April 2nd, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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U.S. Catholics asked to accompany migrants, refugees seeking better life

By Julie Asher | Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The U.S. bishops in a pastoral reflection released March 22 called all Catholics to do what each of them can “to accompany migrants and refugees who seek a better life in the United States.”

Titled “Living as a People of God in Unsettled Times,” the reflection was issued “in solidarity with those who have been forced to flee their homes due to violence, conflict or fear in their native lands,” said a news release from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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“To live as a people of God is to live in the hope of the Resurrection,” said the reflection, which was approved by the USCCB Administrative Committee on the first day of a two-day meeting in Washington.

The 50 37-member committee is made up of the executive officers of the USCCB, elected committee chairmen and elected regional representatives. It acts on behalf of the nation’s bishops between their spring and fall general meetings.

“To live in Christ is to draw upon the limitless love of Jesus to fortify us against the temptation of fear,” it continued. “Pray that our engagement in the debate over immigration and refugee issues may bring peace and comfort to those most affected by current and proposed national policy changes.”

The bishops urged Catholics to pray for an end to the root causes of violence and other circumstances forcing families to flee their homeland to find a better life; to meet with newcomers in their parishes and “listen to their story, and share your own”; and to call, write or visit their elected representatives to ask them to fix our broken immigration system” in a way that would safeguard the country’s security and “our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration.”

The statement opened with a passage from Chapter 19 of the Book of Leviticus: “The word of God is truly alive today. When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt.”

The bishops urged Catholics to “not lose sight of the fact that behind every policy is the story of a person in search of a better life. They may be an immigrant or refugee family sacrificing so that their children might have a brighter future.”

“As shepherds of a pilgrim church,” they wrote, “we will not tire in saying to families who have the courage to set out from their despair onto the road of hope: “We are with you.”

Those families could include “a family seeking security from an increased threat of extremist violence,” they said, adding that “it is necessary to safeguard the United States in a manner that does not cause us to lose our humanity.”

The bishops said that “intense debate is essential to healthy democracy, but the rhetoric of fear does not serve us well.”

“When we look at one another do we see with the heart of Jesus?” they asked.

Their pastoral reflection comes at a time when the Trump administration’s rhetoric and its policies on national security, refugees and immigration are in the headlines almost daily. Those policies have sparked almost nonstop protests in various parts of the country since President Donald Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration. In some cases, the anti-Trump demonstrations have turned violent.

The latest action on the refugee issue came March 16 when two federal judges blocked Trump’s new executive order banning for 90 days the entry into the U.S. of citizens from six Muslim-majority nations and suspending for 120 days the resettlement of refugees. Two federal judges, one in Hawaii and one in Maryland, blocked the order before it was too take affect March 16 at midnight.

The Department of Justice announced March 17 it will appeal the Maryland ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which is based in Richmond, Virginia.

In their reflection, the bishops said that all in this country find “common dreams for our children” in their “diverse backgrounds.”

“Hope in the next generation is how the nation will realize its founding motto, ‘out of many, one,’” they said. “In doing so, we will also realize God’s hope for all his children: that we would see each other as valued sisters and brothers regardless of race, religion or national origin.”

Christ, as the word made flesh, “strengthens us to bring our words to life,” they said and suggested three ways Catholics, “in our own small way,” can “bring our words of solidarity for migrants and refugees to life”: by praying, welcoming newcomers and writing to their elected representatives urging them to support humane immigration policies.

“Pray for an end to the root causes of violent hatred that force mothers and fathers to flee the only home they may have known in search of economic and physical security for their children,” the bishops said.

They asked Catholics to meet with newcomers in their parishes, and to “listen to their story and share your own.” The bishops noted parishes across the country have programs for immigrants and refugees “both to comfort them and to help them know their rights.”

They also urged Catholics to “to reach out in loving dialogue to those who may disagree with us. The more we come to understand each other’s concerns the better we can serve one another. Together, we are one body in Christ.”

Finally, Catholics should call, write or visit their elected officials urging they “fix our broken immigration system in a way that safeguards both our security and our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration.”

The reflection ended with a quote from Pope Francis: “To migrate is the expression of that inherent desire for the happiness proper to every human being, a happiness that is to be sought and pursued. For us Christians, all human life is an itinerant journey toward our heavenly homeland.”

Mar. 26th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Pope: Conversion doesn’t happen through magic, but concrete actions

By Junno Arocho Esteves | Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Conversion doesn’t come from the wave of a magic wand, but from learning to do good through concrete actions every day, Pope Francis said.

While even “the saintliest person sins seven times a day,” conversion happens through humility and trying to become “better than the day before,” the pope said March 14 during the Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

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“Converting doesn’t mean going to a fairy with a magic wand,” he said. “No, it is a path, a path of turning away (from evil) and of learning.”

Reflecting on the day’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah (1:10, 16-20), the pope said, “You learn to do good through concrete things. Not with words, but with actions.”

The reading from Isaiah gives three examples: “Help the oppressed, hear the orphan’s plea and defend the widow.”

In the day’s Gospel reading from Matthew (23:1-12), the pope continued, Jesus also reproaches the scribes and Pharisees because they do not practice what they preach.

“They do not know concreteness. If there is no concreteness, there can be no conversion,” he said.

Pope Francis said Christians are called to embark on “the path of Lenten conversion,” knowing that God “is a father who speaks, he is a father who loves us.”

“He accompanies us on this path of conversion. He only asks of us to be humble,” he said. “Then our sins all will be forgiven.”

Mar. 19th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Faith can’t grow without temptation, pope tells Rome priests

By Junno Arocho Esteves | Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) — Faith is a continuing path of growth and maturity that cannot progress without the presence of temptations, Pope Francis told priests of the Diocese of Rome.

How faith develops in “a man, in a priest” despite his flaws can be seen in St. Peter, the pope said March 2 as he led a meditation with diocesan and religious clergy.

“One thing is clear: Temptation is always present in the life of Simon Peter and temptation is always present in our lives. Moreover, without temptation, you cannot progress in faith. In the ‘Our Father,’ we ask for the grace to not fall but not to not be tempted,” he said.

The meeting, held at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, was delayed for roughly 45 minutes as Pope Francis heard the confessions of a dozen priests, according to the Vatican press office.

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Greeted with a warm applause by the priests, the pope said that he would not read his entire meditation and instead focus on key aspects of his talk, titled, “The progress of faith in priestly life.”

Without a continual growth in faith, the pope said, priests run the risk of remaining immature and living priestly life “halfway.”

“And we priests, if we do not have a mature faith capable of generating faith in others — that is, fatherhood — we can do harm and so much evil. But if faith grows, it does so much good,” the pope said, departing from his prepared remarks.

Faith, he continued, must be nourished by three important components: memory, rooted in the faith of the church and “the faith of our fathers”; hope, which sustains faith; and “discernment of the present moment.”

These three components, however, hinge on a “fixed point.” The pope gave the example of a basketball player who, with his foot firmly “pinned to the ground,” moves to either protect the ball, find a way to pass it or look for a path toward the basket.

“For us, that foot pinned to the ground, around which we pivot, is the cross of Christ,” the pope said. “Faith — the progress and growth of faith — is always based on the cross, on the scandal of the cross.”

Memory, he explained, feeds and nourishes faith, particularly the memory of the “covenant the Lord has made with us” through parents and grandparents.

Speaking off-the-cuff, the pope recalled a retreat when he found it difficult to be touched by the preacher’s meditation on death and the final judgment.

At that moment, he said, “I remembered a writing my grandmother had on her nightstand: ‘Be careful, God is watching you. Think that you will die and you do not know when.’ And in that moment, I could pray and go forward. It was (my) roots that opened the way. A Christian always progresses from the root. Do not forget your roots.”

Pope Francis said that faith is also strengthened through hope, which helps priests to “find new things” from their past to encounter God in those they are called to help.

“Faith is knowing how to see in the face of the poor you meet today, the same Lord who will come to judge us according to the protocol of Matthew 25, ‘Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

To understand the past and sustain hope for the future, he added, discernment in the present is important and it often involves taking a step back to see the bigger picture.

Priests, however, often have the “insidious temptation” of “sterile pessimism,” which seeks to resolve matters quickly and often gives in to the “evil spirit of defeat.”

An example of a progression in faith through memory, hope and discernment, he said, is the apostle Peter, a man who is a “paradox” in that Jesus would often extol the virtues of others while Peter was often reproached for his lack of faith.

Peter’s faith, however, is “faith that is tested,” and through that he has the mission of confirming the faith of the disciples and the church today.

At key moments in his life, the pope continued, Peter is strengthened in his faith. Jesus “prays for him so that his weakness, and even his sin, is transformed into a grace” for him and for all.

Not following the example of Peter, the pope said, “a priest or a bishop who does not feel he is a sinner, who does not confess, who is closed in himself, does not progress in faith.”

Pope Francis explained that the devil’s greatest temptation was to instill in Peter the idea that he was “not worthy to be Jesus’ friend because he betrayed him.”

Although “the weight of our sins makes us move away from the Lord,” the pope said the Lord is always faithful and “confirms us in our shepherding, in leading the flock.”

“The Lord keeps moving forward and Peter’s faith is full. And that sinner, who denied him, the Lord made him pope,” Pope Francis said. “That is the Lord’s logic.”