Pope Francis: Without Fraternity, Efforts for a More Just World Fall Short

via the Vatican:

What is the universal message of Christmas? It is that God is a good Father and we are all brothers and sisters.

This truth is the basis of the Christian vision of humanity. Without the fraternity that Jesus Christ has bestowed on us, our efforts for a more just world fall short, and even our best plans and projects risk being soulless and empty.

For this reason, my wish for a happy Christmas is a wish for fraternity.

Fraternity among individuals of every nation and culture.

Fraternity among people with different ideas, yet capable of respecting and listening to one another.

Fraternity among persons of different religions. Jesus came to reveal the face of God to all those who seek him….

The experience of families teaches us this: as brothers and sisters, we are all different from each other. We do not always agree, but there is an unbreakable bond uniting us, and the love of our parents helps us to love one another. The same is true for the larger human family, but here, God is our “parent”, the foundation and strength of our fraternity.


Infinite Mercy, Even After Death?

Our popular Catholic imagination tends to obsess with what happens after we die. The mystery of transcending our earthly human limitations fascinates us. Heaven—or as Jesus calls it, God’s kingdom—is the perfect world God intended for us. We lost that world when our first parents sinned. Since then, and even despite Jesus’ merciful act of gaining back that kingdom for us, we remain obsessed with the possibility of going to hell. Saint Ignatius was driven not just by a tremendous love for God but also by a fear of eternal damnation. I think many of us operate this way as well. I desire not to soften the reality of sin and evil, but to raise some questions that don’t tend to enter the Catholic imagination enough.

Justice
Let’s first start with God’s understanding of justice. Justice, in our human understanding, is a balancing of the scales. Some may picture God as a bookkeeper, keeping mark of your sins, and the eternal consequence is proportional to your sin. Others might imagine heaven guarded by pearly gates where St. Peter interrogates you before admission is granted. “What do you have to say for yourself?” he might ask. Answer wrong or have too many black marks on your dossier and you fall through the trapped door to the eternal fires below.

Justice in God’s understanding is founded in love and mercy. Jesus’ only talk of the final judgment was in Matthew 25 when he introduces the corporal works of mercy. “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me” (25:45). Perhaps Saint Peter’s question would be more along the lines of, How did you care for the most vulnerable in your life? Not about how often you missed Mass or whether you perfectly followed the commandments.

The Christian life certainly includes worship and following God’s law, but those choices are a love-response to God, motivated by our relationship with God – not motivated by a fear of hell. Read More


Pope Francis: Choose Love and Justice, Not Legalism

One of the great temptations for any organized religion is legalism, in which the particular rules delineated by the religion and their strict enforcement become the focus of the faith, while the animating principles and mission of the faith lose their preeminence. This is particularly true of the Catholic Church, which has central authority, Canon law, a catechism, and other mechanisms that are particularly helpful for those with legalistic ambitions. This temptation is not simply for the hard of heart or those who are absurdly hypocritical, but often one that is faced by those who rightly value virtue and pursue it in many ways in their own personal conduct, those who value the Church and want others to embrace the faith.

Of course, Jesus Christ’s direct and persistent critique of this legalistic mentality, of putting laws before love, inevitably puts such efforts on shaky ground. We should not be surprised then that Pope Francis has frequently echoed the words of Christ in encouraging us to resist this temptation, including his recent reminder that love and justice are more important than attachment to the laws:

“This is the path that Jesus teaches us, totally opposite to that of the doctors of law. And it’s this path from love and justice that leads to God.  Instead, the other path, of being attached only to the laws, to the letter of the laws, leads to closure, leads to egoism.  The path that leads from love to knowledge and discernment, to total fulfillment, leads to holiness, salvation and the encounter with Jesus.   Instead, the other path leads to egoism, the arrogance of considering oneself to be in the right, to that so-called holiness of appearances, right?”



Finding Inspiration with the Ignatian Family

After spending a weekend at #IFTJ13 all I can say is “wow!” The Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice 2013 was an inspiring event. I hadn’t heard of it until recently, so I’ll assume many of you don’t know about it either. It’s a gathering of mostly young college and high school students from Jesuit institutions that happens every year. During the Teach-in, these young people pray together and learn together about how to work for justice in the world. The speakers were inspiring, but the students were even more so!

These students were amazing! They were bright, passionate, engaged, informed, energetic and deeply committed to letting the love of Jesus spill out of them in both their personal lives and in our public policy. This weekend they inspired me, rejuvenated me, and showed me the face of Jesus over and over and over.

As Bread for the World’s resident Catholic conspirator, I was given the opportunity to put a team together to hang out with hundreds of these amazing young people who are looking to explore what it means to be an active Catholic with a public voice. We were able to do a number of sessions, covering how to create a “Circle of Protection” around essential safety net programs here in the United States, and on how providing proper nutrition for children and mothers from the beginning of pregnancy until a child’s second birthday is essential for preventing disease, improving education and overall health, and ultimately saving lives. These 1000 days are key! On Monday, we gathered at the Capitol building for prayer, praise, and advocacy meetings with our congressional representatives, where students went out and challenged policy makers to pass comprehensive immigration reform, protect food security programs, and establish a living wage.

Here are the five takeaways I received from the conference:

  1. They gave me three great questions to ask myself every day: 1) With whom do you cast your lot? 2) From whom do you draw your strength? 3) Whose are you? If I could ask myself those questions FIRST before I face any challenge I think I would be a much stronger person.
  2. They helped me understand justice better. One thing that really stuck out to me was the idea that justice is God’s public love. As a person whose faith is the foundation of my work for justice, I found that this definition resonated strongly with my own experience of working for justice as a person of faith.
  3. They taught me that some Catholics actually CAN sing. Let me be honest for a second. I love being a Catholic, I really do… but I miss the singing of my Protestant background. I can’t tell you how sad it is to go to mass and see some of the greatest examples of the Church’s hymnody butchered by the typical throng of Catholics that seems to feels put upon to mumble or hum through songs that demonstrate the great work of redemption we now participate in Christ. This group was different. They sang, they clapped, they cheered– it was wonderful!
  4. They made me wish there was a third order for Jesuits. This group was awesome… and I felt SO at home with them. Conference speaker Fr. Jim Martin articulated what it meant to be a Jesuit powerfully as someone who knows deeply how loved they are by God, and wants to share that love with others. That is who I want to be.
  5. The most important thing I walked away with was hope. The media is filled with stories that condemn this young generation as lazy, unmotivated, and unwilling to speak up to change the systems that keep people hungry and poor. This group, and those like it, are proof that their generation is not only engaged but immensely creative with their activism. Take a look at some of the messages these students posted on their representative’s twitter pages as part of our social media campaign!

It was great to be there.


Benedict the Meek: How A Quiet Man’s Pontificate Has Shaped the Millennial Generation

121744714__382982bAs we come to the final hours of the papacy of Benedict XVI, his reign has been analyzed from every possible vista: as a spiritual leader, as a theologian, as a writer, as a politician, as a manager and on and on.

But it seems to me that there has been a voice missing in this conversation: that of the young. This is unfortunate, because perhaps more than anyone, our lives were affected by Joseph Ratzinger. We were too young to be part of the “JP II (John Paul II) generation.”

Instead, we came to age in the era of Benedict. And indeed that era was different. The rock star pope was replaced by the introvert pope, the poet by the academic.

But his quiet voice didn’t decrease his ability to affect the young faithful. In fact, it amplified it.

There was a saying that became popular in Rome during the last eight years of Benedict’s pontificate. It went something like this: the young people used to come to St. Peter’s Square to see John Paul, but they came to listen to Benedict.

And listen they did. Benedict, who was once castigated by the media as “God’s Rottweiler” during his years as the Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, has perked the ears of young people across the world with his eloquent writings about the purpose of living, the dignity of all human persons—especially the poor and marginalized—and the contributions religion can make in a pluralistic society.

Who would have expected “God’s Rottweiler” to dedicate his first major encyclical on human love? In it, he writes that being a Christian “is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, [with true love] which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

Though Benedict’s papacy was marred by public relations nightmares, when he himself spoke, people responded. His foreign apostolic trips were mostly successful, especially his trips to the United States in 2008, to the United Kingdom in 2010 and to Mexico and Cuba in 2012. Each time, Benedict exceeded public expectations.  Of particular note is his trip to the United Kingdom. There Benedict delivered a speech in Westminster Hall, standing in the same spot where Saint Thomas More was tried and condemned to death in 1535. In an audience featuring all the living former prime ministers of England and the elite of British civil society, Benedict gave an address that received enthusiastic reviews. Even secular agnostics described the speech as “bloody brilliant.” Upon his departure, Prime Minister David Cameron said the Holy Father had compelled the increasingly-secular English society, especially its youth, “to sit up and listen.”

Benedict’s words—and especially his questions—have struck us in a way that is perhaps even more poignant than those of his predecessor:

Where do I find standards to live by, what are the criteria that govern responsible cooperation in building the present and the future of our world? On whom can I rely? To whom shall I entrust myself? Where is the [person] who can offer me the response capable of satisfying my heart’s deepest desires?

His questions probe our hearts, especially in a time where such questions are buried under an ever increasing “globalization of superficiality” that doesn’t allow time and space for the deeper questions of life.

Benedict continues:

The fact that we ask questions like these means that we realize our journey is not over until we meet the One who has the power to establish that universal Kingdom of justice and peace to which all people aspire, but which they are unable to build by themselves. Asking such questions also means searching for Someone who can neither deceive nor be deceived, and who therefore can offer a certainty so solid that we can live for it and, if need be, even die for it.

Benedict has lived, suffered and now quite frankly, is dying for the Church. He lived, suffered and is now dying for that “Kingdom of justice and peace” which is the primary goal of all human activity. While Benedict’s speeches, encyclicals, prayers, and writings have taught us much, his last action was perhaps the greatest lesson of his pontificate. In renouncing the throne of Saint Peter, Benedict taught a world obsessed with the cult of personality that the greatest heroes are the ones who give it all up for the sake of others.

Benedict’s message with his resignation was simple: I love you. I choose you. Your well-being matters to me more than anything else.

Thank you, Holy Father. We, the children of your generation, the generation of Benedict the Meek, will never forget you. You will always be in our prayers, and we will remember what you taught us in word and—most importantly—in deed: “the happiness that you [seek], the happiness you have a right to enjoy has a name and a face: it is Jesus of Nazareth …[and] in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed.”