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April 25, 2014

Where to find priestly identity -
A resurrection ethic of life -
What does "joy" actually mean? -
Canonizing two popes on one day

In this edition:
1. Canonizing two popes on one day.
2. "True prophets of our time."
3. John Paul named many, many saints.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) A resurrection ethic of life.
b) An act of trust.
c) Immigration reform.
5. What "joy" actually means.
6. "Joy," according to Francis.
7. Where to find priestly identity.

1. Canonizing Two Popes on One Day

"The church doesn't beatify or canonize people and use them as banners or standards under which groups can assemble and march, nor does she ever raise up for us role models who are arrows or weapons to attack others for ignorance, error and sin," Basilian Father Thomas Rosica wrote April 21 on the blog of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, based in Toronto, Ontario.

Father Rosica heads the media foundation and also serves as English language assistant to the Vatican Press Office. He disputed the belief of many that the decision to canonize both Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II on April 27 was "a politically strategic move" designed "to unify a divided church and to reconcile the divisions that exist among the Roncalli fans and bearers of the 'spirit of Vatican II,' and the Wojtyla disciples of a robust, doctrinaire pope."

Those who imagine that this is why the canonizations of the two popes were planned for the same day "reduce the lives of these two great men to be the adventures of a progressive pope who dreamed up the council and a conservative pope who put the brakes on the speed of its implementation," Father Rosica said.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," he insisted. Instead, "the church offers the lives of outstanding women and men such as Angelo Roncalli and Karol Wojtyla to present to us models of holiness."

"Beatification and canonization mean that a person lived his or her life with God, relying totally on God's infinite mercy, going forward with God's strength and power, believing in the impossible, loving enemies and persecutors, forgiving in the midst of evil and violence, hoping beyond all hope and leaving the world a better place," said Father Rosica.

Moreover, he pointed out, the fact that a person is declared "blessed" or a "saint" should not be taken as "a statement about perfection. It does not mean that the person was without imperfection, blindness, deafness or sin. Nor is it a 360-degree evaluation of a particular pontificate or of the Vatican."

Father Rosica acknowledged that Pope John XXIII forever will be "linked to the dream and convocation" of the Second Vatican Council, and Pope John Paul II forever will be "linked to a new era of a truly global church that took its message from the home office on the Tiber to the ends of the earth."

But "more than those historical factors, John XXIII and John Paul II modeled for us the call to holiness and remind us, by the simplicity and joy of their Gospel-rooted lives, that we, too, are called to be saints," Father Rosica said. He called the church the "home of holiness," adding that "holiness is our most accurate image, our authentic calling card and our greatest gift to the world. It describes best who and what we are and strive to be."

2. "True Prophets of Our Time"

The canonizations of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II "could not come at a more propitious time," Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, said April 24. He commented that "the rich teachings of the [Second] Vatican Council, convened by the former, stirred the evangelization of the latter."

In the 1963 encyclical "Pacem in Terris," Pope John XXIII "said plainly that 'nuclear weapons must be banned,' and Pope John Paul II inspired the collapse of tyranny without a shot being fired," Father Jenkins wrote.

Today, he added, "nuclear weapons still threaten annihilation, and tyrannical regimes still threaten neighbors." Thus, "in their mutual witness to the risen Lord in a fallen world, Popes John XXIII and John Paul II have become true prophets of our time, and we gratefully invoke them as such."

3. John Paul II Named Record Number of Saints

During his long pontificate of more than 26 years, Pope John Paul II uniquely accented the importance of saints, beatifying some 1,345 individuals and proclaiming 483 new saints. The number of saints named by him significantly exceeded the number proclaimed by all his predecessors combined from 1594 to 1978, according to Vatican statistics.

The large number of saints he canonized was reached partly due to the number of individual martyrs proclaimed in groups. He canonized 103 Korean martyrs in 1984 and 117 Vietnamese martyrs in 1988. But it seems he also wanted to give Catholics examples of someone in their own nation who lived the call to holiness. He also encouraged efforts to recognize sanctity among the laity.

Retired Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of Westminster, England, was asked in 2005 why Pope John Paul named so many saints. The cardinal responded:

"I think he made so many saints because he believes that holiness is not something 'out there' just for the extraordinary, you know, once in a century. … He thinks there are lots of people who are holy, who are saints, and I think he wanted to demonstrate this by canonizing a very large number of holy people, to encourage people to recognize that they also -- men and women -- must strive for holiness. And I think that's the only reason, because there's no doubt he did canonize a lot of people, and I'd be surprised if the next pope can canonize quite as many."

Pope John Paul II's conviction that very large numbers of people actually live as saints was apparent in his 1999 apostolic letter naming three women saints co-patrons of Europe: St. Bridget of Sweden, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross [Edith Stein].

"The officially recognized saints are but the towering peaks held up as a model for all," he stated in that letter. "For, through their upright and honest lives inspired by love of God and neighbor, countless Christians in a wide range of consecrated and lay vocations have attained a holiness both authentic and widespread, even if often hidden."

In his 2001 apostolic letter for the closing of the jubilee of the new millennium, titled "Novo Millennio Ineunte" ("At the Beginning of the New Millennium"), Pope John Paul mentioned the importance of saints, accenting the "lived theology" of their lives. The attention focused on the saints in this document came in the context of a discussion of Christ's suffering. The pope said:

"The saints offer us precious insights which enable us to understand more easily the intuition of faith, thanks to the special enlightenment which some of them have received from the Holy Spirit or even through their personal experience of those terrible states of trial which the mystical tradition describes as the 'dark night.'"

The saints often underwent "something akin to Jesus' experience on the cross in the paradoxical blending of bliss and pain," the pope said.

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

A Resurrection Ethic of Life: "An ethic of life is, yes, an ethic which respects human life from conception until natural death, but not just that. The Christian ethic is a resurrection ethic which respects human life from conception until natural death, but also at every moment in between. It is an ethic which must lead us to live life fully, to rejoice in the gift of our own life, to want to flourish in that life and to be impatient in ensuring that every other person created in God's image can also share that life to the full." (Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, in a homily for Easter 2014)

Act of Trust: "Whether you believe fully or not, especially on Good Friday you may think of the cross on which Jesus died. Think of the words that he said, not only, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' but also his words, 'Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.' That act of trust in God is something we might imitate so that whatever sufferings we have to endure, we too might be able to say, I trust in you my God, in your goodness and in your love and in your purpose for me." (Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, retired archbishop of Westminster, England, speaking April 16 on the British morning radio show "Pause for Thought")

Immigration Reform: "Criminal behavior that harms people or damages property must be punished and curtailed. But our nation must stop criminalizing the dreams of people to find a better life, a more decent, dignified life. Detention and deportation of parents, grandparents or children with no history of committing crimes and who present no danger to the community results in the breakup of families, leading to dire consequences for the family and for our communities. We need comprehensive immigration policy reform. Such legislation reform would allow legal paths for people to come to the U.S. to work. It would allow us to intensify our border enforcement against criminal behavior such as drug trafficking, human trafficking and weapons trafficking." (From the April 14 "Monday Memo" by Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz. The "Monday Memo" appears on the Tucson diocesan website.)

5. What "Joy" Actually Means

Can the topic of joy possibly be newsworthy? These days it seems it can be. Pope Francis titled his first apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel," and discussions of the themes of his pontificate often turn to the joy of Christian life that he accents.

What is "joy"? It is a somewhat difficult term to define, but Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis took a stab at doing just that in an Easter column for The Criterion, the archdiocese's newspaper.

He asked, "What is this Easter joy that is so special and so closely tied to the Lord's passion, death and resurrection?" Joy, in the archbishop's description, "is not something we experience every day. It is not the same thing as happiness or contentment or even enjoyment." It is possible to "enjoy a nice dinner with friends without being joyful" because joy is different from that and "more profound," he said.

Offering examples of occasions when joy is experienced, the archbishop wrote that "parents experience joy when a son or daughter returns from Iraq or Afghanistan unharmed," while others experience joy during the wedding or ordination of a friend. Moreover, joy can be occasioned by a surprise, for example the surprise of discovering "something precious that we thought was lost forever." And joy may "deepen gradually" over the course of years, finally finding expression "at a golden jubilee celebration."

Easter joy may arise with the overcoming of long years of suffering, perhaps when a battle against cancer seems to be won or "when a forgiving father welcomes home a prodigal son," Archbishop Tobin wrote. Easter joy may arise upon the release of a political prisoner and "when love and fidelity are victorious over evil."

Some friends of Jesus at the time of the first Easter, "like the women who went to the tomb on Easter morning," experienced joy immediately, "even if it was mixed with confusion about what really happened," Archbishop Tobin said. For others, "like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, joy came more slowly" -- after experiencing "the Lord's presence in the breaking of the bread."

For still others among Jesus' friends -- Peter and most of the disciples - Easter joy "was intermittent," coming and going with "Jesus' appearances in the Upper Room and in Galilee." Archbishop Tobin said that "not until they received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost" did the joy of the resurrection become "deeply rooted in their hearts."

Christians today should not act as though "faith is a burden" or "Christian life is made up of an endless series of oppressive rules and regulations," according to the archbishop. Instead, Christians should be joyful.

Archbishop Tobin thought that Easter joy should give rise to the confidence needed "to overcome the negative voices" heard constantly in "the news media and in our own anxious fears." For, he wrote, "things are not awful. God has reached out to us and loved us. We are not doomed to a disastrous fate."

6. Joy, According to Francis

"There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter," Pope Francis observed in his apostolic exhortation titled "The Joy of the Gospel" ("Evangelii Gaudium"). He said he realized "that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty." Actually, "joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved."

Pope Francis understands "the grief of people who have to endure great suffering." Yet, he said, "slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress."

There can be a temptation, he observed, "to find excuses and complain, acting as if we could only be happy if a thousand conditions were met." Yet, he noted that "the most beautiful and natural expressions of joy" seen by him "were in poor people who had little to hold onto."

Pope Francis lamented the contemporary world's consumerism. "Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor," he wrote. Then "God's voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt and the desire to do good fades."

The pope's apostolic exhortation invited "all Christians everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ or at least an openness to letting him encounter them." No one ought to think, the pope insisted, that "this invitation is not meant for him or her," because "no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord."

7. Where to Find Priestly Identity

"There is no identity" for priests "without an active and unwavering sense of belonging to God's faithful people," Pope Francis said in his homily April 17 for the Holy Week Chrism Mass at the Vatican. Many people, he stated, "fail to realize" when they speak "of the crisis of priestly identity" that this "identity presupposes belonging."

Priests who search for priestly identity through "soul-searching and introspection" are likely to "encounter nothing more than 'exit' signs," Pope Francis said. These are "signs that say: Exit from yourself, exit to seek God in adoration, go out and give your people what was entrusted to you, for your people will make you feel and taste who you are, what your name is, what your identity is."

The pope advised the ordained that "going out from ourselves presupposes self-denial."

The people a priest serves in a parish are "the living church," and they all have "a first name and a last name," Pope Francis said. These people include the children a priest "has baptized, the families he has blessed and helped on their way, the sick he has comforted, the young people he catechizes and helps to grow, the poor he assists."

The availability of priests to people "makes the church a house with open doors," said the pope. The church then becomes "a refuge for sinners, a home for people living on the streets, a place of loving care for the sick, a camp for the young, a classroom for catechizing children about to make their first Communion."

Priests, the pope suggested, need to know how to listen to people who "have desires or needs" and to relieve those needs "with mercy" and encourage "good desires with resourceful charity."