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Pope In Mexico: Address to Bishops in Mexico City

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On Saturday, February 13, 2016, following the meeting with the President of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto and his meeting with the Authorities of Mexico, Pope Francis met with the Bishops of Mexico at the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption in Mexico City. Below, find the full text of his prepared address, followed by the Angelus Address:

Address to Bishops
Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption, Mexico City
Saturday 13 February 2016

I am pleased to have this opportunity of meeting you the day after my arrival here in this beloved country, which, following in the footsteps of my predecessors, I also have come to visit.

How could I not come!  Could the Successor of Peter, called from the far south of Latin America, deprive himself of seeing la Virgen Morenita?

I thank you for receiving me in this Cathedral, a larger casita (“little house”) and yet always sagrada (“sacred”), as the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe had requested.  I also thank you for your kind words of welcome.  

I know that here is found the secret heart of each Mexican, and I enter with soft footsteps as is fitting for one who enters the home and soul of this people; and I am deeply grateful for you having opened your doors to me.  I know that by looking into the eyes of the Blessed Virgin I am able to follow the gaze of her sons and daughters who, in her, have learned to express themselves.  I know that no other voice can speak so powerfully to me of the Mexican heart as the Blessed Mother can; she guards its highest aspirations and most hidden hopes; she gathers its joys and its tears.  She understands its various languages and she responds with a Mother’s tenderness because these men and women are her own children.

I am happy to be with you here, near Cerro del Tepeyac, in a way close to the dawn of evangelization in this continent.  Please allow la Guadalupana to be the starting point of everything I will say to you.  How I wish She herself would convey to you all that is dear to the Pope’s heart, reaching the depths of your own pastoral hearts, and through you, to each of the particular Churches present in this vast country of Mexico. 

The Pope for some time has nourished a desire to see la Guadalupana  just as Saint Juan Diego did, and successive generations of children after him.  And I have desired, even more, to be captured by her maternal gaze.  I have reflected greatly on the mystery of this gaze and I ask you to receive in these moments what pours forth from my heart, the heart of a Pastor.

A gaze of tenderness

Above all, la Virgen Morenita teaches us that the only power capable of conquering the hearts of men and women is the tenderness of God.  That which delights and attracts, that which humbles and overcomes, that which opens and unleashes, is not the power of instruments or the force of law, but rather the omnipotent weakness of divine love, which is the irresistible force of its gentleness and the irrevocable pledge of its mercy.

A rather inquisitive and famous literary figure of yours, Octavio Paz, said that in Guadalupe great harvests and fertile lands are no longer prayed for, but instead a place of rest where people, still orphaned and disinherited, may seek a place of refuge, a home.

With centuries having gone by since the founding event of this country and the evangelization of the continent, it may be asked: has the need been diluted or even forgotten for that place of rest so ardently desired by the hearts of Mexicans entrusted to your care?

I know the long and painful history which you have gone through has not been without much bloodshed, impetuous and heartbreaking upheavals, and violence and incomprehension.  With good reason my venerable and saintly predecessor, who felt at home here in Mexico, wished to remind us: “Like rivers that are sometimes hidden and plentiful, converge at times and at others reveal their complementary differences, without ever merging completely: the ancient and rich sensitivity of the indigenous peoples loved by Juan de Zumárraga and Vasco de Quiroga, whom many of these peoples continue to call fathers; Christianity, rooted in the Mexican soul; and modern rationality of the European kind, which wanted so much to exalt independence and freedom” (John Paul II, Address, Welcoming Ceremony, 22 January 1999).

And in this history, the maternal place of rest which continually brought life to Mexico, although sometimes seeming like “a net of a hundred and fifty-three fish” (cf. Jn 21:11), was never without fruit, was always able to heal the divisions which threatened.

For this reason I invite you to begin anew from that need for a place of rest which wells up from the spirit of your people.  The restful place of the Christian faith is capable of reconciling a past, often marked by loneliness, isolation and rejection, with a future, continually relegated to a tomorrow which just slips away. Only in that place of faith can we, without renouncing our own identity, “discover the profound truth of the new humanity, in which all are called to be children of God” (John Paul II, Homily, Canonization of Juan Diego).

Bow down then, quietly and respectfully, towards the profound spirit of your people, go down with care and decipher its mysterious face.  The present, so often mixed with dispersion and festivity, is it not for God a preparatory stage, for him who alone is fully present?  Familiarity with pain and death, are they not forms of courage and pathways to hope?  And the view that the world is always and uniquely in need of redemption, is this not an antidote to the proud self-sufficiency of those who think they can do without God?  

Naturally, for this reason it is necessary to have an outlook capable of reflecting the tenderness of God.  I ask you, therefore, to be bishops who have a pure vision, a transparent soul, and a joyful face.   Do not fear transparency.  The Church does not need darkness to carry out her work.  Be vigilant so that your vision will not be darkened by the gloomy mist of worldliness; do not allow yourselves to be corrupted by trivial materialism or by the seductive illusion of underhanded agreements; do not place your faith in the “chariots and horses” of today’s Pharaohs, for our strength is in “the pillar of fire” which divides the sea in two, without much fanfare (cf. Ex 14:24-25).

The world in which the Lord calls us to carry out our mission has become extremely complicated.  And even the proud notion of cogito, which at least did not deny that there was a rock on the sand of being, is today dominated by a view of life which more than ever many consider to be hesitant, itinerant and lawless because it lacks a firm foundation.  Frontiers so passionately invoked and upheld are now open to the irony of a world in which the power of some can no longer survive without the vulnerability of others.  The irreversible hybridization of technology brings closer what is distant; sadly, however, it also distances what should be close.  

It is in this very world that God asks you to have a view capable of grasping that plea which cries out from the heart of your people, a plea which has its own calendar day, the Feast of crying out.  This cry needs a response: God exists and is close in Jesus Christ.  Only God is the reality upon which we can build, because, “God is the foundational reality, not a God who is merely imagined or hypothetical, but God with a human face” (Benedict VI, Address to CELAM, 13 May 2007).

Observing your faces, the Mexican people have the right to witness the signs of those “who have seen the Lord” (cf. Jn 20:25), of those who have been with God.  This is essential.  Therefore, do not lose time or energy in secondary things, in gossip or intrigue, in conceited schemes of careerism, in empty plans for superiority, in unproductive groups that seek benefits or common interests.  Do not allow yourselves to be dragged into gossip and slander.  Introduce your priests into a right understanding of sacred ministry.  For us ministers of God it is enough to have the grace to “drink the cup of the Lord”, the gift of protecting that portion of the heritage which has been entrusted to us, though we may be unskilled administrators.  Let us allow the Father to assign the place he has prepared for us (Mt 20:20-28).  Can we really be concerned with affairs that are not the Father’s?  Away from the “Father’s affairs” (Lk 2:48-49) we lose our identity and, through our own fault, empty his grace of meaning.

If our vision does not witness to having seen Jesus, then the words with which we recall him will be rhetorical and empty figures of speech.  They may perhaps express the nostalgia of those who cannot forget the Lord, but who have become, at any rate, mere babbling orphans beside a tomb.  Finally, they may be words that are incapable of preventing this world of ours from being abandoned and reduced to its own desperate power.

I think of the need to offer a maternal place of rest to young people.  May your vision be capable of meeting theirs, loving them and understanding what they search for with that energy that inspired many like them to leave behind their boats and nets on the other side of the sea (Mk 1:17-18), to leave the abuses of the banking sector so as to follow the Lord on the path of true wealth (cf. Mt 9:9).

I am particularly concerned about those many persons who, seduced by the empty power of the world, praise illusions and embrace their macabre symbols to commercialize death in exchange for money which, in the end, “moth and rust consume” and “thieves break in and steal” (Mt 6:19).  I urge you not to underestimate the moral and antisocial challenge which the drug trade represents for Mexican society as a whole, as well as for the Church.

The magnitude of this phenomenon, the complexity of its causes, its immensity and its scope which devours like a metastasis, and the gravity of the violence which divides with its distorted expressions, do not allow us as Pastors of the Church to hide behind aondyne denunciations.  Rather they demand of us a prophetic courage as well as a reliable and qualified pastoral plan, so that we can gradually help build that fragile network of human relationships without which all of us would be defeated from the outset in the face of such an insidious threat.  Only by starting with families, by drawing close and embracing the fringes of human existence in the ravaged areas of our cities and by seeking the involvement of parish communities, schools, community institutions, political communities and institutions responsible for security, will people finally escape the raging waters that drown so many, either victims of the drug trade or those who stand before God with their hands drenched in blood, though with pockets filled with sordid money and their consciences deadened.

A vision that can build

In the mantle of the Mexican spirit, God, with the thread of mestizo characteristics, has woven and revealed in la Morenita the face of the Mexican people.  God does not need subdued colours to design this face, for his designs are not conditioned by colours or threads but rather by the permanence of his love which constantly desires to imprint itself upon us.

Therefore, be bishops who are capable of imitating this freedom of God who chooses the humble in order to reveal the majesty of his countenance; capable of reproducing this divine patience by weaving the new man which your country awaits with the fine thread made of the men and women you encounter.  Do not be led by empty efforts to change people as if the love of God is not powerful enough to bring about change. 

Rediscover the wise and humble constancy that the Fathers of faith of this country passed onto successive generations with the language of divine mystery.  They did this by first learning and then teaching the grammar needed to dialogue with God; a God concealed within centuries of searching and then brought close in the person of his Son Jesus Christ, who is our future and who is recognized as such by so many men and women when they behold his bloody and humiliated face.  Imitate his gracious humility and his bowing down to help us.  We will never comprehend sufficiently how, with the mestizo threads of our people, God has woven the face by which he is to be known.  We can never be thankful enough.

I ask you to show singular tenderness in the way you regard indigenous peoples and their fascinating but not infrequently decimated cultures.  Mexico needs its American-Indian roots so as not to remain an unresolved enigma.  The indigenous people of Mexico still await true recognition of the richness of their contribution and the fruitfulness of their presence.  In this way they can inherit that identity which transforms them into a single nation and not only an identity among other identities.

On many occasions, much has been said about a supposedly failed future of this nation, about a labyrinth of loneliness in which it is imprisoned by its geography as well as by a fate which ensnares it.  For some, all of this is an obstacle to the plan for a unified face, an adult identity, a unique position among the concert of nations and a shared mission.   

For others, the Church in Mexico is also regarded as being either condemned to suffer the inferior position to which it was relegated in some periods of its past, as for example when its voice was silenced and efforts were made to eradicate it; or condemned to venture into expressions of fundamentalism thus holding onto provisional certainties while forgetting to nest its heart in the Absolute and be called in Christ to unite everyone and not just a portion (cf. Lumen Gentium 1:1).

On the other hand, never cease to remind your people of how powerful their ancient roots are, roots which have allowed a vibrant Christian synthesis of human, cultural and spiritual unity which was forged here.  Remember that the wings of your people have spread on various occasions to rise above changing situations.  Protect the memory of the long journey undertaken so far and know how to inspire the hope of attaining new heights because the future will bear a land “rich in fruit” even if it involves considerable challenges (Num 13:27-28).

May your vision, always and solely resting upon Christ, be capable of contributing to the unity of the people in your care; of favouring the reconciliation of its differences and the integration of its diversities; of promoting a solution to its endogenous problems; of remembering the high standards which Mexico can attain when it learns to belong to itself rather than to others; of helping to find shared and sustainable solutions to its misfortunes; of motivating the entire nation to not be content with less than what is expected of a Mexican way of living in the world.  

A vision that is close and attentive, not dormant                                    

I urge you to not fall into that paralyzation of standard responses to new questions.  Your past is a source of riches to be mined and which can inspire the present and illumine the future.  How unfortunate you are if you sit on your laurels!  It is important not to squander the inheritance you have received by protecting it through constant work.  You stand on the shoulders of giants: bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful “unto the end”, who have offered their lives so that the Church can fulfil her own mission.  From those heights you are called to turn your gaze to the Lord’s vineyard to plan the sowing and wait for the harvest.

I invite you to give yourselves tirelessly and fearlessly to the task of evangelizing and deepening the faith by means of a mystagogical catechesis that treasures the popular religiosity of the people.  Our times require pastoral attention to persons and groups who hope to encounter the living Jesus.  Only the courageous personal conversion of our communities can seek, generate and nourish todays disciples of the Lord (cf. Aparecida, 226, 368, 370).

Hence it is necessary for us Pastors to overcome the temptation of aloofness and clericalism, of coldness and indifference, of triumphalism and self-centredness.  Guadalupe teaches us that God is known by his countenance, and that closeness and humble bowing down are more powerful than force.

As the wonderful Guadalupana tradition teaches us, la Morenita gathers together those who contemplate her, and reflects the faces of those who find her.  It is essential to learn that there is something unique in every person who looks to us in their search for God.  We must guard against becoming impervious to such gazes but rather gather them to our hearts and guard them.

Only a Church able to shelter the faces of men and women who knock on her doors will be able to speak to them of God.  If we do not know how to decipher their sufferings, if we do not come to understand their needs, then we can offer them nothing.  The richness we have flows only when we encounter the smallness of those who beg and this encounter occurs precisely in our hearts, the hearts of Pastors.

The first face I ask you to guard in your hearts is that of your priests.  Do not leave them exposed to loneliness and abandonment, easy prey to a worldliness that devours the heart.  Be attentive and learn how to read their expressions so as to rejoice with them when they feel the joy of recounting all that they have “done and taught” (Mk 6:30).  Also, do not step back when they feel humiliated and can only cry because they “have denied the Lord” (cf. Lk 22:61-62), and offer your support, in communion with Christ, when one of them, disheartened, goes out with Judas into “the night” (cf. Jn 13:30).  As bishops in these situations, your paternal care for your priests must never be found wanting.  Encourage communion among them; seek the perfection of their gifts; involve them in great ventures, for the heart of an apostle was not made for small things.

The need for familiarity abides in the heart of God.  Our Lady of Guadalupe therefore asks for a casita sagrada, a “small holy home”.  Our Latin American populations know well the diminutive forms of expression and use them willingly.  Perhaps they need to use the diminutive forms because they would feel lost otherwise.  They have adapted themselves to feeling small and have grown accustomed to living modestly.

When the Church congregates in a majestic Cathedral, she should not fail to see herself as a “small home” in which her children can feel comfortable.  We remain in God’s presence only when we are little ones, orphans and beggars.

A “small home”, casita, is familiar and at the same time “holy”, sagrada, for it is filled by God’s omnipotent greatness.  We are guardians of this mystery.  Perhaps we have lost the sense of the humble ways of the divine and are tired of offering our own men and women the casita in which they feel close to God.   On occasion, a disregard for the sense of omnipotent greatness has led to a partial loss of reverential fear towards such great love.  Where God lives, man cannot enter without being invited in and he can only enter “taking off his shoes” (cf. Ex 3:5), so as to confess his unworthiness.

Our having forgotten this “taking off our shoes” in order to enter, is this perhaps not the root cause of that lost sense of the sacredness of human life, of the person, of fundamental values, of the wisdom accumulated along the centuries, and of respect for the environment?  Without rescuing within the consciences of men and women and of society these profound roots and the generous efforts to promote legitimate human rights, the vital sap will be lacking; and it is a sap that comes only from a source which  humanity itself cannot procure.

A holistic and unified vision

Only by looking at la Morenita can Mexico be understood in its entirety.  And so I invite you to appreciate that the mission which the Church entrusts to you demands a vision embracing the whole.  This cannot be realized in an isolated manner, but only in communion.

La Guadalupana has a ribbon around her waist which proclaims her fecundity. She is the Blessed Virgin who already has in her womb the Son awaited by men and women. She is the Mother who already carries the humanity of a newborn world.  She is the Bride who prefigures the maternal fruitfulness of Christ’s Church.  You have been entrusted with the mission of enrobing the Mexican nation with God’s fruitfulness.  No part of this ribbon can be despised.

The Mexican episcopate has made significant strides in these years since the Council; it has increased its members; it has promoted permanent formation which is consistent and professional; there has been a fraternal atmosphere; the spirit of collegiality has matured; the pastoral efforts have had an influence on your local Churches and on the conscience of the nation; the shared pastoral initiatives have been fruitful in vital areas of the Church’s mission, such as the family, vocations, and the Church’s presence in society.

While we are encouraged by the path taken during these years, I would ask you not to lose heart in the face of difficulties and not to spare any effort in promoting, among yourselves and in your dioceses, a missionary zeal, especially towards the most needy areas of the one body of the Mexican Church.  To rediscover that the Church is mission is fundamental for her future, because only the “enthusiasm and confident admiration” of evangelizers has the power to attract.  I ask you, therefore, to take great care in forming and preparing the lay-faithful, overcoming all forms of clericalism and involving them actively in the mission of the Church, above all making the Gospel of Christ present in the world by personal witness.

Of great benefit to the Mexican people will be the unifying witness of the Christian synthesis and the shared vision of the identity and future of its people.  In this sense, it is important for the Pontifical University of Mexico to be increasingly involved in the efforts of the Church to ensure a universal perspective; for without this, reason, which tends to compartmentalize, will renounce its highest ideal of seeking the truth.  

The mission is vast, and to carry it forward requires multiple paths.  I strongly reiterate my appeal to you to preserve the communion and unity that exist among you.  Communion is the essential form of the Church, and the unity of her Pastors offers proof of its truth.  Mexico and its vast, multifaceted Church, stand in need of bishops who are servants and custodians of that unity built on the word of God, nourished by his Body and guided by his Spirit who is the life-giving breath of the Church.

We do not need “princes”, but rather a community of the Lord’s witnesses.  Christ is the only light; he is the well-spring of living water; from his breath comes forth the Spirit, who fills the sails of the ecclesial barque.  In the glorified Christ, whom the people of this country love to honour as King, may you together kindle the light and be filled by his presence which is never extinguished; breathe deeply the wholesome air of his Spirit.  It falls to you to sow Christ in this land, to keep alive his humble light which enlightens without causing confusion, to ensure that in his living waters the thirst of your people is quenched; to set the sails so that the Spirit’s breeze may fill them, never allowing the barque of the Church in Mexico to run aground.

Remember: the Bride knows that the beloved Pastor (cf. Song 1:7) will be found only where there are verdant pastures and crystal clear streams.  She does not trust those companions of the Bridegroom who, sometimes out of laziness or inability, lead the sheep through arid lands and areas strewn with rocks.  Woe to us pastors, companions of the Supreme Pastor, if we allow his Bride to wander because we have set up tents where the Bridegroom cannot be found!  

Allow me a final word to convey the appreciation of the Pope for everything you are doing to confront the challenge of our age: migration. There are millions of sons and daughters of the Church who today live in the diaspora or who are in transit, journeying to the north in search of new opportunities.  Many of them have left behind their roots in order to brave the future, even in clandestine conditions which involve so many risks; they do this to seek the “green light” which they regard as hope.  So many families are separated; and integration into a supposedly “promised land” is not always as easy as some believe.          

Brothers, may your hearts be capable of following these men and women and reaching them beyond the borders.  Strengthen the communion with your brothers of the North American episcopate, so that the maternal presence of the Church can keep alive the roots of the faith of these men and women, as well as the motivation for their hope and the power of their charity.  May it never happen, that, hanging up their lyres, their joys become dampened, they forget Jerusalem and are exiled from themselves (cf. Ps 136).  I ask you to witness together that the Church is the custodian of a unifying vision of humanity and that she cannot consent to being reduced to a mere human “resource”.   

Your efforts will not be in vain when your dioceses show care by pouring balm on the injured feet of those who walk through your territories, sharing with them the resources collected through the sacrifices of many; the divine Samaritan in the end will enrich the person who is not indifferent to him as he lies on the side of the road (cf. Lk 10:25-37).

Dear brothers, the Pope is sure that Mexico and its Church will make it in time to that rendezvous with themselves, with history and with God.  Perhaps some stone on the way may slow their pace and the struggle of the journey may call for rest, but nothing will make them lose sight of the destination.  For how can someone arrive late when it is their mother who is waiting?  Who is unable to hear within themselves that voice, ‘am I not here, I who am your Mother’?      

Pope In Mexico: Meeting with Authorities in Mexico D.F.

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On Saturday, February 13, 2016, Pope Francis began his Apostolic Visit to Mexico in Mexico City. Below find the full text of the Pope’s address to the Mexican authorities.

Meeting with Authorities
Palacio Nacional, Mexico D.F.
Saturday 13 February 2016

Mr President,
Members of Government of the Republic,
Distinguished Authorities,
Representatives of Civil Society,
Brothers in the Episcopate,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I thank you, Mr President, for your words of welcome.  I am happy to set foot on Mexican soil which holds a special place in the heart of the Americas.  Today I come as a missionary of mercy and of peace but also as a son who wishes to pay homage to his mother, the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe, and place himself under her watchful care.

Endeavouring to be a good son, following in our mother’s footsteps, I wish in turn to pay my respects to this people and to this land which is so rich in culture, history, and diversity.  Through you, Mr President, I would like to greet and embrace the Mexican people in its numerous expressions and in the most diverse of situations it experiences.   Thank you for welcoming me to your land.

Mexico is a great country.  It is blessed with abundant natural resources and with an enormous biodiversity that extends across its vast territory.  Its privileged geographical position makes it a reference point for America; and its indigenous, mestizo and criollo cultures endow it with its own identity that facilitates a cultural richness not always easy to find and, particularly, to value.  The ancestral wisdom shown by your multiculturalism is, by far, one of your greatest biographical resources.  It is an identity that learned gradually how to shape itself amid diversity and that now constitutes, without any doubt, a rich patrimony to be valued, encouraged and protected.    

I believe and I dare to say that Mexico’s principal richness today has a young face; yes, this richness is your young people.   Just over half of the population is made up of youth.  This makes it possible to contemplate and plan for a future, for a tomorrow.   This offers hope and future prospects.  A people with a youthful population is a people able to renew and transform itself; it is an invitation to look to the future with hope and, in turn, it challenges us in a positive way here and now.  This reality inevitably leads us to think about one’s own responsibilities when it comes to constructing the kind of Mexico we want, the Mexico that we want to pass on to coming generations.  It also leads us to the realization that a hope-filled future is forged in a present made up of men and women who are upright, honest, and capable of working for the common good, the “common good” which in this twenty-first century is not in such great demand.  Experience teaches us that each time we seek the path of privileges or benefits for a few to the detriment of the good of all, sooner or later the life of society becomes a fertile soil for corruption, drug trade, exclusion of different cultures, violence and also human trafficking, kidnapping and death, bringing suffering and slowing down development.  

The Mexican people anchors its hope in an identity which has been shaped in the trying and difficult moments of its history.  It was forged by the wonderful witness of citizens who understood that, in order to overcome situations born of the obstinacy of individualism, it was necessary to have agreement between the political, social and financial institutions, and of all men and women committed to the common good and the promotion of the dignity of the human person.   

An ancestral culture together with encouraging human resources such as yours, should be a stimulus to find new forms of dialogue, negotiation, and bridges that can lead us on the way of committed solidarity.   Starting with those who call themselves Christians, it is a commitment to which all of us must give of ourselves, for the construction of a “political life on a truly human basis” (Gaudium et Spes, 73), and a society in which no one feels a victim of the culture of waste.                       

Leaders of social, cultural and political life have the particular duty to offer all citizens the opportunity to be worthy contributors of their own future, within their families and in all areas where human social interaction takes place.  In this way they help citizens to have real access to the material and spiritual goods which are indispensable: adequate housing, dignified employment, food, true justice, effective security, a healthy and peaceful environment.    

This is not just a question of laws which need to be updated and improved – something always necessary – but rather a need for urgent formation of the personal responsibility of each individual, with full respect for others as men and women jointly responsible in promoting the advancement of the nation.  It is a task which involves all Mexicans in different spheres, public or private, collective or individual.  

I assure you, Mr President, that in this effort, the Government of Mexico can count on the cooperation of the Catholic Church, which has accompanied the life of this nation and which renews its commitment and willingness to serve the great causes of mankind: the building of the civilization of love.

I am ready to travel around this beautiful and wide country as a missionary and as a pilgrim who wishes to renew with all of you the experience of mercy as a new horizon of opportunity which inevitably brings justice and peace.  I also entrust myself to the gaze of Mary, the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe,  so that by her intercession, the merciful Father may grant that these days and the future of this land be an opportunity for encounter, unity and peace. Thank you.

Pope Francis and Russian Patriarch Kirill’s Joint Declaration

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Watch Pope Francis and Russian Patriarch Kirill sign the Joint Declaration below:

Joint Declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Cor 13:13).

1. By God the Father’s will, from which all gifts come, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the help of the Holy Spirit Consolator, we, Pope Francis and Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, have met today in Havana. We give thanks to God, glorified in the Trinity, for this meeting, the first in history.

It is with joy that we have met like brothers in the Christian faith who encounter one another “to speak face to face” (2 Jn 12), from heart to heart, to discuss the mutual relations between the Churches, the crucial problems of our faithful, and the outlook for the progress of human civilization.

2. Our fraternal meeting has taken place in Cuba, at the crossroads of North and South, East and West. It is from this island, the symbol of the hopes of the “New World” and the dramatic events of the history of the twentieth century, that we address our words to all the peoples of Latin America and of the other continents

It is a source of joy that the Christian faith is growing here in a dynamic way. The powerful religious potential of Latin America, its centuries–old Christian tradition, grounded in the personal experience of millions of people, are the pledge of a great future for this region.

3. By meeting far from the longstanding disputes of the “Old World”, we experience with a particular sense of urgency the need for the shared labour of Catholics and Orthodox, who are called, with gentleness and respect, to give an explanation to the world of the hope in us (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).

4. We thank God for the gifts received from the coming into the world of His only Son. We share the same spiritual Tradition of the first millennium of Christianity. The witnesses of this Tradition are the Most Holy Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, and the saints we venerate. Among them are innumerable martyrs who have given witness to their faithfulness to Christ and have become the “seed of Christians”.

5. Notwithstanding this shared Tradition of the first ten centuries, for nearly one thousand years Catholics and Orthodox have been deprived of communion in the Eucharist. We have been divided by wounds caused by old and recent conflicts, by differences inherited from our ancestors, in the understanding and expression of our faith in God, one in three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are pained by the loss of unity, the outcome of human weakness and of sin, which has occurred despite the priestly prayer of Christ the Saviour: “So that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you … so that they may be one, as we are one” (Jn 17:21).

6. Mindful of the permanence of many obstacles, it is our hope that our meeting may contribute to the re–establishment of this unity willed by God, for which Christ prayed. May our meeting inspire Christians throughout the world to pray to the Lord with renewed fervour for the full unity of all His disciples. In a world which yearns not only for our words but also for tangible gestures, may this meeting be a sign of hope for all people of goodwill!

7. In our determination to undertake all that is necessary to overcome the historical divergences we have inherited, we wish to combine our efforts to give witness to the Gospel of Christ and to the shared heritage of the Church of the first millennium, responding together to the challenges of the contemporary world. Orthodox and Catholics must learn to give unanimously witness in those spheres in which this is possible and necessary. Human civilization has entered into a period of epochal change. Our Christian conscience and our pastoral responsibility compel us not to remain passive in the face of challenges requiring a shared response.

8. Our gaze must firstly turn to those regions of the world where Christians are victims of persecution. In many countries of the Middle East and North Africa whole families, villages and cities of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being completely exterminated. Their churches are being barbarously ravaged and looted, their sacred objects profaned, their monuments destroyed. It is with pain that we call to mind the situation in Syria, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East, and the massive exodus of Christians from the land in which our faith was first disseminated and in which they have lived since the time of the Apostles, together with other religious communities.

9. We call upon the international community to act urgently in order to prevent the further expulsion of Christians from the Middle East. In raising our voice in defence of persecuted Christians, we wish to express our compassion for the suffering experienced by the faithful of other religious traditions who have also become victims of civil war, chaos and terrorist violence.

10. Thousands of victims have already been claimed in the violence in Syria and Iraq, which has left many other millions without a home or means of sustenance. We urge the international community to seek an end to the violence and terrorism and, at the same time, to contribute through dialogue to a swift return to civil peace. Large–scale humanitarian aid must be assured to the afflicted populations and to the many refugees seeking safety in neighbouring lands.

We call upon all those whose influence can be brought to bear upon the destiny of those kidnapped, including the Metropolitans of Aleppo, Paul and John Ibrahim, who were taken in April 2013, to make every effort to ensure their prompt liberation.

11. We lift our prayers to Christ, the Saviour of the world, asking for the return of peace in the Middle East, “the fruit of justice” (Is 32:17), so that fraternal co–existence among the various populations, Churches and religions may be strengthened, enabling refugees to return to their homes, wounds to be healed, and the souls of the slain innocent to rest in peace.

We address, in a fervent appeal, all the parts that may be involved in the conflicts to demonstrate good will and to take part in the negotiating table. At the same time, the international community must undertake every possible effort to end terrorism through common, joint and coordinated action. We call on all the countries involved in the struggle against terrorism to responsible and prudent action. We exhort all Christians and all believers of God to pray fervently to the providential Creator of the world to protect His creation from destruction and not permit a new world war. In order to ensure a solid and enduring peace, specific efforts must be undertaken to rediscover the common values uniting us, based on the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

12. We bow before the martyrdom of those who, at the cost of their own lives, have given witness to the truth of the Gospel, preferring death to the denial of Christ. We believe that these martyrs of our times, who belong to various Churches but who are united by their shared suffering, are a pledge of the unity of Christians. It is to you who suffer for Christ’s sake that the word of the Apostle is directed: “Beloved … rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly” (1 Pet 4:12–13).

13. Interreligious dialogue is indispensable in our disturbing times. Differences in the understanding of religious truths must not impede people of different faiths to live in peace and harmony. In our current context, religious leaders have the particular responsibility to educate their faithful in a spirit which is respectful of the convictions of those belonging to other religious traditions. Attempts to justify criminal acts with religious slogans are altogether unacceptable. No crime may be committed in God’s name, “since God is not the God of disorder but of peace” (1 Cor 14:33).

14. In affirming the foremost value of religious freedom, we give thanks to God for the current unprecedented renewal of the Christian faith in Russia, as well as in many other countries of Eastern Europe, formerly dominated for decades by atheist regimes. Today, the chains of militant atheism have been broken and in many places Christians can now freely confess their faith. Thousands of new churches have been built over the last quarter of a century, as well as hundreds of monasteries and theological institutions. Christian communities undertake notable works in the fields of charitable aid and social development, providing diversified forms of assistance to the needy. Orthodox and Catholics often work side by side. Giving witness to the values of the Gospel they attest to the existence of the shared spiritual foundations of human co–existence.

15. At the same time, we are concerned about the situation in many countries in which Christians are increasingly confronted by restrictions to religious freedom, to the right to witness to one’s convictions and to live in conformity with them. In particular, we observe that the transformation of some countries into secularized societies, estranged from all reference to God and to His truth, constitutes a grave threat to religious freedom. It is a source of concern for us that there is a current curtailment of the rights of Christians, if not their outright discrimination, when certain political forces, guided by an often very aggressive secularist ideology, seek to relegate them to the margins of public life.

16. The process of European integration, which began after centuries of blood–soaked conflicts, was welcomed by many with hope, as a guarantee of peace and security. Nonetheless, we invite vigilance against an integration that is devoid of respect for religious identities. While remaining open to the contribution of other religions to our civilization, it is our conviction that Europe must remain faithful to its Christian roots. We call upon Christians of Eastern and Western Europe to unite in their shared witness to Christ and the Gospel, so that Europe may preserve its soul, shaped by two thousand years of Christian tradition.

17. Our gaze is also directed to those facing serious difficulties, who live in extreme need and poverty while the material wealth of humanity increases. We cannot remain indifferent to the destinies of millions of migrants and refugees knocking on the doors of wealthy nations. The unrelenting consumerism of some more developed countries is gradually depleting the resources of our planet. The growing inequality in the distribution of material goods increases the feeling of the injustice of the international order that has emerged.

18. The Christian churches are called to defend the demands of justice, the respect for peoples’ traditions, and an authentic solidarity towards all those who suffer. We Christians cannot forget that “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, that no human being might boast before God” (1 Cor 1:27–29).

19. The family is the natural centre of human life and society. We are concerned about the crisis in the family in many countries. Orthodox and Catholics share the same conception of the family, and are called to witness that it is a path of holiness, testifying to the faithfulness of the spouses in their mutual interaction, to their openness to the procreation and rearing of their children, to solidarity between the generations and to respect for the weakest.

20. The family is based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between a man and a woman. It is love that seals their union and teaches them to accept one another as a gift. Marriage is a school of love and faithfulness. We regret that other forms of cohabitation have been placed on the same level as this union, while the concept, consecrated in the biblical tradition, of paternity and maternity as the distinct vocation of man and woman in marriage is being banished from the public conscience.

21. We call on all to respect the inalienable right to life. Millions are denied the very right to be born into the world. The blood of the unborn cries out to God (cf. Gen 4:10).

The emergence of so-called euthanasia leads elderly people and the disabled begin to feel that they are a burden on their families and on society in general.

We are also concerned about the development of biomedical reproduction technology, as the manipulation of human life represents an attack on the foundations of human existence, created in the image of God. We believe that it is our duty to recall the immutability of Christian moral principles, based on respect for the dignity of the individual called into being according to the Creator’s plan.

22. Today, in a particular way, we address young Christians. You, young people, have the task of not hiding your talent in the ground (cf. Mt 25:25), but of using all the abilities God has given you to confirm Christ’s truth in the world, incarnating in your own lives the evangelical commandments of the love of God and of one’s neighbour. Do not be afraid of going against the current, defending God’s truth, to which contemporary secular norms are often far from conforming.

23. God loves each of you and expects you to be His disciples and apostles. Be the light of the world so that those around you may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:14, 16). Raise your children in the Christian faith, transmitting to them the pearl of great price that is the faith (cf. Mt 13:46) you have received from your parents and forbears. Remember that “you have been purchased at a great price” (1 Cor 6:20), at the cost of the death on the cross of the Man–God Jesus Christ.

24. Orthodox and Catholics are united not only by the shared Tradition of the Church of the first millennium, but also by the mission to preach the Gospel of Christ in the world today. This mission entails mutual respect for members of the Christian communities and excludes any form of proselytism. We are not competitors but brothers, and this concept must guide all our mutual actions as well as those directed to the outside world. We urge Catholics and Orthodox in all countries to learn to live together in peace and love, and to be “in harmony with one another” (Rm 15:5). Consequently, it cannot be accepted that disloyal means be used to incite believers to pass from one Church to another, denying them their religious freedom and their traditions. We are called upon to put into practice the precept of the apostle Paul: “Thus I aspire to proclaim the gospel not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on another’s foundation” (Rm 15:20).

25. It is our hope that our meeting may also contribute to reconciliation wherever tensions exist between Greek Catholics and Orthodox. It is today clear that the past method of “uniatism”, understood as the union of one community to the other, separating it from its Church, is not the way to re–establish unity. Nonetheless, the ecclesial communities which emerged in these historical circumstances have the right to exist and to undertake all that is necessary to meet the spiritual needs of their faithful, while seeking to live in peace with their neighbours. Orthodox and Greek Catholics are in need of reconciliation and of mutually acceptable forms of co–existence.

26. We deplore the hostility in Ukraine that has already caused many victims, inflicted innumerable wounds on peaceful inhabitants and thrown society into a deep economic and humanitarian crisis. We invite all the parts involved in the conflict to prudence, to social solidarity and to action aimed at constructing peace. We invite our Churches in Ukraine to work towards social harmony, to refrain from taking part in the confrontation, and to not support any further development of the conflict.

27. It is our hope that the schism between the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine may be overcome through existing canonical norms, that all the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine may live in peace and harmony, and that the Catholic communities in the country may contribute to this, in such a way that our Christian brotherhood may become increasingly evident.

28. In the contemporary world, which is both multiform yet united by a shared destiny, Catholics and Orthodox are called to work together fraternally in proclaiming the Good News of salvation, to testify together to the moral dignity and authentic freedom of the person, “so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21). This world, in which the spiritual pillars of human existence are progressively disappearing, awaits from us a compelling Christian witness in all spheres of personal and social life. Much of the future of humanity will depend on our capacity to give shared witness to the Spirit of truth in these difficult times.

29. May our bold witness to God’s truth and to the Good News of salvation be sustained by the Man–God Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, who strengthens us with the unfailing promise: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32)!

Christ is the well–spring of joy and hope. Faith in Him transfigures human life, fills it with meaning. This is the conviction borne of the experience of all those to whom Peter refers in his words: “Once you were ‘no people’ but now you are God’s people; you ‘had not received mercy’ but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet 2:10).

30. With grace–filled gratitude for the gift of mutual understanding manifested during our meeting, let us with hope turn to the Most Holy Mother of God, invoking her with the words of this ancient prayer: “We seek refuge under the protection of your mercy, Holy Mother of God”. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, through her intercession, inspire fraternity in all those who venerate her, so that they may be reunited, in God’s own time, in the peace and harmony of the one people of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and indivisible Trinity!

CNS photo/Paul Haring

US primaries reignite old question of how Catholics should vote

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Just before Pope Francis’ trip to the United States in September last year I had the chance to visit with Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, DC.  At the time, the media was speculating about what Pope Francis was going to say, especially to the US Congress, and what impact it would have on the presidential hopefuls ahead of the 2016 election.  I felt that the Pope’s visit was far enough removed from the election that it wouldn’t factor much into the campaign.  The Cardinal looked at me very seriously and said, “Sebastian, here in the US we are always in campaign mode.”

The 24-hour news era has given us immediate access to candidates, polls and analytics to follow every inch of a campaign for months and even years in advance.  The US, and to a lesser degree Canada, seems to be obsessed with the politics of the day.  A big part of this lingering drama is the question of how Catholics can and should vote.

There’s no question that engaged, practicing Catholics in North America feel a responsibility to vote, while various independent Catholic commentators seem to feel an equal responsibility to tell Catholics how or how not to vote. Typically Bishop’s Conferences will put out guidelines, like the “2015 Federal Election Guide” of the CCCB, or the USCCB’s teaching document on the political responsibility of Catholics, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” (Note that neither the CCCB nor the USCCB explicitly states that a Catholic must or must not vote for a particular candidate or party.)

This US election campaign is particularly interesting because of the surprising buoyancy of fringe candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.  When they burst onto the scene announcing their respective candidacies, political commentators across the board said it was only a matter of time before they sank.  That hasn’t happened, we’ve discovered, since a good portion of the general population has had enough politics-as-usual and is searching for answers beyond the traditional political establishment.  The possibility of one or both of them winning the party’s nomination is quite real, and that means thinking seriously about how Catholics could vote in the upcoming federal election.

Of the various commentaries I’ve read over the past few weeks that deal with this question, none is more comprehensive, balanced and Catholic, frankly, than San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy’s, “The Greatness of a Nation” featured in next week’s issue of America.  Here are 6 points from his analysis Catholics should keep in mind when they vote:

1) Keep Pope Francis’ US visit and vision of politics front and center.  The reference point for Bishop McElroy’s analysis is the long-standing social doctrine of the Church and the teachings and ministry of Pope Francis.  Essentially, Catholic voters should consider “the integral development of every human person and of society as a whole.”  But the Pope’s words during his visit offer a particular emphasis for a particular historical moment, and thus should always be considered in discussions about voting in the upcoming election.  His addresses to Congress, the US Bishops and at Independence Hall are particularly relevant.  It might sound strange, but sometimes a local church must struggle to keep the memory of a papal visit alive.  Bishop McElroy is doing his part.

2) Political conversion.  For Catholics, thinking about who to vote for in a federal election is not just about the candidates or even about the issues.  It’s about understanding the fundamental purpose of politics so as to practice politics in a truly productive, respectful and dialogical way that promotes the common good: “The central foundation for an ethic of discipleship in voting… lies not in the embrace of any one issue or set of issues but rather in a process of spiritual and moral conversion about the very nature of politics itself.”  This is a difficult process which demands a collective rethinking of the current polarizing system.  We find something analogous in the Pope’s encyclical Laudato Si.  Mere policies and legislation will not fix our damaged earth; conversion, that is, changing the way we think about ourselves and our relationship to the earth, is the only solution.

3) The dynamic common good.  Bishop McElroy argues that a Catholic approach to voting recognizes the principle of the common good and that it is dynamic and complex.  It requires a penetrating reading of the signs of the times to discern the greatest challenges facing a society and the human race as a whole.  It also requires an ability to connect seemingly unrelated issues and put them into a larger gospel framework.  Can we draw a line between refugees flocking to Europe and the struggle in Canada against the legalization of physician-assisted suicide?  The ability to do so is a sign of healthy and faithful citizenship.

4) Dispelling misconceptions.  Part of being an informed voter is understanding the complexity of the issues and of the Church’s social teachings as well.  These highly technical teachings aren’t immediately and totally comprehendible in every scenario.  Some Catholics simplify the Church’s teachings into categories of “yes” or “no”, but this is not an appropriate application of teaching.  Bishop McElroy points to the example of an action that is “intrinsically evil,” meaning inherently evil in every situation.  Some Catholics may wrongly conclude that because Euthanasia is an intrinsic evil, no Catholic can vote of a candidate who supports it.  But Bishop McElroy clarifies that “voting for a candidate whose policies may advance a particular intrinsic evil is not in itself an intrinsically evil act,” meaning the voter is not necessarily culpable by the act of voting.  If that were the case, no Catholic would be allowed to vote, since every candidate in this election promotes one policy or another—from abortion to war to economics—that is considered intrinsically evil.  Bishop McElroy continues, “Voters will often find themselves in situations where one candidate supports an intrinsically evil position, yet the alternative realistic candidates all support even graver evils in the totality of their positions.”  While this clarification does not immediately solve the voting question, it brings Catholics to a deeper, more dynamic understanding of the Church’s social and moral teachings.

5) Voting is not an end in itself.  A thoughtful and realistic reflection on the current challenges facing the society and the world should lead to a determined effort to fix them all.  Catholic involvement in the political and social landscape is about action and improvement, to make available to every person the possibility of living a truly full and good life.  One of the things that come out in Bishop McElroy’s analysis is that voting is not the end of political and social engagement, but should prompt Catholics to a deeper appreciation for their fellow citizens and desire for building a society of justice and peace.

6) The decision is yours.  In the end Bishop McElroy, like the Canadian (CCCB) and American (UCSSB) Bishops, doesn’t tell anyone who to vote for, or who not to vote for.  Every Catholic must make the decision in good conscience.  It’s not always easy, but the Church provides substantial guidelines, and beyond that an invitation to conversion for the betterment of each of us as individuals and for the society and human family as a whole.

I Have Set Before You Life and Death – CCCB Message for Lent 2016

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‘I HAVE SET BEFORE YOU LIFE AND DEATH’
Message for Lent 2016
by the Most Reverend Douglas Crosby, O.M.I.,
President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

My brothers and sisters in Christ,

The readings of the liturgy for the opening days of Lent invite us to focus on some basic questions as we begin our journey through this sacred season. What does it mean to repent and believe the Good News? What difference should faith make to our living and dying? How do we convert hearts and lives? The Old Testament reading for the Thursday after Ash Wednesday has particular significance this year for us as God’s people and as a country: I call heaven and earth to witness … that I have set before you life and death …. Choose life, so that you and your descendants may live…. (Deuteronomy 30.19)

The Supreme Court of Canada a year ago, in its decision in the case of Carter v. Canada, invited those in our land to choose death. Any adult suffering from an illness, disease or disability would have the option of physician-assisted suicide. Already, various voices in our country have argued in favour of this even being extended to minors. Appalling as that is, it is not surprising. Children as well as incapacitated adults are being euthanized in the handful of other countries where assisted suicide and euthanasia are now legal.

Throughout the Church’s funeral rite, we are reminded that each life and each death has an important impact on the life of others. In the words of Saint Paul, We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves (Romans 14.7). A consequence of this for Christians is that our mission and our glory is to defend and protect life from conception to natural death as a sacred gift from God, Source of all life.

This year, the Thursday after Ash Wednesday is also the World Day of the Sick. In his Message for this day, Pope Francis reminds us that when we experience suffering, pain and vulnerability, our faith in God is on the one hand tested, yet at the same time can reveal all of its positive resources. Not because faith makes illness, pain, or the questions which they raise, disappear, but because it offers a key by which we can discover the deepest meaning of what we are experiencing; a key that helps us to see how illness can be the way to draw nearer to Jesus who walks at our side, weighed down by the Cross. And this key is given to us by Mary, our Mother, who has known this way at first hand.

A Walk with the Lord

A man carries a statue of Christ on the cross while participating in a Holy Thursday procession in Izalco, El Salvador, April 5. Catholics throughout Latin America celebrate Holy Week with processions and religious festivals. (CNS photo/Ulises Rodriguez, Reuters) (April 6, 2012)

A man carries a statue of Christ on the cross while participating in a Holy Thursday procession in Izalco, El Salvador, April 5. Catholics throughout Latin America celebrate Holy Week with processions and religious festivals. (CNS photo/Ulises Rodriguez, Reuters) (April 6, 2012)

 

Today we begin that long walk towards Holy Week, which culminates in celebrating the greatest event in human history: the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Something that never fails to inspire awe in me however, is just how diverse our expressions of faith are. Encountering different Catholic rituals around the world, sometimes I’m intrigued, other times shocked.

Nevertheless, all of these devotions are an opportunity to reflect more deeply on Christ.

In the coming days, I’ll share with you images of Lent from around the world in a blog series entitled:

A Walk with the Lord.  I hope you’ll enjoy!

All photos are courtesy of our friends at Catholic News Service.

Pope celebrates Mass with Capuchins – Perspectives


Today on Perspectives, Pope Francis celebrates a special Mass for Franciscan Capuchins and sends message to the people of Tainan in Taiwan. He also sends a video message to the People of Mexico.

Ambassadors for Christ and Ministers of God’s Justice

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Ambassadors for Christ and Ministers of God’s Justice
A Biblical Reflection for Ash Wednesday, Year C
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

Ash Wednesday makes one’s faith very visible and public.  Not offensively, but also not easy to miss, the sign of our faith shows up in the office, at school, on buses and subways, in lines at grocery store, or at the gas station.  This small symbol of the cross of ashes on our foreheads expresses an important truth:  faith doesn’t happen only at church, but lives among us, in public, every day.

The Scripture texts for the liturgy of Ash Wednesday do not only remind us of sin and death; they are a loud call to overcome sin, to be converted to Christ and the Gospel and to prepare for the new life of Easter.  I would like to offer some reflections on what it means to be reconciled to God, to be an “Ambassador for Christ” [II Cor 5:20-21], and the meaning of authentic piety and devotion as outlined in Matthew’s Gospel text for today’s liturgy [6:1-6, 16-18].  I will conclude with some thoughts on Pope Francis 2016 Lenten Message that has as its theme: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13). The works of mercy on the road of the Jubilee.

Be reconciled to God!

Today – the liturgy tells us – is the “acceptable time” for our reconciliation with God.  Reconciliation is a gratuitous gift of God.  Reconciliation must involve everyone: individuals, families, nations and peoples.  In the passage from II Corinthians 5:20-21, Paul encouraged the fractious Corinthian community to recognize that God has “reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” [5:18].  Paul speaks of “the new creation in Christ” [cf. II Cor 5:17] and goes on to tell us: “God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, not holding individuals’ faults against them, and he has entrusted to us the news that we are reconciled… the appeal we make in Christ’s name is: be reconciled to God” [II Cor 5:19-20].

When we speak of the world as reconciled to God, we are speaking not only of individuals but also of every community: families, communities, clans, tribes, nations and states. In his providence, God made covenant after covenant with the human family: the covenant with our first parents in the Garden of Eden; the covenant with Noah after the Flood and the covenant with Abraham.  In the Book of Joshua we learn about the covenant made with Israel, when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in the land of Egypt. And God has now made the final and definitive covenant with all of humanity in Jesus Christ, who reconciled individual men and women — as well as entire nations — to God by his Passion, Death and Resurrection.

In the sacrament of the Eucharist, we celebrate the mystery of our redemption and full reconciliation with God.  It is through his passion, death and resurrection that Jesus has saved the world.  Before receiving the body and blood of the Lord, we show that we are at peace with one another. The Eucharist is celebrated by a reconciled community.  When the celebration is ended, we are sent out to spread this peace and message of reconciliation to others.

Ambassadors for Christ

Because we have been entrusted with this message of reconciliation, we are “ambassadors for Christ” [5:20].  The mission that we have been given is one of high rank. It is a mission that ennobles us. Because we have been called to be ambassadors, we have to be true and loyal to the one we represent.  An ambassador is known by his or her credentials. Ambassadors must give credible proof that they have been sent. As ambassadors of Christ we too must give proof of our mission. And the greatest proof is our own fidelity to the Christian way of life.

If we are reconciled with God, with ourselves and with others, and if we in turn foster Christ’s reconciliation in society, we can make a convincing claim to be ambassadors of the Prince of Peace.  Just as God took the initiative in sending his son to reconcile the world, so he expects us to take the initiative to restore harmony to a broken world and an often-divided Church.

Can we apply this Christian vision, this wonderful mission of reconciliation, to our own situations?  Can we put it into practice among family, friends and community members and try over and over again when we fail?  It is very sad when grudges are carried for long periods of time, when people refuse to speak together, when the joy of attending reunions or celebrations is denied someone, perhaps for a misdemeanor that occurred long ago and whose circumstances are practically forgotten!

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Jesus’ three-fold process of self-denial

Matthew’s Gospel [6:1-6, 16-18] issues a warning against doing good in order to be seen and gives three examples for right living: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  In each, the conduct of the hypocrites [6:2] is contrasted with the behavior demanded of the disciples. The sayings about reward found here and elsewhere [Matthew 5:12, 46; 10:41-42] show that this is a genuine element of Christian moral exhortation.

Let us look closely at what the Gospel demands of us in this threefold process of self-denial:  we must pray: “Go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in private.”  We must fast: “No one must see you are fasting but your Father.”  We must give alms: “Keep your deeds of mercy secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”  There is nothing ambiguous about what is required of us this season.  Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the pillars of the Lenten journey for Christians.  This is the piety, the devotion and the sincerity that the Lord seeks from us this Lent.

Here is an excerpt from Pope Francis’ Message for Lent this year: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13). The works of mercy on the road of the Jubilee.

The works of mercy

God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn. In an ever new miracle, divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbour and to devote ourselves to what the Church’s tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. These works remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbours in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them. On such things will we be judged. For this reason, I expressed my hope that “the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; this will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty, and to enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy” (ibid., 15). For in the poor, the flesh of Christ “becomes visible in the flesh of the tortured, the crushed, the scourged, the malnourished, and the exiled… to be acknowledged, touched, and cared for by us” (ibid.). It is the unprecedented and scandalous mystery of the extension in time of the suffering of the Innocent Lamb, the burning bush of gratuitous love. Before this love, we can, like Moses, take off our sandals (cf. Ex 3:5), especially when the poor are our brothers or sisters in Christ who are suffering for their faith.

In the light of this love, which is strong as death (cf. Song 8:6), the real poor are revealed as those who refuse to see themselves as such. They consider themselves rich, but they are actually the poorest of the poor. This is because they are slaves to sin, which leads them to use wealth and power not for the service of God and others, but to stifle within their hearts the profound sense that they too are only poor beggars. The greater their power and wealth, the more this blindness and deception can grow. It can even reach the point of being blind to Lazarus begging at their doorstep (cf. Lk 16:20-21). Lazarus, the poor man, is a figure of Christ, who through the poor pleads for our conversion. As such, he represents the possibility of conversion which God offers us and which we may well fail to see. Such blindness is often accompanied by the proud illusion of our own omnipotence, which reflects in a sinister way the diabolical “you will be like God” (Gen 3:5) which is the root of all sin. This illusion can likewise take social and political forms, as shown by the totalitarian systems of the twentieth century, and, in our own day, by the ideologies of monopolizing thought and technoscience, which would make God irrelevant and reduce man to raw material to be exploited. This illusion can also be seen in the sinful structures linked to a model of false development based on the idolatry of money, which leads to lack of concern for the fate of the poor on the part of wealthier individuals and societies; they close their doors, refusing even to see the poor.

For all of us, then, the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favourable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practising the works of mercy. In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated. By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need. By taking this path, the “proud”, the “powerful” and the “wealthy” spoken of in the Magnificat can also be embraced and undeservedly loved by the crucified Lord who died and rose for them. This love alone is the answer to that yearning for infinite happiness and love that we think we can satisfy with the idols of knowledge, power and riches. Yet the danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor, the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell. The pointed words of Abraham apply to them and to all of us: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Lk 16:29). Such attentive listening will best prepare us to celebrate the final victory over sin and death of the Bridegroom, now risen, who desires to purify his Betrothed in expectation of his coming.

Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favourable a time for conversion! We ask this through the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, who, encountering the greatness of God’s mercy freely bestowed upon her, was the first to acknowledge her lowliness (cf. Lk 1:48) and to call herself the Lord’s humble servant (cf. Lk 1:38).”

Video Reflection for Ash Wednesday: It Took 40 Days

Temptations Correspond to Our Vulnerabilities

Jesus Tempted cropped

First Sunday of Lent, Year C – February 14, 2016

An ancient proverb says: “Good habits result from resisting temptation.” On Ash Wednesday we heard three fundamental orientations for this season in the rich Scripture readings: almsgiving, prayer and fasting.

Lent is a season of solidarity, of sharing, of openness to our neighbor, especially toward the most needy. Lent is also the favorable time for personal and community prayer, nourished by the Word of God as proclaimed each day in the liturgy. This year at the beginning of Lent, we are invited to focus our attention on Luke’s account of the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. How can we develop some good habits this Lent as we strive to overcome our temptations?

Led by the Spirit into the wilderness

Most of us are very familiar with the three graphic temptations of Jesus as related by Matthew and Luke in their Gospel accounts of Jesus in the desert. As a result of the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism (Luke 3:21-22), that same Spirit leads Jesus into the desert for 40 days to be tempted by the devil. The mention of 40 days recalls the 40 years of the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites during the Exodus (Deuteronomy 8:2).

At the outset we must ask ourselves as countless people have asked throughout the ages: How could it be said that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into temptation? If Jesus was God, and God is incapable of being tempted, how could Jesus have been tempted? Such questions arise when we consider the temptations of Christ. How do we reconcile what we know about God, Jesus, and temptation, with what is said to have happened in the gospel accounts regarding Christ‚s temptations?

Lukan aspects of the temptations of Christ

Let us consider several important aspects of this Sunday’s Gospel story of Jesus tempted. The Holy Spirit did not lead Jesus into temptation. The Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. The evil one would utilize the moment of Jesus‚ physical weakness and exhaustion in the desert to tempt him. Satan would consider this “an opportune time,” and he would look for other “seasons” as well. The devil did the tempting, not the Holy Spirit!

Neither Matthew (4:1-11) nor Luke claim to represent the chronological sequence of the temptations. Luke may have reflected on the scene from the standpoint of geography, relating the two in the wilderness first, and then the one on the temple’s pinnacle. Matthew records that after the temptation on the high mountain, Jesus said, “Away from me, Satan.” Matthew’s order, therefore, may be the chronological sequence, but there is no contradiction between the two evangelists.

Luke represents the three specific temptations as occurring after the 40 days of fasting (4:2-3). The Lord may have endured many temptations during the 40 days, but the three temptations were the culminating, most intense testing, of Jesus‚ wilderness solitude. Luke’s temptations conclude on the parapet of the temple in Jerusalem, the city of destiny in the third Gospel. It is in Jerusalem that Jesus will ultimately face his destiny (9:51; 13:33).

In the first temptation in the desert, Jesus responds to the evil one, not by denying human dependence on sustenance (food), but rather by putting human life and the human journey in perspective. Those who follow Jesus cannot become dependent on the things of this world. When we are so dependent on material things, and not on God, we give in to temptation and sin.

The second temptation deals with the adoration of the devil rather than God. Jesus once again reminds the evil one that God is in control. This is so important for us to hear and believe, especially when our own temptations seem to overpower us, when everything around us might indicate shadows, darkness and evil. It is God who is ultimately in charge of our destiny.

In the third temptation, the devil asks for a revelation or manifestation of God’s love in favor of Jesus. Jesus answers the evil one by saying that he doesn’t have to prove that God loves him.

Luke says that the devil left him when he “had ended every temptation” (4:13). Are we to understand that the devil never tempted the Lord again? Luke 4:13 indicates that the devil’s temptations ended on that occasion “for a season,” or “until an opportune time.” The devil’s opportune time will occur before the passion and death of Jesus (22:3, 31-32, 53). It was after Jesus endured the desert wilderness that he withstood temptation. Alone and defenseless against the wind and the weather, exposed to both day and night, and even exposed to the seeming absence of God, this experience of desert wilderness is a part of human growth and maturity.

Our temptations

At the very beginning of his campaign for this world and for each one of us, Jesus openly confronted the enemy. He began his fight using the power of Scripture during a night of doubt, confusion, and temptation. It will do us well not to forget Jesus‚ example, so that we won’t be seduced by the devil’s deception. We are tempted in the same ways Jesus was — wanting to have power over life and death, wanting to control our economic futures, putting our appetite for food ahead of our appetite for God. But trusting in God, as Jesus did, will make us strong.

Temptation is everything that makes us small, ugly, and mean. Temptation uses the trickiest moves that the evil one can think up. And his power is greater and stronger than our own human power. The more the devil has control of us, the less we want to acknowledge that he is fighting for every millimeter of this earth. Jesus didn’t let him get away with that.

Jesus’ desert experience raises important questions for us. What are some of the “desert” experiences I have experienced in my life? What desert experience am I living through right now? When and how do I find moments of contemplation in the midst of a busy life? How have I lived in the midst of my own desert wilderness? Have I been courageous and persistent in fighting with the demons? How have I resisted transforming my own deserts into places of abundant life?

Far from creating a great divide between Jesus Christ and ourselves, our own trials and weaknesses have become the privileged place of our encounter with him, and not only with him, but with God himself, thanks to this man of the cross. Jesus has been tested in all respects like us — he knows all of our difficulties; he is a tried man; he knows our condition from the inside and from the outside — by this did he acquire a profound capacity for compassion. For one must have suffered in order to truly feel for others. From Jesus we learn that God is present and sustaining us in the midst of test, temptation and yes, even sinfulness.

As Christians, we are in a constant fight with the desires born of our sinful natures. We are unable to resist temptation without God’s grace. We are called to trust the Lord (not ourselves) for strength to resist temptation before it becomes sin. It is not the temptation itself that leads us to sin, but the lack of resistance and trust in the Lord for deliverance.

Christ identifies with our struggles

Jesus, the friend of tax collectors and sinners, knew well that temptation could simply overcome people. Victims of poverty, ignorance, prejudice, oppression, abuse, violence and drugs reveal to us how easily people can be driven beyond endurance. Those who pray with Jesus share his profound sense of ultimate human helplessness and dependence.

Christ was human and He can identify with our struggles. Hebrews 4:14-16 says, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Lord, lead us not into temptation! Rather, guide us into the pathways of justice, love and peace during these Lenten days. Give us the grace and fidelity to be faithful to our God and Father in heaven. Give us the courage to accept who we really are and where we should be.

[The readings for the 1st Sunday of Lent are: Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Romans 10:8-13; and Luke 4:1-13]

(Image: “Jesus Tempted” by Tissot)