Did you know Mother Teresa experienced visions of Jesus?

.- Even her friend of more than 30 years, Father Sebastian Vazhakala, did not know Mother Teresa had conversations with and visions of Jesus before forming the Missionaries of Charity.

It wasn’t until after her death, for the vast majority of people, that this part of Mother Teresa’s spiritual life was uncovered. “It was a big discovery,” Missionary of Charity priest, Fr. Vazhakala told CNA.

When Mother Teresa’s cause for canonization was opened, just two years after her death in 1997, documents were found in the archives of the Jesuits in Calcutta, with the spiritual director and another of Mother Teresa’s close priest friends, and in the office of the bishop, containing her accounts of the communications.

Fr. Vazhakala, who co-founded the contemplative branch of the Missionaries of Charity alongside Mother Teresa, said he has a document handwritten by Mother Teresa where she discusses what Jesus spoke to her directly during the time of the locutions and visions.

During a period lasting from Sept. 10, 1946 to Dec. 3, 1947, Mother Teresa had ongoing communication with Jesus through words and visions, Fr. Vazhakala said. This all happened while she was a missionary sister in the Irish order of the Sisters of Loreto, teaching at St. Mary’s school in Calcutta.

Mother Teresa wrote that one day at Holy Communion, she heard Jesus say, “I want Indian nuns, victims of my love, who would be Mary and Martha, who would be so united to me as to radiate my love on souls.”

It was through these communications of the Eucharistic Jesus that Mother Teresa received her directions for forming her congregation of the Missionaries of Charity.

“She was so united with Jesus,” Fr. Vazhakala explained, “that she was able to radiate not her love, but Jesus’ love through her, and with a human expression.”

Jesus told her what sort of nuns he wanted her order to be filled with: “’I want free nuns covered with the poverty of the Cross. I want obedient nuns covered with the obedience of the Cross. I want full-of-love nuns covered with the charity of the Cross,’” Fr. Vazhakala related.

According to the Missionary, Jesus asked her, “Would you refuse to do this for me?” “In fact, Jesus told her in 1947,” Fr. Vazhakala explained, “’I cannot go alone to the poor people, you carry me with you into them.’”

After this period of joy and consolation, around 1949, Mother Teresa started to experience a “terrible darkness and dryness” in her spiritual life, said Fr. Vazhakala. “And in the beginning she thought it was because of her own sinfulness, unworthiness, her own weakness.”

Mother Teresa’s spiritual director at the time helped her to understand that this spiritual dryness was just another way that Jesus wanted her to share in the poverty of the poor of Calcutta.

This period lasted nearly 50 years, until her death, and she found it very painful. But, Fr. Vazhakala shared that she said, “If my darkness and dryness can be a light to some soul let me be the first one to do that. If my life, if my suffering, is going to help souls to be saved, then I will prefer from the creation of the world to the end of time to suffer and die.”

People around the world know about Mother Teresa’s visible acts of charity toward the poor and sick in the slums of Calcutta, but “the interior life of Mother is not known to people,” said Fr. Vazhakala.

Mother Teresa’s motto, and the motto of her congregation, was the words of Jesus, “I thirst.” And that they could quench the thirst of Jesus by bringing souls to him. “And in every breathing, each sigh, each act of mind, shall be an act of love divine. That was her daily prayer. That was what was motivating her and all the sacrifices, even until that age of 87, and without resting,” he said.

Mother Teresa never rested from her work during her life on earth, and she continues to “work” for souls from heaven. “When I die and go home to God, I can bring more souls to God,” she said at one point, Fr. Vazhakala noted.

She said, “I’m not going to sleep in heaven, but I’m going to work harder in another form.”

Mary Shovlain contributed to this report.

Article by Hannah Brockhaus

Link: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/did-you-know-mother-teresa-experienced-visions-of-jesus-60088/

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Benedict XVI says he felt he had a ‘duty’ to resign because of his health

Retired Pope Benedict XVI has said in an interview that he felt a “duty” to resign from the papacy because of his declining health and the rigorous demands of papal travel.

While his heart was set on completing the Year of Faith, the retired pope told Italian journalist Elio Guerriero that after his visit to Mexico and Cuba in March 2012, he felt he was “incapable of fulfilling” the demands of another international trip, especially with World Youth Day 2013 scheduled for Brazil.

“With the program set out by John Paul II for these (World Youth) days, the physical presence of the pope was indispensable,” he told Guerriero in an interview, which is included in the journalist’s upcoming biography of Pope Benedict. “This, too, was a circumstance which made my resignation a duty,” the pope said.

An excerpt of Guerriero’s book, “Servant of God and Humanity: The Biography of Benedict XVI,” was published Aug. 24 in the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica.

Pope Benedict said that although he was moved by the “profound faith” of the people of Mexico and Cuba, it was during his visit to the two countries in 2012 that he “experienced very strongly the limits of my physical endurance.”

Among the problems with committing to the gruelling schedule of an international trip was the change in time zones. Upon consulting with his doctor, he said, it became clear “that I would never be able to take part in the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro.”

“From that day, I had to decide in a relatively short time the date of my retirement,” he said.

Guerriero noted that while many believed the pope’s retirement was a defeat for the church, Pope Benedict continues to seem “calm and confident.” The retired pope said he “completely agreed” with the journalist’s observation.

“I would have been truly worried if I was not convinced — as I had said in the beginning of my pontificate — of being a simple and humble worker in the Lord’s vineyard,” he said.

The retired pope added that while he was aware of his limitations, he accepted his election in 2005 “in a spirit of obedience” and that despite the difficult moments, there were also “many graces.”

“I realized that everything I had to do I could not do on my own and so I was almost obliged to put myself in God’s hands, to trust in Jesus who — while I wrote my book on him — I felt bound to by an old and more profound friendship,” he said.

The retired pontiff spends his days in prayer and contemplation while residing at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in Vatican City. For 19 years, different contemplative orders took turns living in the monastery with a mission focused on praying for the pope and the church.

Benedict said that upon learning that the Visitandine nuns would be leaving the residence, he realized “almost naturally that this would be the place where I could retire in order to continue in my own way the service of prayer of which John Paul II had intended for this house.”

Among the visitors Pope Benedict receives is Pope Francis, who “never fails to visit me before embarking on a long trip,” he said.

Asked about his personal relationship with his successor, Pope Benedict said they shared a “wonderfully paternal-fraternal relationship” and he has been profoundly touched by his “extraordinarily human availability.”

“I often receive small gifts, personally written letters” from Pope Francis, he said. “The human kindness with which he treats me is a particular grace of this last phase of my life for which I can only be grateful. What he says about being open toward other men and women is not just words. He puts it into practice with me.”

Pope Francis, who wrote the book’s preface, expressed his admiration for the retired pope and said his spiritual bond with his predecessor “remains particularly profound.”

“In all my meetings with him, I have been able to experience not only reverence and obedience, but also friendly spiritual closeness, the joy of praying together, sincere brotherhood, understanding and friendship, and also his availability for advice,” Pope Francis wrote.

The church’s mission of proclaiming the merciful love of God for the world, he added, has and continues to be exemplified in the life of Pope Benedict.

“The whole life of thought and the works of Joseph Ratzinger have focused on this purpose and — in the same direction, with the help of God — I strive to continue,” Pope Francis wrote.

 

http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2016/08/25/benedict-xvi-says-he-felt-he-had-a-duty-to-resign-because-of-his-health/

Pope to Deacons: ‘you are called to serve, not to be self-serving’

Please find below the full text of the Pope’s homily for the conclusive Mass of the Jubilee for Deacons:

“A servant of Jesus Christ” (Gal 1:10).  We have listened to these words that the Apostle Paul, writing to the Galatians, uses to describe himself.  At the beginning of his Letter, he had presented himself as “an apostle” by the will of the Lord Jesus (cf. Gal 1:1).  These two terms – apostle and servant – go together.  They can never be separated.  They are like the two sides of a medal.  Those who proclaim Jesus are called to serve, and those who serve proclaim Jesus.

The Lord was the first to show us this.  He, the Word of the Father, who brought us the good news (Is 61:1), indeed, who is the good news (cf. Lk 4:18), became our servant (Phil 2:7).  He came “not to be served, but to serve” (Mk 10:45).  “He became the servant (diakonos) of all”, wrote one of the Church Fathers (Saint Polycarp, Ad Phil. V, 2).  We who proclaim him are called to act as he did.  A disciple of Jesus cannot take a road other than that of the Master.  If he wants to proclaim him, he must imitate him.  Like Paul, he must strive to become a servant.  In other words, if evangelizing is the mission entrusted at baptism to each Christian, serving is the way that mission is carried out.  It is the only way to be a disciple of Jesus.  His witnesses are those who do as he did: those who serve their brothers and sisters, never tiring of following Christ in his humility, never wearing of the Christian life, which is a life of service.

How do we become “good and faithful servants” (cf. Mt 25:21)?  As a first step, we are asked to be available.  A servant daily learns detachment from doing everything his own way and living his life as he would.  Each morning he trains himself to be generous with his life and to realize that the rest of the day will not be his own, but given over to others.  One who serves cannot hoard his free time; he has to give up the idea of being the master of his day.  He knows that his time is not his own, but a gift from God which is then offered back to him.  Only in this way will it bear fruit.  One who serves is not a slave to his own agenda, but ever ready to deal with the unexpected, ever available to his brothers and sisters and ever open to God’s constant surprises.  A servant knows how to open the doors of his time and inner space for those around him, including those who knock on those doors at odd hours, even if that entails setting aside something he likes to do or giving up some well-deserved rest.  Dear deacons, if you show that you are available to others, your ministry will not be self-serving, but evangelically fruitful.

Today’s Gospel also speaks to us of service.  It shows us two servants who have much to teach us: the servant of the centurion whom Jesus cures and the centurion himself, who serves the Emperor.  The words used by the centurion to dissuade Jesus from coming to his house are remarkable, and often the very opposite of our own: “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof” (7:6); I did not presume to come to you” (7:7); “I also am a man set under authority” (7:8).  Jesus marvels at these words.  He is struck by the centurion’s great humility, by his meekness.  Given his troubles, the centurion might have been anxious and could have demanded to be heard, making his authority felt.  He could have insisted and even forced Jesus to come to his house.  Instead, he was modest and unassuming; he did not raise his voice or make a fuss.  He acted, perhaps without even being aware of it, like God himself, who is “meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29).  For God, who is love, out of love is ever ready to serve us.  He is patient, kind and always there for us; he suffers for our mistakes and seeks the way to help us improve.  These are the characteristics of Christian service; meek and humble, it imitates God by serving others: by welcoming them with patient love and unflagging sympathy, by making them feel welcome and at home in the ecclesial community, where the greatest are not those who command but those who serve (cf. Lk 22:26).  This, dear deacons, is how your vocation as ministers of charity will mature: in meekness.

After the Apostle Paul and the centurion, today’s readings show us a third servant, the one whom Jesus heals.  The Gospel tells us that he was dear to his master and was sick, without naming his grave illness (v. 2).  In a certain sense, we can see ourselves in that servant.  Each of us is very dear to God, who loves us, chooses us and calls us to serve.   Yet each of us needs first to be healed inwardly.  To be ready to serve, we need a healthy heart: a heart healed by God, one which knows forgiveness and is neither closed nor hardened.  We would do well each day to pray trustingly for this, asking to be healed by Jesus, to grow more like him who “no longer calls us servants but friends” (cf. Jn 15:15).  Dear deacons, this is a grace you can implore daily in prayer.  You can offer the Lord your work, your little inconveniences, your weariness and your hopes in an authentic prayer that brings your life to the Lord and the Lord to your life.  When you serve at the table of the Eucharist, there you will find the presence of Jesus, who gives himself to you so that you can give yourselves to others.

In this way, available in life, meek of heart and in constant dialogue with Jesus, you will not be afraid to be servants of Christ, and to encounter and caress the flesh of the Lord in the poor of our time.

http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-to-deacons-you-are-called-to-serve-not-to-be

Francis’ message to seminarians: If the priesthood’s not for you, seek another path

The seminary is not a refuge for those who have “psychological problems” or lack the courage “to get on in life”. The seminary is a place where one develops their vocation, gaining an in depth understanding of the Gospel, Confession, the Eucharist and prayer. This was the advice Pope Francis gave members of the Pontifical Leonine College of Anagni – particularly seminarians – in an audience held today in the Clementine Hall in the Vatican Apostolic Palace. It was an opportunity for the Pope to give some frank advice to those preparing for the priesthood at the institute founded by Leo XIII in 1897. The Pontifical Leonine College of Anagni trains future priests of the Italian region of Lazio: “If you are not willing to follow this path with these attitudes and these experiences, – and I say this from the heart, without meaning to offend anyone – it is better to have the courage to seek another.”

“Dear seminarians, what you are preparing for is not a profession, you are not training to work in a business or a bureaucratic organization,” Francis said. “We have so many priests who have gone half way … it’s sad that they did not manage to go the whole way; they have something of the employee in them, something of the bureaucrat in them and this is not good for the Church. Please be careful you don’t fall into this! You are becoming pastors in the image of Jesus, the good pastor. Your aim is to resemble him and act on behalf of him amidst his flock, letting his sheep graze.” Francis presented the four “pillars” of seminary learning: “spiritual, intellectual, community and apostolic”. He reiterated what he had said to religious superiors general during a discussion published by Italian Jesuit periodical Civiltà Cattolica last January: “The four pillars must interact from your very first day as novices; they must never follow a structured sequence.”

“We respond to this vocation in the same way as the Virgin Mary does to the angel: “How is this possible?” Becoming “good shepherds” in the image of Jesus “is something very great and we are so small.” “Yes, it is true, it is too great; but it is not our work! It is the work of the Holy Spirit, with our collaboration,” Francis said in his address to the College, adding spontaneous comments here and there to his prepared speech. “It is about humbly giving oneself, like clay that is to be moulded, letting God the potter work the clay with fire and water, with the Word and the Holy Spirit.” It is true that “at the beginning intentions are not completely righteous, and it is hard for them to be so”: All of us have had moments when our intentions were not completely righteous but in time this changes with everyday conversion. Think of the apostles! Think of James and John. One of them wanted to be prime minister and the other a minister of the economy because it was a more important role. The apostles’ mind was elsewhere but the Lord patiently corrected their intention and in the end the intention of their preaching and martyrdom was incredibly righteous.”

Being good shepherds means “meditating on the Gospel every day to pass its message on through one’s life and preaching.” It also means experiencing God’s mercy through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.” “It is vital to always go to confession so you can become generous and merciful ministers because you will feel God’s mercy upon you, encouraging you to become generous and merciful ministers.” It means feeding on faith and love of the Eucharist in order to provide nourishment to the Christian people.” “It means being men of prayer so as to become the voice of Christ that praises the Father and constantly intercedes for their brothers.” If you are not willing to follow this path, with these attitudes and these experiences, – and I say this from the heart, without meaning to offend anyone – it is better to have the courage to seek another. There are many ways, in the Church, to bear Christian witness and there are many paths that lead to the sainthood. Following in Christ’s ministry allows no place for mediocrity, who always leads to using the holy people of God to one’s own advantage. Woe to bad shepherds who feed themselves and not their flock! – the prophets said,” Francis added, quoting Ezekiel. “Augustine quotes this prophetic phrase in the De pastoribus, which I advise you to read and meditate on. Woe to bad shepherds because the seminary is not a refuge for the many shortcomings we may have; it is not a refuge for psychological problems or a refuge for those who do not have the courage to go on in life and see the seminary as a place that will defend them. No, that is not what it is. If that is what your seminary was it would become a mortgage for the Church! No, the seminary is there for people to move forward, along this path and when we hear the prophets exclaim the word “Woe” it should lead you to reflect seriously on your future. Pius XI once said it was better to lose a vocation than to risk accepting a candidate who is not sure. He was a mountain climber, he knew about this things.”

The Pope ended his address by entrusting seminarians to the Virgin Mary. “Russian mystics used to say that in moments of spiritual upheaval we must take refuge under the cape of the Holy Mother of God,” Francis said. So we must go out “wearing Mary’s cape.” The seminarians came to Rome on foot from the town of Anagni. The Pope described their pilgrimage as a beautiful symbol of the journey they are called to undertake in Christ’s love.

http://www.lastampa.it/2014/04/14/vaticaninsider/eng/the-vatican/francis-message-to-seminarians-if-the-priesthoods-not-for-you-seek-another-path-r4JrGRZwTQOhYwqc6GDYLP/pagina.html

 

OUR REAL NEIGHBOURS ARE THE HELPLESS STRANGERS AND ESPECIALLY OUR ENEMIES

SCRIPTURE READINGS:  JONAH 1:1-2:1, 11; LUKE 10:25-37

We are told in the gospel that the scribe wanted “to disconcert Jesus” and so engaged in an intellectual religious debate with Jesus regarding His attitude to non-Jews.  In response to the question of what one must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus referred to the Law of Moses which is simply this: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbour as yourself.”  Of course, the answer of Jesus is well known to every Jew, not least to the scribe who was a professional lawyer of the Torah.

Yet, the fact remains that the Jews knew that deep in their hearts they had not totally fulfilled this commandment, especially the last segment of the commandment.  The problem lies in the fact that for the Jews, their religion and nationalistic pride restricted them from reaching out beyond their own kind.  As far as the Jews were concerned, non-Jews were unclean and pagans had no hope for salvation.   We can understand that such a mentality existed during the time when the book of Jonah was written.  In the first reading, Jonah disobeyed God because just like his fellow Hebrews, they could not accept that God wanted the salvation of pagans.  Thus, Jonah left for Tarshish deliberately, hoping that God would punish the pagans for their wickedness.  He had no pity, compassion or love for them.  He only wished their destruction.  The irony of it all is that by wanting them to be exterminated, the sailors in the boat sacrificed him to save themselves saying, “’O Lord, do not let us perish for taking this man’s life; do not hold us guilty of innocent blood; for you, Lord, have acted as you thought right.’ And taking hold of Jonah they threw him into the sea; and the sea grew calm again.

Within this context, we can understand why the lawyer was “anxious to justify himself”.  He questioned Jesus further, “And who is my neighbour?”  It should be noted that this scribe wanted to engage in an intellectual discourse with Jesus by posing this question in such a way that was directed towards others.  The question was not “Am I a neighbour to others?”, but rather, “Who is my neighbour?”  Yes, the scribe was not really interested in examining himself, but rather in proving that his alienating attitude towards pagans and non-Jews was justified, namely, that non-Jews and sinners do not deserve our love and mercy.

Of course Jesus could see the self-righteousness of the scribe.  He knew clearly that ‘neighbours’ for the Jews could only refer to fellow Jews.  Thus, instead of responding in an academic manner, He discussed the problem existentially by relating the parable of the Good Samaritan.  At the end of the story, Jesus challenged him to rethink and adjust his mindset by asking him, “Which of these three, do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the brigands’ hands?”  Take note of the response of the scribe.  He said, “The one who took pity on him”.  He did not say explicitly that it was the Samaritan traveller, because it would be too difficult for him to admit that the one who really proved himself to be a neighbour was his enemy!

We too are just like the scribe.  We ask questions in order to justify ourselves.  We do not really want to know the truth about ourselves.  For like the scribe, we restrict our neighbours to our loved ones, our friends, those whom we like and those whom we can get something back in return.  We do not go beyond our circle of friends.  This was the attitude of the priest and the Levite in the story.  They were more concerned about their self-interest, their salvation, by not getting themselves ritually contaminated by either a dead man or worse still, by a non-Jew!  Similarly when our love is restricted to our loved ones and friends, such love is not truly divine love since to love our loved ones is not just for their sakes but ours.  Love for friends has mutual benefits unlike our love for strangers and those who cannot repay us in any way.   Helping those who do not even know that we help them is a true participation in God’s love, as Jesus tells us in the gospel, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others … But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you”. (Mt 6:2-4)

But the point of the parable goes beyond even just helping those who cannot repay us but like the Samaritan who reached out to one who was not simply a stranger, but an enemy.  He took the risk of helping the injured man by bandaging his wounds and bringing him to an inn to recuperate at his expense without hoping for anything in return; perhaps even risking misunderstanding and condemnation. This Samaritan was moved simply by compassion and love.  If that was the case for the Samaritan, then our neighbours should rightfully include strangers, those who are helpless, our enemies and those whom we can get nothing back in recompense.

Jesus says to love only those who love us is to behave like pagans, for they love only in this manner. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”. (Mt 5:43-48)

Indeed, it is easy to love those who love us.  The fact of life is that we care and love those who love us more.  But if we fail to be a neighbour to our enemies and those who do not like us, then we have not really loved. Jesus did not only teach us but in His very own life, He also died for us whilst we were still sinners.  “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:6-8)

It does not suffice to simply know who our neighbour is, as we are called to be a neighbour to others.  Yes, the command of Jesus is direct, “Go, and do the same yourself … and life is yours.”  Be a neighbour to the poor, the unloved and your enemies!  This is truly loving God and loving oneself.  Without a true love for our enemies and the helpless, we cannot truly claim to have the heart of God.  For this same reason too, we cannot inherit eternal life since the life of God and His compassion to all human beings, and even all creatures, is not in us.  If we are unable to go beyond our pagan love for others today because we do not have the heart of God, then we must turn once again to Jonah.  We are told that God sent a fish to swallow Jonah and he was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights before the fish vomited him onto the shore.  Following this experience, the rest of the Jonah story tells us how he returned to Nineveh to preach conversion and repentance to the people.

Of course, we are not told in today’s scripture reading what made him change his mind and obey the call of God.  This is because almost the entire second chapter has been omitted due to a space constraint.  In chapter two, we are told how Jonah reflected on his life, his ingratitude and the love and mercy of God for him when he was in the belly of the fish.  It was through prayer and recollection that he came to realize how great a sinner he was and how God has loved him in spite of his unworthiness.  It was in the belly that he experienced the merciful and universal salvific love of God.  Once he realized that God loves us all in spite of our sinfulness and that He wants the salvation of all, including the pagans and not the Hebrews alone, he decided to prophesy to the Ninevites.

We too must spend time in prayer and recollection so that we will become more conscious of our sinfulness and the lack of love in our lives.  We must recognize that if God loves us, then we are called to love others in return, especially those whom we consider undeserving of our love, such as our enemies or difficult people in our lives.  When we realize that God also wants these people to come to the knowledge of the truth and experience His love, we would gladly become His messengers of love, be a neighbour, and a good Samaritan to them, without having any thought of reward or appreciation.  Such a heart would necessarily mean that we have the life of God in us, now and hereafter, since all human beings and all creatures are our friends and we are one with them in love and unity.


Written by The Most Rev William Goh
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
© All Rights Reserved

Pope Francis & the Answer to “Radical Loneliness”

They were young, but inspired.

How could they not be?

After all, this priest was on fire. He was young, charismatic and passionate for the Lord. And he thrived in being with them.

So, likewise, these college students were eager to spend time with him.

“We felt completely free with him, without any burden. His presence led us to express ourselves. While he was among us, we felt that everything was all right…We felt we could discuss any problem with him; he could talk about absolutely anything.”

And they did. But why? Why did these bright, young things – with their futures hopeful and their appetites large – why were they drawn to this man of God?

Because no one was talking to them like this.

The overarching narrative of society they lived in disdained the Faith for which he stood and offered deceptive, selfish, sensual pleasures as tempting alternatives. And some of the students had, indeed, been tempted. But they found only emptiness in these alternative promises. The young priest offered something more. He offered Truth. And hope.

He knew them well. He would travel with them, camp with them, eat with them. And he loved to engage them in conversation. The priest had as much facility with scientific research, jazz music and popular books as he did with the Creed, Sacraments and Saints. And though he could enthusiastically speak for hours, he hungered to know the students. They recalled,

“He had mastered the art of listening…he was always interested.”

But it was when he delved deeply into faith and its indispensable role in their lives that the students were most moved. We are called to be holy, he constantly reminded. We are designed to be a part of a community of faith. Don’t be seduced by a world that degrades you and devalues your dignity. Understand your faith through study and prayer. Value marriage. Partake in the Sacraments. Walk the faithful walk. Be not afraid.

As they met and traveled together, the young priest would recite poems, teach about St. Thomas Aquinas, and explore literature. The priest and the students would dissect moral dilemmas, consider the faithful application of Catholic social teaching and wrestle with their personal problems. As the students took tests, helped the afflicted, married and ultimately had children, prayer, Mass and the Sacraments would inform the rhythm of their life. And the priest was always there. As one student recalled in awe,

“He always had time.”

No one was talking to them like this. Or walking with them.

Except for this young priest.

And while he was capable of knowing them intimately, he was not truly “of them”. As the priest would say,

“The duty of a priest is to live with people, everywhere they are, to be with them in everything but sin.” 

His ability to simultaneously be familiar and yet remain a respected authority on matters of infinite importance was extraordinary. And it had a deep impact on the college students. As one student recalled,

“Today many priests try to be like the kids. We were trying to be like him.”

Indeed.

But why? Why would they want to be like him?

Because he was wise, trusted and present. The priest’s biographer said this,

“[He] thought of his [role] as a ministry of ‘accompaniment’, a way to ‘accompany’ these students in their lives. [His] presence couldn’t be limited to the sanctuary and the confessional. [He] had to be present to these young lives in the world as well as in the church.”

He had to be wise, trusted and present. And in being that person for these young college students, he modeled faith-filled living and fostered the bonds of deep, Catholic community – a community open to the joys of friendship, marriage and parenting. A community open to God.

Isn’t this what Pope Francis implored his Bishops to be in his speech to them at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary last week? First, he articulated the problem.

“There are no longer close personal relationships. Today’s culture seems to encourage people not to bond with anything or anyone, not to trust. The most important thing nowadays seems to be follow the latest trend or activity.”

“Social bonds are a mere “means” for the satisfaction of “my needs”. The important thing is no longer our neighbor, with his or her familiar face, story and personality. The result is a culture which discards everything that is no longer “useful” or “satisfying” for the tastes of the consumer.”

“This causes great harm; it greatly wounds our culture. I dare say that at the root of so many contemporary situations is a kind of impoverishment born of a widespread and radical sense of loneliness. Running after the latest fad, accumulating “friends” on one of the social networks, we get caught up in what contemporary society has to offer. Loneliness with fear of commitment in a limitless effort to feel recognized.”

And then the Pope offered a solution.

“A pastor watches over the dreams, the lives and the growth of his flock. This “watchfulness” is not the result of talking but of shepherding. Only one capable of standing “in the midst of” the flock can be watchful, not someone who is afraid of questions, afraid of contact and accompaniment. A pastor keeps watch first and foremost with prayer, supporting the faith of his people and instilling confidence in the Lord, in his presence. A pastor remains vigilant by helping people to lift their gaze at times of discouragement, frustration and failure.”

Pope Francis recognizes the modern malaise which has devolved into hopelessness and nihilism. We are disconnected from God and we are disconnected from each other. In this extreme form of estrangement, we become, as French Catholic novelist Georges Bernanos would describe, “stumps of men”. The Pope astutely recognizes this as the crisis of our our age. “Radical loneliness” in the age of excess and the age of connectivity. And the young priest, St. John Paul II, recognized a similar crisis in a different age…it was “radical loneliness” in the age of ideology and the age of “answers”. 

So what is the answer? What is the cure to hopelessness, nihilism and radical loneliness?

It is this: God experienced in prayer. God experienced in the sacraments. And God experienced in community, in our participation in The Body of Christ. It begins with the simplest of prayers. “Help me. Guide me. Forgive me. Thank you.” It continues with moments in a Confessional or receiving the Eucharist. And it grows further in our community exploring Scripture, bearing another’s burden and seeking dignity, growth and accountability.

Two Pontiffs. Two priests. Two ages. One answer.

May we always seek God. And may our shepherds walk with us in our efforts to consistently find him.

Pope Francis & the Answer to “Radical Loneliness”

GOOD LEADERSHIP

http://www.catholic.org.sg/scripture-reflection/a-2/

SCRIPTURE READINGS: EZRA 9:5-9; LK 9:1-6

The scripture readings today enlighten us in the way leaders should lead.  In the gospel, Jesus, our great leader and teacher, gives us a few tips on how to be an effective leader.

Firstly, to be a leader one must be a visionary and a dreamer.  A leader who simply maintains the status quo is not a good leader.  A leader without a vision will eventually stifle and kill the organization under his charge.  Either his followers will die a natural death or join another group that can give life.  Both Ezra and Jesus were certainly visionaries in their days.

Ezra was certainly a great visionary.  He wanted to rebuild the community by prohibiting mixed marriages with the pagans.  He knew that once the faith of the people was weakened by such inter-faith marriages, the people would lose their single-mindedness in serving God.  In many ways, there is truth in the concerns of Ezra.  Mixed marriages pose tremendous challenges for couples seeking to share life with each other because of different values and faith. This causes division and often misunderstandings. At its best, it results in compromises and both parties could lose their faith after some time as they seek to accommodate each other.  Hence, Ezra’s insistence on fidelity to the Law in his time helped the people to stay united, especially when they were persecuted later on during the time of the Maccabees.  But such an attempt to shield the purity of the faith of the people also bred an elite society, leading to tensions and isolation from peoples of other faiths and cultures where pagans were seen as outcasts. So whilst Ezra’s vision was understandable in the context of illegitimate inculturation, it had its limitations.

Hence, it is not enough to be a visionary.  The vision must be broad and inclusive.  The vision of Jesus has this character.  He came to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom, not for the healthy, as He said in the gospel yesterday, but for the sick.  He came to share the unconditional love and mercy of the Father for all, including sinners and tax collectors.  He did not restrict the Good News from the Gentiles. He purposefully reached out to the Samaritans.  Such was the breath, length and depth of Jesus’ vision and dream for His people. The Kingdom belongs to all and is not territorial, but it is the reign of God in our hearts.

Jesus’ vision is not only inclusive but holistic as well.  He instructed the disciples to “proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.”  Jesus did not preach a “pie in the sky” brand of gospel.  He came not only to preach the salvation of the soul but also to heal the body.  Preaching without healing is too abstract and no one can feel God’s love by just hearing the words.  Preaching must be accompanied by healing and by works of mercy as God comes to touch our hearts through the body.  On the other hand, healing without preaching will reduce the gospel to another social ideology or humanitarian program.  God comes to save both soul and body.  That is why He became man in Jesus Christ.  But salvation is not merely of the body, it includes the healing and enlightening of the mind and the heart.  His vision of salvation and restoration therefore is of an integrated person.

Secondly, a leader must choose carefully from among his disciples those he wants to appoint as apostles.  In the gospel, we read that Jesus did not keep the dream for Himself but He “called the Twelve together.”  This act of calling is important.  In choosing the Twelve, Jesus intentionally chose a motley crowd.  He did not choose all with the same mindset or skills or character.  The apostles were all so different from each other.  Some are more educated, like St Matthew.  All were from different trades and backgrounds.  Some were revolutionaries.  A proactive leader is who knows who to choose to share his dreams and then get the disparate group to work together and complement each other in skills, knowledge and strength.  Having the charism to tap each individual’s strengths whilst overlooking their weaknesses and rallying them to work together is a necessary attribute of a great leader.

Thirdly, once chosen, the leader must delegate and empower those under his charge.  In the gospel, Jesus not only chose them but “gave them power and authority over all devils and to cure diseases.”   The failure of leaders to delegate is the cause of inefficiency.  When a leader chooses to do all things by himself, he micromanages.  As a consequence, his vision and mission becomes very narrow.  This is often the result of insecurity.  Such leadership is often authoritarian.

But delegating is only the first step.  Delegation comes with empowerment. It is not possible to delegate without at the same time bestowing power on those whom we delegate.  This is the other mistake of leadership.  Some leaders do delegate but they would override the decisions of their subordinates who have been assigned to do the task.  This causes the subordinates to lose respect and credibility among their peers.  They lose authority and effectiveness. Thus, it is important that those whom we delegate must be given the necessary power and authority to carry out their tasks.   When choosing us to be His instruments or messengers, Jesus never fails to equip us for the tasks just as He empowered the disciples.

Fourthly, the leader must instruct and give specific guidelines to his disciples.  Pope Francis reminds us very often that we are neither disciples nor missionaries but always at the same time, missionary disciples.  We are disciples for the mission.  We cannot be apostles of Christ unless we are His disciples. This missionary discipleship is an ongoing process because Christ is the only teacher and master.  It is notable that Jesus took pains to instruct His apostles for the mission.  He gave them specific instructions as to what needed to be done.  He did not leave them to decide for themselves.  Leaders must give the directions whilst allowing those under their charge to find their own creative ways to bring about the vision.

So what did Jesus instruct them?  The first principle in mission is to trust in divine providence.  This is the work of God, not ours.  We are His servants.  He wants us to rely on His own strength, not ours.  This explains why He instructed His disciples not to take anything on their journey except what is absolutely necessary. Only when we are totally dependent on God rather than our own resources do we know that God is great and He is the living God.  Otherwise, we think the success is the work of our hands rather than the power of God’s grace.

Secondly, we must not take things into our own hands.  This is what Jesus instructed the disciples.  “As for those who do not welcome you, when you leave their town shake the dust from your feet as a sign to them.”  Indeed, success in the ministry is the work of God. There is no need to be angry or resentful when our love and kindness or the Good News is rejected.  So long as we have done our part, we can move on in peace to another place that welcomes us.  The loss is theirs, not ours.  As the psalmist says, “It is he who scattered us among the nations. Among them must we show forth our greatness and exalt him in the presence of all living; for he is our Lord and our God, our Father and our God for ever.”

Thirdly, we must travel light and fast because the mission is urgent.  This is the other reason why the Lord told the disciples not to take too many things.  If they were bogged down my material things, they would not be able to travel fast.  In mission, we need to understand the urgency of the Good News.  We cannot delay any longer.  But in whatever we do, we must not be burdened or held back by non-essentials.  Many Churches spend too much time squabbling over structures, rules and discipline whilst forgetting that many are leaving the Church.  Many feel that the Church treats them harshly and often juridically without compassion and sensitivity.   The inflexibility of the application of the rules put many Catholics off.  Sometimes, too much attention is paid to the frills and the real mission of the Church is not carried out.

Fourthly, they must travel far by having someone to accompany them.   Jesus, we are told, would send out the disciples two by two.  Without teamwork and fraternal support, we can travel fast but not far because of our limitations.  So having someone to accompany us in our mission will help us to do beyond what one person can do.  Team ministry works more effectively.  We must never work alone but always with others.  The mission of the Church must be accomplished in communion since it has the mission of bringing communion.

Finally, a good leader would review with his subordinates regularly as Jesus did with His disciples.  After the return of the 70 disciples, Jesus called them to share with each other the success, the joy and the setbacks in their ministry.  It is important that with delegation there must also be a review and feedback.  Delegation without supervision, evaluation and accountability would end up with each person building his or her own kingdom or cause the whole team to malfunction.   Hence, Jesus would call the disciples together to share their experiences and then have them pray together, thanking God for their success in the ministry and for His continued assistance and blessings.  (Cf. Lk 11:17-24)

Above all, before one can lead, the necessary prerequisite is that the leader must first experience the mercy of God through a conscious acknowledgement of one’s own sins and that of the community he belongs to.  This was the case of Ezra who not only confessed the sins of the community but his share of the sins as well.  By confessing our sins humbly, we become more aware of our own inadequacy and as a consequence a greater appreciation of God’s love and mercy.   Like the psalmist, our experience must also be that of His mercy and forgiveness.  “God punishes, he also has mercy.  He leads men to the depths of the grave.  He restores men from the great destruction. No man can escape his hand.”  A leader is inspired to reach out to his broken people only when he himself has been in that situation and rescued from it.  So it is always the mercy of God that spurs us on to reach out to others whom we can identify with in their pains and bondages.


Written by The Most Rev William Goh
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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