Saturday, December 26, 2015

The reason for Jesus


If you’re a fan of the comic strip, Family Circus, you may remember a Christmas comic they did a few years ago. In the scene, young Dolly was sharing with her two young brothers the story of Christmas. Here is how she recounted it, “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 the Scrooge – who was one of the three wise men riding on eight tiny reindeer.” And then Dolly says to her brother, “Pay attention, Jeffy, or you’ll never learn the real story of Christmas!”

We hear a phrase regularly this time of year – Jesus is the reason for the season. It’s a phrase that invites us to remember that Christmas is not just about presents and parties and food, desserts and time with family and friends – but that there is a faith dimension to all of this. Jesus is the reason for the season. But, today’s feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – so close to the Feast of Christmas – asks us to take that a step further. If Jesus is the reason for the season, what is the reason for Jesus? And, that is a really interesting question.

We sing the carols, we marvel at the sights of the lights and the trees and the decorations – especially the Christmas mangers – but how often do we go deeper and ask what are those leading us to, what are they drawing us to? Lights aren’t meant to be mere colorful decoration, for example, they are meant to remind us of the symbolism that Jesus is THE LIGHT that has conquered the darkness of our world, the darkness of sin and death. Similarly the trees, the EVER-greens that we bring into our houses in the midst of winter are symbols of life.

And, how about those Christmas mangers. They are so beautiful and probably the most treasured of decorations in most households. In fact, in many families, Christmas mangers are even handed down from generation to generation. And, we are so blessed here at St. Anthony’s with our beautiful Christmas manger outside on West Houston Street – certainly one of the most famous and visited in New York City. Camera crews come to film here, countless people come and take their pictures here. Many come just to be silent and say a little prayer.

And, if you know the history of the Christmas manger, you know that it was our own St. Francis of Assisi, who originated this custom back in 1223. St. Francis did this because he wanted to truly understand the impact of the reason that Jesus, God Himself, became one of us. He wanted to imagine what that moment was like. And it is powerful for us to likewise take a moment do the same.

This feast of the Holy Family in particular reminds us that when God decided that the time had come for Him to enter into our human reality; to come to earth and take on our human flesh, that we need only to look at the manger to see how He chose to do it. God chose to enter humanity not in a grandiose way, not in flurry and splendor, not with trumpet blast and glory, but in the simple way that you and I entered humanity - within a family. And, not only that, He chose to enter humanity as someone who was homeless – they could not find a place to lay their head. He chose to enter humanity as a migrant as they were on their way to another land for the census. And, He chose to enter our world as a little baby, as someone who was helpless and had to rely upon the aid and assistance of others if He were to survive to an age where He could complete His mission among us of spreading the good news and bringing His promised salvation.

God chose to enter our world precisely in the places and in the people and in the ways that we, today, so often struggle or even fail to see God. When we look at the immigrant, the refugee, the homeless, the helpless, what do we see? Do we realize that they are icons of the very image of God as He was on that first Christmas morning? We have our spectacular Christmas manger outside, which is an image of a homeless, migrant family who had no place to lay their heads that night. And a block away in virtually any direction from this Church you can find a homeless woman or man huddled under a blanket or a cardboard box. As we pass them by, do we recognize that their image and the image of the Holy Family are the same? Do we see God present there when we see them? This is where He is present today.

In a few days or weeks, our Christmas mangers will be carefully packed and put away for another year, but these urban mangers that surround us on our streets will remain in the men and women who live there. I think this is exactly why Jesus came to us, God Himself came to us, in a family, and one that was homeless and migrant and in need of the help of others. Because He wanted us then and now, to look at our own family, to look at the homeless and helpless around us, and to see that God is present there; they are not the “other”; they are our brother, our sister, our family; and to reach out to them in need.

My friends, Jesus is the reason for the season; and this is the reason for Jesus. He came among us so that we might see God’s presence in our midst; that we might see God’s presence in one another; that we might see God’s presence in the most unlikely of places. If we want to become a Holy Family, this is how we do it. We say yes to that presence, that invitation before our eyes, just as Joseph and Mary did so long ago. And it will make all the difference in our lives, in our world and in our families. May we become one, united and holy family under our loving and compassionate God this Christmas and always.

Merry Christmas and may the Lord give you peace.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Fall on your knees


Join me in a little sing-a-long: “Silent night, holy night. All is calm. All is bright. Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child. Holy Infant, so tender and mild. Sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace. ” If you were here at this Mass last year, you might remember that I invited you to do the very same thing and join me in singing that beautiful hymn.

This is a time of year that engages us fully through all of our senses – we love the sights that are all around us, the bright lights and Christmas trees, bows and ribbons and wreathes and wrapped presents; we love the smells and flavors even more, and I’m sure each of us has a special tradition of this time of year, whether it is certain desserts or special foods that we have, fruitcake or Christmas cookies, seven fishes or a roasted goose. But, we love the Christmas carols, I think, most of all. We know this because there are even radio stations that play nothing but Christmas music from Thanksgiving Day all the way through Christmas.

Christmas songs conjure up so much in us. There are the fun ones – Jingle Bell Rock, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, and of course, Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer (poor Grandma!). There are the sentimental favorites – White Christmas, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, and The Christmas Song (you know, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire”). And, there are the holy ones, the spiritual ones, that touch us deeply in our hearts – songs like the one we just sang, Silent Night, and so many more like O Come, All Ye Faithful, Joy to the World, or a more recent one, Mary Did You Know?

But, I think my favorite one of the season, and certainly, my favorite one of this very night is O Holy Night. And, I love this hymn for two, somewhat contradictory reasons. I love it for its sheer grandeur. No other Christmas hymn dares such boldness and lofty greatness. It’s melody builds and grows until it wants to explode; and when the notes and the words reach that triumphant apex what does it call us to? It calls us to tremendous humility – fall on your knees the hymn begs the hearer.

Fall on your knees. Know your smallness and be humble in light of the profundity of this moment of Christ’s birth. Sometimes, the act of falling to our knees is a response to tragedy or cruelty. We fall because we are beaten and broken, because we have nothing left to give.

But sometimes - times like tonight - we fall in awesome wonder. These are the knees of O Holy Night, of this holy night: we are "wonderstruck, joyous, and eve a little wobbly". Fall on your knees, the song commands. Jesus has been born, and even the angels are singing. A thrill of hope; the weary soul rejoices. For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. This, my friends, is no normal night. It’s a time to humble ourselves and get close to the ground. Oh, night divine.

It’s easy to imagine that dark Bethlehem night, a stunning planetarium sky, the stars brightly shining, the world laying “in sin and error pining.” Amid all this we lower ourselves, trying to find a bit more stability. This reaction seems right. It’s a posture of openness, rather than knowing, because on this night as on that night, who would guess what was to come?

Often, this humility can be lost in the singing. We associate O Holy Night with singers like CĂ©line Dion or Andrea Bocelli, who dramatically build the song to unbelievable heights, a full orchestra behind them. These versions are popular, but clearly not on their knees.

In a 12-days of Christmas series on the history of our most favorite hymns by The Atlantic, which I'm indebted to for the inspiration of this homily, they point out that in 1855, the American Unitarian minister and music critic John Sullivan Dwight translated the song from its original French, which had been composed a few years earlier. The first version referred simply to a “kneeling people,” but Dwight gave the knees greater prominence, translating the line as a more urgent call to action. He wrote in a November 1870 essay for The Atlantic Monthly: “True music breathes and makes appeal…to a holy love and yearning after unity.” A yearning after unity, seems like a subtle nod to the power of music to make us feel humble again; humble in the presence of our God. It calls on the desire – especially of this night – for joy and peace and love; for compassion and forgiveness and healing; for an opportunity to begin again and be made new, just like the newness promised by the remarkable birth of a child in a manger; a child whose birth would change everything; a child who can change everything again and make us new again today.

You know, people don’t often declare whole nights divine, except in a passing, literary way. But, the holiness of that night in Bethlehem was not literary, but literal; it was holy and full of promise. And, my friends, the holiness of this night is not literary either – it too is literal and full of promise. And the Babe of Bethlehem wants to enter into our world and our hearts and our lives as humbly and as powerfully as He did so long ago, if we will only humbly fall on our knees and welcome Him.

My friends, the stars are brightly shining this night, the world lay in sin and error pining, ‘till He appeared and the soul – your soul, my soul – felt its worth. So, fall on your knees, hear the angel voices. This night when Christ was born. O holy night. O night Divine.

Merry Christmas and may the Lord give you His peace.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Christ is in your midst


A certain monastery was going through a crisis. The monks were leaving, no new candidates were joining, and people were no longer coming for prayer and consultation as they used to. The few monks that remained were becoming old and depressed and bitter in their relationship with one another. But, the abbot heard about a certain holy man living alone in the woods and decided to consult him. He told the hermit how the monastery had dwindled and diminished and now looks like a skeleton of what it used to be. Only seven old monks remained. The hermit told the abbot that he has a secret for him. One of the monks now living in his monastery is actually the Messiah, but he is living in such a way that no one could recognize him.

With this revelation the abbot went back to his monastery, summoned the monks and recounted what the hermit told him. The aging monks looked at each other in disbelief, wondering who among them could be the Christ. Could it be Brother Mark who prays all the time? But he has this holier-than-thou attitude toward others. Could it be Bother Peter who is always ready to help? But he is always eating and drinking and doesn’t fast. The abbot reminded them that the Messiah had adopted some bad habits as a way of camouflaging his real identity. This only made them more confused and they could not make a headway figuring out who, among them, was the Christ. At the end of the meeting what each one of the monks knew for sure was that any of the monks, except himself, could indeed be the Christ.

From that day, however, the monks began to treat one another with greater respect and humility, knowing that the person they are speaking to could be the Messiah. They began to show more love for one another, their common life became more brotherly and their common prayer more fervent. Slowly people again began to take notice of the new spirit in the monastery and began coming back for retreats and spiritual direction. Word began to spread and, before you know it, candidates began to show up and the monastery began to grow again in number as the monks grew in zeal and holiness. All this because a man of God drew their attention to the truth that is so easy to overlook – that Christ was living in their midst.

We heard from Luke’s Gospel today, “The people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.” As our Advent moves steadily on towards Christmas, we are filled with a joyful expectation to welcome Christ once again into our hearts and our lives. But, we also realize that our celebration is not a mere commemoration of the arrival of Christ 2,000 years ago. We do not simply remember something that happened long ago and far away, but we are also being called to wake ourselves up again to the reality that the presence of God is in our midst – all around us – here in this Church, in the sacraments, in all of us gathered, but also out there in the streets, in the people we encounter – all of them, the local and the tourist, the cab driver and the bus driver, the waitress and the actor, in the hungry and the homeless – our God is present everywhere and is just waiting for us to discover Him.

The challenge we face is that our world is working overtime hoping that we won’t recognize that Christ is in our midst. There are too many voices of fear and anxiety that would rather have us be suspicious of one another and afraid; that would prefer if we demonized each other and treated one another as anything except brothers and sisters. But, this is not God’s message. This is not the message of Christmas.

God has come among us in the hopes that we will realize that we are all luminous beings and that God fills us and surrounds us with His presence so that we will be united in peace, mercy, love, joy and compassion – that these are the things that will transform us and our world into the Kingdom He promised us.

My friends, I have a secret for you today – Christ is actually living in our midst but in such a way that perhaps we do not recognize him. So, what are we to do? Are we able to recognize Him in the ordinary and familiar women and men in our midst, right in front of us every day?

John the Baptist, today shows us what we are to do. He calls us to faithfulness and care in the normal circumstances of life: If you have more than you need, share with those who have less; be honest; do not take advantage of the vulnerable; cherish your children; be faithful to each other; live in peace. Share, be honest, be fair, cherish each other, be faithful and be people of peace – and open our eyes to the presence of Christ all around us.

But, most of all we are being called to bring Jesus, the Light of the World into all of the places of darkness. We are called to let that Light be born in us and let Jesus use us to fashion a new world and bring forth the Kingdom of God. On our part, we must open our hearts and look with new eyes and hearts, and welcome everyone we encounter – whether family or stranger, citizen or immigrant or refugee, Christian or Muslim or atheist, friend or foe, rich or poor – as though it were Christ Himself. Only then can we both be the presence of Christ in our world, but also meet Him in the people we encounter.

“Again, I say, rejoice! The Lord is near!”

May the Lord give you peace!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

God is stronger!


A woman was having a very busy day at home caring for her five children. On this particular day, however, she was having trouble doing even routine chores - all because of three-year-old Kenny. He was on his mother’s heels no matter where she went. Whenever she stopped to do something and turn around, she would nearly trip over him. After stepping on his toes for the fifth time, the young mother began to lose her patience. When she asked Kenny why he was acting this way, he looked up at her and said, “Well, in school my teacher told me to walk in Jesus’ footsteps. But I can’t see Him, so I’m walking in yours.”

The angel said to Mary, “Do not be afraid, Mary.” Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our commemoration of the reality that Mary was conceived without sin in the womb of her mother Anne. This is a belief that dates back to the earliest days of the Church, and is not a feast about an abstract aspect of the birth of Christ, but it is a sign to us of God’s care for us, and of God’s triumph over the darkness of the world.

And I think that our world needs to hear this message more today than any time in my memory. We live in a world of chaos. We live in a world of violence and division. We live in a world of suspicion and fear. And to that confusion and fear God speaks these words: “Do not be afraid.”

Pope Francis said a few days ago, echoing perfectly the message of today’s feast, “Around us there is the presence of evil. The devil is at work. But in a loud voice I say: God is stronger.” My friends, let that message settle deeply into your hearts tonight – God is stronger. Today’s feast reminds us that God was stronger than the stain of original sin in the life of Mary. God was stronger than the darkness that enveloped the world at the time of Christ’s birth. God was stronger even than death itself in the resurrection of Jesus. God is stronger than the evil that fills our world today. He is stronger than anything that might seem insurmountable in our lives today.

There are no shortage of voices in our world today that are proclaiming the opposite message, that says, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” It is a message that says we should look at one another with suspicion and fear; with doubt and anger – that we should treat our brothers and sisters as something less than human, something less than men and women who have been created in God’s image. But to that message of fear, we are reminded today that God is stronger, “do not be afraid.”

Pope Francis today also inaugurated the extraordinary Year of Mercy in the Church. At the Angelus following the Mass today, he said, “Two things are necessary to fully celebrate the day's feast. First, to fully welcome God and His merciful grace into our life; second, to become in our own times 'workers of mercy' through an evangelical journey...In imitation of Mary we are called to be 'bearers of Christ' and witnesses of His love, especially towards those who are most in need."

The Holy Father is reminding us that fear takes root when we fail to welcome God’s mercy into our lives. We are reminded that our call is not to be messengers of fear, but workers of mercy, imitators of Mary, bearers of Christ, witnesses of love. Do not be afraid. God is stronger than evil.

My friends, Mary reminds us today that we are called to be holy people; to draw near to God and be united with Him. Belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary is belief in a provident God - a God who provides for the future, who prepares us for life even before we are born, a God who foresees and equips us with all the natural and supernatural qualities we need to play our role in the drama of human salvation, a God who is stronger than the darkness of our world.

Let us today be inspired by our caring God and by the example of Mary; let us follow in her footsteps. Let us strive to conquer the fear of our world and to be the workers of mercy who bring God’s gentle, kind, loving and compassionate presence to our world so desperately in need.

Let us ask our Blessed Mother’s intercession for all these things as we pray together, Hail Mary…

May the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

O Come, Emmanuel! Make us new!


One day, a young man received a parrot as a gift, but the parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every word out of the bird’s mouth was rude, obnoxious and laced with profanity. The young man tried and tried to change the bird’s attitude by consistently saying only polite words and even prayers, playing soft music and anything else he could think of to “clean up” the bird’s vocabulary. Finally, the man was fed up and he yelled at the parrot. The parrot yelled back. The man shook the parrot and the parrot got angrier and even ruder. In desperation, the man threw up his hands, grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer. For a few minutes the parrot squawked and kicked and screamed. Then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for over a minute. Now fearing that he’d hurt the parrot, the man quickly opened the door to the freezer. The Parrot calmly stepped out onto his outstretched arms and said “Sir, I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I’m sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable behavior.” The man was stunned at the change in the bird’s attitude. As he was about to ask the parrot what had made such a dramatic change in his behavior, the bird pointed to the item next to him in the freezer and said, “May I ask what the turkey did wrong?”

A little bit of turkey humor on this Thanksgiving weekend. Even though we are celebrating one holiday, Thanksgiving, as we began Mass tonight I was tempted to reference another of our civil holidays and wish everyone a “Happy New Year.” Today is the First Sunday of Advent and for us it is the start of a new Church year. We find ourselves today once again back at the beginning of our liturgical cycle. We triumphantly celebrated Jesus Christ as our Lord and King last weekend and now we go back to the beginning of the story; back to Chapter one of the story of how Jesus came and saved us. As the line from the Sound of Music goes, “Let’s start at the very beginning; it’s a very good place to start.”

In our liturgical cycle, we start with the things that prepared us for the coming Savior and so today we heard from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah who began with the words, “The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah.” That promise of course, was fulfilled in Jesus. Likewise our Gospel called us to begin to seek the signs that something momentous is on the horizon, something unprecedented, something that will forever change our lives.

In January, when we have our new calendar year, many of us will engage in the cultural practice of making New Year’s Resolutions. Often those resolutions are very superficial. We will resolve to eat less chocolate, to lose 10 pounds, to watch less television. Sometimes, they are more meaningful – we resolve to be a nicer person, to swear less like our friend the parrot, to be kinder to strangers.

But today, at the beginning of this Church year, I challenge all of us, myself included, to make some spiritual resolutions. Where do you need to grow in faith this year? Is it in your prayer life? In your family life? In your workplace? Where is Jesus calling you to love more, to be more bold in proclaiming His Word? Where are you being challenged to grow in holiness this year?

Advent is a time to prepare for the coming of the Lord. We remember both His historic arrival 2,000 years ago and we look forward to His return again in glory. But, let us also resolve to be more aware of another coming which we tend to forget, namely, His daily arrival in the ordinary events and the ordinary people in our lives. Our Gospel today reminds us that we should be vigilant to recognize and welcome the Lord who comes to us without warning everyday in the people, the places and the events we least expect. If we are preparing for the Lord’s coming by looking up to the sky, Luke today invites us to instead look out, to look to the person on our right and our left, to see the arrival of God that is before our eyes every day, to look into the story of our daily lives and recognize the Lord who comes to us in the ways we least expect.

Let us resolve on this first day of a new Church year, to be people ever more conscious of the presence and action of Jesus in our lives in the big ways and in the small ways. Let us resolve to be people who witness to that presence of Jesus in the lives of others – especially in those places that have been difficult for us in the past. Let us make this a holy Advent, leading to a holy Christmas, an even holier year for us all.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel! Make us new!
May God give you peace.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

This world does not belong to My Kingdom


We heard in our Gospel today that Jesus said, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” As we gather today to celebrate the end of our Church year, this Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – especially as we gather in the wake of the violent attacks in Paris, Lebanon, Mali and so many other places in our world – these words ring with a certain poignancy. “My kingdom does not belong to this world.”

The sad reality as we look around our world is that violence and terror reign; poverty and homelessness are on the rise; prejudice and fear have taken prominence in our public discourse. And Jesus says, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” But, Jesus doesn’t say these words as a dire prediction without hope. Instead, it is, once again, an invitation to allow Jesus to transform us so that we can transform our world until it truly becomes His Kingdom.

As our Church year comes to a close, we have, once again, made our yearly pilgrimage of faith through the birth, death, resurrection, teachings and miracles of Jesus. It is a journey that intends to leave us differently than it found us. We are meant to be today simply more like Christ than we were a year ago when the Church year began. We are meant to be at this time next year more transformed into Christ’s image than we are today. But, first, we must desire to be part of His Kingdom.

Abraham Lincoln concluded his first Inaugural address with these powerful words: "The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." One of the most important reasons that we come to Mass each week is because it is here that we remember who we are; it is here that we recommit to our best selves, to the “better angels of our nature.” One of the most beautiful things ever said of the Eucharist was said by St. Augustine who said that when we receive the Eucharist “we become what we receive.”

As the world around us invites to give voice to the “worst angels” of our nature, let us today, here, in this Eucharist once again become what we receive. Let us consciously become the real presence of Christ in our world – one that calls loudly for peace; one that seeks frequently the dialogue of reconciliation; one that speaks joy, love, healing and compassion to the world. These are not mere pious platitudes – this is how the world in fact becomes the Kingdom that Jesus, our King, came to inaugurate in our midst. That Kingdom – of love, peace, forgiveness, kindness and compassion – cannot be left until tomorrow; it cannot forever wait until people change. It absolutely must start with each one of us individually here, today, and it must leave the walls of this Church and go out into the streets to make that Kingdom present.

Challenging moments like the ones that our world faces are not moments to abandon our ideals and our faith – or even to put them on hold. Instead, these are precisely the times when who we truly are becomes evident. These are the moments to let the fullness and strength of our faith shine. This is how the world will change. This is how it becomes the Kingdom Jesus promised.

We know there are many voices in our world competing for our allegiance – calls to fear; calls to isolationism; calls to vengeance; calls to prejudice. There is no shortage of calls. But, in the midst of it all, Christ is calling too. He is calling us to the challenging truth that we are meant to love radically – both our neighbors and even our enemies; that we are meant to reach out to the needy, the homeless, the addict, the refugee, to those on the margins. He is calling us to transform our broken and hate-filled world into His Kingdom of love and peace and holiness.

So, how do we do this? There are words attributed to Blessed Mother Teresa that give us the answer. I’ll end with these:
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
Jesus said, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” He is hoping that we will take up the invitation to change that. Let us be His presence.

May the Lord give you peace.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Appealing to the better angels of our nature

As our world, and specifically our country, continue to come to terms with the terrorist attacks in Paris one week ago, this quote from Lincoln's First Inaugural keeps coming to mind: "The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
I keep praying that this moment of American hysteria will pass and that the better angels of our nature will prevail. I keep praying we will learn from our history and not repeat "No Irish need apply," or the refusal to allow Jewish refugees during WW2, or the Japanese Interment Camps, or so many other examples of our failure to live up to our own ideals. I keep praying that our reaction to terrorism will not be to be terrified because that is when they win. Our reaction should be to be fortified in our identity; reminded of who we are - not to be a people who run from our core character. We should be emboldened in our desire to be a beacon of freedom, liberty, justice and welcome.
I keep praying that we might let facts triumph over fear:
  1. The Paris attack was not committed by refugees. They were EU nationals.
  2. Of the 745,000 refugees in the US since 9/11, none have committed terrorist acts. 
  3. Even the French, with their pain still so present will receive 30,000 refugees. 
  4. We have a screening process for refugees that takes between one and a half and three years.

These are the our better angels. And who we are is inscribed beautifully and powerfully on the gift given to us by France:
"Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

This is what can make America great. These are our better angels.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

God weeps over the world at war | Pope Francis

"Today Jesus weeps as well: because we have chosen the way of war, the way of hatred, the way of enmities. We are close to Christmas: there will be lights, there will be parties, bright trees, even Nativity scenes – all decked out – while the world continues to wage war. The world has not understood the way of peace.”

"What shall remain? Ruins, thousands of children without education, so many innocent victims: and lots of money in the pockets of arms dealers. Jesus once said: ‘You can not serve two masters: either God or riches.’ War is the right choice for him, who would serve wealth: 'Let us build weapons, so that the economy will right itself somewhat, and let us go forward in pursuit of our interests. There is an ugly word the Lord spoke: ‘Cursed!’ Because He said: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers!.’ The men who work war, who make war, are cursed, they are criminals. A war can be justified – so to speak – with many, many reasons, but when all the world as it is today, at war – piecemeal though that war may be – a little here, a little there, and everywhere – there is no justification – and God weeps. Jesus weeps.

"It will do us well to ask the for the grace of tears, for this world that does not recognize the path of peace, this world that lives for war, and cynically says not to make it. Let us pray for conversion of heart. Here before the door of this Jubilee of Mercy, let us ask that our joy, our jubilation, be this grace: that the world discover the ability to weep for its crimes, for what the world does with war.”

Friday, November 13, 2015

Be Shepherds, nothing more! | Pope Francis

NOTE: This is the Pope’s address Tuesday (November 10, 20150 in Florence, Italy to the 5th National Ecclesial Congress for the Church in Italy. More than 2,500 people attended this address in this week-long congress on the topic: “A New Humanism in Jesus Christ.”

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Represented in the cupola of this most beautiful Cathedral is the Universal Judgment. Jesus, our light, is at the center. The inscription that one reads at the top of the fresco is “Ecce Homo.” Looking at this cupola we are attracted to the top, while we contemplate the transformation of the Christ judged by Pilate into the Christ seated on the throne of judges. An Angel brings Him the sword, but Jesus does not assume the symbols of judgment, in fact, He raises His right hand showing the signs of the Passion, because He “gave Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:6). “For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17).

In the light of this Judge of mercy, our knees bend in adoration, and our hands and our feet are reinvigorated. We can speak of a humanism only from the centrality of Jesus, discovering in Him the features of man’ authentic face. It is the contemplation of the face of Jesus dead and risen that reconstructs our humanity, also that fragmented by the toils of life or marked by sin. We must not tame the power of Christ’s face. His face is the image of His transcendence. It is the misericordiae vultus. Let us allow ourselves to be looked at by Him. Jesus is our humanism. Let us always be anxious about his question: “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15).

Looking at His face, what do we see? First of all the face of an “emptied” God, of a God that has assumed the condition of servant, humiliated and obedient unto death (cf.Philippians 2:7). Jesus’ face is similar to that of so many of our humiliated brothers, rendered slaves, emptied. God has assumed their face. And that face looks at us. God -- who is “the Being of whom one cannot think a greater,” as Saint Anselm said, or the always greater God of Saint Ignatius of Loyola – becomes ever greater than Himself by lowering Himself. If we do not lower ourselves we will not be able to see His face. We will not see any of His fullness if we do not accept that God emptied Himself. And, therefore, we will not understand anything of Christian humanism and our words will be beautiful, cultured, refine, but they will not be words of faith. They will be words that sound empty.

I do not wish to design here, in the abstract, a “new humanism,” a certain idea of man, but to present with simplicity some traits of Christian humanism, which is that of the “sentiments of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). They are not abstract provisional sensations of the spirit, but represent the warm interior strength that makes us capable of living and of taking decisions. What are these sentiments? I would like to present at least three to you today.

The first sentiment is humility. “In humility count others better than yourselves” (Philippians2:3), says Saint Paul to the Philippians. Further on the Apostle speaks of the fact that Jesus does not consider His being like God a “privilege” (Philippians 2:6). There is a precise message here. The obsession to keep one’s glory, one’s “dignity,” one’s influence must not be part of our sentiments. We must pursue God’s glory and this does not coincide with ours. God’s glory, which shines in the humility of the cave of Bethlehem and the dishonor of the cross of Christ always surprises us.

Another sentiment of Christ that gives shape to Christian humanism is unselfishness. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians2:4), Saint Paul asks again. Therefore, more than unselfishness, we must seek the happiness of the one beside us. A Christian’s humanity is always outgoing. It is not narcissistic, self-referential. When our heart is rich and is very self-satisfied, then there is no longer room for God. Please, let us avoid “shutting ourselves in structures that give us a false protection, in norms that are transformed in implacable judgments, in habits in which we feel tranquil” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 49).

Our duty is to work and struggle to make this world a better place. Our faith is revolutionary by an impulse that comes from the Holy Spirit. We must follow this impulse to come out of ourselves, to be men according to Jesus’ Gospel. May life be decided on the capacity to give oneself. It is there that it transcends itself, that it arrives at being fruitful.

A further sentiment of Christ Jesus is that of beatitude. A Christian is a blessed, if he has in himself the joy of the Gospel. The Lord points out the way to us in the Beatitudes. By following it we human beings can attain an authentically more human and divine happiness. Jesus speaks of the happiness that we experience only when we are poor in spirit. For the great Saints beatitude has to do with humiliation and poverty. But there is also much of this beatitude in the humblest part of our people: it is the one that knows the richness of solidarity, of sharing even the little one has, the richness of the daily sacrifice of work, sometimes hard and badly paid, but carried out of love for dear persons, and also for one’s own miseries, which, however, lived in trust of the providence and mercy of God the Father, nourish a humble greatness.

The Beatitudes that we read in the Gospel begin with a blessing and end with a promise of consolation. They introduce us on a way of possible greatness, that of the spirit, and when the spirit is ready all the rest comes on its own. Of course if we do not have our heart open to the Holy Spirit, it will seem baloney because it does not lead us to “success.” To be “blessed,” to relish the consolation of friendship with Jesus Christ, it is necessary to have an open heart. Beatitude is a laborious wager, made up of renunciations, listening and learning, whose fruits will be gathered in time, giving us an incomparable peace: “O taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:9)!

Humility, Unselfishness, Beatitude: these are the three traits that I wish to present today to your meditation on Christian humanism, which is born from the humanity of the Son of God. And these traits also say something to the Italian Church that is gathered today, to walk together as an example of solidarity. These traits tell us that we must not be obsessed by “power,” even when it takes the face of a useful and functional power for the social image of the Church. If the Church does not assume the sentiments of Jesus, she is disoriented; she loses the meaning. Instead, if she assumes them, she is able to live up to her mission. Jesus’ sentiments tell us that a Church that thinks of herself and of her own interests will be sad. Finally, the Beatitudes are the mirror in which we should look at ourselves, which permits us to know if we are walking in the right way: it is a mirror that does not lie.

A Church that has these traits – humility, unselfishness, beatitude – is a Church that is able to recognize the Lord’s action in the world, in the culture, in the daily life of the people. I have said it more than once and I repeat it again to you today: I prefer a bumpy, wounded and soiled Church for having gone out through the streets, rather than a sick Church because she is closed in the comfortableness of holding on to her own certainties. I do not want a Church concerned to be at the center and that ends up enclosed in a tangle of obsessions and procedures” (Evangelii Gaudium, 49). However, we know that temptations exist; the temptations to be faced are so many. I will present at least two. Do not get frightened; this will not be a list of temptations! -- as those fifteen that I said to the Curia!

The first of them is the Pelagian. It pushes the Church not to be humble, unselfish and blessed. And it does so with the appearance of a good. Pelagianism leads us to have trust in the structures, in the organizations, in the plans, which are perfect because abstract. Often it even leads us to assume a style of control, of hardness, of normativity. The norm gives to the Pelagian the security of feeling superior, of having a precise orientation. He finds his strength in this, not in the lightness of the Spirit’s breath. In face of evils or problems of the Church it is useless to seek solutions in conservatism and fundamentalism, in the restoration of surmounted conduct and forms that do not even have culturally the capacity to be significant. Christian Doctrine is not a closed system incapable of generating questions, doubts, questionings, but it is alive, it is able to disquiet, it is able to encourage. It does not have a rigid face; it has a body that moves and develops; it has tender flesh: Christian Doctrine is called Jesus Christ. The reform of the Church then – and the Church is always reforming – is alien to Pelagianism. It does not exhaust itself in an umpteenth plan to change the structures. It means, instead, to be grafted and rooted in Christ, allowing oneself to be led by the Spirit. Then everything will be possible with genius and creativity.

The Italian Church must let herself be led by her powerful breath and hence sometimes disquieting breath. She must always assume the spirit of her great explorers, who on ships were passionate about navigation in the open sea and not frightened by frontiers and tempests. May she be a free Church, open to the challenges of the present, never vulnerable out of fear of losing something. May she never be vulnerable out of fear of losing something. And encountering people along their streets, may she assume the resolution of Saint Paul. “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

A second temptation to overcome is that of Gnosticism. It leads to trust in logical and clear reasoning, which, however, loses the tenderness of the brother’s flesh. The fascination of Gnosticism is that of “a faith closed in in subjectivism, where only a determined experience is of interest or a series of reasons and knowledge that one believes can comfort and illuminate, but where the subject in the end remains closed in the immanence of his own reason and his sentiments” (Evangelii Gaudium, 94). Gnosticism cannot transcend. The difference between Christian transcendence and some form of Gnostic spiritualism lies in the mystery of the Incarnation. Not to put into practice, not to lead the Word to the reality, means to build on sand, to remain in a pure idea and to degenerate into intimism that does not give fruit, that renders its dynamism sterile.

The Italian Church has great Saints by whose example they can help her to live the faith with humility, unselfishness and gladness, from Francis of Assisi to Philip Neri. But we also think of the simplicity of invented personages, such as Don Camillo who teams up with Peppone. I am struck by how, in Guareschi’s stories, the prayer of a good parish priest is united to evident closeness with the people. Dom Camillo said of himself: “I am a poor country priest who knows his parishioners one by one, who loves them, who knows their sorrows and joys, who suffers and is able to laugh with them. “ Closeness to the people and prayer are the key to live a popular, humble, generous and happy Christian humanism. If we lose this contact with the people faithful to God we lose in humanity and go nowhere.

But then, what must we do, Father? – you might say. What is the Pope asking of us?

It is up to you to decide: people and Pastors together. Today I simply invite you to raise your head and contemplate once again the Ecce Homo that we have above our heads. Let us pause to contemplate the scene. We turn to Jesus who is represented here as Universal Judge. What will happen “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the Angels with Him, then He will sit on his glorious throne” (Matthew 25:34-36). There comes to mind the priest who received a very young priest who gave testimony.

However, He could also say: ”Depart from me, your cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his Angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me” (Matthew 25:41-43).

The Beatitudes and the words we have just read on the Universal Judgment help us to live the Christian life at the level of holiness. They are few, simple but practical words. Two pillars: the Beatitudes and the words of the Last Judgment. May the Lord give us the grace to understand this message of His! And we look once again at the features of Jesus’ face and at his gestures. We see Jesus who eats and drinks with sinners (Mark 2:16; Matthew11:19); let us contemplate Him while He speaks with the Samaritan woman (John 4:7-26); let us watch Him while He meets at night with Nicodemus (John 7:33); let us relish with affection the scene of Him who has his feet anointed by a prostitute (cf. Luke 7:36-50); let us feel His saliva on the tip of our tongue, which is thus loosed (Mark 7:33). Let us admire the attraction of all the people “that surround his disciples, namely us, and let us experience their “gladness and simplicity of heart” (Acts 2:46).

I ask the Bishops to be Shepherds, nothing more: Shepherds. May this be your joy: “I am a Shepherd.” It will be the people, your flock that will sustain you. Recently I read about a Bishop who was in the Metro during the rush hour and there were so many people that he no longer knew where to put his hand to hold on. Pushed from right to left, he leaned on persons not to fall. And so he thought that, in addition to prayer, what makes a Bishop stand is his people.

May nothing and no one take from you the joy of being supported by your people. As Pastors, do not be preachers of complex doctrines, but heralds of Christ, dead and risen for us. Point to the essential, to the kerygma. There is nothing more solid, profound and certain than this proclamation. But may it be all the People of God that proclaim the Gospel, people and Pastors, I hope. I expressed this pastoral concern of mine in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (cf. nn. 111-134).

I recommend to the whole Italian Church what I indicated in that Exhortation: the social inclusion of the poor, who have a privileged place in the People of God, and the capacity of encounter and dialogue to foster social friendship in your country, seeking the common good.

The option for the poor is a “special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, attested by the whole Tradition of the Church” (John Paul II, Encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 42). This option “is implicit in Christological faith in that God who made Himself poor for us, to enrich us through His poverty” (Benedict XVI, Address to the Opening Session of the 5th General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate). The poor know well Christ Jesus’ sentiments because they know the suffering Christ by experience. “We are called to discover Christ in them, to loan them our voice in their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to understand them and to receive the mysterious wisdom that God wills to communicate to us through them” (Evangelii Gaudium, 198).

May God protect the Italian Church from every surrogate of power, of image, of money. Evangelical poverty is creative, receives, supports and is rich in hope. We are here in Florence, city of beauty. How much beauty in this city has been put at the service of charity! I am thinking of the Hospital of the Innocents, for instance. One of the first Renaissance architectures, it was created for the service of abandoned children and desperate mothers. Often these mothers left, together with the newborns, medals cut in half with which they hoped, when presenting the other half, to be able to recognize their own children in better times. See, we must imagine that our poor have a cut medal. We have the other half. Because Mother Church has in Italy half of the medal of all and she recognizes all her abandoned, oppressed, exhausted children. And this has always been one of your virtues, because you know well that the Lord shed his Blood not for some, or for a few or for many but for all.

In a special way, I also recommend to you the capacity to dialogue and to encounter. To dialogue is not to negotiate. To negotiate is to try to take one’s “slice” of the common cake. This is not what I mean, but it is to seek the common good for all. Discuss together, I dare say get angry together, think of the best solutions for all. Many times a meeting is involved in conflict. There is conflict in dialogue: it is logical and foreseeable that it be so. And we must not fear it or ignore it, but accept it. We must accept “to accept to endure the conflict, to resolve it and to transform it into a ring of connection of a new process” (Evangelii Gaudium, 227).

However, we must always remember that there is no genuine humanism that does not see love as a bond between human beings, be it of an inter-personal nature, profound, social, political or intellectual. Founded on this is the necessity of dialogue and of encounter to build the civil society together with others. We know that the best answer to the conflictive nature of the human being, of the famous homo homini lupus of Thomas Hobbes, is the “Ecce Homo” of Jesus who does not recriminate, but receives and, paying in person, saves.

Italian society is built when its diverse cultural riches can dialogue constructively: the popular, the academic, the youthful, the artistic, the technological, the economic, the political, the media ... May the Church be ferment of dialogue, of encounter and of unity. Moreover, our formulations of faith themselves are the fruit of dialogue and encounter between cultures, and different communities and entities. We must not be afraid of dialogue: in fact it is precisely confrontation and criticism that help us to keep theology from being transformed into ideology.

In addition, remember that the best way to dialogue is not to talk and argue, but to do something together, to build together, to make plans but not on our own, between Catholics, but together with all those who have good will – and without the fear of carrying out the necessary exodus to every genuine dialogue. Otherwise it is not possible to understand the other’s reasons, or to understand in depth that a brother counts more than the positions that we judge far from our own though genuine certainties. He is a brother.

But the Church must also be able to give a clear answer in face of the threats that arise within the public debate: this is one of the ways of the specific contribution of believers to the building of the common society. Believers are citizens. And I say it here, in Florence, where art, faith and citizenship have always been in a dynamic balance between denunciation and proposal. The nation is not a museum, but a collective work in permanent construction in which the things that differentiate one, including political and religious membership, are to be put in common.

I appeal above all “to you, young people, because you are strong,” said the Apostle John (1John 2:14). Young people, overcome apathy. May no one scorn your youth, but learn to be models in speaking and acting (cf. 1 Timothy 4:12) I ask you to be builders of Italy, to get to work for a better Italy. Please, do not look at life from the balcony, but commit yourselves, immerse yourselves in the wide social and political dialogue. May the hands of your faith be raised to Heaven, but may they do so while building a city constructed on relations in which the love of God is the foundation. And thus you will be free to accept today’s challenges, to live the changes and the transformations.

It can be said that today we do not live in an age of change but in a change of age. Therefore, the situations we are living today pose new challenges, which, for us at times are difficult to understand. Our times require that we live problems as challenges and not as obstacles: the Lord is active and at work in the world. Therefore, you must go out to the streets and to the crossroads: call all those you find, exclude no one (cf. Matthew 22:9). Above all, accompany the one who remained at the side of the street, “the lame, the maimed, the blind, the dumb,” (Matthew 15:30). Wherever you are, never build walls or borders, but Squares and field hospitals.

* * *
I am pleased with a restless Italian Church, always closer to the abandoned, the forgotten, the imperfect. I desire a happy Church with the face of a mother, who understands, accompanies and caresses. You also dream of this Church; believe in her; innovate with freedom. The Christian humanism you are called to live affirms radically the dignity of every person as Son of God; it establishes between every human being an essential fraternity, it teaches to understand work, to inhabit Creation as a common home, it furnishes reasons for joy and humor, also in the midst of a life that is so often hard.

Although it is not for me to say how to realize this dream today, allow me to leave one indication with you for the forthcoming years: in every community, in every parish and institution, in every Diocese and circumscription, in every region seek to begin, in a synodal way, a deeper reflection on Evangvelii Gaudium, to draw practical criteria from it and to act on its dispositions, especially on the three or four priorities that you have singled out in this Congress. I am certain of your ability to get into a creative movement to concretize this study. I am sure of it because you are an adult Church, very ancient in the faith, solid in roots and ample in fruits. Therefore, be creative in expressing that genius that your greats, from Dante to Michelangelo, expressed in a matchless way. Believe in the genius of Italian Christianity, which is not the patrimony either of individuals or of an elite, but of the community, of the people of this extraordinary country.

I entrust you to Mary, who here in Florence is venerated as “Most Holy Annuziata.” In the fresco found in the Basilica with the same name – where I will go shortly --, the Angel is silent and Mary speaks saying: “Ecce ancilla Domini.” All of us are in those words. May the whole Italian Church speak them with Mary. Thank you.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

It's never too late to give it all to God


A man died suddenly and found himself in front of the Pearly Gates greeted by St. Peter. “Welcome,” he said. “I just have to take a look in the Book of Life here to see if you can get into heaven.” St. Peter looked through the book but kept shaking his head discouragingly. “It doesn’t look too good, my friend. Why, you’ve never done anything for anyone but yourself. You’ve been greedy, selfish, power hungry, concerned only about your own well-being. I’m not sure we can let you in.” The man, now worried, said, “But, St. Peter, how about the time that I came across that woman who was being harassed by a group of bikers? I grabbed a baseball bat, went right up to them and said, ‘Leave the woman alone or you’ll have to deal with me.’” St. Peter looked at the book again and said, “Well that is impressive. But, I don’t see it in my Book. When did that happen?” The man said, “About three minutes ago.”

My friends, it is never too late to give all that we have. We heard in our Gospel passage today, “She, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” Today’s Gospel sets two pictures side-by-side for us. It is hard to imagine two pictures that could be so different from one another. The first picture shows us the scribes with their long robes, the many honors they receive, and their great skill at praying. Right behind them, rich people are making large offerings to the Temple.

The second picture in our passage is of a woman who makes an offering too. But her offering is so small that the two coins she drops in the offering plate would be worth mere pennies. And because it is easy to overlook a penny lying in the street, it could be easy for the people in the Temple – as it could be easy for us – to overlook this widow if Jesus hadn’t drawn our attention to her.

We all know that every parish that has ever struggled to meet the budget would be glad to have the sort of people in the first picture contribute to the mission and ministry of the Church. Just think, when a parish sets a strategy to raise money for a new building or something equally grand, the first step is usually to focus on the respected and the rich in the parish, people who could have a real impact on the budget and help sustain the ministry; the so-called big givers. Compared to five-figure gifts, six-figure gifts or more, what can a penny do?

But Jesus focuses our attention on the widow and her coins because in her, Jesus must see something of His own life. At the end of the parable we hear Jesus say, “She, from her poverty, has contributed all that she had, her whole livelihood.” Or as other translations put it more bluntly and plainly, “She has given her whole life.” And that is where Jesus sees a reflection of Himself in this woman’s gift.

She gave everything she had; even those meager coins; and in turn she was blessed by the Lord. Perhaps gazing upon this woman, Jesus thought of another widow who was blessed: His own mother Mary. Maybe Jesus saw this woman and thought of what Mary sacrificed, what she had, what she lost. She may very well have had to struggle to make ends meet. Jesus saw that. He knew that. He knew the value of those two small coins. He understood where the widow at the temple was coming from because He'd lived it Himself. And He understood what that widow at the temple was really doing – giving all that she had to her God. She didn't hold back. She let go. She didn't take. She gave. St. Francis names this eloquently when he said, “Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who gave Himself completely to you, may receive you completely.”

In Mark’s Gospel, this story finds itself chronologically just before the events of Holy Week; just days before Jesus will give His whole life on the cross. Jesus turns our attention to the woman not because she shows us how to run a giving campaign. Rather, when she opens up her hand and the two coins slip out, she too has given away her life. In the same way, on the cross, Jesus opens up His own hands and life slips from them as well. Her giving is total just as, on the cross, Jesus will completely give of Himself.

You see, in this woman and in our Lord we see that the Kingdom of God is found not where people hold on tight to their riches or when they demand respect. The Kingdom is found not in holding on to what we have, but in letting go. As Jesus says repeatedly, “Those who want to save their life will lose it. And those who lose their life for my sake and the gospel will find it.”

This is a lesson we all need to hear. We may suffer terrible losses that rob us of those we love, like the widow. We may grieve, and we may mourn, we may face every kind of struggle, challenge and strife in life and we may ask ourselves “Why?” But there is only one way through loss – the way of love. The way through our challenges is by opening our hearts; giving ourselves; holding nothing back; surrendering everything to the Lord.

In her giving, this widow gives us a glimpse of our Lord Jesus. She gave her very life. So does He. St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians gives us even more insight into this. He writes, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant,” and He died on the cross.

This widow gives us a glimpse of our life in Christ – hands open, giving away life, in turn to gain it eternally. We too are called today to find what she has found, that all we have comes from God and should be returned to God. Only then will we have life to the full. We too are called to open our hands and release whatever we are grasping; whatever we are holding; to give all that we are and all that we have to Christ. Only then can we gain the Kingdom He has promised.

Lord, take my life and form it; take my mind and transform it; take my will and conform it; to Yours, O Lord.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Just like us


Let me begin today with a bit of an informal poll. How many here are saints or want to be saints? And, how many here would like to go to Heaven at the end of our lives?

“Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” Today on this Solemnity of All Saints, this question that we heard proclaimed from the Book of Revelation echoes out to us, “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” Or perhaps, closer to our own language, who are these saints that we celebrate today and how did they become saints?

It’s hard to believe that Saint Pope John Paul II passed away 10 years ago already, but you might remember the amazing scene of his funeral attended by millions in Rome and televised around the world. One of the incredible parts of that Mass were the numerous signs and the vocal chants in St. Peter’s Square of, “Santo Subito!” or loosely translated, “Make him a saint immediately.” The late, great Holy Father had lived such a public life that witnessed to holiness that those gathered to lay him to rest could do nothing less than acclaim the sanctity of this holy man who lived in our day, in our time, in our midst. “Santo Subito” proclaimed the widespread popular belief that John Paul had lived the kind of life that made him a saint in God’s presence, and thus worthy of the Church’s veneration as a saint.

But, “who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” The great message of this celebration today, is that they, my brothers and sisters, are us. All Saints Day is not a celebration of the few-and-far-between who have attained the glory of heaven. It is a celebration of our common call to follow Jesus, to be holy, to live the life of the saints. My questions about going to Heaven and becoming saints are the same question. If you want to go to Heaven you are saying that you want to be a saint. It should be the common call of each one of us.

I was in a conversation with someone a few days ago who was speaking about their devotion to St. Therese and how they felt a closeness to her. This person remarked, “But, this is ridiculous. St. Therese is close to God. With all of my sins, how could I feel close to her?” We often focus on the closeness of the saints to God and the way that they exemplified that godliness in their lives. Yes, the saints are like God.

But, there is another critical aspect of the lives of saints that we are called to remember especially today – the saints are also like us. They did not enter into the world as perfect and holy. They did not receive an extra dose of God’s grace to become the holy women and men that they were. They did not receive something that we have not. They are just like us. They were born into families. They had joys and struggles. They had sins and spiritual victories. But, in the end, they lived lives that were more and more journeys toward the Lord. They made God the priority and followed His will; His path; His call. And, so can we.

How do we become saints? Jesus has given us the best instructions for attaining the sainthood our hearts desire. “Those in white robes” we heard about in the first reading have followed that good instruction. And they are crowned as God’s heroes, God’s holy ones. What instruction did they follow? The same we heard in the Gospel: the Beatitudes. Blessed, or saintly, are we when we are poor in spirit, when we mourn, when we are meek, when we hunger and thirst for righteousness, when we are merciful, and clean of heart, when we are peacemakers, or persecuted for the sake of righteousness. These are God’s best instructions for living as followers of Jesus Christ, as saints-in-training. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”

Few of us would expect “Santo Subito” signs at our funeral. If we are honest, we know that we often fail at fully following the Gospel teaching of Jesus. But, God has given us the same grace, the same call, the same possibility as all of those who have been memorialized in the statues in our church and the stained glass of our windows. They were just like us and we can be just like them. The only difference is our choice. It’s up to us to live as though we too will one day be saints.

Today, on this festival day in honor of all the saints, named and unnamed, the veil between our earthly world and the heavenly world parts just a little bit. With the eyes of faith, we get some glimpse of the happiness and glory to which God has called his innumerable sons and daughters throughout the ages; the glory he calls us to as well. Let us all live as though destined for that same glory. Leon Bloy wrote, “There is only one sadness in life: not to be a saint.”

“Who are these wearing white robes?” My friends, perhaps they are us.

May the Lord give you peace.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Freed by compassion | Pope Francis

NOTE: Below are some selections from the Homily of Pope Francis on Sunday marking the closing of the Synod on the Family. It was a powerful reflection for the synod fathers and I think for all of us. The emphasis added is mine as these are the parts that moved me.  Read the full homily here. - FT

Bartimaeus is freed thanks to Jesus’ compassion. Jesus has just left Jericho. Even though he has only begun his most important journey, which will take him to Jerusalem, he still stops to respond to Bartimaeus’ cry. Jesus is moved by his request and becomes involved in his situation. He is not content to offer him alms, but rather wants to personally encounter him. He does not give him any instruction or response, but asks him: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mk 10:51). It might seem a senseless question: what could a blind man wish for if not his sight? Yet, with this question made face to face, direct but respectful, Jesus shows that he wants to hear our needs. He wants to talk with each of us about our lives, our real situations, so that nothing is kept from him. After Bartimaeus’ healing, the Lord tells him: “Your faith has made you well” (v. 52). It is beautiful to see how Christ admires Bartimaeus’ faith, how he has confidence in him. He believes in us, more than we believe in ourselves.

There is an interesting detail. Jesus asks his disciples to go and call Bartimaeus. They address the blind man with two expressions, which only Jesus uses in the rest of the Gospel. First they say to him: “Take heart!”, which literally means “have faith, strong courage!”. Indeed, only an encounter with Jesus gives a person the strength to face the most difficult situations. The second expression is “Rise!”, as Jesus said to so many of the sick, whom he took by the hand and healed. His disciples do nothing other than repeat Jesus’ encouraging and liberating words, leading him directly to Jesus, without lecturing him. 

Jesus’ disciples are called to this, even today, especially today: to bring people into contact with the compassionate Mercy that saves. When humanity’s cry, like Bartimaeus’, becomes stronger still, there is no other response than to make Jesus’ words our own and, above all, imitate his heart. Moments of suffering and conflict are for God occasions of mercy. Today is a time of mercy!

There are, however, some temptations for those who follow Jesus. Today’s Gospel shows at least two of them. 

None of the disciples stopped, as Jesus did. They continued to walk, going on as if nothing were happening. If Bartimaeus was blind, they were deaf: his problem was not their problem. This can be a danger for us: in the face of constant problems, it is better to move on, instead of letting ourselves be bothered. In this way, just like the disciples, we are with Jesus but we do not think like him. We are in his group, but our hearts are not open. We lose wonder, gratitude and enthusiasm, and risk becoming habitually unmoved by grace. We are able to speak about him and work for him, but we live far from his heart, which is reaching out to those who are wounded. 

This is the temptation: a “spirituality of illusion”: we can walk through the deserts of humanity without seeing what is really there; instead, we see what we want to see. We are capable of developing views of the world, but we do not accept what the Lord places before our eyes. A faith that does not know how to root itself in the life of people remains arid and, rather than oases, creates other deserts.

There is a second temptation, that of falling into a “scheduled faith”. We are able to walk with the People of God, but we already have our schedule for the journey, where everything is listed: we know where to go and how long it will take; everyone must respect our rhythm and every problem is a bother. 

We run the risk of becoming the “many” of the Gospel who lose patience and rebuke Bartimaeus. 

Just a short time before, they scolded the children (cf. 10:13), and now the blind beggar: whoever bothers us or is not of our stature is excluded. 

Jesus, on the other hand, wants to include, above all those kept on the fringes who are crying out to him. 

They, like Bartimaeus, have faith, because awareness of the need for salvation is the best way of encountering Jesus.

In the end, Bartimaeus follows Jesus on his path (cf. v. 52). He did not only regain his sight, but he joined the community of those who walk with Jesus. Dear Synod Fathers, we have walked together. Thank you for the path we have shared with our eyes fixed on Jesus and our brothers and sisters, in the search for the paths which the Gospel indicates for our times so that we can proclaim the mystery of family love. Let us follow the path that the Lord desires. Let us ask him to turn to us with his healing and saving gaze, which knows how to radiate light, as it recalls the splendour which illuminates it. Never allowing ourselves to be tarnished by pessimism or sin, let us seek and look upon the glory of God, which shines forth in men and women who are fully alive.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Jesus, I want to see!


A healer came to the local church for a healing service and people came out in droves to be prayed over in the hopes of being healed. A young man had been in line for a long time when finally it was his turn. The healer looked at him and asked him what he would like prayed over. “Preacher, it is my hearing,” the young man said. So with great drama, the healer grabbed the young man’s ears and said many excited prayers. Finally, he let go of the young man and asked, “How’s your hearing now?” Shaken, the young man said, “I don’t know. I don’t go to court for my hearing until Friday.”

Last week was one year that I have lived here in New York City. Prior to moving here I lived in Boston, also a wonderful city, but on a much smaller scale than the Big Apple. In Boston, I would encounter the homeless and the hungry on the streets certainly on a daily basis and would try to find some way to reach out to them. Sometimes I would have some food to give, sometimes a little bit of spare change, sometimes just a moment or two to chat or just offer a “God bless you.” What I have been struggling with since moving here to New York are the sheer multiplication of so many people in similar situations. Where previously I might encounter one or two a day, here we walk past one or two every city block or so. What is a Christian to do? What is God asking of us in the face of this massive need?

I was thinking of this as I reflected on the healing story that we are presented today from Mark’s Gospel – the healing of the blind Bartimaeus. I was thinking of this because there is something very unique about this particular healing story in the Gospels. Of all of the healing stories that we hear in the Gospels, this is the only one where we are told the name of the person that Jesus heals and so that name must hold some significance. In fact, Mark mentions the name twice – once in Aramaic and once in Greek: Bartimaeus. The fact that Mark is mentioning the name tells us that the name is a clue to understanding the point that he is trying to make in the story.

So, what’s in a name? Well, in the ancient world, a name expressed not only the identity of the person, but also the personality or destiny of a person. In Aramaic, Bartimaeus means "son of defilement." And so, Bartimaeus could be a nickname given to him because he was a blind beggar and popular theology of the time believed blindness to be a punishment from God for sin or defilement. But in Greek, Bartimaeus could also be understood as "son of honor" possibly indicating his inner nature and destiny. By giving us the name with its double meaning, Mark tells us something important. Bartimaeus is supposed to be a man of honor but is being treated as a man of defilement. What Jesus did for him, therefore, was not simply healing his physical sight but, over and above that, restoring his God-given destiny and dignity. “Take courage; get up! Jesus is calling you!” This story is far more about healing his soul, his dignity, his perceptions, than merely his eyesight.

And, I think, this is the challenge for us today too. Bartimaeus is all around us. We encounter Bartimaeus in the many homeless and hungry on the streets each day; we see him in the people that we have marginalized because of their race, their ethnicity, their gender, their orientation, their immigration status, or silly things like the color of their hair or the clothes they wear. There are any number of people that we encounter regularly who we have determined - either as a society or as individuals – are sons and daughters of defilement; not worthy of our time, our concern, our care, our compassion, our affection. But, to any of those attitudes that reside in us, Jesus says today that we should see them as sons and daughters of honor, of dignity, of goodness, of holiness, and of glory.

This is where true and lasting healing lies – in lifting up hearts that were broken, in reconciling relationships that were shattered, in seeking out forgiveness when we have wronged another, in looking into the eyes of someone that the world has forgotten and saying, “I see you. You have value and dignity. You are loved and treasured in my eyes and in the eyes of God.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked Bartimaeus. May our answer be the same as his, “I want to see.” Jesus, Son of David, have pity on us for the times when we have been blinded to your presence around us; especially in those who need our presence, our care, our compassion. Give us the strength to see their dignity as sons and daughters of honor; as sons and daughters of God. Master, we want to see.

May the Lord give you peace.

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