Monday, February 8, 2016

That they may worship


By Aaron Matthew Weldon

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh, and say to him, Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.’ ” It’s one of the memorable refrains from one of the greatest stories of liberation in the history - the Exodus of Israel. Moses persistently tells Pharaoh what God demands for the nation enslaved in Egypt, and Pharaoh consistently responds with a hard heart. It’s an amazing, familiar story. Yet we often overlook the reason Moses gives for his demand.

“That they may worship me.” Liberation is bound up with worshipping God and obeying his commandments. Today, the issue is often framed as if people of faith merely want to be left alone. That’s only one side of the matter. People of faith – Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and others – are seeking the space to live out their faith, to serve God according to the dictates of their respective traditions.

It’s easy for those of us who care about religious freedom to focus primarily on laws, lawsuits, and government mandates. We rightly want to challenge infringements on religious liberty. But we need to keep in mind that our aim, as people of faith, is not merely the space to live faithfully. The goal is also the actual living out of faith. We are not merely seeking freedom from coercion but freedom for serving God and others. To live out our faith in daily life, we need to be people of prayer.

Lent is the perfect time to recalibrate our prayer lives. Beginning with Ash Wednesday on February 10, the Church devotes 40 days – in part, an echo of Israel’s 40-year sojourn in the desert and Moses’ 40-day stay on Mount Sinai – to focus on interior renewal. Our civic lives must flow from our prayer lives. As we prepare for Easter, we do well to attend to prayer, to listen to the Lord who speaks to our hearts.

A focus on interior renewal is good for its own sake. It also helps promote religious freedom. This most basic freedom for all people requires a culture of prayer, a culture where communities of faith seek to fulfill obligations and respect the rights of others to fulfill their own obligations. This is the kind of culture where the pursuit of holiness and connection with God are understandable. Our current cultural climate presents a challenge. A widespread therapeutic spirituality says that as long as you feel good and do good, everything is fine. Rather than tolerance, we end up with religious indifference. Spiritual renewal in our culture begins with us. Simply being people of prayer helps builds a culture of prayer.

The Church shows us ways that we can grow into people of prayer. The U.S. bishops provide reflections and suggested practices for Lent, as well as the helpful resource, Sacraments and Social Mission, for Catholics seeking to make the connection between service to God and service to neighbor. A great way to integrate advocacy for the common good and attention to prayer is by joining the Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty. In the face of serious challenges, the Lord calls us to sacrifice and pray.

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Aaron Matthew Weldon is Program Specialist for the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. Learn more about the U.S. bishops' religious liberty efforts at www.usccb.org/freedom.

Follow the USCCB's religious freedom efforts on Twitter: @usccbfreedom

Bishop Monforton On How You Can Make A Difference On Ash Wednesday



By Anusia Dickow


[Let us] never tire of opening our hearts and offering a hand to all who ask us for help.

~Pope Francis, Address to Priests and Religious, Bosnia and Herzegovina, June 2015


This week, as we begin our Lenten journey, we remember our brothers and sisters who live in Central and Eastern Europe who struggle to rebuild both churches and faith communities in a post-communist society. Bishop Jeffrey M. Monforton of the Diocese of Steubenville serves on the Subcommittee on Aid to the Church in Central and Eastern Europe, and recently traveled with USCCB staff to Belarus and Poland.

In Belarus he visited with faith communities in Minsk, and with seminarians in Pinsk and Grodno, speaking with those who benefit from the grants received from the Subcommittee. In Poland, Bishop Monforton traveled to Krakow to visit with priests and others in the diocese who help coordinate pastoral programs.

Click here to hear Bishop Monforton speak about his travels, the challenges this region of the world faces, but also the great hope that can be found in this region. Despite the history of hardship, those who live there have deep faith and, as Bishop Monforton reminds us, there is much we can do here in the United States to support our brothers and sisters.

On Ash Wednesday, many parishes in the United States will be taking up the Collection for the Church in Central and Eastern Europe. Contributions to this collection fund grants for projects in 28 countries to both rebuild the religious institutions, and also to bolster the faith of those who live there. This collection is an opportunity for us to begin Lent with an act of mercy and solidarity with those who live in this region of the world.

If you would like more information about the Church in Central and Eastern Europe, please visit: www.usccb.org/ccee. Click here for additional resources and information about the collection.




Friday, February 5, 2016

Pope Francis, Patriarch Kirill and the God of Surprises

By Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski

Once again Pope Francis reminds us that we worship the God of surprises. The news today that he will meet with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow in Cuba, February 12—while the pope is en route to Mexico—is literally unprecedented. A pope has never met with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, and not for lack of wanting.

Patriarch Kirill is head of a Church of some 150 million people out of the 250-300 million adherents of Eastern Orthodox Christianity worldwide. Relations with Orthodox Christians—from whom Catholics officially split in the year 1054—are a crucial part of the Catholic Church's efforts toward Christian unity. Their faith tradition is ancient, and the Catholic Church recognizes their apostolic succession and validity of their sacraments. In the United States, Catholics and Orthodox have dialogued for 50 years, with Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis currently stewarding this important work as Catholic co-chair.

Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras make history in Jerusalem, 1964.
In 1964, the same year the Second Vatican Council issued its Decree on Christian Unity, Pope Paul VI met with Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople in Jerusalem, a turning point that ushered in a new era of dialogue and friendship after nearly a millennium of hostility and estrangement. The Patriarch of Constantinople, or Ecumenical Patriarch, is a first among equals of the leaders of Orthodox Christianity, and Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI continued to build on this key relationship, meeting with subsequent Ecumenical Patriarchs. And Pope Francis has already met with Patriarch Bartholomew I (Ecumenical Patriarch since 1991) on several occasions.

Pope Francis walks with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I at Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of the crucifixion and Jesus' tomb, in May 2014.
Since Orthodox Christianity is more collegial, i.e. more horizontal than vertical in its leadership structure, it is especially important to foster relationships with its other leaders. And here the Russian Orthodox Church has posed a particular challenge. The Russian Orthodox Church existed with a minimal degree of government recognition under the Soviets, but other believers, Catholics included, saw their religion virtually suppressed. The fall of Communism gave rise to tensions between the leaders of Catholicism and Russian Orthodoxy as the Churches moved to pick up the pieces.

Pope Benedict XVI meets then-Metropolitan Kirill in December 2007.
In the quarter century since then, the Vatican has worked delicately to improve relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, with pope and the patriarch sending delegates to meet one another on various occasions. But John Paul II died without achieving his dearly held goal of visiting Russia and meeting the Patriarch of Moscow. Now, not only is this meeting occurring, but strangely enough, it is not the first time Kirill will have met a pope. Prior to becoming Patriarch of Moscow in 2009, then-Metropolitan Kirill headed the Russian Orthodox Church's office of external church relations and so was the Russian Orthodox delegate who met with Benedict XVI. It is a joyful sign that, as Patriarch, he has agreed to meet another pope.

It's fitting that this meeting takes place in Cuba, a country that, thanks to Pope Francis' efforts to build bridges of engagement, has seen a thaw after half a century of tensions with the United States. Now it will be the scene of improved relations between Christians. "Dialogue is our method," Pope Francis said to the bishops of the United States during his visit last September. "The path ahead, then, is dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society. I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly." This meeting exemplifies why our pope has such faith in the power of dialogue.

Pope Francis meets Bishop Rozanski at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington.
This announcement comes on the heels of the observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity January 18-25. With the announcement of this meeting, we feel renewed hope that those prayers are already bearing fruit.

Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield, Massachusetts, is chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

Photo of Bishop Rozanski and Pope Francis courtesy of Diocese of Springfield. All other photos from CNS.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Week of Christian Unity Day 8 Reflection



Scripture

Luke 24: 13-36 The Disciples on the Road to Emmaus

Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about Himself in all the scriptures.

Meditation: Overcoming our Differences

On the cover of the preliminary printed version of the Lutheran-Catholic Declaration on the Way (October 2015) is a modern artist’s painting of the Disciples walking down the road to Emmaus with Jesus--unrecognized. I have been thinking a great deal about this painting. recall that the disciples realized in retrospect why their hearts were burning within them as they walked, and talked. Later they recognized Jesus in the breaking of bread. Soon, with their discouragement behind them, they returned to Jerusalem to share the news, and Jesus message to them, with others.

I am much slower than the disciples. In mid-November while I was ‘on the road’ I realized that the artist’s cover and the text were one—they should be seen together.

In the last two sections of the text we discuss (IV) 15 Remaining Differences and (V) Next Steps along the Way. How will we move forward? How will these obstacles be overcome?

We can see, hear and feel the answer. Are we seeing Jesus and not recognizing Him? Are we hearing His message? When is the Spirit of Jesus burning within us? Who do we tell?



Prayer

Lord Jesus, you have made our hearts burn within us, and have sent us back upon the road towards our brothers and sisters, with the Gospel message on our lips. Help us to see that hope and obedience to your commands always lead to the greater unity of your people. Amen.