Tag Archives: Pope Francis

The Council of Jerusalem

Our reading at Mass  from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 15, 7-21) brings us to a critical moment in the life of the early church– the Council of Jerusalem, which decided whether and on what terms gentiles would be accepted into the new Christian movement. Its decision to admit the gentiles led to a rapid expansion of the church as non-Jews from all parts of the Roman world embraced the faith.

Luke Timothy Johnson has a fine commentary on this crucial event. (Acts of the Apostles: Sacra Pagina, Liturgical Press 1992)

Did a meeting really take place? Johnson writes “we can state with considerable confidence that in the first decades of the Christian movement an important meeting was held concerning the legitimacy and basis of the Gentile mission; that participants included Paul and Peter and James and Barnabas; that certain agreements were reached which, in one way or another, secured the basic freedom of the Gentile initiative. The most striking agreement between the sources comes, in fact, at the religious level. With only very slight variation, both Luke and Paul agree that the basis of the mission to the Gentiles was a matter of God’s gift, (Acts15,11. Gal 2,9) and that God was equally at work in the Apostle Paul as he was in the Apostle Peter. (Acts 15,7-8.12; Gal 2,8)

Notice the hesitancy of  the original Jewish followers of Jesus to accept gentiles into their ranks. That’s evident in Peter’s strong reluctance to meet the Roman centurion Cornelius as he visits believers of his own kind around Joppa. Not only are the disciples slow to recognize their Risen Lord, they’re slow to accept his plans for expanding their ranks. Peter must see signs of God at work in Cornelius before baptizing him and his household. Paul, James and Barnabas also must see God’s gifts in the outsiders they meet before they recognize that God is calling them to believe.

God sows seeds of faith, but we’re as slow to recognize the action of God in others as the first disciples were. We have trouble seeing God’s action in the stranger and in the unexpected. We need  enlightenment.

Johnson notes that the Church’s journey through time is marked by conflict and debate. We must accept those conditions today too. Those who follow Jesus will not always agree with each other; there are strong opinions and differences among believers.

One thing I would add. Besides conflict and debate, our reading today speaks of the “silence” that comes as they debate. We’re in the presence of our transcendent God, whose ways and thoughts are above ours. We need silence to discern God’s will. Too much talk can get in the way.

Building a City

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Tower of Babel. Pieter Bruegel the Elder. 16th century

After the deluge, God renews a covenant with creation, and the descendants of Noah begin to fulfill God’s command “to increase and multiply and fill the earth.”

But then something else happens: human beings, desiring to be together, join in building a city. A common origin and language draws them together, not just as families or clans, but in a larger society. They look for human flourishing in a city. (Genesis 11,1-9)

Unfortunately, they overreach. They want to get their heads into the heavens and so they plan a tower into the sky. Like Adam and Eve reaching for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they want to be like gods, “presuming to do whatever they want” God says. Their tower becomes a Tower of Babel. It collapses and they’re scattered over the world, leaving their city unfinished.

It’s important to recognize that the Genesis story does not claim God’s against human beings building a city. The bible, in fact, sees the city as a place favorable for human flourishing. In the Book of Jonah, God values the great city of Nineveh. Jesus sees Jerusalem, the Holy City, cherished by the Lord, the place where he dwells. The Spirit descends on his church in the city. The Genesis story sees the city as good, but it can be destroyed by sin and human pride..

The picture at the beginning of this blog is a painting of the Tower of Babel by the 16th century Dutch artist, Pieter Bruegel the Elder. It’s situates Babel in Antwerp, one of the key seaports of the time. Its shaky structure suggests it’s too ambitiously built. Still incomplete, it may not last. So the painter offers a warning against ambition and not caring for people, especially the needy.

It’s interesting to note that Pope Francis encourages mayors from cities to plan well. Commentators say the pope, conscious of a rising isolationism that’s affecting nations and international bodies today, sees cities to be agents for unifying peoples. They’re important places for humans to flourish. The United Nations also sees cities as key resources in the challenge that comes with climate change.

The picture at the end? You don’t have to be told. A great city. Still, its greatness will be judged, not by its big buildings or businesses, but how it encourages human flourishing.

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Water

Mary Garden, Passionist Monastery, Jamaica, New York

Today’s reading from Genesis begins the second creation account (Genesis 2,4..) which pays particular attention to the creation of human beings. But it begins with water, welling up from the earth bringing life to the earth and finally the human family. Water is at the heart of the garden God provides for Adam and Eve. We have a fountain in the center of our Mary Garden signifying water’s vital role in the garden that was Eden and in the world we live in today.
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Pope Francis speaks repeatedly of the role of water in our common home of creation and our need to care for it. Here are some of his reflections from last year’s World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. Notice his strong objection to attempts to privatize water by commercial groups.

“On this World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, which the Catholic Church for several years now has celebrated in union with our Orthodox brothers and sisters and with participation of other Churches and Christian communities, I would like to draw attention to the question of water. It is a very simple and precious element, yet access to it is, sadly, for many people difficult if not impossible. Nonetheless, “access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. Our world owes a great social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity” (ibid., 30).
Water invites us to reflect on our origins. The human body is mostly composed of water, and many civilizations throughout history arose near great rivers that marked their identity. In an evocative image, the beginning of the book of Genesis states that, in the beginning, the spirit of the Creator “swept over the face of the waters (1:2)”.
In considering the fundamental role of water in creation and in human development, I feel the need to give thanks to God for “Sister Water”, simple and useful for life like nothing else on our planet.  Precisely for this reason, care for water sources and water basins is an urgent imperative. Today, more than ever, we need to look beyond immediate concerns (cf. Laudato Si’, 36) and beyond a purely utilitarian view of reality, “in which efficiency and productivity are entirely geared to our individual benefit” (ibid., 159). We urgently need shared projects and concrete gestures that recognize that every privatization of the natural good of water, at the expense of the human right to have access to this good, is unacceptable.
For us Christians, water represents an essential element of purification and of life.  We think immediately of baptism, the sacrament of our rebirth. Water made holy by the Spirit is the matter by which God has given us life and renewed us; it is the blessed source of undying life. For Christians of different confessions, baptism also represents the real and irreplaceable point of departure for experiencing an ever more authentic fraternity on the way to full unity. Jesus, in the course of his mission, promised a water capable of quenching human thirst for ever (cf. Jn 4:14).  He prophesied, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink (Jn 7:37). To drink from Jesus means to encounter him personally as the Lord, drawing from his words the meaning of life. May the words he spoke from the cross – “I thirst” (Jn 19:28) – echo constantly in our hearts. The Lord continues to ask that his thirst be quenched; he thirsts for love.  He asks us to give him to drink in all those who thirst in our own day, and to say to them, “I was thirsty and you gave me to drink” (Mt 25:35). To give to drink, in the global village, does not only entail personal gestures of charity, but also concrete choices and a constant commitment to ensure to all the primary good of water.”

https://www.vaticannews.va/en/taglist.cultura-e-societa.Diritti-umani.html

The Days of Genesis

The days that unfold in the Book of Genesis we’re reading this week get ever more complex. First, there’s God, then light and water paving the way for a host of new things, non-living and living. Finally, we humans enter the picture. A complex, changing world it is, day by day.

Jessica Powers, a Carmelite nun and poet, wrote about our experience of that world– “Song At Daybreak”

This morning on the way

that yawns with light across the eastern sky

and lifts its bright arms high –

It may bring hours disconsolate or gay,

I do not know, but this much I can say:

It will be unlike any other day.

 

God lives in his surprise and variation.

No leaf is matched, no star is shaped to star.

No soul is like my soul in all creation

though I may search afar.

There is something -anquish or elation-

that is peculiar to this day alone.

I rise from sleep and say: Hail to the morning!

Come down to me, my beautiful unknown.

“My Beautiful unknown”. Our world is beautiful, but unknown, surprising, with variations that bring “anguish or elation.” Religious people should acknowledge this, since they believe in a surprising God, but unfortunately we can make God too small. We “think like humans do.” We only think so far.

Pope Francis is taking some flack for a statement on religious freedom he made jointly with the Grand Iman of Al-Azhar in Abu Dhabi last week: “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.”

“Freedom is a right of every person: each individual enjoys the freedom of belief, thought, expression and action. The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings.”

“Religious indifferentism” some say, but is it just acknowledging the world the Book of Genesis describes? Our common home is complex, “willed by God in His wisdom.”

The Genesis account and the rest of the Bible deserve a search for their wisdom. I know there’s a new story that science tells, but Genesis and the Bible were there first.They have a story too.

Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together

 

 

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Pope Francis and the Grand Imama of Al-Azhar, Ahmad el-Tayeb,

“Something is happening.” That’s the way the great reading for our Holy Saturday liturgy, taken from an ancient homily, begins. We don’t see clearly yet, but something is happening.

And that’s the way I felt yesterday watching on YouTube a Mass at Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates where more than one hundred thousand Christian migrant workers in the Middle East celebrated their faith with Pope Francis. Christianity is alive in the Middle East.

In the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” signed on Monday afternoon in Abu Dhabi by Pope Francis and the Grand Imama of Al-Azhar, Ahmad el-Tayeb, a path for the two religions and the world itself opened. Something is happening.

The document from leaders of these two great religious traditions, Christian and Muslim, is worth reflecting on.

It begins:
“In the name of God who has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity, and who has called them to live together as brothers and sisters, to fill the earth and make known the values of goodness, love and peace,”

The document speaks for innocent human life, the poor, the destitute and the marginalized, the victims of destruction, calamities and war. It invokes the name of freedom, fraternity, peace and justice, the name of all people everywhere:

“In the name of God and of everything stated thus far; Al-Azhar al-Sharif and the Muslims of the East and West, together with the Catholic Church and the Catholics of the East and West, declare the adoption of a culture of dialogue as the path; mutual cooperation as the code of conduct; reciprocal understanding as the method and standard.”

“We, who believe in God and in the final meeting with Him and His judgment, on the basis of our religious and moral responsibility, and through this Document, call upon ourselves, upon the leaders of the world as well as the architects of international policy and world economy, to work strenuously to spread the culture of tolerance and of living together in peace; to intervene at the earliest opportunity to stop the shedding of innocent blood and bring an end to wars, conflicts, environmental decay and the moral and cultural decline that the world is presently experiencing.”

One commentator Tuesday said a meeting like this takes time for its meaning to be felt. “Something is happening.”

Caring for Creation

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St. Francis is one of those super saints  to keep in mind, even after his feast day. I mentioned in a previous blog the statue of Francis facing St. John Lateran and Pope Innocent’s dream of a young man who, like Francis, held up the church’s walls ready to fall.  Francis helped renew the church.

In his encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis paints a verbal picture of Francis, holding his arms out to the created world, caring for our endangered planet:

“I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology, and he is also much loved by non-Christians. He was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.

“Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human. Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason”.

“His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’”. Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behaviour.

“If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.

What is more, Saint Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness. “Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker” (Wis 13:5); indeed, “his eternal power and divinity have been made known through his works since the creation of the world” (Rom 1:20). For this reason, Francis asked that part of the friary garden always be left untouched, so that wild flowers and herbs could grow there, and those who saw them could raise their minds to God, the Creator of such beauty. Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”

I like the pope’s words: “Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”

Matthew, the tax collector


Jews  usually turned away when they passed the customs place where Matthew, the tax-collector, was sitting. But

“As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.”

To celebrate their new friendship, Matthew invited Jesus to a banquet at his house with his friends – other tax collectors like himself – and Jesus came with some of his disciples. They were criticized immediately for breaking one of Capernaum’s social codes. “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus’ answer was quick: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.

Go and learn the meaning of the words `I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Hardly anything is known of Matthew’s part in Jesus’ later ministry, yet surely the tradition must be correct that says he recorded much of what Jesus said and did. A tax-collector was good at keeping books; did Matthew keep memories? Did he remember some things that were especially related his world?

The gospels say that wherever Jesus went he was welcomed by tax collectors. When he entered Jericho, Zachaeus, the chief tax collector of the city, climbed a tree to see him pass, since the crowds were so great. Did Matthew point out the man in the tree to Jesus, a tax collector like himself who brought them all to his house, where Jesus left his blessing of salvation? And did tax collectors in other towns come to Jesus because they recognized one of their own among his companions?

Probably so. Jesus always looked kindly on outsiders like Matthew who were targets of so much suspicion and resentment. True, they belonged to a compromised profession tainted by greed, dishonesty and bribery. Their dealings were not always according to the fine line of right or wrong.

But they were children of God and, like lost sheep, Jesus would not let them be lost.

It’s interesting to note that Pope Francis told a group of bishops recently that he got his vocation to be a priest on the Feast of St. Matthew, when he went to confession and heard God’s call, a call of mercy.