Friday, July 19, 2013

Quote of the Day

The Church and the individual need constant purification. Processes of purification, which are as necessary as they are painful, run through the whole of history, the whole life of those who have dedicated themselves to Christ. The mystery of death and resurrection is ever present in these purifications. When man and his institutions climb too high, they need to be cut back; what has become too big must be brought back to the simplicity and poverty of the Lord himself. It is only by undergoing such processes of dying away that fruitfulness endures and renews itself.

--Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth--Part One: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (New York: Doubleday, 2007), pp. 260-261

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pope Francis: Pastor of the World

The world is now seeing what a devout Catholic pastor of souls from Argentina looks like in the person of our current Holy Father, Pope Francis. His quiet reserve, his deep prayerfulness and spirituality, his humility and charity, his simple and frugal lifestyle, his doctrinal orthodoxy, his liturgical reverence, and especially his personal pastoral style and his exceptional talent as a preacher and communicator, all remind me of Father Abel, the saintly Argentinian pastor of my childhood and early teen years at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Guadalupe, California. A good deal of prayer, careful study, and meditation under the guidance of the Holy Spirit went into the preparation of each of his daily morning Mass homilies on the Scripture readings. Despite his unassuming exterior, Father Abel was quite erudite, well versed in Catholic doctrine and theology and the Fathers and Doctors of the Church as well as in biblical history and exegesis. Moreover, he was in tune with where Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger were leading the Church at the dawn of the Third Millennium. As well as a man of deep prayer and high education, Father Abel was a good teacher. His daily Mass homilies, which often focused on three basic “elements,” were simple and direct, yet profound and rich in theological insights—much like those of Pope Francis. They were always delivered slowly and carefully, so that we could grasp each word and idea he was presenting to us, and he would make direct eye contact with each of his listeners as he spoke, just as Pope Francis does. And, best of all, these homilies always came straight from his head and his heart, without the aid of a prepared text—just like the daily Mass homilies of Pope Francis.

Father Abel’s homilies illuminated the Scriptures and made them come alive for us simple lay people. He was a true pastor, who fed us spiritually with the Word of God and the sacraments of the Church and who inspired us to live our Christian faith by his example of a holy life. Now Pope Francis—another Argentinian Catholic pastor of souls—is doing the same thing as shepherd of his little flock at the Domus Sanctha Marthae, as the Bishop of Rome, and as the Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church. Like his patron, Saint Francis of Assisi, he is a reformer, called by God to rebuild His crumbling Church in a corrupt and materialistic age of radical secularism. He is carrying out this mission of reform quite simply and effectively by courageously preaching and authentically living the full truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. By his clear teaching and personal example of humble service, he is returning the Church to the roots of its faith and to the essence of the Gospel message.

From his earliest words and actions as the Successor of Saint Peter, this man has made it clear that he has come to serve, not to be served. By humbly referring to himself as “the Bishop of Rome” rather than as “the Pope,” he indicated that he is not interested in using the power of the papacy to control and dominate others for his own self-aggrandizement—as some arrogant and corrupt pontiffs in Church history have unfortunately done, leading to divisions, schisms, and wars. Rather, Pope Francis sees his office as a ministry of loving service to Christ’s faithful, whose task as Bishop of Rome is to “preside over all the churches in charity” and thus keep them united in the one true faith of Christ. This simple and humble approach to the papacy is in keeping with the desires for papal reform and Christian unity expressed by Blessed John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint (That They May All Be One). Pope Francis’ profound humility and charity are having a remarkably strong positive effect on leaders of the Orthodox churches, which have been separated from full communion with Rome since 1054. His papal inauguration Mass was the first in nearly a millennium to be attended by the Patriarch of Constantinople. That highly significant gesture was a clear sign that, under the influence of Pope Francis, the Orthodox Churches have now begun moving seriously toward full reunion with the Church of Rome. After all, it was not so much doctrinal disagreements and cultural differences that divided the Eastern and Western Churches, but rather the imperial, domineering attitude of certain corrupt and power-hungry Popes in the early Middle Ages that led to the Great Schism. Just as a lack of charity by certain Popes divided the Churches, the charity of Pope Francis is helping to reunite them and heal the old wounds of division.

The humble Christian attitude and warm personal approach of Pope Francis have not only endeared him to his fellow Catholics and to other Christians, but have also drawn the admiration and respect of people of goodwill throughout the modern secular world. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon praised him as “a man of peace and purpose” and “a voice for the voiceless.” He has been nominated “Man of the Year” by Vanity Fair magazine. “Pope Francis is the best news for the Catholic Church in centuries,” declared singer Elton John in a recent interview. “On his own, this man has succeeded in bringing people back to Christ’s teachings…Non-Catholics like me rise to their feet to applaud the humility of every gesture of his…Francis is a miracle of humility in an age of vanity.” And Italian atheist Giorgio Faletti admitted that “Jorge Mario Bergoglio seemed to me immediately a great communicator, a person that by his face inspires that goodness that the representative of Catholics in the world must inspire, a man who has the qualities to repair with his figure all the scandals that recently have damaged the image of the Vatican and what it represents.”

In his formally prepared speeches and addresses as well as in his extemporaneous daily Mass homilies in the Domus Sanctha Marthae chapel, Pope Francis courageously preaches the full truth of Christ’s Gospel, without minimizing or glossing over difficult or controversial areas. In his first homily as Pope given in the Sistine Chapel, he urged the Church not to reject the cross: “When we journey without the cross…we are not disciples of the Lord.” In the homily at his installation Mass, Pope Francis reminded us of our basic human responsibility to protect all of God’s creation, including human life and the natural environment, for the benefit of all. In his first address to the Holy See’s diplomatic corps, he drew attention to “the spiritual poverty of our time” manifested in what his predecessor Benedict XVI used to call “the ‘tyranny of relativism’,” and stated: “Francis of Assisi tells us we should work to build peace. But there is no true peace without truth! There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth." In line with his two predecessors, Pope Francis has also criticized the injustice and inhumanity of the current global economic system that allows a few to profit enormously at the expense of many. He has condemned “the dictatorship of a nameless, faceless economy” and pointed out that we have fallen into a “globalized indifference” that has robbed us of the ability to sympathize with our suffering brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. Through these and many other homilies and addresses, Pope Francis is shaking us Christians out of our comfortable complacency and challenging us to live the Gospel in such a total, radical and authentic way that it completely changes our lives and transforms the modern world.

In his last and greatest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed: “To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are…exacting and indispensable forms of charity.” As the 265th Successor of Saint Peter, Pope Francis is now carrying on this essential mission of Christian charity. By his words and example, he is preaching the truth that will set us free, the truth that has the power to save humanity from self-destruction. And, slowly but surely, he is drawing the modern secularized world back to Christ. Pope Francis has become more than just the leader of the Catholic Church; he has become the pastor of the world.

Copyright © 2013 Justin D. Soutar. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Christmas with Mother Teresa: A True Story Never Before Told

A new book I am now writing, to be entitled My Christmas with Mother Teresa, will tell an amazing true story that has never before been told. It is the story of how Catholic Relief Services and the Missionaries of Charity joined forces to being emergency humanitarian aid to the ten million Bengali refugees from East Pakistan who flooded eastern India in 1971. It’s a dramatic, action-packed tale of political repression, natural disaster, guerilla warfare, ethnic cleansing, massive population shifts, Cold War politics, modern war, and the birth of a new nation. More than that, however, it’s a powerful drama of great human tragedy and suffering illuminated and uplifted by the gentle touch of Christ’s redeeming love.

Why were the innocent Bengali people of East Pakistan massacred and forced onto India’s doorstep in such great numbers in 1971? Because their determination to establish their own free and independent nation of Bangladesh conflicted with West Pakistani commercial interests. Since 1947, the Hindu natives of East Bengal had lived as second-class citizens in the apartheid-style nation of East Pakistan, ruled by Islamic West Pakistani foreigners from Islamabad with whom they had little in common. Late in 1970, facing continued repression and racism, government mismanagement of a terrible natural disaster, and persistent violations of their rights, the East Bengalis finally started a guerrilla uprising against the Pakistani regime.

During this time, Pakistan was ruled by a brutal military dictator, General Agha Mohammed Yahya Khan. General Khan was determined to crush the rebellion and restore full Pakistani control of East Bengal no matter what it took to do so. In early March 1971, he declared martial law and had Bangladeshi independence leaders arrested and imprisoned. Later that month, he sent military reinforcements into Dhaka, the capital of East Pakistan, to quash the uprising with mass arrests, torture, and the indiscriminate murder of Bengali civilians. When even these measures failed to destroy the liberation movement—on the contrary, it only grew stronger—General Khan turned to all-out mass murder. The Pakistani Army turned completely against the Bengali people of East Pakistan, ruthlessly massacring tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children and burning dozens of villages.

This wholesale reign of terror precipitated a mass emigration of Bengalis from East Pakistan. Beginning in March of 1971 and continuing until December of that year, millions upon millions of East Bengalis—mainly civilians, but also some guerrillas—ran for their lives, pouring en masse across the Indian border, seeking refuge from their enemies in the nearest friendly country. Millions arrived in the already densely populated and impoverished Indian state of West Bengal, whose capital was Calcutta, while millions of others poured into the neighboring border states of Orissa, Bihar, Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, and Tripura. These ten million refugees arrived in India absolutely destitute, presenting their host nation with a humanitarian crisis of almost unbelievable proportions—and presenting Catholic Relief Services with one of the greatest relief challenges in the organization’s history.

The book will tell how Catholic Relief Services (CRS) rose to the occasion, planning and executing a tremendous feat of emergency relief. From March to December of 1971, with assistance from the Missionaries of Charity, CRS built some 200 refugee camps along the Indian border and continuously supplied all the material needs of the Bengali refugees: sanitation, medical services, food, water, clothing, soap, and shelter. The book will tell how this extraordinary relief undertaking was organized and carried out under the principal direction of two individuals: the CRS Program Director for India and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

However, the crème de la crème of this book will be its account of the CRS Program Director’s unexpected Christmas surprise of 1971 at the climax of the great refugee relief effort. Cardinal Terence Cooke, who was Archbishop of New York, Vicar of the U.S. Military Archdiocese and head of Catholic Relief Services, was visiting U.S. troops stationed in the Holy Land on Christmas Eve when he decided on the spur of the moment to come visit Mother Teresa and the refugees the following day. The Program Director hastily organized the unforeseen visit, personally escorting the saintly cardinal as he toured the Calcutta refugee camp on Christmas Day in the company of Mother Teresa.

It’s quite remarkable that such a heroic humanitarian achievement that changed the course of history, capped by an unforgettable encounter between two renowned Catholic figures of the twentieth century, has never before appeared in print. My Christmas with Mother Teresa will finally tell this unforgettable story based on the personal eyewitness account of that now retired CRS Program Director who oversaw the tremendous East Pakistani refugee relief effort and who brought Mother Teresa and Cardinal Cooke together on December 25, 1971. A few years ago, this humble and cheerful gentleman, who is a good friend of mine, kindly granted me a series of interviews in which he told the untold story. He also shared with me his personal photo collection of his cherished Christmas with Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta (some of these photos will likely be included in the published book). I have spent much of the last few years writing the story based on these interviews as well as on my own additional research, and the manuscript is now nearing completion. The identity of this CRS Program Director will be revealed in the published book.

My Christmas with Mother Teresa will acquaint readers with a major unrecognized achievement in the history of Catholic Relief Services, and it should also help fill a gap in the biographies of Blessed Mother Teresa published to date. Information about the book’s publisher, release date, and availability will be provided on my Twitter page and here on my blog as it becomes available, so please stay tuned.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Reflection for Today

Today no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. We have fallen into the hypocrisy of the priest and the levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we see our brother half dead on the side of the road, and perhaps we say to ourselves: "poor soul…!", and then go on our way. It’s not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured, assuaged. The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference. In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business! .... We are a society which has forgotten how to weep, how to experience compassion – "suffering with" others: the globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep! In the Gospel we have heard the crying, the wailing, the great lamentation: "Rachel weeps for her children… because they are no more". Herod sowed death to protect his own comfort, his own soap bubble. And so it continues… Let us ask the Lord to remove the part of Herod that lurks in our hearts; let us ask the Lord for the grace to weep over our indifference, to weep over the cruelty of our world, of our own hearts, and of all those who in anonymity make social and economic decisions which open the door to tragic situations like this. "Has any one wept?" Today has anyone wept in our world?
--Pope Francis, Homily at Mass in Lampedusa, Italy, July 8, 2013

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Quote of the Day

"Faith is never simply there automatically; it must be lived."

--Pope Benedict XVI

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Prayer for Religious Liberty

from your provident hand we have received
our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
You have called us as your people and given us
the right and the duty to worship you, the only true God,
and your Son, Jesus Christ.
Through the power and working of your Holy Spirit,
you call us to live out our faith in the midst of the world,
bringing the light and the saving truth of the Gospel
to every corner of society.

We ask you to bless us
in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty.
Give us the strength of mind and heart
to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened;
give us courage in making our voices heard
on behalf of the rights of your Church
and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.

Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father,
a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters
gathered in your Church
in this decisive hour in the history of our nation,
so that, with every trial withstood
and every danger overcome—
for the sake of our children, our grandchildren,
and all who come after us—
this great land will always be “one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

We ask this through Christ our Lord.


Copyright © 2012, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Prayer for Our Nation

Almighty God,
You have given us this good land for our heritage.
We humbly ask You that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Your favor and glad to do Your will.
Bless our lands with honorable endeavor, sound learning and pure manners.
Save us from violence, discord and confusion, from pride and arrogance and from evil in any way.
Defend our liberties and fashion into one united people the multitude brought here out of many nations and tongues.
Endow with the Spirit of wisdom those to whom in Your Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and through obedience to Your law may we show forth Your praise among the nations on earth.
In the time of prosperity fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble do not allow our trust in You to fail.

(Composed by Thomas Jefferson)