My friend, Fr Joseph Girzone writes a daily "posting" for his Joshua Ministry's webpage. I particularly enjoyed this one: When it comes to the practice of our religion, it makes all the difference in the world whether our focus and center of interest is in things of the Church, whether it be the rituals, or particular culture of a national church, or the present day issues being discussed and uppermost in the leadership of the Church, or whether our focus and the center of our life is on Jesus. From my experience, Church is what people identify as their religion. What is important to the Church and the religious leaders is what becomes the substance of people’s involvement in their religion. To a certain extent that is good, but it can also become the heart of our worship, and religious practices involving Jesus, like Mass, and Eucharist, and the Sacraments, and a healthy understanding of the sacredness of the priesthood, and its necessity to make Jesus present in the Church can easily fade into mere pious devotion and respect, but not the center of our Christian life. The Church and its trappings have become the heart of people’s religious focus. That is not healthy; it is what Jesus found so reprehensible in the scribes and Pharisees. They loved their religion, but had no love of God in their hearts or love and compassion for hurting people. Yet, deep down, people crave for what Jesus has to give. I found this out as soon as “Joshua” spread around the country and around the world, and I got requests from all over the world to come and talk about Jesus, and though I spoke for almost two hours, the audience sat motionless and eerily silent without coughing or sneezing for the whole time. It was the strangest phenomenon I had ever experienced, and it was not that I was a great speaker, but the people were so hungry to hear about a Jesus who was real to them, they did not want to miss a word. One day in North Palm Beach, Florida, I was asked to continue speaking and it lasted for almost seven hours. I don’t even know how I could have spoken about Jesus for seven hours. People’s hunger for Jesus is so intense, they could not have enough, and told me it was their only chance to hear about Jesus as none of their priests or ministers ever talk about Jesus in church. Everything is about church and about what is important to the Church. What I learned from all these experiences is that people are not drifting away from God; they hunger for a relationship with God, and an intimacy with Jesus, and once we start focusing on Jesus and start teaching contemplative prayer, and the practice of the Presence of Jesus in our daily lives, a whole new and exciting renewal of life will begin to flourish in our churches again.
Brothers and Sisters, In this Sunday's Gospel we find Jesus' invitation: "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Mt 11:28). He has before him the people he meets every day on the streets of Galilee, many simple people, the poor, the sick, sinners, the marginalized ... These people always run after him to listen to his word - a word that gives hope! - and also just to touch the hem of his garment. Jesus himself looked for these harassed and helpless crowds, who were like sheep without a shepherd (cf. Mt 9:35-36), to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal many in body and in spirit. Now he calls them all to himself: "Come unto me," and promises them relief and solace. This invitation of Jesus extends to the present day, reaching many brothers and sisters weighed down by poor living conditions, difficult life situations and, sometimes, with no valid points of reference. In the poorest countries, but also in the suburbs of the richest countries, there are many people harassed and helpless under the unbearable weight of abandonment and indifference. On the margins of society there are many men and women tested by poverty, but also a life of dissatisfaction and frustration. Many are forced to emigrate from their homeland, risking their own lives. Many more, every day, carry the weight of an economic system that exploits man, imposes an unbearable "yoke", and that the privileged few don’t want to lead. To each of these sons of the Father who is in heaven, Jesus says, "Come unto me, all of you." But he also says this to those who possess everything – but their hearts are empty, empty, their hearts are empty without God. Jesus also says to them, “Come unto me.” The invitation of Jesus is for everyone, but in a special way for these who suffer the most. Jesus promises to give rest to all, but there is also an invitation, which is like a commandment: "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart" (Mt 11:29). The "yoke" of the Lord consists of the weighty duty of brotherly love. Once the solace and comfort of Christ is received, we are called in turn to become solace and comfort for our brothers, with a meek and humble attitude, in imitation of the Master. This meekness and humility of heart helps us not only to take the weight of the other, but also to not impose upon them our own personal views, our judgments and our criticism. We invoke the Blessed Virgin Mary, under her mantle that welcomes all harassed and helpless people, so that through an enlightened faith, witnessed in life, we can be of relief to those who need help, tenderness and hope.
The Pope has reminded faithful that today there are more martyrs than in the early centuries. At morning Mass in the Casa Santa Marta today, the Holy Father noted the unprecedented numbers of Christians persecuted for their faith, adding their blood has “fertilized” the Church. The Pope directed faithful to realize that although the Church is growing, it is “irrigated by the blood of martyrs." “There are more martyrs in the Church today, than in the early centuries,” the Pope said. He lamented, "It's true that many Christians had been persecuted in the time of Nero,” but "today there are not any less.” Reflecting, Francis said, “Think of the Middle East, Christians have to flee from persecution, Christians are killed by their persecutors.” He reminded those present of the prayer at the beginning of the Mass which recalls that the Church has been "fertilized with the blood of the martyrs.” The Holy Father recalled an analogy Jesus made: "'The kingdom of heaven is like a man who has thrown down seed. When then man goes home, whether he is awake or asleep, the seed grows, sprouts.” He continued, “This seed is the Word of God that grows into the Kingdom of God, and becomes the Church.” He said two elements make this growth possible: the power of the Holy Spirit and Christian witness. Without the Holy Spirit, the Church cannot grow, the Pontiff said. Yet, the Spirit is not sufficient for growth, he added the Church also requires the testimony of Christians. "The martyrs produced the greatest witnesses," he said. “The Church is watered by the blood of the martyrs. And this is the beauty of martyrdom. It begins with witness, day after day, and may end up as Jesus, the first martyr, the first witness, the faithful witness: with blood," he added. Pope Francis concluded his homily, urging the faithful to remember “our glorious ancestors, here in Rome,” and to think of “our persecuted brothers and sisters, living and suffering.”
At morning Mass in the Casa Santa Marta today, Pope Francis reminded faithful that people followed Jesus since they recognized he was always truly a “good shepherd,” with a loving and merciful voice, and never was like his counterparts “who reduced the faith to moralism, pursued political liberation, or sought deals with power.” The Pontiff asked those present to consider how Jesus won over the hearts of many. He stressed that Jesus "wasn’t a moralistic, quibbling Pharisee, or a Sadducee who made political deals with the powerful, or a guerrilla who sought the political liberation of his people," nor was he "a contemplative in a monastery." "He was a pastor! A pastor who spoke the language of His people, Who understood, Who spoke the truth, the things of God." "He spoke in such a way that the people loved the things of God. That’s why they followed Him," the Holy Father suggested. Jesus, the Pope said, “was never far from the people, was never far from His Father.” Jesus “was so joined to the Father, He was one with the Father!” and also was “so very close to the people.” He “had this authority, and this is why the people followed Him.” Contemplating Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the Pope said, it would be good for us to think about who we like to follow. Before exporing this further, he turned to why Jesus was followed, saying the crowds followed Jesus not only because “they were astonished by His teaching,” but also because his words “brought wonder to their hearts, the wonder of finding something good, great.” Whereas, he added, others spoke, “but they did not reach the people.” The Pope mentioned four groups of people that were speaking at the time of Jesus: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Revolutionaries, and the Essenes. Pharisees: The Pharisees, he said, were making religion into a chain of commandments, turning the Ten Commandments into “more than three hundred,” loading “this weight” on the backs of the people. The Pope said their obsession with laws and rules essentially became “a reduction of the faith in the Living God,” and lead to “moral quibbling” and “contradictions.” “For example, ‘You have to obey the fourth commandment!’ ‘Yes, yes, yes!’ ‘You have to feed your elderly father, your elderly mother!’ ‘Yes, yes, yes!’ ‘But you know, I can’t because I gave my money to the temple!’; ‘You don’t do that? And your parents starve to death!’ So: contradictions of the cruelest kind of moralistic quibbling,” the Pontiff illustrated. Sadducees: This group, the Pope said, “did not have the faith, they had lost the faith! They made it their religious work to make deals with the powers: political powers, economic powers. They were men of power.” Revolutionaries: The “revolutionaries,” or the zealots, wanted to cause a revolution to free the people of Israel from the Roman occupation, the Pontiff explained. The people, he added, were wise and knew ”to distinguish when the fruit was ripe and when it was not!” and, therefore, didn’t follow them.” Essenes: The fourth group, the Essenes, were sort of like monks who consecrated their lives to the Lord and were “good people,” the Pope said. However, he cautioned, that “they were far from the people, and the people couldn’t follow them.” Describing these groups together, the Pope said that though their voices “reached” the people, they did not have the power to “warm the people’s hearts.” However, this is how Jesus was different,” his voice, instead, did. When Jesus “approached to the people,” he could heal their hearts because he could “understand their difficulties,” and unlike others, he “was not ashamed to speak with sinners,” and instead “went out to find them,” he added. Jesus vs. the Others: Jesus delighted in being with his people. This is why Jesus is “the Good Shepherd:” his flock of sheep hear His voice and follow Him. Jesus was “never far,” not from the people, nor from His Father. In fact, he added, he was intimately close with both, and, for this reason, he had a unique “authority” and “this is why the people followed Him.” What About You? Francis, then turned to today and asked: “Who do I like to follow? Those who talk to me about abstract things or quibbling morals? Those who talk about the people of God but have no faith and negotiate with political, economic powers? Those who always want to do strange things, destructive things, so-called wars of liberation, but which in the end are not the paths of the Lord? Or a faraway contemplative? Who do I like to follow?” Leaving this as the final thought, he said, “May this question bring us to prayer, and to ask God the Father, who brings us close to Jesus, to follow Jesus, to be amazed at the things Jesus tells us.”
Pope Francis has said that no Christian should feel isolated because all faithful belong to the family of the Church, which sustains and supports its members. Continuing his series of catecheses on the theme of the Church, the Pope exclaimed to the thousands gathered in St. Peter's Square at this morning's General Audience that: "We are not isolated" and "We are not Christians as individuals, each to his own: our identity is membership!" The Holy Father reminded faithful that in the Old Testament, God gathered a people to himself. As time went on, he sent his beloved Son to the world to establish the Church and to unify humanity, Francis added. "God calls each of us to belong to this great family," he stressed. "None of us become Christians on our own; we owe our relationship with God to so many others who passed on the faith, who brought us for Baptism, who taught us to pray and showed us the beauty of the Christian life: our parents and grandparents, our priests, religious and teachers." Our relationship with Christ is personal, but it is not private, the Pope said. Therefore, believers must realize not only that "we are Christians because of others," but also that we are to "live together with others," because the communion of the Church enriches our relationship with Jesus. Although the "shared pilgrimage" is not always easy, he told those gathered in the rainy square, that in the fellowship of the Church, one can persevere and grow in faith and holiness.
At morning Mass in the Casa Santa Marta today, Pope Francis renounced those who judge others, calling them hypocrites and comparing them to Satan. He who judges another puts himself in the role of God, the only judge, the Pope said. He went on to recall that if one hopes to one day have his offenses forgiven, then he must not judge others. The Holy Father reflected on the liturgy of today, in which Jesus commanded his disciples to: “Stop judging, so that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.” Francis warned faithful not to usurp the role of judging. He said it's not any person’s responsibility and if one does try to judge his brother, he will be a “loser, because he will end up a victim of his own lack of mercy. This is what happens to a brother who judges." Speaking on mercy, the Pope stressed that Jesus “never accuses,” rather he does the “opposite,” he defends. Not only did God send Jesus to defend us, but also he sent the Holy Spirit to “defend our charges.” “Who is the accuser?” of these charges, the Pontiff asked. He answered, “In the Bible, the 'accuser' is called the devil, Satan,” but he noted that although the devil accuses, “Jesus will judge, yes, at the end of the world, but in the meantime [he] intercedes for and defends” us. “He who judges a brother is wrong and will eventually be judged the same way. God is "the sole judge" and whoever is judged can always rely on the defense of Jesus, his first defender, and also the Holy Spirit,” he said. Ultimately, those who judge, said Pope Francis, “imitate the prince of this world," who waits in the background, ready to accuse. The Holy Father concluded, “May the Lord give us the grace to imitate Jesus, the intercessor, advocate, lawyer,” for ourselves and others, and he warned the faithful not to imitate others who judge, for “in the end, it will destroy us."
This is a modest effort at a "blog" my attempt to offer some brief reflections each day that come from various sources that I find interesting - primarily the daily reflections of Pope Francis as found on Zenit and Rome Reports. Fr. John