Saturday, April 19, 2014

Called to be a sign of the impossible


Three men died and found themselves at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter greeted them and said they could only enter if they could answer one simple question, “What is Easter?” The first man replies, “That's easy, it's the holiday in November when everybody gets together, eats turkey, and is thankful.” “Wrong,” replies St. Peter, and moves to the second man, “What is Easter?” He replies, “I know. Easter is the holiday in December when we put up a nice tree, exchange presents, and celebrate the birth of Jesus.” St. Peter just shakes his head at the second man, looks at the third man and asks, “What is Easter?” The third man smiles and looks St. Pete in the eye. “Easter is the Christian holiday that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover. Jesus and His disciples were eating at the Last Supper and He was later deceived and turned over to the Roman authorities by one of His disciples. The Romans took Him to be crucified, they made Him wear a crown of thorns, and He was hung on a cross. He was buried in a nearby cave which was sealed off by a large boulder,” the man paused before finishing, “And every year the boulder is moved aside so that Jesus can come out, and if He sees his shadow there will be six more weeks of winter.” So close!

My friends, as we gather on this beautiful Easter Sunday morning, St. Peter’s question is a good one for us to ponder as well, “What is Easter?” We know the easy answer, which is good news for us in case St. Peter asks, that Easter celebrates Jesus resurrection from the dead. But, if we dive a little deeper into that reality, we realize that our belief in the resurrection of the dead is something that really sets us apart in the world, something that really makes us unique.

Today isn’t just another day. We gather today on this holiest of holy days because we are a people who believe in something that should be impossible. We gather today to commemorate that a man was raised from the dead. If we stop and think about that, this isn’t something that we see happen every day; people aren’t just rising from the dead all around us. And yet, this is the very heart of what we believe as followers of Jesus. We believe as we say each and every Sunday, “in the resurrection of the dead,” and not just in any dead – we believe in the resurrection of Jesus and we believe that we, too, will rise; that we too, will live forever, live for eternity. We believe in the impossibility that death has no hold on us either. As the spiritual writer Scott Hahn has written, “On Good Friday, death died more than Jesus.” Or in the words of First Corinthians, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, is your sting?”

But this belief in the seemingly impossible is not something that we simply commemorate on Easter; it isn’t something that merely brings us comfort when our time on earth is done. Easter, resurrection, is meant to mark us; define us each and every day. We are meant to bring something of this resurrection into every moment of our lives.

I had the incredible fortune two weeks ago to be at a day of reflection about the first year of Pope Francis given by Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras. If you don’t know his name right away, he might stand out for a few reasons. A year ago in the conclave that elected Pope Francis, Cardinal Rodríguez was also reported to be among those considered papabili or likely candidates; and more recently, Pope Francis has turned to the Cardinal as his right hand man as he brings about reform in the Church. Cardinal Rodríguez was named the Chairman of Pope Francis Group of Eight Cardinals who are advising him on reform.

During his presentation, Cardinal Rodríguez told a wonderful story. It was about a Lutheran pastor who approached him a few months ago and said, “Your Eminence, I want to thank you for all of the many excellent encyclicals of Pope Francis.” The Cardinal, a bit surprised, responded to the man, “Thank you, but I have to ask, what encyclicals? The Holy Father hasn’t written any yet.” And the man responded, “No, not in words, but thank you for the encyclicals of the Pope’s gestures.”

The Encyclicals of the Pope’s Gestures. What a powerful and accurate statement of this year with our Holy Father. No, he hasn’t written thousands of words in papal encyclicals, but as the saying goes a picture is worth a thousand words. Think of the images of the Pope over the last year – of him embracing the boy with cerebral palsy last Easter, the man with the disfiguring skin condition, washing the feet of prisoners on Holy Thursday last year and the sick and elderly this year, his smile, his joy, his compassion. Each one of these moments is more powerful than an encyclical because the Pope has shown us not by what he says, but more powerfully by what he does what it looks like when someone follows Christ with their whole heart and life. Each gesture of Pope Francis is an encyclical or a homily on the love of our neighbor, on compassion, friendship, tenderness, on care for the sick, the homeless, the immigrant, the outcast, on good humor and joy.

And look at what an effect the Pope has had on the church and on the world. A year ago, many would have said that was something impossible for a Pope to do in this day and age. My brothers and sisters, we gather here today, on this Easter Sunday, because we are a people who believe in what the world calls impossible – we believe that a man was raised from the dead; we believe that Jesus is Risen; we believe that we too will be raised.

We are a people who are called to be a sign of the impossible to the world and to make that sign a constant part of our lives. This Easter Sunday is a reminder to us that we, too, are called to write encyclicals; we too are called to preach homilies – but not in our words, instead through our lives.

To a world that chooses vengeance, we are called to offer gestures of compassion and forgiveness; to a world that seeks only power, money and prestige, we are called to offer gestures of humility and kindness; to a world that selfishly cares only for itself; we are called to offer gestures of love and concern; of openness and acceptance of others. Change often feels impossible, but we are reminded today that we are the people of the impossible and so let us write our own encyclicals, offer our own homilies. Let us fill the world with our gestures of peace and care and joy – especially in the situations, times and places where those gestures are least expected. And these gestures have the power to change us and to change our world.

I’ll end with the words of Pope Francis last night at the Easter Vigil in Rome. He said, Let us “return to that blazing light with which God’s grace touched us at the start of the journey. From that flame we can light a fire for today and every day, and bring heat and light to our brothers and sisters. That flame ignites a humble joy, a joy which sorrow and distress cannot dismay, a good, gentle joy.”

So, what is Easter? Easter is our change to embrace the impossible and make all things new.

Happy Easter and may God give you peace.

Go to Galilee | Pope Francis


The Gospel of the resurrection of Jesus Christ begins with the journey of the women to the tomb at dawn on the day after the Sabbath. They go to the tomb to honour the body of the Lord, but they find it open and empty. A mighty angel says to them: “Do not be afraid!” (Mt 28:5) and orders them to go and tell the disciples: “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee” (v. 7). The women quickly depart and on the way Jesus himself meets them and says: “Do not fear; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me” (v. 10).

After the death of the Master, the disciples had scattered; their faith had been utterly shaken, everything seemed over, all their certainties had crumbled and their hopes had died. But now that message of the women, incredible as it was, came to them like a ray of light in the darkness. The news spread: Jesus is risen as he said. And then there was his command to go to Galilee; the women had heard it twice, first from the angel and then from Jesus himself: “Let them go to Galilee; there they will see me”.

Galilee is the place where they were first called, where everything began! To return there, to return to the place where they were originally called. Jesus had walked along the shores of the lake as the fishermen were casting their nets. He had called them, and they left everything and followed him (cf. Mt4:18-22).

To return to Galilee means to re-read everything on the basis of the cross and its victory. To re-read everything – Jesus’ preaching, his miracles, the new community, the excitement and the defections, even the betrayal – to re-read everything starting from the end, which is a new beginning, from this supreme act of love.

For each of us, too, there is a “Galilee” at the origin of our journey with Jesus. “To go to Galilee” means something beautiful, it means rediscovering our baptism as a living fountainhead, drawing new energy from the sources of our faith and our Christian experience. To return to Galilee means above all to return to that blazing light with which God’s grace touched me at the start of the journey. From that flame I can light a fire for today and every day, and bring heat and light to my brothers and sisters. That flame ignites a humble joy, a joy which sorrow and distress cannot dismay, a good, gentle joy.

In the life of every Christian, after baptism there is also a more existential “Galilee”: the experience of apersonal encounter with Jesus Christ who called me to follow him and to share in his mission. In this sense, returning to Galilee means treasuring in my heart the living memory of that call, when Jesus passed my way, gazed at me with mercy and asked me to follow him. It means reviving the memory of that moment when his eyes met mine, the moment when he made me realize that he loved me.

Today, tonight, each of us can ask: What is my Galilee? Where is my Galilee? Do I remember it? Have I forgotten it? Have I gone off on roads and paths which made me forget it? Lord, help me: tell me what my Galilee is; for you know that I want to return there to encounter you and to let myself be embraced by your mercy.

The Gospel of Easter is very clear: we need to go back there, to see Jesus risen, and to become witnesses of his resurrection. This is not to go back in time; it is not a kind of nostalgia. It is returning to our first love, in order to receive the fire which Jesus has kindled in the world and to bring that fire to all people, to the very ends of the earth.

“Galilee of the Gentiles” (Mt 4:15; Is 8:23)! Horizon of the Risen Lord, horizon of the Church; intense desire of encounter… Let us be on our way!

What the canonizations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II tell us | Boston Globe

By John L. Allen Jr. | GLOBE STAFF APRIL 19, 2014

Every spring in Rome, the big production is normally the Easter Mass celebrated by the pope. This year Easter remains the spiritual linchpin, but in popular terms it’s more like a warm-up act for next Sunday’s double-play canonizations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II.

This will be the first time two popes have been declared saints in the same ceremony, and although projections vary, well over a million people could turn out in Rome to watch history being made, with millions more following the event on TV or over the Internet.

Here are five things to know about the biggest Vatican happening of early 2014.

First, putting these two popes together amounts to a call for unity between the church’s liberal and conservative wings.

In the Catholic street, John XXIII is an icon of the left, remembered as the pope who launched the reforming Second Vatican Council and opened the Church to the modern world. John Paul II is a hero to the right, the pope who brought down Communism, who fought what he called a “culture of death” behind liberalizing currents on abortion and other life issues, and who insisted on strong Catholic identity vis-à-vis secular pressures to water down the faith.

Inevitably, those stereotypes don’t do justice to complex figures. John XXIII was actually a man of deeply traditional Italian Catholic piety, and John Paul II was hardly a neo-con. Recall, for instance, his opposition to both the death penalty and the US-led war in Iraq in 2003.

Nonetheless, the politically savvy Francis is aware of how these popes are seen, so the dual halos represent an invitation to left and right to come together. Had either pontiff been canonized individually, it might have come off as a victory lap for one side or the other.

Second, the combination also says something about the multiple paths to holiness.

Angelo Roncalli and Karol Wojtyla, the given names of John XXIII and John Paul II, were remarkably different personalities. Roncalli was the roly-poly, avuncular son of Italian peasants, while the swashbuckling Wojtyla was sort of a Polish John Wayne. Roncalli was a student of church history and a Vatican diplomat, while Wojtyla was a philosopher and pastor. As noted, they also have different followings.

Combining them is thus a reminder that good Catholics, up to and including popes, come in all shapes and sizes. As Jesuit Fr. James Martin puts it, the canonizations illustrate that “sanctity does not mean we have to be cookie-cutter versions of one or another saint.”

Third, the canonizations offer a reminder that sainthood, when it’s working properly, is the most democratic procedure in the Catholic church.

In theory, the sainthood process is supposed to begin with grass-roots devotion to a particular figure. In some cases that rank-and-file sentiment can be hard to discern, but not this time.

John XXIII was a global icon in his day, and he remains a beloved figure especially among Italians. A sociologist might well conclude that the Holy Trinity in Italy isn’t Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but rather God, Padre Pio, and John XXIII, because a stunning share of taxis, bars and restaurants, and private homes are festooned with images of the famed Capuchin stigmatic and Il papa buono, “Good Pope John.”

For John Paul II, the vast crowds chanting “Santo subito!”, meaning “sainthood now,” during his funeral Mass nine years ago speak for themselves. If that’s not enough, consider that one of Rome’s most prestigious theaters is currently staging a musical called “Karol Wojtyla: The True Story,” with scores of ordinary people forking over $40 a ticket to see the show.

Fourth, there are novel twists to both canonizations.

For John XXIII, it’s that Pope Francis has dispensed with the normally required second miracle. With John Paul II it’s the new land speed record he’s setting, only nine years from death to sainthood, while other candidates can languish for centuries.

Purists may grouse over those departures from tradition, but they illustrate a core truth about Catholicism: It’s good to be pope, because Francis was free to go ahead anyway.

Fifth and finally, neither new saint is without his critics.

Some traditionalists fault John XXIII for weakening the Church, noting that the progressive changes introduced by Vatican II coincided with dramatic declines in the numbers of priests and nuns and the practice of the faith in the West.

Liberals sometimes complain that John Paul II “rolled back the clock” on Vatican II’s reforming spirit. Advocates for victims of clerical sex abuse often charge that John Paul II allowed the scandals to fester, in some cases supporting clerics who turned out to be guilty and failing to discipline leaders who covered it up.

Without assessing those objections, it’s worth noting that whenever a pope is beatified or canonized, Vatican officials insist it’s not tantamount to a declaration that every policy choice during their papacy was beyond reproach. It’s rather a statement that despite their human failures, they strove to live a holy life worthy of imitation.

Pundits and activists may chew over that all they like, but the throngs who’ll be in the streets of Rome next Sunday probably won’t display much doubt that John XXIII and John Paul II both fit the bill.

Should popes even be canonized

As a footnote, some experts question the whole business of assigning halos to popes. Generally it’s not because they doubt the personal holiness of these men, but because they worry it damages the process.

First of all, Catholic theology holds that the Church never “makes” a saint. If someone is already in Heaven with God, which is what calling them a saint means, they don’t need a piece of paper from Rome certifying their status. Declaring someone a saint is really for everyone else, intended to lift that person up as a role model and a source of inspiration.

With popes, such a gesture is arguably superfluous, since their election already made them highly visible figures.

Further, the question with popes is, which ones do you canonize? Either you do it for all of them, which may cheapen the result by making it seem almost part of the standard benefits package, or you pick and choose, which risks making the process seem political.

For those reasons, some theologians have quietly suggested a moratorium on declaring popes as saints. Whatever the merits of that case, so far it doesn’t look like Francis is buying it.

John L. Allen Jr. is a Globe associate editor, covering global Catholicism. He may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JohnLAllenJr and on Facebook

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Joy Which Anoints Us | Pope Francis

Holy Thursday, 17 April 2014

Anointed with the oil of gladness

Dear Brother Priests,

In the eternal “today” of Holy Thursday, when Christ showed his love for us to the end (cf. Jn 13:1), we recall the happy day of the institution of the priesthood, as well as the day of our own priestly ordination. The Lord anointed us in Christ with the oil of gladness, and this anointing invites us to accept and appreciate this great gift: the gladness, the joy of being a priest. Priestly joy is a priceless treasure, not only for the priest himself but for the entire faithful people of God: that faithful people from which he is called to be anointed and which he, in turn, is sent to anoint.

Anointed with the oil of gladness so as to anoint others with the oil of gladness. Priestly joy has its source in the Father’s love, and the Lord wishes the joy of this Love to be “ours” and to be “complete” (Jn 15:11). I like to reflect on joy by contemplating Our Lady, for Mary, the “Mother of the living Gospel, is a wellspring of joy for God’s little ones” (Evangelii Gaudium, 288). I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that priest is very little indeed: the incomparable grandeur of the gift granted us for the ministry sets us among the least of men. The priest is the poorest of men unless Jesus enriches him by his poverty, the most useless of servants unless Jesus calls him his friend, the most ignorant of men unless Jesus patiently teaches him as he did Peter, the frailest of Christians unless the Good Shepherd strengthens him in the midst of the flock. No one is more “little” than a priest left to his own devices; and so our prayer of protection against every snare of the Evil One is the prayer of our Mother: I am a priest because he has regarded my littleness (cf. Lk 1:48). And in that littleness we find our joy. Joy in our littleness!

For me, there are three significant features of our priestly joy. It is a joy which anoints us (not one which “greases” us, making us unctuous, sumptuous and presumptuous), it is a joy which is imperishable and it is a missionary joy which spreads and attracts, starting backwards – with those farthest away from us.

A joy which anoints us. In a word: it has penetrated deep within our hearts, it has shaped them and strengthened them sacramentally. The signs of the ordination liturgy speak to us of the Church’s maternal desire to pass on and share with others all that the Lord has given us: the laying on of hands, the anointing with sacred chrism, the clothing with sacred vestments, the first consecration which immediately follows… Grace fills us to the brim and overflows, fully, abundantly and entirely in each priest. We are anointed down to our very bones… and our joy, which wells up from deep within, is the echo of this anointing.

An imperishable joy. The fullness of the Gift, which no one can take away or increase, is an unfailing source of joy: an imperishable joy which the Lord has promised no one can take from us (Jn 16:22). It can lie dormant, or be clogged by sin or by life’s troubles, yet deep down it remains intact, like the embers of a burnt log beneath the ashes, and it can always be renewed. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy remains ever timely: I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands (cf. 2 Tim 1:6).

A missionary joy. I would like especially to share with you and to stress this third feature: priestly joy is deeply bound up with God’s holy and faithful people, for it is an eminently missionary joy. Our anointing is meant for anointing God’s holy and faithful people: for baptizing and confirming them, healing and sanctifying them, blessing, comforting and evangelizing them.

And since this joy is one which only springs up when the shepherd is in the midst of his flock (for even in the silence of his prayer, the shepherd who worships the Father is with his sheep), it is a “guarded joy”, watched over by the flock itself. Even in those gloomy moments when everything looks dark and a feeling of isolation takes hold of us, in those moments of listlessness and boredom which at times overcome us in our priestly life (and which I too have experienced), even in those moments God’s people are able to “guard” that joy; they are able to protect you, to embrace you and to help you open your heart to find renewed joy.

A “guarded joy”: one guarded by the flock but also guarded by three sisters who surround it, tend it and defend it: sister poverty, sister fidelity and sister obedience.

The joy of priests is a joy which is sister to poverty. The priest is poor in terms of purely human joy. He has given up so much! And because he is poor, he, who gives so much to others, has to seek his joy from the Lord and from God’s faithful people. He doesn’t need to try to create it for himself. We know that our people are very generous in thanking priests for their slightest blessing and especially for the sacraments. Many people, in speaking of the crisis of priestly identity, fail to realize that identity presupposes belonging. There is no identity – and consequently joy of life – without an active and unwavering sense of belonging to God’s faithful people (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 268). The priest who tries to find his priestly identity by soul-searching and introspection may well encounter nothing more than “exit” signs, signs that say: exit from yourself, exit to seek God in adoration, go out and give your people what was entrusted to you, for your people will make you feel and taste who you are, what your name is, what your identity is, and they will make you rejoice in that hundredfold which the Lord has promised to those who serve him. Unless you “exit” from yourself, the oil grows rancid and the anointing cannot be fruitful. Going out from ourselves presupposes self-denial; it means poverty.

Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to fidelity. Not primarily in the sense that we are all “immaculate” (would that by God’s grace we were!), for we are sinners, but in the sense of an ever renewed fidelity to the one Bride, to the Church. Here fruitfulness is key. The spiritual children which the Lord gives each priest, the children he has baptized, the families he has blessed and helped on their way, the sick he has comforted, the young people he catechizes and helps to grow, the poor he assists… all these are the “Bride” whom he rejoices to treat as his supreme and only love and to whom he is constantly faithful. It is the living Church, with a first name and a last name, which the priest shepherds in his parish or in the mission entrusted to him. That mission brings him joy whenever he is faithful to it, whenever he does all that he has to do and lets go of everything that he has to let go of, as long as he stands firm amid the flock which the Lord has entrusted to him: Feed my sheep (cf. Jn 21:16,17).

Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to obedience. An obedience to the Church in the hierarchy which gives us, as it were, not simply the external framework for our obedience: the parish to which I am sent, my ministerial assignments, my particular work … but also union with God the Father, the source of all fatherhood. It is likewise an obedience to the Church in service: in availability and readiness to serve everyone, always and as best I can, following the example of “Our Lady of Promptness” (cf. Lk 1:39, meta spoudes), who hastens to serve Elizabeth her kinswoman and is concerned for the kitchen of Cana when the wine runs out. The availability of her priests makes the Church a house with open doors, a refuge for sinners, a home for people living on the streets, a place of loving care for the sick, a camp for the young, a classroom for catechizing children about to make their First Communion… Wherever God’s people have desires or needs, there is the priest, who knows how to listen (ob-audire) and feels a loving mandate from Christ who sends him to relieve that need with mercy or to encourage those good desires with resourceful charity.

All who are called should know that genuine and complete joy does exist in this world: it is the joy of being taken from the people we love and then being sent back to them as dispensers of the gifts and counsels of Jesus, the one Good Shepherd who, with deep compassion for all the little ones and the outcasts of this earth, wearied and oppressed like sheep without a shepherd, wants to associate many others to his ministry, so as himself to remain with us and to work, in the person of his priests, for the good of his people.

On this Holy Thursday, I ask the Lord Jesus to enable many young people to discover that burning zeal which joy kindles in our hearts as soon as we have the stroke of boldness needed to respond willingly to his call.

On this Holy Thursday, I ask the Lord Jesus to preserve the joy sparkling in the eyes of the recently ordained who go forth to devour the world, to spend themselves fully in the midst of God's faithful people, rejoicing as they prepare their first homily, their first Mass, their first Baptism, their first confession… It is the joy of being able to share with wonder, and for the first time as God’s anointed, the treasure of the Gospel and to feel the faithful people anointing you again and in yet another way: by their requests, by bowing their heads for your blessing, by taking your hands, by bringing you their children, by pleading for their sick… Preserve, Lord, in your young priests the joy of going forth, of doing everything as if for the first time, the joy of spending their lives fully for you.

On this Thursday of the priesthood, I ask the Lord Jesus to confirm the priestly joy of those who have already ministered for some years. The joy which, without leaving their eyes, is also found on the shoulders of those who bear the burden of the ministry, those priests who, having experienced the labours of the apostolate, gather their strength and rearm themselves: “get a second wind”, as the athletes say. Lord, preserve the depth, wisdom and maturity of the joy felt by these older priests. May they be able to pray with Nehemiah: “the joy of the Lord is my strength” (cf. Neh 8:10).

Finally, on this Thursday of the priesthood, I ask the Lord Jesus to make better known the joy of elderly priests, whether healthy or infirm. It is the joy of the Cross, which springs from the knowledge that we possess an imperishable treasure in perishable earthen vessels. May these priests find happiness wherever they are; may they experience already, in the passage of the years, a taste of eternity (Guardini). May they know, Lord, the joy of handing on the torch, the joy of seeing new generations of their spiritual children, and of hailing the promises from afar, smiling and at peace, in that hope which does not disappoint.

+ Francis

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Lord has need of YOU!


Before the Second Vatican Council, Palm Sunday was observed one week before Passion Sunday giving people time to savor the echoes of “Hosanna!” before they are confronted with the bitter cries “Crucify him!”  In the liturgy since the Council, the two celebrations have been brought together. We began today commemorating the Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, a joyful celebration in which we join the people of Jerusalem in welcoming Jesus with happy shouts of “Hosanna!” Then, as we just heard proclaimed, the story of the suffering and death, the passion, of our Lord Jesus Christ in which we hear the same people of Jerusalem shouting “Crucify him!” The dramatic and emotional effect of bringing these two aspects of the reality of Jesus’ life together is at first strange, but I think ultimately helpful.

Today’s two themes of “Hosanna” and “crucify him” serve as a prologue to this week. This is sort of like a movie preview that we see before the feature presentation. We get glimpses of the glory – Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem – and a look at what is to come – His death on the cross. But, like every good movie preview, it doesn’t give away the ending. We have to stick around until Easter Sunday to see how this all turns out. 

Today, I want to focus on the “Hosanna” of our story – the glorious entrance – and I want to look at a character in the story that perhaps we don’t usually think about. We often focus on Jesus as King, or the disciples and their part in the story, or the crowds and how they hailed Jesus. I want to talk about characters no one ever mentions – the donkey and its owners. Think about it for a minute. How different would this story be if the unnamed owners of the donkey had refused to give it up? Maybe we would have no story of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, at least not in the way Jesus wanted it.

The point is that no matter how unknown a person is, how small a role someone plays, every part is crucial in the unfolding of God’s plan. The Lord needs each one of us just as he needed the donkey and its unnamed owners in the reading. We are not told who these owners of the donkey are but the fact that they understood that “the Lord” refers to Jesus and voluntarily gave up the donkey shows that they could have been his secret disciples or admirers. Otherwise one would have expected them to answer, “But who is this Lord who needs my donkey?”

A donkey was a very big thing in the time of Jesus. The donkey was the equivalent of a car, a truck and a tractor all in one. It was a car because people used it to move around and do their shopping, a truck because it was used to carry a load, and a tractor because it was used in cultivating the land. Add to this the fact that the donkey had never been ridden, that means it was brand new and had a very high market value. You can see that giving up the donkey just because the Lord needed it was a very big sacrifice indeed. It was a generous and heroic act of faith.

The challenge is for us to search our hearts and ask do we respond as quickly and as generously when the Lord calls for our gifts, talents and treasure to be used for His Kingdom and His Glory?

We are reminded that each one of us has got a donkey that the Lord needs. The famous spiritual writer Max Lucado offers this reflection on using our donkey for the service of the Lord: “Sometimes I get the impression that God wants me to give him something and sometimes I don’t give it because I don’t know for sure, and then I feel bad because I’ve missed my chance. Other times I know he wants something but I don’t give it because I’m too selfish. And other times, too few times, I hear him and I obey him and feel honored that a gift of mine would be used to carry Jesus to another place. And still other times I wonder if my little deeds today will make a difference in the long haul. Maybe you have those questions, too. All of us have a donkey. You and I each have something in our lives, which, if given back to God, could, like the donkey, move Jesus and his story further down the road. Maybe you can sing or program a computer or speak Swahili or write a check. Whichever, that’s your donkey. Whichever, your donkey belongs to God. It really does belong to him. Your gifts are his and the donkey was his. The original wording of the instructions Jesus gave to his disciples is proof: “If anyone asks you why you are taking the donkey, you are to say, ‘Its Lord is in need.’”

As we enter into yet another great and glorious Holy Week, let us ask for the grace to hold back nothing of ourselves from the Lord. Let us freely give of our time, our talent and our treasure to bring forth the very presence of God in our world; to help transport Jesus from this place to the many places where people do not know Him. Let us be forever in His service.

So, what is the name of your donkey? The Lord has need of it.

May God give you peace.

Where is my heart? | Pope Francis' Palm Sunday Homily

This week begins with the festive procession with olive branches: all the people welcome Jesus. The children, the young people sing, praising Jesus.

But this week proceeds into the mystery of Jesus' death and his resurrection. We've heard the Passion of the Lord. So it'll do us well to ask ourselves one question: Who am I? Who am I before my Lord? Who am I, before Jesus who enters Jerusalem with celebrations? Am I able to express my joy, to praise him? Or do I keep a distance? Who am I before Jesus who suffers?

We've heard many names, many names. The group of rulers, some priests, some Pharisees, the teachers of the law, who decided to kill him. They waited for the chance to apprehend him. Am I one of them?

We've likewise heard another name: Judas. Thirty pieces of silver. Am I like Judas? We've heard other names: the disciples who couldn't understand any of it, who fell asleep while Jesus suffered. Has my life fallen asleep? Or am I like the disciples, who didn't understand what betraying Jesus meant? Like that other disciple who wanted to settle everything with the sword: am I like them? Am I like Judas, who made a show of loving and kissing Jesus, only to hand him over, to betray him? Am I a traitor? Am I like those rulers who rushed to hold the tribunal and seek false witnesses: am I like them? And when I do these things, if I do them, do I believe that I save people with this?

Am I like Pilate? When I see that the situation's tough, I wash my hands and don't know to take my responsibility and I let them condemn – or I condemn – people?

Am I like that crowd which didn't know if it was taking part in a religious gathering, a trial or a circus, and chooses Barabbas? For them it's all the same: it was more fun to humiliate Jesus.

Am I like the soldiers who strike the Lord, spit on him, insult him, enjoying themselves with the humiliation of the Lord?

Am I like the Cyrenian who was coming home from work, was tired, but had the goodwill to help the Lord carry the cross?

Am I like those who went before the Cross and taunted Jesus: "If only he had more courage! Come down from the cross, and we'll believe in Him!" They taunted Jesus....

Am I like those courageous women, and like Jesus' Mamma, who were there, suffering in silence?

Am I like Joseph, the hidden disciple, who carries the body of Jesus with love to give it a tomb?

Am I like the two Marys who remain before the Tomb crying, praying?

Am I like those leaders who went to Pilate the following day to say: "Be on guard – this one said he would rise, so don't let them be fooled again!" and blocked his life, blocked the tomb to defend doctrine, so that life could not come out?

Where is my heart? Which of these people am I like? May this question accompany us all through this week.

Changing the impossible

HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, January 20, 2019: When my parents got married more than 50 years ago, my Mom came from a pract...