Contemplations of Life and Death  

My contemplations of mortality and those of Roger Cohen have been subjects of previous posts.[1] Additional contemplations are prompted by an article by two philosophy professors, John Kaag and Clancy Martin.[2]

Their starting point is Percy Bysshe Shelley’s famous sonnet, “Ozymandias,” in which an anonymous traveler discovers a bust and pedestal, half-buried in windswept sands, with the inscription, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

This poem, they say, delivers a perennial message: “All of this will be over soon, faster than you think. Fame has a shadow — inevitable decline.” Our existential fragility “is overlooked in most of our waking hours” and “must be faced even by the greatest among us.”

We, however, “tend to defer the question of living or dying well until it’s too late to answer. This might be the scariest thing about death: coming to die only to discover, in Thoreau’s words, that we haven’t lived.” We “pretend that dying is something that is going to happen in some distant future, at some other point in time, to some other person. But not to us. At least not right now. Not today, not tomorrow, not next week, not even next decade. A lifetime from now.”

“As surely as time passes, [however,] we human beings are dying for something. The trick to dying for something is picking the right something, day after week after precious year. And this is incredibly hard and decidedly not inevitable.” But “we have a remarkable degree of choice about what to do, think and become in the meantime, about how we go about living, which means we have a remarkable degree of choice over how we go about our dying. The choice, like the end itself, is ultimately ours and ours alone.”

If we succeed in liberating ourselves from the delusion of immortality, “we may find that confronting the fact of our own impermanence can do something unexpected and remarkable — transform the very nature of how we live.”

All of this makes sense to me, but this article does not provide guidance on how one should decide what to do “day after week after precious year.” For me, this triggers the Christian notion of vocation and the words of Frederick Buechner, an author and an ordained Presbyterian pastor. He said “the word ‘vocation’ . . . means the work a man is called to by God. . . . The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. . . . The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”[3]

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[1] Previous posts: Intimations of Mortality (Mar. 8, 2012); Mortality (Apr. 8, 2014); Death Certificates’ Documentation of Mortality (Apr. 11, 2014); Why I Do Not Hope To Die at 75 (Sept. 25, 2014); Further Reflections on Ezekiel Emmanuel’s Desire to Die at 75 (Sept. 30, 2014); Another Perspective on Dying (Oct. 6, 2014); Roger Cohen’s Gentle Words of Wisdom (Dec. 3, 2016).

[2] Kaag & Martin, Looking Death in the Face, N.Y. Times (Dec. 26, 2016),

[3] My General Thoughts About Vocation (Feb. 6, 2014); My Vocations (Feb. 23, 2014); Where Is the Sense of Vocation in Roger Cohen’s Writings? (Dec. 7, 2016).

Where Is the Sense of Vocation in Roger Cohen’s Writings?

A prior post provided a positive review of Roger Cohen’s comments about life and death in his New York Times columns. While reaffirming that assessment, his selected comments in that review do not directly express a sense of vocation. Perhaps there are other columns that do just that. If so, I would appreciate someone pointing them out.

Vocation is at least a Christian concept that may not be familiar to Cohen, who is Jewish. Here then are my thoughts on vocation from prior posts.[1]

Rev. Timothy Hart-Andersen at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church in a recent sermon presented the challenge of vocation or calling this way: “When Jesus calls we get up and go, stepping forward in the direction of the one calling us. Being a follower of Jesus is not a destination . . . . Being called to follow Jesus is a way of life, a pilgrimage on which we embark together.”

Vocation also has been discussed by, an author and an ordained Presbyterian pastor. He said the word ‘vocation’ “comes from the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a man is called to by God. . . . The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. . . . The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

For me, vocation implies a dedication to a certain kind of work or service over a period of time. A one-time effort probably does not count. On the other hand, in my opinion, vocation does not necessarily require a lifetime commitment to doing a certain thing. Indeed, an individual’s circumstances change over time, and what was a vocation for one period may not be appropriate for another period. Thus, an individual may have several vocations over time, some of which might be simultaneous. This at least has been true for me.

Some people may decide that they shall start engaging in a particular vocation. They know from the start that a certain course of action shall be their vocation, perhaps inspired by what they believe to be the word of God. Others discover after the fact that what they have been doing for a period of time has been and is their vocation. I am a member of the latter group. Moreover, some people discover a vocation when they respond affirmatively to someone else’s invitation or request to do something. Others embark on a vocation that they choose by themselves. I have experience with both of these.

Deciding on what shall be or is a vocation should be, in my opinion, a matter of reflection, meditation and prayer and in some cases discussion with others to assist in discerning a true vocation.

The concept of vocation often seems like doing something for others without any personal rewards other than feeling good about helping others. I, therefore, am amazed by the many ways I have been enriched by these endeavors.

My latest vocation is researching and writing posts for this blog to promote U.S.-Cuba reconciliation, to share my knowledge of international human rights law and other subjects and to attempt to articulate an intelligent exposition and exploration of important issues of Christian faith. It is my way of doing evangelism.

I imagine that Roger Cohen must have a similar sense of vocation about his writing columns for the New York Times regarding international and domestic political topics and living and dying even if he does not articulate this personal endeavor as a vocation. His new column, The Rage of 2016, is certainly a passionate and despondent reflection on what is happening in our world these days. It ends with the following:

  • “The liberal elites’ arrogance and ignorance has been astounding. It is time to listen to the people who voted for change, be humble and think again. That, of course, does not mean succumbing to the hatemongers and racists among them: They must be fought every inch of the way. Nor does it mean succumbing to a post-truth society: Facts are the linchpins of progress. But so brutal a comeuppance cannot be met by more of the same. I fear for my children’s world, more than I ever imagined possible.”

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[1] My General Thoughts About Vocation (Feb. 6, 2014); My Vocations (Feb. 23, 2014).

 

 

Call to Worship and Prayer of Confession at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church    

 

Westminster Sanctury
Westminster Sanctuary

The Call to Worship and the Prayer of Confession at the January 31, 2016, worship service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church were especially moving

They both are important elements of “Preparing for the Word,” which is the first part of our three-part worship service. The other parts are “Listening for the Word” with the readings from Holy Scripture and Sermon and “Responding to the Word” with the Offertory and Pastoral Prayer (and Communion on the first Sunday of the month). The complete bulletin for the service is available online as is a video of the service.)

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The Call to Worship (from Psalm 71) stated:

“One: Our hope is in God all of our lives.

All: God is a rock of refuge: a fortress against threat and shame.

One: God has held us since our birth.

All: So we are never in the full grasp of the unjust and cruel.

One: In love, God saves and support us.

All: Trusting in God, we continually offer our praise!

One: Let us worship God.”

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The following are the words of the Prayer of Confession (unison):

“God, our Deliverer, we confess that we are too reluctant to speak and to live

according to your truth. We grow comfortable with the way things are, passively

condoning injustice. We see ourselves as “insiders,” excluding those we

consider “outsiders.” We find it easier to pluck up and pull down, to destroy

and overthrow, than to build and to plant. Forgive us, O God, for being timid

disciples. Empty us to fear and shame, and fill us with love that is humble and

patient and kind.

We pray this in the name of the One who humbled himself, Jesus the Christ, Amen.”

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Thoughts About “The River Runs Through It”

Bill Linder-Scholer’s illuminating post about the novel “The River Runs Through It” by Norman Maclean raises many fascinating points. Here are some additional reactions to the novel and to Bill’s post from a fellow member of Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Men’s Book Group.

When I first tried to read this novel several years ago and again this last Fall, I was put off by the novel’s first line’s equating religion (Christianity) and fly fishing. In my boyhood and for the last nearly 35 years, I have been seeking to be a Christian, but I am not now, and never have been, a fisherman of any sort, much less a fly fisherman. To equate the two seemed absurd.

Moreover, I was baffled Bill’s reference to fly fishermen’s being the “penultimate” or next-to-last species of anglers. Who was the first or “ultimate” species of anglers, I wondered. Bill told me what should have been obvious to this Presbyterian Christian: the ultimate angler is God through Jesus. After all, in the New Testament, Jesus recruits two fishermen, Simon and Andrew, to be “fishers of men.” (Matthew 4: 18-20; Mark 1:16-18) I also relooked at the first paragraph of the novel, which says that the two brothers’ father, the Scottish Presbyterian minister (John Norman Maclean), reminded them that “Christ’s disciples [were] fishermen” and that the two brothers were left to assume “that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite [disciple of Jesus], was a dry-fly fisherman.”

Bill’s allusion to the ultimate angler suggests another interpretation of the novel’s extensive (too extensive?) discussion of Paul and Norman’s careful selection of different lures to catch different kinds of fish in different kinds of waters. In short, the lure that works for one kind of fish does not work for another kind. Accordingly, Jesus’ disciples, including us, need to develop different ways of explaining our faith or evangelizing to different kinds of people in different circumstances. “One size does not fit all.”

I also was surprised by the novel’s second paragraph’s telling us that the Scottish minister-father repeatedly stressed to his two sons the importance of the first question of The Westminster Shorter Catechism: “What is the chief end of man?” and its answer “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

Although that document is one of 11 confessions and creeds contained in The Book of Confessions of The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), I do not recall any sermon or other discussion of that document in my years of being a Presbyterian. Perhaps its importance to the novel’s Scottish father-minister is due to the fact that it was written in 1646 and 1647 by the Westminster Assembly, a synod of English and Scottish theologians intended to bring the Church of England into greater conformity with the Church of Scotland to produce a means of educating children and those of “weaker capacity” about the Reformed Christian faith.

This emphasis on the answer to the first question of the Shorter Catechism also seems to oversimplify what Jesus endorsed as the greatest commandment: “Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:25-37)

According to the older brother’s narration, his father held what I see as a very un-Presbyterian and un-Reform notion of God’s grace. For the father, the narrator says, “all good things—trout as well as eternal salvation—come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.” This statement suggests that grace is earned by an individual’s good works, which is the very antithesis of the Protestant Reformation. Instead, God provides many gifts by grace to many people; the gifts are not earned by the individual’s efforts. The individual, on the other hand, must first accept the gift and then develop and improve the gift by dedication and diligence so that it becomes an art. In the novel we see this in Paul’s skill and art of fly-fishing. Another example would be an individual who has a God-given musical gift of playing the violin. He or she could ignore or reject that gift and not do anything with it. If, on the other hand, he or she accepts that gift and hones it through many hours of study and practice, then he or she develops the art of playing skillfully and beautifully. In so doing, the individual glorifies God, in the parlance of the Shorter Catechism and of the novel’s father.

Finally the novel’s theme of the relationships between the two brothers and with their parents is analogous in some ways to those relationships in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32), an important Biblical passage for me as discussed in a prior post. In the novel and Parable, the younger brother is wayward while the older one is dutiful. Yet the fathers (and the mother in the novel) lavish love and attention on the younger brothers while ignoring the older brothers. In the Parable, the older one shows understandable signs of resentment of this treatment, but in the novel the older brother, who is the narrator, sounds like an objective bystander without any such resentment or jealousy. I find it difficult to accept the novel’s older brother’s lack of any emotion about this difference.

Perhaps Norman’s feelings on this issue leak out in his comments about the family’s Last Supper when their mother “was especially nice to me, since she hadn’t paid much attention to me so far, but soon she was back with fresh rolls, and she buttered Paul’s [but not mine]. ‘Here is your favorite chokecherry jelly,’ she said passing it to him [not me]. . . . Somewhere along the line she had forgotten that it was I who liked chokecherry jelly, a gentle confusion that none of her men minded.”

Thanks, Bill, for sharing your analysis of the novel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving

Westminster Presbyterian Church
Westminster Presbyterian Church

At Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church on All Saints’ Day, November 1, 2015, Executive Associate Pastor Meghan Gage-Finn gave this moving Great Prayer of Thanksgiving before communion was served.  ===============================

 

The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

Lift up your hearts.

We lift them up to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right to give our thanks and praise.

Wondrous God of glory, you shrouded chaos with your imagination. All that is in creation is yours, all that lives in it is your gift. You shaped us in your image, gathering us in your joy.

But we turned our backs on you, seeking the seductive face of our own ways.   You would show us the way, filling us with hope’s promise, through the words of the prophets, but we were deaf to what they had to say. So, deeply moved by our helplessness, you sent Jesus into our presence, the One we waited for that we might be saved.

Gracious are you, Creator of all. Blessed is Jesus Christ, model for our lives. With clean hands and a pure heart He descended from your holy side, coming to wipe away our tears, to remove the disgrace of our sin, to walk with those who seek your face, to stand with us at grief’s doorstep.

As we wait to come to this gracious feast, as we remember the spirit in which Jesus lived, served, died, and was raised, we speak of that mystery of faith,             even as we offer our doubts and our very selves.

Pour out your Spirit upon these gifts of the Table and on your children in this sacred space. With a simple cup filled with hope, with bread broken in love,         you make a feast for all those who put their trust in you.

As we open our hands to receive grace’s brokenness, may we go forth in service to all around us. As we take in the well-aged hope of your Spirit, may we discover our hearts to be as broken as yours, by the injustices of our world.                      

We remember in our prayers those in shock and grief following the Afghan earthquake and Russian plane crash. And we pray this day for those in our community who need to know of your love and comfort.

As we pray for your beloved members of the Body of Christ, send us out to be your hands and feet to a world in need.

And when all things become new, when we are gathered with our sisters and brothers of every age, we will join our voices together, singing before your throne of grace, God in Community, Holy in One, even as we pray together the prayer Jesus taught us, saying,

Our Father, who art in heaven,

Hallowed be Thy name.

Thy kingdom come,

Thy will be done,

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day, our daily bread.

Forgive us our debts,

As we forgive our debtors.

Lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil.

For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,

Forever.

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Protestant Christian’s Reaction to Pope Francis’ Missions to the Cuban and American Peoples

This blog has been chronicling Pope Francis’ 10 days of missions to the Cuban and American peoples in anticipation of the Pope’s having a significant impact on their spiritual and political lives.[1] Whenever possible these blog posts have included the complete texts of Francis’ speeches and homilies so that anyone can examine them for himself or herself as I intend to do in subsequent posts.

I first stand in awe at his humility. He concluded nearly every set of remarks with a request for the people to pray for him and if they were not believers to wish him well. He did the same with children, detainees and victims of abuse, and one could tell that he truly loved all with whom he met.

Francis also consistently preached the Good News of the Gospel: God loves us. God forgives us all for we all fall short of what God asks of us. We all are sinners.

I also stand in awe of Francis’ intelligence and stamina. Undoubtedly with the assistance of others at the Vatican, before he left Rome for this trip, he had to think and write at least 27 important speeches and homilies to give in the two countries. He had to travel by plane from Rome to Havana, Santiago to Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia back to Rome with shorter plane trips within the two countries. He delivered four lengthy and important speeches in a language (English) in which he was not completely fluent. He had to have been briefed on the thoughts and personalities of the many people he would meet. He did all of this as a 78-year old man with occasional sciatica pain. As a man only two years younger with the same type of pain, I especially empathize with Francis on this last point.

Finally I must register my outrage at the commentary of a Roman Catholic columnist, Ross Douthat, who obviously favors the traditional Church “faith” and practices.[2] In the first paragraph of a recent column Douthat accuses Francis of having an ”ostentatious humility,” i.e., a pretentious or false show of humility or conducting a cynical ploy to curry favor with those wanting to see change in the Church. The second paragraph goes on to say that Francis is “the chief plotter” to change Church doctrine to “allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion without having their first marriage declared null.” Douthat should get down on his knees and beg for forgiveness from Francis and from God.

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[1] Pope Francis’ Mission to the Cuban People: First Day, Second Day, Third Day and Fourth Day. Pope Francis’ Mission to the American People: First Day, Second Day, Third Day, Fourth Day, Fifth Day and Sixth Day.

[2] Douthat, The Plot to Change Catholicism, N.Y. Times (Oct. 17, 2015).

 

 

 

The Sixth Day of Pope Francis’ Mission to the American People

Sunday, September 27, the sixth and final day of Pope Francis’ mission to the American people was another busy day in Philadelphia.

He started with meeting a small group of the Church’s sexual abuse victims. He then went to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary’s St. Martin’s Chapel, where he met with Catholic bishops attending the World Meeting of Families. Francis then visited the city’s Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility to meet with 100 inmates – a quarter female – as well as family members and prison staff. An unscheduled stop was made at St. Joseph’s University.

That afternoon the Pope returned to the World Meeting of Families to celebrate mass for over a million people. His mission to the American people concluded at the city’s International Airport where he met with organizers and volunteers from the World Meeting before his plane departed for Rome around 7:30 p.m. (EST). On the plane he held a press conference.

Meeting with Abuse Victims[1]

The day began with meeting a small group of abuse victims and their family members. Francis told them, “ Words cannot fully express my sorrow for the abuse you suffered. You are precious children of God who should always expect our protection, our care and our love. I am profoundly sorry that your innocence was violated by those whom you trusted. In some cases the trust was betrayed by members of your own family, in other cases by priests who carry a sacred responsibility for the care of soul. In all circumstances, the betrayal was a terrible violation of human dignity.”

“For those who were abused by a member of the clergy, I am deeply sorry for the times when you or your family spoke out, to report the abuse, but you were not heard or believed. Please know that the Holy Father hears you and believes you. I deeply regret that some bishops failed in their responsibility to protect children. It is very disturbing to know that in some cases bishops even were abusers. I pledge to you that we will follow the path of truth wherever it may lead. Clergy and bishops will be held accountable when they abuse or fail to protect children.”

“We are gathered here in Philadelphia to celebrate God’s gift of family life. Within our family of faith and our human families, the sins and crimes of sexual abuse of children must no longer be held in secret and in shame. As we anticipate the Jubilee Year of Mercy, your presence, so generously given despite the anger and pain you have experienced, reveals the merciful heart of Christ. Your stories of survival, each unique and compelling, are powerful signs of the hope that comes from the Lord’s promise to be with us always.”

“It is good to know that you have brought family members and friends with you today. I am grateful for their compassionate support and pray that many people of the Church will respond to the call to accompany those who have suffered abuse. May the Door of Mercy be opened wide in our dioceses, our parishes, our homes and our hearts, to receive those who were abused and to seek the path to forgiveness by trusting in the Lord. We promise to support your continued healing and to always be vigilant to protect the children of today and tomorrow.”

“When the disciples who walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus recognized that He was the Risen Lord, they asked Jesus to stay with them. Like those disciples, I humbly beg you and all survivors of abuse to stay with us, to stay with the Church, and that together, as pilgrims on the journey of faith, we might find our way to the Father.”

Afterwards Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said this meeting included victims of abuse by relatives or educators in order to show that the church is taking a “larger perspective” on the problem of sexual abuse. He added that the Pope had waited to make these remarks until Sunday, when he was scheduled to address an international group of bishops, because “we know the problem is a universal problem, in the universal church, and also in society.”

Meeting with Bishops Attending World Meeting on Families[2]

Unknown

At St. Martin’s Chapel at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Francis met with bishops and seminarians who were attending the World Meeting on Families as shown in the photograph to the right.

Before his prepared remarks, the Pope offered these words: “I carry in my heart the stories, the suffering and the pain of the minors that have been sexually abused by priests. I’m overwhelmed by the shame that people who were in charge of caring for those young ones raped them and caused them great damages. I regret this profoundly. God cries! The crimes and sins of the sexual abuse to minors can’t be kept a secret anymore. I commit to the zealous oversight of the Church to protect minors, and I promise that everyone responsible will be held accountable. You, they, the survivors of abuse have become real heralds of hope and ministers of mercy. Humbly we owe each one of them and their families our gratitude for their immense courage for making the light of Christ shine over the evil of minor sexual abuse. I say this because I have just met by a group of people who where abused when they were children, that are helped and accompanied here in Philadelphia, with especial care from Monsignor Chaput.”

The Pope then continued with the following prepared remarks.

“For the Church, the family is not first and foremost a cause for concern, but rather the joyous confirmation of God’s blessing upon the masterpiece of creation. Every day, all over the world, the Church can rejoice in the Lord’s gift of so many families who, even amid difficult trials, remain faithful to their promises and keep the faith!”

“I would say that the foremost pastoral challenge of our changing times is to move decisively towards recognizing this gift. For all the obstacles we see before us, gratitude and appreciation should prevail over concerns and complaints. The family is the fundamental locus of the covenant between the Church and God’s creation. Without the family, not even the Church would exist. Nor could she be what she is called to be, namely ‘a sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race’ (Lumen Gentium, 1).”

“Needless to say, our understanding, shaped by the interplay of ecclesial faith and the conjugal experience of sacramental grace, must not lead us to disregard the unprecedented changes taking place in contemporary society, with their social, cultural – and now juridical – effects on family bonds. These changes affect all of us, believers and non-believers alike. Christians are not ‘immune’ to the changes of their times. This concrete world, with all its many problems and possibilities, is where we must live, believe and proclaim.”

“Until recently, we lived in a social context where the similarities between the civil institution of marriage and the Christian sacrament [of marriage] were considerable and shared. The two were interrelated and mutually supportive. This is no longer the case.”

After talking about the abandonment of local stores and their bonds with neighbors, the Pope said, “our culture has become more and more competitive. Business is no longer conducted on the basis of trust; others can no longer be trusted. There are no longer close personal relationships. Today’s culture seems to encourage people not to bond with anything or anyone, not to trust. The most important thing nowadays seems to be follow the latest trend or activity. This is even true of religion. Today consumerism determines what is important. Consuming relationships, consuming friendships, consuming religions, consuming, consuming… Whatever the cost or consequences. A consumption that does not favor bonding, a consumption which has little to do with human relationships. Social bonds are a mere ‘means’ for the satisfaction of ‘my needs.’ The important thing is no longer our neighbor, with his or her familiar face, story and personality.”

“The result is a culture which discards everything that is no longer ‘useful’ or ‘satisfying’ for the tastes of the consumer. We have turned our society into a huge multicultural showcase tied only to the tastes of certain ‘consumers,’ while so many others only ‘eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table’ (Mt 15:27).”

“This causes great harm. I would say that at the root of so many contemporary situations is a kind of impoverishment born of a widespread and radical sense of loneliness. Running after the latest fad, accumulating ‘friends’ on one of the social networks, we get caught up in what contemporary society has to offer. [The result:] Loneliness with fear of commitment in a limitless effort to feel recognized.”

“Should we blame our young people for having grown up in this kind of society? Should we condemn them for living in this kind of a world? Should they hear their pastors saying that ‘it was all better back then,’ ‘the world is falling apart and if things go on this way, who knows where we will end up?’ No, I do not think that this is the way. As shepherds following in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd, we are asked to seek out, to accompany, to lift up, to bind up the wounds of our time. To look at things realistically, with the eyes of one who feels called to action, to pastoral conversion. The world today demands this conversion on our part. ‘It is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear. The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 23).”

“We would be mistaken, however, to see this ‘culture’ of the present world as mere indifference towards marriage and the family, as pure and simple selfishness. Are today’s young people hopelessly timid, weak, inconsistent? We must not fall into this trap.”

“Many young people, in the context of this culture of discouragement, have yielded to a form of unconscious acquiescence. They are paralyzed when they encounter the beautiful, noble and truly necessary challenges which faith sets before them. Many put off marriage while waiting for ideal conditions, when everything can be perfect. Meanwhile, life goes on, without really being lived to the full. For knowledge of life’s true pleasures only comes as the fruit of a long-term, generous investment of our intelligence, enthusiasm and passion.”

“As pastors, we bishops are called to collect our energies and to rebuild enthusiasm for making families correspond ever more fully to the blessing of God which they are! We need to invest our energies not so much in rehearsing the problems of the world around us and the merits of Christianity, but in extending a sincere invitation to young people to be brave and to opt for marriage and the family. Here too, we need a bit of holy parrhesia [candor]!”

“A Christianity which ‘does’ little in practice, while incessantly ‘explaining’ its teachings, is dangerously unbalanced. I would even say that it is stuck in a vicious circle. A pastor must show that the ‘Gospel of the family’ is truly ‘good news’ in a world where self-concern seems to reign supreme! We are not speaking about some romantic dream: the perseverance that is called for in having a family and raising it transforms the world and human history.”

“A pastor serenely yet passionately proclaims the word of God. He encourages believers to aim high. He will enable his brothers and sisters to hear and experience God’s promise, which can expand their experience of motherhood and fatherhood within the horizon of a new ‘familiarity’ with God (Mk 3:31-35).”

“A pastor watches over the dreams, the lives and the growth of his flock. This ‘watchfulness’ is not the result of talking, but of shepherding. Only one capable of standing ‘in the midst of’ the flock can be watchful, not someone who is afraid of questions, contact, accompaniment. A pastor keeps watch first and foremost with prayer, supporting the faith of his people and instilling confidence in the Lord, in his presence. A pastor remains vigilant by helping people to lift their gaze at times of discouragement, frustration and failure. We might well ask whether in our pastoral ministry we are ready to ‘waste’ time with families. Whether we are ready to be present to them, sharing their difficulties and joys.”

“Naturally, experiencing the spirit of this joyful familiarity with God, and spreading its powerful evangelical fruitfulness, has to be the primary feature of our lifestyle as bishops: a lifestyle of prayer and preaching the Gospel (Acts 6:4). By our own humble Christian apprenticeship in the familial virtues of God’s people, we will become more and more like fathers and mothers (as did Saint Paul: cf. 1 Th 2:7,11), and less like people who have simply learned to live without a family.”

“Our ideal is not to live without love! A good pastor renounces the love of a family precisely in order to focus all his energies, and the grace of his particular vocation, on the evangelical blessing of the love of men and women who carry forward God’s plan of creation, beginning with those who are lost, abandoned, wounded, broken, downtrodden and deprived of their dignity. This total surrender to God’s agape is certainly not a vocation lacking in tenderness and affection! We need but look to Jesus to understand this (cf. Mt 19:12).”

“The mission of a good pastor, in the style of God – and only God can authorize this, not our own presumption! – imitates in every way and for all people the Son’s love for the Father. This is reflected in the tenderness with which a pastor devotes himself to the loving care of the men and women of our human family.”

“For the eyes of faith, this is a most valuable sign. Our ministry needs to deepen the covenant between the Church and the family. Otherwise it becomes arid, and the human family will grow irremediably distant, by our own fault, from God’s joyful good news.”

“If we prove capable of the demanding task of reflecting God’s love, cultivating infinite patience and serenity as we strive to sow its seeds in the frequently crooked furrows in which we are called to plant, then even a Samaritan woman with five ‘non-husbands’ will discover that she is capable of giving witness.”

“And for every rich young man who with sadness feels that he has to calmly keep considering the matter, an older publican will come down from the tree and give fourfold to the poor, to whom, before that moment, he had never even given a thought.”

“May God grant us this gift of a renewed closeness between the family and the Church. The family is our ally, our window to the world, and the evidence of an irrevocable blessing of God destined for all the children who in every age are born into this difficult yet beautiful creation which God has asked us to serve!”

Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility[3]

Francis went to the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, which holds almost 3,000 individuals, the vast majority of whom have not been convicted of the charges against them and are still awaiting trial. He met with roughly 100 men and women detainees, who presented him a hand-carved chair, for which he thanked them.

Francis said to them, “Thank you for receiving me and giving me the opportunity to be here with you and to share this time in your lives. It is a difficult time, one full of struggles. I know it is a painful time not only for you, but also for your families and for all of society. Any society, any family, which cannot share or take seriously the pain of its children, and views that pain as something normal or to be expected, is a society ‘condemned’ to remain a hostage to itself, prey to the very things which cause that pain. I am here as a pastor, but above all as a brother, to share your situation and to make it my own. I have come so that we can pray together and offer our God everything that causes us pain, but also everything that gives us hope, so that we can receive from him the power of the resurrection.”

“I think of the Gospel scene where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper. This was something his disciples found hard to accept. Even Peter refused, and told him: ‘You will never wash my feet’ (Jn 13:8).”

“In those days, it was the custom to wash someone’s feet when they came to your home. That was how they welcomed people. The roads were not paved, they were covered with dust, and little stones would get stuck in your sandals. Everyone walked those roads, which left their feet dusty, bruised or cut from those stones. That is why we see Jesus washing feet, our feet, the feet of his disciples, then and now.”

“Life is a journey, along different roads, different paths, which leave their mark on us.”

“We know in faith that Jesus seeks us out. He wants to heal our wounds, to soothe our feet which hurt from traveling alone, to wash each of us clean of the dust from our journey. He doesn’t ask us where we have been, he doesn’t question us what about we have done. Rather, he tells us: ‘Unless I wash your feet, you have no share with me’ (Jn 13:8). Unless I wash your feet, I will not be able to give you the life which the Father always dreamed of, the life for which he created you. Jesus comes to meet us, so that he can restore our dignity as children of God. He wants to help us to set out again, to resume our journey, to recover our hope, to restore our faith and trust. He wants us to keep walking along the paths of life, to realize that we have a mission, and that confinement is not the same thing as exclusion.”

“Life means ‘getting our feet dirty’ from the dust-filled roads of life and history. All of us need to be cleansed, to be washed. All of us are being sought out by the Teacher, who wants to help us resume our journey. The Lord goes in search of us; to all of us he stretches out a helping hand. It is painful when we see prison systems which are not concerned to care for wounds, to soothe pain, to offer new possibilities. It is painful when we see people who think that only others need to be cleansed, purified, and do not recognize that their weariness, pain and wounds are also the weariness, pain and wounds of society. The Lord tells us this clearly with a sign: he washes our feet so we can come back to the table. The table from which he wishes no one to be excluded. The table which is spread for all and to which all of us are invited.”

“This time in your life can only have one purpose: to give you a hand in getting back on the right road, to give you a hand to help you rejoin society. All of us are part of that effort, all of us are invited to encourage, help and enable your rehabilitation. A rehabilitation which everyone seeks and desires: inmates and their families, correctional authorities, social and educational programs. A rehabilitation which benefits and elevates the morale of the entire community.”

“Jesus invites us to share in his lot, his way of living and acting. He teaches us to see the world through his eyes. Eyes which are not scandalized by the dust picked up along the way, but want to cleanse, heal and restore. He asks us to create new opportunities: for inmates, for their families, for correctional authorities, and for society as a whole. I encourage you to have this attitude with one another and with all those who in any way are part of this institution. May you make possible new opportunities, new journeys, new paths.”

“All of us have something we need to be cleansed of, or purified from. May the knowledge of that fact inspire us to live in solidarity, to support one another and seek the best for others.”

“Let us look to Jesus, who washes our feet. He is ‘the way, and the truth, and the life.’ He comes to save us from the lie that says no one can change. He helps us to journey along the paths of life and fulfillment. May the power of his love and his resurrection always be a path leading you to new life.”

Unknown

After the speech, Francis walked along the rows of inmates sitting in chairs, shaking hands, chatting, laying his hand on their foreheads and hugging a few. Here is a photograph to the right showing some of those interactions.

St. Joseph’s University[4]

statue (1)

 

Francis, a member of the Jesuit religious order, made an unscheduled stop at St. Joseph’s University, a Jesuit school. There he blessed a new statue dedicated to ties between Catholics and Jews as shown in the photograph to the left.

 

Mass at the World Meeting of Families[5]

images

Sunday’s Mass, marking the end of the World Meeting of Families, took place on Eakins Oval in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with nearly a million people on the facing Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which was studded with jumbotron screens. Here is a photograph to the right of the Pope at this mass.

In his homily Francis said the following:

“Today the word of God surprises us with powerful and thought-provoking images. Images which challenge us, but also stir our enthusiasm. In the first reading, Joshua tells Moses that two members of the people are prophesying, speaking God’s word, without a mandate. In the Gospel, John tells Jesus that the disciples had stopped someone from casting out evil spirits in the name of Jesus.”

“Here is the surprise: Moses and Jesus both rebuke those closest to them for being so narrow! Would that all could be prophets of God’s word! Would that everyone could work miracles in the Lord’s name!”

“Jesus encountered hostility from people who did not accept what he said and did. For them, his openness to the honest and sincere faith of many men and women who were not part of God’s chosen people seemed intolerable. The disciples, for their part, acted in good faith. But the temptation to be scandalized by the freedom of God, who sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike (Mt 5:45), bypassing bureaucracy, officialdom and inner circles, threatens the authenticity of faith. Hence it must be vigorously rejected.”

“Once we realize this, we can understand why Jesus’ words about causing ‘scandal’ are so harsh. For Jesus, the truly ‘intolerable’ scandal consists in everything that breaks down and destroys our trust in the working of the Spirit!”

“Our Father will not be outdone in generosity and he continues to scatter seeds.”

“He scatters the seeds of his presence in our world, for ‘love consists in this, not that we have loved God but that he loved us’ first (1 Jn 4:10). That love gives us a profound certainty: we are sought by God; he waits for us. It is this confidence which makes disciples encourage, support and nurture the good things happening all around them. God wants all his children to take part in the feast of the Gospel. Jesus says, ‘Do not hold back anything that is good, instead help it to grow!’”

“To raise doubts about the working of the Spirit, to give the impression that it cannot take place in those who are not ‘part of our group,’ who are not ‘like us,’ is a dangerous temptation. Not only does it block conversion to the faith; it is a perversion of faith! Faith opens a ‘window’ to the presence and working of the Spirit. It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures. ‘Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name will not go unrewarded,’ says Jesus (cf. Mk 9:41).”

“These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work.”

“Homely gestures. Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to become faith.”

“Jesus tells us not to hold back these little miracles. Instead, he wants us to encourage them, to spread them. He asks us to go through life, our everyday life, encouraging all these little signs of love as signs of his own living and active presence in our world.”

“So we might ask ourselves: How are we trying to live this way in our homes, in our societies? What kind of world do we want to leave to our children (cf. Laudato Si’, 160)? We cannot answer these questions alone, by ourselves. It is the Spirit who challenges us to respond as part of the great human family.”

“Our common house can no longer tolerate sterile divisions. The urgent challenge of protecting our home includes the effort to bring the entire human family together in the pursuit of a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change (cf. ibid., 13). May our children find in us models and incentives to communion! May our children find in us men and women capable of joining others in bringing to full flower all the good seeds which the Father has sown!”

“Pointedly, yet affectionately, Jesus tells us: ‘If you, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’ (Lk 11:13). How much wisdom there is in these few words! It is true that, as far as goodness and purity of heart are concerned, we human beings don’t have much to show! But Jesus knows that, where children are concerned, we are capable of boundless generosity. So he reassures us: if only we have faith, the Father will give us his Spirit.”

“We Christians, the Lord’s disciples, ask the families of the world to help us! How many of us are here at this celebration! This is itself something prophetic, a kind of miracle in today’s world. The world is tired of creating new division and new disasters. Wouldn’t it be great if all of us where prophets. If all of us would be open ot the miracles of love for the good of all families.”

“I leave you with this question, for each one of you to respond to. In my home, do we yell, or do we speak with love and tenderness? This is a good way to recognize our love.”

“Would that we could all be prophets! Would that all of us could be open to miracles of love for the sake of all the families of the world, and thus overcome the scandal of a narrow, petty love, closed in on itself, impatient of other. And how beautiful it would be if everywhere, even beyond our borders, we could appreciate and encourage this prophecy and this miracle! We renew our faith in the word of the Lord which invites faithful families to this openness. It invites all those who want to share the prophecy of the covenant of man and woman, which generates life and reveals God!”

“Anyone who wants to bring into this world a family which teaches children to be excited by every gesture aimed at overcoming evil – a family which shows that the Spirit is alive and at work – will encounter our gratitude and our appreciation. Whatever the family, people, region, or religion to which they belong! May God grant to all of us, as the Lord’s disciples, the grace to be worthy of this purity of heart which is not scandalized by the Gospel!”

Return Flight to Rome[6]

Before he boarded his plane to return to Rome, Francis met with the organizers, volunteers and benefactors of the World Meeting of Families to thank them for all their work. At approximately 7:30 p.m. (EST) the Pope’s plane left Philadelphia for Rome.

On the plane the Pope held a press conference. He again strongly condemned priests who molested children as “sacrilegious” and publicly acknowledged that bishops had covered up abuse cases. “When a priest abuses, it is very grave because the vocation of the priest is to make that boy, that girl grow toward the love of God. For this reason, the church is strong on this and one must not cover these things up. Those who covered this up are guilty. Even some bishops who covered this up.”

Francis commended the sisters in the U.S., who “have done marvels in the field of education, in the field of health. The people of the United States love the sisters. . . . They are great, they are great, great, great women. . . .”

He defended his recent changes to Roman Catholic rules on marriage annulments, saying the changes had improved the system, but had not transformed it into an administrative “Catholic divorce.”

Francis described the deep roots of the migrant crisis while dismissing border barriers, like the one being constructed in Hungary, as pointless. He recognized that Europe was facing a difficult situation but promoted dialogue as a solution, not walls.

Francis expressed hope that a tentative peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, would be realized by the March [2016] deadline. He said he had spoken twice to President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia while Vatican diplomats had also been involved. “I was very happy, and I felt like I was part of it,” he said.

When asked about government employees who refused to discharge their duties as an act of religious conscience, including refusing to grant marriage licenses to gay couples, Francis did not offer specifics but described conscientious objection as “a human right.”

This last issue re-emerged after the Pope’s return to the Vatican when it became known that on the third day of his American mission (September 24), the Pope met at the Vatican Embassy in Washington with several individuals, including Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who was jailed for contempt of court for refusing to grant wedding licenses to same-sex couples because of her religious beliefs. According to her lawyer, the Pope gave her and her husband two rosaries, embraced her and told her to “stay strong.” The Vatican spokesman, Federico Lombardi, however, subsequently stated,“The pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis, and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.”  The Vatican spokesman added that the only “real audience” given by the Pope in the U.S. was to one of his former students, who is a gay man, and his male partner.[7]

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[1] Pope Francis’ Remarks to Victims of Sexual Abuse, N.Y. Times (Sept. 27, 2015); Goodstein & Wakin, Pope Francis Ends Visit With Mass After Meeting Bishops and Inmates, N.Y. Times (Sept. 27, 2015).

[2] Goodstein, After Criticism, Pope Francis Confronts Priestly Sexual Abuse, N.Y. Times (Sept. 27, 2015); Read Pope Francis’ Speech to Bishops, NBC4 (Sept. 27, 2015) (video + text).

[3] Reilly, Pope Francis Tells Inmates That Society Can’t Ignore Their Pain, HuffPost (Sept. 27, 2015); Pope Francis’ Speech to Curran-Fromhold Correction Facility Inmates (Sept. 27, 2015).

[4] Pontiff Makes Historic Visit to Philadelphia’s Jesuit University (Sept. 27, 2015).

[5] Pope Francis’ Homily at the World Meeting of Families Closing Mass (Sept. 27, 2015).

[6] Pope’s Visit with organizers, volunteers and benefactors of the World Meeting of Families (Sept. 27, 2015); Yardley, Pope Francis, on Flight Home, Strongly Condemns Child Sexual Abuse, (N.Y. Times (Sept. 28, 2015); Murphy, Pope expands warnings on sex abuse scandals after return to Rome, Wash. Post (Sept. 28, 2015); Pope Francis: “I’m not a star, but the servant of servants of God,” Vatican Radio (Sept. 28, 2015).

[7] Goodstein & Yardley, Pope Francis, the Kentucky Clerk and Culture Wars Revisited, N.Y. Times (Sept. 30, 2015); Yardley & Goodstein, Before Pope Francis Met Kim Davis, He Met With Gay Ex-Student, N.Y. Times (Oct. 2, 2015). There also has been speculation about whether the papal nuncio to the U.S. was responsible on his own for inviting Ms. Davis without adequately briefing the Pope about her case. (Horowitz, Archbishop at Center of Mystery of Papal Meeting with Kim Davis, N.Y. Times (Oct. 3, 2015).