BLOG - EDITORS | GUEST | READERS
Day of the Heart
Fr Anthony Charanghat
In a message for Valentine's Day, Pope Francis called people all over the world to "Look after the heart"! We do that instinctively, for our hearts beat out the message of life. But the call is to look after THE HEART, not just my own. Look after the heart wherever it beats – in my neighbour, my partner, in my home, in a refugee family, and in all Creation. This is the Day of the Heart of a many splendoured Love that gives meaning to the heartbeat of life that Valentine’s Day celebrates.
The Eucharist, the source and summit of our Christian faith, is a celebration of that kind of love which is the essence of Jesus' life, death and Resurrection. We are invited to honour the love between wife and husband, remembering also those widowed, and those for whom love has faded in separation. But think now of the heart next to you, regardless of your relationship; look after it in prayer for its well-being and peace. Thank God for this heart that beats in your company. Be ready to go in the strength of this love feast to look after the heart with your reassuring, healing and forgiving presence, wherever you find it beating.
This day of love was transformed into a day celebrating the aspect of love we have for our spouses and the dearly beloved in our lives, because of a fourth-century martyred priest, St Valentine, who quite literally stuck his neck out for the sacred institution of marriage. He obviously loved Jesus Christ above all else, even life itself. The Roman Emperor Claudius II, the then ruler, thought marriage would be so detrimental to his young soldiers that he prohibited it. St Valentine secretly married these young couples within the Christian Church. Needless to say, when Claudius found out about it, he beheaded Valentine.
In a scripture passage from John, we learn that love has nothing to do with Cupid. Love is grounded in God. It comes from God. Because God loved us, we are to love one another. We show that love by caring for others. If we can do this, which sounds so easy but is so hard, the world will be a much better place.
Because God is love and because God loves us, we should love one another and be happy. It sounds too wonderful, so wonderful we contemplate whether such love within a community is even attainable. It certainly seems remote and distant. But do we uphold these ideals from John? Do we really love one another? Not just our spouse, and our families. And not just those sitting around us in church, who look and act like us. Do we love all people - the old, the sick, children, the abandoned?
To be able to live this way, we need more than human love. We should have God in the centre of things. We have to be powered by God's spirit. After all, love is of God. And with God at the centre, all things are possible. But that is not because of our efforts. That is because of God's presence.
John encourages, actually demands, that we love one another because God loves us. The Greek word used here for love is 'agape'. It is not the romantic love that sends big boxes of chocolate and writes mushy cards. This is the type of love manifested in caring for one another. John instructs his community to show these caring traits to one another. He could just as easily say, "Model your life after Jesus."
John's message is simple: God is love. God loves us. Because of God's love for us, we should love one another. And if we do not love one another, we cannot really love God. It is a simple message, but it has the potential to have a profound impact upon our community, as well as upon the larger world in which we live. It is a small idea - loving others because God loves us - but an idea that has life-changing and world-changing consequences.
Come To Me
This year, the theme of the Holy Father's Message for the World Day of the Sick is taken from Matthew 11:28 – "Come to me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest. " In these words, Pope Francis highlights that Jesus promises comfort and repose to the sick, the oppressed and the poor. In addition to therapy and support, individuals experiencing illness require love. Thus, a personalised approach to the sick is warranted, that includes both curing and caring in view of an integral human healing.
I would like to focus on this 'caring' aspect. Nowadays, we rush the sick to hospitals and put the onus of care and cure on the medical system. It is easy for the human touch to be lost in this set-up of tests, drugs and machines. Consequently, the sick, their loved ones, as well as healthcare professionals, all end up feeling overwhelmed. You will agree with me that this is not a very optimal environment for healing. How then can we care better so as to optimise healing? Former palliative care physician, Dr Michael Barbato, outlines an approach that I think is very apt. Of prime importance is the realisation that healing does not signify recovery from illness. Rather, healing means becoming whole – which cannot be achieved without love, acceptance, peace, forgiveness and self-forgiveness. As caregivers, therefore, we have a daunting, but pivotal, role in facilitating healing, as we tend to the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of the sick.
Providing physical comfort to the ill is a matter of being attentive and mindful. What troubles the sick person may not trouble the caregiver, and vice versa. The bed may be too soft or too firm, and the blankets too heavy. The room could be excessively bright or too dim. Ambient sound and temperature may be discomforting. The ill person may be too nauseous to eat or drink. Having a personal connection to the sick leads the caregiver to have a better understanding of their needs, wants and state of mind that can greatly aid in alleviating physical discomfort.
The emotional well-being of a sick person is greatly compromised by the loss of normalcy. They may be unable to maintain their daily routine, and miss out on familiar sights and sounds. These losses contribute to their distress and restrict healing. We could make attempts, however small or seemingly insignificant, to restore normalcy. While at home, the sick can adhere to parts of their routine that are not physically taxing, such as watching the morning news, and sipping their evening cup of tea. Even in the hospital, caregivers can get the ill to listen to their favourite songs, read to them, organise visits from loved ones. Holding their hands can be greatly comforting, even to those in danger of death.
In our role as caregivers, the most difficult, but most vital, task we undertake is to be a healing presence. To adequately nurture the sick, we must set aside our own concerns and fears, so that we can be open to their needs and fears, as they suffer through debilitating symptoms and existential concerns. They may be wracked with the guilt of being a burden. They may struggle between holding on and letting go, and seek courage to reconcile themselves to either choice. Being preoccupied with our own worries hinders our ability to be attentive, patient, sensitive and responsive caregivers, and denies the sick our healing presence, even if we administer medication with clockwork precision. Let us look to Jesus who says, "Come to me, " promising rest without any expectations whatsoever, and with the sole aim to love and nurture. May we emulate Christ so that the sick find comfort in our presence and care.
Being a caregiver with a healing presence is the greatest comfort that we can give to the ill; may the Lord bless our efforts to encounter, accompany and heal the sick.
+ Bishop Allwyn D'Silva, Auxiliary Bishop of Bombay
Catholic Press Month:
Convergence & Conviction
More than 60 years ago, the theme of the first observance of Catholic Press Month in the United States was "The Catholic Press in the service of Truth, Justice and Peace". This theme continues to be relevant even today, and especially in our present times, when the credibility of the mainstream news media has hit an all-time low, with citizens associating especially TV news channels with infotainment, hyperbole and extreme bias, rather than with objective, impartial and enlightening journalism.
The responsibility of the Catholic print medium has increased even more in the present context of fake news and alternative facts. When organisations and individuals with vested interests manipulate news and communications technology to further their divisive and narrow interests, it falls on responsible media like the Catholic Press to inform, educate and analyse news, and place it in the correct objective context. While speaking to the Italian Catholic Press last September, Pope Francis said that Catholic journalists can help "unmask words that are false and destructive," but they must make sure their sources are credible, while offering the correct context, interpretation and importance of events.
The Pope urged journalists to be "the voice of the conscience of a journalism capable of distinguishing good from evil, humane choices from inhumane ones," because the two sides are hard to differentiate today. Journalists are called to reconstruct the facts, "work toward social cohesion (and) to tell the truth at all costs" in a way that is respectful and never arrogant, he said. "Communication needs real words in the midst of so many empty words. It is a great responsibility, because your words talk about the world and shape it; your stories can create the space for freedom or for slavery, for responsibility or addiction to power."
The Catholic Press is also faced with another significant challenge – the dominance of digitalisation of the media. Lots of people still consume news; however, millennials and those born in this century are increasingly getting their news from online sources, and even social media. A number of surveys indicate that people become aware of breaking news via Facebook and other online forums. The challenge before the Catholic Press is therefore to embrace the immediacy of news coverage today, and diversify to include web-based platform solutions to complement their traditional print medium, in a spirit of 'convergence' media. In our own case, The Examiner's weekly print edition is supplemented by its online pages on Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, web portal and e-paper, which are updated almost on a daily basis.
Though many Catholic print publications do a fabulous job in terms of quality, integrity, forming and informing its readers on matters of faith, the Indian Catholic Press, in general, continues to remain confined to Catholic circles and with a rather low circulation. People are more likely to get their 'religion' news from secular publications and sources, rather than from official Church communications. The celebration of Catholic Press Month in February is a welcome opportunity to first and foremost understand the laity's expectations from their local Catholic publication, and secondly, to impress upon them the importance of being connected to a reliable and credible source of information, analysis and ongoing formation.
Digital may very well be the buzzword today, but dismissing traditional print media will be a grave mistake. Print continues to remain the dominant form of accessing profound and credible news and information. Digital is highly penetrative, but at the same time, it is also ephemeral. Most organisations and institutions, therefore, continue to maintain a website and some form of print publication, even though these are infrequently accessed. Print medium has an enduring value; it is more permanent, and it draws the reader into a more profound evaluation of the subject matter. There is no 'swipe', 'scroll' or 'click another link' on the printed page.
We would do well then to continue to support the Catholic Press, appreciating the tremendous value it brings to bear on our understanding of the Church and the world around us. At the same time, the Catholic Press has a large ground to cover, so that it remains relevant, attractive and more in tune with the exigencies and communicative culture of the world we live in.
Fr Joshan Rodrigues is on The Examiner Editorial Board, with the additional duty of Managing Editor.
Honouring the Treasury of His Word
The newly established Sunday of the Word of God is an invitation to Catholics across the world to deepen their appreciation, love and faithful witness to God and His Word, said Pope Francis. By papal decree, the third Sunday in Ordinary Time — Jan. 26 this year — is to be observed as a special day devoted to "the celebration, study and dissemination of the Word of God." A day dedicated to the Bible will help the Church "experience anew how the risen Lord opens up for us the treasury of His Word and enables us to proclaim its unfathomable riches before the world," the Pope said in the document establishing the special Sunday observance.
Dioceses and parishes have been invited to respond with creative initiatives, helpful resources and renewed efforts for helping Catholics engage more deeply with the Bible at church and in their lives. Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, said added emphasis on the importance of the Word of God is needed, because "the overwhelming majority" of Catholics are not familiar with sacred Scripture. For many, the only time they hear the Word of God is when they attend Mass, he said. "The Bible is the most widely distributed book, but it's also perhaps the one most covered in dust, because it is not held in our hands," the archbishop said.
With this apostolic letter, the Pope "invites us to hold the Word of God in our hands every day as much as possible so that it becomes our prayer" and a greater part of one's lived experience, he said. In his letter, Pope Francis wrote, "A day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event, but rather a yearlong event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the risen Lord, who continues to speak His word and to break bread in the community of believers. We need to develop a closer relationship with sacred Scripture; otherwise, our hearts will remain cold and our eyes shut, struck as we are by so many forms of blindness."
Sacred Scripture and the Sacraments are inseparable. Jesus speaks to everyone with His Word in sacred Scripture, he said, and if people "hear His voice and open the doors of our minds and hearts, then he will enter our lives and remain ever with us." Pope Francis urged priests to be extra attentive to creating a homily each Sunday that "speaks from the heart" and really helps people understand Scripture "through simple and suitable" language. The homily "is a pastoral opportunity that should not be wasted," he wrote. "For many of our faithful, in fact, this is the only opportunity they have to grasp the beauty of God's Word and to see it applied to their daily lives."
Pope Francis encouraged people to read the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation - Dei Verbum - and Pope Benedict XVI's apostolic exhortation on the Bible - Verbum Domini - whose teaching remains "fundamental for our communities." The Pope also suggested that pastors provide parishioners with the Bible, a book of the Gospels or other catechetical resources, "enthrone" the Bible in order to emphasise the honour and sacred nature of the text, bless or commission lectors of the parish and encourage people to read and pray with Scripture every day, especially through "lectio divina."
"The Bible cannot be just the heritage of some, much less a collection of books for the benefit of a privileged few. It belongs above all to those called to hear its message and to recognise themselves in its words," the Pope wrote. "The Bible is the book of the Lord's people, who, in listening to it, move from dispersion and division toward unity" as well as come to understand God's love and become inspired to share it with others, he added.
The celebration of the Sunday of the Word of God also "has ecumenical value, since the Scriptures point out, for those who listen, the path to authentic and firm unity," he wrote. The third Sunday in Ordinary Time falls during that part of the year when the Church is encouraged to strengthen its bonds with the Jewish people and to pray for Christian unity.
The document was published on the feast of St Jerome, patron saint of biblical scholars and doctor of the Church, who said, "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." The title, Aperuit Illis, is based on a verse from the Gospel of St Luke, "Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures."
Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service
'They showed us unusual kindness'
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is an ecumenical endeavour. The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches' Commission on Faith and Order have been preparing the text for the entire world. "The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2020" has been prepared by the churches in Malta, and the theme chosen is "They showed us unusual kindness" (Acts 28:2). On February 10, many Christians in Malta celebrate the Feast of the Shipwreck of St Paul, marking and giving thanks for the arrival of Christian faith on these islands. The reading from the Acts of the Apostles used for the feast is the text chosen for this year's Week of Prayer.
Today, many people are facing the same terrors on the same seas. The very same places named in the reading (27:1, 28:1) also feature in the stories of modern day migrants. In other parts of the world, many others are making equally dangerous journeys by land and sea to escape natural disasters, warfare and poverty. Their lives, too, are at the mercy of immense and coldly indifferent forces – not only natural, but political, economic and human. This human indifference takes various forms—the indifference of those who sell places on unseaworthy vessels to desperate people; the indifference of the decision not to send out rescue boats; and the indifference of turning migrant ships away. This names only a few instances. As Christians together facing these crises of migration, this story challenges us: do we collude with the cold forces of indifference, or do we show "unusual kindness" and become witnesses of God's loving providence to all people?
Hospitality is a much needed virtue in our search for Christian unity. It calls us to a greater generosity to those in need. The people who showed unusual kindness to Paul and his companions did not yet know Christ, and yet it is through their unusual kindness that a divided people were drawn closer together. Our own Christian unity will be discovered not only through showing hospitality to one another, but also through loving encounters with those who do not share our language, culture or faith. In such tempestuous journeys and chance encounters, God's will for His Church and all people comes to fulfilment. As Paul will proclaim in Rome, this salvation of God has been sent to all peoples (Acts 28:28).
The Conference of Catholic Bishops in India (CCBI) Commission for Ecumenism, calls on the Church in India to join the Maltese Church in their craving for unity. Great and big initiatives for Christian unity may seem beyond our reach. Yet, each one of us and each church community is capable of contributing our mite for the noble cause of Christian unity by following "the little way of ecumenism" shown by Blessed Sr Maria Gabriella Sagheddu, a Trappist nun who has been popularly heralded as the "Patron Saint of the Ecumenical Movement" for her own conversion from selfishness and pride, which are at the root of divisiveness. St Pope John Paul II beatified her in 1983, because of her spiritual devotion to Christian unity. The Commission would like to exhort everyone to celebrate Ecumenism Sunday, which falls on January 19, 2020.
Spiritual Ecumenism is the soul of the ecumenical movement. Vatican II states: "Change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement. It merits the name - "spiritual ecumenism" - for "prayers in common are certainly an effective means of obtaining the grace of unity, and they are a true expression of the ties which still bind Catholics to their separated brethren." (UR 8).
As we pray, let us recall the words of Cardinal Walter Kasper who, in his "A Handbook of Spiritual Ecumenism," says, "Prayer for unity is the royal door of ecumenism. It leads Christians to look at the Kingdom of God and the unity of the Church in a fresh way; it deepens their bonds of communion, and it enables them to courageously face painful memories, social burdens and human weakness."
Fr Reginald D'Mello, OP is Executive Secretary, CCBI Commission for Ecumenism.
A watermark is defined as a faint design, visible when held against the light, typically identifying the maker. This is a beautiful image for Baptism, as the Church celebrates the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord. Jesus entered the waters for baptism at the hands of John the Baptist, leaving his mark. In Baptism, we ourselves have been 'watermarked' in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Baptism certificates aren't sized to identity cards on lanyards and worn around the neck to identify oneself as a Christian or a Child of God. The watermark definition, however, allows us to say that Baptism is the faint design visible which identifies God as our Maker when held against the light of Christ.
Though sinless, Jesus identifies with human condition and makes a commitment to His Father's Will. Anointed by the Holy Spirit and His Father's endorsement of love, He launches into ministry. Until the age of 30, Jesus is in the schools of carpentry and of the Word preparing Himself. Apprenticeship done, He makes a career change and begins 'building' God's Kingdom instead. From the training of His earthly father Joseph to the business of His Heavenly Father! Jesus would eventually use the tools of His profession—wood and nails—to bring salvation. With baptism, Jesus is ready to launch into mission.
Unlike the sinless Jesus, we are in constant need of acknowledging our sins. And repentance moves beyond lip service to life service, inviting commitment to discipleship living. Baptismal vocation brings about a metanoia.
William P. Barker tells of a machinist at the Ford Motor Company in Detroit who became a Christian. He responded to the invitation and was baptised. As the Holy Spirit began renewing this man, he became convinced of his need to make restitution for some parts and tools he had stolen from the company, prior to becoming a Christian. So he brought all the tools back to his employer. He explained he had been baptised and asked forgiveness—an amazing turn. Mr Ford was in Europe at the time, and was cabled with these details, seeking a response. Mr Ford immediately messaged: "Make a dam in the Detroit River, and baptise the entire city."
The unconditional love of God as Father, the Grace of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit in Baptism impacts our choices and behaviour. Christ's sacrificial life is the barcode giving us new life! St Paul translates this good news in 1 Corinthians 6:20, "You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." Under the 'new management' of Jesus, as the baptised, we now go out as disciples in the footsteps of the Master with a foot-washing theology. The Great Commission is often copy-pasted as the evangelising anthem, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son…" We mark a full stop where scripture continues the mandate, "and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." Baptism is an invitation to launch out into the deep; it is not a mere record in a baptismal register allowing us some rights and perks in the Church.
The voice of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit is a roaring appraisal for God's beloved Son, "This is my beloved; I am well pleased." This makes the part-time job of Jesus the carpenter turn into a full-time job as the Anointed. The love and will of the Father becomes the driving force. Which son/daughter would not want a father like this, particularly where appraisals are the results of a successful outcome? Making a long story short, dwelling on the Fatherliness in this episode helps rearrange our logic of roles in the family! The absence of such hearing deafens, if not deadens, the mission ahead. May our tweens and teens hear they are the beloved from reassuring parental voices! This will oxygenate baptismal mission. Earmark the importance of echoing love while the power of the Spirit watermarks us as sons/daughters of God.
Deacon Ivan Fernandes, Diocesan Youth Centre, Bandra