First Sunday of ADVENT 3rd December 2000

First: Jer 33:14-16; Second: 1 Th 3:12-4-2; Gospel: Lk 21:25-28.34-36

THEME of the READINGS

The coming of the Lord is present in the texts of todayís liturgy; by means of this expression, the liturgy wishes to show us the Christian meaning of time and history. In the first reading we are told, "In those days and at that time, I shall make an upright Branch grow for David." In St Lukeís eschatological speech, Jesus says that human beings will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory. In the First Letter to the Thessalonians, St Paul urges them to be prepared for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, with all of his saints.

 

Doctrinal MESSAGE

Memory and prophecy. These words sum up the Christian conception of time. When talking about time, the Christian thinks about the present time with its vicissitudes and circumstances. It is the present of Jeremiahís time (587 BC), when Jerusalem was under siege by Nebuchadnezzar; it is the present of the Christian community of Thessalonica or of the recipients of the Gospel according to Luke. From this present, one looks back at the past and begins to recall: Godís promise to David about a hereditary kingdom, which is now endangered; the historical coming of Jesus Christ who with his Passion, Death and Resurrection has inaugurated the fullness of time, of which Christians are already a part. But we Christians are not people of the past. From our present life, we also look towards the future, the future closed up in the reliquary of prophecy, in the book sealed with seven seals that only the standing Lamb (Resurrection) and the Lamb whose throat has been cut (Passion and Death) can open and read (cf Rev 5). This prophecy has to do with the second coming of Jesus Christ, with his triumphant Parousia, surrounded by all the saints, having come to definitively proclaim justice and salvation. It is a prophecy which will shake the foundations of the globe and will lead to the emergence of a new world. The Christian lives between memory and prophecy, between the first coming of Christ and his future coming at the end of history. Christmas and the final judgment of salvation are the two pillars upon which human beings build the bridge of decision and responsibility. With this bridge, the second coming is nothing but the prolongation and crowning of the first, of the Incarnation and of the Paschal Mystery.

The physiognomy of the One who is coming. Who is it that is coming? First of all, he is a sapling, an upright branch, a descendant of Davidís family, who will practice law and justice (the virtues of a good king). According to Christian interpretation, this branch is Jesus Christ who has come into the world to bring the justice of God, salvation by means of love (first reading). He who comes is the Son of Man, on a cloud, with power and great glory. He a person who lives in Godís world and shares his power and glory. He who comes at Christmas and he who shall come in the final judgment is the Word incarnate in Maryís womb (Gospel). He who comes is our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Christ, the victor over death and sin, who lives in eternity but makes himself present in history (second reading).

The Christianís response. The Gospel indicates two attitudes: to be on the alert and to pray. It is very appropriate for us to be on the alert, so that when the Word comes to us in the flesh of a child we may be able to accept him and live out the mystery. Prayer is very appropriate and necessary, for only through prayer is the mystery of Godís actions opened to the human mind and heart. St Paul in turn points out two other attitudes to the Thessalonians: to believe and have great love for one another and for all, and to behave in a way pleasing to God. What better way to prepare for the coming of Love than to grow in love! In his earthly life, Jesus Christ did nothing but seek to please his Father; a wonderful way to prepare for Christmas is to try to please God in everything.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

 

The meaning of time. For us Christians, the only meaning of time is in Jesus Christ. He is the center of history and of our hearts. History finds in him its point of departure (Christ is the alpha) and its point of arrival (Christ is the omega). Time and history culminate in him, in him they achieve their absolute fullness and their supreme meaning. Without Jesus Christ time and history are merely accidental. With Christ, they are a plan of God, a history of salvation, an anvil on which to forge our decision in freedom and responsibility. For us, time is not a mere succession of seconds, minutes and hours; a chain of days, months and years without a specific direction, at the mercy of impersonal dominating forces that lead to chaos. For us, time with its centuries and millennia is history, steered by God; for us, time has a guiding unity and harmony, consistence and cohesion: not in empires or ideologies, as perishable as human beings themselves, but in Jesus Christ, who is of yesterday, of today and forever. Daily life, with its trivialities and monotony, is part of a divine project, a piece of the great puzzle of the history of salvation planned by God. The meaning of time includes the meaning of my time. Doesnít this reality of our faith give great value to the life of every Christian, to your life?

To grow and abound in love. St John of the Cross concluded one of his poems in the following way: "Love is my only destiny." The first coming of Christ at Christmas is a coming of love, and so is his return at the end of the centuries, his Parousia. Between the love of Christ who comes and who will come lies human life which, as in a symphony, will develop the theme of love with which the composition begins and ends. Growing in love emphasizes its dynamic aspect: to grow in love for God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; in love for Mary and for the saints, for oneís family, relatives, friends, strangers, the needy, the sick, sinners... How? Well, what comes to mind? Undoubtedly many things. Abounding in love emphasizes generosity in love, this typical trait of Christian existence. Are you generous with your love or do you gauge it with the yardstick of your selfishness? Blessed are the generous in love, because they will take part in the assembly of the just at the time of Jesus Christís Parousia.

 

 

Solemnity of the IMMACULATE Conception of MARY 8th December 2000

First: Gn 3:9-15; Second: Eph 1:3-6.11-12; Gospel: Lk 1:26-38

THEME of the READINGS

The mystery of the Virgin Mary consists in her ability to harmonize smallness and greatness in her being and in her personality as a woman. She is the servant of the Lord who wants only his will, and is chosen to be the Mother of God (Gospel). She is the child of Eve born of flesh and blood, but she is also the redeemer of Eve, and will tread on the head of the tempting serpent (first reading). She is the child of God, like any other person, and especially like any other Christian, and is also the Mother of God, because she is the mother of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Maryís smallness and greatness. Mary is not a freak of nature. In her female nature, she is a daughter of Eve, like all the women in the world. She has the body of a woman, the psychology of a woman and the feelings of a woman. The way she is and acts are proper to the female condition. In the Galilee of the first century AD, nothing distinguished her from the other Jewish women: her physical traits, her socio-economic conditions, the discriminating legal prescriptions, her way and style of life all correspond to those of a Jewish woman. This specific personality of a Jewish woman conceals a mystery of greatness, real and invisible at the same time. The Immaculate Conception of Mary or her divine Motherhood will be proclaimed as a dogma of faith centuries later; but Mary experienced them in her earthly existence, which was entirely Jewish. She experienced it like a totally inner and ineffable reality within a unique relationship of intimacy, communion with and adhesion to God. Christian baptism, for those who receive it, overcomes the tempting serpent and his wicked action in the present and past of human history. Mary received this baptism early, thanks to the merits of her Son: at the time of her conception, she received baptism from the Holy Spirit.

Mary did not expect to be the mother of the Messiah. In the religious circle of her time, she shared with all Jews belief in and expectation of the Messiah, who would come again to free Israel of its enemies. As a humble, poor and peasant woman, she even thought it astounding that God should pick her to be the mother of the Messiah. Furthermore, it was next to impossible that the Messiah should come from Nazareth. There was nothing in her parents, in her environment, in her existence that would serve as a clue to suggest that she would have such a great and noble vocation. All this is true, but one day, all of a sudden, an experience and an evangelical vision disturbed the depths of her soul. First of all, she failed to understand such a strange greeting: "Rejoice, you who enjoy Godís favor!" Then she understood even less what the angel said about her giving birth to a son who would be called Son of the Most High (Gospel). It took the simple Nazarene woman a long time to recover from the shock. Later, after the vision had passed, she spent days and nights recalling what she had seen and heard to make it fit into her psychology and life, seeking to understand the mysterious plans of God. Finally, in her meeting with her cousin Elizabeth she expresses in words the results of her meditation: "...because he has looked upon the humility of his servant. Yes, from now onwards all generations will call me blessed."

Mary is our sister and mother. As a sister, she is like all other Christians: she is the adopted child of God through Jesus Christ, chosen to be an heir of the Kingdom of God, ordered to be the praise of the glory of God like all those who have placed their hope in Christ (second reading). Her greatness lies in the fact that in her life she is both our sister and our mother at the same time. Lumen Gentium tells us: "In this singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Savior in giving back supernatural life to souls"(61). And shortly before that we read: "The maternal duty of Mary toward human beings in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows his power. For all the salvific influence of the Blessed Virgin on human beings originates, not from some inner necessity, but from divine pleasure. It flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it and draws all its power from it" (LG 60).

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Respect Maryís smallness and greatness. To respect Maryís smallness and greatness means to preserve both aspects, because they are the two wings with which Mary flew across the history of her time and must continue to fly across our history. And we already know that to fly with one wing alone is impossible. In the past centuries, the greatness of Mary was emphasized so much that sometimes her smallness was forgotten. In our time, we could run the opposite risk: we could see her so close to us, so small like us that we forget about her extraordinary greatness. We must preserve both her smallness and her greatness, because such was the historical reality of Mary, and thus she continues to make present the mystery of God among us. St Theresa of Lisieux stressed Maryís smallness. On the day of her religious profession (8th September 1890) she wrote: "The birth of Mary! What a lovely feast to become the bride of Jesus! Indeed it was she, the small, ephemeral Blessed Virgin, the one who presented her little flower to the little Jesus." However, Theresa never ceased to praise Maryís greatness. For example, in her last poem entitled Why I love you, oh Mary!, she says that the glory of Mary shines more brightly than that of all the chosen ones together; she calls her the queen of angels and saints, and talks about the radiance of her supreme glory. The Virgin Mary herself would be very happy if we contemplated her smallness without forgetting her greatness, if we were surprised by her greatness in the midst of her humility and smallness.

Mary: an admirable model. Mary is both of these, and both of them inseparably. She is admirable because God has done great things in her. And because she never stopped being small like us, in the midst of her sublimity and glory, she is also worthy of being imitated. As Christians, we must admire Mary, the most sublime woman who came out of Godís hands, tree in which the Wisdom of God and divine life bear fruit. But Mary is also like a mother and a sister, who is with us, who accompanies us in our journey, whose very human virtues are accessible to all. In the garden of her life we see all the most beautiful flowers in bloom. With the warm words of a mother she tells us that our life is also a garden. If we sow virtues like Mary, such virtues will flourish.

 

Second Sunday of ADVENT 10th December 2000

First: Bar 5:1-9; Second: Phil 1:4-6.8-11; Gospel: Lk 3:1-6

THEME of the READINGS

At Christmas, the Word of God will become flesh, but already in the Advent liturgy the Church wants us to meditate on the Word and to internalize it in our soul. St Luke tells us that the Word of God was addressed to John, the son of Zechariah, in the desert (Gospel). The prophet Baruch contemplates the children of Jerusalem living in exile, "see your children reassembled from west and east at the Holy Oneís command, rejoicing because God has remembered" (first reading). St Paul shows his joy to the Philippians for their partnership in the Gospel, from the very first day up to the present; that is, in the Word of God which became Good News for all human beings (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The stages of the Word. "In the beginning there was the Word." This divine Word, before becoming incarnate in Jesus Christ, covered a vast ground in human history. The liturgy presents us with some of such millenary stages: 1) The Word that talks about the future, a future transformed by the power of God, to give courage and comfort to men. It is the Word, for example, of the prophet Baruch. In poetic language, the prophet imagines Jerusalem as being dressed like a mother in mourning for having lost most of her children. Baruch intones a song to the city of Jerusalem renewed, transformed by the powerful hand of God: "Put on the beauty of Godís glory." 2) At another stage, we encounter the Word that speaks in the present, in which the past is fulfilled. The prophesy of Isaiah is fulfilled in John the Baptist: "A voice of one that cries in the desert, ĎPrepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.í" It reaches the present of the life of the Jews (Pilate, Procurator of Judea, and Herod Tetrarch of Galilee, regions mostly inhabited by Jews) and of the life of pagans (Philip, Tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis, Lysanias, Tetrarch of Abilene, pagan regions). The Word addressed to the future is especially a Word of encouragement and comfort; the Word that is geared towards the present is rather a Word of exhortation and engagement, of conversion for the forgiveness of sins. 3) Finally, we encounter the Word which is lived daily and with which one cooperates with love and joy. The Word of God comes alive in the everyday life of Christians and in their daily tasks. And all are called to cooperate with the Gospel, with the Word of the Good News, so that it may reach every corner of the Roman Empire, up to the boundaries of the world.

The qualities of the Word. 1) The Word of God is universal in its destination, addressed to all human beings of all time: to the Jews and pagans at the time of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, to the Americans, Asians, Africans, Europeans and inhabitants of Oceania of our days (Gospel). The Word of God unites: it brought back together all the exiles of Israel, induced them to turn their eyes to the east and west so that they could form the people of God who worship in Jerusalem (first reading). It has the power to unify all Christians of our time, to unify all persons. 3) The Word of God is personal and at the same time communitarian: it calls individuals in particular, but it does so in order that they may proclaim the Word to all peoples (Gospel). Today as in the past there are still charismatic human beings to whom God addresses his Word, for the good of the ecclesial community and society in general. 4) The Word of God is like a seed that grows until it becomes an ear of corn: "I am quite confident that the One who began a good work in you will go on completing it until the Day of Jesus Christ comes" (second reading). 5) The Word of God is not to be held back, but proclaimed publicly as John did: "He went through the whole Jordan area proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Gospel). Jesus will also do this later, when he travels to every city and village proclaiming the Gospel of God.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

 

The Word of God today. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that the Word of God is alive and effective, cutting like a double-edged sword (4:12). Sacred Scripture does not say what was or will be, but what is. God continues to speak to human beings in the today of history. It is the same Word that spoke through the prophets, which resounded on the lips of John the Baptist, which was made incarnate in Jesus Christ, which was proclaimed by the Apostles. God wishes to continue his dialogue with us. If in our time we do not hear the Word of God, itís not because God has stopped talking, but because, consciously or unconsciously, we have silenced him. God speaks to us through the Gospel read and internalized in prayer; he tells us about the liturgical actions of the Church, especially in the celebration of the Eucharist, whose first part is devoted to the liturgy of the Word. God speaks to us through our pastors, the bishops in our dioceses and the Pope in the whole Church as universal pastor. God speaks to us through prophets, the men and women of God who interpret the events of life and history in the perspective of God and who are moved by God himself. God speaks to us through the martyrs and saints, who with their blood and life cry out to humanity the unfathomable mystery of God, of time and eternity, of the life of humanity throughout history. God speaks through our conscience, so that in fidelity to it we may be saved and may cooperate with Christ in his work of salvation. God continues to speak to us human beings in many different ways. Do we listen to his voice?

Word of salvation. The Word of God comes into history and is made incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth to speak to us about salvation. In the Gospel, Isaiahís quotation has undergone a significant change: instead of "and all humanity will see the glory of God," St Luke says, "and all humanity will see the salvation of God." At Christmas, we Christians and all human beings of good will see this salvation of God. A Word of salvation resonates at Christmastime. Better yet, it is the only Word that resonates in that holy night. History has widely accustomed us to dividing human beings into good and bad, into conservatives and liberals, into left and right, into parties and ideologies. The Word of God seems to go beyond all such divisions. The Word of God does not divide. It unites all in the longing for and joyful possession of salvation, which God sends to us in a Child. God wants his Word of salvation to be effective in our days and in our lives. God encourages us to let his Word of salvation work effectively. What obstacles do I encounter in my life and in my environment? What do I do or what can I do in order for the Word of God to be alive and effective in me and in my brothers and sisters?

 

 

Third Sunday of ADVENT 17th December 2000

First: Zeph 3:14-18a; Second: Phil 4:4-7; Gospel: Lk 3:10-18

THEME of the READINGS

The liturgical texts of this Third Sunday of Advent are a hymn to joy: joy for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who will witness the departure of Assyrian domination and idolatry and will be able to worship Yahweh freely (first reading). There is joy for the Christians, a constant and overwhelming joy because the peace of God "...which is beyond our understanding will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus" (second reading). There is joy for God himself, who rejoices to be in the midst of his people to protect and save them (first reading). And there is the joy John the Baptist communicates to the people by preaching the Good News of the saving Messiah, who with his coming will establish justice and peace among human beings (Gospel).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Why be joyful? We find several reasons in the liturgical texts. 1) First of all because God has repealed our condemnation. Zephaniah imagines Yahweh like the head of a tribunal who, after having dictated a sentence of condemnation, repeals it. How can one not be joyful? Historically, this refers to the heavy oppression that the Assyrian empire imposed on Judahís kingdom at the time of King Josiah, from which Yahweh freed Judahís people (first reading). 2) Rejoice because Yahweh is in your midst. This divine presence of power and salvation frees from all fears and renews the kingdom of Judah with its love. It is a protecting and safe presence (first reading). 3) Rejoice, because the Christian possesses the peace of God that goes beyond all understanding (second reading). This faith in God, the fruit of faith and baptism, is experienced in the liturgical celebration when we "tell God all our desires of every kind in prayer and petition full of gratitude" (second reading). 4) Finally, rejoice because John the Baptist, the forerunner, proclaims the Good News of Christ (Gospel) and, with him and like him, all the precursors of Christ in society and in the world. In light of all this, we can say that Christianity is the religion of joy. It is joy in the Lord, as St Paul reminds us.

Joy of the precursor. John the Baptist expresses his joy by means of three images. The first is that of the master and servant, with which he indicates Jesusí superiority over himself. Jesus is like the master who, returning from a trip, has a servant at his disposal (John the Baptist) who unfastens the straps of his sandals. John is happy because the Messiah, his master, is about to arrive. He also uses the image of the farmer who when summer comes reaps wheat, threshes it and separates it from the chaff using the rake, keeping the wheat and burning the chaff. Johnís joy is the joy of one who has reaped the fruit of his work, the fruit of many other prophets who with him prepared for the coming of the Messiah. Lastly, John rejoices because whereas he baptizes in water, the One who is about to come will baptize in the Holy Spirit and in fire. He will baptize in the Holy Spirit, the fire that purifies sin, the fire that drives on and spreads great undertakings. In baptism, the Christian receives the Spirit, and one of the Spiritís first fruits is joy.

The Gospel of Joy. The Gospel of Joy is directed to all sorts of people: to people in general, to tax collectors, even to soldiers. This Gospel means giving to and loving oneís neighbor. Thus people are encouraged to share their clothes and food with the most needy. The tax collectors will live out fraternal love by levying taxes with accuracy and justice, without selfish additions for personal profit-making. As for the soldiers, they should be content with the salary they receive, and should not commit acts of extortion or persecute anyone on false grounds. In summary, the Gospel of Joy is planted and bears wonderful fruits wherever the commandment of love is lived out by each person, according to his profession and station in life.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Rejoice about the future, starting today. Zephaniah announces the liberation of Jerusalem and Judah, but it still has not occurred. However, the announcement itself should be cause for joy. John the Baptist is already rejoicing in thinking about the coming of the Messiah, although he has not made himself present yet. As Christians, let us live this period of Advent with joy, even though Christmas has not yet come. As Christians, let us be rooted in the present but with an eye to the future. This should always be the source of joy. There is an old refrain which says: "The past was always better." This is certainly not true; nor is it Christian. The Christian, who is a person of hope, will respond, "The future will be better." This will fill him with great joy. And the better future will not be the doing of men, but the mysterious and effective action of the Holy Spirit in history and in souls. The future will be better because the scientific moral progress of humanity contributes in some way to the Kingdom of God. And how can we help but rejoice about the future if we believe that all is in Godís hands, Lord of history and the one who has the keys to the future? Even in times of trial, the future smiles at the Christian mature in his faith.

Happiness and peace. Love, happiness and peace are gifts of the Holy Spirit. As gifts of the Holy Spirit, it would be a mistake to identify true love with the sentimental love of love affairs, to confuse joy with excitement and peace with the absence of war, destruction and death. The peace of God is something, St Paul tells us, which goes beyond all understanding. And the same goes for joy. As gifts of the Holy Spirit, only those who have received them through faith are able to experience, know, possess, enjoy and convey them. There is a certain reciprocity between the gifts of the Spirit. The peace that dwells in the heart of the believer inspires an attractive inner joy, which takes shape in our soul and "contaminates" others. The joy which the Spirit bestows upon the believer, in turn, conveys order and peace in life, serenity and harmony, and especially a sort of ataraxia, of spiritual serenity, which arouses everyoneís admiration. Why not ask the Holy Spirit to grant us these gifts of peace and joy more abundantly to prepare for Christmas? Let us rejoice in the Lord. Let us live the peace of God. Christmas is just around the corner.

 

 

Fourth Sunday of ADVENT 24th December 2000

First: Mic 5:1-4; Second: Heb 10:5-10; Gospel: Lk 1:39-48

THEME of the READINGS

What are the right relations between the human person and God? In todayís liturgy we find an answer to this question. The texts mainly refer to Jesusí and Maryís relationships with God. We read of Jesusí relationship with his Father (second reading), with John the Baptist in his motherís womb (Gospel), with prophecy (first reading) and with the Levitical priesthood (second reading). We also consider Maryís relationship with the Holy Spirit, with her cousin Elizabeth (Gospel) and especially with the Word (Gospel).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

 

Jesusí relationships. To exist as a human person means to be in and enter into relationships with others. Human relations may be extremely varied, but in the end they are reduced to three fundamental types: the relationship with God, with other individuals and with the world that surrounds us. The liturgy is concerned with the first two types of relationships. Jesusí fundamental relationship is with his Father. It is a filial relationship of obedience: "Here I am, I am coming, in the scroll of the book it is written of me, to do your will, God" (second reading). It is the obedience of a son who tries to please his father in everything. This filial obedience will go to the extreme of sacrifice. In the Christian mystery, we cannot separate Christmas from the Passion, Christmas from Easter. Jesus continues to be obedient to the Father through his relationship with prophecy, a relationship of fulfillment. The prophet Micah addresses Bethlehem, saying that it will not be the least of the clans of Judah because the ruler of Israel will come from it. In being born in Bethlehem, Jesus fulfills the prophecy in an attitude of obedience to the salvific history traced out by the Father. Jesusí relationship with Mary is a hidden, extraordinary relationship. Finally, the Gospel talks to us about a mysterious relationship between Jesus, in Maryís womb, and John the Baptist, in Elizabethís womb. Upon encountering the presence of God in history, through the Blessed Virgin Mary, the last of the prophets of Israel and the qualified representative of the Old Testament is filled with joy. It is the Messianic joy which preannounces the hour of salvation. The filial obedience of Jesus, who takes on the condition of time and history, bears fruit in the redeeming joy he brings to men.

Maryís relationship. Mary has two relationships that do not appear in the liturgical texts, but that are implicit: her relationship with the Holy Spirit and with the Word incarnate in her womb. Without these two relationships, we cannot explain the episode of Maryís visit to her cousin Elizabeth. The close and personal relationship of the Holy Spirit with Mary has made possible for the Word of God to become flesh and for a human person to be formed in her maternal womb. Maryís relationship with the Word of God is extremely mysterious and delicate: mysterious because the fertilization of her womb is the work of God, delicate because she is giving her flesh and blood to God. But she is especially giving him her love, her dedication, her entire self. Maryís relationship with Elizabeth is one based on service. She comes to help her in the last months of her pregnancy. She is moved by the natural bonds of relationship, but especially by the Spirit of God and by the Word which she feels present in her womb: a natural and spiritual movement at the same time. In the song of the Magnificat, Mary raises her voice to God to praise and thank him with joy for the mystery inside her, despite her smallness and humility. How can she but praise him who has turned to her to fulfill his plan of salvation, the most sublime and intense aspiration of men? Lastly, in Mary Micahís prophecy is also fulfilled. "Until she who is in labor gives birth" to the Messiah, he wrote. The relationship of is one of motherhood, through which Mary expresses all her femininity in relation to Jesus.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Knowing how to relate to others. In conversations we often hear people say, "You have to know how to relate to others." This means that it is good to have many relationships, and especially relationships with influential people. The reason is obvious: it gives us the possibility of having many doors open in the different spheres of human life (political, financial, social, professional, educational, religious...). Christians, and especially priests, should know how to relate with people of extraordinary influence: with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; with the Blessed Virgin Mary, our mother and queen; with the saints, our family and protectors in heaven. Obviously, these relationships wonít give you access to excellent jobs or to good business. But they will exercise their influence on your inner self, transforming it. They will influence your vision of things and of life, making it conform with Godís plan; on your relationship with human beings and things, so that it will always be inspired by love and service; on your relationship with your own history, perhaps converting it from a meaningless history into a meaning with a story. There is so much good that can come to us, and that can come to others, from knowing how to relate to God, the Virgin and the saints! In the everyday world, it is important to know how to relate to others. So why shouldnít it be the same in the field of the spirit? Blessed are those who know how to relate to others, for they will be like a leafy tree that bears fruit when the season comes: fruits of goodness, happiness and salvation.

Relating to others for the Kingdom. We Christians live in the world, in the kingdom of history, although we belong to the Kingdom of God. And in the kingdom of history, human relations are very important. We have no reason for despising them. Nor should we abuse them, putting them at the service of our self-interest. We must use them to build the Kingdom of God. We must relate with those in power, so that they help us to help those who are not only powerless, but who are deprived of food, home, clothing or rights. We must relate to the needy, so that they become aware that the Kingdom of God belongs to them and invites them to do everything they can to make their existence more human, more dignified, freer and happier. We must relate to the living and powerful forces of a people, a city, a State or a nation to convince them that they are children of the Kingdom of God to the extent that they use their power to the benefit of the neediest. And once they are convinced of this, they must get to work. If all of us Christians were to put our relations at the service of the Kingdom, the world would surely walk down more human paths, more marked by our faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ came into contact with history to establish the Kingdom of his Father. After 2000 years, what are we Christians doing?

 

Christmas EVE MASS 24th December 2000

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

THEME of the READINGS

 

"A Savior is born!" This is the central message of the liturgy of this Holy Night. A Savior with extraordinary traits is prophesized by Isaiah: "Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace..." (first reading). He is a Savior who comes for all, especially for the smallest and the most humble, like the shepherds (Gospel). He is a Savior who teaches us to renounce impiety and worldly passions and to live with sensibility, justice and piety in the present time (second reading).

 

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The traits of our Savior. 1) Perhaps the first striking thing about our Savior is that he is a newborn baby, and whatís more, that he was born poor. He has not done anything yet: he has not preached or worked miracles, he has not been crucified, nor has he risen from the dead. He begins to save us with his very birth. It is evident that he does not save through what he does or thanks to his social and economic conditions; rather, he saves because of Who he is, God made child. The world will not be saved by the extraordinary and grandiose works of men, but by the presence and transparence of God in the lives of Christians. 2) He is a Savior for all. In the first reading, the Savior is promised to Galilee of the Gentiles, where next to people of a strict Jewish observance there were also many entirely pagan cities and others that had a mixture of races and religions. In the Gospel, the first beneficiaries of the annunciation of a Savior are the shepherds, humble people who had a bad reputation among the Jews. In his letter to Titus, St Paul tells us that "Godís grace has been revealed to save the whole human race" (second reading). No one for any reason can fall prey to despair before our Savior. 3) The Savior is King, the descendant of David, who has the best qualities to rule over men. He has the gift of counsel, he has the very power of God, he is like a father for everyone, he is especially concerned with peace and he rules with fairness and justice, seeking the good of all. Our king and Savior meets all the requirements to bring to the world peace, justice, well-being and happiness. 4) He is a child like all other children in the world, but at the same time he is absolutely unique. Indeed, heaven itself intervenes to rejoice and glorify God for the presence of this Child on earth.

Human beings and the Savior. 1) If the Child we celebrate in this holy night is the Savior of all, then our attitude should be to accept his salvation with love. To accept it with love we must recognize that we need this salvation, and we must also be aware that self-salvation is impossible. Salvation is conferred upon us: it is not part of human rights, nor is it the object of a conquest. Accepting salvation requires a free act on the part of God and a unique appreciation on my part for the person who saves me on his own initiative and without asking me for anything in advance. When a person does not accept this saving Child, it is usually out of ignorance: they do not know what they are missing. 2) Those who accept him must do so with joy, the joy of those who were enveloped by a great darkness and are now seeing the light; the joy of the farmer when harvest time comes; the joy of the soldiers who, according to the customs of those ancient times, after a victory would share the spoils of war. 3) The welcoming of our Savior grants us the power of renewal; it is a commitment for life. The Child saves us so that like him, we may embrace the values of prudence, strength, justice and piety in our lives. There is no doubt that Godís salvation is not a cheap salvation; it implies the salvation of the world and every individual who embraces it. "Outside him, there is

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

A night never to forget. In the life of every person there is some episode, some moment of his existence that he will never forget. We usually define these as decisive experiences, because they have a great impact on our intelligence, sensitivity and memory. If someone was involved in a fatal accident but managed to escape death miraculously, will he be able to forget it? Or consider the birth of the first child to parents who really wanted a baby; the sleepless night in which after countless seemingly fruitless months the artist is inspired to paint or to begin a literary work; the death of a person we loved greatly; or the first time one underwent surgery; the first architectural plan or our first Mass as a priest. This Christmas Eve, a Christmas of the Jubilee in which we celebrate the 2000th anniversary of Jesus Christís birth, must be one of these strong, religious experiences in your life that you will never forget it. I invite you to be involved in the mystery that we are celebrating with your whole self and your whole ability to experience love. I invite you to ask this divine Child intensely, with a humble heart, to confer upon you the miracle of faith, love and hope so alive, so penetrating, so deep that they remain recorded in your memory forever. Unfortunately, there will be many people for whom this Christmas will be just another day or just another Christmas. May it not be so for you. God wants to engrave this holy night in golden letters in your mind, in your heart, and in the rest of your future.

If the Savior knocks... The society in which we live has forced us to be cautious with those who knock on our door. It may be a friend, but it may also be a criminal, a stranger with bad intentions, a dangerous person... To avert the risk, we use bars, bolts, a peephole on the door, etc. No measures seem sufficient to protect our life and privacy. If tonight a Child were to knock on your door, would you be able to recognize that he is your Savior? And if the Savior knocks on your door, will you be willing to open your door wide? The great tragedy of human beings is that the Savior knocks and knocks at their door, but they donít open. Perhaps because in seeing that he is a child, we think that he cannot save us. Or perhaps because the salvation that he offers us is different from the one that we dream about, although we may be wrong and have an extremely limited kind of salvation in mind. If God gives you salvation, it cannot be the one that you want, but the one that he gives you. If he gives it to you, accept it as it is. If he gives it to you, thank him for it. If he gives it to you, consider the love with which this Child is giving it to you, and remember that he really loves you. If he gives it to you, you should give it to others in turn, because it is a strange gift: the more you give it, the more it grows. If the Savior comes knocking at your door on this holy night... what are you waiting for? Open up your door wide. I assure you that you will not regret it in your life.

 

 

Christmas MASS 25th December 2000

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

THEME of the READINGS

We might say that this Christmas Dayís readings all seek to give an answer to the great question that has run across two thousand years of Christianity: Who is Jesus Christ? We especially find the answer in the prologue of the Gospel according to St John: Jesus is the Word, the Creator of the universe, the Light of the world, the Revealer of the Father, etc. This answer by the Gospel is placed in the context of the prophecies of the Old Testament: Jesus Christ is the messenger who brings peace and salvation (first reading); Jesus Christ is the last and definitive prophet of God (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Who is Jesus Christ? In the Christian world on the 25th of December we celebrate the birth of a child: Jesus of Nazareth who for two thousand years has revolutionized the history of humanity, especially that of the West. Non-Christians may ask themselves who this child is that the Christians celebrate with such solemnity. And it would not be bad for us to ask ourselves that question too, on this unique occasion of Christmas. Or better yet, we should ask the Bible, through which God speaks and reveals himself to us.

1) Jesus Christ is the Word, living in God and that setting up his tent among us at a given time in history. Before being a word pronounced by history, Jesus Christ is the Word pronounced by God himself. In the world of God, the Father is pronounces the Word eternally. In Bethlehem, at the time of Emperor Augustus, the eternal Word was pronounced by human lips, and became a word of flesh. The Wordís name is Jesus of Nazareth. Who is Jesus? He is the Word, which when pronounced by human beings sounds like Jesus of Nazareth. Who is the Word? It is Jesus, whom the Father calls the Word. In the mystery of Jesus Christ the eternity of time cannot be separated from the Word of Jesus. It would be like betraying Godís revelation. Throughout history, God had spoken words through the prophets, words that manifested the revelation of God in an incomplete way. With Jesus Christ the Father pronounces the last and only Word, which summarizes all of revelation and brings it to completion (second reading).

2) Jesus is the Life and true Light of the world. Life and light are two frequently used images in all of the Old Testament. God is the Creator of life (plants, animals, man). He is the Creator and at the same time the Lord, who uses life to achieve his inscrutable plans. We were created for life, not for death. However, because of sin, the kingdom of death has established itself in history. When we Christians proclaim that Jesus is Life, we affirm that he has overcome death and restored life to humanity. Once life is restored, it becomes like a beacon in a world imprisoned by darkness. In proclaiming that Jesus of Nazareth at the very time of his birth is the Life and Light of the world, we are also affirming that he is not any old life or any light, ephemeral and weak, but the original Life and Light, present in God himself. Because he is Life and Light, his personal history, in itself just another history among the histories of men, is the source of Life and Light for all of humanity.

3) Jesus reveals the Father. "No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is close to the Fatherís heart, who has made him known." Jesus Christ is not only the one who was revealed by the prophets - for example, by Micah, as messenger of peace, comfort and salvation. Nor was he just revealed as being superior to the angels (second reading). He himself, in person, is revealing. And what more profound reality can he reveal to us if not the mystery of God, from whom he comes and in whom he dwells, absolutely unknown to men? The Father is not visible. He makes himself visible and present in Jesus Christ. Jesus makes the Father visible by telling us about him through the parables of the merciful father, and he especially tells us about the Father by the way he lives in the world among men.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Who is Jesus Christ to you? We must leave general issues aside and ask ourselves in a very personal way: who is Jesus Christ to me? Our existence will take different roads, it will have different standards in life depending on whether we answer this question just with our lips, or with our whole heart. If Jesus Christ is everything to me - my God, my Savior, my model, my everything - I will try to make this belief real in my life. If Jesus Christ is an extraordinary man, the most enigmatic and greatest of Adamís children, but nothing more than a man, perhaps I will be a great admirer of his person, I will try to follow his morally exemplary life, but I will never kneel before him, or invoke him as the Redeemer, or give my life to believe in him. If Jesus Christ was nothing more than "a hippie among yuppies," as some have said, or a failed Messiah, as many Jews think, or just another reincarnation of Vishnu among the many that have existed and that continue to come into existence, does it make any sense to continue to be a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth? Why continue the pantomime by reciting the Creed? This Christmas, let us reaffirm our faith in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, the Redeemer of the world.

The presence of Christ in history. Jesus Christ is the living Jesus Christ. He has not gone down in history, as many characters who one day, centuries or millennia ago, loved and were loved, lived in the same places that which we live in, in the towns or cities of our planet. Jesus Christ does not belong to the past. By virtue of our very historical condition we have a relationship with the past and with the future, but Jesus is present, with no other relations. He is alive, he is at your side, he accompanies you. He loves you, looks after you, enlightens you with his life, speaks to you his words of truth and life. He wants what is good for you, does not leave you alone when you go in the wrong direction, is a friend who will always be straight with you when truth and eternal destiny are concerned. Jesus lives in your heart by virtue of your friendship and communion with him. He lives in the Eucharist, in the tabernacle. He lives in the Bible, the immortal Word of God to man. He lives in men and women who believe in him, love him and follow in his footsteps. He lives in the Pope and in the bishops who represent him before men. He lives in innocent children, he who never stopped being a child in his relationship with his Father. He lives to give us life, to always remind us that our destiny is life, or better yet, Life.

 

Sunday of the HOLY FAMILY 31st December 2000

First: 1 Sam 1:20-22.24-28; Second: 1Jn 3:1-2.21-24; Gospel: Lk 2:41-52

THEME of the READINGS

What other concept can unite this Sundayís texts, if not the family? Reference is made to the family of God: God the Father, the Son of God, and human beings who have become children of God through faith (second reading, Gospel). In the first reading and in the Gospel two families are mentioned, between whom there seem to be some analogies, with some similarities and many differences. They are the families of Hannah and Mary. To both women, God granted a son in a unique way: the prophet Samuel to Hannah, and Jesus of Nazareth to Mary.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The family of God. When we talk about the family of God, we can only do so by analogy. For example, there is no gender in God, which is why we donít have a father on one side and a mother on the other. In God we donít have the multiple facets of nature either, as a result of which the same and unique nature is shared by the Father and by the Son. However, revelation tells us about God as Father, about Jesus Christ as the natural Son of God, and about Christians as adopted children of God. The loveliest and fullest features of the father and mother - their generous and disinterested love, their ability to give, their fruitfulness, their dedication to their children, their burning desire for their children to grow healthy and be happy - we find these and other features in God in an eminent way. In the Son of God the qualities of affection and filial obedience shine forth, as do his gratefulness, his wanting and seeking what pleases the Father, his closeness to and absolute trust in his Father. The Christian is a son in the Son, and for this reason, the Father only recognizes as his children those who have taken on the same filial traits as Jesus Christ, his Son. Before this reality of Godís family, St John exclaims, as if in ecstasy: "You must see what great love the Father has lavished on us by letting us be called Godís children, which is what we are!" (second reading) And in the Gospel, when Jesus was found by his parents in the Temple after they had been looking for him for three long days, he says to them: "Did you not know that I must be in my Fatherís house?" It is important to elevate oneself up to the family of God, because in a way, it is the archetype of the human family.

Hannahís and Maryís families. The Bible tells us of two families. One, Hannahís family, belongs to the Old Testament, while the other, Maryís, belongs to the New Testament. Both families, Elkanah and Hannah and Joseph and Mary, were upright in Godís eyes. Hannah was married and could not have children because she was sterile, Mary was betrothed to Joseph and she was a virgin. Hannah prayed to Yahweh to give her a son, Mary asked that his will be done. God listens to Hannahís prayer, making her bear a son; God fulfills his will with Mary, making her a mother without her ceasing to be a virgin. Samuel, the son of Hannah, occupies a significant place in the history of salvation; Jesus, the son of Mary, is at its summit and expresses its fullness. Elkanah is Samuelís natural father, Joseph is only Jesusí legal father. When he was three, Samuel was taken to the temple at Shiloh before Yahweh, and he was consecrated to him for his entire life. Jesus was consecrated to Yahweh forty days after his birth, and for thirty years lived in Nazareth with his parents. Samuel lived in the temple, at the service of Yahweh; Jesus, when he was twelve, stayed behind in the Temple without his parents knowing it, amazed the teachers with his intelligence and answers, and replied to Mary and Joseph with an enigmatic question: "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Fatherís house?" The Sacred Scriptures tells us nothing more about Samuelís relationship with his parents; Jesus, however, lived in Nazareth with his parents until he was thirty years old, in filial obedience. In both cases, a common element is emphasized: both in Hannahís and Maryís family, God is important and he is relied on. The cultural and sociological conditions of the family may change greatly, but the fact that God is important and that one relies on him is an essential aspect of every family, whatever the cultural, political or sociological conditions.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Being and building a family. Being a family implies a father, a mother, and at least one child, although the more the better. We must respect all human beings, whatever their state or condition, but at the same time we need to identify situations with honesty and frankness. This is why I think that a single woman with a child is not a family in the ideal sense, nor is a single man with a child, although such cases today are not rare. Two lesbians or two homosexuals with a child are not a family. Most of the time if not always, in such cases God is not important, and is not relied upon.

Second, being a family means building a family. In other words, to build the family means building day after day, brick after brick. The family is built with the partnership of all of its members, with each member fulfilling his or her task as father, mother and child. If the tasks or roles are shifted or distorted, the family cannot be built. For example, if the parents give in to their childrenís whims, or if the children are often subjected to the whims of the parents (a divorce, a lover...), things donít work. One never finishes building the family, itís a life-long process. It is a task that requires sacrifice on the part of all involved (parents and children), so that they can make each other happy.

Save the family! It is rather obvious that the family is being attacked from all sides. It is equally true that so far, although many have fallen in the battle, the institution of the family has survived these attacks fairly well. It seems increasingly clear to political scientists, sociologists and communications specialists that the clear voice of the Catholic Church, always but more intensely so since the advent of the 20th century, is a prophetic voice filled with wisdom, which must be listened to. As the Jubilee of the Incarnation of the Word draws to a close, the Church and all upright and just human beings must raise their voices and cry out: "Letís save the family!" The family must be saved from the ambiguous language that lies in ambush everywhere. It must be saved from all the viruses that destroy it: divorce, infidelity, hedonism, selfish individualism. It must be saved by promoting the sense of family, by enhancing the human and spiritual richness of the family. It must be saved by educating young people to love, teaching them responsibility and the ability to give oneself. It must be saved by offering examples of the family. No one must be excluded. We all have a part to play in this great task of saving the family.

 

 

 

Solemnity of Mary, MOTHER OF GOD. 1st of January 2001

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

THEME of the READINGS

Recalling and remembering are proper to the People of Israel, to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to Christians. In their worship, the People of Israel recall the wonders that God has worked, which are summed up in blessing and peace (first reading). Mary recalls the events that she has experienced around the mystery of her divine motherhood (Gospel). The Christian community recalls Jesus as an entirely human being (born of a woman, born under the Law), but at the same time the Son of God, capable of freeing people from all slavery (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Memory of the "wonders of the Lord." In the People of Israel, a unique case, there is a very clear awareness of Godís presence as they walk down the paths of history, which for the human mind are often tortuous and dark. From the time of Adam, everything responds to a plan, a salvific history, and God is the creator and guide of this history. The Israelites do not cease to admire, generation after generation, the surprising and magnificent works carried out by God for the good of his people: the plagues of Egypt, the liberation from Egyptian slavery, the revelation on Mt Sinai and the gift of the Decalogue, the victory over the different enemies that they have to face on their way to the Promised Land, the land which overflows with milk and honey, the living and consoling presence in the temple of Jerusalem, the unexpected return from the exile in Babylon... The place for remembering par excellence is the liturgy, first in the shrine and then in the temple of Jerusalem. This is especially true of the liturgy of the great feasts: the Passover, Pentecost, the Feast of the Tabernacles. But it is also true of the liturgy of every day and of minor feasts, like the new year, new moon, or the feast of "Purim". The memory of all these great events was collected in a succinct form, at the end of the dayís liturgy, in the blessing of the first reading, and it was projected as a wish for the future. Thanks to the memory of the wonders of the Lord we have the Old Testament, and as Christians we know our origins and Godís way of working throughout history. The early Christians continued to recall Godís wonders in the life of Jesus and of the early Church, which is why we have the New Testament and the great mystery, the raison díêtre of our existence, of our mission in the world and of our ultimate destiny.

Our Lady of Remembering. On two occasions, which are related to Jesusí childhood, Saint Luke mentions Mary recalling past events. It is not an isolated, one-off act, but an attitude of Maryís, which she keeps throughout her earthly life. In the Magnificat, she recalls Godís mercy, from generation to generation, on those who fear him. Mary especially recalls the events in which she has taken part: the Incarnation of the Word, the birth of Jesus, the adoration of the shepherds and of the Magi, the circumcision of the Child Jesus, the giving of his name, etc. She recalls the facts, but mainly the ineffable mystery that is concealed in the facts, to enter into the mystery by means of faith and love. We can also think of the figure of Mary in the last years of her life, recalling the life of Jesus in Nazareth, the public life of her son, the Paschal mystery, Pentecost, the beginnings of the Church... Mary enters the storeroom of memory not with the nostalgia of profound and unrepeatable experiences, but with the joy of someone who lives such moments in the present, thanks to the depth and richness of the mystery enclosed therein which challenges all. Mary, the feminine and maternal image of the Church, draws our attention to the importance of remembering, of active contemplation, in order for Christianity to be faithful to its origins and in them find the most genuine impulse towards action and apostolic ministry.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Is there a Christian amnesia? In human life, amnesia is one of the symptoms of old age, of decrepitude. The more the years, the worse off the ability to remember. Does this human phenomenon take place in society and in institutions in the same way? If there is a sort of historical amnesia, a sign that society or an institution has lost its vitality and is growing old? Referring now to the Church, can we speak of a Christian amnesia? At least we can say that there are certain alarming symptoms: today there are baptized people who do not know that basics of the Catechism; sometimes they do not even know the Ten Commandments. There are baptized people who know nothing of the great milestones of the history of salvation, even the great mysteries of the life of Jesus Christ. There are baptized people who do not even know about the significant moments of the history of the Church, or the great truths of Christian dogma and morality... What can we say in such cases if not that the Church has lost its memory in many of its children? To recover that memory, there is no other way but to create a savor for memory, to get the younger generations to appreciate the extraordinary treasure of Christian tradition, to help them recall it with the awareness that in the past we find the seeds that bloom in the present and that will bear their mature fruit in the future. It will also be useful to point out that the Christians who have no memory of their origins or history are committing a serious omission, which will harm them in their Christian identity, but which also damages the ecclesial community because it makes it grow old rather than renewing and rejuvenating it.

To recall by praying the rosary. One of the most effective means that the Church offers Christian piety to recall is the praying of the Holy Rosary. The rosary is prayed in honor and praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but the main events in the life of Jesus Christ are at the center of the mysteries that are recalled. In this devotion, which in our time has lost wide appeal, devotion to Mary is combined with the memory of the great truths of the Christian mystery, thus achieving a highly recommendable synthesis between faith and piety. In the memory of such events we are accompanied by Mary, who experienced them personally, and who now serves as our guide and model. With her and through her memory, we remember the joyful mysteries, that are related to the coming of the Messiah among us, Emmanuel, and in which Mary took part in a unique and exceptional way. We also recall the sorrowful mysteries, the mysteries that refer to the last days of Jesusí life among human beings, in which he brought to perfection the work of Redemption by dying on a cross, at whose feet Mary shared his pain and cooperated in a unique way in the work of Redemption. Finally, let us recall the glorious mysteries, in which we celebrate the triumph of Jesus Christ and, associated with him and through his work, the triumph of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose body and soul rose to heavenly glory. Has the practice of praying the rosary gone out of fashion? How can we pray the rosary, either individually or in a group, in order for it to be a living memory of the mysteries of our faith, taken from Maryís motherly hand?

 

Solemnity of the EPIPHANY of the LORD. 6th January 2001

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

THEME of the READINGS

Jesus Christ, from his birth, is a sign of contradiction for human beings. For some, like the wise men who come from the East (Gospel), or for Paul, coming from the Diaspora, he is the epiphany, a resplendent manifestation of his mystery (second reading); an epiphany which is prefigured in the first reading, according to which all peoples will feel attracted by the light and glory of Jerusalem. For others who live in Jerusalem, the capital of Judaism, and who hold the political (Herod) or religious (priests and teachers of the Law) authority over the Jewish people, Jesus, the Messiah, is nothing but a dangerous rival (for Herod) or a mere object of sacred science, upon which they report with the objectivity of experts (priests, scribes).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Paradigmatic attitudes to Jesus. From the very beginning of Jesusí life, and later throughout the entire Gospel, we see human beings exhibiting two basic attitudes towards him: they either accept him or reject him. Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men from the East (todayís Gospel), Simeon and the prophetess Anna accept the reality and mystery that surround Jesus of Nazareth. King Herod, the priests and teachers of the Law (Gospel), and the Bethlehemites adopt an attitude of rejection. From the very outset, Jesus is a controversial flag: some, filled with joy, wish to always hold it up very high; others, who are hostile, wish to bring it down and destroy it. It is not obvious, although it is easily perceived, that already in the Old Testament these are the two attitudes of people before God, which in the New Testament become the attitudes of the individuals before Jesus Christ and the early Church; and that such attitudes have continued to exist in history until the present day. Whether or not people want him to, whether or not they know it, the person of Jesus has something to do with their life, and not in a merely accidental way. Jesus is the link between human life and history. The reason lies in the fact that all people, deep in their conscience, are seeking a Savior, and the only true Savior is Jesus Christ. This truth is not a philosophical axiom or a deduction of mathematical logic, but a loving revelation of God "to the apostles and prophets" and through them to all human beings (second reading). Human beings can make mistakes in their quest for the Savior, they may even think about and seek other saviors, but whomever they may think about, the target towards which they aim the arrow of their heart is Jesus of Nazareth, the worldís Redeemer.

From attitudes to actions. Attitudes logically lead to action. The Magi discover in the firmament the star of the Messiah, they diligently set out, they overcome quite a few obstacles, and before the child Jesus, they prostrate themselves, worship him and offer him their gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. These are concrete actions with which they manifest their joyful acceptance. They are the representatives of the Gentiles, prefigured in the first reading taken from Isaiah, "The nations will come to your light and kings to your dawning brightness." Herod is startled, investigates, hides his intentions, plots the death of this child. The high priests and scribes, in turn, show their knowledge of the Scripture, and confine themselves simply to providing information. Throughout Jesusí life and in the twenty-one centuries of Christianity, how many millions of actions have been undertaken for and against Jesus, rejecting him and accepting him! This is an extraordinarily valuable key to reading and understanding the history of the West, but also that of the East: universal history. The great upsets and falls of empires, the great changes in political, cultural or social realms, with all the related consequences, the great ideological movements: donít they receive their most powerful light from "Christ, the event," rejected by some, accepted by others? All must reflect upon this historical key.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Be attentive to the signs of God! The Magi saw a new star in the heavens, and this aroused their interest and determined their quest. It was a sign that God sent them and they did not let it go unnoticed. Instead, they deciphered its meaning and set out. Indeed, in 7 BC the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn took place in the Pisces constellation. Jupiter represented universal sovereignty, while Saturn was the star of the Jewish people and Pisces signified the end of time. Conclusion: the universal king was born in Judea, in the fullness of time. Attention, reflection, action! We must be attentive because day after day God is sowing many signs of his presence and of his effective love, in the little reality of our life and in the different events of local, national or international history. We must reflect because they are signs and not evidence, and because due to their very nature, signs refer us to another reality beyond them. Once the sign has been interpreted correctly, we must go on from attention and reflection to action, in order for the sign of God to bear fruit in the world of concrete actions. Today God continues to talk to people with words and actions. But perhaps we are not prepared to decipher his language. Arenít the martyrs of the Twentieth Century a sign of God? Two million young people gathered in Rome for the World Youth Day and for the Youth Jubilee: might this not be a significant word that God is addressing us? And what about ecclesial movements? And the rebirth of the religious spirit and of the thirst for the transcendent?

A world with something to offer God. Every year we Christians celebrate Christmas and Epiphany. God gives himself to us, small and powerless, in a manger or in the hands of his mother, Mary. He gives himself to us as Savior, as Love, as a way of life, to all unconditionally. What is the world offering the Savior in exchange? What do we offer him, each and every one of us? Does the world have a bit more peace to offer to him who is called the "Prince of Peace"? Does the world have solidarity with the neediest - be they individuals or nations - to offer to the one who wanted to share everything with human beings, apart from sin? Does the world offer more bread to the hungry, more medicine to the sick, more help for education to those who have no means, knowing that "whatever you do to one of my brothers you do unto me?" Does the world have more truth, more honesty, more justice for the one who is the Truth, the Upright One par excellence? Each new year, the world can offer many good things to God. Each one of us is part of this world, each one of us may and must offer "something" to God. What do you think you can contribute in this first year of the third millennium?

Second Sunday after CHRISTMAS. 7th January 2001

First: Sir 24:1-4.12-16; Second: Eph 1:3-6.15-18; Gospel: Jn 1:1-18

THEME of the READINGS

The Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, is a gift of the Father. This sentence summarizes the meaning of the liturgy of this second Sunday after Christmas. The Father has blessed us with all sorts of spiritual goods, among which stands out the Messianic gift, through Christ (second reading). In the history of divine blessings, which corresponds to the history of human beings, God has given himself as the gift of Wisdom, first to the People of Israel (first reading), and then to the Christian people, since Jesus Christ is the Wisdom of God, the only one who has seen God and who can reveal him to us (Gospel). In this same long history, God has given himself to us as the eternal Word, who became mortal flesh in Jesus of Nazareth (Gospel).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

A gift for Israel, a gift for the world. There is nothing more extraordinary than the fact that God wanted to be a gift for humankind. It is not that he wanted to give human beings things, or material objects. That would be great in itself, but is very little before the wonder of a God who gives the gift of himself. In the history of Godís relations with human beings, he is above all a gift incarnated in the form of wisdom. What we find in the first reading is divine Wisdom. It pre-existed by God and has come out of his mouth, and at once has pitched its tent in Jerusalem and has its resting place in Israel. In other words, in the midst of human wisdom, so extraordinary, in the midst of neighboring countries like Mesopotamia and Egypt, Israel enjoys a greater Wisdom, through which God reveals to Israel his plans and projects and manifests to it the meaning of things and history. With the passing of the centuries, as the culminating time of all of history approaches, a unique change occurs: God does not only give himself as a spiritual gift (wisdom), but also a personal one (Incarnation of the Word, of the Word of God). No sign of admiration is capable of expressing such an exceptional gift. Who will be able to understand the fact that God breaks through the mystery of his transcendence, enters history and gives himself to us in a recently born human creature (Gospel)? Eternity will not exhaust our bewilderment before this great mystery. It is not a necessity for God; he does not feel compelled by anyone; it does not perfect him in his divinity. Only love explains it, the love that is effusive and generous. Furthermore, it is not just a personal gift: it is also universal, global. Light for all nations. As long as history exists, God will be a gift for all, without any distinction according to who one is. People will be able to say, "I donít want it, I donít need it," but they will never be able to say, "I have been excluded, he is not for me..." Jesus Christ is the gift of the Father for all of humankind.

A gift in fullness. The images that the Book of Sirach uses to communicate this fullness to us are lovely: Wisdom, resorting to images of plants, says of itself that it is like a cedar of Lebanon, like a palm in En-Gedi, like the rosebushes of Jericho, or a full terebinth. It also makes use of aromatic images to describe the same fullness: the perfume of the Indian laurel (cinnamon), the scent of balm or myrrh, the penetrating smell of galbanum, onycha and labdanum; especially the smoke of incense in the tent, which is composed of all the scents mentioned here. The beauty and elegance of the trees, the freshness and color of the rosebush, the intensity of the perfumes are combined to underscore the fullness of the divine gift of wisdom. The Gospel is more sober in terms of images, but richer in meaning. It talks about the glory of the only Son of the Father, FULL of grace and truth, and a bit later, it talks about his FULLNESS, and about the way in which we have all received grace upon grace... And doesnít the hymn of the Letter to the Ephesians refer to the fullness of human beings when it says that "he marked us out for himself beforehand, to be adopted sons, through Jesus Christ?" The greatness and fullness of the gift refer us to the greatness and fullness of the Giver. Nobility compels one to be thankful!

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

A gift that has come from afar. It is not the distant stars that, after many years or centuries, give us their rays of light. It is not the earth that, in such different and remote corners, offers human beings the generosity of its minerals or its fruits. It is not human beings who give us their creativity, their work, or their genius. All of these realities belong to the created world. The gift comes to us from a world and a distance that have not been created, from a dimension beyond all creatures, from the transcendental God. Jesus Christ, the gift of God, comes from afar, but he makes room for himself in the heart of events and of human beings to the extent of becoming just another human being. This is where our perplexity lies. We see him so like ourselves that we may be inclined to think that he does not come from the world of God. When he is in his motherís arms, there is (apparently) nothing divine about him. And unfortunately, since he does not appear to be like God, we human beings often conclude that he cannot be, nor is he like, God. We would rather say that he is a great figure of history, that his personality is extremely attractive, that his morality reaches great heights and nobility, that his capacity to influence is imposing, that he is a living paradox for he is the most loved and the most hated of all human beings born of woman... However, this line of reasoning does not allow us to make the fundamental statement: He is a gift of God, and has come from the same world as God. In coming into this world and becoming man, he has come to stay with us. In being with us but coming from the world of God, he has come to take us with him to the distant world from which he came, the unknown world that is our true and final homeland. Do we accept with faith and love this Gift who is so close, who is like a child, and yet so transcendent as to be like God himself?

Witnesses of the divine gift. In the Gospel, John the Baptist is called the witness of the Light, so that all may believe through him. John is the witness of this Light, of this divine Wisdom that is Jesus Christ. In following the Baptist, in a certain way we are all called to be witnesses of the divine Gift, Jesus Christ. The world will believe if the witnesses of Christ increase. And if faith diminishes in our country, is it not perhaps because the witnesses have decreased? Teachers can clarify the truth of the divine Gift, but witnesses establish the truth, and in establishing it they give credit to and guarantee it. Christ, Godís Gift to mankind, needs witnesses. Children, witnesses of Christ for children and older people; young people, witnesses of Christ for the young and the not so young; adults, witnesses of Christ for adults and for children and young people. Convinced and bold witnesses, like Pope John Paul II. Christ needs family men who are not afraid to pass on the torch of their Christian witness to their children; educators who are witnesses of Christ for their students; parish priests who with their holy lives are witnesses of Christís Gift to all of their parishioners. Am I a true witness of Jesus Christ? What am I already doing and what more can I do to make my witness credible, and for God to make it effective?

 

 

Baptism of the LORD. 14th January 2001

First: Is 40:1-5.9-11; Second: Tit 2:11-14; 3:4-7; Gospel: Lk 3:15-

THEME of the READINGS

Although the words novelty or new do not actually appear in the texts of todayís liturgy, all of the texts refer, in a certain way, to the novelty of Godís action in history. Godís language in Isaiah is new, "Her period of service is ended..., let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be leveled, every cliff become a plateau, every escarpment a plain... here is Lord Yahweh coming with power, his arm maintains his authority." It is absolutely novel for Jesus to be baptized by John, for heaven to open, for the Holy Spirit to descend in the form of a dove, for a voice to come from heaven, "You are my Son; today have I fathered you." The reality of people who have received baptism is a new one, "by means of the cleansing water of rebirth and renewal in the Holy Spirit which he has so generously poured over us through Jesus Christ our Savior."

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The novelty comes from God. People, from the very beginnings, have borne within themselves the deterioration and the old flesh of sin. They are immersed in it, like in a deep well, from which it is impossible for them to get out by themselves. Since it is a reality affecting all of mankind, nobody on his own can help others to get out. This is the sad human condition. People can cry out, despair, curse; or they may feel the burden of guilt, ask for forgiveness and help, hope. What is clear is that only God can give them a hand; only God can change their old flesh into the newness of grace and mercy. It is equally clear that God wants to lend a hand and act in our favor, because "Man was created in his image and likeness." The liturgy presents three historical moments of Godís intervention: he first intervenes to free the People of Israel from the slavery of Babylon (first reading), then to reveal to the world Jesusí divine Sonship (Gospel), and finally to show humankind the new condition created in those who have received baptism (second reading). The consequence is logical: if God has intervened in the past by bursting into our life and hope, he intervenes in the present and will continue to do so in the future, because Godís most characteristic quality is faithfulness.

The novelty is invisible. The newness that God pours into peopleís hearts effects and has repercussions in history, but in and of itself it is invisible, interior and spiritual. He first of all renews the heart, then from peopleís hearts and with their help, he also converts historical reality. In the people having been exiled from Babylon, he first of all created their longing for Zion, the desire and decision to go back. Then he arranged historical events in such a way that such a desire and decision might be fulfilled. In the case of Jesus, the theophany of baptism makes us discover an initial novelty, which will unfold throughout the course of his public life, and especially in the mystery of his Death and Resurrection. The novelty of the baptized will only be perceived over time, to the extent to which there is a vital consistency between the novelty poured into their hearts by God and the concrete and daily existence of the Christian. For those of us who are judging things from the outside, it is often difficult to detect the relationship between inner newness and its historical manifestations in the ordinary life of every human being. This is why it is so difficult to pass judgment on the true, inner life of people; and how easily we can be mistaken!

Novelty is effective. If it comes from God, novelty or newness cannot but be effective. Godís action may be carried out provided that people do not put up obstacles. The theophany or manifestation of God narrated to us by the Gospel assumed that Jesus, the Son of God, was baptized by a man, John; without this action on the part of Jesus, such a theophany, would not have taken place. Peopleís regeneration and inner renewal are assured: "...we should give up everything contrary to true religion and all our worldly passions," (second reading) which as such hamper any action by Godís Spirit. On the other hand, we must admit that Godís effectiveness is not something that we can manipulate to our advantage and free will. God shows his effectiveness when he loves and in the way he loves. It is not the exiles in Babylon who set the terms and ways for God to free them from slavery; it is God who determines them and puts them into action.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Baptism, the Epiphany of God. In the Gospel, Jesusí baptism is an epiphany. The same must occur with the baptism of Christians: an epiphany of what God is and of what God does in people. We could say that the baptized are ones in whom the Trinitarian God becomes manifest, by virtue of the personal relationship he has with each of the divine persons. As children of the Father, we experience a true filial relationship, especially in prayer and worship. As people having been redeemed by the Son and submerged in his very life, with the Son we establish a relationship based on following and imitation. As temples of the Holy Spirit, we live with the awareness of a sacred and sanctifying relationship, one which is life-giving in our daily lives, which shapes our family, professional and social life. At the same time, the baptized are the epiphany of Godís action in people: a purifying action, which manifests Godís forgiveness; a transforming action, which emphasizes Godís power; an action which unifies the energies and capabilities of Christians, which underscores Godís unitary mystery; a life-giving action, which through people reveals the extraordinary life of the one and triune God. It is important for preaching and catechesis to clearly bear in mind and develop, as well as explain, these spiritual and pastoral aspects of the sacrament of baptism. Thus baptism will not be the sacrament of "unawareness", but the sacrament of Godís daily epiphany in the life, faith and work of the baptized.

Baptized forever. In the Catechism it is said that baptism stamps a "character", that is, that baptism is received only once and for life. What happens, then, when people donít live as Christians? When they forsake their own faith? When they change religion and creed? The baptismal mark leaves a trace, a trace that is a reminder and an invitation, "Remember that you have been baptized," "Know what you are, live what you are." You are free, but the divine trace points out the real path towards your freedom, away from deceitful mirages. And what about the baptized who truly wish to live as baptized persons should? Each day, they must adjust their lives to the divine trace that has been stamped upon them. They must bear witness, with determination and courage, to the transformation that God has brought about in their being through baptism. As baptized persons, they must live fully conscious of their baptism, day after day, forever.

Second Sunday of ORDINARY TIME. 21st January 2001

First: Is 62:1-5; Second: 1 Cor 12:4-11; Gospel: Jn 2:1-12

THEME of the READINGS

The image of the wedding occupies a central place in todayís liturgy. In the Gospel, reference is made to the wedding at Cana, but it is especially insinuated that Jesus is the bridegroom. Jerusalem will no longer be known as "forsaken" or "desolate", but it will be called "The Married One", and its country will have a bridegroom (first reading). The Christian community, Christís bride, enjoys the diversity of charisms that the one and only Spirit sheds upon it to put them at the service of all, and that are like the dowry of Christ, the bridegroom (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The spousal prefiguration of the Messiah. In the Old Testament, the figure of the bridegroom is frequently mentioned when referring to the relations between Yahweh and his people Israel. As a bridegroom, God on the one hand is jealous for his people; jealousy which is manifested in the form of punishment when the bride does not return the feeling, a purifying punishment that invites people to go back to their first love. On the other hand, God proves to be a faithful bridegroom, who keeps his word of union, indissolubility and loyalty in spite of everything. Finally, he is a bridegroom who overflows with joy in being with his people and accompanying them throughout lifeís vicissitudes. Because Yahweh is jealous, Jerusalem was forsaken by him and devastated by his enemies; because he is faithful, it will go back to being called "The Married One". Because he is a joyful bridegroom, he pours out and spreads this same joy throughout all of Israel, like a precious and wonderful gift for his bride. The spousal figure of Yahweh, with the three previously indicated characteristics, sets the stage for the revelation of Jesus as the bridegroom of the Church in the New Testament.

The Messianic era has come. In the New Testament, the Messiah appears under the guise of the bridegroom. In the text of the wedding at Cana, in the words to the bridegroom, "Everyone serves good wine first and the worse wine when the guests are well wined; but you have kept the best wine till now," the steward of the feast insinuates that Jesus is the groom. In actual fact, the "you" does not really refer to the bridegroom but to Jesus. This text is important, given the programmatic nature that it has in the structure of the fourth Gospel. Is there anything typical in this figure of Jesus as bridegroom? 1) First, there is the ability to turn water into wine, which alludes to the incipient joy and fullness of grace of the Kingdom of God. The water of the Old Testament, of the expected Messiah, becomes wine in the New Testament, of the Messiah who has come. 2) Messianic abundance. Jesus does not turn a few quarts of water into wine, but a large amount (sixty gallons). Jesusí overabundance and generosity at the beginning of his public life will characterize the rest of his earthly existence and the very life of Christianity, of which it will constitute a structuring element. 3) The Messiah-bridegroom manifests his glory to his disciples, who believed in him. The glory of the bridegroom is precisely his giving himself fully to the bride, thus beginning a new era of relationships between God and humanity: the Christian era.

The dowry of the Messiah-bridegroom. The dowry is the symbol of the covenant between spouses. The dowry that Jesus, the bridegroom, offers to the Church, his bride, are the charisms, which he gives by means of his Spirit. Christ delivers each and every one of the charisms to his Church in order for it to be able to fulfill its spousal vocation. The Spirit distributes such charisms with great freedom, but at the same time it hands them out in such a way that they may be useful to the entire Church. With them, the Church may guarantee its fidelity to the marriage covenant with Christ. The greater the abundance of charisms in the Church, the greater the possibility for it to fulfill its marriage vocation and mission as the universal sacrament of salvation among men.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Generosity, a Christian virtue. To give and to give oneself, to deliver and to deliver oneself, giving, generosity... these are words that occur frequently in the vocabulary of Christians. We often hear them in homilies, in catechesis, in daily conversations. Thank God that they are not mere words, but an actual reality in the Church. There is the generosity that comes from giving part of oneís goods, and no doubt Christians from wealthy countries give considerable amounts of money and other economic resources to Christians and non-Christians of poor countries or those suffering the scourge of war or of natural disasters. Immense good is done by Caritas Internationalis, Adveniat, Kirche im Not, Missio, the Knights of Malta, the Knights of Columbus and many other charitable institutions with a national or international scope. There is also the kind of generosity that comes from self-giving. So many missionaries, so many volunteers give their lives away from home, in far away countries, in the midst of great difficulties. They risk their lives by being shot, or killed by a machete! They have all walked to their fate ready to lose their lives, if necessary, to gain them again in Christ. There is also inner generosity, the generosity of oneís heart towards God, oneís neighbor, oneís child who is ill with AIDS or who is a drug addict, oneís terminally-ill husband, oneís elderly mother who can no longer cope on her own. There are many people who do not give money or give little because they have none, or who do not go off to other countries as missionaries or volunteers, but who give themselves, their affection, their patience, their readiness, their time, their virtue, their knowledge...

The New Era is two thousand years old. Over the past two decades, there has been a lot of talk about the New Age. It is a recent cultural and religious movement, which opposes Christianity and strives to be an alternative to it. According to the proponents of this movement, Christianity has completed its "life-year", which was written in the Zodiac, and the new "year" is already on our doorstep, the "year" or "age" of Aquarius, which will mark a new era in the history of humankind. It is a confused and widespread movement, without structure and without a firm foundation, but that, like fog, penetrates all space: art, the mass media, film, religion, institutions, etc. It is a new Messianism with scientific and spiritual overtones at the same time. Before such a situation, described here only in general terms, it is necessary to assert that there is only one Messiah, and that this Messiah who had been expected by the People of Israel and nations already came two thousand years ago with the Incarnation of the Word in Jesus of Nazareth. The new era began with Jesus Christ the Messiah and, after two thousand years, it continues to be absolutely new, because it is not the work of humans but of God himself. Beware of the fad of the New Age, the New Age that is so in vogue!

 

Third Sunday of ORDINARY TIME. 28th January 2001

First: Neh 8:2-4a.5-6.8-10; Second: 1 Cor 12:12-31a; Gospel: Lk 1:1-

THEME of the READINGS

Both the first reading and the Gospel speak about the Book of Scriptures. Ezra, in the first reading, reads the Book of the Law before the people, "translating and giving the meaning; so the reading was understood." In the synagogue of Nazareth, Jesus stands up to read, one Sabbath day, the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, which was handed to him by the sacristan of the synagogue (Gospel). To turn the Scripture into reality and life, God placed in the Church the Apostles, the prophets, the teachers, the gift of tongues, the gift of interpretation, etc., so that the Word of God might be alive, so that it might be life-giving and remain forever.

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

 

The Scripture, the book of Judaism. It may be said that Judaism, Christianity and Islam are in a certain way the religions of the Book. The Jews have the Torah (the Revelation of God in the Old Testament), Christians have the Gospel, the Old and New Testaments, and Muslims have the Koran. For a pious Jew of Jesusí time, there were two fundamental points of religious reference: the temple, and the Torah. In both, Yahweh is present with his benevolence and love. In both, he establishes a dialogue with people as a friend would do with his friends, as may be seen in the first reading in which all of the people enjoyed themselves to the full, "since they had understood the meaning of what had been proclaimed to them." Both are a way to salvation not only for the Jews, but for all nations. In the temple, the seven-armed candelabrum was permanently lit to indicate Yahwehís providence vis-à-vis his people. Each day, when the Jews prayed, they would cover their forehead and arms with phylacteries to always bear in mind some fundamental texts of the Torah: Ex 13:1-10 (the Law of Passover), Ex 13:11-16 (consecration of the first-born), Dt 6:4-9 (love for God above all things), Dt 11:13-21 (fulfillment of the commandments). When in 70 AD the temple of Jerusalem was destroyed, the Jewish people were left with the Torah as the only point of religious reference and as the center of unification and identity of the displaced Jews. The Scripture is the book of Judaism, because it is the Word of God, and because it is the fundamental code of its religious and cultural identity.

Jesus, the Book and Christians. Jesus, as a good Jew, listened to and read the written and oral Torah on many occasions and religious celebrations. He was familiar with it, he had been educated by it for thirty years and saw himself reflected in it. This is why he will be able to say without hesitating in the synagogue of Nazareth, "This text is being fulfilled today even while you are listening" (Gospel). After Jesusí ascent into the heavens, the early Christians, thanks to their better understanding of the mystery of Jesus through the Spirit, made of Jesus the Living Book, the Gospel of our salvation. Thus, Christianity is not chiefly the religion of the book, but instead the religion of the person of Jesus Christ, a Book which is ever living and that reveals to people the vicissitudes and tortuous paths of history. In the Christian Scripture (Old and New Testaments), the person of Jesus is made present and alive for all believers. This is why the early Christians, those who came from Judaism and the pagan world alike, did not preach the Torah, but the Gospel instead. This is why from the very beginning of Christianity, there have been charisms related to the Book of Scripture: the Apostles who preach the Gospel that is Jesus; the teachers who teach continuity, discontinuity and how the Gospel superseded the book of the Torah; the prophets who read the events of life and history in the light of the Gospel, the living book of Jesus, etc. (second reading). Throughout the centuries and millennia, Christians have been and continue to be inspired by the Gospel (Old and New Testaments), the Living Book of Jesus, as the unequivocal guide of their being and acting as believers.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

A Christian reading of the Bible. All of the Bible is Christian. The Old and the New Testament are the two lungs with which the faith, morality and piety of Christians breathe. In the second century, Marcion resolved to suppress the Old Testament in Christianity, but his position was rejected by the Church as being heretical. In the history of Christianity, there have been believers or Christian communities that in certain areas of faith and morality have stuck to the Old Testament; for example, in their conception of God or justice, in the rigor of the Law, etc. But as there is no soul without relation to a body, so there can be no New Testament without relation to the Old one. For this reason it is extremely necessary for us Christians, as early as in our childhood, from our basic education, to become familiar with all of the Bible: with the Old and the New Testaments. At the same time, it is urgent for us to be able to read the Old Testament "with Christian eyes," for it already contains the New Testament, in a concealed form. "All of the Scripture is one book alone, and this Book is Christ," Hugh de Saint Victor teaches us. What an immense job catechists have, who prepare children for First Communion or Confirmation! How important it is for the catechists of adults and young people alike to be able to guide them to a Christian reading of the Bible!

The Bible reads and interprets me. The Bible is a sacred book, which regulates our faith and life. Therefore, it cannot be read as a pastime or in a superficial way, without engaging the reader. The Bible is not a book that is read to help one fall asleep at night. The Bible is the Word that God is addressing to me personally when I read it. And through the text of the Bible, the Word of God challenges me, it reads and interprets me. It challenges me to seek an answer to what the Lord is telling me through the text. It reads me, unveiling the secrets of my heart and engendering a desire for change. It interprets me, giving a steady direction to my life: to my way of being, of thinking, of acting in the world, and it draws my will to follow it. In the supermarket of interpretations, many of which are dehumanizing, we run the risk of providing ourselves with wrongful and harmful interpretations. Therefore, for us Christians, it is imperative that we let ourselves be interpreted by the Word of the living God, for that is our most genuine and truest interpretation, whenever or wherever we may be. On Sundays, in the liturgy of the Word, do I listen to the Word of God with the consciousness and desire of being read and interpreted by it? As a priest, do I let myself be interpreted by the Word of God before explaining and interpreting it for the community?

 

 

Fourth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME . 4th February 2001

First: Jer 1:4-5.17-19; Second: 1 Cor 12:31-13:13; Gospel: Lk 4:21-

THEME of the READINGS

Jesus Christ, Jeremiah, Paul: three men with a single mission, which reaches its apex in Jesus Christ, the fullness of revelation and of the salvific mission of God. Indeed, Jesus is the One who has been sent by the Father for the salvation of the poor, with no distinction whatsoever between Jews and Gentiles (Gospel). Jesusí prophetic mission is prefigured in Jeremiah, the great prophet of Anathoth in the first quarter of the 6th century BC, whose vocation and mission, at the time of the religious reform of King Josiah and then during the siege and fall of Jerusalem, are the subject of the first reading. Paul, set aside from his motherís womb, prolongs in time Jesusí prophetic mission, placing emphasis on Christian love, as the charism that relativizes all the others and which is the true measure of all human actions (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Characteristics of the mission. The liturgical texts emphasize several characteristics when they deal with the prophetic mission. I shall underscore the most significant ones, which have the greatest impact on our time.

1. The mission comes from God. It is God who says to Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you; I appointed you as prophet to the nations" (Jer 1:5). In the synagogue of Nazareth, Jesus does not attribute the mission to himself, but rather he reads it as it has already been prophesized in the Scriptures, that is, as it has already been foreseen by God himself. Saint Paul, in turn, knows full well that all charisms come from the Spirit of God, especially the charism par excellence which is that of the agape (love).

2. A two-way mission. On the one hand we have the mission to destroy, on the other to build (Jer 1:10); on the one hand the proclamation of the Good News to the poor, on the other denunciation: no prophet is ever accepted in his own place (Gospel); on the one hand the devaluation of everything without charity, on the other charity as the supreme value (second reading). These are the dynamics of the mission, of Christian life, from its beginnings to our very day.

3. A universal mission. Jeremiah is called by God to be the "prophet of nations"; Jesus Christ was anointed by the Spirit to help the poor, the captives, the blind, the oppressed, and to proclaim to all a year of grace in the Lord, that is, a jubilee. If God is the Creator and Father of all, all are in an equal way the object of his love and redemption.

4. A mission with risks. The main risk is that people will not listen to or accept Godís message, communicated to them by the prophet. There is also the risk of being mistreated, considered a public enemy, a spoilsport and a prophet of misfortune. Jeremiahís biography is interwoven with episodes of this kind. Jesus was on the verge of being stoned by the Nazarenes, and Paul entertained rather tense relations with the Christians of Corinth, when he wrote them his first letter.

5. A mission without fear, and with the power of God. God says to Jeremiah, "Have no fear of them and in their presence I will make you fearless. For look, today I have made you into a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of bronze to stand against the whole country." Saint Luke tells us that Jesus, faced with the Nazarenes who want to throw him off the cliff, passed straight through the crowd and walked away." What superhuman courage and what power of God do we see in Jesusí attitude! And doesnít Paul exhibit a divine power when he places Christian agape before science, to total poverty, to the flames, and to faith itself?

6. A mission that calls for an answer. The answer may be rejection, as in the case of Jeremiah, "Prepare yourself for action" (first reading). It may be a two-fold answer, as in the case of Jesus: on the one hand, there is consent and admiration, but on the other, indignation and the desire to throw him off a cliff (Gospel). And Paul, in the second reading, in proposing to the Corinthians the charism of charity, simply asks them to respond to such a charism with generosity.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

The Christian mission, a provocation. For us human beings, whatever our circumstances, all proposals coming from God are a provocation, because they urge us to come out of our routine, of our mental patterns, of our golden mediocrity. Jesus provokes the Nazarenes when he hurts their pride by not working in Nazareth the miracles that he worked in Capharnaum, and he provokes them by putting an end to Jewish privileges and by giving priority to the Gentiles, as occurs in the examples that Jesus gives of Elijah and Elisha. The agape that Paul proposes to the Church in Corinth is a major provocation to the Greeks who were educated to make a cult out of reason and eros. To be and live as Christians today is also provocative, but it is a healthy provocation. Insecurity must be provoked in the mentality of people, in order for true conversion to occur, for a true change of mindset to take place, in order for metanoia to occur. People must be challenged with the "weakness" of every person in order for the strength and the power of God to acquire significance and meaning in all human life. We must be challenged with regard to the trinkets of happiness that we buy in the supermarket of society or culture, in order for us to open our eyes to the true happiness that rests in God and that God gives us. We must be challenged by our wretchedness and wickedness, in order for us to becomes aware of our greatness as the image of God, as the children of God. If Christianity does not provoke or challenge us from within, it is because it has lost its biting force, it is because it has lost its raison díêtre in history.

Christian agape, the measure of everything. A serious and frequent mistake that we make is to confuse physical contact, sexual activity or sentimental eros with love, with agape. Christian love is not a fleeting, skin-deep or sentimental moment, ephemeral like the autumn leaves, unsatisfying like all selfish and often sensuous "games". Christian love reverberates at a bodily and sentimental level, but its purest essence is interior, spiritual, divine. Christian love is an attitude of the soul that measures all objects, all sciences, all relationships, all activities, all events. Is Christian love the measure of your relationships with others, of your family life, of your wealth, your work or trade, of your pastimes? Is Christian love, in your parish or diocese, the true yardstick against which all the other parochial or diocesan realities are measured? There is still so much to be done!

 

Fifth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME. 11th February 2001

First: Is 6:1-2.3-8; Second: 1 Cor 15:1-11; Gospel: Lk 5:1-11

THEME of the READINGS

The mystery of Godís free and gratuitous choice pervades all three liturgical readings. Isaiah is chosen during a liturgical celebration in the temple of Jerusalem: "I then heard the voice of the Lord saying: Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?" (first reading). Peter, in turn, perceives that he has been chosen by God while carrying out his trade as fisherman: "Do not be afraid; from now on it is people you will be catching" (Gospel). Finally, Paul evokes the apparition of the risen Jesus on the way to Damascus: "For I am the least of the Apostles... but what I am now I am through the grace of God" (second reading).

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

A God who is completely free in his choice. Only a free God can appeal to our freedom. Only if God is free can he talk about choice, rather than compulsion. The entire Bible bears witness to the sovereign freedom of God in all things and circumstances. This liturgyís texts bear witness to Godís freedom in his choice of people. God is totally free to choose the person he wants: Isaiah, born in Jerusalem to an affluent family, possibly the descendant of priests; Peter, from Bethsaida, a fisherman in Lake Tiberias; Paul, a native of Tarsus in Cilicia, with the academic qualification of rabbi, at one time a persecutor of the Church of Christ. God is totally free to choose the way and time he wishes: he chooses Isaiah during a liturgy in the temple of Jerusalem by means of a theophany during worship; he chooses Peter on a boat, after miraculous fishing, the sign of a divine presence; he chooses Paul on the way to the city of Damascus, with his heart burning with hate for the Christians. Isaiah, Peter, Paul: three examples of Godís freedom in choosing people for the great task of working together with him to redeem humanity.

Choice and experience of God. In his mysterious plans, God has wanted to combine choice with a strong experience of him on the part of the chosen ones. The way in which this experience occurs differs among different people, but the experience is common to all the ones who have been chosen. This means that only in this profound experience, according to our age, condition, education and personality, are we able to realize that we have been chosen by God. In this experience of God we perceive, with perfect clarity, on the one hand the distance and transcendence of God, and on the other, the unworthiness of human beings. Isaiah, on the one hand, enters the mystery of God, almighty King and Lord, while on the other he feels lost and impure at having seen God, and spoken on his behalf (first reading). Peter, before the magnitude of his catch, which was only possible with Godís power, cannot but exclaim, "Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man." (Gospel). The apparition of the risen Christ to Paul makes him fall off his horse; he is blinded, humiliated before Godís power and finally receives baptism from Ananias. The thrice-holy God cannot break into history without people being upset by their human insecurities, and without them being invited to place all their confidence in God himself.

The only worthy answer. The people God has chosen may give different answers, although only one is worthy of God and of people: humble acceptance. In todayís liturgical texts we also have three different examples of the same attitude: to Godís question, "Whom shall I send?" Isaiah answers, "Here am I, send me." In hearing Jesus say, "From now on it is people you will be catching," with his partners Peter reacts generously: "They left everything and followed him." Paulís attitude is just as generous. After falling on the ground and after having heard the voice of the risen Christ, he asks the voice, "What do you want me to do?" Then, in the first Letter to the Corinthians (second reading), in recalling that vision of Jesus, he considers himself to be the least of the Apostles and not worthy of bearing that name. And yet, he is convinced that, "I have worked harder than all the others Ė not I, but the grace of God which is with me."

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

A God in need of people. In the history of salvation it seems clear that God wanted to save people by means of other people. God is the only Savior, but people are his hands, distributing salvation to all those who request it. They are the lips with which he preaches salvation in the thousands of languages spoken on our planet, they are the feet with which he brings salvation to all the corners of the earth, especially to the places where it is still unknown, although it is profoundly sought. It is an imposing sign of Godís graciousness towards humankind, of his infinite love that leads him to stoop so low as to be a beggar among people! God is begging you for your help, whether you are a priest or a layperson, a religious or a volunteer. He is begging you for your youth, if you are young, to offer his salvation to young people throughout the world, and perhaps he is not only begging you for your youth but for all of your life to save people, to free them from themselves, to ennoble their lives as children of God. He is begging you for your adulthood, if you are an adult, in whatever state of life you may find yourself, so that you may work with him to save yourself, to save those in your family, professional, social or cultural environment. He is begging you for your time, your human and spiritual experience, your wisdom of life if you are a retired or an elderly person, so that you may convey it to others, so that you may contribute to building a more human and Christian world. Will we listen to the cry of God asking us for our help?

Godís freedom, peopleís availability. God freely calls out to people endowed with freedom, a freedom that he gave us when he created us and that we must exercise in order to truly be people. God does not force people to behave as such, nor will he ever do so. People may use their freedom to debase themselves like animals, to deny the very God who gave them life, to build their existence upon self-centeredness, to live without hope. But these people are not available in the face of Godís freedom. God wants them to fulfill themselves as people, for them to become people, and they are not available, they prefer to remain bogged down in the quagmire. God puts himself forward as Lord of their lives, but they are not available, they would rather be their own masters and lords. God calls them to build their existence and happiness on self-giving, but they are not available, they only have ears to hear the enchanting sirens of their ego, which attract them and stifle in them all forms of altruism, all forms of human fraternity. God wants to pour into their hearts a hope of eternity, of lifeís victory over death, but once again they are not available, they are so attached to time and matter that they consider infinity, anything beyond time, a happy life with God and with Godís children in heaven, as something unthinkable. What can I do to always be available to God, so that others too may be equally available to him?

 

 

Sixth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME. 18th February 2001

First: Jer 17:5-8; Second: 1 Cor 15:12.16-20; Gospel: Lk 6:17.20-26

THEME of the READINGS

A series of antitheses may be glimpsed in the readings. First we read that blessed are those who trust in God, and then that accursed are those who trust in human beings (first reading, Responsorial Psalm). In the Gospel, Luke contrasts the blessedness of those who are poor and hungry, of those who are weeping and hated, with the curses of the rich and those who have their consolation now, of those who laugh and are praised by all. Finally, in the second reading, there is a contrast between those who do not believe in the resurrection of the dead (some Corinthians) and those who do believe in it, since Christ has risen (Paul and all of the Christian tradition).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord. Human life is a constant exercise in trust. Children trust in their parents, parents in their children. The husband trusts in his wife and vice-versa. The student trusts in his teacher, and the airplane passenger trusts in the pilot. In the spiritual life all trust must be placed in God, because this life is his work completely, people are only his co-workers. I can trust in a priest, but only insofar as he represents the power, goodness and mercy of God; I can trust in a religious sister, in a catechist, in the Word of God, in the sacraments; but it is not so much in them as in the God who speaks to me through them, in the God they communicate to me. If I were to place my trust only in the priest, in the religious sister, in the catechist, in the Bible, in the sacraments without reaching God, sooner or later this trust would die down, I would be disappointed with it all, my life would lose all direction, and I would begin to be my own and my environmentís toy. Todayís liturgy teaches this to us by antitheses, which at first glance may appear disconcerting, but which boil down to one thing: trust in God or trust in human means. The poor, the hungry, those who weep and are abused are called blessed because, since they have no human securities, they place all of their trust in the Lord (Gospel). The first reading tells us that he who trusts in the Lord is like a tree by the waterside: its foliage stays green, and in a year of drought it never stops bearing fruit. In other words, God constantly infuses him with life, youth and dynamism, which bear fruit through good works. Who can believe in the resurrection of the dead, if not those who totally trust the fact that God has raised up Jesus Christ, as the first-fruits of those who sleep the sleep of death (second reading)?

Accursed be anyone whose trust is in human beings. It should be clarified that here we are not referring to human beings "as mediators" between God and people. Rather, the text refers to human qualities, strengths and securities, human means, whether they be our own or those of others. In the spiritual area, placing oneís trust in "human things" will end up in sure failure. This is why the rich, the satisfied, those who laugh and are praised by all, are called "accursed"; not because they are rich, or satisfied, but because they place their security in their wealth, gratification, amusement and human praise. In other words, they trust in themselves and in their things, and not in God (Gospel). Equally, those who put their trust in human beings, including themselves, are like the scrubs in wastelands, parched and without fruit, lives that are sterile and not productive for the Kingdom of Christ. In the first Letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul talks about some who do not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Why do they not believe in it, if not because they place excessive trust in the counsels of human wisdom, of their own intelligence, of their feelings?

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

A new scale of values. Values are like the foundations of life. What are the values in which the people of our time place their trust? One value, for example, is to stand out above all others, to beat records, to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records. There are many areas in which one can excel: sports, music, science, technological inventions, literature, medicine, even crime, or any other element of life. The important thing is to stand out, to call attention, to be seen by others, to go on television or appear in the papers. Why not excel in oneís trust in God? Why not trust more in God than in oneís excellence in music, science, literature, sports or crime?

Another value in our society is health. Health is a great asset, it is a gift of God, but it cannot reign as queen above all other activities and values. Can one sacrifice conscience in the name of health? Is it worthy of human beings to worship their bodies, thus neglecting the spirit? Is a womanís health so important that the life of the child she bears in her womb is sacrificed in its name? Is health really the only, the true source of all happiness? Isnít it a good that deteriorates and ends? Isnít euthanasia the ultimate consequence of an excessive social valuing of health? And what is the meaning of pain then, of illness, especially when it is chronic or terminal? To blindly trust in health is to trust in shaky ground. How lovely are the words in the psalm, "I shall trust in the God of my health, of my salvation." Let us examine our values, in what it is that we place our trust and security in life. Will we have to change our scale of values? Will we have to readjust them?

Between reality and hope. Is the blessedness, the joy of those who trust in the Lord (the poor, the hungry, those who weep, those who are abused...) a reality here on earth, or a projection for eternity in heaven? In other words, can people affected by poverty, illness and contempt be happy if they trust in the Lord? The answer, clearly, is "yes." There are millions of men and women, inside and outside convents, who live from hand to mouth, without a bank account, on the alms they receive, whom God makes happy in their poverty. Obviously, this happiness will always be limited, small, in expectation of the happiness of being able to possess God eternally. There are thousands and thousands of sick people who suffer, some with unspeakable pain, to whom God gives a smile that is always fresh and stimulating. Obviously, the perfection of this smile will be achieved in heaven, when they are able to definitively embrace the God of their consolation. There are many human beings who have been slandered, forgotten, criticized by their brothers and sisters; but they do not hold a grudge, they know how to forgive, and they treasure inside themselves an unimaginable peace and happiness. Peace and happiness will attain their fulfillment on the other shore of life, when justice and truth triumph. It seems clear that the Gospelís beatitudes are not only there to be lived in the hereafter; rather, they are an experience lived between reality and hope.

 

 

Seventh Sunday of ORDINARY TIME. 25th February 2001

First: 1 Sam 26:2.7-9.12-13.22-23; Second: 1 Cor 15:45-49; Gospel: Lk

THEME of the READINGS

The point of reference of todayís liturgy seems to be generosity: Davidís generosity with Saul, who persecuted him and wanted to kill him. But David kept Abishai from killing Saul (first reading). We see the generosity of Christians with all human beings, to the point of being able to love oneís enemies (Gospel), thus imitating the mercy of the heavenly Father. Finally, we learn about the generosity of Jesus Christ who, being a life-giving spirit by virtue of his resurrection, lets us all share in his spiritual and heavenly condition (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The logic of making things even. In the Bible, this logic is under two different guises. The first consists in the order of justice, in dealing with a received evil. It is the law of retaliation: "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" (Ex 21:24). When it was first formulated, it meant improvement, evolution on the practice of vengeance, which encouraged one to return the blow doubly. Justice demanded a return in kind of the evil received. This formulation is not Christian, and indeed Jesus teaches us to "offer no resistance to the wicked" (see Mt 5:38-42). Unfortunately, after twenty centuries of Christianity, there are many Christians who continue to apply the law of retaliation. The second guise found in todayís Gospel: "Treat others as you would like people to treat you." In the Old Testament, this "golden rule" is formulated in a negative way: "Do to no one what you would not want done to you." (Tob 4:15). The formulation used by Saint Luke is positive, and is not based on justice, but on love. It is a very good rule, for we all want the best for ourselves. Perhaps the rule could be formulated in the following way: "If you want to be treated by others in the best possible way, then treat everyone in the same way." It is a fully Christian formulation, but still imperfect and incomplete. It is imperfect because the point of reference is the I, the ego. It is incomplete because the expression "others", at least according to the mentality of Jesusí contemporaries, refers to Jews and thus excludes non-Jews and enemies. The logic of making things even in the order of love is Christian, but the radical nature of our faith goes beyond the logic of equivalence and reaches the "logic of more".

The "logic of more". In a certain way, there are figures in the Old Testament who live according to the logic of more, although the formulation of this logic is proper to Jesus Christ. Indeed, the first reading illustrates a truly generous gesture on the part of David towards King Saul, who was persecuting him and wanted his death. When David had the chance to kill him, he didnít, "Because Yahweh has anointed him." Jesus formulates the "logic of more" in humanly disconcerting terms: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you... Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your property back from someone who takes it" (Lk 6:27-28). The human mind asks us to hate our enemies, but Jesus asks us to love them. The human mind asks us to do evil to those who hate us, but Jesus asks us to do good to them. The human mind asks us to curse those who curse us, but Jesus asks us to bless them. The human mind asks us to expect that what we have loaned someone be returned to us, but Jesus asks us to loan things even if they are not returned to us. The human mind asks us to return slander with slander, but Jesus asks us to return slander with prayer. Here lies the purest essence of Christianity! All Christians must attend this school of Christianity, for I think that there are still many lessons for us to learn and live. In the second reading, we find the "logic of more", of generosity, in a new dimension: the dimension of eternity. The risen Christ who has vanquished death bestows upon us all the "logic of more", making us share in his life as the risen Christ. In other words, he gives us the gift of the ability to overcome death and live in a world governed by life and by the Spirit of God. Those who live out the essence of Christianity, which is charity, have the doors of new life open before them.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

There are no enemies for the Christian, only brothers and sisters. The law in force in Christianity is the law of brotherhood. We are all brothers and sisters, in creation, because we all have the same Creator and Lord, who has created us in his image and likeness. We are all brothers and sisters when it comes to Redemption, because we were all redeemed by Jesus Christ through the blood that he shed on the Cross, granting us the grace of being children of God. No one is exempt from this universal brotherhood, and wherever there is a sense of brotherhood there cannot be enmity. Today, there are people we can objectively call "enemies", for they object to or oppose Christians, they do not allow Christians to practice their faith or profess their doctrine, they consider Christians to be enemies of the State, they take advantage of any opportunity to criticize Christianity, they make fun in private or public of the signs that are sacred to Christians, etc. However, subjectively, Christians do not consider them enemies. They are brothers and sisters, and this is why Christians forgive them, love them and pray for them. Christians apply the principle that Saint Paul teaches us: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom 12:21). In our daily family, parish and professional life, this principle has many applications and there are many occasions for it to be put into practice. Examine you life. Is there anyone you consider an "enemy" because he has played a dirty trick on you, because he changed political party or soccer team, because he got a better job than you, because in some things he thinks differently from you? Convince yourself that to be a Christian, you must not have enemies, but friends.

The true revolution in history. Several revolutions have taken place throughout the centuries: political revolutions, like the transition from the Roman Empire to the empire of the Barbarians; social revolutions like the abolition of slavery; economic revolutions like the transition from the industrial age to the electronic age; religious, cultural, artistic revolutions, etc. Each revolution brings within itself a change in paradigms, in the models of ways of life and behaviors of people. But high above all these ephemeral revolutions, which disappear slowly or rapidly by time, there continues to be a permanent revolution in history, namely the Christian revolution. In its essence, it is an authentic revolution that cannot be resisted, because it has been waged and continues to be waged with Love, the true driving force of history and the ultimate destiny of human existence. Those who know how to love, those who do not grow tired of loving, revolutionize their "little history" of relatives, friends, neighbors, club or workmates, and on that basis they revolutionize the "big history" of humanity. Their names will never appear in history books or in newspapers, but with their love they are continuously renewing people, contributing to the "Christian revolution".

 

Ash WEDNESDAY. 28th February 2001

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

THEME of the READINGS

"[I]n the name of Christ we appeal to you to be reconciled to God," Saint Paul exhorts us in the second reading (2 Cor 5:20). Reconciliation is the key word in the liturgy of Ash Wednesday. Reconciliation means a change "from something". This is why it calls for turning back to God, a turning back that comes from God, to which the prophet Joel calls us in the first reading: "Come back to Yahweh your God." In the Gospel, Jesus internalizes the religious and penitential practices of Judaism: alms must be given in secret, fasting must be joyful and prayer must be humble. "And your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you."

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The primacy of the heart. The term "heart" is used to indicate the interior Ė not in opposition to, but as a source of, all external action of reconciliation and penance. For this reason, let us not speak of exclusivity, but of primacy. Using a fortunate expression, the prophet Joel advocates such primacy: "Tear your hearts and not your clothes" (first reading). It is evident that the prophet does not mean this expression in an excluding way, since in verse 15 he continues: "Order a fast, summon the community... Let the priests, the ministers of Yahweh, stand weeping between portico and altar," all of which are external actions. The Gospel text shows Jesus taking to the maximum degree of internalization the three typical practices of Jewish religion Ė and we might say of all religions, including the Christian religion: 1) Almsgiving, which today we could translate into charity, solidarity, social work, volunteerism, all the possible forms of help to the needy. Jesus teaches us his own style of practicing charity: in secret, without any ostentation, only seeking to please God and fulfill his most holy will in the world. 2) Prayer. This includes all of the spiritual activities that unite people with God, from Mass to private prayer, from meditation to liturgical prayer, from the sacrament of penance to the different forms of popular piety. What is important for Christians is that whatever the spiritual activity they engage in, it should be a true encounter with God the Father in the intimacy of their hearts. 3) Fasting. This means anything that entails giving up oneís self, self-giving to become more available to God and to our neighbors. This may refer to voluntary sacrifices, the small troubles of everyday life, accepting lifeís trials with determination and courage, the constant and brave struggle against temptations. What is important here is the spiritual joy with which we face all of these situations, a joy that has repercussions on our attitude towards God and towards people.

Ministers of reconciliation. "So we are ambassadors for Christ; it is as though God were urging you through us," Saint Paul tells us in the second reading, and he adds, "As his fellow-workers, we urge you not to let your acceptance of his grace come to nothing." Saint Paul shows us the ecclesial dimension of reconciliation. It is God who places in our hearts the gift of reconciliation (let yourselves be reconciled by God), and it is we who welcome it (or reject it); but the Church is the instrument chosen by God himself to remind us, through its ministers, of this extraordinary gift. At the same time, the Church is the mediator chosen by God for all reconciliation. For this reason, the Church must preach everywhere and in all possible ways reconciliation with God and among people, and administer this reconciliation by means of the sacrament of penance and forgiveness. Todayís liturgy is a clear call to bishops and priests to always be ready to promote reconciliation, and be available to reconcile people with God and with their brothers and sisters by means of the sacrament.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Making reconciliation universal. As Catholics, we must first of all be reconciled with ourselves, with our conscience, which we have placed before God and his will. At the same time, we must seek reconciliation within the Catholic Church itself, for an un-reconciled person or community will not be able to reconcile others. Under the impulse and guidance of the Holy Father and of our bishops, we must promote reconciliation in all the Christian communities that are separated from the Catholic Church: with our prayer, our witness, our solidarity, our material or spiritual aid. Equally, we must promote reconciliation with the members of other religions (Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc...). It is likely that within the limits of our very parishes there are members of other Christian Churches, or of other religions: the impulse towards and desire for reconciliation will have to start with them. How? By trying to put into practice the ways that our bishops or priests suggest to us. In addition to this, however, the Spirit will inspire each one to come up with concrete, personal or community ways of going about it. Universal reconciliation embraces other areas of life, in addition to the religious sphere: the reconciliation of the more developed North with the South at a world or at a national level; reconciliation between atheists or agnostics Ė often hostile to all things religious Ė and believers, who sometimes exaggerate their differences; reconciliation between persons coming from countries at war or in terrible economic conditions, and the inhabitants of the host countries; reconciliation in soccer stadia between the fans of one team and those of another, of the national teams of different countries.

Permanent reconciliation. The phenomenon of globalization calls for a permanent reconciliation. People, human communities are not reconciled once and for all; instead, they need to be in a constant attitude of reconciliation. In reconciliation the same thing happens as in love: if it is not nourished, it goes cold, it deteriorates and dies. Day after day we must renew the attitude of our soul towards reconciliation, and we must practice acts of reconciliation, as small as they may be, to keep it alive and make it grow. How many opportunities to practice reconciliation do you have each day? I donít know, but Iím sure itís more than one. Donít let them go. Take advantage of them. To succeed in creating an attitude of reconciliation in oneís soul, one must have practiced it indefatigably, on many occasions. Why not reflect, at the end of the day, on whether you have had any opportunity to reconcile yourself with God? Have you let him down in something, or been less than generous with him? Why not reflect on whether you have had an opportunity to practice reconciliation with others (relatives, neighbors, immigrants, Christians of other Churches, beggars...) and whether you have seized that opportunity. This is a reflection that could rather change your life and that of those around you!

 

First Sunday of LENT 4th March 2001

First: Dt 26:4-10; Second: Rm 10:8-13; Gospel: Lk 4:1-13

THEME of the READINGS

It is not difficult to detect in todayís three readings a confession of faith or a small "creed". There is the creed of the Israelite people, proclaimed in the temple, during the feast of first-fruits. "My father was a wandering Aramean... He brought us here and has given us this country, a country flowing with milk and honey. Hence, I now bring the first-fruits of the soil that you, Yahweh, have given me" (first reading). The three answers that Jesus gives to Satan in the Gospel text are a proclamation of existential faith on the part of Jesus: "Man does not live on bread alone," "You must do homage to the Lord your God," and "Do not put the Lord your God to the test." Finally, in the second reading we find a very concise and ancient formula of the Christian profession of faith, "Jesus is Lord," whom God has risen from the dead.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Jesusí profession of faith. At such an existential moment like that of temptation, and in circumstances so conducive to him falling prey to it, Jesus overcomes temptation by resorting to the Word of the living God. Before the first temptation, which is of a material nature (turn this stone into a loaf of bread), Jesus professes that there are goods greater than food and that the human being cannot be reduced to an object of consumption, to a homo oeconomicus, devoid of transcendence. When the devil attacks him in the political sphere, urging him to use unlawful and unjust means to gain power and influence ("the devil showed him in a moment of time all the kingdoms of the world") and to leave to one side the will of God, Jesus professes vigorously that he is not willing to let himself be deceived by the ambition for power and that to him God is an absolute ("You must do homage to the Lord your God"). When, in the third temptation, the devil challenges Jesus on the grounds of religion, quoting the Holy Scripture and enticing him to ask God for a miracle, Jesus openly declares that human beings must never put God to the test ("Do not put the Lord your God to the test"). Jesusí temptations (economic, political and religious) are the temptations of the people of Israel in the desert, and they are the temptations of all human beings. The people of Israel succumbed to them, Jesus vanquished them, human beings have been enabled by Christ to overcome them, if they accept the mystery of Redemption.

Christian faith is not ideas but history. The "creed" that is presented to us in todayís liturgy does not consist of a series of high ideas on God, his essence and his attributes, or on peopleís and the worldís raison díêtre in Godís mind. The "creed" of the people of Israel, of Jesus and of the Christian community is a creed marked by the historical vicissitudes of a people, of a man-God, of a believing community. The creed of Israel begins with the story of Jacob, a wandering Aramean, and of his descendants, led by God, throughout the centuries, until they are taken to the Promised Land. In his confession before the temptations, Jesus does nothing but place them in the context of the relations between Godís very history and his people. The creed of the Christian people is founded on the history of Jesus of Nazareth, who was made Lord by his Father, when he raised him from the dead. Ideas are not to be believed but to be thought about; history, when God becomes part of it, must not be so much the object of reflection but of a profession of faith instead.

Two fidelities that God wants to be united. The liturgical texts manifest Godís wonderful fidelity to human beings. In the midst of the darkness and impossible vicissitudes of history, God walked faithfully together with his people in Egypt, in their long wandering throughout the desert, until he showed them the Promised Land (first reading). God was equally faithful to his Son, Jesus Christ, before the harsh attacks by the devil, and before the terrible defeat of death (Gospel, second reading). God wants this fidelity of his to go side by side with that of human beings. Jesus united his fidelity with that of the Father in an extraordinary way. The Israelites of the desert did not respond with the same fidelity. People, todayís Christians, are offered a disjointed fidelity: will they choose to unite their fidelity with that of God, like Jesus Christ?

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Professing the faith in a world of temptations. Temptation goes hand in hand with human life. There is only one tempter, and he is so proud that he has no qualms about tempting the very Son of God. The ways he adopts and means he uses to tempt human beings change according to the times, customs and cultures, although the basic temptations are always the same: to possess things, to have power, to know more, to get pleasure. One of these ingredients is always contained in whatever temptation imaginable. Modern society offers the Tempter a wide range of possibilities. We can say that the ways and means the devil uses to tempt people have grown in an exponential way, and people have been surprised to some extent by this avalanche of temptations. They often live unprepared and unprotected vis-à-vis such temptations. As believers in Jesus Christ, it is both an honor and a very bold thing to profess our faith in the midst of this world of temptations, which has resolved to forget, stifle or relegate the faith to the useless things that one does not dare give up completely. The temptations of this world will be for us an important opportunity to profess Jesus Christ, our Lord and God. By means of our profession of faith, we shall be able to overcome temptation with Godís strength. We must not be afraid of this world of temptations. "This is the victory that vanquishes the world: your faith."

Lead us not into temptation. Christians, like all other human beings, are weak. In addition, they are aware of being so. But they are also accompanied by the awareness of possessing a superior force that comes to them from God. Because they are weak, they are convinced that the attacks of the Tempter may defeat them. Because they rely on Godís strength, they are certain that there are no temptations, as powerful as they may be, that they will not be able to overcome. This is why several times a day, when they pray the Our Father, Christians ask the following: "Lead us not into temptation." Obviously, this refers to any temptation, but especially to the great temptation represented by idolatry and apostasy. The worship of other "gods" or idols is something to which contemporary human beings are strongly exposed, for in the supermarket of religion and of the sacred, together with the genuine "products" there are many that are inauthentic substitutes. Apostasy is also very tempting in our time. Apostates are those who forsake the Christian religion. Today, the religious syncretism promoted partly by ignorance and partly by the accentuation of sentiment may be a light form of apostasy, like the practical atheism of those who call themselves Christians but live as pagans, like the agnostic attitude of many secular witch doctors, who officiate in the pantheon of the goddess science and of the god progress, and worship them. As individuals and as members of the Church, let us pray the Our Father with fervor every day, and let us humbly ask the Lord, "Lead us not into temptation."

 

Second Sunday of LENT 11th March 2001

First: Gn 15:5-12.17-18; Second: Ph 3:17-4:1; Gospel: Lk 9:28-36

THEME of the READINGS

I suggest the concept of fullness as the common thread running across all of the readings. In the Gospel, Jesus Christ reveals the fullness of the Law and of Prophecy when he appears to the disciples between Moses and Elijah; he also reveals his more-than-human fullness which shines forth in his shining and transfigured being. In Jesus Christ the extraordinary promise made to Abram reaches its fullness (first reading). In the second reading, Saint Paul teaches us that the fullness of Christ is communicated to the Christians, the citizens of heaven, who "will transfigure the wretched body of ours into the form of his glorious body."

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Jesus Christ, sublime fullness. We know that the term "fullness" relates to the capacity of the object or person to which it refers. But it is not only a term with a quantitative value (the capacity of a glass or a vase), for it mainly has a qualitative value (the fullness of love, of salvation...). Finally, the concept of fullness is not at the margin of history, but rather is very closely connected with it (the fullness of a historical year, of an empire...). Everything that we have said provides us with a way to better grasp the meaning of the concept that Jesus Christ is sublime fullness. First of all, his human fullness has achieved its highest degree in the Transfiguration, in which the splendor of divinity has penetrated all of his humanity, and a voice from heaven confesses that he is "Beloved Son." In this very experience of transfiguration, Jesus achieves the fullness of revelation, which is concentrated in two figures of the Old Testament, representing the two major parts in which divine revelation was divided: the Law or written tradition, whose representative is Moses, and prophecy or oral tradition, represented by Elijah. Jesus Christ is the climax which both the Law and prophecy strive for. Christ is also the fullness of the promise made to Abram: blessing, land, fruitfulness. Indeed, the Father has blessed us with all sorts of blessings in Christ, he has made us share in a new heaven and a new earth, he has made of us a new people made fruitful with his redeeming blood. Equally, Jesus is the fullness of history. The unfolding of history has reached its goal in the historical life of Jesus of Nazareth. Before his historical presence, all events were directed and looked towards him; after his departure from this world, Jesus is the standard-bearer of history and men and women walk behind him in the awareness of not being able to surpass him in his human and divine fullness. Finally, with his fullness Jesus Christ fills not only history but also what lies beyond history. Indeed, the fullness of Christ, which we share over time through grace, will pour over and bestow upon us the fullness that corresponds to our ability to be sons in the Son. In actual fact, heaven is nothing but the fullness of Christ present in each of the redeemed.

The fullness of Christ challenges us. It challenges Abram himself, for Godís promise and covenant with him will only reach its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Abram believed in God, he obeyed him and thus opened the doors of history to Christ. Christís fullness challenges Moses, whose ten commandments yearn, so to speak, for their fullness in the Law of Christ, the crowning of the ten commandments and of all human laws. Christís fullness challenges Elijah, the faithful interpreter of history, as all true prophets will be, whose most genuine and final meaning will be given by Christ from the Cross and from salvation. In actual fact, Christ is not just another interpreter of a part of history, but the ultimate and final interpreter of history, of all human history. Christís fullness challenges Peter, John and James, who were granted a unique experience of the mystery of Christ for their future mission; through them he challenges us all, disciples and apostles. Christís fullness challenges Paul and the Christians who, having been elevated by Christ to the rank of citizens of heaven, must live according to what they are, and not become "enemies of Christís Cross." Christ, from whose fullness we have all received, challenges all people, for he is the man in fullness and at the same time he is the fullness of man.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

 

We have all received from his fullness... Christís total fullness and everyoneís participation in this fullness is not something that was invented by the Pope or the bishops; rather, it is part of Christian revelation. If a Buddhist, a Jew or a Muslim were asked to give up part of his holy books, or a doctrine that they consider to be divine revelation, how would they react? Can we give up something to which God himself is committed? We Christians are asked to be the first to show that we behave according to Christian revelation, which includes the Old and New Testaments. To behave according to our faith, we Christians must be respectful with the believers of other religions, but we must also ask non-Christians to have due respect for our faith. It would be a good initiative on the part of Christians to explain, in a simple and convincing manner, the Christian claim of Jesus Christís fullness: what it means, how it influences the relationship with other religions, how it explains the universal salvation wanted by God, how we can get to know each other better to thus avoid misunderstandings, confusion, manipulation... Much is being said about interreligious and ecumenical dialogue, and that is wonderful; however, it is well known that the basis for all dialogue cannot be other than the respect for the person and the identity of the person with whom we are in dialogue. Let us tell the Christian truth with charity, with respect. Only then will an authentic and fruitful dialogue begin with those who seek and love the truth.

A transfigured life. The experience of Peter, John and James lasted only a short while. However, its effects lasted throughout their entire life. Was it not something unforgettable and effectively transforming? In our life there have been and there will be moments of "transfiguration," in which we have a living and gratifying experience of God. Sometimes this experience of God lasts for some time or even a whole lifetime, but often the intensity with which one experiences God goes away. However, it must leave a trace. I call this trace "the transfigured life." In other words, the life of those who have seen and who see Godís face in the realities and events of their existence. They see Godís face in a smiling and active child, just like they see it in a disabled boy. They see God in the clear eyes of a young woman whose soul is clean, who has consecrated to God her entire life. But they also see God in the eyes of a prostitute, who is compelled to engage in this forced labor to survive and support her parents and children. They discover the Living God in bread and wine, as well as the sparks of redemption that fly out from the flint of a hardened and sinful conscience. Everything is transfigured, because in some way everything bears the original trademark: Made in God.

 

 

Third Sunday of LENT 18th March 2001

First: Ex 3:1-8.13-15; second: 1 Cor 10:1-6.10-12; Gospel: Lk 13:1-

THEME of the READINGS

Todayís readings describe to us some traits of the Christian God. In the first reading, God appears like fire that does not burn up and defines himself in the following way, "I am he who is." The Gospel, in turn, presents us with a merciful God who ardently wishes that the sinner be converted, who knows how to wait before intervening with his justice. The Christian God is also a provident God, who places the history of Israel before our eyes so that we may be careful and not fall, no matter how firmly we think we are standing (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

God is a fire that does not burn up. According to the ancient mentality, fire was the symbol of divine power and force. In the Old Testament it is also the symbol of Godís presence in creation (the sun, the rays...) and in the historical framework of peoples. Since God is eternal, the fire of his presence and of his power cannot burn out. What a lovely way to express Godís constant closeness to Moses and the descendants of Israel! The powerful presence of God among his people achieves its complete fulfillment when the very Word of God is incarnated in Maryís womb and becomes human in everything, except for sin. During his public life, Jesus will say, "I have come to bring fire to the earth, what else can I want but for it to burn?" It is the fire that is God himself, in his mysterious proximity to man; a fire that must burn like a hoisted flag, in the heart of history and of every human being.

God defines himself as He Who Is. Yahweh says to Moses, "This is what you are to say to the Israelites, ĎI Am has sent me to you.í" The fire of God is not destructive, but a friend and benefactor of the people, in whom people can place their trust. Without excluding a possible essentialist interpretation of the divine name revealed to Moses, an existential interpretation seems more appropriate, considering the context. It is as if Moses said to the Israelites in Egypt, "I am sent to you by the God whom you can trust and in whom you can have total certainty, for he is going to free you." Not just for the Israelites in Egypt, but also for the Jews in other times of their history and for the Christians in different times over the past twenty centuries, the situation may appear to be desperate. There are no prospects, there is almost no hope. Who will be able to save us? Who will be able to rescue us from this painful situation? God has repeated and will continue to repeat until the end of time the same words that we find in the first reading, "I Am Who Am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites, ĎI Am has sent me to you.í" Confidence in such divine words constantly renews history.

A God who yearns for our conversion. At first, Moses "converts himself" to Yahweh and sets out for Egypt to free the Israelites on Godís behalf. In the Gospel Jesus warns us that God does not love punishment - the Galileans murdered in the temple and the eighteen people living in Jerusalem who died when the tower at Siloam fell did not die because God punished them - but repentance and conversion. As the Gospel tells us, if you do not repent you will perish.

A patient God, a God who can wait. God knows that converting for real is not easy, nor can it happen overnight. Because he knows people inside, God knows how to wait. He is not in a hurry when he sees sincere readiness for conversion. The parable of the fig tree, narrated by Jesus in the Gospel, is of great comfort to the weak man, often sterile in his efforts to convert. God does not only wait; he also works in the human conscience, in order for it to convert and bear fruit. Will people be so ungrateful before Godís such great goodness and mercy? We are Christians. Let us not forget that with Christ has come the fullness of time, as the second reading reminds us. With the fullness of time also comes the fullness of divine patience. Are we going to reject it? Oh Lord, free us of this evil, the greatest evil!

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Knowing how to wait, like God. Impatience, the inability to wait for Godís time, can be a great sin in the apostle, the committed Christian, the missionary. A parish priest, for example, may feel impatient in the face of certain situations which the parish is going through: parents who do not baptize their children, baptisms that are more social in nature than religious, couples who live together or are married only with a civil rite, a significant decrease in birthrates, the religious ignorance of the faithful, the active and destructive presence of Jehovahís Witnesses and similar sects, the disintegration of the family, the dissent over certain truths of Christian faith and morality... Why keep going, if these are daily problems in the life of a parish priest? Above all, it should be pointed out that together with the problems there are also comforting facts within the parish itself: a more mature and responsible faith, groups of renewed and flourishing Christian life, the generally positive presence of ecclesial groups and movements, a growing economic and moral support for those in need, etc. Arenít these facts clear signs of hope? We must not be discouraged by the problems, though they are very real. Above all we must not waste our energy complaining, being impatient, looking to the past... We must take action, yes, take action and learn to wait. We must work with faith and love, which are the most effective means to change peopleís lives. We must wait and be constant, without haste. We must never give up waiting or hoping. In patience, Jesus tells us, you shall possess your souls; in hope we find our salvation and that of our brothers and sisters.

Do not cease to preach the Christian God. There is only one God, and that is why the Christian God shares some of the traits of the God in whom Jews or Muslims believe. However, there are also aspects that are different, which in no way should be ignored. We must speak about the God who is present and near people, the merciful God who knows how to wait... And we must also talk of the God who is One and exists in three persons at the same time, which is the element of greatest distinction in our Christian conception of God. On the other hand, we must certainly talk about moral problems, changes in mentality, ideological secularism and relativism. But isnít it much more important to talk about God? Christianity is not a moral system which involves a religion; Christianity is, first and foremost, a religion, a faith, from which a morality is inferred, along with a way of living and of being present in the world and in society. It may be that in talking more about the living and true God, something will also change in the way our contemporaries live and think. Accept the challenge.

 

Fourth Sunday of LENT 25th March 2001

First: Jos 5:9.10-12; Second: 2 Cor 5:17-21; Gospel: Lk 15:1-3.11-32

THEME of the READINGS

"Let yourselves be reconciled with God." This is one of the perspectives according to which we can interpret the liturgical texts of this fourth Sunday of Lent. In the first reading, God is reconciled with his people, granting them the possibility to enter the Promised Land, after forty years of wandering aimlessly through the desert. In the parable of the Gospel, the father is reconciled with the younger son, and though not so clearly, with the elder son. Finally, in the second reading Saint Paul shows us that God has reconciled us to him by means of Christ, and has bestowed upon us the ministry of reconciliation.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Godís initiative in reconciliation. The meaning of the Greek word which has been translated as "reconciliation" is change starting with the other. To be reconciled means to change starting with the other: in our case, starting with God. It is God who reconciles the people of Israel to himself, making them cross the Jordan as if it were another Red Sea, renewing the Passover and the Covenant, as on Sinai, no longer giving them manna to eat but the fruits of the land that they will conquer and in which they will settle once and for all. It is the good father of the parable in the Gospel according to Luke who reconciles himself to his younger son, embracing and kissing him, thus helping the son to be reconciled with himself. It is also the good father who takes the initiative to reconcile the elder brother to the younger brother, putting the past aside and duly valuing the repentance of the heart. And what does Paul write to the Christians of Corinth? "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not holding anyoneís faults against him, but entrusting to us the message of reconciliation." To be reconciled essentially means saying thank you to God for having taken the first step. "I accept your forgiveness, I accept your love."

To be reconciled while looking to the future. To be reconciled with God first of all means recognizing that something has gone wrong in our relations with him in the past. It also means that there is an interest in establishing good relations with God in the present and for the future. For the Israelites in the desert, crossing the Jordan means leaving behind a past of rebellion, complaints and insecurity and renewing the covenant of fidelity to God, which leads to the conquest of the Promised Land. The two sons of the parable have to make a break with the past years of their lives, their relations with their father and their mutual relations, in order to be able to enter the future with a restored dignity as sons. The Christianís reconciliation with God looks to the span of life that lies ahead for doing good, and especially projects itself onto the other shore of life. Isnít the message of reconciliation that God has entrusted to our fragile hands a message that we must make effective in the here and now and in the future that constantly knocks at our door? I reconcile myself to the present, but the effects of such a reconciliation must extend into the future; without this effectiveness in the future, reconciliation is merely a nice but vacuous word, that has no efficient repercussions, and thus generates real frustration.

Christ, our peace and reconciliation. Christ is the final mediator of our reconciliation to God. In Jesusí baptism, the waters of the Jordan are purified, and the new people have the opportunity to be reconciled with the Father. The life of Jesus Christ, especially his Death and Resurrection, is the way chosen by the Father to reconcile us with himself and with all those who have been redeemed. Only in Christ and through Christ do we succeed in feeling Godís saving power, who wishes to reconcile us with himself. Christ is the last word of reconciliation that the Father addresses to people and to the world. This is why those who live in a state of reconciliation with God in Christ are new creatures. The old has passed away and something new has appeared, as Saint Paul reminds us. The past doesnít count; what matters now is the future, in which we must lead a life reconciled with God and others, where we can be the true evangelizers of reconciliation.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

The long path of reconciliation. To be reconciled is a beautiful thing, but it may be a hard and difficult process. It requires change, and like all life changes, it means breaking patterns of the past, going off the beaten path, opening up new avenues, breaking new ground. In essence, it means going out of our sweet comforts and routine and getting on the new road that God is building for us, a road of disinterested self-giving and love. To be reconciled with God and others implies being ready to look to the past with eyes of repentance and leave it behind without a care, as much as it may continue to seem attractive to us. To be truly reconciled with God and our brothers and sisters, it is not enough to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to receive Godís forgiveness. That is only the beginning! Then comes the daily and constant work of uprooting from our soul the deep and at times very hidden causes of our distance from God, and of uprooting any sign of them from our behavior. Now comes the tenacious work to conquer our heart and our life for love, agreement, accord and filial harmony with God and fraternal harmony with people. Everyone, if honest, realizes the need for reconciliation. Reconcile yourself first, and then help others achieve true reconciliation.

A reconciled and reconciling Church. The Pope has shown us with his example not to have any misgivings about asking for forgiveness. The Church is holy, but we, her children, are sinners. And the sins of her children leave a mark on the Churchís face. This is why in the name of the Church and as her representative, each day the priest must reconcile the Church to God in Mass. On the other hand, as a community of people who believe in Christ the Lord, the Church is very much aware of the divisions and conflicts, the doctrinal and practical differences that go on inside it. Some steps have been taken on the path to reconciliation. There are still many more to take. We must continue to make progress in the reconciliation between different ecclesial communities, between members of the same ecclesial community, between different orders, congregations or religious institutes, between different dioceses... Only a Church that is vertically reconciled to God and horizontally reconciled to its brothers and sisters in faith may be the leaven of reconciliation in society. Are you reconciled to God in your life? Is your parish reconciled internally? Are you an agent of reconciliation in your family and in your working environment?

 

Fifth Sunday of LENT 1st April 2001

First: Is 43:16-21; second: Ph 3:8-14; Gospel: Jn 8:1-11

THEME of the READINGS

"Look, I am doing something new"(Is 43,19). Novelty is undoubtedly one of the salient points of todayís liturgical texts. Using poetic language full of surprising and bold images, the prophet evokes a new Exodus and a new liberation (first reading). The adulterous woman, whom the Gospel tells us about, discovers in Jesusí attitude something new that she has never seen, which frees and transforms her. Paul of Tarsus is faced with the absolute novelty of the mystery of Christ; this is why he looks on all other things as filth if he can gain Christ and be given a place in him (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The old novelty of God. Those who have the source of novelty within themselves can do something new. A poet has the source of poetry within himself, and thus can be poetically creative at any moment. A political genius can surprise us with his creativity at any time of his life. A man with a charismatic spirit can stir up his charism, even when one would least expect it. The things that happen with extraordinarily gifted men are rooted in God himself, the novelty par excellence and the source of all novelty. In the history of Israel, divine novelty was not finished with the great event of the Exodus. Seven centuries later, God steers the events of history to create a new situation and make those who have been exiled to Babylon return to Jerusalem (first reading). Jesusí attitude towards her must have been a joyful novelty for the poor woman caught while committing adultery and condemned to be stoned. "Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you." Jesusí behavior must have been equally new for those who accused the woman: "Let the one among you who is guiltless be the first to throw a stone at her... When they heard this they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest..." (Gospel). Who is this man who dares to put himself above Mosesí law? Finally, for us the concept of "Christian novelty" has a rather familiar ring to it. Paul, who has experienced it to the fullest, summarizes it as follows: knowing Christ (a knowledge which is the fruit of the experience of faith), experiencing the power of his Resurrection, sharing his suffering and dying his death, thus achieving resurrection from the dead (second reading). It may be said that the history of salvation is summed up in the history of Godís new interventions, always with a view to the salvation of his people.

Divine novelty does not start from scratch. No religious, political, social or economic novelty starts from scratch. The new is rooted in the old, taking it in creatively without destroying it. Novelty without roots will quickly dry up and disappear. In order for the new to be fruitful, it must have its roots in history. God too, in the new wonders he works over the years and centuries, does not start from scratch. If it were so, we could not speak of a history of salvation, but of Godís specific actions, bearing no connection to each other, the actions of a God who is a sniper acting according to impulses, at the margin of all plans. Thatís why Isaiah does not see an absolute novelty in what God does for the people of Israel exiled in Babylon, but a new Exodus, thus establishing a link between the past and the present. With his behavior, Jesus does not liquidate Mosesí Law, but places himself above it and interprets it according to its true meaning: "Go and sin no more." Godís new actions in the evolution of the history of humanity and in the life of each person never disregard what has already been built. The man of God, the Christian, is he who knows how to read history and the life of people in a constant continuity, without ruptures, albeit with some surprises. This is why according to the Christian vision of history the present is the coming together of two shores, that of the past in which it is rooted and that of the future, towards which it is projecting itself.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Without fear for Godís novelty. From its very origin, Christianity has experienced a healthy tension between the past and the future, between the new and the old, between tradition and progress. The forms of Christian life that succeed in preserving both extremes of this tension will be authentic. Those which emphasize one of the two extremes, thus losing their balance, are moving in the wrong direction. Let us not be afraid of tradition in any way, but equally, let us not fear progress, or the novelty that God creates in every period of history. If the novelty is Godís novelty, then it always carries within it the possibility of going beyond what already exists. Tradition, if it is authentic, gives importance and soundness to new contributions. The Christian is "like a householder who brings out from his storeroom new things as well as old" (Mt 13:52). Here are two examples of novelty in our time: inculturation and ecclesial movements. They are indeed new phenomena, but "they come from afar." To a certain extent, Saint Paul is the first champion of the inculturation of the Gospel, using Hellenic categories and the Hellenic mentality. Thereís no doubt about the fact that every historical period has had to carry out this same sort of work, until the present day. A greater awareness of cultural pluralism existing today, and the challenge of enlightening ancestral cultures with the Gospel, give a new face to the present inculturation process. On the other hand, movements within the Church are equally rooted in the origins of Christianity. The sociological studies of the New Testament have shown that both Jesus of Nazareth and the early Christians were mostly wandering preachers, like contemporary popular philosophers. In the spirituality of many ecclesial movements, there is the intention to "go back to the source," "go back to the origins of Christianity." Yes, ecclesial movements are indeed a new sociological and canonical phenomenon in the Church, but their ancestors are to be found in the past. At the very center of Christianity is the audacity of grafting the new cuttings into the old stalk.

The ever-new novelty. Human novelties, like all things in this world, have their life-span, from their birth to their death. They are new, and will cease to be such due to extinction or wear and tear. Fashion is like the shop window in which the fleetingness of human novelties is presented. But there is a person, Jesus Christ, who carries the novelty within himself, who is an ever-present novelty that does not disappear into the past or miss out on the future. Jesus Christ, the absolute novelty, "yesterday and forever." He lives, eternally young, with the life of one who has overcome death once and for all. He lives, pouring the strength of novelty into those who open their hearts to him and take on his style of life. In all times of history, Christ is really the New Man who bears the same eternal message of God, but the ever-new and renewing message of man. Why is it that we Christians sometimes feel old? Be always new, following the footsteps of the New Man.

 

 

PALM Sunday 8th April 2001

First: Is 50:4-7; Second: Ph 2:6-11; Gospel: Lk 22:14-23:52

 

THEME of the READINGS

Pain! A historical reality and Godís plan. Here lies the center of the message of Palm Sunday. The servant of Yahweh (first reading) suffers blows, insults and spitting, but the Lord helps him and shows him the meaning of pain. Saint Paul, in the Christological hymn of the Letter to the Philippians (second reading), points to Christ who "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave." In the account of the Passion according to Saint Luke, Jesus faces unspeakable and countless forms of suffering, like a slave, but he knows that everything has been foreseen by the Father, and thus entrusts his spirit to the Father.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Christ, man of suffering. Christís suffering may be gauged quantitatively, and is enormous according to this yardstick. However, the supreme value of Christís pain is rooted above all in its quality. It has quality based on three pillars: Jesus is the perfect man, who experiences and lives suffering with perfection; Jesus is the Son of God, and thus it is God himself who suffers in him; Jesus is the Redeemer of the world and of humanity, who takes on the pain and transforms it through Godís salvific power. This is why in Christís life, especially in his Passion and Death, pain is a historical but also a mystical reality. It is solidarity with people and at the same time the judgement and justification of the sinner; that is, the mystery of salvation. Saint Lukeís account of the Passion takes us by the hand to the prayerful contemplation of Christ in the different episodes of this mystery of pain. Let us contemplate Jesusí silent pain, which he manifests at the Last Supper when faced with Judasí betrayal (Lk 22:22), or during the inopportune discussion of the disciples on ranks and first places (Lk 22:24ff). Let us look at his intense, debilitating pain in Gethsemane, to the point of sweating blood due to his loneliness, due to his having been forsaken by men and by his very Father, due to the burden of the worldís sin. Let us contemplate his ineffable pain following Peterís denial of his love, the dignified pain in the face of love mocked by the soldiers with blasphemy and baseness, the noble pain of the innocent man condemned by the chiefs of the people and by the ruling power, the holy and pure pain due to the dishonor inflicted upon him when he is believed to be a criminal, the physical pain of the nails that pierce his hands and feet, and the ultimate pain of his agony. Christ, "a man of pain and accustomed to suffering." Christ, who in his body and soul collects all pain and sorrow, as in an earthen bowl.

Christ is not alone in his pain. Already the Servant of Yahweh, the figure of Christ, is certain that in the midst of his pain, "the Lord will help him" (first reading). In Gethsemane, the Father sends him an angel, not to free him from pain, but to comfort him (Lk 22:43). On the way to Calvary, he is accompanied by a group of women "who mourned and lamented for him" (Lk 23:27). Crucified on Jesusí right is the good thief, who rebukes the other criminal and proclaims Jesusí innocence, "But this man has done nothing wrong." Throughout the Passion, Jesus felt that he was abandoned by the Father, but also that the Father was at his side in a very intimate way, and this is why before dying he can exclaim, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." Saint Luke reports the glorification of Christís pain - and the consequent solidarity with him - after his death in the centurionís confession, "Truly, this was an upright man." We also see this glorification in the repentance of the crowds who "went home beating their breasts," and again when we hear the announcement to the women who have gone to his tomb, "He is not here, he has risen." The second reading emphasizes Godís closeness to the obedient Christ until his death with enthusiastic terms: "...and gave him the name which is above all other names." Neither God nor people left Christ alone in his pain. This statement holds true for all people. People, like Jesus, will find in other people the cause of their pain, but will also find in them a friendly presence and a comfort that stems from solidarity.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Pain, a hidden treasure. People today are afraid of pain. They want to eliminate it, to uproot it from human and even animal life. It would appear as if pain were purely evil, an abominable evil, a black hole in the great human universe that devours anything that enters it. It is as if the great battle of contemporary history were being fought against pain rather than for people. We must reflect on this, because at times we do succeed in destroying pain, but in such a way that we also destroy something of the human being. Parents donít want their children to suffer and so they give them everything, they let them have their own way always. But with this attitude, arenít they damaging them in the long run? Elderly people and the terminally ill are given medicines to alleviate their pain, which cause them to lose consciousness to a large extent. Arenít they thus being deprived of their freedom and nobility of spirit before pain? Iím not in favor of suffering as such, and it should be alleviated as much as possible, but I am in favor of the human assumption of pain. There are frequent cases of young people and adults who, when faced with failure at school or at work, when faced with disappointment in love or a corruption scandal, prefer to put an end to their life rather than coping with the painful situation. Why? Because the treasure hidden in pain is unknown, it has not been discovered. For humans, it is a hidden treasure of humanization. For Christians, it is a hidden treasure of assimilation of Christís lifestyle, of its redeeming value. John Paul II was bold enough to speak of the Gospel of pain: of the suffering of Christ, together with Christ. It is the suffering of the Christian. We are called to live out this Gospel in the small sorrows of life, we are called to preach it with sincerity and love.

Comfort with pain. Medical science in our days is discovering that a friendly presence by the patientís bedside can alleviate pain more than an injection of morphine. There is a close relationship between the soul and the body, and the spiritual comfort of closeness alleviates the most terrible pain. The spiritual (educating, comforting, consoling, suffering patiently) and corporal (feeding the hungry, giving shelter to the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and inmates, burying the dead) works of mercy are traditional ways of helping people in their pain. They are ways that continue to be absolutely necessary. Together with them there will be new ways, according to the needs of our time. What matters is to be aware of the fact that as Christians, we must accompany people in their pain, we must express solidarity with their sorrows, we must alleviate their suffering with our closeness and comfort. Isnít teaching those who suffer to give meaning and value to their suffering a good way to alleviate their pain?

 

 

HOLY Thursday 12th April 2001

First: Ex 12:1-8.11-14; Second: 1 Cor 11:23-26; Gospel: Jn 13:1-5

THEME of the READINGS

Holy Thursday is a hymn to liberation. On this day, we celebrate the Christian Pasch (Passover): Godís liberating passage through history through the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, commemorated in the celebration of the Eucharist (second reading). The Christian Pasch revives and perfects another Passover, another liberation, brought about by God through his servant Moses: the freeing of the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt (first reading). The Gospel text confronts us with an inner liberation, liberation from our selfishness in order to be free and serve our brothers and sisters, following the example of Jesus Christ.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Liberation, an evangelical word. The word liberation has the term slavery as its opposite. When an individual, a group of humans or a nation cries out for liberation, it means that they feel in their flesh the oppressing burden of someone that holds them as slaves. This reality and this very human experience are present in the Bible, which is the revelation of God in history and for history. If we take a look at the first reading, we realize that the rite of Passover, as it is celebrated by the ancient Israelites, commemorates a dramatic and wonderful time in history. Dramatic, because it brings back the memory of the hard experience of slavery in Egypt; wonderful, because Yahwehís power has freed the Israelites from their slavery. The way of eating the lamb, "with a belt round your waist, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand," indicates Godís liberating action and human collaboration with Godís extraordinary and unexpected intervention. As a people, Israel recognizes that God has remembered its state of oppression, and has intervened effectively as its liberator. The second reading also deals with the Passover, but now it is no longer the Jewish Passover, but the Christian Pasch, as it was celebrated in the apostolic Church. The baptized are conscious of the fact that they have gone from slavery to freedom, thanks to Christís Pasch. Each Sunday, when Christians would gather to celebrate the Eucharist, they would commemorate and re-live, as individuals and as a Church, the Gospel of freedom, "the freedom with which Christ freed us." It was not a liberation from physical oppression, as in the first Passover, but from spiritual oppression, namely sin and the empire built up by sin. By means of Christís Pasch, the baptized have gone from the kingdom of oppressing darkness to the kingdom of the liberating Light. In the Gospel, Jesus completes his teaching of liberation by indicating its purpose to us: freed and free to be able to serve humanity. In order to be such, evangelical liberation will have to strive to serve all, especially the neediest. It is a service in the footsteps of Christ, who in playing the role of householder becomes a servant and begins to wash the feet of his disciples, so that they will learn to do the same.

Baptism and the Eucharist, sacraments of freedom. Through baptism, people are immersed in Christís Pasch, that is, in Christís liberating passage through their existence. Only a liberated person can celebrate and participate in the Eucharist, the sacrament of free men. Perhaps there is a certain baptismal note in the washing of the feet of the apostles (Gospel). Jesus says, "No one who has had a bath needs washing, such a person is clean all over. You too are clean, though not all of you are." Clean, free from all sin, they can thus participate in the Pasch of the Lord. In the second reading, Saint Paul takes up Jesusí words, "Do this in remembrance of me." Christís Pasch is not an event of the past. It is re-lived in the present, provided that Christians gather to celebrate the Eucharist in order to celebrate Christ who says to us, "I give you my life to free yours from all the constraints that prevent you from being free. I give you my body and my blood as food so you wonít become weak in your struggle for freedom." People have sought liberation and freedom along many paths, many of which have led them astray. Today, as in the past, the Christian model represents the true path to freedom.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

The Eucharist, or the feast of freedom. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that the Eucharist is "the source and summit of Christian life," and adds, "For in the Holy Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch" (CCC 1324). I ask myself what it means to be a Christian. Among many other answers, I find the following: "To be free to live God and oneís neighbor." I ask who Christ is, the whole spiritual good of the Church. And a very well-known answer comes to me immediately: "Manís redeemer, humanityís liberator." The Eucharist has many dimensions to it: it is sacrifice, Paschal banquet, memorial, thanksgiving... To such necessary dimensions, we must add another: feast of freedom. How? Well, being a Christian means being free, and the Eucharist is the source and summit of freedom. To celebrate the Eucharist is to celebrate Christian freedom, which by its very nature is whole freedom. Whole freedom is rooted and developed in inner freedom. In other words, free from sin, free from the self, free from psychological or moral conditioning. This is the freedom that we mainly celebrate in the Eucharist. But not exclusively, for freedom must be made visible, it must be incarnated in facts and realities that characterize the circumstances of our life. We must be free to help a needy person; free to speak the truth without fear, albeit cautiously; free to do good though we may not be thanked for it; free to bear witness publicly to our faith. Was not the Eucharist the source of this great freedom of spirit for many saints? When the Christian community gathers around Christ in the Eucharist, it does so as a free community that wishes to continue to grow in freedom.

The Eucharist, the power of freedom. When in Holy Mass we receive the Eucharist, we are nourished by Christ himself, the source and model of Christian freedom. This is why a Christian who wishes to become truly free feels the need to receive Holy Communion frequently. The temptation of slavery constantly lies in wait, at times in a very seductive way. The Eucharist helps us to break the bewitchment of the temptation, to reinforce our decision to follow Christ, the lover and champion of freedom. It is absurd to even think that communion is just for the holiest! How harmful certain labels are to Christians! Here we find one more reason to participate in the Eucharist. When individual, political, social and religious freedom is in jeopardy, which door should we knock on if not the door of the tabernacle where Christ is waiting for us to give us courage in our task of helping freedom to prevail? In the education of the new Christian generations, I think that it would be very useful to place greater emphasis on the Eucharist, and less on pastoral fads, which are here today and gone tomorrow.

 

 

GOOD Friday 13th April 2001

First: Is 52:13-53:12; Second: Heb 4:14-16; Gospel: Jn 18:1-19:42

THEME of the READINGS

Solidarity in pain. The figure of the servant of Yahweh carries the burden not of his own pain, for "ours were the sufferings he was bearing." (first reading). The Passion of Jesus Christ according to John the Evangelist underscores Jesusí love based on solidarity towards people: "Having loved those who were in the world, he took his love to the extreme." In the second reading, taken from the Letter to the Hebrews, Jesus Christ is seen as a high priest who can have compassion for our weaknesses, because he has experienced them all, except for sin.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Vicarious suffering. It is difficult for people to understand this concept. According to our experience, we know that pain is lived out alone. Even when someone accompanies us and comforts us in pain, loneliness does not abandon us, for it is an integral part of our pain. At the same time, human experience teaches us that in the human heart, especially in the heart of people who love, there is a desire, perhaps indefinable but very real, to take the place of the loved one who is suffering. For example, a mother or a father would want to put themselves in the place of their dying child. This universal human experience in some way helps us to understand Christís vicarious suffering throughout his entire life, but especially in his Passion and Death on the Cross. In Gethsemane, on the way to Calvary and on the summit of Golgotha, Jesus suffers by taking on our suffering, our distress, our agony and our death. He suffers by taking on our sins, all sins and the sins of all without exceptions, sins that are the original and radical cause of all human suffering. It can be said that the Passion of Christ is our passion made his. The distress experienced in Gethsemane is our own more than it is Jesusí, and he takes it upon himself. The spasms on the Cross in the hours of agony are our own, and he endures them for us. What in the figure of the servant of Yahweh is a symbol of the Jewish people (first reading), becomes a crude reality in the flesh and soul of Jesus Christ. The Christian, therefore, has lost his right to live his suffering in solitude. Christ, the man of pain, has lived that pain first for the Christian, and is now reliving it with him.

Who suffers in Jesus of Nazareth? First and foremost, it is Jesus the man who suffers. It is his flesh that sweats blood in Gethsemane, it is his blood that runs down his body as a result of the whipping and the nails, it is his sensitivity that is shaken when he is crowned with thorns, it is his honor that suffers when he is slapped, it is his sense of human dignity that is deeply affected when in his agony he is mocked and denigrated. Jesus the high priest suffers as well. The high priest of the old covenant loaded the sins of the people on a billygoat on the day of expiation. Christ, the high priest of the new covenant, takes them upon himself, takes them with him to the Cross, washes them with his blood, destroys them with the fire of his merciful love (second reading). Jesus, as Servant of Yahweh, who represents the new people of Israel, the Church of Christ, also suffers. All the sins of Christians are present in the Passion of Christ. And all of them are forgiven by the merits of the Crucified One. Finally Jesus, the Son of the living God, also suffers. From here, and only from here, comes the possibility and effectiveness of his vicarious suffering, the universal and salvific value of all his suffering. Being our brother, in human nature, he knows our weaknesses and can sympathize with us. Being the Son of God, in his divine person and nature, he is able to give his life, and especially his pain, a power that is superhuman, infinite and absolutely effective in terms of its origin and universal in terms of its destiny.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Thank you, man of pain. It is right, and does honor to all Christians, all human beings, to give thanks, on this Good Friday, to the Crucified One, to the Son of God who has made himself a slave, a non-man, in order for us not to forget that we have been called to be fully human. Thank you, oh Crucified One, because you have wanted to suffer for us, to the point of not appearing human and not having a human aspect. Thank you, for you chose to be overwhelmed with pain and to be familiar with suffering in order for us to feel your presence among us; thank you, oh Jesus, throne of mercy and forgiveness, because you wished to suffer for our good and heal us with your wounds. Thank you, oh Redeemer, because you gave yourself up to death and shared the fate of sinners. Thank you for letting yourself be arrested by men, for accompanying all those who have been arrested in history, in our time, sometimes without even being guilty, like you. Thank you, manís brother, for with your gaze you washed away the denial of Peter and of all those who today continue to deny you for no reason at all. Thank you, oh sublime Truth, because in the supreme moments, and throughout your life, you placed the truth above life itself, as many martyrs of the past and of our days have done, following your footsteps. Thank you. Thank you, oh most dignified of men, for you accepted the ignominy of being supposed a criminal, like Barabbas, You, the Innocent one. Thank you, oh most free man of history, for you did not scorn the death of the slave and converted the sign of disgrace into a victorious sign of glory. Thank you, oh Crucified One, for with your Cross you have redeemed the world.

The art of suffering. Suffering is inherent in the human condition, but the art of suffering must be learned. It requires a slow and constant education. To Christians, and to all human beings, Good Friday is an excellent school of pain. On Good Friday we learn to suffer in silence, with Jesus, like Jesus. On Good Friday Jesus Christ teaches us the great lesson of accepting suffering and the Cross, although he is not guilty, for a higher motive, which is his love for God and for his brothers and sisters. On Good Friday he teaches us - What a great lesson! - to forgive those who have been evil to us, to pray for those who mock us and cause us pain. Good Friday is like a school where we learn to suffer with patience and love, accepting the events and circumstances, since God has wanted or allowed them for our good. The Way of the Cross on Good Friday is presented to us like the way of the cross of human life: in it are mingled love and hate, blows and comfort, high priests and assistants, insults and tears, thieves who are blasphemous and thieves who repent, the mother who accompanies him in his pain and the disciples who leave him to his solitude, those who distribute his clothes among themselves and those who buy linen and scents for his burial. Christ accepts it all. He suffers, because his poor battered body is burdened by a heavy physical and moral weight. He suffers, because he makes his loved ones suffer, he causes pain to many people who really love him. He suffers so that we may be able to suffer with him and like him.

 

 

EASTER Vigil 14th April 2001

First: Is 52:13-53:12; second: Heb 4:14-16; Gospel: Jn 18:1-19, 42

THEME of the READINGS

The numerous readings of Easter Vigil speak about Godís sovereignty over all of creation and history. The different texts selected from the Old and New Testaments allow us to review the history of Godís sovereignty. He is the Lord of the stars in the firmament, of the waters of the sea and of the animals that crawl on the surface of the earth. He is especially the Lord of humans and of their history. The Gospel text shows us Godís sovereignty over death, through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Christian is a mirror of divine sovereignty because, through baptism, he has risen again with Christ.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Godís sovereignty is unrivalled. At a time like ours, which extols equality, the concept of sovereignty is neither familiar nor pleasant. It makes one think of totalitarian systems, attitudes of imposition over others, outright injustice due to the abuse of power, of something that causes man to suffer. However, it is a fact that there can be no legal (family, social, religious or political) system in which a hierarchy, an authority or a sovereignty does not exist and is not recognized. According to the common mentality, when we say "the sovereign", we are referring to the king, who historically has incarnated sovereignty in a representative way. Today, people talk about national sovereignty to indicate the independence of a nation with respect to another in international relations. When we refer to Godís sovereignty in our spiritual and religious language, what do we mean to emphasize? First of all, according to the readings, we mean Godís dominion over all of creation, which flowed from his hands, thanks to the superabundance of his love. Second, we refer to Godís government over history, a history in which the events of secular history unfold in a parallel with the events of the history of salvation. Third and lastly, we mean Godís mastery over death and what lies beyond death, eternity. Godís dominion is unequalled, first of all because only God can create and has sovereign power over creation. His dominion is also limitless, since God prevails over all times and peoples; it also has the noblest of all goals: to do good for humanity and bring about the salvation of men and women. His dominion is unrivaled especially because God exercises his sovereignty in a totally positive way. He is not a sovereign who subjugates, but one who liberates. He is not a sovereign who uses his power to impose himself with force, but to manifest his love as a father. He is not a sovereign who lets others bribe him; rather, he promotes justice at the appropriate time. In the Easter Vigil, in reviewing the history of salvation which reaches its climax in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, what we do is to review the history of the benevolent and loving sovereignty of God vis-à-vis humankind.

If Christ had not been raised... I do think that it may do some good to our faith and our Christian life to think about this for a moment. Saint Paul puts himself in this position. What does he say? 1) If Christ has not been raised, our faith is vain. Yes, because the center of our faith is the person and the life of Jesus of Nazareth. If he is another dead man in history, he is neither God nor the Living One, and therefore our faith has no substance. 2) If Christ has not been raised, we are false witnesses to God. Indeed, what did Paul and the apostles preach? That God raised Jesus Christ and made him the Lord of all, living and dead. 3) If Christ has not been raised, you have not been released from your sins. In other words, baptism was an empty, sterile rite. You have not died with Christ, or been raised with him. If Christ has not been raised, sin and the devil still have the last say. 4) If Christ has not been raised, we are of all people the most pitiable. Yes, because we were given hope, which was then converted into tragic frustration. In the end, it is best to conclude, like Saint Paul, "In fact, however, Christ has been raised from the dead, as the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep."(1 Cor 15:12-20).

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

A hope that does not fade. As realistic as we may be, as attached to the present as we may be, we cannot stop looking ahead, we cannot but open our souls to hope, whether it be purely worldly hope or hope open to eternity. As weak as it may be, hope defines the deepest of our being. Christianity gives this human hope the strength to continue to exist until the end, and opens us up to a higher level of hope. Our hope does not fade in Godís provident sovereignty over creation and history. To us, this provident sovereignty may seem mysterious, disconcerting and unpredictable, but we believe that it exists, we trust in it, it gives security to our work and, as time goes by, we glimpse it. Our hope in Christ, the Light of the world, does not fade. It is like the light that shines with a new splendor in the first part of the Easter Vigil. Perhaps we are tempted to think that there is a lot of darkness, and that this darkness is very dense. But hope in Christ, the Light, continues to burn. It is a light that dissipates darkness first and foremost inside peopleís consciences, and from within it dissipates the darkness in peopleís actions. Our hope in the purifying and transforming action of Christian baptism does not fade. How can we but baptize children, from their very first days or months of life, if our hope is steadfast? This hope in the effectiveness of baptism requires us Christians to live with maturity and coherence, cleansed of all sin, in an attitude of spiritual and moral transformation, under the guidance of the Spirit.

Witnesses of the Resurrection. The Gospel gives an account of the womenís and of the apostlesí witness of the Resurrection. The bearing witness publicly and officially is up to the hierarchy of the Church; however, there is a private witness, a domestic witness, so to speak, to which all the members of the People of God are called. Bishops, priests and deacons, must all be witnesses to the Resurrection, through the proclamation of this immense mystery, a proclamation in the name of Christ. In order for this proclamation to be convincing, they must make it credible with their life, for they have experienced and lived it, and people perceive this. Parents are privileged witnesses to the Resurrection and to all of the Christian faith. As they believe in the Resurrection of Christ, living with the countenance and works of risen people, they will make this mystery believable for their children. Catechists are also important witnesses. The catechist must combine the teacher and witness in himself. Are all catechists teachers and witnesses of the Resurrection? The diocese must take great care in selecting and training catechists. This will benefit the entire Church.

 

 

EASTER Sunday 15th April 2001

First: Acts 10: 34.37-43:12; Second: 1 Cor 5:6-8; Gospel: Jn 20:1-9

THEME of the READINGS

The risen Christ is at the heart of the Easter liturgy. He is so first of all as the object of faith, before the evidence of the empty tomb: "He saw and he believed" (Gospel). He is the object of proclamation and witness before the people: "And they killed him by hanging him on a tree, yet on the third day God raised him to life"(first reading). He is the object of transformation, the new leaven and bread of sincerity and truth: "Throw out the old yeast so that you can be the fresh dough, unleavened as you are. For our Passover has been sacrificed, that is, Christ" (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The risen Christ, the object of faith. Although the tomb is empty, it does not prove that Christ has risen. Mary of Magdala went to the tomb and came to the following conclusion: "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we donít know where they have put him." Peter went into the tomb and "saw the linen cloths lying on the ground and also the cloth that had been over his head." In seeing the empty tomb, neither Mary nor Peter believed that Jesus Christ had been raised. Only John "saw and believed," because the empty tomb led him to understand the Scripture, according to which Jesus was to rise again from the dead (Gospel). In number 640, the Catechism teaches us the following: "This suggests that he realized from the empty tombís condition that the absence of Jesusí body could not have been of human doing." Up to that time, John had known the Scripture only in terms of notions, and so it only affected his ideas. But now, in going into the empty tomb, in seeing the cloths and shroud, his knowledge of the Scripture becomes experiential and vital knowledge. The risen Christ has not appeared to him yet, but he has already "seen" him, because the Word of God is true; Christís apparitions to his disciples will merely confirm their faith in his Resurrection.

The risen Christ, the object of proclamation. When people have a profound experience, they cannot keep silent about it, aware as they may be that their words will never be able to express the intensity, vividness and fullness of the experience. The experience of the risen Christ left such a deep impression in the soul of the apostles and of the disciples, that they necessarily had to talk about it to those who had not enjoyed it. Not only did they feel that they had to talk about it: they also had to bear witness to it, proclaim its truth, even with their suffering and death, if need be. To keep silent about such an experience would have been an act of unforgivable selfishness. This is why Christians were monothematic in the first years, and when they first proclaimed him. The only thing that they said was, "Christ was killed by the Jews, but God raised him from the dead." Everything else revolves around this great message. They did not proclaim mere ideas, as beautiful as they may have been, but events which they experienced first hand. This experience of the risen Christ was not fleeting. It became part of their existence in this world, and it is for this reason that they never ceased to proclaim Jesus Christís Resurrection with their words and lives.

The risen Christ, the object of transformation. There is a very close relationship between Jesus Christís Resurrection and manís transformation. Christ, the perfect man, is the first to be transformed when God raises him from the dead, thus becoming a man completely penetrated by the Spirit. Saint Paul talks to us about the ethical experience that knowing the risen Christ entails, a transformation that affects us at our very roots: sincerity and truth. In turn, the person who has been transformed by the risen Christ is capable of transforming others, like leaven is capable of making all of the dough ferment. This ethical and missionary transformation is based on inner transformation, which is brought about by the Spirit of Christ, that makes all who have experienced the risen Christ wholly spiritual people, imbued in the Spirit.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Experiencing the risen Christ. An experience is something that one goes through or doesnít: one can have it or not have it. One cannot order a representative to live an experience in oneís place. Christianity is a faith, but it is penetrated by a life experience, so that faith does not fade. Any Christian can have a life experience of the risen Christ. What better day than Easter Sunday to ask the Lord for the grace of this experience! The Christian may put himself in the position to receive the gift of this experience by developing a growing spiritual sensitivity. In coming into contact with God, we begin to enjoy God and the things of God, we acquire a greater ability to listen and to be obedient to the Spirit, we are more in tune with the faith of the Church. This is the cultivated land where the experience of the risen Christ may spring and flourish. We are all called to this experience, without exception. We must not think that it is only for a few mystics who have a certain propensity for such states of the soul. It is important for all Christians to have this experience. Those who have gone through it cannot continue to live in the same way, even if they already led a good Christian life. This intense life experience touches and changes oneís mentality, habits, lifestyle, the way of relating to others, motives for acting and even personality. If you have already lived this experience of the risen Christ, then I think you will agree that with it comes every good thing. If you still have not lived it, ask the Lord to grant you such an experience as soon as possible. May this be the gift that the Lord wants to bestow upon you this Easter!

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ and Christian ethics. Is there a Christian ethics? Well, there is at least a Christian way to live ethics. There is a basis of Christian ethics which is the person of Jesus Christ, the mystery of his Resurrection. An ethics that is not based on the person and message of Jesus Christ cannot be defined as Christian. And when I speak about Christian ethics, I am not just referring to the professors of ethics at universities, but Christian behavior in their work, before the mass media, in the family setting, vis-à-vis taxes, in the face of religious pluralism, etc. The risen Christ has made us share in his divine life by means of baptism and sanctifying grace, and he wishes to continue his presence in history. Let us live the experience of the risen Christ, and let us make sure that our behavior is always ethical and worthy of us as human beings. The resurrection of Jesus Christ, then, will really be at the center of our life and faith.

 

 

Second Sunday of EASTER 22nd April 2001

First: Acts 5: 12-16; Second: Rev 1: 9-11.12-13.17-19; Gospel: Jn

THEME of the READINGS

"Christ the Living One." This is how he is "seen" by the visionary of Patmos, this is how he introduces himself to the disciples closed up in a house for fear of the Jews, this is how he is experienced by the early Christians of Jerusalem. "I am the Living One, I was dead and look - I am alive for ever and ever," says the human figure to Saint John in a vision (second reading). The Living One appears to the fearful disciples to pour peace into their hearts, to entrust the mission to them and grant them the Spirit (Gospel). The Living One continues to work signs and miracles among the people through his apostles (first reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The Living One surprises all. If there was something that the disciples did not expect it was that Jesus Christ would come back to life and appear to them without losing his identity with the Crucified One. The Gospels emphasize this striking surprise, which led Thomas to be so bold as to ask for evidence. It surprised the women who went to Jesusí tomb and found it empty, it surprised the two disciples on their way towards Emmaus, it surprised the disciples gathered in a house. So many surprises at the same time on this first day after the Sabbath! Why are they surprised, if they believed in the resurrection from the dead? Why are they surprised, when they had seen Jesus bring back Lazarus, Martha and Maryís brother, from the dead? Why are they surprised, if Jesus had foretold it on several occasions during his public ministry? They are surprised because what their eyes see is astounding. As good Jews, educated by the Scribes and Pharisees, they believed in the resurrection of the dead, but not in time; rather, at the end of time. They are surprised because Jesusí historical Resurrection is a unique case and absolutely different from that of Lazarus, from that of Jairusí daughter or of the son of the widow of Nain. Jesus is alive, but his life is no longer exactly the same as ours; it is a different life, a new and greater life. They are surprised because it is one thing to listen and to hear, but experiencing something is a totally different matter. The disciples do not hear that Jesus is going to rise from the dead on the third day, they see him and hear him once he has risen, they experience him as he who has overcome death, as he who lives forever. Lucky is the man who is permanently surprised by the living Jesus Christ!

The gifts of the Living One. What does the Living One give his disciples? 1) He gives them peace, his peace. They needed it because they were weak with fear. They needed it, to put their minds and hearts at rest in the present and for the future. He gives peace to all those who are present, not just to a few privileged ones. A peace that no one will take away from them from now on, nor will trials or death. 2) He gives them his own mission: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." For three years, they have grasped Jesusí mission and his way of fulfilling it. Now Jesus asks them to continue his work in Judea, in Samaria and to the ends of the world. 3) In order for them to fulfill his mission with courage and inner freedom, he gives them the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is inseparable from the mission of Jesus Christ, and will continue to be inseparable from the mission of the apostles. He shall make their apostolic work fruitful, and in a centuryís time they will have conquered the largest areas of the known world. 4) He gives them his power to forgive sins. Since only God can forgive sins, they will forgive them only in the name of Jesus Christ and by virtue of Godís power. This forgiveness is something all people feel the need for, because if they are sincere, they will realize that they are guilty. 5) He gives them his obliging love, as happens with Thomas, so as to steady their faith. "Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Do not be unbelieving any more but believe" (Gospel). This understanding that the Living One has of our misery is wonderful. 6) He gives them the power to build up the Church through prayer and preaching, by working many signs and prodigies, especially by healing in the name of Jesus (first reading).

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

The Christian outcry for life. How many people die a violent death each day in your country, in the world: in wars or conflicts, in prisons, in homes, in hospitals, in city streets, on highways? Jesus Christ, the Living One, has come in order for people to have life. And God is the only Lord of death and life. Why are there so many men and women who believe that they are the lords of life, and give it and take it away according to their own interest? The outcry of Christians in favor of life must first of all be raised to heaven, to the Living Jesus Christ, in order for him to open the minds and hearts of men and women to the value of every life, from conception until natural death, and in order for him to give people the clear and firm consciousness of the fact that they are the administrators and not the lords of life. The outcry of Christians in favor of life will also be addressed to state and public institutions, in order for them to defend vigorously and constantly all forms of human life, in order for them to protect the life of citizens, especially the innocent and powerless, and in order for them to promote love for life in a responsible way. The outcry of Christians for life will resound in their hearts so that, in spite of so much violence and so many murders, they never lose sight of the divine origin of life, the primordial value of existence, and the dignity of all human life. Christians cry out for life, yes, for earthly life in its value and contingency; but they also and especially cry out for the life of grace, that is, for the presence of the living Christ in the soul. The clamor for eternal life, the victory over death and the ineffable experience of a new life, in eternal closeness with God and all the saints.

Do not pass through life: live it. Life is a task for responsible people. God did not give us our life so that we could pass through it, as one passes through a fair or an amusement park. One arrives, sees whatís going on, has fun and leaves... God gave us life so that we could live it according to our human and Christian dignity. God did not give us life so that we could spend it well but rather so that we could spend it doing good; not to stroll through it like tourists, but to build a better and more Christian world; not to step on everything that comes our way, but to love all, especially the neediest. This notion of living life holds true especially for youngsters, who are looking at it in the face and still have almost all of it before them. It is so beautiful that it would be a pity for them to lose or waste it! It also holds true for those that have already entered the age of maturity or even old age, for every day of life is a blessing, a task, a goal to achieve. Blessed are those who can live their life until the end, loving God and mankind with joy. Is there a better way to live this life? Is there a better way to prepare for the life that awaits us? May Christ the Living One be the lit torch that guides us in our steps through life, so that we may truly live it.

 

Third Sunday of EASTER 29th April 2001

First: Acts 5:27-32.40-41; Second: Rev 5:11-14; Gospel: Jn 21:1-19

THEME of the READINGS

After Jesus Christís Resurrection, the time of the mission has come for the apostles. The one hundred and fifty-three fish caught miraculously represents the full and universal nature of the mission of the disciples and of the Church. The risen Christ tells Peter three times what his mission should be: "Feed my lambs" (Gospel). After Pentecost, the disciples began to put into practice the mission that they had received, preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ (first reading). Part of the mission is not only for people to know Christ, but also for them to adore him as their Lord and God (second reading).

 

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The mission of the Church. Each evangelist in his own way shows the universal mission of the Church, as a fundamental part of Jesusí message. In todayís Gospel, Saint John makes use of the symbols in his own way. The sea as an image of the world, of all people, was common in the time of Jesus and of the evangelist; the image of the ship, i.e. the ship of state, was equally common, at least among the Greeks and Romans. In basing themselves on some texts of the New Testament (Lk 5:3; Mt 8:23; Mk 1:17; Jn 21:1-4) the early Christians spoke about the ship of the Church. There is another symbol used exclusively by John. Iím referring to the number of fish caught: one hundred fifty-three. In Jesusí contemporary culture, the symbol of a number had a great value and was used rather frequently. The number 153 implies fullness, wholeness. It is usually explained in two ways: 1+5+3 is equal to 9, which is a multiple of 3 and thus stresses the greatest degree of plenitude. Another way of explaining the full and whole value of this number is as follows: 144 is the multiple of 12; if we add 9 to 144 we get 153. Itís a way to emphasize wholeness even more. In summary, the mission of the Church, in the sea of the world, is none other than to be fishermen of all people with no exceptions, and lead them to the safe harbor of faith and eternity. This image of the ship and of fishing is then complemented by another: that of the shepherd and his sheep. Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, tells Peter, "Feed my sheep." Ezekiel had talked about God as the Shepherd of Israel; now Jesus resorts to the same image to speak of himself as Shepherd of the Church, and entrusts Peter with his mission. The Good Shepherd is he who takes care of, loves, protects and feeds his sheep and defends them from the wolves to the point of giving his life for them. Peterís mission and the mission of the shepherds in the Church is to see to it that all the sheep attain Godís salvation.

Two ways of fulfilling the mission. In the Acts of the Apostles (first reading), the mission is fulfilled by means of preaching. The apostles preached Jesus Christ, especially the great mystery of his Death and Resurrection, and the nets begin to fill with fish. The preaching is so effective that the Jewish authorities get scared and put the apostles in prison. "In reply, Peter and the apostles said, ĎObedience to God comes before obedience to men.í" Will those who have received the same mission as Jesus Christ be able to give it up? Can it be equaled to any other mission in life? The apostles feel that it is impossible, and they are not afraid to pay any price to fulfill their mission. The second way of carrying out the mission is by means of adoration, especially the attitude of adoration towards Jesus, the Sacrificed Lamb. "Worthy is the Lamb that was sacrificed to receive power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory and blessing" (second reading). In order for the mission of the apostles to be fully implemented, preaching must lead to adoration. To know that Christ has died and risen for us without adoring him as our Lord and God is to leave the mission unaccomplished. To separate these two realities or excessively neglect one of them would be equivalent to a sort of apostolic and pastoral Monophysitism.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

The mission in the global village. In our day and age, the world has become a global village. The mass media, the world of finance and that of ideas know no boundaries. A pontifical ceremony may be watched simultaneously in any corner of the globe, wherever there is a television set, and thanks to the Internet, one can engage in a chat on any subject with men and women thousands of miles away from home. By means of all these instruments, Christians come into contact with people who have a different view of life, who live according to other models of existence, who practice another religion and accept other beliefs. This phenomenon may arouse a certain state of crisis in Christians, it may even make them fall into a certain religious relativism. Equally, however, it may be a wonderful chance for them to put into practice, on a very large scale and with the most advanced means, the universal mission of the Church. When has the Church had more means to preach Christ? Perhaps we are faced with the most imposing historical challenge in the universal work of the Church. This great universal mission is not carried out by a few missionaries in non-evangelized lands; it may be carried out by any Christian, even you, from your home or from your office. It may clearly be seen that the universal mission of the Church requires that each Christian be someone who believes in his faith, and is prepared to explain it to anyone who may ask about it, in the street, at the office or on the Internet.

The practice of adoration. I think that over the past decades, the practice of adoration has decreased among the faithful. Perhaps, much emphasis has been placed on the liturgical assembly, and less on the Person around whom the assembly gathers. Or the festive nature of the sacraments has been stressed more than the aspect of adoration. Also, sometimes emphasis has been placed on Jesus Christ the friend, the teacher and model as a person like us, while the figure of Jesus Christ as our Lord and God has been left to the side. These or other reasons have diminished the Christian sense of adoration. The beginning of the Third Millennium, centered on the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word, is a wonderful opportunity to renew and recover the spirit of adoration due towards Jesus Christ. The Catechism says, "As faith in the real presence of Christ in his Eucharist deepened, the Church became conscious of the meaning of silent adoration of the Lord present under the Eucharistic species" (CCC 1379). Doesnít the consciousness of this presence of Jesus Christ God in the Eucharist have to be enlivened and revived? At number 2145, the Catechism adds, "Preaching and catechizing should be permeated with adoration and respect for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." A moment of reflection for catechists and preachers! To renew itself, the world needs a more adoring Church.

 

 

 

Fourth Sunday of EASTER 6th May 2001

First: Acts 13:14.43-52; Second: Rev 7:14-17; Gospel: Jn 10:27-30

THEME of the READINGS

The Good Shepherd! This is the symbol of Jesus Christ that todayís liturgy emphasizes. He is the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep and gives his life for them (Gospel). He is the Good Shepherd who wants to save all, both the sheep and the pagan women, and who offers his life to everyone (first reading). He is the Good Shepherd who feeds his sheep not only on this earth, but also in heaven, leading them to springs of living water (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The mirabilia of the Good Shepherd. In the history of Israel, there are many references to the mirabilia Dei, the great wonders that God worked for his people. It is also valid to speak of the mirabilia Boni Pastoris. Let us look at some such wonders indicated in the liturgical texts. 1) I know my sheep. The communitarian and social nature of faith in no way diminishes the personal nature of the relationship between the Good Shepherd and each one of his sheep. "Knowing" in the Hebrew language also implies "loving", wanting the good of the person, feeling affection for that person. In other words, one can get to "know" another person only within the realm of a close personal relationship. When people are "known" by Jesus Christ in such a way, they also enter the world of Jesus Christís closeness, they listen to him with attention and follow him with faithfulness, joy and gratitude. In the Gospel according to John, on the other hand, knowing is almost equivalent to believing. Jesus Christ has confidence in, he trusts, his sheep because he loves them and feels loved by them. And above all, the sheep trust Christ, and recognize him as their Lord and Savior. 2) I give you eternal life. The greatest gift that God has given us is life. But this life lasts only a few years, after whichÖ Will death overcome us? Will we go back to the nothingness from which God took us when he created us? This is a question that finds its answer in the risen Christ. He is the Lord of Life, the Living One. And since he is the Lord of Life, he may dispose of it and give it to those who love and trust him. Christ lets us share in his very life, the life that is not subject to the dominion of death: eternal life. In the Book of Revelation we read, "The Lamb (the dead and risen Christ) who is at the heart of the throne will be their shepherd and will guide them to springs of living water!" Eternal life is the same life as that of Christ, which is already present in us through baptism and grace, and will acquire its fullness in the hereafter of our earthly existence. Since our earthly life is a precious gift of the Father, eternal life is a wonderful gift of the risen Christ. 3) No one can take them away from me. No human, angelic or diabolical power is above the power of the risen Christ, a power he has received from the almighty Father. To want to take Jesus Christís sheep from him would be tantamount to taking them away from God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It would be absurd! People may make a clean break with this life, but they cannot snatch eternal life from Godís hands. As the Catechism teaches us, angels are at the service of God: "With their whole beings, the angels are servants and messengers of God" (CCC 329), and at the service of man, "From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession" (CCC 336). Finally, although the devil is a powerful figure, for he is a pure spirit, he cannot prevent the building up of the Kingdom of God, he cannot take Godís sheep away, because "the power of Satan is, nonetheless, not infinite" (CCC 395). We alone, with our freedom, can escape from Christís flock and flee from the Fatherís good hands. The text of the Acts of the Apostles bears witness to this: "When they saw the crowds, the Jews, filled with jealousy, used blasphemies to contradict everything Paul said." What tremendous power is the power of freedom, that can render useless the mirabilia of the Good Shepherd!

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Do not be afraid of the Good Shepherd! The mystery of Christ goes beyond the human mind. For this reason, the New Testament resorts to many figures and symbols to express some of its infinite richness. We are told about Christ the teacher and prophet, God and Lord, light and life, alpha and omega, the Savior and Emmanuel, etc. One of the sweetest names of Christ is the Good Shepherd. It is a name that children like very much, and that in no way is displeasing to adults, because the allegory of the Good Shepherd in the Gospel according to John is the equivalent of the parable of the prodigal son in the Gospel according to Luke. Who can possibly be afraid of Christ, the Good Shepherd, if the only thing he seeks and worries about is our greatest good? Itís true that some truths of our faith may seem difficult to us, but do not be afraid of difficulties, for the Good Shepherd will help you to understand them a bit more, to accept them with love and joy, like a magnificent gift, and especially to live them out with passion and self-giving. Some moral teachings of Christianity may be difficult to accept, harsh, they may go against the natural flow of things, but the Good Shepherd, who feeds you with such truths, will give you the strength to assimilate them and put them into practice in your daily life. Sometimes you may go astray or you may grow weak on the path of life, but do not be afraid to go back to Christ, for he will carry you on his shoulders and will be happy to have you back. Do not be afraid! The Good Shepherd is ready for anything, because he loves you, because he wants what is good for you.

Possible martyrdom: gift and freedom! The Christian vocation bears the vocation to martyrdom within itself. It is sometimes a very real possibility for all Christians, wherever they may be. And let us not think that martyrs are only possible in Latin America, Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. Every year, many have professed their faith with martyrdom in different continents. In the world there are many people who die violently, but they are not martyrs; this is a gift of the crucified Christ who sits at the right hand of the Father. If the Crucified One does not attract us to martyrdom, if he does not grant us this supreme likeness to him, we will never be able to be martyrs. The divine gift is completed by the gift of human freedom, for martyrdom is an act of sovereign freedom. No one is forced to die as a martyr. One can become a martyr only if one is free and truly loves. There is hard and bloody martyrdom, which is possible for all but actually happens only for a few. And there is the non-bloody form of martyrdom, which is possible and real for all: the martyrdom of the duty fulfilled, of the coherence between faith and life, of constant witness, of always living in truth, of loving enemies (political, ideological, religious, in the parishÖ). Whatever your martyrdom, drink its cup through Christ and with Christ.

 

 

Fifth Sunday of EASTER 13th May 2001

First: Acts 14:21-27; Second: Rev 21:1-5; Gospel: Jn 13:31-35

 

THEME of the READINGS

The Church was born out of Easter. On this Sunday, the liturgical texts revolve around the theme of the Church. Above all else, in the Gospel we are offered charity as the substance of the Church "It is by your love for one another, that everyone will recognize you as my disciples." This Church, love and communion, is fulfilled historically in the small communities in the early Christian times, for example in the communities founded by Paul and Barnabas during their first missionary journey (first reading). This historical Church is a reflection of, as well as the driving force towards, the eternal Church, the definitive and endless home of God among people (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Charity, the substance of the Church. The Gospel is very clear: "It is by your love for one another that everyone will recognize you as my disciples" (Jn 13:35). In using the word disciples, he is not referring to each one of them individually, but to them as a community of people who follow Jesus and his teachings, that is, as a Church. In the supreme hour in which he leaves us his last will and testament before dying, Jesus does not say, "Everyone will recognize you as my disciples if you live in poverty or if you are obedient, if you have learned properly all of my teachings or if you are able to preach my Gospel". These are all necessary things, but they do not coincide with the substance, with the quintessence of the Church. Only charity is its substance and quintessence. This is why the Church could be defined as "the community of those who love one another, as Christ loved them". Christ loved us to the point of giving his life so that we could live. Christ loved us to the point of enabling us to share in the same love that exists between the Father and the Son. Christ loved us to the point of becoming a slave and washing the feet of his disciples, so that we could realize that love and authority among his disciples mean service. If other values in the daily life of the Church are placed above charity, or worse yet, at its margin, we will have to conclude that we are not touching the heart of the Church.

A Church in history. After Pentecost, the disciples started to establish the first Christian communities in Jerusalem, the Mother Church, in Samaria, in the cities of the Mediterranean coast of Palestine, in Damascus, in Antioch; and with Paul and Barnabas in the southern region of the Roman province of Asia (where Turkey is today). The Church-as-charity began to become incarnate in small communities of men and women, Jews and Gentiles of different races and customs, united by their faith in and love for Jesus Christ. This historical incarnation of the Church-as-charity entailed certain requirements, some of which may be found in the second reading: the need for tribulation due to the very fact of living among other people who are not Christian; the need to be comforted and encouraged in the way we live our faith and our Christian life; the designation of priests to guide the community; prayer and fasting, as two important components supporting charity. It also entailed the joy of sharing with other communities - in this case with the community of Antioch - the wonders worked by God throughout Paul and Barnabasís missionary journey across the southern region of the Asian province. These aspects, among others, speak of a Church that is living, present and incarnate in historical circumstances.

The Church in its eternal destiny. The second reading, taken from the Revelation of John, talks to us about a splendid and luminous Church, whose divine and human perfection has achieved its fullness. The author imagines the Church like a city, the new Jerusalem, Godís home among people (21:3). It is a Church visited and inhabited by the fullest joy, a Church that is always young and full of life, a Church with no borders, whose arms are stretched out to all. This Church, so beautiful and wonderful in its destiny, is a reflection, albeit a feeble one, of the historical Church, of the churches founded by the first Apostles, the Church in which the love and faith of Christians are incarnate today.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

The true face of the Church. What makes the true face of the Church, a beautiful and attractive face, shine before human beings? No doubt, the answer is charity. The Church as teacher is necessary, irreplaceable and inseparable from the Ecclesia amans, but in the eyes of the people, even Christians themselves, it is not the most attractive face. The Church that celebrates the sacraments is extremely important, and a very suitable way of expressing the Churchís love towards her children in different situations and circumstances of life. However, it is not the most alluring face for Christians, and even less for non-Christians. The Churchís institutions, at times greatly criticized, often unfairly and in a disloyal way, are not the most genuine face of the Church either. The true face of the Church is shown to us by the Church-as-charity, communion, the Church that truly loves and dedicates itself to communicating love through each and every one of its children. We all know the song that says "Where charity and love prevail, there is God". This sentence could be paraphrased in a different way: "Wherever there is charity and love, thatís where the Church is". Here, we are referring to that charity that springs from God and in God ends its journey of love in the life of human beings. God, the Alpha and Omega of charity; between these two extremes of Greek vocabulary we find all the other consonants and vowels with which we can express our love for our neighbor with all of our heart. Let us never separate charity from faith, from dogma, from the liturgy, from institutions. But may the most beautiful, genuine and true face that each one of us offers the Church be the face of true charity and sincere love. Let us recall what Saint Paul says in his hymn to charity: "Without charity, I am nothing".

The Church is also my parish. The phenomenon of globalization can help us to better grasp the universality of the Church and thus of Christian charity. Parochialism, that is, being closed in within oneís parish or diocese, removing from oneís horizon any openness to other parishes, dioceses and to the entire Church in the different continents, must be rejected by a truly Christian heart. Of course, I should love and practice charity towards the members of my family, my neighborhood, my parish, etc. But isnít the whole world becoming our parish, and thus the place where we can express our charity? A specific example of the globalization of love was given by many Christian families and many parishes all over Italy which welcomed so many young people coming from all over the world during the recent Jubilee Year. What can I do to express my love for the entire Church, from my parish and in my parish?

 

 

Sixth Sunday of EASTER 20th May 2001

First: Acts 15:1-2.6.22-29; Second: Rev 21:10-14.22-23; Gospel: Jn

THEME of the READINGS

In the texts of todayís liturgy, a prevailing theme is the relationship between Easter and the Trinity. In the text of the Gospel, taken from the speech at the Last Supper but with verbs used in the future tense, that Father and the Son will "dwell in us". The Holy Spirit appears as the "memory" of the life and message of Jesus. At the great assembly in Jerusalem, gathered in the name of the Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Apostles and priests decided not to impose upon the Christian Gentiles any burden beyond the essentials (first reading). The new Jerusalem, which came down out of heaven from God, the figure and image of the Church through time towards eternity, does not have a temple, because the Lord, the almighty God and the Lamb are his temple (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Easter: the Trinity in action. The Easter of Christ is the center of Jesusí life and of the history of salvation. For this reason, Easter is the time at which each of the divine Persons exercises to the highest degree his revealing, sanctifying and salvific action among people. At Easter, the Father brings to fullness his fatherly love towards Jesus, whom he will exalt after his ignominious death on a Cross. He brings to fullness his love for people, in whom he will be able to make his home forever thanks to Jesusí work of redemption (Gospel). And he brings to fullness his love for the Church, the new city that has come down from heaven, since with the Lamb he is her light and temple (second reading). The Son acts powerfully in the history of human beings by means of his redeeming offering to the Father. "I am going away", Jesus says to his disciples, indicating his Death and Resurrection (Gospel). He also acts by attracting both Jews and Gentiles to faith and baptism (first reading). Finally, the second reading emphasizes his magisterial and priestly action in the Church, as he is her light and sanctuary. And for believers, the Holy Spirit is and will be "magisterium and memory" of the Paschal mystery (Gospel). He is the true driving force that gives impulse to the life and decisions of the Church, in order for them to conform to the Gospel (first reading). He is also the one who shows people the true and beautiful face of the Church, above and beyond all historical vicissitudes, despite the mistakes and wretchedness of its children. With Easter, not only is the Trinitarian mystery revealed more clearly, but in addition the believer becomes more capable of revealing the Trinityís mysterious, full and effective action in history.

Easter: the action of the Trinity. The action of the Trinity, which is very evident in todayís liturgy, is peace. Peace, this magnificent gift of Yahweh to his people, is now Jesusí gift to his disciples. The Father and Son agree to give believers peace, that is, the sign and symbol of God (Gospel). In the specific history of each and every believer, the Holy Spirit urges us to seek solutions to the problems of Christian existence in harmony, truth and peace (first reading). And doesnít the new Jerusalem shine forth as a place of peace, with a wall protecting her against all enemies of peace, and with the Almighty Lord and the Lamb present in its midst (second reading)? Another Trinitarian action is joy. It appears most clearly in the first reading: the Christians of Antioch, after listening to the reading of the letter sent by the delegates from Jerusalem, "were delighted with the encouragement it gave them". However, in the Gospel Jesus also says to his followers that, "if you loved me you would be glad that I am going to the Father". And are not the splendor and brightness of the holy city of Jerusalem an icon of the spiritual joy of all those who live in it? Christian joy is the work of the Trinity and as such survives, is purified and deepened in the midst of the trials and tribulations of daily life.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

The Trinitarian face of the Christian. The feast of Easter is very closely connected with baptism, since through baptism we are immersed in the Paschal mystery of Jesus Christ. In baptism, the Christian is marked by the Trinity: "I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit"; and through baptism the Christian becomes a member belonging to the Trinity as a child of God, a brother of Christ and a disciple of the Spirit. As Christians of the 21st century, we are called to make manifest in our life among our contemporaries Godís Trinitarian face. As a Christian, I should grow in my filial experience of God, so that with my attitude and conduct I am able to show people Godís fatherly face. As a Christian, I cannot give up living my fraternity with Christ, my older brother, my model for living and behaving. Like him, I shall bear witness before others to my genuine love for all human beings, because they are all my brothers and sisters and I love them all as such. As a disciple of the Holy Spirit, I see that I cannot listen to other voices, although they may be very seductive, or follow other teachers who whisper other doctrines in my ear. My teacher and my guide is the Spirit of the Father and Christ, who makes the only Gospel of God resonate in us. As a Christian, I am consecrated to be a reflection of the Spirit, the teacher and memory of Jesus. Am I aware that being a Christian I must make visible the presence of the Trinity among people, in their daily tasks and occupations? Do I have a close relationship with each one of the persons of the Trinity? If we Christians do not reflect the face of the Trinity in our daily existence, the essence of Christianity will be reduced to a mere concept and will have no impact on human life. Let us pray that the triune God be a life-giving and transforming presence for all Christians.

The Spirit, memory of the Christian. In such a complex and hyperactive world as the one in which we live, it is not difficult to forget. Whatís more, it is a healthy operation that our immune system performs automatically. If we were to remember everything we see on television, read in papers, books, on the Internet, everything we hear in conversations and experience each day, we would soon go mad. In Christianity there are a few essential things that we should never forget, but that we easily neglect with the passing of time and in the frenzied and feverish activism that surrounds us. However, the Spirit of God reawakens our memory, brings the essential elements of a life in Christ back to our minds and hearts: that God has no equals and is always and absolutely the first, that the Christian God is triune and each one of the Persons is active in the life of the Christian, that we are sinners in need of redemption and that Christ has redeemed us, that the Church is the community of those who pray, believe, hope and love, moved by the Holy Spirit; that in our daily life we must show what we are, that death is not the end of everything, but a door to a new life. Do I allow the Holy Spirit to remind me from time to time of these simple and yet essential things?

 

 

Solemnity of the ASCENSION 27th May 2001

First: Acts 1:1-11; Second: Heb 9:24-28; Gospel: Lk 24:46-53

THEME of the READINGS

On the Solemnity of the Ascension, the entire liturgy seems to be saying to us, "Mission accomplished but not concluded". In the Gospel, Luke emphasizes the accomplishment of the mission: the Paschal mystery and universal evangelization. The account in the Acts of the Apostles focuses precisely on the task that is yet to be completed: "You will be my witnesses... to the ends of the earth; this Jesus... will come back..." Finally, the Letter to the Hebrews summarizes the mission that has been accomplished in the glorious Christ, High Priest of the heavenly sanctuary ("he has made his appearance once and for all") but not concluded ("so that he now appears in the presence of God on our behalf... he will manifest himself a second time... to those who are waiting for him, to bring them salvation").

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Jesus Christ may go in peace. The Ascension is not a dramatic time for Jesus or for his disciples. The Ascension is the farewell of a founder, who leaves to his children the task of continuing his work, but who does not abandon them to their fate. Rather, he follows the vicissitudes of his foundation in the world step by step by means of his Spirit. Christ may go in peace, for the Scriptures regarding him have been fulfilled, and the disciples are beginning to understand that. Christ may go in peace, not because his men are heroes, but because his Spirit will follow them always and everywhere in their evangelizing task. Jesus Christ was able to go in peace because his disciples, possessed by the fire of the Spirit, would proclaim the Gospel of God, who is Jesus Christ, to all peoples, generation after generation, to the ends of the earth and until the end of time. Christ may go in peace because he has accomplished his historical mission, and has passed the banner to his Spirit, who will internalize it in each one of the believers. Christ may go in peace, because his disciples will proclaim the same Gospel that he preached; they will work the same miracles that he worked, they will bear witness to the truth of the Gospel just like he bore witness to it until his Death on the Cross. You may go in peace, Jesus, because your Church, in the midst of the contradictions of this world, and in spite of the weaknesses and wretchedness of its children, will always be faithful to you, until you come again.

Leaving this world while remaining in it. When death comes upon a human being, he feels inside himself the intense desire to remain in the world, to leave something of himself, to leave and to stay at the same time. He will leave behind children who will prolong his life and remember him, leave a house that he built himself, a tree that he planted, a project, whether great or small, of a scientific, literary or artistic nature... Jesus Christ, as man and God, is the only one who can fully satisfy this anxiety of the human heart. He leaves, like all historical beings. But he also remains, and not only in memory, not only through a project, but in reality. He lives gloriously in heaven, and lives mysteriously on earth. Through grace, he lives inside each Christian; he lives in the Eucharistic sacrifice, and in the tabernacles of the world he prolongs his real and redeeming presence. He lives and has remained with us in his Word, the Word that echoes on the lips of preachers and inside peopleís consciences. He has remained and makes himself present in the Pope, in the bishops and priests who represent him before human beings, who with their lips and hands become an extension of him. Jesus has remained with us, and with his Spirit he builds up within us the interior human being, the new human being, his living image in history. The presence and permanence of Jesus Christ in the world is very real, but it is also very mysterious, hidden, only visible to those that have a piercing gaze enlightened by faith.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Christ is still with us. In human life, we need a friendly presence, even when we are alone. We need a real presence: oneís wife, oneís children, a relative, a colleague, a neighbor... or at least a dreamed-of, an imaginary presence: the memory of oneís mother, the image of oneís best friend, the thought of a child who lives in another city or in another country... This real or imaginary presence comforts us, it consoles us, it gives us peace, it motivates us. Christ is still with each and every one of us. His is a real and effective presence, though it is not visible or tangible. It is the presence of a friend who can listen to our secrets with affection, patience, goodness, mercy and love. He is someone who can also listen to our small, every-day things, even if they are always the same, if they are of no importance. He is even someone who knows how to listen to our inner rebellions, our outbursts of anger, our tears of pride, our madness in moments of passion... Christ is still with you, by your side, to listen to you. Christís presence is also the presence of a Redeemer, who seeks our salvation in every possible way. He is by our side when we are subjected to temptation, to give us strength and help us overcome it. He is our traveling companion when everything goes well, when our efforts are crowned with success, when grace gains ground in our soul. He is with us when we fall, in the disgrace of sin, to help us to reconsider things, to lend us a hand when he get up. Christ has remained by your side to save you. Do you ever think about this wonderful presence of Christ as a friend and Redeemer?

The liturgy of daily life. As priest of the New Covenant, Christ has offered his life day after day on the altar of daily life, until he consumed his offering in the liturgy of the Cross. With the Ascension, our High Priest has left this world. We Christians, a priestly people, take on his very task of consecrating the world to God on the altar of history. To the Christian, each act is a liturgical act, each day is a liturgy of praise and Godís blessing. There is no single activity in the daily life of human beings that cannot be converted into a holy host, pleasing to God. Thus, Vatican IIís dogmatic constitution on the Church tells us that all of Christís disciples, in continuous prayer and in praise of God, must offer themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God (cf Rm 12:1; LG 10). Through baptism, which made us members of the priestly people, we have been called to proclaim the faith that we received from God by means of the Church, before human beings. As a member of the priestly people, I profess my faith at home, before my children or before my parents. With my attitude or with my word I profess my faith at a gathering between friends or at a business meeting. As someone who shares in the baptismal priesthood, I place my faith above everything else, and I make faith the only standard which measures my decisions and behavior. Is my life a liturgy, holy and pleasing to God? Is this my deepest wish and greatest aim?

 

 

Solemnity of PENTECOST 3rd June 2001

First: Acts 2:1-11; Second: Rm 8:8-17; Gospel: Jn 14:15-16.23-26

THEME of the READINGS

On this solemnity of Pentecost, let us focus our attention on the tasks of the Spirit within the consciences and in the whole of the community of believers. First of all, the Spirit performs the task of consoling and protecting the Christian, combining this task with that of the teacher of consciences (Gospel). In the first reading, with the image of the wind and fire, the Spirit fulfills his task of being a power that transforms man and promotes the Gospel in all nations. Finally, he is the life-giving power and the witness and creator of our divine sonship (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The Spirit consoles and protects us. During the years of his public life, Jesus was the consoler of his disciples. Now he is about to go back to the Father. Will the disciples be abandoned to their distress, will they be unprotected against the worldís attacks and hostility? Jesus assures them that he will send them another Paraclete, in other words, another consoler and protector. This is the Holy Spirit. To console means to accompany, to be by someoneís side, especially in times of difficulty, loneliness and suffering. The Holy Spirit undertakes the journey of life with us and in us, of our human life with all of its everyday reality and with all of its sublime exaltation. If the Christian is true to his calling, he will live in a constant Pentecost, in the ineffable experience of spiritual consolation and the protective and effective security of the Spirit.

The Spirit, a teacher of Christology. Something that is very clear in the texts of the New Testament is that the Spirit only knows how to speak of God; Christology is the only subject that he can teach to human beings. Not only does he repeat what Christ taught his disciples, but he also brings Christís teachings up to date and adapts them to the new circumstances and situations in which believers find themselves. In the New Testament, he appears in many different guises, but in those guises he always reveals Christ. He tells us about Christís doctrine, his life and his attitudes. This is why it is the Spirit who makes Christís voice resound in us, a voice that says: Abba, Father.

The Spirit, a transforming power. The hurricane wind that blows over the Last Supper symbolizes the origin of the power of the Spirit, which is God himself, and refers us back to when man was first created, when God blew on the first man made of mud. With fire, reference is made to the experience of Moses on Sinai and the transformation that this non-consuming fire brought about in him. The Spirit transforms the human being from within. In this way, he brings about a new creation, a new generation: that of Godís children in Jesus Christ.

The Spirit, a power promoting the Gospel. According to Philon of Alexandria, on Mount Sinai fire was transformed into a tongue. According to the rabbinical interpretation of the Covenant on the Sinai, Godís voice on Mount Sinai was divided into seventy voices, into seventy languages, as many as the known nations, so that all the nations in the world could listen to and understand the Law. At Pentecost, the Spirit works this miracle: the Gospel of Jesus Christ reaches all peoples, and becomes incarnate in their languages and cultures. Thanks to the Spirit, the voice of the Gospel resounds in the sphere of the entire earth, with no exceptions whatsoever.

The Spirit, the witness and life-giving author of our divine sonship. The essence of Christianity lies in being children of God. This is why the Spirit bears witness to this fundamental condition of Christian existence in our soul. The witness of the Spirit is concealed, but it is always life-giving, because it is by being children of God that we receive life. He is both witness and author of the divine sonship in us, because he cannot bear that we live as slaves when we have been called to live as children.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

A Christian is guided by the Spirit. The definition of a Christian is very rich, which is why no definition can capture its meaning completely. A Christian is a person who believes in Jesus Christ. A Christian is a person who reproduces the model that Christ offers us in his life. A Christian is any baptized person. A Christian is a person who loves God and his neighbor, etc. Today I wish to stress the following definition: a Christian is a person who is guided by the Spirit. As the Spirit is Christís, he will always lead us to Christ, he will make us live according to Christ, he will make us love like Christ loves, he will make us live our baptism to the fullest, which is primarily centered around the person and the life of Christ. If you let yourself be guided by the Spirit, he will make you understand and live the Gospel of Jesus Christ: the Gospel of truth and justice, the Gospel of suffering and of the cross, the Gospel of God and man, the Gospel of life and death, the Gospel of the Church and of the world, the Gospel of today and of all time. If you let yourself be guided by the Spirit, he will make sure that there is a correspondence between what you are and what you do, between what you think and what you live, between your Christian vocation and your presence in the working world, the world of business, of politics, of education, etc. If you let yourself be guided by the Spirit, he will lead you to look beyond yourself, to see the many needs of the people who are waiting for you. He will show you how to live with your feet planted firmly on the ground, but with your heart in heaven.

The Spirit, in the Church and with the Church. The first Pentecost took place in the community of Christís disciples, in the apostolic Church. This foundational event is a characteristic of the action of the Spirit. He works in the Church, within it, to make it holy, to renew it, promote it, to purify it and give it life. Sometimes we may have the impression that many Christians are surprised and amazed when they see the action of the Spirit outside of the Church. And others seem to have lost all admiration capacity to discover the immense and magnificent action of the Spirit within the Church. One has to know how to do both things. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit works with the Church. In other words, all of the Churchís actions outside of her own scope are accompanied by the presence and action of the Spirit. When the Church becomes missionary, the Spirit is missionary with her. When the Church establishes an interreligious dialogue, the Spirit is involved in this dialogue with the Church, in order for it to bear fruit. When the Church expresses solidarity with the neediest, the Spirit shares this solidarity with her. When the Church provides guidelines on the basis of faith in the political and social sphere, the Spirit enlightens and supports such guidelines. All of this for the simple reason that the Spirit is the soul of the Church.

 

 

Solemnity of the MOST HOLY TRINITY 10th June 2001

First: Pr 8:22-13; Second: Rm 5:1-5; Gospel: Jn 16:12-15

THEME of the READINGS

The texts of todayís liturgy lead us towards "Operation Trinity": a top secret operation in Godís heart, which is being revealed little by little, for example with the personification of Wisdom (first reading). In the Gospel, Jesus Christ introduces us to "Operation Trinity" by revealing to us the interaction between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Finally, the text of the Letter to the Romans shows the consequences of "Operation Trinity" on the lives of Christians, especially as a result of the work of the Spirit.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

God reveals himself to us. No human intelligence, not even the most elevated and perfect, can come to know the mystery of Trinitarian life on its own. No philosophy can reveal that God is one and triune at the same time on the basis of speculation. No religion can lift the veil of the sanctuary where the reality of God, Truth, Love and Life, dwells. What we know about the living and true God comes to us by way of his self-revelation: "With his goodness and wisdom, God wanted to reveal himself and manifest the mystery of his will" (Dei Verbum, 2). In the history of salvation, God has revealed himself first and foremost as the Creator and as Providence over all of his creatures (first reading). The Gospel text teaches us that Jesus Christ, as Son of God, has revealed to us that we are children of God. The Holy Spirit, in turn, leads us to the complete truth. That is, he helps us understand and experience better and in greater depth the reality of Trinitarian life and the consequences of this reality on our life in this world: peace with God the Father, status as Godís children as a result of the baptism, possession of Godís love with which we can overcome any trial and live in a hope that does not deceive. God does not reveal himself like a solitary old man, but as a Father with an intense family life, all of which is characterized by Truth and Love.

God reveals himself to us and challenges us. In revealing himself in his most intimate life, God reveals to human beings their deepest identity and their most important task in historical existence. This is why the mystery of the Trinity is not, and cannot be, indifferent for the Christian. As the Catechism tells us, the Trinitarian mystery is the light that illuminates us (CCC, 234). It sheds light on our intelligence of creation, for the Father created the universe and man with the wise hands of the Son and of the Spirit (first reading). Thus he reveals to us not only our condition as creatures but also our contemplative and almost mystical condition. He enlightens our understanding of the relationships within the divine family (Gospel), and through them reveals to us our participation in this divine life and our reflection of it. He reveals to us our condition as listeners of the Spirit, to whom the Spirit of Truth communicates all that he has heard from the Father and all that he has received from the Word made flesh. By the action of the Spirit, he reveals to us our condition as men and women of hope vis-à-vis men and women without hope, who are the non-believers; a solid hope that does not deceive (second reading). This revelation of our identity, offered us by the living and Trinitarian God, challenges us to allow divine life to acquire a historical expression in each and every Christian. This becomes real in the unity of faith, in love as the essence of Christianity, in obedience to the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in our souls, in the magisterial role of the Spirit of divine Truth, and in the many cultural expressions of the one and only Faith.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Mystery of faith and love. This is a mystery in which we must not only believe, but which we must also love. I believe, we believe, in one God alone, who gives us life as the Father, who as the Son calls us to live fully the experience as sons in which he gives us to share, and that as Spirit makes into an exchange of love between the Father and Son, teaching us that the essence of God and of all creatures lies in love. I trust this God who is Life, Communion, Truth and Love. I believe and trust that by possessing these great "divine" valuables, I shall find my human and Christian fulfillment. As a Christian, I express my faith by loving the greatness and beauty of the triune God. With my love for each of the divine persons I aim to stress that the triune God is not an abstraction, not a beautiful and well constructed mental world, not a game of concepts with which we can understand the reflections of theologians, but a three-personal God whom I love as a son, whom I obey as a creature, whom I worship because he is my God and Lord. I think it is very positive and necessary that from the very first catechism classes, children be introduced to a personal and adoring relationship with the Father, the Son and the Spirit. For this catechesis on the Trinity, we may be helped by a basic explanation of Holy Mass, which begins and ends in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. In it, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, talks to us human beings (children and adults) on the basis of the Gospel. In it, all of our prayers are addressed to God the Father, the source of all gifts and grace. In it, the Holy Spirit is present and active in a very special way at the time of the consecration, to see to it that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, and to convert our poor existence by means of the Body of Christ, which we receive during Mass. If God is a mystery of love, wonít love be the best way to enter the mystery?

The glory of the Trinity. The Trinity is glorified when human beings live and acquire a meaning and purpose. What does it mean for human beings to live? It means for them to be what they are. For them to be fully human and, if they have been called to the Christian vocation, for them to be fully Christian. Here lies the drama of the Trinity, which is also the human drama: often the glory of the Trinity is tarnished, darkened by human beings. Human beings are not what they should be, when they believe that they are autonomous demigods instead of dependent creatures, when they manipulate life and creation to their advantage. Human beings are not what they should be when they forget that they have been created in Godís image and likeness and think that their most perfect image is found in the animal kingdom. Human beings are not what they are when they think that they have not been created out of love and to love, and when they think that their personal fulfillment is proportionate to their power and dominion over others. Human beings are not what they should be when they believe that they are the masters of life and thus can do with it what they please, rather than being grateful recipients, who administer their lives wisely because they have received them from God himself.

 

 

Solemnity of CORPUS CHRISTI 17th June 2001

First: Gn 14:18-20; Second: 1 Cor 11:23-26; Gospel: Lk 9:11-17

THEME of the READINGS

"Bread" is the term which all of the liturgical texts have in common. In the passage of the Gospel, Jesus "took the five loaves... raised his eyes to heaven, and said the blessing over them". This gesture of Jesus, seen in retrospect, is prefigured in that of Melchizedek, the king-priest of Salem, who offers Abram "bread and wine" (first reading) as a sign of hospitality, generosity and friendship. This gesture anticipates the Last Supper with his disciples and the Eucharist celebrated by Christians in memory of Jesus: "The Lord Jesus took some bread, and after he had given thanks, he broke it, and he said, ĎThis is my body, which is for youí" (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Todayís liturgy makes us realize something important: Human beings, all human beings, need a well-balanced diet. The fact that we are human places us in a multi-dimensional situation, different from that of other creatures. For this reason, our diet cannot be one-dimensional; rather, it must be wholesome and complete.

The bread of the Word. Before multiplying the loaves to feed the crowd, Jesus, "talked to them about the Kingdom of God". In other words, he gave them the bread of his Word, for, "blessed are those who are hungry for the Word, for they will be satisfied". In the breaking of the bread of the early Christians, the liturgy began with a reading and explanation of the Scripture, which followed Jewish tradition. Therefore, the early Christians began by nourishing their souls with the bread of the Word of God, explained in the light of the mystery of Christ and adapted by some of the Apostles to the specific circumstances of daily life. In the first reading, the offering of bread and wine made by Melchizedek to Abram is followed by a blessing, which is like the spiritual bread that God grants Abram through the king-priest of Salem. Man is spirit, and the spirit needs a food other than the bread made of flour: he needs the Word of the living God.

The bread of the signs. In addition to being extraordinary events beyond natural laws, Jesusí miracles are signs of the Kingdom of Heaven, because they refer us to that new world governed and guided by the power of God, to the exclusion of any other human or diabolical power. This is why after having distributed the bread of the Word to the crowds, Jesus gives them the bread of signs. Saint Luke tells us, first of all, that, "he cured those who were in need of healing", and then he tells us about the wonderful sign of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. As the friend and brother of human beings, as the Lord of life and nature, Jesus Christ is concerned with curing illnesses, in satisfying the natural hunger of human beings. Could it be any different? Nevertheless, his greatest concern is that men and women, by means of other signs, become capable of elevating themselves to God the Father, who lovingly takes care of his children, and to the Kingdom of God, where there will be bread for all, one single bread for all.

The bread of the Eucharist. The Christian diet would be incomplete if it lacked the bread of the Eucharist, the bread that is the Body of Christ. In no. 1374, the Catechism teaches us that, "In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist, the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore the whole Christ, is truly, really and substantially contained." When Saint Luke wrote his Gospel, Christians had been meditating on the deeds and words of Jesus for several decades, preaching them and celebrating the Eucharist. This explains the fact that the evangelist narrated the episode of the multiplication of loaves as an anticipation and prefiguration of the Last Supper: "He took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven, and said the blessing over them; then he broke them and handed them to his disciples to distribute among the crowd". Ever since that Last Supper, foretold by the miracle of the loaves and celebrated by the early Christian communities, Christ has never ceased throughout the centuries to give people, without any distinction of any sort, the bread of his Body, the food of eternal lif

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Hunger for bread, hunger for God. The fact that after 2000 years of Christianity there are still millions of brothers and sisters who are hungry for bread (and they are not thousands of miles away from our homes, but in our very neighborhoods and cities), is painful, and it should make us think. Whatís more, over the past decades international institutions and the mass media have made us more aware of this sad and inhuman phenomenon the world over. Didnít Jesus multiply the loaves to satisfy hunger? Didnít he say to his disciples, "Give them something to eat yourselves"? Have we not excessively spiritualized our faith? Have we not reduced our faith to the strictly private sphere? Surely, Christianity cannot be merely reduced to the UN style of charity and solidarity; however, in the very essence of Christianity there is love for oneís neighbor, especially the most needy. And today, in this century of globalization, sporadic and temporary help is not enough. As Christians, we must organize ourselves at the parochial, diocesan, national and international levels to eradicate hunger from the earth. Wherever helpful, we must work together with the institutions of other religions to put an end to this scourge affecting humankind. Our Christian conscience cannot be at ease as long as there is a child dying of starvation. Hunger for bread is terrible, but what about the hunger for God? It does not move us so much, because the hunger for God is not visible. However, it is real, it is universally present, and often is more distressing than hunger for bread. The worst thing about it is that few people are concerned with this form of hunger, few people try to satisfy it. Shouldnít we open our eyes, the eyes of faith and love, to see all the people who are hungry for God whom we pass by in the street, with whom we work, with whom we have fun at a the sports club or out at night?

Bread that is free for all. This is precisely what the Eucharist is. God our Father gives us the food of the Body of Christ for free, provided we wish to receive it with the right attitude. If this food costs nothing, if it is "the bread of the strong", then how come such few people receive it? Could it be that they do not appreciate it? It is also one single bread for all: the Eucharist is the sacrament of absolute Christian equality. There is no Eucharist for the rich and another different Eucharist for the poor. We are all equal before Christ, the Bread of our soul. Before the Eucharistic Christ, all social or economic barriers disappear.

 

Twelfth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME 24th June 2001

First: Zec 12:10-11; 13:1; Second: Gal 3:26-29; Gospel: Lk 9:18-24

THEME of the READINGS

Who is Jesus Christ? This is the great question that people have been asking themselves for twenty centuries, and this is the question that this Sundayís liturgy puts to us. There are several answers: a prophet come back to life, Elijah or Jeremiah, for example; or another John the Baptist. In the name of the twelve disciples, Peter goes so far as to assert that Jesus is Godís Messiah. For Jesus, these answers are not sufficient, and he calls himself the Son of Man, who will end his life on a cross (Gospel). It is in the light of the Gospel that we can capture the ultimate meaning of the prophecy of Zechariah: "...I shall pour out a Spirit of grace and prayer, and they will look at me" (first reading). To Saint Paul, in the light of Easter, Jesus Christ is the One who leads man from childhood, when he is under the control of guardians and administrators, to the adulthood of the free man and of the son of God (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

A great prophet, but nothing more. That some people are of a different opinion as to who Jesus is, is nothing new. It has been like that ever since the time when cities, kingdoms and empires were first built. In the Gospel, according to what we are told by Saint Luke, Jesus does not despise these opinions, but since he considers them insufficient he corrects and completes them. People think that Jesus is a prophet, and in this they are right. They think that he is not just another prophet, but one of the great: Elijah, perhaps Jeremiah, maybe even a risen John the Baptist. Jesus does not reject the title of prophet, but he makes it clear that the title of prophet does not fully capture who he is. Furthermore, the comparison with Elijah, Jeremiah or John the Baptist not only does not fully capture his identity; they are also figures with whom he does not identify in a number of ways. Actually, Jesus is a great prophet, who speaks in the name of God and interprets the history of human beings in the light of Godís plan, but he is also a lot more.

Godís Messiah, but... Peter and the other Apostles accompanied Jesus for quite some time, they shared with him, saw him pray, preach and heal. They listened to his teachings, especially to his words on the Kingdom of God. They took another step forward in their knowledge of Jesus: not only is he a prophet, but he is also Godís Messiah. Yes, the Messiah, the descendant of David, the pugnacious leader, the victorious king who achieved the greatest expansion of the kingdom of Israel, defeating all of his enemies. As Messiah, Jesus will repeat the figure of David: he will defeat the Romans, he will extend the borders of the Kingdom, the kings of nations will come to him to show their submission and pay homage to him. The Kingdom of Israel, the Kingdom of Yahweh, will go back to being glorious. Jesus does not agree with this Messianism dreamed about by Peter and the other Apostles. Jesus does not deny, nor will he ever deny, that he is the Messiah. That would be denying the truth, and this is impossible for him who is the Truth. But Jesus does not identify with the figure of a Messiah as the leader of Yahwehís armies. Yes, he is the Messiah of God, but a different Messiah from the one his closest disciples imagine.

A Messiah accustomed to suffering. At this crucial time in the life of Jesus, before he begins his journey to Jerusalem, the place of his crucifixion, he takes another step forward in the unveiling of his life and his person. He begins speaking about something strange and absent from all the prophecies of the Old Testament. In other words, he starts to talk about a Messiah who is going to end his existence on the throne of a cross. Perhaps the prophet Zechariah foresaw something of this sort when he wrote, "They will mourn for the one whom they have pierced..." (first reading), though this phrase was never applied to the Messiah in the Jewish tradition, since it was Yahweh who spoke it. This suffering Messiah, something unusual and inconceivable for any man at the time, is identified with the Son of God by Saint Paul. It is for this reason that, in the second reading, he can say that as Christians, "For all of you are the children of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus," his true and only Son. Now we can better answer the question that asks us, "Who is Jesus?" "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

The best answer is oneís life. The question about Jesus Christ is not a problem we can solve after much thinking. It is certainly not an obsolete question, lacking importance, whose solution is meaningless. Actually, it is the only issue that is absolutely worthwhile, and can only be answered with oneís own, entire life. Saying that Jesus Christ accepted to be a Messiah on the Cross, that Jesus is equivalent to the Son of God, goes beyond our mental patterns and our way of reasoning. Never will human beings conquer such truths of the faith with logical arguments. Only when people begin to tread the narrow path of the Cross and, fixing their eyes on Jesus, follow the footsteps of his life, do they discover that the question of Jesus Christ goes at the same pace as that of human beings, and that only by answering the first will they also be able to answer the second. Only those who know by experience what suffering is and perceive the "redeeming" value of pain, both for the suffering person and the person or persons for whom he suffers, are able to grasp the reason behind a "Messiah of pain". Those who live out their status as children of God, the greatness of their dignity as children and an attitude of obedience proper to children, will be able to answer the question, "Who is Jesus Christ?" They will be able to proclaim him with conviction before the world. In other words, if we live entirely as Christians, there will be no need to ask ourselves, "Who is Jesus Christ?", because our life will be the answer to that question.

"He prays to understand, he understands to pray". The mysteries of faith get understood better in the chapel than in the office. You get to understand them better with prayer than with study, although both are needed. God is the only One who has the key to the mysteries. Only he can open up the tabernacle of his heart to us. The intellect, when it is open to faith, prepares us and places us before the tabernacle of the mystery. Once God has allowed us to enter the mystery, the intellect helps us to grasp another atom of his superior and infinite reality. However, only prayer, if it is humble, constant, and trusting, moves God to open up the tabernacle of the mystery to us. Inside this tabernacle, the soul reaches a state of ecstasy and our understanding begins to navigate uncharted waters. The most authentic theology is that which is practiced not only on the basis of faith, but especially on the basis of prayer, on the basis of a prayerful understanding which worships the mystery. Equally, the most truthful preaching is that which has led the truths of faith into the realm of meditation. In the things of God, those who pray understand, and those who donít, donít understand anything, or they understand very little. If we Christians prayed more and better, the problems of faith would decrease to a large extent, or they would disappear altogether. In a world which sometimes seems to have no meaning, prayer can find meaning. It is worth it!

 

Thirteenth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME 1st July 2001

First: 1 Kings 19:16b.19-21; Second: Gal 5:1.13-18; Gospel: Lk 9:51-

THEME of the READINGS

 

"Call" and "answer": these are two words that summarize the essential contents of the readings of this Sunday. On his way towards Jerusalem, Jesus calls some people to follow him and give him a radical answer (Gospel). In so doing, he goes beyond the requirements of the call and discipleship of the Old Testament, particularly in the call of Elisha (first reading). The Galatians - and all Christians in general - have been called to the freedom of the Spirit. As a result, they are to behave according to their new condition as free men, and they must avoid falling into slavery again (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

 

This Sundayís biblical passages present us with certain basic characteristics of the answer to Christís call to human beings. Such characteristics are demanding; they are not at all the usual.

With Jesus, towards the Golgotha. With the Gospel passage, Luke begins Jesusí great march from the place of his triumph and success (Galilee) towards the place of his death and incomprehensible defeat (Golgotha in Jerusalem). Jesus begins this journey with "firm determination". He walks on. He is the first, the standard-bearer of the plans of the Father. He approaches the time "when the days drew near for him to be received up," that is, the days of his martyrdom outside the walls of Jerusalem and of his glorious exaltation through his Resurrection. The disciples have said "yes" to his call, and now follow his footsteps, without really understanding where they are going. In this long walk towards Jerusalem Jesus will give them instructions, and little by little they will perceive that the journey ends on a cross. Jesus speaks clearly, but the disciplesí blindness is not easy to overcome. They will need the light of Easter.

Go about doing good as Jesus did. The Sons of Thunder wish to cast fire from heaven upon the people who refuse to give them hospitality. They surely must have heard in the synagogue that Elijah had made fire fall from the sky (1 Kings 18:38), and they wanted to be no less than that great prophet. But Elijah made the fire of God descend not upon a city and its inhabitants, but upon the sacrifice at Carmel. James and John, as good disciples of John the Baptist, go beyond what the have heard in tradition, because they heard their old teacher say that "...the chaff he will burn in unquenchable fire" (Lk 3:17). Luke tells us that Jesus "turned and rebuked them." Why havenít they realized that Jesus has not come to do evil, but only to do good? Donít they understand that Jesus is going to Jerusalem to overcome evil with good, on Calvary?

Three attitudes for following Jesus. Three key attitudes for following Jesus are: total surrender, absolute decision, complete self-giving. We must be willing to leave the past behind and keep our eyes fixed straight ahead, towards the land that must be tilled and that one day will bear fruit. We can put no conditions on following Jesus Christ. We need to make a radical choice, because the Kingdom of God is pressing and it cannot wait. Elisha was able to set conditions for Elijah (to go and bid farewell to his parents), but the Christian, if the needs of the Kingdom demand it, must free himself from this concern for a higher good. Finally, Jesus asks his disciples to place their security exclusively in him, giving up all kinds of material and human security. Jesus has nothing, only his Father. The disciple has to be willing to have nothing too: just a path to follow and a fellow traveler to lead him on to the cross.

4. Following Christ with freedom. Before his baptism, the Christian was a slave to himself and to the evil one. Christ freed him, but not in order to throw him into slavery once again. Instead, Christ freed him so that he could live in freedom forever, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Paul teaches us that for an uncircumcised Christian, being circumcised is like losing the freedom of the Spirit and falling prey to the slavery of the Law. Furthermore, a Christian coming from the pagan world loses his freedom if he goes back to living as he did before, following the whims of his flesh, which include idolatry, fornication, discord, drunkenness and, in general, any form of libertinism. The Christian who has been freed by Christ must accept and live out the risk and challenge of freedom.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

One way and many paths. Christ is the only Way, a Way that inevitably passes through the shadow of the Cross. This is the only Way of the discipleship, of mission, and of Christian fullness. However, there are many paths that lead there. There are many ways and moments in which Christ calls people to walk with him, side by side. There is the path of matrimonial faithfulness and that of radical consecration, there is the path of suffering and that of loving self-giving to serve the needy; the path of public life and that of life behind the closed doors of the home. There is the path of entertainment, so that people can rest, and that of school, so that they may be educated. There are so many paths! But all paths should come together in the one and only Way: Jesus Christ, our teacher, the redeemer of the world. When our path crosses the Way of Christ, we realize that we havenít gotten there unfettered, but with our cross and our Calvary. And perhaps we also realize that Christís Cross is made up of millions of little crosses, and that the Calvary that supports the Cross is a mountain formed by many little Calvaries. The time has come to ask ourselves whether the path of our life is crossing Christís Way. The time has come to ask the Lord to make our paths come together in the Way of Christ, the teacher and redeemer.

Walking without fully understanding what itís all about. In the things of the spirit, not everything is clear or evident. But we cannot remain paralyzed, we have to go forward though we may not understand. We have to carry on following the star that we saw one day, and that perhaps now is covered by thick clouds. We have to walk like Jesus, with a steady step, without fear, though our mind is telling us to stop or go back, when faced with the fog that lies ahead. We have to walk in the shadows and light of faith, always looking ahead towards Jerusalem, the goal of our existence. We have to walk, walk, walk... Doesnít our "wisdom" stop us sometimes, on our spiritual journey, in our apostolic work? Walk ahead inspired by your heart, because the heart has its reasons that reason does not understand. And love hardly ever makes a mistake.

Fourtheenth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME 8th July 2001

First: Is 66:10-14; Second: Gal 6:14-18; Gospel: Lk 10:1-12.17-20

THEME of the READINGS

Looking for the goal of everything: this summarizes the texts of todayís liturgy. The goal of the mission of the seventy-two disciples is not success, but the fact that "your names are written in heaven" (Gospel). The post-exile Isaiah foresees the goal of all his dreams: the city of Jerusalem gathering all of her children, like a mother (first reading). The only goal of Christian existence is that of getting the life of Christ in all of its historical reality, especially in the mystery of the Cross. This is what Saint Paul teaches us with his words and his life (second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Written in the Book of Life. The 72 disciples of Jesus (a symbol of the Christians scattered throughout the world, for there are 72 nations on earth - cf Gn 10) are happy with the mission that they have carried out. They go up to Jesus to tell him about their accomplishments. Jesus listens to them, but at the same time he makes them realize something important: missionary deeds have no value in and of themselves; what really does have value and should make us rejoice deeply is our eternal destiny with the God of life. This joyful quest for the true goal of existence explains and gives meaning to the happiness, legitimate and reasonable in itself, stemming from apostolic deeds and the hardships inherent in the Christian mission. Indeed, Jesusí disciples do not preach realities that are easy to grasp, that are immediately attractive. They preach that the Kingdom of God has come, they preach Messianic peace, they preach in the midst of a world that is often hostile to the values of the Kingdom. They preach placing their trust not so much in human means, as in the mysterious power of God. Undoubtedly, success is not an essential element in the baggage of a missionary.

Mother of consolation and peace. When post-exile Isaiah writes this very beautiful text, the Jewish Diaspora has extended throughout the Persian empire and the Mediterranean. Under the action of the divine Spirit, the prophet dreams of a people united in the mystical city of Jerusalem. With a watchful eye, he looks to the future and poetically foretells the joyful moment of the reunification. He does so by resorting to the image of a mother gathering around herself all of her children, holding the youngest one tenderly in her arms and nurses him. In being once again reunited with their mother, they are all filled with consolation and a great peace. This Jerusalem, the mother of consolation and peace, symbolizes the God of consolation; it symbolizes Christ, who is our peace, it symbolizes the Church within which we are all brothers and sisters and from whose love springs the peace of Christ that lasts forever. The Church, that of today as that of all time, is in its essence, though not always in its people, the mother of consolation and peace for all peoples.

I bear on my body the mark of Jesus. Saint Paul tells us that for a Christian, being circumcised or not is not important; what matters is being a new creature. Everything must serve this goal. Saint Paul is aware of having reached the goal, for he bears the mark of Jesus in his body. In other words, he bears the sign of his belonging to Jesus in all of his being, as the slave bore a mark indicating that he belonged to his master, or as in certain religions the initiated bear a sign of their belonging to their god. All Christians must be like Paul. This is why he tells them: "Imitate me, as I imitate Christ." Whatís more, this is the purpose of the mission of Jesus Christ: for people to attain the redemption carried out by Jesus Christ, showing others that they belong to God. After twenty centuries of Christianity, how many people bear in their being the mark of Jesus Christ?

 

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Christian means missionary. The image of the Christian who goes to church, believes in the dogmas of the faith and abides by the commandments is incomplete and somewhat old-fashioned. This is not enough, for being a Christian means having a mission and accomplishing it with zeal and ardor in the tasks of daily life and in the very wide range of ministries that exist today. Furthermore, a sense of mission is the strongest stimulus to believe and live faith, to fulfill the commandments of God and of the Church. If someone is not convinced that being Christian means living out a mission, I recommend that he read the documents of Vatican Council II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In the Catechism we read: "The whole Church is apostolic, in that she is Ďsent outí into the whole world. All members of the Church share in this mission, though in various ways. "The Christian vocation is, of its nature, a vocation to the apostolate as wellí" (CCC 863). If we love the Church like true children, we should have no doubt that the best way to express our love to her is through our missionary spirit. And "missionary" means being conscious that we have been sent, though this being sent may mean that we have been sent to our next-door neighbor, our client at work, the immigrant that we meet at the bus stop or at the traffic light, the young couple preparing for marriage. Today being a missionary does not only mean going to a remote country to preach the Faith and Christís way of life. It is also a task that we can carry out in our neighborhood, in our city, and even between the four walls of our own home.

The mission overcomes fear. Paraphrasing John Paul II, we could say, "Do not be afraid to be missionaries." Sometimes we are afraid, we have undue regard for what others will think and what they will say. It is human to be afraid, but the mission must overcome our fears. The soccer player is not afraid to talk about soccer, nor are doctors or teachers afraid to speak of their professions. Should we Christians be afraid to talk about Christ: his person, his life, his truth, his love, his mystery? Faith and mission begin in the heart, but they must finish as words and deeds. We must all overcome any trace of fear. Adults must not call fear "prudence". Young people cannot hide behind not wanting to "feel like extraterrestrials" among their peers. The hour of young people - and of those whose mission it is to work with them - has come! Are you going to let it pass by? Christian teachers and educators, you who have children and teenagers in your hands, be missionaries in schools! Can we allow fear to prevail over our Christian mission? Our mission must be our crown and glory.

 

Fifteenth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME 15th July 2001

First: Dt 30:10-14; Second: Col 1:15-20; Gospel: Lk 10:25-37

THEME of the READINGS

The "Jesus issue" could be the common denominator of this Sundayís liturgical texts. Jesus is a great question, and the Bible offers us a great answer. In the Gospel, Jesus introduces himself as the Good Samaritan, available for any need, wherever the need may arise and for whoever may be in need. The first reading talks to us about the Word which is near, in the mouth and in the heart of the people, and this Word which is near is identified with Jesus Christ, the God-man, who speaks to us with a manís words. In the Letter to the Colossians, in an ancient and beautiful Christological hymn, Jesus is praised as the first-born of all of creation, to whom everything refers and in whom everything achieves its fullness.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Jesusí pseudonym: The Good Samaritan. The parable of the Good Samaritan is not only a Christian treasure, but a wealth for all humankind. Perhaps it would not be exaggerating to say that there is no one who hasnít heard it, who has not tried to interpret it at some point in his life. This is why it should be pointed out that it is not a parable that was turned into a life story but a life story turned into a parable. This is why it may be said that "Good Samaritan" is a pseudonym for "Jesus". When the scribe asked who his neighbor was, Jesus could have replied directly, "I am." Instead, he preferred to choose the way of the parable and turn the account into a reflection on his existence, which he gave entirely to human beings out of love. Jesus Christ really is the neighbor of all human beings. In other words, he is near, accessible, available, welcoming, close in any human situation or circumstance. An interesting perspective from which we can read the Gospel is that of "nearness", adopting as a point of departure the great mystery of the Incarnation, through which God becomes close to human beings in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is close to the children, to the sick, to the disciples, to the restless, to the powerful, to the poor and needy, to all. Jesus Christís closeness to human beings is part of the mystery of his Incarnation and birth.

Jesus, the Word that is near. According to the author of Deuteronomy, the Word is Godís revelation at first on Mt Sinai and then in the Moab plain. It is a divine revelation not extrinsic to nature, but truly an inner Word, which all the followers of Jesus Christ possess and make their own; a Word and a revelation that take flesh in Jesus Christ. He is the Word made flesh. He is the Word that resounds in all the words of the Bible. He is the Word that, by the work of the Holy Spirit, enters the soul of the believer and dwells in it, making it his home. The Word is in our mouth, because when we read the Gospel, in it we read Christ. It is in our heart, because the Word is not a hollow sound, nor is it mere thought, but a person, whom one gets to know and love in closeness, with the heart. To a Christian, this near and inner Word which is in his mouth and in his heart is Jesus Christ. He is the Word that draws us close to the knowledge and nearness of God, which draws us close to the true knowledge of ourselves and of the meaning of all creation.

Jesus, the first-born of creation. The hymn in the second reading resorts to various images to respond to the "Jesus issue". Jesus is the visible image of the unseen God, he is the first-born, the archetype of all creatures: thus he is the reference point of the cosmos and history. Ultimately, all of creation looks to Jesus Christ as its model, its raison díêtre, its ultimate destiny. It is for this reason that the hymn of the Letter to the Colossians tells us that all fullness resides in Jesus Christ. Finally, it designates Jesus with two other names: Head of the Body (that is, the Church, in other words the center of cohesion and guidance of Christians), and first-born from the dead: he in whom we are shown ahead of time the ultimate destiny of all human beings who truly seek God. As the first-born of creation, he encompasses everything, he seals everything with his image and love.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Do the same yourself. Jesus is the Good Samaritan, the man closest to every human being and to all human beings. The greatness of the Christian vocation lies in the fact that Jesus does not say to us, "Go, and teach the same yourself," but, "Go and do the same yourself." As James will tell us, "Faith without works is a dead faith." Today each Christian is called to "repeat" Jesus in his life, to make the "Good Samaritan" his own pseudonym. Jesus says to some Christians, "Go and do the same in your house: with your mother who is sick; with your neighbor, who is elderly and cannot do many things on his own; with your son who had an accident and will have to live in a wheel chair for the rest of his life." To other Christians, Jesus will say, "Go and do the same when you walk in the street, giving alms with pleasure to those that ask you for them, giving information amiably to those who ask you for directions or for the name of a store; go and do the same when you ride the bus or the subway, giving up your seat to the elderly, to mothers with small children, to the disabled, being respectful and being in control of yourself when the bus is full and you are pushed from all sides, or when someone even tries to pick your pocket." Go and do the same yourself: this is a sentence that we should bear in our minds and in our hearts every day, a sentence that has an enormous potential for creativity and gives new ideas for what we can do for our brothers and sisters. Go and do the same yourself: this sentence alone is capable of inventing the future, of forging a new world. How many of us Christians will take notice of it?

A Word addressed to you. All of the Bible is the Word, the Word of God. The human words in which the Bible is written are like sounds that reach our ears and penetrate within us. Through them we hear the Word of God, his message of truth, of love, of true Christian humanism. It is a Word addressed to all, because we can all understand it and it can open the doors of salvation to us all. However, it is especially a Word addressed personally to each one of us, to you. It may occur that when you read a text in the Bible, other people are reading the same text in some other corner of the world; but the message will be absolutely personal, it will be addressed to you, it will have your name on it. When the three readings are read in the liturgy of the Word, or during Mass, all those in attendance listen to the same texts, but they resound in a different way in each person and to each person they convey special messages. To the Word of God numbers are not important: it is the person, each person in his unique and unrepeatable nature, which makes him different from all others. A Father of the Church said that the Gospel is like a letter that God writes each human being. It is not a protocol letter or a purely administrative letter, but one written by a father to his son, a letter in which the father speaks of himself with great simplicity, but at the same time manifests his most intimate thoughts and wishes. Listen to this Word of God for you. In it you are given life and happiness, in it you are given the key to live, giving a meaning to your existence. Do not be afraid of the lightness of the Word. It seems fragile and light, but it is as strong as steel. It is the Word of God!

 

Sixteenth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME 22nd July 2001

First: Gn 18:1-10a; Second: Col 1:24-28; Gospel: Lk 10:38-42

THEME of the READINGS

The first reading and the Gospel clearly speak about hospitality. We are told about Abraham who, during the hottest part of the day, offers wonderful hospitality to three mysterious men. We are told about Martha of Bethany who welcomes Jesus and his disciples in her home, and about Mary, her sister, who welcomes the Lord as his disciple, attentive to the Lordīs words in her heart. The text of the Letter to the Colossians presents Paul, who in his own body and soul hosts the crucified Christ to complete the hardships that still have to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his Body, the Church.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Hospitality and blessing. It is known that among the nomads, hospitality was the virtue par excellence. In a way, it was viewed as holy and inviolable, and was worthy of the greatest respect. The account of the first reading narrates Abrahamís hospitality towards three mysterious men, but it is a hospitality that is accompanied by a surprising blessing which goes against natural laws. In this text, the readerís attention is captured by the fact that Abraham addresses the three men in the singular form: "My Lord, if I find favor with you, please do not pass your servant by" To Abraham, these men are messengers (angels) of God, who have come to announce something to him on Godís behalf. The account thus takes on the aspect of a theophany, in which Abraham generously and joyfully extends his hospitality to God in the guise of three delegates. The message of God gives us hope, and it is a blessing: "I shall come back to you next year, and then your wife Sarah will have a son." What better blessing could Abraham hope for than to have a descendant, which so far had been denied to him because his wife was sterile? Now Abraham is asked to welcome Godís blessing without hesitation, with absolute trust. Abraham welcomed this word of blessing and God gave him a son in his old age. Host the mystery of God generously, host his word confidently, and be certain that God will bless your existence.

Two ways of extending hospitality to a friend. These two ways are represented by Martha and Mary. They are two equally good and necessary forms, although the second is preferable to the first. Martha extends her hospitality to Jesus and his disciples in her home. By doing so, she first of all shows them her appreciation and friendship, and then protects them from the burning heat of the desert which they have just crossed to reach Bethany. She gives them food and drinks so that they may regain their strength, for they are exhausted from the long and difficult walk. Mary extends her hospitality to Jesus by listening to his word, sitting at his feet like an enthusiastic disciple who does not want to miss a word of the Teacherís instruction. This inner, spiritually active hospitality is valued more highly by Jesus than external hospitality, focused on the preparation of the table for a meal. This is why Jesus says to Martha, "Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one." In no way does Jesus despise Marthaís hospitality: he considers it to be valuable. But at the same time, he reminds her that there is another more important form of hospitality, and indirectly invites Martha to extend it to him. Itís as if Jesus were to tell his host, "Look Martha, prepare something and then come and sit next to Mary and listen to my word like she does." These are two ways to extend oneís hospitality to a friend, two ways that have different values, although both are necessary.

Paul, the host of the Crucified Christ. Mary has hosted the word of Jesus. Paul hosts the Cross of Jesus, or rather, he hosts a crucified man. "Öto make up all the hardships that still have to be undergone by Christ." Although the guest is a crucified man, Paul is not afraid, nor is he distressed by the situation. Rather, he welcomes him with joy because he knows from experience that in the crucified Christ lies the hope of glory for him and for all Christians. To Paul, he is not a guest who has imposed himself upon the host, he is not a nuisance, but the reason for Paulís existence and for his mission. He will say, "I have been crucified with Christ. I am alive, but it is no longer I who live, it is Christ who lives in me." Martha welcomes in her home her good and greatly appreciated friend, Mary welcomes the Teacher who has words of life, Paul extends his hospitality to the Redeemer who, with his Passion, Death and Resurrection redeems man from his sins, and saves him from himself. As in the case of Abraham, Paulís hospitality culminates with the supreme blessing.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Hospitality towards immigrants. Today the word "hospitality" can be interchanged with the word "solidarity". Christianity teaches us that we are all brothers and sisters, and must thus express solidarity with one another. We must not forget that solidarity is mutual. The host shows his solidarity by welcoming the guest, and the guests show their solidarity by accepting with gratitude and respect the hospitality extended to them. Ultimately, the host welcomes Christ in his guest, and the guest welcomes Christ in his host. All this seems to be very pertinent when considering the difficult problems of immigrants who, like constant waves, reach Europe and America. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ, or at least in humanity, and we must respect and welcome them. They, in turn, must not forget that we are their brothers and sisters, to whom they owe respect and whom they must welcome in their heart. We are aware that often what lies behind immigration is petty crime, tobacco and drugs smuggling, the inhuman Mafia that kidnaps children to sell their organs, or that deceives young girls and sells them for prostitution. But we can never become exasperated or generalize, and fall prey to racism or hatred for foreigners. Hospitality has its human and Christian rules, and we must all abide by them faithfully, in order for everyone to be able to live together in a productive way.

Taking in those who have taken us in. I think that it is important for us to realize that we are guests. When we came into this life we were given hospitality by God, who gave us this life, in this great house, the earth. Indeed, the earth is Godís house for all men and women who come into this world. We have been given hospitality with affection in a family: our parents and siblings, our grandparents, our uncles and auntsÖ We have been given hospitality in a society, in a nation, in a culture, in a political institution, in an educational institution... We have especially been given hospitality by God in the Church, the house which God has given those of us who believe in Christ. And so, we must take in those who have taken us in, especially the Host par excellence, the Lord our God. We must give the Host due respect in our words. Cursing, swearing, and forsaking God break the rules of due respect. We must give due respect to God in the Church, before the Blessed Sacrament, a respect which translates into an awareness of the presence of God in the Eucharist, in humble and grateful worship, in the practical recognition of the holy nature of church buildings, etc.

 

 

Seventeenth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME 29th July 2001

First: Gn 18:20-21.23-32; Second: Col 2:12-14; Gospel: Lk 11:1-13

THEME of the READINGS

This Sundayís liturgical texts teach us different ways to pray. In the first reading, Abraham appears as a model of intercessory prayer for the inhabitants of Sodom. In the Gospel, with the Lordís Prayer Jesus Christ teaches us two ways of praying: the prayer of desires in the first part, and the prayer of supplication in the second. The text of the Letter to the Colossians does not deal with prayer directly, but we could say it provides the basis for all Christian prayers, especially for liturgical prayer, which is the mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Or perhaps we could speak of the prayer that becomes life, the giving of oneís self out of love.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The prayer of intercession. To intercede is to be united with Jesus Christ, the only mediator between God and man, and to participate in some way in his salvific mediation. Indeed, in the intercession the one who prays does not seek his own interest but that of others, even that of those who do him evil. Normally, one intercedes for someone who is in need, in danger or in a difficult situation. This is what Abraham does in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, which are about to be destroyed by their own evil. Abrahamís intercession reflects a daring and bold attitude before God, but at the same time it is also a prayer of extreme humility. "It is presumptuous of me to speak to the Lord, I who am dust and ashes: Suppose the fifty upright were five short? Would you destroy the whole city because of five?" The prayer of intercession pleases God, because it is the prayer of a heart in accordance with the mercy of God himself. However, the divine effectiveness obtained by the intercessor may either be accepted or rejected by the person for whom he intercedes. Before Abrahamís intercession, God intercedes and saves Lot and his daughters, but Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed by fire.

The prayer of desire. The essence of love is such that we think about the person we love first of all. This is why, in the Lordís Prayer, the heart of the believer raises its burning desire to God. It is the childís eagerness to give glory to the Father, following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. What more can a Christian want in this world? To this question, the Gospel replies: for Godís name to be sanctified, for his Kingdom to come. The Christian deeply wants God to be recognized as holy, as totally different form the world, as the One who is completely Other, as the Transcendent who sustains our freedom and encourages our hunger for transcendence. The Christian longs for the Kingdom of God to be established on earth, the Kingdom of the Messiah who opens his doors to all peoples and nations. Are these the desires of Christians? They are a summary of their desires. This is why, in order for all the other good Christian desires to be such, they will have to be related to one of these two. A prayer of desire, at the margin of God and his Kingdom, cannot be Christian.

The prayer of supplication or petition. In the second part of the Lordís Prayer, we ask God to fulfill the basic needs of human existence. We make those petitions not on an individual basis, but as a community. It is the Church in me and with me that asks God for our daily bread, for forgiveness from sins, for strength before temptation for all Christians, for all human beings. These are petitions that are addressed to God as the Father, and are thus made with total confidence and with the certainty that he will listen to us. However, they are also bold petitions, for we ask for things that are not at all easy, especially if we consider the mystery of Godís and of manís freedom. They are petitions that concern our life: they ask that our lives be nourished, healed of sin, and made victorious in the struggle of good over evil (CCC 2857).

The prayer of life given for love. Paradoxi-cally, our prayer is also a response, as the Catechism tells us beautifully. A response to the plea of the living God: "They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water! Prayer is the response of faith to the free promise of salvation and also a response of love to the thirst of the only Son of God" (CCC 2561). This is the prayer of life, of the works of faith and of love, daily works mysteriously united with Jesus Christ. Because of our human wretchedness, weakness and limitations, prayer often goes one way in us, and life another. In Jesus prayer is life and life is prayer. It was thus that he could erase the debt held against us and nail it to the cross, forgiving us for all of our sins. Jesus Christ prayed and died for our sins, and with his prayer and death he gave us life.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Tell me how you pray and Iíll tell you who you are. There are people who think that the value and identity of a human being are gauged on the basis of his bank account, his social standing, his power over others, his knowledge, his reputationÖ It is more correct to say that the person is what he prays; he is worth what he prays. Do you pray? Do you really pray, with all your soul? Do you pray a lot, often? Do you pray with a prayer of desire, do you sincerely seek God in your prayer? Do you pray in a disinterested way, for those who need God, his mercy and his love? Do you pray with confidence, surrendering to the power and wisdom of God, who knows what is best for human beings? Do you pray with a heart in love with the Church, open to all? Do you pray, like Jesus Christ, with your life sacrificed for the salvation of men and women? If you pray, and you pray this way, you are a true Christian. If you donít pray, or if your prayer does not have these qualities, your Christian identity card has been badly damaged. For all such reasons we must remember that the family, school and parish should be primarily schools of prayer. Do we forget to teach children how to pray?

The pleasure of prayer. Prayer cannot be a whim, something that depends on whether or not we feel like it. However, it should not be a torment either; it should not be something that we do against our will because the Church establishes that we should or because of a family custom. Prayer must be something that we enjoy, like all good things. We enjoy talking to a friend, but is there a better friend than God? We enjoy learning things, but is there a better teacher than God himself? We like to feel wanted and loved, but is there anyone who wants and loves us more than the Lord our God? Since this pleasure is not something perceptible, it may be a bit more difficult for us. Since it is a spiritual pleasure, it is a pleasure that only the Holy Spirit can give us. Therefore, rather than making an effort to enjoy prayer, we should make an effort to ask the Holy Spirit to grant us the pleasure of prayer. He who knows the inner core of each person pours this pleasure for prayer into every heart. Do you enjoy praying in the secret garden of your heart, where you are alone with God? Do you like community prayer, for example the rosary in the family or in Church, and especially Holy Mass, the supreme prayer of the Church to the Father through Jesus Christ? If you have not experienced it yet, discover the pleasure of prayer, and ask the Lord to grant it to all Christians. The pleasure of prayer is a richness for every Christian and for the whole Church.

 

Eighteenth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME 5th August 2001

First: Ecc 1:2; 2:21-23; Second: Col 3:1-5.9-11; Gospel: Lk 12:13-21

THEME of the READINGS

The texts of the liturgy this Sunday propose two ways of living and being in the world. There is the way of living of the old man, and that of the new man (second reading), there is the man who seeks earthly things and the man who seeks heavenly things (second reading), the one for whom all things are futile and the one for whom everything is Godís providence. The Gospel, in turn, contrasts the life of the man who hoards possessions and stores up treasures for himself with that of the man who bases his existence on the Lord, and becomes rich in the sight of God.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Living for oneís self. This is a way of being in the world, of fulfilling oneís existence over the years that span from birth to death. The ego becomes the point of reference for everything. Knowledge, work, efforts and their good results appear to be fleeting and vain before the ego. If the human being is doomed to die, what is the point of having knowledge, of working, if he cannot triumph over his mortality, his immersion in nothingness? Everything is futile, like smoke that is blown away by the wind. When the ego is the center of oneís life, we have the old man, incapable of coming out of the darkness of his impenetrable sphere on his own, more and more submerged in the abyss of vice and sin, with his gaze increasingly focused on the things of this world, without the possibility of lifting it op to heaven. We have the old man, because in a way, in his life he repeats the very ancient history of the first man, Adam, of the taste for sin and the original fall. However, when left to its own devices, the ego is extremely poor, for it gives priority to possession and appearance. Is there anything more fleeting than these two realities? How can one base oneís existence on something that is here today and gone tomorrow? How can one look death in the face, when the great values that have governed oneís life have been material goods and appearances, which are forbidden from crossing the threshold of the hereafter? Truly, to those who live for themselves we may apply Jesusí words in the parable contained in the text of the Gospel, "Fool! This very night you will be asked for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?" This is he who stores up treasures for himself, who centers his life on himself.

Living in Godís presence. In truth, God is not the enemy of the ego, or of personal fulfillment. Not at all! However, eternal wisdom teaches us that our own fulfillment consists in living for God, by living in the sight of God. In Godís eyes, work and knowledge have a providential meaning and destiny, beyond the limits of the earthly sphere. Everything that one does for God in this world, transcends and dwells in him, purified and elevated, in Godís eternal dwelling. The new man lives before and for God. The new man was re-made by Christ in his image and likeness through baptism. He was circumcised, not in his flesh but in his heart, and in living before God he experiences death without fear. Death is more than an absurd and senseless end: it is a door to a new existence in which he already participates, albeit it in a very poor and elementary way. This is why the new man has his feet firmly planted on the ground and on the tasks of this world, but his gaze and his heart look upwards, to heaven, towards which he walks with confidence and hope. Those who live for God do not estrange themselves form the world, they do not despise it, for it is the home that the Father has given them to live in. They work like all the rest, they expend their energies to produce wealth, but their heart is pure and unselfish, and they know full well that the goods of this world have a universal destiny, and cannot be unfairly hoarded by just a few. Instead of telling themselves, "Rest, eat, drink, feast," they think about how to help all people, especially those who are closest to them, to have enough food, to have their rest, and be able to healthily enjoy whatever is needed for a banquet.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

The homo oeconomics does not have a future. We often classify people according to certain aspects that characterize them. Thus we speak of homo faber, for example, to underscore someoneís manual skills, or homo cogitans to emphasize manís vocation as a thinker. With the expression homo oeconomicus, we refer to the type of person who focuses on money and well-being. Well, such a person has no future. There are people who say, "With money you can do anything you want; money opens all doors." That is not true. Money cannot buy happiness, although at times it can make you happy. Money cannot buy love; at most it will buy you a night of passion or an ephemeral and frustrating affair. Money does not make you virtuous; rather, it often opens the door to vice. Whether we realize it or not, we all want a happier future, but we wonít be able to find this future in a hefty bank account. You will find it inside yourself, in the inner sanctum of your conscience, at peace with yourself and with God. The homo oeconomicus does not have a future because he is not a citizen of heaven, he has no passport, and a bank account is useless in the face of death and Godís judgment. Why not turn the homo oeconomicus into a homo pneumaticus, into a man who is enlightened, guided and conformed by the action of the Holy Spirit? It is not easy, but it is possible, it is desirable. Many have done it. Try it, if you have not done it yet. Urge others to try it.

Does it make sense to change direction? The two ways of living that we have discussed thus far are like a highway. The two lanes are separate, and there is no possibility of changing the direction in which you are going whenever you want to. The lanes go either in one direction or in the other. This makes drivers feel much safer, it makes driving easier and less tiring, one can drive fasterÖ In general, one drives comfortably, although special care will have to be taken when going around a bend, not to exceed the speed limit, and not to be overcome by fatigue. I advance, I head towards Babylon, I see that I am not alone but that many more people are heading in the same direction as I. I think that I have selected well the city of my dreams and that it will be most enjoyable to live in it, with well-to-do people. Every now and then I notice that there is a sign that reads "U-turn permitted ahead". I have seen that some have gotten off the highway and have tried to change direction. At first, my reaction was, "What an idiot! Does it make sense to change direction?" Then, when faced with other similar signs, or at unexpected times, I thought about the people who got off the highway. Why did they get off? Are they weird? Did they think that they were going in the wrong direction? Did they realize that Babylon is not an island of happiness? The truth is that the seed of doubt has been planted inside me. What should I do? I encourage you to change direction, to take the lane that leads to Jerusalem, to do it at the next exit, without waiting for the final oneÖ Donít think that only a few people are heading in that direction. When you change direction, you will realize that there is heavy traffic. Jerusalem is the city of the great God! Jerusalem is the city in which Jesus Christ gave his life for us! Jerusalem is the city of the children of God, the symbol of truth and justice, the symbol of love and solidarity! Jerusalem is the city founded by God for you to live in!

 

Nineteenth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME 12th August 2001

First: Wis 18:3.6-9; Second: Heb 11:1-2.8-19; Gospel: Lk 12:32-48

THEME of the READINGS

Waiting faithfully and watchfully. This is the summary of the main content of todayís liturgy, the attitude of Abraham and Sarah, and of all those who died waiting for the promise made by God (second reading). This is the attitude of the descendants of the patriarchs, who wait with confidence, in the midst of hard work, for the night of deliverance (first reading). This is the attitude of the Christian in this world, engaged in his everyday tasks, staying awake for his Masterís return (Gospel).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The historical wait. God is a faithful God, and his promises are fulfilled. However, his promises are not seen immediately, in the present, but are expected for the future. We can say that the history of salvation is the history of hopes and of the expectation of the Jews and Christians. Abraham is the symbol of hope, as is shown in the Letter to the Hebrews (second reading). At first he lives in the hope and expectation of a son, and God fulfills these hopes by giving him Isaac, in spite of the fact that Sarah, his wife, is past the age and sterile. Then he waits in the expectation and hope of a land and of numerous descendants. God will fulfill that hope too, but not during Abrahamís earthly existence. In this way, in Abraham the chain of hopes and expectations of the patriarchs and of the People of Israel is inaugurated. After several centuries, in the 13th century BC, God fulfilled the promise of the land with Joshua. Many centuries after that, with Jesus Christ, God fulfilled the promise of descendants, as it is only in Jesus that, "All the people of the earth will be blessed." The Book of Wisdom mentions another divine promise: deliverance from slavery, "That night was forewarned to our Fathers" (cf Gn 15:13-14; 46:3-4). God fulfilled this promise in an equally glorious and powerful way that famous night when the Egyptians remained in the dark while the Israelites were preceded by a column of fire which lit up their path, that night that was tragic for the Egyptians because all of their first-borns died, while for the Israelites there was deliverance and joy. Not only does God fulfill his promise, but he also overcomes evil, and with love he attracts and calls the chosen ones to him. He is not only a faithful God, but also a loving Father.

The meta-historical wait. In the Letter to the Hebrews, the patriarchs and the great figures of the People of Israel are portrayed as looking for a homeland. The author of the Letter interprets this quest not in a historical, but in a meta-historical way: "They aspire to a better home, that is, the heavenly home." God himself, who was faithful by fulfilling his promises in history, will be faithful in the hereafter of history. The Gospel especially tells us about this meta-historical expectation and hope, by using the image of the master, whose return the servants must await in order to open the door when he knocks. From his very birth, man has been waiting for his Master in some way. As Christians, we must wait without fear, with joy, because "it has pleased the Father to give you the Kingdom," and God, our Father, will fulfill our expectations. We must wait in an attitude of readiness at all times: "See that you have your belts done up and your lamps lit." Equally, the wait must be a watchful one, for the Lord will come "like a burglar," when you least expect him. The best way to wait is certainly by doing good to all and by maintaining a dignified conduct. Taking advantage of oneís power by beating the servants, eating and drinking and getting drunk, is an inappropriate way of waiting for the Lord. This is why the Gospel says to us, "The master will cut him off and send him to the same fate as the unfaithful." The hereafter, and Godís judgment which this reality implies, may seem mysterious to us, inaccessible to our intelligence, but it is not marginal to the Christian faith. Rather, it is one of the elements constituting our creed: "We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come." We live by hope, but all of the history of salvation has shown us, century after century, that the hope placed in God will not disappoint us

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Looking at the present with forward-looking eyes. The Christian is not a utopian being, a dreamer cut off from the present down-to-earth reality. Christianity lives the realism of the present, with the small everyday tasks, with the small or large projects, with the struggle for the life and survival of many human beings, with the crime news in the papers or on television, with the little surprises that knock on our door every now and then. Actually, life is either lived in the present or it is not lived at all. The present is the only time within our reach, for the past has already faded and the future does not yet have a substance of its own. The present is the land on which I tread, the family in which I live, the girl-friend whom I love, the sick mother, the restless son, the office where I work, the parish I walk past each day, the blood test Iíve had or the new car that I have just bought. Our gaze must be fixed on this present; we must not escape it; we must accept it in all of its reality, whether it be sad or pleasing. We must not be afraid of the present, we must look at it in the face, with strength. However, the present does not exist in a water-tight compartment. By its very nature, it is open to the future that step by step, inexorably becomes the present. We cannot forget about this future in our present everyday life. Hence, we must look at the present with forward-looking eyes. The future is the horizon of the present, it is hope. A present that is closed dies instantaneously. An open present already glimpses the golden ear of corn in the seed that was just sown in the earth. A closed present seeks to make the blade of grass, of ephemeral happiness, eternal, but this grass withers away, causing catastrophe. An open and Christian present looks ahead, it looks forward and forward until it enters the very dwelling of God. May your eyes enlighten the present reality with the brightness that they have captured looking to the future.

Watchfulness is not an option. The future of each person is unpredictable. The weather man may give us a forecast for tomorrowís weather, but there is the risk that he may be wrong. The economist may forecast the level of inflation in the country for the month of May or for the year 2003 with a certain degree of precision. But the history of human beings is impossible to predict, because it is a history of freedom. Who can tell what people will do tomorrow? Who can foresee Godís plans for the immediate or distant future? The unpredictability of the future calls for watchfulness. The prudent and sensible person does not consider a watchful attitude as something that is merely possible, as one among many other options. Watchfulness is the best option. We must be watchful so that the future does not take us by surprise. We must be watchful in order to master events, rather than being mastered by them. We must be watchful to make sure that we never lose peace, not even in the face of the most terrible trials and adversities. Actually, those who are watchful have already looked the future in the eyes, and are ready to face it with grace and determination. We must be watchful so as to discover Godís writing in the pages of history, to discover the action of the Spirit within us, within people. We must be watchful so that we can finish the last page of the book of our life with a happy ending, and preserve the integrity of our faith, hope and charity, "when he will come." Watchfulness is not an option, it is a vital need.

 

Solemnity of the ASSUMPTION 15th August 2001

First: Rev 11:19; 12:1-6a.10ab; Second: 1 Cor 15:20-26; Gospel: Lk 1:39-56

THEME of the READINGS

The concept of "relationship" may help us to establish a link between the texts of the feast of the Assumption. Maryís relationship with God the Father is depicted in the Gospel text, "For the Almighty has done great things for me." In the first Letter to the Corinthians (first reading), we glimpse Maryís relationship to her son, the risen Christ, "the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep." The first reading enables us to see the relationship between Mary and the Church, "a woman, robed with the sun, standing on the moon, and on her head a crown of twelve stars."

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Mary and the Father. In the Magnificat, Mary recognizes that the Almighty has done great things for her. What are these great things? First of all, the fullness of grace with which she has been conceived and that has accompanied her throughout her earthly existence. Then, the mystery of divine motherhood, a wonderful gesture of love by the Father to Mary and to all of humankind. Finally, God made of Mary the ark of the new covenant who, carrying God in her womb, is the cause of blessing for John the Baptist and his parents. The great things that God does for Mary do not end with the birth of Jesus. God continues to act with his might in Maryís soul and life, and the last great deed of his for Mary is precisely her Assumption, body and soul, to heavenly glory. Maryís body and soul are possessed by grace; she is the immaculate one, in whom there is no trace of anything corruptible, because everything in her person is grace, a pure gift from God. Could God the Father leave unfinished the wonderful work of grace he created in Mary during her earthly life?

Mary and her Son, Jesus Christ. The mystery of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and of his glorification is unimaginable without the reality of a body, like our own, which was lovingly shaped in Maryís womb. The Word became the flesh of Mary and in Mary. The Blessed Virgin can say of Jesus, "He is the flesh of my flesh." If this most holy flesh was glorified by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, will the Son have doubts about glorifying the flesh of his Mother, the blessed flesh that was an ark and nourishment for him? The risen Christ is the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep. In the temple of Jerusalem, the feast of first-fruits announced the abundant harvest. Now, the glorious Christ foretells the glorification of all believers, a glorification which will take place "in his second coming", at the end of time. Mary is the only woman who already lives in the definitive Paschal feast, because in her blessed flesh her Son Jesus Christ accomplished the work of redemption in fullness. To a certain extent, we can say that with Jesus and through him, Mary is also the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep. It is for this reason that we can lift up our eyes to the Virgin of the Assumption with love and hope.

Mary and the Church. The woman in Revelation (first reading) symbolizes Eve, Israel and the Church. The dragon is the "old snake" that tempted Eve and caused her to be thrown out of Paradise (Gn 3). However, already in verse 15 a window of hope is opened, when the woman overcomes the snake by treading on its head. This woman in the new Eve, Mary, the woman over whom the snake has no power at all, and who is totally victorious over the snake. The woman represents the People of Israel, the woman-bride with whom Yahweh entered into a marriage covenant, the woman as beautiful as the sun, as powerful as a great queen, pregnant and expecting a child. In Mary, the vocation and hope of Israel are fulfilled perfectly. She is beautiful with the splendor of God, powerful because of her humility, pregnant because she is carrying the very Son of the Almighty. The woman also symbolizes the Church, in the splendor of her holiness, in fruitful motherhood, being persecuted by the devil, fleeing to the desert to recover her strength and preparing for the battle of victory. Mary, as daughter of the Church, has taken her holiness, fruitfulness and victory to God himself; as mother of the Church, from heaven, she helps the Church in trials and comforts it in its pain.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

A woman of our kind. In spite of all her greatness, Mary is not any different from all other women of this earth. She is entirely a woman, not a superior being who has come from another planet, or a supernatural creature who has come down from heaven. In the Gospel, she is presented with all the features of her femininity and motherhood in specific historical circumstances, at times darkened by pain, at others crowned by joy. She feels like a woman, she reacts like a woman, she suffers like a woman, she loves like a woman. Her greatness is not her own doing, but the wonderful work of God, which is accepted and seconded faithfully by Mary. Her Assumption to heaven, body and soul, does not estrange her from us, but makes her more powerful because she looks upon men and women, her brothers and sisters, with the eyes of love and mercy. Her glorious presence in heaven speaks to us not only of a privilege of Mary, but also of the call that God makes to everyone to participate from this very life in the fullness of our body and our soul. As a woman of our kind, she is the most sublime of all human creatures and the most tender and maternal of all. Jesus Christ and Mary, his Mother, have already gone beyond the threshold of heaven with the fullness of their being. We have not yet gone beyond that threshold; we are living in expectation and hope, but we have the certainty that the time will come in which the door will be open to all and in which we will begin to live in a new world. It is not a dream, or a mere promise. It is a reality, which we wait for with absolute trust in the power of God. The Assumption of Mary is the guarantee of our hope. Isnít it wonderful that Maryís glorious destiny is also our ultimate and final destiny?

Psalm to Maryís Assumption.

Bless, my soul, the almighty God,

because he has deigned to raise to heaven the body and soul

of the humble maiden of Nazareth.

May all creatures bless the Father

For he chose a woman of our kind,

to manifest in her the victory over death and corruption,

as first-fruits of our destiny, together with Christ.

May all those redeemed bless our Lord Jesus Christ,

because in Mary, his Mother, who has been raised to heaven,

he makes shine in their splendor all the effects of redemption.

Let us bless the Holy Spirit,

who made burn in the being of Mary of Nazareth

the fire that does not consume

and the light that never goes out.

May all creatures, together with Mary, praise God.

 

 

Twentieth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME 19th August 2001

First: Jer 38:4-6.8-10; Second: Heb 12:1-4; Gospel: Lk 12:49-57

 

THEME of the READINGS

"The scandal of truth" could be the title of our reflection on todayís liturgy. The truth proclaimed by the prophet Jeremiah scandalizes his contemporaries (first reading). Jesusí words on the fire of judgment, on baptism in the blood of the Cross and on the sword that divides, also scandalize his listeners, because they did not correspond to the listenersí expectations. And arenít people often scandalized by divine teaching when it resorts to correction and punishment?

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The scandal of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a sensitive and tranquil man by nature. He loved beauty, and by divine vocation had to preach destruction and horrendous massacres. He loved tranquility and quiet, and found himself totally involved in the risky and unfortunate events in Jerusalem and in the kingdom of Judah. The God who had seduced him induced him to say unpleasant and unexpected things, and to undertake symbolic actions that aroused indignation and adversity. His words and actions scandalized the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judah. And "to scandalize" meant, to those who listened to him, that he was not seeking the welfare of the people but their ruin, that he was a pessimist and a spoilsport who disheartened the soldiers and the people. However, Jeremiah knows that he is telling the truth, a truth that he has not invented himself but that he has heard in the intimacy of his conscience as the Word of God. The scandal of truth will make Jeremiah suffer (he will be put into a storage-well full of mud to die there forgotten and abandoned by all). But it does not matter, for he knows that God will not abandon him (he will save him by means of an Ethiopian, a pagan), and that Godís truth which he has conveyed will prevail and triumph. And so it was. Jerusalem was taken and destroyed by the army of Babylon, and most of the population was deported to and enslaved in the land of the winners.

The scandal of Jesus Christ. Jesus addresses his contemporaries with wounding and scandalous words. He talks about the fire of judgment, capable of burning and destroying the present situation to generate a new one, but his listeners are not ready to accept the radical change or the eruption of newness. Jesus talks about baptism with reference to the blood of the Cross, in which he will have to be baptized to wash away the sins of the world which he has taken upon himself. But what is the need for this baptism? Isnít Johnís baptism sufficient, or that of the Essenes? The Cross is a scandal for the Jews, Paul will remind us in the first Letter to the Corinthians. Jesus clearly says that he has not come to bring peace on earth, but the sword that divides men: with Christ or against Christ, with no possibility of being neutral. This sword of division greatly scandalized the Jews. They do not know how to interpret correctly the three signs that Jesus offers his contemporaries, and they are scandalized! The truth that Jesus Christ preaches to them is an unbearable scandal, a scandal that cost Jesus Christ his condemnation and an ignominious death on the Cross.

The scandal of God. Not only Jeremiah, not only Jesus, but God himself may cause a scandal. The community to whom the Letter to the Hebrews was addressed might have thought that it was a scandal that God should allow them to go through so much suffering. They might also have been presented the scandal of martyrdom, the shedding of their own blood. How could God have allowed the forces of evil to intervene in such a manifest way? It is for this reason that the author of the Letter invites the people to keep their eyes fixed on Jesus, who leads them in their faith and brings it to perfection. He endured the Cross, disregarding the shame of it, and has taken his seat at the right of Godís throne. In more colloquial language, we might say, "Are you scandalized? Look at Jesus Christ on the Cross! Are you disheartened by this prospect? Look at Jesus Christ sitting at the right of Godís throne!" In the light of Christ, your scandal will become a witness of faith and glory.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Scandalizing will get something across. I am not recommending immoral scandal, like scandalizing children with evil actions or actions that they do not have the ability to judge. I am proposing the scandal of truth, and truth may not please. It may be more or less appropriate, but it will never be labeled as immoral. I propose that we repeat many times this scandal of truth, so that this repetition may generate at least a question, an incentive, a step forward in the effort to know it. Indeed, isnít there a whole set of truths that scandalize many people today? For example, the truth of one unique Savior of Humankind, our Lord Jesus Christ, the center and fulcrum of history and the cosmos. There is the truth of one unique Church, founded by Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, or the truth of one unique Creator of the universe and of human beings. We have the truth of a triune God, actively engaged in the history of human beings and their destiny; or the truth of a priestly people, without any distinction based on sex, but of a priestly ministry, to which God calls only men. So many truths: that of marriage, constituted exclusively by the stable union between a man and a woman, or that of the universal destiny of all the goods of the earth, etc. These truths are a scandal to many ears in our society. Rather than keeping them to ourselves, letís talk about them, letís tell them now and again, in different ways, with the simplicity and conviction that truth itself entails. Let us speak about them in public and in private: priests, educators, religion teachers, catechists, theologians and bishops. Let us scandalize our society with the fundamental truths of Christian faith and morality!

The truth will set you free. In a social environment in which truth seems to be the cause of slavery and bondage, because both the nature of truth and the human ability for it are ignored or scorned, we Christians are convinced that truth in itself, especially the truth of our faith, sets us free. Actually, all truth contributes to building the person and the Christian in more specific identity and personality. And it is clear that the more we identify with our human and Christian identity, the better and more fully we will experience the true freedom of being what we are meant to be, according to our nature, to what is written in the great book of Godís revelation. The person is not free to be what he wishes: he is free to be the truth of his being. Freedom is not an absolute value, it must be related to truth, which in itself attracts and conquers us. Where there is truth there is freedom, and where truth is lacking, there is necessarily some form of slavery. Are we seeking the truth? Do we live in truth? Do we love truth? Do we defend the truth? Then we may say that we are genuinely free, even if we are closed within the four walls of a prison cell or we are considered "useless material" by society around us. Are we perhaps afraid of the truth, of its conquering power? Yes, in a relative world, perhaps we are afraid of absolute truths. However, if everything is relative, arenít we turning what is relative into the only absolute? Ultimately, to be afraid of the truth is to be afraid to be oneís self. It means letting oneís self be dominated by the absolute law of the majority, losing human dignity. Truth will set you free. Have no doubts. This is the experience of the great.

 

 

Twentieth-First Sunday of ORDINARY TIME 26th August 2001

First: Is 66:18-21; Second: Heb 12:5-7.11-13; Gospel: Lk 13:22-30

THEME of the READINGS

The texts of todayís liturgy move between two extremes: on the one hand, the universal call to salvation, on the other, the great commitment on the basis of freedom. The Book of Isaiah (first reading) ends by making reference to the saving will of Yahweh for all peoples and languages. The Gospel, in turn, indicates to us that the door to enter the Kingdom is narrow and that only those who try hardest will succeed. The Lord accompanies us in this effort of freedom; he accompanies us with his paternal teachings, which are not devoid of corrections, though this is not the only form of divine teaching.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Universal call to salvation. The universal destiny of salvation was not discovered by the Second Vatican Council, but is contained within the very essence of the Word and Revelation of God: "God wants all to be saved." In the text of the first reading, in a wonderful vision, Isaiah sees the men of all nations coming to Jerusalem, the city of salvation, almost in the form of a liturgical procession, using the most varied means and bringing offerings to God. God has called and continues to call all, with no exceptions, because God is the Lord and Father of all. Can God call some of his children to salvation and not others? It would be absurd and not worthy of his divine fatherhood! Where there is a difference is in the means that God offers his children for their salvation. The text in Isaiah mentions that they will come to Jerusalem on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules and on camels. In other words, the ways to achieve Godís salvation, symbolized in Jerusalem, are many and different. Today, the surest way is the Christian faith, although there is also the way of non-Christian religions. There is the way of ethics and conscience. There is the way of asceticism and mystical theology, etc. On the other hand, the universality of salvation does not allow for any exceptions on the grounds of peoples, languages, eras, social classes or professional categories, personality (sociable, withdrawn, euphoricÖ), appearance (handsome or ugly, proportionate or disproportionateÖ), physiology (strong or weak, fat or thinÖ), etc. Everyone receives the call in the same way, but every human being will find his own difficulties and support on the way to salvation, which are at least partly related to appearance, personality, etc. What shall we do before this universal offer?

The freedom of commitment. On one occasion, someone asked Jesus, "Lord, are there only a few who are saved?" We know that everyone is called to salvation, but will everyone really be saved? In his answer, by using an imaginative and symbolic language, he tries to inculcate three fundamental truths in our heads: 1) the door to enter the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of salvation, is a narrow door. The door of the call is opened by God and he opens it to all, but the door of the response depends on human freedom, and not everyone is willing to enter that door, especially knowing that it is narrow. Jesus even tells us that there will be many who will try to enter the door but who will not succeed. Why? Because they try to go in burdened with many things that prevent them from stepping inside. Wanting to go in implies wanting to free oneself, and doing it for real. Without this will of self-giving and without this freedom of commitment, one cannot go through the door of salvation. 2) Obtaining salvation does not depend upon religion or religious experience, or even mystical experience, but on oneís conduct, on the works of salvation. It is not enough to be a Christian to guarantee salvation, because if we do not do the works of a Christian, we will hear Godís voice say to us "I do not know you, I do not know where you come from." It is not religious experience (having eaten and drunk in his presence) that causes salvation. If it is not accompanied by works that spring from such an experience, God will be forced to answer, "I tell you that I do not know where you are from. Get away from me, you workers of iniquity." 3) Those who are saved will come not from one place only, but from all villages and from all the corners of the world. "They will come from east to west, from north to south, and they will sit at the table in the Kingdom of God." In all the corners of the earth there will be valiant and generous people who wish to enter the narrow door and who will do everything they can to succeed.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Admiring the teaching of God. Among other things, the Bible is the book of Godís teaching for the salvation of human beings. God as a teacher is symbolized by the figure of the father. In other words, divine teaching is guided by the special love of a father for his children. The text of the second reading underscores an aspect of this teaching: correction. Is there a father who at some point has not been forced to correct his children? Sometimes correction may mean punishment, which teaches something. Although the child cries and stamps his feet, he knows that the correction or punishment is for his own good, and that they come from a father who loves him with all his heart. To guide people through the narrow door of salvation, God is sometimes compelled to resort to correction and punishment. In this way too, he is showing us his fatherly love. Rather than complaining, getting angry with God, considering themselves as victims, people need to admire the wonderful teaching on Godís part, who with his providence is constantly watching over our life, follows closely all our steps and, whenever necessary, resorts to correction for our own good.

However, it is evident that a father cannot be reduced to a mere corrector. It would be a caricature of fatherly teaching and care! The father guides, encourages, arouses the enthusiasm of his children by the ways of truth and good. The same applies to divine pedagogy, which places within our reach numerous ways to awaken in us the profound desire for salvation, and guides us along the path that leads to it. And he does this in an absolutely personal way, because God is not a mass educator, but the educator of his children.

Salvation: Godís initiative and our task. It is impossible for us to save ourselves: God is the one who saves us. But God does not impose salvation, he offers it. God does not spare us the task of accepting it, thus being saved. It is not we who take the initiative of salvation, but God. However, it is not God who has the task of salvation, for this is our task. Initiative and task! What a lovely combination between a father who madly loves his children and his children who are concerned with behaving as such! If, in the impossible hypothesis that God decided to forgo his initiative to save us, he would be giving up his love as a Father, and his eternal plan on the destiny of human beings. If we were to give up our task of salvation, on the one hand, we would be giving up our condition as fallen human beings and, on the other, our eternal end and destiny. Godís initiative pours security into our heart, and the certainty of salvation. The task of salvation makes us put our freedom at stake and decide to use it in union with divine initiative. All this is wonderful, but often we live our life without thinking about these things very much, perhaps overwhelmed by daily events. Sunday is a good day to think about all this, to stop on our daily path and think about how much life and eternity are worth. If salvation were more present in our minor everyday tasks, wouldnít it change our way of living and acting? This is not the time for complaints! It is the time for action and hope.

 

 

Twenty-Second Sunday ORDINARY TIME 2nd September 2001

First: Sir 3:17-18.20.28-29; Second: Heb 12:18-19.22-24; Gospel: Lk 14:1.7-14

THEME of the READINGS

The point of reference of this Sundayís liturgical texts clearly seems to be humility. It is manís attitude before the richness of the material world or of the world of the spirit (First Reading). It is and should be the best attitude of human beings, especially Christians, in their relations with others, in the different situations which life offers (Gospel). It should especially be manís behavior towards God, a behavior through which we discover our smallness in Godís magnanimity (Second Reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Right relationships spring from humility. It is a truism to say that man is a relational being, and that he entertains such relations with his peers, with the world that surrounds him and with God. What perhaps is not equally obvious is what authentic and proper relations are. The history of humankind offers many examples of different ways of living oneís relational dimension. There are those whose behavior was guided by a relationship of hatred and destruction. Others are enemies, and they must be done away with; God is an enemy, he should be killed, as Nietzsche proclaimed. Nature must be destroyed to build cities and human settlements. This is an extremely erroneous relationship! There is also the relationship based on possession. One wants to possess things to build a kingdom of well-being; one wants to possess others to use them to build up oneís greatness and power. One wants to possess God to manage him according to will. This does not seem to be the right kind of relationship either! Will a relationship based on fear be a good relationship? Fear of a God whose greatness is imposing and who is terrible in his judgment; fear of people and things due to an inferiority complex or the lack of a practical spirit. No, fear is not an adequate relationship either. The true relationship springs from humility and manifests itself as a relationship based on love. If I am humble, I recognize my condition as a creature and my immense smallness, I live my personal relationship with God in an attitude of love. This love induces me to perceive his greatness and his generosity towards me, to trust him in spite of my smallness, to be thankful for his gifts in this city of Zion, which is a condensation of all the goods that God can grant to the human being (Second Reading). If I am humble, I love others and I do not consider myself superior to them, nor do I try to give them something so that I will receive something in return (Gospel). If I am humble, I do not become arrogant with the power of the riches that I may have, or with the greatness of the science that I possess (First Reading). In our being, in our relationships, we are the pure gift of God, so what is there for us to be proud of? The right relationship between us and God, with our peers and with things is one based on love, a love that translates into service, respect, gratitude and solidarity.

Humility, a virtue, is pleasing to God. God, the Creator, is pleased when we accept our condition as creatures and establish the right kind of relationship with him and with all creation, for this is what humility is all about. The lack of humility, by contrast, destroys the harmony of our inner being and of the universe itself, and this rupture is not pleasing to the Creator. This is why in Sirach we read "The greater you are, the more humbly you should behave, and then you will find favor with the Lord," and in the Gospel we read, "For everyone who raises himself up will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be raised up." Why is humility pleasing to God? Precisely because the humble person does not seek to supplant God, to "be like God," or to consider himself a super-man or a wise man above all others. Sirach recommends, "Do not try to understand things that are too difficult for you, or try to discover what is beyond your powers." The humble person pleases God because he does not consider God as a rival, but as a father and a friend instead. The humble person pleases God not only because he recognizes himself as a creature, but also because he recognizes himself as a sinner, and unworthy of his condition as a son. Precisely because of this, the humble person maintains the attitude of a son with God, a son who begs mercy and loving forgiveness. All this makes us understand more fully what Scripture itself assures, "The greater you are, the more humbly you should behave, and then you will find favor with the Lord." The difference between the proud and the humble may be summarized as follows: "The proud man seeks to please himself, even at Godís expense, while the humble man seeks to please God, even at his own expense."

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Humility means truth. What Jesus Christ tries to give in the Gospel is a lesson in courtesy and good manners. Jesus goes into greater depth, he gets down to the core, to the most intimate layer of the person. And what does he find there? He finds a sign that says: "Everything is a gift, everything is grace." The person who is not capable of admitting it is lying, he is deceiving himself, and will try to deceive others in many ways. Such a man will be pleased with his own achievements, talking about his success, extolling his many qualities, striving to be importantÖ But humility is the truth with which we see ourselves before God. In himself, the person before God is dust, wind, nothing. By the grace of God, man is Godís image and his son. May we, too, be able to say like Paul, "By Godís grace I am what I am, and Godís grace has not been vain in me." How different our way of life becomes when we live in truth! The humble man always seeks truth in love: the truth about himself, the truth about others and the truth about God. I suggest that you look at yourself in the mirror of humility to see if you recognize yourself or if the impact of the contrast with reality is such that the mirror cannot bear it and breaks into a thousand pieces. The Church of humble people will be a more authentic Church, more faithful to the original plan of its Founder. Each one of us, with our humility, can contribute in some way.

Beware of false humility! We have said that humility is truth, following the teaching of St Theresa of Jesus (or of Avila). However, there are also "apparent" forms of humility. But since they lack truth, such forms cannot be expressions of true humility. Let us recall some forms of false humility. A clear case is the inferiority complex: "I am worthless, so I leave the work for others", "I cannot do this work", "I do not have such and such a talent." Sometimes such sentences conceal an enormous laziness. Most of the time, they conceal a crafty pride, which wants to avoid cutting a poor figure or looking bad to other peopleís eyes at all costs. The humble person recognizes his qualities, his worth, and his achievements, but he attributes it all to God who is their source. Another example of false humility is not accepting the praise of others, rejecting any form of public recognition, feigning indifference before other peopleís opinion. Ultimately, it is often a way of secretly enjoying the received praise, or of having people insist on oneís achievements, flattering oneís ears with the good opinion of other people. By contrast, a humble person accepts praise but raises it up to God; he accepts public recognition for a good deed or the good opinion of other people, but sees in this a gesture of fraternal charity and Godís mysterious action. One last case is that of the person who thinks that he cannot do anything right, that he was born under a bad star, and that there is nothing that he can do. The pride of such a person is so great that it blinds him and prevents him from seeing the good things that he does. He only has eyes for the bad things, for the limits and imperfections of the good things that exist in him. The humble person, instead, knows how to see the good side of things, even those that do not come out so well. And with Saint Paul he says, "For those who love God all things contribute to their good."

 

 

 

Twenty-Third Sunday of ORDINARY TIME 9th September 2001

First: Wis 9:13-19; Second: Phil 9b-10.12-17; Gospel: Lk 14:25-33

THEME of the READINGS

Wisdom is the key word in the three readings. The human ability to think, so weak and uncertain, is countered by the wisdom with which God teaches people in order for them to achieve salvation (First Reading). Human prudence induces a person to be calculating, to see whether he has the sufficient means to build a tower or enough soldiers to attack the enemy. Such prudence is necessary, but to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, wisdom from God is also required (Gospel). Isnít Saint Paulís Letter to Philemon the highest expression of human prudence and wisdom, learned in the school of faith?

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Human knowledge, and the wisdom of faith. The first expression refers to the effort made by human beings to know the truth in all of its dimensions, and live by it. The second expression refers to Godís intervention in our intellect, which makes us participate in his revelation, and in our will, to induce us to live according to that revelation. There are many differences between the two types of knowledge, but also many things in common and such a great complementarity! Knowledge is characterized by the fact that it has a limit. But we are constantly pushing the limit further, and the process goes on. This is why in principle, the human beings of the present have more knowledge than those of the past, and those of the future will have more knowledge than those of the present. In the Book of Wisdom we read, "It is hard enough for us to work out what is on earth, laborious to know what lies within our reach; who, then, can discover what is in the heavens?" Wisdom has no limits, except for the ones set by our poor intelligence. This explains why there may have been wiser human beings in the past than in the present, or there may be human beings who are less wise in the future. Since it is a gift of God, wisdom is not subject by time. "And who could ever have known your will, had you not given Wisdom and sent your holy Spirit from above?" (First Reading). Knowledge is a human effort and wisdom is a divine gift. At the level of knowledge, what we donít know far exceeds what we do know, whereas by faith everything necessary is known. Knowledge often makes conceited and exalts those who possess it, whereas wisdom makes those who receive it humble and grateful. Knowledge will come to an end with human beings, while wisdom is eternal, like God, its source. In the Gospel we find a beautiful formulation of the wisdom of the Cross, and in the second reading the wisdom of charity with a slave who, lo and behold, has become a brother!

The wisdom of faith in action. Following Christ is not an original choice on the part of the human being, but a choice made in response to a call that comes from God. Precisely for this reason, one cannot follow Christ on the basis of pure human reasoning. Rather, the following of Christ requires the wisdom of faith. The Gospel text places a number of choices before us that will have to be enlightened by Godís wisdom. There is the choice to follow Christ, even at the expense of the closest of family ties, when they enter into conflict with the call. There is the option for the cross, following Christís footsteps in his journey towards Jerusalem. There is the renouncing of all possessions, all wealth, all power, in order to radically live the sequela Christi. Donít all of these choices require the profound wisdom of faith? In the second reading, in his Letter to Philemon Paul gives us a wonderful example of this divine wisdom. Paulís wisdom manifests itself in the admirable delicacy, discretion and tact with which he makes his request about Onesimus (a slave of Philemonís, who had fled from his master possibly due to a theft, whom Paul had converted and baptized, and whom he sent back to Philemon to be received as a brother). Paul exhorts Philemon, a believer, to wisdom: he calls on Philemon to see in Onesimus a "child" of Paulís heart; to see in Onesimus not a slave (although he would continue to be one), but a dear brother in the Lord. According to this wisdom, how can Philemon not welcome Onesimus back home? Onesimusí condition as a slave is completely overcome by the fraternity that springs from faith.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Wisdom within everybodyís reach. One thing is certain: not everyone has what it takes to be a "scientist" , a man of great knowledge. But we are all able to be wise, and to receive the wisdom of faith. Another thing is sure, and apparently paradoxical: there are scientists who lack wisdom and people who know nothing about science but are great in terms of their wisdom. Science and wisdom donít necessarily have to be in opposition with one another; rather, it would be good for them to cooperate and be of mutual service. If only we could all fly with these two wings across the space of our existence! But it is not always so, and there are many instances in which we try to fly with only one wing, with the real danger of falling to the ground. Anyway, what should fill us with admiration and gratitude is that God has wanted to place wisdom within everybodyís reach. Has he even placed wisdom within the reach of children? And what about those who are ignorant, or have a very low IQ? What about the disabled? Historical reality throughout the centuries, and especially in the 20th century, has shown very clearly that these brothers and sisters of ours are often endowed with an enviable divine wisdom. While we assert the universal reachability of wisdom, we cannot fail to note that not everyone accepts it, loves it or lives by it. Why doesnít everyone accept it? The ways of human thinking are unsearchable! The elements that come into play include education, the environment in which one has grown up and lived, the principles regulating oneís existenceÖ Why doesnít everyone love it? The human heart is an unfathomable chasm! Perhaps it is because of selfishness, perhaps because of a hardened heart. Perhaps it is because of spiritual coldness or the power of passionÖ Why doesnít everyone live by it? Human freedom is at stake here, and so are the influences exercised by the world in which we live. Our passions are extremely powerful and often run wild. And so, we must learn this divine wisdom at a young age, within the family and the parish, so that little by little it takes root in life.

Knowledge against wisdom? In a culture based on contrast and opposition, it would seem correct to answer this question affirmatively. The knowledge of human beings is opposed to the wisdom of God, and the wisdom of God is opposed to the knowledge of human beings. As a result, there can be no possible way of reconciling knowledge and wisdom. This reflects the way of thinking of many of our contemporaries, and is asserted heatedly by the press and the mass media. However, this is not the Christian position, nor can it be. Christian doctrine teaches us to say, "Knowledge and wisdom." We do not view the two as being in opposition but as cooperating; the two are not mutually exclusive but complementary. The reason, for us believers, is simple: he who grants us the ability of knowing is the same God who grants us the gift of being wise. For non-believers, in both cases there is a search for truth, although it may happen in different ways. We are all involved in this quest together: some fly with only one engine, while others fly with two. Why is it that in this search for truth on the part of both, results are sometimes different? We must all keep searching for the "whole truth," the truth that will meet the needs of human knowledge and divine wisdom. A prerequisite for both parties is not to have biases of any kind, to have an open mind and an open heart.

 

Twenty-Fourth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME 16th September 2001

First: Ex 32:7-11,13-14; Second: 1 Tm 1:12-17; Gospel: Lk 15:1-32

THEME of the READINGS

The mercy of God the Father echoes throughout todayís entire liturgy. It reaches its highest peak in the Gospel, which recounts the wonderful parables of Godís mercy for the sinners. In the first reading, we listen to the music of Godís mercy for his people, thanks to the intercession of Moses. Finally, in the first letter of Paul to Timothy, we feel moved in listening to Paulís testimony of Christís mercy, "Öand if mercy has been shown to me it is because Jesus Christ meant to make me the leading example of his inexhaustible patience for all the other people who were later to trust in him for eternal life" (Second Reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Love and forgiveness: the two facets of mercy. The God that Jesus Christ presents to us in the three Gospel parables is the God of love. God loves sinners, and that is why he looks for them as the shepherd goes after the missing sheep. Or, like a housewife who searches thoroughly for her lost coin, until she finds it. God also loves the sinner as a father loves his children: he loves the cheeky son who leaves the house while prematurely asking his father for his share of the inheritance, and he loves the son who stays at home, although he treats his father in a distant and cold way. And, because he loves, he cannot but show his love: by forgiving, by sharing his love, by celebrating, by inviting everyone to share his joy. This portrait of God, depicted by Jesus Christ, moves us and fills us with courage, that we may live our filial status with dignity. This portrait stands out even more if we compare it to the first reading, taken from the history of the Exodus. The author narrates what we may call the "original sin" of the people of Israel. Just as soon as they have signed the covenant with Yahweh, they break it, by building themselves a calf out of molten metal to worship. God is filled with rage and wants to destroy them. Only through Mosesí intercession, does God repent and open the door of his heart to mercy. Undoubtedly there is some progress in the revelation of Godís heart! With Paul, we realize that now Godís mercy goes under the name of Jesus Christ. Indeed, not only has he shown Paul his mercy by restoring his sight on his way to Damascus, but he also has so much confidence in him that he calls him to preach the Gospel of mercy all over the world. How can we not feel a deep gratitude before such magnanimity on the part of Jesus Christ!

The characteristics of Godís mercy. 1) It has to be stressed that Godís mercy is not subject to the laws of time. This may be intended in two ways: firstly, any time is a good time for the Good Shepherd to look for his missing sheep, as any time is the right time for the son to return to the fatherís house. Secondly, the door of the Fatherís heart is open twenty-four hours a day. No one will ever be able to say to God, "When I asked, you did not give to me; when I sought, I did not find you; when I knocked, you did not answer." 2) Godís mercy never ends; its characteristic is eternity, which is his very nature and in which he lives. As long as there is life, there will always be the possibility to turn to him and be welcomed in his arms, the arms of the Father. God does not look at the unworthy life one may have led, or the number of times that one has turned away from him. He only looks at the inner movements of the soul, at the sinner who longs for forgiveness and the fatherís embrace; he looks at tearful eyes as though they were emeralds sparking with repentance; he looks with love at the hesitating first steps of those who approach him saying, "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned." God does not focus his attention on the gravity of the sin, but on the category of the soul. 3) The mercy of God is transforming, and in a way, it revolutionizes manís life. The people of Israel, in the midst of so many difficulties and in spite of its falls and infidelity, always hoisted the flag of the faithful God, the redeemer of his people. Paulís case is enlightening: he placed all his qualities at the service of the Christís Gospel, and expended all his energies to the point of giving his very life for its sake. In the Gospel parable of the two sons, we are not told how it continues, butÖ shouldnít we expect them to be faithful and loving sons in the future?

 

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

 

The difficult science of Christian forgiveness. The Bible, both the Old and the New Testament, is the chair from which God teaches Christians, and all people, the science of mercy, love and forgiveness. It is a life-long process, because at any point in our existence we may fall prey to hatred or despair in the midst of pain. How can we love those who have discredited or slandered us, either in private or publicly? How can we forgive someone who has broken into and ransacked our home? How can we love a pedophile, who has abused our children or those of our friends and neighbors? How can we love those who have introduced our daughter to the black tunnel of drug abuse, thus destroying her and our very own family? Such questions and other similar ones show how difficult it is to learn the science of Christian forgiveness. Nevertheless, the ideal is clear. If we have passed some exams in this difficult and strange science, let us be grateful to the Lord and let us continue to try to go beyond the qualification we have achieved. However, let us not be discouraged if we are still far from him. First of all, let us stick to our firm decision to learn this mysterious science, in spite of all the obstacles that may come our way. Then, let us try to practice forgiving others for their minor acts of lack of respect or care, for the dirty tricks that some may play on us, etc., so that we may increase and perfect our skills through practice. Let us also read the Bible frequently, especially the parables of mercy, the Psalms in which Godís mercy shines forth in an admirable way, and many other texts that show Godís mercy at work. Finally, let us study the example of Jesus Christ, from his Incarnation, his Death on the Cross, and his Resurrection, so that through an assiduous and prayerful contact with his life and mystery we may assimilate little by little, step-by-step, the wonderful science of Christian forgiveness. What a difficult science to learn, for all of us are rebels in certain cases and in certain situations. But, what a wonderful science! With the forgiveness of offense, all of humankind is purified and uplifted, and God will be able to say, "It was worthwhile creating man just for this."

The power of intercession. Intercession is another name for love. He who intercedes acts as a bridge between the offender and the offended person. The intercessor loves the offended, which is why he shares his sorrow, but he has enough confidence to plead in favor of the offender. He loves the offender; he tries to make him repent for what he has done and even encourages him to ask the offended person for forgiveness. Thus, reconciliation is achieved through intercession, and a broken friendship is always strengthened. Christian intercession does not exclude any sphere of life: one can intercede on behalf of a relative with someone who has been offended; on behalf of someone who has been sentenced to death so that he will not be executed; on behalf of political prisoners in order that they be freed, etc. However, Christian intercession is eminently religious: it means to intercede with God on behalf of all sinners. This is what Moses does before the sin of the Israelites, as we are told in the first reading. This is especially what Jesus Christ does, for his entire life may be summarized as a constant intercession with the Father to attain the redemption of sinful humanity. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we are taught that, "Intercession is a prayer of petition which leads us to pray as Jesus did. He is the one intercessor with the Father in behalf of all men, especially sinners" (CCC 2634).

 

Twenty-Fifth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME 23rd September 2001

First: Am 8:4-7; Second: 1 Tm 2:1-8; Gospel: Lk 16:1-13

THEME of the READINGS

This Sundayís liturgical texts essentially ask the question of where true riches lie. The first reading answers this question by stating that true riches cannot live side by side with ambition and avarice to the detriment of the poor and needy. Nor does it lie in the ability to make friends with other peopleís riches. The children of light understand that true riches are stored in Heaven (Gospel). This way of seeing things doesnít come to us naturally; we can only achieve it through prayer (Second Reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

What are you doing, children of light? The expression "children of light" seems to refer to the early Christians, who had been enlightened by the risen and glorious Christ by means of baptism. In contrast with this expression, we have the expression "children of this world," which refers to all those whose life is governed by a worldly and "economic" attitude rather than a religious attitude. The Gospelís verdict is striking, it even gives us the goose bumps, "For the children of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind than are the children of light." Why does this judgment seem as important today as it was 20 centuries ago? What is going on with the children of light? The children of this world know how to make extraordinary use of their abilities, and use their ambition to tamper with the scales unfairly and to openly swindle the poor, and even reduce other men to slavery because they themselves have gone bankrupt (First Reading). In adverse circumstances, the children of this world franticly use all their prowess to get out of the awkward situation they find themselves in (Gospel). Jesus reproaches the children of light for not resorting to all lawful means in order to spread the light of faith. He also reproaches their failure to use all their abilities to find ways to overcome adversity and bring the light to many other people. One cannot love the God of Jesus Christ and the "god of money." The God of Jesus Christ has every right to prevail over the "god of money," who is nothing more than an idol. The children of light have been entrusted with the mission of making the true God, the Supreme Good and true treasure of man, prevail over the idol of money. In society, the idol of money and consumerism has an increasing number of worshippers; shouldnít we ask ourselves what the children of light are doing about it?

Prayer, the place of true understanding of the self. We find the light and strength to work for our true wealth through prayer. The Christian prays for all people, for kings and queens, and for all those who hold power. The very act of praying for all these people shows we place above them the God who is the true treasure - a treasure that never be destroyed and that will never exhaust itself. In prayer, we understand that God will judge the arrogance of the rich, whose abuse cries out to the God of Justice (First Reading). In prayer, it is easier to understand that manís riches consist in the richness of his faith. It is indeed in the oven of prayer that we bake the daily bread of faith and of fraternal solidarity. The praying person who raises his pure hands to Heaven, devoid of all anger or rivalry, discovers the richness of salvation and grace, which are given to us by Jesus Christ the Mediator, and he will be able to more easily give a proportioned importance to any other riches of this world. He is enlightened so that he may understand that all earthly goods come from God, that man is only their administrator, and that he must administer them well. Could the prayerful man ever swindle God, the Giver of all riches; could he be arrogant with those who lack goods and riches? In the school of prayer we come to realize that earthly riches and goods are only a means to better serve others; a means that will allow us to be welcomed in the eternal dwelling once we leave the administration of this world and present ourselves before Godís judgment.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

The seductive power of the god of money. In a largely consumerist and materialistic society such as our own, the god of money can hypnotize even the best of Christians. If we get to the very heart of things, isnít the worship of the god of money the main cause for the production of drugs? Isnít our insatiable desire for money the greatest driving force behind the production and sale of armaments to governments that should be using such funds to create infrastructures for the social and cultural development of their countries? Isnít the god of money the most powerful incentive fueling the ethnic wars in several African countries? How do we explain the corruption of many leaders if not on the grounds that they have erected an altar to this god? Money seduces, blinds, and creates fraternal divisions. It awakens the instinct of ambition, it makes even the most inviolable and noble principles succumb, it hardens the heart, dehumanizes and even makes one forget God. As believers, we must keep our eyes open to this reality and temptation, which is difficult to overcome. With a watchful spirit and assiduous prayer, we must practice to give the proper importance to money, to put it in the place that it was meant to occupy in Godís plans, to use it as a means to live in dignity, to do good unto the needy, to put it at the service of faith and of the Kingdom of Christ. Let us not be afraid of its seductive power. Let us face up to it. Let us live our daily life in the effort to appreciate more and more the richness of faith, the Richness that is God. Why donít we counter the seduction of money by encountering the seduction of God? The living and personal God is the best antidote against all the idols that may come knocking on the door of our heart.

A Prayer for the rich. Faith is a treasure that God grants to all who ask for it. The Church is a community of believers, in which there is room for all. It is true that the Church makes a preferential option for the poor, and this is more than justified. However, the Church belongs to all and is for all. This is why I urge you to recite a prayer for the rich.

God the almighty and eternal Father,

look upon your children who are rich with the heart of a Father,

pour into them a filial attitude towards you,

and a fraternal heart towards all men,

especially those who are most in need

of help.

O God and Lord of the universe,

you who have destined the goods

of the world to benefit all,

grant to those that have abundant riches

the grace to make use of them with a free and open heart.

O Lord Jesus Christ, you who

were rich and made yourself poor,

so that we could be enriched by

your poverty,

may you be a model of freedom

and of option for the goods that do not

perish to all the rich of this world.

O Sanctifying Spirit, enlighten the captains of finance

with the light of unfailing faith,

of tireless charity

and the hope that does not disappoint,

so that their decisions in favor

of individuals and peoples may be guided by justice and solidarity. Amen.

 

 

 

Twenty-Sixth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME 30th September 2001

First: Am 6:1,4-7; Second: 1 Tm 6:11-16; Gospel: Lk 16:19-31

THEME of the READINGS

Time and eternity are two extremes that can help us to organize the texts of this Sundayís liturgy. This is evident in the Gospel text, which casts the rich man and Lazarus, first in this world and then in eternity. This theme is implicitly found also in the first reading, in which the rich Samaritans live amid orgies and luxury, forgetting Godís judgment which awaits them in the future. The living faith in Christ offers a sure guarantee which will enable us to live with dignity in time and win eternal life with God (Second Reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

To strive for eternity in time. For those who believe in eternity, time is a treasure, because in time we determine our situation in the world to come. The parable of the rich man and the poor man, Lazarus, is not emphasizing the difference between the rich and the poor. Rather, it highlights the manner in which God will judge our attitude towards riches and poverty. The rich man who in this world dedicated his time to feasting and having a good time, while not showing any concern for the poor, will experience a sad change in his future life. This is what happened to the rich man of the Gospel. The poor man who in this life accepts his condition with serenity, without complaints or hatred, will be rewarded in eternity with true Richness, God himself. This is what happened to the poor man, Lazarus. The former, unfortunately for him, lives as if eternity did not exist, whereas the latter is a poor man of Yahweh, who places his trust in God. The rich man is not condemned for being rich, but for being unmerciful, for not having pity for the man who lies at his gate. Lazarus is not rewarded for his poverty, but for his patience and forgiveness, like Job. The rich man puts his riches at the service of his sensuality and intemperance, while Lazarus places his poverty at the service of hope. In the parable, Jesus Christ teaches us that in eternity Ė and perhaps even in the time of oneís earthly life Ė God will justly reward each person according to his deeds. This teaching should also enlighten our present life, so that we too may speak about living the present in light of eternity. In other words, the thought of a future life should spur us to be just and express solidarity in our present life. The opposite happens to the vulgar rich men of Samaria who, unconcerned with the future and oblivious to the fate of their country, live "lying on ivory beds and sprawling on their divans, they dine on lambs from the flock, and stall-fattened veal; they drink wine by the bowlfull, and lard themselves with the finest oils" (First Reading).

Faith Ė time Ė eternity. Paul urges Timothy, a man of God, a believer and a true Christian, to "avoid all that." Avoid all what? Avarice, greed, the hunger for money. He must avoid them because "we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it" (Cf 1 Tm 6:7). He then urges Timothy to "fight the fight of faith" in this life, so as to win eternal life where Jesus Christ rules, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Faith is like the home in which the Christian already lives eternity in time and time in eternity. Because he lives eternity in time, he "must aim to be upright and religious, filled with faith and love, perseverance and gentleness" (Second Reading). Because he lives time in eternity, he truly seeks to honor and give glory to God. Amos, in turn, teaches us that there is such a thing as a wrong faith, a false confidence in worship and religion, the symbols of which are Mount Garizin and Mount Sion, as if worship on its own were enough to attain salvation. Religious faith alone will never automatically lead to salvation, when it is used to cover up all despicable forms of injustice and disorder in oneís life. In essence, eternity is assured only to those who live a life of faith, which acts by means of charity.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Riches, the object of service. In the catechism we read, "The goods of creation are destined to all of the human genre." This statement is absolute, and is not subjected to changes in historical eras or mentality, to technical progress, or economic globalization. On the other hand, throughout history there have always been differences in the amounts of goods and resources available to different people; there have always been and there will always be rich and poor people. Finally, these differences are often due to great forms of injustice that have plagued all the corners of our planet. In the face of these three factors, as Christians we have a great mission to carry our among our brothers and sisters. The first task, undoubtedly, is to give the proper importance to wealth. It is not a god, which we must worship at the expense of the poor and needy. It is a good, but it is not the only or the greatest good. It is a good that is in our hands, given to each one of us by God, but not entirely ours. In other words, we cannot do whatever we want with it, because its destiny is universal. This leads us to the second task: "richness has been given to us so that we may serve and not prevail over others," this means that those who lack riches are less obliged than those who posses them. Manís tendency to prevail over others is ancestral and extremely powerful. It is for this reason that wealth, among many other things, may be dangerous, because it is like a Siren that has the allure of dominion and power. As Christians, we should be the first to live the poverty preached in the Gospel. We shall be an example for all and proclaim the truth that money either serves man or it serves no purpose at all, at least in the eyes of faith, in the eyes of God.

Greed, a sin against eternity. The greedy person only has eyes for the present, which he imagines to be never-ending. He would like to put eternity in time, but he realizes that it is impossible. And so, he reacts by ignoring it, holding on even more tightly to the hollow rock of the present. It may be said that without a doubt greediness is a passion that is harbored in every human heart. Hoarding riches, desiring more, the hunger for goods and means, and living in greater comfort are desires not unknown to mortal men, whether Christian or non-Christian, believers or atheists, priests, religious or lay. Not that this is a sin in itself, but when this tendency becomes an absorbing passion and oneís life is devoted to hoarding, owning and living comfortably, then one has become enslaved by the sin of greed. Indeed, by taking on a greedy attitude, man sins against poverty because instead of placing his heart in God, his supreme Good, man has subjected it to the insatiable and ephemeral god of money. He sins against poverty because he does not use his riches to serve others but to satisfy his passions. He sins against the plan of God, Who gave all the goods in this world a universal destiny. God has left it up to the men of each era and generation to achieve such a destiny. Shouldnít many of us Christians truly convert to evangelical poverty? Shouldnít we free ourselves of many bonds and monetary chains, which take away from us the freedom to live the authenticity of the Gospel? Will I be able to convince myself that the poverty of the heart is the heart of poverty, and that it is the crystalline spring of peace and fraternity? Poor in heart and in life, like Mother Theresa of Calcutta, so as to be a blessing of God for people!

 

Twenty-seventh Sunday of ORDINARY TIME 7th October 2001

First: Hab 1:2-3; 2:2-4; Second: 2 Tm 1:6-8,13-14; Gospel: Lk 17:5-

THEME of the READINGS

It seems evident that the prevailing theme this Sunday is faith, since it is mentioned in all three readings. At the end of the first reading we read, "But the upright will live through faithfulness," a sentence that will be taken up by Paul and will repeated throughout the Church Fathers. In the Gospel, Jesus focuses on the power of faith, even of faith as small as a mustard seed. Finally, Paul urges Timothy to bear witness to his faith in Christ Jesus and accept with faith and love the message conveyed by him (Second Reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Living faith in oneís personal situation. A believer, whatever the age or place in which he lives, cannot but practice his faith in his daily life. Faith and life support one another or together they collapse. Habakkuk is a man of faith, who sees around him violence, oppression, plundering and discord (Jerusalem was besieged by the Chaldeans in 597 BC). How does this man of faith react to this odious situation, fraught with such pain? He reacts by posing two great questions, which bear the two-fold and contrasting charge of his trust in God and his indignation before the siege and such evil. "How long, Yahweh?" "Why?" Isnít God the King of kings and the Lord of lords? Why such wretchedness, so much injustice, so much destruction? Why doesnít God intervene, and now? These are questions that arise in a given context, but that apply to all people and all times. Throughout history these questions have arisen in the soul of every man on the face of the earth. God does not leave Habakkukís trusting complaints unattended. First of all, he urges him to have full confidence in the fact that God will answer his questions, although he does not do so with the immediacy that the prophet would hope for, "for the vision is for its appointed time." Then he urges Habakkuk to be patient and hopeful, for the answer "will certainly come before too long." Finally, God ensures the prophet that anyone whose heart is not upright will succumb, but the upright will live through faith-faithfulness. The situation of the disciples who say to Jesus "increase our faith," as is that of Timothy, who is responsible for the community of Ephesus, and who is to be the first to accept the faith that Paul has taught him and bear witness to it, even with martyrdom, if necessary. The disciples who live with Jesus have seen Jesusí great faith, which makes his word and his works effective (healing, miracles). Their faith is insignificant and small compared to Jesusí enormous faith. This is why they ask Jesus to increase it. The persecution suffered by Timothy and his community challenges his faith and his faithfulness to the Gospel. Hence the words with which Paul encourages him. The historical dimension of faith must be taken into account at the present time, as has already occurred in the past. How can we live the faith of all times today, in our environment, in the contemporary world?

Qualities of faith. In the texts of todayís liturgy we can discover some of the qualities that a faith lived in oneís personal situation must have. 1) A faith based on a deep humility. In the Gospel, after Jesus Christ emphasizes the power of faith, he stresses that this effectiveness derives from the believing conviction of oneís smallness, "We are useless servants: we have done no more than our duty." What is it that we must do? Serve God and do his will. 2) A hopeful faith. Trials, suffering and misfortune cannot diminish in the least our expectation of and hope in Godís intervention. We must not have any doubts, for the action of God will come. When? How? We must let God answer in full freedom, with the certainty that everything he does he does with justice and for the good of those whom he loves. 3) A witnessed faith. Faith is a gift that God grants us, and it is a task that God assigns to us. As a task, we must perform it day after day, in our specific circumstances, which can sometimes be hard and difficult. A humble, hopeful and patient faith is something that we also need as contemporary Christians, living in a world that often challenges our faith and is even hostile to it.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

How long? Why? These questions lie in ambush whenever man finds himself in times of danger or misfortune, either personally or collectively, especially when danger looms over innocent people. Even more if such people are our friends or loved ones. Why this traffic accident which claimed the lives of two friends who were not at fault? Why this horrible cancer which is inexorably eroding the vitality of a wife or husband? What have I done to deserve a daughter who has fallen prey to drug abuse? How long will I have to endure all the physical and moral pain inflicted upon me by this disabled child? How long will I have to patiently tolerate my husbandís ill nature and treatment? Why all this pain that I just cannot cope with? These are questions that for many remain unanswered. It is thus that wrong and sad decisions are made. "Itís better to die than to suffer like this." Such decisions lead to suicide or euthanasia. "Iíd rather get a divorce than continue to be treated so unfairly," and so you divorce instead of looking for a more Christian solution, even though it might be more demanding in the short-term. "This Faith doesnít suit me." So you rebel against God and abandon your faith and your Christian practice, because God does not suit your needs or does not let himself be manipulated by your will. However, there are also many Christians and non-Christians who hear an answer in their conscience. Look to the answer of humanism, which in the resigned acceptance of pain and misfortune sees a rugged path, sometimes heroic but always noble, towards humanization and moral elevation. The Christian answer elevates pain, trial and anguish to the higher rank of redemption, for all this constitutes oneís cross, which mysteriously unites with Christís cross of salvation. What is your personal answer to such questions, which sooner or later we all ask ourselves?

Faith continues to work miracles. There are "small miracles" which are ignored and are known only by God, which happen in the daily life of many Christians, of your neighbors, of the faithful in your parish. The miracle of sincere and frank forgiveness. The miracle of constant, altruistic, disinterested service, solely motivated by Christian love. The miracle of consecrating to God the beauty so greatly admired by many, a hefty bank account, the freedom to do exclusively what God wills. The miracle of faithfulness to the word given when receiving the sacrament of marriage or of priestly ordination. The miracle of conversion before the testimony of a friend or an intense experience in a church or in a sanctuary. Today there are also "great miracles." The miracles that God continues to work through the intercession of his saints, today as in the past, and that are required in order for a Christian to be beatified or canonized. There are also "great miracles" which God works through the mediation of living and holy people, who are not publicly known, because holiness is always discreet and God usually prefers these special graces to remain within the circle of intimate friends. Small and great miracles are still signs with which God shakes our conscience, challenges us and wishes to continue to offer us his salvation.

 

Twenty-Eighth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME 14th October 2001

First 2 Kings 5:14-17; Second: 2 Tm 2:8-13; Gospel: Lk 17:11-19

THEME of the READINGS

Obedience to faith helps us find a red thread across this Sundayís liturgical texts. The ten lepers trust Jesusí word and set out to show themselves to the priests, after which they will find themselves cured of their skin disease. Naaman the Syrian obeys Elishaís words, upon his servantsí request. He immerses himself seven times in the Jordan and is cured (First Reading). It is as a result of his obedience to faith that Paul ends up in chains and suffers great pain (Second Reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The power of obedience. The two miracles narrated today emphasize the power of obedience. There are no healing gestures on the part of either Elisha or Jesus. No mention is made of any therapeutic formulas addressed to the sick, as occurs in other accounts of miracles. There is only a command. That of Elisha to Naaman sounds like this, "Go and bathe seven times in the Jordan." Jesus says to the lepers, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." Neither Naaman nor the ten lepers have been cured yet, nor do they know whether or not they will be; but, they trust and obey. The power of their trust and obedience make the miracle happen. Obedience already implies, at least, a minimum degree of faith in the person whom one obeys, a faith that is not devoid of stumbling blocks and hardships. This is evident in Naamanís story. He had another conception and other expectations of the miracle, and especially of the way in which it would happen, "Here was I, thinking he would be sure to come out to me, and stand there, and call on the name of Yahweh his God, and wave his hand over the spot and cure the part that was diseased." Nothing of the sort happened. He did not even see Elisha, for the prophetís message was delivered by an intermediary. Naaman was furious and began to return to his home, having lost all hopes of being cured. On the way, persuaded by his servants, he obeyed; he bathed in the Jordan "and his flesh became clean once more like the flesh of a little child." In the end, Naaman realized that it is not the waters of the Jordan that cure leprosy but the Spirit of God, who uses the Jordan and other means as well, to do good and save man. Following Jesusí command, the ten lepers set out on a journey towards the temple of Jerusalem. They had to walk quite a few kilometers. They were still lepers andÖ how could they go to Jerusalem in such conditions and show themselves to the priests? Wouldnít it be better to wait until they were sure that they had been truly cured? They overcame such difficulties, and on their journey felt that their skin was being renewed and that it had been cleansed. The obedience of faith has the power of a miracle. Isnít it his obedience to faith that causes Paul to be imprisoned by the Gospel? Isnít it his obedience to faith that makes Paul endure any pain in order for salvation to reach all men?

Integral healing. Naaman was cured of his disease, but he continued to suffer from spiritual blindness. As a well-educated man, he returned to Elishaís house and as a sign of thanksgiving, offered him rich gifts. Now, before the man of God, his eyes are opened to the true God, to the point that he says, "Since your answer is no, allow your servant to be given as much earth as two mules may carry, since your servant will no longer make burnt offerings or sacrifices to any god except Yahweh." Something similar happens to one of the lepers when he finds himself cured. Nine of them continue their journey towards Jerusalem, they show themselves to the priest, but, delirious with joy, they return to their homes forgetting to thank Jesus. In so doing, they do not allow Jesus to grant them the salvation that he has come to bring to all men. The last, a Samaritan, in finding himself cured, heeds the inner impulse to return to Jesus and thank him. He throws himself prostrate at the feet of Jesus in grateful adoration. And Jesus not only relieves him of the leprosy, but also of sin, of all that prevented him from obtaining salvation. "Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you." Paulís encounter with Jesus on his way to Damascus opens his eyes to faith in Christ, freeing him of his strictly Pharisaic mentality, of his hatred for Christians, even of his very human weaknesses, to the point of enduring serenely the chains of prison and of being firm in his following and proclamation of the Gospel message. Jesus Christ is the true doctor of bodies and souls.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Reasons for obeying. All men, from their birth to their grave, spend most of their life obeying. As men and as Christians it would be beneficial to us to have good reasons for obeying.

Obedience pleases God. God is not a stranger, he is our Father. How can we not but please him by doing what he desires?

Jesus, our model, is our supreme example of obedience. He obeyed God in the long years which he spent in Nazareth, subjecting himself to the will of his parents. He obeyed God during his public life, being nourished daily by the will of his Father. He obeyed God in his death, even death on a cross.

The Holy Spirit accompanies and strengthens us inwardly, so that in obeying him we do not feel lonely or weak.

Maryís "fiat" challenges us in our solicitous, simple and constant obedience to the vocation and mission that God has entrusted to us. Maryís generous "fiat," which we recall three times a day, is a thorn in Christian conscience.

Manís social nature and the communitarian nature of faith speak for themselves about the need for organization, authority, and consequently, the need for obedience.

When one obeys with faith and love, obedience instills great peace in his heart. Pope John XXIIIís episcopal slogan, "Oboedientia et pax" emphasize this.

A believing and loving obedience contributes greatly to the maturation of the Christian personality, which has as its plan, above all else, the will of God. "Your will, O Lord, above all things."

The experience and prudence of parents and educators, like the grace that has been given to those that hold some type of authority within the Church.

The effectiveness that obedience provides to a civil or ecclesial institution in the attainment of its own goals. Union and obedience generate strength.

Dissent and obedience. Individualism, such a pronounced tendency today, is a broad avenue that easily leads to dissent within the family, society and the ecclesial community. Disagreeing on questionable issues, of little consequence, is not a serious matter. But a habitual dissent over fundamental aspects of life and faith Ė and considering such a dissent as an inalienable human right Ė is a daring attitude bordering on a certain intellectual intemperance or on a clear passive ignorance. It is true that on some occasions there may be a legitimate dissent, if it arises after a mature reflection, with a sincere longing to seek the truth, and if it is manifested discreetly and according to the established criteria. Sometimes, however, it seems that some people are out there waiting for the bishop or the pope to make a statement so that they can automatically disagree with it. The Church is not an agglomeration of individuals, nor is reason the only yardstick of the Churchís life. Why not rise above it all, and obey in the face of temptation (for example, to dissent) by means of a sound faith and a simple and ecclesial obedience? The Kingdom of Christ will gain credibility in the concert of men! And most especially, we will become better Christians!

 

 

Twenty-Ninth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME 21st October 2001

First Ex 17:8-13a; Second: 2 Tm 3:14- 4:2; Gospel: Lk 18:1-8

THEME of the READINGS

Everything is a gift for those who live by faith. We are not entitled to it, but must humbly ask for it in our prayer. Thus the widow in the parable does not grow tired of begging the judge for justice, until she receives an answer (Gospel). Moses, in turn, accompanied by Aaron and Hur, do not cease to raise their hands and heart to Yahweh so that they Israelites may have an advantage over the Amalekites (First Reading). Through the study of and meditation on the scripture, "This is how someone who is dedicated to God becomes fully equipped and ready for any good work" (Second Reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

To pray in order to receive. In the spiritual life everything is a gift; nothing may be received without a humble and constant prayer to God. With such prayer, we open the door to Godís heart in an invisible yet real and effective way. "Without me you can do nothing." "Anything is possible for he who believes," for he who prays with faith. God is so good that even without praying we receive many things from him. What is absolutely certain is that if we ask God for the things that Jesus teaches us to ask him for, and in the way which he teaches us to do so, God will grant them to us. The widow in the parable suffers from the injustice of men. Only the judge can do her justice, which is why she pursues him day after day until she obtains it. If we translate the parable into real terms, God will certainly judge human injustice. If we elevate our supplication to God, he will listen to us and will answer our petition. If Moses, Aaron, and Hur had not begged God for the Israelites to have an advantage over the Amalekites, would they have achieved what they wanted? Their prayer, more than the sword, was what made their victory possible. The prayerful Christian has been equipped by God, as Timothy was, to perform his tasks appropriately: knowledge of the scriptures, faithfulness to the inherited tradition, the proclamation of the Gospel. This Sundayís liturgical texts give an extraordinary value to prayer, as a constitutive element of orthopraxis and as a foundation of spiritual progress and of all victories in the daily battles of faith. One must pray to receive, but also to give according to the gift one has received. Godís gift will be accompanied by the action of man, which will in turn be based on the gift itself. Victory belongs to God, but man must apply the means in order for Godís action to be effective. Without Joshuaís sword, there would have been no victory, but the sword alone, without Godís intervention would have led to defeat. Without Timothyís effort to be primarily a good Jew and then a good disciple of Paulís, God would not have been able to prepare him to carry out his mission as leader of the Ephesus community. As in Jesus the human and the divine merge inseparably but without becoming confused, so in the spiritual life of the Christian the divine and the human converge, maintaining their identity, to yield a single result. Eliminating one of the two terms would inflict a deadly mutilation upon man, unless God intervenes extraordinarily.

Characteristics of the praying person. 1) The prevailing feature in the texts is perseverance in prayer. Without such perseverance the widow would not have obtained justice, nor would the people of Israel have defeated the Amalekites. A perseverance that according to our human way of thinking may even seem inopportune, but that pleases and moves God. A perseverance that may be demanding, even harsh, and require a great effort, as in the case of Moses, but that God blesses. 2) The praying person begs the Lord because he is very much aware of his need and of his powerlessness to meet that need on his own. Only God can bridge the gap between the pusillanimity of the praying person and the need that compels him. The people of Israel felt the urgent need to defeat the Amalekites, without which they would not be able to reach the promised land. However, at the same time they realized their smallness before the magnitude of such an enterprise. They turned to Yahweh to obtain from him the victory that they longed for. 3) The praying person must have a deep belief. If one does not have faith in the One we are asking, what is prayer for? Wouldnít that turn prayer into a pantomime? One either prays with faith, or forgets about prayer once and for all. The decrease or increase in prayer is proportional to the decrease or increase in oneís faith life.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Prayer and action, reflection and struggle. Saint Benedict used to teach his monks, "Ora et labora." "Do not pray without working or work without praying." From then on, it has been clear that we are not talking about prayer and action as two separate paths. In the Church we pray, but actively, placing in our prayer our tasks and concerns of the day. At the office, in the field, in the factory, at home we work, but making God part of our work, because God is among the pots and pans, as Saint Theresa of Avila rightly said. Therefore, man does not compartmentalize his daily life or his Sunday in hours of work, on the one hand, and moments of prayer on the other. To put it in a better way, when he prays he is working but in a different way, and when he works, he is praying but according to a different approach. The Christian thus experiences and preserves great inner harmony, leaving aside all forms of unnatural division, rejecting with determination any form of rupture and disharmony. Indeed, today there is the risk of falling prey to the heresy of action, because there are many tasks and few men and little time to carry them out. Arenít there parish priests who perhaps are tempted by this subtle heresy, by this siren which flatters their ears with the music of febrile action that leaves no space or time for God? Today, albeit less frequently, Christians may be tempted by the heresy of quietism, letting God do everything by immersing themselves in a pseudo-mystical, passive and unfruitful piety. Neither one nor the other are attitudes proper of a true Christian. Let us make an effort to keep the scale balanced between reflection and struggle, between action and prayer.

Different ways of praying. The Church teaches us that there are different ways of praying. 1) Vocal prayer. In order for prayer to be authentic, it must spring from the heart but be expressed by our mouth. This is why the most beautiful Christian prayer is a vocal prayer, taught by Jesus himself: the Lordís Prayer. The Gospels, on different occasions, narrate that Jesus prayed, and some of these accounts provide us with Jesusí vocal prayers, for example during his agony in the Gethsemane. Vocal prayer is like a need of our human nature. We are body and spirit, and we experience the need to translate into words our most intimate feelings. Vocal prayer is the prayer of the multitudes par excellence, for it is external and human at once. In the Church there are some very beautiful vocal prayers, which children learn in catechesis and that nourish our faith life throughout our entire life. In addition to the Lordís Prayer, we have the Glory to the Father, the Creed, the Hail Mary. They are prayers that nourish the piety of Christians from the beginning of life until its natural end. 2) Mental prayer or meditation. He who meditates seeks to understand the why and how of Christian life in order to conform to Godís will. This is why one meditates on the Sacred Scriptures, on holy images, on the texts of the liturgy, on the writings of the spiritual fathers, etc. Christian prayer especially lends itself to meditation on "the mysteries of Christ" in order to know them better, and especially in order to be united with him. When this union with Jesus Christ is achieved, prayer then becomes contemplative and the entire being of the praying person feels transformed by the spiritual and profound experience of the living God.

 

 

Thirtieth Sunday of ORDINARY TIME 28th October 2001

First: Sir 35:12-14,16-18; Second: 2 Tm 4:6-8,16-18; Gospel: Lk 18:9-14

THEME of the READINGS

The terms "justice and prayer" sum up todayís readings effectively. In the parable of the Gospel, both the Pharisee and the tax collector pray in the temple, but God does justice and only the latter is justified. In the first reading, the author applies divine justice to prayer and teaches that God, the judge who is utterly impartial and listens to the plea of the oppressed. Finally, Saint Paul confides in Timothy, manifesting to him his most intimate feelings and desires, "All there is to come for me now is the crown of uprightness which the Lord, the upright judge, will give to me on that Day" (Second Reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Attitudes of the praying person before God. Prayer, which is a relationship between two people who love one another, involves both the praying party and the person to whom the quivering plea is addressed. Let us focus our attention on the person who is praying to God. What are the attitudes of the praying person that we find depicted in todayís liturgy? 1) The Pharisee thanks God for not being like everyone else. He who prays this way cannot be but a sectarian, a person for whom all others are outsiders, except for those who are part of his group. He is someone for whom all those who are not like him are bad, worthy of reproach and condemnation. Those who pray this way show that they are not dominated by the Spirit of God, but by a biased spirit. So much contempt in his reference to "everyone else," to "this tax collector here!" How can one thank God for something that goes against Godís very plan? The man who prays in this way, whomever he may be, cannot be heard by God. God does not take the side of anybody; to him, all men are his children. 2) The Pharisee thanks God for his "merits." First of all, he thanks God for what he is not and what everyone else is. As if he were to say, "All the others are thieves, but Iím not; all the others are unjust, but Iím not; all the others are adulterous, but Iím not." Under these three names, which have to do with the fifth, sixth and seventh commandments, we find summed up all the negative precepts that a Jew considered to be pious had to fulfill. The others could sin, they could fail to fulfill some of these precepts, but a Pharisee never. This is the glory of the Pharisee: a man who conforms to the law to the last detail! To thank God for oneís own glory, isnít that a contradiction? However, the Pharisee also complies with all the so-called "positive" precepts, whether they are taken from the Torah, or whether they come from the tradition of the sect of the Pharisees. Thus fasting is part of the precepts set forth in the Torah, but fasting twice a week (Monday and Thursday), is a rule observed by the Pharisees. Equally, paying the tithe is a requirement of the Law, but paying it on everything that is purchased at the market is an additional norm introduced by the sect of the Pharisees. In his conscience, the praying Pharisee does not have any sins, only "merits." He does not thank God for any benefits that he has received from him, but only for the merits that he has won. But, what kind of prayer is this? 3) The other man recognizes oneself as a sinner. This is the attitude of the tax collector, and it should be the attitude of the Pharisee and of everyone. There is a moving detail in the Greek text, which has gone unnoticed in many translations, "Have mercy on me, the sinner." On the one hand, he accepts that "tax collector" is synonymous with "sinner," in accordance with the belief of the Jews of Jesusí time. On the other hand, he seems to recognize that as a tax collector, he is the sinner par excellence. With this degree of humility and repentance, he makes sure that God will listen to his prayer.

God, the judge of the prayerful. There is something else that strikes us in todayís liturgy. In telling us about Godís attitude towards the prayerful, his attitude as judge is stressed. This does not mean to say that God is primarily a father, but a father who does justice. He does justice to those who pray with the proper attitude, like the tax collector. And he does justice to those who pray with an improper attitude, as the Pharisee who leaves the temple without Godís forgiveness because apparently he did not need it. God is a judge who never shows partiality, and this is why he listens with special attention to the man who prays to him amidst difficulties. His prayer "will carry to the clouds" (First Reading), in other words, it will be raised to the place where God himself lives. God judges the man who prays according to his criteria as redeemer, and not according to the personal criteria of the man praying or of the other man. In his answer to the man who prays, God does not act out of a whim, but to establish "equity" and justice. This is why the crown that Paul is expecting is not a result of personal merit, but the justice of God towards him and towards all those who imitate him in serving the Gospel (Second Reading).

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Give Glory to God, and God alone. This Sunday is a good opportunity to examine our attitudes when praying. It may happen that, without realizing it, we may be praying as the Pharisee of todayís Gospel does. Perhaps I pray because my wife or girl-friend takes me with her to Church, but rather than sincerely praying, I mull over my worries or day-dream about the future. Or, perhaps I speak with God, not so much because I feel the need to be with him, but because I want to vent out my frustrations. Maybe I even do spiritual exercises or go on a retreat, or I engage in "religious tourism" (which seems to be the current fad nowadays), not so much to pray, but to attain a certain inner harmony, and rid my soul of all the stress I have. Do I go to Church just to meet my friends, rather than to encounter God? Or do I go just to preserve my reputation as an upright Catholic? Let us recall that to pray is to relate to God. And one can relate to God only if one is humble. If in my humility I bless God, I thank him for his forgiveness and mercy, I beg him for my spiritual and material needs and those of all men, then God will listen to my plea. Our prayer will be pleasing to God, if we seek his glory and his glory alone. "His be the honor and glory for forever and ever."

Prayer from the heart. The entire person is involved in prayer: his body and his spirit, his intelligence and his will, his gestures and postures as well as his inner attitudes. However, one prays above all with oneís heart. The lips of the praying man should utter the words that arise in his heart. His physical posture should reflect the inner situation of his soul, which finds itself in the presence of God. In order for thoughts, affections, inner inclinations and decisions to be those of a true praying man or woman, they must spring as clear water from the human spirit, in which the Holy Spirit dwells, he who is authentic teacher of prayer. With the heart one does not only express human affections and emotions, but all of oneís inner world, the untouchable tabernacle in which one finds oneself. Here one exposes oneself to Godís truth, and humbly declares to God his poverty, his sin, his repentance, and his love. We must nurture prayer from the heart in our vocal prayers, to make sure that they do not become routine simply on account of their repetition. We must nurture prayer from the heart when we meditate, so that our meditation does not become mere speculation, even as elevated as it may be; or simply an interesting and beautiful reflection on life or on the world, without it touching "my life" and "my world"; or a monologue in which Ispeak to and answer myself, without making the effort to create the silence one needs to listen attentively to the voice of God.

 

 

ALL SAINTSí Day 1st November 2001

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

THEME of the READINGS

What else could the liturgy of this feast be centered on if not holiness? The Gospel admirably summarizes the ways of Christian holiness by means of the Beatitudes. In the first reading, taken from Revelation, our attention is focused on the infinite number of those who have been called to be holy, and to share in the gift of holiness here and throughout eternity. Finally, in the first letter of Saint John, the Christian assembly is introduced to the mysterious relationship existing between the love that God has for us, which is the love of a Father, and the holiness that he grants us as children through his Son.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

BeatitudesÖ and holiness. The eight types of people who are called blessed are the saints. Instead of saying, "How blessed are the poor in spirit, the gentle, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for uprightness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness," it would have been sufficient to say, "How blessed are the saints." Each category of persons mentioned here is, so to speak, the expression of, and a way to holiness. The poor in spirit are saints, for God is their true richness. The gentle are holy, for gentleness or humility is the attitude proper to men before their Creator and Lord. Holy are also those who mourn, for they cry tears of repentance for their sins and for those of men, their brothers. Who more than the saints hunger and thirst for uprightness, that is, for God to justify and save all humankind? The saints are the most merciful in the world, for they exercise mercy towards the most wretched people on earth, namely sinners. The pure in heart are saints, for their heart and eyes have been washed with the blood of the Lamb, in order for them to see with divine clarity the things of heaven and of earth. The saints are those who work more than anyone for peace, that is, they work to establish in the human society the conditions that will foster concord among people, but above all foster their human and spiritual development. Those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness, what other name could they be called if not saints, martyrs whose life has been sanctified in the loneliness of prison or in the darkness of a gas chamber? Through the Gospel God has provided to men many paths from which to reach him, but the final destination is the same: holiness. One holiness alone, or better yet, ONE SAINT ALONE, JESUS CHRIST, and many ways of pronouncing and confessing his name with oneís life. "How blessed are the saints, because the kingdom of Heaven is theirs, the spiritual fruitfulness on earth is theirs." We can say about the saint that he is the one who lives on earth but with his eyes set on Heaven, and when he reaches Heaven he will continue to be very present on earth.

LoveÖ and holiness. Holiness is the fruit of an encounter of love between God and the creature. "God is love," as we read in the second reading. As God is the beginning of all creation, his love cannot but be fruitful, because it is the love of the Father; and, since God is Father, the greatest wonder that could have happened to man was to become a child of God. Manís greatness will be his ability to live as such, following in the footsteps of the incarnated Son. The love of God grants man the ability and spiritual power to be holy. Manís love for God puts into practice the ability received and the power to achieve holiness. Jesus Christ is the unique case because only he is the Son of God in the strict sense; the others are children through the Son, for the Father sees in man his Sonís reflection. He is the standard bearer because holy men do nothing but look to Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and Life, and follow in his footsteps. When Jesus Christ came into this world, we gave him our eyes so that with them he could see the Father, though in an opaque and imperfect way. When we cross the threshold into eternity, Jesus Christ will give us his eyes, so that we no longer see the Father in shadows, but "as he really is." (Second reading.) In the love-holiness relationship, mention must be made of the infinite number of those who have been called, which the first reading taken from Revelation refers to. The number called is not twelve, as the tribes of Israel, but twelve by twelve, thus adding the tribes of Israel to the Twelve apostles of Jesus Christ: the Jews and the Christians. However, not just 144, but 144 multiplied by one thousand, that is, all humankind. Yes, God wants humankind in its entirety to be sanctified by love and grace, and thus have access to the eternal destiny of happiness in Heaven. 144,000 is not a limiting number, but the symbol of the human universe.

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

The doxology of a holy life. "Praise, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power and might, be to our Lord forever and ever," is the doxology that echoes unceasingly on the lips of the saints in heaven. This is a doxology which we must assert here on earth, especially us Christians, by means of a holy life. A doxology with which we manifest our happiness and our gratitude to God. We are happy in the midst of suffering, and we praise God. We are happy, even though things arenít going so well for us humanly speaking, for in this we perceive divine wisdom. We are happy, living in poverty and powerless, and we thank God for showing us his providence. We are happy, though illness may have stricken us and turned us into useless beings, so that God may be glorified in our ailing flesh and make more evident the power of his resurrection. We are happy, because we are at peace with God and with our conscience, because we believe in the victory of grace over sin, because we seek only the will and the glory of God. The so-called happiness that the world sells wholesale, but that merely lasts a day, and that is given ephemeral names like entertainment, pastime, pleasure, delight, revelry, contentment and others besides, is only particles, only atoms of true happiness. We reserve the term happiness for something greater: the possession and love of God, which started here on earth and will reach its climax in heaven. Such a doxology of a holy life may be sung anywhere here on earth: in church or at home, in the office or at the gym, in the mountains or at the beach. All we have to do is to keep Saint Augustineís advice in mind, "Cantate ore, cantate corde; cantate semper, cantate bene," "Sing with your lips, sing with your heart; sing always, sing well."

Communion with the saints in Heaven. With the feast of All Saintsí Day, the Church celebrates all the deceased who already enjoy and will forever enjoy the love of God, the love for men and the love for each other. On the other hand, we are certain that if we live in a state of grace and friendship with God, we are already holy here on earth. There is thus a communion of saints. In other words, the saints in Heaven are united with us, they are concerned with us, they enlighten our lives with theirs, they intercede with God on our behalf. All will be able to say, like Theresa of Lisieux, "I will go to Heaven by doing good on earth." However, I especially wish to refer to the communion of the saints on earth with those in Heaven. They are our older brothers, who have preceded us in reaching the ultimate destination, and who long for the whole family to be reunited in eternity. They are the stars in our heavens that shed light upon us in the night, not with their own light but with that which they have received from the Triumphant Sun, who is Christ. They are homely models, so to speak, who in some way draw us close to a virtue or to an aspect of the fullness of perfection and holiness that is Jesus Christ. Shouldnít we perhaps renew and revitalize our communion with the saints in heaven? Today is the right time to do so.

 

ALL SOULSí Day 2nd November 2001

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

THEME of the READINGS

"Death and life" are the two words which may be used to summarize the liturgy which honors the faithfully departed. In the Gospel, Jesus offers himself as the bread of life and says that the Father wants all men to share eternal life. Isaiah places before our eyes the banquet of life, in which God will destroy death forever and will wipe away the tears from every cheek (First reading). And in his letter to the Romans, Saint Paul states that "So it is proof of Godís own love for us, that Christ died for us while we were still sinners." (Second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

 

Hunger for God, and the thirst for eternal life. Hunger and thirst accompany man in his pilgrimage on earth from the cradle to the grave. Let us not only consider hunger for bread or thirst for water. It must be recognized that from the time he is born, man is hungry for God and thirsty for eternal life. His spiritual nature and his vocation to live in the image of God agitate his entire being and make him constantly long for his Origin and his Destiny. In Jesus Christ, man satisfies his hunger for God, because he is the bread that has come down from Heaven with which God the Father feeds his children: Bread of the Word made Gospel, Bread of the Eucharist converted into the body and blood of God himself. The Holy Spirit quenches manís thirst for eternal life, because he is the living water that Christ gives us so that we shall no longer be thirsty. In this life, God satiates our hunger for himself and our thirst for eternal life, but in a limited way; however we are tempted to satisfy our hunger and thirst not in God but in creatures. Only after death will God be our only Bread and our only Water, our true nourishment and drink forever. The first reading exalts the banquet of life that God has prepared in Zion for all people, a feast which foreshadows the banquet in the heavenly Jerusalem, when Jesus Christ will vanquish all his enemies, and death itself, and will deliver the Kingdom to his Father. In this way, death is presented to us as the invitation to the banquet of life, hosted by God himself. Actually, it is not life that leads to death, but death that leads to life. We normally speak about "life and death," but todayís liturgy urges us to change the order of those terms and prefer "death and life", because it is life that is triumphant in the duel against death; the banquet to which God invites us is not a funereal banquet, but a banquet to celebrate life.

Death, the prologue to the book of life. In the years of his existence, man frets in his search. He is an eternal seeker. He seeks to be loved and to love; he seeks knowledge, science, power; he seeks fame; he seeks the truth and life; he seeks God. If he seeks with sincerity and perseverance, he will find what and who he is looking for. He will find God, and he will find life. There is no doubt that manís life is an eternal search. But what is death if not the moment at which our search ends and the final encounter with ourselves, with the truth, and with God begins? To have eternal life: isnít this the greatest and ultimate aspiration of all of manís quests, even when he undertakes painful and senseless paths, that lead him in the opposite direction from the one that leads to the true object of his search? Isnít eternal life also the ultimate and greatest gift that God wishes to personally give to each man? In the Gospel we read, "It is my Fatherís will that whoever sees the Son and believes in him will have eternal life, and I will raise that person up on the last day." Death, which condenses in itself our ephemeral existence, may thus well be considered only as a short prologue to the book of life.

The Light that comes to us from the Passover of Christ. The previous reflections should be seen within the context of the mystery of Christís death, whom the Father resurrected from the dead, and who allows us to share in his life. Let us imagine Christís death as the great ocean where we find all those who have died throughout history, and his resurrection as the new Paradise prepared by the risen Christ for all those who have been enlightened by his Light. The life which the liturgy speaks to us about is not only the immortality of the soul (hence the need for its spiritual nature), but rather its sharing in soul and body, in the life of the risen Christ. The light of the mystery of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who died and was raised from the dead for us, to wrench us away from death and make us participate in life, enlightens in a completely unique way our earthly life, the end of life with death, and the joyful beginning of an endless life in the company of God and all the saints.

 

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

 

A more Christian vision of death and life. A certain materialist and horizontal attitude has become dominant, especially in the last two centuries. We say that death is the end of life, but perhaps we are forgetting that it is really the dawn of a new life. When we speak about life we refer to earthly existence, perhaps because "the other life" is not part of our mental schemes, or because we are so well settled in this life that we would rather not think about its fleetingness and its final moment. Life is not only an earthly term; it also belongs to the language of the eternal. We may need to learn this language of the eternal and practice it, for when we cross the threshold to the other side there may be no-one who understands our language, and there certainly will not be any interpreters. A day like today is a valuable time for us to rejuvenate our concepts and our mentality, so that we may open our heart more widely to the realities that await us after death. "The life of those who believe in you, Lord, does not end, it is transformed; and as our earthly home falls apart, we acquire an eternal mansion in Heaven," we pray in the preface to the deceased. And Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus exclaimed, "I am not dying, I am entering life." This is a propitious time for the catechesis on the resurrection of the flesh and on eternal life starting with the pages that the catechism of the Church devotes to such themes (CCC 988-1060).

Praying for the faithfully deceased. In recommending the soul of the dying person to God, the Church speaks to the moribund with gentle assuredness, "Christian soul, in leaving this world, walk forth in the name of God the Father the Almighty, who created you in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, who died for you, in the name of the Holy Spirit, who came down upon you. Enter the place of peace and may your home be with God in Zion, the holy city, with the holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God, with saint Joseph and all the angels and saints." This is what we wish for the dying person, with all of our heart, and this is what we ask God when we pray for him, once he has died. We are bound to our deceased by the bonds of blood and faith, this is why we continue to love them and want what is good for them through our prayers. The Church, as the mother of all Christians, intercedes on behalf of the deceased each day in every holy mass, "Remember our brothers and sisters who have gone to their rest in the hope of rising again; bring them and all the departed into the light of your presence." (Eucharistic prayer, II). Let us pray for them with a fraternal heart, for they are our brothers and sisters in faith, who have preceded us in the way to eternity. Let us pray for them with sincerity and humility of heart, in order that our intercession on their behalf with God may be heard and in order for them to be able to "always be with the Lord."

 

 

Thirty-First Sunday of ORDINARY TIME 4th November 2001

First: Wis 11:22-12; Second: 2 Thess 1:11-2:2; Gospel: Lk 19:1-10

THEME of the READINGS

Godís love overflows every page of the Bible and of Christian liturgy; and in this Sundayís texts, it is highlighted in a special way. Firstly, they show Godís love for all creatures, because all find their raison díêtre in Godís love (First reading). Then in the Gospel, Godís love for all human beings without distinction, is pointed out, because they are all his children. Finally, in the second reading, Godís love for Christians is highlighted, "So that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you and you in him, by the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ."

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

The adventure of Godís love. At the very time in which God began his work of creation, he embarked upon the adventure of love; the wonderful adventure of being requited in his love. However, the adventure also entailed the risk of love, which is the possible rejection of his love, the incomprehension of love, and the painful face of love. "Yes, you love everything that exists, and nothing that you have made disgusts you, since, if you had hated something, you would not have made it," the Book of Wisdom tells us. However, doesnít it seem like the cataclysms and the natural catastrophes of our planet rebel against the sovereign government of love? "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham," Jesus says in the Gospel. However, the other houses inhabited by tax collectors, will they accept love? And what about the houses of other rich men, will they convert to Godís love, like Zacchaeus and his household? God has called us to the Christian vocation, in which he will be glorified in our lives; but are our lives really the glory of his love? Godís love, in its historical adventure, is in a way subjected to the great law of free will, which was created by God and is respected by him; and thus it will be until the end of time. In these last times, whose end is totally unknown to us, and that we would do well to place with confidence in the tabernacle of Godís heart, we should remember that he will always want the best for his children. Let us not anxiously scrutinize the mystery that is beyond our understanding. Let us be watchful but serene! Then, against this final backdrop of history, the adventure of Godís love will come to an end. Godís love will be enthroned in Heaven, and men and women will eternally worship the triple facet of love.

A love without boundaries. Thus is Godís love. His love is not confined by time, because he loves in time, before time and beyond time. It is not confined by space, because he created space and filled it with works that sprung exclusively from his love: Heaven, earth and everything that inhabits them (First reading). It is not confined by the time period, the social or economic status, or living conditions of human beings, for what matters most to God is for all human beings to be in his image and likeness. He loves everyone as his children. God does not love the blind man in Jericho just because he is poor (Lk 18:35-43), nor does he love Zacchaeus because he is rich, but because both are his children. The barriers that are often so crucial to human beings are of no importance to God. God does not love according to "merit," but with total freedom. Nor is God restricted in his love by the barrier of our sin. As human beings we are sinners, Zacchaeus is even a public sinner; but that does not matter. Sin is not a defeat on the part of love, so to speak, but an opportunity for Godís love to manifest itself with new splendor. Couldnít perhaps our concerns, our fears for the "imminence" of "the end of history," be an insurmountable barrier to Godís love? Deus semper maior. God is above all the limits that we human beings put to his love. God is also greater than, and above, death, the monster to whose domain not even Godís love seems to have access. God is a "lover of life" (First reading) or, in a perhaps more faithful translation, he is the "author of life." He is not afraid of death like us poor mortal beings; he goes beyond deathís barrier and destroys it, so that we, his children, may live forever. To God, the boundary of love is boundless love.

 

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Having the eyes to see love. Reality is viewed from a completely different perspective according to whether or not one has the eyes capable of seeing love. The eyes to love God in the greatness and splendor of the heavens! I can contemplate a star on a spring night with the scrutinizing eye of the scientist who is investigating its distance from the earth, or how old it is, or perhaps the material of which it is composed. Or, I can contemplate it with the simple eye of one who discovers in it the reflection of Godís beauty. How wonderful it is to be able to see Godís love in the power and beauty of nature! To see in spring the nature which has been revived after winter, as if it has come to life again! Through nature God reminds human beings of the law of permanent renewal and of the demands their vocation to the resurrection with the glorious Christ entails. He gives us eyes to admire his love as it is manifested in other human beings and in the magnificent works of their ingenuity! To consider the intelligence of human beings as the chance result of evolution is markedly different from seeing it as the most precious and sublime work of the love created by God. The way I will treat a human being will be very different according to whether I simply consider him as an intelligent two-legged creature, or if I go beyond bodily dimensions and see him as a son of God, born for a happy eternity in love. As fallen human beings, we tend to focus on what is evil, to criticize, to see the garbage in the world. This is fine, but we should look at all this with the eyes of love, with the same eyes with which God sees it. Above all, we must open our eyes wide to see the good, the truth, the beauty, and the holiness that exist in the world. In a word, having the eyes to see love is to have eyes that see God; in fact, it is to have the eyes of God himself.

The creativity of love. I donít think anyone will challenge the assertion that love is creative. We already know the creativity of Godís love: the Sacred Scriptures, the Church as institution of the redeeming love, the presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, or the perfection of the human brain, and the immensity of the cosmos and its galaxies, just to point out a few examples. However, I wish to dwell on the creativity of human and Christian love; the creativity that is ours and that we must practice day after day, to show that we are true Christians. Who is unaware of the "creative" power of a caress given to oneís husband, son, mother or girlfriend? Who has not observed at some point the creativity of a word, a gaze, a hug? Let us seek creativity each day, in the love we have for our family. It does not matter if they are small gestures of love, as long as they are new, unexpected, surprising! Let us seek creativity in love to serve others better, as employees in a factory, as parish priests, as nurses in a hospital, as social workers in a home for the elderly, as teachers in a school or professors at a university, etc. Especially, let us seek creativity in our love for God. Let us be creative when we speak to God about our same concerns, but with a different language and music. Let us be creative in multiplying as much as possible the works of our love, the ways of expressing our love. Let us be creative in thinking and formulating Godís love and creatively communicate it to men and women. Let us be creative in speaking of God. Creativity! Creativity in love! Isnít love creative by its very nature? If by chance love were to cease to be creative, it would turn into boredom, routine, loathing. It would cease to be love. What can we do to exercise the creativity of love each day?

 

 

Thirty-Second Sunday of ORDINARY TIME 11th November 2001

First: 2 Mac 7:1-2,9-14; Second: 2 Thess 2:16-3:5; Gospel: Lk 20:27-

THEME of the READINGS

What is manís ultimate destiny, and how will it transpire? This Sundayís liturgy attempts to answer these disturbing questions. Jesus teaches us that our destiny is life, but that life in the hereafter is not the same as our life on earth (Gospel). The martyrdom of the mother and her seven children in the time of the war of the Maccabees provides the author of the Scripture with the opportunity to vigorously proclaim faith in resurrection of life (First reading). Paul asks the Thessalonians to pray so that, "Öthrough his grace, such ceaseless encouragement and such sure hope, encourage you and strengthen you in every good word and deed" (Second reading), a word that includes the final destiny of men and women before the supreme Judge, God.

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Mystery and reality. It should always be asserted that the final destiny of men and women is not as straightforward as a mathematical theorem, nor is it understandable as the chemical composition of water. In his dispute with the Sadducees, Jesus holds that it is a mystery, and thus does not pertain to rationality but to revelation. "The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is a God of the living, not of the dead." The history of salvation helps us to understand that, as it is a mystery, it has not been the object of natural knowledge or of an immediate revelation. Rather, there has been a long and pedagogic process of revelation from the Old to the New Testament. The Sadducees exaggerate the mysterious nature of resurrection to such an extent that they simply deny it. Perhaps it is an easy solution, but not appropriate to the human being, who constantly seeks the truth. To manage to penetrate the mystery without destroying it, here lies the greatness of the human being on earth. But the resurrection is not just a mystery, it is also reality. A reality that cannot be perceived with the eyes of flesh, but only with the eyes of faith. With his reason alone, Horace had arrived at a conclusion regarding our immortality: "Non omnis moriar" (I do not have to die completely). As Christians, we can formulate our faith in the resurrection as follows: "Omnis vivam" (I shall live as one), body and soul, in all of my psycho-physical reality. Obviously, bodily resurrection must not be overly stressed to be able to imagine earthly life in its highest degree of perfection. "Öthey can no longer die, for they are the same as the angels." (Gospel). The human being will be transformed and, without ceasing to be a human being, he will experience and live his human condition in a way which is adequate to an infinite and eternal world. The destiny of human beings is a mysterious reality, but one imbued in reality. To separate the mystery from reality or the reality from the mystery leads to a distortion in this truth of faith, which is the resurrection of the dead.

Martyrdom and life. Martyrdom, even for non-believers, has an irresistible attraction. Because of his great faith, a martyr is not only glory for his religion, but for all of humankind. He is a hero, and if he is a Christian, he is also a saint, a hero of grace, and an evangelizer, because he spreads the Christian faith by offering his life. The mother and the seven children which the first reading talks to us about, were for the Jews and Christians alike a permanent example of spiritual strength and faith in the resurrection. "The King of the world will raise us up, since we die for his laws, to live again for ever." It is with such words that the second brother formulates his faith. The martyrdom of so many hundreds of thousands of Christians throughout twenty-one centuries is the most convincing sign of credibility of the resurrection of the dead. That martyrdom is rooted in the great Martyrdom of Jesus Christ on the cross to redeem us from sin and give us eternal life. The "short grief" of suffering is traded for "ever-lasting" and endless life (First reading). Together with the martyrdom of blood there is the martyrdom of life, the daily witness of faith which gives substance and weight to the last truth of the Creed, "I believe in the resurrection of the dead and in the life to come." Because actually, a martyr is he who prefers the God of life over the love for life, he who is willing to close the door of life out of faithfulness to God and open the gate of Heaven to always be by the Lordís side. This is the Word of the Lord which we must proclaim and that we must propagate throughout the world. In a greatly secularized world, which is rather short-sighted in matters of faith, it is extremely necessary for us Christians to seal our faithfulness to life, on this earth in which we live and in eternity, with a life of faithfulness.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

Continuity, not equality. Our faith tells us that the human being will rise again in his entirety. Thus, there is an undeniable continuity between the historical man, who dies and goes back to being dust, and the risen man. It wonít be a human spirit that will rise again, but the men and women who have trod this earth, who have loved, who have done good, who have procreated and educated their children, who have worked to earn a living, who have died kissing a crucifix or praying their rosary. If anyone questioned or denied this continuity, in what would the resurrection of the dead consist? Wouldnít such an expression be a mere flatus vocis, a senseless sound? At the same time, our faith tells us that continuity is not equivalent to equality. Our dust will live again, but it will have been transcended. We shall be entirely human, but our life will no linger be subjected to the historical condition. In eternity, one does not work, eat, procreate, or die. "They are the same as the angels." (Gospel). We will rise again and be identical, but different due to the very diversity of the world which we will enter and in which we shall live forever. The entire human being will live as the angels, because his very bodily dimension will be penetrated and as if transformed by the spiritual dimension, and primarily by the Spirit of God. All this is important for catechesis, preaching and spiritual accompaniment. It is not wrong to speak to children about Heaven using descriptive and imaginative language. However, I think that we must elevate them gradually from a sensorial conception to an increasingly spiritual conception of eternal life. Indeed, wanting to establish earth in Heaven has always been a great temptation for human beings. Donít you sometimes come across 50 or 60-year-olds whose conception of Heaven is the same as it was when they were children? Could this be one of the causes that are challenging faith in the resurrection of the dead and in the life to come?

A message of hope. If we reason with faith, there is no doubt about the fact that the resurrection of the dead is a message of hope. For the believer, the most precious treasure is not the life that he has, but the life that he is waiting for. However, our present life is extremely precious. How can it but be, when the human being puts all of eternity at stake in his present life? Christian hope does not lead one to live estranged from the reality of the world and of history, but entirely devoted to the making of history: the history of salvation. Building history is not a task for non-believers; it is all the more a task for those who believe in the Lord of history, and in the evolution of history towards its final destination. Yes, as a Christian I hope that God will open the gates of eternity to my mind, my heart, my body and my life. Because Christian hope in resurrection is a message of life in its fullness, it is a message of a living presence before the very living God. It is to live without a watch and without a time-table, always being with the Lord, as if submerged in the very ocean of life. The Christian message is a message of hope, because it announces the triumph of life over time and over evil, the triumph of God over all his enemies, the last of which is death. This message was not invented by the Church, it comes from the God "who has given us his love and, through his grace, such ceaseless encouragement and such sure hope" (Second reading). It is worthwhile bearing witness to this message of hope with words and works!

 

Thirty-Third Sunday of ORDINARY TIME 18th November 2001

First: Mal 3:19-20 (4:1-2); Second: 2 Thess 3:7-12; Gospel: Lk 21:5-

THEME of the READINGS

The present and the future are two categories that stand out in this second-to-last Sunday of the liturgical cycle. "All the proud and all the evildoers" of the present will be eradicated on the Day of Yahweh, while "for you who fear my name," the sun of justice will rise (First reading). The trials and misfortunes of the present must not perturb the peace of Christians, because through their perseverance in peace, they will receive future salvation (Gospel). Saint Paul invites the Thessalonians to imitate him in his dedication to work, here on earth, in order to later receive the crown that does not perish in the world to come (Second reading).

 

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

Citizens of two worlds. All human beings, whether they like it or not, are inscribed in the registry of two different worlds. One is the present world, the earth on which we tread and the air that we breathe, a transitory world, that will one day come to an end. The other world is the world where forever and infinity reign, the future world towards which human beings and history are headed. The interesting thing is that these two worlds follow one another chronologically, but they cross each other and intertwine in the life of human beings. Neither one of them is foreign to us, we cannot live in one as if the other did not exist. In the present world we cannot fail to think about the future, and the world to come, nor forget about the present. The vicissitudes of history, its conflicts and grief almost inexorably refer us to the future. The happiness and fullness of the world to come will lead us to want all men and women of this world to achieve such a dimension. As citizens of the present world, we must be absorbed by and devoted to the task of justice. We must foster advances in a spirit of humanism and solidarity, and support the growth in moral values. As citizens of the world to come, we must strive to establish the Kingdom of Christ and the holiness of Christians. The present in which we live requires of us the task of choosing and renouncing, while the future will be a time for possession and joy. The present is a time for ideals and achievements, while the future will be a time for encounter and closeness. The present is a time to persevere in our struggle, while the future will be a time of rest in peace. The present is a time of hope in faith and love, while the future will be a time when perfect love will triumph. These two different, but not quite so distant worlds, are actually united in manís heart - two worlds in which the Christian must live to the fullest, honoring the name of Christ.

The light of justice. The light of justice does not always shine brightly in this world; there is also a great shadow cast by injustice. This is why the upright and good person is tempted to say, "It is useless to serve God; what is the good of keeping his commands?" (First reading.) Perhaps our ears hear the voices of false prophets that cry out, "I am he!", or that presumptuously predict, "The time will come." (Gospel). These voices worry us and generate some perplexity in Christians. While confused about the future, among the Christians of Thessalonica there were also some who were "doing no work themselves but interfering with other peopleís." (Second reading.) They were obviously creating confusion, and perturbed the life and peace of the community. This darkness of injustice is not something which characterized only the Old or New Testament, for it continues to be something we observe in our time. Arenít there perhaps many people who believe that evil prevails over good? And what about those who scare others, especially the simplest and least cultured people, by talking about the revelations they have received, informing them that the end of the world is about to come? Arenít there many false prophets and doctors of the law, who plunder here and there, teaching erroneous doctrines? Godís revelation, reported in the liturgical texts of this Sunday, reminds us, "The Day is coming, glowing like a furnace." It may be that this light is already beginning to shine in this world, but the sun of justice will certainly shine its rays of light in the world to come. Therefore, in the midst of injustice and persecution, the Christian must remain tranquil, patient and at peace, because God will come in his time. "Your perseverance will win you your lives," Jesus Christ tells us in the Gospel.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

The time of the Church. The time of the Church is between Pentecost and the end of history. This Church, which is already twenty-one centuries old, lives the present in an effort to be faithful to its Founder, and looks to the future with hope. Jesus Christ has not spared this Church any trials or tribulations. However, he has not been stingy with the Church either, in terms of consolations. In its past and present history, we see an innumerable row of men and women faithful to their Lord, together with defections, false teachers, apostasy and betrayal. Throughout the centuries, in many places where there was no peace, holy Christians have sown the seeds of harmony among people. However, during these same centuries, there have also been Christians who have spread discord, quarrels in the family, revolution, warfare, in human groups, and among nations. In the long history of Christianity, there have been Christian kings and rulers, who have been extremely holy, and who have worked much good. Equally, there have been and still are kings and rulers who have persecuted their brothers and sisters in the faith due to political reasons or for ideological interests. In history, there have also been enemies of God and of his Church. Let us recall the emperors who for three centuries, more or less intensely, persecuted Christianity as an unlawful religion, and considered Christians as traitors because they did not worship the gods of the Empire. Let us think about the torment suffered by the children of the Church in Japan and China, because Christianity was considered as foreign and completely estranged from the religious traditions of those countries. And what about the brutal persecution and harassment of communism towards Christians wherever real socialism was or continues to be a sad and horrendous nightmare of humankind? The time of the Church has been and will continue to be such until the end: a time of tribulation, and a time of consolation and peace. This is the Church in which we live, which we love, and in which we build the Kingdom of God!

To live the present on the basis of the future. We often think that we must live the present with an eye towards the past, to learn from it, since "history is a teacher of life." I donít dispute this. However, I do wish to point out an aspect proper of our Christian faith. We must live in the present as like someone who has already trod down the path of life and finds himself in the world to come. It is clear that the perspectives and the ways in which we live the present are very different. This is what is important in a personís life: if a twenty-year old were able to live life from the perspective of a sixty-year old, he would certainly live in a different way. All the more so when we hypothetically place ourselves in the hereafter. Let us ask ourselves, "From the perspective of eternal life, how would I have wanted to experience the present day, my family situation, this moment of personal crisis, this emotional relationship, this working environment?" This future creates a distance between ourselves and our present, and in so doing it enables to see things with a greater peace and objectivity. This future places us in the world of God, thus granting us the power to think about the different situations of the present and of life with the same attitude as God. From a future point of view, we know better and are able to apply to the present more accurately and consistently the rule of our faith and the measure of our behavior. We must not think in terms of a utopia, but a spark of the future in our present is enough to light up our soul with a new ardor and enthusiasm.

Solemnity of JESUS CHRIST, King of the Universe 25th November, 2001

First: 2 Sam 5:1-3; Second: Col 1:12-20; Gospel: Lk 23:35-43

THEME of the READINGS

"King of Israel, king of the Jews, kingdom of the Son," are the expressions with which the liturgy reminds us solemnly about the joyful reality of Jesus Christ, the king of the universe. The inscription on the cross, on which Jesus died to redeem humankind, read as follows, "This is the king of the Jews" (Gospel). Historically, this title went to David, king of Israel (First reading), of whom Jesus was a direct descendant. In reminding the Colossians of the redeeming work of Christ, Paul says, "It is he who has rescued us from the ruling force of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son that he loves, and in him we enjoy our freedom, the forgiveness of sin" (Second reading).

 

DOCTrinal MESSAGE

David, king of Israel. The Israelites began their conquest of the promised land at the end of the 13th century AD, under the leadership of Joshua. Their conquest was progressive, but took a very long time. Finally, it was considered as theirs, at least in general terms, and the land was distributed according to tribes. For many years, each tribe maintained its independence and its autonomy. If a tribe joined another, it was fundamentally to defend itself from, or attack, its enemies. During this time, a differentiation arose almost spontaneously between the tribes of the North and those of the South. When Samuel anointed David king, he made him king only over the tribes of the South (Judah, Benjamin and Ephraim), and he ruled over them for seven years in Hebron. Davidís extraordinary personality, his military genius, which enabled him to conquer the fortress of Jerusalem, considered to be unassailable, and his undeniable leadership skills, induced the leaders of the Northern tribes to also proclaim him their king. "King David made a pact with them in Yahwehís presence at Hebron, and they anointed David as king of Israel" (First reading). It was a decisive case in the history of Israel: for the first time, the twelve tribes were unified under one king, and thus under a single political and military command. The city of Jerusalem was chosen as the capital of the new kingdom of Israel and Judah. The kingdom of Christ, the continuation of the kingdom of Israel, is equally composed of twelve "tribes," united under the command of a single king, and that has Jerusalem as its capital, the capital of the messianic kingdom, inaugurated by Jesus Christ on the cross.

Jesus, the king of the Jews. This is the cause for which Jesus dies on a cross raised over Golgotha. The text is written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek, in order for it to be understood by all the inhabitants who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate Easter in the Spring of 30 AD. But how could a man hanging on a cross be the king of the Jews? Such an ignominy was unbearable to the authorities of Jerusalem; thus they went to Pilate to ask him to change the inscription. Pilate did not do so. "What is written is written." The inscription was the object of mockery and sarcasm on the part of the Roman soldiers, "If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself" (Gospel). Only one of the thieves had the intuition that the kingdom of this man on the cross was probably of another nature to earthly kingdoms, and thus said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Gospel). The inscription does correspond to the truth, but it refers us to a kingdom that has other characteristics: a Kingdom of truth and life, a Kingdom of holiness and grace, a Kingdom of justice, love, and peace" (Preface). In the "powerless" and painful submission of a crucified man, suffering under an evil kingdom, lies the key to and the foundation of the kingdom of love, mercy and forgiveness.

The Kingdom of his Son. In calling us to the Christian faith, the Father has transferred to us the Kingdom of his Son by means of baptism. His Son is Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified, now resurrected and glorious. The kingdom of his Son is no longer just one people or one race. It is now the inner kingdom of the heart of every man and woman. In addition to this, it is the kingdom over the cosmos, over all of creation. "Ö For in him were created all things, in heaven and on earth: everything visible and everything invisible, thrones, ruling forces, sovereignties, powers Ė all things were created through him and for him" (Second reading). For the Son, the word "king" is not merely a title, rather it corresponds to his essence. Nothing is outside of his reign in time or beyond time. The Son is the king of the universe in all of his greatness and splendor, in all of his power and energy. He is the king of history, he who dominates and directs all the human events until their end. He is the king of individuals, in whom he reigns according to faith, hope and charity, according to justice, peace and solidarity.

 

 

PASTORal SUGGESTIONS

 

The doubting condition. "If you are the king..." Here lies the eternal temptation of the human being, overwhelmed by his wretchedness and poverty. "If you are the Son of GodÖ," here is the voice of the tempter and of many people throughout history. "If you are so goodÖ why is there so much evil all around us?" "If you love meÖ why does the chaos of passions and unbridled selfishness reign in me instead of your love?" "If you are the king... why are there atheist governments that do not believe, and persecute, imprison and murder your subjects?" "So you are a kingÖ what kind of a kingdom is that, which hides so much that it fades away and almost disappears?" "So you are kingÖ" Doubt poisons and shakes us up inside. Doubt eats into our soul until it deals us its deadly blow. Christ the King, isnít this just a fairy tale, or one of the many utopias that have characterized history? "Christ overcomes, Christ reigns, Christ rules," the Church sings. Is this true or is it rather an exaggerated form of triumphalism? Let us be brave! Let us remove once and for all the conditional "if" from our relations with Jesus Christ the King. Rather than harboring doubts, let us thank the Father who has not wished to establish a kingdom as we humans would have wanted to, according to our wishes and our petty conception of things. Christ reigns according to his plan and in his own way, not according to ours. The Kingdom of Christ is received like a gift, like a revelation from Heaven; it is not the fruit of a privileged human mind, or of a decisive agreement between human beings. The Kingdom of Christ is established in the life of men and women, but it is not a ready-made tree; rather, it is a growing plant. As soon as we place the kingdom of Christ under the law of the conditional, we may be certain that we are running the risk of not understanding him and being left out.

Thy Kingdom come! In his commentary on the Our Father, Tertullian writes, "That your Kingdom come as soon as possible is the wish of Christians; it is confusion for the nations. We suffer for this, but beyond that, we pray for its coming." It is a wish that we Christians have been repeating for twenty-one centuries. May your kingdom of peace come to our earth in the Balkans, in the land of Israel, in Malaysia, in the horn of Africa or in the Great Lakes, in all nations. May your kingdom of justice come to our earth and defeat encroaching corruption, may it put an end to worldwide social and economic injustice, and to pervasive moral degradation. May your kingdom of love come between spouses, between parents and children, between members of different races and religions; may it bring love for children and the elderly, the poor and the sick, all those in greatest need of care, affection and tenderness. We know that the Kingdom of Christ lives in a situation of permanent tension, because that is what its very growth requires, because it finds resistance to its transforming action. However, in order for this kingdom of peace, justice and love to come, we Christians and all the men and women of good will should work, suffer and pray. Thy Kingdom come! May this be the cry with which we rise and with which we end our hard dayís work. Let us say with Saint Cyprian, "May those of us who have served him in this life reign in the other life with Christ the King, as he himself has promised us."