in America Today
Christ walked among us today, his basic message would be the same as
in his own day. But the words and images he used, the challenges he
raised would be different.
Jesus' basic command
is more urgent than ever: "Love one another as I have loved you." Because
the word "love" means everything and nothing to us today, I would like
to explore more thoroughly what it means to live and love as Jesus would
in the modern world. In this article, I would like to do a little imaginative
reflection on how Jesus of Nazareth would respond to our world if he
were born again into American society at the beginning of the third
the Good News
From the very beginning
of his public mission, Jesus proclaimed the Good News that the Reign
of God has arrived. Jesus came to reveal the God of life and the kingdom
of the God of love. The process of sharing this Good News in a very
personal way is called evangelization. The call to evangelize is key
to understanding who Jesus was, what he did, what he promised and who
we are called to be as Christians. This evangelization, Pope John Paul
II has noted, must be new in its methods, new in its ardor and new in
its expression. But more than anything else, he said, "Everyone should
keep in mind that the vital core of the new evangelization must be a
clear and unequivocal proclamation of the person of Jesus Christ" (Evangelii
Nuntiandi #22). In speaking directly to those of us who live in
America, the Holy Father went on to say: "A fresh encounter will make
all the members of the Church in America aware that they are called
to continue the redeemer's mission in their lands." The Holy Father's
message challenges us to ask ourselves: How can we make Christ personally
present today in such a way that people will truly have a transforming
encounter with him?
Jesus' universal call
with his message of universal welcome, especially his concern for the
poor, the ignored, the excluded, Jesus would reach out today to those
whose lives are most threatened, including the homeless and the immigrant
poor. He would challenge rigid conceptions of national boundaries that
often exclude people and condemn them to geographical spaces of misery.
One of the urgent messages of Jesus today would be, "Do not be afraid
to welcome the destitute, the weak and the unwanted of the earth into
your midst, for in welcoming them you welcome me."
also remind us that forgiveness was and is the heart of the Good News.
The central message of Jesus was forgiveness. This message is as relevant
todaymaybe more sothan it was at the time of Jesus. Perhaps
the most radical expression of love is forgiveness, and often the ones
we need to forgive the most are the ones we love the most. Jesus knew
that human beings would make mistakes and hurt one another. But he was
also very aware that vengeance is not a cure for injury.
injury breeds injury and escalates the cycle of violence. In the process,
violence destroys both the one injured and the one who injures. If the
experience of evil reduces one to the spirit of getting even, of demanding
payment, of exacting superficial notions of "justice," we only sanction
a culture of violence. The violence will never bring peace, tranquillity
or freedom. As Christians we base our lives not merely on abstract notions
of justice and forgiveness, but on the concrete life of Jesus who forgave
his enemies even from the cross.
to forgive is at the root of much violence in our country. So many of
us do not want forgiveness; we want vengeance and call it justice. For
many people in our society, forgiveness is seen as weakness rather than
as divine strength. The myth of "redemptive violence"whereby it
takes brutal power, killings, bombs and massive explosions to overcome
evilis constantly proclaimed and promoted in the popular culture
and even in a legal system that sees the death penalty as a solution.
This is definitely not the redemptive way of Jesus! Jesus forgave his
apostles for abandoning him in his hour of greatest need, not because
they had good reasons but because his love was greater than the offense.
This is the love we are called to live today.
would applaud the advances of Western civilization in promoting the
rights and respect of every individual. Yet he would challenge us to
be equally concerned for the common good of the community: for public
parks, libraries, public transportation, health care, education and
the general welfare of everyone. He would challenge us to be attentive
to the needs of those who are weak and defenseless, such as the unborn,
the handicapped, the elderly, children.
Common call to conversion
walked the streets of our society in the way he walked those of Jerusalem,
he would call us all to conversion, a conversion that would help us
realize who we truly are and help us find the life we truly seek. Though
the form of conversion would be different for each person, it would
involve turning from the false gods of our society and turning to the
true God of life.
of Jesus to the rich young man who was seeking eternal life are more
relevant today than ever before. Jesus would remind us that our real
worth lies in who we are, not in what we have. He would point out that
we must use money without being totally used by money. "Sell all that
you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have a treasure
in heaven. Then come, follow me" (Luke 18:22).
To those of us enslaved
by unbridled material greed, he would caution: "Do not store up for
yourselves treasures only in stocks, bonds, trusts and bank accounts
but in the riches of heaven, the riches of the common good and service
of your neighbor." Jesus would challenge the idolatries of money and
success and call us to conversion through a deeper commitment to human
dignity and the value of each person.
Again the words of
Jesus remain forceful: "What profit is there for one to gain the whole
world yet lose or forfeit himself?" (Luke 9:25). It is scandalous for
some of us to amass immense amounts of money and material goods while
millions of people around the world cannot afford even the most basic
necessities that we in the United States take for grantedlike
running water, electricity and the most fundamental medical care.
To university students
who are searching for their place in the world and for a way to live
meaningful lives, Jesus would say, "Come to me." He would invite them
to let themselves be touched by the poor through social service projects,
summer internships, multi-year commitments to teach in inner cities
and similar programs of service. To the searchers of the Me generation,
X generation, Web generation, he would say, "Follow
me." He would challenge them to see deeper ways of connecting than through
the electronic medium, and he would remind them that more information
does not necessarily bring wisdom or happiness. He would help them explore
the meaning of their own vocations by calling themlike his first
disciplesto reflect on the words, "What are you looking for?"
To migrant workers
and those burdened by difficult jobs, he would say, "Come to me, all
who labor and are heavily burdened. Let me walk with you in your struggles
for better working conditions and just salaries." He would offer rest
and the promise of liberation to those burdened physically and those
weighed down by a sense of failure as part of a society that measures
human worth by wealth and power.
To undocumented immigrants
he would proclaim the Good News that there are no national boundaries
in the Kingdom of God. No human law can abrogate the natural right of
the poor and starving to migrate in their quest for life.
in churches and religions, and all who are more concerned with certainty
than the more demanding works of faith, justice and mercy, Jesus would
say, "Be compassionate as my Father is compassionate." To arch-liberals
he would say, "Don't give up your values, but loosen up. The fullness
of the Kingdom is yet to come." To all he would say, "Take yourselves
a bit less seriously and enjoy a good laugh, for ultimately God alone
is in charge." He would invite all of us to reflect on our lives and
ask where they are heading.
Jesus would overturn
the money tables in our minds and hearts, the mind-set that values profit
over people, possessions over compassion and greed over human dignity.
Jesus would challenge those of us who are rich to use our wealth to
better the conditions of life, to create opportunities of humanizing
work, to develop better communitarian facilities like free parks for
all to enjoy. He would point out that wealth is a gift with a tremendous
To parents Jesus would
acknowledge the pressures of the modern world. Yet, as he said to Martha,
he would say again: Only one thing is necessary. He would highlight
that deeper relationships with God and others are what we most seek
and most need but seldom develop. He might note that the average parent
spends only seven minutes per week, one-on-one, with his or her child,
and only 32 minutes, one-on-one, with his or her spouse. In the face
of these statistics Jesus might also ask about how much time is spent
watching television. However, he would be compassionate with those of
us who have experienced failure in our relationships, especially those
who are burdened by divorce.
life to come
To those of us who
blame ourselves excessively for our own failures, Jesus would promise
new life and help us realize the potential for new relationships with
God and others in the future. To the materialistic he would ask, "What
are you living for?" and, more importantly, "What would you die for?"
He would illumine the broken cisterns of material possession, and he
would call people not to seek less but to seek more. Through his words,
deeds and actions, Jesus would continue to renew the world by renewing
people's hearts and minds and calling people to the enduring values
in life that lead to the joy of the kingdom of heaven.
As St. John says at
the end of his Gospel, there are so many things Jesus said and did that
there would not be enough books to contain them all. As I finish this
brief article, I think of so many wonderful things and exciting challenges
that Jesus would offer us. I can only sum them up in the words of Jesus
himself: "I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have
loved you, so you also should love one another" (John 13:34).*
Elizondo, a priest of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, is
founder of the Mexican American Cultural Center. A well-known speaker
and writer, he is one of the authors of A
Retreat With Our Lady of Guadalupe and Juan Diego (St. Anthony Messenger
"I should warn you now that I may need to cut
this interview a bit short. I'm scheduled to celebrate Mass
in 45 minutes."
The priesthood has long been at the center of
Theodore Hesburgh's life57 of his 83 years, to be exact.
Whether serving as president of the University of Notre Dame
(1952-1987), participating in the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
(1957-72) or accepting the Congressional Gold Medal (July 2000),
Father Hesburgh is first and foremost a priest.
He has been on close terms with presidents beginning
with Eisenhower. He has met countless world leaders on his trips
around the globe. But the day of his ordinationJune 24,
1943will always be "the happiest day" in the life of Theodore
M. Hesburgh, who continues to thrive on the Notre Dame campus
where he resides and holds the title of president emeritus.
But public service comes a close second to Father
Hesburgh, a member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross. He
has been honored on many occasions for his commitment and service
to such diverse causes as Catholic higher education, human rights,
civil rights, Third World development, the plight of refugees,
nuclear disarmament. His leadership and vision on the Notre
Dame campus and beyond serve as a challenge to all Catholics
to bring their faith and values into the marketplace.
"There is no peace without justice," Father Hesburgh
told Millennium Monthly in a recent telephone interview.
"This is the work of Jesus," he said, recalling the words with
which Jesus greeted his own disciples following his Resurrection:
"Peace be with you."
Peace and justice are what Father Hesburgh has
been about for decades and, he believes, the work to which all
believers of Jesus are called. He is thrilled when he sees others,
notably Notre Dame students, going in new directions with their
volunteering and doing "every good thing you can think of with
their energy and imagination." He is even more elated to see
them leave college "bitten by the bug," determined to bring
their competence, compassion and commitment to a world that
so badly needs them.
In the meantime, the man who has known presidents
and potentates begins and ends his day with a simple and familiar
prayer: Come, Holy Spirit. Father Theodore Hesburgh prays for
the light to see what he should be doing and for the grace to
by Judy Ball
Rome's Colosseum, where Christians were thrown to the lions
and gladiators fought to the death, has become a Jubilee Year
symbol for opponents of capital punishment. Throughout the year
2000, the amphitheater that dates from 80 A.D. is illuminated
for 48 hours each time a death sentence is suspended or commuted
or the death penalty is abolished anywhere in the world.
Bishops around the world have used the Jubilee Year to focus
on the need for alternatives to the death penalty in a society
already mired in violence. In a recent article written for the
Knights of Columbus magazine, Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, president
of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, called on the
K. of C. for help in ending executions in the U.S. He wrote:
"The consistent thread throughout the Gospels is that of love,
not hate; justice, not vengeance. Jesus Christ, our Savior,
himself the victim of the death penalty, did not condemn his
executioners but forgave them."
Pope John Paul II has commended the Colosseum project. The
Holy Year is the time, he said, to "promote more mature forms
of respect for life and the dignity of every person."