First SUNDAY of ADVENT November 28, 1999

First: Is 63: 16-17.19; 64: 1-7; Second: 1 Cor 1: 3-9; Gospel: Mk 13,

THEME of the READINGS

Being in an attitude of watchfulness while waiting and hoping: here lies the focal point of the readings of todayís liturgy. The Gospel repeats three times: "Be on your guard, stay awake," because you never know when the time will come, when the master of the house is coming. In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talks about waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed, "he will continue to give you strength till the very end." The beautiful invocation to the Lord that we find in the third passage of Isaiah expresses the wish that the Lord may break into history with his might, as if it were a new Exodus, recalling that "You are our Father."

 

Doctrinal MESSAGE

 

The day of the Lord. In Advent, the tradition of the Church has combined two comings: that of the Word in the weakness of the flesh, which we celebrate on Christmas Day, and that of the Lord in the majesty of his glory, which in terms of time and mode of implementation, belongs to the kingdom of the mystery hidden in the heart of the Father. There is a thread of continuity between the two: Jesusí historical coming forebodes and in some way anticipates his last coming at the end of history; those who go out with joy to meet Jesus of Nazareth in the mystery of his birth have no reason to fear or despair over the last and final encounter with the glorious Christ, the Lord of the universe and history. For the Christian faithful, the day of the Lord should not be identified with terrifying scenes, terrible fears, horrible paralyzing ghosts, bewildering apocalyptic visions. With Saint Paul, the Christian is certain that "the Lord will continue to give you strength till the very end, so that you will be irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (second reading). The day of the Lord calls the Christian, and every human being, to take on responsibility before the infinite mystery of the incarnation and redemption.

Certainty and ignorance. Godís revelation has unveiled to us the certainty that Jesus will come one last time, at the end of all time. As Christians, we can have no doubts about this. However, God has told us nothing about when or how this will take place. Such questions obviously lack importance as far as God is concerned. God does not reveal himself to satisfy our curiosity or to eradicate healthy hope from our heart. He reveals himself for our good and for our salvation. Not knowing when or how keeps us human beings, generation after generation, in a state of watchfulness, alert, which is what Jesus urges us to do in the Gospel.

Abandonment in the hands of the Father. Together with this evangelical attitude, the text of Isaiah proposes the attitude of filial abandonment, for God is our father and our liberator, our potter, and we are his clay. This is an attitude which is achieved and created in a special way in prayer, the crucible of the filial spirit and solid faith in God. This filial spirit makes the prophet cry out with enviable confidence: "Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down." Five centuries later the wish would become reality with the Incarnation of the Word. When it is determined in Godís plans, heaven will tear open once again and the Son of Man will come down to judge the living and the dead and to definitively establish his kingdom of justice, love and peace.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Be on your guard! Christmas is approaching. In our society, we run the risk of "having a good Christmas", as we would have a good summer vacation or a good national holiday. In other words, perhaps we attend Midnight Mass because "tradition compels us to," we decorate our home with a tree with lights and a nativity scene, we celebrate the day with our family and sit down to a hearty meal, we watch on television some program on Christmas celebrations, we give our friends and loved ones nice presents, we rekindle the family ties around the hearth ... These are all nice things! However, the essence of Christmas is the most sublime mystery of history: God becomes one of us. Emmanuel escapes us like water running down through fingers. Or it fades like smoke in our superficial mind, not greatly inclined to serious meditation on things that are really worthwhile. Today the liturgy tells us: Be on guard! Do not miss the chance to meditate on something important, to duly appreciate the value that we are going to celebrate.

Be on your guard! You are a sinner. We do not know the day or time when the Lord will come at the end of history, but we do know about his historical coming. Are we going to be bold enough to live not caring, as hardened sinners completely estranged from the divine Child of Bethlehem and the Lord of Glory? We are sinners. Inside, we long for sin. We must not cease to be watchful so that the Lordís Advent finds us prepared, dressed up in our wedding attire. We are sinners: Christmas reminds us that the Son of God became man to redeem human beings from sin. Let us remember! Let us be on guard! May Godís historical coming to earth, among men and women, revive our conscience as sinners of our need for salvation. Christmas is not only a time for feelings of tenderness, closeness and celebration. It is also a time to reawaken our conscience from its slumber and to "let God be born" in our heart.

 

Second SUNDAY of ADVENT December 5, 1999

First: Is 40: 1-5.9-11; Second: 2Peter 3: 8-14; Gospel: Mk 1:1-8

THEME of the READINGS

The image of the "desert" appears in the first reading and in the Gospel, and summarizes the liturgical message of this Sunday of Advent. In the exile from Babylon, when it is drawing towards the end, a voice cries out: "Prepare in the desert a way for Yahweh" (first reading). In the Gospel, the voice that cries out is that of John the Baptist, the precursor of the Messiah, whose coming is near. In the "desert" man will also have to prepare for the great final coming of the Lord: "What we are waiting for, relying on his promises, is the new heavens and new earth, where uprightness will be at home" (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

A necessary "desert". Phenomena that are not at all evangelical and not at all Christian take place in the world. Like the Jews exiled from Babylon were dazzled by the greatness of the empire and the magnificence of its religious rites, todayís men are seduced by technical progress. They feel the itch of other non-Christian religions, the allure of a dazzling paradise where drugs, sex and alcohol prevail, the sweet and soporific unconsciousness of sin even vis-à-vis the basic requirements laid down by the ten commandments... In such circumstances, the need for the "desert" arises. A place or state of the spirit where one can re-create an environment suitable for and conducive to an encounter with God and with oneís dignity as image and child of God. This may be achieved with inner silence, by concentrating oneís senses, and by means of assiduous meditation and prayer. When one loses the sense of God and that of sin, one needs "space", either interior or exterior, to recover that sense, to once again acquire principles, values and beliefs rooted in the individualís and the Christianís very being.

Divine intervention. God wishes to intervene in the history and life of humans, day after day. Human beings, however, do not grasp Godís intevention, nor do they let themselves be guided by it other than in the "desert". Only in the "desert" do they realize, like the Jews of Babylon, that valleys must be filled in, hills must be levelled and twisted paths must be straightened in order to reach the promised land once again (first reading). Only in the "desert" do they listen to John the Baptistís preaching, do they convert and receive the baptism of water, which is the preparation for the baptism in Holy Spirit, proper of the disciples of Christ (Gospel). In our days, God continues to intervene in the lives of individuals and peoples. It is impossible to recognize and accept such intervention if one does not experience the purifying and meditative experience of the "desert".The desert flourishes. In the serene and silent enviroment of the "desert", we become imbued with the truth of God, the meaning of time, the supreme norm of existence. God is our king who comes with might and with a dominating arm to free us from sin and from its consequences. God is our Lord who brings with him his salary of eternal life and salvation. God is our shepherd, who gathers the flock around him and feeds it lovingly (first reading). In the "desert" we will learn that the day of the Lord comes like a thief and that Godís computation of time does not match that of man. In the "desert" we shall learn that God does not want anyone to be lost, but he wants everyone to be converted. In the "desert" we shall see clearly that as men wait for the Lord to come, they must maintain a holy and religious conduct, in other words, they must perfectly fulfill Godís most holy will (second reading).

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

A "desert" in your life. Life is movement, action, coming and going, doing, making plans, evolving, changing. Your life, from morning to evening is filled with work and tasks, dates and meetings, contacts and relationships, noise, smog, nervous stress ... You may come to think that instead of living, you are "lived" by the dynamic "zombie" of each day. How can one live? How can you be yourself fully? How can you pour the spirit into the daily "zombie", so materialistic and coarse? You need the "desert". You yourself can and must build it with patience, will power and Godís grace. In your "desert", it will be easy to prepare yourself adequately for Christmas, for Godís surprise in this Jubilee year.

Do you know who is coming? The an-swer is easy and clear to a Christian: "The Word of God who became flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Juda." This is the answer we find in the catechism we learn as children. But I ask you once again: do you really know who is coming? The catechetical answer must be followed by a dogmatic response, in other words, the rich doctrinal content of the catechetic formulation. And also the spiritual answer, that is, the meaning and influence that Jesus Christ has in your inner world (thoughts, decisions, ideals, plans) and in your relationship with the divine. Finally, we need the moral answer, that which we give with our daily behavior in the manner of Christ, on the basis of which Christ shapes his own activity and his combination of life experiences. Do you really know who is coming? Is your knowledge purely rational, or does it have a vital im-pact on your whole personality and your entire life experience? Advent is a good time to give a full answer to such a simple and yet such a transcendental question.

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception December 8, 1999

First: Gn 3: 9-15.20; Second: Ep 1: 3-6.11-12; Gospel: Lk 1:26-38

THEME of the READINGS

Godís plans for man and for the world were wonderful, a true paradise, with the obvious limitation that they were his creatures. But humans, instigated by the devil, preferred to build their own paradise, rebelling against their very condition. They preferred to eliminate God and put themselves in his place. The result was disastrous, the most radical nakedness in terms of their dignity and healthy relationships (first reading). But God is faithful in his plans and concerned with the destiny of humans. This is why he responds to Adam and Eveís sin with a wonderful plan of salvation: "I shall put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring an hers; it will bruise your head." This promise is fulfilled when Mary, following the Angel Gabrielís Annunciation of the Incarnation of the Word, humbly answers: "Let it happen to me as you have said" (Gospel). Oh, blessed fault! For it gave us such a Savior and such a Mother. Yes, in Jesus and in Mary, through her Son, God himself recreated human nature in his ineffable plans and elevated it to a higher rank (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

 

God fulfills his plans. The life and history of the world and that of humankind do not go through ups and downs randomly or out of an inherent necessity. This would be the case if there were nothing at the origin of things or events. However, there is a God that created the universe and us in the universe. There is a God that has given order to all things and that has designed a magnificent plan for us. We call such a plan the "history of salvation". A history that begins with the history of man, achieves its fullness in Jesus Christ, the center and focal point of the universe and history, and will end with the end of time. Godís plan is a wonderful thing, the sum of all that is good, which the book of Genesis calls "paradise". The first man rebelled against this divine plan and sinned, perhaps out of lack of experience and certainly by virtue of his freedom.

What does God do in seeing that his plan is frustraed by man? He does not reject his plans of love and salvation. This is why he "punishes" man and and puts him in his place as a creature and in his condition as a limited, imperfect and weak being. In addition to this, he gives us a freedom which we are unable to use in a dignified way, at the service of his good and in accordance with Godís plan. In this situation, in the very intimacy of his being, man realizes that he is in need of salvation. Who, if not God, will be able to save him? God knows it, and makes a promise to man that will run across the centuries until the fullness of time is achieved.

God draws the good out of evil. In his providence, God does not change his plan, nor does he correct it. He does what we could not even imagine. He used sin, which was meant to destroy Godís plan, to make his love for us and his plan of salvation shine with even greater light. In this way, the divine Word entered human history, by means of Mary, and elevated to fullness and perfection both human history (Jesus is the perfect man) and the history of salvation (Je-sus is the redeemer of man and history).

In Jesus Christ, the history of salvation has achieved its apex and perfection. In him, the prototype of all humans, it has reached its final and complete phase. But history does not end in him, for it continues in the life of humans across the centuries and until the end of the world. Christ the Redeemer prolongs in history Godís salvific plan and the Holy Spirit internalizes it in the human heart. Mary is the first to participate in the fullness of the salvific history, in a privileged and unique way. But all persons of any time in history must come to grips with this divine plan and take a stance. Freedom, with which the first man came to face Godís plan, is the same freedom with which those who have come after Christ can accept or reject the Christian program of redemption. How-ever, the offer of salvation in Jesus Christ not only continues to apply, but it also meets the most profound and intimate aspirations of all humans, today, yesterday and forever.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

 

Life does not happen by chance. Your life is not a meteoroid which fell on planet earth out of the sky in the twentieth century just by chance. It is not a meteoroid that could have fallen on this earth in the 19th or 21st century, or that could simply not have fallen at all. No. Your life has a reason, it responds to a plan, it is part of a grandiose plan designed by God from his eternity. To discover your place in this divine plan, to know it well, appreciate it and give your body and soul to its fulfillment is the most important and engrossing task of your earthly existence. It is what Mary did all of her life, as exemplified in todayís Gospel with the Annunciation by the Angel Gabriel. Her lovely example urges us to follow with obedience and faith the road map that God has traced for our existence. And we must think that we are not walking alone. By our side, in our milieu, in our parish, there are other men and women that are part of the same divine plan. Let us feel solidarity for one another.

The Immaculate Conception. In Godís plan, Mary would be redeemed in an absolutely original way by the merits of her Son Jesus Christ, and in view of her vocation as Mother of God. Maryís privileged place in Godís plan entails corresponding gifts and graces, some of a unique nature. Your life too is enriched by God with graces that are more than sufficient, in order for you to fulfill, with dignity and perfection, the place which God has assigned you in the history of salvation. It does not matter so much whether the place is large or small. What really matters is that God will be with you and bless you with his gifts so that you may succeed in occupying that place with dignity.

 

Third SUNDAY of ADVENT December 12, 1999

First: Is 61: 1-2.10-11; Second: 1Th 5: 16-24; Gospel: Jn 1:6-8.19-

THEME of the READINGS

"The spirit of Lord Yahweh is upon me for Yahweh has anonited me. He has sent me to bring the good news ... to proclaim ..."(Is 61:1-2). A person, the figure of Christ, feels that he has been assigned a liberating and salvific mission. John the Baptist too, who honestly recognizes his task in Godís plan, knows that he has been sent not to supplant but to bear witness to the light of the Messiah that everyone is expecting (Gospel). Finally, Paul, the Apostle-envoy of Christ, carries out his mission by preaching and through his letters. In this first letter to the Thessalo-nians, he urges them to live in accordance with the salvation that Christ, who was sent by God, has given us (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The mission above all else. This is perhaps the greatest teaching we can draw from todayís liturgy. The prophet receives a mission for the people that have already returned from their exile in Babylon. Although he will have to carry out part of this mission amongst his peers, most of it is centered around the future figure of the Messiah. Jesus will embrace this mission of the prophet, thus fulfilling the Scripture and his messianic vocation. John the Baptist, on the other hand, is very conscious of who he is and what his mission is. He is not the Messiah; he is not the messianic figure that appears in the text of Isaiah. He is only a voice that prepares the way for the Messiah, he is only a witness of light, a light that will enlighten all human beings. To know that one has a mission is not enough. One must know what oneís mission is in Godís plan. Our mission, like that of John the Baptist, is that of being witnesses of Light, like the mission of Paul and of the early Christians was being the Apostles of Jesus Christ. Therefore, there is a thread running across the mission of the prophet, that of John the Baptist, that of Jesus, that of Paul and that of the Christians of all times. This continuity guarantees and lends credibility to our conscience and our sense of mission among human beings.

 

Mission with content. When one is sent to someone, it is sent to convey a message. Therefore, the mission cannot be separated from the message that is to be conveyed. What is the content of the mission of the prophet, of John the Baptist, of Paul? Considering the liturgical texts, we can highlight some aspects of this content:

a) the proclamation that the Messiah, that is, Jesus of Nazareth, has come to free humankind: "... for he has clothed me in garments of salvation, he has wrapped me in a cloak of saving justice". A liberation that he provides with his words and with his works. An integral liberation, which evangelizes, heals, comforts. A proclamation that makes us fully aware that "we are free with the freedom with which Christ freed us."

b) The testimony of Christ as light of the world, who has been sent by the Father to enlighten the minds and consciences of men. A light that is in our midst, but that cannot be seen unless someone bears witness to it, like John the Baptist.

c) The style of life of the person liberated and enlightened by Christ, as described in Paulís exhortation to the Thessalonians: Christian joy, prayer, Eucharist, discernment of the char-isms, unreproachable and authentic life.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Christians with a mission. The noun "Christian" cannot be separated from the word "mission". By definition, a Chris-tian is a disciple of Christ who shares the same mission as Jesus Christ. If ever there were "passive" Christians, this is not the case today. Each Christian must be conscious of the fact that he has a mission to carry out in the Church. The mission is to make oneís life holy and work to make holy that of others. We ourselves are the first recipients of the mission, for only when we ourselves are evangelized can we contribute to the evangelization of others. How can we be our own "missionaries"? The Holy Siprit, who speaks to us through the Bible and the teachings of the Church, will show each one the personal and concrete ways to achieve this goal. However, we are also "missionaries" to our brothers and sisters, whoever they are, whatever they do, regardless of the living circumstances in which they find themselves. We are "missionaries", that is, we have been sent by Christ himself to proclaim the Gospel in school, at home, at the office, in the street, at the club, in Parliament, etc. We have been called to proclaim that Christ is the Savior of all, that he is the Light of the world that sheds light on all the dark areas of the individual conscience and of social and collective existence. We have been called to proclaim that Jesus Christ the Savior creates a new individual and a new style of life, worthy of living.

Witness and Eucharist. The Christian "missionary" carries out his mission especially when he is a witness, that is, when he incarnates in his everyday life what he preaches with words in different places and circumstances each day. Daily participation in the Eucharist consolidates the vocation of witness. In fact, before all else one bears witness to the fact that the Eucharist is the center of convergence and the point of reference of faith and holiness. Moreover, by participating in the mystery of redemption and by nourishing oneís self with Christís body and blood, one receives an unimaginable spiritual power to bear witness to Christ the Savior, light of the world and king of all personsí hearts. Finally, with the Eucharist we anticipate the Lord that will come at Christmas through the liturgical actualization of the mystery, and at the end of time through the virtue of hope. Then, we will fully and wholly know what we only sacramentally anticipate today.

 

 

 

Fourth SUNDAY of ADVENT December 19, 1999

First: 2Sam 7: 1-5.8-12.14.16; Second: Rom 16: 25-27; Gospel: Lk 1:

THEME of the READINGS

God shows David his gratuitousness by announcing to him that he will build him a home, in other words, a dynasty, and that God will be a father to David and his offspring (first reading). The same divine gratuitousness becomes evident in the Angel Gabrielís Annunciation to Mary of her vocation as Mother of God through the Holy Spirit. Mary will be the "new home", the "new ark" built by God in the fullness of time (Gospel). Finally, Godís gratuitous action is manifested among the Christians and the whole world, through his power to consolidate the faithful in their faith, in his revelation of the mystery kept secret from eternity, and now disclosed to all nations in order for them to respond to such revelation with faith (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

 

Godís gratuitousness. It is, first and foremost, a work of the Trinity. It is the Father that promises David a "temple", who sends the Angel Gabriel to a virgin named Mary and who reveals his mystery to humankind. This promise attains its perfect fulfillment in the Son of God (Son of David made flesh): "The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the house of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end." Through him the Father reveals himself to humankind. It is through the work of the Spirit that the Son of God became the Son of David in the Virgin Maryís womb: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow." It is through him that Christians are made children of God. This Trinitarian gratuitousness is characterized by three aspects: the absoluteness divine initiative (neither David, nor Mary, nor we have undertaken any meritorious deeds prompting Godís intervention); the absolute lack of self-interest on Godís part; and a salvation characterized by universality: all nations.

The ways of gratuitousness. 1) The first is that of choice: God chooses whom he wants to carry out his plans in history. He chose David, not Samuel or Saul, to establish the messianic monarchy and dynasty. He chose Mary, not Elizabeth or Ann, to be the Mother of the Messiah and Theotokos. He chose Paul and the Apostles to reveal to mankind the mistery concealed from eternity. 2) An-other way of divine gratuitousness is the mission that he assigns. We do not have to seek or strive to discover it. It is God that assigns this mission and accompanies us in its fulfillment. David, the Blessed Virgin Mary or Paul did not invent their concrete mission in life. Only and exclusively God invents, gives and drives forward the mission. 3) The third way is that of salvation. Only God saves. As humans, we are only rational and free agents, we responsibly or irresponsibly collaborate with God in the fulfillment of his salvific work. Those wishing to elevate themselves to the condition of savior of their own free will, encroaching upon Godís exclusive right, would be guilty of unprecedented impiety and arrogance. 4) We must place Christmas in this context of gratuitousness. This event or its liturgical memory is not something that is due to us every year. As it was in its very origin, today it continues to be absolutely gratuitous. It is a mystery, and this mysery is always a gift, grace, pure divine generosity.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

 

Christmas, a gift. In our "Christian" mentality, we take it for granted that December 25 is Christmas. This feast is part of the national calendar, and with its popular traditions in the different "Christian" countries, it is synonomous with days of special tenderness and a joyful family and cozy atmosphere. In many countries it is customary to exchange presents, and open oneís heart to the most needy with a smile or a gift in cash or kind. All this is good and nice, and it may be inspired by the fact that it is Christmas. However, it is the work of humans, it is the result of history or a need dictated by the present circumstances. All this sorrounds the mystery, but it does not enter it. To be able to enter the mystery of Christmas, we need Godís intervention. Then Christmas will become an inner reality, a deep transformation, a demanding engagement. The period of Advent is a time of preparation to accept the gift, to open the door of my soul to Godís power over my life. How am I preparing, how can I better prepare myself to receive this gratuitous and marvelous gift from God?

Mary, figure of the Advent. Maryís life, before the first Christmas may be considered as the first and truest "Advent". Mary prepared to accept Godís gift in an atmosphere of prayer, as she was a fervent daughter of Israel. She prepared by living the simple life of a Jewish girl and adolescent, perfectly fulfilling her religious and family duties. She prepared by reading and meditating on the Scripture and the great wonders of God narrated therein. She prepared with obedience to the Holy Spirit, who had filled her soul from its very conception, making her a woman "full of grace". And you, how are you preparing? Or havenít you even thought that one should prepare for the most crucial event of human history? As a parish priest and shepherd of souls, what are you doing to help the faithful open their heart to Godís mysterious and gratuitous entry into their personal life and into the lives of their brothers and sisters? The Advent of Mary can inspire us in our Advent of 1999.

Christmas Eve MASS December 24, 1999

First: Is 9: 1-3.5-6; Second: Tt 2: 11-14; Gospel: Lk 2: 1-14

THEME of the READINGS

There is a strong paradox between the oracle in Isaiah 9: 1-6 in which reference is made to a light that blazed forth, and the previous oracle in which the poor Israelite "will find only anguish, gloom, the confusion of night, swirling darkness" (Is 8: 22-23). The same paradoxical tone continues in the Gospel according to Luke: on the one hand, the birth of a child in a cave, lying in a manger, on the other, in referring to this child an angel says to the shepherd: "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." And donít we find a paradox in the second reading? On the one hand we are called to be in the world and live by the values of the world, while on the other we are called not to be of the world and thus to be characterized by what is specifically Christian.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The paradox of Yahweh. Several times, God has depicted himself in a paradoxical manner in the history of Israel. Let us recall Abraham (childless and God promises him more children than the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore), Joseph (Jewish slave and viceroy of Egypt), Moses (a poor foreigner who goes before the pharaoh to ask him to let his people go forth), the brave men of Gideon (300 to defeat a numerous army of Midianites) ... In the 8th century BC Isaiah knows well the devestation caused in 734 by Tiglat Pileser III over the lands of Galilee (the land of Zebulon and Naphtali), which will subsequently be a semi-pagan region hated by the Jews. However, he proclaims in the name of God that this land will be the first to see the light of joy, hope and justice, "For a son has been born for us, a son has been given to us" (first reading). The ways of God certainly are not those of humans, nor are the ways of humans those of God.

The paradox of Jesus. All of Jesusí life is an amazing interplay of lights and contrast, and this is evident from his very birth into the world. On the one hand, Augustus, the Lord of the Roman Empire, on the other, a powerless, ingored, newborn Jewish child. On the one hand, a poor child born in a cave and lying in a manger, on the other, the angel announcing that this child is the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord, in other words, greater than Augustus himself. As Messiah, this child is the Savior of the people of Israel that had been waiting for him with longing for centuries. As Lord, he is the Savior of the world of Gentiles and pagans, who almost unknowingly had been waiting for someone to save them from the wars and from the runaway immorality and chaotic life in which they were immersed. On the one hand, a wonderful Annunciation, delivered by a divine messenger, no less; on the other, the recipients of the message: some ingorant shepherds, who had a bad reputation among the Jews.

The paradox of the Christian. In looking at Godís action in the history of Israel, and Jesusí life from its very beginning, shouldnít we be inclined to think that all of Christian life is a paradox? This is what we are told by the text of the second reading, taken from the letter to Titus. On the one hand, Christians live in the world, they are sorrounded by men that are not Christian but that have some values, as for example, moderation, justice and religiosity. On the other hand, Christians are and must always live as Christians, who are not of this world, but live "waiting in hope for the blessing which will come with the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Christ Jesus." The values, which they share with other humans, must "christianize" them, so that through them they may express their faith, their hope and their charity. As men, they must take on human values, but as Christians, they must imbue such values with a spirit of their own: the Christian spirit.

 

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

A Christmas that is the same and yet different. Like many millions of people, on December 24th and 25th you will not go to work, you will sit down to a joyful meal of stuffed turkey or some other typical dish with your loved ones. You will listen to and perhaps sing Christmas carols, you will enjoy with your children the Christmas tree you made in a corner of your living room, or even a small nativity scene with pretty porcelain figurines ... But if you are a Christian, you must do all this with a Christian feeling. All these are traditional and historical and at once modern expressions of faith in the mystery that the Church has been celebrating for two thousand years: Godís saving presence in the flesh of a newborn child. You, parish priest, must remind your parishioners of this. You, the father or mother of a family, must tell this to your children, in such a way that they will understand you. You, Chris-tian, whoever you are, must live these Christmas days mostly like other people, but at the same time with a different spirit. Everything that we do must reveal that we are and live like Chris-tians.

Peace and joy. I donít know if one day we will achieve the globalization of peace, but the truth is that this year, in 1999, it has not been achieved yet. There have been many hotbeds of horror and death. It is the harsh contrast between the message of the angel, announcing Jesusí birth, and the reality with which humans are confronted each day. The Church does not grow tired of teaching us that the globalization of peace is the result of peaceful, peace-building human beings. Do you live in peace with God and with your conscience? Are you at peace with your family, neighbors, colleagues and parishioners? From inner peace springs joy, the joy that nothing or no one can take away, though your heart may be bleeding and there may be tears in your eyes. It is the joy of the believer, who sees in Jesus the Savior of the world and the Lord of history.

 

 

Solemnity of the Birth of the SON of GOD December 25, 1999

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

THEME of the READINGS

The readings for Christmas Day are all centered on the "mystery". It is first of all a mystery concealed in Godís eternity (Gospel), foretold by the prophets throughout the centuries (first and second reading), revealed in the "flesh" of the Word (Gospel), witnessed to by John the Baptist and all those that accepted Jesus when they came into this world (Gospel).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Hidden and revealed message. "In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God" (Jn 1:1). In the mysterious sphere of the eternal dwelled the Word with the Father and the Spirit. A Word uttered by the Father once and for all. A Word without words, unique, final, complete. The Father, full of mercy, wanted his Word to start to resound in the history and life of men, "At many moments in the past and by many means, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets" (Heb 1:1), "... the messenger announcing peace, of the messenger of good news, who proclaims salvation," and, "... for with their own eyes they have seen Yahweh returning to Zion" (first reading). This way, in being uttered by prophetic lips, the only Word became many words, the complete Word became partial and limited, the final Word became provisional. The great mystery of the Word, which will culminate with the taking-on of flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary! What abyss of mystery is revealed to us by this unpredictable ineffable, infinitely gratuitous event, though expected and ardently longed for by all people.

A witnessed mystery that requires a response. "John witnesses to him." (Jn 1:15). "... and light shines in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it" (Jn 1:5). They accepted it (cf Jn 1:12). This is the witness of those that have seen and heard. What? Or rather, who? They have "seen" and "heard" the Word in the flesh and on the lips of Jesus of Nazareth. The Spirit has enabled them to "see" and "hear" the good news, the Gospel brought down from heaven and that leads to heaven. Which Gospel? Jesus is the light that by coming into the world gives light to everyone. Jesus is the life for which we are born of God and become children of God. Jesus is the grace and truth that is with the Father and can thus reveal and explain to us the mystery of the Father (Gospel). Jesus is the reflection of the Fatherís glory and is the perfect image of Godís own being (second reading), in other words, he is exactly like the Father in his being, power and love.

This Jesus, portrayed to us through the witness of John the Baptist and of the Apostles and early Christians, challenges each person to accept his personal mystery and be his wintess among others. Faced with the mystery of Jesus, there are those that reject it and those that accept it, those that place themselves at his service, and those that have no interest in him. Christmas is a wonderful opportunity for men and women to examine their attitude vis-à-vis the Child God: acceptance and witness or rejection and indifference?

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Messengers and watchmen. Since the beginning of the history of salvation there have been messengers and watchmen of God to announce Godís plan and protect men, especially the people of Israel and the Church, as the new Israel, from its enemies. Messengers to announce and proclaim the wonderful works of God with humankind, with its people. And we should realize that the most extraordinary wonder of all time is precisely what we are celebrating today: the birth of the Son of God from a Virgin Mother. Watchmen to scan the horizon of history, predict cultural, religious, ideological, political and social movements that are going to affect the life of people and Christians. Let us reflect on the fact that Jesus Christ is "the key, the center, and the purpose of the whole of manís history" (CCC 450) and therefore of cultures, religions, ideologies, politics and society. Every Christian is called to be a messenger and a watchman. Messen-gers that with their life and word proclaim the conversion and salvation in Jesus Christ. Watchmen that tell humans of the good things contributed by historical movements and that warn them about and defend them from the dangers that such movements may entail. You, parish priest, are you a messenger and watchman for your faithful? You, family father or mother, are you a messenger and watchman to your children? You, catechist, are you a messenger and watchman to the children, youths or adults to whom you teach catechesis in the name of the Church?

Here, today, now. The concealed, re-vealed and witnessed mystery is celebrated and actualized "here". In other terms, in the place in which a priest and a Christian community gather to celebrate Christmas. Here means Rome, Amsterdam, Tokyo or Buenos Aires. Here means in your parish, religious community, in the ecclesial movement or group to which you belong. Furthermore, the mystery is celebrated and actualized "today": Christmas 1999, which opens the Jubilee Year for the 2000th anniversary of the Incarnation of the Word. This Christmas in which wars have not stopped, in which some child will die or simply not participate in the banquet of life, in which men and women will join hands in prayer and their life in action to pray and work for peace, to eradicate from humanity the evils that afflict it. Finally, the mystery is celebrated and actualized "now": at this time of your life, of your religious experience, of your human and Chris-tian maturity, of your family and professional circumstances. At this moment in the life of men and women, to influence them, if they accept it, with all of Godís might, which comes to us veiled in the flesh of a child. The "here-today-now" of Christmas is certainly not a sleeping pill for our conscience. Rather, it is intended to be a wake-up call and an incentive to our Christian life.

First SUNDAY of Christmas: the Holy Family December 26 , 1999

First: Gen 15: 1.6; 21: 1-3; Second: Heb 11: 11-12.17-19; Gospel: Lk 2: 22-40

THEME of the READINGS

The main theme of this Sunday seems to be faith. The first reading deals with Abrahamís faith, an unyielding faith that has been put to the test. This same faith is the object of the second reading in which the author of the letter to the Hebrews makes a true apologia of the great men of faith in the history of salvation. Finally, the Gospel highlights the faith of the Virgin Mary, in listening to the words that Simeon addresses to her son: "...in the sight of the nations ... glory for your people Israel," and in the words he addresses her: "... and a sword will pierce your soul too."

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Faith in the God of promise, test and fulfillment. "It was by faith that Abraham obeyed the call to set out for a country that was the inheritance given to him and his descendants, and that he set out without knowing where he was going ... It was equally by faith that Sarah, in spite of being past the age, was made able to conceive, because she believed that he who had made the promise was faithful to it" (Heb 11: 8.11). God promises Abraham land and descendants, and Abraham, having faith in God, does not for one moment hesitate to leave his homeland and expect what is humanly impossible (first reading). Mary and Joseph contemplate Simeon who is holding the child in his arms and says of him wonderful and surprising things. But Mary is a woman of faith, she is the mother of believers, and does not accept the smallest doubt as to the destiny and grandiose mission of her child, at this time a small and needy creature.

Glory of Israel and light of nations. We clearly see both in Abrahamís and Maryís case that "nothing is impossible for God" and that "everything is possible for him who has faith." Godís promises do not end with Abrahamís and Sarahís family, or with that of Mary and Joseph. Godís promises continue: the great promise of salvation, the promise of new heavens and a new earth in which justice will reign... Does the family of believers have faith in these promises made by God? As God fulfilled the promise made to Abraham and Mary, because they believed, he will fulfill his promise to men and women who wish to enter the space of faith.

"It was by faith that Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac" (Heb 11:17). God does not spare any believer the tests of faith; they are part of the same "divine" logic. Would a faith without tests be faith? Abraham, the father of all believers, was put to the test; the patriarchs, and Moses and David were put to the test, as were the prophets... And, when the fullness of time came, the Virgin Mary was put to the test: "...destined to be a sign that is opposed, and a sword will pierce your soul too" (Lk 2: 34-35). God puts our faith to the test, not because he wants to tempt us. Rather, he does so as an educator and father who wishes to evaluate and perfect our total abandonment to faith. Before the tests of faith, a Christianís attitude should be like that of Abraham and Mary.

The family of faith. As each blood family can show its family tree, there is also the family of faith, with a family tree and a concrete history of its own. Perhaps we cannot document this family tree or this history, but it exists, it cannot be deleted, though it may be unknown. In chapter 11 of the letter to the Hebrews, we are introduced to great figures of this family tree in the history of Israel. Each Christian church also has a family tree of its own. Let us recall the early churches, for example: Jerusalem, Antioch, Galatia, Corinth, Rome. Every nation and every particular church (diocese) today also takes pride in its "father in faith". The feast of the Holy Family makes reference, first of all, to every blood family, but it also includes this family of faith, for Mary, the believer, is Mother of the Church, and Joseph is its special patron.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

The parents in faith. Natural parents give life, but that is not enough. To be true Christian parents, they must also give faith. The first school of faith, since the beginning of Christianity, has been the family, and it will have to continue being so. How can a family in which the parents are not "practicing" be a school of faith? What can a family in which the parents are unconcerned with the religious education of their children expect of them when they grow up? In a family in which the parents believe but there is no consistency between life and faith, what kind of a model is being offered to the children? For Chrsitian parents, passing on their faith is not an option, nor is it a responsibility that they can transfer to teachers or catechists in the parish. Nor is it less intersting than the study of other "more important" subjects. For Christian parents, transmitting their faith is inherent in the very act of giving life. If all Christian parents transmitted the faith of the Church to their children, with words and examples, something would change in this world...

The Church is family. As humans, we may create different images of the Church, which underscore real aspects of the Church: the Church as institution, the Church as sacrament of salvation, the Church as charism, the Church as a perfect society, the Church as a people... On this day dedicated to the Holy Family, it would be worthwhile stressing that the Church is a family. The family of God among men and women, a family of brothers and sisters that love and help one another in their faith and Christian life, a family hurt in its unity, but that seeks it sincerely and ardently. A family that has the same faith, the same baptism, the same God and father, the same Lord and the same Spirit. If as a Church we are a family, let us all live in a spirit of family, with our behaviors, attitudes, thoughts and words. In our intra-ecclesial and ecumenical dialogue, let us focus more on all the things that unite us rather than those that create differences and separate us.

 

Maryís Divine MOTHERHOOD January 1, Year 2000

First: Nb 6: 22-27; Second: Ga 4: 4-7; Gospel: Lk 2: 16-21

THEME of the READINGS

The woman is the center of attention of todayís liturgy. Especially the woman as a mother. And this woman and mother is Mary. Saint Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, says of Jesus Christ: "... born of a woman, born a subject of the Law" (second reading), to indicate to us that as a man, God necessarily had to have a mother. The liturgical blessing of the first reading was apparently addressed to Mary the mother: "May Yahweh bless you and keep you. May Yahweh let his face shine on you and be gracious to you. May Yahweh show you his face and bring you peace." The face of the Lord is Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary. The Gospel lets us perceive this when with striking simplicity, in referring to the shepherds, it says: "So they hurried away and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger."

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

 

Woman and mother of God. Jesus was "born of a woman". A woman, with all her femininity, Mary, the new Eve, the origin and reflection of all redeemed women. Since Jesus is the Word of God, it is obvious that Mary is the Mother of God, the supreme glory of woman. God, in his immense wisdom, has wanted to have the experience of having a mother, of seeing his image in the tenderness in her eyes, of being cradled in her arms and lying in her lap. To be the Mother of God, Mary did not have to give up or leave aside any of her feminine aspects. To the contrary, she had to fulfill that femininity in nobility and fullness, sanctified as she was by the action of the Holy Spirit. In being born of a woman, God has extolled and elevated to perfection "the feminine genius" and the dignity of a woman and a mother. In celebrating Maryís divine motherhood on the first of January, the Church recognizes with joy that Mary is also her mother, that throughout the days and months of the year, she will bear new children for God.

Mother, blessing and memory. In the plan of God, the source of motherhood, motherhood is always a blessing. Though "Blessed it the fruit of your womb" is addressed to Mary, it may apply to all mothers. A blessing primarily for women, who by giving birth fulfill the strongest and most noble aspiration of their constitution, psychology and intimacy. A blessing for the couple, in which a child fosters unity, self-giving, happiness. A blessing for the Church, which increases the number of its children and the family of God. A blessing for society, which will be enriched by the contribution of new citizens at the service of the common good.

Motherhood is also memory. "As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Gospel). A mother doesnít treasure the memory in itself, but that of her child, especially in the first years of his life, in which he completely depended on her. A memory which thanks God for the invaluable gift of his son. A memory which reflects and meditates on the thousand different vicissitudes of her children. A memory which makes a woman suffer and cry, which comforts, rejoices and arouses a feeling of tenderness. A serene and luminous memory, which recovers a significant heritage of the past to bless God and sing a "magnificat", like Mary.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

 

The mother, "the sunshine of the home." Pope Pius XII used this expression referring to the mother in a famous address. Like the sun, the mother brings "warmth" to the home with her affection and sweetness. Like the sun, the mother shines light on the "dark corners" of daily family life. Like the sun, the mother animates, fosters, regulates and arranges the activity of the family members. Like the sun, at dusk the mother hides so that other lights, other stars, may begin to shine in the life of her children. The Virgin Mary was the "sun" for her son Jesus and for her husband Joseph in their home in Nazareth. Every wife and mother will find in her a model to imitate, a way to follow. How can a wife and mother be the sunshine of her home today? What are the expressions of affection and sweetness that "warm up" the home? How can she shine light in the "dark corners" of her husband, children, of the other loved ones that live in the same house? What forms of tact and discretion will have to be used to steer the activity of the family towards union, well-being, peace and happiness? How will a mother have to hide so as to not to eclipse the new lights that appear on her childrenís horizon? It would be a misfortune for the family and for society, if the mother were to become darkness, storm and hurricane instead of bringing sunshine to the home. Mother! Always shine light into your home, raise your eyes to Mary the Mother and follow her footsteps.

Valuing motherhood. In todayís world, motherhood is going through a time of ambivalence. On the one hand, the decline in birth rate in the world, especially in Europe and in the West, is real and evident. We have almost lost the "holy" dimension of motherhood, which it was attributed due to its collaboration with the work of the Creator and the respect of the divine laws on the procreational powers and limits of man. On the other hand, women want to fulfill at all costs their intimate vocation to motherhood, or they wish to have less children to be able to dedicate more time and attention to their task as educators. With love and determination, they adopt "parentless" children or orphans, even though this may entail many sacrifices. In the face of such ambivalence, which was roughly sketched and thus includes many other aspects, a campaign is necessary in order for both women and society in general to value motherhood more. What can you do in your milieu to achieve this? How can the laws, the mass media, state and ecclesial institutions contribute to enhancing the original and primnary vocation of all women?

 

Second Christmas Sunday January 2, Year 2000

First: Si 24: 1-4.8-12; Second: Ep 1: 3-6.15-18; Gospel: Jn 1: 1-18

THEME of the READINGS

Jesus, the Word made flesh that lived among us (Gospel), is the wisdom of God among men. A wisdom that has existed since the beginning, which had its tents in Jacob and set its throne in Jerusalem (first reading). A wisdom that is not human, and which we must thus ask of the Spirit so that he may help us understand and reveal to us the hope to which we have been called, and the glory left as heritage to his people (second reading). A wisdom that enjoys a creative power and from whose fullness we have, all of us, received one gift replacing another (Gospel).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Jesus of the Gospel. The prologue that we read this Sunday summarizes the broad aspects of the mystery of Jesus Christ. In the background, a parallel is drawn with personified wisdom, which praises itself, and which evidently Christ exceeds. Jesus is an "eternal man", in the beginning he was with God (Jn 1: 1-2). Wisdom, in turn, says of itself: "From eternity, in the beginning, he created me, and for eternity he shall remain" (Si 24: 9). With the Father, Jesus is the creator of everything and not one thing came into being except through him (Jn 1,3). Wisdom, in turn says that "When he fixed the heavens firm, I was there ... when he traced the foundations of the earth, I was beside the master craftsman" (Pr 8: 27-30). Jesus is the life and way to reach life and the truth that gives it substance and weight (Jn 1:4; 14:6). Wisdom in turn says about itself "For whoever finds me finds light and obtains the favour of Yahweh" (Pr 8:35). Jesus is the real light that gives light to everyone (Jn 1:9), and the wise man "will display the instruction he has received, taking his pride in the Law of the Lordís covenant" (Si 39:8). Jesus Christ is the fullness of everything (Jn 1:16), and "Her thoughts are wider than the sea, and her designs more profound than the abyss" (Si 24:29).

This is the Jesus that the Church preaches and makes present in the time and history of the people. The Church makes him present, not by its own lights or by means of powerful human instruments. Rather, God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, enlightens the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope his call holds for you (Ep 1:18), so that intelligence and love may collaborate in this knowledge. In this sense, every Christian is "enlightened", not by the science of humans, but by the science of God. Here lies the true wisdom of the Church, which in God has its origin, its way and its destiny.

Manís response to Jesus. The Bible clearly states that those that do not accept Godís wisdom are fools (cf Ps 14 and 53). "Foolishness" is the result of those that do not accept the wisdom of God, and thus do not receive Jesus Christ in their heart and life. By contrast, those that accept Jesus Christ, even all the way to the scandal on the cross, have the wisdom of God, since Christ became for us divine wisdom, salvation, sanctification and redemption (cf Cor1: 18-31). In all this there is the paradox that God reveals his wisdom to the humble and simple, and at once destroys the wisdom of the wise men and causes the understanding of any who understand to vanish (cf. Is 29:14). Men are compelled to respond to the mystery of Jesus. Will they accept it or reject it? Will it be a foolish or a wise response?

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

 

Chrsitian wisdom. The world is full of science, but it is largely lacking in wisdom. With science, men learn to handle things, with wisdom they learn to be their own masters and in in their life follow Godís ways. Science gives light to progress and development in all spheres of human existence and of the universe itself, wisdom gives light to prudence and to all the virtues, it gives light to holiness. Science makes life more bearable and easier, more dynamic and intense, wisdom makes life more harmonious and happier. With science, men are constantly outdoing themselves, with wisdom they reach God and acquire his "mind". Science is a wonderful human product, wisdom is a marvelous gift of God ... Itís not that one should oppose human science with Christian wisdom. People may have both and be ennobled by them in their power and dignity. Like reason and faith, science and wisdom are two wings with which man flies in his pilgrimage to God.

The Church of the Word. The Church is the work of the Word of God, its extension in time. The Church does not belong to itself, it belongs to the Word. It is for this reason that its first task is to become aware of itself, its origin, its mission among men. Not only the hierarchy but all Christian faithful must have this awareness. This is why the Church must endlessly preach the Word, in all corners of the planet. It must preach it with authority as it has been chosen by God for this mission and with humility, as servant of the mysteries of God. This is why it must preach the Word with competence, so that it may be known and accepted; it must preach the Word with integrity, so that the Word of God is not maimed. This is why it must not preach to itself but to the Word, to the Word of God made flesh. You, priest, what is you preaching like? Do you really allow the Word of God to resound in your preaching? In order for the word of the Church, the word of each of her children, to be effective in the world and in the particular environment of each one, it must become the Church of the Word.

 

 

 

Solemnity of the Epiphany January 6, Year 2000

First: Is 60: 1-6; Second: Ep 3: 2-3.5; Gospel: Mt 2: 1-12

THEME of the READINGS

Christís light shines in a special way in the texts of the Epihpany. The third text of Isaiah praises, using the symbol of light, the triumph and centrality of Jerusalem in the concert of the nations (first reading). The light of Jerusalem is prophecy, it looks towards a person that will be the light of the nations and the glory of Israel (cf Lk 2:32). The Gospel narrates the story of some magi who came to Jerusalem from the East because they had seen the star of the king of the Jews and came to worship him (Gospel). And in his letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul states that the mystery of Christ has been revealed by the Spirit to his holy Apostles and prophets (second reading). The mystery of light which consists in being the light and glory of humankind.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

 

Christ, universal light. It is a truth of our faith that "one man has died for all men" and that "... for of all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved" (Acts 4:12). This salvific mystery of Christís death (of his life and resurrection) shines its bright light on humanity on the whole; no-one is excluded. The Catechism brilliantly says that "the magiís coming to Jerusalem in order to pay homage to the king of the Jews" (Mt 2:2) shows that they seek in Israel, in the messianic light of the star of David (cf Nb 24:17; Rv 22:16), the one who will be king of the nations (cf Nb 24: 17-19)" (CCC 528). The Fathers of Vatican Council II began the dogmatic constitution on the Church with the following words: "Christ is the Light of nations. That this may be so, this Sacred Synod ... eagerly desires that the Gospel be proclaimed to every creature" (LG 1). This truth is part of the perennial heritage of the Church and explains the reason for its very existence in the world.

Christ, mystery of God. The salvific universality of Christ is not recorded in the annals of human history, nor can it be inferred by means of in-depth historiographic studies. By the same token, it cannot be the result of an effort of penetration by an extraordinary and unparalleled mind. Saint Paul, who had to personally face this reality and then defend it against its enemies with all his might, was deeply convinced, ans so he writes, that he is in the midst of a mystery "... that the Gentiles now have the same inheritance and form the same Body and enjoy the same promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel" (Ep 3:6). A mystery of God, which therefore only God can reveal, in the way foreseen by his providence. To the magi, the mystery was revealed by a star; to Paul it was revealed by the vision and experience of Christ on the way to Damascus. We cannot cease to adore and, like the magi, offer our gifts to this Child, universal Light envelopped in the mystery of God, the meaning and fullness of human existence (as it was for the magi, as it was for Paul, as it must be for all men). We cannot but consecrate our life to him, as did Paul of Tarsus. Submission and offering, obedience to the divine will and self-giving are the characteristics of every Christian that accepts the mystery of Christ with love and joy.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

 

Christian, worship your God. In man there is an innate tendency to "worship", that is, to submissively subject himself to someone or something that gives meaning to his existence. In the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, idols are frequently mentioned and people are warned against them. "You must not make yourselves any image or any likeness of anything in heaven ... You must not bow down to these gods or serve them" (Dt 5: 8-9). "They have eyes and they do not see, they have ears but they do not hear, they have a mouth but they do not speak ... they are like gods that cannot save." These idols may be material realities that with their power blind manís gaze and attract his heart, really numerous and powerful idols. They can also be people who, with their grace and charm, seduce and enrapture menís thoughts and heart. They can also be oneís own self, when one becomes a worshipping and worshipped subject, falling prey to an immature and blinding narcissism. When faced with idols, the Christian hears the voice of the Church and of his conscience that says: "Worship your God", the only true God, the living God that is the source of life. Only he deserves worship, obedience, self-giving. Only he will respect you without subjugating you, only he can free you of any idols inside or outside of yourself. As the catechism teaches us: "The worship of the one God sets man free from turning in on himself, from the slavery of sin and the idolatry of the world" (CCC 2097).

Christ and non-Christian religions. The magi of the East did not come to Bethlehem to convert to Christian religion, but to adore the king of the Jews. We know nothing about what happened to them historically after their encounter with the Child Jesus. The fact is that they symbolize the great Eastern religions that worship Jesus Christ, recognizing that he is an important person capable of being historyís focal point, but not necessarily recognizing in him the Son of God. The figure of the magi has increasingly been extended over the twenty centuries of Christian tradition. Today it has come to include all non-Christians who, in the lights and shadows of their religious beliefs, are seeking the only true God and the son he has sent forth into the world, Jesus Christ. The attitude of dialogue (doctrinal but also ethical and spiritual) with non-Christians responds to Godís plan, and is increasingly rewarding not only in the East, but also in the West, given the intense migration flows and the phenomenon of human mobility. Such dialogue if the Christians has a deeply rooted faith and sincerely looks to non-Christian religions to discover the "seeds of the Word".

Baptism of the LORD January 9, Year 2000

First : Is 55: 1-11 ; Second : 1Jn 5: 1-9; Gospel : Mk 1:7-11

THEME of the READINGS

In the baptism of Jesus, as in all baptisms, water plays the central role (Gospel). In the banquet of the covenant between God and men imagined by Isaiah, water cannot be lacking, along with other drinks (first reading). In his first letter, Saint John tells us that "He it is who came by water and blood," and that, "... there are three witnesses, the Spirit, water and blood, and the three of them coincide" (second reading). In the gospel, after Jesus, baptized by John, came out of the water, the heavens opened up and the Holy Spirit came down in the form of a dove. Water is the one element most present in all the texts, water with all of its symbolic richness and with the other elements that accompany and complete it.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Man, thirsty for God. Man is a naturally thirsty being : thirsty for joy and happiness, thirsty for justice and peace, thirsty for eternity, thirsty for God. "The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God ; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for" (CCC 27). Nobody but God himself can quench this thirst for happiness. This is why God, through Isaiah, invites and urges men to: "Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty ... Pay attention, come to me; listen, and you will live" (first reading).

Water and Jesus. The water that quenches manís thirst is the baptismal water. Jesus, the prototype of every human bing, wanted to immerse himself in the purifying waters, not because he was a sinner but because he had taken the worldís sins upon his shoulders. In the waters of the Jordan, in the waters in which Christ immersed himself, all of humankind immersed itself in him and with him, and was cleansed of its sin. Jesus Christ, the Saint of God, also made the waters of the Jordan holy. Therefore, the thirst for holiness that every man has begins to be quenched with the baptismal water and with the water of the Spirit, through a spiritual existence, that is, guided and promoted by the Spirit of God.

Water and blood. Is water enough to quench oneís thirst? In Christian existence, blood is also important, the blood that with water came out of Christís side (Jn 19: 34). The Fathers of the Church will tell us that two sacraments issued from Christís side, which had been pierced with a lance: baptism and the Eucharist. Together with confirmation, they are the sacraments of Christian initiation. Now man is not only thirsty for God, but he is thirsty for the God, revealed in Jesus Christ, "The reflection of Godís glory and bears the impress of Godís own being" (Heb 1: 3). "Drink from this all of you, for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, poured out for many for forgiveness of sins" (Mt 26: 28).

Water, blood and the Spirit. "The three coincide" (second reading). How do the three coincide ? In revealing the love of God, which has become visible for us through Jesus Christ. In fact, water (Jesusí baptism) and blood (Jesusí crucifixion) manifest that Jesusí humanity is a humanity like our own, against all Platonic idealizations or gnostic manipualtions. The Spirit, in turn, which comes from heaven, reveals that this Jesus, who is entirely a man, is the Son from whom God draws all his pleasure. How do the three coincide? They also coincide in that it is the Spirit that makes water effective in purging from sin and blood, effective in quenching the thirst for redemption. "His mystery of salvation is made present there by the power of his Holy Spirit" (CCC 1111) and "The mission of the Holy Spirit in the liturgy of the Church is to make the saving work of Christ present and active by his transforming power" (CCC 1112).

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Baptismal spirituality. Through the baptism, the Christian becomes imbued with Christ, the image and prototype of the new man, created in the likeness of God. He has before him the task of making Christ grow until full inner maturity. The true novelty extends to all of manís being, but it especially becomes rooted in the heart, a new heart capable of knowing, loving and serving God with filial spirit, and of loving men and Godís things. This is the undeferable, fundamental and permanent taks in any Christianís life, in whatever state, time or situation.

On the basis of this new way of being, experienced consciously by the action of the Holy Spirit, the new man gives his life an inner dynamism geared towards the development of his religious and moral conduct, in accordance with his model, Jesus Christ, and by means of the incessant purging of his disorderly passions of sensuality and pride.

The construction of this new man, day after day, is the primary goal of Christian faith and of the apostolic ministry in the Church. Hence the need to meditate assiduously on the richness and depth of the gift of baptism and of the commitment that it entails, a meditation that is both individual and communitarian. Because "The whole organism of the Christianís supernatural life has its roots in the baptism," since the baptism enables him to believe in God, to hope in Him, and to love Him through the theological virtues; giving him the power to live and act under the prompting of the Holy Spirit; allowing them to grow in goodness through the moral virtues (CCC 1266). Are we as Christians sufficiently aware of baptismal spirituality? What can I do to develop this spirituality in myself and in my brothers ?

 

 

Second SUNDAY of ORDINARY TIME 16th of January 2000

 

First: 1 Sam 3:3-10.19; Second: 1 Cor 6:13-15.17-20; Gospel: Jn

THEME of the READINGS

The calling or vocation is at the center of the readings for this Sunday with which Ordinary Time begins. This is the call to follow, or in other words, to abide with Jesus Christ, like the two disciples in the Gospel. It is a calling to which we must reply generously, as Samuel did: "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening" (first reading). A call implies "self-emptying", not belonging to oneself, but to God and to his Spirit; hence the clear awareness of and demand for a pure life, far from lust and all that prevents one from belonging to the Lord (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The call. At the root of the Christian conception of life, there is the reality of a call. God calls us to life, to the Christian Faith, to the lay, consecrated or priestly life, to the happy encounter with him in eternity. Already in itself, this call implies the awareness that man is not altogether autonomous. He depends on Someone who pronounces his name, calls him. At the very beginning of life there is Godís call, and the development of life itself is nothing but the development of Godís calls. It is in this general context of his call that we find the priestly vocation, the call God addresses to a few men, so that they will abide with him and build bridges between him and other people. Every person, every priest is "called", and it is on the response to this call that his identity, his personal fulfillment and his temporal and eternal happiness depend.

The place and manner of the call. Each vocation to the priestly life Ė and this applies equally to the consecrated life Ė is unrepeatable in time, in place and in manner. Moreover, it is not we who determine the circumstances, but God himself who calls. God can call a man at 12, 15, 18, 23, or 34 years of age, without us being entitled to answer: Why so soon? Why so late? The place and the moment are also chosen by God. At school, at home, in a discothèque, in a church. And what can be said of the many different ways in which God calls men to the priestly ministry? And what of the very original process through which God manifests his will and brings a man to respond?

Aspects of the call. The first step of the call is the quest that God himself sows in the hearts of men. The anxiety which gives rise to the quest wells up spontaneously in man, but it is God who puts it there, as a stepping stone for his vocation. This is how the divine call appears to human eyes as an outlet for his anxiety and his quest. To the two disciples who followed him on the bank of the Jordan, Jesus asked: What do you want? They would not have been searching if God had not given them the desire to search, but the quest itself is something personal, non-transferable; it is already a first response.

Those who "seek" in a certain way are not called by God, at least not in an ordinary, direct manner, but he calls them through human mediation: Eli was the mediator between God and Samuel, as Jesus was between God and the first disciples. For Christians, the Church, which is the "place" of salvation, is also the place of "mediation"; it is in her and through her that God continues to call people. A call to the priesthood outside the Church is inconceivable. In any case, one should say that it is not a divine calling.

The priestly vocation is a call to self-emptying, to being stripped of oneself so as to become the exclusive property of God. This is the origin of the fundamental reason for priestly celibacy, and of the Churchís right to require it. But the vocation is a self-emptying that brings with it an investiture, an expropriation that implies an appropriation, an emptying of self that leads to possession. In this process man does not "alienate" himself, he does not suffer an alienation of the personality. On the contrary, he reaches the highest degree of identity and of self-fulfillment by responding in full conscience and freedom to Godís voice.

Answering the call. When someone calls another person, the latter is obliged to give an answer. This can be positive, negative, neutral or indifferent. What the person cannot do is leave a call unanswered. When Jesus said to the two disciples: "Come and see," what did they do? "They went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him the rest of that day." And when Samuel realized that it was God calling him, he did not hesitate to answer: "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening." The person is free to give one answer or another, but he is obliged to answer, given that he is the one who is called.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Bold answers. In our world, in our environment, God continues to call people to the priesthood and to the consecrated life, as he has done throughout the history of salvation. However, there has been a very notable decrease in the number of positive answers and consequently in the number of priestly vocations, although in the last decade the downward trend has ceased and it seems that the number of vocations has begun to rise. While certain cultural and historical factors may have had an influence Ė and these are well known Ė I do not think that we Christians are exempt from a certain responsibility in the matter. Have we perhaps not done enough? It may be that we did very little to promote, renew and revive our faith after the great ecclesiastical event of the Second Vatican Council. Maybe we thought that vocations were a matter to be taken care of by the "clergy" and, if we are the clergy, we are those who are responsible for the pastoral care of vocations. The environment in which young people grow up today requires bold and controversial answers. The parish and diocesan communities must sustain and support them in these answers. The future of the community of believers and of the Church itself is at stake. With everyoneís help, the boldness of the answer will be stronger and more convincing.

What is the Lord calling us to? First and foremost he calls us to belong to him and to be with him. Whoever is called to the priesthood must be convinced that his vocation is a special relationship with God and with Our Lord Jesus Christ. Without a sound and well-founded spirituality, whoever is called will yield to the temptations of the world and will collapse like a house of cards. God also calls us above all to be radical and exclusive in our love for him, with him and from him, to be able to open our souls and hearts to all men. This is why God calls us also to the ministry of salvation. Priests serve mankind, offering it Godís salvation. That is their specific role. All the rest depends on this love. Has it not been the case in the last few decades that priests have frequently devoted themselves more to social service than to the ministry of salvation? This is a theme of reflection for all priests. If the Church is the community of those who hope in the coming of the Lord, is it not true that we have easily forgotten in our preaching, our catechesis and our spiritual direction the great reality of the ultimate truths of manís earthly existence? This is an important task to be carried out at the beginning of the third millennium of the Christian era.

 

Third SUNDAY of ORDINARY TIME 23rd of January 2000

First: Jon 3:1-5.10; Second: 1 Cor 7:29-31; Gospel: Mk 1:14-20

THEME of the READINGS

"Convert" is the key word of this Sunday. At the words preached by Jonah, the people of Nineveh did penance and converted. Jesus, according to Markís Gospel, began his preaching in Galilee by inviting people to convert: "Repent, and believe the Good News." In the second reading we are shown the consequences of true conversion, because the true convert lives in the awareness that the world as we know it is transient.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

God wants conversion. Since God loves man and wants him to be happy, he wants him to convert and to live. To convert means leaving the wrong path of apparent happiness and following the path of goodness, truth and fullness. This is what the people of Nineveh did when Jonah preached to the inhabitants that the city would be destroyed because of their evil behavior. This too is what Peter and Andrew, James and John did when Jesus called them to follow him: they left the path on which they were and followed Jesusí path. In the life of the Church, Baptism is the place of the first and fundamental conversion; but Christís call to conversion, to the workings of grace, resounds throughout the lives of Christians as a ceaseless task of penance and renewal (cf CCC 1427-1428).

Conversion, faith, following.

Conversion is both a call and a response. God calls us to convert, and we respond with conversion, thanks to the gift of faith. On the basis of this faith in God, we convert and live the new experience of a life directly focused on him. The faith which comes before conversion also accompanies it and follows it to bear the fruits of conversion in daily conduct and life. A conversion unaccompanied by faith would be nothing more than a mere and fleeting sentiment, a "moment of fervor" stimulated by a powerful experience. In other words, it would boil down to something superficial and lacking a future. However, when conversion is founded on faith and is accompanied by it, then it is most natural for it to culminate in the following of Christ: walking in the very footsteps of Christ on the path of life. In Jesusí time, it was the disciples who chose their rabbi or teacher. Jesus did the opposite: it was he who chose them and said to his chosen ones: "Follow me, walk in my footsteps. In this way you will be my true disciple."

Why convert? In the second reading, St Paul tells us why: "Time is running short... the world as we know it is passing away." In other words, conversion has a double motive: firstly the awareness that this world is not eternal, but is instead ephemeral and transient; and secondly, the conviction in faith that only God has conquered time, does not pass away and lives in the kingdom of eternity. The fleeting nature of human life and the eternity of God, a Father rich in love and mercy, are two complementary truths which should provide the motive for any true conversion. Should one have any other motives, they should be seen as spurious and as such not worthy of consideration.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

 

Is it necessary to convert? In the world and the mentality of today, there are many people who are alienated from God, who behave immorally in their family or professional environment and who are isolated from parish or church communities... and yet they think they are leading good lives, that they are free of all guilt, that they are harming no one and therefore do not need to convert. What is there to convert from when a man thinks he is on the right path? This is the real tragedy of our time. Lust is not a sin, but a mere distraction; taking drugs is a necessity in some cases, in others it is presented as a need in the world of the young. Spreading rumors or calumny about others is a social convention or a requirement for oneís prosperity. Marital infidelity is seen as nothing more than an "escapade", both in reality and in dreams. People who think and act in this way see no reason whatsoever to convert, because their conduct is "normal" and is socially accepted. What has happened in the Church, among Christians, for many of our brothers and sisters in the Faith to behave in this way? We should examine this point thoroughly, lest even priests themselves think that conversion does not apply to them or that they have no need for it at all.

Faith brings about conversion. Faith is manís answer to the revelation God has made of his truth and of our good. Since it is Godís truth, not ours, it is imprinted with objectivity and as such should govern our behavior. We find this truth of God for our good in the Churchís dogmatic and moral doctrine. To recognize this is indispensable if the soul is to open itself to conversion, and not to recognize it is to close the door on any possibility of conversion. Do we Christians believe in all the teachings the Church proposes to our intellect and to our faith? Are the truths of faith and of morality, taught by the Church, the parameters by which we gage our behavior? Do priests preach conversion as a reality that is born of faith, that is a permanent effort, that has an objective rule? Year after year, century after century, millennium after millennium, Jesus Christ continues to invite us to convert. Will he be heard in the third millennium which we have just begun? Following Christ today cannot be the equivalent of a certificate of good conduct, of something that is approved by society, of a fleeting and extravagant fashion. One cannot genuinely follow Christ without true conversion, brought about by an objective, intense and deep faith.

 

 

Fourth SUNDAY of ORDINARY TIME 30th of January 2000

First: Dt 18:15-20; Second: 1 Cor 7:32-35; Gospel: Mk 1:21-28

THEME of the READINGS

"Teach" and "teaching" are words which occur frequently in the New Testament. They also appear several times in the liturgy of this Fourth Sunday of the Ordinary Time. Jesus is presented by St Mark as the master with a "new teaching" who "taught with authority" (Gospel). It is not just any teaching, but that of a prophet, in the style of Moses, the prototype of prophetic tradition in the mind of the people of Israel, the master and maker of his people (first reading). St Paul, as prophet of the New Testament, imparts to the Corinthians his teaching on marriage and celibacy, two states and two ways of living oneís dedication and commitment to the apostolate within the church community (second reading). This teaching which is prophetic, new and delivered with authority, is addressed to man, so that he will welcome it and become the active recipient of its effectiveness.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Jesus, the great teacher. At birth, man is not a fully formed being; he only has the capacity to learn. Therefore he needs teachers. Throughout the history of humanity there have been different environments in which children and young people receive teachings from their elders: the family, the school, the university, the synagogue or church, the agora or the forum, the academy or debating society, the newspaper or television. All the teachings received are Ė or at least can be Ė useful and enriching in the work of educating an individual. Jesus does not compete with such teachings, but he is a teacher whose teachings imbue all others with a soul. His teaching affects history, but it also looks to the future, beyond history. Nor does he present himself or appear in the Gospels as a rival to the religious teachers of the Jewish people Ė and one might add of the pagan peoples Ė but as the teacher who brings to fulfillment all the religious teachings of the past, as one who has the power of God to make them effective in the lives of human beings and in the service of their integral good. This is how, in the face of the teaching of the scribes which was lacking in divine force and consisted of formulas crystallized in the tradition of the elders, Jesus reveals himself in the Gospels as the Teacher par excellence; he possesses his own authority by virtue of the power of God which is active in him, and makes his listeners perceive his teaching as new, or in other words definitive, because it is a fusion of word and action, meaning and effectiveness.

Prefiguration and extension of the Word. Already in the Jewish tradition the prophet of the first reading was seen as a prefiguration of the Messiah who was to appear to his own contemporaries as a new Moses, that is, as a prophet and teacher-legislator and the maker of the new people. It is not hard to imagine how Jesus himself (and with him the first Christians) appropriated this prefiguration, since Jesus is the hoped-for Messiah and the Christian community are the new people formed by the teachings and actions of Jesus Christ among men. Since he is the prophet par excellence, Jesus is the keystone of true or false prophecy, as he is also the point of reference and the judge of all other forms of non-biblical prophecy (at the time of Deuteronomy the prophets were Canaanites faithful to the god Baal).

Paul, for his part (and this applies to any other "teacher" of Christian communities) is not an autonomous prophet or teacher, but his teaching refers to Christ the Teacher or is illuminated by the presence of the glorious Christ on Paulís lips or in his pen, through the living and life-giving action of the Holy Spirit. Paul teaches with authority, but this is not his own. It is the authority of Christ himself, present in him through the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul teaches that there are two states of life: marriage and virginity. Both are gifts of God, both are calls to dedication and commitment to the apostolate. But at the same time he teaches that the unmarried are in a position to live this dedication and commitment to the apostolate more radically than those who live in the bonds of marriage.

Listening to the Word. Every word and teaching is like a call waiting for an answer. Teaching, by its very nature, has the structure of a dialogue. One can accept, reject or discuss a teaching, but one has to dialogue with it. As regards the Gospel and Christian teaching, there can be no answer but a welcome. This welcome is primarily an acceptance, because it is "Godís teaching".. A welcome that comes with a fair amount of surprise because these are new teachings, never heard from any "other teacher" to whom we listen daily. A welcome which perhaps brings a certain degree of respectful fear, because in fact it is a matter of welcoming Godís "mystery" into our lives that are so impregnated with materialism and earthly thoughts. A welcome which, however, bears the seal of victory over important things (the meaning of life and death, the reality of the beyond, the love of God and neighbor as the essence of our existence). A welcome, finally, that we cannot conceal, but which leads us to spread the teaching we have learned, because "we cannot keep quiet about what we have seen and heard."

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

A living word. In the great market of words, so present and overwhelming, it is not easy to find a word that is living and life-giving. How many words, how many "teachings" reach human, Christian ears today? Millions! Among these millions of words, where is the Word that gives life and feeds the soul in our times? In conveying the teachings of Jesus Christ, Christian teachers today Ė priests, parents, catechists and others Ė must speak living words, words with the force of eternity, that will not pass away but that will last and give meaning and serve as a crucible for all the millions of other words that are heard. Faced with such a stupendous reality, one is tempted to wonder why religion classes and Sunday homilies are sometimes so boring. What are we doing with the Living Word? Why, if it is alive, does it not manage to enliven the hearts of Christian preachers and of the listeners? Something is happening which is turning the living and effective Word into an almost sterile and dead word, or at least a word without bite, without a vital, transforming impulse. Let us pray that the teachers of the Word may always have the Word of Life on their lips and in their hearts.

Attitude in the presence of the teacher. When the words of the teacher are not living and enlivening, we cannot expect any attitude other than boredom and rejection. This is so obvious, almost axiomatic. But why, even when the word is full of life and is life-giving, is it not listened to and welcomed? Jesus too had to face this rejection of his Word, because men found his teachings "hard". And didnít Paul have to face at times those who showed no interest in his Gospel or who simply rejected him? We should not be surprised that the Living Word is like a ridge which divides men into those who welcome it and those who reject it. The Living Word should be heard in freedom and set men free, but there are those who choose to exercise their free will by rejecting the source of freedom. The Living Word is like a seed that sometimes falls on ground that is hard, shallow and full of weeds. Let us ask God that with his grace he may cleanse and cultivate his field, so that people (our parishioners, our students, our children) will accept the Living Word and that through it their hearts and their works may bear abundant fruits.

 

 

 

 

 

Fifth SUNDAY of ORDINARY TIME 6th of February 2000

First : Job 7:1-4.6-7; Second: 1 Cor 9:16-19.22-23; Gospel: Lk 24:13-

THEME of the READINGS

Suffering, sickness and weakness are words that appear in the readings of todayís liturgy. Others accompany them as a response: care, preaching, service. The Gospel presents a typical day in Jesusí apostolic ministry: he preaches, he heals, he retires to pray, he leaves for other places to preach and cast out devils. In the first reading, Job complains: "I have assigned to me nothing for my own but nights of griefÖ My life is but a breath, and ... my eyes will never again see joy." Finally, Paul makes himself weak with the weak to save the weak, he makes himself a slave of everyone to win as many as he can (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

 

Human suffering. When Job likens manís life to military service, he is not focusing on the heroic or glorious aspects of the militia as much as on the meaning of struggling, pain, suffering and punishment. Whether one wants it that way or not, pain is present at the origin, middle and end of human life. There is the pain of the daily toil of work, and the nightmares that molest people from dusk to dawn. There is the reality of illness in all its various forms and the anguish of dying, of having to die and of feeling apprehensive about eternity. There is physical suffering with its cruel, disturbing face, and the suffering of the soul which upsets oneís inner self and tumbles one into a bottomless pit. There is obligatory renunciation because of superior and beautiful decisions, but which as a renunciation continues nevertheless to be painful; and there is voluntary renunciation for the good of others which also brings its own load of suffering. Above all, there is the pain of sin, that pain whose traces linger in the soul even when the sin has been forgiven. How immense is humanityís pain! The infinite meaninglessness of life and the horrible absurdity! The awareness that pain and suffering will last as long as time, however many breakthroughs are made in medicine and biomedical technology.

The mystery of pain. Pain is a reality outside our door and in our inner selves. Pain is also a mystery. That is, it is something outside the human beingís grasp, however great his extraordinary capacity for understanding; it is something incomprehensible to all. It is also something which in escaping from your grasp you cannot dominate or manage as you will, but which imposes itself upon you and subjugates you. Neither Job nor Peterís mother-in-law, nor those "possessed by devils" of which the Gospel speaks, sought suffering or sickness; rather, they were the passive subjects of a superior power that was imposed upon them against their will. Pain is also a mystery because it refers us to something or someone superior, above us and far beyond us, who enters into our lives and on whom we must depend. It is a mystery, lastly, because it requires "treatment" by a specialist, not to understand it, but rather to integrate it in our life and to succeed in giving it meaning. For us Christians, the specialist in pain is Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is only he who can introduce us to the science of pain; only he can preach the Gospel or the good news of suffering to us with authority.

The Christian Way. In the liturgical texts there are indications of a Christian reaction to the reality of pain and the mystery of suffering. First of all, as Job teaches us, we must adopt a stance, not of resignation but of a quest for meaning. Far more important than seeking tranquilizers for suffering is the search for its meaning. A search which endures throughout life, because pain accompanies us to the grave. Secondly, we Christians must try to alleviate human pain. The discovery of pain is not an excuse in order to do nothing to soften and alleviate peopleís pain. Since suffering is an evil closely linked to sin, we must fight it with determination and efficacy. Jesus did not fold his arms when faced with so many sick people, possessed by devils or terrified by some pain or other. The attitude of service in the face of suffering, as exemplified by Paul who made himself the servant of all, is a quintessentially Christian imperative. Teaching the meaning of pain and bearing authentic witness when facing oneís own suffering in the light of Christís mystery, is a high point of the Christian way.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

The "beautiful" face of Christian suffering. Can pain be "beautiful"? Is it really the absolute evil in which there is no spark of beauty? Is it possible that a beautiful act can be reflected in the mirror of pain? For some people today, pain is more horrible than death, which is why euthanasia or suicide seem to solve the possible dilemma. For doctors, whose profession is to combat pain and for whom it is an enemy, it must be difficult to think of the beautiful side of suffering. I think telling the relatives of a dying person - of a patient with a terminal illness or of someone who has suffered a gruesome accident - that there can also be a beautiful side to pain, runs the risk being insolent or, at the least, inappropriate. Altogether, suffering has a certain human and Christian "beauty". Physical or moral pain humanizes and dignifies man in his humanity and makes him more fully man when he accepts it and lives it with nobility of spirit, although his whole body may be contorted with the most unspeakable convulsions. It dignifies those who suffer it and their loved ones, when they bear with it and live it with noble elegance. Above all pain "Christianizes", that is, it likens us to the great master and artist of pain who is Jesus Christ. His pain is beautiful because it embellishes all humanity, purifying it from the leprosy of sin and instilling in the old body of a fallen humanity the splendor of purity and innocence. A pastoral approach to suffering cannot do without this beautiful aspect of pain. What are the most appropriate ways and times to preach the good news, the beautiful face of suffering?

At the service of the suffering. Jesus Christ was a doctor of bodies and souls. The priest must follow in Christís footsteps. By his vocation he must always be available to alleviate human suffering as best he can. Accompanying those who suffer, comforting them with words or simply by being present, sharing an anxiety or a very deep sorrow, praying for those who suffer and getting them to pray with him about their suffering conditionÖ Listening to the sinner in his inner anguish, speaking to him simple but true and authentic words which come from the heart, encouraging the despairing and the depressed, imbuing serenity in those who are overwhelmed and, as it were, devoured by painÖ The priest should be, like Christ, a loving and compassionate doctor of bodies and souls. A full-time doctor, tireless, committed to all without reserve, like Jesus Christ, as this Sundayís Gospel portrays him. Do I visit the sick and the elderly? Do I bring them the comfort of my words and especially the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist? Do I believe that service to the sick in body and mind is a fundamental element of my ministry? What can be done in my parish, in my religious community, to give a "beautiful" face to suffering?

 

 

Sixth SUNDAY of ORDINARY TIME 13th of February 2000

First: Lev 13:1-2. 45-46; Second: 1 Cor: 10:31 - 11:1; Gospel: Mk

THEME of the READINGS

In the society of Jesusí time, as in ours, there were social and religious outcasts, such as lepers. It is to this kind of exclusion that the first reading of this Sunday refers. Jesus, without respecting the rules regarding such outcasts, touches the leper, cures him and sends him back into society and civil life (Gospel). St Paul, following in Christís footsteps, urges the Christians of Corinth to avoid all causes of division and the resulting segregation, taking care not to scandalize anyone and to do everything for everyone for the glory of God (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The segregation of humanity. Segregation is a social phenomenon which existed in the most ancient cultures and continues to exist in the most modern ones today, although the reasons for this segregation may vary: race, nationality, social origin, religion, education, sickness. Leprosy for the ancients, and even until not so long ago (as testified to by the history of the island of Molokai), was a taboo, much as today in the case of AIDS. Human societies defend themselves against such taboos (infectious diseases) by isolating the sick and taking a series of measures to exclude them from society. The measures described in the book of Leviticus in the first reading, which were those of Jewish society, were: to be forbidden access to towns, to dress in a particular way, to cover the mouth, to cry "Unclean, unclean!" when another person approached. These were also signs of mourning, and the fact is that lepers were considered virtually dead, like walking corpses. The Jewish tradition went as far as to compare them to still-born children, and their cure was equivalent to a resurrection. If we add to this the connection which existed in the Jewish world between sin and sickness, the leper was burdened with the charge of a grave offense for which God punished him in this way. The poor lepers were not only forbidden access to Jerusalem, but were not even allowed to approach the walls of the holy city. The social and religious nightmare of leprosy is decisive in understanding the human and spiritual tragedy of the leper in todayís Gospel.

Jesusí attitude to outcasts. First of all, it must be said that Jesus did not view disease in the abstract. He saw it in the flesh and in the anxiety of the human being in front of him. He did not theorize about leprosy at a distance. No. He had a leper before him, at his feet and it was up to him whether to restore him to social life or to let him die in his solitude and anxiety. Jesusí attitude to this unfortunate man lying at his feet stresses that the supreme law for Christians, to which all the other laws are secondary, is love, charity to those in need. Jesus initiated a new attitude and behavior which broke with the segregation of lepers, and led them to the possession of all their civil rights, and thus to their social and religious reintegration. In the first place, Jesus seeing the leper in his sorrow, took pity on him or, more precisely, "felt sorry" for him, treated him with maternal affection, instead of chasing him away, rejecting him and reproaching him for coming too close. Second, he stretched out his hand, like Yahweh who stretched out his hand to part the waters and free his people in the crossing of the Red Sea, as described in various passages of Exodus. He stretched out his hand to show his divine power, because even in the Greek world a deity was defined as "he whose hand soothes pain." Jesus stretched out his hand over this leper to free him from the shackles of solitude, anxiety, misery and segregation, and to show Godís goodness and mercy acting powerfully through him. What is more, Jesus touched him, in this way sharing with him his own fate and wrenching the leper from total isolation. He touched the leper, and instead of being contaminated by the sick man, he imbued his flesh with his own purity and salvation. Then, with his divine authority, he answered the leperís plea: "Of course I want to! Be cured!" Jesusí compassion and mother-like love and the Fatherís mercy which he incarnated unleashed their effective power over the sickness. Finally, he sent him to the priest to show that he did not want to be treated as a healer, and that he knew and wanted to obey the law, although at times he had to disobey it for the sake of a greater good.

Imitators of Christ. St Paul invites the Corinthians, and all of us, to imitate him, as he imitates Christ. To imitate Christ is to place the love of man above the law, it is to make charity the supreme law. Paul is not speaking of leprosy, but of eating the meat of animals sacrificed to pagan gods and then sold in the market, which could cause a scandal for certain Christians of Corinth. Paul calls these people the "weak ones". These weak ones were not to be cast out from the community, left to one side, but they were to be loved in Christ like other Christians. Today, the circumstances that cause exclusion or segregation may be different. What is important is to continue to apply the principle of love, not for purely or exclusively humanitarian reasons, but as Paul said and did, for the glory of God.

 

 

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

The fight against segregation. Areas of segregation existing today are very numerous: the segregation of religious, cultural or racial minorities within a single nation or region; the exclusion or even hostility towards people from other communities, which prevents them from integrating into the social fabric of a city; the segregation that so many children experience within their own homes, of so many older people who are socially forgotten or deprived, or of so many terminal patients; the economic segregation of so many millions of human beings in the world who live below the threshold of poverty, human dignity and subsistence on all continents; the segregation of gypsies, of street children in big cities, of indigenous populations in so many "reserves" created to avoid the "extinction of the species" but which give them no opportunities for cultural or social self-improvement; the segregation of church groups or movements within a parish or a diocese, for reasons that are not always legitimate; the segregation of the invalids, the handicapped, the disabled in the midst of a society which is governed by competition and material gain... As disciples of Christ and to follow in his footsteps, we must fight against all these or other forms of segregation that exist in our society. These are forms of segregation, social exclusion and often scorn which God does not want, because all men are his children and all men are brothers. No ideological, political, educational or social conditioning should prevent us from fully committing ourselves in this fight, as the Church is indeed already doing in many places as the true pioneer for the cause of humanity and the social well-being of all.

Humanizing society with the Faith. Our Christian Faith does not enclose us in a ghetto, nor does it separate us from the sinful man, bogged down in his physical, spiritual or moral wretchedness. Our Faith, through the Word of God in this Sundayís liturgy, urges us to allow ourselves to be approached by and to approach persons in need who are perhaps suffering overwhelming solitude. As Christians, we must approach all men to win them for God, to witness to the fact that being Christian also means promoting man in all his being and dignity. Our faith also induces us not to make distinctions between persons when we help them and to serve in charity: no distinctions on the basis of religion, language, country or culture... Jesus did not make distinctions between those who approached him to be helped, between the good and the bad, rich and poor, nobles or common people, high priests, soldiers or lepers. "Do good without discrimination." There is no doubt that the Church and Christians, despite errors and failings, have fulfilled Ė and are still fulfilling today Ė the most important role, in thought and in action, in the immense task of forming a more human society for all.

 

Seventh SUNDAY of ORDINARY 20th of February 2000

First: Is 43:18-19.21-22.24-25; Second: 2 Cor 1:18-22, Gospel: Mk

THEME of the READINGS

The pair "sin/forgiveness" attracts our attention in this Sundayís liturgy. Isaiah proclaims Godís liberating message to the people in the Babylonian exile who had "wearied" God with their sins: "It is I, it is I, who must blot out everything and not remember your sins" (first reading). Jesus says to the paralytic: "Your sins are forgiven" (Gospel). Paul, in turn, reacts to the accusations of ambiguity and the lack of seriousness of certain Corinthians by making it quite clear that his attitude, like that of Jesus Christ, has been a "Yes" to man, to his integral good; "With him it was always ĎYes,í and however many the promises God made, the ĎYesí to them all is in him" (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The presence of sin. Sin is a reality which no person can avoid. And not only individuals, but also human groups and society. Since personal sin exists, there are also social sins and structures of sin. It seems to cost the human being and human societies to give up sin, to learn once and for all the lesson of grace and of divine forgiveness. As the first reading reminds us, we human beings, whether as individuals or as a society, easily tire of God and stop calling upon him and worshipping him. So did the exiled in Babylon, without learning their lesson from the misfortune in which they were living, far from their homeland and the holy city, because of their infidelity. Sin was also present in Jesusí society and in his contemporaries, in whose mentality there was a close connection between illness and sin: paralysis and sin, the physical ill and the moral ill, the crime and the punishment. And were not the accusations of his brothers in the faith of which Paul was the object unfounded and sometimes also malevolent? Isnít this a blatant proof of the reality of sin in the Christian community itself? Wherever a human Ė and Christian Ė community exists, this reality of sin always has to be reckoned with, although it is not the only one nor the most important. Recognizing this presence of sin in man and in the world is a considerable step towards forgiveness, fraternal reconciliation, the mercy of God, Father and Lord of humanity. Whether man accepts it or not, self-absolution does not exist, however many psychological or psychoanalytical methods are used to convince him that it does.

The presence of forgiveness that sets us free. Our God would not be a God rich in mercy, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the friend of men, if in the presence of sin he were to remain impassive or indifferent. Desiring and seeking manís good, he shows him his love either by a "pedagogical" punishment or by forgiveness. Sin never deserves forgiveness for any reason, but forgiveness is one of loveís names. This is why God says in the first reading, "It is I, it is I, who must blot out everything and not remember your sins." It is only God who can loosen the bonds of sin; God alone can blot out the doubt of sin; only God can forget the mark left by of sin. Jesus Christ did not contradict this fundamental assertion of the Jewish faith; rather he confirms it, suggesting, with his power over the paralysis which he heals, that in his humanity God makes himself present among men. In this way the sin of the whole man is forgiven throughout his being as a human: in his spirit and interiority (the forgiveness of sins) and in his body (the healing of his paralysis). However, forgiveness does not belong to the past but is always part of the present, just like God himself. God forgives the sin of the Israelites, freeing them from slavery in Egypt and letting them pass dry-shod over the Red Sea, but now Godís forgiveness will create something new: he will trace a path across the desert, so that the people can return to Jerusalem. Now Jesus Christ and the Church in Christís name continue to say "Yes" to the sinner who repents: "Your sins are forgiven," so that we too may glorify God with our own "Yes." Indeed, through baptism we received the Spirit of the "Yes", that "Yes" which through sin becomes a "No", but whose liberating power is recovered through forgiveness.

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

 

Freeing the whole person. In Christianityís history, at least in some periods, great insistence was laid on the spiritual liberation from sin, and little or far less on the liberation of man in his totality (spiritual or religious, political, economic, social, and cultural liberation). Today we are sometimes more aware, at least at the level of the common mentality, of this liberation which embraces the whole man and all men, as John Paul II likes to say. The Gospel passage offers us a good basis for understanding this holistic liberation. Jesus Christ forgives sins, but he does not limit his liberating action merely to that. Instead, he goes on to cure the paralytic, also freeing him of his infirmity. This integral liberation Ė and integrating liberation since the two are connected Ė is the work of God, but we Christians have been called to facilitate this divine work, and to "make it manifest" among people since God acts in history with us and through us. It is also important that we should not, in following Jesus Christ, rule out any type of liberation, lest we reduce and impoverish the liberating power of Christianity and of the Gospel. Among my Christian brothers, with whom I live and work, is the Christian Faith a liberating power? Do you think that the Christian Faith frees the whole man? What initiatives can we as Christians take to ensure that, in our milieu and our society, the full liberation of man can be achieved?

The sacrament of freedom. Among the seven sacraments of the Church there is one which is particularly closely connected with the pardon of sins. In history, according to the different perspectives, it has been given various names: "confession", "the sacrament of penance", "the sacrament of reconciliation". I would like to stress that it is also the sacrament of freedom. The grace of the sacrament not only liberates from sin, but also liberates the freedom not to sin, it allows the Spirit to say "Yes" to the power of grace. At a moment in which this sacrament does not seem to be emerging from the crisis it has suffered since the Second Vatican Council, emphasizing this dimension can contribute to its rehabilitation and to its being received more frequently. This dimension contains and gives unity to the others; whoever confesses is freed from something which has been weighing on his conscience, before God and before his brother or sister; whoever repents, by recognizing his guilt is taking the first step so that God will set him free from his guilt, and his conscience will feel liberated; whoever is reconciled with God and with the Church, disposes of his liberation so that he can use it with true freedom in the future. How do you view the sacrament of freedom? Do you think it is something "old-fashioned"? If you are a priest, do you dedicate enough time to the administration of this sacrament? If you are a religious or a consecrated person, do you find in the sacrament a sure way to purify and perfect your freedom? If you are a lay person, are you aware that this sacrament does not restrict but rather strengthens your freedom, your ability to be entirely free, in body and soul?

 

Eighth SUNDAY of ORDINARY TIME 27th of February 2000

First: Hos 2:16-17b.21-22; Second: 2 Cor 3:1b-6; Gospel: Mk 2:18-22

THEME of the READINGS

The newness of betrothal, new cloth, new wine, a new covenant. The whole of todayís liturgy summarizes newness. Israel behaved like an unfaithful wife with Yahweh, but Yahweh will now lure her back, leading her to the wilderness, and will betroth her to himself for ever (first reading). In the Gospel, Jesus is presented as the new bridegroom, the new cloth and the new wine, which require of man not a mere adaptation, but a radical conversion. Finally, in the second reading, Paul presents himself in comparison with the figure of Moses, as minister of the new covenant, not based on the letter of the law as is the Mosaic law, but on the power of the Spirit who gives life. All this newness is a divine work, the object of the pure gratuitousness of God who is full of tenderness and love for his people.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

God is always new. When I was a student I heard a sentence which is deeply engraved in my memory: "God is always young." He is eternal, yet he never grows old. Centuries and millennia pass, but he is always the same. He is a perennial present. The ideas which we humans form of God can become obsolete, but God remains up to date. People can change or switch from fidelity to infidelity, but not God; God is always faithful. This is the great truth which the liturgy teaches us in the three readings. For the Israelites, contemporaries of Hosea, the God of the Exodus is a distant and forgotten fact or at least he has no effect on the present and they live far from him in injustice, indulging in the cult of pleasure and money. God should have punished them, but he is prevented from doing so by his fidelity to love. What he does is to renew the marvels of Exodus, his great newness: not through the covenant of a king with a vassal, but through the betrothal covenant in which two people in love carry on an intimate dialogue. A new covenant sealed in the depths of the heart. The covenant of betrothal. This covenant is examined in the Gospel, with Jesus Christ who, in the sublime mystery of his passion, death and resurrection, betroths himself to the new people which is the Church, thus heralding the last and definitive covenant of God with man. This new covenant of betrothal between God and men in the flesh of Christ is brought about by the Holy Spirit, who renews all things with his action.

The symbols of newness. The first symbol which is found in the first reading and in the Gospel is betrothal. With the nuptials, a new relationship begins between a man and a woman, between God and his people. This is a new thing based on such love that it cannot fail to be exclusive and faithful. The second symbol is the new cloth. Only with new cloth can a new garment be made. Jesus is the new cloth and wants to clothe man with the newness of his message and his definitive and total salvation. Can Christís newness perhaps be reduced to a correction of the traditions, rites, and institutions of Judaism or of the pagan religions that existed in the Hellenistic world? The third symbol is the new wine. New wine needs new skins, because if it is poured into old skins they burst and both wineskin and wine are lost. Jesus is the new wine. The old wineskin is the person who has not been renewed by the mystery of Christ, patient and glorious, the person belonging to the ancient, principally Jewish religion. The new wine of Christ requires new men, prepared to drink the cup of new wine with joy and sincerity. The last symbol used in the liturgy of the day is the new covenant. It was Jesus Christ who sealed this covenant in his very person on the altar of the cross, and on the throne of his exaltation to the right hand of the Father. It is a covenant of betrothal. The bridegroom is Jesus Christ, the God-man, and the bride is the Church, the community born at Easter. This new covenant will be definitive and eternal.

The content of newness. According to the laws of the covenant of betrothal, the bridegroom receives a dowry from the bride. In the first reading the bridegroomís marvelous dowry is listed: integrity and justice, tenderness and love, faithfulness. In the Gospel Jesus adds to the dowry joy and coherence. In the Second Letter to the Corinthians, we are also shown the Spirit. What marvelous riches are contained in the newness of God, the newness of Christianity! The concept of the newness of God opens a world of ideas: the justice God does to his merciful love by granting us salvation; the privilege which God instills in human relations; Godís fatherly love and motherly tenderness to all his children, however unfaithful and sinful we may be; Godís fidelity to his covenant as a powerful king and above all as a loving bridegroom; the rejoicing of the nuptial banquet to which all are invited; the coherence of Jesus so that the newness he brings to man is not mingled with the "old world" nor lost in the dust of ancient things; the Spirit, source of all surprise and all newness, who makes all this new with his divine breath.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

 

Has the Christian God lost his newness? There is one fact that we Christians should wake up to. It is the realization that in the current religious market many Christians turn to other gods and to other religions. From curiosity? To break the monotony? The magnetism of the esoteric? The wish to dominate the powerful and occult forces of the supernatural world? Fear of their own responsibility? These are questions which require a keen analysis by all Christians. Has the God of Christians perhaps become antiquated for contemporary man? Or are we Christians so sluggish that we cannot manage to grasp his ceaseless and perennial timeliness for the man of our time? The image of God which we Christians present in our preaching and catechesis must be thoroughly revised and above all, the concept of God that we "reveal" with the witness of our life. If we present a politician-god who is just waiting for our infringement in order to exact a fine from you, if we present a stop-gap-god who can be called upon in cases of extreme need, if we present a trade-unionist-god, without transcendence, immersed in social work; if we present a "financial" god, who rewards good with riches and evil with povertyÖ if we do this, the newness of the Christian God is lost. Let us ask ourselves: Where does the newness of the Christian God come from? How can we make present and effective among people today, this newness which should never be extinguished and never die?

Ministers of Godís newness. All of us Christians, but especially priests, are at the service of the Christian newness in the world. To be able to serve, we need to know what this newness is and of what it consists. This absolute newness of God absent in any other religious concept, is the person and mystery, the presence and the message, the life, the death and the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. God makes himself our brother in Jesus Christ; God accompanies us on our way through history, making himself "history" and accepting all the conditions: of space and of time, of nature and of the person, of earthly realities and of spiritual values, of language and of culture, of life and of death, of grace and of sin. God loves man as the best of friends, to the point that he lays down his life for him. God is with man at the culminating moment of his death, to open the door of eternity to him. God is living eternity, he gives man life in his perishable and ephemeral state. We Christians are ministers of this newness. We must serve it with our heart, our lips, our whole life. Are we truly apostles of Jesus Christ, the newness of God, the new and definitive Word which God has spoken once and for all for humanityís good?

Ninth SUNDAY of ORDINARY TIME 5th of March 2000

First: Dt 5:12-15; Second: 2 Cor 4:6-11; Gospel: Mk 2:23-3:6

THEME of the READINGS

The term "sabbath" appears in the first reading and in the Gospel but it is not the focal point of todayís liturgy. Rather it should be understood that the focal point is the human attitude to the law, with an explicit reference to the law of the sabbath day. The fulfillment or failure to fulfill the law of the sabbath is not being disputed (both the first reading and the Gospel agree on the value of the sabbath). What is disputed is the insistence on its fulfillment to the letter at the expense of the spirit, when the opposite should be done, since "the sabbath was made for man and not man for the sabbath" (Gospel). This "spirit" is the light that Jesus Christ kindled in our hearts through the Gospel, a light we bear in fragile earthenware jars (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The value of the law. The law of the sabbath day as it appears in Deuteronomy, and in general all the laws of Sacred Scripture, are good and should be obeyed because they are at the service of manís integral good. Since they are at manís service, they have great value in humanizing man, that is, in helping him to fulfill himself as a person and to be worthy of the God who created him. The first reading clearly highlights the great anthropological value of the law of the sabbath: manís rest, in comparison with the daily efforts of work, and his liberation from all oppressive forces, as was the slavery in Egypt for Israel. Of course, the formulation and material content of every law, with the exception of natural and divine law, is subject to the wear and tear of time. This is why clinging to the literal and material meaning of a law can even go as far as to contradict the legislatorís intention and the spirit and formal content of that law. This is the case presented to us in the Gospel passage: the Pharisees, to defend the law of the sabbath, are in opposition to the true good of man (the need to satisfy hunger, the rehabilitation of a person who is unable to work). There should be neither strictness nor laxity with regard to the law, neither intransigence nor condescension. Without denying the lawís value, it is necessary to put the law of its value above it.

The spirit of the law. In the Gospel, Jesus Christ highlights the spirit over the letter of the law. It was not the Torah nor Mosaic Law but the provision of the Pharisees to safeguard the law of the sabbath which forbade the gathering of ears of corn, removing the kernels and eating them. Jesus could have answered them saying that this measure was not prescribed by the Law, but only by its excessively rigid interpretation on the part of the Pharisees. But Jesus, instead of starting an argument, prefers to reply with an example taken from Israelís history: David himself, who was so revered and respected by everyone, did what the law did not allow in order to satisfy his hunger and that of his companions. If David did itÖ What is important is not the law itself, but the spirit that motivates it. On some occasions, fulfilling the spirit of a law can lead to the violation of its literal interpretation. This is what Jesus did in healing the man with the withered hand. He healed him on the sabbath, and in addition, in the synagogue, a place where the law and its observance was preached. The spirit of the law of the sabbath, according to the Gospel, is that man and the fulfillment of his complete humanity is at the heart of every law.

The law of the Spirit. Through Baptism, we Christians have received the law of the Spirit, which governs all Christian life. This law of the Spirit teaches us first and foremost that Jesus Christ is the Lord of the sabbath and of all laws. The spirit of the Old Testament, with all its laws and prescriptions, pointed to Christ as to a supreme norm for human activity, and in Christ reaches its fullest meaning in the good of man. For this reason Paul Ė and with him every Christian Ė is a "spiritual" person, who struggles, suffers, lives and dies following the Law of Christ under the action of the Spirit. Paul knows he is weak to obey this Law of Christ, but he is also aware that the strength of the Spirit acts powerfully within him. Christ is the one who fulfills the law of the Spirit, with the certainty that the Spirit is always seeking his good and bringing it about.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

The law at the service of man. The objective of every positive law, ecclesiastic or civil, is to help man reach the fulfillment of his humanity in all its dimensions, hence including the religious dimension. A law that does not help to achieve this objective lacks meaning and must therefore be exchanged for another that does. Human societies need laws which encourage good and dissuade evil in both the individual and in human groups. With regard to these reflections, some might spontaneously ask themselves: Why does the legislation of many nations contain certain laws which neither encourage people to do good nor dissuade them from doing evil? If laws are made in parliaments, Christian members of parliament and senators have an important task and enormous responsibility. Together, they can help improve laws, aiming to put them all at the service of the advancement of the whole person. Christian citizens also have their share of responsibility when voting. Before they vote for someone, should they not give great thought to whether the persons for whom they are voting will be consistent with their faith and thus always endeavor to seek the integral good of all citizens?

The Lordís Day. The sabbath is at the service of the human being, and the same is true for us Christians with regard to Sunday. Thus, rather than contenting ourselves with insistence in fulfilling our Sunday obligations, on the precept of the Lordís Day, we should stress the preservation of the values it represents. Above all, it is the supreme value of manís redemption through the passion, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is commemorated and made present on Sundays. Then there is the dignity of the human being, making no distinctions, since the celebration of Sunday applies to everyone, independently of financial status or social class. This dignity is protected and promoted by Sundays with a rest from work, the opportunity for more intense family life and dedication to other dimensions of human life: culture, sports, friendship, hobbies, etc. Lastly, Sunday, like the sabbath for Jews or Friday for the Muslims, prompts us to realize that God, not man, is the Lord of time, that our time is short and that we must use it for the benefit of others. Currently in North America and some European countries stores are permitted to stay open on Sundays. We can ask ourselves whether the criterion which motivated this legal permission really was the good of man, or merely considerations of money and gain.

 

ASH WEDNESDAY 8th of March 2000

First: Jl 2:12-18; Second: 2 Cor 5:20-6:2; Gospel: Mt 6:1-6.16-18

THEME of the READINGS

Ash Wednesday reminds us all of conversion and penance, but I think that the liturgy does not so much stress this aspect as that of the interiorization of acts of penance and conversion. Thus in the first reading God tells us through the prophet Joel: "Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn." In the Gospel, Jesus teaches on the three practices of Judaic piety: fasting, prayer and alms-giving. In all three he insists: "Be careful not to parade your good deeds before men to attract their notice." Lastly, St Paul exhorts the Corinthians to be reconciled with God in order to feel his saving power, and not to let the favorable time go by unheeded (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

An interior religion. Religion means a just and proper relationship between man and God. Man is a being who is "bound" to God, dependent upon God, and in this sense he is by nature "religious". All religions, in one way or another, are institutions in which man is helped in his "religious" dimension both to become aware of it and to express it in worship and life. The Christian religion is the religion founded by Jesus Christ, true man and true God, in whom the God-man relationship achieves its maximum interiorization in a personís life and heart. An interiorization which is at the same time a supreme familiarity with God, to the point of calling him "my Father". All Christians are invited to reproduce in themselves, as far as is humanly possible, Jesusí interiorization and familiarity in his relations with God, his Father. Only when there is a true interiorization do the external expressions of religion and the various practices of devotion and piety cease to be the object of human manipulation and become a purely "religious" obligation, the need of hearts and lives. It is typical of the human experience that when the soul is deeply imbued with something we feel the need to express and externalize it. Only when the step to religious expression, to popular piety, is based on interior religion is it truly authentic. In fact, from a contrite heart comes the inner impulse to penance, fasting, and prayer.

God sees the intention. Religious practices are necessary, but if they do not flow from the heart, from manís inmost depths, they lend themselves to human manipulation and exploitation, serving selfish aims. In the Gospel, Jesus Christ puts his finger on this highly sensitive point. Fasting, alms-giving and prayer are good in themselves, but are exploited when they are only done to be seen and praised by others. In human eyes, those who give alms sounding a trumpet so that everyone will know about it, pray on street corners so that everyone will realize that they are praying and that they know long prayers by heart, or put on a lugubrious expression to make it plain that they have been fasting, can pass as supremely pious and holy, but they do not, nor can they, deceive God. God looks at the heart and he sees that their hearts are selfish, that their fasting, alms-giving and prayer do not flow from hearts full of God or at least of repentance and the desire for conversion, but instead are full of selfishness.

Be reconciled with God. Every person, even if he is deeply religious, feels that his life and conduct are not always at peace and in reconciliation with God. He realizes that at times he is not attached to God but has broken off his relationship with him. Letting ourselves be reconciled is returning to accepting our "religious" condition and establishing a genuine relationship with God: not based on enmity or hatred, but on love and friendship, not on division or withdrawal, but on closeness and intimacy. It is not we who reconcile ourselves with God, but rather, we must let ourselves be reconciled; we are free to accept reconciliation, but not to create it or initiate it. It is Our Lord Jesus Christ who reconciles us Christians with God through his cross and his glorious resurrection. That is why Sundays, when we commemorate these realities and mysteries, are the favorable time for Jesus Christ to make effective in us the work of his reconciliation with the Father, and hence with our human brethren.

 

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

 

The meaning of Christian penance. Already in the Didache, which dates from the end of the first century, Christian penitential practices are mentioned. These penitential and "religious" practices have always existed and continue to exist in the Churchís life. According to the epoch and popular customs, they were more or less rigorous and widespread. Today, when we read of the penitential practices of Irish monks or the penitential acts of people in the Middle Ages, we are surprised and find them exaggerated; but it does not seem that people thought the same in those times and places. In our epoch, the Church has eased the prescribed penitential practices, such as fasting and abstinence or the penance imposed by the priest in the sacrament of Reconciliation. But at the same time, she has not ceased to indicate other practices of penance which are more in line with our time. She especially recommends interior repentance; that is, of our passions of pride, of the vanity of our desire to have and to dominate, of the concupiscence of the mind and the concern with appearancesÖ This is certainly the penance most pleasing to God. What is more, it is most spiritually beneficial to us because it leads us to rid ourselves of our ego and of everything in which our ego has pride of place, even with regard to God himself. What is the meaning of mortification of the body when the heart is putrid with selfishness? Is repenting of our selfishness and pride what we Christians practice most? In the parish, in the family, at school, children and adolescents should be gradually taught this type of penance, in which is found the true meaning of Christian repentance.

A pure intention for God. Many celebrations and activities are organized in the parish. At their center is the celebration of the Eucharist, of the sacraments. There are also activities of catechesis and of help and charity to various categories of persons: the sick, the elderly, emigrants, the unemployed; there are cultural, sports, and social activitiesÖ It might not be a bad thing to ask oneself at some point or other about the intention of those who are organizing the various activities. If only this were always a pure intention for God! But it is frequently mixed with other very human intentions, and at times human intentions are predominant, if not exclusive. Sometimes Jesus Christ sees himself obliged once again to repeat: "Your Father will reward you". The Lenten season we are beginning should be a favorable time for an examination of our conscience, to discern more deeply and sincerely the intentions of our conduct, attitudes, activities, plans and achievements.

 

First SUNDAY of LENT. 12th of March 2000

First: Gn 9:8-15 Second: 1Pet 3:18-22 Gospel: Mk 1:12-15

THEME of the READINGS

Salvation is the point of convergence among the readings of this first Sunday of Lent. Jesus Christ is the new Adam, who in the desert of temptation and prayer saves man from temptations and sin and calls him to enter the Kingdom of God through conversion and faith (Gospel). The salvation of Christ is prefigured by the rainbow in Godís saving Noah and his family (all of humanity) after the Flood. It is a sign of his salvific covenant (first reading). In the second reading Noahís ark, the ark of salvation, prefigures baptism, through which the Christian participates in the salvation that Jesus Christ brought to all men by means of his death.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

We need salvation. This is a constant teaching of the Bible. It is an experience inherent in the life and conscience of any human being. Whoever penetrates his inner being with sincerity, discovers in himself forces, impulses that dominate him, chains that keep him in bondage and do not allow him to breathe freely or fly to the summits that he ardently wishes to reach. Man, imprisoned inside himself and in the prison of a hostile world, seeks a friendly hand, a redeemer, a savior who will break those chains, who will allow him to fly up to the place of love, truth, life. The Bible teaches us that there is only one Savior, God, who offers us his salvation in Jesus Christ. Noah is saved from the chaotic and sinful world in the beginning by God, and with him, like a new Adam, God begins a new creation, the center of which will be the respect for life. This new Adam and this new creation are the figures and images of the truly new Adam, who is Jesus Christ, and of the truly new creation, the center of which is the new life of grace established by the death and resurrection of Christ. Man participates in this life through baptism. Indeed, "The mystery of Christ casts conclusive light on the mystery of creation and reveals the end for which Ďin the beginning God created the heavens and the earthí: from the beginning, God envisaged the glory of the new creation in Christ" (CCC 280).

Characteristics of salvation. The God who created all things also wishes the salvation of all. There is thus a universal call to salvation. The Flood (first reading), which is like a black cloud over the sky of salvation, stops as a result of Godís work, for he lets the rainbow shine forth as a sign of his salvific covenant with all of humankind and the cosmos itself. Jesus Christ calls us to salvation by inviting us to enter the Kingdom of God through the door of baptism (baptism of water and Spirit, baptism of blood, baptism of desire); a door that is open to all, without any exceptions, since Christ has died and come back to life for all. The descent into hell, which the second reading tells us about, is a symbolic way of expressing the universality of the salvation brought by Christ, which extends not only to the present and future, but also to the past. We cannot doubt Godís fidelity, upon which rests our certainty of salvation. With the certainty with which a rainbow appears when the sun begins to shine after the storm, with the certainty with which Christ died and has risen, with this same certainty we are offered Godís salvation. Nothing or no-one will be able to take it away from us, just like no natural law will be able to erase the rainbow from the sky and no ideology will make the historical fact of the crucified Christ disappear.

Our response. Saint Mark summarizes in two words the response that Jesus expects from us when faced with the presence of the Kingdom and the offer of salvation: conversion and faith. "Repent, and believe the Gospel" (Mk 1:15). Conversion is not a specific moment of human and Christian life; nor is it the reaction to an ideology which with utopian force attracts and dazzles me, encouraging me to "convert myself" Christian conversion is a conversion to the person of Jesus Christ. In other words, it means leaving other ways, as attractive as they may seem, and following the way of Christ. Likewise, the faith with which we are invited to respond is not only a human faith or a purely "religious" faith, but faith in Jesus Christ; in his life and doctrine as a way to achieve salvation. A faith that does not go hand in hand with the mystery of Christ or that does not lead to him, is insufficient. It needs to be completed and enlightened by true faith in Christ Jesus.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

To convert is not a sin. A man who is satisfied with himself, who feels humanly fulfilled, runs the risk of thinking that conversion is almost like a stain in his life as an upright man, something not worthy of his honor or of his self-perception. This is true especially when conversion is not just an inner phenomenon, but must become visible in family life, in professional work, in oneís relations with society. Is it a sin to recognize oneself as a sinner? Is it a sin to abandon a way that in oneís eyes and in the eyes of the others seemed upright, impeccable, praiseworthy? Perhaps we need be told that conversion is not a sin. It is an exercise in sincerity which challenges everything, including pain, at the expense of human prestige. It is not a sin to recognize oneself as a sinner and want to change, to walk down a disused path, even to start oneís life over again after many years of existence. To eradicate fear from conversion, conceived as something horrendous and sinful, is one of the objectives of Lent.

To live the baptismal experience. Most of us were baptized when we were a few days or months old. At that time, our relatives organized a great party, without us realizing what was going on. After that, it may be a family tradition to celebrate the anniversary of this event, or perhaps this event was completely forgotten and is mentioned only in some particular circumstance. The Church, however, teaches us that baptism must be an experience that we live every day and that it must be the foundation of a genuine Christian spirituality. To live the experience of baptism in our daily life is like living the experience of salvation that Christ offers us day after day, it is like living our belonging to the Church and consequently, our adhesion to and love for it. It is like living the experience of grace and joyful friendship with God. It is like being aware of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit inside us. It is living a process of spiritual progress and transformation which is repeated each day and only ends when life ends. In essence, living the baptismal experience is living in holiness, whatever our state of life, age and condition, our profession or task in this world.

 

Second SUNDAY of LENT. 19th of March 2000

First: Gn 22:1-2.9.10-13; Second: Rm 8:31-34 Gospel: Mk 9:2-10

THEME of the READINGS

Love, whether it be Godís love for us or our love for God, summarizes todayís liturgy. Godís love for the disciples, after the first announcement of the Passion, reveals to them the splendor of his divinity (Gospel). The mysterious, paradoxical love of God for Abraham instills in him absolute confidence in Godís providence when faced with the order to sacrifice his son Isaac (first reading). The love of God did not forgive his own Son but led him to death for the sake of all of us (second reading). On the other hand, the love of Abraham for God is seen in his readiness to sacrifice his only son out of loving obedience (first reading). The love of the disciples appears in their readiness to obey the Father who tells them, "This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him" (Gospel). We also see the love of Jesus who saved us with his death and intercedes for us from his throne at Godís right hand (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The paradoxes of love. God is an infinite mystery. His way of working and loving are also filled with mystery. Mysteries are unintelligible for our minds and our human logic. Only the heart can open the door of the mystery and glimpse a small part of its overwhelming greatness. Indeed, according to human logic it is a paradox that God has given Abraham a son, the only hope of the promise that God has made him, and then asks him to sacrifice him on Mount Moriah. It is equally paradoxical to us that God loves his Son Jesus Christ with the love of a Father and then asks him to suffer the great ignominy of death like a slave on a cross. And it is just as paradoxical that man has received Jesus Christís salvation and then has to cope with everyday anxieties, with tremendous hostile forces that make him question such salvation. However, it continues to be true that God overcomes paradoxes and unites apparently contradictory extremes with inseparable bonds of love. Itís not that God loves less in some cases and more in others. Rather, his love is different. Man, in turn, should not seek to rationalize the ways of divine action, for he will always most definitely fail. Rather, he should endeavor to open his heart and try to "understand" with love, for "the heart has its reasons that reason does not understand" (Pascal), and this holds true both in the case of man and of God.

Three ways of loving. In human relations, love takes on infinite forms. The same happens in the relationship between man and God. Todayís liturgy presents us with three of such forms of expressing love.

A) To see. On Mount Moriah, "God provides for" and thus manifests his love for Abraham. In turn, Abraham "sees" a ram caught by its horns in a bush and offers it as a burnt offering in the place of his son. Thus he shows his grateful love to the Lord. In the text of the Gospel, Peter, James and John saw Jesus transfigured with the splendor of divinity, and what they saw made them want to stay there to contemplate such an ineffable experience. The eyes are the windows of love: through the eyes love enters like a ray of light through glass, and through the eyes passes transparent and bright the ray of love from the heart to the external world, to envelop the loved one. The same phenomenon that takes place with human love also occurs in the relations of love between man and God.

B) To listen. It is sweet to the ear to hear the voice of the loved one. This is why Abraham, who loves God, listens to his voice that calls him and replies, "Here I am," in a gesture of readiness that springs from his love. This is why the Father invites the disciples to listen to Jesus, so that through his words their ears may hear the revelations of the love that reached the madness of the cross. Listening to the voice of the loved one calls for an attitude of obedience. Hence, true Christian obedience coincides with listening to the divine voice, which sets in motion the wish to do what the loved one wishes.

C) To experience. Only when love comes down to the level of experience is that love powerful and effective. A love not grounded in experience runs the risk of degenerating into selfishness, abstraction, or pure sentimentalism. Abraham experienced Godís faithful love, but this love of his remained sound and firm when it was put to the test. Jesus experienced the love of the Father and love for men. This is why he was able to embrace the cross with determination and freedom. And Paul, who strongly experienced Christís love: could anyone separate him from such love?

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Love-pain: a difficult relationship. To love a person when everything is fine, when love seems to live in an eternal Springtime, when the fruits of love are sweet, when reciprocity in love makes life beautiful, and when we look to the future with joy and hope, is easy and even pleasant. But in love stories not everything always runs smoothly. In relationships based on real love, pain, suffering, trials and incomprehension from time to time knock on the door. And the soul falls prey to the temptation of questioning that love, of seeing in pain something that destroys love, of feeling that love is cooling down. Why do these things happen if pain, according to Godís plans, is simply a different facet of love? Have we not experienced, perhaps, that pain and trial deepen love, that they are enormous forces that purify and enhance the human heartís ability to love? Love and pain are like the two poles (negative and positive) that are necessary in order to produce psychic and spiritual energy in the human being. Doesnít the very wisdom of men tell us that a person who has not suffered or undergone trials or tribulations will have a hard time in becoming a mature person? I have also started to wonder why contemporary man looks down on pain and hates it so passionately. Could it be that true love, the love for God, men and life, is growing cold among men?

The fear to listen. Contemporary man is no doubt the man who has listened and listens to the greatest amount of words in all of history. He is allured by many of such words and listens to them with pleasure. Others bore him, in which case he simply closes off the communication channel or seeks another, more pleasant conversation. There are also words that engender fear in him, sometimes a lot of fear. Words uttered by fathers that wonít give in to their childrenís tantrums, words spoken by educators that require attention and reflection, words laid down by laws which structure human coexistence, words of the Church which teach the meaning of life, place before our eyes the meaning of existence. These words often arouse the fear that lies in ambush in our psyche. In truth, we are not afraid of words; rather, we are afraid of ourselves, afraid of elevating ourselves to the level of existence which corresponds to us as human beings and disciples of Jesus Christ. This Lent may be a "moment of God" to uproot the fear.

Third SUNDAY of LENT. 26th of March 2000

First: Ex 20:1-17; Second: 1 Cor 1:22-25 Gospel: Jn 2:13-25

THEME of the READINGS

"We are preaching a crucified Christ: to the Jews an obstacle they cannot get over, to the Gentiles foolishness, but to those that have been called, whether they are Jews or Greeks, a Christ who is both the power of God and the wisdom of God" (second reading). This sentence summarizes the main message of the liturgical texts of this Third Sunday of Lent. The power and wisdom of God which exceed and perfect the power and wisdom of the Decalogue (first reading). The power and wisdom of God which establish a new temple and a new worship, no longer located in a place, but in a person (he talked about the temple of his body): the person of the crucified, dead and risen Christ in whom the relationship between God and man reaches its fullness.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Jesus Christ, Wisdom of God. Godís revelation is a long and progressive journey of divine wisdom. This wisdom is revealed as it adapts itself to the eternal plans of God, but also to the spiritual and human development of men. This is not imperfection on the part of God, but condescension, acceptance of the historical dimension of the human being with all of the conditioning that it entails. After long centuries in which divine wisdom manifested itself in teachings, institutions, prophets and wise men, the wisdom of God is incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth, but with rather different traits from what we expected. Jesus will say that he has not come to abolish the law but to perfect it, this is why the Decalogue, with its love for God and man, is not enough. It is necessary to add that it is a matter of loving God in his Trinitarian mystery as revealed by Jesus Christ, and of loving oneís neighbor, even our enemies. Jesus, as the new temple, internalizes the Christian worship, not founded in sacrifices or external rites, but in the action of the Spirit that pleads, praises and worships. It is a wisdom which springs from the Spirit of God. It is not a work of man or of his superior skills.

The cross, wisdom of Christ and of the Christian. The wisdom of Jesus Christ shines forth with special force in the madness of the cross. The cross was the most horrible object in the eyes of a good Roman, and to a pious Jew it was the sign of divine curse. To Jesusí contemporaries, the scandal must have been unheard of. Who would imagine making the cross the most eloquent sign of the wisdom of God and Christianity! Certainly not men; but it did occur to God. Before the figure of the crucified Christ, human wisdom either falls on its knees in an attitude of acknowledgment of a mysterious and superior science, or rebels, succumbing to the unbearable weight of something that goes beyond human reason. For twenty centuries, Jesus has been proclaiming from Golgotha that the piece of wood out of which the cross was made is the true tree of the knowledge of good and evil, of the knowledge of life. As Christians, we must be fully conscious that true wisdom lies in the cross, and that we must proclaim to all the Gospel of the cross, the Gospel of suffering.

The power of the crucified Christ. No man crucified before Christ was able to make the cross his throne and scepter. Only Christ capable of such an impossible transformation: he converted the sign of ignominy into a sign of power. For us believers, the cross is indeed the power of God. The Decalogue was a sign of the covenant between God the sovereign and Israel, his vassal. The temple, with its imposing grandeur as a building, rite and sacrifice, was a sign of the power and transcendence of God. With Jesus, Godís omnipotence becomes evident in the weakness of the flesh, in the curse of a piece of wood, in the human ignominy of a crucified man. Generation after generation, we hesitate to even begin to understand this great mystery. Those who let themselves be seduced by the mystery and penetrate it with their faith and humility achieve true wisdom for themselves and can arouse other peopleís interest in doing the same.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

You can only fly with two wings. Contemporary man has a boundless confidence in science, just because he can see the great breakthroughs that have been achieved: in the world of astronomy, in biogenetics, electronics, etc. Human intelligence encompasses other aspects which need to be developed, such as philosophical, moral or religious intelligence.

Unfortunately, instead of growing, intelligence in these fields has decreased over the past decades. This is a great deficiency in the life and formation of the contemporary man. This is because philosophical, moral or religious intelligence prepare the path towards faith. It is true that intelligence alone does not make people believers, faith is needed. However, without the support of true intelligence, faith becomes Fideism, just like intelligence without the complement of faith becomes pure intellectualism or scientific positivism. What is your mentality and that of your relatives and neighbors? Do you accept faith as true knowledge of God at the service of the good? What can we as Christian faithful do to fly, in our daily work, with the two wings of faith and reason? Arenít there many Christians that try to fly with only one wing? An impossible feat!

The Decalogue of Prayer. In the Gospel Jesus Christ goes beyond the ritual worship of the temple, placing worship inside man. In 1973, Pope Paul VI proposed the Decalogue of Prayer to the faithful that were listening to him, a practical way of living inner worship and of expressing it in a manner that is adequate to our time. The Pope suggested: 1) Apply the liturgical reform in a faithful, intelligent and diligent way. 2) Engage in a philosophical, biblical, theological and pastoral catechesis on divine worship. 3) Do not extinguish religious sentiment by attributing to it new and more genuine spiritual expressions. 4) The family should be the great school of piety, spirituality and religious faithfulness. 5) Consider the precept of the feast not only as a primary duty but especially as a right, a need, an honor, good fortune. 6) Though a certain autonomy is allowed in religious practice in different groups, there must be an understanding of the "ecclesial genius", that is, of being a people, of being Church. 7) The performance of liturgical celebrations is always an act of great seriousness, which must be prepared and conducted with great care. 8) The faithful collaborate in holy worship with their silence, composure, and participation. 9) Prayer must have two moments of plenitude: the personal and collective. 10) Song should express the spiritual richness of the Christian faithful. This Decalogue is still very relevant, though nearly thirty years have passed. The fulfillment of this Decalogue can be a renewing force that enriches the spiritual life of each Christian, of groups and parishes.

Fourth SUNDAY of LENT. 2nd of April 2000

First: 2 Chr 36:14-16.19-23; Second: Eph 2:4-10 Gospel: Jn 3:14-21

THEME of the READINGS

"For this is how God loved the world..." Here lies the message that the Church conveys to us through the texts of the liturgy. This infinite love of God traveled a long way throughout the history of salvation, before expressing itself in a definitive and ultimate way in Jesus Christ (Gospel). The first reading shows us Godís love at work in a surprising way, through anger and punishment, in order to arouse repentance and conversion in the people (first reading). The letter to the Ephesians emphasizes on the one hand our lack of love which causes death, and on the other Godís love, which makes us live again together with Jesus Christ (second reading). In everything and above all, we see Godís love expressed in Jesus Christ.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Jesus Christ, the love of the Father. "For this is how God loved the world: he gave his only Son" All of the history of God with man, as it is presented in the Bible, is a striking story of love. God, who out of love creates, gives life, chooses a people to make himself present among men, becomes "flesh" in Jesus Christ to save us from his flesh. And then there is man, who out of pride rejects that love and seeks to "create himself," "give himself life," "choose himself" in the concert of nations through his power and imperial ambition, "save himself" with science and technology, with parapsychology and cosmic "religions". It would seem that man understands the things of God the wrong way around. It would seem that God would like to teach man to spell out love in his mind and life, while man is only capable of pronouncing words of selfishness, hatred or indifference to anything that does not concern him. It would seem that, instead of being the supreme form of divine love, Jesus is, on the contrary, the cause of manís confusion, of his feeling of failure, of his alienating frustration. What goes on in the human heart that prevents it from discovering in Jesus Christ the sublimity of Godís love?

Two forms of love. Love only seeks the good of the loved one. However, the ways in which this good is sought may vary. Before a rebellious people or a rebellious heart, closed to the ways of God, divine love takes on harsh manifestations which try to induce man to reflect, to repent, to convert. Thus in the first reading, when faced with the haughty attitude of the people, God promises the taking of Jerusalem, the killing of many of its inhabitants, the pillaging of the city, bondage and exile to Babylon. God acted this way in a supreme effort of his love which seeks to bring a genuine conversion to the inhabitants of Jerusalem through their recognition of divine love. However, there is another form of divine love, which is grace, the gift of salvation for those who welcome it and allow it to bear fruit. Those that welcome it "...are Godís work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life" (second reading). These good works are the works of love, with which the believer responds to Godís love. As a formidable educator of peoples, God our Lord uses either form of love with the only goal of finding reciprocal love in man. God knows full well that the greatness and happiness of man lies solely in loving and in being loved.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

To convert to love. The liturgical texts have shown us that to love God is to give oneself, to deliver oneself to him, to seek the good of the loved one. This form of love is not the most common among men, nor is it easy to attain. It occurs more frequently that people close themselves in on their own world and make themselves the subject and object of their own love. People "take advantage" of the other (husband or wife, father or son, friend, creditor or customer, student or teacher, parish priest or parishioner...) to satisfy their own egos, interests, tastes, passions. It is more frequent for us to seek our own good than to want the good of others; to care for ourselves instead of doing good unto others. It is easier not to give oneself, not to do anything for others, not to help those that are in need, not to cooperate in the different activities of the parish, not to seek concrete ways of loving God, the Blessed Virgin, our loved ones, our brothers in faith, and all people, regardless of religion, race or status. However, in most cases what is more frequent and easier is not what is best, not even for ourselves. We must convert ourselves to Love: the love that is at work in us because God gives it to us and we welcome it with joy. We must convert ourselves to Love, which takes us out of our shell and places us "without defense" before others, so that we may live by the power of Love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Christian" means "human". It would be good to be able to say, "I am a Christian and everything human concerns me" The Second Vatican Council has taught us that "Christ reveals man to man" We are not going to find genuine humanity in TV programs or articles in the press, in the invasion of sounds in concerts with famous singers, in the fleeting pleasure of alcohol and drugs or in the false solidity of a deteriorated relationship... "Man" is present in all of these instances, but not the "human" dimension, not the values which stem from his dignity as image and son of God. Pope John Paul II likes to repeat that "the person is the path of the Church," and we could also add that "being Christian is the path for the person" It is evident that I am referring to a Christian who is really a Christian, a man who is measured in terms of his vocation and dignity, not according to other parameters. This is why some says that "the Third Millennium will either be Christian, or simply will not be," for man would end up destroying himself. If this is true, isnít it worthwhile to live out the Christian vocation all the way? Why not struggle to establish in society a true humanism, a Christianity lived out with genuineness? Itís worth it!

 

 

Fifth SUNDAY of LENT. 9th of April 2000

First: Jer 31:31-34 Second: Heb 5:7-9 Gospel: Jn 12:20-33

THEME of the READINGS

While for men the normal order of concepts is life-death, this order is reversed in Jesus Christ: death-life. The liturgy talks to us about these two realities and their relationship. The grain of wheat must die in order for it to live again and bear fruit, one must lose oneís life to live eternally (Gospel). By subjecting himself to death in filial obedience, Jesus lives again as high priest who intercedes for us before God (second reading). In the death of Jesus, who comes back to life and gives us life, the new covenant is fulfilled, a covenant no longer sealed with the blood of animals but written on the heart; a spiritual and eternal covenant (first reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Jesus, the "combination of opposites". The most frequent human tendency is to divide, dissociate, separate, confront. Jesus, who came from God, acts in a different way and teaches us to behave like him. We tend to separate the infamy of suffering from the splendor of glory: Jesus combines them in himself because the Father wants them to be united in Christ and in us. This way suffering is glorious; and the foundation of glory is pain. Man wants to bear fruit without dying, but this is impossible; Jesus accepts being a seed that dies beneath the earth in order to bear abundant fruit. In Jesus, two strongly antagonistic realities join hands: death and fruitfulness. We prefer being served to serving; Christ preferred serving to being served. In this unconditional serving the salvation of humankind was "served" to him by the Father. In general, we are not willing to lose our life (to give it up for the good of others), and yet, this is precisely how we lose it. Christ, instead, lost it. He did not hang on to it. This way he gained it forever and gave us the possibility of "gaining" it too by following in his footsteps. The paschal mystery of Jesus Christ lies in this conjunction: to lose the world in order to gain it later.

Jesusí hour. In the Gospel of Saint John Jesusí encounter with the Greeks (representing non-Jewish humanity) is combined with Jesusí hour, in other words, his Passion-Death-Resurrection. Therefore, Jesusí hour is the hour of universal redemption through suffering and glorification. Both aspects shine with special brightness in the second reading. First the suffering: "During his life on earth, he offered up prayer and entreaty, with loud cries and with tears, to the one who had the power to save him from death, and, winning a hearing by his reverence, he learnt obedience." These cries and tears, so human, are part of his hour, his time and his way of saving us. This, however, is followed by the hour of glory: "When he had been perfected... [he] was acclaimed by God with the title of high priest." High priest of the new covenant, of the new human heart, of the new law written in the deepest part of the soul.

The hour of the new person. Jesusí hour is also the hour of the new person. The suffering and glorification of Jesus fulfill Jeremiahís prophecy, which the liturgy presents to us in the first reading. The new covenant between God and humankind will be sealed with the blood of Christ. The provisions of this new covenant will not be written in stone, nor will Moses be the one who will communicate them. God himself will write them inside the heart and the Holy Spirit will "read" clearly, in an intelligible and personal way, the contents of the new law, the law of the Spirit, to all those that wish to listen. This is why Saint John tells us that everyone will be educated by God, from the youngest to the oldest. The Passion-Death-Resurrection of Jesus Christ gives all of humankind the grace of entering into a pact of friendship and communion with God our Lord, and thus become new, genuine, even "divine" men.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

To suffer out of faithfulness. To suffer for the sake of suffering is absurd and unworthy of man. To suffer because "there is no other way," because this is the human condition, is a very poor reason, although it is often heard. To suffer to show oneís self-control or oneís human grandeur is a path chosen by few, and a choice that almost always suffers from pride. To suffer out of faithfulness to a number of principles and beliefs that are the foundation of oneís life: here lies the true meaning and value of suffering. It is suffering to be faithful to oneís conscience, although external stimuli induce one to live according to the principle of carpe diem and to want to satisfy the thousand temptations of vice and sin. It is suffering to be faithful to the duties of oneís state in life, with sincerity and perseverance, without being afraid of appearing "weak" and without fear for the opinion of others. It means suffering to be faithful to oneís religious beliefs: as a Catholic, a religious, a priest, always and in every situation behaving in a consistent and genuine manner. In the eyes of God, not only does this suffering have a meaning, but it also has an everlasting value: a value of redemption, like the suffering of Jesus Christ. This suffering is not easy, and thus is always beautiful and especially fruitful. Let us place our hand on our heart and ask ourselves whether we have suffered to be faithful, whether we are willing to suffer out of faithfulness to God and man, our brother.

A religion of the heart. It is difficult to keep a balance in our relations with people, and in our relations with God. Either we are cold, because we base our relationships on reason, which does not accept being "warmed up". Or else we are sentimental, making feelings the basis for a real relationship, either with men or God. However, we know that feelings are subject to the changing of circumstances, of external occurrences, of states of mind... Feelings are warm but lack logic, order and stability. Another alternative would be to try to base our relationships on the heart, where the strength of logic meets the warmth of feeling, and the warm feeling penetrates the coldness of reason. The heart is the place of the "encounter", of the most genuine relationship among persons, and between people and God. This is why the Christian religion is a religion of the heart. When attempts were made to turn Christianity into a religion of reason, we slipped into the coldness of abstraction or in dogmatic and moral rigor, in the style of Jansen. When Christianity was turned into a religion of feeling, the result was a sickeningly sweet sentimentalism and a not very intelligent Fideism. Only the heart (the center of reason, affectivity and passions) may give shape to the Christian religion. If you have not yet converted to the religion of the heart, take advantage of this time of Lent to do so. Do not miss this opportunity.

 

Palm SUNDAY 16th of April 2000

First: Is 50:4-7; Second: Ph 2:6-11 Gospel: Mk 14:1-15:47

THEME of the READINGS

The fact that a man suffers is a difficult one for us. Whether he suffers deliberately or because of another, it is not easy to fit him into our common categories. Todayís liturgy presents to us the deliberate suffering of Jesus Christ. "...[A]nd being in every way like a human being, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross" (second reading). On Jesusí lips we have heard, "Abba, Father!" He said, "For you everything is possible. Take this cup away from me. But let it be as you, not I, would have it" (Gospel). Centuries before, the servant of Yahweh, the figure of Jesus Christ, had prophetically uttered the following words, "Lord Yahweh has opened my ear and I have not resisted, I have not turned away. I have offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; I have not turned my face away from insult and spitting" (first reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The realism of the Passion of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Saint Mark is the one of the greatest realism and even a certain degree of harshness in the narration Jesusí Passion. The prophecy of the Servant of Yahweh was short, though its expressions are striking when one listens to them: he was struck on the back, made fun of and had his beard plucked, he suffered insults and spitting. Jesus goes through and experiences a physical passion, which shakes up his entire body, and a moral passion, a passion of the heart, which shakes and almost paralyzes his soul. In Gethsemane Jesus suffers from terror, anguish, deadly sadness, and is taken violently by the men who go up to him with swords and clubs (14:33-34.46). In the Sanhedrin, after he was judged blasphemous, some began to spit on him and strike him (14:65). In the Praetorium, the Roman soldiers twisted some thorns into a crown and put it on him (15:17). They also struck his head with a reed, spat on him, and went down on their knees to pay him homage (15:19). Mark plainly writes, "Then they crucified him" (15:24). The evangelist ends the account by saying, "But Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last" (15:37). A cry of pain, a cry in which he sums up all of his Passion. Alongside the corporal passion is the passion of the heart. How do his disciples behave? Judas betrays him (14:10). Peter disowns him (14:66.72), all of the disciples abandon him and flee (14:50). How do the authorities behave? The authorities were looking for a way to arrest him by some trick and have him put to death (14:1). They pay Judas to betray his Master (14:11). They sent a number of armed men to take Jesus away (14:43), looked for evidence against him in order to have him executed (14:55), condemn him for blasphemy (14:63-64), incite the crowd to demand that Pilate should release Barabbas and put Jesus on the cross instead (15:11-13). On Golgotha, triumphant, they mock him (15:31-32). He, the innocent one, is tried and condemned. He, the Lord, is struck by a servant, insulted by the soldiers. He is the object of peopleís mockery and scorn. And especially he, the Son of God, feels deeply inside himself that the Father has forsaken him (15:34). This realism of the Passion takes on a special, unprecedented brightness if we observe it with the certainty that Jesus could have avoided it but did not want to. He took on all the pain of the Passion deliberately, fully exercising his freedom, as the supreme expression of his freedom subjected to his love for his Father and his brothers.

The fruits of suffering. The first fruit to be borne is Jesusí humanity: "And for this God raised him high, and gave him the name which is above all other names" (second reading). In other words, his humanity came back to life, to a new life, and the Father glorified his humanity by making it participate in Godís very life. The second fruit that the texts indicate to us is the salvation obtained through the love that suffers even the heroism of death on a cross. This suffering love saves the thief that begs for mercy; this love culminates in a striking cry and saves the centurion who recognizes the Son of God in the crucified man. Jesusí suffering saved Peter who, right after disowning him, burst into tears like a child. Peter, the centurion and the good thief are symbols of humanity that, in spite of everything, is touched by Christ the savior.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

An "accompanied loneliness". In contemporary society many people live lonely lives and feel the loneliness like a heavy stone weighing upon them: the elderly who feel lonely, perhaps abandoned by their own families, orphans and children abandoned by their parents on the doorstep of a hospital or at the entrance of a church, beggars who do not have a family or a roof over their heads, young people who live "alone" and often experience with anguish the first problems of their existence, such as the lack of meaning, joblessness, anxiety for the future, the fleeting and deceitful escape provided by drugs, sex, alcohol... Then there is the loneliness of immigrants, uprooted from their cultural traditions, their country and family, and often mistreated. These people are on their own, but not out of their own free will. These, and all others who live in our environment, must find in Christians good and sincere company, a fraternal welcome, effective help, an open and even controversial solidarity, a truly heartfelt compassion. These people who are compelled to be on their own should also know that Jesus Christ walks with them in their loneliness and in a certain way experiences and shares loneliness with them. Not only that; Christ also takes up and redeems their loneliness with the loneliness he himself suffered during his Passion and death on the Cross. In his atrocious loneliness, Christ knew that the Father was mysteriously by his side. So was his mother Mary and the holy women... In the midst of the most merciless loneliness, people need to know that someone is next to them and prays for them, that there is Someone by their side.

Trust in pain. This is one of the most wonderful teachings that Jesus Christ leaves us with, like a flag atop Golgotha. No one has suffered like Jesus and no one has had as much trust as Jesus in the midst of cruel and merciless suffering. To those who believe, pain does not erase their trust. When you are in pain, how do you react? With anger against society, against your fate, against God himself? With weakness, to the point of being tempted by suicide or euthanasia? With stoic resignation in the face of the inevitable? Or with a trust that is mature, great, full of faith, bright before the future? Tell me how you suffer and I will tell you who you are. May Jesusí attitude of trust in his heavenly Father and in the future enlighten us Christians.

 

 

Holy THURSDAY 20th of April 2000

First: Ex 12:1-8.11-14; Second: 1 Cor 11:23-26; Gospel: Jn 13:1-15

THEME of the READINGS

"He loved them to the end" (Gospel). These words are the key to understanding the Word of God on this Holy Thursday. It is this love that the Israelites celebrate each year when they commemorate the feast of the Passover, when the Egyptian slaves were freed (first reading). Jesus showed this love in a supreme way in the washing of the feet (Gospel) and in the giving of himself in bread and wine, turned into his body and blood (second reading). This is the love that is repeated each time Christians gather to celebrate the Lordís supper (second reading).

 

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Godís love is historical. The history of Godís love for us often seems incomprehensible, because God always loves with a pure and disinterested love, a love which seeks the good of the loved one, while human love does not always have these characteristics. Additionally, Godís love does not look at the "rights" of the loved one, because man does not have any "rights" that entitle him to be loved by God. In any event, within the history of Godís love for us, todayís liturgy provides us with important moments of that love: the Exodus of Israel from Egypt in the second half of the 13th century BC, and Jesusí Last Supper with his disciples to celebrate with them the new Passover in his blood. It is not thanks to their own merit but to Godís love that the people of Israel make a transition from a situation of slavery and oppression in a foreign land to freedom, and begin their journey towards the Promised Land. The people of Israel knew perfectly well that they would never have been able to free themselves from the powerful grasp of the Egyptian Pharaoh. But God, who loved Israel, could and did free them in a surprising, unpredictable way.

The centuries passed and the people of Israel forgot about Yahweh and his wonders, went their own way and abandoned themselves to sin. Knowing that God is faithful to his love, the prophets started to talk about a new Exodus, a new Passover, as something that would come in the future and that would reveal Godís love in an even more wonderful and surprising way. Jesus Christ is the new Exodus and the new Passover. He brings about the new liberation from the bondage of sin and grants those that have been freed the gift of being able to enter the definitive homeland, the heavenly Jerusalem. This definitive and ultimate love of God for men is precisely what the early Christians celebrated when they gathered for the breaking of the bread, to eat the Body and Blood of Christ which will nourish our gaze for all of eternity in heaven.

Godís "humble" love. In the old Exodus, God manifested himself to the Pharaoh and the Israelites with extraordinary and fearful power. In the new Exodus, inaugurated by Jesus Christ, God shows us his love in humiliation and through his condescension, inviting us to change our ways. Indeed, we usually think, in a very human way, that God can only triumph with strength and power, and we need to see how he triumphs through the unrecognizable path of humiliation. At the Last Supper, Jesus shows Godís "humble" love in the washing of the disciplesí feet. It is striking! He becomes a slave to show that he is the Lord. He humiliates himself to manifest his divine greatness. Godís "humble" love continues to be present in the Eucharist. He humiliates himself in the species of bread and wine, to the point of not being recognized by many. He accepts with a love beyond all imagination that even sinful and sacrilegious lips may make him present among men, or that he may be indignantly received by men whose conscience would have them behave otherwise. The humiliation of Godís love for men reaches even these unexpected extremes!

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

To live is to serve by loving. In normal human categories, we equate "to live" with "to have a good time," "to enjoy," or with "being successful." The Christian concept of "living" is related more to serving; not in just any old way, but out of love. The great danger that we may fall prey to is to confuse serving others with using others. This may happen within the family: parents use their children instead of serving them, or the children use their parents. It may happen in the parish: one may use the parish or the parish priest to serve oneís needs, or the other way around: the parish priest may use his parishioners for selfish purposes. This may also happen in a business, a bank, or whatever other job. We all know that institutions are at the service of the common good, but often we put them at the service of our individual well-being. Those who are true Christians have to examine their conscience deeply to establish whether for them life is a service, as it was for Jesus Christ, and if they know how to serve others out of love; or if instead they serve themselves, using others.

It is the hour of the encounter. When two people love each other, they try to meet frequently to feel loveís vibrations, to communicate their feelings to each other and repeat in different ways that they love each other. A love in which there is no encounter between two people is "virtual", it is removed from the most basic needs of love. The Last Supper is the hour of the encounter with Jesus Christ under the veil of mystery, and the Eucharist is the place where we encounter the Loved One. When one loves Jesus and when one loves him passionately, as one loves oneís life, one longs for the time and place of the encounter. Jesus Christ does not have any specific time for that rendezvous. We are the ones that can choose "the time of the encounter." It may be in the morning, before going to work. It may be at the end of the afternoon, when, tired from our daily work, we are revived by our contact with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. It may be at any time of the day, because he is always waiting. The important thing is for me to be able to really encounter Jesusí love each day, and that in coming into contact with the fire of his love I feel that my heart too burns with love for God and men. Jesus Christ, however, is a difficult lover. His love is not like that of a flower which blossoms for a day: his love is deep, transforming, eternal. We must persevere in the "encounter" and we must persevere in love. Let us thank God that there are many people for whom the daily encounter with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is as vital to them as breathing. Are you one of them?

 

GOOD Friday 21st of April 2000

First: Is 52:13-53:12 Second: Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9 Gospel: Jn 18:1-

THEME of the READINGS

"We" and "ours" are terms that come up repeatedly in the liturgical texts of this Good Friday. It is not a plain old "we", but one with a very peculiar note: we as sinners. In the fourth song of the Servant of Yahweh, the terms come up frequently, "... and we have been healed by his bruises," "while we thought of him as someone being punished," "ours the sorrows he was carrying," "whereas he was being wounded for our rebellions," etc. (first reading). In the second reading, taken from the letter to the Hebrews, we find sentences like "we must hold firm to our profession of faith," or "for the high priest we have is not incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us." In the Gospel too, although the terms are not employed, they are implicit in the entire account of the Passion and death of Jesus according to Saint John of which we are the recipients.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Jesus, servant of Yahweh. The mystery of Jesus, the man of pain, is a counterpoint and a challenge to the common mentality of mortals. It is the formidable challenge of the cross, not as a torture or chastisement, but as an instrument of salvation and throne of grace. In the 5th century BC, the author of the songs of the servant of Yahweh already perceived with great realism the challenge, imposing for human reason, of a man loved by God and at the same time humiliated in his dignity to the point "that he no longer looked like a man." How is such a situation possible? It is not men that make it possible, but only Godís power. Certainly, Godís power shines forth in the blessing that he bestows upon his chosen people and friends, and this is clearly perceived by the human mind. However, what does not seem so clear to man is the splendor of Godís power in the suffering and in the ignominious death of those whom he loves. How can we understand, when divine power shows itself to us as being so impotent? Here lies the mystery of the Servant of Yahweh, the mystery of Jesus in the long hours of the night between the Thursday and Friday of the Passion. In suffering until his death on the cross, Jesus incarnates in himself and completely fulfils the figure of the Servant of Yahweh, thus emphasizing the great mystery of Godís power, disconcerting if we consider it in isolation but effective and deep if we do not separate it from the mystery of the Resurrection. Jesus Christ, Servant of Yahweh, is one of Godís faces in the account of the Passion.

Christ, High Priest. The letter to the Hebrews offers us another side of Jesus: that of the High Priest who expiates the sins of his people. In Jewish liturgy, only on the day of expiation could the High Priest use the scapegoat to expiate the sins of the whole nation and thus enter the Holy of Holies fully purified, and in Godís very presence, offer him the purifying blood of the sacrificed victims. To us Christians, the real day of expiation is the Friday of the Passion, in which Jesus tears the veil from the temple, enters Godís sanctuary and offers himself as victim of atonement not only for the sins of Israel but for those of all peoples. The blood of the offering Jesus is the previous blood of the Son which purifies the sins of the world and reconciles humankind with God. In the Passion, Christ, Priest of the new covenant, opens the doors of forgiveness and salvation to all men of good will, "He became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation." For us, therefore, being saved is equivalent to recognizing Christ as High Priest of the new covenant in his blood.

Christ, king on the throne of the cross. One peculiarity of the Gospel according to Saint John is that it presents the figure of Jesus, throughout the Passion, as a great king who is going to take possession of his kingdom. In Gethsemani he reveals to those that want to take him away, that he freely embraces the Passion by means of a gesture of divine power (Jn 18:6). He replies to Annas with truly regal dignity (Jn 18:20.21). To Pilate he confesses his kingdom, a kingdom based on the power of truth and love (Jn 18:36-37). Pilate, in turn, will introduce Jesus to the Jews with the following words: "Here is your king" (Jn 19:14). Finally, although the Jews declared that they had no other king but Caesar, Pilate wrote out the following notice and had it fixed to the cross: "Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews" (Jn 19:19), and whatís more, in three languages (Hebrew, Latin and Greek), so that everyone would be able to read it. Only God can turn the cross into a throne, can turn an executed criminal into a sovereign king, can turn a human wreck into a new man, the prototype of humankind. On the cross shines the face of Christ, bleeding and deformed, but already transfigured by a regal power that crowns and exalts it and makes him triumph over sin and death, Lord of men and history.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Jesus, universal brother. We usually say that we are all brothers because we are all children of Adam. Additionally, as Christians, we must say that we are brothers because Christ has made us all brothers by making us the children of God. By virtue of both his human condition and his divine sonship, Jesus is the universal brother: in his life he loved all, he forgave all, he welcomed all, he offered his salvation to all, he wanted to help all with his power which went beyond the strength of nature or of history. He is a brother that understands us, because he lived out the human experience in fullness, he was tempted like us, he suffered like us and more than us. He is a brother whose power makes us stronger before our sin and weakness, whose love stimulates us to love our brothers like he loves us, whose help comforts us in times of trial and hardship, whose consolation instills peace and happiness even in pain, whose greatness of spirit elevates us to the heights of God and of Christian values... We must proclaim Jesus as universal brother before the others, so that he may proclaim before the heavenly Father. We are all Jesusí brothers because he has redeemed us, and we are all called to practice fraternity in Christ Jesus, the true brother who will never fail us. In a world in which family ties are at times extremely fragile, fraternity founded in Jesus Christ must take on an increasingly important dimension.

Trust in Christ the Savior. As Servant of Yahweh, Jesus has taken our sins upon his shoulders. As High Priest of the new covenant, he has torn the veil that separated man from God, and has given man access to the intimacy of the Father and of Godís mystery. As king, who has his throne on the cross, he has dignified human pain and has placed it at the service of his kingdom of truth, justice and love. How can we not have trust in him? It is the trust of one who rests on rock and not quicksand; of one who serves a powerful king who assures us victory over our selfishness and sin, whatever it may be. Jesus is the high and eternal priest who purifies us from all stains and bestows upon us the gift of his grace and friendship. Trust because he is not an arrogant king but because he is gentle and humble at heart; because he is the Servant of Yahweh, very conscious of the fact that he has come not to be served but to serve and give his life as ransom for many; because he is a High Priest who understands us because he learned how difficult it is to obey by suffering (Heb 5:9). Will our mistrust overpower his love and self-giving? Let us listen to the voice of Jesus with joy, "Trust me. I have overcome the world."

 

EASTER Vigil 22nd of April 2000

First: Ex 14:15-15:1; Second: Rm 6:3-11 Gospel: Mk 16:1-8

THEME of the READINGS

"...[S]o that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Fatherís glorious power, we too should begin living a new life." This new life of the Christian, which the Letter to the Romans speaks to us about (second reading), is a participation in the new life of the risen Christ, that is, of him who lives forever (Gospel). In the first reading, we see God acting in favor of the Israelites: the crossing of the Red Sea, which is the crossing of a boundary, is especially a change in life, from a miserable life as slaves and oppressed to a life of freedom. The Christian, by means of the baptism, receives all of the experience of the people of Israel (transition to freedom from the victory over sin) and the unfathomable mystery of Christís Resurrection (passage to the new and immortal life) (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

New life, a gift from God. New life is the life that knows no boundaries in terms of time. It is life, fullness of life, but of a different nature from temporal existence, which is subjected to the law and is measured. The first expression of new life is provided to us by the first reading: it is new life in freedom. In order for it to be true life, freedom is not enough (from the slavery of Egypt and the oppression of the pharaoh). We must go beyond and achieve freedom to serve God in the promised land, which is the land of our own identity. It is a matter of being free to live by serving the living God. This is a gift of God, not a merit or fruit of human strength. Without Godís intervention, Israel would continue to experience directly the disgrace of slavery. This gift of God to Israel reaches its apex in the gift of immortal life to the body of the risen Christ, and is prolonged in the life of grace and truth, which beats in the heart of every believer.

Christ and the new life. The women which the Gospel test tells us about were looking for a corpse and came upon the Living Christ. "He has risen, he is not here." The angel, Godís messenger, announces to the women Jesusí entry into his new life, the definitive life, beyond secular life, which springs from Godís very life. In the logic of the evangelist, "the tomb is empty because Christ has risen," rather than "Christ has risen because the tomb is empty." What is important is not the empty tomb, which could find other explanations, but that Christ is alive. He has entered with all of his humanity the divine sphere of a new life, endless, without any boundaries in terms of space, time or matter. His new life precedes our own, the sure hope of a life which belongs to us not because we have won it with the strength of the hand, but because it has been granted to us through the baptism. Through the other sacraments, a life of prayer and filial submission to Godís will, the initial participation progressively grows and becomes more mature, resembling Christís life as far as possible, to the point of being able to say with Paul, "I live, but it is no longer I that live, it is Christ who lives in me," or according to the terms of todayís liturgy, to the point of being able to say, "...alive for God in Jesus Christ" (Rom 6:11). All are called to this eternal life, and we all receive sufficient grace from God to answer that call with a "yes". The mere thought of this new life fills the soul with joy, all the more so if we are able to experience it in this secular life, although it may be under the veil of flesh.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

To live for God. The life which todayís liturgy speaks to us about is a life for God. Therefore, it does not refer to the six, twenty-five, forty, sixty-three or eighty-nine years that a man may live in this world. Nor does it directly refer to the virtuous life and the life of great moral elevation that could be attained, strictly speaking, with oneís own human forces. It is a life characterized by the active, loving and effective presence of God in the heart of the believer. In other words, a historical, concrete, human participation in Godís very life. The moral life of the Christian must be the fruit of this divine life in the soul, which means that moral life will never be separate from faith. Those that live for God do not live for themselves, since selfishness is Godís number one enemy. Those that live for God live for others, as in others they discover Godís living presence. Those that live for God wish to communicate this divine presence to others, and thus become apostles of real life. Those that live for God emit joy and thus awaken in others the desire for God. Do I live for God? Am I happy to live for God?

Baptism, sacrament of life. It is a very normal thing for Christian parents to want to baptize their children a few days or months after they are born. Through the civil register, the child becomes part of human society and of the community in which he was born. Through baptism, he becomes part of the ecclesial community and of the parish in which he was baptized. Through the civil register, he begins his life in society; through baptism, he begins his life in the Faith of the Church and in the Church, a community of faith. The parents are rightly concerned with making sure that their child grows to be healthy, strong, with a normal development, with a balanced weight. They are equally eager for him to learn how to speak, read and write. They want him to receive a good education so that he may be prepared in the best possible way to lead his life and have a future. Unfortunately, often they are less interested in fostering divine life in their children, the life of faith that began on the day of their baptism. Regrettably, they forget that their childrenís growth in faith and in the life of prayer, of friendship with God, is a sound basis for their future life and for their happiness in the present and in the future. We should consider that a true believer will always be someone that is beside himself with happiness and overcome by peace.

 

EASTER Sunday 23rd of April 2000

First: Acts 10:34.37-43; Second: Col 3:1-4 Gospel: Jn 20:1-9

THEME of the READINGS

As Christians, we are called to be "witnesses of hope" in the midst of the world that surrounds us. The Gospel mentions several attitudes before the empty tomb: that of the loved disciple who "saw and believed" is the only attitude which allows for an openness to the hope that Christ has risen. Peter, in the house of Cornelius, the Roman centurion who performed his service in Caesarea, bears open witness to the fact that God made Jesus rise from the dead, thus instilling hope in the pagan world, represented by the centurion (first reading). In the second reading, taken from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians, the apostle invites men to place hope not in the things of this world, but in the things of above, in the risen and glorious Christ.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The risen Christ, our hope. One of the fundamental questions of all human existence is to know what one can hope for or where to place oneís hope in the face of the future. And especially, if it is possible to experience a hope that opens the door of the human heart beyond the threshold of death. This problem has practically been recurring in mankind since the very beginning and corresponds to a natural need of the human being to survive beyond the corporal corruption of the human compound. Is man satisfied to merely survive in the memory of others, of a superior, spiritual and impersonal world? Is man satisfied with the mere immortality of the soul? The truth is that the individual soul lacks something without the body and the body ceases to be such if there is no reference to the soul. The magnificent and original coexistence in which they have lived in a human being with a name and last name, they wish to prolong to future life. This is where Christian faith comes fully into the picture and places before our eyes the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, here is someone in whom psychosomatic coexistence, broken by death, is prolonged to eternity through the resurrection. This one man is Jesus Christ. This is why the risen Christ is the only one that can give a solid, firm and sure foundation to our hope.

Witnesses of resurrection, witnesses of hope. It is true that people, and not objects, are the real witnesses. However, it is not wrong to say that the empty tomb bears witness, albeit imperfectly, to the Resurrection and Christian hope. Its testimony is ambiguous, because the fact of being empty may be explained in other ways; however there is no doubt that one of such explanations, the most plausible for those that have lived with Jesus and have listened to his teachings, is the Resurrection. Many will give a wrong interpretation to the testimony of the tomb, like Mary of Magdala: "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we donít know where they have put him." Many others, like Peter, will adopt the attitude of the notary who with cold objectivity certifies the fact: "He bent down and saw the linen cloths lying on the ground ..." However, there will also be many who, like John, donít just certify the event: "...he saw and believed. Until this moment they had still not understood the scripture, that he must rise from the dead." This testimony of the empty tomb is for all a testimony of hope. There will come a day, and only God will know when, in which bodies will rise again and will once again live together in an eternal and joyful embrace with their soul.

Beyond the witness of the tomb, and of much greater value, is Peterís convinced testimony in Corneliusí house, or that of Paul in his Letter to the Colossians. Peter will say, "Now we are those witnesses... and he has ordered us to proclaim this to his people and to bear witness that God... It is to him that all prophets bear this witness." Paul, in turn, will urge the Colossians, "Since you have been raised up to be with Christ, you must look for the things that are above." One bears witness to something that one believes in, something for which one is willing to give oneís life, if necessary. Hope, by its own force, springs from the witness itself: hope in the resurrection, hope in life with Christ.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

A hope that does not disappoint. In life we have many small hopes. They are legitimate, good hopes but poor and incomplete. We hope to live a long life and see what the world will be like in forty or fifty years. We hope to find a good and well-paid job. If we are young, we hope to have the necessary money to buy our own house or a new car. We hope that our children grow healthy, do well in school and always behave well at home. We hope to win the lottery, or that our favorite soccer or baseball team wins. We hope... Yes, man is a being that was born to hope. What happens with all these small hopes is that either we do not fulfill them and therefore we feel disappointed, or once we do achieve them, they do not satisfy our capacity for hope and lead us to other new and ephemeral hopes, like the ones we have already fulfilled. Only God can fully satisfy our entire capacity for hope, here and in this world in which we live and work, and in life after death in which we will see him as he is and will love him with all of our being. We know that he does not disappoint us, because he is God and his name is the Faithful. But in addition to that, through faith we are sure that he will not disappoint us because Jesus Christ, who has risen, has entered eternity with his human nature and lives the experience of a converted hope in union with and with an ineffable love for God, his Father.

A hope for all. God wants all to be saved and thus has called everyone to enjoy the bliss of heaven. "All" does not mean "all those who are good" according to our human categories. Nor does it mean "all Catholics" or "all Christians". "All" simply means "all". In other words, all of humankind. Hope is a door that is open to all: the good and the bad, Christians and non-Christians, the big and the small, the strong and the weak, the famous and the unknown, believers and non-believers. This is a great and beautiful truth of Christianity: no one is excluded from Christian hope; desperation cannot have the last say. It is said that today many men have lost all hope or simply that their hope is dormant. Isnít giving reason to our hope perhaps an important aspect of Christian vocation in todayís world? A great hope, with a capital H, which is not reduced to small legitimate hopes, but that in such hopes is developed, invigorated and grows.

 

SECOND Sunday of EASTER 30th of April 2000

First: Acts 4:32-35; Second: 1 Jn 5:1-6 Gospel: Jn 20:19-31

THEME of the READINGS

Faith and peace is the combination in which this Sundayís liturgy summarizes the fundamental message. In the text of the Gospel we find them together, first peace as the gift of the risen Christ to his disciples, "Peace be with you," then with the confession of faith of the incredulous Thomas, "My Lord and my God!" To this Jesus adds, "You believe because you can see me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe." The first reading indicates the effects of faith and peace: the union of minds and hearts, the communion of goods, the Apostlesí witness of the risen Christ. Finally, in the First Letter of Saint John, the great power of faith is emphasized, which is capable of overcoming the world (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Faith in the risen Christ. The four Gospels dedicate their last pages to Jesusí apparitions to his disciples. They are apparitions that presuppose a certain faith in Jesus, although not in his Resurrection. Through his apparitions Jesus not only confirms faith in his person, but also ensures that the mystery of the Resurrection becomes part of the content of the faith of his disciples. This way Jesus completes their faith, enlightens it with a splendor that has lasted up to our days, and instills in them a peace that no-one will be able to remove from their heart. The disciples were not prepared for the shocking encounter with the risen Christ. In their imagination, the risen Christ was something impossible, incredible, the pure imagination of impressionable and feverish women: time would take them back to reality. This is why Jesusí apparitions must have fallen upon them like a "bombshell" that terrified and astonished them. Was it possible? Was it real? Yes, they are not visions, it is the same Christ that we knew before he was crucified. Yes, he still bears on his body the glorious traces of the nails. And then the miracle happened: they believed in the Resurrection of Christ, they believed in the resurrection of man. And they could not but communicate this ineffable and magnificent experience to those they met on their path. And thanks to them, to their testimony of faith, after twenty centuries we continue to believe in the resurrection.

The effectiveness of faith. A faith that does not change manís life, does not transform his mental and vital, relational and operational categories, is not true faith in the risen Christ. Very conscious of this, Saint Luke talks to us about the effectiveness of faith among the first Christians of Jerusalem. The first fruit is the union between thinking and loving, because their thoughts were nourished by the teachings of the apostles and their desires were uniquely guided by their sincere love for one another. When the experience of the risen Christ is at the center of oneís life, then the differences in thinking and loving count very little, to the point that they are easily subjected to the power of sincere love. A second fruit is the communion of goods, to end not only ideological differences, but also economic differences, fulfilling the wish expressed by Moses in Dt 15:4, "There must, then, be no poor among you." The third fruit is the witness that the Apostles bear to the risen Christ: the frequency, the ardor, the audacity with which they preach this mystery that has transformed their existence forever. They canít stop talking about what they saw and heard, as Peter will say in another episode of the Acts of the Apostles. This effectiveness of faith especially becomes manifest through peace, this integral peace that impregnates all of the believer with Christ and that flourishes in joy, and especially in love. This peace which is a gift of the Spirit that the risen Christ "blew" upon the disciples, as in a new creation.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Faith which overcomes the world. The word "world" in the New Testament means several things: the universe, humankind and, in the moral sense, everything that opposes Christ and his revelation, everything that is sin. We refer to this latter sense when we say that faith is the only thing that can overcome the world. Human laws may improve the conduct of citizens, but they cannot defeat sin; furthermore, sometimes such laws are "mundane" for they allow or even promote actions that attack manís very dignity. Institutions (charitable, social, educational, religious, institutions etc.) help man to build himself, but they cannot take away from humankind the world of sin and of opposition to Jesus Christ and his message. The human being left to his own devices is even less capable of eradicating evil and sin from himself and others. He may wage a titanic, heroic war, but his intent will always fail. The only thing that with absolute certainty can and is guaranteed to overcome and annihilate the evils of the world is faith in the risen Christ. A whole faith, that does not exclude any of the mystery of Christ; a living faith, that animates and gives meaning to manís actions and activities; a working faith, that takes concrete shape in works of justice, solidarity, of Christian charity; a burning and passionate faith, which communicates its passion to others. Does your faith really overcome the world? Are these the characteristics of your faith, of the faith of the Christians with whom you live?

Every Sunday is Easter. Faith in the risen Christ, joy and the love that spring from faith in the Resurrection must be present and active every day of our life. But this is true in a special way on Sunday. And yet, for many weekends are just a chance to go wild, or experience Sundays in a passive and lazy way... Could it be that many Christians have the wrong and unjust idea of what Sundays are in Godís plans? This is a wonderful opportunity to read the numbers dedicated to this ecclesial celebration in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (nn. 2174-2188; 1166-1167).

 

Third Sunday of EASTER 7th May 2000

First: Ac 3:13-15.17-19; Second: 1Jn 2:1-5; Gospel: Lk 24:35-48

THEME of the READINGS

It seems strange that reference is made to conversion in the Easter period, but it seems to me that this Sundayís liturgy focuses on this word.

Jesusí disciples must be converted first of all, to accept without a shadow of a doubt the mystery of the resurrection (Gospel). The people of Israel must be converted, because not accepting the risen Jesus as the Messiah practically means self-destruction (first reading). Christians must also convert, they must live in a permanent state of conversion, to avoid being dazzled by the gnosis and thus separate dogma from morality, religion from Christian existence, in contrast with Jesus Christís way of life (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Conversion of the disciples. Jesusí disciples certainly were not heroes in the long hours of the Passion and death of their Teacher. Nor did Jesusí Resurrection occupy any place in their mind. Not even in their imagination or in their memories. They were obtuse and blind to the mystery. They were shaken by their failure and looked to the future as a return to the past. They needed to be converted, to change their attitude, to get back onto the right track. To do this they required Jesus to give them a hand, presenting himself as the living Jesus, the same one they had loved and followed for a number of years. They needed to see Jesus again, to listen to him, to touch him. They needed him to explain to them the meaning of the recent sad events, which had been previously announced in the Scriptures (the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms). They needed Jesus to once again instill confidence in them and assign them the mission with a new impulse: "You are my witnesses." Before such an overwhelming proof of Jesusí love and obliging attitude, the process of conversion begins to take place in the soul of the disciples, and Jesus opens their minds so that they may understand the Scriptures. The conversion of the disciples did not begin of Jesusí own initiative, but with the action of the risen Christ in their minds and hearts.

 

The conversion of the Jews. Before Peterís healing of the crippled man, the Jews were left speechless. Peter takes advantage of this favorable time to bear witness to Jesus and to his Resurrection. Itís as if he were saying to them, "It is not admiration that should invade your spirit, but rather repentance and conversion." It is true that they have acted out of ignorance (although their ignorance seems to be guilty rather than innocent), but what they did is very serious: "ÖJesus whom you handed over and then disowned in the presence of Pilate after he had given his verdict to release him. It was you who accused the Holy and Upright One, you who demanded that a murderer should be released to you while you killed the prince of life." Not only did the Jews do something very serious, but they also did something displeasing to the eyes of God, since Jesus, the suffering Messiah, rises again from the dead. What should they do before their guilt and Godís vexation on account of their behavior? Should they close themselves up in their guilty ignorance? Should they consider Peterís witness as ridiculous and groundless? But then, how do we explain the healing of the crippled man? Peter shows them the real way: "Now you must repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out" (firST READING)

The permanent conversion of Christians. Christian means converted to the way of Christ, to faith in Christ. However, conversion is not something that happens at a given time; rather, it is constant and lasting throughout oneís life. Our conversion and our faith may be distorted, they may be in jeopardy in the face of new ways of thinking and behaving; they may suffer the pernicious contact of ideas and attitudes that do not come from Christ, but from the father of lies. This is what was happening to the Christians to whom John addresses his first letter. Their faith was in danger of being contaminated by the virus of the Gnostic movement. Perhaps they thought that having been enlightened by the risen Christ, they had attained the highest degree of knowledge (gnosis), and by virtue of this, they believed that they had been saved, thus separating their faith in the risen Christ from their moral conduct. John goes out to meet them, warning them against the danger: "Whoever says, ĎI know him,í without keeping his commandments, is a liar." It is not enough to believe; it is absolutely necessary to combine works with faith, to keep the commandments as a requirement of the knowledge that we have received from the risen Christ.

Here lies the secret of permanent conversion.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Open your eyes. For those that are blind or whose eyes are closed, it is impossible to see reality. They cannot see the beauty of light and colors, they cannot see the obstacles in their way, they cannot see a smile or the tenderness in a friendís gaze. If we are blind in faith or our eyes are deliberately closed, we will never be able to understand the wonderful works of God, the history of salvation carried on by the Spirit, the mystery of the death and Resurrection of Christ, the presence, witness or action of the Church among all men. Like the disciples, we need the risen Jesus Christ to open our minds so we can understand the Scriptures. Ask yourself why you do not understand certain things about the Church, certain truths of the Catholic doctrine, certain moral behaviors that the Church proposes to its faithful; ask yourself why you do not understand the presence of evil in the world if God is good, why you donít understand those who commit unjust acts and crimes, those who harbor hatred... Might not a living, authentic, firm and vigorous faith help you to understand all of these things? Ask the risen Christ to open your mind. Ask him, once your mind has been opened, to make you a witness to what you have seen.

We are witnesses. The Church needs witnesses more than teachers, as Pope Paul VI teaches us. Every Christian, immersed in the mystery of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ through baptism, is called to be a witness. All Christians, as a community of faith, must say like Peter, "We are witnesses." Being a witness means that you are willing to certify with your own life what you say and especially what you do by virtue of your faith in Jesus Christ. As a Christian, I must be willing to place the witness of the risen Christ, of the infinite and fatherly love of God, of the action of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in the hearts of men, above the interests of my own life. I will also place my religious beliefs above my passing whims, giving priority to my absolute moral values, my deep attitudes before life, the world and God. If all of us Christians, or at least the majority, are witnesses of this sort, then little by little, we will really be able to change the mentality, attitudes and behaviors that support and animate the life of our contemporaries. Do you want to be a witness of Christ? Do not wait to really be a witness of Christ. Begin today.

 

Fourth Sunday of EASTER 14th May 2000

First: Ac 4:8-12; Second: 1Jn 3:1-2; Gospel: Jn 10:11-18

THEME of the READINGS

Today the Church celebrates the World Day for Priestly Vocations. The texts of the liturgy outline Jesus as the model for priests. First of all, like Jesus, the priest must be a good shepherd, ready to lay down his life for his sheep (Gospel). Like Jesus, the priest must be like a cornerstone for men, who supports the entire building of their beliefs and spiritual, moral and human values (first reading). Finally, like Jesus, the priest has been chosen to be a son of God and to live the experience of a tender and filial love for God, his Father (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Jesus, the model of the shepherd. The shepherd is someone who has been entrusted with the care of a flock of sheep. What duties does such an image involve? The first duty of the shepherd is to preserve all of the sheep that have been entrusted to his care. None must get lost, none must die due to starvation or disease. To preserve them, he must be willing to defend them from the wolves, to find them a place of shelter on cold nights, to guide them towards fields with abundant pastures. He must also know each sheep to be able to subsequently establish if any are missing, to be concerned with each one as if it were his only sheep. Jesus, the good shepherd, preserves, defends, protects, guides, feeds Christians with his very life, by means of the sacraments and through the hierarchy of the Church.

Jesus Christ, the good shepherd, is the prototype of priests who, as good shepherds, must devote their entire life to preserving the faith of the faithful entrusted to their care. Like the good shepherd, the priest must also defend the faith of his faithful from the many temptations and traps that we find in our society. He will defend them from an individualistic and subjective faith, from a morality dominated by the opinion of the majority, from an eclectic and over-sentimental spirituality based on appearances, from a cold, legalistic liturgy, almost devoid of any internal resonance. He will also feel the need to nourish his faithful with the truth of the Word of God, with the teaching of Catholic doctrine, summarized in the Catechism, with the witness of a holy and generous life, given unreservedly for the good of his brothers in faith.

 

Jesus Christ, the cornerstone. Christ is the stone which you, the builders, rejected but which has become the cornerstone, says Peter before the members of the Sanhedrin. Often men want to build a society without Christ, for they consider that he is one more stone in the building of the world. But they are wrong; he is the fundamental stone without which the whole building collapses, without which the other stones have no cohesion or point of reference. Either we build a society with Christ at its center, or sooner or later such a society will be doomed to ruin.

The priest, the representative of Christ, is the cornerstone of the Church. Through the priest, Christ himself continues to exercise in the Church his power of salvation, his love as an older brother and redeemer, his impulse to human fraternity and solidarity. If priests were to disappear, the building of the Church would collapse and would become mere ruins.

Jesus Christ, the model of the son. "The Father loves me," says Jesus in the Gospel. And he loves the Father, as an only son, as the favorite son. And because he loves him, he knows him intimately and does only what will please him. In the second reading we hear, "...by letting us be called Godís children, which is what we are!" We are Godís children, and our model is the Son, Jesus. As priests we should ardently wish that all men enjoy Godís fatherhood and feel happy to be his sons. As priests, we should work together with the Father so that Christians are ever more conscious of their divine sonship and find in it the basis for their attitudes and behaviors. As priests, we should give a witness to our brothers of what it means to be children of God and live as such in our everyday life.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

The Father loves me... The need to love and to be loved is essential to the human heart. The love of parents and children, the love of spouses and friends, the love of brothers in faith, or of brothers in religion... without such love life becomes dull and our joy disappears. In our Christian communities there may be people who feel lonely and abandoned, who think that nobody loves them, who feel that they are a bit useless in the Church. To all, but especially to them, we must preach this great truth of Christianity, "The Father loves me." You are not alone if the Father loves you, if he is by your side. And you, do you love God the Father? You are not useless if the Father loves you, and with his love gives meaning to your life, allowing it to enter the history of salvation. And you, do you really believe in the love that the Father has for you? Do you think that the love of the Father gives a wonderful meaning to your life? As priests, following the example of the Good Shepherd, here we have a concrete way of helping our faithful: let us remind them and help them to be aware of the fact that the Father loves them and will never abandon them.

There is no other. In the first reading, St Peter is extremely clear: "Only in him is there salvation." Was there any man in history as great and ingenious as he was? None! No medicine, no invention, no discovery? None! No ideology, no religious system? None! No extraterrestrial, if they actually do exist? None! No angel having come down from heaven? None! Only Jesus Christ is our Savior, the Savior of each and every human being. To preach this in our society, in our world, may scandalize some, but it is something that Christians cannot do without. Ceasing to preach it would be like hiding the light so that it gives no light to the world, or like making salt become tasteless and worthless. The Christian claim that there is only one Christ is not something that we have invented, nor is it something that we can manipulate at will or according to circumstances. Recognizing Christ as the only Savior is essential to Christianity. The way, the tact, the time and place for this profession of faith is up to the Christians, guided by the light of the Holy Spirit.

Fifth Sunday of EASTER 21st May 2000

First: Ac 9:26-31; Second: 1 Jn 3:18-24; Gospel: Jn 15:1-8

THEME of the READINGS

"Remain in me as I in you," Jesus tells us in the Gospel. Unity is the dominating theme in this Sundayís texts. Unity, first of all, among Christ, life, and Christians, who are the branches of the vine (Gospel). Unity among Christians, independently of their past history and their origin, as in the case of Paul (first reading). Unity between words and deeds, to achieve this inner unity of the conscience, which is fearless before God (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Foundational unity. In Judaism, life symbolized the difficult relations between God and his people across twelve long centuries. This relationship was especially based on three elements: the Land, the Torah and the Temple. On the columns of the Temple the vine was depicted, a symbol of the people of Israel present before Yahweh, their God. Jesus takes up this image once again, but he changes its meaning. Now he is the vine, not Yahweh. And the branches of the vine are no longer the people of Israel, but the believers in Christ. God, the Father of Jesus, is not left at the margin of the symbol, but now he is the vinedresser. In other words, it is the Father that sent Jesus into this world and has placed in him the foundations of all true unity. He is the point of union that founds any other true union between men, because "cut off from me you can do nothing." Any ecclesial, religious, political or family union that is to be qualified as true, stable and fruitful cannot ignore the reality of Christ, the key to all individual or collective existence. In this sense, Christianity is not only an option that calls for freedom; it is a necessity for identity and progress, which appeals to common sense.

Church unity. When after being converted Saul goes to Jerusalem, the Christians are afraid of him; they walk away from him because they cannot believe that he is converted. Thank God Barnabas takes charge of him and introduces Saul to the community, explaining how he was converted and how he preached fearlessly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. Saul is thus received by the community, he becomes part of it, and may freely devote himself to his evangelizing work, especially among the Jews of Greek origin. It is evident that from the very beginning, the Apostles became aware that there was only one Church, and that all those that formed it were united in the same faith and in the same ardent zeal to preach the name of Jesus everywhere. Although Paul converted himself to Jesus in Damascus and received baptism there, he is well received in Jerusalem, as he will also subsequently be in Antioch and in Rome, because there is only one Church in the diversity of places and cultures. It was so from the beginning, and so it has continued to be. As contemporary Christians, will we be capable of putting the unity of the Church above internal tensions? Will we be capable of putting ourselves in the position to have God grant us the gift of unity of all Christians?

Inner unity. In the second reading, Saint John says to us that "our love must not be just words or mere talk, but something active and genuine." There must be unity between what we say and what we really do. Without such unity, we shall be internally divided in an evil inconsistency that will gnaw away at our conscience. In other words, the Christian must have a unified conscience, without any splits or divisions, so that he may be fearless before God, by keeping the commandments and doing what pleases the Lord. It is true that the Christian does not always act in a consistent manner, and that his conscience stings and rebukes him for it. However, we know that God is greater than our conscience and that he can thus restructure it and unify it once again. It is a wonderful invitation to have confidence in Godís action and in the mysterious power of the Spirit that has given us inner unity, the fruit of our fidelity to the Word of God and to his commandments.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

United though different. First of all, unity within the Church. As Catholics, we must be emotionally and truly united, united with the ecclesial hierarchy, united among ourselves. United in the same goal and destiny, accepting and respecting the pluralism of pastoral options, preserving our substantial unity. Is it possible that there are dioceses and parishes that do not allow the action of groups approved by the authority of the Church? Isnít it true that a lot may still be done to foster the cooperation between dioceses, parishes, religious congregations and ecclesial movements? The enemy is strong. If we do not unite, we are certainly bound to be defeated, having perhaps wasted much energy on useless questions or matters of little consequence. And the effective proclamation of the Gospel will be lost, and we shall be an occasion of scandal, more than edification. Let us love unity, let us seek unity, above and beyond all insubstantial differences.

To unity within the Church we must add the unity of the different, separated Christian communities: dialogue and ecumenical cooperation. It is a slow, but irreversible process, because more than men, it involves God himself, the Spirit that speaks to the Churches and uncontainably steers them towards unity. The steps that have been and continue to be taken are small but sure. We must forge an ecumenical mentality in ourselves, in our religious and parish communities... Unity is a great gift that God wishes to bestow upon us. Let us pray so that we may accept it with gratitude and love.

 

To bear fruit. United with the source of life and holiness that is Christ, united as brothers in the same faith and in the one true Church, at one with our conscience, we shall bear fruit. This is because union begets strength and effectiveness. And bearing fruit is an imperative of our faith, of our Christian vocation. What fruits? Certainly, and first of all, fruits of holiness, of spiritual richness in the heart, of divine transparency in our being and doing. Then, fruits of solidarity, cooperation, justice, mutual respect, self-giving to the neediest, charity, goodness in the way we treat others, etc. What are the fruits that God is asking of you now? What are the fruits that God asks of our parish, of our community? By the fruits we shall know if we are united with Christ, if we remain in his love.

 

Sixth Sunday of EASTER 28th May 2000

First: Acts 10:25-27.34-35.44-48; Second: 1 Jn 4:7-10; Gospel: Jn 15:9-17

THEME of the READINGS

"Whoever fails to love does not know God, because God is love." This is a lovely synthesis of todayís liturgy. Christian life unfolds in the circle of love, which begins in God, becomes visible in Jesus Christ, is extended to man and goes back to God. Since God is love, in him we find the point of departure of all the movements of love (second reading). Jesus Christ, the incarnation of Godís love, calls his disciples friends (Gospel). Godís love in Christ for men is not exclusionist or limited; rather it is open and universal, because in Godís love there are no distinctions between persons, and everyone can share his Spirit, the power and presence of love in man (first reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The circle of love. Love consists in the fact that God loved us (1 Jn 4:10). Love does not originate in manís heart, but in the heart of God. God is the inextinguishable and only source of love. Apart from him, love is not love. And all genuine love was born from God and goes back to God, like the waters of the ocean that evaporate, feed the rivers and after a long course, go back to their origin. God is at the origin of all love, but Christian love passes through Jesus Christ. In other words, the Father pours all of his love into the Son, and the Son in turn communicates that love to his disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. As friends of Jesus Christ, no longer servants, we are empowered to love one another, with the new and uncontaminated love of the Father, who grants us the opportunity of being his Sonís brothers. Given manís vocation for life and given loveís eternity, love is oriented, already in this world and especially in the afterlife, towards its origin which now coincides with its end: God himself. There, we shall gain true knowledge of God and of all things in Him, which shall be granted to us by the irrepressible power of love.

The characteristics of love. First of all, this love is undeserved. Love does not consist in the fact that we love God (second reading), or that we have taken the initiative to choose Jesus Christ as the teacher and model of our life (Gospel), or in the fact that Cornelius and his family were worthy of receiving the Gospel and faith in Jesus Christ. If it were so, love would not have its definition in God, but in man. How different, how poor the definition of love would be! But love is defined by God, who grants us that love gratuitously, like existence, the mission, the ultimate destiny of life. If we deserved love, it would not be love but a due reward.

Love is also creative and universal, it is sacrificed and joyful. It creates friendship, that extraordinary capability of mutual and disinterested love, like Jesusí love for his disciples, like the disciplesí love for Jesus. It also creates vocation, both to faith in the message and in the person of Christ (first reading), and to the discipleship and radical following of his style of life and mission (Gospel). Love is universal, because it makes no distinctions on the grounds of temperament, race, culture or qualities. One loves because one loves, and thatís all, without distinction among persons (second reading). Love has the feeling of sacrifice, because no one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends, and because love requires obedience to the commandments of the loved one (Gospel). And didnít Peter have to sacrifice his Jewish mentality when, before the gift of the Holy Spirit to Cornelius and his family, he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ? And doesnít the Christian to whom the first letter of John is addressed sacrifice himself to put love before knowledge (gnosis)? Finally, love is joyful. It is the joy that Jesus Christ in feeling loved by and in loving his Father; the joy of the disciples in knowing that they are loved, and in being able to love with the same love of God. The joy of Cornelius and his family over whom the Holy Spirit was poured out.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Love and responsibility. These words conjure up a book written by Karol Wojtyla on human love, especially in marriage and in the family. They are words that in Christian experience are intertwined and need each other: love is responsible, by virtue of its nature; genuine responsibility is founded and preserved only on the basis of love. A responsibility which, in the case of Christian love, is configured first and foremost as a prayer of supplication to God: God, grant me, grant us the gift of love, because there are no people who teach themselves love. We are the eternal apprentices of God, our only Teacher. It is a responsibility which takes on the form of perseverance in love, because it is not contemplated in the mirror of the "loves" of love stories, but in the clear waters of the permanent and faithful love of God. A responsibility in love, which is far from easy, is the favorite object of many attacks by the surrounding world. But it is a responsibility which is thus supported by and fortified in the action of the Holy Spirit, which possesses in itself the power of love. As the Easter period draws to an end, it is definitely a good time for us to engage in a small reflection on love. And then... letís get to work!

In the orbit of love. Psychology teaches us that man seeks a center around which his earthly existence may revolve. When he finds this center, which may be very varied, human life takes on stability, meaning and a certain harmony and happiness. When the center around which we revolve is love, everything in life, everything without any exception, is enamored, that is, imbued with love. And then the sun of love shines in the firmament of our hours and days, making them shine with a lasting, rejoicing, rejuvenating and gratifying light. Is there anything that love cannot do, especially if it comes from God himself? One loves at school and at work, in the family and in social life, in sickness and in old age, in the moments of pain and in the times of joy. One loves oneís loved ones, oneís neighbor who is a member of another political party, oneís work colleague who does not go to Mass although he is a Catholic, oneís boss despite his bad character, the bum that each day one meets at the entrance of the subway, the policeman who with the law in his hands and a smile on his face gives us a $200 fine... Do not miss any opportunity to practice genuine love.

 

Solemnity of the Ascension of the LORD 4th June 2000

First: Acts 1:1-11; Second: Eph 1:17-23; Gospel: Mk 16:15-20

THEME of the READINGS

What is the meaning of the Ascension of Jesus Christ in the history of salvation, in which God the Father has placed this mystery? To Jesus Christ, it means that his stay among men is over, that he has been enthroned at the right hand of the Father to rule with him over heaven and earth, that he will exercise his saving action on humankind from heaven by means of the Holy Spirit (Gospel, first reading). For the Apostles, it means that their mission truly begins now, after having received the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and being the witnesses of Jesus Christ (Gospel, first reading). To us Christians, it means that it opens us up to the hope of a future life with God and sends us into the whole world to evangelize and unite it in one faith, one baptism, one God and Father (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Value of the Ascension for Jesus. The Word of God became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth (Jn 1:14). Now, after the Resurrection and a period of apparitions to the disciples to confirm them in their faith, the Lord Jesus Christ was raised to heaven and sat on the right hand of God (Gospel). His mission as Revealer of the Father, as Teacher of humankind, as Redeemer of all men, is over, but it has not been completed. It is finished in him, as head, but it has not been completed in his Body, which is the Church. In a way, the Ascension is the point of arrival of Jesusí mission and the point of departure of the mission of the Holy Spirit to the community of believers in Christ.

With the Ascension, Jesus enters, as Lord, the Kingdom of his Father, and with him, he begins to reign gloriously, with justice and love, with mercy and forgiveness, with truth and holiness. He reigns over the events of history and over the life of men, in a way that we largely ignore and that sometimes disconcerts us. In ascending to heaven, he took with him as captives the men that accepted his reign in their heart and in their daily existence (second reading), thus opening up to humankind the doors of the house of the Father, in other words, Godís life and happiness (cf CCC 661).

 

Meaning of the Ascension to the Apostles. Until then, the Apostles had practiced especially the reception of the person and message of Jesus. With the Ascension and with the Pentecost, a new phase begins for them: the passing on of what they have learned from their Teacher and Lord. They will pass this on by proclaiming and preaching the Good News, and in a very special way, by the witness of the Gospel, even to the heroism of martyrdom. It is necessary to proclaim and bear witness to the Gospel until Christ returns. They have prepared for this mission during the time they spent with Jesus; in this mission, they will be accompanied by the Spirit of Jesus, which they will receive within a few daysí time (first reading). This mission is characterized by hope, without having the certainty of the time or moment that the Father has chosen to definitively establish the Kingdom by means of the second coming of Christ. His immediate or mediated coming is not so crucial. What matters is hope in his coming.

Value of the Ascension for us. Like the Apostles, we must be men of hope, to which we are stimulated by the Ascension of Jesus Christ. We first of all await the glorious coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. And we wait serenely for a better and more Christian future, a future more full with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, more docile to the plan of God for history, and to his mysterious action. The Ascension determines in us the ascetic effort to prepare ourselves to receive the redeeming action of Christ. It also awakens an interest and effort to work for the unity of all Christians and all men, the possible, real but imperfect unity that will be fulfilled in heaven in

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

To spend oneself for the Kingdom. The dogmatic constitution on the Church presents the Church by using the figure of the Kingdom: the Church is the Kingdom of Christ already present in the history (LG 3). To spend oneself for the Kingdom means to spend oneself for the Church according to the condition, possibilities and self-giving of each one. This spending of oneself for the Kingdom may occur in any circumstance of daily life, because what is most important is oneís inner attitude and the offering of oneís life to the Kingdom of God. However, to spend oneself for the Kingdom takes on a special connotation: to work in the Church, for the Church and at the service of the historical and salvific mission of the Church. If a young person or an adult spends a certain number of hours of the week watching television, why not devote at least the same number of hours to working for the Kingdom of Christ among men? If there are so many people who have fun on the weekends, couldnít these same people decide to use these same weekends to do some good (social activities, visiting sick people in hospitals, Catholic volunteer work, accompanying elderly people, etc.)? If all of us Christians cooperate, the Kingdom of Christ will surely grow among men, well beyond our expectations.

 

According to the gift we have received from Christ. We are called to cooperate in the work of the Church, but each one according to the gift that he has received. Those that have received the charism of authority will cooperate by exercising authority with love and firmness at the same time. Those that have received the gift of teaching (doctors in ecclesial sciences, teachers of religion, catechists), will work to build up and disseminate the Kingdom with their upright, complete teaching, presented in an adequate and interesting manner. Those that have received the gift of giving life (parents, ministers of sacraments, spiritual directors), will generously place their qualities at the service of life, whether it be physical, sacramental or spiritual life. Those that have been chosen to be missionaries (priests, religious or lay people), will build up the Kingdom of Christ where it still does not exist, or where its foundations are barely emerging, or where it was once a finished and beautiful building but today is just ruins. What matters here is that everyone does his part, with no exception, and that everyone works according to the gift he has received from Christ. Are we Christians ready to take on this great task that Christ has been entrusted to us at the beginning of the third millennium?

Pentecost SUNDAY 11th June 2000

First: Acts 2:1-11; Second: Gal 5:16-25; Gospel: Jn 15:26-27; 16:12-

THEME of the READINGS

In the feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit invades all of the texts of todayís liturgy with his presence. The Gospel speaks about the Spirit of Truth, which will enlighten and lead the disciples to complete truth. In the first reading, what was promised is fulfilled, and the Holy Spirit descends with his power upon the Apostles and other disciples of Jesus, gathered with Mary in the Upper Room. When the Holy Spirit enters and invades the heart of a disciple of Jesus, his whole Christian existence and behavior change and bear the fruit of the Spirit, which are synthesized in love (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The revelation of the Spirit. The Spirit is imperceptible to the senses. God reveals him to us in human ways: by his action in man and by means of symbols. In Acts, Saint Luke uses two symbols. The first is the violent and creative wind, like the breath of God on the first man (Gn 2), which shakes the human being, strips him of himself, penetrates the secret recess of his soul, and brings life and holiness. The second is fire, which in the form of tongues comes down upon the disciples, purifies and transforms them. This fire of the Spirit must always burn; this is why Saint Paul urges us not to stifle the Spirit (cf 1 Th 5:19).

In todayís texts, we are told about the different ways in which the Spirit is at work in men, and thus, the different ways in which he reveals himself to us. 1) The Spirit of truth, who enlightens man so that he may understand complete truth. As Jesus Christ is the fullness of truth and revelation, the Spirit will enlighten us so that we may understand the mystery of Christ. This is how the disciples, on the day of Pentecost, received the light that opened their mind and gave them a higher and fuller understanding of Christís entire life, of his origin, and especially of the mystery of his passion, death and resurrection. 2) The spirit bears witness to Christ, in other words, he does not only teach but accredits the mystery of Christ with authority. He will first of all bear witness in the heart of the disciples gathered in the Upper Room, such a convincing testimony that it is transmitted, converting such disciples into witnesses. Throughout time, he will bear witness in the soul of each Christian, using the word and the life of human witnesses. Yes, the Spirit is the testimony of Christ in the heart of history. 3) The Spirit glorifies Christ, because he does not have a message of his own, but will only tell what he has heard. The glory with which Christ appears, in his splendor and greatness, to the eyes of men is the work of the Holy Spirit: his wonderful power of working miracles, the brightness of his gaze, the fascination of his word, the power and generosity of his infinite love, his moving tenderness towards children and towards the sick and needy ...

The Fruits of the Spirit. Inside each man, antagonistic forces are at work: on the one hand, the flesh (man with his chaotic passions, with his tendency towards evil), and on the other the spirit (the noble yearnings that man harbors inside himself, his aspiration to do good, thanks to the Holy Spirit). In this battlefield, which is man, evil tries to win by means of its works in the different spheres of life: in the religious sphere with idolatry and magic; in the social sphere with enmities and discord, rivalry, anger, selfishness, dissent, division and envy; in the personal sphere with intemperance, drinking sprees and binges; in the sexual sphere by means of fornication, impurity and wanton behavior. In this same battlefield, the good, and the Holy Spirit who encourages and fosters it, tries to vanquish evil by means of genuine love, founded on Christ and on his witness; a love which concretely manifests itself through tolerance, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness and self-control; a love which is enjoyed in true happiness and peace, which is a summary of all forms of good. The battle is real and constant. The victory depends on man, on whether he lets himself be dragged off by evil or whether he prefers to be guided and to let himself be guided by gooD

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

The heart of Christian life. The image of the heart refers us to and conjures up in our mind love, and the Holy Spirit is the personal Love within the Trinitarian mystery. This is why he is the heart of Christian life. In essence, being a Christian means knowing how to love. And who teaches us the art of loving in a Christian way? Not the books by Ovid, Erick Fromm, or by the latest thinker that has expounded his theories on human love. The art of Christian love is taught to each one of us personally by the Holy Spirit, by placing Christ before our eyes, especially the crucified Christ. The Holy Spirit teaches us the art of loving Christian truth, essentially contained in the Creed and developed with great beauty and authority in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Spirit teaches us the art of loving the liturgy of the Church and its sacraments, the source of grace and holiness for each Christian and for all of the Church. The Spirit teaches us the art of loving Christian morality which, with its sometimes difficult demands, pours nobility and dignity, elevation and moral excellence out into all who love and live by it. The Spirit teaches the art of loving prayer and spiritual life, as a safe and effective path to become united with Christ and live the same divine life in the joy of love. If we let the Spirit act freely, he will turn us into genuine and holy men in the Church and at the service of the Church.

Walk according to the Spirit. The exhortation of Saint Paul embraces the entire life of the Christian, whatever his age and whatever his condition or profession, every day of the week and every hour of the day. Whether you are at home with your parents, in geography class at school, playing basketball, in Church participating in the Eucharistic celebration... behave according to the Spirit. Whether you are involved in difficult work at the office, whether you are happy because you have met a friend that you had not seen for some time, whether you are having fun, whether you have gone to visit your in-laws, whether you have gone out with your family for a walk in the country... let your actions be moved by the Spirit. Whether you are indifferent or sad because you have received some bad news, whether you are overflowing with joy because you have passed an exam with flying colors, whether you have a problem with your husband or wife or your children... invoke the Holy Spirit, ask him for his light and power, let yourself be guided by what he inspires in you. This is what being a Christian is all about! Is it so difficult? If you try with simplicity and confidence, you will know that it is possible. Whatís more, it is the source of peace and happiness.

 

Solemnity of the MOST HOLY Trinity 18th June 2000

First: Dt 4:32-34.39-40; Second: Rm 8:14-17; Gospel: Mt 28:16-20

THEME of the READINGS

The Trinitarian mystery is a mystery of God-Love. This becomes evident in the readings of the liturgy. God-Love, with a mighty hand and outstretched arm to bring his people out of Egypt, the symbol of slavery and oppression (first reading). God-Love gives his disciples a wonderful mission and assures them that he will be with them always, throughout the centuries (Gospel). God-Love makes men his adopted children so that they may cry out with Jesus Christ "Abba", that is, "Father."

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The God of Moses. Although in the Old Testament we already find figures that prepare for the revelation of the Trinitarian mystery. The God of the Old Testament, Mosesí God, reveals himself in his uniqueness in the face of other gods that are not gods. In Godís pedagogy with man, the first thing that occurs is the revelation of a unique and personal God who in his indescribable love chooses a people, frees them and makes a covenant with them. The surrounding polytheism (especially the Canaanite gods: Baal, god of the earth and of its fruits, Astarte, goddess of fecundity and Moloch, the god that required human sacrifices) were very attractive to the religiosity, still elementary, of the twelve tribes of Israel. The uniqueness of God had to be proclaimed and defended at all cost. Grasp this today and meditate on it carefully: Yahweh is the true God, in heaven above as on earth below, he and no other (first reading). Along the same lines as Deuteronomy, the book of Isaiah puts the following words in Godís mouth: "Is there any God except me? There is no Rock, I know of none" (Is 44:8). And shortly before he had said of idols: "Taken altogether they are nothingness, what they do is nothing, their statues, wind and emptiness" (Is 41:29). The temptation of idolatry does not belong to the past. It lies in wait around the corner of every era and of every historical period. In our days, in a multi-ethnic and religiously individualistic society, the temptation appears everywhere.

The God of Jesus Christ. After long preparation, God considered that man had been empowered to receive the revelation of his intimate life and of his Trinitarian mystery. God-Love sent forth his Son to lift the veil of his mysterious intimacy, and the Holy Spirit educates us from within, so that we are not foolish, dazzled or blinded before so much divine splendor. The God of Jesus Christ is first and foremost a God of giving: the Father gives us his Son, the Father and Son give us the Spirit, the Father, Son and Spirit give us their life by making us the children of God. The God of Jesus Christ is a God of salvation: the Father wants all men to be saved, the Son provides for the salvation of all with his blood, the Spirit makes effective in the heart of each man the salvation of God. The God of Jesus Christ is a God of mission: be on your way, make all people disciples, baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teach them to put into practice everything that I have ordered them to do. The revelation of this divine mystery may be partly grasped with oneís intelligence, but it is penetrated even more with the heart and the experience of God in prayer. It is for this reason that this mystery is not a barrier between God and man (if it were so, God would not have revealed it), but an intense, living and constant impulse to wish to deepen it more, to be amazed, enraptured.

God is with us. The Gospel according to Saint Matthew begins with the birth of Emmanuel (God is with us), and ends with the presence of Jesus Christ, glorious among his disciples and in human history. "I am with you always; yes, to the end of time" (Gospel). Israel had already experienced in its history the presence and closeness of Yahweh. Now the new Israel, the Church, experiences the closeness of the Father in the presence and in the face of its Son, Jesus Christ, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, whose mission it is to make present in time and in history the complete truth about God and man. In the time of the Church, not only the Son, but also the Father and the Spirit are really with us and in us.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

The disillusion of the idols. In all times, we have seen that if God "did not exist," people would have had to invent a god. And this has indeed been the case. There is no people or culture, from the most primitive to the most advanced, that has not manufactured its gods. The history of religions confirms this. Not even atheists are exempted from this law. They will change the face of their idols, they will worship the Party, the boss, they will fight to bring heaven on earth... It is evident that what man has inscribed in his very nature cannot be killed. In human history, generations have witnessed the fall of many idols, but the rise of other new ones. At the time in which we are living, the idols created by Communism have fallen noisily, other idols are collapsing: technology, progress, money, eroticism ... We are at a very favorable time for us Christians not to talk to the world about idols, but about the only and true God, who was revealed to us by Jesus Christ. It is a great pity that a time in which many men need someone to tell them about God, we Christians sink into silence out of ignorance, fear or excessive "prudence". Let us not be afraid, God himself will put in our mouths the right words for us to speak well of him.

To make God-Love visible. Perhaps we Christians do not make God visible because we do not have a living experience of him, because we sometimes treat God as if he were something abstract and not a living God, who is called Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Justice becomes visible in a just man, truth in a truthful man, love in a man who really loves; in this same way, God makes himself visible in a man that has experienced love, tenderness, the greatness and beauty of God; in a man that has seen, heard, touched God in the Sacred Scriptures, in prayer, in the sacraments, in his brother. Shouldnít each Christian be like a monstrance of the living God, of the Trinitarian love? If God is no longer present in our world, let us not be discouraged. Let us say to ourselves: it is time to make an effort, it is time to take responsibility. Letís get to work!

 

Solemnity of the BODY and BLOOD of CHRIST 25th June 2000

First: Ex 24:3-8; Second: Heb 9:11-15; Gospel: Mk 14:12-16.22-26

THEME of the READINGS

The covenant or pact is the almost compulsory point of reference of this Sundayís liturgical texts. The covenant sealed with the Blood of Christ is the heart of the worship and life of the Church: "This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, poured out for many" (Gospel). This covenant is prefigured and gives a definitive character to the old covenant, sealed with the blood of bullocks: "This is the blood of the covenant which Yahweh has made with you, entailing all these stipulations" (first reading). The covenant in the blood of Christ perpetuates the presence of God among us and purifies humankind from all its sins to worship the living God (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

 

The Old Covenant. The text of the first reading mentions some of the parts of the rite of the covenant, common to the Eastern people of the time. First of all, there is the reciprocal nature of the covenant: Yahweh on one side and the people of the other. Then it mentions the stipulations of the pact, which indicate the binding contents to which both God and the people are committed: the sacrifice of communion, which will culminate in a banquet; the rite of the sprinkling of the blood on the parties to the pact, by means of which the pact is ratified. Godís indulgence with man goes to the extreme of a reciprocal pact! This pact speaks to us with great clarity of Godís love and of his eternal fidelity. In spite of the many infidelities to the pact on the part of Israel, in all of its historical vicissitudes this pact was always an unchallenged point of reference and an unequivocal sign of hope and permanent renewal. Little by little, in its long historical experience, Israel learned that God never abandons man, that his fidelity is ever-lasting. In seeing Godís faithfulness, Israel felt the attractive force of faithfulness, of responding to the pact with Yahweh with a sincere and definitive Amen.

 

The New Covenant. Due to Israelís constant infidelity to Yahweh, God revealed to the prophet Jeremiah the promise of a new covenant, a covenant written on the heart, which will bestow upon all the gift of the knowledge of God and of his merciful forgiveness (Jr 31:31-34). This promise was definitively fulfilled in Jesus Christ, in the paschal supper that he had with his disciples on the night that he was going to be taken away, in the blood of the covenant, shed for all on the summit of the Calvary. The Jews recalled the Old Covenant each year with the feast of Passover; we Christians recall and re-live the New Covenant each day, but in a special way on Sunday, in the Eucharistic celebration. The feast of the covenant is not annual but daily, weekly. Let us not forget the reciprocal covenant of God with the Church and with each one of her children, and consequently, of the Church and each one of her children with God. As Christians, each and every one of us must value the beauty of a covenant with God in the Blood of Jesus Christ, and at once the seriousness and responsibility of a pact to which we have sworn our fidelity.

The Novelty of the Covenant. The Gospel and the second reading present some features of this novelty. 1) In Jesus Christ both the mediator of the covenant (Moses in the Old Covenant) and the sacrificed victim with whose blood the covenant is sealed and ratified coincide (in the Old Covenant, the blood of the bullocks); 2) the covenant in the Blood of Christ is not only with the people of Israel, but with all of humankind. This is why his Blood was shed for all, and we enjoy eternal redemption; 3) the covenant that Christ makes between God and humankind is not only new, but also definitive. Thus, as revelation finds its fullness in Christ, so the covenant finds fullness. He does not seal the penultimate, but the absolutely final covenant; 4) The covenant between God and man in Christ Jesus is present in history, with its definitive mark, and through this mark it is subjected to the different dimensions of space and time. This covenant will culminate and achieve its perfection at the end of all centuries, in eternity with God. This is why Jesus says to the disciples "I shall not drink wine again until the day I drink the new wine in the Kingdom of God".

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Priests of the New Covenant. The New Covenant is destined to all men. Jesus Christ, the mediator of the New Covenant, needs mouths in order for the good news of this covenant reach all. He needs mouths and hands to consecrate the bread and wine of the new covenant and to distribute them to men. Both God and men need priests. It is necessary for the Christian community to be more aware of this need. If there are no priests, who will make present in the world the mediation of Christ between God and men? If Christian families have no children, or have only one child, two at the most, wonít the number of those that have been called by God to priesthood necessarily decrease? If the new couples live together without getting married, or get married only with a civil rite, wonít it be almost impossible for their children, once they have them, to hear Godís call to a priestly vocation? These are serious questions. All of the Christian community must ask itself these questions, and must cooperate, to the extent possible, to look for and offer valid answers.

 

To worship the living God. In the Eucharist Jesus Christ is present, true God and true man. This is why the Catholic Church has worshipped and continues to worship the Eucharist, not only during Mass, but also outside its celebration. Pope John Paul II wrote, "The Church and the world have a great need for Eucharistic worship. Jesus awaits us in this sacrament of love. Let us not refuse the time to go to meet him in adoration, in contemplation full of faith, and open to making amends for the serious offenses and crimes of the world. Let our adoration never case" (cf CCC 1380). There are those that attribute to the bustle of life the fact that they have no time for Eucharistic adoration, but let us be honest... they do have time to go to the soccer game, to spend most of the night out, to go skiing for the weekend, to sit staring at the television watching a film or a show. All of these things are good in themselves, but why not make some time, between these or other activities, to go to Mass or to go into church for a few minutes and worship the transubstantiated Jesus Christ?

 

Thirteenth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME 2nd July 2000

First: Wis 1:13-15; 2:23-24; Second: 2 Cor 8:7.9.13-15; Gospel: Mk

THEME of the READINGS

The point of convergence between the readings is the power of faith. In the Gospel, the doctorsí inability to cure the woman with a hemorrhage is countered by the healing force of her faith in Jesus; the power of death that has imposed itself on the life of Jairusí daughter is countered by the greater power of Christ to restore her to life by virtue of her faith. These two examples in the Gospel emphasize that God (and Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God) did not create death, but that he is the Lord of life (first reading), and thus has power over death itself. The force of faith and the power of God become manifest in the life of Christians; indeed, thanks to the power of faith they are able to overcome ethnic and cultural barriers, and express their fraternal charity to the brothers of Judea by means of the collection of money (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

 

Faith overcomes death. The power of death is universal. It is a disconcerting power, which causes concern, anguish. It is a great question nailed in the heart of history. Does God want manís death? Does death have the last say? Is there any sense to death? Todayís liturgy provides us with a sketch of an answer. 1) Death, perceived not as a transition from a state of life to another state, but as the loss of the relationship with the source of life, God, as a thief that violently wrenches us away from the treasure of life, does not have God at its origin, but has entered the world through the devilís envy. The burden of anguish, desperation and nihilism that death carries on its shoulders comes from the enemy of God and man, the enemy of life, the devil. 2) Man was created in the likeness of God, the Lord of life; this is why man was created for life, not for death; he was made immortal, like God himself. 3) The power of life over sickness and death finds two examples in the power of faith expressed both by the woman with a hemorrhage and Jairus.

 

The powerlessness of men and the power of faith. The Gospel presents a very great contrast between human powerlessness before sickness and death, on the one hand, and the striking force of faith on the other. The woman with a hemorrhage was sick for twelve years, she was sterile, which was a terrible ailment for a woman living in Jesusí time. She had resorted to all human means, but all of them had been a failure. Not only did she not improve, but she actually got worse. In her tragic situation, the woman was desperate. Human powerlessness is manifested here. The only attitude in the face of such powerlessness is faith. What man cannot do, with all of his means, may be achieved by the power of faith. With this belief, she approaches Jesus, touches him with her hand and her faith, and she is cured. The same happens to Jairus. His daughter has died. There is no remedy any longer: death has overcome. Being able to come back to life is not a part of human experience. But faith is stronger than death. This is why Jesus says to Jairus, "Do not be afraid; only have faith." And with his faith, Jairus gave life to his daughter for the second time. What magnificent examples of the power of faith!

 

The power of faith is called charity. The second reading talks to us about the collection of money organized by Paul in some of the communities he founded in favor of the needy brothers of Judea. The collection shows the power of faith. Paul and the Christians, coming from the Greek and Roman world, must overcome very powerful racial prejudices; they must overcome a certain anti-Semitism which already existed in Hellenistic culture; they must especially overcome cultural obstacles: the closed mentality of the Christians of Judea, the idea the everyone has to be like them (be circumcised, not eat impure foods, observe the Jewish calendar of festivities...) if they wish to be true Christians. The power of faith in Christ the Lord imposes itself on all of these aspects, and moves the Christian Gentiles to an extraordinary gesture of charity, for we are all brothers in Christ, and we must help one another.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Faith works miracles. Certainly, we need faith in Jesus Christ and in the truths that he proposes for us to believe in. But faith is also confidence in and abandonment to the power of Jesus Christ. Let us not think that the power of faith belongs to the past, to dark times in which faith, superstition and irrationality traveled along the same path and were intertwined. The power of faith is not confined in terms of space or time; nor is it confined by the body or soul. The power of faith is total. Today there are still miracles, and frequent miracles, in people who with an immense faith ask God, with the intercession of the Blessed Virgin or of some saint, the healing of the body or soul. If we count the miracles that each year are recognized by the Congregation for Saints, they add up to several dozens.

Then there are the thousands of small miracles that no-one knows about except for those concerned, but which these people know are the work of the power of God. And if faith is so powerful, why do we men have such little faith on many occasions? What fears does our spirit harbor, which prevent this gigantic faith capable of making the miracle flourish in the desert of an excessively rational world?

 

International Solidarity. Faith works through charity, Saint Paul tells us. Faith creates solidarity. Providentially, in the collective conscience of our time, there is a greater sensitivity to the needs of our Christian brothers and of all men. In this Jubilee Year, we welcome the growing movement of international solidarity among Christians in governments and parliaments, to partly or totally cancel the external debt of poorer countries, especially in Africa and Latin America. We welcome international solidarity in the face of the natural calamities affecting our own countries and other nations of the world. We welcome international solidarity among different Christian communities, among bishopsí conferences, among different dioceses. We welcome international solidarity among Christians themselves, so that the distance between rich and poor may progressively decrease. Much is already being done in the area of solidarity, enlightened by faith. There is much more to do. What can I do? What can my parish, my diocese do?

 

Fourteenth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME 9th July 2000

First: Ezk 2:2-5; Second: 2 Cor 12:7-10; Gospel: Mk 6:1-6

THEME of the READINGS

Last Sunday, the texts were centered around the power of faith. This Sunday they focus on the difficulties men experience in believing and on their attitudes vis-à-vis such difficulties. The Israelites, to whom the prophet Ezekiel addresses his words, question the fidelity of God, who has abandoned them to their fate during the exile in Babylon. They rebel before such a situation, and their heart has hardened to Godís things (first reading). The people of Nazareth also experienced a crisis of faith before Jesus, who on the one hand gave them great signs and worked great miracles, and on the other was just another inhabitant of Nazareth, the son of the carpenter (Gospel). Paul is not exempt from difficulties in his faith, but he remains steadfast because a voice inside him keeps saying, "My grace is enough for you" (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The Scandal of Faith. To believe is to accept the bursting in of God into oneís life and into the history of men. It is to accept that man, in spite of his technology and knowledge, does not control all events. To believe is to accept the risk that Someone will show you the way, that you do not see. In this sense, faith is a true scandal. The scandal of faith is not something that just characterizes the last few centuries, nor does it characterize only Christians or religious men. The scandal affects all human beings, even atheists. Whether they want it or not, to them too faith is like a stumbling block in their path of life.

The Israelites of the sixth century BC were shocked, and it was a tragedy for them to see that Jerusalem had been conquered by the Babylonians, who deported them in large numbers to their country. "Where is Godís fidelity to his promises? Where is Yahwehís powerful arm," the Israelites ask themselves. "Didnít Marduk prove to be more powerful than Yahweh? Yahweh has abandoned us." The scandal must have been great!

The scandal of the people of Nazareth must have been just as great. They knew Jesusí family, a family just like the others in the village. They knew Jesus very well: his childhood and adolescence, his parents, his trade, his relatives. They had seen him grow up like many other boys... "No, we canít believe what they say about him. Something strange must have happened to him!" It is obvious that there is nothing worse for faith than to grow accustomed to living side by side with the mystery.

Paulís faith is tested in a different way. He was carried away by an absolutely profound experience of God. And yet, this experience did not free him from the thorn in the flesh. Was it an illness? Was it the awareness of his weakness before the mission? The awareness of the abyss between him, with all of his limits, and God, with all of his greatness? Was it the weight of his own sin? How could this be? Why didnít God free him from the thorn that tormented him? Paul too experienced the scandal of faith.

 

Attitudes before the Scandal of Faith. The liturgy brings to our attention three attitudes before the scandal of faith. The first is the attitude of the Israelites. It is an attitude of rebellion, obstinacy, of hardness of the heart. Instead of looking for a solution to their doubts on Godís fidelity, they seize those doubts, close themselves up inside of them. This makes their heart hard before the voice of God which reaches them through the prophet Ezekiel. Instead of trying to solve their doubts about faith, they sink in such doubts more and more. The second attitude is that adopted by the citizens of Nazareth. They cannot question the signs and prodigies shown by Jesus in Capernaum and in the neighboring villages. However, they cannot believe that a common man, a man from their village like Jesus, can actually do such things. They would have realized it before. They are not that stupid! Something peculiar and strange has happened, although they do not know what! The third attitude, very different from the previous ones, is that of Paul. The experience of Damascus has marked his life for good. What happens to him he must explain on the basis of this experience. And from here, from this experience of faith, he draws two conclusions: 1) The grace of Christ is present before the crisis of faith, so that he is able face the crisis with determination and courage. 2) It is in my weakness that I am strongest, not with my own strength, but with the strength of God. The challenge of faith is an extraordinary opportunity to increase and consolidate that same faith.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

The Difficulties of Faith Today. Believing is difficult at any time and anywhere on earth. What are the difficulties that our contemporaries come up against today in their journey of faith? Some are the same as always: faith is a gift and it must be accepted in prayer and with humility. In our days certain difficulties have become more significant. For example, there is the more or less marked lack of interest in anything that is not immediate and that does not contribute anything "useful" to us today, here and now. There is also the excessive confidence in scientific reason, to the detriment of philosophical reason that predisposes to faith. There is the spirit of relativism which dominates wide sectors of society, in which God is just another point of view competing with other, apparently more attractive, perspectives. Often mention is also made of a reactionary Church, clinging to the past in its proposal of some dogmatic or moral truths. There are those who say they do not believe because faith alienates them, it makes them dream of a non-existing world, depriving them of the energies they need to work in the world in which they live. There are those who feel that faith is something for old people... I imagine that you will be able to add a few more difficulties to the list ...

 

Strong with Faith. Just like one thousand temptations do not make a fall, by the same token, one thousand difficulties do not make a crisis of faith.

Difficulties are wonderful because they can strengthen our faith, if we are able to face them with courage and with determined consistency. Does a difficulty arise? Pray, first of all. Then let yourself grow larger than the difficulty, so that it seems small, even non-existent. Remember that it is going to help you mature in your faith, because an untested virtue will always be an immature virtue. On the other hand, do not forget to be watchful, because if you are watchful, you will see it coming, and you will look for a way to defend yourself and attack it. Also, do not forget that you are not the only one facing this problem; that before you there have been many others who have experienced and overcome it, and that right now, as you are experiencing this difficulty in faith, there are many others who are facing it just like you somewhere on our planet, and are fighting like you to vanquish it. And why not turn to someone who might lend you a hand, someone who is an expert in these matters of faith, like a priest friend, a woman religious working in your parish, a parishioner that has experienced the same trials you and has happily overcome it? Itís wonderful to experience the solidarity, the companionship, the human and spiritual support of a friend!

 

Fifteenth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME. 16th July 2000

First: Am 7:12-15; Second: Eph 1:3-14; Gospel: Mk 6:7-13

THEME of the READINGS

The point of convergence between the readings is the mission. The Gospel speaks about the mission that Jesus entrusts to the Twelve: he began to send them out in pairs, giving them authority over unclean spirits. The prophet Amos, in the first reading, stresses that he prophesies not out of his personal will or initiative, but because the Lord took him as he followed the flock and said to him "Go and prophesy to my people Israel." The Christological hymn of the Letter to the Ephesians (second reading) sings the fruits of the mission in the conscience of Christians: the blessing of God the Father, the choice of us in Christ, his adoption of us as his children, the redemption and forgiveness of sins, the revelation of Godís plans for history, baptism in the Holy Spirit.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The mission in the Church as communion. The ecclesiology of Vatican II has emphasized the conception of the Church as communion, and this conception of the Church developed considerably over the subsequent decades, up to the present day. The ecclesiology of communion entails the ecclesiology of mission. We find both in the words and teachings of Jesus: "May they all be one..." (Jn 17:21); "My command to you is to love one another" (Jn 15:17), on the one hand, and on the other, "and he appointed twelve; they were to be his companions and to be sent out to proclaim the message" (Mk 3:14); "Then he summoned the Twelve and began to send them out in pairs" (Mk 6:7); "Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19). The communion among churches requires that those who have more evangelizers, catechists, consecrated men and women and priests share them with those who have less or are in urgent need of them. In this, the supreme good of the entire Church must prevail over the particular good of a local church. Likewise, communion within each local church calls for a marked sense of mission and a considerable missionary spirit to evangelize and promote the evangelization of the Christian faithful. In this way, all may acquire an understanding of the Church as communion, above and beyond other conceptions, like the "Church as a charitable institution", the "Church as a perfect society", the "Church as power", etc. It is an urgent mission that must be fulfilled by all!

Jesusí Mission - the Churchís Mission. The evangelist Mark emphasizes that the mission of the Twelve (and of the Church) is the very mission of Jesus. In effect, in Mk 6:13 he tells us that the Twelve proclaimed repentance, cast out many devils and cured sick people. This corresponds to Jesusí mission: "Repent, and believe the Gospel" (Mk 1:15). "For he had cured so many that all who were afflicted in any way were crowding forward to touch him" (Mk 3:10), and finally, "And he went all through Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out devils" (Mk 1:39). About the Twelve, it is added that "they anointed many sick people with oil." Perhaps this is a reference to the custom practiced by the early Christians of the anointing the sick in the name of the Lord by the presbyters of the Church, as urged by the letter of James in 5:14. In James, in the place of the Twelve we find the presbyters (the followers of the Twelve), and instead of them being directly sent out by Jesus we have the anointing in the name of the Lord, that is, of the glorious Christ in Heaven. By means of all these actions Jesus first, and then the Twelve, show us the signs revealing the presence of the Kingdom of God among men.

Characteristics of the Mission. There are quite a few aspects of our Christian mission mentioned in this Sundayís liturgical texts. First, we could say that the Twelve (and all Christians with a mission) are called to communion (in pairs), poverty ("Take nothing for the journey except a staff..."), consistency in a humble conduct ("If you enter a house anywhere, stay there until you leave the district..."), in a conduct governed by the freedom of the spirit ("If any place does not welcome you, as you walk away shake off the dust from under your feet..."); with brave and intrepid conduct (Amos, who still prophesies even though his life is in danger...). Second, in the mission, the Twelve will encounter the same difficulties as Jesus. Just as the people did not welcome or listen to Jesus, in certain instances they will not welcome or listen to the Twelve. Eight centuries before, the same had happened to the prophet Amos, whose message of social justice and criticism of external worship were also rejected by Amaziah, the priest of Bethel. Third, the mission is characterized by the fruits that it bears, by the creation of communities in faith in which God the Father is blessed, because he has chosen us in Christ, he has adopted us as his children, he has redeemed us in his Son, he has revealed to us the mysteries of his will and he has sealed us with the Spirit by means of the baptism (second reading).

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

The Mission of the Church is Still Beginning (John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio 1). These words may be pronounced in any generation and in any historical time, for it is always necessary to be in the process of beginning. Indeed, since the Gospel is for all, when new men come into the world, we must begin with them the work of evangelization. On the other hand, we observe that after two thousand years of Christianity, the believers in Christ account for approximately 27% of the worldís population. Might not our century, the 21st century, be the time of God for the remaining 73% who still do not know Christ? On the basis of what has been said, it is evident that as Christians, we must all live in a "state of mission". Parents are their childrenís missionaries; teachers are their studentsí missionaries; doctors and nurses are their patientsí missionaries; volunteer workers are the missionaries of those whom they assist; parish priests and their co-workers are the missionaries of the faithful of their parish... The only thing that we cannot do in this hour of God is to sit back and do nothing.

Free for the Mission. To be missionaries, we must be free. Free to accept this dimension proper to the Christian vocation; free to respond to Godís call with generosity, without instinctive restraints and selfish passions; free to obediently follow the lights and movements of the Holy Spirit inside us. We are asked to be free of all attachments to material goods, so that we may present ourselves with the pure Gospel, free of all pride and hunger for power, conscious of the fact that we are servants. The only thing that we are asked to have is a great love for Jesus Christ, our model; we are asked to present the Gospel in our lives; we are asked to trust in God and hope in the action of the Holy Spirit in the heart of all people.

Sixteenth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME. 23rd July 2000

First: Jer 23:1-6; Second: Eph 2:13-18; Gospel: Mk 6:30-34

THEME of the READINGS

Gathering. This is the key concept of todayís liturgy. "But the remnant of my flock I myself shall gather," says Yahweh (first reading). Jesus sees the crowd with compassion and exclaims, "they are like sheep without a shepherd" (Gospel), but he, the Good Shepherd, will gather them in only one flock (Jn 10:16). Jesus, the Good Shepherd, also gathers into one single flock those who were far (pagans) and those that were near (Jews) by means of his blood shed on the cross (second reading).

 

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Like Sheep without a Shepherd. From its beginnings, humankind has been in a similar situation, although circumstances may have changed: sometimes shepherds abandon their sheep, sometimes sheep abandon their shepherds. In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah makes mention of the shepherd-kings of Judah (a very frequent metaphor in the culture of that time), who instead of shepherding their sheep, lose, scatter and drive them away. They were shepherd-kings who had an all-too-human outlook, whereby they saw their flock exiled to Babylon. Instead, they should have listened to God, who speaks to them through Jeremiah, for the good of the sheep. Six centuries later, Jesus sees the crowds of Galileans that flock to him to hear his word of truth and salvation as sheep without a shepherd. Yes, sheep without a shepherd, because the shepherds of the people (their priests and scribes) did not seem to show any interest in them. They were looked down upon as sheep, because they know nothing about the Law (Jn 7:49). From the very beginning of time, man has needed a guide to show him the way and lead him towards the path of his genuine humanity towards the horizon of happiness and God. Where and who are these guides today? In an identity crisis like the one our society is experiencing, people no longer look to the gurus of science, of technology, to religion à la carte, but to the shepherds of the Church. As shepherds of the Church, are we up to the task entrusted to us in this dramatic but wonderful time of history?

Frustrated Shepherds. The texts of the liturgy have something to teach us. They speak to us about frustrated shepherds, who have failed in the task and responsibility entrusted to them. Many of the kings of Israel and Judah were frustrated shepherds. But not just the kings; some prophets too failed in their task as shepherds because they did not prophesy the word of God, but only their own words. Equally, among the priests there were some who led their sheep astray with their bad example. And, if those who are the pillars of the building stagger, who will be able to keep standing on their feet? This is the great tragedy of history in every generation. In ours too. A generation without shepherds lives in a state of confusion. A generation with shepherds who are not real shepherds falls prey to a lack of confidence in authority, experiences the anguish of confusion, wraps itself up in a subjectivism that is atrocious and devoid of solidarity. Every generation urgently needs shepherds who are witnesses, who with their lives show the real way forward.

The Good Shepherd. In the first reading, God presents himself as the Shepherd par excellence, the shepherd of the sheep of Judah. With the passing of centuries, the image of God as Shepherd is incarnated and reflected in Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. What does a good shepherd do? Above all else, he feels a sincere compassion for the sheep that have been led astray, that are disoriented, without a guide. He must gather the sheep under his guidance, to avoid the wolves that would trap them and eat them up, and to keep them all well-fed. Then, he will make sure that they grow and multiply, prolonging his kindness to man throughout the history of the world. Finally, he will choose other shepherds to help him in his task as a guide, and with them he will continue to lead the sheep to green pastures and fresh waters (a pure Gospel, a healthy philosophy, dogmatic and moral doctrine of the Church, powerful actions and signs of God by means of them). The Good Shepherd needs many and good shepherds.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

In Search of Orientation. Sociologists who take the pulse of the society in which we live agree that humanity has come to the end of a historical journey. At the present time, humanity has the best means to undertake a phenomenal and grandiose journey for the future, but the pilots have no idea which way to go. They run, fly, sail the sea of history, with no direction. This is why our time is a magnificent moment, an extraordinary opportunity for the Church. For two thousand years, the Church founded by Jesus Christ has known where it comes from and where it is going. The Church has the roadmap to help humanity to reach its destination, which can be no other but God. As Cardinal Ersilio Tonini says, we have come to a time in which in international get-togethers and in Parliaments, people are willing to speak about Christ, the origin, guide and destination of humankind. Not just in major get-togethers, but also in the small get-togethers of the diocese, the parish, groups and movements, Christ and Christian values are gathering a momentum. They are a guide for the disoriented.

United under the same Shepherd. Before a society that anxiously seeks some form of guidance, it is urgent for all of us Christians to unite under the same Shepherd, the Good Shepherd. The first guidance that Christ offers us is precisely unity in truth and in charity. There are many centuries in which divisions have prevailed, and so the path towards full union among Christians is long and difficult. This should not surprise us. With Godís help, the experts and those in charge of the various Christian communities will mark the boundaries of discussion and offer the solutions that best respond to Godís plan. We should bear in mind that although there is a lot to divide us, there is a lot more to unite us. Let us promote with word and deed unity in the truth, but to an even greater degree unity in love among all Christians. We can do this by respecting members of other Christian communities and by fostering and defending fundamental human and Christian values... In this joint effort, may we always be guided by Christ the Shepherd, the only Shepherd of all. United under the same Shepherd we will more easily and more effectively be true guides for our society.

 

Seventeenth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME. 30th July 2000

First: 2 Kings 4:42-44; Second: Eph 4:1-6; Gospel: Jn 6:1-15

THEME of the READINGS

One of the fundamental principles of Christian faith is Godís extreme generosity towards the universe and especially towards man. This principle is the predominant theme of the liturgical texts. In the first reading, twenty loaves are enough for Elisha to feed one hundred men. In turn, in the Gospel Jesus Christ satiates the hunger of 5,000 people with only five loaves and two fish, and whatís more, "They picked them up and filled twelve large baskets with scraps left over from the meal of five barley loaves." Finally, in the second reading the unity of the Christian community (Church) is the abundant fruit yielded by the Eucharistic bread that reaches every Christian, wherever he may be.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

A Basic Principle of Godís Work. If we review Godís work, the most striking thing is precisely his generosity towards creation. This generosity might seem excessive, if we gauge it according to human standards. Contemporary astronomical know-how allows us to admire Godís generosity towards creation much more than in the past. The studies on the microcosms of bodies, especially of the human body, elicit just as much admiration. Isnít each cell, each neuron in manís body a miracle and a lavish expression of Godís generosity? This creative generosity has been carried on throughout history. As Saint Paul tells us, wherever sin abounds, grace is overabundant. History, with all its intricate vicissitudes, is the history of human sin; but it is also the history of the superabundance of divine grace. God was superabundant in his mercy with humankind: with Noah, with the people of Israel in Abraham, with the Israelite monarchy in David, with all of humankind in Jesus Christ the Redeemer. The superabundance of the bread in this Sundayís readings is yet another expression of the principle that we are commenting upon.

The Mediators of Godís Superabundance. The first important point that cannot be forgotten is that this superabundance does not come from man, but from God. Man is simply a mediator (though he is a necessary mediator!). Because neither in the case of Elisha nor in the case of Jesus did God start from scratch: he does not create the loaves, he multiplies them. God may start with two, five or twenty (the quantity is not that important to God), but he wants to start with something. How lovely for God to have wanted it so! And it is equally wonderful for God to want our mediation to distribute his generous gifts. He does not do this directly. Yahweh relied on Elishaís mediation, and Elisha, in turn, relied on that of a man from Baal-Shalishah. Jesus Christ mediated Godís generosity and, in turn, the Apostles mediated between Jesus and the crowd. Every Christian, but especially the priest, is the mediator of Godís generosity with men. Wonder of grace! A call to generosity and responsibility!

The recipients of Godís superabundance. Godís generosity is for the people (first reading), for a large crowd, coming from all of the villages. God also shows his generosity by addressing it not to a certain number of privileged men, but to all. No one is excluded from the divine bread. Only those who do not accept it, because they have been filled with other loaves, or because out of arrogance they believe that Jesusí bread (barley bread) is the bread of the poor, of common people Ė only these are excluded. This divine bread is his Word of Life, which gives life to those who receive it; it is the bread of charity (the Christian, who through his charity becomes bread for the others) that meets the most basic requirements of all human beings. The divine Word is especially the bread of the Eucharist, prefigured in the multiplication of loaves (CCC 1335). Godís generosity is manís supreme equalizing factor; it does away with all differences among men, because there is no one who is not in need of Godís generosity.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

The Bread that Unites Us. Sociologically speaking, bread is a factor of equality and union. There is a great variety of bread, and each country has its own ways of making it. However, bread is bread for all people and in the same way. On the table of a rich or poor man, on the table of a Tunisian or Colombian, of a banker or bricklayer there is always bread; the bread that is the fruit of the earth and work of human hands. However, in our contemporary world, arenít there tables and hands without bread? There shouldnít be, because there is a great abundance of bread. And yet there are. We can all remember pictures of hungry children begging for mercy, longing for a loaf of bread. Could it be that the bread that unites us becomes the bread that separates us?

The bread that unites us is especially the bread of the Eucharist: the Body of Christ. This wonderful bread, which in history emphasizes the generosity of Christís love for those who believe in him. This bread is offered to all of us who believe in him, day after day, week after week, on the same table: the altar of the redeeming sacrifice. I wonder with astonishment why men, so hungry for anything spiritual, do not draw closer more frequently to this divine bread that can make them whole.

Memory and Hope. The image of bread is a sign of the prodigies performed by God with the Israelites during the forty years of their pilgrimage in the desert, in which he gave them manna to eat - the bread of angels. We must remember to give him thanks, to ask God to continue working wonders among us, giving us the bread of his Word and of his Eucharist. In addition to remembering, we must hope. Hope that God will perform even better miracles. After the Exodus from Egypt, Moses inaugurates the Jewish Passover. Jesus inaugurates the Christian Easter, prefigured in the multiplication of loaves. Mount Sinai is replaced by the mount to which Jesus withdraws to pray. The sea opened up a path for the Israelites to cross, Jesus walks at night on the surface of the waters of the Sea of Galilee. Moses withdrew to solitude to preserve his fidelity to his mission and to defend himself against "politics". Let us recall the past and give thanks; let us ask for forgiveness. But especially let us look to the future with confidence, so that we may consecrate it to the Lord and live it with the hope that does not cheat us.

 

Eighteenth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME. 6th August 2000

First: Ex 16:2-4.12-15; Second: Eph 4:17.20-24; Gospel: Mk 6:24-35

THEME of the READINGS

It may be asserted that todayís liturgical texts concentrate on faith as a central principle of human existence. Faith gives sense to the life of the Israelites who walk exhausted across the desert and assures them that they have not been abandoned, that God, with his power and fatherly love, is with them (first reading). Faith interprets the life of Jesusí listeners so that they may be able to see in the multiplication of the loaves a sign of Godís effective presence in their midst (Gospel). Faith gives sense to the Christian, making him discover that he is no longer an old man but a new one, and that he must make the newness of Christ shine in his life (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Faith as memory. The believer is a man of memory. He must remember, always remember. He must remember the history of the Christian faith, which does not begin in our century, but goes back many centuries, to the story of Abraham, the prototype of faith in God for all generations. He must remember the many wonders that God has worked throughout this centuries-old history, as is narrated to us in the first reading taken from the Book of Exodus. The Israelites who had left Egypt victorious and happy now walk in the desert tired, discouraged, without horizons of hope. But God, the liberating God, does not leave them in their predicament; rather, he now becomes the God who is their companion and the guide of their journey in the desert, taking care of their needs. Can a father abandon his children? We must also remember the great gift that God has bestowed upon us in his Son Jesus Christ, who has come into this world to do good, as a true doctor of bodies and souls. We must remember the loaves multiplied to nourish bodies, and remember the bread of his Word and of his Eucharist to nourish souls. We must remember the early Christians who were transformed through their immersion in the baptismal waters, and remember our baptism, through which we have been incorporated in Christ and in his Church. This simple exercise of memory does a world of good to the believer, to the Christian!

Faith as hermeneutics. Whether we like it or not, the believer is interpreted according to his faith. We could say, "Tell me who you believe in, what you believe, and I will tell you who you are, how you live." Therefore, faith in Christ gives meaning to the lives of all Christians. In other words, their way of thinking, acting, working, living, loving, their way of doing their jobs is and must be enlightened by their faith in Jesus Christ. When this faith in Christ is not something confined to a few individuals, but is shared by a group or a majority, then it becomes Christian culture: faith invades all areas of community and social life. In the midst of the difficulties and temptations experienced by the Israelites, in the midst of the purely political and socio-economic requests of Jesusí listeners, faith helped them to interpret the events and works of God from a different perspective, purified precisely by the medicine of faith. This very faith interpreted the life of the early Christians in such a way that it converted them into new men, "created on Godís principles, in the uprightness and holiness of the truth." As the believers in Christ increased in the first century and in those that followed, they became the leaven of the human dough, they created a culture, and finally succeeded in forging society according to their faith in Jesus Christ. Isnít this a great challenge that we Christians are called to in a so-called post-Christian environment, which is still socially and culturally rooted in Christianity? The historic mission of the believers in Christ, at the beginning of the 21st century, is to make these roots flourish so that Christ may once again pervade our society.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

 

Bread and faith, faith and bread. God never abandons us in our most fundamental requirements. This is why he rescues his people with bread, meat and water in their long journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. Jesus, in turn, in imitating God his Father, before a multitude of people growing weak with hunger, follows that divine gesture by multiplying loaves and fish. However, although bread is necessary, it is not sufficient. It must be accompanied by faith, so that God is not a mere benefactor, but also the transcendental and holy God; so that the people do not see Jesus as a candidate to the kingdom, but as the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God. The social dimension of Christianity is obvious, but it emerges from the faith in Jesus Christ. And its value would be lessened if it were separated from faith, for it would become a gratuitous supermarket or a social charity agency. Bread without faith lacks the Christian flavor. Faith without bread is simply tasteless. As Christians, we are urged to combine in our work bread and faith and faith and bread. Unfortunately, their separation has wrought much havoc within the very life of the Church and in the image of Christianity as perceived by non-Christians. If each person heeds the call to unite bread and faith, faith and bread, Christianity and the world will be better off, and they will open up a sound path for the third Christian millennium.

The power of faith. As human beings, we are used to seeing power in money, weapons, influence, the State, the moral authority of people like Mother Theresa of Calcutta and Pope John Paul II. With todayís liturgy, I would like to emphasize the power of faith. It is evident that the moral authority of Mother Theresa of Calcutta or of John Paul II does not mainly stem from their qualities, but from their faith, a faith in God so great that it is able to break barriers and destroy walls, a faith so ardent that in their self-giving, they are not held back by age, sickness or the difficulties that may arise in their work for God. We may think of the material and spiritual work of Mother Theresa, the collapse of the Berlin wall, the journeys to the holy places of Christianity for the Great Jubilee of the Incarnation. However, there are many other aspects, not so evident but extremely effective, which show the power of faith in their lives. Let us reflect with simplicity and gratefulness on the power of faith in ourselves, in the people that surround us and with whom we live, in many Christians scattered throughout the world. How the power of faith shines forth in Marian shrines like Lourdes, Fatima and Guadalupe! Ask yourselves what you can do to make other people experience first hand the power of faith. The power of faith is the lever that supports and elevates the world.

 

Nineteenth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME. 13th August 2000

First: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Second: Eph 4:30-5:2; Gospel: Jn 6:41-51

THEME of the READINGS

Last week, the liturgy emphasized the power of faith. Todayís liturgy underscores the effectiveness and power of the Eucharist. The bread of the Eucharist that Christ gives us is prefigured in the bread that a messenger of God offers Elijah, "and strengthened by that food he walked for forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, Godís mountain" (first reading). The bread that Christ talks about in the Gospel is the bread that has come down from heaven, the bread of life, of an ever-lasting life. It is his flesh for the life of the world (Gospel). This flesh is offered as a sweet-smelling sacrifice and victim, which gives strength to Christians, "by loving as he loved you" (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The bread that strengthens. Elijah finds himself in a rather desperate situation. Jezebel has threatened to kill him. To avoid the worst, he flees. When he reaches Beersheba, a town of Judah, he does not know what to do; he is disoriented. Falling prey to anguish, he wants to die. At that time, God intervenes by sending him bread from heaven by means of an angel. The bread that God sends him relieves him of his anguish and of the feeling of having gone astray. It gives him extraordinary strength to walk until he reaches Mount Horeb, the very sources of Yahwehism, where God revealed himself to Moses as Yahweh, where God made a covenant with his people and where God delivered to Moses the two tablets of the Law. This bread of heaven that strengthened Elijah is the prefiguration of the bread which came down from heaven, Jesus Christ himself. The power of this divine bread is such that it can radically change man, and make him "amiable, compassionate, capable of forgiving and loving like Christ." This bread of life pours such vigor into the soul that it overcomes "all bitterness, wrath, anger, slander and all forms of evil." This bread from heaven has sustained and given strength to millions and millions of human beings throughout the centuries. The Eucharist is not only the center of all sacraments and of Christian life itself, but it is also Christianityís greatest strength.

The Bread of Life. The bread offered to Elijah by the angel makes him forget about his loathing of life and pours into him a new will to live, to spread and defend faith in Yahweh. Jesus is the living Bread, who came down from heaven; in other words, the Bread of the new life, whose unsuspected power worked wonders in the early Christians who gathered each week for the breaking of the bread. Strengthened by this heavenly food, they spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to all corners of the Roman Empire, they strove to lead a moral life which called the attention of the pagans, they were willing to suffer persecutions and even martyrdom. When Jesus Christ dwells in manís heart, making him share his divine life by the breaking of the bread during the Eucharist, then, to use the words of Saint Paul, "it is no longer I that live, it is Christ who lives in me." This Bread gives life to discouraged man, giving him reasons to live; it gives life to disoriented man, opening up horizons in the future; it gives life to the man gone astray, by directing his steps towards the way of love so that like Jesus, he may be bread for his fellow men. This Bread gives life to desperate man by showing him that it is beautiful to give oneself to God and to others, with Jesus Christ, as a sweet-smelling sacrifice and victim. This divine Bread gives us life, it makes us live and teaches us the art of living. This is an art that consists in being a grain of wheat that dies, rots, comes to life again, becomes a shaft of wheat, is ground so that it becomes flour, is kneaded and placed on fire so that it may become golden bread to satiate the hunger for God in so many human beings.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

The fruits of the Eucharist. In a simple but very rich way the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks to us about the fruits of Communion. They are extraordinary. First of all, the Eucharist increases our union with Christ. In receiving Holy Communion, we receive Christ himself and consolidate our ties of love and union with him. All souls in love with Jesus Christ know what this means. Second, the Eucharist separates us from sin, we who are so easily inclined towards sin. The Eucharistic Christ wipes out our venial sins, enabling us to break disorderly ties with creatures. The Eucharistic Christ preserves us from future mortal sins, because he makes us experience the sweetness of his friendship. The Eucharistic Christ makes us become "Church", in other words, he makes us aware that we are united in the faith of the Church and that we are all one family, because we are all nourished by the same bread. The Eucharistic Christ asks of us a commitment towards the poor, so that with our life we may show our fraternity, and so that we may make visible among men that our love for God and Jesus Christ compels us to love those most in need. Finally, the Eucharistic Christ is a pledge of future glory or, as Saint Ignatius of Antioch says, a remedy unto immortality. It is extremely necessary to explain to the faithful, especially children and young adults, the fruits of the Eucharist with plain, clear and effective words. A good catechesis is the best way to foster a frequent and fruitful reception of the Body of Christ.

 

The Eucharist and faith. The Eucharist does not bear fruit in an automatic way, although its effectiveness does not derive from the recipient, but rather from the sacrament itself. Like all divine gifts, it bears fruit only in the soil of faith and love. If we are poor in faith and love, let us ask the Lord to make the theological virtues grow in us. If we have doubts about the fruits of the Eucharist, let us realize that our faith and love are still not sufficiently great to make the Body and Blood of Christ flourish and bear fruit in us. The Eucharist has all of Godís power in it; with our pettiness, with our pride and our lack of faith, we are the ones who prevent Godís power from becoming manifest in our lives. Let us say to the Lord with all our heart, "Lord Jesus, I believe in the Eucharist; increase my faith!" Let us ask the Lord to give us great faith and love, so that the effectiveness of the Eucharist becomes manifest in our lives, and so that we may be the living witnesses of this effectiveness in our family and work environment. This is also a very favorable time to examine our Eucharistic fervor, how we participate in Mass, how and how often we receive Jesus Christ in Communion, and what influence Communion has in our daily life.

 

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Virgin MARY. 15th August 2000

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

THEME of the READINGS

"For the Almighty has done great things for me." With these words from the Magnificat, Mary summarizes the spirit of the texts of todayís liturgy. God has chosen Mary to fulfill his plans of salvation, "...here I am to do your will" (second reading). God has granted Mary the privilege of being his Mother, "You are to conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High" (Gospel). God has glorified Mary like no other creature, "Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman, robed with the sun, standing on the moon, and on her head a crown of twelve stars" (first reading). The liturgy of Maryís Assumption sings the great wonders that God has worked in his humble servant.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Greatness in smallness. It must be observed that the spirit with which Mary lives her smallness is of an extraordinary magnanimity. Humility, simplicity, poverty, the feeling of destitution, powerlessness, the attitude of abandonment and trust do not affect Maryís soul in such a way as to reduce it to wickedness, meanness or to a feeling of inferiority. Mary is great in her smallness. She is great when she recognizes that she is the Lordís humble servant and devotes her entire life to serving him. She is great when she sings filled with joy that, "He has filled the starving with good things, sent the rich away empty," manifesting her personal experience and a sort of law regulating Godís actions with men. She is great when, knowing that she is small and needy, she frequently engages in prayer so that God may reveal to her all the mysteries of his Son, the mysteries of the Kingdom. She is great when in Cana of Galilee, aware of her powerlessness, she says to her Son, "They have no wine," and then says to the servants, "Do what he tells you." She is great when from heaven, robed with the sun and crowned with stars, she continues to devote herself to us and serve her children walking in the valley of life towards eternity. There are souls who, when faced with poverty, smallness and powerlessness become small, shrink, are shriveled up like raisins, diminish themselves psychologically and in their dealings with others. Mary is not one of these souls. Mary becomes great with smallness. She grows when faced with poverty, and is strengthened and enhanced by the power of God in the face of her powerlessness.

Smallness in greatness. Mary knows full well that her greatness is not her own, that it does not belong to her but that it is Godís, that it belongs to him. This is why, in the face of the great things that God has done for Mary in her life, she does not become vain but maintains a wise and fundamental attitude, the attitude of someone who continues to be poor and small inside. "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord... because he has looked upon the lowliness of his servant" (Gospel). Mary is a woman of a simple, yet firm and strong faith; she is a woman with deeply rooted beliefs, with a clear and transparent knowledge of herself. Thanks to this, she can continue to be small in the midst of the great things that God has done for her and of the privileges with which he has filled her beyond all other creatures. Divine motherhood, the Assumption in body and soul to heavenly glory, unprecedented privileges in history, move her with gratitude for God, but they do not make her forget about the reality of her smallness and of her belonging to the group of "anawims". She has learned very well one of her sonís paradoxical lessons: "Anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all" (Mk 10:43-44). Mary needed a lot of humility to continue being simple in the midst of the wonderful things that God did in her and through her.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

"The little way." This is how Theresa of Lisieux defined her spirituality. She did not consider herself worthy or capable of accomplishing great missionary works like St Francis Xavier, or great works of doctrine like St Augustine or St Thomas Aquinas. She did not feel that she had been endowed with great qualities of eloquence like St Bernardino of Siena or St Anthony of Padua. She considered herself too small and too weak to suffer martyrdom, like the Apostles Peter and Paul. But she did not become discouraged because of this. In her prayer, she asked the Lord to point out to her the way to holiness, her "little way", and God showed her the way. "In the heart of the Church I shall be love." In other words, "I cannot be a martyr, or a missionary, or a teacher of doctrine, or a woman of great eloquence, but I can love. My vocation in life is love." Most men and women on our planet, in our parish, will not be able to and wonít accomplish "great things". But nothing and no one prevents them from loving, from walking down the path of love day after day, with joy and continuity, in everything they do. This was also the way of the Blessed Virgin who now, from heaven, invites us to follow in her footsteps. This way of spiritual childhood is urgent, necessary, for the men and women of our time.

True greatness. Where does true greatness lie? St Augustine would say, "Do not look for it outside but inside yourself." Man is great if he has a great heart, if he has been made greater by Godís grace, if his entire life exudes self-giving, holiness and virtue. He is not great because he is a wealth of knowledge, but because he continues to be humble even on the pedestal of science. He is not great because he has authority and has power over millions and millions of human beings, but because he recognizes that he has received such authority and power from God so that he can place them at the service of others. He is not great because of what he does (a 180į change in history, a famous work of art, an international literary award, scientific research that affords him a Noble prize...), but because he does it with the heart of a grateful child, knowing that all this is a gift of God. True greatness is not opposed to humility, obedience or a vocation to serve others. Rather, in all of these qualities it finds its pedestal and the true base of Christian humanism. Isnít Mary, with her Assumption into heaven, a magnificent example of true greatness? When crowned as Queen of the Universe, did Mary give up being the Lordís servant? Mary is the most perfect synthesis of greatness in smallness and of smallness in greatness. As Christians, we have a lot to learn from her. What is preventing us from doing so? May she, with her humility and greatness, accompany us in our journey through life towards the glory of heaven.

 

Twentieth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME. 20th August 2000

First: Prov 9:1-6; Second: Eph 5:15-20; Gospel: Jn 6:51-58

THEME of the READINGS

This Sundayís readings seem to be focused on the mystery of the Eucharist: what or who is this mystery which hides under bread and wine? The answer is broad and rich in nuances: the mystery is a man, Jesus of Nazareth, like us but come down from heaven (Gospel). It is Godís wisdom that invites us to a banquet so that we may acquire knowledge (first reading). It is the Fatherís Son, who wants us to share his divine life (Gospel). It is the glorious Lord to whom the Christian community sings psalms, hymns and inspired songs (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Mysterium carnis. The mystery of the Eucharist is of a unique realism: "Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood..." There is no symbolism here, no utopian abstractions! It is the Flesh and Blood of the man who is talking to them, of Jesus of Nazareth, of the Word made flesh and living among us! It is not a mere memory or a celebration, it is not the expression of a beautiful and generous idea, it is not a magic formula or a ritual and secret conspiracy, it is "the flesh of the son of man", the humanity and divinity of Jesus of Nazareth given to us in the transubstantiated bread. What a surprise, but at the same time, what joy! One trembles with amazement before such a sublime food given to us in such a surprising and lowly way. One rejoices and exults, filled with joy before such an inexpressible and purely divine invention as the Eucharist. Who if not God could have invented so great a mystery?

Mysterium fidei. After the consecration of the bread and wine the priest says "Let us proclaim the mystery of faith." And the faithful reply "Lord, by your Cross and Resurrection, you have set us free, you are the Savior of the world." Mysterium fidei, Mysterium salutis. What a wonderful description of the Eucharist! Only through faith are we able to discover the presence of Christ, Wisdom of God, in the Eucharistic bread. Those who eat it share this very wisdom, "which is beyond all human understanding" and which allows one to know the mysteries of God (first reading). Only faith leads us to remove the veil from the Eucharist to see Christ, the Son of God and glorious Lord of time and history, of humankind and of all of creation (Gospel, second reading). Only the gaze of faith penetrates the mystery of his death and Resurrection, made present when the priest consecrates the bread and wine for the forgiveness of our sins, and the redemption of our poor existence.

Mysterium amoris. The Eucharist is the ultimate and supreme gesture of love that God invented for humanity. In the Gospel, Jesus tells us, "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him... so whoever eats me will also draw life from me." These are formulae which tell us about living in Love, being possessed by Love, living for Love. To the extent the human creature has experienced a love that is not purely physical and has been elevated to other forms of love, he will be better prepared to grasp the love of Christ in the Eucharist. It is a love that was originally spiritual and supernatural, but that given the nature of the human being, comes to include the sensible sphere and our entire psychosomatic reality as persons. It is a Love, present in the bread of the Eucharist, which the Christian assembly celebrates and worships in the Sunday liturgy with songs and hymns of praise and acts of thanksgiving (second reading). Love deserves to be celebrated publicly so that it may permeate us all and so that we may bear witness to it before the others.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

"The Body of Christ." Ė "Amen." The Eucharist is one of the sacraments of Christian initiation. It is worthwhile to stress the importance of catechesis in preparing for the reception of this sacrament: catechesis to the children who are going to receive communion for the first time, and catechesis to adult catechumens who are preparing for this wonderful encounter with Christ, Wisdom of God, the Son of God, Lord of history. How necessary is good catechesis! It will be good if all of the parish community takes part in it: the parish priest, the catechist, the parents, but especially the mother or grandmother, the religion teacher at school, etc. It is good especially if it is a catechesis which involves the entire person (whether a child or an adult). A complete - and adapted - knowledge of the Catholic doctrine on the Eucharist is undoubtedly required. But catechesis must also embrace the cultural and liturgical dimension of the Eucharist, which means the aspects related to worship and acts of thanksgiving. It is equally necessary for the person receiving catechesis to perceive and be convinced of the moral consequences that are entailed in the reception of the Eucharist. If Jesus Christ becomes the life-giving principle of our existence by means of the Eucharist, will it be possible to live in a way contrary to that in which Christ lived among us? When in receiving Communion, to the priestís words "The Body of Christ" the Christian answers with an "Amen," he is declaring two things: 1) I believe that what I see in the guise of bread is the Body of Christ, and I wish to nourish myself with him; 2) I believe that Christ came to me to purify me and give me strength in lifeís daily battles, so that I can be his image among men.

Eucharistic Worship. In the Catholic Church, the Eucharist is celebrated, but it is also preserved in the tabernacle so that the faithful may worship it outside of the celebration of Mass. As Catholics, we must place emphasis on Eucharistic worship, because it has lessened among the faithful and because it brings many benefits. There are different forms of worship: individual worship by means of visits to Christ in the Eucharist; community worship by means of Holy Hours, adoration during the day, processions with the Blessed Sacrament, and other forms of devotion. The ways may change, but what must always remain is the burning desire to worship our Savior, to make reparation to his heart for the offenses inflicted upon it, to express our gratitude and love and the living desire that all men may love him and find in him their path to salvation. How can I foster Eucharistic worship first of all in myself and then in the faithful of my parish, in my religious community? One thing is for sure: the Eucharistic Christ establishes customs, forges characters, nourishes virtues, comforts the afflicted, strengthens the weak, invites all those that draw near him to imitate him.

 

Twenty-first Sunday of ORDINARY TIME. 27th August 2000

First: Jos 24:1-2.15-17; Second: Eph 5:21-32; Gospel: Jn 6:60-69

THEME of the READINGS

Making decisions is the key to the different texts of todayís liturgy. The tribes gathered by Joshua at Shechem must decide whether to serve Yahweh or other gods. They decide to serve Yahweh (first reading). Jesus confronts his disciples, who are scandalized by his words (eat my flesh and drink my blood), with a decision: "What about you? Do you want to go away too?" Peter replies on behalf of the other disciples, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life" (Gospel). Finally, in the second reading, Christís irrevocable decisions for his Church serve as an example of the mutual decision of husband and wife to love one another.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Making decisions in a responsible way. Being a rational human being means making decisions concerning the small and great things of life. In other words, to live one must make decisions. This is already something very important, for it distinguishes us from all the other creatures. However, it is not the whole picture, for one may make right as well as wrong decisions. Making the right decision is more important than making decisions at all. What does making a good decision involve? Here are some significant aspects: 1) Making the right decision means leaving something behind. It means leaving behind all the elements that prevent or at least make it difficult to make the right decision. The tribes of Israel must give up, renounce the gods of their parents and the gods of the Amorites (first reading). The disciples must let go of their cultural and religious prejudices before the scandal of the Eucharist (Gospel). Husbands and wives must give up any other spousal love that is not the love of their spouse (second reading). 2) To make the right decision means preferring. Certainly, to prefer good over evil, but in many occasions it means preferring best over good. One prefers the good and the best, according to the vocation and mission that each one has received in life. Everything that is in contrast with the call to be a Christian must be left behind, and everything that fosters it must be preferred. Whatever contributes most to making me live a Christian life is what I must prefer over other things, as good as they may be. This is the way to make a responsible decision.

Making decisions based on faith. In order for a decision to be responsible, it must be based on solid foundations. Such foundations cannot consist of mere feelings, tastes, whims or personal convenience; nor can they depend on cold pure reason, or solid willpower. One must decide on the basis of oneís faith, on the basis of oneís total confidence in the faithfulness and power of God. The Israelites felt attracted by the gods of neighboring villages, but they had the experience that Yahweh is the only faithful God, rich in mercy. In living with Jesus, Peter and the disciples experienced that only he "has the words of eternal life," as scandalous as it may sound to their ears. When a man and a woman say "yes" to each other forever, they do so "in the Lord," that is, they confide in the power of God that will help them to stick to their decision. It is faith, a clear, firm, certain, irrevocable faith, which drives and sets in motion the human capacity to make decisions. When instead of being based on faith or reason enlightened by faith our decisions are grounded on something else, there is the great risk that the decision will fall apart as the years go by, as situations change, with the daily wear and tear of living together. Faith grounds our decisions in truth and goodness, which are immovable pillars, enduring all attacks and weathering all storms.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Do not make decisions superficially. In our society, decisions are frequently made superficially. Certainly, there are many minor decisions that one makes each day without even thinking, and that do not have any evident importance or consequences. For example, what time to go out shopping, which restaurant to go to for dinner or what menu to choose for Sundayís meal. However, it would be best to think even before making such decisions, to develop the ability and habit of always making mature decisions. Nevertheless, there are certain decisions which not only affect a single moment or one given aspect, but our entire life. For example, whether or not to marry, whom to marry, whether or not to change religion, whether or not to have an abortion, whether or not to practice a religion, whether or not to work in the parish, whether to chose this or that profession, etc. These decisions should never be taken lightly. Otherwise, one would be hurting oneself very seriously, in addition to greatly damaging society in general and especially the society of oneís own family. How it is possible that we sometimes make decisions in such a superficial way on matters of such importance? The answer that I give myself is that people, especially the youngest generations, have not been trained to make decisions on the basis of the truth and on the basis of what is good. They are the children of the ephemeral present, they are the children of the disposable culture, they are the children of immediate gratification. How are they going to be put in the position to make decisions for a lifetime?

Decisions must be formed. There are people who by virtue of their temperament are more capable of making decisions, and others who are less determined or undecided. Regardless of oneís temperament, we must learn to make decisions, so that the decisions we make are firm, responsible and mature. Those with a more determined temperament will have to be more prudent when making decisions, so that they do not run too many risks. Those with a more undecided temperament will have to develop a sense of fearlessness and courage, so as to adequately come to a decision. Both should learn to make decisions with full awareness and freedom, so that they may decide in a way that is worthy of a human being. A decision taken by force, whether psychological, physical or moral, will never be a good decision, nor will it allow us to grow in our human dignity. In order for the human being to make right and enriching decisions, decisions will have to be related to their object; in other words, to the knowledge of good and truth. A good decision matures under the heat of reflection and pondering, foreign on the one hand to any haste and recklessness, and on the other to all abandonment, mental laziness or perplexity. Are parents educating their children to make mature decisions? As adults, are we setting the example of good, firm and responsible decisions for our children? Are we convinced that building a decision-making capacity in a man is more important for his future than being computer-literate or having a university degree?

Twenty-second Sunday of ORDINARY TIME. 3rd September 2000

First: Dt 4:1-2.6-8; Second: Jas 1:17-18.21b-22.27; Gospel: Mk 7,1-8a.14-

THEME of the READINGS

In what does true religion consist? What is true worship? These questions are answered by the readings of this twenty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time. The first reading answers these questions by stating that true religion consists in faithfully complying with all the commandments of the Decalogue. Jesus Christ, in the Gospel, teaches that the Word of God (Holy Scriptures) is above all traditions and human laws. Therefore, true religion is in the heart of man, who listens and puts into practice the Word of God. In his letter, James will tell us that pure and uncontaminated religion before God consists in love for oneís neighbor, especially for the neediest.

 

 

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

To listen to and implement the Word. The Hebrew language makes no distinction between "word" and "fact". This is why it is not possible to separate listening from doing or doing from listening. The Decalogue is called "the ten words" that must be listened to and put into practice. These ten words, which sum up all of Mosesí laws, "were pronounced" by God for the good of his people, and therefore they possess certain purely divine characteristics. While other peoples are governed by the laws and precepts which emerged from human wisdom and decree, the Decalogue enjoys the Wisdom of God himself. What are some of these divine characteristics? 1) The ten words are unchangeable. Nothing may be taken away from them or added to them. They are Godís words, "pronounced" so that man may live. Man "lives" when he has certain fixed points of reference that are not subjected to historical changes. 2) The ten words sum up the wisdom that God has entrusted to Israel in the eyes of the other peoples. It is a wisdom that is not theoretical at all, but that embraces life and penetrates it in all of its expressions. To our very day, these ten words have continued to be the soul of the people of Israel and the soul of Christian communities. True religion and real worship consist in listening to and implementing the Word.

Godís commandment versus human traditions. In the controversy with the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus throws something extremely serious out at them: "How ingeniously you get around the commandment of God in order to preserve your own traditions!" Itís not that Jesus rejects the traditions of Israel. Itís not about rejecting them, but about putting them in the place in which they are meant to be in in Godís plan, within the framework of a true religion. Traditions are good when they do not depart from the ten commandments or oppose them, when they are born like new branches of the same tree of the Decalogue. If, however, merely circumstantial situations emerge, or situations dictated by a rigorous and stringent human will, these traditions will have to be considered as old and perishable. The great mistake of the Pharisees and scribes is to want to preserve at all cost a great mass of traditions handed down to them by their ancestors, not only poisoning the conscience of the Jewish people, but even opposing them to the unchangeable and very wise principles of the Decalogue. True religion is that which places the Word of God above human customs and practices.

The Word of truth. The Word of truth is the revelation of God contained in the Gospel, which the Lord has sowed in the heart of every believer. The Christian must be obedient to this Word, so that he not only listens to it, but also puts it into practice. What is this Word of truth? Fundamentally, it is love for God and love for oneís neighbor, the heart of true Christian religion. Those who fulfill this Word of truth will attain salvation. Man must be true to himself in order not to remain a mere listener, but to put this Word into practice. We must succeed in "doing" the Word of truth. This is what true religion consists in, in the eyes of God.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

A religion of the heart. The religious man is he who feels tightly bound to his deity by a relationship of dialogue. If the dialogue of human relationships cannot be purely rational or purely sentimental, this is all the more true of dialogue with God. This is why I advocate a religion of the heart, for the heart is the inner center of the person. The heart must not be seen merely as the center of affectivity but also the center of reason, feelings, will, conscience and decision. In the religion of the heart, the whole person enters into communication with God, a God who speaks and listens, is challenged and replies, expresses his intimate experiences and feels accepted and understood. Perhaps in some Christians there are still traces of Jansenism which need to be purified. The Christianity of the future is asking for a religion of the heart. In your personal experience, is the Catholic religion a religion of the heart? Is Christian worship a worship of the heart? In the liturgical and sacramental life of your parish, is this integral dimension of religion, which includes the whole person, taken into account? There is still a lot that can be done in each family, in each parish, in each diocese, in all of the Church, in order for the Catholic religion to become a religion of the heart.

Authenticity versus appearance. Authenticity should be the identity card of all persons, especially of all Christians. But what does "authentic" mean? The answer depends on oneís concept of the person. According to the Christian concept, an "authentic" person is not someone who gives free vent to his instincts, but is true to himself and to the image of the rational, believing being traced in his conscience. The "authentic" person is one whose actions are guided by beliefs, whose will always guides him to his goal as a human person and a son of God. Being authentic is the ideal of being oneself and no one else. According to this meaning, he who is "authentic" does not live according to appearances, nor does he base his human value and richness on appearances. This must be kept in due account in the education of children and adolescents, because television and other mass media assign a high value to footlights and catwalks. There is a great temptation to achieve easy and dazzling success, and ephemeral but gratifying fame. In short, it is easy and tempting to want to live according to appearances. Ask adolescents, young boys and girls, what they want to be when they grow up, and by their answers you will realize what seductive power appearance has. What are we going to do as Christians to return authenticity to society and to education?

 

Twenty-third Sunday of ORDINARY TIME. 10th September 2000

First: Is 35,4-7a; Second: Jas 2:1-5; Gospel: Mk 7:31-37

THEME of the READINGS

One of Godís attributes is "the liberator". This is the attribute which this Sundayís liturgical texts especially focus on. God frees all human beings from their sad condition of outcasts, and he frees nature from its barren dryness (first reading). He frees us from illnesses of the heart and of the spirit, "everything he does is good, he makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" (Gospel). He frees the Christian from any distinctions of class, for whether we are rich or poor, we are all the same before God (Gospel).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

A free nature at the service of humanity. God created nature, but he did not then lose interest in it. Nature is our home, and so God exercises his providence over nature, so that it may serve us. This divine providence "frees" the earth from its misery. The first reading tells us that "the parched ground will become a marsh and the thirsty land springs of water." God is the Lord of nature and freely exercises his absolute dominion over it to help us materially and spiritually. Materially, by making nature bear abundant fruit, so that we may feed ourselves with that fruit. Spiritually, by making us feel the power and weight of natural calamities, so that we may feel the need to look up to the Lord of nature and beg him for his blessing. Human pride, the enemy of our true good, is invited to humble itself before such natural misfortunes, which to us are like a platform enabling us to leave our pride aside and go back to God. In freeing the destructive powers of nature for a moment, God especially tries to free us from ourselves, which is what is really important.

God, our liberator. We humans are a mystery of flesh and spirit. God manifests his love to us by offering us a total liberation, which we need to accept with gratitude and a simple heart. He frees our flesh from illness. He does so directly, when it becomes necessary for our overall good, as happens with may sick persons who have been miraculously cured. He does so indirectly, by the power that he has given us to study the human body, know its illnesses and treat them. Todayís Gospel tells the story of how a deaf and dumb man was cured by Jesus. But God also intervenes to cure our spirit. He cures us from mental illnesses, he frees us from the power of the devil and sin through the work of the Holy Spirit, he makes us strong before temptations and inclinations to evil. When and how does God, manís liberator, act? These are questions to which only God has the answer. However, the most important thing for us is to be aware and fully certain that God loves us and wants whatís good for us. It is also important for us to be humble and turn to God with simplicity and ask him, "Lord, free me from all illness; especially free me from myself so that my life may be a song of praise to your holy name." Jamesí exhortation in the second reading fits in perfectly here: "My brothers, do not let class distinctions enter into your faith in Jesus Christ, our glorified Lord." The believer, having been freed of himself by baptism and the Eucharist, cannot go back to the slavery of the past. It would be like overturning Godís liberation.

 

Twenty-third Sunday of ORDINARY TIME. 10th September 2000

First: Is 35,4-7a; Second: Jas 2:1-5; Gospel: Mk 7:31-37

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Everything he does is good. The crowd of people reacted with these words, when they realized that Jesus had cured the deaf and dumb man. In addition to this, there are many Gospel texts which narrate the good works of Jesus for man. Indeed, St Peter says of Jesus in one of his speeches to the early Christians that "he went about doing good." John Paul II tells us that "The charity of Christians is the prolongation of the presence of Christ giving of himself." Yes, Christ wishes to continue to do good among us and in our days through Christian believers. Christ wishes to continue to free us from material needs, illness, natural disasters and spiritual ailments, through Christian believers. Indeed, it is truly wonderful to observe the generosity of so many millions of Christians in rescuing the needy in any part of the world. Christ must truly be happy, for he can continue to do good in history through his Christians. At the same time, as Christian believers we must ask ourselves a few questions: am I personally doing all the good that I can do? Do I wish others, individually or as a community, would do good? What is the kind of good that I like to do: material good, spiritual good, or both at the same time? Am I convinced that through me the glorious Christ continues to be present among men and do good? To do good unto others in a disinterested way is a wonderful way to free them. To want to be freed. Liberation is very attractive. It is clear that man, consciously or unconsciously, sees and perceives himself as "enslaved", at least partially. We should observe that in his existence, man encounters may constraints at different times of his life. By experience, we know that we cannot free ourselves from such bonds on our own, especially when it comes to the deepest and strongest bonds. We need to be set free. But in order for this to happen, we must want to be set free. Because it just so happens that, due to inexplicable and often complex reasons, we love the "sweet" constraints that enslave us. But they are bonds that, as sweet as they may be, gradually strangle us until they kill our freedom. Liberation, therefore, is possible only for those who wish to be freed. Another aspect to consider is whom to turn to in order to be set free. In our world and in our environment, there are many people who claim to be "liberators", because what they free is not man in his greatness and dignity, but the foul pits of his passions, his selfishness, ambitions, nightmares and instincts. God is our true liberator. Our true liberator is Jesus Christ who died for us and rose from the dead for us. Have you accepted, do you really accept with all your heart, the freedom offered by Jesus Christ? If you want to be set free, have no doubts, he will free you. Having deeply experienced Christís liberation, you will be spurred on to tell others Who it is that can grant them the real freedom they are seeking.

Twenty-fourth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME. 17th September 2000

First: Is 50,5-9a; Second: Jas 2:14-18; Gospel: Mk 8:27-35

THEME of the READINGS

In what does the essence of our being consist? Todayís liturgy gives us an answer. In the first reading, man has three traits according to the plan of God: man is a being "who listens", who suffers, who experiences the presence and help of God. The Gospel presents Jesus as the perfect fulfillment of the human person: the One Anointed by God, the man of suffering, the servant obedient unto his death, he who loses his life to save that of others. Finally, in the second reading James teaches that in man, faith and works are combined in an indissoluble union to achieve perfect human fulfillment.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Man according to God. I think that the definition of the person should not be sought exclusively or mainly in man (although this search should not be excluded), since man does not create himself, nor does he give himself life. The most authentic definition of man may be given by the One who created man and called him from non-life to life, from nothingness to existence. In the third Song of the Servant of Yahweh, a theological-anthropological summary is delineated. The first trait, not reported in the liturgical reading, defines the human being as the being who receives from God the gift of speaking words of life for others, especially for the tired and the oppressed. Then three other traits appear in the song of the liturgical text: 1) Man is the being whom God has enabled to "listen", like the disciples. He is a disciple of God, which entails not only theoretical listening, but also the kind of listening that leads to action, to the implementation of what he has heard, of the original voice that precedes him and that regulates his life. In other words, man is an obedient disciple of God. 2) Man is not a being made for death, as Heidegger would say, but a being determined to suffer. Suffering is the anvil on which man is forged; it is the mold in which his personality is shaped; it is the borderline, the extreme condition that reveals his eternal nature; it is the real and mysterious code of the human condition. 3) Man is the being assisted by God, in whom God shows his constant and effective presence. This divine presence is the rock upon which all the great certainties of man are based; the beacon that guides man in the darkness; the banner that enflames him in his battle to be and to become each day. By way of conclusion, it may be said that those who exclude solidarity, listening, pain, and Godís presence in their understanding of man, do not really know who man is.

Christ, the true man. Jesus is first and foremost the Messiah, the One Anointed by God, who subjects his entire being to the mission that God has entrusted to him, going as far as the obedience of the Cross. This is why in Jesus the Anointed One and the Servant of suffering are combined, not like two contrasting titles of his human condition, but like two names of the same person that define and characterize him. Even when Jesus is compared with other figures of the Bible (Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, Solomon, Jonah...), he remains distinct, unique. As he himself will say, "Here is someone greater than Jonah, here is someone greater than Solomon." On the other hand, in his condition of suffering, Jesus is not self-destructive. He experiences no denial in the face of death; rather, he continues to have absolute trust in God, who will assist him in his pain and will make him rise from the dead. This is why Jesus calls Peter Satan when Peter tries to make him stray from his redeeming mission and his perfect human condition in accordance with God. Finally, in Jesus we find another trait pointed out by James in the second reading: consistency between faith and good deeds. Here we are not talking about the deeds of the law, but the deeds of faith. We could say that Jesusí self-consciousness coincides with his self-fulfillment.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

A Person and a Christian. These two realities have traveled down separate paths. It seems to some that one cannot be a complete man if one is a perfect Christian. In anthropological terms this is the dilemma which has existed for centuries between faith and reason, between science and faith. In our cultural and spiritual climate, John Paul II, in keeping with Catholic doctrine, has categorically asserted that "faith and reason are like the two wings with which the human spirit elevates itself to the contemplation of truth." Translated into anthropological terms, it may be stated that "the person and the Christian are like the two wings with which the human spirit elevates itself to the fulfillment of its humanity." Perhaps it may be useful to ask ourselves why in the past, and probably today as well, "being a person" has been separated from "being a Christian", and vice versa. What aspects, what traits of Christian life have succeeded in overshadowing and even alienating us from an authentic conception of the person? What models of Christianity have been presented or are presented in our time, that may seem to others, both Christians and non-Christians, less human or even dehumanizing? The Council declared beautifully that Christ reveals man to man, but we should ask ourselves, as Christians, are we all following Christís footsteps in this respect? There is no doubt that there is still a long way to go as far as this aspect is concerned. Following this path is a task for each and every Christian.

The Christian paradox. "Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it." This is the great Christian - in other words, human - paradox. In paradoxical terms, Jesus presents the great battle of human existence. It is the battle between selfishness and self-giving, between the seduction of the ego and the attraction of God, between the worshipping of oneís own personality and the worshipping of true humility. Normally, but wrongfully so, one thinks that by being selfish he can fulfill himself, he can save his identity, achieve a great personality. But after some time one becomes aware that he is chasing after the impossible, and then comes the frustration of having wasted so much energy uselessly, of realizing that one has gone down the wrong track. The right track implies an emptying of the self in order to fill oneself with God, giving oneself to others disinterestedly without seeking compensations of any kind, the deep humility of those who know and accept that all that they are and have comes from God and must be placed at the service of others. This is the way of salvation. This is the way of our authentic self-fulfillment. This is the way of the Christian paradox. Let us walk together and be happy through Christ. It is the way that he has shown us, his disciples.

 

Twenty-fifth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME. 24th September 2000

First: Wis 2,12.17-20; Second: Jas 3:16-4:3; Gospel: Mk 9:30-37

THEME of the READINGS

With his person, his teachings and his life, Jesus Christ has brought about a change in our world. The texts of this Sundayís liturgy focus on this change. The godless man who does not understand or accept the life of the upright is asked to change his attitude (first reading). Jesusí disciples need to change their mentality before the surprising teachings of their Master (Gospel). James proposes to the Christians a spiritual plan which calls for a change in the lifestyle that they had before (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Changing oneís attitude. What is the godless manís attitude towards the upright man? What is the attitude of the pagan - or of the renegade Jew living in Alexandria of Egypt - towards the Jew who was faithful to the law regulating his entire life? According to the Book of Wisdom, the godless man thinks that the upright man is a nuisance, because he is the critical conscience of oneís actions; instead of admiring and imitating him, as he should, the wicked man prefers to put the innocent to the test. He even wants to condemn the innocent man to death, contravening human and divine laws, to see whether the God in whom the innocent man trusts will protect and save him. In verses 21 and 22 of the same chapter it is added that, "This is the way they reason... they do not know the hidden things of God."

They are wrong. Their attitude does not correspond to the attitude that God wants. Therefore, they must change. The upright and holy man must be admired and put forward as a model worthy of being imitated. It is true that the faithful man challenges the conscience, but this is a cause for joy and gratitude. Why not turn to God with the trust of the upright instead of putting him to the test and even condemning him to death?

Changing our mentality. Jesusí disciples simply cannot comprehend why their Master must go through the passageway of suffering, that in order to be first, one must be the servant of all, that in the new categories of the Kingdom of Christ the child occupies a prominent place. It is not easy for them to leave behind the lessons they received in their education as children. But if they want to be disciples of Christ, they must change. They must accept that suffering is the way to redemption for Jesus Christ and that it continues to be so for Christians. They must be firmly convinced that serving is not a favor that one does once in a while, but that it is the habitual way of being a Christian and living like a Christian. They will have to forget that the child is not important in the gathering of the elders. They need to learn that by accepting those who do not "count" - the marginalized, the weak, the needy - one accepts Christ, and through Christ one accepts the heavenly Father himself. The behavior and company of Jesus, on the one hand, and the action of the Spirit on the other, will work the miracle.

Changing our life. If changing oneís way of thinking is difficult, changing oneís life is even more so. Baptism and the Eucharist restructure us from within, pour a new way of being and a new principle of action into us. This is the basis for changing our lives. But this change requires the grace of God, human work and time for the new structures to be assimilated and to configure our behavior day after day, deed after deed. Only when we have achieved this new existential configuration is "the wisdom that comes down from above... something pure; it is also peaceable, kindly and considerate; it is full of mercy and shows itself by doing good. Nor is there any trace of partiality or hypocrisy in it." It will guide human behavior in every moment. Without this configuration, which requires grace, effort and time, the old structures will continue to exist, and with them, our actions will be guided by dispute, greed, the desire for pleasure and envy. Changing oneís life is the great task of the Christian, which must be undertaken with determination and enthusiasm.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Change according to God. The culture in which we live and the mentality of our contemporaries is based on change. It is easier than ever before to change jobs, computers, cars, houses or countries. One can also change oneís way of thinking and living, and even oneís religion. Change happens every day, and those who donít change quickly are left behind. Change is inherent in progressively-minded people, who seem to have change written in their DNA. But not all change is good. Nor is all change indicative of progress. There are changes that are rather unfortunate: so it is for many emigrants, who are compelled to leave their countries out of necessity; so it is for many young girls, who are forced to sell their bodies as prostitutes; so it is for many children, forced to work in inhuman conditions or abducted so that their organs may be sold. These changes cry out to heaven for vengeance! The change that the liturgy invites us to bring about is a change according to God. In other words, it is the type of change that God wants and expects of us in order to be more human, to live out our human dignity better and more fully. The change that God wants is from injustice to justice, from abuse to the service of others, from unfaithfulness to faithfulness, from hatred to love, from vengeance to forgiveness, from the culture of death to the culture of life, from sin to grace and holiness.

Your plan of life. Every person outlines a plan of life, more or less clearly. What we want to be, to do, what values we cannot renounce, what means we will live by. I think that every Christian should have a small plan or program of life. What values am I going to teach to my children? What values am I going to fight for in my personal, family and social life? How much time am I going to devote to my mission as Apostle of Jesus Christ in my parish and diocesan community, or in the apostolic movement to which I belong? What initiative, great or small, am I going to propose to foster awareness of God, to promote vocations to the priesthood or consecrated life, to visit and care for the sick or those who live alone in my neighborhood, in my parish? It need not be a major, exhaustive plan. Make a small plan for a year, a plan that will help you grow in your spiritual life. For instance, you could devote some daily time to prayer, or go to confession more often and more regularly, or fight with greater determination and energy against some vice. Make it a plan that will keep you active in your mission within the Church: teach catechism, join the parish choir, devote greater attention to the spiritual and moral education of your children. At the end of the day or the week, reflect a little on how you put your plan into practice. A small plan can do a world of good!

 

Twenty-sixth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME. 1st October 2000

First: Num 11:25-29; Second: Jas 5:1-6; Gospel: Mk 9:38-43.47-48

THEME of the READINGS

Todayís texts all make reference to community life, both in the people on the journey to the Promised Land, and in the Church community. The first reading talks about the gift of the Spirit of God to the seventy elders of the people on their journey across the desert. The Gospel reflects on certain aspects of the life of the disciples and of the early Christians in their relations among themselves and with those not belonging to the Christian community. At the end of his letter, James addresses the rich members of the community to reproach them for their conduct and make them reflect in the light of the final judgment.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

An imperfect community. The first thing that catches oneís attention in todayís texts is that the early Christian community and, before them, the Jewish community in the desert, are characterized by limitations and imperfection. Their exclusionist intolerance of those who do not belong to their group is evident both in Joshua, "My Lord Moses, stop them!"(first reading) and John, "Master, we saw someone who is not one of us driving out devils in your name, and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him"(Gospel). Another point is the injustice committed by some of the "strong" and "great" members of the community, who put the simple faith of the more "insignificant" members at risk (Gospel). Among those who cause scandal are the rich, who place their sense of security in their riches. On top of this, they exploit the poor by not paying daily wages to laborers. They abandon themselves to luxury and pleasures, and tread upon the law and justice to the detriment of the poor (second reading). Here is an important lesson: no Christian community is exempt from imperfections, weaknesses and wretchedness. Before such a reality, the Pope invites us to purify our memory in the face of the past, and to repent and renew ourselves in the face of the present. An imperfect community makes us live with a greater consciousness that the Spirit of God, not man, is the soul which gives us life and sanctifies us with his presence and gifts.

The community, a reflection of Christ. Before all else, emphasis must be placed on Jesus Christís great tolerance, or rather, on his enormous openness of spirit towards those who do not belong to the group, to the community of believers. "You must not stop him," Jesus says to John and to the disciples. Jesusí behavior is preceded by that of Moses, who learns that his spirit has been communicated to Eldad and Medad, neither of whom belonged to the group of seventy. "Are you jealous on my account? If only all Yahwehís people were prophets, and Yahweh had given them his spirit!" Jesus explains his position with two reflections: 1) Those who invoke my name to work a miracle, cannot then immediately turn round and speak ill of me. Jesus exerts a comprehensive influence, which cannot be confined within institutional limits. 2) Those who are not against us are for us. And this is true even when one does not belong to the same community of faith. On the other hand, within the community relations between the different members must be based on the commandment of charity. The charity we are talking about is the "little charity" of the Gospel, a necessary ingredient for living together on a daily basis. The simple gesture of giving someone a glass of water with the sole intention of living out Christian charity, is an example of this "little charity" in practice. Another way of living according to the commandment of charity is to avoid scandal. For the love of oneís brother, one must be ready to put an end to anything that may hurt him. Relations within the Church must also be characterized by justice between the owners of the lands and the laborers. The rich must be clearly conscious of the fact that their wealth is not there simply to be enjoyed and squandered, but to be placed at the service of the needy.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

The freedom of the Spirit. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us to see "all goodness and truth found in these [non-Christian] religions as Ďa preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have lifeí" (n. 843). The Spirit is like the soul of the Church, but the Church does not have an exclusive or an excluding nature in relation to him. The Spirit enjoys the right to act beyond the visible body of the Church. As children of the Church, we must try to know and feel full of joy vis-à-vis the manifestations of the Spirit in other religions. Anything that stems from the action of the Spirit, wherever it may be, will be good, holy and true. It is true that together with the action of the Spirit there are also human actions, with all of their imperfections and even sin. This is why discernment is necessary, i.e., the capacity to distinguish and separate the work of the Spirit from the action of men. To distinguish and separate is necessary, but not to eliminate. "Do not put out the Spirit," says St Paul. In the current situation of society and the Church, a situation bound to become more marked in the future, it is important for us Christians to be able to accept the freedom of the Spirit. It is also important for us to be educated, from a young age, to tolerate and accept the Spiritís freedom. But we must especially be educated in Christian prudence and discernment. Have you had any opportunity - at school, at work, in your friendships - to practice tolerance, respect, prudence and discernment?

Authority and richness in the Church. In the Church, only some have been called by God to exercise institutional authority, but we all have the right and duty to exercise the authority of holiness. Since the Christian conceives authority as a service, the Church hierarchy practices its service making sure that the Church community is on the right track when it comes to doctrine, moral life, and liturgical actions. In turn, holy souls exercise their authority over the ecclesial community by generously giving their lives to God and men, attracting many people to God and to the Spirit with their behavior and witness of life. These are two different ways of exercising authority, both of which are at the service of the Church as a whole. It goes without saying that many members of the hierarchy, in addition to the juridical authority which they enjoy, also stand out by virtue of their moral authority and their holiness.

In the Church there are many who are rich in goods, and many of them are also rich in true love. In the Church there are also those who are poor in goods, but who possess extraordinary wealth in terms of faith, love and hope. Unfortunately, there are also the others, the rich in goods and poor in love, the poor in goods and rich in their eagerness to make money and gain wealth. Let us not deceive ourselves. The real rich in the Church are the saints. If, in addition to being rich in holiness, they are rich in dollars, so much the better - provided that they place them at the service of all.

 

Twenty-seventh Sunday of ORDINARY TIME. 8th October 2000

First: Gn 2:18-24; Second: Heb 2:9-11; Gospel: Mk 10:2-16

THEME of the READINGS

The theme of marriage dominates this Sundayís liturgy. On the one hand, there is Mosesí law which allows a man to dismiss his wife "on account of something ugly" (according to the interpretation, it could refer to infidelity between the spouses or even a poorly prepared meal - Gospel). On the other hand, Jesus goes back to the original law introduced in nature, according to which "a man leaves his father and mother, and the two become one flesh" (first reading, Gospel). In the second reading, Jesus, the bridegroom of the Church, gives himself to her to the point of dying to purify and sanctify her with his blood. This way, he becomes the true prototype of spousal love.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

 

Victory over loneliness. It is very moving to see how God, according to the Book of Genesis, is concerned with manís loneliness. We understand that God did not create us to live in solitude, but in a relationship with others, in the company of others. The company of pets is good, it should not be criticized; but it is not enough. Adam gives each animal a name; this is meant to show that he exercises his dominion and control over them. But it is not enough. It is relationship based on dominion, it is unequal and does not afford the human being complete fulfillment or joy. The only full, satisfying and joyful relationship is a relationship with someone who is equal to him, "flesh of his flesh." It is the relationship proper to human beings. The highest degree of such a relationship is marriage between man and wife, whereby "they become one flesh." However, marriage is not the only form of relationship or the only way to overcome loneliness. Friendship, companionship, the relationship between brothers in religion, etc. also overcome our loneliness. However, marriage and the family are natural institutions in which the victory over loneliness can achieve its highest level.

Victory over division. Being alone is sad, it is painful. Being inwardly divided is even more so. Sometimes there exists division between intelligence and will: should I get married or not? Or division of the heart: of all the boys and girls that I know, who can help me the most to overcome loneliness and make me happy? Whom can I best help to love and be happy? There is division of living experiences: so many experiences with this or that partner that leave the soul feeling empty, the heart half broken. They imply the bitterness of frustration, that make one feel unhappy about oneself, that leave oneís conscience feeling upset or seriously hurt. Marriage, lived out in all of its splendor and beauty, unites. It unites the forces of intelligence, which are steered towards married and family life. It unifies the forces of the will, which accept the wishes of the loved one and want what is good for him or her. It unites the heart, focusing it on the husband or wife and on the children. It unites lifeís experiences, all of which are lived out in relation to the fundamental experience, which is that of marriage and of the family. It is true that in marriage too, one can be confronted with forces that seek to divide again, that seek to break unity. It is also true that there may be extremely difficult situations. But when married love is deep and authentic, it is able to overcome "division", and there is no shortage of resources to promote and defend unity. It is the love which our Lord Jesus Christ best personifies. All of Christís being is unified for the love of humanity, a love that does not spare him any sacrifices. No one loves more than he who gives his life for the ones he loves. Through the sacrament of matrimony, Christians share the love with which Christ the Bridegroom loved the Church, his Bride. This redeeming love of Christ, which is effectively present between Christian spouses, will help them overcome any temptation to be divided, and will promote unity as the greatest good for the spouses, the family and society.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Marriage: a word with a single meaning. It is a principle of human and Christian wisdom to call each thing by its name. It is not a matter of judging anybody; on the contrary, as Christians we must be extremely understanding. What it is really all about is to speak correctly and clearly. If we start talking about "de facto marriage", of a "free union", of "gay marriage", of "the right to be different", and if we recognize all this from a juridical point of view, instead of lessening the confusion we will undoubtedly add to it. Marriage is a stable and free union between a man and a woman, juridically recognized by the State (civil marriage) and/or the Church (ecclesiastical marriage). Whatever does not comply with this definition, is not marriage. This is why it should be given a different name, always with respect and charity. Obviously, respect for those who are different is an obligation for all, but this respect in no way means connivance, and it does not imply equality of status. The reality of marriage is something very serious and sacred, and it cannot be played around with. This is often not taken into account. The result is a deterioration of the institution of marriage, which appears less and less similar to its (correct) definition. One wonders what is going on in the Parliaments of the various countries, which sometimes make extremely serious decisions touching the very future of the family and society. Do we realize that little by little, these changes can brainwash us? That political (Parliamentary) and cultural (mass media) imperialism have entered our homes, almost without our wanting it?

Catechesis squared. A Christian conscience and our fidelity to our missionary vocation commit us to a catechesis squared (using the language of mathematics), to a level catechesis, and to an intense evangelizing action on marriage that reaches everyone, both Christians and non-Christians. We need to use the whole range of resources at our disposal. We must educate children to understand the nature of marriage and its Christian meaning. This must be even more true with adolescents and young adults. We have to make use of religion class in school, catechism in the parish, the Sunday homily, personal conversations in the family or in other milieus, newspapers and magazines, the radio, television and the Internet. We must duplicate our catechesis and evangelizing efforts, to counteract the attacks on marriage which greatly upset and disconcert the average man. It is usually said that the best defense is a good offense. And the offensive in the area of marriage is the truth of our faith. Let us tell us the truth without being afraid, sure that the victory is ours.

 

 

Twenty-eighth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME. 15th October 2000

First: Wis 7:7-11; Second: Heb 4:12-13; Gospel: Mk 10:17-30

THEME of the READINGS

Of the many values that we encounter in human existence, which is the most important, the supreme value? The Book of Wisdom answers this question by stating that wisdom possesses a more precious value than others such as power, wealth, health and beauty (first reading). The encounter with the rich young man allows Jesus to reaffirm the superior value of his following over the goods and riches of this world (Gospel). The authority and effective penetration of the Word of God deserves to be recognized as the supreme value, like God himself (second reading).

 

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Values and hierarchy of values. Both individuals and societies are governed by values. In other words, everything we do is based on what we believe to be good, and what objectively is good. Personal values determine a personís way of being, living and acting, just like social values determine a societyís way of being, acting and living. There are many values, and they affect different areas of human existence (economic, cultural, moral and religious values). Faced with the variety of values, an order or hierarchy must be established. In a true hierarchy, religious values take the first place, followed by moral ones, cultural ones and finally economic values. Any changes to this hierarchy are detrimental to the human person, and ultimately to society. If we place the goods of this world (economic values) above following Christ, our "pockets" will be fuller, to the detriment of the human person and of Christian faith. If fitness and beauty are placed above moral values, society will have great athletes and slim bodies to the detriment of more deeply human values, like justice, honesty, loyalty, faithfulness, and the dignity of the human person. Up to now, we have only looked at values and the hierarchy of values. But mention should also be made of "anti-values". In other words, everything that the individual or society considers to be evil, and actually is evil. The attachment to riches is evil for man, because it prevents him from following Jesus Christ and placing God in his heart.

Characteristics of the supreme value. First of all, the supreme value gives meaning and fullness to all other values. Love for God as a supreme value is not opposed to valuing material goods, or those that have to do with health or beauty. God wants us to have what is necessary to live, he wants us to pay attention to our health and the beauty of our appearance. Seen in this light, material goods are not only economic values, nor are health and beauty purely human values, for they all acquire a fullness that they do not have in themselves: they are part of Godís plan for man. The Word of God and his authority are not in contrast with the authority and words of parents, educators or government leaders. Rather, the Word of God bestows upon them a strength and effectiveness that they do not have in themselves. Second, it is God who enlightens human intelligence to see which is the highest value in a range of values and how these values rank in relation to one another. On our own, without Godís enlightenment, we run the risk of building up mistaken hierarchies. This is why the first reading begins precisely in the following way: "And so I prayed, and understanding was given me; I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me." Third, the correct value always ends up rewarding both the individual and society with good fruits. "In her company all good things came to me," we are told in the Book of Wisdom. And Jesus replies to Peter, who represents the Twelve, "In truth I tell you, there is no one who has left his home, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children or land for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times as much... now in this present time and, in the world to come, eternal life."

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

 

Wherever your value is, thatís where your heart lies. The values that govern the life of a person or a society are very indicative. This is reason for reflection in the light of our current social environment. In the statistics concerning the interest and values of citizens, what are the values of greatest interest and concern? Among many, it is health; in many others, work. Quite a few are also concerned with the environment. Then comes the everything else. Do we realize that in a correct scale of values these do not come first? On the contrary, such economic and practical values are at the bottom of the hierarchical pyramid. Now, wherever your values are, thatís where your heart lies. In other words, your values are where youíve placed your entire self (your intelligence, will, emotions and sensitivity). You are worth what your values are worth. If your main value is health, for which you sacrifice all other values, your human and Christian worth will be rather low. If your prevailing value is God, then you elevate yourself to a great human and Christian level which will have repercussions on your moral life, your work, your family and even in the way you look after your health. Let us keep this clear: having God as a supreme value prevents us from despising other values. Whatís more, it commands us to value them, care for them, and seek them in an orderly fashion. God as a supreme value is our greatest treasure.

We live by values. The kinds of values that prevail do make a difference on individuals and peoples. This is because values influence the mentality of an individual or a group. Above all, values determine ways of life. You will live according to what your values are. If your predominant values are purely practical, everything that you do will be determined by them, in other words, by good health and a healthy environment. Why do you work? To have the means that allow you to be in good shape. Why do you pray? To ask God to grant you health. Why do you avoid drugs, alcohol and cigarettes? Not because of the moral chaos that they imply, but because they are dangerous to your health. What party do you vote for? For the party that guarantees a better environment and health. Health becomes the pivot around which everything else in life revolves, and for which all other values are sacrificed. What are the values that govern and guide your life? What are the supreme values in your environment (family, parish, community)? What can you do to make religious values increasingly come first in your scale of values and that of your friends, relatives, classmates or colleagues?

 

 

 

 

Twenty-Ninth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME. 22nd October 2000

First: Is 53:2a.3a.10-11; Second: Heb 4:14-16; Gospel: Mk 10:35-45

THEME of the READINGS

The expression "to serve in order to redeem" summarizes the essential contents of todayís liturgy. "Anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all," Jesus tells us in the Gospel. Jesus outshines us all in service, embodying within himself the figure of the servant of Yahweh, despised, the lowest of men, a person of sorrows, familiar with suffering, who gives himself in expiation (first reading). He is also the figure of the High Priest who is not incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us, who has been put to the test and is the same as we ourselves, apart from sin (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Power and service. In the Gospel Jesus seems to compare two conceptions of society and relationships between persons. One of them, the vertical conception, is centered around power, a power which underscores the difference between the powerful and the powerless, between those who dominate and those who are dominated, between oppressors and the oppressed. This conception runs counter to the most basic needs of our free nature. It can only be imposed with the force of arms, and bears within itself the mortal virus that will destroy it. Jesus Christ counters this conception with his own, which he has come to bring into the world with his presence, and which he wishes to leave as a legacy to his disciples. Jesusí conception is horizontal, it highlights the equality between all and is centered on service. This service is generous, to the point of being baptized with Christ in the blood of martyrdom and drinking with him the chalice of the Passion. No one is compelled to serve, because no one is compelled to love, and the expiatory and redeeming service of Christ and of his disciples springs from the source of true love. The power of arms is replaced in this new society by the power of true love, the most effective weapon in history and in relationships between human beings and nations. But this weapon is often unknown, despised, abandoned and destroyed. The society that triumphs victoriously with the arms of love is not contaminated, it has no virus to corrode it. It is a healthy, free, loving society, in which there is solidarity. This is the society for which God made himself present among us in the life of Jesus of Nazareth; this society is the raison díêtre of the Church and of all those who belong to it. It is not Utopia, it is the Gospel, the Lordís good news. Would we be so petty as to consider the very essence of Christianity an unreachable Utopia?

Features of Christian service. 1) Christian service, as it is presented in this Sundayís liturgical texts, is expiatory and redeeming. It is the experience of the servant of Yahweh (first reading), who because he has known suffering and trial in his life, will justify many and bear their guilt upon his shoulders. It is the historical experience of Jesus, who has come not to be served but to give his life for the redemption and ransom of many (Gospel) and who, as High Priest of the New Covenant, has experienced suffering. He is one of us, he is like us in everything apart from sin (second reading). 2) Christian service is also participatory. Christ the servant wishes to live and be present in the midst of a community of servants. This is why among Christians the first must be the servant of all. In other words, he has to be the first in service. This is not an option, it is the law constituting the Christian community. 3) Finally, service is effective and fruitful. It was effective and fruitful in the life of the servant of Yahweh, who "after the ordeal he has endured... will see the light and be content." It was fruitful and effective among the early Christians who, like Paul, considered themselves as servants of Christ in their service to their brothers and sisters, and who formed communities founded on love and solidarity. It was effective and fruitful in Jesus, who as High Priest penetrated the heavens and now sits in the throne of grace for our good and benefit. All human beings have access to that throne, and from there Jesus Christ avails us of the treasure of his grace and mercy.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Christian, or in other words, servant. There is no doubt that in contemporary Christianity there is a greater consciousness that the Church is a community of service, and that each Christian is a servant, although there may be individuals or groups in whom this awareness has diminished or is almost non-existent. This consciousness is a great wealth for the Church of our time, and extends to the entire ecclesial body. Let us give thanks to the Lord, for this consciousness is already a fruit of his redeeming grace. However, we know that consciousness is not enough. From consciousness we must make the transition to a living experience. Thank God, this step has been taken and is taken every day by many children of the Church. The Church is at the forefront of service to the socially marginalized (drug addicts, AIDS patients, migrants, abandoned children...). The Church is at the forefront of effective aid, albeit limited, to the countries ravaged by natural calamities or by the terrible scourge of war. It is at the forefront in its service to all persons, especially to the most powerless. With vigor and perseverance the Church defends the fundamental rights of the human being, especially the most fundamental right of all, the right to life. The Church is at the forefront in the promotion and defense of human and Christian values. In every parish, in every diocese, there are so many ways, sometimes very simple ways, of serving!

Serving and suffering. Although spiritually service may be a fountainhead of joy, suffering with its different faces is not absent from service. To serve, one must suffer. One must suffer fatigue, the hard effort of giving oneself totally; even illness. One must often suffer humiliation, and even the contempt and ingratitude of those whom one is serving. At times one must suffer the tragedy of the enormous distance between what one does at the service of some, and the huge needs of many millions of human beings in the world. Perhaps one will have to suffer from the lack of understanding on the part of others, from biting comments, from the way in which some people misinterpret oneís service. It is not easy to serve while suffering. It can only be done with the power of prayer, meditating on the Word of God which gives life to the spirit; thanks to the energy that comes to us from the bread of the Eucharist; thanks to a huge faith, which makes us discover in others, whoever they are, the same living Christ who is present in our daily life. If you have to suffer in order to serve, do not be afraid! In the painful service to others you will surely find God, and you will also find yourself.

 

First: Jer 31:7-9; Second: Heb 5:1-6; Gospel: Mk 10:46-52

Thirtieth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME. 29th October 2000

 

THEME of the READINGS

 

The liturgical texts this Sunday emphasize the efficacy of Godís intervention. God is effective by making numerous children of Israel return from exile to their beloved homeland (first reading). With Godís effective power, Jesus Christ restores sight to the blind man Bartimeus, who overcomes all obstacles and thus fulfils his great desire to see (Gospel). Godís salvific efficacy is made especially manifest in Christ, the High Priest, who saves human beings from ignorance and pain, and frees them from their sins.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

A God who is effective out of love. He who achieves all that he strives for, in appropriate ways, with the best means and in the least amount of time, is effective. This is a definition acceptable to the common mentality. However, Godís efficacy is often disconcerting. No one doubts that God is effective, but the ways and timing of divine efficacy follow directions foreign to us. Often the ways appropriate for God are not appropriate for human beings and vice-versa. Their exile to Babylon probably did not seem like a proper way to the Jews, but it was for God, who thus manifested the power of his love and mercy by enabling them to return to their homeland, "For I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born son" (first reading). To go up to Jerusalem is lovely, but to do so in the company of Jesus who will meet the Cross and his death there, inevitably challenges our human way of thinking and our will to follow him. However, there is no doubt that in the Cross the divine power of love shines forth. This mysterious efficacy of redeeming love has continued to live and give life throughout the centuries, up to our very day. It must have been somewhat surprising to the early Christians that Jesus, as High Priest, did not come from the tribe of Levy. This way, however, divine efficacy shone with a new splendor, constituting Jesus Christ not only as High Priest of the Jewish people, but of all humankind, in the manner of Melkisedech. There is nothing more effective in life than love, and God is Love. But the efficacy of love, rather than being discovered with pure reason, is discovered with pure and sincere love.

The prerequisites of divine efficacy. This Sundayís liturgy indicates some such prerequisites. 1) To believe and hope. Those who had been exiled from Babylon could not forget Godís wonders in the history of their people. God had shown the strength of his hand in the Exodus and in the conquest of the Promised Land. They believe and trust that God will once again act effectively in their favor, although they do not know when or how. Bartimeus has immense faith in the fact that Jesus, the Messiah and the descendant of David, can cure him of his blindness. This is why he cries out fearlessly and boldly, "Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me." The Jews believed that God had granted the High Priest, on the feast of Yom Kippur, the power to forgive the sins of all the people. And we Christians believe with absolute certainty that Jesus Christ, our High Priest, destroyed the worldís sins on the Cross. It is impossible for God to manifest his power in those who do not believe in it. 2) To feel in need of the power of God. The Jews in exile knew perfectly well that they could not get back home on their own. Bartimeus was very aware that he could do nothing to recover his sight. We Christians and Jews are convinced that only God can forgive sins. The self-sufficient do not feel the need for Godís power, and will never be able to be the witnesses of his efficacy in menís lives and in history. C) Be consistent. If we accept Godís power in our life, we must accept being consistent with its requirements. In other words, as Christians we must be a sort of shop window displaying Godís effective action in us. The Jews exiled from Babylon started walking towards Palestine and Bartimeus followed Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. Christians have not only been redeemed by Christ, the High Priest, but they also live as redeemed beings.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Lord, let me see again! Bartimeus, the blind man, is the figure and symbol of the disciples of Jesus at that historical time in which Jesus passed through Jericho, and at all times. Confronted with the mystery of the Cross and of ignominious death, we Christians often experience Bartimeusí blindness, his drifting, his poverty. "Bartimeus, a blind beggar, was sitting at the side of the road." There are so many Bartimeuses in our time, in the face of the great mystery of pain and innocent suffering! There is a lot of blindness in human beings when confronted with the injustice of suffering, as if suffering werenít the apex of human perfection. Many of us are very cautious when confronted with the idea of walking with Christ towards the city of pain and death. We remain motionless in the territory of our ego, we lack the will to start walking towards the land of other peopleís pain. We are in need, in great need of someone - or better yet Someone - to open our eyes and drag us out of our immobility. A Christian is one who is not afraid to suffer; he says "yes" to health and well-being, to suffering and tribulations. The "yes" of the Christian is a "yes" to the mystery of God-Love, and for those who love God, all things contribute to their good. May the Lord allow all of us Christians to repeat often, "Lord, let me see again!" So that by seeing I may believe, and by believing I may firmly follow your footsteps towards the Cross.

Following Christ. He who believes in Christ and follows in his footsteps is a Christian. The following of Christ is not the following of a doctrine like that of Pythagoras, of Aristotle or of Zenon. One who follows a way of life traced out in ancient manuscripts, following the great moral teachers of the East and West, is not a Christian. The Christian follows a person, the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Moreover, the Christian is one who lends Jesus Christ his human nature, so that the Lord can make himself present in todayís world. In other words, being a Christian is being the transparent image of Christ for others. Are we Christians a transparent image of Christ? Are you a transparent image of Christ in your family, in your parish, among your friends? Or are you a disfigured image of Jesus Christ? Taking our Christian vocation seriously has been a historical imperative from the beginning of Christianity. What can I do to be a transparent image of Christ in every place and circumstance? Let us build a chain of transparent images of Christ so that the world, our world, be saved by the one and only Savior.

 

Solemnity of ALL SAINTS 1st November 2000

First: Rev 7:2-4.9-14; Second: 1 Jn 3:1-3; Gospel: Mt 5:1-12a

THEME of the READINGS

 

Where is Christian identity? The liturgy of this feast gives us a good answer to this question. He who lives out the spirit of the beatitudes pronounced by Jesus in the great sermon on the mount, is truly a Christian (Gospel). He who carries the seal of God on his forehead and wears the white robe washed in the blood of the Lamb (first reading) is really a Christian. Or better yet, according to the true Christian, "we are already Godís children, but what we shall be in the future has not yet been revealed" (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Present and future. In the second reading and in the Gospel, there is a great tension between the present and the future, proper to Christian being and doing. There is tension between the now in which we are already his children and the not knowing yet what we shall be after our death; between the present reality of the grace which acts salvifically in the human person, and the mystery the future has in store for us in the presence of God. There is tension between the first and the eighth beatitude, referring to the present (How blessed are the poor in spirit: the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs; Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness: the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs), and the other beatitudes, whose motivation always lays in the future: the gentle shall have the earth for their inheritance, those who mourn shall be comforted, those who hunger and thirst for uprightness shall have their fill, the merciful shall have mercy shown them, the pure in heart shall see God, the peacemakers shall be recognized as children of God. It is the tension of all Christian existence and of the very life of the Church. The Christian is already saved through baptism, already a child of God, with a foot already in heaven. However, the historical condition of the human person on the one hand and his free will on the other, leave the door open to an unknown and uncertain future. Who can infallibly guarantee that a person is going to make good use of his freedom until the final moment of his existence? This is why the definitive nature of salvation and of communion with God cannot but extend into the future, although certainly with hope placed in the mercy of the Father.

The seal of God on our forehead. A seal on an object or an animal indicates ownership. The seal of God on a personís forehead distinguishes those who have accepted belonging to God. This seal bears the letter tau, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet which, like omega in Greek, refer us to fullness and fulfillment. It is for this reason that the number of 144,000 human beings sealed by God indicates the universal number of those who have been saved, taken from all villages and at all strata. Not only do they belong to God, but they also wear a white robe washed in the blood of the Lamb. In other words, they have been saved for they have implemented in their existence the redeeming work of Christ. On the other hand, tau has the shape of a Greek cross. Here it seems impossible not to make reference to the Cross of Jesus Christ in whose Blood the sinful the man has washed his sins and in whose beams Christ has nailed the condemnation that hung over each one of us. This divine seal is something we receive at the time of baptism, in which God makes us children of his love. This is the seal of those who are in the Kingdom of Heaven and wish to live in it with dignity, incarnating within themselves the beatitudes, throughout the long journey of life. Baptismal holiness is not an already perfectly formed tree, but a seed that must grow and become a tree. To the extent that the Kingdom of God and the beatitudes develop within us, we become holy and the heirs of Heaven. Holiness, thank God, has nothing magical or automatic about it.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

The beatitudes reversed. Blessed are the rich (the rich in material goods, the rich in science and technology, the rich in fame and power), because the kingdom of earth is theirs. Blessed are the angry, the short-tempered, those who impose things on others, the overbearing - because they shall strip the earth of the weak and the powerless, of the gentle of heart, of the useless and incapable. Blessed are those who laugh and those for whom life and everyone smiles, because they think that they already have paradise on earth and will not need to be comforted. Blessed are those who do not hunger or thirst for uprightness, because they are jaded by injustice, meanness and wickedness. Blessed are those who have no mercy, the hard of heart, because they do not need mercy, because they do not accept the weakness of tenderness and piety. Blessed are those who have been contaminated by tainted loves, by illicit loves, by blatantly selfish loves, because they will be blind to Godís things, to anything that is altruistic, spiritual and divine. Blessed are those who work for war, the violent, the manufacturers of weapons and missiles, because they shall be called the children of Mars, the god of war, heroes of the machine gun working to build a new future whose fundamental law will be the law of the jungle. Blessed are those who escape the justice of human beings by using their influence or through bribes, because the kingdom of this world is theirs and they live in this world like kings. Reversing the beatitudes can help us to enhance a lot more all of the revolutionary energy, all of the imposing power of the real beatitudes. It is the same difference that exists between a holy man and a criminal.

Heaven. There are those who wish to turn the earth into heaven and those who wish to turn heaven into earth. Both positions are very far from Christian modesty before the infinite mystery that escapes us. We must have a burning desire to go to heaven, but we must respect its mysterious nature with a simple heart and an enlightened intelligence. We must recognize that those who wanted to build heaven on earth were so blatantly wrong that they got hell instead. But we must also admit that those who have raised the earth to heaven, have radically lost the essence of the mystery. Let us not strive to make up for our ignorance about heaven by filling it with things of the earth. Let us accept the limits of our knowledge. Because we know that heaven consists in eternal communion of the saved with the triune God and with all the brothers who accepted Godís salvation in their lives. We known that this communion will provide the greatest degree of happiness that can be enjoyed, to each one in his individual dimension and as a member of the heavenly Church. We know that we shall enjoy this divine happiness with our entire being, body and soul. Let us accept this learned ignorance with faith and love.

 

 

All SOULSí DAY 2nd November 2000

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

THEME of the READINGS

The liturgy for this commemoration of the deceased faithful sings the victory of Christ and of the Christian over death. Indeed, in the second reading St Paul tells the Romans that Christ died for us. Therefore, having now been justified by his Blood, through him we shall be saved from anger, that is, with Christ we shall overcome sin and death. Isaiah (first reading) alludes to this victory when he shows that God himself "has destroyed death forever, Lord Yahweh has wiped away the tears from every cheek." The Christian receives from his Lord and Master the nourishment that on this earth already is the food of eternal life: the Eucharist, the bread of life, a foretaste of life with God after death (Gospel).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Death has been overcome. The most dramatic reality of human existence is to have to die, since our soul thirsts for immortality. This death is not only dramatic, but on many occasions it is also absurd: when a young and promising life is taken, when an innocent life has to pay its dues to death, when death comes unexpectedly, when it suddenly precludes a wonderful future, when it creates a serious problem in the family, when... The dramatic and absurd aspects become greater when one lacks faith or when the faith that one has is waning, and has almost completely died out. In this case, everything collapses, because one lives as if one had no hope. Death seems to carry in its hand the palm of victory, and life ends under the tombstone, leaving those who are still alive in a state of desperation and senseless anguish. Christian faith, instead, tells us that death is a dark tunnel which leads to a new world of wonderful light and life. It tells us that death is certainly a loss, for those who go (they lose their relationship with this world) and for those who stay behind (they lose a loved one). But it is a loss that God is capable of transforming into a gain, in a way that we do not know. Our death, as in the case of the butterfly in the cocoon, leads to life. In the risen Christ, who destroyed death, we have all already begun in a certain way to overcome death by participating in his Resurrection.

The Eucharist and life. The Christian, like any other human being, feels time passing over his body day after day. He feels the definitive encounter with the reality of death, the constant call of the earth. The Christian is not exempt from the existential meaning that this has for all people in their psychosomatic unity. However, as the sunset of death draws near, the Christian experiences the call of divine life at a deep level, the voice of the Father who says, "Come!" Undoubtedly, one has this experience in personal prayer, in which each person speaks heart to heart with the Father who calls, the Son who saves and the Spirit who gives life. This experience is deepened in receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. When the Christian eats the bread and drinks from the cup, he is receiving the living Christ in his humanity and in his divinity, a foretaste of the glory of heaven. Each time the Eucharist is celebrated we are redeemed and "we break the same bread which is a recipe for immortality, an antidote against death and for life in Jesus Christ forever" (St Ignatius of Antioch, Eph 20:2). The longing for immortality that every person on the planet harbors is fulfilled, in a slow but continuous and effective way, by the extraordinary experience of new life that comes over him in his frequent contact with the Eucharist. With a well received Eucharist, we grow in life, the new life of Christ, who has risen and is glorious in Heaven.

 

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

The virtue of hope. To hope is to wish for what one does not yet have. There is human hope that has a purely temporal dimension to it. The student hopes to do well on an exam; the young person hopes to get married and to form a lovely family; the sick person hopes to get well, while the healthy person hopes not to become ill; the sailor hopes to go home and be reunited with his wife and children; the missionary hopes to be able to establish a church for his faithful who do not have one; the priest hopes to fill his parish on Sunday Mass, etc. God completes these human hopes in Christians, hopes which are good and perfectly legitimate, by granting us the theological virtue of hope. The goal of this Christian hope is Heaven, which we all hope to reach with Godís help once our earthly life is over. But Christian hope also has partial, more minor goals which are geared towards the achievement of the final goal. Examples of these "intermediate hopes" would be the childís hope to celebrate his First Communion or that of the young novice to make her religious profession; the effort and hope of a parish priest that his parishioners go to Mass on Sundays, or the hope of a catechist that her students assimilate Christian faith and life well, etc. We must be sure that hope, when it is authentic, when God bestows it upon us, never deceives or lets down those who place their trust in it.

Death is not the worst thing that can happen. Those who have no faith may easily think that death is the worst of all evils, because with death they go back to nothingness, to the world of not being. The good Christian looks at death with different eyes, because death is not the annihilation of being but the gateway to a new way of being and living forever. Christian cemeteries are not only places of memories, they are especially places of hope, places in which our longing for eternity rises to God. This is why death is not the worst of all evils, nor is it absolutely evil. Manís greatest evil is sin, the misuse of freedom, the will to reject God now in time and then forever in the afterlife. The martyrs are the human beings who with their life and death tell us that it is worthwhile to die so as not to sin, so as not to offend God and our Christian vocation. This is why martyrs must have a greater place in the Christian education of children and young persons. With their death for the Faith, they are crying out that death is not the worst evil; nor does it have the last word. Christ, the living One, is waiting for us with his arms wide open on the other side of the border.

 

 

Thirty-First Sunday of ORDINARY TIME. 5th November 2000

First: Dt 6:2-6; Second: Heb 7:23-28; Gospel: Mk 12:28b-34

THEME of the READINGS

"You must love the Lord your God." This is the message of todayís liturgy and the essence of Christian love. This is the greatest commandment of all (the first is love your God and the second is love your neighbor), Jesus tells us in the Gospel. In the first reading, the people of Israel confess their faith in the one and only God and, on the basis of that faith, they profess their complete and exclusive love for Yahweh. Jesus Christ, our High Priest, practices what he preaches by offering himself to the Father for the salvation of all humanity, interceding for us in heaven.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

A new love. Jesusí answer to the scribe who asked him which of the 613 commandments that existed at the time was the first and most important is taken from the Old Testament. The first part is taken from Deuteronomy, which corresponds to the first reading of this Sunday; the second is taken from the book of Leviticus, and refers to love for oneís neighbor (19:18). The novelty of Christian love does not lie in the contents, which are already known and have already been revealed by God. The novelty lies in the indissoluble union between both commandments, which produces a single commandment: "There is no commandment [observe the singular form] greater than these." Love for God and love for oneís neighbor are not two steeds running on their own in the stadium of life. Rather, they are yoked to the same carriage on which the human person travels through history on his journey towards his destiny in eternity. In order for one to be Christian, these two loves must be able to constitute a single inseparable love. This Christian love is also new because in it are summarized and structured all of the other precepts existing in the Jewish world, as well as all the commandments, laws and precepts of Christian existence in each moment of history. The bond of love is the bond of perfection. And from this love all precepts take on the very beauty and perfection of love. The evangelical text ends by saying, "After that no one dared to question him any more." This is to indicate that the answer has hit the nail on the head, and that any other question is superfluous. We Christians discover this new love in Christís Cross, where our High Priest offers himself as the victim of love to the Father for the love of sinners (second reading).

A new worship. Responding to Jesusí words, the scribe replies, "To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, this is far more important than any burnt offering or sacrifice" (Gospel). A new worship seems to insinuate itself in these words, a worship in which burnt offerings and sacrifices have no value in and of themselves but only as the expression of love and only as a predisposition to love, both for God and oneís neighbor, or better yet, to God in oneís neighbor and to oneís neighbor in God. In this sense, it does not matter if the Temple in Jerusalem disappears, or if it is destroyed, because wherever there is true love - the new love - the new worship will be able to continue, in which animals will not be the sacrifices (bulls and billygoats), but the human person in the inner depth of his being. This new worship does not need many priests (in the Temple in Jerusalem hundreds of priests would exercise their office each day); it needs only one Priest, Jesus Christ, the High and Eternal Priest before the Father who has come to redeem men. The priests of the new covenant do not increase the number; rather, they extend in time the only priesthood, which is that of Jesus Christ. In paraphrasing St Augustine, we could say that the new temple in spirit and truth also requires a new worship in spirit and truth; the new worship calls for a new heart, which sings a new song with its lips, but especially with its life.

 

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Two beams for a cross. The vertical beam, the love for God, and the horizontal beam, the love for oneís neighbor, are joined together forever in Christís Cross. There is no cross without the coming together of the two beams. There is no Christian love without the union of both loves in the single mystery of the Cross. This statement is important because there is a great temptation to separate what Jesus Christ has united forever: the temptation of loving God in such an exclusive way that we forget about men; or the temptation of loving human beings in such an exclusive way that we forget about God. Unless this temptation is overcome, it will lead to rather detrimental consequences. For example, one leaves prayer to the side because "giving oneself to others and activities for others are already forms of prayer." Or we can end up thinking that we have achieved such perfection in our love for God that we allow ourselves to speak poorly about our neighbor with a clear conscience. Since it is much more difficult to keep these two loves united than to separate them, we must be very careful about our attitudes towards God and towards our brothers and sisters. If at the end of each day every Christian were to examine his conscience in relation to this new love, striving to progress in love day by day, the way in which we experience Christianity would improve for a lot of us. The most significant aspect of these two loves, vertical and horizontal, is that they should constitute a cross and not a comfortable armchair. The experience and life of Jesus Christ tell us eloquently that Christian love, taken to its final consequences, ends in a cross. From this cross, love opens up in all directions: it becomes universal.

Love and the Eucharist. The love of Jesus Christ for the Father and for human beings to the ultimate consequence of the Cross and Resurrection is renewed hour after hour at each altar upon which the Eucharist is celebrated. The vertical and horizontal love of Jesus, his universal love, is not part of the past, but runs through history hour after hour and day after day until the end of time. The Eucharist is the redeeming love of Jesus made eternal, beyond the historical conditions of his Passion and Death. Under the guise of the sacrament, the Eucharist repeats his passion of love in the heart of history. In this light, it is possible to understand two urgent pastoral requirements: 1) A generalized and ongoing catechesis, from children to adults, on the richness of meaning and the wonderful fruits of the Eucharist. Those who succeed in discovering the depth of Jesus Christís love in the Eucharist will surely fall in love with it. 2) The emerging awareness in the conscience of Christians that the Eucharist of Jesus is inseparable from the Eucharist of Christians. In other words, Jesus Christís love for God and for human beings in the Eucharist is an unavoidable imperative in order for the Christian to base his entire life on the single precept of the love for God and for his neighbor. Because of the dynamic action of grace, taking part in the Eucharist brings with it becoming the Eucharist.

 

Thirty-Second Sunday of ORDINARY TIME 12th November 2000

First: 1Kings 17:10-16; Second: Heb 9:24-28; Gospel: Mk 12:38-44

THEME of the READINGS

An attitude of available and trusting generosity is the common denominator of this Sundayís texts. Generosity reflects the attitude of the widow in Zarephath, who does not hesitate to give Elijah her last jar of meal although it is all she has left (first reading). It also reflects the attitude of the widow watched only by Jesus, who deposits everything she has in the treasury of the Temple, though it is the equivalent of a mere penny (Gospel). It especially reflects Jesusí attitude who gives himself until his death, once and for all, as the victim of ransom and salvation (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Generosity bears the face of a woman. In todayís liturgy, women play a predominant and positive role. In addition to this, they are widows, with all the precarious connotations of this term in the remote times of the prophet Elijah (9th century BC) and Jesus. Widowhood was frequently associated with poverty, and even begging. However, the liturgy does not present these two good widows as an example of poverty (this is implicit), but as an example of generosity. In the three years of drought that fell upon the whole region, the widow of Zarephath was left with a bit of flour and a few drops of oil to make a loaf of bread for her and her son to eat, and then to die. In this situation, which is already humanly dramatic, Elijah asks her for something inexplicable, heroic: he asks her to give him the bread that she was about to put in the oven to bake. The woman agrees. There is a sort of divine instinct that makes her respond in such a way. It is the gift of generosity that God bestows upon those who have little or nothing at all. She does not think about her fate; she only thinks about obeying Godís voice who speaks to her through the prophet Elijah.

The widow in the Temple is an exceptional woman. Since she was poor, she was in no way obliged to give alms for the worship of the Temple or for the social and charitable activities that the priests carried out in Godís name. If she had had an obligation, her action would have been generous, because she gave the little she had, all that she had to live on. But her gesture shines forth with a new and brilliant light, precisely because she was beyond obligation and placed herself at the level of loving generosity towards God. The contrast between the attitude of the widow and that of the rich who gave a lot, but only gave the leftovers of their wealth, show her true nobility and places greater emphasis on her generosity.

The source of all generosity. The generosity of the two widows emanates from the very generosity of God, which is manifested to us in Jesus Christ. This is the generosity of Jesus who offers himself once and for all in a sacrifice of redemption for all men: nothing or no one is excluded from this generosity. This is the generosity of Jesus who, as High Priest, enters the heavens gloriously to continue his priestly work for our benefit: in heaven he continues his generous and eternal intercession for men. Jesus who will come at the end of time, bearing no relation to sin, that is, as the Savior who has destroyed sin and has established the new life. In his earthly existence, Jesus was very aware that he had not come into the world to condemn, but to save. In his Parousia or second coming, he has the same awareness of being the Savior, above all other attributes.

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

 

Generosity of the heart. We human beings are often filled with admiration when we hear that someone has made a gesture of great generosity. For instance, someone who gives two million dollars out of his own pocket for a hospital, or donates a hundred million to create a foundation for research. This is very good, and it would be wonderful if there were many such generous men willing to empty their pockets to provide an education or a hospital for other human beings. But without diminishing the importance of quantity, I have to stress that according to the Gospel, attitude is more important. In other words, it is important whether such money was donated out of real love and in an act of service, and even more significantly, if the person who donated such money deprived himself of it. For instance, whether he decided to give up going on a cruise on the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, or whether he decided not to buy his wife a precious diamond worth several million dollars, or perhaps, whether he decided to live his everyday life with greater austerity. When generosity does not only affect oneís wallet, but also oneís heart, then it is more authentic. This is why those who give little but give all that they can give, and give it with all of their heart, are generous people. In the eyes of God, their generosity is the same as that of the rich man who has parted with millions of dollars. Christian, if you have a lot, give a lot; if you have little, give some of the little you have. But whatever the case, give with all of your heartís sincerity and generosity. This is what matters most in Godís eyes. Hopefully, it is what matters most in your eyes too.

 

How generous? There are no mathematical laws in this matter. The basic principle is clear: give, be generous. What should one give, how far should oneís generosity stretch are questions that do not have a single answer. It is the circumstances that dictate the degree of our generosity: for example, an earthquake or a hurricane, a destructive flood, a tribal war, an epidemic, etc. may require greater sacrifice on our part. Godís Spirit will indicate to each one, within his inner conscience, the ways and degree to which generous actions should be undertaken, actions born of love, born from the heart. The important thing is for no one to say, "Thatís enough." It is not possible to put limits to the Spirit of God. It is a good idea for us to ask ourselves, "Am I giving everything that I can? Am I giving everything that the Holy Spirit is asking me to give? Am I giving as I should: disinterestedly, generously, without seeking anything in return?" We contemporary Christians must be like the Christians of Macedonia, whom Paul talks about in his second letter to the Corinthians, "throughout continuous ordeals of hardship, their unfailing joy and their intense poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. I can testify that it was of their own accord that they made their gift, which was not merely as far as their resources would allow, but well beyond their resources; and they had kept imploring us most insistently for the privilege of a share in the fellowship of service to Godís holy people" (8:2-4). Let us consider generosity as a grace of God, and let us ask for it with a simple heart, but also with insistence. God will not deny it to those who really ask him for it. There are many people in need who would benefit from our generosity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thirty-Third Sunday of ORDINARY TIME 19th November 2000

First: Dan 12:1-3; Second: Heb 10:11-14.18; Gospel: Mk 13:24-32

THEME of the READINGS

As the liturgical year draws to a close, the liturgy of the Church could not have offered us a better theme than that of hope. Daniel, in looking hopefully to the future, will prophesize: "When that time comes, your own people will be spared - all those whose names are found written in the Book." In his eschatological speech, Jesus sees the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament: "The son of man... And then he will send the angels to gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the world to the ends of the sky" (Gospel). The author of the letter to the Hebrews contemplates Christ sitting at the right hand of God, waiting till his enemies are made his footstool (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Not a report, but a message. Neither the prophets nor the evangelists were reporters of their time, and they were especially not the reporters of the end of time, which they do not know but nevertheless announce.

By means of a mysterious and markedly symbolic language, they try to place us readers or listeners in the mystery of the end of time and of history. Therefore, we must be careful not to confuse the language with the message. The language cannot but be anthropomorphic: the end of the world seen as a terrifying universal conflagration, a sort of cosmic earthquake that disrupts the entire universe and destroys it completely, an imposing cataclysm whose incandescent fire devours all matter. Behind this scenic representation of a striking vividness is a divine message: "The world is not eternal. History will have an end." The literary style proper to the Jewish Apocalypse and very appropriate for those times of persecution (in the case of Daniel, people were being persecuted by Antioch IV Epiphanes, in the times of Mark, Nero was possibly the persecutor), should not distract us. It should not cause us anguish or make us miss Godís message. The message is Godís revelation, and therefore it is appropriate, irrevocable, truthful and valid. "Sky and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away." However, as it is a mystery, it is not within the reach of our human knowledge, nor can it be manipulated to satisfy our curiosity or pride. As a mystery, it is an unpredictable eruption, a sudden and ungraspable apparition, an unexpected and dazzling appearance. As a mystery, it calls for trust in God, with an attitude of watchfulness and assurance.

The end of life and the end of time. For the evangelist Mark, the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple is a symbol of the end of the world and of history. Likewise, the image of the fig tree from the time in which its flowers blossom in the spring until the figs ripen serves to indicate the time between the era in which the Bible was being written, and the end of history. There is thus a relationship between time and eternity, between the end of an era and the end of history, between the end of life and the end of time. There are many similarities between both ends. First of all, the certainty of the end is evident with respect to the end of life, and the object of faith with respect to the end of time. It has an unpredictable nature, completely so when referring to the end of time but only partly so in the case of the end of life. Furthermore, there is its decisive value: in one case the decision involves the destiny of the individual, while in the other the destiny of all of humanity is at stake. Finally, both reveal the condition of the human person and of his world, a limited, imperfect and precarious condition, which necessarily leads to a superior reality where this condition attains perfection and fulfillment. As such, the end of life in a way is equivalent to the end of time for every human being; and the end of time in some way is a prefiguration of the end of life. We could say that with death, every human person reaches the end of his time as he awaits the end of all time. Both ends are lived out in the radiant light of Christian hope.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Hope and hopes. It is commonly said that the human person lives on hope. And it is true. Children hope to grow or to have a motorcycle. Students hope to pass their exams. Newlyweds hope to have a child. The unemployed hope to find a job. Inmates hope to be released from prison as soon as possible. Shopkeepers who have just started a business hope that it will be successful... Hopes, hopes, hopes. All of which are good, legitimate, even necessary. But in the end, they are minor hopes, hopes connected with a good that we do not have and that we would like to have. Hopes that refer us to Hope, with a capital H and in the singular, which takes us from the very circumstances of everyday and ordinary life to our Lord and God. Little hopes are not always fulfilled, they can deceive and disillusion us; but in their smallness they make us think about the Hope that does not deceive, that always keeps desires alive, has immovable firmness and grants an absolute guarantee. Hope with a capital H is not the fruit of our effort or of our burning desires; rather, it is the grace and charism of the Spirit, a theological virtue that longs for God himself and definitive and perfect union with Him. This is the hope that gives us access to the fullness and fulfillment of our personal being from God, in God and with God. It is the Hope that we all should have.

A happy end for the Christian. In talking about the final hour, according to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus Christ mentions only the chosen ones. In the Gospel according to Mark, we are told nothing about the convicts, if there were any (which we do not know). The last day will close with a happy end. May those who prophesize calamity know this and take it into account! Every manís final destiny is enveloped in the most absolute mystery, but an end like the one we find in todayís Gospel infuses great comfort and extraordinary confidence in the power and mercy of God. We need to remember that we are not just waiting in this world: we are being waited for in the other world, first of all by God, and then by the Blessed Virgin Mary, the saints, our relatives and all of our loved ones. All those who are expecting us want our life to end well, they want the history of humankind and of the universe to culminate with a solemn and general happy ending. This is why Christ, our High Priest, died on a cross and now, sitting at the throne with his Father, is waiting for us to give us the embrace of definitive and perfect communion. He will give us that embrace if we let ourselves be made holy by him, if we allow the fruits of his redemption bear fruit in us.

Solemnity of JESUS Christ King of the Universe 26th November 2000

First: Dan 7:13-14; Second: Rev 1:5-8; Gospel: Jn 18:33b-37

THEME of the READINGS

There cannot be any other theme in todayís liturgy than the kingship of Jesus Christ. This kingship is prefigured in the text of the prophet Daniel: "On him was conferred rule, honor and kingship ... and his kingship will never come to an end" (first reading). In the Gospel, the kingship of Jesus is affirmed in categorical terms: "So Pilate went back into the Praetorium and called Jesus to him and asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" Jesus replied, "It is you who say that I am a king." The second reading, taken from Revelation, confirms and praises the kingship of Jesus: "To him then, be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen." At the same time, Christians share Christís kingship: "He loved us... and made us a Kingdom of Priests to serve his God and Father."

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Two ways to understand "king". Pilate and Jesus represent two opposite ideas of king and kingship. Pilate cannot conceive of any other king or kingdom than that of a the human person with absolute power, like Emperor Tiberius, or at least with power limited to a territory and to some subjects, like the famous Herod the Great. Jesus, however, did not come from the world of men, but from God. Pilate thinks of a kingdom founded on power imposed by the force of an army, while Jesus has in mind a kingdom imposed not by military force. If it had been otherwise, "my angels would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews." No, Jesusí is a kingdom imposed by the force of truth and love. Pilate can in no way conceive of a king who has been sentenced to death by his very subjects and does not put up any resistance. Jesus, on the other hand, is certain that on the beam of the Cross he will establish his mysterious kingdom in a definitive and perfect way. To Pilate, saying that one can rule after death is absurd; to Jesus it is perfectly clear. This is the truest reality, for death cannot destroy the kingdom of the spirit. Two different kingdoms, with different ideas. After two thousand years since the historic meeting between Jesus and Pontius Pilate, isnít Jesus Christís idea the one that has been able to pass the test of history?

Characteristics of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of Jesus is a pre-announced kingdom, in which the centuries-old promise God made through the prophets is fulfilled. Jesusí rule is that of the Son of Man, to whom God confers all power and all of the Kingdom (first reading). In the second place, it is a kingdom which overcomes all the powers of evil, symbolized by Daniel in the four beasts. Indeed, Christ will overcome them all on the Cross, which the evangelist John sees like a throne, placing all demonic powers at his feet. In the third place, the Kingdom of Jesus Christ is strangely peculiar: it is not of this world, but it is present in this world, although it is not visible because it belongs to the kingdom of the spirit. In the fourth place, the King defines himself as witness of truth, and the subjects as those who are the subjects of truth and listen to his voice. Yes, Christ is King insofar as he bears witness to the truth, in other words, to the Word of the Father whom he incarnates, and whom the Spirit internalizes and makes effective in our hearts. We are the subjects of Christ the King if we are on the side of truth, if we live, think and act in tune and line with the Word of Jesus Christ. In the fifth place, Jesus is not the king of space but of time, of all times. He is the alpha and omega, the center of time and its regulating principle, "He who is, who was and who is to come." Finally, Jesus Christ is not only King, but he makes Christians participate in his Kingship: he has made us a Kingdom of Priests for his God and Father. This way, Christians participate in Christís Kingship, which has the characteristics that have just been described.

 

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Let the King be a king for real. When a king is a despot, a tyrant, when he exploits his subjects, then it is right and necessary to rebel against him. But if a king is just, good, committed to the well-being of his subjects, understanding and a good ruler, then his subjects must let him be king. The royal absolutism of past centuries has perturbed and disfigured the noble figure of a true king. Everything possible must be done to recover that figure in the common mentality of men, especially Christians, because we cannot renounce calling Jesus Christ King and Lord of the Universe. It would be regrettable for Christians to perceive Jesusí kingship as having the negative characteristics of an absolute and despotic sovereign. Jesus Christ wants to rule, this is why he has come into this world; we must let Christ really be a king. We need to let him be a king like he wants to be, not in line with outmoded political practices; to be the king of all human beings and of the all of every human being: our thoughts, feelings, will, emotions, time, existence, work and rest. We need to let him infuse a divine presence into our lives, a sovereignty which elevates, a spiritual kingship. What is your concept of Jesus Christ the King? Do you let Jesus Christ really be the king of your life? What are you doing, what can you do in order for Christ to reign in the hearts of human beings and of history? What will you promise Jesus in his feast as King of the Universe?

A Kingdom of Priests. In Jesus Christ, his Priesthood and Kingship are united on the Cross. We Christians are a people of kings and a kingdom of priests by virtue of Jesus Christís Death and Resurrection. We are a kingdom of priests because we love and follow the doctrine of truth, because we sing praise and glory to the Lord together in the liturgy, because moved by faith we let him guide our steps towards the Father, each one in his own way, and all as a community of faith and worship. We are also a kingly people because Jesus Christís kingship does not make us his subjects or slaves, but free persons, perfectly free in relation to ourselves and our passions, in relation to the world with its powers and snares, in relation to God who attracts us with tenderness and love. I am convinced that the beauty of Christian life lies hidden to most people. And I am absolutely certain that if we were to glimpse this beauty, opening the eyes of our intelligence and love to it, we would fall in love with it. Whether the Church is a people of kings and a kingdom of priests depends on each and everyone of us.