Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The rise of Donald Trump is a terrifying moment in American politics | Vox

On Monday, Donald Trump held a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, where he merrily repeated a woman in the crowd who called Ted Cruz a pu***y. Twenty-four hours later, Donald Trump won the New Hampshire primary in a landslide.

I'm not here to clutch my pearls over Trump's vulgarity; what was telling, rather, was the immaturity of the moment, the glee Trump took in his "she said it, I didn't" game. The media, which has grown used to covering Trump as a sideshow, delighted in the moment along with him — it was funny, and it meant clicks, takes, traffic. But it was more than that. It was the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president showing off the demagogue's instinct for amplifying the angriest voice in the mob.

It is undeniably enjoyable to watch Trump. He's red-faced, discursive, funny, angry, strange, unpredictable, and real. He speaks without filter and tweets with reckless abandon. The Donald Trump phenomenon is a riotous union of candidate ego and voter id. America's most skilled political entertainer is putting on the greatest show we've ever seen.

It's so fun to watch that it's easy to lose sight of how terrifying it really is.
Trump is the most dangerous major candidate for president in memory. He pairs terrible ideas with an alarming temperament; he's a racist, a sexist, and a demagogue, but he's also a narcissist, a bully, and a dilettante. He lies so constantly and so fluently that it's hard to know if he even realizes he's lying. He delights in schoolyard taunts and luxuriates in backlash.
Trump answers America's rage with more rage. As the journalist Molly Ball observed, "All the other candidates say 'Americans are angry, and I understand.' Trump says, 'I’M angry.'" Trump doesn't offer solutions so much as he offers villains. His message isn't so much that he'll help you as he'll hurt them.

Trump is in serious contention to win the Republican presidential nomination. His triumph in a general election is unlikely, but it is far from impossible. He's not a joke and he's not a clown. He's a man who could soon be making decisions of war and peace, who would decide which regulations are enforced and which are lifted, who would be responsible for nominating Supreme Court justices and representing America in the community of nations. This is not political entertainment. This is politics.

Trump's path to power has been unnerving. His business is licensing out his own name as a symbol of opulence. He has endured bankruptcies and scandal by bragging his way out of them. He rose to prominence in the Republican Party as a leader of the birther movement. He climbed to the top of the polls in this election by calling Mexicans rapists and killers. He defended a poor debate performance by accusing Megyn Kelly of being on her period. He responded to rival Ted Cruz's surge by calling for a travel ban on Muslims. When two of his supporters attacked a homeless man and said they did it because "Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported," he brushed off complaints that he's inspiring violence by saying his supporters are "very passionate."

Behind Trump's success is an unerring instinct for harnessing anger, resentment, and fear. His view of the economy is entirely zero-sum — for Americans to win, others must lose. "We're going to make America great again," he said in his New Hampshire victory speech, "but we're going to do it the old-fashioned way. We're going to beat China, Japan, beat Mexico at trade. We're going to beat all of these countries that are taking so much of our money away from us on a daily basis. It's not going to happen anymore."

Trump's other gift — the one that gets less attention but is perhaps more important — is his complete lack of shame. It's easy to underestimate how important shame is in American politics. But shame is our most powerful restraint on politicians who would find success through demagoguery. Most people feel shame when they're exposed as liars, when they're seen as uninformed, when their behavior is thought cruel, when respected figures in their party condemn their actions, when experts dismiss their proposals, when they are mocked and booed and protested.

Trump doesn't. He has the reality television star's ability to operate entirely without shame, and that permits him to operate entirely without restraint. It is the single scariest facet of his personality. It is the one that allows him to go where others won't, to say what others can't, to do what others wouldn't.

Trump lives by the reality television trope that he's not here to make friends. But the reason reality television villains always say they're not there to make friends is because it sets them apart, makes them unpredictable and fun to watch. "I'm not here to make friends" is another way of saying, "I'm not bound by the social conventions of normal people." The rest of us are here to make friends, and it makes us boring, gentle, kind.

This, more than his ideology, is why Trump genuinely scares me. There are places where I think his instincts are an improvement on the Republican field. He seems more dovish than neoconservatives like Marco Rubio, and less dismissive of the social safety net than libertarians like Rand Paul. But those candidates are checked by institutions and incentives that hold no sway over Trump; his temperament is so immature, his narcissism so clear, his political base so unique, his reactions so strange, that I honestly have no idea what he would do — or what he wouldn't do.

When MSNBC's Joe Scarborough asked Trump about his affection for Vladimir Putin, who "kills journalists, political opponents and invades countries," Trump replied, "He's running his country, and at least he's a leader, unlike what we have in this country." Later, he clarified that he doesn't actually condone killing journalists, but, he warned the crowd, "I do hate them."

It's a lie that if you put a frog into a pot of water and slowly turn up the heat the frog will simply boil, but it's a fact that if you put the American political system in a room with Trump for long enough we slowly lose track of how noxious he is, or we at least run out of ways to keep repeating it.

But tonight is a night to repeat it. There is something scary in Donald Trump. We should fear his rise.

Feeling mercy changes everything!

HOMILY FOR ASH WEDNESDAY, February 10, 2016:

I conducted a very informal poll on Facebook today asking my friends there what they were giving up for Lent. They responded well, more than 50 of them. Some of the answers were very tangible. For example, more than one are giving up Coke, Pepsi or other soft drinks; some are giving up chocolates or sweets in general; some are giving up meat or Dunkin’ Donuts; some said alcohol or eating out at restaurants; one plans to fast every Wednesday and Friday. Others named things that were more changes in habit or activity. For example, one said, they were giving up background music in the car, office or house to embrace more silence; another was going to give up swearing at rude drivers in the car; another said outward displays of anger and resentment; one was going to give up the need to be in control; one said they would bite their tongue so they would gossip less; another said he would turn off the computer at 8 p.m. to limit the amount of time staring at screens; one said they would give up over-commitment to have more quiet time. And, then there were those who were going to try and do more with their Lent. Among those were people who were pledging to pray a rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet every day; or to commit themselves more deeply to forgiveness, love, mercy and joy; those who will spend more time in service of others, doing good deeds; some were going to spend more time especially with people who need that extra attention another said they’d be giving up some morning sleep so they can get to Mass every day. And, last but not least, one said that they had given up giving anything up.

These are all great – well maybe not that last one – but most of these are the kind of practices that are hoping to be effective in our Lent and in our lives to help us become the kind of people that Jesus calls us to be. Our typical approach to Lent, I think, is to look at Lent as a 40 day spiritual boot camp. It is our time to get our spiritual act together, to engage in some rigorous practices that can once again reign in and drive out all of the laxity that has snuck into our lives since last year. It is perhaps best summed up by the statement as ashes are applied, “Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” And, there is certainly ample reason for us to think of Lent in this way.

But, I want to invite us to think about the next 40 days in a very different way this year – not as the boot camp, but how about as the luxury spa; not as the place where we punish our sinfulness into submission, but the place where we allow our gracious and loving God to pamper us with His mercy.

“Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.” We sang this together in our response tonight and these words will accompany us all through Lent as a common refrain in the hopes that they will truly settle deep in our hearts. “Be merciful, O Lord.” This is certainly appropriate as we enter into our 40 day journey of Lent. It is all the more appropriate as we are in this great Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis. From virtually the first day of his papacy, Pope Francis has been speaking to us about this great gift and grace of God’s mercy – about our need to accept it and our need to extend it; about how it is the cure to what ails our world today.

Just a year ago, for example, he said, “In the past few days I have been reading a book that said that ‘feeling mercy changes everything’. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient. This mercy is beautiful.” Be merciful, O Lord, because feeling mercy changes everything, and we want to be changed by Your mercy. This is what our Lent can be about – letting God treat us, spoil us, overwhelm us, cover us with His mercy. He doesn’t hold it back. He doesn’t try and keep it from us. He wants nothing more than for us to be awash in the healing waters of His mercy. Let God’s mercy spoil you. It is beautiful. It is the best thing you can feel. It will change you and the world.

Last month beginning a year-long exploration of what he termed “the mystery of divine mercy” the pope said, “God defines himself as the God of mercy. In words which echo throughout the Old Testament, he tells Moses that he is ‘the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’. The Hebrew word for mercy evokes the tender and visceral love of a mother for her child…God waits for us.” God waits for you and me with the tender love of a mother; whose love can heal us.

My friends, as we begin our Lenten journey tonight, know in the depths of your hearts that God waits for us; God waits for you. Now, this doesn’t mean we’re off the hook – bring on the cookies and ice cream!! But, it means that we should be conscious that these things that we “give up” are practices that should be tilling the soil of our hearts so that God can plant the loving gift of mercy there; so that he can spoil us with this mercy; so that we might in turn become that presence of mercy in our world. These practices should lead us to beg as we did in our psalm tonight, “Be merciful, O Lord.” Please, shower Your mercy upon us. Because feeling Your mercy changes everything. Our God waits for us so that we can feel His mercy. He waits for us to become His mercy. He hopes that we will extend that mercy to the world.

May the Lord give you His mercy!

Pope to Missionaries of Mercy: "Show the maternal face of the Church"

Vatican City, 10 February 2016 (VIS) – Showing the maternal face of the Church, being aware of the need for forgiveness and the sense of shame of those who confess, and not applying a harsh form of justice were the main features of the advice Pope Francis gave yesterday afternoon to the Missionaries of Mercy from all continents, whom he received in audience in the Sala Regia of the Vatican Apostolic Palace. Today, during the Ash Wednesday Mass, he will confer to them their mandate as "missionaries" of mercy in the context of the Jubilee.

"I meet with you with great pleasure, before giving you the mandate of being Missionaries of Mercy. This is a sign of special relevance because it characterises the Jubilee, and enables the unfathomable mystery of the mercy of the Father to be lived in all the local Churches", said the Holy Father. "Being a missionary of mercy is a responsibility I have entrusted to you because it requires that you be witnesses in the first person of God's closeness and his way of loving. It is not our way, always limited and at times contradictory, but His way of loving, His way of forgiving, that is indeed mercy".

Francis went on to remind the new missionaries that in their ministry they are called upon to express the maternity of the Church. "The Church is a mother because she always generates new sons and daughters in faith; the Church is a mother also because she nurtures faith; and the Church is a mother also because she offers God's forgiveness, regenerating new life, the fruit of conversion. We cannot run the risk that a penitent does not perceive the maternal presence of the Church who welcomes and loves him. If this perception were to be made less evident as a result of our rigidity, it would constitute a grave damage first and foremost to faith itself, as it would prevent the penitent from seeing himself as integrated within the Body of Christ. Furthermore, it would greatly limit his sense of being part of a community. We are instead called upon to be a living expression of the Church who, as a mother, welcomes anyone who approaches her, knowing that through her they are integrated with Christ. Entering into the confessional let us always remember that it is Christ Who welcomes, Christ Who listens, Christ Who forgives, and Christ Who gives peace. We are His ministers, and we are the first who are in need of His forgiveness. Therefore, whatever may be the sin to be confessed – or that the person does not dare to say, but alludes to, which is enough – each missionary is called upon to remember their own existence as a sinner and to humbly place himself as a 'channel' of God's mercy".

Another important aspect is to know how to "look at the desire for forgiveness in the penitent's heart. It is the fruit of grace and its action in the life of people, which enables us to feel nostalgia for God, for His love and His home. Let us not forget that it is precisely this desire that is at the beginning of conversion. The heart turns to God, recognising the in committed, but with the hope of obtaining forgiveness. And this desire is strengthened when one decides in one's heart to change life and to sin no more. It is the moment at which one entrusts oneself to God's mercy, trusting fully in being understood, forgiven and supported by Him. Let us allow ample space to this desire for God and for His forgiveness; may we let it emerge as a true expression of the grace of the Spirit that inspires the conversion of the heart".

Finally, the Holy Father spoke about a crucial, often neglected aspect: shame. "It is not easy to place oneself in front of another man, knowing that he represents God, and confess to sin. One is ashamed not only of the sin committed, but also of having to confess it to another", said the Pope, emphasising that the Bible from its very first pages tells us about how Adam and Eve, after they had sinned, felt shame and hid themselves from God. Noah too, considered a righteous man, was not free from sin. His intemperance is a sign of his weakness, to the extent that he loses his dignity, expressed in the Scripture by his nakedness. Two of his sons, Shem and Japheth take his cloak and cover him to restore his dignity.

"This passage suggests to me the importance of our role as confessor", said Francis. "Before us there is a 'naked' person, and also a person who does not know how to speak and does not know what to say … with the shame of being a sinner, and very often unable to say so. Let us not forget: before us there is not the sin, but the repentant sinner. … A person who wishes to be accepted and forgiven. Therefore, we are not called upon to judge, with an attitude of superiority, as if we were immune to sin. On the contrary, we are called upon to act like Shem and Japheth, who took a cover to spare their father from shame. Being a confessor in accordance with Christ's heart means covering the sinner with a cloak of mercy, so that he is no longer ashamed and is able to recover the joy of his filial dignity, and may also know where to find it".

"However, it is not the club of judgement that we succeed in returning the lost sheep to the flock, but rather with the holiness of life that is the starting point of renewal and reform in the Church. Holiness is nurtured with love and knows how to bear the burden of the weak. A missionary of mercy carries the sinner on his shoulders, and consoles him with the power of compassion. … It is possible to do great damage, great damage to a soul if one does not listen with the heart of a father, with the heart of the Mother Church". "Some months ago I spoke with a wise cardinal of the Roman Curia about the questions that some priests ask in confession, and he said to me, 'When a person starts and I see that they want to say something, and I realise and understand, I say, I understand, don't worry. … This is a father".

"I accompany you on this missionary adventure", concluded the bishop of Rome, "offering you as examples two saints, ministers of God's forgiveness: St. Leopold and St. Pio … along with many other priests who during their life have borne witness to God's mercy. They will help you. When you feel the burden of the sins confessed to you, and the limits of your person and your words, trust in the power of mercy that reaches out to everyone as love and knows no bounds. And say, like many saintly confessors, 'Lord, I forgive you', and go ahead".

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Be merciful this Lent | Pope Francis


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

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

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

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

This love story culminates in the incarnation of God’s Son. In Christ, the Father pours forth his boundless mercy even to making him “mercy incarnate” (Misericordiae Vultus, 8). As a man, Jesus of Nazareth is a true son of Israel; he embodies that perfect hearing required of every Jew by the Shema, which today too is the heart of God’s covenant with Israel: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Dt6:4-5). As the Son of God, he is the Bridegroom who does everything to win over the love of his bride, to whom he is bound by an unconditional love which becomes visible in the eternal wedding feast.

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

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

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

For all of us, then, the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favourable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practising the works of mercy. In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated. By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need. By taking this path, the “proud”, the “powerful” and the “wealthy” spoken of in the Magnificat can also be embraced and undeservedly loved by the crucified Lord who died and rose for them. This love alone is the answer to that yearning for infinite happiness and love that we think we can satisfy with the idols of knowledge, power and riches. Yet the danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor, the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell. The pointed words of Abraham apply to them and to all of us: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Lk 16:29). Such attentive listening will best prepare us to celebrate the final victory over sin and death of the Bridegroom, now risen, who desires to purify his Betrothed in expectation of his coming.

Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favourable a time for conversion! We ask this through the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, who, encountering the greatness of God’s mercy freely bestowed upon her, was the first to acknowledge her lowliness (cf. Lk 1:48) and to call herself the Lord’s humble servant (cf. Lk 1:38).

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Tippecanoe and Jesus too!!


As we are now in full swing of the presidential primary, as we listen to all of the rhetoric of the candidates, it is interesting to look at what their campaign slogans are. If you’re curious, there were no presidential campaign slogans until the election of 1840 and William Henry Harrison. The first slogan ever, “Tippecanoe and Tyler too!” Very inspiring stuff! They’ve gotten a bit better since then. Here are a sampling of just a few this year’s slogans. Some are very basic and descriptive like, “Hillary for America” or perhaps the shortest slogan ever, “Jeb!” Some are a little bit scary like Rand Paul’s, “Defeat the Washington Machine” or Bernie Sander’s “A revolution is coming!” Some I personally ind funny, like Chris Christies, “Telling it like it is!” But, then there are the ones that hope to be inspirational and aspirational like Ben Carson’s, “Heal. Inspire. Revive,” or Carly Fiorina’s, “New Possibilities,” or the famous, or infamous, Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again”, which by the way was also Ronald Reagan’s slogan in 1980, so no points for originality there.

Of course, perhaps the greatest frustration with slogans is that they hardly ever prove to be true. The most often promise something that they fail to deliver. Just look at these inspirational words and compare them to the negative and hateful rhetoric that we have heard on the campaign trail thus far in the 2016 race.

These remind me of a scene from the great Steven Speilberg movie, Amistad which tells the story of a group of slaves who were able to win their freedom with the help of John Quincy Adams in the Supreme Court long before slavery was abolished in this country. There is a poignant scene when the main character is given a copy of the Bible by an Abolitionist. However, he speaks no English and had never heard of Jesus Christ and so he doesn’t know what the book is. But, it has pictures in it; and the illustrations fascinated him. At one point, two of the slaves are alone in their jail cell. One thinks that the other carries the book simply to impress people and he says to the one looking at the Bible, “No one is watching you here, you can put the book down.” But the other responds, “No, I think I have figured out the story.” Pointing to the pictures he says, “See, things were very bad for these people, it was a dark time, and they were oppressed. Worse even than us.” He flips a page to the scene at the manger in Bethlehem, “But, see here, this boy was born and that changed everything.” Referring to the drawing which depicts Christ with a halo he said, “You can see that he was very important, even the sun followed him where ever he went.”

This changes everything. It sounds almost like a political slogan, but the key difference is that, unlike politicians, this one is true. When we choose to let Jesus rule our hearts and our lives, it really does change everything.

Our Scriptures today place before us three people - Isaiah, Paul and Peter. Each of them have an experience of God that changes everything. Isaiah sees the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne. God’s presence shakes the door of his house. His reaction, “Woe is me! My eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!” Paul recounts his own unworthiness at having been called to be an apostle, despite his own persecution of the church. Paul’s reaction? “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me has not been ineffective.” And then Peter, at Jesus’ command catches a miraculous amount of fish. His reaction? “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

You see, this changes everything. You couldn’t ask for three people more different than Isaiah, Paul and Peter, and yet despite their very different lives, they each have a similarly life-changing encounter with God. In so many ways, that’s the story of the Bible itself over and over, the story of how God calls people to Himself and calls them to be more like His Son in the world. We see over and over again that that being in the presence of God changes everything; it changes the one who encounters God – it changes us. And that is change we can believe in!

As we come to Mass today, and every time we come, we have the opportunity to truly encounter God in so many ways. He is truly present in one another – “where two or more are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them” – so, when you look at the person on your right and left, in front and in back, God is truly here as we gather in His name. God is truly present to us today in His Word which was proclaimed in the readings which always end with the moving proclamation, “The Word of the Lord.” We mean it! Did you hear God speak to you today? God will be truly present in bread and wine that will become the Body and Blood of Jesus before our very eyes in the Eucharist today. And we will take that presence into our own bodies in the hopes that, as St. Augustine famously said, we will “become what we receive.” God hopes to change us by this encounter.

Hopefully, we encounter Him in many other places in our lives too – in our loving relationships, in our encounters with the poor and the marginalized, the stranger, the refugee, the immigrant, the needy. We encounter God in the beauty of nature, and words and music and art. He is all around us waiting to engage us in the hopes that we will be daily changed into more loving, kind, compassionate, caring, merciful, forgiving and gentle people.

Our readings and our celebration today are asking each of us – how do I react to God’s presence? Are we blind to God, not even aware that He is there? Do we shy away from God because we know our sinfulness? Yet it is precisely because we are sinners that God comes to us; to transform us by His Grace. Just think of the powerful prayer we say just before receiving Communion – “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed” – the power of that prayer is in our trust that through God’s word we are healed and saved. Even in the moments when we feel the greatest distance from God; He is always present waiting to transform us in His love and Grace.

Let us pray to have eyes and hearts open to see our God who is present all around us, and to respond with humility. As Jesus appears on our altar, let us ask Him to enter into our hearts and transform us to become what we receive – that same presence of God, the Body of Christ, in the world.

This changes everything. “Only say the word, and we shall be healed.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The reason for Jesus


If you’re a fan of the comic strip, Family Circus, you may remember a Christmas comic they did a few years ago. In the scene, young Dolly was sharing with her two young brothers the story of Christmas. Here is how she recounted it, “Mary and Joseph were camping out under a star in the East…It was a Silent Night in Bethlehem until the angels began to sing…then Santa brought Baby Jesus in his sleight and laid Him in a manger… Chestnuts were roasting by an open fire and not a creature was stirring…so the Grinch stole some swaddling clothes from the Scrooge – who was one of the three wise men riding on eight tiny reindeer.” And then Dolly says to her brother, “Pay attention, Jeffy, or you’ll never learn the real story of Christmas!”

We hear a phrase regularly this time of year – Jesus is the reason for the season. It’s a phrase that invites us to remember that Christmas is not just about presents and parties and food, desserts and time with family and friends – but that there is a faith dimension to all of this. Jesus is the reason for the season. But, today’s feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – so close to the Feast of Christmas – asks us to take that a step further. If Jesus is the reason for the season, what is the reason for Jesus? And, that is a really interesting question.

We sing the carols, we marvel at the sights of the lights and the trees and the decorations – especially the Christmas mangers – but how often do we go deeper and ask what are those leading us to, what are they drawing us to? Lights aren’t meant to be mere colorful decoration, for example, they are meant to remind us of the symbolism that Jesus is THE LIGHT that has conquered the darkness of our world, the darkness of sin and death. Similarly the trees, the EVER-greens that we bring into our houses in the midst of winter are symbols of life.

And, how about those Christmas mangers. They are so beautiful and probably the most treasured of decorations in most households. In fact, in many families, Christmas mangers are even handed down from generation to generation. And, we are so blessed here at St. Anthony’s with our beautiful Christmas manger outside on West Houston Street – certainly one of the most famous and visited in New York City. Camera crews come to film here, countless people come and take their pictures here. Many come just to be silent and say a little prayer.

And, if you know the history of the Christmas manger, you know that it was our own St. Francis of Assisi, who originated this custom back in 1223. St. Francis did this because he wanted to truly understand the impact of the reason that Jesus, God Himself, became one of us. He wanted to imagine what that moment was like. And it is powerful for us to likewise take a moment do the same.

This feast of the Holy Family in particular reminds us that when God decided that the time had come for Him to enter into our human reality; to come to earth and take on our human flesh, that we need only to look at the manger to see how He chose to do it. God chose to enter humanity not in a grandiose way, not in flurry and splendor, not with trumpet blast and glory, but in the simple way that you and I entered humanity - within a family. And, not only that, He chose to enter humanity as someone who was homeless – they could not find a place to lay their head. He chose to enter humanity as a migrant as they were on their way to another land for the census. And, He chose to enter our world as a little baby, as someone who was helpless and had to rely upon the aid and assistance of others if He were to survive to an age where He could complete His mission among us of spreading the good news and bringing His promised salvation.

God chose to enter our world precisely in the places and in the people and in the ways that we, today, so often struggle or even fail to see God. When we look at the immigrant, the refugee, the homeless, the helpless, what do we see? Do we realize that they are icons of the very image of God as He was on that first Christmas morning? We have our spectacular Christmas manger outside, which is an image of a homeless, migrant family who had no place to lay their heads that night. And a block away in virtually any direction from this Church you can find a homeless woman or man huddled under a blanket or a cardboard box. As we pass them by, do we recognize that their image and the image of the Holy Family are the same? Do we see God present there when we see them? This is where He is present today.

In a few days or weeks, our Christmas mangers will be carefully packed and put away for another year, but these urban mangers that surround us on our streets will remain in the men and women who live there. I think this is exactly why Jesus came to us, God Himself came to us, in a family, and one that was homeless and migrant and in need of the help of others. Because He wanted us then and now, to look at our own family, to look at the homeless and helpless around us, and to see that God is present there; they are not the “other”; they are our brother, our sister, our family; and to reach out to them in need.

My friends, Jesus is the reason for the season; and this is the reason for Jesus. He came among us so that we might see God’s presence in our midst; that we might see God’s presence in one another; that we might see God’s presence in the most unlikely of places. If we want to become a Holy Family, this is how we do it. We say yes to that presence, that invitation before our eyes, just as Joseph and Mary did so long ago. And it will make all the difference in our lives, in our world and in our families. May we become one, united and holy family under our loving and compassionate God this Christmas and always.

Merry Christmas and may the Lord give you peace.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Fall on your knees


Join me in a little sing-a-long: “Silent night, holy night. All is calm. All is bright. Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child. Holy Infant, so tender and mild. Sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace. ” If you were here at this Mass last year, you might remember that I invited you to do the very same thing and join me in singing that beautiful hymn.

This is a time of year that engages us fully through all of our senses – we love the sights that are all around us, the bright lights and Christmas trees, bows and ribbons and wreathes and wrapped presents; we love the smells and flavors even more, and I’m sure each of us has a special tradition of this time of year, whether it is certain desserts or special foods that we have, fruitcake or Christmas cookies, seven fishes or a roasted goose. But, we love the Christmas carols, I think, most of all. We know this because there are even radio stations that play nothing but Christmas music from Thanksgiving Day all the way through Christmas.

Christmas songs conjure up so much in us. There are the fun ones – Jingle Bell Rock, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, and of course, Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer (poor Grandma!). There are the sentimental favorites – White Christmas, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, and The Christmas Song (you know, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire”). And, there are the holy ones, the spiritual ones, that touch us deeply in our hearts – songs like the one we just sang, Silent Night, and so many more like O Come, All Ye Faithful, Joy to the World, or a more recent one, Mary Did You Know?

But, I think my favorite one of the season, and certainly, my favorite one of this very night is O Holy Night. And, I love this hymn for two, somewhat contradictory reasons. I love it for its sheer grandeur. No other Christmas hymn dares such boldness and lofty greatness. It’s melody builds and grows until it wants to explode; and when the notes and the words reach that triumphant apex what does it call us to? It calls us to tremendous humility – fall on your knees the hymn begs the hearer.

Fall on your knees. Know your smallness and be humble in light of the profundity of this moment of Christ’s birth. Sometimes, the act of falling to our knees is a response to tragedy or cruelty. We fall because we are beaten and broken, because we have nothing left to give.

But sometimes - times like tonight - we fall in awesome wonder. These are the knees of O Holy Night, of this holy night: we are "wonderstruck, joyous, and eve a little wobbly". Fall on your knees, the song commands. Jesus has been born, and even the angels are singing. A thrill of hope; the weary soul rejoices. For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. This, my friends, is no normal night. It’s a time to humble ourselves and get close to the ground. Oh, night divine.

It’s easy to imagine that dark Bethlehem night, a stunning planetarium sky, the stars brightly shining, the world laying “in sin and error pining.” Amid all this we lower ourselves, trying to find a bit more stability. This reaction seems right. It’s a posture of openness, rather than knowing, because on this night as on that night, who would guess what was to come?

Often, this humility can be lost in the singing. We associate O Holy Night with singers like CĂ©line Dion or Andrea Bocelli, who dramatically build the song to unbelievable heights, a full orchestra behind them. These versions are popular, but clearly not on their knees.

In a 12-days of Christmas series on the history of our most favorite hymns by The Atlantic, which I'm indebted to for the inspiration of this homily, they point out that in 1855, the American Unitarian minister and music critic John Sullivan Dwight translated the song from its original French, which had been composed a few years earlier. The first version referred simply to a “kneeling people,” but Dwight gave the knees greater prominence, translating the line as a more urgent call to action. He wrote in a November 1870 essay for The Atlantic Monthly: “True music breathes and makes appeal…to a holy love and yearning after unity.” A yearning after unity, seems like a subtle nod to the power of music to make us feel humble again; humble in the presence of our God. It calls on the desire – especially of this night – for joy and peace and love; for compassion and forgiveness and healing; for an opportunity to begin again and be made new, just like the newness promised by the remarkable birth of a child in a manger; a child whose birth would change everything; a child who can change everything again and make us new again today.

You know, people don’t often declare whole nights divine, except in a passing, literary way. But, the holiness of that night in Bethlehem was not literary, but literal; it was holy and full of promise. And, my friends, the holiness of this night is not literary either – it too is literal and full of promise. And the Babe of Bethlehem wants to enter into our world and our hearts and our lives as humbly and as powerfully as He did so long ago, if we will only humbly fall on our knees and welcome Him.

My friends, the stars are brightly shining this night, the world lay in sin and error pining, ‘till He appeared and the soul – your soul, my soul – felt its worth. So, fall on your knees, hear the angel voices. This night when Christ was born. O holy night. O night Divine.

Merry Christmas and may the Lord give you His peace.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Christ is in your midst


A certain monastery was going through a crisis. The monks were leaving, no new candidates were joining, and people were no longer coming for prayer and consultation as they used to. The few monks that remained were becoming old and depressed and bitter in their relationship with one another. But, the abbot heard about a certain holy man living alone in the woods and decided to consult him. He told the hermit how the monastery had dwindled and diminished and now looks like a skeleton of what it used to be. Only seven old monks remained. The hermit told the abbot that he has a secret for him. One of the monks now living in his monastery is actually the Messiah, but he is living in such a way that no one could recognize him.

With this revelation the abbot went back to his monastery, summoned the monks and recounted what the hermit told him. The aging monks looked at each other in disbelief, wondering who among them could be the Christ. Could it be Brother Mark who prays all the time? But he has this holier-than-thou attitude toward others. Could it be Bother Peter who is always ready to help? But he is always eating and drinking and doesn’t fast. The abbot reminded them that the Messiah had adopted some bad habits as a way of camouflaging his real identity. This only made them more confused and they could not make a headway figuring out who, among them, was the Christ. At the end of the meeting what each one of the monks knew for sure was that any of the monks, except himself, could indeed be the Christ.

From that day, however, the monks began to treat one another with greater respect and humility, knowing that the person they are speaking to could be the Messiah. They began to show more love for one another, their common life became more brotherly and their common prayer more fervent. Slowly people again began to take notice of the new spirit in the monastery and began coming back for retreats and spiritual direction. Word began to spread and, before you know it, candidates began to show up and the monastery began to grow again in number as the monks grew in zeal and holiness. All this because a man of God drew their attention to the truth that is so easy to overlook – that Christ was living in their midst.

We heard from Luke’s Gospel today, “The people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.” As our Advent moves steadily on towards Christmas, we are filled with a joyful expectation to welcome Christ once again into our hearts and our lives. But, we also realize that our celebration is not a mere commemoration of the arrival of Christ 2,000 years ago. We do not simply remember something that happened long ago and far away, but we are also being called to wake ourselves up again to the reality that the presence of God is in our midst – all around us – here in this Church, in the sacraments, in all of us gathered, but also out there in the streets, in the people we encounter – all of them, the local and the tourist, the cab driver and the bus driver, the waitress and the actor, in the hungry and the homeless – our God is present everywhere and is just waiting for us to discover Him.

The challenge we face is that our world is working overtime hoping that we won’t recognize that Christ is in our midst. There are too many voices of fear and anxiety that would rather have us be suspicious of one another and afraid; that would prefer if we demonized each other and treated one another as anything except brothers and sisters. But, this is not God’s message. This is not the message of Christmas.

God has come among us in the hopes that we will realize that we are all luminous beings and that God fills us and surrounds us with His presence so that we will be united in peace, mercy, love, joy and compassion – that these are the things that will transform us and our world into the Kingdom He promised us.

My friends, I have a secret for you today – Christ is actually living in our midst but in such a way that perhaps we do not recognize him. So, what are we to do? Are we able to recognize Him in the ordinary and familiar women and men in our midst, right in front of us every day?

John the Baptist, today shows us what we are to do. He calls us to faithfulness and care in the normal circumstances of life: If you have more than you need, share with those who have less; be honest; do not take advantage of the vulnerable; cherish your children; be faithful to each other; live in peace. Share, be honest, be fair, cherish each other, be faithful and be people of peace – and open our eyes to the presence of Christ all around us.

But, most of all we are being called to bring Jesus, the Light of the World into all of the places of darkness. We are called to let that Light be born in us and let Jesus use us to fashion a new world and bring forth the Kingdom of God. On our part, we must open our hearts and look with new eyes and hearts, and welcome everyone we encounter – whether family or stranger, citizen or immigrant or refugee, Christian or Muslim or atheist, friend or foe, rich or poor – as though it were Christ Himself. Only then can we both be the presence of Christ in our world, but also meet Him in the people we encounter.

“Again, I say, rejoice! The Lord is near!”

May the Lord give you peace!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

God is stronger!


A woman was having a very busy day at home caring for her five children. On this particular day, however, she was having trouble doing even routine chores - all because of three-year-old Kenny. He was on his mother’s heels no matter where she went. Whenever she stopped to do something and turn around, she would nearly trip over him. After stepping on his toes for the fifth time, the young mother began to lose her patience. When she asked Kenny why he was acting this way, he looked up at her and said, “Well, in school my teacher told me to walk in Jesus’ footsteps. But I can’t see Him, so I’m walking in yours.”

The angel said to Mary, “Do not be afraid, Mary.” Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our commemoration of the reality that Mary was conceived without sin in the womb of her mother Anne. This is a belief that dates back to the earliest days of the Church, and is not a feast about an abstract aspect of the birth of Christ, but it is a sign to us of God’s care for us, and of God’s triumph over the darkness of the world.

And I think that our world needs to hear this message more today than any time in my memory. We live in a world of chaos. We live in a world of violence and division. We live in a world of suspicion and fear. And to that confusion and fear God speaks these words: “Do not be afraid.”

Pope Francis said a few days ago, echoing perfectly the message of today’s feast, “Around us there is the presence of evil. The devil is at work. But in a loud voice I say: God is stronger.” My friends, let that message settle deeply into your hearts tonight – God is stronger. Today’s feast reminds us that God was stronger than the stain of original sin in the life of Mary. God was stronger than the darkness that enveloped the world at the time of Christ’s birth. God was stronger even than death itself in the resurrection of Jesus. God is stronger than the evil that fills our world today. He is stronger than anything that might seem insurmountable in our lives today.

There are no shortage of voices in our world today that are proclaiming the opposite message, that says, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” It is a message that says we should look at one another with suspicion and fear; with doubt and anger – that we should treat our brothers and sisters as something less than human, something less than men and women who have been created in God’s image. But to that message of fear, we are reminded today that God is stronger, “do not be afraid.”

Pope Francis today also inaugurated the extraordinary Year of Mercy in the Church. At the Angelus following the Mass today, he said, “Two things are necessary to fully celebrate the day's feast. First, to fully welcome God and His merciful grace into our life; second, to become in our own times 'workers of mercy' through an evangelical journey...In imitation of Mary we are called to be 'bearers of Christ' and witnesses of His love, especially towards those who are most in need."

The Holy Father is reminding us that fear takes root when we fail to welcome God’s mercy into our lives. We are reminded that our call is not to be messengers of fear, but workers of mercy, imitators of Mary, bearers of Christ, witnesses of love. Do not be afraid. God is stronger than evil.

My friends, Mary reminds us today that we are called to be holy people; to draw near to God and be united with Him. Belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary is belief in a provident God - a God who provides for the future, who prepares us for life even before we are born, a God who foresees and equips us with all the natural and supernatural qualities we need to play our role in the drama of human salvation, a God who is stronger than the darkness of our world.

Let us today be inspired by our caring God and by the example of Mary; let us follow in her footsteps. Let us strive to conquer the fear of our world and to be the workers of mercy who bring God’s gentle, kind, loving and compassionate presence to our world so desperately in need.

Let us ask our Blessed Mother’s intercession for all these things as we pray together, Hail Mary…

May the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

O Come, Emmanuel! Make us new!


One day, a young man received a parrot as a gift, but the parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every word out of the bird’s mouth was rude, obnoxious and laced with profanity. The young man tried and tried to change the bird’s attitude by consistently saying only polite words and even prayers, playing soft music and anything else he could think of to “clean up” the bird’s vocabulary. Finally, the man was fed up and he yelled at the parrot. The parrot yelled back. The man shook the parrot and the parrot got angrier and even ruder. In desperation, the man threw up his hands, grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer. For a few minutes the parrot squawked and kicked and screamed. Then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for over a minute. Now fearing that he’d hurt the parrot, the man quickly opened the door to the freezer. The Parrot calmly stepped out onto his outstretched arms and said “Sir, I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I’m sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable behavior.” The man was stunned at the change in the bird’s attitude. As he was about to ask the parrot what had made such a dramatic change in his behavior, the bird pointed to the item next to him in the freezer and said, “May I ask what the turkey did wrong?”

A little bit of turkey humor on this Thanksgiving weekend. Even though we are celebrating one holiday, Thanksgiving, as we began Mass tonight I was tempted to reference another of our civil holidays and wish everyone a “Happy New Year.” Today is the First Sunday of Advent and for us it is the start of a new Church year. We find ourselves today once again back at the beginning of our liturgical cycle. We triumphantly celebrated Jesus Christ as our Lord and King last weekend and now we go back to the beginning of the story; back to Chapter one of the story of how Jesus came and saved us. As the line from the Sound of Music goes, “Let’s start at the very beginning; it’s a very good place to start.”

In our liturgical cycle, we start with the things that prepared us for the coming Savior and so today we heard from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah who began with the words, “The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah.” That promise of course, was fulfilled in Jesus. Likewise our Gospel called us to begin to seek the signs that something momentous is on the horizon, something unprecedented, something that will forever change our lives.

In January, when we have our new calendar year, many of us will engage in the cultural practice of making New Year’s Resolutions. Often those resolutions are very superficial. We will resolve to eat less chocolate, to lose 10 pounds, to watch less television. Sometimes, they are more meaningful – we resolve to be a nicer person, to swear less like our friend the parrot, to be kinder to strangers.

But today, at the beginning of this Church year, I challenge all of us, myself included, to make some spiritual resolutions. Where do you need to grow in faith this year? Is it in your prayer life? In your family life? In your workplace? Where is Jesus calling you to love more, to be more bold in proclaiming His Word? Where are you being challenged to grow in holiness this year?

Advent is a time to prepare for the coming of the Lord. We remember both His historic arrival 2,000 years ago and we look forward to His return again in glory. But, let us also resolve to be more aware of another coming which we tend to forget, namely, His daily arrival in the ordinary events and the ordinary people in our lives. Our Gospel today reminds us that we should be vigilant to recognize and welcome the Lord who comes to us without warning everyday in the people, the places and the events we least expect. If we are preparing for the Lord’s coming by looking up to the sky, Luke today invites us to instead look out, to look to the person on our right and our left, to see the arrival of God that is before our eyes every day, to look into the story of our daily lives and recognize the Lord who comes to us in the ways we least expect.

Let us resolve on this first day of a new Church year, to be people ever more conscious of the presence and action of Jesus in our lives in the big ways and in the small ways. Let us resolve to be people who witness to that presence of Jesus in the lives of others – especially in those places that have been difficult for us in the past. Let us make this a holy Advent, leading to a holy Christmas, an even holier year for us all.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel! Make us new!
May God give you peace.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

This world does not belong to My Kingdom


We heard in our Gospel today that Jesus said, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” As we gather today to celebrate the end of our Church year, this Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – especially as we gather in the wake of the violent attacks in Paris, Lebanon, Mali and so many other places in our world – these words ring with a certain poignancy. “My kingdom does not belong to this world.”

The sad reality as we look around our world is that violence and terror reign; poverty and homelessness are on the rise; prejudice and fear have taken prominence in our public discourse. And Jesus says, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” But, Jesus doesn’t say these words as a dire prediction without hope. Instead, it is, once again, an invitation to allow Jesus to transform us so that we can transform our world until it truly becomes His Kingdom.

As our Church year comes to a close, we have, once again, made our yearly pilgrimage of faith through the birth, death, resurrection, teachings and miracles of Jesus. It is a journey that intends to leave us differently than it found us. We are meant to be today simply more like Christ than we were a year ago when the Church year began. We are meant to be at this time next year more transformed into Christ’s image than we are today. But, first, we must desire to be part of His Kingdom.

Abraham Lincoln concluded his first Inaugural address with these powerful words: "The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." One of the most important reasons that we come to Mass each week is because it is here that we remember who we are; it is here that we recommit to our best selves, to the “better angels of our nature.” One of the most beautiful things ever said of the Eucharist was said by St. Augustine who said that when we receive the Eucharist “we become what we receive.”

As the world around us invites to give voice to the “worst angels” of our nature, let us today, here, in this Eucharist once again become what we receive. Let us consciously become the real presence of Christ in our world – one that calls loudly for peace; one that seeks frequently the dialogue of reconciliation; one that speaks joy, love, healing and compassion to the world. These are not mere pious platitudes – this is how the world in fact becomes the Kingdom that Jesus, our King, came to inaugurate in our midst. That Kingdom – of love, peace, forgiveness, kindness and compassion – cannot be left until tomorrow; it cannot forever wait until people change. It absolutely must start with each one of us individually here, today, and it must leave the walls of this Church and go out into the streets to make that Kingdom present.

Challenging moments like the ones that our world faces are not moments to abandon our ideals and our faith – or even to put them on hold. Instead, these are precisely the times when who we truly are becomes evident. These are the moments to let the fullness and strength of our faith shine. This is how the world will change. This is how it becomes the Kingdom Jesus promised.

We know there are many voices in our world competing for our allegiance – calls to fear; calls to isolationism; calls to vengeance; calls to prejudice. There is no shortage of calls. But, in the midst of it all, Christ is calling too. He is calling us to the challenging truth that we are meant to love radically – both our neighbors and even our enemies; that we are meant to reach out to the needy, the homeless, the addict, the refugee, to those on the margins. He is calling us to transform our broken and hate-filled world into His Kingdom of love and peace and holiness.

So, how do we do this? There are words attributed to Blessed Mother Teresa that give us the answer. I’ll end with these:
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
Jesus said, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” He is hoping that we will take up the invitation to change that. Let us be His presence.

May the Lord give you peace.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Appealing to the better angels of our nature

As our world, and specifically our country, continue to come to terms with the terrorist attacks in Paris one week ago, this quote from Lincoln's First Inaugural keeps coming to mind: "The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
I keep praying that this moment of American hysteria will pass and that the better angels of our nature will prevail. I keep praying we will learn from our history and not repeat "No Irish need apply," or the refusal to allow Jewish refugees during WW2, or the Japanese Interment Camps, or so many other examples of our failure to live up to our own ideals. I keep praying that our reaction to terrorism will not be to be terrified because that is when they win. Our reaction should be to be fortified in our identity; reminded of who we are - not to be a people who run from our core character. We should be emboldened in our desire to be a beacon of freedom, liberty, justice and welcome.
I keep praying that we might let facts triumph over fear:
  1. The Paris attack was not committed by refugees. They were EU nationals.
  2. Of the 745,000 refugees in the US since 9/11, none have committed terrorist acts. 
  3. Even the French, with their pain still so present will receive 30,000 refugees. 
  4. We have a screening process for refugees that takes between one and a half and three years.

These are the our better angels. And who we are is inscribed beautifully and powerfully on the gift given to us by France:
"Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

This is what can make America great. These are our better angels.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

God weeps over the world at war | Pope Francis

"Today Jesus weeps as well: because we have chosen the way of war, the way of hatred, the way of enmities. We are close to Christmas: there will be lights, there will be parties, bright trees, even Nativity scenes – all decked out – while the world continues to wage war. The world has not understood the way of peace.”

"What shall remain? Ruins, thousands of children without education, so many innocent victims: and lots of money in the pockets of arms dealers. Jesus once said: ‘You can not serve two masters: either God or riches.’ War is the right choice for him, who would serve wealth: 'Let us build weapons, so that the economy will right itself somewhat, and let us go forward in pursuit of our interests. There is an ugly word the Lord spoke: ‘Cursed!’ Because He said: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers!.’ The men who work war, who make war, are cursed, they are criminals. A war can be justified – so to speak – with many, many reasons, but when all the world as it is today, at war – piecemeal though that war may be – a little here, a little there, and everywhere – there is no justification – and God weeps. Jesus weeps.

"It will do us well to ask the for the grace of tears, for this world that does not recognize the path of peace, this world that lives for war, and cynically says not to make it. Let us pray for conversion of heart. Here before the door of this Jubilee of Mercy, let us ask that our joy, our jubilation, be this grace: that the world discover the ability to weep for its crimes, for what the world does with war.”

Friday, November 13, 2015

Be Shepherds, nothing more! | Pope Francis

NOTE: This is the Pope’s address Tuesday (November 10, 20150 in Florence, Italy to the 5th National Ecclesial Congress for the Church in Italy. More than 2,500 people attended this address in this week-long congress on the topic: “A New Humanism in Jesus Christ.”

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Represented in the cupola of this most beautiful Cathedral is the Universal Judgment. Jesus, our light, is at the center. The inscription that one reads at the top of the fresco is “Ecce Homo.” Looking at this cupola we are attracted to the top, while we contemplate the transformation of the Christ judged by Pilate into the Christ seated on the throne of judges. An Angel brings Him the sword, but Jesus does not assume the symbols of judgment, in fact, He raises His right hand showing the signs of the Passion, because He “gave Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:6). “For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17).

In the light of this Judge of mercy, our knees bend in adoration, and our hands and our feet are reinvigorated. We can speak of a humanism only from the centrality of Jesus, discovering in Him the features of man’ authentic face. It is the contemplation of the face of Jesus dead and risen that reconstructs our humanity, also that fragmented by the toils of life or marked by sin. We must not tame the power of Christ’s face. His face is the image of His transcendence. It is the misericordiae vultus. Let us allow ourselves to be looked at by Him. Jesus is our humanism. Let us always be anxious about his question: “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15).

Looking at His face, what do we see? First of all the face of an “emptied” God, of a God that has assumed the condition of servant, humiliated and obedient unto death (cf.Philippians 2:7). Jesus’ face is similar to that of so many of our humiliated brothers, rendered slaves, emptied. God has assumed their face. And that face looks at us. God -- who is “the Being of whom one cannot think a greater,” as Saint Anselm said, or the always greater God of Saint Ignatius of Loyola – becomes ever greater than Himself by lowering Himself. If we do not lower ourselves we will not be able to see His face. We will not see any of His fullness if we do not accept that God emptied Himself. And, therefore, we will not understand anything of Christian humanism and our words will be beautiful, cultured, refine, but they will not be words of faith. They will be words that sound empty.

I do not wish to design here, in the abstract, a “new humanism,” a certain idea of man, but to present with simplicity some traits of Christian humanism, which is that of the “sentiments of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). They are not abstract provisional sensations of the spirit, but represent the warm interior strength that makes us capable of living and of taking decisions. What are these sentiments? I would like to present at least three to you today.

The first sentiment is humility. “In humility count others better than yourselves” (Philippians2:3), says Saint Paul to the Philippians. Further on the Apostle speaks of the fact that Jesus does not consider His being like God a “privilege” (Philippians 2:6). There is a precise message here. The obsession to keep one’s glory, one’s “dignity,” one’s influence must not be part of our sentiments. We must pursue God’s glory and this does not coincide with ours. God’s glory, which shines in the humility of the cave of Bethlehem and the dishonor of the cross of Christ always surprises us.

Another sentiment of Christ that gives shape to Christian humanism is unselfishness. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians2:4), Saint Paul asks again. Therefore, more than unselfishness, we must seek the happiness of the one beside us. A Christian’s humanity is always outgoing. It is not narcissistic, self-referential. When our heart is rich and is very self-satisfied, then there is no longer room for God. Please, let us avoid “shutting ourselves in structures that give us a false protection, in norms that are transformed in implacable judgments, in habits in which we feel tranquil” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 49).

Our duty is to work and struggle to make this world a better place. Our faith is revolutionary by an impulse that comes from the Holy Spirit. We must follow this impulse to come out of ourselves, to be men according to Jesus’ Gospel. May life be decided on the capacity to give oneself. It is there that it transcends itself, that it arrives at being fruitful.

A further sentiment of Christ Jesus is that of beatitude. A Christian is a blessed, if he has in himself the joy of the Gospel. The Lord points out the way to us in the Beatitudes. By following it we human beings can attain an authentically more human and divine happiness. Jesus speaks of the happiness that we experience only when we are poor in spirit. For the great Saints beatitude has to do with humiliation and poverty. But there is also much of this beatitude in the humblest part of our people: it is the one that knows the richness of solidarity, of sharing even the little one has, the richness of the daily sacrifice of work, sometimes hard and badly paid, but carried out of love for dear persons, and also for one’s own miseries, which, however, lived in trust of the providence and mercy of God the Father, nourish a humble greatness.

The Beatitudes that we read in the Gospel begin with a blessing and end with a promise of consolation. They introduce us on a way of possible greatness, that of the spirit, and when the spirit is ready all the rest comes on its own. Of course if we do not have our heart open to the Holy Spirit, it will seem baloney because it does not lead us to “success.” To be “blessed,” to relish the consolation of friendship with Jesus Christ, it is necessary to have an open heart. Beatitude is a laborious wager, made up of renunciations, listening and learning, whose fruits will be gathered in time, giving us an incomparable peace: “O taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:9)!

Humility, Unselfishness, Beatitude: these are the three traits that I wish to present today to your meditation on Christian humanism, which is born from the humanity of the Son of God. And these traits also say something to the Italian Church that is gathered today, to walk together as an example of solidarity. These traits tell us that we must not be obsessed by “power,” even when it takes the face of a useful and functional power for the social image of the Church. If the Church does not assume the sentiments of Jesus, she is disoriented; she loses the meaning. Instead, if she assumes them, she is able to live up to her mission. Jesus’ sentiments tell us that a Church that thinks of herself and of her own interests will be sad. Finally, the Beatitudes are the mirror in which we should look at ourselves, which permits us to know if we are walking in the right way: it is a mirror that does not lie.

A Church that has these traits – humility, unselfishness, beatitude – is a Church that is able to recognize the Lord’s action in the world, in the culture, in the daily life of the people. I have said it more than once and I repeat it again to you today: I prefer a bumpy, wounded and soiled Church for having gone out through the streets, rather than a sick Church because she is closed in the comfortableness of holding on to her own certainties. I do not want a Church concerned to be at the center and that ends up enclosed in a tangle of obsessions and procedures” (Evangelii Gaudium, 49). However, we know that temptations exist; the temptations to be faced are so many. I will present at least two. Do not get frightened; this will not be a list of temptations! -- as those fifteen that I said to the Curia!

The first of them is the Pelagian. It pushes the Church not to be humble, unselfish and blessed. And it does so with the appearance of a good. Pelagianism leads us to have trust in the structures, in the organizations, in the plans, which are perfect because abstract. Often it even leads us to assume a style of control, of hardness, of normativity. The norm gives to the Pelagian the security of feeling superior, of having a precise orientation. He finds his strength in this, not in the lightness of the Spirit’s breath. In face of evils or problems of the Church it is useless to seek solutions in conservatism and fundamentalism, in the restoration of surmounted conduct and forms that do not even have culturally the capacity to be significant. Christian Doctrine is not a closed system incapable of generating questions, doubts, questionings, but it is alive, it is able to disquiet, it is able to encourage. It does not have a rigid face; it has a body that moves and develops; it has tender flesh: Christian Doctrine is called Jesus Christ. The reform of the Church then – and the Church is always reforming – is alien to Pelagianism. It does not exhaust itself in an umpteenth plan to change the structures. It means, instead, to be grafted and rooted in Christ, allowing oneself to be led by the Spirit. Then everything will be possible with genius and creativity.

The Italian Church must let herself be led by her powerful breath and hence sometimes disquieting breath. She must always assume the spirit of her great explorers, who on ships were passionate about navigation in the open sea and not frightened by frontiers and tempests. May she be a free Church, open to the challenges of the present, never vulnerable out of fear of losing something. May she never be vulnerable out of fear of losing something. And encountering people along their streets, may she assume the resolution of Saint Paul. “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

A second temptation to overcome is that of Gnosticism. It leads to trust in logical and clear reasoning, which, however, loses the tenderness of the brother’s flesh. The fascination of Gnosticism is that of “a faith closed in in subjectivism, where only a determined experience is of interest or a series of reasons and knowledge that one believes can comfort and illuminate, but where the subject in the end remains closed in the immanence of his own reason and his sentiments” (Evangelii Gaudium, 94). Gnosticism cannot transcend. The difference between Christian transcendence and some form of Gnostic spiritualism lies in the mystery of the Incarnation. Not to put into practice, not to lead the Word to the reality, means to build on sand, to remain in a pure idea and to degenerate into intimism that does not give fruit, that renders its dynamism sterile.

The Italian Church has great Saints by whose example they can help her to live the faith with humility, unselfishness and gladness, from Francis of Assisi to Philip Neri. But we also think of the simplicity of invented personages, such as Don Camillo who teams up with Peppone. I am struck by how, in Guareschi’s stories, the prayer of a good parish priest is united to evident closeness with the people. Dom Camillo said of himself: “I am a poor country priest who knows his parishioners one by one, who loves them, who knows their sorrows and joys, who suffers and is able to laugh with them. “ Closeness to the people and prayer are the key to live a popular, humble, generous and happy Christian humanism. If we lose this contact with the people faithful to God we lose in humanity and go nowhere.

But then, what must we do, Father? – you might say. What is the Pope asking of us?

It is up to you to decide: people and Pastors together. Today I simply invite you to raise your head and contemplate once again the Ecce Homo that we have above our heads. Let us pause to contemplate the scene. We turn to Jesus who is represented here as Universal Judge. What will happen “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the Angels with Him, then He will sit on his glorious throne” (Matthew 25:34-36). There comes to mind the priest who received a very young priest who gave testimony.

However, He could also say: ”Depart from me, your cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his Angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me” (Matthew 25:41-43).

The Beatitudes and the words we have just read on the Universal Judgment help us to live the Christian life at the level of holiness. They are few, simple but practical words. Two pillars: the Beatitudes and the words of the Last Judgment. May the Lord give us the grace to understand this message of His! And we look once again at the features of Jesus’ face and at his gestures. We see Jesus who eats and drinks with sinners (Mark 2:16; Matthew11:19); let us contemplate Him while He speaks with the Samaritan woman (John 4:7-26); let us watch Him while He meets at night with Nicodemus (John 7:33); let us relish with affection the scene of Him who has his feet anointed by a prostitute (cf. Luke 7:36-50); let us feel His saliva on the tip of our tongue, which is thus loosed (Mark 7:33). Let us admire the attraction of all the people “that surround his disciples, namely us, and let us experience their “gladness and simplicity of heart” (Acts 2:46).

I ask the Bishops to be Shepherds, nothing more: Shepherds. May this be your joy: “I am a Shepherd.” It will be the people, your flock that will sustain you. Recently I read about a Bishop who was in the Metro during the rush hour and there were so many people that he no longer knew where to put his hand to hold on. Pushed from right to left, he leaned on persons not to fall. And so he thought that, in addition to prayer, what makes a Bishop stand is his people.

May nothing and no one take from you the joy of being supported by your people. As Pastors, do not be preachers of complex doctrines, but heralds of Christ, dead and risen for us. Point to the essential, to the kerygma. There is nothing more solid, profound and certain than this proclamation. But may it be all the People of God that proclaim the Gospel, people and Pastors, I hope. I expressed this pastoral concern of mine in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (cf. nn. 111-134).

I recommend to the whole Italian Church what I indicated in that Exhortation: the social inclusion of the poor, who have a privileged place in the People of God, and the capacity of encounter and dialogue to foster social friendship in your country, seeking the common good.

The option for the poor is a “special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, attested by the whole Tradition of the Church” (John Paul II, Encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 42). This option “is implicit in Christological faith in that God who made Himself poor for us, to enrich us through His poverty” (Benedict XVI, Address to the Opening Session of the 5th General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate). The poor know well Christ Jesus’ sentiments because they know the suffering Christ by experience. “We are called to discover Christ in them, to loan them our voice in their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to understand them and to receive the mysterious wisdom that God wills to communicate to us through them” (Evangelii Gaudium, 198).

May God protect the Italian Church from every surrogate of power, of image, of money. Evangelical poverty is creative, receives, supports and is rich in hope. We are here in Florence, city of beauty. How much beauty in this city has been put at the service of charity! I am thinking of the Hospital of the Innocents, for instance. One of the first Renaissance architectures, it was created for the service of abandoned children and desperate mothers. Often these mothers left, together with the newborns, medals cut in half with which they hoped, when presenting the other half, to be able to recognize their own children in better times. See, we must imagine that our poor have a cut medal. We have the other half. Because Mother Church has in Italy half of the medal of all and she recognizes all her abandoned, oppressed, exhausted children. And this has always been one of your virtues, because you know well that the Lord shed his Blood not for some, or for a few or for many but for all.

In a special way, I also recommend to you the capacity to dialogue and to encounter. To dialogue is not to negotiate. To negotiate is to try to take one’s “slice” of the common cake. This is not what I mean, but it is to seek the common good for all. Discuss together, I dare say get angry together, think of the best solutions for all. Many times a meeting is involved in conflict. There is conflict in dialogue: it is logical and foreseeable that it be so. And we must not fear it or ignore it, but accept it. We must accept “to accept to endure the conflict, to resolve it and to transform it into a ring of connection of a new process” (Evangelii Gaudium, 227).

However, we must always remember that there is no genuine humanism that does not see love as a bond between human beings, be it of an inter-personal nature, profound, social, political or intellectual. Founded on this is the necessity of dialogue and of encounter to build the civil society together with others. We know that the best answer to the conflictive nature of the human being, of the famous homo homini lupus of Thomas Hobbes, is the “Ecce Homo” of Jesus who does not recriminate, but receives and, paying in person, saves.

Italian society is built when its diverse cultural riches can dialogue constructively: the popular, the academic, the youthful, the artistic, the technological, the economic, the political, the media ... May the Church be ferment of dialogue, of encounter and of unity. Moreover, our formulations of faith themselves are the fruit of dialogue and encounter between cultures, and different communities and entities. We must not be afraid of dialogue: in fact it is precisely confrontation and criticism that help us to keep theology from being transformed into ideology.

In addition, remember that the best way to dialogue is not to talk and argue, but to do something together, to build together, to make plans but not on our own, between Catholics, but together with all those who have good will – and without the fear of carrying out the necessary exodus to every genuine dialogue. Otherwise it is not possible to understand the other’s reasons, or to understand in depth that a brother counts more than the positions that we judge far from our own though genuine certainties. He is a brother.

But the Church must also be able to give a clear answer in face of the threats that arise within the public debate: this is one of the ways of the specific contribution of believers to the building of the common society. Believers are citizens. And I say it here, in Florence, where art, faith and citizenship have always been in a dynamic balance between denunciation and proposal. The nation is not a museum, but a collective work in permanent construction in which the things that differentiate one, including political and religious membership, are to be put in common.

I appeal above all “to you, young people, because you are strong,” said the Apostle John (1John 2:14). Young people, overcome apathy. May no one scorn your youth, but learn to be models in speaking and acting (cf. 1 Timothy 4:12) I ask you to be builders of Italy, to get to work for a better Italy. Please, do not look at life from the balcony, but commit yourselves, immerse yourselves in the wide social and political dialogue. May the hands of your faith be raised to Heaven, but may they do so while building a city constructed on relations in which the love of God is the foundation. And thus you will be free to accept today’s challenges, to live the changes and the transformations.

It can be said that today we do not live in an age of change but in a change of age. Therefore, the situations we are living today pose new challenges, which, for us at times are difficult to understand. Our times require that we live problems as challenges and not as obstacles: the Lord is active and at work in the world. Therefore, you must go out to the streets and to the crossroads: call all those you find, exclude no one (cf. Matthew 22:9). Above all, accompany the one who remained at the side of the street, “the lame, the maimed, the blind, the dumb,” (Matthew 15:30). Wherever you are, never build walls or borders, but Squares and field hospitals.

* * *
I am pleased with a restless Italian Church, always closer to the abandoned, the forgotten, the imperfect. I desire a happy Church with the face of a mother, who understands, accompanies and caresses. You also dream of this Church; believe in her; innovate with freedom. The Christian humanism you are called to live affirms radically the dignity of every person as Son of God; it establishes between every human being an essential fraternity, it teaches to understand work, to inhabit Creation as a common home, it furnishes reasons for joy and humor, also in the midst of a life that is so often hard.

Although it is not for me to say how to realize this dream today, allow me to leave one indication with you for the forthcoming years: in every community, in every parish and institution, in every Diocese and circumscription, in every region seek to begin, in a synodal way, a deeper reflection on Evangvelii Gaudium, to draw practical criteria from it and to act on its dispositions, especially on the three or four priorities that you have singled out in this Congress. I am certain of your ability to get into a creative movement to concretize this study. I am sure of it because you are an adult Church, very ancient in the faith, solid in roots and ample in fruits. Therefore, be creative in expressing that genius that your greats, from Dante to Michelangelo, expressed in a matchless way. Believe in the genius of Italian Christianity, which is not the patrimony either of individuals or of an elite, but of the community, of the people of this extraordinary country.

I entrust you to Mary, who here in Florence is venerated as “Most Holy Annuziata.” In the fresco found in the Basilica with the same name – where I will go shortly --, the Angel is silent and Mary speaks saying: “Ecce ancilla Domini.” All of us are in those words. May the whole Italian Church speak them with Mary. Thank you.