Vatican City, Dec 6, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Papal preacher Father Raniero Cantalamessa gave his first advent homily to Pope Francis, touching on the biblical meaning of the word peace – both as a gift from God and a longing of the human heart.
“The theme this time will be peace. But peace in the biblical meaning, which is much, much more profound than the peace in political spheres,” Fr. Cantalamessa O.F.M. Cap., told CNA.
He said that his reflections will go beyond the external sense of peace and into the “peace of God: as a gift of God, as a duty, as a task to accomplish, and peace as inner peace, peace of the heart.”
As preacher to the Papal Household, Fr. Cantalamessa gives a meditation to the Pope, cardinals and members of the Roman Curia every Friday morning in Lent and Advent. He was named papal preacher by St. John Paul II in 1980, and was confirmed by both Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis.
Fr. Cantalamessa said the three talks he will give will focus on peace as God's gift, peace as a duty and task to work for, and inner peace as a fruit of the Holy Spirit.
In his first advent homily, given in the Redemptoris Mater chapel of the Vatican's Apostolic Palace on Dec. 5, the papal preacher opened by drawing attention the human longing for peace.
“If one could hear the loudest cry that is in the heart of billions of people, one would hear, in all the languages of the world, only one word: peace!” he said, explaining that this is the reason he chose to dedicate this year's advent reflections to the topic.
When we think of peace, we often think of it in a horizontal sense as peace between peoples, religions, social classes and races, he observed. However the most essential form of peace is the vertical peace between God and humanity.
God promises to give man peace, Fr. Cantalamessa said. Even after Adam and Eve rebelled against him, God does not abandon them but rather forms a new plan for mankind's salvation which can be traced through the different covenants he makes throughout salvation history.
“These covenants, as opposed to human ones, are always covenants of peace, never of war against enemies,” he said, pointing to the promises God made to both individual persons, such as Moses, Abraham and Noah, as well as with nations, like Israel.
All of the promises God makes to these people and nations point to Jesus, the preacher noted, who says himself that he came in order to bring God's peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
He said that the restored peace between heaven and earth comes through Christ's sacrifice on the cross, adding that one can't fully understand the “radical” change that took place in man’s relation with God unless we understand Christ’s death.
“There had to be someone who united in himself he who had to fight and he who could win, and this is what happened with Christ, God and man.”
Jesus' death on the Cross, the preacher noted, “is the moment in which the Redeemer carries out the work of redemption, destroying sin and gaining victory over Satan.”
Fr. Cantalamess continued, saying that the peace Christ won for us on the cross becomes active in each one of us through the Holy Spirit, who was given to Mary and the Apostles at Pentecost, after Jesus’ death.
“In reality, peace does come from the cross of Christ, but it is not born from it…The ultimate source of peace is the Trinity,” the preacher observed, explaining that like love, peace requires more than one person to exist.
So when Jesus tell his apostles to “receive the Holy Spirit,” in reality he is communicating to them “the peace of God, which passes all understanding,” he said.
This peace that we receive as a gift from God, primarily in our baptism, must change our relationship with God little by little so that each of us may be reconciled with him, Fr. Cantalamessa noted.
“One of the causes, perhaps the principal one, of modern man’s alienation from religion and from the faith is the distorted image that he has of God,” the priest said, observing that this is also the cause of Christians who live without joy, as if their faith were more of a duty than a gift.
Christians today can frequently associate God with something painful and displeasing, which limits and “mutilates” our individual freedom and development, he said, noting that God can often be seen as “the enemy” of joy.
Mercy is another topic that is misunderstood in the Church today, the preacher explained, saying that rather than meaning compassion, the term has become associated with pity.
However, the Holy Spirit allows us to look at God with a fresh perspective, Fr. Cantalamessa said. Although this new vision includes seeing God as the God of the law, it first allows us to see him as the God of love and grace.
“It makes us discover him as an ally and a friend, as ‘he who did not spare for himself his own Son but gave him up for us all:’ in sum, as a most tender Father.”
Through the person of Jesus, who took on the role of a slave, fear has become love, the priest concluded, noting that it is because of this that we are able to be truly reconciled with God.
“We leave for our daily work with a question in our mind: What idea of God the Father is in my heart: that of the world or that of Jesus?”
Washington D.C., Dec 6, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
After eight years in legislative limbo, a bill helping those with disabilities to save in tax-exempt accounts and still receive federal benefits passed the House overwhelmingly Dec. 3.
“Tonight the House spoke for millions of Americans with disabilities,” stated Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who is mother to a child with Down syndrome. “I know firsthand how federal policies can limit the opportunities for those with disabilities. The ABLE Act will change that.”
The ABLE Act – “Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014” – passed the House 404-17 and a vote is expected in the Senate before Congress adjourns for Christmas break. In a Congress maligned as a “do-nothing” body, members applauded and cheered its passage – something seldom seen on the House floor.
The act created tax-exempt accounts to be used for disability expenses like housing, transportation and health-related expenses. These assets would not disqualify someone from Medicaid benefits, something people with disabilities have struggled with in the past, having reported too many assets to qualify for such benefits.
Despite widespread support, the bill was hung up with Republican leadership because of its cost. Eventually members voted to offset its $2 billion cost through Medicare cuts, which some Democrats staunchly opposed because of the precedent it would set.
But in the midst of this opposition, the bill attracted a landslide of bipartisan support. Eighty-five percent of House members were co-sponsors and the majority of both Republicans and Democrats voted for its passage.
Congressman Chris van Hollen (D-Md.) cheered the bill’s bipartisan backing.
“Passage of the ABLE Act shows what’s possible when Democrats and Republicans work together to find common ground to improve people’s lives, and I’m proud to be part of the bipartisan effort to get this initiative over the finish line,” he stated.
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.), called the bill’s passage a victory for families of those with disabilities.
“As the proud father of a young man with Down syndrome, I believe that ensuring a sound financial future for our loved ones with disabilities is of the utmost importance,” he said.
“Today’s passage of the ABLE Act, a top legislative priority of mine, is a victory for all individuals with disabilities and their families. This bipartisan, bicameral package represents what Congress can do when it works together towards a common goal.”
Vatican City, Dec 6, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In a video message delivered to the displaced Iraqi Christians on Saturday, Pope Francis decried the suffering experienced by those persecuted for their faith, while expressing his gratitude for their witness.
“I thank you for the witness you give,” he said Dec. 6. “There is great suffering in your witness. Thank you!”
Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon brought the video message to Erbil, where tens of thousands of Christians displaced from Mosul and the Nineveh plains have taken refuge after having been driven from their homes by the Islamic State. Nearly 2 million people have been internally displaced since the militant Sunni Islamist group began its offensive throughout northern Iraq this summer.
The archbishop, along with 100 faithful from Lyon, arrived in Erbil Dec. 5 for a two-day visit.
“I think of the tears, the sorrows of the mothers with their children, of the elderly and the displaced, of the the wounded,” who are victims “of every kind of violence,” the Pope said.
Pope Francis repeated his concern expressed during his recent visit to Turkey for those who “still suffer, inhuman violence due to their ethnic religious identity” at the hands of extremist and fundamentalist groups.
Christians and Yazidis, among others, “are forcibly expelled from their houses, have had to abandon everything to save their own lives and not renounce the faith.”
As religious leaders, Pope Francis stressed, “we have the obligation to condemn all violations against dignity and human rights!”
St. Therese of Lisieux, the Pope reflected, compared both herself and the Church to a reed which bends in the wind and the storm, but does not break.
“You are, in this moment, this reed,” the Pope said. “You bend with pain, but you have the strength to carry your faith forward,” thereby giving witness.
“You are God's reeds today! The reeds which bend over in this ferocious wind, but then rise up!”
Pope Francis expressed his gratitude, praying to the Holy Spirit “who makes everything new, giving each and every one of you strength and resistance.”
Pope Francis called for “a major international convergence” to resolve “the conflicts which stain your countries of origin with blood, to oppose other causes which force people to leave their homeland, and to promote conditions whereby they can remain or return.”
“Dear brothers and sisters, you are in my heart, in my prayers,” as well as that of “the whole Christian community,” said the Pope to the people from Mosul. He has asked the faithful to pray to Our Lady for the suffering Christians in Iraq on Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. “She is mother, who protects you.”
“Your resistance is martyrdom,” he said, “dew which bares fruit.”
Pope Francis concluded his message by asking for prayers.