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September 13, 2016

A saint of mercy -
Today's crafters of mercy -
Teresa of Kolkata, formed on the periphery -
Laudato Si': New Rerum Novarum

In this edition:
1. Mercy in action: The canonization.
2. Volunteers: Crafters of mercy.
3. Do our images of God block mercy?
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Formed on the peripheries.
b) Mother Teresa's footprint.
c) Someone who out-loved others.
5. New institutions for a new era.
6. Laudato Si': new Rerum Novarum.

1. Canonization Crystallizes Year of Mercy Goals

The church's Year of Mercy ends Nov. 20, but it reached a peak of sorts with the Sept. 4 canonization in Rome of Teresa of Kolkata. In the eyes of Pope Francis, this event and the life of Mother Teresa had a way of crystallizing both the meaning and the demands of Christian mercy.

The pope spoke of mercy again and again during the days surrounding the canonization, delivering an ongoing catechesis on Christian mercy and what it looks like when put into practice. Much of this edition of the jknirp.com newsletter is devoted to that catechesis.

The hope Pope Francis expressed in his canonization homily was that St. Teresa will "help us increasingly to understand that our only criterion for action is gratuitous love, free from every ideology and all obligations, offered freely to everyone without distinction of language, culture, race or religion."

He recalled how "Mother Teresa loved to say, 'Perhaps I don't speak their language, but I can smile.'" Pope Francis exhorted those who heard his homily to "carry her smile in our hearts and give it to those whom we meet along our journey, especially those who suffer."

St. Teresa did two things, he observed:
  • "She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity."

  • "She made her voice heard before the powers of this world so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime -- the crimes! -- of poverty they created."
In every aspect of her life, St. Teresa "was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defense of human life, those unborn, and those abandoned and discarded," he commented.

A measure of "daring and courage" is needed "to recognize the divine Master in the poorest of the poor and those who are cast aside," Pope Francis said.

He insisted, however, that the Christian life adds up to more than "extending a hand in times of need," though that is important. Rather, the task Christ gives is a vocation -- "the vocation to charity in which each of Christ's disciples puts his or her entire life at his service, so as to grow each day in love."

He urged Christians to say, "Just as the Lord has come to meet me and has stooped down to my level in my hour of need, so too do I go to meet him, bending low" before people like this:
  • "Those who have lost faith or who live as though God did not exist."

  • "Young people without values or ideals."

  • "Families in crisis."

  • "The ill."

  • "The imprisoned."

  • "Refugees and immigrants."

  • "The weak and defenseless in body and spirit."

  • "Abandoned children."

  • "The elderly who are on their own."
No alternative to charity is to be found, Pope Francis said. People "who put themselves at the service of others, even when they don't know it, are those who love God."

Whenever someone reaches out, "asking for a helping hand in order to get up, this is where our presence -- and the presence of the church, which sustains and offers hope -- must be," he stressed.

2. Volunteers: "Crafters of Mercy"

Teresa of Kolkata's canonization was timed from the outset to coincide with an event during the church's current Year of Mercy known as the Jubilee for Workers and Volunteers of Mercy. The day before the canonization, Pope Francis met with participants in this event. Characterizing them as "crafters of mercy," he spoke with them about the meaning of mercy and what it looks like in practice.

"You represent the large and varied world of voluntary workers. You are among the most precious things the church has, you who every day, often silently and unassumingly, give shape and visibility to mercy," the pope told them. He said, "You touch the flesh of Christ with your hands."

"With your hands, with your eyes, with your hearing, with your closeness, by your touch," he said, "you express one of the noblest desires of the human heart, making a suffering person feel loved."

When St. Paul wrote that "[if I] have not love, I am nothing," (1 Cor. 13:2), the love he had in mind was "not something abstract or vague," Pope Francis emphasized. Instead, this love "is a love that is seen, touched and experienced firsthand."

In this context Pope Francis reiterated his conviction that love is expressed in concrete action, saying:

"I will never tire of saying that the mercy of God is not some beautiful idea, but rather a concrete action. There is no mercy without being concrete. Mercy is not doing good 'in passing,' but getting involved where there is something wrong, where there is illness, where there is hunger, wherever there is exploitation."

The pope said that "turning one's back in order not to see hunger, sickness, exploited persons -- this is a grave sin!" He called this "a modern sin, a sin of our times!"

Those who live mercifully "are the hand of Christ held out" wherever "a cry for help" is heard, he suggested. And the church's credibility is "conveyed in a convincing way" through the service they offer "to abandoned children, to the sick, the poor who lack food or work, to the elderly, the homeless, prisoners, refugees and immigrants, to all struck by natural disasters."

Be determined to awaken joy, and be "genuine in giving comfort," Pope Francis encouraged the volunteers and workers of mercy. Always be ready "to offer solidarity," and "be steadfast in your closeness to others," he urged.

3. How People Envision God

People often form "an idea of God that prevents [them] from enjoying his real presence," Pope Francis said during his Sept. 7 Wednesday general audience in St. Peter's Square. Explaining what he meant, he said:
  • "Some people carve out a 'do-it-yourself' faith that reduces God to the limited space of one's own desires and convictions. This faith is not a conversion to the Lord who reveals himself, but rather it prevents him from enlivening our life and consciousness."

  • "Others reduce God to a false idol; they use his holy name to justify their own interests or actual hatred and violence."

  • "For others still, God is only a psychological refuge in which to be reassured in difficult moments: It is a faith turned in on itself, impervious to the power of the merciful love of Jesus, which reaches out to others."

  • "Others, still, consider Christ only as a good instructor of ethical teachings, one among the many of history."

  • "Finally, there are those who stifle the faith in a purely intimate relationship with Jesus, nullifying his missionary thrust that is capable of transforming the world and history."
The Gospel of Matthew (11:1-6) says that when John the Baptist was in prison he sent disciples to ask Jesus whether he was the Messiah they awaited or whether they should look for another, Pope Francis observed. He took note of how Jesus responded:

"Go and tell John what you hear and see: The blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them."

In other words, Jesus responded "by saying that he is the real instrument of the Father's mercy, who goes to encounter everyone."

Thus, said the pope, "the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf regain their dignity and are no longer excluded because of their disease." Moreover, "the dead return to life," and "the Good News is proclaimed to the poor."

This, Pope Francis added, "becomes the summary of Jesus' action, who in this way makes God's own actions visible and tangible."

The pope remarked that "God did not send his Son into the world to punish sinners or to destroy the wicked. Rather, they were invited to convert, so that seeing the signs of divine goodness they might rediscover their way back."

The God in whom Christians believe is "the God of Jesus Christ," Pope Francis concluded. "Our desire is that of growing in the living experience of his mystery of love."

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

Formed on Society's Periphery: "Mother Teresa lived in society's existential peripheries. She was only 2 years old when the devastating Balkan wars (1912-1913) broke out. . . . What followed was the partition of the region among three countries: Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece. The land partition was followed by unspeakable human catastrophes, poverty and massive violence. People fleeing their homes, expulsion, ethnic cleansing and displacement of entire villages, towns and families were events Mother Teresa witnessed firsthand. . . . Mother Teresa's mother, Drane Bojaxhiu, was a strong, hands-on and practical woman. . . . When she was left a widow and penniless from her husband's business partner, she managed extraordinarily to provide for and raise her three children. . . . Every evening Drane and her family prayed together. Though prayer life continued to define Drane, she was also merciful in action. As a single mother she raised her family to never forget the poor, the abandoned or the orphans. Mother Teresa wrote that 'many poor in and around Skopje [Macedonia] knew our house, and none left empty handed. We had guests at the table every day. At first I used to ask, 'Who are they?' and Mother would answer: 'Some are relatives, but all of them are our people.' When I was older, I realized that the strangers were poor people who had nothing and whom my mother was feeding." (Excerpts from "Centered in the Periphery -- Pope Francis and Mother Teresa," an article by Ines Angeli Murzaku, professor of religion at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., that appears on the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation's blog (www.saltandlighttv.org).

Mother Teresa's Footprint: "Mother Teresa visited Australia repeatedly and left her footprint on this land through the 14 mission houses of her sisters here. . . . But the first mission house she founded in our region was in Bourke, NSW, with the specific mission to help the aborigines and the Outback's poorest, sickest and most dispossessed. . . . To say we love God while ignoring our needy neighbor will be a fraud, spiritualizing away the sufferings of others and excusing our own sloth or selfishness. And so Teresa could tell her sisters to 'spread love everywhere you go, so that no one ever comes to you without leaving happier.'" (From a homily by Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sidney, Australia, delivered in Sidney during a Sept. 4 celebration of Teresa of Kolkata's canonization.)

In "Out-loving" Others, She Won Them Over: "How blessed I was to meet Mother Teresa on numerous occasions, especially when I served as a priest and auxiliary bishop in Washington. I first saw her in the 1980s when a home for women was opened; she was in chapel, a diminutive figure sitting on the floor, praying. . . . I met a woman short in stature, but a true spiritual giant, a woman meek and mild yet fearless in doing the will of God. She didn't accomplish her work by way of bluster or threats but rather by the sheer force of her love and total consecration to Jesus. This was true of politicians, church officials and busy people whom she persuaded to spend a night each week with the poor. At every turn, she simply 'out-loved' you and she won you over." (From a homily Sept. 4, the day of St. Teresa of Kolkata's canonization, delivered by Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore in that city's National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.)

5. New Institutions for a New Era

"We are at the end of an era but also at the beginning of a new era," though "there is nothing about that situation which should alarm us. That is the history of the presence of faith in Jesus Christ right across human history," Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, said in a homily Aug. 24.

He spoke during a Dublin Mass celebrated in the chapel of the Mater Dei College of Education. "We celebrate," he said, but he acknowledged that this celebration took place "in the context of the closure of the institute."

This closure comes at a time when a number of other church-related educational institutes either "are slowly vanishing from or are being transformed within the current geographical and cultural landscape," he explained.

But "the message of Jesus Christ is always a message of newness," Archbishop Martin observed. Moreover, "we live in an era of change," and this "is no time for believers to sit and bemoan or to be sidelined into the irrelevant."

Today "believers must regain confidence and courage to face new things in new ways," he said.

Society is changing and already has changed, and there is wisdom "in taking note of that change," the archbishop stressed. But if Christians sense that the end of one era has arrived, that need not signal the end of "the presence of Christian faith as a constitutive part" of society. Nor does it mean that continuity with the past must be lost to Catholic institutions of the 21st century.

Indeed, though, it will be necessary to "enter into a new era with a different, renewed and purpose-filled commitment." Institutions that emerged long ago "have to be replaced and renewed to be effective and incisive in the world of the 21st century," the archbishop said.

There is a need at this time to try to understand "what faith means in today's society," as well as "what prayer means in a society which finds itself uncertain in understanding the transcendent." He suggested that faith and prayer ought to result in the "sensitivity and caring outreach to the old and new peripheries of society that Pope Francis calls for."

Archbishop Martin said, "We need new institutions to address a new era." He pointed out that the now-closing institute "was not just an institution for teacher training," but that "its work reached out into the Catholic faith community through training within parish communities and in the preparation of chaplains and pastoral workers and permanent deacons."

That, he said, "is a work which must continue, even if within a new framework."

6. Laudato Si', 21st Century's Rerum Novarum

"The great work of Christian social movements" is "to redeem and build positive relationships among all peoples and with all of creation in a globalization of ever-increasing reconciliation and human fulfillment," Cardinal Peter Turkson said Aug. 31 when he addressed the Christian Social Congress, which took place in the Netherlands.

The cardinal, speaking as president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, examined globalization from both negative and positive perspectives.

On the one hand, he said, "there are several forces nowadays that converge to make globalization an unprecedented threat to human progress." He was referring to "economic, financial, political and technological forces that raise" an ominous specter, one that risks progressively robotizing "men, women and children in their outlooks and behavior."

With the world's new communications technologies, the risk arises that human beings will be turned "into robots, into mere cogs in a worldwide machine." Cardinal Turkson believes that "against this threat, Christians need to marshal and explain their reasons for their faith in humanity."

He commented that "nowadays, with all-pervasive computer tools, worldwide communication and social media, people risk being lost amid noise and triviality." Pope Francis "worries greatly about information overload and neglect of direct human relationship," he said.

Still, he continued, there is a "haunting question" to ask. "Are we inescapably in the grip of these forces, powerless to control our destiny? Or can humanity shape and guide these forces?"

He held that it is possible "to open ourselves to the potential for good in the new tools that are available, even as we take a prudent or critical attitude toward excesses."

Christ's followers "understand that their faith is incarnated in the world," Cardinal Turkson stated. At the same time, "it is entirely erroneous for people to 'imagine they can plunge themselves into earthly affairs in such a way as to imply that these are altogether divorced from the religious life,'" he said, citing Vatican Council II's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (No. 43).

"The only true path," said the cardinal, "is that which unites faith and action." He called it "the vocation of Christians in every era to translate Christ's global vision into the . . . here-and-now."

He encouraged the congress participants "to embrace dialogue: dialogue among yourselves here and dialogue in the work you do in the world."

Drawing from Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si', he described authentic dialogue as "open and respectful." It requires "patience, self-discipline and generosity," he said.

In Laudato Si' the pope "brought together a huge canvas, an immense landscape of topics," Cardinal Turkson told the congress. He said that the pope wanted "to help people of good will of all backgrounds to clearly acknowledge the world's most pressing issues and to embark on effective responses to them."

In this encyclical Pope Francis "commits the church to accompany every level of decision making, every form of governance that is willing to pursue the common good," he noted.

Rerum Novarum, the 1891 social encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, presented "a truly revolutionary teaching in its time and still today," and "resolutely inserted the church into some of the most pressing social issues of the day," said Cardinal Turkson.

Referring to Laudato Si' as "the Rerum Novarum of the 21st century," the cardinal said the recent encyclical shows that "the church is manifestly willing to go out into the whole social order and accompany humankind as we urgently take stock and make decisions and retool."