In the story of Jesus and the tax collector, Zacchaeus [Luke 19:1-10, 31st Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle C], we see Jesus acting as the Good Shepherd seeking the lost sheep. While the crowds are spiritually “throwing stones” at Zacchaeus by means of their judgmental attitudes towards him, Jesus sees someone who needs God’s mercy. Jesus offers Zacchaeus hospitality and the result is a changed, converted “Son of Abraham.”

What type of heart did Jesus have that allowed Him to act as Good Shepherd while the crowd acted as stone throwers toward Zacchaeus? How about Jesus’ personal heart? In the book A Heart Like His, Thomas Williams, the author describes Jesus’ personal heart, a heart that sees “persons” and not just “sinners.” A heart that sees beneath the surface in order to see the person created in God’s image and likeness. A likeness that is not destroyed or removed due to a person’s sinfulness. Let me share with you some of the author’s thoughts about Jesus’ personal heart.

We are used to a utilitarian ethic whereby we look for the greatest happiness of the greatest number, despite the unhappy consequence that some will fall through the cracks. As long as most people are okay, we figure we’re doing pretty well. That wasn’t Jesus’ ethics at all. All it took was one person in need to move Jesus’ heart. All it took was a single individual (even an unworthy, sinful individual) to set him in action. For Jesus, human beings were never numbers; they were always persons. And for Jesus, every person was irreplaceable. He didn’t distinguish between important people and unimportant people. All were of infinite worth to him.

That’s why Jesus makes time for everyone. That’s why Jesus treats each person with the same respect. Jesus never made ‘quality of life’ judgments to see who deserved his attention and his care. For him, every human life had the essential quality of being his brother and sister. That was enough.

The Gospels often speak of Jesus addressing the ‘crowds’ that followed after him, yet time after time they also narrate his encounters with real-life people: widows, soldiers, prostitutes, paralytics, lepers, beggars, and so on. They tell us of Jesus’ meeting with Jairus the synagogue official and Zacchaeus the tax collector and Simon the leper and of course, Mary Magdalene ‘from whom seven demons had gone out.’ Day after day Jesus devoted himself to real people, with names, addresses, personal histories, and individual needs.

Sometimes, too, we can romanticize what these people were like to deal with on a daily basis. Jesus didn’t love them because they were such fine people that one couldn’t help but love them. Most of the people Jesus dealt with were petty, short-sighted, and deeply flawed. Some were cheats. Others were scheming. Still others were lazy, lustful, and dishonest. Yet Jesus loved these people, the imperfect and often unpleasant ones.

To have a heart like Christ’s means to have a heart that sees every human being as precious. It means a personal touch in our dealings with others, even if they are ‘only’ the checkout clerk at the grocery store or the shampoo girl at eh hair salon. Loving humanity must translate into loving the person next to me right now. The maxim ‘charity begins at home’ has special significance in this context. The people we rub shoulders with every day – especially our immediate family – are often those we find it hardest to love, simply because we have to deal with them very day. Yet in those all-too-real people beside us, with all their limitations and annoying habits, we discover our special vocation to Christian charity.

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In less than a week we will be celebrating All Saints Day. We often think about the saints in terms of their intercession for us. Another reason that we honor them is that they serve as our role models. If we want to be a saint, then the official saints of the church are the ones that we are called to study and to learn from. While being a saint may seem like a far-fetched idea, the converse – not to become a saint after one dies – is not a very pleasant option.


One person defined a saint as someone who wills the One Thing. God!! Recall last weekend at Mass when we read Paul’s second letter to Timothy [2 Timothy 4:6-8, 14-16]. Paul talked about his zeal to follow Christ. Paul mentioned that he had been poured out like a libation. He sensed that he was nearing the end of his life so he shared those wonderful words:

I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.

In her book Illuminated Life, Sister Joan Chittister spoke about zeal for the Lord through a story:

A monk went to see his spiritual director and said to him: as far as I am able I keep my little fasts, I pray my little prayers, I meditate a little, I live in peace, and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do? The spiritual director stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten torches of flame and he said to the monk, “Why not be turned completely into fire?”

She describe what happens when the love of Christ compels us to live for him:

The presence of God is a demanding thing. Nothing stays the same once we have found the God within. We become new people and we see everything around us differently and in a new way also. We become connected to everything, to everyone. We carry the world in our hearts: the oppression of people, the suffering of friends, the burden of enemies, the hunger of the starving, the dreams of every laughing child. Awareness focuses our hearts and zeal consumes us.

On October 24, the Church celebrated the feast of Saint Anthony Claret (1807-1870). He was an outstanding preacher in Spain; started a missionary order after he was made bishop in Cuba; and he was known for his pastoral zeal. Let me share with you Saint Anthony’s words from the Church’s Office of Readings for October 24:


Driven by the fire of the Holy Spirit, the holy apostles travelled throughout the earth. Inflamed with the same fire, apostolic missionaries have reached, are now reaching and will continue to reach the ends of the earth, from one pole to the other, in order to proclaim the word of God. They are deservedly able to apply to themselves those words of the apostle Paul: The love of Christ drives us on.

  The love of Christ arouses us, urges us to run, and to fly, lifted on the wings of holy zeal. The man who truly loves God also loves his neighbour. The truly zealous man is also one who loves, but he stands on a higher plane of love so that the more he is inflamed by love, the more urgently zeal drives him on. But if anyone lacks this zeal, then it is evident that love and charity have been extinguished in his heart. The zealous man desires and achieves all great things and he labours strenuously so that God may always be better known, loved and served in this world and in the life to come, for this holy love is without end.

  Because he is concerned also for his neighbour, the man of zeal works to fulfil his desire that all men be content on this earth and happy and blessed in their heavenly homeland, that all may be saved, and that no one may perish for ever, or offend God, or remain even for a moment in sin. Such are the concerns we observe in the holy apostles and in all who are driven by the apostolic spirit.

  For myself, I say this to you: The man who burns with the fire of divine love is a son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and wherever he goes, he enkindles that flame; he desires and works with all his strength to inflame all men with the fire of God’s love. Nothing deters him: he rejoices in poverty; he labours strenuously; he welcomes hardships; he laughs off false accusations; he rejoices in anguish. He thinks only of how he might follow Jesus Christ and imitate him by his prayers, his labours, his sufferings, and by caring always and only for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.


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On May 18, 2013, Pope Francis spoke to a group of laity. In the speech, the pope spoke about being a missionary Church. He spoke about a Church of “encounter.” The first encounter is our encounter with Christ in order to grow in faith. A second encounter is that with Christ in those we serve. A third encounter is to let others encounter Christ through us. Let me continue with the theme of the past few days and share with your some more thoughts about being a missionary Church. A missionary Church of mercy.

When the Church becomes closed, she becomes an ailing Church, she falls ill! That is a danger. Nevertheless we lock ourselves up in our parish, among our friends, in our movement, with people who think as we do… but do you know what happens? When the Church is closed, she falls sick, she falls sick. Think of a room that has been closed for a year. When you go into it there is a smell of damp, many things are wrong with it. A Church closed in on herself is the same, a sick Church.

The Church must step outside herself. To go where? To the outskirts of existence, whatever they may be, but she must step out. Jesus tells us: “Go into all the world! Go! Preach! Bear witness to the Gospel!” (cf. Mk 16:15). But what happens if we step outside ourselves? The same as can happen to anyone who comes out of the house and onto the street: an accident. But I tell you, I far prefer a Church that has had a few accidents to a Church that has fallen sick from being closed.

Go out, go out! Think of what the Book of Revelation says as well. It says something beautiful: that Jesus stands at the door and knocks, knocks to be let into our heart (cf. Rev 3:20). This is the meaning of the Book of Revelation. But ask yourselves this question: how often is Jesus inside and knocking at the door to be let out, to come out? And we do not let him out because of our own need for security, because so often we are locked into ephemeral structures that serve solely to make us slaves and not free children of God.

In this “stepping out” it is important to be ready for encounter. For me this word is very important. Encounter with others. Why? Because faith is an encounter with Jesus, and we must do what Jesus does: encounter others. We live in a culture of conflict, a culture of fragmentation, a culture in which I throw away what is of no use to me, a culture of waste.

Yet on this point, I ask you to think — and it is part of the crisis — of the elderly, who are the wisdom of a people, think of the children… the culture of waste! However, we must go out to meet them, and with our faith we must create a “culture of encounter”, a culture of friendship, a culture in which we find brothers and sisters, in which we can also speak with those who think differently, as well as those who hold other beliefs, who do not have the same faith.

They all have something in common with us: they are images of God, they are children of God. Going out to meet everyone, without losing sight of our own position. There is another important point: encountering the poor. If we step outside ourselves we find poverty. Today — it sickens the heart to say so — the discovery of a tramp who has died of the cold is not news. Today what counts as news is, maybe, a scandal. A scandal: ah, that is news! Today, the thought that a great many children do not have food to eat is not news. This is serious, this is serious! We cannot put up with this! Yet that is how things are. We cannot become starched Christians, those over-educated Christians who speak of theological matters as they calmly sip their tea. No! We must become courageous Christians and go in search of the people who are the very flesh of Christ, those who are the flesh of Christ!

When I go to hear confessions – I still can’t, because to go out to hear confessions… from here it’s impossible to go out, but that’s another problem — when I used to go to hear confessions in my previous diocese, people would come to me and I would always ask them: “Do you give alms?” — “Yes, Father!” “Very good.” And I would ask them two further questions: “Tell me, when you give alms, do you look the person in the eye?” “Oh I don’t know, I haven’t really thought about it”. The second question: “And when you give alms, do you touch the hand of the person you are giving them to or do you toss the coin at him or her?” This is the problem: the flesh of Christ, touching the flesh of Christ, taking upon ourselves this suffering for the poor. Poverty for us Christians is not a sociological, philosophical or cultural category, no. It is theological. I might say this is the first category, because our God, the Son of God, abased himself, he made himself poor to walk along the road with us.

This is our poverty: the poverty of the flesh of Christ, the poverty that brought the Son of God to us through his Incarnation. A poor Church for the poor begins by reaching out to the flesh of Christ. If we reach out to the flesh of Christ, we begin to understand something, to understand what this poverty, the Lord’s poverty, actually is; and this is far from easy.



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On October 22, my daily blog shared with you Pope Francis’ message for World Missions Sunday. I would like to go back to that theme of missions. In his message for World Missions Sunday, Pope Francis wrote:


All peoples and cultures have the right to receive the message of salvation which is God’s gift to every person.  This is all the more necessary when we consider how many injustices, wars, and humanitarian crises still need resolution. Missionaries know from experience that the Gospel of forgiveness and mercy can bring joy and reconciliation, justice and peace. The mandate of the Gospel to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20) has not ceased; rather this command commits all of us, in the current landscape with all its challenges, to hear the call to a renewed missionary “impulse”, as I noted in my Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: “Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel” (20).


In his Angelus address on January 26, 2014, Pope Francis spoke about Jesus’ beginning His mission to share the Good News of God’s forgiveness and mercy. The gospel for that Sunday came from Matthew 4:12-23. Part of that gospel passage included Jesus calling his first disciples to follow Him on mission. The call is also extended to us:

From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him. He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people. [Matthew 4:17-23]


I would like to share with you some of Pope Francis’ Angelus message from that Sunday. I pray that his words will inspire all of the baptized to share the missionary task given to us. Our world needs the message of mercy and forgiveness. Our world needs more missionaries. The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.


This Sunday’s Gospel recounts the beginnings of the public life of Jesus in the cities and villages of Galilee. His mission does not begin in Jerusalem, the religious centre and also the social and political centre, but in an area on the outskirts, an area looked down upon by the most observant Jews because of the presence in that region of various foreign peoples; that is why the Prophet Isaiah calls it “Galilee of the nations” (Is 9:1).

It is a borderland, a place of transit where people of different races, cultures, and religions converge. Thus Galilee becomes a symbolic place for the Gospel to open to all nations. From this point of view, Galilee is like the world of today: the co-presence of different cultures, the necessity for comparison and the necessity of encounter. We too are immersed every day in a kind of “Galilee of the nations”, and in this type of context we may feel afraid and give in to the temptation to build fences to make us feel safer, more protected. But Jesus teaches us that the Good News, which he brings, is not reserved to one part of humanity, it is to be communicated to everyone. It is a proclamation of joy destined for those who are waiting for it, but also for all those who perhaps are no longer waiting for anything and haven’t even the strength to seek and to ask.

Jesus begins his mission not only from a decentralized place, but also among men whom one would call, refer to, as having a “low profile”. When choosing his first disciples and future apostles, he does not turn to the schools of scribes and doctors of the Law, but to humble people and simple people, who diligently prepare for the coming of the Kingdom of God. Jesus goes to call them where they work, on the lakeshore: they are fishermen. He calls them, and they follow him, immediately. They leave their nets and go with him: their life will become an extraordinary and fascinating adventure.

Dear friends, the Lord is calling today too! The Lord passes through the paths of our daily life. Even today at this moment, here, the Lord is passing through the square. He is calling us to go with him, to work with him for the Kingdom of God, in the “Galilee” of our times. May each one of you think: the Lord is passing by today, the Lord is watching me, he is looking at me! What is the Lord saying to me? And if one of you feels that the Lord says to you “follow me” be brave, go with the Lord. The Lord never disappoints. Feel in your heart if the Lord is calling you to follow him. Let’s let his gaze rest on us, hear his voice, and follow him! “That the joy of the Gospel may reach to the ends of the earth, illuminating even the fringes of our world” (ibid., n. 288).


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The daily devotional, Give Us This Day, had a wonderful reflection by Dianne Bergant for the 30th week of Ordinary Time. She wrote about the preferential option for the poor, a foundational principle behind the corporal works of mercy. I have always defined the option for the poor as meaning that whenever we make decisions, especially at local and governmental levels, the first concern is how the decision will affect the least among us. It is an essential principle but our selfishness can at times override the concern for the poor. Consider how we vote for elected officials and how the elected officials seek our votes. Often it is with promises of what they will do for us, not necessarily what they will do for the least among us.

Let share with you Dianne Bergant’s reflection. She started by quoting the Vatican II document, Gaudium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World):

The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.


With these words, the Second Vatican Council set the agenda for the future social teaching of the Church. Just three years later, in 1968, the bishops of Latin American took a bold stand in favor of their impoverished people, insisting that all pastoral action must have the poor as their primary concern. The phrase “preferential option for the poor” became the cornerstone of a Latin American liberation theology developed first by Gustavo Gutiérrez, a Peruvian theologian, and then adopted by the Latin American bishops at a meeting held in Puebla, Mexico, in 1979. But what does the phrase mean? Who are the poor? Why are they preferred? And how does one opt in their favor?

 Who are the poor? The Old Testament identifies “those who are poor or in any way afflicted” as the anawim. These are the people the prophets defended and the psalms acclaim (see Psalm 34). These are the people who touched the heart of Jesus. While the anawim originally referred to the economically poor, it soon became a designation for all those who recognized their neediness and subsequently placed their trust in God. Today, in addition to those in financial straits, the anawim might include migrants or victims of war or natural disasters.

Why are they preferred? Because they are in some way needy and, as members of the body of Christ, they have a claim on us. Sunday’s reading from Sirach [35:12-14 16-18] might seem to challenge such preference: God “shows no favorites” and is “not unduly partial toward the weak.” Yet there is no contradiction because the Vatican documents do not say that God prefers one group of people over another. Rather, the members of the Church must exercise such preference. In other words, it is our Christian responsibility to care for those in need, to eliminate laws and customs that exploit them.

How might we exercise such an option? Almsgiving and sharing some of our own good fortune might alleviate some immediate need, but an option suggests that the poor are a priority, not merely the recipients of some of our abundance. An example of genuine “option for the poor” is the directive by the late Kenneth Untener, bishop of Saginaw, Michigan (d. 2004). On one Holy Thursday, he declared that for the next year, the first item on the agenda of every diocesan meeting, whether of the executive committee or of the parish ushers, must be: “How shall what we are doing here affect or involve the poor?” This declaration made the entire diocese reflect on its priorities. In this way, “option for the poor” became the focus of all parish life.

Now how might we exercise this option?

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The gospel at Mass today [Luke 18:9-14] focuses on our relationship with God – righteousness or redemption or justification.

Jesus then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.

Our relationship with God is based upon grace; what God has done and is doing in us by means of Christ and the Spirit that Christ has given to us, In other words, our righteousness is a manifestation of God’s mercy towards us.

I was reading a sermon by St. Peter Chrysologus which focused on Jesus as our savior. The saint’s complex use of words and comparisons between the first Adam (in the book of Genesis) and the second Adam (Jesus) was fascinating. I hope that you will find his sermon enlightening and thought provoking. I also share with you St. Peter Chrysologus’ sermon because studies have shown that young people are very confused or uncertain as to Christ’s identity and nature. One study showed that some young people think that Jesus is God but somehow born in time. This understanding of Jesus is certainly not what we profess at Mass when we profess our faith through the Creed.


The word, the wisdom of God, was made flesh

The holy Apostle has told us that the human race takes its origin from two men, Adam and Christ; two men equal in body but unequal in merit, wholly alike in their physical structure but totally unlike in the very origin of their being. The first man, Adam, he says, became a living soul, the last Adam a life-giving spirit.

  The first Adam was made by the last Adam, from whom he also received his soul, to give him life. The last Adam was formed by his own action; he did not have to wait for life to be given him by someone else, but was the only one who could give life to all. The first Adam was formed from valueless clay, the second Adam came forth from the precious womb of the Virgin. In the case of the first Adam, earth was changed into flesh; in the case of the second Adam, flesh was raised up to be God.

  What more need be said? The second Adam stamped his image on the first Adam when he created him. That is why he took on himself the role, and the name, of the first Adam, in order that he might not lose what he had made in his own image. The first Adam, the last Adam; the first had a beginning, the last knows no end. The last Adam is indeed the first; as he himself says: I am the first and the last.

  I am the first, that is, I have no beginning. I am the last, that is, I have no end. But what was spiritual, says the Apostle, did not come first; what was living came first, then what is spiritual. The earth comes before its fruit, but the earth is not so valuable as its fruit. The earth exacts pain and toil; its fruit bestows subsistence and life. The prophet rightly boasted of this fruit: Our earth has yielded its fruit. What is this fruit? The fruit referred to in another place: I will place upon your throne one who is the fruit of your body. The first man, says the Apostle, was made from the earth and belongs to the earth; the second man is from heaven, and belongs to heaven.

  The man made from the earth is the pattern of those who belong to the earth; the man from heaven is the pattern of those who belong to heaven. How is it that these last, though they do not belong to heaven by birth, will yet belong to heaven, men who do not remain what they were by birth but persevere in being what they have become by rebirth? The reason is, brethren, that the heavenly Spirit, by the mysterious infusion of his light, gives fertility to the womb of the virginal font. The Spirit brings forth as men belonging to heaven those whose earthly ancestry brought them forth as men belonging to the earth, and in a condition of wretchedness; he gives them the likeness of their Creator. Now that we are reborn, refashioned in the image of our Creator, we must fulfil what the Apostle commands: So, as we have worn the likeness of the man of earth, let us also wear the likeness of the man of heaven.

  Now that we are reborn, as I have said, in the likeness of our Lord, and have indeed been adopted by God as his children, let us put on the complete image of our Creator so as to be wholly like him, not in the glory that he alone possesses, but in innocence, simplicity, gentleness, patience, humility, mercy, harmony, those qualities in which he chose to become, and to be, one with us.


Food for thought?

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On Sunday, the Church celebrates World Mission Sunday. While we often imagine missionaries as the men and women sharing the Good News in distant lands, in reality the nature of the Church – our own individual nature as members of the Body of Christ – is to be missionaries. All of us are missionaries by baptism. Saint John Paul II said that everyone has the right to hear the Good News of salvation which is offered through the incarnation of the Son of God. Jesus means “God saves” His people from their sins so they can become children of God and live eternally with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This message is the fundamental message of the Good News that Christ came to offer all men and women.

This Year of Mercy is a good opportunity to reflect on how we have been, and how we can become, missionaries of God’s mercy. Mercy is a wonderful way to present Christ to those who don’t know Him and to those who are lukewarm in their faith. Pope Francis in his message for World Mission Sunday spoke to this theme. Let me share with you his message.

The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, which the Church is celebrating, casts a distinct light on World Mission Sunday 2016: it invites us to consider the missio ad gentes as a great, immense work of mercy, both spiritual and material. On this World Mission Sunday, all of us are invited to “go out” as missionary disciples, each generously offering their talents, creativity, wisdom and experience in order to bring the message of God’s tenderness and compassion to the entire human family. By virtue of the missionary mandate, the Church cares for those who do not know the Gospel, because she wants everyone to be saved and to experience the Lord’s love. She “is commissioned to announce the mercy of God, the beating heart of the Gospel” (Misericordiae Vultus, 12) and to proclaim mercy in every corner of the world, reaching every person, young or old.

When mercy encounters a person, it brings deep joy to the Father’s heart; for from the beginning the Father has lovingly turned towards the most vulnerable, because his greatness and power are revealed precisely in his capacity to identify with the young, the marginalized and the oppressed (cf. Deut 4:31; Ps 86:15; 103:8; 111:4). He is a kind, caring and faithful God who is close to those in need, especially the poor; he involves himself tenderly in human reality just as a father and mother do in the lives of their children (cf. Jer 31:20). When speaking of the womb, the Bible uses the word that signifies mercy: therefore it refers to the love of a mother for her children, whom she will always love, in every circumstance and regardless of what happens, because they are the fruit of her womb. This is also an essential aspect of the love that God has for all his children, whom he created and whom he wants to raise and educate; in the face of their weaknesses and infidelity, his heart is overcome with compassion (cf. Hos 11:8). He is merciful towards all; his love is for all people and his compassion extends to all creatures (cf. Ps 144:8-9).

Mercy finds its most noble and complete expression in the Incarnate Word. Jesus reveals the face of the Father who is rich in mercy; he “speaks of [mercy] and explains it by the use of comparisons and parables, but above all he himself makes it incarnate and personifies it” (John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia, 2). When we welcome and follow Jesus by means of the Gospel and sacraments, we can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, become merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful; we can learn to love as he loves us and make of our lives a free gift, a sign of his goodness (cf. Misericordiae Vultus, 3). The Church, in the midst of humanity, is first of all the community that lives by the mercy of Christ: she senses his gaze and feels he has chosen her with his merciful love. It is through this love that the Church discovers its mandate, lives it and makes it known to all peoples through a respectful dialogue with every culture and religious belief.

This merciful love, as in the early days of the Church, is witnessed to by many men and women of every age and condition. The considerable and growing presence of women in the missionary world, working alongside their male counterparts, is a significant sign of God’s maternal love. Women, lay and religious, and today even many families, carry out their missionary vocation in various forms: from announcing the Gospel to charitable service. Together with the evangelizing and sacramental work of missionaries, women and families often more adequately understand people’s problems and know how to deal with them in an appropriate and, at times, fresh way: in caring for life, with a strong focus on people rather than structures, and by allocating human and spiritual resources towards the building of good relations, harmony, peace, solidarity, dialogue, cooperation and fraternity, both among individuals and in social and cultural life, in particular through care for the poor.

In many places evangelization begins with education, to which missionary work dedicates much time and effort, like the merciful vine-dresser of the Gospel (cf. Lk 13:7-9; Jn 15:1), patiently waiting for fruit after years of slow cultivation; in this way they bring forth a new people able to evangelize, who will take the Gospel to those places where it otherwise would not have been thought possible. The Church can also be defined as “mother” for those who will one day have faith in Christ. I hope, therefore, that the holy people of God will continue to exercise this maternal service of mercy, which helps those who do not yet know the Lord to encounter and love him. Faith is God’s gift and not the result of proselytizing; rather it grows thanks to the faith and charity of evangelizers who witness to Christ. As they travel through the streets of the world, the disciples of Jesus need to have a love without limits, the same measure of love that our Lord has for all people. We proclaim the most beautiful and greatest gifts that he has given us: his life and his love. 

All peoples and cultures have the right to receive the message of salvation which is God’s gift to every person.  This is all the more necessary when we consider how many injustices, wars, and humanitarian crises still need resolution. Missionaries know from experience that the Gospel of forgiveness and mercy can bring joy and reconciliation, justice and peace. The mandate of the Gospel to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20) has not ceased; rather this command commits all of us, in the current landscape with all its challenges, to hear the call to a renewed missionary “impulse”, as I noted in my Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: “Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel” (20).

This Jubilee year marks the 90th anniversary of World Missionary Day, first approved by Pope Pius XI in 1926 and organized by the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith.  It is appropriate then to recall the wise instructions of my Predecessors who ordered that to this Society be destined all the offerings collected in every diocese, parish, religious community, association and ecclesial movement throughout the world for the care of Christian communities in need and for supporting the proclamation of the Gospel even to the ends of the earth.  Today too we believe in this sign of missionary ecclesial communion. Let us not close our hearts within our own particular concerns, but let us open them to all of humanity.

May Holy Mary, sublime icon of redeemed humanity, model of missionaries for the Church, teach all men, women and families, to foster and safeguard the living and mysterious presence of the Risen Lord in every place, he who renews personal relationships, cultures and peoples, and who fills all with joyful mercy.


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Paul’s letter to the Ephesians has several verses that make my heart soar to the heavens whenever I read them. The beginning of the letter has an early Christian hymn that speaks about God choosing us before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. The first reading for Mass on 10/20 had another of those verses that make my heart soar to the heavens:

Ephesians 3:18-19: may (we) have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

With these words Paul prays that we might be equipped to experience the fullness of God’s love. In that passage from Ephesians [Ephesians 3:14-21] Paul prays for several things that will make this love incarnated into our lives:

  • That we be strengthened inwardly by the Holy Spirit. Sin often appears attractive to our minds and to our eyes or else we would reject it. The Holy Spirit will give us the understanding and insight to choose for Christ and for God.
  • That Christ will be rooted in our hearts so our lives are oriented to God, the Father. This orientation reminds us that we owe our very existence to God [ in Him we live and move and have our being] and that God is the source of unity for all creation.
  • That charity is the root and foundation of our lives. If charity [agape] grounds us, then our lives are like the doxology that concludes the Eucharistic prayer: Through Him, and with Him, and in Him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours for ever and ever.



Connecting Paul’s words to the Year of Mercy, this rootedness in Christ, empowerment by the Holy Spirit, and orientation towards the Father of unity, motivates our loving actions and works of mercy. The experience of the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love causes us to love one another with a love that cannot be explained nor can it be controlled. That is why Paul concludes this passage from Ephesians with the words:

Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us,


As I reflected on this type of love, I recalled a story told by a priest about a couple that had been married for over 70 years. Certainly their love illustrates the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love.


One day, a 92-year old woman was brought into hospital from one of the nursing homes. For four years while in a nursing home, she had suffered from dementia, not able to speak, not aware of her surroundings. She was completely in a world of her own. Every day, she was visited by her husband who was 94. He was a very small man who always dressed very smartly in his regimental blazer and tie with the crest of the Parachute regiment. He would use 3 different buses to get to the hospital. Every morning he would arrive at 9, hold his wife’s hand until noon, go to lunch, come back at 2, and stay until 4 PM. One day when the man’s granddaughter took him to the hospital, she shared with the chaplain that her grandparents had been together since the grandmother was 3 and the grandfather was 5. This aroused the chaplain’s curiosity, so one day he asked the elderly man: Why do you come every day? What does she still mean to you, now that she is so terribly demented – now that her personality is entirely destroyed? All he could say in reply was “she’s my wife”. While all the doctors and nurses only saw a very old, demented woman, he with the eyes of faith, could still see the woman he married 70-something years ago.


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On October 19 the Church celebrates the lives of several saints with whom we are probably not too familiar: Saints Isaac Jogues, John de Brefeuf, priests, and their companion martyrs (1642-1649). The two priests ministered to some of the Native American tribes in upstate New York where I grew up. During one of my history courses during the seminary, the professor was very knowledgeable about the Catholic Church in the United States during the early years of our country’s history. He spent a large portion of one class talking about the Jesuits and their mission of evangelization to the Native American tribes. The Jesuits were excellent at sending letters back to France describing what they were doing and what they were experiencing. Therefore we have some excellent historical records of their evangelization efforts.

On the saints’ feast day, the Office Reading includes a reflection/letter written by Saint John de Brebeuf. I have always been inspired by his words of commitment to Christ, even to the point of shedding his blood if that were God’s will:


…as far as I have the strength I will never fail to accept the grace of martyrdom… I bind myself in this way so that for the rest of my life I will have neither permission nor freedom to refuse to opportunities of dying and shedding my blood for you… unless you would consider otherwise for your glory….


Let me share with you some information by Carl Donaldson that I found about Saint Isaac Jogues. Hopefully Jogues’ example of trust and commitment will inspire all of us during this Year of Mercy and beyond this jubilee year.

The life of St. Isaac Jogues is a life of large and small actions that have rippled across space and time.  Born to a good, middle class family in France, Jogues grew up on reports of Jesuit missionary activities in the New World.  Eventually, he found himself one of those very missionaries, as he became a priest and was sent to the Great Lakes region of Canada.

The year was 1636, and the path to the New World was long.  The path to Jogues’ intended post along Lake Huron was even longer- by some 900 miles of river, portages, and exposure to the elements.  By the time the young priest got to his new home, a settlement created to live among the Huron Indians for evangelization purposes, he was deathly ill with a fever.  The fever spread to the other priests in the village, who were living in crude huts and hovering at the starvation line.  From the “Black Coats”, which was the name the Huron gave to the Jesuit priests among them, the illness spread to the native inhabitants themselves, which resulted in murderous sentiment among the Hurons.

Fr. Jogues and his colleagues were able to repair relations with their hosts, and despite focused attempts by the local medicine men to foment hostility toward the Jesuits, the Huron people recognized the honest good will of the missionaries and accepted them into their homes.

St. Isaac Jogues and his companions were not a conquering nation, they were guests of the Huron and other Woodlands tribes.  For six years, Fr. Jogues lived among the Huron, learning the language, learning the culture, becoming a part of the community.  The settlers recognized that Fr. Jogues and his companions were not there to engage in commerce or to profit in any way from their dealings with the Huron- they were honestly there to share the good news of the Gospel.  And so in this environment of mutual respect, many Huron and other nearby tribes became Christian. 

Not so with the Mohawk tribe of the Iroquois, who were sworn enemies of the Huron.  One year, after a particularly bad harvest and rampant illness, Fr. Jogues made the dangerous journey to Quebec for supplies to help the settlement.  On the return trip, the party was attacked by Mohawks, who were particularly eager to capture Christian Hurons- not only were they hereditary enemies, but they had also fallen sway to a foreign religion.  Fr. Jogues and many of his companions were taken hostage, led to a place on Lake Champlain now known as Jogues Island.  There, they were subjected to torture, including the severing of two fingers on Fr. Jogues’ right hand.

 For a year Fr. Jogues lived in captivity.  He was subjected to frequent torture, yet remained steadfast in his desire to spread the Gospel to all corners of the earth.  He learned the Mohawk language, comforted the Huron converts, baptized dying children, despite the brutal punishment he received when discovered, and became known as “The Indomitable One” by his captors.  Eventually, Fr. Jogues was ransomed, and returned back to France (after making a stop in Manhattan, thus  becoming the first Catholic priest to say Mass on the island), where he was viewed as a “living martyr” for having survived the barbarous treatment.  He was issued a dispensation by Pope Urban VIII in order to continue saying Mass, as at the time, Canon law required that the Blessed Sacrament be handled only by the thumb and forefinger of the right hand, something made impossible by Jogues’ mutilation.

 Despite the tortures endured in the New World, Jogues expressed an unquenchable desire to return to his missionary endeavors.  Within a year, he was back in Quebec, took part in a peace conclave between the Huron and Mohawk, and returned to the very village where he had endured terrible brutality.  The people of the village were astounded to see the priest again, bearing no trace of ill-will, but come as an ambassador of peace.  He secured the release of the Huron converts, repaid the people who had provided the funds for his ransom, and made plans to spend the winter with the Mohawk in their village.

 Tragedy, however, prevented that from happening, as crops failed that year due to a caterpillar infestation, and yet another epidemic.  The Mohawk once again blamed the Catholic missionaries for the disaster, pinning the events on a curse radiating off a chest of vestments and the priest’s personal effects.  Fr. Jogues and several of his companions were once again taken captive, and the tribe met to decide the fate of Jogues, known to the Mohawk as Ondessonk, “The Indomitable One”, and his friends.

 It speaks highly of the way Fr. Jogues conducted his relations with the Mohawk that the majority of the tribe voted to set him free.  However, one faction disagreed, and taking matters into their own hands, invited Ondessonk to come visit a tent, where he was tomahawked, beheaded, thrown into a ravine, and his head set upon a pike along the trail in warning to other Jesuit missionaries.

The end of St. Isaac Jogues’ life wasn’t the end of his influence, however.  The memory of the brave and gentle man remained strong among the Huron and Mohawk, and within years, lasting peace between the Huron and Mohawk was established, and Jesuit missionaries returned, able to set up permanent missions.  Members of the Mohawk tribe entered the seminary in Quebec, and less than a decade after Jogues’ martyrdom, in the very village he died, a Mohawk woman named Kateri Tekakwitha was born.


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On the Feast of Saint Luke yesterday (10/18), Paul in the first reading at Mass spoke about feeling abandoned by some of his companions. An exception was Luke.

Demas, enamored of the present world, deserted me and went to Thessalonica, Crescens to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Luke is the only one with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is helpful to me in the ministry. [2 Timothy 410ff]

With Paul being in prison when he wrote his letters to Timothy, having the doctor, Luke, as a companion was truly a blessing for Paul.

Have you ever reflected on the works of mercy and how they are a “ministry of presence” to others? When we are visiting the sick, although we might be bringing communion to the person, we are also offering them a ministry of presence. The faith community of the sick person, the Body of Christ, is praying for them and is there for them. Likewise when we visit those in prison. We cannot change their status and pardon them. But we remind them that Christ is with them by means of His Body, the ministers who are visiting with the offenders. Even a corporal work of mercy such as feeding the hungry is a ministry of presence. We not only offer physical nourishment to the hungry but we also offer the spiritual nourishment of Christ and God’s concern for them by means of our presence.

In Luke’s gospel [Chapter 10], Jesus sends the disciples out on mission and instructs them to take no money bag, extra sandals, and all the other things that one would normally take on a trip. Apply those words to the ministry of presence. We don’t bring with us anything else except Christ and the Holy Spirit who will guide us on how we are to minister to others, what we are to say, and what we are to do as we offer a ministry of presence.

All of this is wonderful… except. At least for me, there is a temptation when visiting the sick, for instance, to want to solve the problem. In other words, the ministry of presence can create some internal discomfort and this ill-at-ease feeling can block the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking inside of us. That is the temptation against which we must fight. A little

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful. And kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth you Holy Spirit and they shall be created. And you will renew the face of the earth.

is very much in order and very helpful when those ill-at-ease feelings begin to fill our minds. Don’t forget that wonderful prayer attributed to Saint Teresa of Avila: Christ has no body on earth but ours!


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