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Archive for December, 2012

 

We come into a personal relationship with the Lord when we make life’s greatest decision – the turning point referred to earlier. It is to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the One who died for our sins, who was buried and was raised from the dead – and to receive him as our Savior and Lord.
~John Beckett

Part 8: The Way Home

Here are the key elements by which we become reconciled to the Father. Each is vitally important. Any, if absent, could keep our new relationship from being complete.

Our condition: First, we must understand that we are separated from God. The chasm dividing us is both wide and deep. We inherited a fatal defect at birth. As a result, we have lived our lives independently from him. The Bible emphasizes this stark reality: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). If we can’t come to grips with the fact that sin separates us from God, we’ll never come home spiritually, for there is no need for a savior.

God’s remedy: Second, we need to be very clear in understanding who Jesus is and what he has done for us, in order that we might confidently place our faith in him. He bridged the chasm separating us from God. In the apostle John’s words: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Jesus was not just a good man, a great teacher, an inspired prophet. He came to earth as the Son of God. He was born to a virgin. He led a sinless life. He died. He was buried. He rose again on the third day. He ascended into heaven where he became both Lord and Christ.

Jesus’ death and resurrection on our behalf satisfied God’s requirement – complete provision for our sin. This Jesus, and he alone, is qualified to be the remedy for my sin and yours.

Our response – to repent and believe.

Personal repentance is vital in the transformation process. Repentance literally means “a change of mind.” It is to say to the Father, “I want to turn toward you and away from the life I’ve lived independently from you. I am sorry for who I’ve been and what I have done and I want to permanently change. I receive your forgiveness for my sins.”

Many at this point experience a remarkable “washing” from a lifetime’s accumulation of all that can degrade a person’s soul and spirit. Whether or not we sense God’s forgiveness, if we repent, we can be very certain that we’re forgiven. Our confidence is based on God’s promise to us, not how we feel.

We come into a personal relationship with the Lord when we make life’s greatest decision – the turning point referred to earlier. It is to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the One who died for our sins, who was buried and was raised from the dead – and to receive him as our Savior and Lord. When we believe in this way, we become God’s children. This is emphatically promised in John’s gospel: “To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

Would you like to receive Jesus Christ as your savior? If you would, you can pray a prayer like this:

“Jesus, I need you. I repent for the life I’ve lived apart from you. Thank you for dying on the cross to take the penalty for my sins. I believe you are God’s Son and I now receive you as my Lord and Savior. I commit my life to follow you.”

Did you pray this prayer?

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Homily for the feast of the Holy Family (year C 2012)

Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family of Nazareth. This is no coincidence that it is put right after  the feast of Christmas. This is so because it tells  us that God has not just come to be born into the world but born within a human family to stress all the more his identification with our humanity . This is part of the Christmas story. The late Pope John Paul II would also have something to say about this. In his letter to  Families written in 1994- the year of the family, the Pope wrote:  “The divine mystery of the Incarnation of the Word thus has an intimate connection with the human family. Not only with one family, that of Nazareth, but in some way with every family, analogously to what the Second Vatican Council says about the Son of God, who in the Incarnation “united himself in some sense with every man“(#2). This then calls us for a celebration. This also calls us for  a reflection on the family.

It is true that the family still is and remains to be the very cell of the society. It still is the nucleus of every society. However, we are also aware of the fact that the family right now is facing a great challenge to keep up. Just an example. In the Philippines, I’ve just heard recently that the Reproductive health bill is now passed into a law. The Church in the Philippines is so strong against it. The Church did her best but her best wasn’t good enough to borrow a line from a song. The Church has tried her  best to remind the Filipino people of the repercussions of the bill once it becomes a law. The Church understands that this can lead not only to denigrating the value of women but also to motherhood because it offers artificial contraception. This can also lead to seeing children not only as surplus but unnecessary baggage, acommodities in the family, to seeing women as a thing to be manipulated, to encouraging young people to be irresponsible and careless in their bodies. This can lead to many unlikely things that are completely up and against the law of God. I might be talking baloney here. I will not be surprised if married  people come to me and tell me: ‘It would  be right for you to say that father because you don’t have to pay your mortgage, you don’t have to wake up at night to change your baby’s nappy, you don’t have to pay rent, you don’t have to make ends meet as the month is ending.’ And so on.

Yes, I humbly admit that. I don’t have to worry much about it. But this is not an excuse for us not to strive for the best and  the ideal of family. This is not an excuse for us to go back to Nazareth and reflect the type of family where our God has been nourished and  nurtured. This is not an excuse for us to go back to the School of Nazareth and learn how it is to be a truly human family pleasing to God.

We heard in our gospel from Luke that Jesus ‘increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and (people)’ [Lk 2:41-52].Like any other families on earth this growth wouldn’t happen overnight. Jesus has come to learn  this from the examples of his earthly parents, Mary and Joseph. So this is then an invitation to parents to live by example to your children. When you enter married life you have made this commitment not only to welcome children as part of your life but to nurture them as good Christians, as good citizens.

This feast also calls for the children to be responsive, responsible and respectful to their parents. I once read or heard somewhere of a child telling his parents: ‘It is not me who is looking for parents. It’s you (his parents) are  looking for a child.’ It’s true but it’s not an excuse to be naughty. It is  not an excuse to be disrespectful because a child is God’s gift to a parent. As a  gift comes responsibility to be a good gift and that can give happiness to the recipient. This is the kind of life that God wants us to live if we take it from the St John in our Second reading today: obeying God’s commandments, living a life with an examined and informed conscience, be comfortable with God in our life even if at times we feel and think he is not to comforting for us.

Our First reading today would also offer us a way to become an ideal family, a reflection of the Holy family in Nazareth and that is to offer the children to God. This means putting God as an important member of the family. This means allowing God to help you make decisions for the whole family. This means making the family a venue wherein God’s love, care, support, compassion are truly evident and alive. This means constant feeding with and reflection on the Word of God, constant nourishment in the Eucharist, and constant prayer as a family.

Today’s feast then is a time for each family to reflect and go back to the Holy family of Nazareth, to unlearn, to learn and re-learn the things that God has designed and willed for each of the human family through which he came into the world. Amen

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Posted on Dec 25, 2012 in Homilies FT, Liturgical life, Patriarch, Slide

BETHLEHEM – Here below is the homily of His Beatitude Fouad Twal, during Mass on Christmas Eve, in the Basilica of the Nativity.

 

 

Christmas 2012

Midnight Mass Homily

December 24, 2012-Bethlehem

President Mahmoud Abbas,

The Honorable Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs representing His Majesty King Abdallah ll,

My Brothers in the Episcopate,

The Honorable Ambassadors and Consuls,

Reverend Fathers, Brothers and Sisters

Dear Pilgrims,

I greet you all from the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, a few steps away from the grotto where the Blessed Virgin brought forth her admirable Son into the world.  I greet all our television viewers and especially the faithful of the diaspora.

On Christmas night we celebrate the event that brought us the good news of salvation; the night that brings about and announces other wondrous nights, like that of creation,and the night of Holy Thursday that preceded the resurrection of the Lord. This night promises to be the dawn of a new era for mankind.

We marvel at the unique splendour and identity of this wonderful child. On one hand, he resembles children of his age, our own children whom we love, watch grow and mature, and increase in knowledge and wisdom. He was born poor, lived poor and chose freely to have no privileges.  He experienced fatigue, pain, cold, hunger, thirst, fear, persecution, flight and later, his own death and self-sacrifice.  He wanted to be a true “son of man,” sharing in our sufferings and our hopes, happy to be one with us, accepting the attention and maternal tenderness of his Mother, and finding sufficiency in the food and clothing that the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph could offer him.

On the other hand, he is not like other children. He was born of a Virgin Mother. He is the Word of God and at the same time the Son of the Father. His name announced by the messianic prophecies is “Emmanuel” or “God with us”. The words of the prophet Isaiah still echo in our ears: “For unto us a child is born, a son is given (….) he shall be called Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.(Is9: 5-6).

Then, we consider the reasons for his Incarnation and his Birth in Bethlehem. He was born for the poor, the oppressed and the suffering, for the simple and ordinary people who have not lost hope in God.  He came for transgressors and sinners.

He wanted to give back to man his humanity, to the sinner his innocence and initial goodness, and God’s image that was distorted by sin. He wanted to internalize precepts and laws, making “religion” the expression of love towards God rather than a series of obligations.  Instead of love of the law, he proclaimed the law of love: “Love one another!” (Jn 15:17)

Behold this Infant’s dream, that all human beings become brothers, because they all have one God and Lord, who is the Father of all, the Father who shows compassion to all and who watches over all!  He came to reconcile the sinner with his Lord and Creator, and man with himself and with his brother.  He came to turn enemies into friends.  Thus, the prophet Isaiah foretold in messianic times, “The wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat. (…) The baby shall play by the viper’s den, and the child lays his hand on the adder’s lair.” (Is 11: 6-8a).

These are the symbols of the universality of reconciliation when all shall partake in justice and peace.  The realization of the Angel’s message to the shepherds of Bethlehem is coming: “I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For today in the city of David, a Savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.” (Lk 2: 10–11).

We, the faithful of the monotheistic religions are in agreement that the divisions between men are the work of the devil, while reconciliation is God’s work. From this holy place, I invite politicians and men of good will to work with determination for peace and reconciliation that encompasses Palestine and Israel in the midst of all the sufferings in the Middle East.

Let us pray fervently for our brothers and sisters in Syria, who are dying mercilessly!  Let us pray for the people of Egypt who are fighting for national agreement, freedom and equality! Let us pray for unity and reconciliation in Lebanon, in Iraq, in Sudan, in the other countries of the region and the rest of the world. Let us pray for stability and prosperity in Jordan.

Dear brothers and sisters, Christmas is an occasion for celebration, even at a time when many of you are suffering for one reason or another.  Thousands of young people are anxiously waiting in prison to regain their freedom!  Families are separated and awaiting travel permissions in order to live or gather together under the same roof.   You continue to suffer the unending occupation. Gaza and the south of Israel have just emerged from a war with consequences that are still visible both physically and mentally.  Our prayer includes all Arab and Jewish families that have been touched by the conflict! May the Lord give them patience, comfort and consolation, and that communities and people all over the world offer them assistance and support!

On this night, we need a moment of silence and prayer. Let us turn our eyes to the Child of Mary and listen to him: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.  Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”(Mt 5: 5, 6, 9)

You, Mr President, with His Majesty King Abdallah ll, have been at the forefront of those who worked and continue to work for nonviolence, peace and justice. May the Lord bless and protect you. We appreciate your efforts and the courageous positions you have taken at the regional and international levels.  Please continue to fight for a just cause to achieve peace and security for the people of the Holy Land!

Your efforts have borne fruit in the recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state by the United Nations. This recognition should be a decisive step towards peace and security for all. Only justice and peace in the Holy Land can re-establish balance and stability in the region and in the world!

Oh Child of Bethlehem, who knew poverty and together with your Mother and adoptive father escaped the cruelty of Herod by fleeing to Egypt, deliver us from all the tyrants of this day and make of us a sanctuary where you constantly renew your birth so that we may be witnesses of your Love!

And you, Mary our mother, who lavished your maternal attention on your divine Child, protect the children of the world from all evil and sow in their hearts the seeds of faith, hope and goodness.

Dear brothers and sisters, I wish you a Merry Christmas and the gift of peace that the Lord has promised all “men of good will.” (Lk 2: 14)  Amen!

+Fouad Twal

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem

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CC.org : By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bioarticles ) | December 21, 2012 11:14 AM

 

One of the most important things about Christmas is that it is the first and most tender of all Christian reminders that every aspect of human life is an occasion of grace. The birth of Our Lord is the most accessible reminder of the Incarnation, by which God’s Son took on our nature so that men and women could forever share in the Divine life. In doing so, Christ refashioned human nature, perfecting its every feature by grace into a hymn of obedient love to the Father, a life-hymn in which all of us are invited to join.

Christmas reminds us that every action of both our bodies and our souls can be a manifestation of God’s presence, and not only every action but indeed every moment of our lives. In each moment there is an opportunity for our own human nature to be perfected by grace, and so for grace to manifest itself through nature to the world.

An Incarnational Faith

God is not, of course, incarnate in us in the same way that He was incarnate in Jesus Christ. We are not Divine persons with a human nature. But God does dwell within each Christian, making each of us, as St. Paul put it, a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19)—a living temple, just like the one Christ said He could raise up again in three days (Jn 2:19). Our Lord also said “my food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to accomplish His work” (Jn 4:34). And he said that “man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4). We too are called to live every moment in fulfillment of our Father’s will.

We may be tempted in the flesh; it is a moment of grace to resist the temptation. We may be sick or injured; it is a moment of grace to accept God’s will and offer our suffering to Him so that, in our bodies, we might “make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” (Col 1:24). In the same way, it is a moment of grace to employ our bodies in work of any kind for the good of our enfleshed brothers and sisters, work performed as much as possible in the perfection of love. When our bodies are listless, if we raise our hearts to God it is a moment of grace. When we are full of energy and brimming with enthusiasm, if we thank and praise God it becomes a moment of grace.

As with our bodies, so with our minds. Every thought can be referred by intention to God, and we can advert to God’s presence frequently throughout each and every day. Mental sufferings, mental challenges, mental triumphs: All are moments of grace. With Christ, we can grow each moment in wisdom and stature before God and man (Lk 2:52).

Life in Christ

This is not easy at first, this moment to moment life in Christ. But it is precisely Christmas that makes it possible, and not only possible but in the end habitual, worked into our very bones, part and parcel of our own nature transformed by grace. In this context, the letters of John the Evangelist, who as an old man seems sometimes to repeat simple and even vague phrases over and over again, no longer seem so much vaguely simple as simply true. Take, for example, this statement of his immense confidence in the power of Christ to transform our whole being:

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. (1 Jn 2:12-14)

Given the incarnational character of our Faith, by which every aspect of our nature is sanctified, it is clear that we are all at one and the same time little children, aged parents, and men and women in the prime of life: Children in that we have received the Christ-life without any merit of our own; aged parents in that through Christ we know the Ancient One Himself and even help to communicate his gifts; men and women in the prime of life in that we use the sword of the Word to fight and triumph over whatever would snatch us away from God. It is actually when speaking of the Incarnation itself that John reminds us that to be Christian is to experience a plenitude of Divine life and Divine love: “And of His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16).

Everything Works Unto Good

It is impossible to find any aspect or corner of our lives which cannot become an occasion of grace, which cannot be brought to mirror God’s incomparable glory. The merest movement of the will in trying to find such dark corners in order to shed light on them is a moment of grace. It does not matter what we experience; everything can bring us closer to God. Brought low by suffering, we turn to God in an effort to rise; buoyed by good news or accolades, we present our unworthiness to God in an effort to rise higher still. “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39).

This confidence refers not just to some ethereal relationship of our souls to God but to the whole man. This seems to be the point of St. Paul’s account of his own trials:

Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches…. If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. (2 Cor 11:24-30)

And why does he boast of this weakness he experiences in his human nature? It is because, when he complained of his bodily weakness, Our Lord told him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). St. Paul had good reason to conclude that “in everything God works for good with those who love Him” (Rom 8:28). There really is nothing whatsoever, whether of body or soul, that cannot be an occasion of grace.

But Not Without Christmas

None of this is fully possible without Christmas. If our relationship with God were purely spiritual, we would soon regard our bodies as something less than ourselves, either to be subjugated through the strictest possible denials as if the body is nothing but a drag on the soul, or to be allowed unfettered license as if what is done in our bodies has nothing to do with the spiritual purpose of life. Without Christmas, the beautiful harmony of our compound nature would be disfigured or destroyed.

This in fact is the first and most immediate result of any heresy which has ever refused to recognize the Jesus Christ is both true God and true man, just as it is the grave danger of all philosophies and religions which know nothing of the Incarnate Son. In early Manichaeanism, for example, we have at once the pattern of extreme asceticism or wild sensuality, reproduced again in the Albigensianism of the 12th century. In the Platonic ideas, the body (and with it, the ordinary man) is rendered worthless. In Islam, which so stresses obedience to a God whose will is essentially arbitrary, the application of reason is very difficult. Buddhists find themselves yearning for the loss of their own particularity as they aim to merge into a world soul. Modern secularists treat their human nature as if it is both infinitely malleable and utterly without moral significance. The Incarnation is at once the starkest and most delightful denial that any of these represent the truth about man, or the truth about God.

Thanks to Christmas we experience no such disfigurement or distortion. Our natural and supernatural lives blend into one, with grace once again perfecting rather than supplanting nature. We learn that the most essential mark of God is not the absence of a body but the absence of sin, the presence of pure love, ready to animate bone and sinew, mind and heart. Looking back to Christmas—or rather seeing through Christmas eyes—we look forward not only to a new heaven, but also to a new earth (2 Pet 3:13).

Through Christmas we also learn to acknowledge the law of the gift, “for the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). And does not Our Lord’s own teaching about gifts run directly through Christmas? He says: “If you then, 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!” (Mt 7:11; Lk 11:13).

Or consider his words to the woman at the well: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (Jn 4:10). Yes, if only we knew the gift of God, we could “have life and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10), have it in every nook and cranny of our existence, in every fiber of both body and soul. But in fact we do know the gift of God—because we have Christmas.

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annunciation

Vatican City, 19 December 2012 (VIS) –

The faith of Mary in the light of the mystery of the Annunciation was the theme of Benedict XVI‘s catechesis during the last general audience of 2012, celebrated in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.

In the annunciation the angel greets Mary with the words “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you”. “This greeting is an invitation to rejoice, and announces the end of the sadness of the world in relation to the limits of life, suffering … the darkness of the evil that seems to obscure the light of divine goodness. It is a greeting that marks the beginning of the Gospel, the Good News”, explained the Pope.

The reason for the invitation to rejoice offered to the Virgin is in the second part of the phrase: “The Lord is with you”. In Mary “the anticipation of the definitive coming of God is made tangible; the living God dwells within her”. The expression “full of grace” further clarifies the source of Mary’s joy, which “arises from her communion with God, … from being the dwelling of the Holy Spirit. … Mary is the being who has, in a singular way, opened the door to the Creator, who has placed herself in His hands, without limits” and lives with “care to recognise the signs of God in the journey of His people; she enters into a story of faith and hope in God’s promises, which constitute the very fabric of her existence. … Like Abraham, Mary entrusts herself entirely to the word announced by God’s messenger, and becomes the model and mother of all believers”.

Benedict XVI underlined another important aspect: “the openness of the soul to God and to His action in faith also includes an element of obscurity. The human being’s relationship with God does not eliminate the distance between the Creator and His creature. … But he who, like Mary, opens himself completely to God, reaches acceptance of divine will, even though it is mysterious and often does not correspond to our own wishes. … It is thus for Mary – her faith experiences the joy of the Annunciation, but passes also through the darkness of the crucifixion of the Son, before finally arriving at the light of the Resurrection”.

“This is not different to the journey of faith each of us takes: we encounter moments of light but also periods in which God seems to be absent, his silence weighs heavily in our hearts and his will does not correspond to our own”, commented the Holy Father. “The more we open ourselves to God … like Abraham and like Maria, the more He renders us able, through His presence, to live every moment in life in the peace and certainty of His loyalty and His love. However, this means leaving behind ourselves and our own plans, so that the Word of God might be the guiding light for our thoughts and actions”.

After losing Jesus in the Temple, Mary “must renew that profound faith with which she answered ‘yes’ to the Annunciation. … And Mary’s ‘yes’ to the will of God, to the obedience of faith, is repeated throughout her life up to its most difficult moment, that of the Cross”.

“There is a fundamental attitude that Mary adopts in relation to the events of her life”, explained the Pope. “We see that she ‘treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart’. We might say that she … arranged every single element, every word, every event as part of a greater whole and, comparing and conserving them, recognised that everything originates from God’s will. Mary does not stop at an initial superficial comprehension of what is happening in her life, but rather knows how to observe in depth, allowing herself to be questioned by events, elaborating upon them, discriminating among them, and thus acquiring the comprehension that only faith may guarantee. It is the profound humility of Mary’s obedient faith that welcomes also what she is not able to comprehend in the action of God, allowing God to open her mind and heart.”

“The solemnity of the Birth of the Lord, which we will soon celebrate, invites us to experience the same humility and obedience of faith. The glory of God is not made manifest in the triumph or power of a king, it does not shine from a resplendent palace, but rather finds its dwelling in the womb of a virgin, and reveals itself in the poverty of a child. The omnipotence of God, also in our life, acts with the often silent strength of truth and love. Faith tells us, therefore, that in the end the defenceless power of the Child triumphs over the noise of worldly powers”.

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Document Information

  • Descriptive Title:
    Benedict XVI General Audience Address December 5, 2012

    Description:

    God’s “benevolent plan” for mankind, which begins St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, was the theme of Pope Benedict XVI’s catechesis at the December 5, 2012, general audience. The great hymn that the apostle Paul raised to God “introduces us to living in the time of Advent, in the context of the Year of Faith. The theme of this hymn of praise is God’s plan for mankind, defined in terms of joy, stupefaction and thankfulness, … of mercy and love”, said the Pope.

  • Publisher & Date:
    Vatican, December 5, 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

At the beginning of his Letter to the Christians of Ephesus (cf. 1:3-14), the Apostle Paul raised a prayer of blessing to God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which leads us to experience the Season of Advent, in the context of the Year of Faith. The theme of this hymn of praise is God’s plan for man, described in terms full of joy, wonder and thanksgiving, according to his “benevolent purpose” (cf. v. 9), of mercy and love.

Why does the Apostle raise this blessing to God from the depths of his heart? It is because he sees God’s action in the perspective of salvation which culminated in the Incarnation, death and Resurrection of Jesus, and contemplates how the heavenly Father chose us even before the world’s creation, to be his adoptive sons, in his Only-Begotten Son, Jesus Christ (cf. Rom 8:14f. Gal 4:4f). We had always existed in God’s mind in a great plan that God cherished within him and decided to implement and to reveal in “the fullness of time” (cf. Eph 1:10). St Paul makes us understand, therefore, how the whole of creation and, in particular, men and women, are not the result of chance but are part of a benevolent purpose of the eternal reason of God who brings the world into being with the creative and redemptive power of his word. This first affirmation reminds us that our vocation is not merely to exist in the world, to be inserted into a history, nor is it solely to be creatures of God. It is something more: it is being chosen by God, even before the world’s creation, in the Son, Jesus Christ. Therefore in him we have existed, so to speak, for ever. God contemplates us in Christ, as his adoptive sons. God’s “purpose” which the Apostle also describes as a plan “of love” (Eph 1:5) is described as “the mystery” of his divine will (v. 9), hidden and now revealed in the Person of Christ and in his work. The divine initiative comes before every human response: it is a freely given gift of his love that envelops and transforms us.

But what is the ultimate purpose of this mysterious design? What is the essence of God’s will? It is, St Paul tells us, “to unite all things in him [Christ], the Head” (v. 10). In these words we find one of the central formulas of the New Testament that makes us understand the plan of God, his design of love for the whole of humanity, a formula which, in the second century, St Irenaeus of Lyons established as the core of his Christology: to “recapitulate” the whole of reality in Christ. Perhaps some of you may remember the formula used by Pope St Pius X for the consecration of the world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus: “Instaurare omnia in Christo”, a formula that refers to the Pauline expression and was also the motto of this holy Pope. However the Apostle speaks more precisely of the recapitulation of the universe in Christ. This means that in the great plan of creation and of history, Christ stands as the focus of the entire journey of the world, as the structural support of all things, and attracts to himself the entire reality in order to overcome dispersion and limitation and lead all things to the fullness desired by God (cf. Eph 1:23).

This “benevolent purpose” was not, so to speak, left in the silence of God, in his heavenly heights. Rather, God made it known by entering into a relationship with human beings to whom he did not reveal just something, but indeed himself. He did not merely communicate an array of truths, but communicated himself to us, even to the point of becoming one of us, of taking flesh. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council says in the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum: “It pleased God, in his goodness and wisdom, to reveal himself [not only something of himself but himself] and to make known the mystery of his will. His will was that men should have access to the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit, and thus become sharers in the divine nature” (n. 2). God does not only say something, but communicates himself, draws us into his divine nature so that we may be integrated into it or divinized. God reveals his great plan of love by entering into a relationship with man, by coming so close to him that he makes himself man. The Council continues: “the invisible God, from the fullness of his love, addresses men as his friends (cf. Ex 33:11; Jn 15:14-15), and moves among them (cf. Bar 3:38), in order to invite and receive them into his own company” (ibid.). With their own intelligence and abilities alone human beings would not have been able to achieve this most enlightening revelation of God’s love; it is God who has opened his heaven and lowered himself in order to guide men and women in his ineffable love.

St Paul writes further to the Christians of Corinth: “‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’, God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God” (1 Cor 2:9-10). And St John Chrysostom, in a famous passage commenting on the beginning of the Letter to the Ephesians, with these words asks that the faithful enjoy the full beauty of this “loving plan” of God revealed in Christ: “What do you lack yet? You are made immortal, you are made free, you are made a son, you are made righteous, you are made a brother, you are made a fellow-heir, you reign with Christ, you are glorified with Christ; all things are freely given you”, and, as it is written, “will he not also give us all things with him?’ (Rom 8:32). Your First-fruits (cf. 1 Cor 15:20, 23) is adored by Angels…. What do you lack yet?” (pg 62,11).

This communion in Christ through the action of the Holy Spirit, offered by God to all men and women with the light of Revelation, is not something that is superimposed on our humanity; it is the fulfilment of our deepest aspirations, of that longing for the infinite and for fullness, which dwells in the depths of the human being and opens him or her to a happiness that is not fleeting or limited but eternal. Referring to God who reveals himself and speaks to us through the Scriptures to lead us to him, St Bonaventure of Bagnoregio says: “Holy Scripture… its words are words of eternal life, and it is written not just so that we should believe, but specially so that we should possess eternal life in which we may see, and love, and have all our desires fulfilled” (Breviloquium, Prologue; Opera Omnia V, 201f.). Lastly, Blessed Pope John Paul II recalled that “Revelation has set within history a point of reference which cannot be ignored if the mystery of human life is to be known. Yet this knowledge refers back constantly to the mystery of God which the human mind cannot exhaust but can only receive and embrace in faith” (Encyclical Fides et Ratio, n. 14).

Therefore, in this perspective, what is the act of faith? It is man’s answer to God’s Revelation that is made known and expresses his plan of love; to use an Augustinian expression it is letting oneself be grasped by the Truth that is God, a Truth that is Love. St Paul stresses that since God has revealed his mystery we owe him “the obedience of faith” (Rom 16:26; cf. 1:5; 2 Cor 10:5-6), by which attitude “man freely commits his entire self to God, making ‘the full submission of his intellect and will to God who reveals’, and willingly assenting to the Revelation given by him” (Dogmatic Constitution, Dei Verbum, n. 5). All this leads to a fundamental change in the way of relating to reality as a whole; everything appears in a new light so it is a true “conversion”, faith is a “change of mentality”. This is because God revealed himself in Christ and made his plan of love known, he takes hold of us, he draws us to him, he becomes the meaning that sustains life, the rock on which to find stability. In the Old Testament we find a concentrated saying on faith which God entrusted to the Prophet Isaiah so that he might communicate it to Ahaz, King of Judah. God says, “If you will not believe” — that is, if you are not faithful to God — “surely you shall not be established” (Is 7:9b). Thus there is a connection between being and understanding which clearly expresses that faith is welcoming in life God’s view of reality, it is letting God guide us with his words and sacraments in understanding what we should do, what journey we should make, how we should live. Yet at the same time it is, precisely, understanding according to God and seeing with his eyes that makes life sure, that enables us to “stand” rather than fall.

Dear friends, Advent, the liturgical Season that we have just begun and that prepares us for Holy Christmas, sets us before the luminous mystery of the coming of the Son of God, the great “benevolent purpose” with which he wishes to draw us to him, to enable us to live in full communion of joy and peace with him. Advent invites us once again, in the midst of so many difficulties, to renew the certainty that God is present: he entered the world, making himself man, a man like us, to fulfil his plan of love. And God asks that we too become a sign of his action in the world. Through our faith, our hope and our charity, he wants to enter the world ever anew and wants ever anew to make his light shine out in our dark night.

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St. Peter's Basilica at Early Morning

St. Peter’s Basilica (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

CWN – December 14, 2012

“Peace is not a dream or something utopian; it is possible,” Pope Benedict XVI insists in his message for the 46th World Day of Peace.

The World Day of Peace is celebrated on January 1. The Pope’s message for the 2013 observance, entitled “Blessed Are the Peacemakers,” was released by the Vatican on December 14.

In his message the Pope says that “the desire for peace is an essential aspiration” of all men. “Man is made for peace, which is God’s gift,” he writes, adding that “peace is both a messianic gift and the fruit of human effort.”

At a December 14 press conference to introduce the papal document, Cardinal Peter Kodwo Turkson, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, remarked that the topics covered in the wide-ranging papal message include “issues such as the correct vision of marriage, the right to conscientious objection, religious freedom, the issues of work and unemployment, the food crisis, the financial crisis, and the role of the family in education.”

The fundamental theme of the Pope’s message is that peace is imperiled by ideologies that fail to acknowledge the fundamental truths of human nature. He writes:

 

The precondition for peace is the dismantling of the dictatorship of relativism and of the supposition of a completely autonomous morality which precludes acknowledgement of the ineluctable natural moral law inscribed by God upon the conscience of every man and woman.

Throughout his message the Pope continually returns to this theme. He says: “The denial of what makes up the true nature of human beings in its essential dimensions, its intrinsic capacity to know the true and the good and, ultimately, to know God Himself, jeopardizes peacemaking.”

Among the primary examples of offenses against the truth about human nature, the Pope mentions abortion, euthanasia, and attempts to redefine marriage and the family.

Regarding abortion, the Pope states: “The flight from responsibility, which degrades human persons, and even more so the killing of a defenseless and innocent being, will never be able to produce happiness or peace.” To underline the point he adds: “Every offense against life, especially at its beginning, inevitably causes irreparable damage to development, peace and the environment.”

Pope Benedict continues:

There is also a need to acknowledge and promote the natural structure of marriage as the union of a man and a woman in the face of attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different types of union; such attempts actually harm and help to destabilize marriage, obscuring its specific nature and its indispensable role in society.

These truths about human nature, the Pope emphasized, are not merely beliefs of the Catholic Church. “They are inscribed in human nature itself, accessible to reason and thus common to all humanity.”

Any government policies that violate the essential dignity of human nature are threats to peace, the Pope argues. The peace is even further undermined, he says, when governments fail to provide for “the principle of conscientious objection in the face of laws or government measures that offend against human dignity, such as abortion and euthanasia.”

More generally, religious freedom is essential to a peaceful world, the Pope says. He laments the widespread violations of this freedom. “Sadly, even in countries of long-standing Christian tradition, instances of religious intolerance are becoming more numerous,” he observes.

Turning to problems arising from the global economy, the Pope says that peace is threatened by injustices and radical inequalities. These problems continue, he argues, because “ideologies of radical liberalism and technocracy are spreading the conviction that economic growth should be pursued even to the detriment of the state’s social responsibilities and civil society’s networks of solidarity.”

The Pope suggests that the global economic crisis could furnish an opportunity for a careful re-examination of the world’s financial system:

 

In order to emerge from the present financial and economic crisis – which has engendered ever greater inequalities – we need people, groups and institutions which will promote life by fostering human creativity, in order to draw from the crisis itself an opportunity for discernment and for a new economic model. The predominant model of recent decades called for seeking maximum profit and consumption, on the basis of an individualistic and selfish mindset, aimed at considering individuals solely in terms of their ability to meet the demands of competitiveness.

Among the fundamental problems that should be addressed in a healthy world economy, the Pope highlights the right to work and the provision of adequate food supplies for all.

The Pope concludes his message by calling for a “pedagogy of peace,” which allows for educating young people especially in the virtues needed for peacemaking. This in turn requires a “pedagogy of pardon,” encouraging the forgiveness of past offenses, he says.

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