Tag Archives: Pope John Paul II

The treasures of the church

DSC07607Saint Lawrence, a deacon of Rome, was not martyred with his bishop, Pope Sixtus. The prefect of Rome knew that he was in charge of the treasures of the church and demanded that he present them to the Roman authorities.

According of one version of the legend, Lawrence, distributed all the goods of the Church to the poor, the ill, and the widows, even selling the sacred vessels. Then he gathered the poor and presented them to the Roman prefect, announcing, “Here are the treasures of the church.”

Needless to say, the prefect was not impressed and proceeded to have Lawrence martyred on a gridiron. The saint seems to have had a sense of humor. After some time over the flames he told his executioners to turn him over since he was done on that side. (Does this qualify St. Lawrence as the patron saint of barbecues?)

All kidding aside, Lawrence knew what was important – the glory of God and the poor.

The glory of God is shown when we gather around the table of the Lord, rich and poor, sharing the Body and Blood of the Lord.

The glory of God is also shown when we gather around the table of the poor where all have a part, where all share the goodness of creation, where, in the words of the Salvadoran martyred Jesuit Rutilio Grande, everyone has a place, a stool, around a long shared table.

The servant of God serves God at the table of the Eucharist and the table of the poor – both are part of our mission, our identity.

Recalling the absolute equality around the Lord’s table, where there are no divisions, we gather around a table where those who have more share so that all may experience the abundance of God’s creation.

This may call for sacrifices, for selling what we have, even what we think we need. It might even mean, as it meant for St. Lawrence, selling the goods of the church to feed the poor.

This is not all that radical. It was mentioned by Pope Saint John Paul II in his 1987 encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis  [On Social Concern], # 31:

Thus, part of the teaching and most ancient practice of the Church is her conviction that she is obliged by her vocation – she herself, her ministers and each of her members – to relieve the misery of the suffering, both far and near, not only out of her “abundance” but also out of her “necessities.” Faced by cases of need, one cannot ignore them in favor of superfluous church ornaments and costly furnishings for divine worship; on the contrary it could be obligatory to sell these goods in order to provide food, drink, clothing and shelter for those who lack these things. As has been already noted, here we are shown a “hierarchy of values” – in the framework of the right to property – between “having” and “being,” especially when the “having” of a few can be to the detriment of the “being” of many others.

That is the witness of St. Lawrence, as it is the witness of many saints, recall the example of St. Dominic who sold his books to feed the poor in time of famine.

The question then is how can we truly serve God and the poor, recognizing the real treasures of the Church.


The image is from a holy card designed by Ade Bethune. A collection of her works is at St. Catherine University.

 

 

Solidarity

Our hope for you is unshaken;
for we know that as you share in our sufferings,
so also you share in our consolation.
2 Corinthians 1: 7

Sharing in others’ joys and sorrows, in their sufferings and consolation – that’s what solidarity is.

I think today’s first reading, 2 Corinthians 1: 1-7, is one of the most profound explications of what solidarity is.

Solidarity is not feeling sorry for someone. It’s not just looking at others’ pain and suffering.

No, it’s identifying ourselves with others – as Jesus totally identified Himself with us by becoming human.

When we identify with others, God helps us break the bonds of division and find real healing and reconciliation.

Pope John Paul II put it well, in his encyclical On Social Concern (Sollicituo Rei Socialis), ¶ 28:

         Solidarity is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all….
Solidarity helps us to see the “other” — whether a person, people or nation — not just as some kind of instrument, with a work capacity and physical strength to be exploited at low cost and then discarded when no longer useful, but as our “neighbor,” a “helper”, to be made a sharer, on a par with ourselves, in the banquet of life to which all are equally invited by God.

We are in this together. So as Christ Jesus cast His lot with us, so we too are called to cast out lot with all the people of the world – especially those most in need.

This is the way to real peace. That is the way that brings real joy.

Judgment of the nations

“What you did to the least, you did to me.”
Matthew 25: 40

Fr. John Kavanaugh summed up this parable of the Last Judgment very well:

In human mayhem, we dismember the body of Christ.

It’s not a mere failure to respond to human need, it’s a failure to respond to Christ Jesus.

This is a judgment not just of individuals. Jesus presents it as a judgment of the nations.

That makes things really problematic for us North Americans.

Pope John Paul II put it well at a Mass in Canada in 1984:

…in the light of Christ’s words, the poor South will judge the opulent North. And poor people and poor nations — poor in different ways, not only lacking food but deprived of freedom and other human rights — will be judging those who snatch away their possessions, accumulating for themselves the imperialist monopoly of economic and political predominance at the expense of others.

When will these words be taken seriously by my native land, the United States?

Bling bishops and a poor church

There was no needy person among them.
Acts 4:34 

 Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles 4: 32-37 is a challenge to the church that appears beyond our reach. Yet Pope Francis has called for “a poor Church and a Church for the poor.”

Pope Francis has given us an example of how this might be lived out – in his austerity as well as in his tender outreach to the poor and the marginalized.

But the challenge is not just to give to the poor, to live simply, and to tenderly embrace the marginalized. All these are important and essential to live out our calling as disciples of the Jesus.

But there may be more.

Pope Saint John XXIII called for a church of the poor – not only for the poor. I think that means that we should be a church that makes the causes of the poor our causes, not doing things for them, but working with them.

This may mean major changes.

Pope St. John Paul II, in his 1987 encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis – On Social Concern – challenged the church to be really with the poor. In paragraph 31, he wrote

…part of the teaching and most ancient practice of the Church is her conviction that she is obliged by her vocation – she herself, her ministers and each of her members – to relieve the misery of the suffering, both far and near, not only out of her “abundance” but also out of her “necessities.” Faced by cases of need, one cannot ignore them in favor of superfluous church ornaments and costly furnishings for divine worship; on the contrary it could be obligatory to sell these goods in order to provide food, drink, clothing and shelter for those who lack these things. As has been already noted, here we are shown a “hierarchy of values” – in the framework of the right to property – between “having” and “being,” especially when the “having” of a few can be to the detriment of the “being” of many others.

This is not a new concern – but one that finds echo in the lives and words of many saints. Today’s saint, Catherine of Siena, was one of these. A mystic who was called out of her mysticism to care for the poor and then to reform the church, Catherine was scandalized by the luxury of the bling bishops and clergy of her day. As she wrote on the bishops and the clergy of her day:

They ought to be mirrors of freely chosen poverty, humble lambs, giving away the Church’s possessions to the poor. Yet here they are, living in worldly luxury and ambition and pretentious vanity, a thousand times worse than if they belonged to the world! In fact, many laypersons put them to shame by their good and holy lives.

Catherine could say this without hypocrisy for she lived a simple life, in deep communion with Christ. She loved the Church but wanted the Church to be faithful to Christ.

The challenge is not only for the institutional church but for all of us.

It may come back to the reading from the Acts of the Apostles: Do we share our possessions and are there really no poor among us?

 

Peace in Syria and throughout the world

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Just before the 1991 Gulf War Pope John Paul II offered this prayer:

O God, great and merciful,
Lord of peace and life, God of all,
You, whose designs are for peace and not for affliction,
condemn wars and devastate the pride of the violent.
You sent your son Jesus to proclaim peace to those near and far,
to reunite people of all races and descent in a single family.
Hear the unanimous cry of your children,
the sorrowful entreaty of all humanity:
Never again war, adventure without return;
Never again war, spiral of struggle and violence;
Never this war in the Persian Gulf,
threat to your creatures in the sky, on earth and in the sea.
In communion with Mary, the Mother of Jesus,
we continue to implore you:
Speak to the hearts of those in charge of the destiny of peoples;
Stop the logic of retaliation and revenge;
Suggest with your Spirit new solutions,
generous and honorable gestures,
spaces for dialogue and patient waiting,
which are more fruitful than rushed deadlines of war.
Grant to our times days of peace.
No war ever again.
Amen.

We could change only a few words and pray it today, in the face of threatened attacks by the US on Syria.

No to war! No to attacks on civilians by any party! No to US bombs on the Syrian people!

Yes to peace! Yes to nonviolent solutions! Yes to active compassion for the victims of war!

I’ll be praying and trying to fast from solids as I go out to the countryside to be with two meetings of sectors of the parish. I’ll be asking them to pray with the rest of the world for peace in Syria – but also for peace in Honduras, where violence also abounds.