World Youth Day 2016

“Grant that we may bear witness to your mercy:” World Youth Day 2016

In 1985, Pope John Paul II instituted the first World Youth Day, which was held in 1986. Since then, millions of young people have taken part in World Youth Day pilgrimages. This year, July 25 – 31, young people from around the world will travel to Krakow, Poland to pray, sing, learn about the City of Saints, and reflect upon the theme: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Mt. 5:7) The theme is in keeping with Pope Francis’ declaration of the Year of Mercy; the two patron saints of this World Youth Day are St. John Paul II and St. Faustina.

World Youth Days are more than simply a gathering of young people. In 1984, Pope John Paul II entrusted to the youth gathered in Rome to celebrate the Jubilee of Redemption two symbols. The first is a plain wooden cross.

I entrust to you the sign of this Jubilee Year: the Cross of Christ! Carry it throughout the world as a symbol of Christ’s love for humanity, and announce to everyone that only in the death and resurrection of Christ can we find salvation and redemption.

The second symbol is an icon of Mary the Mother of God. John Paul II told the young people:

Know, however, that in difficult times, which everyone experiences, you are not alone: like John at the foot of the Cross, Jesus also gives His Mother to you so that She will comfort you with Her tenderness.

These two symbols travel every year to World Youth Day.

Pope Francis will join the young people in Krakow, and he has spoken to them as they prepare themselves for this event.

You, dear young man, dear young woman, have you ever felt the gaze of everlasting love upon you, a gaze that looks beyond your sins, limitations and failings, and continues to have faith in you and to look upon your life with hope?  Do you realize how precious you are to God, who has given you everything out of love?  Saint Paul tells us that “God proves his love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Do we really understand the power of these words?

I know how much the WYD cross means to all of you.  It was a gift from Saint John Paul II and has been with you at all your World Meetings since 1984.  So many changes and real conversions have taken place in the lives of young people who have encountered this simple bare cross!  Perhaps you have asked yourselves the question: what is the origin of the extraordinary power of the cross?  Here is the answer: the cross is the most eloquent sign of God’s mercy!  It tells us that the measure of God’s love for humanity is to love without measure!  Through the cross we can touch God’s mercy and be touched by that mercy!

For those who cannot travel to Krakow, many dioceses are offering WYD events (such as the Archdiocese of Detroit) so that young people can come together to pray, worship and learn. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also offers information on state-side events.

The official website of World Youth Day 2016 is an excellent resource for this event. For parishes, youth groups and dioceses that wish to support WYD and raise funds for those traveling, Diocesan Publications is offering WYD t-shirts that proclaim the theme: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” No matter our age, home or circumstances, we should all join the world’s young people in their contemplation of God’s mercy this summer.


Living Our Faith With Joy

“Joy” is a great word, isn’t it? It bubbles up in us thoughts of great delight: a baby laughing, a wedding, a pleasurable meal shared with those we love.

“Joy” and “happiness” are not the same, although we often use those words interchangeably. Happiness depends on circumstances. We are happy because we have “something” or we’ve been given “something”. Happiness, frankly, is fleeting. It comes and goes.

Joy is abiding. It is a way of life. It permeates all we do. Joy does not depend on circumstances or what we have.

One of the first things that Pope Francis gifted us with was his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel. He says:

There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. I realize of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved. I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress. [para. 6]

We acknowledge that our lives are touched by grief. We are burdened with responsibilities and sin. But we are called by the Gospel, the Good News. Faith creates joy, that quiet, firm trust in Christ Jesus and His promise of eternal life.

St. Paul says, in Romans 15:13: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the holy Spirit.

We must challenge ourselves to live our faith with joy. Our hope, our faith means our lives are rooted, planted solidly, on joy. Be joyful! Christ is risen, alleluia, alleluia!

Body and Blood of Christ

The Solemnity Of The Body And Blood Of Christ: “I Am The Bread Of Life”

This year, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (traditionally knows as Corpus Christi) on the final Sunday of May. Many parishes choose to process with the Eucharist – sometimes simply around the church or neighborhood, while others make longer treks. Regardless, this celebration makes known to all who see and hear a fundamental tenet of our faith: that Christ is present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Eucharist.

Of course, this seems a bit crazy. It’s understandable how this could be a stumbling block for so many. How possibly could Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God-Made-Man, be “inside” that Host, that Chalice? Isn’t it just a piece of bread and some wine that we remember Jesus by? It’s just a reminder of Him and the Last Supper, right?


It is not “just” a piece of bread and some wine, or a memory of a long ago event. How can we be assured of this? How do we Catholics know this to be true? Because Christ Himself told us.

In the Gospel of John, chapter 6, John tells of the miracle of the loaves and fishes. The vast crowd who came to hear Jesus’ preach were fed – astoundingly – with a very small amount of food. The next day, Jesus takes his disciples and gives them the teaching on the Bread of Life.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. But I told you that although you have seen [me], you do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it [on] the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day.” (Jn. 6:35-40)

Now, the disciples were used to Jesus teaching in parables: the Kingdom of God is like, or it’s as if. But they could tell his tone was different here. They started squirming: How can this guy be bread? That’s not REALLY what He meant, is it?

And Jesus clarified:

I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (Jn: 6:48-51)

Well, that was it for some of the disciples. There was no doubting Jesus’ meaning: He wasn’t just saying “eat;” He was using the word for “gnaw.” He really meant eating His Body. And some of those disciples left. This was simply too outrageous.

Even today, these words of Christ are too outrageous for many Christians; they do not believe that Christ, at the Last Supper, fulfilled His words. We must, as Catholics, work to bring our Christian brothers and sisters into the fulness of faith. However, we cannot do that unless our own faith is formed. The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is an opportunity to deepen our own faith.

A few years ago, Pope Francis said this challenged us on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ:

[I]n adoring Christ who is really present in the Eucharist: do I let myself be transformed by him? Do I let the Lord who gives himself to me, guide me to going out ever more from my little enclosure, in order to give, to share, to love him and others?

Brothers and sisters, following, communion, sharing. Let us pray that participation in the Eucharist may always be an incentive: to follow the Lord every day, to be instruments of communion and to share what we are with him and with our neighbour. Our life will then be truly fruitful.

As we look forward to this celebration, let us pray that we deepen our own faith, and then share this great treasure with others.


The Challenge Of Refugees

Most of us cannot begin to imagine what it is like to have your entire neighborhood, village, town leveled by bombs. What is it like to try and go out in search of water and food for your family, while dodging the bullets of snipers? Even worse, what is it like to have your wife, your daughters, your nieces taken as hostages and used as sex slaves?

There are millions of people today who know this reality. Pope Francis, in January of this year, addressed the refugee crisis.

The tragic stories of millions of men and women daily confront the international community as a result of the outbreak of unacceptable humanitarian crises in different parts of the world. Indifference and silence lead to complicity whenever we stand by as people are dying of suffocation, starvation, violence and shipwreck. Whether large or small in scale, these are always tragedies, even when a single human life is lost.

The pope says that people should never be forced from their homes, and the world community should do everything it can to stop forced migration. No one, the Holy Father says, should be forced to flee “poverty, violence and persecution.”

On the other hand, the world currently has millions of people who have been forced to leave their homes unwillingly. Last week, Pope Francis received the Charlemagne Award, an award given to those who promote European unification. He was quite critical of countries who were taking rather extreme measures to keep refugees from their countries:

I dream of a Europe where being a migrant is not a crime, but a summons to a greater commitment on behalf of the dignity of every human being,” Francis said. “I dream of a Europe that promotes and protects the rights of everyone, without neglecting its duties toward all. I dream of a Europe of which it will not be said that its commitment to human rights was its last utopia.”

We, the heirs of their dream, are tempted to yield to our own selfish interests and to consider putting up fences here and there,” Francis continued. Today, more than ever, he added, “their vision inspires us to build bridges and tear down walls.

What has happened to you, the Europe of humanism, the champion of human rights, democracy and freedom?” Francis questioned. “What has happened to you, Europe … the home of poets, philosophers, artists, musicians, and men and women of letters? What has happened to you … the mother of great men and women who upheld, and even sacrificed their lives for, the dignity of their brothers and sisters?

It helps to understand a huge problem such as this by looking at just one person, one family. Catholic singer/songwriter Audrey Assad wrote recently about her family’s experience as Syrian refugees. Her father was born in Damascus, raised by a single mother who had left her husband due to his alcoholism. As a boy, her father slept on a door that rested on cinder blocks. He and his two siblings regularly stood in line in soup kitchens. After a move to Beirut, Assad’s grandmother sought refugee status and a move to the U.S.

When the family of four landed at Newark airport, they found themselves awash in a sea of unintelligible English and foreign faces. They were met by a man who’d heard of their situation through the Christian Missionary Alliance church, and he graciously put them up at his house for a week. Over the course of those first seven days in the United States, my grandmother found a small furnished apartment, while my father and uncle found jobs operating sewing machines at a small handbag factory in Union City, New Jersey. When my father would get done with work, he’d sit at home watching Mork & Mindy or Gilligan’s Island to improve his English.

Within a year he’d tired of the work in the handbag factory and felt he was being mistreated by his employers, so he quit. He went to visit the man who’d sponsored him as a child in Syria and asked him for help. That man offered him an entry-level job at his State Farm Insurance agency, and my father agreed. He grew to like the business, and worked his way up through the ranks in the office to become their top salesperson within five years. After a decade, my father was State Farm Insurance’s top-selling agent in the nation. But despite all of his success, State Farm wouldn’t give my father his own agency because he didn’t have a college degree. So instead, my father rented an office in New York City and struck out on his own — and he operates that company to this day.

Assad says that her family’s history taught her a lesson about work: “dream, believe, do, repeat.” She says this lesson serves her well as she struggles to support her family with her music ministry. Doors closed in her face, obstacles unanticipated arose, money was tight … but she believes as her father taught her: dream, believe, do, repeat.

We’re a people of ideals because we’ve had to be, but I believe this contributed to whatever it is that makes America truly great. I can say this much: I am who I am and I do what I do because my family decided to come here, and in doing so they were invited to make their own way in this wide country. I’m here and I’m still in this creative, financially unpredictable and high-stress business of making music, because my father taught me how to dream, believe, do, repeat. He is my perfectly imperfect hero. I’m so very proud and thankful to be the daughter of Roy Assad, Syrian refugee and citizen of the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave.’  Thank you, America, for welcoming us. We’re so happy to be here.

How many of our ancestors arrived here in the U.S. as refugees? Perhaps yours fled a food-starved Ireland or a war-torn Poland. Maybe your family came here seeking religious freedom. We are a nation built on the broad shoulders and tired feet of refugees. We romanticize the stories of refugees (think Sound of Music), but the hard realities often frighten us. Yes, we must have order and law in regard to refugees, but as Pope Francis has said,

Solidarity with migrants and refugees must be accompanied by the courage and creativity necessary to develop, on a world-wide level, a more just and equitable financial and economic order, as well as an increasing commitment to peace, the indispensable condition for all authentic progress.

As Christians, perhaps the best thing for us to remember is that Jesus Himself was a refugee: [T]he angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. (Matthew 2:13-14)


Love: The Christian Identity Card

In Rome this past weekend, more than 70 thousand teens from Italy and the world traveled to Rome for a Jubilee pilgrimage celebrating the Year of Mercy. On Saturday, priests (sitting on chairs in the open air) heard the confessions of these young people in St. Peter’s Square. Pope Francis joined them, hearing the confessions of 16 young people.

On Sunday, the pope addressed the young people in  his sermon.

The Pope told the thousands of 13 to 16 year olds gathered in St Peter’s Square that “love, was the Christian’s identity card, the only valid “document” identifying us as Christians.  If this card expires and is not constantly renewed,” he said, “we stop being witnesses of the Master.”

Then he asked the teenagers gathered “Do you want to experience the love of Jesus? Let us learn from him, for his words are a school of life, a school where we learn to love.”

The Holy Father noted, however, that although love is beautiful and it’s the path to happiness it is not necessarily and easy path.  It is, he said, demanding and it requires effort.

Sunday’s Gospel, from the book of John, was short, but powerful. It formed the basis of Pope Francis’ remarks:

When Judas had left them, Jesus said,
“Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.
If God is glorified in him,
God will also glorify him in himself,
and God will glorify him at once.
My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.
I give you a new commandment: love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”

It is easy to dismiss the Gospel (and Pope Francis’ remarks) as simply “feel good” words: let’s all love each other and be happy! But a closer reading reveals that Jesus is asking a great deal from us. Although the disciples did not yet know it, Jesus would show them the extent of His love: His sacrificial death on the Cross. Jesus willingly burdened Himself with our sins, was beaten, humiliated and died a slow, agonizing death – because He loves us.

Jesus is telling us that, if we truly want to bear the name “Christian,” to carry the “Christian identity card” – we must love each other in a sacrificial manner. So, what would that look like? St. Paul, in his writings to the citizens of Corinth, makes it clear:

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.

Today, we are all students in the school of love. We must learn love, we must practice love, we must accept love, and we must love all those who cross our paths. It is our identity as disciples of Christ.

joy of family

10 Great Quotes From “The Joy of Love”

We’ve spent the last few days examining sections of Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love)Pope Francis’ recently released apostolic exhortation. This “love letter to families” has so much rich material; it deserves far more in-depth study than we can afford here. However, here are 10 great quotes that we hope will spur you to pick up the document and prayerfully read over it.

  1.  The couple that loves and begets life is a true, living icon – not an idol like those of stone or gold prohibited by the Decalogue – capable of revealing God the Creator and Saviour.
  2. The word of God tells us that the family is entrusted to a man, a woman and their children, so that they may become a communion of persons in the image of the union of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Begetting and raising children, for its part, mirrors God’s creative work.
  3. The sacrament of marriage is not a social convention, an empty ritual or merely the outward sign of a commitment. The sacrament is a gift given for the sanctification and salvation of the spouses, since “their mutual belonging is a real representation, through the sacramental sign, of the same relationship between Christ and the Church.”
  4. The Church is a family of families, constantly enriched by the lives of all those domestic churches.
  5. True love values the other person’s achievements. It does not see him or her as a threat. It frees us from the sour taste of envy. It recognizes that everyone has different gifts and a unique path in life. So it strives to discover its own road to happiness, while allowing others to find theirs.
  6. If we accept that God’s love is unconditional, that the Father’s love cannot be bought or sold, then we will become capable of showing boundless love and forgiving others even if they have wronged us. Otherwise, our family life will no longer be a place of understanding, support and encouragement, but rather one of constant tension and mutual criticism.
  7. In family life, we need to cultivate that strength of love which can help us fight every evil threatening it. Love does not yield to resentment, scorn for others or the desire to hurt or to gain some advantage. The Christian ideal, especially in families, is a love that never gives up.
  8. Marital joy can be experienced even amid sorrow; it involves accepting that marriage is an inevitable mixture of enjoyment and struggles, tensions and repose, pain and relief, satisfactions and longings, annoyances and pleasures, but always on the path of friendship, which inspires married couples to care for one another: “they help and serve each other”.
  9. Large families are a joy for the Church. They are an expression of the fruitfulness of love.
  10. Married couples are grateful that their pastors uphold the high ideal of a love that is strong, solid, enduring and capable of sustaining them through whatever trials they may have to face. The Church wishes, with humility and compassion, to reach out to families and “to help each family to discover the best way to overcome any obstacles it encounters”.
never give in

Families: Never Give In

In 1941, London had been under siege, seemingly standing alone against a well-armed enemy. Germany had bombed the city for months: lives were lost, buildings destroyed, morale low. England’s then-Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, spoke to the nation about these dark days:

[N]ever give in, never give in, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

In his apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Pope Francis understands that the modern nuclear family – father, mother, children and extended family – is also under siege. The war we face is with a hidden enemy but one who is still very real. Parents know the struggle of protecting innocence, of standing firm in faith and morality against an increasingly hostile culture, and the necessity of creating a home life that offers respite from a harsh world.

In family life, we need to cultivate that strength of love which can help us fight every evil threatening it. Love does not yield to resentment, scorn for others or the desire to hurt or to gain some advantage. The Christian ideal, especially in families, is a love that never gives up. I am sometimes amazed to see men or women who have had to separate from their spouse for their own protection, yet, because of their enduring conjugal love, still try to help them, even by enlisting others, in their moments of illness, suffering or trial. Here too we see a love that never gives up. Para. 119

The Holy Father talks of a positive attitude that requires endurance, and a “dogged heroism” that is committed to goodness. One would be hard-pressed to find someone who disagreed with this. We all want a home that is a place of forgiveness, goodness, and love. One would also be hard-pressed to find any family who does this well, all the time.

We are human; we all struggle with sin. As much as we love our parents, our siblings, our children, our spouse, we do not always love as we should. We criticize. We speak harshly. We fail to listen. We are impatient, unkind, unforgiving: the very opposite of what we are called to be.

What to do? The Church offers us the Sacrament of Reconciliation so that we might seek forgiveness from God and gain the grace we need to do better. Making frequent use of this sacrament as a family is a tremendous gift we can give one another.

The simple act of saying, “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” when they need to be said is indispensable. Both children and adults need to know that they can make mistakes, they can sin, and that they are still loved and lovable.

We can never give in. Evil hates love. It hates forgiveness, patience, kindness. Evil hates the dogged determination to love. While it is difficult for families to live up to this standard, we must never give in. We cannot give in to despair or fear, to hostility or harshness. We must never give in. We must love.

male and female

Male And Female He Created Them

We return today to the Holy Father’s apostolic letter, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love.) Pope Francis, following the groundwork laid by St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, reminds us that men and women are equal in dignity, but are distinct in the gifts they offer the world. It is a primary tenet of the Judeo-Christian tradition that humanity was created male and female and as with all God’s creation, both are fundamentally good.

This apostolic letter addresses many current issues and problems in the world that, even 50 years ago, would have been thought outlandish or impossible. The scourge of drug abuse and its burden on families, the idea that one can choose to “identify” as a different gender and the scientific advances that have made procreation outside of the conjugal act possible are all discussed.

It needs to be emphasized that “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated”. On the other hand, “the technological revolution in the field of human procreation has introduced the ability to manipulate the reproductive act, making it independent of the sexual relationship between a man and a woman. In this way, human life and parenthood have become modular and separable realities, subject mainly to the wishes of individuals or couples”. It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality. Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator. We are creatures, and not omnipotent. Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift. At the same time, we are called to protect our humanity, and this means, in the first place, accepting it and respecting it as it was created. Para. 56

The letter expounds further that women, in the role of motherhood, are indispensable to children and families:

[W]e cannot ignore the need that children have for a mother’s presence, especially in the first months of life. Indeed, “the woman stands before the man as a mother, the subject of the new human life that is conceived and develops in her, and from her is born into the world”. The weakening of this maternal presence with its feminine qualities poses a grave risk to our world. I certainly value feminism, but one that does not demand uniformity or negate motherhood. For the grandeur of women includes all the rights derived from their inalienable human dignity but also from their feminine genius, which is essential to society. Their specifically feminine abilities – motherhood in particular – also grant duties, because womanhood also entails a specific mission in this world, a mission that society needs to protect and preserve for the good of all. Para. 173

The pope laments that fathers, in so many cases, are absent in today’s family. This leaves an enormous hole in the heart of the family and of a child.

God sets the father in the family so that by the gifts of his masculinity he can be “close to his wife and share everything, joy and sorrow, hope and hardship. And to be close to his children as they grow – when they play and when they work, when they are carefree and when they are distressed, when they are talkative and when they are silent, when they are daring and when they are afraid, when they stray and when they get back on the right path. To be a father who is always present. When I say ‘present’, I do not mean ‘controlling’. Fathers who are too controlling overshadow their children, they don’t let them develop”. Some fathers feel they are useless or unnecessary, but the fact is that “children need to find a father waiting for them when they return home with their problems. They may try hard not to admit it, not to show it, but they need it”. It is not good for children to lack a father and to grow up before they are ready. Para. 177

In the day-to-day life of our homes, we rarely think of the “grandeur” of the feminine or the “gifts of masculinity.” Nor does every family follow traditional roles; in some families, the father is at home with the children while the mother works outside the home, the father is the one who cooks and cleans and the mother is the one who maintains the car. The point made in this letter from Pope Francis is not that men and women should do certain things, but rather that men and women are different beings. We know we must care for the created world: we recycle, are careful with our use of water and so on. Yet many of us never give a thought to how we respect the masculine and feminine, the man and woman God created. Pope Francis, in this apostolic letter, gives us the opportunity to reflect on this.

God created mankind in his image;
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth. 

God also said: See, I give you every seed-bearing plant on all the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food and to all the wild animals, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the earth, I give all the green plants for food.

And so it happened God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good. Gen. 1:27-31


Family: A School Of Love And Tenderness

Pope Francis has just released his Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitiaor “The Joy of Love” An apostolic exhortation is a type of letter a pope uses to explain conclusions reached following a Synod of Bishops. While this particular exhortation is far too long to discuss in whole here, we can find a few sections to consider.

Pope Francis reminds us that the family is the “domestic church,” the first place we learn the faith, and where God’s presence is always felt.

A family’s living space could turn into a domestic church, a setting for the Eucharist, the presence of Christ seated at its table. We can never forget the image found in the Book of Revelation, where the Lord says: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20). Here we see a home filled with the presence of God, common prayer and every blessing. This is the meaning of the conclusion of Psalm 128, which we cited above: “Thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord. The Lord bless you from Zion!” (Ps 128:4-5) Para. 15

The Holy Father gives societies and cultures an important admonition: children are not property. While they are under the charge of their parents, children have their own “lives to lead,” and parents are charged with helping their children find that path. In today’s world, we must remember we are not “owed” children nor should children be bought and sold (either through such things as surrogacy or in the more horrible means of human trafficking.)

The pope is under no illusion that families are idyllic. However, we do have a standard we must hold ourselves to as Christians. Pope Francis speaks to this quite clearly:

Against this backdrop of love so central to the Christian experience of marriage and the family, another virtue stands out, one often overlooked in our world of frenetic and superficial relationships. It is tenderness. Let us consider the moving words of Psalm 131. As in other biblical texts (e.g., Ex 4:22; Is 49:15; Ps 27:10), the union between the Lord and his faithful ones is expressed in terms of parental love. Here we see a delicate and tender intimacy between mother and child: the image is that of a babe sleeping in his mother’s arms after being nursed. As the Hebrew word gamûl suggests, the infant is now fed and clings to his mother, who takes him to her bosom. There is a closeness that is conscious and not simply biological… Para. 29

No matter our faith or beliefs, the pope’s words ring true: our world needs tenderness. We need it most especially in our homes, our refuges from a world that can be chaotic, mean-spirited, ruthless and dispiriting. The tenderness of Mary holding the infant Jesus, the tenderness of Joseph as he taught the Child Jesus a trade, the tenderness of Christ as He cared for His earthly parents: all of these should be our icons, our examples, our prayers-in-action within the walls of our own homes.

We will contemplate more of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation this week, but for today, let tenderness be our prayer and our manner of being.



For the Greater Glory of God: The Jesuits

475 years ago, St. Ignatius of Loyola became the leader of the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits. Their motto, Ad majorem Dei gloriam, translates to For the greater glory of God.  Over the centuries, the Jesuits have become known for their scholarship and their bold evangelization. (Pope Francis is a Jesuit priest.)

This boldness is no surprise, given their founder. Ignatius of Loyola was a soldier who brought the fervor of battle into his spiritual life. He developed a series of exercises to help the men he led develop in their relationship with God, just as a commander might help those who serve under him to become stronger soldiers. The Spiritual Exercises continue to help Jesuits form their priestly lives. One writer describes this spirituality as practical:

Ignatian spirituality is adaptable. It is an outlook, not a program; a set of attitudes and insights, not rules or a scheme. Ignatius’s first advice to spiritual directors was to adapt the Spiritual Exercises to the needs of the person entering the retreat. At the heart of Ignatian spirituality is a profound humanism. It respects people’s lived experience and honors the vast diversity of God’s work in the world. The Latin phrase cura personalis is often heard in Ignatian circles. It means ‘care of the person’—attention to people’s individual needs and respect for their unique circumstances and concerns.

The Jesuits’ strong desire to evangelize has sent them all over the globe. Many have been martyred in their desire to “set the world ablaze” with Christ, as their founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, enjoined them. Fr. Walther Ciszek, S.J., an American, joined the Jesuits in the early 20th century. He volunteered to go to Russia, even as the Soviet regime was taking control. It was not an easy time for the young priest.

He didn’t mind the hard work and harsh conditions of that camp in the Ural Mountains. But he was frustrated and disillusioned to find no outlets for his priestly ministry. It was “almost a non-apostolate,” he said, for even the Catholic workers feared Communist informers and refused to speak or hear of God. And so, as Ciszek and a fellow Jesuit said their furtive Masses in the forest, he wondered: “Have all my work and sacrifices been for nothing? Should I give up?”

He needn’t have worried. Ciszek was soon arrested as a spy, and sentenced to the infamous Siberian Gulag for 15 years. It was here that Ciszek found his mission field.

[I]n this nightmare realm, Fr. Ciszek knew the joy of bringing Christ to his fellow prisoners. In secret, he baptized, heard confessions, tended the sick and dying, gave homilies and retreats, said Mass, and distributed Communion. With quiet heroism, he built “a thriving parish,” though it cost him. He was punished with assignments to the dirtiest work. He shoveled coal for fifteen hours straight, hauled logs out of a frozen river, crawled through dangerous mine tunnels, and dug sewer trenches with a pickaxe in subzero temperatures.

“How did you survive?” people asked him later. “God’s providence,” he always replied. And abandoning himself to this providence — to God’s will, as revealed in each day’s situations — was his priority.

Many people, including lay persons, have over the centuries found Ignatian spirituality helpful in their own lives. The many brave Jesuit priests stand as awesome examples of awareness of Christ in the world and a strong desire to serve others.



Called To Rejoice In A Sorrowful World

Easter is a joyful time of year for Christians; it is the culmination of the entire liturgical year. After the serious and often grim days of Lent, the Church bursts forth into song; our parishes are filled with flowers and “Alleluias” resound. However, we all know that our lives are not always celebratory. We mourn. Sickness often consumes our lives. And it’s not just us personally; the entire world grieved during Holy Week as terrorists attacked in Brussels. We live in a sorrowful world.

Pope Francis knows this. On Easter, he gave the papal address, Urbi et Orbi (City and World). He acknowledged that our lives must be rooted in faith:

Before the spiritual and moral abysses of mankind, before the chasms that open up in hearts and provoke hatred and death, only an infinite mercy can bring us salvation.  Only God can fill those chasms with his love, prevent us from falling into them and help us to continue our journey together towards the land of freedom and life.

While our lives here on Earth can often seem overwhelmed by evil, the Holy Father reminds all of us that Christ’s Resurrection “offers us the comforting assurance that the abyss of death has been bridged and, with it, all mourning, lamentation and pain.”

The message of Easter is not one for Christians alone. It is meant for all humanity. We must see to it that those without hope come to know hope in Christ. It is only in Christ that all things can be made new, as it says in the book of Revelation. In a world torn by war, hatred, terrorism and personal strife, Pope Francis spoke clearly to our hearts:

With the weapons of love, God has defeated selfishness and death.  His son Jesus is the door of mercy wide open to all …  May efforts be made everywhere to promote the culture of counter, justice and reciprocal respect, which alone can guarantee the spiritual and material welfare of all people.

The joy of Easter can sometimes be very hard to sustain. Yet, as Christians, we must always carry the hope of Christ and His triumph over death in our minds and in our hearts. In a hurting world, we must exemplify faith, hope and love to those who have lost faith, abandoned hope and do not know love. On our lips should ever be the joyful refrain of the Psalmist: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.”

Holy Week

10 Quotes For Holy Week

With the celebration of Palm Sunday, we enter Holy Week. Hopefully, this will be a time of peace, reflection, penance and prayer for all Christians. Here are 10 quotes for you to ponder as we prepare for the Passion of Christ.

  1. We give glory to You, Lord, who raised up Your cross to span the jaws of death like a bridge by which souls might pass from the region of the dead to the land of the living. We give glory to You who put on the body of a single mortal man and made it the source of life for every other mortal man. – St. Ephrem of Edessa
  2. Ultimately, in the battle against lies and violence, truth and love have no other weapon than the witness of suffering. – Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
  3. Do you realize that Jesus is there in the tabernacle expressly for you – for you alone? He burns with the desire to come into your heart. – St. Therese’ of Lisieux
  4. Be assured of God’s love for you. Seek by his grace to heal the damage of sin. Seek communion with him and with those who make up his Church and those who are not yet within. His love for all of us is unconditional. His joy is infinite. His mercy overflows. – Deacon Michael Bickerstaff
  5. The washing of the feet and the sacrament of the Eucharist: two expressions of one and the same mystery of love entrusted to the disciples, so that, Jesus says, “as I have done… so also must you do” (Jn 13: 15).  – St. John Paul II
  6. “We adore you and we bless you, Lord Jesus Christ, here and in all the churches which are in the whole world, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.” – Stations of the Cross
  7. Through the stark and solemn Liturgy of the Friday we call “Good”, we stand at the Altar of the Cross where heaven is rejoined to earth and earth to heaven, along with the Mother of the Lord. We enter into the moment that forever changed – and still changes – all human History, the great self gift of the Son of God who did for us what we could never do for ourselves by in the words of the ancient Exultet, “trampling on death by death”. We wait at the tomb and witness the Glory of the Resurrection and the beginning of the New Creation. – Deacon Keith Fournier
  8. The Cross is the word through which God has responded to evil in the world. Sometimes it may seem as though God does not react to evil, as if he is silent. And yet, God has spoken, he has replied, and his answer is the Cross of Christ: a word which is love, mercy, forgiveness. It is also reveals a judgment, namely that God, in judging us, loves us. Remember this: God, in judging us, loves us. If I embrace his love then I am saved, if I refuse it, then I am condemned, not by him, but my own self, because God never condemns, he only loves and saves. – Pope Francis
  9. No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown. – William Penn
  10. Awake, thou wintry earth – Fling off thy sadness! Fair vernal flowers, laugh forth Your ancient gladness! – Thomas Blackburn, “An Easter Hymn”