An Affirmation of Women Religious

Women Religious

“Since the early days of the Catholic Church in their country, women religious have courageously been in the forefront of her evangelizing mission, selflessly tending to the spiritual, moral, educational, physical and social needs of countless individuals, especially the poor and marginalized,”.

With these words the long awaited report on the Apostolic Visitation of the communities of women religious in the United States affirmed what so many of us already knew; that women religious were the hands and heart of the Church as our country grew from a handful of states on the Eastern Seaboard to the transcontinental union and beyond.

The introduction to the report recalls that, “Throughout the nation’s history, the educational apostolate of women religious in Catholic schools has fostered the personal development and nourished the faith of countless young people and helped the church community in the USA to flourish. In addition, a great majority of the Catholic healthcare systems in the United States, which serve millions of people each year, were established by congregations of women religious.”

In Texas from the arrival of the first Ursuline Nuns in Galveston in 1847, nuns and sisters were on the frontlines of the Faith, establishing schools and hospitals, often at their own expense and became the first face of the Church in many frontier communities. Before the Diocese of Dallas was erected, the territory from Texarkana to El Paso was already dotted with schools and hospitals established by religious communities of women.

As the report notes, “In a spirit of creative fidelity to their charisms, they branched out in new ministries to those most on the margins of the Church and society. Women religious in the United States also notably pursued ongoing theological and professional formation seeking to further their ability to serve the Church’s evangelizing mission and to prepare others to collaborate in it as well.”

Today, women religious have expanded their mission to embrace pastoral ministry, diocesan administration, hospital and jail ministry in addition to their original community charisms. Our nuns and sisters are indeed worthy of the affirmation they received in the Congregation’s visitation report.

In recognition of the ministry of women religious in the Diocese of Dallas, and as part of the diocese’s 125th birthday celebration in 2015, a history of the contributions of women religious in the diocese will be published as an eBook in the near future.

Please join in me in offering a Prayer of Thanksgiving for all of these wonderful women, from the past and those serving today, for their tireless work, prayer and service to build up the Catholic Church in Texas.

Image Credit: CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec

Our hearts cry out to heaven, not for vengeance but for healing

Taliban Massecre in Pakistan

It is difficult for the mind to grasp the vicious brutality behind the Taliban’s massacre of 132 innocent school children and 13 adults at a school in Pakistan on Tuesday, December 16th. It is equally difficult to imagine the depth of suffering of parents and loved ones of the murdered. Such inhuman cruelty numbs the mind. Retaliation, as this appears to be, is never a solution; it only escalates the cycle of violence.

Our hearts cry out to heaven, not for vengeance but for healing — healing for the families, healing for the survivors, and healing for the hatred capable of begetting such horror. In the words of Pope Francis, “I invite everyone to look to the Crucified Jesus to understand that hatred and evil must be met with forgiveness and goodness, to understand that the solution of war leads only to more evil and death!”

We cannot surrender to a culture that accepts evil as a norm and that generates hatred in God’s name. We are disciples of the one who offers forgiveness, hope and unconditional love.

 Image Credit: CNS photo/Khuram Parvez, Reuters

O Antiphons: O King of the Nations – O Rex Gentium

O King of the Nations

In our reflection on the O Antiphons once again we are reminded of Israel’s longing for an ideal king in the Antiphon O Rex Gentium:

O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

Israel’s experience with kings was not a happy one. It began with her desire to have a king, like other nations (1 Samuel 8:6). God gave them a king (Saul) with a caveat about abuse of royal power. Saul was a disaster and his anointed successor, David, did fine until he spotted Bathsheba,. Their son Solomon was wise but his wisdom did not extend to choosing pagan wives. After Solomon, amidst a crumbling monarchy, through Isaiah, the Lord promised salvation under a new Davidic King.

“For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; upon his shoulder dominion rests? They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, upon David’s throne, and over his kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by his judgment and justice, both now and forever.“(Isaiah 9:5-6)

Jeremiah announced that this Davidic monarch would not only rule over Israel but the world: “No one is like you, Lord,, you are great, great and mighty is your name. Who would not fear you, King of the nations, for it is your due! Among all the wisest of the nations, and in all their domains there is none like you.” (Jeremiah 10:6-7)

But Israel’s longing for an ideal king would not be fulfilled by a mighty warrior king who would use his power to smite their enemies but by the Prince of Peace whose reign would bring peace, justice and reconciliation

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh.” (Ephesians 2:13-14)

Israel’s long wait was nearing an end.

O Antiphons: O Radiant Dawn – O Oriens

(5)-O-Oriens-650x351

In continuing our examination of the O Antiphons we reflect on O Oriens or O Radiant Dawn

O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

This Antiphon is rich in meaning on many levels. The Latin title O Oriens can be translated several ways. Oriens simply means East, but is also translated as Dawn, Daystar and Morning Star because they all rise in the East. All are harbingers of the sunrise which dispels the darkness.

The significance of this is often lost on those of us who dispel the darkness with our artificial sun, but in a world lit only by fire life was ruled by sunrise and nightfall. Not surprisingly sunrise has been associated with the coming of the Messiah. Thus Radiant Dawn of the Antiphon is reflected in Hosea 6:3: “Let us know, let us strive to know the Lord; as certain as the dawn is his coming?”

Luke 1:77-79 carries the theme into the New Testament: “And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord* to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” This text has been associated with both Jesus and his precursor, John the Baptist since the words are attributed by Luke to Zechariah , John’s father.

For Christians, the rising sun has always been associated with the Risen Son. The early Christians prayed facing East and altars faced East. In his book, The Spirit of Liturgy, Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “Despite all the variations in practice that have taken place far into the second millennium, one thing has remained clear for the whole of Christendom: praying towards the East is a tradition that goes back to the beginning.” Because the altars faced East, when the priest faced the altar he was said to be offering the Mass “ad orientem,” or towards the Risen Christ.

Still another example of the spiritual significance of Oriens, is the designation of the Virgin Mary as Morning Star, the precursor of the Risen Son.

O Antiphons: O Key of David – O Clavis David

O Key of David

O Key of David and scepter of the House of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.

We do not know for certain when the O Antiphons were composed, but there are indications they originated about the seventh century with Benedictine monks reflecting on the Old Testament events leading up to the birth of Jesus, the Messiah. They were well aware of the fact that, as the Documents of Vatican II point out,  the New Testament is concealed in the Old and the Old revealed in the New.

They saw predictions of Jesus’ coming as Messiah and scion of the House of David in Isaiah: “I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; what he opens, no one will shut,what he shuts, no one will open.”(Isaiah 22:22) and Isaiah 61:1 “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”

The Isaiah 6 passage is the text quoted by Jesus in Luke 4:18-19 where He stands up in his home synagogue at Nazareth and quotes Isaiah 61:1: “He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…’” He then stood before the synagogue and said : “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Isaiah’s text is echoed in Jesus’ giving the power of the keys to Peter in Matthew 16:18-19: “I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church… I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

An interesting note is that it is said that the Benedictine monks ordered the O Antiphons in the manner they did so that when the first letters of the Latin names were reversed they formed a Latin acrostic spelling out e r o c r a s or Ero Cras, which in Latin means “Tomorrow I will come.”

O Antiphons: O Root of Jesse – O Radix Jesse

O Root of Jesse

In our reflections on the O Antiphons this Advent Our path to redemption tokes us into Jesus’ ancestral line with O Radix Jesse or O Root of Jesse.

O Root of Jesse, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

We Turin to the Prophet Isaiah for the scriptural basis of this Antiphon.

“But a shoot shall sprout from the stump* of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” (Isaiah 11:1) ” Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips. Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; The calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.”
(Isaiah 11:5-6)

King Saul, Israel’s first king, had abandoned God and the Prophet Samuel was sent by God to anoint a son of Jesse as his successor (1 Samuel 16:1-13) As we see on many occasions God’s ways are not human ways. to Samuel’s dismay, the chosen king is not Jesse’s eldest son, but his youngest, David.

“Jesse had the young man brought to them. He was ruddy, a youth with beautiful eyes, and good looking. The Lord said: There—anoint him, for this is the one! Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand, anointed him in the midst of his brothers, and from that day on, the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.”(1 Samuel 16:12-13

Our journey to redemption continues as David, the Root of Jesse, becomes the ideal king the root from whom Jesus will spring.

Some families celebrate Advent with a Jesse Tree, a small tree with ornaments representing the Old Testament events leading up to Jesus’ birth. Ornaments might symbolize, Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Jesse, David, Isaiah, Ruth and others. The Jesse Treee is a good way to teach how Advent, awaiting the birth of Jesus, recalls the long period of Jewish history awaiting the Messiah.

The O Antiphons: O Sacred Lord – O Adonai

O Sacred Lord - O Adonai

We continue our reflections on the O Antiphons with O Adonai or O Sacred Lord

Because the Hebrews believed the name of God was too holy to speak or even write, they used the word Adonai, which means Sacred Lord or simply Lord, to refer to the Holy One.

O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

God’s relationship with the Hebrews as his Chosen People was first manifested with his choice of Moses to lead the Children of Abraham out of slavery and to a promised land. Their choseness was not for privilege but as the vehicle through which the world might be reconciled to Him.

From the burning bush, “The Lord said [to Moses] I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry against their taskmasters, so I know well what they are suffering…” I have come to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them up from that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”(Exodus 3:7-8)

In Egypt the Children of Israel were welcomed as the family of Joseph, but as their numbers increased they became unwelcome guests. The Exodus transformed them into a nation. The making of a nation requires a great leader- Moses; a common experience of tribulation- slavery; territory- the promised land, and law. It Was at Sinai that this last element was added.

“Moses went up to the mountain of God. Then the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying: This is what you will say to the house of Jacob; tell the Israelites: You have seen how I treated the Egyptians and how I bore you up on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now, if you obey me completely and keep my covenant, you will be my treasured possession among all peoples, though all the earth is mine. You will be to me a kingdom of priests,* a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:3-6)

The path to redemption which we call the Economy of Salvation continued to move forward in the Lord’s mysterious ways.

The Pope and the Patriarch: A Unique and Unprecedented Relationship

Pope & Patriarch

Pope Francis’ visit to Turkey had political and spiritual dimensions, both of which are inextricably commingled. A unique and unprecedented relationship has developed between the Pope and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the nominal leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The relationship is a culmination of a gradual thaw in the relations between the two churches that began with Pope Paul VI and then Patriarch Athenagoras.

From an ecumenical point of view, the political and cultural rupture from which emerged the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church was the primordial schism. There were of course earlier divisions, but none that so completely severed the Body of Christ. Because the Great Schism, as it came to be called, was more political and cultural than doctrinal, it differed substantially from the Protestant Reformation five centuries later, that was more doctrinal and less political and cultural.

Subsequent events deepened the wounds of division and yet the two Churches mirrored each other sacramentally and doctrinally — a reality that was recognized by the Second Vatican Council. The Orthodox presence in Turkey, once the heart of Byzantium, the great center of Orthodoxy, is now minuscule and truly a Holy Remnant.

Primarily the visit of the Holy Father to the Ecumenical Patriarch was to move our communities closer to restoring the full unity to which we are called by Jesus (John 17:21). There still remains reluctance and suspicion that must be overcome, but there exists an undeniable Apostolic ecclesial affinity between the Catholics and the Orthodox.

Pope Francis made his hope of reunion crystal clear when following a liturgical celebration at the Orthodox Church of St. George he said the “one thing that the Catholic Church desires and that I seek as Bishop of Rome…is communion with Orthodox Churches,” adding later in his remarks, “…the restoration of full communion…does not signify the submission of one to the other, or assimilation. Rather, it means welcoming all the gifts that God has given to each, thus demonstrating to the entire world the great mystery of salvation accomplished by Christ the Lord through the Holy Spirit.”

Vatican Radio reported that the Holy Father and the Ecumenical Patriarch signed a Joint Declaration reaffirming their desire to overcome the obstacles dividing their two Churches. The two leaders also deplored the terrible situation facing Christians and all who are suffering in the Middle East and called for an appropriate response from the international community.

In that regard the Pope urged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to use his influence to protect Christian and other minorities who are suffering oppression and even persecution in Middle Eastern countries and to follow through on promised restoration of properties and rights of Orthodox and other non-Muslim minorities in Turkey.

Interestingly President Erdoğan challenged the Holy Father to use his influence to address the increasing Islamaphobia in Europe and elsewhere that tends to label all Muslims as terrorists, a situation that unquestionably exists in some European countries and even in our own country. Papal concern for Muslim refugees has been evident from the beginning of his papacy and Muslims are certainly among the poor and the marginalized for whom the Pope seeks mercy and compassion.

Image Source: Flickr.com