Every year we celebrate the world peace day.
Pope Francis’ World Peace Day message in 2017 was to help the Church become “a light to the nations, so that the salvation of God may reach to the ends of the earth” (reading of last Sunday).
As you may know, I am also the airport chaplain in Berlin (Tegel, Schoenefeld, soon BER) – in June 2019 we had a worldwide meeting in Rome organized by the “dicastero per il servizio dello sviluppo umano integrale”, the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. The pope created the dicastero in January 2017.
Here is the Pope’s text:
“I pledge the assistance of the Church in every effort to build peace through active and creative nonviolence. On the 1st of January 2017, the new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development begins its work. It will help the Church to promote in an ever more effective way ‘the inestimable goods of justice, peace, and the care of creation’ and concern for ‘migrants, those in need, the sick, the excluded and marginalized, the imprisoned and the unemployed, as well as victims of armed conflict, natural disasters, and all forms of slavery and torture.’ Every such response, however modest, helps to build a world free of violence, the first step towards justice and peace.”
Pope Francis in 2017
Is what the Pope describes only the task and duty of the “dicastery” in Rome or is it a task and duty of all of us? How do we react as church members to this invitation from the side of the Pope?
"There is no perfect family.
We have no perfect parents and neither do we have perfect children.
We have complaints about each other.
We are disappointed by one another.
Therefore, there is no healthy marriage or healthy family without the exercise of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is vital to emotional health and spiritual survival.
Without forgiveness, the family becomes a theater of conflict and a bastion of grievance.
Without forgiveness, the family becomes sick.
Forgiveness is the sterilization of the soul, cleansing of the mind, and the liberation of the heart.
Anyone who does not forgive has no peace of soul and communion with God.
Pain is a poison that intoxicates and kills.
Maintaining a wound of the heart is a self destructive action.
He who does not forgive sickens physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
That is why the family must be a place of life and not of death;
an enclave of cure and not of disease,
a stage of forgiveness and not of guilt.
Forgiveness brings joy where sorrow produced pain;
and healing, where pain caused disease.”
Pope Francis’ message to families - General Audience March 25th 2015
A tendency found in many religions is to escape, sometimes even negate and deny, the ordinary: the Buddha finds enlightenment after leaving home, friends, and attachments; the yoga path of Hinduism is an ascending detachment from family, business, relationships; the Greek ideal of truth is the world of forms, while the “life of time and senses” is illusion. Christianity itself has had its traditions of flight— we know this: flight from marriage, from the city, from the “world”.
But the heart of Christianity is a transformation of the ordinary, not a flight from it. After all, Incarnation, the central mystery we embrace, affirms that the eternal Word becomes flesh, not flees it. We are, in this respect, children of Judaism where the God of Moses and the prophets enters space and time, where God is deeply concerned about and profoundly moved by our condition. The most ancient covenant of Abraham arises from his relationship to Sarah—her childlessness, her laughter, the baby she finally nursed in old age. Abraham’s mighty faith was tested in relationship to his son—his son was his prize possession, was his guarantee of immortality.
In the Christmas narratives, ordinary people like shepherds and travelers are the messengers of God, not just angels and certainly not the power-brokers of nations. Zechariah in his doubts and dumbness; Elizabeth finding God in her cousin Mary;Joseph coping with the demands of Caesar—taxes, housing, and relocation—they all encounter God. A simple, devout man like Simeon still searches, still hopes, and finally sees. Another old prophet, Anna, still praying in the temple sixty years after her husband’s death —when one might think there was not much more to look forward to —this Anna discovers the truth.
And then this holy family, these people… Cousins and aunts and acquaintances. A mother who is mother of one child, yet mother of us all. Her spouse, a man, a worker, a father of a child somehow not fully his. They are all ordinary people who find the place where strength and wisdom and favor might flourish.
It is first and foremost in our relationships, our families, our friends, that God is encountered, that faith is given flesh, that our theories of justice are tested out, that our prayer is made real, that dreams are actualized.
Even the great mystic teacher St. Teresa of Avila insisted on that truth: when people came inquiring about the heights of holy prayer, she would ask how their relationships were going. And the great skeptic Sigmund Freud knew it, too: the stage of the ordinary, of the family, was where the deepest dramas were played out.
Our most profound sufferings, our greatest heroics, our most significant encounters with God are here with these people we know and love, in their goodness, in their weakness. Where else do we most intimately encounter what Paul calls the “requirements” of love: patience, humility, forgiveness, kindness… It is one rather easy thing to love humanity. It is quite another to love this one, who is so close to me, so like me.
It is all here, in our homes, in the pews of our churches, in our friends, in our families. Here is the holy ground. Here is the face of God, the smile shining upon us, the kindly gaze upon us. These are arks of the covenant. These are “the holy of holies” if we only look, like Simeon; if we only see, like Anna; if only, like Mary, we take time to ponder it all in our hearts.
Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ
G & P 789
In a book called “To Love and to Fight” published by Anselm Grün, a German Benedictine monk, there are some nice lines about John the Baptist. He is presented like a wild man – in the gospel according to Mark we read: “John wore clothes made of camel's hair. He had a leather strap around his waist and ate grasshoppers and wild honey” (Mark 1,6). He lives in the desert – not only among wild animals but clothed with the skin of a wild animal. He is a dropout – he left his society with its laws and conventions - and the wilderness, the exterior and interior wilderness, gives him strength and energy. Strength and energy to proclaim the message of God, to call the men and women he encounters to change their way of living. His preaching is like his outfit – coarse, showing no undue respect for the feelings of his listeners.
The Pharisees were respected among the population. To them he says: “You bunch of snakes! …Do something to show that you have really given up your sins. And don't start telling yourselves that you belong to Abraham's family” (Mt 3,7f). John does not want to be everybody’s darling – he does not need to be everybody’s darling. He says what he feels aloud, he appears in public without becoming dependant upon the public.
He is free – he knows he is serving God. He dares criticise the King, the authorities – and the King fears him. The King recognises the “holy man” in John, tries to protect him from his wife who wants to kill John. “Herod was afraid of John and protected him. He knew that John was a good and holy man. Even though Herod was confused by what John said, he was glad to listen to him. And he often did” (Mark 6,19f).
The King perceives this inner freedom John has, an inner freedom that does not allow any fear of human beings, that makes John stand upright – also in front of the King, in front of the authorities. No one can rule over this man – John has his strength and energy from someone else, from God.
Jesus says John does not act “like grass blown about by the wind”, he is not a turncoat, an opportunist changing ideas with the changing of the authorities. John is clear and without ambiguity. To the exterior he is wild and powerful, but he does not insult or hurt people. On the contrary, John makes people stand up. His task: John is to prepare the way for Jesus; the scriptures say: "I am sending my messenger ahead of you to get things ready for you“(Mt 11,10).
So from this point of view, John may be a model for us as individuals or as a community: he does not need any masks, he does not have to show a false and undue respect for the feelings of authorities, façades that we build in order to appear faultless and irreproachable – he makes them collapse.
“To Love and to Fight” – this is the title of the book Anselm Grün wrote – this is what John was doing, what Jesus was doing – and this is what we are invited to do – as individuals, and as a community.
Anselm Grün, Kämpfen und lieben. Wie Männer zu sich selbst finden
The main person for us during the time of Advent is John the Baptist. In a homily, Pope Francis summed up the vocation of John the Baptist in three key words: “Prepare, discern and diminish.“ Why does the Pope say we also need to diminish ourselves?
“John was a man who prepared the way for Jesus without taking any of the glory for himself. … When asked if he was the Messiah, John replied that he was just “a voice” who had come “to prepare the way of the Lord.”
The second vocation of John the Baptist was to discern, among so many good people, who was the true Messiah. When John saw Jesus passing by, he said to the disciples, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
The third vocation of John the Baptist is to diminish himself so that the Lord may grow in the hearts of others.
… As Christians we too must prepare the way of the Lord, we must discern the truth and we must diminish ourselves so that the Lord can grow in our hearts and in the souls of others. “
Homily, Santa Marta Chapel June 24, 2014
Last Sunday, we celebrated Christ the King – what do we associate with this title “King”? Most of us do not live in monarchies, kings and queens in constitutional monarchies do not have the power their predecessors had centuries ago. So for us today this feast maybe less about “kings”, but it is about authority.
A king, a queen in biblical times represented authority. We often argue about authority in the Church, it is a kind of monarchy – just look at the way a pope is elected and then governs without being controlled. There are a lot of texts in the Christian Scriptures which deal with authority; were they written by people who ignored or who disrespected the leadership in their various communities, who were authors against leadership, against authority?
No - it is interesting to see that the vast majority of these texts were triggered by something else: by the abusive ways in which leadership was often exercised. Almost always, the leaders of the communities - not the people - created the problems. And the authors of our scripture texts encountered these problems and they were forced to address them.
That's why today's feast of Christ the King is significant. And it is also touchy and a bit awkward. Since all Christian leadership should mirror the leadership of Jesus, once we label Jesus a king, we have to be extremely careful how we define the title “king”. It's the title “King of the Jews” above the cross of Jesus which prompts the attack of the Jewish rulers in today's gospel passage (Luke 23:35-43). There was a common idea of royalty: if Jesus is a king, he should be looking out primarily for himself; he should immediately come down from the cross. Yet, Luke's Jesus is more concerned with the fate of the person crucified next to him than he is with his own fate. Throughout Luke’s story of Jesus walking up to Jerusalem, Jesus is always focusing on the needs of others. Only in Luke’s gospel does Jesus heal the man's cut off ear in the garden.; does he speak sympathetically to the women mourning his death; does he look at Peter after his denial, and only here he forgives those who crucify him.
Let us come to a different king – David (II Samuel 5:1-3) had already been king of the southern half of Palestine – Judah. How he became this – well this is a very different story. So, he was king in the South when the elders of the northern tribes – of Israel - came to him in Hebron asking David to unite all twelve tribes into one nation under his leadership. David's ability to bring people together was one of his best personality traits, a trait all good leaders should possess: think of political, economic, and Church leaders – do they bring people together or do they stir, create and maintain conflicts?
Now let us have a look at the letter to the community in Colossae (Colossians 1:12-20). The disciple of Paul responsible for the letter to the Colossians finds that same characteristic in the risen Jesus. Quoting an early Christian hymn, he reminds his community: “God himself was pleased to live fully in his Son, God wanted all perfection to be found in him…. So that all beings in heaven and on earth would be brought back to God.” There's no doubt the writer is familiar with the insight of his mentor Paul into the Body of Christ: we can't be more one than to be part of the body of the person who unites us. Christian leaders are unique. The only leader they can compare themselves to is Jesus.
I remember when we celebrated this feast for the first time with Francis as pope. My hope was, that - just as in the gospel Jesus redefined the notion of “king” - so Francis might redefine the papacy day by day. Francis was elected in March 2013 – until today, my hopes that he redefines papacy are not yet gone – I pray that he is able to make a good step forward. It is true, though the title remains, the reality behind “king” and “pope” is constantly changing. Let us pray that we all be strong enough to sustain all those in our hierarchy who open the Church; let us pray for all those who try to take Jesus as a model for their way of exercising power.
Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ
A consoling sentence from the First Reading for Sunday (Malachi 3, 19-20a): “You who fear my name, for you there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.”
Healing rays…. Justice... All of us hopefully wished such things for a long time, we would really welcome them. But what about the fear part: “You who fear my name”. We are supposed to take in God’s majesty in its awesome and fear-invoking greatness. The scripture is not talking about the fear we get in horror films: not that strange noise when you are alone in the house. Instead it is “fear of God”, a reasonable, settled concern, an awe before what is very much bigger than you, a reverential wonder toward the creator.
Only when we have this “awe” are we starting to relate to God, to begin maturing in our relation with the Most High. And only then do we start suspecting what it really means to say that “God is Love”. Healthy as this last sentence may be - “God is love” - understanding it requires a continuing spiritual revolution in our lives.
It is like the revolution brought about long ago by Copernicus (1473 – 1543) – the decades when America was “discovered”. The Poles say he was Polish, the Germans say that he was German. Copernicus showed that the sun does not revolve around the earth but rather that the earth circles the sun. Most of us, spiritually, are “pre-Copernican“: we think that God’s job is to circle around us, just as if we were the center of the universe; we think like tiny planets in this universe: the immense sun should answer our prayers, the immense sun should make us peaceful, should make our side win the ball game, help us find a parking place and so on…
Nothing is really wrong with any of these – but these thoughts are a bit too childlike. As adults in faith, we are in desperate need of a Copernican revolution. In fact, God does not exist to serve us, it is just the opposite: the center of the universe is God, not us; just like after Copernicus we know that the center of our solar system is the immense sun, not the tiny earth. God quietly maintains in existence everything that is: stars, galaxies, lands, oceans, cities, human hearts, butterfly wings. We owe reverence to such a Being. It takes a spiritual transformation to think this way. What would happen if you or I tried it?
First, we would be living in truth instead of in pretense, in fiction, in a fake reality. The truth of our lives is that we are at home only when we open to this real God - the source and goal of who we are as human beings - instead of opening our lives to the latest fashion or style. As believers, we often say “God is greatest.” If God is greatest, why would we make something else the center of our life?
Second, the “sun of justice with its healing rays” would shine upon us - as the prophet Malachi says. God’s love would appear to us as truth instead of just a way to find a parking place if we pray for it. We would begin to see God as the gentle source of life and the affectionate mother of the entire universe!
Advent is coming very soon. The Church will be preparing to see tender love shown forth in an infant. In this pre-Advent time, we are supposed to take in God’s majesty in its awesome and fear-invoking greatness, so that we might be humble enough to prepare for the baby. And that is why the First Reading from Malachi and the Gospel from Luke thunder on about the day of reckoning and judgement: when “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom,” (Luke 21) and so on. These are meant to bring forth awe and fear, to show us who is at the center of the universe … and who is waiting for us to climb down from our thrones.
Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ
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