Sunday, October 26, 2014

Won't you be my neighbor?

HOMILY FOR THE 30th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 26, 2014:

Let me start today with an image that many of you will be familiar with. A plain sweater, white canvass sneakers, a warm smile and a simple song that welcomed us every day, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine?” (My apologies, that song will now be stuck in your head all day.) Every day Fred Rogers welcomed so many of us to his neighborhood. As a child, I watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood nearly every day and still have such fond memories. Over the years not much changed with the show; it was the same house, the same trolley to take you to the world of make believe, and the same puppets like King Friday. But, in every single episode Mr. Rogers always asked the same question: “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Today’s Gospel follows after last week’s passage in which we had the Sadducees trying to trap Jesus with their question about paying taxes to Ceasar. This week, the Pharisees try to trap Jesus again, this time with a question about which is the greatest commandment. The textbook answer, of course, is love of God. But, again like last week, Jesus does not stop there. He goes on to give a more practical answer, one that doesn’t merely satisfy their question, but instead challenges His listeners. Just like last week, Jesus gives the other side of the coin, which, in this case is love of neighbor.

Jesus makes the point that anyone who truly loves God must necessarily also love their neighbor; and that these are virtually one in the same thing. You cannot truly love God unless that love is made visible in our love of neighbor. As Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Or as we hear more succinctly in the First Letter of John, “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in them.”

Jesus is reacting against the Pharisees one-dimensional understanding of love that somehow allowed them to express extreme devotion to God, while ignoring the problems of the real people around them every day. But, for Jesus, true love must express itself in: the love of God; the love of neighbor; and the love of oneself. The commandment to love your neighbor as yourself presumes that you first love yourself as a beautiful person created in the image and likeness of God. That you see your dignity and beauty as a unique part of what God has created – as unique and beautiful as the oceans, the stars and the sky, the mountains or any other part of the created universe.

Pope Francis touched on this today in his Angelus message at the Vatican. Reflecting on today’s Gospel, the Pope said, “In the middle of the thicket of rules and regulations, Jesus opens a gap that allows you to see two faces: the face of the Father and that of the brother or sister. He doesn't deliver us two formulas or two precepts, but two faces, indeed one face, the face of God reflected in many faces of others, because in the face of each brother and sister, especially in the smallest, the most fragile and the most helpless, the same image of God is present. In light of the word of Jesus, love is the measure of our faith, and faith is the spirit of love. No longer can we separate a religious life from service to our brothers and sisters, to those concrete brothers and sisters we meet. No longer can we divide prayer, the encounter with God in the sacraments, from listening to others, from closeness to their lives, especially to their wounds.”

This is a concern that reaches our ears and our world today. The error of the Pharisees is still with us. We don’t have to look further than the ever growing divide between rich and poor, the continuing problem of homelessness, the ongoing scourge of prejudice, violence, war, death and destruction that are so much a part of our world to wonder where is our love of neighbor?

There are many Christians who try to separate the love of fellow human beings from their love of God. There are many followers of Jesus whose commitment to faith does not include commitment to issues of human rights; to economic and legal justice; to the call for peace; to equality and the ending of prejudice and persecution. We do well to heed Jesus in today's gospel: true love of God and true love of neighbor are two sides of the same coin.

Again, we hear in the First Letter of John, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”

Let us pray today that God will shake loose from us any indifference we may feel towards our brothers and sisters, especially those in need. Let us ask God to help us have eyes that realize when we see the face of those around us, we really see the face of God. We pray, not only for the knowledge of how to love, but the wisdom to want to love in all circumstances.

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Won’t you be my neighbor?

May the Lord give you peace.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Pope calls for abolishment of the death penalty

NOTE: Amen! I am more impressed with the conviction and boldness of our Holy Father every day!  - FT

ROME - Pope Francis on Thursday called on all men and women of good will to fight for the abolishment of the death penalty in “all of its forms” and for the improvement of prison conditions.

The Pope was addressing a group of members of the International Association of Criminal Law whom he received in the Vatican.

In his discourse the Pope also addressed the need to combat the phenomena of human trafficking and of corruption.

And he stressed that the fact that the enforcement of legal penalties must always respect human dignity.

In a dense and impassioned discourse to the Jurists assembled in the Vatican for a private audience, Pope Francis said that the “life sentence” is really a “concealed death sentence”, and that is why – he explained – he had it annulled in the Vatican Penal Code.

Many of the off-the-cuff comments during the Pope’s speech shone the light on how politics and media all too often act as triggers enflaming “violence and private and public acts of vengeance” that are always in search of a scape-goat.

Recalling the words of Saint John Paul II who condemned the death penalty as does the Catechism, Francis decried the practice and denounced “so-called extrajudicial or extralegal executions” calling them “deliberate homicides” committed by public officials behind the screen of the Law:

“All Christians and people of goodwill are called today to fight not only for the abolition of the death penalty be it legal or illegal, in all of its forms, but also for the improvement of prison conditions in the respect of the human dignity of those who have been deprived of freedom. I link this to the death sentence. In the Penal Code of the Vatican, the sanction of life sentence is no more. A life sentence is a death sentence which is concealed”.

And Pope Francis had words of harsh criticism for all forms of criminality which undermine human dignity, there are forms of his – he said - even within the criminal law system which too often does not respect that dignity when criminal law is applied.

“In the last decades” – the Pope said – “there has been a growing conviction that through public punishment it is possible to solve different and disparate social problems, as if for different diseases one could prescribe the same medicine.”

He said this conviction has pushed the criminal law system beyond its sanctioning boundaries, and into the “realm of freedom and the rights of persons” without real effectiveness.

“There is the risk of losing sight of the proportionality of penalties that historically reflect the scale of values upheld by the State. The very conception of criminal law and the enforcement of sanctions as an ‘ultima ratio’ in the cases of serious offenses against individual and collective interests have weakened. As has the debate regarding the use of alternative penal sanctions to be used instead of imprisonment”.

Pope Francis speaks of remand or detention of a suspect as a “contemporary form of illicit hidden punishment” concealed by a “patina of legality”, as it enforces “an anticipation of punishment” upon a suspect who has not been convicted. From this – the Pope points out – derives the risk of multiplying the number of detainees still awaiting trial, who are thus convicted without benefiting from the protective rules of a trial. In some countries – he says – this happens in some 50% of all cases with the trickledown effect of terribly overcrowded detention centers:

“The deplorable conditions of detention that take place in different parts of the world are an authentic inhuman and degrading trait, often caused by deficiencies of criminal law, or by a lack of infrastructures and good planning. In many cases they are the result of an arbitrary and merciless exercise of power over persons who have been deprived of freedom.”

Pope Francis also speaks of what he calls “cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments and sanctions,” and compares detention in maximum-security prisons to a “form of torture”. The isolation imposed in these places – he says – causes “mental and physical” suffering that result in an “increased tendency towards suicide”. Torture – the Pope points out – is used not only as a means to obtain “confession or information”:

“It is an authentic ‘surplus’ of pain that is added to the woes of detention. In this way torture is used not only in illegal centers of detention or in modern concentration camps, but also in prisons, in rehabilitation centers for minors, in psychiatric hospitals, in police stations and in other institutions for detention or punishment”.

And Pope Francis said children must be spared the harshness of imprisonment – as must, at least in a limited way – older people, sick people, pregnant women, disabled people as well as parents if they are the sole guardians of minors or persons with disabilities.

The Pope also highlighted one of the criminal phenomena he has always spoken out against vehemently: human trafficking which - he says – is the result of that “cycle of dire poverty” that traps “a billion people” and forces at least 45 million to flee from conflict:

“Based on the fact that it is impossible to commit such a complex crime as is the trafficking of persons without the complicity, be it active or of omission of action of the State, it is evident that, when the efforts to prevent and combat this phenomenon are not sufficient, we find ourselves before a crime against humanity. This is even truer if those who are responsible for the protection of persons and the safeguard of their freedom become an accomplice of those who trade in human beings; in those cases the State is responsible before its citizens and before the international community”.

Pope Francis dedicates an ample part of his discourse to corruption. The corrupt person – according to the Pope – is a person who takes the “short-cuts of opportunism” that lead him to think of himself as a “winner” who insults and persecutes whoever contradicts him. “Corruption” – the Pope says “is a greater evil than sin”, and more than “be forgiven, must be cured”.

“The criminal sanction is selective. It is like a net that captures only the small fish leaving the big fish to swim free in the ocean. The forms of corruption that must be persecuted with greatest severity are those that cause grave social damage, both in economic and social questions – for example grave fraud against public administration or the dishonest use of administration”.

Concluding, Pope Francis exhorted the jurists to use the criteria of “cautiousness” in the enforcement of criminal sanctions. This – he affirmed – must be the principle that upholds criminal law:

“The respect for human dignity must operate not only to limit the arbitrariness and the excesses of State officials, but as a criteria of orientation for the persecution and the repression of those behaviors that represent grave attacks against the dignity and the integrity of the human person”.

Monday, October 6, 2014

"Be open and humble" | Pope Francis


By Elise Harris  (CNA/EWTN News).

Vatican City, Oct 6, 2014 - During the opening session for the extraordinary synod on the family, Pope Francis told participants not to be afraid of saying what they truly think, and that only by doing this can they reach real conclusions.

“You have to say all that which in the Lord you feel you have to say: without human respect, without timidity,” the Pope told synod participants in his Oct. 6 opening remarks.

“And, at the same time, you must listen with humility and accept with an open heart what your brothers say. Synodality is exercised with these two attitudes.”

Initiated yesterday with a mass presided over by the pontiff, the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family reflects on the theme “The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization,” and was called for by the Pope in order to form a more concrete reflection for the Ordinary Synod to take place in 2015.

The synod will conclude with the beatification of Pope Paul VI, institutor of the synod of bishops, by Pope Francis on Oct. 19.

Speaking directly to the synod rapporteur, secretary-general and the three president delegates of different episcopal conferences present, Pope Francis explained that they bring to the meetings “the voice of the particular Church, gathered at the level of local churches by the Episcopal Conferences.”

“This voice you bring in synodality. It's a great responsibility: to bring the realities and problems of the Church, to help them walk that road that which is the Gospel of the family,” the Pope continued.

And one basic condition of synodality, he said, is to “speak clearly. No one say ‘You can't say this; think of me this way or that...’ You have to say everything that you feel with frankness.”

Pope Francis then recalled how he received an email from a cardinal after the consistory that took place in February, saying “it's a shame that some cardinals didn't have the courage to say some things out of respect of the Pope, feeling, perhaps, that the Pope was thinking something different.”

“This is not good, this is not synodality, because you have to say all that which in the Lord you feel you have to say,” the Pope explained, saying that they must also be humble and open to the opinion of others.

“I ask you, please, (to have) these attitudes of brothers in the Lord: speak with frankness and listen with humility.”
The Roman Pontiff also expressed his “deep and sincere thanks to all the people who have worked with dedication, patience and with competence for many months, reading, evaluating and developing themes, texts and works for this Exraordinaty General Assembly.”

He gave special appreciation to Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod, Msgr. Fabio Fabene, Undersecretary, as well as all of the speakers, writers, consulters, translators and staff of the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.

“They have worked untiringly, and continue to work, for the good outcome of this Synod: thank you very much and may the Lord reward you!”

Also recognizing the various cardinals, patriarchs, bishops, priests, religious men and women and laypersons present, the Bishop of Rome explained that their presence “enriches the work and the spirit of collegiality and synodality for the good of the Church and of the family!”

He encouraged discussion to take place “with tranquility and peace, because the synod always takes place with Peter and under Peter, and the presence of the Pope is a guarantee for all (in the) safeguarding of the faith.”

So “we collaborate with all because it affirms with clarity the dynamic of synodality.”