"If my people, who are called by My name, humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and revive their land." 2 Chronicles 7:14
Fix Your Eyes On Jesus
Pro-Lifers Have Reason For Hope
Love Is Focus Of World Youth Day Message
In Defense of Life: Slavery
Prison To Praise: The Father's Suffering
Light to the Nations: A Christian Perspective on World News
Passion Play Continues To Proclaim Jesus
Pray The News
The Lenten journey calls the faithful to focus on Jesus on the Cross and to thus realize the great mystery of God's love and to respond to that love.
Pope Benedict XVI issued a Lenten message, which was dated November 21, 2006. His message follows:
"'They shall look on Him whom they have pierced' (Jn 19:37). This is the biblical theme that this year guides our Lenten reflection. Lent is a favourable time to learn to stay with Mary and John, the beloved disciple, close to Him who on the Cross, consummated for all mankind the sacrifice of His life (cf. Jn 19:25). With a more fervent participation let us direct our gaze, therefore, in this time of penance and prayer, at Christ crucified who, dying on Calvary, revealed fully for us the love of God. In the Encyclical Deus caritas est, I dwelt upon this theme of love, highlighting its two fundamental forms: agape and eros.
God's love: agape and eros
"The term agape, which appears many times in the New Testament, indicates the self-giving love of one who looks exclusively for the good of the other. The word eros, on the other hand, denotes the love of one who desires to possess what he or she lacks and yearns for union with the beloved. The love with which God surrounds us is undoubtedly agape. Indeed, can man give to God some good that He does not already possess? All that the human creature is and has is divine gift. It is the creature then, who is in need of God in everything. But God's love is also eros. In the Old Testament, the Creator of the universe manifests toward the people whom He has chosen as His own a predilection that transcends every human motivation. The prophet Hosea expresses this divine passion with daring images such as the love of a man for an adulterous woman (cf. 3:1-3). For his part, Ezekiel, speaking of God's relationship with the people of Israel, is not afraid to use strong and passionate language (cf. 16:1-22). These biblical texts indicate that eros is part of God's very heart: the Almighty awaits the 'yes' of His creatures as a young bridegroom that of his bride. Unfortunately, from its very origins, mankind, seduced by the lies of the Evil One, rejected God's love in the illusion of a self-sufficiency that is impossible (cf. Gn 3:1-7). Turning in on himself, Adam withdrew from that source of life who is God Himself, and became the first of 'those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage' (Heb 2:15). God, however, did not give up. On the contrary, man's 'no' was the decisive impulse that moved Him to manifest His love in all of its redeeming strength.
The Cross reveals the fullness of God's love
"It is in the mystery of the Cross that the overwhelming power of the heavenly Father's mercy is revealed in all of its fullness. In order to win back the love of His creature, He accepted to pay a very high price: the blood of His only begotten Son. Death, which for the first Adam was an extreme sign of loneliness and powerlessness, was thus transformed in the supreme act of love and freedom of the new Adam. One could very well assert, therefore, together with Saint Maximus the Confessor, that Christ 'died, if one could say so, divinely, because He died freely' (Ambigua, 91, 1956). On the Cross, God's eros for us is made manifest. Eros is indeed as Pseudo-Dionysius expresses it that force 'that does not allow the lover to remain in himself but moves him to become one with the beloved' (De divinis nominibus, IV, 13: PG 3, 712). Is there more 'mad eros' (N. Cabasilas, Vita in Cristo, 648) than that which led the Son of God to make Himself one with us even to the point of suffering as His own the consequences of our offences?
"Him whom they have pierced"
"Dear brothers and sisters, let us look at Christ pierced in the Cross! He is the unsurpassing revelation of God's love, a love in which eros and agape, far from being opposed, enlighten each other. On the Cross, it is God Himself who begs the love of His creature: He is thirsty for the love of every one of us. The Apostle Thomas recognized Jesus as 'Lord and God' when he put his hand into the wound of His side. Not surprisingly, many of the saints found in the Heart of Jesus the deepest expression of this mystery of love. One could rightly say that the revelation of God's eros toward man is, in reality, the supreme expression of His agape. In all truth, only the love that unites the free gift of oneself with the impassioned desire for reciprocity instills a joy, which eases the heaviest of burdens. Jesus said: 'When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself' (Jn 12:32). The response the Lord ardently desires of us is above all that we welcome His love and allow ourselves to be drawn to Him. Accepting His love, however, is not enough. We need to respond to such love and devote ourselves to communicating it to others. Christ 'draws me to Himself' in order to unite Himself to me, so that I learn to love the brothers with His own love.
Blood and water
"'They shall look on Him whom they have pierced.' Let us look with trust at the pierced side of Jesus from which flow 'blood and water' (Jn 19:34)! The Fathers of the Church considered these elements as symbols of the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. Through the water of Baptism, thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit, we are given access to the intimacy of Trinitarian love. In the Lenten journey, memorial of our Baptism, we are exhorted to come out of ourselves in order to open ourselves, in trustful abandonment, to the merciful embrace of the Father (cf. Saint John Chrysostom, Catecheses, 3,14ff). Blood, symbol of the love of the Good Shepherd, flows into us especially in the Eucharistic mystery: 'The Eucharist draws us into Jesus' act of self-oblation. . .we enter into the very dynamic of His self-giving' (Encyclical Deus caritas est, 13). Let us live Lent then, as a 'Eucharistic' time in which, welcoming the love of Jesus, we learn to spread it around us with every word and deed. Contemplating 'Him whom they have pierced' moves us in this way to open our hearts to others, recognizing the wounds inflicted upon the dignity of the human person; it moves us, in particular, to fight every form of contempt for life and human exploitation and to alleviate the tragedies of loneliness and abandonment of so many people. May Lent be for every Christian a renewed experience of God's love given to us in Christ, a love that each day we, in turn, must 'regive' to our neighbour, especially to the one who suffers most and is in need. Only in this way will we be able to participate fully in the joy of Easter. May Mary, Mother of Beautiful Love, guide us in this Lenten journey, a journey of authentic conversion to the love of Christ. I wish you, dear brothers and sisters, a fruitful Lenten journey, imparting with affection to all of you, a special Apostolic Blessing."
Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia outlined both reasons for hope in the struggle for life and new challenges which must be addressed in his homily at a vigil Mass on January 21. The Mass was held at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.,
In his Homily, Cardinal Rigali said:
". . .The occasion of our yearly coming together in humble prayer and serene and peaceful witness to the value of every human life is linked to an extremely sad moment in the history of the United States: that fateful decision Roe v. Wade rendered on January 22, 1973. Now, 34 years later we bow our heads in shame as we admit that over 47 million human lives have been snuffed out as a result of that misguided use of judicial power exercised in the name of the authority resting in the people of the United States of America.
"Each passing year confirms us in the pain of recognizing the violence inflicted upon millions and millions of unborn children and even partially born children in our land. It is important that this truth be acknowledged, that repentance be sincere, and that effective means be taken to stop this grotesque tragedy, while preventing it from being repeated in the future.
"At the same time each passing year confirms us in new hope for the future. As people of prayer, we are moved by the words of Saint Paul, who says: '. . .we have set our hope on the living God'(1 Tim 4:10). The word of God and His commandments encourage us in our efforts, and they certainly inspire the rising generation to form new attitudes and assume a fresh commitment to the cause of life. . .
". . .Today is holy and our celebration of life is holy to the Lord. Our attitude in the wake of the immense national tragedy of abortion is our sober rejoicing in hope. Indeed, 'We have set our hope on the living God.'
"What then are our reasons for rejoicing?
"In the conflict that exists between life and death, between the culture of life and the culture of death we see that something very encouraging is also taking place in our society.
"The rate and number of abortions in the United States continue to decline, most notably among teens. Many teenagers are wisely choosing to abstain from sexual activity motivated both by religious and moral values, and the desire to protect themselves from the epidemic of sexually-transmitted diseases that today afflict some 60 million Americans. To be free of disease, to be free of the fear of an ill-timed pregnancy, to be free of a broken heart this is the freedom that we want for our young people, and we rejoice that it is unfolding.
"Another reason to rejoice is that the American people are becoming more pro-life. According to a very significant poll last year, general support for Roe v. Wade fell under fifty percent for the first time since 1973. Most Americans do not support Roe v. Wade, and are against allowing most of the abortions the Court has made legal.
"We can, moreover, take heart in knowing that spiritual, educational and legislative efforts are making a big difference in the hearts and minds of so many people of good will. More and more citizens are coming to question abortion and to recognize as a starting point for deeper conversion that there is something radically wrong with abortion and the support given it by our laws. There is a growing realization that human life and human dignity cannot be suppressed without immense damage to the entire fabric of our nation and numerous consequences. In the midst of the enormous challenge posed by threats to life, there are new reasons to hope that the truth of God's law will prevail as a great light in our nation as our people move increasingly toward valuing human life from its earliest and most vulnerable stages onward. This is indeed cause for rejoicing in the Lord!
"As we all move forward in hope as citizens confronted with the national disaster resulting from Roe v. Wade, we recall once more the crucial importance of humble and persevering prayer. We also realize how important it is to contribute to the exchange taking place among people of good will. Our position is one of profound concern for the unborn and deep compassion for all those affected by abortion. With utmost respect we express in the public debate our strong conviction that something terribly wrong has weakened our nation something that flagrantly violates human rights and human dignity, in addition to the law of God. It is necessary for all of us to speak with lucidity in bearing witness to the truth that has such vast consequences. . .
"For all of us, dear Friends, 'the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,' which we so earnestly desire, can be safeguarded and guaranteed only by prayer and constant vigilance.
"The so-called freedom of choice, imposed on our country in 1973 by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, mocks our freedom. Today Americans are not free to halt the destruction of unborn children. Our legislators are not free to enact laws defending unborn life, laws that reflect the values and will of a majority of Americans.
"In many states parents are not free to intervene in the abortion decision to protect their daughter from a decision that has lasting, even eternal, consequences. Roe v. Wade denies fathers the freedom to save the life of their unborn child if the child's mother chooses abortion. Siblings, grandparents all are powerless, without freedom, to protect and nurture a vulnerable member of their family, because the Supreme Court said so.
"Abortion is anything but a free choice for many young women. Many have described their panicked reaction to their pregnancy, the lack of support or even threatened abandonment by the child's father, the pressures from family, counselors or peers. Many young women feel they are expected to abort an unplanned child when contraception fails.
"After the abortion, they discover that their choice did not free them to live their dreams. Instead, their choice haunts them day and night. They feel isolated in their pain and loss. Their freedom of choice has left them trapped in a cycle of sadness and guilt. Freedom comes only when they are able to turn to God in their sadness and brokenness and accept His forgiveness, His mercy and His healing grace. They become truly free when they are able to acknowledge the truth of the wrong that they committed, and the greater truth that there are no limits to God's loving mercy or to His desire for our salvation. Jesus Himself tells us: '. . .you will know the truth and the truth will set you free' (Jn 8:32).
"How commendable the work of Project Rachel and of all those who have been, for thousands of women and men, compassionate intermediaries of God's healing in helping them to attain freedom from the sin of abortion! How magnificent the gift of Christ to His Church: the reconciling ministry of the priest in the Sacrament of Confession!
"In this present moment of our history, in this time of trial, in this current test of our national character in regard to the sacredness of human life, another immense challenge faces us and calls for our immediate response.
"Today a number of scientists and lawmakers want us to see the vulnerable human embryo, as research material as a source of stem cells not as a fellow human being needing protection and respect.
"Even more alarming, we hear it said that voting to destroy human embryos for medical research is the true 'pro-life' position because this research may someday help the lives of others.
"Providentially nature itself has made a contribution to this debate, by showing us that the by-products of live birth umbilical cord blood, placenta, even the fluid that surrounds the unborn child in the womb may contain very versatile stem cells with the advantages of stem cells from embryos, with none of the practical or moral disadvantages. At the same time we know that the cures that have already taken place through therapy made possible by stem cell research have been obtained through adult stem cell research. In this way, and not through the destruction of human embryos, great compassion has truly been shown to those in need. . .
"For all of us Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word of God is the supreme Messenger of Hope. He is the supreme Liberator of those in the captivity of violence, sin and death. As He brings glad tidings to humanity, proclaims liberty to captives, and frees the oppressed, He invites us all to renewed prayer and commitment in the cause of respecting, protecting, loving and serving every human life. Tonight, through His Spirit dwelling in our hearts and working through our efforts, He Himself reassures us that life will be victorious! Amen."
Pope Benedict XVI issued his message for the next World Youth Day on January 27. His message follows:
"On the occasion of the 22nd World Youth Day that will be celebrated in the dioceses on Palm Sunday, I would like to propose for your meditation the words of Jesus: 'Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another' (Jn 13:34).
Is it possible to love?
"Everybody feels the longing to love and to be loved. Yet, how difficult it is to love, and how many mistakes and failures have to be reckoned with in love! There are those who even come to doubt that love is possible. But if emotional delusions or lack of affection can cause us to think that love is utopian, an impossible dream, should we then become resigned? No! Love is possible, and the purpose of my message is to help reawaken in each one of you you who are the future and hope of humanity, trust in a love that is true, faithful and strong; a love that generates peace and joy; a love that binds people together and allows them to feel free in respect for one another. Let us now go on a journey together in three stages, as we embark on a 'discovery' of love.
God, the source of love
"The first stage concerns the source of true love. There is only one source, and that is God. Saint John makes this clear when he declares that 'God is love' (1 Jn 4:8,16). He was not simply saying that God loves us, but that the very being of God is love. Here we find ourselves before the most dazzling revelation of the source of love, the mystery of the Trinity: in God, one and triune, there is an everlasting exchange of love between the persons of the Father and the Son, and this love is not an energy or a sentiment, but it is a person; it is the Holy Spirit.
The Cross of Christ fully reveals the love of God
"How is God-Love revealed to us? We have now reached the second stage of our journey. Even though the signs of divine love are already clearly present in creation, the full revelation of the intimate mystery of God came to us through the Incarnation when God himself became man. In Christ, true God and true Man, we have come to know love in all its magnitude. In fact, as I wrote in the Encyclical Deus caritas est, 'the real novelty of the New Testament lies not so much in new ideas as in the figure of Christ himself, who gives flesh and blood to those concepts . . . The manifestation of divine love is total and perfect in the Cross where, we are told by Saint Paul, 'God proves His love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us' (Rm 5:8). Therefore, each one of us can truly say: 'Christ loved me and gave Himself up for me' (cf Eph 5:2). Redeemed by His blood, no human life is useless or of little value, because each of us is loved personally by Him with a passionate and faithful love, a love without limits. The Cross, for the world a folly, for many believers a scandal-, is in fact the 'wisdom of God' for those who allow themselves to be touched right to the innermost depths of their being, 'for God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength' (1 Cor 1:25). Moreover, the Crucifix, which after the Resurrection would carry forever the marks of his passion, exposes the 'distortions' and lies about God that underlie violence, vengeance and exclusion. Christ is the Lamb of God who takes upon himself the sins of the world and eradicates hatred from the heart of humankind. This is the true 'revolution' that He brings about: love.
Loving our neighbour as Christ loves us
"Now we have arrived at the third stage of our reflection. Christ cried out from the Cross: 'I am thirsty' (Jn 19:28). This shows us his burning thirst to love and to be loved by each one of us. It is only by coming to perceive the depth and intensity of such a mystery that we can realise the need and urgency to love him as He has loved us. This also entails the commitment to even give our lives, if necessary, for our brothers and sisters sustained by love for Him. God had already said in the Old Testament: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself' (Lev 19:18), but the innovation introduced by Christ is the fact that to love as He loves us means loving everyone without distinction, even our enemies, 'to the end' (cf Jn 13:1).
Witnesses to the love of Christ
"I would like to linger for a moment on three areas of daily life where you, my dear young friends, are particularly called to demonstrate the love of God. The first area is the Church, our spiritual family, made up of all the disciples of Christ. Mindful of His words: 'By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another' (Jn 13:35), you should stimulate, with your enthusiasm and charity, the activities of the parishes, the communities, the ecclesial movements and the youth groups to which you belong. Be attentive in your concern for the welfare of others, faithful to the commitments you have made. Do not hesitate to joyfully abstain from some of your entertainments; cheerfully accept the necessary sacrifices; testify to your faithful love for Jesus by proclaiming his Gospel, especially among young people of your age.
Preparing for the future
"The second area, where you are called to express your love and grow in it, is your preparation for the future that awaits you. If you are engaged to be married, God has a project of love for your future as a couple and as a family. Therefore, it is essential that you discover it with the help of the Church, free from the common prejudice that says that Christianity with its commandments and prohibitions places obstacles to the joy of love and impedes you from fully enjoying the happiness that a man and woman seek in their reciprocal love. The love of a man and woman is at the origin of the human family and the couple formed by a man and a woman has its foundation in God's original plan (cf Gen 2:18-25). Learning to love each other as a couple is a wonderful journey, yet it requires a demanding 'apprenticeship.' The period of engagement, very necessary in order to form a couple, is a time of expectation and preparation that needs to be lived in purity of gesture and words. It allows you to mature in love, in concern and in attention for each other; it helps you to practice self-control and to develop your respect for each other. These are the characteristics of true love that does not place emphasis on seeking its own satisfaction or its own welfare. In your prayer together, ask the Lord to watch over and increase your love and to purify it of all selfishness. Do not hesitate to respond generously to the Lord's call, for Christian matrimony is truly and wholly a vocation in the Church. Likewise, dear young men and women, be ready to say 'yes' if God should call you to follow the path of ministerial priesthood or the consecrated life. Your example will be one of encouragement for many of your peers who are seeking true happiness.
Growing in love each day
"The third area of commitment that comes with love is that of daily life with its multiple relationships. I am particularly referring to family, studies, work and free time. Dear young friends, cultivate your talents, not only to obtain a social position, but also to help others to 'grow.' Develop your capacities, not only in order to become more 'competitive' and 'productive,' but to be 'witnesses of charity.' In addition to your professional training, also make an effort to acquire religious knowledge that will help you to carry out your mission in a responsible way. In particular, I invite you to carefully study the social doctrine of the Church so that its principles may inspire and guide your action in the world. May the Holy Spirit make you creative in charity, persevering in your commitments, and brave in your initiatives, so that you will be able to offer your contribution to the building up of the 'civilization of love.' The horizon of love is truly boundless: it is the whole world!
'Dare to love' by following the example of the saints
"My dear young friends, I want to invite you to 'dare to love.' Do not desire anything less for your life than a love that is strong and beautiful and that is capable of making the whole of your existence a joyful undertaking of giving yourselves as a gift to God and your brothers and sisters, in imitation of the One who vanquished hatred and death forever through love (cf Rev 5:13). Love is the only force capable of changing the heart of the human person and of all humanity, by making fruitful the relations between men and women, between rich and poor, between cultures and civilizations. This is shown to us in the lives of the saints. They are true friends of God who channel and reflect this very first love. Try to know them better, entrust yourselves to their intercession, and strive to live as they did. I shall just mention Mother Teresa. In order to respond instantly to the cry of Jesus, 'I thirst,' a cry that had touched her deeply, she began to take in the people who were dying on the streets of Calcutta in India. From that time onward, the only desire of her life was to quench the thirst of love felt by Jesus, not with words, but with concrete action by recognising His disfigured countenance thirsting for love in the faces of the poorest of the poor. Blessed Teresa put the teachings of the Lord into practice: 'Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me' (Mt 25:40). The message of this humble witness of divine love has spread around the whole world.
The secret of love
"Each one of us, my dear friends, has been given the possibility of reaching this same level of love, but only by having recourse to the indispensable support of divine Grace. Only the Lord's help will allow us to keep away from resignation when faced with the enormity of the task to be undertaken. It instills in us the courage to accomplish that which is humanly inconceivable. Contact with the Lord in prayer grounds us in the humility and reminds us that we are 'unworthy servants' (cf Lk 17:10). Above all, the Eucharist is the great school of love. When we participate regularly and with devotion in Holy Mass, when we spend a sustained time of adoration in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, it is easier to understand the length, breadth, height and depth of his love that goes beyond all knowledge (cf Eph 3:17-18). By sharing the Eucharistic Bread with our brothers and sisters of the Church community, we feel compelled, like Our Lady with Elizabeth, to render 'in haste' the love of Christ into generous service towards our brothers and sisters.
Towards the encounter in Sydney
"On this subject, the recommendation of the apostle John is illuminating: 'Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth' (1 Jn 3: 18-19). Dear young people, it is in this spirit that I invite you to experience the next World Youth Day together with your bishops in your respective dioceses. This will be an important stage on the way to the meeting in Sydney where the theme will be: 'You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses' (Acts 1:8). May Mary, the Mother of Christ and of the Church, help you to let that cry ring out everywhere, the cry that has changed the world: 'God is love!' I am together with you all in prayer and extend to you my heartfelt blessing."
Fred H. Summe, vice president of Northern Kentucky Right to Life
In his 1968 Encyclical, Humane Vitae, Pope Paul VI predicted that the use of artificial contraception would not only lead to "conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality," but that man would lose respect for women, considering each of them "as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, no longer as his respected and beloved companion."
In 1995, Pope John Paul II warned of the "hedonistic and commercial culture which encourages the systematic exploitation of sexuality and corrupts even very young girls into letting their bodies be used for profit."
However, our sex-crazed society has gone beyond the point of young girls "letting" their bodies be used for exploitation. We have now entered an era of coercion, a growing epidemic of slavery.
It is not just in the remote areas of third world nations, but also here in the United States.
"Maintained by force, fraud, coercion, and imprisonment, sex slavery is the fastest growing and most hideous form of modern-day human bondage. Sex slavery is growing fastest in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union," reports Catholic World Report in a two-part series. The magazine states, "Of the estimated 17,500 victims trafficked into the US each year, it is believed that 80 percent are female, and 50 percent of them are children. Most end up as slaves in brutal sexual exploitation of various kinds."
The magazine reports on sex gangs in California enslaving young teenagers into prostitution and strip clubs.
The Catholic World Report relates that in 2005 over 50 young illegal immigrant girls were forced to have sex with 300 to 500 men a day near San Diego, resulting in traffickers making up to $10,000 per day.
The articles go on to report on the growing "sex tourism business," where men travel to certain locations for the purpose of engaging in pornography, prostitution, and homosexuality. Such sex destinations are not only throughout the world, especially in Southeast Asia, but can also be found in the United States. According to the National Institute of Justice, the most vulnerable area for sex trafficking is St. Paul and the Minneapolis area, which has a high number of strip clubs, homosexual places, prostitution rings, and speedy sex shops called "chicken shacks."
According to The Catholic World Report, the Vatican states that over half a million women from Eastern Europe have been forced into prostitution in Western Europe.
The Root of the Problem
How a society reviews the gift of sex, influences what many in society think. How we think will determine what activities we will undertake. And what activities we engage in will have an effect on other people.
As our culture becomes more entrenched with the concept that sexual activity is not something that should be reserved for a husband and wife, sexual pleasure becomes a "necessity," which one should not deny oneself. Any activity which one finds "sexually satisfying" is pursued no matter what it may inflict on oneself or on another.
Men, caught up with the world of perverted sex, deaden their conscience to giving their money to an industry which produces child pornography. A man seeking the "services" of a prostitute, to satisfy his ever-growing sexual desire, has no concern how the young girl has come to be so "willing" to engage in sex in exchange for a few dollars.
It is those people, especially men, willing to spend their money on pornography, homosexual activity, and prostitution, who have created a demand for sexual slavery, a demand which is being fulfilled at the cost of unbelievable suffering on behalf of many women and young children.
As our culture abandons the Judeo-Christian principles of the sanctity of human life, we cannot be surprised that the exportation for sexual pleasure of women and young children will ensue.
What a Faith!
A 19-year-old Zambian, Given, who was freed in Texas, stated, " if the public is not educated about this, slavery will continue to destroy thousands of lives." The amazing character of this young man who has suffered so much is revealed in his statement to The Catholic World Report:
"Why was I used and exploited? Through all the obstacles, I know He was there for me. Because I have forgiven my traffickers, the burden of my past has been lifted. Without Jesus by my side, I would not have lived through this time. I have moved past the time in my life when I was a victim, and now I am a survivor of human trafficking."
He. . .did not spare His own Son, but handed Him over for us all. . .
Romans 8:32 (N.A.B.)
by Louis Templeman
(Editor's note: Mr. Templeman writes from prison and is a student at Guadalupe Bible College, one of the ministries in Presentation Ministries. We welcome contributions from prisoners. We would like to hear from a variety of prisoners.)
Many of us, if we are honest, believe that God the Father is cruel. the deaths and oppression of the innocent and powerless cause us to respond, if God is good why all this evil and injustice? Some even complain that Jesus' death on the cross was excessively cruel. Or, at least, the arbitrary work of rigid justice.
Theology tells us that man in his sinful state owed God a debt. The cruel death of Christ satisfied this debt. This cold theological formulation easily sets off a secret repulsion against the Father who stayed and impassive spectator while His son died as a ransom.
A prominent stream of psychology declares that every son has a secret desire to kill his own father. I recall one of my psychology professors stating, "your main job as adults is to kill your parents." He used this shocking metaphor to make some point about attaining independence or self-actualization. If you think back on the "God is dead" movement, not too many years ago, it would appear these ideas about the human fathers were transferred to the heavenly Father.
Why the resentment against God the Father? Perhaps, because man suffers and God does not. Many people state they cannot accept a God who allows so much suffering. Yes, God allows suffering, but is He impassionately removed? Does He not suffer too?
Consider the story of Abraham offering up Isaac in the text of Genesis 22. Abraham, a kind of symbol for God, walked his son in silence towards Mt. Moriah. Imagine the pain gripping this old father's heart when Isaac asked, "Father, the fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb?" What pain, what conflict must have gripped his heart. What violence did he have to do to himself to keep from betraying God's explicit order to kill his son.
What were the Father's feeling when at Gethsemane Jesus prayed, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me. . ." (Mk 14:36). What piercing effect did this cry have on the Father's heart? The Father and His Son were together during His passion and His suffering on the cross. Was Jesus not nailed to the will of God, held upon that wood by the arms of God?
The ultimate cause of God's suffering comes down to these few words: God's love and man's freedom. Every parent who has experienced the corruption and ingratitude of their children know what it means to be held in contempt by the people they love. In response to this universal contempt, God devised away, a wonderful plan for us all of us, the whole world to return to a warm saving relationship with God.
God's love and delight over our return to Him is even much more wonderful than what we read in Jesus' parable of the prodigal son. The father in the story is so excited and overwhelmed at the return of his penitent son that he throws a party in his honor. The bitter, jealous elder brother, however, does not speak of Jesus. In fact, Jesus is just the opposite. He anticipates the Fathers will. Hebrews 10:5,7,10 speak of Christ:
Sacrifice and offering you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me. . . Then I said, "See, God, I have come to do Your will."
It is impossible for us to understand the interaction between the heavenly Father and the Son of God. But this we can know. Christ suffered. And, the Father suffered with Him.
Does this pain a more complete picture of the words, "God did not spare" His only begotten Son? He did not keep Jesus as a jealous treasure for Himself. The Father received the Son's sacrifice, but first He made the sacrifice of giving us His Son.
A child who is secure in his father's love is better positioned to grow up strong, secure and well-balanced. This is a security most of us have not. Most of us missed it with our own fathers. And, it is doubtful we enjoy it now as we should. If we cannot speak confidently a "Daddy" or "Abba" to our Father then we are defacto fatherless Christians. What a contradiction!
Once while swinging one of my daughters a little more enthusiastically than my mother was comfortable watching, she exclaiming, "Honey, weren't you scared?" My daughter replied, "No, Grandma, Daddy was holding me."
This is the attitude God longs to see in us. He did not spare His own Son for us. Nothing can separate us from the Love of God. Not hardship, or distress, or persecution, or nakedness, or peril. . . "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who Love us" (Romans 8:31-37).
Many of us are tormented by fear, cowardice, and discouragement. And, it doesn't help if secretly in our hearts we see God as a distant, cruel, harsh Judge. God's love is immeasurable and incomprehensible. We have not received from God the spirit of slaves who run in fear, but the trusting spirit of children who called out, "Abba, Father." Those who call God, "Daddy, are on their way to a victorious boldness of faith.
We look to Jesus, our elder brother and ask Him, "Help us, Jesus. What can we do to be worthy of our Father who is so loving and has suffered so for us?" And, Jesus looks down from His cross and He tells us to do what He did. Trust in God. Have confidence in Him. Trust Him against everything. Against everyone. Against yourself. When you are at the point of giving up, when you are suffocating under the tribulations of life, cry out, "O my God, I trust in You. I do not always understand You, but I will always trust You."
Romans 8:32 (in full) says:
He who did not spare His own Son but handed Him over for us all, how will He not also give us everything else along with Him.
What is it that the Father who suffered for you wants to give you? Everything! Come to Him. Trust Him.
WASHINGTON Bishop Thomas G. Wenski, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) international policy committee, has urged National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley to work more aggressively with the United Nations and neighboring African countries to address increasing violence in Somalia.
"'Rising tensions, militarization and a lack of genuine dialogue have created a situation where a major conflict has become increasingly likely,' Bishop Wenski said in a letter to Mr. Hadley dated December 5, 'Military action is not the solution to this problem. Civilians, especially women and children, would bear the brunt of any violence, and the people of the region could suffer many deaths and massive displacement.'
"Calling for 'patient, long-term diplomacy, peace building and humanitarian support,' Bishop Wenski recommended that the U.S. government engage with Somalia's transitional federal government, the Council of Somali Islamic Courts (CSIC) and neighboring states to stop the escalation of conflicts and publicly endorse peace talks scheduled for mid-December. The U.N. and international community should also 'increase diplomatic efforts aimed at reducing tensions, promoting dialogue, and supporting concrete steps to reduce the potential for war,' he said. (Source: US Conference of Catholic Bishops)
VATICAN CITY In his Angelus message on Sunday, January 21, which occurred during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Pope Benedict XVI said:
"The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity...reminds us that ecumenism is a profound dialogical experience, a listening and speaking to one another, knowing one another better; it is a task within everyone's reach, especially when it concerns spiritual ecumenism, based on prayer and sharing which is now possible among Christians.
"I hope that the longing for unity, expressed in prayer and brotherly collaboration to alleviate human suffering, may spread increasingly in parishes and ecclesial movements as well as among Religious institutes...
"More generally, I am grateful to all who pray and work for unity with conviction and constancy in every part of the world. May Mary, Mother of the Church, help all the faithful to allow themselves in their innermost depths to be opened by Christ to reciprocal communication in charity and in truth, to become one heart and one soul (cf. Acts 4:32) in Him." (Source: L'Osservatore Romano English edition)
VATICAN CITY After his Angelus message on January 28, Pope Benedict XVI issued the following appeal for peace:
". . . In recent days violence has returned to bathe Lebanon in blood. It is unacceptable that this road be taken to support one's political motives. I feel deep distress for that beloved people. I know that many Lebanese are afflicted by the temptation to abandon all hope and feel, as it were, disoriented by what is happening.
"I make my own the strong words spoken by H.B. Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir to denounce the fratricidal clashes. With him and with the other religious leaders, I invoke God's help so that all the Lebanese without distinction might be able and willing to work together to make their homeland a true common home, overcoming those selfish attitudes that prevent one from taking proper care of one's Country. . .To the Christians of Lebanon I repeat the exhortation to be champions of an authentic dialogue between the various communities, as I invoke upon all the protection of Our Lady of Lebanon.
"I also hope that the violence in the Gaza Strip may end as soon as possible. I would like to express my spiritual closeness to the entire population and to assure the people of my prayers that the desire to work together for the common good, choosing peaceful ways to settle the differences and tensions, may prevail in everyone." (Source: L'Osservatore Romano English edition)
The St. John Passion Play began in 1918 at St. John the Baptist Church in Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati, Ohio. Like America's oldest in Union City, New Jersey, it was originally meant as a prayer offering, especially for our soldiers and a response to Pope Benedict XV's plea for prayers for peace (World War I). Both were modeled after the much more elaborate and much older passion play of Oberammergau, Bavaria.
Ommerammergau's began in 1634 after its survival through the bubonic plague. It now involves thousands of villagers, but it only performed once a decade. Union City's began at Holy Family Church in 1915 and is annual, but has for some time been out of the Park Performing Arts Center, using 1980's style music and charging admission. In 1997 it gained fame and infamy with an African-American Jesus. Greater Cincinnati's however still remains all volunteer and completely free.
it is requested however that those wishing to attend call 859-391-0129 for seating reservations. This year's performances will be March 11 at 3 p.m., March 17 at 7 p.m., and March 18 at 3 p.m. at Lockland Christian Church, 231 Mill St., Lockland, and March 24 at 7 p.m., March 25 at 3 p.m., and April 1 at 3 p.m. at St. Augustine Church, Euclid Avenue, Covington.
In the Fifties, after the Oberammergau production was reported associated with Nazi anti-Semitism, the script was changed. In 1969 St. John's was closed and the players had to incorporate. The play has had to relocate many times since, including Mt. Notre Dame High School, Emery auditorium, Westwood Town Hall, and Pleasant Ridge Presbyterian.
In 1991 it was edited again this time to better conform with the guidelines of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the advice of Rev. Ronald Kettler, Thomas More College professor of theology.
Richard Parker explains the play's message by saying, "It's not a play about what 'they' did to our Lord. It's about what our Lord did for us." And as we still have wars to deal with, what He still is doing.
Over the years changes have been made in the script such as better distinguishing between the Seder (the Jewish Passover meal) and the Last Supper, or giving all, not just a few, of the apostles lines.
Pontius Pilate "He has changed from a man who caves to the will of the people to one who is in control and manipulative of the crowd," Don Schlosser says. The words of Jesus however continue to all be taken directly from the Bible.
The hundred-plus members of the cast and crew come from different walks of life. They have many different style of worship. All however strive to make come alive the Scripture, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (john 3:16).
"That's why this play's just a relevant as ever." Don Schlosser says. "It's a Cincinnati tradition," Judy Hughes says. If you saw it with your parents or grandparents, she urges, share it with your own children or grandchildren. "It's a good preparation for Easter and is never the same. We always make it better!"
"There's an intense dependence on one another, a trust." Parker explains. "And sometimes the trust is compromised, when someone shows up late or intoxicated or not at all," which have all happened.
It has become not just a Lenten tradition to view the play as a family, but many take part in the play as family, for two or three generations of some families. Children who have been literally raised in the wings often know every word of dialogue and wait years to get on stage. The cast and crew are family.
After the play it has also become traditional for them all to approach the cross. "Some genuflect. Some touch the cross of crowns. Some cry," Parker says. "I can tell that they're touched. They go from, 'Now we're playing the parts to now we're approaching the cross as ourselves.' They go from 2,000 years ago to present day."
Because we are sons and daughters of God, saved by Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we do not merely read the news but make the news. We direct the course of world events by faith expressed in action and intercession. Please pray for the stories covered in this paper. Clip out this intercessory list and make it part of your daily prayer.
Published by: Presentation Ministries, 3230 McHenry Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45211, (513) 662-5378, www.presentationministries.com