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January 29, 2016

Lent in Year of Mercy arrives -
What "mercy" means -
Eucharistic reflections as Lent begins -
Supreme Court to review Obama immigration orders

In this edition:
1. Eucharistic reflections for Lent.
2. Liturgy and care for the world.
3. Lent arrives in Year of Mercy.
4. What does "mercy" mean?
5. The foot-washing rite and women.
6. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Family meals -- or just eating?
b) Online world, terrorist recruiters.
7. Immigration orders go to high court.

1. Eucharistic Reflections at Start of Lent

All of life ought to be viewed "through the lens of the paschal mystery." In fact, sacramental liturgy "provides the lens we need" for viewing "all of reality," and reality always integrates "what is both fully divine and fully human," Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, told participants in the 51st International Eucharistic Congress, held in Cebu, Philippines.

It is essential "to allow what we enact in the Eucharist to be the measure of our lives," the cardinal suggested. His Jan. 27 speech was read on his behalf by Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro in the Philippines.

The Eucharist puts the world we inhabit into perspective, Cardinal Turkson commented. He explained:

"We see how the Eucharist continues Christ's paschal victory via death and resurrection. This combination of life and death, positive and negative puts the world into proper perspective as both grace filled and flawed, and in need of complete redemption."

On the one hand, he said, "eucharistic liturgy prevents us from becoming too optimistic about the world." Yet, "sacramental liturgy also combats pessimism about the world and world events. By its very shape and structure, sacramental liturgy is a ritual experience that reflects an optimistic approach to human life. In the end 'all will be well.' In the meantime, we need sacramental liturgy to put the world into focus and perspective."

The Eucharist, Cardinal Turkson stressed, "articulates and specifies for believers that here and now God is operative in all of their lives." The cardinal said, "The task, then, is to make sure we view liturgy as a deep and strong ritual expression of the fact that God lives among us prior to, in a unique way within and following upon sacramental engagement."

Spirituality derives "from every act of the Eucharist because what we do at Mass shapes our lives," said Cardinal Turkson. He told the eucharistic congress that "a chief aspect of all eucharistic participation is to allow the paschal dying and rising enacted through what occurs at the altar table to be the true measure of anything that is of real value in life."

The lens that the liturgy provides "allows us to look at apparent defeats -- sickness, suffering and setbacks in life, even death itself -- and to evaluate them against the paschal mystery," he said.

In addition, however, "a consequence of eucharistic enactment is to share the goods of this earth with the poor and the needy."

Because "the Eucharist as the body of Christ unifies the church," it ought to "challenge us to abandon some of the selfishness in life in favor of self-giving and surrender of the self so that others may eat and be cared for by the (same) Lord," Cardinal Turkson emphasized.

Turning attention to "Laudato Si'," Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment, the cardinal noted how it "links a theology of ecology with food distribution, especially for the poor." He commented:

"In a very poignant section of the encyclical the pope offers us a piercing challenge, not to say condemnation, by asserting that 'we know that approximately a third of all food produced is discarded,' and 'whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor.'"

Cardinal Turkson found that statement "reminiscent of the challenge offered by some Latin American theologians," who have stated "that you cannot celebrate the Eucharist with stolen bread."

2. Liturgy and the Work of Human Hands

"One of the central dynamics at work in the Eucharist is summarized in the word 'offering' - what God has offered and offers to us, and what we offer back to God," Cardinal Peter Turkson said in his Jan. 27 speech for the International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, Philippines. He related his remarks to care for the earth and "Laudato Si'," Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment.

"A premise of the celebration of sacramental liturgy is that we use the good things from this earth to worship God. They have been given to us by the 'God of all creation,' and they are the 'fruit of the earth,'" Cardinal Turkson observed.

It should not be overlooked, he suggested, that the bread and wine used at the Eucharist are gifts "from the earth, but are also the result of human work."

There is "a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature," the cardinal noted. He said: "Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations."

That, he said, "is part of the theology that underlies our working with fellow creatures to manufacture bread and wine for the Eucharist."

Among what is offered "in the Eucharist as the work of human hands is the sweat of the human brow," Cardinal Turkson said. Here he recalled an observation by Cardinal Basil Hume, a former archbishop of Westminster, England, who died in 1999.

He "once remarked, 'No work, no Mass,'" Cardinal Turkson said. What the British cardinal meant is that human work is integral to the Eucharist, "the human work which makes all the things we will use for the Eucharist, especially bread and wine," Cardinal Turkson explained.

Thus, "the worship and honor we offer to God in the Eucharist starts long before the liturgy in church begins. It commences in the liturgy of human life as blessed by God, with humans planting, harvesting, baking and wine-making, and delivering these gifts to the church for the Eucharist."

The talents human beings have "for thought and work fashion what we need to celebrate the Eucharist. What we are and use outside of the liturgy is brought into the act of liturgy to be transformed," he said.

The cardinal affirmed that "every time we take bread and wine in the act of doing the Eucharist we articulate the theology of the goodness of creation and our need for food to sustain us as the 'pilgrim church on earth' until we are fed at the 'Supper of the Lamb,'" he said.

"In the meantime, the very taking, blessing and sharing of bread and wine" make a theological statement "about our place in the cosmos," namely that "all sacramental liturgy makes sense in the first place because the use of goods from the earth reminds us of our place in this world."

3. Lent and the Year of Mercy

Lent arrives this year during the church's Year of Mercy. In his just-released message for Lent 2016, Pope Francis strongly recommends that mercy both be practiced and studied during these weeks leading to Easter.

Given the season's focus on conversion, the pope's message highlights the way the works of mercy change those who practice them. "God's mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn," the pope states.

Those who practice works of mercy touch "the flesh of the crucified Jesus" in those who suffer and, in return, "can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need," the pope explains.

"The real poor," he suggests, are "those who refuse to see themselves as such. They consider themselves rich, but they are actually the poorest of the poor." They, too, are "poor beggars."

Pope Francis' message also accents his hope that the church's people will spend time this Lent reflecting on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. He hopes, too, that the centrality of God's mercy in the Christian message will be underscored at every level of catechesis.

Quoting from his 2015 bull of indiction proclaiming the current Year of Mercy, he says that reflection on the works of mercy "will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty, and to enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God's mercy."

4. What Does the Word "Mercy" Mean?

"To be merciful is to be present. A synonym for mercy is 'compassion,'" Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, N.M., wrote in a January message for the current Year of Mercy. He said that "to be merciful, to be compassionate, is to 'suffer with' someone or, more broadly, to journey with someone, especially during a painful moment."

The archbishop believes that "being present to each other, as God is to us, is a key feature of mercy." A commitment "to be more present to God and to one another" is a "fitting way to celebrate the Year of Mercy," he believes.

God always is "present to us," said the archbishop. God "loves us with an unfathomable love and wishes to be present to us in every moment of our lives." But "sadly, we do not respond to God in the same way, nor do we offer our presence to others as we should," Archbishop Wester wrote.

Instead, "quite often we find ourselves caught up in busy lives that find us running from pillar to post with little time to really attend to God or others, to be with them on a deeper level." And "to make matters worse," the archbishop continued, "we are often caught up in our technological devices, fascinated by the ease with which we can stay in touch with others and yet, ironically, missing out on so many precious moments to be present to those in the room with us."

Archbishop Wester viewed the Year of Mercy as "an opportunity to see that our ability to be present to others is a gift of compassion, a gift of mercy in their lives and, conversely, in ours as well."

5. Women Included in Foot-Washing Ritual

For the foot washing ceremony on Holy Thursday, "pastors may select a small group of the faithful to represent the variety and the unity of each part of the people of God," according to a Vatican decree issued Jan. 21 by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

The decree specifies that the small groups of those whose feet are washed can include "men and women, and it is appropriate that they consist of people young and old, healthy and sick, clerics, consecrated men and women, and laity."

More than a year ago, in December 2014, Pope Francis sent a letter to Cardinal Robert Sarah, who heads the congregation, calling for this change in the foot-washing rite. The pope's letter mandated a change in the rubric of the Roman Missal that mentioned only men as participants in the rite.

The pope said he wanted to improve the rite so that it would express better Christ's unlimited charity and his self-giving for the salvation of the entire human race.

From the start of his pontificate, Pope Francis himself included women in the Holy Thursday foot-washing ritual. During his first year as pope, he washed the feet of 12 young people of different nationalities and faiths, including women, at Rome's Casal del Marmo prison for minors.

In each year that followed he included women in the rite. For example, he included 12 men and women prisoners, and a child of one of the women, in 2015.

Speaking to journalists, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said that while 12 men traditionally were selected to represent the 12 apostles, the foot-washing rite signifies the unconditional love of Jesus. Pope Francis wanted the ceremony to focus on "this dimension of the gesture of Christ's love for all" rather than to be a simple portrayal of the biblical scene at the Last Supper, Father Lombardi explained.

Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, said the foot-washing rite has undergone various changes and modifications during church history. The archbishop noted also that "the washing of feet is not obligatory" during the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper.

He said, "It is for pastors to evaluate its desirability, according to the pastoral considerations and circumstances which exist, in such a way that it does not become something automatic or artificial, deprived of meaning and reduced to a staged event."

The January Vatican decree reminds pastors "of their responsibility to adequately instruct both the chosen faithful as well as all others so that they may participate consciously, actively and fruitfully" in the foot-washing rite.

6. Current Quotes to Ponder

Family Meals: "Restore family meals. . . . The basic unit of the family meal is the common table. Nowadays the basic unit of the meal is my plate. And if I have my plate with food on it, I can go anywhere and eat it by myself. But that is not a meal. That is just eating." (Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, speaking to the International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, Philippines, as quoted in a Catholic News Service report Jan. 28.)

Combating Online Terrorist Recruitment: "The digital world . . . deals with people who sense their isolation, their detachment from each other; who have a sense that the speed of developments is leaving them behind; who are at something of a loss as to where to turn for guidance or direction and are ready to attach themselves to something or someone who comes across with 'credibility,' even if it is the credibility of celebrity or notoriety; who want very much, in their thoughts and responses, to be part of something greater, and who, on the whole, may be finding life to be rather flat, functional and boring. The potential of the digital world to respond to this experiential mix is astonishing. So, too, is its potential to exploit that need, as we know only too well. . . . The real power of this virtual world is the way in which it can be used to assemble many . . . fragments into a coherent or at least seemingly coherent whole and focus them into a narrative which compels and captivates. This is the skill that can obviously be put to good use, but it is also the skill of the recruiters of violence." (Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, speaking to educators Jan. 28 in London.)

7. Immigrants: High Court to Review Obama Order

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to review President Obama's controversial November 2014 executive orders aimed at deferring the deportation of immigrants -- if they entered the United States as children or if they are the parents of children who are U.S. citizens -- was welcomed by Catholic leaders.

"The executive actions at issue in this case are temporary and they are no substitute for the comprehensive immigration reform our country needs. But these actions would be a measure of mercy, providing peace of mind to nearly 9 million people, including 4.5 million children," Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez wrote in a column for the archdiocesan newspaper.

"We're excited and pleased that the Supreme Court will examine the merits of these executive actions," said Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of CLINIC, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network. She viewed the high court's decision "as a sign of hope" for an estimated 5 million people.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supports these executive orders of the president. Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, said in a statement at the time the orders were announced that the committee welcomed the news "that the Obama administration will defer deportations for many undocumented immigrants and their families."

The church in the United States on a daily basis, "in her social service agencies, hospitals, schools, and parishes, witnesses the human consequences of the separation of families when parents are deported from their children or spouses from each other," he commented. "We've been on record," he added, "asking the administration to do everything within its legitimate authority to bring relief and justice to our immigrant brothers and sisters."

But Bishop Elizondo also urged Congress and the president "to work together to enact permanent reforms to the nation's immigration system." He said, "We will continue to work with both parties to enact legislation that welcomes and protects immigrants and promotes a just and fair immigration policy."

Archbishop Gomez wrote in his column that "every day, in our parishes and schools and neighborhoods, we see the rising human toll of our failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform, especially on families and children."

In the United States, he said, "more than 2 million undocumented persons have been deported in the last eight years alone, including thousands who are mothers or fathers forced to leave behind their spouses and children. Millions more are living in constant fear that they too might be rounded up for deportation, that one day without warning they won't be coming home for dinner and may never see their families again."

Archbishop Gomez remarked that "until lawmakers in Washington can find the humility and courage to set aside differences and seek a common solution, the Supreme Court may be our last best hope to restore humanity to our immigration policy."

The president's executive orders have not been implemented. They were placed on hold Nov. 9 by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. That court upheld a Texas-based federal judge's injunction against the orders.