The centrality of Christ

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Today marks the Solemnity of Christ the King, and the end of the Year of Faith.  Here is Pope Francis’ homily from today’s Mass:

Today’s solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, the crowning of the liturgical year, also marks the conclusion of the Year of Faith opened by Pope Benedict XVI, to whom our thoughts now turn with affection and gratitude. By this providential initiative, he gave us an opportunity to rediscover the beauty of the journey of faith begun on the day of our Baptism, which made us children of God and brothers and sisters in the Church. A journey which has as its ultimate end our full encounter with God, and throughout which the Holy Spirit purifies us, lifts us up and sanctifies us, so that we may enter into the happiness for which our hearts long.

I offer a cordial greeting to the Patriarchs and Major Archbishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches present. The exchange of peace which I will share with them is above all a sign of the appreciation of the Bishop of Rome for these communities which have confessed the name of Christ with exemplary faithfulness, often at a high price. With this gesture, through them, I would like to reach all those Christians living in the Holy Land, in Syria and in the entire East, and obtain for them the gift of peace and concord.

The Scripture readings proclaimed to us have as their common theme the centrality of Christ. Christ as the centre of creation, the centre of his people and the centre of history.

1. The apostle Paul, in the second reading, taken from the letter to the Colossians, offers us a profound vision of the centrality of Jesus. He presents Christ to us as the first-born of all creation: in him, through him and for him all things were created. He is the centre of all things, he is the beginning. God has given him the fullness, the totality, so that in him all things might be reconciled (cf. Col 1:12-20).

This image enables to see that Jesus is the centre of creation; and so the attitude demanded of us as true believers is that of recognizing and accepting in our lives the centrality of Jesus Christ, in our thoughts, in our words and in our works. When this centre is lost, when it is replaced by something else, only harm can result for everything around us and for ourselves.

2. Besides being the centre of creation, Christ is the centre of the people of God. We see this in the first reading which describes the time when the tribes of Israel came to look for David and anointed him king of Israel before the Lord (cf. 2 Sam 5:1-3). In searching for an ideal king, the people were seeking God himself: a God who would be close to them, who would accompany them on their journey, who would be a brother to them.

Christ, the descendant of King David, is the “brother” around whom God’s people come together. It is he who cares for his people, for all of us, even at the price of his life. In him we are all one; united with him, we share a single journey, a single destiny.

3. Finally, Christ is the centre of the history of the human race and of every man and woman. To him we can bring the joys and the hopes, the sorrows and troubles which are part of our lives. When Jesus is the centre, light shines even amid the darkest times of our lives; he gives us hope, as he does to the good thief in today’s Gospel.

While all the others treat Jesus with disdain – “If you are the Christ, the Messiah King, save yourself by coming down from the cross!” – the thief who went astray in his life but now repents, clinging to the crucified Jesus, begs him: “Remember me, when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42). And Jesus promises him: “Today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43). Jesus speaks only a word of forgiveness, not of condemnation; whenever anyone finds the courage to ask for this forgiveness, the Lord does not let such a petition go unheard. Jesus’ promise to the good thief gives us great hope: it tells us that God’s grace is always greater than the prayer which sought it. The Lord always grants more than what he has been asked: you ask him to remember you, and he brings you into his Kingdom!

Let us ask the Lord to remember us, in the certainty that by his mercy we will be able to share his glory in paradise. Amen!

Wednesday Audience: Unity beyond conflicts

Dear brothers and sisters, good day!

Today I will focus upon another expression with which the Second Vatican Council indicates the nature of the Church: that of the body, the Council says that the Church is the Body of Christ (cf. Lumen Gentium, 7).

I would like to start from a text of the Acts of the Apostles which we know well: the conversion of Saul, who will then be called Paul, one of the greatest evangelists (cf. Acts 9:4-5). Saul was a persecutor of Christians, but while he is on the road leading to the city of Damascus, suddenly a light envelops him, he falls to the ground and hears a voice saying “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? ‘. He asks: “Who are you, Lord?”, And the voice answers: “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting” (v. 3-5). This experience of St. Paul tells us how deep the union between we Christians and Christ Himself. When Jesus ascended into heaven he did not leave us orphans, but with the gift of the Holy Spirit, our union with Him has become even more intense. The Second Vatican Council says that Jesus “communicating His Spirit, Christ made His brothers, called together from all nations, mystically the components of His own Body” (Dogmatic Constitution. Lumen Gentium, 7).

The image of the body helps us to understand this deep Church-Christ bond, which St. Paul has developed especially in the First Letter to the Corinthians (cf. chap. 12). First, the body brings our attention to a living reality. The Church is not an charitable, cultural or political association, but a living body, that walks and acts in history. And this body has a head, Jesus, who guides, feeds and supports it. This is a point I want to emphasize: if the head is separated from the rest of the body, the whole person cannot survive. So it is in the Church, we must remain bound ever more deeply to Jesus. But not only that: just as the body needs the lifeblood to keep it alive, so we must allow Jesus to work in us, that His Word guide us, that His presence in the Eucharist nourish us, animate us, that His love gives strength to our love of neighbor. And this always! Dear brothers and sisters, let us remain united to Jesus, let us trust in Him, direct our life according to His Gospel, nourish ourselves with daily prayer, listening to the Word of God, participation in the Sacraments.

And here I come to a second aspect of the Church as the Body of Christ. St Paul says that as members of the human body, although different and many, we form one body, as we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body (cf. 1 Cor 12:12-13). In the Church, therefore, there is a variety, a diversity of tasks and functions, there is no dull uniformity, but the richness of the gifts that the Holy Spirit distributes. But there is communion and unity: we are all in a relation to each other and we all come together to form one living body, deeply connected to Christ. Let us remember this well: being part of the Church means being united to Christ and receiving from Him the divine life that makes us live as Christians; it means remaining united to the Pope and the Bishops who are instruments of unity and communion, and also means overcoming personal interests and divisions, in order to understand each other better, to harmonize the variety and richness of each member; in a word, to love God and the people who are next to us more, in the family, in the parish, in the associations. In order to live a Body and its limbs must be united! Unity is beyond all conflict. Always! Conflicts, when they don’t end well, separate us from each other, they separate us from God. Conflict can help us to grow but can also divide us. We must not travel the path of division, of conflict among us, no we must all be united – with our differences – but united because that is the path of Jesus!

Unity is beyond all conflict. Unity is a grace that we must ask of the Lord so he may save us from the temptations of the division, from internal struggles and selfishness, from gossip. How much damage gossip does! How much damage! Never gossip about others, never!. How much damage divisions among Christians, being partisan, narrow interests causes to the Church! Divisions among us, but also divisions among the communities: evangelical Christians, orthodox Christians, Catholic Christians, but why divided? We must try to bring about unity. Let me tell you something, today, before leaving home, I spent 40 minutes more or less, half an hour, with an evangelical pastor. And we prayed together, seeking unity. But we Catholics must pray with each other and other Christians. Pray that the Lord gift us unity! Unity among ourselves! How will we ever have unity among Christians if we are not capable of having it among us Catholics,…in the family, how many families fight and split up? Seek unity, unity builds the Church and comes from Jesus Christ. He sends us the Holy Spirit to build unity!

Dear brothers and sisters, let us ask God to help us to be members of the Body of the Church always deeply united to Christ, help us not to hurt the Body of the Church with our conflicts, our divisions, selfishness: help us to be living members bound to each other by a single power, that of love, which the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5).

 

Holy Hour in union with Pope Francis

Last week our Holy Father asked Catholics around the world to unite with him in prayer and adoration in an historic worldwide Eucharistic Holy Hour at 5pm Rome time on June 2.

Below are some pictures from the Solemn Holy Hour held by the Carmelite Friars at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower, here in San Antonio.  It was very moving to be with so many other people, adoring Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament in union with Pope Francis.  As we always say, there is no distance between tabernacles.  We may never go to Rome or meet the Holy Father, but today we were closer to him than ever – we were united in the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, a Heart big enough to encompass all of us.

Evangelical, Ecclesial, Missionary

“I see a great variety, first of umbrellas, and then of colours and signs”… 

Surrounded by a sea of colorful umbrellas, Pope Francis greets the faithful after Sunday Mass today, which was dedicated to Confraternities.

Members of various confraternities from all over Europe packed St. Peter’s Square despite the rain.

Below is the Vatican Radio translation of Pope Francis’ homily for this Sixth Sunday of Easter:

Dear Brothers and Sisters, you were very courageous to come with this rain. . . . May the Lord bless you very much!

As part of the journey of the Year of Faith, I am happy to celebrate this Eucharist dedicated in a special way to confraternities: a traditional reality in the Church, which in recent times has experienced renewal and rediscovery. I greet all of you with affection, particularly the confraternities which have come here from all over the world! Thank you for your presence and your witness! Continue reading

The Pope & the Shroud

Earlier today Turin Cathedral held a special exposition of the Shroud of Turin, which was also broadcast live on Italian Television.  Pope Francis recorded a special video message for this event, the text of which can be found below.

“Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I join all of you gathered before the Holy Shroud, and I thank the Lord who, through modern technology, offers us this possibility.”

“Even if it takes place in this way, our gaze is not a mere ‘observing’, but rather a veneration. It is a prayerful gaze. I would go further: It is a letting ourselves be looked upon. This Face has eyes that are closed. It is the face of one who is dead and yet, mysteriously, He is watching us and in silence He speaks to us. How is this possible? How is it that the faithful, like you, pause before this Icon of a man who has been scourged and crucified? It is because the Man of the Shroud invites us to contemplate Jesus of Nazareth. This image, impressed upon the cloth, speaks to our hearts and moves us to climb the hill of Calvary, to look upon the wood of the Cross, and to immerse ourselves in the eloquent silence of love.” Continue reading

The Catholic Vote & the New Evangelization – Part III

This is the conclusion of a three part article by guest blogger Dr. David Delaney.

What happens with the Catholic vote this election remains to be seen.  However, from the perspective of this year of faith and the new evangelization, the results do not much matter.  The problems identified above: the need for re-evangelizing, re-catechizing, and converting Catholics to the zealous practice of the faith remains as a challenge.  I would argue that we should start by by following the Holy Father’s admonition to work on our own interior conversion.  This purification can start with purification of our own understanding of the faith and with the way we explain it. We can also help to correct mistaken Catholics by removing unnecessary barriers, using only the language of the Church and purging ourselves of the use of confusing terminology and even more, mistaken interpretations of Church teaching.

We should all vote and pray that God’s will be done in this presidential election, but it will only be when Catholics vote in accord with the truth, that is in accord with the authentic common good, that the Catholic vote will really be of any meaningful consequence.

David Delaney is Professor of Systematic Theology at the Mexican American Catholic College in San Antonio, Texas. He previously wrote for the now defunct Cosmos-Liturgy-Sex blog.

The Catholic Vote & the New Evangelization – Part II

This is the second part of an article by a guest blogger and friend, Dr. David Delaney.

The common source is a problem that affects a good number of Catholics, even those who intend to be faithful Catholics.  However, most problematically it seems to legitimize dissent from Church teaching.  The problem I am talking about is the use of the terms “liberal Catholic” or “conservative Catholic.” Now I understand the desire to know where someone is coming from and the convenience of placing him into an intellectual box.  However, I would like to suggest that the importation of the liberal-conservative classification scheme to identify Catholics is problematic.  These terms were coined in late 18th century France and at the time meant something specific.  One either wanted to conserve the monarchy or to free France from what the liberals saw as its tyrannical rule.  Today, the meaning is not so clear in either politics, economics, or sociology, and the meaning is certainly not clear in terms of being a faithful Catholic.

The problem in the use of these terms are similar for both conservatives and liberals, even if the problematic results are usually more grave for the liberal ideology.  And this is the root of the problem.  Liberalism and conservatism are ideologies that may capture certain truths but neither of them embrace the fullness of the truth.  Rather than the Catholic working to purify the ideology, he tends to try to interpret Church teaching, and many times to critique Church teaching, through the lens of his particular ideology.

For example, many Catholics who espouse social liberalism seem to conflate Catholic social doctrine with liberal social policies when there is very often only a superficial correspondence and more often a deeper contradiction between the two.  On the other hand some Catholics who consider themselves to be conservative can often appear to dismiss out of hand consistent and repeated magisterial statements which appear to conflict with their conservative ideology.  This is especially the case when these statements are a prudential application of Church teaching such as is the case with the death penalty (of course this is of a different character than dissent from the teachings themselves but that does not justify a casual dismissal of magisterial statements).

I believe that this terminology is destructive for another reason.  There is an increasing group of Catholics who consider themselves liberal and who are trying to grapple with fidelity to Church teaching.  They are not being helped by faithful Catholics who mistakenly tell them that they need to be conservative Catholics in order to be faithful Catholics.  What the conservative means or what the liberal understands by the term conservative is anyone’s guess. Regardless, I would like to remind us that Jesus commanded His disciples to abide by His commandments, not to be liberal or conservative.  Neither do we find either term in the Catechism.

Please check back tomorrow for the conclusion!

David Delaney is Professor of Systematic Theology at the Mexican American Catholic College in San Antonio, Texas. He previously wrote for the now defunct Cosmos-Liturgy-Sex blog.