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Reflection for Third Sunday of Advent B

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First Reading
Isaiah 61:1-2a,10-11
The Lord’s salvation will be made known to the poor and the oppressed.

Responsorial Psalm
Luke 1:46-50,53-54
Mary sings praise to God.

Second Reading
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Paul encourages the Thessalonians to rejoice and pray always.

Gospel Reading
John 1:6-8,19-28
John gives testimony that he is preaching and baptising in order to prepare for the coming of another.

Background on the Gospel Reading

This Sunday’s Gospel invites us to continue our reflection on the person and mission of John the Baptist. Today we depart from the Gospel of Mark and read a selection from the Gospel of John.

The Gospel for today combines a brief passage from the prologue to John’s Gospel with a report about John the Baptist. As in Mark’s Gospel, the Gospel of John contains no birth narrative. Instead, John’s Gospel begins with a theological reflection that has come to be called the “prologue.” This prologue places the story of Jesus in its cosmological framework. It speaks of Jesus’ existence with God since the beginning of time. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is presented as the fulfillment of the Old Testament and the culmination of the Word, the light that is coming into the world’s darkness.

Following this prologue, John reports on the ministry of John the Baptist. We learn about the attention that John the Baptist received from the Jewish authorities. Messengers from the Jewish priests, the Levites and the Pharisees question John about his identity and the meaning of the baptisms that he is performing. John’s Gospel uses these questions to establish the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist. John the Baptist is not the Messiah, nor is he Elijah or the Prophet. In John’s denials, we hear echoes of the kind of messianic expectations that were common in first-century Palestine.

The only affirmative response that John the Baptist gives is when he quotes the prophet Isaiah. Upon answering the next question, John announces that the saviour they seek is already among them, but as yet unrecognised. John’s response highlights for us an important Advent theme: Jesus has already come into the world as our saviour. During Advent, we pray that we will be able to recognise Jesus’ presence in our midst. Advent also reminds us that Jesus will come again to fulfill the promise of salvation. We pray that we will continue to be watchful as we anticipate that great day.

The third Sunday of Advent is also called Gaudete SundayGaudete, a Latin word which means “rejoice,” is taken from the entrance antiphon for Sunday’s Mass. This theme is echoed in today’s second reading from the first Letter to the Thessalonians. It is a reminder that Advent is a season of joy because our salvation is already at hand. – loyolapress.com

Benedict XVI is right to worry about the liturgy, says moral theologian

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates the Christmas Eve Mass in St Peter’s Basilica in 2012 (AP)

Alexander Lucie-Smith is a Catholic priest, doctor of moral theology and consulting editor of The Catholic Herald. Below is his reflection posted on The Catholic Herald, 5 Oct 2017.

Benedict XVI, the Pope Emeritus, has written a very short foreword for the Russian edition of his book The Spirit of the Liturgy. It is short but eloquent and full of meaning.

Is Benedict right? Of course he is. He is completely correct to point out that the purpose of the Church is the worship of God, and when the liturgy becomes secondary, then clearly the Church is not functioning as it is intended to, and neither are the people in it. This analysis is simple, but not simplistic. It is, rather, the simple truth.

Consider the life of a typical parish. How much time is spent on the Liturgy? How much effort goes into liturgical preparation? Are the social and educational activities of the parish all geared to the great end of enabling people to take part in the Liturgy? Or is the Liturgy something that feels “tacked on” or even worse, something that almost interferes with the other parish activities? Parish activities are a good thing, but they should only happen for one reason – to build up the Body of Christ, the Body which takes part in the Liturgy.

Again, consider the life of a typical priest. Is he in the sacristy ready for Mass in good time? Or does he rush in at a minute or two before Mass is due to begin, out of breath and distracted? Does he spend far too much of his time dealing with invoices about double glazing, and fielding phone calls from photocopying companies, rather than celebrating the Liturgy, planning the celebration, making sure everything is ready for the celebration, and talking to his parishioners about the importance of the celebration, as well as, of course, perhaps most importantly of all, preparing himself in prayer for the celebration?

Again, are the people of the parish, encouraged by the priest, aware that Liturgy is addressed to God and God alone, rather than to the congregation, and that Liturgy is a language, and that every language makes sense because it has its own grammar? Are priest and people aware that certain practices, rightly called abuses, destroy the meaning of the Liturgy from within? Have they imbibed the teaching of Redemptionis Sacramentum the 2004 instruction from the Congregation for Divine Worship, which lays out what is to be done and what is to be avoided, in order to protect the integrity of the liturgy? One hopes they are, though there is always work to be done in this field, as evidenced by some continuing practices in some parts of the world.

Benedict XVI has done us all a great service, reminding us that in the end, the Church’s chief function is the Liturgy. Get that right, and everything else follows. Get it wrong, and everything falls apart.

DOPP drafter gives his take on its impact on diocesan life

PENAMPANG – The Diocesan Organisational Pastoral Plan (DOPP) of Kota Kinabalu Diocese was drafted by a core team in 1996.  It was accepted and launched on 16 Sept 1997.  Twenty years later (14 Aug 2017), Dominic Lim, one of the drafters, was asked to give his views on how it has affected the life of the diocese since then.

Asked on its positive impact, Lim said the desired end of the DOPP is the attainment of the Diocesan Vision viz to be a communion of Christ-centred communities journeying together in the faith, hope and love of Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit to build up the Kingdom of God.

In this area, he continued, many of the faithful have been active in church groups such as parish committees, basic ecclesial communities, and quite a number have made long-term commitments in ecclesial movements.

Lim noted that there is a greater sense of belonging to the diocesan family through participation in diocesan programmes organised such as Jubilee Year 2000, Diocesan Silver Jubilee 2001-2002, Eucharistic Congress 2004, ordinations and anniversaries of clergy and religious, the Priestly Year, the Year for Consecrated Life, Jubilee Year of Mercy, and others.

“I see these as positive signs of moving towards a communion of Christ-centred communities, a greater effort to journey together. The journey towards the dream will take time. DOPP as a Pastoral Plan has only a 7-year timeframe and in fact it has expired. It is too short a time to achieve our Vision. But the signs are there. We just have to continue to remind each other of our Vision, move together towards  that common direction and continue to allow the Spirit to empower us,” he said.

As for striking changes, Lim said, “We have moved away from a centralised pastoral structure (PAX Board of Directors) that decided the direction we moved as a diocese to a more consultative and participative approach with the Vision as our common direction.”

While he admitted that there is still much room for improvement, the parish community is now able to plan and move from where they are towards the Vision though some [parishes] are still struggling to “grasp the elements of the Vision, others are already implementing the Objectives stated in the DOPP.”

He saw this as “something more realistic in being Church because the maturity level of our communities differs from place to place.”

Lim pointed out that the emphasis on ongoing personal and communal conversion is “the key” to a total and integral renewal.

This, he added, is enhanced by living out the commitments spelt out in the Mission Statement, that is, living out a life of prayer nourished by the sacraments and the Word, guided by church teachings, unity in communities, respecting values of other faiths, responsible stewardship of the environment, and promoting justice and peace in society.

Lim noted that since the DOPP, there are more people attending daily Mass and coming forward to help in RCIA, Alpha and other church activities.  Many seminars, recollections, retreats and other faith formation programmes have been conducted.  There are also more inter-church activities.

“And there has been a greater awareness of our faith response to societal issues. All these were not very visible 20 years ago,” he said.

Lim, who works in the archdiocesan secretariat, pointed out that the mission ad gentes of the archdiocese was enhanced through the setting up of new pastoral structures such as the Social Communications Commission and Human Development Commission, the Montfort Youth Training Centre, the Sacred Heart Charity, Pusat Kebajikan Good Shepherd and other welfare programmes of the lay movements, and the strengthening of the church’s role in mission schools.

As for ways and means to maintain the DOPP spirit, Lim recalled the speech of Bishop John Lee during the launching of DOPP on 16 Sept 1997 at the Sacred Heart Cathedral.  The bishop admitted that the DOPP was quite technical but as long as “we adopted and lived the spirit behind the whole planning exercise, we would have achieved something – our new way of being Church begins not in what we do but how we live with each other in the Church and with the world around us.”

He said that to maintain the spirit, streamers on the Diocesan Vision and Mission were printed and hung on the walls of many chapels and halls to remind the people of their common direction in pastoral life.

In addition, Lim continued, the Diocesan Prayer was recited and continues to be recited on Sundays and feast days.

“The seminar on pastoring together in 1998 had laid the foundation for a better understanding of collaborative ministry while the bishop’s keynote addresses at subsequent PAX Assemblies after 1997 touched on elements of the Diocesan Vision to promote and maintain the DOPP spirit,” he added.

Lim noted that the changes from PAX Board of Directors to Diocesan Pastoral Council in 1998, from Parish Council to Parish Pastoral Council in 1999 had concretised collaboration among the clergy, religious and laity in pastoral leadership and mission of the Church in line with the Diocesan Vision.

The DOPP drafter pointed out: “DOPP as a Pastoral Plan was overtaken by events since its launching.  The two big events – Great Jubilee Year 2000 and the Silver Jubilee of the Diocese in 2002 were not anticipated during the formulation of the Plan but somehow the diocese was able to blend them into the spirit of the DOPP.”

Lim noted that though the DOPP implementation might not have been strictly according to the Timelines stated in the document, many of its Enabling Objectives have been carried out in various forms over the past 20 years.

In conclusion, he suggested that the term DOPP be dropped since the Plan has already expired.  Instead, the archdiocese should just focus on the Vision and Mission.

Another member of the DOPP Core Team, Magdalene Chu, described the process of coming together and thinking through the vision and mission of the local diocese was good.  She said it made concrete the universal mission of the church in the local church context.

The Archdiocesan Prayer still being said, she added, is good as it helps to remind everyone of the mission and needs of the archdiocese. (KK became an archdiocese in 2008).

Pastoral use of the Bible

Below is a reflection on the pastoral use of the Bible in conjunction with Bible Sunday, 9 July 2017:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

Divine Revelation as God’s self-revelation

Our Catholic faith is based on divine revelation. Before Vatican II, the concept of “revelation” was referred to as a list of truths which disclosed information about God. In Vatican II, however, our understanding of revelation evolved into God’s self-revelation in the person of Christ, who is the Word made flesh. Christ, the Eternal Word, comes to reveal the face of God to humanity as well as to invite each man and woman to enter into an intimate communion in the life of the Holy Trinity1 (Dei Verbum 2).

In fact, Christian faith springs from an encounter with Christ. When Jesus who is the Word of God speaks, He calls for openness on the part of the listener to respond to Him in faith by allowing Him to transform and orientate his/her life. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in Deus Caritas Est, Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon, and a decisive direction” (#2).

The Bible and the Catholics of today

Nowadays, people tend to have little or no time and space to be quiet as they rush to meet deadlines and aim to be productive. As Catholics, we too can be stuck in the busyness of getting things done, even in the church arena, that we forget what is most essential, that is,  to encounter Christ. It is easy to busy ourselves by undertaking charitable activities and organisational duties in parishes and neglect cultivating an inner life of prayer with the Word of God. The more we grow deaf to His Word, the greater the risk that our faith becomes rancid and dry. As Fr James Meehan once said, “Don’t work so hard for God that you forget the God for whom you work.”

Prayerful reading of the Word of God is not a common habit among Catholics. In fact, numerous families possess Bibles but many keep them as part of religious items on display. They are not used to reading the Bible. Some even mistakenly think that the Bible has no place in the Catholic tradition.

The Word of God, for some Catholics, does not make sense to their life circumstances as they search for life’s direction, grapple with sickness and old age, deal with pain and loss, labour to make ends meet, etc. However, they have yet to discover that the pages of the Scriptures do in fact contain answers to their problems and questions. God speaks to them through His Word and leads them to find the quiet joy of His presence amid the peaks and valleys of daily life. Through this, they would then be able to give an account for their hope to those who ask for it (1 Pet 3:15).

It is also a common view among young people that the Bible is simply a book with lots of verses that instruct them as to what God expects of them. Many find that the Bible does not provide adequate explanation to the complex world around them.Therefore, most young adults today find the Bible to be uninteresting and irrelevant to their lives and do not see the need to read it. What can the Church do for the faithful in order that they may come to a closer contact with God’s Word?

Letting the Bible inspire all pastoral work

The role of the Church is to facilitate and promote such intimate grace-filled encounters between Christ and His people through His Word. Thus, it is of great importance for all Christian faithful to be encouraged to attentively listen to God’s word and have a prayerful reading of the Bible, in order to live their faith passionately.

“Along these lines the Synod called for a particular pastoral commitment to emphasise the centrality of the Word of God in the Church’s life, and recommended a greater “biblical apostolate,” not alongside other forms of pastoral work, but as a means of letting the Bible inspire all pastoral work.”  This does not mean adding a meeting here or there in parishes or dioceses, but rather of examining the ordinary activities of Christian communities, in parishes, associations and movements, to see if they are truly concerned with fostering a personal encounter with Christ, who gives himself to us in his word. 5(Verbum Domini)

As People of God, there are many areas in which we, as lay catechists, religious, priests, parents, grandparents, teachers, etc. can commit to make the Word of God more central in our own lives as well as in the Church’s life, and foster a life-transforming personal encounter with Christ.

To initiate and sustain this personal relationship, we must recognise the essential role of those entrusted with the proclamation of the Word of the God daily. For the Word of God to be the foundation of the Church’s life, the faithful need to hear it proclaimed authentically by preachers who themselves are people who pray and live the Word out in their daily lives. The Homiletic Directory published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments states: “The homily will be delivered in a context of prayer and it should be composed in a context of prayer.”  Therefore, preaching is a sacred duty whereby preachers speak from the heart to the listeners and place them with Christ, only Christ. Preachers must be people of prayer so that none of them will become an “empty preacher of the Word of God outwardly, who is not a listener to it inwardly.” (St Augustine, Sermons)

The Word of God touching the realities of life

The parish must be the hub where the faithful, as diverse people, can gather as one community of faith to listen to and apply God’s Word to their lives so as to journey toward a greater authenticity as Christians. Priests and the faithful of each parish must be creative in offering opportunities for the Bible to be heard, prayed and shared. Too often, biblical texts are used as aids to draw lessons in morality or simply as a tool to indicate a time for discussion. Lay catechists, youth leaders, faith formators, etc have the responsibility to create conditions in which Catholics, young and old, may develop their inner ability to listen to Jesus and personally experience the transforming power of His Word.

In order to make the Bible more relevant to the lives of the people, parishes can consider having a pastoral-biblical care ministry that provides responses from the Bible to human problems such as sickness, racial divisions, injustice, death, etc, in order for people to bring their life circumstances into the light of the Word of God. This was the experience of St Augustine whose life was transformed when he allowed the Word to resonate with his personal struggle of living a chaste life. While praying in the garden, he heard a child’s voice saying, “Tolle, lege!” (“Take and read!”) St Augustine took his Bible and read the first passage his gaze fell on. It happened to be Romans 13:13. The biblical text made sense to St Augustine whose life changed after that personal experience with the Word of God.

Bible and the young people

Our Catholic community can help to promote the Bible through resources like Bible-based music or comics or artwork that draw young people to appreciate more the Word of God. There can be more youth ministries that are primarily centred on the Bible where young people can encounter the living Christ through praying and sharing the Word. Parents and godparents play an essential role in forming the faith of children and youth by setting examples and being people whose foundations are rooted in God’s Word. Pope Francis, addressing parents and godparents in a homily, said: “Every day, make it a habit to read a passage of the Gospel, a small one, and always carry a little Gospel with you in your pocket, in your purse, so you can read it. And this will set the example for your children, seeing dad, mom, their godparents, grandpa, grandma, aunts and uncles, reading the Word of God.”

Lectio Divina

Vatican II states that “the treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly so that a richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s Word” (Sacrosanctum Concilium)

Average Catholics hear the Word of God when they attend Mass. Their interaction with the Word of God ends when they leave the church and head back to their daily routines. Thus, there is a greater need today for “pulling the Christian scriptures from the margins back to the centre as the text for living the Christian life deeply.” (Eat this book)

An effective way of putting the Bible at the centre of Christian living is by using the method called Lectio Divina, which is a traditional monastic practice since the 6th Century. It comprises 4 steps: Read, Meditate, Contemplate and Live. Lectio Divina can be used by any group in the parish. In fact, its straightforward method can be adapted to cater to children and youth groups in the parishes.

The first step of Lectio Divina is a prayerful and personal reading of a passage of the Bible. It is taking in a biblical text until it sinks into the heart of the person and opens him/her to dialogue with Jesus. The second step of Lectio Divina is meditating on the Word of God by placing the person’s gaze firmly on a word or a phrase of the passage. As the person starts to ruminate on the Word, he/she is slowly drawn from the matters of the mind to the matters of the heart. From the heart, the person starts to contemplate and enjoy the presence of God in the wordless silence. From prayerful reading, meditation and contemplation of the Word, the person is led to become a “doer of the Word.”   The Word of God becomes fruitful when the person starts to live it out and makes his/her life as a gift for others. As Pope Francis said, “The Christian life is this: listen to the word of God and practice it.”

Conclusion

On this Bible Sunday, let us, with humble hearts, give thanks to God for the invaluable gift of His Word. Christ never gets tired of speaking to each of us and inflaming our hearts with the fire of His love. May we always be eager to nourish ourselves with the Word so that we can be disciples of the Word made flesh, our Lord and God.

 

Questions for reflection

  1. As Catholics, do we take delight in the Bible as our spiritual treasure?
  2. Does God’s Word provide the daily nourishment for our faith?

Christ Our Joy (John 15:11)

Starting in 2017, the Malaysian Church celebrates Catechetical Sunday on January 22 (or date nearest to it).  Below is a reflection by Fr Mark Michael of the Malaysian Commission for Catechetics.

CHRIST came to bring joy to all humanity and this is one of the keynote messages of Christianity and the recurring motif of the Gospels. Joy, like love, is at the heart of what it means to be Christian, and it testifies to the conviction that human life has an ultimate meaning revealed to us by God and guaranteed by His unfailing love. Jesus wants us to experience His joy and He reveals the path to the lasting joy that satisfies the deepest needs of the human heart. He instituted the Church to bring us to this plateau of delight. We need to take Him at His word when Jesus told His disciples, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11). The greatest honour we can give God is to be joyful because of the knowledge of His love.

Pope Paul VI wrote, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”  Catechesis is no longer perceived as the simple teaching of faith formulae, but is focused at the maturing of faith as a support to witnessing to it in the world. My primary concern about catechesis today is that we need to emphasise the joy, enthusiasm and hopefulness that our faith produces, by witnessing and living this truth in our words, our actions, our decision, our relationship and our entire being.

GK Chesterton, who states that joy, which was a small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian and that Christianity satisfies human’s ancestral instinct for being the right way up. GK Chesterton’s understanding would be seen as controversial and not all would agree with this claim of Christianity that affirms that joy is one of the “dominant thesis” of Christian faith.

A joy-filled Christian is one who, rather than endure life, has learned through faith, to treasure life and witnesses the kingdom of God. The Word of Jesus has produced its fruit. Those who believe in Him have the fullness of His joy (Jn 17:13). Joy is indeed a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22) and a characteristic mark of the Kingdom of God (Rom 14:17). The sacrament of Baptism fills the faithful with the joy of the Spirit (Acts 13:52), which makes the apostles sing praises even in their worst moments of persecution. Our joy depends more on the Spirit’s Presence in us. Joy is simply the Presence of the Holy Spirit. When the spirit of gladness permeates a person’s entire being, they are said to be joyful.

How do we catechise in a way that fosters learning of the heart? We are catechists in a community of various backgrounds, traditions and histories where there are expectations and pressures. We cannot be independent and cannot avoid the social structures beyond our Catholic religious structures. We will be constantly negotiating between those structures and our communities. The pastoral approach does not mean accommodation to current ways of thinking and behaving, but entails bringing the joy and the light of the truth to bear on contemporary situations in a manner that is convincing and sensitive to the questions of post-modern people. As the ministry of the Word, catechesis refers to a constellation of activities that promote, enhance and challenge believers toward more mature faith. “Christ our joy” could take many forms like:-

  1. The good example of living a gospel-inspired life
  2. Works of charity and mercy
  3. Morally appropriate language, action and attitudes.
  4. Genuine Christian faith, hope and charity
  5. A lifestyle characterised by prayers
  6. Celebration of the Sacraments and other acts of worship
  7. Genuine Christian humility
  8. Participation in the Christian community’s ministry
  9. Active participation in social justice events and causes.

Church leader reflects on Fatherhood and Mercy

fatherhoodMsgr Charles Pope reflects on fatherhood and mercy.  He writes in his blog:

Consider these seven observations:

I. The merciful father loves the mother of his children.

One of the most merciful things a father can do for his children is to love their mother with tender affection and gentle, protective support.  Children bond with their mother very closely, especially in their early years. They are reassured by seeing love, tenderness, and support shown to their mother.

In contrast, when children see their mother dishonoured or, even worse, abused by their father, they are easily struck with fear and a sense of dread.

How beautiful is this mercy of a father! It also helps his sons understand how to treat women, and helps his daughters understand how men should treat them.

 II. The merciful father attends to his own healing and maturity.

All of us have character defects and “issues” that affect others around us.  Some have anger issues; others are too fearful and non-assertive.  Some have problems with drinking; some with pornography.  Still others can be lazy or impatient.

A father can show mercy to his children by working on whatever ails him and thereby avoid inflicting frustration and pain on his children.  Scripture says, They made me keeper of vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept (Song 1:6).

It is a work of mercy for a father (and a mother, too) to work through his own issues and thereby spare his children pain.  There is an old saying, “If I get better, others get better too.” In doing this, not only are children spared pain, but they are better able to grow in virtue.

 III. The merciful father does not allow his career to eclipse his vocation.

Whatever career a man has, his vocation as husband and father is more important.  And while the two are not wholly separate (since a father provides for his family), there is far more to being a father than being a breadwinner.

Children need their father in their lives, not merely off in the distance sending money.  It is a great work of mercy for a father to cherish his children and to share in their lives.  It is a necessary component of their maturity for him to manifest the masculine genius of being human even as their mother manifests the feminine genius.

Children want their father’s support, encouragement, and approval.  A young man deeply needs his father’s model. He also needs his father’s affirmation as he grows into manhood.  There is perhaps no greater mercy than for a son to hear his father say, “I’m proud of you;  you’ve done well.”

A daughter delights in twirling her skirts and in being the apple of her father’s eye.  He models for her the love of a man who loves her for her own sake, without lust.  This can help her learn to distinguish love from lust and to develop the self-esteem that will help her to navigate the complex years of courtship and to discern a good husband.

A man who is more wedded to his career than to his family is too seldom around to have these crucial effects, which are far more precious than the extra money or additional possessions earned by long hours at the office.

Be careful, fathers.  Career can be big on the ego and it can easily ensnare you.  Home life may be less glamorous and less immediately rewarding in terms of money, but there is no greater satisfaction than to have raised your children well. The rewards will be enormous for both them and you.  And this is a very great mercy.

 IV. The merciful father is the spiritual leader of his home.

He establishes the structures of grace.  In our culture, too many men leave the spiritual and religious lives of their children to their mother.  But Scripture says, Fathers … bring up your children in the training and discipline of the Lord (Eph 6:4). This does not mean that the wife has no role, clearly she does.

A father is to be the spiritual leader in his home, sanctifying his family (see Eph 5:25-27).  He should be the first one up on Sunday morning, summoning his children to prepare for Holy Mass.  His wife should not have to drag him along to Mass.  He should read Bible stories to his children and explain their meaning.  He should teach them God’s law.  While his wife should share in this, the father ought to lead.

Surveys show that the highest predictor (by far) of children going on to practise the faith in adulthood is whether their father practises the faith.

A father should also seek to establish his household with the structures of grace.  He should live under obedience to God and insist that his children do likewise.  This makes for a home that, while not free of sin, makes it easier to live the Christian faith rather than more difficult.

All of this is a great mercy that a father extends to his children. Through his leadership, a father moulds his family into the beloved community where God’s justice and mercy are esteemed and exemplified.  By God’s grace this mercy reaches his children.

 V. The merciful father listens and teaches.

It is a beautiful work of mercy for a father to actively listen to his children and to give them his undivided attention whenever possible. It bestows on them a sense of dignity, because they see that what they say and think matters to their father.  And it reassures them that he cares for their welfare and what is happening in their lives.

After listening, a father should also respond and teach, giving his children guidance.  Too many children today are not being taught by their parents, especially regarding the critical moral issues of our day.  If parents do not teach their children, someone else will!  And that “someone” is not likely to be an individual with godly views.  More often it will be some pop-star, musician, or teen idol.  Perhaps it will be a gang leader or a rogue school buddy.  Maybe it will be the police officer or a judge in a legal proceeding.

Fathers, it is a great mercy to teach your children.  You have their best interests at heart.  You want what is truly good (not merely apparently good) for them.  Their lives will be much simpler and more productive if you insist that they do what is right from an early age.  Otherwise, hardships and painful lessons await them.  Show them mercy. Instruct them in the ways of the Lord.

Scripture says, Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).  He who raises a fool does so to his sorrow, And the father of a fool has no joy (Prov 17:21).  A foolish son brings grief to his father and bitterness to the mother who bore him (Prov 17:25).

When a father brings up his children in the discipline of the Lord, it is mercy not only to them, but to others as well!

 VI. The merciful father praises and punishes.

Children are delighted to get their father’s esteem and approval.  They love to be praised, especially when they believe they have done well.

A paradoxical form of mercy is for a father to punish his children.  The purpose of punishment is to allow the child to experience in a small way the consequences of his transgression so that he does not experience the full and more painful consequences later.  Scripture says,

My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son … For what children are not disciplined by their father? We have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it.  How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!  They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (Heb 12:5-11).

And thus punishment, properly understood, is a great mercy, because it saves children from great woes later on.  Clearly, punishment cannot simply be a father venting his anger or exacting revenge.  Punishment is not for the benefit of the father; it is for his children’s sake.

 VII. The merciful father uses his authority and has his children’s long term interests in mind.

The cultural revolution of the late 1960s was not just about sexuality, drugs, and feminism; it also ushered in a wide-scale rejection of authority from which we are still reeling.  And it is not just that those under authority reject it, but that those who have authority have become reluctant to use it.  Too many clergy and too many parents do not make necessary decisions, enforce important policies, or punish when appropriate.  Too many who have lawful authority are more concerned with being popular; they do not want to risk being questioned or resisted.

Authority involves a lot of effort and brings with it a great deal of stress.  Many seek to avoid all this and thus those who need leadership and guidance often do not get it. Scripture says, And indeed if the trumpet gives an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? (1 Cor 4:18)

Whether they like to admit it or not, children need their father to be strong and to lead. And when he does this it is a great mercy.  It may not always be appreciated in the moment, but most children eventually recognise with gratitude the leadership of their parents, of their father.

Every leader needs to know that he will sometimes take some heat for his decisions, and he must be willing and courageous enough to make those decisions anyway.  A father must remember that he has to be more concerned with his children’s long-term interests than with their current, short-term happiness.  Their anger or discontent in the present moment will usually be replaced by gratitude and relief in the future.

A good father will mercifully hold the tension of the moment and keep his children’s best interests at heart.  He will serve their true good (not merely their apparent good) through the use of his authority and through his decisions on their behalf.  And this is a very great mercy! – blog.adw.org

Former CEO of 2002 WYD Fr Rosica reflects on WYD Cross

wyd cross

At the heart of every World Youth Day is a very simple, powerful, ancient Christian symbol: two large planks of wood, known as the World Youth Day Cross, that many have called the “Olympic Torch” of the huge Catholic festival of young people. The World Youth Day cross has many names: the Jubilee Cross, the Pilgrim Cross, the Youth Cross. In 1984, at the close of the 1983 Holy Year of the Redemption at the Vatican, Pope John Paul II entrusted to the young people of the world a simple, twelve-foot wooden Cross, asking them to carry it across the world as a sign of the love which the Lord Jesus has for humankind and “to proclaim to everyone that only in Christ who died and is risen is there salvation and redemption.” Since that day, carried by generous hands and loving hearts, the Cross has made a long, uninterrupted pilgrimage across the continents, to demonstrate, as Pope John Paul II had said, “the Cross walks with young people and young people walk with the Cross.”

The cross does not journey alone. Since 2003 it has been accompanied by an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a copy of the Icon of our Lady known as the ‘Salus Populi Romani’. The original from which this Icon has been copied is considered by some to be from the eighth century, and is housed in a chapel in the Basilica of St Mary Major in Rome. Pope John Paul II entrusted to the youth an icon of the Blessed Mother that would accompany the cross. “It will be a sign of Mary’s motherly presence close to young people who are called, like the Apostle John, to welcome her into their lives.”

The World Youth Day Cross and Icon speak to us of the two focal points of the message of Christianity: of the Cradle and of the Cross; of Christ who was born of Mary, and of Christ who was crucified for us; of Christmas and Good Friday; of the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery. The Icon and Cross, therefore, are potent symbols of the joy and suffering that we experience in our Christian pilgrimage.

The memories of the World Youth Day 2002 Cross Pilgrimage throughout Canada continue to stir many hearts and evoke wonderful memories many years after the great pilgrimage began in our land on 11 April 2001. The WYD Cross literally touched the three oceans that border Canada. It visited our cities, towns, and rural areas, inviting throngs of people into the streets for processions, prayers, all-night vigils, tears, and moments of reconciliation, healing, and peace.

Such expressions of popular piety had been absent for far too many years from the Canadian ecclesial landscape. In the midst of the carefully orchestrated pilgrimage throughout the 72 dioceses of Canada, the Cross took a detour in February 2002, which was not part of the normal World Youth Day preparations in previous host countries. A convoy of buses left Toronto early on a cold Sunday morning, accompanied by representatives of Canadian police, ambulance, and fire fighters, and set out with the WYD Cross in tow for 48 hours in New York City.

After a Sunday evening Mass in Manhattan’s St Patrick’s Cathedral and an early morning Mass with the Vatican’s Permanent Observer at the United Nations, we carried the cross to Ground Zero, into the “pit,” to pray for the victims of the September 11 tragedies at the World Trade Centre and elsewhere throughout the United States. The visit, which received international media coverage, was a sign of hope, consolation, solidarity, and peace to the people of America and the entire world, struggling to understand the evil, terror, violence, and death-dealing forces that humanity experienced on 11 September 2001.

The journey into Ground Zero was for us a very public act of defiance and courage. Six young people from the World Youth Day 2002 National Team carried the large cross up to the special platform built for the families of the victims of the World Trade Centre tragedy. While they processed with the cross, the rest of us sang the Taizé refrain: “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.” As the cross was placed in its metal stand at the edge of the huge crater where the twin towers once stood, the singing grew louder. It was an act of defiance because there, in a place that spoke loudly of destruction, devastation, terror, and death, we raised up a wooden cross – an instrument of death that has been transformed into the central life-giving symbol of the Christian faith. The significance of the action was lost on no one.

The Cross of Jesus Christ blessed and marked World Youth Day 2002 in an extraordinary fashion. Each catechetical site was graced by a replica of the World Youth Day Cross. It was present at each of the main ceremonies. It led our processions, called us to prayer and reflection, healed us, reconciled us, and touched our hearts. Its memory lingers among us several years later.

Who can ever forget the hauntingly beautiful images of the World Youth Day Cross leading over half a million people – mostly on their knees – in the Stations of the Cross on Friday evening, 26 July 2002: up Toronto’s majestic University Avenue, passing before its court houses, the American Consulate, Government Buildings, hospitals, the university, Provincial Parliament, and various museums? A principal street of a great city was transformed into a contemporary Via Dolorosa, while over a billion people watched the scenes of this modern-day passion play unfold via satellite and television.

During the closing Eucharistic celebration on Sunday, 28 July 2002, the Holy Father presented to young pilgrims in the crowd of more than 850,000 people gathered with him small wooden crosses, hand made by young people living in the poorest barrios of Bogotá and Medellín in Colombia. World Youth Day 2002 chose to have the crosses made in a land that has had its share of cross over the past years.

Because we follow a crucified Christ, we enter into solidarity with the world’s suffering masses. We experience the power and love of God through the vulnerable and suffering. The Cross teaches us that what could have remained hideous and beyond remembrance is transformed into beauty, hope, and a continuous call to heroic goodness.

At the conclusion of the closing Eucharistic liturgy, the elderly Pontiff told young people not to be afraid “to follow Christ on the royal road of the Cross! At difficult moments in the Church’s life, the pursuit of holiness becomes even more urgent.” He invited his young friends to “learn from that cross.”

When all the commotion and frenzied activity of World Youth Day was over, I was convinced that one of the lasting memories that would remain in our country was that simple, wooden Cross, which was such a huge blessing and source of consolation, healing, strength, and peace to the hundreds of thousands of people who embraced it, touched it, kissed it, learned from it, and allowed themselves to be touched by the awesome message and memory of the One who died upon it.

To celebrate the Triumph of the Cross is to acknowledge the full, cruciform achievement of Jesus’ career. Jesus asks us to courageously choose a life similar to his own. Suffering cannot be avoided nor ignored by those who follow Christ. Following Jesus implies suffering and a cross. The mark of the Messiah is to become the mark of his disciples.

Fr Rosica was National Director and CEO of World Youth Day 2002 in Canada.

What Some Critics of ‘Amoris Laetitia’ Are Missing

Amoris-Laetitia-cover-Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” has been accepted by most Catholics as a breath of fresh air. Its warm encouragement to families to place love at the center of their lives, its clear invitation to pastors to accompany Catholics in the “complexity” of their situations and its strong reminder that the church needs to recover an appreciation of the role of conscience have been welcomed by millions of Catholics as a sign that the church wants to meet them where they are.

But not by all Catholics. In a few quarters of the church it has not been received warmly at all. In fact, it was greeted with a vituperation that seemed to approach apoplexy.

Many critics were frustrated, alarmed and angered by the same thing. They claimed that Francis had muddied the clear moral waters of the church by elevating a concept that had landed St Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order to which the pope belongs, in jail: the notion that God can deal with people directly.

The way that this notion is framed in the document is primarily through the lens of “conscience.”

The role and primacy of conscience is an ancient Catholic tradition. St Thomas Aquinas famously said that he would rather go against church teaching than against his conscience. “Absolutely speaking” every variance with conscience, “whether right or erring, is always evil (Summa Theologiae). The Second Vatican Council wrote, “Conscience is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths” (“Gaudium et Spes,” No 16).

But as most Catholics know, this must be a “formed conscience,” that is, one that knows and accepts the Gospels and church teaching, and is ready to put them into practice.

In that case, why was Pope Francis’ emphasis on conscience so alarming to critics? Why would a traditional teaching alarm so-called traditionalists?

Well, for the past few decades, the Catholic discourse on conscience has gone something like this: A person can make a good moral choice only with a formed conscience. (So far, so good.) But the sole test of a formed conscience is that it agrees with everything stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, with no exceptions, no questions asked and no need to discern how to apply those rules to one’s life. If one didn’t accept everything in the Catechism without question, then one did not have a formed conscience.

Thus church teaching was often presented as a black-and-white, one-size-fits-all, set of rules. As a result, the space for allowing God to help people apply church teaching to their lives, or the room for discernment according to the “complexities” of one’s situation, was essentially removed.

In essence, you didn’t need conscience any longer. You needed only the Catechism.

In one of the most important passages in the exhortation Francis reminds us that this is not the Catholic tradition:

Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a cer­tain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal (No. 303).

That is, conscience doesn’t simply say, “This is the rule.” Conscience helps us say, “This is what the rule means in my situation, and this is how it is to be applied.”

Now, this presumes something that may be even harder for some critics to appreciate, and something that got St Ignatius into hot water with the Inquisition: the idea, simply stated in the Spiritual Exercises, his manual for prayer, that the Creator can “deal immediately with the creature.”

That means that God deals with us directly, not only through the church, but one-on-one. God consoles us. God uplifts us. God invites us. God moves people’s hearts. And particularly in the decision-making process, God helps people.

Thus, it is not as simple as following a set of rules. Jesuit spirituality, in fact Christian spirituality, presumes that God will aid a person in making a good decision.

This idea landed St Ignatius in jail several times, mainly because those leading the Inquisition were terrified that this insight might mean a lessening of the influence of the Catholic Church. So Ignatius was forced to explain, many times, that the church, to which he had committed his life, was in no way sidelined. After all, he asked his Jesuits to bind themselves to the pope by a special vow of obedience, “with regard to mission.”

By the same token, he was resolute: God could deal with people directly. And people could deal with God directly. For he had seen it—in his own life and in the lives of others.

In many critiques of “Amoris Laetitia” I hear a dismissal or denigration of that idea. And some critiques strike me as dismissive indeed. As if God couldn’t possibly be active in that person’s life. As if the People of God couldn’t be counted on to appreciate, much less understand, what this meant. Thus, some of these critiques seem not only a dismissal of grace but a denigration of the faith lives of adult Catholics.

The key, then, to “Amoris Laetitia” is the belief that God is at work in people’s lives. This is what some critics of the document are either missing, downplaying or ignoring. Or they simply don’t believe it.

But I do.

In over 25 years as a Jesuit I have seen God powerfully at work in the lives of countless people—men and women, young and old, rich and poor. In fact, being a spiritual director (someone who talks to people about their prayer and their experience of God in their spiritual lives) is an enormous aid to faith, because you see God actively at work. You see God dealing “immediately” with people.

How does this manifest itself?

In a myriad of beautiful, surprising and profound ways—all depending on the person. In some people, God’s activity manifests as a sharp goad to one’s conscience, reminding them that what they are doing is wrong. In others, it is an irresistible invitation to a new way of life. In another it is a comforting feeling of consolation that follows making a good decision. In others it is a vivid feeling of closeness to to the divine that comes in the midst of a powerful prayer experience. These experiences are hard to sum up, for they are so many, and so varied. Emotions, desires, insights, memories, feelings—all these are the ways of God’s working through our hearts.

Each of these experiences I have learned to reverence. There is an old saying among retreat directors. Often when a retreat begins they’ll say, “I’m not the real spiritual director. The Holy Spirit is.” It is a sign of the importance that we place on the supreme holiness of God’s activity, whose voice “echoes” in the hearts of people.

So what many critics of “Amoris Laetitia” are missing is this: God deals with people directly. God moves them, consoles them, urges them. God helps them to understand the Gospels and church teaching as they relate to their lives. God helps them to make good decisions.

This truth needs not to be denigrated or mocked.

It needs to be reverenced. – James Martin sj, americanmagazine.org

What happens after Easter: Living the life of hope

reflectionWhen the dust settles after Easter, many return to their daily routine and leave Christianity aside. With commercialisation, many have forgotten what Easter is all about. Whatever the season of Easter means to people, the denouement of Easter is reached and then many forget the meaning of the day.

So what are we to do after the hype of Easter is over? Do we just go about doing the same things that we have been doing up to Easter? Or does the experience of Easter change us and shape our living, or does it at least refresh our standing commitment to our faith?

Jesus’s ministry on earth entailed a critique of the Roman occupation and the religious ruling powers, which oppressed and marginalised the poor, the outcast and women. Jesus challenged the unjust systems of his time: the cultural, religious, political systems, which maintained the status quo and legitimated those in power at the expense of the common people.  Again and again, he wiped away the carefully constructed cultural system that said who was in and who was not.

Today, unjust systems exist which allow the rich to become richer and make the poor only poorer. The season of Easter urges us to remember the poor and the marginalised of our society. The Easter message requires us to get out of our comfort zones and fight for the marginalised, the oppressed and the subordinated.

We should not forget that Jesus was born poor, lived poor and died poor. He was born to a young woman and there were many questions about who his father was. His parents went to Bethlehem for a Roman census, where he was born. Then the family had to flee for safety to Egypt as refugees. He was born in an occupied country to members of the occupied people. Jesus was a marginalised Jew who received a death warrant and escaped as a young baby. Jesus grew up poor and died rejected by his own community, his disciples and the religious and political authorities.

Jesus was an earthly man, connected to his Jewish roots and people. He preached to the Jewish condition of poverty and exploitation. He was looked down upon by many in the established religion. He was also looked down upon by those in political and economic power.

He challenged a corrupted central church arrangement. He challenged the Roman occupation. He drew the masses and upset the status quo. Accused of treason against the state, he was arrested and jailed. He went through two mock trials in one night. At the end he was condemned to die and to be killed. It was a painful and humiliating experience. He was tortured. Walking down the street with the cross to the place of his execution was a mockery. The powers placed him in a borrowed tomb, sealed it with a stone, stationed a guard and declared an end to his life and ministry.

But the story did not end there. God raised Jesus to new life, affirming his message and witness of justice and peace, life and love. Since that first Easter, people have followed Jesus, seeking to live as he lived, to love as he loved.

The Easter message of hope and love needs to prevail and continue long after we celebrate Easter. The message of working for social justice and equality needs to be proclaimed and lived. Long after the colored eggs are eaten, the message remains that, as followers of Jesus, we are freed to work for liberation and freedom, do justice and seek peace and wholeness in his name.

We look to the lives of Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, and Oscar Romero who worked for justice and freedom. They lived the Easter message of hope and resisting the ruling cultural, social, political and religious powers, which want to maintain the status quo.

As followers of Jesus, we too are freed to work for those who are marginalized and made voiceless due to racism, sexism, classism and other systems of privilege and disadvantage embedded within our social and political system. We are freed to speak out and work for justice on issues that would otherwise be ignored. We need to visit and remember those who unjustly sit in jails and prisons in our own country waiting for their trial and do not have the means to be set free on bail. We need to care for the battered women who seek safety in shelters in our own neighborhoods. We need to feed the homeless who live on our streets and clothe those who do not have enough. How will Jesus measure us? By what we have done to feed him, clothe him and visit him in prison when we meet him in the least of our sisters and brothers.

The Easter message does not end with the resurrection, but continues on as his followers, as we, live with the hope found in the message and life of Jesus. The message that lingers long after Easter is that we are called and invited to follow Jesus. We are freed to live the life of hope. May we do so the day after Easter and everyday. – Huffington Post

Why do we not forgive?

forgiveness1If forgiveness is so important, both to receive for the wrongs we have done as well as to give to others who have injured us, we must ask this question:  “Why do we not forgive?” Here are some reasons that may hinder us from forgiving:

EXTREME SENSITIVENESS

If we are ultra-sensitive to things that people may say about us or do to us, we can easily “exaggerate” the hurts that we feel that we suffer.  For example, a slight injury may be blown out of proportion and become a great offense. Or some injury that is more imagined than real can turn us with a hard heart against someone. Sometimes extreme sensitiveness can make us deal with hurts in very bizarre ways.

A story was told about a woman who was apparently very sensitive. She wrote a number of letters that she called her “after letters.”  In these letters she wrote to people she felt had hurt her by their words or deeds or thoughtlessness. She was going to put it in her will that after she died these letters would be mailed out to all the people she felt had offended her. In this way they would feel upset that they hurt this poor lady and now that she was gone there was no opportunity to express their apologies or seek reconciliation. If we want to find mercy, one of the best things to do is to throwaway all our “after letters” and deal with things that we find offensive as soon as possible.This way they will not be exaggerated in our minds and hearts.

LIVING IN THE PAST

Somewhat like the previous case of extreme sensitiveness are people who “brood” over past hurts.  In this way they keep those hurts very fresh and alive in their minds and hearts. When they speak about hurts that occurred 25 years ago, they make it sound as if they happened 25 minutes ago! People who always bring up the past in their arguments need to stop living in the past.  How can we do that?  First of all, make an effort to resolve past injuries by forgiving from the heart. Let these things go. How many families have brothers and sisters, or parents and children, who have remained divided for years and years because of things that happened when they were young children.  Walls of silence were built up because they couldn’t let go of the past!

Another thing we need to do is not to replay the “old tapes” in our minds by reviewing over and over again all the injustices and the hurts that others have done to us. That is a formula for bitterness and unhappiness. We all need to make our peace with the past, and forgiveness is a very important part of that process. Once we have made peace, accepting what has happened or forgiving those who have actually injured us, then we can let go of the past and live the present and the future with joy and happiness. The last thing we want to happen in our lives is to grow old being bitter over so many negative experiences in the past.

PRIDE

Many people refuse to forgive because of a false sense of pride. They feel that their “honor” has been offended and so they refuse to let go of the injury that was done to them. In the past, people would even resort to a duel to the death as a way of dealing with the injury done to their honor. The Church has always condemned duels because it results in both a homicide and a suicide. No one has the right to take the life of another nor do they have the right to expose their own life to an untimely death. The Christian way to resolve these differences is to grant forgiveness.

VENGEANCE

Vengeance, or the desire to get back at someone who has offended us, often follows from a false sense of pride. This desire to inflict hurt on someone who has hurt us easily arises spontaneously in a heart that is filled with bitterness.  One needs to learn to let go. Saint Paul gives this very important teaching to the ancient Romans in his letter to them: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, on your part, live at peace with all. Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for God’s wrath;  for it is written, ‘vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ Rather, ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink … ‘ Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.” (Rom. 12:17-21)

MERCY BRINGS THE BEAUTY OF NEW LIFE

Mercy can transform a person’s life.  Letting go of hurts, especially those that are long-standing, will set theheart free to receive God’s grace and peace. This applies not only to the one who forgives but even to the one who is forgiven. St Augustine said that it was St Stephen’s prayer to forgive those who were stoning him to death, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60) that won the grace of conversion for Saul of Tarsus to become the great Apostle St Paul. It was also the prayer of the dying St Maria Goretti, “Lord, forgive Alexander” that ultimately won the grace of conversion for Alexander Serenelli from a life of sin to a life of sanctity.

Our Lord shows the beauty of the effects of mercy in His teachings in the parables of mercy (ef. Luke 15:1-32)  of the lost sheep and the lost coin, and the parable of the prodigal son.   Similarly, as there is more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine sinners who did not need to repent; the same can be said of those who forgive that there is more joy in Heaven over one who forgives his brother or sister from his heart than over ninety-nine who did not need to forgive. – Fr Andrew Apostoli cfr @ papalencyclical.net

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