reflections, updates and homilies from Deacon Mike Talbot inspired by the following words from my ordination: Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach...
Pope Francis has sent his prayerful good wishes and God’s blessings upon the World Economic Forum in Davos.
He did so in a message to the WEF’s Executive Chairman, Professor Klaus Schwab. Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, is the Holy See representative at the annual meeting talking place in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, Jan. 21-24, 2020, and will be reading there the Pontiff’s message.
“In these years,” Pope Francis observed, “the World Economic Forum has offered an opportunity for the engagement of diverse stakeholders to explore innovative and effective ways of building a better world.”
The Holy Father acknowledged the achievements of the past 50 years, and expressing his hope “that the participants in today’s Forum, and those to be held in the future, will keep in mind the high moral responsibility each of us has to seek the integral development of all our brothers and sisters, including those of future generations.”
“May your deliberations,” he said, “lead to a growth in solidarity, especially with those most in need, who experience social and economic injustice and whose very existence is even threatened.”
While acknowledging that today’s challenges are not the same as those of half a century ago, the Jesuit Pope observed a number of features remain relevant as we begin a new decade.
“The overriding consideration, never to be forgotten, is that we are all members of the one human family. The moral obligation to care for one another flows from this fact, as does the correlative principle of placing the human person, rather than the mere pursuit of power or profit, at the very center of public policy.
This “duty,” he stated, is incumbent upon business sectors and governments alike, and “is indispensable” in the search for equitable solutions to the challenges we face.
“As a result,” he urged, “it is necessary to move beyond short-term technological or economic approaches and to give full consideration to the ethical dimension in seeking resolutions to present problems or proposing initiatives for the future.”
“All too often,” the Pontiff reminded, “materialistic or utilitarian visions, sometimes hidden, sometimes celebrated, lead to practices and structures motivated largely, or even solely, by self-interest.”
With all this in mind, the Holy Father encouraged their good and charitable efforts, and invoked God’s blessing of wisdom.
The following is the Vatican-provided message sent by the Holy Father:
To Professor Klaus Schwab
Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum
As the World Economic Forum celebrates its fiftieth anniversary, I send greetings and prayerful good wishes to all taking part in this year’s gathering. I thank you for your invitation to participate and have asked Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, to attend as the Holy See’s representative.
In these years, the World Economic Forum has offered an opportunity for the engagement of diverse stakeholders to explore innovative and effective ways of building a better world. It has also provided an arena where political will and mutual cooperation can be guided and strengthened in overcoming the isolationism, individualism and ideological colonization that sadly characterizes too much contemporary debate.
In light of the ever growing and interrelated challenges affecting our world (cf. Laudato Si’, 138 ff.), the theme you have chosen to consider this year – Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World – points to the need for a greater engagement at all levels in order to address more effectively the diverse issues facing humanity. Throughout the past five decades, we have witnessed geopolitical transformations and significant changes, from the economy and labour markets to digital technology and the environment. Many of these developments have benefitted humanity, while others have had adverse effects and created significant development lacunae. While today’s challenges are not the same as those of half a century ago, a number of features remain relevant as we begin a new decade.
The overriding consideration, never to be forgotten, is that we are all members of the one human family. The moral obligation to care for one another flows from this fact, as does the correlative principle of placing the human person, rather than the mere pursuit of power or profit, at the very centre of public policy. This duty, moreover, is incumbent upon business sectors and governments alike, and is indispensable in the search for equitable solutions to the challenges we face. As a result it is necessary to move beyond short-term technological or economic approaches and to give full consideration to the ethical dimension in seeking resolutions to present problems or proposing initiatives for the future.
All too often materialistic or utilitarian visions, sometimes hidden, sometimes celebrated, lead to practices and structures motivated largely, or even solely, by self-interest. This typically views others as a means to an end and entails a lack of solidarity and charity, which in turn gives rise to real injustice, whereas a truly integral human development can only flourish when all members of the human family are included in, and contribute to, pursuing the common good. In seeking genuine progress, let us not forget that to trample upon the dignity of another person is in fact to weaken one’s own worth.
In my Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, I drew attention to the importance of an “integral ecology” that takes into account the full implications of the complexity and interconnectedness of our common home. Such a renewed and integrated ethical approach calls for “a humanism capable of bringing together the different fields of knowledge, including economics, in the service of a more integral and integrating vision” (ibid., 141).
In acknowledging the achievements of the past fifty years, it is my hope that the participants in today’s Forum, and those to be held in the future, will keep in mind the high moral responsibility each of us has to seek the integral development of all our brothers and sisters, including those of future generations. May your deliberations lead to a growth in solidarity, especially with those most in need, who experience social and economic injustice and whose very existence is even threatened.
To those taking part in the Forum I renew my prayerful good wishes for a fruitful meeting and I invoke upon all of you God’s blessings of wisdom.
St. Agnes of Rome was born in 291 AD and raised in a Christian family. Agnes was very beautiful and belonged to a wealthy family. Her hand in marriage was highly sought after, and she had many high ranking men chasing after her. However, Agnes made a promise to God never to stain her purity. Her love for the Lord was great and she hated sin even more than death!
Whenever a man wished to marry Agnes, she would always say, "Jesus Christ is my only Spouse."
According to legend, the young men she turned away became so angry and insulted by her devotion to God and purity that they began to submit her name to authorities as a Christian follower.
In one incident, Procop, the Governor's son, became very angry when she refused him. He tried to win her for his wife with rich gifts and promises, but the beautiful young girl kept saying, "I am already promised to the Lord of the Universe. He is more splendid than the sun and the stars, and He has said He will never leave me!"
In great anger, Procop accused her of being a Christian and brought her to his father, the Governor. The Governor promised Agnes wonderful gifts if she would only deny God, but Agnes refused. He tried to change her mind by putting her in chains, but her lovely face shone with joy.
Next he sent her to a place of sin, but an Angel protected her. At last, she was condemned to death. Even the pagans cried to see such a young and beautiful girl going to death. Yet, Agnes was as happy as a bride on her wedding day. She did not pay attention to those who begged her to save herself. "I would offend my Spouse," she said, "if I were to try to please you. He chose me first and He shall have me!" Then she prayed and bowed her head for the death-stroke of the sword.
Other accounts of Agnes' life hold the Prefect Sempronius responsible for her martyrdom. It is said he condemned the young girl to be dragged through the streets naked. Some versions of the legend state that Agnes' hair grew instantly to cover her entire body and all the men who attempted to rape the beautiful virgin were immediately struck blind.
The stories go on to explain that another man presided over Agnes' trial after Sempronius excused himself. The new man sentenced Agnes to death. At first, Agnes was tied to a stake, but either the wood would not burn or the flames parted away from her. This prompted an officer to draw his sword and behead the girl. It is believed that her blood, which poured out to the stadium, was soaked up with cloths by Christians.
She died a virgin-martyr at the age of 12 or 13 on 21 January 304.
Agnes was buried beside the Via Nomentana in Rome. Her bones are currently conserved beneath the high altar in the church of Sant'Angese fuori le mura in Rome, which was built over the catacomb that held her tomb. Her skull is preserved in the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone in Rome's Piazza Navona.
In 1858, Father Caspar Rehrl, an Austrian missionary founded the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes.
St. Agnes is widely known as the patron saint of young girls. She is also the patron saint of chastity, rape survivors and the Children of Mary. She is often represented with a lamb, the symbol of her virgin innocence, and a palm branch, like other martyrs. She is shown as a young girl in robes holding a palm branch with the lamb either at her feet or in her arms.
Her feast day is celebrated on January 21. On her feast day, it is customary for two lambs to be brought in to be blessed by the pope. On Holy Thursday the lambs' wool is removed and woven into the pallium the pope gives to a newly consecrated archbishop as a sign of his power and union with the pope.
US bishops’ leader speaks out about the battle against racism still facing Americans
The president of the United States council of bishops is calling Americans to recommit to building the kids of community that Martin Luther King envisioned: an “America where all men and women are treated as children of God, made in his image and endowed with dignity, equality, and rights that can never be denied, no matter the color of their skin, the language they speak, or the place they were born.”
Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles released a statement about racism to mark Martin Luther King day on January 20.
The archbishop suggested that America has come a long way in efforts to combat racism, “but we have not come nearly far enough.” He noted worrying increases in anti-Semitic attacks, and “also ugly displays of white nationalism, nativism, and violence targeting Hispanics and other immigrants.”
Archbishop Gomez recalled that fundamentally, racism is “a sin that denies the truth about God and his creation.”
Read the whole statement below:
As our nation prepares to commemorate the life and witness of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., we are grateful for his courageous stand in solidarity with all who suffer injustice and his witness of love and nonviolence in the struggle for social change. But we are once again painfully aware that we are still far off from his dream for America, the ‘beloved community’ for which he gave his life.
“We have come a long way in our country, but we have not come nearly far enough. Too many hearts and minds are clouded by racist presumptions of privilege and too many injustices in our society are still rooted in racism and discrimination. Too many young African American men are still being killed in our streets or spending their best years behind bars. Many minority neighborhoods in this country are still what they were in Rev. King’s time, what he called ‘lonely islands of poverty.’ Let us recommit ourselves to ensuring opportunity reaches every community.
“In recent years, we have seen disturbing outbreaks of racism and prejudice against other groups. There has been a rise of anti-Semitic attacks and also ugly displays of white nationalism, nativism, and violence targeting Hispanics and other immigrants. Such bigotry is not worthy of a great nation. As Catholics and as Americans, we must reject every form of racism and anti-Semitism.
“Racism is a sin that denies the truth about God and his creation, and it is a scandal that disfigures the beauty of America’s founding vision. In our 2018 pastoral letter on racism, my brother bishops and I stated: ‘What is needed, and what we are calling for, is a genuine conversion of heart, a conversion that will compel change and the reform of our institutions and society.’
“Let us honor the memory of Rev. King by returning to what he called ‘the best in the American dream and the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage.’ Let us commit ourselves once more to building his ‘beloved community,’ an America where all men and women are treated as children of God, made in his image and endowed with dignity, equality, and rights that can never be denied, no matter the color of their skin, the language they speak, or the place they were born.”
Trusting in the Word of God allows us to overcome idolatry, pride, and excessive self-confidence. In his homily on Monday during Mass at the Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis said that being a “good Christian” means listening to what the Lord says about justice, charity, forgiveness, and mercy.
By Vatican News
In his homily at the daily Mass at the Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis spoke about “docility” to the Word of God, which “is always new”. Reflecting on the first Reading, the Pope focused on God’s rejection of Saul as king, a “prophecy” that was confided to Samuel.
The stages of corruption
Pope Francis said that the essence of Saul’s sin was his “lack of docility” to the Word of God, imagining that his own “interpretation” of God’s command was “more correct”. The Lord had commanded the Israelites not to take anything from the people they had conquered, but they disobeyed. Pope Francis explained:
When Samuel goes to reject [Saul] on behalf of God, [Saul] tried to explain: “But look, there were cattle, there were so many good, fat animals, and with these I offered a sacrifice to the Lord”. He had not put anything in his own pocket, although others had. On the contrary, with this attitude of interpreting the Word of God as it seemed right to him, he allowed the others to put something of the plunder in their own pockets. The stages of corruption: it begins with a little disobedience, a lack of docility, and it keeps going further, further, further.
The lack of docility
After “exterminating” the Amalekites, Pope Francis said, the people took from the plunder “small and large beasts, the first fruits of what was vowed to extermination, to sacrifice to the Lord”. But Samuel pointed out that the Lord prefers “obedience to the voice” of God to holocausts and sacrifices; and he clarified the “hierarchy of values”: It is more important to have a “docile heart”, and “to obey”, than to “offer sacrifices, to fast, to do penance”. The “sin of lacking docility”, the Pope continued, lies precisely in that preference for “what I think and not what the Lord commands of me which I don’t understand”. When you rebel against “the will of the Lord”, he said, you are not docile; “it’s like a sin of fortune-telling”. It’s as if, although you say you believe in God, “you were to go to a fortune-teller to have your palm read ‘just in case’.” Refusing to obey the Lord, the lack of docility, the Pope repeated, is like “fortune-telling”.
When you insist on doing things your own way in the face the Lord’s will, you are an idolater, because you prefer what you think, that idol, to the will of the Lord. And for Saul, this disobedience cost him the kingdom: “Because you have rejected the Word of the Lord, the Lord has rejected you as king”. This should make us think a little bit about our own docility. We often prefer our own interpretation of the Gospel […] for example, when we fall into casuistry, into moral casuistry… This is not the will of the Lord. The will of the Lord is clear; He makes it known with the commandments in the Bible, and makes it known with the Holy Spirit within your heart. But when I am obstinate, and turn the Word of the Lord into an ideology, I am an idolater, I am not docile.
Mercy, not sacrifice
Turning to the day’s Gospel, from St Mark, Pope Francis recalled that the disciples were criticised “because they did not fast”. Jesus uses an analogy: no one sews new cloth on an old cloak, because it would risk making the tear worse; and no one puts new wine in old wineskins, because the skins would burst, and both the wine and the wineskins would be lost. “Rather”, the Lord said, “new wine is poured into fresh wineskins”.
The newness of the Word of the Lord – because the Word of the Lord is always new, it always carries us onward – always wins, it is better than everything. It overcomes idolatry, it overcomes pride, and it overcomes this attitude of being too sure of ourselves, not through [commitment to] the Word of the Lord, but to the ideologies that I have built around the Word of the Lord. There is a very beautiful expression of Jesus that explains all this and that comes from God, taken from the Old Testament: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice”.
Trust in God
The Pope said that being a “good Christian” means being “docile” to the Word of the Lord, listening to what the Lord says about justice, charity, forgiveness, and mercy; and not being “inconsistent in life”, using “an ideology to be able to go forward”. It’s true, he added, that the Word of the Lord sometimes “gets us in trouble”, but “the devil does the same thing”, “deceptively”. So to be a Christian, Pope Francis concluded, “is to be free,” through “trust” in God.
Citing the Catholic saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, King, a Baptist clergyman, said that a just law is one that comports with the law of God and an unjust law is one that doesn’t.
“You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws,” King wrote. “This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws.
“One may well ask, ‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’” King continued. “The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: There are just laws and there are unjust laws. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’
“Now, what is the difference between the two?” wrote King. “How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.”
The Declaration of Independence, which invokes the “Laws of Nature and of Nature's God,” roots the founding of America in the same principle that the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., rooted the Civil Rights Movement.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” says the Declaration. “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, King affirms his belief that the Civil Rights Movement was based on the same values and principles as the founding of the United States—and that the Civil Rights Movement sought to redeem those values and principles in any area of American life in which they had too long been violated.
“One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage, and thus carrying our whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence,” said King.
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was right--and the principal that he articulated in his Letter from Birmingham Jail needs to be restated and reaffirmed in America today—and returned to the center of our debates over the actions of government.
Nothing is known about St. Sebastian's youth other than the fact he may have come from southern France and he was educated in Milan. He joined the Roman Army in 283 AD, ostensibly to be of service to other Christians who were being persecuted by the Romans. St. Sebastian distinguished himself and for his excellent service, he was promoted to serve in the Praetorian Guard to protect Emperor Diocletian.
While serving as a Praetorian Guard, Marcus and Marcellian, twin brothers, were imprisoned for refusing to make public sacrifices to the Roman gods. The brothers were deacons of the Christian Church. During their imprisonment, their parents visited them to implore them to renounce Christianity. However, St. Sebastian convinced both parents to convert to Christianity. St. Sebastian also converted several other prominent individuals, including the local prefect.
This led to his discovery and he was reported as a Christian to Emperor Diocletian in 286. The Emperor, who was already infamous for ordering the deaths of hundreds of Christians, scolded Sebastian and ordered him to be killed by having him tied to a stake on a training field and used as target practice.
Archers riddled his body with arrows, his body was described as, "full of arrows as an urchin." Believed to be dead, the archers left his body for retrieval and burial. He was recovered by Irene of Rome, whose Christian husband was a servant to Diocletian and also martyred. Irene discovered that Sebastian was still living and she hid him and nursed him back to health.
Once well, Sebastian went in search of Diocletian to surprise him. He managed to catch Diocletian by a stairwell and proceeded to criticize him loudly and publically for his persecution of the Christians. Diocletian, surprised that Sebastian was still alive, was immediately taken aback, but recovered his composure. This time, he would not permit Sebastian to escape with his life. He ordered his former guard to be beaten to death with clubs, then thrown into the sewers.
His body was recovered by a Christian woman, named Lucina, and she secretly buried him in the catacombs beneath Rome.
Nearly 80 years after his death, around 367, his remains were moved to a basilica in Rome, built by Pope Damasus I. His body, or at least some relics from his body were reportedly removed and shared with a community of monks in France. His cranium was sent to a German monastery where it was placed in a special silver case in 934. The relic remains in its case today in a special reliquary in Ebersberg.
St. Sebastian was commonly invoked as a protector against the plague. According to historical records, he defended the city of Rome against the plague in 680. His association with the plague could be because he survived being shot full of arrows and in pagan belief, pestilence was delivered by arrows shot by the gods above. Even Christian Romans would appreciate this symbolism. That symbolism is even captured in artwork as late as the Renaissance, where artists painted plague victims with black arrows in their body.
In artwork, St. Sebastian is depicted with arrows shot into his body, often tied to a post or a tree. His second execution is virtually never depicted.
St. Sebastian is the patron saint of soldiers, athletes, and those who desire a saintly death.
Eusebius, born just a few years after Fabian's death, tells us how Fabian came to Rome after Pope Anteros died in 236. A layperson, and not a very important one, he may have come for the same reason many still come to Rome today during a papal election: concern for the future of the faith, curiosity about the new pope, a desire to grieve for the pope who had passed. Seeing all the important people gathered to make this momentous decision must have been overwhelming. Which one would be the new pope? Someone known for power? Someone known for eloquence? Someone known for courage?
Suddenly during the discussion, a dove descended from the ceiling. But it didn't settle on "someone known" for anything at all. The dove, according to Eusebius, "settled on [Fabian's] head as clear imitation of the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove upon the Savior." There must have been something of the Holy Spirit working because everyone suddenly proclaimed Fabian as "worthy" to be pope and this stranger was elected.
To us the dove signifies peace, and this dove was prophetic. Starting close to Fabian's election, the suffering and persecuted Church began a time of peace. The emperor, Philip, was friendly to Christians and not only was the persecution stopped but Christians experienced acceptance.
In this era of peace, Fabian was able to build up the structure of the Church of Rome, appointing seven deacons and helping to collect the acts of the martyrs.
But, in a timeless story, the people who had always been in power were not happy to see the newcomers growing and thriving. There were many incidents of pagans attacking Christians and when Philip died so died the time of peace. The new emperor, Decius, ordered all Christians to deny Christ by offering incense to idols or through some other pagan ritual.
In the few years of peace, the Church had grown soft. Many didn't have the courage to stand up to martyrdom. But Fabian, singled out by symbol of peace, stood as a courageous example for everyone in his flock. He died a martyr in 250 and is buried in the Cemetery of Calixtus that he helped rebuild and beautify. A stone slab with his name can still be found there.