VATICAN INSIDER CELEBRATES FOOD FOR THE POOR – ARCHBISHOP CHAPUT: A LITTLE WISDOM FROM BERNARD – IN BRIEF

Today is the feast of Pope St. John Paul II! On this day in 1978, October 22, his papacy of almost 27 years began and the world was forever changed. 1978 – the Year of Three Popes – Paul VI, John Paul (the Roman numeral I was added to his name only after John Paul II chose that name). The former Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, whom many today call St. John Paul the Great, had been elected 6 days earlier following the premature death of his predecessor, John Paul I, after 33 days of papacy. Saint John Paul II | Franciscan Media

Vatican Youtube Oct 22, 1978 – 22 October 1978: the Pontificate of John Paul II begins – YouTube

VATICAN INSIDER CELEBRATES FOOD FOR THE POOR

This week, in the interview segment of Vatican Insider, I bring you a fascinating conversation I had with Alvaro Pereira and Fr. Robert White as they tell us more about the amazing program they work for and with, Food for the Poor – how and when it was founded, how FFTP works to help the poor, not just through providing food but through building homes, teaching people how to earn a living and much more!   Some astonishing numbers will leave you speechless. The more you hear, the more you’ll want to become involved!

Full disclosure for a personal moment: I was living in California from 1986 to 1990 and first met Fr. Bob in the mid-1980s when, as a San Diego priest, he was named pastor of a new parish, St. Thomas More in Vista, California. There was no church but there were a lot of Catholics, including my parents and I, who were anxious for this new church to be a reality. Sunday Mass for years was celebrated in the chapel of neighboring Oceanside’s Eternal Hills mortuary. When the parish hall and multi-purpose rooms were built, Mass was held in the auditorium.

Dinner at La Vittoria!

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Weekday Masses on Tuesdays and Thursdays were held for several years in parishioners’ homes. We usually stayed a bit after Mass when, fortified by coffee and sweets and often wonderful home-grown fruit, we would talk about building the church, how to raise funds and who in the parish was sick and needed our help and prayers. It was an extraordinarily special time for all of us and made us feel like the first Christians did when there were no formal churches and people met in the homes of wealthier Christians.

Fr. Bob and I recently had a reunion in Rome when he and Alvaro, representing Food for the Poor, were attending a Vatican conference. This was the first time we’d seen each other since 1993!

Website: www.foodforthepoor.org

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ARCHBISHOP CHAPUT: A LITTLE WISDOM FROM BERNARD

by Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. 10 . 21 . 21

(First Things) Bernard of Clairvaux, the great 12th-century saint and Doctor of the Church who renewed the Western monastic tradition, once warned that “The most grievous danger for any pope lies in the fact that, encompassed as he is by flatterers, he never hears the truth about his own person and ends by not wishing to hear it.”

Every pontificate has its courtiers. The current one is no exception; quite the opposite. Thus, St. Bernard’s words came easily to mind as I read a recent Austen Ivereigh article for America magazine. In it, Ivereigh claimed that “over the last eight years, a powerful U.S.-based media conglomerate has used its formidable wealth and power to turn a large portion of the people of God against Rome and its current occupant. And for good measure, against key reforms of the Second Vatican Council.”

Frightening stuff; so where might this muscular wickedness spring from: Comcast? Facebook? George Soros’s Open Society Foundations? No. Today’s spirit of schism—Mr. Ivereigh describes it as “the diabolos, and calling it something else is just putting lipstick on a pig”—is the work of those iniquitous devils at . . . EWTN. Yes, that’s the network founded by that arch-troublemaker and woman religious, Mother Angelica, and funded largely by tens of thousands of small donations from ordinary, faithful Catholic individuals and families.

To be fair, Ivereigh’s article simply elaborates on comments that Pope Francis made recently to Jesuits in Slovakia. Pope Francis didn’t name the offending media organization, but as journalists quickly confirmed, he meant EWTN. It’s surprising to hear any pope be so publicly and personally sensitive to perceived ill will from a few commentators at a modest network (by secular standards) based on another continent. Conflict, a lot of it, both within and beyond the Church, comes with the job of every bishop. The bishop of Rome is not excused from that unhappy burden. And EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo, whom Ivereigh seems to regard as a special tool of the diabolos, does not pose quite the same fearsome threat to the Church as, say, China’s Xi Jinping. Or significant figures in America’s current leadership.

Mr. Ivereigh is right to see mean-spirited ecclesial criticism from anyone as poisonous to the unity of the Church. But he might take his own words to heart in examining some of his own past work.  Moreover, not all criticism in a family is ill-intended or disloyal or inaccurate. Some anger, even anger at legitimate authority, is righteous. The virtue of Christian obedience is rooted in speaking the truth—with love, but frankly and firmly—and true religion has nothing to do with a posture of servility.

As an EWTN board member for many years before retiring, I’m well acquainted with the network’s shortcomings. It can always improve. But it has managed to serve the gospel for decades now with skill and endurance where many others have failed. Thus, it’s hard to read critics of the network without also sniffing their peculiar cologne of faux piety, jealousy, and resentment. EWTN’s achievements deserve praise and warrant pride. I admire the dedication of its leaders and staff. I’m grateful for the network’s service to the Word of God. And any suggestion that EWTN is unfaithful to the Church, the Second Vatican Council, or the Holy See is simply vindictive and false.

TO CONTINUE READING _ A Little Wisdom From Bernard | Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. | First Things

IN BRIEF

AN UPDATE ON PAOLO, POPE FRANCIS AND A ZUCCHETTO: In my report Wednesday on the 10-year old disabled boy who paid an impromptu visit to Pope Francis on the stage area of the Paul VI Hall at the general audience, I noted how very much he seemed to want a papal skull cap or zucchetto but saw no evidence that he actually received one. I had dinner that night with a priest friend from Chicago who was at the audience and he gave me an update. It seems that when the general audience catechesis was over, a “spare” zucchetto was found and given to Paolo who jumped for joy and happily wore it for the rest of the morning. It seems there is always a zucchetto or two on reserve so one was given to Paolo. Both Paolo and his mother later had a chance to speak to the Holy Father.

PAPAL LITURGIES FOR NOVEMBER – The Vatican today posted liturgies on the papal calendar for the month of November, While no mention was made of traditional activities for the Holy Father on the Vatican holy days and holidays of November 1, All Saints, and November 2, All Souls, the schedule included the following: Thursday November 4 St. Peter’s Basilica Altar of the Chair, Holy Mass for the deceased Cardinals and Bishops during the year; Friday, November 5, Mass at 10:30 at Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome; Sunday, November 14, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, St. Peter’s Basilica, 10.00 Holy Mass,

 

 

IN THE PRESENCE OF A SAINT: A TRIPLE WHAMMY!

IN THE PRESENCE OF A SAINT: A TRIPLE WHAMMY!

I had one single ambition on this beautiful day marking the 100th birthday of an incredible Pole who became a parish priest, bishop and cardinal and then voted by the College of Cardinals to succeed two men whose names he took – John and Paul: to be in the presence of a pontiff I so loved and loved to serve for so many years.

St. Peter’s Basilica was to open today for the first time in two months and I wanted to be there and to pray to and with John St. Paul.

I live very close to the Perugino entrance to Vatican City and, as a Vatican retiree with proper ID and related privileges, I can use that entrance whenever I need to access certain offices, the department store, the basilica, etc.

I wore my mask but the two gendarmes at the entrance knew me and I was delighted when they said yes, I could certainly return to the basilica! When I got to the basilica entrance there ere two volunteers from the Order of Malta taking temperatures – as they are doing to people who use the main basilica entrance.

I’d been so excited to go that I left my cell phone at home so could not take photos o the basilica as I had only seen it once before in my life, But at least I know there will now be other times!

The very central part of the main aisle has wood barriers on both sides, closing a space of about 6 to 8 feet across, so you cannot walk directly across the basilica, from one side to the other, at any point. As I entered on the south side of the basilica, I had to walk behind the papal altar to get to the north side and John Paul’s tomb where I prayed the rosary. I chose the Luminous Mysteries today because John Paul added them to the traditional Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries.

I did not meditate that well on the mysteries, I must say. I had so many memories of John Paul, mental photos that came fleetingly to my mind. I studied the altar, the many flowers and gorgeous floral bouquets that had been places during the day (I did not see any during the papal Mass). Every distancing allowable space in the pews was occupied and that made me very happy but did not at all surprise me. I saw and felt the love.

I did notice one thing and am guessing it was planned. There were 8 candles on the altar above John Paul’s tomb and 10 more were added during the day on the marble altar railing, two candelabras of 5 candles each for a grand total of 18 candles!

The meditation on the third Luminous mystery in the book I use when I say the rosary began: “Jesus preached in the synagogues, streets and hills of Galilee, offering individuals fulfilment of all their hopes and dreams. People listened, spellbound, as he told them how to gain entrance into this new kingdom: “Repent, turn around, and believe the Good news. God had made a way for you to come back to Him.”

All I could think of was, “that’s John Paul! He preached everywhere in the world!” And it was he who said upon being elected Pope, “ Open wide, open wide your doors to Christ! Be not afraid!”

One of my very favorite photos of John Paul –

I wanted to meditate more on this and talk to John Paul some more and ask another favor or two but I heard a bell that almost made me jump for joy (a bell rang JUST NOW on my phone as I wrote the word bell). The bell meant there was Mass!

Mass! And Communion!

I joined perhaps 50 other people at the Altar of St. Joseph where two of the 12 Apostles are buried, Simon and Jude. All pews were marked with a small yellow dot where seating as allowed – perfect social distancing. The priest who said Mass did not have a mask but he did have gloves: his assistant had both. There was beautiful music and the organist was a great tenor as well!

Communion – Yes, the Eucharist! – went very well. It was orderly, with ushers allowing us to exit our pews properly.

What most amazed me was that when I received communion and began to return to my pew, I started crying!   I felt like I had just received my first communion – at least my first coronavirus era Eucharist!

After Mass I did the final thing I had been wanting to do for a while – confession. I did not know the basilica would close at 6 and it was 5:40 but I found an English (and Chinese- and Italian-)-speaking priest so confession was the final part of the triple whammy!

I can tell you a few things for certain after my afternoon experience…

Even with restrictions, when you go to a real Mass for the first time in probably months, you will discover what you knew all along. You will rejoice. You will smile. You will feel special. You will know you are in a special place. Mass is the highlight, the focus, the center, of our spiritual lives. We share the Eucharist with other members of the Body of Christ as the epitome, the epicentre if you will, of our life on earth as Catholics.

You will also discover the beauty of the priesthood as you experienced it with your pastor or others these past months via live streaming Masses – Masses done with care, homilies preached with love. Maybe you went to confession in your car, sitting 6 feet from your confessor and praying those in the cars behind you had hearing problems!! Much has to be sacrificed to prepare these Masses, new technology had to be learned and used but the priests did that – they did it for us, the faithful.

And I think you will discover like never before what the Eucharist means to you!

PS– a link to other memories I have of St. John Paul: https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/baking-cookies-for-st-john-paul-ii-and-other-memories-for-his-100th-birthday-18713

 

SYNOD OF BISHOPS: YOUNG PEOPLE ARE USED-LESS, NOT USELESS – BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE SYNOD

Yesterday was, as I briefly noted, the feast day of St. John Paul II and it was also the 40th anniversary of the inauguration of his pontificate on October 22, 1978. At his death on April 2, 2005, almost 27 years later, his was the third longest papacy after Pius IX (31 years, 7 months, 21 days) and St. Peter (precise dates unknown).

I met John Paul almost 20 times when I worked at VIS, the Vatican Information Service, had a number of occasions to actually speak to him and actually have a video I really cherish, a close up of the two of us talking before I left for China on the Holy See delegation to the UN’s women conference in 1995. He met the delegation before we left the next day for three weeks in Beijing. (I had no knowledge of the audience beforehand or I’d have worn a dark color outfit instead of a pink dress)

For 15 years in my job at VIS, I read every speech or homily John Paul gave and every document he wrote – how my faith and knowledge of the Church, the Universal Church grew!

The first time we met after Mass in his private chapel: there’s an hysterical story associated with this meeting in December 1985!

My favorite moments were attending Mass in his private chapel and making cookies for him. Yes, I started making chocolate chip cookies for John Paul as soon as I learned he loved chocolate. I’m a chocaholic so it was natural to share my favorite food. I always hand delivered them to his then secretary – now Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz – and I always got a note or phone call of thanks from Msgr. Stanislaw.

World Youth Day, Denver 1993-

One day I decided to research for VIS the countless “firsts” of John Paul’s pontificate. To name but a few: first Pope to ever visit a synagogue; to visit a mosque (Omayyad Great Mosque of Damascus); to hold press conferences in airplanes and one in the Holy See Press Office; the first Pope to stay in a hotel during a trip instead of residing in the apostolic nunciature or the bishop’s residence as is tradition during papal trip: he stayed at the Irshad Hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, in May 2002. The hotel had diplomatic status for the duration of his stay. There was no bishop in Azerbaijan and there were only 120 faithful, the smallest ever number of Catholics in a country visited by a Roman Pontiff.

Pope John Paul visited the Holy See Press Office in January 1994

I was a lector at Christmas Midnight Mass, December 1993


A few more “firsts” of the dozens and dozens of this papacy: St John Paul added five new mysteries to the Rosary, the Luminous Mysteries; he said Mass in an airplane hangar at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport on the December 10th feast day of Loreto: Our Lady of Loreto is the patron saint of aviators; he called for a Day of Pardon in the Great Jubilee Year 2000); said Mass in the northernmost Catholic community in the world, over 350 kilometers north of the Arctic Polar Circle (Tromso, Norway 1989); first Pope (and I think the only one!) to use a letter on his papal crest: he put “M” for Mary. The rules of heraldry allow letters or words only around a crest, not on it.

The final time we met: December 14, 2004


I have always felt tremendously sorry for people who did not live during this papacy, who never knew St. John Paul! We were blessed beyond telling!

SYNOD OF BISHOPS: YOUNG PEOPLE ARE USED-LESS, NOT USELESS

At the Tuesday briefing for the Synod of Bishops on Young People, Cardinal Tagle from the Philippines said that the young women present with the bishops provided a much-needed expansion of horizons at the Synod.
By Russell Pollitt, SJ (vaticannews)

The draft of the final document was presented to the Synod Fathers on Tuesday morning and was greeted with a long round of applause, said Dr Paolo Ruffini Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication. On Wednesday, the Synod Fathers will put forward proposals for integration into the final document. Dr Ruffini said that the document is different than the working document, the Instrumentun Laboris, but reflects many of the issues that were outlined in that document. He said that the icon for the entire document is the Scriptural account of the Road to Emmaus. He also said that a letter is being prepared and addressed to young people.

Wisdom and strength move us forward
Mr Joseph Sepati Moeono-Kolio, an auditor representing Caritas International and Oceania from Somoa, said the Synod has been an overwhelming experience. He said that it has been a time in which the Church has been reflecting on its engagement with the world, being acutely aware of the challenges the Church faces and proactively going out to meet those challenges. He said that the Synod spoke about Catholic Social Teaching and how to equip young people to go and use it in the world to face the issues that are before them.

Mr Sepati said that an image of the Synod for him from his own context in the Pacific region is an older wise person and young person in a canoe. The older person knows how to read the stars and navigate the oceans, the younger person has the strength to move things forward.

The Synod was like a school
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo from Myanmar said that after the Synod he personally and the Church in Myanmar will give more attention to young people. He said that he realised that young people have not be listened to as they deserve to be. He said that the Church needs to realise that young people are used-less and not useless. He said that he hopes that the whole Church will give attention to young people and follow up on the recommendations of the Synod.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle from the Philippines said that he doesn’t like comparing Synods, as each one that he has attended, seven in all, is unique. This Synod has been like a school, young people have been teaching us, by sharing their dreams and desires but most especially by telling their stories, the Cardinal explained.

The feminine
Cardinal Tagle said that this has also been a different Synod as the feminine voice has certainly been a focal point. He said that it was suggested often that female figures in Scripture should be used as interpretative lights for young people today. He said that the testimony of the young women at the Synod provided a much-needed expansion of horizons. The Cardinal said that when we talk about diversity it is not just about cultures but also the experience of women which is unique.

Migration and education
Archbishop Bienvenu Manamika Bafouakouahou from Congo said that he uses this image for the Synod: the final document of the Synod will be one that launches the bishops into orbit, like satellites, they in turn will give the signal back to young people on earth.

He said that in different parts of the world the issues were different for young people. For him, he said, migration is a real issue. Young people are looking for a better life but they are also driven from their homes, expelled from their land. This was caused, for example, by the degradation of the ecosystem at the hands of multinationals. He said that things like COP21 are often not adhered too despite all the promises made.

The Archbishop went on to say that another big concern is formation and education. He said that in Europe education was advanced but that in many African countries this is still a serious problem. Something must be done so that young people can grow and integral development can take place on the continent, the Archbishop concluded.

Holy Father to attend a book launch
At the briefing Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro spoke about a book that will be launched tonight at which Pope Francis will be present and answer questions. The book is entitled The Wisdom of Time and is aimed at bridging and connecting different generations. Fr Spadaro said that the Pope has been involved in the book in three ways: The Holy Father wrote the preface, he wrote about his own experience as an older man himself and then also contributed as a spiritual guide by commenting on the stories in the book.

BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE SYNOD

From “The Catholic Thing”: “On the Verge – by Robert Royal

The first draft of the final document of the Synod on Youth is being given to the bishops today – many of you may already know something about that by the time you read this, given the six-hour time difference between Rome and the East Coast of America. As I write, I don’t yet.

Italian journalists with long experience here say to expect a relatively uncontroversial text – on the surface. It will, they say, include ambiguous language about LGBTs designed not to provoke too strong a reaction, but formulations that can be turned in several desired directions in the future.

This seems only too likely. And that’s why the bishops who truly get what’s going on must push strongly for language that allows for no blurring of Catholic teaching, explicit or implicit, anywhere in the final document.

The synod fathers were on a kind of brief vacation Monday and will be back in session reading this text and proposing changes Tuesday and Wednesday. Their proposed changes will then be incorporated, or not, by the committee doing the writing of a second draft later in the week and finally voted on Saturday. Or at least that’s the schedule – which Pope Francis can always decide to change – as Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Communications Office of the Holy See, regularly reminds audiences.

We can’t yet know, of course, what the draft will say, but we can make informed guesses on the basis of the few things we have seen at recent briefings. For example, on Saturday, Diane Montagna of LifeSite News asked three English-speaking bishops (Cardinal Cupich of Chicago, Cardinal Rabat of Papua New Guinea, and Archbishop Comensoli of Melbourne) a perfectly reasonable – and perfectly clear – question.

Are you distinguishing, on the one hand, between “welcoming and accepting and including” people who are same-sex attracted as persons, who like all persons deserve our respect and goodwill, and on the other hand, are you making it clear, as the Catechism does, that homos exual orientation, let alone behavior, is not being “welcomed”? Especially since young people want the truth.

You would think that this is something any Catholic bishop, archbishop, or cardinal could answer in a couple of words: Of course, yes. You can watch the reaction here (he gave a link to a video), in which Archbishop Comensoli goes through a roundabout way of saying we are all sinners on a pilgrimage to the foot of the Cross.

Well, yes, of course, but that’s not exactly what’s being questioned at the moment.

Cardinal Cupich gave an even more puzzling response that we have to be sure “not to place obstacles” to the workings “of God’s grace.” Presumably, this means that you don’t simply, and obstinately, repeat Church teaching and neglect real human engagement with people who are same-sex attracted, but are also seeking Jesus Christ.

But this is only to say that, when dealing with someone who’s searching, you shouldn’t be a jerk. No argument there, of course. But it’s a real question whether it may also be an obstacle to the working of grace not to urgently – also sensitively, if you will – convey to the same-sex attracted or to anyone how serious all sin is.

There’s something in this “accompanying” that in one way is what the Church has always done – reaching out to all of us as we return again and again to confess, repent, make a firm resolution to avoid future sin.

But in another way, there’s something else being introduced here. Sure the Church wants to walk on a pilgrimage with God’s people, which means dealing with sinners who progress and relapse. But if there’s no sense of urgency and the pilgrimage begins to stretch out seemingly without limit, maybe the real call of the Gospel is not being proposed.

Besides, as the wisdom of all good theology and even pagan philosophy reminds us, none of us knows the hour of our death.

Asking for a real decision – here and now – may be a more merciful and compassionate, even more realistic and essential, than an obstacle.

It’s fair to speculate that we’ll see some attempt to get non-committal, open-ended language like this into the first draft. Amoris laetitia has already given us the example for it, the “walking with” people in second marriages and the half-expressed change in teaching that it’s going to be fine for everyone to receive the sacraments even though there is no intention to change a sinful life.

For multiple reasons, our time finds it particularly difficult to make traditional moral affirmations about homosexuality. The ashes of Matthew Shephard, a homosexual prostitute and drug dealer who was horribly murdered in Wyoming years ago, but has been falsely mythologized as a gay saint, will be interred at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. this week. The Episcopal Church is quite lost at present, in many ways, not least in trying to normalize and celebrate and even sacralize what until recently that church regarded as sin.

And even American Evangelicals have been affected. Evangelicals have been poorly educated in their churches lately and are now confused about many core Christian beliefs, as a study released in the past week by an evangelical outfit has discovered. But the largest shift in attitudes has occurred over homosexuality. Around half of evangelicals say they believe that “The Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior doesn’t apply today.”

The Catholic embrace of both faith and reason, Scripture and tradition, has long been a point of pride about how we differ from other faith groups, especially when they become unmoored, and go along with wherever the culture, often a decidedly non-Christian culture, is going.

We will see in the next few days how such things stand among the gathered bishops.

SAINT JOHN PAUL II’S 1994 CHRISTMAS MESSAGE TO CHILDREN

SAINT JOHN PAUL II’S 1994 CHRISTMAS MESSAGE TO CHILDREN

I leave tomorrow for the States where I’ll spend my Christmas vacation in both Milwaukee and Chicago with family and some close friends. For the brief period I will be gone, I’d like to leave you with a very special gift in place of my regular daily column – Pope St. John Paul’s 1994 Christmas Message to Children. If you are a child – or a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle and have small children near you – this is for you! MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

It is fairly long so you might want to read this to children over a period of days, perhaps during the 12 Days of Christmas”  Savor it gently!

JESUS IS BORN!!!

In a few days we shall celebrate Christmas, the holy day that is so full of meaning for all children in every family.

This year it will be even more so, because this is the Year of the Family. Before the Year of the Family ends, I want to write to you, the children of the whole world, and to share with you in the joy of this happy time of year.

Christmas is the feast day of a Child, of a newborn Baby. So it is your feast day too! You wait patiently for it and get ready for it with joy, counting the days and even the hours to the holy night of Bethlehem.

christmas-4

I can almost see you: you are setting up the crib at home, in the parish, in every corner of the world, recreating the surroundings and the atmosphere in which the Saviour was born. Yes, it is true!

At Christmas time, the stable and the manger take centre place in the Church; and everyone hurries to go there, to make a spiritual pilgrimage, like the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth.

christmas-1

Later, it will be the Magi arriving from the distant East, following the star, to the place where the Redeemer of the universe lay.

You too, during the days of Christmas, visit the cribs, stopping to look at the Child lying in the hay. You look at His mother and you look at St. Joseph, the Redeemer’s guardian. As you look at the Holy Family, you think of your own family, the family in which you came into the world.

You think of your mother, who gave you birth, and of your father. Both of them provide for the family and for your upbringing, for it is the parents’ duty not only to have children but also to bring them up from the moment of their birth.

Dear children, as I write to you I am thinking of when many years ago I was a child like you. I too used to experience the peaceful feelings of Christmas, and when the star of Bethlehem shone, I would hurry to the crib together with the other boys and girls to relive what happened 2,000 years ago in Palestine.

We children expressed our joy mostly in song. How beautiful and moving are the Christmas carols that, in the tradition of every people, are sung around the crib! What deep thoughts they contain, and above all what joy and tenderness they express about the divine Child who came into the world that holy night!

christmas-3

The days that follow the birth of Jesus are also feast days: so eight days afterward, according to the Old Testament tradition, the Child was given a name: He was called Jesus.

After 40 days, we commemorate His presentation in the Temple, like every other first-born son of Israel. On that occasion, an extraordinary meeting took place: Mary, when she arrived in the Temple with the Child, was met by the old man Simeon, who took the Baby Jesus in his arms and spoke these prophetic words:

“Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the gentiles, and for the glory to Your people Israel” (Lk. 2:29-32).

Then, speaking to His mother Mary, (Simeon) he added: “Behold, this Child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk. 2:34-35).

christmas-7

So already in the very first days of Jesus’ life we heard the foretelling of the Passion, which will one day include His mother Mary too: on Good Friday she will stand silently by the cross of her Son.

Also, not much time will pass after His birth before the Baby Jesus finds Himself facing a grave danger: the cruel king Herod will order all the children under the age of 2 years to be killed, and for this reason Jesus will be forced to flee with His parents into Egypt.

You certainly know all about these events connected with the birth of Jesus. They are told to you by your parents and by priests, teachers and catechists, and each year you relive them spiritually at Christmas time together with the whole Church. So you know about these dramatic aspects of Jesus’ infancy.

christmas-8

Dear friends! In what happened to the Child of Bethlehem you can recognize what happens to children throughout the world. It is true that a child represents the joy not only of its parents but also the joy of the Church and the whole of the society.

But it is also true that in our days, unfortunately, many children in different parts of the world are suffering and being threatened: they are hungry and poor, they are dying from diseases and malnutrition, they are the victims of war, they are abandoned by their parents and condemned to remain without a home, without the warmth of a family of their own, they suffer many forms of violence and arrogance from grown-ups.

How can we not care, when we see the suffering of so many children, especially when this suffering is in some way caused by grown-ups?

JESUS BRINGS THE TRUTH

The Child Whom we see in the manger at Christmas grew up as the years passed. When he was 12 years old, as you know, He went for the first time with Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover.

There, in the crowds of pilgrims, He was separated from His parents and, with other boys and girls of His own age, he stopped to listen to the teachers in the Temple, for a sort of “catechism lesson”. The holidays were good opportunities for handing on the faith to children who were about the same age as Jesus.

But on this occasion it happened that this extraordinary Boy Who had come from Nazareth not only asked very intelligent questions but also started to give profound answers to those who were teaching Him. The questions and even more the answers astonished the Temple teachers.

It was the same amazement that later on would mark Jesus’ public preaching. The episode in the Temple of Jerusalem was simply the beginning and a kind of foreshadowing of what would happen some years later.

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Dear boys and girls who are the same age as the 12-year-old Jesus, are you not reminded now of the religion lessons in the parish and at school, lessons which you are invited to take part in?

So I would like to ask you some questions: What do you think of your religion lessons: Do you become involved like the 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple? Do you regularly go to these lessons at school and in the parish? Do your parents help you to do so?

The 12-year-old Jesus became so interested in the religion lesson in the Temple of Jerusalem that, in a sense, He even forgot about His own parents. Mary and Joseph, having started off on the journey back to Nazareth with other pilgrims, soon realized that Jesus was not with them.

They searched hard for Him. They went back and only on the third day did they find Him in Jerusalem, in the Temple. “Son, why have You treated us so? Behold, Your father and I have been looking for You anxiously” (Lk. 2:48).

How strange is Jesus’ answer and how it makes us stop and think! “How is it that you sought Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Fathers house?” (Lk. 2:49). It was an answer difficult to accept.

The evangelist Luke simply adds that Mary “kept all these things in her heart” (2:51). In fact, it was an answer that would be understood only later, when Jesus, as a grown-up, began to preach and say that for His heavenly Father He was ready to face any sufferings and even death on the cross.

From Jerusalem Jesus went back with Mary and Joseph to Nazareth, where He was obedient to them (cf. Lk. 2:51). Regarding this period, before His public preaching began, the Gospel notes only that He “increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man” (Lk. 2:52).

Dear children, in the Child Whom you look at in the crib you must try to see also the 12-year-old Boy in the Temple in Jerusalem, talking with the teachers. He is the same grown Man Who later, at 30 years old, will begin to preach the word of God, will choose the Twelve Apostles, will be followed by crowds thirsting for the truth.

At every step He will confirm His extraordinary teaching with signs of divine power: He will give sight to the blind, heal the sick, even raise the dead. And among the dead whom He will bring back to life there will be the 12-year-old daughter of Jairus, and the son of the widow of Naim, given back alive to his weeping mother.

It is really true: this Child, now just born, once He is grown up, as Teacher of divine truth, will show an extraordinary love for children. He will say to the Apostles: “Let the children come to Me, do not hinder them,” and He will add: “for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mk. 10:14).

Another time, as the Apostles are arguing about who is the greatest, He will put a child in front of them and say: “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:3).

On the occasion, He also spoke harsh words of warning: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believes in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mt. 18:6).

How important children are in the eyes of Jesus! We could even say that the Gospel is full of the truth about children. The whole of the Gospel could actually be read as the “Gospel of children”.

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What does it mean that, “unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven”? Is not Jesus pointing to children as models even for grown-ups? In children there is something that must never be missing in people who want to enter the kingdom of heaven.

People who are destined to go to heaven are simple like children, and like children are full of trust, rich in goodness and pure. Only people of this sort can find in God a Father and, thanks to Jesus, can become in their own turn children of God.

Is not this the main message of Christmas? We read in St. John: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14); and again: “To all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12).

Children of God! You, dear children, are sons and daughters of your parents. God wants us all to become His adopted children by grace. Here we have the real reason for Christmas joy, the joy I am writing to you about at the end of this Year of the Family.

Be happy in this “Gospel of divine sonship”. In this joy I hope that the coming Christmas holidays will bear abundant fruit in this Year of the Family.

JESUS GIVES HIMSELF

Dear friends, there is no doubt that an unforgettable meeting with Jesus is First Holy Communion, a day to be remembered as one of life’s most beautiful. The Eucharist, instituted by Christ at the Last Supper, on the night before His passion, is a Sacrament of the new covenant, rather, the greatest of the Sacraments.

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In this Sacrament, the Lord becomes food for the soul under the appearances of bread and wine. Children receive this Sacrament solemnly a first time—in First Holy Communion—and are encouraged to receive it afterward as often as possible in order to remain in close friendship with Jesus.

To be able to receive Holy Communion, as you know, it is necessary to have received Baptism: this is the first of the Sacraments and the one most necessary for salvation, Baptism is a great event!

In the Church’s first centuries, when Baptism was received mostly by grown-ups, the ceremony ended with receiving the Eucharist, and was a solemn as First Holy Communion is today.

Later on, when Baptism began to be given mainly to newborn babies–and this is the case of many of you, dear children, so that in fact you do not remember the day of your Baptism—the more solemn celebration was transferred to the moment of First Holy Communion.

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Every boy and every girl belonging to a Catholic family knows all about this custom: First Holy Communion is a great family celebration. On that day, together with the one who is making his or her First Holy Communion, the parents, brothers, sisters, relatives, godparents, and sometimes also the instructors and teachers, generally receive the Eucharist.

The day of First Holy Communion is also a great day of celebration in the parish. I remember as though it were yesterday when, together with the other boys and girls of my own age, I received the Eucharist for the first time in the parish Church of my town.

This event is usually commemorated in a family photo, so that it will not be forgotten. Photos like these generally remain with a person all through his or her life.

As time goes by, people take out these pictures and experience once more the emotions of those moments; they return to the purity and joy experienced in that meeting with Jesus, the One Who out of love became the Redeemer of man.

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For how many children in the history of the church has the Eucharist been a source of spiritual strength, sometimes even heroic strength! How can we fail to be reminded, for example, of holy boys and girls who lived in the first centuries and are still known and venerated throughout the Church?