Mercy and Truth in a Confused World

The Gospel reading on Easter Monday relates the story of the risen Christ meeting two of his disciples on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus and is a powerful reminder of the role of the Christian in a world where much confusion reigns. This Gospel reading gives – more than we might realize – a detailed explanation of how we ought to deal with those inside and outside of the Church that do not follow Christ’ teaching or do not believe in Him at all. The lack of faith and faithfulness to the Gospel can be found as much in the Church as among non-Christians.

We read in the last chapter of Luke (24, 13-35, cf. www.usccb.org):

“13. Now that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, 14. and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. 15. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, 16. but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. 17. He asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” They stopped, looking downcast. 18. One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19. And he replied to them, “What sort of things?” They said to him, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people 20. how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. 21. But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place. 22. Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning 23. and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive. 24. Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see.” 25.  And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! 26. Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27. Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures. 28. As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. 29. But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. 31. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. 32. Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” 33. So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them 34. who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” 35. Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

The risen Christ, whose disciples do not even recognize him because of their confusion and lack of faith, must have been disappointed by their blindness. But He is patient, and before explaining to them the scriptures – something especially theologians love to do – Jesus takes the time to walk with them and listen to them. Jesus does not commence his journey with these men by condemning them for their inability to recognize him and understand the truth of his suffering, cross and resurrection. No, Christ himself went in search of his confused children to be with them and to let them express all their sorrows and questions. Only after the disciples had spoken and Jesus had listened did He guide them through the scriptures explaining God’s plan. And still they did not see. Even the words spoken by the risen Christ himself did not right away lead the two disciples to understanding and seeing. Their hearts remained closed although “burning within them”, meaning that even more was needed to finally overcome their blindness. Their eyes were opened when Jesus broke the bread and said the blessing – when Christ brought them into union with him through the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the summit of our faith.

What does this mean for us Christians, for those teaching or studying at the ITI, at theological faculties, or otherwise serving the Church? What does this Gospel tell us about our relationship with lukewarm Christians and non-Christians alike? What does this mean for our approach to an increasingly non-religious and anti-Christian mainstream world, where now the targeted persecution and killing of Christians is rising dramatically in the face of a largely silent political leadership?

Mercy in Truth. We need to go out and look for those rejecting Christ the Son of God and His teaching, we need to walk with them and listen to them ever so patiently and only then without compromise but with great charity and clarity teach the Gospel in its fullness and bring them to the sacraments; and still we should not expect “success” in our own lifetimes or for us to see, knowing that only Christ himself can convert hearts. This requires much courage and the willingness to come out of hiding, whether it be hiding in worldliness or in self-righteousness, two sides of the same coin. As Pope Francis said to the millions of young people gathered on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janiero during World Youth Day 2013:

“Where does Jesus send us? There are no borders, no limits: he sends us to everyone. The Gospel is for everyone, not just for some. It is not only for those who seem closer to us, more receptive, more welcoming. It is for everyone. Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent. The Lord seeks all, he wants everyone to feel the warmth of his mercy and his love.”

If we Christians in the West do not rise up and stand for our faith and diligently proclaim the Gospel in deed and word, which means active evangelization by all on all levels of society, then we are withholding the greatest treasure from our fellow human beings that do not know or follow Christ. Distorted ideologies will then also continue to immerse and reshape our culture that are not human but ever more barbaric in their extreme violence – whether physical or psychological – towards the sacredness of life, the family and religious freedom.

We have no choice but to do like Jesus did on his way to Emmaus: to actively seek the confused and the unbelieving and to journey with them with patience, mercy and in truth so as to lead them to Christ – to bring them to the point where the two Emmaus disciples said to each other: “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” The fire of faith burning in our hearts should ignite a fire in the hearts of those we journey with, which can be achieved by following Jesus’ example of seeking, accompanying, listening and speaking. How fitting and bitterly true are the words written in the spiritual testament of the martyred Pakistani Catholic Shahbaz Bhatti, who died in a hail of bullets for defending Christians in his country as Minister for Minorities in 2011:

“I want my life, my character and my actions to speak for me, and to say that I am a follower of Jesus Christ. This is so strong a desire in me that I would consider it a privilege if Jesus should wish to accept the sacrifice of my life.”

All areas of our life should reflect Christ brightly. Every Christian should work to lead others to Christ, which also has to be the primary goal in life for every theologian, whether lay or clergy. If not, we will allow ourselves to be further led into a culture that is directed by disruptive and violent ideologies where Man and its many falsehoods, and not God his Creator, is the measure of all things. History tells us how such societies end.

 


How to re-Christianize the West

In a recent tweet of Pope Francis we can read a clear exhortation: “The laity are called to become a leaven of Christian living within society“. This is indeed what our deeply confused society needs very much today and it still seems to be little understood by many Christians themselves. Is the Christian life sufficiently visible in Western societies to the point where Christians are a leaven? As Christians we often complain about aggressive secularization and about the many evil laws that are crowding the statute books – like those legalizing abortion or euthanasia -, yet we fail to see that these laws and policies have been developing for decades under our very own eyes as we live our comfortable lives of either being just lukewarm Christians or those hidden behind walls of self-righteousness, who certainly do many good works in society but who too often still refuse to be in that same society what Christ has called us to be: a sign of contradiction.

For example, let us take a look at the Christian democratic parties in Western Europe. They can be held largely (co-)responsible for the introduction over the past decades of a wide variety of laws that diametrically oppose the core tenets of Christian doctrine on life, marriage, family and education. Mostly the argument being used in defense of Christian politicians voting in favor of such ‘laws’ is that by doing so they are “avoiding a bigger evil”, for example by legalizing abortion to avoid women dying from illegal abortions in shady clinics. Now whilst such tragedies indeed need to be eradicated, this common defense of abortion liberalization ignores a fundamental principle of Christian theology: that doing one evil in order to avoid another evil is still evil and thus morally unacceptable. The end does not justify the means; even a good end does not justify evil means.

As Christians, we have increasingly lost our voice in democratic society, and we are mostly ourselves to blame for it. We have chosen to constantly compromise and seek consensus, rather than to explore common ground based on core principles. From leading the culture throughout centuries, we have been allowing more and more to be led by the culture, a culture that has now become openly hostile towards the reality of the created order and the Christian defense thereof.  Out of fear or out of expediency, a majority of Christian politicians and other policy-makers has stopped defending the natural and unchangeable order of God’s creation, the God they however still profess to believe in. A recent example here in Austria underlines this point: the Austrian parliament last month passed a controversial law further liberalizing reproductive medicine including destructive practices in cases of malformed human beings in the embryonic stage. The law also answers a claim that same-sex couples have “the right to a child” – thus essentially ignoring the rights of the child. The non-discrimination argument in favor of same-sex couples now trumps the natural physical and emotional need of every child to be brought up by a father and a mother, preferably the biological parents. The law furthermore liberalizes access to “pre-implantation diagnosis”, effectively widening the scope for destroying the life of human beings in the embryonic stage that show genetic disorders and are therefore deemed ‘unworthy of life’. Out of the 47 members of the supposedly Christian democratic ÖVP party, only 4 members voted against the law. This in spite of the fact that extensive evidence highlighting the severe ethical problems posed by the law was made public and the public debate asked for by many was never held.

A society that sheds its Christian bearings and cuts the life-giving roots to the objective reality of the natural created order ultimately also sheds its humanity and becomes barbaric. We have seen enough examples of this in the history of mankind, where laws that are meant to be the guardians of justice in fact become the instruments of mass killing and human destruction. The rejection of natural law along with the expulsion of Christian theology from society is always followed by de-humanization – when positive law is decoupled from the transcendent and focuses only on the individual or group desire of any given time. The Jewish agnostic writer Hannah Arendt masterfullly expressed this truth in her 1946 book “The Origins of Totalitarianism” where she writes:

“A conception of law which identifies what is right with the notion of what is good for – for the individual, or the family, or the people, or the largest number – becomes inevitable once the absolute and transcendent measurements of religion or the law of nature have lost their authority. And this predicament is by no means solved if the unit to which the ‘good for’ applies is as large as mankind itself. For it is quite conceivable, and even within the realm of practical political possibilities, that one fine day a highly organized and mechanized humanity will conclude quite democratically – namely by majority decision – that for humanity as a whole it would be better to liquidate certain parts thereof. Here, in the problems of factual reality, we are confronted with one of the oldest perplexities of political philosophy, which could remain undetected only so long as a stable Christian theology provided the framework for all political and philosophical problems, but which long ago caused Plato to say: “Not man, but a god, must be the measure of all things.”

Indeed, God is the measure of all things, not the majority opinion nor the minority pressure group. The way we have to re-Christianize the West is to bring back to society, whether it be in education, politics or elsewhere, a correct understanding of this measure of all things. This first of all requires us to accept one thing: we are not God. Understanding the measure of all things is a life-long journey. Christians should first and foremost take this journey by living a visible Christian life that attracts others by its clarity and charity – and that is also necessarily a sign of contradiction where it refuses to bow to the pressure of mass conformity and the dictatorship of relativism. The Christian life, and the necessary active involvement of Christians at all levels of society, does not come with self-righteousness and condemnation of those living different lives, but with the humble yet radiant witness of a life lived with a deep inner conviction – like those merciful and forgiving oriental Christians we discussed in the previous blog. They do not condemn their perpetrators and those that refuse to believe in Christ – but they also do not water down in any way their faith in Christ but instead proclaim it publicly and act upon it for all to see. Their vibrant faith is the measure by which they live. This is a true leaven in society.


The Sheer Power of Faith and Forgiveness

On Sunday, in the city of Lahore in Pakistan, we saw yet again how the persecution of Christians around the world is intensifying as two churches were bombed during Sunday services and 17 people died and many more were wounded. In his Angelus message on Sunday, Pope Francis prayed fervently for those affected and commented: “May this persecution against Christians, which the world is seeking to hide, end and may there be peace.” Indeed, who still speaks about the up to 70 Christian churches burned down in Niger only last month by orchestrated mobs? Who speaks about the Christian children routinely being beheaded in Syria and Iraq? Does any Western politician or news outlet still pay attention to the plight of over 200 mostly Christian schoolgirls abducted in Nigeria over a year ago and who are now living a life as sex slaves? Did political leaders from around the world march in Paris after the public beheading of 21 Coptic Christian Egyptians last month? Pope Francis is right, the world is still seeking to hide the harsh reality that Christians are by far the most persecuted people in the world and that the situation is becoming worse by the day.

We have to speak out, we have to form alliances worldwide to deal with these injustices and stop them – and we have to finally bring into the corridors and media of international politics the most potent weapon a Christian has at his disposal: the Gospel of Life and its message faith, hope and love. These three Gospel virtues are the foundation of what our broken world is most in need of today: the mercy of Christ our Redeemer. On Friday, March 13th, Pope Francis took the lead when – for many by surprise – in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome he announced a Year of Mercy, a Jubilee Year, which in the Christian tradition is a time of special graces. As a witness to mercy, the Pope said, the Church has to render this her primary mission more evident so that all Christians learn to ‘Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful’ (cf. Lk 6:36). Especially in the times of merciless killing that we are experiencing today, Christ’s mercy is the only answer we can give that may lead to reconciliation, healing and peace.

The utter moral confusion, not only in the West but equally in those countries where ideologies persist thriving through hate and revenge, leads to a profoundly wounded world. This causes broken lives, broken families, broken communities, broken nations and the escape into a wide range of “isms”: militant secularism, consumerism, materialism, terrorism and ideological extremism, to name but a few. It is especially during the past months and weeks – and on Sunday again for all the world to see – that we have been witnessing the horrifying results of ideologically inspired violence, of fellow human beings whose hatred has become so intense that it consumes them entirely and leads to ever more grotesque acts of killing, aimed at creating fear and a violent response which would justify more violence.

But there is a much better answer: In recent weeks, some extraordinary examples of mercy, resulting from an unshakable faith in Christ and leading to heroic acts of forgiveness, have been publicized in response to the violence and killings in the Middle East. There is real hope: this destructive cycle can eventually be stopped through what Jesus makes very clear in Matthew’s Gospel:

Then Peter went up to him and said, ‘Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.

Three videos that will be shown below show the true meaning of the forgiveness Jesus refers to and are the best introduction to the Jubilee Year of Mercy announced by Pope Francis. When one sees the faith and ability to forgive of these persecuted brethren, what more do we need to learn about mercy? Mercy is first of all seeing and speaking the entire truth, but then instead of remaining with the question of guilt, to forgive the guilty one.

The first video shows an interview with a Christian child refugee from Iraq, Myriam, who tells us how she has forgiven her persecutors. This 10-year old girl who has lost almost everything…except her faith in Jesus Christ…

“We have to forgive, to let the grace transfer from generation to generation. If not, the pain and the hate will close the way to the grace of God (..) We have to take care of our children, they are our future, if not the next generation of ISIS will be from our side.”, says Father Douglas Al-Bazi, an Iraqi Catholic priest who was shot in the leg during Mass, whose church was bombed and who was kidnapped and tortured by Daish. When miraculously released, he returned immediately to his flock, knowing the dangers…

The impressive televised testimony of one of the brothers of the the 21 Coptic martyrs beheaded for their faith in Christ by Daish in Libya last month shows the power of faith, forgiveness and redemption in ways that we can hardly begin to imagine…

There is a lot for us in the West to learn from oriental Christians, especially when it comes to their faithfulness to Christ, their willingness to embrace their suffering whilst openly forgiving those that have harmed them. We Christians in the West have not been put to the test of faith as have the Christians in the East – they are the living examples of Christ’s mercy. Let them be our guides as we prepare for a truly Holy Year of Mercy.


The Good Argument and the Better Example

At the conclusion of the last week’s meeting of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference in Bregenz, the Conference Chairman, His Eminence Cardinal Christoph Schönborn – who is also the Grand Chancellor of the ITI – gave an interview during which he explained how the Catholic view on life is increasingly being regarded as a minority ‘opinion’, and what our response as Christians to this situation should be. We need sound arguments to explain why the Church is defending the humanity of society here, the Cardinal underlined, and even more we need the most credible argument of a life in Christ lived by example. In the future, “we will recognize Catholics by what they will not do”, Schönborn said, referring to a host of ‘medical’ procedures ignoring the inviolability of human life and dignity. The Cardinal specifically referred to the Church’s opposition against the selective (and massive) destruction of human beings in the embryonic stage during in-vitro fertilization procedures, as well as state-sanctioned assisted suicide. These Church positions have only one thing in mind, he concluded, and that is the preservation of a humane society.

The history of the 20th Century should have taught us enough lessons showing what happens to a society where the inviolable right to life and respect for the dignity of every human being, from the moment of conception onward and regardless of any human-made categories or labels, is not upheld in full and without exceptions. The moment one group in society starts making exceptions with regard to another group, we are already moving towards new forms of mass killing. This is the tragedy of human history: ever since we human beings discovered the power to kill, we have found reasons to explain to ourselves and to others why it is good to kill this person or that group. Endless exceptions have been created to God’s clear commandment “thou shall not kill”.

How true were the words of the Cardinal was shown this week on Tuesday when the European Parliament in Strasbourg adopted the so-called “Tarabella Report”. Meant to report annually on the development of equality between women and men in the EU, as so often happens the report was cleverly twisted by those wanting to introduce a “right to abortion”. For years efforts have been underway at the EU, the UN and other international organizations to introduce abortion as a fundamental human right. This report was part of this ongoing effort. EU reports have no legislative status, but they strongly influence policy making. The European Parliament approved the report with 441 to 205 votes and 52 abstaining. More such “reports” are in the pipelines. It is useful to analyze more closely some of the wording used to promote abortion, because those promoting it are of the – seemingly majority – opinion that this killing of innocent human life actually makes sense and is perfectly justified, and therefore should even be included in the international catalog of human rights.

Paragraph 45 of the “Tarabella Report” states:

“Maintains that women must have control over their sexual and reproductive health and rights, not least by having ready access to contraception and abortion; supports, accordingly, measures and actions to improve women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services and inform them more fully about their rights and the services available;”

The last part of the quote “inform them more fully about their rights and the services available” is particularly problematic because it not only equates the possibility to end the unborn life with a “right” the woman can insist upon at the cost of the taxpayer, it also presents it as a service that should be provided by the State. Language promoting abortion has thus developed to a point where the procedure of deliberately terminating an innocent life in the mother’s womb is seen as a service to women and to society as a whole. When before in the history of mankind has the possibility to kill a defenseless human being been called a service the State should provide? What is our understanding of human life when the State becomes the provider of life-ending “services”?

As Cardinal Schönborn said in his press conference, we need sound arguments and good examples to show why those promoting such procedures are wrong. We should show how these procedures destroying human life disregard the most fundamental reality of human life, so well expressed by the writer Michael D. O’Brien:

“Each human life, no matter how “small”, is miraculous, infinitely more valuable than an inanimate object. Each and every person is a word never before seen, never to be repeated, inexpressibly beautiful in the eyes of God.”

This simple yet profound truth is our most powerful argument, and is now increasingly being publicly confirmed by those testifying by example to the uniqueness and beauty of each and every human being by their own lives, even in the most painful of situations: abortion survivors and rape victims. Claire Culwell is a young woman who survived an abortion but lost her twin sister in the procedure. She is now a voice for the unborn and tells her story in this video. Three women in another video give testimony of their horrendous ordeals and how they still chose for life, where one of the women says:

“My daughter is just the absolutely greatest gift for me. I think that the biggest problem I have had in recovering from my rape is that for so long I wanted to go back and be the person I was before the rape. And, what my daughter taught me is that there is value to who I have become after my rape, and the value is in being a mother to her and learning to love in an absolute unconditional way, to start seeing the innocence and the beauty in life again. She has taught me all that… I have absolutely no doubt that my daughter was a gift from God to help me to overcome and survive this experience. She will forever know that she changed her mother’s life for the better.”

They are the best examples of what it means to answer evil not with evil, but with charity and generosity, and how this is the only right answer, because only love generates and regenerates life, even in the most difficult of circumstances. This is the hope by example and good arguments Christians are called to live, and this is also what we teach our students here at the ITI.

Redemption

“Memorial for Unborn Children” by the Slovakian sculptor Martin Hudácek


The only true Theologians are the Saints

Last week, on February 25, the ITI had the great privilege of an evening lecture on the Prima Pars Quaestio of the Summa theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas, held by our Grand Chancellor Cardinal Dr. Christoph Schönborn. Before being appointed bishop many years ago, Fr. Christoph Schönborn, O.P. was a professor of theology and a very good one at that. Not only does the Cardinal have a vast teaching experience and many publications on his name, he is above all a teacher with a great love for teaching, who also has a deep knowledge of the great Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the patron Saints of the ITI.

Essential for understanding the call of the Christian in today’s world, and thus also the call of each of the ITI graduates, is the point the Cardinal started his lecture with: only the Saints are true theologians, because the Saints lived in full – rather than merely study and discuss academically – the Word of God and the teachings of His Church. They are our best teachers because we can see through their lives what it means in the daily realities of our broken world to live a life in Christ. The Saints did not hide from the world, nor despise it; they actively engaged with it and so through their living example of love, redemption and the overcoming of their human weaknesses make it possible for us to see what our call in this world is, and how to humbly pursue it. Theology, therefore, before anything else, should be pursued to serve. The Cardinal here spoke some vital and humbling words for all of us:

“The fundamental task of any science should be to serve, knowledge has to serve. If not, it becomes pride, it becomes dangerous, very dangerous, it inflates, as St. Paul says. Theology should serve the faithful, and (..) if you feel superior of the simple faithful, you are already on the wrong track. All the science you acquire through studying theology academically is to serve the faith of the faithful. St. Thomas always speaks about the vetula – old woman, a simple old woman. For St. Thomas she is the measure; we have to serve the faith of the faithful and of the simple ones. If your theology pretends to be superior of the faith of the simple faithful then you are already agnostic and not a Christian theologian.”

The task of Theology thus is to serve the Kingdom of God that is being established on Earth through the faith of the faithful. At the ITI we do this by forming the minds and the hearts of men and women that can engage with the world and show it the light of Christ in all its brightness. It easily becomes clear when we look at the great suffering all around us, near and far, how much a serving theology is called for to heal the many wounds and to give hope. As St. Thomas says: “..yet the slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge obtained of lesser things..” It is the hope that lies in these highest things that Theology is called to provide to all people of all nations.

 

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A Turbulent World and the Call of the Christian

We live in turbulent times, and as Christians in Western nations we could easily fall into despair in the face of multiple sustained attacks on the foundations of our societies, whether it be the intensifying persecution and martyrdom of our brethren in the Middle East and many other parts of the world, the tsunami of policy efforts in our countries that undermine marriage and the family, or the now institutionalized disregard for the sanctity of human life in all its stages. Human life today is being quietly but effectively destroyed on an industrial scale never before seen in the history of mankind. As is the case with the ever growing persecution of Christians, the truth about abortion and its dramatic consequences is mostly left unmentioned. We merely call it: “freedom of choice”. Killing innocent human life has simply become a matter of free choice. Where is the moral outrage of the West here?

Despite these horrendous facts, Christ has already redeemed us and the world by his cross and resurrection, and therefore we may not despair. There is a great need however, for Christians to rise up and be heard, to be what Christ calls us to be: a sign of contradiction. This we are doing far too little as we tend to talk ourselves into saying it is not all that bad and that there is really nothing we can do. It is so much more comfortable, even within the Church, to keep focusing on our own little communities and problems and disregard the wider – and burning – world in which each one of us is called by the Gospel to be engaged. Pope emeritus Benedict XVI has some harsh words for this attitude:

“In the consciousness of the Church (…), a massive narrowing has taking place. We look only at ourselves, we are concerned only with ourselves; we lick our wounds; we want to construct a nice Church for ourselves and hardly see any longer that the Church doesn’t exist for herself but that we have a word that has something to say to the world and that ought to be heard, a word that could give something. We are too forgetful of our real tasks.”

We have a word, Benedict says, The Word, and this is best heard and seen when Christians live out their lives among their fellow human beings, making it visible what it means to follow Jesus, the Son of God.  This is our real task, of which we are so often forgetful. The Word lived shows us the dignity of each and every human life from the moment of conception, it shows us the sanctity of the sacrament of marriage and the beauty of a family springing from it and holding together. The World lived is like a city on a mountain; it is visible for all. The task of the Christian is indeed to bring the Word to the world! This line of thought is continued by Pope Francis, who told the three million Catholic youth gathered on Copacabana Beach in the summer of 2013:

“Where does Jesus send us? There are no borders, no limits: he sends us to everyone. The Gospel is for everyone, not just for some. It is not only for those who seem closer to us, more receptive, more welcoming. It is for everyone. Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent. The Lord seeks all, he wants everyone to feel the warmth of his mercy and his love.”

So what are we waiting for?

Here at the ITI, our aim is to form young men and women from every continent to answer this call to bring Christ everywhere, and to do so with conviction. We do this with a specific focus on strengthening Christian marriage and the family in our societies. Our alumni all over the world provide compelling evidence that the profound Catholic formation they have received here prepares them for this most important task of our times.

Let us also pray at the intercession of the 21 Coptic Christian Martyrs who were recently so brutally killed in Libya for their faith and who have now been beatified by Coptic Pope Tawadros II. That we all may be equally faithful to Christ as these men were.

The Copt New Martyrs

Christian Martyrdom and Our Response

These days the horrific images went all over the world of the beheading of yet another group of Christians by black-clad men, this time 22 Coptic Christians from Egypt abducted in Libya some time ago. They died calling “O God, Jesus Christ, Jesus my Lord”. They are not the first, and also not the last in a daily growing number of Christian martyrs in the Middle East and Africa at the hands of those for whom it is our duty to pray fervently for their conversion to Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Pope Francis, in an impromptu reaction to this event on Monday, said that “the blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a blood that cries out to the Lord.” It is therefore the Lord that we have to ask for intervention through his love and mercy. As so many Christian martyrs throughout the ages have taught us: hate can only be overcome by charity and forgiveness.

Our response to the daily growing threat from ideologically inspired  persecution and violence is not revenge, neither an ever more militant secularism, nor the rejection of religion in general. All this will only severely weaken us, something which our political elites still fail to see, even in the face of the crumbling order in our so-called “enlightened” democracies. As much as an army can only fend off the attacker when it is run through order and discipline and based on solid principles, so a culture can only survive and fend off those that aim at its destruction when it is embedded in a moral order and unchangeable principles that are like the roots of a tree that give water and nourishment whilst offering an anchor in times of heavy storms. Our answer today therefore must be to live he Gospel in full. Living the Gospel starts with prayer. This centuries’ old prayer by St. Francis of Assisi will be a good start:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

 AMEN

At the ITI, we already pray daily for our persecuted Christian brethren around the world, and for their persecutors as well. We will intensify this effort, as we will be asking students to devote a special weekly Holy Hour for this intention. We will also pray especially, as Pope Francis has asked us to do, for our Coptic Christian brethren, and all Christians, in Egypt.

May the souls of our martyred fellow Christians rest in peace, may their families receive consolation, and may those that killed them see the light of Christ the Savior.

More information can be found here:

http://www.aleteia.org/en/world/article/islamic-state-carries-out-mass-beheading-of-christians-5774719080988672

http://www.aleteia.org/en/religion/article/their-blood-cries-out-to-the-lord-says-pope-francis-of-beheaded-copts-5858854269091840

http://www.asianews.it/news-en/For-pope,-Copts-killed-in-Libya-simply-for-the-fact-that-they-were-Christians-33478.html

2014-06-19 11.05.04


The Mosaic Floor

This week, as the new semester started with a votive Mass for the already passed feast day of our patron Saint Thomas Aquinas, we all had the opportunity to for the first time see the marvel of the recently completed mosaic floor in the Byzantine Chapel. This has been a project made possible by the students themselves, some of whom have worked diligently during the semester break to complete the meticulous work of hand-laying the individual stones.

During Mass, our Chaplain Fr. Juraj Terek noted that this beautiful floor represents very accurately the many members of the ITI: students, staff and benefactors, all being part of the Universal Church and serving and supporting it with their individual gifts and dedication.

As so often in the history of the ITI, the mosaic floor represents a miracle of how much can be achieved with little means but much dedication from many people.

Come and see!


Advent Reflections for the Family

Strengthening the family has, from the very beginning, been essential the work of the ITI and many of its graduates. In keeping with this tradition, graduate Maruška Healy (2005) has written a wonderful guide for families about how to bring the celebration of Advent into the home. Steeped in theology and drawing from the great Advent traditions of the Church Maruška gives a beautiful witness for the domestic church on the USCCB Marriage web site. You can see for your self here!

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“Our Lady of the Sign”

Seeing With Other Eyes

It seems that the season of dancing is beginning here, and just the other weekend a group of students had the opportunity to go to a ball in Innsbruck, a town about four hours west of our little Trumau. The fellow-students who invited us are brothers who have had the privilege of spending many winters in Innsbruck. What was so remarkable about this visit to Innsbruck with them was how much their eyes were opened to the privilege that they had unwittingly been immersed in for years.

Innsbruck is a town tucked away in the beautiful mountains of northwestern Austria. They are craggy and soar straight up into the sky, and what made it all the more significant was that there was more than one member of our party who had never seen a mountain before. As you can imagine, this was utterly awe-inspiring for them. They were gazing, motioning and gasping at the beauty that surrounded us. For the brothers, who had been going to this scenic location ever since they were small boys, it was striking. They began to look around as well and say to one another, “I never noticed before—this place is incredible.”

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A view of Innsbruck.

At one point when the group of us was taking a wander through Innsbruck, one of the brothers even pulled out his phone to take a picture of a mountain which he had been “seeing” since he was a kid, saying in an awed voice, “wow, that is really beautiful.”

This event captures something I experience over and over at the ITI, the value of community for making me recognize beauty. Sometimes it takes the eyes of another to wake me to the beauty of something that is so everyday that it no longer strikes me. Perhaps it is simply that when you share with another, it forces you to slow down and see through their eyes, which makes the sharing itself a great gift.