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December 22, 2015

Teresa of Kolkata, model for Year of Mercy: Her canonization expected in September -
2016 World Day of Peace views indifference as threat -
Responding to extremist violence

In this edition:
1. Christmas meditation for pastoral workers.
2. Teresa of Kolkata, model of mercy.
3. Recalling Blessed Teresa's Nobel lecture.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Response to extremist violence.
b) A bit of Shakespeare at Christmas.
c) Is mercy in global decline?
5. World Day of Peace theme: indifference.
6. Solidarity, building block of peace.

1. Christmas Meditation for Pastoral Workers

A papal speech just before Christmas to the Roman Curia is an annual event. When Pope Francis spoke to the curia Dec. 21, he concluded with a meditation that he said was "pronounced for the first time" by Cardinal John Dearden, who was archbishop from late 1958 until 1980 of Detroit, Mich. He died in August 1988.

The prayer describes a wise outlook that benefits those serving the church and its people in a wide variety of roles. So it seems well worth quoting here in full:

"Every now and then it helps us to take a step back and to see things from a distance. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is also beyond our visions.

"In our lives, we manage to achieve only a small part of the marvelous plan that is God's work. Nothing that we do is complete, which is to say that the kingdom is greater than ourselves.

"No statement says everything that can be said. No prayer completely expresses the faith. No creed brings perfection. No pastoral visit solves every problem. No program fully accomplishes the mission of the church. No goal or purpose ever reaches completion.

"This is what it is about: We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that others will watch over them. We lay the foundations of something that will develop. We add the yeast which will multiply our possibilities.

"We cannot do everything, yet it is liberating to begin. This gives us the strength to do something and to do it well. It may remain incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way. It is an opportunity for the grace of God to enter and to do the rest.

"It may be that we will never see its completion, but that is the difference between the master and the laborer. We are laborers, not master builders, servants, not the Messiah. We are prophets of a future that does not belong to us."

2. Teresa of Kolkata, Model of Mercy

Next September the Year of Mercy is expected to turn attention to a woman who in the 20th century became universally known as the face of merciful action for the unwanted, the poor, the sick, the hungry, the dying: Blessed Teresa of Kolkata. Although a firm, formal date for her canonization is not yet set, it is expected to take place Sept. 4.

Pope Francis' approval Dec. 17 of a miracle attributed to Blessed Teresa's intercession cleared the way to her canonization. Sept. 5 is the anniversary of her death in 1997, but in 2016 that date falls on a Monday. In all likelihood the canonization will take place one day earlier, on Sunday, when a three-day pilgrimage of workers and volunteers devoted like Blessed Teresa to the corporal works of mercy concludes in Rome.

"God gives each age the Christian witness it needs. Mother Teresa is such a witness in our times," the Administrative Committee of the U.S. Catholic bishops' conference said in a resolution at the time of her death. "Her service to the poorest of the poor and her presence among them kept their plight in the sight of a world which is often too quick and willing to forget our neediest sisters and brothers," the committee stated.

It noted that "she spoke the truth to the powerful of this world about the respect due to life from conception to natural death and the responsibility we all have to serve our most vulnerable neighbors, whether their need arises from poverty, or age, or disease and illness such as AIDS."

Blessed Teresa founded the Missionary Sisters of Charity, a religious order known for its work rescuing children and babies, caring for the dying and serving the poorest of the poor.

The miracle approved in Blessed Teresa's canonization cause involved the healing from a viral brain infection of a 42-year-old man in Santos, Brazil. The infection resulted in multiple brain abscesses; treatments were ineffective, and the man fell into a coma.

The man's wife, relatives and friends prayed for Blessed Teresa's intervention. He was taken into an operating room in December 2008, but, according to reports, when the surgeon arrived the man was awake, pain free and asking, "What am I doing here?" A Vatican medical commission agreed the healing was inexplicable.

3. Recalling Blessed Teresa's Nobel Lecture

After receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for 1979, Blessed Teresa of Kolkata spoke about the poor in her Dec. 11, 1979, Nobel lecture. "The poor are very wonderful people," she said. Then she told this story:

"One evening we went out and we picked up four people from the street. And one of them was in a most terrible condition. And I told the sisters: You take care of the other three; I take [care] of this one that looked worse.

"So I did for her all that my love can do. I put her in bed, and there was such a beautiful smile on her face. She took hold of my hand as she said one word only -- 'thank you' -- and she died."

In the Nobel lecture Blessed Teresa also spoke about a poor family. Homilists and catechists, parents and others may especially relish the story she told. She said:

"I had the most extraordinary experience with a Hindu family who had eight children. A gentleman came to our house and said: Mother Teresa, there is a family with eight children; they had not eaten for so long; do something.

"So I took some rice, and I went there immediately. And I saw the children -- their eyes shining with hunger. I don't know if you have ever seen hunger. But I have seen it very often. And she took the rice, she divided the rice, and she went out.

"When she came back I asked her: Where did you go, what did you do? And she gave me a very simple answer: They are hungry also. What struck me most was that she knew. And who are they? A Muslim family -- and she knew. I didn't bring more rice that evening because I wanted them to enjoy the joy of sharing."

Speaking of the kind of work that she and the members of her community did, Blessed Teresa commented:

"I believe that we are not real social workers. We may be doing social work in the eyes of the people. But we are really contemplatives in the heart of the world. For we are touching the body of Christ 24 hours."

Her opposition to abortion is well known, and she made it perfectly clear in the Nobel lecture. Since 1979 was the U.N. International Year of the Child, she also spoke in support of all children, saying:

"What have we done for the child? At the beginning of the year I told, I spoke everywhere and I said: Let us make this [the] year that we make every single child born, and unborn, wanted. And today is the end of the year. Have we really made the children wanted?"

Christ, she said in her Nobel lecture, "died for you and for me, and for that leper, and for that man dying of hunger and that naked person lying in the street not only of [Kolkata] but of Africa, and New York, and London, and Oslo -- and insisted that we love one another as he loves each one of us."

Christ "makes himself the hungry one, the naked one, the homeless one, the sick one, the one in prison, the lonely one, the unwanted one, and he says: You did it to me," she said.

She considered it "a gift of God to us to be able to share our love with others." She exhorted those attending her Nobel lecture to "let it be as it was for Jesus. Let us love one another as he loved us. Let us love him with undivided love."

Blessed Teresa indicated that she planned to use the money awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize to provide shelter for the homeless. She said she would "try to make the home for many people that have no home." Why? Because of her belief "that love begins at home, and if we can create a home for the poor, I think that more and more love will spread.

"And we will be able through this understanding love to bring peace, be the good news to the poor. The poor in our own family first, in our country and in the world."

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

Responding to Extremist Violence: "We are called to be heralds of hope and prophetic voices against senseless violence, a violence which can never be justified by invoking the name of God. . . . Watching innocent lives taken and wondering whether the violence will reach our own families rightly stirs our deepest protective emotions. We must resist the hatred and suspicion that leads to policies of discrimination. Instead, we must channel our emotions of concern and protection, born in love, into a vibrant witness to the dignity of every person. We should employ immigration laws that are humane and keep us safe, but should never target specific classes of persons based on religion. When we fail to see the difference between our enemies and people of good will, we lose a part of who we are as people of faith. Policies of fear and inflammatory rhetoric will only offer extremists fertile soil and pave the way toward a divisive, fearful future. . . . We encourage responsible firearms regulation. And we will advocate on behalf of people facing religious discrimination, including our Muslim brothers and sisters. Let us confront the extremist threat with courage and compassion, recognizing that Christianity, Islam, Judaism and many other religions are united in opposition to violence carried out in their name." (From a Nov. 14 statement by Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The statement was issued in light of the Dec. 2 terrorist killings in San Bernardino, Calif., and the Nov. 27 killings at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado.)

A Little Shakespeare at Christmas: "I wonder, what is your favorite passage from Shakespeare? . . . You know what my passage is? It's from 'The Merchant of Venice,' and it is this: 'The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed, it blesses him who gives and him who takes.' If you forgive you will be blessed -- forgive in your heart, but also, perhaps, by word or in deed. But it also blesses those who take. Sometimes we take forgiveness from a neighbor or a member of the family or a friend whom we have offended. But Shakespeare says, 'It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.' And that's us. . . . In wishing you all a very happy Christmas, I would like you to think about mercy and forgiveness because it is the wellspring of joy and serenity and of peace." (Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, retired archbishop of Westminster, England, speaking Dec. 15 on BBC Radio)

Is Mercy in Decline? "In a world where it seems that war and violence are constant, a world that confronts us daily with the realities of spiritual and material poverty, injustice and human suffering, many find no 'evidence' for a God of mercy, no 'proof' that creation is being guided by a loving hand. And as society's belief in God's mercy fades, we see that the idea of mercy is declining in our public life. We see it in some of the statements of our politicians and in our media on certain issues -- we seem to be getting colder and tougher in our language, more fearful and less forgiving. . . . As I see it, mercy is the question of our times and it is also the answer. The people of our times want to know if mercy is real and, if it is, they want to know where mercy can be found." (From a Dec. 17 column by Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles in The Tidings, newspaper of the archdiocese)

5. World Day of Peace: Threat of Indifference

"Indifference leads to self-absorption and a lack of commitment." Thus, indifference "contributes to the absence of peace with God, with our neighbor and with the environment," Pope Francis comments in his message for the Jan. 1, 2016, World Day of Peace.

Titled "Overcome Indifference and Win Peace," the pope's message is anchored in the goals of the current Year of Mercy.

"In the spirit of the Jubilee of Mercy, all of us are called to realize how indifference can manifest itself in our lives and to work concretely to improve the world around us, beginning with our families, neighbors and places of employment," the pope states.

"Indifference to one's neighbor, born of indifference to God, finds expression in disinterest and a lack of engagement, which only helps to prolong situations of injustice and grave social imbalance," the pope writes. "These in turn," he adds, "can lead to conflicts or, in any event, generate a climate of dissatisfaction, which risks exploding sooner or later into acts of violence and insecurity."

However, "mercy is the heart of God," the pope says. And mercy "must also be the heart of the members of the one great family of his children: a heart which beats all the more strongly wherever human dignity -- as a reflection of the face of God in his creatures -- is in play."

It is sad that the past year was marked "from start to finish" by "war and terrorism, accompanied by kidnapping, ethnic or religious persecution and the misuse of power," the peace day message observes. Actions of this type over the course of the past year "became so common as to constitute a real 'third world war fought piecemeal,'" he states.

Nonetheless, "some events of the year now ending" inspire him "to encourage everyone not to lose hope in our human ability to conquer evil and to combat resignation and indifference." There are signs today of "our capacity to show solidarity and to rise above self-interest, apathy and indifference in the face of critical situations," he insisted.

The pope cautioned, at the same time, that "indifference represents a menace to the human family."

6. Solidarity, Building Block of Peace

"Solidarity is much more than a 'feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people,'" Pope Francis makes clear in his message for the Jan. 1 World Day of Peace. Solidarity, he explains, is born of a commitment to the common good.

"Solidarity represents the moral and social attitude which best corresponds to an awareness of the scourges of our own day and to the growing interdependence, especially in a globalized world, between the lives of given individuals and communities, and those of other men and women in the rest of the world."

Indifference, however, "often seeks excuses" by "looking to all the things needing to be done" and hiding "behind hostilities and prejudices which keep us apart," the pope says.

Does a present-day information glut "numb people's sensibilities" and help to "downplay the gravity of the problems" that concern Pope Francis in his peace-day message?

The pope observes that "some people are well-informed; they listen to the radio, read the newspapers or watch television, but they do so mechanically and without engagement. They are vaguely aware of the tragedies afflicting humanity, but they have no sense of involvement or compassion."

Their attitude, he says, becomes "the attitude of those who know, but keep their gaze, their thoughts and their actions focused on themselves." The pope states:

"Sadly, it must be said that today's information explosion does not of itself lead to an increased concern for other people's problems, which demands openness and a sense of solidarity."

There are cases, too, when "indifference shows itself in lack of concern for what is happening around us, especially if it does not touch us directly," the pope says. He expresses concern that "some people prefer not to ask questions or seek answers; they lead lives of comfort, deaf to the cry of those who suffer."

It is possible, "almost imperceptibly," to "grow incapable of feeling compassion for others and for their problems," the pope suggests.

The peace-day message makes "a threefold appeal to the leaders of nations." Pope Francis calls upon them:

"To refrain from drawing other peoples into conflicts or wars which destroy not only their material, cultural and social legacy, but also -- and in the long term -- their moral and spiritual integrity."

"To forgive or manage in a sustainable way the international debt of the poorer nations."

"To adopt policies of cooperation which, instead of bowing before the dictatorship of certain ideologies, will respect the values of local populations and, in any case, not prove detrimental to the fundamental and inalienable right to life of the unborn."

Pope Francis asks readers of his message to remember that Jesus "was not content merely to teach the crowds, but he was concerned for their welfare, especially when he saw them hungry or without work." However, the pope added, Jesus "did more than just see; he touched people's lives, he spoke to them, helped them and showed kindness to those in need."

Jesus, the pope writes, "worked to put an end to suffering, sorrow, misery and death."