Rejoice! Gospel Meditations, by Louis Evely

Lent invites us to refresh our souls, to refocus our lives, to set things right. Rejoice! by Louis Evely, has a way of growing us out of our comfort zones into the light. It challenges us to lift our crosses and follow Jesus. Evely writes: “There were times when Jesus was frightening in his logic, frightening in his relentlessness. He went beyond what was said of him; beyond the half-measures at which the Law had reasonably stopped. Jesus allowed nothing to stop him. He knows only one law: love. And from that law, he draws consequences with logic, which must either electrify or repel his followers.”

Consider the tax collectors and harlots who flocked to the desert to see St. John the Baptist. They asked John, “What must we do?” To their surprise, John told them, “If anyone has two tunics he must share with the man who has none, and the one with something to eat must do the same.” Luke 3:11.  To approach God who we cannot see; we must first approach our neighbors, especially those in need. The message of John and later Jesus electrified their followers. Imagine the joy among the penitents at finding the path to forgiveness and love. Imagine the community that benefits from their joyful giving.

Consider the Pharisees. Why instead of the Pharisees, did the likes of Matthew, Zacchaeus, other tax collectors, sinners, and prostitutes flock to Jesus? Unlike the Sadducees, the Pharisees believed in the resurrection and angels. They maintained their zeal for the Law and awaited the Messiah. “They should have been Jesus’ staunchest supporters.” On the contrary, many of them joined in the call for Jesus’ death. Evely explains that “The Pharisees were proud of their faith, their knowledge, their good works, and their religious observances. Therefore they were closed to God’s gifts and God’s forgiveness, for they did not believe that they were in need of either.” They believed that they had saved themselves through their rigorous observance of the Law. In their assumption of righteousness, they not only rejected God’s mercy, but they refused to extend mercy toward the unrighteous. Imagine their frustration when Jesus said that they had to change their whole approach to God and that their earlier efforts may have placed them behind the hated tax-collectors on the path to God. The message of Jesus repelled them.

Evely used the Parable of The Prodigal Son to compare the Pharisees to the tax collectors and sinners. The older son keeps the Law, but he does so, resentfully. The prodigal, like the tax collectors, rejects the discipline of the Law, but at least he realizes his sinfulness. He is willing to confess to his father and beg a place among his servants. The father, like God the Father is something of a prodigal in his mercy toward the younger son. God squanders love on sinners and reproves the cold-hearted legalists. God’s ways are not our ways.

Evely observes, “It is one of the paradoxes of human nature that we often find more generosity, compassion, and willingness to serve among libertines and loose women than among our moral rigorists.” To underscore his claim, he cites the Parable of the Vineyard Workers. Those who endured the heat of the day received the same pay as those who worked only one hour. Evely writes that those who worked longer should have rejoiced at the good fortune of the last to arrive. The day-long workers grumbled at their fair wage, but Jesus made the point that the vineyard owner was free to do with his money as he wished, despite how it appeared to the workers. God’s ways are not our ways.

If we proclaim Jesus in our liturgy, we must live according to His teachings by radiating God’s love. “God is no more and no less visible than love itself,” Evely writes. “Other men see it and know that the Spirit of God is present. In the early church, only men ‘filled with the spirit’ were chosen for important missions. And the pagans said of the first Christians, ‘See how they love one another!’ The love of these Christians was such that, through it God Himself was made visible.” The lives of the early Christians proclaimed the Law of Love. In loving, they won the culture war against their pagan environment. Why today, have so many churches closed or serve only the elderly? Why today, do some Catholics fear the lure of the secular culture? Shouldn’t they be more concerned about cold-hearted Church members who lack the compelling love that denoted the early Christians and attracted new Christians?

Wishing you an invigorating Lent, one that brings rejoicing.

Louis Evely also wrote a collection of meditations focused on the Easter-Pentecost season: Joy: Meditations on the Joyful Heritage of Christianity.

Advertisements

Yes, A Short Story, by E. Ann McIntyre

 

During a cold and damp Lent, Yes, a homeless immigrant, barely survives his crossing of the Mediterranean to Italy. Suffering from pneumonia and a multitude of injuries, he finds shelter among Bernini’s colonnade in Vatican City, drawing disdainful stares from Christian tourists and members of the curia.

Thanks to the outreach programs instituted by Pope Francis, Yes and his homeless colleagues of every faith, enjoy hot showers, haircuts, laundry service, second-hand clothes, a free-clinic and a daily hot lunch. Papa Francis continually surprises his guests as he welcomes them and personally attends to their needs. Yes remarks on Papa’s humility, mercy and service, especially during the Holy Thursday liturgy. Yes reciprocates in his own way.

McIntyre’s fresh approach to story-telling fuses the art of parable with social commentary, travelogue and mystery. She blends ancient and current events with only moderate fractures to the space-time continuum. Subtly garnished with scriptural allusions, this fast paced and colorful saga delivers an up-close and personal encounter with Pope Francis as he embraces the poor and strangers. McIntyre compares and contrasts the life of Christ in the gospels and modern church theory and practice. Yes serves as a launching pad for discussion groups and for private reflection.

Laudato Si’, by Pope Francis

 

The scientific community, particularly ecologists and economists have praised Pope Francis for his leadership in the discussion of the environment and the dangers of climate change. Laudato Si has addressed scores of topics related to the common good, with a more intense focus on human life, not only the lives of the unborn but the lives of the vulnerable and of human generations yet conceived. Humans dwell within a hospitable environment which, if guarded, will harbor our indefinite existence. However, recent environmental stewardship has lapsed through tolerance of air, water and soil pollution, and the destruction of unique life forms and the communities in which they and we had lived.

For example, economic and political forces have extracted wealth from the land and sea, leaving in their wake ecological damage and human poverty. Pope Benedict XVI proposed “eliminating the structural causes of the dysfunction of the world economy and correcting models of growth which have proved incapable of ensuring respect for the environment.” He asked us to recognize that the natural environment has been gravely damaged by our irresponsible behavior.

For over two hundred years, the industrial revolution of the northern hemisphere consumed much of the wealth and laid waste to vast portions of the southern hemisphere. Pope Francis, as a native of South America has witnessed the destruction of natural and civic communities in his home continent and its effect on the poor who were displaced by disruptions such as deforestation.

While those with an economic interest in preserving their present advantage have resisted limits on greenhouse gas production and the imposition of safeguards for biodiversity, the poor of the planet continue to suffer the effects of their inertia. The wealthy ignored health hazards such as air and water pollution that inflicted millions of premature deaths especially among the poor. They ignored the plight of those who once worked in harmony with the environment, but who were displaced by deforestation. These economic migrants often settled in chaotic mega-cities, basically slums, where they were exposed to toxic emissions, overcrowding, violence and exploitation by criminal organizations.

These blatant acts of exploitation may be ignored, but they cannot be denied. Climate change was another matter. Pope Francis agreed that the scientific process can predict but cannot provide immediate certainty about the causes of climate change. For over fifty years scientists have warned of an impending environmental cataclysm. Some have chosen to ignore this warning because of its lack of infallibility. The Pope believes that humanity should heed the overwhelming agreement among scientists. Nations should prudently prepare for the near certain possibility of a disaster rather than wait for it to arrive, thereby confirming the scientific predictions from the wreckage of the world as we know it.

Promptings that the world change its behavior have “proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problems to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technological solutions.” In response, the bishops of southern Africa stated: “Everyone’s talents and involvement are needed to redress the damage caused by human abuse of God’s creation.”

Pope Francis has invited the faithful to adopt a new lifestyle that will reduce their carbon footprint and move them into an economic position to pressure the polluters and help the poor. He suggested that “since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending. Compulsive consumerism…leads people to believe that they are free as long as they have the supposed freedom to consume… The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume… In this horizon, a genuine sense of the common good also disappears… Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction.”

“A change in lifestyle could bring healthy pressure to bear on those who wield political, economic and social power. This is what consumer movements accomplish by boycotting certain products. They prove successful in changing the way businesses operate, forcing them to consider their environmental footprint and their patterns of production.”

Pope Francis frequently mentioned St. Francis of Assisi, who gave up his possessions, becoming a homeless worker who accepted food and construction materials but not money. He used the building materials to repair churches about Assisi. In the long run, the Franciscans improved the economic fortunes of Europe. Lay members of the Third Order of St. Francis were both numerous and exempt from military service. Without them, warlords could no longer gather armies to fight each other. Feudalism declined and the middle class emerged.

Pope Francis: The Pope from the End of the Earth, by Thomas J. Craughwell. Saint Benedict Press, April 2013.

pope

Pope Francis: The Pope from the End of the Earth, by Thomas J. Craughwell. Reviewed by Donald J. Mulcare

The church faithful and anyone aware of the constantly changing news need a readable, current and scholarly guidebook that will prepare the faithful to assist the new pope in his mission, while answering the questions of the curious. Those interested in current events might ask: What criteria guided the Cardinals as they chose Cardinal Bergoglio? How did he serve the Society of Jesus and the church in Argentina? How does he show his particular devotion to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots? What is his interest in San Lorenzo de Alamgro? How has he built bridges with Evangelical Protestants, other Christian denominations, Jews and Muslims? How has the papal electoral process evolved? Why does the pope-elect change his name? Why use the Sistine Chapel? Thomas Craughwell’s book answers all of these questions and more.

Craughwell’s guidebook, replete with illustrations, is far more than a souvenir. Based on the biography of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the deliberations of the College of Cardinals, a starkly realistic view of the Universal Church and the overture to the papacy of Francis I, it maps the approach Pope Francis will likely take toward the current needs of the Catholic Church; it challenges the faithful to respond. In choosing the name of Francis of Assisi, the Pope-elect, accepted that saint’s vocation: “Francis, rebuild my church, which has fallen into ruins.” He chose this calling not only for himself but for all the faithful. Just as Saint Francis of Assisi changed the church and the world in his time, Francis I recruits the faithful to go out to the streets to heal the church and the world.

Craughwell paraphrases then-Cardinal Bergoglio’s pastoral approach to contemporary issues: The Church has to go out into the street to bring the gospel to the people rather than wait for the people to come to the Church. He then quotes Cardinal Bergoglio: “We need to avoid a spiritual sickness of a Church that is self-centered…. It is true that going out into the street…implies the risk of accidents…. But if the church remains closed in, self-centered, it will grow old. And if I had to choose between a bumpy Church that goes into the streets and a sick, self-centered Church, I would definitely choose the first one.”

As was his habit as a Cardinal, Francis I reaches out to the faithful. Although he is the Pope, he has emphasized his role as Bishop of Rome and considers himself to be the “parish priest” who welcomes members of the kitchen staff and Vatican employees to the 7:00 AM, weekday Mass in the chapel at Hotel Saint Martha in Vatican City. The idea of the Pope’s Holy Thursday washing of the feet of juvenile prison inmates didn’t begin this year in Rome. For many years, Cardinal Bergoglio left the Buenos Aries cathedral on Holy Thursday to celebrate Mass in prisons and hospitals.

Along with sharing these and other human interest stories, Craughwell notes that Cardinal Bergoglio had long fought against the materialism, secularism and relativism that have replaced the Gospel message in much of the world. In some countries, 90% of the population says it is Catholic, but only 20% actually practice Catholicism. Argentina actively discards the elderly, withdrawing health care while promoting clandestine euthanasia. This same government condemns child abuse, but permits some Five-star hotels in Buenos Aries to offer child prostitution as a form of entertainment.

Craughwell documents that throughout Latin America, since the time of Columbus the few have enriched themselves through the abuse and exploitation of the native people. When he was still a Cardinal, Francis denounced this abuse and the unjust accumulation of wealth. He has long shown himself a champion of social justice.

In 2010, then-Cardinal Bergoglio challenged the President of Argentina as she pushed legislation contrary to Christian teachings: “Let us not be naïve, this is not just a simple political battle; it represents an aspiration destructive to the plan of God. This is no mere legislation, but rather a maneuver by the Father of Lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God…. We need the Divine Advocate to defend us against the enchantment of such sophistry by which they try to justify this legislation and to confuse the people of good will.”

Craughwell adds: “Amid a raging sea of secularism and relativism, and a growing swell of anti-Christian sentiment, the Church stands upon that unyielding rock, given to the church by Christ himself.”

For years, Pope Francis has sought the Church’s lost sheep in the streets rather than passively waiting for them to make the first move. He still has to convince the church faithful that they are evangelists who must take a more active role in the mission of the church. He reminds the faithful that Jesus came to serve. He asks the faithful to serve each other, especially since Jesus calls them to “rebuild my church, which has fallen into ruins.” The faithful should expect to actively assist Pope Francis in his mission.

I highly recommend this book, to those who seek a complete and competent prospectus on the unfolding papacy of Pope Francis I. This developing news story will dominate the media for years. I especially recommend this book to anyone in the process of discerning her or his vocation; to those exposed to relativism and secularism in higher education or through their involvement in the worlds of commerce and government. It will encourage advocates of social justice and console those who have suffered from the influences of materialism. It provides substantial content for discussion groups and for personal meditation.