Saturday, January 31, 2015

Jesus spoke, and we are made new

HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 1, 2015:
A Faith Formation teacher had just finished her lesson about Confession and wanted to make sure she had made her point. She said her students, “Can anyone tell me what you must do before you can obtain God’s forgiveness?” There was a short pause and then, from the back of the room, a small boy spoke up and said, "Sin."

Let me ask you a question this morning. Do you think you know who is going to win the Superbowl tonight? As you may know, I’m from Massachusetts, so my hopes and prayers are on my beloved Patriots, but at this moment today, we don’t know. How about the World Series? Again, I know who I want to win, but catchers and pitchers don’t even report to Spring training for another 17 days, so, of course, we don’t know. You see, not knowing is a part of our human condition. It is our lot to live, sometimes uneasily, with uncertainty. There are many occasions in life where it would be great to have a chance to “ask the audience” or “phone a friend,” but instead we’re stuck with the lot of not knowing; of living in the moment and experiencing it as it unfolds.

We hear something very different in our Scriptures today. In place of our normal state of uncertainty and unknowing, we are given images of authority and clarity. In our first reading, Moses foretells the authority we’ll see in Jesus, “A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen.” And Jesus shows that authority in our Gospel reading. As we heard, “The people were astonished at [Jesus] teaching, for He taught them as one having authority.”

Our passage shows Jesus as an invited speaker at the Jewish synagogue in Capernaum. Those gathered were wondering what He was going to say, and how He was going to say it. It was the typical practice of rabbis to build on the teachings of their predecessors. They would often refer to explanations given by more famous rabbis in the past to give greater credibility to their own. They spoke on someone else’s authority. The people in our Gospel passage today are astounded at Jesus words because He doesn’t speak on the authority of great rabbis of the past. He speaks with His own authority, which comes from Him alone as the Son of God. And His Word, His authority is effective. Notice his dealing with the unclean spirit. Jesus merely speaks and the unclean spirit comes out of the man, just like that.

This reminds us of God’s own voice that we hear of in the Book of Genesis. When God said, “Let there be light,” there was light. When He said, “Let there be dry land,” there was dry land, and so on. God’s word is active and creative and does not rely on any other power or authority. It is a power all its own.

Jesus, the very same Word of God in human form, shares in this same power and authority. He speaks differently than everyone else. If He were simply a rabbi or a scribe, He’d have explained the Law of Moses to them. No more, no less. If He were only another prophet, He would simply have handed on the Word of God to them. He would have said, “Thus says the Lord…” But, Jesus speaks for Himself. He is God’s voice, God’s authority. Small wonder that Christ’s teaching impressed them. After all it was like no other teaching before. His words created the universe. His words forgive sins. His words change bread into Body. His words change our lives.

My friends, when Jesus says, “Those whose sins you forgive are forgiven,” it isn’t a suggestion. It happens; they are gone as though they never existed. When He says, “This is my Body; this is my Blood” His word is so powerful that it not only created the Eucharist that night of the Last Supper, it created every Eucharist that would ever exist throughout all of time – that’s what we connect with sacramentally here today and at every Mass. Jesus Body and Blood are as truly present on this altar as they were in the upper room on the night of the Last Supper. Psalm 33 tells us that “He spoke and it came to be. He commanded and it sprang into being.”

And, what’s even more incredible, is that Jesus continues to speak with this authority today to each and every one of us. He says with authority to you and me the same powerful words: “Your sins are forgiven”, “This is my Body”, “Behold I make all things new.” And so imagine what Jesus can do in our lives. Imagine the impossible situations that we believe we’re in sometimes; the type of situations that we think can never change, can never be made better, that we must simply accept. The moments of loneliness, or broken relationships, or grief and sorrow. Jesus wants to speak His word into those moments of our lives. Jesus word isn’t only about bread and wine becoming Body and Blood – His word is about changing this broken world into the Kingdom He promised us – one that reaches out to the margins, to the dark places, and even into our very own lives and hearts.

So think today about where you need to hear Jesus word spoken with authority in your life. What can Jesus transform and heal and make whole in our hearts? The relationships He can restore, the sins He can overcome, the hearts He can mend, the compassion He can extend, the love He can show, the world He can change – if only we ask Him to speak His Word – a Word of power and authority unlike any other to have ever been spoken – to speak that Word to our hearts. He will speak and we will be made new.

“The people were astonished at [Jesus] teaching, for He taught them as one having authority.” Let the word of Jesus spoken again here today change you, heal you and make you new – and let us take that word to the world around us.

May the Lord give you peace.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Bringing the Light of Christ. What a challenge! | Bishop Christopher Coyne

NOTE: Wonderful homily from Bishop Christopher Coyne, the new bishop of Burlington, Vermont. Bishop Coyne is also known as the "blogging bishop" for his great use of social media. You can check out his blog here: http://bishopcoyne.org/. This is the text of his homily from the Mass of Installation which took place yesterday. I had Bishop Coyne as a liturgy professor back in my seminary days - so excited for him now and for the people of his diocese.


HOMILY OF 
THE MOST REVEREND 
CHRISTOPHER JAMES COYNE, DD, SLD
TENTH BISHOP OF BURLINGTON
SOLEMN MASS OF INSTALLATION
SAINT JOSEPH'S CO-CATHEDRAL
29 JANUARY 2015

There is an inscription that was found on a bell that hung in the tower of a church in Northern Wisconsin that read:

“To the bath and the table,
To the prayers and the Word,
I call every seeking soul.”

The ringing of church bells was once something with which Vermonters were very familiar. Whether it was in the small towns of the countryside or the competing calls of the churches of the cities, the Sunday morning call of the bells “to the bath and the table, to the prayers and the Word” were a constant reminder of the presence of God in our midst.

The bells still ring out. Not so numerous and not so often, but they still ring out, their meaning captured in the words of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “for bells are the voice of the church; they have tones that touch and search, the hearts of young and old, one sound to all … [The Bells of St. Blas.] Yes, the bells still ring, the bells still search but not many are answering the call. “Come,” the bells say, “Come and worship with us. Come and hear what God has to say. Come to the table and the bath, to the prayers and the Word.” But not many seem to come anymore. Yes, most of churches are still places of worship and communion where folks still gather, but many of those gatherings grow smaller and grayer every year. Folks look out and say, “Where are the young people and the families? Where have our friends and neighbors gone? Why are there so few answering the call of the Church to the life of the Good News?” In response, one could respond with fatalism, with a shrug of defeat, and a kind of long-term communal hospice as door after door after door of our churches close and the Body is finally laid to rest.

And yet, I like many of you, do not stand here in this cathedral without hope, without the conviction that this need not be. Now more than ever, our community needs to hear the call of the “Good News” proclaimed to a culture that seems to hear so many other voices.

John Henry Newman, now Blessed, once spoke to the wreckage that was the Catholic Church in 19th c. England. After years of being legally banned from public life and worship in England, the Catholic faith was finally a legal religion once again. In the face of continuing anti-Catholic prejudice and in the midst of Church with little to build upon, Newman preached his famous sermon entitled, “A Second Spring.” The very title itself invokes hope. He spoke:

“What! those few scattered worshippers, the Roman Catholics, to form a Church! Shall the past be rolled back? Shall the grave open? … Shall shepherds, watching their poor flocks by night, be visited by a multitude of the heavenly army, and hear how their Lord has been new-born in their own city? Yes; for grace can, where nature cannot. The world grows old, but the Church is ever young…. One thing alone I know — that according to our need, so will be our strength… We shall not be left orphans; we shall have within us the strength of the Paraclete, promised to the Church and to every member of it.”

“We shall not be left orphans, we shall have within us the strength of the Paraclete.” Jesus’ promise of the gift of the Spirit to his disciples is our inheritance as well. In this power, we are not left orphans but are sons and daughters, brought into the communion of love that is the sublime essence of the Trinity. This is the Spirit that St. Paul writes in our reading from Colossians that allows us to put on “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience … forgiving one another,” binding it all with Christian love. If we fallible and broken humans can unite in such charity, is that not a sign of both hope and a witness that invites others to join us.

There is cause for much hope here in the gift of the Spirit and our communion with the Father. And yet … this is not something new. The gift of the Spirit and the sublime adoption are realities that we already possess and have possessed throughout the history of the Church. So … how does this answer the present challenge we face here in Vermont and elsewhere, that of declining membership and a cultural trend away from revealed religion to a personal spirituality at best or no belief at worst?

The gospel we just heard proclaimed points the way. Jesus stood in his home synagogue in the midst of his relatives and neighbors and proclaims himself the one about whom Isaiah prophesized to bring healing to the blind, liberty to prisoners and glad tidings to the poor. His voice rings out as both a challenge and an invitation when he says, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” It is a challenge that is immediately rejected by some as he is forced out of Nazareth by those irate at his words, but it is also an invitation that some hear and accept as they follow him on the way. Jesus does not stay in the synagogue but he goes out. His voice does not simply ring out from a place of worship like a bell stationary in a church steeple, calling people to come to him. He goes out to them. He goes out to spread the Good News of the Kingdom of God and the offer of eternal salvation.

Just before I left Indiana to come here to Vermont, I was having lunch at "A Nice Restaurant" in New Albany (that's the restaurant's real name, btw) and I was seated right next to a table occupied by two twenty-something young ladies. Now I'm not one to normally eavesdrop on others’ conversations. I tend to read my book or newspaper while by myself, but my ears perked up when I heard one of them say, "Catholic Church." It turns out they were talking about how she had been looking for a faith community to join and had finally joined the mega-church down the street but only after first trying out a Catholic Church. It was what she said about her reason for not staying that really floored me: "It was like they mourn their religion." Wow ... You know the saddest part about that statement? I know what she is talking about ....

No one wants to join a church that lacks joy. When people who leave the Catholic Church to join other churches are asked why did you do so, the number one answer is “They made me feel welcome” followed by “I find the services joyful and uplifting.” If we are going to call people to our churches and they do happen to come in , what are they going to find? People who have the joy of the “good news” in their hearts, people who are welcoming and encouraging, who celebrate the Church’s liturgy with care and commitment or a people who mourn their religion. Friends, both inside and outside we have to be about the "Good News."

Besides getting our own selves and our own houses in order, brothers and sisters, I challenge myself and you to follow the Lord’s lead to “go out.” We are no longer the Church of the establishment in which if we just open our doors and ring the bells people will come. That is not happening. In fact, we are opening our doors and people are not coming. They are leaving. We have to change the paradigm to that of a missionary Church, one that has to go out and engage the wider community in our ongoing acts of Christian mercy and in our words and conversation. Pope Francis calls us to move out to the peripheries. He tells us, his priests and bishops, that it is time to leave the sacristies and go out into the fields as good shepherds who take on the smell of the sheep. In his recent trip to the Philippines, Pope Francis’ challenge to do so was echoed in the words of farewell to him spoken by Cardinal Tagle at the final Mass in front of an estimated 7 million people. The Cardinal said that the Filipinos want to follow Francis “to the peripheries — to the shanties, to prison cells, to hospitals, to the world of politics, finance, art, sciences, culture, education, and social communications.” They want to follow Francis to those venues, he said, “to bring the light of Jesus.”

Can we say the same?

Did you notice the other challenge in Cardinal Tagle’s words, beyond just the call to go out to the peripheries. It was the one to bring the “light of Jesus.” Now, there’s a challenge. You know, we can only bring to someone else what we ourselves possess. Bringing the light of Christ. What a challenge.

One time when I was in Italy, one of my classmates invited me to come to his hometown in southeast Italy for a weekend. While we were there we climbed up into the bell tower of his church because he wanted to show me the view and the bells. The view was spectacular and the bells were big. We climbed down a few levels and he began to pull the rope to ring the bells (goodness knows what the neighbors were thinking). It was loud, but more than that, it was physical. Every time the largest, deepest bell sounded, you could feel the vibrations through your whole body. They say that bass notes travel farther than high notes. It’s like that car with the sound system turned up loud and you hear the “thump, thump” of the bass notes long before you hear anything else as the car gets closer. The lower notes are foundational. The sound of the deep bell calling out is the sound with the deepest roots. The sound of the “light of Christ” within us must be that deep, that foundational. It permeates our very being so that our faith is not just a layer that we put on over lives but is instead, a way of life, a way of being in the world. Being a follower of Jesus Christ is not simply what I believe. It is who I am. It is the deepest bell of my soul. I cannot bring the light of Christ to others unless I first possess it myself, deeply.

My favorite poet is Robert Frost, the first poet laureate of the state of Vermont. He is buried down south in Bennington. Frost wrote many poems with which we are very familiar – “The road less travelled,” “Stopping by the woods on a snowy evening,” – but my favorite is his poem “Directive.” In it he speaks of a walk in the woods that leads him to the ruins of a place that once was: “There is a house that is no more a house, upon a farm that is no more a farm and in a town that is no more a town.” Not much is left - some stonewalls, a few chimneys and cellar holes with trees and vegetation now taking ownership of the ruins. His destination is the remains of a certain house and the brook that was once the source of water for the house. Next to it he has stashed a broken cup that he uses to slack his thirst. Here, though, Frost - gazing at the remains of the hope of small town and all that it once embodied and stood for - picks up the broken cup as “a broken drinking goblet like the grail” and proclaims, “Here are your waters and your watering place. Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.”

Here is our water and our watering place. Here is the bath and the table, the prayer and the words where we are made whole in the love of Christ. Ours is not a place of ruin and lost hope. It is a place of forgiveness, nourishment, and instruction. It is a place of salvation. The bells still ring out from the steeple of this church, even though it is a bit broken and in need of repair. But when the bells ring out from our steeples they are the voice of Christ - He is the bass, midrange and treble that sounds and reverberates in the lives of all whether we know it or not. His bass notes rumble through life moving all to the works of mercy, His midrange voice calls us to be with Him and enjoy his company, His treble notes teach us about a life here as well as above with one He calls Father and teaches us to do the same. They are still bells of invitation to come to Him, yes, but now we hear them as well as an invitation to go out with Him in the power of the Holy Spirit, to spread the Good News of that His Kingdom is at hand at that He, Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of the world. The “bells are the voice of the church” – the Mystical Body of Christ - “they have tones that touch and search, the hearts of young and old, one sound to all...” One sound to be brought to all.


Friday, January 23, 2015

We shall overcome | Cardinal Sean O'Malley, OFM Cap.

NOTE: Cardinal Sean O'Malley, OFM Cap., delivered the annual Vigil for Life homily at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, January 21. Below is his text:

There is a popular diner near the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. One of the items on the menu is called "The Emergency Room" consisting of bacon, sausages, eggs, pancakes, french toast, hash browns. The clientele are people from the hood, a few Archie and Edith Bunkers, Ralph and Alice Kramdens, cops and priests. It's the kind of place you could invite Pope Francis to. Juke box music from the 50's and 60's adds to the atmosphere. While having dinner there last week with Fr. O'Leary and Fr. Kickham, the phone rang. I presumed it was a telemarketer. It was Oprah Winfrey. I almost had to order "the emergency room". She called to tell me she was reading cardinalseansblog.org and wanted to thank me for the comments I had published on the blog. 

Cardinal Sean at the Vigil for Life
You have to feed the blog. I had shared some reflections about the film Selma. To me, one of the very moving aspects of the film is to see how people of faith came together to witness to the dignity of every human being made in the image and likeness of God. They were Protestant, Catholics, Jews, Greek Orthodox, standing together courageously. One of the ministers from Boston, a 38 year old white man, Reverend James Reel, was beaten to death leaving behind a wife and four small children. He had served for four years here in Washington D.C. at All Souls Church on 16th Street, just across from my offices at the Spanish Catholic Center. At the time of his death he was working for the Quakers in Boston as director of a housing program focusing on desegregation. Martin Luther King called him the defense attorney of the innocent in the court of public opinion. Today that is our job.

The quest for human rights and solidarity brought together people of faith to try to repair the world --to use the Jewish expression. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis says, "No one should demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanction of personal life without influence on societal and national life... The Church cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice."

We are called upon to build a better world. "The Church's social thought", says Pope Francis, "offers proposals, works for change and constantly points to the hope born of the loving heart of Jesus Christ."

In the history of our country, people of faith have worked together to overcome racism and injustice. Now we come together to be the defense attorney for the innocent unborn and the vulnerable elderly and all those whose right to life is threatened. We shall overcome.

As a matter of fact, we are overcoming, but it is a well kept secret.

We have all heard of Greek Mythology and Roman Mythology. I want to talk about some American Mythology.

There are many myths that are circulating and cause a lot of harm, especially since our politicians often espouse them. First of all, you will hear that abortion is a woman's issue; secondly, that most Americans are pro-choice, pro abortion; and thirdly, that young people are overwhelmingly in favor of the pro-choice position.

Earlier this month in an op-ed on the editorial page of the New York Times entitled, The Abortion Stereotype, Razib Kahn observes that in polling done over the last 20 years, women have been consistently more pro-life than men.

Despite the impression that a solid majority of Americans back legal abortions, the Gallup polls indicate that about the same number of Americans identify as pro-choice as do pro-life, but in fact 58% of Americans oppose all or most abortions. If abortion depended on the ballot box rather than an activist court, it would be greatly reduced.

Studies have shown that women are more pro-life than men. Certainly the maternal instincts and closeness to the source of life, dispose women to be more protective of children. So, despite the talk about "the woman's body" and the "woman's choice", oftentimes the big supporter of abortion is the man who is quite happy to invest all reproductive responsibility in the woman. This creates a situation in which men can easily rationalize their irresponsibility towards women who opt not to have an abortion.

According to the Allan Gutmacher Institute, 80% of all abortions are sought by single women. With abortion as an option, a man can compel a woman to have an abortion by denying his responsibility or threatening to abandon her if she "chooses" to give birth. For the unwilling father, an abortion is a bargain compared to monthly child support payments.

Even a majority of so-called pro-choice Americans actually favor informed consent for mothers, abortion bans in the third trimester, bans on partial-birth abortions, required parental consent for minors, 24 hour waiting periods and even abortion bans in the second trimester. These are polls by Gallup, CBS and the New York Times, not by EWTN, Catholic University and the Vatican.

Another myth proclaims young people are more pro-choice, to use the terminology. Once again the polls are unanimous in showing that young Americans are the most pro-life segment of the American people.

Upon her resignation in 2012, NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) President Nancy Keegan stated that there is a large "intensity gap" among young people on the subject of abortion. We have already seen that the majority of young people are pro-life. An internal poll by NARAL shows that 51% of pro-life young people see abortion as an important electoral issue, while only 20% of pro-choice young people see abortion as an important electoral issue.

Gallup in 2010 declared that "pro-life is the new normal". Congratulations, you are normal.

But you know there are some people who are using these American myths: that the majority of women, the majority of Americans, the majority of young people are pro-choice. It is a lie that is being foisted on the American people to try to convince people to embrace abortion with the flag and apple pie. We need to make sure that our political leaders are brought up to date and begin to take the pro-life ideals of Americans seriously.

It is good to recall that even if all the myths were true that the American people, women and youth were overwhelmingly in favor of abortion, that would not alter the sacredness of human life and our absolute obligation to protect and defend this most precious gift that is life.

In the first reading from the book of Exodus we heard about the two midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who resisted the orders of the Pharaoh to kill the babies. They were convinced of the sacredness of each and every life and were willing to submit themselves to the wrath of the Pharaoh rather than abort one innocent child.

Recently, addressing a group of Catholic doctors in Rome, the Holy Father, Pope Francis stated: "If the Hippocratic Oath commits you to always be servants of life, the Gospel pushes you further: to love life no matter what, especially when it is in need of special care and attention. The Holy Father warns the health care workers that "The dominant thinking sometimes suggests a 'false compassion,' that which believes that it is helpful to women to promote abortion; and act of dignity to obtain euthanasia; a scientific breakthrough to 'produce' a child and to consider it to be a right rather than a gift to welcome.

The compassion of the Gospel is that which accompanies in times of need, that is, the compassion of the Good Samaritan who "Sees, has compassion, approaches and provides concrete help."

The Holy Father tells the doctors: "Your mission puts you in daily contact with many forms of suffering. Fidelity to the Gospel of Life and respect for life as a gift from God sometimes requires choices that are courageous and go against the current, which may become points of conscientious objection."

The Holy Father is reminding our Catholic Healthcare workers that they must be like the valiant midwives who refused to kill the Hebrew babies at the behest of the Pharaoh.

One of the greatest challenges to people of faith in our culture is the erosion of conscience rights, the space we need as a Catholic community to carry on our ministries and works of mercy without violating God's law and our conscience.

In a certain way the Rich Young Man in today's Gospel reminds us of many young people today, who are asking serious questions about the meaning of our existence, why we are here and what we should do with our lives? What is true success? What is happiness?

Not only does the Rich Young Man ask the right questions, but he is asking the right person, Jesus Christ: "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

When I ask confirmation candidates or classrooms I visit: How did Jesus answer the Rich Young Man? Invariably, I am told: Jesus said: "Go sell what you have, give the money to the poor and come and follow me." That is correct, but it is not the first thing Jesus says. Jesus says if you want to inherit eternal life, keep the commandments. And the first commandment Jesus mentions is: "Thou shall not kill."

This story of the Rich Young Man appears in all the synoptic Gospels. And Jesus' answer always begins with: "Thou shall not kill."

We are all here today because we are convinced that human happiness and inheriting eternal life require us to embrace this commandment: "Thou shall not kill or to express it positively, "Thou shall protect human life."

The second command Jesus mentions: "Thou shall not commit adultery." To express this positively, "practice chastity in your life."

We know that unwanted pregnancies often end in abortion. Many unwanted pregnancies are the result of a culture that is always encouraging promiscuity.

People who favor legal abortion claim they want to reduce the number of abortions. One of the logical ways to reduce the number of abortions would be to discourage the promiscuous behavior that is rampant in our culture. There are many instances of positive social changes that have been brought about by public consensus reinforced in advertising, educational efforts and use of mass media.

The campaigns against smoking and the public backlash against the promotion of tobacco in movies and on TV has done much to curb smoking and has contributed much to a healthier America.

The glamorization of promiscuity needs to be reversed by having people speak out against it the way people object to demeaning media portrayals of women and African-Americans. Like these, it is not a matter of passing laws but of changing what we deem as acceptable in society.

So Jesus' first two instructions for happiness are: "Thou shall not kill, Thou shall not commit adultery." Protect innocent human life, embrace the discipline of chastity which protects the transmission of life.

Jesus goes on to tell the Young Man to honor his mother and father. An important part of discipleship is respecting the family, nurturing relations, preserving the Family as the sanctuary of Life.

The Rich Young Man proudly proclaims that he had observed the commandments from his youth. That is really impressive. Not every Catholic can say that. Unfortunately, the Rich Young Man was so busy congratulating himself that he was totally unprepared for what followed. Jesus says thanks for keeping the commandments, but that is not enough. Jesus tells him: "You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell everything that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come and follow me."

The young man said to himself: I am keeping the commandments, Thou shall not kill -- I'm pro-life. Thou shall not commit adultery --I follow the discipline of chastity, and now I have to help the poor with my money? It is too much.

The Rich Young Man thought it was either/or, but Jesus is telling us it is both/and. We follow the commandments, we are pro-life and we help the poor.

The Gospel says he went away sad for he had many possessions. How dangerous money can be when it becomes our master. Jesus said: "How hard it is to enter the Kingdom. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God."

Chesterton once said that ever since Jesus made this statement, scientists have been trying to breed smaller camels and engineers are trying to make bigger needles!

Part of the Gospel of Life has to be about loving and helping the poor. Indeed, reducing poverty will also reduce the number of abortions. Poor and low income women account for more than half of the abortions performed each year in our country.

Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium says that just as the commandment "Thou shall not kill" sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say "thou shall not kill" to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have a throw away culture that is now spreading.

The Holy Father warns us both at Lampedusa and in Evangelii Gaudium about the globalization of indifference. He says, "Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor as though they were someone else's responsibility and not our own."

The Pro Life movement in the Catholic Church is about overcoming that indifference, indifference to the suffering of a woman in a difficult pregnancy, indifference to the voiceless child who is destined to be part of the statistic of a million killed in the womb each year, indifferent to the poverty and suffering of so many.

Indifference is our greatest enemy. We see the antidote in today's Gospel. The Lord looks at the confused young man, and St. Marks writes: "And he loved him." The confused young man went away sad because he did not realize how much the Lord loved him. Had he even suspected I am sure he would have given the money away gladly, but in his insecurity and fear, he leaves. He goes away sad.

Christ has given us the formula for joy in the Gospel. We must learn to look on people with love. An attitude of judgmental self righteousness is not going to change peoples' attitudes and save babies. We need to be the field hospital not Judge Judy. We need to be the merciful face of Christ in the way we promote adoption, aware of how difficult it is for birth mothers to choose that option. We also need to expand our outreach in Project Rachel to those whose lives have been devastated by abortion.

To change people's hearts we must love them and they must realize that we care about them. They need the witness of our love and our joy. To evangelize is to be a messenger of joy, of good news.

The rich young man went away sad. He needed to meet someone like St. Francis, another rich young man who was filled with joy after kissing the leper and giving all his money and clothes to the poor.

As Pope Francis reminds us: "When St. Paul approached the apostles in Jerusalem to discern whether he was running or had run in vain", the key criterion of authenticity which they presented was that he should not forget the poor. This important principle, namely that the Pauline communities should not succumb to the self-centered life style of the pagans, remains timely today when a new self-centered paganism is growing. We may not always be able to reflect adequately the beauty of the Gospel, but there is one sign which we should never lack: the option for those who are least, those whom society discards."

To me, Mother Teresa is the model of the pro-life movement because she witnessed to the preciousness of life by her care for the poor. Her first ministry was collecting the dying people on the streets of Calcutta to take them to an old abandoned Hindu temple so that she and her sisters could take care of them so that they could die with dignity, surrounded by love. She called this "doing something beautiful for God."

What must characterize the pro-life movement is a special love for the poor, the marginalized, the suffering, and especially human life that is in danger of being discarded.

When Helen Alvaré worked our Pro-life office she always told the Bishops: "Be positive. We are not against anything, we are for something. We are for life."

At times we might be tempted to curse those who advocate for abortions and promote and defend this barbaric practice. But Paul tells us: "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good."

One of the wisest pieces of advice in Evangelii Gaudium is found in Paragraph 168. As for the moral component of catechesis, which promotes growth in fidelity to the Gospel way of life, it is helpful to stress again and again the attractiveness and the ideal (of the Gospel Way of Life). In light of that positive message, our rejection of the evils which endanger that life can be better understood. Rather than experts in dire predictions, dour judgments bent on routing out every threat and deviation, we should appear joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of the goodness and beauty which shine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel.

We shall overcome the indifference only by love. A love that will allow us to see in every unborn child a precious gift, a fellow human being.

We must direct our love and attention to wherever life is most threatened and show by our attitudes, words and actions that life is precious, and we must not kill.

We must work tirelessly to change the unjust laws, but we must work even harder to change hearts, to build a civilization of love. Solidarity and community are the antidotes to the individualism and alienation that lead people on the path of abortion and euthanasia.

The rich young man left in discouragement because what Christ asked of him was difficult. The challenges we face are great and discouragement is our greatest enemy.

But know that Jesus is looking on us with love, His love should energize and unite us. No sacrifice is too great, we must not count the cost, but press on with the full assurance that we shall overcome.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The joy of the Church is seeking those who are far off. | Pope Francis

“The Church does not need to have 'a perfect organizational chart' if that would make her sorrowful and closed on herself, if that would make her 'not a mother.' The people have need of consolation. The very presence of the Lord consoles them. The greatest consolation is that of mercy and forgiveness. This is our God. Allow yourselves to be consoled by the Lord; He alone can console us."

"I ask myself, what is the consolation of the Church? Just as an individual is consoled when he feels the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord, the Church rejoices and is happy when she goes out of herself. In the Gospel, the pastor who goes out goes to seek the lost sheep – he could keep accounts like a good businessman. He could say: ‘Ninety-nine sheep, if I lose one, it’s no problem; the balance sheet – gains and losses. But it’s fine, we can get by.’ No, he has the heart of a shepherd, he goes out and searches for the lost sheep until he finds it, and then he rejoices, he is joyful.”

“The joy of going out to seek the brothers and sisters who are far off: This is the joy of the Church. Here the Church becomes a mother, becomes fruitful: When the Church does not do this, then the Church stops herself, is closed in on herself, even if she is well organized, has a perfect organizational chart, everything’s fine, everything’s tidy – but she lacks joy, she lacks peace, and so she becomes a disheartened Church, anxious, sad, a Church that seems more like a spinster than a mother, and this Church doesn’t work, it is a Church in a museum. The joy of the Church is to give birth; the joy of the Church is to go out of herself to give life; the joy of the Church is to go out to seek the sheep that are lost; the joy of the Church is precisely the tenderness of the shepherd, the tenderness of the mother.”

“May the Lord give us the grace of working, of being joyful Christians in the fruitfulness of Mother Church, and keep us from falling into the attitude of these sad Christians, impatient, disheartened, anxious, that have all the perfection in the Church, but do not have ‘children.’ May the Lord console us with the consolation of a Mother Church that goes out of herself and consoles us with the consolation of the tenderness of Jesus and His mercy in the forgiveness of our sins.”

- Pope Francis, daily homily, December 9, 2014

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Worth the Wait

SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 7, 2014:

A young man considering a vocation with the Franciscans was invited to dinner at the local friary one evening. As dinner went on, from time-to-time, one of the friars would stand up and say a number and the rest of the friars would laugh hysterically. One stood up and said, “72,” and everyone laughed. Later, another stood and said, “149,” and again everyone laughed. Another stood and said, “14,” and again, everyone laughed. Confused, the young man asked the friar beside him what was going on. He answered, “Well, you see, we’ve all lived together for a long time. By now, we know each other jokes by heart, so we numbered them all to save time. Someone says a number and we remember the joke and laugh,” then he said, “Why don’t you give it a try. We have 300 jokes, just stand and say any number you like.” The young man stood tentatively and said, “107,” but this time there was nothing but silence. The man sat down sheepishly and asked the friar what went wrong. He said, “What can I tell you? Some people can tell a joke, some can’t.”

We hear this familiar command in our Scriptures from both Isaiah and John the Baptist today, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” Advent is, of course, a season of preparation, a season of waiting, as we prepare ourselves for the celebration of Christmas, the great feast of God’s Incarnation as one of us; and we await His future return to us at the End of Time. 

In life we are certainly used to waiting. Just think of the hours spent waiting in traffic, or time spent waiting in line at stores – especially at this time of year. These forms of waiting are not exactly purposeful. More often than not, they’re not worth the wait. Just think of department stores this time of year. I know for myself, I’ll inevitably end up waiting in a long line at the check out. While waiting I’ll usually take a look at what I plan on purchasing and ask a simple question of myself – is it worth the wait? Often enough, I’ll decide it isn’t worth the wait and put down what I have a leave the store.

During Advent, we ask the same question – is it worth the wait – but with a very different answer. It is in fact worth the wait because instead of a frustrating waiting with undefined benefit, our Scripture today call us to wait in an effective and purposeful way. They give us something to do in our waiting, we are to “Prepare the way of the Lord.” The readings put before us some examples of waiting purposefully. We have of course, Isaiah and John the Baptist who both offer us a waiting that involves reform of life, they call us to prepare for the arrival of Jesus by living a life of repentance. They call us to reflect on our own lives as ask “are we ready for Jesus return?” But, there is another Advent example that I find even more helpful in understanding how we are to wait – the example of Mary.

If we look at our Scriptures as a story, at this point in the story, Mary is pregnant awaiting the birth of the baby Jesus. We can learn a lot about purposeful waiting from pregnancy. Pregnancy is all about waiting. I remember a few years ago, I was visiting with a friend and his wife who shared the news that they were expecting their third child. I responded excitedly, “Congratulations! That’s great! You must be so excited!” But to my enthusiasm, my friend’s wife looked at me, rolled her eyes a bit, sighed and said, “Don’t get me wrong. I’m really excited about having another baby. I just wish I could do it without going through pregnancy.” We tend to romanticize pregnancy don’t we? Pregnancy is so beautiful. Women look so radiant. But, for my friend’s wife, and many women like her, pregnancies are difficult. With her two prior pregnancies, they were so difficult that she had to remain bed-ridden during the final months. She experienced serious medical issues during her last pregnancy. For this third child, she was also very closely monitored. 

The simple point is that being pregnant is not easy and can even be quite difficult, but it is worth the wait. And it is I think the most helpful image for our time of Advent waiting and preparing. We, too, all of us, are in a sense pregnant and waiting – waiting to give birth once again to Jesus in our lives. And so, God calls us all to make real change in our lives; to acknowledge His Son and “make straight our paths.”

As God calls each of us to reform our lives, depending on what we need to change, this might be for us a difficult pregnancy. But, if we can wait and prepare, it will bring forth new and wonderful life – but just like any pregnancy, it takes time, it takes patience, it takes the will to be transformed into the image that God calls us to.

Let me just suggest a few things that can mark the way we wait for the Lord this Advent. First, pray. Advent is the perfect time of year to jumpstart our prayer life. So many times God is trying to give us guidance and light, but because we don't spend time in prayer, we haven't learned to recognize His voice, so we miss out. Pope Emeritus Benedict said a few years ago, “Do you leave space to hear God's whisper, calling you forth into goodness? Let His word shape your journey."

The second things we can do is make good use of the Sacraments. Sometimes in personal prayer we are unsure of God's presence, but in the sacraments hrist guarantees that He is truly present. During Advent we can spend time with Christ in the Eucharist, maybe going to daily Mass to receive Holy Communion more frequently, learning to listen and letting Him teach us to follow Him. During Advent, a trip to confession is the most direct way to clear all the debris that comes from life's storms off the roads of our souls. As I said last week, let’s not carry our sins all the way to Christmas Day.

And the third things we can do is reach out to others, to those who don't know Christ, or those who are suffering. As we reach out to them, we too come closer to Christ.

Jesus is eagerly looking forward to Christmas, because He wants to make a fresh entrance into the Jerusalem of our souls, and fill us with His comfort.

Let us pray through the intercession of Mary, Mother of God, Mother of the Church, for the patience and the courage to allow God to create new life in us – as individuals, as a parish community, as a Church. Let us use this time of Advent to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Monday, November 24, 2014

STATEMENT OF CARDINAL SEAN O'MALLEY ON IMMIGRATION

Immigration is not primarily a political problem, but rather a deeply human and profoundly moral challenge facing our nation. Obviously, a fair and just resolution of the immigration question will require a political solution. The Catholic Bishops of the United States support comprehensive reform of our immigration laws, a more accessible path to citizenship for the undocumented and an adequate response to the needs of our country and of the immigrant community.
Cardinal walking the path of immigrants risking their lives in Nogales, AZ with Father Peter Neeley during a visit to the border in April 2014. (Credit: George Martell/Archdiocese of Boston)
The long-term goal is clear; but the political process has not been able to move forward. We leave the constitutional and political issues to those entrusted by office; only they can provide a comprehensive resolution. Our primary focus is on the undocumented families, the men, women, and children now stranded in a legal void, living on the margins of our society, in fear of being discovered and deported – either individually or as families. The moral question is about their lives, their needs and their future.

The President’s executive action this week is not a long-term solution to the challenge of immigration reform. But it will provide much needed immediate relief to millions of families and their children. We support that relief because extending further the ambiguous and untenable status of the undocumented will be greatly harmful to these individuals and families.

The Catholic Church in this country will continue to be deeply committed to a long-term, fair and effective reform of our immigration system. There is a consensus in the nation, across party lines and political affiliation, that the system is dysfunctional – “broken” is the consensus judgment. The Catholic population in the United States has always represented an immigrant Church, and that is the case today. The origins of the immigrant population have changed since many of our forbears came to this country. But the essential reality, that a Church of immigrants has been welcome in this nation of immigrants, remains true.

The Catholic Church has a well established history of responding to the needs of immigrants by providing services through our schools, hospitals and social service agencies. We do not seek to be simply commentators on the problem; we place our institutions and our community in service to people in need. While we have addressed these issues for more than two centuries, we have been given new inspiration and leadership by Pope Francis. In word and deed, the Holy Father has consistently called the attention of the world to the plight of immigrants. He asks for respect for their dignity, assistance for their needs and a secure foundation for their future. The Church in the United States can do no less.

In the Archdiocese of Boston our primary means of responding to the immigrant community are our parishes, which welcome individuals and families who have come here from countries throughout the world, and our Catholic Charities.

In light of the executive action taken by the President, Catholic Charities of Boston is preparing to respond in the following way:
  • After instructions issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Catholic Charities will provide information and outreach sessions to immigrant communities. It will do this in cooperation with other local agencies and with local city and state governments.
  • Catholic Charities has established a multilingual information line (617-464-8004) which will be updated as new information about application guidelines is made available by DHS.
  • Once the application process is established, catholic Charities will provide legal consultation and application assistance throughout the Archdiocese of Boston.
In the face of this daunting and complex challenge we face as a nation, it is my hope and prayer that we will keep human dignity and the welfare of children and families at the center of our attention.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

How to get to Heaven

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST THE KING, November 23, 2014:

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 to teach the boys a good moral lesson and said, “Boys, if Jesus were sitting here, He would say ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.’” And so, David turned to his younger brother and said, “Billy, you be Jesus!”

Can I ask by a show of hands, how many of you want to get to Heaven? I hope that everyone would raise their hand on that one. Of course, we all want to get to Heaven. Heaven is our goal; our destination; our final reward. But how many of us have actually thought about what it takes to get there? What constitutes living a life worthy of Heaven? Does it simply mean being a baptized Roman Catholic, is that enough? Does it mean going to Mass every Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation?  Does Heaven come when we’ve gone to Confession regularly or prayed our Rosary daily or fulfilled certain devotional practices? Are these the things that will help us to merit the reward of Heaven?

Well, on this last day of our Church year, as we celebrate this Solemnity of Jesus Christ our King, our Gospel passage puts before us the answer to this very question. In this passage from Matthew, Jesus, our King, is sitting on His Throne, judging all of creation, deciding who will be welcomed into the glory of Heaven and who will not. He gives us this image of a King separating people into two categories – sheep and goats. And guess what we want to be? We want to be sheep! The sheep are welcomed into “the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world.” The goats are sent off to eternal punishment. And Jesus is not mysterious about what makes someone a sheep as opposed to a goat.

In this passage, Jesus gives to us the answer to the question of how to get to Heaven. So, for all of us who raised our hands hoping for the glory of Heaven, here’s what we need to do to get there: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me…whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” The way we get to Heaven is by living a life worthy of Heaven – particularly in the ways we reach out to those most in need around us – those who are hungry or thirsty or strangers and alone or naked or sick or in prison.

The question really comes down to this: Do we have hearts that have been converted, transformed, and changed to love as Jesus loves – to love always, to see everyone with hearts moved to compassion, to reach out even and especially to those that the rest of society has deemed unimportant or worse disposable. Or do we have categories in our hearts where we have decided that some people are unworthy of our love and concern – like the undocumented immigrant, the gay or lesbian couple, or the homeless, just to name a few groups that are often the recipients of something other than our compassion.

So what about going to Mass and Confession and praying the Rosary and saying our devotions? Does this mean that these things are not important? Of course not. But what it means is that we need to understand them properly. The importance of Mass, the Sacraments and all the other things that we do is that these practices are what turn us from goats to sheep. It is here being fed by the Lord that we become more like Him, so we can love as He loves in our world.

It isn’t easy to love the way Christ loves; especially in our own world that is increasingly polarized and angry and selfish. But, the more we allow Christ to transform us, the more He changes the direction of our love – away from ourselves and always towards others.

St. Augustine famously said of the Eucharist, “We become what we receive.” And so as Jesus satisfies our spiritual hunger and thirst through the gift of His Body and Blood, He also teaches us to be like Him; to become what we receive; to become His sheep. As we are nourished by Him, He asks us to go out from this place and offer nourishment to the hungry and thirsty around us – not because we deem them worthy or unworthy of our charity, but for no other reason than they are loved by God and so by us. We come to Church as spiritually naked people, but as St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” As He covers our nakedness with Himself, we are called to go out and cloth those who are naked, to cover up those who have no home.

As Jesus has offered us freedom from the sin that kept us in chains and in bondage, He invites us to visit those in prison and speak to them about the true freedom they too can find in Christ.

So, who wants to get to Heaven? It starts here. Let Jesus lift the sins that bind you. Let the Lord fill you and satisfy you with His Holy Word. Let the Lord transform you into Himself through the grace of His Body and Blood that we receive and then go and feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned – LOVE as Jesus loves without restriction; without limit because “whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Let us become His sheep.

Little David was right, you be Jesus and it will bring you all the way to Heaven.

May the Lord give you peace.

Monday, November 3, 2014

10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Jesus | Fr. James Martin, SJ

This originally appeared at: FAITHSTREET

Father James Martin is the editor-at-large for the Jesuit magazine America and author of several books, including Jesus: A Pilgrimage, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, and Between Heaven and Mirth. He is also, in the words of Stephen Colbert, “the chaplain of ‘The Colbert Report.'” We asked Fr. Martin what he wishes everyone knew about Jesus.

1. Jesus was poor.
Everyone knows that Jesus explicitly, specifically and repeatedly called for his disciples to care for the poor, whom he called the “least” among us. In fact, in the Gospel of Matthew, this is his litmus test for entrance into heaven.

But some may not know that Jesus himself was poor, or at least came from the “lower classes” of his time. Before his public ministry, he lived and worked in Nazareth, a tiny, backwater town of 200 to 400 people. The Gospels refer to Jesus’s occupation as a tekton,a Greek word usually translated as “carpenter.” But it can also mean “woodworker,” “craftsman” or even “day laborer.” It’s important to note that in the social and economic scheme of things, carpenters ranked below the peasantry, because they did not have the benefit of a plot of land. Jesus knew what it meant to eke out a living in a poor town.

2. Jesus saw income disparities firsthand, and he condemned them.
An hour-and-a-half walk from Nazareth was Sepphoris, a booming town of 30,000 people, then being rebuilt by King Herod. The town boasted an amphitheater that seated 3,000 people, a fortress, courts, a royal bank, and lavish houses decorated with frescoes and mosaics. It’s almost certain that a carpenter trying to earn a living would at least once or twice walk the four miles to the wealthy town under construction in order to seek work. While in Sepphoris, Jesus would have seen how the “other half” lives.

When we hear Jesus express anger over gross income disparities, particularly in the Parable of Lazarus and Dives in Luke’s Gospel (in which a rich man refuses to care for a poor one), we often think of his words as divinely inspired. And they were: Jesus was fully divine. But they also were informed by his human experience, and that experience included seeing great disparities of wealth in his own life.
3. Jesus had close friends.
We tend to think of Jesus as interacting with his apostles, disciples, and followers. But he also had friends. The Gospels describe, for example, Jesus’s relaxing at the house of his good friends Mary and Martha, who lived in Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem. The Gospel of John says, quite plainly, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister.” And when their brother Lazarus is found to be sick and dying (this is the man whom Jesus will raise from the dead), the news is relayed to Jesus with a telling phrase. The message from the sisters does not say, “Our brother Lazarus is ill,” or “Your friend Lazarus is ill,” or even “Lazarus of Bethany is ill.” Rather, in the Greek, Jesus is told that hon phileis is ill: “he whom you love.”

It’s a window into the deep relationships and intimate friendships that Jesus enjoyed. He was not simply Messiah; he was a good friend.
4. Jesus instructed his disciples not to judge.
For some reason, this is often difficult for people to accept. Whenever I mention Jesus’s injunction not to judge — “Judge not, lest you be judged” — some people bristle. Something in us feels not only inclined to, but obliged to, judge. “Well, but that means anything goes, doesn’t it?” is a common response. “Of course we have to judge other people,” say others. No, Jesus says, we do not.

We are called to live moral lives, and invite others to lead moral lives, but we do so primarily through our own example and by gentle persuasion — not by judging and condemning them. Judgment is left, as Jesus reminds us, to God.
5. Jesus didn’t say anything about gays and lesbians.
In all his many utterances about many social situations and human conditions, Jesus never said one word about homosexual persons. Admittedly, St. Paul speaks about that topic, but many contemporary scholars believe that Paul was probably speaking not about homosexuality per se (the word itself is of relatively recent vintage) but about the evils of male prostitution.

In any event, Jesus himself spoke a great deal about helping the poor, forgiving one’s enemies, and even divorce (which he condemned), but nothing about, and certainly nothing against, gay and lesbian men and women.
6. Jesus always reached out to those on the margins.
If a Gospel narrative introduces a marginalized person, it is a sure bet that Jesus will reach out to him or her. The examples are too numerous to mention. He meets a Roman centurion, and rather than forcing him to convert to Judaism, he heals the man’s servant. He meets a Samaritan woman (someone viewed as a foreigner or even an enemy for Jews of Judea and Galilee), and rather than condemning her, engages in a friendly conversation. He meets Zacchaeus, the “chief tax collector” in Jericho and therefore the “chief sinner” of the area, and even before Zacchaeus offers to repent, Jesus offers to dine with him, a sign of acceptance.

Jesus is continually reaching out to people on the margins, and he asked his disciples to do the same.
7. Jesus can’t be tamed.
It’s common for people of every theological stripe to pick and choose which of Jesus’s words to follow and which of his deeds to believe. Thomas Jefferson went so far as to construct his own “Gospel” by (literally) scissoring out the miracles and other traces of his divinity. Like many of us, Jefferson felt uncomfortable with parts of Jesus’s story. He wanted a Jesus who didn’t threaten, a Jesus he could tame.

But Jesus cannot be tamed. The people of his time could not do this, and neither can we. Scissor out the uncomfortable parts and it’s not Jesus were talking about — it is our own creation.

Incidentally, New Testament scholar E.P. Sanders once read Jefferson’s “Gospel” and concluded that Jefferson’s Jesus was a learned man, a sage. In essence, Thomas Jefferson’s Jesus was . . . Thomas Jefferson.
8. Jesus really did perform miracles.
Many people are uncomfortable with Jesus’s supernatural power and other signs of his divinity. But an immense part of the Gospels is taken up with what are called “works of power” and “signs” — that is, miracles. In fact, some of the sayings that people take for granted and quote approvingly — even by those who do not accept Jesus’s divinity — occur within the context of the miracle stories. Remove the miracles and there is no context for many of Jesus’ most familiar sayings.

Jesus’ ability to perform miracles was never in doubt in the Gospels. Even his detractorstake note of his miracles, as when they critique him for healing on the Sabbath. The question posed by people of his time is not whether Jesus can do miracles, but rather the source of his power. The statement that Jesus was seen as a miracle worker in his time has as much reliability as almost any other statement we can make about him.
9. Jesus struggled, even in prayer.
Jesus was fully divine. But he was also fully human. That’s a basic Christian belief. It’s also a mystery, that is, something not to be fully understood, but pondered. And one of the most telling windows into his humanity comes in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he is confronted with his impending crucifixion. Jesus asks God the Father to “remove this cup.” He is saying, in essence: “If it’s possible, I don’t want to die.”

Eventually, Jesus accepts that his coming death is his Father’s will — but not before struggle and prayer. Later, when hanging on the cross, he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” This is not a person who does not struggle: Christians do not relate to a person who cannot understand our own human struggles.
10. Jesus rose from the dead.
Not everyone believes this about Jesus, because to believe this is to be a Christian, and not everyone reading this is Christian. But let me offer a kind of “proof,” if you will — even though the only proof was what the disciples saw on Easter Sunday.

The Gospels were written for the early church, and the Gospel writers would certainly not go out of their way to make the apostles — the leaders of the early church, after all — look bad. Nonetheless, notice that the Gospels portray the apostles as abject cowards during the crucifixion: most of them abandon Jesus; one of them, Peter, denies knowing him; and after his death they are depicted as cowering behind closed doors. That’s hardly something that the Gospel writers would make up.

But after the Resurrection, they are utterly transformed. The disciples move from being terrified victims to men and women ready to die for what they believe. Only something dramatic, something visible, something tangible, something real, could affect this kind of change.

Jesus really and truly rose to the dead. For me, that’s the most important thing to know about Jesus.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Won't you be my neighbor?

HOMILY FOR THE 30th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 26, 2014:

Let me start today with an image that many of you will be familiar with. A plain sweater, white canvass sneakers, a warm smile and a simple song that welcomed us every day, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine?” (My apologies, that song will now be stuck in your head all day.) Every day Fred Rogers welcomed so many of us to his neighborhood. As a child, I watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood nearly every day and still have such fond memories. Over the years not much changed with the show; it was the same house, the same trolley to take you to the world of make believe, and the same puppets like King Friday. But, in every single episode Mr. Rogers always asked the same question: “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Today’s Gospel follows after last week’s passage in which we had the Sadducees trying to trap Jesus with their question about paying taxes to Ceasar. This week, the Pharisees try to trap Jesus again, this time with a question about which is the greatest commandment. The textbook answer, of course, is love of God. But, again like last week, Jesus does not stop there. He goes on to give a more practical answer, one that doesn’t merely satisfy their question, but instead challenges His listeners. Just like last week, Jesus gives the other side of the coin, which, in this case is love of neighbor.

Jesus makes the point that anyone who truly loves God must necessarily also love their neighbor; and that these are virtually one in the same thing. You cannot truly love God unless that love is made visible in our love of neighbor. As Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Or as we hear more succinctly in the First Letter of John, “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in them.”

Jesus is reacting against the Pharisees one-dimensional understanding of love that somehow allowed them to express extreme devotion to God, while ignoring the problems of the real people around them every day. But, for Jesus, true love must express itself in: the love of God; the love of neighbor; and the love of oneself. The commandment to love your neighbor as yourself presumes that you first love yourself as a beautiful person created in the image and likeness of God. That you see your dignity and beauty as a unique part of what God has created – as unique and beautiful as the oceans, the stars and the sky, the mountains or any other part of the created universe.

Pope Francis touched on this today in his Angelus message at the Vatican. Reflecting on today’s Gospel, the Pope said, “In the middle of the thicket of rules and regulations, Jesus opens a gap that allows you to see two faces: the face of the Father and that of the brother or sister. He doesn't deliver us two formulas or two precepts, but two faces, indeed one face, the face of God reflected in many faces of others, because in the face of each brother and sister, especially in the smallest, the most fragile and the most helpless, the same image of God is present. In light of the word of Jesus, love is the measure of our faith, and faith is the spirit of love. No longer can we separate a religious life from service to our brothers and sisters, to those concrete brothers and sisters we meet. No longer can we divide prayer, the encounter with God in the sacraments, from listening to others, from closeness to their lives, especially to their wounds.”

This is a concern that reaches our ears and our world today. The error of the Pharisees is still with us. We don’t have to look further than the ever growing divide between rich and poor, the continuing problem of homelessness, the ongoing scourge of prejudice, violence, war, death and destruction that are so much a part of our world to wonder where is our love of neighbor?

There are many Christians who try to separate the love of fellow human beings from their love of God. There are many followers of Jesus whose commitment to faith does not include commitment to issues of human rights; to economic and legal justice; to the call for peace; to equality and the ending of prejudice and persecution. We do well to heed Jesus in today's gospel: true love of God and true love of neighbor are two sides of the same coin.

Again, we hear in the First Letter of John, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”

Let us pray today that God will shake loose from us any indifference we may feel towards our brothers and sisters, especially those in need. Let us ask God to help us have eyes that realize when we see the face of those around us, we really see the face of God. We pray, not only for the knowledge of how to love, but the wisdom to want to love in all circumstances.

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Won’t you be my neighbor?

May the Lord give you peace.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Pope calls for abolishment of the death penalty

NOTE: Amen! I am more impressed with the conviction and boldness of our Holy Father every day!  - FT

ROME - Pope Francis on Thursday called on all men and women of good will to fight for the abolishment of the death penalty in “all of its forms” and for the improvement of prison conditions.

The Pope was addressing a group of members of the International Association of Criminal Law whom he received in the Vatican.

In his discourse the Pope also addressed the need to combat the phenomena of human trafficking and of corruption.

And he stressed that the fact that the enforcement of legal penalties must always respect human dignity.

In a dense and impassioned discourse to the Jurists assembled in the Vatican for a private audience, Pope Francis said that the “life sentence” is really a “concealed death sentence”, and that is why – he explained – he had it annulled in the Vatican Penal Code.

Many of the off-the-cuff comments during the Pope’s speech shone the light on how politics and media all too often act as triggers enflaming “violence and private and public acts of vengeance” that are always in search of a scape-goat.

Recalling the words of Saint John Paul II who condemned the death penalty as does the Catechism, Francis decried the practice and denounced “so-called extrajudicial or extralegal executions” calling them “deliberate homicides” committed by public officials behind the screen of the Law:

“All Christians and people of goodwill are called today to fight not only for the abolition of the death penalty be it legal or illegal, in all of its forms, but also for the improvement of prison conditions in the respect of the human dignity of those who have been deprived of freedom. I link this to the death sentence. In the Penal Code of the Vatican, the sanction of life sentence is no more. A life sentence is a death sentence which is concealed”.

And Pope Francis had words of harsh criticism for all forms of criminality which undermine human dignity, there are forms of his – he said - even within the criminal law system which too often does not respect that dignity when criminal law is applied.

“In the last decades” – the Pope said – “there has been a growing conviction that through public punishment it is possible to solve different and disparate social problems, as if for different diseases one could prescribe the same medicine.”

He said this conviction has pushed the criminal law system beyond its sanctioning boundaries, and into the “realm of freedom and the rights of persons” without real effectiveness.

“There is the risk of losing sight of the proportionality of penalties that historically reflect the scale of values upheld by the State. The very conception of criminal law and the enforcement of sanctions as an ‘ultima ratio’ in the cases of serious offenses against individual and collective interests have weakened. As has the debate regarding the use of alternative penal sanctions to be used instead of imprisonment”.

Pope Francis speaks of remand or detention of a suspect as a “contemporary form of illicit hidden punishment” concealed by a “patina of legality”, as it enforces “an anticipation of punishment” upon a suspect who has not been convicted. From this – the Pope points out – derives the risk of multiplying the number of detainees still awaiting trial, who are thus convicted without benefiting from the protective rules of a trial. In some countries – he says – this happens in some 50% of all cases with the trickledown effect of terribly overcrowded detention centers:

“The deplorable conditions of detention that take place in different parts of the world are an authentic inhuman and degrading trait, often caused by deficiencies of criminal law, or by a lack of infrastructures and good planning. In many cases they are the result of an arbitrary and merciless exercise of power over persons who have been deprived of freedom.”

Pope Francis also speaks of what he calls “cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments and sanctions,” and compares detention in maximum-security prisons to a “form of torture”. The isolation imposed in these places – he says – causes “mental and physical” suffering that result in an “increased tendency towards suicide”. Torture – the Pope points out – is used not only as a means to obtain “confession or information”:

“It is an authentic ‘surplus’ of pain that is added to the woes of detention. In this way torture is used not only in illegal centers of detention or in modern concentration camps, but also in prisons, in rehabilitation centers for minors, in psychiatric hospitals, in police stations and in other institutions for detention or punishment”.

And Pope Francis said children must be spared the harshness of imprisonment – as must, at least in a limited way – older people, sick people, pregnant women, disabled people as well as parents if they are the sole guardians of minors or persons with disabilities.

The Pope also highlighted one of the criminal phenomena he has always spoken out against vehemently: human trafficking which - he says – is the result of that “cycle of dire poverty” that traps “a billion people” and forces at least 45 million to flee from conflict:

“Based on the fact that it is impossible to commit such a complex crime as is the trafficking of persons without the complicity, be it active or of omission of action of the State, it is evident that, when the efforts to prevent and combat this phenomenon are not sufficient, we find ourselves before a crime against humanity. This is even truer if those who are responsible for the protection of persons and the safeguard of their freedom become an accomplice of those who trade in human beings; in those cases the State is responsible before its citizens and before the international community”.

Pope Francis dedicates an ample part of his discourse to corruption. The corrupt person – according to the Pope – is a person who takes the “short-cuts of opportunism” that lead him to think of himself as a “winner” who insults and persecutes whoever contradicts him. “Corruption” – the Pope says “is a greater evil than sin”, and more than “be forgiven, must be cured”.

“The criminal sanction is selective. It is like a net that captures only the small fish leaving the big fish to swim free in the ocean. The forms of corruption that must be persecuted with greatest severity are those that cause grave social damage, both in economic and social questions – for example grave fraud against public administration or the dishonest use of administration”.

Concluding, Pope Francis exhorted the jurists to use the criteria of “cautiousness” in the enforcement of criminal sanctions. This – he affirmed – must be the principle that upholds criminal law:

“The respect for human dignity must operate not only to limit the arbitrariness and the excesses of State officials, but as a criteria of orientation for the persecution and the repression of those behaviors that represent grave attacks against the dignity and the integrity of the human person”.

Monday, October 6, 2014

"Be open and humble" | Pope Francis


By Elise Harris  (CNA/EWTN News).

Vatican City, Oct 6, 2014 - During the opening session for the extraordinary synod on the family, Pope Francis told participants not to be afraid of saying what they truly think, and that only by doing this can they reach real conclusions.

“You have to say all that which in the Lord you feel you have to say: without human respect, without timidity,” the Pope told synod participants in his Oct. 6 opening remarks.

“And, at the same time, you must listen with humility and accept with an open heart what your brothers say. Synodality is exercised with these two attitudes.”

Initiated yesterday with a mass presided over by the pontiff, the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family reflects on the theme “The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization,” and was called for by the Pope in order to form a more concrete reflection for the Ordinary Synod to take place in 2015.

The synod will conclude with the beatification of Pope Paul VI, institutor of the synod of bishops, by Pope Francis on Oct. 19.

Speaking directly to the synod rapporteur, secretary-general and the three president delegates of different episcopal conferences present, Pope Francis explained that they bring to the meetings “the voice of the particular Church, gathered at the level of local churches by the Episcopal Conferences.”

“This voice you bring in synodality. It's a great responsibility: to bring the realities and problems of the Church, to help them walk that road that which is the Gospel of the family,” the Pope continued.

And one basic condition of synodality, he said, is to “speak clearly. No one say ‘You can't say this; think of me this way or that...’ You have to say everything that you feel with frankness.”

Pope Francis then recalled how he received an email from a cardinal after the consistory that took place in February, saying “it's a shame that some cardinals didn't have the courage to say some things out of respect of the Pope, feeling, perhaps, that the Pope was thinking something different.”

“This is not good, this is not synodality, because you have to say all that which in the Lord you feel you have to say,” the Pope explained, saying that they must also be humble and open to the opinion of others.

“I ask you, please, (to have) these attitudes of brothers in the Lord: speak with frankness and listen with humility.”
The Roman Pontiff also expressed his “deep and sincere thanks to all the people who have worked with dedication, patience and with competence for many months, reading, evaluating and developing themes, texts and works for this Exraordinaty General Assembly.”

He gave special appreciation to Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod, Msgr. Fabio Fabene, Undersecretary, as well as all of the speakers, writers, consulters, translators and staff of the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.

“They have worked untiringly, and continue to work, for the good outcome of this Synod: thank you very much and may the Lord reward you!”

Also recognizing the various cardinals, patriarchs, bishops, priests, religious men and women and laypersons present, the Bishop of Rome explained that their presence “enriches the work and the spirit of collegiality and synodality for the good of the Church and of the family!”

He encouraged discussion to take place “with tranquility and peace, because the synod always takes place with Peter and under Peter, and the presence of the Pope is a guarantee for all (in the) safeguarding of the faith.”

So “we collaborate with all because it affirms with clarity the dynamic of synodality.”

Monday, September 22, 2014

Are we looking at the American Pope Francis in Chicago? | John L. Allen Jr. | CRUX

In American Catholic terms, Chicago always has been a land of giants. There have been nine Catholic archbishops in the Windy City, and for better or worse, they’ve all been larger-than-life figures.
In the early 20th century, Cardinal George Mundelein was an FDR enthusiast who mobilized the resources of the Catholic Church to respond to the Great Depression, and frequently sparred with the infamous “radio priest,” that Rev. Charles Coughlin, over his anti-Semitic and quasi-fascist demagoguery. The archdiocesan seminary in Chicago today bears Mundelein’s name.
To take another example, Cardinal John Cody, who ruled Chicago with an iron first during the 1960s and ’70s, was a lightning rod described by the priest-novelist Andrew Greeley as a “madcap tyrant.” Cody’s notoriety was also flavored with scandal He is alleged to have funneled large sums of church money to support a woman believed by many to have been his mistress.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the prelates who have ruled Chicago have been impossible to ignore.
More recently, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin embodied the progressive reform energies unleashed by the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s. During the 1970s and ’80s, Bernardin played a key behind-the-scenes role from Chicago as a power-broker in the national bishops’ conference, leading it to oppose the Reagan administration over military policy and to embrace the cause of the poor.
In many ways, Bernardin was the American John XXIII, the “Good Pope” who called Vatican II.
By contrast, Cardinal Francis George is more the American Benedict XVI, a brilliant intellectual committed to a robust defense of Catholic identity and tradition. During his own run as president of the national conference, George led the bishops in their fight with the Obama administration over the contraception mandates imposed as part of health care reform, framing the issue in terms of religious freedom.
All of which brings us to 65-year-old Blase Cupich, appointed by Pope Francis on Saturday to succeed George as the ninth Archbishop of Chicago.
The question is, are we looking at the American Francis?
There’s nothing a pope does as fundamental to shaping culture in the Catholic Church as appointing bishops, and that’s especially true for major pace-setting venues around the world. Chicago is on a short list with Milan, Paris, and Westminster as spots where popes have a chance to put their stamp firmly on the church in a wide chunk of the world.
To date, Francis has made a handful of those tone-setting choices, in Cologne, Germany; Madrid, Spain, and Sydney, Australia. His pick for Chicago brings the total to four, and by now we have a fairly clear picture of what Francis wants.
  • First, he wants moderates rather than ideologues, men who will defend church teaching but whose first instinct isn’t political confrontation, and who keep lines of communication open with all camps.
  • Second, he wants bishops of the “Social Gospel,” meaning leaders with a special concern for the poor, for immigrants, and for those at what he’s called the “existential peripheries” of the world.
  • Third, he wants men who see themselves as pastors rather than bureaucrats or diplomats, shepherds who, in his memorable image, “carry the smell of their sheep” because they’re close to the ordinary people they’re called to serve.
By all accounts, that’s what Francis has got in Cupich, an Omaha native whose previous job was as the bishop of Spokane in Washington.
Cupich is identified with the moderate wing of the American bishops, which has always been uncomfortable with the perception that Catholicism had become the new leader of the religious right. He irked some pro-life activists, for instance, by asking his priests and seminarians not to pray in front of Planned Parenthood abortion clinics, seeing it as an unnecessarily provocative gesture.
The new archbishop is also a man of the church’s social mission, with a clear commitment to reaching out to the suffering. Among other things, he’s led a committee within the bishops’ conference dedicated to reform on the child sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the church, saying a few years ago that he’s come to see the encounter with victims as a “template” for everything he does as a priest and a bishop.
On a personal level, Cupich is known as gracious and accessible. Actually, one of the few reservations people had about him when his name was mentioned for Chicago was whether he has a big enough personality to play on that stage.
Of course, people had the same question about Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires prior to his election as pope, and we know how that turned out.
By virtue of Chicago’s history, and because from here on in Cupich will be known as Francis’ man — his first major appointment in America — the success or failure of the Francis revolution on these shores will rest to some extent on Cupich’s shoulders.
Seeing if he grows into the role will, therefore, be the primary Catholic drama in the Windy City for a long time to come.
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