Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Biblical New Year's Resolutions | Let Us Walk Together

NOTE: Thanks to Bishop Christopher Coyne (former professor of mine) for this wonderful list of worthy New Year's resolutions.  You can read more from him at his blog: Let Us Walk Together: Thoughts of a Catholic Bishop.

BIBLICAL NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS:

During this new year, as a disciple of Christ:

  1. I resolve to strive to "never let evil talk pass my lips; to say only the good things others need to hear, things that will really help them.” (Ephesians 4:29)
  2. I will try to be a good tree that produces good fruit. "A good person produces goodness from the good in their heart; an evil person produces evil out of their store of evil. Each one speaks from their heart’s abundance” (Luke 6:43-45).
  3. I resolve to be of one "mind, sympathetic, and loving toward others - compassionate, humble, to not return evil for evil, or insult for insult, but a blessing instead." (cf. 1 Peter 3: 8-9)
  4. I will seek to use the treasures and talents with which God has blessed me to give "food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in need." (Matthew 25:35-36)
  5. I will strive to worthily receive the Body of Christ (John 6), to live as a new creation of Christ by virtue of my Baptism "born anew ... through the living and abiding word of God" (1 Peter 1:23).
"Come to [the Lord] a living stone, rejected by humans but chosen and precious in the sight of God and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be built into a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."
                                                                                                            - 1 Peter 2: 4-5

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Holy because of the way they loved

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE HOLY FAMILY OF JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH, December 29, 2013:
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“Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord.” How many wives poked and prodded their husbands as that was read? How many husbands twisted uncomfortably in their seats? This is perhaps the most dangerous passage in all of Scripture to preach on. But, I feel a little dangerous today, so let’s give it a try.

I don’t know how many of you saw the movie, My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding? But, it is a really wonderful and funny movie about a large ethnic family focusing on their awkward daughter who pursues her dreams, falls in love and marries. But, there is a scene early on that puts our reading from Colossians in perspective. After years of working in the family restaurant, the daughter decides she wants to go to college. She musters up the courage and asks permission of her father, who immediately turns her down. Crying on her mother’s shoulder the mother responds, “Don’t worry, I will talk to your father.” Feeling the hopelessness of the situation the daughter responds, “He won’t change his mind. He is stubborn. ‘The man is the head of the household.’” The mother strokes her daughter’s hair and smiles, “Yes, the man is the head of the household, but the woman? She is the neck. And I can turn that head any way I want.”

The problem with this phrase from Colossians, “Wives be submissive to your husbands,” is that we tend to isolate that passage out and not look at the rest of the reading. Alone, this passage is troubling, but seen in the bigger picture, we find not a chauvinistic household, but one that is balanced; not one where husbands lord authority over wives, but one where everyone is submissive to the other. On this Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Paul is giving us the key to holiness in our own families. The key to this letter of Paul is not the point he makes about wives, but the lesson he gives to us all a few lines earlier, “Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.”

This is a tough time for the family in our world. Families are struggling. Family life in many places is falling apart. Just look at the images that we get of families from the media today. Families are not portrayed as places of love, respect and safety; rather they are battle grounds. Television families often feature children who regularly outsmart their parents, or parents who are preoccupied with their own interests and neglect their children. These are not holy families.

Our opening prayer today said, “grant that we may imitate” the Holy Family. That seems like a tall order for us today, but it is one that we can achieve if we have the desire to live in holy families. And that is the challenge – throw out what the world tells you a family should be; and put on Christ and what God wants a family to be; one where love, respect, compassion, and humility prevail. Be subject to one another.

Yes, the Holy Family is a tough act to follow. The dad was a saint, the mom was the Mother of God; and the son was God Himself. But, that is not what made Jesus, Mary and Joseph a holy family. What made them holy was the way they loved. They were subject to one another. Joseph was faithful to Mary even though the child she carried was not his own. Mary was faithful to Jesus even to the foot of the cross. And one of the things that most concerned Jesus as he hung on the cross was to make sure that John would be there to care for his mother after he was gone. God brought the Holy Family together, but love and concern for one another kept them together and made them holy. They became holy as a family in the way that they loved each other.

The challenge of holiness for families today is to put the family first – before career, before wealth, before everything. Families need the support, understanding and love of every person in them. There is a great freedom that comes from family life. But, never let the freedom you enjoy in your own home become an excuse for failing to extend to the members of your family all of the love, respect, attention and compassion they deserve. Reserve your deepest kindness and love for your own family. Honor all of the members of your household; compete in holiness so that you may grow in your love of each other and the love of God.

Make St. Paul’s words your family’s mission statement: “Put on…heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.”


May God make your family a holy family; and may God give you peace.

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Very Franciscan Christmas | NCR Online


After you’ve been in the Vaticanology business for a while, it’s hard to be surprised by the occasionally tone-deaf questions people ask. During a Christmas Eve broadcast just before the pope’s vigil Mass, however, I was briefly at a loss when asked how I expected Francis to “shake up” Christmas.

On the surface of it, the notion that any pope would consciously upend one of the most sacred periods on the church’s calendar seemed so silly it was tough to know how to respond.


I choked down the temptation to reply “next question” – especially since the last guy to use that phrase in Rome, Polish Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, who’s in charge of the pope’s personal charitable activity, inadvertently created an urban legend about Francis roaming the streets at night incognito.

Instead, I muttered something about how the difference probably wouldn’t be in substance, but in the fact that Francis’ popularity ensured people would be paying attention. Given perceptions of Francis as a maverick, it wasn’t quite the answer the host wanted, but it was the best I could do at the time.

Upon reflection, the reply now seems inadequate.

For sure, Francis did not redact the basic Christmas message, nor did he significantly depart from the script that previous popes have followed. Yet there was nonetheless a distinctive Francis imprint on Christmas 2013, which can be expressed in terms of how it reflected three emerging pillars of his papacy.

I’ve written before that those three pillars are:
  • Leadership as Service
  • The Social Gospel
  • Mercy
Leadership as Service

In his brief speech to the Roman Curia on Dec. 21, Francis stressed the importance of a spirit of service in the Vatican, saying that without it, the place becomes no more than a “ponderous bureaucratic customs house.”

He charged Vatican officials with striving to ensure that their work is animated by dedication to service, especially to local churches around the world, rather than constantly “inspecting and questioning” others.

Later that afternoon, Francis provided a new visual of what a spirit of service looks like by spending almost three hours visiting sick children and their families at Rome’s Bambino Gesù hospital.

It’s worth observing that the vigil Mass Christmas Eve lasted a little over an hour and a half, while the Urbi et Orbi address on Christmas Day, “to the city and to the world,” took under an hour. Francis devoted more time to the Bambino Gesù outing, therefore, than to any other single activity on his calendar during the Christmas season.

While photographers and TV cameras were permitted to get images of the pope arriving and departing, the rest of the visit was off-limits, so coverage was largely dominated by young patients and their families talking about what the pope’s presence meant to them. In the end that actually made the story more powerful, transporting it out of the realm of a mere photo-op.

There was another glimpse of the pope’s special fondness for children at the end of the vigil Mass, when a group of youngsters, representing the five continents and had given him the Christ child for the nativity set, were presented to him. Francis delayed the closing procession for a few moments while he chatted with the kids and embraced them.

Fundamentally, what Francis seems to want to accomplish is to recalibrate public impressions of leadership in the Catholic church. When people see the insignia of office in the church, such as Roman collars and pectoral crosses, he wants them to associate those symbols with service rather than power.

Much of his first nine months has been about setting that tone, and it ran through his approach to the Christmas season.

The Social Gospel

During his Sunday Angelus address on Dec. 22, Francis spotted a cluster of Italy’s “pitchfork” protestors, upset with unemployment and cuts in social services, holding a banner in St. Peter’s Square that read, “The poor can’t wait!”

Francis pointed to the sign and exclaimed, “That’s beautiful!”, launching into an extemporaneous rift on homelessness and how it attacks family life, while also urging the protestors to remain non-violent.
In his homily at the Christmas Mass, Francis laid out the spiritual basis for the social gospel. He stressed the special “vulnerability” implied in God’s choice to be born into a poor family. He also noted that the first to receive the message of Christ’s birth were the shepherds, “because they were among the last, the outcast.”

As popes generally do, Francis used the Urbi et Orbi address to highlight a number of global hotspots, beginning with Syria and radiating out to the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Nigeria, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and Iraq. His remarks came before the church bombings in Baghdad that killed at least 38 people Christmas Day, which offered further grisly proof of the special threats facing the dwindling Christian population there.

While Americans may not quite have caught it, Italians saw an especially politically pointed moment in the speech when Francis referred to Lampedusa.

That’s the Italian island in the southern Mediterranean that serves as a major point of arrival for impoverished migrants from Africa and the Middle East seeking to reach Europe, where tens of thousands have died trying to make the crossing. It’s been on the front pages again lately because of a major scandal involving revelations of degrading treatment at a detention center on Lampedusa.

Francis made his first trip outside Rome to Lampedusa on July 8, and it’s been a significant preoccupation for the pontiff ever since.

“Grant that migrants in search of a dignified life may find acceptance and assistance,” Francis said. “May tragedies like those we have witnessed this year, with so many deaths at Lampedusa, never occur again!”

Here’s one indication that Francis’ influence extends beyond mere rhetoric: A group of Moroccan and Tunisian immigrants warehoused in a Roman detention center, who had dramatically sown their mouths shut to launch a hunger strike, suspended their protest on Christmas Day when a priest promised to carry a letter to the pope. Although most of them aren’t Catholic, they wrote in the letter that they believe Francis will “make sure we’re heard.”

The priest who brokered the deal, Fr. Emanuele Giannone, director of a local Caritas operation, said that Francis may actually have saved lives, given that the hunger strike, combined with a vow by the migrants to sleep outside in freezing temperatures, had put their health at risk.

The Urbi et Orbi speech also found Francis at his most impassioned, the one moment during the Christmas events when he seemed to set aside the sobriety and reverence he generally displayed in order to drive home his points.

Mercy

Francis in many ways is the “Pope of Mercy,” seeing it at the core spiritual principle of his life and his papacy. The idea of mercy is in his papal motto, and it’s in his favorite catchphrase: “The Lord never tires of forgiving!”

When Francis recently directed cardinals and other senior Vatican officials to spend time hearing confessions at a nearby Roman church, it was a reflection of how much value he attaches to the church’s premier rite of mercy.

That emphasis on mercy shone through again during Christmas. His reflections on the season began, at least informally, with a lengthy interview with La Stampa in mid-December, in which he once again called on the church never to be afraid to stress the “tenderness” of God.

He returned to the point Christmas Eve, when the only time he departed from his prepared text was at the very end. Francis added another reference to how the birth of Christ reveals the immense mercy of God, and added a version of his signature phrase: “The Lord always forgives us!”

During the Urbi et Orbi address, Francis came back to the same idea.

“Let us allow our hearts to be touched,” he said. “Let us allow ourselves to be warmed by the tenderness of God. We need his caress.”

From a spiritual point of view, one could read everything Francis is doing as pope, from the nitty-gritty details of restructuring the Vatican bank up to loftier matters such as policy on divorced and remarried Catholics, as an effort to ensure that the Catholic church is genuinely a community of mercy.

For sure, Francis is no naïf. He knows that ministers of the Christian gospel must express both God’s judgment and God’s mercy on a fallen world – one without the other is an over-simplification.

His calculus, however, seems to be that the world has heard the church’s judgment quite clearly, and now it’s time for the world to hear, and to experience, its mercy. That’s probably what Francis meant when he said back in July that the present time is a kairos, meaning a privileged moment, for mercy.

For those with eyes to see, in other words, 2013 turned out to be highly “Franciscan” Christmas after all.

[Follow John Allen on Twitter: @JohnLAllenJr​]

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Homily of Pope Francis


Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis
Christmas Midnight Mass
25 December 2013
1. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1).

This prophecy of Isaiah never ceases to touch us, especially when we hear it proclaimed in the liturgy of Christmas Night. This is not simply an emotional or sentimental matter. It moves us because it states the deep reality of what we are: a people who walk, and all around us – and within us as well – there is darkness and light. In this night, as the spirit of darkness enfolds the world, there takes place anew the event which always amazes and surprises us: the people who walk see a great light. A light which makes us reflect on this mystery: the mystery ofwalking and seeing.

Walking. This verb makes us reflect on the course of history, that long journey which is the history of salvation, starting with Abraham, our father in faith, whom the Lord called one day to set out, to go forth from his country towards the land which he would show him. From that time on, our identity as believers has been that of a people making its pilgrim way towards the promised land. This history has always been accompanied by the Lord! He is ever faithful to his covenant and to his promises. “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 Jn1:5). Yet on the part of the people there are times of both light and darkness, fidelity and infidelity, obedience, and rebellion; times of being a pilgrim people and times of being a people adrift.

In our personal history too, there are both bright and dark moments, lights and shadows. If we love God and our brothers and sisters, we walk in the light; but if our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us and around us. “Whoever hates his brother – writes the Apostle John – is in the darkness; he walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 Jn 2:11).

2. On this night, like a burst of brilliant light, there rings out the proclamation of the Apostle: “God's grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race” (Tit 2:11).

The grace which was revealed in our world is Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God. He has entered our history; he has shared our journey. He came to free us from darkness and to grant us light. In him was revealed the grace, the mercy, and the tender love of the Father: Jesus is Love incarnate. He is not simply a teacher of wisdom, he is not an ideal for which we strive while knowing that we are hopelessly distant from it. He is the meaning of life and history, who has pitched his tent in our midst.

3. The shepherds were the first to see this “tent”, to receive the news of Jesus’ birth. They were the first because they were among the last, the outcast. And they were the first because they were awake, keeping watch in the night, guarding their flocks. Together with them, let us pause before the Child, let us pause in silence. Together with them, let us thank the Lord for having given Jesus to us, and with them let us raise from the depths of our hearts the praises of his fidelity: We bless you, Lord God most high, who lowered yourself for our sake. You are immense, and you made yourself small; you are rich and you made yourself poor; you are all-powerful and you made yourself vulnerable.

On this night let us share the joy of the Gospel: God loves us, he so loves us that he gave us his Son to be our brother, to be light in our darkness. To us the Lord repeats: “Do not be afraid!” (Lk 2:10). And I too repeat: Do not be afraid! Our Father is patient, he loves us, he gives us Jesus to guide us on the way which leads to the promised land. Jesus is the light who brightens the darkness. He is our peace. Amen.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Love made real!

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, December 25, 2013:
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I recently came across an old Family Circus comic that I had cut out that caught my attention.   In it, the young girl, Dolly, was sharing with her two young brothers the story of Christmas.  She told them, “Mary and Joseph were camping out under a star in the East…It was a Silent Night in Bethlehem until the angels began to sing…then Santa brought Baby Jesus in his sleight and laid Him in a manger… Chestnuts were roasting by an open fire and not a creature was stirring…so the Grinch stole some swaddling clothes from Scrooge – who was one of the three wise men riding on eight tiny reindeer.”  Dolly breaks in to tell her brother, “Pay attention, Jeffy, or you’ll never learn the story of Christmas!”

Although Dolly got the details a bit mixed up, she’s right – pay attention or you’ll never learn the story of Christmas!  How often we miss the story.  There is so much in this season that can distract us from what is real.  We get caught up in holiday parties, last minute shopping, and all of the frenzy that seems to come with this time of year.  Unless we truly pay attention – with our hearts and our minds – we may miss the true importance of this day.

A while back, someone sent me an email about a project where young people were asked to define love.  Some of the responses were great.  Karl, age 5, said, “Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on cologne and they go out and smell each other.”  Noelle, age 7, said, “Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it, like, every day.” One young girl, Jessica, 8 years old, said, “You really shouldn't say ‘I LOVE YOU’ unless you mean it.  But if you mean it, you should say it a lot because people forget.”  My favorite answer came from Bobby, age 7, who said, “Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and just listen.”   Let me repeat that, “Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas, if you stop opening presents and just listen.”

Now, Bobby didn’t miss the meaning of this day.  The message of Christmas isn’t about giving and receiving presents or the food shopping and family gatherings, as wonderful as all of those things are.  The heart of this day is so much more simple and at the same time profound.  The message of this day is this – Jesus is real!  My brothers and sisters, Jesus is real and loves us dearly! 

God’s love for us is real, in fact, that He came to us in the form of one of us!  He came to us as a human being!  He took the form of a little baby, born of real parents, from a real human family.  He knows what it is like to be one of us.  That is the point of our Gospel reading today.  Our God is not a distant God, far away from our lives, far away from our joys, far away from our struggles.  He’s right here in the midst of them. He became flesh-and-blood just like you and me.  The long version of tonight’s Gospel starts with the genealogy of Jesus – a very long list of names.  But, it is a list that tells us something crucial – that Jesus didn’t just appear out of thin air.  He appeared in the world the same way we do – as part of a family – a family that begins Abraham, that includes David and Solomon, that ends with Joseph and Mary – one that includes us.  A real family with real people.

What does this day mean for us?  Well, it should mean nothing short of everything.  The birth of Jesus, God’s real and true presence in our world changes everything.  At this time of year I often think about the example of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  It was written of her that, “The meaning of her whole life was a person: Jesus. Hers was a Jesus-centered life.”  Today’s celebration reminds us that the same should be said of us.  The meaning of our lives must be Jesus.  We, too, must be Jesus-centered people!

In a letter, Blessed Mother Teresa once wrote, “I worry some of you still have not really met Jesus -- one to one -- you and Jesus alone. We may spend time in [church] -- but have you seen with the eyes of your soul how He looks at you with love? Do you really know the living Jesus -- not from books but from being with Him in your heart? Have you heard the loving words He speaks to you? ... Never give up this every day intimate contact with Jesus as a real living person.”

Bl. Mother Teresa knew the message of Christmas – she knew that Jesus is real.  Jesus was not a concept to her, just an idea, or a collection of actions or teachings or doctrines, or even the memory of an historical figure who lived long ago – Jesus was real and alive and active in her life.  And it showed in the way she lived her life.  She reflected Jesus in everything she said and did.

And this is the real and powerful message for each one of us in this Church today.  Christmas becomes nothing more than a commemoration of an historic event unless we let ourselves be open to Jesus being born again in our hearts.  Yes, Jesus was born a baby in a simple manger 2,000 years ago in the little village of Bethlehem.  But, even more momentous than that is the fact that Jesus wants to be born again tonight, right here in this Church, in our hearts!  A loving heart is the only manger Christ wants to come to this Christmas.  Your loving heart!

So, what is the meaning of this day for you?  Is Jesus real for you?  To the question: “Who is Jesus for me?” Mother Teresa said: “Jesus is the word to be spoken and the Life to be lived. Jesus is the Love to be loved and the Joy to be shared. Jesus is the Sacrifice to be offered and the Peace to be given. Jesus is the Bread of life to be eaten."  In short, Jesus is everything!   So, in the midst of all of the celebrations that we will enjoy and the gifts we will open, let us all remember one simple truth: that Jesus is, in fact, all that we could ever ask for and more importantly Jesus is all that we could ever need.

Let this miracle of Christmas Birth, this miracle of Emmanuel, God With Us, to be born in each one of us again today.  As we receive the same Jesus who is real, the Jesus who makes His presence known and felt in the Eucharist, let us all pray with simplicity, “Jesus, I welcome you as Mary, your mother, did; I love you with the all of the love in my heart.  Jesus, be born in me so that I may be a part of Your family, that I may be more like you.”

And let us heed the words of young Bobby, “Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”

On behalf of Fr. Antonio, Fr. Claude and all the Franciscan priests of the North End, I wish you a holy and blessed Christmas.


Merry Christmas and may God give you His peace.

Monday, December 23, 2013

THE PLACE OF THE POOR IN 'THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL'

By Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick | America Magazine

"Evangelii Gaudium" is a wide-ranging reflection insists the Gospel is “good news” and we ought to act like it. It places care for and commitment to the poor and vulnerable at the very center of the church’s evangelizing mission and all of Catholic life. Pope Francis wants “a Church which is poor and for the poor.” In this exhortation, Pope Francis sets the agenda and charts a path forward for the church’s continuing solidarity with those who are poor and vulnerable.
From the moment of his election, in his choice of the name Francis, in what he says and what he does, our Holy Father is placing solidarity with the poor and vulnerable at the heart of his leadership. In his visit to Lampedusa, the isle of tears for so many migrants, to the favelas of Rio, to Assisi and in his stunning everyday outreach to the disabled and disfigured, Francis shows us the way. He mirrors Jesus in his compassion. He exemplifies what the church preaches about the priority for the poor and the imperative of justice. He doesn’t reach out to “the poor” but to individual sisters and brothers, touching them and loving them as Children of God and members of our one human family. 
This exhortation is lengthy and wide ranging, weaving together scripture, Catholic teaching and reason. It covers how to preach a homily, warns against pessimism and polarization. It talks of the roles of women and the “conversion of the papacy” in our church. I urge you to read it, read it all and resist the temptation to try and fit Pope Francis into our own ideological and ecclesial preferences and prejudices. He affirms and challenges all of us. The pope sometimes speaks simply, warning against Christians becoming “disillusioned pessimists and sourpusses” (85) or “mummies in a museum.” He also offers much more abstract warnings against “gnosticism” and “self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism” (94).
Francis builds on and extends the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and his predecessors, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It was Blessed John Paul who outlined the advantages and limitations of markets and the need for moral framework to guide their work. It was Benedict who said concern for the poor was one of three essentials that made the Church Catholic, along with proclaiming the Gospel and celebrating the sacraments. What is different may be Francis’ passion, shaped in his work in the slums of Buenos Aires, or his simple language and contemporary references to “trickle down economics,” or the” idolatry of money” or frankly the openness of secular media to hear this new pope.
Francis defends religious freedom, the rights of the church to live with integrity in a pluralistic society. He also defends the sacredness of marriage and the stability of the family (62) as necessary for society and to overcome poverty and injustice. He lifts up the rights and dignity of migrants and victims of human trafficking. He is crystal clear about the humanity of
unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity… taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this…It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.
Francis makes clear it is “not the task of the Pope to offer detailed and complete analysis of contemporary reality,” but he reads the “Signs of the times” and calls us to the age-old mission of the church to serve, stand with and defend “the least of these:” the poor, the vulnerable and the victims of injustice.
In setting a framework for our discussion of “the Pope and the Poor,” I offer our Holy Father’s own words on the challenges we face in four distinct yet interrelated areas: personally, ecclesially, economically and politically.

Personally

In terms of our personal responsibility, Francis could not be more clear:
Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society.
He warns each of us
Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us.
And he calls everyone of us to work:
to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor, as well as small daily acts of solidarity in meeting the real needs which we encounter.
He singles out those of us in ecclesial and academic life, insisting there is no excuse for indifference or inaction:
No one must say that they cannot be close to the poor because their own lifestyle demands more attention to other areas. This is an excuse commonly heard in academic, business or professional, and even ecclesial circles. …none of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice.
He reminds us that
Our commitment does not consist exclusively in activities or programmes of promotion and assistance, not an unruly activism, but above all ... a loving attentiveness which entails appreciating the poor in their goodness, in their experience of life, in their culture, and in their ways of living the faith (199).
According to Pope Francis, we have a duty to defend the rights and dignity of those who are poor, and also to love them, listen to them, treat them as members of our family, as sisters and brothers.

Ecclesially

This applies especially to the church of Jesus Christ which should “never lack the option for those who are least, those whom society discards” (195). Pope Francis insists:
Any Church community, if it thinks it can comfortably go its own way without creative concern and effective cooperation in helping the poor to live with dignity and reaching out to everyone, will … risk breaking down… It will easily drift into a spiritual worldliness camouflaged by religious practices, unproductive meetings and empty talk (207).
Francis warns that
the worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care. The great majority of the poor have a special openness to the faith; they need God…. Our preferential option for the poor must mainly translate into a privileged and preferential religious care.
He powerfully and vividly says,
I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security (49).

Economically

A church in the streets, that is a field hospital for the hurting, a source of mercy and hope will confront an economic status quo where “the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day.”
Pope Francis is blunt and direct:
Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape. (53)
Pope Francis insists
While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. …To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion…(56)
He warns against:
 trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world
Pope Francis calls for us to
go beyond a simple welfare mentality (204). “Welfare projects, which meet certain urgent needs, should be considered merely temporary responses” The need to resolve the structural causes of poverty cannot be delayed (202).Inequality is the root of social ills (208).
The pope outlines overall policy goals:
We are not simply talking about ensuring nourishment or a “dignified sustenance” for all people, but also their “general temporal welfare and prosperity.” (159)This means education, access to health are, and above all employment, for it is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labour that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives. A just wage enables them to have adequate access to all the other goods which are destined for our common use (192).

Politically

Working for a “new political and economic mindset which would help to break down the wall of separation between the economy and the common good of society”(205) clearly requires political participation which the Pope praises ….quoting from the U.S. bishops on Faithful Citizenship:
People in every nation enhance the social dimension of their lives by acting as committed and responsible citizens, not as a mob swayed by the powers that be. Let us not forget that responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation.”
He declares
financial reform open to such ethical considerations would require a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders.
And
But the current model, with its emphasis on success and self-reliance, does not appear to favour an investment in efforts to help the slow, the weak or the less talented to find opportunities in life.
In a message particularly appropriate in for Washington in these days of stalemate and partisan gridlock, Pope Francis asks
God to give us more politicians capable of sincere and effective dialogue aimed at healing the deepest roots and not simply the appearances of the evils in our world! Politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity,
I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor! It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare (205).
This is but a small portion of the faith, hope and love Francis shares with us. It challenges all of us, whatever our place in society, our role in the Church, our economic ideology or political preferences.
The pope says 
If anyone feels offended by my words …I speak them with affection and with the best of intentions, quite apart from any personal interest or political ideology. My words are not those of a foe or an opponent. I am interested only in helping those who are in thrall to an individualistic, indifferent and self-centered mentality to be freed from those unworthy chains and to attain a way of living and thinking which is more humane, noble and fruitful, and which will bring dignity to their presence on this earth (208).
I suggest these themes challenge our nation in unique and paradoxical ways. We have the most powerful economy on earth and it is producing too few jobs and too little growth, not enough opportunity and too much inequality to permit all Americans to live in dignity, high levels of joblessness, poverty, dependency, and family dysfunction are undermining our promises of mobility and opportunity  and our pledge of “liberty and justice for all.”
We need to build common purpose and common action to address the moral imperative of overcoming so much poverty in our own nation. This is an inescapable task for followers of Christ and members of his church.
As Pope Francis said so clearly:
An authentic faith which is never comfortable or completely personal always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it. …. If indeed the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics, the Church cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice (150).
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick is the retired archbishop of Washington, D.C. These remarks were delivered at a dialogue on “The Pope and the Poor” sponsored by the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University on December 2, 2013.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The freedom to be Francis | CNN Belief Blog

Opinion by the Rev. Thomas Rosica, special to CNN
(CNN) Christmas was a moveable feast for me this year - in fact it happened right smack in the middle of Lent, when the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church elected a man from Argentina to be the next Pope.
I have been asking myself a ton of questions over the past months.
What has happened in the church, and how can it be that a 77-year-old, retirement-bound archbishop from Buenos Aires has captivated the world?
How can we describe the sense of springtime that has come upon the church? How is it fathomable in our day and age that not only Christians and Catholics but millions of others are speaking about “Papa Francesco” as if he were their own?
Is this all the work of a PR company or clever media strategists hired by the Vatican to rebrand its image? Or is there something else at work? Let me tell you what I think is afoot.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio took the name Francis upon his election as Pope and told us he did so because of his love for Francis of Assisi. For the past nine months, many of us have been associating the Pope’s gestures and actions with the “Poverello” or “Little Poor One” of Assisi, perhaps the most beloved saint of the Catholic tradition.
We can easily envision Francis of Assisi in that idyllic, medieval Umbrian hilltop town and mythologize about what really happened back in his day. But too often Francis’ radical message is lost and we reduce him to a gentle, whimsical hippie who fed birds, smelled flowers and tamed wild wolves. We easily forget that in reality, Assisi’s favorite son was and is the model of a radical Christian.
One day as a young man, Francis heard the plea of Jesus from the crucifix in the dilapidated San Damiano chapel on Assisi’s outskirts. “Go and repair my Church,” he heard Jesus say. And he certainly did that in his lifetime and through the huge Franciscan family that he left behind to carry forward his dream and continue his work.
Many of us have spent the past months finding similarities between Francis of Assisi and Francis of Buenos Aires, who took up residence in a guest house in Vatican City rather than the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace.
We become easily fixated on lots of eye-catching, buzz-causing externals and great photo opportunities: A Pope who abandoned the red shoes - that were never an official part of the papal wardrobe! A Pope who dresses modestly, pays his own lodging bills, drives around Vatican City in a Ford Focus, calls many people on the phone, brings jam sandwiches to on-duty Swiss Guards at his door and invites street people to his birthday breakfast.
This Roman pontiff specializes in kissing babies and embracing the sick, disfigured broken bodies, and the abandoned of society. We sit back, smile and utter: “What simplicity!” “Wow!” Awesome!” “Finalmente!”
We say: “Here is a one world leader who speaks the truth to power, walks his talk, and names idolatry and greed for what they are. Here’s a bold and courageous shepherd who lifts up the poor and tells us that if they are not part of our lives, then we are a sad and even doomed lot. Just like Francis of Assisi did in his day!”
But that is not the whole story.
I have realized more and more over the past months that while I have always loved Francis of Assisi and all the romantic ideals he embraced and stood for, Francis of Buenos Aires doesn’t transport me back to medieval Assisi. He takes me back to Bethlehem, Galilee and Jerusalem.
Everything the Pope is doing now is not just an imitation of his patron saint who loved the poor, embraced lepers, charmed sultans, made peace and protected nature. It’s a reflection of the child of Bethlehem who would grow up to become the man of the cross in Jerusalem, the Risen One that no tomb could contain, the man we Christians call Savior and Lord. The one whose birth we celebrate on December 25.
More than anyone in my lifetime, Pope Francis has given me a powerful glimpse into the mind and heart of God.
He wants the church to be an instrument of reconciliation and welcome, a church capable of warming hearts, a church that is not bent over on herself but always seeking those on the periphery and those who are lost, a church capable of leading people home.
Francis knows only too well that at times we lose people because they don't understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity.
On the late afternoon of March 13, 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio received the call to go, rebuild, repair, renew and heal the church.
What we have witnessed over the past nine months is simply a disciple of Jesus, and a faithful disciple of Ignatius of Loyola (the founder of the Jesuits) and of Francis of Assisi, repairing, renewing, restoring, reconciling and healing the Church.
There are those who delight in describing the new Pope as a bold, brazen revolutionary sent to rock the boat. Others think he has come to cause a massive shipwreck.
But the only revolution that Pope Francis has inaugurated is a revolution of tenderness, the very words he used in his recent major letter on "The Joy of the Gospel."
“True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness.”
It is this revolution that is at the heart of Pope Francis’ ministry.
Last week during a banquet in Chicago, Cardinal Francis George revealed why the cardinals gathered in conclave last March elected Bergoglio pope. George said: “Because the cardinal from Argentina was completely free. He possessed an interior freedom that was so evident.”
Is it not this unflinching freedom that allows Pope Francis to do what he does because he is unafraid and totally free to be himself at the same time of being such faithful son of the Church?
In our war-torn world, where selfishness, sadness, meanness, vengeance and harshness seem to have the upper hand at times, we need the message of Christmas: goodness, joy, kindness, mercy and the tenderness of our God.
These are also the qualities of the current revolutionary Bishop of Rome. No wonder why he has taken the world by storm, and why so many people are paying attention to him. We need the Francis revolution of tenderness and mercy now more than ever before.
The Rev. Thomas Rosica, CSB, is the CEO of Canada’s Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network. He also assists the Holy See Press Office with English language media relations. The views expressed in this column belong to Rosica. 

What's in a name? God is with us and has come to save us!

Bubba
HOMILY FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 22, 2013:
.
Names are interesting things.  Let me give you an example.  I am a proud dog owner.  I have a beautiful 9 year-old Black Lab.  And, when I take him out for our daily walks around Boston, I often get stopped by others who want to pet him.  He is a happy go-lucky, friendly dog with a lot of energy.  People always ask his name.  My dog’s name is Bubba.  People are often a little surprised at his name.  They’ll ask, “Are you from the south?”  I guess it is a more common name there.  I’m not.  They’ll ask “Why ‘Bubba’?”  My response is usually, “Just look at him.  He’s just such a Bubba. It was the only name that fit.” I thought about bringing him to Mass today so you could see what I mean, but he would have just stolen the show. Such a Bubba!

We also sometimes have really interesting experiences with names.  This past summer I lead a pilgrimage to Ireland.  I am of Irish-American descent, so in addition to being a wonderful trip, it was also a chance to sort of connect with the roots of my family and our origins.  We traveled to some of the places that my family originally came from in Ireland during the journey.  When I came back, I wanted to do some additional research on my family genealogy – especially because I am names after my great-grandfather, Thomas Mitchell, who was born in Ireland.  I never knew him, he returned to the Lord before I was born, but there is always a connection when you carry a family name like that. Well, as I was doing the research and l came across a baptismal record and was stunned to discover that he was born on September 1, 1879.  My birthday is also September 1.  For me, sharing his name, and sharing the same birthday, deepened the connection to this relative who’s name I bear.

So, names are interesting and they tell us something about who we are.  You probably have great stories about your own name or some of the names in your family too. But, I was thinking about this notion of names because of our readings tonight.  We hear two very familiar names that we always associate with Christmas time. The first is from the prophet Isaiah where we hear the familiar, “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel.”   And, the second name comes in our Gospel passage where the angel says to Joseph in a dream, “[Mary] will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus.”

Have you ever wondered why we have these two names?  Why the Son born of Mary is named Jesus and not Emmanuel and what it all might mean?  Well names do a few things: first they are possessive (who are you, to whom do you belong, of the house of Washburn or Wheatley or Johnson, for example), secondly, they can say something about an individual, something about who they are, what they can do, what they are to mean to their people.

The first name we hear tonight is Emmanuel, and this name tells us something very important about the birth of this child.  This is no ordinary child.  When He is born, His birth will mean, as His name means, that “God is with us.”  His birth signifies something different in the whole of human history.  This is no longer a God who loves us from afar; a God who communicates to us in many beautiful ways, but always through someone or something else.  Our God is now coming to us directly – to be in our midst as one of us; to know our joys and hopes; our struggles and challenges.  To proclaim His love to us directly.

In the Gospel, the angel tells Joseph, through the name Jesus, something more about what this presence of God among us means.  The name Jesus means literally, “God is salvation.”  The name tells us that Jesus is not here only to be among us, but His presence will also do so much more – it will open the gates of salvation.  When we look at these names together we learn that what we’re really meant to hear is not just a trivial “what-will-we-call-Him” moment, but a powerful proclamation of what this birth will mean: It means that God will be with us and save us.

So, as we enter into these brief final days of our journey of Advent, let us be mindful of the true power of what we celebrate.  We celebrate the fact that our God loves us so much that He became one of us; that He enters our world, our lives, our struggles and our joys.  That our God loves us so much that He opens the gates of salvation for us so that He can be with us and we can be with Him forever.

God is not distant and far away. He is right here, by our side, in our hearts, on our altar.  He is sharing our struggles, walking with us in our suffering, laughing with us in our joys, sharing with us in our triumphs, always there when we need Him.  This is Emmanuel, this is Jesus.  God is with us and will save us. Come, let us adore Him!


May God give you peace.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pope Francis: TIME's Person of the Year!

At a time when the limits of leadership are being tested in so many places, along comes a man with no army or weapons, no kingdom beyond a tight fist of land in the middle of Rome but with the immense wealth and weight of history behind him, to throw down a challenge. The world is getting smaller; individual voices are getting louder; technology is turning virtue viral, so his pulpit is visible to the ends of the earth. When he kisses the face of a disfigured man or washes the feet of a Muslim woman, the image resonates far beyond the boundaries of the Catholic Church.
The skeptics will point to the obstacles Francis faces in accomplishing much of anything beyond making casual believers feel better about the softer tone coming out of Rome while feeling free to ignore the harder substance. The Catholic Church is one of the oldest, largest and richest institutions on earth, with a following 1.2 billion strong, and change does not come naturally. At its best it inspires and instructs, helps and heals and calls the faithful to heed their better angels. But it has been weakened worldwide by scandal, corruption, a shortage of priests and a challenge, especially across the fertile mission fields of the southern hemisphere, from evangelical and Pentecostal rivals. In some quarters, core teachings on divorce and contraception are widely ignored and orthodoxy derided as obsolete. Vatican bureaucrats and clergy stand accused of infighting, graft, blackmail and an obsession with “small-minded rules,” as Francis puts it, rather than the vast possibilities of grace. Don’t just preach; listen, he says. Don’t scold; heal.
And yet in less than a year, he has done something remarkable: he has not changed the words, but he’s changed the music. Tone and temperament matter in a church built on the substance of symbols—bread and wine, body and blood—so it is a mistake to dismiss any Pope’s symbolic choices­ as gestures empty of the force of law. He released his first exhortation, an attack on “the idolatry of money,” just as Americans were contemplating the day set aside for gratitude and whether to spend it at the mall. This is a man with a sense of timing. He lives not in the papal palace surrounded by courtiers but in a spare hostel surrounded by priests. He prays all the time, even while waiting for the dentist. He has retired the papal Mercedes in favor of a scuffed-up Ford Focus. No red shoes, no gilded cross, just an iron one around his neck. When he rejects the pomp and the privilege, releases information on Vatican finances for the first time, reprimands a profligate German Archbishop, cold-calls strangers in distress, offers to baptize the baby of a divorced woman whose married lover wanted her to abort it, he is doing more than modeling mercy and ­transparency. He is ­embracing complexity and acknowledging the risk that a church obsessed with its own rights and righteousness could inflict more wounds than it heals. Asked why he seems uninterested in waging a culture war, he refers to the battlefield. The church is a field hospital, he says. Our first duty is to tend to the wounded. You don’t ask a bleeding man about his cholesterol level.
This focus on compassion, along with a general aura of merriment not always associated with princes of the church, has made Francis something of a rock star. More than 3 million people turned out to see him on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro last summer, the crowds in St. Peter’s Square are ecstatic, and the souvenirs are selling fast. Francesco is the most popular male baby name in Italy. Churches report a “Francis effect” of lapsed Catholics returning to Mass and confession, though anecdotes are no substitute for hard evidence, and surveys of U.S. Catholics, at least, see little change in practice thus far. But the fascination with Francis even outside his flock gives him an opportunity that his predecessor, Benedict XVI, never had—to magnify the message of the church and its power to do great good.
The giddy embrace of the secular press makes Francis suspect among traditionalists who fear he buys popularity at the price of a watered-down faith. He has deftly leveraged the media’s fascination to draw attention to everything from his prayers for peace in Syria to his pointed attack on trickle-down economics, which inspired Jesse Jackson to compare him to Martin Luther King Jr. and Rush Limbaugh to wonder whether he’s a Marxist. When you are a media celebrity, every word you speak is dissected, as are those you choose not to speak. Why has he not said more about the priest sex-abuse scandal? ask victims’ advocates. (Just this month, he set up a commission to address the abuse of children by priests.) Why does he not talk more about the sanctity of life? ask conservatives, who note that in his exhortation, abortion is mentioned once, mercy 32 times. Francis both affirms traditional teachings on sexuality and warns that the church has become distracted by them. He attacks priests who won’t baptize children born out of wedlock for their “rigorous and hypocritical neo-clericalism.” He declares that God “has redeemed all of us … not just Catholics. Everyone, even atheists.” He posed with environmental activists holding an antifracking T-shirt and called on politicians and business leaders to be “protectors of creation.”
None of which makes him a liberal—he also says the all-male priesthood is not subject to debate, nor is abortion, nor is the definition of marriage. But his focus on the poor and the fact that the world’s poorest 50% control barely 1% of its wealth unsettles those who defend capitalism as the most successful antipoverty program in history. You could argue that he is Teddy Roosevelt protecting capitalism from its own excesses or he is simply saying what Popes before him have said, that Jesus calls us to care for the least among us—only he’s saying it in a way that people seem to be hearing differently. And that may be especially important coming from the first Pope from the New World. A century ago, two-thirds of Catholics lived in Europe; now fewer than a quarter do, and how he is heard in countries where being gay is a crime and educating women for leadership roles is a heresy may have the power to transform cultures in which Catholicism is a growing, even potentially liberating force.
These days it is bracing to hear a leader say anything that annoys anyone. Now liberals and conservatives alike face a choice as they listen to a new voice of conscience: Which matters more, that this charismatic leader is saying things they think need to be said or that he is also saying things they’d rather not hear?
The heart is a strong muscle; he’s proposing a rigorous exercise plan. And in a very short time, a vast, global, ecumenical audience has shown a hunger to follow him. For pulling the papacy out of the palace and into the streets, for committing the world’s largest faith to confronting its deepest needs and for balancing judgment with mercy, Pope Francis is TIME’s 2013 Person of the Year.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Pope Francis is not liberal or conservative: He is prophetic | Huffington Post

(RNS) It's one thing to say kind words about gay people and atheists while admonishing those who would bury them in stones.
It's one thing to walk humbly and call the Catholic Church to compassion for the poor.
It's one thing to kiss a horribly disfigured man from whom most people would run in disgust.
But apparently, it's quite another to start calling out growing economic inequality and naive faith in capitalism. By doing just that in his recent encyclical, Pope Francis has touched a third rail in conservative American politics. So begins the backlash.
Yet in the new round of skirmishing around Francis and his supposedly "liberal" views, U.S. political pundits and news media wags -- both progressive and conservative -- are missing the point about the pope and what he's up to. Their mistake? They see his words and deeds through the lens of American politics and ideology. What Francis is doing is prophetic, not political, and we should recognize that he's playing, to his credit, in a whole different arena.
Many American conservatives have come to regard the Catholic hierarchy as their culture war ally. This pope is becoming something of a head-scratcher -- and headache -- for them now that he has spoken out against trickle-down economics and the fetishizing of free markets.
Too liberal, Sarah Palin said, while promising, uncharacteristically, to look into it further. Too political, Fox News' Stuart Varney charged, claiming Francis had crossed the line. Too Marxist, Rush Limbaugh concluded: "Somebody has either written this for him or gotten to him."
You might have heard some of the liberal cackling in response to all this conservative hand wringing. Progressive news media figures who could always be counted on to criticize, not applaud, the Catholic Church are sounding positively gleeful about the pope's pronouncements and, more precisely, the conservative reaction.
"When Palin calls the pope too liberal, he's probably doing something right," wrote Allen Clifton on the Forward Progressives website. "A Progressive Pope is Driving the Wingnuts Batty," declared a headline at the progressive Daily Kos.
Allow the progressives a moment to enjoy their adversaries' discomfort. But before they start claiming Pope Francis as the standard bearer for the progressive movement, they ought to remind themselves of a few less enjoyable realities.
As observed by pundit E.J. Dionne - a liberal-leaning Catholic and unabashed Francis admirer -- the pope is no liberal on abortion. Nor, despite his tone change on the matter of same-sex couples, has Francis come out in favor of gay marriage or ordination of women, or contraception. The day could come when progressive activists are no longer swooning over Francis but lamenting his "conservative" views on these and other liberal causes.
Which, one suspects, will be of little concern to this new face of the worldwide Catholic Church. To state what should be obvious, Francis is not a player in American politics. He's not even American, for God's sake. Growing up and pursuing his vocation in Argentina has no doubt had a profound effect on him.
Even more important, the pope is not a politician, a media loudmouth or an activist. He is a religious figure, wholly dedicated to representing the Gospel of Jesus Christ as he understands it to a world caught up in a thousand other things.
As conservative Catholic George Weigel writes, "Pope Francis is a revolutionary. The revolution he proposes, however, is not a matter of economic or political prescription, but a revolution in the self-understanding of the Catholic Church."
Prophetic is probably the best word for the role the pope is playing -- not in the sense of predicting the future, but of standing outside of business and politics as usual and speaking hard and inconvenient moral truths.
Has someone gotten to the pope, as Limbaugh suggests? Yes, actually. Jesus Christ apparently has. So when a news media figure such as Varney blasts Francis for wanting "to influence my politics," one has to ask who's really bringing politics to the discussion about Pope Francis. We'll probably find the answer not in the Vatican but in the mirror.
(Tom Krattenmaker is a Portland-based writer specializing in religion in public life and a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors. He is author of the new book, "The Evangelicals You Don't Know.")
A version of this story originally appeared in USA Today.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Make room for God

HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 8, 2013:

A number of years ago, there was a documentary called Untattoo You. This film told the remarkable story about an interesting program on the West Coast that offered to remove unwanted tattoos from the bodies of young people – their focus was helping young people escape from gang life and remove the tattoos that were associated with that way of life; tattoos that had literally physically marked them as part of these destructive groups.  A surprising thing happened once the group started offering this service, though.  Word got out and soon they were hearing from thousands of people from all across the country asking about the program.  The film is told from the perspective of these young people; about how their lives got into these difficult places and about how difficult it had been for them to get out not to mention the challenge of removing the actual tattoos.

Although dramatic, the story behind this film gets at an important point in all of our lives – the simple reality that all of us have probably done something in our lives that we regret and would like to erase.  The things that we’ve done aren’t likely to be as visible as a tattoo or as dramatic as getting caught up in a gang, but we all make mistakes or make poor decisions; we all say things we wish we could take back or have broken friendships or relationships that we wish we could repair. It is part of being human and sometimes we just wish we could make these mistakes disappear; that they could be erased.  We’re looking for that program that will help us undo the things that we wish we could.

But, I think that if we take a moment to slow down this Advent Season, to listen to the words of Scripture and the songs being sung, to take a few moments out of the hustle and bustle that is this time of year, we might discover that this is in fact the very message of Advent. That it is the very message of Jesus. That it is what is offered to us every time we enter the Confessional; every time we gather around this altar for the Eucharist.   Jesus is reminding us to welcome Him again.  He is saying, “I am always right here to change your darkness into light; to change your sin into holiness; to change your sadness into joy.  I’m here to make all things new for you.”

We hear that dramatic description of St. John the Baptist today: a voice crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”  Those words are being spoke to us, telling us to prepare once again; to ready our hearts that Jesus might find a home there; to clear the pathways so that He can enter in. 

We’ve been so blessed these last nine months with Pope Francis who also sounds like a voice crying out inviting us to prepare.  Just think of all of the wonderful, powerful things he has said and done. He has reminded us of powerful realities like the fact that “God never tires of forgiving us.” So, we should never tire of seeking out that forgiveness.  And in his Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of the Gospel issued just two weeks ago he said, “Now is the time to say to Jesus: ‘Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace’.”

So, as we hear the words of Scripture today, “Prepare the way of the Lord”, “Repent, for the Kingdom is at hand”, “The one who will come after me is greater than I”, what are we to do?  Well, these words are meant for each one of us just as much as they were meant for the men and women who first heard them more than 2,000 years ago.  These words, here today, are an invitation to each one of us to become new again in Jesus.  To leave behind whatever tattoos, whatever marks, there are on our souls that we want to leave here – let God have them, let God heal them, let God change and transform them.  As St. Francis of Assisi said, you should “Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who has given Himself completely to you, might receive you completely.”  Let’s leave it all here, prepare the way, make some room, so that Jesus in the Eucharist can fill you completely.

Let me end with another quote from Pope Francis.  He said, “I have a certainty: God is in every person's life. God is in everyone's life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else - God is in this person's life. You can - you must - try to seek God in every human life.”

My friends, God is in our lives and He wants to be in it more and more and more.  That is the message of Advent. To prepare ourselves because God is coming.  Prepare ourselves because God wants to make His home with us, in us.

So, as we enter into this Eucharist today, let us open ourselves completely to Him.  Hold back nothing of ourselves.  Put all that we are – even and especially the parts we want to change – on the altar with the bread and wine and just as Jesus changes the bread and wine into something miraculous, let Him change you too into something miraculous -  everything He knows you can be; the very person He created you to be.


May the Lord give you peace.