Jesus ate with sinners. That’s always been amazing to me. In some ways it’s the heart of the Gospel:
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:7–8, ESV).
I was struck by St. Augustine’s imitation of Jesus in the last days of his life:
As the then Cardinal Ratzinger tells the story,
“When Augustine felt his death approaching, he ‘excommunicated’ himself and took upon himself ecclesiastical penitence. In his last days, he set himself alongside, in solidarity, with the public sinners who seek forgiveness and grace through the pain of not receiving Communion.”
What a gesture! I wonder if that message would come across today. Think about it: your bishop comes to Mass this Sunday and sits in the pews, toward the back. When it’s time for receiving Holy Communion, he stays in his pew and doesn’t receive! When asked, he says he’s trying to show solidarity with those who are divorced and remarried who come to Mass, but can’t receive Holy Communion.
I read with enthusiasm R.R. Reno’s First Things essay “The Return of Catholic Anti-Modernism” and, as always, appreciated his many insights. He helpfully pointed out some ways in which Pope Francis’s recent papal encyclical Laudato Si embodies a bold critique of Modernity. ….Read More
I want to begin with a personal anecdote that is not directly related to Fatima. In the academic year of 1996-1997 a junior at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio was running for student president, thinking that he would be able to have the most impact for good on campus by exercising that position his senior year. As a prominent member of the student senate he played a prominent and very public (both on national radio and outside of the U.S.) role in a number of significant changes that took place on campus. Notwithstanding his valiant efforts, he lost the presidential race. Unsure what to do, he turned to an older friend and mentor, and decided to become an R.A. in a dorm and lead a Bible study for freshmen in the dorm. This incoming senior would-be R.A. and Bible study leader, was a student leader in a very large para-church (primarily evangelical Protestant Christian) organization on campus, which, at least for the following two years (if I’m not mistaken), represented the largest para-church organization on any college campus in the world at that time, boasting about 1,000 members at their weekly meeting. His mentor, who happened to be Roman Catholic, was a staff member with that organization (at one point full-time, but by this point, part-time on a volunteer basis). That summer they decided to fast and pray for the future Bible study which together they would co-lead. They studied Scripture and church history together that summer, and they prayed and fasted that the future study would bear fruit for the kingdom of God.
The first time I met Pope John Paul II…well, perhaps “met” is the wrong word when you’re in a crowd of seven million people? Yet, as I think back to that World Youth Day in the Philippine Islands, “met” is the only word that describes what happened. I didn’t merely see John Paul II. No. Even in a crowd of millions, I had the feeling that he loved me. As his eyes fell upon each of us, I felt loved by him, as if his eyes were the very eyes of Jesus.
I can imagine Jesus looking at people with these same eyes. Pope John Paul II had so given himself to the Heart of Jesus that his eyes spoke with the Heart of Jesus. One can understand why the crowd that gathered that World Youth Day in the Philippines was the largest crowd ever assembled in human history: these young people gathered not simply to see Pope John Paul II; they crowded around the Bishop of Rome because in him they saw Christ.
“Man Is the Way of the Church, and Christ Is the Way of Man”
HOMILY OF POPE BENEDICT XVI
BEATIFICATION OF POPE JOHN PAUL II
ST PETER’S SQUARE
1 MAY 2011
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Six years ago we gathered in this Square to celebrate the funeral of Pope John Paul II. Our grief at his loss was deep, but even greater was our sense of an immense grace which embraced Rome and the whole world: a grace which was in some way the fruit of my beloved predecessor’s entire life, and especially of his witness in suffering. Even then we perceived the fragrance of his sanctity, and in any number of ways God’s People showed their veneration for him. For this reason, with all due respect for the Church’s canonical norms, I wanted his cause of beatification to move forward with reasonable haste. And now the longed-for day has come; it came quickly because this is what was pleasing to the Lord: John Paul II is blessed!
Once again, I ask for your forgiveness as I am almost a week late in getting this reflection up. Regardless, I do want to say a few things regarding this last Sunday’s reading as His Holiness puts it in his 2011 Message for Lent. Here is what he says:
On the fifth Sunday, when the resurrection of Lazarus is proclaimed, we are faced with the ultimate mystery of our existence: “I am the resurrection and the life… Do you believe this?” (Jn 11: 25-26). For the Christian community, it is the moment to place with sincerity – together with Martha – all of our hopes in Jesus of Nazareth: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world” (Jn 11: 27). Communion with Christ in this life prepares us to overcome the barrier of death, so that we may live eternally with him. Faith in the resurrection of the dead and hope in eternal life open our eyes to the ultimate meaning of our existence: God created men and women for resurrection and life, and this truth gives an authentic and definitive meaning to human history, to the personal and social lives of men and women, to culture, politics and the economy. Without the light of faith, the entire universe finishes shut within a tomb devoid of any future, any hope.
Today’s Gospel reading is about Jesus’ dialogue with the Samaritan woman about thirst and water. The Holy Father’s brief synopsis from his lenten reflection is the following:
The question that Jesus puts to the Samaritan woman: “Give me a drink” (Jn 4: 7), is presented to us in the liturgy of the third Sunday; it expresses the passion of God for every man and woman, and wishes to awaken in our hearts the desire for the gift of “a spring of water within, welling up for eternal life” (Jn 4: 14): this is the gift of the Holy Spirit, who transforms Christians into “true worshipers,” capable of praying to the Father “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4: 23). Only this water can extinguish our thirst for goodness, truth and beauty! Only this water, given to us by the Son, can irrigate the deserts of our restless and unsatisfied soul, until it “finds rest in God”, as per the famous words of St. Augustine.
My favorite part of this interpretation is found in the ending, when the Holy Father tells that it is the Holy Spirit alone who can “irrigate the deserts of our restless and unsatisfied soul”. The human person is thirsty. Without a doubt, there is some sort of primeval emptiness in the human heart, a perennial search for completeness. What can satisfy the heart, the core of man?
Continuing on with our journey through Benedict’s Message for Lent this year, we come to the Second Sunday of Lent, which is the Transfiguration. The Holy Father writes:
The Gospel of the Transfiguration of the Lord puts before our eyes the glory of Christ, which anticipates the resurrection and announces the divinization of man. The Christian community becomes aware that Jesus leads it, like the Apostles Peter, James and John “up a high mountain by themselves” (Mt 17:1), to receive once again in Christ, as sons and daughters in the Son, the gift of the grace of God: “This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favor. Listen to him” (Mt 17:5). It is the invitation to take a distance from the noisiness of everyday life in order to immerse oneself in God’s presence. He desires to hand down to us, each day, a Word that penetrates the depths of our spirit, where we discern good from evil (cf. Heb 4:12), reinforcing our will to follow the Lord.
In Jeffrey Morrow’s recent post, he suggests a prayerful reading of Pope Benedict XVI’s lenten message. I second that suggestion. The Holy Father’s words are touching, beautiful and enlightening. As somewhat a response to Morrow’s post, I have decided to write a brief, personal reflection over the text of the Pope’s lenten message. What I would like to do is develop this into a short series given each week of Lent. I propose this because the Holy Father, in his message, offers a theological synopsis of each Gospel reading on the given Lenten Sundays. Hence, he writes this message with a chronological, theological flow in mind. As best I can on a blog and with my limited theological knowledge, I want to reflect upon and follow the theology weekly. And I invite you, reader, to accompany me on the journey! Let us begin:
The Holy Father begins with an invitation to the Church: to intensify her journey in purifying the spirit, “so as to draw more abundantly from the Mystery of Redemption the new life in Christ the Lord”. Through this invitation, Benedict introduces Baptism, explaining that this life “was already bestowed upon us on the day of our Baptism, when we ‘become sharers in Christ’s death and Resurrection’, and there began for us ‘the joyful and exulting adventure of his disciples'”. After quoting from the writings of Paul, the Holy Father comes to a beautiful conclusion:
At the end of part I of this two-part post, we ended with Benedict drawing the synthesis of hope and joy in their inner-relationship with the Easter message and its significance. He then quotes a passage from the Second Reading, which illustrates the relationship beautifully, first quoting from St. Peter in the Second Reading: “‘by his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’. And he adds: ‘In this you rejoice…’ (1 Pt 1:3, 6). Here too, the fact that hope and joy are theological realities which radiate from the mystery of Christ’s Resurrection and from the gift of his Spirit clearly emerges. We could say that the Holy Spirit takes them from the Heart of the Risen Christ and transfuses them in the hearts of his friends”.
At this point, Benedict clearly introduces into his preaching the image of the heart. On Cardinal Spidlík’s coat of arms, there is the motto: “ex toto corde” (“with all your heart”). Biblically, this phrase is founded in the instruction of how Israel must love her God: “Hear, O Israel…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart” (cf. Dt 6:4-5). The heart as the nucleus of man is clear. Hence, the whole human person is called to love, and this is what is meant when the term “repent” is found in the Bible, as in the words of St. John the Baptist. To repent is to re-orient one’s heart—one’s soul, might, personality, attitude, sight—toward the Kingdom of God.