Q. This Sunday’s Gospel is taken from John 21. Does this chapter have any implications for the papacy?
A. Other texts, like Matthew 16, are often cited in this regard, but John 21 has one of the strongest proofs for the ongoing role of the office of Peter in the universal Church. Even non-Catholic scholars recognize this.
Q. Does the miraculous catch of fish in this chapter have anything to do with the Petrine office?
A. Fishing, of course, wasn’t just the former trade of the apostles; it represents their evangelistic mission of being “fishers of men”. The unbroken net conveys the unity of the one Catholic (universal) Church. Elsewhere, when Jesus provides a miraculous draught of fish, the nets begin to break from the strain; here, the nets are intact. Peter, dragging the net ashore, evokes his leadership in bringing the Church safely home to Christ, even to the shores of Heaven itself.
Interestingly, although the catch was so big that the disciples struggled to bring the nets aboard, almost sinking their boat, Peter now easily drags the net ashore all by himself. The Greek verb in the original text that is used to describe Peter’s dragging of the net is the same one used by Jesus in John 12:32. This is where Jesus says that, as he is lifted up from the earth, he will draw all people to himself.
Q. Why does the text mention specifically that 153 fish were caught?
A. By far, the most puzzling aspect of the passage is the reference to the 153 fish. First of all, this is an authentic eyewitness detail. On a secondary level, many commentators have proffered various theories to explain what this number might symbolize (John’s Gospel functions on “two levels” – there is often a secondary, “heavenly” meaning to earthly events). Most of these interpretations suggest the idea of the universality or completeness of the catch.
So, to sum up: we have Peter, alone, dragging the unbroken net of a universal catch to the shores of heaven. This is clearly a reference to his position as leader of the Church on earth.
When you add to all of this the threefold charge of Jesus to Peter (“Feed my Sheep”) that immediately follows, the picture is complete. Peter is singularly (in the original Greek text) given this responsibility to shepherd the universal Church. Keep in mind also that this event is recounted in the same Gospel in which Jesus describes himself as the “Good Shepherd” (John 10). Before his Ascension, Jesus here reaffirms Peter’s unique leadership position, passing the earthly reins of the Church to him.
Pope Francis’ “Urbi et Orbi” (To the City and to the World) Address
Easter Sunday – April 5, 2015
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Happy Easter! Jesus Christ is risen!
Love has triumphed over hatred, life has conquered death, light has dispelled the darkness!
Out of love for us, Jesus Christ stripped himself of his divine glory, emptied himself, took on the form of a slave and humbled himself even to death, death on a cross. For this reason God exalted him and made him Lord of the universe. Jesus is Lord!
By his death and resurrection, Jesus shows everyone the way to life and happiness: this way is humility, which involves humiliation. This is the path which leads to glory. Only those who humble themselves can go towards the “things that are above”, towards God (cf. Col 3:1-4). The proud look “down from above”; the humble look “up from below”.
On Easter morning, alerted by the women, Peter and John ran to the tomb. They found it open and empty. Then they drew near and “bent down” in order to enter it. To enter into the mystery, we need to “bend down”, to abase ourselves. Only those who abase themselves understand the glorification of Jesus and are able to follow him on his way.
The world proposes that we put ourselves forward at all costs, that we compete, that we prevail… But Christians, by the grace of Christ, dead and risen, are the seeds of another humanity, in which we seek to live in service to one another, not to be arrogant, but rather respectful and ready to help.
This is not weakness, but true strength! Those who bear within them God’s power, his love and his justice, do not need to employ violence; they speak and act with the power of truth, beauty and love.
From the risen Lord we ask the grace not to succumb to the pride which fuels violence and war, but to have the humble courage of pardon and peace. We ask Jesus, the Victor over death, to lighten the sufferings of our many brothers and sisters who are persecuted for his name, and of all those who suffer injustice as a result of ongoing conflicts and violence.
We ask for peace, above all, for Syria and Iraq, that the roar of arms may cease and that peaceful relations may be restored among the various groups which make up those beloved countries. May the international community not stand by before the immense humanitarian tragedy unfolding in these countries and the drama of the numerous refugees.
We pray for peace for all the peoples of the Holy Land. May the culture of encounter grow between Israelis and Palestinians and the peace process be resumed, in order to end years of suffering and division.
We implore peace for Libya, that the present absurd bloodshed and all barbarous acts of violence may cease, and that all concerned for the future of the country may work to favour reconciliation and to build a fraternal society respectful of the dignity of the person. For Yemen too we express our hope for the growth of a common desire for peace, for the good of the entire people.
At the same time, in hope we entrust to the merciful Lord the framework recently agreed to in Lausanne, that it may be a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world.
We ask the risen Lord for the gift of peace for Nigeria, South Sudan and for the various areas of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. May constant prayer rise up from all people of goodwill for those who lost their lives – I think in particular of the young people who were killed last Thursday at Garissa University College in Kenya –, for all who have been kidnapped, and for those forced to abandon their homes and their dear ones.
May the Lord’s resurrection bring light to beloved Ukraine, especially to those who have endured the violence of the conflict of recent months. May the country rediscover peace and hope thanks to the commitment of all interested parties.
We ask for peace and freedom for the many men and women subject to old and new forms of enslavement on the part of criminal individuals and groups. Peace and liberty for the victims of drug dealers, who are often allied with the powers who ought to defend peace and harmony in the human family. And we ask peace for this world subjected to arms dealers.
May the marginalized, the imprisoned, the poor and the migrants who are so often rejected, maltreated and discarded, the sick and the suffering, children, especially those who are victims of violence; all who today are in mourning, and all men and women of goodwill, hear the consoling voice of the Lord Jesus: “Peace to you!” (Lk 24:36). “Fear not, for I am risen and I shall always be with you” (cf. Roman Missal, Entrance Antiphon for Easter Day).
Here is the English translation of Pope Francis’ homily from tonight’s Easter vigil in St Peter’s Basilica, Rome. Happy Easter, everyone! Christ is risen! Alleluia!
Tonight is a night of vigil. The Lord is not sleeping; the Watchman is watching over his people (cf. Ps 121:4), to bring them out of slavery and to open before them the way to freedom.
The Lord is keeping watch and, by the power of his love, he is bringing his people through the Red Sea. He is also bringing Jesus through the abyss of death and the netherworld.
This was a night of vigil for the disciples of Jesus, a night of sadness and fear. The men remained locked in the Upper Room. Yet, the women went to the tomb at dawn on Sunday to anoint Jesus’ body. Their hearts were overwhelmed and they were asking themselves: “How will we enter? Who will roll back the stone of the tomb?…” But here was the first sign of the great event: the large stone was already rolled back and the tomb was open!
“Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe…” (Mk 16:5). The women were the first to see this great sign, the empty tomb; and they were the first to enter…
“Entering the tomb”. It is good for us, on this Vigil night, to reflect on the experience of the women, which also speaks to us. For that is why we are here: to enter, to enter into the Mystery which God has accomplished with his vigil of love.
We cannot live Easter without entering into the mystery. It is not something intellectual, something we only know or read about… It is more, much more!
“To enter into the mystery” means the ability to wonder, to contemplate; the ability to listen to the silence and to hear the tiny whisper amid great silence by which God speaks to us (cf 1 Kings 19:12).
To enter into the mystery demands that we not be afraid of reality: that we not be locked into ourselves, that we not flee from what we fail to understand, that we not close our eyes to problems or deny them, that we not dismiss our questions…
To enter into the mystery means going beyond our own comfort zone, beyond the laziness and indifference which hold us back, and going out in search of truth, beauty and love. It is seeking a deeper meaning, an answer, and not an easy one, to the questions which challenge our faith, our fidelity and our very existence.
To enter into the mystery, we need humility, the lowliness to abase ourselves, to come down from the pedestal of our “I” which is so proud, of our presumption; the humility not to take ourselves so seriously, recognizing who we really are: creatures with strengths and weaknesses, sinners in need of forgiveness. To enter into the mystery we need the lowliness that is powerlessness, the renunciation of our idols… in a word, we need to adore. Without adoration, we cannot enter into the mystery.
The women who were Jesus’ disciples teach us all of this. They kept watch that night, together with Mary. And she, the Virgin Mother, helped them not to lose faith and hope. As a result, they did not remain prisoners of fear and sadness, but at the first light of dawn they went out carrying their ointments, their hearts anointed with love. They went forth and found the tomb open. And they went in. They had kept watch, they went forth and they entered into the Mystery. May we learn from them to keep watch with God and with Mary our Mother, so that we too may enter into the Mystery which leads from death to life.
Note: this is the homily of Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM, Cap., Preacher of the Papal Household, which was just delivered at the Good Friday Serivice for the Passion of the Lord in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
We have just heard the account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate. There is one point in particular in that account on which we need to pause.
“Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged him. And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and clothed him in a purple robe; they came up to him, saying, ‘Hail King of the Jews!’ and struck him with their hands. . . . So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man!’ [Ecce Homo!] (Jn 19:1-3, 5)
Among the innumerable paintings that have the Ecce Homo as their subject, there is one that has always impressed me. It is by the sixteenth-century Flemish painter, Jan Mostaert. Let me try to describe it. It will help imprint the episode better in our minds, since the artist only transcribes faithfully in paint the facts of the gospel account, especially that of Mark (see Mk 15:16-20).
Jesus has a crown of thorns on his head. A sheaf of thorny branches found in the courtyard, perhaps to light a fire, furnished the soldiers an opportunity for this parody of his royalty. Drops of blood run down his face. His mouth is half open, like someone who is having trouble breathing. On his shoulders there is heavy and worn-out mantle, more similar to tinplate than to cloth. His shoulders have cuts from recent blows during his flogging. His wrists are bound together by a coarse rope looped around twice. They have put a reed in one of his hands as a kind of scepter and a bundle of branches in the other, symbols mocking his royalty. Jesus cannot move even a finger; this is a man reduced to total powerlessness, the prototype of all the people in history with their hands bound.
Meditating on the passion, the philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote these words one day: “Christ will be in agony until the end of the world; we must not sleep during this time.” There is a sense in which these words apply to the person of Christ himself, that is, to the head of the mystical body, and not just to its members. Not despite being risen and alive now but precisely because he is risen and alive. But let us leave aside this meaning that is too enigmatic and talk instead about the most obvious meaning of these words. Jesus is in agony until the end of the world in every man or woman who is subjected to his same torments. “You did it to me!” (Matt 25:40). He said these words not only about believers in him; he also said it about every man or woman who is hungry, naked, mistreated, or incarcerated.
For once let us not think about social evils collectively: hunger, poverty, injustice, the exploitation of the weak. These evils are spoken about often (even if it is never enough), but there is the risk that they become abstractions—categories rather than persons. Let us think instead of the suffering of individuals, people with names and specific identities; of the tortures that are decided upon in cold blood and voluntarily inflicted at this very moment by human beings on other human beings, even on babies.
How many instances of “Ecce homo” (“Behold the man!”) there are in the world! How many prisoners who find themselves in the same situation as Jesus in Pilate’s praetorium: alone, hand-cuffed, tortured, at the mercy of rough soldiers full of hate who engage in every kind of physical and psychological cruelty and who enjoy watching people suffer. “We must not sleep; we must not leave them alone!”
The exclamation “Ecce homo!” applies not only to victims but also to the torturers. It means, “Behold what man is capable of!” With fear and trembling, let us also say, “Behold what we human beings are capable of!” How far we are from the unstoppable march forward, from the homo sapiens sapiens (the enlightened modern human being), from the kind of man who, according to someone, was to be born from the death of God and replace him!
* * *
Christians are of course not the only victims of homicidal violence in the world, but we cannot ignore the fact that in many countries they are the most frequently intended victims. Jesus said to his disciples one day, “The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (Jn 16:2). Perhaps never before have these words found such precise fulfillment as they do today.
A third-century bishop, Dionysius of Alexandria, has left us a testimony of an Easter celebrated by Christians during the fierce persecutions by the Roman emperor Decius:
First we were set on and surrounded by persecutors and murderers, yet we were the only ones to keep festival even then. Every spot where we were attacked became for us a place for celebrations whether field, desert, ship, inn, or prison. The most brilliant festival of all was kept by the fulfilled martyrs, who were feasted in heaven.
This is the way Easter will be for many Christians this year, 2015 after Christ.
There was someone who, in the secular press, had the courage to denounce the disturbing indifference of world institutions and public opinion in the face of all this killing of Christians, recalling what such indifference has sometimes brought about in the past. All of us and all our institutions in the West risk being Pilates who wash our hands.
However, we are not allowed to make any denunciations today. We would be betraying the mystery we are celebrating. Jesus died, crying out, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). This prayer was not simply murmured under his breath; it was cried out so that people could hear it well. Neither is it even a prayer; it is a peremptory request made with the authority that comes from being the Son: ”Father, forgive them!” And since he himself had said that the Father heard all his prayers (see Jn 11:42), we have to believe that he heard this last prayer from the cross and consequently that the crucifiers of Christ were then forgiven by God (not of course without in some way being repentant) and are with him in paradise, to testify for all eternity to what extremes the love of God is capable of going.
Ignorance, per se, existed exclusively among the soldiers. But Jesus’ prayer is not limited to them. The divine grandeur of his forgiveness consists in the fact that it was also offered to his most relentless enemies. The excuse of ignorance is brought forward precisely for them. Even though they acted with cunning and malice, in reality they did not know what they were doing; they did not think they were nailing to the cross a man who was actually the Messiah and the Son of God! Instead of accusing his adversaries, or of forgiving them and entrusting the task of vengeance to his heavenly Father, he defended them.
He presents his disciples with an example of infinite generosity. To forgive with his same greatness of soul does not entail just a negative attitude through which one renounces wishing evil on those who do evil; it has to be transformed instead into a positive will to do good to them, even if it is only by means of a prayer to God on their behalf. “Pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44). This kind of forgiveness cannot seek recompense in the hope of divine punishment. It must be inspired by a charity that excuses one’s neighbor without, however, closing one’s eyes to the truth but, on the contrary, seeing to stop evildoers in such a way that they will do no more harm to others and to themselves.
We might want to say, “Lord, you are asking us to do the impossible!” He would answer, “I know, but I died to give you what I am asking of you. I not only gave you the command to forgive and not only an heroic example of forgiveness, but through my death I also obtained for you the grace that enables you to forgive. I did not give the world just a teaching on mercy as so many others have. I am also God and I have poured out for you rivers of mercy through my death. From them you can draw as much mercy as you want during the coming jubilee year of Mercy.”
Someone could say, “So then, does following Christ always mean surrendering oneself passively to defeat and to death?” On the contrary! He says to his disciples, “Be of good cheer” before entering into his passion: “I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). Christ has overcome the world by overcoming the evil of the world. The definitive victory of good over evil that will be manifested at the end of time has already come to pass, legally and de facto, on the cross of Christ. “Now,” he said, “is the judgment of this world” (Jn 12:31). From that day forth, evil is losing, and it is losing that much more when it seems to be triumphing more. It has already been judged and condemned in its ultimate expression with a sentence that cannot be appealed.
Jesus overcame violence not by opposing it with a greater violence but by enduring it and exposing all its injustice and futility. He inaugurated a new kind of victory that St. Augustine summed up in three words: “Victor quia victima: “Victor because victim.” It was seeing him die this way that caused the Roman centurion to exclaim, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mk 15:39). Others asked themselves what the “loud cry” emitted by the dying Jesus could mean (see Mk 15:37). The centurion, who was an expert in combatants and battles, recognized at once that it was a cry of victory.
The problem of violence disturbs us, shocks us, and it has invented new and horrendous forms of cruelty and barbarism today. We Christians are horrified at the idea that people can kill in God’s name. Someone, however, could object, “But isn’t the Bible also full of stories of violence? Isn’t God called ‘the Lord of hosts’? Isn’t the order to condemn whole cities to extermination attributed to him? Isn’t he the one who prescribes numerous cases for the death penalty in the Mosaic Law?”
If they had addressed those same objections to Jesus during his life, he would surely have responded with what he said regarding divorce: “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Mt 19:8). The same is true for violence: “at the beginning it was not so.” The first chapter of Genesis presents a world where violence is not even thinkable, neither among human beings themselves nor between people and animals. Not even to avenge the death of Abel, and therefore punish a murderer, is it permissible to kill (see Gen 4:15).
God’s true intention is expressed by the commandment “You shall not kill” more than by the exceptions to that command in the law, which are concessions to the “hardness of heart” and to people’s practices. Violence, along with sin, is unfortunately part of life, and the Old Testament, which reflects life and must be useful for life as it is, seeks through its legislation and the penalty of death at least to channel and curb violence so that it does not degenerate into personal discretion and people then tear each other apart.
Paul speaks about a period of time that is characterized by the “forbearance” of God (see Rom 3:25). God forbears violence the way he forbears polygamy, divorce, and other things, but he is preparing people for a time in which his original plan will be “recapitulated” and restored in honor, as though through a new creation. That time arrived with Jesus, who proclaims on the mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right check, turn to him the other also. . . . You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:38-39, 43-44).
The true “Sermon on the Mount” that changed history is not, however, the one spoken on a hill in Galilee but the one now proclaimed, silently, from the cross. On Calvary Christ delivers a definitive “no” to violence, setting in opposition to it not just non-violence but, even more, forgiveness, meekness, and love. Although violence will still continue to exist, it will no longer—not even remotely—be able to link itself to God and cloak itself in his authority. To do so would make the concept of God regress to primitive and crude stages in history that have been surpassed by the religious and civilized conscience of humanity.
True martyrs for Christ do not die with clenched fists but with their hands joined in prayer. We have had many recent examples of this. Christ is the one who gave the twenty-one Coptic Christians beheaded in Libya by ISIS this past February 22 the strength to die whispering the name of Jesus.
Lord Jesus Christ, we pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in the faith and for all the Ecce Homo human beings who are on the face of the earth at this moment, Christian and non-Christian. Mary, at the foot of the cross you united yourself to your Son, and you whispered, after him, “Father, forgive them!” Help us overcome evil with good, not only on the world scene but also in our daily lives, within the walls of our homes. You “shared his sufferings as he died on the cross. Thus, in a very special way you cooperated by your obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Savior.” May you inspire the men and women of our time with thoughts of peace and mercy. And of forgiveness. Amen.
Q. I have heard many pundits from the MSM (mainstream media) declare that Pope Francis wants to redefine marriage. Is this true?
A. No, this is simply not the case. People who say these things are clearly not reading the Pope’s actual writings on this issue, or paying any attention to his homilies. That Pope Francis wishes to uphold Catholic teaching on sexual morality and marriage (which cannot be changed, at any rate) should have been abundantly clear when the Pontiff beatified his predecessor, Paul VI, at the conclusion of the recent Synod on the family. Pope Paul VI himself suffered greatly because of his defense of marriage, and is a personal hero to Pope Francis.
Q. What did Pope Francis say in his opening remarks at the Colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman this past week at the Vatican?
A. This is a very important conference indeed. What stood out to me in particular was the brilliant connection the Pontiff drew between marriage and ecology. In a world where so many people are (quite rightly) concerned about the environment, it is so often forgotten that the “environment” of human society is the family. As the Holy Father said, “we must foster a new human ecology” by strengthening marriage. Here is a great quote from his speech (translated from the original Italian):
“We know that today marriage and the family are in crisis. We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment. This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.
“Evidence is mounting that the decline of the marriage culture is associated with increased poverty and a host of other social ills, disproportionately affecting women, children and the elderly. It is always they who suffer the most in this crisis.
“The crisis in the family has produced an ecological crisis, for social environments, like natural environments, need protection. And although the human race has come to understand the need to address conditions that menace our natural environments, we have been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well, slower in our culture, and also in our Catholic Church. It is therefore essential that we foster a new human ecology.”
Q. This Sunday we celebrate the dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome. Why is this particular Roman church so important?
A. It would surprise many Catholics to learn that the official cathedral of the Pope is not St Peter’s in Rome, but rather in the Basilica of St John Lateran. The bishop’s chair is known as the “cathedra” (the term “cathedral” is derived from this). Hence, the cathedral in each archdiocese is the “mother church” of the diocese, because this is where the bishop’s “chair”, or “cathedra” resides.
In Saint Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto, for example, one can view the “cathedra” of Cardinal Thomas Collins, our Archbishop. The insignia of his episcopal coat of arms is embossed into the very fabric of the chair. In the same way, the Lateran Basilica is the home of the “cathedra” of the Pope, the Bishop of Rome and earthly head of the Universal Church. Thus, the Lateran Basilica is, in a very real sense, the “mother church” of the entire world. If the Holy Father were to speak ex cathedra (“from the chair”) in a solemn dogmatic statement, it would be from St John Lateran.
Q. What is the connection of this Feast with today’s Mass readings?
A. The first reading, from the book of Ezekiel, speaks of the Temple of Jerusalem. “Living waters” flow from it, irrigating the earth. This is a metaphor for the Holy Spirit, bringing supernatural life to the world. The source is God, and his unique dwelling place on earth in the Old Covenant period was in the Temple.
Jesus Christ, in his physical Body, became the true dwelling place of God on earth in the New Covenant. In the sacred humanity of Christ, God “pitched his tent”, or “tabernacled” among us (John 1:14; the tabernacle was the forerunner of the Temple for the Israelites). This is one of the points Jesus makes in today’s Gospel reading from John 2.
But Jesus also has a “Mystical Body” – the Church, of which all the baptized are members. Because we have received the very life of God via the Holy Spirit’s action in the Sacraments, we too, as long as we remain in a state of grace, are “temples” of God on earth. God truly lives within us! We are “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
This is why a Theology of the Body, as Pope St John Paul II so tirelessly proclaimed, is so crucial. As St Paul writes in today’s reading from 1 Corinthians 3: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” If more Catholics realized this, they would fastidiously avoid sin. As Alexander MacLaren so memorably proclaimed in the 19th century, in words that are just as relevant today:
“Christianity reverences the body; and would teach us all that, being robed in that most wonderful work of God’s hands, which becomes a shrine for God Himself if He dwell in our hearts, all purity, all chastisement and subjugation of animal passion is our duty. Drunkenness, and gluttony, lusts of every kind, impurity of conduct, and impurity of word and look and thought, all these assume a still darker tint when they are thought of as not only crimes against the physical constitution and the moral law of humanity, but insults flung in the face of the God that would inhabit the shrine.”
Yes, that Diego Maradona, he of the infamous “Hand of God” goal in the ’86 World Cup. Maradona was in Rome Monday night not simply to see his fellow Argentine Pope Francis, but to play, along with other futbol luminaries Javier Zanetti and Roberto Baggio, in a unique event billed as an “Interreligious Match for Peace”. Zanetti indicated that the “friendly”, played in front of a huge crowd at Rome’s Olympic stadium, was the “express wish of Pope Francis” who wanted to show the power of sport for building bridges of peace.
And this isn’t the only event Francis has dreamed up in this regard: the Vatican press office today spelled out more about an upcoming conference on sport:
On the occasion of the Interreligious Match for Peace, the Pontifical Council for Culture has organized a three-day seminar, called “Sports at the Service of Humanity: From the Results-Oriented Culture to a Culture of Encounter”. The seminar began on Monday, and ends on Wednesday.
In a video message for Brazil’s World Cup Soccer championship earlier this year, Pope Francis said, Soccer can and should be a school that promotes a culture of encounter. One that leads to harmony and peace between peoples. With that idea in mind, the Pontifical Council for Culture, together with international Catholic sports associations, has organized a two-day seminar to coincide with Mondays Interreligious Match for Peace to reflect on the theme of “Sport at the Service of Humanity”.
Organizers want the discussion to focus on sports as a means of encounter and dialogue rather than what it seems, in many cases, to have become: a lucrative business for a lucky few and a place for winner-takes-all competitiveness. In our highly consumeristic society, we must, they say, “replace the money and the medals with the human being”. One of the objectives of the seminar is preparing for the international Vatican Global Conference on Sport and Faith to be held in the Vatican in September 2015.
I don’t know about you, but I think this is brilliant on Pope Francis’ part. Sport is a huge cultural force that, if you’ll pardon the pun, is an overlooked arena for the furtherance of the Gospel. The soccer match, seminar, and conference is yet another creative evangelistic move by the Holy Father.
HOMILY OF POPE FRANCIS
INAUGURATION OF THE PETRINE MINISTRY
ST PETER’S SQUARE
19 MARCH 2013
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I thank the Lord that I can celebrate this Holy Mass for the inauguration of my Petrine ministry on the solemnity of Saint Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary and the patron of the universal Church. It is a significant coincidence, and it is also the name-day of my venerable predecessor: we are close to him with our prayers, full of affection and gratitude.
I offer a warm greeting to my brother cardinals and bishops, the priests, deacons, men and women religious, and all the lay faithful. I thank the representatives of the other Churches and ecclesial Communities, as well as the representatives of the Jewish community and the other religious communities, for their presence. My cordial greetings go to the Heads of State and Government, the members of the official Delegations from many countries throughout the world, and the Diplomatic Corps.
In the Gospel we heard that “Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary as his wife” (Mt 1:24). These words already point to the mission which God entrusts to Joseph: he is to be the custos, the protector. The protector of whom? Of Mary and Jesus; but this protection is then extended to the Church, as Blessed John Paul II pointed out: “Just as Saint Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is the exemplar and model” (Redemptoris Custos, 1).
How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand. From the time of his betrothal to Mary until the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, he is there at every moment with loving care. As the spouse of Mary, he is at her side in good times and bad, on the journey to Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious and joyful hours when she gave birth; amid the drama of the flight into Egypt and during the frantic search for their child in the Temple; and later in the day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the workshop where he taught his trade to Jesus.
How does Joseph respond to his calling to be the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church? By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans, and not simply to his own. This is what God asked of David, as we heard in the first reading. God does not want a house built by men, but faithfulness to his word, to his plan. It is God himself who builds the house, but from living stones sealed by his Spirit. Joseph is a “protector” because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions. In him, dear friends, we learn how to respond to God’s call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!
The vocation of being a “protector”, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!
Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened. Tragically, in every period of history there are “Herods” who plot death, wreak havoc, and mar the countenance of men and women.
Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be “protectors” of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world! But to be “protectors”, we also have to keep watch over ourselves! Let us not forget that hatred, envy and pride defile our lives! Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up and tear down! We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness!
Here I would add one more thing: caring, protecting, demands goodness, it calls for a certain tenderness. In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!
Today, together with the feast of Saint Joseph, we are celebrating the beginning of the ministry of the new Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter, which also involves a certain power. Certainly, Jesus Christ conferred power upon Peter, but what sort of power was it? Jesus’ three questions to Peter about love are followed by three commands: feed my lambs, feed my sheep. Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross. He must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Only those who serve with love are able to protect!
In the second reading, Saint Paul speaks of Abraham, who, “hoping against hope, believed” (Rom 4:18). Hoping against hope! Today too, amid so much darkness, we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others. To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope; it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds; it is to bring the warmth of hope! For believers, for us Christians, like Abraham, like Saint Joseph, the hope that we bring is set against the horizon of God, which has opened up before us in Christ. It is a hope built on the rock which is God.
To protect Jesus with Mary, to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves: this is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out, yet one to which all of us are called, so that the star of hope will shine brightly. Let us protect with love all that God has given us!
I implore the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saints Peter and Paul, and Saint Francis, that the Holy Spirit may accompany my ministry, and I ask all of you to pray for me! Amen.
Today’s National Post ran a front-page story about the upcoming new English translation of the Mass: “Vatican’s new Mass ‘elitist’, priests say”. These priests are based in Ireland, and my own Irish eyes weren’t exactly smiling when I read their views. They are, in a word, wrong – on so many levels.
Judging from the reaction we’ve received to The New Mass iPhone app, and to the talks I’ve given on the new translation in thefaithexplained.com seminar series, these guys are seriously mistaken. In my experience, once people have actually seen the new text, and have had the reasons for the changes explained to them, they are generally thrilled. Not only is the new translation more faithful to the official Latin text, but it does a superb job of highlighting the biblical allusions in the Mass.
The complaints of these priests are also unseemly for other reasons. They are, quite simply, poisoning the well for their own parishioners. In all likelihood, most of these people haven’t viewed the new Mass translation for themselves, but when they read an article in the media – quoting their own priests – bashing it to pieces, they can’t help but be negatively prejudiced against it. In my view, these priests are merely seeking to grab some ill-gotten attention for themselves, when they should be supporting the decisions of the hierarchy whom they (allegedly) serve. If they have legitimate concerns, fine. But let those be aired privately in meetings with the bishops, not in the secular media or the court of public opinion.
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