Posts Tagged ‘Love’
Yesterday was indeed an inspiring start to the pastoral visit of Pope Francis to the United States. In his remarks to the US Bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral he made clear his desire for the people in the United States to know that he comes to embrace each and everyone of us.
The heart of the Pope expands to include everyone. To testify to the immensity of God’s love is the heart of the mission entrusted to the Successor of Peter, the Vicar of the One who on the cross embraced the whole of mankind. May no member of Christ’s Body and the American people feel excluded from the Pope’s embrace.
In his remarks at the White House, our Holy Father gave great support to the efforts of our US Bishops to protect religious freedom.
With countless other people of good will, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.
And in his homily, the Holy Father once again calls all of us to discover the joy of knowing and following Jesus. This is the key to understanding Pope Francis. This is the key to interpreting everything he says to us. Jesus Christ is the ‘core’ who unifies everything!
If you want to understand this Pope, it is important to see how he views his role as the Chief Shepherd of the flock. I believe that is what he shared with the bishops yesterday in his address to us at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. Here is the address in full. It is a bit long, but well worth the read.
Pope Francis’ Address to US Bishops September 23, 2015 St. Matthew’s Cathedral Washington, D.C. Dear Brother Bishops, I am pleased that we can meet at this point in the apostolic mission which has brought me to your country. I thank Cardinal Wuerl and Archbishop Kurtz for their kind words in your name. I am very appreciative of your welcome and the generous efforts made to help plan and organize my stay. As I look out with affection at you, their pastors, I would like to embrace all the local Churches over which you exercise loving responsibility. I would ask you to share my affection and spiritual closeness with the People of God throughout this vast land. The heart of the Pope expands to include everyone. To testify to the immensity of God’s love is the heart of the mission entrusted to the Successor of Peter, the Vicar of the One who on the cross embraced the whole of mankind. May no member of Christ’s Body and the American people feel excluded from the Pope’s embrace. Wherever the name of Jesus is spoken, may the Pope’s voice also be heard to affirm that: “He is the Savior”! From your great coastal cities to the plains of the Midwest, from the deep South to the far reaches of the West, wherever your people gather in the Eucharistic assembly, may the Pope be not simply a name but a felt presence, sustaining the fervent plea of the Bride: “Come, Lord!” Whenever a hand reaches out to do good or to show the love of Christ, to dry a tear or bring comfort to the lonely, to show the way to one who is lost or to console a broken heart, to help the fallen or to teach those thirsting for truth, to forgive or to offer a new start in God… know that the Pope is at your side and supports you. He puts his hand on your own, a hand wrinkled with age, but by God’s grace still able to support and encourage. My first word to you is one of thanksgiving to God for the power of the Gospel which has brought about remarkable growth of Christ’s Church in these lands and enabled its generous contribution, past and present, to American society and to the world. I thank you most heartily for your generous solidarity with the Apostolic See and the support you give to the spread of the Gospel in many suffering areas of our world. I appreciate the unfailing commitment of the Church in America to the cause of life and that of the family, which is the primary reason for my present visit. I am well aware of the immense efforts you have made to welcome and integrate those immigrants who continue to look to America, like so many others before them, in the hope of enjoying its blessings of freedom and prosperity. I also appreciate the efforts which you are making to fulfill the Church’s mission of education in schools at every level and in the charitable services offered by your numerous institutions. These works are often carried out without appreciation or support, often with heroic sacrifice, out of obedience to a divine mandate which we may not disobey. I am also conscious of the courage with which you have faced difficult moments in the recent history of the Church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice. Nor have you been afraid to divest whatever is unessential in order to regain the authority and trust which is demanded of ministers of Christ and rightly expected by the faithful. I realize how much the pain of recent years has weighed upon you and I have supported your generous commitment to bring healing to victims – in the knowledge that in healing we too are healed – and to work to ensure that such crimes will never be repeated. I speak to you as the Bishop of Rome, called by God in old age, and from a land which is also American, to watch over the unity of the universal Church and to encourage in charity the journey of all the particular Churches toward ever greater knowledge, faith and love of Christ. Reading over your names, looking at your faces, knowing the extent of your churchmanship and conscious of the devotion which you have always shown for the Successor of Peter, I must tell you that I do not feel a stranger in your midst. I am a native of a land which is also vast, with great open ranges, a land which, like your own, received the faith from itinerant missionaries. I too know how hard it is to sow the Gospel among people from different worlds, with hearts often hardened by the trials of a lengthy journey. Nor am I unaware of the efforts made over the years to build up the Church amid the prairies, mountains, cities and suburbs of a frequently inhospitable land, where frontiers are always provisional and easy answers do not always work. What does work is the combination of the epic struggle of the pioneers and the homely wisdom and endurance of the settlers. As one of your poets has put it, “strong and tireless wings” combined with the wisdom of one who “knows the mountains”. I do not speak to you with my voice alone, but in continuity with the words of my predecessors. From the birth of this nation, when, following the American Revolution, the first diocese was erected in Baltimore, the Church of Rome has always been close to you; you have never lacked its constant assistance and encouragement. In recent decades, three Popes have visited you and left behind a remarkable legacy of teaching. Their words remain timely and have helped to inspire the long-term goals which you have set for the Church in this country. It is not my intention to offer a plan or to devise a strategy. I have not come to judge you or to lecture you. I trust completely in the voice of the One who “teaches all things” (Jn 14:26). Allow me only, in the freedom of love, to speak to you as a brother among brothers. I have no wish to tell you what to do, because we all know what it is that the Lord asks of us. Instead, I would turn once again to the demanding task – ancient yet never new – of seeking out the paths we need to take and the spirit with which we need to work. Without claiming to be exhaustive, I would share with you some reflections which I consider helpful for our mission. We are bishops of the Church, shepherds appointed by God to feed his flock. Our greatest joy is to be shepherds, and only shepherds, pastors with undivided hearts and selfless devotion. We need to preserve this joy and never let ourselves be robbed of it. The evil one roars like a lion, anxious to devour it, wearing us down in our resolve to be all that we are called to be, not for ourselves but in gift and service to the “Shepherd of our souls” (1 Pet 2:25). The heart of our identity is to be sought in constant prayer, in preaching (Acts 6:4) and in shepherding the flock entrusted to our care (Jn 21:15-17; Acts 20:28-31). Ours must not be just any kind of prayer, but familiar union with Christ, in which we daily encounter his gaze and sense that he is asking us the question: “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” (Mk 3:31-34). One in which we can calmly reply: “Lord, here is your mother, here are your brothers! I hand them over to you; they are the ones whom you entrusted to me”. Such trusting union with Christ is what nourishes the life of a pastor. It is not about preaching complicated doctrines, but joyfully proclaiming Christ who died and rose for our sake. The “style” of our mission should make our hearers feel that the message we preach is meant “for us”. May the word of God grant meaning and fullness to every aspect of their lives; may the sacraments nourish them with that food which they cannot procure for themselves; may the closeness of the shepherd make them them long once again for the Father’s embrace. Be vigilant that the flock may always encounter in the heart of their pastor that “taste of eternity” which they seek in vain in the things of this world. May they always hear from you a word of appreciation for their efforts to confirm in liberty and justice the prosperity in which this land abounds. At the same time, may you never lack the serene courage to proclaim that “we must work not for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures for eternal life” (Jn 6:27). Shepherds who do not pasture themselves but are able to step back, away from the center, to “decrease”, in order to feed God’s family with Christ. Who keep constant watch, standing on the heights to look out with God’s eyes on the flock which is his alone. Who ascend to the height of the cross of God’s Son, the sole standpoint which opens to the shepherd the heart of his flock. Shepherds who do not lower our gaze, concerned only with our concerns, but raise it constantly toward the horizons which God opens before us and which surpass all that we ourselves can foresee or plan. Who also watch over ourselves, so as to flee the temptation of narcissism, which blinds the eyes of the shepherd, makes his voice unrecognizable and his actions fruitless. In the countless paths which lie open to your pastoral concern, remember to keep focused on the core which unifies everything: “You did it unto me” (Mt 25:31-45). Certainly it is helpful for a bishop to have the farsightedness of a leader and the shrewdness of an administrator, but we fall into hopeless decline whenever we confuse the power of strength with the strength of that powerlessness with which God has redeemed us. Bishops need to be lucidly aware of the battle between light and darkness being fought in this world. Woe to us, however, if we make of the cross a banner of worldly struggles and fail to realize that the price of lasting victory is allowing ourselves to be wounded and consumed (Phil 2:1-11). We all know the anguish felt by the first Eleven, huddled together, assailed and overwhelmed by the fear of sheep scattered because the shepherd had been struck. But we also know that we have been given a spirit of courage and not of timidity. So we cannot let ourselves be paralyzed by fear. I know that you face many challenges, that the field in which you sow is unyielding and that there is always the temptation to give in to fear, to lick one’s wounds, to think back on bygone times and to devise harsh responses to fierce opposition. And yet we are promoters of the culture of encounter. We are living sacraments of the embrace between God’s riches and our poverty. We are witnesses of the abasement and the condescension of God who anticipates in love our every response. Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love (Mt 20:1-16). The path ahead, then, is dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society. I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly. The richer the heritage which you are called to share with parrhesia, the more eloquent should be the humility with which you should offer it. Do not be afraid to set out on that “exodus” which is necessary for all authentic dialogue. Otherwise, we fail to understand the thinking of others, or to realize deep down that the brother or sister we wish to reach and redeem, with the power and the closeness of love, counts more than their positions, distant as they may be from what we hold as true and certain. Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing. We need to let the Lord’s words echo constantly in our hearts: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, who am meek and humble of heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls” (Mt 11:28-30). Jesus’ yoke is a yoke of love and thus a pledge of refreshment. At times in our work we can be burdened by a sense of loneliness, and so feel the heaviness of the yoke that we forget that we have received it from the Lord. It seems to be ours alone, and so we drag it like weary oxen working a dry field, troubled by the thought that we are laboring in vain. We can forget the profound refreshment which is indissolubly linked to the One who has made us the promise. We need to learn from Jesus, or better to learn Jesus, meek and humble; to enter into his meekness and his humility by contemplating his way of acting; to lead our Churches and our people – not infrequently burdened by the stress of everyday life – to the ease of the Lord’s yoke. And to remember that Jesus’ Church is kept whole not by “consuming fire from heaven” (Lk 9:54), but by the secret warmth of the Spirit, who “heals what is wounded, bends what is rigid, straightens what is crooked”. The great mission which the Lord gives us is one which we carry out in communion, collegially. The world is already so torn and divided, brokenness is now everywhere. Consequently, the Church, “the seamless garment of the Lord” cannot allow herself to be rent, broken or fought over. Our mission as bishops is first and foremost to solidify unity, a unity whose content is defined by the Word of God and the one Bread of Heaven. With these two realities each of the Churches entrusted to us remains Catholic, because open to, and in communion with, all the particular Churches and with the Church of Rome which “presides in charity”. It is imperative, therefore, to watch over that unity, to safeguard it, to promote it and to bear witness to it as a sign and instrument which, beyond every barrier, unites nations, races, classes and generations. May the forthcoming Holy Year of Mercy, by drawing us into the fathomless depths of God’s heart in which no division dwells, be for all of you a privileged moment for strengthening communion, perfecting unity, reconciling differences, forgiving one another and healing every rift, that your light may shine forth like “a city built on a hill” (Mt 5:14). This service to unity is particularly important for this nation, whose vast material and spiritual, cultural and political, historical and human, scientific and technological resources impose significant moral responsibilities in a world which is seeking, confusedly and laboriously, new balances of peace, prosperity and integration. It is an essential part of your mission to offer to the United States of America the humble yet powerful leaven of communion. May all mankind know that the presence in its midst of the “sacrament of unity” (Lumen Gentium, 1) is a guarantee that its fate is not decay and dispersion. This kind of witness is a beacon whose light can reassure men and women sailing through the dark clouds of life that a sure haven awaits them, that they will not crash on the reefs or be overwhelmed by the waves. I encourage you, then, to confront the challenging issues of our time. Ever present within each of them is life as gift and responsibility. The future freedom and dignity of our societies depends on how we face these challenges. The innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature – at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters. It is wrong, then, to look the other way or to remain silent. No less important is the Gospel of the Family, which in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia I will emphatically proclaim together with you and the entire Church. These essential aspects of the Church’s mission belong to the core of what we have received from the Lord. It is our duty to preserve and communicate them, even when the tenor of the times becomes resistent and even hostile to that message (Evangelii Gaudium, 34-39). I urge you to offer this witness, with the means and creativity born of love, and with the humility of truth. It needs to be preached and proclaimed to those without, but also to find room in people’s hearts and in the conscience of society. To this end, it is important that the Church in the United States also be a humble home, a family fire which attracts men and women through the attractive light and warmth of love. As pastors, we know well how much darkness and cold there is in this world; we know the loneliness and the neglect experienced by many people, even amid great resources of communication and material wealth. We see their fear in the face of life, their despair and the many forms of escapism to which it gives rise. Consequently, only a Church which can gather around the family fire remains able to attract others. And not any fire, but the one which blazed forth on Easter morn. The risen Lord continues to challenge the Church’s pastors through the quiet plea of so many of our brothers and sisters: “Have you something to eat?” We need to recognize the Lord’s voice, as the apostles did on the shore of the lake of Tiberius (Jn 21:4-12). It becomes even more urgent to grow in the certainty that the embers of his presence, kindled in the fire of his passion, precede us and will never die out. Whenever this certainty weakens, we end up being caretakers of ash, and not guardians and dispensers of the true light and the warmth which causes our hearts to burn within us (Lk 24:32). Before concluding these reflections, allow me to offer two recommendations which are close to my heart. The first refers to your fatherhood as bishops. Be pastors close to people, pastors who are neighbors and servants. Let this closeness be expressed in a special way towards your priests. Support them, so that they can continue to serve Christ with an undivided heart, for this alone can bring fulfillment to ministers of Christ. I urge you, then, not to let them be content with half-measures. Find ways to encourage their spiritual growth, lest they yield to the temptation to become notaries and bureaucrats, but instead reflect the motherhood of the Church, which gives birth to and raises her sons and daughters. Be vigilant lest they tire of getting up to answer those who knock on their door by night, just when they feel entitled to rest (Lk 11:5-8). Train them to be ready to stop, care for, soothe, lift up and assist those who, “by chance” find themselves stripped of all they thought they had (Lk 10:29-37). My second recommendation has to do with immigrants. I ask you to excuse me if in some way I am pleading my own case. The Church in the United States knows like few others the hopes present in the hearts of these “pilgrims”. From the beginning you have learned their languages, promoted their cause, made their contributions your own, defended their rights, helped them to prosper, and kept alive the flame of their faith. Even today, no American institution does more for immigrants than your Christian communities. Now you are facing this stream of Latin immigration which affects many of your dioceses. Not only as the Bishop of Rome, but also as a pastor from the South, I feel the need to thank and encourage you. Perhaps it will not be easy for you to look into their soul; perhaps you will be challenged by their diversity. But know that they also possess resources meant to be shared. So do not be afraid to welcome them. Offer them the warmth of the love of Christ and you will unlock the mystery of their heart. I am certain that, as so often in the past, these people will enrich America and its Church. May God bless you and Our Lady watch over you!
For the third day running, our daily Mass readings bring us to the cross. Sunday, Jesus instructed that the cross was at the heart of his identity as Messiah. He also taught that each true and mature disciple must take up his or her cross each day should they choose to follow him.
Yesterday on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, we celebrated the glory of our salvation, won by our Savior upon the wood of the cross. We asked for the grace to embrace the cross and all it entails with a joyful vision of the triumph it ultimately obtains.
Today, on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, we see the first and greatest disciple of Jesus at the foot of his cross, Mary. Though we speak of the glory of the cross and the joy discovered in salvation, we would be less than human if we did not also acknowledge the great suffering that also accompanies discipleship. This suffering is a part of love. St. Bernard, in speaking of Mary at the foot of the cross, brings this out beautifully in a selection from today’s Office of Readings:
Perhaps someone will say: “Had she not known before that he would die?” Undoubtedly. “Did she not expect him to rise again at once?” Surely. “And still she grieved over her crucified Son?” Intensely. Who are you and what is the source of your wisdom that you are more surprised at the compassion of Mary than at the passion of Mary’s Son? For if he could die in body, could she not die with him in spirit? He died in body through a love greater than anyone had known. She died in spirit through a love unlike any other since his.
One lesson for the disciples is clear and consistent. The cross is central to our present life, and the only ladder to life eternal with God. As we mature in faith and discipleship, we learn this lesson. We learn not to run from the reality of the cross, but to find our surest shelter in its shade. We learn the joy of giving our life away, bit by bit, as the surest sign of our faith in the Lord Jesus, and the strongest evidence of our love for God.
Mary, as we seek the shelter of the cross this day, may we find ourselves in your company. Through your intercession, may we have the hearts of love to discover and serve your Son in those who suffer today. Through your love and compassion, may we find comfort and solace for the trials, tribulations and sufferings entailed in living our life in love for others.
In yesterday’s Gospel, Jesus taught us that if we wish to be his disciples, we must take up our cross and follow him. (Mark 8:34) If we receive this instruction in a worldly way, all we will see is the sacrifice and suffering which the cross entails.
Today, the Church celebrates the Exaltation of the Cross, or the Triumph of the Cross. The true ‘end’ of the cross is our salvation! Thus, in a very real way, there is not only sacrifice and suffering to be found in the cross, but also true joy.
Many of the antiphons for today’s Feast portray the spirit of hope and joy we celebrate as we remember the glory of the cross in God’s mysterious and loving plan of salvation:
“See the cross of the Lord; let all his enemies flee in terror; the lion of Judah, David’s seed, is victorious, alleluia.”
“We must glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; in him is our salvation, life and resurrection. Through him we are saved and set free.”
“O glorious cross, your arms upheld the priceless ransom of captive mankind. Through you the world has been saved by the blood of the Lord.”
“The Lord hung upon the cross to wash away our sins in his own blood. How splendid is that blessed cross.”
How radiant is that precious cross which brought us our salvation. In the cross we are victorious, through the cross we shall reign, by the cross all evil is destroyed, alleluia.”
On this feast, we pray for the grace of faith to trust in the Lord’s ways. The mystery of the cross is perhaps the greatest evidence of the truth of what the Prophet Isaiah spoke so many years ago:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways – For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
We also pray today for the grace to have the wisdom to turn to the cross to find our healing, just as the people of Israel who had sinned against the Lord found healing in gazing upon the serpent Moses wrapped around a pole at the Lord’s command. (Numbers 21:4-9) This is Jesus prayer for us today:
Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3: 14) This is the evidence of God’s great love for us, and the true cause of our joy in Christ and in his Holy Cross. For as Jesus also says in today’s Gospel:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16)\
Jesus’ address to his apostles the night before he was handed over is a beautiful discourse on the Trinity. He speaks in his own mysterious way of the love that exists between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He does so in relationship to how this internal mystery of God is shared with all of us through him and through his gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus through the Incarnation comes into the world to accomplish the deep desire of God to draw every person into the ‘unity’ that exists between the three persons of God; to bestow upon everyone of us the gift of Divine Life itself!
Jesus’ relationship with each of the apostles is the beginning of the work to draw individuals into the Divine Life through relationship with him. This ‘drawing into’ the life of the Divine Relationship continues after his resurrection and ascension through his gift of the promised Holy Spirit. Listen to these words of Jesus:
I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in my through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me. Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world. Righteous Father, the world also does not know you, but I know you, and they know that you sent me. I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them. (John 17: 20-26)
As we experience our own unity with Christ, we are then to build this unity through our relationships with one another, and this unity is built through truth and love. As Jesus built a strong communion between himself and his apostles, so every bishop is to build up a strong communion within his own presbyterate. This thought is very much on my heart and mind today as I prepare to ordain two new men to the priesthood.
Communion is built in many ways, but most especially through the communion of the ‘table,’ the banquet of sacrifice which is the Eucharist. This table of communion is then to be identified with at every Christian table, in every Christian home, in every Christian gathering around any kind of food. The Lord who gives himself as food at every Eucharistic banquet takes up his dwelling in the life of believers. Each believer nourished in Christ is then to nurture this communion of love in every one of his or her relationships.
We experienced this communion that builds unity in the gathering held yesterday evening. It was a time of prayer, fellowship, and food. As the priests, deacons and seminarians gathered, we welcomed one another, and especially those who are being ordained today, along with their family and friends. Every human life needs quality relationships. Every presbyterate needs strong bonds of fraternity, communion, and support. We cannot take these relationships for granted. We must always be intentional in forging the bonds that advance God’s Kingdom. In such bonds, as St. John tells us in his Second Letter:
“Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son in truth and love.” (2 John 3)
Jesus said to the crowds: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
The call of God in every life is to love. Those who truly love know that it comes not only with great reward, but with a cost as well. It takes great energy to enter into the life of another person; to accompany them, to know and understand their person and their needs.
Through the Incarnation, Jesus took on our human condition. He knows what it is like to enter into the life of another person. He experience hunger, thirst, and weariness, even pain. We can look at the Incarnation as a means by which Jesus took our yoke upon himself in order to show solidarity in the process of revealing the presence of God in our midst. Today’s Gospel is Jesus’ invitation to us to take his yoke and learn from him.
During my walk yesterday, I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary. As I pray the rosary, I like to take just a few moments at the beginning of each decade to ponder the mystery for deeper understanding. The first Sorrowful Mystery recalls the agony of Jesus in the Garden as he enters into his passion.
What did Jesus see and hear from the Father during that period of prayer? Surely, Jesus experienced the Father ‘giving Himself’ in love. Truly, what the Father was asking of the Son, namely to give himself for the salvation of the world, Jesus received from the Father, namely, the Father giving himself in love to Jesus.
My reflection came to mind as I read the first reading today. This is what Jesus received from the Father:
Do you not know or have you not heard? The Lord is the eternal God, creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint nor grow weary, and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny. He gives strength to the fainting; for the weak he makes vigor abound. Though young men faint and grow weary, and youths stagger and fall, they that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles’ wings; they will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint. (Isaiah 40:25-31)
The Father not only sustained Jesus during his passion, but gave him the strength to bring to completion the Paschal Mystery. In the same way, Jesus comes to be our strength, most especially when we are doing his work. Jesus is the one who sustains us that we may complete the Father’s will in each of our lives.
So, when we grow weary in the day-to-day demands of striving to grow in holiness, of being faithful to our life as a husband or wife or priest or consecrated man or woman, we have our strength in Christ. When you get frustrated as a single person longing to discover God’s plan for your life, find comfort in Christ.
Behold, the Lord comes to save his people; blessed are those prepared to meet him. (Today’s Gospel antiphon)
On this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, we celebrate the mystery and magnificence of God. With great love, God created all things, the culmination being the creation of man and woman in his own image. Imagine our dignity, being created in the image and likeness of God, for relationship with God, for sharing in the Divine Life Itself! This is the beauty and the dignity of the human person, our communion with God.
But when sin entered into God’s plan for creation, it diminished the human person and dimmed the brilliance of life because sin ruptures the life between the soul and God. But for God, nothing is impossible, even healing the division brought about by sin. And so it is that God who created all things allowed himself to be born of a woman, maintaining his nature as God while at the same time taking on our human nature.
Today we celebrate the love of God that chose Mary to be the Mother of God. In his goodness, God provided for Mary to be conceived without sin by applying to her the grace of the Paschal Mystery which would be accomplished by the death and resurrection of her own son, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Because of this unique action of God and the deep faith of Mary that would cooperate fully with God’s providence, Mary is indeed ‘blessed among women.’
It is somewhat ironic, that on this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of our Blessed Mother, I will find myself sitting in the 10th Circuit Court in Denver listening to arguments in the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor as their legal representatives make the case that they should be exempt from providing the contraceptive services required under the HHS Mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The decision in this case will have a strong impact on the case of the Diocese of Cheyenne which is also before the 10th Circuit Court.
Today’s Solemnity is an invitation for all of us to recall the reality of sin at work in our world, and more specifically, in each of our lives. It is more importantly an invitation to reflect upon the incredible mercy of our God who humbly entered into our human condition in order to save us from our sin. Our Blessed Mother reveals the beauty of a life lived in complete obedience to God’s Word. This woman, fully human, by her cooperation with God’s grace, conceived the Savior in her womb, and lived her life as his first disciple.
Christ, as the Son of God and Son of Mary, lived his human life in this world uncorrupted by the ways of this world. Though never touched by any sin, during his passion his body was disfigured by the sin of the world, which he freely took upon himself in order to conquer sin and death.
This life and grace of Christ is now shared with us through baptism and the sacraments of the Church. The Divine life God intends to share with us is once again possible through the Immaculate Conception. The love and cooperation of Mary gave the world the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus through his life, ministry and preaching reveals God to the world once again. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, sin and death are conquered and the gates to eternal life are opened anew.
We are now called to cooperate with this grace and Divine life Jesus restored and renewed. Advent is a time of preparation and hope. As John the Baptist demonstrates, preparation precedes the coming of the Lord; repentance precedes salvation. On this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, let us be mindful of our need for a Savior. Let a part of our giving thanks for the immeasurable love shown us by God be availing ourselves once again to the font of mercy that flows through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
As I write, the Solemnity of All Saints is drawing to a close and the eve of All Souls quickly draws near. These two great celebrations call to mind one of my favorite quotes of Bl. Cardinal Newman:
Life is short. Death is certain. Eternity is long.
It is good to turn our thoughts to eternity; to heaven. St. Paul said as much when he taught: Since you have been raised up to new life in Christ, you must look for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is seated at God’s right hand. (Colossians 3:1)
This is how the saints lived, following Christ, with their feet on the ground and their eyes towards heaven. Thoughts of Christ and his eternal Kingdom stirred their hearts and motivated their every action to live life fully for God; concretely in loving service of their neighbors. They knew that Christ had conquered death and rose from the dead, and they were capable of joining all of their hardships to his with the hope that in so doing they would discover greater life here and grow in the only life that truly matters for any disciple, which is our life in Christ. This notion was captured well in a prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola:
Lord, let me not run from the love which you offer, but hold me safe from the forces of evil. And on each of my dyings shed your light and your love.
It is good to think of heaven while facing squarely the challenges we face today. As a tidal wave of secular force continues to crash upon our times and culture we can and still do live with faith and hope, because we know this life is fleeting, and the life of Christ is sustaining us now and drawing us onward to the fullness of life. We need this hope, because we cannot neglect our duties and obligations to the family of God who accompany us during these times in this earthly pilgrimage.
In this past month, I have followed closely the proceedings of the Extraordinary Synod on the family. We have heard many thoughts regarding the family and marriage. Some of these thoughts were captured in the relatio given during the midway point of the Synod, Pope Francis’ address during the final session, and finally, the concluding document.
Beyond the Synod, closer to home, federal judges across this nation continue to declare that state laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman are unconstitutional.
In light of all this recent focus (and fuss) on family and marriage, I gathered a group of young adults for dinner and discussion this past Wednesday evening. It is clear that the ‘tolerance mentality’ of the times is having its effect on what our people believe. Even though there is appreciation for ‘traditional marriage,’ there is also a willingness to allow people to live and express love as they choose, and find no problem calling it ‘marriage.’
At one point, I asked the group: “Where does morality and salvation fit into this discussion?” to which they responded: “That is a good question.” I also ask: “When everyone is allowed to define what is ‘true’ for ones’ self, do we not see what happens?” Absolute Truth disappears when everyone lives according to their own truth. And when these ‘various forms of truth’ conflict with one another, how does anyone any longer know what is ‘True?’
Before leaving this brief discussion of marriage and family, it is very clear to me that we as Church need clear and strong teaching of the fundamental nature of marriage. We need to teach not only the sacramental aspect of Holy Matrimony, but the fundamental nature of the social institution of marriage, which can only be the indissoluble union of love between a man and a woman, which is open to the generation of new life. Marriage is always a life of the spouses lived as a complete ‘gift’ to the other.
To all of those who are living and striving to live this life of husband and wife, I say “Thank you.” We need to continue to find ways as Church to encourage and support our married couples and families.
Back to thoughts about ‘truth.’ The present culture of ‘tolerance’ and ‘live and let live’ can only lead to division, which is more and more the fruit being harvested. The goal of governance is the common good of all peoples, and the common good leads to harmony. For people of faith, we find this common good and sole expression of Truth in the person of Jesus Christ.
Where I see Pope Francis leading the Church is this: First, we are to recognize the beauty of Christ through an intimate encounter with Christ. We are to first personally fall in love with Christ, who alone reveals the love and mercy of the Father. Christ and his Holy Spirit will reveal to us ‘all truth’ so that we may live fully the Divine Life the Father longs to share with us. The Holy Spirit will then help us to know and love the Truth of Jesus Christ.
Second, we are to recognize that many people for various reasons are not living the fullness of the truth in their lives. We are to embrace them and accompany them, not judge and condemn them. Jesus came into the world to save the world, not condemn the world, and this is our attitude once we come to know and love Christ. As we accompany God’s people, together we seek the Truth, all the while seeking to ‘build a bridge’ by which we walk together to greater and greater wholeness and holiness.
So, let us look to heaven, where the great company of holy men and women await us and intercede for us. Let us know and love Christ and his Truth. Let us get to know and love our neighbor, and together, build a bridge (which is Jesus Christ) that will bind the wounds of a hurting humanity while binding us together as one, in our faith in Jesus Christ.
Isaiah: my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
Psalm 67: O God, let all the nations praise you.
Romans: St. Paul is sent to the Gentiles.
Matthew: To the ‘foreigner,’ Jesus says: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
Jesus, though at first glance, seems harsh and unresponsive to the Canaanite woman, is actually busy in his role as Teacher and as Savior of the nations. His silence in the face of the Canaanite woman’s request is meant to elicit faith from her. Is she there simply because she has heard of this man Jesus and the miracles he performs, and wants him to perform a healing for her daughter? Or is she there because she, too, has come to believe in him as the Son of God?
Likewise, Jesus is also in this moment teaching his disciples about the universal nature of his ministry. By granting this Canaanite woman her request, Jesus signals that faith in him is not limited to Israel; God’s mercy and love extends to all people. Thus, they will eventually be sent to all nations to proclaim the Good News and to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
How do today’s readings apply to us?
Christ put his life at the service of the Father’s will, and came into the world as the Bread of Life, that all who come to believe him might live. St. Paul put his life at Christ’s disposal, and was sent to the Gentiles. The Disciples put their life at Christ’s disposal, and were sent to all the nations to proclaim the Good News. Do we see the implication in these statements for us?
We, too, are to grow in faith in Jesus Christ.
We, too, are sent in the name and love of Jesus to others.
How many of us, like the Canaanite woman, have come to Christ? Have we come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God? Have we been brought into the life of Christ through the sacraments of the Church?
Now to the heart of the matter: What are we doing with this Life Christ has shared with us? Has our ‘vision’ of this Life been corrupted by today’s hyper individualism and consumerism in that we see this Life as ‘just for me?’ Do I live this Life in Christ only when it is convenient, or across the spectrum of every moment and aspect of my life? In short, is the Life of Christ something passively at work in me, or have I given my life completely over to Christ?, as Christ gave his to the Father and the apostles gave their life to Christ?
Has my heart become hard and cold to the presence of Christ within me, so that this Font of Life which is Christ has become like a frozen water pipe which no longer flows? Or, have I freely given adherence to Christ and his truth that this Font of Life breaks forth from me so that I am a life-giving stream to those around me?
What does adherence to Christ look like?
The Prophet Isaiah today tells us: we join ourselves to the Lord, we minister to Christ, we love the name of Jesus, we are servants of Christ and his Church, we remain faithful to the new and eternal covenant Christ created by pouring out His blood.
The Prophet Ezekiel tells us to adhere to Christ is to live a life of virtue:
- one who does what is right and just
- who does not raise his eyes to other gods or idols or place false hope in worldly things
- who is faithful to God and faithful to one’s spouse and family, faithful to one’s promises
- who is just in business affairs – who oppresses no one and takes not from another
- who gives food to the hungry and clothes the naked
- who refrains from every form of evil and conducts his or her affairs with honor
- who lives by God’s ways – God’s commandments (see Ezekiel 18)
Such a person is just, is virtuous, and lives a life pleasing to God; a life that shares in the fullness of life Jesus promises to those who believe and trust in Him.
Is my faith in Christ like the mustard seed growing in the life of others, giving shelter to all? Is my life like the yeast mixed into a batch of dough that extends the Life of Christ and the Kingdom of God to my family and friends, co-workers and neighbors?
The fundamental answer to these questions boils down to love. If we love, then we are another Christ. When we love, Christ is a part of everything that we do. When we love Jesus, we experience a deep communion with God. When we keep the great commandment to love God with all our hearts and our neighbor as our self, then our love extends the communion we experience with God to others. When we love, our love creates unity among others; a unity that overcomes all fears and divisions. When we love, our life expands beyond our self and extends the love of Jesus to others. (See A New Way, p. 76, Chiara Lubich)
The Opening Prayer in Mass this morning speaks to this reality of love:
“O God, who have prepared for those who love you good things which no eye can see, fill our hearts, we pray, with the warmth of your love, so that, loving you in all things and above all things, we may attain your promises, which surpass every human desire.”
We are all sons and daughters of one God, which means we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. May our life in Christ lead us to deeper union with God, greater friendship with Christ, thus enabling us to be agents for healing divisions and building unity, communion, wholeness. In short, let us give our lives completely to Christ, that He may send us in His name to further God’s Kingdom on earth.
Jesus is not only the ‘key’ to understanding the parables, He IS the Kingdom of God, and in Him, we spread that Kingdom here on earth. As a new day dawns upon this part of God’s good earth, may the Light of Christ ‘break upon us,’ that we may be led by Christ out of our own darkness and be better capable of bringing light and hope to others.
The Kingdom of God is like a treasure buried in a field. (Matthew 13:44) Jesus Christ, who though rich became poor, that by his poverty you might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9) Jesus Christ is the treasure, Who, when discovered, when encountered, enriches every human person. Even though He is the Son of God, He abandoned His rightful place in heaven to take on our flesh, our human condition, and was ‘sown in the field of the world’ in order to reveal the love of God. Every human person is created for love; every human person is by nature attracted to Christ. Thus, when we encounter Christ, we are so attracted to Him that we are willing to give up all other ‘worldly’ goods in order to belong completely to Christ.
This truth is expressed by the following phrase when Matthew completes this teaching of Jesus by saying when a person discovers this treasure: “out of joy [this person] goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44) Notice the joy that comes when we associate our life with Christ, when we allow Christ to take precedence over everything else. Life is a long journey, a ‘pilgrimage’ once we discover Christ. This life will continue to have its ups and downs, but as long as we stay focused upon Christ, we will know joy, love, and fulfillment. When we allow our self to look too much at what we have ‘given up,’ then this life and love and joy will begin to diminish (because we are focusing on ‘self’ rather than Christ; rather than others.)
St. Paul knew this truth regarding the fleeting nature of this world and the eternal glory of our life in Christ. That is why St. Paul can say: “For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
The Kingdom of God is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind.” (Matthew 13:47) This parable gives clear indication that God has created everything to be included in His Kingdom. God’s desire is that all of us grow in holiness, that we all be saved. (1 Thessalonians 4:3) We know from the creation accounts of Genesis that God saw His creation as “good.” It is only by our free will that we choose to distort this goodness, that we fail to live according to God’s will, which is that we love God with all our heart, and love our neighbor as our self. Even though we all sin, Christ has come as our salvation. Christ has come to redeem what was lost through sin, and so we see once again the centrality of Christ in God’s Kingdom, and the importance of our freely embracing and believing in Christ. The evidence that we truly love Christ is our love for our neighbor.
The parables offered for our prayer and consideration today reflect the multiplying effect of Christ living through more and more believers as God’s design for expanding His Kingdom upon the earth.
The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. … It becomes a large bush and the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches. (Matthew 13: 31, 32) With this parable, the Kingdom of God becomes associated not only with Christ, but with Christ’s Church. We believe that the Church is the Body of Christ. The Church is made up of many individuals, those who have come to ‘dwell in the branches’ of this Kingdom which God has sown in the world through the Incarnation of Christ. From the one person of Jesus (that tiny mustard seed), Christ drew to himself the twelve and many others, and they (we) were sent into the world to continue to proclaim the Good News, to continue to give witness (testimony of faith in Jesus Christ) to others. And as more came to faith, more take up their dwelling in this ‘large bush’ that is God’s Kingdom upon the earth.
The Kingdom of God is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” (Matthew 13: 33) This parable is very similar to the one about the mustard seed, but gives clearer evidence to the effect of our faithful witness to Christ in the world. Our faith is not a matter of private relationship with Jesus, something held selfishly for my own wellbeing. True, when one comes to friendship with Christ, she or he is greatly enriched. But this is not sufficient, nor does it reflect the nature of true love (which always generates new life.) This relationship with Christ compels us to share our faith. (2 Corinthians 5:14) This relationship with Christ naturally leads us in love to enrich others, particularly those who are in need. (Matthew 5: 3-12; 25: 31-40)
May Christ bless each of us this day with His presence, His love and mercy, and may we be the same blessing to others. Thus, the Kingdom of God shall grow!
Last evening I went out after a brief rain thinking it would be easy to pull weeds in my small flower garden. To my disappointment, I discovered only the surface was moist, and I needed a tool to break the ground deep enough to pull the weeds from their roots. I realized after the weeds were pulled that having broken the ground in the process, this would be a good time to give the flowers some water. I thought the rain was over for the evening.
Then, around 9:45 pm a huge thunderstorm moved through, dumping not only copious amounts of water, but about five minutes of hail. The ground and streets are covered with the leaves stripped from the trees. My walk this morning revealed piles of hail on street corners where the gutters and drains were clogged from the hail, and could not carry the runoff of hail and rain fast enough. The hail did not do my flowers any good either!
But I digress from my point… The experience last night of pulling weeds and working the ground are a good analogy for the human heart. When the ground becomes hard, the rain does not have the immediate ability to penetrate the ground. Rather, the rain runs off, providing little long-term benefit to the roots, and thus the plants themselves. But, when the ground has been cultivated, it is not only free of weeds which compete for the nutrients of the crops and flowers, but the soil is far more receptive to the moisture required for growth and health.
Similarly, the human person must tend to the interior needs of the heart and soul. The attitude espoused in Psalm 108 expresses beautifully the openness of one who understands the life-giving relationship we have with the Creator: “My heart is ready, O God …” A healthy human life is one that does not allow the heart to become hardened by worldly ways, nor the soul to become fruitless through regular patterns of sinfulness and vice.
Hearts that cultivate relationships and love, souls that develop virtue and grow in holiness are ready tools in the hands of God. The Prophet Isaiah teaches: As the earth brings forth its plants, and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord God make justice and praise spring up before all the nations. (Isaiah 61)
So, dear friends, as we enter another day, let our hearts be open to the Lord. It is good to remember that each day we enter into a Love that is eternal. We take up fresh and new a relationship with Christ who is always pouring out grace upon grace to keep us vibrant in the life and ministry He shares with us. With cultivated and grateful hearts, let us ‘soak up’ the grace and love of Christ, that we may bloom where he has planted us and bear the fruits that are ours when we remain in His love. (John 15)