Our Golden Calf

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent

March 26, 2020

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calf

Today, in Mercy, God sends Moses down to straighten out his “depraved people” because, despite all God’s  goodness to them, they have preferred “the golden calf”.

In the deprivations of this pandemic time, when all of us are doing a lot of soul-searching, we are discovering quite a few golden calves still running around in our times.


One of them jumped out at me last night when I read this headline:

Texas’ lieutenant governor suggests grandparents
are willing to die for US economy


I woke up this morning still appalled by the statement.  But upon reflection, I realized that Mr. Patrick may have unwittingly done us a great service if we ruthlessly unpack his cavalier remarks.

How have we gotten to a world where such a statement can be uttered and even approved by some? How can we so blatantly ignore basic moral principles such as the sanctity of every life, and that the ends never justify the means? Well, let’s take a look at Moses’ “depraved” community. They seem to have reached a similar moral deprivation.

I think the key lies with the golden calf.  The idol is a symbol of the Israelite community’s economy, what they really deem most important, what they really worship when they think God isn’t looking. When they look upon its golden reflection, they see themselves mirrored back the way they want to be – rich, powerful, and dominant. Lt. Governor Patrick’s statement should make us consider how we have become hypnotized by the same idolatries.

Let’s face it.  We live in a culture that has normalized war, capital punishment, abortion, illegal detention, corporate hijacking of natural resources, unchecked pollution, and commercialization of deadly substances like tobacco. Why are we surprised that we’re ready to sacrifice the elderly to preserve the sheen on our “golden calf”?

We have created a world where we welcome information sources that tell us lies just so we can be falsely convinced and dangerously indifferent. It’s really hard to discern a moral path amidst today’s political complexities. So let’s just build that golden calf whose mesmerizing patina permits us to remain morally comatose!


I hope we allow this man’s callous commentary to continue to stab our consciences:

Somebody’s beloved can die
not only so that my beloved can live,
but can also have an undamaged economy.


What “economy”, for God’s sake? Does he mean the one where over 40 million Americans and nearly 800 million worldwide face daily hunger? Or where 80 million Americans have inadequate or no health insurance? Or does he mean the extractive economy which causes two-thirds of the world population to live on less than $10 per day?

I’m pretty sure he means instead the economy of the “ golden calf” where 

  • half of the world’s net wealth belongs to the top 1%
  • top 10% of adults hold 85%
  • while the bottom 90% eke out existence on  the remaining 15% of the world’s total wealth

I’m not willing to die to shore up that economy, are you? But I’m sure willing to fight to change it.

So, at least, thanks for inspiring me, Lt. Governor Patrick and God help you!

Music: If There’s a God in Heaven – Elton John – (a song that could reflect how the ancient Israelites struggled with their tortuous journey. (Lyrics below)

Torn from their families
Mothers go hungry
To feed their children
But children go hungry
There’s so many big men
They’re out making millions
When poverty’s profits
Just blame the children
If there’s a God in heaven
What’s he waiting for
If He can’t hear the children
Then he must see the war
But it seems to me
That he leads his lambs
To the slaughter house
And not the promised land
Dying for causes
They don’t understand
We’ve been taking their futures
Right out of their handsThey need the handouts
To hold back the tears
There’s so many crying
But so few that hear

If there’s a God in heaven

Well, what’s he waiting for

If there’s a God in heaven
What’s he waiting for

 

Leap … and Be Held

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

February 29, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Isaiah continues his advice begun in yesterday’s reading. When he finishes the list of things we should and should not do, Isaiah tells us how God will respond:

Then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday;
Then the LORD will guide you always
and give you plenty even on the parched land.
God will renew your strength,
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring whose water never fails.
The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake,
and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up ~

Oh, who can resist these glorious Isaiahan lines. It’s a beautiful picture, isn’t it? To imagine it offers us great encouragement as we lumber through Lent and out of the doldrums of February.

deer

How fitting that this should be our reading on “Leap Day”, a 24-hour period that many of us consider an extra gift.


Here’s a thought I wrote several years ago that I hope you will find beneficial:

Mitch Albom, the author who wrote “Tuesdays with Morrie”, wrote another book entitled “Just One More Day”.

It is an appropriate title to think about in this week in Leap Year when we will actually have “just one more day” than normal.

How often have we wished that phrase, perhaps near the end of a great vacation, or before an important project is due? Or maybe as Mitch Albom uses it: to have just one more day with someone who has passed from our lives.

With God, we always have one more day. God is Infinite Possibility and Eternal Generosity. Saturday – February 29 – is a good day to stretch our faith and ask what God would have us do with “just one more day” to witness to Divine Abundance in our lives.

Leap2020

Will it be one more day to love, to work, to be thankful, to be competitive, to take advantage or to give it?  The way we use that “one more day” will tell us a lot about how we are using all our days. Maybe we could consider a question that one of our older Sisters is famous for: “Wouldn’t it be sad to come to the last day of our lives – (no more days) —  and realize that we had missed the whole point?”


May all your “leaps” take you to blessed places, dear Friends.
Let go. Take the leap into God’s way, as Isaiah counsels. And just be held.

Music: Just Be Held – Casting Crown 

Lent: The Wound

Friday after Ash Wednesday

February 28, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Isaiah cuts his listeners no slack — and we too are his listeners.

Is58_7_10

In this powerful passage, the prophet shatters the pretenses of those who make a show of religion. Speaking with God’s voice, Isaiah lambastes those who fast and pray but practice no works of justice and mercy.

“Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits,
and drive all your laborers.
Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting,
striking with wicked claw.”

These “fake fasters” are left wondering why God doesn’t answer their prayers. The prophet tells them that God isn’t fooled by their pretenses:

Is this the manner of fasting I wish,
of keeping a day of penance:
That a man bow his head like a reed
and lie in sackcloth and ashes?

Isaiah says that God’s not into sackcloth and ashes. God’s into good works of mercy and justice. These are the actions that change our hearts, opening us to deeper relationship with God.

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.


Listen, dear friends. It can’t be clearer than that.

priscilla-du-preez-FOsina4f7qM-unsplash
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

In a world full of prosperity gospels, false piety and pretend religion – used to justify all kinds of injustice – we may get mixed up sometimes about what pleases God.

Let’s really open our hearts to Isaiah’s message and try to rid our own lives of any pretense about these things.

Let’s confront such hypocrisy when we see it used to subtly oppress rather than to lift up others.


Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed.

Perhaps we might spend sometime today thinking about that “wound” we need healed. Might there be some harbored prejudice, indifference, fear, or ignorance that distances us from others who are different, vulnerable, or in need?

Isaiah cautions that until that wound is healed, we will never hear God’s true answer to our prayers.

Music:  Respond – Collin Campbell (Lyrics below)

 

Oh how long will you cry out
And never truly seek my face
You come to me with heavy hearts
But you ignore what makes mine break

I see your thoughts, I hear your words
And I have watched you as you’ve prayed
I’ve told you my desires
But you don’t follow all the way

Children, I’m crying out
Break the chains
Let the oppressed go free
Empty yourselves to those in need
Be my hands Be my feet
What you do unto them You do unto Me

Every day you lift your voice
And await my swift response
But I see only what’s inside
And it’s (what i see on the inside) an offering I don’t want

Children, I’m crying out
Break the chains
Let the oppressed go free
Empty yourselves to those in need
Be my hands Be my feet
What you do unto them You do unto Me

Then your Salvation will come like the dawn
And my glory will be your shield
When you call on My name I will not turn away
I am Your God And I am here
And your light it will shine from the dark
You will be like a free flowing stream
And when you call on My name I will not turn away
I am your God And I am here

Be Impartial, or Not?

Thursday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

February 20, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, two Apostles of Jesus are our teachers. James advises us on what to do. Beloved Peter, as so often is the case, shows us what not to do.

James tells us to show no partiality. He makes clear that he is talking about impartiality toward those who are materially poor. It’s a maxim that Jesus gave us time and again in the Gospel.

James2_1 partiality

James reminds us that Jesus is not just impartial toward the poor, he actually has a preferential love for them. So Jesus was partial to the poor, right? Hmm!

Yes, I think that’s right. In order to balance our human inclination to the richest, best, strongest, etc., Jesus teaches us to go all out in the other direction.

It’s like this great cartoon that’s popped up on Facebook recently:

equity


Our Gospel picks up the theme.

Because of his great love for the poor and his passion for mercy, Jesus tells his followers that suffering is coming. Peter doesn’t like hearing that. Can you see Peter take Jesus aside and say, “Listen, Jesus, negative talk is going to hurt you campaign. You’re God! You can just zap suffering out of your life!


behind me satan

Jesus responds to Peter definitively: “Get thee behind me, Satan!

Wow! That must have stung! But that’s how important it was to Jesus that his followers understood his mission: to preach Mercy to the poor, sick, and broken by sharing and transforming their experience.

Jesus wants us to understand that too.

 


Music: Beauty for Brokenness – Graham Kendrick

A Queenly Message

Wednesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

February 12, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, the Queen of Sheba visits Solomon. It’s another Solomon story worthy of the big screen where, in fact, it has been loosely fictionalized and adulterated many times.

sheba

Many trusted scripture scholars question the historicity of the story. Several agree that Solomon never rose to the kind of material glory described in the passage. The two books of Kings were written 500 years after Solomon lived. In many aspects, the writings offer a reflection on the meaning of his reign in Israel’s covenanted life rather than a strict account of his life.

So what might we glean from today’s passage on the mysterious queen. The story demonstrates that Solomon is so accomplished that a revered leader will come to learn from him. Once she arrives, she is overwhelmed by his material successes and strength. Solomon has constructed a dominant, rich and subservient culture.

But wait. Is there a bit of ironic judgement and, perhaps, prophetic reminder woven into the Queen’s accolades? Shifting the focus from an increasingly arrogant Solomon back to Israel’s God, she says:

Blessed be the LORD, your God,
whom it has pleased to place you on the throne of Israel.
In his enduring love for Israel,
the LORD has made you king to carry out judgment and justice

In fact, the great wealth and power of Solomon’s kingdom was built, not on justice and judgement, but on the backs of the poor and excluded. For example, Walter Brueggemann says this:

(Solomon’s kingdom) … was an economy of extraction that regularly transferred wealth from subsistence farmers to the elite in Jerusalem, who lived off the surplus and the device and the strategy for that extraction was an exploitative tax system.

When the Biblical scribe puts the words judgment and justice into the Queen’s remarks, it may be intended to forecast the miserable end Solomon will meet because he has abandoned his responsibilities to care for all the people according the the Lord’s covenant.

This glorious, shining realm which so impressed the Queen is a kingdom built on corruption, greed, militarism, and manipulation of the poor.

The lessons for our world are obvious.


As Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel, it doesn’t matter whether we’re gilded in gold on the outside and spin our words in glorious promises. What matters are the true intentions of our hearts and the compassionate actions they inspire:

But what comes out of the person, that is what defiles him.
From within, from the heart,
come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.

Ultimately, the great Solomon misses the boat on this. May his story help us not to do the same.


Also, as we pray, we may want to remember the devastated people of Yemen, the land identified as the historical Sheba. For some background on the current crisis in Yemen, see this article from Catholic Bishops


Music: La Reine de Saba – Raymond LeFevre

Shine!

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 9, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are threaded on a theme of light, justice, and healing.

Is58_8wound

Isaiah writes to a formerly exiled community trying to restore itself after returning to Jerusalem. Tensions, meanness, and dissatisfactions tear at the community. Focus on religious rituals becomes excessive while communitarian practices are ignored.

It is a sad and fractious time for Israel.

Isaiah tells them they are missing the whole point.  The path to healing their national soul is not through empty religious words and practices.

If you remove from your midst
oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
if you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday.


In our second reading, Paul writes to the Corinthian community similarly disturbed. He reminds the Corinthians that he came to build Christian community among them humbly and open to the Holy Spirit. Like Isaiah in the first reading, Paul now reminds his community not to miss the point:

I came to you in weakness …
so that your faith might rest
not on human wisdom

but on the power of God.


Jesus tells his disciples to let that power of God shine in them by virtue of their good deeds — the very same deeds Isaiah recommends to his listeners:

Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.


In sum, our readings caution us that failures in charity and mercy wound us, both as individuals and as a community. Meanness kills – not only its object, but its subject as well.

When we remove all meanness from our actions, the Light shines, healing all our wounds.

Music:  Let Your Light Shine – Mike Balhoff and Darryl Ducote

Choices

Friday of the Third Week of Ordinary Time

January 31, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, if this first reading doesn’t smack you right between the eyes, check your political pulse, dear Friends!

David has become King, called to lead his people with a largeness of heart for their good…. but…

power

 

Power tends to corrupt, and the corruption is hard to resist even for the likes of David. With no checks and balances on him, David commandeers anything he desires – nations, goods, women, human lives! He is convinced that he can do anything he wants to do. His choices lurch him into a spinning culture of death, evil, and selfishness.

This passage from 2 Samuel is threaded with the very same lines woven into this morning’s newspapers: plotting, manipulation, lying, obstruction, projection, irresponsibility, crudeness, disrespect….

Aren’t we just so sick and tired of it all!?

Over the coming days, we will see how David’s corruption affects him – and it’s quite a drama! But for our prayer today, what can we learn?


Perhaps the Gospel offers us a key.

Mk4_30

Jesus talks about “the Kingdom of Heaven”. He uses the symbols of a healthy harvest and a tiny mustard seed. He teaches his listeners that when the things of God are planted deep in us, we too yield a life-giving harvest. We become large-hearted, God-hearted.

Through the gift of free will, God gives us power. We can choose between good and evil, self and others, life and death. In today’s passage, David makes some huge, selfish mistakes in his choices.

Throughout history and even today, people make the same good and bad choices. When leaders make such choices, the whole world feels the impact.

Today, I might want to check how I’m doing, not only in my personal choices, but in my advocacy for a moral and just world for all people.

Music:  A Pure Heart – Rusty Nelson

To Save A Life …

Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children

January 22, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our first reading is stuff worthy of an action movie! Even today, in my seventh decade, I remember the first time I heard it as a spellbound child. Could young, virtually unarmed David really conquer a GIANT!

Goliath

Wrapped in the story, of course, is the spiritual nugget we are meant to take to our own heart:

…thus the whole land shall learn that Israel has a God.
All this multitude, too,
shall learn that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves.
                    For the battle is the LORD’s
       and he shall deliver you into our hands.


We have battles of every description all around us: military, political, economic, cultural, moral, and personal. Today’s Day of Prayer highlights one of those battles – the right to life for unborn children.

On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court issued a 7–2 decision in favor of Roe that held that women in the United States have a fundamental right to choose whether or not to have abortions without excessive government restriction, and struck down Texas’s abortion ban as unconstitutional. (Wikipedia)

Since that fateful day, many people of faith, and certainly the Catholic Church, have fought this decision. It has been a contentious and divisive battle which has divided people into pro and anti-abortion factions.

From my perspective, one unfortunate dimension of the situation is an insufficient effort by Catholic bishops to provide wholistic definition, research, teaching, and support to Catholics on the moral imperative for the right to life in all its aspects.

Mk3_4_life

Episcopal support for right to life often degenerates into a single-issue approach which fails to instruct on other life issues such as war, death penalty, poverty, adequate health care, civil and women’s rights, and environmental justice.

At the same time, morality statements around these issues often fail to address legitimate concerns around birth control, maternity care, newborn nutritional programs, and other issues parents struggle with.

Probably what most infuriates me is the political hijacking of this single issue by those whose own moral and policy choices mock a comprehensive culture of life.

Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister said this in a 2004 interview:

“I do not believe that just because you are opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, a child educated, a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

Personally, I am deeply opposed to abortion. And I am just as deeply opposed to an inconsistent morality and a policy-making which isolates this issue to the point of stagnating ignorance and indifference on other critical life issues.

A phrase in today’s Gospel struck me as I prayed on these things. Perhaps it will strike you as well:

Jesus said to the Pharisees,
“Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath
rather than to do evil,

to save life rather than to destroy it?

Jesus acknowledges that finding moral perfection requires a balancing of goods, some of which are weightier than others. The Sabbath laws were designed to foster the spiritual life. But if their observance consigns this crippled man to hopelessness, have the laws met their goal?

If indeed a life is saved from abortion, society must continue to save that life by fostering a culture which supports it for ALL of its life..

Music: Hymn of Life – St. Teresa of Calcutta

So Much More Than a Holiday!

photo-1570492886075-77b6014064ab

Some of us begin this day simply grateful for a holiday. Perhaps some of us forget, or some are too young to remember, how this “holiday” came to be.

But there are some among us who are old enough to remember his actual voice; to have listened — live – on that sweltering August day in 1963 when he inspired us with the words:

I have a dream.

gty_march_on_washington_martin_luther_king_ll_130819_16x9_992

There are some of us who saw him stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on that golden day, the personification of President Lincoln’s vision of justice and equality.

 There are some of us who listened and watched every step he took, every prayer he said, every challenge he met with equanimity and courage.


 There are some of us who remember the very night he told us:

I have been to the mountaintop 
and I have seen the Promised Land.
I may not get there with you.
But I want you to know that we,
as a people,
will get to the promised land.

 

There was a whole world of us who cried when he was martyred the very next day.


Monday is no mere holiday. It is the commemoration of a giant soul who changed the world forever. And he did it not in the way that many have done it throughout history — through wars and conquest.

Martin Luther King changed the world by non-violent protest, by a leadership of love, by a faith that endures beyond the assassin’s gun.

Say his name in reverence on this commemorative day. He has given all of us — no matter our color — the hope of a more human existence. If you have not had the gift of living in his time, ask your elders who remember his face, his sound, his power to tell you the story of the freedom God gave each of us.

 In his memory, and to continue to realize his dream, we might consider these 12 steps to non-violence for our own lives.


12 Steps to Non-Violence

  1. Acknowledge your powerlessness — that our lives/culture are co-opted by subversive and pervasive violence
  2. Believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to right relationship.
  3. Decide to turn our will and our lives over to that Power.
  4. Examine fearlessly our own violent inclinations.
  5. Admit to that Power, to ourselves and to another person the exact nature of our own violence.
  6. Be open to have that inclination removed.
  7. Ask to have all violence removed from our hearts and actions.
  8. List all persons to whom we have been violent by word or deed and be willing to make amends to them.
  9. Amend directly to these people wherever possible and prudent.
  10. Self-examine continuously; promptly admit recurring violence in ourselves.
  11. Seek through prayer and meditation to know the nature of Peace and Mercy.
  12. Carry the message of non-violence to others and practice it in all our interactions.

Music: “Abraham, Martin and John” is a 1968 song written by Dick Holler and sung here by Marvin Gaye. It is a tribute to the memory of four assassinated Americans, all icons of social change: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Robert F. Kennedy. It was written in response to the assassination of King and that of Robert Kennedy in April and June 1968, respectively. (Wikipedia)

The song reflects the mix of awe, hope, sorrow and disappointment the nation felt in those tumultuous times.

 

 

The Righteous Kingdom

Monday After Epiphany

January 6, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, John instructs us in the meaning of true righteousness. 

We human beings can get very confused about this term. Some have used it to imply that observable religious practice makes one superior, holier than others. We can all visualize the “righteous” preacher pouring fire and brimstone over the lowly congregation. The beautiful term “righteousness” has been disserved by this image.

In his first letter, John describes the root of true righteousness, that state of graceful balance within a Gospel-powered life:

Beloved:
We receive from him whatever we ask,
because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.
And his commandment is this:
we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ,
and love one another just as he commanded us.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is in the early stages of his public ministry. He is slowly teaching the people how different his “power” and “righteousness” will be from the worldly power they might have expected.

Mt4_23 kingdom

Jesus’s “Kingdom” stands in stark contrast to the Roman Empire and the principles of domination, aggression and disregard for life which fed it. Jesus’s is a Kingdom built by uniting our differences, especially those of the poor and sick, into the oneness of God’s love.

Jesus went around all of Galilee,
teaching in their synagogues,
proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom,

curing every disease and illness among the people.
His fame spread to all of Syria,

and they brought to him
all who were sick with various diseases

and racked with pain,
those who were possessed, lunatics, and paralytics,
and he cured them.


Praying with these readings today brings me face to face “the elephant in the room”. In this Lavish Mercy community, we hope together for the growth of the Gospel Kingdom in a global community. But now that yet unrealized community stands at the brink of war because nations have so badly blurred the lines between the righteous Gospel Kingdom and the self-righteous Empire.

RSM statement
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas join with people across the world in condemning the Trump Administration’s drone strike assassination of Qassem Soleimani, leader of Iran’s Quds force, outside of Baghdad. Far from fostering peace in a troubled part of the world, this reckless decision will only escalate violence and increase suffering for millions of people. We call on our government to reject violence and militarism and instead to engage in the hard work of diplomacy. –Sister Patricia McDermott, RSM, president, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

It is difficult to look at the “elephant” without getting political, but I am trying hard to refrain from political opinion here. What I can say with confidence is that we as faith-impelled people cannot stay silent in the face of the world’s current situation. When our voice is heard – at the ballot box and through direct advocacy – may it reflect the fundamental Gospel imperatives for which Jesus lived and died.


These clippings from Pope Francis’s visit to Hiroshima helped me in my prayer today:

“How can we propose peace if we constantly invoke the threat of catastrophic war as a legitimate recourse for the resolution of conflicts?”

“May the abyss of pain endured here in Hiroshima remind us of boundaries that must never be crossed. A true peace can only be an unarmed peace.”

“In a single plea to God and to all men and women of good will, on behalf of all the victims of atomic bombings and experiments, and of all conflicts, let us together cry out: Never again war, never again the clash of arms, never again so much suffering,” 

“Indeed, if we really want to build a more just and secure society, we must let the weapons fall from our hands.”

Pope Francis quoted Gaudium et Spes, which states that “peace is not merely the absence of war … but must be built of ceaselessly.” He added that the lessons of history show that peace is the fruit of justice, development, solidarity, care for our common home, and promotion of the common good.

“I am convinced that peace is no more than an empty word unless it is founded on truth, built up in justice, animated and perfected by charity, and attained in freedom.”

Music: Adagio for Strings – Samuel Barber