Once again we are reminded of the coming of the Lord to his formerly exiled people who returned to Israel. Those who remembered the first temple were saddened to rebuild the temple because it had lost the manna, the tablets of the law and all the other original trappings. The people believed that the Temple had lost the presence of God in the temple. The people were told they would see something much greater, the presence of God everywhere.
Today, we must be aware that the World Meeting of Families is more than just a festival that comes every three years. Instead, we are waiting for our prophet, the Pope, to come to see us and tell us to take courage, take courage, take courage. He will let us know that our work is calling us. We must get to work. We are well aware of the difficulties families face across the world.
Keynote with Rick Warren and Cardinal Sean O'Malley
Rick Warren spoke first:
Our society is completely backwards on how it depicts everything. The Bible teaches that we overcome evil with good. What creates a joy-filled family? They model themselves on the joy of God. The bible says God is love, not that he has love, but that he is love. The only reason you have love in your family is because God is love. Your heart beats because you were made to be loved by God. If you were not created to love God, you would not be here. God didn't need you...he wanted you. You can't make God stop loving you, because his love is based on who He is not who you are. No person will ever love you the way God loves you.
You will only know your purpose in life by reading God's word and talking to the Creator.
You must do on earth what you do in Heaven. It's practice. You will worship in heaven, you must worship and bow down before your God here on earth to practice for eternity. Trials and tribulations make you grow and stretch to become closer to God. Satan does not tempt us with evil, he tempts us with lies about what is good. Satan did not say to Adam and Eve in the Garden "Eat this and you will become like me." No, he said "Eat this and you will become like God." We will learn peace in this chaos. The family is our launchpad for ministry to others. We serve God by serving others.
Everybody is called to serve, even though not everybody is a priest. We must practice our eternal service to God by serving others here on earth. Everybody is hungry for the Good News, no matter what walls they seem to put up. Who is going to bring the Good News to them? To serve them? It must be us.
We are never going to deserve the blessings that God gives us, but our ticket to heaven was paid for not by us but by the blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We must reach out as families full of joy to bring people into the family of God.
This was my second time hearing Cardinal Sean speak, as he had given an English language catechesis at World Youth Day in 2013 in Brazil.
We need to see the world through God's eyes if we are going to actually see things clearly. If we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we not share that love with others? Families are missionaries, they pass the legacy on to new members. Marriage means new life, and the Gospel must radiate from the family. Not only do parents give the message of the Gospel to their children, but the witness and love of children evangelizes the parents. It is these families that evangelize other families.
Being a family in God's family means that we make a gift of ourselves to others' service. Technological superiority deludes westerners into thinking they are better than people in the developing world. The newly baptised native peoples of New Guinea that Cardinal Sean's friary evangelized were immediately scandalized by the fact that they had met Lutheran Papuans on the other side of the island they lived on. It was immediately a scandal that the body of Christ was divided. It was these new Christians that remind us that our technical advances have not stopped us from being completely backward in other ways. If someone asked for the toughest mission in the world today, they would be sent to the U.S. or another western country because this is he new mission territory where people are rejecting God and deChristianizing our countries. The lives of the saints should be the people that we model our lives upon, not superficial celebrities.
There is a difference between a crowd and a community. It was community that lowered the paralytic man through the roof of our Lord's house. We must change the crowd into a community, first by evangelizing our families, and then everyone else. Our domestic church of forgiveness and unconditional love will evangelize the world. We must gather around our tables to share and love, and then gather around the Eucharistic table. We must build a civilization of love.
Final breakout session with Alejandro Bermudas, Joseph and Gina Loehr, and Rabbi Abraham Skorka. "How Precious is the Family"
Mr. Bermudas spoke hosts Cara y Cara on EWTN, a Spanish language program. He is a consecrated lay person. He spoke of the "Barrio" in Buenos Aires. The Barrio in South America is the reference point for the family, while the concept of a Barrio in American minds is that of a drug and gang related area. Pope Francis is nostalgic for the kind of family life that he grew up with in the Barrio in Buenos Aires. How can we make our communities, our barrios, open and supporting of family life rather than a place of hostility? Pope Francis' childhood in the barrio is one of the reasons that he believes in a culture of experience. We must go out and meet people and build communities from the crowds. Despite our imperfections, the family is still the answer for the future.
Gina used to believe that marriage and family life was useless. She is thankful to God that she had a conversion before she gave her entire life over to this lie. The family is precious because faith and the foundation of coexistence exist within it. We teach an antidote to social fragmentation by teaching coexistence in our families.
Joseph exhorted upon all of us to listen to the Words of Pope Francis in always making time for our children. Usually, children do not feel ignored by their mother, but Pope Francis used to ask fathers if they played with their children and if they had the courage to be present in their children's lives - to make time rather than just being out to make money. Children always remember who was present and who was not. Fathers, no matter how much they feel the need to provide, must provide themselves their sons and daughters.
Rabbi Skorka is a friend of Pope Francis who knew Cardinal Bergoglio in Buenos Aires. Why are we so enamoured with Pope Francis? It is because he reminds us of our Lord Jesus, who took the time to visit people, to come to them and to bless them.
Archbishop Chaput seemed on the verge of tears as he closed out our conference, and so was I. Tomorrow, with the arrival of the Vicar of Christ, Philadelphia's World Meeting of Families participants will be joined by hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of other people who will come to hear our Holy Father speak and offer Mass. I am melancholy as I write this, because I am happy about taking part of the Festival of Families (cough, Jim Gaffigan, cough cough) and being at Mass with so many other people on fire with their faith.
I was also very pleased to visit the Cathedral of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia. It is modelled on the Hagia Sophia and is breathtaking. As an emissary of Kyivan Rus said to Prince Volodomyr after visiting the original Hagia Sophia, "We did not know if we were on Heaven or Earth". I had the same feeling.
I am in need of some prayers. Apparently, someone or some bot is trying to hack your favourite correspondent's iCloud account. I have been wrestling with my iPad all day, trying to make it work to take videos for Instagram and to keep you all informed via Twitter. Sadly, what you have seen is about 1/10 of what I recorded.
All of this trivial technological nonsense is completely and utterly unimportant when I reflect upon another beautiful day at the World Meeting of Families. How blessed we all are to start each and every day of sessions and talks with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. My reflection today on the homily and readings almost seems to come from a mystical place as the "smells and bells" of the liturgy take over my mind, heart and soul. If I made the point that the Mass's homilies were amazing before, I must reiterate it again as I give a short summary today.
The Church knows that the crisis of the family is the reason that there is a crisis of society. The pastoral care of our families, our domestic church, is the priority of our church because it effects not just the individual family but rather our entire planet. This year the topic of the synod of Bishops is the family. Today's Gospel tells us that Herod killed John the Baptist because of John's criticism of Herod marrying his brother's wife. Herod is afraid, in today's Gospel, because the man that Herod is hearing about, Jesus, has a family connection to John. Despite his curiosity at Jesus message, Herod saw his own sin when he heard of Jesus.
The problems of our society are, just like Herod so long ago, directly related to our selfish desires. We must find real solutions to the real problems of the family based on the message of the Gospel. Form a Holy Family where each member prays together and grows in love for Jesus Christ. Let us pray for the blessing of God on our family church that blesses those outside our family.
After mass, I attended two sessions (fewer today because of Spanish language programming, no habla Español!)
Erika Bachiochi "No Strings Attached, Responding to Hook-Up Culture"
It is women who are cheated and suffer because of our culture's rejection in the supposed name of feminism and sexual freedom have hurt women, children and men as well. Adolescents are becoming sexualized at a younger and younger age. Young people face a social frontier of their own: they hit puberty at 13 and don't get married until past 30. Middle class Americans reject the idea of a 20 year old having a child but expect them to be having sex as much as possible.
How prevalent is "Hooking up"?
Half to 2/3 of college students hook up by senior year and drunkenness and female regret are almost always involved. Despite this, 25% of college students graduate college as virgins...and some people think the number is growing. The sense that hooking up is the norm has deemphasized dating. Young adults that are not in college or have graduated hook up at an alarming rate, and these numbers seem to be growing.
Pornography has become the normal sexual teacher of youth. Researchers believe that pornography desensitizes males' brains and they learn that aggressive and dominating sexual behaviour is the norm. Should we wonder why the rate of sexual assault on campuses is rising? 1/4 women claim that they have been forcibly sexually assaulted while on college campuses.
After being a part of the secular feminist movement Erika has come to understand that the Catholic Church is more pro-woman than any other movement on earth. She came to understand that sin was her adversary rather than Patriarchy and men.
The uneven response to the asymmetry of the sexes (men don't have babies, only women do) means that abortion and contraception were thought to be the cure for women's issues. All this meant was that men could have sex without consequences. What is a pro-woman response to sexual asymmetry? It is the catholic response. Natural Family Planning makes us face the beautiful consequences of our sexuality. Catholics who understand that our social and moral teachings go hand in hand, are the best advocates of helping poor people, who are most affected by unplanned pregnancy, despite the availability and prevalence of contraception. Sex still makes women pregnant, and pregnancy is still the burden carried by women.
We must pray that our society begins to rediscover the beauty of our sexuality and the importance of chastity.
Open your eyes and listen to the cries of the wounded. Wounds make people and families vulnerable to manipulation, bitterness, despair and exploitation...to evil and sin.
What is a home? It is not measured by acres your house and property take up. A home is a gift of a loving presence. This is why someone can have a mansion, and still be homeless. When God rules and reigns in any home, no matter the size, God heals wounds and makes a house a home for all. With Jesus, there is compassion and care. Included in Jesus care is his anger towards the evil that harms people and his attention to their needs. A healed person manifests faith in Jesus...but in the Gospel, Jesus tells the healed person to keep quiet. The Healer comes with humility to teach us to follow in example. When we are healers we must proclaim the kingdom of God, not the Kingdom of Ourselves. Jesus' kingdom is a Kingdom of healing and compassion. The parable of The Good Samaritan is a story where Jesus is talking about himself. Jesus will love and care for a stranger, even an enemy.
On a practical and principled level, the shepherd should not leave 99 sheep to get one. Why would God go and get the last sheep? Why? Only one reason: because the sheep is God's and if it cannot come home, he will bring it home. God entered into our woundedness and embraced it. He was lost, he was branded as crazy, he experienced being a refugee in Egypt, he experienced humiliation, he was betrayed but he heals by being wounded. According to the Letter to the Hebrews he was made perfect as a compassionate High priest because he was tempted in every way except sin. He transforms our wounds and they transformed him, that's why even he had the wounds of the world, of his suffering and persecution. It is the wounded Lord who saves us. Our wounds will become avenues of compassion, solidarity and love.
Let us recognize our own wounds, so that we can be compassionate and understanding of the wounded. Wounds are never clean, they can be bloody and raw...it's a dark world that we must be ready to enter. Our church is a field hospital and we must be ready to treat the wounded. Rather than desperation, our field hospital must have hope.
I don't often take notes while at mass but my wife does. The need for there to be a clear and concise summary of today's events did inspire me to take notes during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This time, only the Bishops present walked in the procession, so mass started with only about seven minutes of successors to the Apostles walking by. I'm going to be perfectly honest here: I am very worried that my reflections may be rambling, but being immersed in this conference has my head in a completely different place. Yes friends, I'm having a Catholicism hangover.
Once again, our mass readings were chosen by God, but perfectly reflect our celebration and also the commemoration of the Feast of St. Padre Pio. God uses the powers of this world for his own purpose, either for punishment or for the salvation of his people. The Babylonian emperor (In Ezra 5) who carried Israel into exile received his lot from God. The Persian Emperor who sent the Israelites back to their home to rebuild the temple, also got his just reward. The years of slavery were punishment for the infidelity of Israel. Ezra was sure of the punishment but he was also sure of God's mercy. Ezra went into personal penance on behalf of his people. How am I penitent not just for my sins but for all of our sins? The guilty people repented after Ezra's example showed them that their irregular marriages were sinful and they dismissed their wives. How can we repent and remain in an irregular marriage. We must repent and change if we are to receive the grace of God. In the Gospel, (Luke 9) Jesus sent his twelve to preach and to heal. They were to take nothing. The life of an apostle is not one of ease and affluence. The challenge for the successors of the Apostles means that there are tough conditions. May the prayers and intercession of Padre Pio be with us.
After mass, I had the pleasure of taking in two keynote sessions and two breakout sessions.
Cardinal Robert Sarah spoke with power in his voice. He played on the theme of light and dark that makes up so much of our Bible in order to make us aware of the struggles, trials and tribulations that we see today. "Light is our Catholic domestic churches, dark is the broken family that does not seek forgiveness and mercy from its members".
Adam and Eve experienced death, which they did not know before. They turn on each other because separation from God is also a separation from one another. The first human relationship begins to disintegrate because sin leaves us weakened. We believe in our sin that God does not love us, so we seek fulfillment elsewhere: money, power, etc- this is the great deception.
If we do not go to the source of our troubles, we will not solve any of our problems. Sin creates a deadly boundary which encircles everyone who sins. We are unable to open up towards God, we are unable to reach out and transcend, if sin is not conquered we cannot fulfill the law of God: Love of God and Neighbour. Putting the magisterium in a pretty box and trying to acquiesce to modern fashions is a heresy. (Here is where everyone clapped)
The book of Genesis is not just a story, it is our story. Cardinal Sarah extends an invitation: Enter into your heart Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the Tower of Babel. Are these things of the distant past? Our does this speaks to me and my present circumstances. I am a sinner but God, rich in mercy brought us to life with Christ. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. -God does not remain indifferent to our sin but calls us to his son.
Jesus passion accomplishes the mission of offering us divine life. Death entered the world through sin. We do not die since Jesus takes our place. Jesus effects the Union of God and humanity by breathing his last "It is consummated." The words he uses speak of a divine marriage.
All those wounded by sin and the sin of others can and must find in the church a place for regeneration without a finger being pointed of them. This is the testimony that the Christian family is called to give. The family is the first evangelizer. The family is meant to spread love and faith. Faith needs a place where it is gestated, transmitted and can grow and become a lived experience. He family is the wellspring of hope and directs itself towards the future. The family carries in itself the future. Perhaps the Cardinal was aware that he could be perceived as being too doom and gloom, so he told us something else that made the entire room clap loudly: Evil does not have the last word. Not when we turn ourselves back to Christ who died for us.
Archbishop Socrates Villegas- One Ring to Rule Them All: The Covenant of Marriage
Archbishop Villegas came to us from the Philippines and spoke of the great sadness that many parents feel when their children do not go to church anymore. He was adamant that the most important part of catechizing our children is to ensure that we are examples of people that have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Their will be renewal in the church if we look past simply the proper forms of liturgy (which are fundamentally important) and first to making our domestic church reflect the beauty of God's church.
If we want renewal, we must kneel again in humility and pray for peace and mercy. Mercy reveals the most Holy Trinity. Mercy is the fundamental action of the everyone who has Jesus in their heart. Our families are invited to kneel down in repentance.
If you don't do anything with love, how can you say that you are doing it right? The church says you should kneel to take communion, but if you don't do it with an oozing love then even the proper form of receiving the blessed sacrament can be an insult to God.
By the fact that we are baptised we already carry the mission to teach, to serve and to bless.
We as families need to lead our children into an intimate relationship with Christ or the gestures we teach them will dry up because they do not come from an encounter with Christ.
Prof. Helen Alvare- Creating the Future: The Fertility of Love
Prof. Helen says she was a convert to the "Gospel of Me" after growing up in the church. She was absolutely opposed to marriage and children. It was only as an adult that she had a reconversion to Christian faith. She was then converted to realizing the despair of living only for herself. She was converted to the ideas of family and taking care of the sick and elderly.
Fewer people are marrying at all in many countries, many are living together instead and making no promises. Demographers say there is a lower and lower number of children around the world. What takes the place of spouses and children? The world says work all the time, there is no time for anything else. People see the beauty of newly created things (here meaning things created by man and woman) but not the beauty of procreated children. Public and private leaders overlook what women need in life but instead they simply equate women's freedom with freedom from children. Children have become completely divorced from the idea of sex and marriage says Prof. Helen, which is completely cut off from God's commandment to "Be fruitful and multiply."
A welcome and stable family life is related to a society of more freedom, peace. The opposite view is that there is no link between love and life. We know that this does not work. We can count the costs to men, women, children, elderly and the poor of how a retreat from marriage and family leaves our society damaged. We are called to be fruitful in our families and to each person that God has put into our paths in life.
Cardinal Peter Turkson and President Juan Carlos Varela of Panama
If one cares, one is connected. The same ideas that framed our behaviour in kindergarten apply to Laudato Si. It is simple: Share, be kind, clean up after yourself. All things in moderation, make time for wonder (of God's creation). It seems simple, but apparently it is not, because our world is full of pollution and waste. We must do better, for our children and our children's children- especially those who will grow up in the poorest parts of the world.
Like I said, Catholic hangover. I am so very blessed to be able to share even these muddled insights with you.
My wife Kalyn and I, and our child (in utero), arrived in Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon. We are representing the Eparchy of Saskatoon along with Deborah Larmour and her husband Don. Coincidentally, Deb and Don taught us marriage preparation and Serena Natural Family Planning, and Deb is now the Family life Director with the Eparchy. All four of us were sponsored- flights, hotels, conference fees- by an anonymous donor. Archbishop Chaput wanted representatives from every diocese and eparchy in North America, so I am hoping that a lot of people took the anonymous donor up in his or her offer.
Like my past days of attending World Youth Day (Cologne 2005, Rio de Janeiro 2013) I was immediately struck by the fact that a multicultural city can at least seem like they are putting out the red carpet for both Pope and pilgrims. Everywhere you go there are signs and people telling you that you are welcome to Philadelphia "The City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection" and the Pope's visage is on everything: Art, murals, signs, cakes, plush toys- you name it, they have it!
Yesterday was very quick, we just had to register and pick up our credentials and conference supplies. Then, we took some time to explore a city transformed. Cassocks and Habits are everywhere and I heard local Philadelphians continue to comment on the "happy looking young sisters" and "new priests". There was even a Lego reproduction of St. Peter's Basilica at The Franklin Institute, along with Vatican treasures and a display of Genghis Khan artifacts. Shopkeepers keep asking us where we are from and tell us that we are welcome, and suggest where the best cheesesteaks and pretzels can be had.
Bishop Robert is a powerful speaker and gave a speech called "Living as the Image of God: Created for Joy and Love". Bishop Robert told us that God became one of us that we may share in the divine nature. Atheism, both the old and new, is predicated on the assumption that the more glory we give to God, the less we get, but that is untenable to the Holy Bible. Let's think of the story of Moses and the burning bush. The bush is on fire, but it is not consumed. He illuminates and sets his creation "on fire" without damaging it. Don't let the Atheists teach you otherwise. We must worship our God, says Bishop Robert, or we will end up worshipping false gods: money, power, our own ego.
May God Bless and keep you all, I will update you tomorrow on the breakout sessions and keynotes from day 2. Tomorrow should have twice as much content.