Thursday, May 30, 2013

"If you change at my age, you just look ridiculous" | Pope Francis

Pope Francis' bedroom at the Vatican's Santa Marta hotel (AP)
He has told a friend that he likes being in daily contact with ordinary people, does not want to be isolated and enjoys sitting down to meals with visiting clergy.
The Pope, 76, who on first seeing the papal apartments reportedly exclaimed "But there is room here for 300 people!" hinted that the arrangement may be permanent.
The Pope broke with Vatican tradition when he decided, after being elected on March 13 during a secret conclave of cardinals, not to live in the apostolic apartments.
Instead he opted to remain in the Casa Santa Marta, a Vatican residence which accommodates visiting clergy and lay people, where he had stayed with his fellow cardinals during the conclave.
He lives in a suite of rooms in the residence, which sits in the shadow of St Peter's Basilica, on the other side of the Vatican city state to the apostolic apartments.
He explained his choice in a letter written two weeks ago to an old friend, Father Enrique Martinez, a priest at the Church of the Annunciation in La Rioja.
"I didn't want to go and live in the apostolic palace. I go over there just to work and for audiences.
"I've remained living in the Casa Santa Marta, which is a residence which accommodates bishops, priests and lay people." There he feels "part of a family" he wrote in the letter, which was obtained by Clarin, an Argentinian daily.
"I'm visible to people and I lead a normal life – a public Mass in the morning, I eat in the refectory with everyone else, et cetera. All this is good for me and prevents me from being isolated.
"I'm trying to stay the same and to act as I did in Buenos Aires because if you change at my age you just look ridiculous." The Pope, the first Jesuit pontiff in history and the first to come from the Americas, said his election was "something totally surprising" which he considers "a gift from God".
His predecessor, Benedict XVI, is living a quiet life of retirement in a former convent on the other side of the Vatican.
The Pope got soaked on Wednesday as he was driven around St Peter's Square in an open-air white jeep as part of his weekly audience.
Despite driving rain, he waved to the crowds and kissed babies who were handed up to him.
When he reached a covered platform overlooking the piazza, he was given a roll of paper towels with which to mop his face. He thanked the crowd for braving the bad weather.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Pope bows to receive blessing of children

I challenge you to not tear up as you watch this tender video clip.  Pope Francis bows to accept the blessing of these young First Communion children as they sing the Blessing of St. Francis:


The Lord bless you and keep you.
May He show His face to you and have mercy.
May He turn His countenance to you and give you peace.
The Lord bless you!

Watch after they are done singing, how tenderly he interacts with these young people.  Just beautiful.  What a pastor we have in our Holy Father!


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Trusting the Father, Following the Son, Listening to the Spirit | Trinity Sunday

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE HOLY TRINITY, May 26, 2013:
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A long time ago, the Jesuits and Franciscans were both offered a large and beautiful church in Rome, but didn’t know how to decide who should get it. So, they held a debate to settle the issue.  Each Order sent their greatest theologian to Rome; and just to make it more interesting, they decided neither theologian would be able to speak.  The day of the great debate came. The Jesuit sat opposite the Franciscan for a full minute before the Jesuit raised his hand and showed three fingers. The Franciscan looked back at him and raised one finger. The Jesuit waved his fingers in a circle around his head. The Franciscan pointed to the ground where he sat. Then Jesuit pulled out a wafer and a glass of wine. And the Franciscan pulled out an apple. Finally, the Jesuit stood up and said, “I give up. You are too good. The Franciscans win!”

An hour later, the cardinals were gathered around the Jesuit theologian asking him what had happened. He said, “First I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up one finger to remind me that there was really only one God. Then I waved my finger around me to show him that God was all around us. He responded by pointing to the ground and showing that God was also right here with us. I pulled out the wine and wafer to show the power of the sacraments. He pulled out an apple to remind me of original sin. He had an answer for everything. What could I do?”

Meanwhile, the friars were gathered around the Franciscan theologian with the same question, “What happened?” “Well,” the Franciscan said, “First he played hardball and said we had three days to get out of here. I told him not one of us was leaving. Then he told me that this whole place would be cleared of Franciscans and I let him know that we were staying right here.” “And, what happened next?” the friars asked. The Franciscan said, “I don't know. He took out his lunch, so I took out mine.”

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity – the mystery of God as three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and yet one God.  It is perhaps one of the most challenging mysteries of the faith to understand from an intellectual perspective.  How can three things be one? St. Patrick famously tried to explain this using the image of the shamrock – three leaves, yet one shamrock.  St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, used the image of the musical chord – made up of many notes, but making one single sound.  Others have used the image of water – steam, liquid and ice – yet all chemically the same. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about the Trinity, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the mystery of God in Himself…The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to people.”  Does that clear things up for you?  Probably not.  And yet, I think we can come to a better understanding of the Trinity in our lives.

And that is the key – the mystery of the Trinity is lived, not dissected under a microscope.  Pope Francis said today, “The Holy Trinity is not the product of human reasoning, but the face with which God has revealed Himself, walking with humanity.”  I started today with my little joke about Franciscans and Jesuits and, as you know, I am a member of the Franciscan Order, and I think today, looking at religious life might be a helpful way to understand the lived mystery of God in Three Persons.
As you may know, members of religious communities like mine, the Franciscans, take three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.  Maybe you didn’t know that diocesan priests like Fr. Mark and the other priests who serve here don’t take those three vows – they only take one: a vow of obedience to the Bishop. They also make a promise of celibacy.  But, in religious life, we take those three – poverty, chastity and obedience; or as one of our older friars likes to shorthand it, “No money. No honey. No say!” 

The vows have historically been viewed in a Trinitarian way; as a devotion to God in Three Persons.  For example, poverty can be viewed as a complete devotion to God the Father; as an opportunity to put your trust completely in the Father’s care.  As Jesus said in Luke’s Gospel, “Do not worry about your life and what you will eat or about your body and what you will wear. Your Father knows what you need. Seek His kingdom and these things will be given you.”

The vow of chastity is viewed as a special devotion to God the Son.  Jesus Himself lived a chaste and single life as all religious do. He thought of Himself as being a member of every family but belonging to no one family. Most importantly, the vow of chastity is a profound expression of the personal love we strive to have for Jesus, our Lord and our model as we try to follow Him as closely as possible.

Finally, the vow of obedience is a devotion to the Holy Spirit.  The word “obedience” comes from the Latin word meaning “to hear.”  When we take a vow of obedience, we dedicate ourselves to “listening” for the voice of God in His Holy Spirit to learn more clearly God’s will for our lives.  And, we believe that the Holy Spirit speaks that will for us through our religious community and our religious superiors.

But, these three principles can be an effective way of understanding Trinity in the lives of everyone.  They come down to this: trusting the Father, following the Son and listening to the Holy Spirit.  Even though we don’t all take the same vows, we are all called to live those same Trinitarian values – trust, follow and listen. 

When our world throws us its various ups and downs in the workplace, in our relationships, in our families and in our friendships – we are called to trust deeply in God our Father; that He has a plan for our future and that He will provide for what we need.   In a world full of selfishness and self-centeredness that wants us to seek money and power and fame, to accumulate more and more for ourselves to the detriment of our brothers and sisters, we need to be committed to following God the Son who reminds us in the depths of our hearts, “This is my commandment: love one another.”  And in a world that is full of conflicting voices and ideas; ideologies and principles, we need to listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  There are so many times when we don’t know what is right or what the best way to handle a situation is.  Especially at these times, we need to pause in prayer and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Trusting in the Father, following the Son and listening to the Holy Spirit – these are the ways to walk with God as He has revealed Himself to us as Holy Trinity.  After all, that’s what this feast is really about – the celebration of a Father who we can truly trust, a Son who we can always follow, and a Spirit who is our constant companion offering us the surest guidance if we take the time to listen.

Let us end with the great prayer to the Trinity together: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever, world without end. Amen.


And may God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit give you His peace.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The 8th Sacrament: the Sacrament of Pastoral Customs | Pope Francis

NOTE: These are challenging words for every parish that treats the Sacraments like prizes to be held over the heads of those they are distributed to instead of the doorways to Grace and conversion and encounter with the living God that they are.  To those who make it difficult, the Pope says today, "What is this?  A closed door! This is not zeal! It is far from the Lord! It does not open doors! And so when we are on this street, have this attitude, we do not do good to people, the people, the People of God, but Jesus instituted the seven sacraments with this attitude and we are establishing the eighth: the sacrament of pastoral customs!"  Open the doors of faith! - FT

(Vatican Radio) Those who approach the Church should find the doors open and not find people who want to control the faith. This is what the Pope said this morning during Mass in the Casa Santa Marta. 

The day's Gospel tells us that Jesus rebukes the disciples who seek to remove children that people bring to the Lord to bless. "Jesus embraces them, kisses them, touches them, all of them. It tires Jesus and his disciples "want it to stop”. Jesus is indignant: "Jesus got angry, sometimes." And he says: "Let them come to me, do not hinder them. For the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these." "The faith of the People of God – observes the Pope - is a simple faith, a faith that is perhaps without much theology, but it has an inward theology that is not wrong, because the Spirit is behind it." The Pope mentions Vatican I and Vatican II, where it is said that "the holy people of God ... cannot err in matters of belief" (Lumen Gentium). And to explain this theological formulation he adds: "If you want to know who Mary is go to the theologian and he will tell you exactly who Mary is. But if you want to know how to love Mary go to the People of God who teach it better. " The people of God - continued the Pope - "are always asking for something closer to Jesus, they are sometimes a bit 'insistent in this. But it is the insistence of those who believe ."


"I remember once, coming out of the city of Salta, on the patronal feast, there was a humble lady who asked for a priest's blessing. The priest said, 'All right, but you were at the Mass' and explained the whole theology of blessing in the church. You did well: 'Ah, thank you father, yes father,' said the woman. When the priest had gone, the woman turned to another priest: 'Give me your blessing!'. All these words did not register with her, because she had another necessity: the need to be touched by the Lord. That is the faith that we always look for , this is the faith that brings the Holy Spirit. We must facilitate it, make it grow, help it grow. "
The Pope also mentioned the story of the blind man of Jericho, who was rebuked by the disciples because he cried to the Lord, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"


"The Gospel says that they didn’t want him to shout, they wanted him not to shout but he wanted to shout more, why? Because he had faith in Jesus! The Holy Spirit had put faith in his heart. And they said, 'No, you cannot do this! You don’t shout to the Lord. Protocol does not allow it. And 'the second Person of the Trinity! Look what you do... 'as if they were saying that, right? ".


And think about the attitude of many Christians: "Think of the good Christians, with good will, we think about the parish secretary, a secretary of the parish ... 'Good evening, good morning, the two of us - boyfriend and girlfriend - we want to get married'. And instead of saying, 'That's great!'. They say, 'Oh, well, have a seat. If you want the Mass, it costs a lot ... '. This, instead of receiving a good welcome- It is a good thing to get married! '- But instead they get this response:' Do you have the certificate of baptism, all right ... '. And they find a closed door. When this Christian and that Christian has the ability to open a door, thanking God for this fact of a new marriage ... We are many times controllers of faith, instead of becoming facilitators of the faith of the people. "

And 'there is always a temptation - said the Pope - "try and take possession of the Lord." And he tells another story: "Think about a single mother who goes to church, in the parish and to the secretary she says: 'I want my child baptized'. And then this Christian, this Christian says: 'No, you cannot because you're not married!'. But look, this girl who had the courage to carry her pregnancy and not to return her son to the sender, what is it? A closed door! This is not zeal! It is far from the Lord! It does not open doors! And so when we are on this street, have this attitude, we do not do good to people, the people, the People of God, but Jesus instituted the seven sacraments with this attitude and we are establishing the eighth: the sacrament of pastoral customs! ".


"Jesus is indignant when he sees these things" - said the Pope - because those who suffer are "his faithful people, the people that he loves so much"


"We think today of Jesus, who always wants us all to be closer to Him, we think of the Holy People of God, a simple people, who want to get closer to Jesus and we think of so many Christians of goodwill who are wrong and that instead of opening a door they close the door of goodwill ... So we ask the Lord that all those who come to the Church find the doors open, find the doors open, open to meet this love of Jesus. We ask this grace. "

Friday, May 24, 2013

Pope Francis' challenge to the Franciscans | General Minister Michael A. Perry, OFM

New leader says Pope has energized the Franciscans | Catholic News Service

General Minister Michael A. Perry, OFM

By Cindy Wooden (Catholic News Service)

ROME (CNS) -- The new minister general of the Order of Friars Minor said the Franciscans are united, energized and challenged by the ministry of the new pope, whose name honors their founder, St. Francis of Assisi.

Pope Francis "has energized us, but he also has challenged us just by who he is," said U.S. Franciscan Father Michael Perry, who was elected May 22. The pope's "authenticity is challenging us to rediscover our own authenticity, and calling us to simplify our lives and to speak less and demonstrate more who we are."

It's not a matter of promoting the Franciscan "brand," Father Perry said, but of demonstrating that "simplicity of life means greater life for all people, it means greater access to all that people need to have dignity and survive on this small, tiny planet we have. It means respecting creation so that we do not destroy the environment in which we live."

Father Perry said he was at the Franciscan headquarters March 13, watching television coverage of the announcement of the new pope.

"When I heard the name that he chose, I physically started shaking," he said, "because this man has taken the name of the person we hold as a model who calls us to live faithfully the Gospel. And I started thinking how short we fall sometimes in living the Gospel."

Many Franciscans quickly went on the Internet and began doing research on the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to find out if what he was saying and doing was "something being invented to make everything look good," Father Perry said. What they found was that "in fact, this man has lived for a very long time what he is calling all of us to take on."

Father Perry, 58, who had served as the order's vicar general since 2009, was elected minister general by the order's general council and 27 Franciscans representing different parts of the world.

He was chosen to serve until 2015, completing the six-year term of Spanish-born Archbishop Jose Rodriguez Carballo, who in April was appointed secretary of the Vatican's Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

Father Perry said the speed of his election -- just 25 minutes -- "was amazing. It demonstrated that we are together; there is a unity among us."

Even if it is not always easy to live as brothers, he said, "we know each other, we know each other's strengths and weaknesses."

Before the election, he said, the friars discussed the challenges and possibilities facing the order, a discussion that helped them focus on what they needed in a minister general. The election demonstrated "we have a common purpose, we have a sense of identity and a common history -- not to pull us backward but really to push us forward."

Although the 14,000 Franciscan Friars Minor represent only half the members the order had at its height in the 1960s, he said those who enter and stay today seem to have a stronger understanding of why they are making a commitment as Franciscans and what they want to do as Franciscans, especially in serving the poor, promoting peace and safeguarding creation.

St. Francis calls "us to see all of creation not as something inanimate, something outside of us, but it is part of who we are; it has a personality, it has a dignity," Father Perry said.

The Franciscan superior said he and his brothers don't mind at all that other Christians, people of other religions and even non-believers love and respect St. Francis and hold him up as an example for all sorts of good and holy causes.

St. Francis "brings us back to the very core of who we are as human beings," Father Perry said. "Francis is a convener of humanity, he helps people come together and see what really matters for their lives and that we can live together in peace, we can care for one another and we can care for our world."

In 2008, less than a year before his election as vicar general, Father Perry was elected provincial of the Franciscans' St. Louis-based Sacred Heart Province.

Father Perry had worked on African development for Catholic Relief Services, as an international policy adviser for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and as head of the Africa desk at Franciscans International at the United Nations. He spent 10 years as a pastor, teacher and development director for Franciscan programs in Congo.

A native of Indianapolis, Father Perry holds a doctorate in religious anthropology, a master's of divinity in priestly formation and a bachelor's in history and philosophy. He entered the Franciscans in 1977 and was ordained a priest in 1984.

"Encourage religious to go from the good to the better" | Cardinal Bertone

NOTE: Below is the text of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State, for the Episcopal Ordination of Archbishop Jose Rodrigues Carballo, OFM, who was ordained on May 18, 2013 as he becomes the Secretary for the Congregation of Religious.

Cardinal Bertone lays hands during the Episcopal Ordination of Archbishop Jose Rodriguez Carballo, OFM

Eight cardinals (Bertone, Hummes, Maradiaga, Bráz de Avis, Monteiro, Bertello, Amigo and Cañizares), 10 archbishops (among them four nuncios) and 15 bishops of Spain and other countries, were present at the May 18 episcopal ordination of Friar José Rodríguez Carballo in Spain.

***
In this incomparable framework of the Cathedral of Compostela, I greet you with the words of the Saint of Assisi: “May the Lord give you peace.” I address with particular affection our beloved brother friar José Rodríguez Carbalho, up to now Minister General of the Franciscan Order of Minor Brothers, appointed by His Holiness, Pope Francis, Titular Archbishop of Belcastro and Secretary of the Congregation for Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, who, in a brief moment, by the imposition of hands and the prayer of consecration, will become a Successor of the Apostles. Together with him, I greet his brothers, nephews and other relatives here present. 
The mystery is so great that you, dear friar José, are going to live in a brief moment, and by which you will receive the plenitude of the priesthood and be incorporated forever in the Episcopal College, that, in the most solemn moment of your episcopal ordination, human words are silenced. You, and with you all of us, recollect ourselves in silence to God, whose hand stretches out over you to make you His own and He covers you to protect you. If by your religious profession in the Franciscan Order, when you were only 18 years old, you ceased to belong to yourself and became the property of the Lord, now, by the imposition of hands in your episcopal ordination, you become totally the Lord’s who, knew you and chose you from the maternal womb (cf. Jr 1:5). 
The prayer of consecration indicates that it is the Lord Himself who consecrates you and assumes you totally to his service, making you a full sharer of His priesthood and adding you forever to the Episcopal College. Manifested thus is the divine gratuitousness and initiative in your vocation: “You did not choose me, but I chose you,” says the Lord (John 15:16). 
During the ordination, we will impose on the head of the ordained the Book of the Gospels. If as Religious friar José assumed the Gospel as a way of life, in as much as he professed “to live the Holy Gospel of Our lord Jesus Christ” (Saint Francis, 2 Rule 1, 1), now, by the episcopal ordination, the Gospel penetrates him and transforms him into a “living exegesis of the Word” (Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, 83) or into a “living Gospel,” as is said of Saint Francis of Assisi. And given that the Gospel is not only Word but Christ Himself, with the imposition of the Book of the Gospels, he is asked to identify himself with the life itself of Christ, he is asked to live of Him, in Him and for Him, and that he be one with Him, in such a way that Jesus Himself gives form to his life and he is able to say with Saint Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
Called to make Jesus Christ, High and Eternal Priest, sacramentally present among men, you will answer to such a high vocation and mission by living your episcopate in an attitude of service: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God,” says the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 4:1). The bishop, following the example of Jesus, is called to behave as one who serves (cf. John 13:13-14). “Chosen from among men,” remember, brother José, that you have been “appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God” (cf. Hebrews 5:1). In an attitude of minority, from the logic of the gift, with fidelity, prudence and goodness, give yourself unreservedly to all those persons the Lord puts in your way. 
In your case, by the will of Pope Francis, you are called at this time to collaborate with the Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, so that the consecrated, in creative fidelity to Jesus, to their own charism and to the man of today, may be able to continue writing a great history in the life of the Church and at the service of humanity (cf. Vita Consecrata, 37.110). At all times, encourage religious and consecrated life to go from the good to the better, looking at the past with gratitude, embracing the future with hope, and living the present with enthusiasm (Cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 1).
To accomplish such a beautiful objective, keep in mind, in the first place, that “in an administrator, what is looked for is that he be faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). In as much as bishop, be faithful to the apostolic teaching, that in full communion with the Successor of Peter, you are called to transmit integrally, with your life and your word. Be faithful to the gift of God that is in you and that must be constantly renewed, as the Apostle asks (cf. 2 Timothy 1:6). Be faithful to the mission that the Holy Father Francis has entrusted to you. A great treasure has been entrusted to you, the treasure of religious and consecrated life, essential in the life and mission of the Church, as “it was desired by Jesus Himself as irremovable part of His Church” (Benedict XVI, Audience to the Bishops of Brazil, November 2010).
In the second place, the bishop, in as much as servant, must also be prudent. He is prudent who does not judge according to appearances or whims, but seeks the truth and gives it primacy in his life. In as much as bishop you must feel yourself a “mendicant of truth.” Always seek the truth, allow yourself to be molded by the Truth which is Christ and act according to it, and the truth will make you experience true freedom (cf. John 8:32).
The third characteristic, which must mark the life of a Bishop in as much as servant, is goodness. Good in the full sense, only God is (cf. Mark 10:18). He is, as Saint Francis says in one of his known prayers, “the Good, the whole Good, the Highest Good” (ALDA, 3), the Good par excellence, Goodness personified. The servant, and in our case the Bishop, will be good in the measure that his life is totally oriented to God, united interiorly to God living and true, through a personal relationship and an intense life of prayer. 
We are celebrating the Solemnity of Pentecost, feast of the Spirit, whom we confess as Lord and giver of life. On this day we implore his gifts upon the Church and, particularly, on friar José Rodríguez Carballo. We ask of the Spirit for the new Archbishop the gift of wisdom, to discern what comes from God and what is contrary to Him; the gift of understanding, so that he will be able to interpret the signs of the times and find the appropriate evangelical answer for them; the gift of counsel, so that he will speak always from God, and from Him be able to say a word of hope to the men and women of today; the gift of fortitude, so that he will be a witness of Christ and of His Gospel with fidelity and total dedication during his whole life; the gift of knowledge, so that he will penetrate the secrets of the Lord and be able to communicate them with simplicity and profundity; the gift of fear, so that he will always move away from anything that goes against the will of the Lord; the gift of piety, so that he will always maintain in his life a filial and confident relation with God, the Father of mercies.
The vocation and mission of the new Archbishop is not easy. What is more, I dare to say that if friar José leans only on his own strength, it would be impossible. But he is not alone. The Lord, who gave him the gift of being born and of being educated in a profoundly Christian family, and invited him to follow Him up close in the Franciscan life since he was a child -- as at ten and a half years of age he entered the Franciscan seminary of Herbon -- continued to love and accompany him. Friar José knows this, as he has experienced it many times in his life, “for with God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:37). Friar José knows, moreover, that the Spirit that today is shed upon him comes to the aid of his weakness, as Saint Paul asserted in the second reading (cf. Romans 8:26). Therefore, knowing whom he has believed, as the episcopal motto states (cf. 2 Timothy 1:12), with renewed dedication to the Lord, friar José says today as did the Most Holy Virgin: “Here I am, let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Fear not, friar José. You have our prayer and the prayer of thousands upon thousands of consecrated, and you have above all the strength of the Holy Spirit.
Dear friar José: May the Most Holy Virgin Mary, to whom since you were a child you have professed a tender and filial devotion in the names of Immaculate and of Sorrows, accompany you in your mission as bishop, at the service of the Church, of the People of God and, in particular, of religious and consecrated life. Fiat, fiat, amen, amen.
[Translation by ZENIT]

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Paradox of Pope Francis | Hans Kung: National Catholic Reporter

NOTE: This excellent article by famed theologian Hans Kung brings together three things I love: Pope Francis, Saint Francis and the Fourth Lateran Council.  Who could ask for more?  The author raises some interesting and provocative thoughts about the possibilities of reform that become possible with this Franciscan Papacy.  Where will the next few years take us? "Thus, the early Christian basic concerns of Francis of Assisi remain even today questions for the Catholic church and now for a pope who, indicating his intentions, has called himself Francis. It is above all about the three basic concerns of the Franciscan ideal that have to be taken seriously today: It is about poverty, humility and simplicity. This probably explains why no previous pope has dared to take the name of Francis: The expectations seem to be too high." - FT


By Hans Kung | May 21, 2013 | National Catholic Reporter


Who could have imagined what has happened in the last weeks?

When I decided, months ago, to resign all of my official duties on the occasion of my 85th birthday, I assumed I would never see fulfilled my dream that -- after all the setbacks following the Second Vatican Council -- the Catholic church would once again experience the kind of rejuvenation that it did under Pope John XXIII.

Then my theological companion over so many decades, Joseph Ratzinger -- both of us are now 85 -- suddenly announced his resignation from the papal office effective at the end of February. And on March 19, St. Joseph’s feast day and my birthday, a new pope with the surprising and programmatic name Francis assumed this office.

Has Jorge Mario Bergoglio considered why no pope has dared to choose the name of Francis until now? At any rate, the Argentine was aware that with the name of Francis he was connecting himself with Francis of Assisi, the world-famous 13th-century downshifter who had been the fun-loving, worldly son of a rich textile merchant in Assisi, until at the age of 24, he gave up his family, wealth and career, even giving his splendid clothes back to his father.

It is astonishing how, from the first minute of his election, Pope Francis chose a new style: unlike his predecessor, no miter with gold and jewels, no ermine-trimmed cape, no made-to-measure red shoes and headwear, no magnificent throne.

Astonishing, too, that the new pope deliberately abstains from solemn gestures and high-flown rhetoric and speaks in the language of the people.

And finally it is astonishing how the new pope emphasizes his humanity: He asked for the prayers of the people before he gave them his blessing; settled his own hotel bill like anybody else; showed his friendliness to the cardinals in the coach, in their shared residence, at the official goodbye; washed the feet of young prisoners, including those of a young Muslim woman. A pope who demonstrates that he is a man with his feet on the ground.

All this would have pleased Francis of Assisi and is the opposite of what Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) represented in his time. In 1209, Francis and 11 “lesser brothers” (fratres minores or friars minor) traveled to Rome to lay before Innocent their short rule, consisting entirely of quotations from the Bible, and to ask for papal approval for their way of life, living in poverty and preaching as lay preachers “according to the form of the Holy Gospel.”

Innocent III, the duke of Segni, who was only 37 when he was elected pope, was a born ruler; he was a theologian educated in Paris, a shrewd lawyer, a clever speaker, a capable administrator and a sophisticated diplomat. No pope before or after him had ever had as much power as he had. Innocent completed the revolution from above initiated by Gregory VII in the 11th century (“the Gregorian Reform”). Instead of the title of “Successor of St. Peter,” Innocent preferred the title of “Vicar of Christ,” as used by every bishop or priest until the 12th century. Unlike in the first millennium and never acknowledged in the apostolic churches of the East, the pope since then has acted as the absolute ruler, lawgiver and judge of Christianity -- until today.

The triumphal pontificate of Innocent proved itself to be not only the high point but also the turning point. Already in his time, there were signs of decay that, up until in our own time, have remained features of the Roman Curia system: nepotism, favoritism, acquisitiveness, corruption and dubious financial dealings. Already in the 1170s and 1180s, however, powerful nonconformist penitent and mendicant orders (Cathars, Waldensians) were developing. But popes and bishops acted against these dangerous currents by banning lay preaching, condemning “heretics” by the Inquisition, and even carrying out the Albigensian Crusade.

Yet it was Innocent himself who tried to integrate into the church evangelical-apostolic mendicant orders, even during all the eradication policies against obstinate “heretics” like the Cathars. Even Innocent knew that an urgent reform of the church was needed, and it was for this reform that he called the glorious Fourth Lateran Council. And so, after long admonition, he gave Francis of Assisi permission to preach. Concerning the ideal of absolute poverty as required by the Franciscan rule, the pope would first seek to know the will of God in prayer. On the basis of a dream in which a small, insignificant member of an order saved the papal Basilica of St. John Lateran from collapsing -- so it was told -- the pope finally allowed the Rule of Francis of Assisi. He let this be known in the Consistory of Cardinals but never had it committed to paper.

A different path

In fact, Francis of Assisi represented the alternative to the Roman system. What would have happened if Innocent and his like had taken the Gospel seriously? Even if they had understood it spiritually rather than literally, his evangelical demands meant and still mean an immense challenge to the centralized, legalized, politicized and clericalized system of power that had taken over the cause of Christ in Rome since the 11th century.

Innocent III was probably the only pope who, because of his unusual characteristics, could have directed the church along a completely different path, and this would have saved the papacies of the 14th and 15th centuries schism and exile, and the church in the 16th century the Protestant Reformation. Obviously, this would already have meant a paradigm shift for the Catholic church in the 13th century, a shift that instead of splitting the church would have renewed it, and at the same time reconciled the churches of East and West.

Thus, the early Christian basic concerns of Francis of Assisi remain even today questions for the Catholic church and now for a pope who, indicating his intentions, has called himself Francis. It is above all about the three basic concerns of the Franciscan ideal that have to be taken seriously today: It is about poverty, humility and simplicity. This probably explains why no previous pope has dared to take the name of Francis: The expectations seem to be too high.

That begs a second question: What does it mean for a pope today if he bravely takes the name of Francis? Of course the character of Francis of Assisi must not be idealized; he could be one-sided, eccentric, and he had his weaknesses, too. He is not the absolute standard. But his early Christian concerns must be taken seriously even if they need not be literally implemented but rather translated into modern times by pope and church.
  • Poverty: The church in the spirit of Innocent III meant a church of wealth, pomp and circumstance, acquisitiveness and financial scandal. In contrast, a church in the spirit of Francis means a church of transparent financial policies and modest frugality. A church that concerns itself above all with the poor, the weak and the marginalized. A church that does not pile up wealth and capital but instead actively fights poverty and offers its staff exemplary conditions of employment.
  • Humility: The church in the spirit of Innocent means a church of power and domination, bureaucracy and discrimination, repression and Inquisition. In contrast, a church in the spirit of Francis means a church of humanity, dialogue, brotherhood and sisterhood, hospitality for nonconformists; it means the unpretentious service of its leaders and social solidarity, a community that does not exclude new religious forces and ideas from the church but rather allows them to flourish.
  • Simplicity: The church in the spirit of Innocent means a church of dogmatic immovability, moralistic censure and legal hedging, a church of canon law regulating everything, a church of all-knowing scholastics and of fear. In contrast, a church in the spirit of Francis of Assisi means a church of good news and of joy, a theology based purely on the Gospel, a church that listens to people instead of indoctrinating from above, a church that does not only teach but one that constantly learns.
So, in the light of the concerns and approaches of Francis of Assisi, basic options and policies can be formulated today for a Catholic church whose façade still glitters on great Roman occasions but whose inner structure is rotten and fragile in the daily life of parishes in many lands, which is why many people have left it in spirit and often in fact.

While no reasonable person will expect that one man can effect all reforms overnight, a paradigm shift would be possible in five years: This was shown by the Lorraine Pope Leo IX (1049-54) who prepared Gregory VII’s reforms, and in the 20th century by the Italian John XXIII (1958-63) who called the Second Vatican Council. But, today above all, the direction should be made clear again: not a restoration to pre-council times as there was under the Polish and German popes, but instead considered, planned and well-communicated steps to reform along the lines of the Second Vatican Council.

A third question presents itself today as much as then: Will a reform of the church not meet with serious opposition? Doubtless, he will thus awaken powerful opposition, above all in the powerhouse of the Roman Curia, opposition that is difficult to withstand. Those in power in the Vatican are not likely to abandon the power that has been accumulated since the Middle Ages.

Curial pressures

Francis of Assisi also had to experience the force of such curial pressures. He who wanted to free himself of everything by living in poverty clung more and more closely to “Holy Mother Church.” Not in confrontation with the hierarchy but rather in obedience to pope and Curia, he wanted to live in imitation of Jesus: in a life of poverty, in lay preaching. He and his followers even had themselves tonsured in order to enter the clerical state. In fact, this made preaching easier but on the other it encouraged the clericalization of the young community, which included more and more priests. So it is not surprising that the Franciscan community became increasingly integrated into the Roman system. Francis’ last years were overshadowed by the tensions between the original ideals of Jesus’ followers and the adaptation of his community to the existing type of monastic life.

To do Francis justice: On Oct. 3, 1226, aged only 44, he died as poor as he had lived. Just 10 years previously, one year after the Fourth Lateran Council, Innocent III died unexpectedly at the age of 56. On July 16, 1216, his body was found in the Cathedral of Perugia: This pope who had known how to increase the power, property and wealth of the Holy See like no other before him was found deserted by all, naked, robbed by his own servants. A trumpet call signaling the transition from papal world domination to papal powerlessness: At the beginning of the 13th century there is Innocent III reigning in glory; at the end of the century, there is the megalomaniac Boniface VIII (1294-1303) arrested by the French; and then the 70-year exile in Avignon, France, and the Western schism with two and, finally, three popes.

Barely two decades after Francis’ death, the Roman church seemed to almost completely domesticate the rapidly spreading Franciscan movement in Italy so that it quickly became a normal order at the service of papal politics, and even became a tool of the Inquisition. If it was possible for the Roman system to finally domesticate Francis of Assisi and his followers, then obviously it cannot be excluded that a Pope Francis could also be trapped in the Roman system that he is supposed to be reforming. Pope Francis: a paradox? Is it possible that a pope and a Francis, obviously opposites, can ever be reconciled? Only by an evangelically minded, reforming pope.

To conclude, a fourth question: What is to be done if our expectations of reform are quashed from above? In any case, the time is past when pope and bishops could reckon with the obedience of the faithful. The 11th-century Gregorian Reform also introduced a certain mysticism of obedience: Obeying God means obeying the church and that means obeying the pope. Since that time, it has been drummed into Catholics that the obedience of all Christians to the pope is a cardinal virtue; commanding and enforcing obedience -- by whatever means -- has become the Roman style. But the medieval equation, “Obedience to God equals obedience to the church equals obedience to the pope,” patently contradicts the word of the apostle before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem: “Man must obey God rather than other men.”

We should then in no way fall into resignation; instead, faced with a lack of impulse toward reform from the top down, from the hierarchy, we must take the offensive, pushing for reform from the bottom up. If Pope Francis tackles reforms, he will find he has the wide approval of people far beyond the Catholic church. However, if he just lets things continue as they are, without clearing the logjam of reforms as now in the case of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, then the call of “Time for outrage! Indignez-vous!” will ring out more and more in the Catholic church, provoking reforms from the bottom up that will be implemented without the approval of the hierarchy and frequently even in spite of the hierarchy’s attempts at circumvention. In the worst case -- as I already wrote before this papal election -- the Catholic church will experience a new ice age instead of a spring and run the risk of dwindling into a barely relevant large sect.

[Theologian Fr. Hans Küng writes from Tübingen, Germany.]

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

All are redeemed through the blood of Christ (not just Catholics!) | Pope Francis

NOTE: From the Holy Father's daily Mass homily today.  All are redeemed through the Blood of Christ - not just Catholics and even atheists.  Bold and encouraging words! - FT

“Doing good” is a principle that unites all humanity, beyond the diversity of ideologies and religions, and creates the “culture of encounter” that is the foundation of peace: this is what Pope said at Mass this morning at the Domus Santae Martae, in the presence of employees of the Governorate of Vatican City. Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, concelebrated at the Mass. 

Wednesday’s Gospel speaks to us about the disciples who prevented a person from outside their group from doing good. “They complain,” the Pope said in his homily, because they say, “If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good.” And Jesus corrects them: “Do not hinder him, he says, let him do good.” The disciples, Pope Francis explains, “were a little intolerant,” closed off by the idea of ​​possessing the truth, convinced that “those who do not have the truth, cannot do good.” “This was wrong . . . Jesus broadens the horizon.” Pope Francis said, “The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation”:

"The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must! Because he has this commandment within him. Instead, this ‘closing off’ that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God. That we can kill in the name of God. And that, simply, is blasphemy. To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy.”
“Instead,” the Pope continued, “the Lord has created us in His image and likeness, and has given us this commandment in the depths of our heart: do good and do not do evil”:

"The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
“Doing good” the Pope explained, is not a matter of faith: “It is a duty, it is an identity card that our Father has given to all of us, because He has made us in His image and likeness. And He does good, always.”

This was the final prayer of Pope Francis: 

"Today is [the feast of] Santa Rita, Patron Saint of impossible things – but this seems impossible: let us ask of her this grace, this grace that all, all, all people would do good and that we would encounter one another in this work, which is a work of creation, like the creation of the Father. A work of the family, because we are all children of God, all of us, all of us! And God loves us, all of us! May Santa Rita grant us this grace, which seems almost impossible. Amen.”

http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2013/05/22/pope_at_mass:_culture_of_encounter_is_the_foundation_of_peace/en1-694445

Br. Michael A. Perry, OFM, elected General Minister


ROME – Following a day that was dedicated to prayer and discussion about the future of the Order, the brother electors gathered in Rome elected Vicar General Michael A. Perry, OFM, as the General Minister of the Order and 120th Successor of St. Francis of Assisi. 

Br. Michael becomes the third American to serve as Vicar of St. Francis.  Former General Minister John Vaughn, OFM, of the St. Barbara Province held that post for two terms from 1979-1991; and Valentine Schaff, OFM, of the St. John the Baptist Province was General Minister who served 1945-46.

The election to replace Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, OFM, as General Minister was historic.  The process used to elect Br. Michael had never before been used in the election of a General Minister.  The former General Minister was appointed by Pope Francis on April 6 to become the Secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life creating the vacancy with two years remaining on his term.

President of the English Speaking Conference John Puodziunas, OFM, offered words of congratulations to Br. Michael on his election, “There was a genuine sense of celebration and joy as we journey forward.  In the name of the Conference, Hugh and I extended the blessings and support of our friars to Michael.  This evening, a festive meal will be celebrated at Il Cantico. May God bless Michael and the Friars of the General Definitorium in the service to the friars of the Order.”

In this first-of-its-kind election, 34 electors gathered in Rome to select the new General Minister this week.  Following Article 201.1 of the General Constitutions of the Order, the electors included the General Definitorium along with the Presidents and Vice-Presidents of the 13 Conferences of the Order.  Representing the English Speaking Conference were the Conference President and Vice-President Hugh McKenna, OFM.  General Definitor Francis Walter, OFM, and of course, the new General Minister, are also from ESC Provinces.

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1954, Br. Michael entered the Novitiate of the Province of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1977.  He served his Province in Theological Formation, Post-Novitiate Formation, International JPIC work and for 10 years he worked in the Missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He served also with the Catholic Relief Services and in the US Conference of Catholic Bishops before being elected Provincial Minister of his Province in 2008 and then a year later, Vicar General of the Order.

His academic curriculum includes a Ph.D. in Religious Anthropology, M.A. in Theology, M.Div in Priestly Formation and a B.A. in History and Philosophy.  He made his Solemn Profession of Vows in 1981 and was Ordained to the Priesthood in 1984.

Br. Michael’s election creates another vacancy, that of Vicar General.  According to Article 208 of our General Constitutions, the election of a new Vicar General is carried out by the General Definitorium.  That election had not yet been scheduled as of this morning.

Monday, May 20, 2013

How to live as "a poor Church, for the poor" | Pope Francis


NOTE: On Saturday, May 18, Pope Francis met with members of ecclesial movements of new lay communities and associations to reflect on the theme “I Believe! Increase our Faith!”. During one such gathering in St. Peter's Square, the Holy Father answered some questions asked by representatives of the movements.

Q: How to live as “a poor Church, for the poor”.

A: “First of all, the main contribution we can make is to live the Gospel. The Church is not a political movement or a well-organized structure: That is not her. … The Church is the 'salt of the earth, the light of the world’. She is called to make the leaven of the Kingdom of God present in society and do it first by witness, her witness of fraternal love, solidarity … When you hear some say that solidarity is not a value, that it's a 'basic attitude' that needs to disappear ... this is wrong! … Moments of crisis, such as the one we are experiencing ... are not only an economic crisis, not a cultural crisis. It is a crisis of humanity: it is humanity that is in crisis. And what can be destroyed is mankind! But mankind is the image of God!”

“In this time of crisis we can't just worry about ourselves, can't get wrapped up in loneliness or discouragement … Please do not get locked away in yourselves! That is a danger: locking ourselves away inside our parish, among our friends, in our movement, with people who think the same way we do ... But you know what is happening? When the Church becomes closed up in itself it gets sick. ,,, The Church must go out from herself. Where? Towards the boundaries of existence, whatever those might be, but get out. Faith is an encounter with Jesus and we must do the same as Jesus, meet others. .… We have to bring about encounter. We have to make our faith a 'culture of encounter' and of friendship, a culture wherein we find brothers and sisters, where we can talk even with those who do not think like us, even with those with which have a different faith … Everyone has something in common with us: they are made in the image of God! … We must go out to meet with everyone without negotiating about the faith we belong to.”

“And another important point: we must go out to meet the poor. … Today, imagine, all the children who don't have something to eat is not news. This is serious. We cannot stay calm! We cannot become starch-pressed Christians, those Christians who are too highly educated, who speak of theological issues over tea, calmly. No! We must become courageous Christians and go out in search of those who are the flesh of Christ. … Poverty, for us Christians, is not a sociological or philosophical or cultural category. No. It is a theological category. I would say, perhaps, the first category, because God, the Son of God, humbled himself, became poor to walk along the road with us. This is our poverty: the poverty of the flesh of Christ; the poverty that has brought us the Son of God with his Incarnation.”

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Can we talk?


As Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance rings out from the athletic fields and auditoriums of high schools and institutions of higher learning across the nation, it also seems to usher in what has now become a season in the Church as predictable as the blooming of the cherry blossoms – the springtime battles between bishops and Catholic institutions over those scheduled to give commencement addresses and whether or not a Catholic institution should "honor" someone who doesn't fully share our Catholic beliefs.

At issue is a policy of the U.S. Catholic Bishops that asks Catholic institutions not to honor government officials or politicians who promote abortion in their laws and policies. This has led to a series of showdowns between bishops and colleges over their choice of speakers – notably the 2009 invitation to President Barack Obama by the University of Notre Dame and last year’s confrontation between Anna Maria College, Vicky Kennedy and Worcester Bishop Robert McManus, to name just a few.  

The opening volley of this season, came here in Boston as Cardinal Sean O'Malley announced that he would not be in attendance to offer the benediction at commencement ceremonies at Boston College this year.  The reason?  BC has invited Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny to speak and receive an honorary degree and in the months since their invitation was extended, he has spoken in favor of limited abortion rights. 

“As the Culture of LIfe is at the heart of our social gospel, I cannot in conscience attend,” the Cardinal said in a statement released explaining his decision.  And that is true enough. Certainly, the solid and unwavering pro-life position of the Church cannot be denied. It is a cornerstone of our teaching.

But, as we now add this commencement to the growing line of graduations and other events, I can’t help but question how effective this strategy of non-engagement is and whether or not it might be time to rethink this position on the part of the bishops.  After all, what has the effect been?  The only outcome seems to be a lack of dialogue; a lack of openness and a lack of reaching out.  And what does it accomplish?  So far, it would seem, not much at all.

Not to mention the fact that it seems like a very unevenly practiced policy.  For example, I have yet to see anyone complain about invitations from Catholic institutions of higher learning to Wisconsin’s Rep. Paul Ryan, despite the fact that the U.S. Bishops decry his budgets year after year as being balanced on the backs of the poor and the elderly and the most marginalized in our society; despite the fact that these economic policies are regularly cited as being contrary to the same social gospel of the Church.  And before you say that the pro-life agenda takes priority, let's not forget that among the primary reasons that women seek abortions in this country are a financial inability to raise a child. Poverty is a pro-life issue; poverty is an abortion issue.  Add to that, Mr. Ryan's support for the death penalty; his eager support for war and other things.  And yet, there doesn't seem to be any objection to standing on a podium with him and offering benediction.

It seems as though we should somehow be able to honor people for the good they do, for the many ways that we are in agreement and solidarity and at the same time in charity and in fraternity, challenge them in the ways that they still need to grow or change.  If the only option available to us is to be with those in whom we can find complete agreement, we will find ourselves in a very small group indeed and may even find ourselves only staring in a mirror.  Pope Francis addressed this issue in an interview last year prior to his election, “We need to avoid the spiritual sickness of a Church that is wrapped up in its own world: when a Church becomes like this, it grows sick. It is true that going out onto the street implies the risk of accidents happening, as they would to any ordinary man or woman. But if the Church stays wrapped up in itself, it will age.” We can only have an effect in the world if we engage the world.

After all, this is the model that Jesus gave us. We remember the number one accusation leveled against Our Lord: “He dines with sinners and tax collectors.”  When faced with the so-called worst sinners in His culture, Jesus didn't shy from them.  He didn't say, “Given your public opposition to my social gospel, I cannot in conscience be seen to give you tacit approval.” Instead, He dined with them.  He engaged in the most public activity possible making a show of going to their house and being seen at their table and breaking bread with them. It was scandalous!  And, boy was it effective. Did that imply approval?  No. Because He also challenged them.  “Go and sin no more.” “Come and follow me.” “Leave this behind and choose my way of life.”   But, you can't challenge them; you can't invite them; you can't welcome them into the gospel if you don't show up.

It is time to rethink this policy.  It is time to realize that we will accomplish far more by being present and engaged and not by staying away.  Imagine what the Cardinal could do if he was there and said, “Mr. Prime Minister, I encourage you to not abandon your country’s long, pro-life history.  I encourage you to not give in to the cultural tides that want to sweep the Emerald Isle into the Culture of Death. I encourage you to stay true to the Catholic values that have always made Ireland great; that have always made Ireland strong.  I encourage you to be true to your best self, and in the strong Catholic Jesuit values of this institution that honors you today for all of the other achievements you have made, be strong again and hold firm against those tides as Ireland has done so courageously in the past."  But, you can't say that if you're not there.

How can we engage the culture, how can we engage the other, how can we dine with them when our policy is to not show up?  Can we talk?

Let the Word go forth!

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST, May 19, 2013:
.

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”  That, of course, is a line from one of the most quoted speeches of the 20th  century – the inaugural address of President John F. Kennedy in 1961.  It is an incredible speech; and was one that alerted the world that change was in the air; a generational shift.  Kennedy stated boldly, “Let the word go forth… that the torch had been passed to a new generation.”   Today, on this Pentecost Sunday, those five words could also sum up the meaning of today’s great feast: Let the Word go forth.  In the dramatic events of that first Pentecost, when the bewildered and excited disciples poured into the streets of Jerusalem, they had one purpose in mind: to let the Word go forth.  And it did.  The Word went forth from Jerusalem to Judea, and on to Corinth and Ephesus and Rome and Africa and Spain and even, eventually, in succeeding centuries, right here to America.

What began with a few frightened people in a darkened room in Jerusalem has spilled out and touched every corner of the earth.  The word has gone forth in every language and is felt and understood in the hearts of billions upon billions of people.   And it all began on this day we celebrate, Pentecost, often called the birthday of the Church.

Birthday is an appropriate image for Pentecost – especially when we look at it in the bigger Scriptural
picture.  The word “Pentecost”, means 50th and was for the Jewish people a celebration that took place 50 days after the Passover.  For them, this was a day to celebrate the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai.  There, what were different tribes of Israel entered into a covenant with God and with one another and so became the People of God.  Pentecost for the Jews celebrated the birth of this new people.  We know that the Holy Spirit gives birth to God’s presence in amazing ways.  It is through a different kind of Pentecost – when the Holy Spirit descended on Mary – that Jesus was born into our world.  And it is through this Pentecost – the Holy Spirit descending upon Mary and the disciples – that the Body of Christ is once again born into the world; as the Church.  And we, too, are sharers in that miracle, called to continue to bring forth the same Body of Christ into our world today.

It is often said that the Church doesn’t have a mission, instead the Mission has a Church.  Jesus didn’t appear in Rome on the banks of the Tiber and lay a stone for St. Peter’s Basilica in order to establish the Roman Catholic Church. He didn’t come to give us an institution or an organization.  Instead, Jesus gave us a task to accomplish.  The institution of the Church came about not to serve itself, but to serve that mission; to help organize that opus Dei or work of God. 

So what is that work?  Jesus tells us Himself, “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you;” or in the words of JFK, to “let the word go forth.”  The mission that the Father gave to the Son is the very same mission that the Son gives to all of us who follow Him.  So just as the Son came as the full Revelation of God to us, His people, we are to continue that Revelation, we are to continue to spread the Good News of God’s love and care for us.  Just as the Son came to live the way humanity was called to live as an example to everyone, we too are called to live in that same was as an example of Christian love to our brothers and sisters.  Just as the Son was firmly rooted in Scripture and its life-giving Words for us, we too are called to do the same.  Just as the Son reached out to those in most need in our world – the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned – we too are called to reach out to those in most need in our world today.  In short, we are called to be that presence of Christ, the Body of Christ, in the world today. The Holy Spirit descended upon Mary and God was born in our world; the Holy Spirit descended upon the gathered disciples and the Church was born.  Today, the Holy Spirit descends upon the bread and wine on our altar, and the Presence of Christ will be born in them; and, today, the Holy Spirit will come upon each of us in this Holy Mass and will be born within us; that we might give birth to that Presence in our world.

The Ascension of Jesus to Heaven that we celebrated last week can leave us with a false impression that God is no longer on the scene.  The gift of the Holy Spirit is a strong reminder to us that God is still right here, in our midst; that God is still truly present to us.  We have not been abandoned by our God, rather, He still dwells among us.   The Holy Spirit enjoys the freedom of the wind, and is not limited by space or time; instead He has the freedom of every heart in every generation.  Instead of living with some people, as did Jesus; the Spirit lives within all people; in all of time.  The Spirit has the whole world at His fingertips.  And so the presence of the Holy Spirit makes good the promise of Jesus, “Know that I am with you always until the end of the world.”

The early Christians knew this.  For as long as they lived, the Holy Spirit would stay in their bloodstream.  Every decision they would make would be Spirit-shaped: the choice of seven deacons; the admission of Gentiles to the Church; the sending of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey.  And the influence of the Holy Spirit was not confined to this executive level.  Everyone who was “in Christ” felt it.  There are gifts of the Spirit that were sent for the service of the Church – unusual gifts like healing or prophecy; but there are also ordinary gifts of the Spirit meant to meet the needs of God’s people everywhere – gifts like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trust, gentleness and self-control.

And so as the Holy Spirit of God once again descends upon us in this Mass; on the Church in this Pentecost – let the word go forth that we will be the people who love and praise our God; let the word go forth that we will be members of His Church going from this place to be His presence of love and joy and peace; that we will go forth sharing His kindness and goodness and gentleness.  That we will go forth to be the gentle and compassionate presence of God in our world.

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful. Enkindle in us the fire of Your love.”  

And let the Word go forth.

May God give you peace.