Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas and Mercy

On December 8th, Pope Francis inaugurated this year as Jubilee Year, dedicated to contemplation and reflection on GOD’S MERCY toward us and to the requirements that his LOVE lays upon each one of Christ’s disciples in our daily life.

At the same time, during Advent, we prepare for the liturgical season of CHRISTMAS in which —once again— we commemorate the BIRTH OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.

What is the message contained in this Jubilee Year of MERCY for the world, and what is the relationship between the merciful love of God for us and the season of CHRISTMAS?

Let us say in the first place that MERCY means literally “a shaking heart over the need of others”. Mercy is, according to the text of the Gospels, that which always moved Jesus to meet the needs (especially of hunger and forgiveness) of those who approached him to listen to him and follow him.

Thus we can say that if there is anything the world needs today, all of humanity, it is clear signs of compassion and mercy by people, communities and nations that have the most human resources (talents) and material goods (financial resources) to favor those who have fewer opportunities for health, education, shelter, work, and a life worth living.

The globalized world has made great advances in terms of material riches, technology and scientific progress of all kinds and yet we also perceive that such accomplishments have generated a global fringe of marginalized people and communities that are not only poor but impoverished due to the cold logic of the predominant economic structure. An impoverishment that constitutes a shame, an affront to the persons and the nations that manage the power, the riches and the technical and scientific resources.

This unjust, unequal and inhuman situation calls for compassion and MERCY. That is to say, there should be a profound inner shaking of everyone, especially for those that suffer the greatest needs of all kinds in our society. Mercy, compassion, inner shaking that is contrary to every kind of discrimination, segregation or simple indifference toward the pain that others suffer.

MERCY requires such a posture of people and nations that makes us aware of the common destiny shared by all human beings, inhabitants of our common home which is the planet Earth. Thus, nothing that happens to another human being (good, or especially painful, apart from his ideology, race, religion, etc.) should be treated with indifference by another person. In the world, we are all affected by what affects everyone else. We are benefitted by that which benefits another human being, and we should suffer for the need of those who are marginalized in our societies.

This is, precisely and essentially, the message of CHRISTMAS: In the baby Jesus “wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” God shows pity, compassion and mercy on every person, especially toward the least in the world, on those who are born, live and die in stables. In Jesus of Nazareth God came to share the daily life, the common struggles and the definitive destiny of all humanity. We can say that CHRISTMAS is the manifestation of THE MERCY OF GOD TOWARD US. For that reason, the name of the long awaited One —according to the Old Testament prophets— is EMANUEL, which means “God with us”.

My friends, I invite you to turn our faith and our daily life into a space for MERCY toward all, especially toward the weakest, so that our life might always be CHRISTMAS. So that this Jubilee Year of Mercy might become all the years of our existence on earth, and that CHRISTMAS never end. Merry Christmas and a 2016 full of mercy and blessings!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

For the Home of Everyone

Currently, in the city of Paris, representatives of the governments of 195 nations are meeting for the task of accomplishing a global agreement concerning the earth’s climate. This is another opportunity to put the brakes on the phenomenon of climate change or —in more apocalyptic terms— the last chance to save our home, our planet.

Economic growth is possible without emissions, some say. It is possible to combine development, economic progress and the earth’s climate, others say. A difference of two degrees Celsius in the climate’s heat would be the point of no return, warn others. 660 million children (humanity’s future) live in zones at risk of climate change. 25% of the economic impact due to climate change would be felt in the rural areas of the planet. 2020 would be the entrance year for the agreement this week in Paris and would continue until 2050, when this agreement would be replaced by the second approved phase in the Kyoto agreement.

These are figures, warnings, opinions, news headlines that refer to the enormous catastrophe that is threatening humanity and for which all of us —in greater or lesser degree, collectively or individually— are both responsible and victims at the same time. Yet clearly, no one dare remain indifferent to this grave problem that involves all humanity.

Pope Francis also expressed his unity with this serious global concern with an urgent call in his recent Encyclical LAUDATO SI (on the care of our common home).

In it, Francis explains masterfully, at the outset, the various problems that constitute the serious ecological crisis we face (contamination and climate change, garbage and the culture of waste, the question of water, the loss of biodiversity, deterioration of the quality of human life, planetary inequality, the paucity of reactions to the ecological problem) and that which the pope considers the greatest causes of these problems (globalization of the technocratic paradigm and the serious consequences of modern anthropocentrism).

Other themes dealt with in the Encyclical are: “the intimate relationship between those who are poor and the fragility of the planet, the conviction that in the world everything is interconnected, the critique of the new paradigm and the forms of power derived from technology, the invitation to seek other ways of understanding economy and progress, the essential value of every creature, human awareness of ecology, the need for sincere and honest debates, the serious responsibility of international and local politics, the culture of waste and the proposal of a new life style”.(16)

All of us already know that if there is no change in the current tendencies (of irrational exploitation and environmental contamination), the relationship between humans and nature will continue to deteriorate with greater speed and gravity.

The hour has arrived —for the survival of the human species on the face of the earth— to make decisions that are set into clear and definitive actions to make possible what is known as “integral sustainable development”.

This integral sustainable development involves, in the first place, a perception of humans as administrators (not owners) of all that is created, in favor of, and at the service of all, especially of the most needy; a respect for nature in which ethical and moral principles (and not selfish and egocentric interests) are fundamental and are expressed in relationships between humanity and nature. All of this will make it possible to preserve the natural resources and all the good that is contributed by humans on the earth so as to transmit them as a rich inheritance to the generations to come.

The alarms are sounding. All that is left is for each of us to assume the responsibility that is ours in the care of our “common home” and to apply that responsibility every day in a consequential manner.

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.