Mercy is at the center of the Gospel of Christ

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In Wednesday’s General Audience,  Pope Francis returned to his favorite subject…mercy, and gave his reasons for doing so.

“Like a good mother and educator, the Church focuses on the essential, and the essential, according to the Gospel, is mercy, as Jesus clearly tells his disciples: ‘Be merciful, just as your father is.’ Is it possible for a Christian not to be merciful,” asked Pope Francis. “No. The Christian must necessarily be merciful, because this is at the center of the Gospel.”

Following the advice of Aristotle (Rhetoric), who advised speakers to tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them and then tell them what you told them, the Holy Father is dedicated to clarifying the core message of the Gospel, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

Continuing, Pope Francis added, “And so the Church behaves like Jesus. She does not give theoretical lessons on love or on mercy. She does not spread throughout the world a philosophy or a path to wisdom. Certainly, Christianity is all of this, too,” the pope remarked, “but as a consequence, a reflection. The mother Church, like Jesus, teaches by example and words serve to cast light on the meaning of her gestures.”

Referring to the Last Judgment passage in Matthew 25:35-46, Pope Francis explained that mercy is witnessed by parents who teach their children that what is left over is for those in need, by those who visit the sick and elderly in hospitals and rest homes, by the people who care for those who have been abandoned, and by those who are close to the imprisoned, recalling that “each of us is capable of doing what these (imprisoned) have done.”

Concluding the reflection, the Holy Father said, “The Church is a mother teaching her children the works of mercy. She has learned this path from Jesus; she has learned that this is essential for salvation. It is not enough to love those who love us. It is not enough to do good to those who do good to us in return. To change the world for the better, it is necessary to do good to those who are not able to do the same for us, as our Father did for us, in giving us Jesus. How much have we paid for our redemption? Nothing. It was all free. Doing good without expecting anything in return – this is what our Father did for us and what we too must do.”

Jesus is the incarnation of the Father’s mercy. As his disciples let us be witnesses to his Gospel of mercy and love.

Image Credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring

Time and Tide wait for no man

Tide

 

“Time and tide wait for no man.”
St. Marher 1225

Our lives are like the tide that floods, then ebbs and crawls back across the sand until it is engulfed by the new flood. So it is for each of us, so it is for each generation. Time is linear, past, present and future. The past is our prologue, it is fixed and beyond our control, yet it shapes us and we must know it to know ourselves. We create our present through choices made within the limits of time and place. We build bridges to connect or walls to divide.

What of the future? In a sense the future is already here in our children. Certainly our choices will provide the stage upon which the future will be played out, but, in the words of the Holy Father last week, “Where does the future lie? The future lies with the young who possess two qualities: wings and roots.” Continuing, the Pope explained that, “Young people have wings so they can fly, to dream, to create, and roots to receive the wisdom of their elders.”

Ah yes, the roots. That is where we, the older generation, come in. We cannot be the roots, for they belong to the future, but we are the soil in which they grow and which will form the faith, the values, the dreams and the visions that will shape the future.

Each generation passes the torch with reluctance and anxiety, uncertain about the preparedness of the new torchbearers. But, our tide will ebb, the torch will pass and those of us who passed the flame must follow the new path that unfolds before us.

Image credit: Unsplash

One of the Gravest Sins in a Christian Community

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I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.  – John 17:20-21

Jesus’ prayer for unity is popularly understood in an ecumenical context; however, the scandal of disunity is also present within the Church. In his General Audience last week, Pope Francis spoke of divisions within the Christian community, the Church. “Let us consider not only the schisms, let us consider the very common lapses in our communities, ‘parochial’ sins, those sins in the parishes. Sometimes, in fact, our parishes, called to be places of sharing and communion, are sadly marred by envy, jealousy, antipathy…. and gossip which everyone passes on.”

“In a Christian community,” the Holy Father continued, “division is one of the gravest sins because it makes it a sign not of God’s work, but of the devil’s work, who is by definition the one who separates, who destroys relationships, who insinuates prejudice. Division in a Christian community, whether in a school, a parish, or an association, is a very grave sin, because it is the work of the devil.”

Our immediate reaction might very well be, “yes, see how they are dividing the Church,” pointing a verbal finger at those whose theology or worldview is different from ours. Of course, we are all certain that we hold the right opinion. It is so easy to slip into self-righteousness, like the Pharisee who looked at the prayerful publican and thought to himself, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector” Luke 18:11.

We are quick to judge others and slow to examine our own actions. Polarization in the Church today is a major scandal because it obscures rather than proclaims the Gospel of Jesus. Concluding his remarks, the Pope added, “Let these words of Jesus resound in our hearts: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God’” (Mt 5:9). Let us ask sincerely for forgiveness for all the times in which we have caused division or misunderstanding within our communities, knowing well that communion is not achieved except through constant conversion… asking the Lord for the grace not to speak ill, not to criticize, not to gossip, to love everyone. It is a grace which the Lord gives us.”

Image Credit:  “Crack”, Luke Nadeu on Flickr

Unconscious Racism

Ferguson Funeral

In the wake of the Ferguson, MO incident, racism has again become part of the national conversation. Whether it is based on ignorance, fear, stereotypes or feelings of superiority or inferiority, racism is real and its effects are destructive in our society. Is there a touch of racism in all of us? In a column in Thursday’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristoff explores that possibility.

Kristoff writes: “Research in the last couple of decades suggests that the problem is not so much overt racists. Rather, the larger problem is a broad swath of people who consider themselves enlightened, who intellectually believe in racial equality, who deplore discrimination, yet who harbor unconscious attitudes that result in discriminatory policies and behavior.”

For most Americans today, racism is seen in terms of oppression of Blacks by non-Blacks, but racism is ubiquitous and is found in all societies throughout history. Even God’s Chosen People suffered this weakness. In Deuteronomy 23:4 it is written: No Ammonite or Moabite may ever come into the assembly of the LORD, nor may any of their descendants even to the tenth generation come into the assembly of the LORD. In our own American history we find shameful discrimination against many immigrants, particularly the Irish and Germans who suffered vilification and discrimination from nativists.

Many of us recognize that we have a touch of racism, and recognizing that fact is the first step in overcoming it. Pope Francis has spoken out against racism and xenophobic behavior and several occasions. Having a better understanding of God’s love for all his children, St. Paul writes: For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, enriching all who call upon him.

Ending racism and discrimination against others who are different from us in color or belief, must begin in our heart of hearts where we honestly and prayerfully examine our conscience, and see if there is a plank in our eye before we look for sawdust in another’s. (Matthew 7:3)

Image Credit: CNS photo/Richard Perry, pool via EPA

What Everybody Should Know About Christians in Iraq

What Everybody Should Know About Christians in Iraq

For some, the presence of Christians in Iraq is a surprise. Our image of Iraq is that it is an Arab nation and Arab equals Muslim. Of course, that is not the case. All Arabs are not Muslims and, conversely, all Muslims are not Arabs. Indonesia, with the world’s largest Muslim population, is not an Arab nation.

Christianity was born in the Middle East. Iraq, together with Iran, are part of Mesopotamia, and Christians have been present in the area since the mid-second century. Paulist Father Ronald. Roberson in his book, The Eastern Christian Churches, notes that in the third century the area was conquered by a Persian dynasty that perdured until the seventh century and was known as the Sassanid Empire. The Christianity that developed there became known simply as “the Church of the East.”

In the fifth century the Church of the East gravitated toward the Christology of Nestorius that was condemned at the Council of Ephesus. Nestorians were declared heretics and banned from the Roman Empire and many fled east to the safety of the Sassanians. The Church of the East, which became known as the Assyrian Church of the East, increasingly separated itself from the orthodox churches. Other Christian groups deemed heretical also sought refuge among the Persians.

While they remained a minority among the principally Zoroastrian Persians, the eastern churches flourished and cities such as Mosul, Basra, Kirkuk and Tikrit became thriving Christian centers. All of that changed with the coming of Islam. The eastern churches, while tolerated, were hobbled by Islam and became but remnants. Nonetheless, they continued to exist throughout the area until the present time alongside Eastern Catholic (Uniate) churches and their Muslim neighbors.

Radicalization of some Muslim groups in Iraq, Syria and Egypt has resulted in the harassment and persecution of eastern Christians culminating with the forceful removal of all Christians (and others) from Mosul and other ancient Christian areas by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

We must indeed pray for our suffering brothers and sisters in the Middle East, Christians and others, and pray for the strength to endure the tribulations that have come upon them. You may provide aid to them through Catholic Relief Services at http://emergencies.crs.org/iraq-crs-response-strategy-during-displacement-crisis/

Image Credit: CNS photo/Rodi Said, Reuters

Watching the scenes in Ferguson unfold

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As we watch the scenes from Ferguson, Missouri unfold on the nightly news, does it prompt some questions? Certainly, they are not scenes that we in the United States expect to see in 2014. But, what do we see?

Are we looking in a mirror? Are we seeing ourselves as others see us? Are we seeing ourselves as God sees us? Do we feel the pain and frustration of those protesting? Do we feel the fear and anxiety of the police officers? Or, are they like figures in an NCIS episode?

I wonder if we have become anesthetized to the authentic agony of others, whose real life pain and suffering will not be resolved by the end of the show. Have we fallen victim to the culture of indifference that inures us to the sufferings of others?

Have we lost the capacity to weep over the pain of those different from us? I hope not. I pray that we seek to be compassionate not judgmental. I pray that we stand down, not stand firm. May God bring peace, justice, understanding and mercy to all the people of Ferguson and throughout this great land and may He grant us all the wisdom to see ourselves as God sees us.

There are many admirers of Christ, but few disciples

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“I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life.”
 Deuteronomy 30:19

Disciples of Jesus are recognizable by their choices. Moses stood on Mount Nebo and challenged the Israelites to choose life or death. The rest of the Hebrew Scriptures chronicle their choice. As Catholics, as Christians, we must make the same choice. We must choose Jesus, choose to follow him, become his disciples committed to follow and spread his teachings …become in the words of Paul, other Christs. (Galatians. 2:20)

There are many admirers of Christ, but far fewer disciples. Admirers find it difficult to make the step to discipleship which is often thought to be unrealistic for those who live “in the real world.” Of course that is precisely where Jesus’ disciples must live. Discipleship is not asceticism, except for a few. There are those called to the eremitical life or to be missionaries, but most of us, clergy and laity alike, are called to witness Jesus to our family, our neighbors, our co- workers and friends.

That is where choices come in. The Christian Family Movement has popularized Joseph Leo Cardijn’s mantra of See, Judge, Act, adapted from St. Thomas Aquinas’ reflection on prudence. I find it a good guide to making Christian choices. To see means to observe, reflect and consult on elements of our society. It means rejecting at face value hearsay or claims of the media or radical voices and seeking an objective view to try to see with the eyes of Christ.

In judging we again take counsel, seek to determine how gospel values and Sacred Tradition (not custom or popular opinion) apply to the situation or incident to form an inspired Christian opinion considering the circumstances.

Finally, and most importantly, we should take appropriate action based on informed judgment. This is not a difficult process. Most of us do it automatically many times a day in circadian situations. The important key is to include gospel values and considered outcome in seeking a proper judgment.

I congratulate the many disciples who try hard to make proper judgments and I ask you to join me in praying that more admirers of Jesus will choose life and become His disciples.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Face_of_Jesus_in_art#mediaviewer/File:ChristandThorns.jpg)

Prayers for a Great School Year

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[Some Catholic school students in the Diocese of Dallas begin heading back to the classroom on Tuesday, August 12th. That makes them among the first students in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to begin the 2014-2015 school year. Please visit the Catholic Diocese of Dallas website to see the full list of start dates for Catholic schools in the Diocese of Dallas.]

It is again a time of new beginnings as a new school year gets underway, making new friends, new teachers, new subjects, new challenges and new opportunities. A whole new world will open up for those children who will begin school for the first time.

Of course their education is not really just beginning. That began when as an infant they first began scrutinizing their hand or their foot. Their first educational institution is their home and their first teachers are their mother and father and other family members.

Pope Francis reminded us recently that “the fundamental institutions for the education of children and youth are the family and the school.” They must complement each other. We know now that the matrix of our life is formed in the family. Our life-long values are rooted in our family of origin.

Which brings to mind something else our Holy Father reminded us of recently, “the importance of proper religious education, in particular for the transmission of religious and moral values.” That is the difference in Catholic Educational Institutions, religious and moral values permeate the educational process. Religious education is more than subject matter. It is encountering Jesus in a Christian atmosphere, building on the living witness of the family.

Catholic school teachers and administrators are dedicated to the concept of a Christian value centered education for our children. For them it is a sacred trust.

Please join me in praying for our students and their teachers in Catholic and public schools throughout the Diocese of Dallas that this will be a year of academic and spiritual growth.