From the Wound in His Heart Flows the Great Wave of Mercy…

Divine Mercy cropped

Second Sunday of Easter, Year A – Sunday, April 27, 2014

“Doubting Thomas” is a term often used to describe someone who refuses to believe something without direct, personal evidence; a skeptic. It refers of course to Thomas, one of the Twelve, whose name occurs in all the gospel lists of the apostles. Thomas is called “Didymus,” the Greek form of an Aramaic name meaning “twin.” When Jesus announced his intention of returning to Judea to visit Lazarus, Thomas said to his fellow disciples: “Let us also go, that we may die with him (John 11:16).” It was Thomas who, during the great discourse after the Last Supper, raised an objection: “Lord, we do not know where you are going; and how can we know the way (John 14:5)?”

Little else is recorded of Thomas the Apostle in the New Testament, nevertheless thanks to John’s gospel text for today (John 20:19-31) his personality is clearer to us than that of some others of the twelve. Thomas would have listened to Jesus’ words, and he certainly experienced dismay at Jesus’ death. That Easter evening when the Lord appeared to the disciples, Thomas was not present. When he was told that Jesus was alive and had shown himself, Thomas stated: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Eight days later, Thomas made his act of faith, drawing down the rebuke of Jesus – “Because you have seen me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

The real Thomas

Thomas the Apostle is one of the greatest and most honest of the lovers of Jesus, not the eternal skeptic, nor the bullish, stubborn personality that Christian tradition has often painted. This young apostle stood before the cross, not comprehending the horrors of what had happened. All his dreams and hopes were hanging on that cross. Thomas rediscovered his faith amidst the believing community of apostles and disciples. This point must never be forgotten, especially in an age when so many claim that faith and spirituality are attainable without the experience of the ecclesial community. We do not believe as isolated individuals, but rather, through our Baptism, we become members of this great family of the Church. It is precisely the faith professed by the ecclesial community we call Church that reinforces our personal faith. Each Sunday at mass, we profess our faith either in the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed. In doing so, we are saved from the danger of believing in a God other than the one revealed by Christ. 

Faith is not an isolated act

Let us not forget #166 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“Faith is a personal act – the free response of the human person to the initiative of God who reveals himself. But faith is not an isolated act. No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone. You have not given yourself faith as you have not given yourself life. The believer has received faith from others and should hand it on to others. Our love for Jesus and for our neighbor impels us to speak to others about our faith. Each believer is thus a link in the great chain of believers. I cannot believe without being carried by the faith of others, and by my faith I help support others in the faith.”

Divine Mercy Sunday

Divine Mercy Sunday celebrates the merciful love of God shining through the Easter Triduum and the whole Easter mystery. The feast recovers an ancient liturgical tradition, reflected in a teaching attributed to St. Augustine about the Easter Octave, which he called “the days of mercy and pardon,” and the Octave Day itself “the compendium of the days of mercy.”

Pope John Paul II’s interest in Divine Mercy goes back to the days of his youth in Krakow when Karol Wojtyla was an eyewitness to so much evil and suffering during World War II in occupied Poland. He witnessed the round ups of many people who were sent to concentration camps and slave labor. In his hometown of Wadowice, he had many Jewish friends who would later die in the Holocaust. During that time of terror and fear, Karol Wojtyla decided to enter Cardinal Sapieha’s clandestine seminary in Krakow. He experienced the need for God’s mercy and humanity’s need to be merciful to one another. While in the seminary, he met another seminarian, Andrew Deskur (who would later become Cardinal), who introduced Karol to the message of the Divine Mercy, as revealed to the Polish mystic nun, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, who died at the age of 33 in 1938.

The Pope of Divine Mercy

At the beginning of his pontificate in 1981, Pope John Paul II wrote an entire encyclical dedicated to Divine Mercy – “Dives in Misericordia” (Rich in Mercy) illustrating that the heart of the mission of Jesus Christ was to reveal the merciful love of the Father. In 1993 when Pope John Paul II beatified Sr. Faustina Kowalska, he stated in the homily for her beatification mass: “Her mission continues and is yielding astonishing fruit. It is truly marvelous how her devotion to the merciful Jesus is spreading in our contemporary world, and gaining so many human hearts!”

Four years later in 1997, the Holy Father visited Blessed Faustina’s tomb in Lagiewniki, Poland, and preached powerful words: “There is nothing that man needs more than Divine Mercy…. From here went out the message of Mercy that Christ Himself chose to pass on to our generation through Blessed Faustina.”

In the Jubilee year 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized Sr. Faustina – making her the first canonized saint of the new millennium – and established “Divine Mercy Sunday” as a special title for the Second Sunday of Easter for the universal Church. Pope John Paul II spoke these words in the homily: “Jesus shows His hands and His side [to the Apostles]. He points, that is, to the wounds of the Passion, especially the wound in His Heart, the source from which flows the great wave of mercy poured out on humanity.”

One year later, in his homily for Divine Mercy Sunday in 2001, the Pope called the message of mercy entrusted to St. Faustina: “The appropriate and incisive answer that God wanted to offer to the questions and expectations of human beings in our time, marked by terrible tragedies…. Divine Mercy! This is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity at the dawn of the third millennium.”

Again in Lagiewniki, Poland in 2002, at the dedication of the new Shrine of Divine Mercy, the Holy Father consecrated the whole world to Divine Mercy, saying: “I do so with the burning desire that the message of God’s merciful love, proclaimed here through St. Faustina, may be made known to all the peoples of the earth, and fill their hearts with hope.”

In his Regina Caeli address of April 23, 2006, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said: “The mystery of God’s merciful love was at the centre of the pontificate of my venerated predecessor.” Now that same Providence has desired that this year, on Divine Mercy Sunday, three years after he was beatified on this same feast, Pope John Paul II, the great apostle and ambassador of Divine Mercy, will be proclaimed a saint.

Mercy is our hallmark

We must ask ourselves: what is new about this message of Divine Mercy? Why did Pope John Paul II insist so much on this aspect of God’s love in our time? Is this not the same devotion as that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus? Mercy is an important Christian virtue, much different from justice and retribution. While recognizing the real pain of injury and the rationale for the justification of punishment, mercy takes a different approach in redressing the injury. Mercy strives to radically change the condition and the soul of the perpetrator to resist doing evil, often by revealing love and one’s true beauty. If any punishment is enforced, it must be for salvation, not for vengeance or retribution. This is very messy business in our day and a very complex message… but it is the only way if we wish to go forward and be leaven for the world today; if we truly wish to be salt and light in a culture that has lost the flavor of the Gospel and the light of Christ.

Where hatred and the thirst for revenge dominate, where war brings suffering and death to the innocent, abuse has destroyed countless innocent lives, the grace of mercy is needed in order to settle human minds and hearts and to bring about healing and peace. Wherever respect for human life and dignity are lacking, there is need of God’s merciful love, in whose light we see the inexpressible value of every human being. Mercy is needed to insure that every injustice in the world will come to an end. The message of mercy is that God loves us – all of us – no matter how great our sins. God’s mercy is greater than our sins, so that we will call upon Him with trust, receive His mercy, and let it flow through us to others. Essentially, mercy means the understanding of weakness, the capacity to forgive.

Apostle of Divine Mercy

Throughout his priestly and Episcopal ministry, and especially during his entire Pontificate, Pope John Paul II preached God’s mercy, wrote about it, and most of all lived it. He offered forgiveness to the man who was destined to kill him in St. Peter’s Square. The Pope who witnessed the scandal of divisions among Christians and the atrocities against the Jewish people as he grew up did everything in his power to heal the wounds caused by the historic conflicts between Catholics and other Christian churches, and especially with the Jewish people. 

Today, on the day that the Church canonizes this great apostle of mercy and peace, I remember with affection and deep gratitude the stirring words that soon-to-be Saint John Paul II spoke at the concluding mass of World Youth Day 2002 at Downsview Park in Toronto. These words keep us focused on the importance and necessity of mercy in the Church today.

“…At difficult moments in the Church’s life, the pursuit of holiness becomes even more urgent. And holiness is not a question of age; it is a matter of living in the Holy Spirit…”

“…Do not let that hope die! Stake your lives on it! We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.” 

Today let us pray with joy and gratitude:

O God, who are rich in mercy
and who willed that Saint John Paul II
should preside as Pope over your universal Church,
grant, we pray, that instructed by his teaching,
we may open our hearts to the saving grace of Christ,
the sole Redeemer of mankind.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God forever and ever. Amen.

[The readings for the Second Sunday of Easter are: Acts 2:42-47; 1 Peter 1:3-9; and John 20:19-31.]

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2011 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store. Book editions for Year A and C reflections are coming soon.

Holy Popes! Significance of the Canonization of John XXIII & John Paul II

John XIII John Paul II Official Photos
Theories abound as to why Pope Francis decided to canonize both John XXIII and John Paul II on April 27. Some imagine that this was a politically strategic move on the part of Francis to unify a divided Church and to reconcile the divisions that exist among the Roncalli fans and bearers of the “spirit of Vatican II” and the Wojtyla disciples of a robust, doctrinaire Pope. They reduce the lives of these two great men to be the adventures of a progressive pope who dreamed up the Council and a conservative pope who put the brakes on the speed of its implementation. Nothing could be further from the truth, and such thoughts usually reflect the machinations of those who have yet to understand the Petrine Ministry of unity and the Call to Holiness that lies at the foundation of our existence as Catholic Christians.

The church doesn’t beatify or canonize people and use them as banners or standards under which groups can assemble and march, nor does she ever raise up for us role models who are arrows or weapons to attack others for ignorance, error and sin. Rather, the church offers the lives of outstanding women and men such as Angelo Roncalli and Karol Wojtyla to present to us models of holiness.

Yes, John will be forever linked to the dream and convocation of the Ecumenical Council we now know as Vatican II, and John Paul II will be forever linked to a new era of a truly global Church that took its message from the home office on the Tiber to the ends of the earth.

But even more than those historical factors, John XXIII and John Paul II modeled for us the call to holiness and reminded us, by the simplicity and joy of their Gospel-rooted lives, that we, too, are called to be saints. The Church is the “home of holiness,” and holiness is our most accurate image, our authentic calling card and our greatest gift to the world. It describes best who and what we are and strive to be.

That a person is declared “Blessed” or “Saint” is not a statement about perfection. It does not mean that the person was without imperfection, blindness, deafness or sin. Nor is it a 360-degree evaluation of a particular pontificate or of the Vatican. Beatification and canonization mean that a person lived his or her life with God, relying totally on God’s infinite mercy, going forward with God’s strength and power, believing in the impossible, loving enemies and persecutors, forgiving in the midst of evil and violence, hoping beyond all hope, and leaving the world a better place. That person lets those around him or her know that there is a force or spirit animating his or her life that is not of this world, but of the next. Such a person lets us catch a glimpse of the greatness and holiness to which we are all called, and shows us the face of God as we journey on our pilgrim way on earth.

Angelo Roncalli was a man of international reach before he was pope. His preparation for the papacy was international in scope. He worked at the peripheries of Roman Catholicism, meeting with grace and peace the hostile challenges of both Orthodox Christianity and Islam, long before the buzz words of ecumenism or interreligious dialogue were the order of the day. Roncalli’s mission was personal, human; he excelled in using his own, innate common sense, understanding, and warmth so mightily evident to all and his priestly ministry flowed from his deep humanity.

From the very beginning of his priestly, episcopal and Petrine ministry, Roncalli taught us to see goodness in others, to love people and to hope beyond all hope when situations indicated otherwise. He won over the world, in many similar ways that Pope Francis is doing now because of his unabashed simplicity and genuine goodness and humor. He showed us that far more than realizing every project and program, we must dream bold dreams, nurture them, and hand them on to future generations.

In the life of Karol Wojtyla, holiness was contagious. Pope John Paul II was not only our Holy Father, but a Father who was and is holy. On April 2, 2005, he died a public death that stopped the world for several days. When the throngs of people began chanting “Santo Subito!” at the end of Pope John Paul II’s funeral mass on April 8, 2005, what were they really saying? They were crying out that in Karol Wojtyla, they saw someone who lived with God and lived with us. He was a sinner who experienced God’s mercy and forgiveness. He was the prophetic teacher who preached the Word in season and out of season. He looked at us, loved us, touched us, healed us and gave us hope. He taught us not to be afraid. He showed us how to live, how to love, how to forgive and how to die. He taught us how to embrace the cross in the most excruciating moments of life, knowing that the cross was not God’s final answer.

Both men have deeply marked my entire life. I was born the year the Second Vatican Council was called and it has been the wind beneath my wings for my entire life, especially in my 28 years of ordained ministry. I had the privilege of working closely with Pope John Paul II on his last World Youth Day in 2002.

I am convinced that both men were gifts of God to the world at very specific moments in history. They also remind me that the Lord provides for the Church the shepherds we need at the right moments. That they receive the highest honor of my Church on the same day is a statement to the world of two important realities: that the Church’s best calling card is still holiness. And second: that Vatican II was their dream, their life’s work, their vision and their gift to the world. The world is a better place because Angelo Roncalli and Karol Wojtyla handed their dream on to us.


Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB is the CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Television Network, Canada and the English language assistant to Holy See Press Office.

Pope Francis’ Easter Urbi et Orbi message: Grant us life; grant us peace!

Easter urbi et orbi

Before a crowd of over 150,000 people in St. Peter’s Square this morning, April 20, 2014, Pope Francis celebrated the Mass of Easter Sunday. He did not deliver a homily during mass but gave the traditional “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) Message and Blessing to the crowd at the conclusion of mass.

Here is the English translation of “Urbi et Orbi” Easter Message and Blessing:

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Happy Easter!

The Church throughout the world echoes the angel’s message to the women: “Do not be afraid! I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised… Come, see the place where he lay” (Mt 28:5-6).

This is the culmination of the Gospel, it is the Good News par excellence: Jesus, who was crucified, is risen! This event is the basis of our faith and our hope. If Christ were not raised, Christianity would lose its very meaning; the whole mission of the Church would lose its impulse, for this is the point from which it first set out and continues to set out ever anew. The message which Christians bring to the world is this: Jesus, Love incarnate, died on the cross for our sins, but God the Father raised him and made him the Lord of life and death. In Jesus, love has triumphed over hatred, mercy over sinfulness, goodness over evil, truth over falsehood, life over death.

That is why we tell everyone: “Come and see!” In every human situation, marked by frailty, sin and death, the Good News is no mere matter of words, but a testimony to unconditional and faithful love: it is about leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life’s troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast… “Come and see!”: Love is more powerful, love gives life, love makes hope blossom in the wilderness.

With this joyful certainty in our hearts, today we turn to you, risen Lord!

Help us to seek you and to find you, to realize that we have a Father and are not orphans; that we can love and adore you.

Help us to overcome the scourge of hunger, aggravated by conflicts and by the immense wastefulness for which we are often responsible.

Enable us to protect the vulnerable, especially children, women and the elderly, who are at times exploited and abandoned.

Enable us to care for our brothers and sisters struck by the Ebola epidemic in Guinea Conakry, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and to care for those suffering from so many other diseases which are also spread through neglect and dire poverty.

Comfort all those who cannot celebrate this Easter with their loved ones because they have been unjustly torn from their affections, like the many persons, priests and laity, who in various parts of the world have been kidnapped.

Comfort those who have left their own lands to migrate to places offering hope for a better future and the possibility of living their lives in dignity and, not infrequently, of freely professing their faith.

We ask you, Lord Jesus, to put an end to all war and every conflict, whether great or small, ancient or recent.

We pray in a particular way for Syria, that all those suffering the effects of the conflict can receive needed humanitarian aid and that neither side will again use deadly force, especially against the defenseless civil population, but instead boldly negotiate the peace long awaited and long overdue!

We ask you to comfort the victims of fratricidal acts of violence in Iraq and to sustain the hopes raised by the resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

We beg for an end to the conflicts in the Central African Republic and a halt to the brutal terrorist attacks in parts of Nigeria and the acts of violence in South Sudan.

We ask that hearts be turned to reconciliation and fraternal concord in Venezuela.

By your resurrection, which this year we celebrate together with the Churches that follow the Julian calendar, we ask you to enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace in Ukraine so that all those involved, with the support of the international community, will make every effort to prevent violence and, in a spirit of unity and dialogue, chart a path for the country’s future.

Lord, we pray to you for all the peoples of the earth: you who have conquered death, grant us your life, grant us your peace!

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Photo: Pope Francis delivers his Easter blessing “urbi et orbi” from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican March 31, 2013. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters) (April 1, 2013)

Pope Francis’ homily at the Easter Vigil

Pope Francis holds a candle as he celebrates the Easter Vigil

19 April 2014  -  The Gospel of the resurrection of Jesus Christ begins with the journey of the women to the tomb at dawn on the day after the Sabbath.  They go to the tomb to honour the body of the Lord, but they find it open and empty.  A mighty angel says to them: “Do not be afraid!” (Mt 28:5) and orders them to go and tell the disciples: “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee” (v. 7).  The women quickly depart and on the way Jesus himself meets them and says: “Do not fear; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me” (v. 10).

After the death of the Master, the disciples had scattered; their faith had been utterly shaken, everything seemed over, all their certainties had crumbled and their hopes had died.  But now that message of the women, incredible as it was, came to them like a ray of light in the darkness.  The news spread: Jesus is risen as he said.  And then there was his command to go to Galilee; the women had heard it twice, first from the angel and then from Jesus himself: “Let them go to Galilee; there they will see me”.

Galilee is the place where they were first called, where everything began!  To return there, to return to the place where they were originally called.  Jesus had walked along the shores of the lake as the fishermen were casting their nets.  He had called them, and they left everything and followed him (cf. Mt 4:18-22).

To return to Galilee means to re-read everything on the basis of the cross and its victory.  To re-read everything – Jesus’ preaching, his miracles, the new community, the excitement and the defections, even the betrayal – to re-read everything starting from the end, which is a new beginning, from this supreme act of love.

For each of us, too, there is a “Galilee” at the origin of our journey with Jesus.  “To go to Galilee” means something beautiful, it means rediscovering our baptism as a living fountainhead, drawing new energy from the sources of our faith and our Christian experience.  To return to Galilee means above all to return to that blazing light with which God’s grace touched me at the start of the journey.  From that flame I can light a fire for today and every day, and bring heat and light to my brothers and sisters.  That flame ignites a humble joy, a joy which sorrow and distress cannot dismay, a good, gentle joy.

In the life of every Christian, after baptism there is also a more existential “Galilee”: the experience of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ who called me to follow him and to share in his mission.  In this sense, returning to Galilee means treasuring in my heart the living memory of that call, when Jesus passed my way, gazed at me with mercy and asked me to follow him.  It means reviving the memory of that moment when his eyes met mine, the moment when he made me realize that he loved me.

Today, tonight, each of us can ask: What is my Galilee?  Where is my Galilee?  Do I remember it?  Have I forgotten it?  Have I gone off on roads and paths which made me forget it?  Lord, help me: tell me what my Galilee is; for you know that I want to return there to encounter you and to let myself be embraced by your mercy.

The Gospel of Easter is very clear: we need to go back there, to see Jesus risen, and to become witnesses of his resurrection.  This is not to go back in time; it is not a kind of nostalgia.  It is returning to our first love, in order to receive the fire which Jesus has kindled in the world and to bring that fire to all people, to the very ends of the earth.

“Galilee of the Gentiles” (Mt 4:15; Is 8:23)!  Horizon of the Risen Lord, horizon of the Church; intense desire of encounter…  Let us be on our way!

 

- Photo Credit: (CNS photo/Paul Haring) Pope Francis holds a candle as he celebrates the Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on March 30.

WAY OF THE CROSS AT THE COLOSSEUM LED BY POPE FRANCIS

way of the cross

 

Below you will find the English translation of the Stations of the Cross from Rome’s Colosseum this evening. Pope Francis will preside at the ceremony. There is no homily by the Pope at the conclusion of the ceremony.

WAY OF THE CROSS AT THE COLOSSEUM LED BY THE HOLY FATHER POPE FRANCIS

GOOD FRIDAY
Rome, April 18, 2014

“The Face of Christ, the Face of Man”

MEDITATIONS by H.E. Msgr. Giancarlo Maria Bregantini, Archbishop of Campobasso-Boiano

INTRODUCTION

He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth. These things occurred so that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “None of his bones shall be broken”. And again another passage of Scripture says: “They will look on the one whom they have pierced” (Jn 19:35-37).

Loving Jesus,
you went up to Golgotha without hesitation, in utter love,
and let yourself be crucified without complaint.
Lowly Son of Mary,
you shouldered the burden of our night
to show us the immense light
with which you wanted to fill our hearts.
In your suffering is our redemption;
in your tears we see “the hour”
when God’s gracious love is revealed.
In your final breath, as a man among men,
you lead us back, seven times forgiven,
to the heart of the Father,
and you show us, in your last words,
the path to the redemption of all our sorrows.
You, the Incarnate All, empty yourself on the cross,
understood only by her, your Mother,
who stood faithfully beneath that gibbet.
Your thirst is a wellspring of hope,
a hand extended even to the repentant thief,
who this day, thanks to you, enters paradise.
To all of us, crucified Lord Jesus,
grant your infinite mercy,
a fragrance of Bethany upon the world,
a cry of life for all humanity.
And at last, as we commend ourselves into the hands of your Father,
open unto us the doors of undying Life! Amen.

FIRST STATION

Jesus is condemned to death
Fingers pointed in accusation

Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting: “Crucify him, crucify him!” A third time he said to them: “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him”. But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished (Lk 23:21-25).

Pilate, timid and afraid of the truth, fingers pointed in accusation, and the growing clamour of the raging crowd: these are the first stages in Jesus’ death. Innocent, like a lamb, whose blood saves his people. Jesus, who walked among us bringing healing and blessing, is now sentenced to capital punishment. Not a word of gratitude from the crowd, which instead chooses Barabbas. For Pilate, the case is an embarrassment. He hands it over to the crowd and washes his hands of it, concerned only for his own power. He delivers Jesus to be crucified. He wants to know nothing more of him. For Pilate, the case is closed.

Jesus’ hasty condemnation thus embraces the easy accusations, the superficial judgements of the crowd, the insinuations and the prejudices which harden hearts and create a culture of racism and exclusion, a throw-away culture of anonymous letters and vicious slanders. Once we are accused, our name is immediately splayed across the front page; once acquitted, it ends up on the last!

And what about us? Will we have a clear, upright and responsible conscience, one which never forsakes the innocent but courageously takes the side of the weak, resisting injustice and defending truth whenever it is violated?

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PRAYER

Lord Jesus,
there are hands which give support and hands which sign wrongful sentences.
Grant that, sustained by your grace, we may cast no one aside.
Save us from slanders and lies.
Help us always to seek your truth,
to take the side of the weak,
and to accompany them on their journey.
Grant your light to all those appointed as judges in our courts,
that they may always render sentences that are just and true. Amen.

SECOND STATION

Jesus takes up his cross
The heavy wood of the cross

Jesus himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls (1 Pet 2:24-25).

The wood of the cross is heavy, for on it Jesus bears the sins of us all. He staggers under that burden, too great for one man alone (Jn 19:17).

It is also the burden of all those wrongs which created the economic crisis and its grave social consequences: job insecurity, unemployment, dismissals, an economy that rules rather than serves, financial speculation, suicide among business owners, corruption and usury, the loss of local industry.

This is the cross which weighs upon the world of labour, the injustice shouldered by workers. Jesus shoulders it himself and teaches us to reject injustice and to learn, with his help, to build bridges of solidarity and of hope, lest we be like sheep who have lost our way amid this crisis.

Let us return, then, to Christ, the shepherd and guardian of our souls. Let us strive, side by side, to provide work, to overcome our fears and our isolation, to recover a respect for political life and to work to resolve our problems together.

The cross will become lighter if carried with Jesus, and if all of us lift it together, for “by his wounds – which are now windows opening to his heart – we have been healed” (cf. 1 Pet 2:24).

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PRAYER

Lord Jesus,
our night grows ever darker!
Poverty increases and becomes destitution.
We have no bread to give our children and our nets are empty.
Our future is uncertain. Provide the work we need.
Awaken in us a burning thirst for justice,
that our lives may not be a constant burden,
but lived in dignity! Amen.

THIRD STATION

Jesus falls for the first time
Weakness opening to acceptance

He has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole. (Is 53:4-5)

It is a frail, utterly human Jesus whom we contemplate in wonder in this most sorrowful station. Yet it is precisely by falling that he shows ever more fully his infinite love. He is hemmed in by the crowd, dazed by the screaming of the soldiers, smarting from the wounds inflicted at his flogging, grief-stricken at the depths of human ingratitude. And so he falls. He falls to the ground.

But in this fall, crushed by the weight of the cross and sheer fatigue, Jesus once more becomes the Teacher of life. He teaches us to accept our weaknesses, not to be disheartened by our failures, and frankly to acknowledge our limits: I can will what is right – says Saint Paul – but I cannot do it (Rom 7:18).

With the inner strength which comes to him from the Father, Jesus also helps us to accept the failings of others; to show mercy to the fallen and concern for those who are wavering. And he gives us the strength not to shut the door to those who knock and ask us for asylum, dignity and a homeland. In the awareness of our own weakness, we will embrace the vulnerability of immigrants, and help them to find security and hope.

For it is in the dirty water of the basin in the Upper Room, that is, in our own weakness, that we see reflected the true face of our God! For “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (1 Jn 4:2).

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PRAYER

Lord Jesus,
you humbled yourself to redeem our weaknesses.
Help us to enter into true fellowship
with the poorest of our brothers and sisters.
Uproot from our hearts the fear, complacency and indifference,
which prevent us from seeing you in immigrants,
and from testifying that your Church has no borders,
for she is truly the mother of all! Amen.

FOURTH STATION

Jesus meets his Mother
Tears of solidarity

Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary: “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed – and a sword will pierce your own soul also” (Lk 2:34-35). Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another” (Rom 12:15-16).

This encounter of Jesus and Mary his mother is poignant and tearful. It expresses the invincible strength of that maternal love which overcomes all obstacles and always finds a way. But even more powerful is Mary’s gaze of compassion as she sympathizes with and comforts her Son. Our own hearts are full of wonder as we contemplate the grandeur of Mary, who, although a creature, becomes a “neighbour” to her God and Lord.

Mary’s gaze gathers up the tears shed by every mother for her distant children, for young people condemned to death, slaughtered or sent off to war, especially child soldiers. We hear in it the grief-stricken lament of mothers for their children who are dying of tumours caused by the burning of toxic waste.

Tears of bitterness! Tears of solidarity with the suffering of their children! Mothers keeping watch by night, their lamps lit, anxious and worried for their young who lack prospects or who fall into the abyss of drugs or alcohol, especially on Saturday nights!

At Mary’s side, we will never be a people of orphans! As with Juan Diego, Mary also offers us the caress of her maternal comfort and she tells us: Let not your heart be troubled… Am I not here who am your Mother?” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 286).

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PRAYER

Hail Mary, dear Mother,
grant me your holy blessing.
Bless me and all my family.
Deign to offer God all that I accomplish and endure this day,
in union with your merits and those of your most holy Son.
To your service I offer and devote myself and all that I have,
placing it under your mantle.
Obtain for me, my Lady, purity of mind and body
and grant that today
I may do nothing displeasing to God.
I ask you this through your Immaculate Conception
and your untainted virginity. Amen
(Saint Gaspare Bertoni)

FIFTH STATION

Jesus is helped by Simon of Cyrene to carry his cross
A friendly, supportive hand

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus (Mk 15:21).

Simon of Cyrene just happened to be passing by. But it becomes a decisive moment in his life. He was returning from the fields. A working man, a strong man. And so he was forced to carry the cross of Jesus, condemned to a shameful death (cf. Phil 2:8).

But this casual encounter leads to a life-changing decision to follow Jesus and to take up his cross each day in self-denial (cf. Mt 16:24-25). Mark tells us that Simon was the father of two Christians known to the community of Rome, Alexander and Rufus. A father who clearly impressed upon the hearts of his children the power of Jesus’ cross. Life, if you grasp it too tightly, decays and turns to dust. But if you give it away, it blossoms and bears fruit, for you and for the entire community!

Here is the real cure for that selfishness of ours which always lurks beneath the surface. Our relationship with others brings us healing and creates a mystic, contemplative fraternity capable of seeing the sacred grandeur of our neighbour, capable of finding God in everyone, capable too of putting up with life’s troubles by holding fast to the love of God. Only by opening my heart to divine love am I drawn to seek the happiness of others through the practice of charity: a night spent in hospital, an interest-free loan, a tear wiped away in the family, heartfelt generosity, farsighted commitment to the common good, a sharing of our bread and labour, the rejection of all jealousy and envy.

Jesus himself tells us: “Just as you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).

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PRAYER

Lord Jesus,
in the Cyrenean, your friend, throbs the heart of your Church,
a shelter of love for all who thirst for you.
Helping our brothers and sisters is the key to the door of Life.
May our selfishness not make us pass by others;
help us instead to pour the balm of consolation on their wounds,
and thus become faithful companions along the way,
tirelessly persevering in our commitment to fraternity. Amen.

SIXTH STATION

Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
A woman’s tender love

“Come”, my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face; Lord, do I seek. Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help (Ps 27:8-9).

Jesus drags himself along, gasping. Yet the radiance of his countenance is undiminished. No amount of abuse can dim his beauty. The spittle and the blows were unable to obscure it. His face appears as a burning bush which, the more it is buffeted, the more it radiates salvation. Silent tears fall from the Master’s eyes. He bears the burden of one forsaken. And yet Jesus advances, he does not stop, he does not turn back. He confronts affliction. He is distressed by the cruelty all around him, yet he knows that his dying will not be in vain!

Jesus then halts before a woman who resolutely approaches him. It is Veronica, a true image of a woman’s tender love.

Here the Lord embodies our need for love freely given, for the knowledge that we are loved and kept safe by acts of kindness and concern. Veronica’s gesture is bathed in the precious blood of Jesus; it seems to wipe away the acts of irreverence which he endured in those hours of torture. Veronica is able to touch the gentle Jesus, to feel something of his radiance. Not only to alleviate his pain, but to share in his suffering. In Jesus, she sees all our neighbours who need to be consoled with a tender touch, and comes to hear the cries of pain of all those who, in our own day, receive neither practical assistance nor the warmth of compassion. Who die of loneliness…

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PRAYER

Lord Jesus,
how burdensome it is, when we are separated from all those
we thought would stand by us on the day of our desolation!
Cloak us in that cloth,
stained by your precious blood
shed along the path of abandonment,
which you too unjustly endured.
Without you, we do not have,
nor can we give, a modicum of solace. Amen.

SEVENTH STATION

Jesus falls for the second time
The anguish of imprisonment and torture

They surrounded me … They surrounded me like bees, they blazed like a fire of thorns; in the name of the Lord I cut them off! I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the Lord helped me. The Lord has punished me severely, but he did not give me over to death (Ps 118:11,12-13,18).

Truly we see fulfilled in Jesus the ancient prophecies of the lowly and obedient Servant who takes upon himself all our history of sorrows. And so Jesus, prodded by the soldiers, stumbles, overcome by fatigue, surrounded by violence, utterly exhausted. Increasingly alone, amid the encircling gloom! His flesh is torn, his bones are weary.

In him we glimpse the bitter experience of those locked in prisons of every sort, with all their inhumane contradictions. Confined and surrounded, “pushed hard” and “falling”. Prisons today continue to be set apart, overlooked, rejected by society. Marked by bureaucratic nightmares and justice delayed. Punishment is doubled by overcrowding: an aggravated penalty, an unjust affliction, one which consumes flesh and bone. Some – too many! – do not survive… And when one of our brothers and sisters is released, we still see them as “ex-convicts”, and we bar before them the doors of social and economic redemption.

More serious is the practice of torture, which tragically is still practiced in different ways throughout our world. As it was in the case of Jesus, beaten, reviled by the soldiers, tortured with a crown of thorns, cruelly flogged.

Today, as we contemplate this second fall, how truly do those words of Jesus ring: “I was in prison and you visited me” (Mt 25:36). In every prison, at the side of each person being tortured, Christ is always there, Christ who suffers, is imprisoned and tortured. Even in our greatest suffering, he helps us not to yield to fear. Only with help can those who fall rise again, aided by skilled personnel, sustained by the fraternal support of volunteers, and put on their feet by a society which takes responsibility for the many injustices which occur within the walls of our prisons.

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PRAYER

Lord Jesus,
boundless compassion grips me
as I see you fall to the ground for my sake.
I have no merit, and so many sins, inconsistencies and failures,
yet you respond with such immense love!
Cast off by society, put to death by judicial sentence,
you have blessed us for ever.
Blessed are we if today we join you in your fall, delivered from condemnation.
Help us not to flee from our responsibilities,
grant that we may abide in your abasement, safe from all pretense of omnipotence,
and be reborn to new life as creatures destined for heaven. Amen.

EIGHTH STATION

Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
Solidarity and compassion

Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and your children” (Lk 23:28).

Like so many tapers of light, we see women lining the path of pain. Women of fidelity and courage, neither intimidated by the soldiers nor cringing before the wounds of the Good Master. They are prepared to approach him and to comfort him. Jesus stands there before them. Others trample on him as he falls exhausted to the ground. But the women are there, ready to give him the warmth of a loving heart. First they gaze at him from afar, but then they draw near, as would any friend, any brother or sister, who realizes that someone whom they love is in trouble.

Jesus is moved by their bitter lament, yet he tells them not to be disheartened by his sufferings; he tells them to be women not of grief but of faith! He asks for their solidarity in suffering, not merely a barren and plaintive sympathy. No more wailing, but a resolve to be reborn, to look to the future, to advance with faith and hope towards that dawn which will break even more radiantly upon those who journey with their eyes fixed on God. Let us weep for ourselves if we do not yet believe in Jesus, who proclaimed the kingdom of salvation. Let us weep for the sins we have not confessed.

Then too, let us weep for those men who vent on women all their pent-up violence. Let us weep for women enslaved by fear and exploitation. But it is not enough to beat our breast and to feel compassion. Jesus demands more. Women need to be given reassurance, following his example; they need to be cherished as an inviolable gift for all humanity. So that our children may grow in dignity and hope.

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PRAYER

Lord Jesus,
stay the hand of those who strike women!
Lift women’s hearts from the abyss of despair
when they are victims of violence.
Look upon their tears of loneliness and abandonment,
and open our hearts to share their every sorrow,
fully and faithfully,
above and beyond mere compassion.
Make us a means of true liberation. Amen.

NINTH STATION

Jesus falls for the third time
Leaving behind unhealthy nostalgia

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us!” (Rom 8:35,37).

Saint Paul lists all his sufferings, yet he knows that Jesus was there before him: Jesus, who on the way to Golgotha fell once, twice, three times. Overwhelmed by hardship, persecution, the sword; weighed down by the wood of the cross. Drained! He seems to say, as we do, in our darkest moments: I can’t take it any more!

It is the cry of those persecuted, the dying, the terminally ill, those who strain under the yoke.

But in Jesus we also see strength: “Although he causes grief, he will have compassion” (Lam 3:32). He shows us that in affliction, his consolation is always present, a “surplus” to be glimpsed in hope. Like the pruning which the heavenly Father, in his wisdom, performs on the branches that will bear fruit (cf. Jn 15:8). Not to lop them off, but to make them bloom anew. Like a mother in labour: in pain, she cries out, she endures the pangs of childbirth. Yet she knows that they are the pangs of new life, of spring flowers blossoming on branches recently pruned.

May our contemplation of Jesus, who falls yet rises once more, help us to overcome the kinds of narrowness which fear of the future impresses on our hearts, especially at this time of crisis. Let us leave behind our unhealthy nostalgia for the past, our complacency and our refusal to change, and the attitude that says: “But we’ve always done it this way!”. Jesus who stumbles and falls, but then rises, points us to a sure hope which, nourished by intense prayer, is born precisely at the moment of trial, not after or apart from it!

We will be more than conquerors, because of his love!

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PRAYER

Lord Jesus,
Lift up, we pray, the unfortunate from the ground,
Raise the poor from the dust, set them with the princes of the people,
and grant them a seat of glory.
Shatter the bow of the strong and revive the strength of the weak,
for you alone enrich us by your poverty (cf. 1 Sam 2:4-8; 2 Cor 8:9). Amen.

TENTH STATION

Jesus is stripped of his garments
Unity and dignity

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another: “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it”. This was to fulfil what the Scripture says: “They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my tunic they cast lots”. And that is what the soldiers did (Jn 19:23-24).

They didn’t leave even a patch of cloth to cover Jesus’ body. They stripped him naked. He was without his cloak, his tunic, any garment whatsoever. They stripped him as an act of utter humiliation. He was covered only by the blood which flowed from his gaping wounds.

The tunic remained intact, a symbol of the Church’s unity, a unity found in patient journeying, in a peace that is crafted, in a tapestry woven with the golden threads of fraternity, in reconciliation and in mutual forgiveness.

In Jesus, innocent, stripped and tortured, we see the outraged dignity of all the innocent, especially the little ones. God did not prevent his naked body from being exposed on the cross. He did this in order to redeem every abuse wrongly concealed, and to show that he, God, is irrevocably and unreservedly on the side of victims.

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PRAYER

Lord Jesus,
we want to return to childlike innocence,
in order to enter the kingdom of heaven;
cleanse us of our uncleanness and our idols.
Take away our stony hearts which create divisions,
which damage the credibility of your Church.
Give us a new heart and a new spirit,
that we may live in accordance with your commands
and readily observe your laws. Amen.

ELEVENTH STATION

Jesus is crucified
At the bedside of the sick

And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read: “The King of the Jews”. And with him they crucified two thieves, one on his right and one on his left. And the Scripture was fulfilled that says: “And he was counted among the lawless” (Mk 15:24-28).

And they crucified him! The punishment reserved for the despicable, for traitors and rebellious slaves. This is the punishment meted out to our Lord Jesus: coarse nails, spasms of pain, the anguish of his mother, the shame of being associated with two thieves, his garments divided like spoils among the soldiers, the cruel jeers of passers-by: “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him!” (Mt 27:42).

And they crucified him! Jesus does not come down, he does not leave the cross. He stays there, obedient to the Father’s will to the very end. He loves and he forgives.

Today many of our brothers and sisters, like Jesus, are nailed to a bed of pain, at hospital, in homes for the elderly, in our families. It is a time of hardship, with bitter days of solitude and even despair: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46).

May we never use our hands to inflict harm, but only to draw near, to comfort and to accompany the sick, raising them from their bed of pain. Sickness does not ask permission. It always comes unannounced. At times it upsets us, it narrows our horizons, it tests our hope. It is a bitter gall. Only if we find at our side someone able to listen to us, to remain close to us, to sit at our bedside… can sickness become a great school of wisdom, an encounter with God, who is ever patient. Whenever someone shares our infirmities out of love, even in the night of pain there dawns the paschal light of Christ, crucified and risen. What, in human terms, is a chastisement can become a redemptive oblation, for the good of our communities and our families. So it was for the saints.

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PRAYER

Lord Jesus,
never leave my side,
sit beside my bed of pain and keep me company.
Do not leave me alone, stretch out your hand and lift me up!
I believe that you are Love,
and I believe that your will is the expression of your Love;
so I abandon myself to your will,
for I put my trust in your Love. Amen.

TWELFTH STATION

Jesus dies on the cross
The seven last words

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the Scripture): “I am thirsty”. A jar full of vinegar was standing there. So they put a sponge full of wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said: “It is finished”. Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (Jn 19:28-30).

Jesus’ seven last words on the cross are the perfection of hope. Slowly, with steps that are also our own, Jesus traverses all the darkness of night and abandons himself trustingly into the arms of his Father. It is the cry of the dying, the groan of the despairing, the entreaty of the lost. It is Jesus!

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46). It is the cry of Job, of everyone struck by misfortune. And God is silent. He is silent because his response is there, on the cross: Jesus himself, the eternal Word who out of love became man; he is God’s answer.

“Remember me…” (Lk 23:42). The fraternal plea of the thief who became his companion in suffering, pierces Jesus’ heart; it is an echo of his own pain. And Jesus grants that request: “Today you will be with me in paradise” The pain of others always redeems us, since it draws us out of ourselves.

“Woman, here is your son! …” (Jn 19:26). But it is his mother, Mary, who stood with John at the foot of the cross, who dispels all fear. She fills that scene with tenderness and hope. Jesus no longer feels alone. So it is with us, if beside our bed of pain there is someone who loves us! Faithfully. To the end.

“I am thirsty” (Jn 19:28). Like the child who asks his mother for drink, like the patient burning with fever… Jesus’ thirst is the thirst of all those who yearn for life, freedom and justice. And it is the thirst of the one who is thirstiest of all: God, who, infinitely more than ourselves, thirsts for our salvation.

“It is finished” (Jn 19:30). Everything: every word, every action, every prophecy, every moment of Jesus’ life. The tapestry is complete. The thousand colours of love now shine forth in beauty. Nothing is wasted. Nothing thrown away. Everything has become love. Everything completed for me and for you! And so, even dying becomes meaningful!

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). Now, heroically, Jesus emerges from the fear of death. For if we live freely in love, everything is life. Forgiveness renews, heals, transforms and comforts! It creates a new people. It ends wars.

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46). No longer emptiness and anguish. But complete trust in the Father’s hands, complete repose in his heart. For in God, all the fragments at last come together to form a whole!

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PRAYER

O God, who in the passion of Christ our Lord
have set us free from death, the wages of our ancient sin,
inherited by the whole human race:
renew us in the image of your Son;
and as we have borne in ourselves, from birth,
the image of the earthly man,
grant that, by the working of your Spirit,
we may bear the image of the heavenly man.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

THIRTEENTH STATION

Jesus is taken down from the cross
Love is stronger than death

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him” (Mt 27:57-58).

Before burial, Jesus is at last given back to his mother. She is the icon of a broken hearted, yet she tells us that death does not forbid a mother’s final kiss to her son. Bent over Jesus’ body, Mary is bound to him in a total embrace. This icon is known simply as Pietà – pity. It is heartrending, but it shows that death does not break the bond of love. For love is stronger than death! Pure love is the love that lasts. Evening has come. The battle is won. The bond of love has not been broken. Those who are prepared to sacrifice their life for Christ will find it. Transfigured, on the other side of death.

Tears and blood mingle in this tragic embrace. So it is in the lives of our families whenever we suffer an unexpected and grievous loss, an emptiness and a pain which cannot be soothed, especially at the death of a child.

“Pity” means being a neighbour to our brothers and sisters who grieve and cannot be consoled. It is great act of charity to care for those suffering from bodily wounds, from mental depression, from a despairing heart. To love to the very end is the supreme teaching which Jesus and Mary have left us. It is the daily fraternal mission of consolation which is entrusted to us in this faithful embrace of the dead Jesus and his sorrowful Mother.

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PRAYER

Virgin of Sorrows,
at our altars you show us your radiant face;
with eyes lifted up to heaven
and open hands,
you offer the Father, in a sign of priestly oblation,
the saving victim of your Son Jesus.
Show us the sweetness of that last faithful embrace
and grant us your maternal consolation,
that the sorrows of our daily lives
may never dim our hope of life beyond death. Amen.

FOURTEENTH STATION

Jesus is laid in the tomb

The new garden

Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. They laid Jesus there (Jn 19:41-42).

That garden, with the tomb in which Jesus was buried, makes us think of another garden: the garden of Eden. A garden which through disobedience lost its beauty and became a wilderness, a place of death where once there was life.

The overgrown branches which block us from savouring the fragrance of God’s will – our attachment to money, our pride, our squandering of human lives – must now be trimmed back and grafted onto the wood of the Cross. This is the new garden: the cross planted upon the earth!

From on high, Jesus will now bring everything back to life. After his return from the pit of hell, where Satan had imprisoned so many souls, the renewal of all things will begin. His tomb represents the end of the old man. With as Jesus, God has not allowed his children to be punished by a relentless death. In the death of Christ all the thrones of evil, built on greed and hardness of heart, are toppled.

Death disarms us; it makes us realize that we are subject here on earth to a life that will come to an end. And yet, before the body of Jesus, laid in the tomb, we come to realize who we really are. Creatures who, in order to escape death, need their Creator.

The silence which fills that garden enables us to hear the whisper of a gentle breeze: “I am the Living One and I am with you” (cf. Ex 3:14). The curtain of the temple is torn in two. At last we see our Lord’s face. And we know fully his name: mercy and faithfulness. We will never be confounded, even in the face of death, for the Son of God was free among the dead (cf. Ps 88:6 Vg.).

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PRAYER

Protect me, God: for in you I take refuge.
You are my portion and cup,
my life is in your hands.
I keep you ever before me, for you are my God.
You stand at my right hand; I shall not waver.
And so my heart is glad and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
For you do not leave my life among the dead,
or let your servant go down into the pit.
You will show me the path of life,
fullness of joy in your presence,
happiness for ever at your right hand. Amen. (cf. Ps 15)

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Individuals or Groups Carrying Cross During Ceremony

Station I     Cardinal Vallini, Vicar of Rome
Station II    Workers and businessmen                                  
Station III   Foreigners                        
Station IV    People in a recovery community                                   
Station V     Homeless people                          
Station VI    A Family                         
Station VII   Prisoners                                
Station VIII  Women                                    
Station IX    Children                                 
Station XI    Elderly people                                   
Station XII   Franciscans for the Custody of the Holy Land             
Station XIII  Women Religious                                  
Station XIV   Cardinal Vallini
                       
************************

Link to full booklet:
http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/libretti/2014/20140418-libretto-via-crucis.pdf

ENGLISH 
http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/2014/documents/ns_lit_doc_20140418_via-crucis_en.html

FRENCH
http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/2014/documents/ns_lit_doc_20140418_via-crucis_fr.html

SPANISH 
http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/2014/documents/ns_lit_doc_20140418_via-crucis_sp.html

PORTUGHESE 
http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/2014/documents/ns_lit_doc_20140418_via-crucis_po.html

GERMAN 
http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/2014/documents/ns_lit_doc_20140418_via-crucis_ge.html

JUDAS WAS STANDING WITH THEM

Pope Francis Food Friday 2014

“JUDAS WAS STANDING WITH THEM” (JN 18:5)

Following the tradition, the homily for this afternoon’s Good Friday Service for the Passion of the Lord is preached by Capuchin Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa.

In the divine-human history of the passion of Jesus, there are many minor stories about men and women who entered into the ray of its light or its shadow. The most tragic one is that of Judas Iscariot. It is one of the few events attested with equal emphasis by each of the four Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. The early Christian community reflected a great deal on this incident and we would be remiss to do otherwise. It has much to tell us.

Judas was chosen from the very beginning to be one of the Twelve. In inserting his name in the list of apostles, the gospel-writer Luke says, “Judas Iscariot, who became (egeneto) a traitor” (Lk 6:16). Judas was thus not born a traitor and was not a traitor at the time Jesus chose him; he became a traitor! We are before one of the darkest dramas of human freedom.

Why did he become a traitor? Not so long ago, when the thesis of a “revolutionary Jesus” was in fashion, people tried to ascribe idealistic motivations to Judas’ action. Someone saw in his name “Iscariot” a corruption of sicariot, meaning that he belonged to a group of extremist zealots who used a kind of dagger (sica) against the Romans; others thought that Judas was disappointed in the way that Jesus was putting forward his concept of “the kingdom of God” and wanted to force his hand to act against the pagans on the political level as well. This is the Judas of the famous musical Jesus Christ Superstar and of other recent films and novels—a Judas who resembles another famous traitor to his benefactor, Brutus, who killed Julius Caesar to save the RomanRepublic!

These are reconstructions to be respected when they have some literary or artistic value, but they have no historical basis whatsoever. The Gospels—the only reliable sources that we have about Judas’ character—speak of a more down-to-earth motive: money. Judas was entrusted with the group’s common purse; on the occasion of Jesus’ anointing in Bethany, Judas had protested against the waste of the precious perfumed ointment that Mary poured on Jesus’ feet, not because he was interested in the poor but, as John notes, “because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it” (Jn 12:6). His proposal to the chief priests is explicit: “‘What will you give me if I deliver him to you?’ And they paid him thirty pieces of silver” (Mt 26:15).

*    *   *

But why are people surprised at this explanation, finding it too banal? Has it not always been this way in history and is still this way today? Mammon, money, is not just one idol among many: it is the idol par excellence, literally “a molten god” (see Ex 34:17). And we know why that is the case. Who is objectively, if not subjectively (in fact, not in intentions), the true enemy, the rival to God, in this world? Satan? But no one decides to serve Satan without a motive. Whoever does it does so because they believe they will obtain some kind of power or temporal benefit from him. Jesus tells us clearly who the other master, the anti-God, is: “No one can serve two masters. . . . You cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt 6:24). Money is the “visible god”[1] in contrast to the true God who is invisible.

Mammon is the anti-God because it creates an alternative spiritual universe; it shifts the purpose of the theological virtues. Faith, hope, and charity are no longer placed in God but in money. A sinister inversion of all values occurs. Scripture says, “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mk 9:23), but the world says, “All things are possible to him who has money.” And on a certain level, all the facts seem to bear that out.

“The love of money,” Scripture says, “is the root of all evil” (1 Tim 6:10). Behind every evil in our society is money, or at least money is also included there. It is the Molech we recall from the Bible to whom young boys and girls were sacrificed (see Jer 32:35) or the Aztec god for whom the daily sacrifice of a certain number of human hearts was required. What lies behind the drug enterprise that destroys so many human lives, behind the phenomenon of the mafia, behind political corruption, behind the manufacturing and sale of weapons, and even behind—what a horrible thing to mention—the sale of human organs removed from children? And the financial crisis that the world has gone through and that this country is still going through, is it not in large part due to the “cursed hunger for gold,” the auri sacra fames,[2] on the part of some people? Judas began with taking money out of the common purse. Does this say anything to certain administrators of public funds?

But apart from these criminal ways of acquiring money, is it not also a scandal that some people earn salaries and collect pensions that are sometimes 100 times higher than those of the people who work for them and that they raise their voices to object when a proposal is put forward to reduce their salary for the sake of greater social justice?

In the 1970s and 1980s in Italy, in order to explain unexpected political reversals, hidden exercises of power, terrorism, and all kinds of mysteries that were troubling civilian life, people began to point to the quasi-mythical idea of the existence of “a big Old Man,” a shrewd and powerful figure who was pulling all the strings behind the curtain for goals known only to himself. This powerful “Old Man” really exists and is not a myth; his name is Money!

Like all idols, money is deceitful and lying: it promises security and instead takes it away; it promises freedom and instead destroys it. St. Francis of Assisi, with a severity that is untypical for him, describes the end of life of a person who has lived only to increase his “capital.” Death draws near, and the priest is summoned. He asks the dying man, “Do you want forgiveness for all your sins?” and he answers, “Yes.” The priest then asks, “Are you ready to make right the wrongs you did, restoring things you have defrauded others of?” The dying man responds, “I can’t.” “Why can’t you?” “Because I have already left everything in the hands of my relatives and friends.” And so he dies without repentance, and his body is barely cold when his relatives and friends say, “Damn him! He could have earned more money to leave us, but he didn’t.”[3]

How many times these days have we had to think back again to the cry Jesus addressed to the rich man in the parable who had stored up endless riches and thought he was secure for the rest of his life: “Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Lk 12:20)!

Men placed in positions of responsibility who no longer knew in what bank or monetary paradise to hoard the proceeds of their corruption have found themselves on trial in court or in a prison cell just when they were about to say to themselves, “Have a good time now, my soul.” For whom did they do it? Was it worth it? Did they work for the good of their children and family, or their party, if that is really what they were seeking? Have they not instead ruined themselves and others?

*    *   *

The betrayal of Judas continues throughout history, and the one betrayed is always Jesus. Judas sold the head, while his imitators sell body, because the poor are members of the body of Christ, whether they know it or not. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). However, Judas’ betrayal does not continue only in the high-profile kinds of cases that I have mentioned. It would be comfortable for us to think so, but that is not the case. The homily that Father Primo Mazzolari gave on Holy Thursday 1958 about “Our Brother Judas” is still famous. “Let me,” he said to the few parishioners before him, “think about the Judas who is within me for a moment, about the Judas who perhaps is also within you.”

One can betray Jesus for other kinds of compensation than thirty pieces of silver. A man who betrays his wife, or a wife her husband, betrays Christ. The minister of God who is unfaithful to his state in life, or instead of feeding the sheep entrusted to him feeds himself, betrays Jesus. Whoever betrays their conscience betrays Jesus. Even I can betray him at this very moment—and it makes me tremble—if while preaching about Judas I am more concerned about the audience’s approval than about participating in the immense sorrow of the Savior. There was a mitigating circumstance in Judas’ case that that I do not have. He did not know who Jesus was and considered him to be only “a righteous man”; he did not know, as we do, that he was the Son of God.

As Easter approaches every year, I have wanted to listen to Bach’s “Passion According to St. Matthew” again. It includes a detail that makes me flinch every time. At the announcement of Judas’ betrayal, all the apostles ask Jesus, “Is it I, Lord?” (“Herr, bin ich’s?”) Before having us hear Christ’s answer, the composer—erasing the distance between the event and its commemoration—inserts a chorale that begins this way: “It is I; I am the traitor! I need to make amends for my sins.” (“Ich bin’s, ich sollte bü?en.”). Like all the chorales in this musical piece, it expresses the sentiments of the people who are listening. It is also an invitation for us to make a confession of our sin.

*    *   *

The Gospel describes Judas’ horrendous end: “When Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, ‘I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.’ They said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself.’ And throwing down the pieces of silver, he departed; and he went and hanged himself” (Mt 27:3-5).  But let us not pass a hasty judgment here. Jesus never abandoned Judas, and no one knows, after he hung himself from a tree with a rope around his neck, where he ended up: in Satan’s hands or in God’s hands. Who can say what transpired in his soul during those final moments? “Friend” was the last word that Jesus addressed to him, and he could not have forgotten it, just as he could not have forgotten Jesus’ gaze.

It is true that in speaking to the Father about his disciples Jesus had said about Judas, “None of them is lost but the son of perdition” (Jn 17:12), but here, as in so many other instances, he is speaking from the perspective of time and not of eternity. The enormity of this betrayal is enough by itself alone, without needing to consider a failure that is eternal, to explain the other terrifying statement said about Judas: “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Mk 14:21). The eternal destiny of a human being is an inviolable secret kept by God. The Church assures us that a man or a woman who is proclaimed a saint is experiencing eternal blessedness, but she does not herself know for certain that any particular person is in hell.

Dante Alighieri, who places Judas in the deepest part of hell in his Divine Comedy, tells of the last-minute conversion of Manfred, the son of Frederick II and the king of Sicily whom everyone at the time considered damned because he died as an excommunicated. Having been mortally wounded in battle, he confides to the poet that in the very last moment of his life, “…weeping, I gave my soul / to Him who grants forgiveness willingly” and he sends a message from Purgatory to earth that is still relevant for us:

Horrible was the nature of my sins,

but boundless mercy stretches out its arms

to any man who comes in search of it.[4]

*    *   *

Here is what the story of our brother Judas should move us to do: to surrender ourselves to the one who freely forgives, to throw ourselves likewise into the outstretched arms of the Crucified One. The most important thing in the story of Judas is not his betrayal but Jesus’ response to it. He knew well what was growing in his disciple’s heart, but he does not expose it; he wants to give Judas the opportunity right up until the last minute to turn back, and is almost shielding him. He knows why Judas came to the garden of olives, but he does not refuse his cold kiss and even calls him “friend” (see Mt 26:50). He sought out Peter after his denial to give him forgiveness, so who knows how he might have sought out Judas at some point in his way to Calavary! When Jesus prays from the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34), he certainly does not exclude Judas from those he prays for.

So what will we do? Who will we follow, Judas or Peter? Peter had remorse for what he did, but Judas was also remorseful to the point of crying out, “I have betrayed innocent blood!” and he gave back the thirty pieces of silver. Where is the difference then? Only in one thing: Peter had confidence in the mercy of Christ, and Judas did not! Judas’ greatest sin was not in having betrayed Christ but in having doubted his mercy.

If we have imitated Judas in his betrayal, some of us more and some less, let us not imitate him in his lack of confidence in forgiveness. There is a sacrament through which it is possible to have a sure experience of Christ’s mercy: the sacrament of reconciliation. How wonderful this sacrament is! It is sweet to experience Jesus as Teacher, as Lord, but even sweeter to experience him as Redeemer, as the one who draws you out of the abyss, like he drew Peter out of the sea, as the one who touches you and, like he did with the leper, says to you, “ I will; be clean” (Mt 8:3).

Confession allows us to experience about ourselves what the Church says of Adam’s sin on Easter night in the “Exultet”: “O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!” Jesus knows how to take all our sins, once we have repented, and make them “happy faults,” faults that would no longer be remembered if it were not for the experience of mercy and divine tenderness that they occasioned.

I have a wish for myself and for all of you, Venerable Fathers, brothers, and sisters: on Easter morning, may we awaken and let the words of a great convert in modern times, Paul Claudel, resonate in our hearts:

My God, I have been revived, and I am with You again!

I was sleeping, stretched out like a dead man in the night.

You said, “Let there be light!” and I awoke the way a cry is shouted out! 

My Father, You who have given me life before the Dawn, I place myself in Your Presence.

My heart is free and my mouth is cleansed; my body and spirit are fasting.

I have been absolved of all my sins, which I confessed one by one.

The wedding ring is on my finger and my face is washed.

I am like an innocent being in the grace that You have bestowed on me.[5]

 

This is what Christ’s Passover can do for us.




[1] William Shakespeare, The Life of Timon of Athens, Act IV, sc. 3, l. 386.

[2] Virgil, The Aeneid, 3.57.

[3] See Francis of Assisi, “Letter to All the Faithful,” 12.

[4] Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio 3.118-120: English trans. Mark Musa (Bloomington, IN: University of Indiana Press, 1985), 32.

[5] Paul Claudel, Prière pour le dimanche matin [Prayer for a Sunday Morning], in Œuvres poétiques (Paris: Gallimard, 1967), 377.

 

Pope Francis Teaches Us the Meaning of Humble, Loving Service

Pope Francis kisses a foot of a disabled person Our Lady of Providence Center in Rome

For the second year in a row Pope Francis chose to celebrate the Mass of Our Lord’s Supper among people often pushed to the margins of society. This evening visited the Don Gnocchi centre in Rome’s Casal del Marmo area, close to the Youth Detention Center where he celebrated Mass among young prison inmates last year. This year he visited a sister center for the elderly and disabled.

In a gesture of humility and service, and in imitation of Christ, Pope Francis put on an apron and knelt down to wash the feet of 12 residents during the the Mass of the Lord’s Supper: nine Italians, one Muslim from Libya, a young man from Cape Verde and an Ethiopian woman. These individuals are suffering with physical, neurological and oncological illnesses.

Visibly fatigued and requiring assistance to kneel and stand up again as he came close to the end of the rite, Pope Francis conveyed tenderness and concern for each person, pouring water on each person’s foot, then drying it and kissing it, before offering a loving gaze, sometimes reciprocated, depending on each person’s state of health.

Here are brief biographies of those whose feet Pope Francis washed during the ceremony:

-Oswaldinho, 16 yr old young man from Cape Verde who had a diving accident last summer and is now completely paralyzed

-Orietta, 51 yr old woman from Rome who has suffered from illness that has affected her brain

-Samuel, 66 yr old man who has had polio from his youth

-Marco, 19 yr old man, high school student and leader of his parish Youth Group who was diagnosed with a cerebral palsy last year

-Angelica, 86 yr old woman from Maenza, former president of Catholic Action in Italy, who had a double hip replacement

-Daria, 39 yr old woman who has suffered with cerebral palsy from her childhood

-Pietro, 86 yr old who has been a resident at the Centre for a year, struggling with serious mobility and muscular deficiency

-Gianluca, 36 yr old man who from the age of 14 has had numerous operations as a result of meningitis

-Stefano, 49 yr old man who suffers with serious cerebral and motor disorder and has been a resident at the centre for the past two years

-Hamed, 75 yr old Muslim man originally from Libya worked for the Italian-Arab Chamber of Commerce before suffering a traffic accident that caused serious neurological impairment

-Giordana, 27 yr old woman from Ethiopia suffering from cerebral palsy and epilepsy

-Walter, 59 yr old man suffering from Down’s Syndrome

Each of these persons has received help and support from the Don Gnocchi Foundation to overcome the difficulties, marginalization and isolation they often face on account of their age or disability.

The Pope’s selection of the location and his gesture of washing the feet of 12 people with disability was intended to underline the forms of fragility, in which the Christian community is called to recognize the suffering Christ and to which it must devote attention, solidarity and charity.

Here is the full text of the Pope’s extemporaneous homily which he delivered during the mass. Francis reflected on the Lord’s loving act of service, an act which he himself imitated later in the mass, kneeling down to wash the feet of twelve patients and residents of the centre.

“We have heard what Jesus did at the Last Supper: It is a gesture of farewell. He is God and he makes himself a servant, our servant. It is like an inheritance. You also must be servants of one another. He crossed this path by love. Also you must love each other and be servants in Love. This is the inheritance that Jesus leaves us. And he makes this gesture of washing feet, which is a symbolic act. The slaves performed this, the servants at the meals for the people who came to dine because at that time the streets were made of dirt and when they entered in a house it was necessary to wash one’s feet. And Jesus made performed this action, a work, a service of a slave, of a servant. And this he leaves like an inheritance amongst us. We must be servants of each other.

And for this, the church, today, commemorates the Last Supper, when Jesus instituted the Eucharist, he also—in the ceremony—performs the action of the washing of the feet, which reminds us that we must be servants of one another. Now I will perform this act, but all of us, in our hearts, let us think of others and think in the love that Jesus tells us that we have to have for the others and let us consider also how we can serve better, other people. Because Jesus wanted it this way among us.”

At the end of the Mass, the Pope carried the Blessed Sacrament to an Altar of Repose. He remained there in prayer until the end of the “Pange Lingua” hymn, after which he processed out of the chapel in the usual silence with which the Holy Thursday evening liturgy concludes.

This is the second year the Pope celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper among a group of people usually marginalized by society. Last year, the Pope celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper at a youth detention centre in Rome.

Photo description: Pope Francis kisses the foot of a disabled person at Our Lady of Providence Center during Holy Thursday Mass in Rome April 17. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters) 

 

‘LET US BE EASTER PEOPLE’ – Easter Message from CCCB President

Image to accompany Chapter 3 of encyclical 'Lumen Fidei'

Below, please find the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Easter Message:

Life is stronger than death! This is the fundamental conviction of my Christian faith. It is based on a fact: Jesus’ disciples were radically transformed only a few days after his death.

Let’s put ourselves in their place. The one in whom they had hoped has died, and his death was shameful. Accused of encouraging revolt against the government, Jesus was tortured, publicly humiliated, and crucified like a most vile criminal. A phrase from the Jewish Scriptures must have haunted them: “Anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (Deuteronomy 21.23).

The one they had believed to be God’s Prophet now seems cursed by God. They were convinced he would restore the kingdom of Israel – but once again the Roman Empire proves all powerful. They believed that the future ages would be transformed by him, but now they are mocked by never-ending sadness and futility.

Is it surprising they fled to avoid being taken with him? That Judas took his own life? That Peter, their leader, even denied knowing him? That they hid themselves in sorrow and despair?

What happened just a few days later to bring about such a radical change in them? Jesus’ death had made them fearful; now they are full of courage. They had gone into hiding; now they preach in public. They had been dispersed, each to his separate way; they now come together for prayer and the breaking of the bread, united in unbreakable solidarity.

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Photo description: Worshipers hold candles during the Easter Vigil at St. Jude Church in Mastic Beach, N.Y. (CNS file photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

JP II, We Love You – Pope John Paul II prays the rosary

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L'OSSERVATORE ROMANO PHOTO SHOWS LATE POPE PRAYING THE ROSARY

Pope John Paul II prays the rosary in this L’Osservatore Romano photo dated May 4, 1991. This image, captured by a Vatican photographer, is the second most requested photo from the L’Osservatore Romano archives. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

“Anointed with the oil of gladness” – Pope Francis’ homily for Chrism Mass

Pope Francis gives homily during Holy Thursday chrism Mass at Vatican

The Church celebrates the Chrism Mass on the threshold of the Sacred Triduum, on the day when, by a supreme priestly act, the Son of God made man offered himself to the Father to redeem all humanity. On Holy Thursday morning at 9:30 Rome time, Pope Francis presided at the Chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. Joining him were Cardinals, bishops and priests who live in Rome. The Chrism mass is celebrated in cathedrals throughout the whole world on one of the days during Holy Week. Most dioceses have their celebration with the local presbyterate (priests) gathered around their bishop, earlier in the week. In Rome, the mass is celebrated on Holy Thursday morning. During this liturgy, priests renew the promises first made at the priestly ordinations, to their Ordinary (Bishop). These promises or commitment of pastoral service are made publicly, and the people pledge their prayers and support in a very joyful and encouraging way.

Also during the mass, the holy oils of the sick, of catechumens and of chrism are blessed and distributed to the parishes of the diocese. Our Church uses three sacramental oils. The oil of catechumens is used to strengthen those who are preparing for baptism for their struggle with temptation and sin. The oil of the sick is used for those who are seeking healing of mind, body and spirit. The Holy Chrism, our ‘Christ oil,’ is used at Baptism, Confirmation, at the ordination of priests and bishops and at the dedication of a church building and altar.

The Chrism Mass is always a highlight in the life of any bishop. Because a bishop is the one who consecrates chrism, this liturgy represents his own pastoral ministry and the unity of the whole diocese with him in carrying out the mission of the Church.

Below, please find the full text of Pope Francis homily for the Chrism Mass:

Dear Brother Priests,

In the eternal “today” of Holy Thursday, when Christ showed his love for us to the end (cf. Jn 13:1), we recall the happy day of the institution of the priesthood, as well as the day of our own priestly ordination. The Lord anointed us in Christ with the oil of gladness, and this anointing invites us to accept and appreciate this great gift: the gladness, the joy of being a priest. Priestly joy is a priceless treasure, not only for the priest himself but for the entire faithful people of God: that faithful people from which he is called to be anointed and which he, in turn, is sent to anoint.

Anointed with the oil of gladness so as to anoint others with the oil of gladness. Priestly joy has its source in the Father’s love, and the Lord wishes the joy of this Love to be “ours” and to be “complete” (Jn 15:11). I like to reflect on joy by contemplating Our Lady, for Mary, the “Mother of the living Gospel, is a wellspring of joy for God’s little ones” (Evangelii Gaudium, 288). I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that priest is very little indeed: the incomparable grandeur of the gift granted us for the ministry sets us among the least of men. The priest is the poorest of men unless Jesus enriches him by his poverty, the most useless of servants unless Jesus calls him his friend, the most ignorant of men unless Jesus patiently teaches him as he did Peter, the frailest of Christians unless the Good Shepherd strengthens him in the midst of the flock. No one is more “little” than a priest left to his own devices; and so our prayer of protection against every snare of the Evil One is the prayer of our Mother: I am a priest because he has regarded my littleness (cf. Lk 1:48). And in that littleness we find our joy.

For me, there are three significant features of our priestly joy. It is a joy which anoints us (not one which “greases” us, making us unctuous, sumptuous and presumptuous), it is a joy which is imperishable and it is a missionary joy which spreads and attracts, starting backwards – with those farthest away from us.

A joy which anoints us. In a word: it has penetrated deep within our hearts, it has shaped them and strengthened them sacramentally. The signs of the ordination liturgy speak to us of the Church’s maternal desire to pass on and share with others all that the Lord has given us: the laying on of hands, the anointing with sacred chrism, the clothing with sacred vestments, the first consecration which immediately follows… Grace fills us to the brim and overflows, fully, abundantly and entirely in each priest. We are anointed down to our very bones… and our joy, which wells up from deep within, is the echo of this anointing.

An imperishable joy. The fullness of the Gift, which no one can take away or increase, is an unfailing source of joy: an imperishable joy which the Lord has promised no one can take from us (Jn 16:22). It can lie dormant, or be clogged by sin or by life’s troubles, yet deep down it remains intact, like the embers of a burnt log beneath the ashes, and it can always be renewed. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy remains ever timely: I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands (cf. 2 Tim 1:6).

A missionary joy. I would like especially to share with you and to stress this third feature: priestly joy is deeply bound up with God’s holy and faithful people, for it is an eminently missionary joy. Our anointing is meant for anointing God’s holy and faithful people: for baptizing and confirming them, healing and sanctifying them, blessing, comforting and evangelizing them.

And since this joy is one which only springs up when the shepherd is in the midst of his flock (for even in the silence of his prayer, the shepherd who worships the Father is with his sheep), it is a “guarded joy”, watched over by the flock itself. Even in those gloomy moments when everything looks dark and a feeling of isolation takes hold of us, in those moments of listlessness and boredom which at times overcome us in our priestly life (and which I too have experienced), even in those moments God’s people are able to “guard” that joy; they are able to protect you, to embrace you and to help you open your heart to find renewed joy.

A “guarded joy”: one guarded by the flock but also guarded by three sisters who surround it, tend it and defend it: sister poverty, sister fidelity and sister obedience.

Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to poverty. The priest is poor in terms of purely human joy. He has given up so much! And because he is poor, he, who gives so much to others, has to seek his joy from the Lord and from God’s faithful people. He doesn’t need to try to create it for himself. We know that our people are very generous in thanking priests for their slightest blessing and especially for the sacraments. Many people, in speaking of the crisis of priestly identity, fail to realize that identity presupposes belonging. There is no identity – and consequently joy of life – without an active and unwavering sense of belonging to God’s faithful people (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 268). The priest who tries to find his priestly identity by soul-searching and introspection may well encounter nothing more than “exit” signs, signs that say: exit from yourself, exit to seek God in adoration, go out and give your people what was entrusted to you, for your people will make you feel and taste who you are, what your name is, what your identity is, and they will make you rejoice in that hundredfold which the Lord has promised to those who serve him. Unless you “exit” from yourself, the oil grows rancid and the anointing cannot be fruitful. Going out from ourselves presupposes self-denial; it means poverty.

Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to fidelity. Not primarily in the sense that we are all “immaculate” (would that by God’s grace we were!), for we are sinners, but in the sense of an ever renewed fidelity to the one Bride, to the Church. Here fruitfulness is key. The spiritual children which the Lord gives each priest, the children he has baptized, the families he has blessed and helped on their way, the sick he has comforted, the young people he catechizes and helps to grow, the poor he assists… all these are the “Bride” whom he rejoices to treat as his supreme and only love and to whom he is constantly faithful. It is the living Church, with a first name and a last name, which the priest shepherds in his parish or in the mission entrusted to him. That mission brings him joy whenever he is faithful to it, whenever he does all that he has to do and lets go of everything that he has to let go of, as long as he stands firm amid the flock which the Lord has entrusted to him: Feed my sheep (cf. Jn 21:16,17).

Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to obedience. An obedience to the Church in the hierarchy which gives us, as it were, not simply the external framework for our obedience: the parish to which I am sent, my ministerial assignments, my particular work … but also union with God the Father, the source of all fatherhood. It is likewise an obedience to the Church in service: in availability and readiness to serve everyone, always and as best I can, following the example of “Our Lady of Promptness” (cf. Lk 1:39, meta spoudes), who hastens to serve Elizabeth her kinswoman and is concerned for the kitchen of Cana when the wine runs out. The availability of her priests makes the Church a house with open doors, a refuge for sinners, a home for people living on the streets, a place of loving care for the sick, a camp for the young, a classroom for catechizing children about to make their First Communion… Wherever God’s people have desires or needs, there is the priest, who knows how to listen (ob-audire) and feels a loving mandate from Christ who sends him to relieve that need with mercy or to encourage those good desires with resourceful charity.

All who are called should know that genuine and complete joy does exist in this world: it is the joy of being taken from the people we love and then being sent back to them as dispensers of the gifts and counsels of Jesus, the one Good Shepherd who, with deep compassion for all the little ones and the outcasts of this earth, wearied and oppressed like sheep without a shepherd, wants to associate many others to his ministry, so as himself to remain with us and to work, in the person of his priests, for the good of his people.

On this priestly Thursday I ask the Lord Jesus to enable many young people to discover that burning zeal which joy kindles in our hearts as soon as we have the stroke of boldness needed to respond willingly to his call.

On this priestly Thursday I ask the Lord Jesus to preserve the joy sparkling in the eyes of the recently ordained who go forth to devour the world, to spend themselves fully in the midst of God’s faithful people, rejoicing as they prepare their first homily, their first Mass, their first Baptism, their first confession… It is the joy of being able to share with wonder, and for the first time as God’s anointed, the treasure of the Gospel and to feel the faithful people anointing you again and in yet another way: by their requests, by bowing their heads for your blessing, by taking your hands, by bringing you their children, by pleading for their sick… Preserve, Lord, in your young priests the joy of going forth, of doing everything as if for the first time, the joy of spending their lives fully for you.

On this priestly Thursday I ask the Lord Jesus to confirm the priestly joy of those who have already ministered for some years. The joy which, without leaving their eyes, is also found on the shoulders of those who bear the burden of the ministry, those priests who, having experienced the labours of the apostolate, gather their strength and rearm themselves: “get a second wind”, as the athletes say. Lord, preserve the depth, wisdom and maturity of the joy felt by these older priests. May they be able to pray with Nehemiah: “the joy of the Lord is my strength” (cf. Neh 8:10).

Finally, on this priestly Thursday I ask the Lord Jesus to make better known the joy of elderly priests, whether healthy or infirm. It is the joy of the Cross, which springs from the knowledge that we possess an imperishable treasure in perishable earthen vessels. May these priests find happiness wherever they are; may they experience already, in the passage of the years, a taste of eternity (Guardini). May they know the joy of handing on the torch, the joy of seeing new generations of their spiritual children, and of hailing the promises from afar, smiling and at peace, in that hope which does not disappoint.

Photo Credit: CNS