Tag Archives: Pope Francis

A challenge for youth in the church

When I was a campus minister and gave a talk on the work of the Church at Antioch, our major retreat for college students, I would talk about vocation and our calling to be the Church. I warned about thinking that our faith is manifested by how much time we spend in church and in church activities.

I remember students who told me of their concern that they were not doing enough for their faith, since they were not involved much in church activities. I tried to help them see that they could be living out their faith, being a faith-filled Catholic, in their daily work, in their studies, in the way they interacted with others.

How can we be active members of the Body of Christ?

In one of my last Antioch talks I said:

This does not mean, necessarily, leaving the country and being a missionary – though this is a legitimate calling. Nor does it mean, necessarily, living and working among the poor, like the Catholic Workers. Nor does it mean, necessarily, becoming a priest, a religious, or even a worker in the church. Nor does it mean, necessarily, doing a lot of things around the church.
But it does mean being the presence of Christ in the world, where we are – whether in the bedroom and the boardroom
This means that we lay people are called to do the work of the Church in the world, in our vocation.

I still hold that opinion – even though I am no longer a layperson but a deacon. Yet the permanent diaconate is, as I see it, one way of making visible the service of the person who lives and works in the world – and brings that to the table of the Lord.

Here in Honduras there is also the temptation to identify commitment to one’s faith by the level of one’s involvement in the church. I try, when preaching, to help people see that we live out our faith, leaving the altar, going out to the everyday world, and then bringing all that back to the altar. I think this is the “everyday spirituality” that Pope Francis speaks about.

With this in mind, I was heartened to read Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation to youth, Christus vivit: Christ is alive. In paragraph 168, he wrote:

At times, seeing a world so full of violence and selfishness, young people can be tempted to withdraw into small groups, shunning the challenges and issues posed by life in society and in the larger world. They may feel that they are experiencing fraternity and love, but their small group may in fact become nothing other than an extension of their own ego. This is even more serious if they think of the lay vocation simply as a form of service inside the Church: serving as lectors, acolytes, catechists, and so forth. They forget that the lay vocation is directed above all to charity within the family and to social and political charity. It is a concrete and faith-based commitment to the building of a new society. It involves living in the midst of society and the world in order to bring the Gospel everywhere, to work for the growth of peace, harmony, justice, human rights and mercy, and thus for the extension of God’s kingdom in this world.

Will the Church be for youth a community that opens them up to their calling to be evangelizers in their daily lives, reaching out to others, especially those on the margins of society? Or will the Church be a bastion, a group enclosed within itself?

Will youth be praised only for filling roles inside the Church or will we encourage them to live their daily lives, to be involved in the nitty gritty of the world, dirtying their hands serving the poor, even standing up to the powers that be on picket lines, in demonstrations? Will the Church be a community that encourages us to be light for the world, to be leaven within the world?

This, for me, is one of the challenges of working with youth in today’s world – not only with youth, but with everyone who takes Jesus seriously.

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Santa Rosa diocesan youth encounter, Copán Ruinas, May 4, 2019

Dioces

The world does not want to cry

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Happy are those who weep, for they will be consoled.

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Pope Francis, in Gaudete et Exsultate, 75-76, notes how the world wants to avoid crying at all costs. We seek diversions to escape from the pains and the sorrows around us. Not only do we seek to escape pain with medicine, drugs, and alcohol. We try to ignore the pain: Don’t worry; it will pass. We want to deny the suffering.

As Pope Francis says,

“The world has no desire to mourn; it would rather disregard painful situations, cover them up or hide them. Much energy is expended on fleeing from situations of suffering in the belief that reality can be concealed.”

We want a life without the cross. “But the cross can never be absent.” When we let the pain of others penetrate our hearts, we become “capable of touching life’s depths and finding authentic happiness.” We let the pain tear our hearts apart – opening them to the healing power of a God of love, who suffers with us.

Pope Francis is eloquent:

Those who open themselves to weep “are unafraid to share in the suffering of others; they do not flee from painful situations. They discover the meaning of life by coming to the aid of those who suffer, understanding their anguish and bringing relief. They sense that the other is flesh of our flesh, and are not afraid to draw near, even to touch their wounds. They feel compassion for others in such a way that all distance vanishes.”

In such situations we learn and live what the English poet John Donne wrote in Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions*:

“No man is an island, entire of itself. Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thine own, or of thine friend’s were. Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

Sharing in the pain as Christ became human and shared in our pain is not easy. But I find that when I face the pain and others and try to be present – sometimes in silence, sometimes with an embrace – then I feel the power of God’s love among us, comforting us. In this way the distances between us, even the distances between enemies can be breached.

And even more.

“Knowing how to mourn with others: that is holiness.”


*  Please excuse the non-inclusive language.

Where is our security

“Being poor of heart: that is holiness.”
Pope Francis

cross-foucauldIn his apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate – Rejoice and Be Glad, Pope Francis devotes a large section to reflections on each of the beatitudes.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”

The opening line of his reflection (67) sets the tone: “The Gospel invites us to peer into the depths of our heart, to see where we find our security in life.”

The question is: Where do we find our security?

If it is in wealth, we will fall apart and feel totally meaningless when it is threatened or when we find ourselves stretched financially. I dare say that this may be one of the problems rampant in the United States today and so the other, the migrant, is perceived as a threat.

Wealth can bring self-satisfaction, warns Pope Francis, so much so that “we leave no room for God’s word, for the love of our brothers and sisters, or for the enjoyment of the most important things in life. In this way, we miss out on the greatest treasure of all” (68).

But if we have a poor heart, “the Lord can enter with his perennial newness.”

As one formed in the spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola, Pope Francis links this beatitude with “holy indifference.” Citing St. Ignatius, he cites part of paragraph 23 of the Spiritual Exercises:

“…it is necessary to make us indifferent to all created things, in regard to everything which is left to our free will and is not forbidden, in such a way that, for our part, we not seek health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, a long life rather than a short one, and so on in all other matters, wanting and choosing only that which leads more to the end for which we are created.”

If our end is love – praising, reverencing, and serving God – then all is put into perspective and we can face everything, confident in the security of a loving God.

“Being poor of heart: that is holiness.”

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The translation of paragraph 23 Spiritual Exercises is by George E. Ganss, S.J., as cited in The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times by the late Father Dean Brackley, S.J.

Being a saint: Merton and Pope Francis

Reading Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et exsultate – Rejoice and be glad, I thought of an exchange between the poet Robert Lax and Thomas Merton, soon after Merton was baptized.

Jim Forest relates it thus, in Living with Wisdom: A Life of Thomas Merton, based on Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain:

Walking with Lax on Sixth Avenue one night in the spring of 1939, Lax turned toward Merton and asked, “What do you want to be, anyway?”
It was obvious to Merton that “Thomas Merton the well-known writer” and “Thomas Merton the assistant instructor of freshman English” were not good enough answers.
“I don’t know,” he finally said. “I guess what I want is to be a good Catholic.”
“What do you mean you want to be a good Catholic?”
Merton was silent. He hadn’t figured that out yet.
“What you should say,” Lax went on, “is that you want to be a saint.”
That struck Merton as downright weird.
“How do expect me to become a saint?”
“By wanting to.”
“I can’t be a saint,” Merton responded. To be a saint would require a magnitude of renunciation that was completely beyond him. But Lax pressed on.
“All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.

In his apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis is offering a call to holiness, to sanctity. “Don’t be afraid of holiness,” he writes (¶ 32) and adds (¶ 34), quoting Leon Bloy, ““the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.”

And so Pope Francis urges us, “Let the grace of your baptism bear fruit in a path of holiness, [sanctity].”

This call, from our baptism, is to live this holiness, this sanctity, in daily life – to be a saint in the ordinary.

To be holy does not require being a bishop, a priest or a religious. We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer. That is not the case. We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves. Are you called to the consecrated life? Be holy by living out your commitment with joy. Are you married? Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church. Do you work for a living? Be holy by laboring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters. Are you a parent or grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus. Are you in a position of authority? Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain. (¶14)

The letter of Pope Francis is direct and practical. It is well-worth the read, a good choice for Easter reading. But even more for Easter living.

Above all, be a saint.

To get started, take a look at the video.

Mission prayer

Yesterday we had a meeting of about 45 Dulce Nombre parishioners who will go out to villages in the parish for our week of mission in October.

Padre German asked me to do a presentation on Mission in Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium, which I have uploaded here (only in Spanish).

He did a presentation on Mission and Mercy in the same apostolic letter of Pope Francis. He also shared this prayer, adapted from José Antonio Pagola.

Señor, ayúdanos a salir,
“Del resentimiento a una lectura positiva de la crisis,
De una iglesia que interviene ‘desde fuera’ a una Iglesia que camina,
De una iglesia ‘lugar de salvación’ a una iglesia ‘signo de salvación’,
Del esquema de la oferta y la demanda a la dinámica del diálogo,
De la imposición de un sistema religioso a la propuesta de la fe,
De la conservación de la comunidad constituida a la misión,
De la repetición de la herencia a la creatividad”.

Lord, help us leave
From resentment to a positive reading of the crisis,
From a Church which intervenes “from the outside” to a Church which walks,
From a Church as “place of salvation” to a Church which is “sign of salvation,”
From a framework of supply and demand to the dynamic of dialogue,
From the imposition of a religious system to a proposal of faith,
From the conservation of the established community to mission,
From the repetition of the inheritance to creativity.

Quite a radical prayer – but. I believe, in the spirit of Pope Francis.

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A poor and powerless church

From the very beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has shown a deep concern for the poor and an identification with their cause.

But this is not just responding to the poor. It is even more than identifying with the poor and going out to meet them. In his message for the 2017 World Day of the poor, Pope Francis has noted that we are required to have “a fundamental option” on their behalf.

But it is even more than that. As he said at his inaugural Mass, “How I would like a poor church for the poor.”

What is a poor church? It is not only a church that identifies with the poor, but it is not attached to power. It recognizes the power of the Cross, not the power of military, political, and economic might.

It is a church that takes seriously this phrase from the Pact of the Catacombs, an agreement made by several bishops during the Second Vatican Council.

In our behavior and social relations, we will avoid everything that could appear to confer privilege, priority, or even preference to the rich and powerful (for example in banquets offered or accepted, in religious services). See Lk 13:12-14, 1 Cor 9:14-19.

It is a church that takes seriously these words of the Orthodox bishop and theologian, Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozk – Bishop Anthony Bloom), who died on August 4, 2003:

“It seems to me, and I am personally convinced, that the Church must never speak from a position of strength. [These are shocking words.] It ought not to be one of the forces influencing this or that state. The Church ought to be, if you will, just as powerless as God himself, which does not coerce but which calls and unveils the beauty and the truth of things without imposing them. As soon as the Church begins to exercise power, it loses its most profound characteristic which is divine love [i.e.] the understanding of those it is called to save and not to smash…”

Native peoples and the church

In the US and Canada, today is the feast of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), In Perú and other parts of South America, and among the Franciscans, today is the feast of Saint Francisco Solano ((1549–1610).

Kateri, Lily of the Mohawks, was the daughter of a Mohawk pagan chief and an Algonquin Christian, who after becoming a Catholic left her village in what is now Auriesville, NY, and went to live in a Catholic village near Montreal, Canada. There she lived out her short life. She had hoped to found a convent, but was not permitted. Having made a public vow of chastity, she died young. She is a sign of the openness of the native peoples to Christ and the Church – but she also suffered from the misunderstanding of her native peoples who could not comprehend her refusal to marry and from the Church that was not open to her desire to further religious life among the native peoples.

Fray Francisco, after several years of positions of authority in his Franciscan order in his native Spain, went to South America and spent about twenty years among the peoples of Perú and Tucuman (in parts of Argentina and Paraguay). There he approached the native peoples with respect, often announcing his arrival playing his violin. He was transferred to Lima where he found disfavor among his superiors for his strong words against corruption and injustice.

These two very different saints remind me of the importance of a Church that is missionary but which respects the peoples and their cultures and recognizes the dignity of all people.

In the history of the Church there are many examples of a colonialism at the heart of some missionary activity which resulted in massacres of native peoples and destruction of native cultures. There is also the witness of people like the Dominican bishop Fray Bartolomé de las Casas who spoke out strongly against colonialism and slavery and other efforts to undermine the dignity of the native peoples.

And so today it is beneficial to meditate on the words of Pope Francis in 2015, speaking in Bolivia at the World Meeting of Popular Movements:

I say this to you with regret: many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God. My predecessors acknowledged this, CELAM has said it, and I too wish to say it. Like Saint John Paul II, I ask that the Church “kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters”. I would also say, and here I wish to be quite clear, as was Saint John Paul II: I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the Church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so- called conquest of America.
I also ask everyone, believers and nonbelievers alike, to think of those many bishops, priests and laity who preached and continue to preach the Good News of Jesus with courage and meekness, respectfully and pacifically; who left behind them impressive works of human promotion and of love, often standing alongside the native peoples or accompanying their popular movements even to the point of martyrdom. The Church, her sons and daughters, are part of the identity of the peoples of Latin America. An identity which here, as in other countries, some powers are committed to erasing, at times because our faith is revolutionary, because our faith challenges the tyranny of mammon.

Misers and thieves

St. Basil the Great, Father of the Church, defender of the faith, was also an outspoken defender of the poor.

He was a bishop of compassion and solidarity with the poor. In a time of famine he opened a soup kitchen and served meals to the hungry. He founded a hospital for the sick poor.

But he was deeply disturbed by the inequality he saw around him and called for redistribution of wealth and of the goods of the earth.

“What is a miser? One who is not content with what is needful. What is a thief? One who takes what belongs to others. Why do you not consider yourself a miser and a thief when you claim as your own what you received in trust? If one who takes the clothing off another is called a thief, why give any other name to one who can clothe the naked and refuses to do so?

“The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry. The garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of the one who is naked. The shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot. The money you keep locked away is the money of the poor. The acts of charity you do not perform are so many injustices you commit.”

Pope Francis has often reflected the challenge of Saint Basil as when he wrote in Evangelli Gaudium; The Joy of the Gospel, ¶ 202:

As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills.

How will we live out this challenge this year in our personal lives and in the life of our nations?

Different types of missionaries

Today is the feast of St. Francis Xavier, the sixteenth century Jesuit priest who is one of the patrons of missionaries, who died on December 2, 1552 on a deserted island off the coast of China.

But these first three days of December offer us visions of three different types of missionaries.

On December 1, 1916, Blessed Brother Charles de Foucauld was killed by rebels in Tamanrasset which is in what is now southern Algeria. He had sought to live among the poor as Jesus in Nazareth, hidden and poor – and so found himself living among Muslims in Africa.

For him to be a missionary was to be a witness by being present.

“The whole of our existence, the whole of our lives should cry the Gospel from the rooftops  .  .  . not by our words but by our lives.”

Blessed Charles teaches us the importance of being present with our poor sisters and brothers:

We must infinitely respect the least of our brothers … let us mingle with them. Let us be one of them to the extent that God wishes… and treat them fraternally in order to have the honor and joy of being accepted as one of them.

On December 2, 1980, four US women missionaries were killed in El Salvador. Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clark and Ita Ford, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, and lay missionary Jean Donovan offer us the vision of missionaries who accompany the poor in situations of violence and oppression.

Not only were they present, living among the poor, they were also responding to their needs, accompanying those who were being displaced inside the country, largely because of the repression by government and death squad forces.

They also noted that the poor can evangelize us. As Sister Ita Ford wrote:

“Am I willing to suffer with the people here, the suffering of the powerless, the feeling impotent. Can I say to my neighbors — I have no solutions to the situation, I don’t know the answers, but I will walk with you, be with you. Can I let myself be evangelized by this opportunity? Can I look at and accept my own poorness and learn from other poor ones?”

They accompanied the poor in their powerlessness and shared the fate of so many poor in El Salvador, a violent death at the hands of government forces.

St. Francis Xavier offers another vision of mission.

In some ways he appears to be the traditional missionary, in his ten years in India and the Far East.

He baptized thousands in India – and complained that students in the universities in Europe were thinking more of themselves than of the thousands who needed to hear the Gospel message and to be baptized.

But there is more to Francis Xavier than this.

In India he served the poor, visiting prisoners, slaves, lepers and people at the margins. He lived as a poor man.

But he was aware of the exploitation and violence wrought by Portuguese colonial rule in India and wrote back to the King of Portugal calling on him to correct the rampant injustices. He was a missionary who was not afraid to advocate for the poor.

But, though he identified with the poor and spent most of his time in India with the poor, he realized that, like St. Paul, he needed to be “all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 9: 22). So, when he went to Japan and saw that the rulers looked down on him with his poor clothing, he put on fancier clothes and brought gifts – opening up Japan to the message of the Gospel. He was a pioneer in inculturation.

And so, Charles de Foucauld teaches the missionary the importance of being really present among the poor. The US women religious martyrs teach the call to accompany people in the midst of poverty and violence and to be open to learn from the poor. St. Francis Xavier teaches the importance of being an advocate of the poor in the face of injustice and of being willing to make changes in the face of different cultures.

These missionary witnesses can help us who are missionaries in a foreign land to examine our ministry. (They also can help all Christians who seek to be missionaries, witnesses of the Gospel, wherever they may be.)

Yesterday, December 2, 2015, Pope Francis took up the call to mission and also provided food for thought.

He first challenged young people to think of becoming missionaries and recalled an 81 year old Italian woman religious he met in Bangui in the Central American Republic. She had left Italy when she was in her early twenties and had devoted all her life to Africa.

Pope Francis’ message reflects the challenge of mission in the twenty-first century, echoing the witness of Charles de Foucauld, Francis Xavier, Maura Clark, Ira Ford, Jean Donovan, and Dorothy Kazel.

But I address young people: think what you are doing with your life. Think of this sister and so many like her, who have given their life, and so many have died there. Missionary work is not to engage in proselytism: this sister said to me that Muslim women go to them because they know that the sisters are good nurses and that they look after one well, and they do not engage in catechesis to convert them! They give witness then, they catechize anyone who so wishes. But witness: this is the great heroic missionary work of the Church. To proclaim Jesus Christ with one’s life!  I turn to young people: think of what you want to do with your life. It is the moment to think and to ask the Lord to make you hear His will. However, please don’t exclude this possibility of becoming a missionary, to bring love, humanity and faith to other countries. Do not engage in proselytism: no. Those who seek something else do so. The faith is preached first with witness and then with the word, slowly.

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For more on the missionaries mentioned here, you can find short biographies in Robert Ellsberg’s All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time.

The misery and the beauty

On November 30, 1943, a Dutch Jewish woman died in Auschwitz – one of millions killed by the Nazis for being Jewish or “different” in other ways.

Many years later, the diary of Etty Hillesum came to light.

One passage that struck me reveals her depth – able and willing to see beauty even when surrounded by misery, suffering, and the horrors of evil.

It all comes down to the same thing: life is beautiful, and I believe in God. And I want to be there right in the thick of what people call horror and still be able to say: life is beautiful. Yes, I lie here in a corner, parched and dizzy and feverish and unable to do a thing. Yet I am also with the jasmine and the piece of sky beyond my window. There is room for everything in a single life: for a miserable end and for belief in God.

Advent is a time of waiting in the midst of darkness. It is a time to contemplate the misery of the world, the people who live in misery (which is often a term indicating extreme poverty). It is a time to not turn away from the suffering but to face it – with faith and with hope.

In the midst of the Nazi Holocaust, Etty Hllesum could call upon her belief in God to sustain her. She nurtured this belief by prayer. As she wrote on May 18, 1942:

The threat grows ever greater, and terror increases from day to day. I draw prayer round me like a dark protective wall, withdraw inside it as one might into a convent cell and then step outside again, calmer and stronger and more collected again. I can imagine times to come when I shall stay on my knees for days on end waiting until the protective walls are strong enough to prevent my going to pieces altogether, my being lost and utterly devastated.

We live in dark times but God is a protecting wall – but not a wall that keeps us isolated from the evil and the pain of others, but a wall that sustains us to see and respond in love to the evil around us.

I think today also of Pope Francis who went to a war-zone, the Central African Republic, and even visited a mosque in an area surrounded by “Christian” militia – not afraid to confront evil.

Would that I had such faith and courage.