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.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Francis OUR Pope!


A mother was preparing pancakes for her young sons, David and Billy. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. “If Jesus were sitting here, He would say ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.’ David turned to his younger brother and said, “Billy, you be Jesus!”

We all have been attuned to the famous visitor who graced our beautiful city this week. Our city was fully focused for two days – in fact our country and the world – on the visit of our Holy Father Pope Francis on Thursday and Friday as part of his first-ever visit to the United States. As you know, he was in Washington first, and now he is in Philadelphia.

It is hard to really assess the impact of this extraordinary visit of our Holy Father to us this week – a week that included a speech before the U.S. Congress, the first-ever canonization of saint on our soil, a speech before the United Nations, a visit to the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero, visits to schools and shelters and churches, cathedrals, basilicas and yes, Madison Square Garden. We prayed, we sang, we listened. And, hopefully, we have grown closer God, closer to our Church, closer to our Pope and closer to one another.

I was lucky enough to be present at both the Evening Prayer Service at St. Patrick’s on Thursday night and the Mass at Madison Square Garden on Friday night and one of my favorite quotes of the week came from our own Cardinal Dolan who said something very simple, but something that captured the excitement of this week. He said, “At each and every Mass we pray the words, ‘For Francis OUR Pope. And here you are!’”

This week was a time of visitation for us and one that was very touching and moving. Here in New York, the city felt different this week. I know for all of us friars even the journey back and forth from these events was wonderful. Instead of the usual isolated and indifferent way that we can be to one another on our city streets and in the subway, we could hardly walk a few steps without people encountering us and wanting to know if we were going to see the Pope and asking questions and wanting to know more. There were smiles and conversations and a whole lot of selfies.

We know that this papacy of Francis has been a papacy of gestures. He has not been a Pope of mere theological or doctrinal teaching. He has been someone who walks the walk. He doesn’t merely speak. He acts. The little Fiat he has been driven in through the U.S. speaks volumes of this. We have a humble and simple Holy Father who comes to us. And, as powerful as his words are, his actions touch the very depths of our hearts.

What is Pope Francis trying to tell us, trying to teach us? I think it is as simple as this – the Gospel can be lived. The Gospel must be lived. For those of us who come to Church each week, who were baptized in the waters of new life, who name ourselves believers and followers of Jesus – all of that must be made evident in the way we live, in the way we act. This is what we see in our Pope. This is what he hopes we will imitate in our world.

On Friday at Mass he said, “Knowing that Jesus still walks our streets, that he is part of the lives of his people, that he is involved with us in one vast history of salvation, fills us with hope. A hope which liberates us from the forces pushing us to isolation and lack of concern for the lives of others, for the life of our city. A hope which frees us from empty ‘connections’, from abstract analyses, or sensationalist routines. A hope which is unafraid of involvement, which acts as a leaven wherever we happen to live and work. A hope which makes us see, even in the midst of smog, the presence of God as he continues to walk the streets of our city.”

My friends, Jesus still walks our streets. What a powerful thought. What a powerful hope. Our world, our reality can be profoundly different if we choose to be the same presence of Christ that we see radiated in the person of Pope Francis. It is what each of us is called to. It is what the Holy Father came to our city to say to us – to you and to me. To be the Jesus that walks these streets. He came to say, as in my corny joke, "You be Jesus!"

He said, “Jesus keeps telling his disciples to go, to go out. He urges them to go out and meet others where they really are, not where we think they should be. Go out and proclaim this joy which is for all the people. No one or anything can separate us from his Love. Go out and proclaim, go out and show that God is in your midst as a merciful Father who himself goes out, morning and evening, to see if his son has returned home and, as soon as he sees him coming, runs out to embrace him. Go out to others and share the good news that God, our Father, walks at our side. He frees us from anonymity, from a life of emptiness and selfishness, and brings us to the school of encounter. He removes us from the fray of competition and self-absorption, and he opens before us the path of peace. That peace which is born of accepting others, that peace which fills our hearts whenever we look upon those in need as our brothers and sisters. God is living in our cities. The Church is living in our cities, and she wants to be like yeast in the dough. She wants to relate to everyone, to stand at everyone’s side, as she proclaims the marvels of the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Eternal Father, the Prince of Peace.”

My brothers and sisters, Francis OUR Pope was here. Let us have the courage to live the Christian lives that he calls forth from us. Let us be the Church that is alive in our city! Let us be the Jesus that is walking in our streets! You be Jesus!

May the Lord give you peace!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Dialogue fearlessly! | Pope Francis to U.S. Bishops


Dear Brother Bishops,

I am pleased that we can meet at this point in the apostolic mission which has brought me to your country. I thank Cardinal Wuerl and Archbishop Kurtz for their kind words in your name. I am very appreciative of your welcome and the generous efforts made to help plan and organize my stay.

As I look out with affection at you, their pastors, I would like to embrace all the local Churches over which you exercise loving responsibility. I would ask you to share my affection and spiritual closeness with the People of God throughout this vast land.

The heart of the Pope expands to include everyone. To testify to the immensity of God’s love is the heart of the mission entrusted to the Successor of Peter, the Vicar of the One who on the cross embraced the whole of mankind. May no member of Christ’s Body and the American people feel excluded from the Pope’s embrace. Wherever the name of Jesus is spoken, may the Pope’s voice also be heard to affirm that: “He is the Savior”! From your great coastal cities to the plains of the Midwest, from the deep South to the far reaches of the West, wherever your people gather in the Eucharistic assembly, may the Pope be not simply a name but a felt presence, sustaining the fervent plea of the Bride: “Come, Lord!”

Whenever a hand reaches out to do good or to show the love of Christ, to dry a tear or bring comfort to the lonely, to show the way to one who is lost or to console a broken heart, to help the fallen or to teach those thirsting for truth, to forgive or to offer a new start in God… know that the Pope is at your side and supports you. He puts his hand on your own, a hand wrinkled with age, but by God’s grace still able to support and encourage.

My first word to you is one of thanksgiving to God for the power of the Gospel which has brought about remarkable growth of Christ’s Church in these lands and enabled its generous contribution, past and present, to American society and to the world. I thank you most heartily for your generous solidarity with the Apostolic See and the support you give to the spread of the Gospel in many suffering areas of our world. I appreciate the unfailing commitment of the Church in America to the cause of life and that of the family, which is the primary reason for my present visit. I am well aware of the immense efforts you have made to welcome and integrate those immigrants who continue to look to America, like so many others before them, in the hope of enjoying its blessings of freedom and prosperity. I also appreciate the efforts which you are making to fulfill the Church’s mission of education in schools at every level and in the charitable services offered by your numerous institutions. These works are often carried out without appreciation or support, often with heroic sacrifice, out of obedience to a divine mandate which we may not disobey.

I am also conscious of the courage with which you have faced difficult moments in the recent history of the Church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice. Nor have you been afraid to divest whatever is unessential in order to regain the authority and trust which is demanded of ministers of Christ and rightly expected by the faithful. I realize how much the pain of recent years has weighed upon you and I have supported your generous commitment to bring healing to victims – in the knowledge that in healing we too are healed – and to work to ensure that such crimes will never be repeated.

I speak to you as the Bishop of Rome, called by God in old age, and from a land which is also American, to watch over the unity of the universal Church and to encourage in charity the journey of all the particular Churches toward ever greater knowledge, faith and love of Christ. Reading over your names, looking at your faces, knowing the extent of your churchmanship and conscious of the devotion which you have always shown for the Successor of Peter, I must tell you that I do not feel a stranger in your midst. I am a native of a land which is also vast, with great open ranges, a land which, like your own, received the faith from itinerant missionaries. I too know how hard it is to sow the Gospel among people from different worlds, with hearts often hardened by the trials of a lengthy journey. Nor am I unaware of the efforts made over the years to build up the Church amid the prairies, mountains, cities and suburbs of a frequently inhospitable land, where frontiers are always provisional and easy answers do not always work. What does work is the combination of the epic struggle of the pioneers and the homely wisdom and endurance of the settlers. As one of your poets has put it, “strong and tireless wings” combined with the wisdom of one who “knows the mountains”.

I do not speak to you with my voice alone, but in continuity with the words of my predecessors. From the birth of this nation, when, following the American Revolution, the first diocese was erected in Baltimore, the Church of Rome has always been close to you; you have never lacked its constant assistance and encouragement. In recent decades, three Popes have visited you and left behind a remarkable legacy of teaching. Their words remain timely and have helped to inspire the long-term goals which you have set for the Church in this country.

It is not my intention to offer a plan or to devise a strategy. I have not come to judge you or to lecture you. I trust completely in the voice of the One who “teaches all things” (Jn 14:26). Allow me only, in the freedom of love, to speak to you as a brother among brothers. I have no wish to tell you what to do, because we all know what it is that the Lord asks of us. Instead, I would turn once again to the demanding task – ancient yet never new – of seeking out the paths we need to take and the spirit with which we need to work. Without claiming to be exhaustive, I would share with you some reflections which I consider helpful for our mission.

We are bishops of the Church, shepherds appointed by God to feed his flock. Our greatest joy is to be shepherds, and only shepherds, pastors with undivided hearts and selfless devotion. We need to preserve this joy and never let ourselves be robbed of it. The evil one roars like a lion, anxious to devour it, wearing us down in our resolve to be all that we are called to be, not for ourselves but in gift and service to the “Shepherd of our souls” (1 Pet 2:25).

The heart of our identity is to be sought in constant prayer, in preaching (Acts 6:4) and in shepherding the flock entrusted to our care (Jn 21:15-17; Acts 20:28-31).

Ours must not be just any kind of prayer, but familiar union with Christ, in which we daily encounter his gaze and sense that he is asking us the question: “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” (Mk 3:31-34). One in which we can calmly reply: “Lord, here is your mother, here are your brothers! I hand them over to you; they are the ones whom you entrusted to me”. Such trusting union with Christ is what nourishes the life of a pastor.

It is not about preaching complicated doctrines, but joyfully proclaiming Christ who died and rose for our sake. The “style” of our mission should make our hearers feel that the message we preach is meant “for us”. May the word of God grant meaning and fullness to every aspect of their lives; may the sacraments nourish them with that food which they cannot procure for themselves; may the closeness of the shepherd make them them long once again for the Father’s embrace. Be vigilant that the flock may always encounter in the heart of their pastor that “taste of eternity” which they seek in vain in the things of this world. May they always hear from you a word of appreciation for their efforts to confirm in liberty and justice the prosperity in which this land abounds. At the same time, may you never lack the serene courage to proclaim that “we must work not for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures for eternal life” (Jn 6:27).

Shepherds who do not pasture themselves but are able to step back, away from the center, to “decrease”, in order to feed God’s family with Christ. Who keep constant watch, standing on the heights to look out with God’s eyes on the flock which is his alone. Who ascend to the height of the cross of God’s Son, the sole standpoint which opens to the shepherd the heart of his flock.

Shepherds who do not lower our gaze, concerned only with our concerns, but raise it constantly toward the horizons which God opens before us and which surpass all that we ourselves can foresee or plan. Who also watch over ourselves, so as to flee the temptation of narcissism, which blinds the eyes of the shepherd, makes his voice unrecognizable and his actions fruitless. In the countless paths which lie open to your pastoral concern, remember to keep focused on the core which unifies everything: “You did it unto me” (Mt 25:31-45).

Certainly it is helpful for a bishop to have the farsightedness of a leader and the shrewdness of an administrator, but we fall into hopeless decline whenever we confuse the power of strength with the strength of that powerlessness with which God has redeemed us. Bishops need to be lucidly aware of the battle between light and darkness being fought in this world. Woe to us, however, if we make of the cross a banner of worldly struggles and fail to realize that the price of lasting victory is allowing ourselves to be wounded and consumed (Phil 2:1-11).

We all know the anguish felt bythe first Eleven, huddled together, assailed and overwhelmed by the fear of sheep scattered because the shepherd had been struck. But we also know that we have been given a spirit of courage and not of timidity. So we cannot let ourselves be paralyzed by fear.

I know that you face many challenges, that the field in which you sow is unyielding and that there is always the temptation to give in to fear, to lick one’s wounds, to think back on bygone times and to devise harsh responses to fierce opposition.

And yet we are promoters of the culture of encounter. We are living sacraments of the embrace between God’s riches and our poverty. We are witnesses of the abasement and the condescension of God who anticipates in love our every response.

Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love (Mt 20:1-16).

The path ahead, then, is dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society. I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly. The richer the heritage which you are called to share with parrhesia, the more eloquent should be the humility with which you should offer it. Do not be afraid to set out on that “exodus” which is necessary for all authentic dialogue. Otherwise, we fail to understand the thinking of others, or to realize deep down that the brother or sister we wish to reach and redeem, with the power and the closeness of love, counts more than their positions, distant as they may be from what we hold as true and certain. Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.

We need to let the Lord’s words echo constantly in our hearts: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, who am meek and humble of heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls” (Mt 11:28-30). Jesus’ yoke is a yoke of love and thus a pledge of refreshment. At times in our work we can be burdened by a sense of loneliness, and so feel the heaviness of the yoke that we forget that we have received it from the Lord. It seems to be ours alone, and so we drag it like weary oxen working a dry field, troubled by the thought that we are laboring in vain. We can forget the profound refreshment which is indissolubly linked to the One who has made us the promise.

We need to learn from Jesus, or better to learn Jesus, meek and humble; to enter into his meekness and his humility by contemplating his way of acting; to lead our Churches and our people – not infrequently burdened by the stress of everyday life – to the ease of the Lord’s yoke. And to remember that Jesus’ Church is kept whole not by “consuming fire from heaven” (Lk 9:54), but by the secret warmth of the Spirit, who “heals what is wounded, bends what is rigid, straightens what is crooked”.

The great mission which the Lord gives us is one which we carry out in communion, collegially. The world is already so torn and divided, brokenness is now everywhere. Consequently, the Church, “the seamless garment of the Lord” cannot allow herself to be rent, broken or fought over.

Our mission as bishops is first and foremost to solidify unity, a unity whose content is defined by the Word of God and the one Bread of Heaven. With these two realities each of the Churches entrusted to us remains Catholic, because open to, and in communion with, all the particular Churches and with the Church of Rome which “presides in charity”. It is imperative, therefore, to watch over that unity, to safeguard it, to promote it and to bear witness to it as a sign and instrument which, beyond every barrier, unites nations, races, classes and generations.

May the forthcoming Holy Year of Mercy, by drawing us into the fathomless depths of God’s heart in which no division dwells, be for all of you a privileged moment for strengthening communion, perfecting unity, reconciling differences, forgiving one another and healing every rift, that your light may shine forth like “a city built on a hill” (Mt 5:14).

This service to unity is particularly important for this nation, whose vast material and spiritual, cultural and political, historical and human, scientific and technological resources impose significant moral responsibilities in a world which is seeking, confusedly and laboriously, new balances of peace, prosperity and integration. It is an essential part of your mission to offer to the United States of America the humble yet powerful leaven of communion. May all mankind know that the presence in its midst of the “sacrament of unity” (Lumen Gentium, 1) is a guarantee that its fate is not decay and dispersion.

This kind of witness is a beacon whose light can reassure men and women sailing through the dark clouds of life that a sure haven awaits them, that they will not crash on the reefs or be overwhelmed by the waves. I encourage you, then, to confront the challenging issues of our time. Ever present within each of them is life as gift and responsibility. The future freedom and dignity of our societies depends on how we face these challenges.

The innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature – at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters. It is wrong, then, to look the other way or to remain silent. No less important is the Gospel of the Family, which in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia I will emphatically proclaim together with you and the entire Church.

These essential aspects of the Church’s mission belong to the core of what we have received from the Lord. It is our duty to preserve and communicate them, even when the tenor of the times becomes resistent and even hostile to that message (Evangelii Gaudium, 34-39). I urge you to offer this witness, with the means and creativity born of love, and with the humility of truth. It needs to be preached and proclaimed to those without, but also to find room in people’s hearts and in the conscience of society.

To this end, it is important that the Church in the United States also be a humble home, a family fire which attracts men and women through the attractive light and warmth of love. As pastors, we know well how much darkness and cold there is in this world; we know the loneliness and the neglect experienced by many people, even amid great resources of communication and material wealth. We see their fear in the face of life, their despair and the many forms of escapism to which it gives rise.
Consequently, only a Church which can gather around the family fire remains able to attract others. And not any fire, but the one which blazed forth on Easter morn. The risen Lord continues to challenge the Church’s pastors through the quiet plea of so many of our brothers and sisters: “Have you something to eat?” We need to recognize the Lord’s voice, as the apostles did on the shore of the lake of Tiberius (Jn 21:4-12). It becomes even more urgent to grow in the certainty that the embers of his presence, kindled in the fire of his passion, precede us and will never die out. Whenever this certainty weakens, we end up being caretakers of ash, and not guardians and dispensers of the true light and the warmth which causes our hearts to burn within us (Lk 24:32).

Before concluding these reflections, allow me to offer two recommendations which are close to my heart. The first refers to your fatherhood as bishops. Be pastors close to people, pastors who are neighbors and servants. Let this closeness be expressed in a special way towards your priests. Support them, so that they can continue to serve Christ with an undivided heart, for this alone can bring fulfillment to ministers of Christ. I urge you, then, not to let them be content with half-measures. Find ways to encourage their spiritual growth, lest they yield to the temptation to become notaries and bureaucrats, but instead reflect the motherhood of the Church, which gives birth to and raises her sons and daughters. Be vigilant lest they tire of getting up to answer those who knock on their door by night, just when they feel entitled to rest (Lk 11:5-8). Train them to be ready to stop, care for, soothe, lift up and assist those who, “by chance” find themselves stripped of all they thought they had (Lk 10:29-37).

My second recommendation has to do with immigrants. I ask you to excuse me if in some way I am pleading my own case. The Church in the United States knows like few others the hopes present in the hearts of these “pilgrims”. From the beginning you have learned their languages, promoted their cause, made their contributions your own, defended their rights, helped them to prosper, and kept alive the flame of their faith. Even today, no American institution does more for immigrants than your Christian communities. Now you are facing this stream of Latin immigration which affects many of your dioceses. Not only as the Bishop of Rome, but also as a pastor from the South, I feel the need to thank and encourage you. Perhaps it will not be easy for you to look into their soul; perhaps you will be challenged by their diversity. But know that they also possess resources meant to be shared. So do not be afraid to welcome them. Offer them the warmth of the love of Christ and you will unlock the mystery of their heart. I am certain that, as so often in the past, these people will enrich America and its Church.

May God bless you and Our Lady watch over you!

(from Vatican Radio)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Who do you say that I am?


One day the famous Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were on a camping trip. As they lay sleeping one night, Holmes woke Watson and said, “Watson, look up into the sky and tell me what you see.” Watson said, “I see millions of stars.” Holmes asked, “And what does that tell you?” Watson replied, “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Theologically, it tells me that God is great and that we are small in comparison. Meteorologically, it tells me that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. And what does it tell you Holmes?” To which Holmes answered, “It tells me that someone stole our tent.”

A simple question can elicit very different answers. In our Gospel today, Jesus asks a simple question, “Who do you say that I am?” Mark’s Gospel is 16 chapters long and today we have reached the middle of it. Mark has carefully recorded what people have been saying about Jesus up to this point. They have said in confusion, “What is this?” They have said, “Who is this that even wind and sea obey him?” They said, “He is possessed.” They said, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” or “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead,” or “He is Elijah.”

Up until now, they haven’t quite gotten a handle on just who Jesus really is. And, now, Jesus turns the question on them. “Who do you say that I am?” Everything in the first half of Mark’s Gospel has lead up to this question, and everything in the second half will answer it. So, when Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” all of heaven is silent, listening intently to how they will answer. And when Peter answers, “You are the Christ,” the angels are dancing and the heavenly choir is resounding, the saints in glory are cheering and the confetti is flying. They get it! They see Him “as He is.” “You are the Christ.”

But answering that question isn’t getting an “A” on the theology exam. Understanding who Jesus is, tells us who we are. Jesus asks “Who do people say that I am?” because what He really wants to get at is – Once you know who I am, who are we? What are we about? His words are not academic or theological, they are relational and loving. And, today they are meant for us to think about who Jesus is and in turn, who are we and what are we about as people who follow Him?

And, we all reflected on this earlier this week – whether we knew it or not. It was perhaps that moment when we first saw the heart-wrenching photo of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, his lifeless body in a red t-shirt and shorts washed up on a Turkish beach, just one of 6.5 million Syrians displaced by the violent conflict in their homeland. We reflected on who we say Jesus is and who we are because of it when we thought about how that photo, how that story affects us. Whether or not their problem is our problem. Whether or not their suffering moved us to compassion; whether or not we see them as our brother and sister. This is how seeing Jesus as the Christ changes who we are too. Just look around the world. In Hungary, the treatment of these refugees has been questionable, at best. England will take 22,000 refugees; France and Germany 55,000; Ireland has set no limit. The U.S. will take 10,000. Pope Francis has called on every parish and religious house in Europe to take in a family. The Vatican itself will take two families. Who do you say that I am?

The point of this one example is that recognizing who Jesus is – “You are the Christ” – must have consequences to who we are and how we live and how we view the rest of the world. With that recognition, everything in our lives flows from that moment, from that answer and what it means to recognize and follow Jesus. It calls us to spread our faith; to live a life of love and joy and compassion and caring – to a degree that the world has never seen before; to do not just “enough” but to do the extraordinary – in Christ! The answer to that simple question will make all the difference in our lives and in the life of the world.

Mark told us today that Jesus asked His question in Ceasarea Philippi; a city with a shrines dedicated Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. And it was in this setting – a venue marked by devotion to a variety of false gods – that Jesus asks His most important question. He didn’t ask the question in the Temple; or after a reading from Isaiah that points to the Messiah. He asks it in the midst of a place that worships everything except the One True God. It is there, that He says essentially, now is the time to make a choice. In the midst of all of these competing things; these competing gods; these competing idols that surround you – who will you say – here – that I am? And who will you choose be because of Me?

My friends, we know that we, too, live in a world that honors too many false gods; too many false idols; each of them demanding our worship; our very lives. There are far too many voices that encourage us to worry only about ourselves; that name the other as foreign and dangerous and illegal and evil and not our problem. There are too many today who answer Jesus question not by saying, “You are the Christ,” but by saying, “You’re interesting. I like what I read, but I really don’t have time for you” or saying, “The way you want me to live is just too difficult” or by simply saying nothing at all and instead of choosing Christ, choosing the easier route.

Let me leave you with the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict from a few years ago, “Christ is asking you the same question which he asked the Apostles: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Respond to him with generosity and courage, as befits hearts like your own. Say to him: ‘Jesus, I know that you are the Son of God, who have given your life for me. I want to follow you faithfully and to be led by your word. You know me and you love me. I place my trust in you and I put my whole life into your hands. I want you to be the power that strengthens me and the joy which never leaves me.’”

Who do you say that I am? May the Lord give you peace.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

God's mercy is bigger than our sins | Pope Francis & forgiveness for abortion

Like many, I was so excited by the news that came out today from Rome that Pope Francis has extended the faculty to absolve someone from the sin of abortion without the interim step of having to contact your local bishop.

As always, the media seems to have not fully understood what the Pope did and so there are some confusing or misstated notions out there. I wanted to write a brief post to clear up a few things:

ABORTION COULD ALWAYS BE FORGIVEN. I was watching ABC News tonight and the broadcaster said, the Pope's decree means that "abortion can now be forgiven." This gives the impression that somehow the Church held a prior position that abortion was unforgivable. The impression is that if you found yourself in the impossible situation of procuring an abortion, that was it, no more hope for a life with God. One strike, you're out.

This could not be further from the truth. Many women, or their spouses or partners, have often come to the Church to seek God's forgiveness for their actions. But, according to Canon Law, since an abortion also brought with it latae sententiae (= automatic) excommunication, the priest needed to consult with their Bishop to lift that excommunication. Another option would be in dioceses were certain priests have been given the faculty for this. Either way, it was a more complicated process and took a bit more time, but forgiveness was always available. 

Also, if you happened to know a Franciscan priest, the Order has had the privilege of absolving this sin directly for a very, very long time.

In fact, St. Pope John Paul II said this in his 1995 encyclical The Gospel of Life, "The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision (to have an abortion), and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed...But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope...Give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation."

So, what is the meaning of Pope Francis' action? My opinion is that the Pope wants to encourage people to seek out God's mercy. In my own personal experience with this, I have encountered many women who feel as though their actions have permanently separated them from God; that their sin is too great; that they are beyond forgiveness. To hear the words that God offers them forgiveness bring about a healing that is powerful, that is lasting and that is transformative in people's lives.

I believe the Holy Father is taking this moment to make that transforming forgiveness more easily available to encourage the kind of healing that it brings about. In his apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, the Pope said, “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.”

I think as we head into this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis hopes that we will all take that message to heart and be reconciled, forgiven, renewed, restored and transformed by this Sacrament of Mercy. God's mercy is always bigger than our sins. We are never outside of God's desire to unite us with Him once again.

- FT

Friday, August 28, 2015

Let's change the world


Practice what you preach. Actions speak louder than words. You have to walk the walk. These are all common phrases that we know. There are many more like them, but they all have the same point – words are not enough. For our words to be true and be believed, they must be followed with action.

One of my favorite quotes of Pope Francis gets at this point. He said, “You pray for the hungry. The you feed them! This is how prayer works.” In our second reading today from St. James, he says the same thing this way, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Or, practice what you preach.

One of the greatest dangers for people of faith, I think, is to be enamored of Scripture, to love the teaching of the Church, to hold as precious the words of Jesus – but, to act no differently than the rest of the world when we’re outside of a church building. This is also what Jesus is tackling in today’s Gospel. The Pharisees and Scribes are obsessed with the external observance of the Law, while their actions say something different. They were obsessed with rituals, but neglected the change of heart and life that those rituals hope to bring about in people. In today’s passage, the Pharisees allow the failure to ritually wash their hands keep them from sharing God’s Good News with the people who need to hear it. Jesus points out that it is not the purification of hands that will save them, but the purification of their souls.

Now, Jesus isn’t condemning ritual or doctrine, but asking if those practices are effective. Is our practice the goal of our faith – is our faith nothing more than attending Mass or praying rosaries? Or do these practices help us become the people God wants us to be, as James says, those who “care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep [themselves] unstained by the world.” Have we become “Doers of the Word and not hearers only?”

We have been blessed in these years of Pope Francis to see someone who shows us what Christian words-in-action truly look like. For example, he doesn’t only talk about the homeless, but he opened the Vatican to them and created showers, provides food, brings in barbers to cut their hair – his faith-in-action is practical; it makes a difference to the people he encounters. A few years ago, speaking on the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, he said it this way, “Jesus tells us that the path to encountering Him is to find His wounds. We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy – giving to the body of your wounded brother, because he is hungry, because he is thirsty, because he is naked, because it is humiliated, because he is a slave, because he's in jail, because he is in the hospital. Those are the wounds of Jesus today. We need to touch these wounds of Jesus, we must caress the wounds of Jesus, we need to bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness, we have to kiss the wounds of Jesus, and this literally. Just think of what happened to St. Francis, when he embraced the leper? The same thing that happened to Thomas: his life changed.”

St. James and Jesus are reminding us today that our faith should be obvious in our actions. That people should see the way we act in the world and know immediately that we are follows of Christ. That our faith in Jesus has changed our lives. We are being asked to prayerfully reflect on two basic questions: Do I hear God’s Word? And, do I act on God’s Word?

James tells us, “Humbly welcome the word that has taken root in you. Act on it. Because if all you do is listen, you are deceiving yourselves.” Yes, it is hard to love the way Jesus loves and the way He asks us to love others. But, in His Word and in His Holy Sacraments, Jesus gives us the strength to do what He asks. He gives us the strength to be a different kind of presence in the world – one that loves, one that shows compassion, one that reaches out – especially to those in most need; especially to those that others would simply walk by. So, let us hear God’s Word and be strengthened by His Body and Blood and truly leave this place as “Doers of the Word of God….for that will save our souls.”

Or as St. Francis of Assisi put it, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” It will not only change us and make us more like Christ; it will change the world.

May the Lord give you peace.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

To be a saint is the vocation of everyone | Solemnity of St. Clare


I'd like to start with an impromptu poll among everyone here. By a show of hands how many here would like to be a saint? And again, by a show of hands, how many think that when all is said and done, you will in fact, be a saint? Good, I was hoping to see a lot of hands go up, especially in a group of religious and those following our beloved Clare and Francis.

There is a story that you may have heard before about the great Trappist mystic and writer Thomas Merton. Shortly after he converted to Catholicism in the late 1930s, Merton was walking the streets of New York with his friend, Robert. Robert was Jewish, and he asked Merton what he wanted to be, now that he was Catholic. “I don’t know,” Merton replied, adding simply that he wanted to be a good Catholic. Robert stopped him in his tracks. “What you should say,” he told him, “is that you want to be a saint!” Merton was dumbfounded. “How do you expect me to become a saint?” Merton asked. His friend said: “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”

As we gather tonight to commemorate and celebrate Our Holy Mother Saint Clare, we are in the final months of the Year of Consecrated Life called for by Pope Francis. As he called for this year, Pope Francis put a remarkable challenge before all of us living the vowed life. He said that religious women and men must “wake up the world! Be witnesses of a different way of doing things, of acting, of living! It is possible to live differently in the world. It is a question of leaving everything to follow the Lord. Religious follow the Lord in a special way, in a prophetic way. It is this witness that I expect of you. Religious should be men and women who are able to wake the world up.”

Now this task can seem daunting if we feel that it is our job alone, or even as our small group, to wake up the entire world to the truth and reality of the Gospel. What great plan could we come up with? What big strategy could we develop for the whole world. And, that’s when we remember that we are followers of the saints of Assisi. We “wake up the world” by being simply, profoundly, and fully who we are called to be. That was the great message and awesome plan of Clare and Francis. They both held the simple proposal that the Gospel could be lived; that it was possible to live the life devoted to God that Jesus came to reveal to us in its fullness. Clare and Francis showed us so profoundly – and yet so simply – that this possible. And, I think, that is why you and I are here. We believe it too; so much so that it lead us to leave our former lives and live a life of total dedication as a consecrated person. And, following the Gospel is just another way of saying I want to be a saint. I believe I can be a saint.

Pope Francis said, “To be a saint is not a privilege for a few, but the vocation of everyone. Saints aren't supermen and they weren't born perfect. They are people who, before attaining glory in Heaven, lived a normal life, with joys and pains, struggles and hopes. But when they knew the love of God they felt it with all their hearts.”

When we feel that sainthood is beyond us, out of our reach, we are probably thinking about the legendary saints – Clare and Francis, Anthony, Mother Teresa, Mother Cabrini – we are thinking of the saints who converted crowds of thousands by their preaching, who established schools and hospitals and orphanages and more by the droves, who established religious communities that grew and expanded and covered the world. And maybe for us, that isn’t our road to sainthood. But those glorious women and men were not saints because of the quantity of work they accomplished or even the eloquence of their holy speech – they were saints because they were faithful to God and to what God asked them to do; and because they did that with all their heart and lives. And, that is our road to sainthood too. We can be like them in the way we love God, in the way we follow Him completely.

As we celebrate Clare today, we are reminded that the goal of our existence is Paradise! That is what Clare learned herself and taught her sisters and us. The documents of the Cause of Canonization for St. Clare tell us that she said this as she was preparing to meet Sister Death, “Go forth in peace, for you have followed the good road. Go forth without fear, for He who created you has made you holy, has always protected you, and loves you as a mother. Blessed be you, my God, for having created me.”

Following St. Clare and St. Francis is really a way of saying, this is how we will become saints. Following the Gospel, relying fully on God, devoting ourselves to prayer, to charity, to our life together, mercy, compassion and devotion to the poor – these are the ways that our beloved Founders have taught us are the road to holiness, the pathway to sainthood, the very Way that will bring us to heaven.

Clare was a saint because she recognized God’s love in her life and followed Him with all her heart without reserve or hypocrisy. She spent her life serving others, enduring suffering and adversity, spreading joy and peace. She is a saint because she did not put conditions on God in her life.

Today, through this feast, Saint Clare gives us a message. She tells us: trust in the Lord because the Lord does not disappoint! He never disappoints, He is a good friend always at our side. Through her witness Clare encourages us to not be afraid to speak about God and the Gospel – to be witnesses of the Gospel capable of waking up the world.

“To be a saint is the vocation of everyone.” “All we have to do is desire it.” Let us entrust our prayers to the intercession of Our Holy Mother Clare and ask her that our hearts might be filled with the desire to be saints.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The grace of surrender


In order to join the Navy, John first had to pass a routine physical. During the exam, the doctor discovered that, due to an abnormality, John couldn’t fully extend his arms above his head. Unsure if he should approve John, the doctor conferred with another doctor. "Let him pass," said the second doctor. "I don’t see any problems – unless he has to surrender."

Our first reading today is a story of surrender. We heard, “Elijah prayed for death saying, ‘This is enough, O Lord! Take my life.’” This is a statement that most of us can relate to, I think. How often do we feel like we are at a point in life when we want to throw up our hands, surrender, and say “This is enough! I’ve had enough!”

So, why was Elijah so down? Well, as we pick up his story today, God has asked a tremendous amount of him. He – a man alone – was sent by God to confront Queen Jezebel who had lead Israel astray to worship a false God. Elijah had just engaged in a major confrontation with her prophets before our passage today and the result was that the Queen sent a messenger to tell Elijah that before the day is done, he will be put to death. Elijah runs in fear for his life.

At this moment, Elijah did what God asked and was worried that his reward was to be execution. He has thrown his arms up in surrender, ready to give up. He has been plunged into darkness and doubt. Wanting to quit and turn his life over to the eternal hands of God, he sleeps. But when he awakened, God sent an angel to care for him. Food and water appeared and the angel fed him. He experiences God’s care for him and through it discovers he has the strength to make his way to safety - and to begin again. When Elijah surrendered fully to God; in response God refreshed and renewed him; gave him life once again.

Elijah’s story should sound familiar to us, because there’s not one of us here who hasn’t been brought low, or felt defeated, and ready to surrender at one point or another in our lives. Whether we’re the fifth grader who feels doomed by a difficult subject; the mom slowly worn down by a long summer tending to the children she loves; the disappointed spouse who despite trying and trying again, can see no hope for the future of their marriage; the investor who made all the wrong decisions till there was nothing left; the sick person who has tried every doctor, every cure, but to no avail… and so on.

In these moments, we might also feel like saying, “I’m finished, I’m empty; I have nothing left to give, to say, to do; I am too tired to lift a pencil; too tired to hope; too tired to cry. I’ve had enough. I surrender.” And what is God’s answer? He doesn’t say, “Buck up! Be strong!” He doesn’t say, “Get over it and move on.” God knows when our strength is spent and when we are empty. Instead, our loving and caring God sends an angel to us too and says, “Be still; rest with me awhile, and wait. As slow rain fills an empty cup, I will fill you; I will nurture you, care for you, feed you and restore your strength – if you hold up your cup, and wait, and be still with me.”

He sends these angels in the form of the good and supportive friends we have; in the love that people show us in life; in the kindness of a stranger; and so importantly in moments of prayer; pre-eminently in the Eucharist. Every Mass is exactly that kind of opportunity to be still with God, to be filled up with what He has to offer, to hear the gentle words of God’s encouragement in Scripture, and to be awakened to the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation offered in every Eucharist. Jesus said exactly this in today’s Gospel, “The bread that I give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

Our Gospel today is a continuation of “Bread of Life discourse.” It reminds us once again, that Jesus sustains us, lifts us up and feeds us in ways that offer newness, freshness, relief and even the promise of eternal life. “I am the bread of life,” He says. “I am the living bread come down from heaven,” He says. This message is for us a great message of reassurance; a great message of hope.

So, if you come to this place today feeling a bit like Elijah – feeling a bit wearied by life, downtrodden by challenging situations, or hopeless in the face of impossible relationships; if you come here today feeling like you could say, “Lord, this is enough.” God says to you, “Be still and know that I am God.” So, be still and wait with Me. Listen to My words. Feel My presence. Let me refresh you, renew you and make you whole, once again.

God will give you what you need to be strengthened to finish your journey. All you have to do is let Him.

May the Lord strengthen you today and give you His peace.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Do you believe in miracles?


Johnny came home from Sunday school and couldn’t wait to tell his mother about class. “Boy that story of Moses and all those people crossing the Red Sea was something!” “Tell me all about it,” his mother said. Johnny began, “Well, the Israelites got out of Egypt, but Pharaoh and his army chased after them. So the Jews ran as fast as they could until they got to the Red Sea. The Egyptian Army was getting closer and closer. So…Moses got on his iPhone and called in a drone strike on the Egyptians. Then the Navy built a pontoon bridge so the people could cross over. And, they made it!” The mother was shocked, and asked, “Is that how they told you the story at Sunday school?” “Well, not exactly,” admitted Johnny, “but if I told you the way they told it to us, you'd never believe it, Mom.” How often do we find it difficult to believe in miracles because they seem a little too great? Our secular world makes no room for miracles and spiritual realities and is instead limited only to what we can observe and verify. We are taught to be skeptical when things seem too good to be true.

Today's Gospel is a good example. A secular view looks at the feeding of the 5,000 with skepticism. Skeptical Bible scholars will even pose questions about whether or not Jesus actually fed that many people. Maybe the miracle is that everyone shared, they say. But with the eyes of faith we look at this story in a different way. Faith opens us to the experience that says “Yes, God can and did do that great wonder! I believe it!” Jesus did feed a multitude, Jesus did heal countless people who were ill, Jesus did cast demons out of the possessed, He did raise the officials daughter and His friend Lazarus from the dead, Jesus did offer us His real Body and Blood in the Eucharist, and did Himself rise from the dead – all spectacular, and beyond the normal realm, but we believe because with God anything, in fact, everything is possible.

In our passage today, John mentions two disciples by name: Philip and Andrew. In this passage, they represent two types of faith. Philip is the skeptic, not ready to accept a miracle while Andrew’s faith makes room for miracles and so becomes a partner in one with Jesus.

To the problem of all these hungry people Philip responds skeptically. “Two hundred days' wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little,” he says. But Andrew, with a more expectant faith speaks up. “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish.” Now, Andrew was realistic enough to know that five loaves and two fish were nothing before a crowd of more than 5,000, yet he had enough faith to see that it was enough for a start; to see that grace, that miracles build on nature. Perhaps Andrew was remembering the marriage feast at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine. He remembered that Jesus did not make wine out of nothing; He made it out of something. And it is the disciples' duty first to provide that basic something which Jesus in His love would then transform, like water into wine; or multiply, like bread to feed the hungry crowd. Expectant faith, therefore, does not make us fold our hands doing nothing looking into heaven. Rather it spurs us on to make our best contribution, our five loaves and two fish, knowing that without it there would be no miracle. A miracle is not God working for us; it is God working with us and us with God.

A skeptic looks at the feeding of 5,000 and says, “That probably didn’t really happen.” The person of faith looks and says, “5,000 people is that all? Jesus has been miraculously feeding millions or even billions of people through his Body and Blood at Mass for over 2,000 years.” You and I are each and every time we worship part of the greatest miracle of feeding the multitude. He continues to multiply that meager offering every time we gather for the Eucharist. All we offer Him is some bread and wine to work with, and for more than 2,000 years He continually transforms that into His very Body and Blood; His real presence in our midst. So, we should believe, not only because we have faith, but also because we have eyes that see it at every Mass, hands that touch and hold and receive and bodies that consume that same miraculous bread become Body over and over again. The Eucharist is the most incredible miraculous feeding of the multitude in history – and it is still going on!

This is how God wants us to work in the world as well. He doesn’t do these things as tricks or just for show. Instead, He tells us, “I have given you an example. As I have done, so you must do.” There is a wonderful quote of Pope Francis from this past March that gets right at this. He said, “Yes, you pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That’s how prayer works.” God needs us to do our part and whatever we do, He will multiply – sometimes to miraculous results.

Henry Ford once said, "Whether you think you can or not, you are right." The same can be said about our ability to be a force of change in the world. Believers, by believing, open their lives to miracles. Skeptics block their chances of experiencing a miracle. If we truly believe that Jesus did heal, did cast out demons, did raise people from the dead, did offer the Eucharist, did rise from the dead Himself – if we believe that, just imagine what He will do in our lives and through our lives if we’re open to Him. Jesus is just waiting to let a miracle happen through our own faith in Him. Jesus often said, “According to your faith will it be done to you.” Let us pray today and everyday to have the expectant faith of Andrew, to be open to what God wants to do in our lives. Through our faith, truly miraculous things will happen.

May God give you peace.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Pope Francis is Making Christianity Radical Again | faithStreet

By Gehring
During his recent whirlwind trip to three of the poorest countries in South America, Pope Francis was a man on fire. He played the role of thunderous Old Testament prophet, community organizer, and even a revolutionary rallying the downtrodden to stand up to injustice. In a speech in Bolivia widely viewed as one of the most important and far-reaching of his papacy, the pope brought an urgent message that should make global elites nervous.
The first pope from Latin America will visit the United States in three months and become the first pontiff to address Congress. If his South American tour is any indication, the powers that be here in the world’s financial, media, and military epicenter should buckle up.
“Let us not be afraid to say it: we want change, real change, structural change,” Francis told representatives from indigenous communities, workers, and activists fighting for social reforms. The pope highlighted what he called “the three Ls” (labor, lodging, and land) as central to human dignity. He warned time was “running out” to address ecological destruction and climate change. He railed against a “new colonialism” that includes fiscal austerity measures and “certain free trade agreements.” The profit-first mentality of global capitalism, Francis argues, is morally indefensible.
“Let us say ‘no’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality, where money rules rather than serves,” the pope said in what has now become a defining theme of his papacy. “That economy kills. That economy excludes. That economy destroys Mother Earth.”

A pope who is radical, not liberal

It’s tempting to squeeze this maverick pope into secular political categories. Some media coverage has reflected this instinct by describing the pope as a leftist. In many ways, this is understandable. The pope’s searing critique of the socioeconomic status quo — what he calls “an idolatrous system which excludes, debases, and kills” — is left of the Democratic party. Hillary Clinton might agonize over how far to go in challenging the titans on Wall Street, but the pope has, well let’s just say, fewer political calculations to consider.
The pope also uses language that would be familiar to Occupy Wall Street activists, who in 2011 made Zuccotti Park a magnet for those challenging the presumptions of unbridled market fundamentalism, or leaders who mobilized massive protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization in 1999.
In fact, while some in the liberal establishment turned up a collective nose at Occupy, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, who leads the Vatican’s justice and peace council and wrote the first draft of the pope’s recent encyclical, said at the time that the “basic sentiment” behind Occupy Wall Street aligned with traditional principles of Catholic social teaching on the economy.
While Pope Francis’ populist rhetoric warms the hearts of many liberals — including those who wish the church would pipe down on issues of sexuality and marriage — it’s a mistake to pigeonhole him with conventional secular terms. His source of inspiration is the radical message at the heart of the Gospels. In the shadow of the Roman Empire, Jesus put the poor and those on the peripheries at the center of his ministry.
He rattled the righteous defenders of the religious law, scandalized many, and fulfilled the message of the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free . . . ”
In Bolivia, Pope Francis specifically anchored his denunciation of a corporate globalization that has lifted some boats but has done little for those languishing in the villas miseries of Buenos Aires and the favelas of Rio in this context. “This system runs counter to the plan of Jesus,” the pope said bluntly. “Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy. It is a moral obligation. For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: it is a commandment.”
In Ecuador, the pope made it plain: “Our faith is always revolutionary.” 

A pope who upholds Catholic social teaching

If you have a problem with what Pope Francis is saying, your real problem is with the Hebrew prophets, Jesus of Nazareth, and a century of Catholic social teaching about the common good.
Some conservatives determined to paint Pope Francis as na├»ve and marginalize him as a Marxist have clear political motivations. “This pope grew up in a third world country that, frankly, is an example of what happens when you don’t have capitalism and democracy,” scoffed former ambassador Otto Reich, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs in the George W. Bush administration.
Rep. Paul Ryan, a Catholic who has mistakenly argued his budget proposals are consonant with his faith’s teachings, also strikes a condescending tone. “The guy is from Argentina,” Ryan told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in 2013. “They have crony capitalism in Argentina. They don’t have a true free enterprise system.” Leaving aside the stunning arrogance and myopia in those statements — Wall Street greed and criminal behavior get a free pass — these critiques are part of a larger effort to delegitimize the pope when it comes to economic justice.
Ryan and Co. conveniently ignore the fact that the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to “sinful inequalities” that are “in open contradiction to the Gospel.” The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, published by the Vatican under Pope John Paul II, states that “wealth exists to be shared” and that “evil is seen in the immoderate attachment to riches and the desire to hoard.”
This doesn’t make Pope Francis or the Catholic Church anti-market or anti-capitalist. Catholic teaching is clear that the economy should exist to serve human beings, not the other way around. Ever since Pope Leo XIII issued the church’s first social encyclical in 1891, at a time when the savage inequalities of the Industrial Revolution left workers with little protection against the whims of rapacious owners, the church has advocated for living wages, the need for unions, and prudent oversight of markets to ensure human dignity is not sacrificed on what Pope Francis has called “the altar of money.”
Pope John Paul II spoke about the “priority of labor over capital.” Pope Benedict XVI challenged the “scandal of glaring inequalities.” Francis is building on themes addressed by his predecessors, while clearly putting more institutional muscle behind inequality and social exclusion.
It’s true that Pope Francis is shaped by his experiences in Argentina, and his unique vision as the first non-European pontiff in over a millennium. This is an asset. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio earned a reputation for being the “Bishop of the Slums” for the considerable time he spent in the toughest sectors of town. During the 2002 Argentine debt crisis, along with other Catholic bishops, Bergoglio spoke out against fiscal austerity measures and pointed to “social exclusion, a growing gap between rich and poor, and . . . the negative consequences of globalization and the tyranny of markets.”
A pope who brings a perspective from the peripheries and aligns with the powerless knows his harshest critics are waiting for him in the United States. Expect the backlash to Pope Francis’ urgent pleas for action on climate change and inequality to heat up in the lead up to his visit. The most influential moral leader in the world today is calling out a status quo that political and financial elites benefit from at the expense of the poor. Those who prefer religion safe and sanitized — or relegated to issues of sexual morality — are on the defensive for good reason.
“Artists are here to disturb the peace,” the American writer James Baldwin once wrote. The same might apply to a pope bringing radical Christianity back to center stage.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Of Star Trek, Pope Francis & Encyclicals


Let me start with a classic line from TV history. Raise your hand if you know it. “Space, the final frontier…” Good, good. Now, keep your hand raised if you can finish the sentence: “…these are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its’ continuing mission to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before.” Okay, you have all just outed yourselves, like me, as a scifi geek.

Now, yes, for the truly geeky among us, I like Star Wars too, but the thing I always preferred about Star Trek was the vision that Gene Roddenberry, its creator, had for a humanity that eventually got beyond all of the things that divide it; a humanity that became united for the common good. In this future Earth, there are no more wars, there is no more poverty or hunger, there is no more prejudice or racism, and we humanity lives in balance with the created world around it.

I have been thinking about my love for Star Trek this week as I’ve seen the spectacular photos NASA has released from the New Horizons probe on a survey mission to Pluto – the farthest mission for a human space craft yet. It has travelled more than three billion miles to get there. How’s that for a “strange new world”?

A priest-friend of mine earlier this week shared one of the Pluto photos on Instagram along with a beautiful quote from Psalm 8 that reads, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;/what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?"

Believe it or not, all of this was leading me to think deeply about the encyclical of Pope Francis which came out just about a month ago called Laudato Si or Praised be You. I read an article a few weeks ago that was asking if many Catholics had heard a homily preached on this first great encyclical of the Holy Father, and many, sadly, had not. And I began to wonder why? I think that the answer lies in the way that a lot of coverage has focused on the document. It has been treated largely like something that was issued by the Environmental Protection Agency or GreenPeace, rather than a spiritual document by the reigning Pontiff of the Holy Catholic Church.

You see the media keeps calling the document the “Pope’s encyclical on the environment”. It is as if Pope Francis decided to use one of the highest levels of teaching authority in the Church to essentially say, “Don’t forget to recycle your bottles and cans. Please try to reduce the amount of water you use. And, oh yeah, big oil is bad.” Now, these things are in there and they are good, but that would be like reducing Star Trek to space ships, Klingons and transporters – all of those are in there (and they’re pretty cool), but if that’s all you see, you are missing the bigger vision. The Pope, too, has a bigger vision here for us.

For example, in Laudato Si (which takes its name, by the way, from a prayer of St. Francis praising God in all of creation), Pope Francis writes, “As Christians, we are called to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbors on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet.” In this simple and yet profound statement, the Pope reminds us that we care for our common home, the Earth, not because it makes good environmental sense (although it does), but because the Earth is, in effect, a Church – it is the place where we meet God. The world is a sacrament of communion with God.

The Pope says, “Creatures tend towards God…Everything is interconnected, and this invites us to develop a spirituality of that global solidarity which flows from the mystery of the Trinity.” The Holy Father continually returns to this two-fold theme that everything is created by God and therefore is a reflection of Him; and that because of this divine origin, we are all connected. This not only effects the environment, which we should treasure as a gift from God that has been entrusted to us, but it also effects the way that we relate to one another.

We can understand water, for example as a gift. We need it to live. We can appreciate it for its beauty. We enjoy it for our recreation. We understand its relation to the land and crops and growth. But, we don’t always understand one another as the same kind of gift from God that should likewise be treated as precious to us as it is to God. The Pope writes, “When human beings fail to find their true place in this world, they misunderstand themselves and end up acting against themselves.”

And so, my friends, just think of the many pressing, confusing or troubling issues that our world faces right now. If you are trying to understand how to respond to the legalization of gay marriage in our country, or to the transformation of Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner or anyone who is transgender. If you have been shocked or rocked by the shooting in Charleston a few weeks ago, the more recent one in Chattanooga this week. If you are dejected by the issues of racism that have reared their ugly heads so poignantly, so disappointedly once again especially over this past year. If you are struggling with what to make of our fractured, wounded and divided world – the Pope reminds us that this answer is our connectedness.

No matter the issue, we are being reminded once again that we are connected; that we are one; that we are sacrament; that we are communion. We are being reminded that everything in this world created by our God – the land and see, the earth and sky, the plants and animals – and so especially the people, all of the people – need to be treated with love and kindness, with compassion and mercy, with hope and joy. We are people of connection, communion and love, not judgment and condemnation. This is how we make the prayer of St. Francis our own – to be channels of peace who bring love where there is hatred, pardon where there is injury, faith where there is doubt.

So, my brothers and sisters, “Qapla”, success, and don’t forget to recycle your bottles and cans. And more importantly, don’t forget that every day and every moment; that every person and every encounter; that every breath, and tree and sunrise and sunset – are all experiences of God where the “divine and human meet” in the smallest occurrences of life.

May the Lord give you peace.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A possible response from US Bishops on Gay Marriage

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to make history most likely tomorrow (Friday) or Monday on the issue of  gay marriage in the United States. Most of the speculation seems to favor that the action of the Supremes will in effect make same sex marriage legal across the United States.

This, just a month after the once lock-step Catholic bastion of Ireland became the first nation to approve gay marriage by referendum. After the approval of that referendum on the Emerald Isle, though, I was very impressed with the open and pastoral tone that was struck by Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin. Following the vote, he said, "We [the Church] have to stop and have a reality check, not move into denial of the realities. We won't begin again with a sense of renewal, with a sense of denial. I appreciate how gay and lesbian men and women feel on this day. That they feel this is something that is enriching the way they live. I think it is a social revolution."

The Archbishop also spoke about the Church's need to reach out in a new way to young people and to rethink the way our doctrine and theology are presented.

His response has me pondering, naturally, how will our bishops here in the United States respond in the days to come? Once again, this anticipated outcome of the Supremes will be an opportunity for the U.S. Church and I see basically two options.  Option one is to once again hunker down in battle mentality. The bishops can make proclamations about conspiracies and "gay agendas" and media manipulation and the triumph of the secular over the sacred.

But, I think the evidence is in on this approach and the conclusion is that it doesn't work. It doesn't lead anyone to Christ, to the Church, to a deepened relationship with the Lord. In fact, data would suggest that it has the exact opposite effect. A recent Pew study showed that the largest religious group increasing in the United States are those who are "not affiliated" to any Church or denomination. The group where most of these "nones" are leaving from is the Catholic Church. And among the chief reasons for the departure is the perceived "judgmental" attitude of the clergy/church officials. One of the key things that Pope Francis has showed us, I think, is that very often the problem is not the teaching of the Church, but the way that teaching is presented and the attitude of the presenters.

What Archbishop Martin did was to acknowledge something - he acknowledged his gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Ireland who were experiencing a significant moment in their lives and the life of their nation. He was acknowledging that they had experienced years of oppression and discrimination and so it was very natural for them to experience the referendum as a great moment of liberation. He acknowledged the reality as it was experienced right before him. That seems like an obvious statement, but it is one that needs to be stated because the problem is that too often, we don't see what is right before us and instead recast it into a narrative that better suits the story we want to shape. But, dialogue begins with acknowledging the reality of the other. It all starts there.

So, let's imagine Option Two. Here is another way that our U.S. Bishops could respond tomorrow or Monday if the Supreme Court makes same-sex marriage the law of the land.
A possible response of the U.S. Bishops: "Today, in a truly landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision, the result of which makes it legal for people of the same-sex to contract a legal marriage in the United States. To the extent that this decision represents the end of discrimination and oppression of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as a group of people, we rejoice with them. The Catholic Church has long opposed discrimination under the law in all of its forms and we rejoice whenever such legal discrimination is cast aside in favor of progress toward the recognition of the equality of all people. We rejoice with those who welcome this movement of liberation. We understand that civil law is different than church law or theology, and our tradition as well as current and long-held theological understanding of the sacrament of marriage continues to be that sacramental marriage is a union between a man and a woman. But, we also understand the desire of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to find long term, lasting, loving and committed relationships. The Church in recent years has struggled in its attempts to reconcile all of these positions in a coherent way that leads all her children to Christ without making some feel as though they are not welcome within our walls and our communities, or that we desire anything less than a full, happy and fulfilled life for them. What we ask of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters today is this: please, keep struggling with us; let's continue to dialogue together. We need you and hopefully, you need us too. Please continue to be active members of our parishes and communities and help us understand one another better and figure out how we all walk to Jesus together."
The Archbishop was right, "We have to stop and do a reality check." Our reality check would quickly show that the strategy of condemnation, finger-pointing and name-calling has done nothing more than close off the conversation, drive people away from the Church, and relegate our voice increasingly to the margin. Perhaps another strategy - the one that Jesus employed - might be called for: the strategy of respectful, open dialogue. It's time for option two. It's time to find common ground, recognize the good in others, begin by accepting them where they are, be open to a conversation, be able to state like Archbishop Martin that we at the very least understand why people might welcome this ruling, even if it isn't in line with our teaching. We are called to the attitude of Christ, "neither do I condemn you" and instead to be oases of compassion, love, joy, healing and mercy. It is then that we begin to be not just a community, but a family. It is then that we move forward together in Christ, towards Christ.

Let's see which option the bishops choose.

- FT