“My Son lets His Heart be touched”

PontmainThose words, simultaneously comforting and astounding, were part of the message of Our Blessed Mother described here by Dom Kirby.

“…do pray, my children.  God will answer you very soon…”

Our Lady of Pontmain, pray for us!

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The primacy of gracious speech

In his otherwise very good homily at Holy Mass on Thursday, 09-January-2014, Pope Francis (commenting on the first Reading from 1 John 4:11-18) said something which could be misleading:

There is a question we must each ask ourselves: “If I abide in Jesus, if I abide in the Lord, if I abide in love, what do I do for God – not what do I think or what do I say – and what do I do for others?”. Therefore, he said “the first criteria is to love with deeds, not with words”. “The wind carries away our words: today they are here and tomorrow they are gone”.

In his zeal to see a more visibly loving Church, it is clear that Pope Francis significantly underestimates the importance and the power of words.  Most often, the first encounter of other persons with us will be their hearing of our words.  The way in which people express themselves in words has been seriously corrupted by our culture, as well as by our lack of knowledge of Sacred Scripture.  Ordinary conversation is now laden with negativity, complaining, sarcasm, slander, gossip, hypocrisy, falsehood, vulgarity, lack of eye contact, no smile, feeble efforts at humor in order to mask insecurity, and fear of mentioning our Lord and anything related to Him.  Our disordered desire for isolation has produced people who increasingly neglect to acknowledge others with a simple, friendly greeting.  The first impression we make on someone will likely be with our words, and contrary to Francis’ belief that “the wind carries away our words,” that first impression is often one which is lasting.

If we are truly disciples of Jesus, we should be seeing the face of Christ in everyone we encounter.  We should also be striving to have whatever we say to others be born of self-giving love.  Our speech should be filled with friendliness, affirmation, gratitude, truth and graciousness:

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you know how you should respond to each one. (Colossians 4:6)

Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another….No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear.  (Ephesians 4:25,29)

The LORD loves the pure of heart; the person of winning speech has a king for a friend.  (Proverbs 22:11)

Opportunities to do loving deeds for those we encounter in daily life are relatively infrequent.  In contrast, every one of those encounters offers us the opportunity to speak words in a loving manner.  Loving actions can often be impersonal, and therefore easier to perform.  It’s possible to “love with deeds” and not actually be in the presence of the person who is the recipient of your love.  However, many of us find it intimidating and uncomfortable to look someone in the eye and, with a smile, affirm them, express our gratitude to them, or gently correct them.  One-on-one conversation is a very personal encounter.  This is precisely why it is so enduring.

Do not underestimate the primary importance of expressing our love with words, especially in our families!!!

Effective communication

MagiIn his homily for Epiphany, Fr JN recalled the diligence with which the Magi followed the star.  He pointed out that the star in our lives is Jesus, and that we should each have a personal relationship with Jesus evidenced by our lives of prayer and service to others.  I was elated to hear such a clear Christocentric challenge (Thank you, Father!).  However, I also recalled a time when such words would have been meaningless to me.  As a lukewarm (or less) Catholic in my early 20’s, those words would have gone in one ear and out the other.  I was not seeking the Lord at that time.  I was filling my life with my own selfish pursuits.  I’m sure there were some Catholics at this Mass who are just like I was back then.  In communicating to the Magi, God used a language that they (wise men; astrologers) could readily understand — the star.  When I had the renewal experience which led to my personal encounter with Jesus, it changed my hearing.  Words which were previously meaningless to me were now filled with meaning and challenge.  Fr JN’s words were clear and simple.  They were quite possibly the ideal words to use.  The question is:  How can we best help people to open their hearts more to God, so that such clear and simple words prove to be inspiring and motivating to them, instead of being largely ignored by them?

The irreplaceable importance of kerygma

In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis emphasizes the importance of the kerygma, and clearly declares that the top priority of catechists needs to be the focused and repeated communication of the kerygma:

164. In catechesis too, we have rediscovered the fundamental role of the first announcement or kerygma, which needs to be the centre of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal. The kerygma is trinitarian. The fire of the Spirit is given in the form of tongues and leads us to believe in Jesus Christ who, by his death and resurrection, reveals and communicates to us the Father’s infinite mercy. On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” This first proclamation is called “first” not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things. It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment.  For this reason too, “the priest – like every other member of the Church – ought to grow in awareness that he himself is continually in need of being evangelized”.

165. We must not think that in catechesis the kerygma gives way to a supposedly more “solid” formation. Nothing is more solid, profound, secure, meaningful and wisdom-filled than that initial proclamation. All Christian formation consists of entering more deeply into the kerygma, which is reflected in and constantly illumines, the work of catechesis, thereby enabling us to understand more fully the significance of every subject which the latter treats. It is the message capable of responding to the desire for the infinite which abides in every human heart. The centrality of the kerygma calls for stressing those elements which are most needed today: it has to express God’s saving love which precedes any moral and religious obligation on our part; it should not impose the truth but appeal to freedom; it should be marked by joy, encouragement, liveliness and a harmonious balance which will not reduce preaching to a few doctrines which are at times more philosophical than evangelical. All this demands on the part of the evangelizer certain attitudes which foster openness to the message: approachability, readiness for dialogue, patience, a warmth and welcome which is non-judgmental.

As a supplement to Pope Francis’ description of the kerygma, Msgr Charles Pope explains it well in this article and this article.

Guidance for the new year from Pope Francis

pope-francis-0101Pope Francis celebrated yesterday’s Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God with two homilies.  In the first, given at Vespers on the vigil of the feast (31-December-2013), he encouraged us to examine ourselves by reviewing how we lived during the calendar year which is about to end:

While the year 2013 comes to an end, we gather, as in a basket, the days, the weeks, the months that we have lived, to offer everything to the Lord. And we ask ourselves: how have we lived the time He has given us? Did we use it above all for ourselves, for our interests, or did we know how to spend it also for others? And God? How much time did we reserve to “be with Him,” in prayer, in silence?

We should develop the habit of examining ourselves in this manner frequently – even daily!  Notice that Pope Francis understands the primacy of the interior life (of which our Blessed Mother is the best example), which is the foundation upon which our life of service is built.  Our Lord prefers that we offer our actions to Him only if we are first striving to deepen our relationship with Him:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’  (Matthew 7:21-23)

The following day (01-January-2014) in his homily at Mass, Pope Francis highlighted two aspects of the holiness of our Blessed Mother which we should strive to emulate:

The Mother of the Redeemer goes before us and continually strengthens us in faith, in our vocation and in our mission. By her example of humility and openness to God’s will she helps us to transmit our faith in a joyful proclamation of the Gospel to all, without reservation.

If we include devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary in our own spiritual lives, grow in humility, and seek and embrace God’s will (versus our own will, preferences, etc.), we will be inspired to joyfully proclaim Jesus to others.