I mentioned the other day that papal social teaching has steadily responded to the constant changing and the increasingly complex mode of international politics and economics. Pope Paul VI and John Paul II expanded in this field in a very excellent manner but I am especially interested in the last document to which I referred the other day, namely Pacem in Terris, Peace on Earth, by John XXIII.
In the fall of 1962, the world was facing the missile crisis and there was a very real chance of nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States. Both President Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev made use of John XXIII in a back channel manner. The pope clearly grasped the seriousness of the situation and urged both leaders to choose peace. Until his intervention, there was real risk of nuclear war. Happily, war was avoided and it is then that the elderly pope began to dream of a world that would develop structures that would ensure prosperity, cooperation and, most of all, peace across this planet. Out of his thinking and prayer came the historic document Pacem in Terris.
When we read the daily papers and watch the evening news there is so much information about wars and the threat of war, about killings, about dangers, risk and conflicts that it is hard to imagine that things really are better today but they actually are. The world of 2013 is a much better organized and cooperative and a more peaceful world than was true in 1962. First of all, human rights have surged to the front and negotiations among peoples all over the world. While there is much to be done, the issue of human rights has become a major factor in international law and diplomacy. Many new transnational agencies and organizations have sprung up. A form of global governance has begun and, like Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, who formally played nuclear brinkmanship but now are both pushing for the removal of all nuclear weapons. This new and profound interest in human rights certainly began to strengthen inside the life of the Church in a way that had not been present before 1962.
While Pope John XXIII was supposedly elected as an “interim” pope, he surprised everyone and was one of the most influential popes of the last century. While I write here today about Pacem in Terris, we must not forget that he is the man who had the courage and wisdom to convene the Second Vatican Council. That Council was a great gift to the Church but its work is far from being completed. Speaking just for myself, I pray fervently that Pope Francis will convene yet another Council in the near future.
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July 22, 16 Sunday in Ordinary Time
I love the scene described in today’s Gospel excerpt of Jesus and the apostles walking slowly beside the Sea of Galilee when they are suddenly surrounded by overwhelming crowds. In an earlier comparable situation, Jesus had the apostles pile into the boat and push out a little from the shore but for some reason today, he disembarks and begins to teach the vast throng of people.
What did he say? Well, he talked throughout the years of his public life. While we don’t have detailed quotes in the Gospels themselves, we can learn a lot from what is written in the epistles and in the tradition of the first generation of the Church. Take a look at the excerpt from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. He is telling his listeners about the profound realities that are related to Jesus Christ, what has been accomplished by his life and death and that his sacrifices for our sins has brought peace. In response to that, we should be peaceful people. He goes on to point that, “In his own flesh, he abolished the law with its commands and precepts to create in himself one new man from us who have been two and make peace reconciling both of us to God in one body, through his cross, which put that enmity to death.”
St. Paul here is talking about what the Church would later call the mystical body of Christ – that when we are united to Christ we are united through him to the Father and to the Holy Spirit and when this happens we are also united with all of our brothers and sisters who also are united to Jesus and through him to the Trinity.
Sometimes I feel a little silly in trying to talk about a subject like that in the two or three paragraphs that I have each day so I am going to be coming back to that in a day or two. In the meantime, take a few minutes today to meditate on the reality of God – the reality of God. It should not frighten us but it should make us humble as we kneel in the presence of the infinite power of God.
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Fr. John www.catholicstuffpodcast.com
For good or for ill, seminary education is fairly standard around the world. The basic courses – four years of undergraduate work with a major in philosophy and the second four years is in the various forms of theology as well as other ecclesiastical subjects – things that need to be known by someone who is going to function in a parish or most other priestly roles. Their curriculum may be the same but priests differ dramatically in different periods of time. I don’t know if that is true of the whole world but it is certainly true of the United States. Priests who started in the seminary in the late ‘40’s and early ‘50’s were profoundly influenced by the ‘60’s, the chaos of that period and the awesome hope generated by the Second Vatican Council. They would later be dubbed as “Vatican II priests.” Sometimes that expression was a compliment, sometimes it was derogatory depending on the frame of reference of the speaker.
There are always exceptions and no description fits everything or everyone, but the Vatican II priests were optimistic about the Church’s mission to the world. They were vitally concerned about bringing the message of Jesus Christ into the failing human structures of day-to-day living and society. The bishops of that period reflected the same thing. It is very interesting to look at the list of the subjects upon which the bishops spoke out in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. They were working for peace, for freedom for everyone, for a more just societies, for concern for the poor and the vulnerable. The episcopal statements coming out of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops today are overwhelmingly “in-house” being concerned about churchy issues and they reflect a dramatic withdrawal from the mode of operation of the last generation. Both groups are bishops, both groups are faithful to the Gospel but they are very different. Will the frame of reference turn again in the near future?
Only God knows.
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The State of Israel is now nearly 65 years old and it has never known a single day of complete peace. The United States and many other countries have attempted to assist the Israelis and the Palestinians to work something out. For the last ten or twelve years, there was great hope put into the idea of a separate Palestinian state. Now those hopes are shattered.
A few months ago, the widow of the great Israeli general, Moshe Dayan, blasted Benjamin Netanyahu stating that for him peace is just a word. She sharply criticized the construction of the wall between the Palestinians and the Israelis, the embargo, the constantly increasing of the Jewish settlements in Arab territory, and a complete failure for any type of ongoing conversation or discourse between the Arabs and the Jews. Mrs. Dayan is now 95 years old and vitally concerned with the issues and threats facing her country, a country that she and her husband certainly helped to form.
Israel, of course, could not sustain itself without the enormous American support over the last half century, and while Israel demands and expects its support, it frequently flaunts policies at odds with those of the United States. Mrs. Dayan is also a great defender of the Israeli Arabs. Many of us forget that a large portion of Israel’s population are Arabs and of the Muslim faith. They face many difficulties and always have.
The future continues to be bleak.
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Everyone knows that tomorrow is New Year’s Day. Tonight there will be a lot of noise and silliness and, sadly, probably a few accidents because many people feel compelled to begin the New Year with a party.
In the Catholic Church, this day is set aside for yet another purpose. It has been designated by the Universal Church as the World Day of Prayer for Peace. Pray for peace? Do we really need to be reminded about that? Aren’t we all aware of the agony, the suffering, the waste of lives and material resources that war brings? Aren’t we conscious of how much pain is in our families because of violence and anger? We need peace in our living rooms, peace at the dining room table. We need peace at the playgrounds. We need peace between the nearly 200 governments that exist on this planet.
By all means, let’s make a key resolution that we will put praying for peace into our daily schedule for morning and night prayers and occasionally through the day when the thought comes to us.
Peace, what a beautiful thought. Peace, what a necessity. Peace, how elusive because of human failure.
May you have a happy and blessed New Year.
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What is there about Assisi? What is there about the man of Assisi?
Tens of thousands of Muslims have been killing each other in God’s name for 1,500 years. Protestants and Catholics spent a lot of time killing each other during the 16th and 17th centuries and, of course, Jews have been on the receiving end of persecution for the best part of 2,000 years. Why did representatives from all of them gather at Assisi in early November?
John Paul II called Christians and members of other religious faiths to come to Assisi and work through a process of reflection and prayer in hopes of leading the world towards peace. They gathered again in the same location a few weeks ago at the invitation of
Benedict XVI. Their goal is noble but the task is not easy. Religious conflicts overlap continually with political, economic and historical factors so a few days of common prayer are not likely to produce fundamental change. However, it is a wonderful step in the right direction.
Assisi has been chosen for this meeting because St. Francis has become a wonderful symbol of a man of peace and all major religions honor his memory.
The underlying cause of these endless conflicts is not really one or another form of faith but rather it is hatred, the terrible destructive vice of hatred! Religious people need to get beyond their dogmatic differences and see that each of these traditions calls for love and acceptance. We go wrong when we are afraid of the differences present in the lives of others. We must accept each other and continue to struggle for greater understanding and ultimate peace. Religion should be a major cause of that peace, not a cause of conflict.
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Second Sunday of Easter, May 1st
We are now in the Easter season and the reality of the Resurrection will dominate the Scriptures over the next few weeks. Today’s Gospel, from the 20th chapter of John, is really one of the most dramatic scenes in the entire New Testament, in my opinion, coming only behind the actual descriptions of the death and resurrection of our Divine Lord.
Try to visualize it. The apostles are confused and frightened. Their leader has been executed. They retreat to the room where they had celebrated the Passover. A group of confused leaders if ever there was one. Then, suddenly, Jesus came and stood before them! The text says that at the sight of the Lord the disciples rejoiced but I think that they should even have been more frightened! They had now walked with Jesus of Nazareth for almost three years, had seen him manifest awesome power and teach a wonderful doctrine of God’s love for the human family and of our need to love each other. But without exception, they all failed him. What is he going to say? How angry will he be?
These words are addressed to these frightened apostles but they are also addressed to you and me after we have stumbled and fallen. PEACE BE WITH YOU. When I am talking about this in homilies, I often translate it into what I think would be modern English. “Take it easy, take it easy.” They failed and ran away when their support was needed but he has forgiven them.
This is a beautiful scene and we need to take it to heart. He will go on to talk about the apostles forgiving sins of others in his name but we can talk about that later this week. So many times I end these little chapters with “onward through the fog” but today the fog is lifted. The brightness of the Resurrection points the direction for all of us to enter into eternal life with God.
Peace be with you.
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The United States of America has been a functioning democracy since late in the 18th century. Being a democracy, its people (utilizing our complex governmental structures) ultimately make the decision on how our limited resources will be utilized. Currently, the various forces in Congress are struggling over the national budget. Those who have the most votes will win on various individual issues and the total budget itself.
In my opinion, the House, which is naturally vitally concerned about the size of budget deficits, has just made a very sad decision, a mistaken decision! The United States is involved in two wars simultaneously and the threats of conflagration in other parts of the world are all too obvious. The House Finance Committee has voted to suppress the small budget of the U.S. Institute for Peace. The Institute’s budget was roughly equivalent to what we spend each morning to wage war in Afghanistan.
Something is certainly wrong with our priorities. We don’t bat an eye spending billions and even trillions of dollars to wage war but this small structure, which is aimed at making peace in various conflicted situations around the world, was cut to zero. For me, the Institute for Peace was more symbolic. It represented the fact that the United States, although it has been at war for most of the last 30 years, is really interested in peace and is willing to hire peacemakers and place them in conflicted situations around the world. That has been our position since the mid-1980’s when the Institute was set up at the height of the Cold War. It is now closing down! What a pity. How sad.
Onward through the fog.
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For over twenty years, the Sudan has been racked by terrible civil warfare and bloodshed. The problems of the country are monumental and they are far from being resolved. Basically, the country is divided into two major sections, the north and the south (why is it always the north and the south?) The north is overwhelmingly Muslim and the south is racially black and Christian and animist in religion.
About two years ago, a peace treaty was brokered by the United Nations and both sides agreed to consider the possibility of partition with Sudan dividing itself into two independent countries. The south is all for that. The north is opposed primarily because while Sudan has great oil resources underground, they are, for the most part, in the southern part of the country. Can an election resolve this complicated and dangerous situation?
A vote on the issue is scheduled for mid-January and once again, the U.S. is working hard to avoid the resumption of hostilities. Do you have room for another item on your prayer list? Really pray that this enormous undeveloped country can walk into the future as two separate nations living in peace with each other and the rest of the world. The election is about two months away. Keep it in your thoughts and prayers.
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Nearly three weeks ago, President Barack Obama spoke to the nation and announced the ending of the American combat mission in Iraq. He stated, “We have met our responsibility. Now it is time to turn the page.” Although that was good news, there was no roll of drums, no blare of trumpets, no celebration whatsoever. The reaction by the president and the nation as a whole was the right one, somber.
Our invasion of Iraq was a terrible, costly mistake taking the lives of 5,000 American men and women, wounding more than 20,000, taking 100,000 Iraqi lives and costing trillions of dollars. It would be great to be able to turn the page but we can’t.
Twice last week there were stories about American soldiers continuing military action. The incidents were small but there is every reason to think that they will be ongoing for a long time. In the meantime, Iraq still does not have a well-established government, the tensions between the religious groups are still deep and bitter and the possibility of one or another type of economic or social disaster is very much before us.
We pray for a lot of things and frequently pray for peace. Let’s hope that all of us will pray fervently that the agony of Iraq is winding down. While its future is uncertain, the United States, which caused so much of the problem, must still stay involved to help this battered, wounded nation get on its feet with finality.
When we pray for peace let’s pray especially for true peace in Iraq.
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