Saturday, October 31, 2009

Desiring sainthood

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF ALL SAINTS, November 1, 2009:

The famous Trappist monk Thomas Merton in his book Seven Storey Mountain relays a story of a conversation he had with a friend about sainthood and how to attain it. Merton was uncertain of what it would take, but his friend Robert simply reminded him, “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.”

We find ourselves today in the midst of two of the most beautiful and intimately connected feasts in our Church year – All Saints Day which we celebrate today and All Souls Day which we will celebrate on Monday. These days are not only intimately connected, but they also reveal a very natural progression that we all go through when we lose a loved one. At first we react with shock and sympathy and grief. We let our “Lord have mercys” fall gently upon the souls of our beloved dead. But, as the days, weeks and months progress, we tend to move on to the questions of why. Why did they have to leave now? Where is my loved one? Are they now merely the victims of death?

To all the questions of the hereafter, the Church responds with these feasts. The celebration of All Saints Day is a rapturous reminder that the path to glory leads beyond the grave. Today, on this day, our restored, forgiven and glorified humanity is on show. Today’s feast is not the gala performance of the canonized – all of those named saints we know so well, whether Blessed Mother Teresa, Saint Padre Pio, Saint Francis, St. Leonard and so on – they have their days throughout the year. Today’s emphasis is on the rest of the saints in Heaven; perhaps even in particular the oh-so-many who will never be recognized by name.

The saints we celebrate throughout the year; whose lives are for us inspiration – perhaps because of their dramatic death for the faith, or the strength in which they lived their commitment to Christ – these saints are Heroes of the faith placed before us often in great drama. But, today we recall the every-man, the every-woman, the ordinary, the regular, the just-like-us saints who made it to the glory of heaven because they were - very simply, very profoundly - faithful to God in their lives.

Today’s feast is a celebration of the commonplace; the beatification of the ordinary; the vindication of the daisy rather than the rose. Today’s feast reminds us that common people – you and me – have an uncommon destiny. And the enduring title for these men and women who reach that Heavenly destiny is “saint.” They are not destined to become so much dust, but to see God as He truly is and be in His presence for ever. The people that you and I have loved in our lives, but have gone to their eternal reward, are now eternally loved by God in Heaven. His will is that they gather around His throne, the palm of victory in their hands. They are saints. And this we celebrate today.

But, this feast of All Saints is not just the feast of the blessed in Heaven. It is our feast day too. What the saints enjoy, what the holy souls anticipate, you and I are promised. Too often I hear people say that they could never be a saint. But, perhaps it is because they are only looking at the great heroes of faith and realizing that perhaps they would not have the courage to give their life for Christ. But we are, in fact, all called to be saints – most likely it will never be in a dramatic way; most likely it will be in the ordinariness of our every day lives continually being faithful to our God. Most likely, our names will not be enrolled in the calendar of saints celebrated by the Church. But, sainthood is ours if we only desire it and let God lead us to that heavenly destination.

And so, this promise on God’s part for our eternal happiness requires action on our part. The terms of this action are spelled out in today’s Gospel, the Sermon on the Mount. But some people hear this sermon and are dismayed. It can seem to imply that to get somewhere in the next life means getting nowhere in the this life. It is the poor, the mournful, the meek, and the hungry who will succeed. But, this is a false interpretation. Christ’s sermon is not an endorsement of destitution. It does not suggest that a dollar in your pocket is less Christian than a hole in your pants. It does insist, though, that worldly success and the accumulation of wealth are not ends in themselves. We are not here on earth to build an empire that magnifies ourselves; we are here primarily to serve, as Jesus served.

A truly Christian society matures not in selfishness but in service. Happiness for the Christian lies not in having, but in giving. The poor in spirit accumulate wealth insofar as they give away, insofar as they love God and transform His world with gentleness, mercy, compassion, forgiveness and peace.

One final point – the most important perhaps. This is God’s feast day too. Saints don’t make it on their own. Ultimately God makes it for them. The saints living successful Christian lives and eventually moving joyously around His throne in Heaven is evidence of God’s heart and love for us. All Saints Day is God’s heart translated into happy people. It is proof of His compassionate purpose, confirmation of His universal love for us, a triumphant vindication of His will for our salvation.

“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.”

God has created each of us for Heaven; for sainthood. As we gather around His altar, let us, in union with the saints above, give thanks to our God for His saving Grace.

May God give you peace.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

ASK FR. TOM: Questions on the Real Presence


It has been a while since I have tackled an "Ask Fr. Tom" question, and I know that a lot of you have enjoyed this feature in the past, so here's one that was sent in a while ago.  As always, feel free to send me an "Ask Fr. Tom" question and I'm going to try to get back into answering them regularly.

So, today's question:

ASK FR. TOM: I know that Catholics claim to use a very literal reading of Matthew 26:26-28 in the fact that we believe in the Real Presence. That makes sense. Jesus said "This IS my body". He didn't say "This is only a symbol of my body". But what I don't get is the fact that He also didn't take the bread and say "This is my body, blood, soul and divinity". He said "This is my body". So how do we take Jesus saying seperately with the bread and wine "This is my body" and "This is my blood" and get that both of them are body, blood, soul and divinity? Also, a related question-- why is it that we don't need to receive the Precious Blood and the Precious Blood wasn't offered pre-Vatican II and still isn't in many parishes when Jesus said in John 6:53 that we need to eat His body AND drink His blood?

ANSWER: This is a great question!  The answer lies in part of your question itself that this isn't only a symbol of the Body of Christ.  As always, let me first back up and review what the Church says. I'm going to assume for the purposes of this answer that we already belive in the True and Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

First, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

  • "1374. The mode of Christ's presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as "the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend."201 In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained."202 "This presence is called 'real' - by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be 'real' too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present."203 
  • 1375. It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ's body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament.
  •  1377. The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ.207"
 (Underlining added by me.)  So, here is the point.  Jesus is fully and wholly present in both the Sacred Body and in the Precious Blood.  If you receive either of them, you receive the fullness of Jesus.  Your question focused on receiving the Body but not the Blood, but the reverse is also true - if you receive only the Blood you have received the fullness of Christ.  This happens for example sometimes for people who are Celiacs and cannot ingest bread products.  They will receive the Blood only and have received the fullness of the Sacrament.

They key is that last part from the Catechism that I quoted, "the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ."  We are not receiving parts or bits of Jesus that we have to assemble to be made full, but rather, we are receiving a Person, the fullness of Jesus in each and every and any portion of the Eucharistic Species.  Jesus fully embraces all of the Eucharist.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal helps.  It says:
  • 281. Holy Communion has a fuller form as a sign when it is distributed under both kinds. For in this form the sign of the eucharistic banquet is more clearly evident and clear expression is given to the divine will by which the new and eternal Covenant is ratified in the Blood of the Lord, as also the relationship between the Eucharistic banquet and the eschatological banquet in the Father's Kingdom."

I think an example might be helpful here.  Take human conversation.  If we spoke with one another on a tin-can phone, a bad cell phone connection, a good phone connection, a Skype video link or in person, face-to-face; we have not been in more of each other's presence, but the experience of that presence of one another to one another has been increasingly fuller in those examples.  I have a fuller experience of you when we are face-to-face together, but I have still be fully in your presence even over a bad connection because we're not talking about parts, but about a person.

Likewise, we receive Jesus fully under either species, but our experience is fuller, more complete, when we receive both.

I hope this helps!!  Send your questions to: frtom@icprovince.org

Archbishops in space......

Okay, well not quite space, but cyberspace!!!  I was very excited to stumble upon a new blog this week - and it is by my favorite new Archbishop of New York, His Emminence Timothy Dolan!!

Now, I have to say, I didn't have anything more than a passing knowlegde of Archbishop Dolan before he became the spiritual leader of Gotham, but since he has taken on one of the most important seats of Catholic leadership in the country, I have been increasingly impressed with this man of God.

Too often in our beloved Church today orthodoxy seems to be paired with anger. We can be (rightly) perceived as a very angry Church.  Well, the Truth is glorious, it is never angry, and one of the things that I love about Archbishop Dolan is that he has a wonderful way of conveying the Truths of the faith (even the ones that might be socially controversial) with an authority and just as importantly with a joy that is so uplifting!  This is the Truth that will set you free!!!

So, imagine my excitement when I noticed on another blog (Whispers In The Loggia), that the good Archbishop now has his own blog!!  Take some time to check it out here: The Gospel in the Digital Age.

Of course, Archbishop Dolan isn't breaking new ground here. Another of my favorite blogs to read regularly is by my own Cardinal Archbishop of Boston Sean O'Malley (Cardinal Sean's Blog).There are a few other bishops who are also blogging regularly.

I can't help but think what a good thing this is.  It gives us a great access to our Shepherds and an access that is not quite as formal as the official proclamation or sermon or typical way that we hear from them.  And this seems closer to the earlier experience of the Church when Bishops were truly local pastors who knew their flocks and their flocks knew them.

So, thanks for reading my blog!! But, also take a moment to check out Archbishop Dolan's new effort!!

God bless!!
FT

Saturday, October 24, 2009

THE YEAR FOR PRIESTS: "Model your life on the mystery of the Lord's cross"

HOMILY FOR PRIESTHOOD SUNDAY, October 25, 2009:

“Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.” Today we celebrate Priesthood Sunday. This is a special day the Church has set aside to honor the Priesthood.

Initially this celebration can sound a bit self-serving, until you look more closely to what the Church hopes to accomplish with this day - especially in this year that the Holy Father has declared as a Year for Priests. 

It isn’t a priest-appreciation day (even though we all love to be appreciated!), but rather it is a day that is about the institution of the Priesthood and how central the priesthood is to our life of faith and how important the priesthood is to all Catholics. It is a day to remind all of us of our need to honor Christ as Priest. We who are priests merely serve under Christ, the one true priest.

Where would we be as faithful people without the priesthood? As Catholics, our spiritual lives are built upon the incredible, real encounters with God that we experience in the Sacraments. Jesus purposely left us these Sacraments and the priesthood so that we can know him, that we can follow Him, that we can experience Him until His return in glory. He left us priests to be the instruments that mediate those incredible, real moments with Him. We only have access to this Sacramental life – to these real encounters with God - through those He has called to be priests.

So, why do we need to have a day in honor of the institution of the priesthood? Well, that should be obvious. Throughout the scandals of the last few years, the priesthood has been under attack. Now, don’t get me wrong – when priests or bishops, or anyone for that matter do things that are wrong, immoral and even illegal – they must be held accountable for those activities, but that’s not what I’m speaking of.

Instead of focusing on individual priests who have done wrong things, too often we have blamed the priesthood itself. Throughout the scandal, the media have asked repeated uninformed questions suggesting that the scandal is somehow related to the nature of the priesthood. Most often attacked is the priestly commitment to celibacy. All this despite the fact that even under the worst-case abuse scenario, you can be certain that more than 97% of priests have been faithful to their vows and their call. Add to this, vocations to priestly life have been on the decline for a few decades. We may be getting to a time in this country where even a weekly celebration of the Eucharist may not be possible in every parish. We need to be reminded of the importance of and need for priests in our parishes.

The question that I often am stuck with when thinking about the lack of priestly vocations is what can we do? Many of you know that, especially now as vocation director, it is my personal contention that there is no vocation crisis. Instead, the lack of priestly vocations is due to a few things. First, through the widespread and increased use of contraception, family size is down. In 1960, the average Catholic family had three or more children. Today, the average Catholic family has one child. This means, simply, fewer people to become priests.

And secondly, there is a vocation awareness crisis. You see, to say that there is a vocation crisis is to assign the blame to God. By saying there is a vocation crisis, we are saying that God has failed to call people to the priesthood. God never fails. God always calls. The crisis is one of awareness. God is calling, but are people listening to that call, are they aware of God’s call in there life? I’m reminded of that cell phone commercial and imagine that God is like the man in that commercial saying to so many people, “Can you hear me now?”

I’m not always certain if we, as a Catholic people, value a vocation to the priesthood. Again, don’t get me wrong, I know that we value our priests, we are glad to have them. I have always felt valued and appreciated in my different ministerial postings. But, when have you ever said to a young person, “I think you’d make a good priest,” or, “I’m praying for your vocation,” or “Have you ever considered the ordained life?” More often, if someone expresses a desire to pursue a vocation, people are likely to say, “Why would you want to do that?” How will we have priests if we don’t teach our youth that this is a valuable way of life?

I can tell you that there is nothing quite as incredible as being a priest – if it is what God is calling you to. Through this ministry, God gives you the chance to reconcile people, offer healing, preach His word, bring forth the Body and Blood of His Son. Each and every day of my priestly life is nothing short of miraculous - and most certainly not because of my actions, but because of Christ's actions through me as His priest. I am daily humbled by the way that God allows me – a weak, sinful man – to be in His presence as He mediates His grace to His people through my ministry. My brothers and sisters, think of the people in your life, of the people in your parish. Is there a young man you think would make a good priest? Pray for him. And just as importantly tell him.

In the Rite of Ordination of a Priest, the Bishop says very powerful words to the newly ordained, “Know what you are doing, and imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross.” That is the mission statement of the priesthood. We strive to know, to imitate, and to model Christ.

St. Francis of Assisi provides us with an excellent example. In his day was also faced with scandal in the Church. But in the face of sinful individual priests, Francis encouraged everyone to never lose sight of the uniqueness of the priesthood itself, and its importance to every believer; and he encouraged priests to live up to their call. He wrote, “See your dignity, my brother priests, and be holy, because He himself is Holy. And just as above all others on account of this ministry the Lord God has honored you, in this manner also love, revere, and honor Him above all others…Let the whole man tremble with fear, let the whole world begin to completely quake, and let heaven exult, when upon the altar in the hand of the priest is Christ, the Son of the living God!”

My brothers and sisters, I want you to know how much I treasure the priesthood, not only because of the great blessings God has bestowed on me in my life through my own ministry as priest, but because as a fellow Christian, I need priests too – I need someone to reconcile me when I sin, to speak God’s words to me so that I may grow in faith, to heal me, to welcome me, to help me on my journey to Christ. We all need this.

Today, I thank each and every one of you for the daily honor of serving you as a priest and ask that we all, this day and every day, pray for priests, pray for the institution of the priesthood, pray that God will continue to call workers into his field.

May God give you peace.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Traditional Anglican group ‘profoundly moved’ by Pope's new provision for converts

This is such an interesting development. I'm curious what everyone thinks - especially my Anglican/Episcopalian friends?

Blackwood, Australia, Oct 22, 2009 / 02:57 am (CNA).- The Primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion has responded to the Vatican’s announcement of a new provision for Anglicans who wish to convert to Catholicism, saying his church is “profoundly moved” by Pope Benedict’s generosity. He added that the provision will now be taken to the national synods of his Communion.

In an Oct. 20 statement published on the website of the communion’s The Messenger Journal, Traditional Anglican Communion Primate Archbishop John Hepworth said he had been speaking with bishops, priests and lay people of the Communion in England, Africa, Australia, India, Canada, the U.S. and South America about the recent news.

“We are profoundly moved by the generosity of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI,” Archbishop Hepworth wrote. He said the creation of the canonical structure for Anglicans was an act of “great goodness” on the part of Pope Benedict and his “cause of unity.”

Read the whole story here: Traditional Anglican group ‘profoundly moved’ by Pope's new provision for converts

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Called to be missionaries

HOMILY FOR WORLD MISSION SUNDAY, October 18, 2009:

“Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant…The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.” Today in the Church we celebrate World Mission Sunday. The U.S. Bishop’s describe this Sunday this way, “By Baptism, all Catholics are called to participate in the mission of the Church, called to share their faith as missionaries. World Mission Sunday gathers support for the pastoral and evangelizing programs in Africa, Asia, the Pacific Islands, and remote regions of Latin America.”

Now, I certainly would not consider myself to be a Missionary in the typical sense of the word, but I have had my mission experiences and I’d like to share that with you a little bit today. Our own Franciscan Province of the Immaculate Conception has been sending missionaries primarily to the Central American nations of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, where they serve in a variety of ministries for more than 60 years. Our missionaries work in parish churches, have established hospitals, schools, orphanages, homes for the elderly and the destitute. The majority of the work is among the many, many poor and destitute people of these regions. The work of the missionary is to spread the Gospel as Jesus asked us to; and to meet the needs of the people. As Jesus told us in the parable of the sheep and the goats in Chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” This is the heart of missionary activity.

As I said, I’m not your typical missionary who goes to mission territory and remains there for 20 or 30 years. My full-time ministries have been mostly in parish work in New Hampshire and Connecticut, and of course now, my work is as Vocation Director. However, back in 1995, while still a seminarian, I was sent to a place called Sonsonate, along the Pacific coast of El Salvador, for a summer-long missionary experience. This was soon after the Civil War in that country, which spanned most of the 1980s and early 90s, ended left the country in disarray, destruction and tremendous poverty. In Sonsonate, we run an outreach center called Agape. At Agape we operate a large church, a medical clinic, a senior citizen home, a home for unwed mothers, a training facility that teaches industrial skills to otherwise unskilled workers in the hopes that they can better their standard of living.

During part of my time there, we were assigned to the Mobile Medical Unit. This was a group made up of a doctor, a nurse, and a priest, and we visited mostly remote mountain villages. Our group would visit these places and tend to the medical and spiritual needs of the people there. The people in these villages are largely farmers, tending to coffee or sugar crops for very small wages. A village would receive one of these visits only every one to two months and so these visits would be critical – the medical staff would meet with virtually every member of the community to deal with everything from regular check-ups and pre-natal care to sudden illnesses and injury. At the end of a day of medical visits, everyone would again gather to pray the Rosary and celebrate the Mass. Throughout the day, we would meet with people, pray with them, catechize, share their concerns. Although the people we worked with lived in extreme poverty, the placed a strong value on family and on faith. This was a powerful experience for me personally and spiritually, and one in which I continue to feel a deep and abiding connection.

You see, just because I spent some time in Central America more than 10 years ago, and now live in downtown Boston, I still feel like a missionary. Missionary work isn’t only something that someone else does far away. Rather, the call to be missionaries is a common call to every Christian. We may not all find ourselves in far off lands like El Salvador or Ecuador, Africa or Asia, but we can all participate in the task of spreading the Gospel and reaching out to the needy. And that is what this World Mission Sunday is all about. It calls us to be aware of the work of missionaries to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ the world over, but it also calls us to recognize that we too are called to be missionaries even from our homes right here in Boston.

My friends, the Church that we all belong to is essentially missionary. And that includes all of us. We may all have different roles, but we all have full membership in the Church. The Vatican Council wanted to make that point when it described the Church as “the people of God.” Pope John Paul II wanted to make that point a number of years ago when he said, “There is no such thing as an ordinary person in the Church. Every Christian is an extraordinary work of God’s grace.” St. Peter wanted to make that point when he wrote, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart.” It isn’t a question of people and the Church; it is a question of people in the Church, of the Church and for the Church. “Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations,” Jesus says to us at the end of Matthew’s Gospel. Bonded in Baptism, commissioned in Confirmation, individually challenged by the will of God and Christ’s command, we have a common responsibility to embrace the faith and share it with all humanity. Simply, because we are members of the Church, we must be missionary!

Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote a powerful prayer that captures the missionary spirit of every Christian. He wrote, “Lord, you have created me to do you some definite service; you have committed some work to me which you have not committed to another. I have my mission from you. Somehow I am necessary for your purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his. If, indeed, I fail, you can raise another. Yet I have a part in this great work. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. You have not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do your work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, if I do but your commandments and serve you in my calling. Therefore, I will trust you.”

On this World Mission Sunday, let us all pledge do three things: First, let us embrace our own call to be missionary and spread the Gospel to the corners of the earth; second, let us pray deeply for all those who risk life and comfort to be missionaries in the most difficult places of the world; and third, let us pray for the people they minister to that the Christian community may meet their needs in the name and faith of Jesus Christ.

“Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant…The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Priest beats poker pros to win $100,000 for parish church fund

Los Angeles, Calif., Oct 15, 2009 / 03:54 am (CNA).- A South Carolina priest bested an NBA basketball star and two professional poker players, including former world champion Daniel Negreanu, to win $100,000 in a poker tournament and qualify for a competition with a $1 million grand prize.

Fr. Andrew Trapp, associate pastor of St. Michael’s Church in Garden City, played in the PokerStars.net Million Dollar Challenge held in Los Angeles, California. Among his opponents were retired NBA star John Salley, Team PokerStars.Net pro Vanessa Rousso and Negreanu, a four-time World of Series of Poker bracelet winner.

The young priest, who Fox News says is known as “Father Rambo” for his love of paintball, at one point held rosary beads while in a big hand against Salley. Fr. Trapp defeated Salley and Rousso before defeating Negreanu.Playing the final hand of a game of Texas Hold’em, the priest was dealt a Jack of clubs and an eight of diamonds while Negreanu took a six of spades and a five of diamonds.

The flop, the game’s first three community cards, consisted of an eight of spades, a four of diamonds and a two of clubs. This gave the priest a pair of eights, while Negreanu could make a straight with any seven or three among the next two community cards.

Fr. Trapp lived up to his name when he went “all-in,” putting all his poker chips on the line.

“I wish you wouldn’t have done that,” Negreanu told the priest.

“You told me to be aggressive, so I’m trying,” Fr. Trapp replied.

“You’re bluffing right now, right, you don’t have an eight?” the poker pro asked. “You have a pair of eights? You don’t have to answer that…”

“My gut says I’m going to hit it,” he continued. “I call.”

The priest again took out his rosary. The next card was a jack of hearts, giving him two pair.

The final card, a two of diamonds, secured Fr. Trapp’s win

Read the rest of the story: Priest beats poker pros to win $100,000 for parish church fund

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St. Teresa of Avila

Today is the feast day of St. Teresa of Avila. Below is one of my favorite prayers, called "St. Teresa's Bookmark" because it was found on a bookmark in her prayer book. Beautiful prayer for every day:
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
ST. TERESA OF AVILA (1515-1582)

Teresa lived in an age of exploration as well as political, social and religious upheaval. It was the 16th century, a time of turmoil and reform. She was born before the Protestant Reformation and died almost 20 years after the closing of the Council of Trent.

The gift of God to Teresa in and through which she became holy and left her mark on the Church and the world is threefold: She was a woman; she was a contemplative; she was an active reformer.

As a woman, Teresa stood on her own two feet, even in the man's world of her time. She was "her own woman," entering the Carmelites despite strong opposition from her father. She is a person wrapped not so much in silence as in mystery. Beautiful, talented, outgoing, adaptable, affectionate, courageous, enthusiastic, she was totally human. Like Jesus, she was a mystery of paradoxes: wise, yet practical; intelligent, yet much in tune with her experience; a mystic, yet an energetic reformer. A holy woman, a womanly woman.

Teresa was a woman "for God," a woman of prayer, discipline and compassion. Her heart belonged to God. Her ongoing conversion was an arduous lifelong struggle, involving ongoing purification and suffering. She was misunderstood, misjudged, opposed in her efforts at reform. Yet she struggled on, courageous and faithful; she struggled with her own mediocrity, her illness, her opposition. And in the midst of all this she clung to God in life and in prayer. Her writings on prayer and contemplation are drawn from her experience: powerful, practical and graceful. A woman of prayer; a woman for God.

Teresa was a woman "for others." Though a contemplative, she spent much of her time and energy seeking to reform herself and the Carmelites, to lead them back to the full observance of the primitive Rule. She founded over a half-dozen new monasteries. She traveled, wrote, fought—always to renew, to reform. In her self, in her prayer, in her life, in her efforts to reform, in all the people she touched, she was a woman for others, a woman who inspired and gave life.

Her writings, especially the Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle, have helped generations of believers.

In 1970, the Church gave her the title she had long held in the popular mind: doctor of the Church. She and St. Catherine of Siena were the first women so honored.

Comment:

Ours is a time of turmoil, a time of reform and a time of liberation. Modern women have in Teresa a challenging example. Promoters of renewal, promoters of prayer, all have in Teresa a woman to reckon with, one whom they can admire and imitate.

Quote:

Teresa knew well the continued presence and value of suffering (physical illness, opposition to reform, difficulties in prayer), but she grew to be able to embrace suffering, even desire it: "Lord, either to suffer or to die." Toward the end of her life she exclaimed: "Oh, my Lord! How true it is that whoever works for you is paid in troubles! And what a precious price to those who love you if we understand its value."

Patron Saint of:

Headaches

This entry appears in the print edition of Saint of the Day

Monday, October 12, 2009

On the separation of Church and hate

NOTE: This column appeared in the October 2 edition of "The Anchor", diocesan newspaper of my home Diocese of Fall River. I am so grateful for Fr. Tim's words, they echo exactly the sentiment that I have been feeling increasingly over the last several years, increasingly over the last several months, about the utter lack of charity and compassion so often in the voices of so-called believers. I encourage you to read on. - FT

By Father Tim Goldrick


The Second Vatican Council urged us to read "the signs of the times." The "signs of the times" are articulated in many ways: published in an article, illustrated in a piece of artwork, presented on stage, expounded in a book, etc. One has to keep one's eyes open. When I see a "sign of the times," I use it as a subject of meditation. I ponder how this sign relates to the Gospel and to the teachings of the Church.

The Church in any time and place either reflects the mores of the general culture or stands in opposition. The Church is at its finest when it opposes the violation of justice and basic human rights by a society that has its moral compass. Sometimes this can result in violence against Church members. It should never result in violence by Church members.

Throughout our Church history, Catholic men, women and children have died for courageously witnessing to what they believed to be right and just. "Martyr" means witness. There is an old saying, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." When the Church is persecuted, it is then it grows most rapidly.

Lately I've been meditating on an actual sign, that is a bumper sticker, that has begun to pop up here and there around the country: "Support the Separation of Church and Hate." What does this bumper sticker signify?

A tropical storm of rudeness has been gathering strength across our nation for some time. It has now been upgraded to a hurricane of hate. The "signs of the times" in our political system are lately signaling vitriolic hatred. This goes beyond incivility, disrespect, and political opinion to a frothing, shrieking, hatred instigated and sustained by a lunatic fringe.

News sources are full of reports of personal attacks against our democratically elected officials, up to and including the President of the United States. "Liar! Liar! Pants on fire!" is just not something one shouts publicly at a head of state, especially in his own country and in the very seat of government. Hurling one's shoes at the Commander-in-Chief of the United States is the act of a person rabid with hate. Fist-shaking, placard-carrying hate mongers began this summer to sabotage the town meeting format, even within our own diocese. I see hatred in the public square.

I fear this hatred may seep into the Church like a toxic oil spill. The Archbishop of Boston, according to reports, has been figuratively hung out to dry by those across the country who object to his recent television appearance. What did the cardinal do on television? He participated in a Mass of Christian Burial. The last I knew, burying the dead was a corporal act of mercy. Personally, I would probably conduct funeral rites for the world's most notorious sinner. Who knows what goes on between a flawed human soul and our merciful God? I will not be the one to presume.

I suspect hate at one time or another has targeted everyone who serves in the public eye. Priests and bishops are not exempt. Over the years, I have heard of a local priest who actually received death threates from a parishioner. He wisely reported it to the police. I have heard of a priest driven to the verge of emotional collapse by the hateful tactics directed against him by parishioners. With all the seething letter-writing campaigns that go on, there must be file drawers full somewhere in some Church office.

I myself was once denounced as an agent of Satan. The accusation was made as I stood in the sanctuary. I know I'm not perfect, but I'm certainly not the incarnation of evil. I deserve better than that.

There was once a man who would refuse to receive holy Communion from me. He would routinely block the Communion procession until he and I were face to face and then abruptly switch over to the special minister of holy Communion. I still don't know what that guy's problem was, but he certainly had one. My guess is that it was all about hate.

They say a parishioner frequently approached St. John Vianney to arrange Mass for "a special intention." Eventually, the holy priest inquired as to what this special intention might be. The answer was, "For your speedy transfer from this village of Ars." Hate is not new but it is increasing in ferocity.

There can be no place in Church or government for hateful words and actions. We must never condescend to the tactics of hate. Our task as Catholic Christians is to stand in firm opposition to hatred in all its forms. I have read the "signs of the times" on a bumper sticker. I cast my vote in favor of the separation of Church and hate.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Whose voice are you listening to?

HOMILY FOR THE 28TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 11, 2009:

One day, two friends were walking along the crowded streets of a big city. The street was full of the typical noise of people, cars, busses, construction – the normal hubbub of daily city life. Suddenly, one of the two friends stopped and said, “Can you hear that cricket?” The other friend was astonished, “You can’t possibly hear a cricket with all this noise; cars honking, taxis squealing.” The first friend was certain and walked over to a planter along the sidewalk. Pushing aside the branches of a bush, sure enough, there was the cricket. His friend was bewildered, “How did you ever hear that?” The man simply said, “My ears are no different than yours. It only depends on what you are listening for. Here let me show you what I mean.” He then reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of change – a few nickels, some quarters and a dime – and then dropped them on the sidewalk. Immediately, every head within a block turned in his direction. “You see,” he said again, “it just depends on what you are listening for.”

In our Gospel passage today, the rich young man asks Jesus a straight-forward question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus tells him, “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” We know how this story ends, “he went away sad, for he had many possessions?” I always feel sorry for this young man. He certainly meant well. He tells us at the outset that he has faithfully observed all of the commandments from his youth. But, what Jesus asks of him is just too much to bear.

You know this is the only person in the Gospels that we are specifically told refused to follow Jesus once invited. As I said, he meant well, but his trouble was that his possessions meant more to him. It only depends on what you are listening for. This man was faced with a choice – security with Jesus, or security in the bank; rely on Jesus or rely on money. It is a human predicament that we’ve all felt at one time or another, and the sad situation of this passage is that the young man chose to listen to the voice of the world instead of the voice of the Lord.

Every one of us in this Church tonight are faced with the same choice. We too are invited under the same conditions to follow Jesus. And like the young man, it isn’t easy for us to make a wholehearted and complete choice. And we too are asked today – what voice are we listening to? What held back the rich young man was his many possessions, but it may not be the same for us. Today’s Gospel challenges us to take a close look at our own lives and ask, What is it that is holding me back from following Jesus? What is it that’s causing me to drag my feet? Could it also be money for us? Maybe not the money we need to live, but perhaps a dishonest way of making it, a habit of cheating, or overcharging, or stealing that has found its way into our lives? Could it be our need for the best of possessions in life? The newest gadget? The name brand?

Maybe it isn’t money or possessions for us – it could be something else – grudges we refuse to let go of; indifference towards the plight or struggles of others. To follow Jesus is to follow in love. “Love one another, just as I have loved you.” Perhaps what is keeping us from following Jesus is a spirit of negativity, an attitude that always finds the worst in others; a tongue that is always quick to cut down. It could be as simple as laziness – to lazy to care; to lazy to say my prayers.

The bottom line is that there are many ways that we can come up short when it comes to following Jesus. The danger in today’s Gospel is that we can be tempted to say about the rich young man, “Wasn’t it a shame that he didn’t follow Our Lord?” But, we should save our sorrow for ourselves. We are given the choice today, right here and now, and every day to follow Jesus. And if we’re not aware of that, we may be just like the rich young man walking away.

I wonder sometimes what happened to the rich young man. Did he become a rich old miser? Did his money make him happy? Did he lose it all along the way? I like to think that he came to his senses, came back running, made the choice with all of his being – and followed Jesus all the way to that eternity he first asked about. But, from what we know in today’s passage, the saddest thing about the rich young man is that he missed out on an opportunity. He missed the chance to do so much good; to reach out to so many people; to serve Jesus in the world as His follower. Imagine if St. Paul had made the same choice; or St. Peter or Andrew or Mary Magdalene or Pope John Paul II, Padre Pio or any of the spiritual heroes and heroines that each of us know.

And therein lies the message for each of us today. What a tragedy it would be if we made the same poor choice. Jesus puts the same invitation before us today, “Come and follow me.” And so I leave you with a simple question, “Whose voice are you listening to?”

May the Lord give you peace.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

On health care: a line in the sand

I saw this over on Whispers in the Loggia today and it is worth your time:

As the debate on health-care reform continues to dominate the political landscape and specifics of bills come into clearer focus, a letter released earlier today by the US bishops has drawn a line in the sand on the church's support for a reform package.

Signed by the USCCB's committee chairs for pro-life activities, domestic policy and migration, here below is the text of the letter (emphases original), sent to every member of the House and Senate alike:

On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), we are writing to express our disappointment that progress has not been made on the three priority criteria for health care reform that we have conveyed previously to Congress. In fact, the Senate Finance Committee rejected a conscience rights amendment accepted earlier by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. If final legislation does not meet our principles, we will have no choice but to oppose the bill. We remain committed to working with the Administration, Congressional leadership, and our allies to produce final health reform legislation that will reflect our principles.
We continue to urge you to

1. Exclude mandated coverage for abortion, and incorporate longstanding policies against abortion funding and in favor of conscience rights. No one should be required to pay for or participate in abortion. It is essential that the legislation clearly apply to this new program longstanding and widely supported federal restrictions on abortion funding and mandates, and protections for rights of conscience. No current bill meets this test.

2. Adopt measures that protect and improve people’s health care. Reform should make quality health care affordable and accessible to everyone, particularly those who are vulnerable and those who live at or near the poverty level.

3. Include effective measures to safeguard the health of immigrants, their children and all of society. Ensure that legal immigrants and their family members have comprehensive, affordable, and timely access to health care coverage. Maintain an adequate safety net for those who remain uncovered.

We sincerely hope that the legislation will not fall short of our criteria. However, we remain apprehensive when amendments protecting freedom of conscience and ensuring no taxpayer money for abortion are defeated in committee votes. If acceptable language in these areas cannot be found, we will have to oppose the health care bill vigorously. Catholic moral tradition teaches that health care is a basic human right, essential to protecting human life and dignity.

Much-needed reform of our health care system must be pursued in ways that serve the life and dignity of all, never in ways that undermine or violate these fundamental values. We will work tirelessly to remedy these central problems and help pass real reform that clearly protects the life, dignity and health of all.

Sincerely,

Cardinal Justin Rigali
Archdiocese of Philadelphia
Chairman
Committee on Pro-Life Activities

Bishop William F. Murphy
Diocese of Rockville Centre
Chairman
Committee on Domestic Justice & Human Development

Bishop John Wester
Diocese of Salt Lake City
Chairman
Committee on Migration

Politics, morality and original sin

NOTE: This is a very thought provoking article that I came across recently. For me, it represents a way to have a dialogue with our culture, and I think that is a very good thing. It is good to know there are thoughtful bishops like this out there, as opposed to the demonization that we hear too often closer to home.

by Cardinal Georges Cottier OP
Theologian Emeritus of the Pontifical Household

In recent weeks Barack Obama gave two important speeches in two very different university contexts. On 17 May he spoke at the University of Notre Dame, the Catholic university in Indiana where he had been invited to receive an honorary degree on graduation day for 2,900 students. On 4 June, in Cairo, at the Al-Azhar Islamic University, considered the main center of religious teaching in Sunni Islam, he gave a long speech addressed in particular to the Islamic world.

I don’t want to make a political comment, which does not come within my sphere of competence, but I was struck by many aspects of the two speeches by the President of the United States. Apart from the individual topics touched on, they gave a glimpse of politics that can be usefully compared with fundamental elements of the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.

In the speech at Notre Dame, I was already struck by the words that Obama addressed to young people at the very beginning. The president pointed out that we are going through a particular historical moment, and described the fact as a privilege and a responsibility for young people. Already in that positive approach there is something Christian. The tasks of each generation are tasks from which the Providence of God is not absent.

To fully evaluate the import of the two speeches one must take two premises into account. First, it should be said that his speeches concern the problems of temporal society. And the Church has recognized, not least in important encyclicals and pronouncements of the Magisterium, the autonomy of temporal society. Autonomy does not mean separation, antagonism, isolation or hostility between temporal society and the Church. Simply, the Church acknowledges that temporal society has an entity of its own, with its own purposes. In dialogue with that entity, the contribution offered by the Church – which represents the Gospel and the values of grace – does not dim or deny but on the contrary exalts the autonomy of temporal society.

The second premise is that Obama talked about the world as it is today. His words referred to the United States, but with the great movements of peoples over recent decades, his words can be applied to all areas of the world – in particular in the West – now inhabited by pluralistic societies. Obama is a head of government called upon to handle a pluralist society. This is a fact to consider if one really wants to understand his words.

In fact, the speech at the University of Notre Dame seems littered with references taken from the Christian tradition. There was, for example, an expression that returned frequently, “common ground”, which corresponds to a fundamental concept of the social doctrine of the Church, that of the common good.

There is a tendency in current mentality to think that morality concerns only the sphere of private life and relationships. Whereas the quest for the common good calls upon reference to moral criteria and norms (cf. Pacem in Terris, n. 80). Morality is always the same, it does not change depending on whether it applies to the public or the private sphere. But morality always takes account of the reality to which it applies. In this case, it is a matter of the quest for the common good in a pluralistic society.

Obama took his cue precisely from a datum always recognized and taken into account in the Christian tradition: the consequences of original sin. “Part of the problem, of course, lies in the imperfections of man - our selfishness, our pride, our stubbornness, our acquisitiveness, our insecurities, our egos: all the cruelties large and small that those of us in the Christian tradition understand to be rooted in original sin”

The problem is complex in the extreme: how to seek together for the common good in a society where there are different and even conflicting ideas about what is good and what is evil. And how to proceed together in this quest without anyone being forced to sacrifice any of their essential beliefs. I think that we can agree with Obama’s way of setting out the search for solutions. Not least because in proposing it Obama took his cue precisely from a datum always recognized and taken into account in the Christian tradition: the consequences of original sin. “Part of the problem, of course, lies in the imperfections of man - our selfishness, our pride, our stubbornness, our acquisitiveness, our insecurities, our egos; all the cruelties large and small that those of us in the Christian tradition understand to be rooted in original sin”.

At a certain point in his speech Obama warned: “The ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt... It is beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us, or what He asks of us, and those of us who believe must trust that His wisdom [the wisdom of the Lord, ed.] is greater than our own”. There are, in appearance, words in this passage that seem to go against the teaching of the Church. As St Thomas writes, the faith as gift of God is infallible. There is no doubt in faith. One can’t be wrong. But the believer can err when his judgment does not proceed from faith. Moreover, it is a fact that the believer, especially when faced by various practical choices, wonders how to act, wonders what criteria the faith suggests. And in the face of the concrete situations of life, these criteria may not always seem so clear and crisp, cases of conscience may well arise.

The second part of the sentence makes clear the meaning that Obama meant to give to his words: certain knowledge of what God wants from us “is beyond our capacity as human beings”, but we “must trust that His wisdom is greater than our own”.

On its part the Catholic Church maintains and teaches that God, the beginning and end of all things, may be already known with certainty by the natural light of human reason with created things as the starting point. But in the historical conditions in which he finds himself, however, man experiences many difficulties in fruitfully using this natural ability to gain through its own strength alone a true and certain knowledge of God as personal, as also of the natural law inscribed by the Creator in our souls. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains in paragraphs 37 and 38, which cite the encyclical Humani generis, mankind needs to be enlightened by the revelation of God not only on what exceeds its understanding but also on “religious and moral truths which of themselves, are not beyond the grasp of human reason”, because in the current condition of the human race, “hampered by... disordered appetites which are the consequences of original sin”, such truths cannot be known “with ease, with firm certainty and with no admixture of error”.

In Christian doctrine, heeding the consequences of original sin does not mean becoming accomplices of sin, or refusing to offer all mankind moral truths, knowledge of which, in the real historical situation experienced by mankind on this earth, appears blurred to many.

Nor in his speech did Obama suggest hiding one’s moral certainties, as if to maintain the existence of objective truths were to be considered impossible or at least inappropriate in the context of a pluralistic society. He merely pointed out that the experience of our limitations, of our weakness, of our misery, “should not push us away from our faith”, but should simply “humble us”, remaining “open and curious” even in situations of challenge and opposition on ethically sensitive issues.

Thus, the traditional teaching on original sin itself suggests an approach to human reality that can turn out to be useful in the present historical circumstances experienced in pluralistic societies.

Every pluralistic society suffers tensions, conflicts, divisions over what is just and what is unjust. But there’s a democratic way of experiencing them that Obama described in his speech, and that can be in harmony with a Christian understanding of the relationships among people. Obama says: we must be persuaded, as pre-judice (for once giving a positive meaning to the word) that the other is in good faith. Even those who do not think like me. We must avoid caricaturing the other, respect the other, not demonize him. Democracy lives by this inspiration of an inwardly Christian kind. When I read the speeches, I immediately thought of that very fine encyclical from Paul VI, Ecclesiam Suam, in which Pope Montini wrote that the way of human relations in society is that of dialogue, even on vital truths for which one may go so far as to give one’s life.

This is not a matter of dragging these speeches into our camp, but of looking for points of encounter. The speech at the University of Notre Dame also reminded me of the Dignitatis humanae, a great text of the social doctrine of the Church, which recognizes the duty of individuals to seek the truth, which is a duty before God and springs from human nature. Thus, when I respect the other, I respect in him this capacity for truth.

Another issue that sometimes causes tension in pluralistic societies is the demand for religious freedom made by individuals before the State. This demand does not make religious indifference an obligatory choice for the State, but requires awareness of the limits of its powers.

I was struck by how Obama did not dodge the thorniest issue, that of abortion, on which he had received so much criticism not least from the US bishops. On the one hand such reactions are justified: non-negotiable values are involved in political decisions about abortion. For us what is at stake is the defense of the human person and his inalienable rights, the first of which is precisely that to life. Now in pluralistic society there are radical differences on this point. There are those who, like us, consider abortion an intrinsece malum, there are those who accept it, and even some who claim it as a right. The President has never taken the latter position. On the contrary, I think he has made positive suggestions – something also stressed by L’Osservatore Romano of 19 May – proposing again in this case the search for common ground. In this search – Obama points out – nobody should censor their beliefs, but on the contrary maintain them and defend them in the face of all. His position is not the misunderstood relativism of those who say that it is a matter of contrasting views, and that all personal opinions are subjective and uncertain, and thus it is better to set them aside when speaking of these things.

Nor in his speech did Obama suggest hiding one’s moral certainties, as if to maintain the existence of objective truths were to be considered impossible or at least inappropriate in the context of a pluralistic society. He merely pointed out that the experience of our limitations, of our weakness, of our misery, “should not push us away from our faith”, but should simply “humble us”, remaining “open and curious” even in situations of challenge and opposition on ethically sensitive issues

In addition, Obama recognizes the tragic seriousness of the problem. That the decision to abort “is a heart-wrenching decison for any woman”. The common ground that he is proposing is that we all work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortion. He adds that any legal regulation of the matter must guarantee in absolute fashion conscientious objection for health workers who do not want to engage in the practice of abortion. His words go in the direction of diminishing the evil. The government and the State must make every effort to ensure that the number of abortions is minimized. It is, of course, only a minimum, but a precious minimum. It reminds me of the attitude of the early Christian legislators who did not repeal the Roman laws tolerating practices that did not comply with or even went counter to natural law, such as concubinage and slavery. The change was arrived at by slow degrees, often marked by setbacks, as the number of Christians in the population increased and with them the impact of the sense of the dignity of the person. At first, to obtain the consent of citizens and preserve social peace, the so-called “imperfect laws” were left in force, which prevented persecution for acts and behavior contrary to natural law. Even St Thomas, who had no doubt that the law must be moral, added that the State should not make laws too severe and “lofty” because they would be despised by those incapable of applying them.

The realism of the politician recognizes evil and calls it by its name. It recognizes that we must be humble and patient, fighting without the presumption of eradicating it from human history by means of legal coercion. It is the parable of the tares, which also applies at the political level. On the other hand, this does not become justification for cynicism and indifference to it. The effort to decrease evil as much as possible remains persistent. It is a duty.

The Church has always perceived the illusion of eliminating evil from history by legal, political or religious means as unattainable and dangerous. Recent history is also full of disasters produced by the fanaticism of those who aimed to dry up the sources of evil in human history, ultimately transforming everything into a vast cemetery. The communist regimes followed exactly this logic. As does the religious terrorism which kills even in the name of God. When a doctor who favored abortion was killed by militant anti-abortionists – as happened recently in the US – one has to admit that even the highest ideals, such as the sacrosanct defense of the absolute value of human life, can be corrupted and turn into their opposite, becoming slogans at the disposition an aberrant ideology.

Christians are bearers in the world of a realistic temporal hope, not of a vain utopian dream, also when they give witness of their loyalty to such absolute values as life. St Gianna Beretta Molla, the doctor who died by refusing treatment that might have hurt the baby she carried in her womb, touches the hearts not only of Christians with her ordinary and quiet heroism, she reminds everyone of the common destiny to which we tend. It is a prophetic form of the evangelical style of Christian witness.

In his speech at the University of Notre Dame Obama made a very important remark precisely on this point. He spoke of when he was involved in a social work project in the slums of Chicago – funded by some Catholic parishes – in which Protestant and Jewish volunteers also participated. On that occasion he happened to meet welcoming and understanding people. He saw the performance of good works nourished by the Lord amongst them. And he was “drawn - not just to work with the church, but to be in the Church. It was through this service”, he concluded, “that I was brought to Christ”. He also gave a moving eulogy of the great Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who was then archbishop of Chicago. He described him as “a lighthouse and a crossroads”, lovable in his way of persuading and in his continuous attempt to “bring people together always trying to find common ground”. In that experience, Obama said, “My heart and mind were touched by the words and deeds of the men and women I worked alongside with in Chicago”. The spectacle of charity, which comes from God, has the power to touch and attract the minds and hearts of mankind. And it is the only seed of real change in human history. Obama also quoted Martin Luther King, of whom he feels he is a disciple.

That only forty-one years after the assassination of King he himself is president of the US is a sign and proof of the historical efficacy of trust in the power of truth. In these decades we have seen so many ideologies base their pretence to change on violence, from revolutionary programs to the project of exporting democracy by military force. And we have seen only tragic failures and retrogression. Obama’s humble realism opens up new vistas also at the geopolitical level, as evinced by his speech at the Islamic Al-Azhar University in Cairo.

In that speech also, Obama sought to identify a “common ground” on which the complicated relationship between Islam and the Western world, in particular the US, might make progress. In this search, according to the President, everyone is called upon to look within their own tradition to rediscover the core values and shared interests on which to build mutual respect and peace. This approach represents a radical refutation of the notion of a clash of civilizations and an antidote to the tendency to apply negative stereotypes to others. In a speech heard by hundreds of millions of Muslims Obama took an entirely different line, with full confidence in the good faith and ability to judge of his hearers. For that very reason he was able to touch on all the controversial points with clarity and courage: the violent extremism – which affects everyone, starting with the Muslims – the Western missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the use of torture, the Israeli-Palestinian question, on which he reaffirmed the right of both peoples to live in safety in their own homeland and described the situation of the Palestinian people as “intolerable”, in tune with what the Pope had said during his recent visit to the land of Jesus. On the theme of nuclear power, in reference to Iran, Obama said that no one can be denied the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Reaffirming that we must aim at a situation in which no country – beginning with his own – develops the project of making recourse to nuclear power in the military field. In his speech in Cairo, the US president also reiterated that democracy cannot be imposed from outside, and that on the path to democracy all peoples must find their own way. He stressed that religious freedom is fundamental for peace. And on Islamic soil he also spoke of women’s rights. Among his quotations from sacred texts – the Torah, the Koran and the Bible – I was struck that the biblical text he chose to quote was the Sermon on the Mount. That discourse is addressed directly to the disciples of Christ. It was not made in primis for temporal, political and civil society. But Obama has perceived its positive meaning and its inspiration for the life of the civitas. That reminded me of the insight of John Paul II on the political meaning of forgiveness and requests for the purification of memory. One sees no way of coming out of intolerable situations, such as those experienced in the Middle East, if people’s pain for the malice and wrongs suffered does not get embraced and dissolved by the reconciling power of forgiveness.

I imagine that this man, Obama, felt all these things when he had to prepare his two speeches. This surprises me. It seems to me an interesting fact, even in terms of the political commitment of Christians in our pluralistic and globalized world.

This originally appeared in "30 Days in the Church and the World" - http://www.30giorni.it/

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Conform yourself to Christ

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF ST. FRANCIS O ASSISI, October 4, 2009:

Today we celebrate a glorious day – especially for we who are Franciscans – today is the Solemnity of Our Holy Father Saint Francis. And so, for us it is not another Sunday, or another Holy Day, but it is our Founder’s Day. And it is a day for us to remember who we are called to be as followers of Christ Jesus in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi.

It has been more than 800 years since the Saint walked the earth and yet it never ceases to amaze me at what an impact he has had on our Church and our world, and continues to have to this day. St. Francis is a holy man who transcends even faith. He is a holy man who finds popularity throughout Christianity – both Catholic and Protestant – and even beyond Christianity. And so, how right it is that we celebrate this holy man and renew ourselves in the attempt to imitate him in our common call to follow Christ.

St. Francis is known for so many things. We remember him for light things like his preaching to the birds so faithfully commemorated in bird baths on the lawns of many people. We remember him for the very serious things like his total acceptance of the life of poverty; his embrace of the lepers; his love of all creation and more. But, one of the most stunning things we remember him for is his reception of the sacred stigmata – the sacred wounds of Christ.

In our own day-and-age, we are still astounded by something so remarkable as receiving the wounds of Christ, but it is not unheard of for us. Many people today have tremendous devotion to Padre Pio, who lived in our own time. And there have been others who have born the wounds of Christ over the ages. But, St. Francis was the very first.

Upon his death in 1226, Br. Elias, who was the friend, companion and successor of St. Francis issued an
encyclical letter to announce that the Saint had died. This letter was also the first public proclamation of this new miracle. He wrote, “I announce to you a great joy and a new miracle. It is a sign which has been unheard of from the very beginning of time except in the Son of God, Christ the Lord. Not long before his death, our brother and our father was seen to resemble the crucified Lord, bearing in his body the five wounds which are the marks of Christ.”

The life of St. Francis can be characterized in a very simple way – he sought to conform himself to Christ. In 1993, Pope John Paul II visited Mount La Verna in Italy, the place where St. Francis received the wounds of Christ in 1224. There he spoke about this conformity to Christ, “By his life Francis proclaimed…the saving word of the Gospel. The reception of the stigmata on La Verna thus represents that visible conformity to the image of Christ which makes Francis the example to which every Christian can aspire in the process of drawing ever nearer to God the Creator and Redeemer.”

As we commemorate this holy man today, we can be tempted to think, what a truly remarkable person; what a beacon of light for the Christian faith – but, that could never be me. But we would be wrong. What St. Francis shows us is not a way of life that is so remarkable that it can barely be imitated. What St. Francis shows us is that the way of life that Jesus Himself has invited us into is within our reach. If he can do it, so can we. We too can be imitators of St. Francis in following the life of the Gospel.

And we too can be conformed to the image of Christ. As remarkable as the five wounds appearing on the body of St. Francis are, they are not the true stigmata – the true stigmata is in the soul; in the heart; in the day-to-day. If the sacred stigmata were merely about flesh-and-bones, it would be an interesting supernatural reality. But, this is something that came at the end of his life, not the beginning. It was a divine confirmation of a life lived in conformity with Christ, not the goal of it. In other words, St. Francis most profoundly conformed himself to Christ, not in the wounds in his hands, feet and side, but in the way that he loved; in the way that he lived. And so can we. St. Francis loved as radically as did Christ. And he shows us that we can too can take away all that keeps us from loving fully; all of the challenges, difficulties, hurts, pettiness, prejudices and pains – and make a choice to love others because God has first loved us.

Let me end with the words of the current successor of St. Francis, our General Minister José Rodríguez Carballo, who said, “Francis, come among us! We need you to tell us that true joy does not lie in human wisdom, riches, and rewards, but in being faithful to the plan of the Lord. Francis, come among us! We need you to help us learn that to follow Jesus, there is only one path to take: the path that was trod by him; the path of self-denial. Francis, come among us. We need you to teach us how to love those who make us suffer and what to do, so that Love may be expressed more fully every day and we may become true friends, imitators, and lovers of Christ. Come, Brother Francis! We need you.”

My friends, let us conform ourselves to Christ as did our Holy Father St. Francis.

May the Lord give you peace.

Come, Brother Francis! We need you!

HOMILY FOR THE TRANSITUS OF ST. FRANCIS, October 3, 2009 (Monastery of St. Clare, Andover, MA):

“Before I begin to speak I sigh.” These are the first words of Br. Elias, early companion, dear friend, and successor of St. Francis, in his encyclical letter to the Order announcing the passing of Our Holy Father. “Before I begin to speak, I sigh.” They capture well the solemn nature of this night of Transitus, this night of passing.

Of course, in the brightness of day, in the newness of light, we will rejoice. Our brother, in whose steps we follow, has ascended to the heights of Heaven. Il Poverello, the Mirror of Christ, has been united eternally with Jesus in the glory of His Kingdom.

But, tonight, before we begin to speak, we sigh, because as Elias said on this occasion nearly 800 years ago, “our comforter has been taken away from us, and he who carried us like lambs on his shoulders has set out abroad into a far country. He who was beloved of God and of man has been received into the most resplendent dwellings.”

Of course, even for Elias, his letter was not only one of sorrow, it was one of miracles. His Encyclical Letter contains the first public proclamation of something that had never before been heard of in the history of Christianity – the sacred stigmata. Elias wrote, “I announce to you a great joy and a new miracle. It is a sign which has been unheard of from the very beginning of time except in the Son of God, Christ the Lord. Not long before his death, our brother and our father was seen to resemble the crucified Lord, bearing in his body the five wounds which are the marks of Christ.”

As we find ourselves tonight in the midst of the 800th anniversary of the approval of the Franciscan Rule, of our way of life, perhaps this is the most poignant focus for our meditation – the wounds of Christ made manifest in the Body of St. Francis – because these say something about St. Francis and who he was; and they say something so powerful for all of us – his sons and daughters – as we strive to follow Christ in the footsteps of Francis and Clare some 800 years on. It says, we too are called to be conformed to the image of Christ.

In 1993, Pope John Paul II visited that important mountain top of La Verna – that place of miracles; that place so precious to the Saint himself. Speaking of our Holy Father, the Pope said, “The Gospel was [Francis’] daily bread. He did not confine himself to reading its words, but through the expressions of the revealed text he set out to discover the One who is the Gospel itself…By his life Francis proclaimed and continues to proclaim today the saving word of the Gospel. The reception of the stigmata on La Verna thus represents that visible conformity to the image of Christ which makes Francis the example to which every Christian can aspire in the process of drawing ever nearer to God the Creator and Redeemer. In this regard the words spoken by the Poverello at the end of his life are significant: ‘I have done what is mine to do; may Christ teach you yours.’ Francis bore witness to the boundless love [of Christ] and continues to do so even in our days. Love alone can prevent the failure of humanity and the world.”

My friends, as we gather tonight in this holy place to commemorate the passing of St. Francis, let us remember that our founder, our brother, our father, our saint – is gone from us. He has returned to his Heavenly reward. He has done what was his to do; and now, even 800 years later, he turns to each and every one of us here today. We are the inheritors of his legacy of conformity to Christ; of his example of being Christ in our world. Like him, we are called to be conformed to the image of Christ; like him, we are called to be the Mirror of the Savior reflecting His love to our broken world; like him, we are called to be poor and be lovers of the poor, the suffering, the outcast, the forsaken.

“In truth, in very truth, the presence of Francis, our brother and our father, was a light not only to us who were close to him, but also to those who were more removed from us in calling and in life. He was a light sent forth from the true Light to enlighten those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, that he might guide their feet into the way of peace. For this reason…do not mourn beyond all measure; for God, the Father of orphans, will comfort us with his holy consolation. And if you weep…weep for yourselves but not for him; for in the midst of our life we are in death, while he has passed from death to life,” Elias reminds us.

Let me end with the words of the current successor of St. Francis, our General Minister José Rodríguez Carballo, who said, “Francis, come among us! We need you to tell us that true joy does not lie in human wisdom, riches, and rewards, but in being faithful to the plan of the Lord. Francis, come among us! We need you to help us learn that to follow Jesus, there is only one path to take: the path that was trod by him; the path of expropriation and self-denial. Francis, come among us. We need you to teach us how to love those who make us suffer and what to do, so that Love may be expressed more every day and we may become true friends, imitators, and lovers of Christ. Come, Brother Francis! We need you.”

My friends, let us today begin again and may the Lord give you peace.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Poll: Support for abortion rights slipping

Support for abortion rights appears to be slipping, according to a new report being issued today by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. An excerpt:

Polls conducted in 2009 have found fewer Americans expressing support for abortion than in previous years. In Pew Research Center polls in 2007 and 2008, supporters of legal abortion clearly outnumbered opponents; now Americans are evenly divided on the question, and there have been modest increases in the numbers who favor reducing abortions or making them harder to obtain. Less support for abortion is evident among most demographic and political groups.

The latest Pew Research Center survey also reveals that the abortion debate has receded in importance, especially among liberals. At the same time, opposition to abortion has grown more firm among conservatives, who have become less supportive of finding a middle ground on the issue and more certain of the correctness of their own views on abortion.


Read the rest of the story: Poll: Support for abortion rights slipping - Articles of Faith - Boston.com

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