In today’s society, the principle of tolerance has become the clarion call for people of diverse views, moral convictions and religious beliefs to live together with a sense of civility to one another. By its definition, tolerance is inclusive. It seeks to embrace all individuals in a society that does not condemn individuals simply because they are different. In terms of liberal secularists, tolerance is based on cultural diversity. It is a pragmatic way to keep the peace.
Today, it has become somewhat fashionable either to deny or to ignore the existence of the devil. Yet, we face more and more the devastating reality of evil in our world. The constant wars and the countless deaths of innocent civilians, including children caught in the crossfire; the breakdown in family life; the rejection of God’s design for marriage; the economic crisis casting its ugly shadow across every nation and leaving families without homes and willing workers without jobs: these are just a few of the evils that confront us.
Tragic. Sad. Lamentable. Despicable. No one word can describe the Black Friday death of a 34 year-old Haitian man. Despite dire predictions based on an economy in crisis, shoppers spent more than $10.6 billion. They braved the early morning darkness to line up in front of stores for holiday sales. In Valley Stream, Long Island, an impatient crowd of 200 shoppers rushed the doors of a store. In their zeal for bargains to make their own lives more comfortable, they stampeded to death a young man merely trying to earn a living. It all took place just before 5 AM on November 28, 2008. Certainly, not one of them valued a single bargain more than a young man’s life. But their actions showed otherwise. Certainly, no one intended to kill the young man. But they did! Moments of such gross self-absorption should make us stop and think. Is this an isolated incident? Or, is this symptomatic of our age? Has the pace of life today spun us into a whirlwind of self-centered impatience that blinds us to those around us? There is no doubt that we live at a faster pace than our parents. An international study recently tested 70 people in 35 cities and concluded that people are actually walking 10% faster than ten years ago. We are a people in a hurry. We gulp our soda. We devour our food. We bolt for the door. Most Americans eat one of every five meals away from home. Four out of 10 meals not eaten at home are at fast food places. Fast foods are more popular than ever. Instant coffee. Instant soup. Instant pizza. The microwave is not just a convenience. It is a symbol of life that keeps accelerating each day. Even the way we communicate with each other is on rapid fast-forward. Emails. Cell-phones. Instant text-messaging. In an ordinary face to face conversation, we average about 160 words per minute. But, TV and radio commercials attack us with 210 per minute. Time is money. No word wasted. Fast, rapid speech is just another example of how we hurry from one thing to the next. People who walk fast, eat quickly, speak fast do not like to stand in line and wait. We are accustomed to instant satisfaction. We are impatient. How much profit, therefore, we can gain by truly entering the Season of Advent! Advent is the season of patience, human and divine. After Adam and Eve sinned, God did not become impatient and immediately wipe them from the face of the earth. "The Lord is full of compassion, slow to anger" (Ps. 145:8). God’s slowness to anger is His patience; His mercy translated into deed. Even before He expelled them from the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam and Eve the first promise of salvation. He announced to them that one day the Savior would come to destroy the enemy who had led them to sin. He told the devil, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He (i.e. the Son of David, the Messiah) will crush your head" Gen 3:15). God is patient with his disobedient children. From the promises made to Abraham to the message spoken to the Virgin Mary, God again and again stirred up hope for the coming of the Messiah. Centuries passed. People waited. Hope burned deeply in their hearts. The time before the coming of Christ at Bethlehem was the world’s first Advent. In all this, there is a divine patience guiding the events of our salvation. "The Lord …is patient…, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Pt 3:9). God’s patience is His mercy leading us to turn from sin and to open ourselves to the gift of His love in Christ. During Advent, as we prepare to celebrate the coming of Christ in history, our eyes stretch beyond the horizon of time. We patiently wait for the glorious return of Jesus. The Lord is coming again to bring to completion the unfulfilled longings of all creation. As Paul reminds us, "…all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; …we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies" (Rm 8: 22-23). Creation still groans for redemption in every Black Friday where the self-absorbed trample beneath their feet those who stand in the way of more material comfort. However, we are a people filled with hope born of Bethlehem. By living the Advent Season, we are turning every Black Friday inside out. In the light of Christ’s first coming, we see the true image of God in each of our brothers and sisters. We remain one with them, as with the Lord himself. We neither walk by another in need nor walk over those in our way. With eyes fixed on the Lord, we imitate his love and walk patiently with one another in justice and charity. Thus, the light of Advent already dispels the darkness of every Black Friday.Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.
After committing a murder in Rome, the famous 17th century Italian painter Caravaggio went to Malta to avoid the death penalty. While there, the Great Master of the Order of the Knights of Malta commissioned him to do a painting for the chapel of the Co-Cathedral of St. John in Valletta. Caravaggio chose as his theme the martyrdom of John the Baptist. He produced The Beheading of St. John, his largest work, the only one he ever signed. No doubt the scene touched him personally. Herod was married to Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. Because John the Baptist preached against this sin, he incurred the hatred of Herod’s wife. The day her daughter Salome delighted Herod with her seductive dance, Herodias had her make Herod promise to kill John the Baptist. Within the severe architecture of a 16th century prison, Caravaggio vividly depicts the grisly moment when Herod kept his promise. Caravaggio’s work, considered his greatest masterpiece, immortalizes the misguided fidelity of a ruler to his gruesome promise. With the stroke of the soldier’s sword, John dies and so does freedom. Freedom is based on the truth of the human person as created by God and protected by his law.When a ruler can decide against God’s law, true freedom is sentenced to death. Recently, a politician made a promise. Politicians usually do. If this politician fulfills his promise, not only will many of our freedoms as Americans be taken from us, but the innocent and vulnerable will spill their blood. On April 18, 2007, in Gonzales v. Carhart, The Supreme Court upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban. The very next day prominent Democratic members of Congress reintroduced the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA). The bill is misleadingly packaged as a freedom bill. It is not! It is a clear act of unreasoned bias to end abruptly and brutally the debate on the pressing and fundamental moral issue of the right to life. For thirty-five years, Americans have been wrestling with The Supreme Court’s decision legalizing abortion in Roe v. Wade. Most Americans now favor some kind of a ban on abortion. Most who allow abortion would do so only in very rare cases. In fact, in January, 2008, the Guttmacher Institute published its 14th census of abortion providers in the country. Its statistics showed that the abortion rate continues to decline. Abortions have reached their lowest level since 1974. There is truly a deep sensitivity to life in the soul of America. The Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) would mortally wound this sensitivity. In effect, it would dismantle the freedom of choice to do all that is necessary to respect and protect human life at its most vulnerable stage. FOCA goes far beyond guaranteeing the right to an abortion throughout the nine months of pregnancy. It arrogantly prohibits any law or policy interfering with that right. While advocates trumpet this law as the triumph of the freedom of choice, they hide the dark reality that the law would actually inhibit choice. Laws protecting the rights of nurses, doctors and hospitals with moral objections to abortion would no longer stand. Health and safety regulations for abortion clinics would also vanish. Gone the freedom of health care professionals to be faithful to the Hippocratic Oath “to prescribe regimens for the good of …patients…and never do harm to anyone, to please no one [by prescribing] a deadly drug nor [by giving] advice which may cause his death.” Gone the freedom of conscience so essential for a civil society! If a minority of avid abortionists succeed to impose this law because of the ignorance or apathy of the majority, the law would force taxpayers to fund abortions. Gone the freedom of taxation with representation! In its 1992 Casey decision, The Supreme Court ruled as constitutional state laws requiring that women and young girls who seek an abortion receive information on the development of the child in the womb as well as alternatives to abortion. The ruling also determined that a period of waiting, usually 24 or 48 hours before making a decision about an abortion is not an undue burden. The Freedom of Choice Act would nullify these laws immediately. Gone the freedom of women and young girls to have all the information they need to make their own choices! In about half of the States, there are parental notification or consent laws in effect for minors seeking an abortion. The Supreme Court has ruled that these laws are permitted under Roe v. Wade. With the stroke of a pen, these laws would be abolished. Gone the freedom of parents to care for and protect their children and grandchildren! Advocates of FOCA redefine a woman’s “health” so as to expressly permit post-viability abortions. Thus, a child who survives an abortion can be left to die for the health of the mother. No politically correct word can mask this reality for what it is. This is infanticide. Gone the freedom for a baby, once born, to live! Science does not dispute that the child in the womb already has all the characteristics that he or she will develop after birth. Notwithstanding, abortionists obstinately refuse the right of the child within the womb to live as a fundamental human right. They are not happy that Americans have not swallowed their distorted propaganda that denies the dignity of the human person from the first moment of conception. Pro-abortion advocates close their eyes to the fact that abortion even hurts women as it undermines the very fabric of our society. Their zeal for the Freedom of Choice Act sounds the alarm for decent Americans to wake up! The more the right to life is denied, the more we lose our freedoms. The “pro-choice” movement is not pro-choice. It stands against the freedom to choose what is right according to the truth of the human person. In 2002, as an Illinois legislator, the present democratic candidate voted against the Induced Infant Liability Act. This law was meant to protect a baby that survived a late-term abortion. When the same legislation came up in the Judiciary Committee on which he served, he held to his opposition. First, he voted “present.” Next, he voted “no.” Along with 108 members of Congress, the present democratic candidate for President continues his strong support for the Freedom of Choice Act. In a speech before the Planned Parenthood Action Fund last year, he made the promise that the first thing he would do as President would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act. What a choice for a new President! At the time when Herod murdered John the Baptist because of his promise, Rome practiced the principle "one man, one vote." Whoever the emperor in Rome placed in authority over a subject people, ruled. Today we live in a democracy. We choose our leaders who make our laws. Every vote counts. Today, either we choose to respect and protect life, especially the life of the child in the womb of the mother or we sanction the loss of our most basic freedoms. At this point, we are still free to choose! Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.
In Act III, Scene II of The Tragedy of Hamlet, the young prince gives this advice: “Suit the action to the word, the word to the action.” Ever since the publication of the third edition of the Missale Romanum in 2000, translators have been grappling with the challenge of suiting the word to the liturgy. Translators working to provide a fresh translation of the liturgical texts face a number of challenges. Words, like people’s dress, change from one generation to the next and from one group to another in the same society. What one individual calls a “swamp,” another more ecologically conscious individual calls “wetlands.” A politician waxes eloquently about “public participation.” His audience understands him to say “self-denial.” The corporate world routinely uses the noun “impact” as a transitive verb. People follow happily along. Today, politically correct as well as linguistically conscious individuals carefully circumvent the word “man” not to offend women. Past generations pronounced the word with never the slightest intention of excluding women. But times have changed. We speak now about humankind. Certainly, we have gained inclusivity. Yet, we have sacrificed language that is not so abstract. English always has been an open language, ready to welcome neologisms. The Internet has enriched our speech with new phrases and words. Text messaging is altering our spelling and our syntax. Language is a human expression. As people change, so does the way they speak. In his popular rhetorical guide, De duplici copia verborum ac rerum, Erasmus, the 16th century Dutch humanist and theologian, showed students 150 different styles they could use when phrasing the Latin sentence, Tuae literae me magnopere delectarunt (Your letter has delighted me very much). Clearly, no single translation of any sentence or work will ever completely satisfy everyone. Even the best of all possible translations of the new Missal will have its critics. But there is something more at stake than pleasing individual tastes and preferences in the new liturgical translations. The new translations aim at a “language which is easily understandable, yet which at the same time preserves … dignity, beauty, and doctrinal precision” (Liturgiam Authenticam, 25). The new translations now being prepared are a marked improvement over the translations with which we have become familiar. They are densely theological. They respect the rich vocabulary of the Roman Rite. They carefully avoid the overuse of certain phrases and words. The new translations also have a great respect for the style of the Roman Rite. Certainly, some sentences could be more easily translated to mimic our common speech. But they are not. And with reason. Latin orations, especially Post-Communions, tend to conclude strongly with a teleological or eschatological point. The new translations in English follow the sequence of these Latin prayers in order to end on a strong note. Many of our current translations of these prayers end weakly. Why should we strip the English translation of the distinctive theological emphases of the Latin text? A slightly non-colloquial word order can lead the listener to a greater attention to the point of the prayer. Our present liturgical texts are framed in simple syntax. The new translations use more subordinate clauses. This, in and of itself, does not render them unproclaimable. By the very fact that, in some instances, the new translations require thoughtful and careful attention to pauses when speaking helps to foster and create a less rushed and more reverent way of praying. Not a small gain for a proper ars celebrandi. The new translation at times may use uncommon words like “ineffable.” The word is not unspeakable! For sure, this word does not come from the street language of the contemporary individual. But, then, why cannot the liturgy use words that elevate the language from the street to the altar? People may not use certain words in their active vocabulary. This does not mean they will be baffled by their use in the liturgy. “If indeed, in the liturgical texts, words or expressions are sometimes employed which differ somewhat from usual and everyday speech, it is often enough by virtue of this very fact that the texts become truly memorable and capable of expressing heavenly realities” (Liturgiam Authenticam, 27).Liturgical language should border on the poetic. Prose bumps along the ground. Poetry soars to the heavens. And our Liturgy is already a sharing of the Liturgy in heaven. The liturgical texts that we are now using are not perfect, but they are familiar. This familiarity makes celebrants at ease with the present texts. The new texts are better. When the new texts are implemented, they will require more attention on the part of the celebrant. But any initial uneasiness will yield to familiarity and to a language that is well suited to the Liturgy. A language suited for the Liturgy: this is the one of great advantages of the work being done on the new translations. There is more to the Liturgy than the human language of any age or any one country. In the new translations of the Roman Missal, a conscious effort is being made to suit the human word to the divine action that the Liturgy truly is. As Pope Benedict XVI has said, the “central actio of the Mass is fundamentally neither that of the priest as such nor of the laity as such, but of Christ the High Priest: This action of God, which takes place through human speech, is the real "action" for which all creation is in expectation… This is what is new and distinctive about the Christian liturgy: God himself acts and does what is essential” (The Spirit of the Liturgy p. 173).In his early work Enchiridion militis christiani, Erasmus states the obvious about human speech and the divine. He argues that words always fall short of their task of miming the Logos. Reaching back to Exodus 16, he argues that the smallness of the manna rained down on the Israelites "signifies the lowliness of speech that conceals immense mysteries in almost crude language.” Until the end of history, we must be content with imperfect language that will never fully unveil the divine mystery we celebrate. But the new translations, imperfect as they are — as all human speech will be —are good translations that have passed through the hands of many scholars and bishops. The language of the new texts, while not dummied down to the most common denominator, remains readily accessible to anyone. Most assuredly, these new translations of liturgical texts will help us better approach God with greater reverence and awe. We gladly await their final approval from the Holy See and their use in the Liturgy!Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.
On March 13, 2008, the body of Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul was recovered where his kidnappers had buried him. Two weeks before, the archbishop had been abducted just as he finished leading the Via Crucis in a parish in Mosul. His captors killed his three unarmed companions, took the archbishop into custody and demanded a million dollar ransom. Many international organizations and heads of State spoke out against the violence. But to no avail. Within one week, he was dead. Last year, armed Muslim extremists confronted Father Ragheed Ganni along with three of his sub-deacons after they finished celebrating Mass on Pentecost. The extremists demanded that they convert to Islam. When they held fast to the faith, they were gunned down. The death of Archbishop Rahho and his companions, along with the death of Fr. Ganni and his companions, are dramatic examples of what has become a persecution of Christians in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein. The lists of clerics who have been murdered in recent times is astonishing. In 2003, anti-government rebels in Burundi shot Archbishop Michael Courtney in an ambush. The previous year, two gunmen outside the parish of Buen Pastor in a working-class neighborhood murdered Archbishop Cancino of Cali, who had been critical of leftist Colombian rebels. In 1998, two days after Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi blamed the military for most of the 200,000 deaths in Guatemala's 1960-1996 civil war, Gerardi was bludgeoned to death at his seminary in Guatemala City. In 1993, Cardinal Ocampo had accused the long-entrenched Institutional Revolutionary Party of ties to narcotics traffickers. He was mowed down in the parking lot of the Guadalajara Airport in 1993. In 1989, soldiers kidnapped Bishop Jaramillo of Arauca while on pastoral visits. They tortured him and then killed him for his public comments against the actions of the National Liberation Army in Colombia. In March 1980, El Salvador's Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero preached a sermon asking the military to put an end to its repressive tactics in El Salvador's civil war. The next day, a sniper ended his life. Again and again, the news alerts us to the presence of evil in our world. Shortly after the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers, Pope John Paul II was asked to explain the presence of evil in the world. He responded by stating the stark reality that it represented “mysterium iniquitatis.” Evil exists. Sin exists. Why anyone subjects himself to the Evil One and commits horrible acts of violence against his brothers and sisters remains a mystery not fully explained by human freedom. Each time we pray the Our Father, we voice our own struggle against evil. In the last petition of the Our Father, we pray, “Deliver us from evil.” Our prayer reminds us of our communal desire to be rid of evil. It also expresses our faith that evil can be overcome. The mysterium iniquitatis will not have the final word in human affairs. God is the lover of life. From the day of Abel to today, He takes no delight in blood spilled in violence. Through the paschal mystery, God has flooded the world with grace. In Christ who suffered violence and death, God has revealed the strength of His love. In Christ Crucified and Risen, He offers us the power of forgiveness to heal the wounds of sin. "…The Church testifies to her hope that human events are always accompanied by the merciful Providence of God, who knows how to touch even the most hardened of hearts and bring good fruits even from what seems utterly barren soil" (Pope John Paul II, World Day of Peace, Jan. 1, 2002). God touches us with His mercy and love where we need to be healed. He touches our hearts and moves each of us to face the reality of evil first and foremost in our own lives. On Easter Sunday night, Jesus appears to the disciples and shows them his hands and his side. No mistaking it. This is Jesus who had been crucified. Jesus is bringing the very disciples who had abandoned him face to face with the evil of their infidelity. Their sins, together with the sins of each of us, fashioned his death on the cross. Jesus’ first word dispels all anxiety and fear. “Peace,” he says to them and to us. He tells us that we are now at peace with God because of him. He is our peace and our reconciliation. His Cross is the price of our evil; his Resurrection, the cause of our joy. Jesus breathes on the disciples and says to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The Hebrew word for spirit (ruach). It also means "breath." When God fashions Adam from the earth and then breathes into his nostrils the breath of life, Adam became a living being (Gen 2:7). In Ezekiel’s vision of Israel as a valley of dry bones, the prophet speaks the Word of God and God’s Spirit brings life to those long dead. The Spirit brings life (cf. Ez 37:1-14). As Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on his disciples, the Church comes to life. This is Pentecost in John’s Gospel. Jesus also mandates his Church to forgive sins. “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them” (Jn 20:23). The birth of the Church, therefore, is linked from the beginning with the forgiveness of sins. Christ made the Church “the sign and instrument of the forgiveness and reconciliation that he acquired for us at the price of his blood” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1442). Furthermore, he entrusted the exercise of the power of absolution to the apostles and those who share in their "ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor 5:18). Thus, each time we go to confession, the absolution spoken by the priest is Christ’s word of divine forgiveness. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a grace-filled opportunity for us to confront the mysterium iniquitatis. When we humbly confess our own sins, the Holy Spirit removes the evil of those sins, breathes new life into us and enables us as followers of Jesus to move our world from hatred to love, from violence to peace and from death to life.Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.
Today, marriage has lost its attraction for many Americans. Fewer people are taking the walk down the aisle. In the last thirty years, the number of men and women exchanging marriage vows has fallen by 50%. At the same time that marriage has been declining, there has been a rise in cohabitation. Today ten times more individuals than in 1960 are opting to live with someone else in a sexual relationship without being married. Many people simply do not subscribe to the value of forming a stable, loving, committed family unit into which children are welcomed. Sexual activity has become a personal choice devoid of its impact on the emotional life of the other person and apart from its natural purpose of bringing children into the world. Young people are living together more frequently and divorcing more often than their parents. Most disturbing is the divorce of marriage itself from parenting. More young people are becoming unmarried parents than two generations ago. Today, of all teenagers, only 45% live with their married biological parents. Social sciences give us statistics about marriage that make the case for marriage on the level of reason itself. On an average, married people are more productive and experience greater joy in family life than the unmarried. They are able to form more meaningful relationships with each other. They have a more intense relationship than cohabitating individuals, even on the level of physical intimacy. Married people even have longer life expectancies than their single peers. Simply stated, men and women themselves benefit from the institution of marriage.Furthermore, when children come into the world and are raised in a family where mother and father are married and stay married, the children themselves develop with a greater capacity for life. They are physically and emotionally healthier than their counterparts from broken homes. The risk of abusive or delinquent activity is substantially less than those from homes without a father or a mother. They are more likely to achieve a college education. When they marry, they have a decreased rate of divorce (cf. “Why Marriage Matters: 26 Conclusions from the Social Sciences,” Bradford Wilcox, Institute for American Values, www.americanvalues.org/html/r-wmm.html).Marriage benefits and protects men, women and children. It also promotes the common good. Reason itself argues for the institution of marriage.Revelation provides the model. God chose the stable family life of Mary and Joseph to be the birthplace of his only-begotten Son. He who was the Son of God from all eternity became the son of the Virgin Mary in a home formed by love and sustained by sacrifice. By being a part of a human family, the Redeemer sanctified marriage. The birth of the Son of God to parents who were married gave marriage itself an even greater dignity. Family life belongs to God’s plan for the world’s salvation.At the home of the Holy Family, every family learns what it means to be open to God’s will, to respect life and to place the good of the other before one’s own comfort. Here both the goodness of work and the imperative of sacrifice find their strength in love that is total and other-directed. The intimate communion of love makes the home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph the example of all the virtues needed not only to form a strong family but also to build a stable society where justice and peace give true freedom to all. The simple home of Bethlehem and the humble hearth of Nazareth are a school where we learn how to translate the Gospel into our everyday life.Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.