The Good News – Pope Francis’ Message for World Communications Day 2017

Always an interesting publication for those in the Catholic blogging business, Pope Francis published his Message for World Communications Day today. He calls for a break away from focussing solely on bad news in all forms of communication and root the way we share news and thoughts in good news, the Good News even. The papal Message is food for thought for all “who, whether in their professional work or personal relationships, are like that mill, daily “grinding out” information with the aim of providing rich fare for those with whom they communicate”. I think that’s me and you.

“Fear not, for I am with you” (Is 43:5):
Communicating Hope and Trust in our Time

Access to the media – thanks to technological progress – makes it possible for countless people to share news instantly and spread it widely. That news may be good or bad, true or false. The early Christians compared the human mind to a constantly grinding millstone; it is up to the miller to determine what it will grind: good wheat or worthless weeds. Our minds are always “grinding”, but it is up to us to choose what to feed them (cf. SAINT JOHN CASSIAN, Epistle to Leontius).

I wish to address this message to all those who, whether in their professional work or personal relationships, are like that mill, daily “grinding out” information with the aim of providing rich fare for those with whom they communicate. I would like to encourage everyone to engage in constructive forms of communication that reject prejudice towards others and foster a culture of encounter, helping all of us to view the world around us with realism and trust.

I am convinced that we have to break the vicious circle of anxiety and stem the spiral of fear resulting from a constant focus on “bad news” (wars, terrorism, scandals and all sorts of human failure). This has nothing to do with spreading misinformation that would ignore the tragedy of human suffering, nor is it about a naive optimism blind to the scandal of evil. Rather, I propose that all of us work at overcoming that feeling of growing discontent and resignation that can at times generate apathy, fear or the idea that evil has no limits. Moreover, in a communications industry which thinks that good news does not sell, and where the tragedy of human suffering and the mystery of evil easily turn into entertainment, there is always the temptation that our consciences can be dulled or slip into pessimism.

I would like, then, to contribute to the search for an open and creative style of communication that never seeks to glamourize evil but instead to concentrate on solutions and to inspire a positive and responsible approach on the part of its recipients. I ask everyone to offer the people of our time storylines that are at heart “good news”.

Good news

Life is not simply a bare succession of events, but a history, a story waiting to be told through the choice of an interpretative lens that can select and gather the most relevant data. In and of itself, reality has no one clear meaning. Everything depends on the way we look at things, on the lens we use to view them. If we change that lens, reality itself appears different. So how can we begin to “read” reality through the right lens?

For us Christians, that lens can only be the good news, beginning with the Good News par excellence: “the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God” (Mk 1:1). With these words, Saint Mark opens his Gospel not by relating “good news” about Jesus, but rather the good news that is Jesus himself. Indeed, reading the pages of his Gospel, we learn that its title corresponds to its content and, above all else, this content is the very person of Jesus.

This good news – Jesus himself – is not good because it has nothing to do with suffering, but rather because suffering itself becomes part of a bigger picture. It is seen as an integral part of Jesus’ love for the Father and for all mankind. In Christ, God has shown his solidarity with every human situation. He has told us that we are not alone, for we have a Father who is constantly mindful of his children. “Fear not, for I am with you” (Is 43:5): these are the comforting words of a God who is immersed in the history of his people. In his beloved Son, this divine promise – “I am with you” – embraces all our weakness, even to dying our death. In Christ, even darkness and death become a point of encounter with Light and Life. Hope is born, a hope accessible to everyone, at the very crossroads where life meets the bitterness of failure. That hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5) and makes new life blossom, like a shoot that springs up from the fallen seed. Seen in this light, every new tragedy that occurs in the world’s history can also become a setting for good news, inasmuch as love can find a way to draw near and to raise up sympathetic hearts, resolute faces and hands ready to build anew.

Confidence in the seed of the Kingdom

To introduce his disciples and the crowds to this Gospel mindset and to give them the right “lens” needed to see and embrace the love that dies and rises, Jesus uses parables. He frequently compares the Kingdom of God to a seed that releases its potential forletter t life precisely when it falls to the earth and dies (cf. Mk 4:1-34). This use of images and metaphors to convey the quiet power of the Kingdom does not detract from its importance and urgency; rather, it is a merciful way of making space for the listener to freely accept and appropriate that power. It is also a most effective way to express the immense dignity of the Paschal mystery, leaving it to images, rather than concepts, to communicate the paradoxical beauty of new life in Christ. In that life, hardship and the cross do not obstruct, but bring about God’s salvation; weakness proves stronger than any human power; and failure can be the prelude to the fulfilment of all things in love. This is how hope in the Kingdom of God matures and deepens: it is “as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow” (Mk 4:26-27).

The Kingdom of God is already present in our midst, like a seed that is easily overlooked, yet silently takes root. Those to whom the Holy Spirit grants keen vision can see it blossoming. They do not let themselves be robbed of the joy of the Kingdom by the weeds that spring up all about.

The horizons of the Spirit

Our hope based on the good news which is Jesus himself makes us lift up our eyes to contemplate the Lord in the liturgical celebration of the Ascension. Even though the Lord may now appear more distant, the horizons of hope expand all the more. In Christ, who brings our human nature to heaven, every man and woman can now freely “enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh” (Heb 10:19-20). By “the power of the Holy Spirit” we can be witnesses and “communicators” of a new and redeemed humanity “even to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7‑8).

Confidence in the seed of God’s Kingdom and in the mystery of Easter should also shape the way we communicate. This confidence enables us to carry out our work – in all the different ways that communication takes place nowadays – with the conviction that it is possible to recognize and highlight the good news present in every story and in the face of each person.

Those who, in faith, entrust themselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit come to realize how God is present and at work in every moment of our lives and history, patiently bringing to pass a history of salvation. Hope is the thread with which this sacred history is woven, and its weaver is none other than the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. Hope is the humblest of virtues, for it remains hidden in the recesses of life; yet it is like the yeast that leavens all the dough. We nurture it by reading ever anew the Gospel, “reprinted” in so many editions in the lives of the saints who became icons of God’s love in this world. Today too, the Spirit continues to sow in us a desire for the Kingdom, thanks to all those who, drawing inspiration from the Good News amid the dramatic events of our time, shine like beacons in the darkness of this world, shedding light along the way and opening ever new paths of confidence and hope.

From the Vatican, 24 January 2017

Francis

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No fear in violent times – Bishop Wiertz’s letter for Advent

Bishop Frans Wiertz digs into the topic of fear and evil in his letter for Advent. His opinion of modern society is not overly positive, but he finds the antidote in the promise of the angel to the shepherds: “Be not afraid”.

Mgr. F.J.M. Wiertz“Brothers and sisters,

We are preparing ourselves for Christmas. At the heart of the celebration of this feast is of course the story of the birth of Jesus. Every time, we discover new facets in it which are worth reflecting on. This year, our attention is especially drawn to a verse from the song of the angel. The angel heartens the shepherds in their alarm and their fear: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy…” (Luke 2:10).

“Do not be afraid”. This encouragement appears frequently in Holy Scripture, in all kinds of variations. A zealous reader once counted how frequently. He made the surprising discovery that it was no less than 365 times! So you could say that the Word of God encourages us every day: “Have no fear. Do not be afraid”.

Perhaps this appeal is especially necessary in our time. Our society is contradictory. Never before did people have it this good. But still, many have a sense of great discontent. Research has established the presence of this discontent before. Many people individually call themselves happy, but as a society we are unsatisfied and insecure. Our lives are even permeated by a “culture of fear”. People have become afraid of each other.

The brutal violence of terrorism scares us. Our peaceful coexistence is threatened by it. We are worried about the coarseness and hardness of modern life. Normal social contact is disrupted by it. We are even starting to distrust each other. We lock our houses down with security systems and padlocks. “Who can I still trust?” is often heard.

We are undeniably at a crossroads in history. The core values of our coexistence have thoroughly changed in a very short time. Growing individualism is paralysing our common solidarity. Our common bond has become fleeting, loyalty a difficult task.

Does this make us feel good? Young people are looking for a handhold in all sorts of ways. The elderly are worried about their future. For young and old existence has become confusing. Uncertainty takes hold over us.

This uncertainty ultimately comes from the weakening or even the disappearance of the faith in God. God, revealed in Jesus Christ, the power of His Holy Spirit. Many hardly know what to do with it. People are trying to live without God in our time. Without any awareness of His care. Without sense for His love.

By extension, also often enough: without any concern for him or her who remains our neighbour. If God is no longer our Father, we are also no longer each other’s brothers and sisters.  This absence of God and neightbour, that frightens me.

Should we, as Christians, resign ourselves to this culture of fear? The call to ‘watchfulness’ resounds in many texts in the liturgy of Advent. As faithful we must not ignore the problems of this time. We must be on our guard, watch for the power of evil not conquering us.

With all people of good will, we are searching for a peaceful society. The Gospel asks for solidarity in fighting everything that stands in the way of a humane society. The faith in Jesus Christ is at odds with any form of indifference. Pope Francis continuously warns against what he calls a ‘global indifference’.

The frightening situation of a violent world wakes us up. We often close our eyes for the power of evil in our superficial world. Let us open our hearts for the many who have fled the misery of their destroyed homes.

The fear of people in our time is really not unfounded. We can not deny that an evil power is working among us. This should be fought with all virtuous means. Saint Paul still presents us with a very simple and very effective measure: “Conquer evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).

We must not allow ourselves to be paralysed by fear. Fear is, after all, a poor counselor. That is why the angel of Christmas warns us, “Do not be afraid.” And he adds, “For behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy… For today … a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord” (Luke 2,10-11).

God did not remain a stranger to us. No distant absentee. From the silence of His mystery He came intimately close to us in Jesus. He broke through His silence. Opened heaven that was closed. The Word of God became man and lives among us.

Faith in the Christ child always gives us new confidence and hope in our sometimes frightening situation. It has become a hard task to give these virtues a stable place in our lives. In order to break the spiral of our fear, we need courage. The courage of a persevering witness of faith. As the Reverend Martin Luther King said, “We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear”. May the birth of Christ give us that strength of His peace and salvation!

+ Franz Wiertz,
Bishop of Roermond”

The new archbishop of Bologna on the battle between good and evil

In the most significant move for the Italian Church to date, Pope Francis appointed new archbishop for the major sees of Palermo and Bologna yesterday. To the former he appointed Msgr. Corrado Lorefice of the clergy of the Diocese of Noto, and to the latter, Msgr. Matteo Maria Zuppi, auxiliary bishop of Rome. On 27 September of this year, the Feast of the Archangel Michael, Bishop Zuppi celebrated Mass at the Church of the Frisians in Rome, during which he gave a homily which could well serve to get an idea of the focus of the new archbishop of Bologna. Dealing with good and evil and not shirking away from the sometimes difficult imagery of the Book of Revelation, here is my translation of the text (which is a translation of a translation, as my source was the Dutch translation of the Italian original).

zuppi“We are here in a small church next to the great Basilica of Saint Peter, near the colonnade which wants to embrace everyone and everything. I hope you too feel that embrace, love and mercy of the mother who opens her arms, especially for those who are vulnerable, who suffered, carried away by the storm of life. Here, there are a few pews from the Second Vatican Council which taught us that the joy and hope, the sorrow and worries of the people of today, and especially those of the poor and those who suffers, are the joy and hope, the sorrow and concerns of Jesus’ disciples. And all this is human can also be found in their hearts. We often do not want to hear that voice. We are afraid and close ourselves off. We raise many walls, fences and borders. These entrap us as well. fences make you feel weak when you are strong, poor when you have enough. They make the other an enemy or a danger. The result of this is that we no longer feel sympathetic with people who lose everything while fleeing from wars that take everything away from us. From behind the closed fence we do not see the child that dies in the great sea: Aylan. When a child dies like that, that is an Apocalypse, because man is destroyed by the dragon that makes life inconsequential. We heard the great vision of Revelation. The Apostle John helps us not to run away from the many apocalypses, not for the evident like terrible wars, but neither for those of loneliness which makes you world collapse and makes you feel so small. We cause some apocalypses ourselves, because of indifference, arms trafficking, exploiting natural resources which we steal from our children.

We too must fight evil. The dragon that misleads with the logic of power and which, like consumerism, devours all hearts. St. Michael and his angels fight. Let us also go into combat. There is a lot that we can do.

Love is never inconsequential and razes walls. We must free the world from too much indifference and violence. If we do not love, we become accomplices of evil. And to fight evil, we must love. To do no evil is not enough, to be a witness, no matter how committed. Martyrs are like the Archangel Michael: they are no heroes, but people who love until the end. Monsignor Romero. The Dutch Father Frans, who stayed in Homs, in Syria, until his end, because he could not accept that a Muslim or Christian would starve to death. He fought. Evil killed him. But his light was not extinguished. In the darkness of Syria he is a star of hope. He helps everyone believe in humanity when the dragon makes men into beasts. His start shows that love is without limits and that the future starts with people like him. Father Frans is one of those who “have triumphed … by the blood of the Lamb and by the word to which they bore witness” (Rev. 12:11). When we fight evil, as the Gospel of Christ teaches us, meek and humble to all, we see and show how heaven is opened, and how the angels of God ascend and descend.

I was a stranger and I met an angel. He spoke to me gently and taught me a language I did not know. He made me feel as if I came home. I was naked and met an angel. He knelt by me because I could not get up from the gutter. He looked at me kindly and gave me a blanket to get warm. I was sick and met an angel. He was not afraid to take my hand, he kept coming back. He did not leave me alone when the storm of my sickness disrupted my entire life and I thought everything was over. I was starving and met an angel. He gave me to eat without making me feel like I owed him something. He treated me with respect, as if I was his father. I was in prison and met an angel. He was not ashamed for my sin. He treated me like a man. He like at me with confidence. He did not judge me. He smiled at me while knowing my guilt. We fight evil, like the Archangel Michael. We, and those who came after us, will, like the angels, see the light of heaven, the infinite love. In that intimate love for, the Gospel teaches us, we see heaven on earth, and earth becomes a piece of heaven.”

Photo credit: Friezenkerk

Papal soundbytes: Lebanon

“Is it not true that in a very short time the Lebanon will become productive ground, so productive you might take it for a forest?” (Isaiah 29:17)

With his return yesterday from a successful three-day visit to Lebanon, Pope Benedict XVI concluded what may, beforehand, have seemed like a very risky trip indeed. The ongoing protests (staged or otherwise) in Muslim countries, including some in Lebanon itself, formed a disturbing backdrop, and at times I caught myself wondering if the papal visit would end without incident. Luckily, and thank God for it, it did.

In contrast to the heated emotions and violent outburst in other parts of the Middle East, the Holy Father brought a message of peace, respect and encouragement, not just to the Catholic and other Christians in Lebanon, but to people of faith in the entire Middle East and the whole world.

Below I share some interesting passages from the various addresses and homilies given by the pope. You may read the full texts, which often include further expositions on what I have quoted, here.

On not cancelling the visit, and the reason to go ahead:

“I can tell you that no one advised me to cancel this journey, and for my part I never considered doing so, because I know that as the situation becomes more complex, it is all the more necessary to offer this sign of fraternal encouragement and solidarity. That is the aim of my visit: to issue an invitation to dialogue, to peace and against violence, to go forward together to find solutions to the problems.” [Interview during the flight to Lebanon, 14 September]

On fundamentalism:

“Fundamentalism is always a falsification of religion. It goes against the essence of religion, which seeks to reconcile and to create God’s peace throughout the world… [T]he essential message of religion must be against violence – which is a falsification of it, like fundamentalism – and it must be the education, illumination and purification of consciences so as to make them capable of dialogue, reconciliation and peace.” [Idem]

On the Exaltation of the Cross:

“Are not Christian communion and witness grounded in the Paschal Mystery, in the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ? Is it not there that they find their fulfilment? There is an inseparable bond between the cross and the resurrection which Christians must never forget. Without this bond, to exalt the cross would mean to justify suffering and death, seeing them merely as our inevitable fate. For Christians, to exalt the cross means to be united to the totality of God’s unconditional love for mankind. It means making an act of faith! To exalt the cross, against the backdrop of the resurrection, means to desire to experience and to show the totality of this love. It means making an act of love! To exalt the cross means to be a committed herald of fraternal and ecclesial communion, the source of authentic Christian witness. It means making an act of hope!” [Address at the signing of the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, 14 September]

On peace through human dignity:

“Our human dignity is inseparable from the sacredness of life as the gift of the Creator. In God’s plan, each person is unique and irreplaceable. A person comes into this world in a family, which is the first locus of humanization, and above all the first school of peace. To build peace, we need to look to the family, supporting it and facilitating its task, and in this way promoting an overall culture of life. The effectiveness of our commitment to peace depends on our understanding of human life. If we want peace, let us defend life! This approach leads us to reject not only war and terrorism, but every assault on innocent human life, on men and women as creatures willed by God. Wherever the truth of human nature is ignored or denied, it becomes impossible to respect that grammar which is the natural law inscribed in the human heart (cf. Message for the 2007 World Day of Peace, 3). The grandeur and the raison d’être of each person are found in God alone. The unconditional acknowledgement of the dignity of every human being, of each one of us, and of the sacredness of human life, is linked to the responsibility which we all have before God. We must combine our efforts, then, to develop a sound vision of man, respectful of the unity and integrity of the human person. Without this, it is impossible to build true peace.” [Address to members of government, diplomats, religious leaders and cultural representatives, 15 September]

The workings of evil:

“We need to be very conscious that evil is not some nameless, impersonal and deterministic force at work in the world. Evil, the devil, works in and through human freedom, through the use of our freedom. It seeks an ally in man. Evil needs man in order to act. Having broken the first commandment, love of God, it then goes on to distort the second, love of neighbour. Love of neighbour disappears, yielding to falsehood, envy, hatred and death.” [Idem]

Freedom of religion:

“The freedom to profess and practise one’s religion without danger to life and liberty must be possible to everyone. The loss or attenuation of this freedom deprives the person of his or her sacred right to a spiritually integrated life. What nowadays passes for tolerance does not eliminate cases of discrimination, and at times it even reinforces them. Without openness to transcendence, which makes it possible to find answers to their deepest questions about the meaning of life and morally upright conduct, men and women become incapable of acting justly and working for peace. Religious freedom has a social and political dimension which is indispensable for peace!” [Idem]

The challenges of youth

“The frustrations of the present moment must not lead you to take refuge in parallel worlds like those, for example, of the various narcotics or the bleak world of pornography. As for social networks, they are interesting but they can quite easily lead to addiction and confusion between the real and the virtual. Look for relationships of genuine, uplifting friendship. Find ways to give meaning and depth to your lives; fight superficiality and mindless consumption! You face another temptation, too: that of money, the tyrannical idol which blinds to the point of stifling the person at the heart. The examples being held up all around you are not always the best. Many people have forgotten Christ’s warning that one cannot serve both God and mammon (cf. Lk 16:13). Seek out good teachers, spiritual masters, who will be able to guide you along the path to maturity, leaving behind all that is illusory, garish and deceptive.” [Address to young people, 15 September]

On Syria:

“I understand, too, that present among us there are some young people from Syria. I want to say how much I admire your courage. Tell your families and friends back home that the Pope has not forgotten you. Tell those around you that the Pope is saddened by your sufferings and your griefs. He does not forget Syria in his prayers and concerns, he does not forget those in the Middle East who are suffering. It is time for Muslims and Christians to come together so as to put an end to violence and war.” [Idem]

In closing, here is the rendition of Panis Angelicus that was sung during the public Mass in Beirut:

All photos: CNS photo/Paul Haring