“Zeal for your house will consume me.” John 2:13
This Sunday, we read about Jesus in the Temple’s precincts, in a passage that appears at the beginning of John’s gospel. The other three gospel writers have placed this story much later in their narratives. All the same, it’s Passover, and Jesus is angry over the violation of the Temple and tells the money-changers and those selling doves: “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”
What is striking is Jesus’s change in personality. While compassionate to all, including children, women, and the sick, here Jesus is furious over the exploitation of religion for financial, political, or personal gain. Most of all, he is zealous about how corruption affects people’s spiritual lives – just days before the feast of Passover.
Do we have a zeal for the gospel? How do we live our moral and ethical lives in the context of our conflicted world? Are there leaders or saints whose enthusiasm inspires us, help focus our vision, and stir us to action? Jesus took action in his time; how might it suggest zealous efforts today?
On March 13, Pope Francis marks his eighth year as pope. If there is one word that might best express his take on the gospel, is that of apostolic zeal or “parrhesia.” Early in his papacy, Pope Francis drew attention to this New Testament term “parrhesia,” or courage for the sake of the gospel.
Before Francis, I have to admit that I did not know of this precise New Testament terminology. The term has the added sense of speaking boldly with frankness and forthrightness. “Parrhesia” appears over 30 times in the New Testament. In John’s Gospel alone, when Jesus speaks with “parrhesia,” he is speaking of God’s love and the demands it places on those listening and how we live “gospel life.”
Suppose there is one thing to be said about how Jorge Mario Bergoglio has defined the papacy and going back to his early biography as a Jesuit. In his case, he is both an activist and one who gathers others to his priestly efforts. Even at the age of 84, Pope Francis remains a person of apostolic zeal and mostly touched by “parrhesia.”
This weekend, March 5-8, Pope Francis has embarked on an extraordinary pastoral journey to Iraq. He’s reaching out to this war-torn country is a history-making event. He comes to Iraq as the “parish priest of the world,” traveling where few world-leaders can go.
This occasion marks Pope Francis’s 33rd pastoral journey, and the first visit of a pope to this Middle Eastern nation, and his first time traveling in a time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Iraq’s population is predominantly Muslim, with about 300,000 Christians in a country of 40 million.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kazimi officially welcomed Francis on Friday since the pope is considered a head of state, namely the Holy See. The pope’s vision is non-political. However, Francis is not blind to the havoc and the harsh reality of the Middle Eastern conflict, forcing the mass migration of peoples from their homelands.
John Allen, a long-time Vatican correspondent, writes: “In a moment in which other world leaders generally aren’t making high-profile trips, and in which the global media is starved for good news stories to tell, his (Pope Francis’s) presence in Iraq has maximum resonance.” (Crux, 3/7/21)
Pope Francis’s pastoral visit is meant to assure his closeness to Catholics, and other Christians left behind and become the prime targets of terrorist organizations.
Most significantly, Francis demonstrates his dedication to the building of interreligious dialogue between Christians and Muslims. On Saturday, Francis met with the Grand Ayatollah, Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani, who at ninety-years old remains the leading theologian and thinker in Shiite Islam.
By visiting Iraq, the pope gives further opportunity to “dialogue, understanding and widespread promotion of a culture of tolerance, acceptance of others and living together peacefully would contribute significantly to reducing many economic, social, political and environmental problems that weigh so heavily on a large part of humanity.”
In the same 2019 statement, entitled “A Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” the pope along with prominent Muslim representatives “resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility, and extremism, nor must they incite violence of the shedding of blood.”
Does the pope’s visit forecast long-term consequences for Iraq and the Vatican’s fostering of peaceful relations? John Allen notes: “Francis’s March 3-8 journey to Iraq is, in effect, also his shot at the title — not of “greatest” papal trip of all time, perhaps, but the most emblematic, the one that best sums up the spirit of the papacy and its message for the world in its historical moment.” (Crux, 3/7/21)
Does the pope’s visit to Iraq have much connection to our mission at Santa Catalina? Of course, this is a good question. One association worth noting is Saint Catherine of Siena, our patron and the model of apostolic zeal or “parrhesia.”
I noticed a newspaper headline, “Iraqi Sister Hopes Pope’s Visit Shows the World their Country’s Suffering. (NCR, March 2, 2021). So, here’s a connection for our Santa Catalina community.
The lead paragraph, “Among those waiting Pope Francis’ planned March 5-8 visit to Iraq is the Dominican Sister of Catherine of Siena, a community in the Nineveh plain that is still rebuilding after Islamic State fighters invaded the area some six years ago.” The article says that the sisters and their community found safety near Irbil in the Iraqi Kurdistan region but could not return home for two years.
Dominican sister Luma Khudher commented: “The pope’s visit will place the world’s eyes on us, on our story and our struggle to survive,” and added that the pope message would bring “a message of peace and coexistence… and balance to our country.”
Sister Luma’s prayer is our prayer for the Holy Father and the people of Iraq — on the occasion of Pope Francis’ journey of dialogue and peace.
Muslim Prayer for Peace
In the name of Allah, the beneficent, the merciful. Praise be to the Lord of the Universe, who has created us and made us into tribes and nations that we may know each other. If the enemy incline toward peace, do thou also incline towards peace, and trust God, for the Lord is the one that heareth and knoweth all things. And the servants of God, most Gracious are those who walk on the Earth in humility, and when we address them, we say “PEACE.”
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.
This afternoon, I appeared on KCBS Radio with anchor Melissa Culross to discuss Pope Francis’s trip to Iraq.