prayer card, a spiritual booklet, or some chocolates- he settles down to tell us about everything that happened.  As I said, Fr. Tom Rosica is a masterful storyteller. By the time the meeting has concluded, we feel as if we have lived through it all – the highs and the lows: the lost luggage, the inevitable poor internet connection fiascos, the exceptional encounters, the developments, and the messages of encouragement.

My favourite stories, however, are the ones where he tells us of his encounters with Pope John Paul II. These stories are an incredible source of insight.  Sure, there’s something to be learned from reading great encyclicals, but to know a person firsthand and to get a sense of who he was and why he did what he did – this can only be imparted through personal experience; anything else simply doesn’t have the same impact. Moreover, Fr. Rosica’s stories are always full of meaning. Significant dates in history have moods and feelings attached to them, and there’s always a deep sense of what these things mean for us and for the world. As a scripture scholar, Fr. Rosica’s biblical imagination imbues his commentary on events with a profound love of scriptural images and also a great sense of humour. 

Not everyone has the opportunity to listen to these stories firsthand, but you will certainly feel as if you are sitting around the Salt + Light conference table when you pick up the new release  John Paul II, A Saint for Canada. It’s a short book that can be read at a leisurely pace in a few hours. Filled with Fr. Rosica’s personal reflections on Pope John Paul II,  John Paul II, A Saint for Canada is a delight that will leave you with a deep appreciation for the soon-to-be saint and what he means for us in Canada.

 To get a taste of what you can expect, you’re invited to watch our latest Catholic FOCUS featuring John Paul II.

 Photo description: Father Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, is pictured reading in a kayak in this photo dated from 1955. Three years later, he was on the water with friends when he learned he had been called to Warsaw for the announcement that he was to be made a bishop. He will be canonized on April 27 with Blessed John XXIII. (CNS photo)

  

 

 

John Paul II, We Love You – Catholic Focus

 

Pope John Paul II was in many respects a pope of firsts: the first pope to visit the White House, the first pope to visit Cuba, and the most widely traveled Pope in history. He is recognized as helping to end the Communist rule in his native Poland, and eventually all of Europe. He also canonized more saints than all of his predecessors combined! As one of the longest reigning popes in the history of the Church, his influence will be felt for generations. Join host Cheridan Sanders as she speaks with Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB about the life and times of Pope John Paul II in this latest episode of Catholic Focus.

From the Wound in His Heart Flows the Great Wave of Mercy…

Divine Mercy cropped

Second Sunday of Easter, Year A – Sunday, April 27, 2014

“Doubting Thomas” is a term often used to describe someone who refuses to believe something without direct, personal evidence; a skeptic. It refers of course to Thomas, one of the Twelve, whose name occurs in all the gospel lists of the apostles. Thomas is called “Didymus,” the Greek form of an Aramaic name meaning “twin.” When Jesus announced his intention of returning to Judea to visit Lazarus, Thomas said to his fellow disciples: “Let us also go, that we may die with him (John 11:16).” It was Thomas who, during the great discourse after the Last Supper, raised an objection: “Lord, we do not know where you are going; and how can we know the way (John 14:5)?”

Little else is recorded of Thomas the Apostle in the New Testament, nevertheless thanks to John’s gospel text for today (John 20:19-31) his personality is clearer to us than that of some others of the twelve. Thomas would have listened to Jesus’ words, and he certainly experienced dismay at Jesus’ death. That Easter evening when the Lord appeared to the disciples, Thomas was not present. When he was told that Jesus was alive and had shown himself, Thomas stated: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Eight days later, Thomas made his act of faith, drawing down the rebuke of Jesus – “Because you have seen me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

The real Thomas

Thomas the Apostle is one of the greatest and most honest of the lovers of Jesus, not the eternal skeptic, nor the bullish, stubborn personality that Christian tradition has often painted. This young apostle stood before the cross, not comprehending the horrors of what had happened. All his dreams and hopes were hanging on that cross. Thomas rediscovered his faith amidst the believing community of apostles and disciples. This point must never be forgotten, especially in an age when so many claim that faith and spirituality are attainable without the experience of the ecclesial community. We do not believe as isolated individuals, but rather, through our Baptism, we become members of this great family of the Church. It is precisely the faith professed by the ecclesial community we call Church that reinforces our personal faith. Each Sunday at mass, we profess our faith either in the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed. In doing so, we are saved from the danger of believing in a God other than the one revealed by Christ. 

Faith is not an isolated act

Let us not forget #166 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“Faith is a personal act – the free response of the human person to the initiative of God who reveals himself. But faith is not an isolated act. No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone. You have not given yourself faith as you have not given yourself life. The believer has received faith from others and should hand it on to others. Our love for Jesus and for our neighbor impels us to speak to others about our faith. Each believer is thus a link in the great chain of believers. I cannot believe without being carried by the faith of others, and by my faith I help support others in the faith.”

Divine Mercy Sunday

Divine Mercy Sunday celebrates the merciful love of God shining through the Easter Triduum and the whole Easter mystery. The feast recovers an ancient liturgical tradition, reflected in a teaching attributed to St. Augustine about the Easter Octave, which he called “the days of mercy and pardon,” and the Octave Day itself “the compendium of the days of mercy.”

Pope John Paul II’s interest in Divine Mercy goes back to the days of his youth in Krakow when Karol Wojtyla was an eyewitness to so much evil and suffering during World War II in occupied Poland. He witnessed the round ups of many people who were sent to concentration camps and slave labor. In his hometown of Wadowice, he had many Jewish friends who would later die in the Holocaust. During that time of terror and fear, Karol Wojtyla decided to enter Cardinal Sapieha’s clandestine seminary in Krakow. He experienced the need for God’s mercy and humanity’s need to be merciful to one another. While in the seminary, he met another seminarian, Andrew Deskur (who would later become Cardinal), who introduced Karol to the message of the Divine Mercy, as revealed to the Polish mystic nun, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, who died at the age of 33 in 1938.

The Pope of Divine Mercy

At the beginning of his pontificate in 1981, Pope John Paul II wrote an entire encyclical dedicated to Divine Mercy – “Dives in Misericordia” (Rich in Mercy) illustrating that the heart of the mission of Jesus Christ was to reveal the merciful love of the Father. In 1993 when Pope John Paul II beatified Sr. Faustina Kowalska, he stated in the homily for her beatification mass: “Her mission continues and is yielding astonishing fruit. It is truly marvelous how her devotion to the merciful Jesus is spreading in our contemporary world, and gaining so many human hearts!”

Four years later in 1997, the Holy Father visited Blessed Faustina’s tomb in Lagiewniki, Poland, and preached powerful words: “There is nothing that man needs more than Divine Mercy…. From here went out the message of Mercy that Christ Himself chose to pass on to our generation through Blessed Faustina.”

In the Jubilee year 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized Sr. Faustina – making her the first canonized saint of the new millennium – and established “Divine Mercy Sunday” as a special title for the Second Sunday of Easter for the universal Church. Pope John Paul II spoke these words in the homily: “Jesus shows His hands and His side [to the Apostles]. He points, that is, to the wounds of the Passion, especially the wound in His Heart, the source from which flows the great wave of mercy poured out on humanity.”

One year later, in his homily for Divine Mercy Sunday in 2001, the Pope called the message of mercy entrusted to St. Faustina: “The appropriate and incisive answer that God wanted to offer to the questions and expectations of human beings in our time, marked by terrible tragedies…. Divine Mercy! This is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity at the dawn of the third millennium.”

Again in Lagiewniki, Poland in 2002, at the dedication of the new Shrine of Divine Mercy, the Holy Father consecrated the whole world to Divine Mercy, saying: “I do so with the burning desire that the message of God’s merciful love, proclaimed here through St. Faustina, may be made known to all the peoples of the earth, and fill their hearts with hope.”

In his Regina Caeli address of April 23, 2006, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said: “The mystery of God’s merciful love was at the centre of the pontificate of my venerated predecessor.” Now that same Providence has desired that this year, on Divine Mercy Sunday, three years after he was beatified on this same feast, Pope John Paul II, the great apostle and ambassador of Divine Mercy, will be proclaimed a saint.

Mercy is our hallmark

We must ask ourselves: what is new about this message of Divine Mercy? Why did Pope John Paul II insist so much on this aspect of God’s love in our time? Is this not the same devotion as that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus? Mercy is an important Christian virtue, much different from justice and retribution. While recognizing the real pain of injury and the rationale for the justification of punishment, mercy takes a different approach in redressing the injury. Mercy strives to radically change the condition and the soul of the perpetrator to resist doing evil, often by revealing love and one’s true beauty. If any punishment is enforced, it must be for salvation, not for vengeance or retribution. This is very messy business in our day and a very complex message… but it is the only way if we wish to go forward and be leaven for the world today; if we truly wish to be salt and light in a culture that has lost the flavor of the Gospel and the light of Christ.

Where hatred and the thirst for revenge dominate, where war brings suffering and death to the innocent, abuse has destroyed countless innocent lives, the grace of mercy is needed in order to settle human minds and hearts and to bring about healing and peace. Wherever respect for human life and dignity are lacking, there is need of God’s merciful love, in whose light we see the inexpressible value of every human being. Mercy is needed to insure that every injustice in the world will come to an end. The message of mercy is that God loves us – all of us – no matter how great our sins. God’s mercy is greater than our sins, so that we will call upon Him with trust, receive His mercy, and let it flow through us to others. Essentially, mercy means the understanding of weakness, the capacity to forgive.

Apostle of Divine Mercy

Throughout his priestly and Episcopal ministry, and especially during his entire Pontificate, Pope John Paul II preached God’s mercy, wrote about it, and most of all lived it. He offered forgiveness to the man who was destined to kill him in St. Peter’s Square. The Pope who witnessed the scandal of divisions among Christians and the atrocities against the Jewish people as he grew up did everything in his power to heal the wounds caused by the historic conflicts between Catholics and other Christian churches, and especially with the Jewish people. 

Today, on the day that the Church canonizes this great apostle of mercy and peace, I remember with affection and deep gratitude the stirring words that soon-to-be Saint John Paul II spoke at the concluding mass of World Youth Day 2002 at Downsview Park in Toronto. These words keep us focused on the importance and necessity of mercy in the Church today.

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

“…Do not let that hope die! Stake your lives on it! We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.” 

Today let us pray with joy and gratitude:

O God, who are rich in mercy
and who willed that Saint John Paul II
should preside as Pope over your universal Church,
grant, we pray, that instructed by his teaching,
we may open our hearts to the saving grace of Christ,
the sole Redeemer of mankind.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God forever and ever. Amen.

[The readings for the Second Sunday of Easter are: Acts 2:42-47; 1 Peter 1:3-9; and John 20:19-31.]

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.

John Paul II – I Kept Looking For You.

POPE JOHN PAUL II GREETS YOUNG PERSON DURING 1994 VACATION IN ITALY

On the promotional cover for the documentary John Paul II – I kept looking for you the caption reads, “The World’s Biggest Documentary about the New Saint”… now, usually, I would say that’s just marketing hype, but in this case the documentary lives up it. Once you get past the English dub, which I’ll admit is wooden and confusing at first, this documentary is hands-down one of the best, no, I take that back, it’s the best JP II doc I’ve ever seen. Telling the story of Pope John’s Paul’s papacy is no small feat. The fact alone that he was the most traveled pope in history meant that the documentary makers would shoot at 120 locations, in more than 13 countries. The interviews include an all-star lineup with prominent cultural figures, actors, fashion designers, and important religious figures such as the 14th Dalai Lama, the Head Rabbi of Israel (1993-2003) and the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I. Coupled with some of the rarest and most extraordinary archival footage of Pope John Paul II to date. All this to say that once you watch it, you’ll feel as if you’ve lived every moment of this great man’s papacy again. By the end of it, I was crying without shame… and considering I screened the documentary at work, all I can say is that I was overwhelmed with emotion! Make sure you have a box of tissues. In all seriousness though, this documentary not only struck at the core of who Pope John Paul II was, but what he meant for all of us. It’s a documentary which will leave you thanking God, and without a doubt that this man was a modern day saint.

Relive the inspirational story of our newest saint: Saturday, April 26th @ 8:30 pm ET / 5:30 PT

Photo description: Pope John Paul II greets a young person during his 1994 vacation in Val D’Aosta, Italy. (CNS/Arturo Mari) 

Vatican Connections: January 31, 2014

The week started off with a shocking theft, the recovery of the stolen item (in multiple installments) the announcement of a new book that is already getting a mixed reception, an audience with an American University, the announcement that several people are moving closer to sainthood….and it closed with the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life laying out their two-year plan.  More details on how the Vatican is focusing on consecrated life can be found below. For everything else watch Vatican Connections, above.

************

In preparation for the 2015 Year for Consecrated Life, the Vatican department that oversees religious communities is updating the documents that regulate different aspects of religious life.  

Presenting plans for the Year for Consecrated life Archbishop Jose Carballo, secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life said the dicastery has been working with various organizations to revise the documents that regulate: the relationship between bishops and religious communities, societies of contemplative life, and institutes of religious brothers.  

Archbishop Carballo said, “we are expecting a document from the Holy Father during the year for consecrated life, to replace the current document on contemplative life, Sponsa Christi which was promulgated by Pope Pius XII in 1950”

The archbishop added that Pope Francis asked for work to go ahead on revising Verbi Sponza, a 1999 document about the autonomy of contemplative cloistered communities. He said although the document is fairly recent, “the evolution of contemplative life in recent years has made it necessary to revise the current discipline and autonomy” of cloistered communities, paying close attention to formation in those communities.

In addition to the documents being updated, the congregation will release a new document directed at religious brothers.

Archbishop Carballo said the new text, “is about the vocation and mission of religious brother in lay institutes. A lot of work has gone into this document, in collaboration with these institutes.”

On March 8 and 9 the congregation will host a symposium at Rome’s Pontifical Antonianum University on managing community finances and assets.

During 2015 the congregation expects to hold several international meetings for members of religious institutes. Archbishop Carballo said there willbe one meeting specifically for young and newly professed religious men and women. A second international gathered will be held for formators in men’s and women’s communities.

Pope Francis announced the 2015 Year for Consecrated life in 2013 during a meeting with superior generals of men’s communities November 29. No opening date has been set, but Archbishop Carballo said, “we are thinking of a solemn celebration presided by the Holy Father. Possibly, if he can, November 21 2015 which is 50 years from the promulgation of Perfecate Caritatis” the Vatican II document about religious life.

 

 

 

I Need to Stay at Your House

Zacchaeus cropped

The Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – November 3, 2013

Today’s Gospel story remains forever engraved in my memory. I still remember a song from my early grade school years that began with, “There was a man from Jericho named Zacchaeus.” Years later, I would visit Jericho on many occasions during my graduate studies in the Holy Land — to get away from Jerusalem on some damp, cold wintry day in order to enjoy Jericho’s mild climate, or to savor the dates, mangos, lemons and other fruits for which the city’s outdoor markets are famous. Jericho is rightly called the City of Palms in the Old Testament. It is truly an oasis in the desert!

The locals still point out to us foreigners the exact location of Rahab’s house. She was the infamous prostitute of the Old Testament who made it into Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. Her “house” had become an accounting office on one of my last visits to Jericho.

The locals also take delight in pointing out the ruins of the walls that Joshua brought down in one of the Old Testament’s mighty battles that may have never taken place! Best of all are the 39 or so sycamore trees that Zacchaeus climbed in order to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was passing by, and the house of the town’s chief tax collector-turned-saint!

Small stature

Today’s Gospel is one of Jesus’ beloved meals scenes in the New Testament. Luke’s portrait of Zacchaeus is vivid and irresistibly charming! The story of Jericho’s famous tax collector (Luke 19:1-10) is unique to Luke’s gospel. We are told that he was the chief tax collector and very wealthy at that.  While a rich man, Zacchaeus provides a contrast to the rich man of Luke 18:18-23 who cannot detach himself from his material possessions to become a follower of Jesus. Zacchaeus, according to Luke, exemplifies the proper attitude toward wealth: He promises to give half of his possessions to the poor, and consequently is the recipient of salvation.

The evangelist’s graphic description is enhanced in also calling him a “little man.” His is a kind of smallness that is far more devastating and corroding than being short. His smallness emerges from his terrible self-image resulting from others’ attitudes toward him. Are we not most vulnerable at these moments in our lives?

Though a member of a group that was widely despised, Zacchaeus appears in today’s story as a fundamentally honest and humble man who seeks the truth and is open to finding it where he can, even if it means climbing a sycamore tree in a crowd, just to catch a glimpse of Jesus. He represents that figure who turns up again and again in the scriptures — the outsider, the person who for one reason or another looks in from the edge, but must always stay there. It is on the edge that we meet him, shut out by others, desperately anxious to be part of the proceedings, all the while failing.

The parade at our front door

Why would Zacchaeus be so intent on catching a glimpse of Jesus? Perhaps because Jesus is all that he is not! Jesus is admired, sought out, and above all accepted by a large following. If we are terribly honest with ourselves, we would admit that at some point in our own loneliness or alienation, in our real or imagined non-acceptance or un-love, we long to identify with someone else’s seeming acceptance.

Do we not often strain our necks, like Zacchaeus in his tree, imprisoned in our loneliness, envy, jealousy, self-pity, laziness? And then suddenly, the unexpected happens. The parade stops at our front door, and we get an invitation with astonishing words: “I’m really glad to see that you are here,” or “Let’s go out for a coffee, you’ve had a hard day,” or “Come and join us, it’s not good to be alone,” or “When are you going to invite me over? I’d really like to have supper with you.” And the list goes on and on. An invitation leads to the most intimate favor of hospitality.

Houseguest

“Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5). “Zacchaeus”: Jesus called by name a man despised by all. “Today”: Yes, this very moment was the moment of his salvation. “I must stay”: Why “I must”? Because the Father, rich in mercy, wants Jesus “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

Zacchaeus’ repentance is attested by his determination to amend his former ways, and shows himself to be a true descendant of Abraham, the true heir to the promises of God in the Old Testament. Underlying Luke’s depiction of Zacchaeus as a descendant of Abraham, the father of the Jews, is his recognition of the central place occupied by Israel in the plan of salvation.

When the favor is asked of Zacchaeus, and all those like him who are accustomed to being shunned and rejected, Zacchaeus and his types are dizzy with excitement. The walls of Jericho truly come tumbling down! Perhaps for the first time, Zacchaeus is accepted without reservation or condition. And that is cause for great rejoicing, not shame. In true Lukan fashion, there is a celebration! Once again, those murmuring are shocked that Jesus would go to the house — and even more shocked, to the table — of a sinner so famous as Zacchaeus. As Jesus sat at the table among such high-society, he watched Zacchaeus rise up out of the ashes and the tomb of alienation, self-deception, dishonesty, which he himself had constructed.

Salvation arrives

Jesus declares publicly, “Today salvation has come to this house.” It’s almost as if Jesus said to the chief tax collector of Jericho, and through him, to each of us, “Zacchaeus, don’t climb too high in that tree of yours … and hide from me. Don’t waste all your energy concentrating on your guilt as you see it. I need to talk with you and find out where you have boxed yourself in. Together we’ll find a way past all of your excuses and out of the maze. Look, the tree is sprouting. I’ve come to save you!”

Morals of the story

Over the years, I have found several morals in this ancient story. One of them tells us that when it comes to the love of God, we must first declare that we are lost and empty, and then begin the process whereby we are found. We must name and own the masks we wear before we can ever begin to remove them and the makeup, and see our true face. We have to experience the death at work in us, our hearts, emotions, intellects, relationships and self esteem, in order to begin the journey up to Jerusalem, the City of the Resurrection. And sometime, we may have to stop feeling sorry for ourselves, let down our defenses, jump down from the trees in which we were hiding, give half of our belongings to the poor, and pay back those we have cheated. Who cares what the critics are saying? When salvation has come into our societies, our communities, our homes and our hearts, no one can ever rob us of that precious gift any longer.

Transformation

In his Letter to Priests written for Holy Thursday 2002 (Nos. 5-6), Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote these words about today’s delightful Gospel story:

“Everything that happens to him (Zacchaeus) is amazing. If there had not been, at a certain point, the ‘surprise’ of Christ looking up at him, perhaps he would have remained a silent spectator of the Lord moving through the streets of Jericho. Jesus would have passed by, not into, his life. Zacchaeus had no idea that the curiosity which had prompted him to do such an unusual thing was already the fruit of a mercy which had preceded him, attracted him and was about to change him in the depths of his heart. [...]

“Luke’s account is remarkable for the tone of the language: Everything is so personal, so tactful, so affectionate! Not only is the text filled with humanity; it suggests insistence, an urgency to which Jesus gives voice as the one offering the definitive revelation of God’s mercy. He says: ‘I must stay at your house,’ or to translate even more literally: ‘I need to stay at your house’ (v 5). Following the mysterious road map which the Father has laid out for him, Jesus runs into Zacchaeus along the way. He pauses near him as if the meeting had been planned from the beginning. Despite all the murmuring of human malice, the home of this sinner is about to become a place of revelation, the scene of a miracle of mercy. True, this will not happen if Zacchaeus does not free his heart from the ligatures of egoism and from his unjust and fraudulent ways. But mercy has already come to him as a gratuitous and overflowing gift. Mercy has preceded him! [...]

“This is what happens in the case of Zacchaeus. Aware that he is now being treated as a ‘son,’ he begins to think and act like a son, and this he shows in the way he rediscovers his brothers and sisters. Beneath the loving gaze of Christ, the heart of Zacchaeus warms to love of neighbor. From a feeling of isolation, which had led him to enrich himself without caring about what others had to suffer, he moves to an attitude of sharing. This is expressed in a genuine ‘division’ of his wealth: ‘half of my goods to the poor.’ The injustice done to others by his fraudulent behavior is atoned for by a fourfold restitution: “If I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold” (v 8). And it is only at this point that the love of God achieves its purpose, and salvation is accomplished: ‘Today salvation has come to this house’ (v 9).”

[The readings for the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time are Wisdom 11:22-12:2; Psalm 145; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2; Luke 19:1-10.]

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2010 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.

Remembering September 11, 2001


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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of the Day: Piazza Giovanni Paolo II

Pope attends dedication of square in honor of Blessed John Paul II outside Basilica of St. John Lateran

Pope Francis and Cardinal Agostino Vallini look on as a plaque is unveiled, dedicating the plaza in front of the Basilica of St. John Lateran to the last Pope John Paul II. The dedication ceremony took place just before the Mass during which Pope Francis officially took possession of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, Rome’s Cathedral.

(CNS Photo / Paul Haring)

The Shadow of Peter, the Touch of Thomas


Divine Mercy Sunday – Sunday April 7, 2013
The readings for this Sunday are: Acts 5:12-16, Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24, Rev. 1:9-11A, 12-13, 17-19 and John 20:19-31

Today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (5:12-16) offers us a vivid insight into the early Christian community in Jerusalem. Luke has already mentioned the rapid growth of the early church (2:41, 47, 4:4; 6:1, 9:31). In today’s reading from Acts he wants to add the fact that large numbers of women as well as men were being baptized and becoming disciples (5:14). Signs and wonders are the visible result of some of the gifts of the Spirit such as “the working of miracles” and “deeds of power” (I Corinthians 12:9, 28).

A powerful image of Peter is presented to us (vs. 15-16): “They even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.”

The shadow of Peter

I have always been moved by the image of the shadow of Peter passing over the sick and afflicted. People who passed within Peter’s shadow were healed, not by Peter’s shadow, but by God’s power working through Peter. These miracles of healing attracted people to the early Church and confirmed the truth of the teachings of the Apostles and the fact that the power of God was with them. We also learn that the religious leaders who were jealous of Jesus’ power and authority saw the Apostles as a continued threat and demanded respect for themselves. The apostles weren’t demanding respect for themselves. Their goal was to bring respect and reverence to God. The Apostles had acquired the respect of the people, not because they demanded it, but because they deserved it.

Pope Benedict among us

As I reflect on today’s first reading, I cannot help but call to mind the powerful images of Pope Benedict XVI as he moved among hundreds of thousands of people during his Apostolic Visit to the United States of America two years ago this month. The authentic shepherd, who models his or her life on Jesus, must love the people entrusted to him and imitate Jesus. Pope Benedict has done that very well.

Over the past weeks, the world has witnessed the scourge and pain of sexual abuse of minors and the vulnerable erupt in many European countries. The abuse is evil, devastating, and sinful. A small portion of priests and religious, who promised to protect, defend and love children, have brought disgrace upon the Church and upon society. Some people have tried to blame Pope Benedict for inaction, covert behavior, and blatant dishonesty in dealing with the sexual abuse of minors. Such blame is unjust, unacceptable, and extremely harmful to the Church, to victims, and to society in general.

I recall Pope Benedict’s visit to the USA two years ago with deep emotion and profound gratitude. During that visit, the shadow of Peter came upon America, as it has done wherever this Pope has visited over the past five years. And that shadow, which is God’s healing touch, covers us all with mercy, healing and peace. When Pope Benedict walked among us, he did more than connect with us. He bonded. He moved multitudes. He showed remarkable courage, wisdom and compassion.

The media did not miss the deep significance of the Holy Father’s private and moving meeting with victims of clerical sex abuse at the Vatican Embassy in Washington. The Pope was unafraid then and remains unafraid now to enter into the pain, confusion, sadness and evil of the abuse crisis. He let people know that he listened and understood and that the Pope will continue to act so that such a disaster would never repeat itself.
Ubi Petrus ibi ecclesia

An ancient Latin expression, first used by St. Ambrose in the fourth century, came to my mind in April 2008, during several moments of the historic papal visit to the USA: Ubi Petrus ibi ecclesia, which translated means: Wherever Peter is, there is the Church. Peter was in America two years ago, and his gentle smile and obvious serenity ignited a nation, a Church and a continent with hope in the midst of cynicism, despair and many who would like to hasten death for a Church that is alive and young. Only time, reflection and prayer will reveal if the healing of two years ago will bear fruit for the Church in America.
One thing is certain: In Pope Benedict XVI, the shadow of Peter fell on millions of people in America in 2008 and continues to fall on millions around the world to this day, especially upon those who are wounded and hurting from the evil actions of sexual abuse of children. Let us never forget that in Pope Benedict, Peter is still among us.

The touch of Thomas

John’s Resurrection story (Chapters 20-21) is 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 and help them in turn to become witnesses and teachers.

John’s story of Jesus and Thomas (John 20:19-31) records the first post-resurrection appearance of Jesus and provides us with an archetypal experience of doubt, struggle and faith. Herein lies every Christian’s experience: to believe without having seen. In this Gospel passage, we have a story within a story: the resolution of Thomas’ doubts during Jesus’ appearance to encourage the fearful disciples. Thomas only believes when he hears the Lord’s call to belief.

Thomas is not the eternal skeptic, nor the bullish, stubborn personality that Christian tradition has often painted. The Greek lexicon translates the word “skepsis” as “doubt, misgiving, hesitation, and disbelief.” Thomas, the doubter, was permitted to do something that we would all like to do. He was allowed to touch and “experience” something that by human means was not possible. For us it is more difficult. We need to begin with faith and then blindly touch our way to the heart of our lives.

Though we know so little about Thomas, his family background and his destiny, we are given an important hint into his identity in the etymology of his name in Greek: Thomas (Didymous in Greek) means “twin”. Who was Thomas’ other half, his twin? Maybe we can see his twin by looking into the mirror. Thomas’ other half is anyone who has struggled with the pain of unbelief, doubt and despair, and has allowed the presence of the Risen Jesus to make a difference. When this happens, the ice of skepticism thaws. Thomas and his twins throughout the world risk everything in Jesus and for Jesus and become sources of blessing for others, in spite of their doubts and despair and because of their doubts and despair.

Divine Mercy Sunday

Divine Mercy Sunday is not a new feast established to celebrate St. Faustina Kowalska’s (1905-1938) revelations. In fact it is not about St. Faustina at all! Rather the feast recovers an ancient liturgical tradition, reflected in a teaching attributed to St. Augustine about the Easter Octave, which he called “the days of mercy and pardon,” and the Octave Day itself “the compendium of the days of mercy.”

There is no need to force a link between Divine Mercy and the Gospel story of Thomas and the Risen Jesus. The celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday does not compete with, nor endanger the integrity of the Easter Season, nor does it take away from Thomas’ awesome encounter with the Risen Lord in today’s Gospel. Divine Mercy Sunday is the Octave Day of Easter, celebrating the merciful love of God shining through the whole Easter Triduum and the whole Easter mystery.
At St. Faustina’s canonization on April 30, 2000, Pope John Paul II said in his homily before more than 200,000 people in St. Peter’s Square: “Jesus shows his hands and his side [to the Apostles]. He points, that is, to the wounds of the Passion, especially the wound in his heart, the source from which flows the great wave of mercy poured out on humanity.”

Several years ago, when I was having difficulty in seeing the internal links between the Second Sunday of Easter, my patron saint, Thomas the Apostle, and Sr. Faustina’s revelations, I came across this quote by St. Bernard (Canticle 61, 4-5: PL 183, 1072): “What I cannot obtain by myself, I appropriate (usurp!) with trust from the pierced side of the Lord, because he is full of mercy. Thomas’ encounter with the Risen Lord gave me a whole new perspective on the meaning of mercy. Then I understood what this day is all about. Now more than ever in the Church and in the world, we need mercy.

Mercy within mercy within mercy

Canada’s most recent shepherd, Bishop Donald Bolen of Saskatoon, was ordained to the episcopacy on March 25, 2010. Bishop Bolen, a priest of the Archdiocese of Regina in Western Canada, and former official of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity at the Vatican, chose as his episcopal motto “Mercy within mercy within mercy.” The quotation is from Thomas Merton’s 1953 book “The Sign of Jonas,” wherein Merton has God saying: “I have always overshadowed Jonas with my mercy. Have you not had sight of me, Jonas, my child? Mercy within mercy within mercy.”

At his ordination ceremony on the Feast of the Annunciation this year, Bishop Bolen said: “The Word which Mary welcomes with her ‘fiat,’ the Word which becomes incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, the Word who gives himself to us completely, even unto death, but which death cannot contain: what that Word speaks is mercy within mercy within mercy. If ever there was an episcopal motto that sums up a bishop’s life, it is this motto for a remarkable young bishop and leader of the Church in Canada who models mercy in high density!

As we continue to bask in the afterglow of the resurrection of the Lord, let us not cease praying that Peter’s shadow of healing and peace cover the Church, and let us beg the Lord that our lives be steeped in mercy within mercy within mercy.

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