Category Archives: Current Events

The Service of Authority Part II

The media excitement about B16’s statement on condoms might also make it easy to miss the profoundly beautiful messages the Pope is speaking this week to the bishops he has recently appointed to the College of Cardinals.  If anyone believes that the Church has lost its way in terms of knowing what it’s about or has become distracted from the gospel by the continual crises that erupt, these messages should quell those fears.  God continues to speak His message of LOVE through the one He has chosen to represent His Son on earth!  Here are a few excerpts:
The drama that unfolds under the cross of Jesus is a universal drama; it regards all men before God who reveals Himself for what He is, namely, Love. In Jesus crucified divinity is disfigured, stripped of all visible glory, but it is present and real. Only faith is able to recognize it: Mary’s faith, who also united in her heart this last tile of the mosaic of the life of her Son; she still does not see the whole, but continues to trust in God, repeating yet again with the same abandonment, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38)…

“See emerge now clearly, dear Brothers, the first and fundamental message that the Word of God says to us today: to me, Successor of Peter, and to you, cardinals. It calls us to be with Jesus, like Mary, and not to ask him to come down from the cross, but to stay there with Him. And this, in regard to our ministry, we must do not only for ourselves, but for the whole Church, for all the People of God. We know from the Gospels that the cross was the critical point of the faith of Simon Peter and of the other Apostles. It is clear and it could not be otherwise: they were men and they thought “as men”: they could not tolerate the idea of a crucified Messiah. Peter’s conversion was realized fully when he gave up trying to “save” Jesus and accepted being saved by Him. He gave up wanting to save Jesus from the cross and accepted being saved by his cross. “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:32), says the Lord. Peter’s ministry consists altogether in his faith, a faith that Jesus recognizes immediately, from the beginning, as genuine, as a gift from the heavenly Father; but a faith that must go through the scandal of the cross, to become authentic, truly “Christian,” to become “rock” on which Jesus can build his Church… http://www.zenit.org/article-31053?l=english

The Service of Authority Part I

The media excitement about B16’s statement on condoms might also make it easy to miss the profoundly beautiful messages the Pope is speaking this week to the bishops he has recently appointed to the College of Cardinals.  If anyone believes that the Church has lost its way in terms of knowing what it’s about or has become distracted from the gospel by the continual crises that erupt, these messages should quell those fears.  God continues to speak His message of LOVE through the one He has chosen to represent His Son on earth!  Here are a few excerpts:
“James’ and John’s request and the indignation of the “other 10” Apostles raise a central question to which Jesus wishes to respond: who is great, who is “first” for God? First of all attention goes to the conduct that runs the risk of assuming it is “those that are considered the rulers of nations”: “to dominate and oppress.” Jesus points out to his disciples a completely different way: “Among you, however, it is not thus.” His community follows another rule, another logic, another model: “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be the slave of all.” The criterion of greatness and primacy according to God is not dominion but service, diakonia is the fundamental law of the disciple and of the Christian community and it allows us to perceive something of the “Lordship of God.” And Jesus also indicates the point of reference: the Son of man, who came to serve, summarizes his mission under the category of service, understood not in the generic sense, but in the concrete way of the Cross, of the total gift of life as “ransom,” as redemption for many, and he indicates it as condition to follow him. It is a message that is true for the Apostles, for the whole Church, true above all for those who have tasks to guide the People of God. It is not the logic of dominion, of power according to human criteria, but the logic of bending down to wash the feet, the logic of service, the logic of the Cross which is at the bottom of all exercise of authority. At all times the Church is committed to be conformed to this logic and to attest it to make the true “Lordship of God ” shine, which is that of love.


“Venerable brothers elected to the dignity of cardinal, the mission to which God calls you today and that equips you to an ecclesial service that is even more charged with responsibility, requires an ever greater willingness to assume the style of the Son of God, who came among us as one who serves (cf. Luke 22:25-27. It is a question of following him in giving his humble and total love to the Church his Bride, on the Cross: it is on that wood that the grain of wheat, dropped by the Father on the field of the world, dies to become a mature fruit. Because of this there must be an even more profound and solid rootedness in Christ. The profound relationship with Him, which increasingly transforms life so as to be able to say with Saint Paul “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20), constitutes the primary exigency, for our service to be serene and joyful and be able to give the fruit that the Lord expects from us.” http://www.zenit.org/article-31039?l=english

Words

All the media excitement about B16’s statement on condoms in the new book released by Peter Seewald (http://www.zenit.org/article-31059?l=english) got me thinking a great deal about the importance of articulating the TRUTH.  It must be so frustrating for the pope to be misinterpreted all the time.  He is such an articulate person, and yet his words are almost always misunderstood.   I am so very impressed with and appreciate Pope Benedict XVI’s intellectual openness, his courage in embracing dialogue with atheists, evolutionists and secularists in general, and his intellectual humility in entertaining new ideas.  Yet all his efforts seem only reap more confusion.

It seems like many over the centuries we have relied too much on words in articulating the truth.  The quote attributed to St. Francis comes to mind, “Preach the Gospel at all times.  Use words when necessary.”  This is not a time of words – at least of effective words!  Words are purposely misinterpreted, twisted, compacted into sound bites and taken out of context 24-7 in our media saturated culture.  Words are not compelling in a world where information is spewed forth at us with the comparative force of a fire hydrant.  We cannot adequately reflect on the words and often do not have the time to quietly reflect on them.  To complete the analogy, to be able to reflect on some of the information we receive on a daily basis would be like trying to collect water from the hydrant using a spoon – you won’t get much, and most of it will be lost.

So how does a Church that has historically emphasized written articulations of the TRUTH communicate in such a culture?  I hope in the same way it has also done for thousands of years: through WITNESS to the TRUTH.  What converts hearts and makes the gospel message compelling are witnesses.  People are convinced by actions that convey TRUTH more than words.  When we see someone not just talk about love and goodness and beauty but live out the ideal through their lives, we are changed and begin to TRUST, because we realize the sincerity of the person proclaiming it.

This is why my admiration does not stop with the eloquence of the words of our Holy Father.  I have been even more convinced of the TRUTH of the Gospel by his WITNESS: by the continued respect and openness with which he treats those who disagree with him, by his kindness to those who continually try to twist his words, by his expressed commitment to expose and get rid of “the filth in the Church,” by the compassion he has conveyed to victims of abuse and his sincere sorrow and regret at what has happened.  I don’t know if these actions are noticed by most, but these actions have been a catalyst for conversion in the hearts of those who have had the experience of a human interaction with the Pope.

It is so much easier to speak the truth than to live it – and we all know how hard the speaking can be!  Action, while simple to understand, is heroic.  That’s why we celebrate and lift up the examples of saints!  I thank God that he has given us a pope who is not only an articulate speaker of truth, but has given consistent witness to truth through his many actions!!  The time is ripe for WITNESSES to the TRUTH.  My prayer today is that I can try to extricate myself from the “word-war” and just LIVE it!!

St. Francis

I decided to watch the movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon by Franco Zefferelli a few weeks ago on the occasion of All Saints Day.  This is my favorite movie of St. Francis.  I have been told many times it is not an accurate depiction of St. Francis’ life.  I think many people dislike this movie because of its (not so) veiled references to issues of the 60s (hippie idealism, Vietnam war, upheaval of culture).  But as I am not a child of the 60s, I don’t have an immediate reaction to the overtones but wonder perhaps if the connections Zefferelli made in regard to the similarity of the situations is a real insight.  The reason that I love this movie is because I believe it captures beautifully the abandon of a soul captivated by God.  And St. Francis was really just such a person!

The time of St. Francis was a very confusing one in the Church.  There was a preoccupation with wealth and an abuse of power among many Church leaders.  In response to this situation, many movements sprang up in the Church that began to witness to the Gospel message through a life of radical poverty.  Many of these movements in the end, however, separated from the Church because they began to embrace wrong teachings about Christ and the Church.  Other movements never intended to be faithful to the truth but began to teach entirely different doctrines, not based at all on Christ or His Gospel message.  Some Catholics responded to the situation with disgust and frustration, while others were simply confused.  Many laypeople, because of the confusion, began grassroots movements themselves that emphasized prayer and service.  Does any of this sound familiar??  The only difference that I observe in the situations is that I don’t think the problem in the Church today is so much concerned with an abuse of wealth, but of authority and obedience.

So with all of this going on, how did St. Francis respond to the problems of his time?  By simply trying to live the GOSPEL in all its SIMPLICITY.  He took the words of Jesus seriously and tried to live them.  While St. Francis abandoned everything in attempt to live the ideal of the Gospel perfectly, he didn’t abandon the REAL.  How did he ground himself in reality?  By trusting again in the words of Jesus, when He says that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church (Mt 16:18).  He took Jesus’ words at their face value and trusted that even though things seemed confusing, that fidelity to the Church in spite of the confusion was the way to stay grounded in reality and in the truth about Jesus.  Francis served as a challenge to abuses in the Church by his radical life of poverty and simplicity, and at the same time, unlike the other contemporary poverty movements, he determined to be faithful to the Church.  Francis has a profound respect for the office of the priesthood, even when the priests he encountered were personally very sinful.

Isn’t this how we are called to respond to the problems of our time too?  Jesus hasn’t changed!  He is “the same yesterday, today and FOREVER!” (Heb 13:8)  His message, and His mercies, are “new every morning.” (Lam 3:23)  All we need do is decide to read the gospel again, make sure we understand what it says, take it seriously, and live it.  This might sound like an overly simplistic answer, but I don’t think it is.  Just because it’s simple, doesn’t mean it won’t be HARD!

What does a saint look like?

This is a question I have asked myself often over the years, as I continue to grow in my relationship with Jesus.  When I first started asking this question, I naturally turned to the lives of saints as a reference.  I have read about MANY saints – and many types of accounts: I have read biographies, autobiographies, and diaries, kid’s stories, and so on. 

As time has passed however, I have to say that the desire for the title “saint” has lessened while a deeper desire for relationship with my Father in heaven has grown immensely.  What is the distinction?  For me it is the movement from wanting “to do” for God to an attitude of just wanting “to be.”  Regardless of the terminology, the end result is still the same: to be a saint is to be in an intimate relationship with God.

As I have read the lives of saints to learn from their example, there are a few things that began to observe about them and their stories.  On the feast of All Saints, I wanted to share these observations.

First, every saint is unique.  Each saint has his/her own path to God.  While there are certainly things all persons who love God have in common in terms of having a life of prayer and service, the paths their lives took were not necessarily the same. Some were bold and unafraid of taking risks.  Others embraced a life of holiness by doing the mundane, everyday things with heroic love.  Some focused on accepting God’s will in the situations that occurred in their lives.  Yet other “prophetic” saints discerned God’s will through prayer and sought to change the situations around them.  Some were great sinners who experienced dramatic conversions.  The moral of the story is, every person is different, and their story unique.  Therefore, my path to God will also be unique. 

Another thing I have observed is that to follow God can be embarrassing.  Take the example of St. Francis: in his extreme idealism he gave away his father’s business inventory of expensive fabrics, and was brought by his father before the bishop to be disciplined.  Later, Francis heard God ask him to “Rebuild my Church, for as you see, it is falling down.”  St. Francis took this command literally and started collecting stones to rebuild a small Church.  Little did he realize the bigger plan of starting several religious orders that would be instrumental in rejuvenating the Church.  Many of the saints really pushed the boundaries of common sense and social acceptability.  Some probably did so because they were odd; but sometimes they did it simply because they were attempting to respond to the promptings of God as best they could.  The lesson for me here is, I need to trust too.  When I am prompted by God to go in a specific direction and this decision seems to contradict common sense or social acceptability, I realize I can only follow as I understand.

Finally, when reading the life of a saint I realize that I am reading a story that I already know will have a happy ending.  However, this happy ending was not a foregone conclusion during that person’s earthly life.  In fact, some of the things they did may have been very confusing or even a source of scandal for others.  Take the example of Mother Teresa.  Later in her life she was widely known for her holiness as the fruit of her work became known.  But when she was a Sister of Loreto, she was considered a very ordinary sister who taught high school world geography and was thought to be a little sickly.  When Mother Teresa left the Sisters of Loreto at age 38 to begin the Missionaries of Charity, it was not at all clear to those around her that she was doing something reasonable.  She left the community, moved into the second floor of a generous Hindu man’s home, started wearing a very strange sari-habit, (something not at all “normal”) and lived alone without any means of support.  Some days she didn’t even have food to eat.  Her path to God was not “socially acceptable;” as a white European woman in a politically polarized India she put herself in extremely dangerous situations by going into the slums.  Many saw her as a dreamer, as crazy and even as a faithless religious sister who did not keep her obligation to her Loreto community.  Rather than trying to explain herself or offering excuses for her actions, she simply focused on following God and trusting.  That means that is all I can do too.

Do you have any observations about holiness?  If so, please share them!  Happy Feast of All Saints!

Why I Love B16

On the way to Great Britain in September for a papal visit, Pope Benedict XVI was asked how to make the Church “more credible and attractive to all.”  The following is his response – and what a surprising answer!  At least, to those who might think the Catholic Church exists to gain power and prestige.  But not at all surprising from B16.   What an apropos message for our culture.  The Holy Spirit has truly blessed us with another timely leader.  What do you think?

The Holy Father: “One might say that a church which seeks above all to be attractive would already be on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for itself, does not work to increase its numbers so as to have more power. The Church is at the service of Another; it does not serve itself, seeking to be a strong body, but it strives to make the Gospel of Jesus Christ accessible, the great truths, the great powers of love and of reconciliation that appeared in this figure and that come always from the presence of Jesus Christ. In this sense, the Church does not seek to be attractive, but rather to make herself transparent for Jesus Christ. And in the measure in which the Church is not for herself, as a strong and powerful body in the world, that wishes to have power, but simply is herself the voice of Another, she becomes truly transparent to the great figure of Jesus Christ and the great truths that he has brought to humanity, the power of love; it is then when the Church is heard and accepted. She should not consider herself, but assist in considering the Other, and should herself see and speak of the Other and for the Other.”  http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2010/september/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20100916_interv-regno-unito_en.html