Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings Nov. 22, 2015

"One like a son of man … received dominion, glory and kingship." -- Daniel 7:14

“One like a son of man … received dominion, glory and kingship.” — Daniel 7:14

Nov. 22, Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

      Cycle B.  Readings:

      1) Daniel 7:13-14

      Psalm 93:1-2, 5

      2) Revelation 1:5-8

      Gospel: John 18:33b-37


By Sharon K. Perkins
Catholic News Service

One can always find lively debate on the Internet and on social media. Some of it is profound, some of it is trivial and some is downright ridiculous. But sometimes even the trivial can convey a kernel of truth.

While searching for a movie critique, I stumbled across a popular online magazine piece in which three commentators were debating the relative merits of Batman’s previous garb and the latest Batman suit created for a cinematic battle against Superman.

It seems that the recent iteration was more heavily armored and, as one writer commented, more appropriate for dueling with the man of steel. Trivial, indeed. But I was struck by another critic’s objection to the new suit. He maintained that the additional bulk was “antithetical” to all that makes Batman who he is — including his “human vulnerability.”

After all, Batman, beneath his intimidating ensemble, is also completely human, and therein lies the enduring appeal of the story. Bruce Wayne is more than he appears to be. So what does a Batman suit have to do with a reflection on Jesus Christ, king of the universe?

Some second-century Christians had great difficulty with the notion that Jesus, the divine son of God, could be truly human, since material flesh and blood were evil and only spirit was capable of divinity. This heresy, called “Docetism,” maintained that Jesus only “appeared” human, or was “clothed” in a phantomlike humanity. Scripture, however, tells us otherwise.

Psalm 93 is a hymn about the Lord’s royal garb; he is “robed in majesty,” “girt about with strength.” When he comes again amid the clouds, every eye will see him and all will know without a doubt that he is king. Yet Pilate certainly didn’t see him that way. Jesus stood before him, fully human and completely vulnerable, on trial for being a king who is not of this world. Of this king it is written in Revelation, he is both the “firstborn of the dead” and “ruler of the kings of the earth.”

On this feast, we celebrate a king who is both fully human and fully divine; the early church father St. Irenaeus wrote that Jesus became what we are so that we could become what he is.

There’s nothing trivial about that.


Do you struggle more with Jesus’ true divinity or his true humanity? How is Jesus, the king not of this world, ruler of your life and of your heart?

Msgr. Jenkins filled with gratitude as he ends term as USCCB general secretary

Msgr. Ronny E. Jenkins, who is general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, listens to a speaker Nov. 10 during the bishops' annual fall general assembly in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller) See BISHOPS-ROUNDUP Nov. 10, 2014.

Msgr. Ronny E. Jenkins, outgoing  general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  (CNS/Bob Roller)

BALTIMORE — Msgr. Ronny Jenkins, the outgoing general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, looked out at the 240 bishops gathered in Baltimore, a deep feeling of gratitude in his heart.

His years with the conference, the last five as general secretary, were enriching and rewarding, he told the bishops Nov. 17 during their annual fall general assembly.

He recalled the words of Pope Francis during his visit to Ecuador in July in remarks to close the public sessions of the assembly.

“‘Please do not forget the grace of gratitude. It’s a gift from Jesus,'” he quoted the pope as saying.

“As I reflect on my time at the conference, it’s not very difficult for me to follow the Holy Father’s advice,” said the priest of the Diocese of Austin, Texas.

The general secretariat oversees the work of the USCCB on behalf of the bishops.

He went on to thank the bishops for their support and for making his duties “much lighter and more enjoyable.” He credited his colleagues, including associate general secretary Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, whom the bishops elected to succeed him, for their immense skills and talents.

“Msgr. Bransfield is one of the finest priests and incredibly intelligent colleagues I have known. I assure you you will not be disappointed in the excellent choice you have made,” he said.

A canon lawyer who was conference associate general secretary from 2006 to 2011, Msgr. Jenkins also said he was blessed to work in a setting in which the bishops showed unity “as brothers in service to the church,” noting that he was inspired by the bishops’ “constant witness to collegiality and fraternity.”

The final blessing, he said, came from working with the staff around him. He said his job was made easier because of the work of the senior staff and his colleagues on the fifth floor of the conference headquarters near the Basilica of the National Shrine Church of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast Washington. He credited them for being “the very best.”

“So thank you again for the opportunity to serve,” he concluded. “I assure you of my daily prayers for you, your episcopal ministry and the success of the conference.”

Mother Teresa declared a saint? Not quite yet …

(FOLLOWUPIf miracle approved, Blessed Teresa could be canonized Sept. 4)

Many people believe Blessed Teresa of Kolkata was a living saint but, despite a flurry of media reports, the Vatican has not officially cleared the way for her canonization.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, the foundress of the Missionaries of Charity, who was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2003, is pictured in an undated file photo. (CNS photo/Michael Hoyt, Catholic Standard)

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, the foundress of the Missionaries of Charity, who was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2003, is pictured in an undated file photo. (CNS photo/Michael Hoyt, Catholic Standard)

An Italian news agency reported Nov. 18 that a panel of doctors has found no medical explanation for an alleged miracle credited to the intercession of Mother Teresa. Catholic News Service wrote about that story — a cure in Brazil — in late October. But as the story explains, doctors saying there is no medical explanation for a cure does not yet make it a miracle:

“After a diocesan investigation into a potential miracle yields positive results, the case goes to the Congregation for Saints’ Causes. A panel of physicians is convoked by the congregation to study whether the healing is authentic and lasting, and that there is no natural, medical explanation for it. With the doctors’ approval, the files are passed on to a panel of theologians.

“The theologians study the events — especially the prayers — surrounding the alleged miracle and give their opinion on whether the healing can be attributed to the intercession of a particular sainthood candidate.

“If the theologians give a positive opinion, the cardinals who are members of the congregation vote on whether to recommend that the pope recognize the healing as a miracle and set a canonization date.”

The cardinals of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes normally meet in December; their agenda is not public.

However, sources have told Catholic News Service that church officials in India are saying, off the record, that Pope Francis hopes to travel to India and canonize Blessed Teresa Sept. 5, the anniversary of her death in 1997.


Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings Nov. 15, 2015

"Learn a lesson from the fig tree." -- Mark 13:28

“Learn a lesson from the fig tree.” — Mark 13:28


Nov. 15, Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle B. Readings:

       1) Daniel 12:1-3

Psalm 16:5, 8-11

2) Hebrews 10:11-14, 18

Gospel: Mark 13:24-32

By Jeff Hedglen
Catholic News Service

It is a 30-year tradition for my parish youth group’s annual weekend canoe trip: Before we leave the parking lot, I ask the group to keep their eyes open for signs of God throughout the trip.

Then, on the second night of the trip, sitting around the campfire after the melted marshmallow and chocolate have finally been licked off all our s’more-stained hands, we tell the stories of how and where we saw God.

Basking in the glow of the fire under a star-filled night, the wonder of the presence of God among us comes alive. We have found God in the turtles sunning themselves on branches or in the way someone helped others who seemed to spend more time in the river than in their canoe.

Sometimes the sign of God has been just in getting away from the busyness of daily life and listening to the crickets sing us to sleep.

That night always has been one of my favorite nights of the year, and it exemplifies perfectly the gift of wonder and awe in the presence of God. The idea of a sign from God usually comes to us in two ways. Either something happens that causes us to feel a need for a sign from God, or something we see or experience confirms for us the presence of God in our lives.

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus addresses these two aspects of God’s self-revelation when he says, “Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates.”

Through this example, Jesus teaches us to pay attention to the created world because it reveals truth. But also, he implores us to prayerfully watch the things happening around us, for through them he reminds us that he is always near.

So whether a canoe trip, a cup of coffee with a friend, a typical day at work or any of a million other experiences in your life, be on the lookout for signs of God in your life. You may be surprised where he shows up.


What is a recent “sign of God” in your life? What is your favorite place to go to encounter God?

The fallout from crime affects more than just victims

In matters of crime and punishment, there is no shortage of regret and sorrow on the part of both victim and offender.

Why don’t more of us understand this? It could be because the few news stories that report on criminal trials and sentencing focus only on an anguished victim or two, whose emotions are still raw from the incident — and we frequently don’t ever hear from them again unless the convicted offender is nearing execution, in which case the wounds are reopened again as the search for an ever-elusive sense of closure continues.

And for the convicted criminal? We may read or hear of remarks they make at sentencing hearings — remarks that are frequently pushed aside by a judge as being insincere or not contrite enough before imposing a sentence. And that’s the end of that, unless execution is nearing, and we hear that the convict has maybe found some kind of peace, unless we suspect he’s putting us all on.

Crucifix is silhouetted against stained-glass window in chapel ay New York correctional facility. (CNS photo/Mike Crupi)

Crucifix is silhouetted against stained-glass window in chapel at New York prison. (CNS photo/Mike Crupi)

At a Nov. 6 conference on restorative justice co-sponsored by the Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Death Penalty at The Catholic University of America, even the third-person recounting of some crime victims’ stories, told by former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske, were heart-rending.

Take the case of the police officer’s wife who told her husband, before he left to report for the night shift, to stay safe. He turned around and told her, “God and I are like that,” showing her his crossed fingers. She heard sirens wailing in the distance at two in the morning, said a quick prayer, and went back to sleep. An hour later, she hear a knock on the door. She knew what it meant — the police had come to tell her that her husband had been grievously hurt on duty — but didn’t want to acknowledge it, pulling the covers over her head in hopes it had been part of a dream. It wasn’t.

She went to the hospital and saw her husband in the emergency room. “His heart was literally in somebody’s hands,” she had said, and even though the medical team was still working on him, “I knew he was dead.” She walked behind him, made the sign of the cross on the top of his head, and walked away. Still inside the hospital, she heard a squeaking sound. At first she couldn’t identify it. But then she discovered what was causing it; her husband’s blood was on the soles of her sneakers. When she walks into a gym on a rainy day, even today, the sound brings back the flood of memories of her loss.

This woman had a hard time getting through the Our Father afterward, because of the line “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” “If you want me to do this,” Geske said the woman told God, “you’d better show me how.” It eventually led her seek restorative justice with the man who shot her husband.

Then there was case of the woman who was brutally raped and murdered in Texas. The woman left behind a young daughter. Seventeen years after the incident, the daughter, now fully grown, decided to explore restorative justice, and asked her grandmother to come along. She also asked her uncle, but it was too painful for him to relive. She asked him if he had any questions. He did: “I fixed her car before she left. I wondered if it had broken down, and that’s the reason she got abducted.” Seventeen years later, the possibility that he was somehow culpable in his sister’s murder still haunted him. The answer, according to the one criminal who agreed to go through the restorative justice process, was no, they had met at a gas station and struck up a conversation, and the crime unspooled from there.

But the dead woman’s mother had a question of her own: “What were her last words?” The criminal replied: “I will never forget her last words.” Even though she had already been sexually assaulted and her face badly battered, he reported that she told her attackers, “I forgive you and God will forgive you.” Both the victim’s mother and daughter collapsed in each other’s arms upon hearing that, Geske said, as they knew she had been at peace as death was imminent.

Geske also told the story of a crime victim who was raped at gunpoint. “The gun was worse than the rape,” the woman had said, as she felt that, at any second with her attacker’s gun pointed at her head, she felt she could have died. “Whenever she sees a story about a woman (found) at the side of a road, she says she knows what she was thinking in her last thought,” Geske said. “It was (about) her family, that she didn’t have a chance to say goodbye.”

Another case dealt with a young fundamentalist Christian farm family who were at their home when a couple of teenagers with a can of mace and nothing else better to do decided to mace someone. They saw the farmer’s barn, which said in big letters, “Jesus Loves You.” “Let’s get those Christ-lovers,” one of the teens said; use of the term made this a hate crime. They rang the doorbell. The couple answered. The boy with the can sprayed mace in the farmer’s face.

There was shock and confusion amid a tangle of other emotions from the farmer and his wife. There was also eventually an arrest. The farmer agreed to restorative justice proceedings. “This was such a good experience,” he said afterward, “I wish I had been maced earlier!”

Pope Francis blesses inmate during visit to Philadelphia correctional institution. (CNS photo/Todd Heisler, pool)

Pope Francis blesses inmate at prison in Philadelphia. (CNS photo/Todd Heisler, pool)

But it’s not just the victims, or the next of kin, who have the potential for healing under restorative justice. The criminal can benefit, too. The victim-offender conferences give offenders a chance to describe the remorse they now can verbalize long after their conviction.

“April 25,” mused one man on a video that was shot while in he was in prison for killing a child. “That’s the day my life changed forever 12 years ago. Not only me, but my victim’s family, my family.”

While in jail, said a second man, “I started thinking less and less about me as a victim, and eventually about the person I hurt as a victim.”

Another man acknowledged the depth of his crime. “Their mom is dead,” he said. “But there are plenty of other victims. I see other victims of the crime I committed,” adding how he’d look at a picture of his grandchildren on a bulletin board.

He talked about a prison visit made by his daughter and her young son. As the two got up to leave, the grandson asked his imprisoned grandfather, “You’re not coming, too?” “And here I am, this tough, this don’t-touch-me kind of man, looking like, ‘Help,'” he said, his voice beginning to quaver. His daughter said she’d explain it all to her son as they drove home.

In the video, there was a brief image of this man — who was definitely older than the other inmates — prior to him speaking on camera. I thought he might have been someone on the restorative justice counseling team. And I was going to mention this to the father of a girl who’s gone to my daughter’s school for the past six years that I’d seen a guy in a video who looked remarkably like him save for a difference in hair style. But then it was clear the man on camera was a prisoner, as he talked about the impact of just one act.

Geske noted how crime victims “have a right to be angry,” and that reconciliation between victim and offender can be neither assumed nor expected, much less instant.

At one family conference, a rapist told his victim, “You need not forgive me for what I did. But should you forgive me, you don’t have to tell me. Just go to the top of a mountain and watch a sunrise for the two of us.”

But there was one instance where the mother of a girl killed by a drunk driver in a hit-and-run accident came to a conference loaded for bear, armed with a video of moments in her daughter’s life. As the video was playing, the incarcerated offender started crying. The woman reached into her purse and got out some tissues and pushed them across the table. “To me, that’s a sign of forgiveness,” Geske said. At the end of the session, Geske added, the mother hugged the man and told him, “You just saved my life today.”

Armenian-Americans grateful for pope’s words about genocide

Among the huge crowds that gathered during Pope Francis’ trip to the United States in September, Armenian-Americans had a presence in all three cities on his itinerary — and it was to thank him for earlier this year recognizing the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Turks as the “first genocide of the 20th century,” according to Haykaram Nahapetyan, Washington correspondent for the Public TV Company of Armenia.

Back in April, at a Mass commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide at St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope said that humanity had lived through “three massive and unprecedented tragedies the past century: the first, which is generally considered ‘the first genocide of the 20th century,'” struck the Armenian people. The other two 20th-century tragedies, the pope said, were those “perpetrated by Nazism and Stalinism.”

Addressing Armenian Christians, the pope said that recalling “that tragic event, that immense and senseless slaughter, which your forebears cruelly endured,” was necessary and “indeed a duty” to honor their memory “because wherever memory does not exist, it means that evil still keeps the wound open.”

“Concealing or denying evil is like letting a wound keep bleeding without treating it,” he said.

Turkey’s top government officials criticized the pope’s use of the term “genocide” in reference to the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians during their forced evacuation by Ottoman Turks in 1915-18. In his remarks Pope Francis cited a 2001 joint statement by St. John Paul II and the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Turkey rejects the accusation of genocide, and the government called its ambassador to the Holy See back to Turkey “for consultations” the same day Pope Francis made his statement.PhiladelphiaUSEthisone

Nahapetyan said that Armenians in the U.S. felt that after what pope did to recognize the genocide, a public expression of gratitude was necessary — especially during the pontiff’s U.S. trip.

In Washington on Capitol Hill, as Pope Francis delivered his speech to a joint session of Congress, a group of Armenians gathered with “thank you” signs, according to Nahapetyan. In New York, during the pope’s evening prayer service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armenian-Americans gathered to thank him.

And in Pennsylvania, St Mark’s Armenian Catholic Church in Wynnewood was decorated with Vatican flags in September, and The New York Times featured a photo of an Armenian nun, Sister Emma Moussayan, principal of the Armenian Sisters Academy in Radnor, who attended the Mass celebrated by Pope Francis at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.

In addition, Nahapetyan said, three electronic billboards were raised in and around Philadelphia with a message of gratitude on display; ads with similar content were placed in the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News. The local Armenian Genocide Centennial Commemorative Committee raised the funds and “worked with the billboard vendor to choose locations the pope would hopefully see — like by the airport,” Kim Yacoubian, the committee’s co-chair, told Nahapetyan.

Pennsylvania is home to the largest community of Armenian Catholics on the East Coast, noted Nahapetyan.

Arthur Martirosyan, a representative of the Armenian National Committee of America Eastern Region told Nahapetyan: “Pope Francis should be a role model for other world leaders.”

A special billboard also went up in Foxboro, Massachusetts, to pay tribute to the words of the pope.

foxboro2These displays are part of the Armenian Genocide Awareness Billboard Campaign, sponsored by Peace of Art Inc., a nonprofit educational organization based in Massachusetts. The group’s founding president is artist Daniel Varoujan Hejinian. An earlier billboard went up in Sharon, Massachusetts — in June — thanking the pope.

Launched in January, the yearlong campaign is placing “100 billboards for 100 years of genocide” throughout the United States and Canada in honor of the victims of all genocides of the last 100 years.

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings Nov. 8, 2015

"They have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had." -- Mark 12:44

“They have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had.” — Mark 12:44


Nov. 8, Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Cycle B. Readings:

1) 1 Kings 17:10-16

Psalm 146:7-10

2) Hebrews 9:24-28

Gospel: Mark 12:38-44 or Mark 12:41-44

By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

Once when I was visiting the administrative offices of a large organization that serves the poor, a veteran staff fundraiser remarked, “Our experience has been that when it comes to actual donations, it is always the people who are only a step out of poverty themselves who are the most generous as a percentage of what they have.”

His comment would have us believe that today’s Gospel story, comparing the widow giving from her want with the wealthy giving from their surplus, is an example of something that happens all the time.

“It makes sense,” the staffer said, “because these are people who have experienced firsthand what it is like to be in poverty. They know the struggle, so naturally they want to help anyone who is in that situation.”

It’s fundamental solidarity.

I’ve witnessed it in my periodic visits to my church’s twin parish in Haiti: At the offertory during Mass, there’s no passing the plate. Instead, altar servers stand in the aisles holding small wooden boxes, each with a lock on the side and a money slot in the lid.

All at once (this is not an orderly procession), the people make their way to a box, crowding around to place coins and small bills — crumpled and grimy from the transactions typical of a poor, hard-labor economy — into the slot. The scene looks like a widow’s mite flash mob.

Here is a poor community’s members giving from their want out of their love for God and their ardent trust that he will care for them together as a body of his people. Indeed, their shared life as a church community is what sustains them, both spiritually and materially, and gives them hope.

They exemplify this week’s Old Testament reading in which a widow and her son, themselves a step away from starvation, share their last bit of flour and oil with the hungry prophet Elijah. Drawn together by mutual trust in God, they survive.

We are all called to this kind of solidarity in which we join in our brothers’ and sisters’ struggles. Sharing the hardship, we learn by necessity to trust — and survive — in God’s care.


When has your trust in God come up short of offering all you have? How can you be more “invested” in your faith community or the hardship of others?


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