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Behind Vatican Walls: Pope Francis in Armenia

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Pope Francis landed in Armenia this Friday for a weekend visit that includes a stop at the Armenian Genocide Memorial, his participation in a Divine Liturgy in the Armenian rite, and a visit to the Khor Virap monastery not far from the Turkish border.

The first item on the papal itinerary was a visit to the Apostolic Cathedral of Yerevan. Armenian Catholicos Karekin II and Pope Francis prayed Psalm 121 together, before turning to the formal greetings.

Addressing the Catholicos and Armenian Apostolic clergy, Pope Francis said, “I bow before the mercy of the Lord who willed that Armenia should become, in the year 301, the first nation to accept Christianity as its religion” at a time when religious persecution was rampant. The pope added “May the Lord bless you for the luminous testimony.”

Turning his attention to ecumenical relations between the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church, the pope said “when our actions are prompted by the power of Christ’s love, understanding and reciprocal esteem grow, a fruitful ecumenical journey becomes possible.”

From there Pope Francis went on to the presidential palace for a courtesy meeting with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan. He recalled the anniversary of Armenia’s independence, and the liturgy celebrated at the Vatican by Catholicos Karekin II to commemorate the 150th anniversary of what Armenians refer to as “the great evil.” Pope Francis used the Armenian phrase “Metz Yeghern.”

The pope reiterated his admiration for the way, in the darkest moments of their history, Armenians found the strength to carry on in the cross of Christ.

The first day of the pope’s Armenian voyage concluded with a private meeting between Pope Francis and Catholicos Karekin II.

Watch this week’s episode of Vatican Connections below!


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Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.

Pope in Armenia: Address to Civil Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps

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On Friday, June 24, following his visit to the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral, Pope Francis met with the President of Armenia in Yerevan. After his private meeting with President Serzh Sargsyan, the Holy Father gave the follow address to the civil authorities and the diplomatic corps.

Mr President,
Honourable Authorities,
Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It gives me great joy to be here, to set foot on the soil of this beloved land of Armenia, to visit a people of ancient and rich traditions, a people that has given courageous testimony to its faith and suffered greatly, yet has shown itself capable of constantly being reborn.

“Our turquoise sky, our clear waters, the flood of light, the summer sun and the proud winter borealis… our age-old stones … our ancient etched books which have become a prayer” (ELISE CIARENZ, Ode to Armenia). These are among the powerful images that one of your illustrious poets offers us to illustrate the rich history and natural beauty of Armenia. They sum up the rich legacy and the glorious yet dramatic experience of a people and their deep-seated love of their country.

I am most grateful to you, Mr President, for your kind words of welcome in the name of the government and people of Armenia, and for your gracious invitation that has made it possible to reciprocate the visit you made to the Vatican last year. There you attended the solemn celebration in Saint Peter’s Basilica, together with Their Holinesses Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch-Catholicos of All Armenians, and Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, and His Beatitude Nerses Bedros XIX, Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians, recently deceased. The occasion was the commemoration of the centenary of the Metz Yeghérn, the “Great Evil” that struck your people and caused the death of a vast multitude of persons. Sadly, that tragedy was the first of the deplorable series of catastrophes of the past century, made possible by twisted racial, ideological or religious aims that darkened the minds of the tormentors even to the point of planning the annihilation of entire peoples.

I pay homage to the Armenian people who, illuminated by the light of the Gospel, even at the most tragic moments of their history, have always found in the cross and resurrection of Christ the strength to rise again and take up their journey anew with dignity. This shows the depth of their Christian faith and its boundless treasures of consolation and hope. Having seen the pernicious effects to which hatred, prejudice and the untrammelled desire for dominion led in the last century, I express my lively hope that humanity will learn from those tragic experiences the need to act with responsibility and wisdom to avoid the danger of a return to such horrors. May all join in striving to ensure that whenever conflicts emerge between nations, dialogue, the enduring and authentic quest of peace, cooperation between states and the constant commitment of international organizations will always prevail, with the aim of creating a climate of trust favourable for the achievement of lasting agreements.

The Catholic Church wishes to cooperate actively with all those who have at heart the future of civilization and respect for the rights of the human person, so that spiritual values will prevail in our world and those who befoul their meaning and beauty will be exposed as such. In this regard, it is vitally important that all those who declare their faith in God join forces to isolate those who use religion to promote war, oppression and violent persecution, exploiting and manipulating the holy name of God.

Today Christians in particular, perhaps even more than at the time of the first martyrs, in some places experience discrimination and persecution for the mere fact of professing their faith. At the same time, all too many conflicts in various parts of the world remain unresolved, causing grief, destruction and forced migrations of entire peoples. It is essential that those responsible for the future of the nations undertake courageously and without delay initiatives aimed at ending these sufferings, making their primary goal the quest for peace, the defence and acceptance of victims of aggression and persecution, the promotion of justice and sustainable development. The Armenian people have experienced these situations firsthand; they have known suffering and pain; they have known persecution; they preserved not only the memory of past hurts, but also the spirit that has enabled them always to start over again. I encourage you not to fail to make your own precious contribution to the international community.

This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Armenia’s independence. It is a joyful occasion, but also an opportunity, in cherishing the goals already achieved, to propose new ones for the future. The celebration of this happy anniversary will be all the more significant if it becomes for all Armenians, both at home and in the diaspora, a special moment for gathering and coordinating energies for the sake of promoting the country’s civil and social development of the country, one that is equitable and inclusive. This will involve constant concern for ensuring respect for the moral imperatives of equal justice for all and solidarity with the less fortunate (cf. JOHN PAUL II, Farewell Address from Armenia, 27 September 2001: Insegnamenti XXIX/2 [2001], 489). The history of your country runs parallel to its Christian identity preserved over the centuries. That identity, far from impeding a healthy secularity of the state, instead requires and nourishes it, favouring the full participation of all in the life of society, freedom of religion and respect for minorities. A spirit of unity between all Armenians and a growing commitment to find helpful means of overcoming tension with neighbouring countries, will facilitate the realization of these important goals, and inaugurate for Armenia an age of true rebirth.

The Catholic Church is present in this country with limited human resources, yet readily offers her contribution to the development of society, particularly through her work with the poor and vulnerable in the areas of healthcare and education, but also in the specific area of charitable assistance. This is seen in the work carried out in the past twenty-five years by the Redemptoris Mater Hospital in Ashotzk, the educational institute in Yerevan, the initiatives of Caritas Armenia and the works managed by the various religious congregations.

May God bless and protect Armenia, a land illumined by the faith, the courage of the martyrs and that hope which proves stronger than any suffering.


CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pope In Armenia: Visit to the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral

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On Friday, June 24, Pope Francis arrived in Armenia for his 14th Apostolic Visit, the first one to Armenia. Below, find the official translation of Pope Francis’ speech in the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral:

Address of His Holiness Pope Francis
Visit to the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral
Etchmiadzin, 24 June 2016

Venerable Brother,
Supreme Patriarch-Catholicos of All Armenians,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It is very moving for me to have crossed the threshold of this holy place, a witness to the history of your people and the centre from which its spirituality radiates. I consider it a precious gift of God to be able to approach the holy altar from which the light of Christ shone forth in Armenia. I greet the Catholicos of All the Armenians, His Holiness Karekin II, with heartfelt thanks for his gracious invitation to visit Holy Etchmiadzin, and all the Archbishops and Bishops of the Armenian Apostolic Church. I thank you for your cordial and joyful welcome. Thank you, Your Holiness, for having welcomed me into your home. This sign of love eloquently bespeaks, better than any words can do, the meaning of friendship and fraternal charity.

On this solemn occasion, I give thanks to the Lord for the light of faith kindled in your land, the faith that has given Armenia its particular identity and made it a herald of Christ among the nations. Christ is your glory and your light. He is the sun who has illuminated and enlivened you, accompanied and sustained you, especially in times of trial. I bow before the mercy of the Lord, who willed that Armenia should become, in the year 301, the first nation to accept Christianity as its religion, at a time when persecutions still raged throughout the Roman Empire.

For Armenia, faith in Christ has not been like a garment to be donned or doffed as circumstances or convenience dictate, but an essential part of its identity, a gift of immense significance, to be accepted with joy, preserved with great effort and strength, even at the cost of life itself. As Saint John Paul II wrote: “With the ‘baptism’ of the Armenian community… the people acquired a new identity that was to become a constitutive and inseparable part of Armenian life. It would no longer be possible to think that faith did not figure as an essential element among the components of this identity” (Apostolic Letter for the 1700th Anniversary of the Baptism of the Armenian People [2 February 2001], 2). May the Lord bless you for this luminous testimony of faith. It is a shining example of the great efficacy and fruitfulness of the baptism received over seventeen hundred years ago, together with the eloquent and holy sign of martyrdom, which has constantly accompanied the history of your people.

I also thank the Lord for the journey that the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church have undertaken through sincere and fraternal dialogue for the sake of coming to share fully in the Eucharistic banquet. May the Holy Spirit help us to attain the unity for which our Lord prayed, so that his disciples may be one and the world may believe. I gladly recall the decisive impulse given to developing closer relations and strengthening dialogue between our two Churches in recent years by Their Holinesses Vasken I and Karekin I, and by Saint John Paul II and by Benedict XVI. As significant stages of this ecumenical engagement, I would mention: the commemoration of the Witnesses to the Faith in the twentieth century during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000; the consignment to Your Holiness of the relic of the Father of Christian Armenia, Saint Gregory the Illuminator, for the new Cathedral of Yerevan; the Joint Declaration of His Holiness John Paul II and Your Holiness, signed here in Holy Etchmiadzin; and the visits which Your Holiness has made to the Vatican for important events and commemorations.

Tragically, our world is marked by divisions and conflicts, as well as by grave forms of material and spiritual poverty, including the exploitation of persons, not least children and the elderly. It expects from Christians a witness of mutual esteem and fraternal cooperation capable of revealing to every conscience the power and truth of Christ’s resurrection. The patient and enduring commitment to full unity, the growth of joint initiatives and cooperation between all the Lord’s disciples in service to the common good: all these are like a radiant light in a dark night and a summons to experience even our differences in an attitude of charity and mutual understanding. The spirit of ecumenism takes on an exemplary value also outside of the visible confines of the ecclesial community; it represents for everyone a forceful appeal to settle divergences with dialogue and appreciation for all that unites us. It also prevents the exploitation and manipulation of faith, for it requires us to rediscover faith’s authentic roots, and to communicate, defend and spread truth with respect for the dignity of every human being and in ways that reveal the presence of the love and salvation we wish to spread. In this way, we offer to the world – which so urgently needs it – a convincing witness that Christ is alive and at work, capable of opening new paths of reconciliation among the nations, civilizations and religions. We offer a credible witness that God is love and mercy.

Dear brothers and sisters, when our actions are prompted by the power of Christ’s love, understanding and reciprocal esteem grow, a fruitful ecumenical journey becomes possible, and all people of goodwill, and society as a whole, are shown a concrete way to harmonize the conflicts that rend civil life and create divisions that prove hard to heal. May Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, through the intercession of Mary Most Holy, Saint Gregory the Illuminator, “pillar of light for the Holy Church of the Armenians”, and Saint Gregory of Narek, Doctor of the Church, bless all of you and the entire Armenian nation. May he preserve you always in the faith you received from your ancestors, and to which you have borne glorious witness throughout the ages.


CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pope Francis’ Message to Oslo Congress against the Death Penalty

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Today in Oslo, Norway the VI World Congress Against the Death Penalty opens, organized by the NGO “Ensemble contre la peine de mort” and the “World Coalition Against the Death Penalty,” which includes about 140 organizations from around the world. Pope Francis sent a video message for the occasion. The English transcription of the original Spanish message is found below.

I greet the organizers of this World Congress against the death penalty, the group of countries supporting it, particularly Norway as its host country, and all those representatives of governments, international organizations and civil society taking part in it. I likewise express my personal appreciation, along with that of men and women of goodwill, for your commitment to a world free of the death penalty.

One sign of hope is that public opinion is manifesting a growing opposition to the death penalty, even as a means of legitimate social defense. Indeed, nowadays the death penalty is unacceptable, however grave the crime of the convicted person. It is an offence to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person; it likewise contradicts God’s plan for individuals and society, and his merciful justice. Nor is it consonant with any just purpose of punishment. It does not render justice to victims, but instead fosters vengeance. The commandment “Thou shalt not kill” has absolute value and applies both to the innocent and to the guilty.

The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy is an auspicious occasion for promoting worldwide ever more evolved forms of respect for the life and dignity of each person. It must not be forgotten that the inviolable and God-given right to life also belongs to the criminal.

Today I would encourage all to work not only for the abolition of the death penalty, but also for the improvement of prison conditions, so that they fully respect the human dignity of those incarcerated. “Rendering justice” does not mean seeking punishment for its own sake, but ensuring that the basic purpose of all punishment is the rehabilitation of the offender. The question must be dealt with within the larger framework of a system of penal justice open to the possibility of the guilty party’s reinsertion in society.

There is no fitting punishment without hope! Punishment for its own sake, without room for hope, is a form of torture, not of punishment. I trust that this Congress can give new impulse to the effort to abolish capital punishment.

For this reason, I encourage all taking part to carry on this great initiative and I assure them of my prayers.

The Francis Effect: Forming Ministerial Leadership for Pope Francis’ Vision of the Church

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Photos c/o Catholic Theological Union at Chicago

In this podcast, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, President and CEO, Salt + Light Media gives a lecture on “The Francis Effect: Forming Ministerial Leadership for Pope Francis’ Vision of the Church.” This was recording during CTU’s summer institute on Wednesday, June 8, 2016. Fr. Rosica was co-teaching a class at CTU with Salt + Light’s producer and correspondent, Sebastian Gomes.

Fr. Thomas Rosica and Sebastian Gomes at CTU

Born on the wings of World Youth Day 2002 in Canada, Salt + Light is a unique instrument of the New Evangelization, sharing the Gospel through television, radio, print, and online media. Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, served as the official Vatican spokesperson during the resignation of Benedict XVI through the election of Francis. He was then asked to serve as the English-language assistant to the Holy See Press Office, where he continues to relate on a daily basis with English-language media around the world.

We can, we should, and we must: A call to hope for our Common Home

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Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter Laudato Sì: Reflecting One Year Later

In May 2006, former US Vice President Al Gore released the groundbreaking documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” While climate change debate has continued ever since, while concrete solutions seem to drip slower than maple sap in March. The question remains: are we willing to deal with this inconvenient but vital truth?

One year ago tomorrow, Pope Francis called humanity to a virtue that scarcely appeared in the environmental discourse of our era: hope. His landmark encyclical Laudato Sì on Care for our Common Home was a striking reminder that we can do something, we should do something, and we must do something. “Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home,” the Pope states (no. 13). “Hope would have us recognize that there is always a way out, that we can always redirect our steps, that we can always do something to solve our problems… Still,” the Pope admits, “we can see signs that things are now reaching a breaking point” (no. 61).

What are Francis’ proposals faced with such a breaking point? His first recommendation is “a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (no. 14). Science, religion, indigenous peoples, and the international community – every stratus of the human family has a role to play in this universal exchange with universal consequences.

But genuine change cannot be driven only at a societal level. The effectiveness of laws and regulations is limited, even when properly enforced. What is needed instead is a “selfless ecological commitment” on the part of the individual women and men of our time. Using less heating and wearing warmer clothing, the avoidance of disposable products, the reduction of water usage, recycling, purchasing and preparing a reasonable amount of food, turning off lights: “We must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world. They benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread” (no. 212).

For Pope Francis, caring for our environment also entails caring for one another. How could we care for the family home without caring for our brothers and sisters, and vice versa? “We are always capable of going out of ourselves towards the other.” We must concern ourselves with “caring for things for the sake of others,” restraining our consumption “to avoid the suffering of others or the deterioration of our surroundings.” Spurning self-centeredness and self-absorption in favour of “disinterested concern for others… [is] essential if we truly wish to care for our brothers and sisters and for the natural environment” (208).

What is the inconvenient truth? Things are not as they should be and something must be done. The question remains: what are we going to do about it? The truth is, there is still hope that we can.

Iuvenescit Ecclesia

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released a letter today to the bishops around the world on “the relationship between hierarchical and charismatic gifts in the life and mission of the Church”.

Photo Courtesy: CNS/Paul Haring

[Read more…]

Abounding in Fruitfulness: Chapter Five of Amoris Laetitia

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Reflecting on the Fifth Chapter of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family

“You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit… Thus you will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16-18, 20)

Fruitfulness is the focus of the fifth chapter of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on love in the family, Amoris Laetitia. What kind of fruit does the love of man and woman bear? What are the signs of this fruit in the world? From where is this fruit born? What is its significance for the family, for the Church, and for society? Pope Francis outlines how love overflows from the couple to the family, which they “co-create” together with God. The love of husband and wife not only inhabits the nuclear family but also flows to their extended family. The love that originates in the family spreads to unify the whole human family, and bind us together as brothers and sisters.

“Love always gives life” Pope Francis proclaims (Amoris Laetitia, 165)! Divine love gives life! Human love gives life! Love is life-giving! In the family, we see this life most concretely in the birth of children, born of their parents’ love. In this way married love mirrors the love of God – whose love is at the origin of everything that exists. The father and mother participate in the ongoing creative work of God by being His instruments in bringing forth a child that is at once His and theirs.

Their son or daughter is a “reflection of their love” who is to be “welcomed as a gift from God” (165-166). As the life-giving love between spouses mirrors the love of God, so too does parents’ love for their children. Like God’s love, it is a love that “first loves us” (1 John 4:19). Parents love their children “even before they arrive.” Children “are loved before having done anything to deserve it” (166). They are loved just because they are. Though it is often difficult to realize, it is the same with God’s love for each one of us.

Pope Francis contrasts this gratuitous love of parents for their children with the stark reality of many children today. “Rejected, abandoned, robbed of their childhood and their future” – this is the sad situation of too many children across the globe. In the words of Pope Francis: “This is shameful!” Indeed, “when speaking of children who come into the world, no sacrifice made by adults will be considered too costly or too great, if it means the child never has to feel that he or she is a mistake, or worthless or abandoned to the four winds and the arrogance of man” (166).

In a world where “scientific advances” allow us to know a child’s hair colour and potential illnesses even before his or her first breath, how important it is for every child “to feel wanted” and to be received as a gift. “We love our children because they are children, not because they are beautiful, or look or think as we do, or embody our dreams. We love them because they are children. A child is a child. The love of parents is the means by which God our Father shows his own love. He awaits the birth of each child, accepts that child unconditionally, and welcomes him or her freely” (170). The parents’ love bears fruit in the life that they give to their children, but also in the love that children receive from their parents for their entire lives. This is true even when the parents are not genetically related to their children. “Adoption is a very generous way to become parents…and not only in cases of infertility” (179, 180).

Children are a “living reflection” and “permanent sign” of the love between man and woman. Yet the fruitfulness of family love can also be experienced in many other ways. Caring for parents, reaching out to members of the extended family, embracing those in need, contributing to the good of the local community and the wider society – all are means by which the love experienced in the family flows outwards to “humanize” the world and create “human bonds” between the women and men of our day. Pope Francis aptly observes that “the family introduces fraternity into the world. From this initial experience of fraternity, nourished by affection and education at home, the style of fraternity radiates like a promise upon the whole of society” (194). This is not only a theological ideal, but an urgent call and opportunity to respond to the real needs of our time – aiding teenage mothers, assisting refugees, visiting the aging, helping young people who suffer from addictions, giving affection to handicapped persons, and reaching out to those afflicted by divorce and separation (197).

The fruitfulness of love not only radiates throughout society, it also warms and illuminates the Church. The family is fertile ground in which the seeds of faith can be sown and bear fruit from generation to generation. In this way the family is, as the Second Vatican Council noted, “a domestic church” (Lumen Gentium, 11). Families are beacons that radiate the light of Christ’s love to their friends, neighbours, and to society at large. Families are little communities of evangelization, because they are places where the Good News can be lived and spread to the world. “By their witness as well as their words, families speak to others of Jesus. They pass on the faith, they arouse a desire for God and they reflect the beauty of the Gospel and its way of life” (184). Here Pope Francis astutely observes that “very often it is grandparents who ensure that the most important values are passed down to their grandchildren, and many people can testify that they owe their initiation into the Christian life to their grandparents” (192). Saint John Paul II’s words about the future of humanity (Familiaris Consortio, 86) could likewise be said of the Church: “The future of the Church passes through the family”! As Pope Francis states earlier in Amoris Laetitia: “The Church is good for the family, and the family is good for the Church,” for the Church is itself a “family of families” (87)!

Thus the fertile love of man and woman bears fruit in the children they bear, in the family members for whom they care, in those in need to whom they reach out, in the human family as a whole, and in the life of the family of families: the Church. The love in families bears fruit, it humanizes, it educates, it spreads goodness and warmth. The love in families gives a home where faith can be learned and lived. The love in families is God’s instrument for the life of each person and the life of the world.

Pope Francis’ Homily for Jubilee of the Sick and Disabled Persons

Pope Francis celebrates a Mass for the sick and disabled in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican June 12. The Mass was an event of the Jubilee of Mercy. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See POPE-MASS-DISABLED June 12, 2016.

Pope Francis celebrates a Mass for the sick and disabled in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican June 12. The Mass was an event of the Jubilee of Mercy. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See POPE-MASS-DISABLED June 12, 2016.

At 10:30 am on Sunday, June 12, 2016, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in St Peter’s Square on the occasion of the Jubilee of the sick and disabled people. The Scripture readings were proclaimed by persons with different disabilities and translated in the language of international signs.

Pope Francis decried the pursuit for perfect bodies, saying it leads to society hiding away the disabled to avoid offending the sensibilities of what he described as “the privileged few.” He called for solidarity and mutual acceptance in a world in which a perfect appearance has become an obsession as wells as “big business”. The Gospel reading was dramatized by a group of persons with intellectual disabilities in order to allow the text to be understood by the faithful especially those with mental and intellectual disabilities.

Please find below the full text of Pope Francis’ Homily:

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:19). In these words, the Apostle Paul powerfully expresses the mystery of the Christian life, which can be summed up in the paschal dynamic of death and resurrection received at baptism. Indeed, through immersion in water, each of us, as it were, dies and is buried with Christ (cf. Rom 6:3-4), and remerging, shows forth new life in the Holy Spirit. This rebirth embraces every aspect of our lives: even sickness, suffering and death are taken up in Christ and in him find their ultimate meaning. Today, on the Jubilee day devoted to the sick and bearers of disabilities, this word of life has a special resonance for our assembly.

Each of us, sooner or later, is called to face – at times painfully – frailty and illness, both our own and those of others. How many different faces do these common yet dramatically human experiences take! Yet all of them directly raise the pressing question of the meaning of life. Our hearts may quietly yield to cynicism, as if the only solution were simply to put up with these experiences, trusting only in our own strength. Or we may put complete trust in science, thinking that surely somewhere in the world there is a medicine capable of curing the illness. Sadly, however, this is not always the case, and, even if the medicine did exist, it would be accessible to very few people.

Human nature, wounded by sin, is marked by limitations. We are familiar with the objections raised, especially nowadays, to a life characterized by serious physical limitations. It is thought that sick or disabled persons cannot be happy, since they cannot live the lifestyle held up by the culture of pleasure and entertainment. In an age when care for one’s body has become an obsession and a big business, anything imperfect has to be hidden away, since it threatens the happiness and serenity of the privileged few and endangers the dominant model. Such persons should best be kept apart, in some “enclosure” – even a gilded one – or in “islands” of pietism or social welfare, so that they do not hold back the pace of a false well-being. In some cases, we are even told that it is better to eliminate them as soon as possible, because they become an unacceptable economic burden in time of crisis. Yet what an illusion it is when people today shut their eyes in the face of sickness and disability! They fail to understand the real meaning of life, which also has to do with accepting suffering and limitations. The world does not become better because only apparently “perfect” people live there – I say “perfect” rather than “false” – but when human solidarity, mutual acceptance and respect increase. How true are the words of the Apostle: “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:27)!

This Sunday’s Gospel (Lk 7:36-8:3) presents us with a specific situation of weakness. The woman caught in sin is judged and rejected, yet Jesus accepts and defends her: “She has shown great love” (7:47). This is the conclusion of Jesus, who is attentive to her suffering and her plea. This tenderness is a sign of the love that God shows to those who suffer and are cast aside. Suffering need not only be physical; one of today’s most frequent pathologies is also spiritual. It is a suffering of the heart; it causes sadness for lack of love. It is the pathology of sadness. When we experience disappointment or betrayal in important relationships, we come to realize how vulnerable and defenceless we are. The temptation to become self-absorbed grows stronger, and we risk losing life’s greatest opportunity: to love in spite of everything!

The happiness that everyone desires, for that matter, can be expressed in any number of ways and attained only if we are capable of loving. This is the way. It is always a matter of love; there is no other path. The true challenge is that of who loves the most. How many disabled and suffering persons open their hearts to life again as soon as they realize they are loved! How much love can well up in a heart simply with a smile! The therapy of smiling. Then our frailness itself can become a source of consolation and support in our solitude. Jesus, in his passion, loved us to the end (cf. Jn 13:1); on the cross he revealed the love that bestows itself without limits. Can we reproach God for our infirmities and sufferings when we realize how much suffering shows on the face of his crucified Son? His physical pain was accompanied by mockery, condescension and scorn, yet he responds with a mercy that accepts and forgives everything: “by his wounds we are healed” (Is 53:5; 1 Pet 2:24). Jesus is the physician who heals with the medicine of love, for he takes upon himself our suffering and redeems it. We know that God can understand our infirmities, because he himself has personally experienced them (cf. Heb 4:15).

The way we experience illness and disability is an index of the love we are ready to offer. The way we face suffering and limitation is the measure of our freedom to give meaning to life’s experiences, even when they strike us as meaningless and unmerited. Let us not be disturbed, then, by these tribulations (cf. 1 Th 3:3). We know that in weakness we can become strong (cf. 2 Cor 12:10) and receive the grace to fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for his body, the Church (cf. Col 1:24). For that body, in the image of the risen Lord’s own, keeps its wounds, the mark of a hard struggle, but they are wounds transfigured forever by love.


CNS photo/Paul Haring

How to be salt of the earth and light of the world – Pope Francis’ Homily at Daily Mass – June 7, 2016

PopeHomily

Pope Francis has urged believers to be true Christians and give flavor to the life of others, not to be tempted to shine light upon themselves but to bring the light of faith to their neighbors and to mankind. The Pope was speaking on Tuesday morning during Mass at the Casa Santa Marta.

Drawing inspiration from the Gospel reading of the day, Pope Francis spoke of when Jesus told his disciples “you are the salt of the earth”, “you are the light of the world”. Christians, he said, must be salt and light, but never self-serving: salt must add flavor and light must illuminate the other.

The Pope continued his homily with the question: “what must a Christian do in order for the salt not to run out, so that the oil to light the lamp does not come to an end?” The “battery” a Christian uses to generate light, the Pope explained, is simply prayer.

“There are many things one can do, many works of charity, many great things for the Church – a Catholic University, a college, a hospital – you may even be rewarded as a benefactor of the Church with a monument, but if you do not pray, it will be dark and dimly lit” he said.

Prayer, the Pope said, is what lights up Christian life, and he highlighted the fact that prayer is a “serious” matter: “a prayer of adoration to God the Father, a prayer of praise to the Holy Trinity, a prayer of thanksgiving, a prayer to request to God… prayer must come from the heart”.

As regards the salt that Christians are called to be: it becomes salt when it is given to others. This, Pope Francis explained, is another Christian attitude: “to give of oneself, to give flavor to the lives of others, to give flavor to many things with the message of the Gospel”.

Salt is something to be used, not to keep for oneself – Francis elaborated – but to give to others. “It’s curious – he continued – both salt and light are for others, not for oneself: salt does not give flavor to itself; light does not illuminate itself”.

Of course, he noted, you may be wondering how long salt and light can last without running out if we continue to give of ourselves relentlessly. “That’s where the power of God comes in, the Pope explained, because the Christian is salt given to us by God during Baptism, it’s a gift that never ends”.

And reflecting on the reading from Kings in which Zarephath’s widow trusts the prophet Elijah and thus, her flour and her oil never run out, Pope Francis urged Christians to shine brightly and always overcome the temptation to shine light upon themselves. And calling it ‘mirror spirituality’ he said “it is a bad thing” to want to shine light onto oneself: “Be light to illuminate, be salt to give flavor and to preserve”.

“May your light shine before men, the Pope concluded, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven”.