FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT - YEAR A

Readings: First: Is 2, 1-5; Second: Rm 13, 11-14; Gospel: Mt 24, 37-44

Theme of the Readings

Today is the first day of Advent and the beginning of the liturgical year. It is fitting that the key word of this first Sunday is coming. The Gospel reading forms part of the great sermon on the Second Coming of Jesus (Mt 24-25). Isaiah's messianic writing in the first reading casts a prophetic eye on the future, whose historical fulfillment was accomplished in Jesus Christ, especially in his passion, death and resurrection in Jerusalem. It is to Jerusalem, moreover, that all nations and numerous peoples will come, and they will say: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob." Finally, in the letter to the Romans, St. Paul exhorts the faithful to put on Christ, because the night is almost over, and the day is at hand.

Doctrinal Message

In the context of Advent and in preparation for Christmas, the liturgy of today reveals the enormous fact of the incarnation of the Son of God, of the coming of God among men. This coming was promised in the Old Testament and served to prepare Israel and all peoples for the good news of Emmanuel, God with us. It is about God's presence, a coming fulfilled in Jesus who is, at one and the same time, judgment and salvation, condemnation of sin and the giving of new life. This coming is renewed each year in the liturgy of the Church. Finally, it is a future coming, the Second Coming, whose date is a mystery concealed in the wisdom of God, but, for each human being, the Second Coming is realized at the moment of death.

The Second Coming will fill the hearts of Christians with joy. In fact, this coming is about the salvation Christ has brought to each Christian and to all men. With the coming of Christ, humanity has received light and the power of salvation. Notwithstanding the reality that surrounds us, Christian faith teaches that mankind moves toward Christ in search of meaning and salvation in a way known only to God (First reading). This is the foundation of Christian optimism and of the apostolate.

The future coming requires of the Christian a sincere belief in the reality of this coming quite apart from the actual moment of its occurrence. Secondly, it requires a profound attitude of vigilance. The analogy with the time of Noah, and of the thief in the night (Gospel), is an urgent call to vigilance so as not to be deceived by the lures of the present time and the world around us that can be so alien to the ways of the true believer in Christ. This is why St. Paul (Second reading), while awaiting the Second Coming, invites men to come out of the dark, to live in the light, and to put on Christ, in order to be among those who are ready at his Second Coming.

Pastoral Suggestions

God wants all men to be saved. In Christ he has called all peoples and nations to salvation. We are to appreciate all that is good, just and holy in a person, quite apart from his race, culture or creed. St. Thomas teaches that all truth, no matter who expresses it, comes from the Holy Spirit. In keeping with this, and without loss of our identity, we are to be open to dialogue with our separated brethren, with fellow-workers and even with friends who profess non-Christian beliefs. Given that the Church is the sacrament of salvation, we must be committed to the apostolic and missionary action of the Church, both ad intra as well as ad extra. The time of Advent and Christmas is propitious for this: "A Savior is born!"

Vigilance is an eminently Christian virtue. We must practice it, notwithstanding the attractions and appeals of the world we live in, and the passions that nestle in our hearts and tempt us to look down to earth rather than to gaze at heaven. Vigilance on the part of shepherds for their "sheep" means to lead them to good pasture, to search for those who have strayed, to cure the sick, and to feed all with the bread of the Word and the Eucharist. Vigilance on the part of parents for their children means to lead them in the way of the Gospel, and to give them a solid Christian formation. Vigilance on the part of teachers for their students is to show them the path of truth and goodness, to enlighten them in times of darkness, and to support them during trials and difficulties. Belief in the Second Coming of Christ posits a Christian ethic committed to the education of man and the establishment of a society that is ever more noble and welcoming.

SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT - YEAR A

 

Readings: First: Is 11, 1-10; Second: Rm 15, 4-9; Gospel: Mt 3, 1-12

Theme of the Readings

It is the Spirit who is present in the liturgical readings and who unifies them, but it is Christ to whom they refer, for whose coming we are preparing and whose arrival we celebrate at Christmas. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on the Messiah, who will renew the throne of Jesse. It is the Messiah who will baptize in the Spirit and with fire. In the last part of his letter to the Romans, St. Paul gives us the example of Christ to imitate, who gave himself to both Jews and pagans alike, and in so doing infused one heart into all. This Pauline letter ends, "May the power of the Holy Spirit fill you with hope." This is a hope imperfectly satisfied at Christmas, but fulfilled at the Second Coming of the Lord.

Doctrinal Message

St. John the Baptist reminds us of a wonderful truth: we have been baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire. It would do us much good to revive our baptismal spirituality during Advent. In Baptism we have become temples of the Holy Spirit, and we have been enkindled by the fire of the Spirit, which is intimately related to the mission of evangelization. In order to remain temples and fire of the Spirit, there must be constant conversion to the values of the Kingdom, so that now and on Judgment Day we will be grains of wheat, and not chaff to be thrown into the fire.

What are the values of the Kingdom brought by the Messiah to whom men are exhorted to convert? First, there is authentic justice, not based on appearance or hearsay but on rectitude of intention (First Reading). Second, there is genuine peace, made possible by the Messiah who transforms the hearts of men (First reading), uniting Jews and pagans in praise of God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Second reading). Then there is hope in perseverance and in the consolation of the Scriptures, inspired by the Spirit of God. In Scripture man finds all that God wished to reveal for his salvation (Second reading). Lastly there is a life of fruitfulness, because the tree that does not bear fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. May John the Baptist be our model in life: a man of detachment and austerity in his personal life, relentless preacher of the truth of God and of the need for conversion, precursor of the Messiah, for whom he makes the way straight (Gospel).

Pastoral Suggestions

The best way to prepare for Christmas is to allow oneself to be led by the Holy Spirit. The Sunday liturgy is a good time to imprint on the Christian conscience the very real though invisible action of the Spirit: his presence in the soul through grace, and his efficacy in the development and progress of the spiritual life. It is a good time for all Christians to listen attentively to the voice of the Spirit who speaks to us through the events in our day as well as those of the past, through personal circumstances, including friends and acquaintances, through books, the media, and even nature itself. It is a good time, also, to accept and obey with docility and promptness what the Spirit has inspired. It is the Spirit of God who can best prepare us to understand more fully and to live more intensely the mystery of the incarnation and birth of Jesus Christ.

The values of the Kingdom might surprise us at first. We might consider them too high and too beautiful to be implemented in a society where the values are at times almost diametrically opposed, or at least very different. Nevertheless, those values are not and should never be considered utopian. There are many men and women who already live them, who rule their lives and behavior by them. Think of the many members of the laity, of religious and priests who live holy lives! It is quite likely that many among our own group of faithful have these values and daily exert themselves to renewed conversion. Their efforts must be encouraged. We must foster such values in our environment, in our parish, and in our diocese. We must work with great determination so that all men will be won over by them. To the degree there is a sincere conversion to the values of the Kingdom, to that degree will our environment and our parishes change and improve. It is within the power of every Christian to see that the marvelous values of the Kingdom do not remain utopian.

THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT - YEAR A

 

Readings: First: Is 35, 1-6a, 10; Second: Jas 5, 7-10; Gospel: Mt 11, 2-11

Theme of the Readings

As we come closer to the coming of Christ, the liturgy today places us between waiting and hope. John the Baptist was aware of his mission as precursor. He lived in the hope of the Messiah, whose way he prepared, but hope did not give him certainty. This is why he sent emissaries to ask Jesus: "Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?"(Gospel). Jesus answers the Baptist's question by quoting part of one of the most beautiful poems of messianic hope: "The blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor" (First reading and Gospel).

In the second reading, James exhorts us to wait patiently for the coming of the Lord, as the sower waits for the rain to make the seeds germinate. In Judea, those rains are early (beginning of autumn) and late (beginning of spring).

Doctrinal Message

For Christians the coming of the Messiah has changed from waiting to hope. The one and only Messiah, Jesus Christ, fulfilled the expectations of men in his historical coming two thousand years ago. Thus in the minds and hearts of Christians there can be no waiting for another Messiah, notwithstanding the fact that every now and again voices are heard to the contrary. As Christians we can be certain these are false messiahs, invented for selfish or ulterior motives.

We Christians do not live by waiting but by hope because Jesus, Messiah and Savior of the world, is a wonderful mystery of presence and absence, of humanity and divinity, or possession and intense desire. Christmas both recalls and activates the fulfillment of the waiting, while referring us simultaneously to a hidden and unexpected coming, which can only be the object of a loving and sincere hope, a hope not based on a dream, but in the experience of a desire partially fulfilled.

We Christians put our hope in the transformation of nature, but above all, in the transformation of humanity and of history. We believe in a new heaven and a new earth, where justice reigns. In the first part of his poem Isaiah wrote: "Let the wilderness and the dry-lands exult, let wasteland rejoice and bloom" (First reading). Jesus does not quote this text, but a later one: "The eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf will be unsealed." Let us wait, above all, for the new humanity to be brought into being by the Messiah and continued in those who follow in his footsteps, in his way of life. This is why, perhaps, at the end of the quotation from Isaiah, Jesus adds: "Happy is the man who does not lose faith in me." He was probably referring to John the Baptist and his disciples who had varied opinions on the Messiah. He was also addressing us and our contemporaries who have such difficulty understanding the mind and way of life of the Messiah and Son of God, born in a cave, dedicated to serving mankind and to evangelizing the poor.

Pastoral Suggestions

In our times, we are probably confronted by two pastoral problems regarding Jesus, the Messiah, awaited by the nations. The first is the offer of other messiahs in the form of ideologies, be they religious, materialist, or atheist as, for example, Marxism, a frustrating and deceptive messianic fraud. The second is the presence of other messiahs who, if not concurrent with Christ, have a parallel existence in non-Christian cultures and religions.

Today's liturgy provides an answer to these problems. It is not about giving believers magical prescriptions or formulas to use like arrows against the adversary. Rather, our task as priests is to present the faith of the Church clearly and comprehensively, to defend it in the souls of the faithful, and to clarify the attitudes our faith imposes on us when relating to others who think and believe differently. "To detest error, but to love the errant."

The transformation of the world has already begun. The new nature and humanity are already present in history and in our own experience thanks to the work of recreation and redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ. If we, Christians, live with integrity, we are already new creatures, capable of seeing, of hearing, of walking. We have been cleansed, and have been resurrected to a new life. What an opportunity to make an energetic appeal to a life of Christian integrity!

Sometimes Christians complain about the state of the world, and forget that as Christians we are by vocation called to be the yeast in the dough, the salt of the earth, and the light of the world. If all is not well with the world, it is because not all Christians are light, yeast and salt in this life and in their environment. We Christians have a task to do to maintain humanity's ecology in balance, as well as that of our planet. It will be sad and a great loss if we celebrate Christmas with joy and nostalgia, but fail to increase our evangelical light, or to be more efficacious yeast, or to be salt to preserve goodness, truth and beauty among men.

FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT - YEAR A

 

Readings: First: Is 7, 10-14; Second: Rm 1, 1-7; Gospel: Mt 1, 18-24

 

Theme of the Readings

The word parent expresses the essence of today's readings. It is in Matthew's Gospel that we find its clearest significance. "His Mother Mary, was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit." His wife "gave birth to a son; and he named him Jesus." It is a question of parents enlisted in the mysterious action of God in history. Mary, being a virgin, conceived by the power of the Spirit, thus fulfilling Isaiahís messianic prophecy (First reading). Joseph is a just man. He accepts and respects the mystery of God, but is bewildered by what God is asking of him. God gives him an answer: "Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife.... She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus." Thus, through Joseph, Jesus as man was born from the stock of David.

Doctrinal Message

What does God's Word tell us about the parents of Jesus? About Mary we are told that she was a virgin who conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. In Matthew's Gospel, it is understood that Mary's virginity was prophesied in Is 7, 10-14. Thus it follows on one hand the intention of the sacred author who wrote the "Book of Emmanuel" (Is 7, 1 - 12, 6), placing this text in a context that transcends the particular historical phenomenon. On the other, it also follows an old Jewish tradition of several centuries that refers to the sign given by Isaiah to Ahaz (the Hebrew word "almah" means young maiden), probably referring to the son who would be born to the king, that is, Hezekiah, to confirm the promise that Yahweh made to David's dynasty.

The Virgin Mary conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. In this phrase Matthew reveals the origin of the son of Mary. According to some manuscripts, years later St. John would write in the prologue to his Gospel: "Who was born not out of human stock... or of the will of man but of God himself" (Jn 1:13). Matthew's reference does not give a negative idea of sexuality or of the generative act. Rather, he emphasizes the origin of him who was conceived, so that men would know and accept with ease that Mary's son is God's Son.

Joseph is called just. According to the times, this word meant that he lived in obedience to the precepts of the law of Yahweh, and sought God's will in all things. Being just, Joseph never doubted Mary's virginity. His concern was to know exactly what God wanted from him in the circumstances that were so unique and mysterious. God, who is faithful, revealed to him his role of putative father, by which Jesus' descent from the line of David was confirmed.

Both Mary and Joseph had a vocation to fulfill. Mary, a virgin, was called to be the Mother of God. Joseph, being just, was called to be the "father" of God. Both were bewildered when they were called, but both took recourse to God, and God introduced them to the truth of the mystery. Trusting in God, Mary and Joseph said yes, with a generous heart, each willing to fulfill the mission God entrusted to them.

Pastoral Suggestions

Given the current social situation, today's liturgy gives food for reflection. We are finding more and more frequently the phenomena of unwed mothers, parents who are separated and whose children suffer the parental conflict, divorced fathers who re-marry, single-parent adoptions, and adoptions by homosexual couples. These are difficult and complicated situations. The Church must have a mother's heart with those who ask for her help, but she must also speak with clarity and firmness. Among other things, we must defend the right of children to have parents, both a father and a mother. In the psychological development of the child, as well as human and spiritual education, both father and mother have a role to play. The absence of either parent can damage the integral, harmonious development of the child.

We are called into existence by God to fulfill a mission. It is import that all Christians see life in this way, not just priests and religious. There is the vocation to marriage and to virginity. Within each vocation, there is a common mission: to be saints and to cooperate with the mission of the Church, but there are many and varied ways of fulfilling this mission. The first mission of parents is life: to love life, to bring new lives into existence, to form these lives in faith and love, to support all that enhances human life, its quality and development, and to oppose all onslaughts on life through prayer and legitimate means. Parents have the mission of witnessing to cohesion and responsibility in the family, in their work, in the day-to-day living of the faith. Children need witnesses more than they do teachers; better still, they need teachers who are genuine witnesses.

8 DECEMBER: THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF MARY - YEAR A

 

Readings: First: Gen 3, 9-15. 20; Second: Eph 1, 3-6, 11-12; Gospel: Lk 1: 26-38.

 

Theme of the Readings

The divine initiative, full of mercy and love, seems to be the theme of today's readings. In the first reading, it is God who both asks and decides what the punishment will be for man's sin and who promises salvation. The promise that God made to Adam and Eve in paradise after centuries of preparation, he fulfilled in his Son, who accepts to become incarnate and be the new Adam. He accomplishes it as well in Mary, who accepts to be the Mother of God, and the new Eve (Gospel). With the coming of Christ into the world, with his life, death and resurrection, the Father has blessed us with all kinds of spiritual goods (Second reading). In the divine plan for salvation, all initiative comes from God and in him it achieves is ultimate end.

Doctrinal Message

Sin and salvation are two realities and two concepts that are found in all religions because they are present in the depth of every human heart. Anyone who analyzes his conscience perceives himself to be a sinner (no matter what terms are used) in need of salvation. This universal experience finds its paradigm and foundation in the first reading. Man has wanted to be God, and in his attempt has realized he "is only man" (limited in every way), and that disorder has entered into his relationship with God, with Eve, and with creation. Wanting to be "like God," the "death of God" in his heart, becomes the death of man. Through Adam sin came into the world. The subsequent chapters in Genesis and in general all the books of the Old Testament speak with great eloquence about the presence, growth, and destructive force of sin.

However, God is a Father, and looks at man with a Father's love. Even from the first moment of Adam's sin, God takes the initiative to find a way to offer man his salvation. In Genesis, the promise is made. The promise takes its first steps towards fulfillment in Noah, and then in Abraham, the patriarchs, Moses, and the Prophets. It arrives at its fulfillment in the angel's announcement to Mary: "You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus" (Gospel). According to Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, this salvation covers the following aspects (second reading): to be a chosen people, to be adopted sons through Jesus Christ, and to be a hymn of praise to his glory. Saved from sin, man will not envy God, as was the case with Adam. Free from the desire to be superhuman, man will be happy to praise and glorify God.

Mary, immaculate, in her birth, by the merits of her Son, repeats the original experience of paradise, the original experience of Adam and Eve. This is why the Church, enlightened by the Spirit, has seen in Mary the woman who wounds the serpent's head (First reading), and saw the fulfillment of this prophetic promise a the moment of the annunciation of the angel (Gospel). Mary's "yes" to God's will corresponds to Eve's no to the divine precept. In this way, in intimate union with her Son, she contributes to the salvation of her descendants.

To Mary, in a most sublime way, the Pauline hymn in the beginning of Ephesians can be personally applied: "Before the world was made, he chose me in Christ to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence.... Such is the richness of grace which he has showered on me ... to make his glory praised."

Pastoral Proposal

In our present world we can experience strong evidence of sin, of human misery, of defeat and despair. For example there can be any of the following: to have lost the sense of life, to consider oneself useless with no role in this world, to hate oneself to the point of wishing to commit suicide, to live drowning in the marsh of the ego, to experience everything because one can never find what one desires and thus living with an eternal sense of dissatisfaction, to live the experience of sin, lust, pride, hatred, atheism, and to be increasingly sunk in the belief that there is no way out.

These experiences, found in concrete cases or in less dramatic experiences of sin, are a great reference point for a pastoral proposal on Christ the Redeemer of man, who becomes our brother, and who never abandons us in our journey through life. Let us repeat with the liturgy of Advent: "Courage! Our redemption is at hand." Yes, Christmas is already upon us. Jesus Christ is knocking at the door of the world, and on the heart of each man, to offer him his peace, his love, and his salvation.

The Christian woman in our world is adopting attitudes and ideas on womanhood, femininity, her role in the home, in culture, at work, in society, that do not always honor the person of woman. In today's marketplace, we see the model of the "emancipated" woman who is a law unto herself, the model of the "professional" who sacrifices marriage and motherhood for her profession, and the model of the liberal woman in her ideas, behavior and attitude toward God, life and society. As regards attitudes, there is the woman who vindicates equality between the sexes, the woman who sees in the opposite sex, beyond a partner or complement, an adversary; then the lay woman who suffocates her religious soul under a misunderstood feminism.

These models and attitudes and other similar things, threaten the Christian woman of today. In preparation for Christmas, the feast of the Immaculate Conception offers a great opportunity to hold Mary up as a model of womanhood with no false devotion or piety: Mary, who loves both virginity and maternity; Mary, in whose faith not all is clear straight away; Mary, who looks for explanations in order to decide and act with responsibility; and, Mary, who gives a generous yes to her "mission" in life.

DECEMBER 25: MIDNIGHT MASS

 

Readings: First: Is 9, 1-3, 5-6; Second: Tit 2, 11-14; Gospel: Lk 2, 1-14

Theme of the Readings

Among the various reference points these readings offer in common, I have selected the most salient: birth. The angels announced to the shepherds: "Today, in the city of David, a Savior has been born to you, the Lord, who is the Messiah" (Gospel). The text of St. Luke is an echo of the first reading in which Isaiah proclaims, prophetically, the birth of the Messiah: "A child is born to us, a son is given to us." In the second reading St. Paul grounds the ethical conduct and motivation of Christians in the grace of God, which brings salvation to all men, and which has been made visible in the birth and the life of Jesus Christ.

Doctrinal Message

In writing about the birth of Jesus, St. Luke highlights two dimensions of his existence: the human and the divine. Jesus is man. He is born in a historically determined time, with a documented genealogy, in a geographically known city, and under circumstances which identify him with the poor of Palestine. St. Luke gives a rich description of the humanity of Jesus when he writes about Mary. Her time being fulfilled, she gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger. All these actions emphasize that the humanity of Jesus was entirely like our own.

In giving a rich account of the humanity of Jesus, St. Luke, the evangelist of and for the community, could not neglect his divinity. In the child born of Mary the messianic prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled. "His name is Mighty God," an exclusive name of Yahweh in the Old Testament. Moreover, God through his angel, makes known the titles of the child: Savior, Messiah, Lord and, implicitly, God, because only God has the power to save. He is Messiah in as much as he is the Savior of the Jews. He is Lord, in so far as he is the Savior of the pagan world, for whom the title Lord was generally reserved for the divinity. Finally, an angelic choir, not a human one, praises and glorifies God for the birth of the child. By this fact, St. Luke points out that the child is greater than the angels, that he is God.

In Jesus, humanity and divinity coexist harmoniously, perfectly. He is simultaneously "Perfectus Deus, perfectus homo." The same traits, that Isaiah praises in the future Messiah, demonstrate the perfect harmony between the human and the divine: "prudent Counselor, mighty God, eternal Father, Prince of peace." In the second reading, St. Paul exhorts Christians not to separate the divine from the human, faith from life, or ethical truth from dogmatic truth. The Christian is fully man and appropriates all that is good in man (see Tit 2, 1-10, a list of duties taken from the Stoics). At the same time, the Christian will never separate his existence in the world from his faith in Jesus Christ, and from the mystery of salvation which he represents and makes efficacious for men (Second reading). The birth of the Son of God and his saving power do not change the good actions of man in their ethical make up, but gives them a new meaning by penetrating them with the vivifying sap of the Gospel.

Pastoral Suggestions

It might be that in some Christian communities the humanity of Jesus is stressed, creating a model of perfect existence, while virtually neglecting the divinity of the Child. In other communities, it is possible that the divinity of the Child is emphasized, to the neglect of his marvelous humanity.

In face of this dual possibility, today provides the occasion for a catechesis which maintains a balance and harmony between the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ, and from which we can draw concrete, practical applications for the life of the Christian. For example, we seek not only to adore the Child but, at the same time, to imitate him. Second, we are convinced that the Christian is called to live the dual dimension of the mystery: to be and to live as an adopted son of God and, at the same time, to be and to live as man, in the fullness and perfection that each implies. We are aware that there is no dichotomyĖnor can there ever beĖbetween the truths of faith and the concrete reality of existence. If such a dichotomy does seem to exist, it must be undone because it is false, and the point of balance must be found (for example in complying with and respecting fiscal laws, and the laws which govern and rule the nation, etc.). The second reading teaches us to renounce a life without religion, to deny worldly desires, and to live in the present with moderation, justice and religiosity.

In our community there are, no doubt, more poor people than rich, and perhaps Christians who do not have abundant goods but who are not in need. The socio-economic state of people is not going to be changes by Christianity, although it might improve it. Perhaps the best way to grow is for Christians to consider poverty not as an evil which must be endured (of if it is another's poverty that must be alleviated), but as something of very great value which must be loved and, if possible, lived. A businessman can love and embrace poverty, although his way will be different from the poverty of a worker in his company. A professional can love and live poverty, but in a different way from the person who is unemployed or who has not yet found his first job. The ways of being poor, of living in poverty can vary, but all Christians must prize poverty. They must have the will to apply it in their lives, being aware that we are not owners but administrators of goods that God has given us for our own use, for our families and the service of others. On the goods of this world there is a social mortgage, wrote John Paul II in Sollicitudo rei socialis.

DECEMBER 25: MASS OF THE DAY

 

Readings: First: Is 52, 7-10; Second: Heb 1, 1-6; Gospel: Jn 1, 1-18.

Theme of the Readings

The Word unifies the various readings of todayís liturgy. The Word of God has made use of many intermediaries in the course of the history of salvation. This is what we are told in the second reading ("After speaking many times and in various ways to our forefathers through the prophets"), and also what we can be appreciated in the first reading ("how beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings the good news and proclaims salvation!"). This Word of God was not an idea, nor a symbol nor an anthropomorphism, but a divine person who has been speaking to men through creation, through history, and on this day, in a supreme expression of love and humility, becomes incarnate. Without ceasing to be Word of God, he begins to be a "human word," as well. "And the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us" (Gospel), a Word superior to that of Moses and of the Law (Gospel), superior to the angels themselves and to all of creation (Second reading).

Doctrinal Message

In human experience, the word does not exist except when there is another person to whom it can be directed and who can respond, thus giving origin to dialogue. From the very beginnings of humanity, God entered into dialogue with man: he came down to paradise in the evenings to speak with Adam and Eve, and notwithstanding the often unworthy reply from man, God never closed that loving dialogue. What is more, he made use of the most varied resources (visions, oracles, punishments, prophecies, promises, and blessings) so that the dialogue would not be interrupted and so that manís reply would be less unworthy of God. The Word of God has never failed and never will, because God is faithful. In his supreme expression of love and faithfulness he is incarnate in the man Jesus, becoming completely the Word of God in a human word, so that the dialogue with man would be perfect, more effective, more total.

Throughout the centuries, the Word of God was never neutral. It was a Word of love that desired a response in love. It was a Word of truth that sought a sincere response. It was a Word concerned with the good of the one spoken to man, that looked for a corresponding response from man. It was a Word of gift that desired acceptance. It was a Word of mercy and pardon that awaited conversion. It was a Word of solidarity, to the extent that it became flesh, expecting gratitude and a joyful welcome, etc.

In this dialogue between God and man, how many, how very many times man has sought to deceive God, and has rejected his Word! Yet, how many have received it and made it their own, and corresponded to it like Mary and Joseph! On this Christmas Day, the Word of God speaks to us in the humanity of the Child Jesus. The dialogue between God and man continues today. Each believer, and all of humanity, must give a response.

Pastoral Suggestions

Christians of today, as all men in general, are bombarded by thousands and millions of words every day by the power and efficiency of the social means of communication (radio, press, telephone, television, internet), and according to their social status, in the home, office, place of work, parish, club, or social gathering.

In many cases there are indeed words, but there is no communication: a greeting, a comment on the weather, a question, a good-bye Ö and no more. In many other cases, the answer to the other person is poor, very limited. There are also those occasions when there is genuine dialogue, that is, when intimacies are exchanged (thought, heart, will, sensibility), which open and give themselves mutually in different ways and degrees, according to the relationship existing between them: spouses, friends, brothers, fellow workers, professionals.

In face of the enormous multiplicity of words that can be heard daily, one runs the risk of adopting a superficial or indifferent attitude, even when the person speaking might well be the Word of God. We read and listen to the Word of God in the Bible, in the Eucharistic, and sacramental liturgy but it could be that it slides off us like a television program. Perhaps Christians are no longer aware that the Word of God is different from the human word: God is always looking for dialogue, for a meeting, appealing to the conscience of men with the gift of salvation that the Word brings with him. All this has great validity at Christmas when the Word of God is made flesh, becomes a Child who speaks not with words but with silence and with life. That word, that God-child is crying out to all of us that the love of God is marvelous, surprising, and extraordinarily faithful. How will we respond to this child who appeals to our liberty, our love, and our conscience from the stable of Bethlehem?

SUNDAY WITHIN THE OCTAVE OF CHRISTMAS: THE HOLY FAMILY

 

Readings: First: Sir 3, 3-7, 14-17a; Second: Col 3, 12-21; Gospel: Mt 2, 13-15, 19-23

 

Theme of the Readings

Father, mother, child, spouses, that is, the familyĖthere could not be another more apt word for this Sunday in which the Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Family. The Gospel insists on the need of parents to be dedicated to their children. Twice Joseph hears the voice of God through an angel telling him: "Get up, take the child and his mother," and Joseph obeys without delay and with joy. The first reading exhorts children to be dedicated to their parents, highlighting the fruits that this will bear: "The one who honors his father obtains forgiveness for his sins, the one who respects his mother gathers treasures." In the letter to the Colossians, St. Paul points out the need for reciprocal dedication: wives to their husbands and husbands to their wives, and children to their parents and parents to their children. Honor, respect, and obedience are the concrete manifestations of a higher reality, which is most proper of the human family, and especially of the Christian family: love.

Doctrinal Message

The family certainly existed before Christianity, that is why being a family and forming a family are situations ruled by universal principles valid for all men. These principles are set forth in different texts of the Old Testament with expressions suitable to the mentality, specific culture, and moment of history. The text in the first reading from the book of Sirach is concerned with the relationship of children to parents: honor and respect, obedience and help, and also tenderness. These are values valid for all, independent of religion, culture, social status, or the variety of historic expressions these values have acquired. Children are and form a family by these values.

The Gospel of St. Matthew looks at the relationship among father, mother, and child. He points to the care of child and of mother as obedience to God, who has shared with the father his "authority." With both parents there is a need for promptness in faithful obedience, prudence in action in finding a stable, secure home for the family. These are the universal functions of parents, valid for all fathers and mothers. There is, however, a NEW element, which is the moving force in Josephís life. He does not act impelled by nature (ties of affection, consanguinity, tendencies, etc.), but, rather, he is concerned with the will of God. The question Joseph might well have asked himself could be formulated thus: What does God want me to do to be a good father to Jesus and a good husband to Mary? Through the values already mentioned, but especially because of his desire to do Godís will, Joseph formed a family.

St. Paul dedicates chapter 3 of the letter to the Colossians to explain the fundamental effect of baptism, which is new life in Christ. In Col 3, 17 he says: "Everything you do or say, do it in the name of Jesus, the Lord, giving thanks to God through him." This little verse illumines the text of the liturgy of today, referring to family duties in the membersí relations. The respect of the wife for her husband, the love of the husband for his wife, the obedience of the child to the parents, the goodness of the parents toward their children are common values even in their natural ordering, but Christians must live these values "in the name of Jesus, the Lord, in gratitude to God the Father." The expression "in Christ," "in Jesus the Lord" is set against "in Adam," in two texts of St. Paul. Consequently, the values are the same as in Adam (natural order), but the Spirit that animates them, the moral imperative that issues from that Spirit, and the redemptive efficacy of Christ are new and far superior realities. With this new Spirit, this new imperative and this new efficacy, the parents and the children are and form the family, live as a Christian family.

Pastoral Suggestions

The family values present in the liturgy of today (respect, appreciation, obedience, solicitude, care, and mutual love) continue to be valid in our day. The concrete ways of living these values will be different from the past. In your country, parish, diocese, what are the concrete expressions of these family values? How are love and respect expressed between spouses? How is the obedience of children to their parents and of all to God manifested? What forms does mutual goodness between parents and children take? How is parental prudence revealed in the treatment of children?

We must give thought to the fact that these values are often opposed to the supermarket values of the reigning culture and the mass media. In some cases, for example, what is exalted is the rebellion of children, the confrontation between husband and wife, the little interest taken in children, the excessive interest of possessive parents, or the abandonment of parents by the children in centers for the elderly. In the environment in which we move as priests, what are some of these anti-values? What forms of expression do they usually have?

Faced with this reality, the homily and liturgical admonitions of today allow the priest to inculcate the great family values, all of which can be summarized in sincere and disinterested love, and to point out some concrete ways of expressing and manifesting these values. To alert the faithful to the possible anti-values already in existence that threaten family life, and above all, to insure the faithful understand that the true foundation of all these values is Christ and the real model of the Christian family is the family of Jesus of Nazareth.

JANUARY 1: HOLY MARY, MOTHER OF GOD

 

Readings: First: Num 6, 22-27; Second: Gal 4, 4-7; Gospel: Lk 2, 16-21

Theme of the Readings

The theme of todayís readings is the Lordship of God. It acquired its most perfect expression in the fullness of time when God through the incarnation of his Son lets man share in his lordship by adopting him as a son with all the rights this entails. In the blessing from the first reading the word Lord is repeated three times: "The Lord bless you Ö may the Lordís face shine upon you Ö may the Lord show you his face." In the verse preceding the Gospel text of today, the shepherds say to one another: "Let us go to Bethlehem to see that Ö which the Lord has announced to us." Finally, in the letter to the Galatians, the word Lord does not appear, but the concept is very evident. Through the incarnation, the Son of God made himself a slave to the law so that we, who are subject to the law, might be set free and receive the condition of adopted sons of God. As sons we share in the lordship of our Father-God above the law, and become lords of the law.

Doctrinal Message

We are at the beginning of a new year. It would be beautiful to start the year by acknowledging and confessing Godís lordship over men and over history. The first reading expresses a beautiful blessing that was imparted at the end of worship in the temple after having recalled and praised the Lord for the marvels he worked for his people. It is a blessing that joins the past with the future. The Lord who accomplished marvels in the history of Israel will continue to bless his people today. God, therefore, is Lord of the past, but his lordship is prolonged into the future, over all time and all men.

As a contrast to this divine lordship, St. Luke gives his account in Lk 2,11 of the angel who announces to the shepherds the birth of the Savior who is Christ, the Lord. What the eyes of the shepherds see is a baby lying in a manger. What happens to this child eight days later? He undergoes the painful rite of circumcision. Nothing reveals his lordship. Everything seems to confirm his submission to the law. He was, "Born of woman, under the law," as the second reading reminds us.

The truth is that the Son of God, becoming a baby in the womb of Mary and born in Bethlehem, keeps his prerogative as Lord of time and history, but he conceals it. He "empties himself" becoming a slave of the law to free man who was truly its slave. The law represents the whole social and religious system of the peoples before Christ, not just of the Jews. The work of Christ, which frees man from slavery to the law, is the work of all his life, but primarily the Pascal mystery, prefigured in the blood spilt by the child Jesus in circumcision. The Holy Spirit is the one who inspires us, through baptism, with an awareness of our freedom, and consequently of our condition as heirs and lords which we enjoy by God's grace and the merits of Christ (Second reading). With good reason, Jesus Christ is made Lord by his resurrection, by revealing fully the lordship that he had from his birth, but which was concealed. In addition, his lordship is crowned and comes to its fullness when he shares it with his brothers, with men. Not only is he Lord, but also he gives to men the capacity to become lords of the law, of themselves, and of the vicissitudes of history.

Pastoral Suggestions

A humanistic view of Christ is not sufficient. In our world, among our faithful, perhaps even we ourselves, while contemplating Jesus, put the emphasis on his humanity, on what makes it easier for us to relate to him: a child in need of everything like any child in the world, a child belonging to a poor family as so many millions of poor families of our times, a child born away from his village and his home as is the case with so many children of political refugees or immigrants. All this is accurate and just, but unilateral and incomplete, if the more important dimension is not added: his lordship over men, his condition as Son of God.

The Christian lives his faith in the lordship of Jesus Christ, not spinning great ideas on such lordship, but seeking how to proclaim him Lord in the course of the hours and the days. Christ is the Lord of time, of my time. He gives it to me; he can take it from me whenever he wills. We can take this opportunity to reflect on Sundays, the time dedicated to the Lord so that we will honor him by worshipping him, by healthy rest, by enjoying family and friends, and by doing works of charity.

Christ is the Lord of history, of the great events that stun the world, and of the little events in the life of each man, in your life, in mine. Christ is the Lord of that job you have just found or the promotion you have received, the wedding you celebrated two months ago, the child who has been born to you, and the family reunion you celebrated at the end of the year.

Christ is the Lord of men and, as such, he wills that men acknowledge him, obey him, and observe his commandments. He is so good a Lord, that he seeks nothing for himself, but only for the good of men whom, although he is their Lord, he calls and treats them like friends and brothers.

Christ makes us lords and he wants us to behave like lords: lords over ourselves (instincts, disordered passions), and lords over the goods of this world, over pleasures, and over material or spiritual wealth. His will is that we use everything with the soul of a lord, not a slave.

The Virgin Mary, whose divine maternity we celebrate today, is a very simple, beautiful and close icon of God's lordship over her, and of her lordship over herself and over things. She remembers and meditates over the works by which God, as Lord of her life, has led and guided her until the moment of the birth of Jesus, as he guided and led his people over the centuries. She, humble and poor, exercises a marvelous lordship over herself having a heart detached from riches and temporal goods. She knows that God is in control of the strands of history through the action of men. She accepts this and acts in full conformity with God's will.

SECOND SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS

 

Readings: First: Sir 24, 1-4, 12-16; Second: Eph 1, 3-6. 15-18; Gospel: Jn 1, 1-18.

 

Theme of the Readings

I believe the dominant theme of these readings can be expressed in the word incarnation. The Gospel confirms it in simple but striking words: "And the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us." This incarnation of the Word is symbolized and prefigured in Wisdom, to whom the Creator says: "Pitch your tent in Jacob, and make your dwelling in Israel" (Sir 24, 8). This Wisdom has taken root in a glorious people Ö there he has grown like a cedar of Lebanon ... like a palm of Engedi (First reading). The Christian community or Church prolongs the incarnation of the Word in time, thanks to the consent of the Father who has blessed us through Christ with all kinds of spiritual goods, and has adopted us as his sons through Jesus Christ (Second reading).

Doctrinal Message

We are before the most sublime mystery of Christianity: God makes himself "flesh," man, so that man can become God. All the history of salvation moves toward this moment, historically punctual, theologically unfathomable, infinite and eternal. The end of history has been accomplished. Time continues after Christ until it reaches its fullness, and we as Church are within that prolonged period of time, but human history like salvation history has ended at the summit and achieved its purpose. After Christ, there is nothing new, only updating, renewal, return to origins. The incarnation of Christ is truly at the center of history.

The incarnate Word existed before time. Sirach sees it symbolized in the wisdom issued from the mouth of the Most High that like mist covered the earth, acting mysteriously in all the work of creation (First reading). St. John harkens back to "the beginning" and contemplates the Word existing from "the beginning" (that is, from always) with God and creating everything with the Father (Gospel). In the Christian idea of life the pre-existence of Christ is fundamental, as only on this fact is based, and can be based, his pro-existence, that is to say, his presence in history to save man.

The incarnation is the center of history, but the mystery of Christ glorified is its end. St. Paul in the letter to the Ephesians (Second reading) asks God to give us "a spirit of wisdom and a revelation which will allow us to know him fully Ö to know what is the hope to which we have been called, the great glory given in inheritance to his people." Man needs divine light to know that the destiny of history and his own destiny are inseparable from the destiny of Christ, and that in him are his identity and his supreme fulfillment.

Pastoral Suggestions

Among the Christian faithful there can be mistaken ideas on preexistence. Some think that it is about a mystical language that is obsolete, that one cannot be modern and continue to think in pre-scientific categories. For others the existence of Jesus Christ before history is unimportant, be it because they consider it a waste of time to think of these things which are obscure and incomprehensible, or because they are convinced that what matters is their salvation, there unconditional service to mankind. There are many who believe and accept these truths of our faith, but who do not understand them correctly or feel the need to have them clarified simply.

It is therefore good to affirm and explain the preexistence of the incarnate Word. I believe the easiest way is to do this is to speak about life and love. These two values do not die. They are eternal, and that makes it easier for the intelligence to see in the Incarnation the work of divine life and love for man. Secondly, without preexistence there is no incarnation, no redemption. In that case, Jesus would have not been the Son of God, but just a man, an impostor, and humanity would have continued in deception and under the law of sin.

Man lives history, is history. He looks at the past and sees it full of wars, crimes, and hatred. He looks at the present and he seems to conclude that history is the result of compromises and hidden agendas of the powerful more than the rule of eternal values, that history is not governed by ideals but by special interests. A few (and not always the best) rule the destinies of nations, the history of thought, of culture, of the sciences often long lines that are far from morality and religion. All this could make the Christian doubt this magnificent truth of our faith, that "Christ is the center and Lord of history."

A catechesis on the lordship of Christ will help the faithful to recognize and confess with joy and confidence that Christ is Lord of history. The history of the good, its presence, its efficacious force in history is still to be seen, still to be accomplished in its totality, but God has it in mind. The history of the good is not told. It is not in the newspapers, but it exists nevertheless. We Christians must become specialists in talking about the good, and in pointing out possibilities that are within reach.

Although Christ is the Lord of history, that does not mean he takes manís liberty away. The greatness of Christ consists in his being Lord of history while respecting the liberty of man and, consequently, the reality of sin. God directs the history of salvation, working through sin and human error to bring it to its end. The history of man is also the history of salvation, and Christ is at its center. Although it is neither visible nor evident for the most part, it is sufficient to sustain our faith and hope. It is like an iceberg, where only the tip is visible.

JANUARY 6: EPIPHANY OF THE LORD

 

Readings: First: Is 60, 1-6; Second: Eph 3,2-3a. 5-6; Gospel: Mt 2, 1-12

Theme of the Readings

The texts of todayís liturgy converge on the theme of Christian universality. Matthew represents this by the Magi (the non-Jewish world) coming from the East to adore the Child (Gospel). In them was fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, according to which "in your light the peoples shall walk Ö all together and come to you" (First reading). St. Paul, with his penetrating look of faith, rises to the mystery of God that was formerly concealed but is now revealed: "All peoples share the same inheritance, are members of the same body, and share in the same promise made by Christ Jesus through the Gospel" (Second reading).

Doctrinal Message

If one believes that Christ is God, it is easy to accept that he is universal, and that all peoples have their unity, inheritance, and meaning in him. This is why Paul does not hesitate to speak of "a mystery," something beyond the intellectual capacity of man. Isaiah had intuited something of this mystery in his prophetic song, in which he sees the peoples and the kings going to Jerusalem to praise and render homage to Yahweh, making this city the center of all nations.

The evangelist Matthew has meditated, with the Christian community, on the first events of the life of Jesus Christ, and he has done so from the vantagepoint of the Old Testament, in which are found the prophecies that have been fulfilled by the Messiah. For Matthew the prophecy of Is 60, 1-6 (First reading) is fulfilled in the episode of the Magi in Jerusalem, asking after the newly born Messiah. With the fulfillment of the prophecy, the revelation of God brings to light a feature of great importance. The center of the nations is not a city (Jerusalem), but a person: Jesus, the Messiah and Lord.

The progress of peoples toward Christ will not just be that of the Jews who lived in the Diaspora, as seems to be the case in the prophecy of Isaiah, but of everyone, Jews and pagans alike. The peoples will not flock to Jerusalem to worship Yahweh in the temple, but to Bethlehem to adore a child in the arms of his Mother Mary. It is, therefore, about a universality that embraces all peoples, centered on the person of Jesus Christ. Consequently, the center of union and cohesion of all peoples and nations is, in the divine plan, faith in Jesus Christ. On the road to this fullness of faith, there are different possibilities, but for the Christian the mystery of Christ cannot be given up. He is center of man and of history.

Pastoral Suggestions

In the countries of Europe, as on the American continent, generally, the presence and existence of a multiracial, multinational, and multi-religious society is increasing. On the African continent, this multiplicity of peoples, races, ethnic and religious groups is not a new, but a constant phenomenon, at least in the 20th century. On the Asian continent, the general picture is varied, but there is a marked tendency to identify race and religion, religion and nation, religion and culture.

This phenomenon can be lived with great intensity, and can create confusion, disquiet and even conflict for the faithful. It is precisely in this context, on the feast of the Epiphany, that the catechesis on Christian universality is placed. It is important that the catechesis be clear on certain essential points and infuse in the faithful, on one hand, clarity of ideas and, on the other, attitudes of serenity, comprehension, prudence, dialogue and especially charity, the heart of Christian faith.

Christian universality is not negotiable nor can it be discarded, as it belongs to the essence of our faith. Nevertheless, the proposal of this universality can be gradual, keeping in mind the capacity of the recipients. This universality is not a result of reason. Consequently reason does not have the ability to penetrate it. As it is the result of faith, it cannot be imposed by force or by pressures of any kind, it is proposed to a recipient who is free, in a climate of love and friendship or, at least, of mutual and mature respect.

As Christians we cannot silence our faith, manifested in word and in charitable deeds, regardless of the place and circumstances in which our life unfolds. Prudence will dictate how we proceed. Serenity and comprehension will allow us to act without superfluous words or gestures, in sincerity and amiability. Our motivation will be love for the people, and a profound desire for truth.

In practice, a positive attitude of openness and cooperation in social, education, administrative, and cultural matters can be helpful. This collaboration, when the Christian is consequent in his faith, makes people ask questions and brings them closer by opening their minds and hearts to the Christian mystery.

SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY: THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD, YEAR A

 

Readings: First: Is 42, 1-4, 6-7; Second: Acts 10, 34-38; Gospel: Mt 3, 13-17

 

Theme of the Readings

The action of the Holy Spirit is the key concept of the liturgy, an action concentrated on Jesus of Nazareth. During the baptism the Spirit appears like a dove that comes down on Jesus bringing blessing, power, and energy for the fulfillment of the mission (Gospel). The Father is the one who has made the Spirit descend on Jesus, his chosen servant with whom he is well pleased, to bring salvation on earth (First reading). Peter, in proposing the Christian kerygma to Cornelius and those of his household, begins by saying: "I refer to Jesus of Nazareth, whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power" (Second reading).

Doctrinal Message

In the texts that the Church proposes for our reflection and faith, we are not told about the nature of the Spirit, but only about his efficacious action in the soul and work of Jesus of Nazareth.

The action of the Holy Spirit in Jesus after baptism produces marvelous effects. The first is signaled by the image of a dove, the symbol of wisdom, a wisdom that must realize minute by minute the plan of God in the person of Jesus and in history. The second is shown to us by the context: the spiritual energy that will be victorious over temptations and will execute the mission entrusted by the Father with courage and determination during the years of his public life until his passion and death on the cross. The third refers to the Father who, precisely because Jesus humbled himself becoming a servant and being baptized by John, proclaims him "my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," in whom the Father's Spirit rests so that he will bring salvation to the nations (First reading). In a word, the action of the Spirit is sapient, infusing strength for the mission, universal salvation.

The paths chosen by the Holy Spirit are astounding to our mind, which is altogether too human: obedience to what the Father wills that Jesus be baptized (Gospel); the proclamation of salvation with simplicity, without noise or fanfare (First reading); constancy in the labor of proclaiming and carrying out the saving action, "he will not weaken or falter (First reading); the dedication of his life to doing good, all kinds of good, but especially spiritual good, to free man from the power of the devil (Second reading).

Pastoral Suggestions

It is possible that in our communities there are faithful who are very sensitive to the presence and the action of the Holy Spirit, and even some who belong to charismatic groups recognized by the ecclesiastical authority. There can be, as well, faithful who have heard about this topic, without allowing it to make an impression on their faith and daily behavior. There might be others for whom the Holy Spirit is not even a person, but only a name or a symbol of the power of God. Lastly, there will be those who are completely unaware of the Holy Spirit in their daily life.

In preparation for the Great Jubilee, 1998 was dedicated to the Holy Spirit. This made it possible to awaken a greater interest in the teaching of the Church on the Spirit and a more personal and vital relation with his person. The liturgy of the Baptism of the Lord offers the opportunity to continue a catechesis on the relation between Baptism and the Spirit, especially on the effects of the Holy Spirit, received at Baptism, on the spiritual and moral life of Christians.

Through Baptism the Christian becomes a holy temple, a place in which the Spirit dwells and makes his presence felt among men. This means that, because of baptism, every Christian is like a portable monstrance of the Spirit. Are the faithful of your community or parish aware of this truth of our faith? It is not something dense or difficult to understand. It is simply the ABC of the Christian faith, but sometimes people forget the essential, lost as they are in the minutiae of daily living or suffering indigestion from excessive moralizing.

If, through grace, a Christian carries a Host within his soul, the least he can do is think about that Host every day, pay attention to him, listen to him and carry out his good counsels and gentle interior inspirations. We will have to think also that many others (dear ones, fellow workers, members of the party, neighbors, people on the train and bus) are also temples of the Spirit, whom we must respect and love with sincerity. This is not mysticism; it is simply living the most basic reality of our baptism.

It is quite likely that we might have seen the marvelous effects of the Holy Spirit on people in our parish or in members of communities among whom we do our pastoral work. No doubt there are no striking results, at least in the majority of cases, but sufficient evidence that other believers can see and admire. The creativity of the Spirit is infinite and, as a result, its effect on souls is extremely varied. What effects have you noticed with greater frequency among the faithful of your parish or community? Today is a good day to talk about them with simplicity and conviction.

 

SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME -- YEAR AREADINGS First Reading: Is 49: 3,5-6; Second: 1 Cor 1: 1-3 Gospel: Jn 1: 29-34THEME OF THE READINGS In the universal destiny of Jesus, I see the thread running through the three readings. The servant of Yahweh, foreshadowing Jesus, is called a "light to the nations," that salvation might reach to the end of the earth (First Reading). In the Gospel, John the Baptist points to Jesus as "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." Finally, St. Paul says to the Corinthians, "you have been called to be saints together with all those who in every place, call on the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ" (Second Reading).DOCTRINAL MESSAGE At the beginning of ordinary time, the Church invites us to reflect on Christ's salvation, given to all and needing to reach all, to make his Kingdom present among us. The Church has been the community of salvation from the beginning, and wishes to proclaim this truth to the four corners of the earth. Salvation reaches all people through the light of Jesus Christ, who is the light of the world and the servant of Yahweh (First Reading). Light comes from the truth of his message and his life, but especially from his suffering and death on a cross, and from his glorious Resurrection. Salvation reaches all through the Lamb of God, victim who expiates our sins. Jesus is the Paschal lamb who frees all humanity from the slavery of Egypt (Ex 12) that is, from sin. He is the gentle lamb taken to the slaughter for the sacrifice, taking upon himself our sorrows, enduring our sufferings (Is 53). He is the glorious lamb, able to open the book of the seven seals no other can open, and decipher for humanity and for each person the enigmas of history and of human destiny (Rev 5).Baptism is the sacrament God has given his Church to offer the salvation of Jesus Christ to all humanity. John the Baptist tells us, Christ will baptize with water and with the Holy Spirit. The Church will continue the mission of Christ, baptizing in the Spirit. It is the divine Spirit who makes the presence of Christ, the Savior, a reality in humanity throughout the centuries (Gospel).This is why Christians, sanctified by the Spirit in baptism, are those who call on the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, wherever they are (Second Reading). It is the Spirit who puts the name of the Father, "Abba," in our hearts and on our lips, and also the name of Jesus, the Savior. Jesus is Savior of all because all are in need of salvation.PASTORAL SUGGESTIONS 1. We feque€antes€del€s.€III€la€Iglesia€no€perdonaba€los€tres€pecadosÏms€graves,€se€apoyan€en€dos€autores€eclesisticos,€cuyo€testimonioÏvamos€a€examinar:ÌÐ�

`$À!Ę� �ÐĄà

ï

àòòTertulianoóó:€Jurista€catð;ðlico,€da€un€cambio€fuerte€en€su€doctrina.€EnÐ�
 � �Ðel€òòDe€ñ��ñóóòòñ�ñPeniātenātia€óó(200Ą206€d.C.)€su€doctrina€es€catð;ðlica.€En€el€òòDeÐ�
@ � �Ðñ��ñóóòòñ�ñPudicitia€óó(220€d.C.),€ya€siendo€montanista€(una€secta€nacida€a€finalesÐ�
à@� �Ðdel€siglo€II),€cae€en€un€rigorisāmo€exacerābaādo.€Distināgue€dos€grandesÏcategoras€de€pecados:€los€remisibles,€que€pueden€ser€perdonaādosÏpor€el€obispo€despus€de€hecha€la€penitencia€(vgr.€asisātencia€a€especÉľtculos€como€el€circo,€el€teatro,€el€combate€de€gladiadoāres);€y€losÏirremisiābles,€que€no€los€puede€perdonar€ni€la€iglesia€jerrquiāca€de€losÏobisāpos;€sð;ðlamenāte,€aunque€no€se€sabe€con€certeza,€la€misericorādiaÏde€Dios€(vgr.€idolatra,€homiciādio,€fraude,€apostasa,€blasfemia,€y€todoÏpecado€carnal).€Reproācha€a€un€obispo,€al€que€no€nombra,€el€queÏperdone€los€pecados€de€adulterio€y€fornicacið;ðn.€Pero€l€mismoÏreconoce€que€se€ha€separado€de€la€doctrina€catð;ðlica,€a€la€queÏconsidera€poco€espiritual.ÌÌĄà

ï

àòòS.€ñ��ñóóñ�ññ��ñòòñ�ñHipð;ðlito€ñ��ñóóñ�ññ��ñòòñ�ñRomano,óó€mrtir€hacia€el€235.€Fue€un€encarnizaādoÐ�
�

` � �Ðadversario€del€papa€S.€Calixto€(217Ą222).€En€su€obra€òòRefutacið;ðn€deÐ�

� �Ðtodas€las€herejasóó,€acusa€a€Calixto€de€hereja€y€de€culpable€laxismoÐ�
@ � �Ðdisciplinar,€porque€ste€haba€aceptado€como€diconos,€sacerdotesÏy€obispos€a€personas€casadas€en€segundas€nupāñ��ñźñ�ñcias,€tolerado€elÏmatrimonio€de€miembros€del€clero,€y€permitido€a€mujeres€de€la€aristoÉľcracia€casarse,€en€secreto,€con€hombres€de€condicið;ðn€servil€oÏinferior,€lo€cual€las€llevaba€a€abortar.€(A€decir€verdad.€todava€noÏexista€ley€eclesistica€concerāniente€al€celibato,€y€en€cuanto€a€losÏmatrimonios€entre€gente€de€diverso€rango,€estaban€prohibidos€por€laÏley€civil,€pero€no€haba€razð;ðn€para€que€la€Iglesia€los€prohibiera.)€PeroÏla€acusacið;ðn€ms€grave€que€le€hace€es€la€de€"ser€el€primero€queÏimaginð;ð€permitir€a€los€hombres€los€placeres€diciendo€que€l€perdonaÉľba€todos€sus€pecados".€Pero€vamos€a€ver€en€que€consista€esteÏperdð;ðn€que€ofreca€Calixto,€seg-n€el€testimonio€del€mismo€Hipð;ðlito:Ì€ÌĄ€El€perdð;ðn€de€que€habla€Hipð;ðlito€se€refiere€a€los€cristianos€perteneÉľcientes€a€sectas€que€volvan€a€la€Iglesia.€Calixto€los€reciba€conÏbenevoālenācia,€sin€pedirāles€cuenta€de€su€conducta€anterior.€AsÏanimaba€a€otros€a€volver€a€la€Iglesia.ÌÌĄ€No€tena€en€cuenta€las€sanciones€de€que€haban€podido€ser€objetoÏlos€cristianos€disidentes€en€las€sectas€de€donde€provenan.ÌÌĄ€No€tena€en€cuenta€las€faltas€que€haban€provocado€las€sancionesÏen€cuesātið;ðn.€La€readmisið;ðn€a€la€comunið;ðn€con€la€verdadera€Iglesia€eraÏpara€l€prenda€de€la€remiāsið;ðn€de€los€pecados€anteriormente€cometiÉľdos€por€quienes€volvan€con€bueānas€disposiāciones.€ÌÌà

ï

à(San€Cipriano€de€Cartago,€luchando€contra€el€cisma,€procedeār,Ïtreinta€aos€ms€tarde,€de€manera€anloga.)€ÌÌà

ï

àCon€respecto€al€mismo€Hipð;ðlito,€no€resulta€muy€claro€su€rigorisāmo,Ïpues€en€una€obra€que€se€le€atribuye,€la€òòTradicið;ðn€Apostð;ðlicaóó,Ð�
  �-0� �Ðencontramos€la€siguiente€oracið;ðn€para€consagrar€a€un€obispo:Ï"Concdele€Padre,€que€conoces€los€corazoānes...€el€poder€de€perdonarÏlos€pecados€seg-n€tu€encargo...€€y€que€desate€de€toda€atadura€enÏvirtud€del€poder€que€t-€has€dado€a€tus€Apð;ðstoles".€Es€la€primera€vezÏque€encontraāmos€en€un€texto€de€la€Iglesia€antigua,€unidos€y€colocaÉľdos€en€paralelismo,€de€una€manera€tan€clara,€el€poder€de€perdonar€losÐ�
`$À!6� �Ðpecados€(Jn.€20,23)€y€el€de€desatar€(Mt.€18,€18).ÌÌÌò

ò4.€El€perdð;ðn€del€pecado€de€apostasaó

óÐ�
€à9� �ÐÌà

 

àEl€problema€del€perdð;ðn€del€pecado€de€apostasa€no€se€planteð;ð€en€laÏIglesia€de€una€manera€particular€sino€hasta€el€tiempo€de€laÏpersecucið;ðn€de€Decio€(250),€el€cual€impona€a€inth, only a few years after their conversion. They had been baptized, but perhaps they had not understood that Christ alone died for them on a cross, that only in his name had they received baptism. On the other hand, perhaps dark passions made them forget the straight Christian road. The Christian, of course, must live daily in an attitude of conversion.PASTORAL SUGGESTIONS 1. Invite the faithful to a thorough examination of conscience on the true meaning of Christian conversion, the foundation of further growth in the life of faith and of service to one's neighbor. Examine the degree to which their thinking and concerns are converted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Examine the extent to which their daily decisions, attitudes and activities corresponds to those of an authentic Christian, who is free in spirit notwithstanding surrounding pressures. Reflect on the degree their heart is centered on the love of God and neighbor, and not on selfish or prejudiced interests, malformation of a genuine Christian love. Today Christ invites everyone, children, youth and adults, each one according to his possibilities and conditions of life, to this self-reflection, in order to change direction, should it be necessary, and take the road that leads to Life. 2. "Convert us and we shall be converted." Conversion is a work of grace more than muscle or personal effort. God converts us, if we allow ourselves to be converted. It is God who, day after day, offers us the grace of conversion, so that we welcome it in faith, and make it bear fruit by our daily work. Conversion is ascesis, but before that it is mystical, i.e., a personal and intimate relationship with God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth, with Jesus Christ, Redeemer of the world, and with the Holy Spirit, Lord of new life for whomever opens his mind and heart with faith, hope and love. Our cooperation with God in the task of conversion is necessary, and it is often slow and painful, but we must not forget it is God who converts us. It is God who gives us conversion in a concrete experience of the complete gift of his infinite mercy and love.

FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME -- YEAR A READINGS First Reading: Zech 2: 3; 3: 12-13; Second: 1 Cor 1: 26-31 Gospel: Mt 5: 1-12THEME OF READINGS Happiness is the vocation of the Christian. This is the message of today's liturgy, but, we must find out where true happiness lies. The liturgy of today leaves us in no doubt: "I will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly.Ö They shall pasture and lie down, and none shall make them afraid" (First Reading). "Happy are the poor in spirit, the sad, the humble," the Gospel tells us. Lastly, St. Paul says to the Corinthians: "God chose what is foolish in the world, ... what is weak,... what is low and despised, even the things that are not.... Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord DOCTRINAL MESSAGE Man looks for happiness. He does it by instinct, it is his end and, speaking in a Christian vein, his vocation and mission. For the non-believer, or for the person of weak faith, to seek is a natural act, an impulse that must be satisfied. Man looks for happiness relentlessly, including with anguish, and when he finds a ray of it, his whole life is illuminated, at least for an instant. Such a person looks for the sun and finds only a ray which he hopes will last forever, but which disappears as fast as it came. Two attitudes might result from this: to sink into the darkness of despair and indifference, or to begin frenetically again as a new Sisyphus, looking for that happiness barely tasted and so quickly gone. For the believing Christian, happiness is a call, a task, a mission, involving the whole of life in searching for it and possessing it. For the true believer, faith is the root of happiness. The believer searches with peace and joy, and the roots of happiness sink ever deeper into his heart. The believer knows that the quest is not illusory. Eventually he will possess the happiness he seeks. The believer knows als that happiness in faith does not have a lasting place on earth, only in heaven. A non-believer does not know where to look for happiness. Many roads are open, and many "prophets" beckon: "Follow me and I will lead you to happiness Ö" Moreover, within one feels strong instincts and passions Ö and believes that in satisfying them he will possess happiness. The non-believer also has noble ideals, generous and altruistic thoughts, and sometimes begins to look on such a road. He feels the "I" with irresistible force, and its demands for success and triumph. "This is the true road!" an interior voice whispers. He starts, and after several attempts, realizes that all those roads were deceptions; what to do next?The Gospel of Jesus Christ offers the only path to happiness for a Christian, both now and hereafter. It is a simple, sure road: poverty of spirit, humility of heart, simplicity of life, confident abandonment to God, detachment from creatures, the wisdom of the cross. It is an easy and sure way, but which, unfortunately, appears disagreeable, hard and contrary to human nature. Indeed, the beatitudes are not slogans with a market in the world of advertising. The beatitudes are, essentially, the strength and wisdom of God. Only God can teach us where to find true happiness. Happiness is a gift, not a human accomplishment. It is a real possibility, not an utopia. Jesus received this marvelous gift from his Father. He lived, what he later preached. He was happy in poverty, humility, purity of heart, and persecution, and he thirst for justice, and the building of peace. Jesusí best disciples, the saints, walk in his footsteps. They have entered the Kingdom of happiness, lived and preached with Jesus, and once there, they asked and obtained the gift of remaining with him, being admitted as citizens to that mysterious Kingdom. Christ invites Christians today to be happy, but in the way he and the saints understood it.PASTORAL SUGGESTIONS 1. Happiness and faith. There could be persons in our parishes who think and live, although they might not realize it, as if faith and happiness are incompatible. For instance, they might reason thus: "If I want to be happy, I must put faith aside" or "If I want to live my faith, I must forget about happiness." A situation, we might say, where the believer has been prohibited not one but all the trees in paradise. In fact, it is the very opposite. We can taste all the trees in paradise and be happy. Only one is prohibited, and that one is wanting to find happiness wherever we feel like or think is best. The experience of Christian life is quite another: the more deeply one believes, the more the soul expands, and the more capacity there is to embrace the plentitude of happiness, a happiness that ends in God. 2. Witnesses to happiness. There are many cheerful people in the world -- I am referring to healthy cheerfulness, not uncontrolled behavior -- but few who are happy. Cheerfulness can disappear in a flash, it can be present while we feel well, contented, satisfied, optimistic, smiling. Happiness, instead, is lasting. It is the peace of the one who has God and lives in friendship with him, the joy of serving with love without looking at whom but only for Whom we act, interior silence to listen to God and speak with him, the serene look of faith on the events of life and on the difficulties and sorrows of existence, and the hope that never disappoints of the victory of good over evil. Every true Christian is called to be a witness to happiness in the world. Would this not be one of the best ways of changing our surroundings, and the society in which we live?

FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME -- YEAR AREADINGS First Reading: Is 58: 7-10; Second: 1 Cor 2: 1-5 Gospel: Mt 5: 13-16THEME OF THE READINGS "Deeds, not words," such could be the message of this fifth Sunday in ordinary time. "To share your bread Ö to bring the homeless poor into your house, ... when you see the naked, to cover him, ..." these are what pleases God, says the prophet Isaiah (First Reading). In the Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and give glory to your Father." Conscious of the essence of the Christian faith, St. Paul centers his preaching, not on human reasoning, but on the work of Christ: his death on a cross for our salvation, not in eloquence or the ability to persuade, but in the action and power of the Spirit (Second Reading). DOCTRINAL MESSAGE Christianity is faith which acts through charity. Both are necessary and inseparable. Christianity experiences a great tragedy when Christians separate faith and charity: to be a good Christian by faith alone without works, or by works without faith. These are the opposite of true Christianity. Every Christian is salt of the earth, light of the world, a city on a hilltop, thanks to his faith and his works. Salt is the symbol of wisdom, and the Christian has the wisdom of the Gospel. Salt has the capacity to preserve from corruption, and the Christian, as salt, will preserve the milieu in which he lives through the testimony of his works. Light is created to illuminate, and the Christian is light who, with the Word of God, enlightens minds and human situations. One does not light a lamp to cover it. The Christian is this lamp whose good works cannot be hidden, because it would be tantamount to leaving the world in darkness. Like a city on a hilltop guiding the traveler on his journey, so the Christian guides people with his words, with the doctrine of the faith. All find refuge and security in the city. The Christian is refuge and security by his example: a sign of security in the midst of the dangers and uncertainties of life.The first reading gives examples of the works that make the Christian salt, light, and a city on high for men: satisfying the hunger of the needy, housing the homeless, dressing the naked, removing oppression, defeating the temptation to calumniate and accuse. In a word, Christian works are works of justice, solidarity, respect, and charity toward all.No one loves more than the one who gives his life for another. This is the supreme act of love, the work of Christ that Paul shows the Corinthians. This is the truly effective work, beyond all philosophies or persuasive rhetoric. The Corinthians embraced the faith precisely because of the mysterious action of that work in the interior of their hearts, and by the power of the Spirit which gives efficacy to the redeeming work of Jesus Christ.PASTORAL SUGGESTIONS 1. Role of the Christian in contemporary society. The most important activity of the Christian is to proclaim his faith in Jesus Christ, both in words and in deeds. It is not enough to believe, because faith without works is dead, and a dead faith is like the salt that has lost its saltiness, lacking the power to attract or to convince. Are there not such people in our parishes: persons who go to Mass and then speak badly about others; who believe themselves to be fervent Christians, but do not welcome immigrants; who know the Christian doctrine of the sixth commandment very well, but forget to live the fifth, or do not pay their taxes, or pay less than they should? Neither is work alone sufficient, because works without faith cannot save us. It is not genuinely Christian to work for others, and to dedicate oneself to works of aid, while forgetting to pray or to go to Mass on Sundays. It is not sufficient to give money to the poor, help generously in social works, while also finding it "impossible" to believe in the resurrection of the flesh and in eternal life. We must accept the whole of Christianity as taught by Christ, with no exceptions. 2. Cultivate faith, practice works of charity. Given the situation of so many faithful today, it is necessary that the parishes offer and promote courses and activities to grow in the faith, to strengthen it and to defend it in face of possible dangers, either directly or with the help of other institutions (religious congregations, ecclesial movements, associations of Catholic laymen, etc.). It is advisable that parishes themselves promote "organized charity," at the parish or diocesan level, in order to be effective in helping the poor. The ways can vary: collection of clothes or food for those suffering loss or for Caritas, a friendly telephone call, a visit to the elderly and the sick, etc.

SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME -- YEAR AREADINGS First Reading: Sir 15: 15-20; Second: 1 Cor 2: 6-10 Gospel: Mt 5: 20-22, 27-28, 33-34, 37THEME OF THE READINGS Liberty is an eminently Christian virtue and value. Today's readings are centered on true Christian liberty. In the first reading, Sirach makes use of images to demonstrate man's responsibility: "He has placed you before fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you desire. Before a man are life and death; and whichever he chooses will be given to him." In the Gospel, Jesus Christ refers to freedom as the choice of what is singular to Christianity: "You have heard that it was said.... But I say to you Ö" Finally, St. Paul exhorts the Corinthians to choose the higher good, the divine, mysterious, and hidden, which God has revealed to us through his Spirit (Second Reading).DOCTRINAL MESSAGE The catechesis on liberty begins with an explanation of liberty as the capacity to choose. To be a man means to live making choices, choosing between one thing and another, between one form of behavior and another. The little every day choices are guided by the fundamental choice, the choice which Sirach presents clearly through images: a choice between fire and water, life and death, obedience and disobedience of the commandments, grace and sin. In other words, " a choice between right and wrong." This ethical principle is not optional, it is inscribed in the very laws of the human spirit and, therefore, cannot be ignored, without ignoring one's very humanity.This fundamental principle was made more specific in the Decalogue God gave the Jewish people through Moses, but its value is universal, because above all particular circumstances or situations. In today's Gospel, Jesus Christ reminds us of some of these commandments (fifth, sixth and eighth). "You shall not kill." "You shall not commit adultery." "You shall not swear falsely." Human freedom finds in these formulations the evil he must avoid and, implicitly, the good he must pursue: respect for life, faithfulness to one's spouse, the truth. These are principles valid for all men, Christian and non-Christian alike, especially in the negative formulation. Jesus Christ, however, proposes a higher standard in order to exercise freedom in greater perfection. He makes the commandments more specific than the Decalogue. For Christians to opt for anger, insult, personal rejection are evil choices, violating the fifth commandment and attacking sincere love for one's neighbor, the essence of the fifth commandment. In so far as the sixth commandment is concerned, the mere desire of concupiscence is adultery in the heart, a bad use of liberty, for the heart is not pure. Finally, Jesus Christ points to truth and sincerity as better guarantees of honesty than oaths. The Christian, who is truly free, loves truth and goodness. This Christian freedom, which always seeks the best, is not the wisdom of the world. It comes from God, revealed to us through his Spirit. Where the Spirit is, there is true liberty. This wisdom of liberty is neither known nor understood by non-Christians. This is the reason why at times they attack it as irrational and at others admire it as heroic. In any event, it is mysterious and hidden, even for Christians who know it and try to apply it. It is the freedom of the children of God who do not "need" other laws to behave well. As Christians, they have the law of the Spirit.PASTORAL SUGGESTIONS 1. Christian liberty in a pluralistic society requires great discernment. Today the Christian faithful live in religious, political and cultural pluralism. This pluralism can affect the way we see right and wrong, and, consequently, the important options in personal or social life. For a Christian, voluntary abortion is always wrong, but in a pluralist society there are those who think it is a good. For a Christian, prostitution goes against the dignity of woman, but there are those who consider it a "profession," as good and legitimate as any other, etc. This pluralism must not weaken our convictions. It should strengthen them and help us defend our faith and our position, but it must not impel us to fanaticism or intransigence with those who do not share our faith and our morals. Respect for differences, constructive dialogue and, above all, the witness of a coherent Christian life, must be the path we freely choose. 2. The Spirit of freedom. Every Christian, in the right exercise of freedom, acts under the inspiration of the Spirit. Discernment, through the action of the Spirit, and docility to this same Spirit allow the Christian the fullest use of freedom, in taking the step from the good to the best, from what is not commanded by society but which conscience dictates: from simple help to others, to limitless generosity. The more docile the soul to the action of the Holy Spirit , the more free his fundamental options and little every day decisions.

ASH WEDNESDAY -- YEAR AREADINGS First Reading: Joel 2: 12-18; Second: 2 Cor 5: 20 - 6: 2 Gospel: Mt 6: 1-6, 16-18THEME OF THE READINGSToday is the beginning of Lent, a time of penance and reconciliation. The readings of this Wednesday stress, above all, inwardness, a repentant heart, and reconciliation. In the penitential liturgy of the first reading, God tells us through the prophet Joel: "Return to me with all your heart, ... and rend your hearts, and not your garments." In the Gospel, Jesus invites us to put externals to one side and pray, fast. and give alms "in secret," that is, from the interior of our heart. The reconciliation Saint Paul speaks about in the second reading means, above all, creation by another, a remaking of one's interior.DOCTRINAL MESSAGE The greatness or misery of a person is measured by the greatness or misery of his heart. A person is forged in the interior, in good or bad thoughts, in good or evil decisions, in just or unjust behavior, in truthful or deceptive words. Jesus Christ has come into the world to change mankind from within, so that his works are a true expression of his heart. In face of the behavior of his contemporaries, marked by ostentatious display, Jesus assumed an attitude of perfect harmony with his conduct and his teaching. The works that Jesus mentions are good and praiseworthy, but any form of ostentation is to be reproved, because it is not done for God but for human recognition. To "give alms" is a good thing, but to give alms to be appreciated by others and have our generosity praised, is not Christian. "Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing," Jesus Christ warned us. Let us do good for the love of God the Father, whose face is reflected in the poor and those who need our money and our fraternal love. "Prayer" and "fasting"" are two great works, when done with right intention, without wishing to call attention, with the desire to please God the Father and to serve our brothers. True conversion is not in fasting, praying and almsgiving, but in doing these with a renewed heart, free from egoism and personal interests. The attitude of Christ follows upon that of the prophets, especially the text of the prophet Joel, in the first reading. The penitents of those times rent their garments to show their sorrow and repentance. Joel tells them it is far more important to rend their hearts and to sorrow for their sins. As St. Paul points out in the second reading, the early Church followed the attitude and teaching of Jesus Christ. The new creature, emerging from baptism, is reconciled with God through Jesus Christ. The Apostles, who continue the work of Christ, are the ministers of reconciliation. In regard to the minister, he exhorts: "We entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain." This is a very appropriate exhortation at the beginning of Lent.PASTORAL SUGGESTIONS We are taking giant steps toward the Great Jubilee of the year 2000. Characteristic of the Jubilee is the spiritual joy that comes from the great gifts of the mystery of the Incarnation. However, prior to spiritual joy is the need for conversion, for the purification of our life, at least grazed by, if not sunk in, the darkness and sadness of sin. In order to express conversion and to obtain interior purity, the Church proposed certain means: a pilgrimage to Rome, the Holy Land, or the Cathedral Church. To be a pilgrim is to be on the road to the Father's house " is an exercise of practical asceticism, of repentence for human weakness, of constant vigilance over oneís own frailty" (Incarnationis Mysterium, 7). To be a pilgrim is to recognize our need for a Father who comes to meet us, forgiving us and re-establishing us in the dignity of being his children. Another means the Church offers is the holy door, which evokes " the passage from sin to grace which every Christian is called to accomplish" (IM, 8). As we are all sinners, we are all called to take this step, to enter through this door of grace and mercy. The holy door is Jesus Christ: to cross it means to confess our faith in him and his doctrine, as it has been transmitted by the Church through the two millennia. This holy door, which is Jesus Christ, gives us access to the Church, founded by him as a sign and instrument of union with God and with the whole human race. Christ and the Church, inseparably united, to save mankind. Why are we so awkward sometimes and insist on separating them?The last means the Church gives us in her maternal solicitude are the indulgences, the traditional name for "the fullness of the Father's mercy, who offers everyone his love, expressed primarily in the forgiveness of sins" (IM, 9). The indulgences must not be separated from conversion of heart, divine mercy, the sacrament of penance, or the joy of forgiveness and grace. Only in this spiritual and ecclesial context are they properly understood and their saving effect activated. It is important, therefore, to explain well the concept of indulgences to the faithful, and the concrete way in which they can obtain a plenary indulgence, in keeping with the dispositions set out by the Apostolic Penitentiary.

FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT -- YEAR AREADINGS First Reading: Gen 2: 7-9; 3: 1-7; Second: Rom 5: 12-19 Gospel: Mt 4: 1-11THEME OF THE READINGS The word temptation seems to be key in the daily liturgy. The serpent tempts Adam and Eve through cunning, as the first reading mentions. At the beginning of his public life, Jesus is tempted by the devil in the desert (Gospel). However, whereas Adam and Eve gave in to temptation, making themselves blameworthy for their sin, Jesus conquered temptation, freeing us from the guilt of sin (Second Reading). Thus Jesus becomes the true Adam, the very ideal of humanity loved by God.DOCTRINAL MESSAGE Temptation is a fact of human experience. From the moment a person has the use of reason and is responsible and free, from that moment evil in all its innumerable varieties, and the Evil One in all his cunning, can irrupt in oneís life with attractive and seductive force. There is no temptation from which one is immune on earth, as liberty is universal and the Tempter is the "prince of this world" who only wishes evil. Adam and Eve had a double temptation: they wanted complete autonomy in knowledge and absolute lordship over life. From the beginning of humanity until its end, mankind desires unlimited knowledge, to command life at will. One prefers to stretch his hand to the forbidden tree, than to enjoy serenely and happily what is allowed. One believes God has prohibited things because he does not will oneís good, and wants to keep mankind subjected and submissive, like a tame dog. Mankind sees God, therefore, not as a Father but as a rival and an enemy. The truth is the very opposite: if God prohibits something, it is because he loves us and knows the forbidden will harm us. Sadly, man was not convinced, did not trust, stretched his hand toward the tree Ö and saw himself in all the nakedness of his misery, of his destructive pride, and of his false and malignant liberty. The consequences of sin are experienced by every person in their own flesh. Jesus, a man like us in all things but sin, also suffered temptations from the devil. Jesus was tempted several times in his life, but Saint Matthew concentrates on the temptation he suffered before beginning his public ministry. He was tempted in the same way as the people of Israel when crossing the desert toward the Promised Land: tempted to power, to seeming, to having, and to possessing. The people of Israel succumbed to the temptations, but Jesus was victorious. According to Saint Augustine, in him we have conquered our temptations, if we behave like him, that is, if we fast, pray and do penance. In essence, the great temptation of man has been, in his smallness, to appear to be great, "like God," to believe himself, and to seem to others to be, a god. The great teaching of Jesus Christ is that, although he had the very greatness of God, he became little, like man, to the point of being subject to temptation. Adam and the people of Israel manifested their smallness and nothingness in face of temptation. Jesus, on the other hand, at that very moment revealed all his greatness. Consequently, as through Adam sin entered the world, through Jesus Christ, true prototype of man, redemption has come to the world.PASTORAL SUGGESTIONS The ways one is tempted depend a lot on personality, on the environment in which one moves, on the stage of life, on legal or professional status, and on circumstances and situations. Nevertheless, temptation is just around the corner, waiting to strike any one, when least expected. On temptation, it is important to stress anyone can be tempted at any stage in life; it must not be thought temptations are limited to the young. Lent offers a good opportunity to analyze the topics of temptation and sin in many areas of human activity: the temptation of "another religion," to one that is easier and more pleasing, or the temptation to idolatry of gods made by human hands, the temptation to rebellion and to civil or ecclesial disobedience, the temptation to dissent for the sake of dissenting, the temptation to lie, to corruption, to adultery, to abortion, to sex without love, etc. These and many other temptations beset us and our brothers and sisters.. An in-depth catechesis on temptation is a catechesis on freedom and responsibility before God, our own conscience, and others. It is precisely in temptation one shows whether or not one is truly free, that is, that if freedom is used correctly. Today the tendency is to take responsibility away from man for his actions, chalking up to surroundings, psychological weaknesses and abnormalities, "innocent kids' stuff," what is, in fact, blameworthy. Without removing altogether the weight such reasons might carry, I believe society must react, and instead of decreasing responsibility, make an effort to develop people who are truly free and responsible for their actions. Otherwise, instead of improving society, we will let it fall, with greater or lesser culpability on our part, into recklessness and irresponsibility.

SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT -- YEAR AREADINGS First Reading: Gen 12: 1-4; Second: 2 Tim 1: 8-10 Gospel: Mt 17: 1-9THEME OF THE READINGS I want to emphasize, as the theme of the readings, the word vocation. God calls Abram out of his land to go to the land he will indicate (First Reading). Jesus reveals to three of his disciples, in a singular and divine experience, his vocation as new Moses and new Elijah (Gospel). Finally St. Paul reminds his disciple Timothy about the holy vocation God has given him, which must be a source of confidence in the power of God to the point of suffering for the Gospel (Second Reading).DOCTRINAL MESSAGE In the Christian idea of life, every person is "called," receives their own vocation from God, and the qualities and graces to undertake it. Vocation to matrimony, to the religious life, to the priesthood; vocation to give glory to God and to serve one's neighbor as a doctor, worker, journalist, farmer, professor of theology, parish priest, social worker, military or hospital chaplain. God the Father, in his loving care, gives each one the qualities, circumstances and graces to fulfill their vocation. Abram lived peacefully in Ur, the land of the Chaldeans. It was a culture, perhaps the most advanced of the time, with a technical development of very high standards, admired by all peoples. Then God burst into that tranquil, humanly satisfying life, and called him to leave everything to implement "a dream of God," something Abram neither saw nor could imagine: to establish a new people in a distant, undeveloped land more than 1,500 kilometers away. Abram believed, had confidence in God, and responded in freedom and greatness of spirit to the vocation God had given him. As a result, God blessed him and made him father of all believers and founder of the people of Israel. Jesus has come to this world "to do the will of his Father," and to manifest to all the incredible love of God. Jesus' vocation is described in the Gospels and in the New Testament in a variety of ways, as the new Adam, a figure of Isaac, as the incarnation of Wisdom, etc. In the transfiguration, as narrated by St. Matthew, Jesus is seen by his three disciples in between Moses and Elijah, as the new legislator who will give men the one, unique commandment to love, a synthesis of all the rest, and as new prophet proclaiming the secrets of the heart of his Father, God. As new Moses and new Elijah he fulfills his vocation and manifests the love of the Father. Paul's disciple Timothy has received a holy vocation: to be guide to the Christian community and lead it by the way of virtue and the will of God. To carry this out, he has received the imposition of hands. It is a hard vocation, especially in times of persecution. Paul asks him not to be ashamed to witness to Jesus Christ by his word and, if necessary, by his suffering. To conduct himself in this manner, Timothy needs the certainty that his vocation is not his own choice, but a grace from God, an entirely efficacious grace manifested in Jesus Christ who has destroyed death and made life and immortality radiate.PASTORAL SUGGESTIONS It is very important every Christian knows and is convinced of "having received a vocation," of having been called into life for a mission; whether large or small is unimportant. Lent is a time of conversion, but also of reflection, reflection on one's existence, on the meaning of life, on the reason for being in the world, by way of preparation for, and in the light of, the paschal mystery (Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ). This awareness of vocation is important in order to help people not to "feel alone," because he who sends is close to the one sent, walking at their side through life. Oneís vocation, no matter what it is, is always ecclesial: in the Church and at the service of the Church. A vocation should infuse excitement and enthusiasm into daily life. One does not just "let things happen," but lives oneís vocation consciously and joyfully, with the hope of completing life's project, and of constructing, along with other Christians, a better world. Finally, to think of life in terms of a vocation gives energy and hope for the future, in the certainty that the God who calls is the same one who waits for us, with the open arms of the Father, at the end of the road.. Awareness of one's own, intimate vocation does not exempt one from difficulties or, for that matter, from joys. The figures of Abram, Timothy, and especially Jesus, the liturgy gives us are eloquent. In writing about the transfiguration, St. Luke says Moses and Elijah were speaking "of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem," in other words, his Passion. Like Abram and Timothy, Jesus teaches us to be courageous and generous in face of difficulties, and to have extreme confidence in God, with the certainty we will be helped and blessed by him. As pastors, we must be able to discern the different vocations of the faithful, the difficulties they find in carrying them out; they will need to be accompanied on their daily journey, in their sorrows as well as in their joys. Is it not, after all, the essence of a pastorís vocation to sustain and stimulate the vocation of each of the faithful?

THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT -- YEAR AREADINGS First Reading: Ex 17: 3-7; Second: Rom 5: 1-2. 5-8 Gospel: Jn 4: 5-42THEME OF THE READINGS The active and efficacious presence of God in the history of salvation and in the life of mankind can be considered the unifying concept in the liturgy of this third Sunday in Lent. The Israelites are walking through the desert toward the Promised Land, and they are dying of thirst. God intervenes, and through the action of Moses, abundant waters spring from the rock of mount Horeb (First Reading). In the meeting with the Samaritan woman and with the inhabitants of Sychar, Jesus reveals he is the gift of God, the presence of God among the people: the water that slakes the thirst of the human heart, the presence and efficacious word who transforms from within those who see him and listen to him (Gospel). In the letter to the Romans, St. Paul wrote: "Godís love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit." God is present in man through the Spirit, pouring himself like water into the human heart (Second Reading).

 

DOCTRINAL MESSAGE

The history of salvation, in which we are immersed, is the theological expression of the divine initiative and of his loving presence and dialogue with mankind. God who "created" the people of Israel, does not abandon them in their need, but fulfills his promise of fidelity in the pact of alliance and accompanies them with his power in their wanderings through the desert. This divine presence is not always "visible." In fact, the opposite seems true: that God has forgotten his people, and the latter cry out in hunger and thirst in nostalgia for the past. God is moved and intervenes effectively by sending manna, abundance of water, quail, the hope of a "land of milk and honey." Then the people realize God is truly faithful and renews its confidence in him and his elect: Moses, Joshua, etc.

The Samaritan woman, and her countrymen, seem abandoned by God, as for centuries they have left the true worship of Yahweh and followed the gods of other peoples, renouncing Yahweh, the only God, and their Jewish identity (cf. 2 Kg 17, 28-31). They are religious persons, but have allowed themselves to be influenced by idolatry, they do not know the true God or where and how to worship him. Nevertheless, God shows his nearness and presence through Jesus Christ and the first Christian preachers. Jesus reveals himself as the true Messiah, the anointed of Yahweh who saves his people, and reveals the true worship of God, which does not depend on a place, but on interior disposition: worship in spirit and in truth. The Hellenic Christians of Jerusalem would evangelize, a few years later, all the region of Samaria with very good results. God is faithful to his people and to his plan for salvation.

God's faithfulness, his efficacious presence in us and among us, is felt by us through the action of the Holy Spirit, the living water poured into our hearts, the gift the Father has given us to "remind" us of his love. This action of the Holy Spirit gives us the certainty of being "saved" by the work of Jesus Christ, who dies for us, and opens us to hope, a hope that does not deceive, because it is guaranteed by the first fruits of salvation already tasted in this world.

PASTORAL SUGGESTIONS

Today there are signs of God and of his presence among us, but there are also signs of evil and of its action in the world. Among the faithful, there will be those who concentrate on the signs of evil, but also those, hopefully the majority, who concentrate on the signs of good and of the divine presence. In the pastoral sense, it is best to be very aware of both kinds, but to highlight the good, as those signs speak to us of God's presence among us.

Pope John Paul II gives us a good example. He dedicated the catechesis of November 18 and 25, 1998 specifically to point out the signs of hope in the world and in the Church. Let us go over these signs with the Pope.

Among the signs of hope present in the world the Pope singled out: the progress made by science, technology and especially medicine, in the service of human life; the enormous progress in the field of communications, especially social communications; a greater sense of responsibility as regards the environment; the efforts to re-establish peace and justice wherever they have been violated; the desire for reconciliation and solidarity among different peoples, in particular in the complex relation between the North and the South of the world. All these signs of hope, well directed, will contribute to create the civilization of love and to establish universal fraternity. These are signs that Christians must acknowledge, thank God and, wherever possible, collaborate in their implementation according to God's plan.

Another sign of hope pointed out by the Pope is respect for the Church: to welcome the charisms the Holy Spirit is distributing abundantly in the Church; to promote the vocation and the mission of the laity, which foretells a mature and fertile epiphany among the laity; acknowledgement and expression of the role of woman and of "the feminine nature" in the Church; the flowering of ecclesial movements; the ecumenical movement in which the Holy Spirit has committed the members of the different Christian churches; the open space for dialogue with other religions and with contemporary culture. God is faithful, and he continues to be efficaciously present in the history of the world and of the Church.

 

 

FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT -- YEAR A

 

READINGS

First Reading: 1 Sam 16: 1. 4. 6-7. 10-13; Second: Eph 5: 8-14

Gospel: Jn 9: 1-41

 

THEME OF THE READINGS

From the beginning, Christianity has manifested itself as an amazing paradox; perhaps, this is the key to today's liturgy. God does not look at appearances, as men do, but at the heart. This is the reason he chose the youngest of Jesse's sons to anoint him king of Israel (First Reading). In the Gospel, Jesus says: "For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind." In the Hellenic world, Ephesus and Corinth, were cosmopolitan, famous and outstanding cities for their culture and 'spiritual' refinement. According to St. Paul, Christians are the children of light. The pagans of Ephesus belong, rather, to the kingdom of darkness, which must be uncovered to be illuminated by Christ (Second Reading).

 

DOCTRINAL MESSAGE

The Christian paradox does not surprise us. It comes from the very revelation God made of himself and of his plan for salvation. The Christian God is the one who is closest and, at the same time, the most remote, utterly other. He is omnipotent but comes to us as weak. He is a loving Father, with an interior that is maternal, and judge who will give to each what he deserves. He is spiritual and invisible but makes himself visible in the transparency of flesh. The paradox the liturgy gives us today is part of this complex of Christian paradoxes. In the human way of evaluating persons and things, the greater the task the more one looks for the best trained leader, with a strong and attractive personality, and a greatest number of qualities. In today's first reading, God reveals he does just the opposite: he chooses the little, that which does not count in the eyes of men. "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him.... Arise anoint him; for this is he." With this paradox, God highlights what matters most in a mission: not just personal qualities but the strength and power of God's Spirit.

Jesus is the light of the world, in his person, his teaching and his works. The persons most prepared to be illuminated by the light of Christ were, undoubtedly, the Pharisees, who made of the Law and the Scriptures the reason for their whole life. Did not Jesus say to them: "Search the Scriptures, for they speak of me." In today's Gospel, Jesus points out the paradox: they think they see, and this is why they are deprived of sight. Whereas the poor man born blind, who had no preparation, but was free from prejudices and prefabricated schemes, not only recovers his physical sight, but appears to have more sight and intelligence for the things of God than the Pharisees themselves. When philosophy and theology become "proud" and "closed" to the unpredictable ways of God, they can blind the clearest minds and the most "enlightened" spirits of every age.

This is, precisely, what happened to many of the inhabitants of Corinth, Athens and Ephesus. They lived content in their thoughts, in their openness to other peoples and religions, in the fact their customs and style of life had spread throughout the Greco-Roman world. St. Paul says this about them: they believe they are light, but they live in the kingdom of darkness (lust, avarice, idolatry, shameless and immodest conversations). All this must be uncovered by the light of the word and of the authentic Christian life so that once in the open it will be penetrated by the light of Christ.

 

PASTORAL SUGGESTIONS

In our time, Christianity continues to be paradoxical and unpredictable. God continues to confound the wise and powerful, the great and the noble, through people who in human eyes are of no consequence, "insignificant," without any economic or military power. What political or military power does Pope John Paul II or the Vatican have? None, and yet, God used the Pope, during the last twenty years, to change the world order. Who was Mother Theresa of Calcutta? She was a simple woman, who lived in poverty, dedicated to the care of the neediest and the abandoned, but who was chosen by God to remind us of fraternity, of the need to love a brother or sister beyond any barrier of religion, race, social or economic condition, or state of health.

God acts in the same paradoxical way, not only at the international level, but also in the daily life of a parish, of a religious community, or of an ecclesial movement. I believe, for instance, a parish priest should make an effort to know those persons in the parish who are a living incarnation of this paradox. I believe they should approach such people with great confidence and ask for their help, all those who do not count, who are worth little, but who are really saints, who transform the world around them by their goodness, their smile and their total generosity in giving of themselves.

 

FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT, CYCLE A

21st of March

Readings:

First: Ezk 37:12-14; Second: Rm 8:8-11

Gospel: Jn 11:1-45

 

 

Theme of the Readings

In todayís liturgy, everything seems to speak of resurrection and life, through the work of faith and Godís Spirit as a preparation for the mystery of Easter. In Ezekielís impressive vision, he heard a voice saying to him: "I shall put my spirit in you, and you will live." "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies," as St. Paul says in his Letter to the Romans. And in the Gospel according to St. John, Jesus says to Martha: "I am the resurrection," to assure her that her brother Lazarus will return to the world of the living.

Doctrinal message

The God of Judaism and of Christianity is a God of life. He is the Lord of life. He is the God of the living and not the dead. Godís glory, as St. Irenaeus says, is that man lives, in his fullness and integrity. To bring this about, God uses every means with inexhaustible patience and fidelity, as is reflected throughout the long history of Godís relations with his people, Israel. One stage corresponds to the exile in Babylon, between the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem. Exiled in Babylon, the people, and especially its hope in the future, languish and die. This situation prompts Ezekiel to find a symbol in the dry bones, stripped of flesh and dead. Through the prophet, God reveals to the people that he will raise them from the graves in which they are now, that he will give them new life and bring them back to the land of the living, the Promised Land.

Ezekielís symbol becomes reality in the case of Lazarus. He is a man of flesh and blood who lives in Bethany with his sisters, Martha and Mary. He had fallen sick and died. When Jesus arrived in Bethany, he had already been in the tomb for four days, a period that in the Jewish mentality confirmed that death was definitive and certain. But Jesus is life, and at the same time he loves Lazarus with the love of a true friend. What does Jesus do? He goes to the tomb and cries loudly: "Lazarus, here! Come out!" And Lazarus returns to be among the living once more. Of course Lazarus, for his part, refers to another, superior reality: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which we will be celebrating in a fortnight, and the new life the risen Christ brings to man, in its full physical and spiritual reality through the action of the Holy Spirit.

An upward process then takes place in the concept of resurrection and life: first there is the symbol of liberation and participation in a joyful and happy life on earth that God gives "to the fathers". Then follows the real and historic step from death to life, but a life that will end again with death and the tomb. This step from death to life takes a real form of unsurpassable fullness and disconcerting newness in Christ, who in dying overcame death and regained life forever. Lastly, already in this world the Christian participates in the life of the risen Christ by grace and through the Spirit, and he will likewise share in Godís eternity. This is why for the Christian death is a transition to a new way of living, which makes an impression on us because to us it is "unknown," however well we may know that it is "living for God."

Pastoral suggestions

1. In the season of Lent the predominant themes of liturgical catechesis are customarily penance, prayer, vigilance, and fasting, etc. Todayís liturgy changes tone, to make us think in advance of the mystery of the risen Christ and to fill our hearts with joy. It is the joy of one who can rid himself of the old person and begin to live as new, in a climate of love and truth, giving himself to his brothers and sisters. This Sunday is like a high point on the path, where Jesus teaches us: God is life. The most intense reality of Christianity is life, which God communicates to us as he communicated it to the people of Israel and to Lazarus of Bethany. With this life we share in joy, in the exulting jubilation at the life of God within us, that is, his love, his mercy, and his tenderness. This is all brought about by Godís Spirit within us; we Christians must be keenly aware that it is the Spirit who gives life, and that he supports and strengthens it day after day. How aware are the faithful of your parish of this effective presence of the Spirit in the life of each Christian and in the heart of the Church itself?

2. Perhaps in some communities one finds a depressed and disillusioned view of Christian life in the parish, in the diocese, among the youth, in parish groups, or in ecclesial movements existing in the parish or diocese. There exists a view that only sees the problems, tensions, faults, human weaknesses, and limitations, religious and moral shortcomings, etc., in parish activities. Today Christ tells us all: "I am the resurrection." Focus on life, on all that is good, on the fruits that Christian faith is producing in so many people, among so many of the Christian faithful. Focus on the "resurrection," on the transformation that Christ works in some of the people you know. Focus on all the persons who pray, who live their Christianity joyfully, who live with faces of those who are raised, even in the midst of suffering. Work and struggle together with other brothers and sisters in the faith so that Christian life will increase in your parish and in your milieu. What a lot of good can be done with a clear and lively look, a word of encouragement, a good example of prayer, optimism, and love for God and neighbor!

PALM SUNDAY, CYCLE A

28th of March

Readings:

First: Is 50:4-7; Second: Phil 2:6-11

Gospel: Mt 26:14-27, 66

 

Theme of the Readings

The whole liturgy is shrouded in a veil of suffering. However, it gives us the impression that the message is not there but in the mysterious and sublime action of God through the most atrocious suffering and distress. In the third song of the servant of Yahweh we hear: "The Lord Yahweh comes to my help, so that I am untouched by the insults" (first reading). In the Christological hymn of the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians, he tells us: "But God raised him high and gave him the name which is above all other names." And in the narrative of the passion, Jesus prays to his Father: "If it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it." And the Evangelist writes that at Jesusí death: "the veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom, the earth quaked; the rocks were split," all signs of the manifestation of God at the end of time according to the Jewish mentality. It is important to stress that suffering is not a contradiction, an error of calculation during the act of creation, but that God is the Lord of suffering and it is this that gives it meaning.

Doctrinal message

Even God himself, made man in Jesus of Nazareth, was not spared pain and suffering. This means that pain and suffering are a constitutive part of manís historicity, his finite reality, imperfect, frail and perishable. They are something inevitable, which every man has to face and accept in his human condition and his faith. It also means that they have an extraordinary value that man must discover: a moral value in the make-up of the human personality. Anyone who knows how to suffer becomes more of a person and of redemptive value in Godís plan. Human suffering contributes to the redemption brought about by Jesus Christ.

The figure of Yahwehís servant, the subject of the first reading, surprises and shocks us for various reasons. He is innocent man. Although having done no harm to anyone, he suffers outrages, blows and insults. He is a religious man who perceives Godís hand in the midst of all that is happening to him and feels Yahwehís mighty strength and presence. He is a disciple of God who, getting the better of his suffering, has comforting words for the persecuted and needy.

Isnít it true that we spontaneously see the best realization of this figure in Jesus of Nazareth, especially during the terrible, portentous moments of his Passion? This is how the first Christians saw and thought of him, and they left an image of him for us in the liturgical hymn that Paul takes up in his Letter to the Philippians. "His state was divine Ö but [he] emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave Ö he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross" (second reading). And isnít the whole narrative of the passion the suffering of wounded, killed innocence that overcomes the guilt and sin of the "murderers"? Isnít it the sublime expression of long-suffering love of a Father whose mysterious, incomprehensible designs are being fulfilled, "so that man may live"? Isnít it the supreme act of self-emptying and humiliation, to which the Father responds with the exaltation and glory of the mission accomplished? For the human person, suffering does not cease to have a harsh, gloomy and terrible face, but behind this mask of pain is found the beautiful, serene and joyful face of fruitful meaning, mysteriously mellowed and productive.

 

Pastoral suggestions

What is my attitude towards suffering, disasters, civil, moral or religious disorder? What is the attitude of the Christians among whom I live and work? How do they see and face the death of a loved one, of an innocent person? How do they suffer their own misfortunes, e.g., a serious illness, a road or work accident, loneliness and neglect, the limitations of old age? The priest must know as well as possible the "sufferings, trials, anxieties, and troubles" of his own faithful, of those to whom his message is addressed. Am I the good shepherd who knows each and every one of my sheep, and am I close to them, above all in times of trial?

Faith in Godís presence and action in these moments and situations of difficulty and anguish is something very necessary and urgent. In the chaos that suffering can create, in the inner crisis of rebellion it can provoke, in the lack of control it can unleash, faith is the key that prepares and accompanies the Christian, instills serenity in him, opens the door to hope for him and peacefully refers him to the Lord of life and history. This faith in Godís living presence in suffering and in trial must be the subject of preaching (homilies, catecheses); but during actual moments of trial and anguish, it should be made visible in action. At these times the priest is the man of faith who, with his own faith, instills it in others.

 

HOLY THURSDAY, CYCLE A

1st of April

Readings

First: Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; Second: 1 Cor 11:23-26

Gospel: Jn 13:1-15

 

Theme of the readings

The scene on which the liturgy focuses is a room in which a few people have gathered to celebrate a meal. The text and context tell us that it is not just any kind of meal. It is a special evening meal, of great importance for all the companions at table. Those who gather to share it, in the first reading, are the members of the Israelite family who with this meal celebrate their liberation from slavery in Egypt: "That night, the flesh is to be eaten, roasted over the fire; it must be eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs." In the Gospel, those who are "at supper" together are Jesus and his disciples, in the dramatic circumstances that foretell the Passion. The text of the second reading refers us to the Christians of Corinth, who meet first to eat supper and then to celebrate the memorial of the "Lordís Supper."

Doctrinal message

God reveals supernatural realities to us and holds them up to our faith through the most ordinary daily realities in human experience. What could be more ordinary and normal than a family or friends gathering for a meal to experience a few hours together in an atmosphere of joy and spontaneity? In the first place, this is the Eucharist: a joyful banquet of Jesus with his friends. It is a special feast because "he gives us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink." "Holy Mass" is not primarily a canon law, but rather it is a law of the heart that exults with joy at meeting with the "brethren" to celebrate a feast of love and freedom together.

Indeed, the Eucharist is a Feast of freedom. In the Jewish world, this feast was celebrated annually during the week of Passover with a most beautiful, eloquent rite: the "liberating" blood of the sacrificed lamb marking the lintels and door posts, the son who asks his father to explain the meaning of the feast, the hasty supper of unleavened bread, with staff in hand, a girdle tied round the waist, and ready to move on, etc. This was how liberation from the oppressive power of Egypt, a symbol of all slavery, was celebrated. Every Sunday, as we Christians celebrate Mass, we are celebrating the feast of freedom of Godís children: freedom from sin and from all its "works," through Jesus Christ, the innocent Lamb sacrificed for the redemption of all humankind. It is important to be constantly mindful of this aspect of the Eucharist: a feast of integral freedom (freedom of grace, interior freedom, freedom from human conditioning, etc.). Freedom is inseparable from love, the true raison díêtre of Christís redemption, the true and only response worthy of man.

The Eucharist, as St. Paul reminds us, is also a feast of kinship. All together, celebrating the Lordís Supper, we feel we are brothers or sisters, because we are all brothers or sisters of Christ and children of the same Father. The recitation of the "Our Father," the Kiss of Peace, and Communion are three particularly intense moments of this kinship: a family connection that cannot be reduced to the Sunday meeting around Christ, Priest and Victim, but must extend day after day throughout the week. We meet as brothers and sisters on Sunday, to live as a family every day.

Pastoral suggestions

I believe that much has been done in parishes and especially in certain groups more committed to faith, to ensure that the Eucharist really is a feast, a hymn of freedom, a poem of fraternity. Notwithstanding, we certainly do not find it strange that there is still much to be done to make these aspects of the Eucharist penetrate the common mentality of all the Christian faithful. As a priest, a parish priest, what can I do to spread this mentality? What initiatives can I take to introduce the parish community to this way of seeing and celebrating the Eucharist? Here are some simple suggestions:

1. Make use of catechesis for children, young people and adults in order to explain certain aspects of the celebration of the Eucharist, but without omitting other important aspects such as the Eucharist as Christís sacrifice. This requires catechists to have assimilated this way of conceiving the Eucharist beforehand. The priest, especially the parish priest, should pay great attention to ensuring that catechists are given a correct, complete, and up-to-date formation.

2. There is also the homily on Sundays, feast days, and other important occasions such as baptisms, first communions, and marriages. These are privileged moments on which the priest relies, not only to "preach" on the Mass, but to explain its meaning with simplicity and to invite people to take part in it because it is something that concerns us all and "touches us" personally and as a community.

3. If your parish has a "parish newsletter," this is another good way to explain what Mass is and how we must understand it as Christians, or to answer certain objections of the faithful with regard to attending Mass and taking part in the Eucharist. This should not be done in an argumentative way, but with simplicity, clarity, and gentleness. A sound philosophical principle says: "Nil volitum, quin praecognitum." "One does not like anything unless one knows it first".

 

GOOD FRIDAY, CYCLE A

2nd of April

Readings

First: Is 52:13 - 53:12, Second: Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9

Gospel: Jn 18:1-19, 42

 

 

Theme of the Readings

In the entire liturgy, the pronoun "we" rings out in a way never heard before, the adjective "our" or its equivalent, as the one authentic motif of the passion and death of the Servant of Yahweh and of Jesus of Nazareth. The first reading is the most insistent: "Ours were the sufferings he bore, ours the sorrows he carried Ö but we, we thought of him as someone punished, struck by God Ö he was pierced for our faults, crushed for our sins. On him lies a punishment that brings us peace, and through his wounds we are healed. Yahweh burdened him with the sins of all of us Ö [he let himself] be taken for a sinner Ö praying all the time for sinners." St. John the Evangelist interprets the passion, against the background of the fourth song of the servant of Yahweh. However, at the beginning and at the end, he also gives the meaning of the passion through two prophetic texts. The first prophecy is that of the high priest Caiaphas: "It is better for one man to die for the people." The second, "They will look on the one whom they have pierced!" is taken from the prophet Zechariah, who is referring to the conversion and salvation of the nations to be brought about by Jesus Christ. With good reason the author of the Letter to the Hebrews exhorts them: "Let us be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of helpÖ. Since [Jesus Christ] Ö became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation."

Doctrinal message

In the faith of the Church, the fundamental motif of the unfathomable mystery of the passion and death of Jesus Christ is the "He loved me and gave himself up for me" of St. Paul, and the "for us and for our salvation" of the Creed. The crucial doctrinal question is not his suffering nor the reason for it, but the concept of man. What is man? Why can only Jesus Christ save him? This is the nucleus of the teaching with which we must come to grips in the Good Friday liturgy.

The biblical and Christian concept of man tells us that he is not a harmless, innocent, fully free being, but within him bears the "seed of evil." He is a broken, mangled image of God. He is burdened with a mysterious but very real flaw called "original sin." No human effort, however impressive or huge it may be, can by itself root out this seed from manís heart and piece his broken image together, freeing him from his hereditary flaw. This is not only a Christian teaching, it is also human experience, whatever the personís religion or even if he has none. Rousseauís "noble savage" belongs to the utopian genre, completely destroyed by the reality of experience.

If man cannot save himself, who will save him? Only God of course. But how? From heaven, with an act of kindness? We know, however, that "no one has ever seen God". Through an angel? But the angelís mission is to be a messenger, not a savior. It is only possible through a man who is God at the same time. Jesus Christ, suffering and dying on the cross as a supreme act of infinite love, kills the germ of sin that nestles in manís heart, recreates the image of God, and uproots "original sin." Once and for all he frees man from himself (pride and sensuality) and gives him the ability to overcome the Evil One. Man rediscovers in the cross of Christ his true identity, his most authentic self, his origins and his destiny.

Pastoral suggestions

Present-day society seems to offer men and women, particularly Christians, many "savior" substitutes. In some cases it will be science and its twin sister, technology, that are presented as the "saviors" of future humanity. For others, it will be "ideology," independently of its color or form. For many people, it will be democracy, the free participation of all in political government, presented with the face of a "universal panacea." And there will be no lack of people who regard material well-being as manís true savior, "welfare" extended to every human person in whatever part of the world he happens to be. It is true that the realities pointed out and many more must have something to do with "manís salvation," but only obliquely, hence unsatisfactorily, and with a heavy charge of disappointment for those who have trusted in them.

These "partial" forms of salvation do not suffice. We must encounter the "one savior", in reality, the one who can save us integrally, radically, temporally and eternally. The genuine encounter of each human being with Christ the Savior is fundamental if faith is to be adult and responsible, consistent and missionary. Priests must be the first to live such a faith, but they must also work to form individuals and groups of the faithful who profoundly believe in Christ the Savior, who serve as leaven and promoters of Christian authenticity. A life "saved" by Christ is contagious and spreads in its environment the wish "to be saved too" or at least admiration and respect for a Savior who gives full meaning to life.

 

EASTER VIGIL, CYCLE A

3rd of April

Readings

First: Gn 22:1-18; Second: Rm 6:3-11

Gospel: Mt 28:1-10

 

Theme of the readings

The liturgy as a whole and the texts chosen for the readings, speak of life, new life, born of Godís power itself. The liturgy of light and the renewal of the baptismal promises intone a hymn to the new man, buried and raised with Christ. The narrative of creation speaks of the world and of man as they came from Godís most holy hands. With regard to Isaac, we are told of his "new birth," in that he is no longer only a son of Abraham, but a son of the promise. In the Book of Exodus, we are told of the formation of a new people brought about by Yahweh during the flight from Egypt, etc. The New Testament text is taken from the Letter to the Romans, in which Paul invites them to "live a new life," since Christ has been raised from the dead through the Fatherís power. In St. Matthewís Gospel, the women fall to their knees and adore the new humanity of the risen Christ. With the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God really "makes all things new".

Doctrinal message

In our common understanding and in the Bible, "new" is opposed to "old." On the other hand, the term "new" today means "recent" and fresh, while for the Bible it infers something "different and better" in comparison with the "old." Consequently, "old" does not necessarily mean the past and "new" the present, since both can exist simultaneously. Nor does "old" necessarily mean "bad," and "new" good, at least in the Gospels, since in the Pauline writings this is the ethical sense they seem to have; the relationship is not between good and bad, but between a lesser good and better. Jesus was to say: "Nobody puts new wine into old wineskins.Ö No! New wine, fresh skins!" (Mk 2:22). In the message of Jesus and of early Christianity, the newness is Jesus himself, his presence in history and his redemptive mission, his revelation of God and his plan for man and the universe. "The old" means all the religious or philosophical systems which seek to explain and give meaning to human life, and in which Christians would see a "praeparatio evangelica," the threshold to the new things of Christ.

What are these new things of Christ? First of all, his is a person. He is God in a human state. Then, he is present on earth. God among human beings is an absolute novelty, never heard of before. In addition, his message is new: the revelation of Godís mystery, a mystery of ineffable communion and love and our vocation to share in this mystery. It is accomplished in the world, a man who surrendered himself totally for the good of his brothers and sisters. This is certainly the supreme witness of love and self-giving: death on the cross for our salvation. There is the sublime mystery of the resurrection, something utterly original and exclusive. Lastly, the sending of his Spirit as the "soul" of the Church, his dwelling in our history through the Eucharistic presence, and our destiny of eternal, unimaginable but very real bliss.

Our Christian newness is founded on this newness of Christ. This newness flows from Baptism, through which we come to be "children of God," "disciples of Christ," members of the Church united in faith, hope and love. This novelty impels us to imitate Jesus Christ, to reproduce his spiritual and moral features in ourselves, so that we may be other "Christs" for humankind and so that that Father will recognize us as his children, seeing in us the face of his "only begotten Son." This newness leads to a true hierarchy of values in life and to living consistently and continuously in conformity with it.

 

Pastoral suggestions

Christianity is new. Nevertheless many people think of it as of something antiquated, out of fashion, foreign to and outside the progress of history, having nothing to do with the person of today. Why has this phenomenon occurred? Do we Christians not appear as we are? Is it that in practice being Christian is no different from being Jewish, Muslim or indifferent to religion? These are questions that we priests cannot leave up in the air. They are questions that parish priests must ask themselves and bravely pose to their parishioners.

Here it is not a matter of expressing the dilemma between mass or elitist Christianity. It is a question of having a more lively and joyful awareness of Christian identity, of the novelty of Christianity in society and among the multitude of religions. And above all, it means living coherently within this marvelous novelty that is Christian faith, experiencing Jesus Christ, Son of God and brother of man, Redeemer of the world. As Christians, we will have many things in common with those who are not Christians and these common values must be preserved and promoted, but it is not what we have in common that defines us. In common we are different, and this difference makes us live our common values in a particular way. It also gives them the exclusive features of the Christian family, which we cannot silence but must unfurl like the banner of our identity. To be Christian is a grace we have not deserved. It is also a title that honors us, a task that involves us daily, and a novelty that constantly renews us.

EASTER SUNDAY, CYCLE A

4th of April

Readings

First: Acts 10:34.37-43; Second: Col 3:1-4

Gospel: Jn 20:1-9

 

Theme of the readings

Christ arose from the dead! This is the mystery we are celebrating today. The whole liturgy summarizes it in an important way: "Three days afterwards God raised him to life," Peter preaches to Cornelius and to his entire household (first reading). For Paul the resurrection of Jesus Christ Ė the Christian awareness of this mystery Ė is the basis of all Christian ethics, and so invites us to think and seek heavenly and not earthly things (second reading). In the Gospel, taken from Chapter 20 of St. John, the whole narrative focuses on the empty tomb, but only in order to make the "beloved discipleís" faith in the resurrection more prominent, since according to the Scriptures, Jesus must rise from the dead (Gospel).

Doctrinal message

The first point to be noted is that we are facing a mystery. A mystery surprises and surpasses us. It is something that, without being irrational, breaks down the barriers of human reason and goes beyond our system of understanding reality. It is something grasped better by the heart and by faith, and less by reason and the intellect. It is something that brings with it a certain obscurity and does not let us dominate or manipulate it, however much we may desire to do so. Finally, it is something that is "there" in human life, intangible, sovereign and impressive. While we realize that "the mystery," any mystery but most particularly this mystery of Jesusí resurrection, regards us personally and we cannot pretend not to know about it. It would be something like pretending not to know of the reference point and coherence of our own life or our own happiness. A mystery from which the human person cannot "escape" without seriously jeopardizing himself, without harming his very being.

We add that it is good and very positive for people "to touch" or to be touched by this mystery. One could perhaps think that by being a mystery it humiliates us, damages our dignity, takes away our autonomy and greatness, topples us from the pedestal of reason and leads us down the blind alley of credulity. There is nothing more mistaken! Manís confrontation with mystery, that is, with what transcends his experience of things and persons, is a sign of his origins in nothing that is purely earthly, and of his vocation to something superior than to a mere world of dust and ashes. Ultimately, the mystery reminds, recalls, and revives in the human being the place he comes from, his task in the world, his destination and his destiny. Is this not the greatness of the human person as compared with any other of the worldís creatures?

Today we are celebrating the mystery of the living Christ, the victory of life over death and the tomb, of the pledge and guarantee of our eternal life, hidden with Christ in God. This mystery was not bequeathed to us by historyís greatest thinkers or by the most intuitive mystics of the religion. Nor does it inform us of the magicians and shamans of every kind and of every epoch. This mystery was revealed to us by the witness of "those who saw and believed." It is not the result of human effort, but the testimony of a startling experience that marked his life forever. As a witness one cannot demonstrate, one simply believes or does not believe. But a testimony, rendered credible in addition by martyrdom, is rational whether or not we accept it. This is why the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a mystery of faith but fully rational and credible and highly important to the life of the human person in this world.

Pastoral suggestions

In catechesis and pastoral work during the Easter season, it can be interesting to give young people and adults a good explanation of the concept and meaning of mystery. We do this, on the one hand to avoid fideism and outright fundamentalism. On the other, we want to prevent mystery from being conceived as something irrational, for primitive or childish people, or for the psychologically weak, as something totally inappropriate for the person of today who is intellectually mature. Re-examining the concept of mystery with the faithful, in clear and unabridged terms, is important if one is to approach the great mysteries of Christian life with faith and with reason.

In this catechesis, I believe two most important dimensions should be emphasized. First, mystery is rational, however far it reaches beyond the bounds of reason. Reason will say: "This is out of my reach, but it is not contradictory nor contrary to the essential laws of thinking, and there are perceptible elements that make it rational." Second, mystery is important for human persons. If they do not grasp that it has much to do with their life, that this mystery can change lifeís direction, they will pay no attention to it and put store it away in the closet. Instead, if they see their life is affected, "touched" by mystery, then it will be a constant reference point, something vital that penetrates their whole being and is manifest in all their work. In the every day life of Christians, of parishioners, is the mystery of the resurrection of Jesus Christ important? How can it be made really important for everyone?

 

 

SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER, CYCLE A

11th of April

Readings

First: Acts 2:42-47; Second: 1 Pet 1:3-9

Gospel: Jn 20:19-31

 

Theme of the readings

If Easter Sunday highlighted the mystery of the resurrection, this Sunday presents to us in particular the human response to this mystery: joyful faith. Thomas is at times a paradigm of all human people: he switches from disbelief to faith in the risen Christ, from seeking proof to joyous and deeply-felt confession (Gospel). The community of Jerusalem proclaims its faith in the resurrection when it gathers on Sundays to hear the Apostlesí preaching and to celebrate in fraternal communion the breaking of bread, a sign of the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (first reading). Peterís words still sound fresh to our ears: "Still without seeing him, you are already filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described, because you believe and you are sure of the end to which your faith looks forward, that is, the salvation of your souls" (second reading).

Doctrinal message

Faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the fundamental pillar of Christian belief. "If Christ has not been raised from the dead then Ö your believing Ö is useless Ö and we are the most unfortunate of all people," St. Paul writes to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15:12-19). Further, if Christ has not risen we are shown to be false witnesses before God, because we testified before God that Jesus Christ had been raised. However, continuing, Saint Paul exclaims: "But Christ has in fact been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep." With the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God the Father confirms the truth of his whole life and mission, all his teaching, all his deeds and all his work of revelation and redemption. Resurrection comes to be Godís "yes" to his Son Jesus Christ, Redeemer of the whole human race.

In commenting on the text of Paulís Letter to the Corinthians, we can say that since Christ has been raised, we Christians are the most fortunate of all people on earth. The first Christian community that gathered with the Apostles and with Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ, to celebrate the "breaking of bread", testifies to this intense happiness of believers. The reason is obvious: Christís resurrection is the first-fruits of the Christianís resurrection; even more, the genuine Christian already here on earth, takes part in the new life with the risen Christ. How can we not live in eternal joy? This is what Peter sings in what is probably a baptismal hymn: "Blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy has given us a new birth as his sons, by raising Jesus Christ from the dead, so that we have a sure hope and the promise of an inheritance that can never be spoilt or soiled and never fade away" (second reading).

In commenting on Paul again, we can say: "Our witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ pays homage to the truth and fidelity of God the Father to us his children." God is faithful, and for this reason did not abandon his Son to the power of death; nor will he abandon any of us, his children through adoption and mercy. Jesusí attitude to Thomas, the "doubting" Apostle, beautifully reflects the fidelity of God who complies with manís "disbelief" in order to lead him to faith, a faith that is sound and forever free from any shadow of doubt: "My Lord and my God!" (Gospel). The Churchís uninterrupted confession of the resurrection of Jesus Christ down through the twenty centuries of her history has ratified and continues to ratify Godís truth and fidelity, day after day.

Pastoral suggestions

Manís response to mystery is always surprising, whether he accepts it by a "miracle" of grace or rejects it, guided by the feeble light of his finite intelligence. Whatever his response may be, the mystery of the resurrection "is there," with no chance of being forgotten or obliterated. We should not find it strange, as priests and pastors, that on the one hand various responses can be made to this immense mystery. On the other hand, we must not cease to preach it, witness to it, and point it out as of the utmost importance for all human existence, rejoicing with those of our brothers and sisters who accept and are spiritually vibrant with the mystery of Christ risen.

We must preach unambiguously that faith in the resurrection is a gift, a "miracle" of Godís grace and love. We receive this gift in baptism, but we must nurture it, protect it, and appreciate it, so that nothing and no one can uproot it from the believerís heart. How do our parishioners, those with whom we exercise our pastoral ministry, nurture, protect and appreciate the gift of faith, especially faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ? What can I do, as a priest, to help my brothers and sisters nurture, protect and appreciate this faith?

We must explain to the faithful that faith in the resurrection is not absurd, contradictory to the laws of human reason or foreign to manís daily life. How many realities are there in human life that people cannot see and yet believe without batting an eyelid? It is neither absurd nor irrational to believe in someone who "knows" about something, so it follows that we must believe in God who is infinite wisdom. If human life could be equated with animal life, then the resurrection would lack importance. But doesnít man feel in his heart that he cannot die? Doesnít a pagan like Horace say "non omnis moriar" (I shall not die altogether)? Not only is the resurrection of Jesus Christ not foreign to manís life, but it constitutes the unshakable foundations of its true meaning. Christ has been raised, and "death has been swallowed up in victory" (1 Cor 15: 54).

THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER, CYCLE A

18th of April

Readings

First: Acts 2:14.22-23; Second: 1 Pet 1:17-21

Gospel: Lk 24:13-35

 

Theme of the readings

The mystery of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is Godís fulfillment of his promise in the Scriptures. This is the theme that runs through the liturgy of this Third Sunday of Easter. The risen Jesus, approaching the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, "starting with Moses and going through all the prophets Ö explained to them the passages throughout the Scriptures that were about himself" (Gospel). Peter, for his part, in his first discourse to the Jews of Jerusalem cites the words of the prophet Joel, as foreseeing Christís resurrection: "You will not abandon my soul to Hades nor allow your holy one to experience corruption" (first reading). Lastly, Peterís First Letter also soars toward the same eternity, to Godís eternal plan: "Christ Ö though known since before the world was made, has been revealed only in our time, the end of the ages, for your sake. Through him you now have faith in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory for that very reason" (second reading).

 

Doctrinal message

St. Augustine wrote that it is as if the New Testament was hidden in the Old, thereby showing the continuity of Godís Revelation throughout the history of salvation. Then Jesus can quite justifiably explain to the disciples on the road to Emmaus what Moses (Pentateuch) and the prophets said about his resurrection. What texts would Jesus have commented on to those two disillusioned disciples who were "blind" to the mystery of the risen Christ? St. Luke does not mention any. However, reading the Old Testament, one could cite, among others, Dt 32:39, where God reveals himself as the one who "deals death and life"; Am 9:2, where it is said: "Should they burrow their way down to Sheol," Godís hand "shall haul them out"; Ps 16:10: "For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, nor allow the one you love to see the Pit"; and especially Joelís prophecy, 3:1-5, cited in Peterís appeal to the inhabitants of Jerusalem (first reading). To these could be added the references to the resurrection of the people of Israel by God (Hos 6:1ff.; Ezk 37:1-14; Is 53ff.). In an epoch closer to the New Testament (Dan 12:2) there is this prophecy: "Of those who lie sleeping in the dust of the earth many will awake." Finally and, above all, the books that speak of the deeds of Maccabbees, the God who creates is also the one who raises to life (cf. 2 M 7: 9, 11, 22; 14:46).

Together with its continuity, we should stress how the New Testament surpasses the Old, and the step from the image of the resurrection to its reality in Jesus Christ, the firstfruits and guarantee of our own. If great similarities with the ancient texts exist, yet the differences that surpass all expectation and all prophetic foresight are greater. The mystery of the resurrection was hidden in the heart of the Father who, in the Old Testament, had let rays of light fall to awaken and nourish hope. In the New Testament, the Father does not reveal his heart with words, but with action, raising Jesus Christ from among the dead. The revelation of the risen Christ was so unforeseen and exalted that it took everyone by surprise and dazzled everyone far beyond the humanly thinkable. This mystery is so impressive, it goes so far beyond all the force of reason and the Old Testament revelation itself that it continues to be a "scandal" for Jews and non-believers alike. But for us who believe, it is Godís power and Godís wisdom (cf. 1 Cor 2:1-5).

Pastoral suggestions

This Sundayís readings can be an occasion for helping the faithful acquire a better understanding of the gradual revelation of the mysteries by God. Every Christian mystery has a history that, as the second reading suggests, begins even before creation and continues down the centuries to prepare the full revelation in Jesus Christ. It is not a profane history left to the discretion of the dark forces of fate. Nor is it a growing development of the rational or intellectual capacity of humans ascending to superior realms of understanding. It is religious history, demonstrating Godís marvelous pedagogy for his people. It is the love of God the Father for his children, which is adapted to our limited and supremely imperfect condition so that we may enter into the light of the mysteries, and especially the mystery of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. From this standpoint, the Old Testament is already a revelation of the Christian mysteries, although in its early stages. This is a good opportunity to invite and exhort the faithful to read and meditate on the Old Testament, but always in the light of the fullness of the revelation that Jesus brought us!

In the case of young people and adults, the Easter weeks can be used for a catechesis focused on the resurrection, explaining the progressive history of this mystery through reading and reflection on certain Old Testament texts. It will also be a very good chance to help the faithful read the Old Testament "with Christian eyes," and to meditate and to pray with Christian "minds and hearts" on the psalms or other beautiful texts of the Jewish Scriptures. All this can lead to an invitation to thank God for the full revelation of the resurrection in Christ, and to ask him to open the minds and hearts of Jewish believers to the fullness of revelation.

 

FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, CYCLE A

25th of April

Readings

First: Acts 2:14, 36-41; second: 1 Pet 2:20-25

Gospel: Jn 10:1-10

 

Theme of the readings

As the gate to the sheepfold, Jesus is the metaphor that summarizes the message of the liturgy. Jesus says of himself: "I tell you most solemnly that I am the gate of the sheepfold" (Gospel). In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter exhorts his listeners: "You must repent Ö and every one of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins" (first reading). Again Peter, in his First Letter, writes: "You had gone astray like sheep, but now you have come back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls" (second reading), showing one of the functions of the gate, which is to protect the flock from anything that could harm it.

Doctrinal message

In chapter 10, St. John uses various images, which attempt to explain the reality of the Christian community and of the Church: sheepfold, gate, shepherd, hired man, etc. In this loveliest of allegories, the sheepfold is the community of believers in Christ. Jesus is both the gate of the sheepfold and the shepherd of the flock. And what about the "hired men"? The Pharisees (cf. 9:13)? The false doctors and "Christian" prophets who appear in some of the New Testament texts? These are hard questions to answer. With all this, todayís liturgy focuses on the image of Jesus Christ, the gate of the sheepfold.

The gate is the place through which one enters the sheepfold, the community of faith. This gate is Christ, dead and risen, who created a new flock through a new covenant in his blood. The Christian passes through this gate of salvation to the new community of faith by means of baptism. By baptism we are immersed in the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ, and are at the same time incorporated in the Church (cf. CIC 1213-1214). Anyone who wants to enter the fold, to belong to the Church, without going through the gate but getting in some other way is a "thief and a brigand" (Jn 10:1). Belonging to the Church at a merely sociological level is impossible, just as it is impossible to want to separate faith in Jesus Christ from faith and belonging to the Church: "Christ yes, but the Church no".

Through the gate the sheep go out of the fold to seek good pasture. What is pasture for the Christian community? First of all, the living and effective word of the Scriptures, then the sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ for the salvation of believers and lastly, the good example of our brothers and sisters in the faith. The gate that gives access to these good pastures is Jesus Christ in his historical reality and in his glorious life, as the Word of God and the Fatherís authentic "exegete", the source and fundamental origin of all the sacraments, the archetype of the Christian way of life.

The door of the sheepfold is also a means to protect and defend those who are inside it. The risen Christ is the guardian of the sheep and defends them from any brigand or rapacious wolf that might roam around the fold. When the community of believers is protected by Christ, the only gate of the sheepfold, we can be certain that nothing bad will happen to the flock. It will not suffer any harm, even amidst trials and tribulations and the great problems caused by powerful enemies who would like attack it.

Pastoral suggestions

In accordance with the wishes of Pope Paul VI, World Day of Prayer for Vocations is being celebrated in the Church today. We should bear in mind that the priest is not, of course, the gate of the sheepfold, but he is indeed the guardian who opens and closes it for the sheep. This is a favorable moment to address a theme so timely and so necessary for the future of the faith. We suggest a few topics for reflection:

1. Explain and help people understand that a Church without priests is not the Church that Jesus Christ wanted, nor would he have wanted a Church without lay people. Christís Church is constituted by hierarchy and laity, by shepherds and sheep. The former have been called to exercise the service of authority and the total gift of themselves for the latter, who in turn have been called to exercise the service of obedience and Christian effort in the world.

2. The priestly vocation is a gift of God, but one requiring everyoneís collaboration (the family, parish, associations, ecclesial movements), so that the gift may germinate in the hearts of those who are called. Godís seed will neither sprout nor grow if it does not find good and fertile soil. Have we sometimes wondered about the number of vocations to the priesthood which are "frustrated" because they cannot rely on a favorable environment?

3. Pray constantly for new priestly vocations. Pray for the new recruits who are beginning their course of formation, for those who are on the way, that they may continue preparing themselves in the best possible way to carry out their ministry. Pray for those who are already priests that they may always keep before their eyes "the shepherd and guardian of our souls." Wouldnít it be a wonderful idea to establish adoration for vocations in your parish one day a month?

 

FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, CYCLE A

2nd of May

Readings

First: Acts 6:1-7; second: 1 Pet 2:4-9

Gospel: Jn 14:1-12

 

Theme of the readings

"My Fatherís house," "a spiritual house," "a full meeting of disciples" are all expressions in this Sundayís liturgy that belong to the same semantic field: a building, both as an edifice and a meeting or dwelling place. "There are many rooms in my Fatherís house Ö I am going now to prepare a place for you," Jesus says in the Gospel according to St. John. St. Peter reminds the Christians that they too are "the holy priesthood that offers the spiritual sacrifices which Jesus Christ has made acceptable to God Ö living stones making a spiritual house" (second reading). In the first reading, the Apostles, confronting a problem in the community, gather the disciples, possibly in the Upper Room, and ask them to select seven deacons to serve the widows of the Hellenist Christians.

Doctrinal message

The Fatherís house is in heaven. In the meantime, the risen Jesus Christ has prepared a room for us there. As the Catechism teaches: "By his death and resurrection Jesus Christ has Ďopenedí heaven to us" (CCC, n. 1026). From heaven he invites us to follow in his footsteps ("I am the way, and the truth, and the life"), because no one can go to the Fatherís house except by following Christ. The image of the house, to describe heaven to us, speaks to us of heaven as a family, intimacy, love. Heaven is the definitive and eternal encounter with God, our Father, with Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, with our Sanctifier, the Holy Spirit. It is likewise the encounter with all our brothers and sisters, who have been redeemed by Christís blood, in an indescribable embrace of brotherhood and communion. Heaven is the homeland of immortal love, of the love that has overcome hatred and injustice, of the love that unites one and all in an ineffable sharing of the very life of God-Love. Heaven is our true homeland, for here on earth "we have no permanent dwelling place."

Here on earth, the Fatherís house is the Church. A house that is built with living stones, a house that is never completed because with each generation it is renewed and restored, a house whose doors are open to all who wish to enter, a house where we all feel we are Godís family. The Catechism (n. 756) tells us that in the Scriptures this house has many names: "Ďthe house of Godí (1 Tim 3:15) in which his family dwells; Ďthe household of God in the Spirití (Eph 2:19-22), Ďthe dwelling-place of God among mení (Rev 21:3) and, especially, Ďthe holy templeí (1 Pet 2:5)". The Church is a family and therefore all its members must be very close to each other. The parents must have a vocation to serve the children, and the children, to serve their parents. Thus all together, each according to his own capacity and tasks, must seek the familyís good and happiness.

This family of God is not exempt from problems. The first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, addresses one of the problems the family of God had to face in the early years of its life in Jerusalem. But problems can be resolved when there is goodwill and collaboration on the part of all and a common effort to seek the most appropriate way to find a solution. This is what happened in the community of Jerusalem and peace and harmony returned among the members of the family. Today this must also be the way we face the difficulties and problems of the Church, as the family of God.

Pastoral suggestions

The "political" view of the Church as "power and subjection" is not a proper concept of the Church. Nor should it be seen as "sociological," providing social service in the style of the international organizations for charitable and voluntary work. Even less should it be described as "individualistic" in that some suppose the Church to be a sort of "hotel" or "condominium," where each individual person lives in order to meet his own spiritual needs, without entering into any relationship with the others. "Power" does exist in the Church, but it is the power of a loving father. "Subjection" also exists, but it is the loving submission of a child. The Church does great good to the needy, but because these needy are brothers and sisters, children of the same Father. In the Church the individual does not melt into anonymity or into the mass. Since it is a family, all know and love one another personally. The Church is at the same time community and communion, the union of all the members to constitute one, single family.

This concept of the Church can encounter difficulties in our faithful, in the groups with whom we do pastoral work. It can happen in our parish that some belong to the family but have moved away from it and no longer live in the same house. At times, some criticize the father of the family: the Pope, the Bishop, the parish priest, albeit without malice, but weakening the unity of Godís family. Others perhaps do not pay much attention to the rules in force in Godís house, thereby creating inconsistencies and breaches between the family members. It can also happen that there are tensions, resentment, misunderstandings, or bad dealings among the children of the same family of God. A lot has yet to be done to make the Church truly be Godís family. What can I do in my parish, in the environment in which I exercise my ministry?

SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, CYCLE A

9th of May

Readings

First: Acts 8:5-8; Second: 1 Pet 3:15-18

Gospel: Jn 14:15-21

 

Connection between the readings

This last Sunday of the Easter season prepares and in a certain way anticipates the feast of Pentecost. The liturgy presents Jesus promising the Spirit, the same Spirit who raised him to life, and who, in Jesusí name, the Apostles communicate to the baptized Samaritans. "I shall ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever," Jesus promises in the Gospel. In his First Letter, St. Peter says: "In the body [Christ] was put to death, in the spirit he was raised to life" (second reading). And St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles presents Peter and John, who "prayed for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit" (first reading).

Doctrinal message

In the history of salvation there is a harmonious succession of events in the action of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit that is always for the benefit of manís salvation. The Father is the origin and source of every saving plan. In his love for man he sends his Son to redeem him and to restore his filial condition. Once the Son has fulfilled his mission on earth, the Spirit is sent to accompany man on his pilgrimage in this world toward the Father. Todayís liturgy presents to us the promise Jesus made to the disciples that he would send them the Holy Spirit, so that he would always be with them. Why does Jesus Christ make them this promise? So that the disciples do not feel they are orphans, since Jesus was about to go to his death and to return to the Fatherís house. Jesus says to them: "I will not leave you orphans; I will come back to you" (Gospel), not in person, but through his Spirit.

The Holy Spirit, promised by Jesus, is first and foremost the Paraclete, that is, the comforter, the advocate, the giver of life and enlightenment in the faith. The disciples and the early Christians have a special experience of the powerful and illuminating presence of the Spirit at Pentecost. He is also the Spirit of Truth, of Godís revelation to man, with whom God illumines all human existence and gives it its true meaning and raison díêtre. This truth was fully accepted by the disciples, proclaimed, confessed and also defended before the "falsehood" of the world, attacks by the falsity of the human heart and mind. Moreover it is the Spirit who gives life, who raises Jesus to life (second reading) and who enlightens Christians who believe in the Gospel, like the inhabitants of Samaria (first reading). The Spirit of Godís life, that life that, like the burning bush seen by Moses at the foot of Mount Sinai, continued to blaze and was never burnt up. Lastly, the Holy Spirit is the promoter of evangelization, both of the Jews and of the Samaritans and pagans. For this reason, commentators on the Acts of the Apostles, usually speak of three "Pentecosts," that of the Jews in Jerusalem (Acts 2), of the Samaritans in Samaria (Acts 8), and of the pagans in Cesarea by the sea (Acts 10). With the receiving of the Spirit, evangelization and the proclamation of the Gospel gathered momentum and more and more new members joined the community of believers in Christ. In this way the Spirit was to make the words of Jesus come true: "Anybody who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I shall love him and show myself to him."

Pastoral suggestions

Those who are holy know and experience that God fulfills his promises. For the first Christians this was an indisputable truth, the object of their experience. However, Godís promise continues to be fulfilled among human beings even today. Of course, we must be very aware that God does not promise "à la carte" happiness, as we humans would sometimes like. It is not a "world" or a "Church" without problems or free from all inconsistencies, nor faultless Christian brothers and sisters who are irreproachable, always kind and smiling. He does not promise to free us from slander, persecution, indifference, ill-treatment or even martyrdom. He promises only the Spirit, his Spirit, giving us the capacity to be happy in a new way, alien to the worldís mentality. He gives us a clear gaze to see the world and the Church with faith, optimism, peace, and love. He gives us a generous heart to be open and to accept our brothers and sisters in the faith as they are, with their weaknesses and miseries, with their qualities and virtues, with their genuine faith, love and hope. He gives us the grace to seek true freedom, which is primarily interior and spiritual, and which works from within to achieve all other liberation from the evils of this world.

Since God fulfills his promises, our communities must be joyful and steadfast in their faith. Without wishing to close our eyes to the evil that exists, Godís promise continues to come true and to be fulfilled in the midst of the community. If we do not perceive it, couldnít it be that our faith is weak, and perhaps sickly? On the other hand, without ignoring the doubts and perplexities of Christians in understanding and living their faith, the presence of the Spirit of Truth must comfort the Christian community and give it a very sound faith. Our faith does not rely on men, however congenial they may be, nor on angels, but on the very Spirit of God, the Spirit of Truth, who is the Inner Teacher who strengthens and guarantees the revelation of God and the response of faith to this revelation.

ASCENSION, CYCLE A

16th of May

Readings

First: Acts 1:1-11; Second: Eph 1:17-23

Gospel: Mt 28:16-20.

Connection between the readings

The ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven marks the end of his historical presence in the world, but even more, it emphasizes the power and sovereignty he exercises from heaven as Lord of history and of the universe. When the risen Jesus takes his leave, he addresses his disciples with these words: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Gospel). At the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples ask Jesus if he is going to restore the kingdom to Israel. Jesus replies: "It is not for you to know times or dates that the Father has decided by his own authority, but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon youÖ" (first reading). In the Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul asks God to grant us a revelation that will bring us to full knowledge of him, that will enable us to know the risen Christ who "sits at his right hand, in heaven, far above every Sovereignty, Authority, Power, or Domination Ö and that [God] has put all things under his feet" (second reading).

 

Doctrinal message

The ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven is a mystery of our faith, utterly foreign to our physical and earthly experience. But for God nothing is impossible. This is why the readings of the liturgy, on various occasions, mention the power, force, and authority of God. Anyone contemplating the history of salvation, as it is narrated in the Old and New Testaments, can see Godís powerful action deployed in the people of Israel and the disciples of Jesus. He will keep his mind and heart more open to this mystery in which, together with the resurrection, Godís power reaches the most sublime peaks. When he had ascended into heaven, the Father seated Jesus at his right hand, that is, he inaugurated the messianic kingdom, fulfilling the Prophet Danielís vision: "On him was conferred sovereignty, glory and kingship, and men of all peoples, nations and languages became his servants. His sovereignty is an eternal sovereignty which shall never pass away, nor will his empire ever be destroyed" (Dan 7:13) and thus showing his power and strength.

In this way the Father communicates his power to the Son, to Jesus Christ in glory. Christís power is a universal power that embraces all the realities and beings of heaven and earth. It is a power of salvation, never condemnation. His name, by antonomasia, is redeemer, savior. Thus he says to his disciples: "Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Gospel). It is a power that he exercises in history, not directly but through the power of the Spirit, which the disciples receive in order to be "[his] witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of the earth" (first reading).

Jesus Christís redemptive and salvific power is expressed above all in the Church, "his body, the fullness of him who fills the whole creation" (second reading). In the Church and for the Church, Jesus Christ in glory continues to exercise it among men in order to save them. For this reason Christís kingdom is already active in the Church and possesses the dynamism of hope for the definitive and eternal kingdom, at the end of time.

Pastoral suggestions

In Christian life one must be wary of two possible deviations. One, which I will call Pelagian, is to think and act as if man had the "power" to conquer heaven for himself; the other, Lutheran, consists in being convinced that "deeds do not count," and that everything depends totally on abandonment to Godís power. We Christians must keep the difficult balance between the two tendencies that we perhaps find in our own hearts. If this balance is upset, Christian life itself is also upset. Either we will place our trust in our own "strength," considering holiness as a titanic undertaking Ė and therefore for the very few privileged Ė and seeing heaven as a deserved reward for our gigantic effort; or, on the contrary, we will totally mistrust our own strengths and efforts because of our congenital powerlessness, and will consequently "oblige" God to manifest his power in us, imagining heaven as a "gift" of God, unrelated to our will and moral conduct.

The priest is teacher, educator, and witness. As a teacher he must teach the faithful the ways of faith and morals, the ways of holiness, the ways that lead to the Father of heaven. As educator, with patience and respect, he should speak to men and women of heaven as their destiny. He should enlighten their consciences in order not to deflect them. He should accompany them in their daily difficulties and struggles on their way toward the Fatherís house. He should always be available for those who need Godís mercy and spiritual guidance. As a witness, he should make others feel, by his life and conduct, that "his true homeland is heaven." He should proclaim and confess with his actions what he really feels in his heart. He should live detached from earthly ambitions, over materialistic compensations and notably worldly behavior, which do not help the faithful to raise their gaze to heaven and to God.

 

 

Pentecost Sunday May 23rd 1999

First: Acts 2:1-11; Second: 1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13; Gospel: Jn 20:19-23

THEME of the READINGS

The Spirit, present and active among the Twelve and the first Christian community, enlivens the liturgy of the Word. In the Gospel the risen Jesus says to the Twelve: "Receive the Holy Spirit." In the First Reading, 50 days after Easter a powerful wind fills the Upper Room and "they were all filled with the Holy Spirit." In the second reading, concerning the temptation of the Corinthians to use their gifts to create divisions, Paul forcefully asserts: "There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit" and "the particular way the Spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose."

DOCTRinal MESSAGE

 

Confronted by the extraordinary richness of the liturgical texts, we can choose only one aspect. I limit myself to answering the question: Who is the Holy Spirit mentioned in the Pentecost liturgy?

He is the Spirit of God the Father and of Jesus Christ, our Lord. The Father and the Son have loved one another since eternity, with a perfect love. This love has a name. It is Someone. It is the Holy Spirit, that is, the Fatherís Love for the Son and the Sonís Love for the Father in a circular movement that will never cease. For this reason, the Father and the Son send him to human beings as the greatest and most precious gift they can share with us.

He is the creator Spirit. To the Jews, the feast of Pentecost recalled Godís Covenant on Sinai and the gift of the law to Moses and to the people of Israel, in the midst of a storm, peals of thunder and flashes of lightening. Luke sees in this event a prefiguration of the Spirit who first created the people of Israel through the Covenant and the law and now creates the Christian people. Indeed, through the Spirit man enters into a new Covenant in Christís blood and lives under the rule of a new Law, that of Christian love (first reading).

The Spirit is effective through the rich variety of his gifts, such as are made present in the community of Corinth: the gift of the Apostles, of the prophets, of speaking in tongues, etc. This effectiveness must be shown above all in the one objective of all his gifts: to contribute to the common good of Christians (second reading).

He is the ecumenical, that is, universal Spirit who strives to spread geographically, to embrace all the peoples listed in the Acts of the Apostles and especially, to grow within the conscience of each man and of all men, creating forgiveness of sins in souls and instilling peace in hearts (Gospel).

 

PASTOral SUGGESTIONS

Of course, in the Church today one cannot speak of the Espiritu, ese desconocido (The Spirit, this stranger), the title of a book published in the 50ís. Since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has become increasingly aware of the presence and action of the Spirit in communities of Christian believers. Even more, the Churchís awareness of the Spiritís action is also growing outside the bounds of Christianity. It is lovely to see the Holy Spirit working in all humanity, in different forms and with varying intensity, because "all that is good, right and perfect," wherever it is found, comes from him.

In our times, certain abuses or at least exaggerations committed "in the name of the Spirit" must nevertheless be noted. But it is true that the years in which people opposed the charism and the institution of the Church, the action of the Spirit and the strength of the Word with unwonted vigor belong to the past. But doesnít something of this still remain in our communities? Arenít the institution of the Church and the hierarchy easily criticized in the name of some gift or other? Isnít it sometimes forgotten that the Apostle, and therefore the institution, is the first of the gifts? The Feast of Pentecost encourages a straightforward but precise and full explanation of the gifts in the Church and of the Holy Spirit as the one source of all gifts.

In the context of our ministry or in our diocese perhaps there is another exaggeration or abuse "in the name of the Spirit": division because of the gifts. I am referring in particular to those extraordinary gifts which God has given todayís Church: the ecclesial movements, the lay associations, the new religious congregations and institutes, the new initiatives of "charismatic" persons or institutional groups in the area of pastoral ministry. This is a new situation in the Church, in dioceses, in parishes, among the various movements and associations, and it is obvious that there would be certain tensions, misunderstandings and lack of collaboration as well, at times, as opposition. With regard to a possible situation of this kind, it is right to remember that all charisms lead to unity and contribute to the good of one and all: they are organs of the same body which is the Church. Charity, good understanding, breadth of horizons, discernment, the prevalence of the common good over the individual good and a sense of Church must always prevail.

 

 

 

Trinity Sunday May 30th 1999

First: Ex 34:4-6.8-9; Second: 2 Cor 13:11-13; Gospel Jn 3:16-18

THEME of the READINGS

The revelation of the Trinitarian mystery stands out in the texts the liturgy offers us. The passage from Exodus reveals the unity of God and the Fatherís heart "of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness." In supplication of Moses: "Let my Lord come with us," we can glimpse a first step toward the incarnation and revelation of the Son, "Emanuel," God with us. This mystery of the incarnation is solemnly revealed in the Gospel: "God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son." At the end of the Second Letter to the Corinthians, Paul takes up a Trinitarian formula of the early Christian liturgy: "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all."

 

DOCTRinal MESSAGE

We are used to hearing and using the expression: "mystery", "Trinitarian mystery." I think that this liturgical feast invites us to meditate on it with simplicity and immense respect.

The mystery of the Trinity is something hidden, concealed in Godís very heart. It is not hidden in the earth nor in space so that with time man would be able to find it. It dwells in God himself. And who can know Godís thoughts? God, hundreds of thousands of years ago, first created the world, then man, but he did not reveal this mystery. He then chose a people for himself, established a Covenant with this people, but without revealing his greatness as God. However, in the divine plan the first steps are already made in Israelís very life and historical experience. Isnít the passage of the first reading, where God is described as full of "tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness," a tentative insight of God is Father? For the time being, it is a seed that will be fruitful at the coming of the fullness of time with Jesus Christ, through his incarnation and his teaching on God.

The mystery of the Trinity is beyond any human mind. The Trinity of God was neither the work of theologians nor mystics, nor even less of a think tank, as we say today. The mystery of the Trinity is not an invention of human genius to humiliate our feeble intelligence. It is not an idea, it is a reality, the most sublime and passionate reality which has always existed and will exist for ever. If God himself did not reveal it through his Son, it would have continued to be a reality, but unknown by man and therefore absolutely alien to his existence. Godís great love is inherent in his decision to reveal his mystery to us (Gospel).

The Trinitarian mystery is unveiled to us above all through Godís action in history. God reveals himself as a Father, moved by love, sending his Son into our sinful world to redeem us and to open the welcoming arms of the Father to us. Jesus Christ reveals himself as Son in his intimate filial prayer, his perfect obedience to his Fatherís will, and his redemptive death and resurrection, in order to destroy a sin whose stain only the Son could erase and to bring us the grace of salvation. The Holy Spirit reveals himself to us as a bond of love between the Father and the Son, a gift of communion to human beings, so that they can live in the image of the Trinity, even if in a most imperfect way. This is the revelation Jesus Christ makes to us and which the liturgy takes up in the second reading.

PASTOral SUGGESTIONS

I would like to consider briefly two pastoral aspects of the unfathomable mystery of the Blessed Trinity.

The human attitudes to this immense mystery. Before Godís mystery the most immediate attitude is adoration, sincere submission to the Father who so loves us, to the Brother who gave his life for us, to the Spirit who accompanies us and supports us down through history. It is more important to worship and give all honor and glory to our Lord than to reflect or ponder over this mystery. Another attitude is that of thanking God for what is a mystery and continues to be a mystery, even after the revelation. Since it is a mystery, it cannot be manipulated by man nor can he exploit it. Let us thank God for being God and not man, and for being a mystery. Finally, an attitude of humble acceptance of the mystery, avoiding both a rationalist stance which excludes it because it does not understand it (in this case, shouldnít many other things be excluded from his life?), and the irrationalist stance which, rather than accepting it, succumbs to its weight.

In the image of the Trinity. In the Trinity first comes the love between the divine persons, but there is also an outgoing love for creatures, for humanity. In God we have the model of human life. In the first place, we must love the beings who are closest to us and most intimate: the members of the family, the parish, the ecclesial movement to which we belong, etc. We must also love all our brothers and sisters in faith, believers in God, all people without distinction; our friends and our enemies, those of my parish and those of the neighboring parish. We love everyone, for everyone is made in the image and likeness of God.

 

corpus christi June 6th 1999

First: Dt 8:2-13.14-16; Second: 1 Cor 10:16-17; Gospel: Jn 6:51-58

THEME of the READINGS

Manna, bread (flesh) and wine (blood) are words abundantly used this Sunday when we celebrate the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. According to Deuteronomy (first reading), Moses says to the people: "Yahweh your God Ö fed you with manna which neither you nor your fathers had known." Jesus says in the Gospel: "I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world." For his part, Paul tells the Corinthians in his First Letter to them: "the bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ" (second reading).

 

DOCTRinal MESSAGE

Among the various aspects of Catholic doctrine we could examine, I would like to focus on what is, in the Eucharist, an unknown food.

The manna in the desert or the bread of the Eucharist is a bread unknown to man. This means that it is a bread that is not within the human beingís power to produce to satisfy his hunger when he feels the need. In other words, it is God, and only he, who grants it. Therefore it is not a bread that is available to our every whim, one more object of our passing fancy, however "religious" this may seem. It is only available to our humble prayer, to our sincere cry for our great lack and our acute and urgent need.

It is also an unknown bread, for it did not exist and its effects were unknown. Manna did not exist for the Israelites during their stay in Egypt, only in the desert did God give it to them so that they would not die of hunger on their way to the promised land. The Eucharist did not exist before Jesus instituted it at the Last Supper, and made it the most holy instrument of his personal presence among men. Its effects are extraordinary: "A sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace and a pledge of future glory is given to us" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 47).

The knowledge in question is a complete knowledge, involving our intellect as much as our experience and our heart, so that it will flow into our actions. With regard to experience, we must come to appreciate and savor the rare and extraordinary value of this food God grants us. With our experience of it, we must come to know all the theological, spiritual and moral riches that this food contains. But it is in no way possible to do without the knowledge of the heart, through an immense loving harmony with those who give us this food and with those who give us Jesus Christ our Lord as food. With this integral knowledge of the Eucharist, we will feel compelled to partake in it fervently and frequently and will succeed in forming one body, in common faith and reciprocal love. Whoever manages to know the Eucharist with all his being, will certainly live by the Eucharist and produce works of the Eucharist: unity, communion, spiritual strength, holiness of life, apostolic zeal, intimacy with God, etc.

PASTOral SUGGESTIONS

To know the Eucharist. An ongoing and regular catechesis is necessary, through homilies, religion classes, personal contacts, so that an integral knowledge of the bread of life will constitute the underlying basis of Christian piety whose summit and source is the Eucharist. I will emphasize several aspects of this knowledge: 1) one aspect is the real presence of Jesus in the tabernacle, and as a result respect and the feeling of sacredness inside a church. Churches are and must be places of prayer, silence, recollection, and worship, an encounter with God. What an immense task must be done to make the faithful know and live this aspect of the Eucharist! 2) Then there is a theological explanation of the fruits of the Eucharist, but in a simple, clear, exemplified and convincing way. After the explanation, one can speak of promoting visits to the Eucharist, especially early in the morning and at the end of the afternoon, to offer Jesus Christ all the hours of work and thank him for his help and comfort. We can encourage exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and adoration. Then we can speak of the transforming power of the Eucharist in those who receive it with rectitude and fervor. 3) Lastly, there is preparation for the fruitful reception of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. This preparation should cover reception of the sacrament of reconciliation, if the person is in a sinful state, reading and meditation on the word of God, as well as forgiveness, reconciliation and the service of oneís brothers and sisters.

To rid oneself of obstacles which impede the knowledge of the living bread, which gives life to the world. Sometimes, the first obstacle can be the temptation to reduce food to pure physical and material needs, alienating or dispensing with any other sort of food. Those who are nourished on earthly realities alone cannot rise to knowledge of the bread of heaven, to them it will seem a meaningless language lacking in value. Another possible difficulty is to make reception of the Eucharist "a social custom," as congratulating newly married couples at their wedding can be, or going to a friendís birthday party. The Eucharist is certainly a social event, that is, an ecclesial event, but it is above all a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Particularly for men, human respect or what will be said, fear of the opinion of others can be a substantial difficulty. Almost as if the Eucharist were a womanly thing! Isnít it a sign of masculinity to work from conviction and to pay no attention to the opinion of others?

 

Eleventh Sunday of ordinary time June 13th 1999

First: Ex 19:2-6; Second: Rm 5:6-11; Gospel: Mt 9:36-10, 8

THEME of the READINGS

A new phase in the long process of relations between human beings and God begins on Sinai: the choice and constitution of a people by God. This is what Exodus says: "You of all the nations shall be my very own." With Jesus Christ a new people of God was established in history, founded on the Twelve: "Jesus summoned his twelve disciplesÖ. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, SimonÖ." The new people of God was constituted through the total offering of Jesus Christ on the Cross through which the Father reconciled us to him: "through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have already gained our reconciliation."

 

DOCTRinal MESSAGE

A people created by God and formed by man. In Egypt the various tribes which descended from Jacob did not form a single people under the Yahwehís guidance. It is only on Sinai that God takes the initiative and makes the twelve tribes a people of his own through the covenant in the blood of the lamb. In continuity with the people of Israel, Jesus establishes a new people, choosing twelve disciples to represent the twelve tribes of Israel and serve as the basis of the new Christian people. Neither the people of Israel nor the Church, the new people of God, were established by themselves; if they exist, it is because God called them into existence. Without these people who left Egypt or without the Twelve, God could not have established a people of his own. He needs human persons to form his people and to accomplish his purpose in history.

The means with which God creates his people is the Covenant. It is a covenant between the king (God) and his servant (the people), with a series of clauses with which they promise one another fidelity. In this covenant between God and his people Godís fidelity is more than assured, but the fidelity of the people is not. For this reason it is constantly necessary to remember the covenant of fidelity to God and also the state in which both the tribes of Jacob and the Christians were living before they received baptism: they were oppressed, divided, hostile, hateful, and unredeemed. Is this not a more than sufficient reason for maintaining fidelity to the Covenant with generosity and hope?

God constituted the people of Israel and later the Church for a purpose. This purpose was on the one hand to proclaim and preserve monotheism through history, and on the other to make present and alive among men the universal and complete salvation that Jesus Christ brings to us all by the cross and resurrection. Jewish monotheism is completely fulfilled in the Christian mystery of the Trinity, with the ineffable assertion of three Persons in one God. Universal salvation is the task of the whole Church, which is the sign of manís union with God and of human beings with one another (Lumen Gentium, n. 1). Divine sonship and human brotherhood constitute the Churchís essential message, and proclaiming this message is its raison díêtre for being in the world.

 

PASTOral SUGGESTIONS

A single people. The current realities of society and of the Church stimulate pastoral promotion and the practice of unity in the midst of a diversity of races, political parties, legal structures, associations, and institutions. On these differences, the Church as an institution, with the bishops, priests and deacons, by virtue of their ministry of communion, must stand as a tall and luminous beacon of unity, solidarity, and generous service to all. In the midst of this diversity, they must be aware of the real difficulty of maintaining in a unity amidst legitimate differences existing between individuals in all fields of human labor. If conscience so dictates, people may and should belong to different parties while being members of one and the same Church; or accept immigrants from other countries in the parish community without their feeling humiliated or second class citizens or Christians. It would be good for different Church movements or associations to be present in the parishes and for everyone to participate in unity with love and respect, according to their individual charisms, in parish pastoral activities, in the sanctification and moral improvement of the faithful in the parish, etc.

A single mission. The Church, the parishes, the Church movements and the parish groups have a single objective, even if the means to achieve it are very different: to make the Gospel of Jesus Christ effective among human beings through the words, works, and testimony of good Christians. If Christ is preached, if Christ is known, it does not matter at all that this should be accomplished by someone who does not belong to my group or who uses methods that are different from mine. When Christ transforms peopleís lives, I should be happy, even if Godís instrument is not me, but someone else. Today, the Churchís task is immense. How can we be wasting time with thoughts or even arguments as to whether this or that group acts this way or that, using methods I do not share, with activities that seem strange to me, whether they are more traditional or more liberal,Ö? As long unity of faith and of morality exists, there is room for everyone in the Church and everyone contributes to the Churchís lively and effective presence in the world.

 

 

 

Twelfth Sunday of ordinary time June 20th 1999

First: Jer 20:10-13; Second: Rm 5:12-15; Gospel: Mt 10:26-33

THEME of the READINGS

The first reading from the prophet Jeremiah and the passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew emphasize two characteristic aspects of Christian life: on the one hand, persecutions and difficulties and, on the other, trust in God who allays all fear. "I hear so many disparaging meÖ But Yahweh is at my side, a mighty hero," confesses Jeremiah. "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soulÖ So there is no need to be afraid; you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows," Jesus exhorts his disciples. Why should we not fear? Because, in the words of the second reading: "the free gift is not like the effect of one manís sin." There is no comparison between the power of persecutors and the power of God.

 

DOCTRinal MESSAGE

There is no greater disciple than the Master. If Jesus was criticized (and before him, so were prophets like Jeremiah), if he was called a drunkard and "fond of his food," and if the power of Beelzebub was attributed to him, we Christians should not be surprised if people criticize us and even slander us. When this happens, we are true disciples of Jesus Christ. It is certainly not pleasant to read in newspapers and periodicals or to hear in the media criticisms of our faith in the Incarnation or ingenuous arguments which tend to deny the Resurrection. It may seem shameful and unworthy to us that Catholic morals should be criticized on various issues that challenge secular morals and the common mentality. This pains us and appears shameful to us, but it should not in the least affect either our certainties as regards our faith and our morals or our confidence and our total security in the victory of grace over sin, of the gift over the trespass. In a world that is losing the soundness of faith, that is falling into the arms of "religious subjectivism," that feels free to have opinions on anything, even what it does not know, we Christians are intrepid witnesses to values and attitudes, to truths and behavior which are not understood, which are consciously or unconsciously misinterpreted, which are rejected as obsolete or retrograde, which are considered to be outside the march of history and modernity. Christ tells us: "Do not be afraid." Sooner or later, the steadfastness of our faith will give us victory.

Godís grace is superabundant for all. That is the basis of our security and confidence. It is not on our strength or our morality the we rely on in the face of persecutions, criticisms, rejections, calumnies, incomprehension and indifference. The rock of our security is Godís grace, freely given by Jesus Christ. We are confident that divine grace will enlighten the minds of those who now criticize or reject the faith of the Church; we are confident that divine grace will move hearts to love the truth of Jesus Christ that the Church transmits to us, and will move human wills to live in conformity with the Christian decalogue, summed up in the Sermon on the Mount. We are confident the Lord will give us the strength to bear our difficulties that are due to others, and to fight with zeal and perseverance for truth and goodness. God takes care of the birds of the air, how can he not take care of us, his sons, who are worth more than all those sparrows?

 

PASTOral SUGGESTIONS

To accept the reality of the world in which we happen to live. In the past, perhaps the situation was different in the country, town, or village where we lived. The majority were Christian, the institutions looked more kindly on the Christian way of life, there were less means of perversion and of doing evil, society itself protected the individual better from any abuse or excess, there was a greater religious and social homogeneity, freedom was more protected and limited, and the prevalent mentality was in harmony with Christianity. We must not be nostalgic for the past. This world has already passed. Ours is a different one. We must accept it with all its greatness and precariousness. We are believers and Christians in this new situation, marked by secularism, materialism, subjectivism and positivism on a wide scale, although it is also marked by other more positive and praiseworthy aspects. The difficulties we must face are those of our time, those that come from our contemporaries. The battles we must fight are those destined first of all to defeat in ourselves and in our neighbors the secularism of our time, the materialism, subjectivism and positivism of contemporary man. The battles of the past are already history. Our battles for Christian faith and morality are those of today, those that are fought every day with bravery and courage.

To look at the world with trust and love. "Have trust, I have conquered the world," Jesus tells us. The world of evil can be overcome by good. Jesus Christ overcame it, surrendering his life for human beings. Thus we too must overcome it, with a surprising and constant love, with boundless trust, with tenacious work. The world in which we live will be saved if God can count on people prepared to give everything to save it and to regenerate it from within with his love. What are the small or great evils that afflict the daily life of our parish, of our Christian faithful? What concrete actions does my love and trust bring me to make in order to fight and overcome them? Let us not doubt or be afraid to put our trust in the grace and the mysterious power and realism of God.

 

 

Thirteenth Sunday of ordinary time June 27th 1999

First: 2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16; Second: Rm 6:3-4, 8-11; Gospel: Mt

 

THEME of the READINGS

A focal point of this Sundayís liturgy is the dignity of the human person and the Christian. In the Gospel it is written: "he who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me," which in positive terms is equivalent to saying: "he who takes up his cross and follows me is worthy of me." The worthy Christian is the one who is prepared to renounce self and possessions in favor of a superior value. In the first reading we are shown human worthiness as manifest in hospitality to strangers, one of the values most appreciated in the ancient world. Finally, the Letter to the Romans gives a vigorous account of the new life we receive through baptism, which makes us worthy of being incorporated in the mystery of Christ the Redeemer.

 

DOCTRinal MESSAGE

Human dignity is highly rated in todayís society, even if this expression can have very different meanings. We only speak of dignity with reference to man, not to inferior beings, nor with reference to God. It is true that we say that God is worthy of praise, of adorationÖ but we never speak of "Godís worthiness." Man alone is worthy or unworthy, as a human being, as a believer, as a professional, etc. With this expression we mean to indicate the elevation, the nobility and the exaltation of the human being who rises above other worldly creatures and the logical correspondence of human actions with these characteristics of his being. When this correspondence is lacking, man degenerates and becomes unworthy of himself and of his high vocation.

In todayís first reading, taken from the Book of Kings, we find a trait predominant in the human concept and dignity of that time: hospitality, particularly with strangers. The wealthy Shunamite who welcomes Elisha into her house shows herself to be worthy by nature, according to the social concepts of the time. Today we could translate this trait of human dignity using terms like solidarity, welcome to immigrants or social charity. The dignity of which the Gospel speaks consists in following Christ, and thus being prepared to leave everything (father, mother, childrenÖ) in order to follow him, bravely and decisively taking up oneís cross each day. This is a step forward in the dignity of man, not based on human nature, but on the revelation and grace of God. This step is taken by means of baptism, by which we are submerged in Christís paschal mystery and we participate in Godís life in our mortal bodies and in the here and now of our personal history and of our society (second reading).

To those who conform their lives with both their human and their Christian dignity, a rich reward is promised which surpasses human possibilities. To the Shunamite, who was barren and whose husband was old, Elisha promised the reward of embracing a son within one year. Jesus, for his part, promises eternal life to all those who are prepared to lose their life on earth. He also promises intimacy with him and with the Father to those who practice Christian hospitality and charity. And St. Paul in his letter to the Romans maintains that the baptized are already here on earth "alive to God in Jesus Christ."

 

 

PASTOral SUGGESTIONS

The meaning of human and Christian dignity. Since so much is being said about dignity but giving it such different meanings, it is appropriate to explain what the Gospel and the Church understand by this word. Moreover, from what has been said above, we will insist on the foundation of this dignity. It is founded on the order among creatures (the image and likeness of God), and it is founded on revelation as adopted sons of God. This dignity is therefore deeply rooted in Godís plan for man and not in anthropological concepts born from the human mind. All this will enable us to clarify certain realities of todayís mentality or human institutions, which proclaim themselves as such in the name of human dignity, based almost exclusively on notions of freedom and autonomy, but which in fact attack authentic dignity. For example, abortion, drug dependency, sexual promiscuity, blasphemy, the lack of religious practice, etc. Freedom is certainly an element of human dignity (it might perhaps be necessary here to explain freedom from and freedom for), but it is not the only one. Intelligence and discernment also go with it, along with the love for truth and good, the will to overcome and to surrender.

Solidarity. The Church and governmental and non-governmental organizations do much in this field to respond to the almost infinite needs of our world. This international solidarity is very good, and it must be increasingly promoted. With all this, I prefer now to refer to that "small solidarity," which knocks at our door every day. Solidarity with the family next door who asks a favor of you, with the migrant who comes to you looking for a job; with third world nationals who sell flowers or paper tissues at the traffic lights; with the handicapped person who is sure to be found in your parish as in many others; with a few of the projects of the parish priest or the parish pastoral council; with a some of the school activities in which your children are involved, etc. The two forms of solidarity complement one another. We must show the greater one, Jesus would tell us, without failing to show the lesser.

 

Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul June 29th 1999

First: Acts 12: 1-11; Second: 2 Tim 4:6-8,17-18; Gospel: Mt 16:13-19

THEME of the READINGS

The liturgy points out St. Peter and St. Paul, the two great Apostles of the first Christian community, to us as teachers and confessors of the faith, the two great Apostles of the first Christian community. "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God," Peter proclaims on behalf of the other disciples in answer to Jesusí question: "But you, who do you say I am?". This very confession of faith is the reason why Herod Agrippa persecutes Peter and puts him in prison to please the scribes and the Pharisees (first reading). For his part, Paul, already in the evening of his life, opens his heart to Timothy in a beautiful sentence, full of meaning: "I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith;" and a few verses later, "the Lord stood by me and gave me the power, so that through me the whole message might be proclaimed for all the pagans to hear."

 

 

DOCTRinal MESSAGE

Todayís feast is the feast of faith: the personal faith of Peter and Paul in Jesus Christ; faith proclaimed and taught by both of them in a span of about thirty years until their death; faith confessed and witness, day after day, between persecutions and consolations until they poured out their blood in martyrdom.

Personal faith. Faith for Peter is perhaps a continuous process, from his first encounter with Christ by the Sea of Galilee, until his enthusiastic cry, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God," or his humble, sincere recognition: "Lord, you know everything; you know I love you." In Paulís case, it bursts upon him, a stunning surprise on the road to Damascus. This faith in Jesus Christ that chains him with fetters of freedom, was to deepen as the years passed, and in his letters he left behind a taste of it: "Life to me, of course, is Christ." "The life I now live in this body I live in faith: faith in the Son of God who loved me and who sacrificed himself for my sake." Both Apostles founded their teaching, their witness and their mission on this personal, unshakable faith, stronger than death.

Teachers of faith. The first part of the Acts of the Apostles shows Paul actively preaching the Christian kerygma to Jews and to pagans such as the family of Cornelius. He proclaims what he believes vigorously and sincerely; he teaches what he has seen, heard and received from his Teacher. He has nothing of his own to say, only Christís mystery that he imposes with the power and evidence of faith. Neither does Paul have anything to say of his own, except only what he has received. And when, in some cases he adds something that he has not received, he specifies that he does so in accordance with Christís Spirit, which possess him and spurs him to speak with authority.

Witness of faith. Words, even the most sublime, will not be accepted if they are only words and not life. After the example of Jesus Christ, who gave his life for all, Peter and Paul were to conclude their witness of Christian life by dying for the faith in which they believed, preached and professed throughout the Mediterranean region. Martyrdom in this way comes to be the seal of the authenticity of their faith, the reliable pledge for us of the truth they communicated and bequeathed to us, and of which they are likewise steadfast and eternal pillars.

 

PASTOral SUGGESTIONS

I believe Ö we believe." As pastors we must transmit the Churchís faith as it found formulated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. To pass it on, and to do so with honesty and conviction, we must first make all the faith of the Church our own, making it our own with intelligence, reading, studying, and meditating on the lovely and doctrinally rich pages of the Catechism. We should make it our own with our hearts, truly loving the doctrinal, organic, complete, coherent, rejuvenated and rejuvenating body of the Catholic Church. We make it our own with our lives, in order not to be or to appear to be empty preachers, but witnesses of the eternal truth which comes to us from God and which brings us to God. Equipped with this ecclesial faith, personalized through meditation, love and witness, we will invite our parishioners with conviction to believe individually and as a community what the Church teaches us, to love those who believe, and to witness in their familiar and professional world to what they love. And we will not be afraid to proclaim the "difficult" truths with humility and firmness, because the Spirit himself who inspires us to proclaim them, works effectively in the faithful so that they will accept and live them.

Faithful to the Magisterium. The Church is a living body that is built of living stones. We all take part in her construction, but under the guidance and supervision of those who are the successors of Peter (the Pope) and the other Apostles (the bishops). As sharers in Christís priesthood and collaborators of the bishops, we priests and deacons are morally obliged to listen to the voices of the Holy Father and the bishops. Let us create around them around them an atmosphere of respect, acceptance, availability, of sincere filial affection. They are men like us, but they are above all the teachers of our faith, the confessors and witnesses of the truth revealed by God in Jesus Christ, through the Spirit.

 

Fourteenth Sunday of ordinary time July 4th 1999

First: Zech 9:9-10; Second: Rm 8:9, 11-13; Gospel: Mt 11:25-

THEME of the READINGS

Not infrequently, Christianity seems paradoxical, precisely because it unites harmoniously within itself realities that oppose each other. This Sundayís readings propose one of these paradoxes: the Messiah-king humbly approaching Jerusalem riding on an ass (first reading); Jesus, master and lord, who calls himself gentle and lowly in heart and also claiming that his yoke is easy and his burden light; St. Paul who, in his letter to the Romans, following Christís footsteps, reasons in a peculiar way that can be summed up: "if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live."

 

DOCTRinal MESSAGE

Paradoxes are surprising and disconcerting to us. They escape the logic of reason and they "martyr" us by making us lose control of thought. Paradoxes are a product of thought, but they belong to a sphere that is different from logic and reason. They come from the emotional, the intuitive sphere, the logic of the heart and, if they are Christian paradoxes, also from the sphere of revelation and faith. In this sense, the starting point of our homily for today must be the reality of the Christian paradox and the awareness of this reality. From this standpoint, we can reflect on the liturgical texts:

The paradox of the Messiah. The Messiah awaited throughout the Old Testament was the Messiah-king, Davidís descendent, who was to enter Jerusalem as a great monarch riding a horse, after having reconquered the whole of Davidís kingdom. Zechariah mentions a king, just and victorious indeed, but humble and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass. Christianity saw this prophecy come true in Jesus, the Messiah awaited by the Jews and by all peoples. He is a Messiah-king, but who reigns Ė what a mystery! Ė from the throne of the cross in the midst of the most atrocious suffering.

The paradox of love. The passage from St. Matthew reproduces, as in a picture, the paradoxical love of Jesus. This is a paradox that shows the most annihilating humiliation of the most sublime and conscious greatness, that of the Son of God, by means of the incarnation. The paradox is that of the Lord and Master who, in his simplicity and humility of heart, places the burden and the yoke on his shoulders, so that we, his servants oppressed by the weight, might find the burden lighter and we, his disciples worn out by laws and precepts, might find the yoke easier.

The paradox of grace. In Christian life, the terms "to die Ė to live" are correlative, that is, one must die to live. It is by the death of the deeds of the flesh that the new man is raised, who lives by the Spirit. This is death in the ascetic sense, and, if God wills, also in the real sense to the point of martyrdom, so that Christ may live in us in a way that is not of this world. If this is truly imprinted on him, a Christian is not of this world, but he is in the world as leaven and as light.

PASTOral SUGGESTIONS

Christians are unclassifiable. Human beings have a marked tendency to classify each other, labeling people by contrasting categories. One is left wing or right wing, traditional or progressive, charismatic or institutional, liberal or conservative, and so on. Christians do not fit any of these categories, they are simply Christian. This gives them the freedom to belong to all the categories, if their consciences call them to do so in certain cases. In our pastoral work, we must keep this clearly in mind and break down these oppositions. Sometimes a Christian may appear progressive, because that is what his faith and conscience require of him, and on other occasions he may appear traditional for the same reasons. It is not the categories that count, but the values that are being promoted and preserved; and when values are at stake, no classification matters. Values such as life, public morality, the safeguard of the environment, the dignity of the human person, freedom in general and religious freedom in particular, do not belong to any category and cannot be subordinated to any factious classifications. These are human values and will always have to be protected and fostered anywhere and in all circumstances.

Do not be afraid of being "pigeon-holed," of the fact that people give us a nickname we do not like, that makes us lose friends, that may even put our reputation and our honor at risk. The first to have been categorized by the men of his own time was Jesus, and not very favorably: bon viveur, friend of publicans and sinners, rebel against the laws of his people, etc. Jesus Christ was not concerned by such classifications. The only thing which cornered his interest and was his true concern, the proclamation of the kingdom of God, the inner repentance and the conversion, and the faith that is needed to reach this kingdom. All the rest did not matter to him. We, as priests and pastors, must have the same attitude as Jesus Christ, even if it does not come easily to us and even if our natural tendency would be to follow another course. In addition, as pastors, we must inculcate this same attitude in our Christian faithful, with simple reasoning, with sincere conviction and with persuasive force. When this fear is broken, which is so binding and paralyzing, Christians acquire a great freedom of spirit to act before God and not before men.

 

 

Fifteenth Sunday of ordinary time July 11th 1999

First: Is 55:10-11; Second: Rm 8:18-23; Gospel: Mt 1-23.

 

THEME of the READINGS

The Word of God is effective and fruitful; this is why we are urged to accept it and put it into practice. Isaiah compares it to the rain that fertilizes the earth and makes the seed germinate (first reading). In explaining the parable of the sower, Jesus teaches that the seed is the Word of God that, if it falls on rich soil (those who listen to and accept the message), produces its crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. In the second reading some fruits of the Word and of divine Revelation are pointed out: the freedom and glory of the Son of God, the participation of the universe in the "hope [of man]."

 

DOCTRinal MESSAGE

Until quite recent times, it was usual to establish a poor and incomplete relationship between the sacrament and the word. The emphasis was on the effectiveness of the sacrament, by virtue of an inherent efficiency, the famous ex opere operato, and little importance was given to the disposition of the person who was receiving it, that is, the ex opere operantis. With reference to the word, its character as revelation and above all its moral value were stressed, somewhat at the expense of its transforming force. The Churchís current reflection, based on the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, has recovered notably the power and the synergy of the Word of God, recalling the famous passage of the letter to the Hebrews: "The word of God is something alive and active: it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely: it can slip through the place where the soul is divided from the spirit, or joints from the marrow; it can judge the secret emotions and thoughts" (4:12-13). The Word, on a par with the sacrament, has an efficiency of its own, and is effective in proportion to the disposition of those who hear it.

The Word reaches everyone, but not everyone listens to it and accepts it (the parable of the sower gives credibility to the truth of this proposal). Already at the end of the first century AD, it could be said that Jesusí message had been taken to all the corners of the world known at the time. Today, thanks to printing (the Bible, or at least the New Testament, is translated into more than 1,500 languages), the mass media with an international outreach, and above all the missionaries and evangelizers, it can almost be guaranteed, without fear of being mistaken, that the seed of the Word of God has been sown in all the corners of our planet. Together with this comforting reality, another evident reality can be noted: some listen to the Word, accept it and try to live it; others receive it with indifference, one more among so many words that reach their ears; but there are also many who accept it, meditate upon it, love it and express it in attitudes and behavior.

When man is well disposed, the Word gives abundant fruit. The rain, an image of the word in the first reading, does not return to God empty. The seed, an image of the Word in the Gospel, produces a superabundance of fruit in human soil well-prepared to receive it: from thirty percent it is wonderful if, as it seems, the average yield in the land of Judaea was ten percent at the most. This is why Paul speaks of results that exceed all imagination: through his Spirit, God revealed to us our condition and our glory as his children and the mysterious final participation of men in the glory of the cosmos (second reading). This abundant crop is not by chance, nor at the margin of Godís will; it is God himself who, as a kind and generous Father, wants his Word to produce the most abundant fruit.

PASTOral SUGGESTIONS

Frequent reading of the Word of God and meditation on it. Much has been done and is being done to spread the Bible among Christians, as well as among those who do not believe in Christ. Much has also been accomplished to ensure that the Christian faithful read and meditate on the Bible, both individually or in groups. Many courses, weeks and festivals are also organized throughout the year in a great many countries. Lectio divina and other similar forms of reading and biblical meditation have become widespread not only in monasteries and religious institutes, but also among secular persons. We should thank God for the immense harvest that all this work is producing in Christians and in the Church. Let us use this Sunday to reflect on the presence and efficacy of Godís Word in our diocese, in our parish, in our community. What have we done until now? What are the results? What could we improve? Has the time come to promote new initiatives in this field of the pastoral ministry?

Word and sacrament. These are two indivisible entities. This is what the Church has meant since her origins, uniting them in the liturgy of the Eucharist. First the effective word that falls, like a seed, on those participating in the Eucharist and makes Jesusí Christís revelation present. Then the effective sacrament which, through the consecration, makes Jesus Christís revelation present. The Word of God prepares us for the sacrament, and the sacrament of the Eucharist predisposes us to accept the word sincerely. A sound and constant catechesis on the need to participate in the whole Eucharistic celebration is therefore important. It is not principally a moral problem: "whether or not the Mass is valid, because I arrived at the homily or the CreedÖ." It is above all a spiritual subject (the soul needs the nourishment of the divine Word) and one of Christian pedagogy (teaching people a complete and very rich conception of the Eucharistic celebration, uprooting out of date ways of thinking).

 

 

Sixteenth Sunday of ordinary time July 18th 1999

First: Wis 12:13.16-19; Second: Rm 8:26-27; Gospel: Mt

THEME of the READINGS

The liturgy speaks to us of the great realism of Christian life: the presence of good and evil in the world surrounding us and within the human person, the master of the land who sows the good seed and his enemy who sows the bad seed among it, the wheat and the darnel which grow together until the time of the harvest (Gospel); the daring of those who do not know or believe in Godís power and the manifestation of divine strength, although it is done with lenience (first reading); the weakness of man in general and above all at the time of asking for what is right for him and the Holy Spirit who intercedes for us, expressing our plea effectively in a way that could never be put into words (second reading).

 

DOCTRinal MESSAGE

Christianity is essentially optimistic, but it is not utopian. A Christian is certain of the ultimate victory of good, but does not close his eyes to the evil which can be felt in his surroundings. A Christian lives and acts according to the Spirit, but does not forget that he treads the earth with all its anxieties and all its sin. He knows he is the citizen of heaven, but does not cease to be a person of his time and of this earth.

Good and evil, present among mankind have a different origin. Good was sown by God in the world and in human hearts; evil comes from Godís enemy, from Satan, the father of sin and of every other evil in the world. Good grows in the world not as much by man, but through Godís supernatural and constant action. Evil grows in us and in the world, because the devil provokes and promotes it by making it attractive. When good reaches maturity it is the culmination of Godís saving action in the world. When evil is ripe, it brings Godís judgment of sin and of sinful men to fulfillment. It is true that God judges with lenience and governs all with great indulgence (first reading), but only if man opens his soul to the Spirit who comes to help us in our weakness (second reading).

Good and evil grow together. The Gospel teaching is also an observation of daily experience. We see it primarily in the secret sanctuary of our own conscience, day after day, and we experience it in the milieu in which we live and move, as well as in the world at large, reaching us in our homes by means of the media. We must not fall prey to determinism, seeing man as predestined in eternity to be good or eternally predestined to be evil, but the presence of these two great irreconcilable forces imposes itself as an obvious inexorable fact that is worthy of our vigilant attention.

Evil is vanquished by good. The words of the first and second readings give evidence of the triumph of good over evil, thanks to divine lenience and the power of the Spirit. In the Gospel text itself, the insertion of two other small parables between the parable of the wheat and the darnel and the commentary on the latter, can be interpreted as the victory and triumph of good which, being the smallest of all the seeds, becomes the biggest shrub, and which, being a few grams of yeast leavens the flour all through. If such is the force of good, we cannot fail to be convinced of its triumph.

PASTOral SUGGESTIONS

Apostles of good. While we never shut our eyes on evil, why do we almost wish to be blind to good? Unfortunately, good has no apostles, rather it has regular and frequent critics. On the other hand evil, crime, moral disorder are all over our television screens, in the headlines of our newspapers and on the lips of many Christians. Many of us are concerned about the environment and the ecology of the planet; we should be concerned, at least to an equal extent, about the moral ecology of our mass media, about the ethical cleanliness of the streets of our towns. If the level of atmospheric pollution rises above the norm, immediate measures are taken to bring it down. What happens when the level of moral pollution exceeds what is decent and honest? Anyone who dares to point to the problem is deluged with criticisms and not infrequent taunts. Certainly, the evil that can be seen and that is propagated must be attacked; however, it is much more important and effective to stifle evil by the proclamation of good, to eradicate evil by means of good and kindness, patience and understanding.

Elite Christians or mass Christians? This is question Cardinal Danielou raised in the 1960ís. His answer was crystal clear: the Church belongs to everyone and there is room for all. There are saints and there are sinners. There are leaders and those who are led. There wheat and there is darnel. There is human weakness and there is Godís mercy. Ecclesia sancta et peccatrix. That is our Church. There is a profound realism that pervades and envelopes the Church. By extension, we could also say: "holy and sinful parish," "holy and sinful religious institution." Let us be realistic with ourselves and in our pastoral activities. Let us have faith, after all, that in the midst of our parish or religious community, holiness may grow and sin may diminish. With todayís liturgy, let us rest assured that "God can use his power when he wishes" (first reading) and that "the Spirit too comes to help us in our weaknessÖ expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words" (second reading). With the Gospel, let us be convinced that the seed of good can turn into a large tree.

 

XVII Sunday of Ordinary Time July 25, 1999

First: 1 Kings 3: 5, 7-12; Second: Rom 8,28-30; Gospel: Mt 13: 44-52

THEME of the READINGS

One of the characteristics of human beings is freedom of choice. Choice is the theme that unites the liturgical texts through which the Church invites us to reflect on how to live in a more evangelical way. In the Gospel, a man chooses to sell everything he owns to buy the field where he has discovered a buried treasure. Likewise, a merchant sells all he has, to obtain the most precious pearl of all. In the parable of the net it is no longer man who chooses but God, according to the choices that man has made in his life. The second reading speaks of Godís call and manís subsequent response. The figure of Solomon praying in the first reading shows that it is in prayer where one becomes capable of making the most authentic choices.

DOCTRinal MESSAGE

The Church is the Kingdom of Christ "already present in mystery" (LG 3). The Church is also the Mystical Body of Christ, in other words, the mystery of the Incarnation prolonged over time. The Gospel parables have a Christological meaning. All people, but especially Christís disciples, are called to "sell" everything to obtain the treasure that is Christ, the finest pearl, which is the mystery of Christ. Those who approach the Father after their death with this treasure in their hands will share his life and glory. The parables also have an ecclesiological meaning, for the Church is the field in which Godís treasure is hidden. The one who seeks to acquire the precious pearl, but without the Church, will not be able to do so. To choose Christ, the treasure, is inseparable from choosing the Church, the field where the treasure may be found. It is absurd and against the most genuine doctrine of the Gospel and the tradition of the Church to oppose Christ and the Church, or to seek Christ without the Church or a Church without Christ.

Choosing the treasure or the very fine pearl, fills a personís heart with joy (Mt 13: 44). Buying the field means doing away with many things, sometimes things greatly loved and rooted in our life. However, before the reality of the treasure, one does not pay attention to what is being left behind, or allow it to keep a nostalgic presence in oneís heart. Rather, oneís whole attention is focused on the treasure, on the pearl, and thus the soul rejoices. It is the joy of those who value Godís call to Christian faith, to the Catholic Church. It is the joy of those who, through this call and their free response, know that they are the owners of a wonderful treasure that God has given them, and through which God Ė already now and definitively in heaven Ė lets them share in his salvation and glory (Rom 8: 30).

In his prayer, Solomon was able to discern Godís will, and made an enlightened choice in accordance with his vocation as king of the People of Israel (1 Kings 3:9). It is in prayer where man is able to more fully discover and to choose the pearl of great worth, what is unique and of highest value, Christ and the Church in Godís salvific plan.

 

PASTOral SUGGESTIONS

A Christian choice. Todayís world offers Christians the possibility to choose among many attractive and seductive realities, at least to the sight and the pocket. An enormous disgrace weighing heavily on man is the deceit and illusion of believing that there is a treasure in a field where there actually is none, or dreaming of a treasure that does not exist, valuing as a fine pearl what is only tinsel. With time comes disappointment and frustration. Who will guide people in the quest for the real treasure?

Many Christians, perhaps many faithful of our parish, need to appreciate on their own or with someone elseís help, the invaluable treasure of Christ and the Church in which this treasure is hidden. They own it as if it were an inheritance, like an ancient painting decorating one of the walls in their house. The painting is there, but itís value goes unnoticed. It must be chosen. But how will they choose Christ if he is not a treasure for them, if he is not the supreme value of their existence? How are they going to love the Church and to work in the Church, without knowing that it is in the Church where one finds Christ? It is urgently necessary for Christianity to be an inheritance that is appreciated and chosen, so as to fill oneís life with joy.

The meaning of vocation. An effort must be made to broaden the concept of vocation in peopleís minds. There is a vocation to life, a vocation to marriage, a vocation to priesthood or to consecrated life, a vocation to lay apostolate, a vocation to heaven, etc. In essence, it is important for an individual "to feel called, " to feel that he has been chosen. Human life, and in a deeper way Christian life, is a dialogue of freedom between God and man: God calls and man responds. God calls us to human and Christian fulfillment. Each person must respond to this call, and this response determines oneís history and destiny. Living ordinary life from the perspective of vocation provides a new perspective on oneís existence. Making the small concrete everyday decisions as responses to a God who calls us, helps us to make our decisions with greater responsibility and also gives great value to the exercise of our freedom in minor everyday matters.

 

XVIII Sunday of Ordinary Time August 1, 1999

First: Is 55: 1-3; Second: Rom 8: 35, 37-39; Gospel: Mt 14: 13-21

THEME of the READINGS

Although the word does not appear in the liturgical texts, generosity is perhaps the key to these texts. The generosity of God invites us to participate gratuitously in the messianic banquet: "He who has no money, come, buy and eat" (Is 55: 1). Godís generosity is revealed by Jesus Christ when he multiplied the loaves and fish for thousands of people, satisfied their hunger. Thereafter, the disciples still collected twelve baskets full of leftovers (Gospel). Before Godís generosity, Paul believed that there was nothing in heaven or on earth that could separate us from the love of the Father manifested in Jesus Christ (cf Rom 8: 38-39).

 

DOCTRinal MESSAGE

In the Holy Scriptures, many names are attributed of God. He is God, the Almighty. He is just, wise, and rich in mercy, etc. There is no text in which it is said that God is generous, but this divine trait underlies and fills all of the other attributes. Omnipotence, divine justice, and mercy emanate from his infinite generosity. We can thus say that God is extremely generous when manifesting his power, his justice, or his mercy.

In todayís first reading, Godís generosity is revealed in the context of a covenant. God takes the initiative and establishes a covenant with his people. God himself "pays" for the banquet with which he establishes the covenant. In the multiplication of the loaves, Christ underscores Godís generosity with the overabundance of food. In the Bread of Life Discourse, Jesus says: "I am the bread of life. No one who comes to me will ever hunger; no one who believes in me will ever thirst" (Jn 6: 35). Christ is this overabundant food, bread that never ends, given to us by the Father.

Godís generosity is not an ostentatious display of power or a decoy to impress and attract admiration. Godís generosity responds to human poverty, to a personís deepest abandonment. A personís most pressing need is subsistence, and God pours forth his generosity through the fertility of the soil and the fecundity of plants and animals. Man feels the burning desire for the divine, to be united with God, and Godís generosity fulfills this desire completely by revealing himself as the God of history and as the faithful spouse of the covenant. The individual, torn apart by sin and possessed of repentance, needs forgiveness, and Godís generosity opens the arms of his mercy to man as to a prodigal son. The path of life is long for man, and is filled with snares; this is why he seeks a strong hand to hold, a companion and friend to walk with. Thus God shows man his generosity in the Eucharist and the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the human heart burns the desire for immortal life, and Godís generosity reveals to us the risen Christ and our destiny as people who have risen with Christ. In the last analysis, we may assert that Jesus Christ from the Incarnation to the Ascension never ceased showing us the face of God, Father of generous love. Paul began to understand Godís generous love when Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus. As the years went by, through the divine revelation assimilated over long hours of prayer, he progressively deepened in the infinite greatness of Godís love (longitude, latitude, height and depth). When faced with the extraordinary power of the generous love of the Father, Paul Ė and with him all of Christís disciples Ė reacts in a genuine and consistent manner. "For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come ... will be able to separate us and the love of God, known to us in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8: 38-39). The Christian cannot help but feel generous in his response to Godís generosity.

 

PASTOral SUGGESTIONS

Among our Christian faithful, we often hear complaints against God. He is held responsible for the origin of all personal or collective evils. If an innocent person dies, God is responsible. If oneís son takes drugs or is HIV positive, it is Godís fault. If an accident happens to a loved one, the only reaction we can think of is to complain about God, who does not care for us. There is hardly an accident for which God is not blamed as being responsible. It is an easy way out of oneís own responsibility. It is an alibi for the misuse of human freedom. It is the "scapegoat" of many human errors, of many disturbances, of many violations of justice and dignity. Could God have ceased to be generous with man and become a stingy merchant of happiness? Could it perhaps be that we blame God for things that are only the consequence of manís free action? Wouldnít it be a lot better to open our eyes to a God who continues to show and manifest his generosity today, as in the past, in the individual and history?

Before the false image of God as the enemy of human happiness, Christians are called to proclaim God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose generosity is as infinite as his love and mercy. We must meditate more on the generosity of God to make it easier for us to discover it, to appreciate it more and more, to be able to talk about it with deep conviction and warmth, and to bear witness to it. The saints, our brothers and sisters in the faith, tell us with their lives how they perceived Godís generosity, and they offer us concrete ways in which we can do the same.

 

XIX Sunday of Ordinary Time August 8, 1999

First: 1 Kings 19: 9, 11-13; Second: Rom 9: 1-5; Gospel: Mt 14:

THEME of the READINGS

God reveals himself to Elijah in the soft murmur of the breeze on Mount Horeb (first reading). Jesus Christ reveals himself to the disciples as the Son of God by mastering the rough waves of the sea and with his mysterious words. "Itís me! Donít be afraid" (Gospel). On his part, Paul is very aware that God has revealed himself to the People of Israel. "To them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises" (Rom 9: 4). Elijahís reaction is one of sacred fear before the presence of Yahweh. "He covered his face with his cloak" (1 Kings 19: 13). Peterís response is one of doubt. "You have so little faith, why did you doubt?" (Mt 14: 31). The response of the group of disciples is one of faith. "Truly, you are the Son of God" (Mt 14: 33). Paul knows full well that the People of Israel have not responded to God and have not been faithful to divine Revelation. Thus he feels great sorrow and unremitting agony in his heart (second reading). Godís Revelation and manís response Ė here in summary is the message of the liturgy.

 

DOCTRinal MESSAGE

 

God reveals himself to men not through concepts but by means of symbolic action or an interpersonal relationship. After Elijah flees to Mount Carmel to avoid being killed by Jezebel (1 Kings 19: 1-3), God makes him cross the land of Palestine from north to south to Mount Horeb. On the mountain, in solitude and prayer, God reveals himself to Elijah. God had revealed himself to Moses as the Lord of the powers of nature in the midst of lighting, fire, and thunder (cf. Ex 19: 16-19). Centuries later and on the same mountain, he will reveal himself to Elijah in the murmur of a soft breeze, with the softness of a motherís kiss.

Jesus Christ spent long hours in prayer and dialogue with the Father (cf. Mt 14: 23). The disciples almost powerlessly fought the rough waves on Lake Tiberias. All of a sudden they see a human figure resembling Jesus coming towards them. They are frightened. They think they are seeing a ghost. Jesus takes advantage of this circumstance to reveal himself to them in his most intimate identity, by means of a symbolic gesture. Like Yahweh (cf. Job 9: 8; Ps 77: 20), he walks over the waves of the sea, thus showing that he is the lord of the sea and of nature. Like Yahweh (cf. Ex 3: 15), he reveals his divine name, "I am." Jesus shows his divine power, but he especially reveals his divine sonship to the disciples.

Paul reminds us of the extraordinary prerogatives of God in relation to Israel, underscoring that "To them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ" (Rom 9: 5). With the patriarchs the historic revelation of God begins. With Christ such revelation culminates and reaches its plenitude, and this mystery is fulfilled among the Chosen People. This is how God reveals himself to us as the faithful one par excellence, as the one who does not regret his choice or his promises. Godís covenant with Israel continues in spite of Israelís infidelity. Godís Revelation is a dialogue with each person, and by its very nature requires an answer. Elijah responds with the obedience of faith (1 Kings 19: 15-18) so that belief in Yahweh would be preserved in the land. Peter responds with fear and doubt to a situation he caused, challenging the power of Jesus. The People of Israel responded by rejecting the Revelation of Jesus as Messiah and of his divine sonship. Finally, the disciples are the ones who gave the best and most exhaustive response; "Truly, you are the Son of God."

Our response to Godís Revelation, preserved and passed on to us by the Church, must be in the words of Vatican Council II, "The obedience of faithÖ. By faith man freely commits his entire self to God..., willingly assenting to the Revelation given by him" (DV 5).

 

 

PASTOral SUGGESTIONS

In order to answer oneís interlocutor, one must know the content of their message or proposal. If the person of today wishes to give a responsible and mature answer to Godís Revelation, he must first of all know such a Revelation. It is rather evident that for a certain number of years there was a "doctrinal vacuum" in catechesis (perhaps still existing in some areas today). Thus the Revelation of God that the Church conveys to us is partially unknown, misknown or insufficiently known. There is a major formative task to be carried out in parishes, youth groups, and Church groups. It is a difficult but absolutely necessary task so that a strong conversion experience or moment of religious enthusiasm does not become disappointing or simply a temporary explosion of feelings. We cannot place enough emphasis on the pressing need for numerous and well formed catechists, catechists working with the faithful of all ages so that their response of faith may be genuine and mature.

It is not enough to know Godís Revelation. The experience of past centuries and of contemporary times has taught us Ė and this is witnessed by this Sundayís liturgy Ė that by virtue of his freedom, man can give very different responses, and in fact he does. There are those whose response is one of rejection, a lack of interest, or indifference. For others there is open hostility towards the Christian message. There are those who believe but in their own way, letting themselves be guided by subjective criteria. Others do believe but their faith has "holes or leaks," and it is thus "impossible" for them to accept certain truths of the Catholic faith or morality. The real answer, the one we must seek for ourselves and for our parishioners, is the complete, sure, and responsible answer: the obedience of faith.

 

Solemnity of the Assumption August 15, 1998

First: Acts 11: 19; 12: 1-6, 10; Second: 1 Cor 15: 20-26; Gospel: Lk 1: 39-56

THEME of the READINGS

"For the Almighty has done great things for me" (Lk 1: 49). This is the main message of Maryís Assumption. He as made her the Mother of God, as we are reminded by the Gospel. He has made her the Mother of the Church, which like Mary, continues giving birth to Christ in the midst of pain and the attacks of the dragon, until the end of time (second reading). He has allowed her to share the glory of her risen Son by means of her Assumption to Heaven, in body and soul. In her humbleness, Mary recognizes and praises the Lord for the great things that he has done for her (Gospel).

 

 

DOCTRinal MESSAGE

 

In the liturgical cycle, the Church brings to our attention the greatness of Mary: her Immaculate Conception (December 8), her divine Motherhood (January 1), her virginity in the Annunciation (March 25), and finally her Assumption into heaven (August 15). The Assumption, therefore, is the culmination of Godís mighty work in Mary. What does the greatness of the Mother of Christ and of the Church consist in?

It is her sharing and partaking in the triumph of her Son, Jesus Christ. Christ has risen. Christ has departed from this world to the kingdom of his Father. Mary still has a mission to fulfill, the mission of the Mother of the Church. But the time comes in which the course of her earthly life. In the faith of the Church, at the end of history the dead will rise. The power of God and of his Son have anticipated this final moment for Mary, which takes place after her death. Thus her entire person, in her body and soul, the Ark in which the Son of God dwelled for 9 months, a body never stained by sin, shares in a very special way in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and anticipates the resurrection of other Christians.

It is the glorification of the human being in its corporeity. In the Assumption of Mary, the natural perfection of the human person is accomplished and fully realized through the power of God, as death entails a separation of the essential unity of the person. Death is thus violent and "unnatural." Human nature groans with the pains of labor waiting for redemption and freedom from the slavery of corruption (cf. Rom 8: 18-25). In other words, it waits for the definitive union of its entire being. Maryís human nature does not groan. It already enjoys this definitive union with her Son.

She is the first fruit and the guarantee, together with Christ, of the resurrection of our flesh, as we proclaim in the Creed. The term "flesh" designates man in his condition of weakness and mortality. The resurrection of the flesh means that after death there will not only be life for the immortal soul, but also our "mortal bodies" (Rom 8: 11) will have new life (CIC 990). In this extraordinary work of divine power, the protagonist in the Assumption of Mary and in the resurrection of the dead is the Holy Spirit. "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you" (Rom 8,11).

PASTOral SUGGESTIONS

The value of the body. Christianity attributes great value to the human body because it is God who created it. It is God who has assumed a human body in becoming man. It is God who through his grace has made it the temple of the Holy Trinity, and it is God who destines it to resurrection. Since Christianity values the body, it teaches us to preserve it, look after it, protect it, and love it. What Christianity rejects is the "worship of oneís body," turning the body into an idol. Unfortunately, there are people for whom "you are worth what your body is worth in their eyes." Christians look after their health, they look after their personal hygiene with simplicity and sobriety, but they do not waste or devote excessive time or money to "pamper" their body. As Christians, do we value time sufficiently so as to not want to "waste" it in worshipping our body? Have we thought about the good we could do with the money that we squander to spoil our body?

Respect for oneís body. Our corporeity is a gift of God. The body is not just flesh. It is the epiphany of the person, and it is for this reason that it also enjoys a dignity of its own and deserves respect. People who take drugs or get drunk, those who use their sexuality for pleasure, those who damage their health by smoking excessively or endanger their life by driving recklessly do not respect their body. The bodies of other persons must also be respected. Thus we should avoid violence or abuse. We should look at them with modesty, valuing people for who they are rather than according to their surface appearance. The feast of the Assumption is a hymn to the value and dignity of the human body, glorified by God in a way unknown to us in eternity. In essence, it is a song of thanksgiving to the extraordinary power of God, who in the humanity of the Blessed Virgin Mary has done something beyond our reach, which is wonderful.

 

XXI Sunday of Ordinary Time August 22, 1999

First: Is 22: 19-23; Second: Rom 11: 33-36; Gospel: Mt 16: 13-20

THEME of the READINGS

The figure of Peter, confessing Jesus as Messiah and Son of God, fills the liturgical scene of this Sunday. Jesus designates him the rock of the Church, giving him the keys of the Kingdom and entrusting him with the power to bind and loose (Gospel). In the first reading we are told about Eliakim, chosen by God to be the servant of the palace during the time of King Hezekiah, which foreshadows Peter. "He will be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the House of Judah. I shall place the key of Davidís palace on his shoulder." In the second reading, Saint Paul is astonished by Godís unfathomable judgment and his inscrutable way of dealing with the People of Israel. In narrating the Gospel text, the liturgy invites us to admire and be astonished before the great mystery of Godís choice of Peter as the Rock and Servant of his Church.

 

DOCTRinal MESSAGE

"You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church" (Mt 16: 18). In the Old Testament, the symbol of the Rock applies to Yahweh, "He only is my rock" (Ps 62: 2). In the New Testament, Paul attributes this symbol to Christ: "For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 3:11). According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus attributes that symbol to Peter. There is no contradiction in the plurality of symbols. God is the only solid foundation of our security and faith. To reveal himself to us as such, he established the Church, whose invisible foundation is Jesus Christ. Peter, by the mysterious will of Christ, is the visible foundation upon which the building of the Church is erected. As Peter is only the representative of a divine foundation, we can understand the Lordís promise: "And the powers of death shall not prevail against it" (Mt 16: 19). No power, however obscure and dark it may be, can ever destroy God, and therefore the Church, of which God is the true foundation, will always remain secure.

"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 16: 19). Peter receives from Christ the power and authority over the Church, as Eliakim received the keys of Davidís palace. There is only one steward. That is why his authority is unique and exclusive. "He shall open, and none shall shut; and shall shut, and none shall open" (Is 22: 22). He is steward and father at the same time. "He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah" (Is 22: 21). He must imitate God in his role as father. "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5: 48). Therefore, he is a steward whose authority is oriented towards serving the family of God and is governed by love. He offers everyone the best way to serve the good and the truth.

"Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Mt 16: 19). Peter is the interpreter authorized to carry out Godís plan in the often entangled vicissitudes of history. What he "binds or looses" does not respond to a natural or emotional inclination, but rather to an extraordinary will of faithfulness and obedience to God, who has charged him with this task. This is a great mystery, as we are reminded of in the second reading. These are human decisions affecting the life of other people, but they are decisions that originate and spring from God himself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PASTOral SUGGESTIONS

Confidence in the Rock. We do not create the rock of our faith; it is God who gives it to us. This visible and human rock is the Pope. Having confidence in the rock, in essence, means trusting him who has given it to us. By the same token, not having confidence in the rock or dismissing it, at least in certain things and in certain cases, diminishing our confidence in God who has designated Peter and his successors as such. If our confidence in the rock staggers, perhaps this may be due to the fact that we focus our gaze and our attention on the man performing such a function. Instead we should direct our gaze towards God who is the guarantor of the solidity and strength of the rock. Do we, as priests, have such firm confidence in Peter and his successors? And what about our parishioners? What can we do to increase their confidence in the Holy Father, in his person, in his teachings, and in his decisions?

Love and obedience to the Pope. He is the father of all Christians, who loves and embraces everyone. Love breeds love. He is the rock of truth, which instills in us an unyielding security. Truth calls for assent and acceptance. It calls one to live enlightened by it. He is the steward of the Church, always ready to serve it in the best possible way. The attitude of service requires recognition and gratitude. He is the genuine interpreter of Godís revelation and plan. This vocation requires humility, docility and supernatural obedience of all Christians. He is a mystery of God, which goes beyond our human capabilities. Before this mystery we can only take on a generous and joyful attitude of faith and filial love. In a society so critical of authority, a wonderful service which we priests could provide would be to promote love, confidence, and obedience to the Holy Father, to his teachings, and to his exhortations. How can I help to achieve this is in my parish or in my community?

 

XXII Sunday of Ordinary Time August 29, 1999

First: Jer 20: 7-9; Second: Rom 12: 1-2; Gospel: Mt 16: 21-27

THEME of the READINGS

The will of God is the supreme norm for the prophet Jeremiah, for Jesus Christ and for Christians. The cross and the sacrifice to be faithful to it are inseparable from Godís will. Jeremiah feels the stimulus of rebellion, the temptation to throw everything overboard; but "there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot" (first reading). Todayís Gospel follows Peterís proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God (previous Sunday). Now, Jesus makes very clear what this means for him, as the Messiah, according Godís plan. "He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, on the third day be raised" (Gospel). Saint Paul teaches us that true worship consists in the offering of oneself as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God (second reading).

 

DOCTRinal MESSAGE

The Will of God is historyís divine set of norms for the salvation of mankind. Being divine, this set of norms has a logic that differs from human logic, and may even appear to be contradictory and hostile to it. The prophet Jeremiah knows something about that. He was a peaceful man, but God called him to a vocation that was the opposite of his natural inclination: he would have to cry "ruin, destruction." In spite of everything, the power of Godís will shakes him up inside and devours him, and is such that he cannot refuse. Jeremiahís "passion" as he narrates it in his "confessions," is the most faithful expression of his fidelity to Godís mysterious plan for human history.

In the Gospelís account, Jesus announces for the first time the will of God for him in the future. "From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things" (Gospel). Moved perhaps by his will to stand out and by his misunderstood love for Jesus, Peter wants to steer him away from the path of Godís will, a path of passion and the cross. Jesus knows the will of the Father and cannot allow anyone to interfere with his personal relationship with God. As a man, he has a very hard time in accepting Godís plan, so hard and painful. Yet, fidelity to his Fatherís will is so important in his life that nothing or no-one can separate him from it. His passion is such that he does not hesitate to call Peter "Satan," for in his eyes he is like a devil seeking to steer him away from Godís plan.

Jeremiah and especially Jesus show us the need and the importance of knowing Godís will and adhering to it with all oneís heart and strength without hesitation or complicity with evil, however minor. A transition must be made in real life from the knowledge and love of the divine will to action. Do the will of God, with the difficulties, pain, and hardships this may imply. Jesus is very clear about this. "If any man would ocme after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Gospel). In other words, if anyone wants to do the Fatherís will in everything, let him renounce his own thoughts and desires, so human and so far from Godís thoughts and desires. Saint Paul, on his part, asks the Christians of Rome to offer their bodies "as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God" (second reading).

 

PASTOral SUGGESTIONS

In the footsteps of Godís will. The great footsteps of Godís will are first of all inscribed in our very nature, then in our Christian vocation, and finally in our state and condition of life. Therefore, those who live according to their condition as rational and spiritual beings, live as faithful followers of Jesus Christ, and responsibly perform their duties and work. Most of us perceive such obligations relatively easily, but to follow them is a different matter. We find many attractive things that distract us, many obstacles that we are not always ready to overcome, a lot of resistance when we try to behave according to our conscience. What are the distractions, the obstacles, the resistance that we encounter in our milieu, in our parish, in our community, in ourselves?

The cross and the glory. At Easter, the apex of Godís plan for Jesus Christ, the cross and glory are interwoven. In the life of Christians, in Godís plan for each one of us, it is no different. The will of God does not foresee the cross first and then the glory, or vice versa. It is the cross and the glory at the same time. To know and do the will of God entail both the cross and glory, which are different and yet inseparable. Those who do Godís will offer a living sacrifice, dedicated and acceptable to God. Those who do the will of God perceive, in the midst of their pain, an inner song of joy and peace, which is a prelude to the glory which they will share with Christ in the kingdom of heaven. There are those who only see the cross, and there are those who only want to see the glory. The real Christian combines both in the will of God, and accepts them with love and joy.

 

 

XXIII Sunday of Ordinary Time September 5, 1999

First: Ezk 33: 7-9; Second: Rom 13: 8-10; Gospel: Mt 18: 15-20

THEME of the READINGS

On the basis of Vatican Council II, the Catechism presents various symbols of the Church: sheepfold, cultivated field, building of God, temple, family, Mystical Body of Christ, People of God (cf. 753-757). Todayís liturgical celebration introduces one more symbol, the Church as communion. The Gospel text chosen for this Sunday is taken from the so-called ecclesial discourse, whose core is fraternal love. In the first reading, Ezekiel, having been appointed watchman for the People of Israel, feels it is his responsibility to correct the wicked in order to be faithful to his vocation. In addressing the Christians of Rome, Saint Paul has no doubt in asserting peremptorily "Love is the fulfillment of the Law."

 

DOCTRinal MESSAGE

he Church as communion is first and foremost the sacrament of the intimate union of humans with God. This communion with God is the purpose of the Church. In the Gospel, Jesus says, "For where two or three are gathered in my name [to pray to the Father], there am I in the midst of them" (Mt 18: 20). Ezekielís voice must resound among the people in order for the wicked to correct their conduct and convert to God (first reading). Therefore, the Church is responsible for inviting individuals to union with God, and all legitimate and effective means must be used to achieve this. There would cease to be communion without this vertical dimension, which emphasizes both the instrumental nature of the Church and its universal vocation (no man or woman is excluded from the Churchís calling to communion with God). The Church must become more conscious of its vocation as an instrument of communion. She does this first of all in relation to her children, to whom she offers Godís Revelation in Jesus Christ and the means to give an adequate and generous response. Secondly, she does this by means of ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue with those who are not visible members, two contemporary forms of this ecclesial conscience.

The Church is also a sign and instrument of union among people. The communion with God almost spontaneously leads to fraternal union. It is the union of love, as we are all brothers and sisters in the Faith, but each fulfills their own task. Those who are watchmen and guides express their love by leading, and if necessary, correcting those who have lost their way. The Church as communion compels us to foster union and love, to seek the good of others, to love them and wish them the best. In some circumstances, excommunication may become a requirement of communion, to preserve unity and peace among the faithful. "If he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector," Jesus teaches us in the Gospel. In fact, it is not the Church that excommunicates one of its members. Rather it is the individual who freely excludes himself from communion. Indeed, it is well known that the Church has made great efforts to maintain communion whenever positions of dissent arise in connection with essential points of dogma or morality. The Church as communion always opens her arms to welcome the brother or sister to make them part of the ecclesial family once again. The stories in the press that portray the Church as being anchored to its power, closed-in, backward, authoritarian, and an enemy of progress are anachronistic and stereotypical cliches, and as such are not worthy of our attention.

 

 

PASTOral SUGGESTIONS

 

Love is the fulfillment of the law. Each parish is authentic if there is a true love for God and a true mutual love among its members. Each parish must be, before anything else, a visible plan of our love for God and of Godís love for us. The first concern of the parish priest and the parishioners should not be whether the Sunday Mass works well, or that the ceremony of First Communion is perfect. Rather each parishioner should open his or her mind and heart to God, and listen to him in his or her inner conscience. Everything else will follow: assistance during Sunday Mass, the reception of the Sacraments, sincere love for others, charitable actions and solidarity towards the needy, spirit of collaboration, etc.

Fraternal correction. In Christís teachings fraternal correction gives concrete shape to the love for oneís brethren. In a diocese, parish, or religious community not everything or everyone will be perfect. There will always be things and attitudes capable of being improved. Fraternal correction finds its raison díetre here: to respond in the best possible way, as individuals and as a community, to the Christian vocation that we have received. How? It is not the path of malicious gossip, slander, or rebellion, which are certainly far from Christian. The answer to this question allows for many variations, which will all be good if they are carried out with respect, prudence and sincere charity. "Love can cause no harm to your neighbor, and so love is the fulfillment of the law" (Rom 13:10).

 

XXIV Sunday of Ordinary Time September 12, 1999

First: Sir 27: 30-28:7; Second: Rom 14: 7-9; Gospel: Mt 18: 21-35

 

THEME of the READINGS

The word "forgiveness" occurs frequently in the texts of this Sunday. First and foremost is the forgiveness granted by God. "And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt" (Mt 18:27). Fraternal forgiveness is a necessary condition that precedes divine forgiveness. "Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray" (Sir 28:2). Thirdly, there is boundless forgiveness. "Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times? Jesus answered, Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times"(Mt 18: 21-22). Finally, the reason for forgiveness is nothing other than our belonging to the same Lord. For none of us lives for himself ...while we are alive, we are living for the Lord" (cf. Rom 14: 7-8).

 

 

DOCTRinal MESSAGE

With the parable of forgiveness, Jesus teaches us in a brilliant but discrete way that we are all debtors before God. Such debt exceeds our possibilities of payment, and it is therefore impossible for us to re-establish justice. There is only room for forgiveness and pardon. This is what God does. God gives us an example of forgiveness in the figure of the servantís master. Jesus Christ follows the same path. "Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing" (Lk 23: 34). The huge debt that man has towards God is sin, in other words, falling short of Godís plan. In this situation, God could have exercised divine justice, causing man to eternally live separated God. Instead, God acts out of mercy and forgiveness. "And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt."

Forgiveness asks for forgiveness. Pardoned by God and reconciled with him, man must follow the divine footsteps of forgiveness, and forgive and be reconciled with his neighbor. At some point, we all offend others and are offended by them. Forgiving those who offend us and being forgiven by those whom we have offended is the attitude that God expects of us and for which he gives us his grace. It must be a generous pardon, with no limits of any kind, "seventy-seven times." It must be a forgiveness that stems from the forgiveness received by God. "Should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?" (Mt 18: 33). Furthermore, it is a forgiveness that God has established as a condition for his pardoning us. "Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray" (Sir 28: 2). It must be a forgiveness motivated by the fact that the Christian does not belong to himself, but to the Lord. Therefore, what he does, he does for the Lord. We must thus show him respect, although he may think and act differently from us. If at any time we feel offended, we must be able to pardon him with all of our heart (Rom 14: 5-9). Finally, it is a forgiveness that must remain alive and sincere over time, removing from oneís heart and deeds any form of animosity, vengeance, and resentment. "Does a man harbor anger against another, and yet seek for healing from the Lord?" (Sir 28: 3).

 

PASTOral SUGGESTIONS

The Church, house of forgiveness. The Church is the house in which God lives and offers us his forgiveness. Since we do not only offend God but the Church as well, the Church too is the house in which he grants us his forgiveness. The Christian is reconciled with God and with the Church, especially through the sacrament of Reconciliation. I often wonder why Christians have a certain fear when receiving this sacrament. They even tend to have a certain "aversion" to it. Has the feeling of guilt perhaps diminished in the conscience of Christians? Is it perhaps because the sacrament is not perceived as a personal encounter with God, the Father of forgiveness and mercy? Are we as priests responsible for it, as perhaps in our sacramental ministry we do not reflect the loving attitude of the Father? As confessors, these are questions that we must not sweep away under the carpet. We must find answers so that the sacrament of forgiveness finds its place in Christian consciousness, and the Church may be the house of generous forgiveness for all.

The forms of this difficult forgiveness. Judging by the news in the papers and on television, forgiveness is indeed very difficult for the human heart. People show anger. They demand justice. They seek vengeance, but very seldom do we see someone who can forgive sincerely. The gesture of the Pope forgiving the man who shot him, Alì Agka, is not frequently reproduced on the television screen. I am sure that there are very many Christians who forgive and know how to forgive, but since they do not appear on television, it is as if they did not exist. In any event, there is no doubt that true forgiveness is difficult, and it requires a higher strength from God.

Perhaps, it would thus be useful to speak of the different forms of forgiveness, which manifest forgiveness to a different degree: remaining silent before an impulse of anger, addressing in a friendly way those who have offended us in some way, respecting those who have insulted us without returning the insult, forgiving sincerely even though the intervention of justice is requested, shaking hands with or even embracing those who approach us and ask for our forgiveness, struggling to avoid falling prey to the desire for revenge, stepping forward to greet the person with whom we have had an argument, praying for those who have behaved in a contemptible way towards us or that have sworn at us, believing that the person did not intend to offend us in any way, overlooking minor everyday insults with love and patience, etc.

 

XXV Sunday of Ordinary Time September 19, 1999

First: Is 55: 6-9; Second: Phil 1:20-24, 27a; Gospel: Mt 20: 1-

THEME of the READINGS

"Way" is a word that recurs very frequently in the Bible, and is explicitly or implicitly present in this Sundayís liturgy. First of all, there is the way of man. "They grumbled at the householder, saying, These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have born the burden of the day and the scorching heat" (Mt 20: 11-12). Then there is the way of God, "Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity" (Mt 20: 13-15). This is why, in the first reading we read: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways" (Is 55: 8). Finally, the way of the Christian is shown to us by Paul: "I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account" (Phil 1: 23-24). The way of the Christian is that of the will of God as it is made manifest over time.

 

DOCTRinal MESSAGE

The way of man. As humans, we are accustomed to thinking of our inter-personal relations in terms of a contract and of commutative justice. Certainly, this occurs in employment relations, where the worker by contract exchanges his labor for a wage. However, people apply these categories to their relationship with God Ė relations based on a contract, on merit, on justice! In the face of this situation, in todayís liturgy, God tells the person who thinks he is right, "You are wrong. My relations with individuals is not those of an employer, nor are your relations with me those of an employee." God is not unjust. He goes beyond justice Ė "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways" (Is 55: 9). Here the freedom of love and goodness prevail. The "just" man is disconcerted by this divine way of acting and feels the grip of envy. This means that he has not undertaken the way of God, the way of freedom and goodness of the Father. He will have to change his mentality, to make the transition from being "just" to being justified.

The way of God. "Just" is certainly one of adjectives attributed to God, but this is not the way chosen by God in his relations people in history. Furthermore, Revelation speaks of the "justice of God," not in commutative, but rather in salvific terms: God is just insofar as he justifies us, saves us from our sins and redeems us through his Son. His justice alters our justice, because it is impregnated with love and goodness. How far Godís justice is from mere contractual justice! This is why, the final phrase of the text of the Gospel is disquieting for some and comforting for others. "Thus the last will be first, and the first, last." Those that seek commutative justice in their relationship with God will be last in the Kingdom of God, while those that let salvific justice act in their life will be first. Such are the ways of God, so distant and different from our own! The way of the Christian. Paul is the symbol and figure of one who has been conquered by Christ, the figure of a genuine Christian. Like Jesus Christ, Paul has made the will of God the way of his existence. This is why he does not have "personal ways," but rather lets God manifest his will to him in the events of each day. While his wish would be to die and be with Christ, his mission is such that he feels called to continue living to preach the Gospel. He does not choose. He lets God show him the way, whatever it may be, and he is ready to follow that way with promptness and joy. A Christian does not have "his own way." It is God who opens up the way to him, day after day.

 

PASTOral SUGGESTIONS

Our concept of God. In order to "adjust" our relationship with God, we must first "adjust" our knowledge, because it is evident that a person relates to others or to God according to their idea of them. There are many names and attributes associated with God, but there are always some to which we give greater emphasis. In concrete terms, which attribute of God has the greatest significance for me? In my preaching and pastoral ministry, which of Godís names do I emphasize the most? When I meditate or pray, what is the image of God that is clearest in my mind? When faced with my sins and those of my brothers and sisters, which image of God comes to mind most spontaneously? What can I do to inculcate in all the parishioners or members of my community a more evangelical image of God?

Our relationship with God. Being a Christian means, in a very special way, to live our relationship with God in the same way as Christ. Jesus Christ addresses God with a single name, "Abba." For Jesus Christ, God is almighty, just, holy ..., but when he speaks to him, he does not choose any of these names. God is his Father and he is like small child, a favorite son. Paul, in both in his letter to the Romans (8: 15) and to the Galatians (4: 6), insists that this is how we should treat God as Christians. This way of behaving towards God is not spontaneous, nor is it the result of a speculation on the most adequate relationship between man and God. First and foremost, it is Revelation by the Son, Jesus Christ, and then vital appropriation by the Spirit, the teacher within who teaches us to say "Abba, Father."

 

 

XXVI Sunday of Ordinary Time September 26, 1999

First: Ezk 18: 25-28; Second: Phil 2: 1-11; Gospel: Mt 21: 28-

THEME of the READINGS

The consciousness of oneís personal responsibility is the prevailing theme in todayís liturgy. To the exiles who accuse God of injustice for treating the "just" who do wrong differently from the "wicked" who act justly, God says, "Is it not your ways that are not just?" The upright dies because of the wrong that he himself has done, and the wicked will live to abandon wickedness. Both are responsible for their deeds. True personal responsibility, as Jesus teaches us in the Gospel, becomes manifest not so much in what we say, but in what we do. Saint Paul presents Jesus Christ to the Philippians as an example of responsibility and consistency. Christís "yes" is a concrete "yes," incarnated in his works to bring about redemption (second reading).

 

DOCTRinal MESSAGE

The responsibility to which the liturgical texts refer is not aimed at the tasks and obligations of human coexistence. Rather, its object is manís relationship with God. In such a relationship, a responsible person is one who converts and believes. In this sense, the exiles of Babylon do not behave in a responsible way. Instead of converting to God, they complain and blame him for his unjust behavor (first reading). The chiefs of the priests and the elderly (the political and religious authorities of Israel) did not behave in a responsible way either. John showed them the way to salvation but they did not believe him nor did they convert. The tax collectors and prostitutes, however, responded to Johnís preaching with repentance and faith, although they had a past of wickedness and sin. The past does not matter in the eyes of God; what matters to him is the present and responsible "yes" to him in oneís everyday life.

Responsibility is measured according to the deeds of the present. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God does not allow us to doubt that, "When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die for it" (Ezk 18: 26). Jesus illustrates this with the parable of the two sons. The first son, who represents the high priests and the elders, has a history of impeccable conduct, but now that God calls him to conversion again and to faith to find salvation, he says "yes" with his words but "no" with his deeds. His past responsibility is of no help, for it has vanished, and now his behavior is irresponsible. The second son, who represents the tax collectors and prostitutes, lived his relationship with God in an irresponsible way in the past. However, although so far he has said "no" with his words, with his deeds of conversion he has started to say "yes" to Godís call. His past irresponsibility has been cleansed and purified by his present responsibility. The second reading goes beyond the inconsistency between past and present, between the "yes" and the "no" by showing us Jesus Christ as an example of total consistency and responsibility before God, his Father. Jesus Christís past does not differ from his present attitude, nor is the "yes" of his words any different from the "yes" of his deeds. For this reason, Saint Paul urges us to, "Make your own the mind of Christ Jesus." He did not play with "yes" and "no"; rather his life was a "yes" exclusively. He did not play freely between the past and the present, but each day he drew nourishment, strength and support for his activities from the will of the Father.

 

 

PASTOral SUGGESTIONS

The inner life of a parish. A parish is made up of genuine Christians who have lived and continue to live in an attitude of permanent faith and conversion. That is wonderful, and may there be many! Possibly there are also "old" Christians, who are Christian by tradition and inheritance, rather than by their own personal belief. They say "yes" during the liturgy and "no" to certain requirements of Christian morality. Or vice versa, some say "yes" to certain moral values and "no" to the Faith. How many "old" Christians of this type are there in our parish? There are those who have been cold from a religious point of view, who have belonged to another religion, have even been secularists and atheists, but who have then converted and now seek to be fervent Christians. Are there many that belong to this group? And most likely, there are those who have said and continue to say "no" to faith and inner conversion with their words and deeds. I have given you a basic, but rather realistic description of a parish. What can I do as a parish priest, parish vicar, religious man or woman, in such a situation? Do everything that the Holy Spirit inspires you to do, let others do what the same Spirit is asking of them, and always keep your hopes very high.

The need for witnesses. As humans, we learn things, even the most noble and spiritual, through our senses. We learn to be responsible by seeing others behave in a responsible way. The example of others helps and encourages us to continue being responsible. Paul VI said that the Church needs witnesses more than preachers. Here is a lovely task for us to perform in our pastoral duties or office! We must desire and work to become witnesses. We must become actively involved in the formation of active witnesses, to create among Christians the consciousness that being Christian and being a witness are the same thing. There is a lot of good to be done in a parish, in a community, in a diocese with a group of witnesses. Being the witnesses of Christ is a wonderful way to carry out the new evangelization.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twenty-Seventh SUNDAY of ORDINARY TIME October 3, 1999

First: Is 5:1-7; Second: Ph 4:6-9; Gospel: Mt 21:33-43

 

THEME of the READINGS

The theme of coherence/incoherence serves as a thread unifying this Sunday's texts: being what one is and acting in accordance with one's nature. The vineyard, to be a true vineyard, must produce fine grapes and not wild ones (First Reading). He who has leased land from the landowner, must behave as a tenant and pay the sum established with the landowner at the proper time (Gospel). Those that act in a stable and constant way will live in God's peace, which is beyond our understanding (Second Reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

God is coherent with and faithful to his people Israel, from their origins and throughout the long journey of salvation history. Why did Israel, and the Church, a people so privileged by God, not respond with the same consistent attitude? God placed his confidence in humanity and in his people, and at the peak of his coherence sent his Son, expecting people to recognize, respect and obey him. But on the contrary, the people take advantage of the situation to kill him. Why? How is such a degree of incoherence, or perversity and malice, possible? What dwells in our hearts to allow us to act in such an unworthy and wretched way? The heart is an abyss, we are told by one of the Psalms. Yes, a possible abyss of greatness and coherence, but also of wickedness. Let us recall that all serious sins are, in a certain way, a crime against the very Son of God.

O Christian, know that you are a Christian, act like a Christian. God created the person to be a person in all fullness, according to what a person is called to be; God has made the Christian a Christian through baptism in order to be a Christian, to act like a Christian. What are the ways proper to Christian conduct?

a) The Christian will be what he is called to be if he bears good fruit, like the vine which yields an excellent wine (First Reading). Fruits of judgment and discernment in the light of the history of salvation, and fruits of justice, in other words, of those that have been justified and saved by the redeeming grace of God.

b) The Christian will be what he is called to be if, as tenant, he gives the landowner what is due according to what was established (Gospel), according to the covenant established between God and his people, between God and the baptized. As tenants, let us not believe that we are landowners. As tenants, let us allow the land of our existence to bear fruit. As tenants, let us thank the landowner for his benevolence towards us and let us show him our gratitude by delivering him the produce that he is due

Coherence and peace. Paul recognizes himself as coherent and faithful through the grace of Jesus the Lord, which is why he says to the Philippians, "Keep doing everything you learned from me and were told by me and have heard or seen me doing." As a result of this consistent life, "...the God of peace will be with you" (Second Reading). It is the peace of those who in any circumstance will present their wishes to God in prayer, petition and thanksgiving; it is the peace of those who hold in high regard everything that is true, everything that is honorable, everything that is upright and pure, everything that we love, everything that is good, virtuous and praiseworthy in the world and in the environment in which we live (Second Reading).

 

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

 

The difficult coherence of the Christian. Without exaggerating, it should be pointed out that in contemporary society it is more difficult to be a true Christian than in past times, because in the environment around us there is a lot of indifference to and even disdain for the Christian Faith.

a) It is difficult to confess integral faith in Christ, true God and true man; faith in the Church, human and divine at once, institutional and charismatic, holy and comprised of sinful members; faith in Catholic moral doctrine, with all of the implications and needs that this entails in the social arena, in the area of life and sexuality, in the family and professional sphere.

b) It is difficult to live and decide in a Christian way on something so important as who should be given the vote in municipal or regional administrative elections or in general political elections, or whether or not to marry a girl that is not a practicing Catholic or not a Catholic at all, or whether or not to engage in "dirty" business that goes against one's moral principles ...

Coherence is the source of peace in one's conscience, while inconsistency breeds a lack of tranquility. When a person lives coherently, he feels gratified when he has done his job. When one is inconsistent, the conscience is filled with remorse day after day, while coherence brings serenity. When there is no coherence, often one does not do things well, one does things with very little will and only to fulfill a task. Without coherence, the life of a person ceases to be a history, and in the case of the Christian, it ceases to be a holy life and becomes a series of unconnected events, with no union or substance, often meaningless. When a person is coherent both with the human condition and the Christian Faith, he lives in a state of great equanimity, psychological and spiritual stability, and especially, in peace with God and with his own conscience.

 

Twenty-eighth SUNDAY of ORDINARY TIME October 10, 1999

First: Is 25:6-10; Second: Ph 4:12-14; Gospel: Mt 22:1-14

THEME of the READINGS

The concept that prevails in today's liturgy is change, transformation. First of all, change from a wretched fate in which the people of Israel lived, to one of happiness and joy, symbolized by the banquet on Mount Zion, in which all nations will participate (First Reading). A change from the daily and routine tasks that normally make up our existence, to the exceptional condition of being invited by the king to his son's wedding banquet (Gospel). He who is thus willing to let himself be changed by the action of God may say, as Saint Paul, "There is nothing I cannot do in the One who strengthens me" (Second Reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The human person, by virtue of natural condition, is a being in the making, constantly changing. Without ceasing to be a person, one's body and spirit are transformed by the environment in which one lives and learns, is a child and adolescent. The vital circumstances surrounding him forge personality, the historical event affect spiritual dynamism. However, the person is not only a passive object, subjected to external influences, but also an active subject who with actions and decisions influences people and the environment that surrounds him. All people, though to a varying degree, influence and are influenced by the people and realities around them. The important thing is for everything to be geared towards the good of the person and of society.

The Christian is also a being in the making, constantly changing. Identified with the origins of the Gospel and of Christianity, the Christian changes when he comes into contact with new realities which he will have to interpret in the light of the Gospel, with new cultures which call for the task of introducing in them the Christian Faith, with new situations and challenges - let us consider Eastern Europe or the problems posed by biogenetics - which require an answer consistent with Christian Faith and morality. This transformation is neither autonomous nor total; rather, it has to proceed at the same pace as God in history, and must take place to the degree that the Holy Spirit inspires the Church and one's own conscience. It is well known that both excessive slowness and great haste in the transformation process do not bear good fruit and normally are very detrimental to the community of believers.

Those that do not accept the play between remaining the same and changing, between identity and adaptation, become immobilized due to excessive inertia in faith. They end up dying while wringing their hands, but without being able to join the battle; or worse yet, fighting with guns against enemies with very sophisticated electronic weapons. Those that reject the game on truly futile grounds, as reasonable as they may seem, will not join the wedding banquet, but be left at the margins of God's great plan in history, and of the great work of redemption.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Neither progressive nor conservative, but simply Christian. In his very being the Christian preserves his identity, but is always open to progress. He is not an exclusivist in the sense of defending his identity to the detriment of change or change to the detriment of identity. He does not give up either of the two things, and walks at the same pace as the Church.

One must be open to progress always and everywhere, while faithfully preserving what is absolutely vital to Christian Faith and morality. One must strive to preserve, but without regrettably confusing preservation with immobility; for instance in the liturgy, in public morality, in interpersonal relations within the family. To preserve yes, but without being so blind as to say that everything is essential, fundamental; that there is nothing that may or should be shed or relinquished. Consider the case of Msgr Lefevre or that of biblical fundamentalism... The Holy Spirit urges the Church and Christians to both actions: to encourage preservation and progress. Without going to the extremes, which have never been good, we need to seek a balance between the two.

 

 

 

 

The need for a guide. As an institution for salvation, the Church has the mission of guiding us in history to preserve what needs to be preserved and to make progress wherever there is progress to be made. Therefore, it is not a progress left in the hands of each individual and according to each individualís own initiative, nor is it a form of preservation that will cater to the particular needs of the consumer. There is an authority, there are shepherds, who guide all Christians in their discernment and, and who work in the area of faith and morality. They are necessary. For the most part, they are holy men. We must obey them, follow their magisterium and their advice with docility. We must also cooperate, if necessary, manifesting with respect to our shepherds our opinion and even our constructive criticism ... If God invites us to the wedding banquet, let us not come up with excuses to avoid being present and sharing the common joy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twenty-ninth SUNDAY of ORDINARY TIME October 17, 1999

First: Is 45:1.4-6; Second: 1 Th 1:1-5 Gospel: Mt 22:15-21

THEME of the READINGS

God is the Lord of the empires and of history. Cyrus reigns over the immense Persian empire (First Reading), but God reigns over Cyrus and providentially makes him his mediator in his plans regarding history. Give to God what belongs to God, the Gospel teaches us, and to the kings and emperors what belongs to them. To God, the plan and purpose of history; to them, the action and onward evolution of history. There is no doubt about the fact that it is the power of God and of his Spirit that is mysteriously present in the vicissitudes that make up the fabric of history (Second Reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

There are no two histories, one profane and the other one sacred, but there is only one history: the history of God. He has started it, he has continued it over time and he will end it whenever he has decided. Humans are words, but only God writes history with such words. In daily events, in the vicissitudes between peoples and nations, in political or social changes, there are essential human agents, but there is especially a greater, divine plan, though we are not capable of perceiving it. To actually see it, we need to know about God, we need the wisdom that probes the depths of God himself. To see it, it is also necessary to have an attitude of prayer and hope, in order for people to cooperate and joyfully lend themselves to fulfilling the divine plan. Sometimes it may seem that history escapes his control, but it is not so. God allows this to happen in his inscrutable plan, to show us that we are heading down the wrong path, to show us the way to build history according to God. In actual fact, God is not at our mercy, nor are we like puppets in God's hands. This is a great mystery!

Histories and history. The general concept of history encompasses many objects: political, religious, economic, social, national, continental, universal history... Each and every one of them are pieces with which God, helped by us, builds the only history: the history of salvation, which is intertwined with the other histories and seeks to breathe spiritual life into them, without identifying with any of them. Yes, because God wants all to be saved. This is why the power of God and the presence of the Spirit in us and in our actions and plans, transform the small histories into the history above any other form of history: the history that leads to eternity, above and beyond history. We make history, God accomplishes it. We live history, God gives history its meaning, a meaning hidden in a sealed book... "Pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and God what belongs to God."

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Divine providence. Human history does not evolve haphazardly, without direction or aim. The end of history and its destiny are in the hands of God. "Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they are?" (Mt 6:26). We must be convinced of this providential action of God's in the great history of humanity and in the small history of each human being; surely, the individual is not a puppet, but he is not the lord of history; he is simply its manager, and must behave accordingly. We must also have a sense of providence in everything. Like Job, we must say, "Yahweh gave, Yahweh has taken back. Blessed be the name of Yahweh! In all this misfortune Job committed no sin, and he did not reproach God" (Job 1,21-22). Let us never forget that everything that happens is for the good, for God can find what is good even in the things that are bad, and for those that love God all things contribute to their good.

 

Sense of responsibility before the history of salvation. No one is neutral in God's plan, no-one is exempt from playing a role in history. One either builds or destroys. It is impossible not to take a position before the great watershed of history. Let us recall that, at the final hour, we will be accountable for the work we have carried out, both in our personal history and in the history of the community in which we have lived.

The objection,"Since God guides everything towards what is good, the evil that I do will have no consequence," is a petty objection. Evil will never cease to be evil before ourselves and before God, as much as God, in his goodness and might, is able to get the good out of the bad. God guides history, but he does not make up for our wretchedness or human smallness. The sense of providence does not diminish, but rather enhances our responsibility before God. As far as this issue is concerned, it is necessary to form the conscience of Christians to uprightness and fidelity. An upright conscience to know well the will of God; a faithful conscience to act according to his will.

Thirtieth SUNDAY of ORDINARY TIME October 24, 1999

First: Ex 22:21-27; Second: 1 Th 1:5-10 Gospel: Mt 22:34-40

THEME of the READINGS

Love for God and neighbor sums up the message of this Thirtieth Sunday. In the First Reading, it is formulated in a negative sense: "You will not ill-treat widows or orphans... If you lend money to any of my people, to anyone poor among you, you will not play the usurer with him... You will not revile God..." The Gospel text provides us with a positive formulation: "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul... You must love your neighbor as yourself." In the first Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians, the same principle is set forth in the negative form (abandon all idols), and in the positive form (follow the example of Christ and of Paul himself, as it is the model to all believers of Macedonia and Achaia).

 

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

 

The moral of the covenant. The text of the First Reading is part of the code of Yahweh's covenant with Israel (Ex 20:22-23:19), and sets forth some of the terms of the pact in which God appears as the protector of the marginalized in the society of that time. The terms are contained in the Decalogue: love for God, the first tablet (1st to 3rd commandments), and love for one's neighbor the second (4th to 10th commandments). The legislative texts of the Pentateuch already set forth concrete and special applications of the Decalogue, for example the text of the First Reading. As the centuries went by, many other precepts became part of the tradition of Israel, until they numbered 623, in order to safeguard in the best possible way the observance of the law, down to the slightest details. At Jesus' time, the different groups and schools of Pharisees discussed the possibility of being able to reduce all the precepts to a single one. With Jesus Christ, in whom the New Covenant between God and his new people began (namely the Church), all the precepts were summarized in one, a compendium of the whole divine revelation: You will love God... and you will love your neighbor. Those that do not love God or their neighbor, simply break the morality of the New Covenant.

The fundamental option. All people, when they reach the full age of discernment and decision-making, implicitly or explicitly make a fundamental option for God, for their neighbor, for human and Christian values, etc; or for what is opposite to them. The fundamental option of the individual, and especially of the Christian, cannot be other than the option for love and from love, during his entire life. The fundamental option directs and steers all actions in one's life, it creates a spirit, a style of being and living, it marks one's existence. The fundamental option pours unity into one's being and actions, and it also brings peace. The fundamental option subordinates everything to its object. In other words, for a Christian, it subordinates everything to love in its two-fold nature, divine and fraternal. By its very nature, the fundamental option leaves all other possible options by the wayside, or at least it assigns them a secondary and auxiliary role, at the service of the fundamental option.

The requirements of love. Love, as the fundamental option of the Christian, implies certain requirements. Some are negative: do not revile God, leave your idols, do not turn your attention away from the needy, do not rob your brother through usury. What are the negative requirements in contemporary society, in the social and cultural milieu of your life? The positive requirements are clear: love God with all of your heart, with all of your soul and with all of your mind; love your neighbor as you love yourself.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Give morality a religious basis. In a society in which frequently the basis of morality is democratic consensus or the legislation in force, the moral life of the Christian must spring from his life of faith: a living, integral, operational faith that affects ideas and behaviors, both private and public. Without this foundation, morality staggers and runs the risk of collapsing before the external attacks and inner questions. O Christian! Act, behave like a Christian, according to the Decalogue and the Gospel of Love: the love of benevolence, generous and disinterested love, which only seeks the good of the loved one. O Christian! Your behaviors must stem from your covenant with God in baptism, confirmation, in the sacrament of marriage, under the witness of the Church, which is at once promoter and guarantor of such a covenant.

Option in life for love. Any other option is either wrong or partial. What are the ways today to opt for God's love? The Catechism of the Catholic Church singles out the following, among others: prayer, worship, praise, joyful participation in the Eucharistic Celebration on Sundays and feast days, the habitual and simple exercise of the theological virtues in everyday life. It also adds avoiding superstition, idolatry, magic, any form of irreligiousness and atheism, agnosticism, blasphemy, sacrilege, contempt of the sacraments... And what are the ways in which we can manifest our fundamental option for our neighbor? We also find them in the Catechism. By way of example: piety, obedience and gratitude towards one's parents; the education of children to faith and virtues; cooperating for the good of society in justice, solidarity and freedom; the rejection of voluntary murder, abortion, euthanasia, scandal; the respect of health and the body's integrity, both of one's own and of one's neighbor; the opposition to and rejection of sins against the sixth and ninth commandments: fornication, pornography, prostitution, rape, homosexuality, wantonness, etc.

 

Thirty-First SUNDAY of ORDINARY TIME October 31, 1999

First: Ml 1:14- 2:2.8-10 Second: 1 Th 2:7-9.13. Gospel: Mt 23:1-12

THEME of the READINGS

How must the authorities of the people of Israel and of the Christian people behave? This question is answered by the liturgical texts. In the Gospel and in the First Reading we are warned about the behavior that they should not have, "... so I in my turn have made you contemptible and vile to the whole people, for not having kept my ways and for being partial in applying the law" (Ml 2:9); "The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses... Do not be guided by what they do, since they do not practice what they preach" (Mt 23:2-3). In the Second Reading the figure of Saint Paul is presented as a model or guide to the Christian community: "Instead we lived unassumingly among you. Like a mother feeding and looking after her children" (1Th 2:7).

 

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

 

Authority exists in the Christian community and, what's more, it is necessary. The existence of authority is not justified, in the Church of Christ, on sociological or political grounds, though these reasons are certainly important. Rather, by the revelation of the risen Jesus Christ, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28:18-19). The exercise of authority actually changes according to time and place, but the origin will always be the same: Christ. The ecclesial hierarchy (the Bishop of Rome, the other bishops, priests, deacons) that exercises authority in the Church is not a human invention, but one of God's providential plans.

Authority is also necessary to maintain and consolidate unity and communion of faith and life in all the members of the Church. It is also necessary in order to make more effective the ministry of preaching, in the life of divine worship and in that of the spiritual guidance of the brethren, avoiding any manipulation of the Christian message and worship. It is necessary to make Christ present in the community through the sacraments, so that with Saint Augustine we can say: "When the priest baptizes, it is Christ that baptizes;" and the same goes for the other sacraments of the Church.

Abusing authority. In the First Reading, we are warned about some of the acts of abuse committed by the priests that are responsible for worship in the temple; in the Gospel, we are told about the abuse on the part of the Pharisees, charged with educating and teaching the people. How could these instances of abuse indicated in the Gospel be translated into contemporary language? By way of example, here are some possibilities: In preaching, they frequently replace the Word of God with psychology and sociology; they give a bad witness of life to their faithful; there is some inconsistency between what they say and what they do; perhaps they are elitist, as they work with small selected groups, and they leave everything else to go its own way without religious care; they seek the praise of people and want to be considered as nice and intelligent, etc.

Authority as a service to the believers. "The greatest among you must be your servant." A service which springs from the love for one's neighbor, and a service that is exercised from the most sincere and genuine love. This is why to love and serve must go hand in hand and complement one another: neither love without service nor service without love. Some of the concrete ways of the service of authority have already been established by the Church, others will be inspired in us by God himself throughout life, provided that the attitude of giving and service has become rooted in our priestly heart.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Examine our conscience as to the way in which we exercise our authority in the Church. Let us see whether we are truly convinced that authority does not indicate superiority, but divine vocation to give ourselves to others. Let us consider whether in the practice of our authority we exclude collaboration and participation, which in some way are opposed to authority, but that require and integrate it. Authority, in the Christian sense, does not create confrontation but instead creates a community; creates not distance but closeness among the faithful; it does not create fear but gives confidence instead; it does not manipulate nor does it lend itself to manipulation but instead obeys a higher order, God himself. This way of exercising authority requires a high degree of humility on our part (consciousness of our smallness) and a great, living and generous faith. On the other hand, the exercise of Christian authority is not improvised nor does it spring up naturally; rather it requires of us an ascetic effort and an assiduous commitment, until it becomes normal behavior.

Respect for authority and acceptance by the faithful. The Christian faithful must be respectful of those who have been vested with authority: with the person and his way of being, his actions and decisions in the pastoral ministry. They must also accept with a supernatural spirit the teachings of such persons in the domain of Faith and morality, for they are not teaching us anything of their own but the Faith and morality of the Church. However, they must not command such respect on the grounds of their intelligence and brightness, their human leadership, etc, but because they represent Christ and make him present among us. This is why it is a great truth that one must respect oneself first, and try to be as worthy of Jesus Christ as possible, for it is he who is represented by those who exercise authority.

 

Solemnity of all SAINTS November 1, 1999

First: Rv 7:2-4. 9-14; Second: 1 Jn 3:1-3 Gospel: Mt 5:1-12a

 

THEME of the READINGS

The saints are a reflection of the Son of God, who live on earth according to the beatitudes practiced by Jesus Christ even before he taught them: poverty, gentleness, pureness of heart, love for peace, persecution, martyrdom... It is impossible to determine the number of saints (144,000 is a symbolic number to indicate a huge immensity), and they are from all races and nations (First Reading). As they are a reflection of the Son on earth, the fullness of filial happiness in the vision of God is awaiting them in Heaven (Second Reading).

 

 

Jesus, master of the beatitudes. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus expressed what he had lived and what he would live until his death. He proclaims blessed those that are poor, and he will have nowhere to rest his head (Lk 9:58). "Blessed are the gentle," and he defined himself as gentle and humble in heart (Mt 11:29). "Blessed are those that cry," and he cried before Jerusalem, which kills the prophets and does not welcome those that are sent to her (Lk 19:41). "Blessed are the pure in heart," and sin never dwelled in his heart, to the point that he asked, "Can any of you convict me of sin?" (Jn 8:46). "Blessed are the peacemakers," and Jesus is the prince of peace who enters Jerusalem like a peaceful prince riding on a donkey (Mt 21:1-5) and says to Peter, "Put your sword back, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword" (Mt 26:52). "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for uprightness," and he has no other nourishment than the will of the Father (Jn 4:34), and his thirst is none other than the redemption of the world (Jn 19:28). "Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of justice," and he was treated like a criminal and was subjected to torture on the cross (cf Lk 23:1-25).

The saints, disciples of Jesus Christ. Like Christ and with him, the saints are the champions of the beatitudes. Among them, there are some that distinguish themselves from the rest in living particular beatitudes. Thus the champion of the beatitude of poverty is found in Saint Francis of Assisi; that of the weeping which will be consoled in Saint Monica, Saint Augustine's mother; that of gentleness in Saint Francis of Sales, who was naturally prone to anger and violence; that of the pure in heart, in Saint Louis Gonzaga; that of the peacemaker, in Saint Bernardino of Siena, who was able to reconcile the Guelphs and Ghibellines; the champion of those who hunger and thirst for uprightness in Saint Thomas More, who preferred to die as a criminal out of fidelity and justice towards God; the champions of the persecuted, in all the martyrs who shed their blood before denying their Faith. After Christ, in the living of such beatitudes, come such saints and thousands and thousands more, who have lived some of the beatitudes with the fullness of their spirit. Thus they have been considered worthy of being children of God. On earth they saw some of the divine splendor, and after death they entered the eternal vision of the mystery of God.

The number of saints is impossible to determine. The number 144 is a multiple of 12, which in turn is four times three, that is, the sum of what is immeasurable, which reaches the extremes of the four cardinal points. These saints are from all races, countries and cultures, they are of all ages, gender, state and trade. The latest popes, especially John Paul II, have emphasized this universality by beatifying and canonizing numerous men and women of faith across the five continents. It is an immeasurable number, because in truth, all those who live and die in a state of grace and friendship with God are saints.

 

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

It would be good for Christians to know and admire the lives of saints, especially those who are honored by the universal Church, and those that are from our own country or who have great resonance in a number of countries or in an entire continent. In history, they are the living reflection of holiness and of the virtues of Jesus Christ. With their simple and heroic way of practicing the virtues, they stimulate us to seek goodness and holiness, and they lead us to Jesus Christ and to the Father. In order for the faithful to know and admire the saints, either in the feasts of patron saints or in their memory, it may be worthwhile to briefly recall some of the aspects of their lives, some of the virtues in which they distinguished themselves, some of their teachings that will continue to enlighten and nourish the reflection of faithful Christians. Take advantage of occasions like catechesis to encourage adolescents and young people, especially, to read about the lives of saints by making pamphlets and books available.

God wants us all to be saints, according to our vocation and to our living conditions. no one must feel excluded, as unworthy as he may consider himself. God is not asking us for anything extraordinary in order for this to happen, for if that were the case, only some people would be capable of achieving holiness. He only asks us to live the spirit of the beatitudes in the simplicity of everyday life, making them present in everything that we do each day. He asks us to carry out our work with honor and joy. He asks us to live our family life with happiness, as parents, spouses, children, brothers, grandchildren ... He asks us to always set a good example for others, wherever we are. He asks us to help the neediest, even when we are poor and in need ourselves. He asks us to raise our hearts to God during the day to pray, bless, thank and worship him.

 

Commemoration of the DECEASED FAITHFUL November 2, 1999

First: Is 25:6-9; Second: Rom 5:5-11 Gospel: Jn 6:37-40

 

THEME of the READINGS

The texts make reference, albeit in different ways, to Christian hope. The First Reading, taken from the great apocalypse of Isaiah (Is 24-27), tells us that Yahweh will destroy death forever and that the redeemed shall prepare a great banquet (Is 25:6-7). In the Second Reading, we are told about the Christians: "Now that we have been justified by his death, we shall be saved through him from the retribution of God" (Rom 5:10). Finally, Jesus tells us that "The will of him who sent me is that I should lose nothing of all that he has given to me, but that I should raise it up on the last day" (Jn 6:39).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

In the faith of the Church, life, and not death, is that which has the last say. This is why death is seen not as a natural ending to one's existence, but rather as the beginning of a new way of living in a world unknown to us, but in which God our Father dwells. In the face of the materialsit vision of the human being (everything ends with death; there is nothing after it), the Christian sees death as a bridge, a footbridge to the other shore of life, where he will join his brothers and sisters in faith, those who have preceded him in time. As it is said in the commendation of the soul, "And in leaving this life, may the Virgin Mary and all the angels and saints come to greet you."

The definitive destruction of death will take place with the end of history. With his victory over death, Christ will inaugurate his eternal kingdom of life, which is also the kingdom of truth and happiness. Only God knows how and when all this will take place, but not knowing this how and when does not diminish in the least our certainty and confidence that it will take place (cf Gaudium et Spes 39, 1-2). "At the end of time the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. After the universal judgment, the righteous will reign for ever with Christ, glorified in body and soul. The universe itself will be renewed," we read in number 1042 of the Catechism.

Immortality, resurrection, salvation. "Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death" (CCC 1022). The resurrection of the "flesh", as it is understood by the Church, does not immediately follow death, but occurs only at the end of time. In death, the body falls to corruption and the soul encounters God, while waiting to rejoin the glorified body (cf CCC 997). Resurrection brings fullness to immortality, since the soul is the soul of a human being with a history of its own, of which the body continues to be a constitutive element by nature. The soul will not achieve its fullness until it is united with the body once again, in the resurrection of the dead. Christians, and all human beings, will rise again to salvation or condemnation, according to their deeds: "And you repay everyone as their deeds deserve" (Ps 62:13). With the words of the Catechism, "Those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live forever with Christ" (1023); however, "To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice" (1033).

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

 

Christian reverence for the deceased. The memory of and affection for their deceased loved ones by the living is something that is inscribed in the human heart, but Christian reverence for the dead is something more than that. It means believing and hoping that they are alive and that we may continue to be spiritually united with them. It means trusting that some day we will meet again in eternity and will renew our love and communion. It means being certain that from heaven they accompany us and intercede for us before God, in our needs and tribulations in life. It means believing that they already share the love and glory of the risen Christ and that they live in stable and permanent happiness in the company of the redeemed ... It is for all this that we celebrate Christian funeral rites for the deceased, that we visit and pay our respects to their graves, bring them flowers on different occasions throughout the year, ask that a Mass be celebrated on the anniversary of their death... The forms of cultural expression towards the deceased vary greatly from country to country, from culture to culture; the important thing is that, through such forms, we express one and the same Faith.

The attitude of the Christian in case of severe illness and death of a person, especially of loved ones. In the midst of the pain and tears at the death of a loved one, the Christian must show strength in his faith and great integrity from the human and spiritual point of view. In such times, he must intensify hope in eternal life and love towards the sick relative and towards God our Lord. How can he manifest this love? By being close to the sick person, especially by humbly praying that God's will may be done, however painful that may be. One must not be afraid to call the priest, whenever necessary, and ask him to look after the spiritual needs of the sick person and administer him sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, if the sick person so wishes. There is the reassurance that the Christian sick person will be thankful for this demonstration of love on the part of loved ones. Also, one must not be "afraid" to speak clearly to the sick person about his health conditions, about the nearness of his departure from this world. Thus the sick person can prepare to die well and with serenity, and will be able to consciously and freely offer his life to the God who gave him life, to be united in his pain and death with Jesus Christ, who suffers and dies on the cross.

 

 

Thirty-Second SUNDAY of ORDINARY TIME November 7, 1999

First: Ws 6:12-16; Second: 1 Th 4:13-18; Gospel: Mt 25:1-13

 

THEME of the READINGS

 

The texts of the liturgy urge us to have an attitude of watchfulness in the world so as to be happy once we reach the eternity of God: "So stay awake because you do not know either the day or the hour" (Gospel). This is the attitude proper to the wise man, because "Meditating on her is understanding in its perfect form, and anyone keeping awake for her will soon be free from care" (First Reading). Thus we can end our life in peace, and always be with the Lord (Second Reading).

 

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

 

Watchfulness is the virtue of those who wait. It is proper to human hope to be awake, to look to the horizon of the future, but it is even more proper to Christian hope. Christian hope is achieved both within history and beyond it. Within history, we find the hope in grace and in the mercy of God, the hope for spiritual progress, the hope for a continuous and growing conversion until the end of one's life, the hope in the fidelity and holiness of the Church that will never fail ... Beyond history we have the hope in the possession of God, which we longed for so greatly in our earthly life, and finally achieved. It is the hope of the communion of saints, completely fulfilling the universal longing for fraternal love, which now extends to all time and space. It is the hope in the definitive and glorious consummation of the history of salvation, traced by God from eternity and finally achieved.

Christian hope is closely related to other virtues. First of all, it is related to love, because one waits for what one loves and for what one wishes to possess completely and definitively in love. It is closely related to prayer, according to the very teaching of Jesus: "Stay awake, and pray not to be put to the test" (Mt 26:41), especially in the extreme temptation of apostasy and loss of faith. It is also related to the virtue of prudence, especially before temptation. Temptation is part of human nature, but it needs to be dealt with in a very prudent way. If Adam and Eve in paradise, if David from the terrace of his home, if Peter in the palace of Annas had truly "been awake", would they have fallen into temptation? Finally, being awake implies the virtue of fortitude to fulfill effectively what love, prayer, and prudence require of us in keeping with God's will.

Christian watchfulness rewarded. The closeness with God lived here on earth and taken to its apex in heaven is the banquet with Christ: "Those who were ready went in with him to the wedding hall" (Gospel). There will be the participation in the "triumph" of Christ, who will enter the celestial Jerusalem like the king of kings and the lord of lords. We are called to share in the power and the glory of Christ, the Lord of history and of the universe. We are called to an indescribable and unimaginable joy which surpasses all worldly capacity, before which any joy in this world pales before the jubilation of celestial glory. In all this we wait, and we keep awake in order that we may achieve it. We all endeavor to achieve it, individually and in communion with the Church, on the way towards our goal and as a reward for our waiting.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Is hope typical of the Christian faithful today, and is it necessary? Surely, we must answer this question by saying it is very necessary. It is necessary in the face of the inner world of our passions, which try to overlap and take over without any control or discipline. It is also necessary in the face of the ideology and mentality of our time, which are not always favorable to virtue, values, or Christian life. We must be very watchful over the mass media, both old and new, to put them at the service of the information and education of the human person and of the Christian, rather than at the service of disinformation and immorality. Parents must also be watchful over the friends and school environment of their children, for a bad friend is fatal for a child. Finally, we must be watchful over the working environment in which we spend long hours of the day, and that in certain cases may negatively influence our values and moral decisions.

Why must we be watchful? What is it that calls Christians to watchfulness? First of all, we need a simple awareness of the attraction exercised by evil over all people, including Christians. In addition to this, we need to be able to discern and to separate good from evil, straw from wheat, wheat from weeds, so that we can choose the good and avoid evil in all circumstances.

Watchfulness in hope. I am especially referring to hope in the hereafter, in other words, in heaven and in everything that heaven means, according to the teaching of the Catechism. In our preaching, or as guides of souls, do we speak about the mysterious and yet true reality of heaven? With our preaching, do we make desirable to Christians the kingdom of heaven? Or are we responsible for their considering it unreal or the culmination of boredom? Throughout the year the liturgy of the Church provides us with several occasions to speak about heaven: the Feast of All Saints, All Souls' Day, the Ascension of the Lord and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, some Sundays of Ordinary Time, Mass for some deceased member of the Christian community... Does my own Christian witness raise the gaze of Christians to the hope and certainty of heaven?

 

Thirty-Third SUNDAY of ORDINARY TIME November 14, 1999

First: Pr 31:10-13. 19-20. 30-31 Second: 1 Th 5:1-6, Gospel: Mt 25:14-30

THEME of the READINGS

To work to bear fruit in the kingdom of God; this sentence sums up the liturgy of this Sunday. To allow the talents one has received to bear fruit, whatever their number, to fulfill the task which we shall have to account for later (Gospel). To work to do good in fear of God, like the good and industrious woman in the book of Proverbs (First Reading). To work, not to sleep, as we are children of the day and light (a time in which one can work), and not of the night or of darkness (Second Reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The spirituality of work. Work is not divine punishment, nor a pressing activity to ensure one's survival, but a gift of God in order for us to fulfill ourselves in the fullness of our humanity. Work is not optional either, but a duty and a right, a law inscribed by God in our certificate as human beings and baptized persons. The Christian works in the likeness of God and Jesus Christ, who are always working (Jn 5:17). About Jesus, the Second Vatican Council tells us that, "He worked with a man's hands." Hence work indicates the human being's superiority and dominion over creation, and the subordination of creation to the material and spiritual well-being of humanity. It is a sin against humanity to put creation before the person, though people must adopt a responsible attitude towards creation, bearing in mind the integral good of present and future human generations. If work is a gift, so are the instruments (qualities, skills, aptitudes, circumstances, relations...) that God provides to each person to carry out that work. The spirituality of work enables us to see life as a mission, as the time measured out by God to fulfill the tasks that he has entrusted to us.

The dimensions of work. There is the believing dimension of work: I work because I believe. I believe that God has given me a job to perform in order to live; I especially believe in the redeeming value of work, together with the mystery of Christ the Redeemer. Another dimension is the psychological one: work is the journey of the development of one's aptitudes and qualities, it is a journey of gratification after a job well done, in essence it is a journey of personal fulfillment. The ethical dimension cannot be missing. In other words, it is voluntary, and if possible joyful submission to the "natural" law of work, to having to use all our "talents" to better serve society and our fellow human beings, without any distinction based on creed or race. Work is not only ability and fatigue; before all else it is the source of virtue and a journey towards holiness. Through work, the human spirit is increasingly perfected, it opens us up to divine providence which does not cease to be at work in the world, it recognizes its competence and at the same time its limitation and smallness before the greatness of the work of God the Creator and of Jesus Christ the Redeemer.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Enemy of laziness. All people, especially Christians, must be enemies of laziness. Here we mean laziness in the sense of not doing what one is obliged to do, as voluntary and irresponsible wasting of time, as letting oneself be led by one's inclination towards inactivity, "resting because one is tired of having rested." A legitimate rest, which everyone must seek, is one thing, while laziness is another, and everyone must try to reject it with determination. Legitimate rest is the will of God, laziness is a vice. Legitimate rest restores one's strength, depleted by work; laziness only increases our tendency towards laziness. There are many domains in which we can fall prey to laziness: students especially in their school work, with the result that they do not take their exams or fail them, consequently displeasing their parents; the members of a family by not being eager to do housework, which each member performs according to an explicit or implicit schedule within a given family; officials and professionals, in their professional work: arriving at work late, doing the least possible and taking the longest possible time, "illegal" excuses not to go to the office on a given day ...

 

 

 

 

To work to help and share. One works first of all to share with one's family the pay that one receives or the goods that are produced. Also, one may share with and help society, especially the neediest and those that have been abandoned by social institutions. Working by studying, by educating oneself, by giving catechesis or other courses to share one's faith is another example (something which parents, the educators of children and adolescents, cannot forego without causing detriment to the children ...). We can also work in the parish, which is the family of all those who belong to it, and in which everyone is necessary and has a task to perform. We can work on large and small projects, our own or other people's, to change our environment for the better through a joint and constant effort to achieve the desired level of moral and spiritual ecology. We can work to seek to create sources of employment for the many young people that cannot find, but would like to have access to, their first job.

 

 

 

 

 

Solemnity of Jesus Christ KING of the UNIVERSE November 21, 1999

 

First: Ez 34:11-12.15-17; Second: 1 Cor 15:20-26.28; Gospel: Mt 25:31-46

THEME of the READINGS

Jesus Christ, the king and judge of history and of the universe: this is the great ending of the liturgical year and of the history of salvation which we have traced back over this year. Christ is the king and judge of all nations and of each and every individual (Gospel). He is the king-shepherd pre-announced by the prophet Ezekiel to replace the bad kings who abuse the flock (First Reading). He is the King who, having subjected everything to himself, will deliver the kingdom to his Father in order for God to be all in all (Second Reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The consummation of the kingdom, in the plan of God. We do not know when the universal kingdom of God will reach its historical and last realization, but we firmly believe that it will happen. At the end of time, Christ will consummate his kingship, a kingship which is eternal like him, for he is God, and which is messianic from the time in which he came into this world and was anointed as the Messiah by the Holy Spirit. The consummation of the kingdom will take place with the consummation of history and the universal conflagration, with which God will constitute, according to his secret plans and infinite might, new heavens and a new earth in which justice will reign. Christ the king and judge, in his judgment will simply recognize and accept the good or ill use that individuals have made of their freedom, for which they lovingly subjected themselves to his kingdom or for which they rebelled against him and put themselves at the service of another king. In the kingdom of God, people will no longer have to worry about eating or drinking, as we do in this world, for it will be a kingdom of truth and grace, justice, love and peace. It is a kingdom built for individual and common freedom, as a thanksgiving to our king and lord.

Different attitudes may be adopted before this mystery of faith on our part. There are those who take on a skeptical attitude: "Too good to be true," they normally say. Or one of lack of concern, for they feel that there are too many things to worry about on earth to be thinking about something "unknown" and out of our reach for now. There are also those who consider the notions of Christ as king and judge, and the final judgment, as being something "mythical", old-fashioned and outmoded. Isn't it true that such unchristian attitudes can be found even in Christians? What happens to the Christian faith in the Day of Judgment, in hell, in purgatory, in heaven? The Feast of Christ the King is an important time to polish up such ancient and ever original truths, so full of surprises! The Christian attitude and faith are taught to us in the Second Reading: "After that will come the end, when he will hand over the kingdom to God the Father, having abolished every principality, every ruling force and power;" and in the Gospel: do deeds of mercy, both bodily and spiritual, for the king-judge will judge us according to our love for our brothers and sisters, motivated by our love for God.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Be careful of the subjectivization of the Church! Obviously, the Christian must personalize his faith, incarnate it in his own subjectivity, but he must personalize and incarnate the objective faith of the Church, as it is presented to us in the Creed, in the sacraments, in the commandments and in the Our Father, as the believer's prayer. Without this objective base, subjectivism will not mean making faith something personal, but inventing it. Without this base, each one will "manufacture" a personal faith, thus losing the doctrinal unity of Christians. In a not very distant past, the objectivity of faith was emphasized, to the detriment of its personalization. Today, perhaps, we are at the other extreme: in excessively emphasizing the subjectivity of faith, we lose sight of its objective reality, as it is conveyed to us by the Church. We must be careful, for subjectivism fits in perfectly with the democratic mentality that pervades us all, and with the significant degree of individualism that characterizes contemporary society. The kingdom of Christ, here and now in history and later in eternity, is something objective, which is not at the mercy of subjectiveness. It is clear that eternity is not something that was made up, a figment of human imagination or creativity; it has the austere yet firm and sure objectivity of faith.

The kingdom of God is also a temporal and historical reality. God reigns over the cosmos, for it was created to be at the service of a divine plan for humanity. God especially reigns in the Church, as it is the privileged, though certainly not unique, place in which he exercises his kingship. He reigns in people, when truth, justice, innocence, solidarity, and holiness of life reign in them .... It is important for us Christians to recognize and promote the kingdom of Christ in humanity, in the Church, in the cosmos. We are all urged by Christ himself to work to extend and expand the internal (those that exist inside each person) and external (spatial and temporal extension) borders of the kingdom. It may be beneficial for Christians to celebrate with great solemnity this last feast of the liturgical year: by means of a good preparation in order for people to participate in and experience the feast with greater consciousness and intensity of faith, through the memory of many men and women who died, in Mexico for example, crying out, "Long live Christ the King!", by means of a greater awareness that the kingdom of God is a kingdom of love, justice and peace.