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Pope Francis to Preside Mass of Canonization on Feast of Christ the King

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On November 23, 2014, the Feast of Christ the King, Pope Francis will canonize six blesseds and inscribe them in the roll call of Saints. These blesseds consist of two Indians and four Italians, including one layman and one bishop.

The blesseds who are to be canonized on Sunday are:

  • Kuriakose Elias Chavara: A priest and the founder of the Congregation of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate. He is remembered for his solid leadership and is recognized for having saved the Church in Kerala from a schism in 1861.
  • Mother Eufrasia Eluvathingal: A member of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Mother of Carmel. She was born in 1877 in Kattur and came to be known as the “Praying Nun.”
  • Amato Ronconi: Founder of the hospital known as the “Blessed Amato Ronconi Nursing Home” and a layman member of the Third Order of St. Francis.
  • Giovanni Antonio Farina: Italian bishop of Vicenza and the founder of the Institute of the Sisters of Saint Dorothy, Daughters of the Sacred Heart.
  • Nicola da Longobardi: Professed oblate of the Order of Minims.
  • Ludovico da Casoria: Founder of the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters Elisabettine and professed priest of the Order of Friars Minor.

Salt + Light will broadcast the mass from Rome at 12:00 pm ET / 9:00 am PT. Watch live.

The Beatitudes: Blueprint for Holiness

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Solemnity of All Saints – Saturday, November 1, 2014

The following words of Cardinal Angelo Amato, S.D.B., Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, spoken during the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God in 2008, still resound in my mind and heart on this Solemnity of All Saints:

Jesus says: “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). For more than 2,000 years men and women, old and young, wise and ignorant, in the East as in the West, applied themselves to the school of the Lord Jesus, which caused this sublime commandment to echo in their hearts and minds: “You must therefore be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (5:48) […]

Their library was largely composed of the life and the words of Jesus: blessed are the poor, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the gentle, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for uprightness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who are persecuted. The saints, understanding that the Beatitudes are the essence of the Gospel and the portrait of Christ Himself, became their imitators. 

The Beatitudes: Blueprint for Holiness

The Beatitudes in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12) are a recipe for extreme holiness. As has been pointed out by many others in the past, though the Mount of the Beatitudes is a few dozen feet above sea level, it is the really the highest peak on earth! On this holy mountain in Galilee, Jesus proclaimed the new law that was expression of Christ’s holiness. They are not an abstract code of behavior. Jesus is the poor in spirit, the meek, the persecuted, the peacemaker. He is the new “code of holiness” that must be imprinted on hearts, and that must be contemplated through the action of the Holy Spirit. His Passion and Death are the crowning of his holiness.

Holiness is a way of life that involves commitment and activity. It is not a passive endeavour but rather a continuous choice to deepen one’s relationship with God and then to allow this relationship to guide all of one’s actions in the world. Holiness requires a radical change in mindset and attitude. The acceptance of the call to holiness places God as our final goal in every aspect of our lives.

Looking at Jesus, we see what it means to be poor in spirit, gentle, and merciful, to mourn, to care for what is right, to be pure in heart, to make peace, to be persecuted. This is why he has the right to say to each of us, “Come, follow me!” The call of Christ is not simply, “Do what I say.” He says, “Come, follow me!” 

Taking stock of our treasury of Saints

The Saints and Blesseds are travel companions along our journey, in our joy and in our suffering. They are men and women who turned a new page in their own lives and in the lives of so many people. This was the core of Saint John Paul II’s message to humanity: holiness is not a gift reserved for a few. We can all aspire to it, because it is a goal within our capacity – a great lesson articulated by the Second Vatican Council and its call to universal holiness (cf. Lumen Gentium).

The Solemnity of All Saints is a wonderful opportunity for the whole Church to take stock once again of the way that Pope John Paul II changed our way of viewing the Saints and Blesseds. In nearly 27 years of his pontificate, he gave the Church 1,338 Blesseds and 482 Saints!

John Paul II reminded us that the heroes and heroines the world offers to young people today are terribly flawed. They leave us so empty. The real “stars” are the Saints and Blesseds who never tried to be regarded as heroes, or to shock or provoke. To believe greatness is attainable, we need successful role models to emulate. There is a desperate need for real heroes and heroines, models and witnesses of faith and virtue that the world of sports, cinema, science, and music simply cannot provide.

Standing at the radical centre

Many think that sainthood is a privilege reserved only for the chosen few. In fact, to become a saint is the task of every Christian, and what’s more, we could even say it’s the task of everyone! How many times have we thought that the Saints are merely “eccentrics” that the Church exalts for us to try to imitate – people who were so unrepresentative of and out of touch with the reality of the human scene? It is certainly true that all of those men and women were “eccentric” in its literal sense: they deviated from the centre, from usual practice, from the ordinary ways of doing things, the established methods. Another way of looking at the saints is that they stood at the “radical centre.”

Be the Saints of the New Millennium

Saint John Paul II spoke powerfully to young people about the call to holiness and their vocation to be saints. In his message for World Youth Day 2000 in Rome, he wrote to his “dear young friends” throughout the world unforgettable words that became the rallying cry for the greatest celebration of the Jubilee Year:

Young people of every continent, do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium! Be contemplative, love prayer; be coherent with your faith and generous in the service of your brothers and sisters, be active members of the Church and builders of peace. To succeed in this demanding project of life, continue to listen to His Word, draw strength from the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance. The Lord wants you to be intrepid apostles of his Gospel and builders of a new humanity.

Two years later for our World Youth Day 2002 in Canada, John Paul II took up the theme of holiness and saints with renewed vigour:

Just as salt gives flavor to food and light illumines the darkness, so too holiness gives full meaning to life and makes it reflect God’s glory. How many saints, especially young saints, can we count in the Church’s history! In their love for God their heroic virtues shone before the world, and so they became models of life which the Church has held up for imitation by all. […] Through the intercession of this great host of witnesses, may God make you too, dear young people, the saints of the third millennium!

At the concluding World Youth Day Mass at Downsview Park in Toronto on July 28, 2002, Saint John Paul issued a stirring challenge:

And if, in the depths of your hearts, you feel the same call to the priesthood or consecrated life, do not be afraid to follow Christ on the royal road of the Cross! At difficult moments in the Church’s life, the pursuit of holiness becomes even more urgent. And holiness is not a question of age; it is a matter of living in the Holy Spirit, just as Kateri Tekakwitha did here in America and so many other young people have done.

Pope Benedict XVI continued the momentum of John Paul’s invitations and exhortations to holiness at World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne, Germany. At the opening ceremony on August 18, 2005, Benedict addressed the throng of young people gathered from across the entire world:

Dear young people, the Church needs genuine witnesses for the new evangelization: men and women whose lives have been transformed by meeting with Jesus, men and women who are capable of communicating this experience to others. The Church needs saints. All are called to holiness, and holy people alone can renew humanity. Many have gone before us along this path of Gospel heroism, and I urge you to turn often to them to pray for their intercession.

Benedict XVI continued this theme at the great Vigil on Saturday evening, August 20, 2005 at Marienfeld:

It is the great multitude of the saints – both known and unknown – in whose lives the Lord has opened up the Gospel before us and turned over the pages; he has done this throughout history and he still does so today. In their lives, as if in a great picture book, the riches of the Gospel are revealed. They are the shining path which God himself has traced throughout history and is still tracing today.

Then Pope Benedict XVI cried out in that great assembly of over one million young people gathered in prayer at Marienfeld in Cologne:

The saints…are the true reformers. Now I want to express this in an even more radical way: only from the saints, only from God does true revolution come, the definitive way to change the world.

The core of the proclamation of Saints and Blesseds

Every crisis that the Church faces, every crisis that the world faces, is a crisis of holiness and a crisis of saints. Holiness is crucial because it is the real face of the Church. The core of the proclamation of the Saints and Blesseds was always hope, even in the midst of the darkest moments of history. It’s almost as if in those times of darkness the light of Christ shines ever more brightly. We are living through one of those times, and the Lord is still taking applications for his extreme form of holiness and sanctity.

Believers in Jesus and his message must allow themselves to be enticed and enchanted by his life and his message contained in the Beatitudes. Today we must hold up the Beatitudes as a mirror in which we examine our own lives and consciences. “Am I poor in spirit? Am I humble and merciful? Am I pure of heart? Do I bring peace? Am I ‘blessed,’ in other words, ‘happy’?” Jesus not only gives us what he has, but also what he is. He is holy and makes us holy.

[The readings for the Solemnity of All Saints are: Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 John 3:1-3; and Matthew 5:1-12a.]
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Pope Paul VI is Beatified – Perspectives Daily

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Today on Perspectives, Pope Francis beatifies Paul VI, the closing of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family, a look at the various documents and speeches coming out of the meetings, we talk to a number of bishops after the Synod and a Consistory is held to name two new saints as well as look at the problems in the Middle East.

Feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, Parents of Mary

By tradition Joachim and Anne are considered to be the names of the parents of Mary, the Mother of God. We have no historical evidence, however, of any elements of their lives, including their names. Any stories about Mary’s father and mother come to us through legend and tradition. We get the oldest story from a document called the Gospel of James, though in no way should this document be trusted to be factual, historical, or the Word of God. The legend told in this document says that after years of childlessness, an angel appeared to tell Anne and Joachim that they would have a child. Anne promised to dedicate this child to God (much the way that Samuel was dedicated by his mother Hannah — Anne — in I Kings).

For those who wonder what we can learn from people we know nothing about and how we can honor them, we must focus on why they are honored by the church. Whatever their names or the facts of their lives, the truth is that it was the parents of Mary who nurtured Mary, taught her, brought her up to be a worthy Mother of God. It was their teaching that led her to respond to God’s request with faith, “Let it be done to me as you will.” It was their example of parenting that Mary must have followed as she brought up her own son, Jesus. It was their faith that laid the foundation of courage and strength that allowed her to stand by the cross as her son was crucified and still believe. Such parents can be examples and models for all parents. [Read more…]

Extraordinarily Ordinary, St. Josemaria Escriva

St. Josemaria and I

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I met Opus Dei, often coined “the Work”, in Vancouver through my best friend. She invited me to a centre of the Work to attend one of their Christmas Triduum’s. I was in awe of the beautiful centre and all the happy people I saw there.

Shortly after that I attended a silent retreat for University girls that was run by members of the work, and it was in that retreat that I knew I had happened upon something divine. From there, I began attending weekly activities, because all the people I met were genuine and down-to- earth.

Just under a year of having met Opus Dei, I had the privilege of visiting 6 different centers in 3 different countries: Canada, United States and Peru. I was making trips to visit family and to do a service project, so while I was travelling I made it a point to visit the nearest centre in each city.

Every experience was just as amazing as the last. Each centre was totally unique from the other in terms of appearance, yet all of them, whether its physical makings was a building or a house, radiated a home.

I was always warmly greeted, fresh flowers were often set out, and surfaces were immaculate. But, best of all the oratory in every centre was always quiet and peaceful, no matter how many people were praying there.

I was attracted by this spiritual solidarity. It wasn’t until later that I learned that this unity existed because Opus Dei is a family. If you ask any member why things are the way they are, you’ll often get a response like this, “… because our Father wanted it this way.”

At this point, I knew very little of the Work and even less about it’s founder, St. Josemaria, who members of the Work call their Father. I wanted to know the source of their joy and how they came to be so loyal and so in love with their founder and their Faith.

The more I learned about St. Josemaria, the more I appreciated Opus Dei. Some of his published works like his homilies, “Christ is passing by” and “Friends of God” or like “The Way”, “The Forge” and “The Furrow”, have helped me to aspire to follow Christ well and to love him even more.

Through his teachings I have grown to appreciate the church, and I found more clarity in the things I had been skeptical about, like devotion to our Lady. Now I see that devotion to our Lady is a very necessary part of being a Christian, because Christ wanted us to follow him in all things and he wanted us to have a mother.

Since Christ himself had a great devotion to Mary, it only makes sense as true Christians to imitate him especially in his love for his Mother, our mother. Ever since coming to understand this, I have obtained many graces from her intercession! In the words of St. Josemaria, “All with Peter, to Jesus through Mary!”

One of the greatest things that I have taken away from St. Josemaria is the plan of life. A number of things that I should struggle to fulfill well, throughout my day, which should fit my schedule like a glove, without becoming routine.

All these things are not new, nor invented by St. Josemaria. They are gifts of the Catholic church which the Work uses as a means to help us live closely united with Christ. These turn the entire day and all that consists of it into prayer. A few examples being: a dedicated time of dialogue with Christ, daily mass, the angelus, spiritual reading and the rosary.

Before having met the work and living a plan of life, I found myself going about each day just to survive. Yet this has given me the means not just to survive, but to live. It has been only a year and a half now since having met the Work and there are still so many things to learn about my Faith and St. Josemaria, yet if I had to describe him in one word it would be…

Saint Josemaria Escriva in a Word

Brilliant.

What made him brilliant was nothing more than his boundless love for God. St. Josemaria had an intrinsic capacity to contemplate all areas of his life very well. He would seek the Lord in all matters. And because of this, there were many things that God asked of him. Things that by human means seemed impossible, yet he persevered out of love with a supernatural outlook.

Josemaria’s greatest desire was to send Christ’s message to as many people as possible. He showed people how to sanctify themselves and to do apostolate, which is the foundation of Opus Dei.

His love for God is reflected well in his works, which are just as relevant, effective and true today as they were when he was alive. This is because his brilliance was merely a reflection of God’s brilliance.

He glorified God with his entire life
St. Josemaria Escriva, by way of life and feats has many titles. Yet, I believe the one he liked the least was Founder, and the one he liked the most was Father.

As a founder, he was given the incredible vocation to start Opus Dei in 1928. However, St. Josemaria would remind everyone that the true Founder of Opus Dei is God.

Everything he did was very natural and very ordinary, yet this is precisely what made everything he did extraordinary. He urged people to do even the smallest of things well, which was often his measure for love of God.

As a Father, St. Josemaria helped thousands of people from all walks of life to sanctify their ordinary lives. Rich, poor, young, old – he loved everyone and took great interest in each person he met and prayed earnestly for those he hadn’t met, but had only heard about.

In reading his life stories, you learn that his profound love for God and the church did not occur over night. In fact, he would often call himself merely a sinner who loved Jesus Christ. And the path to sanctity consisted of falling and getting up again each time stronger than the last. A strong ally to this was his message of constantly living in the presence of God.

His Legacy

His legacy continues by the lives over 90,000 members of Opus Dei in over 90 countries around the world. The members consist of single people living in apostolic celibacy, married people and even priests! Each one just regular Christians trying to sanctify their ordinary lives, just as St. Josemaria taught them how, and because God gave them the vocation to do so.

Not included in these 90,000 members, are the cooperators of Opus Dei. Which consist of people from all different backgrounds and even different religions. They have asked to be cooperators for all different causes, but what they all have in common is their admiration for St. Josemaria and his teachings.

Among these members of Opus Dei was Bishop Alvaro Del Portillo, who was the first successor of St. Josemaria from 1975 to 1994. He saw the work through many trials and successes. He saw Opus Dei become a personal prelature of the Catholic Church and was fortunate enough to witness the beatification of St. Josemaria in 1992.

This year, thousands of members of Opus Dei and their friends and family will be celebrating the Beatifcation of Bishop Alvaro on September 27, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.

Today the cause for beatification for over 13 members of Opus Dei both single and married members is open.
A Universal Call to Holiness

It seems people are really catching on to what St. Josemaria has been so eagerly explaining of the very teachings of Christ and the Catholic Church. I’ve noticed memes circulating social media with his quotes like:

“To be happy what you need is not an easy life, but a heart which is IN LOVE.”

“He did not say you would not be troubled, you would not be tempted, you would not be distressed, but he did say you would not be overcome.”

and

“We all must have the faith of children, but the doctrine of theologians.”

I have learned many things from St. Josemaria, which inspire me to be holy, but the greatest of these is to love the one who loved me first and to give him my all, as everything I have comes from him.

“May you seek Christ, may you find Christ and may you love Christ.” – St. Josemaria Escriva

Today is St. Josemaria’s Feast day, June 26th. Here you can find his prayer card, and you can ask him for help to continue in this worthwhile path. And if you haven’t started yet, you can start now. Sanctity is for everyone, we were all made for heaven, and you are no exception.

List of all the masses around Canada

By Guest Writer Trisha Villarante

 

Fr. Molinari, longtime promoter of saints’ causes, dies at 90

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Father Molinari, longtime promoter of saints’ causes, dies at 90 in Rome.

Below is the story by Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) — Italian Jesuit Father Paolo Molinari, official promoter of sainthood causes great and small, died at the age of 90 at the Jesuit headquarters in Rome May 2. From 1957 to 2010, the Turin-born priest was the official postulator of Jesuit sainthood causes and of many others. He conducted research and prepared all the paperwork for the canonizations of the Martyrs of England and Wales, St. Kateri Tekakwitha and St. Philippine Duchesne, for example.

Jesuit Father Giuseppe Bellucci, spokesman for the order, said that by the Jesuits’ calculations, Father Molinari brought 39 causes to beatification or canonization. Those causes often included large groups of martyrs, so the 39 causes involved more than 150 individuals now honored as blessed or saints.

For years, Father Molinari served simultaneously as president of the Vatican’s College of Postulators, professor of theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, patient explainer of the canonization process to journalists and adviser to the popes on procedures and causes to promote.

In an interview with Catholic News Service in 1999, he described the saints as “ordinary people living in a way that ordinary people don’t; doing good beyond what good people do.”

He loved Blessed Francisco and Jacinta Marto, the two youngest of the three children who saw Mary at Fatima in 1917. He prepared their causes for beatification so that “all the children of the world can look to them for inspiration.” Forced to retire when he turned 80, Father Molinari said, “thank God, they let me keep Kateri,” the Native American whose cause he began working on in 1957 and who was canonized in 2012.

“Kateri lived 300 years ago and yet she is widely remembered with love and admiration to the point that people believe she is certainly with God because of the way in which, as an Indian woman, she opened herself to the grace of God, became a Christian and lived as a Christian,” he said a few months before her canonization. He believed that the devotion of the faithful to a holy man or woman was the most important indication that the person was a saint. “If the simple people are drawn to someone, this is a sign of God for us,” he told CNS. The saints “are attractive because God is working in them and telling us something through them.”

Born Jan. 17, 1924, he entered the Jesuits in 1942 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1953.

Copyright (c) 2014 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Pope Francis’ Homily for the Canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II

Here below is the full text in English of Pope Francis’ homily at the mass of Canonization of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII:

At the heart of this Sunday, which concludes the Octave of Easter and which John Paul II wished to dedicate to Divine Mercy, are the glorious wounds of the risen Jesus.

He had already shown those wounds when he first appeared to the Apostles on the very evening of that day following the Sabbath, the day of the resurrection.  But Thomas was not there that evening, and when the others told him that they had seen the Lord, he replied that unless he himself saw and touched those wounds, he would not believe.  A week later, Jesus appeared once more to the disciples gathered in the Upper Room, and Thomas was present; Jesus turned to him and told him to touch his wounds.  Whereupon that man, so straightforward and accustomed to testing everything personally, knelt before Jesus with the words: “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28).

The wounds of Jesus are a scandal, a stumbling block for faith, yet they are also the test of faith.  That is why on the body of the risen Christ the wounds never pass away: they remain, for those wounds are the enduring sign of God’s love for us.  They are essential for believing in God.  Not for believing that God exists, but for believing that God is love, mercy and faithfulness.  Saint Peter, quoting Isaiah, writes to Christians: “by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet 2:24, cf. Is 53:5).

John XXIII and John Paul II were not afraid to look upon the wounds of Jesus, to touch his torn hands and his pierced side.  They were not ashamed of the flesh of Christ, they were not scandalized by him, by his cross; they did not despise the flesh of their brother (cf. Is 58:7), because they saw Jesus in every person who suffers and struggles.  These were two men of courage, filled with the parrhesia of the Holy Spirit, and they bore witness before the Church and the world to God’s goodness and mercy.

They were priests, bishops and popes of the twentieth century.  They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them.  For them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful – faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of man and the Lord of history; the mercy of God, shown by those five wounds, was more powerful; and more powerful too was the closeness of Mary our Mother.

In these two men, who looked upon the wounds of Christ and bore witness to his mercy, there dwelt a living hope and an indescribable and glorious joy (1 Pet 1:3,8).  The hope and the joy which the risen Christ bestows on his disciples, the hope and the joy which nothing and no one can take from them.  The hope and joy of Easter, forged in the crucible of self-denial, self-emptying, utter identification with sinners, even to the point of disgust at the bitterness of that chalice.  Such were the hope and the joy which these two holy popes had received as a gift from the risen Lord and which they in turn bestowed in abundance upon the People of God, meriting our eternal gratitude.

This hope and this joy were palpable in the earliest community of believers, in Jerusalem, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 2:42-47).  It was a community which lived the heart of the Gospel, love and mercy, in simplicity and fraternity.

This is also the image of the Church which the Second Vatican Council set before us.  John XXIII and John Paul II cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the Church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries.  Let us not forget that it is the saints who give direction and growth to the Church.  In convening the Council, John XXIII showed an exquisite openness to the Holy Spirit.  He let himself be led and he was for the Church a pastor, a servant-leader.  This was his great service to the Church; he was the pope of openness to the Spirit.

In his own service to the People of God, 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.

May these two new saints and shepherds of God’s people intercede for the Church, so that during this two-year journey toward the Synod she may be open to the Holy Spirit in pastoral service to the family.  May both of them teach us not to be scandalized by the wounds of Christ and to enter ever more deeply into the mystery of divine mercy, which always hopes and always forgives, because it always loves.

The Suffering and Death of a Shepherd

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Good Friday – Friday, April 18, 2014

For our Good Friday Reflection this year, and in preparation for the Canonization of Blessed Pope John Paul II next Sunday, April 27, 2014, I have chosen to share with you the this reflection on what Pope John Paul II taught us at the end of his life. I cannot celebrate Good Friday without remembering Pope John Paul II, especially his final Good Friday on earth in 2005. This reflection is part of a major address I gave at the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, Connecticut, for the opening of the special exhibit, “Blessed,” that commemorates the life of this great man. 

On Human Suffering

One of the beautiful and not frequently cited writings of John Paul II was his 1984 apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris, “On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering.” The late Pope, following the Apostle Paul and the entire Catholic Tradition, maintained throughout his life that it is precisely in suffering that Christ displayed his solidarity with humanity, and in which we can grow in solidarity with Christ, who is our life.

In Salvifici Doloris suffering is the consequence of sin, and Christ embraces that consequence, rather than repudiating it. By embracing suffering, he shares fully in it, he takes the consequence of sin into and onto himself. He does this out of love for us, not simply because he wants to redeem us, but because he wants to be with us, to share what we share, to experience what we experience. And it is this shared love, this shared suffering in love, which completes and perfects the relationship broken in sin, and so redeems us.

Pope John Paul II taught us that the meaning of suffering is fundamentally changed by the Incarnation. Apart from the Incarnation, suffering is the consequence of sin. It offers opportunities for insight into oneself, for personal growth, and for demonstrating practical love for others, but these are incidental. Because of the Incarnation, however, we become sharers in the Body of Christ. Our suffering becomes his suffering, and becomes an expression of redeeming love.

Because he was the leader of a billion Roman Catholics; because he was the first pontiff of the satellite and Internet age, reaching out to billions more, and because he was John Paul II, who has ruled the church for more than 26 years—in that public experience of suffering was found enormous power. And that he certainly knew. In 1981, after recovering from the gunshot wound that almost took his life in St. Peter’s Square, John Paul declared that suffering, as such, is one of the most powerful messages in Christianity.

During the final years of his pontificate, John Paul II brought suffering back into the realm of the expected in human life. Everyone could see that his spirituality gave him an inner strength – a spirituality with which one can also overcome fear, even the fear of death. What an incredible lesson for the world! His struggle with the physical effects of aging was also a valuable lesson to a society that finds it hard to accept growing older, and a culture that sees no redemption in suffering. 

In 1994, as age and infirmity began to incapacitate John Paul publicly, he told his followers he had heard God and was about to change the way he led the church. “I must lead her with suffering,” he said. “The pope must suffer so that every family and the world should see that there is, I would say, a higher gospel: the gospel of suffering, with which one must prepare the future.”

A consoling letter to his peers

In 1999, in preparation for the Great Jubilee, Pope John Paul II published his “Letter to the Elderly.” Following his Letters to the young in 1985, to families in 1994, to children in 1994, to women in 1995 and to artists in 1999 year – and not counting those Letters that he wrote each year to priests on Holy Thursday, since the beginning of his pontificate, he wrote deeply moving and encouraging words to his peers in the Letter to the Elderly. He had no fear in placing before the eyes of the world the limits and frailties that the years placed upon him. He did nothing to disguise them. In speaking to young people, he has no difficulty in saying of himself: ‘I am an old priest’.” John Paul II “continued to fulfill his mission as the Successor of Peter, looking far ahead with the enthusiasm of the only youth that does not deteriorate, that of the spirit, which this Pope maintains intact. The letter had a very personal, almost confidential, tone and was not an analysis of old age. Rather, it was a very intimate dialogue between people of the same generation.

“The passage of time,” wrote the Pope in that memorable letter, “helps us to see our experiences in a clearer light and softens their painful side.” Moreover, he says, the daily difficulties can be eased with God’s help. In addition, “we are consoled by the thought that, by virtue of our spiritual souls, we will survive beyond death.”

“Guardians of shared memory” was the title of the one part of the Pope’s Letter. Pointing out that “in the past, great respect was shown to the elderly,” the Pope remarks that this is still true in many cultures today, “while among others, this is much less the case, due to a mentality which gives priority to immediate human usefulness and productivity.” He wrote: “It has come to the point where euthanasia is increasingly put forward as a solution for difficult situations. Unfortunately, in recent years the idea of euthanasia has lost for many people the sense of horror which it naturally awakens in those who have a sense of respect for life.”

The Pope added: “Here it should be kept in mind that the moral law allows the rejection of ‘aggressive medical treatment’ and makes obligatory only those forms of treatment which fall within the normal requirements of medical care, which in the case of terminal illness seeks primarily to alleviate pain. But euthanasia, understood as directly causing death, is another thing entirely. Regardless of intentions and circumstances, euthanasia is always an intrinsically evil act, a violation of God’s law and an offense against the dignity of the human person.”

Pope John Paul II continued in that letter: “Man has been made for life, whereas death … was not a part of God’s original plan but came about as a consequence of sin.” “However rationally comprehensible death may be from a biological standpoint, it is not possible to experience it as something ‘natural’.” We ask ourselves, he says here, “What is on the other side of the shadowy wall of death?” The answer comes from faith “which illuminates the mystery of death and brings serenity to old age, now no longer lived passively as the expectation of a calamity, but rather as a promise-filled approach to the goal of full maturity.” 

Pope John Paul’s Letter to the Elderly closed with a section entitled “An encouragement to live life to the full.” He writes: “I feel a spontaneous desire to share fully with you my own feelings at this point of my life, after more than twenty years of ministry on the throne of Peter. … Despite the limitations brought on by age I continue to enjoy life. For this I thank the Lord. It is wonderful to be able to give oneself to the very end for the sake of the Kingdom of God! “At the same time,” he concludes, “I find great peace in thinking about the time when the Lord will call me: from life to life! … ‘Bid me to come to you': this is the deepest yearning of the human heart, even in those who are not conscious of it.” What a magnificent signature piece of Pope John Paul II! He not only wrote the letter but enacted it in his own life. We were eyewitnesses.

The public suffering

Pope John Paul II taught us that life is sacred, no matter how painful his own life became for him. Rather than hide his infirmities, as most public figures do, Pope John Paul II let the whole world see what he went through. The suffering and dying of this Pope did not take place in private, but before television cameras and the whole world. In the final act of his life, the athlete was immobilized, the distinctive, booming voice silenced, and the hand that produced voluminous encyclicals no longer able to write. John Paul II’s final homily was an icon of his Galilean Master’s final words to Simon Peter: “Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” …After this he [Jesus] said to him, “Follow me” [John 21:18-19].

Many Catholics and non-Christians saw the pope’s suffering as something like the agony of Jesus himself, and neither John Paul nor those around him discourage such comparisons. When asked a few years ago if he might consider resigning, John Paul reportedly asked, in reply, “Did Christ come down from the cross?” His close aides say that debate about his ability to administer the church, as if he were the CEO of a secular corporation, essentially misses the point. This pope is not doing a job, he is carrying out a divine mission, and his pain is at its core.

That final Good Friday evening

One of my most vivid memories from the last week of our late Holy Father Pope John Paul II’s life was during the Way of the Cross on Good Friday evening in 2005, in which he participated by watching the service at the Coliseum in his chapel on television. The television camera in his chapel was behind him so that he would not be distracted from taking part in this ceremony in which he always took part personally. Then-Archbishop John Foley was doing the television commentary in English from Rome, reading the very provocative meditations prepared by a certain Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

At one point toward the end of the Way of the Cross, someone put a rather large crucifix on the knee of the Holy Father, and he was gazing lovingly at the figure of Jesus. At the words, “Jesus Dies on the Cross,” Pope John Paul drew the crucifix to himself and embraced it. I will never forget that scene. What an incredibly powerful homily without words! Like Jesus, Pope John Paul II embraced the cross; in fact, he embraced the crucifix of Jesus Christ on Good Friday night.

The death of a patriarch

Several hours before his death, Pope John Paul’s last audible words were: “Let me go to the house of the Father.” In the intimate setting of prayer, as Mass was celebrated at the foot of his bed and the throngs of faithful sang below in St. Peter’s Square, he died at 9:37 p.m. on April 2. Through his public passion, suffering and death, this holy priest, Successor of the Apostles, and Servant of God, showed us the suffering face of Jesus in a remarkable way.

The Pope of Holiness

Karol Wojtyla himself was an extraordinary witness who, through his devotion, heroic efforts, long suffering and death, communicated the powerful message of the Gospel to the men and women of our day. A great part of the success of his message is due to the fact that he has been surrounded by a tremendous cloud of witnesses who stood by him and strengthened him throughout his life. For John Paul II, the call to holiness excludes no one; it is not the privilege of a spiritual elite.

“Lumen Gentium,” the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council notes that the holiness of Christians flows from that of the Church and manifests it. It says that holiness “is expressed in many ways by the individuals who, each in his own state of life, tend to the perfection of love, thus sanctifying others” (LG 39). In this variety “one and the same holiness is cultivated by all, who are moved by the Spirit of God…and follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross bearing Christ in order to be worthy of being sharers in his glory” (LG 41). 

When the throngs of people began chanting “Santo Subito” at the end of the Pope’s funeral mass on April 8, 2005, what were they really chanting? They were crying out that in Karol Wojtyla, they saw someone who lived with God and lived with us. He was a sinner who experienced God’s mercy and forgiveness. He was the prophetic teacher who preached the word in season and out of season. He looked at us, loved us, touched us, healed us and gave us hope. He taught us not to be afraid. He showed us how to live, how to love, how to forgive and how to die. He taught us how to embrace the cross in the most excruciating moments of life, knowing that the cross was not God’s final answer.

That a person is declared a “Saint” is not a statement about perfection. It does not mean that the person was without imperfection, blindness, deafness or sin. Nor is it a 360-degree evaluation of the Pontificate or of the Vatican. Canonization means that a person lived his or her life with God, relying totally on God’s infinite mercy, going forward with God’s strength and power, believing in the impossible, loving one’s enemies and persecutors, forgiving in the midst of evil and violence, hoping beyond all hope, and leaving the world a better place. That person lets those around him know that there is a force or spirit animating his or her life that is not of this world, but the next. Such a person lets us catch a glimpse of the greatness and holiness to which we are all called, and shows us the face of God as we journey on our pilgrim way on earth.

In the life of Karol Wojtyla, the boy from Wadowice who would grow up to be a priest and Bishop of Krakow, the Bishop of Rome, and a hero for the ages, holiness was contagious. We have all been touched and changed by it. Pope John Paul II was not only “Holy Father” but “a Father who was and is Holy.” At his funeral mass on April 8, 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told the world that the Holy Father was watching us and blessing us “from the window of the Father’s House.”

As we prepare for the Canonization of this great shepherd and holy priest and bishop on Sunday April 27, 2014, may we learn from “Papa Wojtyla” how to cross thresholds, open doors, build bridges, embrace the Cross of suffering and proclaim the Gospel of Life to the people of our time. May we learn how to live, to suffer and die unto the Lord. Let us pray to have a small portion of the fidelity of Peter’s witness and the boldness of Paul’s proclamation that were so mightily present in Karol Wojtyla – Saint John Paul II. May he intercede for us and for all those who suffer in body and spirit, and give us the desire to help carry one another’s crosses, to grow in holiness and to become saints. 

[The readings for Good Friday are: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9; and John 18:1-19:42.]

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.

Saint Marianne Cope, Beloved Mother of Outcasts

Sister Marianne Cope (formerly Barbara Koob) was born January 23, 1838 and baptized the following day in what is now Hessen, West Germany. The young Sister Marianne worked as a teacher and hospital administrator in New York. In 1870, she was elected superior of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse. Seven years later she became second Mother Provincial of her order. Just when it seemed that her religious life was planned out, in 1883 she received an unexpected invitation from Fr. Leonor Fouesnel, emissary of the Hawaiian government, to come and help the “afflicted members” of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

She left for Hawaii with six sisters in 1883, planning to get them settled and then return to Syracuse. She ended up spending the rest of her life in Hawaii. After five years managing a hospital in Honolulu, she volunteered to go to Molokai, an isolated peninsula at the base of enormous cliffs to which lepers were condemned for the rest of their days. According to witnesses, Molokai at the time was something like a combination of a graveyard and a prison. The stench was so vile that even Fr. Damien had to smoke a pipe to keep from vomiting.

By frequent hand-washing, keeping the convent off-limits to lepers and refusing food prepared by lepers, Mother Marianne and her sisters managed to spend decades ministering to the physical and emotional needs of lepers in close quarters without ever becoming infected.

The life of Mother Marianne complements the life of St. Damien (1840-1889), beloved for his self-sacrifice for the lepers of Hawaii to the point of contracting the disease himself. Mother Marianne, for her part, decided from the outset to observe certain basic rules to protect herself and her Franciscan sisters from leprosy. She spent the last 30 years of her life ministering on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, working closely with Father Damien and with the outcasts of society as they were abandoned on the shores of the island, never to return to their families. After Fr. Damien had died, Mother Marianne took charge of the refuge had had built for boys. She was about 50 years old when her mission at Molokai began. She died at 80 years old on August 9, 1918 from kidney and heart disease. At her death, a Honolulu newspaper wrote: “Seldom has the opportunity come to a woman to devote every hour of 30 years to the mothering of people isolated by law from the rest of the world. She risked her own life all that time, faced everything with unflinching courage, and was known for her gentle smile.

People of all religions of the islands still honor and revere Father Damien, now St. Damien, and Mother Marianne who brought healing to body and soul. She was beatified at the Vatican on May 14, 2005, one month after the death of Pope John Paul II. With her canonization by Pope Benedict on October 21, 2012 her life is held up before the world as true model of holiness and friend of God.

Mary of Nazareth: Called, gifted and chosen to be with Jesus

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception – December 9, 2013

This year, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception will be celebrated on Monday, December 9 due to the fact that December 8 was an Advent Sunday this year.

On December 8, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  The Catholic belief that Mary was free from original sin from the moment of her existence was promulgated by Pope Pius IX in 1854.

While Marian devotion remains strong in the church, the Immaculate Conception is a complex concept that has interested theologians more than the ordinary faithful.  Many people still wrongly assume that the Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Christ.  In fact, it refers to the belief that Mary, by special divine favor, was without sin from the moment she was conceived.  The main stumbling block for many Catholics is original sin.  Today we are simply less and less aware of original sin.  And without that awareness, the Immaculate Conception makes no sense.

The late American Bishop Fulton Sheen put it another way in 1974, speaking about the loss of the sense of sin.  Sheen said: “It used to be that the Catholics were the only ones to believe in the Immaculate Conception. Now everyone believes he is the immaculately conceived.”

Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma in 1854, but the idea that Mary was born without the stain of sin did not appear out of the blue. It took shape after a long and complicated theological debate that, in some respects, still continues.  Already in the earliest Christian times Mary was held to be an ideal model of holiness, and by the eighth century Eastern Christians were celebrating a feast in honor of Mary’s conception. [Read more…]