Monday, February 1, 2016

Relationship between mission and mercy

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1b/Altaraufsatz_in_drei_Abteilungen_mit_dem_Gnadenstuhl_-_Google_Art_Project.jpgIn his Jubilee Audience given on January 30th, Pope Francis speaks of “the close relationship between mercy and mission”. This connection is not unique to a New Testament world, although as Pope Francis rightly remarks: “we are called to be missionaries of the Gospel”. However, missionaries of mercy are seen throughout the Old Testament (since the dawn of time) and are the precursor to what Christ Jesus will sanctify as our mission as Christians in the New Covenant.

We can first look at how we are formed with the natural law written on our hearts. We maintain that echo of the supernatural gifts from the Garden (although wounded by the Original Sin) which remind us constantly in our conscience of what is right and what is wrong, to seek the good to which we are ultimately called. It sparks in us a compassion for others, if properly regarded; we are keenly aware, even without the Gospel that our life and the lives of others are precious. A beautiful example of this in the Old Testament is when Abraham pleads to God for mercy on the city of Sodom (cf. Gen 18: 16-33). It is his mission in conversation with God to show his own level of compassion for the people of the city, and to be their voice before God. In turn, his plea is heard and honored. Another example of manifold mercy is that of Joseph when he was sold into slavery in Egypt. He is shown compassion when he interprets Pharaoh’s dream and is given a position in Egyptian leadership as a result; he then turns to his brothers who are seeking food because of famine in Israel – those same brothers who schemed, sold him into slavery and lied to his father about his death – tests them and then shows them mercy and forgiveness; in the end, Pharaoh shows mercy to the entire family and establishes for them a place of comfort and prestige in Egypt (cf. Gen 37- 45). The instances of mercy in the Old Testament are too numerous to list, but each begins and ends with the person being moved by a desire to do the will of God even if it wasn't immediately apparent that this motivation was the impetus to the act of mercy.

In the coming of Christ Jesus and His teachings throughout His public ministry, it is clear that we are to deepen this natural inclination to show mercy toward others. Jesus brings that echo from the Garden into full resolution. He teaches us Two Great Commandments upon which the Ten Commandments are ultimately based:
You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments (Mt 22:37-40).
The whole law, the prophets depend on these. Everything is established in these two commandments. Mercy is based on these commandments. When Jesus commissions the apostles to forgive sins, to make disciples in every nation, there is at the heart of this a need to show mercy and compassion (cf. Jn 20:23; Mt 28:19-20). They would not be well received, they were changing centuries of thought and belief and were contradicting social norms in every culture. This mission of mercy could not happen without the grace that came from the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

Pope Francis reminds each of us in his teaching:
For the mercy we receive from the Father is not given solely for our benefit, but for the good of all, by transforming us into instruments, missionaries of mercy. By being such missionaries, we come to experience more deeply the gift of mercy in our own lives.
To be a missionary of mercy, then, is to recognize that first we have the law written on our hearts – that natural inclination to do good and avoid evil – then, we receive the grace to share the Gospel message with others, showing them mercy and forgiveness, by virtue of Christ Jesus and his commissioning. Pope Francis entreats each of us to embrace that we are “bearers of Christ”.



Thursday, January 21, 2016

As they enter the Kingdom

It's been a rough first half of the school year. We've lost not one, but two parents to cancer (and had another just recently diagnosed and several others who are living with cancer). In a school population made up of about 200 families, that's a remarkable statistic. And, because we are such a small school, mainly made up of siblings and cousins -- with a real small town America feel -- it strikes at every raw emotion. These weren't people who were acquaintances. Our children didn't simply pass them their children in the hallway; they grew up with them. They watched their families grow. We frequented their businesses, we smiled at their children's talents. We were part of their existence and they were part of ours. We may not have been close, but they knew us and we knew them. They prayed for us, and we prayed for them.

It's hard to witness these families experience the news of cancer. It's hard to watch them wage their war against the enemy disease. One friend today put it beautifully -- these people didn't lose their battle with cancer, they won it. They fought the fight for as long as God asked them to endure; and believe me they endured with the example of holiness that each of us can draw upon when it is our time to struggle. They were true witnesses to redemptive suffering, to surrendering to the will of God -- not giving up, but doing His will in each moment. And all of those moments required the virtues of strength, perseverance and trust to continue on, to look for the hope of a cure, to leave no stone unturned.

I know that in the grand scheme of things, death is unavoidable. Sadly, when you love someone, the reality is that one of you will have to leave before the other. There are very few who get to make that journey into eternity together. When you are a Christian, however, death is the entrance into a new way of living. While we will surely feel the pain of that loss here in what we have left of our own existence on this side of heaven, we know that the ones we have loved have entered into eternity. We will pray for them as they make their way to heaven, and they, when they arrive in the Beatific Vision, will pray for us through the remainder of our sojourn here on earth.

Does this knowledge make it easier to bear the loss?

Not even remotely.

But, the comfort and grace that descends on us from the Heavenly choirs of angels and saints, the warmth of compassion that is showered down by the Blessed Mother, and the strength and love given by the Trinity in these times is a remarkable balm to the heart wounded by the loss of a loved one.

Faith -- Hope -- Love.

Faith -- that God's promises are true and we will ardently trust in Him.

Hope -- that we will be made worthy through the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Love -- the greatest of these is love -- that God, Who is Love, will remain ever present in our lives. And, like our friends and family who have gone before us bearing in their flesh the witness of Love, we too will be an inspiration to others in emulating their love through joyful sacrifice.

Requiescat in pace, dear friends. Pray for us as you enter the Kingdom. Help us along our way as we journey toward that same reward.


Saturday, December 26, 2015

Can you have a holy family?



The word holy means sacred and dedicated to God. It stands to reason that Mary and Joseph did indeed have a holy family; there could be no two people more sacred and dedicated to God than Blessed Mother and St. Joseph. They tended to the Christ Child from the moment of His conception to His birth in Bethlehem, into exile in Egypt to escape King Herod, and through the silent years leading up to his public ministry, Passion, Death and Resurrection. It was this family that dedicated itself to God – literally. 

What must it have taken to be the mother and foster father of the Son of God? The Bible tells us that Joseph was a righteous man (cf. Mt 1:19), so that must be an important character trait; and Mary is said to be full of grace (cf. Lk 1:28) which the Church declared as the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. These were people chosen specifically for the purpose of being holy, for they were asked to take on the tremendous task of allowing the Incarnation to occur through them.  In addition, they were given the responsibility of protecting the Child so that He might do the Father’s will and reconcile man to God, restoring that once lost relationship.

The example of the Holy Family makes becoming one seem unattainable. However, we know this cannot be so. God reveals what is true and good so that we might have hope and a way to follow. If it weren’t possible to be a holy family, He would not have gone to such lengths to make one present, to bring His Son to us in such a way for our salvation. The message is clear – it may be difficult – but it is clear. We are meant to emulate this family, and do the best we can to be holy, as our heavenly Father is holy, as His Son is holy. This is only possible if we take time to develop a relationship with this special family, to ask their intercession for our own families, and beg the Holy Spirit to dwell with us constantly as we strive for holiness.

What are some secrets to having a holy family:
  • ·         Keep your family Christ-centered
  • ·         Pray as a family/spend time in Adoration as a family
  • ·         Make prayer a priority
  •        When troubles arise, forgive
  • ·         Never downplay your faith or its essential role in the life of the family

“Do not be afraid,” the angel told Mary and Joseph (Lk 1:30; Mt 1:20). Ultimately,
with like confidence, especially in the current climate of our society and its bitter attack on the family, it is imperative that we remain unafraid and follow the way of the Holy Family.

Yes, you too can have a holy family!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Lions & Monkeys & St. Peter's -- Oh My!



The backdrop: It’s the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. The Catholic world is participating in a Holy Day of Obligation. The hearts of the faithful are centered on the sinless conception of the woman who will carry and bear the Savior, according to the St. Andrew Novena – “at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold.” 

Enter video crews: setting the stage for a spectacular light display -- “Fiat Lux: Illuminating Our Common Home” -- to be made manifest on the fa├žade of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Surely, it was to be one of the finest light displays to bring attention to a Holy Day that has ever been attempted, and therefore permitted to happen on such a holy place.

The outcome: THIS...

photo courtesy of catholicherald.co.uk

And, the Catholic world railed (here, here & here)-- many so appalled that there were cries of sacrilege. Others noted that there was not a single religious symbol in the display. Or, outrage over the fact that the Church collaborated with the World Bank (which promotes programs supporting abortion, contraception and other population control  measures) as well as endorse the agenda of climate change. It simply disemboweled Catholic sensibilities and the result: hemorrhaging of Catholic pride. 

Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Pope Francis has been asking the hierarchy and the faithful to take a step outside of their self-centric point of view (for example: here) -- love the faith, and draw the sinner in to her mercy and forgiveness; stop thinking that Catholicism is all ritual and no hard work; reach beyond the Church walls to creation and the creatures (to include man) living there. 

It was not only a Holy Day of Obligation, let’s remember. It was also the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. And, we were given an opportunity, right on the walls of St. Peter to engage our faith. And, what did most of us do? Lashed out, cried foul, whipped up our opinions into frenzy. 

What did we fail to do? SHOW MERCY. 

Nice.

The final assessment: Do I think it was appropriate to feature animals on the hallowed walls of St. Peter’s?

Probably not. 

Did the images change the minds of others about the face and the heart of Catholicism?

Perhaps. 

I read several opinions from both Catholics and non-Catholics who viewed the show and thought it was lovely – an expression of creation on a most well-known and respected religious symbol – the Church, who is creation’s guardian.

The fact of the matter is this, Pope Francis is not your run-of-the-mill pope – and that’s an understatement. But, he does have a way of reaching people, recognizing what is vital to their humanity in the moment and touching that place with tenderness, sincerity and truth illuminated by the love of Christ for all of creation. 

And, while we may not understand what to us looks to us like unconventional, unorthodox and sacrilegious practice, might we also be reminded of what the Jews thought of Jesus and his decisions to sit at table with sinners, heal on the Sabbath, and preach with authority like no other in the Temple. 

Will our response to the Vicar of Christ be what Our Lord and Savior received because people were afraid of His methods?

No, our response to this should be to prepare, to listen and to watch, but most of all to pray and show mercy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"Flavor"-ite Memories: Reasons to be grateful

It smells so delicious in my house. The combination of special holiday recipes -- pumpkin pies, apple pies, lasagna, stuffing -- intermingled are making my mouth water. Yes, my Italian\American home combines the traditions of Italian cuisine with the American standards for the Thanksgiving holiday.

The sauce for the lasagna, though -- Wow! It's just unbelievable how a certain aroma can conjure up a memory.  In my house many special memories are associate with a certain food or menu.

The aroma of that sauce cooking took me right back to my childhood when dad would make the sauce on Sunday mornings. We'd all go to Church while it simmered away. When we returned, he'd begin by putting up the water for the macaroni, but we were all starving after Mass -- no doughnut Sundays in the parish hall back then. So, dad would spoon out some sauce onto a piece of bread, put a bit of pepper on it and say, "How does it taste?"

I knew he wasn't in need of my opinion, but he didn't want me to think I could just get away with spoiling my appetite before the meal; it was his sly way of giving me a snack before Sunday supper. It always made me smile.

This morning as I smelled the sauce simmering, I thought about those times with a grateful heart. I recalled a passage from one of my favorite books of Scripture: "Those who are cheerful and merry at table benefit from their food." (Sirach 30: 25) Then, I took a spoon and put some of that wonderful memory on a slice of bread with crushed pepper and was transported back to a "flavor"-ite memory of my youth.

Do you have a flavor memory that makes you smile and feel grateful? Share it here.

Happy Thanksgiving from my Italian/American kitchen to yours!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Francis -- The Family Pope

 (photo credit: Aleteia Image Department via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Pope Francis has been called, "The People's Pope", and perhaps that is true. He does seem have an appeal among all people, including those of different faiths or no faith whatsoever. Regardless of his overarching appeal, his catechesis is narrowly focused. He has his laser pointer fixed on the family.

In his general audience today, he continued to preach about the value and necessity of family through the lens of forgiveness. This unites his teaching on the family to the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy which begins on the Solemnity of the Immaculate, December 8, 2015, and ends on November 20, 2016, the Feast of Christ the King.

Pope Francis begins by reminding the world about the Synod that just ended:
 Following the recent Assembly of the Synod of Bishops which reflected on the vocation and mission of the family, today we reflect on the importance of the family as the place where we learn the value of forgiveness. 
In the family "we learn the value of forgiveness". Families live in close quarters, and it is in the home that most often the stress of the world is released in a safe and secure environment. His statement hearkens back to the old adage: "You always hurt the one you love." This isn't a fallacy, it's truth. We tend to lash out at those we know will love us even in our bleakest moments. It reminds me of the song by the same title sung by The Mills Brothers in 1957. The lyrics go: 

You always hurt the one you love
The one you shouldn't hurt at all
You always take the sweetest rose
And crush it till the petals fall

You always break the kindest heart
With a hasty word you can't recall
So if I broke your heart last night
It's because I love you most of a-all 


It sounds harsh and cold, but it is true. It is a common occurrence in the family because there people are truly and naturally the best and worst of ourselves. It is often thoughtlessness, exhaustion, illness, the stress of the day, that pile up and leave us vulnerable to hurt those "with hasty words you can't recall... because I love you most of all".

Holy Father takes it to heart today in his general audience. He reminds us:
Each day, in the words of the Our Father, we ask God to forgive us and to grant us the grace to forgive others.  As difficult as forgiveness may be, it is essential for our personal growth, our capacity to acknowledge our failures and to mend broken relationships.
Pope Francis reminds us each day to pray -- not just reciting the words, but hearing, internalizing and living the words of the Lord's Prayer. He recognizes how hard forgiveness is, but call the faithful nonetheless to reach higher, to draw from the indwelling power to restore broken or strained relationships.

The pope goes on to say:
It is a virtue we learn first in the family.  Forgiveness strengthens families in love and, through them, makes society as a whole more loving and humane.  It is a solid rock on which to build our lives and an eloquent sign of our Christian discipleship and obedience to the Father’s will.
Virtue. Forgiveness is a virtue that all are called to perfect through its practice. It makes man more "loving and humane" and builds up society. So many people are struggling with disordered behaviors and thoughts about family and family life. In many cases, it is not their fault that they can't see past the error of their own judgements and behaviors -- society has given them a false perception of personal dignity and freedom.

The decline of loving witness to living a virtuous life, a witness that first shows charity and compassion and then teaches truth, beauty and goodness, leaves the lost and lonely right where they are, stuck in their own demise. Pope Francis speaks of "Christian discipleship and obedience to the Father's will"; it is the mission of the Church to teach the virtue of forgiveness, but it must first be learned through interaction and socialization within the family. Ite missa est, the Latin words of the Concluding Rite of the Mass, means "Go, she [the Church] has been sent" -- and we are sent first to those to whom we are first responsible -- our family. Within the family exists the domestic church where parents, in good times and bad, teach the faith through living good and holy lives, giving witness to the teachings of the Church, and preparing children to live in and among those who need this example in their lives.

The Holy Father concludes his audience with these words, a prayer of hope and mission:
May the coming Jubilee of Mercy encourage families everywhere to rediscover the power of forgiveness, and enable the great family of the Church to proclaim the power of God’s reconciling love at work in our world.
 Pope Francis' words reach beyond Catholic boundaries. "Families everywhere" are enjoined to rediscover the power of forgiveness, to search their own brokenness, and attempt to heal it with the power of mercy. And, the "family of the Church" is called to be representative witnesses of this powerful mercy within their family and in the world.

He may carry the moniker of "People's Pope", but he truly is the "Family Pope", working and building a body of teaching on the beauty and virtue of the family for all the world to discover and consider in the depths of their hearts.

Friday, October 23, 2015

St. Maria Goretti -- Pilgrimage, relics and the family

photo credit: http://mariagoretti.com/who-is-st-maria/
The Major Relics of St. Maria Goretti made a stop on pilgrimage through the US at our little parish in Chantilly, VA yesterday. St. Veronica was the only parish in VA to host the relics on their journey of mercy. It was estimated that nearly 10K people came to venerate the relics throughout the day. And in what was the most miraculous of events, it all went off without a hitch. Thank you, wondrous, little saint of  great mercy!

Yesterday was also the feast of St. John Paul II. A friend posted a picture of the saint touching the reliquary of St. Maria Goretti, so as we all touched the 1st class relics of the little saint of purity, we were also touching a third class relic of St. John Paul II.

Amazing that the dates should align for us that way!

And then there were the families -- lots and lots and lots of families. They came in cars, on bikes, on buses -- they just kept coming. Some were broken and searching for wisdom and forgiveness, some were filled to overflowing with children; no one who came was or ever has been without a family. That is what is most striking and often forgotten -- we are all part of a family, somewhere, somehow -- we have a mother and a father, whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, whether we try to manipulate the science or the definition, the truth of how we are conceived and become living human beings doesn't change. These pilgrim families were such a sign of hope, especially as the Synod on the Family meets for its final week in the Vatican.

Pope Francis offered this during his General Audience this past Wednesday, 10/21:


Dear Brothers and Sisters: In our catechesis on the family, we spoke last week about the promises we make to our children by bringing them into the world. Today we consider the promise of love and fidelity made between husbands and wives, which is the basis of all family life. This promise is called into question nowadays, and seen as somehow opposed to personal freedom. Yet the truth is that our freedom is shaped and sustained by our fidelity to the choices and commitments we make throughout life. Fidelity grows through our daily efforts to keep our word; indeed, fidelity to our promises is a supreme expression of our dignity as human beings. There is no greater “school” to teach us such fidelity than marriage and the family, which are, in God’s plan, a blessing for our world. Saint Paul tells us that the love which grounds the family points to the bond of love between Christ and the Church. In these days of the Synod on the Family, let us pray that the Church will uphold and strengthen the promise of the family, with creativity and with unfailing trust in that faithful love by which the Lord fulfills his every promise (emphasis added).
What a statement! "...[O]ur freedom is shaped and sustained by our fidelity to the choices and commitments we make throughout life." We have the freedom to make choices and we are shaped by the consequences of those choices.

St. Maria Goretti had to make the ultimate choice -- to die to preserve her freedom and dignity, her purity. She chose to remain faithful to Christ in his gift of virginity, caring as she was attacked for the eternal soul of her attacker. How many of us could say with certainty that we would do the same thing in those terrible circumstances, with death as our only option? To serve God with such joy, even in tremendous suffering.

And St. John Paul the Great -- his choice -- to show the world the value of fidelity through long suffering. It is God's plan to give and to take life, our choice comes in whether we submit to the plan or try to create one of our own. St. John Paul gave us a long and vibrant pontificate, one filled with wisdom, conviction, love and devotion. In the end, it was filled with the joy of redemptive suffering. In these two saints the work of the family comes into focus.

Pope Francis offered: "Fidelity grows through our daily efforts to keep our word; indeed, fidelity to our promises is a supreme expression of our dignity as human beings." It is in the family that we work through our struggles, learn to face difficulties and keep moving forward in faith, where we learn to honor and keep our promises. This is our dignity -- and it must be nurtured in the heart of the domestic church, preserved from all impurity, and given the proper perspective of purposeful sacrifice for the benefit of others.

It was a glorious day yesterday at St. Veronica Parish  -- one that took many helping hands so that others might partake of the experience. It was a day of two saints, a day of pilgrimage, a day of honoring the family, and a day of welcoming the wonders of God into our own hearts so as to carry it out into the world. 

For more information on other pilgrimage sites and schedules, click here

Monday, October 12, 2015

Dear Synod Fathers: Language Matters

Archbishop Coleridge (photo courtesy of Catholic Herald.co.uk)
The first week of the Synod is behind us, and the language working groups offered their first summary of their deliberations on the "first section of the Synod’s working document, or Instrumentum Laboris, focused on the challenges facing family life today." (Vatican Radio, 10/09/15)

Vatican radio reported on the comments of Archbishop Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia regarding the English language working groups.

A couple of the English language words he used to express the progress of the groups struck me as unusual. Here are two of Archbishop Coleridge's quoted remarks:
  • "We came to feel that there are issues that need to be addressed, analysis that needs to be done and decisions that need to be taken at the local or regional level." (emphasis added) 
  •  "What’s really in crisis is our understanding of what marriage is and what the family is…It’s easy to look back to a golden age when there was mum, dad and three of four kids……that’s not the reality today…" (emphasis added)
Let's start with something truly basic in the first sentence of the first quote: No, indeed you came to deliberate; the Synod was not gathered to express "feelings". These groups were assembled to discuss and consider issues related to the family and society, and address strategies to assist in their resolution in accordance with Church teaching. It is wise that these issues be analyzed at the regional and local level, but based on facts, not sentimentality.

In the second quote, I find a fundamental flaw in reporting. How can a Catholic reporter quote an Archbishop in such an ambiguous way, potentially calling into question whether he's supporting a change in definition of marriage and family? That's a truly irresponsible quote!

What did he say that those ellipses are leaving out?

And whether the reality of the circumstances currently do not match the definition of family in the 50's, the 20's or before Jesus became Incarnate doesn't make much difference. The definition is the God appointed definition -- simple. It is our obligation to stay the course and influence the culture. In that case, using language that doesn't compromise the original definition, but is more accessible to the current culture is admirable, if not completely daunting.

In conclusion, the article reads:
Finally there was a lot of talk about language, words lost in translation and why it’s important to do away with the kind of ‘Church-speak’ that means nothing at all to young people today. Instead many bishops cited Pope Francis’ own down-to-earth, colourful choice of words that has made people from all countries and all cultures sit up discover a new, fresh face to the unchanging truths of the Church. (emphasis added)
We need to make the language accessible -- I agree. We do not need to dumb the language down!

Do away with Church-speak?

What on earth does that mean (speaking of language)? Should we just become a philanthropic, non-profit NGO? Are we not about the salvation of souls? Wait, is that Church-speak?

This particular language is confusing.

Concerning the use of precise language, Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia put it plainly in his address to the Synod Fathers:
“Imprecise language leads to confused thinking,” the archbishop said Oct. 10 at the Vatican, giving “two examples that should cause us some concern”: 'inclusive' and 'unity in diversity'.
Language matters: in the way we articulate the faith, in the way we show respect for people's intelligence and faith, and in the way we report the Synod to the world.



Friday, October 9, 2015

Carpe Diem! -- Unselfishly

Today is a big day -- a new decade begins for me.

I am 50!

I remember -- and you do, too -- when that teacher in school who was over, say, 30 was "ancient".

Funny thing is, I don't feel ancient. And, I've actually thought about this quite a bit on my approach to 50.

My mom is 90 years old -- do the math, she had me when she was 40. And, she will repeatedly tell me that but for her tired body, she doesn't "feel" her age. The interior impression of herself is still very young.

That's a tremendous gift -- and it's a wisdom for each of us on our journey to cling to in order to keep moving forward on our way with joy. And how exactly do we do that?

Carpe Diem!

It's such a simple little phrase. Seize the Day! This is taken from Horace in Odes, Book I:

Dum loquimur, fugerit invida
Aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero
It means, to paraphrase:

While we converse, time is fleeing: seize the day and put little trust in the future.

(caveat: Latin Scholar, I am not -- do not criticize)

Matthew's Gospel offers us this: "Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself." (Mt. 6:34)

It's so easy, especially when you are faced with the challenges of getting older, i.e.:
  • Preparing to send your children out into the world
  • Health issues
  • Caring for an elderly parent
  • Moving from working to retiring, etc.
 to forget that the future is not in our control. If we are concerned for the future, we need to look to those who have navigated it well, and remember that God's holding our tomorrows in His hand. We have to live this day, this moment well as the Gospel of Matthew reminds us.

It's a deceit perpetrated by Satan himself to befuddle the mind and drive away hope. That's the worldly interpretation of carpe diem -- who cares, do what you please, this day may be your last, defy authority, enter into whatever presents itself with defiance. This is a false assertion of freedom disregarding the dignity of man -- a lonely and isolated existence without hope. If all I have is this world, and my moments count nothing more than for personal pleasure and gain, then I am dead.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal." (Mt 6: 19) The Gospel reminds us of just how pointless it is to live for material gain. Our purpose is loftier, our presence is richer, our future is brighter than the collection and utilitarian  consumption of worldly things.

The Gospel of Matthew continues:

"All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides." (Mat 6: 32-33)


The Kingdom -- in our souls, marked in Baptism and Confirmation, sealed to be His own, heirs of the Kingdom. With this knowledge, why would we seek to be kings in this world? How many people do we need to witness head down the path of destruction before we realize that we are ordained to a higher purpose as heirs to the Kingdom?

Carpe Diem!

Live today -- seize it -- at 50 or 90 or 10 -- seeking the kingdom, the glory of God, in all we do. Put on the armor of God (cf. Eph 6: 10), and with confidence take on this day and make it your gift to God in return for His goodness. Don't let age, illness, or the constraints and problems of this life bog you down. This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it! ( cf. Ps 118: 24)

And as a dear friend has shown me in her marvelously joyful way all week -- Embrace it!

Embrace the comfort, embrace the beauty, embrace the nuttiness even!

Embrace it all and grow in age, grace and wisdom in imitation of our Lord (cf. Lk 2:52) each and every day.

Thank you, Dear Lord, for all your gifts to me. Although I may not see the struggles as gifts all the time, I know that they are truly for my benefit, so that I, and those around me, may be sanctified, grow closer, and live with You in eternal joy forever. Amen.







Monday, October 5, 2015

Pope Francis -- What the Synod IS and IS NOT


This morning in Rome, Pope Francis offered an address to formally open the first session of the Synod on the Family; a Synod that will carry forward the work of the III Extraordinary General Assembly of Bishops which caused quite a bit of controversy last October.

Instead of back tracking to the controversy, let's take a look at what the Pope offered this morning in his address to the assembly (full text of the remarks here).

Pope Francis sets the stage:
The Synod, as we know, is a journey undertaken together in the spirit of collegiality and synodality, on which participants bravely adopt parrhesia, pastoral zeal and doctrinal wisdom, frankness, and always keep before our eyes the good of the Church, of families and the suprema lex, the Salus animarum.
I think we may need to unpack this sentence a bit.

spirit of collegiality and synodality --  in ecclesial definition, collegiality is the shared responsibility of the bishops for their flocks, and synodality (hadn't heard the word synod/synodal "verbed" before)  is the ecclesial mission/journey/work to be done along the way as they are gathered in collegiality. Basically, the Pope wanted them to remember that this is a joint assignment to better prepare the Church for her mission in the world.

participants bravely adopt parrhesia, pastoral zeal...always keep before our eyes the good of the Church, of families... -- parrhesia means frankness or boldness in speech. Pope Francis seems to want to drive home this point because he mentions it twice in the sentence; but he doesn't mention it without its proper relation to doctrinal wisdom. In other words, don't go off half-cocked on ridiculous worldly notions to change the Church, but rather act with pastoral zeal to increase the holiness of yourselves and your flock.

always keep before our eyes...the suprema lex, the Salus animarum -- translation: the supreme law of the salvation of souls; this is a Canon Law term that relates to "OBSTINATE HERESY". Well, that seems pretty clear. We're not going to be changing any doctrine here.

What IS the Synod then? Pope Francis defines the Synod this way:
The Synod is...an Ecclesial expression, i.e., the  Church that journeys together to read reality with the eyes of faith and with the heart of God; it is the Church that interrogates herself with regard to her fidelity to the deposit of faith, which does not represent for the Church a museum to view, nor even something merely to safeguard, but is a living source from which the Church shall drink, to satisfy the thirst of, and illuminate, the deposit of life.
He then breaks it down into three distinct characteristics:

1. The Synod moves necessarily within the bosom of the Church and of the holy people of God, to which we belong in the quality of shepherds – which is to say, as servants.

It is a place to serve, to serve the flock which depends on the quality of the shepherd. He's asking the bishops to set aside personal human biases and look to what will get their flock to heaven, not make them more popular among their flock. It is the quality of the shepherd that leads the flock to eternity or to damnation. Pope Francis says self-examine, put aside personal political design, and serve the flock.


2. The Synod also is a protected space in which the Church experiences the action of the Holy Spirit. In the Synod, the Spirit speaks by means of every person’s tongue, who let themselves be guided by the God who always surprises, the God who reveals himself to little ones, who hides from the knowing and intelligent; the God who created the law and the Sabbath for man and not vice versa; by the God, who leaves the 99 sheep to look for the one lost sheep; the God who is always greater than our logic and our calculations.

The Synod is where the Holy Spirit acts; but Pope Francis reminds that Spirit only speaks through those who "let themselves be guided by God who always surprises...who reveals himself to little ones...hides from the knowing and intelligent..." He is calling for the bishops to experience kenosis -- and emptying of self to allow the Spirit to fill them. Again, he encourages them to put aside the temptations of the world and allow the Spirit to illuminate the law and the prophets, to bring the teachings of Christ to life by reminding them of their duty to guide their flock by imitating "the God who created the law and the Sabbath for man and not vice versa; by the God, who leaves the 99 sheep to look for the one lost sheep; the God who is always greater than our logic and our calculations". He reminds them that pride and arrogance can cloud the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and to avoid the folly of the devil by falling prey to our own intelligent notions of what is best, what will make people happy. Rather Pope Francis calls them to be little, to listen and to engage in the ways of God through the Holy Spirit's influence on their hearts and minds.

3. Let us remember, however, that the Synod will be a space for the action of the Holy Spirit only if we participants vest ourselves with apostolic courage, evangelical humility and trusting prayer: with that apostolic courage, which refuses to be intimidated in the face of the temptations of the world – temptations that tend to extinguish the light of truth in the hearts of men, replacing it with small and temporary lights; nor even before the petrification of some hearts, which, despite good intentions, drive people away from God; apostolic courage to bring life and not to make of our Christian life a museum of memories; evangelical humility that knows how to empty itself of conventions and prejudices in order to listen to brother bishops and be filled with God – humility that leads neither to finger-pointing nor to judging others, but to hands outstretched to help people up without ever feeling oneself superior to them.

It wasn't enough for our pontiff to call the bishops to humble and sincere trust once. He knows his brothers; he knows they face the same if not greater pressures from the temptations of the world as a result of their office. In light of this, he calls them to evangelical humility, and to resist the "temptations of the world" that "tend to extinguish the light of truth in the hearts of men." He calls the to judge the situation, not the man, and to remember their place as servant.

What is the Synod NOT?

Pope Francis doesn't mince words:

"...[T]he Synod is neither a convention, nor a parlor, nor a parliament or senate, where people make deals and reach compromises."

What should we make of this statement to the bishops ready to enter into conversation and deliberation at this Synod?

Basically, the pope is saying to leave your arrogance, your political interests, your gossip, your bureaucracy at the door. Enter in with an heart open to the will of God, and assess today's family, their societal situation, their challenges and their gifts, and hear how the Holy Spirit wishes you to assist them on their journey.

It will be an interesting month watching how the Synod unfolds and whether his brother bishops will heed the wisdom of the pope's words to them. Ours is to do what St. Pio recommends: "pray, hope and don't worry".



Sunday, October 4, 2015

Keep Calm and Let the Synod Carry On

Photo courtesy of: (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Obviously not happy with his work as a priest of God and the need to live a lie any longer, Monsignor Charamsa decided that he would attempt to change the Church to suit his desires by creating a scene; neither a dignified nor a humble decision.

Even Jesus had a Judas.

Why do we expect to be spared embarrassments, wrongs and humiliations? This is nothing new in the life of the Church.

As Jesus was not silent at his betrayal asking: "Would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?" (Lk 24: 48), the Director of the Vatican Press Office cannot remain silent.

In response to Fr. Charamsa's statements, the Vatican Press Office issued a response, which included the following statement:

"Msgr. Charamsa will certainly be unable to continue to carry out his previous work in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical universities, while the other aspects of his situation shall remain the competence of his diocesan Ordinary." Read the Father Lombardi's full statement from Vatican Radio here.


Was this an attempt to embarrass the Church before the Synod?

Or, is it a chance for the Synod to pick up its cross and defend the entirety of the Truth?

This is an opportunity to show charity through obedience to the Truth. It would be irresponsible and against what the pope had just said about abuses for anyone to look the other way. There is no rethinking of any teaching -- the door has not and will never be opened to tolerance; the door is open to mercy and charity. 

This behavior is wrong and an egregious offense against solemn vows which is always wrong. The Monsignor has succumbed to being misled by his passions; he will be mercifully corrected.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Building Momentum -- From a Culture of Waste to a Culture of Care

With millions gathered and many more millions viewing Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba and the US, one could safely say this pope has garnered some favorable attention. His demeanor is kind and merciful; but like a good father, he is just and sets boundaries for his children. His words often need to be parsed – I presume it is because he speaks to each of member of his flock as if they should already know what is written on their hearts. The undeniable fact that we are human and fallen and need to be boldly reminded has been a resounding criticism of this pope. I’m not so sure if Pope Francis’ approach is calculated or just simply who he is; or whether it is the best approach to spread the Gospel in our current tumultuous world, or not. I keep coming back to the fact that Jesus often left people scratching their heads, only explaining things more fully to the Apostles.

 Pope Francis did comment on important issues for the Church and society during this visit – many of which were directly taken from his encyclical Laudato Si’. Some people with whom I’ve spoken were shaken by what they perceived as a distinct lack of conviction before Congress. There was no hammering down on the Planned Parenthood scandal, not once was the word abortion mentioned, nothing explicit about gay marriage. And the banter from the critics was that this was a missed opportunity,  this was the audience that needed hear the doctrine professed loudly and clearly. Our elected officials with the power to change unjust laws, and the audiences in attendance and listening via the media who may suffer from a divided heart on these issues due to ignorance or faulty teaching needed to hear the teachings.

Many were discouraged, and even disgusted.

I, too, had some misgivings about his delivery of Catholic content in the speech to Congress. Where was the authoritative presence that wrote: “Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a “culture of care” (Laudato Si’ 231)?

Reality check -- this was just the beginning. There was more to come, and I rested my hope there.

“He’s not done,” I thought to myself, “pray and stay hopeful.”

That’s what I did, and many, many others did, as well.

It was a visit that built in momentum. In his address to the UN the following day, the pope came through, touching on all the hot button issues that weren’t mentioned explicitly in the Congressional address. Quoting from the Papal Encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis drove home this essential point regarding respect for marriage and life:
Consequently, the defence of the environment and the fight against exclusion demand that we recognize a moral law written into human nature itself, one which includes the natural difference between man and woman and absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions (cf. Laudato Si’ 123, 136, 155). 

This quote, among others, made clear to the world that the Church’s teachings on life and marriage will not and cannot change. Justice demands that we give to others what they are due; this means that we offer them the truth with compassion and mercy, and always in the context of charity.

He spoke about how exclusion is a primary cause of great concern. The Pope noted that we have become a disposable people:
Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment. The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing “culture of waste” (Papal Address to the United Nations, 9/25/15).
Pope Francis didn’t want to spend this wisdom exclusively on the US Congress – this was a message for the world. He took the world stage and he laid the enormity of the moral complexities that surround our world on the shoulders of all those who lead. He identified the global crosses and asked the world leaders to pick them up and carry them forward.

His journey from Washington, D.C. to New York and the development of his comments spoke volumes about his concern for the universality of the Church’s teachings and about his inordinate care for his flock – all peoples. Eliminating the culture of waste and becoming a culture of care is a work for all mankind, no exclusions.

This pattern of building momentum must also inform the hearts and minds of those who were puzzled by what they witnessed and/or heard in Philadelphia.

Take courage.

His comments there were meant to enliven the dialogue for the upcoming Synod on the Family which opens October 4th. He is not spending all his wisdom yet, but there was a pearl shared in Pope Francis’ press conference on the journey back to Rome:
Pope Francis was asked about his decision to streamline the process for declaring the nullity of marriages. He insisted the change was strictly juridical and not doctrinal. It is not ‘Catholic divorce’ he said. The annulment process needed reform because with automatic appeals ‘there were processes that lasted 10-15 years.’ 

There is more to come. And just as the UN address did not disappoint, I am of the hope and conviction that we will see the same building of momentum from the World Meeting of Families to  the Synod.