Seeking Christian Unity

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Seeking Christian unity is like being told by the Lord to climb a fog shrouded mountain. We have no idea what we will find at the peak other than God’s will. We know we must make the journey although it may at times seem a labyrinthine path.

In John 17:20, Jesus gave us our marching orders: “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.”

This week, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, is not a time set aside for the journey. Rather, it is a signpost along the road to remind us that our journey to God must be a journey toward unity.

Let us arise and move forward in the name of the Lord.

Image credit: A painting of Pope Francis at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity shows him holding an icon of Sts. Peter and Andrew. The icon was given by Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople to Pope Paul VI in 1964 and how hangs in the council’s Vatican office. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (May 9, 2014)

Catholic education: A light in the darkness

Catholic Education

To paraphrase Charles Dickens, youth and young adulthood are the best of times and the worst of times. The best of times because these are the years of exploration and discovery when young minds are like sponges and absorb ideas and values that will shape their future. On the other hand, they are also the worst of times because all of the ideas and values to which they are exposed are not benign or beneficial.

Pope Francis spoke to this danger in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: “ …We are living in an information-driven society which bombards us indiscriminately with data—all treated as being of equal importance—and which leads to remarkable superficiality in the area of moral discernment. In response, we need to provide an education which teaches critical thinking and encourages the development of mature moral values.” (Par. 64)

Of course the first educators of children are their parents, and educators to whom they entrust their children must build on the foundation provided by the family. That education must do more than instill information and introduce and demonstrate the values of a Christian and civil society.

In the words of the Holy Father it must “provide an education which teaches critical thinking…” In order that they are able to analyze and evaluate concepts and ideas and make sound judgments in light of the teachings of Jesus.

Such is the mission of Catholic education at all levels. Catholic educators, lay, religious and clergy are committed to the formation of Christian women and men prepared to confront and change the society and world we leave to them. This is what motivates parents to make such great sacrifices to provide a Catholic education.

This Catholic Schools week I salute parents and educators who work together to make Catholic education a light in the darkness.

Pope Francis the Fearless

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Call him Pope Francis the Fearless, a modern fool for Christ, (1 Cor. 4:10) who on his visit to the Philippines braved a typhoon to visit the citizens of Tlaclopan, an island devastated by Typhoon Yolanda a year ago that took 6,000 lives.

As gusting wind ruffled his yellow plastic poncho the Holy Father told the survivors of the stricken city, “I am here to be with you. …I have come to tell you that Jesus is Lord, that he never lets us down. ‘Father,’ you might say to me, ‘I was let down because I’ve lost so many things, I lost my house, my livelihood, my family. I’ve illness.’ It’s true if you would say that, and I respect those sentiments, but Jesus is there nailed to the cross, and from there, he does not let us down.”

Later after hearing many of the men and women tell their stories of tragedy and heroism the Pope said, “So many of you have lost everything. I don’t know what to say to you, but the Lord does know what to say to you. Some of you lost part of your families. All I can do is keep silence. And I walk with you all with my silent heart.”

Drawn as he always is to the poor and the suffering, in Manila as he prepared to meet with young people, many saved from prostitution and homelessness, Pope Francis spoke of the need to deepen one’s sense of compassion, to go beyond simply giving to the poor by understanding their plight.

Then a 12 year old girl who had witnessed both drugs and prostitution while living on the streets tearfully asked the Pope why children were allowed to suffer. Deeply touched by the girl’s question he replied, “The nucleus of your question doesn’t have an answer,” adding “when the heart is able to ask itself something and weep, then we are able to understand something.”

He then called on the young people to care for the poor. …”no matter how much or how little we have individually, each one of us is called to personally reach out and serve our brothers and sisters in need, materially, emotionally, spiritually.”

In brief words to clergy gathered at the Cathedral in Manila, he again returned to the obligation to serve the poor. “The poor, the poor are at the heart of the Gospel, and if we take the poor from the Gospel, we cannot understand the whole message of Jesus Christ. …only by becoming poor ourselves, by stripping away our complacency will we be able to identify with the least of our brothers and sisters.”

In a nation of some 100 million, more than one quarter of the population of the Philippines are estimated to live below the poverty level and a 2009 study found that 38 percent of Filipino children live in impoverished conditions.

An estimated six million people braved the bad weather for the closing Papal Mass on the feast of El Nino, the Christ child, the patron of the Philippines. In addressing the record throng, the Holy Father said, “that the feast of the Child Jesus” reminds us that… “We need to see each child as a gift to be welcomed, cherished and protected. And we need to care for our young people, not allowing them to be robbed of hope and condemned to life on the streets.”

Upon his return to Rome, Pope Francis spoke about his encounter with families in Manila. “I have heard it said that families with many children and high birth rates are among the causes of poverty. It seems to me a simplistic opinion. I can say that the main cause of poverty is an economic system that has removed the person from the center and replaced him with the god of money; an economic system that excludes and creates the throwaway culture in which we live. … It is necessary to protect families, which face various threats, so that they can bear witness to the beauty of the family in God’s plan.”

Pope Francis is fearless not just because he flies into typhoons, but also because he is not afraid to challenge power structures and economic systems that perpetuate poverty and exploit the powerless.

Jesus’ statement that the poor will always be with us was not a prophesy but a lament that challenges each of us to examine our hearts.

Image credit: CNS photo/Malacanang photo bureau handout via EPA

Keeping Charlie Hebdo in perspective

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Journalists and cartoonists that were gunned down in Paris were victims of barbarous and brutal violence, but they are not heroes. Our Holy Father Pope Francis in an interview en route to the Philippines renewed his condemnation the terrorist attacks in Paris, and of all violence, but added that there are there are limits to freedom of expression, especially when it insults or ridicules someone’s faith.

Acknowledging that both freedom of expression and freedom of speech are fundamental freedoms, Pope Francis said neither is absolute. As Pope Francis said, killing in the name of God “is an aberration,” and “You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

Society as a whole and nations struggle to balance freedoms. In our own country, freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, which is the constitutional basis for both freedom of religion and freedom of speech, have been limited for the common good by decisions of the Supreme Court, which continues to be called upon to rule on issues of freedom of speech and religion.

The satirical journalism of Charlie Hebdo in no way justified the vicious and deadly attack, but satire is not humor.It may seem humorous to some, but not to those that are its target. Satire is inherently cruel and those who practice it have placed themselves outside of the mainstream of civility and society. They also set themselves up for retaliation. As the Pope said, if you insult somebody’s mother, you can expect a punch in the nose, “it’s normal.”

Jesus put it this way: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets’ (Matthew 7:12)

Image Credit: CNS photo/Carlo Allegri, Reuters

Where there is hatred, let me sow love

Where there is hatred, let me sow love

Where there is hatred, let me sow love…
-Prayer of St. Francis

Hatred is an insidious thing. It blinds us to truth; it blinds us to love; and it blinds us to God. Hatred springs from fear, from self-righteousness and from ignorance. It strips us of our reason, clouds our intellect, warps our mind to perceive that which is evil as good and demonizes the object of its wrath to justify itself. Hatred is particularly pernicious when it is justified in God’s name.

God is love (1 John 4:8) and love is antithetical to hatred. The opposite of hatred is not only love, but also forgiveness. Anger is a feeling — we all feel anger. Hatred and forgiveness are decisions we make as the result of feeling anger. As followers of Jesus, we have only one possible response to anger … love and forgiveness. “Whoever hates his brother is in darkness; he walks in darkness and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:11).

Those blinded by hatred are blind to truth; they are like those described by the Prophet Jeremiah as “foolish and senseless people, who have eyes and do not see, who have ears and do not hear”(Jer: 5:21). The popular saying “don’t get mad, get even” is totally contrary to the teachings of Jesus, who taught in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well” (Matt. 5:38,39).

Forgiveness and love are of God. Jesus, the Great Reconciler, as he hung on the cross, uttered among his last words, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do”(Luke 23:34), and in imitation of Jesus, Stephen cried out as he was being stoned to death, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”(Acts 7:60).

As disciples of Jesus, can we do less?

Be an Epiphany

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Epiphany, which we celebrated today has been traditionally celebrated on January 6 by the Roman Catholic Church in the West. On the following Sunday the Commemoration of the Baptism of the Lord is observed. The two are closely related because they both are epiphanies, which comes from the Greek and means made manifest, usually made manifest as divine.

Both feasts celebrate the manifestation of Jesus as God’s Son and Messiah and at one time they were both celebrated on the same day, a custom still maintained by the Armenian Church. Celebration of the Epiphany as a feast commemorating the entire Christmas cycle is a very ancient custom, probably before Christmas became a separate feast. St. Luke tells of the divinity of Jesus being manifested to the gentile world in the persons of the wise men.

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord recalls His divinity and messiahship being manifested and revealed to the Jewish world, when at His baptism by John the Baptist “a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’.”(Matt 3:17) The Baptism of the Lord has always been a major feast in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches, but it was not instituted as a separate feast by the Catholic Church until 1955.

Manifestations of Jesus’ Divinity and messiahship exist today in the Church through the witness of individual Christians whose discipleship manifests to the world the continuing presence of Jesus’ healing and forgiving love. I believe this is what Pope Francis is trying to do; make the Church a shining light that reveals Jesus’ continuing presence in the world.

In a general audience last November Pope Francis reminded us that: “To be holy it is not necessary to be bishops, priests or religious. … We are all called to be holy! … It is by offering one’s own Christian witness in our everyday occupations that we are called to become holy; and each person in the condition and in the state of life in which he finds himself: consecrated persons, married couples, unmarried baptized persons, parents, grandparents, catechists, educators and volunteers…. Every state of life leads to sanctity, if lived in communion with the Lord and in the service of one’s brethren.”

Each of us is called to be an epiphany by witnessing Jesus’ compassion and mercy in our daily lives.

Image Credit: ‘Adoration of the Magi’ by Andrea Mantegna (Getty Open Content Program)

But God, I was so busy!

But God, I was so busy!

In reading the story of the Last Judgement in Matthew Chapter 25, it is significant that all of the sins mentioned are sins of omission; not feeding the hungry, not caring for the ill, not welcoming the stranger, not visiting the incarcerated. Those condemned might well have answered: “But God, I was so busy!”

I am convinced that spiritual indifference is as great an enemy of Christian life as evil. Indifference occurs when we become so responsive to our daily duties and responsibilities that they, not God, become the driving force in our lives. What we lose is perspective. The things that become the center of our lives may be, in themselves, good things. They lead to spiritual indifference when they become ends in themselves instead of steps on our journey to God.

Pope Francis’ fraternal corrections to the members of the Curia before Christmas were a reminder to all who minister in the Church, that we must constantly guard against “spiritual Alzheimer’s,” forgetting the call of the Holy Spirit that drew us into ministry.

For that matter, the litany of temptations outlined by the Holy Father provides good material for an examination of conscience for all Christians. I was edified that in reading responses to stories on the Pope’s talk, most did not applaud the chiding of the Curia, but saw the same failings in themselves.

What Pope Francis did was to remind us that even religious duties can lead to spiritual Alzheimer’s and cause us to forget that what we are doing is God’s work. The same is true whether we are a bishop, a banker, a mother or a farm laborer.

Image Credit: CNS/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World

No Longer Slaves, but Brothers and Sisters

No Longer Slaves but Brothers and Sisters

Slavery ended with the Emancipation Proclamation, right!

Wrong.

Slavery still exists in Dallas, in our country and in the world, and Pope Frances used his New Year’s Message to remind us that there are many still bound by the chains of slavery.

In his letter entitled No Longer Slaves but Brothers and Sisters, the Holy Father explains that, “even though the international community has adopted numerous agreements aimed at ending slavery in all its forms, and has launched various strategies to combat this phenomenon, millions of people today – children, women and men of all ages – are deprived of freedom and are forced to live in conditions akin to slavery.”

Numbered among those enslaved by force or circumstance the Pope includes: Laborers bound by indebtedness in domestic, agricultural, manufacturing and mining workplaces; migrants who are deprived of freedom, robbed or subjected to physical and sexual abuse; persons forced into prostitution, many of them minors, male and female sex slaves and those sold or forced into marriage; those kidnapped and held captive by terrorist groups; people kidnapped in order to be sold, enlisted as combatants or sexually exploited; those forced to emigrate, leaving everything behind.

Many of these assaults on human freedom and dignity occur in our own communities and in our own state. The next time you hear or read the term “human trafficking,” understand that it means a type of slavery. In Texas there have been 346 cases of human trafficking reported this year and that may be only the tip of the iceberg.

Slavery is rooted, Pope Francis observes, “in a notion of the human person which allows him or her to be treated as an object. Whenever sin corrupts the human heart and distances us from our Creator and our neighbors, the latter are no longer regarded as beings of equal dignity, as brothers or sisters sharing a common humanity, but rather as objects…. slavery is corruption on the part of people willing to do anything for financial gain.

Calling for a threefold commitment on the institutional level to prevention of exploitation, to protection of victims and the vulnerable and to prosecution of the persecutors, the Holy Father also calls on each of us to reach out to our brothers and sisters who might be victims of human trafficking and exploitation and not to purchase items that may well have been produced by exploiting others. If nothing more, a kind word, a greeting, a smile can offer hope.

We cannot close our eyes to this out of indifference, financial reasons or simply because we “don’t want to be involved.” We must act in a manner worthy of our, and their, human dignity.

Pope Francis concludes: “We know that God will ask each of us: What did you do for your brother? (cf. Gen 4:9-10). The globalization of indifference, which today burdens the lives of so many of our brothers and sisters, requires all of us to forge a new worldwide solidarity and fraternity capable of giving them new hope and helping them to advance with courage amid the problems of our time and the new horizons which they disclose and which God places in our hands.”

We are our brothers and sisters keepers. I pray we may all begin 2015 with mercy, compassion and concern in our hearts. May God bless all in the Diocese of Dallas in the new year!

Image Credit: Human trafficking victims from Myanmar are held in a detention cell near the Thailand-Malaysian border, Feb. 13. Pope Francis has raised the blight of human trafficking onto the global stage, calling it “a crime against humanity” and decrying the world’s indifference. (CNS photo/Damir Sagolj, Reuters)