30 ottobre 2014

Hagia Sophia church, mosaic (Our Lady, Jesus Christ, St John the Baptist)

GOD’S UNIQUE LOVE


GOD’S UNIQUE LOVE

by Steven L. Pogue

A relationship with God is like no other relationship you may have experienced. God has a unique kind of love for you. It is unconditional (not based upon meeting certain conditions). God loves you because He loves you.
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us…” (1 John 4:9,10)
He does not love you based upon your performance. There is nothing you can do to cause God to love you any more than He already does—and there is nothing that will cause God to love you any less. He loves you, even more than you love yourself.
Until now you have probably only experienced conditional love. Conditional love is based upon what you do. Perform well on the job, on the team, or in the relationship, and you are “loved.”
In opening your life to Christ, you have found total love and acceptance. That may be hard to comprehend if you’ve never felt totally loved and accepted by anyone. But it’s true! Unfortunately, you won’t always feel that God loves you. There will be times when you find yourself doubting not only His love, but also His existence. You’ll feel like giving up. Don’t.
When God gave you a new life, it didn’t come trimmed in lace and smelling of perfume. Jesus began His earthly life in a smelly, damp stable. He tasted real life, and that will be the flavor of your journey with Christ—no magic, just the promise of His presence with you.
God says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3).
There’s a Danish proverb: “The next mile is the only one  person really has to make.” The knowledge that God loves you will keep you going when the next mile seems intolerably long: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38,39)
Our faith rests in what God has revealed about Himself to us. He specifically wants us to believe and rely on His love for us:
“…the Lord delights in those who fear [reverence] him, who put their hope in his unfailing love” (Psalms 147:11).
“…the Lord watches over those who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love.” (Psalms 33:18)
King David, whom God referred to “as a man after my own heart”1 trusted God’s love: “…I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. O my strength, I sing praise to you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God” (Psalms 59:16,17).
Jesus describes the depth of His love for us, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:9-11). He loves us no matter what—even when we disobey. But we will live in His love, enjoy His love, as we obey Him.
To grow in your understanding of God’s love for you, take some time over the next few weeks and read Psalms 103, John 15, and 1 John 4, and note all the ways that God’s love is described.

1Acts 13:22

WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?


WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?

(I do not share all of this writing, for example, in animals, which I believe, are superior to us in proximity to nature, but these thoughts are beautiful too)

The meaning of life is for us to discover that we are true children of an infinitely loving and merciful God, to find out what our responsibilities are to our Creator, and to fulfill those responsibilities. But… many folks think of their vocations here on earth as their “purpose.” Do I marry, if so to whom, what do I study in school, what job do I seek, and so on. While these things are important to us, they are not our reason for being alive.
There are no destinations in this life. Life is a journey, from here to God. We are to follow His directions, without ever losing faith that His way is the only way. When we do that, we can be certain we are on the right path. We leave it up to God just where in this life that will lead. Our lives may turn out quite differently than what we might expect. There is no guarantee of earthly success or comfort. God judges success very differently than we do.
His directions are very simple. Love and help others. Feed the hungry, shelter the homeless. Simple, and yet so hard to do. We are to use all of the talents and strengths that He gave us to achieve this selfless goal.
But although we rarely know God's specific plan for us, we all know just where we are going. We are true children of God. He created us for the express purpose of sharing the happiness of His existence with us, and our destiny is to be united with God in eternity.
In His infinite goodness, God could not keep all to Himself the happiness of existence He enjoyed in heaven. Just as we may love our pets very much, cats and dogs are just not able to share with us the happiness we feel from music and sunsets and Super Bowls. Only our children can do that. This is why God had to create us as His true children.
But complete free will is the essence of His nature. So we, His true children, also had to have complete free will, only without the infinite power and wisdom. That makes things difficult. That makes it possible and even likely for us to refuse to accept God's authority.
God knew that even though He would start out giving us Paradise to live in, we would soon think that we were His equal and rebel against Him. He knew that we would not like the idea of anyone in authority over us, and that we would think that we could make the rules for our lives ourselves. He knew that then He could not leave us with Him in Paradise, and that once we left that we would be severely tested in this new world, a world of random events and pain and sorrow.
He knew that some of us would continue to heed our conscience, and be kind and good, and have faith that God knows best. He knew that others would feel pain and sorrow, and blame Him.
God, in his infinite goodness, has arranged a way for us to return to Paradise. All it requires is a short stay in this hard world of temptation and pain. All it requires is to prove to Him that we will not rebel against Him again, and to realize that God knows better than we do how to rule the universe.
But our rebellious nature has not changed. We still turn away from God and think that we know best how to lead our own lives. So how can we live forever with God in happiness?
God's great Plan, from the beginning of time, was to do atonement Himself for the many sins of mankind. Christianity spells out the mechanism by which God is able to forgive us for turning away from Him and not obeying His commands.
Coming to earth as Christ and doing infinite atonement for our sins as true God, and yet being able to do it on behalf of mankind as true man, has always been God's plan. ("In the beginning was the Word (Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God"). That is the great miracle of Christianity.
Above all, to believe in God is to have complete trust in His love and His commands. Being obedient to His commands allows us to receive His grace, which in turn will lead to faith and salvation.

And what is God's greatest command? 
"Love the Lord thy God with your whole heart, and love thy neighbor as thyself." That is how Christ put it. That is what the entire word of God boils down to.
 You love yourself quite a bit. You go to great trouble to make sure you are fed when you get hungry. Do you do the same for all other people on earth? If not, you are not obeying Christ's command.
You go to great trouble to make sure that you have warm clothing and shelter when you are cold. Do you do the same for everyone else on earth? If not, you are not obeying Christ's command.
In the Bible, Christ said that if you do not feed the hungry and shelter the homeless and comfort the lonely, He will cast you into the eternal fires of Hell Himself. That's what it says, right in the Bible. It is also later on this page with chapter and verse.
It is not enough to sit like a vegetable and think you are doing nothing wrong. You are commanded to act. You are commanded to relieve the suffering of your fellow human beings.
The meaning of religion is to do that because God is our common Father, making us all brothers and sisters. We do our best to make life happy for our brethren, out of love and respect for God. For Christians, this is what is meant by living our life in Christ. True peace in this life is knowing that when we do that, we are assured of being eternally happy.
But how can we love God? He does not expect us to be able to love Him in the way that we love other people, since no one personally has ever actually seen Him or heard Him.
Christ spent His three year public ministry here on earth showing us how to live. What did He do? He helped other people. He fed them, he cured their sicknesses. In His teachings he repeated, over and over, stories about Good Samaritans who took care of complete strangers by tending their wounds and giving them shelter; and of how terrible it was for a rich man to ignore the hungry beggar at his gate. (The beggar went straight to heaven, the rich man went straight to eternal torment.) The entire focus of His teachings was for us to take care of His other children. This was His life. This is what He taught. 
Strictly speaking, our entire meaning of life is to love God with our whole heart. But God is perfect and complete. He does not need our love for Himself. He cannot "need" anything. So what can this mean?
We are to show our love by caring for His other children, just as he has told us so many times in the Gospels.
But is this not a case of "chasing our own tail"? Why would He create billions of people who are all supposed to care for each other, instead of just seeing to it that they do not need to be cared for by anyone but Himself?
He does care for us, in the most important way. He always shows us the straightest road to salvation, and He does this of His own free will. But as His true children, we must also–by our own free will--be able to do as He does, and take care of the worldly needs of our fellow human beings, even though doing so is inconvenient or even painful, and goes against our own perceived interests. 
"The number of hungry and needy people in the world is overwhelming. Jesus will take care of them."
No. Jesus will to bring them to heaven. He does not put food on tables. If He did, eight thousand good people a day would not die of starvation. That is our job. That is what Jesus directly and forcefully commanded us to do.
You cannot feed them all, of course. But God expects you to do the best you can, even if that is only to feed one person one time. The best you can. The very best you can. And you cannot fool Him, He knows.
By following God's commands to care for our brethren, we will receive all of His grace, which in turn will strengthen our faith, make our lives here on earth as happy as possible, and assure us of eternal life by proving that our faith in Christ is true and real.
The little-understood paradox, then, is this: the only way we can be happy ourselves is to follow God's commands and make other people happy. Selfishly trying to make only ourselves happy is self-defeating. It is impossible.
But if you can make just one other person happy, or relieve their suffering, your life will be a resounding success! And this is always possible for you, every day. Even a single kind word can lift someone's spirits and make them happy. In WWII concentration camps, some prisoners shared their small rations of food with others, even though it meant certain death by starvation themselves. And survivors tell us that in the midst of all that horror, other prisoners sang joyful songs to make everyone feel better.
The key to all happiness, both in this world and in the next, is so easy. It is complete unselfishness.     
     
The Bible says that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. What does this mean?
Too often, people are overwhelmed by the pain and poverty and evil and misery in the world. They say: I am just one person. What can I do? What difference could I possibly make in this huge world? Then they give up, all the time lamenting the fact that there is so much suffering, and generally blaming God for it. 
But it is cursing God to blame Him for evil and suffering. He is the source of all that is good. All evil stems from our own human failings, our own free will choices of selfishness and ego over God’s Word, starting with our fall from Paradise. 
How can we light one candle in a universe of darkness? By smiling at a stranger. By a pleasant greeting; perhaps by wishing them a blessed day. By purchasing food for a person who is hungry, perhaps just one meal for one person if that is all we can afford. By sharing what little we may have, even if, like the beggar woman in the Gospel, that is only giving one of our two small coins to another beggar who has none at all. This is how we show our love of God. “Whatsoever you do for the least of your brethren,” said Christ, “you do for Me.” That is the whole key to our personal relationship with God, in His own words. That is really everything.

29 ottobre 2014

Mary, Our Model in Prayer

IN TRUTH, PEACE - POPE BENEDICT - 2005


“In Truth, Peace” – The First Lesson of Benedict XVI on Peace, War, and Terrorism
The complete text of pope Joseph Ratzinger’s message for the 2006 World Day of Peace, to be celebrated January 1 

From the Vatican, December 8, 2005. 
Benedictus PP. XVI 

IN TRUTH, PEACE 

1. In this traditional message for the World Day of Peace at the beginning of the new year, I offer cordial greetings and good wishes to men and women everywhere, especially those who are suffering as a result of violence and armed conflicts. My greeting is one filled with hope for a more serene world, a world in which more and more individuals and communities are committed to the paths of justice and peace. 
2. Before all else, I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to my predecessors, the great popes Paul VI and John Paul II, who were astute promoters of peace. Guided by the spirit of the Beatitudes, they discerned in the many historical events which marked their respective pontificates the providential intervention of God, who never ceases to be concerned for the future of the human race. As tireless heralds of the Gospel, they constantly invited everyone to make God the starting-point of their efforts on behalf of concord and peace throughout the world. This, my first message for the World Day of Peace, is meant to follow in the path of their noble teaching; with it, I wish to reiterate the steadfast resolve of the Holy See to continue serving the cause of peace. The very name Benedict, which I chose on the day of my election to the chair of Peter, is a sign of my personal commitment to peace. In taking this name, I wanted to evoke both the patron saint of Europe, who inspired a civilization of peace on the whole continent, and pope Benedict XV, who condemned the first world war as a “useless slaughter” (1) and worked for a universal acknowledgment of the lofty demands of peace. 
3. The theme chosen for this year's reflection – “In truth, peace’ – expresses the conviction that wherever and whenever men and women are enlightened by the splendor of truth, they naturally set out on the path of peace. The pastoral constitution “Gaudium et Spes,” promulgated forty years ago at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, stated that mankind will not succeed in “building a truly more human world for everyone, everywhere on earth, unless all people are renewed in spirit and converted to the truth of peace.” (2) But what do those words, “the truth of peace,” really mean? To respond adequately to this question, we must realize that peace cannot be reduced to the simple absence of armed conflict, but needs to be understood as “the fruit of an order which has been planted in human society by its divine founder,” an order ''which must be brought about by humanity in its thirst for ever more perfect justice.” (3) As the result of an order planned and willed by the love of God, peace has an intrinsic and invincible truth of its own, and corresponds “to an irrepressible yearning and hope dwelling within us.” (4) 
4. Seen in this way, peace appears as a heavenly gift and a divine grace which demands at every level the exercise of the highest responsibility: that of conforming human history – in truth, justice, freedom and love – to the divine order. Whenever there is a loss of fidelity to the transcendent order, and a loss of respect for that “grammar” of dialogue which is the universal moral law written on human hearts, (5) whenever the integral development of the person and the protection of his fundamental rights are hindered or denied, whenever countless people are forced to endure intolerable injustices and inequalities, how can we hope that the good of peace will be realized? The essential elements which make up the truth of that good are missing. Saint Augustine described peace as “tranquillitas ordinis,” (6) the tranquility of order. By this, he meant a situation which ultimately enables the truth about man to be fully respected and realized. 
5. Who and what, then, can prevent the coming of peace? Sacred Scripture, in its very first book, Genesis, points to the lie told at the very beginning of history by the animal with a forked tongue, whom the evangelist John calls “the father of lies” (John 8:44). Lying is also one of the sins spoken of in the final chapter of the last book of the Bible, Revelation, which bars liars from the heavenly Jerusalem: “Outside are all who love falsehood” (22:15). Lying is linked to the tragedy of sin and its perverse consequences, which have had, and continue to have, devastating effects on the lives of individuals and nations. We need but think of the events of the past century, when aberrant ideological and political systems willfully twisted the truth and brought about the exploitation and murder of an appalling number of men and women, wiping out entire families and communities. After experiences like these, how can we fail to be seriously concerned about lies in our own time, lies which are the framework for menacing scenarios of death in many parts of the world. Any authentic search for peace must begin with the realization that the problem of truth and untruth is the concern of every man and woman; it is decisive for the peaceful future of our planet. 
6. Peace is an irrepressible yearning present in the heart of each person, regardless of his or her particular cultural identity. Consequently, everyone should feel committed to service of this great good, and should strive to prevent any form of untruth from poisoning relationships. All people are members of one and the same family. An extreme exaltation of differences clashes with this fundamental truth. We need to regain an awareness that we share a common destiny which is ultimately transcendent, so as to maximize our historical and cultural differences, not in opposition to, but in cooperation with, people belonging to other cultures. These simple truths are what make peace possible; they are easily understood whenever we listen to our own hearts with pure intentions. Peace thus comes to be seen in a new light: not as the mere absence of war, but as a harmonious coexistence of individual citizens within a society governed by justice, one in which the good is also achieved, to the extent possible, for each of them. 
The truth of peace calls upon everyone to cultivate productive and sincere relationships; it encourages them to seek out and to follow the paths of forgiveness and reconciliation, to be transparent in their dealings with others, and to be faithful to their word. In a particular way, the followers of Christ, recognizing the insidious presence of evil and the need for that liberation brought by the divine Master, look to him with confidence, in the knowledge that “he committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips” (1 Peter 2:22; cf. Isaiah 53:9). Jesus defined himself as the truth in person, and, in addressing the seer of the Book of Revelation, he states his complete aversion to “every one who loves and practices falsehood” (Revelation 22:15). He has disclosed the full truth about humanity and about human history. The power of his grace makes it possible to live “in” and “by” truth, since he alone is completely true and faithful. Jesus is the truth which gives us peace. 
7. The truth of peace must also let its beneficial light shine even amid the tragedy of war. The fathers of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, in the pastoral constitution “Gaudium et Spes,” pointed out that “not everything automatically becomes permissible between hostile parties once war has regrettably commenced.” (7) As a means of limiting the devastating consequences of war as much as possible, especially for civilians, the international community has created an international humanitarian law. In a variety of situations and in different settings, the Holy See has expressed its support for this humanitarian law, and has called for it to be respected and promptly implemented, out of the conviction that the truth of peace exists even in the midst of war. International humanitarian law ought to be considered as one of the finest and most effective expressions of the intrinsic demands of the truth of peace. Precisely for this reason, respect for that law must be considered binding on all peoples. Its value must be appreciated and its correct application ensured; it must also be brought up to date by precise norms applicable to the changing scenarios of today's armed conflicts and the use of ever newer and more sophisticated weapons. 
8. Here I wish to express gratitude to the international organizations and to all those who are daily engaged in the application of international humanitarian law. Nor can I fail to mention the many soldiers engaged in the delicate work of resolving conflicts and restoring the necessary conditions for peace. I wish to remind them of the words of the Second Vatican Council: “All those who enter the military in service to their country should look upon themselves as guardians of the security and freedom of their fellow-countrymen, and, in carrying out this duty properly, they too contribute to the establishment of peace.” (8) On this demanding front the Catholic Church's military ordinariates carry out their pastoral activity: I encourage both the military ordinaries and military chaplains to be, in every situation and context, faithful heralds of the truth of peace. 
9. Nowadays, the truth of peace continues to be dramatically compromised and rejected by terrorism, whose criminal threats and attacks leave the world in a state of fear and insecurity. My predecessors Paul VI and John Paul II frequently pointed out the awful responsibility borne by terrorists, while at the same time condemning their senseless and deadly strategies. These are often the fruit of a tragic and disturbing nihilism which pope John Paul II described in these words: “Those who kill by acts of terrorism actually despair of humanity, of life, of the future. In their view, everything is to be hated and destroyed.” (9) 
Not only nihilism, but also religious fanaticism, today often labeled fundamentalism, can inspire and encourage terrorist thinking and activity. From the beginning, John Paul II was aware of the explosive danger represented by fanatical fundamentalism, and he condemned it unsparingly, while warning against attempts to impose, rather than to propose for others freely to accept, one's own convictions about the truth. As he wrote: “To try to impose on others by violent means what we consider to be the truth is an offense against the dignity of the human being, and ultimately an offense against God in whose image he is made.” (10) 
10. Looked at closely, nihilism and the fundamentalism of which we are speaking share an erroneous relationship to truth: the nihilist denies the very existence of truth, while the fundamentalist claims to be able to impose it by force. Despite their different origins and cultural backgrounds, both show a dangerous contempt for human beings and human life, and ultimately for God himself. Indeed, this shared tragic outcome results from a distortion of the full truth about God: nihilism denies God's existence and his provident presence in history, while fanatical fundamentalism disfigures his loving and merciful countenance, replacing him with idols made in its own image. In analyzing the causes of the contemporary phenomenon of terrorism, consideration should be given, not only to its political and social causes, but also to its deeper cultural, religious and ideological motivations. 
11. In view of the risks which humanity is facing in our time, all Catholics in every part of the world have a duty to proclaim and embody ever more fully the “Gospel of Peace,” and to show that acknowledgment of the full truth of God is the first, indispensable condition for consolidating the truth of peace. God is love which saves, a loving father who wants to see his children look upon one another as brothers and sisters, working responsibly to place their various talents at the service of the common good of the human family. God is the unfailing source of the hope which gives meaning to personal and community life. God, and God alone, brings to fulfillment every work of good and of peace. History has amply demonstrated that declaring war on God in order to eradicate him from human hearts only leads a fearful and impoverished humanity toward decisions which are ultimately futile. This realization must impel believers in Christ to become convincing witnesses of the God who is inseparably truth and love, placing themselves at the service of peace in broad cooperation with other Christians, the followers of other religions and with all men and women of good will. 
12. Looking at the present world situation, we can note with satisfaction certain signs of hope in the work of building peace. I think, for example, of the decrease in the number of armed conflicts. Here we are speaking of a few, very tentative steps forward along the path of peace, yet ones which even now are able to hold out a future of greater serenity, particularly for the suffering people of Palestine, the land of Jesus, and for those living in some areas of Africa and Asia, who have waited for years for the positive conclusion of the ongoing processes of pacification and reconciliation. These are reassuring signs which need to be confirmed and consolidated by tireless cooperation and activity, above all on the part of the international community and its agencies charged with preventing conflicts and providing a peaceful solution to those in course. 
13. All this must not, however, lead to a naive optimism. It must not be forgotten that, tragically, violent fratricidal conflicts and devastating wars still continue to sow tears and death in vast parts of the world. Situations exist where conflict, hidden like flame beneath ashes, can flare up anew and cause immense destruction. Those authorities who, rather than making every effort to promote peace, incite their citizens to hostility towards other nations, bear a heavy burden of responsibility: in regions particularly at risk, they jeopardize the delicate balance achieved at the cost of patient negotiations and thus help make the future of humanity more uncertain and ominous. 
What can be said, too, about those governments which count on nuclear arms as a means of ensuring the security of their countries? Along with countless persons of good will, one can state that this point of view is not only baneful but also completely fallacious. In a nuclear war there would be no victors, only victims. The truth of peace requires that all – whether those governments which openly or secretly possess nuclear arms, or those planning to acquire them – agree to change their course by clear and firm decisions, and strive for a progressive and concerted nuclear disarmament. The resources which would be saved could then be employed in projects of development capable of benefiting all their people, especially the poor. 
14. In this regard, one can only note with dismay the evidence of a continuing growth in military expenditure and the flourishing arms trade, while the political and juridic process established by the international community for promoting disarmament is bogged down in general indifference. How can there ever be a future of peace when investments are still made in the production of arms and in research aimed at developing new ones? It can only be hoped that the international community will find the wisdom and courage to take up once more, jointly and with renewed conviction, the process of disarmament, and thus concretely ensure the right to peace enjoyed by every individual and every people. By their commitment to safeguarding the good of peace, the various agencies of the international community will regain the authority needed to make their initiatives credible and effective. 
15. The first to benefit from a decisive choice for disarmament will be the poor countries, which rightly demand, after having heard so many promises, the concrete implementation of their right to development. That right was solemnly reaffirmed in the recent general assembly of the United Nations Organization, which this year celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of its foundation. The Catholic Church, while confirming her confidence in this international body, calls for the institutional and operative renewal which would enable it to respond to the changed needs of the present time, characterized by the vast phenomenon of globalization. The United Nations Organization must become a more efficient instrument for promoting the values of justice, solidarity and peace in the world. 
For her part, the Church, in fidelity to the mission she has received from her Founder, is committed to proclaiming everywhere “the Gospel of peace.” In the firm conviction that she offers an indispensable service to all those who strive to promote peace, she reminds everyone that, if peace is to be authentic and lasting, it must be built on the bedrock of the truth about God and the truth about man. This truth alone can create a sensitivity to justice and openness to love and solidarity, while encouraging everyone to work for a truly free and harmonious human family. The foundations of authentic peace rest on the truth about God and man. 
16. At the conclusion of this message, I would like to address a particular word to all believers in Christ, inviting them once again to be attentive and generous disciples of the Lord. When we hear the Gospel, dear brothers and sisters, we learn to build peace on the truth of a daily life inspired by the commandment of love. Every community should undertake an extensive process of education and witness aimed at making everyone more aware of the need for a fuller appreciation of the truth of peace. At the same time I ask for an increase of prayers, since peace is above all a gift of God, a gift to be implored incessantly. By God's help, our proclamation and witness to the truth of peace will be all the more convincing and illuminating. With confidence and filial abandonment let us lift up our eyes to Mary, mother of the Prince of Peace. At the beginning of this new year, let us ask her to help all God's people, wherever they may be, to work for peace and to be guided by the light of the truth that sets man free (cf. John 8:32). Through Mary's intercession, may all mankind grow in esteem for this fundamental good and strive to make it ever more present in our world, and, in this way, to offer a safer and more serene future to generations yet to come. 

SHALOM ( שָׁלוֹם) IN THE OLD TESTAMENT


SHALOM ( שָׁלוֹם) IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

Luke Emeka Ugwueye

Abstract
The Hebrew idea of peace as encased in the word shalom is significant for peace building in the society and in this regard the paper surveyed various uses of the term in the Old Testament text of the Bible. There is no English word that can effectively convey the richness behind the root letters of shalom. Not only that the Old Testament concept of shalom helps in the development of peace theology but it also removes any basis for the support of war or non-peaceful conditions or indifference to them. As a central and active concept in the Old Testament, shalom gave life to ancient Israel and can do same to the society today.

Introduction 
Peace has had a profound meaning to many and has been an integral part of religious teaching since time immemorial. It has been central to individuals and groups in different localities. Governments at Local and International levels constantly seek it, or at least offer it as their focus or aim for formulating policies alongside their implementations.
            The religious world echo and emphasize peace more than the secular world. Peace is central to Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and many other religions. In Christianity, peace is treasured much. It means grace and divine good will: a state of mind through which one can accept the all-important message of God. This is an active concept of peace, not a passive idea. All through, the theological concept of peace does overlap with peace as harmony in its secular meaning.
            The most contemporary meaning of peace is an absence of some kind of antagonistic conflict. This is the Oxford English Dictionary meaning “a situation or a period of time in which there is no war or violence in a country or an area” (Hornby, 2001 P.857). According to Stephenson, Voorhees and Morris (2004), it is a state of agitation, calm or repose. Generally speaking, among the various senses of peace, primary in each case is freedom from, or cessation of war or hostilities, freedom from civil commotion and disorder, freedom from quarrels or dissention between individuals, a state of reconciliation after strife or enmity, freedom from riot or violence or freedom from mental agitation or anxiety.
             Not included in the above definitions but complimentary to them are those concepts of peace that are compounds of different ideas such as that of Spinoza (1985), which says that peace is not an absence of war but virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence and justice. For the early Christian father and Bishop of Hippo, St. Augustine (1997), peace between man and man is well-ordered concord, domestic peace is well-ordered concord between those of the family who rule and those who obey. Civil peace is similar concord among citizens.
            However, Thomas Aquinas (1948) criticized the above view by saying that concord is an agreement between wills consenting to the same things while internally we may have appetites that disagree. True peace, therefore includes concord, but he added that the appetites within us must also be united. For instance, concord reached under threat is really not peace. Peace, then, combines two levels - that between people and that between a person and himself. The idea of peace as concord could mean any agreement between will, as Aquinas puts it, thus including agreements under duress or threat. Nevertheless, concord should imply an amicable agreement and friendly relations.
            Theologians, philosophers, psychologists, mathematicians, economists, jurists and publicists who have considered the subject of peace carefully have perceived that if peace is to attract opinion and to fulfill its expectations, it must be a positive conception. It must mean justice and order and it cannot mean all these without organization. Experience has shown that in limited areas violence has been prevented only when peace was identified with an organized society which made peace its first concern.
            Must curiously, the much-sought, much-talked and much-needed peace has continued to elude humanity in the world. According to Spurgeon (2009) since the beginning of recorded history, the entire world has been at peace less than eight percent of the time. Of about three thousand five hundred and thirty years of recorded history, only two hundred and eighty six years saw peace. Moreover, in excess of eight thousand peace treaties were made and broken. During these periods about fourteen thousand three hundred and fifty one wars, large and small, in which about 3.64 billion people were killed, were fought.
            In spite of the peace preached and taught by different Christian religious bodies across the globe, peace does not exist much in the world. Churches, Christians, religious bodies, government at all levels, homes, individuals and groups have not been able to attain substantial intra relational peaceful existence, hence the need for this study. The aim of the paper is to survey the concept of peace in the Old Testament for peace-building in the society.

Shalom ( שָׁלוֹם) in the Old Testament
According to the Hebrew and English lexicon of the Old Testament by (1975), shalom is a Hebrew noun meaning “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace.” (P.1022). Foulkes (1982) aggress with Brown when he describes shalom as completeness, soundness and well being. The word shalom is one of the few Hebrew words which is well known and widely understood by English speaking people.
First and foremost, the word shalom means an interlude of safety from the ravages of warfare. The insecurity that comes from war over years had made enormous mark on the Hebrew people. They were involved much in warfare and many times they suffered defeat, the climax of which was the exile of 586 BC. They looked for the day when the swords would be beaten into plowshares (Micah 4:3). Here prophet Micah describes a theocracy, with the lord as the sole ruler over the world. In this reign of peace, instruments of war will be superfluous; therefore, they will be converted into agricultural implements (King, 1977). This will be followed by universal peace.
            Shalom means much more than the absence of war or the cessation of violence and hostility. There is considerable difference between peace and truce. Peace is not wholly made at the council table or by treaties, but in the heart of men. There is no single English word that can truly convey the richness of the meaning behind the root letter shalom. The general meaning behind the root letters -   שׁלם - is of completion and fulfillment and thus of entering into a state of wholeness and unity (oneness) signified by a restored relationship especially wholeness of the relationship between a person and God. Shalom signifies a sense  of well being and harmony both within and outside, health, happiness, quietness of soul preservation, prosperity, tranquility, security, safety, and it includes all that makes life worthwhile.
 Shalom and its derivatives have been said to represent one of the most prominent theological concept in the Old Testament. The word group occurs about 180 times in the Old Testament. In narrative books shalom typically is used to describe an absence of hostility or strife. In the Psalms and Prophets it goes beyond this to indicate a total fulfillment that comes when an individual experiences God’s presence. This sort of peace has its source in Yahweh. He is the one who will speak shalom to his people (Psalm 58:8). His promise to David in I chronicles 22: 9 – 10 puts shalom in context with calmness, rest, and to be quiet, as these are gifts from Yahweh.
            Shalom is used as a greeting and also as a way of inquiring after someone’s state of being and to want the very best for him in life. To be at peace is to be happy, to be whole, and to be right with Yahweh, fellow humans, and creation. Shalom is still being used as greeting in Israel today. It always means everything which makes for a man’s highest good. The one saying shalom does not only wish the absence of evil things but also wishes the presence of all good things. In Jewish sense peace is the symphony of life made meaningful through a right relationship with Yahweh. The Hebrew equivalent of the English greeting “How are you” is “do (you) have peace” (Gen 29: 6; 2 Sam 18: 29; 2 Kings 4: 26; Esther 2: 11).
 Peace is a covenant word. It is the result of Yahweh’s activity in covenant, and it is the result of righteousness (Isaiah 32: 17). In nearly two-thirds of its occurrences, shalom describes the state of fulfillment which is the result of Yahweh’s presence. This is specifically indicated in those references to the “covenant of peace”, (Numbers 25: 5; Isaiah 54: 10; Ezekiel 34: 25; Malachi 2: 5) with his chosen representatives - the Aaronic priest and the Davidic monarchs. The peace that marks the conclusion of an agreement between adversaries (Isaac and Abimelech, Genesis 26: 29), and man and Yahweh (Abraham, Genesis 15: 15) is couched in terms of covenant agreement.
            Shalom obviously formed part of the words used in offerings such as the Peace offering. It was one of the blood sacrifices of which the shed blood was the atonement on which reconciliation and peace were based (Leviticus 3; 7: 11). In the Peace offering this restoration of fellowship between God and man, broken by sin, but now atoned for by the shed blood, was indicated by the fact that every blessing, temporal and spiritual , is included in restoring man to that peace  with God which was lost by the fall. According to Clendenen (2003) “The shalom offering ,traditionally translated Peace offering but more often today Communion or fellowship offering was an offering which celebrated the joy of having peace with God and all it involved. The term peace can refer to the sense of confident awareness that all is well” (p.1261)
             One of the great names of the Messiah was to be “prince of peace” (Isaiah 9:6). He is the messianic prince who brings wholesomeness, but he is also Yahweh’s last word, the concluding sacrifice that brings peace and redemption to mankind. This somehow denotes a strong eschatological element present in the meaning of shalom. The messiah’s city, Jerusalem, also means peace. The first part of the word (Jerus-) means foundation while the second part is a cognate of the word shalom. Thus Jerusalem is variously translated in modern evangelical references as ‘city of peace’, ‘possession of peace’, ‘foundation of peace’, ‘founded peace’, and ‘city of wholeness’ (Grimsrud, 2009).
            As we can see from the above, shalom has many nuances but as Foulkes summarized in Ugwueye (2004) it could basically be used when one is in harmony or concord with one another (Joshua 9:15; 1kgs 5:12), when one seeks the good of a city or country (psalm 122:6, Jer 29:7). It may mean material wealth or prosperity (psalm 73:3) or physical safety (psalm 4:8). It may also mean spiritual well-being. Such peace that makes for development is the associate of righteousness, justice and truth; not of wickedness. 

Shalom (  שָׁלוֹם) for Peace in the Society
            It is obvious from all indications that our society sorely needs peace but greatly lacks it. There is no peace at home, in the community and clan, among individuals and between siblings. No peace in offices, government circles, academia, churches, business and the entire society. There is war in the Niger Delta-Nigeria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan etc. There is kidnapping, robbery, strikes, assassination and other deshaloming conditions. Even the individual himself lacks internal peace.
            Shalom is a fitting area to continue the discussion of how to restore peace in the society. A society characterized by shalom embraces the core values of peace, justice and enjoyment of all relationships, centered in relationship with God. In pursuit of shalom, many who find themselves in relationships pockmarked by injustice actively seek restoration and reconciliation. In pursuit of shalom, those who enjoy special privilege, such as political office holders, rulers or head in different capacities and the rich, ought to freely give up selfish interests in order to serve and benefit others.
            In pursuit of shalom, the humanists, prophets and the entire God’s people speak truth to our leaders, institutions and the affluent, calling them to practical justice and reconciliation. According to Leiter (2007), shalom was a central concept in the Old Testament that gave life to the people of ancient Israel and can give life to us today.
            Shalom connotes the complete well-being of a society or community. Because it has a strong communal emphasis, shalom necessitates right harmonious relationships to other human beings. Part of what right relationship means can be seen in the linking of shalom with justice. That these two words are at times found in parallel lines of the Old Testament poetry indicates that shalom and justice are closely related concepts. While shalom includes more than justice, it certainly effects nothing less than a just society.
            The deepest, underlying point to the whole story told in the Old Testament is God’s mercy and love. Creation of all things is God’s act of love. Abraham’s call and the liberation of the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage are God’s act of mercy. When the temple fell, when the kingship fell, when the nation-state fell, God remained. In the apocalyptic book of Daniel, during the height of the suppression of Judaism and the Jews, God called the people of faith to find peace in patience. God promised a future, structured a new way, centered on little expressions of faithfulness and trust, rather than on nation states and power politics. It is important to learn from the above to live faithfully and mercifully while accepting that no one controls history. Being patient, while finding little ways to be at peace and refusal to exploit others are part of God’s continuing works of creative mercy. Aligning ourselves with godly ways such as this is the peaceable way live.
            Shalom is linked with covenant in the Old Testament and this indicates that shalom comes as a result of God’s covenantal commitment to his people. A look at God’s intentions for his covenant people will help fleshen our concept of shalom. In creation and in things concerning the consummation of all things, humanity is made in the image of God, which means that every person has great value in God’s eyes, because humanity derives from one family and thus shares the same origin. God’s ideal for his covenant community is that of a society in which steadfast love and will cuddle each other. It is a society in which the chains of injustice and oppression are broken (Brown, 2007).
            The story of humanity, however, shows that the shalom envisioned by God for humanity and established at creation was marred in the fall of man. As a result of sin, not only was the relationship between God and humanity broken, but there was also increasing division among peoples. The marring of the original vision of shalom is exemplified today in many similar kinds of injustice and division. The devastating effects of this division of and enmity within the human family can be seen everywhere in our society. The existence of crime, ethnic prejudice and oppression are just few examples.
            God’s plan for restoring universal shalom is to be accomplished through his particular choice of Israel. But it is obvious that the choice of one by God is always for the sake of many. The prophets clearly articulate a vision of shalom meant for extension to all nations through Israel. Jesus Christ fulfilled God’s intention of bringing shalom to all nations. One’s neighbor is now broadened and specified to include those outside one’s own circle. This unity, however, is not to be confused with uniformity. It is unity in diversity. Diversity is not erased in God’s ideal of covenant community and shalom; rather, it is wonderfully woven into the fabric of communal unity. In this way, Paul can speak of the Christian community as a body, made of diverse members who function in different ways for different purposes while still being one. This diversity in unity or unity in diversity can be achieved only through shalom or peace of understanding.
            Peace of understanding breaks the barriers of misunderstanding and suspicion in relationships. Peace achieved through understanding forestalls war and conflict between individuals and communities. It makes for trust and reliability in unions. It rouses the dull, inspires the witty, encourages the timid and brings all the conflicting elements of rival positions, character and opinion into one uniform whole. It is only through this way that meaningful development can be achieved in our society. Unfortunately, like the Hebrews who kept on going away from God’s given shalom, the society has been de-shaloming itself by engaging in acts that are anti-peace, ungodly, unpatriotic, undemocratic, unjust and oppressive. The mindset of an average person especially in Africa is how to make money. The desperation underlying this mindset accentuates this desire to make money to a feverish pitch where the distinction between good sources and bad sources of money making is impossible to make. As a matter of fact many make it through the quicker way by defrauding government, organizations, and individuals. Men in government do more to rob the society of its peace. Men out of government in various ways also dampen our peace. Most regrettably, the churches and the so called ‘men of God’ do not do much to create and sustain peace in the society.
            The immediate and remote reason why we read the Bible is to have peace, create it or sustain it. But too often, what we read in the Bible and the way it is expressed in worship, such as attending Sunday mass, morning mass, vigil, crusade, adoration or having deliverance, anointing, chaining and binding of Satan etc become part of our libraries, rituals and vocabularies, instead of becoming part of our real lives. True peace is engendered through living out what is in the Bible and what we profess in our dealing or relationship with one another.
            Finally, it should be observed that at all times and in every circumstance, man is the epicenter of peace discourse. Man is the object of peace, man seeks peace, man sustains peace, man breaks peace and man makes peaces between men. According to Scott in Obeta (1994), “of all creatures, man alone is an enigma. At times he seems an angel, again, a devil; proud of himself today; tomorrow he will despise himself. His thoughts sometimes are as high as heaven, at other times as low as hell. A part of him delights in what is peaceful; another part drags him down to what he despises” (P.11). You are the man! Train yourself to have peace so as to give it to the society.
Conclusion
            The Old Testament writers understand their experiences in terms of faith. We too strive to understand our lives in the light of our faith. We share with the biblical writers the same earth, the same story. They have much to teach us. The actual political history of the Hebrews is one of failure, broken dreams, pain and even despair.
            Our own world is not different. But even at that God is in the midst of everything irrespective of our clear understanding of it. In being patient, little ways to be at peace could be found. Eschewing injustice, oppression and evil entirely engender peace in the society. Being merciful to men and faithful to God and men surely can bring peace. In appropriating all these, the Old Testament gives us a much stronger foundation for sharing the way of peace with the Christian who supports war. It gives us a basis to speak with confidence. Not only does the Old Testament help us to develop a theology of peace, it also removes any basis for the Christian to remain indifferent in the realization of societal peace.
            Only reliance upon God’s name can we know his peace which will surely bring about triumph over all our enemies. Safety consists not in the absence of danger but in the presence of God. The peace that God gives is not the absence of trouble, but is rather the confidence that he is there with us always. The essence of the gospel is “grace, therefore peace”. Through the gospel we are all brought under God’s grace and therefore have peace with him and peace within us.  שָׁלוֹם!





28 ottobre 2014

Saint Simon and Jude

SIMON AND JUDE - OCTOBER 28 - BENEDICT XVI


BENEDICT XVI

GENERAL AUDIENCE

Saint Peter's Square

Wednesday, 11 October 2006

SIMON AND JUDE - OCTOBER 28

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, let us examine two of the Twelve Apostles: Simon the Cananaean and Jude Thaddaeus (not to be confused with Judas Iscariot). Let us look at them together, not only because they are always placed next to each other in the lists of the Twelve (cf. Mt 10: 3, 4; Mk 3: 18; Lk 6: 15; Acts 1: 13), but also because there is very little information about them, apart from the fact that the New Testament Canon preserves one Letter attributed to Jude Thaddaeus.
Simon is given a nickname that varies in the four lists: while Matthew and Mark describe him as a "Cananaean", Luke instead describes him as a "Zealot".
In fact, the two descriptions are equivalent because they mean the same thing: indeed, in Hebrew the verb qanà' means "to be jealous, ardent" and can be said both of God, since he is jealous with regard to his Chosen People (cf. Ex 20: 5), and of men who burn with zeal in serving the one God with unreserved devotion, such as Elijah (cf. I Kgs 19: 10).
Thus, it is highly likely that even if this Simon was not exactly a member of the nationalist movement of Zealots, he was at least marked by passionate attachment to his Jewish identity, hence, for God, his People and divine Law.
If this was the case, Simon was worlds apart from Matthew, who, on the contrary, had an activity behind him as a tax collector that was frowned upon as entirely impure. This shows that Jesus called his disciples and collaborators, without exception, from the most varied social and religious backgrounds.
It was people who interested him, not social classes or labels! And the best thing is that in the group of his followers, despite their differences, they all lived side by side, overcoming imaginable difficulties: indeed, what bound them together was Jesus himself, in whom they all found themselves united with one another.
This is clearly a lesson for us who are often inclined to accentuate differences and even contrasts, forgetting that in Jesus Christ we are given the strength to get the better of our continual conflicts.
Let us also bear in mind that the group of the Twelve is the prefiguration of the Church, where there must be room for all charisms, peoples and races, all human qualities that find their composition and unity in communion with Jesus.
Then with regard to Jude Thaddaeus, this is what tradition has called him, combining two different names: in fact, whereas Matthew and Mark call him simply "Thaddaeus" (Mt 10: 3; Mk 3: 18), Luke calls him "Judas, the son of James" (Lk 6: 16; Acts 1: 13).
The nickname "Thaddaeus" is of uncertain origin and is explained either as coming from the Aramaic, taddà', which means "breast" and would therefore suggest "magnanimous", or as an abbreviation of a Greek name, such as "Teodòro, Teòdoto".
Very little about him has come down to us. John alone mentions a question he addressed to Jesus at the Last Supper: Thaddaeus says to the Lord: "Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us and not to the world?".
This is a very timely question which we also address to the Lord: why did not the Risen One reveal himself to his enemies in his full glory in order to show that it is God who is victorious? Why did he only manifest himself to his disciples? Jesus' answer is mysterious and profound. The Lord says: "If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him" (Jn 14: 22-23).
This means that the Risen One must be seen, must be perceived also by the heart, in a way so that God may take up his abode within us. The Lord does not appear as a thing. He desires to enter our lives, and therefore his manifestation is a manifestation that implies and presupposes an open heart. Only in this way do we see the Risen One.
The paternity of one of those New Testament Letters known as "catholic", since they are not addressed to a specific local Church but intended for a far wider circle, has been attributed to Jude Thaddaeus. Actually, it is addressed "to those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ" (v. 1).
A major concern of this writing is to put Christians on guard against those who make a pretext of God's grace to excuse their own licentiousness and corrupt their brethren with unacceptable teachings, introducing division within the Church "in their dreamings" (v. 8).
This is how Jude defines their doctrine and particular ideas. He even compares them to fallen angels and, mincing no words, says that "they walk in the way of Cain" (v. 11).
Furthermore, he brands them mercilessly as "waterless clouds, carried along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars for whom the nether gloom of darkness has been reserved for ever" (vv. 12-13).
Today, perhaps, we are no longer accustomed to using language that is so polemic, yet that tells us something important. In the midst of all the temptations that exist, with all the currents of modern life, we must preserve our faith's identity. Of course, the way of indulgence and dialogue, on which the Second Vatican Counsel happily set out, should certainly be followed firmly and consistently.
But this path of dialogue, while so necessary, must not make us forget our duty to rethink and to highlight just as forcefully the main and indispensable aspects of our Christian identity. Moreover, it is essential to keep clearly in mind that our identity requires strength, clarity and courage in light of the contradictions of the world in which we live.
Thus, the text of the Letter continues: "But you, beloved" - he is speaking to all of us -, "build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And convince some, who doubt..." (vv. 20-22).
The Letter ends with these most beautiful words: "To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Saviour through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen" (vv. 24-25).
It is easy to see that the author of these lines lived to the full his own faith, to which realities as great as moral integrity and joy, trust and lastly praise belong, since it is all motivated solely by the goodness of our one God and the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, may both Simon the Cananaean and Jude Thaddeus help us to rediscover the beauty of the Christian faith ever anew and to live it without tiring, knowing how to bear a strong and at the same time peaceful witness to it.

POPE FRANCIS - (Church “Body of Christ”?) - GENERAL AUDIENCE OCTOBER 22, 2014


POPE FRANCIS - (Church “Body of Christ”?)

GENERAL AUDIENCE

St. Peter's Square

WEDNESDAY, 22 OCTOBER 2014 

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning,

The image of the body is often used when one wishes to highlight how the elements that comprise a reality are strictly joined to one another together, forming one single thing. Starting with the Apostle Paul, this expression has been applied to the Church and has been acknowledged as her most profound and most beautiful distinguishing feature. Today, then, we would like to ask ourselves: in what sense does the Church form a body? And why is she defined as the “Body of Christ”?
In the Book of Ezekiel a vision is described, a bit particular, impressive, but capable of instilling trust and hope in our hearts. God shows the prophet an expanse of bones, separated from each other and dry. A desolate scene.... Imagine an entire valley full of bones. God asks him, then, to invoke the Spirit upon them. At that point, the bones move, they begin to come together, to join themselves. First nerves and then flesh grew on them and in this way they form a complete body, full of life (cf. Ez 37:1-14). See, this is the Church! Today, please take up the Bible at home. Open it at Chapter 37 of the Prophet Ezekiel, do not forget, and read this, it is beautiful. This is the Church, she is a masterpiece, the masterpiece of the Spirit who instills in each one the new life of the Risen One and places us, beside one another, each at the service and support of the other, thereby making of all of us one single body, edified in communion and in love.
The Church, however, is not only a body built in the Spirit: the Church is the Body of Christ! And this is not simply a catchphrase: indeed, we truly are! It is the great gift that we receive on the day of our Baptism! In the sacrament of Baptism, indeed, Christ makes us his, welcoming us into the heart of the mystery of the Cross, the supreme mystery of his love for us, in order to cause us to then be raised with him, as new beings. See: in this way the Church is born, and in this way the Church is recognized as the Body of Christ! Baptism constitutes a true rebirth, which regenerates us in Christ, renders us a part of Him, and unites us intimately among ourselves, as limbs of the same body, of which He is the Head (cf. Rm 12:5; 1 Cor 12:12-13).
What springs from it then, is a profound communion of love. In this sense, it is enlightening the way that Paul, exhorting the husbands to “love their wives as their own bodies”, states: “As Christ does the Church, because we are members of his body” (Eph 5:28-30). How beautiful it would be were we to remember more often what we are, what the Lord Jesus made of us: we are his body: that body which nothing and no one can ever tear from Him and which He cloaks with all his passion and with all his love, just as a bridegroom does his bride. This thought, however, should cause to spring within us the desire to correspond to the Lord Jesus’ love and share it among us, as living members of his own body. In the time of Paul, the community of Corinth found great difficulty in this sense, living, as we, too, often do, the experience of division, of envy, of misunderstanding and of exclusion. All of these things are not good because, instead of building up the Church and causing her to grow as the Body of Christ, they shatter it into many pieces, they dismember it. And this happens in our time as well. Let us consider, in Christian communities, in some parishes, let us think of how much division, how much envy, how they criticize, how much misunderstanding and exclusion there is in our neighbourhoods. And what does this lead to? It dismembers us among ourselves. It is the beginning of war. War does not begin on the battlefield: war, wars begin in the heart, with misunderstanding, division, envy, with this struggle with others. The community of Corinth was like this, they excelled in this!
The Apostle Paul gave some practical advice to the Corinthians, which also applies to us: do not be envious, but appreciate the talents and qualities of our brothers in our communities. Envy: “That one bought a car”, and I feel so envious; “This one won the lottery”, more envy; “And this other one is doing really well at this”, and more jealousy. All this dismembers, harms, do not do it! Because, in this way, envy grows and fills the heart. And a jealous heart is a sour heart, a heart which seems to have vinegar instead of blood; it is a heart that is never happy, it is a heart which dismembers the community. So what must I do then? Appreciate the talents and the qualities of our brothers and sisters in our communities. And when I feel envious — because envy comes to everyone, we are all sinners —, I must say to the Lord: “Thank you, Lord, because you have given this to that person”. Appreciate the qualities, be neighbours and share in the suffering of the least and the most needy; express your gratitude to everyone. The heart that knows how to say ‘thank you’ is a good heart, it is a noble heart, it is a heart that is content. Let me ask you: Do we all know how to say ‘thank you’, always? Not always, because envy, jealousy prevent us a little.
And lastly, the advice which the Apostle Paul gives the Corinthians and which we, too, must give one another: no one consider him/herself superior to the others. How many people feel superior to others! We, too, often say as did that Pharisee in the parable: “I thank you, Lord, that I am not like that one, I am superior”. But this is bad, it should never be done! And when you are about to do it, remember your sins, those that no one knows, feel shame before God and say: “You, Lord, you know who is superior, I’ll keep my mouth shut”. And this is good. And always in charity consider ourselves each others’ limbs, that are alive, giving ourselves for the benefit of all (cf. 1 Cor 12:14).

Dear brothers and sisters, like the Prophet Ezekiel and like Paul the Apostle, let us, too, invoke the Holy Spirit, that his grace and the abundance of his gifts help us to truly live as the Body of Christ, united, as a family, but one family that is the Body of Christ, and as the visible sign of Christ’s love.