No peace without dialogue, sacrifice, patience, Pope says

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy - Just as individual musicians in an orchestra turn dissonance into harmony through hard work, sacrifice and listening to one another, so, too, can the world's people turn conflict into peace, said Pope Benedict XVI.

The pope made his remarks following a July 11 concert performed in his honor by young musicians from Israel, the Palestinian territories and other Arab countries.

The Lord is the shepherd who will not disappoint

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) July 22 (Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34)

“The Lord is my shepherd” — how often we have heard the opening line of Psalm 23 but perhaps we are not aware of its full import. It is a declaration of independence from the disappointments and betrayals of human beings.

Jeremiah, like his fellow-prophet Ezekiel, did not have good words for the shepherds of Israel. They did not do their job. They were corrupt, greedy and self-serving. They were mostly to blame for the disaster that Jeremiah saw looming on the horizon — the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians in the early sixth century BC. Speaking in the first person on behalf of God, Jeremiah expressed God’s disgust and disappointment at the poor performance of Israel. God resolved to take personal control of the situation — to gather the scattered children of God together and provide them protection. New shepherds would be found who would fulfill their responsibilities. Looking to the distant future, a leader from David’s lineage would be selected, partly because of this lineage but mostly because of his God-centred righteousness.

Solitude is being content in our own skin

Eight-hundred years ago, the poet Rumi wrote: “What I want is to leap out of this personality and then sit apart from that leaping. I’ve lived too long where I can be reached.”

Isn’t that true for all of us, especially today? Our lives are often like over-packed suitcases. It seems like we are always busy, always over-pressured, always one phone call, one text message, one e-mail, one visit and one task behind. We are forever anxious about what we have still left undone, about whom we have disappointed, about unmet expectations.

Mission work requires Gospel joy, living God's love, Pope says

VATICAN CITY - Bringing God's word to mission lands is successful only when missionaries live the Gospel with joy and share the love and goodness they receive from God, Pope Benedict XVI said.

"What is good has the inherent need to be conveyed, to give itself; it cannot stay closed up in itself (because) something good and goodness itself are essentially 'communicatio,'" that is, sharing with others, he said during a brief visit to a center belonging to the missionaries of the Society of the Divine Word.

The Lord’s plan for mankind is all about blessing, reconciliation

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) July 15 (Amos 7:12-15; Psalm 85; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13)

The prophet Amos was not welcome at court or near any of the centres of power in his nation. The priest at Bethel was emphatic: he was to hit the road and get out of town. The sanctuary was a centre of royal power and the warnings that Amos had been delivering were unsettling and irritating.

The priest seemed to assume that Amos was in it for the money and if that were the case, there were richer fields to harvest in the land of Judah to the south. Amos hastened to set him straight by denying that he was a professional prophet — it didn’t even run in the family. He was a simple man — a herdsman and a tree-trimmer and he had been quite content with that. He had not sought or cultivated his calling. It was from God so Amos had very little to say about it. He had no ego investment in the outcome of his mission and no personal attachments whatsoever. He was free to speak the truth that God put in his mind and heart.

Power, privilege, exemptions and wealth are the poisons that often corrupt the purity and integrity of religions. To be stripped of everything except the grace and power of God can be both liberating and purifying.

God’s plan for humanity and the world has been unfolding since the very beginning of time. God has one plan; humans have another. They are seldom in harmony. God’s plan is all about blessing and reconciliation rather than judgment and punishment. We were chosen before the foundation of the world to be in God’s presence and to share in the riches that God intends for us. In fact, God intends to reconcile all creation and all of humanity in Christ — an end to all division and fragmentation. Those called to follow Jesus share in this mission of healing and reconciling the world. As in the case of Amos, it is not something that we dreamed up ourselves and it is not for selfish gain. Alone we are unable to accomplish the task but with God all things are possible.

Jesus ordered the Twelve to be “lean and mean” in the performance of their mission. They were to take no money, food, luggage or even a change of clothes. How many of us would be willing and able to go on a trip under such conditions? Urgency was the issue — Jesus did not want them to be hindered by anything, for the time was short. Generals and leaders who will not act until they have complete control of every last detail are often judged failures by history. They are overtaken by events and by those bolder and swifter than they are.

The Twelve in one sense took nothing with them but in another sense they had everything. They were given authority over the negative forces at work in the world and the Spirit of God worked through them. Jesus wanted them to alert people to the coming of God’s reign so that they could prepare their minds and hearts to receive it. The repentance they preached meant a change of mind and heart — a new way of looking at things. The healings and exorcisms were not merely acts of compassion but signs of God’s imminence.

The erosion of direct Christian influence in the world today might not be a bad thing. We can be too fearful and protective of the institution and its prerogatives. Christianity can and often is embedded too deeply in society, culture and economic systems. This renders it unable to raise a credible prophetic voice. Being stripped of these hindrances can be a gift from God. Perhaps we will rediscover our soul and learn to rely on the power and spirit of God rather than the many dubious forms of security and support that humanity and the world offer us.

Vatican issues 'venerable' decree for Archbishop Sheen

PEORIA, Ill. - The Vatican's June 28 decree that U.S. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen lived a life of heroic virtues and should be considered venerable, advancing his sainthood cause, prompted much rejoicing in his home state of Illinois.

"This is a great day for the Catholic diocese of Peoria and the Catholic Church in America," said Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, who added that the "heroic virtues of a son from central Illinois and a priest of Peoria have been recognized by the Catholic Church."

"Fulton Sheen's zeal, wisdom, and holiness should help us build our faith," he said.

Pope names German theologian to head doctrine office

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI has named Archbishop Gerhard L. Muller of Regensburg, Germany, the new prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The 64-year-old expert in dogmatic theology and ecumenism, who has co-authored a work on liberation theology, replaced U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, who retired at 76.

As head of the doctrinal congregation, the archbishop also assumes the roles of president of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, the Pontifical Biblical Commission and the International Theological Commission.

Pope approves Archbishop Sheen's heroic virtues, step toward sainthood

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI has approved the heroic virtues of U.S. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, the Vatican announced June 28, clearing the way for the advancement of his sainthood cause.

Among the others honored in decrees announced the same day were first prelate of Opus Dei, the Canadian and Irish-American founders of two orders of religious women, a priest murdered by the Sicilian Mafia, and 154 martyrs killed during the Spanish Civil War.

Submission, not power, raises people up to God, says Pope at audience

VATICAN CITY - Christians find fulfillment not by using power or force to realize their own wishes, but by being submissive to God's will and serving others, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Many in the world today are surrounded by people or things that threaten to become the guiding force in their lives, therefore, "it's necessary to have a hierarchy of values in which the top priority is God," the pope said during his weekly general audience in the Paul VI hall June 27.

It was his last general audience before the pope was to leave July 3 for vacation at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome. The weekly general audience was scheduled to resume Aug. 1.

Of holiness and finesse

A woman had a problem. Her parents arranged for her to marry. She knew it wasn’t the life she wanted; she had things to do, which didn’t involve marriage. What to do? Unable to disobey her parents, she was caught between duty and desire. She got engaged.

Before they could be married, her betrothed died in an accident.

The woman, Macrina, lived when it was difficult for a young woman to oppose her parents or to remain unmarried. They would certainly make a new marriage arrangement for her. Still, she had a desire to live her life another way.

Walking in God’s way solves our woes

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) July 8 (Ezekiel 2:3-5; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6)

Few people could have handled Ezekiel’s encounter with God and the realm of the spirit — or would have even wanted to. Ezekiel lived among the exiles in Babylon in the mid-sixth century BC. As he sat by the Chebar River — rivers play an important role in the lives of prophets and visionaries — he had a terrifying vision of the heavens. If this were not enough, a spirit soon entered him and began to speak and to charge him with an important mission.