Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Salesian Fr. Sala Appointed Secretary for Synod on Youth

Salesian Fr. Rossano Sala Appointed Special Secretary for the Synod of Bishops on Youth

ANS doesn't identify the two priests, one of whom is Fr. Costa, the other Fr. Sala.
We can be pretty sure which man is the Pope and which one the cardinal.
(ANS - Vatican City – November 20) - Pope Francis has appointed a relator general, Cardinal Sergio Rocha, archbishop of Brasilia, and two special secretaries for the 2018 Synod, which is dedicated to young people. The secretaries are Fr. Giacomo Costa, SJ, and Fr. Rossano Sala, SDB. The appointments took place at the end of the November 16-17 meeting of the council of the general secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.

Announcing the nomination, the general secretariat explained that “the appointment of two special secretaries conforms to Article 14 §3 of the Ordo Synodi Episcoporum” (see Can. 348 § 2 of C.I.C.)

Cardinal Rocha was made cardinal by Pope Francis on November 19, 2016. Fr. Costa has been director of the journal Aggiornamenti Sociali since 2010, and is thought to have been one of those consulted in the writing of the encyclical Laudato Si’.

Fr. Sala has been a Salesian since 1992 and a priest since 2000. For four years, he served his pastoral-educational ministry in the Salesian house of Bologna, and for six years he was director and principal of Brescia’s Salesian Institute. Licensed in sacred theology in 2002 at the Interregional Theological School in Milan, in 2012 he received his doctorate in sacred theology at the same School.

He taught fundamental theology at the Studentato Teologico Salesiano in Turin (the “Crocetta”). Since 2011, he has been part of the academic community of the Salesian Pontifical University of Rome. In 2016, he was appointed director of the magazine Note di Pastorale Giovanile.

“This assignment as special secretary is a sign of confidence in the Salesian Family,” Fr. Sala told ANS. “It is a task that comes from the Holy Father to be of help and support in the preparation of the Synod and, above all, to accompany Cardinal Rocha closely.”

“I am very grateful for the confidence shown to me by the Holy Father, as a Salesian and, above all, as a representative of the Salesian Family, which works with young people,” he said. “We are a large family which has an educational-pastoral ministry with young people, a way of being with young people, and a style to accompany them. This is a great responsibility for me, and I ask you to accompany me with prayers. As the sons of Don Bosco, we must be faithful to our founder when it comes to a commission that comes from the Holy Father.”

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Homily for the 33d Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
33d Sunday of Ordinary Time
Nov. 16, 2008
Matt 25: 14-30
Provincial House, New Rochelle

“Father of all that is good, keep us faithful in serving you, for to serve you is our lasting joy” (Collect).

Faithfulness and service resound thru the Opening Prayer and the readings this morning.  The industrious housewife who serves her household is praised (Prov 31:10-31), the man who fears the Lord is blessed (Ps 128:1-5), the children of the light stay alert and sober in faithful vigil for the Lord’s coming (1 Thess 5:1-6), the master praises the good and faithful servants who carry out his wishes (Matt 25:14-30).

Some are praised and rewarded for their industry, some for their vigilance.  Both industry and vigilance are activities of sorts, and both require faithfulness.

In our situation—here at the provincial house—how are we to be faithful?  Some of us can be industrious like the worthy wife of Proverbs or the slaves in Jesus’ parable because we have province assignments or household chores to carry out.  Some of us are like John Milton in his blindness:  “They also serve who only stand and wait.”  (He was reflecting, by the way, on this gospel parable of the talents.)[1]  That is, we’re present to God in prayer and in waiting for his will to be revealed (as Dominic said in his conference on Wednesday).  We’re present to one another in friendship and support.  We’re ready with hospitality when called upon (even when our guest doesn’t show up)[2] and with an attitude of service to the young, however indirect it may be, as 2 of our Toms reminded us Thursday nite.

Blind Milton dictating poetry to his daughters
All of us are challenged to be faithfully alert and sober.  That, of course, doesn’t refer to our state of mind at meditation in the morning (and it might be good that it doesn’t!) or our use of Irish coffee on birthdays.  It does refer to our living in God’s presence, living in joyful hope of the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ (communion rite), awaiting our master’s return and ready to turn in our accounts.  That’s vigilance.

Whether we have a specific task to do or we’re basically retired, we’re still the master’s servants.  The talents entrusted to us may involve money or publishing or maintenance or guidance of people; or encouragement, prayer, attentiveness.  It doesn’t matter how big or small the matter, so long as we seek to please the Lord.  That’s industry.  We all remember, too, Mother Teresa’s wisdom:  success doesn’t matter, so long as we’re faithful.  For all of us our faithful service involves a right intention:  fearing the Lord and walking in his ways (cf. Ps 128:1) and not our own, seeking his will and not our own.

The Opening Prayer identifies our lasting joy with our service.  The psalmist—ignorant of eternal life—promises material blessings to the person who fears the Lord, and the compiler of Proverbs awards a sterling reputation to the faithful housewife.  In Jesus’ parable the master welcomes the faithful servant into his joy, echoing also a Lucan parable we heard 3 weeks ago wherein the master who finds his servants vigilant on his arrival will “have them recline at table and proceed to wait on them” (12:37).  That’s an image of the eternal banquet, of the lasting joy awaiting those who are faithful and industrious:  not by comparison with everybody else but in relation to what the Lord has asked of them.

       [1] Sonnet “On His Blindness.”
       [2] Last nite we expected our regional councilor, Fr. Esteban Ortiz, to arrive, but his flight from Tampa was cancelled.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Pope Francis Commemorates Ceferino Namuncura

Pope Francis Commemorates Ceferino NamuncurĂ¡’s  Witness
and Desire to Be a Priest
(ANS - Vatican City - November 15) - “It makes me feel very good to think of Ceferino’s desire to be a priest to serve his people. That is how it must be. The priest always identifies with his people in such a way that his time, his life, and his person are for his brothers.” With these words, in a letter to Bishop Esteban Maria Laxague, SDB, of Viedma, Argentina, Pope Francis recalled Blessed Ceferino NamuncurĂ¡, son of the Mapuche people, who embraced faith in Jesus Christ and the Salesian Family, and died of tuberculosis in Rome in 1905, at only 19 years of age.

In the letter, sent on the tenth anniversary of Ceferino’s beatification (November 11, 2007), also marked the 131st anniversary of his birth (August 26, 1886). The Pontiff described the ceremony of beatification: “I was impressed by that crowd of people coming from different areas, and those faces filled with joy for the beatification of one of their own, one who had never forgotten his roots, his people, his culture.” [As archbishop of Buenos Aires at the time, Cardinal Bergoglio had been influential in the arrangements for the rite to be celebrated in Chimpay rather than the capital, and he had attended it.]
In addition to praising Ceferino Namuncura’s desire to be a priest at the service of his people, in his letter the Pope emphasizes that “youths know how to answer with generosity when Christ is presented to them through a witness of authentic and truthful life, such as Ceferino’s.” He adds a wish “that many young people today find in Jesus the love of their lives and the impetus to give of themselves to others.”

Blessed Ceferino NamuncurĂ¡ represents the most convincing proof of the fidelity with which the first missionaries sent by Don Bosco could repeat what Don Bosco had done in the Oratory of Valdocco: form young saints. The formation received was part of an educational process based on the Preventive System. But what launched his formation toward the highest peaks was to learn about the life of Dominic Savio, whom Ceferino ardently imitated, and his First Communion, by which he made a covenant of absolute fidelity with Jesus, his great friend.
Source: Vatican Radio

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Homily for 32d Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
32d Sunday of Ordinary Time
Nov. 8, 1987
Matt 25: 1-13
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.

“Father, why’d you fail me?”  It’s a question I hear after every report card, and I’m sure every teacher does.

Of course, the kid asking the question is the same one who does several of the following:  sleeps in class; whispers to his neighbor in class; copies someone else’s math homework during history class; raises his hand only when he needs a tissue; doesn’t have a clue when asked to comment on part of the lesson; can’t understand how come half his book report reads word-for-word like the article in the World Book; studies history for an hour at home—the nite before a test, that is.

You probably know that student, or did way back when.  You probably also know his cousin—the gal who can’t hold a job, can’t keep an apartment, can’t keep the house clean, always needs a favor, whose kid always gets into trouble because of someone else’s little brat, who needs you to cover for her at work all the time.

Temptation and Fall (William Blake)
In fact, that type of person is as old as creation.  “The Lord God said…‘You have eaten from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat!’  The man replied, ‘The woman whom you put here with me—she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it’” (Gen 3:9,11-12).  In other words, it’s the woman’s fault and yours for putting her here.  “The Lord God then asked the woman, ‘Why did you do such a thing?’  The woman answered, ‘The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it’” (Gen 3:13).  In other words, it’s the serpent’s fault, not mine.

More recently, we’ve heard Gary Hart and Bess Myerson blaming all their troubles on the press.

Or, as Flip Wilson got rich explaining, “The devil made me do it.”

I needn’t remind parents how many times they’ve heard, “He started it.”

So we can reasonably draw the conclusion that we human beings like to dodge responsibility for our action, or at least that most of us have a ferocious tendency in that direction.

That’s what Jesus is talking about in today’s parable.  “The kingdom of heaven is like (the situation of) 10 virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom” (Matt 25:1).  Apparently these are the man’s maidservants, and they’re waiting for him to come home with his bride so the feast can begin.
As you know, 5 were responsible enuf to bring not only lamps but oil; the other 5 were thoughtless, lazy, dumb, or something of the sort.  Now when the groom, their master, appeared, suddenly the 5 foolish ones realized their plight.  They weren’t ready for him, and he probably would be angry with them.  Like the student begging a homework to copy at the last minute, they beg their fellow servants to bail them out.  “Give us some of your oil” (Matt 25:8).  The wise virgins are wise also because they refuse:  why should they all get in trouble when all 10 lamps fail?  They’re also kind enuf to make a practical suggestion:  go buy some oil.

The Wise and Foolish Virgins (William Blake)
And as we know, while the 5 foolish girls were buying their oil, their master returned, the feast began, and the door was barred.  Apparently the foolish maidservants thought they could sneak in unnoticed by banging on the locked door and getting one of their fellow servants to let them in.  Unluckily for them, it’s the master himself who answers their knock.  They find out how responsible they are for their own foolishness.  He says he doesn’t know them—perhaps meaning they’ll have no share in his wedding feast; perhaps, even worse, that they’re dismissed from his service.

We’ve come to the last 3 Sundays of the church year, as we’ve come to the dying of the calendar year and of Mother Nature.  Matthew is throwing parables of judgment at us today, next Sunday, and the Sunday after that, reminding us servants of the Lord Jesus that we must be ready for his return.

Some interpreters understand the lamp oil the wise virgins have and the foolish ones lack to be repentance.  Other commentators take it to be good deeds, concrete acts of love for God and neighbor.  Either way, this oil isn’t something any of us can borrow from a friend or neighbor.  We are responsible for ourselves.

Just as Adam couldn’t shove his responsibility to Eve, nor Eve hers to the snake, we can’t shove off ours, nor can we dodge it, nor can we borrow it.  Our sins are our own, and we must acknowledge them.  Only we can repent for ourselves.  Only we can respond to God’s love by deeds of love.

And we must act before the master returns.  On judgment day there’ll be no time to go shopping for oil.  At the moment of our deaths, either we’ve owned up to our personal history and confessed it, or we find the door barred and ourselves dismissed.  At the judgment, either we’re there with our kindness, our generosity, our perseverance in doing good, or we miss the wedding feast, the banquet of life.

We won’t be able to whine, “Father, why’d you fail me?”

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Homily for 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
31st Sunday of Ordinary Time
Nov. 5, 2017
1 Thess 2: 7-9, 13
Visitation Convent, Georgetown, D.C.

“Brothers and sisters:  We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children” (1 Thess 2: 7).

When we conjure up an image of St. Paul, it’s usually not the image of a gentle and affectionate man.  He’s the fierce preacher of the Gospel, the zealous and impatient apostle, bearing a sword not only because of the form of his martyrdom but also because he’s combative and easily riles up opponents who are more than ready to murder him. 

But both his letters, like our passage this morning, and Acts show how much he loved the people of the local churches that he’d founded on his journeys, and how they in turn loved him fervently.

Paul’s sensitivity toward his congregations went so far that he refused to burden them with his own living expenses (cf. 1 Cor 9:12,15-18), as he indicates today.  Altho he writes elsewhere that the laborer in the Lord’s work deserves compensation (1 Cor 9:3-14), he himself works at his trade as a leather worker (sometimes rendered as a tentmaker [Acts 18:3]) and so earns his daily bread.

But his main work is the Gospel, which he preaches by word and example.  His love for his people, whether at Thessalonica, Corinth, or Ephesus, is a living example of the Gospel, as is his diligence and his generosity.  The verses passed over in today’s reading, vv. 10-12, continue to tell of his affection, switching the metaphor from motherhood to fatherhood.

In our Christian lives, whether in community life or in family life, such affection is important.  Once upon a time we religious were sternly warned against outward shows of affection, except maybe for our immediate family.  Nowadays we understand that it’s important to show our sisterly or brotherly care for those we live with, and not just with smiles, kind words, expressions of interest, and a helping hand but even with a pat on the shoulder or a hug.  St. John Bosco advised those who work with young people, “It’s not enuf that you love them.  They must know that you love them.”  (Of course, we have to show our love for the young in appropriate ways.)  I’d say it’s true of our fellow religious too—and of families.  It’s part of what bonds us together into a community, into a communion.  It’s part of how we imitate our Lord Jesus, who showed his compassion for the sick by laying his hands upon them as well as by speaking powerful words; who wept for his friend Lazarus; who lived in very close communion with the Twelve; who even today comes to us not only in the spoken words of the Scriptures but in sacramental bread and wine too.  We’re all aware of the deep, spiritual, yet intimate friendship between Francis and Jane.  We can’t have a relationship like that with everyone, obviously, but how fortunate if we have one with one or two soul-friends—much more than mere BFFs!  And how beautiful is everyone in the house should behold us as her friend, someone she loves and is loved by.  In fact, one of the psalms says something like that:  “How beautiful it is when brothers dwell together in unity” (133:1).

Today we begin Vocation Awareness Week.  Let it be noted that marriage is a vocation, and strong, holy Christian families are absolutely essential for Christ’s Church; each household is a “domestic church,” worshiping God and raising up new saints.

As for vocations to the consecrated life, we must heed what the young are telling us today when they investigate a possible call.  They’re seeking 2 things above all:  1st, a life of communion with Jesus Christ, a community with a strong spirituality and not just a lively apostolic mission; and 2d, a community that is a communion of brothers or sisters, such as we’ve just been speaking.  Relative to both those points, let me quote a line from the Introduction that St. John Bosco wrote to the Salesian Constitutions when he presented them, newly approved by Rome in 1874, to the 1st generation of Salesians:  “Such great peace and tranquillity are enjoyed in this mystical fortress [of religious life], that if God were to make them known and experienced by those who live in the world, we should see all men [and women] leaving the world and taking the cloister by storm, in order to enter and live there for the rest of their earthly days.”[1]  It’s up to us, sisters, to make that “great peace and tranquillity” a reality in our home and to let it be known outside our home.  (Coffee and donuts help!)
Don Bosco, with Fr. Michael Rua behind him and his hand on the shoulder of Ceferino Namuncura' and youngsters reaching up to him. (Mario Bogani)

The warm relationship between St. Paul and the Christians of Thessalonica was based on the Gospel.  He had brought them the gift of salvation in Christ Jesus, and they’d responded, “receiving the word of God … not as a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe” (2:13).  Paul didn’t bring the Thessalonians (or anyone else) a book, a New Testament.  True, Jewish Christians had the Scriptures, what we now call the Old Testament; and Gentile Christians would necessarily have been introduced to those Scriptures.  But Paul brought the living teachings of Jesus and the living message of his death and resurrection, with the apostolic interpretation of what those teachings and those events mean—why they are Good News, or Gospel.  For Paul the Gospel was strictly oral; in fact, this letter, 1 Thessalonians, is generally accepted to be the earliest writing of the New Testament, ca. 50 or 51 A.D., about 20 years after Jesus’ resurrection and almost 20 years, probably, before St. Mark would put his Gospel into the written form that we know.  It was a great act of faith for a Pauline audience to recognize his preaching as “truly the word of God,” a word “at work,” i.e., working their salvation, establishing and building their relationship with Christ and thru Christ with the Father.

Which must make us ask how WE receive the word of God.  Do we read it, study it, believe it, pray with it, make it part of our lives?

And what about the oral Gospel, i.e., the teachings of Christ’s living Church that aren’t in the Scriptures as such?  Do we receive the teachings of the Holy Father and our bishops as the contemporary interpretation of the Gospel, how we are to understand and live out the Gospel today?

Paul “gave thanks to God unceasingly” because his dear friends in Thessalonica had received and made their own the word of God.  How blessed are we when we do it too!

     [1] “Saint John Bosco to the Salesians,” Constitutions of the Society of Saint Francis de Sales (Paterson, N.J., 1957), p. 3.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Homily for 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
30th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Oct. 24, 1999
Ex 22: 20-26
Guardian Angel, Allendale, N.J.

This 18-year-old homily reads in many spots (not including the opening paragraph!) like it could have been written this week.

Are you ready for Y2K?  For several years, and with increasing intensity, we’ve been hearing dire warnings about computers crashing as 1999 rolls over into 2000, and about what computer breakdown will do to our banks, utilities, traffic control systems, social security records, etc., etc.

St. Paul points to a different sort of crash:  “You await God’s Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead:  Jesus, who delivers us from the coming wrath” (1 Thess 1:10).  Paul speaks of the wrath of the day of the Lord, the day of Christ’s 2d coming, the last day, the day of judgment.  In a few more weeks—on Nov. 14 and 21, specifically—St. Matthew will relate to us 2 parables of Jesus concerned with the coming of the Lord and his ensuing judgment.  The 2d of those parables will be of the separation of the sheep from the goats, good people from evil.  And in that parable Jesus will teach us that the criterion of goodness is our active compassion for our fellow human beings:  “I was hungry and you fed me, naked and you clothed me, sick or in prison and you visited me, a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matt 25:34-36).

The Pharisees questioning Jesus (James Tissot)
Jesus makes that point of active compassion in a theoretical way in his answer to the scribe or lawyer who questioned him about the greatest law.  The greatest law is to love God wholeheartedly, and “the 2d is like it”—i.e., equal in importance—to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39).  In St. Luke’s recounting of this same discussion, Jesus questioner then asks, “Who is my neighbor?”  Whom do I have to be nice to?  And Jesus replies with that most beautiful parable of one man’s compassion for another, the Good Samaritan, which concludes with Jesus’ injunction to imitate the Samaritan’s compassion toward his anonymous neighbor in need (Luke 10:25-37).

Our 1st reading this morning takes the theoretical and makes is specific.  It comes from the book of the law in Exodus—what Moses brought down from Matt. Sinai, according to the book of Exodus, not just the 10 Commandments but a whole code of laws.  And this passage is all about compassion toward our neighbor:  You shall not oppress the immigrant, you shall not wrong the widow or orphan, you shall not extort from your needy neighbor.  If you wrong these people, my wrath will flare up against you.  I’ll hear their prayers for help, for I am compassionate (Ex 22:20-26).  This is the Lord speaking.

That theme of compassion for the weakest and most vulnerable members of human society ties in with a document which our bishops have just issued—about 4 days ago—called “Faithful Citizenship:  Civic Responsibility for a New Millennium.”  Cardinal Mahony, head of the committee that drafted it, remarked, “Catholics really have a great responsibility to be active members of society, to really be informed,” and to try to shape their society as disciples of Christ; to evaluate political candidates and public policy by a gospel standard.

In contrast, the priest-publisher of a national Catholic weekly newspaper believes that Catholics have allowed themselves to become voiceless in a culture that devalues the family.  Why aren’t educated and well-to-do Catholics shaping society for the better?[1]

A columnist in a Catholic magazine asks this week whether we want to leave public policy to the likes of Donald Trump, Warren Beatty, Cybil Shepherd, or even Jesse Ventura.[2]  If we don’t speak up and get involved with Christ-like principles and positions, we’re abandoning the field to that sort of person and to the Ku Klux Klan[3] and to what they stand for:  harsh capitalism, hostility to family, sexual exploitation, racism, atheism, more abortion.

Our bishops, in their latest statement and in others, have instead asked us to work for more protection for the unborn, better treatment for pregnant women, the aged, the dying, working men and women and especially the working poor, immigrants, and refugees.  They have spoken for debt relief for the poor nations of the world, who are victims of that sort of extortion condemned by Exodus.  They ask us to be more active in preventing human disasters like Rwanda, Kosovo, and East Timor.  They call for more aid for education and other forms of development in the Third World.

Charity (Pieter Bruegel the Elder)
Many of the things the bishops push for—on public welfare, immigration, debt relief, foreign aid—are as unpopular with Catholics as with other Americans.  These are political issues inasmuch as they concern the body politic.  But they are not partisan issues.  And of course, how best to implement a gospel principle—what is the best means of aiding an immigrant or improving education or reducing the number of abortions—is a practical judgment beyond the pastoral competence of the bishops (or me) to say.

What the Scriptures call us to is to find some means to practice the love of God and of our neighbor:  particularly this morning, in our treatment of the alien who dwells with us—and we have tens of thousands of them in our midst, and the Bible doesn’t care whether they’re legal or not—and of the other poor, vulnerable, and marginalized members of our world:  the beggar we meet on the street; the unborn child whom we may save or condemn by our vote for a pro-life or a pro-abortion candidate; the victim of political repression or religious persecution whom we help or hurt by the foreign policy we support, or are indifferent to; the single mother who needs some kind of public support to hold a job and raise her child at the same time.

If they cry out to God, he’ll hear them, for he’s compassionate (Ex 22:26).  Jesus asks us also to be compassionate toward them.

        [1] Fr. Owen Kearns of the National Catholic Register, reported in The Beacon, Oct. 21, 1999, p. 17.
        [2] Terry Golway, “A Curious Business,” America, Oct. 23, 1999, p. 6.
        [3] An allusion to a controversial KKK rally in Manhattan the day before, widely covered in the media.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Francis Project

The Francis Project
To Transform Souls with Mercy

by Fr. Henry Bonetti, SDB

Fr. Bonetti, an American Salesian, has been a member of the Korean Province since the 1960s, having gone to the East as a newly professed confrere and missionary.  For the last half-decade he has been rector of one of the Salesian houses of study in Manila, which serves Salesians in formation from all over the Far East.  He sent me this reflection two weeks ago, hesitant about possibly publishing it.  I offered to blog it, and finally I’m doing so.  I have lightly edited his text for style, inserted some bracketed words for clarity, and put a title and subtitle on it.

Inspired by Pope Francis’s example, we have just completed a life-size “smelling-of-sheep” Good Shepherd on the Cross for our seminary chapel. Christ has a sheep around his neck. A local artist carved it using a medieval German cross as an example.

(Avalon Gallery)
Pope Francis is now in the midst of a problem with some of his conservative colleagues over points of doctrine. Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, once said, “I know a bishop who said, ‘I don’t have time for all this mysticism. I have a church to run.’ And he [the bishop] was a good man.” Some good people never get it. The theology experts who have signed a letter pointing out [perceived] errors in doctrine, I’m sure are good men and more learned than I. But they don’t seem to understand Pope Francis.

He is a mystic, a Jesuit religious, a spiritual guide, a visionary, a prophet. Like Mary the mystic, he can ponder in the biblical sense and hold in tension two seemingly contradictory statements in one whole.

Another way of looking at it: St. John Paul II was a philosopher, Pope Benedict is a theologian, Pope Francis is a spiritual guide. He helps people discern. Mercy and transformation are two words that best sum him up, whereas faith and truth would sum up [the two] former popes. Meister Eckhart, a mystic of the Middle Ages, says that the word that best describes God is neither truth nor love but mercy. Thomas Merton, Catherine of Siena, and Julian of Norwich say the same thing.  Pope Francis wants to bring the Church from [being] a Church of morality with constant “NOs” to a Church of discernment with constant “YESes.”

Francis, the prophet, is trying to get us back to the Church’s prophetic spirituality. Prophetic spirituality is about producing difference. It dances between the customary and the new, between the possible future and the given past or present. Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same things over [and over] and expecting different results.

Then, too, looking at Pope Francis from the point of view of the Fathers of the Church, he is not Tertullian (a lawyer), nor is he Origen (a seeker of truth). He is St. Irenaeus (a pastor). He works for transformation with mercy. Pope Francis is talking about a totally different order of reality than the letter-signers. He belongs in no camp, neither Tertullian’s camp of law nor Origen’s camp of truth. Yet he is not outside either camp. Even if he answered the letter, I [believe] the senders would not understand the answer. He transcends both camps while keeping his feet on the ground. And that is why some church officials have a hard time understanding where he wants to take us and what his transformation is all about.

The new students of theology do not study laws and dogmas they study a Person, Jesus Christ. The goal is ultimately to fall in love with Him and obtain what St. John Paul II spoke of as “intelligence of the heart.” And that changes everything we do in life. Our goal is first to make the Church attractive, and later to learn practice and law.  

Engaging Pope Francis in “fraternal dialogue” means to me only that [those theologians] have failed to grasp the true nature of Francis’s mystical path, his prophetic vocation, and his world-transforming service. To understand Pope Francis, one has to believe Jesuit theologian Fr. Karl Rahner’s comment that the whole Church must become mystic, or else it will cease to exist.

Good Shepherd image from the Roman catacombs
When I was first training seminarians, the goal of formation was to become a “JP II priest.” Now the goal is to become a PF I (Pope Francis) priest. As one who is in charge of forming seminarians for the 21st century, I wish to form them into Pope Francis’s shepherds, smelling of sheep. The reform is irreversible. The alternative makes me shudder.

Homily for 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
29th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Oct. 22, 2017
Matt 22: 15-21

I prepared this homily for a parish in Washington, then was informed on Friday evening that a missionary would be speaking at all the weekend Masses there (for Mission Sunday).

“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Matt 22: 21).

Tribute to Caesar, by Gustave Dore'
If you’ve ever been to Canada or Great Britain and have used their coinage, you probably noticed that all those Canadian quarters and dollars, all those British pence and pounds, bear the image of Queen Elizabeth.  They remind citizen and tourist alike that she is the sovereign there.

In our country, as we’ve often heard, the people are sovereign.  Our coins are stamped with the images of American heroes—and also with national mottos like “United States of America” and “E Pluribus Unum.”

There’s one other motto on all our coins:  “In God We Trust.”  Our sovereignty as a people rests on a firmer foundation than ourselves, as our foundational document, the Declaration of Independence, states plainly.  Our fundamental rights come from our Creator, and on him we rely to sustain our freedom and our nationhood.  Like Jesus’ audience, we too have a kind of double allegiance, to both God and country, a phrase we hear often, and rightly so.

In 1st-century Palestine, various Jewish, Greek, and Roman coins were in circulation.  Apparently, tho, only Roman denarii could be used to pay the taxes directly due to Rome, as distinguished from money paid at the Temple, or King Herod’s taxes.

Many Jews, of course, resented the Roman overlords and hated paying taxes to their foreign rulers, especially since graven images—like Caesar’s on those Roman coins—violated the First Commandment, and the Caesars did claim divine honors.  So there was a trap in the question put to Jesus by the Pharisees and their unlikely allies, the Herodians.  (The Pharisees were super-devout Jews zealously obeying all the rules of the Torah.  The Herodians were partisans of King Herod, not likely to be pious but jealous of power and influence over the people.)

Could a patriotic and conscientious Jew pay Roman taxes?  Say “yes,” and Jesus is compromised in the eyes of many of the people.  Say “no,” and he’s inciting resistance to the Roman authorities—who were by no means gentle with rebels.    

Our Lord is no fool, of course.  In fact, he’s far more clever than his enemies.  He asks them for a coin used in the Roman tribute, and they produce a denarius.  He asks them whose image is stamped on it.  “Caesar’s,” they say.  That would be Tiberius Caesar, emperor from 14 to 37 A.D.  Many of his coins have been found in Palestine and other parts of the Empire.

What are the implications of a Roman denarius?  It bears Caesar’s image.  A stamp, a brand, a seal marks ownership.  It’s Caesar’s coin.  It acknowledges his sovereignty, like the Queen’s or the inscription “United States of America.  For a 1st-century Jew, it would also challenge God’s sovereignty.

But when Jesus asked for a denarius, the Pharisees and Herodians had at least one in their pockets!  They had no qualms about using Roman money, about acknowledging Roman authority.  If they had any nationalistic or religious principles against Rome’s lordship, those principles didn’t extend to their pockets.  Roman money was good money.

So Jesus tells them, if it’s Caesar’s money, give it to him when he demands it of you.

After dealing with the direct question about Caesar’s taxes and authority, Jesus deals with the indirect one about God’s rule in Israel:  “Give to God what is God’s.”

But he’s not specific, is he?  What belongs to Caesar, besides his denarius, and what belongs to God?

Well, what bears the image of God?  Where is God’s likeness stamped?  You know the answer very well:  “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27).  Human beings, male and female equally, belong to God.  He is sovereign over our lives, our doings, our words, even our thoughts and hopes and desires and fears.

Modern men and women, especially in the Western world, don’t like to hear that.  We prefer to be independent, to be autonomous, to be self-directed, to be sovereign of our own wills and doings.  We’re proud sons-of-guns!

But you know what?  The only limit on Caesar’s power is that image of God:  give to God—and not to Caesar—what is God’s.  That’s why totalitarian regimes—Henry VIII, Napoleon, Hitler, Communist tyrants from Lenin down to China and North Korea today, and the Chavistas in Venezuela, demand to control religion or to destroy it.  That’s why the Church resists anything that infringes human dignity, anything that doesn’t respect the image of God.  The Church has a large body of social teaching, teaching that applies the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the lives of men and women living together in society.  How is a good and just society ordered?  What leads to authentic peace, to balanced relationships between people?  If we don’t adhere to God’s directives, divine principles, then Caesar—or Big Brother—will step in.

One of the biggest stories in the news in the last 3 weeks has been about Harvey Weinstein—him in particular, and more generally, how women are treated in society.  I hear a lot of confessions, and those confirm to me what I’ve read a lot about and heard a lot about:  Americans, especially American men (but not only men) have a serious pornography problem.  It’s an addiction.  It’s a plague.  It’s one of the biggest businesses in the Western world.  It reflects and feeds the same attitude that produces Weinsteins and Hefners and a sex trafficking racket.

If we respected all human beings as images of God, we wouldn’t have a pornography industry.  We wouldn’t have Harvey Weinsteins.  We wouldn’t have date rapes, a sex “industry,” high divorce rates, tens of thousands of kids growing up without fathers, and HHS mandates for contraception.

If we respected all human beings as images of God, we wouldn’t need a Black Lives Matter movement, and we’d be able to repair our immigration laws, and we’d have trustworthy politicians, and we wouldn’t dread the next Columbine or Las Vegas, and we wouldn’t be slaughtering millions of unborn children worldwide every year.

Caesar has no business claiming rights over human beings as tho they belong to him.  But he does have rights and obligations for the good ordering of society—in international relations, in business, in public safety, in education, and so on.  Making policy in such matters isn’t the Church’s business, altho those subject matters are religious concerns insofar as they concern human dignity, the respect due to men and women stamped with the image of God.  And it is, emphatically, the right and duty of individual Christians to guide Caesar’s doings thru their participation in political life, school boards, community organizations, etc.

Jesus’ words have as much import today as they did when Rome ruled the Mediterranean world.