The Suffering and Death of a Shepherd

JP Good Friday cropped

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...]

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Eminent Daughter of Israel, Faithful Daughter of the Church

edith-stein_610

Edith Stein, the youngest of eleven children of a devout Jewish family, was born in Wroclaw, Poland, on October 12, 1891. Following the death of her father when she was only 21 months old, Edith was raised by her mother, who carried on the family business, along with her sisters. Edith eventually grew up to be counted among a small group of women to attend university when she enrolled at the University of Breslau in 1911, and later transferring to the University of Gottingen to pursue her studies under the mentorship of the renowned founder of phenomenology, Edmund Husserl. Husserl eventually chose Edith Stein to be his teaching assistant at the University of Freiburg, and called her the best doctoral student he ever had – even more able than Heidegger who was also a pupil of Husserl’s at the same time Edith was. In 1916 Edith completed her doctoral dissertation and was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy degree summa cum laude.

As the draft began calling up many of her friends for service in World War I, Edith volunteered together with a number of other women students for duty in military hospitals. She requested an assignment in a hospital for infectious diseases, and lovingly cared for soldiers of the Austrian Army who were suffering from typhus, dysentery and cholera. On completion of her term as a volunteer at the military hospital, Edith was awarded the medal of valor in recognition of her selfless service.

Edith-Stein_sgwShe then became Husserl’s assistant at the University of Freiburg, where he had was promoted to a Full Professorship. It was here that her religious struggle began as, in her pursuit of truth, she turned to reading the New Testament and began her gradual movement back towards a faith which she had earlier abandoned. On January 1, 1922, Edith Stein was baptized a Catholic, taking the name Teresa as her baptismal name. She continued to attend the Synagogue with her mother, praying the psalms of Jewish prayer service.

Following her conversion, Edith discontinued her scholarly career as a student and accepted a position teaching German at the Dominican Sisters’ school in Speyer. For eight years, she worked as a teacher, and balanced her day between work and prayer. Throughout this period, Edith continued her philosophical writings and translations, and took on speaking engagements that took her to cities such as Heidelberg, Zurich, Salzburg. In the course of her lectures she frequently addressed herself to the role and significance of women in contemporary life. Some favorite themes of her public lectures were: “The Separate Vocations of Man and Woman According to God and Nature,” “The Spirituality of Christian Woman,” “Problems of Women’s Education,” and “The Significance of Woman’s Intrinsic Value in National Life.” Edith held a radical feminist stance, manifested a strong commitment to the recognition and advancement of women, and to the value she attached to the mature Christian life of a woman as a source of healing for the world.

In 1931 Edith left the convent school to devote herself full-time to writing and the publication of her works. In 1932, she accepted a lectureship position at the University of Munster, but a year later was told that she would have to give up her position because of her Jewish background. The university administration suggested that she work on her projects privately until the situation in Germany improved, but Edith declined.

Even though she had received an invitation to lecture in South America , Edith became convinced that the time had come for her to fulfill her dream to enter the convent. On October 14, 1933, at age 42, Edith Stein entered the Carmelite Convent in Cologne and took the religious name, Teresa, Benedicta a Cruce – Teresa, Blessed of the Cross, reflecting her special devotion to the Passion of Christ and her gratitude for the spiritual patronage of Teresa of Avila. In the convent, Edith continued to study and write, completing the text of her book, “Finite and Being.” her magnum opus, She also authored “Ways of Knowing God” and “The Symbolic Theology of the Areopagite,” a two-volume translation of St. Thomas’ works while working on “The Science of the Cross.”

By 1938 the situation in Germany had deteriorated significantly, and the S.S. attack of November 8 (Kristallnacht) removed any lingering doubts about the true state of affairs of Jewish citizens. The Carmelite Prioress in the German Carmel arranged for Edith to be transferred to the Dutch convent at Echt, and on December 31, 1938, Edith Stein was driven across the border under the cover of darkness to Holland. There, at the Convent in Echt, Sr. Teresa Benedicta composed three acts of self-oblation, offering her life up for the Jewish people, for peace, and for the sanctification of her Carmelite family. She then settled into a life of teaching the postulants Latin and writing a book on St. John of the Cross. Edith’s sister Rosa had become a Catholic after their mother’s death in 1936, and in 1940 she joined Edith at the Echt Carmel as a Third Order Carmelite.

While the Nazi policy of exterminating Jews was rapidly implemented once Holland was occupied, Jews who professed Christianity were initially left alone. However, when the Catholic bishops in the Netherlands issued a pastoral letter in which they sharply protested against the deportation of the Jews, the Nazi rulers reacted violently by ordering the extermination of baptized Jews as well.

On Sunday, August 2, 1942, all Catholics of Jewish extraction in Holland were rounded up and arrested; two of whom were Edith and Rosa Stein. As neighbors gathered in horror at the door of the convent, they heard these last words of Edith Stein to her sister Rosa as the Nazis took them away: “Come, let us go for our people.” Given an opportunity to be released through her connection to the Catholic Church, Stein faithfully refused saying that Baptism should not be used as an unfair advantage; rather, she needed to share in the fate of her Jewish brothers and sisters.

The night between 3 and 4 August, the prisoners are transported from Amersfoort to the Lager of Westerbork. One of the policemen asked Sister Teresa Benedicta, who had been beaten with a rifle, what religion she belonged to. She answered him: “I’m a Catholic.”

The officer replied: “Not at all, you’re a damned Jew.”

Then the men were separated from the women, husbands from wives, mothers from their children, and any communication was forbidden. It was from the Westerbork Camp that Sr. Teresa Benedicta sent out a last cry for help. She telephoned Utrecht and tried to obtain a temporary stay. She had hoped that the Swiss consulate in Amsterdam could save her save her. Here is the text of a telegram that she enclosed in a letter for the convent at Echt Carmel:

Drente – Westerbork
Barracks 36, 4 August 1942

Dear Mother and dear Sisters,

Tonight we left the distribution center at A. (Amersfoort) and arrived here. We were received kindly. Everything is being done so that we can be freed or at the least be able to stay here. All the Catholics are gathered together here, in our dormitory, all the nuns (two Trappists and a Dominican), Ruth (Kantorowicz), Alice (Reis), Dr. Meirowsky, and others. Two Trappist Fathers are also with us. In any case you must send us our personal papers, our ration cards and bread cards. Up to now we have been sustained entirely by the charity of others. We hope that you have found the (Swiss) Consul’s address and that you have been in contact with him. We have asked numerous people to bring us your news. With us here are also the two nice young girls from Koningsbosch (Anne-Marie and Elfriede Goldschmidt). We are nonetheless calm and content. Clearly until now no Mass or Communion; perhaps that will come later. We are arranging to be able to live only an inner life. With all my heart. We shall certainly write soon.

Yours in corde Jesu,

Teresa Benedicta

If you answer, do not mention this letter.

Written on the margin was a cross and the date August 5.

A good number of eyewitness accounts of Edith’s behavior during her days of imprisonment at Amersfoort and Westerbork spoke of her silence, her calm, her composure, her self-possession, her comforting and consoling of other women, her caring for the little ones, washing them and combing their hair and making sure that they were fed. Guards even said that she moved like an angel among those who lived in filth, squalor and unspeakable terror.

The Stein sisters were killed the same day they arrived, August 9, 1942, burned in the open air, and their ashes buried in a common grave or thrown into a nearby pond. Traveling with her, companions in suffering and martyrdom, besides her sister Rose, Carmelite tertiary and doorkeeper at Carmel in Echt, are other acquaintances: Alice Reis, born in Berlin, whom Edith sponsored at baptism; Dr. Ruth Kantorowicz, journalist and librarian, of Hamburg, whom Edith knew since childhood. Ruth wanted to become a Carmelite nun in Maastricht, but was not accepted into the novitiate. She went into the Ursuline convent in Velno as an external helper, where she was captured on August 2 1942.

Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was 51 years old at the time of her martyrdom. Even though her life was snuffed out during the Holocaust, her memory stands as a light undimmed in the midst of evil, darkness, and suffering. She is a symbol of the inherent unity between Jews and Christians. Dedicated to the good of all persons, she represents a moral force for all humanity.

On May 1, 1987, Edith Stein, a Carmelite nun and a victim of the Holocaust at Auschwitz, was beatified, along with Father Rupert Mayer, a Jesuit priest known for his resistance to the Nazis, during a Mass celebrated by Blessed John Paul II in Cologne, Germany.

On October 11, 1998 in St. Peter’s Square, Blessed John Paul II celebrated Mass during which he canonized Blessed Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, discalced Carmelite and martyr. In his homily, he asked that her witness might “reinforce even more the bridge of mutual understanding between Jews and Christians.” John Paul II called her “an eminent daughter of Israel and a faithful daughter of the Church.” He said:

“From now on, as we celebrate the memory of this new saint (every August 9), we cannot fail to remember from year to year the ‘Shoah’ (the Holocaust), that savage plan of exterminating a people, which cost the lives of millions of Jewish brothers and sisters.”

“Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross says to us all: Don’t accept anything as truth if it is without love. And don’t accept anything as love if it is without truth! One without the other is a harmful lie.”

“Many of our contemporaries would want the Cross to be silenced. However, nothing is more eloquent than the Cross made silent! The true message of pain is a lesson of love. Love makes pain bear fruit and pain deepens love.”

On October 1, 1999, Blessed John Paul II declared St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross to be co-patron of Europe, along with St. Bridged of Sweeden and St. Catherine of Siena. John Paul said that together with the two great women, Teresa Benedicta represents that holiness that is for Europe “the secret of its past and the hope for its future.”

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians…”

Martyrology of Edith Stein and her companions (August 2-9,1942)

Sister Charitas (Resi Bock) teacher
nun of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Born June 13, 1909 in Vienna
Arrested August 2, 1942 in the Mother House at Moerdijk
Killed August 9, 1942 at Auschwitz

Dr. Lisamaria Meirowsky
pediatrician, Dominican Tertiary
Born September 7, 1904 in Graudenz
Arrested August 2, 1942 in the Trappist Abbey at Berkel-Enschot
Killed August 9, 1942 at Auschwitz

Brother Wolfgang (Fritz Rosenbaum) Franciscan
Born May 27, 1915 in Witten
Arrested August 2,1942 in the Franciscan convent at Woerden
Killed September 30, 1942 at Auschwitz

Alice Reis, nurse
Born September 17 in Berlin
Arrested August 2, 1942 in the Convent of the Good Shepherd Sisters at Almelo
Killed August 9, 1942 at Auschwitz

Father Ignatius (George Löb), Trappist
Born September 25, 1909 at Hoensbroek
Arrested August 2, 1942 in Koningshoeven Abbey near Tilburg
Killed August 19, 1942 at Auschwitz

Sister Maria-Theresia (Door Löb) Trappist
Born October 22, 1911 in Sawah-Loento (Indonesia)
Arrested August 2, 1942 in Koningshoord Abbey at Berkel-Enschot
Killed September 30, 1942 at Auschwitz

Sister Mirjam (Else Michaelis)
accountant, Sister of St. Joseph at Trier
Born March 31, 1899 in Berlin
Arrested August 2, 1942 at the Franciscan convent of Nonnenwerth at Marienwaard
Killed August 9, 1942 at Auschwitz

Sister Judith Mendes da Costa, Dominican
Born August 25, 1895 in Amsterdam
Arrested August 2, 1942 in the convent at Bilthoven, released August 15 from the camp at Westerbork, February 25 1944 deported to Theresienstadt, transported to Auschwitz 16, May 1944
Killed July 7, 1944 at Auschwitz

Rose Stein, Carmelite tertiary, doorkeeper of the convent
Born December 13, 1883 at Lublinitz
Arrested August 2, 1942 in the Carmel convent at Echt
Killed August 9, 1942 at Auschwitz

Dr. Edith Stein – Sister Teresia Benedicta a Cruce
Carmelite nun, philosopher
Born October12, 1891 in Breslau
Arrested August 2, 1942 in the Carmel of Echt
Killed August 9, 1942 at Auschwitz

Father Nivardus (Ernst Löb) Trappist
Born October 29, 1913 in Sawah-Loento (Indonesia)
Arrested August 2, 1942 in Koninshoeven Abbey near Tilburg
Killed August 19, 1942 at Auschwitz

CHALLENGES FACING SWISS CATHOLIC ACADEMIC WOMEN
Edith Stein

“…Let’s get to the point: Are we Catholic academics in contact with organized workers, the Swiss Women’s Movement, the Women’s Union, and the Christian Socialists? We are not. Why? Certainly the fault lies on both sides, but it is equally certain it is indeed on both sides. Do we grasp social problems, the burning problems of today? Do they concern us also? Or are we waiting until others find some solution or until we are submerged by the billows of chaos? Is such an attitude worthy of an academic woman? Must we not try to help in deed as well as in thought? I believe this is a theoretical matter primarily in that we should investigate connections and causes so that we may know what help is needed and how to give it. Concretely, we must proceed through Caritas, that means that our love of God must find practical expression. There are manifold ways to fit manifold needs. Let us not be stuck in a rut. We must get in touch with the social ferment of the masses and understand their physical and spiritual needs.

In Cardinal Faulhaber’s commentary on the vesper psalms, he explains the middle verse of the “Magnificat. “He writes: “Who still dares to say that politics has nothing to do with religion and that souls directed towards God, especially women, should stay far from public life? If the quiet virgin of Nazareth, her soul resting completely in God her savior, could be concerned with the happenings on the world scene (middle verse of the Magnificat), then religious people, including women of course, dare not be indifferent as to whether the arm of God is seen in world events. They must not be unconcerned as to whether the God- willed spiritual, political, and economic order is established. Nor may they be unconcerned when dogmatic intellectuals confuse the people with their knowledge when political leaders strike out God’s name from public life, or when capitalistic exploiters are upsetting the economic order. . .”

Edith Stein 3The example of Mary is relevant here. She is the ideal type of woman who knew how to unite tenderness with power. She stood under the cross. She had previously concerned herself about the human condition, observed it, understood it! In her son’s tragic hour she appeared publicly. Perhaps the moment has almost come for the Catholic woman also to stand with Mary and with the Church under the cross! Concretely: I am not asking the Swiss Catholic academic woman to decide today whether or not woman should take part in public life (it would even be childish presumption to ask for this). But I believe there is something that must be promoted in the name of sound human reason, in the interest of our families, our nation, and our Church. It is that you take an interest in the question, reflect on it, and study it objectively in the light of contemporary development.

…Perhaps through the course of the centuries, our attitude in the Church has been too passive. Perhaps we have left it to exceptional people “to prove the exception to the rule,” people like Teresa of Jesus, Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Siena, etc. The twentieth century demands more! I am thinking specifically of the atheistic movement. How can we oppose this phalanx? Pope Pius XI has already sanctioned the lay apostolate; in fact, he has summoned us to it. Should Catholic action stay a catchword and a cliché which resounds through the assemblies but does not ignite?

Do we understand what the so-called Liturgical Movement is all about? It is certainly not about aesthetics. No, it is about a deeper sharing in the life of Christ and witness to it by means of the Church…”

Taken from the works of Edith Stein as published by ICS Publications in the book “The Collected Works of Edith Stein”, Volume II “Essays on Woman”, 1987.

Three new Saints

threesaintsnew

Below is the full text of Pope Francis’ homily during Canonization Mass for three new saints, Sunday May 12 at St. Peter’s Square. Transcription and translation courtesy of Vatican Radio.

Dear brothers and sisters!
In this seventh Sunday of Easter we are gathered to celebrate with joy a feast of holiness. Thanks be to God who has made His glory – the glory of Love – to shine on the Martyrs of Otranto, on Mother Laura Montoya and María Guadalupe García Zavala. I greet all of you who have come to this celebration – from Italy, Colombia, Mexico, from other countries – and I thank you! Let us look on the new saints in the light of the Word of God proclaimed: a Word that invited us to be faithful to Christ, even unto martyrdom; a word that recalled to us the urgency and the beauty of bringing Christ and his Gospel to everyone; a word that spoke to us about the witness of charity, without which even martyrdom and mission lose their Christian savour.

The Acts of the Apostles, when they speak of the Deacon, Stephen, the first martyr, insist on telling us that he was a man “full of the Holy Spirit (6:5, 7:55).” What does this mean? It means that he was full of the love of God, that his whole person, his whole life was animated by the Spirit of the risen Christ, so as to follow Jesus with total fidelity, even unto to the gift of self.
Today the Church proposes for our veneration a host of martyrs, who were called together to the supreme witness to the Gospel in 1480. About eight hundred people, [who], having survived the siege and invasion of Otranto, were beheaded near that city. They refused to renounce their faith and died confessing the risen Christ. Where did they find the strength to remain faithful? Precisely in faith, which allows us to see beyond the limits of our human eyes, beyond the boundaries of earthly life, to contemplate “the heavens opened” – as St. Stephen said – and the living Christ at the right hand of the Father. Dear friends, let us conserve the faith [that] we have received and that is our true treasure, let us renew our fidelity to the Lord, even in the midst of obstacles and misunderstandings; God will never allow us to want [for] strength and serenity. As we venerate the martyrs of Otranto, let us ask God to sustain those many Christians who, in these times and in many parts of the world, right now, still suffer violence, and give them the courage and fidelity to respond to evil with good.

The second idea can be drawn from the words of Jesus that we heard in the Gospel: “I pray for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may be one, as You, Father, are in me and I in thee, that they also may be in us. (Jn 17:20)” Saint Laura Montoya was an instrument of evangelization, first as teacher and then as the spiritual mother of the indigenous peoples, in whom she infused hope, welcoming them with the love [she] learned from God, and bringing them to him with pedagogical efficacy that respected, and was not opposed to, their own culture. In her work of evangelization, Mother Laura became, in the words of St. Paul, truly everything to everyone, (cf. 1 Cor 9:22). Even today her spiritual daughters live and bring the Gospel to the most remote and needy places, as a kind of vanguard of the Church.

This first saint born on the beautiful Colombian soil, teaches us to be generous [together] with God, not to live the faith alone – as if we could live our faith in isolation – but to communicate, to radiate the joy of the Gospel by word and witness of life in every place we find ourselves. She teaches us to see the face of Jesus reflected in the other, to overcome indifference and individualism, welcoming everyone without prejudice or constraints, with love, giving the best of ourselves and above all, sharing with them the most valuable thing we have, which is not our works or our organizations, no: the most valuable thing we have is Christ and his Gospel.

Finally, a third thought. In today’s Gospel, Jesus prays to the Father with these words: “I have made known thy name to them and will make it known: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them. (Jn 17:26)” The martyrs’ faithfulness even unto death, the proclamation of the Gospel are rooted in the love of God that has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 5:5), and in the witness we must bear to this love in our daily lives. St. Maria Guadalupe García Zavala knew this well. Giving up a comfortable life – how much damage does the comfortable life, life of comfort, do? The gentrification of the heart paralyzes us – and [she], giving up a comfortable life to follow the call of Jesus, taught people to love poverty, in order the more to love the poor and the sick. Mother Lupita knelt on the floor of the hospital before the sick, before the abandoned, to serve them with tenderness and compassion. This is what it means to touch the flesh of Christ. The poor, the abandoned, the sick, the marginalized are the flesh of Christ. And Mother Lupita touched the flesh of Christ and taught us this conduct: [to be] unabashed,[to be] unafraid, [to be] not loathe to touch the flesh of Christ. Mother Lupita understood what it means “to touch the flesh of Christ.” Today her spiritual daughters also seek to reflect the love of God in works of charity, without sparing sacrifices, and [while] facing with meekness, with apostolic constancy (hypomone), any obstacle.

This new Mexican saint invites us to love as Jesus loved us, and this leads one not to retreat into oneself, into one’s own problems, into one’s own ideas, into one’s own interests in this little world that has done us so much damage, but to get up and go to meet those who need care, understanding and support, to bring the warm closeness of God’s love through gestures of delicacy and sincere affection and love.

Fidelity to Christ and his Gospel, in order to proclaim it in word and deed, bearing witness to God’s love with our love, with our charity toward all: the saints proclaimed today offer shining examples and teachings of these. They also pose questions to our Christian life: how am I faithful to Christ? Let us take this question with us to consider during the day: how am I faithful to Christ? I am able to “show” my faith with respect, but also with courage? Am I attentive to others, do I recognize when someone is in need, do I see in everyone a brother and a sister to love? Let us ask that, by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the new saints, the Lord might fill our lives with the joy of His love. So be it.

Approved under Benedict, Francis proclaims first saints

Nun looks at image of Blessed Mother Laura Montoya in 2012 in Medellin
February 11 will long be remembered as the day Pope Benedict announced his resignation – the first pontiff in 600 years to do so. But do you recall the event during which he made his stunning declaration? The Holy Father had convoked a meeting of cardinals to vote on three causes for canonization. As expected, the cardinals confirmed the blesseds, whose record of sanctity had already satisfied the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. And then Benedict read the Latin text that left the cardinals in stunned silence.

Just over three months later, those blesseds will be proclaimed saints under a new pontificate. Salt + Light will air the Canonization Mass this Sunday at 9:30am ET/6:30am PT, repeating in French at 4:00pm ET / 1:00pm PT.

So who are the new Saints? Before the consistory in February, Vatican Radio published a profile of each of them: Blessed Antonio Primaldo and companions, Blessed Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala, and Blessed Laura of Saint Catherine of Siena (shown above).

Blessed Antonio was a tailor in the city of Otranto, Italy, in the 1400s. In 1480 the city was invaded by Turkish Muslims who threatened to kill all the men, but promised to grant their lives and the freedom of their women and children if they renounced their faith.

Antonio remained firm, and encouraged his fellow citizens to stand strong in their faith. He was the first to be beheaded, followed by 799 others. Relics of the Blessed Martyrs of Otranto are held in the Cathedral crypt.
[Read more...]

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Photo credit: CNS photo/Fredy Builes, Reuters

Pope to pray rosary upon return to Marian basilica


The morning after his election, the first item on Pope Francis’ agenda was visiting the Basilica of St. Mary Major, where he left a bouquet of flowers for Our Lady. He returns to the basilica on Saturday, once again with a Marian intention. The pontiff will pray the rosary, which will be broadcast live on S+L TV and our live web stream at 12:00pm ET/9:00 am PT.

The following day, the Pope will celebrate Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square. He will be joined by 50,000 members of confraternities, who have been present in Rome for a series of events. (Confraternities are associations of the faithful that promote works of piety and devotion.) The mass airs on S+L at 10:00am ET/7:00am PT.

Pope Francis has celebrated a public Mass every Sunday since Holy Week. Next week, he presides at the first Canonization Mass of his pontificate. Antonio Primaldo and his companions from Italy, Mother Laura Montoya from Colombia, and Mother Maria Guadalupe from Mexico will all be proclaimed Saints at the outdoor liturgy in St. Peter’s Square. Visit the S+L Live page for broadcast times.
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Credit: CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano

Following Jesus on the Royal Road of the Cross


Palm Sunday – March 24, 2013
The readings for Palm Sunday are Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; and Luke 22:14-23:56 or 23:1-49

On Palm Sunday this year we hear two sections of Luke’s Gospel — the first at the blessing of the palms and the second at the reading of St. Luke’s passion narrative. With the royal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (19:28-21:38), a new section of the Gospel begins — the ministry of Jesus in Jerusalem before his death and resurrection.

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

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

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

Palm of Triumph

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

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

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

Learning to Read Signs of Love

Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year C – March 10, 2013
The readings for this Sunday are: Joshua 5:9a, 10-12; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; and Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Chapter 15 of Luke’s Gospel is often referred to as the “Lost and Found Collection” of the New Testament since it begins with the parable of lost sheep (vv 1-7), followed by the parable of lost coin (vv 8-10), reaching its crescendo in the parable of prodigal son (vv 11-32).

The Prodigal Son story in today’s Gospel is one of those rare gems that captivates the mind of every listener, then and now. The parable epitomizes Luke’s gifts as a storyteller — his ability to “paint” a scene with such vividness and sensitivity to human relationships that it can echo with each person’s lived experience.

At different times in our lives, most of us have played each of these roles: that of the doting, loving, apparently overindulgent parent; that of the younger son who experiences being brought low by sinfulness and pride, and desperately in need of mercy; the older son, who is responsible and above reproach, and who is frustrated by the generosity and leniency with which the weaknesses and sins of others are dealt with.

There is some of each of these characters in each one of us.  Luke’s unique and marvellous parable of the Prodigal Son was originally aimed at Jesus’ respectable contemporaries who resented his fraternizing with tax collectors and other disreputable types.

In his 1984 apostolic exhortation “Reconciliatio et Pænitentia” that followed the Synod on Reconciliation, Pope John Paul II wrote: “The parable of the prodigal son is above all the story of the inexpressible love of a Father-God — who offers to his son when he comes back to him the gift of full reconciliation. [...] It therefore reminds us of the need for a profound transformation of hearts through the rediscovery of the Father’s mercy and through victory over misunderstanding and over hostility among brothers and sisters.”

Portraits of 3 characters

In the ancient Jewish world, the right of “primogeniture” (being the first-born male in a family) meant that the eldest son received a double share of his father’s inheritance. Thus, the younger son would have received roughly one-third of the value of his father’s property and possessions. But the very fact of asking for his inheritance (v 12) would have been a grave insult to his father, suggesting that his father was “taking too long to die,” and that he had become impatient with waiting for the old man’s death.

The younger son obviously goes off to a pagan (Gentile) nation (v 13), since no self-respecting Jewish farmer would raise pigs — an animal that was considered non-kosher. The son apparently traveled a long way, imagining that he would find in some other country the happiness and excitement he had apparently not found in his own land. The result was just the opposite: he is reduced to indentured slavery, is forced to tend unclean animals, and being ill-fed, he is slowly starving to death (v 17).

We are told that younger boy “squandered his property” (v 13). Once again, this is certainly a possible meaning of the Greek noun (ousia), but it also has the sense of “his very being, himself.” Not only did the young man recklessly surrender his money and property but he surrendered himself as well: he “lost” who and what he was.

We read that the younger son “came to himself” (v 17). Perhaps it is sufficient to say that the young man came to realize how foolish he had been and so “came to his senses.” That is a prelude to repentance, even if not repentance itself.

The prodigal father

In one of the most poignant scenes of “an expectant father,” the old owner of this plantation sees the son, even while the boy is a long way off, walking home slowly, awkwardly and ashamed of his state (v 20). It is the father who takes the first step, who chooses to go out and meet his wayward son en route, instead of waiting for him to come crawling home.

The father’s actions would have been considered highly inappropriate and a source of shame. The father’s reaction is an overflowing of love, compassion and tenderness: he “falls on his son’s neck,” hugging and kissing him, and demands that the symbols of his freedom and of his status within the family — the best robe, sandals, ring — be restored to him, as if nothing had happened (v 22).

This father would have been well within his rights to turn the son away, on the basis of his deeply insulting actions, and the shame he had caused his family. We can only imagine that village hostility would have been substantial upon the younger son’s return. Village families would be afraid their own younger sons would get similar ideas!

The disease of entitlement

The reaction of the elder son (vv 25-29) is one of righteous indignation: His words quickly make it clear that, although he has done his filial duty, it has apparently not been out of any sense of love or generosity; instead, he feels that he has been imposed upon, has “slaved away” for years for his father without appropriate gestures of gratitude. He focuses, not on what he has been given, but on what he feels he has been deprived of. He suffers from the terrible disease of entitlement!

The elder son is very concrete in condemning his brother’s behavior, speaking of how he has “devoured your money with prostitutes” (v 30). Did rumors about the younger boy’s actions eventually filter back to his hometown and family? Or is the elder son simply imagining the worst about his brother, and describing him in the harshest possible terms?

The elder son has “written off” his sibling in his heart, and now refers to him only as “this son of yours” — he may be your son, but he is no longer my brother! It is, Jesus says, possible to seem to be a son without really being a son in one’s heart, and that is what the elder brother reveals by his reaction.

Isn’t it interesting that the one who was believed to be free, reveals himself to have felt like a slave, and he who remained in the father’s house reveals himself to have felt like an alien and an outsider, not to have felt like a son at all?

Working out reconciliation

This deeply moving parable highlights two of Luke’s characteristic emphases: God’s welcome of sinners and those considered socially and religiously unacceptable, and the rejoicing and celebration that are meant to accompany that welcome, that are meant to respond to the repentance that God invites.

The generous father of both sons welcomes back the youth who squandered his inheritance but does not repudiate the older son who protests the father’s prodigality yet remains faithful to him. “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (v 31). The restoration of the son who “was dead and has come to life.” who “was lost and has been found” (v 32), does not invalidate the fidelity of the older son. The younger son, restored to the father’s household, must make a new beginning in the life of fidelity. Reconciled to God, both sons must work out together their reconciliation with each other.

Does the elder son finally make peace with his brother and welcome him back? Does he find it in his heart to forgive, and to share in the father’s rejoicing? Or does he, in the final accounting, find himself even more alienated than his younger brother had been? Where is the mother in this story? What was her response? We are left hoping for a conclusion that Jesus never provides. That’s what the parables are all about: They invite us to enter into the story and to find the answers in our own lives and times.

The parable of “The Wayward Son” or “The Prodigal Father” or the “Indignant Elder Brother” can cause much grief for us, as we see ourselves and our motives exposed for what they really are. The prodigal Father squanders his own love on our pettiness, our meanness, our diffidence, and our arrogance.

Open fields

For my Lenten reading this year, I came across the little gem of a book “Love Alone is Credible” by Hans Urs Von Balthasar (Ignatius Press, 2004). Toward the end of the book, these words jumped off the page: “Once a person learns to read the signs of love and thus to believe it, loves leads him into the open field wherein he himself can love.

“If the prodigal son had not believed that the father’s love was already there waiting for him, he would not have been able to make the journey home — even if his father’s love welcomes him in a way he never would have dreamed of.

‘The decisive thing is that the sinner has heard of a love that could be, and really is, there for him; he is not the one who has to bring himself into line with God; God has always already seen in him the loveless sinner, a beloved child and has looked upon him and conferred dignity upon him in light of this love” (p. 103).

Ministry entrusted to us

Today’s second reading from St. Paul (2 Corinthians 5:17-21) summarizes beautifully Luke’s masterful Gospel parable of the Prodigal Son. Paul attempts to explain the meaning of God’s reconciling action by a variety of different categories; his attention keeps moving rapidly back and forth from God’s act to his own ministry as well.

If we are reconciled with God, with ourselves and with others, and if we in turn foster Christ’s reconciliation in society, we can make a convincing claim to be ambassadors of the Prince of Peace. Just as God took the initiative in sending his son to reconcile the world, so he expects us to take the initiative to restore harmony to a broken world, to wounded families, and an often-divided Church.

On this fourth Sunday of Lent, may we, who have been forgiven so much, embrace as brothers and sisters every sinner who joins us in the feast of forgiveness we celebrate in the Eucharistic liturgy.

Along our Lenten journey on the road to the Father, may a song of gratitude and joy burst forth in the wilderness of our hearts and the deserts of our vengeance, meanness and hardness of hearts. May God teach us to read the signs of love in the world today, and gladden our hearts at the Word that sends us on our way in reconciliation and peace.

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/

Standing on Holy Ground


3rd Sunday of Lent, Year C – March 3, 2013
The readings for the Third Sunday of Lent are Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15; 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12; and Luke 13:1-9

Today’s first reading from Exodus (3:1-8a; 13-15) carried me back to my first visit to Mount Sinai and St. Catharine’s Monastery in 1990, during my years of study in Jerusalem. I remember well that awesome experience of standing on “holy ground” in Sinai, at the place where God gave humanity his Law, the Ten Commandments of the Covenant.

I also recall the moving words of Pope John Paul II spoken at St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai on Feb. 26, 2000, during his historic Jubilee Pilgrimage to the places of our salvation: “How many have come to this place before us! Here the People of God pitched their tents (cf. Exodus 19:2); here the prophet Elijah took refuge in a cave (cf. 1 Kings 19:9); here the body of the martyr Catherine found a final resting-place; here a host of pilgrims through the ages have scaled what Saint Gregory of Nyssa called ‘the mountain of desire’ (The Life of Moses, II, 232); here generations of monks have watched and prayed.

“We humbly follow in their footsteps, to ‘the holy ground’ where the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob commissioned Moses to set his people free (cf. Exodus 3:5-8).”

In today’s well-known passage from the book of Exodus Chapter 3, the image of “holy ground” is vivid. For centuries, spiritual writers have contemplated the deep significance of holy ground and holy places. The whole area of the Sinai, with its rugged, natural beauty and the ancient monastery still standing at the foot of God’s holy mountain, are silent witnesses to God’s entrance into human history.

Moses, Moses

In today’s first reading, Moses is simply “minding his business” keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian, when he comes to Horeb, the mountain of God (Exodus 3:1ff). Horeb has this special designation probably because of the divine apparitions that took place there, as well as the place where the Israelites sojourned after the departure from Egypt.

The angel of the LORD appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, he called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” Moses, fearful, shocked and amazed, became aware that someone who knows him must be here, someone who is truly interested in him. And Moses said, “Here I am.” Then the Lord said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:2-5).

Moses hears his name called out twice: “Moses, Moses!” In the Bible it is rare for a person to be called twice. In the book of Genesis (22:1), Abraham is summoned to sacrifice his son. “Abraham, Abraham!” It is a major turning point in his life. His own sincerity was put to the test. Another instance of a double name calling is in 1 Samuel 3:10 “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” The confusing period of the Judges is ending and the time of the kings, which marks a new nearness of God to his people, is beginning.

Moses tried to consider the phenomenon of the burning bush as a part of his view of God, of history, and of God’s presence in history. But the Lord’s strong words to Moses from the bush are a warning, as if Moses were being told: “Moses, you are not going to come to me by enclosing me into your personal scheme of things. You are not the one to integrate me into your personal plans. Instead, I want to fit you into my master plan!” No one of us waltzes into availability to the mystery of God. It is the Lord God who seeks Moses [...] where he happens to be. The Lord does the same with each of us.

Time and place

We must never forget that while God revealed himself to Moses in a particular place and through a particular fashion, this does not limit God, to those places and ways. Our human tendency to limit this God to certain times, places and peoples will be lessened to the degree that we understand the absolute sovereignty of God.

The presence of God and the power of Jesus cannot be limited to mere places. Let us recognize God’s great ability to break through our distances, structures, borders and rules in order to speak to us wherever we are the words once spoken to Moses: “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

True rock

The Old Testament typology of desert, rock and water is very evident in today’s second reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (10:1-6, 10-12). St. Paul writes: “All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was the Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert.”

Paul refers to a spiritual rock that followed the people. The Torah speaks only about a rock from which water issued, but rabbinic legend amplified this into a spring that followed the Israelites throughout their migration. Paul uses this legend as a literary type: He makes the rock itself accompany the Israelites, and he gives it a spiritual sense. The rock was Christ.

In the Old Testament, the Lord God is the Rock of his people (Moses’ song to the Lord, the Rock in Deut 32). Paul now applies this image to the Christ, the source of the living water, the true Rock that accompanied Israel, guiding their experiences in the desert.

Destiny of all God’s people

Let us ponder words of Pope John Paul II spoken ten years ago at St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai during his Jubilee Pilgrimage in February 2000:

“Here on Mount Sinai, the truth of ‘who God is’ became the foundation and guarantee of the Covenant. Moses enters ‘the luminous darkness’ (The Life of Moses, II, 164), and there he is given the Law ‘written with the finger of God’ (Exodus 31:18). But what is this Law? It is the Law of life and freedom! At the Red Sea, the people had experienced a great liberation. They had seen the power and fidelity of God; they had discovered that he is the God who does indeed set his people free as he had promised. But now on the heights of Sinai, this same God seals his love by making the Covenant that he will never renounce. If the people obey his Law, they will know freedom forever. The Exodus and the Covenant are not just events of the past; they are forever the destiny of all God’s people!

“The Ten Commandments are not an arbitrary imposition of a tyrannical Lord. They were written in stone; but before that, they were written on the human heart as the universal moral law, valid in every time and place. Today as always, the Ten Words of the Law provide the only true basis for the lives of individuals, societies and nations. Today as always, they are the only future of the human family. They save man from the destructive force of egoism, hatred and falsehood. They point out all the false gods that draw him into slavery: the love of self to the exclusion of God, the greed for power and pleasure that overturns the order of justice and degrades our human dignity and that of our neighbor. If we turn from these false idols and follow the God who sets his people free and remains always with them, then we shall emerge like Moses, after forty days on the mountain, ‘shining with glory’ (Saint Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses, II, 230), ablaze with the light of God!

“To keep the Commandments is be faithful to God, but it is also to be faithful to ourselves, to our true nature and our deepest aspirations. The wind which still today blows from Sinai reminds us that God wants to be honored in and through the growth of his creatures: ‘Gloria Dei, homo vivens.’ In this sense, that wind carries an insistent invitation to dialogue between the followers of the great monotheistic religions in their service of the human family. It suggests that in God we can find the point of our encounter: In God the All Powerful and All Merciful, Creator of the universe and Lord of history, who at the end of our earthly existence will judge us with perfect justice.”

Liberating obedience

On this Third Sunday of Lent, the lessons of Sinai are clear for us: We too shall be truly free if we learn to obey as Jesus did. The encounter of God and Moses on Mount Horeb in the Sinai enshrines at the heart of our religion the mystery of the liberating obedience, which finds its fulfillment in the perfect obedience of Christ, by his birth in Bethlehem and his crucifixion in Jerusalem.

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