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Pope calls Consistory to approve causes for canonization

Tue, 04/11/2017 - 19:04
(Vatican Radio) On 20 April 2017, Thursday of Easter Week, Pope Francis will hold an ordinary public Consistory for the vote of the Cardinals on several causes for canonization. Five causes of canonization are set for approval by the Cardinals: The Martyrs of Natal, Brazil: Andrea de Soveral, Ambrogio Francesco Ferro, diocesan priests, along with Matteo Moreira, a layman, and 27 companions, martyrs; Cristóbal, Antonio, and Juan, of Mexico, young martyrs; Faustino Míguez, Spanish Piarist priest, and founder of the Calasanzian Institute of the Daughters of the Divine Shepherdess; Angelo da Acri (in the world: Luca Antonio Falcone), Italian professed priest of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor – Capuchin; The visionaries of Fatima, Francesco Marto and Jacinto Marto, children. The vote of the Cardinals is the final formality after Pope Francis gave approval for the causes to move forward. Upon receiving the approval of the Cardinals in Consistory, the Church will set dates for the canonization of the Blesseds.  (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope meets young patients from Rome's Bambino Gesù hospital

Tue, 04/11/2017 - 18:52
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met on Monday afternoon with a group of young patients, doctors and nurses from Rome’s ‘Bambino Gesù’ children’s hospital. The children, aged between 5 and 18, are taking part in a documentary programme on Italian television exploring the experiences of young patients and their families at the Catholic hospital. Listen to our report:  The ‘Bambino Gesù’ hospital, just a stone’s throw away from the Vatican, is the largest pediatric research facility in Europe. It treats over a million and a half young patients each year, with children travelling from all over the world to make use of its specialized services and equipment. This was the second time the youngsters had come for a papal audience, which was being filmed for the TV series showing every Sunday evening on the RAI 3 channel. Hospital must be a family In his greetings to the children and staff, including the hospital director, Dr Mariella Enoc, Pope Francis spoke of the importance of providing a welcoming family environment. Each patient, he said, has a name and an individual story, which is more important that the sickness that he or she has come to cure.  The hospital, he said, must always be first and foremost a family which takes care of the needs of each of its members. Love overcomes fear Going into hospital, Pope Francis said, can be quite frightening and he noted that some of the younger children cried at the audience because they confused a pope, dressed in white, with a doctor, who is coming to give them an injection. But a loving caress, he said, calms those fears and doctors are called to treat patients with their hearts and their love, as well as with their medical skills. Finally Pope Francis thanked all the staff for providing “a witness of humanity” in the way they treat the children in their care. You are a family, he said, and nothing is more important than that! (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope sends message to Portuguese radio for 80th anniversary

Tue, 04/11/2017 - 18:43
(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis on Tuesday sent a message to a Portuguese radio station celebrating its 80th anniversary, saying it has done “exceptional work” in promoting “fraternal solidarity”. Listen to Devin Watkins’ report: In his message for Radio Renascença’s 80th anniversary, Pope Francis said he valued the station’s work of carrying “the Gospel of Jesus” to “Portugal and the immense Portuguese-speaking world”. He said the Radio has sown “fraternal solidarity and the mercy of God in the heart of humanity”. Pope Francis’ message was sent by Archbishop Angelo Becciu, Substitute of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, and read to the Grupo Renascença Multimédia by Archbishop Rino Passigato, Apostolic Nuncio to Portugal. “Pope Francis cordially greets the great family of ‘Radio Renascença’ as its celebrates its 80th anniversary,” the message reads, “and expresses his appreciation for the work of all those who, over the years, have served the Church with their daily work through this medium of social communications.” The Holy Father also assured Radio Renascença of his “prayers for the fruitfulness of its many evangelizing initiatives”. Transmitting out of Lisbon in Portugal, Radio Renascença (‘Radio Renaissance’) is a private, commercial station under the ownership of various organizations of the Portuguese Catholic Church. The group celebrated its 80th anniversary with a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Manuel Clemente, Patriarch of Lisbon, and a tribute to the Radio’s employees. Pope Francis granted an interview to Radio Renascença in September 2015 . (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope warns against misuse of biotechnologies

Mon, 04/10/2017 - 18:42
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has urged scientists and experts in biotechnologies to always be aware of the effects their decisions can have on human life and on creation. The Pope was addressing members of the National Committee for Biosafety, Biotechnology and Life Sciences at an audience in the Vatican. The main issues addressed by the Committee’s various working groups include: genetic testing, gene therapy, tissue engineering, development of biotechnology, cloning, Italian and European legislation, clinical trials, GMOs, infrastructure, information, genetic testing, biobanks, and bio nanotechnology. Remarking on the fact that the themes and issues that the committee faces are of great importance for contemporary man, both as individuals and in relation to the social dimension, the Pope said: “your task is not only to promote the harmonious and integrated development of scientific and technological research that relates to the biological processes of plant, animal and human life”; you are also asked to predict and prevent the negative consequences that a distorted use of science and technology can result in when “they are used to manipulate life”. Highlighting the principle of accountability which, the Pope said, is an essential cornerstone of human action, he said that various fields of technology and science put a “huge and growing power into the hands of man”.  “A grave risk is that citizens, and at times even those who represent and govern them, are not fully aware of the seriousness of the challenges that arise, of the complexities of the problems to be solved, and are in danger of misusing the power that sciences and biotechnologies put in their  hands”. Pope Francis said that when the connection between economic power and the power of technology is a strong one, interests can come into play; choices can be taken in light of possible profits for industrial and commercial groups to the detriment of populations and of the poorest nations. “It is not easy to reach a harmonious composition of the different scientific, productive, ethical, social, economic and political realities that promotes a sustainable development that respects our ‘common home’” he said.  It is something that requires humility, courage and openness, he said, certain that the contribution given by men of science to truth and to the common good, contribute to the development of civil conscience. Pope Francis reminded those present that sciences and technologies are made for man and for the world and not the opposite. “May they be put to the service of  dignified and healthy lives for all, now and in the future, and may they help render our common home more livable and supportive, more cared for and safe-guarded” he said.  The Pope concluded his address encouraging those present to initiate and sustain processes of consensus amongst scientists, technology experts, businessmen and representatives of the institutions, and to identify strategies to enhance public awareness on the issues raised by developments in Life Sciences and biotechnology. (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope Francis: prayers for victims of Stockholm terror attack

Sun, 04/09/2017 - 19:42
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Sunday renewed his condemnation of last week’s terror attack in Stockholm, Sweden, entrusting the victims of Friday’s attack to Our Lord and Our Lady. Pope Francis made his appeal in remarks to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square to pray the Angelus with him after Mass on Palm Sunday. Pope Francis said, “To Christ, who today enters upon His passion, and to the Holy Virgin, we entrust the victims of the terror attack that occurred this past Friday in Stockholm, along with all those still sorely tried by war, [which is] a calamity for all mankind.”  (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope Francis condemns Cairo terror attack on Coptic church

Sun, 04/09/2017 - 18:56
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis condemned the terror attack on a Coptic church dedicated to St. George – Mar Girgis – in the city of Tanta, north of Cairo, which killed upward of two dozen people and injured nearly 60 others. “[W]e pray for the victims claimed this [Sunday] morning,” Pope Francis said in remarks to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square to pray the Angelus with him following Palm Sunday Mass. “To my dear brother, His Holiness Pope Tawadros II,” Pope Francis continued,  “to the Coptic Church and to all the dear Egyptian nation I express my deep condolences. I pray for the dead and the injured, and I am close in spirit to the family members [of the deceased and injured] and to the entire community.” Pope Francis went on to pray, “May the Lord convert the hearts of the people who are sowing terror, violence and death, and also the hearts of those who make and traffic weapons.” Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Cairo at the end of this month. (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope Francis: Palm Sunday homily

Sun, 04/09/2017 - 18:21
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis delivered the homily at Mass on Palm Sunday in St. Peter's Square. Below, please find the full text of his prepared remarks. *************************************** Today’s celebration can be said to be bittersweet.  It is joyful and sorrowful at the same time.  We celebrate the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem to the cries of his disciples who acclaim him as king.  Yet we also solemnly proclaim the Gospel account of his Passion.  In this poignant contrast, our hearts experience in some small measure what Jesus himself must have felt in his own heart that day, as he rejoiced with his friends and wept over Jerusalem. For thirty-two years now, the joyful aspect of this Sunday has been enriched by the enthusiasm of young people, thanks to the celebration of World Youth Day.  This year, it is being celebrated at the diocesan level, but here in Saint Peter’s Square it will be marked by the deeply moving and evocative moment when the WYD cross is passed from the young people of Kraków to those of Panama. The Gospel we heard before the procession (cf. Mt 21:1-11) describes Jesus as he comes down from the Mount of Olives on the back of a colt that had never been ridden.  It recounts the enthusiasm of the disciples who acclaim the Master with cries of joy, and we can picture in our minds the excitement of the children and young people of the city who joined in the excitement.  Jesus himself sees in this joyful welcome an inexorable force willed by God.  To the scandalized Pharisees he responds: “I tell you that if these were silent, the stones would shout out” ( Lk 19:40). Yet Jesus who, in fulfilment of the Scriptures, enters the holy city in this way is no misguided purveyor of illusions, no new age prophet, no imposter.  Rather, he is clearly a Messiah who comes in the guise of a servant, the servant of God and of man, and goes to his passion.  He is the great “patient”, who suffers all the pain of humanity. So as we joyfully acclaim our King, let us also think of the sufferings that he will have to endure in this week.  Let us think of the slanders and insults, the snares and betrayals, the abandonment to an unjust judgment, the blows, the lashes and the crown of thorns…  And lastly, the way of the cross leading to the crucifixion. He had spoken clearly of this to his disciples: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” ( Mt 16:24).  Jesus never promised honour and success.  The Gospels make this clear.  He had always warned his friends that this was to be his path, and that the final victory would be achieved through the passion and the cross.  All this holds true for us too.  Let us ask for the grace to follow Jesus faithfully, not in words but in deeds.  Let us also ask for the patience to carry our own cross, not to refuse it or set it aside, but rather, in looking to him, to take it up and to carry it daily. This Jesus, who accepts the hosannas of the crowd, knows full well that they will soon be followed by the cry: “Crucify him!”  He does not ask us to contemplate him only in pictures and photographs, or in the videos that circulate on the internet.  No.  He is present in our many brothers and sisters who today endure sufferings like his own: they suffer from slave labour, from family tragedies, from diseases…  They suffer from wars and terrorism, from interests that are armed and ready to strike.  Women and men who are cheated, violated in their dignity, discarded…  Jesus is in them, in each of them, and, with marred features and broken voice, he asks to be looked in the eye, to be acknowledged, to be loved. It is not some other Jesus, but the same Jesus who entered Jerusalem amid the waving of palm branches.  It is the same Jesus who was nailed to the cross and died between two criminals.  We have no other Lord but him: Jesus, the humble King of justice, mercy and peace. (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope Francis leads Marian vigil for Roman youth

Sun, 04/09/2017 - 01:01
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis presided over a prayer vigil in the Basilica of St. Mary Major on Saturday evening, to open the diocesan celebration of World Youth Day, which this year is being marked in dioceses all throughout the world on Palm Sunday. The Rome diocese has chosen a special Marian theme for its world World Youth Day celebrations this year – celebrations that are also the official opening of preparations for the 2018 Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which is focused on young people, discernment, and vocational accompaniment. The website of the Rome diocese explains that the desire of the Church is to make young people protagonists of this journey: to allow them, by their prayerful presence, to enter upon the journey of the synodal process. It was the originator of World Youth Day, Pope St. John Paul II, who decided to make Palm Sunday the day on which the diocesan iterations of World Youth Day would be celebrated in the years between the great worldwide gatherings of young people, the next of which is scheduled to be held in Panama City from January 22-29, 2019. (from Vatican Radio)...

'Via Crucis for crucified women' in solidarity with victims of sex trade

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 19:20
(Vatican Radio) Men and women of goodwill of the diocese of Rome are to walk the ‘ Way of the Cross ’ in solidarity with all women victims of human trafficking on Friday evening. Listen to the report by Linda Bordoni : During the General Audience on Wednesday Pope Francis invited the faithful to participate in the initiative organized by the Pope John XXIII Community in favour of women and girls who have been rescued from trafficking rings and of those who are still enslaved by the sex trade. At its third edition, the “ Via Crucis for crucified women ” aims to raise awareness about the plight of women who trafficked and enslaved for prostitution. The 7pm rendezvous in Rome’s Garbatella area has been strongly supported by the Diocese of Rome and Rome Auxiliary Bishop Paolo Lojudice. Fr. Aldo Buonaiuto of the Pope John XXIII Community, organizer and coordinator of this special “Via Crucis” said that the number of women trafficked for prostitution has quadrupled over the past two years. “Estimates of various monitoring organizations put the numbers of women and girls used in the sex trade in Italy at between 70 and 100 thousand. We believe that this presence is actually multiplied by four due to the continued landings of refugees along our coasts, and we all know that a large percentage of these girls are trafficked for sexual exploitation” he said. Father Buonaiuto said the shameful trade sees the presence of girls who are younger and younger; most of them, he said, are trafficked from Nigeria and then distributed throughout Europe.  “The huge presence of these innocent girls who are raped on our streets is possible because there is a demand”, changing this culture and discouraging customers, he said, can go a long way in suppressing the offer. That is why raising awareness is crucial. (from Vatican Radio)...

Fifth Lenten Sermon of Fr. Cantalamessa to papal household: Full text

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 16:32
(Vatican Radio)  The Preacher of the Papal Household, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap., gave his fifth Lenten Sermon to Pope Francis on Friday morning in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel. The theme of the Lenten meditations is: “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’, except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). This fifth iteration carried the title: 'The Righteousness of God has been Manifested: The Fifth Centenary of the Protestant Reformation, an Occasion of Grace and Reconciliation for the Whole Church.' Please find below an English translation of the Sermon by Marsha Daigle Williamson: Fifth Lenten Sermon 2017 “THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD HAS BEEN MANIFESTED”:  The Fifth Centenary of the Protestant Reformation, an Occasion of Grace and Reconciliation for the Whole Church 1. The Origins of the Protestant Reformation The Holy Spirit, who, as we saw in the preceding meditations, leads us into the fullness of truth about the person of Christ and his paschal mystery, also enlightens us on a crucial aspect of our faith in Christ, that is, on how we obtain in the Church today the salvation Christ accomplished for us. In other words, the Holy Spirit enlightens us on the important question of justification by faith for sinners. I believe that trying to shed light on history and on the current state of that discussion is the most useful way to make the anniversary of the Fifth Centenary of the Protestant Reformation an occasion of grace and reconciliation for the whole Church. We cannot dispense with rereading the whole passage from the Letter to the Romans on which that discussion is centered. It says, But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On the principle of works? No, but on the principle of faith. For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law. (Rom 3:21-28) How could it have happened that such a comforting and clear message became the bone of contention at the heart of western Christianity, splitting the Church and Europe into two different religious continents? Even today, for the average believer in certain countries in Northern Europe, that doctrine constitutes the dividing line between Catholicism and Protestantism. I myself have had faithful Lutheran lay people ask me, “Do you believe in justification by faith?” as the condition for them to hear what I had to say. This doctrine is defined by those who began the Reformation themselves as “the article by which the Church stands or falls” (articulus stantis et cadentis Ecclesiae). We need to go back to Martin Luther’s famous “tower experience” that took place in 1511 or 1512. (It is referred to this way because it is thought to have occurred in a cell at the Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg called “the Tower”). Luther was in torment, almost to the point of desperation and resentment toward God, because all his religious and penitential observances did not succeed in making him feel accepted by God and at peace with him. It was here that suddenly Paul’s word in Romans 1:17 flashed through his mind: “The just shall live by faith.” It was a liberating experience. Recounting this experience himself when he was close to death, he wrote, “When I discovered this, I felt I was reborn, and it seemed that the doors of paradise opened up for me.”[1] Some Lutheran historians rightly go back to this moment some years before 1517 as the real beginning of the Reformation. What transformed this inner experience into a real religious chain reaction was the issue of indulgences, which made Luther decide to nail his famous 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. It is important to note the historical succession of these facts. It tells us that the thesis of justification by faith and not by works was not the result of a polemic with the Church of his time but its cause. It was a genuine illumination from above, an “experience,” “Erlebnis,” as he himself  described it. A question immediately arises: how do we explain the earthquake that was caused by the position Luther took? What was there about it that was so revolutionary? St. Augustine had given the same explanation for the expression “righteousness of God” many centuries earlier. “The righteousness of God [justitia Dei],” he wrote, “is the righteousness by which, through his grace, we become justified, exactly the way that the salvation of God [salus Dei] (Ps 3:9) is the salvation by which God saves us.”[2] St. Gregory the Great had said, “We do not attain faith from virtue but virtue from faith.”[3] And St Bernard had said, “What I cannot obtain on my own, I confidently appropriate (usurpo!) from the pierced side of the Lord because he is full of mercy. . . . And what about my righteousness? O Lord, I will remember only your righteousness. In fact it is also mine because you became God’s justification for me (see 1 Cor 1:30).”[4] St. Thomas Aquinas went even further. Commenting on the Pauline saying that “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (see 2 Cor 3:6), he writes that the “letter” also includes the moral precepts of the gospel, so “even the letter of the gospel would kill if the grace of faith that heals were not added to it.”[5] The Council of Trent, convened in response to the Reformation, did not have any difficulty in reaffirming the primacy of faith and grace, while still maintaining (as would the branch of the Reformation that followed John Calvin) the necessity of works and the observance of the laws in the context of the whole process of salvation, according to the Pauline formula of “faith working through love” (“fides quae per caritatem operatur”) (Gal 5:6).[6] This explains how, in the context of the new climate of ecumenical dialogue, it was possible for the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation to arrive at a joint declaration on justification by grace through faith that was signed on October 31, 1999, which acknowledges a fundamental, if not yet total, agreement on that doctrine. So was the Protestant Reformation a case of “much ado about nothing?” The result of a misunderstanding? We need to answer with a firm “No”! It is true that the magisterium of the Church had never reversed any decisions made by preceding councils (especially against the Pelagians); it had never forgotten what Augustine, Gregory, Bernard, and Thomas Aquinas had written. Human revolutions do not break out, however, because of ideas or abstract theories but because of concrete historical situations, and unfortunately for a long time the praxis of the Church was not truly reflecting its official doctrine. Church life, catechesis, Christian piety, spiritual direction, not to mention popular preaching—all these things seemed to affirm just the opposite, that what really matters is in fact works, human effort. In addition, “good works” were not generally understood to mean the works listed by Jesus in Matthew 25, without which, he says, we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Instead, “good works” meant pilgrimages, votive candles, novenas, and donations to the Church, and as compensation for doing these things, indulgences. The phenomenon had deep roots common to all of Christianity and not just Latin Christianity. After Christianity became the state religion, faith was something that was absorbed instinctively through the family, school, and society. It was not as important to emphasize the moment in which faith was born and a person’s decision to become a believer as it was to emphasize the practical requirements of the faith, in other words, morals and behavior. One revealing sign of this shift of focus is noted by Henri de Lubac in his Medieval Exegesis: The Four Senses of Scripture. In its most ancient phase, the sequence of the four senses was the literal historical sense, the christological or faith sense, the moral sense, and the eschatological sense.[7] However, that sequence was increaingly substituted by a different one in which the moral sense came before the christological or the faith sense. “What to do” came before “what to believe”; duty came first before gift. In spiritual life, people thought, first comes the path of purification then that of illumination and union.[8] Without realizing it, people ended up saying exactly the opposite of what Gregory the Great had written when he said, “We do not attain faith from virtue but virtue from faith.” 2. The Doctrine of Justification by Faith after Luther After Luther and very soon after the two other great reformers, Calvin and Ulrich Zwigli, the doctrine of the free gift of justification by faith resulted, for those who lived by it, in an unquestionable improvement in the quality of Christian life, thanks to the circulation of the word of God in the vernacular, to numerous inspired hymns and songs, and to written aids made accessible to people by the recent invention of the printing press and distribution of printed materials. On the external front, the thesis of justification only by faith became the dividing line between Catholicism and Protestantism. Very soon (and in part with Luther himself) this opposition broadened out to become an opposition between Christianity and Judaism as well, with Catholics representing, according to some, the continuation of Jewish legalism and ritualism, and Protestants representing the Christian innovation. Anti-Catholic polemic was joined to anti-Jewish polemic that, for other reasons, was no less present in the Catholic world. According to this perspective, Christianity was formed in opposition to—and was not derived from—Judaism. Starting with Ferdinand Christian Baur (1792-1860), the  theory of two souls in early Christianity increasingly gained ground: Petrine Christianity, as expressed in the so-called “proto-catholicism “ (Frühkatholizismus), and Pauline Christianity that finds its more complete expression in Protestantism. This belief led to distancing the Christian religion as far as possible from Judaism. People would try to explain the doctrines and Christian mysteries (including the title Kyrios, Lord, and the divine worship owed to Jesus) as the result of contact with Hellenism. The criterion used to judge the authenticity of a saying or a fact from the gospel was how different it was from what characterized the Jewish world of that time. Even if that approach was not the main reason for the tragic anti-Semitism that followed, it is certain that, together with the accusation of deicide, it  encouraged anti-Semitism by giving it a tacit religious covering. Beginning in the 1970s, there was a radical reversal in this area of biblical studies. It is necessary to say something about it to clarify the current state of the Pauline and Lutheran doctrine of the free gift of justification through faith in Christ. The nature and the aim of my talk exempt me from citing the names of the modern writers engaged in this debate. Whoever is versed in this subject will not have difficulty identifying the authors of the theories alluded to here to, but for others, I think, it is not the names but the ideas that are of interest. This reversal  involves the so-called “third quest of the historical Jesus.” (It is called “third” after the liberal quest of the 1800s and then that of Rudolf Bultmann and his followers in the 1900s). This new perspective recognizes  Judaism as the true matrix within which Christianity was formed, debunking the myth of the irreducible otherness of Christianity with respect to Judaism. The criterion used to assess the major or minor probability that a saying or fact about Jesus’ life is authentic is its compatibility with the Judaism of his time—not its incompatibility, as people at one time thought. Certain advantages of this new approach are obvious. The continuity of revelation is recovered. Jesus is situated within the Jewish world in the line of biblical prophets. It also does more justice to the Judaism of Jesus’ time, demonstrating its richness and variety. The problem is that this approach went too far so that this gain was transformed into a loss. In many representatives of this third quest, Jesus ends up dissolving into the Jewish world completely, without any longer being distinct except through a few particular interpretations of the Torah. He is reduced to being one of the Hebrew prophets, an “itinerant charismatic,” “a Mediterranean Jewish peasant,” as someone has written. The continuity with Judaism has been recovered, but at the expense of the newness of the New Testament. The new historical quest has produced studies on a whole different level (for example, those of James D. G. Dunn, my favorite New Testament scholar), but what I have sketched out is the version that is most widely circulated on the popular level and has influenced public opinion. The person who shed light on the misleading character of this approach for the purposes of serious dialogue between Judaism and Christianity was precisely a Jew, the American rabbi, Jacob Neusner.[9] Whoever has read Benedict XVI’s book on Jesus of Nazareth is already familiar with much of the thinking of this rabbi with whom he dialogues in one of the most fascinating chapters of his book. Jesus cannot be considered a Jew like other Jews, Neusner explains, given that he puts himself above Moses and proclaims that he is “Lord also of the Sabbath.” But it is especially in regard to St. Paul that the “new perspective” demonstrates its inadequacy. According to one of its most famous representatives, the religion of works, against which the Apostle rails with such vehemence in his letters, does not exist in real life. Judaism, even in the time of Jesus, is a “covenantal nomism,” that is, a religion based on the free initiative of God and his love; the observance of his laws is the consequence of a relationship with God, not its cause. The law serves to help people remain in the covenant rather than to enter it. The Jewish religion continues to be that of the patriarchs and prophets, and its center is hesed, grace and divine benevolence. Scholars then have to look for possible targets of Paul’s polemic: not the “Jews” but the “Jewish-Christians,” or a kind of “Zealot” Judaism that feels itself threatened by the pagan world around it and reacts in the manner of the Maccabees—in brief, the Judaism of Paul prior to his conversion that led him to persecute Hellenistic believers like Stephen. But these explanations appear immediately unsustainable and result in making the apostle’s thinking incomprehensible and contradictory. In the preceding part of his letter, the apostle formulates a indictment as universal as humanity itself: “There is no distinction; . . . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3: 22-23). Three times in the first three chapters of this letter he returns to the wording “Jews and Greeks alike.” How can anyone think that to such a universal evil a remedy corresponds which is aimed at a very limited group of believers?  3. Justification by Faith: A Doctrine of Paul or of Jesus? The difficulty comes, in my opinion, from the fact that the exegesis of Paul is carried on at times as if the doctrine began with him and as if Jesus had said nothing on this matter. The doctrine of the free gift of justification by faith is not Paul’s invention but is the central message of the gospel of Christ, whether it was made known to Paul by a direct revelation from the Risen One or by the “tradition” that he says he received, which was certainly not limited to a few words about the kerygma (see 1 Cor 15:3). If this were not the case, then those who say that Paul, not Jesus, is the real founder of Christianity would be correct. However, the core of this doctrine is already found in the word “gospel,” “good news,” that Paul certainly did not invent out of thin air. At the beginning of his ministry Jesus went around proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). How could this proclamation be called “good news” if it were only an intimidating call to change one’s life? What Christ includes in the expression “kingdom of God”—that is, the salvific initiative by God, his offer of salvation to all humanity—St. Paul calls the “righteousness of God,” but it refers to the same fundamental reality. “The kingdom of God” and “the righteousness of God” are coupled together by Jesus himself when he says, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Mt 6:33). When Jesus said, “repent, and believe the gospel,” he was thus already teaching justification by faith. Before him, “to repent” always meant “to turn back,” as indicated by the Hebrew word shub; it meant to turn back, through a renewed observance of the law, to the covenant that had been broken. “To repent,” consequently, had a meaning that was mainly ascetic, moral, and penitential, and it was implemented by changing one’s behavior. Repentance was seen as a condition for salvation; it meant “repent and you will be saved; repent and salvation will come to you.” This was the meaning of “repent” up to this point, including on the lips of John the Baptist. When Jesus speaks of repentance, metanoia, its moral meaning moves into second place (at least at the beginning of his preaching) with respect to a new, previously unknown meaning.  Repenting no longer means turning back to the covenant and the observance of the law. It means instead taking a leap forward, entering into a new covenant, seizing this kingdom that has appeared, and entering into it. And entering it by faith. “Repent and believe” does not point to two different successive steps but to the same action: repent, that is, believe; repent by believing! Repenting does not signify “mending one’s ways” so much as “perceiving”  something new and thinking in a new way. The humanist Lorenzo Valla (1405-1457), in his Adnotations on the New Testament, had already highlighted this new meaning of the word metanoia in Mark’s text. Innumerable sayings from the gospel, among the ones that most certainly go back to Jesus, confirm this interpretation. One is Jesus’ insistence on the necessity of becoming like children to enter the kingdom of heaven. A characteristic of children is that they have nothing to give and can only receive. They do not ask anything from their parents because they have earned it but simply because they know they are loved. They accept what is freely given. The Pauline polemic against the claim to be saved by one’s own works also does not begin with him. We would need to exclude an endless number of texts to remove all the polemic references in the gospel to a number of “scribes, Pharisees, and doctors of the law.” We cannot fail to recognize in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector in the temple the two types of religiosity that St. Paul later contrasts: one man trusts in his own religious performance and the other trusts in the mercy of God and returns home “justified” (Lk 18:14). It is not a temptation present only in one particular religion, but in every religion, including of course Christianity. (The Evangelists didn’t relate the sayings of Jesus to correct the Pharisees, but to warn the Christians!) If Paul takes aim at Judaism, it is because that is the religious context in which he and those to whom he is speaking live, but it involves a religious rather than an ethnic category. Jews, in this context, are those who, unlike the pagans, are in possession of revelation; they know God’s will and, emboldened by this fact, they feel themselves secure with God and can judge the rest of humanity. One indication that Paul was designating a religious category is that Origen was already saying in the third century that the target of the apostle’s words are now the “heads of the Church: bishops, presbyters, and deacons,” that is, the guides, the teachers of the people.[10] The difficulty in reconciling the picture that Paul gives us of the Jewish religion and what we know about it from other sources is based on a fundamental error in methodology. Jesus and Paul are dealing with life as people lived it, with the heart; scholars deal instead with books and written testimonies. Oral and written statements tell us what people know they should be or would like to be, but not necessarily what they are. No one should be surprised to find in the Scripture and rabbinical sources of the time moving and sincere affirmations about grace, mercy, and the prevenient initiative of God. But it is one thing to say what Scripture says and leaders  teach and another thing to say what is in people’s hearts and what governs their actions. What happened at the time of the Protestant Reformation helps us to understand this situation during the time of Jesus and Paul. At the time of the Reformation, if one looks at the doctrine taught in the schools of theology, at ancient definitions that were never disputed, at Augustine’s writings that were held in great honor, or even only at the Imitation of Christ that was daily reading for pious souls, one will find there the magnificent doctrine of grace and will not understand whom Luther was fighting against.  But if one looks at what was going on in real life in the Church, the result, as we have seen, is quite different. 4. How to Preach Justification by Faith Today What can we conclude from this bird’s-eye view of the five centuries since the beginning of the Protestant Reformation? It is indeed vital that the centenary of the Reformation not be wasted, that it not remain a prisoner of the past and try to determine rights and wrongs, even if that is done in a more irenic tone than in the past. We need instead to take a leap forward, the way a river that finds itself blocked resumes its course at a higher level. The situation has changed since then. The issues that brought about the separation between the Church of Rome and the Reformation were above all indulgences and how sinners are justified. But can we say that these are the problems on which people’s faith stands or falls today? I remember Cardinal Kasper on one occasion making this observation: For Luther the number one existential problem was how to overcome the sense of guilt and find a gracious God; today the problem is rather the opposite: how to restore to human beings a genuine sense of sin that they have completely lost. This does not mean ignoring the enrichment brought by the Reformation and wanting to return to the situation before it. It means rather allowing all of Christianity to benefit from its many important achievements once they are freed from certain distortions and excesses due to the overheated climate of the moment and the need to correct major abuses. Among the negative aspects resulting from the centuries-old emphasis on the issue of the justification of sinners, it seems to me one is having made western Christianity be a gloomy proclamation, completely focused on sin, that the secular culture ended up resisting and rejecting. The most important thing is not what Jesus, by his death, has removed from human beings—sin—but what he has given to them, that is, his Holy Spirit. Many exegetes today consider the third chapter of the letter to the Romans on justification by faith to be inseparable from the eighth chapter on the gift of the Spirit and to be one piece with it. The free gift of justification through faith in Christ should be preached today by the whole Church and with more vigor than ever. Not, however, in contrast to the “works” the New Testament speaks of but in contrast to the claim of post-modern people of being able to save themselves with their science and technology or with an improvised, comforting spirituality. These are the “works” that modern human beings rely on. I am convinced that if Luther came back to life, this would be the way that he too would preach justification by faith today. There is another thing that we all—Lutherans and Catholics—should learn from the man who initiated the Reformation. As we saw, for Luther the free gift of justification by faith was above all a lived experience and only later something about which to theorize. After him justification though faith became increasingly a theological thesis to defend or to oppose and less and less a personal, liberating experience to be lived out in one’s intimate relationship with God. The joint declaration of 1999 very appropriately points out that the consensus reached by Catholics and Lutherans on the fundamental truths of the doctrine of justification must take effect and be confirmed not just in the teaching of the Church but in people’s lives as well (no. 43). We must never lose sight of the main point of the Pauline message. What the apostle wishes to affirm above all in Romans 3 is not that we are justified by faith but that we are justified by faith in Christ; we are not so much justified by grace as we are justified by the grace of Christ. Christ is the heart of the message, more so than grace and faith. Today he himself is the article by which the Church stands or falls: a person, not a doctrine. We ought to rejoice because this is what is happening in the Church and to a greater extent than commonly realized. In recent months I was able to attend two conferences: one in Switzerland organized by Protestants  with the participation of Catholics, and the other in Germany organized by Catholics with the participation of Protestants. The latter conference, which took place in Augsburg this past January, seemed to me truly to be a sign of the times. There were 6,000 Catholics and 2,000 Lutherans, the majority of whom were young, who had come from all over Germany. Its title was “Holy Fascination.” What fascinated that crowd was Jesus of Nazareth, made present and almost tangible by the Holy Spirit. Behind this effort was a community of lay people and a house of prayer (Gebetshaus), which has been active for years and is in full communion with the local Catholic church. It was not an easy ecumenism. There was a very Catholic Mass with lots of incense celebrated once by me and once by the auxiliary bishop of Augsburg; on another day, the Lord’s Supper was celebrated by a Lutheran pastor with full respect for each other’s liturgies. Worship, teachings, music: it was an atmosphere that only young people today are able to create and that could serve as a model for some special event during World Youth Day. I once asked those in charge if they wanted me to speak about Christian unity. They answered, “No. We prefer to live that unity instead of talking about it.” They were right. These are signs of the direction in which the Spirit—and with him Pope Francis—invite us to go. _______________________________ Translated from Italian by Marsha Daigle Williamson [1] Martin Luther, “Preface to his Latin Works,” Weimar ed., vol. 54, p. 186. [2] Augustine, On the Spirit and the Letter, 32, 56 (PL 44, 237). [3] Gregory the Great, Homilies on Ezekiel, 2, 7 (PL 76, 1018). [4] Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermons on the “Song of Songs,” 61, 4-5 (PL 183, 1072). [5] Thomas Aquinas, Summa  theologiae, 1-IIae, q. 106, a.2. [6] Council of Trent,  “Decretum de iustificatione,” 7, in Denziger and Schoenmetzer, Enchridion Symbolorum, ed. 34, n. 1531. [7] The classical couplet that sets forth this sequence is “Littera gesta docet, quid credas allegoria. / Moralis quid agas; quo tendas anagogia”: “The literal sense proclaims the events, the allegorical sense what you should believe. / The moral sense what you should do, the anagogical sense where you are going.” [8] See Henri de Lubac, Histoire de l’exégèse médiéval. Les quatre sens de l’Écriture (Paris, Aubier,1959), vol. 1, 1, pp. 139-157. [9] Jacob Neusner, A Rabbi Talks with Jesus (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2000). [10] Origen, Commentary on the “Letter to the Romans,” 2, 2 (PG 14, 873).  (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope Francis: Reflect on the faithfulness of God

Thu, 04/06/2017 - 19:49
(Vatican Radio) God is always faithful to His Covenant: He kept faith with Abraham and He is faithful to the salvation promised in His Son. That was the message of Pope Francis during the morning Mass on Thursday at the Casa Santa Marta. The Pope called on those present to pause during the day to reflect on their own life story, in order to discover the beauty of the love of God, even in the midst of difficulties, which afflict everyone in this life. Listen to Christopher Wells' report:    Pope Francis’ homily revolved around the figure of Abraham, who is at the centre of the day’s liturgy. The first Reading narrates the story of the Covenant God made with Abraham; while in the Gospel, both Jesus and the Pharisees refer to “Father” Abraham, because he is the father of “this people that today is the Church.” Abraham trusted and obeyed when he was called to go to a new land that he would receive as an inheritance. Abraham, a man of faith, knew by experience that God had not deceived him A man of faith and of hope, Abraham believed when he was told that he would have a child although he was 100 years old, and his wife was sterile – “he believed against every hope.” “If anyone wanted to give a description of the life of Abraham, he could say, ‘This guy is a dreamer,’” the Pope said. He explained that Abraham had something of the dreamer in him, but it was “that dream of hope”; he wasn’t crazy: “Put to the test, after having had a child, a boy, a young child, he was asked to offer him in sacrifice: he obeyed, and went forward against all hope. And this is our father Abraham, who goes forward, forward, forward; and when Jesus says Abraham saw his day, saw Jesus, he was full of joy. He saw Him in promise, he saw that joy of seeing the fullness of the promise of the covenant, the joy of seeing that God had not deceived him, that God – as we prayed in the responsorial psalm – is always faithful to His covenant.” The psalm also invites us to call to mind the wonders God performs. For us, the descendants of Abraham, it’s like thinking of our father who has passed away, and yet we remember the good things about him and we think: “He was a great father!” Abraham obeys and believes against all hope The Covenant, on Abraham’s part, consists in having always obeyed, the Pope said. On God’s part, He has promised to make Abraham “the father of a multitude of nations.” “No longer shall you be called Abram, but Abraham,” the Lord says. And Abraham believed. Then, in another dialogue, God tells him that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the heavens and as the sand on the seashore. And today we are able to say, “I am one of those stars. I am a grain of sand.” Looking to history: we are a people Between Abraham and us, there is another Story, the Pope said, the story of the heavenly Father and of Jesus. This is why Jesus told the Pharisees that Abraham exulted in the hope of seeing “my day” – “he saw it, and was glad.” This is the great message; and the Church today invites us to pause and to look to “our roots,” “our father,” who “has made us a people, a heaven full of stars, a beach full of grains of sand”: “Looking to history: I am not alone, I am a people. We go together. The Church is a people. But a people dreamed of by God, a people He has given a father on Earth who obeyed; and we have a Brother who has given His life for us, to make us a people. And so we are able to look upon the Father, to give thanks; to look upon Jesus, to give thanks; to look upon Abraham and ourselves, who are part of the journey.” God is faithful: we should pause in order to discover, even amid the difficulties of this life, the beauty of the love of God The Holy Father then invited us to make today “a day of memory,” pointing out that “in this great Story, in the framework of God and Jesus, there is the little story of each one of us”: “I invite you today to take five minutes, ten minutes, to sit down – without the radio, without the television – to sit down and reflect on your own story: the blessings and the troubles, everything. The graces and the sins, everything. And to see there the faithfulness of that God who remained faithful to His Covenant, remained faithful to the promise He made to Abraham, remained faithful to the salvation He promised in His Son, Jesus. I’m certain that in the midst of all of the perhaps ugly things – because we all have them, so many ugly things in this life – if we do this today, we will discover the beauty of the love of God, the beauty of His mercy, the beauty of hope. And I am sure that we will all be full of joy.” (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope to wash feet of inmates at Paliano prison on Holy Thursday

Thu, 04/06/2017 - 18:14
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis will wash the feet of inmates at Paliano prison, south of Rome, during the Mass of Our Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. The Vatican announced on Thursday that the pope will travel to the penitentiary on the afternoon of April 13th for a private visit and the celebration of Mass marking Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples on the day before his Crucifixion. Pope Francis began the tradition of travelling to a prison for the traditional Last Supper Mass in March 2013, just a few days after the inauguration of his pontificate. On that occasion he travelled to Rome’s Casal del Marmo youth detention centre where he included, for the first time, women and Muslims among the inmates whose feet he washed. The following year, he celebrated the Last Supper Mass at Rome’s Don Gnocchi centre for the disabled , again including women among those who had their feet washed in memory of Jesus’ gesture of humility and service. In 2015 Pope Francis travelled to Rome’s Rebibbia prison for the Holy Thursday celebration, while last year he washed the feet of refugees, including Muslims, Hindus and Coptic Orthodox men and women at a centre for asylum seekers in Castelnuovo di Porto , just north of Rome. (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope Francis sends letter to Cardinal Cupich, prays for nonviolence

Thu, 04/06/2017 - 18:10
(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis has sent a letter to the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago, Blasé J. Cupich, in support of local efforts to promote nonviolence. The Chicago Archdiocese launched a campaign on nonviolence on 4 April to coincide with the 49th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The event culminates with a march for peace on Good Friday. In his letter, Pope Francis assured the people of Chicago of his support for the initiative and of his prayers for those who “have lost loved ones to violence”. He wrote that he will remember the city in prayer as he leads the Way of the Cross in Rome that same day. The Pope invited all not to exclude others based on their “ethnic, economic, and social backgrounds”. “We must reject this exclusion and isolation, and not think of any group as ‘others,’ but rather as our own brothers and sisters. This openness of heart and mind must be taught and nurtured in the homes and in schools.” He said, “Walking the path of peace is not always easy, but it is the only authentic response to violence.” Pope Francis then quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Humanity ‘must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love’”. He urged everyone “to respond to Dr. King's prophetic words and know that a culture of nonviolence is not an unattainable dream, but a path that has produced decisive results.” In conclusion, the Holy Father prayed that the “beautiful city” of Chicago “never lose hope” and that they “work together to become builders of peace, showing future generations the true power of love”. Please find below the full text of the Pope’s letter: To Cardinal Blase J. Cupich Archbishop of Chicago Dear Brother, Please convey to the people of Chicago that they have been on my mind and in my prayers. I know that many families have lost loved ones to violence. I am close to them, I share in their grief, and pray that they may experience healing and reconciliation through God's grace. I assure you of my support for the commitment you and many other local leaders are making to promote nonviolence as a way of life and a path to peace in Chicago. You are marking that effort by inviting people of goodwill to walk for peace on Good Friday in areas afflicted by violence. As I make my own Way of the Cross in Rome that day, I will accompany you in prayer, as well as all those who walk with you and who have suffered violence in the city. Sadly, as you have told me, people of different ethnic, economic, and social backgrounds suffer discrimination, indifference, injustice, and violence today. We must reject this exclusion and isolation, and not think of any group as "others," but rather as our own brothers and sisters. This openness of heart and mind must be taught and nurtured in the homes and in schools. Walking the path of peace is not always easy, but it is the only authentic response to violence. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, humanity "must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love". I urge all people, especially young men and women, to respond to Dr. King's prophetic words and know that a culture of nonviolence is not an unattainable dream, but a path that has produced decisive results. The consistent practice of nonviolence has broken barriers, bound wounds, healed nations—and it can heal Chicago. I pray that the people of your beautiful city never lose hope, that they work together to become builders of peace, showing future generations the true power of love. I ask you to pray for me too. From the Vatican, 4 April 2017 Francis (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope expresses closeness to Argentinians hit by heavy rains

Thu, 04/06/2017 - 17:31
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a letter to José María Arancedo, Archbishop of Santa Fe de la Vera Cruz and President of the Episcopal Conference of Argentina, to express his closeness to the people of Argentina who have been hit by torrential rains which have battered the country in recent days. In the correspondence the Holy Father said that he was spiritually near to the thousands of people who have been evacuated from their homes and who have lost everything; “the fruits of many years of sacrifice and work,” he added. Pope Francis also wrote that he wished to accompany and offer words of encouragement to his brother bishops, priests and parishioners in this moment of need. In conclusion, and imparting his Apostolic Blessing, he prayed that collaboration between authorities, institutions and volunteers, in a spirit of unity, would bring to all those affected a testimony of fraternal solidarity.   (from Vatican Radio)...

Holy See calls for end to Syria violence

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 21:34
(Vatican Radio) A senior Vatican archbishop has urged all sides of the Syrian conflict to end violence and restore solidarity in the wake of a deadly chemical gas attack. Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for the Holy See’s Relations with States, called for increased funding from the international community for displaced people and refugees during an address at the European Union in Brussels. The conference, called “Supporting the future of Syria and the region”, came just one day after 72 people were killed and more than 100 were injured in an chemical weapons attack in the north of the country. Archbishop Gallagher said: “The Holy See invites all parties to the Syrian conflict to spare no effort to end the seemingly endless cycle of violence, to restore that sense of solidarity that is the basis of social cohesion and peaceful coexistence. “While the crisis has entered, regrettably and painfully, into its seventh year, the Holy See remains deeply concerned about the tremendous human suffering, affecting millions of innocent children and other civilians who remain deprived of essential humanitarian aid, medical facilities and education, and urges that international humanitarian law be fully respected, particularly with regard to the protection of civilian populations, guaranteeing them access to necessary medical assistance. “Furthermore, the Holy See also expresses its concern for the conditions and treatment of prisoners and detainees.” He spoke of the Holy See’s deep concern for the “vulnerable situation of Christians and religious minorities in the Middle East, who suffer disproportionately the effects of war and social upheaval in the region, to such an extent that their very presence and existence are gravely threatened.” The Archbishop’s words come as Pope Francis deplored the “ carnage ” of the gas attack in Idlib province during his Wednesday General Audience and appealed for a halt to the tragedy. Archbishop Gallagher pledged a renewed humanitarian assistance by the Church in 2017, building on the $200 million of aid given by Catholic charities last year. The conference brought together 70 countries  and international organisations from across the world and was chaired jointly by the European Union, the United Nations and several national governments. It comes a year after a summit in London at which the international community pledged significant financial support for humanitarian assistance in Syria and promoted a political solution to the crisis. (Richard Marsden) (from Vatican Radio)...

Passion Sunday - April 09, 2017

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 20:58
Introduction: The Church celebrates this sixth Sunday of Lent as both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. This is the time of year we stop to remember and relive the events which brought about our redemption and salvation. What we commemorate and relive during this week is not just Jesus’ dying and rising, but our own dying and rising in him, which will result in our healing, reconciliation, and redemption.  Attentive participation in the Holy Week liturgy will deepen our relationship with God, increase our Faith and strengthen our lives as disciples of Jesus. Today’s liturgy combines contrasting moments, one of glory, the other of suffering:  the royal welcome of Jesus in Jerusalem and the drama of His trial, culminating in His crucifixion, death and burial. The Holy Week liturgies present us with the actual events of the dying and rising of Jesus. Just as Jesus did, we, too, must lay down our lives freely by actively participating in the Holy Week liturgies.  But let us remember that Holy Week can become "holy” for us only if we actively and consciously take part in the liturgies of this week.  During this week of the Passion -- passionate suffering, passionate grace, passionate love and passionate forgiving – each of us is called to remember the Christ of Calvary and then to embrace and lighten the burden of the Christ Whose passion continues to be experienced in the hungry, the poor, the sick, the homeless, the aged, the lonely and the outcast. The African-American song asks the question, "Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they nailed Him to a tree?" The answer is yes, a definite yes. Yes, we were there in the crowd on both days, shouting ‘Hosanna!’ and later ‘Crucify Him!’ First reading, Isaiah 50:4-7: Today's first reading, the third of Isaiah's four Servant Songs, like the other three, foreshadows Jesus' own life and mission. In the middle section of the book of the prophet Isaiah, chapters 40-55, there are four short passages which scholars have called the Songs of the Suffering Servant.  These four songs are about a mysterious figure whose suffering brings about a benefit for the people.  In the original author's mind, the servant was probably a figure for the people of Israel, or for a faithful remnant within the people. However, Jesus saw aspects of His own life and mission foreshadowed in the Servant Songs, and the Church refers to them in this time of solemn meditation on the climax of Jesus' life.  In today’s Psalm, the Psalmist puts his trust in Yahweh for deliverance and salvation.  The context of this day's worship also conveys Jesus’ confidence in God’s protection in the midst of His trial and crucifixion. Second Reading, Philippians 2:6-11 is an ancient Christian hymn representing a very early Christian understanding of Who Jesus is and how His mission saves us from sin and death.  It is a message that Paul received from those who had been converted to Christ.  “Jesus was Divine from all eternity.  But he didn't cling to that. Rather He emptied Himself and became human.  He accepted further humbling by obeying [the constraints of the] human condition even unto death by crucifixion.  So, God highly exalted Him, giving Him the highest title in the universe.”  Christians reading this passage today are joining the first people who ever pondered the meaning of Jesus' life and mission.  We're singing their song and reciting their creed during this special time of the year when we remember the most important things Our Lord did. The first part of today’s Gospel describes the royal reception which Jesus received from His admirers, who paraded with Him for a distance of two miles:  from the Mount of Olives to the city of Jerusalem.  Two-and-a-half million people were normally present to celebrate the Jewish feast of Passover.  Jesus permitted such a royal procession for two reasons: 1) to reveal to the general public that He was the promised Messiah, and 2) to fulfill the prophecies of Zechariah (9:9) and Zephaniah (3:16-19): “Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion…. see now your King comes to you; He is victorious, triumphant, humble and riding on a donkey…” (Zech. 9:9).  (The traditional “Palm Sunday Procession” at Jerusalem began in the fourth century AD when the Bishop of Jerusalem led the procession from the Mount of Olives to the Church of the Ascension).  In the second part of today’s Gospel, we listen to the Passion of Christ according to Matthew.  We are challenged to examine our own lives in the light of some of the characters in the story like Peter who denied Jesus, Judas who betrayed Jesus, Pilate who acted against his conscience, Herod who ridiculed Jesus, and the leaders of the people who preserved their position by getting rid of Jesus.  Exegetical notes on part I of today’s Gospel:   1) Jesus rides on a lowly donkey:  In those days, kings used to travel in such processions on horseback during wartime, but preferred to ride a donkey in times of peace.  I Kings 1:38-41 describes how Prince Solomon used his father David’s royal donkey for the ceremonial procession on the day of his coronation.  Jesus entered the Holy City as a King of peace, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah.  The Gospel specifically mentions that the colt Jesus selected for the procession was one that   had not been ridden before, reminding us of a stipulation given in I Samuel 6:7 concerning the animal that was to carry the Ark of the Covenant.   2) The mode of reception given:  Jesus was given the royal reception usually reserved for a King or military commander.  I Maccabees 13:51ff describes such a reception given to the Jewish military leader Simon Maccabaeus in 171 BC.  II Maccabees 10:6-8 refers to a similar reception given to another military general, Judas Maccabaeus, who led the struggle against the Roman commander, Antiochus IV Epiphanes and liberated the Temple from the Romans in 163 BC. 3) The slogans used: The participants sang the “Hallel” Psalm (Psalm 118), and shouted the words of Psalms 25 and 26.  The Greek word “hosiana” originally meant "save us now" (II Samuel 14:4).  The people sang the entire Psalm 118 on the Feast of the Tabernacles when they marched seven times around the Altar of the Burnt Offering.  On Palm Sunday, however, the people used the prayer “Hosanna” as a slogan of greeting.  It meant “God save the King of Israel.” 4) The symbolic meaning of the Palm Sunday procession: Nearly 25,000 lambs were sacrificed during the feast of the "Pass Over," but the lamb which was to be sacrificed by the High Priest was taken to the Temple in a procession four days before the main feast day.  On Palm Sunday, Jesus, the true Paschal Lamb, was also taken to the Temple in a large procession. 5) Reaction of Jesus:  Before the beginning of the procession, Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Lk 19:41-42), and when the procession was over, He cleansed the Temple (Lk 19:45-46).  On the following day, He cursed a barren fig tree. Life Messages: We need to answer 5 questions today: 1) Does Jesus weep over me?  There is a Jewish saying, “Heaven rejoices over a repentant sinner and sheds tears over a non-repentant, hardhearted one."   Are we ready to imitate the prodigal son and return to God, our loving Father, through the Sacrament of Reconciliation during this last week of Lent and participate fully in the joy of Christ’s Resurrection? 2) Am I a barren fig tree?  God expects me to produce fruits of holiness, purity, justice, humility, obedience, charity, and forgiveness.  Am I a barren fig tree?  Or, worse, do I continue to produce bitter fruits of impurity, injustice, pride, hatred, jealousy and selfishness? 3) Will Jesus need to cleanse my heart with His whip?  Jesus cannot tolerate the desecration of the temple of the Holy Spirit in me by my addiction to uncharitable, unjust and impure thoughts words and deeds; neither does He approve of my calculation of loss and gain in my relationship with God.  4) Do I welcome Jesus into my heart?  Am I ready to surrender my life to Him during this Holy Week and welcome Him into all areas of my life as my Lord and Savior, singing “Hosanna”?  Today, we receive palm branches at the Divine Liturgy.  Let us take them to our homes and put them some place where we can always see them.  Let the palms remind us that Christ is the King of our families, that Christ is the King of our hearts and that Christ is the only true answer to our quest for happiness and meaning in our lives.  And if we do proclaim Christ as our King, let us try to make time for Him in our daily life; let us be reminded that He is the One with Whom we will be spending eternity.  Let us be reminded further that our careers, our education, our finances, our homes, all of the basic material needs in our lives are only temporary.  Let us prioritize and place Christ the King as the primary concern in our lives.  It is only when we have done this that we will find true peace and happiness in our confused and complex world. 5) Are we ready to become like the humble donkey that carried Jesus?   As we "carry Jesus" to the world, we can expect to receive the same welcome that Jesus received on Palm Sunday, but we must also expect to meet the same opposition, crosses and trials later.  Like the donkey, we are called upon to carry Christ to a world that does not know Him.  Let us always remember that a Christian without Christ is a contradiction in terms.  Such a one betrays the Christian message.  Hence, let us become transparent Christians during this Holy Week, enabling others to see in us Jesus’ universal love, unconditional forgiveness and sacrificial service. 6) Can we face these questions on Palm Sunday? Are we willing to follow Jesus, not just to Church but in our daily life?  Are we willing to entrust ourselves to Him even when the future is frightening or confusing, believing God has a plan? Are we willing to serve Him until that day when His plan on earth is fulfilled? These are the questions of Palm Sunday.  Let us take a fresh look at this familiar event.  We might be surprised at what we see.  It could change us forever.(Source: Fr. Anthony Kadavil) (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope meets with Catholic-Muslim delegation from Britain

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 20:49
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met on Wednesday with English Cardinal Vincent Nichols and four Muslim leaders from Britain who came to highlight the deep-rooted interfaith relations among the different religious communities in the UK today. For the past three decades, Nichols and other Catholic leaders have been working to develop strong ties with local Muslim communities. Among some of the practical, grass roots initiatives that have resulted are the setting up of shared food banks for the needy and the welcoming of newly arrived refugee families. Just two weeks ago, Cardinal Nichols stood side by side with the Archbishop of Canterbury plus Muslim and Jewish leaders in London to condemn the terror attack at the Houses of Parliament. As prayers were said for the victims, the cardinal read out a message from Pope Francis offering condolences to the grieving families and solidarity with the whole nation. Just ahead of the papal audience in the Vatican, Philippa Hitchen sat down with Cardinal Nichols and two of the Muslim leaders on the delegation, Muhammad Shahid Raza, originally from India and Syed Ali Raza Rizvi, originally from Lahore in Pakistan. They highlight the importance of standing together to combat hatred, intolerance and violence in the name of religion Listen  Moulana Muhammad Shahid Raza begins by saying they bring a message of “thanks and gratefulness for the kindness and sympathy the Muslim community has always received from Vatican”. He also highlights their “great appreciation” for Cardinal Nichols and the Catholic Church in the UK which made the audience possible. The cardinal notes that Muslim leaders like Muhammad Shahid Raza have been working on interfaith relations in Britain for the past 30 years and he hopes the papal audience will serve to encourage that work. He also thanks the pope for his message of solidarity following the incidents in Westminster two weeks ago. Moulana Syed Ali Raza Rizvi says that “when people see the reality of faith leaders together,” it shows clearly that “what a few criminals are doing is different to what faith leaders are saying”. Standing together, he says, “has a very positive reflection” showing that faith does not divide, but rather it unites people. He continues by noting that “in difficult times, people look to faith communities” and the projects that Muslims and Christians are working on together, especially with refugees “gives a very positive image of faith in the 21st century”. In recent years, he adds, the cardinal has helped “not just [to] bring us together but [to] create a friendship and that has made us increasingly respectful of each other and our communities”. Cardinal Nichols says he and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby are seeking to “create a platform from which the Muslim voice can be heard in the UK” . Following the recent terror attack, he says, “Muslims all over the country stood up and said not in our name, Islam is a religion of peace and we condemn these actions” but that voice is not heard. He says he hopes that one of the tangible results of the papal audience is “the right amplification of this voice in our midst”.  (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope prays for victims and families of Russia bomb attack

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 20:11
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis is praying for the victims of a bomb attack in Russia and for all those affected by the tragedy. Addressing the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the General Audience , the Pope turned his attention to the “serious attack of the past days in the St. Petersburg subway”, which he said, caused victims and a sense of loss and confusion in the Russian population. A bomb exploded in a carriage of the St. Petersburg subway on Monday killing 14 people and injuring 50 others. “While I entrust all those who are tragically deceased to the mercy of God, I express my spiritual closeness to their loved ones and to all those who are suffering because of this dramatic event” he said.  Investigators say they have searched the home of the suspected suicide bomber behind Monday's deadly explosion on the St. Petersburg subway. Russian investigators said they suspect a 22-year old Kyrgyz-born Russian citizen of having detonated the bomb. Another bomb, hidden in a bag, was found and de-activated at another St. Petersburg station just half an hour before the blast. The investigators have also reportedly arrested 6 people in St. Petersburg on suspicion of  “aiding terrorist activities.”  They said that at this moment there is no evidence of connection or acquaintance of the detained with executor of the terrorist action in the St. Petersburg metro”. (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope at Audience: ‘God's love basis of our hope’

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 20:11
(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis continued his catechesis on Christian hope during his Wednesday General Audience in St. Peter’s Square, saying that God’s infinite love is the basis for all our hope. Listen to Devin Watkins’ report: Reflecting on the First Letter of the apostle Peter, Pope Francis at his General Audience invited Christians to imitate the Lord’s redemptive suffering by bearing witness to God’s infinite love as revealed on the Cross. He said God’s love as sealed in the resurrection is the basis of all our hope. “Our hope is not a concept, it is not a sentiment, it is not a mobile phone, it is not a heap of riches! Our hope is a Person, it is the Lord Jesus Whom we recognize as living and present in us and in our brothers, because Christ is risen.” The Holy Father went on to say that Christian hope is not theoretical but must be lived and witnessed in our daily lives. Our hope, he said, “must necessarily be released outwards, taking the exquisite and unmistakable form of gentleness, respect and goodness towards our neighbour, to the point of forgiving those who do us harm.” He said this contrasts with the attitude of the Mafiosi, who believe “evil can be defeated by evil”, because they “do not have hope”. Pope Francis then invited all to be suffer for good in the large and small situations of daily life and to offer a blessing instead of evil. This, he said, “is the proclamation of God’s love, a love without bounds, that is inexhaustible, that never runs out and constitutes the true basis for our hope.” Please find below the official English translation of the Pope’s catechesis: Dear brothers and sisters, good morning! The First Letter of the apostle Peter is extraordinarily rich. We must read it once, twice, three times to understand its extraordinary import: it succeeds in bringing great consolation and peace, showing how the Lord is always by our side and never abandons us, especially in the most delicate and difficult times of our lives. But what is the “secret” of this Letter, and in particular of the passage we have just listened to (cf. 1 Pt. 3:8-17)? This is a question. I know that you will take the New Testament, look for the First Letter of Peter and read it very slowly, to understand the secret and the strength of this Letter. What is the secret of this Letter? 1. The secret resides in the fact that this text is rooted directly in Easter, in the heart of the mystery we are about to celebrate, thus allowing us to perceive all the light and joy that spring from the death and resurrection of Christ. Christ is truly risen, and this is a beautiful greeting we can give each other on the day of Easter: “Christ is risen! Christ is risen!”, as many peoples do. Let us remember that Christ is risen, He lives in our midst, and abides in each one of us. This is why St. Peter strongly urges us to adore Him in our hearts (cf. v. 16). There the Lord made His dwelling at the moment of our Baptism, and from there He continues to renew us and our life, filling us with His love and with fullness of Spirit. This is why the Apostle reminds us to acknowledge the hope that is in us (cf. v. 16): our hope is not a concept, it is not a sentiment, it is not a mobile phone, it is not a heap of riches! Our hope is a Person, it is the Lord Jesus Whom we recognise as living and present in us and in our brothers, because Christ is risen. Slavic peoples, when they greet each other, instead of saying “Good morning” or “Good evening” on the days of Easter, they greet each other with this “Christ is risen!”. “Christos voskrese!”, they say to each other, and they are happy to say so! And this is the “Good morning” and “Good evening” they offer one another: “Christ is risen!” 2. We understand, then, that we cannot give a reason for this hope at a theoretical level, but above all through the witness of life, both within the Christian community and outside it. If Christ is living and abides in us, in our heart, then we must also allow Him to be made visible, not to hide Him, and to act in us. This means that the Lord Jesus must increasingly become our model: our model of life and that we must learn to behave as He behaved. Do what Jesus did. The hope that abides in us, then, cannot remain hidden inside us, in our heart: it would be a weak hope, that does not have the courage to come out and let itself be seen; but our hope, as is clear in the Psalm 33 cited by Peter, must necessarily be released outwards, taking the exquisite and unmistakable form of gentleness, respect and goodness towards our neighbour, to the point of forgiving those who do us harm. A person who does not have hope is not able to forgive; he is not able to give the consolation of forgiveness and to receive the consolation of forgiveness. Yes, because this is what Jesus did, and in this way He continues to do so through those who make space in their heart and their life for Him, in the awareness that evil is not vanquished with evil, but with humility, mercy and gentleness. Mafiosi think that evil can be defeated with evil, and so they seek revenge and do all those things we know about. But they do not know what humility, mercy and gentleness area. And why? Because Mafiosi do not have hope. Think about this. 3. This is why St. Peter affirms that “it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil” (v. 17); this does not mean that it is good to suffer, but that when we suffer for good, we are in communion with the Lord, Who accepted to suffer and to be put on the cross for our salvation. So when, in the smallest or the largest situations of our life, we too accept suffering for good, it is as if we sprinkled the seeds of resurrection, the seeds of life around us, and made the light of Easter shine in the dark. This is why the Apostle urges us always to respond “blessing” (v. 9): blessing is not a formality, or merely a sign of courtesy, but rather a great gift that we are the first to have received, and that we have the possibility of sharing with our brothers. It is the proclamation of God’s love, a love without bounds, that is inexhaustible, that never runs out and constitutes the true basis for our hope. Dear friends, we understand also why the apostle Peter calls us “blessed”, when we must suffer for justice (cf. v.13). It is not only for a moral or ascetic reason, but it is because each time we take the side of the last and the marginalized, or that we do not respond to evil with evil, but instead forgive without vengeance, forgiving and blessing, every time we do this we shine as living and luminous signs of hope, thus becoming an instrument of consolation and peace, in accord with the heart of God. And in this way we go ahead with sweetness and gentleness, being amiable and doing good even to those who do not wish us well, or who harm us. Onwards! (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope decries the horror of Syria attacks and appeals for political solution

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 16:39
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis appealed to the consciences of local and international leaders to bring an end to the Syrian tragedy. Speaking during the weekly General Audience in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope said that it is “with horror” that we witness the events that have taken place in Syria. 72 people, including 20 children were killed in a rebel-held town in Idlib province on Tuesday in a chemical gas attack that also injured dozens of civilians.  “I firmly deplore the unacceptable carnage that took place yesterday in Idlib province, where scores of helpless people, including many children, were killed” he said. And while the Pope said he is praying for the victims and their families, he issued an urgent appeal to “the consciences of those who have political responsabilities, on a local and international level, to halt this tragedy and bring relief to the population that has been sorely tried by war for far too long” he said. Pope Francis also encouraged those who, notwithstanding the insecurity, are continuing in their efforts to bring help to the inhabitants of the region.             (from Vatican Radio)...

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