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The Word of Life – April 2016

Truly I tell u, just as u did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, u did it to me. [Mt 25:40]

 

After having loved Jesus all day long in our brothers and sisters, we feel such a union with God when we pray in the evening! We have loved him in those around us and now we find him loving us!

Why are these words of Jesus so dear to us and why do they come back time and again in the Words of Life we choose each month? Perhaps it is because they are the heart of the Gospel. They are what the Lord will ask us when in the end we find ourselves in front of him. On these words will hinge the most important exam of our lives; and we can get ready for it every single day.

The Lord will ask whether we have given food and drink to whoever was hungry and thirsty, whether we have welcomed strangers, whether we have clothed the naked, visited the sick and prisoners… It is a question of little acts, which yet have the value of eternity. Nothing is small if done for love, if done for him.

Jesus indeed did not just come close to the poor and marginalized; he healed the sick and comforted the suffering. But he loved them with a preferential love, to the point of calling them members of his family, of identifying himself with them in a mysterious solidarity.

Today too Jesus is still present in whoever suffers injustice and violence, in whoever is looking for work or living in a risky situation, in whoever is forced to leave his or her homeland because of war. How many people are in pain around us for all sorts of other reasons and call out, even without words, for our help! They are Jesus who asks for practical love, a love capable of inventing new ‘works of mercy’ in keeping with new needs.

No one is excluded. If a person who is old or sick is Jesus, how can we not seek what could give the necessary relief? If I teach my language to an immigrant child, I teach Jesus. If I help my mother clean the house, I help Jesus. If I bring hope to a prisoner or consolation to someone who is afflicted or forgiveness to someone who has hurt me, I build a relationship with Jesus. And every time the fruit will be not only giving joy to the other person, but I too will feel a great joy. By giving we receive, we sense an inner fullness, we feel happy because, even though we do not know it, we have met Jesus. The other person, as Chiara Lubich wrote, is the archway we pass under to reach God.

This is how she recalls the impact of this Word of Life from the first moments of her experience:

‘All of our old way of thinking about our neighbours and loving them collapsed. If Christ was in some way in everyone, we could not discriminate, we could not have preferences. Our human notions that classified others were thrown up into the air: compatriot or foreigner, old or young, attractive or ugly, nice or nasty, rich or poor, Christ was behind each one, Christ was in each one. And in reality each brother or sister was “another Christ”…

Living like this we realized that our neighbour was for us the path to God. Or rather, our brother or sister was like an archway that we had to go under to meet God.

We experienced this from the earliest days. What union with God in the evening, when we prayed, or when we recollected ourselves after having loved him all day in our brothers and sisters! Who gave us that consolation, that inner union that was so new, so heavenly, if not Christ who lived the “give, and it will be given to you” of his Gospel? We had loved him all day in our brothers and sisters and here he was now, loving us.’

by: Fabio Ciardi

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The Word of Life – March 2016

‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’ (Lk 10:9). 

God’s kingdom is Jesus present among us. We experience this when we love one another. He is almighty and conquers every evil.

This is what the Jews of the time of Jesus were waiting for: the arrival of God’s kingdom. As soon as he began going around the villages and towns, Jesus started to proclaim: ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’ (Lk 10:9).

Then immediately after that: ‘ The kingdom of God has come to you’; ‘the kingdom of God is among you’ (Lk 17:21).

In the person of Jesus, God’s very self had come into the midst of God’s people and, decisively and with strength, taken back control of history so as to lead it to its goal. Jesus’s miracles were a sign of this. In the person of Jesus, God’s very self had come into the midst of God’s people and, decisively and with strength, taken back control of history so as to lead it to its goal. Jesus’s miracles were a sign of this.

In the Gospel passage that this Word of Life comes from, Jesus had just healed a man who was mute, freeing him from the devil who held him prisoner. It was the demonstration that he had come to conquer evil, every evil, and finally establish the kingdom of God.

This term ‘the kingdom of God’ was the Jewish people’s way of saying that God acted for the sake of Israel, freeing the people from every form of slavery and evil, guiding them to justice and peace, flooding them with joy and good things. This was the act of that God who Jesus revealed as ‘Father’ – mysterious, loving and full of compassion, aware of the needs and sufferings of each of his children.
We too need to hear Jesus’s proclamation:

‘The kingdom of God has come to you.’

Looking around us we often have the impression that the world is dominated by evil, that the violent and the corrupt have the upper hand. At times we feel ourselves at the mercy of hostile forces, of dangerous events stronger than we are. We feel impotent in the face of wars and environmental calamity, of massacres and climate change, of migration and financial and economic crises.

Yet this is where Jesus’s proclamation is set. It invites us to believe that he, right now, is conquering evil and is establishing a new world.
In the month of March twenty five years ago, speaking to thousands of young people, Chiara Lubich entrusted them with her dream, ‘it is possible to make the world a better place…. almost a single family, as if belonging to just one country.’ Then as now this looked like a utopia. For the dream to become reality, however, she invited them to live mutual love, in the certainty that acting like this they would have had ‘Christ among you, Christ himself, the Almighty, and from him u can hope for all things.’

Yes, it is he who is the kingdom of God.

And so, what do we do? Act in such a way as to have him always in our midst. Chiara went on to say: He himself will work with you in your countries because he will, in a certain way, come again into the world wherever you meet, because you will make him present through your mutual love, through your unity.
And he will enlighten you about all that is to be done. He will guide you, he will sustain you, he will be your strength, your fervour, your joy.
Because of him, the world around you will be converted to living in harmony; every division will be healed… .
Love, therefore, love among you and love sown in many corners of the earth among individuals, among groups, among nations; love sown by every means possible so that the invasion of love, of which we have spoken at times in the past, may become a reality and so that, also through your contribution, the civilization of love we all await may begin to take on solid form.
You have been called to this, and you will see great things.

Fabio Ciardi

 

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Word of Life : November 2015

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‘That they may all be one’ (Jn 17:21)

We can share God’s own dream and, as Jesus did, live and pray for unity. It will lead us down his path of death and resurrection together with him.

This is the last, heartfelt prayer that Jesus spoke to the Father. He knew he was asking the thing closest to his heart. God, indeed, created humanity as his family, to give it every good thing, sharing his very own divine life. What do parents dream for their children if not that they should care for one another, help one another, live united with one another? And what saddens them more than seeing their children divided by jealousy or money matters, even to the point of not speaking to each other? God too has dreamt from all eternity of a family of his own living united as children in a communion of love with him and with one another.

The Bible’s dramatic origin story speaks to us of sin and of the progressive break-up of the human family. As we read in the book of Genesis, the man accused the woman, Cain killed his own brother, Lamech took pride in his exaggerated vendetta, Babel generated misunderstanding and the separation of peoples… God’s project looked like a failure.

Nonetheless, he did not give in and with determination sought the reunification of his family. The story begins again with Noah, with the choice of Abraham, with the birth of the chosen people. And so it goes on, to the point of deciding to send his Son to earth entrusted with a great mission: to gather into one family the separated children, to welcome the lost sinners into a single fold, to break down the walls of separation and the hostilities among peoples to create one new people (see Eph 2:14-16).

God does not cease to dream of unity, and for this reason Jesus asks it of him as the greatest gift he can implore for all of us – ‘Father, I pray

That they may all be one.

Every family looks like its parents. So too the family of God. God is Love not only because he loves what he creates; but he is Love in himself, in mutual giving and communion, lived out by each of the three divine Persons with the others.

Therefore when God created the human race he made it in his image and likeness and he impressed upon it the same capacity for relationship, so that every person may live in mutual self-giving. A more complete version of the words in the prayer of Jesus that we want to live this month, in fact, says:

‘that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.’

The model for our unity is nothing less than the unity that exists between the Father and Jesus. It seems impossible, so profound is it. It is, however, made possible by that ‘As’, which means also ‘Because’. We can be united as the Father and Jesus are united because they draw us into their own unity, they give it to us as a gift.

‘That they may all be one.’

Precisely this is the work of Jesus, making all of us one, as he is with the Father, one single family, one people. To do this he made himself one of us, took upon himself all our divisions and our sins, nailing them to the cross.

He himself pointed out the way he would take to bring us to unity: ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself’ (Jn 12:32). As the High Priest had prophesied, he had to die ‘to gather into one the dispersed children of God’ (Jn 11:52). In his mystery of death and resurrection, he has gathered up all things into himself (see Eph 1:10), has recreated the unity broken by sin, has remade the family around the Father and has made us again brothers and sisters of one another.

Jesus has completed his mission. What is left now is our part, our participation, our ‘yes’ to his prayer:

‘That they may all be one.’

What is our contribution to fulfilling this prayer?

In the first place we have to make it our own. We can offer our lips and heart to Jesus so that he can continue speaking these words to the Father and with trust we can repeat his prayer every day. Unity is a gift from above, to be asked with faith, without ever growing tired.

More than this it must be constantly at the forefront of our thoughts and wishes. If this is God’s dream, we want it to be ours as well. Periodically and before every decision, every choice, every action, we can ask ourselves: does this help to build unity, is it the best thing to do to bring about unity?

And finally we ought to run to wherever disunity is most evident and take it upon ourselves as Jesus did. There may be friction in our family or among people we know, tensions in our neighbourhood, disagreements at work, in the parish, among the Churches. Never shy away from dissension and incomprehension, never be indifferent, but take to them our love that becomes listening, attention to the other person, sharing in the pain that results from that open wound.

And above all live in unity with whoever is open to sharing Jesus’s ideal and prayer, without giving weight to misunderstandings or contrasting ideas, but content with ‘what is less perfect in unity more than what is more perfect in disunity’, accepting the differences with joy, indeed considering them richnesses for a unity that is never a reduction to uniformity.

Yes, at times this will put us on the cross, but is it precisely the way Jesus chose to remake the unity of the human family, the way we too wish to walk with him.

Fabio Ciardi

 

Word of Life – October 2015

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’

 (Jn 13:35).

John 13,35

 We can be like the first Christians and replicate their dramatic effect on society around them, if we live like them. For this we must focus on the Gospel’s core message and love one another in the power and the style of Jesus.

Here we have the badge, the mark, the typical brand of Christians. Or at least it ought to be, because Jesus saw his community in this way.

A fascinating text from Christianity’s early centuries, the Letter to Diognetus, recognizes that

‘Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life.’ They are ordinary people, just the same as others. And yet they have a secret and it allows them to influence society profoundly, becoming as it were its ‘soul’ (see chs 5-6).

It is a secret that Jesus passed on to his disciples shortly before dying. Like the ancient sages of Israel, like a father for his child, so too he, the Master of Wisdom, left as his legacy the art of knowing how to live and to live well. He had taken it directly from the Father: ‘I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father’ Jn 15:15), and it was the fruit of the relationship between them. It consisted in loving one another. This is his Last Will and Testament, the life of heaven that he brought to earth, which he shares with us so that it can become our very own life. He wants this to be the identity of his disciples, who should be recognizable as his followers by their mutual love:

‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

Are Jesus’s disciples recognized by their mutual love? ‘The history of the Church is a history of holiness’ wrote John Paul II. Nonetheless ‘history also records events which constitute a counter-testimony to Christianity’ (Incarnationis Mysterium, 11). For centuries, in the name of Jesus, Christians have fought endless wars with one another and their divisions continue. There are people who still today associate Christians with the Crusades, with the Inquisition, or who see them as the defenders to the bitter end of an outdated morality, and as opposing the progress of science.

It was not like that for the new-born community of the first Christians in Jerusalem. People admired the communion of goods they practised, the unity that reigned among them, the ‘glad and generous hearts’ that characterized them (see Acts 2:46). In the Acts of the Apostles we read that ‘the people held them in high esteem’ so that more and more ‘believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women’ (Acts 5:13-14). The living witness of the community had a powerful attraction. Why today are we not known as people who stand out because of their love? What have we done with the commandment of Jesus?

 

‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

Traditionally, in Roman Catholic circles, the month of October is dedicated to mission, to reflecting upon the command of Jesus to go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel, to pray for and support those who are in the frontline. This Word of Life could be a help for all to put into focus the fundamental dimension of every Christian proclamation. It is not about imposing faith on others, nor proselytism, nor a self-serving handout of aid to the poor so that they will be converted. Neither is it primarily a matter of the challenge to defend moral values or a firm stand against injustice and war, even though such stances are a duty the Christian cannot evade.

Before all else the Christian proclamation is a witness of life that every disciple of Jesus must offer personally. People in the modern world ‘listen more willingly to witnesses than to teachers’ (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41). Even persons hostile to the Church are often touched by the example of those who dedicate their lives to the sick and the poor and who are ready to leave their homelands, going far away to the toughest places and offering help and solidarity to those in most need.

But above all the witness Jesus requires is that of a whole community which demonstrates the truth of the Gospel. It must show that the life he brought really can generate a new society, where we live genuinely as brothers and sisters, helping and serving one another, collectively attentive to the most fragile and needy.

The life of the Church has seen these kinds of witness, such as the settlements for indigenous peoples built by Franciscans and Jesuits in South America, or monasteries with the townships that grew up around them. Today too ecclesial Movements and communities give life to little towns of witness where it is possible to see signs of a new society, the fruit of Gospel life, of mutual love.

‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

Without abandoning our homes and the persons we know, if among us we live that unity which Jesus gave his life for, we can create an alternative way of living and sow seeds of hope and new life around us. A family that every day renews their will to live mutual love in a practical way can become a ray of light in the mutual indifference of a housing block or a district. An ‘environmental cell’, in other words two or more persons who agree to put into practice the demands of the Gospel with total commitment – in the field of their work, at school, in local government offices, in administrative buildings, in a prison – will cut through the logic of the struggle for power and create a collaborative atmosphere that favours the birth of true fraternity, a fraternity previously unhoped-for.

Did not the first Christians behave like this at the time of the Roman Empire? Is not this the way they spread the transformative new life of Christianity? In our own day it is we who are the ‘first Christians’, called, as they were, to forgive one another, to see each other as always new, to help one another – in a word, to love one another with the intensity that Jesus loved us, in the certainty that his presence in our midst has the strength to draw others too into the divine logic of love.

Fabio Ciardi

Word of Life – Jul 2015

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Take courage; I have conquered the world!’ (Jn 16:33)

These words conclude Jesus’s ‘Farewell Discourse’ to his disciples at the last supper, on the eve of his being handed over to those who were to put him to death. They had had an intense conversation in which Jesus had revealed the inner truth about his relationship with the Father and the mission the Father had entrusted to him.

Jesus is about to leave the earth and return to the Father, while his disciples will remain in the world to carry on his work. They too, like him, will be hated, persecuted, even put to death (see Jn 15:18, 20; 16:2). Theirs will be a difficult mission just as his had been. Jesus is well aware of the difficulties and the trials his friends will have to face. He had just told them: ‘In the world you will face persecution’ (Jn 16:33).

Jesus is speaking to the apostles gathered around him for the last supper, but he is thinking of all the generations of disciples who would follow him throughout the centuries, including us.

It’s so true! Even while joy is spread all along the path we follow, there is no lack of ‘persecution’ and sufferings. We experience uncertainty about the future, job insecurity, poverty and sickness, suffering as a result of natural disasters and wars, violence at home and among nations. There are in addition the persecutions that come as a result of being Christians: the daily struggle to be faithful to the Gospel, the feeling of impotence before a society that seems indifferent to the message of God, mockery, scorn and sometimes open persecution by those who do not understand or oppose the Church.

Jesus knows about ‘persecutions’ having experienced them at first hand.

Take courage; I have conquered the world!’ (Jn 16:33)

This statement, which is so decisive and confident, looks like a contradiction. How can Jesus say that he has conquered the world when a few minutes later he is going to be imprisoned, whipped, condemned, killed in the cruellest and most shameful manner? More than having conquered, it looks as if he was betrayed, denied, reduced to nothing, and so defeated – utterly.

What is the nature of his victory? It came about, certainly, in the resurrection. Death cannot hold him. His victory is so powerful that he makes us share in it too. He makes himself present among us and he takes us with him to full life, the new creation.

But even before that, his victory was the very act of his greatest love in giving his life for us. He, in defeat, triumphed fully. Penetrating every corner of death, he freed us from all that oppresses us, and he transformed all that is negative in us, our every darkness and pain, into a meeting with him, with God, Love, fullness.

Paul, whenever he thought of Jesus’s victory, seemed to go mad with joy. If Jesus, he would affirm, had faced every setback, including even the supreme challenge of his death, and he had won, then we too, with him and in him, can overcome every difficulty, and indeed, thanks to his love, we are ‘more than conquerors’: ‘For I am convinced that neither death, nor life … nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom 8:38-39; see 1 Cor 15:57).

We are invited by Jesus, therefore, to fear nothing anymore:

Take courage; I have conquered the world!’ (Jn 16:33)

These words of Jesus, which we will keep in mind for the whole of this month, can fill us with trust and hope. However tough and hard may be our circumstances, we have the certainty that Jesus has already made them his own and overcome them.

Even if we do not have his inner strength, we have him himself who lives and struggles in us. We can say to him when we feel crushed by difficulties, trials or temptations, ‘If you have overcome the world, you will know how to overcome this “persecution” I am going through. To me, to my family, to my colleagues at work what is happening seems like an impossible hurdle. It feels to us as if we can’t make it. But with you among us, we will find the courage and the strength to face it, until we come to be “more than conquerors”.’

It is not a matter of having a triumphalist vision of Christian life, as if it were easy and everything had been sorted out. Jesus is victorious precisely in the moment that he lives his drama of suffering, injustice, forsakenness and death.

Perhaps we too, at times, like Jesus and the martyrs, will have to wait for Heaven’s response before we see a full victory over evil. Often we are scared of speaking about Paradise, almost as if the thought of it were a drug stopping us facing the difficulties with courage, an anaesthetic to lessen the pain, an excuse not to have to fight against injustice. The hope of Heaven and faith in the resurrection are instead a powerful spur to look squarely at every problem, to support others in their trials, to believe that the final word belongs to love that conquers hate, of life that defeats death.

So every time we come across a difficulty of any sort – be it personal, or of the people around us, or of those we hear about in different parts of the world – let’s renew our trust in Jesus, present in us and among us, who has overcome the world, who makes us share in his own victory, who opens up Paradise where he has gone to prepare a place for us. In this way we will find the courage to face every trial. We can overcome everything in he who gives us the strength.

Fabio Ciard

Word of Life – Dec 2013

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This is an expression St.Paul uses frequently. He wishes for special graces for his communities and, at the same time, prays to the Lord for them

(see Eph 3:18, Phil 1:9).

Here he asks that the Thessalonians be granted the grace of an ever-more abundant mutual love. This is not meant to appear as a veiled reprimand, as if mutual love were not already a reality in their community. Rather, it is a reminder of a law that exists in the very nature of love, that is, its constant growth.

“May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all.”

Love is the very center of Christian life. If it does not grow, the whole life of a Christian suffers the consequences by becoming weak and eventually dying out.

It is not enough to have understood in a moment of light what the commandment on love of neighbor means. It is not enough to have experienced, in a burst of enthusiasm, love’s impetus and zeal at the beginning of our conversion to a more Gospel-oriented life.

We need to make love grow by keeping it alive, active and concrete. This will happen if we make quick and generous use of the many opportunities offered to us each day.

“May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all.”

St. Paul believes that Christian communities should have the same freshness and warmth of a real family. It is easy to understand, therefore, his eagerness to draw attention to the dangers that most threaten them: individualism, superficiality, mediocrity.

He wants them to avoid another serious danger as well: that of settling into a way of life which is orderly and peaceful, but narrow in its scope.

He wants communities that are open to others. It is typical of charity to love brothers and sisters who share the same faith and, at the same time, reach out to everyone, to be sensitive to the problems and needs of all. It is characteristic of love to build bridges with every person, recognize the positive, and unite one’s own hopes and efforts toward good with those of all people of goodwill.

“May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all.”

How should we live the word of life this month? We, too, can try to increase mutual love in our families, in our places at work, in our communities and ecclesial associations, in our parishes and so on.

This word of life asks us to have an overflowing love, a love that surpasses the mediocre standards and barriers of our subtle selfishness. It is enough to think of just some of the aspects of charity (tolerance, understanding, mutual acceptance, patience, readiness to serve, mercy toward true or presumed shortcomings of our neighbor, sharing of material goods, etc.) to realize that there are many opportunities to put these words into practice.

Clearly such an atmosphere of mutual love in our community will not fail to radiate its warmth toward all others. Even those who do not yet know the Christian life will be attracted by it, and quite naturally, almost without realizing it, they will feel that they belong to the same family.