Sunday, July 28, 2013

I Love This Guy: Pope Francis and the Future of The Catholic Church | Rev. James Martin SJ, Huffington Post

Rev. James Martin, S.J.

I Love This Guy: Pope Francis and the Future of The Catholic Church

Posted: 07/28/2013 6:44 pm

Pope Francis Varginha
Last week was one of the most exciting weeks in my life--not a small admission from someone who has been on this earth for 52 years.
For the last few days, I could hardly tear myself away from the television, the computer screen and the newspapers. (Yes, I still read actual newspapers.) Why? Because a 76-year-old man visited Rio de Janeiro. Pretty funny when you think about it.
Let me confess a near-complete lack of objectivity when it comes to Pope Francis's astonishing visit to Rio for World Youth Day, which attracted millions of youth from around the world for what was clearly one of the major religious events of our time.
First of all, I'm a member of the Jesuit order, like the pope, so that makes me predisposed to liking the still relatively new Vicar of Christ. I can easily hear echoes of his Jesuit spirituality in his talks and homilies, all of which endears him to me all the more.
Second, I'm a priest, so I was happy to see millions of young Catholics in Rio who were participating in the sacraments--in particular, going to confession (some confessed to Pope Francis himself) and enjoying Masses that must have been rather different than the ones they know from home. After all, it's not every Sunday that the headcount for your Mass is 3 million, as it was on the final days on Copacabana Beach
Third, I'm a Catholic, so I was overjoyed to see so many young Catholics on fire with their faith--many of them on fire enough to make the pilgrimage from far-off countries.
Finally, and most important of all, I'm a Christian, so I was deeply consoled to see so many people talking about Jesus Christ, and praying and thinking about what it means to follow him. The photos of the millions of people gathered on what was inevitably dubbed "Popacabana Beach" in the last few days were an incredible testimony to the relevance of faith in an era when faith is supposed to be largely passé.
All that delighted me. So, like I said, I have zero objectivity.
The week was also filled with utterly remarkable moments, quotes, and images. Every day, almost every hour, I was astonished. Now, of course many popes before Francis have spoken out about the poor and the marginalized, but for some reason Francis's visit to the favela and his strong, clear words about the poor, and about economic justice, resonated with me in a deep way. "No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world!"
In his visit to the favela, speaking to the poor, the pope also used some words dear to me--"social justice," "solidarity," "inequalities"--that I believe are at the heart of what we need to be thinking about as Christians in the modern world.
Sometimes I couldn't believe that Francis said what he said. When I told a Jesuit friend that the Pope declared, off the cuff, that he wanted to shake things up in the church, to make a "mess," my friend's eyes widened.
My friend said, "He didn't say that!" And then..."Did he?"
The Jesuit pope seemed, in a word, free. Francis seems about the freest, most relaxed, and least self-conscious person on the public stage today. Free enough to carry his bags aboard the plane. (More than one bishop said that the Pope's famously austere style of life--moving into a little apartment, keeping his old clothes, preferring a little car to a big limo--prompted him to think about his own way of living.) Free enough to be untroubled when his motorcade took an unexpected turn onto a busy Rio street, attracting masses (sorry for the pun) of pilgrims. One headline made me smile: "Brazilian Crowds Delight Pope, Frustrate Security." And free enough to change his schedule numerous times, to the apparent consternation of the Vatican officials accompanying him.
He is that rarity: a truly free person.
But beyond that, something else delights me. And it's this: Pope Francis shows that nothing is impossible with God.
The Catholic Church, it should not surprise anyone to learn, has been through some awful times in the last few years. For one thing, the sexual abuse crisis. That alone would be enough to make things terrible for the church--and I mean all of us Catholics, not just the hierarchy. For another, the financial scandals at the Vatican. Finally, the exodus of Catholics from their church, especially in the West.
None of these problems are completely solved, and the church has a lot of work to do, especially in eradicating sex abuse. But the scandals and problems led many Catholics to the brink of despair. Since the sex abuse scandals broke in 2002, I have seen many people--Catholics and otherwise--lapse into despair. It is a despair that says nothing is possible. Nothing can change. Things will never and can never improve.
We are doomed. Or so they said. And it seemed to many a reasonable conclusion.
Even before the papal conclave that elected the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ, there were many voices--smart, savvy, faithful Catholic voices--who predicted that the conclave would change nothing. Why?
The thinking went as follows: Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict had between themselves appointed almost all the cardinals who were members of the conclave, and charged to elect the new pope. Thus, there was no possibility that anyone who was in any way different from the two previous popes, who had any kind of different outlook or any manner of different style, could ever, ever, possibly be elected. Out of the question. The successor to Benedict would be either a carbon copy of him, or of Pope John Paul.
But these voices were forgetting something. Something that is at the heart of our faith. It is what the angel is reported to have said to Mary at the Annunciation.
Namely: "Nothing is impossible with God."
In other words, you cannot set limits on the Holy Spirit. You cannot box God in. You cannot say that God cannot do something.
Because, as we have seen, God has already done it.
None of this is meant as a critique of Francis's predecessors. Praising Francis does not mean denigrating John Paul or Benedict. Each pope brings unique gifs to the office. But Francis's election as pope has definitely brought change to the church.
The essentials have not changed: each pope preaches the Gospel and proclaims the Risen Christ. But as we saw last week in Rio, Francis speaks in a different way: plainly, simply, with unadorned prose. Francis has a different style: more relaxed, less formal, more familiar. Francis's appeal is different and, judging from the crowds, effective. The Pope does the same thing--preach the Gospel and proclaim the Risen Christ--in a new way. Francis is a different person for a different time.
What Pope Francis did and said in Rio de Janeiro, how he did it and said it, and how the crowds reacted to what he did and said, show that things can change. And that God can change them.
All this is an answer to despair. It is a reminder that nothing is impossible with God. So every time I see Francis, hear him speak or read one of his homilies I'm reminded of this great truth.
Because of this I love the guy. Because of this I love God even more.
James Martin, SJ, is a Jesuit priest, editor at large at America, and author of
The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything and Between Heaven and Mirth.

This is the reform the Church needs! | Pope Francis

This is an incredible talk that Pope Francis gave to the Bishops of Brazil yesterday.  It is, I believe, his blueprint for the reform of the Church and it is exactly the reform the Church needs - a Church that rediscovers the "maternal womb of mercy" and can "warm the hearts of believers" once again. The talk is on the long side, but every word is worth reading.  A few highlights: "At times we lose people because they don't understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity and import an intellectualism foreign to our people. Without the grammar of simplicity, the church loses the very conditions which make it possible to fish for God in the deep waters of his mystery." Why have we lost people? "Perhaps the church appeared too weak, perhaps too distant from their needs, perhaps too poor to respond to their concerns, perhaps too cold, perhaps too caught up with itself, perhaps a prisoner of its own rigid formulas. Perhaps the world seems to have made the church a relic of the past, unfit for new questions. Perhaps the church could speak to people in their infancy but not to those come of age."  "We need a church capable of rediscovering the maternal womb of mercy. Without mercy, we have little chance nowadays of becoming part of a world of `wounded' persons in need of understanding, forgiveness and love. We need a Church unafraid of going forth into their night. We need a Church capable of meeting them on their way. We need a Church capable of entering into their conversation. We need a Church able to dialogue with those disciples who, having left Jerusalem behind, are wandering aimlessly, alone, with their own disappointment, disillusioned by a Christianity now considered barren, fruitless soil, incapable of generating meaning." The full text is below:


Archbishop’s House, Rio de Janeiro
Saturday, 28 July 2013

Dear Brothers,

How good it is to be here with you, the Bishops of Brazil!

Thank you for coming, and please allow me to speak with you as one among friends. That’s why I prefer to speak to you in Spanish, so as to express better what I carry in my heart. I ask you to forgive me.

We are meeting somewhat apart, in this place prepared by our brother, Archbishop Orani Tempesta, so that we can be alone and speak to one another from the heart, as pastors to whom God has entrusted his flock. On the streets of Rio, young people from all over the world and countless others await us, needing to be reached by the merciful gaze of Christ the Good Shepherd, whom we are called to make present. So let us enjoy this moment of repose, exchange of ideas and authentic fraternity.

Beginning with the President of the Episcopal Conference and the Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, I want to embrace each and every one of you, and in a particular way the Emeritus Bishops.

More than a formal address, I would like to share some reflections with you.

The first came to mind again when I visited the shrine of Aparecida. There, at the foot of the statue of the Immaculate Conception, I prayed for you, your Churches, your priests, men and women religious, seminarians, laity and their families and, in a particular way, the young people and the elderly: these last are the hope of a nation; the young, because they bring strength, idealism and hope for the future; the elderly because they represent the memory, the wisdom of the people.[1]

1. Aparecida: a key for interpreting the Church’s mission

In Aparecida God gave Brazil his own Mother. But in Aparecida God also offered a lesson about himself, about his way of being and acting. A lesson about the humility which is one of God’s essential features, and which is part of God’s DNA. Aparecida offers us a perennial teaching about God and about the Church; a teaching which neither the Church in Brazil nor the nation itself must forget.

At the beginning of the Aparecida event, there were poor fishermen looking for food. So much hunger and so few resources. People always need bread. People always start with their needs, even today.

They have a dilapidated, ill-fitted boat; their nets are old and perhaps torn, insufficient.
First comes the effort, perhaps the weariness, of the catch, yet the results are negligible: a failure, time wasted. For all their work, the nets are empty.

Then, when God wills it, he mysteriously enters the scene. The waters are deep and yet they always conceal the possibility of a revelation of God. He appeared out of the blue, who knows for how long, when he was no longer expected. The patience of those who await him is always tested. And God arrived in a novel fashion, since God is wonder: as a fragile clay statue, darkened by the waters of the river and aged by the passage of time. God always enters clothed in poverty, littleness.

Then there is the statue itself of the Immaculate Conception. First, the body appeared, then the head, then the head was joined to the body: unity. What had been broken is restored and becomes one. Colonial Brazil had been divided by the shameful wall of slavery. Our Lady of Aparecida appears with a black face, first separated, and then united in the hands of the fishermen.

Here there is a message which God wants to teach us. His own beauty, reflected in his Mother conceived without original sin, emerges from the darkness of the river. In Aparecida, from the beginning, God’s message was one of restoring what was broken, reuniting what had been divided. Walls, chasms, differences which still exist today are destined to disappear. The Church cannot neglect this lesson: she is called to be a means of reconciliation.

The fishermen do not dismiss the mystery encountered in the river, even if it is a mystery which seems incomplete. They do not throw away the pieces of the mystery. They await its completion. And this does not take long to come. There is a wisdom here that we need to learn. There are pieces of the mystery, like the stones of a mosaic, which we encounter. We are impatient, anxious to see the whole picture, but God lets us see things slowly, quietly. The Church also has to learn how to wait.

Then the fishermen bring the mystery home. Ordinary people always have room to take in the mystery. Perhaps we have reduced our way of speaking about mystery to rational explanations; but for ordinary people the mystery enters through the heart. In the homes of the poor, God always finds a place.

The fishermen “bundle up” the mystery, they clothe the Virgin drawn from the waters as if she were cold and needed to be warmed. God asks for shelter in the warmest part of ourselves: our heart. God himself releases the heat we need, but first he enters like a shrewd beggar. The fishermen wrap the mystery of the Virgin with the lowly mantle of their faith. They call their neighbours to see its rediscovered beauty; they all gather around and relate their troubles in its presence and they entrust their causes to it. In this way they enable God’s plan to be accomplished: first comes one grace, then another; one grace leads to another; one grace prepares for another. God gradually unfolds the mysterious humility of his power.

There is much we can learn from the approach of the fishermen. About a Church which makes room for God’s mystery; a Church which harbours that mystery in such a way that it can entice people, attract them. Only the beauty of God can attract. God’s way is through enticement which attracts us. God lets himself be brought home. He awakens in us a desire to keep him and his life in our homes, in our hearts. He reawakens in us a desire to call our neighbours in order to make known his beauty. Mission is born precisely from this divine allure, by this amazement born of encounter. We speak about mission, about a missionary Church. I think of those fishermen calling their neighbours to see the mystery of the Virgin. Without the simplicity of their approach, our mission is doomed to failure.

The Church needs constantly to relearn the lesson of Aparecida; she must not lose sight of it. The Church’s nets are weak, perhaps patched; the Church’s barque is not as powerful as the great transatlantic liners which cross the ocean. And yet God wants to be seen precisely through our resources, scanty resources, because he is always the one who acts.

Dear brothers, the results of our pastoral work do not depend on a wealth of resources, but on the creativity of love. To be sure, perseverance, effort, hard work, planning and organization all have their place, but first and foremost we need to realize that the Church’s power does not reside in herself; it is hidden in the deep waters of God, into which she is called to cast her nets.

Another lesson which the Church must constantly recall is that she cannot leave simplicity behind; otherwise she forgets how to speak the language of Mystery, and she herself remains outside the door of the mystery, and obviously, she proves incapable of approaching those who look to the Church for something which they themselves cannot provide, namely, God himself. At times we lose people because they don’t understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity and import an intellectualism foreign to our people. Without the grammar of simplicity, the Church loses the very conditions which make it possible “to fish” for God in the deep waters of his Mystery.

A final thought: Aparecida took place at a crossroads. The road which linked Rio, the capital, with São Paulo, the resourceful province then being born, and Minas Gerais, the mines coveted by the courts of Europe, was a major intersection in colonial BrazilGod appears at the crossroads. The Church in Brazil cannot forget this calling which was present from the moment of her birth: to be a beating heart, to gather and to spread.

2. Appreciation for the path taken by the Church in Brazil

The Bishops of Rome have always had a special place in their heart for Brazil and its Church. A marvellous journey has been accomplished. From twelve dioceses during the First Vatican Council, it now numbers 275 circumscriptions. This was not the expansion of an organization or a business enterprise, but rather the dynamism of the Gospel story of the “five loaves and two fish” which, through the bounty of the Father and through tireless labour, bore abundant fruit.
Today I would like to acknowledge your unsparing work as pastors in your local Churches. I think of Bishops in the forests, travelling up and down rivers, in semiarid places, in the Pantanal, in the pampas, in the urban jungles of your sprawling cities. Always love your flock with complete devotion! I also think of all those names and faces which have indelibly marked the journey of the Church in Brazil, making palpable the Lord’s immense bounty towards this Church.[2]

The Bishops of Rome were never distant; they followed, encouraged and supported this journey. In recent decades, Blessed John XXIII urged the Brazilian Bishops to draw up their first pastoral plan and, from that beginning a genuine pastoral tradition arose in Brazil, one which prevented the Church from drifting and provided it with a sure compass. The Servant of God Paul VI encouraged the reception of the Second Vatican Council not only in fidelity but also in creativity (cf. the CELAM General Assembly in Medellin), and decisively influenced the self-identity of the Church in Brazil through the Synod on evangelization and that basic point of reference which remains relevant is the Evangelii Nuntiandi. Blessed John Paul II visited Brazil three times, going up and down the country, from north to south, emphasizing the Church’s pastoral mission, communion and participation, preparation for the Great Jubilee and the new evangelization. Benedict XVI chose Aparecida as the site of the Fifth CELAM General Assembly and this left a profound mark on the Church of the whole continent.

The Church in Brazil welcomed and creatively applied the Second Vatican Council, and the course it has taken, though needing to overcome some teething problems, has led to a Church gradually more mature, open, generous and missionary.

Today, times have changed. As the Aparecida document nicely put it: ours is not an age of change, but a change of age. So today we urgently need to keep putting the question: what is it that God is asking of us? I would now like to sketch a few ideas by way of a response.

3. The icon of Emmaus as a key for interpreting the present and the future

Before all else, we must not yield to the fear once expressed by Blessed John Henry Newman: “… the Christian world is gradually becoming barren and effete, as land which has been worked out and is become sand”.[3] We must not yield to disillusionment, discouragement and complaint. We have laboured greatly and, at times, we see what appear to be failures. We feel like those who must tally up a losing season as we consider those who have left us or no longer consider us credible or relevant.

Let us read once again, in this light, the story of Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:13-15). The two disciples have left Jerusalem. They are leaving behind the “nakedness” of God. They are scandalized by the failure of the Messiah in whom they had hoped and who now appeared utterly vanquished, humiliated, even after the third day (vv. 17-21). Here we have to face the difficult mystery of those people who leave the Church, who, under the illusion of alternative ideas, now think that the Church – their Jerusalem – can no longer offer them anything meaningful and important. So they set off on the road alone, with their disappointment. Perhaps the Church appeared too weak, perhaps too distant from their needs, perhaps too poor to respond to their concerns, perhaps too cold, perhaps too caught up with itself, perhaps a prisoner of its own rigid formulas, perhaps the world seems to have made the Church a relic of the past, unfit for new questions; perhaps the Church could speak to people in their infancy but not to those come of age.[4]It is a fact that nowadays there are many people like the two disciples of Emmaus; not only those looking for answers in the new religious groups that are sprouting up, but also those who already seem godless, both in theory and in practice.

Faced with this situation, what are we to do?

We need a Church unafraid of going forth into their night. We need a Church capable of meeting them on their way. We need a Church capable of entering into their conversation. We need a Church able to dialogue with those disciples who, having left Jerusalem behind, are wandering aimlessly, alone, with their own disappointment, disillusioned by a Christianity now considered barren, fruitless soil, incapable of generating meaning.

A relentless process of globalization, an often uncontrolled process of intense urbanization, has promised great things. Many people have been captivated by their potential, which of course contains positive elements as, for example, the shortening of distance, the drawing closer of peoples and cultures, the diffusion of information and of services. On the other hand, however, many are living the negative effects of these realities without realizing how they affect a proper vision of man and of the world. This generates enormous confusion and an emptiness which people are unable to explain, regarding the purpose of life, personal disintegration, the loss of the experience of belonging to a “home” and the absence of personal space and strong personal ties.

And since there is no one to accompany them or to show them with his or her own life the true way, many have sought shortcuts, because the standards set by Mother Church seem to be asking too much. There are also those who recognize the ideal of man and of life as proposed by the Church, but they do not have the audacity to embrace it. They think that this ideal is too lofty for them, that it is beyond their abilities, and that the goal the Church sets is unattainable. 

Nonetheless they cannot live without having at least something, even a poor imitation of what seems too grand and distant. With disappointed hearts, they then go off in search of something which will lead them even further astray, or which brings them to a partial belonging that, ultimately, does not fulfill their lives.

The great sense of abandonment and solitude, of not even belonging to oneself, which often results from this situation, is too painful to hide. Some kind of release is necessary. There is always the option of complaining. But even complaint acts like a boomerang; it comes back and ends up increasing one’s unhappiness. Few people are still capable of hearing the voice of pain; the best we can do is to anaesthetize it.

From this point of view, we need a Church capable of walking at people’s side, of doing more than simply listening to them; a Church which accompanies them on their journey; a Church able to make sense of the “night” contained in the flight of so many of our brothers and sisters from Jerusalem; a Church which realizes that the reasons why people leave also contain reasons why they can eventually return. But we need to know how to interpret, with courage, the larger picture. Jesus warmed the hearts of the disciples of Emmaus.

I would like all of us to ask ourselves today: are we still a Church capable of warming hearts? A Church capable of leading people back to Jerusalem? Of bringing them home? Jerusalem is where our roots are: Scripture, catechesis, sacraments, community, friendship with the Lord, Mary and the apostles… Are we still able to speak of these roots in a way that will revive a sense of wonder at their beauty?

Many people have left because they were promised something more lofty, more powerful, and faster.

But what is more lofty than the love revealed in Jerusalem? Nothing is more lofty than the abasement of the Cross, since there we truly approach the height of love! Are we still capable of demonstrating this truth to those who think that the apex of life is to be found elsewhere?
Do we know anything more powerful than the strength hidden within the weakness of love, goodness, truth and beauty?

People today are attracted by things that are faster and faster: rapid Internet connections, speedy cars and planes, instant relationships. But at the same time we see a desperate need for calmness, I would even say slowness. Is the Church still able to move slowly: to take the time to listen, to have the patience to mend and reassemble? Or is the Church herself caught up in the frantic pursuit of efficiency? Dear brothers, let us recover the calm to be able to walk at the same pace as our pilgrims, keeping alongside them, remaining close to them, enabling them to speak of the disappointments present in their hearts and to let us address them. They want to forget Jerusalem, where they have their sources, but eventually they will experience thirst. We need a Church capable of accompanying them on the road back to Jerusalem! A Church capable of helping them to rediscover the glorious and joyful things that are spoken of Jerusalem, and to understand that she is my Mother, our Mother, and that we are not orphans! We were born in her. Where is our Jerusalem, where were we born? In Baptism, in the first encounter of love, in our calling, in vocation.[5] We need a Church that kindles hearts and warms them.

We need a Church capable of restoring citizenship to her many children who are journeying, as it were, in an exodus.

4. Challenges facing the Church in Brazil

In the light of what I have said above, I would like to emphasize several challenges facing the beloved Church in Brazil.

Formation as a priority: Bishops, priests, religious, laity

Dear brothers, unless we train ministers capable of warming people’s hearts, of walking with them in the night, of dialoguing with their hopes and disappointments, of mending their brokenness, what hope can we have for our present and future journey? It isn’t true that God’s presence has been dimmed in them. Let us learn to look at things more deeply. What is missing is someone to warm their heart, as was the case with the disciples of Emmaus (cf. Lk24:32).

That is why it is important to devise and ensure a suitable formation, one which will provide persons able to step into the night without being overcome by the darkness and losing their bearings; able to listen to people’s dreams without being seduced and to share their disappointments without losing hope and becoming bitter; able to sympathize with the brokenness of others without losing their own strength and identity.

What is needed is a solid human, cultural, effective, spiritual and doctrinal formation.[6] Dear brother Bishops, courage is needed to undertake a thorough review of the structures in place for the formation and preparation of the clergy and the laity of the Church in Brazil. It is not enough that formation be considered a vague priority, either in documents or at meetings. What is needed is the practical wisdom to set up lasting educational structures on the local, regional and national levels and to take them to heart as Bishops, without sparing energy, concern and personal interest. The present situation calls for quality formation at every level. Bishops may not delegate this task. You cannot delegate this task, but must embrace it as something fundamental for the journey of your Churches.

Collegiality and solidarity in the Episcopal Conference

The Church in Brazil needs more than a national leader; it needs a network of regional “testimonies” which speak the same language and in every place ensure not unanimity, but true unity in the richness of diversity.

Communion is a fabric to be woven with patience and perseverance, one which gradually “draws together the stitches” to make a more extensive and thick cover. A threadbare cover will not provide warmth.

It is important to remember Aparecida, the method of gathering diversity together. Not so much a diversity of ideas in order to produce a document, but a variety of experiences of God, in order to set a vital process in motion.

The disciples of Emmaus returned to Jerusalem, recounting their experience of meeting the risen Christ. There they came to know other manifestations of the Lord and the experiences of their brothers and sisters. The Episcopal Conference is precisely a vital space for enabling such an exchange of testimonies about encounters with the Risen One, in the north, in the south, in the west… There is need, then, for a greater appreciation of local and regional elements. Central bureaucracy is not sufficient; there is also a need for increased collegiality and solidarity. This will be a source of true enrichment for all.[7]

Permanent state of mission and pastoral conversion

Aparecida spoke about a permanent state of mission[8] and of the need for pastoral conversion.[9] These are two important results of that Assembly for the entire Church in the area, and the progress made in Brazil on these two points has been significant.

Concerning mission, we need to remember that its urgency derives from its inner motivation; in other words, it is about handing on a legacy. As for method, it is essential to realize that a legacy is about witness, it is like the baton in a relay race: you don’t throw it up in the air for whoever is able to catch it, so that anyone who doesn’t catch it has to manage without. In order to transmit a legacy, one needs to hand it over personally, to touch the one to whom one wants to give, to relay, this inheritance.

Concerning pastoral conversion, I would like to recall that “pastoral care” is nothing other than the exercise of the Church’s motherhood. She gives birth, suckles, gives growth, corrects, nourishes and leads by the hand … So we need a Church capable of rediscovering the maternal womb of mercy. Without mercy we have little chance nowadays of becoming part of a world of “wounded” persons in need of understanding, forgiveness, love.

In mission, also on a continental level,[10] it is very important to reaffirm the family, which remains the essential cell of society and the Church; young people, who are the face of the Church’s future; women, who play a fundamental role in passing on the faith and who are a daily source of strength in a society that carries this faith forward and renews it. Let us not reduce the involvement of women in the Church, but instead promote their active role in the ecclesial community. If the Church, in her complete and real dimension, loses women, she risks becoming sterile. Aparecida also highlights the vocation and mission of the man in the family, in the Church and in society, as fathers, workers and citizens. Let us take this seriously!

The task of the Church in society

In the context of society, there is only one thing which the Church quite clearly demands: the freedom to proclaim the Gospel in its entirety, even when it runs counter to the world, even when it goes against the tide. In so doing, she defends treasures of which she is merely the custodian, and values which she does not create but rather receives, to which she must remain faithful.

The Church affirms the right to serve man in his wholeness, and to speak of what God has revealed about human beings and their fulfilment. The Church wants to make present that spiritual patrimony without which society falls apart and cities are overwhelmed by their own walls, pits and barriers. The Church has the right and the duty to keep alive the flame of human freedom and unity.

Education, health, social harmony are pressing concerns in Brazil. The Church has a word to say on these issues, because any adequate response to these challenges calls for more than merely technical solutions; there has to be an underlying view of man, his freedom, his value, his openness to the transcendent. Dear brother Bishops, do not be afraid to offer this contribution of the Church, which benefits society as a whole and to offer this word “incarnate” also through witness.

The Amazon Basin as a litmus test for Church and society in Brazil

There is one final point on which I would like to dwell, which I consider relevant for the present and future journey not only of the Brazilian Church but of the whole society, namely, the Amazon Basin. The Church’s presence in the Amazon Basin is not that of someone with bags packed and ready to leave after having exploited everything possible. The Church has been present in the Amazon Basin from the beginning, in her missionaries, religious congregations, priests, laity and Bishops and she is still present and critical to the area’s future. I think of the welcome which the Church in the Amazon Basin is offering today to Haitian immigrants following the terrible earthquake which shook their country.

I would like to invite everyone to reflect on what Aparecida said about the Amazon Basin,[11] its forceful appeal for respect and protection of the entire creation which God has entrusted to man, not so that it be indiscriminately exploited, but rather made into a garden. 

In considering the pastoral challenge represented by the Amazon Basin, I have to express my thanks for all that the Church in Brazil is doing: the Episcopal Commission for the Amazon Basin established in 1997 has already proved its effectiveness and many dioceses have responded readily and generously to the appeal for solidarity by sending lay and priestly missionaries. I think Archbishop Jaime Chemelo, a pioneer in this effort, and Cardinal Hummes, the current President of the Commission. But I would add that the Church’s work needs to be further encouraged and launched afresh. There is a need for quality formators, especially formators and professors of theology, for consolidating the results achieved in the area of training a native clergy and providing priests suited to local conditions and committed to consolidating, as it were, the Church’s “Amazonian face”. In this, please, I ask you, be courageous, and have parrhesia! In the “porteño” language [of Buenos Aires], be fearless.

Dear brother Bishops, I have attempted to offer you in a fraternal spirit some reflections and approaches for a Church like that of Brazil, which is a great mosaic made up of small stones, images, forms, problems and challenges, but which for this very reason is an enormous treasure. The Church is never uniformity, but diversities harmonized in unity, and this is true for every ecclesial reality.

May the Virgin of Aparecida be the star which illumines your task and your journey of bringing Christ, as she did, to all the men and women of your immense country. Just as he did for the two lost and disillusioned disciples of Emmaus, he will warm your hearts and give you new and certain hope.

[1] The Aparecida Document stresses how children, young people and the elderly build the future of peoples (cf. No. 447).
[2] I recall for example, to cite only a few: Lorscheider, Mendes de Almeida, Sales, Vital, Camara, Macedo... as well as the first Bishop in Brazil, Pero Fernandes Sardinha (1551/1556), killed by hostile local tribes.
[3] Letter of 26 January 1833 to his mother, The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, vol. III (Oxford, 1979), p. 204.
[4] The Aparecida Document provides a synthetic presentation of the deeper reasons behind this phenomenon (cf. No. 225).
[5] Cf. also the four points mentioned by Aparecida (No. 226).
[6] The Aparecida Document gives great attention to the formation both of the clergy and the laity (cf. Nos, 316-325; 212).
[7] Also for this aspect the Aparecida Document offers important lines of approach (cf. Nos 181-183; 189).
[8] Cf. No. 216.
[9] Cf. Nos. 365-372.
[10] The conclusions of the Aparecida Conference insist on the countenance of a Church which is by her very nature evangelizing, which exists for evangelization, with boldness and freedom, at all levels (cf. Nos. 547-554).
[11] Cf. especially Nos. 83-87 and from the standpoint of a unitary pastoral plan, No. 475.

© Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Lord, teach us how to pray

The new parish bookkeeper was struggling in her first week on the job to open the combination on the safe to count the weekend’s collection.  She had been told to commit it to memory, but for the life of her, she just couldn’t remember it.  After many tries, she finally went to the pastor's office and asked for help. The pastor came into the room and began to turn the dial.  Bu, after the first two numbers he paused, stared blankly for a moment and shook his head.  Finally he took a deep breath, looked serenely up to Heaven and his lips began to move ever so silently. Then he looked back at the lock, and quickly turned to the final number, and opened the safe. The bookkeeper was amazed. “I'm in awe of your faith and the power of your prayers, Father,” she said.  “It's really nothing,” he answered. “The combination is written on a piece of tape on the ceiling.”

Our Scriptures today invite us to reflect upon the power of prayer in our lives.  Our reading from Genesis gives us the example of Abraham’s determined prayers as he steps forward in prayer to save the people of Sodom from God’s wrath.  And in our Gospel the disciples make the most import request that we can make in the spiritual life: “Lord, teach us how to pray.”  This is probably a question we’ve all wanted to ask the Lord at one point or another.  Everyone knows that we should be people of prayer, but the search for the effective prayer isn’t always an easy one. 

Sometimes we think that prayer is about finding the right formula – if we say the correct words in the correct way, we’ll get what we’re looking for.  Perhaps if we pray the right novena on the right days, God will answer us.  Now, I’m not looking for a show of hands, but just think for a moment, how many of us have prayed the following types of prayers before:
  • “Oh God, if only you would help me pass this test; get this promotion”
  • “God, please don’t let that police officer see how fast I was going. Let him get the next guy.”
  • Or, “Oh God, if you get me out of this mess, I swear I’ll become a priest.”

These are what we call prayers of desperation, or 911 Prayers. As though all prayer consisted of were those moments when we pick up the God phone, dial 911, and help is on the way.   Now, this isn’t to suggest that we shouldn’t be calling on God for help in tough times. He should always be our first call.  The problem with these prayers is that they view prayer as a Divine Bargaining – God, You do this and I’ll do that.  In other words, the question behind them is what do I have to give (or do, or say) to get the thing I want.

But, Jesus reminds us today that prayer first and foremost is not about a bargain; rather it is always about relationship.  Prayer is not merely an event that responds to certain situations in our lives, it must be in fact our way of life. This is what St. Paul is talking about in First Thessalonians when he tells us to “be unceasing in prayer.” He means, we should lead lives that themselves become prayer.

So prayer is relationship.  But, what kind of relationship?  Well, notice how Jesus begins and ends what He has to say about prayer in today’s Gospel.  He begins by saying, “When you pray, say: ‘Father“ and He ends with the words, “If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father.” Jesus sandwiches everything He has to say about prayer in the language of a relationship between child and father, between child and parent.  Prayer is a family affair based on a relationship of familiarity and love, of tenderness and intimacy – not on power, authority, or bargaining.

One way to think about this relationship is to think of the word “FAMILY” as an acronym standing for: Forget About Me, I Love You in opposition to a world that tells us to Forget about YOU, I Love ME!  The life of prayerful relationship cares about God first, then others before ourselves. So, our prayer doesn’t begin with asking God to do things for us in exchange for other things.  It begins with getting to know a God who loves us so deeply and so intimately that He wants us to think of Him as our Father. Jesus understood this so well that He called God “Abba,” a title best translated as “Daddy.”  When someone prays before their Abba, it isn’t about correct formulas; it is only about correct hearts.  Hearts that understand family: forget about me, I love you.

You see, when we nurture our relationship with God through prayer, He knows our needs just like we know the needs of the people closest to us before they ever say them.  He knows our hearts when we share our hearts with Him each and every day and so He can respond to what we need because we have been with Him in our moments of prayer as a Father or Mother is with their child.  Prayer is powerful and can move mountains – but the power of prayer comes from its regularity, its depth of relationship. Anyone can have powerful results in prayer, but they must nurture a daily relationship with God to get there.

Let us ask with the disciples today, “Lord, teach us how to pray.”  I encourage everyone to do a few simple things.  Take a few minutes at the beginning of each day to say, “Abba, Father, I love you.  I know that there is nothing that can happen today that you and I can’t handle together.”  In the middle of the day, say, “God, I’m thinking of you.  Be with me today.”  At the end of the day, simply say, “God, thank you for gift and blessings of this day.  I’m sorry for all the things I may have done wrong.  I ask your forgiveness and strength to do better tomorrow.”  It really is that easy!  “Lord, teach us how to pray.”

And may God give you peace!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Massachusetts Bishops issue statement of support for immigration reform

The victory for comprehensive immigration reform achieved in the vote of the U.S. Senate is a major step along the road to a new future for immigrants to this country. This crucial victory now leads to an equally important vote in the U.S. House of Representatives. At this juncture in the legislative process, it is useful to reflect briefly on the significance of comprehensive immigration reform for the United States. The challenge this issue poses for us as citizens of one of the most diverse societies in the world is multidimensional:  moral and legal; political and economic; an issue important for both domestic politics and U.S. foreign policy. It invites us as Americans to continue one of our best traditions – welcoming the stranger – and to recognize the challenges and opportunities of a globalized economy.
Fifty years ago John F. Kennedy said of another issue – civil rights – that it was as old as the Scriptures and as clear as our Constitution. Immigration reform has its own biblical basis and constitutional objectives. In many ways civil rights and comprehensive immigration reform share key political, legal and, at a deeper level, moral characteristics. The moral content of the issues our nation faced during the struggle for civil rights, that we face today as we seek comprehensive immigration reform, is about the God given dignity of each person and the protection of human dignity and human rights.
As the Catholic bishops of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, we stand in solidarity with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and its many statements of the past decade in support of comprehensive immigration reform. Most recently, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, the Chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration said:

“Each day in our parishes, social service programs, hospitals and schools, we witness the human consequences of a broken immigration system. Families are separated, migrant workers are exploited, and our fellow human beings die in the desert. Without positive change to our immigration laws, we cannot help our brothers and sisters. Simply put, the status quo is morally unacceptable. This suffering must end.”
The Senate vote on June 27, 2013, is a significant step in challenging the morally unacceptable aspects of our present immigration system. Comprehensive reform of the system is a large and complex challenge. At the center of the challenge are critical objectives:

-          The primary need is to provide a secure path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented persons already in this country. Proposals which offer less than citizenship as a final objective will not meet the promise of the present moment and should be resisted.
-          A complementary objective of comprehensive reform involves effective measures to improve aspects of the security of the nation’s borders; this is a legitimate concern for any country.
-          Achieving of this objective, however, should not be used to prevent relief for those presently without citizenship.
Immigration reform should also be guided by the objective of family reunification. The stability of the family, based on a man, woman, and children, is as necessary to protect children of immigrants as it is for all of the citizens of this diverse nation.

In the Catholic community, welcoming the immigrant is central to our beliefs and lived out in our institutions. The principles of our moral teaching, convictions about personal dignity, human rights, and the unity of the human family are the foundations of our public advocacy for comprehensive reform. In our schools, social service agencies, and our health care institutions, we encounter daily the faces of those who come to this nation from around the world. They come often from situations of poverty, conflict and upheaval; they come also with hopes and dreams of what America can be for them and their families. As a Church, we seek to join with others in our nation to provide care and resources for their integration into American society. We use this moment after the Senate vote, and facing the important deliberations of the U.S. House of Representatives, to invite reflection and support from our religious community and from our fellow citizens for the essential passage of immigration reform.

Cardinal Seán O’Malley, OFM, Cap.
Archbishop Archdiocese of Boston

Most Reverend George W. Coleman
Bishop Diocese of Fall River

Most Reverend Timothy A. McDonnell
Bishop Diocese of Springfield

Most Reverend Robert J. McManus
Bishop Diocese of Worcester

Monday, July 15, 2013

Prayer of St. Bonaventure

Feast of St. Bonaventure, July 15.  Born Giovanni di Fidanza, Bonaventure was an Italian Franciscan scholastic theologian and philosopher who had a profound impact on the Church. The seventh Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor, he was also a Cardinal Bishop of Albano. He was canonized on 14 April 1482 by Pope Sixtus IV and declared a Doctor of the Church in the year 1588 by Pope Sixtus V. He is known as the "Seraphic Doctor" (Latin: Doctor Seraphicus).This wonderful prayer of St. Bonaventure is recommended to be prayed after receiving Holy Communion:

Pierce, O most Sweet Lord Jesus, my inmost soul with the most joyous and healthful wound of Thy love, with true, serene, and most holy apostolic charity, that my soul may ever languish and melt with love and longing for Thee, that it may yearn for Thee and faint for Thy courts, and long to be dissolved and to be with Thee.

Grant that my soul may hunger after Thee, the bread of angels, the refreshment of holy souls, our daily and supersubstantial bread, having all sweetness and savor and every delight of taste; let my heart ever hunger after and feed upon Thee, upon whom the angels desire to look, and may my inmost soul be filled with the sweetness of Thy savor; may it ever thirst after Thee, the fountain of life, the fountain of wisdom and knowledge, the fountain of eternal light, the torrent of pleasure, the richness of the house of God.

May it ever compass Thee, seek Thee, find Thee, run to Thee, attain Thee, meditate upon Thee, speak of Thee, and do all things to the praise and glory of Thy name, with humility and discretion, with love and delight, with ease and affection, and with perseverance unto the end.

May Thou alone be ever my hope, my entire assurance, my riches, my delight, my pleasure, my joy, my rest and tranquility, my peace, my sweetness, my fragrance, my sweet savor, my food, my refreshment, my refuge, my help, my wisdom, my portion, my possession and my treasure, in whom may my mind and my heart be fixed and firmly rooted immovably henceforth and for ever.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Please won't you be my neighbor?

If you’re like me and millions-upon-millions of other people of a certain age, you grew up each day listening to Mr. Fred Rogers sing a little song that went something like this, “It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood, A beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?...Won't you please, Won't you please? Please won't you be my neighbor?  Hi neighbor.”  Every day, Mr. Rogers would invite his viewers, even beg them to please be his neighbor as he took us to the land of Make-Believe or taught lessons on how to be peaceful people or how to deal with difficult situations or just to meet the many different people in the neighborhood.  It was clear that everyone was a neighbor in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood.

I was thinking of that wonderful childhood memory today as I was reflecting on our Gospel passage about neighbors.  We heard Jesus proclaim the Christian Golden Rule, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  This Golden Rule is well known to us, but it is not just a Christian thing. Nearly every religion and culture in the world has the Golden Rule in one form or another. For example, in Judaism, they say, “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man.”  In Buddhism, “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” In Hinduism, “Do nothing unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.” And in Islam, “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.”
So, why did Jesus spend so much time teaching it as if it was a new thing? Well, it’s because as so often happens, Jesus gives us a completely new understanding of this well-known command. And the key difference in the Christian understanding comes from that simple question asked today, “Who is my neighbor?

You see, among the Jews of Jesus' time there were those who understood “neighbor” in a very limited way. One group, the Essenes, for example, required new members to swear to love the sons of light and hate the sons of darkness. For them, your neighbor is limited to those who share your religious view; you have no obligation to the rest. Other groups, like the Zealots, understood neighbor to include only those of the same nationality or ethnicity. And so, in our Gospel passage today, they would not regard the Samaritan as a neighbor; Samaritans are outsiders and the circle of neighborly love clearly does not include them. Jesus came into a world of “us” and “them,” “us” being the circle of those recognized as neighbors, and “them” being the rest of the world regarded as hostile strangers and enemies.

This radically different interpretation of the Golden Rule in Jesus' teaching of neighborly love is in His insistence that all humanity is really one big neighborhood; just like Mr. Rogers.  Jesus broke down the walls of division and the borders of prejudice and suspicion that humans have erected between “us” and “them” throughout time. To bring home this point He tells the story of the Good Samaritan. This man regarded as Enemy Number One by the establishment for no other reason than that he is a Samaritan, is ironically the one who truly proves himself to be neighbor to the Jewish man in need. Thus to the question “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus offers new and challenging answer to His hearers: Anyone and everyone is your neighbor – without exception.

In our own world – whether during times of war or debates over immigration law -  we need to be reminded that everyone is our neighbor – even the enemy; even the immigrant; even the one we don’t like or who doesn’t like us. They are our neighbor and we must offer them mercy. We must overcome our tendency to likewise think in terms of “us” and “them” and instead heed the command of Jesus today to, “Go and do likewise” – to offer mercy, to treat everyone with respect, to be neighbor to the world. 

Jesus reminds us that our understanding of neighbor must be expanded to include even the so-called “nobodies” of society. The Christian understanding of “neighbor” has no borders or boundaries. Today we are called to identify and tear down all the borders we have erected between those who belong to us (and are deemed deserving of our love and concern) and those who don't belong to us (those we somehow allow ourselves to ignore or marginalize). The Gospel today challenges us all to dismantle these walls. This way we work with Jesus to realize His dream of the world as a neighborhood without borders or boundaries.

Jesus' story tells us that when we truly love our neighbor, we must be willing to help no matter how the person got into their situation of need.  It also shows us that our love and concern to help others in need must be practical. Good intentions and empathizing with others is not enough; we must do good to one another. And lastly, our love for others must be as wide as God's love. No one is excluded. God's love is unconditional. So we must be ready to do good to others for their sake, just as God is good to us.

Jesus said, “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.”  Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”  Let us love our neighbors as ourselves without restriction, without boundaries.  Please won’t you be my neighbor?

May the Lord give you peace.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

"Listen and attend with the ear of your heart" | Happy St. Benedict Day!

NOTE: Today we celebrate the Memorial of St. Benedict of Nursia, often called the father of Western monasticism.  His Rule is a Christian treasure and a classic and is still lived by tens of thousands of Benedictine monks and sisters throughout the world including my good friends at St. Anselm Abbey in New Hampshire.  Below are some of my favorite selections from the Rule of St. Benedict, but click the previous title to read the whole Rule.  

  • “Listen and attend with the ear of your heart.” 
  • "Prefer nothing to the love of Christ."
  • “The first degree of humility is prompt obedience.” 
  • “Idleness is the enemy of the soul; an
    d therefore the brethren ought to be employed in manual labor at certain times, at others, in devout reading.”
  • “And let them first pray together, that so they may associate in peace.” 
  • “He should first show them in deeds rather than words all that is good and holy.”
  • “He should know that whoever undertakes the government of souls must prepare himself to account for them.” 
  • “The prophet shows that, for the sake of silence, we are to abstain even from good talk. If this be so, how much more needful is it that we refrain from evil words, on account of the penalty of the sin!” 
  • “The sleepy like to make excuses.” 
  • “Wherefore let us consider how it behoveth us to be in the sight of God and the angels, and so let us take our part in the psalmody that mind and voice accord together.” 
  • "Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die."
  • "For nothing is so inconsistent with the life of any Christian as overindulgence."
  • "When they live by the labor of their hands, as our fathers and the apostles did, then they are really monks. Yet, all things are to be done with moderation on account of the faint-hearted."
  • “No one is to pursue what is judged best for oneself, but instead, what is better for someone else.”
  • “Let peace be your quest and aim.”

Changing the impossible

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