The following article was written in 2008 and serves as a reminder during this “Fortnight to Freedom” about the true greatness of our Holy Roman Catholic Church. Mike Aquilina is executive vice-president of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. He is author of two Catholic Scripture Study International bible studies, “Entertaining Angels” and “Lent, The Road to Redemption, Cycle A”. He is also the author more than forty books on Catholic history, doctrine, and devotion.
When People Ask You Why You’re Catholic,
Sit Them Down and Tell Them the Whole Story
Cardinal John Henry Newman called her “desire of the eyes, joy of the heart, the truth after many shadows, the fullness after many foretastes, the home after many storms.”
“She” was his mother, the Roman Catholic Church. And his mother is YOUR mother.
Asked, in the 4th century, how he could ever remain in such a Church full of sinners and scandals, St. Augustine rattled off his reasons:
“The consent of people and nations keeps me; her authority keeps me — inaugurated by miracles, nourished in hope, enlarged by love and established by age;
The succession of priests keeps me, from the very chair of the apostle Peter down to the present bishops.”
And Augustine’s Church is your Church.
Indeed CHRIST’S Church is yours. It is one, holy, apostolic — and Catholic. It is one through all time and space. By grace, the Catholic Church has preserved Jesus’ teaching unchanged through 20 centuries, even as it has delivered the good news to the ends of the earth. The Church carried out this mission for you, as if you were the only one who mattered.
This Easter, join your prayers to Newman’s and Augustine’s and all the billions who share your faith, on earth and in heaven. Be thankful for all God has given you. And be proud, because even St. Paul found it right to boast of the Church (see 2 Cor 8:24).
Should you ever need a reason to boast, think for a moment. Yours is the Church that has rescued civilization again and again. As the Roman Empire fell into its final decay, it was Christians who constituted the remnant of civilized society. As barbarian hordes swept through Europe and Africa, it was Christian monasteries that secreted away the treasures of classical learning, copying documents faithfully for centuries. And it was conversion to Christianity that kept the barbarian tribes from establishing yet another culture of death. Instead, Europe was born again in a golden age of universities and cathedrals.
Yours, too, is the Church that, centuries later, roused the West to its successful defense against Muslim invaders. And, closer to our own time, your Church is the only institution, Albert Einstein said, that dared to defend German Jews against their Nazi oppressors. “Up to this time,” he testified, “I had no interest in the Church, but today I profess a great admiration and a great attachment for the Church which alone has had the unfailing courage to battle for spiritual freedom and moral liberty.”
Yours is the Church that has nourished culture down through the ages. The great works of art and literature of the last two millennia are those imbued with a Catholic spirit. Open your eyes to the color and glorious form illuminating canvases, chiseled in stone, cast in bronze. Yours is the Church of Giotto, Duccio, Cimabue, Michelangelo, El Greco, Rubens, Bernini, Rouault, Yousuf Karsh, and even M.I. Hummel and Andy Warhol.
Yours is the Church that inspired The Divine Comedy, The Canterbury Tales and The Quest for the Holy Grail. Yours is the Church of Dante, Cervantes, Chaucer, Richard Crashaw, Alexander Pope, John Dryden and Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Your Church has hymned God’s glory in the melodies of the great composers, her children: Palestrina, Vivaldi, Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven, Handel and, in our own day, Messiaen, Part, Gorecki, Brubeck, Marylou Williams, John Michael Talbot. Yours is the Church of Gregorian chant and “Faith of Our Fathers.”
Yours is the Church, film critics say, that inspired the cinematic masterpieces of Franco Zeffirelli and Alfred Hitchcock.
And yours is the Church that continues to nurture the art of Western culture. Consider the Catholics Nobel prizewinners: Sigrid Undset, Francois Mauriac, Heinrich Boll, Czeslaw Milosz. Think of the poets: Francis Thompson, Coventry Patmore, Allen Tate, Robert Fitzgerald, John Frederick Nims, Paul Claudel, Edith Sitwell. Dame Edith, on her conversion, told the news magazines that she needed “the zeal, the fire and the authority of Catholicism.”
Then there are the novelists: Flannery O’Connor, J.R.R. Tolkien, Walker Percy, J. F. Powers, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Julien Green, Shusako Endo. In science fiction, Catholic themes constantly re-emerge, as they have since the time of Robert Hugh Benson. One of the undisputed classics of the genre is Walter M. Miller’s Catholic epic, “A Canticle for Leibowitz.” And so, too, with mystery novels, from G.K. Chesterton to Ralph McInerny.
Ponder philosophy, then, and again you must confront your fellow Churchmen: Boethius, Augustine, Aquinas, Scotus, Anselm, Ockham, Descartes, Marcel.
Moving from the library to the laboratory, you’ll note that yours is the Church that made modern science possible. Aristotelian science stalled in Greece till it encountered that particularly Catholic notion of the goodness and order of God’s creation. The rest is history. The astronomer Nicholas Copernicus was a priest. The father of genetics, Gregor Mendel, was a monk. Biologist Louis Pasteur was a layman, who once wrote, “The more I know, the more nearly is my faith that of a Breton peasant. Could I but know all, I would have the faith of a Breton peasant woman.” The first computer was designed and constructed by the Catholic apologist Blaise Pascal.
The sciences of the mind, psychiatry and psychology, advanced in unexpected directions thanks to the contributions of Catholics such as Karl Stern, Gregory Zilboorg, Conrad Baars and Anna Terruwe. Today, Catholics — Paul Vitz, Richard Fitzgibbons, William Kirk Kilpatrick, Robert Enright — continue to produce some of the most exciting work in these professions.
Yours is the Church where comedians Fred Allen and Stepin Fetchit took daily Communion.
You can boast that your Church established institutions that became the pillars of our civic life: the university and the hospital. Alcoholics Anonymous — the grandfather of all 12-step movements — built on foundations laid a century earlier by the Irish Capuchin priest, Theobald Mathew.
Yours is the Church in solidarity with the poor. Catholics have worked, for millennia, to bring education, medical care, legal counsel, housing and honest work to those most in need. Think of the selfless work of Las Casas among the Indians, Mother Teresa in Calcutta, Blessed Damien among the lepers in Molokai, Dorothy Day on the streets of Manhattan, St. Martin de Porres, St. Peter Claver.
And what would your country be without your Church? The New World was “discovered” by a Catholic, Christopher Columbus, sailing a ship named for Holy Mary. On arriving, he sang the Salve Regina. Our continent was named for a Catholic, Amerigo Vespucci, explorer and mapmaker. Indeed, no history of the Americas would be complete without telling the contributions of Roman Catholics: Pocahontas, St. Isaac Jogues, Charles Carroll, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy, Blessed Junipero Serra.
Yet, as the saying goes, your Church is not a hotel for saints, but a hospital for sinners. And the hospital is always fairly full. It was your Church’s crusaders who sacked Constantinople, the capital of Eastern Christianity, in 1204, leaving the city so devastated that it never recovered. Thus, Muslims could take Constantinople with little difficulty in 1453. It was your Church’s conquistadors who visited horrors upon Indians in Spanish America. Catholic treatment of the Jews, down through the years, has often been shameful. And the Church’s Inquisition, for a time, moved beyond zeal to cruelty. All these sins the sinners justified in the name of their Catholic faith.
You should know, too, that it was a Catholic chief justice who wrote the Supreme Court’s infamous Dred Scott decision on slavery, and a Catholic justice was said to be the “brains” behind the Roe v. Wade abortion decision. A Catholic was commandant of Auschwitz when St. Maximilian Kolbe and millions of others were martyred there.
Still, yours is the Church that owns and repents of the sins of its members. We do not despair of Christ because of the sins of Christians. He promised not to abandon His Church, and we take Him at His word. Rather than found a newer, “purer” Church (which has never been done), we stay with the Lord even as new and improved Judases ever betray Him.
Repentance comes today from none other than Pope John Paul II — who has pleaded sorrow for Catholics’ mistreatment of Jews, for the Inquisition and for other crimes. He invites us all to join him.
But, lest you dwell too long on the sins of a few and forget the virtues of many: Recall that yours is the Church that has long buttressed true liberty and justice. One cannot advance in the field of political philosophy without wrestling with Catholics such as St. Thomas More, Lord Acton and Michael Novak. It is significant that, in the wake of World War II, as the nations sought a way of lasting peace, your Church provided the philosophical basis for the dialogue. The men who established the United Nations say that the only common language they could find for conversation between conflicting ideologies was the natural-law tradition of Catholic philosophy. Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain was perhaps the most important interlocutor. And it was Catholics who made peace work in the postwar European democracies: Konrad Adenauer in Germany, Charles de Gaulle in France.
But not everything, and certainly not the most important stuff, is so utterly this-worldly. Thus, your Church is guardian of the rich Christian traditions of prayer, contemplation and mysticism. And the permutations are as varied as the people you meet: the joyful poverty of Franciscanism, the workaday holiness of Opus Dei, the spirited praise of charismatics, the unifying power of Focolare, the zealous culture of Communion and Liberation, the disciplined subtlety of Jesuits, the prayer and penance of Carmelites, the profound intellect and piety of Dominicans . . . No one can honestly call us monochromatic.
As one early Christian said: We live abundantly in this land, even as we are citizens of another. Yours is the Church that has preserved the mystical life from materialism, and material life from spiritualism.
Your Church is a great place to come home to. Every day, new members find their way to the Catholic faith. Your Church has been growing every year for centuries. Today, the Church is witnessing rapid growth in the places where faith is most ruthlessly persecuted: China, North Korea and sub-Saharan Africa.
There’s precedent for this. Yours has always been a faith to die for, and millions have — at the hands of Nero, Diocletian, the Muslim Caliphs, Henry VIII, the Lutheran mobs that sacked Rome, John Calvin, Robespierre, the Spanish Republicans, Hitler’s Nazis, Stalin’s communists, China’s Cultural Revolutionaries and Algeria’s terrorists.
In lands of peace, too, so many are coming home to your Church. Consider only the non-Catholic clergymen of recent years: Richard John Neuhaus, Walter Hooper, Scott Hahn, John Haas.
Again, this is nothing new. “Within that household,” said Hillaire Belloc of your Church, “the human spirit has roof and hearth. Outside it is the Night.” For years, the great have come home to Catholicism: actors John Wayne and Alec Guinness, showman Buffalo Bill Cody, artist Aubrey Beardsley, playwright Oscar Wilde, historian Will Durant, media sage Marshall McLuhan, slugger Babe Ruth, singer Maria von Trapp, journalist Heywood Broun, U.S. Rep. Clare Boothe Luce, commentator Malcolm Muggeridge, philosopher Henri Bergson, composer Erik Satie, poet Wallace Stevens and the giant G.K. Chesterton.
Others wrestled with your Church for much of the lives — and where they stopped, nobody knows but God: Jorge Luis Borges, Henry James, Soren Kierkegaard, Henry Adams, Charles Peguy, Franz Werfel, James Joyce, Anthony Burgess, Jean Cocteau, Eugene O’Neill, Jack Kerouac, Miguel de Unamuno.
But, then, why not? Yours is the only Church that can accept Jesus’ hard sayings (Jn 6:26-59 and Mt 16:18-19, for example) without circumlocutions.
And yours is the Church where Jesus himself dwells — body, blood, soul and divinity — in the Holy Eucharist. Yours are the tens of thousands of Catholic churches and chapels worldwide where Jesus waits for you in the tabernacle.
Yours is the Church that traces authority back, generation by generation, to the commissioning of the Twelve Apostles. In 2,000 years, not a single moment is unaccounted for. Your Holy Father today, Pope John Paul II, is a direct successor of St. Peter, whom Jesus himself named to head His Church. And surely John Paul is among the greatest of the 263 popes who have served the servants of God since A.D. 33.
Scholars and experts, including Mikhail Gorbachev, credit the current pontiff with the downfall of world communism. So when this Pope talks — at the United Nations, in Central Park, on an airstrip in Africa — people listen. Everywhere John Paul goes, he draws record crowds. At each successive World Youth Day, every other year, he routinely outdraws Woodstock. (That’s right, your almost-80-year-old pontiff is cooler and more electrifying with kids today than Jimi Hendrix was to kids 30 years ago.) In the Philippines he drew the largest crowd in human history — modest estimates place it at 5 million.
So when people ask you which Church is yours, lift your head up and tell them: It’s the one Jesus Christ gave you — and gave the world. Then invite them in for a visit.
Those in our modern culture who identify themselves as secularists, agnostics or atheists often claim that religion is a childish fantasy, that science has undermined all of its claims, and that it is violent and dangerous. They also claim that they do not need religion and are perfectly happy as they are. This world gives me all that I require, they say. What fascinates me is that as happy as they are and having all they need from this world; why do so many of them spend so much time and energy engaging in the discussion of religion?
St. Augustine was dead right when said: Lord, you have made us for Yourself; therefore our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee. Everybody, believer and non-believer alike, knows in his bones that this is true. And I have wagered my whole life on it.
The proof of this is that nothing in this world: success, money, power, or pleasure, ever truly satisfies the human heart completely. There is still a longing for something more. Even Donald Trump and Bill Gates would admit to this in their more honest moments.
It is a fact that we want, with all our hearts, something that this world simply cannot offer us. We eventually come to realize that so much of what we pursue in this life ultimately disappoints us in the end.
Those of us who embrace our faith wholeheartedly know that the human heart is only fulfilled by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. We want the very life of God within us. We want the vitality and energy of God. And this is our focus today on this great feast of Pentecost, the feast of the Holy Spirit.
It is precisely what Jesus is talking about in the 7th Chapter of John’s gospel from the Vigil Mass for today. When at the climax of the great feast of Tabernacles, Jesus stands in the temple precincts and says: Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Keeping this image in mind, consider that the fact that we can live quite a while without food, especially if we have a little fat on our bones. But, without water, we would die in very short order. That’s how desperately we need water.
Water is an absolute prerequisite for life and we sense this truth precisely when we are thirsty. Hunger, while also unpleasant, is not quite the same as being thirsty. There is something particularly awful about thirst, something desperate and oppressing that goes beyond the level of hunger. It is our body’s way of signaling that it needs something essential and it needs it NOW.
This is why Jesus speaks of thirst. We recall the Psalmist’s words: O God, You are my God, for whom I thirst, like a dry weary land without water. Our need for God is desperate and oppressing like the worst thirst we have ever experienced and nothing in this world could ever satisfy such a thirst as this.
Jesus is speaking to a craving in the human heart so profound; it seeks meaning, purpose, and a connection to something, to someone beyond itself.
In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear that Jews have gathered from all over the world in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. It was a Jewish feast before it became a Christian feast. They all hear the same message as the disciples preach. It is the message that everybody is thirsty for. At that miracle of Pentecost everyone hears the disciples speaking in his own language, signally the universality of this thirst of which I am speaking. Christian and non-Christian, believers and non-believers, Easterners and Westerners, everyone wants to hear this message.
As they whistle in the dark, the secularists and atheist are tragically set adrift in a spiritual desert; that dry weary land without water. This is why our culture and our Church itself need to be evangelized and re-evangelized. People all over the planet are dying of thirst. What the Church offers is the water of the Holy Spirit. Come to me, Jesus says, and drink.
And how do we get the Holy Spirit? There is a hint in the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Paul tells us: No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. There is a very tight correlation between having the Holy Spirit and declaring the Lordship of Jesus. And what does it mean to declare the Lordship of Jesus? It means to submit to His direction in every aspect of your life: to think as He thought; to act as He acted; to desire as He desired; to pray as He prayed; to love as He loved. If Jesus is the Lord of my life, if He is the Dominus in Latin, then He must dominate every aspect of my existence.
It doesn’t mean I pay attention to Him for a few minutes once a week. It doesn’t mean I pay Him lip service. It doesn’t mean I merely check the box: I’m a Christian, I am a Catholic. It means that He has taken possession of my whole life.
Submission to His Lordship will unleash the Holy Spirit in you. It is when you make Jesus the Lord of your life that the Holy Spirit becomes operative in you.
Remember, as Jesus dies on the cross, He breathes his last and then hands over the Spirit—a beautiful image indeed. As Jesus dies, He expires, breathing His last breath, He hands over His Spirit. Spirit, throughout Scripture means breath, wind, and power. We recall also that the Resurrected Jesus breathed on His disciples and He said: Receive the Holy Spirit.
As we celebrate this great feast of Pentecost let us pray for a renewal of the power, strength, vigor, energy, life, and light of the Holy Spirit. But first, my brothers and sister, you must make Jesus and only Him, the Lord of your whole life. You must daily draw near to Him and learn how to think as He thought, pray as He prayed, and love as He loved; then and only then will the Holy Spirit dwell within you. Amen.
- Fr. David M. Chiantella
In our readings today we are offered some glimpses of the Holy Spirit in anticipation of the great feast of Pentecost that approaches in two weeks. There is palpable excitement in the Church’s choice of these readings as we await the arrival of the Holy Spirit and catch some glimpses of the work and role of the Spirit in the life of the Church. And so we find in each of our readings today a tantalizing peek at the being and action of the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity.
In the first reading taken from the Acts of the Apostles we hear about the mission of Philip the Apostle to the town of Samaria. His proclamation of the gospel there was accompanied by the some pretty spectacular things: unclean spirits coming out of possessed people, many paralyzed and crippled people being cured, and so on. When the chief apostles in Jerusalem heard about these events, they sent Peter and John, two apostolic heavyweights, to pray with the people of Samaria and to encourage them.
Here is where the Holy Spirit comes in explicitly. They prayed that the newly baptized, those who had heard the gospel from Philip, and had been baptized in the name of Jesus, might receive the Holy Spirit. They laid hands upon them, and then we are told the Spirit fell upon them. A curious expression; the falling of the Holy Spirit heard elsewhere in the Acts of the Apostles—some power coming down upon them from on high.
Something for us to note is that water baptism in the name of Jesus and the baptism in the Holy Spirit are recognized as separate events in the earliest experience in the life of the Church. They are seen as separate moments in the same process of bringing someone into Christ. The Church, to the present day, mimics this in making Baptism and Confirmation separate sacraments.
Throughout the Acts of the Apostles, you will find that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is associated with special gifts conducive toward mission. These gifts or charismata Paul calls them, charisms; are given for the sake and the purpose of mission. No one in the bible, Old Testament or New, is ever given an experience of God without being given, at the very same time, a mission. It is the Holy Spirit who equips someone for mission. It is the Holy Spirit that gives the powers needed to announce Christ and bring Him to others.
The question that arises from this first understanding of the Holy Spirit is: What gift has the Spirit given to you? As baptized and some of you, confirmed Christian Catholic, what is your charism? What is your gift for the mission of the Church?
Paul identifies preaching, teaching, organizing, administrating, healing, speaking in tongues, and prophesying—all these are charismata, gifts of the Holy Spirit equipping the Church for its mission.
What is yours? My dear brothers and sisters, there is no question more important than this one. There are questions about family, career, success, and the needs of everyday life to be addressed. But none surpass in importance this question that we must all ask ourselves. What is the Holy Spirit empowering me to do better? What has the Spirit already empowered me to do?
In baptism and confirmation we have been given these gifts—what are they and how do we use them? There are no greater questions more important to ponder in this life than these.
Now in the second reading from the first letter of St. Peter, we find him focusing on the Holy Spirit. He is writing to a Christian community in the midst of a critical and sometimes outright violent society. He is clearly writing to a church that is being persecuted. As we well know, it happened a lot in the early days of the developing Church. He is telling them how to engage those who stand outside the Christian faith, even those who are meeting it with criticism, disdain, or at the extreme, with violence. Well, Peter famously says: “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”
Suppose someone knows you are a Catholic Christian; maybe they are just intrigued, maybe indifferent, or maybe even hostile. But they want to know what it is that is giving you hope. It is important to note that St. Peter identifies hope as central to the Christian theme. We are meant to be a people of hope borne from our faith in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
He is also assuming that Christian faith is not an irrational superstition. It is not opposed to reason. It can be explained and should be. It is from these notions of Peter that the seeds are sown that will later blossom into what the Church will later teach as: Fides quaerens intellectum (Faith seeking understanding). We do not have an irrational faith but one that can be brought to reason—and should be. And so therefore, those who hold the Christian faith should be equipped to speak about it reasonably to anyone and everyone who asks.
We cannot and must not retreat into privacy saying our faith is a personal matter, a merely private conviction of our own. This is NOT good enough—and never has been!
St. Peter goes on to recommend that we offer our explanations of hope “with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.” It is better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
The society that Peter is talking about is not entirely unlike our own. We are living in a time where there is a good deal of hostility toward religion, especially toward Christianity.
- Did you know that worldwide Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world?
- Did you know that the 20th century produced more Christian martyrs than all previous 19 centuries combined?
How does a Christian engage this kind of world? With reason—be ready to give a reason for the hope that lives in you; but ALSO with gentleness and reverence toward the objector—even when this is extremely difficult to muster. This is Peter’s advice to us today. When you engage someone who is hostile to the faith, even to the point of persecution—you must still do it with gentleness and deep reverence. Christians must respond, in short, in the spirit of the crucified Jesus who forgave—yes—even those who were putting him to death.
THIS is the attitude born of the Holy Spirit, who is the love between the Father and the Son. That is why now we are speaking of the Holy Spirit here. When you respond to criticism, to objection, and even to persecution with an attitude of gentleness and reverence, you are living in the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit lives in you.
Lastly, let us look at today’s gospel reading. Our Lord speaking to his disciples the night before he died, He tells them that He and His Father will send them an Advocate. The word in Greek is Parakletos. A word meaning summoned or called to one’s side, esp. called to one’s aid. This Advocate will be one who pleads to the Father on our behalf; someone who supports us, inspires us and encourages us.
Jesus is our first advocate, but He will soon physically depart from the scene of the early Church. Yet, the Father and He will send the Holy Spirit as friend, supporter, advocate, pleader, inspirer and guide for all Christians up and down the ages. And this should give us great hope.
- When the martyrs went to their deaths, it was with the help of this Paraclete.
- When the missionaries went to proclaim the faith in hostile lands, it was the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit who pleaded on their behalf.
- When Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, it was the Holy Spirit who sustained and inspired him.
- When Thomas Aquinas wrote his theological masterpieces, it was at the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
- When Edith Stein went with her Gustapo captors to Auschwitz, she went with and in the Holy Spirit, the Advocate.
Friends, the final question as we approach Pentecost, The Great Feast of the Holy Spirit: What is this Parakletos, this Advocate prompting you to do as your part in the mission of the Church?
We need the living Christ, whom we can know only through our encounter with him. But encounter presumes actual presence—the Real Presence, which, in turn, requires the Sacrament and the Church that alone is authorized to give us the Sacrament, the Church that Christ himself willed into existence and continues to support. The Eucharist, at each new celebration, must be recognized anew as the core of our Christian life. But we cannot celebrate the Eucharist adequately if we are content to reduce it to a ritual of—more or less—a half-hour’s duration. To receive Christ means to worship him. We welcome him properly and worthily at the solemn moment of receiving him only when we worship him and in worshipping him learn to know him, come to understand his nature, and follow him. We need to learn once more how to rest peacefully in his gentle presence in our churches, where the Eucharist is likewise always present because Christ intercedes for us before the Father, because he always awaits us and speaks to us. We must learn again how to draw inwardly close to him, for it is only thus that we become worthy of the Eucharist. We cannot prepare ourselves to receive the Eucharist simply by thinking about how it should be done. We can prepare for it only when we try to comprehend the depths of its demands on us, of its greatness; when we do not reduce it to our level, but let ourselves be raised to its exalted level; when we become aware of the accumulated sound of the prayers offered during all the centuries in which generations of men have advanced and are still advancing toward Christ. It is petty and undiscerning to criticize such prayers because we do not understand them; it is an expression of a genuinely “critical” sentiment (of which, be it noted, self-criticism is also a form) when we begin to recognize their greatness and, opening ourselves to that greatness, let ourselves be deepened and purified by it.
From: Joseph Ratzinger, Roman homilies, October 12, 1982
by St. John Chrysostom
Let all pious men and all lovers of God rejoice in the splendor of this feast; let the wise servants blissfully enter into the joy of their Lord; let those who have borne the burden of Lent now receive their pay, and those who have toiled since the first hour, let them now receive their due reward; let any who came after the third hour be grateful to join in the feast, and those who may have come after the sixth, let them not be afraid of being too late; for the Lord is gracious and He receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him who comes on the eleventh hour as well as to him who has toiled since the first: yes, He has pity on the last and He serves the first; He rewards the one and praises the effort.
Come you all: enter into the joy of your Lord. You the first and you the last, receive alike your reward; you rich and you poor, dance together; you sober and you weaklings, celebrate the day; you who have kept the fast and you who have not, rejoice today. The table is richly loaded: enjoy its royal banquet. The calf is a fatted one: let no one go away hungry. All of you enjoy the banquet of faith; all of you receive the riches of his goodness. Let no one grieve over his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed; let no one weep over his sins, for pardon has shone from the grave; let no one fear death, for the death of our Saviour has set us free: He has destroyed it by enduring it, He has despoiled Hades by going down into its kingdom, He has angered it by allowing it to taste of his flesh.
When Isaias foresaw all this, he cried out: “O Hades, you have been angered by encountering Him in the nether world.” Hades is angered because frustrated, it is angered because it has been mocked, it is angered because it has been destroyed, it is angered because it has been reduced to naught, it is angered because it is now captive. It seized a body, and, lo! it encountered heaven; it seized the visible, and was overcome by the invisible.
O death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? Christ is risen and you are abolished. Christ is risen and the demons are cast down. Christ is risen and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen and life is freed. Christ is risen and the tomb is emptied of the dead: for Christ, being risen from the dead, has become the Leader and Reviver of those who had fallen asleep. To Him be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Palm Sunday is the great doorway leading into Holy Week, the week when the Lord Jesus makes his way towards the culmination of his earthly existence. He goes up to Jerusalem in order to fulfil the Scriptures and to be nailed to the wood of the Cross, the throne from which he will reign for ever, drawing to himself humanity of every age and offering to all the gift of redemption. We know from the Gospels that Jesus had set out towards Jerusalem in company with the Twelve, and that little by little a growing crowd of pilgrims had joined them. Saint Mark tells us that as they were leaving Jericho, there was a “great multitude” following Jesus (cf. 10:46).
On the final stage of the journey, a particular event stands out, one which heightens the sense of expectation of what is about to unfold and focuses attention even more sharply upon Jesus. Along the way, as they were leaving Jericho, a blind man was sitting begging, Bartimaeus by name. As soon as he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing, he began to cry out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mk 10:47). People tried to silence him, but to no avail; until Jesus had them call him over and invited him to approach. “What do you want me to do for you?”, he asked. And the reply: “Master, let me receive my sight” (v. 51). Jesus said: “Go your way, your faith has made you well.” Bartimaeus regained his sight and began to follow Jesus along the way (cf. v. 52). And so it was that, after this miraculous sign, accompanied by the cry “Son of David”, a tremor of Messianic hope spread through the crowd, causing many of them to ask: this Jesus, going ahead of us towards Jerusalem, could he be the Messiah, the new David? And as he was about to enter the Holy City, had the moment come when God would finally restore the Davidic kingdom?
The preparations made by Jesus, with the help of his disciples, serve to increase this hope. As we heard in today’s Gospel (cf. Mk 11:1-10), Jesus arrives in Jerusalem from Bethphage and the Mount of Olives, that is, the route by which the Messiah was supposed to come. From there, he sent two disciples ahead of him, telling them to bring him a young donkey that they would find along the way. They did indeed find the donkey, they untied it and brought it to Jesus. At this point, the spirits of the disciples and of the other pilgrims were swept up with excitement: they took their coats and placed them on the colt; others spread them out on the street in Jesus’ path as he approached, riding on the donkey. Then they cut branches from the trees and began to shout phrases from Psalm 118, ancient pilgrim blessings, which in that setting took on the character of messianic proclamation: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!” (v. 9-10). This festive acclamation, reported by all four evangelists, is a cry of blessing, a hymn of exultation: it expresses the unanimous conviction that, in Jesus, God has visited his people and the longed-for Messiah has finally come. And everyone is there, growing in expectation of the work that Christ will accomplish once he has entered the city.
But what is the content, the inner resonance of this cry of jubilation? The answer is found throughout the Scripture, which reminds us that the Messiah fulfils the promise of God’s blessing, God’s original promise to Abraham, father of all believers: “I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you … and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves” (Gen12:2-3). It is the promise that Israel had always kept alive in prayer, especially the prayer of the Psalms. Hence he whom the crowd acclaims as the blessed one is also he in whom the whole of humanity will be blessed. Thus, in the light of Christ, humanity sees itself profoundly united and, as it were, enfolded within the cloak of divine blessing, a blessing that permeates, sustains, redeems and sanctifies all things.
Here we find the first great message that today’s feast brings us: the invitation to adopt a proper outlook upon all humanity, on the peoples who make up the world, on its different cultures and civilizations. The look that the believer receives from Christ is a look of blessing: a wise and loving look, capable of grasping the world’s beauty and having compassion on its fragility. Shining through this look is God’s own look upon those he loves and upon Creation, the work of his hands. We read in the Book of Wisdom: “But thou art merciful to all, for thou canst do all things, and thou dost overlook men’s sins, that they may repent. For thou lovest all things that exist and hast loathing for none of the things which thou hast made … thou sparest all things, for they are thine, O Lord who lovest the living” (11:23-24, 26).
Let us return to today’s Gospel passage and ask ourselves: what is really happening in the hearts of those who acclaim Christ as King of Israel? Clearly, they had their own idea of the Messiah, an idea of how the long-awaited King promised by the prophets should act. Not by chance, a few days later, instead of acclaiming Jesus, the Jerusalem crowd will cry out to Pilate: “Crucify him!”, while the disciples, together with others who had seen him and listened to him, will be struck dumb and will disperse. The majority, in fact, was disappointed by the way Jesus chose to present himself as Messiah and King of Israel. This is the heart of today’s feast, for us too. Who is Jesus of Nazareth for us? What idea do we have of the Messiah, what idea do we have of God? It is a crucial question, one we cannot avoid, not least because during this very week we are called to follow our King who chooses the Cross as his throne. We are called to follow a Messiah who promises us, not a facile earthly happiness, but the happiness of heaven, divine beatitude. So we must ask ourselves: what are our true expectations? What are our deepest desires, with which we have come here today to celebrate Palm Sunday and to begin our celebration of Holy Week?
Dear young people, present here today, this, in a particular way, is your Day, wherever the Church is present throughout the world. So I greet you with great affection! May Palm Sunday be a day of decision for you, the decision to say yes to the Lord and to follow him all the way, the decision to make his Passover, his death and resurrection, the very focus of your Christian lives. It is the decision that leads to true joy, as I reminded you in this year’s World Youth Day Message – “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4). So it was for Saint Clare of Assisi when, on Palm Sunday 800 years ago, inspired by the example of Saint Francis and his first companions, she left her father’s house to consecrate herself totally to the Lord. She was eighteen years old and she had the courage of faith and love to decide for Christ, finding in him true joy and peace.
Dear brothers and sisters, may these days call forth two sentiments in particular: praise, after the example of those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with their “Hosanna!”, and thanksgiving, because in this Holy Week the Lord Jesus will renew the greatest gift we could possibly imagine: he will give us his life, his body and his blood, his love. But we must respond worthily to so great a gift, that is to say, with the gift of ourselves, our time, our prayer, our entering into a profound communion of love with Christ who suffered, died and rose for us. The early Church Fathers saw a symbol of all this in the gesture of the people who followed Jesus on his entry into Jerusalem, the gesture of spreading out their coats before the Lord. Before Christ – the Fathers said – we must spread out our lives, ourselves, in an attitude of gratitude and adoration. As we conclude, let us listen once again to the words of one of these early Fathers, Saint Andrew, Bishop of Crete: “So it is ourselves that we must spread under Christ’s feet, not coats or lifeless branches or shoots of trees, matter which wastes away and delights the eye only for a few brief hours. But we have clothed ourselves with Christ’s grace, or with the whole Christ … so let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet … let us offer not palm branches but the prizes of victory to the conqueror of death. Today let us too give voice with the children to that sacred chant, as we wave the spiritual branches of our soul: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel’” (PG 97, 994). Amen!
Pope Benedict XVI
Are you hungry for God and do you thirst for his holiness? God wants to set our hearts ablaze with the fire of his Holy Spirit that we may share in his holiness and radiate the joy of the gospel to those around us. St. Augustine of Hippo tells us that there are two kinds of people and two kinds of love: “One is holy, the other is selfish. One is subject to God; the other endeavors to equal Him.” We are what we love. God wants to free our hearts from all that would keep us captive to selfishness and sin. “Rend your hearts and not your garments” says the prophet Joel (Joel 2:12). The Holy Spirit is ever ready to transform our hearts and to lead us further in God’s way of truth and holiness.
Why did Jesus single out prayer, fasting, and almsgiving for his disciples? The Jews considered these three as the cardinal works of the religious life. These were seen as the key signs of a pious person, the three great pillars on which the good life was based. Jesus pointed to the heart of the matter. Why do you pray, fast, and give alms—to draw attention to yourself so that others may notice and think highly of you—or to give glory to God? The Lord warns his disciples of self-seeking glory – the preoccupation with looking good and seeking praise from others. True piety is something more than feeling good or looking holy. True piety is loving devotion to God. It is an attitude of awe, reverence, worship and obedience. It is a gift and working of the Holy Spirit that enables us to devote our lives to God with a holy desire to please him in all things (Isaiah 11:1-2).
What is the sure reward which Jesus points out to his disciples? It is communion with God our Father. In him alone we find the fullness of life, happiness, and truth. The Lord wants to renew us each day and give us new hearts of love and compassion. Do you want to grow in your love for God and for your neighbor? Seek him expectantly in prayer, with fasting, and in generous giving to those in need.
The forty days of Lent is the annual retreat of the people of God in imitation of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. Forty is a significant number in the scriptures. Moses went to the mountain to seek the face of God for forty days in prayer and fasting. The people of Israel were in the wilderness for forty years in preparation for their entry into the Promised Land. Elijah fasted for forty days as he journeyed in the wilderness to the mountain of God. We are called to journey with the Lord in a special season of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and penitence as we prepare to celebrate the feast of Easter, the Christian Passover. The Lord gives us spiritual food and supernatural strength to seek his face and to prepare ourselves for spiritual combat and testing. We, too, must follow in the way of the cross in order to share in the victory of Christ’s death and resurrection. As we begin this holy season of testing and preparation, let’s ask the Lord for a fresh outpouring of his Holy Spirit that we may grow in faith, hope, and love and embrace his will more fully in our lives.
Let this be our prayer today and every day during Lent: “Lord Jesus, give us a lively faith, a firm hope, a fervent charity, and a deeper love of you. Take from us all lukewarmness in our meditation on your word, and all dullness in prayer. Give us fervor and delight in thinking of You and your grace, and fill us with compassion for others, especially those in need—that we may always respond with generosity.”
Many years ago when I was in graduate seminary, there was a very wise man who taught us psychology and counseling. His name was Dr. Saverio Laudadio. He held by a certain principle that he tried to pass along to those of us studying for the priesthood: If you want to be happy, stop worrying and fussing about being happy and get along to the task of being fulfilled: serve your community, deepen your understanding through reading and study, and above all do the work of the Church. First do something that fulfills you and happiness will take care of itself; will flow from such pursuits.
Happiness is a byproduct of fulfillment. So don’t concentrate so much on being happy as much as seeking a life that fulfills you by becoming engaged in service to the world around you— a truly wise principle to live by.
This same principle can be applied to the spiritual life as well. Do you want to be holy? Stop fussing so much about your holiness and get going with the task of discipleship. Discipleship requires that you learn to pray, read and study to deepen your understanding, and above all, perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Discipleship is all about announcing, proclaiming and evangelizing, taking care of the poor, and doing what Christ calls you to do. In so doing, we become holy behind our own backs. Holiness tends to take care of itself because it is a product of God’s grace. The divine life of God works within us and transforms us as we live out the gospel message.
You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world; you are a city set on a mountain.
Salt, light, and a city…what do we notice about these three things? They all exist for the good of something outside of themselves. Salt—what does salt do?—it was added to meat to preserve it in Jesus time; it was and is added to enhance the flavor of food. With regard to the Church, we are not meant to fuss about ourselves, but rather we, as Church, are meant to spice up the world and to preserve what is good and right and true in the world. Like salt, we exist for the good of what exists outside of the Church.
What else can salt be used for? Salt melts ice. It makes things flow that are frozen. The Church’s task, by being followers of Christ, is to loosen up a world that is frozen in its own self-regard and in its violent ways. We are meant to have this melting influence on the world around us that it might flow in the direction of Christ and the kingdom of heaven.
Another way that salt was used in the ancient world was to salt the ground of a conquered nation so that nothing would grow in their fields again. And so, salt has a destructive power. Are we, as Christians meant to destroy certain things in the world? Yes—we are to be a force against all manifestations of sin, all the ways in which human life is violated and discounted, all forms of hatred and violence, we are meant to interrupt them and get in their way.
We too are light! Light illumines, not itself but those objects on which it shines. So the Church’s purpose is not to look at itself, but to cast light on the world. Light allows people to see and to move; it allows them to make their way. That is why Jesus said: I am the light of the world; by His light people see what to do and where to go. We, the Church, are meant to participate in His light; to illumine the paths of the world.
Light shines in dark places and illumines what is going on in them. Salt is meant to interrupt and kill off certain things; and so light is meant to be shined into dark corners where hatred dwells, where violence festers, where old animosities and jealousies are still alive. The Church’s job is to shed light where things need to be exposed for the good of the world.
Lastly, Jesus says we are a city set on a mountain. In this we are meant to be a point of navigation. A city set upon a mountain, bright and shining, we are meant to be a guide to all who can see it. The world is guided to the safe harbor of the kingdom of heaven by remaining focused on the Church, a city set on a mountain.
But keep in mind, the Church is not raised up on the mountain to aggrandize itself and think of itself as great, to increase its own power, rather it is meant to be visible so that the world can see it and know it and guide their lives by it.
And now, here’s the devastating thing about this gospel; we must listen to it carefully. What if the salt goes flat? How can you restore its flavor? It becomes good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. Light hidden under a bushel basket serves no purpose at all. What happens to us, the Church, when we lose our saltiness; when we put our light under a bushel basket? We lose our whole purpose. Once we lose saltiness, we lose our distinctiveness, our spicy particularity, our slightly annoying uniqueness. When the Church simply blends in with the world, it no longer helps the world. I repeat: when the Church simply blends in with world, it no longer helps the world and loses its mission to the world. Once we look like everybody else and sound like everybody else; have all the same opinions and ideas as everybody else, then we are no longer what Christ intended us to be. Then, who needs us?
The Church must hold on to its saltiness or it preserves nothing; it spices up nothing; it challenges no one, and upsets no one. Then we have failed as a Church. If we allow the din of public opinion, cultural and social dissolution to dim or put out our light, then we have failed as Church. We’ve put our light under a bushel basket. Then, we become as dark as everybody else. We become as unfocused as everybody else. We become a vague echo of the secular culture around us. We are meant to look and sound differently. If we are not, then we as Church have failed. My brothers and sisters be salty, be light, be that city upon the mountain for the good of the world!!!
We celebrate the great feast of the Presentation of the Lord. A few days after his birth in accordance with Jewish law, He is brought to the Temple for His circumcision and presentation. In this His whole life is offered to God by Mary and Joseph. The feast of the Presentation is a very “churchy” feast. What I mean is that it is a feast that emphasizes church, liturgy, and ritual. Our readings today reflect this churchiness. The first reading speaks of sacrifice in the Temple—a ritual act by which God and humanity are linked. The second reading from the letter to the Hebrews talks about Jesus as a priest. A priest is someone who performs a ritual sacrifice. So Jesus in his own person links together divinity and humanity; He is in His own being and person, a priest. Then we hear our beautiful gospel taken from that familiar passage of St. Luke describing Joseph and Mary bringing Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem so that He might be consecrated to the Lord. This Temple is for the people Israel the most sacred of places and they engage in this ancient ritual act circumcision, purification, and presentation.
When I was coming of age in the Church, in the late sixties and early seventies, there was a kind of reaction against liturgy. There was more of a stress on the social action of the Church—the Church out in the world working on behalf of the poor and marginalized; working for social justice—and so getting out of the church was the preeminent value. And there was consequently a tendency to underplay or devalue the liturgical, the ritual, and the churchy side of things. In fact, people who loved to spend time in church were kind of poopooed a bit and looked down upon.
What is interesting is that there is a revival going on right now. 20something and 30something Catholics and other young Christians have developed a deep interest in liturgy, ritual, and the practices of the Church such as candles, processions, vestments, stained glass, incense, and ritual action.
Luke makes mention of the prophetess, Anna and Simeon the prophet—two people who spent almost their whole day in the Temple; they loved the Temple, its practices, customs, and rituals. They remind me of those women in my childhood who would stay after Mass to pray the rosary, make the Stations of the Cross, and pray novenas. Many of them were elderly widows praying for their families and friends. They, like Anna and Simeon, gained much comfort from spending this time in church. And so it seems that young people today are being drawn back to these churchy expressions.
What is the importance of all of this? Why are the readings emphasizing it? Why this feast day? Why am I placing such stress on the liturgical life of the Church?—especially in light of the need for social justice and to get out into the world. Love and Justice—liturgy is about love and about justice. First love—when a young man is falling in love with a young woman, he tends to do odd and extravagant things. He might send her flowers for a week. He might write her a love poem—even if he is a lousy poet. He might, if really extravagant, stand outside her window and sing her a love song. People in love often do exaggerated and extravagant things to express their love. As love begins to bubble up within you it goes beyond what ordinary language and gesture can express. It moves into the artistic, the poetic, and extraordinary. The liturgy and ritual are expressions of love—our love for God. It is a love the rises up within us and becomes this extraordinary and flowery speech and gesture known as liturgy and ritual. It takes form in stained glass windows, incense, poetic language and gesture. When I walk in to celebrate the Mass I dress in these colorful, beautiful robes, I enter by way of a procession up the aisle surrounded by singing and I bow and kiss the altar. All of these gestures are gestures of love. And so this is how the Church expresses its love in these extravagant and extraordinary ways.
The second focus of the liturgy is Justice. St. Thomas Aquinas said the liturgy is the act by which we render to God what is due to God. That’s what justice is. I am in a just relationship with you when I render to you all that I owe you. My brothers and sisters, what do we owe God? EVERYTHING! Our being, our life, our breath, every thought we think, every desire we have. We owe God everything. God is our Creator and Redeemer. What if we spend our whole lives and never thank God even once?—never praise God once. Our lives would therefore be unjust! We owe Him everything but pay him nothing in thanks and praise. The liturgy is an act by which we thank and praise God and thereby render to God what is due to Him.
This may seem odd because for so long we haven’t emphasized it. I regularly hear someone say, I go to Mass but I don’t get anything out of it—it’s kind of boring. That’s unfortunate but the Mass is not meant to be entertainment. The Mass is there as an act of Justice by which you render to God what you owe Him. Whether you are in the mood or not; whether you are entertained or not, it is an act by which you are rendering to God justice.
Lest this sound like God is a calculating moneylender who’s waiting for us to pay Him back. When we are just with regard to God; when we have presented ourselves properly in praise and thanks then we become just on the inside. Our lives become properly ordered and are made right. By way of the readings and prayers of Mass, we are reordering our way of thinking and acting according to God’s ways instead of the ways of the world. There is no better way to prepare ourselves to go out into the world to work on behalf of the poor and marginalized, and to work for justice than what we do here in church through prayer and ritual.
At the Temple, Jesus was offered back to the Father by Joseph and Mary. At the Mass, the priest offers Jesus back to the Father at the consecration on behalf of us all. There is no greater act of thanks and praise from God’s people than the Mass with its prayers and rituals. I pray that each and every one of us here present is in a just relationship with God on this feast of the Presentation of the Lord.
By Kerri Lenartowick
Vatican City, Aug 25, 2013 / 09:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his Sunday Angelus audience, Pope Francis emphasized the importance of truly living a Christian life rather than letting it become a superficial label.
“In the gospel, Jesus tells us that to be a Christian is not to have a ‘label’ but to live and testify to faith in prayer, in works of charity, in the promotion of justice, in doing good,” Pope Francis told the audience gathered in St. Peter’s Square Aug. 25.
Jesus himself is the way to a truly lived faith, explained the Pope.
Sunday’s gospel reading includes the story of a man who asks Jesus if there are few that will be saved.
“Jesus doesn’t respond directly to the question: it is not important to know how many will be saved, but above all it is important to know the way of salvation,” Pope Francis recounted. “Jesus tells us that there is a door to enter into the family of God. This door is Jesus.”
Jesus offers himself as the way of salvation to all.
“Everyone is invited to enter this door, to go through the door of faith, to enter into His life, and to allow Jesus into their lives, so that he may transform them, renew them, and give them full and lasting joy.”
The Pope went on to say that today there are many doors “inviting us to enter, promising instant happiness, which is an end in itself and has no future.”
But Jesus “shines a light in our lives that never goes out. It is more than just a flash.”
We must not be afraid to enter the door of faith in Jesus, encouraged Pope Francis. We must not be afraid “to let him enter more and more into our lives, to get out of our selfishness, our being closed off, our indifference towards others.”
This way of Jesus is “narrow” because “he asks us to open our heart to him, to recognize ourselves as sinners in need of his salvation, his forgiveness, his love, and to have the humility to accept his mercy and let us be renewed by him.”
The Pope led the crowds in the Angelus prayer. He then spoke of his concern for the continuing situation of violence in Syria.
“From the depths of my heart, I wish to express my closeness in prayer and solidarity to all the victims of this conflict, to all those who suffer, especially the children,” he said
“Let us pray together, ‘Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us’.”