January 1, Catholics celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, one of the holy days of obligation in the Church. This celebration is a special way to celebrate Mary’s special role in God’s plan in the Christmas story, as well as a way to start the year full of grace, ready to tackle those New Year’s resolutions. Although the practice of New Year’s resolutions is not distinctly Christian, our resolutions gain a new significance when we attend to Mary’s story.
Discern Your Resolutions
The story of Mary’s call to motherhood is a paradigm of Biblical discernment. When Mary received Gabriel’s announcement, “She was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:29). In faith, Mary wrestles with God’s calling. Even after her great “Yes,” and giving birth, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2:19), revealing she is still learning what her vocation means and how to live it.
What’s this got to do with New Year’s resolutions? Discernment is a spiritual, prayerful decision-making process between possible courses of action. What specific habits or practices is God calling you to work on this year? There are plenty of worthwhile resolutions—there’s a million things I need work on—but it’s just not all possible to accomplish in a year, or ever. Prioritize resolutions that strengthen your personal vocation.
Expect Without Expectations
Mary’s faith is “expectant” but without “expectations.” In other words, Mary expects God to act in her life, but doesn’t place limitations on who, what, when, and where. Mary trusts the angel Gabriel’s words, “nothing will be impossible for God” and is free to live and say, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:37-38).
Maybe God will bring about the outcomes of your resolution through unexpected ways or people. That’s the way it often works in scripture and the lives of the Saints. When you give God permission to act on his terms, you are free to boldly expect that God will do new and great things in your life this year.
Make Room For Others
Even free from original sin, God uses other people to accomplish his plan in Mary’s life. Mary’s story was made possible through her reliance upon truthful friends and family. Her cousin Elizabeth speaks truth and hope into her situation (Luke 1:42), and her husband Joseph goes to heroic lengths to let God’s call come to fruition.
Share your resolution with someone you trust. Whether it’s a major lifestyle change or not, ask them to keep you accountable, and always with prayer. Accountability also prevents goals from becoming purely self-centered or even idols from seeking God first (e.g., just to impress people at the beach). No one can accomplish your resolution for you, but you can find people to accomplish it with you.
Resolve to Live the Truth
Mary shows the true path by always making everything about Jesus. “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5). A true personal change will always lead us to more fully reflect our true identities as sons and daughters created in the image and likeness of God.
But the truth is, sometimes resolutions are born of self-loathing or lies we’ve bought instead of the desire to more fully reflect God’s truth. This often happens with body or image-related resolutions; to be thinner, smarter, stronger, etc. While these aren’t de facto bad things, the tendency becomes seeking physical solutions for a spiritual or psychological wound that really needs healing. That’s why discernment with spiritual direction and honest accountability is vital. Exercise programs or supplements say we should consult a physician first- but it’s also true when it applies to spiritual exercises for our soul! Mary and the saints save us from spiritual self-medication, which close us off from the Divine Physician.
“We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful” (Pius IX. Ineffabilis Deus).
With these words, Pope Pius IX declared ex cathedra the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception; only twice in recent history has this occurred (the other being Pius XII’s declaration on the Assumption). For centuries, the faithful have commemorated the belief that Mary, from the moment of her conception, by a loving act of God, was free from sin. This, of course, does not mean that Mary was exempt in some way from Jesus’ redemption of humanity. Rather, as Blessed John Duns Scotus put it, she acquired the greatest of redemptions through her special role in Salvation History (Lectura III Sent., 119).
Many who do not agree with the doctrine argue that if Mary was not born with Original Sin or did not sin at any point in her entire life (as Church teaching proclaims), then she could not have been fully human. Therefore, if the Blessed Mother had never been born into sin and never sinned in her life, how could she have been truly human? Some reason, how could she have experienced what humanity really goes through if she didn’t live with sin? Basically, how could she have been truly free to be a person, struggling with the temptations, the ups and the downs, the “messiness” that is life? The concept of a sinless life, to many, seems boring and totally reliant on some higher being. How can one be totally dependent on God’s love?
In one of his earliest homilies as Pope, Benedict XVI answered these questions quite definitively. He stated, “The human being lives in the suspicion that God's love creates a dependence and that he must rid himself of this dependency if he is to be fully himself.” Indeed, many of us feel reluctant to fully give in to the love and mercy of God for fear that we would be giving up our ability to choose to be whomever we want to be. In that case, we rely not on God’s love, but on our own powers and abilities. This may sound preferable to some, but the Pope-Emeritus reminds us, “Love is not dependence but a gift that makes us live. The freedom of a human being is the freedom of a limited being, and therefore is itself limited.” Our knowledge and abilities as humans are but a speck in comparison to God’s love. Therefore, in choosing not to live in accordance with what is right and true, we actually limit ourselves from fully living.
Mary, the Immaculate Conception, is the prime example of total abandonment to God’s love – she is truly free. Though she was sinless throughout her life, Mary still faced the temptation to sin. However, because she lived in complete openness to the Lord’s will, Mary did not choose sin, but rather, chose God. In his homily, Benedict notes, “The closer a person is to God, the closer he is to people…The fact that she is totally with God is the reason why she is so close to human beings.” Sinless, she was the pure vessel, the new Ark of the Covenant, through which “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) She is the mother of God, and thus, the mother of Love itself, for God is Love. (cf 1 Jn 4:8) Living in that love, she calls out to us: “Have the courage to dare with God! Try it! Do not be afraid of him! Have the courage to risk with faith! Have the courage to risk with goodness!...so that your life will become broad and light, not boring but filled with infinite surprises, for God's infinite goodness is never depleted!”
Today, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis has proclaimed the opening of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Please visit our Year of Mercy resources by clicking here.
Victor David is a collaborator with the Catholic Apostolate Center and a staff member at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.
“The month of June is singled out, in a particular way, for the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. To celebrate the Heart of Christ means to turn toward the profound center of the Person of the Savior, that center which the Bible identifies precisely as his Heart, seat of the love that has redeemed the world. If the human heart represents an unfathomable mystery that only God knows, how much more sublime is the heart of Jesus, in which the life of the Word itself beats. In it, as suggested by the beautiful Litanies of the Sacred Heart that echo the Scriptures, are found all the treasures of wisdom and science and all the fullness of divinity.”
-St. Pope John Paul II, on the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, June 24, 2002.
Tomorrow, June 12th, is the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. There are many pious devotions to the Sacred Heart which are worthy of practice. Since it is impossible to do justice to them all in just five hundred words, just three of the 33 invocations from the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (which St. Pope John Paul II described as “beautiful”) will be the focus here. Don’t limit yourself to the brief snippets here! If you pray the Litany in its entirety, you might find an invocation which best speaks to your own prayer life.
“Heart of Jesus, full of goodness and love, have mercy on us.” Can you think of a powerful example of love and goodness? Maybe you think of Mother Teresa and her care for the poorest of the poor. Maybe Saint Maximilian Kolbe, who was willing to die in the place of a stranger at Auschwitz so that the man’s children would still have their father comes to mind. There are many touching, beautiful examples of real love and compassion in the world. The love and goodness of Jesus surpasses them all; His love extends to us all, even when we fail to love Him in return.
“Heart of Jesus, obedient to death, have mercy on us.” Jesus has a very difficult cross to bear. Before He picked up His cross (literally), He knelt praying in the garden of Gethsemane. Although He prayed that the task might be taken away from Him, in the same breath, He reconciled Himself to the Father’s will (Mt 26:39). Jesus followed the Father’s will because He loves each one of us. Each of us have much smaller crosses to carry; relatively few of us in the United States will be asked to give our lives for our faith. It is easy to grumble when difficulties come along; I myself, like most of us, often fall into that trap. Jesus resigned Himself to the Father’s will so that we might be saved. He wants to give us the graces we need to do the Father’s will, just like He did.
“Heart of Jesus, source of all consolation, have mercy on us.” In your most sorrowful moments, where do you turn to for comfort? A close friend or family member? A beloved pet? Chocolate? In times of sadness, there are few things more comforting than a hug from someone you love. Jesus’ heart is overflowing with love for you and He is there with outstretched arms ready to wipe away your tears. You would be hard pressed to find a better listener or someone who loved you more than Him.
The Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart is also the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests. If you have a few extra moments to spare tomorrow, remember to say a prayer for the priests in your parish and any other priests who have touched your life!
Jennifer Beckmann is an Administrative Secretary for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
For more information on Prayer life, please see our Prayer and Catechesis Resource Page!
I am going to begin this post with a familiar teaching: “The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life’” (CCC 1324). Christ divinely instituted this Sacrament at the Last Supper, ordering the disciples to continue that Sacrifice “in remembrance of [Him]” (Luke 22:19). For those who believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, it unites earth and heaven, the “communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being” (CCC1325). Even for those who do not believe, Christ died for all, though not all choose to avail of the redemption won for them by the shedding of His blood.
I can think of no better reminder of that last point than the traditional Eucharistic procession celebrating the Solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, also known as Corpus Christi. There is no other liturgical feast during which the Blessed Sacrament is venerated outside of a church. To the passers-by, the procession is impossible to miss: scores of altar servers dispensing clouds of incense and, if you’re lucky, a Knights of Columbus color guard with drawn swords precede an elaborate tent being carried over a golden monstrance elevated by the priest (dressed in beautiful liturgical vestments, no less) while the faithful bring up the rear singing Eucharistic hymns. This spectacle is not merely ecclesiastically pleasing to the eyes, but, among other functions, introduces Christ to the world outside of the Church.
In the Eucharist, we recall the words of Christ now repeated by the priest: “Take this, all of you… this is my Body… this is… my Blood, the Blood of the new and everlasting covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins” (it should be noted that “for many” refers to all who come to believe and not an exclusion/denial of others). The Church does not wish to deny anyone an encounter with Christ but instead continually seeks to evangelize the world. The Eucharistic procession, then, is an invitation extended by the faithful to bystanders to reciprocate the infinite love God has always shown to them, whether it is recognized or not. This invitation may not be immediately accepted, but, given time and the right conditions, the seeds planted in their minds could result in conversion and the desire to join Christ’s body, the Church (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-27).
The Solemnity also reminds me of the call to continuing conversion, the universal call to holiness. Each of us who bear the name “Christian” are to become more like the One whom we love and in whom we live— we are called to become what we consume. Christ comes to dwell within us; we live our lives now in Him. We are “living monstrances”, enthroning the Lord in our hearts and showcasing Him through our good works. The same Divine Host that we receive in this Sacrament is the same elevated in the procession. Processing outside of the walls of church serves to proclaim that Christ continues to come into the world through the Church. Our Lord dwells in each of us by virtue of our Baptism. We carry Him into the world just as we carry the monstrance into the streets.
Even so, there will always be those who scorn our belief in the Real Presence. The Eucharist, like the Cross are forever “stumbling blocks. It is the same mystery and it never ceases to be an occasion of division” (see CCC 1336, John 6:22-69). The fact that the Eucharist can never be fully understood by the human mind must not be a condition of belief. As St. Anselm of Canterbury once declared, “For I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For I believe this: unless I believe, I will not understand.” Because Christ Himself has told us, “This is My Body”, what reason could remain for doubt (Matthew 26:26-28)? St. Thomas Aquinas recognized this when he composed the traditional and fitting Corpus Christi hymn, “Adore te devote”:
O Godhead hid, devoutly I adore Thee,
Who truly art within the forms before me;
To Thee my heart I bow with bended knee,
As failing quite in contemplating Thee.
Sight, touch, and taste in Thee are each deceived;
The ear alone most safely is believed:
I believe all the Son of God has spoken,
Than Truth's own word there is no truer token.
Jesu! Whom for the present veil'd I see,
What I so thirst for, O vouchsafe to me:
That I may see Thy countenance unfolding,
And may be blest Thy glory in beholding. Amen.
Thomas Wong is an Undergraduate at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which we celebrate tomorrow, is one of my favorite feast days in the Church. Over the years, it has become my favorite solemnity because of two short lines from the Gospel,
Fear not, for nothing will be impossible with God.
And then the next line,
Behold: I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to Thy Word.
(Luke 1: 37-38).
These two lines have helped me through the hardest years of my life. In high school, throughout college, and as I am beginning my career, I use these two verses to guide each tough decision I make. To me, the first line is about faith in God no matter what, and the second is about saying “Yes!” and trusting that God’s plan will guide me.
Fear not, for nothing will be impossible with God. When we are afraid, our whole presence is affected. We worry about things like the future, bills, jobs, and focus less on the beauty of what is right in front of us. Our minds become full of details that we often have no control over, and our lives can lose sight of our purpose in it all. When we allow Jesus to “take the wheel,” our paths are clearer and calmer, and we can return to living in the present. If something is meant to be, God will see it through for us, no matter what. If something is not meant to be, we have to trust that God has already figured out a better option. With God, we know that anything is possible.
Behold: I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to Thy Word. Mary responded to the angel Gabriel with “fiat” or “let it be done,” not knowing what was going to happen, yet saying yes anyway. As a role model for all women and a perfect example of holiness, Mary trusted in God’s Word and showed the world that faith can change the course of history. If we say our “Yes!” to God, whether for a big life change, in a short prayer for a faithful day, or to devote our time to actively serving others, He will provide for us. When we become a willing instrument of His Grace, we die to our selfishness and worry, to become a better apostle of Christ in our communities.
We are chosen by God, like Mary was, to live lives in faith. It is a difficult request, to remain unwaveringly trusting for a plan to which we do not see or know. This poem, popularized by Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch Christian writer who helped Jews during the Holocaust, perfectly sums up my message:
My Life is but a weaving
between my Lord and me;
I cannot choose the colors
He worketh steadily.
Oft times He weaveth sorrow
And I, in foolish pride,
Forget He sees the upper,
And I the under side.
Not til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly,
Shall God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the Weaver’s skillful hand,
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.
He knows, He loves, He cares,
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives His very best to those
Who leave the choice with Him.
Krissy Kirby is a teacher in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
This past Sunday, the final Sunday of the liturgical year, we celebrated the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. On this solemnity, the Church recalls the sovereignty of our Lord over the universe and in our hearts. We are called to look forward to the “definitive and eternal kingdom of Christ”, which Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI identified as “the ultimate goal of history”. Having been with the Father at the very beginning, when the world was “without form or shape” will fully manifest His lordship at the end of time (cf Genesis 1:2). This past Sunday’s reading from St. Matthew’s gospel presents the great scene of this final judgment, where He who “sits upon His glorious throne with all the nations gathered before Him” will separate the “sheep from the goats”, that is, identify those who have recognized and accepted the Word of God and its messengers and those who rejected it (Matthew 24:31-32). The point of the Gospel, is not so much identifying who are the sheep and who are the goats, but, as Pope Francis noted, determining whether we live our lives in “imitation of Jesus’ works of mercy through which He brought about His kingdom. “
Christ’s reign is unlike any earthly notion of kingship (cf. Matthew 21:1-11). He completely identifies Himself with the poor, the sick, and the afflicted. He does not ignore the weak, the needy, or the marginalized. Christ’s kingdom is one of love, service, and Truth, not one built up by weapons, violence, or a lust for power. Unfortunately, Christ’s contemporaries frequently misunderstood the kingdom being preached as an earthly, political one. After the multiplication of the loaves, for example, the masses were so enthralled by the miracle that they wanted to declare Jesus as their king on the spot to overthrow Roman rule. Later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, a zealous Peter begins to fight those who came to arrest Jesus. Both times, Jesus knows the will of His Father must be completed: He withdraws to pray in the first instance, and, after rebuking Peter, submits to the mob in the second. Hearing of a new kingdom and servants, the Pontius Pilate has Jesus presented before him, but is taken aback at what he sees: the one who dared to challenge the might of Rome has been abandoned by his followers, and his enemies are crying for a most humiliating execution (cf. John 18:37). The Roman governor asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (v. 33). In spite of the injury and insult He is suffering, Jesus clarifies the nature of His kingship, which is no worldly power but a Love which serves. He states that His kingdom is in no way to be confused with a political reign: “My kingship is not of this world… is not from the world” (v. 36).
The kingdom that Christ inaugurates is universal. It is not confined to political borders or a single ethnic group but rather, it is universal and communal by being present among those who love as He loved, and serve as He served. In seeking the Kingdom of God, one only has to look towards those who are suffering hardship in their lives. How can one hope to enter the Kingdom based on justice, love, and peace, if that person turns a blind eye to the needs of his neighbors (cf. Luke 10:25-37)? Mother Teresa addressed this hypocrisy:
It is not enough for us to say, “I love God, but I do not love my neighbor.”… How can you love God whom you do not see, if you do not love your neighbor whom you see, whom you touch, with whom you live?
How, then, can we prepare for this Kingdom? Our Faith is not one we keep to ourselves, but something we are meant— and commanded— to share and give witness to every moment of our lives (cf. Matthew 28:19). We can bring others to Christ by our love, our service, and our humility, placing the needs of others, especially the marginalized, above our own. In doing so, and by forgoing the allures of worldly power and riches, we make ourselves ready for the greater Kingdom and Glory that Christ has promised us. And when each of us stands before Him at the Final Judgment and renders an account of the life we spent in imitation of our Lord, we can hope to hear the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant! ... Come, share your master’s joy!” (Matthew 25:21).
Thomas Wong is an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
For more information on bringing Christ’s love to others, check out the Catholic Apostolate Center’s New Evangelization Resource Page!
If the title of this post sounds a bit familiar, then you probably recall this quote was some of the first words uttered by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI when he appeared at the central balcony over St. Peter’s Square upon his election in 2005. Not too long ago, we saw that humility in even greater depth when Benedict resigned from his role as Bishop of Rome, recognizing that his “strength… has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.” Knowing that he could no longer serve as the Vicar of Christ in the manner which he desired, and trusting in God’s will, he freely renounced his office in order for another to steer the Catholic Church.
While this act of Pope Benedict truly stands out as an act of a holy man, this is far from the only example of faith from a Roman Pontiff. As the Church celebrates the Solemnity of All Saints, it provides a moment to reflect on a few other Popes, especially in the twilight of a year which saw two Popes canonized and another beatified by Pope Francis.
When Cardinal Giuseppe Roncalli entered the conclave of 1958, it is famously asserted that he had already booked his train ticket back to Venice – for he never expected to be elected by the College of Cardinals. Yet, when elected he chose the name John, partly because of John the Evangelist, the beloved of the Lord. Just the great apostle had done, St. John XXIII, too, laid himself at the service of Christ. When he first began talking about convening the Second Vatican Council, many of his contemporaries doubted it would ever occur. Nevertheless, knowing he was trying to fulfill God’s will, the pope persisted and opened the council on October 11, 1962. This was just one instance out of so many that showed what kind of person “Good Pope John” strove to be. He acted not for ovations for himself, but rather for the glory of God. In December 1963, President Lyndon Johnson awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously to John XXIII. The President remarked, “He was a man of simple origins, of simple faith, of simple charity. In his exalted office he was still the gentle pastor…His goodness reached across temporal boundaries to warm the hearts of men of all nations and of all faiths.”
One of John XXIII’s closest friends was Cardinal Giovanni Montini. Upon his election a Pope Paul VI, he continued the work of his predecessor in overseeing Vatican II. If humility and surrendering to God’s plan are signs of sanctity, then two moments stand out in the pontificate of the man now called “Blessed.” In 1963, at a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, Blessed Paul VI removed his tiara and placed it on the alter – a symbolic act showing that the pope not only gave up claims to temporal power on earth, but also yielded fully to the will of the Lord in heaven. Another touching example is his steadfastness after issuing his most famous encyclical, Humanae Vitae. In it, the pope reiterates the Church’s teaching on marriage and denunciation of artificial birth control. Though his words were well received in some parts of the world, the reaction was quite negative. Yet, Blessed Paul VI knew that he was reaffirming ultimate truths and that no matter the criticism, his faith would see him through.
Modern history’s second longest papacy came soon after Paul VI. St. John Paul II, JPII, John Paul the Great – no matter what the title, the sentiment is the same. The faithful witnessed a saint walking among them. His magnificent sanctity was seen exquisitely in December of 1983. Two days after Christmas, the pope travelled to Rebibbia prison to meeting with Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who tried to assassinate the pontiff just two years before. During the meeting, John Paul again forgave his would-be-assassin. Years later, the Italian government pardoned Agca at the pope’s urging. This episode, too, was an example of the great faith of the Bishop of Rome. Not only did he imitate Christ’s actions two-thousand years ago, but he also gave a great model for the present day faithful. If a man could humble himself to forgive another man for trying to kill him, all the more people should forgive each other for the smaller transgressions in life.
Many people consider themselves lucky to attend a papal event, watch the pope pass by them in an open vehicle, or even to just hear the pope at a Sunday Angelus. Indeed, so many others never get the opportunity to come in close contact with the Vicar of Christ. Nevertheless, a priest once said that these holy men are now even closer to the faithful than ever before because they number among the saints in heaven. The Catechism reminds us, “the union of the wayfarers with the brethren who sleep in the peace of Christ is in no way interrupted, but on the contrary, according to the constant faith of the Church…those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness…They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us” (CCC 955-6). By asking for their intercession and following their example, the faithful are led home to the Father in heaven and can number among the Communion of Saints.
For more information, check out the Catholic Apostolate Center's Paul VI and our Sts. John Paul II and John XXIII Resource Pages!
Victor David is a staff member at The Catholic University of America in Washington D.C.
Tomorrow we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. When we hear the name, “Most Sacred Heart of Jesus,” most of us probably think of a statue that appears in many of our churches.: the image where Jesus stands with his heart, burning with joy and love for us, exposed to all. Many of us probably do not think any deeper about this statue, and yet we are called to more. Pope Francis, in his 2013 homily on the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, said, “It is more difficult to let God love us than to love Him! The best way to love Him in return is to open our hearts and let Him love us.” Every time we see these statues we are reminded to open ourselves to the love of Christ and give ourselves completely to him as he does. He lays his heart open before us as an example of how to live our lives.
The readings for the Solemnity also give us great insight into the importance of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and how we can relate it to our lives. The first reading comes from the Book of Deuteronomy, which means “second law.” The most striking part of this passage is where Moses says, “It was not because you are the largest of all nations that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you, for you are really the smallest of all nations. It was because the Lord loves you” (Dt 7:6-11). These words are not just a reminder of the covenant that the Lord made with Abraham, but a foreshadowing and reflection on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Christ literally lays down his life, sets down his heart for us, the insignificant people that we are. Why? Because he loves us. He gives us his whole self so that we, in some small way or another, might experience the love of God more fully. The heart on statues of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is exposed to show us that he is “sett[ing] his heart” on us, and it burns with his love for us.
John, in his gospel passage 4: 7-16, expounds upon this idea of love and demonstrates for us how the covenant made between God and Abraham has been fulfilled in the Gospel. He explains to us that God is love and it is through our love for each other that we come to know God and serve him. John tells us about the importance of Christ’s sacrifice, “so that we might have life through him,” and while we have not seen God, he calls us to have faith: “No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.” We are not led blindly into a community of faith, but rather we are given a simple rule, to love others as God loves us. By following this commandment we remain one with God. This is the message of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. This feast day reminds us that Jesus gave us the ultimate example of love, laying down one’s life for another, and thus he set his heart upon us.
It is easy to forget the humanity of Christ, after all he is the Son of God, walked on water, and rose from the dead, and yet he bled for us. When the soldier pierced his side with a spear, out flowed blood and water. The Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus reminds us of Jesus’ humanity and the significance of his sacrifice. He suffered, he felt pain, he literally laid down his life and set his heart upon us. It is our turn to pick up what God has given us and share it with the world. Let us open our hearts and share Christ’s love.
Nicholas Shields is a recent graduate of The Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. and Immediate Past Grand Knight of the CUA Knights of Columbus.
In his final words as Supreme Pontiff, Benedict XVI reminded us from the balcony of Castel Gandolfo that he was “simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on Earth.” In doing so, he reminded us, the faithful, that we too are on an earthly pilgrimage. Benedict’s goal, as well as ours, is the Kingdom of Heaven. As pilgrims, we travel around and seek the ways that will lead us to our destination. Though at times we go down the wrong path, we trust that, having faith in God, He will always bring us back to our goal, to be with Him. Thus, we are truly a “Pilgrim Church,” a community of believers on a voyage to Christ.
This past Sunday, we celebrated the great solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, also known as Corpus Christi. The history of the feast goes back all the way to the early 1200s in modern day Belgium. St. Juliana of Liege, a Norbertine canoness, had a vision of a full moon with a dark spot. The spot, she believed, represented the absence of a feast dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament outside the season of Lent. After reporting her visions to her confessor and bishop, the bishop instituted such a feast in the diocese in 1247. Several years later, Pope Urban IV extended the celebration to the universal church in 1261. It was he who requested St. Thomas Aquinas to write hymns for the feast day. We know them today as the Pange Lingua and Panis Angelicus. Urban successors, most especially Clement V in 1311, reinforced the original decree and promoted the observance of the feast.
One of the most beautiful and traditional aspects of the celebration is the procession of the congregation behind the Eucharist encased in a monstrance. On a personal note, this day has always been one of my favorites growing up. I loved walking with my family and friends around the church building (often stopping traffic!), all following our pastor holding the monstrance up as high as he could.
In many ways, the Corpus Christi procession mirrors our pilgrimage (our procession) on earth. Together, with other members of the faithful, we are led toward God, whose real presence on earth is in the Eucharist. The Most Blessed Sacrament is the point in which heaven and earth meet. Not only is it our guide on earth, but also our guide to heaven. Processing around, following the Eucharist is a reminder that what we do on earth can lead us to an everlasting reward. By receiving the Eucharist, we are given the strength (both spiritual and physical) to continue on our earthly journey. As St. Thomas Aquinas once wrote, “Per tuas semitas duc nos quo tendimus, ad lucem quam inhabitas” (By your ways lead us to where we are going, to the light where you live.)
Victor David is a recent graduate of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
“He said to them: ‘… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:7-11).
Forty days ago, we celebrated the miraculous Resurrection of Jesus from the dead and joyful the start of the Easter season. Finally, after millennia of prophecies and expectation, the promise that humanity would be redeemed and restored in its relationship with God was fulfilled. Now Christ had risen in glory and conquered death by His Passion, allowing humanity to once again be united with its loving Creator (c.f. 2 Peter 1:4). This reunification of the disciples and their beloved Teacher was indeed a cause for celebration! What intense feelings of love and wonder must have resounded in the apostles’ hearts after their Master, Teacher, and Savior had been cruelly put to death only a few days ago. They believed that Jesus’ return meant that He would now “restore the kingdom to Israel” to finish His earthly ministry (Acts 1:6).
“Not so, not yet,” Jesus corrects them (c.f. CCC 672). Instead, it was now time for Him to join the Father in Heaven since He had accomplished the Mission of atonement that He had been sent to earth for on the Cross (c.f. John 19:30). With that, Jesus was taken up before His followers into Glory. While they were still watching, whether out of wonder, awe, confusion, or fear as what to do next (perceptibly without Jesus), two heavenly messengers appear and urge the disciples not to stand there, looking up. Jesus would come again, they promised. Meanwhile, there was a mission to undertake; they were to go and wait for the Spirit, Who would help them take the next steps towards completing Jesus’ final instructions, which were, as St. Pope John Paul II put it, “the faithful expression of the Father’s will.”
Before He was taken up, Jesus said to the disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20). Christ was planning something bigger than establishing a temporal kingdom on earth, as the Jews commonly thought their awaited Messiah would bring.
The Apostles, moreover, were instructed to teach— to proclaim the Good News to the whole world. And they were to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Like Jesus, they were to speak explicitly about the Kingdom of God and about salvation. The Apostles were to give witness to Christ to the ends of the earth. The early Church clearly understood these instructions and the missionary era began. And everybody knew that this missionary era could never end until the same Jesus, who went up to heaven, would come back again. (St. John Paul II, “Homily on the Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord,” May 24, 1979)
We, too, in a sense, can stand with the apostles, looking heavenward to that place where our Lord ascended. We, too, can experience that intense wonder deep within each of us which transforms fear and tragedy, insecurity and tension into a peaceful certainty that floods the heart with loving warmth from God. From this, the same question posed to the disciples nearly two thousand years ago is asked of each of us even today: why do you stand looking up? The Church’s mission has always been that of the Great Commission, to spread the glorious, joyful, and redemptive news of Christ’s rising from the dead (c.f. John 3:16). As Saint Augustine testified, we are the Church and are commanded to accept this mission and not stand idly by in either amazement or apathy!
Certainly, Holy Mother Church’s evangelization has endured obstacles, dogmatic disputes, and other setbacks over the centuries in bringing the Good News to the ends of the earth. No matter the challenge, the Church always pulls through since she has been founded by Christ Himself with the promise that “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). As the disciples and the Blessed Mother would experience on Pentecost Sunday, it is the Holy Spirit, the gift of the Father, Who is the source of the Church’s strength. It is He Who guides the Church in the way of Truth in the spreading of the Gospel, doing so through the power of God and not by means of the imperfect wisdom or strength of man.
After having undergone the humiliation of His passion and death, Jesus took His place at the right-hand of God; He took His place with His eternal Father. But He also entered heaven as our Head whereupon, in the expression of Leo the Great, the glory of the Head became the hope of the body… our nature is with God in Christ. And as man, the Lord Jesus lives forever to intercede for us with Father. At the same time, from His throne of glory, Jesus sends out to the whole Church a message of hope and a call to holiness. Because of Christ’s merits, because of His intercession with the Father, we are able to attain justice and holiness of life, in him… The power of the glorified Christ, the beloved Son of the eternal Father, is superabundant, to sustain each of us and all of us in the fidelity of our dedication to God’s Kingdom.
The efficacy of Christ’s Ascension touches all us in the concrete reality of our daily lives. Because of this mystery it is the vocation of the whole Church to wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. (St. John Paul II, “Homily on the Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord,” May 24, 1979)
As part of the “New Evangelization,” we are reminded of this command to reveal the Truth of our resurrected Lord through our words and actions in accordance with how we are called to live as Christians, that is, with love (c.f. John 13:34-35). Like the evangelizers before us, we can expect face challenges when spreading the Gospel message, namely persecution (c.f. John 15:18, Romans 8:35-39, 2 Timothy 3:12, 1 Peter 4:16-19). Ah, but what a price to pay for the glory of God!
Remember, too, that Christ promised that He would always be with us in our ministry (c.f. Matthew 28:20, Galatians 2:19-20)! As Pope Francis noted during his fourth general audience, Jesus is no longer “in a definite place in the world as He was before the Ascension… He is now in the lordship of God, present in all space and time, next to each of us.” We can always turn to Him in prayer; He, in turn, will sustain us with strength, grace, and Love. Given the difficulty of our task (often requiring great sacrifice on our part), this is indeed a great comfort! In addition, it is Christ as both God and man Who brings our humanity before God to intercede for us. Finally, the Ascension of the Lord is also our Feast because we have ascended with the Lord! The Feast presents an opportunity to reflect upon the relationship between our profession of faith and our daily life. It is the start of the evangelization of the world by Christ’s disciples and the call for us to do that same Work, started nearly two millennia ago, in joyful witness to the Redeemer of the world.
The Solemnity of the Lord’s Ascension must also fill us with serenity and enthusiasm, just as it did the Apostles who set out again from the Mount of Olives “with great joy” (Luke 24:52). Like them, we too, accepting the invitation of the “two men in dazzling apparel”, must not stay gazing up at the sky, but, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit must go everywhere and proclaim the saving message of Christ’s death and Resurrection. His very words, with which the Gospel according to St Matthew ends, accompany and comfort us: “and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20). (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, “Homily of His Holiness During the Pastoral Visit to Cassino and Monte Cassino,” May 24, 2009)
Thomas Wong is an undergraduate at The Catholic University of America, currently studying abroad in Rome, Italy.
Alleluia! Doesn’t it feel great to be able to exclaim that again? After forty days of restraining ourselves from singing it either as part of a hymn or before the Gospel reading was proclaimed, we are finally permitted to once again raise our voices in this superlative expression of thanksgiving, joy, and triumph. In his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Soon-to-be Saint John Paul II boldly announced, "We are the Easter people and ‘Hallelujah’ is our song,” and as such, how can we keep from singing?
On Sunday we celebrated the Solemnity of Easter, the most important liturgical celebration of the year. So grand, so significant is Easter that each Sunday of the year is a reflection of this feast to some degree. Each and every holy sacrifice of the Mass, though, is a memorial of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection (cf. CCC 1330). It is important, then, to realize what sets apart the celebration of Easter from the rest of the year, apart from the colorful dresses and elaborate dinners that have become traditional for this time of year.
On Good Friday, Jesus Christ, the Son of God sent to ransom the world for our sins, hung on the Cross and, after three hours of agony, “bowed His head and gave up His spirit” (Jn:19:30). Though Jesus had warned His followers of His necessary death, they were unable to understand what He was saying and were utterly shocked at what finally happened outside Jerusalem’s walls on that dark day. What a turn of events from when that very city had joyfully embraced Christ’s entrance only a few days earlier! Separated from their teacher and friend, and struggling to deal with the chaotic incomprehensibility of that Passover weekend, the disciples of the Lord locked themselves in the Upper Room of their Last Supper, fearful of what awaited them outside and in the future. Imagine their surprise, then, when Mary Magdalene burst into their presence and breathlessly announced that Jesus’ body had been taken from where it had been laid. Immediately, Peter and “the beloved disciple” ran to the tomb of Jesus, not prepared for what awaited them. What comes next would alter both their and our lives forever.
Jesus was dead. There was no doubt about that. The news that Jesus was not in His tomb must have inspired those two disciples with a much needed measure of hope, if not curiosity and wonder, as they boldly ran through the streets to see the sight for themselves. Jesus’ Resurrection was unprecedented, that is, totally and radically new— no one had ever been raised from the dead like this before! Though they were not yet able to fully express, let alone comprehend, what had happened, the disciples would have had their hearts aflame with the news, a combination of joy, relief, praise, excitement, comfort, and hope that needed to be shared with the other followers of the Risen One.
Upon their return to the Upper Room, Peter and the beloved disciple, along with Mary Magdalene and the other women with her, become the first evangelizers— proclaimers of the resurrected Christ to the world. Here we find the origins of the Resurrection language Christians used two millennia ago and continue to speak through today. As part of the New Evangelization, we too are called to share the Good News of Christ’s victory over death with everyone, friends and family, peers and enemies alike. It is impossible (if not selfish) to keep such wondrous news to ourselves— we need to share the joy and enthusiasm of the disciples as they gradually began to recognize the significance of the Resurrection, initially in the empty tomb and later through their encounters with the living Jesus. How, then, can we ever become complacent in our celebrations of Easter? In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we anticipate Christ’s first coming into the world with carols, treats, and gift-giving. Easter is so much more important! As the Catechism states:
“If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” The Resurrection above all constitutes the confirmation of all Christ’s works and teachings. All truths, even those most inaccessible to human reason, find their justification if Christ by his Resurrection has given the definitive proof of his divine authority, which he had promised… The Paschal mystery has two aspects: by his death, Christ liberates us from sin; by his Resurrection, he opens for us the way to a new life. This new life is above all justification that reinstates us in God's grace, “so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (651, 654)
It is often said that without Easter there would be no Christmas (Or Good Friday). This day celebrates the most important event in all of history, when our lives were changed forever. Now living in the promise of eternal life, we are called to obey Christ’s great Commission, to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt: 28:19) This isn’t confined to the octave of Easter (which is technically an eight-day celebration) or one liturgical season, but each and every moment of our lives, through our thoughts, words, and actions. The Resurrection of Jesus is not merely a moment in time, but the very definition of time itself. No matter how dark or painful our lives may seem, we can find comfort in the joys of Easter and carry the spark of that day each day of our lives, to be shared with all. Let us cry out in song that Christ has been raised from the dead: Alleluia!
Thomas Wong is a student at The Catholic University of America and a member of the Catholic University Knights of Columbus.
This past Tuesday, the Church celebrated the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. This feast, which commemorates the moment Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary to announce the plan of salvation God intended to bring forth, can seem a bit odd to celebrate during Lent. The Annunciation is a moment that we would usually associate with Christmas, as it introduces us to the official incarnation of God as Man. While March 25th is exactly 9 months before December 25th, I believe that celebrating the Annunciation during this time has more meaning than simply the significance of 9 months to December. In this post, I hope to share with you my thoughts on a few of the many beautiful features of this event in Christianity and how it pertains to our mission in the Liturgical season of Lent.
The Annunciation emphasizes both the importance of Mary and how the Annunciation brings the Incarnation of God into the realm of human history. I have noticed that people, when discussing this crucial event, typically compartmentalize these two aspects while forgetting their interconnectivity. I also find that this can result in one compartmentalizing their relationship with Mary and their relationship with God, failing to recognize how the two are woven together. I say this because I am certainly guilty as charged! Seeing the beautiful harmonization of the New Adam (Jesus) and the New Eve (Mary) can help us better understand the correct approach to bringing our hearts closer to God during Lent.
You might then ask how this interconnectivity between Mary and the Incarnation occurs. Yes, Mary did give birth to Jesus, and many people stop there. However, I believe the harmonization is more than the mere act of Mary giving birth. This is where the Annunciation comes into play, as Mary agreed to submit herself fully to God’s will. The nature in which such agreement is founded on remains an open question. With this, however, I have found that the best answer to this question (in the span of my short, and continuously developing spiritual journey) lies in the spirituality that is the source and foundation of the Catholic Apostolate Center. In a blog I wrote some while back, I talked about God as Infinite Love, and I reference this again because I am referring to a spirituality of collaboration, where the Love of God is a collaborative invitation to participate in His will, which subsequently leads to being one with His love. We walk on our journey together with God, and this connectedness is why such a harmonization between the role of Mary and the Incarnation of Christ exists.
The answer to how this harmony exists lies in the gift of free will. I mention free will because of it is important in the understanding of a collaborative relationship with God, one where we are free rather than forced to conform to His will. Another way of saying this is that God could have entered humanity, without our consent, into a new order where the original graces and gifts would be restored. However, God wanted us to love Him, and such love requires an act to freely choose Him while simultaneously rejecting something else (i.e. sin, worldly pleasures, and so forth). If God were to redeem humanity through the Incarnation of Christ, it would then be by human consent, in order that our dignity is maintained and we are ably to participate in this Infinite Love of God, and that God would offer the Incarnation (and therefore the opportunity to regain access to full participation in such Love) by means of collaboration with humanity. It is only through such collaboration that participation in the Love of God can occur.
This is where our Blessed Mother, Mary, enters into the conversation. In the Annunciation, Mary is asked by the Angel Gabriel if she would freely consent to God’s plan to take humanity out of the abyss and to let him be completely enraptured by God’s Love (See Luke 1:26-35). Her response was the greatest act of liberty the world has ever seen: “Be it done unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). This freedom is perfect because her Son was willed, and not merely accepted in any unforeseen or unpredictable way. There was no element of chance, but a desire of the Father to enact His will of salvation by means of collaboration. Mary, having full faith and love for God, essentially said “yes, I am willing to collaborate with Your will in order that I may participate in your Love.” Her willingness to collaborate is an act of harmonization, one that we cannot ignore in our lives of prayer and charity.
With this being noted, how does this pertain to our journey of faith during the Lenten Season? Like Mary, we are called by God to collaborate with His will in order that we may grow in holiness and be ravished by His Love. The Annunciation reminds us that we have this gift of freedom to participate in such collaboration. After all, it would not be collaboration if we were forced to participate! We are shown that we can choose God and reject the things that keep us away from Him. This choice is deeply rooted to the extent that God would offer such a choice pertaining to our very own salvation, the Incarnation of His very own Son. Fortunately, we have an example, a role model who perfected this very act of freedom. That role model is Mary, as she collaborated with God’s will. Because of such a harmonization between Mary and God’s plan, the same harmonization can occur with us and God. We can pursue this harmonization with God by asking for Mary’s intercession. She can then us respond to such an invitation by saying: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to Thy Word.”
Andrew St. Hilaire is the Assistant to the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center
Every Feast Day or Solemnity in which the Church honors Mary, it seems that with a great deal of consistency church music directors across the country choose to make (Composer’s) Hail Holy Queen a part of the Mass for that day. Without fail, whenever I hear this song, I can’t help but crack a smile as everything in me wants to break into the song and dance of Sister Mary Clarence and her fellow nuns found in the hit 1992 movie Sister Act.
Sister Act follows the story of Delores Van Cartier, a lounge singer in Reno who witnesses her lover, an undercover mafia member, murder one of his assistants. After escaping, authorities place her in witness protection at St. Catherine’s Convent where she takes on the guise of a nun, becoming Sister Mary Clarence. At first she has a great deal of difficulty keeping up with the daily schedule of early mornings, prayer, fasting and the simple lifestyle but soon finds a home putting her music background to work directing the choir (in much need of the help, I might add).
A classic film among my family, I recently revisited this movie over the holidays. At one point there’s a conversation in which the Mother Superior chastises Sister Mary Clarence for sneaking out at night with the other sisters to visit one of the neighborhood bars. While the Mother Superior sees the convent’s walls as a means of protection, Sister Mary Clarence argues that they prevent the Sisters from going out into the community. Later we see a softening of the Mother Superior’s heart as she allows the Sisters to go out into the surrounding inner city neighborhood to meet and embrace the people. Not to mention, the improved musical styling of its choir, under Sister Mary Clarence’s directorship has struck a chord with the surrounding youth of the area (just look at marker 1:48 in the video).
While these moments may scream of a 1990’s, somewhat cliché filmmaking style, today it also screams something else to me – the new evangelization. Once the sisters move beyond the walls of the convent they begin to take on what Pope Francis refers to in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, as an “Evangelizing Community.” Pope Francis elaborates, saying, “An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast” (24). As we see images of the sisters jumping rope and dancing with teenagers on the street, handing out food to the homeless, creating a safe playground for children, and greeting patrons in front of a local adult video store, it’s clear they have embraced those on the fringes of society and welcomed them.
Pope Francis emphasizes that “an evangelizing community is filled with joy; it knows how to rejoice always” (24). If there’s any doubt about the joy of these Sisters just listen to their rendition of Hail Holy Queen and try not to crack a smile the next time to you hear it at Mass. And don’t forget to share that joy with someone else!
David Burkey is the Communications Coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center
Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved Midnight Mass. As a student of the Church's liturgy, some of the externals certainly contribute to this: darkness, incense, singing, a full church. Yesterday was no different. The outside air was cold, the church full, the music beautiful as always. With the exception of a blaring fire alarm because of of a smoking thurible being placed too close to a sensitive smoke detector, Mass went off without a hitch!
But why do we gather in the middle of the night on one of the longest nights of the year? Why do we celebrate this great solemnity year after year? What can we continue to learn from "Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father...born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary" (Proclamation of the Birth of Christ)?
The collect (opening prayer) from the "Mass during the Night" beautifully illustrates the reason that we gather on that holy night:
O God, who have made this most sacred night
radiant with the splendor of the true light,
grant, we pray, that we, who have known the mysteries
of his light on earth,
may also delight in his gladness in heaven.
God's light came to earth as an infant over two thousand years ago. The Incarnation is miracle and pure gift, but it is also human. "Et Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis—And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." The Word, Christ himself, was, as the Nicene Creed says, "incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man."
In his Midnight Mass homily, Pope Francis said, "The grace which was revealed in our world is Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God. He has entered our history; he has shared our journey." Emmanuel, God with us, was born in a manger fully human and fully God. Jesus Christ is not some distant, historical figure. He experienced the joys and sorrows of daily living just as we do today, and is as alive today as he was in Bethlehem two thousand years ago.
As we celebrate the octave of Christmas, let us not forget the great miracle of the Incarnation of the light of the world. "The Word became flesh, and we have seen his glory" (John 1:14). May the glory and joy of Christmas remain alive in our hearts and in our lives today and every day.
Alex R. Boucher is the Program & Operations Manager for the Catholic Apostolate Center. Follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexBoucher.
Holy Mass for the Conclusion of the Year of Faith on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the UniverseRead Now
Homily of Pope Francis
Saint Peter's Square
Sunday, 24 November 2013
Today’s solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, the crowning of the liturgical year, also marks the conclusion of the Year of Faith opened by Pope Benedict XVI, to whom our thoughts now turn with affection and gratitude for this gift which he has given us. By this providential initiative, he gave us an opportunity to rediscover the beauty of the journey of faith begun on the day of our Baptism, which made us children of God and brothers and sisters in the Church. A journey which has as its ultimate end our full encounter with God, and throughout which the Holy Spirit purifies us, lifts us up and sanctifies us, so that we may enter into the happiness for which our hearts long.
I offer a cordial and fraternal greeting to the Patriarchs and Major Archbishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches present. The exchange of peace which I will share with them is above all a sign of the appreciation of the Bishop of Rome for these communities which have confessed the name of Christ with exemplary faithfulness, often at a high price.
With this gesture, through them, I would like to reach all those Christians living in the Holy Land, in Syria and in the entire East, and obtain for them the gift of peace and concord.
The Scripture readings proclaimed to us have as their common theme the centrality of Christ. Christ is at the centre, Christ is the centre. Christ is the centre of creation, Christ is the centre of his people and Christ is the centre of history.
1. The apostle Paul, in the second reading, taken from the letter to the Colossians, offers us a profound vision of the centrality of Jesus. He presents Christ to us as the first-born of all creation: in him, through him and for him all things were created. He is the centre of all things, he is the beginning: Jesus Christ, the Lord. God has given him the fullness, the totality, so that in him all things might be reconciled (cf. Col 1:12-20). He is the Lord of creation, he is the Lord of reconciliation.
This image enables to see that Jesus is the centre of creation; and so the attitude demanded of us as true believers is that of recognizing and accepting in our lives the centrality of Jesus Christ, in our thoughts, in our words and in our works. And so our thoughts will be Christian thoughts, thoughts of Christ. Our works will be Christian works, works of Christ; and our words will be Christian words, words of Christ. But when this centre is lost, when it is replaced by something else, only harm can result for everything around us and for ourselves.
2. Besides being the centre of creation and the centre of reconciliation, Christ is the centre of the people of God. Today, he is here in our midst. He is here right now in his word, and he will be here on the altar, alive and present amid us, his people. We see this in the first reading which describes the time when the tribes of Israel came to look for David and anointed him king of Israel before the Lord (cf. 2 Sam 5:1-3). In searching for an ideal king, the people were seeking God himself: a God who would be close to them, who would accompany them on their journey, who would be a brother to them.
Christ, the descendant of King David, is really the “brother” around whom God’s people come together. It is he who cares for his people, for all of us, even at the price of his life. In him we are all one, one people, united with him and sharing a single journey, a single destiny. Only in him, in him as the centre, do we receive our identity as a people.
3. Finally, Christ is the centre of the history of humanity and also the centre of the history of every individual. To him we can bring the joys and the hopes, the sorrows and troubles which are part of our lives. When Jesus is the centre, light shines even amid the darkest times of our lives; he gives us hope, as he does to the good thief in today’s Gospel.
Whereas all the others treat Jesus with disdain – “If you are the Christ, the Messiah King, save yourself by coming down from the cross!” – the thief who went astray in his life but now repents, clings to the crucified Jesus and begs him: “Remember me, when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42). Jesus promises him: “Today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43), in his kingdom. Jesus speaks only a word of forgiveness, not of condemnation; whenever anyone finds the courage to ask for this forgiveness, the Lord does not let such a petition go unheard. Today we can all think of our own history, our own journey. Each of us has his or her own history: we think of our mistakes, our sins, our good times and our bleak times. We would do well, each one of us, on this day, to think about our own personal history, to look at Jesus and to keep telling him, sincerely and quietly: “Remember me, Lord, now that you are in your kingdom! Jesus, remember me, because I want to be good, but I just don’t have the strength: I am a sinner, I am a sinner. But remember me, Jesus! You can remember me because you are at the centre, you are truly in your kingdom!” How beautiful this is! Let us all do this today, each one of us in his or her own heart, again and again. “Remember me, Lord, you who are at the centre, you who are in your kingdom”.
Jesus’ promise to the good thief gives us great hope: it tells us that God’s grace is always greater than the prayer which sought it. The Lord always grants more, he is so generous, he always gives more than what he has been asked: you ask him to remember you, and he brings you into his kingdom!
Let us ask the Lord to remember us, in the certainty that by his mercy we will be able to share his glory in paradise. Let us go forward together on this road!