We all share in the divine life

Second Sunday of Easter (Year A) May 1 (Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 118; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31)

What fuels the negative forces at work in our world? Human competition, greed, fear and selfishness do the job quite well without blaming Satan or some other sinister force for our troubles. It doesn’t really matter if we are competing for oil, trade, power, military strength, economic advantage or even God. When we are convinced that there is not enough for everyone and that we feel threatened or fearful the “fun” begins — the game of trying to do others out of what we want for ourselves.

This deadly game usually ends in blood and tears. Luke’s depiction of the ideal Christian community challenges this dreary inevitability and offers us a luminous path out of the darkness. This first generation of disciples began to renounce the cause of so much human misery — the notion of personal wealth and property especially at the expense of others. This practice of the radical common life was not common — the Dead Sea Scroll community was a noted exception. But the first Christians were convinced that this was the pattern of the new age that was being born in their time. It was the pattern of a community in which the need for competition or jealousy would be lessened and no one would be humiliated or denied the basics of life.

    The Passion according to John

    Each year on Good Friday the Passion of Jesus Christ according to John is read aloud in our churches. John’s Gospel, as we know, was written later than the other Gospels, perhaps some 70 years after Jesus died, and those years gave John plenty of time to reflect upon Jesus’ death and highlight a number of aspects that are not as evident in the other Gospels. What are those special aspects?

    The bulk of John’s account focuses on Jesus’ trial and the eventual judgment that He be put to death. But it is ingeniously written. John writes up the trial of Jesus in such a way that, while Jesus is the one being tried, everyone else is on trial except Jesus. Pilate is on trial, the Jewish authorities are on trial, Jesus’ apostles and disciples are on trial, the crowds watching are on trial, and we who are hearing the story. Jesus, alone, is not on trial, even as His trial is judging everyone else. Hence when Pilate asks Jesus: What is truth? Jesus’ silence puts Pilate on trial by throwing Pilate back on his own silence, the truth of himself. It’s the same for the rest of us.

      Seders give Christians the Passover experience

      A rabbi holds up matzos during a Passover Seder. More Christians are experiencing this at interfaith Seders. (CNS photo)Christians can’t think of the Easter Triduum, let alone live through it, without thinking of the Passover. Increasingly, Christians are letting that thought lead them to an authentic experience of the Jewish Passover in interfaith Seders.

      A Seder is a family meal that ritually re-enacts the Exodus story. It’s the beginning of the Jewish celebration of Passover. Foods served at the Seder are connected directly with the Exodus and the story of Israel’s escape from Egypt is retold, reading the Haggadah aloud through the course of the meal. The Haggadah is a sort of expansion of the Bible story with roots in the Mishnah, a collection of Jewish writings based on oral tradition.

      “It’s a story of liberation,” explains Beth Porter. “We’re really meant to appropriate that story for ourselves as we sit at the Seder table — to think about our own journey from bondage to freedom.”

        Pope earmarks Holy Thursday collection for disaster relief in Japan

        Men sit amid debris in an area that was destroyed by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, in Minamisanriku, Miyagi prefecture, in northern Japan, April 6. (CNS photo/Toru Hanai, Reuters) VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI has decided the collection taken up at his Holy Thursday evening Mass will be used to help those affected by the devastating earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan.

        The March 11 disaster left more than 13,000 people dead and another 13,700 unaccounted for. More than 150,000 were made homeless and many lost their jobs, especially in the fishing industry.

        Each year, the Pope chooses where to send the collection taken up during the Mass of the Lord's Supper at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of the diocese of Rome.

          We are one with the divine

          Easter Sunday (Year A) April 24 (Acts 10:34, 37-43; Psalm 118; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18)

          What was Cornelius the centurion expecting to hear? Although a foreigner, a pagan and an officer in the hated Roman army, he was a thoughtful and just man, giving alms and offering prayers to the God of the people whom he was governing. That prayer was heard — in a vision, a dazzling figure stood before him and commanded him to ask that Peter come to his house. He has no idea who Peter is or what he is going to say. Peter simply relates the story about Jesus that is travelling through Judea: divine anointing with the Spirit, compassionate deeds of power, betrayal and death. But that is not all: God vindicated Jesus by raising Him from the dead, thereby affirming His teaching and deeds. He has transcended death and some of His followers are witnesses.

          At this point Cornelius might say, “Fine — great story and a great man, but what does that have to do with me?” The answer is stark and simple. Jesus now stands astride history itself as the judge of the living and the dead but with the desire to grant forgiveness to those who believe in Him.

            The unquiet frontiers

            Few books have garnered as much respect during the past five years as has Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. That respect is well-deserved. Given secularity’s convoluted history, there isn’t any one, normative study that traces out its evolution; but, if there was, Taylor’s analysis might apply for the distinction.

            Few scholars bring so wide and deep a scholarship to the area of history and faith. Taylor confesses that he is a man of faith, but strives insofar as this is possible for anyone, believer or agnostic, to not let his own beliefs colour his research. Few, even those critical of the book, accuse him of that. He is generally objective, reporting what happened without either trumpeting or bemoaning it.

            And what he traces out is the big story of how we moved historically from a culture and a consciousness within which it was virtually impossible not to believe in God to today, where belief in God is merely one option among others and often not the dominant one. Until the full-flowering of modernity we lived with what Taylor calls a “porous” rather than a “buffered” consciousness. A porous consciousness is more naturally mystical. A buffered consciousness is what Karl Rahner had in mind when he said we would soon reach a time when someone would either be a mystic or a non-believer.

              'Silent Night' gains World Heritage List recognition from UNESCO

              'SIlent Night' has been added to UNESCO's World Heritage List in recognition of its role in fostering cultural diversity. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemit z) WARSAW, Poland - The world's most popular Christmas carol, "Silent Night," has been added to UNESCO's World Heritage List in recognition of its role in fostering cultural diversity.

              "This is a song of freedom for the world, whose beautiful melody and text have inspired versions in more than 300 languages," Michael Neureiter, president of Austria's Silent Night Society, told Catholic News Service.

              "Although it comes from the Catholic tradition, its calm, harmonic sound has made it accessible internationally. As such, it's not just a Christian song, but also a human song."

              "Stille Nacht," or "Silent Night," was written as a poem in 1816 by Fr. Joseph Mohr in Mariapfarr, where he was assigned as an assistant parish priest. It premiered as a carol for two solo voices on Christmas Eve 1818 at the newly established St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, near Salzburg, with music composed by the church organist, Franz Gruber.

                Truth still matters

                Lack of honesty the root cause of most problemsWith campaign jets soaring over the land and campaign buses rolling down highways, it’s sometimes easy for Canadians to be cynical about the honesty of politicians. But truth in politics still matters to Canadians, and politicians recognize it, said Prof. Richard Feist, dean of the faculty of philosophy at Ottawa’s Saint Paul University.

                “The incumbent party certainly does not say something like, ‘Well, so what if we were defeated on non-confidence, or not providing (information).’ ” said Feist. “They want to talk as if ‘No, we were defeated on the budget.’ ”

                Feist runs the Masters in Public Ethics program at Saint Paul, training civil servants in the philosophy of honesty. Truth, who tells the truth and whether citizens can recognize it, is important in how we run our politics and how we run our country, he said.

                  The Roots of Forgiveness

                  In one of James Carroll's early novels, he offers this poignant image: A young man is in the delivery room watching his wife give birth to their baby. The delivery is a difficult one and she is in danger of dying. As he stands watching, he is deeply conflicted: He loves his wife, is holding her hand, and is frantically praying that she not die. Yet the impending birth of their child and the danger of his wife's death conspire to make him acutely aware that, deep in his heart, he has not forgiven her for once being unfaithful to him. He has expressed his forgiveness to her but he realizes now, at this moment of extreme crisis, that in his heart he still has not been able to let go of the hurt and that he has not truly forgiven her.

                  As his wife hovers between life and death, he sees in her face a great tension, a struggle to give birth to someone even as she desperately struggles not to die. Her agony accentuates the deeper lines in her face and he sees there a dual struggle, to give birth and to not die.

                  Seeing this, he is able to forgive her in his heart. What moves him is not simple pity but an empathy born of special insight. His wife's struggle to give birth, while wrestling to stay alive, highlighted by the agony of her situation, is like a light shining on her whole life helping to explain everything, including her infidelity.

                    Jesus’ mission bears witness to God’s Kingdom

                    Passion Sunday (Year A) April 17 (Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66)

                    When people find meaning in their suffering they can endure almost anything. This was the insight of the great philosopher and psychologist Viktor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search for Meaning and how right he was.

                    The enigmatic suffering servant figure of Isaiah is a case in point for his suffering had the highest meaning. We do not know who he was or even if he was a particular individual but we do know that he suffered much abuse in the course of his ministry. This is not some sort of masochistic suffering for its own sake nor does it excuse injustice and cruelty. But one thing is clear: he is able to undergo such suffering and abuse because he knows that he is bearing the divine teaching within him and that he is fulfilling God’s mission. As long as he is continually renewed and instructed within he is able to remain focused with a laser-like intensity and purpose. Whatever is received from God is for the sake of others — our teacher continually gives hope and encouragement to the weary and discouraged. This is the model of the great men and women in history who have given their lives over to the advancement of humanity and have often paid a big price. There is so much today that is worth striving and suffering for — we need only listen to the voice of the spirit within us for guidance.

                      Exorcist boot camp: preparing for battle with the devil

                      A priest performing the rite wears a purple stole. A crucifix and holy water are among the religious items used in the rite. (CNS Photo)VATICAN CITY - A call to arms — to take up the weapons of the rosary and prayer — rang out at a recent international conference on exorcism in Rome.

                      The Church needs more training of both priests and laypeople in fighting the influence of the devil and bringing spiritual healing to those in need, attendees said.

                      "This is warfare. We've gotten way behind. We've lost the concept of spiritual warfare," said Msgr. Marvin Mottet, the official exorcist of the diocese of Davenport, Iowa.

                      The 80-year-old retired priest said that about once a month he sees a serious case of possession and "tons" of cases of demonic influence in which people are being "bothered or attacked by evil spirits." Those kinds of cases, he said, are "a daily thing."