Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Joy of Gratitude

Gratitude is an anthropological posture; that is, a possibility that every human being has once he is able to recognize all the good that is in himself and in all that surrounds him.

It is possible for humans, even with positive experiences in life, to go through life without giving a lot of thought, or perhaps recognizing the good as personal merit or conquest through their own efforts. Or they can recognize a gracious and kind presence that brings good into human existence.

Societies and their correspondent cultures can, of themselves, promote a disposition in their citizens toward gratitude or they can ignore the issue.

In this transition from modernity to postmodernity, our culture is not well disposed or committed to gratitude nor willing to promote in other persons a readiness to be thankful. On the contrary, our culture is materialistic, making much of the conquests of what we are and have, emphasizing who we are and the goods and services we enjoy as achievements due exclusively to scientific and technical advance or to the global expansion of the world market and the ability of each person to acquire with money whatever he wants.

Herein lies the importance of Thanksgiving Day in our North American culture; it is an opportunity to remind ourselves that we should be grateful, that we can be thankful for what we are and have, in the midst of a society geared to opulence, luxury and waste, to comfort and exaggeration.

Thanksgiving Day thus becomes an annual event in which we are invited to remember, live, celebrate, share and express the essence of our humanity: that of being thankful. And for that reason this day constitutes a tacit but festive protest against pride and self-sufficiency.

This gives greater importance to the sense and significance of this North American celebration when we are reminded that this date — that brings together millions for the festive and thankful encounter with their loved ones at home and around the table — is not motivated by religious traditions or institutions, nor by political parties or an ideology of any kind. It constitutes simply a moment in the life of the family to recognize our debt to be thankful for what we have received —and, in the case of Christian humanism— to recognize that those benefits come to us from God, the Creator, the God of the Bible revealed in Jesus of Nazareth as our good and compassionate Father. That is to say, as Christians we recognize God’s loving presence in the daily activity of what we are and have, and the gratitude is therefore virtuous and an essential characteristic of the life of each Christian disciple.

Anyone able to express gratitude because he recognizes the presence of good is able to be joyful. That is to say that joy is the consequence of gratitude. Gratitude therefore, not only gives us joy but also commits us to share what we are and have with others, especially with the most needy.

Therefore, let us celebrate this day of THANKSGIVING in order to cultivate what should be a permanent attitude in our life: one of living with the joy of gratitude that expands as we share with others, with our brothers and sisters, and with men and women everywhere.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Our Joy, Our Hope!

Two thousand years ago, the first Christians, a group of men and women who followed and accompanied Jesus of Nazareth throughout his public ministry, happily confessed that the Crucified, “the one killed by hanging him on a cross,” had changed their lives. He had taken them out of an old human condition and transformed them into new men and women: with new mentality, a new way of being and acting in the world. From that point on they believed, confessed, proclaimed and celebrated that Jesus was alive; that the Christ was resurrected; that the last word from God “the Father” about his Son’s life was not death; that the resurrection of Jesus meant triumph of life over death, triumph of good over the manifestation and experience of evil in the world. These facts bring to human history the view of a new horizon and a possibility to see the hope that does not die.

Transformed by the once dead whom they now confess is alive, they can so confess precisely because of the change which he brought to their lives. The first Christians go out to the world to share and to preach with words and actions the good news of the Resurrection. At the same time they consign in writing their confessions of faith, together with historical facts which occurred in their small, new, fraternal and Eucharistic community of believers.

All this shows that the Resurrection is, more than a doctrinal body, the foundation of Christianity. It is a new life experience of transformed life, abundant life; and a manifestation against evil, sin and death.  The resurrection which we celebrate is a conviction which is manifested and sustained with a new lifestyle. Through it, Christians devote themselves and hope for the construction of a better world; that is to say, a more divine world in its profound humanity.

Through Christ’s Resurrection, Christiany as well as each Christian, rises to propose a more equitable world: more just, more solidarious, more visible, more fraternal, more human. They would be against all manifestation of evil, against all inhuman and dehumanizing experiences, against all aggression to human and humanity, against anything which damages the image and likeness of God in his creatures.

The Resurrection, therefore, is a confession of faith. It is the liturgical feast, but   --above all--  it is the personal and ecclesial commitment to be in and for the world daily; a space/time of hope among hopelessness; a sign of joy among sadness; a space of mercy among so many forms of selfishness, division and violence; an opportunity for peace in the middle of war, pain and death.  This is the evangelistic task of the Church. In it resides the reason to be and to exist of the Christian Community, and gives it its identity and its mission in the world.

Never before has it been more opportune, never more convenient, but also never more compromising to have the celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ  --our celebration with him and in him--  in a world in crisis, in a society urged with men and with new and transformed structures. Never before has there been the present urgency to live and to share what it means to confess that Christ lives!

 “Easter”  (Greek: Pascha) comes from the Hebrew word which means “to pass”:  “to pass” through the Red Sea, “to pass” from death to life, from sin to grace, from life without Christ to a life in Him; from hate to love, from indifference to a solidary commitment; from a world without God to a world constructed for humanization which is deification  

May these days of “Passover” celebration mean the renovation of our most important Christian commitment in a personal and ecclesial manner: to be (for a world in crisis) a sign of the new and abundant life which Christ offers to us.  Happy Easter! Blessed Pascha!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Remember That You Are Dust . . .

Each year, Catholics start the Lent Season with “Ash Wednesday”. During that time, the Catholic Liturgy invites believers to begin a time of action and reflexion on our lives: reflexion on its meaning, its origin, its missions, and its final destiny.

It is, therefore, a “heavy” time for “metanoia,” that is “the conversion” which --in theology and Christian life-- means the adaptation of our being, existence and actions to the life of Jesus Christ himself: An adaptation to his Gospel, to his values, to his convictions, and to his proposals for life. This proposal invites us to spend our lives in service of the Gospel --in other words, to spend it in the service to others, especially the ones in greatest need-- and in that way obtain eternal life, a happy life, a full life.

Lent, therefore, becomes a biblical, pastoral, liturgical and existential walk for the believer as a person and for the Christian community in general. This walk begins in ashes and ends with the night of lights, the night of fire and light: the holy night of Easter, the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lent symbolizes, shows us, and reminds us of one “step”, one joy, and one route to follow permanently: the walk from nothing to existence, from darkness to light, from death to life, from the insignificant to an abundant life in God through His Son Jesus Christ. To convert ourselves means to destroy, to leave behind, to burn, to make into ashes the “old man”, the man-without-Christ and to cover ourselves with the “new” man, the man-in-the-spirit, who is a new fire in the world.

On Ash Wednesday, while the Minister puts ashes on the forehead of the penitents, he says alternatively, the following two expressions: “Repent and believe the Good News” and/or “Remember that you are dust and to the dust you shall return.” This act and these words express very adequately our nature, our absolute dependency from God, our pilgrimage toward a definite homeland, our transitory existence.

Lent, and Ash Wednesday in particular, are liturgical times which invite us to turn our sight and life towards God and towards the principles of the Gospel. Therefore, if Lent is a time for conversion, for improving the process of personal and communitarian humanization, then Lent coincides with the life itself of all believers; it coincides with the existence and the mission of all the Church; and it coincides with the vocation of the entire human community.

Lent is an invitation to change that which we must change, as we search for a way to be better and happier. It is an invitation to construct, instead of destroy; to search and return to a way of life that is more just, more united, and more human. Lent is a call to search diligently for new ways to be and to make a new Church while being better and more authentic disciples of the “Crucified and Resurrected.”

We go through the liturgical Season of Lent –the same as through our own existence—with our sight focused on the Easter Sunday and on the final celebration in God: a celebration of abundant life which opposes all discrimination or degradation of the human being or of its dignity. It opposes all forms of abuse and violence; all forms of lying, of evil and of death; all forms of corruption and division; all forms of oppression and marginalization. All of this because Easter, as the point of arrival, the summit and peak, and the goal of Lent, is absolute newness of life, the abundant life which God offers us, and to which he invites us in this time and always.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Christmas Proclamation

A formal "Proclamation of the Birth of Christ" is traditionally chanted or recited near the beginning of the Christmas Midnight Mass and/or during the Liturgy of the Hours on Christmas Eve. The text, which comes from the "Roman Martyrology" for December 24, situates the birth of Jesus Christ within the context of salvation history. It begins with the creation of the world, mentions certain key events in the history of the people of Israel, and concludes with the birth of Jesus during the Roman Era. The following text is one of the variations of the proclamation.

Sisters and Brothers,

We bring to you this night
Good News of great joy for all the people!
Let your hearts and lives be opened to hear the Good News:

Thousands upon thousands of years have passed
Since “God created the heavens and earth”
And commanded
the waters to bring forth an abundance of living creatures
and birds to fly above the earth.

Thousands upon thousands of years have passed
Since the moment God made man and woman in his image and likeness
To fill the earth and subdue it,
To look on the wonders of the world and
to praise the Creator every moment of their lives.

Thousands upon thousands of years have passed
since the longings of humanity brought sin into the world
and God tried to cleanse it
in the purifying waters of the great flood.

Some 4,000 years ago
Abraham, our father in faith, 
listened to the Word of God
And set out for a land he did not know
To become the father of a chosen people.

Some 3,250 years ago
Moses led the children of Abraham 
through the waters of the Red Sea
and, freed from the slavery of Egypt,
they became ancestors of the baptized family of God.

Some 3,000 years ago
Davida shepherd boy 
watching over the flock of Jesse, his father,
Was anointed by the prophet Samuel
As the great king over the people of Israel.

Some 2,700 years ago
The children of Israel
again and again unfaithful to their covenant, 
closed their ears to the Word of God’s prophets,
And were carried off to exile in Babylon.
There, far from their homeland,
they began to long for a Savior,
who would free them once again from slavery,
and to look for that Messiah
whom the prophets announced
would bring  about a New Age of justice, of peace, 
of freedom and of love.

At long last,
during the 194th Olympiad
in the 752nd year from the founding of the city of Rome
and 44th year of the rule of Caesar Agustus,
some 1,987 years ago,
at Bethlehem of Judah,
a town little known throughout the world of that time,
there was born,
in a manger, “because there was no room at the inn”,
of Mary, a young maiden, wife of Joseph,
Son of the Eternal Father,
True God and true man,
called by all generations to come “Messiah”, the Christ.

He was the Savior for whom all humanity waited.
For him all things were created.
He is the Word who brings light to this world.
He is the living water, the bread of life, the true vine.
He is the way, the truth and the life.
He made His dwelling among us
And we have seen His glory.

So, on this night
As gentle silence envelopes all things
And night in its swift course is half spent, 
we, who believe in him gather together,
or rather,
our Father call us together to remember
the birth of our brother, JESUS,
and to proclaim our faith in Him who is CHRIST the LORD.

Brothers, sisters,
Be joyful --
Be at peace --
For on this night
We celebrate the Greatest News in the history of the world!

Christmas and the Sacred Family

Christmas is an annual occurrence based on a historical and saving event: the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, which Christians commemorate liturgically using the same name. In a materialistic society like ours, Christmas has been converted into a season for buying and selling, for spending and consuming, for show-off and waste. And in this enormous consumer traffic, the message that we remember as Christians, the significance of which we celebrate on this occasion is manipulated, glossed over or lost, or even forgotten.

The Catholic Church, in its desire to make transparent its dedication and service to the family, has organized the worldwide convocations of families. The next World Meeting of Families will be celebrated in Philadelphia in 2015. Pope Francis, concerned about the crisis facing today's families, has initiated a series of consultations that will help to formulate guidelines in favor of the family unit, after the conclusions of the Extraordinary Synod and the realization of the upcoming Ordinary Synod to be held in October 2015. Christmas allows us to reflect on the plight of today’s families in light of the Sacred Family of our Lord Jesus.

The significance that Christmas has for the world in general and for Christians in particular is enormous. What we are celebrating is the birth of JESUS OF NAZARETH, who is for all peoples a model of Humanity and Divinity: since Jesus is both divine and profoundly human.

When we confess Jesus as God who has become human, we are confessing at the same time the final and definitive destiny to which all humanity is called: incarnating divinity in history, and in daily living humanizing the divine life. At Christmas time, therefore, we celebrate the joyful and hopeful certainty that in the birth of Jesus, God has shown that he wants to live with us always, revealing in himself the Way, the Truth and the Life to which we have been called.

The historical fact of Christmas occurs in the context of a family. Among the many aspects that give meaning to the commemoration of the first Christmas, the value that God accorded the family in the birth of Jesus takes on special meaning among us.

We are experiencing in our times a profound human crisis in all aspects. The serious problems that are evident in this crisis reveal a more profound and definitive crisis in the very heart of human beings: a de-humanization that is contrary to all that is meant or implied in the message of Christmas. Yet, at the same time, the serious social problems that emerge from the heart of people have their origin in a profound crisis in the family.

There is an extensive list of great conflicts which today threaten the family model proposed on that first Christmas Eve and presented in the proclamation of the Catholic Church in the Western world:

The generational gap between parents and children in a world that is rapidly changing.
The breakups, divorces and rapid and easy annulments in “express” fashion.
Unfaithfulness in a pan-sexual society where such is proposed and stimulated.
The lack of commitment in a hedonistic society that delights in levity, changes of fashion, meaninglessness, easy come-and-go, throw-aways, appearances that are purely superficial.
The world of academia and labor that separates, alienates and disintegrates families.
“Machismo” and feminism.
The pretended scientific manipulation of God’s designs concerning creation and family life.
Promiscuous use of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs.
The senselessness of life in a society that quickly destroys the will to live, when the end of life is reduced to something merely material and historical, masking the transcendent vision of men, of the world and of history, etc….

In a world that pleads for the plurality of ideas and life style as well as respect for individual liberty and human rights, the Truth — under that pretext — should not be denied, confused or diluted in the midst of the rash of individual, small and almost always selfish pocket versions of truth. It is the Church’s responsibility, on the basis of the Good News contained in the gospel for every man and woman of good will, to proclaim every day and, especially at Christmas time, that every person has the right to be born and “to grow in grace and wisdom” in the bosom of a family constituted by a father, a mother and children: a family model in which are replicated and lived out the relationships defined as parental love, and filial and fraternal love, that we recognize and venerate in the very heart of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The troubling statistics that cry out to us concerning the millions of boys and girls that seek to “grow” and “mature” in “homes” that are dysfunctional, with a single parent, or “substitute” homes, with grandparents and other relatives or in government institutions that try to “replace” inexistent families, sound an alarm that warns us of something that is occurring in our communities as well as an urgent challenge for us to give value to living out the model of Christian family suggested in the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Today, as never before, there is a nostalgia for Nazareth.

Nostalgia for homes where parents and children live together in harmony.
Nostalgia for homes like the example of Nazareth: where the parents love and fulfill God’s will, loving and nourishing the the life of their children.
Homes in which the children fulfill God’s will, obeying their parents.
Homes that tend toward the construction of a world of fraternal relationships lived out first at home in family relationships.
Homes in which love and respect prevail over the circumstances of life that are always difficult and always changing.
Homes with parents that are dedicated to the care of their children, and where the children are attentive and devoted to their parents.
Homes that are true domestic churches, initiating the experience of the church and seedbeds of permanent evangelization.
Homes in which parents and children grow in their humanity, cooperating with the creative work of God through their daily tasks.
Families that are true homes, that is to say, where the home fires burn with love that is able to warm and illuminate a world so often cold and in darkness.

I join with you in these days in which as Christians we live with the memory of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. I join in the joy of the world because “to us is born a son, a child has been given to us” that bears the name “Emanuel, meaning God is with us” and I encourage you to extend into all our homes, our family groups, our communities, the great, good, sacred and eternal lessons which we can learn and apply in the life of our family, illustrated in the home of the Sacred Family of Nazareth, on this Christmas and always.