Monday, November 24, 2014


Immigration is not primarily a political problem, but rather a deeply human and profoundly moral challenge facing our nation. Obviously, a fair and just resolution of the immigration question will require a political solution. The Catholic Bishops of the United States support comprehensive reform of our immigration laws, a more accessible path to citizenship for the undocumented and an adequate response to the needs of our country and of the immigrant community.
Cardinal walking the path of immigrants risking their lives in Nogales, AZ with Father Peter Neeley during a visit to the border in April 2014. (Credit: George Martell/Archdiocese of Boston)
The long-term goal is clear; but the political process has not been able to move forward. We leave the constitutional and political issues to those entrusted by office; only they can provide a comprehensive resolution. Our primary focus is on the undocumented families, the men, women, and children now stranded in a legal void, living on the margins of our society, in fear of being discovered and deported – either individually or as families. The moral question is about their lives, their needs and their future.

The President’s executive action this week is not a long-term solution to the challenge of immigration reform. But it will provide much needed immediate relief to millions of families and their children. We support that relief because extending further the ambiguous and untenable status of the undocumented will be greatly harmful to these individuals and families.

The Catholic Church in this country will continue to be deeply committed to a long-term, fair and effective reform of our immigration system. There is a consensus in the nation, across party lines and political affiliation, that the system is dysfunctional – “broken” is the consensus judgment. The Catholic population in the United States has always represented an immigrant Church, and that is the case today. The origins of the immigrant population have changed since many of our forbears came to this country. But the essential reality, that a Church of immigrants has been welcome in this nation of immigrants, remains true.

The Catholic Church has a well established history of responding to the needs of immigrants by providing services through our schools, hospitals and social service agencies. We do not seek to be simply commentators on the problem; we place our institutions and our community in service to people in need. While we have addressed these issues for more than two centuries, we have been given new inspiration and leadership by Pope Francis. In word and deed, the Holy Father has consistently called the attention of the world to the plight of immigrants. He asks for respect for their dignity, assistance for their needs and a secure foundation for their future. The Church in the United States can do no less.

In the Archdiocese of Boston our primary means of responding to the immigrant community are our parishes, which welcome individuals and families who have come here from countries throughout the world, and our Catholic Charities.

In light of the executive action taken by the President, Catholic Charities of Boston is preparing to respond in the following way:
  • After instructions issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Catholic Charities will provide information and outreach sessions to immigrant communities. It will do this in cooperation with other local agencies and with local city and state governments.
  • Catholic Charities has established a multilingual information line (617-464-8004) which will be updated as new information about application guidelines is made available by DHS.
  • Once the application process is established, catholic Charities will provide legal consultation and application assistance throughout the Archdiocese of Boston.
In the face of this daunting and complex challenge we face as a nation, it is my hope and prayer that we will keep human dignity and the welfare of children and families at the center of our attention.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

How to get to Heaven


A mother was preparing pancakes for her young sons, David and Billy. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity to teach the boys a good moral lesson and said, “Boys, if Jesus were sitting here, He would say ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.’” And so, David turned to his younger brother and said, “Billy, you be Jesus!”

Can I ask by a show of hands, how many of you want to get to Heaven? I hope that everyone would raise their hand on that one. Of course, we all want to get to Heaven. Heaven is our goal; our destination; our final reward. But how many of us have actually thought about what it takes to get there? What constitutes living a life worthy of Heaven? Does it simply mean being a baptized Roman Catholic, is that enough? Does it mean going to Mass every Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation?  Does Heaven come when we’ve gone to Confession regularly or prayed our Rosary daily or fulfilled certain devotional practices? Are these the things that will help us to merit the reward of Heaven?

Well, on this last day of our Church year, as we celebrate this Solemnity of Jesus Christ our King, our Gospel passage puts before us the answer to this very question. In this passage from Matthew, Jesus, our King, is sitting on His Throne, judging all of creation, deciding who will be welcomed into the glory of Heaven and who will not. He gives us this image of a King separating people into two categories – sheep and goats. And guess what we want to be? We want to be sheep! The sheep are welcomed into “the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world.” The goats are sent off to eternal punishment. And Jesus is not mysterious about what makes someone a sheep as opposed to a goat.

In this passage, Jesus gives to us the answer to the question of how to get to Heaven. So, for all of us who raised our hands hoping for the glory of Heaven, here’s what we need to do to get there: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me…whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” The way we get to Heaven is by living a life worthy of Heaven – particularly in the ways we reach out to those most in need around us – those who are hungry or thirsty or strangers and alone or naked or sick or in prison.

The question really comes down to this: Do we have hearts that have been converted, transformed, and changed to love as Jesus loves – to love always, to see everyone with hearts moved to compassion, to reach out even and especially to those that the rest of society has deemed unimportant or worse disposable. Or do we have categories in our hearts where we have decided that some people are unworthy of our love and concern – like the undocumented immigrant, the gay or lesbian couple, or the homeless, just to name a few groups that are often the recipients of something other than our compassion.

So what about going to Mass and Confession and praying the Rosary and saying our devotions? Does this mean that these things are not important? Of course not. But what it means is that we need to understand them properly. The importance of Mass, the Sacraments and all the other things that we do is that these practices are what turn us from goats to sheep. It is here being fed by the Lord that we become more like Him, so we can love as He loves in our world.

It isn’t easy to love the way Christ loves; especially in our own world that is increasingly polarized and angry and selfish. But, the more we allow Christ to transform us, the more He changes the direction of our love – away from ourselves and always towards others.

St. Augustine famously said of the Eucharist, “We become what we receive.” And so as Jesus satisfies our spiritual hunger and thirst through the gift of His Body and Blood, He also teaches us to be like Him; to become what we receive; to become His sheep. As we are nourished by Him, He asks us to go out from this place and offer nourishment to the hungry and thirsty around us – not because we deem them worthy or unworthy of our charity, but for no other reason than they are loved by God and so by us. We come to Church as spiritually naked people, but as St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” As He covers our nakedness with Himself, we are called to go out and cloth those who are naked, to cover up those who have no home.

As Jesus has offered us freedom from the sin that kept us in chains and in bondage, He invites us to visit those in prison and speak to them about the true freedom they too can find in Christ.

So, who wants to get to Heaven? It starts here. Let Jesus lift the sins that bind you. Let the Lord fill you and satisfy you with His Holy Word. Let the Lord transform you into Himself through the grace of His Body and Blood that we receive and then go and feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned – LOVE as Jesus loves without restriction; without limit because “whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Let us become His sheep.

Little David was right, you be Jesus and it will bring you all the way to Heaven.

May the Lord give you peace.

Monday, November 3, 2014

10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Jesus | Fr. James Martin, SJ

This originally appeared at: FAITHSTREET

Father James Martin is the editor-at-large for the Jesuit magazine America and author of several books, including Jesus: A Pilgrimage, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, and Between Heaven and Mirth. He is also, in the words of Stephen Colbert, “the chaplain of ‘The Colbert Report.'” We asked Fr. Martin what he wishes everyone knew about Jesus.

1. Jesus was poor.
Everyone knows that Jesus explicitly, specifically and repeatedly called for his disciples to care for the poor, whom he called the “least” among us. In fact, in the Gospel of Matthew, this is his litmus test for entrance into heaven.

But some may not know that Jesus himself was poor, or at least came from the “lower classes” of his time. Before his public ministry, he lived and worked in Nazareth, a tiny, backwater town of 200 to 400 people. The Gospels refer to Jesus’s occupation as a tekton,a Greek word usually translated as “carpenter.” But it can also mean “woodworker,” “craftsman” or even “day laborer.” It’s important to note that in the social and economic scheme of things, carpenters ranked below the peasantry, because they did not have the benefit of a plot of land. Jesus knew what it meant to eke out a living in a poor town.

2. Jesus saw income disparities firsthand, and he condemned them.
An hour-and-a-half walk from Nazareth was Sepphoris, a booming town of 30,000 people, then being rebuilt by King Herod. The town boasted an amphitheater that seated 3,000 people, a fortress, courts, a royal bank, and lavish houses decorated with frescoes and mosaics. It’s almost certain that a carpenter trying to earn a living would at least once or twice walk the four miles to the wealthy town under construction in order to seek work. While in Sepphoris, Jesus would have seen how the “other half” lives.

When we hear Jesus express anger over gross income disparities, particularly in the Parable of Lazarus and Dives in Luke’s Gospel (in which a rich man refuses to care for a poor one), we often think of his words as divinely inspired. And they were: Jesus was fully divine. But they also were informed by his human experience, and that experience included seeing great disparities of wealth in his own life.
3. Jesus had close friends.
We tend to think of Jesus as interacting with his apostles, disciples, and followers. But he also had friends. The Gospels describe, for example, Jesus’s relaxing at the house of his good friends Mary and Martha, who lived in Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem. The Gospel of John says, quite plainly, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister.” And when their brother Lazarus is found to be sick and dying (this is the man whom Jesus will raise from the dead), the news is relayed to Jesus with a telling phrase. The message from the sisters does not say, “Our brother Lazarus is ill,” or “Your friend Lazarus is ill,” or even “Lazarus of Bethany is ill.” Rather, in the Greek, Jesus is told that hon phileis is ill: “he whom you love.”

It’s a window into the deep relationships and intimate friendships that Jesus enjoyed. He was not simply Messiah; he was a good friend.
4. Jesus instructed his disciples not to judge.
For some reason, this is often difficult for people to accept. Whenever I mention Jesus’s injunction not to judge — “Judge not, lest you be judged” — some people bristle. Something in us feels not only inclined to, but obliged to, judge. “Well, but that means anything goes, doesn’t it?” is a common response. “Of course we have to judge other people,” say others. No, Jesus says, we do not.

We are called to live moral lives, and invite others to lead moral lives, but we do so primarily through our own example and by gentle persuasion — not by judging and condemning them. Judgment is left, as Jesus reminds us, to God.
5. Jesus didn’t say anything about gays and lesbians.
In all his many utterances about many social situations and human conditions, Jesus never said one word about homosexual persons. Admittedly, St. Paul speaks about that topic, but many contemporary scholars believe that Paul was probably speaking not about homosexuality per se (the word itself is of relatively recent vintage) but about the evils of male prostitution.

In any event, Jesus himself spoke a great deal about helping the poor, forgiving one’s enemies, and even divorce (which he condemned), but nothing about, and certainly nothing against, gay and lesbian men and women.
6. Jesus always reached out to those on the margins.
If a Gospel narrative introduces a marginalized person, it is a sure bet that Jesus will reach out to him or her. The examples are too numerous to mention. He meets a Roman centurion, and rather than forcing him to convert to Judaism, he heals the man’s servant. He meets a Samaritan woman (someone viewed as a foreigner or even an enemy for Jews of Judea and Galilee), and rather than condemning her, engages in a friendly conversation. He meets Zacchaeus, the “chief tax collector” in Jericho and therefore the “chief sinner” of the area, and even before Zacchaeus offers to repent, Jesus offers to dine with him, a sign of acceptance.

Jesus is continually reaching out to people on the margins, and he asked his disciples to do the same.
7. Jesus can’t be tamed.
It’s common for people of every theological stripe to pick and choose which of Jesus’s words to follow and which of his deeds to believe. Thomas Jefferson went so far as to construct his own “Gospel” by (literally) scissoring out the miracles and other traces of his divinity. Like many of us, Jefferson felt uncomfortable with parts of Jesus’s story. He wanted a Jesus who didn’t threaten, a Jesus he could tame.

But Jesus cannot be tamed. The people of his time could not do this, and neither can we. Scissor out the uncomfortable parts and it’s not Jesus were talking about — it is our own creation.

Incidentally, New Testament scholar E.P. Sanders once read Jefferson’s “Gospel” and concluded that Jefferson’s Jesus was a learned man, a sage. In essence, Thomas Jefferson’s Jesus was . . . Thomas Jefferson.
8. Jesus really did perform miracles.
Many people are uncomfortable with Jesus’s supernatural power and other signs of his divinity. But an immense part of the Gospels is taken up with what are called “works of power” and “signs” — that is, miracles. In fact, some of the sayings that people take for granted and quote approvingly — even by those who do not accept Jesus’s divinity — occur within the context of the miracle stories. Remove the miracles and there is no context for many of Jesus’ most familiar sayings.

Jesus’ ability to perform miracles was never in doubt in the Gospels. Even his detractorstake note of his miracles, as when they critique him for healing on the Sabbath. The question posed by people of his time is not whether Jesus can do miracles, but rather the source of his power. The statement that Jesus was seen as a miracle worker in his time has as much reliability as almost any other statement we can make about him.
9. Jesus struggled, even in prayer.
Jesus was fully divine. But he was also fully human. That’s a basic Christian belief. It’s also a mystery, that is, something not to be fully understood, but pondered. And one of the most telling windows into his humanity comes in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he is confronted with his impending crucifixion. Jesus asks God the Father to “remove this cup.” He is saying, in essence: “If it’s possible, I don’t want to die.”

Eventually, Jesus accepts that his coming death is his Father’s will — but not before struggle and prayer. Later, when hanging on the cross, he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” This is not a person who does not struggle: Christians do not relate to a person who cannot understand our own human struggles.
10. Jesus rose from the dead.
Not everyone believes this about Jesus, because to believe this is to be a Christian, and not everyone reading this is Christian. But let me offer a kind of “proof,” if you will — even though the only proof was what the disciples saw on Easter Sunday.

The Gospels were written for the early church, and the Gospel writers would certainly not go out of their way to make the apostles — the leaders of the early church, after all — look bad. Nonetheless, notice that the Gospels portray the apostles as abject cowards during the crucifixion: most of them abandon Jesus; one of them, Peter, denies knowing him; and after his death they are depicted as cowering behind closed doors. That’s hardly something that the Gospel writers would make up.

But after the Resurrection, they are utterly transformed. The disciples move from being terrified victims to men and women ready to die for what they believe. Only something dramatic, something visible, something tangible, something real, could affect this kind of change.

Jesus really and truly rose to the dead. For me, that’s the most important thing to know about Jesus.

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