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Coast to Coast: February 7 to February 13

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Here is some of what we’ve been reading this week across the country:

In Ontario, Catholic Crosscultural Services is helping government-assisted refugees settle into their home

In Saskatoon, an elementary school has stepped up to sponsor a refugee family from Burundi.

From Edmonton, we get this look at what Lent is and is not.

 

Apostolic Visit to Mexico & WYD Krakow Update – Perspectives Daily February 11, 2016

Friday marks the beginning of Pope Francis’ 4th journey to the Americas during his Apostolic Visit to Mexico. Over the next 7 days, the Pope will visit places in Mexico where the people are in need of hearing of God’s mercy. During this time, the Pope will remain housed in Mexico City but each day he will travel to  different cities and towns throughout Mexico and conclude his visit with a Mass on the border of Cuidad Juarez and the United States.

We will, of course, be bringing you extensive television coverage starting tomorrow afternoon at 4:00 pm EST when Pope Francis begins his trip with a stop in Havana Cuba for a historic meeting with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill. This will be the first time a pope has met with a Russian Orthodox patriarch.

Poland is gearing up in preparation for the upcoming World Youth Day in Krakow, which is only five months away.

Can you imagine what it must have been like to be present at the tomb of Christ on third day, right after his resurrection? Now try to imagine the reaction of a Roman non-believer in the midst of investigating the disappearance of Christ’s body.

Check out this exclusive preview of the upcoming movie Risen.

Risen starring Joseph Fiennes hits theaters on February 19th so check out your local cinemas for show times. Also, be sure to catch our broadcast of Guadalupe: The Miracle and the Message, this Saturday, February 13, 2016 at 8:00 pm ET.

 

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

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

My brothers and sisters in Christ,

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

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

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

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

Deacon-structing Mercy: We are not God

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It’s always a nice confirmation when the Pope says the same thing you’ve been trying to say. (Maybe he read my blog from last week?)

Last Wednesday, Pope Francis’ General Audience Address was titled, God’s Justice is Mercy.

You can listen to the Vatican Radio report here:

In short, Pope Francis is eloquently making the point that I tried to make last week: That Justice demands Mercy.

If you missed the Audience and the report above does not give you the full sense, read this:

“The Sacred Scripture presents God as infinite mercy, but also as perfect justice”, How can the two be reconciled? They may appear to be contradictory, but this is not the case, as it is precisely God’s mercy that leads us to achieve true justice. In the legal administration of justice, we see that those who consider themselves to have been victims of abuse consult a judge in court and ask that justice be done. It is a retributive justice, inflicting punishment on the guilty, according to the principle that each person receives what he deserves. … But this route does not lead to true justice, as in reality it does not conquer evil, it simply limits it. Instead, only by responding with good can evil truly be conquered”.

The Pope explained that the Bible proposes a different form of justice, in which the victim invites the guilty party to convert, helping him to understand the harm he has done and appealing to his conscience. This is the principle behind restorative justice. Many of us have a hard time picturing how this can work since our justice system is, by nature confrontational. But this is not how we solve conflict in the family. This is not how we solve conflict with people who we care about; not when we value the relationship. Pope Francis continued:

“This is the way of resolving conflicts within families, in relations between spouses and between parents and children, in which the injured party loves the guilty and does not wish to lose the bond between them. It is certainly a difficult path: it demands that the victim be disposed to forgive and wishes for the salvation and the good of the perpetrator of the damage. But only in this way can justice triumph, as if the guilty party acknowledges the harm he has done and ceases to do so, the evil no longer exists and the unjust becomes just, as he has been forgiven and helped to find the way of good”.

This is the way God administers Justice; so that the unjust become just. How profound! Justice has to be served – that’s the natural course when consequences are inevitable. God’s perfection demands Justice. But God’s Justice is Perfect Justice. It seems to me that Pope Francis is telling us that God’s Perfect Justice demands mercy. He also said:

“God does not seek our condemnation, only our salvation. God does not wish to condemn anyone! … The Lord of Mercy wishes to save everyone. … The problem is letting Him enter into our heart. All the words of the prophets are an impassioned and love-filled plea for our conversion”.

This is what I am discovering as I begin my reflection on mercy this Jubilee Year. God demands perfection – that’s why we have purgatory – we strive to be “perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect”. But all we can do is strive. God’s perfection demands Justice, but only God can administer perfect Justice, which is why it’s not up to us to administer justice. We can’t. All we can do is administer forgiveness. You and I are not capable of justice; we are only capable of mercy.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we are not capable of being just. God asks us to be just and righteous (I believe we saw that in all the Scripture references from last week). When we act justly (fairly) we are, in fact, acting mercifully.

What we are not capable of doing is administering justice. We tend to think that justice is receiving payment from someone who has trespassed against us. That is not justice, nor are we capable of exercising that kind of “justice”. Remember that Justice is the quality of being fair or being reasonable. If we demand justice as receiving payment, we will never be satisfied. This is why people have such a hard time with forgiveness and why, instead Pope Francis is inviting us to consider mercy. This is why God calls us to mercy. Mercy is directly related to forgiveness. This is the kind of Justice that leads to reconciliation and healing. It is the Justice that makes us whole, that makes the unjust just. Pope Francis said:

“God’s heart is “the heart of a Father Who loves all His children and wants them to live in goodness and justice, and therefore to live in fullness and happiness. A Father’s heart that goes beyond our meagre concept of justice so as to open up to us the immense horizons of His mercy. A Father’s heart that does not treat us or repay us according to our sins, as the Psalm says”.

“It is precisely a Father’s heart that we encounter when we go to the confessional. Perhaps it will tell us something to better understand our evil, but at the confessional we all go in search of a father who will help us change our life; a father who gives us the strength to go on; a father who forgives us in God’s name. Therefore, to be a confessor is a great responsibility, as the son or daughter who comes to you seeks only to encounter a father. And you, the priest there in the confessional, are the place where the Father does justice with His mercy.”

I am not capable of administering justice. Let’s leave that to God. Instead, I am capable of mercy. I am capable of great mercy. That has been given to us. Let’s not try to be God by judging everyone and everything around us and let’s be humans who are merciful; who are forgiving, who seek reconcilication; who seek to help the unjust become just; as we strive to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is Perfect.

Last week I received a comment about my use of the word “doctrine.” Come back next week and let’s deacon-struct that word. In the meantime, I am curious to know your thoughts: How would you define “doctrine”? What is the difference between “dogma” and “doctrine”? Email me pedro@saltandlighttv.org and help me with next week’s post.]


Photo credit: Pope Francis at Feb 3, 2016 General Audience in St. Peter’s Square (CNS photo/Paul Haring)


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Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Coast to Coast: January 24 to January 30

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In the brief hush of ordinary time between the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Lent, parishes and diocese focus their attention on the day to day and week to week aspects of faith life. Even in that, there are a few things for us to share this week as a sample of what’s been happening across the country:

La Loche, Saskatchewan became a household name this week for all the wrong reasons. Still, the tragedy also served as a window into how our aboriginal communities live faith in good times and bad. The Catholic Register spoke to Archbishop Murray Chatlain of Keewatin La Pas. He has a special connection to La Loche and didn’t think twice about driving 800 kilometers to serve the community in their time of need.

Interviews with Archbishop Chatlain are also featured on the Salt + Light Radio Hour and Perspectives Daily on Salt + Light.

In Alberta, Catholic schools are dealing with the issue of transgender students: What do the schools do to ensure a transgender student is safe and at home in the school while staying true to Church teachings? The issue has sparked public debate. Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton issued his own statement on the matter.

In British Columbia, on the banks of the Nicomekl River, a retreat house that has been serving the diocese for 54 years has had to close its doors. Here’s a look at the impact the centre has had on the lives of the very people who were entrusted with welcoming retreatants.

 

Behind Vatican Walls: Vatican Diplomacy

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The Holy See maintains diplomatic relations with 180 states. Among those are countries that do not have diplomatic relations with each other. Iran is one of those cases. Both Canada and the US do not currently have formal diplomatic relations with Iran. The Holy See, however, has maintained diplomatic relations with all three of these nations, even receiving president Hassan Rouhani in audience this week.  

President Rouhani’s visit to the Vatican was the first time since 1999 that an Iranian president met with a pontiff. The Holy See has had formal diplomatic relations with Iran since 1957, through thick and thin. However, in 2010 then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad  visited Rome for a UN meeting on the effect soaring food prices. In a break with protocol he did not visit the Vatican during his time in Rome. Reports at the time stated that the Vatican had canceled all meetings with heads of state in order to avoid giving the hard line Iranian president the publicity he was after. The relationship between the two nations survived that moment and the rest of Ahmadinejad’s presidency.

The president received at the Vatican this week is different type of leader, facing unique challenges. Rouhani’s visit was the first official Iranian visit to Europe in almost 20 years. His goal was quite simple: try to rebuild economic ties with potential EU trade partners. The stop at the Vatican was a protocol visit, but also an overdue visit to an old friend. Crux, the Catholic news site of the Boston Globe, reports that in 2007 when it seemed that tensions over Iran’s nuclear program might lead to armed conflict with the U.S., Tehran turned to the Holy See as a potential mediator. While their motivation may be different, both parties want peace and stability in the middle east. Yet for all his goodwill, Rouhani faces challenges at home.

Despite his moderate leanings, some ruling bodies in Iran, including – according to some reports- security and intelligence forces, are still control by hard line groups who disagree with Rouhani. These groups override Rouhani’s attempts at reform, cancelling cultural performances at the last second and banning books. At the same time Human Rights Watch reports that executions have increased in recent years and growing numbers of journalists, bloggers and social media activists are being arrested.

Watch this week’s episode of Vatican Connections below:


 

Alicia

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 wants more merciful tweets, posts and comments

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(Photo: CNS)

Pope Francis says a lot of surprising and challenging things.  Often I read something he’s said or written and say to myself, “I can’t believe he said that.”  Still—as with anything else—we can become desensitized to his spontaneity and candour, and we risk glossing over some of his highly consequential statements.

One recent statement that we should not gloss over is his message for World Communications Day 2016 entitled, Communication and Mercy: A Fruitful Encounter. In it, he reflects on the urgent need for more charitable and merciful communication between individuals, with a clear focus on the world of social media and communications.  The message prompted atypical news coverage from the digital world: “Apparently Pope Francis Can’t Stand Internet Trolls Either,” read the headline at ThinkProgress. Or, my personal favorite from RawStory, “Pope Francis opens a can of whoop a** on hateful internet trolls—and it’s beautiful.”

With this message Pope Francis did what he so often does; he struck a nerve with a wide audience by using simple, relatable and deeply Christian language. The message applies to all types of communication certainly, but since many people today live “online”, here are 7 direct quotes that should prompt all of us to reflect on how we communicate using social media:

1) “What we say and how we say it, our every word and gesture, ought to express God’s compassion, tenderness and forgiveness for all.”

Here the Pope makes an important observation that how we say something is as important as what we say. It’s easy to forget that and it’s often difficult to try to rephrase something we want to say in light of another person, let alone with “compassion, tenderness and forgiveness”.  Perhaps for every tweet, post or comment we should send another one explicitly expressing compassion, tenderness or forgiveness.

2) “Our words and actions should be such as to help us all escape the vicious circles of condemnation and vengeance which continue to ensnare individuals and nations, encouraging expressions of hatred.”

Here Pope Francis flips the script on us and reminds us that how we communicate has a deep impact on us too. The purpose of communicating is, as he says, to create “closeness”, which is a reciprocal phenomenon. We can ask ourselves, how do my communications on social media affect my own attitudes toward others and my relationships with them?

3) “The words of Christians ought to be a constant encouragement to communion and, even in those cases where they must firmly condemn evil, they should never try to rupture relationships and communication.”

Pope Francis, the “sinner whom the Lord has looked upon,” never forgets that being Christian starts with conversion of self. No statement condemning vicious and vengeful comments online would be complete without a direct challenge to his fellow Christians, who are often the most viscous and vengeful trolls. But the deeper challenge here is that condemning evil—something the Church does very often—shouldn’t destroy relationships or communication. The logical conclusion here is analogous to that old saying our mothers used, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it.” When there are human beings involved, jumping to condemn all kinds of evil through objective, categorical statements may not be the most merciful method of communication and relationship building.

4) “The truth is ultimately Christ himself, whose gentle mercy is the yardstick for measuring the way we proclaim the truth and condemn injustice.”

It’s often said in church circles that the greatest act of mercy is to tell the truth. Therefore, if someone is committing an unjust act, I am being merciful by categorically condemning it. That may or may not be the best approach, depending on the situation. The most important variable, according to Pope Francis, is how Jesus would communicate in a particular situation. This requires a deep familiarity with the Jesus of the Gospels whose “gentle mercy” time and time again overwhelms both sinner and judge alike, to the point that the person committing an unjust act truly encounters God’s forgiveness and the person standing in judgement feels it necessary to get rid of Jesus. The question becomes, not whether or not we’re proclaiming the truth, but whether or not we’re proclaiming the truth as Jesus did.

5) “Harsh and moralistic words and actions risk further alienating those whom we wish to lead to conversion and freedom, reinforcing their sense of rejection and defensiveness.”

This statement builds on #4 by taking us a step further. Speaking the truth in a harsh and moralistic way is no guarantee that a person will be converted or freed. In fact, it will most likely have the opposite effect and kill any chance of further communication. Just because we may be right about something doesn’t give us the right to communicate it if a person will feel rejected because of it. Pope Francis’ whole pontificate is the preeminent example in our world today of communicating truth without using harsh or moralistic words.

6) “I would like to encourage everyone to see society not as a forum where strangers compete and try to come out on top, but above all as a home or a family, where the door is always open and where everyone feels welcome.”

Communications technology has turned the world into a global society. We may be more connected, but the online world doesn’t particularly feel like a family. Often we come across comments or tweets that are so negative or competitive and we wonder why someone would say something online that they would never say to a person in real life. Again Pope Francis takes us a step further. When we communicate online, we shouldn’t ask ourselves, “would you say this to the person’s face?” but, “would you say this to your brother’s or sister’s face?” The analogy of the family for society as a whole is a bold one. The key here is unconditional inclusivity. I’m not sure how we can put that into practice, especially because, sadly, even many families fall short of this lofty goal. Pope Francis certainly does swing for the fences, but then again so did Jesus when he proclaimed the Kingdom of God was at hand.

7) “Listening is much more than simply hearing… Listening means paying attention, wanting to understand, to value, to respect and to ponder what the other person says.”

Well… then I’m not a very good listener. Imagine… listening to someone entails a desire to be closer to them in respect and understanding. We tend to think that communication is all about what we say, but there are two sides to every coin. How often do we really try to listen to another person’s views and try to understand where they are coming from? There are so many news outlets and blogs that adhere to one particular ideology and exclude any kind of constructive critique or dialogue with differing views. It may be worth putting some time in to read one of those blogs that we typically ignore for ideological reasons, and share something from it on our own social media platforms that is respectful and constructive. In other words, listen, and show it.


On Further Reflection
In the complex world of the 21st century there are more questions than answers. The challenge for the Church is to find new and effective ways of bringing the Gospel message into the conversation.  For her part, the Church can act as a much needed voice for dialogue, reason and charity. On Further Reflection invites readers to go beyond the headlines to see the deeper realities affecting the church and society.  Sebastian Gomes is a producer and host at Salt+Light TV.

Pope Francis’ New Book – Perspectives Daily January 28 2016

Pope Francis is coming out with a new book this March and its not your typical theological encyclical.

This new book entitled “Dear Pope Francis” is a collection of questions asked by children to the Pope and his answers to them illustrated with a collection of drawings of children aged 6-13.

The questions come to the Pope from 30 children from around the world some of which are theological, others are practical and a few are about the pope personally, including what he wanted to be when he grew up.

This new book, was coordinated and published by the U.S.-based Loyola Press, and will be available on March 1. You can purchase the book on their website at loyolapress.com


Registrations for the upcoming World Youth Day in Krakow Poland are going up and they’ve just released the new pilgrims pack.

Next month, award winning actor Joseph Fiennes stars in a blockbuster film about the Resurrection, as told through the eyes of a Roman Military Tribune, who is tasked with solving the mystery of what happened to Jesus in the weeks following the crucifixion, in order to disprove the rumors of a risen Messiah.

We also have some exclusive behind-the-scene footage and commentary by Joseph Fiennes on the movie.

Risen comes opens nation wide in theaters on February 19th so check your local listings for show dates and times.

It looks like a great movie you don’t want to miss.

 

Pope Francis – Deeply Ignatian and Deeply Jesuit

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By Peter Schineller, S.J.

The first Jesuit Pope! We have moved beyond the original surprise and shock. What does it mean? How is Pope Francis deeply Ignatian and deeply Jesuit? I see one key link between Francis and Ignatius, a link that Francis himself has pointed. It is found in a Latin phrase, not easily translated, which Pope Francis has quoted several times.

“Non coerceri maximo, contineri tamen a minimo, divinum est.” “To suffer no restriction from anything however great, and yet to be contained in the tiniest of things, that is divine.”

The maxim was composed in 1640 as a way to describe the genius of St. Ignatius – his ability to hold together the great and the small, the global and the local, in a tension of seemingly opposites. Ignatius, with his world wide vision and desire to set the world on fire, could spend the last 16 years of his life working from his room in Rome composing the Jesuit Constitutions. The Ignatian scholar Hugo Rahner incidentally wrote that “no description of Ignatius has ever equalled these words.”

This maxim cited by Pope Francis shows, I believe, how he sees himself in accord with the mind and heart of St. Ignatius. The pope tries to keep in mind great visions and dreams, the larger picture, but at the same time, he urges us to reach down and out to the peripheries, to serve the needy and vulnerable. Thus in an essay of 1981 entitled “Leadership: The Big Picture and the Tiny Detail,” Bergoglio writes that in the maxim “Non coerceri maximo, contineri tamen a minimo, divinum est, we find a happy balance in the heart’s attitude towards things great and small.” He explains that Ignatius was able to combine severity with sweetness, rigor with gentleness. He was always ready to make exceptions. The key is discernment, first know what is big and what is little, and then to correct the big, and gloss over the small, always keeping the whole, the larger picture in mind.

In his book Open Mind, Faithful Heart then Archbishop Bergoglio speaks against apathy: “Occasionally it reveals itself in those who elaborate magnificent plans without any concern for the concrete means by which they will be realized. Conversely, it is seen in those who get so wrapped up in the minutiae of each moment that they cannot see beyond them to the grand plan of God. We do well to recall the epigram attributed to Saint Ignatius: ‘not being overwhelmed by what is greatest, while still being attentive to what is smallest – that is divine’.”

In June 2013 Pope Francis calls for students to be magnanimous.

“Magnanimity: this virtue of the great and the small (Non coerceri maximo contineri minimo, divinum est), which always makes us look at the horizon… means having a great heart, having greatness of mind; it means having great ideals, the wish to do great things …Hence also, to do well the routine things of life… doing the little everyday things with a great heart open to God and to others.”

He echoes this in an interview in America Magazine, entitled “A Big Heart Open to God.” When asked “what does it mean for a Jesuit to be pope?” he replies:

I was always struck by a saying that describes the vision of Ignatius: (‘not to be limited by the greatest and yet to be contained in the tiniest – this is the divine’). ….it is important not to be restricted by a larger space, and it is important to be able to stay in restricted spaces.

In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium he writes that “We need to pay attention to the global to avoid narrowness and banality. Yet we also need to look to the local, which keeps our feet on the ground ”(No. 234). We must see and seek the greater good but must also work on a small scale, in our own neighborhood, always keeping the large perspective in mind (No. 235).

Preaching during Advent 2013, Pope Francis explains that at Christmas:

“God, in the Christmas mystery, reveals himself not as One who remains on high and dominates the universe, but as the One who bends down, descends to the little and poor earth, …to be like him, we should not put ourselves above others, but indeed lower ourselves, place ourselves at the service of others, become small with the small and poor with the poor….”

In February 2014, addressing newly created cardinals, Pope Francis refers to the words of St. Paul on charity linking them with the maxim describing St. Ignatius:

It means being able to love without limits, but also to be faithful in particular situations and with practical gestures. It means loving what is great without neglecting what is small; living the little things within the horizon of the great things, since ‘non coerceri maximo, contineri tamen a minimo divinum est’.

In my view, it is significant, amazing and not accidental that Pope Francis has frequently referred to the maxim. As Pope and as Jesuit, he is following the example of St. Ignatius who quietly worked in his room in Rome, writing and refining the myriad of details in the Constitutions, and at the same time sent Xavier around the globe to the Indies. Ignatius worked with kings and princes, popes and bishops, but at the same time ministered to the least, the women of the streets of Rome.

Pope Francis keeps the big picture in mind as he calls together the group of nine cardinals as a type of cabinet to advise him, as he strives to reform and renew the Roman curia, as he appoints new cardinals from the peripheries. Daily he meets with heads of state, church leaders and world leaders. At the same time, in his pastoral visits he instinctively reaches out to the handicapped, the child, the sick, the elderly. He visits prisoners and soup kitchens, He travels simply in a Ford Focus. For Pope Francis, as for Jesus, the child is the least and the greatest. The weak and the handicapped are the most precious and most important.

The ongoing challenge facing Pope Francis, St. Ignatius – indeed, any leader, is to keep the larger or greater in mind, and at the same time take into account the little ones – the poor, the needy – those Jesus Christ identifies with. Nothing, no one is too small; in fact, the smaller and weaker, the more he or she calls forth our Christian response!

The Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis is one way to urge and encourage the faithful to put on Christ, the Christ who reaches down and out to the poor and needy. This is the Christ enshrined in the maxim: “Not to be restrained by what is greatest, yet to be contained by what is least – that is divine.”

CNS photo/Paul Haring


Fr. Peter Schineller, a Jesuit priest from New York, after teaching theology at seminaries in the USA, (Chicago and Boston) Africa (East and West Africa) and Vietnam, is now assisting at the Jesuit Center and Sacred Heart Parish, an English-language parish in Amman, Jordan.

Pope Francis 2016 Lenten Message

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Pope Francis released his 2016 Lenten Message based on the verse ” I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13). Read the full text of his message, titled ‘The works of mercy on the road of the Jubilee,’ below:

“I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13).
The works of mercy on the road of the Jubilee

  1. Mary, the image of a Church which evangelizes because she is evangelized

In the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, I asked that “the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 17). By calling for an attentive listening to the word of God and encouraging the initiative “24 Hours for the Lord”, I sought to stress the primacy of prayerful listening to God’s word, especially his prophetic word. The mercy of God is a proclamation made to the world, a proclamation which each Christian is called to experience at first hand. For this reason, during the season of Lent I will send out Missionaries of Mercy as a concrete sign to everyone of God’s closeness and forgiveness.

After receiving the Good News told to her by the Archangel Gabriel, Mary, in her Magnificat, prophetically sings of the mercy whereby God chose her. The Virgin of Nazareth, betrothed to Joseph, thus becomes the perfect icon of the Church which evangelizes, for she was, and continues to be, evangelized by the Holy Spirit, who made her virginal womb fruitful. In the prophetic tradition, mercy is strictly related – even on the etymological level – to the maternal womb (rahamim) and to a generous, faithful and compassionate goodness (hesed) shown within marriage and family relationships.

  1. God’s covenant with humanity: a history of mercy

The mystery of divine mercy is revealed in the history of the covenant between God and his people Israel. God shows himself ever rich in mercy, ever ready to treat his people with deep tenderness and compassion, especially at those tragic moments when infidelity ruptures the bond of the covenant, which then needs to be ratified more firmly in justice and truth. Here is a true love story, in which God plays the role of the betrayed father and husband, while Israel plays the unfaithful child and bride. These domestic images – as in the case of Hosea (cf. Hos 1-2) – show to what extent God wishes to bind himself to his people.

This love story culminates in the incarnation of God’s Son. In Christ, the Father pours forth his boundless mercy even to making him “mercy incarnate” (Misericordiae Vultus, 8). As a man, Jesus of Nazareth is a true son of Israel; he embodies that perfect hearing required of every Jew by theShema, which today too is the heart of God’s covenant with Israel: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Dt 6:4-5). As the Son of God, he is the Bridegroom who does everything to win over the love of his bride, to whom he is bound by an unconditional love which becomes visible in the eternal wedding feast.

This is the very heart of the apostolic kerygma, in which divine mercy holds a central and fundamental place. It is “the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead” (Evangelii Gaudium, 36), that first proclamation which “we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment” (ibid., 164). Mercy “expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert, and believe” (Misericordiae Vultus, 21), thus restoring his relationship with him. In Jesus crucified, God shows his desire to draw near to sinners, however far they may have strayed from him. In this way he hopes to soften the hardened heart of his Bride.

  1. The works of mercy

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

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

For all of us, then, the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favourable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practising the works of mercy. In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated. By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need. By taking this path, the “proud”, the “powerful” and the “wealthy” spoken of in the Magnificat can also be embraced and undeservedly loved by the crucified Lord who died and rose for them. This love alone is the answer to that yearning for infinite happiness and love that we think we can satisfy with the idols of knowledge, power and riches. Yet the danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor, the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell. The pointed words of Abraham apply to them and to all of us: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Lk16:29). Such attentive listening will best prepare us to celebrate the final victory over sin and death of the Bridegroom, now risen, who desires to purify his Betrothed in expectation of his coming.

Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favourable a time for conversion! We ask this through the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, who, encountering the greatness of God’s mercy freely bestowed upon her, was the first to acknowledge her lowliness (cf. Lk1:48) and to call herself the Lord’s humble servant (cf. Lk1:38).

From the Vatican, 4 October 2015

Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi

FRANCISCUS

CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters