Tag Archives: Pope Benedict

The Dance of Life

    In this Wednesday’s Gospel (Jn 5: 17-30), my Lord invites me to enter into the mystery of the Holy Trinity.  The way to do this is through faith, and the wonderful reward is the gift of Love that is eternal life.

    At the Pool of Bethesda, Jesus has just healed a man who had been suffering for 38 years of his life.  Our compassionate Lord had decided not to let this man wait for another day to find relief, even if this day happened to be the sabbath.  And so:

 Jesus answered the Jews: “My father is at work until now, so I am at work.”  For this reason they tried all the more to kill him, because He not only broke the sabbath but He also called God His own father, making Himself equal to God. Jesus answered and said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, the Son cannot do anything on his own, but only what He sees the Father doing; for what He does, the Son will do also.  For the Father loves the Son and shows Him everything that He Himself does, and He will show Him greater works than these, so that you may be amazed.For just as the Father raises the dead and gives life, so also does the Son give life to whomever He wishes.”

    And our Lord goes on to say: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life.” Jesus goes on to talk about the resurrection of the dead and the final Judgement, of which both He and the Father are to be the authors.

    One of the things that the Lord says calls out to me:  “For just as the Father has life in Himself, so also He gave the Son the possession of life in Himself.”

This is Divine Life that Jesus is talking about. God is alive with it!

    In his book, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Pope Benedict XVI explains how the Gospel of John uses the Greek word “zoe” to name this supernatural “fullness of life,” different from “bios,” which is our biological life. Pope Benedict writes:  “Eternal life(zoe) is not – as the the modern reader might immediately assume – life after death in contrast to this present life, which is transient and not eternal. ‘Eternal life’ is life itself, real life, which can be lived in the present age and is no longer challenged by physical death. This is the point: to seize  ‘life’ here and now, real life that can no longer be destroyed by anything or anyone.”   The disciple of Jesus “lives beyond the mere fact of existing, he has found the REAL life that everyone is seeking…..life itself, full and, hence, indestructible life.” (Part II, p. 82)

    Wow, this is how I want to live! But how? Providing this life for us is the “work” that Jesus shares with His Father, all week long, even in the sabbath.  How is it given to us? Is it like the water we need to live? Jesus tells the Samaritan woman,,”The water I shall give will become [in you] like a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  Is it like His Breath, the wind, the Spirit that renews the face of the earth,  that gave life to Adam and Eve? Like his last, dying breath, saving all of us?  This life(zoe) given to us freely, seems to be God Himself: the Holy Spirit.

    Richard Rohr offers the image of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, giving of themselves fully to each other, in constant unity, relationship, and movement in a circular dance, to which we are invited, all of us. In my prayer, I imagine this Holy Dance, not as a flat circle,but as a sideways figure-eight: infinity, eternity, eternal life.

    How could I try to become part of this dance? First, by believing in Jesus, the Inviter…..In today’s Gospel He says, “Whoever hears my word and believes  in the One who sent Me has eternal life.”  Then by knowing(recognizing). In His High-Priestly prayer Jesus says, “This is Eternal Life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”  Then, by loving.  Pope Benedict goes on to say,”It is clear that the recognition of Him who is Himself Love leads in turn to love, with all that it gives and all that it demands.”

    Every sensation of joyful or painful love that I have felt in my life, for my parents, wife, son, grandchildren, friends, strangers, the beauty of creation, of art…..it all comes from that Circle of Eternal Love…..This is the source and end of the best possible life that I can live, and surrender to, and invite others to, with every act of self-giving. So come, come dance with us! This feast is forever.

Orlando Hernandez

The Gospel of St. Matthew and the Virgin Birth

holy family

“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about,” today’s reading from Matthew’s gospel begins. He describes it through the experience of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Matthew’s account is summarized in the creed. “I believe in Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God…who by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary.”

Is this true? Here’s Pope Benedict XVI:

“The answer is an unequivocal yes. Karl Barth pointed out that there are two moments in the story of Jesus when God intervenes directly in the material world: the virgin birth and the resurrection from the tomb, in which Jesus did not remain, nor see corruption.

“These two moments are a scandal to the modern spirit. God is “allowed” to act in ideas and thoughts, in the spiritual domain–but not in the material. That is shocking. He does not belong there. But that is precisely the point. God is God and he does not operate merely on the level of ideas. In that sense, what is at stake in both of these moments is God’s very godhead. The question that they raise is: does matter also belong to him?

“Naturally we may not ascribe to God anything nonsensical or irrational, or anything that contradicts his creation. But here we are not dealing with the irrational or contradictory, but precisely with God’s creative power, embracing the whole of being. In that sense, these two moments – the virgin birth and the real resurrection from the tomb–are the cornerstones of faith.

“If God does not have the power over matter then he is simply not God. But he does have this power, and through the conception and resurrection of Jesus Christ he has ushered in a new creation. So as the Creator he is also our Redeemer. Hence the conception and birth of Jesus Christ from the Virgin Mary is a fundamental element of our faith and a radiant sign of hope.”

(The Infancy Narratives: Jesus of Nazareth, Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, pp 56-57 )

Like the temple rulers in Jerusalem who rejected Jesus in his time, there are those who reject him today.

You can find the scripture readings for today here.

Jesus of Nazareth

In his book, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict presents a picture of Jesus Christ from the gospels using the tools of modern scholarship as well as insights from the long tradition of the church.

While he welcomes the resources recent biblical studies provide, he also acknowledges some limitations:

“As historical-critical scholarship advanced…the figure of Jesus became more and more blurred…The reconstructions of Jesus became more and more incompatible with one another: at the one end of the spectrum, Jesus was the anti-Roman revolutionary working–though finally failing–to overthrow the ruling powers; at the other end, he was the weak moral teacher that approves everything and unaccountably comes to grief.”

Some reconstructions of Jesus over the last fifty years are “more like photographs of their authors and the ideals they hold,” the pope says. The result is a skepticism about our ability to know Jesus at all. “This is a dramatic situation for faith, because its point of reference is being placed in doubt: Intimate friendship with Jesus, on which all else depends, is in danger of clutching at thin air.”( foreward xii, Jesus of Nazareth, From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, Ignatius Press 2008)

Seems to me the aim of preaching and catechesis today, as the pope suggests, is to offer a renewed picture of Jesus, enriched by modern studies and faithful to what tradition says of him. A challenge.

Vatican Radio

Vatican Radio  is one of my favorite Bookmarks. Not only do you find basic texts from Rome, like the pope’s talks at World Youth Day, but some great off-beat material too, like interviews with the delightful Carmelite Latinist for the Vatican, Fr. Reginald Foster. The turns and history of latin words can be fascinating and Fr. Reginald is never afraid to give you his own opinions. He’s a brilliant character.

Periodically, there are interesting short programs on music and the art of Rome too on Vatican Radio. One recent program about English hymns to the Sacred Heart made me aware of what that devotion is all about and how it has changed over the years. I’d also like to hear more from the Australian bishop who spoke recently about St. Paul the Apostle’s attitude towards women. You can download these short audio clips and listen to them again.

For this Sunday’s gospel, on the famous promise that Jesus makes to Peter at Caesaria Philippi you can’t do better than listen to Jill Bevilaqua’s 18 minute commentary. Wonderful blend of good history, music, good exegesis and fresh approach. Besides Bevilaqua, there are some other talented women you hear on Vatican Radio, like Philippa Hitchens and Elizabeth Lev.

Great site!

The Last Days

When Jesus came up to Jerusalem before his death, he was not a hapless Galillean peasant who would be cut down by a powerful Jewish-Roman elite. He was not simply a healer who was killed because he stirred up crowds and might also stir up revolution in the sensitive land of his day.

Those who believed in him saw him as a great teacher, a  “Rabbi” well aware of his times and his tradition. Matthew’s gospel emphasizes his role as teacher. But he was more than that, as Peter testifies in the 9th chapter of Matthew. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

In the chapters of the synoptic gospels  preceding his passion, Jesus Christ speaks about the world and its future, the “end times.”  In his new book,” Jesus of Nazareth, Part 2,” Pope Benedict calls this part of the gospel the most difficult part to explain.

Jesus sees the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and what follows it. That’s important as he goes to his death.

He sees himself as the new temple. In a new age, when the gentiles are called to believe in him, the old temple will be abandoned. Its sacrifices for sins now take place through the blood of the Lamb. His blood is shed for us and we are united to God through him.

So much of what Jesus does at the Last Supper begins that replacement of the temple and its sacrifices.

The temple and everything about it was dear to him. That’s obvious from what he says about it and his devotion to its worship. Like a mother hen he would have sheltered the Holy City under his wings, but it turned away, as it turned away from Jeremiah and the other prophets.

There are signs up on the buses from Union City to New York City that Judgment Day is  coming on May 21st. That’s the word from Harold Camping on Family Radio, who has it all figured out.

The pope’s summary of the end times in his book is so much more nuanced than that of the biblical  fundamentalists. He keeps the future mysterious, and repeats Jesus’ message to “stay awake” each day.


The New Temple

In his new book, Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict begins the account of the Passion of Jesus with the incident in the temple in Jerusalem when Jesus drives out those who buy and sell there. Unlike the other gospels that put that event immediately before his passion and death, John’s gospel puts it further back, at the beginning of Jesus ministry, as he goes up to the Holy City to celebrate the Passover.

Unlike the other gospels that present one journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, John’s gospel sees Jesus making three journeys there. His chronology is more accurate. He wishes to show that opposition to Jesus at the highest levels began early on. If he overturned the tables in the entranceway of the temple, what would he do next?  Destroy it? Alarmed, the city’s leaders kept a close watch on this Galilean trouble-maker.

The pope calls attention to three interpretations for Jesus’ action. First, some say he was trying to reform a system gone bad as abuses crept in. People, including those in charge of the temple, were making money on the system and Jesus was calling attention to their corrupt practices.

Benedict sees more to the event than that.

Others say that Jesus was a Zealot,  belonging to a Jewish party intent on forcefully overthrowing a Judaism become too “Hellenized,”  too influenced by the prevailing Greco-Roman culture of its conquerors.

There are flaws to this interpretation too, Benedict notes, and points to the way the synoptic gospels describe Jesus as he enters Jerusalem immediately before he cleanses the temple. He rides into the city on a donkey, the humble beast who carries a humble Messiah. The warrior would come on a horse and chariot. He is the shepherd slain for his sheep, the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, who takes his people’s sins on to himself.

The temple was conceived as more than a place of Jewish worship. According to the Prophet Isaiah ( Isaiah 2,2-5) it was seen as a place where all peoples could come to worship the one God. The court of the Gentiles in the temple symbolized their future place. Jesus‘ action symbolically readied Judaism to receive new nations.

In the gospel of John, 12:20 ff, some Greeks ask to see Jesus, just before his passion and death. They represent the new peoples who find their way to the Father through Jesus himself. His death will bring much fruit.

In John’s gospel, he tells the Samaritan woman, “the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” Jn 4, 21  Jesus becomes the new temple.

Compasssion Magazine

The current issue of COMPASSION MAGAZINE, a publication of St. Paul of the Cross Province, is online. It began in print, but like most print magazines today COMPASSION is making a transition to the Internet. So many newspapers and magazines are negotiating the tricky road of change in the way we communicate, and I think COMPASSION is doing as well as any of them. If you take a look at it, I’m sure you’ll agree that its newly designed online face is beautifully done.

This issue, entitled Listening, has stories about the ministries of various members of our community. The first article is about  some priests from our Pittsburgh community who listen to those who come to our monastery on top of a hill overlooking that city. It’s a wonderful reminder of the spiritual direction offered by many of our members that goes unnoticed, for the most part.

There’s an article on Pope Benedict’s latest encyclical, which I wrote.

Listening to Young Catholics is a perceptive look at the young from Fr. Robin Ryan, CP, who leads a program for young Catholics at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

A young Passionist volunteer tells about her experiences in Jamaica, WI. It’s a charming story of interaction between two people of different cultures and ages.

Fr. Paul Zilonka, a former missionary in Jamaica and editor of COMPASSION, talks about some of his friends who once ministered there. They’re some of my friends too. One of them is at death’s door now, so please pray for him.

There’s more to read there too.