Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pope Benedict - On Temptation

Here is a translation of the Angelus address given by the Holy Father this past Sunday:
Dear brothers and sisters!
On this Sunday of Lent we meet Jesus who, after having received baptism in the Jordan River from John the Baptist (cf. Mark 1:9), undergoes temptation in the desert (cf. Mark 1:12-13). St. Mark's narration is concise, lacking the details that we read in the other two gospels of Matthew and Luke. The desert of which he speaks has different meanings. It can indicate a condition of abandonment and solitude, the "place" of man's weakness where there are no footholds or certainties, where temptation is the strongest. But it can also mean a place of refuge and rest, as it was for the people of Israel, who had escaped from Egyptian slavery, where one can experience God's presence in a special way. Jesus "remained in the desert for 40 days, tempted by Satan" (Mark 1:13). St. Leo the Great comments that "the Lord wished to face the tempter's attack to defend us with his help and to instruct us with his example" (Tractatus XXXIX, 3 De ieiunio quadragesimae: CCL 138/A, Turnholti 1973, 214-215).
What can this episode teach us? As we read in the book "The Imitation of Christ," "as long as he lives man is never entirely free from temptation ... but it is with patience and with true humility that we become stronger than every enemy" (Liber I, c. XIII, Città del Vaticano 1982, 37), the patience and humility of following the Lord every day, learning to build our life not apart from him or as if he did not exist, but in him and with him, because he is the font of true life. The temptation to remove God, to create order in ourselves and the world by ourselves, counting on our own resources, is always present in human history.
Jesus proclaims that "the time is accomplished and the kingdom of God is at hand" (Mark 1:15), announces that in him something new is happening: God addressed man in an unexpected way, with a unique and concrete nearness, full of love; God becomes incarnate and enters into the world of man to take sin upon himself, to conquer evil and bring man and the world back to God. But this announcement is accompanied by the request to correspond to a great gift. Jesus, in fact, adds: "convert and believe in the Gospel" (Mark 1:15); it is the invitation to have faith in God and every day to convert our life to his will, orienting every action and thought of ours to the good. The time of Lent is the propitious moment to renew and strengthen our relationship with God, through daily prayer, gestures of penance, works of fraternal charity.
We supplicate Mary Most Holy with fervor that she accompany us on our Lenten path with her protection and help us to impress in our heart and in our life the words of Jesus Christ, to convert ourselves to him. I also entrust to your prayers the week of retreat that I will be begin this evening with my collaborators in the Roman Curia.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Suffering and Grace

Ivan Kramskoi's Christ in the Desert, 1872
Genesis 9:8-15
Psalm 25:4-9
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:12-15

As I hear the story of what happened after the Great Flood and hear about Jesus being driven by the Spirit into the desert where He was tempted by the devil, I couldn’t help but recall those age-old questions: Why would God let this happen? How can a God who is supposed to be good and loving allow suffering?

In the summer of 2009, I spent eleven weeks working as a chaplain at Florida Hospital in Orlando. One of my fellow chaplains was known for his desire to ‘find where God is’ in the midst of things. I, too, reflected on that question, thinking about it as I was with my patients and reflecting upon it afterward. But I found that it was often difficult to see God’s hand in the moment.

When I sat with the father of a 7 year old boy who had drowned, I wondered where God was. As I sat for nine hours with a teenager whose mother was dying and the family refused to come to the hospital to be with him, I wondered where God was. As I sat with people in psychiatric units and suicide-watch rooms, I wondered where God was.

In those times I wish that I would have been able to see clearly where God was and what He was doing, but the reality is that sometimes I just had to trust that the Lord knew what was best and was bringing that to fruition. I couldn’t see what it was, but I knew that in the midst of that suffering God was doing something special.

We hear that from the utter destruction of the Earth in the Great Flood came a renewed covenant with the Lord and new life on the face of the Earth. From the Lord’s temptation in the desert, the knots of sin that Adam and Eve tied so many years ago begin to loosen. And from Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion we have been redeemed and, as St. Peter tells us, led to God. To our eyes, these sufferings often seem to be foolishness and yet it is through them that the Lord brings about great things in our midst. Who among us would think that the way to Heaven would be the nailing of the Lord to a tree? And yet in the wisdom of God it is so.

In the end, the answer to the question of how a loving God can permit suffering is, paradoxically, that it is because He loves us that He permits us to suffer. You see – salvation is wrought through the temptation, suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. The Father permitted all of those seemingly horrible things because He knew what good would come from it, and Christ endured it for that same reason. He knew what would come from it.

Hill of Crosses, Lithuania
As we endure sufferings in the midst of our lives and as we endure temptations and sufferings in the midst of this great season of grace, rather than lament these things, we are challenged to see them as signs of love for us. Christ died to save our souls. But the reality is that we too have a part in this great work of salvation. We, too, are entrusted with certain sufferings in order that we might unite them to the suffering of Christ and so gain grace for souls. The sufferings we endure, when united to Christ, could be the source of grace that brings about conversion in a wayward soul or lead a soul in purgatory into the Heavenly Banquet. The sufferings we endure, when united to Christ, can be given to us to help someone else in the future who suffers a similar cross. The sufferings we endure, when united to Christ, can be preparation for a larger cross later under which we would buckle if not first strengthened. To our eyes, especially in the midst of those sufferings, it often seems foolishness. And yet, with faith we know that God is with us in the midst doing something that we may never know but which will certainly be a source of much grace.

As we enter into this season of Lent, let us not endure temptations for the sake of enduring temptations. Rather, let us unite our temptations and sufferings to the Lord that He might make use of them and pour upon the Earth not a Great Flood of water but a Great Flood of Grace.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful,
and enkindle in them the fire of Your love.
Send forth Your Spirit, and they shall be created,
And You shall renew the face of the earth.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ashes and Graces

Readings for Wednesday, February 22 / Ash Wednesday:
Joel 2:12-18
Psalm 51:3-5, 12-14, 17
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Today we begin once again that great season of Lent. A practice said to have begun in the time of the Apostles, we have always held this time as a special season of grace. Modeling the 40-day temptation of Christ in the desert, where He was led by the Spirit, ministered to by angels, and tempted by the devil, we ourselves take up the yoke of penance and ask to be led by the Spirit into the spiritual desert where our faith is proved in the fire of temptation. 

To aid us in this purification, we turn to those ancient practices of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. These practices are for us a sort of spiritual medicine to heal the soul of its sinful inclinations, especially what St. Paul calls the 'triple lust' - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and pride of life. These three lusts are part of our fallen nature, and really are the sins that cause Adam and Eve to fall. If we turn to Genesis 3 and read the account of the Fall, we see that Eve saw that the forbidden fruit was 'good for food' - lust of the flesh. She longed to eat it. Secondly, she saw that it was 'pleasing to the eyes' - lust of the eyes. She knew it was something that she wanted but ought not to have. Lastly, she knew that it was 'desirable for wisdom' - pride of life. She wanted to become more than what she was, thinking this would enable her to do so. And so, the triple lust of the heart led Adam and Eve to partake of the fruit and merit condemnation. 

Temptation in the Desert, 15th Century French work
Centuries later, Christ the Lord was led to the desert to be tempted by the evil one. Interestingly, the devil tempts Him in the same manner as Adam and Eve - a sign that Christ is the New Adam and brings about a New Creation. The devil tempts the Lord, who is indeed hungry from fasting, to make bread out of the stones in the desert. Lust of the flesh. Jesus remains faithful to the Father and resists the temptation. The devil shows Christ the huge landscape and promises great power over it if He would but submit to the devil. Lust of the eyes. Christ sees all that is possible before Him, rejects the temptation and remains faithful. Lastly, the devil tells the Lord 'if you are the Son of God, leap from this tower and let the angels catch you'. Pride of life. The devil tempts the Lord, who could well have done this and all things, to exalt Himself in the midst of the world. Christ rejects the temptation and remains humble and faithful. By rejecting these three temptations of the triple lust, Christ brought redemption where Adam and Eve had sown condemnation. 

As we gather today, we take up that practice of fasting to fight the lust of our own flesh. We give alms to the Lord by charitable giving and works, showing that we are not seeking to build up our own wealth. Lastly, we turn to the Lord in prayer and recognize that God is God and we are not. These things do not exactly come easy, though, as we have likely found in the past. It takes a certain amount of effort, but more than that, it takes a tremendous amount of God's grace. And to help in that we have the recovered practice in Lent of the Prayer Over the People at the conclusion of Mass. Normally at the end of Mass we have the Post-Communion prayer, wherein the priest uses the 'we' and 'us' to include himself in the prayer for God's grace to come upon the community as they have received the gift of the Eucharist. The Prayer Over the People comes immediately after that prayer and does not use the 'we' but rather is the priest praying over the community in the name of the Lord. This practice was used from around the 3rd Century until the Second Vatican Council in the 1960's and now is in use once again since it's restoration by Blessed John Paul II. As noted, the difficulty of keeping our penances - both those chosen ourselves and those given us by the Lord - is sometimes intense and so the Church pours upon the faithful a sort of second-helping of grace in order to persevere and be found faithful as Christ was faithful and so merit for ourselves not condemnation but grace and redemption.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mardi Gras with the MC's

Today I had the joy of going with some friends to join the Missionaries of Charity at St. Agnes Parish in preparing and serving food for the poor and homeless downtown. We got there a bit early and found that the meal for the day was pizza, which required little prep work. We prepared it quickly and then the sisters began showing us other jobs that could be done - two people mopped a hallway, another took out recyclables, another prepared the tables. So there I was standing in the hallway next to the sister waiting for her to give me a chore to help with. Fully expecting to receive a task of mopping, sweeping or some other form of manual labor, I asked, "Sister, what can I do?". She looked at me for a second, turned around and opened the chapel door, turned back to me and said, "Father, you can pray." For half a second I felt like I had just been given a break.  Everyone else was doing various tasks around the place and there I was simply sitting with Jesus. As I sat there, though, I began to think that maybe that little sister might have had a dozen other things that could have been done but that she felt it most fitting that I do what I've been consecrated to do and offer one of the greatest gifts I can by interceding on their behalf. And so I prayed. Maybe she was just taking it easy on me since it was my first time there in a long while, who knows. But in that moment, I came to realize a bit more clearly just what it is that others see in me and expect of me as a priest of Jesus Christ. And so I pray...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Being Evangelists

Readings for Sunday, February 19: 
Isaiah 43:18-19,21-22,24-25
Psalm 41:2-5,13-14
2 Corinthians 1:18-22
Mark 2:1-12

If you follow the addresses and writings of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, you will likely have noticed that he is constantly addressing the need for a New Evangelization of the world – to let the world know the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. The interesting thing is that this message of a need to evangelize our world is not limited to just cardinals, bishops and priests. Rather, this seems to be the message he speaks to every person he meets, everywhere he goes, because evangelizing the world isn’t something that priests or bishops do. It’s something everyone does. When Christ gave His last commandment to go out to all the nations, teaching them all that He had commanded, it was a commission given to the Church, not just the disciples. It is our task – yours and mine personally – to bring others to know Jesus Christ and His teachings.

In our Gospel today we have a beautiful story of a paralytic being brought to the Lord by four men. These men are the embodiment of what we ought to be doing in the midst of the world. There are many poor and broken souls in the world around us – at home, at school, at work – and they simply need someone to bring them to Christ that they might be healed. But this doesn’t happen unless we ourselves first have faith that Christ can and will heal them. The men in the story bring this paralytic to the home of Jesus, tear open his roof, and then lower him down at Jesus’ feet. These aren’t the actions of guys who thought Jesus might do something with the guy. They are the actions of men who had seen or even personally experienced the healing power of Christ and knew that if Christ willed it, the paralytic would walk home that day. Their own personal knowledge of the Lord gave them faith to bring the paralytic to Him. They were evangelized and then went to evangelize.

We sometimes think that to be a good Catholic we just have to come to Mass on Sundays, avoid mortal sin and live a decent life and that’s good enough. But the problem is that we can do all of those things and never actually encounter Jesus Christ. My brothers and sisters, we’re not called to be good enough. We’re called to be saints. And saints are men and women whose lives have been touched by Jesus Christ and radiate the Lord’s presence. Sadly, there are many in the world and in our Church who have not really been evangelized.

We can see it in the fact that less than 30% of Catholics attend Mass regularly and many of those leave Mass early because it seems that they have more important things than to stay after Holy Communion and give thanks to God for the gift they’re received. We can see it in the number of Catholics who claim to follow Jesus but do not believe His teachings – especially on key doctrines such as the Real Presence in the Eucharist, the need for the Sacrament of Confession, the immorality of contraception and abortion, and the reality of marriage being the union of one man and one woman. If we ourselves are not faithful; if we ourselves are not in love with Jesus Christ and His Church, trusting in their power at work in the world – how can we expect others to join us?

To evangelize, we must first be evangelized ourselves. The season of Lent is a special time each year where the Lord has much grace stored up for us, waiting and hoping that we will ask Him to pour it out on us. Why not let Him do so? Let Him strengthen us in our faith. We have Masses each morning and at noon throughout Lent, and have adoration on Wednesdays. Come experience Him in the Eucharist. We have Confession available on Saturdays as well as every Wednesday night of Lent. Come experience His mercy in Reconciliation. We have numerous faith-sharing programs. Come and experience Him in the Scriptures and teachings of the Church. If you can’t make these programs, pick up your Bible and pray. Find a good Catholic book and read it. Find a meditation book and spend a few moments each morning with the Lord.

And as we go through Lent, why not make a special effort to speak to others about your faith? We have tons of opportunities from the ashes we receive to the fasting we do, but why not try other ways such as making the Sign of the Cross and praying before meals, talk about the faith in conversations, inviting someone to Mass each weekend, or sharing faith experiences or quotes on Facebook or Twitter. These are just a few things that we can do that will permit us to speak about the faith and Jesus Christ to others. Let us not miss these moments of grace.

And if you haven’t heard one word of the homily, I ask you to listen keenly now to words of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict:

Dear friends, being evangelizers is not a privilege but a commitment that comes from faith. To the question the Lord addresses to Christians: “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” answer with the same courage and the same trust as the Prophet: “Here am I! Send me” (Is 6:8). I ask you to let yourselves be formed by God’s grace and to respond in docility to the action of the Spirit of the Risen One. Be signs of hope, able to look to the future with the certainty that comes from the Lord Jesus, who conquered death and gave us eternal life. Communicate the joy of faith to all with the enthusiasm that comes from being driven by the Holy Spirit, because he makes all things new (see Rv 21:5), trusting in the promise that Jesus made to the Church: “and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20).  

For further edification: Catholic Guide to Spiritual Makeover

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Lepers and Sinners

St. Damien - Patron of Lepers and Outcasts
Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
Psalm 32:1-2,5,11
1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
Mark 1:40-45

When two of our four readings this weekend talked about lepers and leprosy, I got a bit curious and started researching the topic. I saw pictures of those suffering from it and learned about the symptoms and means of contracting the illness. And while it’s not something so commonly seen today, it does still exist and can be a terrible thing if untreated. It attacks the nerves and causes severe pain and loss of the ability to sense heat or cold. It causes significant muscular weakness throughout the body. It also tends to be thrive in cooler places and so it attacks the face, hands, feet, eyes, and other extremities of the body, sometimes leading to the loss of fingers and toes, as well as blindness and disfigurement.

The more I read about it, the more I began to see that what Leprosy does the body, sin does the soul. Sin attacks something that is within us – our spiritual nerves in a sense – and causes us pain. We suffer from guilt, shame, and regret. As we experience that pain, we often turn to sin to help us numb the hurt we experience. As a consequence of Original Sin and our own choices to sin throughout our lives, we have an inclination to sin; like the weakness of muscles to move, sin weakens our will to do good. Like Leprosy, sin also attacks the places where we are weakest – the desires of the flesh, our need for acceptance and love – and exploits them, leading us to do things that we think will bring us joy and completeness but only leave us empty and looking for the next thing that might bring us that joy we seek. Lastly, sin disfigures us. It alienates us from others, as we turn in toward ourselves and begin to do things that our friends and family recognize are not really who we are.

All of those things are serious, but I think the thing that is most serious here is the isolation. In the Jewish culture, as we hear in the reading from Leviticus, to be a leper meant that you were unclean. To be unclean isn’t necessarily to be in sin, but rather a state impurity, often by the contraction of a disease or contact with things that could carry disease.  Imagine having to walk around crying out “Unclean! Unclean!” so that everyone knew not to touch you and thus become unclean themselves. Talk about not feeling like an outcast! And if that was not enough, because they were unclean, they were not permitted to enter the Temple and worship the Lord in the larger community. They were not only separated from people, but also from their God. And is this not the true effect of our sin? That by doing sinful things we desire and not what we ought, we turn away from God and we turn away from our community.

This place of isolation is not what the Lord desires for us. Mankind was created in the image and likeness of God to be part of a community and ultimately to be joined to Him for eternity in Heaven. It was true dignity of the man that Jesus saw when He looked upon the leper in pity. He knew that the man was called to greatness and knew deeply the emptiness the man was experiencing. So Jesus reached out to him and, literally taking his hand, restored that dignity and wholeness and brought him back into the community and back to God. And the Lord desires to do the same with us.

Jesus Healing a Leper
During the season of Lent, just ten days away, we will have the Sacrament of Reconciliation available each Saturday at the normal time from 230-330, as well as on Wednesday evenings from 6 until 730pm. And as we mentioned before Mass, yesterday was the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and in her honor we are making the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick available at all Masses today.

My brothers and sisters, let us heed the words of Christ. Let us show ourselves to the priest, that Christ might restore the beauty of our soul, and bring us the healing and reconciliation that our hearts desire.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Face-Melting Quote of the Day

"We belong to the Church militant; and she is militant because on earth the powers of darkness are ever restless to encompass her destruction. Not only in the far-off centuries of the early Church, but down through the ages and in this our day, the enemies of God and Christian civilization make bold to attack the Creator's supreme dominion and sacrosanct human rights." 

-Venerable Pius XII

h/t to Fr. Z

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Papal Lenten Message 2012

As is the custom each year, the Holy Father has given to the Church his Lenten Message. Enjoy!

“Let us be concerned for each other,
to stir a response in love and good works” (Heb 10:24)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Lenten season offers us once again an opportunity to reflect upon the very heart of Christian life: charity. This is a favourable time to renew our journey of faith, both as individuals and as a community, with the help of the word of God and the sacraments. This journey is one marked by prayer and sharing, silence and fasting, in anticipation of the joy of Easter.
This year I would like to propose a few thoughts in the light of a brief biblical passage drawn from the Letter to the Hebrews:“ Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works”. These words are part of a passage in which the sacred author exhorts us to trust in Jesus Christ as the High Priest who has won us forgiveness and opened up a pathway to God. Embracing Christ bears fruit in a life structured by the three theological virtues: it means approaching the Lord “sincere in heart and filled with faith” (v. 22), keeping firm “in the hope we profess” (v. 23) and ever mindful of living a life of “love and good works” (v. 24) together with our brothers and sisters. The author states that to sustain this life shaped by the Gospel it is important to participate in the liturgy and community prayer, mindful of the eschatological goal of full communion in God (v. 25). Here I would like to reflect on verse 24, which offers a succinct, valuable and ever timely teaching on the three aspects of Christian life: concern for others, reciprocity and personal holiness.

1. “Let us be concerned for each other”: responsibility towards our brothers and sisters.

This first aspect is an invitation to be “concerned”: the Greek verb used here is katanoein, which means to scrutinize, to be attentive, to observe carefully and take stock of something. We come across this word in the Gospel when Jesus invites the disciples to “think of” the ravens that, without striving, are at the centre of the solicitous and caring Divine Providence (cf. Lk 12:24), and to “observe” the plank in our own eye before looking at the splinter in that of our brother (cf. Lk 6:41). In another verse of the Letter to the Hebrews, we find the encouragement to “turn your minds to Jesus” (3:1), the Apostle and High Priest of our faith. So the verb which introduces our exhortation tells us to look at others, first of all at Jesus, to be concerned for one another, and not to remain isolated and indifferent to the fate of our brothers and sisters. All too often, however, our attitude is just the opposite: an indifference and disinterest born of selfishness and masked as a respect for “privacy”. Today too, the Lord’s voice summons all of us to be concerned for one another. Even today God asks us to be “guardians” of our brothers and sisters (Gen 4:9), to establish relationships based on mutual consideration and attentiveness to the well-being, the integral well-being of others. The great commandment of love for one another demands that we acknowledge our responsibility towards those who, like ourselves, are creatures and children of God. Being brothers and sisters in humanity and, in many cases, also in the faith, should help us to recognize in others a true alter ego, infinitely loved by the Lord. If we cultivate this way of seeing others as our brothers and sisters, solidarity, justice, mercy and compassion will naturally well up in our hearts. The Servant of God Pope Paul VI stated that the world today is suffering above all from a lack of brotherhood: “Human society is sorely ill. The cause is not so much the depletion of natural resources, nor their monopolistic control by a privileged few; it is rather the weakening of brotherly ties between individuals and nations” (Populorum Progressio, 66).
Concern for others entails desiring what is good for them from every point of view: physical, moral and spiritual. Contemporary culture seems to have lost the sense of good and evil, yet there is a real need to reaffirm that good does exist and will prevail, because God is “generous and acts generously” (Ps 119:68). The good is whatever gives, protects and promotes life, brotherhood and communion. Responsibility towards others thus means desiring and working for the good of others, in the hope that they too will become receptive to goodness and its demands. Concern for others means being aware of their needs. Sacred Scripture warns us of the danger that our hearts can become hardened by a sort of “spiritual anesthesia” which numbs us to the suffering of others. The Evangelist Luke relates two of Jesus’ parables by way of example. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite “pass by”, indifferent to the presence of the man stripped and beaten by the robbers (cf. Lk 10:30-32). In that of Dives and Lazarus, the rich man is heedless of the poverty of Lazarus, who is starving to death at his very door (cf. Lk 16:19). Both parables show examples of the opposite of “being concerned”, of looking upon others with love and compassion. What hinders this humane and loving gaze towards our brothers and sisters? Often it is the possession of material riches and a sense of sufficiency, but it can also be the tendency to put our own interests and problems above all else. We should never be incapable of “showing mercy” towards those who suffer. Our hearts should never be so wrapped up in our affairs and problems that they fail to hear the cry of the poor. Humbleness of heart and the personal experience of suffering can awaken within us a sense of compassion and empathy. “The upright understands the cause of the weak, the wicked has not the wit to understand it” (Prov 29:7). We can then understand the beatitude of “those who mourn” (Mt 5:5), those who in effect are capable of looking beyond themselves and feeling compassion for the suffering of others. Reaching out to others and opening our hearts to their needs can become an opportunity for salvation and blessedness.
“Being concerned for each other” also entails being concerned for their spiritual well-being. Here I would like to mention an aspect of the Christian life, which I believe has been quite forgotten: fraternal correction in view of eternal salvation. Today, in general, we are very sensitive to the idea of charity and caring about the physical and material well-being of others, but almost completely silent about our spiritual responsibility towards our brothers and sisters. This was not the case in the early Church or in those communities that are truly mature in faith, those which are concerned not only for the physical health of their brothers and sisters, but also for their spiritual health and ultimate destiny. The Scriptures tell us: “Rebuke the wise and he will love you for it. Be open with the wise, he grows wiser still, teach the upright, he will gain yet more” (Prov 9:8ff). Christ himself commands us to admonish a brother who is committing a sin (cf. Mt 18:15). The verb used to express fraternal correction - elenchein – is the same used to indicate the prophetic mission of Christians to speak out against a generation indulging in evil (cf. Eph 5:11). The Church’s tradition has included “admonishing sinners” among the spiritual works of mercy. It is important to recover this dimension of Christian charity. We must not remain silent before evil. I am thinking of all those Christians who, out of human regard or purely personal convenience, adapt to the prevailing mentality, rather than warning their brothers and sisters against ways of thinking and acting that are contrary to the truth and that do not follow the path of goodness. Christian admonishment, for its part, is never motivated by a spirit of accusation or recrimination. It is always moved by love and mercy, and springs from genuine concern for the good of the other. As the Apostle Paul says: “If one of you is caught doing something wrong, those of you who are spiritual should set that person right in a spirit of gentleness; and watch yourselves that you are not put to the test in the same way” (Gal 6:1). In a world pervaded by individualism, it is essential to rediscover the importance of fraternal correction, so that together we may journey towards holiness. Scripture tells us that even “the upright falls seven times” (Prov 24:16); all of us are weak and imperfect (cf. 1 Jn 1:8). It is a great service, then, to help others and allow them to help us, so that we can be open to the whole truth about ourselves, improve our lives and walk more uprightly in the Lord’s ways. There will always be a need for a gaze which loves and admonishes, which knows and understands, which discerns and forgives (cf. Lk 22:61), as God has done and continues to do with each of us.

2. “Being concerned for each other”: the gift of reciprocity.

This “custody” of others is in contrast to a mentality that, by reducing life exclusively to its earthly dimension, fails to see it in an eschatological perspective and accepts any moral choice in the name of personal freedom. A society like ours can become blind to physical sufferings and to the spiritual and moral demands of life. This must not be the case in the Christian community! The Apostle Paul encourages us to seek “the ways which lead to peace and the ways in which we can support one another” (Rom 14:19) for our neighbour’s good, “so that we support one another” (15:2), seeking not personal gain but rather “the advantage of everybody else, so that they may be saved” (1 Cor 10:33). This mutual correction and encouragement in a spirit of humility and charity must be part of the life of the Christian community.
The Lord’s disciples, united with him through the Eucharist, live in a fellowship that binds them one to another as members of a single body. This means that the other is part of me, and that his or her life, his or her salvation, concern my own life and salvation. Here we touch upon a profound aspect of communion: our existence is related to that of others, for better or for worse. Both our sins and our acts of love have a social dimension. This reciprocity is seen in the Church, the mystical body of Christ: the community constantly does penance and asks for the forgiveness of the sins of its members, but also unfailingly rejoices in the examples of virtue and charity present in her midst. As Saint Paul says: “Each part should be equally concerned for all the others” (1 Cor 12:25), for we all form one body. Acts of charity towards our brothers and sisters – as expressed by almsgiving, a practice which, together with prayer and fasting, is typical of Lent – is rooted in this common belonging. Christians can also express their membership in the one body which is the Church through concrete concern for the poorest of the poor. Concern for one another likewise means acknowledging the good that the Lord is doing in others and giving thanks for the wonders of grace that Almighty God in his goodness continuously accomplishes in his children. When Christians perceive the Holy Spirit at work in others, they cannot but rejoice and give glory to the heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:16).

3. “To stir a response in love and good works”: walking together in holiness.

These words of the Letter to the Hebrews (10:24) urge us to reflect on the universal call to holiness, the continuing journey of the spiritual life as we aspire to the greater spiritual gifts and to an ever more sublime and fruitful charity (cf. 1 Cor 12:31-13:13). Being concerned for one another should spur us to an increasingly effective love which, “like the light of dawn, its brightness growing to the fullness of day” (Prov 4:18), makes us live each day as an anticipation of the eternal day awaiting us in God. The time granted us in this life is precious for discerning and performing good works in the love of God. In this way the Church herself continuously grows towards the full maturity of Christ (cf. Eph 4:13). Our exhortation to encourage one another to attain the fullness of love and good works is situated in this dynamic prospect of growth.
Sadly, there is always the temptation to become lukewarm, to quench the Spirit, to refuse to invest the talents we have received, for our own good and for the good of others (cf. Mt 25:25ff.). All of us have received spiritual or material riches meant to be used for the fulfilment of God’s plan, for the good of the Church and for our personal salvation (cf. Lk 12:21b; 1 Tim 6:18). The spiritual masters remind us that in the life of faith those who do not advance inevitably regress. Dear brothers and sisters, let us accept the invitation, today as timely as ever, to aim for the “high standard of ordinary Christian living” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 31). The wisdom of the Church in recognizing and proclaiming certain outstanding Christians as Blessed and as Saints is also meant to inspire others to imitate their virtues. Saint Paul exhorts us to “anticipate one another in showing honour” (Rom 12:10).
In a world which demands of Christians a renewed witness of love and fidelity to the Lord, may all of us feel the urgent need to anticipate one another in charity, service and good works (cf. Heb 6:10). This appeal is particularly pressing in this holy season of preparation for Easter. As I offer my prayerful good wishes for a blessed and fruitful Lenten period, I entrust all of you to the intercession of the Mary Ever Virgin and cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Jesus and the HHS Mandate

Christ Washing the Feet of His Disciples - Paolo Veronese, 1580

Job 7:1-4,6-7
Psalm 147:1-6
1 Corinthians 9:16-19,22-23
Mark 1:29-39

“If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it!”

Every time I hear this scripture passage I am forced to ask myself ‘Am I really preaching the Gospel?’ Do I always teach what Christ wants rather than what I want? Do I preach in a way that helps others understand the Gospel? And most importantly, do I preach the Gospel by simply loving every person that I meet?

As I reflect on those questions, I realize that I am not perfect and often fail in my own commissioning to preach the Gospel. I let myself get in the way of what Christ desires to speak and, more grievously, I fail to love as Jesus commands me. Although I fail at these things, though, the fact is that the mandate of Jesus Christ still remains. We must preach the Gospel of Christ, and most often that preaching comes in the form of actions, not words. As St. Francis of Assisi is often quoted, “Preach the Gospel at all times, use words when necessary.” The obligation to preach the Gospel is none other than the obligation Christ gave to His disciples: love one another as I have loved you. That is how we preach the Gospel – love.

This mandate of Christ has no restrictions or limits. We do not concern ourselves with gender, race, or social status. Nor do we limit ourselves to a particular religion or age range. We must simply love the person who stands before us, no matter their story. We simply love.

The problem is that this mandate to love others and serve them as Christ would is becoming increasingly difficult to fulfill in our country. At this moment, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is mandating that beginning August 2013, every employer – including Catholic social service agencies, hospitals, schools, and parishes – would be required to provide coverage for sterilization procedures, contraceptives, and abortion-inducing drugs. They’re reducing the gift of human life to a category of ‘preventative care’ alongside mammograms, flu shots, and the like; pregnancy is categorized as a disease. Until this point, the government has generally respected the beliefs and conscience of individuals, not forcing them to pay for or supply things that directly violated their religious beliefs. This ‘religious exemption’ has now been so narrowly set that as Fr. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, noted, not even Jesus and the disciples would be exempt since it requires an institution to employ and serve only those of their particular faith community. In other words, the new rule would be ‘Not Catholic – Not welcome.’ In effect, we would no longer be able to serve the poor and the needy, nor welcome any non-Catholic. It goes against our Catholic faith – the word Catholic means universal! – and against the mandate of Christ to love.

To refuse to pay for these insurance policies, which is an option, is to incur fines of over $2,000 per employee per year, increasing annually as insurance costs increase. To put that in perspective, the University of Notre Dame in Indiana alone would pay several million dollars annually and Catholic Charities of America would pay around $140 Million. And that is just two of thousands of institutions throughout our country that are serving the poor and aged, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and educating people of all types.

The simple fact is that the current administration has effectively told Catholics and thousands of other Christians across America that the government has a say over what we can. If the government doesn’t approve of it, we can’t practice it in the public forum. We must leave our faith at the doorstep of our homes. And that’s a very dangerous line to cross because soon who is to say that they won’t continue to determine what we can believe and practice.

My brothers and sisters in the Lord, I don’t mean to be alarmist, but this is serious matter. 155 of the 183 Catholic diocese throughout the United States (nearly 85%) and all 53 of the (non-Catholic) Orthodox Bishops in America have publicly spoken out against this law and it is imperative that we all do the same. Write the president, write the head of the HHS, and write our representatives and other political leaders. Let them know that your right to practice your faith is being violated by this mandate. Let them know that it is unjust and needs to change. Certainly we must be pro-active. But most importantly, we must bring this before the Lord because it is the Lord that changes hearts. We can write and call frequently, which we should, but it is the Lord that will affect this change. We have numerous conversion stories in the scriptures, most notably St. Paul. Let us pray that the Lord will continue to convert the hearts of our nation’s leaders. However it looks for our, whether it’s time with the Blessed Sacrament, serving the poor, praying the rosary or a chaplet, praying the Scriptures, or offering up sacrifices and fasting, let us lift up our prayers to the Lord.

And as we gather here for this Eucharist, this feast of thanksgiving, may we have hearts that are grateful for the many blessings the Lord has poured out upon us. And by our prayers, may He continue to pour out blessings upon us that we, as Catholics, Christians, and Americans, might always be able to carry out the mandate of love, for in serving others we serve Christ Our Lord. 


Thomas Peters at CatholicVote.org has a list of bishops/dioceses HERE who have spoken out on this, including links to most of the official statements that are well worth reading for more info.