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The Feast of St Luke occurs on 18 October – why do we read the gospel that bears his name? Perhaps it is to make more sense of the readings we hear at Mass; to deepen our knowledge of our Christian faith; or to experience a masterpiece of world literature and to savour its narrative. Peter Edmonds SJ suggests a way for us to approach our encounter with Jesus and his story in Luke’s Gospel.
The Bible is the Living Word of God. This means that even though the books of the Bible were written hundreds of years ago, they are still relevant for us today. God continues to speak to us through the words of Biblical literature
The Bible is a collection of books. It is a library of literature with a specific interest in God’s relationship with God’s people. The types of literature include poetry, proverbs, myth, genealogy, history, didactic fiction, and letters.
Catholics tend to be hyper-aware of the standpoints their Church takes on very specific moral topics like abortion, homosexuality and contraception. However, the average person in the pew normally is unaware of the fact that Catholicism has a long history of strongly held beliefs about social, political and economic issues.
The Church believes that just as our interpersonal relations need to be governed by fundamental moral principles like honesty, mercy, love, courage and forgiveness, so too our social structures and relationships need a set of guiding principles in order to function as God intended.
These basic principles are: the common good, human dignity, preferential option for the poor, rights and responsibilities, solidarity, subsidiarity, economic justice, environmental stewardship, participation and peace. Let’s briefly take a look at the first three principles.
The common good is the belief that social, political and economic decision should be made with the good of everyone in mind, not just the good of an individual or specific group. It represents the highest and most general good that can be achieved by human beings in this world, and therefore, it should be the primary goal for every decision in the public realm.
The belief in the dignity of the human person is grounded in God’s creation of the human person in the divine image. As an image of God, human beings are the ultimate icons in all of creation. To treat humans as anything less than icons of perfection is to desecrate this divine image and to show great disrespect to God.
Catholic social teaching affirms that God regularly sides with the poor when there are conflicts between those who are powerful and those who are vulnerable. This option for the poor is first witnessed in scripture in the Exodus story where God surprisingly sides with the slaves rather than with the powerful and wealthy Egyptian Pharaoh. Most theologies assume that wealth, power and good fortune are signs of God’s favor. Catholic theology raises suspicions about these kinds of assumptions and instead believes that God has a special place in His heart for the poor and those on the margins.
Catholicism has a long history of actively seeking fairness and equity in our social relations, as well as in the organizations and structures that arise from those relationships. The Church regularly applies these principles and periodically updates its teaching on the relevant issues of the day.
Thomas O'Brien, Ph.D.
Center for Interreligious Engagement
DePaul University, Chicago, IL
Thomas is the author of A Place of Mercy: Finding God on the Street
The feast of the wise men and the beginning of a new year and a new century is a good time to remember and celebrate key figures in our life and in the life of the Church. So – I’ve prepared my list of the 10 most significant Catholics of the century, at least for the Church and for Catholics in the US.
Two that will not make the list either for the century or for the nation, but will certainly be at the top of the list for our parishioners generation here at CTK, are Msgr. Wade and Margo Schorno.
On my list of 10 for the century, probably the most obvious choice (and the only living person on my list!) is Pope John Paul II. His leadership as Pope has spanned 21 years, easily the longest term of office of any pope of the century; he has signaled a new look in papal history with his world wide travel; his stand for social justice, solidarity, human rights and the defense of life has impacted the politics of our world and has been widely credited for the downfall of Soviet communism. His impact on Church life receives mixed reviews, but has clearly been enormous as he has stamped the administration of the Church and its position on in-house issues with his views and a conservatism that will last well into the next century.
Number 2 on my list is John F. Kennedy, not because of his politics or personal life, but because of the change he marked and to some extent personally made in the status of Catholics as American citizens. He ran for presidency in the face of concerted opposition because of his religion and against the accepted political wisdom "that no Catholic could ever be elected president in this country." His election shattered the last political barrier to America’s acceptance of Catholics. After his election, Catholics no longer had to keep proving they were good citizens by indiscriminate support of everything American; but now, like other citizens they could be both loyal and critical, supportive and careful. Kennedy’s call for us to "ask what we could do for our country" inspired not only the Peace Corps and the War on Poverty, but also similar efforts in the Catholic community for lay volunteers and funding for human development.
My next 3 choices are less familiar names and faces, but they have shaped the thoughts and conversation of US Catholics with science, with politics and with spirituality. Without them, our thinking and actions would be considerably different than they are.
Number 3 on my list is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Teilhard was a French priest, scientist and theologian. He spent much of his life on expeditions to examine prehistoric fossils in China and Africa. When he outlined a theology that brought together faith and science, evolution and spirituality, he was silenced by his Jesuit superiors and by the Vatican. At his death in 1955 only 6 people attended his funeral; a lone priest went to the cemetery for the burial; and his name was misspelled on his tombstone. Then his friend began to publish his writings which have now reached millions; his basic theories have been widely accepted and further developed; the Vatican, by 1960, named his as one of the great thinkers of the century and his thoughts and phrases on the world, evolution, science and humanism found their way into the official teaching of he Second Vatican Council!
Number 4 on my list, John Courtney Murray, an American Jesuit, was also silenced by the Vatican for his teaching on religious freedom, separation of Church and on the way believers should participate in a democracy. Despite his official "silencing" he was brought to the Second Vatican Council as a personal advisor to the Archbishop of New York. His draft and writing became the Council’s official text on Religious Freedom. It has been called the single American contribution to the work of the Council. It represents an about face in the Church’s understanding of personal freedom, political participation, and the rights of individuals to follow their conscience. It has strongly colored the thinking and practice of US Catholics ever since.
Number 5 on my list is Thomas Merton, journalist, best selling author and Trappist monk. He became the spiritual companion and mentor for millions of Americans when he published his dramatic autobiography "The Seven Story Mountain" exactly 50 years ago. As a monk and contemplative, he developed and promoted a spirituality of strong public ethics around issues like race relations, non violence, the war in Vietnam and economic injustice. His sudden death in 1968 came as he was leading an international dialogue in Bangkok between Catholic monks and Eastern religious. For a great many, he embodied the quest for God and human solidarity in the modern world.
Number 6 on my list is a group of modern martyrs which include 4 American women who will always belong together: Moira Clarke and Ita Ford, late Maryknoll sisters; Dorothy Kegel, an Ursuline sister, and Jean Donovan, a lay missionary from Cleveland. They worked worked with the poor in El Salvador until they were murdered by Salvadoran soldiers, in civilian dress and "on special assignment." Their deaths had an enormous effect on the North American church, galvanizing opposition to US funding for the Salvadoran government. Bishop Oscar Romero had said "it would be very sad if in a country where they are murdering the poor, there were no priests among the victims." In February, 1980, he asked President Carter to stop sending military aid to his government; on March 23rd, he appealed directly to the military of San Salvador, calling on them to disobey illegal orders that kill innocent people. On the next day while he was saying Mass at the Carmelite Sisters’ cancer hospital, a simple rifle shot from the back of the chapel struck his heart and he was dead within minutes. In 1986 six Jesuit professors who had called for a negotiated peace to stop the violence in their country were slain along with two women (a housekeeper and her daughter) who had stayed with the Jesuits because they thought it would be safer there.
Number 7 on my list, Cardinal Joseph Bernadin, was Archbishop of Chicago at his death in 1996 – he spent his earlier years bringing the US Bishops together around issues of nuclear peace, poverty in an affluent nation, and the "seamless garment" approach to the defense of life – linking opposition to abortion, to capital punishment and to euthanasia with social justice and a commitment to the poor. In his final years he challenged Catholics in America to seek common ground and mutual respect rather than divisiveness and in-fighting. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he also (as his cover story in Time magazine reported) taught Americans how to face death – he said, "as a person of faith, I see death as a friend."
Number 8 on my list is Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who has been described as one of the most compelling Christian witnesses of the 20th century. She established centers and communities of service around the globe for the sick, the homeless, the dying, and the unwanted. It was not Mother Theresa’s way to change social structures or take political action. "We are not social workers," she said, "but contemplatives in the heart of the world, for we are touching the Body of Christ 24 hours a day." When she was eventually "discovered" by the world press and honored by universities and a Nobel Peace Prize, she said, "we can do no great things, only small things with great love." And when people begged to travel to join her in her "wonderful work" in Calcutta, she told them sternly, "find your own Calcutta!"
Number 9: When Dorothy Day died in 1980 at the age of 83, she was described as the most influential and significant figure in the history of the American Catholic Church. Earlier this month when a group of Catholic journalist and theologians voted on the most important Catholic lay person of the century, Dorothy Day was their choice. As co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, she represented a new kind of political holiness – a way of serving Christ both through prayer and care for the poor and also through solidarity with the poor in their struggle for justice. She combined a very traditional piety, with St. Teresa the little flower as her favorite saint, and radical social positions around pacificism (even during World War II), civil rights and what she called "the mystery of the poor." "They are Jesus," she said, "and what you do to them, you do to Him."
Number 10 – last and for me the most significant figure on my list, is Pope John XXIII – you may recall his response to visitors at his first appearance as Pope who commented audibly "My God, he’s ugly." He answered, "Madam, I just won the papel election, not a beauty contest." John XXIII began a new era of openness to dialogue between all Christian churches and between the Church and the modern world. Beginning at age 77 and serving as Pope for only 5 years, he spoke of the need to "open the windows of the Church and let in fresh air." He called for aggiornamento or updating – something that had been completely unheard of. The reform of the Mass, the Ecumenical movement, the teaching on religious freedom and the stress of collegiality of bishops and the face and complexion of the Catholic Church as it enters the 21st century would be entirely different were it not for "good Pope John," who faced death in November of 1963 by saying "my bags are packed, I’m ready to go."
On this feast of Epiphany, there is my list of the Wise Men and Women of our century and Church – for some it’s like a history lesson, for others it’s a chance to remember – for all of us it’s a time to give thanks for the variety of gifts and gifted people God brings into our lives.
Fr. Brian Joyce is Pastor of Christ the King Parish in Pleasant Hill, CA.
Spirituality is a word we hear all the time. Frequently, people say, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” What is this thing we call spirituality? Is it a lofty description reserved for those deeply involved in church activity? Is it the latest exotic buzzword in vogue for the postmodern individual? As I see it, neither of these is true. Spirituality is a normal human quality that is as basic and essential to life as breathing. In fact, I would assert that to be human is to be spiritual.
Simply put, spirituality is defined as a search for the sacred. Author Fr. Ronald Rolheiser speaks of spirituality as an unquenchable fire that is inherent in all human beings, regardless of culture, religion, or upbringing. It is a fundamental inner restlessness propelling each of us to long for something beyond ourselves. We experience this energy as a pull or yearning to express ourselves creatively. Spirituality is about what we do with this longing, whether agonizing over unrealized dreams or rejoicing in hopeful expectation. Plato philosophized that, “humanity is on fire because our souls come from beyond and that beyond, through our longings, tries to draw us back towards itself.” Because we all come from beyond, we each feel this energy from beyond ourselves no matter how we participate in life.
Mystic of the Holocaust
Little is known of the external life of Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman who lived in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation and who died as one of the millions of victims of the Holocaust. Her obscure outward life contrasts sharply with her well-documented internal personal life. During the last two years she lived, Etty kept a meticulous diary, recording her daily experiences and the unfolding of her internal response. Published four decades after her death, this book was quickly recognized as one of the great moral documents of our time.
In a time when everything was being swept away, when “the whole world [was] becoming a giant concentration camp,” she felt one must hold fast to what endures—the encounter with God at the depths of one’s own soul and in other people. For Etty, everything—the physical and the spiritual without distinction—was related to her passionate openness to life, which was ultimately openness to God.
Her life was unfolding within the tightening noose of German occupation. Etty’s effervescence might seem to resemble a type of manic denial. The fact is, however, that she seems to have discerned the logic of events with uncommon objectivity. In this light, her determination to affirm the goodness and beauty of existence becomes nothing short of miraculous.
Etty worked for a while as a typist for the Jewish Council, a job that delayed her deportation to the transit camp at Westbork. Eventually she renounced this privilege and volunteered to accompany her fellow Jews to the camp. She did not wish to be spared the suffering of the masses. In fact, she felt a deep calling to be present at the heart of the suffering, to become “the thinking heart of the concentration camp.”
Her sense of a call to solidarity with those who suffer became the specific form of her religious vocation. It was a vocation to redeem the suffering of humanity from within, by safeguarding “that little piece of You, God, in ourselves.”
On September 7, 1943, Etty and her family were placed on a transport train to Poland. From a window of the train she tossed out a card that read, “We have left the camp singing.” She died in Auschwitz on November 30. She was twenty-nine.
Adapted by Kate Convissor from All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets and Witnessess for our Timeby Robert Ellsberg, Crossroad Publishing
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“Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle,” explains Francis, “one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption.”
This does not lead to a sad life, but to a life of joy and peace for those who “enjoy more and live better each moment.”
More than twenty-five hundred years ago, Moses gave us the ten commandments. The centuries since, the Enlightenment notwithstanding, haven’t given us a single reason to doubt the validity and importance of any of those precepts. However, as we struggle to live out them out, it might be helpful if Moses again descended from that same mountain with two new tablets of stone, spelling out some rules for better befriending each other, God, life, and ourselves. Perhaps this second set of commandments might read like this:
I would say that an intentional disciple is a person — child, teen, young adult, adult, or oldster — who has heard the call of the Gospel, is seeking to make a real difference in the world, and therefore lives a particular way. What does that way look like? Well, down through the ages persons, families, and entire Christian communities have done the same or similar things that show they are truly growing in faith.
From Vibrant Faith by Leif Kehrwald
Pope Francis may be back in Rome, but the loving and powerful words spoken throughout his time in the United States aren’t something we’ll soon forget. Busted Halo has compiled a list of some of their favorite quotes from his visit. Read
As the year came to an end, many catechists and Catholic school teachers dialogued about the current changes in the U.S. Church landscape. One of the most interesting conversations happened around the topic of the priority of systematic formation for catechists. Some commented on the "importance of living our faith," to which others added the priority of knowing the faith and the art of sharing it with our children and youth in our religious education programs and in Catholic schools.
Peter Ductram is the Archdiocesan Director of Catechesis, Archdiocese of Miami. He was born in Lima, Peru. Earned a MA in Theology in from Catholic Theological Union and is a Candidate for a MDiv. in Bible. He served in the Archdiocese of Chicago as Coordinator of Hispanic Ministry, Director of Religious Education, Adjunct faculty at the University of Mundelein, and Coordinator of Evangelization Initiatives. Proactive bilingual leader with experience in faith formation and enrichment in multicultural environments.