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.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

It's never too late to give it all to God


A man died suddenly and found himself in front of the Pearly Gates greeted by St. Peter. “Welcome,” he said. “I just have to take a look in the Book of Life here to see if you can get into heaven.” St. Peter looked through the book but kept shaking his head discouragingly. “It doesn’t look too good, my friend. Why, you’ve never done anything for anyone but yourself. You’ve been greedy, selfish, power hungry, concerned only about your own well-being. I’m not sure we can let you in.” The man, now worried, said, “But, St. Peter, how about the time that I came across that woman who was being harassed by a group of bikers? I grabbed a baseball bat, went right up to them and said, ‘Leave the woman alone or you’ll have to deal with me.’” St. Peter looked at the book again and said, “Well that is impressive. But, I don’t see it in my Book. When did that happen?” The man said, “About three minutes ago.”

My friends, it is never too late to give all that we have. We heard in our Gospel passage today, “She, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” Today’s Gospel sets two pictures side-by-side for us. It is hard to imagine two pictures that could be so different from one another. The first picture shows us the scribes with their long robes, the many honors they receive, and their great skill at praying. Right behind them, rich people are making large offerings to the Temple.

The second picture in our passage is of a woman who makes an offering too. But her offering is so small that the two coins she drops in the offering plate would be worth mere pennies. And because it is easy to overlook a penny lying in the street, it could be easy for the people in the Temple – as it could be easy for us – to overlook this widow if Jesus hadn’t drawn our attention to her.

We all know that every parish that has ever struggled to meet the budget would be glad to have the sort of people in the first picture contribute to the mission and ministry of the Church. Just think, when a parish sets a strategy to raise money for a new building or something equally grand, the first step is usually to focus on the respected and the rich in the parish, people who could have a real impact on the budget and help sustain the ministry; the so-called big givers. Compared to five-figure gifts, six-figure gifts or more, what can a penny do?

But Jesus focuses our attention on the widow and her coins because in her, Jesus must see something of His own life. At the end of the parable we hear Jesus say, “She, from her poverty, has contributed all that she had, her whole livelihood.” Or as other translations put it more bluntly and plainly, “She has given her whole life.” And that is where Jesus sees a reflection of Himself in this woman’s gift.

She gave everything she had; even those meager coins; and in turn she was blessed by the Lord. Perhaps gazing upon this woman, Jesus thought of another widow who was blessed: His own mother Mary. Maybe Jesus saw this woman and thought of what Mary sacrificed, what she had, what she lost. She may very well have had to struggle to make ends meet. Jesus saw that. He knew that. He knew the value of those two small coins. He understood where the widow at the temple was coming from because He'd lived it Himself. And He understood what that widow at the temple was really doing – giving all that she had to her God. She didn't hold back. She let go. She didn't take. She gave. St. Francis names this eloquently when he said, “Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who gave Himself completely to you, may receive you completely.”

In Mark’s Gospel, this story finds itself chronologically just before the events of Holy Week; just days before Jesus will give His whole life on the cross. Jesus turns our attention to the woman not because she shows us how to run a giving campaign. Rather, when she opens up her hand and the two coins slip out, she too has given away her life. In the same way, on the cross, Jesus opens up His own hands and life slips from them as well. Her giving is total just as, on the cross, Jesus will completely give of Himself.

You see, in this woman and in our Lord we see that the Kingdom of God is found not where people hold on tight to their riches or when they demand respect. The Kingdom is found not in holding on to what we have, but in letting go. As Jesus says repeatedly, “Those who want to save their life will lose it. And those who lose their life for my sake and the gospel will find it.”

This is a lesson we all need to hear. We may suffer terrible losses that rob us of those we love, like the widow. We may grieve, and we may mourn, we may face every kind of struggle, challenge and strife in life and we may ask ourselves “Why?” But there is only one way through loss – the way of love. The way through our challenges is by opening our hearts; giving ourselves; holding nothing back; surrendering everything to the Lord.

In her giving, this widow gives us a glimpse of our Lord Jesus. She gave her very life. So does He. St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians gives us even more insight into this. He writes, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant,” and He died on the cross.

This widow gives us a glimpse of our life in Christ – hands open, giving away life, in turn to gain it eternally. We too are called today to find what she has found, that all we have comes from God and should be returned to God. Only then will we have life to the full. We too are called to open our hands and release whatever we are grasping; whatever we are holding; to give all that we are and all that we have to Christ. Only then can we gain the Kingdom He has promised.

Lord, take my life and form it; take my mind and transform it; take my will and conform it; to Yours, O Lord.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Just like us


Let me begin today with a bit of an informal poll. How many here are saints or want to be saints? And, how many here would like to go to Heaven at the end of our lives?

“Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” Today on this Solemnity of All Saints, this question that we heard proclaimed from the Book of Revelation echoes out to us, “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” Or perhaps, closer to our own language, who are these saints that we celebrate today and how did they become saints?

It’s hard to believe that Saint Pope John Paul II passed away 10 years ago already, but you might remember the amazing scene of his funeral attended by millions in Rome and televised around the world. One of the incredible parts of that Mass were the numerous signs and the vocal chants in St. Peter’s Square of, “Santo Subito!” or loosely translated, “Make him a saint immediately.” The late, great Holy Father had lived such a public life that witnessed to holiness that those gathered to lay him to rest could do nothing less than acclaim the sanctity of this holy man who lived in our day, in our time, in our midst. “Santo Subito” proclaimed the widespread popular belief that John Paul had lived the kind of life that made him a saint in God’s presence, and thus worthy of the Church’s veneration as a saint.

But, “who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” The great message of this celebration today, is that they, my brothers and sisters, are us. All Saints Day is not a celebration of the few-and-far-between who have attained the glory of heaven. It is a celebration of our common call to follow Jesus, to be holy, to live the life of the saints. My questions about going to Heaven and becoming saints are the same question. If you want to go to Heaven you are saying that you want to be a saint. It should be the common call of each one of us.

I was in a conversation with someone a few days ago who was speaking about their devotion to St. Therese and how they felt a closeness to her. This person remarked, “But, this is ridiculous. St. Therese is close to God. With all of my sins, how could I feel close to her?” We often focus on the closeness of the saints to God and the way that they exemplified that godliness in their lives. Yes, the saints are like God.

But, there is another critical aspect of the lives of saints that we are called to remember especially today – the saints are also like us. They did not enter into the world as perfect and holy. They did not receive an extra dose of God’s grace to become the holy women and men that they were. They did not receive something that we have not. They are just like us. They were born into families. They had joys and struggles. They had sins and spiritual victories. But, in the end, they lived lives that were more and more journeys toward the Lord. They made God the priority and followed His will; His path; His call. And, so can we.

How do we become saints? Jesus has given us the best instructions for attaining the sainthood our hearts desire. “Those in white robes” we heard about in the first reading have followed that good instruction. And they are crowned as God’s heroes, God’s holy ones. What instruction did they follow? The same we heard in the Gospel: the Beatitudes. Blessed, or saintly, are we when we are poor in spirit, when we mourn, when we are meek, when we hunger and thirst for righteousness, when we are merciful, and clean of heart, when we are peacemakers, or persecuted for the sake of righteousness. These are God’s best instructions for living as followers of Jesus Christ, as saints-in-training. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”

Few of us would expect “Santo Subito” signs at our funeral. If we are honest, we know that we often fail at fully following the Gospel teaching of Jesus. But, God has given us the same grace, the same call, the same possibility as all of those who have been memorialized in the statues in our church and the stained glass of our windows. They were just like us and we can be just like them. The only difference is our choice. It’s up to us to live as though we too will one day be saints.

Today, on this festival day in honor of all the saints, named and unnamed, the veil between our earthly world and the heavenly world parts just a little bit. With the eyes of faith, we get some glimpse of the happiness and glory to which God has called his innumerable sons and daughters throughout the ages; the glory he calls us to as well. Let us all live as though destined for that same glory. Leon Bloy wrote, “There is only one sadness in life: not to be a saint.”

“Who are these wearing white robes?” My friends, perhaps they are us.

May the Lord give you peace.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Freed by compassion | Pope Francis

NOTE: Below are some selections from the Homily of Pope Francis on Sunday marking the closing of the Synod on the Family. It was a powerful reflection for the synod fathers and I think for all of us. The emphasis added is mine as these are the parts that moved me.  Read the full homily here. - FT

Bartimaeus is freed thanks to Jesus’ compassion. Jesus has just left Jericho. Even though he has only begun his most important journey, which will take him to Jerusalem, he still stops to respond to Bartimaeus’ cry. Jesus is moved by his request and becomes involved in his situation. He is not content to offer him alms, but rather wants to personally encounter him. He does not give him any instruction or response, but asks him: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mk 10:51). It might seem a senseless question: what could a blind man wish for if not his sight? Yet, with this question made face to face, direct but respectful, Jesus shows that he wants to hear our needs. He wants to talk with each of us about our lives, our real situations, so that nothing is kept from him. After Bartimaeus’ healing, the Lord tells him: “Your faith has made you well” (v. 52). It is beautiful to see how Christ admires Bartimaeus’ faith, how he has confidence in him. He believes in us, more than we believe in ourselves.

There is an interesting detail. Jesus asks his disciples to go and call Bartimaeus. They address the blind man with two expressions, which only Jesus uses in the rest of the Gospel. First they say to him: “Take heart!”, which literally means “have faith, strong courage!”. Indeed, only an encounter with Jesus gives a person the strength to face the most difficult situations. The second expression is “Rise!”, as Jesus said to so many of the sick, whom he took by the hand and healed. His disciples do nothing other than repeat Jesus’ encouraging and liberating words, leading him directly to Jesus, without lecturing him. 

Jesus’ disciples are called to this, even today, especially today: to bring people into contact with the compassionate Mercy that saves. When humanity’s cry, like Bartimaeus’, becomes stronger still, there is no other response than to make Jesus’ words our own and, above all, imitate his heart. Moments of suffering and conflict are for God occasions of mercy. Today is a time of mercy!

There are, however, some temptations for those who follow Jesus. Today’s Gospel shows at least two of them. 

None of the disciples stopped, as Jesus did. They continued to walk, going on as if nothing were happening. If Bartimaeus was blind, they were deaf: his problem was not their problem. This can be a danger for us: in the face of constant problems, it is better to move on, instead of letting ourselves be bothered. In this way, just like the disciples, we are with Jesus but we do not think like him. We are in his group, but our hearts are not open. We lose wonder, gratitude and enthusiasm, and risk becoming habitually unmoved by grace. We are able to speak about him and work for him, but we live far from his heart, which is reaching out to those who are wounded. 

This is the temptation: a “spirituality of illusion”: we can walk through the deserts of humanity without seeing what is really there; instead, we see what we want to see. We are capable of developing views of the world, but we do not accept what the Lord places before our eyes. A faith that does not know how to root itself in the life of people remains arid and, rather than oases, creates other deserts.

There is a second temptation, that of falling into a “scheduled faith”. We are able to walk with the People of God, but we already have our schedule for the journey, where everything is listed: we know where to go and how long it will take; everyone must respect our rhythm and every problem is a bother. 

We run the risk of becoming the “many” of the Gospel who lose patience and rebuke Bartimaeus. 

Just a short time before, they scolded the children (cf. 10:13), and now the blind beggar: whoever bothers us or is not of our stature is excluded. 

Jesus, on the other hand, wants to include, above all those kept on the fringes who are crying out to him. 

They, like Bartimaeus, have faith, because awareness of the need for salvation is the best way of encountering Jesus.

In the end, Bartimaeus follows Jesus on his path (cf. v. 52). He did not only regain his sight, but he joined the community of those who walk with Jesus. Dear Synod Fathers, we have walked together. Thank you for the path we have shared with our eyes fixed on Jesus and our brothers and sisters, in the search for the paths which the Gospel indicates for our times so that we can proclaim the mystery of family love. Let us follow the path that the Lord desires. Let us ask him to turn to us with his healing and saving gaze, which knows how to radiate light, as it recalls the splendour which illuminates it. Never allowing ourselves to be tarnished by pessimism or sin, let us seek and look upon the glory of God, which shines forth in men and women who are fully alive.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Jesus, I want to see!


A healer came to the local church for a healing service and people came out in droves to be prayed over in the hopes of being healed. A young man had been in line for a long time when finally it was his turn. The healer looked at him and asked him what he would like prayed over. “Preacher, it is my hearing,” the young man said. So with great drama, the healer grabbed the young man’s ears and said many excited prayers. Finally, he let go of the young man and asked, “How’s your hearing now?” Shaken, the young man said, “I don’t know. I don’t go to court for my hearing until Friday.”

Last week was one year that I have lived here in New York City. Prior to moving here I lived in Boston, also a wonderful city, but on a much smaller scale than the Big Apple. In Boston, I would encounter the homeless and the hungry on the streets certainly on a daily basis and would try to find some way to reach out to them. Sometimes I would have some food to give, sometimes a little bit of spare change, sometimes just a moment or two to chat or just offer a “God bless you.” What I have been struggling with since moving here to New York are the sheer multiplication of so many people in similar situations. Where previously I might encounter one or two a day, here we walk past one or two every city block or so. What is a Christian to do? What is God asking of us in the face of this massive need?

I was thinking of this as I reflected on the healing story that we are presented today from Mark’s Gospel – the healing of the blind Bartimaeus. I was thinking of this because there is something very unique about this particular healing story in the Gospels. Of all of the healing stories that we hear in the Gospels, this is the only one where we are told the name of the person that Jesus heals and so that name must hold some significance. In fact, Mark mentions the name twice – once in Aramaic and once in Greek: Bartimaeus. The fact that Mark is mentioning the name tells us that the name is a clue to understanding the point that he is trying to make in the story.

So, what’s in a name? Well, in the ancient world, a name expressed not only the identity of the person, but also the personality or destiny of a person. In Aramaic, Bartimaeus means "son of defilement." And so, Bartimaeus could be a nickname given to him because he was a blind beggar and popular theology of the time believed blindness to be a punishment from God for sin or defilement. But in Greek, Bartimaeus could also be understood as "son of honor" possibly indicating his inner nature and destiny. By giving us the name with its double meaning, Mark tells us something important. Bartimaeus is supposed to be a man of honor but is being treated as a man of defilement. What Jesus did for him, therefore, was not simply healing his physical sight but, over and above that, restoring his God-given destiny and dignity. “Take courage; get up! Jesus is calling you!” This story is far more about healing his soul, his dignity, his perceptions, than merely his eyesight.

And, I think, this is the challenge for us today too. Bartimaeus is all around us. We encounter Bartimaeus in the many homeless and hungry on the streets each day; we see him in the people that we have marginalized because of their race, their ethnicity, their gender, their orientation, their immigration status, or silly things like the color of their hair or the clothes they wear. There are any number of people that we encounter regularly who we have determined - either as a society or as individuals – are sons and daughters of defilement; not worthy of our time, our concern, our care, our compassion, our affection. But, to any of those attitudes that reside in us, Jesus says today that we should see them as sons and daughters of honor, of dignity, of goodness, of holiness, and of glory.

This is where true and lasting healing lies – in lifting up hearts that were broken, in reconciling relationships that were shattered, in seeking out forgiveness when we have wronged another, in looking into the eyes of someone that the world has forgotten and saying, “I see you. You have value and dignity. You are loved and treasured in my eyes and in the eyes of God.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked Bartimaeus. May our answer be the same as his, “I want to see.” Jesus, Son of David, have pity on us for the times when we have been blinded to your presence around us; especially in those who need our presence, our care, our compassion. Give us the strength to see their dignity as sons and daughters of honor; as sons and daughters of God. Master, we want to see.

May the Lord give you peace.

Monday, October 19, 2015

"Listening is more than hearing" | Pope Francis

NOTE: This will go down as among the greatest teaching moments of Pope Francis. I think we are, at last, seeing the full implementation of the Second Vatican Council come to fruition - a church that respects and listens to all her voices. "Listening is more than hearing."  - FT

Your Beatitudes, Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, Brothers and Sisters,
It is a joy for all of us, while the Ordinary General Assembly is in full swing, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops, for which we praise and thank the Lord. From the Second Vatican Council until the present Assembly, we have experienced more and more intensely the necessity and beauty of “walking together”.
On such a happy occasion I would like to offer my heartfelt greetings to His Eminence Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the Secretary General, as well as the Under-Secretary, Mgr. Fabio Fabene, the Staff, Consultors and other people who work in the General Secretariate of the Synod of Bishops, those we never see, who work each day until late at night. As well as them, I would like to greet the Synod Fathers and other participants in the current Assembly, and everyone else who is here, and thank them all for their presence in this Hall.
At this point we should also like to remember those who, through these 50 years, have worked at the service of the Synod, beginning with the successive Secretaries General: Cardinals Władysław Rubin, Jozef Tomko, Jan Pieter Schotte and Archbishop Nikola Eterović. I take this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude to all those, living or dead, who have dedicated themselves generously and competently to implementing the work of the Synod.
From the beginning of my ministry as Bishop of Rome, it has been my aim to make the most of the Synod, which is one of the most precious legacies of the last Council. For Blessed Paul VI, the Synod of Bishops was meant to represent the image of the ecumenical Council and reflect its spirit and method. He himself foresaw that the structure of the Synod would “be able to be greatly improved with the passage of time”. Twenty years later, Saint John Paul II echoed his words, when he said, “perhaps this instrument can be improved further. Perhaps collegial pastoral responsibility can be expressed even more completely in the Synod”. Finally, in 2006, Benedict XVI approved some variations to the Ordo Synodi Episcoporum, taking into account the Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, which had been promulgated in the meantime. 
We must go further along this road. The world in which we live, and which we are called to love and serve even with its contradictions, requires the Church to develop synergies in every area of her mission. The path of the synod is exactly what God wants from His Church in the third Millennium.
What the Lord wants is, in a certain way, already contained in the word “Synod”. Walking together – lay people, pastors, the Bishop of Rome – a concept which is easy to put into words, but not so easy to put into practice.
After reaffirming that the People of God consists of all the baptised, called to be “a spiritual house and a holy priesthood” , the Second Vatican Council proclaims that “the entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One (Cf. 1 John 2,20 & 27), cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole people’s supernatural discernment in matters of faith when ‘from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful’ they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals”. That famous infallible “in credendo”.
In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium I stressed that “the People of God is holy thanks to this anointing, which makes it infallible in credendo”, adding that “all the baptised, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelisation, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelisation carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients”. The sensus fidei prevents a rigid separation between Ecclesia docens and Ecclesia discens, since even the Flock has a certain “nose” for discerning the new ways the Lord makes known to the Church .
It was this conviction that led me to express my desire that the People of God should be consulted in the preparation of the two parts of the Synod on the family, as happens and has usually happened with every Lineamenta document. Such a consultation could never be sufficient to hear the sensus fidei. But how would it have been possible to speak of the family without involving families, hearing of their joys and hopes, sadnesses and fears? Through the answers to the questionnaires sent to local Churches, we have been able to listen to some of them, at least, on questions close to their hearts, about which they have much to say.
A synodal Church is a listening Church, aware that listening “is more than hearing”. It means listening to each other where both have something to learn. Faithful People, the College of Bishops, the Bishop of Rome: each one listening to the others; and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of Truth” (John 14,17), in order to know what He is “saying to the Churches” (Rev 2,7).
The Synod of Bishops is the point of convergence of this dynamic of listening carried out at all levels of the Church. The synodal path begins with listening to the People, which “shares also in Christ’s prophetic office”, according to a principle dear to the Church of the first Millennium: “what affects everyone must be dealt with by everyone”. 
The path of the Synod continues with listening to the Pastors. Through the Synod Fathers, Bishops act as authentic custodians, interpreters and witnesses of the faith of the whole Church, which they have to know how to distinguish carefully from the often changeable tides of public opinion. On the eve of last year’s Synod, I said, “for the Synod Fathers we ask the Holy Spirit first of all for the gift of listening: to listen to God, that with Him we may hear the cry of the people; to listen to the people until breathing in the will to which God calls us”. Finally, the path of the Synod culminates in listening to the Bishop of Rome, called to speak as “Pastor and Teacher of all Christians”: not starting from his personal convictions, but as the supreme witness of the fides totius Ecclesiae, “guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church”.
The fact that the Synod always acts cum Petro et sub Petro – so not only cum Petro, but also sub Petro – is not a limitation of freedom, but a guarantee of unity. Actually the Pope is, by the Lord’s will, “the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity of the Bishops and the faithful”. To this is added the concept of “hierarchica communio” used by the Second Vatican Council: Bishops are joined to the Bishop of Rome by the bond of communion (cum Petro) and at the same time they are hierarchically subject to Him as Head of the College (sub Petro).
Synodality, as an integral dimension of the Church, offers us the most suitable interpretative framework for understanding hierarchical ministry itself. If we understand that, as Saint John Chrysostom says, “Church and Synod are synonyms” – because the Church is nothing other than God’s Flock “walking together” on the paths of history to meet Christ the Lord – we also understand that within her no one can be “lifted” above the others. On the contrary, in the Church someone needs to “lower himself” to place himself at the service of his brothers along the way.
Jesus set up His Church placing at its apex the College of Apostles, in which the Apostle Peter is the “rock” (cf. Matthew 16,18), the one who must “confirm” his brothers in the faith (cf. Luke 22,32). But in this Church, as in an inverted pyramid, the apex is below the base. That is why those who exercise authority are called “ministers”: because, according to the original meaning of the word, they are the least of all. It is in serving the People of God that each Bishop becomes, for the portion of the Flock entrusted to him, vicarius Christi , the vicar of that Jesus who bent down at the Last Supper to wash the feet of the Apostles (cf. John 13,1-15). In a similar perspective, the Successor of Peter is himself only the servus servorum Dei.
Let us never forget it! For the disciples of Jesus, yesterday, today and always, the only authority is the authority of service, the only power is the power of the Cross, according to the Master’s words: “You know that among the pagans their so-called rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No: anyone who wants to be first among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all” (Mark 42-45). This is not to happen among you: in this expression we arrive at the very heart of the mystery of the Church – “this is not to happen among you” – and we receive the light we need to understand hierarchical service.
In a synodal Church, the Synod of Bishops is only the clearest manifestation of a dynamic of communion which inspires all ecclesial decisions.
The first level of the exercise of synodality happens in particular Churches. After recalling the noble institution of diocesan Synods, in which priests and lay people are called to work with the Bishop for the good of the whole ecclesial community , the Code of Canon Law devotes a fair amount of space to what have come to be known as “organs of communion” in a particular Church: the Council of Priests, the College of Consultors, the Chapter of Canons and the Pastoral Council. It is only to the extent to which these organs stay connected to the “bottom” and start from the people, from everyday questions, that a synodal Church begins to take shape: we need to get the most out of these instruments, which sometimes lumber along, as opportunities for for listening and sharing.
The second level is that of Provinces and Ecclesiastical Regions, Particular Councils and especially Episcopal Conferences . We must reflect further in order to bring about, by means of these bodies, intermediate examples of collegiality, perhaps by integrating and bringing up to date some aspects of the old ecclesiastical order. The Council’s hope that such bodies contribute to the growth of the spirit of episcopal collegiality has still not been fully brought about. We have got half way, or part of the way. In a synodal Church, as I have already said, “it is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound ‘decentralisation’”.
The last level is that of the universal Church. Here the Synod of Bishops, representing the Catholic episcopate, becomes an expression of episcopal collegiality within a fully synodal Church . Two different words: “episcopal collegiality” and “fully synodal Church”. It manifests collegialitas affectiva, which can in some circumstances become “effective”, linking the Bishops to each other and to the Pope in care for the People of God.
Committing ourselves to building a synodal Church – a mission to which we are all called, each one in the role the Lord gives him – is pregnant with ecumenical implications. For this reason, when I was speaking recently to a delegation from the Patriarchate of Constantinople, I reaffirmed my conviction that “the careful examination of how in the Church the principle of synodality and the service of the one who presides are articulated, will make a significant contribution to the progress of relations between our Churches”.
I am convinced that, in a synodal Church, greater light will be shed on the exercise of Petrine primacy. The Pope does not stand alone, above the Church; but inside her, as a baptised person among the baptised and inside the College of Bishops as a Bishop among the Bishops, called, at the same time – as successor of the Apostle Peter – to guide the Church of Rome which presides in love over all Churches.
While I reaffirm the necessity and urgency of thinking about “a conversion of the papacy” , I gladly repeat the words of my predecessor Pope John Paul II: “As Bishop of Rome I am fully aware … that Christ ardently desires the full and visible communion of all those communities in which, by virtue of God’s faithfulness, his Spirit dwells. I am convinced that I have a particular responsibility in this regard, above all in acknowledging the ecumenical aspirations of the majority of the Christian communities and in heeding the request made of me to find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation”.
Our gaze extends to humanity as well. A synodal Church is like a banner raised amongst the nations (cf. Isaiah 11,12) in a world which – while it talks of participation, solidarity and transparency in public affairs – often places the destiny of entire populations in the greedy hands of small power-groups. As a Church which “walks together” towards mankind, participating in the travails of history, we cultivate the dream that the rediscovery of the inviolable dignity of peoples and of authority’s function of service will also be able to help civil society to grow in justice and brotherhood, bringing to birth a more beautiful world that is worthier of mankind for the generations who will follow us. Thank you.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Jesus' guide to success and happiness

In one of the last quotes of his papacy, Pope Emeritus Benedict said, “The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” It is at its heart a quote about what we are called to and what constitutes success.

This is also at the heart of our Gospel today. Our passage gives us this grab-for-glory by two of the disciples – James and John – who want a privileged place in the Kingdom; one at the right and one at the left of Jesus. They are grabbing for what they believe to be success – an important position. Jesus turns their question on its head, “You do not know what you’re asking,” He tells them. “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant, whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”

Alexander Woollcott, a famous alumni of Hamilton College, was asked to speak at the school’s centennial celebration. He gave a memorable speech which began with these words: “Some of you are successes, and some of you are failures - only God knows which are which!” His words are a reminder that in our measurement of success and failure, “God's thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are our ways God's ways.”

This is a timeless message of the Gospel – greatness is found by being the least; success is found in servanthood. Yet, how often we treat that message as quaint and fail to embrace its reality. For example, the Princeton Review reports that Business Management continues to be overwhelmingly the number one college major and the reason given for pursuing it is “to be rich and successful.” And yet, Forbes Magazine reports that the happiest professions in the United States don’t include business jobs. The happiest people are: artists, teachers, physical therapists, firefighters and the number one spot? Clergy! So, what happens when the criteria for success are not the same as the criteria for happiness?

James and John learn the hard way in today's Gospel that success isn’t determined by accomplishments, wealth or status. The measure of our success and consequently happiness is whether or not we are cooperating with God’s plan for us. If there is one thing we know for sure about success, it is this: God created everyone for success. As Pope Benedict said, we are created for greatness. God did not create anyone for failure. But, we have to make our measure, God’s measure. For most people, as for James and John, success means to be head of the pack. To succeed means to excel. Success is measured by comparing one's achievements against “competitors.” That’s why James and John go to Jesus and instead of asking that they be granted a place in His kingdom, they ask for prime position. Jesus teaches them a new meaning of success.

Success means realizing and fulfilling God's dream for you. There can be no life happier than that. Jesus is inviting us not to compete, but to cooperate with Him. He is inviting us not to plot for conquest, but to learn to listen to the plan that God speaks to our hearts.

James and John, on the other hand, represent the mentality of our world today which encourages unbridled ambition, rather than seeking to discern God's will for our lives. It encourages rivalry and unhealthy competition, rather than cooperation and the contentment of realizing that when we become servant to one another we can all succeed.

God has more than enough dreams to go round, a different dream for everyone here today, a different dream for every single person in the world – throughout all of time. Our ambition, our goal in life should be simply and only this: to discover and live God's dream for us. And that, my brothers and sisters, is the only true measure of success and happiness: what would God have me do. But to vie and struggle with one another over the same dreams; to be jealous and envious over what someone else has or is – that is failure. And so, if we don’t fulfill God’s dream for us – who will?

The actor Denzel Washington said, "Success? I don't know what that word means. I'm happy. For me, success is inner peace. That's a good day for me." May the same be true for us. “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” May we all achieve the greatness that God has destined us for.

May the Lord give you peace!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Loving as God loves


A couple had been married for 60 years and had no secrets except one: The woman kept in her closet a shoe box that she forbade her husband from opening. On her deathbed, she allowed him to open the box and he found a crocheted doll and $95,000 in cash. “My mother told me that the secret to a happy marriage was to never argue,” she explained. “Instead, I should keep quiet and crochet a doll.” Her husband was touched. Only one doll was in the box. He figured that meant she’d only been angry with him once in 60 years. “So what about all this money?” he asked. “Oh,” she said, “that’s the money I made from selling the dolls.”

This week, coming off of the excitement of the visit of Pope Francis, our media quickly became wrapped up in a made-for-TV scandal reporting that Pope Francis apparently had a private visit with Kim Davis, the embattled town clerk from Kentucky who refuses to fulfill her duty by not issuing same-sex marriage licenses there. Was the Pope’s meeting with her an endorsement of her position and her cause as she claims? The Vatican was quick to clarify that the Pope had not asked for the meeting and it was little more than one of dozens of quick meet-and-greets that the Pope engages in while traveling. In fact, the only planned audience he had was with a gay friend of his, a former student from Argentina, and his longtime partner.

The timing of all of this is interesting as we gather today for Mass. We heard our Scriptures speak of God’s hopes and dreams for the way we are to live with one another. Also today, the Cardinals of the Church have gathered in Rome to begin the Synod on the Family which hopes to tackle issues of strengthening family life as well as the way we talk about our divorced and remarried brothers and sisters, and our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

All of this raises a number of the problems that we face in our culture. Yes, the family as God dreams and imagines it is threatened. Yes, it has an impact on our society, and that impact is harmful. But, the problem isn’t with the laws of ours or any other nation. The problem isn’t a conspiracy by politicized groups to threaten the dignity and sanctity of marriage. The problem is the increasingly polarized and antagonizing way that we have come to relate to one another – not just in families and in loving relationships, but in virtually every aspect of our common life together.

There is something wrong with the way too many people in our world relate to one another today. The key to this problem is the profound lack of kindness, compassion, care and joy that is so often missing from our lives and from our world. The problem is that we increasingly fail to see ourselves as connected; as related; as concerned with and for one another. The problem is with the way that we impersonally interact and treat family and relationship like a commodity or in a purely material manner.

Just take a look at the reality TV shows that proclaim to be about love and relationships. There’s “Joe Millionaire” where women try and woo a man who they believe to be rich pursuing the relationship for money. There’s a show called “The Love Test” in which a couple purposely puts themselves in situations of temptation to see if there love will survive. “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” likewise turn the process of love and marriage into a competition. Then there’s the show, “Cheaters” which turns infidelity into entertainment for the masses. There’s “Who Wants to Marry My Dad” in which children judge the competition of women vying to marry their father. Fox has, “Married By America,” where you can call in and vote by phone on who should be married. There’s “Married At First Sight” which has people who have never met and are paired to see if it will last. There’s shows like “Race to the Altar,” “Meet My Folks,” “Love Stories,” “Love Shack,” “Love Cruise,” “Manhunt,” and more than you can imagine. Surely, this isn’t God’s plan for us?

To all of this God speaks some loving words to us today in Scripture. He says, “It is not good to be alone.” He says, “The two shall become one.” What He says to us is essentially this – you are connected, you are related, you must care for one another. Care for those who are closest to you; care for those you don’t know. Care for those who are on the margins because of their poverty or homelessness or hunger. Care even for those who are your enemies. Because of your common origin in Me, you are all related. See each other as brother and sister; as related and loved.

Just last night in St. Peter’s Square in a prayer service as a prelude to the Synod which begins today Pope Francis said, “A Church which is family is able to show the closeness and love of a father…A Church of children who see themselves as brothers and sisters, will never end up considering anyone simply as a burden, a problem, an expense, a concern or a risk. Other people are essentially a gift, and always remain so, even when they walk different paths. The Church is an open house, far from outward pomp, hospitable in the simplicity of her members. That is why she can appeal to the longing for peace present in every man and woman, including those who – amid life’s trials – have wounded and suffering hearts. This Church can indeed light up the darkness felt by so many men and women.”

This, my brothers and sisters, is God’s plan for each of us. Our good and loving God desires for us to be in a relationship first with Him – one that is built on faithfulness, timelessness and the gift of life. And, He calls us to mirror those same things – life, love, fidelity, commitment and sacrifice – in all of the relationships we have in life.

Pope Francis is calling us to have a bigger picture than the small partisan squabbles we usually engage in; and he is also calling us to have bigger hearts that can embrace and love as God loves; that can see and care as God cares; that can be part of transforming this world of darkness into the kingdom of light that Jesus came to inaugurate in our midst. We are being called to live relationships – within marriage, with the person we love, within families, with the stranger and even our enemies – that have Christ at the center; that Christ Himself be the lens through which we live our lives. Having the courage to do this will make all the difference in our lives; will make all the difference in the world. That is God’s plan for us.

It is not good to be alone, and thank God, we have each other, we have our God, we have our Church. What God has united, let no one divide.

May the Lord give you peace.