APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION GAUDETE ET EXSULTATE OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS ON THE CALL TO HOLINESS IN TODAY’S WORLD
- “REJOICE AND BE GLAD” (Mt 5:12), Jesus tells those persecuted or humiliated for his sake. The Lord asks everything of us, and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created. He wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence. The call to holiness is present in various ways from the very first pages of the Bible. We see it expressed in the Lord’s words to Abraham: “Walk before me, and be blameless” (Gen 17:1)
- What follows is not meant to be a treatise on holiness, containing definitions and distinctions helpful for understanding this important subject, or a discussion of the various means of sanctification. My modest goal is to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities. For the Lord has chosen each one of us “to be holy and blameless before him in love” (Eph 1:4).
CHAPTER ONE : THE CALL TO HOLINESS
THE SAINTS WHO ENCOURAGE AND ACCOMPANY US
- The Letter to the Hebrews presents a number of testimonies that encourage us to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (12:1). It speaks of Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Gideon and others (cf. 11:1-12:3). Above all, it invites us to realize that “a great cloud of witnesses” (12:1)
impels us to advance constantly towards the goal. These witnesses may include our own mothers, grandmothers or other loved ones (cf. 2 Tim 1:5). Their lives may not always have been perfect, yet even amid their faults and failings they kept moving forward and proved pleasing to the Lord.
- The saints now in God’s presence preserve their bonds of love and communion with us. The Book of Revelation attests to this when it speaks of the intercession of the martyrs: “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne; they cried out with a loud voice, ‘O sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge?’” (6:9-10). Each of us can say: “Surrounded, led and guided by the friends of God… I do not have to carry alone what, in truth, I could never carry alone. All the saints of God are there to protect me, to sustain me and to carry me”.
- The processes of beatification and canonization recognize the signs of heroic virtue, the sacrifice of one’s life in martyrdom, and certain cases where a life is constantly offered for others, even until death. This shows an exemplary imitation of Christ, one worthy of the admiration of the faithful. We can think, for example, of Blessed Maria Gabriella Sagheddu, who offered her life for the unity of Christians.
THE SAINTS “NEXT DOOR”
- Nor need we think only of those already beatified and canonized. The Holy Spirit bestows holiness in abundance among God’s holy and faithful people, for “it has pleased God to make men and women holy and to save them, not as individuals without any bond between them, but rather as a people who might acknowledge him in truth and serve him in holiness”. In salvation history, the Lord saved one people. We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people. That is why no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual. Rather, God draws us to himself, taking into account the complex fabric of interpersonal relationships present in a human community. God wanted to enter into the life and history of a people.
- I like to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God’s people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile. In their daily perseverance I see the holiness of the Church militant. Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbours, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them “the middle class of holiness”.
- Let us be spurred on by the signs of holiness that the Lord shows us through the humblest members of that people which “shares also in Christ’s prophetic office, spreading abroad a living witness to him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity”. We should consider the fact that, as Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross suggests, real history is made by so many of them. As she writes: “The greatest figures of prophecy and sanctity step forth out of the darkest night.
But for the most part, the formative stream of the mystical life remains invisible. Certainly the most decisive turning points in world history are substantially co-determined by souls whom no history book ever mentions. And we will only find out about those souls to whom we owe the decisive turning points in our personal lives on the day when all that is hidden is revealed”.
- Holiness is the most attractive face of the Church. But even outside the Catholic Church and in very different contexts, the Holy Spirit raises up “signs of his presence which help Christ’s followers”. Saint John Paul II reminded us that “the witness to Christ borne even to the shedding of blood has become a common inheritance of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants”. In the moving ecumenical commemoration held in the Colosseum during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, he stated that the martyrs are “a heritage which speaks more powerfully than all the causes of division”.
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LENTEN PASTORAL LETTER FOR 2018
THEME: PERSONAL AND NATIONAL RENEWAL THROUGH OBEDIENCE TO GOD
Dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, we, the Catholic Bishops of Ghana, wish to use this Lenten Pastoral Letter to call for personal and national renewal as we all work towards a more peaceful and prosperous Ghana beyond 60 years of Independence.
Personal and national renewal cannot be realized without true obedience to God. Providentially, the Gospel reading of the First Sunday of Lent (Mark 1.12-15) serves as a point of departure for a sober reflection on our obedience or disobedience to God. The latter is, invariably, preceded by temptations. In a comparatively brief account, St. Mark, narrates the temptation of Jesus. The place of the temptation and the length of time Jesus spent in the desert are corroborated by St. Matthew and St. Luke in their accounts.
The scene of the temptation according to St. Mark sheds light on the Christian struggle especially during this season of lent. Every Christian is invited to tame within his or her heart the wild beasts of disobedience and to learn through the discipline of fasting, prayer and good works to incline our hearts like the angels to perfect obedience.
In the light of the above, we wish to reiterate and reflect further on a point made in our 2017 Lenten Pastoral Letter which was issued at the beginning of the 6oth anniversary of Ghana’s Independence. We mentioned that it is very significant that our national anthem begins with the word “God”. Unless Ghanaians and all other inhabitants of Ghana learn to obey God and actually remain obedient to Him, the realization of our national dream for Ghana @ 100 will be a mirage. The angelic posture of obedience to God, rather than the unruly nature of wild beasts, should characterize all aspects of our personal, familial, socio-cultural, economic, legislative, executive, judicial and religious lives if the dream of a peaceful, prosperous and highly developed Ghana is to be achieved.
In what follows, therefore, we wish to highlight a few instances of obedience and disobedience to God in various aspects of our personal and national lives. It is hoped that we would henceforth desist from acts of disobedience and progressively embrace the life of true obedience to God.
From the very beginning of creation, God designed marriage as the foundation of family life and families as the basic units of society. We obey God when our choices and actions promote and foster marriage and family life in line with the purposes of God. On the other hand, we disobey God when our chokes and actions break down marriages, reconstitute marriages as unions other than what God established between a man and a woman, children disobey parents, parents shirk their responsibilities, etc.
Socio-cultural Aspect of Life
Each people or nation has its cherished customs and cultural values; and our beloved country is no exception. Some of these customs and values may be modified or changed with time. The critical questions, however, are: does the original custom or value contradict the will of God? Is the modification or change in line with the will of God or it contradicts it? If we take, for instance, the cultural value of respect for the elderly, this certainly rhymes with the will of God. Therefore, the present trend of disrespect for the elderly is a social change which amounts to a disregard of the will of God.
Economic Aspect of Life
As mentioned on, temptations may lead us to disobey God. One of the temptations which befell our Lord Jesus Christ was to turn “stones into bread”. Happily, the Lord overcame the temptation by remaining obedient to His Father’s will because His actual “food is to do the will of’ His Father (John 4:34) and not physical bread.
The temptation to turn “stones into bread” is still with us today. As stones are not the natural raw materials for making bread, so any economic gain or advantage from an unnatural (illegal or illegitimate) source could be referred to as turning stones into bread. In other words, all actions of bribery and corruption amount to turning stones into bread.
Like the Lord Jesus, who overcame the temptation in His forty days of fasting and prayer, and remained forever obedient to His Father, we should use the forty days of Lent to seek the grace of mastery not over the hardness of physical stones or over our hunger for physical bread but rather over the desires of greed, discontentment and the like which lead to bribery and corruption etc.
Another temptation that Jesus experienced was a call to worship the devil (Matt. 4:8). But, once again, He set the records straight: only the Almighty God deserves worship. This temptation also implies any sort of compromise that goes against the will of God. For those who have the duty to make laws for our country, the question is: do internal (local) or external (foreign) pressures tempt them to compromise in the law-making process? How do they act when the voices of their consciences are loud and clear that such compromises contradict the will of God?
When our legislators thus compromise, it is the dreams of the pressure• givers that are likely to be realized and not our collective glorious dream of Ghana@ 100. Our legislators must, therefore, not allow such persons or organizations to set and drive the agenda for the future destiny of our country.
Like the members of the legislature, members of the executive arm of government in Ghana are not immune from internal and external pressures for compromise. On the other hand, the next temptation connotes sensationalism or the lure of the spectacular or achieving vain popularity or fame may be experienced also by the executive. Jesus was tempted by the devil to put His Father to the test by throwing himself down from the pinnacle of the temple of Jerusalem and expect angels to hold Him up (Matt. 4:5-6). Once again, Jesus overcame the temptation by putting the will of His Father first, instead of putting God to the test.
Just imagine Jesus descending from the pinnacle of the temple and being surrounded by the majestic wings of angels in full view of the thousands in Jerusalem; if this had happened surely the saving mission of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection would have been thwarted.
Similarly, sensationalism or the lure of being spectacular or achieving vain popularity or fame by the managers of the affairs of the nation only leads to short-sighted decision-making often to satisfy apparent short-term needs which actually do not feed into achieving the long-term dream of Ghana @ 100 .. Members of the executive and legislature of our nation should therefore learn from Jesus and act only in accordance with the will of God.
Members of the judiciary, like the legislators and executive, are also not immune from the temptations of turning “stones into bread”, of compromising and of vain glory. In recent times, unfortunately, instead of choosing the path which portrays obedience to God, some have succumbed to one or more of the above-mentioned temptations. Our nation can make good progress only if, while the other two arms of government are complying with the will of God, members of the judiciary also do same. We, therefore, urge them as well as the members of the legislature and executive to emulate the excellent example of Jesus Christ in the face of temptations. In a word, the guiding principle of all should be always God, and by implication, His will for Ghana must be first.
Are religious leaders exempt from the three temptations mentioned above? Not at all! Unfortunately, many religious leaders have fallen prey to the temptations of turning “stones into bread”, sensationalism or vain glory and compromising in matters of faith and morals.
For instance, on the Christian scene in Ghana, Christian leaders are turning “stones into bread” by demanding “consultation fees” and selling so-called “anointing oil and water”, etc. Is this in line with the will of God? We certainly doubt that it is.
With regard to sensationalism, some pastors or evangelists or prophets “stage manage” miracles. We urge all those involved in such acts to seek true spiritual renewal. For, by their present actions, they are leading too many people astray.
This is clearly in contradiction to Christ’s mission of gathering together the scattered children of God and not losing anyone whom the Father had entrusted to Him.
As regards compromises by Christian leaders, may it suffice to mention the following: some married Christian leaders have divorced, some have allegedly obtained “miraculous” powers through unchristian means and others sometimes interpret the Bible in ways that contradict fundamental Christian beliefs. We urge, our fellow Christian leaders as well as ourselves to strictly follow the example of Christ who never compromised.
Indeed, it is very sad to note that because of the failure of many Christian leaders to overcome the trio of temptations, the “brand” of Christianity being paraded today in Ghana promotes all kinds of vices. Certainly, this trend, if it does not change soon, will make the dream of Ghana @ 100 a mere mirage even if the three arms of government play their part very well.
“Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Rend your hearts, not your garments and return to the Lord your God.“ (cf. Joel 2:12-13a). Dear beloved, as the Prophet Joel states, we appeal to all and sundry to use these forty days of Lent for personal and national renewal. We have underlined the fact that fundamental to this renewal is obedience to God.
We, therefore, pray that most (if not all) Ghanaians will embrace the call to obedience to God, so that our nation will steadily develop in the course of years and decades, and that those who live to see Ghana @ 100 will become great “exporters” of the unique Ghanaian product of “obedience to God is key to national excellence”.
Have a spirit-filled Lenten season.
Most Rev. Philip Naameh
Metropolitan Archbishop of Tamale &
President, Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
2018 LENTEN MESSAGE OF POPE FRANCIS
“Because of the increase of iniquity,
the love of many will grow cold” (Mt 24: 12)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Once again, the Pasch of the Lord draws near! In our preparation for Easter, God in his providence offers us each year the season of Lent as a “sacramental sign of our conversion”. Lent summons us, and enables us, to come back to the Lord wholeheartedly and in every aspect of our life.
With this message, I would like again this year to help the entire Church experience this time of grace anew, with joy and in truth. I will take my cue from the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: “Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold” (24:12).
These words appear in Christ’s preaching about the end of time. They were spoken in Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives, where the Lord’s passion would begin. In reply to a question of the disciples, Jesus foretells a great tribulation and describes a situation in which the community of believers might well find itself: amid great trials, false prophets would lead people astray and the love that is the core of the Gospel would grow cold in the hearts of many.
Let us listen to the Gospel passage and try to understand the guise such false prophets can assume.
They can appear as “snake charmers”, who manipulate human emotions in order to enslave others and lead them where they would have them go. How many of God’s children are mesmerized by momentary pleasures, mistaking them for true happiness! How many men and women live entranced by the dream of wealth, which only makes them slaves to profit and petty interests! How many go through life believing that they are sufficient unto themselves, and end up entrapped by loneliness!
False prophets can also be “charlatans”, who offer easy and immediate solutions to suffering that soon prove utterly useless. How many young people are taken in by the panacea of drugs, of disposable relationships, of easy but dishonest gains! How many more are ensnared in a thoroughly “virtual” existence, in which relationships appear quick and straightforward, only to prove meaningless! These swindlers, in peddling things that have no real value, rob people of all that is most precious: dignity, freedom and the ability to love. They appeal to our vanity, our trust in appearances, but in the end they only make fools of us. Nor should we be surprised. In order to confound the human heart, the devil, who is “a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44), has always presented evil as good, falsehood as truth. That is why each of us is called to peer into our heart to see if we are falling prey to the lies of these false prophets. We must learn to look closely, beneath the surface, and to recognize what leaves a good and lasting mark on our hearts, because it comes from God and is truly for our benefit.
A cold heart
In his description of hell, Dante Alighieri pictures the devil seated on a throne of ice, in frozen and loveless isolation. We might well ask ourselves how it happens that charity can turn cold within us. What are the signs that indicate that our love is beginning to cool?
More than anything else, what destroys charity is greed for money, “the root of all evil” (1 Tim 6: 10). The rejection of God and his peace soon follows; we prefer our own desolation rather than the comfort found in his word and the sacraments. All this leads to violence against anyone we think is a threat to our own “certainties”: the unborn child, the elderly and infirm, the migrant, the alien among us, or our neighbour who does not live up to our expectations.
Creation itself becomes a silent witness to this cooling of charity. The earth is poisoned by refuse, discarded out of carelessness or for self-interest. The seas, themselves polluted, engulf the remains of countless shipwrecked victims of forced migration. The heavens, which in God’s plan, were created to sing his praises, are rent by engines raining down implements of death.
Love can also grow cold in our own communities. In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I sought to describe the most evident signs of this lack of love: selfishness and spiritual sloth, sterile pessimism, the temptation to self-absorption, constant warring among ourselves, and the worldly mentality that makes us concerned only for appearances, and thus lessens our missionary zeal.
What are we to do?
Perhaps we see, deep within ourselves and all about us, the signs I have just described. But the Church, our Mother and Teacher, along with the often bitter medicine of the truth, offers us in the Lenten season the soothing remedy of prayer, almsgiving and fasting.
By devoting more time to prayer, we enable our hearts to root out our secret lies and forms of self-deception, and then to find the consolation God offers. He is our Father and he wants us to live life well.
Almsgiving sets us free from greed and helps us to regard our neighbour as a brother or sister. What I possess is never mine alone. How I would like almsgiving to become a genuine style of life for each of us! How I would like us, as Christians, to follow the example of the Apostles and see in the sharing of our possessions a tangible witness of the communion that is ours in the Church! For this reason, I echo Saint Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians to take up a collection for the community of Jerusalem as something from which they themselves would benefit (cf. 2 Cor 8:10). This is all the more fitting during the Lenten season, when many groups take up collections to assist Churches and peoples in need. Yet I would also hope that, even in our daily encounters with those who beg for our assistance, we would see such requests as coming from God himself. When we give alms, we share in God’s providential care for each of his children. If through me God helps someone today, will he not tomorrow provide for my own needs? For no one is more generous than God.
Fasting weakens our tendency to violence; it disarms us and becomes an important opportunity for growth. On the one hand, it allows us to experience what the destitute and the starving have to endure. On the other hand, it expresses our own spiritual hunger and thirst for life in God. Fasting wakes us up. It makes us more attentive to God and our neighbour. It revives our desire to obey God, who alone is capable of satisfying our hunger.
I would also like my invitation to extend beyond the bounds of the Catholic Church, and to reach all of you, men and women of good will, who are open to hearing God’s voice. Perhaps, like ourselves, you are disturbed by the spread of iniquity in the world, you are concerned about the chill that paralyzes hearts and actions, and you see a weakening in our sense of being members of the one human family. Join us, then, in raising our plea to God, in fasting, and in offering whatever you can to our brothers and sisters in need!
The fire of Easter
Above all, I urge the members of the Church to take up the Lenten journey with enthusiasm, sustained by almsgiving, fasting and prayer. If, at times, the flame of charity seems to die in our own hearts, know that this is never the case in the heart of God! He constantly gives us a chance to begin loving anew.
One such moment of grace will be, again this year, the “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative, which invites the entire Church community to celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation in the context of Eucharistic adoration. In 2018, inspired by the words of Psalm 130:4, “With you is forgiveness”, this will take place from Friday, 9 March to Saturday, 10 March. In each diocese, at least one church will remain open for twenty-four consecutive hours, offering an opportunity for both Eucharistic adoration and sacramental confession.
During the Easter Vigil, we will celebrate once more the moving rite of the lighting of the Easter candle. Drawn from the “new fire”, this light will slowly overcome the darkness and illuminate the liturgical assembly. “May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds”, and enable all of us to relive the experience of the disciples on the way to Emmaus. By listening to God’s word and drawing nourishment from the table of the Eucharist, may our hearts be ever more ardent in faith, hope and love.
With affection and the promise of my prayers for all of you, I send you my blessing. Please do not forget to pray for me.
HOW WE KNOW JESUS WAS BORN ON 25TH DECEMBER – THE WHOLE TRUTH
The Catholic Church, from at least the second century, has claimed that Christ was born on December 25. However, it is commonly alleged that our Lord Jesus Christ was not born on December 25. For the sake of simplicity, let us set out the usual objections to the date of December 25 and counter each of them.
OBJECTION 1: December 25 was chosen in order to replace the pagan Roman festival of Saturnalia. Saturnalia was a popular winter festival and so the Catholic Church prudently substituted Christmas in its place.
REPLY TO OBJECTION 1: Saturnalia commemorated the winter solstice. Yet the winter solstice falls on December 22. It is true that Saturnalia celebrations began as early as December 17 and extended till December 23. Still, the dates don’t match up.
OBJECTION 2: December 25 was chosen to replace the pagan Roman holiday Natalis Solis Invicti which means “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.”
REPLY TO OBJECTION 2: Let us examine first the cult of the Unconquered Sun. The Emperor Aurelian introduced the cult of the Sol Invictus or Unconquered Sunto Rome in A.D. 274. Aurelian found political traction with this cult, because his own name Aurelianderives from the Latin word aurora denoting “sunrise.” Coins reveal that Emperor Aurelian called himself the Pontifex Solis or Pontiff of the Sun. Thus, Aurelian simply accommodated a generic solar cult and identified his name with it at the end of the third century.
Most importantly, there is no historical record for a celebration Natalis Sol Invictus on December 25 prior to A.D. 354. Within an illuminated manuscript for the year A.D. 354, there is an entry for December 25 reading “N INVICTI CM XXX.” Here N means “nativity.” INVICTI means “of the Unconquered.” CM signifies “circenses missus” or “games ordered.” The Roman numeral XXX equals thirty. Thus, the inscription means that thirty games were order for the nativity of the Unconquered for December 25th. Note that the word “sun” is not present. Moreover, the very same codex also lists “natus Christus in Betleem Iudeae” for the day of December 25. The phrase is translated as “birth of Christ in Bethlehem of Judea.”[i]
The date of December 25th only became the “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun” under the Emperor Julian the Apostate. Julian the Apostate had been a Christian but who had apostatized and returned to Roman paganism. History reveals that it was the hateful former Christian Emperor that erected a pagan holiday on December 25. Think about that for a moment. What was he trying to replace?
These historical facts reveal that the Unconquered Sun was not likely a popular deity in the Roman Empire. The Roman people did not need to be weaned off of a so-called ancient holiday. Moreover, the tradition of a December 25th celebration does not find a place on the Roman calendar until after the Christianization of Rome. The “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun” holiday was scarcely traditional and hardly popular. Saturnalia (mentioned above) was much more popular, traditional, and fun. It seems, rather, that Julian the Apostate had attempted to introduce a pagan holiday in order to replace the Christian one!
OBJECTION 3: Christ could not have been born in December since Saint Luke describes shepherds herding in the neighboring fields of Bethlehem. Shepherds do not herd during the winter. Thus, Christ was not born in winter.
REPLY TO OBJECTION 3: Recall that Palestine is not England, Russia, or Alaska. Bethlehem is situated at the latitude of 31.7. My city of Dallas, Texas has the latitude of 32.8, and it’s still rather comfortable outside in December. As the great Cornelius a Lapide remarks during his lifetime, one could still see shepherds and sheep in the fields of Italy during late December, and Italy is at higher latitude than Bethlehem.
SO WHY 25TH DECEMBER
- I) FROM THE BIBLE ITSELF: Now we move on to establishing the birthday of Christ from Sacred Scripture in two steps. The first step is to use Scripture to determine the birthday of Saint John the Baptist. The next step is using Saint John the Baptist’s birthday as the key for finding Christ’s birthday. We can discover that Christ was born in late December by observing first the time of year in which Saint Luke describes Saint Zacharias in the temple. This provides us with the approximate conception date of Saint John the Baptist. From there we can follow the chronology that Saint Luke gives, and that lands us at the end of December.
Saint Luke reports that Zacharias served in the “course of Abias” (Lk 1:5) which Scripture records as the eighth course among the twenty-four priestly courses (Neh 12:17). Each shift of priests served one week in the temple for two times each year. The course of Abias served during the eighth week and the thirty-second week in the annual cycle.[ii]However, when did the cycle of courses begin?
Josef Heinrich Friedlieb has convincingly established that the first priestly course of Jojarib was on duty during the destruction of Jerusalem on the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av.[iii]Thus the priestly course of Jojarib was on duty during the second week of Av. Consequently, the priestly course of Abias (the course of Saint Zacharias) was undoubtedly serving during the second week of the Jewish month of Tishri—the very week of the Day of Atonement on the tenth day of Tishri. In our calendar, the Day of Atonement would land anywhere from September 22 to October 8.
Zacharias and Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist immediately after Zacharias served his course. This entails that Saint John the Baptist would have been conceived somewhere around the end of September, placing John’s birth at the end of June, confirming the Catholic Church’s celebration of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist on June 24.
The second-century Protoevangelium of Saint James also confirms a late September conception of the Baptist since the work depicts Saint Zacharias as High Priest and as entering the Holy of Holies—not merely the holy place with the altar of incense. This is a factual mistake because Zacharias was not the high priest, but one of the chief priests.[iv]Still, the Protoevangelium regards Zacharias as a high priest and this associates him with the Day of Atonement, which lands on the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Tishri (roughly the end of our September). Immediately after this entry into the temple and message of the Archangel Gabriel, Zacharias and Elizabeth conceive John the Baptist. Allowing for forty weeks of gestation, this places the birth of John the Baptist at the end of June—once again confirming the Catholic date for the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist on June 24.
- II) FROM BIOLOGICAL CALCULATIONS: The rest of the dating is rather simple. We read that just after the Immaculate Virgin Mary conceived Christ, she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was six months pregnant with John the Baptist. This means that John the Baptist was six months older that our Lord Jesus Christ (Lk 1:24-27, 36). If you add six months to June 24 you get December 24-25 as the birthday of Christ. Then, if you subtract nine months from December 25 you get that the Annunciation was March 25. All the dates match up perfectly. So then, if John the Baptist was conceived shortly after the Jewish Day of the Atonement, then the traditional Catholic dates are essentially correct. The birth of Christ would be about or on December 25.
III) FROM MARY HERSELF: Sacred Tradition also confirms December 25 as the birthday of the Son of God. The source of this ancient tradition is the Blessed Virgin Mary herself. Ask any mother about the birth of her children. She will not only give you the date of the birth, but she will be able to rattle off the time, the location, the weather, the weight of the baby, the length of the baby, and a number of other details. I’m the father of six blessed children, and while I sometimes forget these details—mea maxima culpa—my wife never does. You see, mothers never forget the details surrounding the births of their babies.
Now ask yourself: Would the Blessed Virgin Mary ever forget the birth of her Son Jesus Christ who was conceived without human seed, proclaimed by angels, born in a miraculous way, and visited by Magi? She knew from the moment of His incarnation in her stainless womb that He was the Son of God and Messiah. Would she ever forget that day?[v]
Next, ask yourself: Would the Apostles be interested in hearing Mary tell the story? Of course they would. Do you think the holy Apostle who wrote, “And the Word was made flesh,” was not interested in the minute details of His birth? Even when I walk around with our seven-month-old son, people always ask “How old is he?” or “When was he born?” Don’t you think people asked this question of Mary?
So the exact birth date (December 25) and the time (midnight) would have been known in the first century. Moreover, the Apostles would have asked about it and would have, no doubt, commemorated the blessed event that both Saint Matthew and Saint Luke chronicle for us. In summary, it is completely reasonable to state that the early Christians both knew and commemorated the birth of Christ. Their source would have been His Immaculate Mother.
- IV) FROM EARLY CHURCH FATHERS: Further testimony reveals that the Church Fathers claimed December 25 as the Birthday of Christ prior to the conversion of Constantine and the Roman Empire. The earliest record of this is that Pope Saint Telesphorus (reigned A.D. 126-137) instituted the tradition of Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Although the Liber Pontificalis does not give us the date of Christmas, it assumes that the Pope was already celebrating Christmas and that a Mass at midnight was added. During this time, we also read the following words of Theophilus (A.D. 115-181), Catholic bishop of Caesarea in Palestine: “We ought to celebrate the birthday of Our Lord on what day soever the 25th of December shall happen.”[vi]
Shortly thereafter in the second century, Saint Hippolytus (A.D. 170-240) wrote in passing that the birth of Christ occurred on December 25:The First Advent of our Lord in the flesh occurred when He was born in Bethlehem, was December 25th, a Wednesday, while Augustus was in his forty-second year, which is five thousand and five hundred years from Adam. He suffered in the thirty-third year, March 25th, Friday, the eighteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, while Rufus and Roubellion were Consuls.[vii]
Also note in the quote above the special significance of March 25, which marks the death of Christ (March 25 was assumed to corresponded to the Hebrew month Nisan 14 – the traditional date of crucifixion).[viii] Christ, as the perfect man, was believed to have been conceived and died on the same day—March 25. In his Chronicon, Saint Hippolytus states that the earth was created on March 25, 5500 B.C. Thus, March 25 was identified by the Church Fathers as the Creation date of the universe, as the date of the Annunciation and Incarnation of Christ, and also as the date of the Death of Christ our Savior.
In the Syrian Church, March 25 or the Feast of the Annunciation was seen as one of the most important feasts of the entire year. It denoted the day that God took up his abode in the womb of the Virgin. In fact, if the Annunciation and Good Friday came into conflict on the calendar, the Annunciation trumped it, so important was the day in Syrian tradition. It goes without saying that the Syrian Church preserved some of the most ancient Christian traditions and had a sweet and profound devotion for Mary and the Incarnation of Christ.
Now then, March 25 was enshrined in the early Christian tradition, and from this date it is easy to discern the date of Christ’s birth. March 25 (Christ conceived by the Holy Ghost) plus nine months brings us to December 25 (the birth of Christ at Bethlehem).
Saint Augustine confirms this tradition of March 25 as the Messianic conception and December 25 as His birth:
For Christ is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also he suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before him nor since. But he was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th.[ix]
In about A.D. 400, Saint Augustine also noted how the schismatic Donatists celebrated December 25 as the birth of Christ, but that the schismatics refused to celebrate Epiphany on January 6, since they regarded Epiphany as a new feast without a basis in Apostolic Tradition. The Donatist schism originated in A.D. 311 which may indicate that the Latin Church was celebrating a December 25 Christmas (but not a January 6 Epiphany) before A.D. 311. Whichever is the case, the liturgical celebration of Christ’s birth was commemorated in Rome on December 25 long before Christianity became legalized and long before our earliest record of a pagan feast for the birthday of the Unconquered Sun. For these reasons, it is reasonable and right to hold that Christ was born on December 25 in 1 B.C. and that he died and rose again in March of A.D. 33.
Source: Dr. Taylor Marshall
[i] The Chronography of AD 354. Part 12: Commemorations of the Martyrs. MGH Chronica Minora I (1892), pp. 71-2.
[ii] I realize that there are two courses of Abias. This theory only works if Zacharias and Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist after Zacharias’ second course – the course in September. If Saint Luke refers to the first course, this then would place the birth of John the Baptist in late Fall and the birth of Christ in late Spring. However, I think tradition and the Protoevangelium substantiate that the Baptist was conceived in late September.
[iii] Josef Heinrich Friedlieb’s Leben J. Christi des Erlösers. Münster, 1887, p. 312.
[iv] The Greek tradition especially celebrates Saint Zacharias as “high priest.” Nevertheless, Acts 5:24 reveals that there were several “chief priests” (ἀρχιερεῖς), and thus the claim that Zacharias was a “high priest” may not indicate a contradiction. The Greek tradition identifies Zacharias as an archpriest and martyr based on the narrative of the Protoevangelium of James and Matthew 23:35: “That upon you may come all the just blood that hath been shed upon the earth, from the blood of Abel the just, even unto the blood of Zacharias the son of Barachias, whom you killed between the temple and the altar.” (Matthew 23:35)
[v] A special thanks to the Reverend Father Phil Wolfe, FSSP for bringing the “memory of Mary” argument to my attention.
[vi] Magdeburgenses, Cent. 2. c. 6. Hospinian, De origine Festorum Chirstianorum.
[vii] Saint Hippolytus of Rome, Commentary on Daniel.
[viii] There is some discrepancy in the Fathers as to whether Nisan 14/March 25 marked the death of Christ or his resurrection.
[ix] Saint Augustine, De trinitate, 4, 5.
Catholic communion is only for Catholics – cardinal Sarah
Earlier this month, Pope Francis stirred controversy when he expressed comments about intercommunion while addressing a gathering of Lutherans in Rome.
Responding to a question from a non-Italian Lutheran woman who voiced her regret that she couldn’t receive Holy Communion with her Catholic husband, the pope said that while he would never dare give permission for her to receive the Eucharist because it’s not his competence or jurisdiction, he said she should “talk to the Lord and then go forward.”
Owing to confusion over the pope’s words, we asked Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, and Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Astana, Kazakhstan, for their opinion on the matter.
Cardinal Sarah offered initial comment, saying: “Intercommunion is not permitted between Catholics and non-Catholics. You must confess the Catholic Faith. A non-Catholic cannot receive Communion. That is very, very clear. It’s not a matter of following your conscience.”
His Eminence also responded to several questions:
1. Could a priest give Holy Communion to both husband and wife if he knows one is Catholic and one is not?
No, we give Communion to Catholics. Many priests have told me: “I give Communion to everybody.” It’s nonsense.
Sometimes, an Anglican who is very far away from his church for a very long period of time and who desires to receive Communion, can participate in Mass and receive Communion in the Catholic Church, where there is no sin, and he is properly married. Because they believe in the Eucharist, even if in the Anglican church is it not actually the Eucharist because there is no priesthood. But it is rare and would happen under very exceptional circumstances. This is something extraordinary and not ordinary.
But a Catholic cannot receive communion in the Anglican church, because there is no Communion; there is only bread. The bread is not consecrated, because the priest is not a priest. With the break of Henry VIII with the Catholic Church, priestly orders in the Anglican Church became null and void. So the consecration isn’t valid, and therefore it’s not the Eucharist.
And a wife who is Lutheran, or Anglican, and who is married to a Catholic man? If they go to Mass on Sunday, is it ever possible for her to receive Communion?
On the day of their marriage, the priest gave Communion to the Catholic husband and not to the Lutheran or Anglican wife. It’s the same if they go to Mass together, because there is no intercommunion: between Anglicans and Catholics, between Catholics and Protestants. If they go to Mass together, the Catholic can go to Communion but the Lutheran or Anglican cannot.
2. If we’re not unified in faith and doctrine, do you think opening the doors to intercommunion would undermine belief in the True Presence?
I think it would promote profanation. We cannot do this. It’s not that I have to talk to the Lord in order to know if I should go to Communion. No, I have to know if I’m in accord with the rule of the Church. It’s my conscience that says: “Go.” My conscience must be enlightened by the rule of the Church, which says that in order to communicate, I need to be in the state of grace, without sin, and have the faith of the Catholic Church. … It’s not a personal desire or a personal dialogue with Jesus that determines if I can receive Communion in the Catholic Church. How can I know that the Lord has really said: “Come and receive my Body.” No. A person cannot decide if he is able to receive Communion. He has to have the rule of the Church: i.e., being a Catholic, being in a state of grace, properly married [if married].
3. But some would say that opening the doors to intercommunion would be a way for the spouses to become more one?
But the Lord helps us to be one if we receive Him correctly. If not, it doesn’t create unity. We will eat our condemnation. St. Paul says: “Let a man examine himself … for anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself (1 Corinthians 11:27-29). Therefore, we don’t succeed in becoming one if they partake with sin, with disregard for the Body of Christ.
COMMENTS ALSO FROM BISHOP SCHNEIDER
Bishop Schneider was similarly forthright about the issue, saying the Church must be “very clear with the Protestants, not hiding anything.”
“We read in the Second Vatican Council document that real ecumenism is not irenicism, but sincere dialogue in which we hide nothing of our identity.” He added that any gesture which is “not clear, not sincere, and ambiguous will never help true ecumenism” on “every level.”
He said “pastors and shepherds” have to be “very careful” in their pronouncements not to “create ambiguity and confusion among the people,” leading them to believe that “Catholic and Protestant doctrine are basically the same, with only minor differences.”
“This is not true. It does not respond to reality or to the Gospel. All the truths of the Catholic Church are the truths of the Gospel. And those Catholic doctrines which Protestants deny are against the Gospel. We have to speak clearly.”
Regarding the pope’s words to the Lutheran woman, he also said it’s important not to exaggerate the infallibility of the popes. In his usual gestures and expressions, the pope doesn’t intend to “oblige, or to impose” the faithful to believe what he is expressing.
“I am convinced that Pope Francis is not against when someone says to him: ‘Holy Father, I do not agree with this expression. You have not said you oblige me to accept this, because it is not your intention to speak definitively. So we can be in a reverent dialogue with you to clear up these issues.’”
He added: “I think we need to be in a climate of dialogue which is free of intimidation. Otherwise, this will be an atmosphere of dictatorship, and I think Pope Francis does not like to be considered as creating an atmosphere of inquisition, dictatorship or persecution of someone who expresses reasoned thoughts and opinions.”
Pope Francis’ homily at mass at Bangui cathedral (29-11-2015)
On this first Sunday of Advent, the liturgical season of joyful expectation of the Saviour and a symbol of Christian hope, God has brought me here among you, in this land, while the universal Church is preparing for the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. I am especially pleased that my pastoral visit coincides with the opening of this Jubilee Year in your country. From this cathedral I reach out, in mind and heart, and with great affection, to all the priests, consecrated men and women, and pastoral workers of the nation, who are spiritually united with us at this moment. Through you, I would greet all the people of the Central African Republic: the sick, the elderly, those who have experienced life’s hurts. Some of them are perhaps despairing and listless, asking only for alms, the alms of bread, the alms of justice, the alms of attention and goodness.
But like the Apostles Peter and John on their way to the Temple, who had neither gold nor silver to give to the paralytic in need, I have come to offer God’s strength and power; for these bring us healing, set us on our feet and enable us to embark on a new life, to “go across to the other side” (cf. Lk 8:22).
Jesus does not make us cross to the other side alone; instead, he asks us to make the crossing with him, as each of us responds to his or her own specific vocation. We need to realize that making this crossing can only be done with him, by freeing ourselves of divisive notions of family and blood in order to build a Church which is God’s family, open to everyone, concerned for those most in need. This presupposes closeness to our brothers and sisters; it implies a spirit of communion. It is not primarily a question of financial means; it is enough just to share in the life of God’s people, in accounting for the hope which is in us (cf. 1 Pet 3:15), in testifying to the infinite mercy of God who, as the Responsorial Psalm of this Sunday’s liturgy makes clear, is “good [and] instructs sinners in the way” (Ps 24:8). Jesus teaches us that our heavenly Father “makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good” (Mt 5:45). Having experienced forgiveness ourselves, we must forgive others in turn. This is our fundamental vocation: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).
One of the essential characteristics of this vocation to perfection is the love of our enemies, which protects us from the temptation to seek revenge and from the spiral of endless retaliation. Jesus placed special emphasis on this aspect of the Christian testimony (cf. Mt 5:46-47). Those who evangelize must therefore be first and foremost practitioners of forgiveness, specialists in reconciliation, experts in mercy. This is how we can help our brothers and sisters to “cross to the other side” – by showing them the secret of our strength, our hope, and our joy, all of which have their source in God, for they are grounded in the certainty that he is in the boat with us. As he did with the apostles at the multiplication of the loaves, so too the Lord entrusts his gifts to us, so that we can go out and distribute them everywhere, proclaiming his reassuring words: “Behold, the days are coming when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Jer 33:14).
In the readings of this Sunday’s liturgy, we can see different aspects of this salvation proclaimed by God; they appear as signposts to guide us on our mission. First of all, the happiness promised by God is presented as justice. Advent is a time when we strive to open our hearts to receive the Saviour, who alone is just and the sole Judge able to give to each his or her due. Here as elsewhere, countless men and women thirst for respect, for justice, for equality, yet see no positive signs on the horizon. These are the ones to whom he comes to bring the gift of his justice (cf. Jer 33:15). He comes to enrich our personal and collective histories, our dashed hopes and our sterile yearnings. And he sends us to proclaim, especially to those oppressed by the powerful of this world or weighed down by the burden of their sins, that “Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it shall be called, ‘The Lord is our righteousness’” (Jer 33:16). Yes, God is righteousness; God is justice. This, then, is why we Christians are called in the world to work for a peace founded on justice.
The salvation of God which we await is also flavoured with love. In preparing for the mystery of Christmas, we relive the pilgrimage which prepared God’s people to receive the Son, who came to reveal that God is not only righteousness, but also and above all love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8). In every place, even and especially in those places where violence, hatred, injustice and persecution hold sway, Christians are called to give witness to this God who is love. In encouraging the priests, consecrated men and woman, and committed laity who, in this country live, at times heroically, the Christian virtues, I realize that the distance between this demanding ideal and our Christian witness is at times great. For this reason I echo the prayer of Saint Paul: “Brothers and sisters, may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men and women” (1 Th 3:12). Thus what the pagans said of the early Christians will always remain before us like a beacon: “See how they love one another, how they truly love one another” (Tertullian, Apology, 39, 7).
Finally, the salvation proclaimed by God has an invincible power which will make it ultimately prevail. After announcing to his disciples the terrible signs that will precede his coming, Jesus concludes: “When these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Lk 21:28). If Saint Paul can speak of a love which “grows and overflows”, it is because Christian witness reflects that irresistible power spoken of in the Gospel. It is amid unprecedented devastation that Jesus wishes to show his great power, his incomparable glory (cf. Lk 21:27) and the power of that love which stops at nothing, even before the falling of the heavens, the conflagration of the world or the tumult of the seas. God is stronger than all else. This conviction gives to the believer serenity, courage and the strength to persevere in good amid the greatest hardships. Even when the powers of Hell are unleashed, Christians must rise to the summons, their heads held high, and be ready to brave blows in this battle over which God will have the last word. And that word will be love [and peace]!
To all those who make unjust use of the weapons of this world, I make this appeal: lay down these instruments of death! Arm yourselves instead with righteousness, with love and mercy, the authentic guarantors of peace. As followers of Christ, dear priests, religious and lay pastoral workers, here in this country, with its suggestive name, situated in the heart of Africa and called to discover the Lord as the true centre of all that is good, your vocation is to incarnate the very heart of God in the midst of your fellow citizens. May the Lord deign to “strengthen your hearts in holiness, that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Th 3:13). [Reconciliation. Forgiveness. Love. Peace.] Amen.
PASTORAL RESPONSE TO PORNOGRAPHY
“A clean heart create for me God.” (Ps 51:12)
As pastors of the Catholic Church, we offer this statement to give a word of hope and healing to those who have been harmed by pornography and to raise awareness of its pervasiveness and harms.
In the confessional and in our daily ministry and work with families, we have seen the corrosive damage caused by pornography-children whose innocence is stolen; men and women who feel great guilt and shame for viewing pornography occasionally or habitually; spouses who feel betrayed and traumatized; and men, women and children exploited by the pornography industry. While the production and use of pornography has always been a problem, in recent years its impact has grown exponentially, in large part due to the Internet and mobile technology. Some have even described it as a public health crisis. Everyone, in some way, is affected by increased pornography use in society. We all suffer negative consequences from its distorted view of the human person and sexuality. As bishops, we are called to proclaim anew the abundant mercy and healing of God found in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, and through his Church.
The audience of this statement is broad because pornography affects so many people’s lives and requires a collaborative, concentrated effort by all of us to counter its harms. The statement itself is addressed primarily to parents, clergy, diocesan and parish leaders, educators, mental health professionals, and all those in positions to help protect children from pornography and heal the men, women, and young people who have been harmed by its use. We also hope the statement will be helpful for men, women, and young people who themselves view pornography, whether occasionally or habitually, or who have been victimized by pornography. Finally, we speak to religious allies and all people of good will who want to work together toward a culture of purity that upholds the dignity of every person and the sacredness of human sexuality.
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POPE FRANCIS ON MINISTRY AND LIFE OF PRIESTS
Pope Francis on Friday (20-11-2015) spoke to a conference marking the 50th anniversary of Vatican II’s decrees on the ministry and life of priests and on priestly training, noting priests’ role as coming from the community and being for the community.
The conference on Presbyterorum ordinis and Optatam totius was organized by the Congregation for the Clergy, and Pope Francis began his Nov. 20 address calling the two decrees “a seed, which the Council sowed in the life of the Church,” and which have “become a vigorous plant.”
He noted the importance of the Congregation for the Clergy having competence over seminary formation (an innovation of Benedict XVI), because “in this way the dicastery can start to deal with the live and ministry of priests from the moment of their entrance into seminary, working to ensure that vocations are promoted and cared for, and may blossom into the lives of holy priests. The path of sanctity of a priest begins in seminary!”
Pope Francis began his address, delivered in the Vatican’s Sala Regia, from “ the relationship between priests and other people … given that the vocation to the priesthood is a gift that God gives to some for the good of all.”
He reflected on Presbyterorum ordinis’ use of a text from the Letter to the Hebrews: “Priests, who are taken from among men and ordained for men in the things that belong to God in order to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins, nevertheless live on earth with other men as brothers amid brothers,” and urged: “Let us consider these three moments: ‘taken from among men’, ‘ordained for men’, and ‘present among other men’.”
A priest, Pope Francis said, “is a man who is born in a certain human context: there he learns the primary values, absorbs the spirituality of the people, grows accustomed to relations.”
“Priests also have a history, they are not ‘mushrooms’ which sprout up suddenly in the cathedral on the day of their ordination.”
“It is important for formators and priests themselves to remember this and to know how to take into account this personal history along the path of formation … this means that one cannot become a priest, believing that one has been formed in a laboratory, no; he starts in the family with the ‘handing on’ of the faith and with all the experiences of the family.” He added that each vocation is personalized, “because it is the concrete person who is called to discipleship and the priesthood.”
The Pope added that the family, the domestic Church, is the “center of pastoral work” and the “firest and fundamental place of human formation, which can germinate in young people the desire for a life concieved as a vocational path, to be trod with commitment and generosity.”
“A good priest, therefore, is first of all a man with his own humanity, who knows his own history, with its riches and its wounds, who has learned to make peace with this, achieving the fundamental serenity proper to one of the Lord’s disciples. Human formation is therefore a necessity for priests, so that they learn not to be dominate by their limits, but rather to put their talents to use.”
A priest is “a man at peace” who diffuses serenity, “even at strenuous moments, transmitting the beauty of a relationship with the Lord.”
“We priests are apostles of joy: we announce the Gospel, which is the quintessential ‘good news’; we certainly do not give strength to the Gospel … but we can favour or hinder the encounter between the Gospel and people. Our humanity is the ‘earthen vessel’ in which we conserve God’s treasure, a vessel we must take care of, so as to transmit well its precious contents.”
The Pope urged priests against “loosing their roots”: a priest “always remains a man of the people and the culture that have produced him; our roots help us to remember who we are and to where Christ has called us. We priests do not fall from above but are instead called by God, who takes us ‘from among men’, to ‘ordain us for men’.”
The second point, Pope Francis stated, is ‘for men’: “This is fundamental point in the life and ministry of priests. Responding to God’s call, we become priests to serve our brothers and sisters. The images of Christ we take as a point of reference for our ministry as priests are clear: he is the ‘high priest’, at the same time close to God and close to man; he is the ‘servant’, who washes the feet and makes himself close to the weakest; and he is the ‘good shepherd’, who always cares for his flock.”
These three images, the Pope reflected, show that “we are not priests for ourselves, and our own sanctification is closely linked to that of our people, our anointment with theirs. You have been anointed for your people. Knowing and remembering that we are ordained for the people, the holy people of God, helps priests not to think of themselves, to be authoritative, not authoritarian; firm but not hard; joyful but not superficial: in short, pastors, not functionaries.”
He recalled that “St. Ambrose, in the fourth century, said: ‘Where there is mercy, there is the spirit of the Lord; where there is rigidity there are only his ministers’. The minister without the Lord becomes rigid, and this is a peril for the people of God. Pastors, not functionaries.”
The mission of priests benefit “the people of God and all humanity,” Pope Francis said, adding that “human formation, as well as intellectual and spiritual formation, flow naturally into pastoral formation, providing tools, virtues, and personal dispositions. When all this harmonizes and blends with a genuine missionary zeal, along the path of a lifetime, the priest can fulfil the mission entrusted by Christ to his Church.”
“Finally, what is born with the people must stay with the people. The priests is always ‘among other men’: he is not a professional of pastoral ministry or evangelisation, who arrives and does what he has to do – perhaps well, but as if it were a profession like any other – before then going away and living a life apart. One becomes a priest in order to stay in the midst of the people,” he said.
Pope Francis then reflected on the particular ministry of bishops, saying that one can often hear priests complaining that he called his bishop with a problem, and “the secretary, the secretary told me he is very busy … he cannot see me for three months.”
In response to such a situation, Pope Francis had two pieces of advice for bishops: have time for your priests, and spend time in your diocese.
“A bishop is always busy, thanks be to God, but if you, a bishop, receive a call from a priest and cannot take it because you have so much work, at least pick up the phone and call him and say: ‘Is it urgent? Not urgent? Well, come this day …’, so that you feel close. There are bishops who seem to move away from priests … Proximity, at least one phone call! This is the love of a father, fraternity.”
His second point for bishops, spend time in your diocese, he demonstrated by caricaturing a bishop saying, “No, I have a conference in that city and then I have a trip to America, and then …” But Pope Francis reminded them that “look, the decree of residence of Trent is still valid! And if you do not like to remain in the diocese, resign, and travel the world doing another very good apostolate. But if you’re the bishop of that diocese, have residence there. These two things, proximity and residence. But this is for us bishops! One becomes a priest in order to say in the midst of the people.”
“The good that priests can do arises above all from their closeness and their tender love for people. They are not philanthropists or functionaries, but fathers and brothers. The fatherhood of a priest does so much good,” Pope Francis said.
He reflected on how priests are called to make concrete God’s love for the people, and turned to Confession.
“Always you can find ways to give absolution. This is good. But sometimes, you cannot absolve. There are priests who say: ‘No, this I cannot absolve, go away’. This is not the way. If you cannot give absolution, explain and say: ‘God loves you very much, God wishes you well. To come to God there are so many ways. I cannot give you absolution, but I give you a blessing. But return, always return here, for whenever you return I will give you a blessing as a sign that God loves you’. And the man or the woman goes away full of joy because they have found an icon of the Father, who never refuses; in one way or another, they have been embraced.”
The Pope then offered as an examination of conscience for priests, to ask “Where is my heart? Among the people, praying with and for the people, involved in their joys and sufferings, or rather among the things of the world, worldly affairs, my private space?”
He concluded his address by calling the conference to offer its work to the Church as a useful reflection on Vatican II’s words on the priesthood, “contributing to the formation of priests … configured always to the Lord.”
PRAYING FOR THE DEAD – WHERE IT IS IN THE BIBLE
Mere reason suggests there must be a purgatory. So many people seem to be good, but not so greatly good that they should be for Heaven at once. Again, not nearly all are so evil as to deserve Hell. So there should be a means of purification and paying the debt of temporal punishment for those not for Hell, nor for Heaven at once.
For many Catholics in English-speaking lands, belief in the ability of the living to help the dead through prayer and sacrifices often falls prey to cultural suspicion about the Church’s belief in Purgatory because most English-speaking Catholics live in countries whose culture is primarily Protestant. As a rule, Protestant Christians believe neither in Purgatory nor in the living person’s ability to be of assistance to the deceased. This is because at the time of the Protestant Reformation, among numerous other texts, Martin Luther removed from the Bible that section which teaches that there is great value in praying for the dead.
The text reads, “He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the Resurrection in mind; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin” (2 Mac 12:43-6). This text from Maccabbees, which Protestant bibles do not contain, conveys the scriptural basis for the Church’s belief that some of those who have died who will be saved have not yet achieved heaven (i.e. they are in Purgatory), and that the living can provide help for those souls by performing prayers and sacrifices.
Catholic faith holds that we can indeed continue to care, help and express generosity toward people even after they have died through prayer. Because the Book of Maccabbees ranks among those texts that Luther been [sic] edited out of the scriptural canon, Protestantism is bereft of this consoling ingredient of our Christian patrimony. In Christian lands that are primarily Protestant, the Protestant sense of the futility of praying for the dead has easily entered into the popular consciousness, regrettably causing even some Catholics to question the practice. It behooves pastors not only to clarify this belief for their flocks, but to encourage the growth of the Catholic observance of praying for the dead and in particular, of offering Masses of the dead.
It must be acknowledged that the Church has a very limited understanding of the specifics related to Purgatory, yet Church teaching on the existence of Purgatory is made clear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church , articles 1030-32, which begins with “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven (1030). The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned (1031) .
Ancient Christians believed in the practice of praying for the dead. Many locations in the ancient catacombs reveal passages marked into the walls reminding the living to pray for the dead. St Monica begged her son, St Augustine, to pray for her after her own death. In 1439, the Second Council of Florence acknowledged that some souls must still expiate for past sins after their death and they do so in Purgatory. The 16th-century Council of Trent, legislated “that purgatory exists, and that the souls detained therein are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, but especially by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar”.
Catholic faith is unambiguous in its belief that those who die without mortal sin but with many of life’s imperfections still unhealed will experience a time of perfect healing from sin and brokenness and a time for whatever expiation from sin the merciful God requires of a soul before that soul may enter Heaven. Further, the Church has been clarifying for centuries that prayers, sacrifices and most particularly, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, are of assistance to those souls who are in Purgatory.
Several extracts from the Mass reveal the Church as she understands her ability to be of help to the dead. In the First Eucharistic Prayer at Mass we pray: “Remember also, Lord, your servants N. and N., who have gone before us with the sign of faith and rest in the sleep of peace. Grant them, O Lord, we pray, and all who sleep in Christ, a place of refreshment, light, and peace. (Through Christ our Lord. Amen)” The Second Eucharistic Prayer reads: “Remember also our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the Resurrection and all who have died in your mercy: welcome them into the light of your face”. When Eucharistic Prayer 3 is used in Masses for the Dead, the following is prayed: “To our departed brothers and sisters and to all who were pleasing to you at their passing from this life, give kind admittance to your kingdom. There we hope to enjoy forever the fullness of your glory through Christ our Lord through whom you bestow on the world all that is good”. Each of these liturgical prayers officially acknowledges that some of the dead who will be saved are not yet in Heaven and that the Church’s prayers are helpful to them.
The understanding then, that prayers, sacrifices and particularly the offering of the Mass helps the souls in Purgatory, prompts one to ask why in the world a Catholic would choose to memorialize a deceased person by making a gift of flowers or a charitable contribution to an agency instead of arranging to have the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered for that person’s soul. Certainly flowers provide solace for the survivors, and the Church urges all toward acts of charity, so these are good and holy gestures that should not be eliminated. But they should not run competition with the pious practice of having Masses offered for the dead as well. The greatest favor anyone can make to a deceased person is to have the Mass offered for them; nothing surpasses this in efficacy.
The Catholic Church always Commemorate the feast of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls day) on November 2, it is especially important to recall the Church’s teaching that there is indeed a Purgatory in which the souls of the saved but imperfect are awaiting the fulfillment of their purification and healing, and that these souls can be greatly helped by the prayers, sacrifices and Masses offered by the living. This is an aspect of the Catholic patrimony that must not be forgotten or de-emphasized. Justice demands that our brothers and sisters in the faith who have died find in us faithful friends who acknowledge that It is indeed a good and pious thing to pray for the dead.
May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God always rest in peace. Amen
WHY CATHOLICS PRAY FOR THE DEAD – A VIEW
“But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, and the God of Jacob ‘? “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken.” (MARK 12:26-27)
Catholics believe, as you rightly said, that through faith we have been immersed and “inserted” in Christ; therefore,
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (GALATIANS 2:20)
Precisely because Christ lives in me and I in him, I believe that I shall never die. I have passed from death into life.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. (JOHN 5:24)
Catholic believe that all who believe in Christ are ONE WITH Him. We are all ONE (Unum) WITH (Cum) Christ. Cum + Unun = Communion! We are the ONE BODY of Christ with Christ Himself as the HEAD.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)
Therefore Catholics believe that the Body of Christ that meets for worship includes all who have been baptized into Christ and are members of His Body. These form the COMMUNION OF SAINTS. This is why their Worship IN and WITH Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit far surpasses that of Moses on Sinai!!!
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. (HEBREWS 12:18-24)
Go back and read these words again. Catholics take God’s Word in the Bible seriously.
Now listen to this also. These are Jesus’ own words. You should be good at debunking Jesus on what He says to Martha:
Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” (JOHN 11:24-27)
This is why if you took a little time with a little humility to listen and not presume to know more than Catholics about their own beliefs and practices, you might discover why the Lord’s Supper (Eucharistia, Anamnesis, Communion, Mass) is the most important and SUPREME act of WORSHIP. Just listen to Jesus’ own words,
“I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. “For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. “This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” (JOHN 6:51-60)
My brother, does this sound like those who have bodily died in Christ are not spiritually alive in Him? They are dead in the flesh but alive in the spirit. They are alive in Christ. They are not spirits wandering and lingering all over the place but ALIVE IN CHRIST!! Notice also that Jesus Himself was put to death in the flesh (as his body l lay dead for three days in the tomb) but was made alive in the spirit so that He could descend into Hell and proclaim freedom to those dead since Noah!!
“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water” (1 Peter 3:18-20)
Where are the Saints? They are with the Lord. This is glorious. In fact the Apostle Paul believes that death in the flesh meant “going to be with the Lord”.
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” (Philippians 1:21-23)
Where is Christ? Is the Lord dead? Where are those who have believed in His, suffered for Him and patiently endured with Him? When they die, where are they? Apart from the Catholic Church, try and pose these same questions to fifty different protestant churches and any of the remaining thousands of groups, and you will get fifty different answers and thousands other conflicting responses – all claiming to be speaking faithfully from the Bible ALONE! It is no news therefore that a protestant disagrees with a Catholic. This is because, among themselves, they have all never agreed on ONE SINGLE thing except that they all don’t want to be Catholic!
The Book of Revelation is written symbolic futuristic (apocalyptic) in genre but actualistic (for present) in meaning says of the saints,
“After this I looked, and there was an enormous crowd—no one could count all the people! They were from every race, tribe, nation, and language, and they stood in front of the throne and of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. 10 They called out in a loud voice: “Salvation comes from our God, who sits on the throne, and from the Lamb!” 11 All the angels stood around the throne, the elders, and the four living creatures. Then they threw themselves face downward in front of the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Praise, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power, and might belong to our God forever and ever! Amen!” One of the elders asked me, “Who are these people dressed in white robes, and where do they come from?” “I don’t know, sir. You do,” I answered. He said to me, “These are the people who have come safely through the terrible persecution. They have washed their robes and made them white with the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-14)
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth;
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son Our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into Hell; the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into Heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.
Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth?
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead?
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting?
Do you believe in God?
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
Do you believe in Jesus Christ?
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
Some even don’t know what they believe!!!!!!!!!!!!!
By: Rev. Fr. John Kofi Takyi