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 with Pope Francis

A good way to mark this midpoint in the Easter Octave is to spend some time with Pope Francis.  Below is his address at the Wednesday General Audience and his remarks at the Wednesday Regina Coeli, courtesy of Vatican Radio.

From the General Audience:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today we turn to the Catechism of the Year of Faith. In the Creed we repeat this phrase: “He rose again on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures”. This is the very event that we are celebrating: the Resurrection of Jesus, the center of the Christian message that has resounded since the beginning and has been handed down so that it may reach us today. Saint Paul writes to the Christians of Corinth: “For I handed on to you …what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve”(1 Cor 15:3-5). This brief confession of faith announces the Paschal Mystery, with the first appearances of the Risen Christ to Peter and the Twelve: the Death and Resurrection of Jesus is the heart of our hope. Without this faith in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus our hope would be weak, but it wouldn’t even be hope, the Death and Resurrection of Jesus is the heart of our hope. The Apostle says: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins” (v. 17).  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.

The Catholic Vote & the New Evangelization – Part I

Today we are privileged to introduce a friend of ours, Dr. David Delaney, who has generously offered to contribute posts to Quidnunc.

Dr. 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.

With the presidential election just two weeks away, the talk about the “Catholic vote” again is becoming a point of interest for many pundits. Unfortunately, U.S. Catholics tend to vote in a manner indistinguishable from their American contemporaries. Rather than allowing their votes to be informed by the truth proclaimed by the Church they are voting for primarily worldly concerns. Rather than Catholics being the leaven for a fallen world, too many Catholics, perhaps a majority, are now allowing themselves to be formed by the mistaken views of society.

Now let me say that this observation is not motivated by political partisanship. I am more concerned to consider what Catholic voting patterns have to say about the challenges for the year of faith.  Election results for a variety of candidates and issues in recent years show a large percentage of Catholics voting in direct contradiction to objective moral norms indicate the challenges are great.

There are a number of reasons for this wayward Catholic vote.  One reason can be gleaned from national polling done over the last thirty years which has consistently indicated that Catholics are increasingly ignorant of their faith.  Another more worrisome concern is that many Catholics who understand what the Church teaches do not believe they should be “constrained” by Church teaching.  Many follow the lead of confused Catholic politicians who employ the “Cuomo doctrine,” saying that they believe what the Catholic Church teaches but cannot compel non-Catholics to abide by Catholic teaching.  Others who claim to be faithful Catholics appeal to their mistaken understanding of Catholic teaching on the primacy of conscience. A number of these problems have a common source and that is what I would like to consider here.

Check back tomorrow for Part II.

Year of Faith: An Eyewitness Account

Today is a very historic day: not only is it the 50th anniversary of the Opening of the Second Vatican Council, it is also the beginning of the year of Faith.  This Year of Faith is a personal initiative of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, and it is going to be perhaps his greatest gift to our Church.

Last week the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Vatican Office responsible for Indulgences and for handling those grave sins whose absolution is reserved to the Holy Father (such as desecrating the Blessed Sacrament, or violating the seal of confession) issued a proclamation for the Year of Faith.  There are a remarkable number of ways to obtain plenary indulgences during this Year, and, more amazingly, the document includes a request to the Bishops of the World to make special provisions during this Year to allow more of their priests to absolve from sins reserved to the Bishop, such as abortion.  It feels more like a jubilee year than a Year of Faith.

Today, we students in Rome were given a rare treat: the Congregation for Catholic Education cancelled all morning courses at the Pontifical Universities so that we could participate in the Mass to open the Year of Faith.  As this was the first week of class, that was no small feat.

Once again, I was able to distribute Communion at the Mass, and, once again, I was very close to the Holy Father.  There were two very interesting additions this time: seated to the left of the Pope was Bartholomew, the Patriarch of Constantinople, the ‘first among equals of the Orthodox Church’.  In the sanctuary near to the Cardinals, Bishops and Diplomats was Rowan Williams, the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Anglican Ecclesial community.

After Communion, but before the end of Mass, Bartholomew was able to address the crowd, and he spoke in Italian of his memories of the Council, as well as of the tremendous work towards re-unification that Paul VI and John Paul II had carried out.  He re-iterated his hope for a moment in which full union will again come about.

The Homily of the Holy Father was remarkable.  He spoke of how the Council was not about doctrinal discussions, for, as he said, you don’t need an ecumenical council for that, but instead, about finding contemporary ways of expressing the perennial truths of the Gospel.  Towards the end of the homily, he had a remarkable reflection about being in the desert and about the horrors of a life that is not focused on God.

“If today the Church proposes a new Year of Faith and a new evangelization, it is not to honour an anniversary, but because there is more need of it, even more than there was fifty years ago! And the reply to be given to this need is the one desired by the Popes, by the Council Fathers and contained in its documents… Recent decades have seen the advance of a spiritual “desertification”. In the Council’s time it was already possible from a few tragic pages of history to know what a life or a world without God looked like, but now we see it every day around us. This void has spread. But it is in starting from the experience of this desert, from this void, that we can again discover the joy of believing, its vital importance for us, men and women. In the desert we rediscover the value of what is essential for living; thus in today’s world there are innumerable signs, often expressed implicitly or negatively, of the thirst for God, for the ultimate meaning of life. And in the desert people of faith are needed who, with their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive. Living faith opens the heart to the grace of God which frees us from pessimism. Today, more than ever, evangelizing means witnessing to the new life, transformed by God, and thus showing the path….  This, then, is how we can picture the Year of Faith: a pilgrimage in the deserts of today’s world, taking with us only what is necessary: neither staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money, nor two tunics – as the Lord said to those he was sending out on mission (cf. Lk 9:3), but the Gospel and the faith of the Church, of which the Council documents are a luminous expression, as is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published twenty years ago.”

Being once again so near to the Holy Father, I was able to see how tired he is, and yet, how he continues to struggle, to give himself completely for the good of souls.  I would ask you all to pray in a very special way for our Holy Father, that he remain faithful to his mission, and that God grant him many more years as our Chief Shepherd.

Deacon Matthew Furgiuele is a transitional Deacon studying Canon Law at Santa Croce University.  He writes from Rome.