Sunday, February 26, 2017

Pope Francis on Lent 2017

Lent is a new beginning, a path leading to the certain goal of Easter, Christ’s victory over death. This season urgently calls us to conversion. Christians are asked to return to God “with all their hearts” (Joel 2:12), to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord. Jesus is the faithful friend who never abandons us. Even when we sin, he patiently awaits our return; by that patient expectation, he shows us his readiness to forgive (cf. Homily, 8 January 2016).

Lent is a favourable season for deepening our spiritual life through the means of sanctification offered us by the Church: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. At the basis of everything is the word of God, which during this season we are invited to hear and ponder more deeply. I would now like to consider the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (cf. Lk 16:19-31). Let us find inspiration in this meaningful story, for it provides a key to understanding what we need to do in order to attain true happiness and eternal life. It exhorts us to sincere conversion.

1. The other person is a gift
The parable begins by presenting its two main characters. The poor man is described in greater detail: he is wretched and lacks the strength even to stand. Lying before the door of the rich man, he fed on the crumbs falling from his table. His body is full of sores and dogs come to lick his wounds (cf. vv. 20-21). The picture is one of great misery; it portrays a man disgraced and pitiful.

The scene is even more dramatic if we consider that the poor man is called Lazarus: a name full of promise, which literally means God helps. This character is not anonymous. His features are clearly delineated and he appears as an individual with his own story. While practically invisible to the rich man, we see and know him as someone familiar. He becomes a face, and as such, a gift, a priceless treasure, a human being whom God loves and cares for, despite his concrete condition as an outcast (cf. Homily, 8 January 2016).

Lazarus teaches us that other persons are a gift. A right relationship with people consists in gratefully recognizing their value. Even the poor person at the door of the rich is not a nuisance, but a summons to conversion and to change. The parable first invites us to open the doors of our heart to others because each person is a gift, whether it be our neighbour or an anonymous pauper. Lent is a favourable season for opening the doors to all those in need and recognizing in them the face of Christ. Each of us meets people like this every day. Each life that we encounter is a gift deserving acceptance, respect and love. The word of God helps us to open our eyes to welcome and love life, especially when it is weak and vulnerable. But in order to do this, we have to take seriously what the Gospel tells us about the rich man.

2. Sin blinds us
The parable is unsparing in its description of the contradictions associated with the rich man (cf. v. 19). Unlike poor Lazarus, he does not have a name; he is simply called “a rich man”. His opulence was seen in his extravagant and expensive robes. Purple cloth was even more precious than silver and gold, and was thus reserved to divinities (cf. Jer 10:9) and kings (cf. Jg 8:26), while fine linen gave one an almost sacred character. The man was clearly ostentatious about his wealth, and in the habit of displaying it daily: “He feasted sumptuously every day” (v. 19). In him we can catch a dramatic glimpse of the corruption of sin, which progresses in three successive stages: love of money, vanity and pride (cf. Homily, 20 September 2013).

The Apostle Paul tells us that “the love of money is the root of all evils” (1 Tim 6:10). It is the main cause of corruption and a source of envy, strife and suspicion. Money can come to dominate us, even to the point of becoming a tyrannical idol (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 55). Instead of being an instrument at our service for doing good and showing solidarity towards others, money can chain us and the entire world to a selfish logic that leaves no room for love and hinders peace.

The parable then shows that the rich man’s greed makes him vain. His personality finds expression in appearances, in showing others what he can do. But his appearance masks an interior emptiness. His life is a prisoner to outward appearances, to the most superficial and fleeting aspects of existence (cf. ibid., 62).

The lowest rung of this moral degradation is pride. The rich man dresses like a king and acts like a god, forgetting that he is merely mortal. For those corrupted by love of riches, nothing exists beyond their own ego. Those around them do not come into their line of sight. The result of attachment to money is a sort of blindness. The rich man does not see the poor man who is starving, hurting, lying at his door.

Looking at this character, we can understand why the Gospel so bluntly condemns the love of money: “No one can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or be attached to the first and despise the second. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money” (Mt 6:24).

3. The Word is a gift
The Gospel of the rich man and Lazarus helps us to make a good preparation for the approach of Easter. The liturgy of Ash Wednesday invites us to an experience quite similar to that of the rich man. When the priest imposes the ashes on our heads, he repeats the words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. As it turned out, the rich man and the poor man both died, and the greater part of the parable takes place in the afterlife. The two characters suddenly discover that “we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it” (1 Tim 6:7).

We too see what happens in the afterlife. There the rich man speaks at length with Abraham, whom he calls “father” (Lk 16:24.27), as a sign that he belongs to God’s people. This detail makes his life appear all the more contradictory, for until this moment there had been no mention of his relation to God. In fact, there was no place for God in his life. His only god was himself.

The rich man recognizes Lazarus only amid the torments of the afterlife. He wants the poor man to alleviate his suffering with a drop of water. What he asks of Lazarus is similar to what he could have done but never did. Abraham tells him: “During your life you had your fill of good things, just as Lazarus had his fill of bad. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony” (v. 25). In the afterlife, a kind of fairness is restored and life’s evils are balanced by good.

The parable goes on to offer a message for all Christians. The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers, who are still alive. But Abraham answers: “They have Moses and the prophets, let them listen to them” (v. 29). Countering the rich man’s objections, he adds: “If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead” (v. 31).

The rich man’s real problem thus comes to the fore. At the root of all his ills was the failure to heed God’s word. As a result, he no longer loved God and grew to despise his neighbour. The word of God is alive and powerful, capable of converting hearts and leading them back to God. When we close our heart to the gift of God’s word, we end up closing our heart to the gift of our brothers and sisters.

Dear friends, Lent is the favourable season for renewing our encounter with Christ, living in his word, in the sacraments and in our neighbour. The Lord, who overcame the deceptions of the Tempter during the forty days in the desert, shows us the path we must take. May the Holy Spirit lead us on a true journey of conversion, so that we can rediscover the gift of God’s word, be purified of the sin that blinds us, and serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need. I encourage all the faithful to express this spiritual renewal also by sharing in the Lenten Campaigns promoted by many Church organizations in different parts of the world, and thus to favour the culture of encounter in our one human family. Let us pray for one another so that, by sharing in the victory of Christ, we may open our doors to the weak and poor. Then we will be able to experience and share to the full the joy of Easter.


"Believing in charity calls forth charity"

“We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us” (1 Jn 4:16)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The celebration of Lent, in the context of the Year of Faith, offers us a valuable opportunity to meditate on the relationship between faith and charity: between believing in God – the God of Jesus Christ – and love, which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit and which guides us on the path of devotion to God and others.

1. Faith as a response to the love of God

In my first Encyclical, I offered some thoughts on the close relationship between the theological virtues of faith and charity. Setting out from Saint John’s fundamental assertion: “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us” (1 Jn 4:16), I observed that “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction … Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:10), love is now no longer a mere ‘command’; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us” (Deus Caritas Est, 1). Faith is this personal adherence – which involves all our faculties – to the revelation of God’s gratuitous and “passionate” love for us, fully revealed in Jesus Christ. The encounter with God who is Love engages not only the heart but also the intellect:

“Acknowledgement of the living God is one path towards love, and the ‘yes’ of our will to his will unites our intellect, will and sentiments in the all-embracing act of love. But this process is always open-ended; love is never ‘finished’ and complete” (ibid., 17). Hence, for all Christians, and especially for “charity workers”, there is a need for faith, for “that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others. As a result, love of neighbor will no longer be for them a commandment imposed, so to speak, from without, but a consequence deriving from their faith, a faith which becomes active through love” ( ibid., 31a). Christians are people who have been conquered by Christ’s love and accordingly, under the influence of that love – “Caritas Christi urget nos” ( 2 Cor 5:14) – they are profoundly open to loving their neighbor in concrete ways (cf. ibid., 33). This attitude arises primarily from the consciousness of being loved, forgiven, and even served by the Lord, who bends down to wash the feet of the Apostles and offers himself on the Cross to draw humanity into God’s love.

“Faith tells us that God has given his Son for our sakes and gives us the victorious certainty that it is really true: God is love! … Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love. Love is the light – and in the end, the only light – that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working” (ibid., 39). All this helps us to understand that the principal distinguishing mark of Christians is precisely “love grounded in and shaped by faith” ( ibid., 7).

2. Charity as life in faith
The entire Christian life is a response to God’s love. The first response is precisely faith as the acceptance, filled with wonder and gratitude, of the unprecedented divine initiative that precedes us and summons us. And the “yes” of faith marks the beginning of a radiant story of friendship with the Lord, which fills and gives full meaning to our whole life. But it is not enough for God that we simply accept his gratuitous love. Not only does he love us, but he wants to draw us to himself, to transform us in such a profound way as to bring us to say with Saint Paul: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (cf. Gal 2:20).

When we make room for the love of God, then we become like him, sharing in his own charity. If we open ourselves to his love, we allow him to live in us and to bring us to love with him, in him and like him; only then does our faith become truly “active through love” (Gal 5:6); only then does he abide in us (cf. 1 Jn 4:12).

Faith is knowing the truth and adhering to it (cf. 1 Tim 2:4); charity is “walking” in the truth (cf. Eph 4:15). Through faith we enter into friendship with the Lord, through charity this friendship is lived and cultivated (cf. Jn 15:14ff). Faith causes us to embrace the commandment of our Lord and Master; charity gives us the happiness of putting it into practice (cf. Jn 13:13-17). In faith we are begotten as children of God (cf. Jn 1:12ff); charity causes us to persevere concretely in our divine sonship, bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal 5:22). Faith enables us to recognize the gifts that the good and generous God has entrusted to us; charity makes them fruitful (cf. Mt 25:14-30).

3. The indissoluble interrelation of faith and charity
In light of the above, it is clear that we can never separate, let alone oppose, faith and charity. These two theological virtues are intimately linked, and it is misleading to posit a contrast or “dialectic” between them. On the one hand, it would be too one-sided to place a strong emphasis on the priority and decisiveness of faith and to undervalue and almost despise concrete works of charity, reducing them to a vague humanitarianism. On the other hand, though, it is equally unhelpful to overstate the primacy of charity and the activity it generates, as if works could take the place of faith. For a healthy spiritual life, it is necessary to avoid both fideism and moral activism.

The Christian life consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then coming back down, bearing the love and strength drawn from him, so as to serve our brothers and sisters with God’s own love. In sacred Scripture, we see how the zeal of the Apostles to proclaim the Gospel and awaken people’s faith is closely related to their charitable concern to be of service to the poor (cf.

Acts 6:1-4). In the Church, contemplation and action, symbolized in some way by the Gospel figures of Mary and Martha, have to coexist and complement each other (cf. Lk 10:38-42). The relationship with God must always be the priority, and any true sharing of goods, in the spirit of the Gospel, must be rooted in faith (cf. General Audience, 25 April 2012). Sometimes we tend, in fact, to reduce the term “charity” to solidarity or simply humanitarian aid. It is important, however, to remember that the greatest work of charity is evangelization, which is the “ministry of the word”. There is no action more beneficial – and therefore more charitable – towards one’s neighbor than to break the bread of the word of God, to share with him the Good News of the Gospel, to introduce him to a relationship with God: evangelization is the highest and the most integral promotion of the human person. As the Servant of God Pope Paul VI wrote in the Encyclical Populorum Progressio, the proclamation of Christ is the first and principal contributor to development (cf. n. 16). It is the primordial truth of the love of God for us, lived and proclaimed, that opens our lives to receive this love and makes possible the integral development of humanity and of every man (cf. Caritas in Veritate, 8).

Essentially, everything proceeds from Love and tends towards Love. God’s gratuitous love is made known to us through the proclamation of the Gospel. If we welcome it with faith, we receive the first and indispensable contact with the Divine, capable of making us “fall in love with Love”, and then we dwell within this Love, we grow in it and we joyfully communicate it to others.

Concerning the relationship between faith and works of charity, there is a passage in the Letter to the Ephesians which provides perhaps the best account of the link between the two: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God; not because of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (2:8-10). It can be seen here that the entire redemptive initiative comes from God, from his grace, from his forgiveness received in faith; but this initiative, far from limiting our freedom and our responsibility, is actually what makes them authentic and directs them towards works of charity. These are not primarily the result of human effort, in which to take pride, but they are born of faith and they flow from the grace that God gives in abundance. Faith without works is like a tree without fruit: the two virtues imply one another. Lent invites us, through the traditional practices of the Christian life, to nourish our faith by careful and extended listening to the word of God and by receiving the sacraments, and at the same time to grow in charity and in love for God and neighbor, not least through the specific practices of fasting, penance and almsgiving.

4. Priority of faith, primacy of charity
Like any gift of God, faith and charity have their origin in the action of one and the same Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 13), the Spirit within us that cries out “Abba, Father” ( Gal 4:6), and makes us say: “Jesus is Lord!” ( 1 Cor 12:3) and “Maranatha!” ( 1 Cor 16:22; Rev 22:20).

Faith, as gift and response, causes us to know the truth of Christ as Love incarnate and crucified, as full and perfect obedience to the Father’s will and infinite divine mercy towards neighbor; faith implants in hearts and minds the firm conviction that only this Love is able to conquer evil and death. Faith invites us to look towards the future with the virtue of hope, in the confident expectation that the victory of Christ’s love will come to its fullness. For its part, charity ushers us into the love of God manifested in Christ and joins us in a personal and existential way to the total and unconditional self-giving of Jesus to the Father and to his brothers and sisters. By filling our hearts with his love, the Holy Spirit makes us sharers in Jesus’ filial devotion to God and fraternal devotion to every man (cf. Rom 5:5).

The relationship between these two virtues resembles that between the two fundamental sacraments of the Church: Baptism and Eucharist. Baptism (sacramentum fidei) precedes the Eucharist                 (sacramentum caritatis), but is ordered to it, the Eucharist being the fullness of the Christian journey. In a similar way, faith precedes charity, but faith is genuine only if crowned by charity. Everything begins from the humble acceptance of faith (“knowing that one is loved by God”), but has to arrive at the truth of charity (“knowing how to love God and neighbor”), which remains for ever, as the fulfillment of all the virtues (cf. 1 Cor 13:13).

Dear brothers and sisters, in this season of Lent, as we prepare to celebrate the event of the Cross and Resurrection – in which the love of God redeemed the world and shone its light upon history – I express my wish that all of you may spend this precious time rekindling your faith in Jesus Christ, so as to enter with him into the dynamic of love for the Father and for every brother and sister that we encounter in our lives. For this intention, I raise my prayer to God, and I invoke the Lord’s blessing upon each individual and upon every community!

From the Vatican, 15 October 2012

            BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

SJS Trustee Named to the State Department

The entire Saint John's Seminary community congratulates the Honorable Brian Hook, a member of the SJS Board of Trustees, who last week was sworn in as senior policy advisor to Secretary of State Tillerson and was named Director of the Office of Policy Planning with the rank of Assistant Secretary of State. 

I am deeply grateful to Brian, both for his willingness to remain on our Board of Trustees and for his wise counsel and support throughout the years!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Funeral of Benjamin Gleason

This morning I celebrated the Funeral Mass for Ben Gleason, pictured to the fair left almost twenty years ago at his youngest brother's Baptism...Chris is in his sister Briget's arms, with his parents MaryAnne and Paul on either side.  It was my first pastorate and the Gleasons are a wonderful family and dear friends.  Here is the homily I preached.

In the face of death, before the dark grave of his friend Lazarus, Jesus wept.  And so they said, see how much he loved him.

We weep, because we loved Ben, as a son, a brother, a friend and a good guy.  So many of us have missed him for so long, it is hard to realize that he is truly gone.

For Ben is the one you, Paul and Maryanne, lovingly taught to first make the sign of the cross, and who always tried to do the right thing.  Even in those years in the desert when he struggled with the forces struggling within his mind and his heart, his friends always said he would do anything for anyone and was the one person everyone liked.

We miss you Ben, not just for who you might have become, but for who you are, a good good man.

But this day is not really about about Ben, or even the struggles he faced in life.  Rather, it is about the God who loved him. Loved him so much that he joined him to himself in the the waters of Baptism, anointed him with the oil of salvation, and nourished him with the bread of those who will never really die.

The God who day by day and year by year, revealed himself to Ben, taught him to love, to confess and to seek to live in the model of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

You know, I don’t think its a coincidence that Ben died just before Lent.  For starting next Ash Wednesday we will meditate on the incredible journey God calls us to in this life. When just like Jesus, and just like Ben, God calls us out into the desert.  And while none of us can ever really know what the desert of another has been about, I’m fairly certain that Ben, like Jesus, knew temptation and hunger, emptiness and pain.  But I am equally as certain that Ben, like Jesus, day after day turned from darkness to light, selfishness to love, and from Satan to God.

Which is why he began the journey home, with the full knowledge that God so loved him that he surrounded him with the love of a mother and a father and a sister and, even now, a brother.  The same God who so loved him that he has now taken him to himself, to the place he has prepared for each one of us.

And so it is into the hands of God, this day, that we commend his immortal soul. We ask angels to lead him into paradise. We ask martyrs to come to welcome him. And most of all, we ask God, who does not judge with the haste of a human heart, to look upon Ben with mercy, to forgive whatever sins he may have committed, to lead him home to a place of refreshment, light, and peace.

That same heaven for which our aching hearts long...that paradise, where we pray that one day we will stand, with Paul and Maryanne and Brigid and Chris, and where Ben will run out to meet us and we will be together with Christ, in perfect love, forever singing the praise of God in the presence of the angels.

Lord, Jesus who was born as man that we might know that hope, make that day to come without delay!

Friday, February 17, 2017

SJS Mugs on Vacation

Two of our alumni just sent me this great pic of how to make good use of your SJS Cool Cups this time of year!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Two Blind Men: This Morning's Homily

Four times Noah sent out a bird…once a raven
and thrice a dove. Four times, which is either a testimony to Noah’s faith or his frustration at being cooped up with all those animals for forty days and forty nights!

Today the Church pairs Noah’s four tries with the curious account of the blind man at Bethsaida whose healing takes two tries before he is able to see. Two tries! You heard it. First Jesus spits on his fingers and anoints the blind man’s eyes, but it doesn't seem to work. The man reports seeing people who look like walking trees. So Jesus tries again, this time laying his hands on on the man's eyes, after which the no longer blind man sees “everything distinctly.”

Now that’s plain weird. Is this a testament to Jesus’ faith, that like Noah he kept on trying. That makes no sense, for Jesus is the Truth, the archetype and object of our faith. So why does it take two tries for the one through whom all things were made to remake the blind man's sight?

The answer lies a couple chapters later in Mark, when we contrast this healing with the giving of sight to Bartimaeus. You remember him: the beggar by the side of the road in Jericho, who keeps screaming at Jesus: “Son of David, have pity on me!” Then when Jesus stops, he jumps up, runs to him and says, “Rabbi, I want to see!” Jesus neither anoints his eyes nor imposes his hands. He just tells him that his faith has saved him and he is able to see perfectly.

Now contrast that to our poor man at Bethsaida. He does not approach Jesus on his own volition or say anything at all to him. Rather, we are told that certain people bring him to Jesus and they beg the Lord to heal him. There is no indication of the blind man’s faith, only the intercession of his friends. So the slow healing corresponds to his slow growth in faith. Or, as one commentator put it, “the rate of the growth of his faith settled the rate of the perfecting of Christ’s work on him.”

And the same is true in us. Christ, through whom I was made, is capable of bringing me to perfection in the twinkling of an eye. But he chooses not to. Rather, he gives me free will, that I might be able to love freely, like him. It is only when I am willing to see things with the eyes of faith, that I will see them distinctly.

In other words, ‘I will get as much of God as I want and no more and the measure of my desire is the measure of my capacity to receive God’s gift.’ We say it at every invitatory: Lord open my lips, and my mouth will proclaim your praise. Open your lips and your heart to him today and he will open your eyes that you might see his face.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Monday Homily: On Cain

Eating from the tree of good and evil, killing Abel, the Babylon of Enoch… the sins spawned East of Eden… 

Ambition and pride, sloth and fear, cynicism and gossip…the sins spawned East of Lake Street…

They’re really not very different and we’re not really different from them. For, from the first sin in the middle of the garden, a demonic struggle has wounded God’s creation: a struggle between light and darkness, love and hate, purity and sin.

It is a cosmic struggle and every sin I commit is a small part of it. “…our struggle is not with flesh and blood,” Saint Paul tells us, “but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.”(Ephesians 6:12)

So there stood Cain, “resentful and crestfallen,” jealous that God has looked with more favor on his brother. And as those feelings stewed in his gut, the scriptures tell us “a demon [was] lurking at the door.” And that demon was sin, the sin that brought death into the world. Ah, now I understand the old saying in the Book of Wisdom! "Through the devil's envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it.” (Wisdom 2:23-24)

Thus, every sin is really a giving in to the thinking of the evil one, who "was a murderer from the beginning.” (John 8:44) Every sin is choosing the side of darkness, of selfishness and sin. While every holy act is an embrace of light, love and the Cross upon which he saved us.

So a great struggle awaits you today in this Holy House. Between God and Satan, light and darkness, life and death. Choose life, my brothers… the thousand little ways you will be tempted…Choose life…that you may live! (Cf. Deuteronomy 30:15)

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Snow Day on Monday

After consulting with the Dean and looking at the latest weather forecast, I have decided to cancel classes tomorrow, Monday, 13 February.  

SJS Offices will also be closed.

Morning Prayer and Mass will be at 8:00am and Holy Hour will be at the usual time.

Friday, February 10, 2017

With a Blizzard back home, there's no snow in Rome!

Well, the heavy snows during the past two days in Boston have been officially designated a blizzard.  While I prepare to return from the Vox Clara Committee, there's a beautiful full moon and its in the 50's in Rome.  I think I'd better wear my heavy coat on the plane!
The Marian Courtyard at SJS, during the snowstorm which caused the cancellation of classes yesterday,
while a full moon illumines the city of Rome, seen from the top of the Janiculum hill.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Vox Clara Committee Meets in Rome

While the Seminary was bring buried in a heavy blanket of snow, I have been in Rome for the Vox Clara Committee meeting.  We concluded our work today with a wonderful meeting with Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Cardinal Robert Sarah.  Here's a photo of the Prefect, members and staff of Vox Clara.