The preciousness and joy of a whole number

Today we don’t attach a lot of symbolism to numbers. A few, mostly superstitious, remnants remain from former ages, such as seeing the number seven as lucky and the number 13 as unlucky. For the most part, for us, numbers are arbitrary.

This hasn’t always been the case. In biblical times, they attached a lot of meaning to certain numbers. For example, in the Bible, the numbers 40, 10, 12 and 100 are highly symbolic. The number 40, for instance, speaks of the length of time required before something can come to proper fruition, while the numbers 10, 12 and 100 speak of a certain wholeness that is required to properly appropriate grace.

    You can’t connect with the spirit without connecting to the body

    “If a man comes to me in confession and says he cannot care for his children properly because of his low wages, it is not enough for me to tell him to say his rosary and offer it up. To be apostolic, I must do what I can to have his wages raised.”
    - Bishop F.A. Marrocco, 1951; The Light from One Candle, Rita Larsen Marrocco, 2002.

    One evening, Laura passed by a Christian church on her way to kill herself. The church was offering a neighbourhood meal that evening, as it often did. Joe, standing on the front porch, called out, “Hi Laura, are you coming for supper?” As she explained afterwards, the astonishing fact that someone remembered her name and face and invited her in changed her life. She did go in for supper, and her life was saved.

    Joe didn’t, at that moment, invite Laura to confession or to Mass, but he extended the most Christian of invitations by welcoming her to supper. In his offer of physical sustenance, he answered a spiritual need too. Can we expect people to experience the Eucharist if they don’t know what a meal is? Can we care for the soul but ignore the body?

    It’s the Christian heresy that won’t go away: that the soul needs to get free of the body. We may worry about the opposite danger — that we’ll live only on the physical level and never get to the spiritual. In practice, that danger is more easily recognized and weeded out than the danger of making us into bodiless spirits.

    My appreciation of the body-spirit dynamism comes naturally, having known it through the ministry of my uncle, Bishop Marrocco. A man of prayer and insight, well-read in doctrine and theology, he was well able to convey Church teaching to both lay people and non-Church people. To him, it was obvious that being a Christian meant working to improve people’s lives, both immediately and systemically; that responding to them spiritually included responding to them practically.

    Are we quicker to say “I’ll pray for you” or to engage in issues like welfare, the minimum wage and social justice? Do we see the two as intimately connected with each other? Pope Leo XIII did. He helped give us the eight-hour work day and the Church’s commitment to actively promote justice, including decent working conditions for everyone. Every pope since has applied to his own day Leo’s visionary 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum.

    In North America, where disembodied spirituality seems rampant, September and October can help us. On Sept. 26 (Canada) and Oct. 19 (General Roman Calendar), we commemorate our North American martyrs: eight French Jesuits who lived and died with the Huron people in Canada. They understood that the body, the material, is the medium of Christian witness, for Christ’s followers as for Christ Himself. Jean de Brébeuf’s down-to-earth rules on interacting with the Hurons demonstrate how thoroughly he appreciated the importance of coming to know and love the people one aims to serve. “You must have a sincere affection for the Huron,” he wrote, “looking upon them as ransomed by the blood of the Son of God, and as our brethren with whom we are to pass the rest of our lives.” He gives guidelines on living with them respectfully, not as angels but as human beings, from “Be careful not to annoy anyone in the canoe with your hat; it would be better to take your night cap,” to “It is well at first to take everything they offer, although you may not be able to eat it at all.” Christ is taught not outside our material lives, but within them; not in Paradise, but in our own messy world.

    For us, salvation doesn’t mean the spirit freed from the body — as it does for many religions and philosophies, including Gnosticism. God’s Word made flesh, Jesus Christ risen from the dead in the body, is a keystone of Christian witness. What does it mean for us?

    Joe lived the Eucharist by stepping into Laura’s life and inviting her in to a meal. The Jesuits were living the Eucharist by canoeing, eating, working and dying with the Huron people. It’s said that the Iroquois who tortured and killed Fr. Brébeuf ate his heart afterward because they admired and wanted to partake of his spirit. It’s a strange distortion of Christ’s command to eat His body and drink His blood, which itself was a startling act that scandalized non-Christians in early-Church days.

    We sometimes forget that it’s shocking. Eucharist is at once deeply spiritual and intimately physical. This is true of the Church’s entire sacramental life, one of its greatest gifts to its people. All the sacraments carry with them a command to change the world into what they witness, the reconciliation of spirit and matter.

    Christ Himself, the great sacrament of the Church, makes this possible.

      All that we have belongs to God

      29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Oc. 16 (Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; Psalm 96; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5; Matthew 22:15-221)

      Absolutely anyone on the face of the Earth can be called by God to be God’s instrument. We would like to think that the call would always go to one who is like us — one who believes, speaks and worships as we do. But this is definitely not the case, for God has His own purposes and a few surprises for us.

      Take the case of Cyrus the Persian. He is not an Israelite nor does he know the God of Israel. Not only that, he is the king of the Persian nation. But he is called the Lord’s anointed — mosiach or messiah — a status usually reserved for King David and his successors. The people of Israel had been led away into exile in Babylon in 586 BC. Now some 50 years later, the Babylonians got a taste of their own medicine when they were conquered by the Persians. But the Jewish prophets looked upon this upstart king as the instrument of God. Cyrus of course would have been oblivious to all of that — he was definitely not in the loop. But events would bear out the prediction. Following an enlightened policy he allowed the Jews who so wished to return to the land of Israel and he gave them a fair amount of autonomy and support.

      We are all instruments in one way or another for God’s kind purposes but often God uses us without consulting us. We cannot pass judgment on the worth of our own life for we may have played an important but anonymous role in God’s plan. Likewise, we cannot judge the life of another for they too have served God’s purposes. And we cannot reject the good that others say and do simply because they do not fit into our understanding of things or because they don’t bear the correct label. Amidst the dreadful messiness of our world God’s Spirit never sleeps but is always silently at work. 

      The correct response on our part is what Paul praises the community at Thessalonica for — to labour on in faith, hope and love. Paul is moved to constant thanksgiving for them even though their lives were probably not noteworthy in the eyes of others. They have been chosen to receive God’s power and Spirit. But to be chosen does not mean that others are rejected — just that the chosen one is singled out for particular mission and service.

      Jesus would be a hard man to trap on the witness stand or in front of a camera for the evening news. He never allows Himself to be backed into a corner or forced into an “either/or” response but manages to turn the tables on His interrogators. After a bit of insincere (and wasted) flattery, they ask Jesus whether it is permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not. It is a no-win question: if He says yes, then He is a traitor to His nation; if He says no, then a rebel against Rome. Either way, He loses and they win. Instead He asks them for a coin — a denarius — and then asks them whose image is on it. When they reply “Caesar,” He gives His famous answer: Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God the things that belong to God.

      This passage has little to do with church-state relations although centuries later it would be enlisted for that purpose. On one level, Jesus dodged a lethal question. But He is also as wise as the serpent He advised us to be. Those who clearly understood the Kingdom of God that Jesus had been preaching would have smiled quietly to themselves. The Kingdom describes God’s direct, immediate and total rule over all the Earth and its peoples with justice and compassion. Everything belongs to God so by all means give to God what belongs to Him. And what is left over for Caesar and all the other earthly powers that claim divine rights intended only for God? Absolutely nothing.

      When we give back to God what rightfully belongs to God there is no room for possessiveness, exploitation, ruthless competition or inequality. All that we have — including our very lives — belong solely to God.

      Give to God what rightfully belongs to God and the world will be made whole again.

        Supporting missions improves people's lives

        VATICAN CITY - Supporting the Church’s work in missionary lands with their prayers and their financial contributions, Catholics also improve the lives of the poor and promote dialogue, said the new prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

        “Evangelization always promotes the development of peoples,” Archbishop Fernando Filoni told L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, Oct. 2.

          Healing of US man key to Italian priest's canonization

          VATICAN CITY - Thanks to the healing of a young man from the United States, who was severely injured in a rollerblading accident, Italian Blessed Louis Guanella will be among three new saints proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI in late October.

          William Glisson, now 30 and married, was 21 years old when he and a friend were rollerblading down the Baltimore Pike in Springfield, Pa., near Philadelphia. Glisson was skating backward, without a helmet, hit a hole and fell, hitting his head.

            Alberta government recognizes sisters’ contributions to province

            EDMONTON - Alberta’s Catholic sisters are being honoured for their pioneering contributions in education, health care and social welfare.

            The Catholic Sisters Legacy Recognition Project honours the legacy of 74 founding congregations who have served in Alberta.

            Women religious built hospitals, schools, orphanages, soup kitchens, immigrant services and boarding schools for unwed mothers across the province as early as 1859.

              From birth to death, everyone has guardian angel, pope says

              VATICAN CITY - Guardian angels exist to protect every human life from its beginning to end, Pope Benedict XVI said.

              "The Lord is always near and active in human history, and he also accompanies us with the unique presence of his angels, which the church today venerates" on feast of the Guardian Angels Oct. 2, he said before reciting the Angelus.

              Guardian angels are "ministers of divine care for every person," he said.

                Shhh: Pope asks communicators to reflect on value of silence

                VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI is asking media professionals and viewers, listeners and readers to set aside a bit of time for silence.

                Announcing that the pope had chosen "Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization" as the theme for World Communications Day 2012, the Vatican acknowledged it initially might appear strange to ask professional wordsmiths to focus on silence, but it said silence is essential for really processing the words people hear or read.

                The Catholic celebration of World Communications Day is marked in most dioceses on the Sunday before Pentecost, which in 2012 will be May 20. A papal message for the occasion usually is released on the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron of writers, Jan. 24.

                  Pope reviews trip to Germany, says it was 'festival of faith'

                  VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI said he was happy to see that "the faith in my German homeland has a young face, is alive and has a future."

                  At his weekly general audience Sept. 28 in St. Peter's Square, the pope told an estimated 10,000 pilgrims and visitors about his trip Sept. 22-25 to Germany.

                  While the pilgrims were awaiting the pope's arrival by helicopter from Castel Gandolfo and again at the end of the audience when he was greeting cardinals and bishops, the crowds were entertained by the Angelus Domini children's choir and nine little dancers from Cheongju, South Korea. Even while the children were singing, a violinist met the pope and played a quick tune for him, standing right in front of him.

                    When the call came, the Callaghans answered

                    TORONTO - When Molly and Bill Callaghan went north to maintain a Chistian presence in small native communities they had years behind them of working in Toronto-area parishes as a deacon couple. Bill had the background in Scripture and theology that comes with the diaconate program while Molly had experience that goes with a lifetime of volunteering in the Church.

                    But none of that mattered very much, said Molly.

                    “We took an egg crate-sized box of stuff we had used in different days of recollection, training sessions, all of that,” Molly recently recalled of their 1991 trip to Sandy Lake, Ont. “We got up there and thought before we do anything about that we need to just be present to the people, keeping their trust and doing what we feel called to do. We came back (in 1998) with that box unopened.”

                      A working vacation changed 16-year-old’s view of Africa

                      Celeah Gagnon spent her summer vacation abroad. But she didn’t spend it tanning in Cuba or backpacking across Europe. For five weeks, she was in Africa helping her grandmother.

                      Her grandmother is Barbara Michie, a Scarboro Missions lay missioner who is working as a teacher in Malawi at an all-boys Catholic boarding school.

                      During this time, Gagnon, a Grade 11 student at F.J. Brennan Catholic High School in Windsor, Ont., mended about 300 books in the school library, which her grandmother runs.