In first century Judaism, there were many views concerning what happened to people after they died. Following a very venerable tradition, some said that death was the end, that the dead simply returned to the dust of the earth from which they came. Others maintained that the righteous dead would rise at the close of the age. Still others thought that the souls of the just went to live with God after the demise of their bodies. There were even some who believed in a kind of reincarnation.
What is particularly fascinating about the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection is that none of these familiar frameworks of understanding is invoked. The first witnesses maintain that the same Jesus who had been brutally and unmistakably put to death and buried was, through the power of God, alive again. He was not vaguely “with God,” nor had his soul escaped from his body; nor had he risen in a purely symbolic or metaphorical sense. He, Jeshoua from Nazareth, the friend whom they knew, was alive again. What was expected for all the righteous dead at the end of time had happened, in time, to this one particular man, to this Jesus. It was the very novelty of the event that gave such energy and verve to the first Christian proclamation. On practically every page of the New Testament, we find a grab-you-by-the-lapels quality, for the early Christians were not trading in bland spiritual abstractions or moral bromides. They were trying to tell the whole world that something so new and astounding had happened that nothing would ever again be the same.
Over the past couple of centuries, many thinkers, both inside and outside of the Christian churches, endeavored to reduce the resurrection message to the level of myth or symbol. Easter, they argued, was one more iteration of the “springtime saga” that can be found, in one form or another, in most cultures, namely, that life triumphs over death in the “resurrection” of nature after the bleak months of winter. Or it was a symbolic way of saying that the cause of Jesus lives on in his followers. But as C.S. Lewis keenly observed, those who think the resurrection story is a myth haven’t read many myths. Mythic literature deals in ahistorical archetypes, and thus it tends to speak of things that happened “once upon a time” or “in a galaxy far, far away.” But the Gospels don’t use that sort of language. In describing the resurrection, they mention particular places like Judea and Jerusalem, and they specify that the event took place when Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor of the region, and they name distinct individuals—Peter, John, Thomas, etc.—who encountered Jesus after he rose from the dead. Moreover, no one dies defending mythic claims. The myths of Greece, Rome, and Egypt are powerful and illuminating indeed, but there are no martyrs to Zeus or Dionysus or Osiris. But practically all of the first heralds of the resurrection went to their deaths defending the truth of their message.
Yet assuming the resurrection is true, what does it mean? It means, first, that the customary manner in which we understand the relationship between order and violence—from the Epic of Gilgamesh to “Game of Thrones”—has to be rethought. On the standard Realpolitik reading of things, order comes about through the violent imposition of strength. And if that order is lost or compromised, it must be restored through answering violence. In Jesus’ time, the great principle of order was the Empire of Rome, which maintained its hold through the exertions of its massive army and through the imposition of harsh punishment on those who opposed its purposes. The most terrible and fearsome of these punishments was, of course, the cross, a particularly brutal mode of torture that was purposely carried out in public so as to have greatest deterrent effect. It was precisely on one of these Roman crosses that Jesus of Nazareth was put to death, having been betrayed and abandoned by his friends and condemned by a corrupt tribunal of collaborators.
When the risen Jesus presented himself alive to his disciples, they were, we are told, afraid. Their fear might not have been simply a function of their seeing something uncanny; it might have been grounded in the assumption that he was back for vengeance. However, after showing his wounds, the risen Jesus said to his friends, “Shalom,” Peace. The teacher who had urged his followers to turn the other cheek and to meet violence with forgiveness exemplified his own teaching in the most vivid way possible. And what he showed, thereby, was that that the divine manner of establishing order has nothing to do with violence, retribution, or eye-for-an-eye retaliation. Instead, it has to do with a love which swallows up hate, with a forgiveness which triumphs over aggression. It is this great resurrection principle which, explicitly or implicitly, undergirded the liberating work of Martin Luther King, Jr. in America, of Gandhi in India, of Bishop Tutu in South Africa, and of John Paul II in Poland. Those great practitioners of non-violent resistance were able to stand athwart the received wisdom only because they had some sense that in opting for the way of love they were going with the deepest grain of reality, operating in concert with the purposes of God.
Secondly, the resurrection means that God has not given up on his creation. According to the well-known account in the book of Genesis, God made the whole array of finite things—sun, moon, planets, stars, animals, plants, things that creep and crawl on the earth—and found it all good, even very good. There is not a hint of dualism or Manichaeism in the Biblical vision, no setting of the spiritual over and against the material. All that God has made reflects some aspect of his goodness, and all created things together constitute a beautiful and tightly-woven tapestry. As the Old Testament lays out the story, human sin made a wreck of God’s creation, turning the garden into a desert. But the faithful God kept sending rescue operation after rescue operation: Noah’s Ark, the prophets, the Law and the Temple, the people Israel itself. Finally, he sent his only Son, the perfect icon or incarnation of his love. In raising that Son from the dead, God definitively saved and ratified his creation, very much including the material dimension of it (which is why it matters that Jesus was raised bodily from death). Over and again, we have said no to what God has made, but God stubbornly says yes. Inspired by this divine yes, we always have a reason to hope.
The night before he died, Jesus gives a strange, mystical speech to his disciples. This was his last will and testament. In the course of this seemingly rambling discourse, Jesus is luring them, for the last time, into his vision of things, which is to say, into a world in which the fear of death has been overcome.
From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus spoke of a divine love that loves us unconditionally, that reaches out to us even when we wander far away, and that loves us even through the terror and darkness of death. Just as he moved into the shame and marginalization of sin in order to bring the light to sinners, now he will move into the darkness of death in order to show us the way through.
Jesus is about to leave this world, and he prays that his disciples might know that they are not of this world. What does this world look like concretely? Well, look around.
The fear of death is like a cloud, like a terrible shadow that falls over human life and experience. All of our proximate fears are reflections of, and participations in, this primordial fear. It cramps us, turns us in on ourselves, and it makes us defensive, hateful, violent, and vengeful.
Further, structures of oppression in our world are predicated upon the fear of death. Because a tyrant can threaten his people with death, he can dominate them and perpetrate all sorts of injustice.
Whenever the strong (in any sense) overwhelm the weak, we are looking at the ways of death.
Jesus came to inaugurate what he called the Kingdom of God, God’s way of being, God’s order. This is an order based upon the infinite and death-defying love of God. What would the world look like under the influence of this love? It would be radically changed, revolutionized, replaced: “A new heavens and a new earth.”
What would life be like if we were no longer afraid? We would live as the saints do—not immune to suffering, but, if I can put it this way, unaffected by it. We would know that we are loved by a power that transcends death, and this would fill us with an exuberance beyond measure.
Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.
One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot,
went to the chief priests and said,
"What are you willing to give me
if I hand him over to you?"
They paid him thirty pieces of silver,
and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.
On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread,
the disciples approached Jesus and said,
"Where do you want us to prepare
for you to eat the Passover?"
"Go into the city to a certain man and tell him,
'The teacher says, "My appointed time draws near;
in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples."'"
The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered,
and prepared the Passover.
When it was evening,
he reclined at table with the Twelve.
And while they were eating, he said,
"Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me."
Deeply distressed at this,
they began to say to him one after another,
"Surely it is not I, Lord?"
He said in reply,
"He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me
is the one who will betray me.
The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him,
but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.
It would be better for that man if he had never been born."
Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply,
"Surely it is not I, Rabbi?"
He answered, "You have said so."
Wednesday's Gospel reading preludes the betrayal of Judas. How appropriate then is the sometimes used phrase of, "Spy Wednesday," for this period before our celebration of the Sacred Triduum. The events that lead Jesus to the cross are filled with intrigue, suspense and an impending sense of disaster.
Clearly, the powers of good and evil, light and darkness, sin and salvation are poised to exhibit themselves at the place we call Golgotha. The Joannine account of Jesus betrayal seems to show Jesus' deep understanding of His role as the Messianic fulfillment. Judas in his interrogatory and somewhat cynical half statement of,"Surely it is not I, Rabbi?" provides the catalyst for the process of darkness to unravel. What is so significant about this ,"Spy Wednesday" is that it theologically reflects the daily struggles we all endure in order to accept a relationship with the Lord.
To live the life that Jesus intended for us is a perpetual struggle on a daily basis with good and evil. Sometimes when we are questioned about our transgressions, we, sometimes answer back. "It's not me Lord." But the tranquility of Jesus' realization of His mission provides us with hope in the days to come. Rather than provide a discourse to the Twelve, Jesus calmly recalls the Old Testament references to Him and even shares a piece of food with Judas, simultaneously dipping a morsel into the bowl. We should remember that the act of sharing a meal with others is a deeply rooted Semite notion of intimacy and close relationship. Jesus is sharing the meal, not with strangers, but with intimate friends.
Often, we dip morsels and share food with those we love; we feign intimacy and even deceive one another. Jesus is not blind to the events that are revealing themselves as a result of Judas' clandestine negotiations. Judas has turned on Jesus' friendship and love. We too in our lives are sometimes turned against Jesus' love through sinful and unloving activities. There is a real message here in Jesus' tranquil resignation to the events that are coming. Faith in the love and power of the Father.
As believers in the power of God's love and goodness, Spy Wednesday, should provide a period for reflection and introspective prayer. We need to examine our lives and look for the moments that we have falsely shared intimacy with our brothers and sisters in faith. More precisely, contemplate of lack of true, "communio" in our lives. With Judas' false interrogatory response to Jesus, he reveals his true self. Betrayer. Jesus sees right through Judas' false piety and friendship. Jesus sees right through our own appearances when we falsely present ourselves as holy and faithful followers. Our frail human spirit reflects in our sinful acts and lack of faith.
Jesus recognizes this and offers new hope to Judas and us. The "morsel" which Jesus offers to Judas is an offering of friendship and love. Some biblical scholars have even indicated that the "morsel" is symbolic of Jesus' Eucharistic manifestation. Judas does not partake of the meal with Jesus, but he was invited just the same. There is a sense that Jesus recognizes Judas' confrontation with the powers of evil. Jesus does not admonish him or chastise him, but permits Judas to engage in this struggle and reveal the implications of his actions and unfaithfulness. There is hope for conversion. There is hope for grace. There is hope in Jesus' acceptance of the Father's plan. There is hope for Easter glory.
As preparations begin for the Church's celebration of our New Passover ,this Wednesday before the Triduum invites all of us to share in, "Holy Wednesday", not to pursue darkness and evil, but progress on the path of light and life. The Church in its wisdom sees this period of "Holy Wednesday" as a time for personal preparation. Unlike Judas, our preparations should be motivated by the promise of new life in the Paschal Mystery and not a rejection of the "morsel" which Jesus offers to us in friendship and love.
The Sunday after Easter is Divine Mercy Sunday!
How should we prepare for this great Feast of Mercy?
Jesus told St. Faustina that this Feast of Mercy would be a very special day when "all the divine floodgates through which graces flow are opened".(Diary 699) Our Lord made a great promise to all those souls who would go to Confession and then receive Him in Holy Communion on the Feast of Mercy, on the Sunday after Easter, which is now called Divine Mercy Sunday throughout the Catholic Church.
Jesus promised that "The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain the complete forgiveness of sins and punishment."(Diary 699) He went on to say "I want to grant a complete pardon to the souls that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion on the Feast of My Mercy." (Diary 1109)
We want to encourage everyone to take advantage of this incredible promise and the additional Plenary Indulgence on this great Feast of Mercy "Divine Mercy Sunday". We want you to benefit fully from these promises, and we also want you to notify all of your family and friends about them too and urge them to return to the practice of their faith!
The Image of The Divine Mercy, which Our Lord requested to be solemnly blessed and venerated on this day, will be on display in our church. Pope John Paul II said that the image portrays the Risen Jesus Christ bringing Mercy to the whole world. Our Lord said "I want the image to be solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter, and I want it to be venerated publicly so that every soul may know about it. I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish". (Diary 341, 48) Please take the time to visit with this Image of The Divine Mercy and venerate Jesus.
Jesus said to St. Faustina "I am offering people a vessel with which they are to keep coming for graces to the fountain of mercy. That vessel is this image with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You". (Diary 327) "The two rays denote Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls. These two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender mercy when My agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the cross. …Happy is the one who will dwell in their shelter, for the just hand of God shall not lay hold of him." (Diary 299)
About the feastday "Divine Mercy Sunday", Jesus said "…tell the whole world about My inconceivable mercy. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon the souls who approach the Fount of My Mercy. On that day all the divine floodgates through which graces flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet.... Mankind will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of My Mercy". (Diary 699)
Our Lord said "When you go to confession, to this fountain of My mercy, the Blood and Water which came forth from My Heart always flows down upon your soul…" and "Every time you go to confession, immerse yourself entirely in My mercy with great trust, so that I may pour the bounty of My grace upon your soul. When you approach the confessional, know this, that I Myself am waiting there for you. I am only hidden by the priest, but I Myself act in your soul. Here the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy" (1602) Make your confession before Me. The person of the priest is… only a screen. Never analyze what sort of a priest that I am making use of; open your soul in confession to Me, and I will fill it with My light." (1725)
It is required of all Catholics to confess their serious sins at least once every year. If you haven’t yet met this obligation then take advantage of this outstanding opportunity to receive an outpouring of an ocean of graces that Jesus promises on this day. Those who have already confessed their sins should make room for others.
The Church allows for one to go to Confession for up to about 20 days, before or after Divine Mercy Sunday.
Excerpts taken from the Diary of St. Faustina, copyright 1987 Marians of the Immaculate Conception, Stockbridge MA., USA
Bulletin insert taken from the www.DivineMercySunday.com website and may be copied and re-produced.
Sacred Heart Parish in Plainville will host a Divine Mercy Celebration on April 8, 2018 at 3:00 pm. Please make plans to attend in order to receive the graces and the indulgence attached to this devotion.
The first reading is taken from the Book of Chronicles 2 Chron:36:14-16, 19-23. It refers to the edict of Cyrus, the king of Persia, permitting the exiles to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, which had been burned by the Chaldeans as a punishment from God for the infidelities of the Chosen People.
The second reading is from the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians 2:4-10. In today's extract St. Paul is emphasizing the gratuitousness of the gift of faith which the Ephesian converts have received. This gift which God gave them, even when they were sinners, had united them to Christ, and has given them the right to share in His glorious resurrection and inherit heaven with Him and through Him.
The Gospel is from St. John 3:14-21. This man Nicodemus had a half-open mind as regards Jesus. He was moved by his teaching and miracles. He defended him when his companions were out to have Jesus arrested. He helped to have him properly buried when his enemies had him put to death, but that was as far as he went, apparently. There is no mention of him in the first Christian community of Jerusalem. What held him back, what kept him from giving himself fully to Jesus who spoke so kindly and told him so clearly that he himself was indeed a teacher who had come from God, that he had been offered by God as the sacrificial victim who would save the world? All Nicodemus had to do was to accept his word, "believe in him" and be baptized and he too would have eternal life.
Why did he not do this? The answer is given in the beginning of his story "He came to Jesus by night." He was one of the leading Pharisees and evidently was afraid of what they would think of him had they seen him associating with Jesus. How much more so did he dread what their reactions would be had he become a follower of him whom they called "this impostor." Nicodemus had only half of his mind open to the truth, the other half was closed and barred by his fear of what his own class—the leaders of the Jews—would think of him. He risked his own future happiness in order not to lose the present respect of his sinful associates.
What a foolish man we would all say! Yet, are not many of us often like Nicodemus, when it comes to living up to our following of Christ? There are Catholic men who would like to, and should, go much more often to Holy Communion but are afraid of what their fellow-parishioners, who receive but rarely, would think of them. There are many, far too many, Christians who will not defend or stand up for their religion when it is insulted and attacked in their place of work or in a saloon. There are Christians who stand idly by, and give at least tacit approval, when grave injustices are being carried out by individuals or by local or national groups. These and many more like them are Christian types of Nicodemus, who through fear of losing the approval, the worthless esteem, of their sinful associates, are prepared to forfeit the esteem of God and their own eternal welfare.
Nicodemus probably thought he had made reparation for his lack of openness to Jesus when he assisted at his burial. What value, however, had that work of mercy for one of his frame of mind? There are amongst us today, humanists, most of them ex-Christians, men and women who make assisting their neighbor, while excluding Christ and God, the essence of religion. While the assistance the neighbor receives will benefit him materially, what spiritual or religious value can it have for the humanist who excluded God and our Savior Jesus Christ? Humanism or concentrating on our neighbor to the exclusion of God, is an imitation of religion and a very false imitation at that. Helping our neighbor because he is a son of God is part of our true religion, and the second of the two great commandments of love; but helping a neighbor from whom we have effaced the image of God has not and cannot have any religious value or significance whatever. It is as meaningless as lighting a candle before the photograph of a wife one has deliberately deserted.
Thank God, we have accepted Christ with our whole heart and our whole mind. It is through him that we have been made sons of God. It is through him that we have learned to love God and learned of God's infinite love for us. Because all men are God's sons also, and our brothers in Christ, we will gladly help them whenever and wherever we can because God has commanded us to do so. This is true humanism which sees in the neighbor the workmanship of the almighty Creator, and what is more important still, the elevating effects of the divine Savior, as well.
There are three things, my brethren, by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, mercy and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other.
Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God’s ear to yourself.
When you fast, see the fasting of others. If you want God to know that you are hungry, know that another is hungry. If you hope for mercy, show mercy. If you look for kindness, show kindness. If you want to receive, give. If you ask for yourself what you deny to others, your asking is a mockery.
Let this be the pattern for all men when they practice mercy: show mercy to others in the same way, with the same generosity, with the same promptness, as you want others to show mercy to you.
Therefore, let prayer, mercy and fasting be one single plea to God on our behalf, one speech in our defense, a threefold united prayer in our favor.
Let us use fasting to make up for what we have lost by despising others. Let us offer our souls in sacrifice by means of fasting. There is nothing more pleasing that we can offer to God, as the psalmist said in prophecy: A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; God does not despise a bruised and humbled heart.
Offer your soul to God, make him an oblation of your fasting, so that your soul may be a pure offering, a holy sacrifice, a living victim, remaining your own and at the same time made over to God. Whoever fails to give this to God will not be excused, for if you are to give him yourself you are never without the means of giving.
To make these acceptable, mercy must be added. Fasting bears no fruit unless it is watered by mercy. Fasting dries up when mercy dries up. Mercy is to fasting as rain is to the earth. However much you may cultivate your heart, clear the soil of your nature, root out vices, sow virtues, if you do not release the springs of mercy, your fasting will bear no fruit.
When you fast, if your mercy is thin your harvest will be thin; when you fast, what you pour out in mercy overflows into your barn. Therefore, do not lose by saving, but gather in by scattering. Give to the poor, and you give to yourself. You will not be allowed to keep what you have refused to give to others.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Advent is, par excellence, the season of hope. Every year this basic spiritual attitude is reawakened in the hearts of Christians, who, while they prepare to celebrate the great Feast of Christ the Saviour's Birth, revive the expectation of his glorious second coming at the end of time. The first part of Advent insists precisely on the parousia, the final coming of the Lord. The antiphons of these First Vespers are all oriented, with different nuances, to this perspective. The short Reading from the First Letter to the Thessalonians (5: 23-34) refers explicitly to the final coming of Christ using precisely the Greek term parousia (cf. v. 23). The Apostle urges Christians to keep themselves sound and blameless, but above all encourages them to trust in God, who "is faithful" (v. 24) and will not fail to bring about this sanctification in all who respond to his grace.
This entire Vespers liturgy is an invitation to hope, pointing on the horizon of history to the light of the Saviour who comes: "on that day a great light will appear" (Antiphon 2); "the Lord will come with great might" (Antiphon 3); "his splendour fills the whole world" (Magnificat Antiphon). This light, which shines from the future of God, was already manifest in the fullness of time; therefore, our hope does not lack a foundation but is supported by an event situated in history, which at the same time exceeds history: the event constituted by Jesus of Nazareth. The Evangelist John applies to Jesus the title of "light": it is a title that belongs to God. Indeed, in the Creed we profess that Jesus Christ is "God from God, Light from Light".
I wanted to dedicate my second Encyclical, which was published yesterday, to the theme of hope. I am pleased to offer it in spirit to the entire Church on this First Sunday of Advent, so that, during preparation for Holy Christmas, the communities and individual faithful can read and meditate upon it to rediscover the beauty and depth of Christian hope. This, in fact, is inseparably bound to knowledge of the Face of God, the Face which Jesus, the Only-Begotten Son, revealed to us with his Incarnation, his earthly life and his preaching, and especially with his death and Resurrection. True and steadfast hope is founded on faith in God Love, the Merciful Father who "so loved the world that he gave his Only Son" (Jn 3: 16), so that men and women and with them all creatures might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10: 10). Advent, therefore, is a favourable time for the rediscovery of a hope that is not vague and deceptive but certain and reliable, because it is "anchored" in Christ, God made man, the rock of our salvation.
From the outset, as becomes clear in the New Testament and especially in the Letters of the Apostles, a new hope distinguishes Christians from those who live in pagan religiosity. In writing to the Ephesians, St Paul reminds them that before embracing faith in Christ, they had "no hope and [were] without God in the world" (2: 12). This appears an especially apt description for the paganism of our day: in particular, we might compare it with the contemporary nihilism that corrodes the hope in man's heart, inducing him to think that within and around him nothingness prevails: nothing before birth and nothing after death. In fact, if God is lacking, hope is lacking. Everything loses its "substance". It is as if the dimension of depth were missing and everything were flattened out and deprived of its symbolic relief, its "projection" in comparison with mere materiality. At stake is the relationship between existence here and now and what we call the "hereafter": this is not a place in which we end up after death; on the contrary, it is the reality of God, the fullness of life towards which every human being is, as it were, leaning. God responded to this human expectation in Christ with the gift of hope.
Man is the one creature free to say "yes" or "no" to eternity, that is, to God. The human being is able to extinguish hope within him, eliminating God from his life. How can this be? How can it happen that the creature "made for God", intimately oriented to him, the creature closest to the Eternal One, can deprive himself of this richness? God knows the human heart. He knows that those who reject him have not recognized his true Face, and so he never ceases to knock at our door like a humble pilgrim in search of hospitality. This is why the Lord grants humanity new time: so that everyone may manage to know him! This is also the meaning of a new liturgical year which is beginning: it is a gift of God, who once again wishes to reveal himself to us in the mystery of Christ, through the Word and the Sacraments. He wants to speak to humanity and to save the people of today through the Church. And he does so by going out to meet them in order "to seek and to save the lost" (Lk 19: 10). In this perspective, the celebration of Advent is the answer of the Church-Bride to the ever new initiative of God the Bridegroom, "who is and who was and who is to come" (Rv 1: 8). God offers to humanity, which no longer has time for him, further time, a new space in which to withdraw into itself in order to set out anew on a journey to rediscover the meaning of hope.
Here, then, is the surprising discovery: my, our hope is preceded by the expectation which God cultivates in our regard! Yes, God loves us and for this very reason expects that we return to him, that we open our hearts to his love, that we place our hands in his and remember that we are his children. This attitude of God always precedes our hope, exactly as his love always reaches us first (cf. I Jn 4: 10). In this sense Christian hope is called "theological": God is its source, support and end. What a great consolation there is in this mystery! My Creator has instilled in my spirit a reflection of his desire of life for all. Every person is called to hope, responding to the expectations that God has of him. Moreover, experience shows us that it is exactly like this. What keeps the world going other than God's trust in humankind? It is a trust reflected in the hearts of the lowly, the humble, when they strive daily to do their best through difficulties and labours, to do that little bit of good which is nonetheless great in God's eyes: in the family, in the work place, at school, in the various social contexts. Hope is indelibly engraved in the human heart because God our Father is life, and for eternal life and beatitude we are made.
Every child born is a sign of trust in God and man and a confirmation, at least implicit, of the hope in a future open to God's eternity that is nourished by men and women. God has responded to this human hope, concealing himself in time as a tiny human being. St Augustine wrote: "We might have thought that your Word was far distant from union with man, if this Word had not become flesh and dwelt among us" (Conf. X, 43, 69, cited in Spe Salvi, n. 29). Thus, let us allow ourselves to be guided by the One who in her heart and in her womb bore the Incarnate Word. O Mary, Virgin of expectation and Mother of hope, revive the spirit of Advent in your entire Church, so that all humanity may start out anew on the journey towards Bethlehem, from which it came, and that the Sun that dawns upon us from on high will come once again to visit us (cf. Lk 1: 78), Christ our God. Amen.
CELEBRATION OF FIRST VESPERS OF THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
St Peter's Basilica
Saturday, 1st December 2007
Don’t get me wrong. A family that wants to celebrate the life of its deceased relative is doing something right in wanting to remember the one they love and to say their goodbyes. Those are good and significant things to do in the midst of pain, loss and sorrow.You bring up a phenomenal point. Most funerals are exactly what you were expecting. They are either crafted to be a “celebration of life” or as a way to “formalize” one’s goodbye. But this isn’t what a funeral is primarily about.
But they are not the only things. In fact, they are not even the most important reasons we celebrate Catholic funeral Masses. One might say that there are four principle reasons for a funeral Mass.
Father Paul Scalia, at the funeral Mass for his father, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, stood up to give the homily, and after a few words of introduction and thanks, began by stating, “We are gathered here because of one man. A man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to even more. A man loved by many, scorned by others. A man known for great controversy, and for great compassion. That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth.”
Obviously, everyone in the church had originally thought that Father Scalia was talking about his own father. But Father Scalia knew who the real focus of the funeral Mass is: God. The first reason for a funeral Mass is the worship and praise of God.
The funeral Mass is not where the priest or deacon gets to “canonize” the deceased, although the temptation is very strong to offer that kind of false consolation. All of us are tempted to say things like, “So-and-so is in heaven now ....” But we can’t possibly know that! There might be a lot of good things to say about someone, but we are most often in the dark regarding the state of their soul. So, while we may reference the deceased, it is always in relation to Jesus.
The funeral Mass, like everything we do as Catholics, is all about Jesus. I think that we might have a bit more clarity if we realized that this is the case for every celebration in the church. Baptism isn’t about the person getting baptized, it’s about how Jesus is making that person a new creation. First Holy Communion is not about the young people coming forward, it’s about how Jesus is nourishing them with his very self. Confirmation is not about the person “taking a step,” it’s about how Jesus is commissioning them and filling them with the Holy Spirit.
The second purpose of the Catholic funeral Mass is to thank God for his endless mercy. Before he died, Justice Scalia wrote these words, “Even when the deceased was an admirable person, indeed especially when the deceased was an admirable person, praise for his virtues can cause us to forget that we are praying for and giving thanks for God’s inexplicable mercy to a sinner.” Consider that the next time you are invited to attend a funeral: You are there to thank God for the inexplicable mercy he has given to the sinner whose body is in the casket.
Third, we are called to proclaim and renew our own faith in Jesus Christ. Whenever we celebrate the eucharistic sacrifice, we “proclaim his death and resurrection until he comes again.” This is eminently true when it comes to the funeral liturgy. We profess that Jesus Christ has conquered death by his own death and resurrection, and we renew our own participation in that great mystery.
Last, and above all, the primary reason we celebrate the Eucharist for the deceased at a funeral is to pray for them. The Mass is the most powerful and life-giving prayer God has ever given to us. When someone has died, unless they have chosen hell, they are most likely in need of purification before entering heaven. This purification can be difficult and painful. The Mass aids the person for whom we are praying.
There is great grief and sorrow when it comes to death, especially when the one who has died is someone we love. Have you ever been in that situation where you just wish that they would come back so that you might be able to help them in some way or do something to demonstrate your love for them? You can.
We offer Masses for our deceased loved ones because we believe that this actually does something. It makes a difference for them. When we pray for someone who has died, we are assisting them in their process of purification en route to Heaven. In what way could you possibly love them more?
The funeral Mass is a chance to say goodbye and to celebrate the life of the person you’ve loved. But it is also far more. It is the chance to worship God and to thank him for his inexplicable mercy, to proclaim and renew our faith in Jesus Christ, and to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that will immensely bless the person who has died.
Father Michael Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
Thanks for asking. We really won’t see much change in how things work at all, because immediately after a bishop is given a new assignment to a new diocese (or retires), he becomes the administrator of his former diocese (in this case, Bishop Weisenburger is currently the administrator of the Diocese of Salina) until he is installed in the diocese of Tuscon.
The “episcopal see” of Salina will not be without someone over it through this process. Canon 416 reads:
An episcopal see is vacant upon the death of a diocesan bishop, resignation accepted by the Roman Pontiff, transfer, or privation made known to the bishop.
The canons that follow 416 then explain that the bishop is named administrator of the diocese he has just left until he takes possesion of his new see. If there is no new bishop named by the time he leaves, a priest (or another bishop if there are other bishops in the diocese) administrator will be named to replace him in the interim within eight days by the college of consultors within the diocese (the presbyteral council). If they fail to elect someone administrator within eight days, then the metropolitan (archbishop of the area) will name one.
The administrator has limited duties and cannot take on financial responsibilities. Their role is to keep things going until the new bishop takes over. They also are forbidden to have any “innovations” during the vacancy of the bishop.
This process is an ordinary part of the life of the Church. Pray hard during it.
One of the interesting things is that immediately upon having a bishop notified of a new assignment to a new diocese, the office of vicar general (and other administrative offices) ceases.
The ultimate decision in appointing bishops rests with the pope, and he is free to select anyone he chooses. But how does he know whom to select?
The process for selecting candidates for the episcopacy normally begins at the diocesan level and works its way through a series of consultations until it reaches Rome. It is a process bound by strict confidentiality and involves a number of important players – the most influential being the apostolic nuncio, the Congregation for Bishops, and the pope. It can be a time consuming process, often taking eight months or more to complete. While there are distinctions between the first appointment of a priest as a bishop and a bishop's later transfer to another diocese or his promotion to archbishop, the basic outlines of the process remain the same.
The pope's representative to both the government and to the hierarchy of a given nation; a key person in deciding what names are recommended to the Congregation for Bishops for possible episcopal appointment.
A bishop appointed to assist a diocesan bishop. Whether in a diocese or archdiocese, his title is bishop.
A bishop appointed to a Catholic diocese or archdiocese to assist the diocesan bishop. Unlike an auxiliary bishop, he has the right of succession, meaning that he automatically becomes the new bishop when the diocesan bishop retires or dies. By canon law, he is also vicar general of the diocese. If the diocese is an archdiocese, he is called coadjutor archbishop instead of coadjutor bishop. In recent years, a growing number of U.S. bishops in larger dioceses or archdioceses have requested and received a coadjutor in their final year or two before their retirement, in order to familiarize their successor with the workings of the (arch)diocese before he has to take over the reins. This minimizes the learning curve of a new bishop and eliminates completely the possibility of the diocese being vacant following the old bishop’s retirement.
Congregation for Bishops
A department of the Roman Curia, headed by a Cardinal. The head of the Congregation, called the "prefect," is presently Cardinal Marc Ouellet, a Canadian. Among the congregation's responsibilities are moderating all aspects of episcopal appointments; assisting bishops in the correct exercise of their pastoral functions; handling ad limina visits (regular visits to Rome by bishops every five years); and establishing episcopal conferences and reviewing their decrees as required by canon law. Its membership consists of approximately 35 cardinals and archbishops from around the world. Current U.S. members of the Congregation are Cardinal William J. Levada, Prefect Emeritus of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington.
Pastoral and legal head and representative of a diocese.
A territory comprising one archdiocese, called the metropolitan see, and one or more dioceses, called suffragan sees. The Code of Canon Law spells out certain limited obligations and authority that the metropolitan archbishop has with respect to the dioceses within his province. The United States is divided into 33 ecclesiastical provinces.
A list of three candidates for a vacant office, including the office of bishop.
Every bishop may submit to the archbishop of his province the names of priests he thinks would make good bishops. Prior to the regular province meeting (usually annually), the archbishop distributes to all the bishops of the province the names and curricula vitae of priests which have been submitted to him. Following a discussion among the bishops at the province meeting, a vote is taken on which names to recommend. The number of names on this provincial list may vary. The vote tally, together with the minutes of the meeting, is then forwarded by the archbishop to the apostolic nuncio in Washington. The list is also submitted to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
By overseeing the final list of names forwarded to Rome, the apostolic nuncio plays a decisive role in the selection process. He not only gathers facts and information about potential candidates, but also interprets that information for the Congregation. Great weight is given to the nuncio's recommendations, but it is important to remember that his "gatekeeper" role, however, does not mean that his recommendations are always followed.
After receiving the list of candidates forwarded by a province, the apostolic nuncio conducts his own investigation into the suitability of the candidates.
A report is requested from the current bishop or the administrator of a diocese on the conditions and needs of the diocese. If the appointment is a replacement for a diocesan bishop or archbishop about to retire, consideration will be given to the incumbent's recommendations. Broad consultation within the diocese is encouraged with regard to the needs of the diocese, but not the names of candidates.
The report is to include the names of individuals in the diocese with whom the Nuncio might consult and how to contact them.
Previous bishops of the diocese are consulted.
Bishops of the province are consulted
The president and vice president of the USCCB are consulted.
If the vacancy to be filled is an archdiocese, other archbishops in the United States may be consulted.
At this point, the nuncio narrows his list and a questionnaire is sent to 20 or 30 people who know each of the candidates for their input.
All material is collected and reviewed by the nuncio, and a report (approximately 20 pages) is prepared. Three candidates are listed alphabetically – the terna – with the nuncio's preference noted. All materials are then forwarded to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome.
A diocesan bishop must justify to the apostolic nuncio his need for an auxiliary bishop. This is easier if he is requesting a replacement for a retired or deceased auxiliary.
The diocesan bishop prepares the terna, or list of three candidates, for his requested auxiliary and forwards it to the apostolic nuncio.
The nuncio then conducts his own investigation of the priests on the diocesan bishop's terna, sending the names to Rome with a report and his own recommendations.
On average, this part of the process may take two to six months.
Once all the documentation from the nuncio is complete and in order, and the prefect approves, the process moves forward. If the appointment involves a bishop who is being promoted or transferred, the matter may be handled by the prefect and the staff. If, however, the appointment is of a priest to the episcopacy, the full congregation is ordinarily involved.
A cardinal relator is chosen to summarize the documentation and make a report to the full congregation, which generally meets twice a month on Thursdays. After hearing the cardinal relator's report, the congregation discusses the appointment and then votes. The Congregation may follow the recommendation of the nuncio, chose another of the candidates on the terna, or even ask that another terna be prepared.
At a private audience with the pope, usually on a Saturday, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops presents the recommendations of the Congregation to the Holy Father. A few days later, the pope informs the Congregation of his decision. The Congregation then notifies the nuncio, who in turn contacts the candidate and asks if he will accept. If the answer is "yes," the Vatican is notified and a date is set for the announcement.
It often takes six to eight months—and sometimes longer—from the time a diocese becomes vacant until a new bishop is appointed.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has transferred Bishop Edward Joseph Weisenburger from the Diocese of Salina to the Diocese of Tucson, Ariz. The Holy See made the announcement today in Rome. Weisenburger was notified last week by the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Pierre Christophe, that Pope Francis was entrusting to him the pastoral care of the good people of the Diocese of Tucson.
Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, sixth Bishop of Tucson, submitted his resignation in accord with Church law upon reaching his 75th birthday. He will serve as the administrator of the Diocese until Weisenburger’s installation. Weisenburger’s appointment comes more than a year after Kicanas offered his retirement. In light of Kicanas' good health and exceptional service, it is not surprising that the Holy See extended his tenure for an extra year. Weisenburger stated “I am humbled to follow in the footsteps of a shepherd who has served graciously and generously for many years. Bishop Kicanas has served in many national capacities for the Catholic Church and is highly esteemed. Knowing that he will continue to reside in our Diocese is a great comfort for me and a blessing for our people.”
Weisenburger served as a priest of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City for almost 25 years. On Feb. 6, 2012, he was appointed Bishop of Salina by Pope Benedict XVI. His ordination, which marked the beginning of his ministry, was on May 1, 2012, at Salina’s Sacred Heart Cathedral. His installation as Bishop of Tucson will take place on Nov. 29, 2017.
While the Catholic people in the Diocese of Salina find it an honor that their beloved bishop has been selected to serve as the Bishop of Tucson, they are saddened to see him leave. Under his leadership, the people of Salina has witnessed many significant improvements. Weisenburger’s five and one-half year tenure in the Salina Diocese was marked by the opening of a new Diocesan Catholic Charities headquarters with considerably upgraded ministries and services. He also has led the efforts to shine a spotlight on the cruel abuse of the poor at the hands of the predatory (“payday”) loan industry. In addition to Catholic social ministries he also focused his energy on personal visits to the 86 parishes of the Salina Diocese, vocation recruitment, higher education for clergy, cooperation with Via Christi-Ascension in their acquisition of Manhattan’s hospital — now Catholic in identity. .He also restructured the Diocese’s chancery with an emphasis on professional lay ministers collaborating with clergy in all areas of administration, which included dedication in promoting women to greater responsibilities and service within the diocesan structure.
The Diocese of Salina serves approximately 44,000 Catholics. The Diocese of Tucson, which borders with Mexico, serves approximately 450,000 Catholics, many of whom are Spanish-speaking. While not fully fluent, Weisenburger does enjoy a working knowledge of Spanish and has always treasured his ministry with the Hispanic community. Weisenburger also has an intense concern and love for the wellbeing of migrants, refugees, and immigrant peoples. He is humbled by Pope Francis’ appointment and hopes to join with the bishops of Arizona and New Mexico in being an articulate and indispensable voice of compassion for all immigrants
Just a few weeks ago, I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Stephen Davis, retired professor of the philosophy of religion at Claremont University. In preparation for the meeting, I read Dr. Davis’s book called Christian Philosophical Theology, which includes a chapter contrasting two basic approaches to religion throughout the world. The first—which can be found in much of the East—is a religion of karma, and the second—prominent in the Abrahamic religions of the West—is a religion of grace.
The first approach has a lot to recommend it—which explains its great endurance across the centuries. A karmic approach says that, by a cosmic spiritual law, we are punished or rewarded according to our moral activities. If we do bad things, we will suffer, either in this life or a life to come. And if we do good things, we will be rewarded, again either here or in the hereafter. Karma might not be immediate, as is the law of gravity (remember John Lennon’s playful song “Instant Karma”), but in the long run, people are rewarded or punished according to merit. And this satisfies our sense of fairness and justice.
Now a religion of grace is different. It teaches that all people are sinners and hence deserving of punishment, but that God, out of sheer generosity, gives them what they don’t deserve. Think of one of the most popular lines in Christian poetry: “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” In terms of a karmic religion, wretches deserve a wretched fate, and it would be unfair for wicked people to be given a great gift. But devotees of a religion of grace exult in this generosity. Think in this context of the parable of the workers hired at different times of the day or the story of the Prodigal Son. Those make sense only in a religion-of-grace context.
Now lest Christians become self-righteous about espousing a generous religion of grace, we must keep in mind that there is a serious objection indeed to such a construal of religion. If grace is a gift, and if there is no real warrant for the gift, then how come only some get it and others don’t? How could it possibly be fair that some people receive the gift of eternal life—through no merit of their own—and others don’t? This complaint becomes even more acute when we realize that the Bible—from beginning to end—presents a God who chooses. God selects Abel and not Cain, Abraham and not Lot, Jacob and not Esau, David and not Saul. In fact, one of the most basic truths of the Biblical revelation is that Israel itself is a chosen people, a holy nation, a people set apart. And God insists—just to make the point clearly—that Israel was not chosen because it was the greatest, most just, most accomplished of all the peoples of the world, just the contrary. So again, is any of this fair? In response to this charge, Christian thinkers have tended to say that no one deserves anything and therefore we should never complain about inequities in the distribution of free gifts. Still. Still.
In order to resolve this dilemma, it might be useful to look at a couple of Biblical texts, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. No one could ever accuse the prophet Isaiah of underplaying Israel’s importance or the fact that Israel is the specially chosen people of God. But listen to these words from the 56th chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah:
“The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, loving the name of the Lord, and becoming his servants—all who keep the Sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer…for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.”
Israel was indeed chosen, singled out, uniquely graced—but precisely for the world and not for itself. What is grace? Gift! But when you cling to a gift, hoarding it for yourself, you undermine its nature as gift. The whole point of receiving the divine life is to give it away in turn. If you hoard it and make it your private prerogative, you undermine it; it turns to ashes. But when you give it away, it is renewed within you.
We see much the same thing in controversial and puzzling story of Jesus’ conversation with the Canaanite woman recounted in the Gospel of Matthew. The foreign woman comes to Jesus seeking a favor, but he protests that he has been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He seems to be operating out of an exclusivist understanding of Israel’s privileges. When she presses the matter, the Lord comes back harshly enough: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” At which point, the petitioner utters one of the great comebacks recorded in the Bible: “Please, Lord, even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Delighted not only by her cleverness and pluck but by the depth of her faith, Jesus says, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done to you as you wish.” Yes, the table of grace was set for the children of Israel, but the food from that table was not meant for Israelites alone, but for all those who would come to that table, by hook or by crook. Israel was chosen, yes, but for the sake of the world.
In regard to Dr. Davis’s categories, I will speak my mind clearly. Thank God we are not living in the dispensation of karma, for who of us would be able to stand in the fierce winds of pure justice? But we devotees of a religion of grace have to know that the gift is not for us alone; rather the generosity of God is meant to awaken a like generosity in us. If amazing grace has saved a wretch like me, I have got to become a vehicle of grace to every lost soul around me.
Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. He is the creator of the award winning documentary series, "Catholicism" and "Catholicism:The New Evangelization." Learn more at www.WordonFire.org.
By Sonja Corbitt
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to present to you the figure of a holy Doctor of the Church to whom we are deeply indebted because he was an outstanding moral theologian and a teacher of spiritual life for all, especially simple people. He is the author of the words and music of one of the most popular Christmas carols in Italy and not only Italy: Tu scendi dalle stelle [You come down from the stars].
Belonging to a rich noble family of Naples, Alfonso Maria de’ Liguori [known in English as Alphonsus Liguori] was born in 1696. Endowed with outstanding intellectual qualities, when he was only 16 years old he obtained a degree in civil and canon law. He was the most brilliant lawyer in the tribunal of Naples: for eight years he won all the cases he defended. However, in his soul thirsting for God and desirous of perfection, the Lord led Alphonsus to understand that he was calling him to a different vocation. In fact, in 1723, indignant at the corruption and injustice that was ruining the legal milieu, he abandoned his profession — and with it riches and success — and decided to become a priest despite the opposition of his father.
He had excellent teachers who introduced him to the study of Sacred Scripture, of the Church history and of mysticism. He acquired a vast theological culture which he put to good use when, after a few years, he embarked on his work as a writer.
He was ordained a priest in 1726 and, for the exercise of his ministry entered the diocesan Congregation of Apostolic Missions. Alphonsus began an activity of evangelization and catechesis among the humblest classes of Neapolitan society, to whom he liked preaching, and whom he instructed in the basic truths of the faith. Many of these people, poor and modest, to whom he addressed himself, were very often prone to vice and involved in crime. He patiently taught them to pray, encouraging them to improve their way of life.
Alphonsus obtained excellent results: in the most wretched districts of the city there were an increasing number of groups that would meet in the evenings in private houses and workshops to pray and meditate on the word of God, under the guidance of several catechists trained by Alphonsus and by other priests, who regularly visited these groups of the faithful. When at the wish of the Archbishop of Naples, these meetings were held in the chapels of the city, they came to be known as “evening chapels”. They were a true and proper source of moral education, of social improvement and of reciprocal help among the poor: thefts, duels, prostitution ended by almost disappearing.
Even though the social and religious context of the time of St Alphonsus was very different from our own, the “evening chapels” appear as a model of missionary action from which we may draw inspiration today too, for a “new evangelization”, particularly of the poorest people, and for building a more just, fraternal and supportive coexistence. Priests were entrusted with a task of spiritual ministry, while well-trained lay people could be effective Christian animators, an authentic Gospel leaven in the midst of society.
After having considered leaving to evangelize the pagan peoples, when Alphonsus was 35 years old, he came into contact with the peasants and shepherds of the hinterland of the Kingdom of Naples. Struck by their ignorance of religion and the state of neglect in which they were living, he decided to leave the capital and to dedicate himself to these people, poor both spiritually and materially. In 1732 he founded the religious Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, which he put under the protection of Bishop Tommaso Falcoia, and of which he subsequently became the superior.
These religious, guided by Alphonsus, were authentic itinerant missionaries, who also reached the most remote villages, exhorting people to convert and to persevere in the Christian life, especially through prayer. Still today the Redemptorists, scattered in so many of the world’s countries, with new forms of apostolate continue this mission of evangelization. I think of them with gratitude, urging them to be ever faithful to the example of their holy Founder.
Esteemed for his goodness and for his pastoral zeal, in 1762 Alphonsus was appointed Bishop of Sant’Agata dei Goti, a ministry which he left, following the illness which debilitated him, in 1775, through a concession of Pope Pius VI. On learning of his death in 1787, which occurred after great suffering, the Pontiff exclaimed: “he was a saint!”. And he was not mistaken: Alphonsus was canonized in 1839 and in 1871 he was declared a Doctor of the Church. This title suited him for many reason. First of all, because he offered a rich teaching of moral theology, which expressed adequately the Catholic doctrine, to the point that Pope Pius XIIproclaimed him “Patron of all confessors and moral theologians”.
In his day, there was a very strict and widespread interpretation of moral life because of the Jansenist mentality which, instead of fostering trust and hope in God’s mercy, fomented fear and presented a grim and severe face of God, very remote from the face revealed to us by Jesus. Especially in his main work entitled Moral Theology, St Alphonsus proposed a balanced and convincing synthesis of the requirements of God’s law, engraved on our hearts, fully revealed by Christ and interpreted authoritatively by the Church, and of the dynamics of the conscience and of human freedom, which precisely in adherence to truth and goodness permit the person’s development and fulfilment.
Alphonsus recommended to pastors of souls and confessors that they be faithful to the Catholic moral doctrine, assuming at the same time a charitable, understanding and gentle attitude so that penitents might feel accompanied, supported and encouraged on their journey of faith and of Christian life.
St Alphonsus never tired of repeating that priests are a visible sign of the infinite mercy of God who forgives and enlightens the mind and heart of the sinner so that he may convert and change his life. In our epoch, in which there are clear signs of the loss of the moral conscience and — it must be recognized — of a certain lack of esteem for the sacrament of Confession, St Alphonsus’ teaching is still very timely.
Together with theological works, St Alphonsus wrote many other works, destined for the religious formation of the people. His style is simple and pleasing. Read and translated into many languages, the works of St Alphonsus have contributed to molding the popular spirituality of the last two centuries. Some of the texts can be read with profit today too, such as The Eternal Maxims, the Glories of Mary, The Practice of Loving Jesus Christ, which latter work is the synthesis of his thought and his masterpiece.
He stressed the need for prayer, which enables one to open oneself to divine Grace in order to do God’s will every day and to obtain one’s own sanctification. With regard to prayer he writes: “God does not deny anyone the grace of prayer, with which one obtains help to overcome every form of concupiscence and every temptation. And I say, and I will always repeat as long as I live, that the whole of our salvation lies in prayer”. Hence his famous axiom: “He who prays is saved” (Del gran mezzo della preghiera e opuscoli affini. Opere ascetiche II, Rome 1962, p. 171).
In this regard, an exhortation of my Predecessor, the Venerable Servant of God John Paul II comes to mind. “our Christian communities must become genuine ‘schools’ of prayer…. It is therefore essential that education in prayer should become in some way a key-point of all pastoral planning” (Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, nn. 33, 34).
Among the forms of prayer fervently recommended by St Alphonsus, stands out the visit to the Blessed Sacrament, or as we would call it today, “adoration”, brief or extended, personal or as a community, before the Eucharist. “Certainly”, St Alphonsus writes, “amongst all devotions, after that of receiving the sacraments, that of adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament takes the first place, is the most pleasing to God, and the most useful to ourselves…. Oh, what a beautiful delight to be before an altar with faith… to represent our wants to him, as a friend does to a friend in whom he places all his trust” (Visits to the Most Blessed Sacrament and to the Blessed Virgin Mary for Each Day of the Month. Introduction).
Alphonsian spirituality is in fact eminently Christological, centred on Christ and on his Gospel. Meditation on the mystery of the Incarnation and on the Lord’s Passion were often the subject of St Alphonsus’ preaching. In these events, in fact, Redemption is offered to all human beings “in abundance”. And precisely because it is Christological, Alphonsian piety is also exquisitely Marian. Deeply devoted to Mary he illustrates her role in the history of salvation: an associate in the Redemption and Mediatrix of grace, Mother, Advocate and Queen.
In addition, St Alphonsus states that devotion to Mary will be of great comfort to us at the moment of our death. He was convinced that meditation on our eternal destiny, on our call to participate for ever in the beatitude of God, as well as on the tragic possibility of damnation, contributes to living with serenity and dedication and to facing the reality of death, ever preserving full trust in God’s goodness.
St Alphonsus Maria Liguori is an example of a zealous Pastor who conquered souls by preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments combined with behaviour impressed with gentle and merciful goodness that was born from his intense relationship with God, who is infinite Goodness. He had a realistically optimistic vision of the resources of good that the Lord gives to every person and gave importance to the affections and sentiments of the heart, as well as to the mind, to be able to love God and neighbour.
To conclude, I would like to recall that our Saint, like St Francis de Sales — of whom I spoke a few weeks ago — insists that holiness is accessible to every Christian: “the religious as a religious; the secular as a secular; the priest as a priest; the married as married; the man of business as a man of business; the soldier as a soldier; and so of every other state of life” (Practica di amare Gesù Cristo. Opere ascetiche [The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ] Ascetic Works 1, Rome 1933, p. 79).
Let us thank the Lord who, with his Providence inspired saints and doctors in different times and places, who speak the same language to invite us to grow in faith and to live with love and with joy our being Christians in the simple everyday actions, to walk on the path of holiness, on the path towards God and towards true joy. Thank you.
- Benedict XVI
June 1 we commemorate the feast of St. Justin Martyr. He is important to our faith as we was a pagan philosopher converted to Christianity who preached the faith to many people after his conversion. He was martyred between the years of 162 and 168 A.D. during the time of the prefect name Rusticus. Justin Martyr offered a testimony to Rusticus about the faith when he was brought to trial for being a Christian.
What is amazing about the writings of St. Justin is that they capture the Mass as it was in the early days of the Church. The following snippet from his writings give a glimpse of the Mass and we can immediately recognize what we do today. Enjoy this piece from St. Justin called the First apology #65.
But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren4 bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to γένοιτο [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.
And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.6 For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood;” and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.
And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows, and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.
Thomas Aquinas on Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.
I am the Good Shepherd. Surely it is fitting that Christ should be a shepherd, for just as a flock is guided and fed by a shepherd so the faithful are fed by Christ with spiritual food and with his own body and blood. The Apostle said: You were once like sheep without a shepherd, but now you have returned to the guardian and ruler of your souls. The prophet has said: As a shepherd he pastures his flock.
Christ said that the shepherd enters through the gate and that he is himself the gate as well as the shepherd. Then it is necessary that he enter through himself. By so doing, he reveals himself, and through himself he knows the Father. But we enter through him because through him we find happiness.
Take heed: no one else is the gate but Christ. Others reflect his light, but no one else is the true light. John the Baptist was not the light, but he bore witness to the light. It is said of Christ, however: He was the true light that enlightens every man. For this reason no one says that he is the gate; this title is Christ’s own. However, he has made others shepherds and given that office to his members; for Peter was a shepherd, and so were the other apostles and all good bishops after them. Scripture says: I shall give you shepherds according to my own heart. Although the bishops of the Church, who are her sons, are all shepherds, nevertheless Christ refers only to one person in saying: I am the Good Shepherd, because he wants to emphasize the virtue of charity. Thus, no one can be a good shepherd unless he is one with Christ in charity. Through this we become members of the true shepherd.
The duty of a good shepherd is charity; therefore Christ said: The good shepherd gives his life for his sheep. Know the difference between a good and a bad shepherd: the good shepherd cares for the welfare of his flock, but the bad shepherd cares only for his own welfare.
The Good Shepherd does not demand that shepherds lay down their lives for a real flock of sheep. But every spiritual shepherd must endure the loss of his bodily life for the salvation of the flock, since the spiritual good of the flock is more important than the bodily life of the shepherd, when danger threatens the salvation of the flock. This is why the Lord says: The good shepherd lays down his life, that is, his physical life, for his sheep; this he does because of his authority and love. Both, in fact, are required: that they should be ruled by him, and that he should love them. The first without the second is not enough.
Christ stands out for us as the example of this teaching: If Christ laid down his life for us, so we also ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
This excerpt from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Exposition on John’s Gospel (Cap 10, lect. 3) is used in the Roman Catholic Divine Office of Readings, Monday of the 21st week in Ordinary Time.
We recently celebrated Good Friday and Easter, the annual celebrations of Jesus' death and resurrection.
We all know that this happened in Jerusalem in the first century.
That separates Jesus from mythical pagan deities, who were supposed to live in places or times that none could specify.
Just how specific can we be with the death of Jesus?
Can we determine the exact day?
"And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lama sabach-thani?” that is, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” 47 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “This man is calling Elijah.” 48 And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit." (Matthew 27:46-50)
The Good Friday Services celebrated in Catholic Churches typically take place at 3 o'clock in the afternoon on Good Friday. This is the traditional time that Jesus died on the cross. The Good Friday Service is comprised of three parts;
There are not any sacraments celebrated on Good Friday nor Holy Saturday. This is a day of mourning. We should try to take time off from work and school to participate in the devotions and liturgy of the day as much as possible. In addition, we should refrain from extraneous conversation. Some families leave the curtains drawn, and maintain silence during the 3 hours (noon — 3p.m.), and keep from loud conversation or activities throughout the remainder of the day. We should also restrict ourselves from any TV, music or computer—these are all types of technology that can distract us from the spirit of the day.
If some members of the family cannot attend all the services, a little home altar can be set up, by draping a black or purple cloth over a small table or dresser and placing a crucifix and candles on it. The family then can gather during the three hours, praying different devotions like the rosary, Stations of the Cross, the Divine Mercy devotions, and meditative reading and prayers on the passion of Christ.
Although throughout Lent we have tried to mortify ourselves, it is appropriate to try some practicing extra mortifications today. These can be very simple, such as eating less at the small meals of fasting, or eating standing up. Some people just eat bread and soup, or just bread and water while standing at the table.
For a more complete understanding of what Our Lord suffered read this article On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ (JAMA article) taken from The Journal of the American Medical Association.