Jesus Asks Us To Look At The Little Details

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Such experiences, however, are neither the most frequent nor the most important. The common life, whether in the family, the parish, the religious community or any other, is made up of small everyday things. This was true of the holy community formed by Jesus, Mary and Joseph, which reflected in an exemplary way the beauty of the Trinitarian communion. It was also true of the life that Jesus shared with his disciples and with ordinary people.

Let us not forget that Jesus asked his disciples to pay attention to details.

The little detail that wine was running out at a party.
The little detail that one sheep was missing.
The little detail of noticing the widow who offered her two small coins.
The little detail of having spare oil for the lamps, should the bridegroom delay.
The little detail of asking the disciples how many loaves of bread they had.
The little detail of having a fire burning and a fish cooking as he waited for the disciples at daybreak.

A community that cherishes the little details of love, whose members care for one another and create an open and evangelizing environment, is a place where the risen Lord is present, sanctifying it in accordance with the Father’s plan.

GAUDETE ET EXSULTATE

Pope Francis 

What If I’m Not the Prodigal Son? (Part 1)

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Written By Ruth Baker

The parable of the Prodigal Son is arguably one of the most well-known parables, and it is easy to see why. Despite its short length, the story is packed with drama. We can feel all the familiar emotions in it. We understand the rebellion of the younger son and his need to cut loose and go wild, and we know the pain of the father as he watches him go, relinquishing his inheritance so it can be squandered by his wayward son. We can recognise the turning point, the squalor of the pigs and the abandonment of the friends. We’re humbled by the mercy of the father who opens his arms to welcome the prodigal home, a welcome that goes beyond the son’s wildest dreams.

But I’ll bet that despite our familiarity with this story, it is not always the Prodigal Son who we identify with.

Perhaps we feel the most affinity with the shadowy figure of the Elder Son, whose story we sometimes read as a tacked-on post-script, the lesser part bringing up the rear of the more exciting main event. Oh yes, we say, and there was also the Elder Son, the party-pooper, who came in from the fields and didn’t want to dance. A bitter sting to an otherwise beautiful tale of redemption.

Except. I have found myself identifying more and more with the Elder Son, particularly as I have got older. I have gone from hearing the Parable in my teens and thinking “what an idiot” in reference to the Elder Son, to now positively identifying with him and wanting to say to him: “I get it. I completely understand you.” His pain is apparent in his anger. In his own way, he has as much as a return journey to make as the younger son. He just doesn’t know it yet.

There have certainly been several times in my life when I have identified with the Prodigal. Those occasional 5am-moments-of-reckoning when I have realised with a sinking feeling that the narrative of my life is slipping away from where it was called to be. A return journey must be made, an anxious one, not confident of the grace that might be granted, but hopeful all the same. These moments stand out because they are so clearly definable. They are black-and-white, before-and-after, misery-to-forgiveness. They are like signposts through my teens and twenties; here, they say, you turned back, and you were forgiven. They demand gratitude, because gratitude springs so naturally because you know you were forgiven much.

But if I’m honest with myself, most of the time I don’t identify with the Prodigal Son.

Because I can roll out a litany of Things I Didn’t Do in my mind. The temptations that I didn’t give into, because actually, they were quite easy not to. The other sacrifices that I made that really, really hurt but I still wonder at the point of them. The times I did the right thing and life was boring because of it. The times I said to God, I have done everything right, given you everything I could, sweated and toiled for You, and for what?! You still treat me like this?!

I am the Elder Son.

“Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’”

The Elder Son is perhaps the daily life of the committed Christian, the cradle-Catholic, the post-conversion-convert, the daily-grind of the person who never left the Father’s home or returned a long time ago, long enough for the sheer-miracle of the return to have faded away.

Which is why it is harder to recognise that there is absolutely no difference to how the Father treats His Prodigal Son and His Elder Son.The Elder Son cannot see that. Look carefully at what he says to His father. Look at his anger. He is wrapped up in bitterness. He is preoccupied with right and wrong, obedience and disobedience. He says he has “slaved” for his father.

So what do we do if we realise we are the Elder Son?

It is interesting that while the Prodigal Son gets a resolution to his story the Elder Son does not. We do not know whether the Elder Son puts his anger to one side, joins the party, and embraces his brother in a welcome home. The Elder Brother doesn’t get a resolution to his story because he does not make that same turn of repentance that is required of both brothers. The Elder Brother does not think that repentance is required of him. We don’t know what he does next, where his heart turns- in on itself, or outwards toward his father’s love.

Whether we ourselves can leave behind the cages of bitterness and pride and find the warmth of a home we have never left depends entirely on how far we are willing to cooperate with God’s grace. God never gives up on inviting us into greater union with Him.

In Part Two of this article we will address how we can make our own return journey from the place of the Elder Son to recognising the home that is in the Father’s loving heart.

Part Two of this article will be published soon!

Deacon Tom's Thursday Homily for May 24th

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Jesus leaves us with no doubt: We are valuable. We all carry within us a God-given dignity. And this dignity is identified and enhanced when we bear his name. Every human being has an intrinsic dignity because every human being is created in God’s image. To carry his image is also a responsibility. We must live up to this dignity and show to others a life worthy of the image we carry within. Others may be “little” due to their age, the newness and immaturity of their Christian life, or even their weakness and struggle.

If we put a stumbling block in their way, we scandalize them or causes them to doubt or become discouraged about living the ideals of faith. A “millstone” suggests that anything would be better for us than this. It often seems challenging or almost impossible to live out the Sermon on the Mount. Implementing it even in small ways often involves creative thinking outside of the usual patterns of thought as well as discernment about what is happening in our world.

In today’s world, the value of something is measured in comparison to other items of the same kind: stocks, food, clothes, even music and films are judged against each other. Yet, there are some things that have absolute value: the value of a soul. Nothing compares! Jesus paints this total non-comparison in terms of cutting off whatever becomes an obstacle. You are so valuable that you must be ready to deny, subdue, silence and even sacrifice your own body, or any of its members, rather than risk losing your soul. Do we value our immortal soul, our vocation to eternal life? If so, do we show this by the self-denial we exert in controlling what makes us, and eventually others through me, stumble? How often do we prefer our “things” to the loved ones who depend on our example of Christ? How radical is our faith?

Jesus is very demanding with those of us who are his followers. But Jesus simply wants to emphasize that we must learn how to give up those things that may hurt us, even though we like them, for they can be the cause of all sin and vice. St. Gregory wrote “we should not covet those things that only meet our material and sinful needs”. Jesus expects us to be radical. In another part of the Gospel, it is written: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”[1].

On the other hand, Jesus' demand is a demand for love and maturity. What will make our deeds meaningful must always be our love: we should know how to offer a drink of water to whomever needs it, but not because of any personal interest but, simply, out of love. We must discover Jesus in those more needy and poor. Jesus only severely denounces and condemns those who do evil and shock us, those who make the little ones relinquish the infinite goodness and grace of God.

The letter from James touches on what Pope Francis has said. Pope Francis talks about an “ambivalence” created by the world of finance and commerce. Never have these two worlds allowed so many people to benefit from so many goods, while at the same time “excessively exploiting common resources, increasing inequality and deteriorating the planet.” He says that during the trips he has taken since becoming Pope he has seen first-hand this “paradox of a globalized economy which could feed, cure, and house all of the inhabitants who populate our common home, but which– as a few worrisome statistics indicate – instead concentrates the same wealth owned by half of the world’s population in the hands of very few people”.

Business leaders must be especially diligent about paying their workers fairly. James’s words “the wages you have kept back by fraud” are an accusation of abuse of power on the part of these wealthy landowners. The workers were owed wages, but the rich and powerful found a way out of paying them without incurring punishment by the legal system. The rich and powerful often have means to subvert the judiciary, and it’s astonishingly easy to exercise unfair power without even recognizing it. Misuse of power can never be excused just because it is a so-called standard practice.

James also condemns those who “have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure”. The question of what constitutes living in luxury and in pleasure is also complex, but it confronts many Christians in one way or another. James’s chief concern in this passage is the well-being of the poor, so the most relevant question may be, “Does the way I live enhance or diminish the lives of poor people? Does what I do with money help lift people out of poverty or does it help keep people impoverished?”

Let us and the Church unite ourselves to the millions of men and women who say ‘no’ to injustice in peaceful ways, doing what is possible to create greater equity.

 

[1] (Mt 10:39)

Mary, Mother of the Church

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On May 21st, the Monday after Pentecost, the Church will celebrate for the first time the memorial of Mary, "Mater Eccelsiae." Text from Pope Francis

Continuing our catechesis on the Church, today I would like to look at Mary as the image and model of the Church. I will do so by taking up an expression of the Second Vatican Council. The Constitution Lumen Gentium states: “As St Ambrose taught, the Mother of God is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity, and the perfect union with Christ” (no. 63).

1. Let us begin with the first aspect, Mary as the model of faith. In what sense does Mary represent a model for the Church’s faith? Let us think about who the Virgin Mary was: a Jewish girl who was waiting with all her heart for the redemption of her people. But in the heart of the young daughter of Israel there was a secret that even she herself did not yet know: in God’s loving plan she was destined to become the Mother of the Redeemer. At the Annunciation, the Messenger of God calls her “full of grace” and reveals this plan to her. Mary answers “yes” and from that moment Mary’s faith receives new light: it is concentrated on Jesus, the Son of God, who from her took flesh and in whom all the promises of salvation history are fulfilled. Mary’s faith is the fulfilment of Israel’s faith, the whole journey, the whole path of that people awaiting redemption is contained in her, and it is in this sense that she is the model of the Church’s faith, which has Christ, the incarnation of God's infinite love, as its centre.

How did Mary live this faith? She lived it out in the simplicity of the thousand daily tasks and worries of every mother, such as providing food, clothing, caring for the house.... It was precisely Our Lady’s normal life which served as the basis for the unique relationship and profound dialogue which unfolded between her and God, between her and her Son. Mary’s “yes,” already perfect from the start, grew until the hour of the Cross. There her motherhood opened to embrace every one of us, our lives, so as to guide us to her Son. Mary lived perpetually immersed in the mystery of God-made-man, as his first and perfect disciple, by contemplating all things in her heart in the light of the Holy Spirit, in order to understand and live out the will of God.

We can ask ourselves a question: do we allow ourselves to be illumined by the faith of Mary, who is our Mother? Or do we think of her as distant, as someone too different from us? In moments of difficulty, of trial, of darkness, do we look to her as a model of trust in God who always and only desires our good? Let's think about this: perhaps it will do us good to rediscover Mary as the model and figure of the Church in this faith that she possessed!

2. We come to the second aspect: Mary as the model of charity. In what way is Mary a living example of love for the Church? Let us think the readiness she showed toward her cousin Elizabeth. In visiting her, the Virgin Mary brought not only material help — she brought this too — but she also brought Jesus, who was already alive in her womb. Bringing Jesus into that house meant bringing joy, the fullness of joy. Elizabeth and Zaccariah were rejoicing at a pregnancy that had seemed impossible at their age, but it was the young Mary who brought them the fullness of joy, the joy which comes from Jesus and from the Holy Spirit, and is expressed by gratuitous charity, by sharing with, helping, and understanding others.

Our Lady also wants to bring the great gift of Jesus to us, to us all; and with him she brings us his love, his peace, and his joy. In this, the Church is like Mary: the Church is not a shop, she is not a humanitarian agency, the Church is not an NGO. The Church is sent to bring Christ and his Gospel to all. She does not bring herself — whether small or great, strong or weak, the Church carries Jesus and should be like Mary when she went to visit Elizabeth. What did Mary take to her? Jesus. The Church brings Jesus: this is the centre of the Church, to carry Jesus! If, as a hypothesis, the Church were not to bring Jesus, she would be a dead Church. The Church must bring Jesus, the love of Jesus, the charity of Jesus.

We have spoken about Mary, about Jesus. What about us? We who are the Church? What kind of love do we bring to others? Is it the love of Jesus that shares, that forgives, that accompanies, or is it a watered-down love, like wine so diluted that it seems like water? Is it a strong love, or a love so weak that it follows the emotions, that it seeks a return, an interested love? Another question: is self-interested love pleasing to Jesus? No, it is not because love should be freely given, like his is. What are the relationships like in our parishes, in our communities? Do we treat each other like brothers and sisters? Or do we judge one another, do we speak evil of one another, do we just tend our own vegetable patch? Or do we care for one another? These are the questions of charity!

3. And briefly, one last aspect: Mary as the model of union with Christ. The life of the Holy Virgin was the life of a woman of her people: Mary prayed, she worked, she went to the synagogue... But every action was carried out in perfect union with Jesus. This union finds its culmination on Calvary: here Mary is united to the Son in the martyrdom of her heart and in the offering of his life to the Father for the salvation of humanity. Our Lady shared in the pain of the Son and accepted with him the will of the Father, in that obedience that bears fruit, that grants the true victory over evil and death.

The reality Mary teaches us is very beautiful: to always be united with Jesus. We can ask ourselves: do we remember Jesus only when something goes wrong and we are in need, or is ours a constant relation, a deep friendship, even when it means following him on the way of the Cross?

Let us ask the Lord to grant us his grace, his strength, so that the model of Mary, Mother of the Church, may be reflected in our lives and in the life of every ecclesial community. So be it! (Audience, 23 October 2013)

Texts from Saint Josemaria

We need to meditate frequently on the fact that the Church is a deep, great mystery, so that we never forget it. We cannot fully understand the Church on this earth. If men, using only their reason, were to analyse it, they would see only a group of people who abide by certain precepts and think in a similar way. But that would not be the Church.

In the Church we Catholics find our faith, our norms of conduct, our prayer, our sense of fraternity. Through it we are united with all our brothers and sisters who have already left this life and are being cleansed in Purgatory—the Church suffering—and with those who already enjoy the beatific vision and love forever the thrice holy God—the Church triumphant. The Church is in our midst and at the same time transcends history. It was born under the mantle of our Lady and continues to praise her on earth and in heaven as its Mother ("The Supernatural Aim of the Church," 28 May 1972).

If we become identified with Mary and imitate her virtues, we will be able to bring Christ to life, through grace, in the souls of many who will in turn become identified with him through the action of the Holy Spirit. If we imitate Mary, we will share in some way in her spiritual motherhood. And all this silently, like Our Lady; without being noticed, almost without words, through the true and genuine witness of our lives as Christians, and the generosity of ceaselessly repeating her fiat, which we renew as an intimate link between ourselves and God.

I want to tell you something that was said to me by a good Christian, who has a great love for Our Lady, though he is no expert in theology. I am going to tell it to you just as he said it, because in its simplicity it is the natural reaction of an untutored mind.

‘I needed to talk about this to someone,’ he said. ‘I get terribly upset at some of the things that are going on nowadays. In the preparatory meetings for the present Council and during the Council itself proposals were made to include the “theme of the Blessed Virgin.” Just like that, “the theme”! Is that the proper way for children to speak of their mother? Is that the way our fathers professed their faith? Since when has love for the Blessed Virgin become a “theme” to be discussed as to whether or not it is appropriate?

‘There is nothing more at odds with love than stinginess. I am not afraid of speaking out clearly,’ he continued, ‘in fact, if I didn’t, I would feel I was insulting our Holy Mother. It has been discussed whether or not it was right to call Mary the Mother of the Church. It hurts me to have to spell this out, but surely, since she is the Mother of God and the Mother of all Christians, she must be the Mother of the Church, which gathers together all those who have been baptised and reborn in Christ, the Son of Mary.

‘I can’t understand,’ he went on, ‘where the pettiness comes from which hesitates at giving that title of praise to Our Lady. How different the faith of the Church is! The “theme” of the Blessed Virgin! Do children discuss the “theme” of love for their mother? They love her, and that’s all there is to it. If they are good children, they will love her a lot. Only strangers approaching the matter with clinical coldness, as if it were a case to be studied, could speak about “themes” or “drafts.”’ That was how that simple and devout soul put it. A well-intentioned and pious outpouring, although not altogether fair.

Let us now return to our consideration of this mystery of the divine Motherhood of Mary, praying quietly and affirming from the bottom of our hearts, ‘Virgin Mother of God, He whom the whole world cannot contain, enclosed himself in your womb to take the flesh of man.’

See what the liturgy proposes for our prayer today: ‘Blessed be the womb of the Virgin Mary, which bore the Son of the eternal Father.’ An exclamation both old and new, human and divine. We are telling Our Lord, as they do in some places when they want to praise someone, ‘Blessed be the mother who brought you into the world!’ (Friends of God, nos. 281-283).

Teach Your Children These Attributes Of God

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If artists who make statues and paint portraits of kings are held in high esteem, will not God bless ten thousand times more those who reveal and beautify His royal image?

For man is the image of God. When we teach our children to be good, to be gentle, and to be forgiving – all attributes of God; to be generous, to love their neighbor, to regard this present age as nothing, we instill virtue in their souls, and reveal the image of God within them.

This, then, is our task: to educate both ourselves and our children in godliness; otherwise what answer will we have before Christ’s judgment seat?

St. John Chyrsostom 

John Chrysostom (349-407): Archbishop of Constantinople, was an important Early Church Father. He is known for his preaching and public speaking, his denunciation of abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders, the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, and his ascetic sensibilities. The epithet Χρυσόστομος (Chrysostomos, anglicized as Chrysostom) means "golden-mouthed" in Greek and denotes his celebrated eloquence. Chrysostom was among the most prolific authors in the early Christian Church, exceeded only by Augustine of Hippo in the quantity of his surviving writings.

In the Roman Catholic Church he is recognized as a Doctor of the Church and commemorated on 13 September in the current General Roman Calendar and on 27 January in the older calendar

Pope’s Message for World Mission Sunday 2018

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“Together with young people, let us bring the Gospel to all”

Pope Francis on May 19, 2018, released his message for World Mission Sunday 2018, to be held October 21, 2018.  The theme: “Together with young people, let us bring the Gospel to all”.

“What leads me to speak to everyone through this conversation with you is the certainty that the Christian faith remains ever young when it is open to the mission that Christ entrusts to us,” the Pope said in directing his message to young people. “The Synod to be held in Rome this coming October, the month of the missions, offers us an opportunity to understand more fully, in the light of faith, what the Lord Jesus wants to say to you young people, and, through you, to all Christian communities.”

In his message, the Holy Father stressed that each person has a mission in life and the Church proclaims Christ’s message and shares with young people “the way and truth which give meaning to our life on this earth.”

“This transmission of the faith, the heart of the Church’s mission, comes about by the infectiousness of love, where joy and enthusiasm become the expression of a newfound meaning and fulfillment in life,” the Pope continued.  “The Pontifical Mission Societies were born of young hearts as a means of supporting the preaching of the Gospel to every nation and thus contributing to the human and cultural growth of all those who thirst for knowledge of the truth.”

World Mission Sunday raises funds for more than 1,000 mission projects around the world.  It was established by Pope Pius XI in 1926 as a day of prayer for missions.

Message of the Holy Father

Together with young people, let us bring the Gospel to all

Dear young people, I would like to reflect with you on the mission that we have received from Christ. In speaking to you, I also address all Christians who live out in the Church the adventure of their life as children of God. What leads me to speak to everyone through this conversation with you is the certainty that the Christian faith remains ever young when it is open to the mission that Christ entrusts to us. “Mission revitalizes faith” (Redemptoris Missio, 2), in the words of Saint John Paul II, a Pope who showed such great love and concern for young people.

The Synod to be held in Rome this coming October, the month of the missions, offers us an opportunity to understand more fully, in the light of faith, what the Lord Jesus wants to say to you young people, and, through you, to all Christian communities.

Life is a mission

Every man and woman is a mission; that is the reason for our life on this earth. To be attracted and to be sent are two movements that our hearts, especially when we are young, feel as interior forces of love; they hold out promise for our future and they give direction to our lives. More than anyone else, young people feel the power of life breaking in upon us and attracting us. To live out joyfully our responsibility for the world is a great challenge. I am well aware of lights and shadows of youth; when I think back to my youth and my family, I remember the strength of my hope for a better future. The fact that we are not in this world by our own choice makes us sense that there is an initiative that precedes us and makes us exist. Each one of us is called to reflect on this fact: “I am a mission on this Earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world” (Evangelii Gaudium, 273).

We proclaim Jesus Christ

The Church, by proclaiming what she freely received (cf. Mt 10:8; Acts 3:6), can share with you young people the way and truth which give meaning to our life on this earth. Jesus Christ, Who died and rose for us, appeals to our freedom and challenges us to seek, discover and proclaim this message of truth and fulfillment. Dear young people, do not be afraid of Christ and His Church! For there we find the treasure that fills life with joy. I can tell you this from my own experience: thanks to faith, I found the sure foundation of my dreams and the strength to realize them. I have seen great suffering and poverty mar the faces of so many of our brothers and sisters. And yet, for those who stand by Jesus, evil is an incentive to ever greater love. Many men and women and many young people have generously sacrificed themselves, even at times to martyrdom, out of love for the Gospel and service to their brothers and sisters. From the cross of Jesus, we learn the divine logic of self-sacrifice (cf. 1 Cor 1:17-25) as a proclamation of the Gospel for the life of the world (cf. Jn 3:16). To be set afire by the love of Christ is to be consumed by that fire, to grow in understanding by its light and to be warmed by its love (cf. 2 Cor 5:14). At the school of the saints, who open us to the vast horizons of God, I invite you never to stop wondering: “What would Christ do if He were in my place?”

Transmitting the faith to the ends of the earth

You too, young friends, by your baptism have become living members of the Church; together we have received the mission to bring the Gospel to everyone. You are at the threshold of life. To grow in the grace of the faith bestowed on us by the Church’s sacraments plunges us into that great stream of witnesses who, generation after generation, enable the wisdom and experience of older persons to become testimony and encouragement for those looking to the future. And the freshness and enthusiasm of the young make them a source of support and hope for those nearing the end of their journey. In this blend of different stages in life, the mission of the Church bridges the generations; our faith in God and our love of neighbor are a source of profound unity.

This transmission of the faith, the heart of the Church’s mission, comes about by the infectiousness of love, where joy and enthusiasm become the expression of a newfound meaning and fulfillment in life. The spread of the faith “by attraction” calls for hearts that are open and expanded by love. It is not possible to place limits on love, for love is strong as death (cf. Song 8:6). And that expansion generates encounter, witness, proclamation; it generates sharing in charity with all those far from the faith, indifferent to it and perhaps even hostile and opposed to it. Human, cultural and religious settings still foreign to the Gospel of Jesus and to the sacramental presence of the Church represent the extreme peripheries, the “ends of the earth”, to which, ever since the first Easter, Jesus’ missionary disciples have been sent, with the certainty that their Lord is always with them (cf. Mt 28:20; Acts 1:8). This is what we call the missio ad gentes. The most desolate periphery of all is where mankind, in need of Christ, remains indifferent to the faith or shows hatred for the fullness of life in God. All material and spiritual poverty, every form of discrimination against our brothers and sisters, is always a consequence of the rejection of God and His love.

The ends of the earth, dear young people, nowadays are quite relative and always easily “navigable”. The digital world – the social networks that are so pervasive and readily available – dissolves borders, eliminates distances and reduces differences. Everything appears within reach, so close and immediate. And yet lacking the sincere gift of our lives, we could well have countless contacts but never share in a true communion of life. To share in the mission to the ends of the earth demands the gift of oneself in the vocation that God, Who has placed us on this earth, chooses to give us (cf. Lk 9:23-25). I dare say that, for a young man or woman who wants to follow Christ, what is most essential is to seek, to discover and to persevere in his or her vocation.

Bearing witness to love

I am grateful to all those ecclesial groups that make it possible for you to have a personal encounter with Christ living in His Church: parishes, associations, movements, religious communities, and the varied expressions of missionary service. How many young people find in missionary volunteer work a way of serving the “least” of our brothers and sisters (cf. Mt 25:40), promoting human dignity and witnessing to the joy of love and of being Christians! These ecclesial experiences educate and train young people not only for professional success but also for developing and fostering their God-given gifts in order better to serve others. These praiseworthy forms of temporary missionary service are a fruitful beginning and, through vocational discernment, they can help you to decide to make a complete gift of yourselves as missionaries.

The Pontifical Mission Societies were born of young hearts as a means of supporting the preaching of the Gospel to every nation and thus contributing to the human and cultural growth of all those who thirst for knowledge of the truth. The prayers and the material aid generously given and distributed through the Pontifical Mission Societies enable the Holy See to ensure that those who are helped in their personal needs can in turn bear witness to the Gospel in the circumstances of their daily lives. No one is so poor as to be unable to give what they have, but first and foremost what they are. Let me repeat the words of encouragement that I addressed to the young people of Chile: “Never think that you have nothing to offer, or that nobody needs you. Many people need you. Think about it! Each of you, think in your heart: many people need me” (Meeting with Young People, Maipu Shrine, 17 January 2018).

Dear young people, this coming October, the month of the missions, we will hold the Synod devoted to you. It will prove to be one more occasion to help us become missionary disciples, ever more passionately devoted to Jesus and His mission, to the ends of the earth. I ask Mary, Queen of the Apostles, Saint Francis Xavier, Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and Blessed Paolo Manna to intercede for all of us and to accompany us always.

Holy Father’s Homily on Pentecost May 20th 2018

Following is the Homily Pope Francis delivered May 20, 2018, at Mass on Pentecost in St. Peter’s Basilica.

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‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses.’

In the first reading of today’s Liturgy, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is compared to “the rush of a violent wind” (Acts2:2). What does this image tell us? It makes us think of a powerful force that is not an end in itself, but effects change. Wind, in fact, brings change: warmth when it is cold, cool when it is hot, rain when the land is parched… this is why it brings change. The Holy Spirit, on a very different level, does the same. He is the divine force that changes the world. The Sequence reminded us of this: the Spirit is “in toil, comfort sweet; solace in the midst of woe”. And so we beseech him: “Heal our wounds, our strength renew; on our dryness pour your dew; wash the stains of guilt away”. The Spirit enters into situations and transforms them. He changes hearts and he changes situations.

The Holy Spirit changes hearts. Jesus had told his disciples: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). That is exactly what happened. Those disciples, at first fearful, huddled behind closed doors even after the Master’s resurrection, are transformed by the Spirit and, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “they bear witness to him” (cf. Jn 15:27). No longer hesitant, they are courageous and starting from Jerusalem, they go forth to the ends of the earth. Timid while Jesus was still among them, they are bold when he is gone, because the Spirit changed their hearts.

The Spirit frees hearts chained by fear. He overcomes all resistance. To those content with half measures, he inspires whole-hearted generosity. He opens hearts that are closed. He impels the comfortable to go out and serve. He drives the self-satisfied to set out in new directions. He makes the lukewarm thrill to new dreams. That is what it means to change hearts. Plenty of people promise change, new beginnings, prodigious renewals, but experience teaches us that no earthly attempt to change reality can ever completely satisfy the human heart. Yet the change that the Spirit brings is different. It does not revolutionize life around us but changes our hearts. It does not free us from the weight of our problems but liberates us within so that we can face them. It does not give us everything at once but makes us press on confidently, never growing weary of life. The Spirit keeps our hearts young – a renewed youth. Youth, for all our attempts to prolong it, sooner or later fades away; the Spirit, instead, prevents the only kind of aging that is unhealthy: namely, growing old within. How does he do this? By renewing our hearts, by pardoning sinners. Here is the great change: from guilty, he makes us righteous and thus changes everything. From slaves of sin, we become free, from servants we become beloved children, from worthless worthy, from disillusioned filled with hope. By the working of the Holy Spirit, joy is reborn and peace blossoms in our hearts.

Today, then, let us learn what to do when we are in need of real change. And who among us does not need a change? Particularly when we are downcast, wearied by life’s burdens, oppressed by our own weakness, at those times when it is hard to keep going and loving seems impossible. In those moments, we need a powerful “jolt”: the Holy Spirit, the power of God. In the Creed, we profess that he is the “giver of life”. How good it would be for us each day to feel this jolt of life! To say when we wake up each morning: “Come, Holy Spirit, come into my heart, come into my day”.

The Spirit does not only change hearts; he changes situations. Like the wind that blows everywhere, he penetrates to the most unimaginable situations. In the Acts of the Apostles – a book we need to pick up and read, whose main character is the Holy Spirit – we are caught up in an amazing series of events. When the disciples least expect it, the Holy Spirit sends them out to the pagans. He opens up new paths, as in the episode of the deacon Philip. The Spirit drives Philip to a desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza… (How heartrending that name sounds to us today! May the Spirit change hearts and situations and bring peace to the Holy Land!) Along the way, Philip preaches to an Ethiopian court official and baptizes him. Then the Spirit brings him to Azotus, and then on to Caesarea, in constantly new situations, to spread the newness of God. Then too, there is Paul, “compelled by the Spirit” (Acts20:22), who travels far and wide, bringing the Gospel to peoples he had never seen. Where the Spirit is, something is always happening; where he blows, things are never calm.

When, in the life of our communities, we experience a certain “listlessness”, when we prefer peace and quiet to the newness of God, it is a bad sign. It means that we are trying to find shelter from the wind of the Spirit. When we live for self-preservation and keep close to home, it is not a good sign. The Spirit blows, but we lower our sails. And yet, how often have we seen him work wonders! Frequently, even in the bleakest of times, the Spirit has raised up the most outstanding holiness! Because he is the soul of the Church, who constantly enlivens her with renewed hope, fills her with joy, makes her fruitful, and causes new life to blossom. In a family, when a new baby is born, it upsets our schedules, it makes us lose sleep, but it also brings us a joy that renews our lives, driving us on, expanding us in love. So it is with the Spirit: he brings a “taste of childhood” to the Church. Time and time again he gives new birth. He revives our first love. The Spirit reminds the Church that, for all her centuries of history, she is always the youthful bride with whom the Lord is madly in love. Let us never tire of welcoming the Spirit into our lives, of invoking him before everything we do: “Come, Holy Spirit!”

He will bring his power of change, a unique power that is, so to say, both centripetal and centrifugal. It is centripetal, that is, it seeks the center because it works deep within our hearts. It brings unity amid division, peace amid affliction, strength amid temptations. Paul reminds us of this in the second reading, when he writes that the fruits of the Spirit are joy, peace, faithfulness, and self-control (cf. Gal 5:22). The Spirit grants intimacy with God, the inner strength to keep going. Yet, at the same time, he is a centrifugal force, that is, one pushing outward. The one who centers us is also the one who drives us to the peripheries, to every human periphery. The one who reveals God also opens our hearts to our brothers and sisters. He sends us, he makes us witnesses, and so he pours out on us – again in the words of Paul – love, kindness, generosity, and gentleness. Only in the Consoler Spirit do we speak words of life and truly encourage others. Those who live by the Spirit live in this constant spiritual tension: they find themselves pulled both towards God and towards the world.

Let us ask him to make us live in exactly that way. Holy Spirit, violent wind of God, blow upon us, blow into our hearts and make us breathe forth the tenderness of the Father! Blow upon the Church and impel her to the ends of the earth, so that, brought by you, she may bring nothing other than you. Blow upon our world the soothing warmth of peace and the refreshing cool of hope. Come Holy Sp

Pentecost: the Difference that the Spirit Makes

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As a teen, I thought the clergy were supposed to do everything.   We laity were just called to pray, pay, and obey.  Oh yes, and keep the commandments, of course.  The original 10 seemed overwhelming enough.  Then I discovered the Sermon on the Mount and nearly passed out.

Perhaps this is why many inactive Catholics are so resentful of their upbringing in the Church.   For them, religion means frustration, failure, and guilt.

Somehow they, and I, missed the good news about Pentecost.  OK, we Catholics celebrate the feast every year and mention it in Confirmation class, but lots of us evidently didn’t “get it.”

Because if we “got it,” we’d be different . . . bold instead of timid, energetic instead of anemic, fascinated instead of bored.   Compare the apostles before and after Pentecost and you’ll see the difference the Spirit makes.

The gospel is Good News not just because we’re going to heaven, but because we’ve been empowered to become new people, here and now.  Vatican II insisted that each of us is called to the heights of holiness (Lumen Gentium, chapter V).  Not by will-power, mind you.  But by Holy Spirit power. Holiness consists in faith, hope, and especially divine love.  These are “virtues,” literally “powers,” given by the Spirit.  To top it off, the Spirit gives us seven further gifts which perfect faith, hope, and love, making it possible for us to live a supernatural, charismatic life.  Some think this is only for the chosen few, “the mystics.”  Thomas Aquinas taught to the contrary that the gifts of Isaiah 11:1-3 (wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, piety, fortitude, and fear of the Lord) are standard equipment given in baptism, that all are called to be “mystics.”

Vatican II also taught that every Christian has a vocation to serve.  We need power for this too.  And so the Spirit distributes other gifts, called “charisms.”  These, teaches St. Thomas, are not so much for our own sanctification as for service to others.  There is no exhaustive list of charisms, though St. Paul mentions a few (I Corinthians 12:7-10, Romans 12:6-8) ranging from tongues to Christian marriage (1 Corinthians7: 7).  Charisms are not doled out by the pastors; but are given directly by the Spirit through baptism and confirmation, even sometimes outside of the sacraments (Acts 10:44-48).

Do I sound Pentecostal?  That’s because I belong to the largest Pentecostal Church in the world.  Correcting the mistaken notion that the charisms were just for the apostolic church, Vatican II had this to say: “Allotting His gifts ‘to everyone according as he will’ (1 Cor. 12:11), He [the Holy Spirit] distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. . . . These charismatic gifts, whether they be the most outstanding or the more simple and widely diffused, are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation, for they are exceedingly suitable and useful for the needs of the Church” (LG12).

Powerful gifts, freely given to all.  Sounds like a recipe for chaos.  But the Lord also imparted to the apostles and their successors a unifying charism of headship.  The role of the ordained is not to do everything themselves.  Rather, they are to discern, shepherd, and coordinate the charisms of the laity so that they mature and work together for the greater glory of God (LG 30).

So what if you, like me, did not quite “get it” when you were confirmed?   I’ve got good news for you.  You actually did get the Spirit and his gifts.   Have you ever received a new credit card with a sticker saying “Must call to activate before using?”  The Spirit and his gifts are the same way.  You have to call in and activate them.   Do it today and every day, and especially every time you attend Mass.  Because every sacramental celebration is a New Pentecost where the Spirit and his gifts are poured out anew (CCC 739, 1106).

That’s why the Christian Life is an adventure.  There will always be new surprises of the Spirit!

Marcellino D’Ambrosio (aka “Dr. Italy”) writes from Texas.  For info on his resources or his Holy Land pilgrimages, connect with him via dritaly.com or on social media @dr.italy.

This is offered as a reflection upon the Scripture readings for the feast of Pentecost cycles A, B&C (Acts 2:1-11; Psa;, 104; 1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-14 and John 20:19-23).  It is reproduced here with the permission of the author.

God Didn't Have to Make it Beautiful

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Posted by Erika Glover on 5/17/18 7:00 AM

Have you ever felt that overwhelming feeling of peace and awe and God-fearing silence when looking at the sunset engulf the horizon, or waves lap at the shore, or the mountains pierce heaven? 

It’s beautiful isn’t it? Yet, it didn’t have to be. Color didn’t have to be so bright and white didn’t have to be so pure, but yet, it is. Have you ever thought about that? Why is there beauty? What is the purpose of this wonderful gift, and why does it make us feel so good?

What Defines Beauty?

When our eyes set upon something that is beautiful, there is usually something that is uniquely good about it. Something that serves no practical or just function other than just to be wonderful. Now this doesn’t have to be extravagant material things, I’m talking about the small blessings that God gives us, without us noticing. Food, for example, doesn’t have to taste good for it to nourish our bodies, but God created sweets and salty and sours anyways. 

The beautiful thing about the way that God loves us is the same love that parents give their babies zerberts when they are young. Never mind that there is no practical reason to tickle their babies, the joy on their face after is the pure bliss that is the true reason. Our Heavenly Father loves to do the same. He delights in gifting us with small moments of joy— a sweet orange, a vibrant sunset, or a soft rain storm— and seeing our faces light up with bliss. Each of these gifts are simply oozing with his mercy and grace and generosity.

How Are We Beautiful?

Humans have a special relationship to beauty that no other creature has. We’re the only creatures that can fully appreciate beauty and find in it a source of prayer, because beautiful things raise our hearts and minds to heaven. They call us to contemplate the source of the all beauty. Maybe it is that we love beautiful things—nature, music, films, books, artwork—because they tell us something about ourselves. We see in the beauty around us the handiwork of the same Divine Artist who created us.

There is beauty in creation—in its glory and extravagance. And with a level of humility, there is nothing extravagant about me. None of this had to exist. But our loving God freely chose to create it all. And because of that, it is with a full heart that I believe he freely chose to love me into existence. 

Just like a sunset or laughter, a painting, or a fresh snowfall, I am the artwork of God—and so are you. This beauty teaches me to be who I am because my value is not measured by how useful I am or what others think of me. My true inherent beauty is there, whether I notice it or not. It comes from the passionate artist who created me, who delights in all of God's creation.

How can Beauty Help Us to Pray?

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I love to paint. Lots and lots of sunsets and clouds. I’m a fan of painting water and mountains and reflections. I began to realize how much of a meditation this was when I was filling a blank space with color and blending mediums on a surface until I have just what I see in my head. In these times, I am able to recognize beauty. I am able to feel the source of creativity and beauty and feel what God must of felt as he crafted the oceans. 

When we find beauty near us, it is natural to be grateful for it and to wonder about the one who created it. As Catholics, we have the privilege of knowing intimately the one who created all these things. God is no stranger to us; he is our Father, our Savior, and Lover. And he has left love notes to us, if only we pay attention to them.

What if We Cannot Find Beauty?

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My advice is this, because I struggle too. Sometimes beauty seems hard to find, especially when the cross is hard to bear, when it is splintery and heavy. It seems that it is in these times we must remember what He has given us. 

Of all the beauty on earth, there is none that compares to the Eucharist. Of all the gifts God has given us, there is nothing so extravagant as the Eucharist because he has given us his entire self. This is the beauty we receive in the Eucharist, and in times of doubt or desolation, God invites us to return a little piece of that love. He invites us to find beauty in the most unlikely of places—in the cross. 

Take some quiet time. This can be when you first get up in the morning, during your prayer time, or before you go to bed. Sometimes our lives are so filled with noise that we can’t quiet our hearts, but sometimes a little bit of silence is all we need to become more aware of God’s presence and the beauty that he has surrounded us with. 

Make a gratitude list. Beautiful things are things to be thankful for! Take stock of all the little moments of beauty that you might have missed before.

Journal. Find a Bible verse or song lyric that especially speaks to you and write it out by hand. Don’t rush it: take your time. Journal about why it’s meaningful to you. Write about a moment that you saw God, no matter what the size. 

When our hearts are expectant, they receive beauty more easily. And why shouldn’t they be expectant? The God we worship is all truth, beauty, and goodness, and he has created us to share in it. Let’s not hesitate to start now. Because finding beauty in our everyday lives isn’t difficult if we keep our hearts ready. 

Remember that God didn’t have to make the world beautiful. He created the world with awe-striking views, never-ending fields, mesmerizing sunsets, blooming flowers, joyful laughter, contagious smiles, soothing comfort, and intense warmth all because he loves us. He delights in our joy.

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Parishes grow only when people are welcomed, heard, Pope Francis says

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Pope Francis attends a meeting with leaders from the Diocese of Rome at St. John Lateran Basilica May 14. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

ROME (CNS) -- After months of study and discussion, the parishes of the Diocese of Rome have recognized "a general and healthy exhaustion" with doing the same things over and over, touching the lives of fewer and fewer people as time goes on, Pope Francis said.

Changing the way parishes -- and their priests and involved laity -- operate will not be easy, the pope said, but members of the diocese must set out to follow the Lord more closely, deal with the reality in their neighborhoods and learn how to show everyone living within the parish boundaries that they are recognized and loved.

Pope Francis addressed some 1,700 diocesan leaders, both clergy and laity, May 14 at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of the diocese of Rome. 

In the process of identifying the "spiritual illnesses" of the diocese, the pope said, the priests and parish leaders made it clear that they are tired of being content with what they have been doing for years.

A renewed outreach, the pope said, must begin by "learning to discern where God already is present in very ordinary forms of holiness and communion with him."

There are people in the parishes, he said, who might not know their catechism, but they see the basic interactions in their lives through a lens of faith and hope.

Calling for a "revolution of tenderness" in parishes and the diocese, Pope Francis said that while "guiding a Christian community is the specific task of the ordained minister -- the pastor -- pastoral care is based in baptism and blossoms from brotherhood and is not the task only of the pastor and priests, but of all the baptized."

The pope's speech marked his formal reception of a diocesan report on "spiritual illnesses" afflicting the city. Through a process that began in Lent, parishes identified the main challenges as "the economy of exclusion, selfish laziness, comfortable individualism, wars among us, sterile pessimism and spiritual worldliness," according to a statement from the diocese.

The priest who summarized the findings at the evening meeting told the pope that a lack of education in the faith was identified by many of the groups; that lack was seen regarding basic church teachings but also regarding how the Gospel and its values could be brought to bear on modern problems.

Pope Francis told them the process of identifying the problems had two benefits: a recognition of "the truth about our condition as being in need, sick," but, at the same time, a recognition that even if people have failed, God is still present and is calling his people to come together and to move forward.

"Our parishes," he said, "must be capable of generating a people, that is, of offering and creating relationships where people feel that they are known, recognized, welcomed, listened to, loved -- in other words, not anonymous parts of a whole."

To move forward, he said, Catholic communities must look at "the slaveries -- the illnesses -- that have ended up making us sterile."

Often, he said, parishes are slaves to doing things the ways they always have been done and to investing time and energy in projects and programs that no longer meet the needs of the people.

"We must listen without fear to the thirst for God and to the cry that rises from the people of Rome, asking ourselves how that cry expresses the need for salvation, for God," he said. "How many of the things that emerged from your studies express that cry, the invocation that God show himself and help us escape the impression that our life is useless and almost robbed by the frenzy of things that must be done and by time that keeps slipping through out hands?"

Too often, he said, evangelization also is stifled by "faith understood only as things to do and not as a liberation that renews us at every step."

Pope Francis asked the diocesan leaders to dedicate the next year to "a sort of preparation of your backpacks" for setting off on a multiyear process that would lead to a "new land," a place marked by new pastoral action that is "more responsive to the mission and needs of Romans (parishioners worldwide) today, but also more creative and liberating for priests and those who directly collaborate in their mission and in the building up of the Christian community."

People will remember how you made them feel

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MAY 16, 2018 BY TOM RAPSAS

At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel. ~Maya Angelou

I start most mornings with some spirituality-based reading and over the past several years this has included the works of the late-John Templeton. Better known for the investment fund that bears his name, after his retirement Templeton wrote several philosophy and religion books overflowing with spiritual wisdom.

What’s compelling about Templeton’s work is that his spiritual teachings can often be immediately incorporated into your daily life. I recently ran across such a teaching, one I found so essential to living a more compassionate, connected life, and so easy-to-do, I thought I would share it with you. His idea starts with a simple premise:

Each of us walks through life engaged in our own personal ministry.

While the term “ministry” is often used regarding religion, for Templeton it takes on a broader meaning. Our ministry encompasses “the way we live our lives—how we handle situations, our values and ideals, our goals and the way we strive to attain them.” But most importantly, our ministry revolves around “how we treat others.”

Templeton believes that the key to the success of your own personal ministry, and the success of your life on this earth, relates to how you interact with the people around you. How do you connect with those you encounter each day? What type of messages or signals do you give them? Do make them feel special or a little better about themselves? To that end, he advises us to:

“…reach the hearts of others and give them something of vital value, something that will broaden and enrich their lives. Desire that every person be open and alive to higher inspirations and filled with a beauty and truth so splendid that it elevates his or her soul.”

Well, that sounds well and good, you might say. I do want others to feel good. But how do I go about elevating the people I come across in my everyday life?

Fortunately, Templeton gives us a very simple guide to follow. It consists of three key action words we can act upon each day, with each person we encounter: 

·                     Recognize

·                     Encourage

·                     Praise

I personally began using the acronym REP to remember the first three letters of the words Recognition, Encouragement, Praise. And for me, the meaning and intent behind these words can be simply explained. It starts by walking through life alert and aware, then taking three actions:

Recognize those you know, and even those you don’t, with eye contact, a warm smile and when appropriate, a “hello” or friendly greeting. Take the time to stop for a chat and most importantly, to listen.

From that point, you can take the next step and add encouragement or praise to the mix:

Encourage those who need a kind word, who appear to be having a rough day, who need to be uplifted. This can be as simple as a “keep up the good work” for the garbageman or silently wishing all you encounter happiness.

Praise those who are doing something/anything of value, even if it’s complimenting the barista at the coffee shop or commenting on the smart fashion choice a coworker made that day.

Think you can’t do it? Templeton tells the story (also found in the book Spiritual Literacy by Frederick and Mary Ann Brussat) of a woman named Maxine F. Davis, who has a job that is both hectic and stressful—she’s a cashier. Yet her personal ministry involves helping others feel good daily. According to Maxine:

It’s the way I present myself to others that will determine whether my customers will leave the store feeling better or worse because of their brief encounter with me. By doing my job well, I know I have a chance to do God’s work too. Because of this, I try to make each of my customers feel special. While I’m serving them, they become the most important people in my life.

As Templeton points out when you discover and develop the abilities of others, you’re not only helping others. At the same time, you’re helping yourself. And the fact is, it feels good to help others feel good.

R.E.P. Recognize. Encourage. Praise. Three simple words that when put into use each day, with each encounter, can help you become a better you—and help the world become a better place, too.

Deacon Tom's Homily for May 17th

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Did you know that Jesus prayed for us while he walked this earth? It’s in today’s Gospel reading, in the High Priestly Prayer. He is praying not only for his apostles, but also for those who will believe in him through their word. That is extraordinary language. But this is Jesus. Jesus is praying for every believer that ever was and ever will be. And because his love for us is infinite, I believe he was thinking of each one of us when he prayed those words.

Every day, Jesus is praying to the Father for you and me. He desires for us to learn how to listen better, to put aside the desire to be right or comfortable, and love sacrificially, even to the point of laying down our lives. This love is what pleases him so much, and what he wants the world to see in us.

Jesus goes on in today's passage to refer to his disciples as God’s gift to him. Try to imagine Christmas’ past. It’s Christmas Eve and you’re struggling to assemble a bicycle or toy. It takes time to fit the pieces together. But we spend the effort because we know it will be worth it when we see the look of delight on our child’s face on Christmas morning. So, our gospel today tells us we are gifts from the Father to Jesus. This means we are precious and valuable to him.

It also means that just as you are a gift to Jesus, so is every other person. We are all gifts individually and we are gifts as a group. It’s not a perfect analogy, but the body of Christ is like the bicycle the father is putting together. There are many parts but all one body[1], together forming a precious gift that God delights in giving to his Son.

Sometimes when we look at our parish, all we can see are unrelated parts spread out. How can we become united to form one people singing to the glory of God? It may seem impossible to us, but not to God. Jesus says today: “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one”. That means the union of the Church is of the same nature as that between the Father and the Son, and the union of the Church results from the union of individual members with the Father through the Son.

Like that Father on Christmas Eve, he won’t stop working until all the pieces fit together. God wants to bring Jesus joy by giving each of us as a gift of priceless value. But he also wants to bring Jesus joy by giving him the entire Church and all of humanity, united-as-one, united-in-love.

We don’t always have to agree with one another. But we must love one another. For the Mystical Body to live out its mission in the world, we must all come to embrace God’s plan for our individual lives so that we can be brought into unity by the fire of the Holy Spirit to serve with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I read a recent projection by the United States Census Bureau that says that by the year 2030, the number of elderly will eclipse the number of children — for the first time in our nation’s history. There’s more to this looming scenario than the data indicate, however. There are the serious emotional aspects of aging that people in their so-called “golden years” will face — and it is far from glorious.

Think of the people today who are elderly, disabled, lonely and lost, starving for love and attention. They have no one to tell them that God loves them. Sue and Judy and others with Meals on Wheels will tell you that the people they deliver meals to need to hear the good news of God’s love. All peoples need to hear that Christ is present here and now for us in the unity we are called to live, in the Church. So today and every day, let’s show the love of God to others. This is our mission.

[1] 1 Corinthians 12:12

What Makes A Person Catholic?

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Recently someone asked me what makes a person a Catholic. I don’t know if I have ever been asked that question before in my 56 years as a priest. I had to think. Certainly being baptized in a Catholic church is part of the answer. But there are many who are baptized in a Catholic church as a child but are not brought up Catholic by their parents and do not identify themselves as Catholic in their adult life. So there is more to the answer than being baptized in the Catholic Church.

As I gave more thought to the question I began to think of the many things that make a person a Catholic. There are our Catholic beliefs, doctrines, and moral teachings. The Eucharist is at the very center of Catholic worship. We Catholics accept seven sacraments as given to us by Jesus. We have created over the centuries many sacramentals like the rosary, novenas, statues, vigil candles, crucifixes and crosses we wear around our necks, and countless others. In addition to Sacred Scripture, we Catholic accept Tradition as part of God’s revealed word. Our Catholic worship is ritualized when compared to most other Christian denominations which use little ritual. We accept a hierarchy in our Catholic faith: the Pope, bishops, priests, deacons, and laity. We accept that the Pope and bishops have teaching authority. Devotion to Mary and the saints (St. Anthony, of course) is natural for us. Many Catholic devotions and customs are unique to us, for example, Benediction, the Way of the Cross, the Rosary, and abstaining from meat on the Fridays of Lent. Some gestures such as the Sign of the Cross and genuflecting when we enter and leave church are very Catholic.

I think I have listed most of the things that identify a person as a Catholic. I suspect there are others I have failed to list. When all is said and done, there are many things that make a person a Catholic. Very importantly, let us hope that people identify us as being a Catholic because of the good witness we give in the way we lead our lives. St. Anthony help me to be the kind of Catholic you were, always faithful to living the Gospel life of Jesus.

Fr. John St. Anthony Shrine 

The Incredible Descent of the Heavenly Temple

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Pentecost, which we celebrate next Sunday, draws obvious comparisons to Babel.

In the first event, mankind lost his unity when his common language was broken up into many tongues as punishment. In the second, mankind rediscovered his unity despite linguistic difference through the ‘tongues’ of the Holy Spirit.

But Pentecost reversed Babel in another way. In order to see this, we first need to identify what Babel was about. It wasn’t just an attempt to unify humanity — it was an effort to reach heaven. “Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth’” (Genesis 11:4).

When the people were trying to do was attain heaven by themselves, without the aid or even consent of God. It might not be obvious from the translation, but what they were building was a temple. Many of the ancient temples in the ancient Near East were quite tall. These temples, known as ziggurats, were designed to be the true skyscrapers of their time. One in Babylon is reputed to have been 300 feet high, which would have dwarfed the Statue of Liberty, according to one site.

The thinking at work in these ancient construction projects is clear: the heavens are the home of the gods. In order to be closer to them temples, whose purpose is to manifest the presence of the divine, must be tall (as the above site explains). One of the defining features of these ziggurats was the extensive stairways, which led all the way to the top of the structure. One writer fittingly calls them ‘stairways to heaven.’

The spirit of Babel was at odds with the message of the early books of the Old Testament, which was that the man could never return to God on his own. The initiative rested with God. It was God who would bring heaven to man—not the other way around.

One story that shows this clearly is Jacob’s dream:

Then he had a dream: a stairway rested on the ground, with its top reaching to the heavens; and God’s angels were going up and down on it (Genesis 28:12).

The dream centers around the staircase, which like those of the ancient temples, reached to the top of the heavens. This might not seem like enough to make it a temple, except that when Joseph wakes up that is exactly how he describes the place of his dream:

When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he said, “Truly, the LORD is in this place and I did not know it!” He was afraid and said: “How awesome this place is! This is nothing else but the house of God, the gateway to heaven!” (verses 16-17).

The Hebrew word translated as house here is bayith (pronounced: bah’·yith). It is a common way of talking about the temple of God, especially in the Psalms. (See for example Psalm 66:13, 69:9, 84:4, and 91:13, among others.) Moreover, at the end of the chapter, Jacob sets up a ‘sacred pillar’ to be ‘the house of God.’ So in a sense, he constructs an informal temple. But this comes after the vision of the ladder not before it: God’s initiative calls upon us to respond, not the other way around. (A source that helped me to recognize this is as specifically a temple is my father G.K. Beale’s scholarship on the temple. See God Dwells Among Us, 44).

In a way, the ancient temples were meant to be sort of artificial mountains, for the latter also achieved the effect of bringing one closer to heaven. Hence, mountains themselves also became sacred places in the ancient world. This is also reflected in the early books of the Pentateuch, particularly in the stories of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac and the Israelites at Sinai.

In a sense, what happened at Sinai was Moses’ entrance into the heavenly temple. As strange as that might sound, key details of what happened on Sinai are reflected in later accounts of the temple of Solomon.

Key details of the temple’s dedication in 1 Kings 8 connect it with Sinai:

  • The tablets: The holy of holies contained the ark of the covenant with the copy of the Ten Commandments, which had been delivered to Moses at Sinai.
  • The dark cloud: When the priests left the temple, a ‘cloud’ filled it (1 Kings 8:10). Solomon later describes it as a ‘dark cloud’ (verse 12). Likewise, the cloud that settled at Sinai was ‘dense’ or ‘dark,’ depending on the translation (Exodus 19:9). Since the exodus account recounts lightning and thunder atop Sinai it’s likely this was a storm cloud, so the image of darkness fits.
  • The consuming fire: In fact, in the version of this story that is found in 2 Chronicles 7, at the end of Solomon’s prayer, a fire comes down from heaven to consume the sacrifices he offered (I’m indebted to The Temple and the Church’s Mission, also by G.K. Beale, for helping me to make this connection and also confirming the parallel).
  • Mediation: Finally, the dedication concludes with a long intercessory prayer from Solomon, recalling how Moses acted as mediator for his people while on Sinai.

Understanding Sinai as a temple event now enables us to better appreciate significance of the parallels between the exodus account and Pentecost:

  • The fire: In both instances, fire represents the divine reality. Moreover, the ‘tongues of fire’ indirectly connotes the lightning that flickered at Sinai. In fact, the Hebrew word for lightning here could be translated as torches, further reinforcing the connection.
  • A loud sound: At Sinai there was thunder and ‘a very loud blast of the shofar’ (Exodus 19:16). Compare the beginning of Pentecost: ‘And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind’ (Acts 2:2).
  • The voice: One way of translating the Hebrew word for the ‘noise’ of the shofar, or trumpet, is voice. This also ties in with the Pentecost account, which places much emphasis of the voice, or ‘tongue,’ of the Holy Spirit speaking through the apostles.
  • The strong driving wind: It is hardly reading too much into this phrase to recognize a wind storm, which recalls the storm cloud at Sinai.
  • Heavenly source: One of the most important details is so obvious it’s easy to miss. But notice that the source of the wind at Pentecost is the sky. In fact, in the Greek the word is ouranus, which could also be translated heaven.
  • The giving of the law: In light of all that has been said above, it can be no coincidence that one of the purposes of the Jewish feast of Pentecost was the celebration of the ‘giving of the law’ to Moses. In fact, Exodos 19-20, which has been cited repeatedly above, was one of the texts for the synagogue liturgy of Pentecost.

(A note on sources: Again, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 204-205, assisted me greatly in identifying these parallels, in particular the lightning as torches, the loud noise, and the giving of the law. The below conclusion about this being a temple event is also owed to this source.)

The bare facts of Pentecost are incredible — the wind-driven, heaven-sent tongues of fire that come to rest above the heads of all the apostles. But it turns out that what happens at Pentecost is even more amazing than most of us realized: what occurs is nothing less than the descent of the heavenly temple. Finally, the error of Babel is rectified in the most fitting way possible: rather than a man-made temple reaching into heaven the God-made temple reaches from heaven down to the earth.

This is how miracles are approved by the Church

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The Church is careful to declare only certain events as miraculous.

Humans have always been fascinated with miracles. In every age there have occurred events that can not be explained through natural reasoning and which are seen as divine in origin.

Being a Christian entails a belief in the miraculous. Jesus’ entire life was full of miracles, from his virginal conception to his resurrection and ascension.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains the importance of miracles for the Christian believer: “the miracles of Christ and the saints, prophecies, the Church’s growth and holiness, and her fruitfulness and stability ‘are the most certain signs of divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all’; they are ‘motives of credibility’ (motiva credibilitatis), which show that the assent of faith is ‘by no means a blind impulse of the mind.'” (CCC 156)

In other words, miracles are real and they confirm for us the reality of the supernatural and reassure us of the existence of God.

However, the Church doesn’t believe everything that is difficult to explain by science is a miracle. She has a strict procedure that examines each event and determines if it indeed was of “supernatural origin.”

Miracles are described by St. Thomas Aquinas as “those things … which are done by divine power apart from the order generally followed in things.” This means that a miracle must have hard evidence that it did not follow the rules of nature.

One of the most common type of miracles is the sudden healing of someone. According to Michael O’Neill, “For the cure to be considered miraculous, the disease must be serious and impossible (or at least very difficult) to cure by human means and not be in a stage at which it is liable to disappear shortly by itself. No medical treatment must have been given, or it must be certain that the treatment given has no reference to the cure. The healing must be spontaneous, complete and permanent.”

In all cases the local bishop is the first authority to investigate a miracle. He creates a board of medical professionals to evaluate the event and then they report to him their results.

In most cases the event is not verified as a miracle. For example, “the Lourdes Medical Commission, while documenting over 8,000 extraordinary cures, has only validated [70] of them.”

This type of skepticism is employed in every type of miracle examined by the Church. Whether it be an apparition of the Blessed Mother or a Eucharistic miracle, a team of scientists investigate the event to determine if it follows the rules of nature, or if it is impossible to explain outside of a supernatural cause.

Yet, despite this strict procedure, miracles are proclaimed on a regular basis. For almost each beatification and canonization the existence of miracles are a primary requirement, clearly showing the power of God through the intercession of an individual.

This confirms the interest God has in our affairs and his willingness to help us in our time of need. He is not a distant “god of the clouds,” but a loving God who is present among us and keeps us and all creation in existence.

In a certain sense, every day is a miracle and all of creation proclaims the power and glory of God.

Pope Francis explains the Hail Mary phrase by phrase.

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And he remembers a mother who had an amazing gift of counsel. Here's the advice she gave her son:

We all recite the Hail Mary, but how many of us know its true meaning? What is the prayer really saying?

In the book, "Mary, Mother of All" ("María, Mamma di tutti"), Pope Francis himself teaches us the meaning of the words of this essential prayer.

Full of Grace

The Angel Gabriel calls Mary "full of grace" (Lk 1:28); in her, the pope explains, "there is no room for sin, because God has chosen her from all eternity to be the mother of Jesus, and has preserved her from original sin."
"The Word became flesh in her womb. We, too, are asked to listen to God, who speaks to us, and to accept His will. The Lord always speaks to us."

The Lord is with you

What happened in a unique way in the Virgin Mary, Francis says, "happens on a spiritual level in us as well when we welcome the Word of God with a good and sincere heart, and put it into practice. It happens as if God were to become flesh in us; He comes to live in us, because He makes His home in those who love Him and obey His Word. It's not easy to understand this, but, yes, it's easy to feel it in your heart."
"Do we think that the incarnation of Jesus is only a past event, that it doesn't affect us personally? Believing in Jesus means offering Him our body, with the same humility and courage as Mary."

Blessed are you among women

How did Mary live her faith? "She lived it," the pope answers, "in the simplicity of the many daily occupations and worries of every mom, such as providing food and clothing, and taking care of the house... Precisely this normal existence of the Virgin was the ground on which a singular rapport and profound dialogue between her and God, between her and her Son, developed."

Blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

Mary is receptive, but not passive, Francis explains.
"Just as she receives the power of the Holy Spirit at a physical level, but then gives flesh and blood to the Son of God who takes form in Her, so also on a spiritual level, she receives grace and responds to it with faith. For this reason, Saint Augustine says that the Virgin 'conceived in her heart before in her womb.' She conceived faith first, and then the Lord."

Holy Mary, Mother of God

The Mother of the Redeemer, the pope continues, "precedes us and constantly confirms us in the faith, in our vocation, and in our mission. With her example of humility and readiness to obey God's will, she helps us to translate our faith into a joyful proclamation of the Gospel, without borders.”

Pray for us sinners

In order to explain the meaning of this passage of the prayer, Francis relates an anecdote:
"I remember how once, at the Shrine of Luján, I was in the confessional, in front of which there was a long line. There was also a young man who was very modern, with earrings, tattoos, all those things... And he had come to tell me what was going on with him. It was a big problem, very difficult. And he said to me, 'I told my mom all of this, and my mom said: Go to the Blessed Virgin and she will tell you what to do.' Now, that's a woman who had the gift of counsel. She didn't know how to solve her son's problem, but she pointed out the right path: go to the Blessed Virgin, and she will tell you. This is the gift of counsel. That humble, simple woman gave her son the best advice. In fact, the young man said to me, 'I looked at the Blessed Virgin and I felt that I should do this, this, and this...' I didn't need to talk; his mom and the young man himself had already said everything. This is the gift of counsel. You moms, who have this gift: ask that it be given to your children. The gift of counseling your children is a gift of God."

Now, and at the hour of our death

Let us entrust ourselves to Mary, Pope Francis says, "so that she, as the Mother of our first-born brother, Jesus, can teach us to have the same maternal spirit towards our brothers, with a sincere ability to accept, to forgive, to strengthen, and to infuse confidence and hope. And this is what a mom does."
Mary's path towards Heaven began "with that 'yes' she spoke in Nazareth, in reply to the heavenly Messenger who announced to her God's will for her. In reality, that's exactly how it is: every 'yes' to God is a step toward Heaven, toward eternal life."

6 Traditions Handed Down to Us That Need to Be Changed

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Josh Daffern May 10, 2018

In Acts 6, Stephen (the first martyr) was on trial for challenging the religious traditions and customs of the day:

They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law.For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” Acts 6:12-14

History has a funny way of repeating itself as the church today still struggles with traditions and customs that drag us away from our mission of making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). So, in honor of Stephen, here are six traditions handed down to us that need to be changed:

1. Agreeing with the Word of God rather than obeying it. Somewhere along the way we began to assume that mental assent was enough. We’re great about agreeing with the Word of God. Americans believe in the Bible! Obedience, however, is a different matter. What’s the problem? Jesus said that it’s the application, not the intention, that matters (Matthew 7:24-27). Even demons believe in God (James 2:19). Agreeing with the Word of God is not enough; we need to start obeying it.

2. Getting discipled rather than making disciples. In the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), Jesus is explicit in his instructions to his followers: make disciples of all nations. And for centuries that’s exactly what they’ve done. But today American Christians seem like they’d rather get discipled than make disciples. This inward-focused, head-knowledge, navel-gazing brand of religion has the church in a spot where we know more than ever before, yet our churches are dying, not growing. That tradition needs to change!

3. Withdrawing from the messes rather than running toward them. We’re on the wrong side of Luke 15. In the famous parable of the prodigal son, Jesus tells the story of a son who simply makes a mess of his life and then decides to come home. How he’s received is contrasted by the father and the older brother. The father saw the son from a distance and ran towards him (Luke 15:20), indicating our Heavenly Father’s heart towards the world. But how often do we truly (as a church) run toward the messes around us? How active are churches today in our communities? More often we withdraw from the mess, choosing to stay safe inside our sanitary church buildings.

4. Judging the world rather than loving it. The older brother in Luke 15 chose not to embrace his brother but judge him. Are Christians today known for their judgmental attitudes towards those around them? Far too often! Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5:12 “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” This was a practical application of Jesus’ overarching command to “love one another” in John 13:34-35. Honestly, for many of us in the church toay we have these commands bass ackwards.

5. Maintaining uncompromising dogma rather than celebrating uncommon fellowship. Not only do we judge the world, we judge other Christians who don’t maintain our narrow stripe of Christian beliefs. Denominations draw boundaries beyond which we dare not venture. This was the point Andy Stanley was recently trying to make when he said that church unity (John 17:23) trumps theological correctness. The overwhelming response? Judge Andy Stanley and double down on the need for uncompromising dogma. Is it any surprise that Christians aren’t united today? A house divided against itself cannot stand.

6. Living in spite of eternity rather than in light of eternity. Let’s be honest: most of us (myself included) live like heaven isn’t really going to happen. How can I say that? Just look at how we spend our time, our energy, our resources. We spend the overwhelming majority of our incomes on ourselves, our pleasures, making ourselves comfortable in this world, as if this world is all that there is. We’ve completely forgotten the command by Jesus to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven, not treasures on earth (Matthew 6:19-20).

QUESTION: What other traditions would you add to this list?