Today on Perspectives, U.S. Bishops respond to California’s assisted suicide ruling and Sebastian Gomes continues his coverage of the Bishops’ Synod on the Family. Today he speaks with several of the Synod Fathers and delegates and we hear from Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle of Ghana and Syriac Patriarch Ignatius Joseph Younan of Antioch. He also shares part 2 of his conversation with Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service.
Today on Perspectives we look at the General Audience, the Bishop of Charleston asks for prayers after a devastating flood, and we take a look at day four of the Synod of Bishops on the Family.
Today on Perspectives, California legalizes assisted suicide, Catholic hospital network in the United States under fire and day three of the Synod of Bishops on the Family from Vatican City.
(Photo: courtesy of CNS)
How are we to evaluate Pope Francis’ historic six-day visit to the United States? Should it be considered a success? Did the Pope accomplish what he set out to do? Were there questions left unanswered? How should we gage the response of the American Church? Of the American people? What lasting impact will the visit have on the country?
Venture to any Catholic media outlet or blog this week and you’re bound to find as many answers to these questions as there are commentators writing them. It’s not without good reason. Considering the historical context and Francis’ unique global influence, the visit was arguably the most significant of any pope to this continent.
I was fortunate enough to be on the ground in the three cities Pope Francis visited in the US. And though I wasn’t able to attend every papal event, I did have the opportunity on a number of occasions to see the Pope up close, hear him preach, and watch him interact with different groups of people. I followed each of his addresses as he delivered them, madly scribbling notes, paying attention to developing trains of thought and recurrent themes.
Based on my experience during those six incredible days and having followed Francis closely over the course of his pontificate, I offer five key takeaways for anyone who is interested in reflecting seriously on what we learned during this trip about Pope Francis and the direction in which he is leading the Church. I don’t intend to be comprehensive. Nor have I focused on the more sensational stories that emerged (as usual, they are receiving more than enough attention already). Rather, I believe there is great value in looking at the bigger picture.
1) Comprehensive teaching
For a whirlwind trip like this one, the Pope demonstrated a striking ability to teach in a comprehensive manner. Officially, he had eighteen opportunities to speak in the US: some to a specific audience, others to the entire nation or, in the case of the UN address, to the world. Parsing each of these addresses, and those not on the official schedule (like the stop over at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia for a meeting with the Jesuit community there), we see that the Pope touched on a wide range of topics: religious liberty, human dignity, family life, politics, ecology, justice, peace, war, persecution, immigration, dialogue, fundamentalism, the consistent ethic of life, the death penalty, the economy, sexual abuse, pastoral attitudes in the church, fear, rigidity, mission, faith, hope, love, God, the workings of the Holy Spirit, Jesus,… to name some!
The takeaway: a selective reading of the Pope’s remarks out of ignorance, or for political or ideological purposes is neither accurate nor helpful. The Pope cannot be pigeonholed, certainly not on this trip. We should all be mindful of the comprehensive nature of his thought, which only reflects the breadth of authentic Catholic teaching.
2) A Church of dialogue
Back in the 1302, Pope Boniface VIII issued a papal bull entitled Unam sanctam, which stated that, “Outside the [Catholic] Church there is no salvation.” Of course the bull said much more than that. In fact, it was a theological statement grounded in an ancient understanding of the uniqueness of the universal salvific act of Jesus’ death and resurrection. But in the subsequent centuries it did not serve as a good starting point for dialogue with other Christian traditions or other faiths. It was interpreted, rightly or wrongly, as exclusivist, representative of a kind-of “all or nothing” mentality that fostered divisions and alienated non-Catholics.
Unam sanctam is one historical example of the kind of approach that Pope Francis seems determined to avoid. By my count, Francis used the word “dialogue” twenty-three times in five of his addresses. Notably, in his address to Congress on September 24 he made clear his desire to enter into a dialogue “with all of you,” referring to the American people. He elevated Thomas Merton, the great 20th century American Trappist monk, as the preeminent model of dialogue for the country: “It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same.” Likely referring to the recent rapprochement between the US and Cuba, which the Pope himself helped bring about, he said, “This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility.”
Pope Francis also taught us that dialogue is not limited to political activity outside of the Church. Here I quote directly and at length from his address to the Bishops, the leaders of the American Church, in Washington, D.C. on September 23:
“The path ahead, then, is dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society. I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly. The richer the heritage which you are called to share with parrhesia (“boldness”), the more eloquent should be the humility with which you should offer it. Do not be afraid to set out on that “exodus” which is necessary for all authentic dialogue. Otherwise, we fail to understand the thinking of others, or to realize deep down that the brother or sister we wish to reach and redeem, with the power and the closeness of love, counts more than their positions, distant as they may be from what we hold as true and certain. Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.”
The takeaway: According to Pope Francis, dialogue and bridge building with people of varying ideas, political interests, faith traditions, and especially within the Catholic community itself is the only viable approach for the Church in the 21st century. Today, an “all or nothing” mentality does not reflect an honest application of the Gospel. Francis knows that a dialogical approach requires great humility. In his homily during the concluding Mass for the World Meeting of Families the Pope spoke these words to the faithful: “To raise doubts about the working of the Spirit, to give the impression that it cannot take place in those who are not “part of our group”, who are not “like us”, is a dangerous temptation. Not only does it block conversion to the faith; it is a perversion of faith!”
3) Ecology: a new cornerstone and point of convergence
If today dialogue is the way of the Church, ecology is the new starting point of that dialogue with the world. Pope Francis made it clear when he released his landmark encyclical Laudato si’ that timing was everything. The first papal encyclical devoted entirely to ecology and humanity’s responsibility for the natural environment was released in advance of the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in September and the COP21 summit on climate change in Paris this November/December. Many anticipated that Pope Francis would speak about ecology and climate change during his visit to America. And speak he did. His speeches were littered (no pun intended) with references to his encyclical, especially his address to the UN.
The UN address is of particular interest for the following reasons: first, it was the foremost opportunity for Pope Francis to speak to the whole world (remember he addressed his encyclical to everyone). Second, Francis developed themes of previous popes at the UN (Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI) such as the promotion of human dignity, the problem of humanity seeking absolute power, the senselessness of war, etc. In particular, he framed these themes in reference to integral human development, which cannot be conceived apart from a relationship with the natural world. The Pope spoke about “a true right of the environment,” an intrinsic right, and that, “The misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion.”
The takeaway: It appears that Pope Francis is framing the discussion and promotion of integral human development, which encompasses the key components of the Church’s social doctrine, from the foundational question of ecology and humanity’s relationship and responsibility towards creation.
4) Collegiality in action
For Pope Francis the fraternal relationship and shared responsibility of church leadership between the Pope and the Bishops known as “collegiality” is not an abstract ideal but something to be put into practice. Since his election, he has spoken often of the need to develop collegiality in the Church. For example, in Evangelii Gaudium he wrote that:
“Episcopal conferences are in a position to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit. Yet this desire has not been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated. Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach.” (32)
Collegiality was realized in a concrete way during Pope Francis’ visit to the US. Some expected (even hoped!) the Latin American Pope would scold his northern neighbors on economic imperialism and excessive material consumption. Others didn’t know what to expect, but sensed that Francis may not be aware of the social and cultural realities given that this was his first ever visit to the country.
Francis, in a sense, surprised us all. He showed a keen awareness and sensitivity to issues affecting the people, the state and the church. “Freedom” and “religious liberty,” two of America’s most cherished principles, ran through a number of his addresses: notable, his opening remarks at the White House, his address to Congress in which he spoke in a remarkable way about Abraham Lincoln, and his speech at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. On multiple occasions he spoke of “going back,” or “looking back” in reference to American history and its great struggles in building a nation in which human dignity is promoted and safeguarded.
The takeaway: It’s unlikely that Pope Francis, amid his demanding schedule, spent weeks and months learning about the rich history and culture of the United States in books alone. It’s more likely that he spoke often with his brother bishops there. We know that Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston (the current President and Vice-president of the USCCB), along with Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia (host of the World Meeting of Families), met the Pope on numerous occasions ahead of his visit. We also know that the Pope has two very close advisors and collaborators in Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. and Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston. The Pope’s keen awareness of American history and sensitivity to the country’s current challenges are probably a reflection of the consultation he initiated with these men, of his desire to support his brother bishops and the American church and encourage the entire nation to be its better self.
5) The Pope is Catholic
It sounds like a truism. But since Pope Francis began critiquing the global capitalist system, trickledown economic theories and financial speculation, some in the United States—even fellow Catholics—have raised doubts about the Pope’s Catholicity. It was a serious enough concern, evidently, that a journalist felt the need to raise it with the Pope during the in-flight press conference en route to Washington, D.C. from Santiago, Cuba. “There have already been discussions about a communist Pope, now there are even those who speak of a Pope who isn’t Catholic,” said Gian Guido Vecchi, “What do you think?” In response, Pope Francis told a story about a woman who considered him the “anti-pope” because he didn’t wear red shoes. Then he concluded, “My doctrine on this, in Laudato si’, on economic imperialism, all of this, is the social doctrine of the Church. And it if necessary, I’ll recite the creed. I am available to do that.”
Anyone with an ear to the ground can hear murmurs of frustration and perplexity with Francis from a few Catholic circles. There are various and complex reasons for this. This comment of the Pope, however, serves as a sweeping and penetrating retort in a rather unexpected and almost jovial way. The question has suddenly been turned around. It is now up to those who would question the Pope’s Catholicity to show how his remarks on those touchy social and economic questions contrasts with the established social doctrine of the Church.
The takeaway: Perhaps Francis’ greatest success in these two-and-a-half years as Pope has been his ability to communicate authentic Catholic orthodoxy in a pastoral yet penetrating way that challenges and inspires many different people—much like the Gospel of Jesus Christ does. In turn, this has exposed misconceptions or misrepresentations of the Church’s long-standing social doctrine by some Catholics. The question therefore is not, “Is the Pope Catholic?” but “How do Catholics understand orthodoxy?” The Pope, like his predecessors, is Catholic. Are we?
Here’s what’s been going on across the country this week:
In Vancouver, where the permanent diaconate program has only been in place for about two years, another group of candidates have started the journey towards ordained ministry.
In Saskatoon, a controversial “conscientious objection” policy was passed this week by the province’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.
In Ontario, a Catholic school is in mourning after two of its students were killed in an accident by a driver allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol.
In Edmonton, the Catholic School Board promised to have a policy in place by October for transgender students. The need for the policy was raised after one student transitioned from self – identifying as male to female.
The first time I heard of Archbishop Oscar Romero was during my Grade 12 religion class.
Now, religion was the last class of the day and so there was every reason to just skip it.
Something that Mr. Whitebread (no kidding, that was his surname) was all too aware of, and took measures against.
His strategy was the promise of a movie about a revolutionary.
Hook, line, and sinker; he had me.
We were all present and accounted for, transfixed by the retelling of this ‘revolutionaries’ life.
By the end of it, we were convinced that Archbishop Oscar Romero was a saint, and it sparked meaningful discussion about discipleship and martyrdom.
The big take away for me, was that it gave me a sense of what sainthood might be like.
Up until that point, most of the saints I knew of were so far removed from my own experiences I kind of just wrote them off. But learning about Archbishop Romero was different. There was something tragically real about his life.
It’s been more than a decade since I was in high school, but I’ve been inspired to reconnect with his story by reading a biography about Oscar Romero published by Novalis. The book I’ve been reading is part of the People of God series, it’s called Love Must Win Out. It serves as a great intro (or refresher) on Oscar Romero and most importantly it tells the story of a modern day person who like us was challenged by the times he lived in to become a hero, a saint. I caught up Author, Kevin Clarke to learn more.
This book begins with a frank conversation between Oscar Romero and John Paul II. Why did you choose to start there?
It seemed to me, and I was writing this months before the announcement that Oscar Romero’s martyrdom was finally officially recognized by the church, that the archbishop’s cause had been part of the collateral damage of inter-church politics. I had to set the stage for that with the problems Blessed Oscar Romero had with the folks at the Curia and their inability to fully comprehend what he was trying to tell them about conditions in El Salvador.
Romero’s homilies were a touch-point of consolation for many, but they were also galvanizing – tell me why his homilies were so stirring and how they are relevant today?
They remain painfully relevant today because in the deeper context of these homilies can be found a lot of the messages we are hearing today from Pope Francis, being a church of and for the poor, reaching out to the peripheries, standing up to a throwaway economy that treats human beings as little more than soulless inputs. The church in El Salvador was about the closest real-world exemplar to that frontline hospital Pope Francis promotes, administering to the wounded and oppressed, his vision of what the church should be.
You’ve drawn comparisons between Pope Francis and Blessed Oscar Romero – Where you do see their greatest similarity in approach?
You see elements of that what I’ll call strategic humility in the decisions of both of these leaders. They are gestures that are largely symbolic, it’s true, but they are also practical and wise, a voluntary humility that is an example for all of us, but also that was instructive in real ways for Romero as it no doubt will be for Pope Francis.
In your book, you suggest political categories such as ‘left’ or ‘right’ fall short of understanding Romero… why is that important in the telling of Romero’s story.
Romero was trying to save the nation from civil war and the people from the horror of it and to that end he sided with the poor; but he did not side with the left, he sided with the people who were suffering from a great injustice.
Nor did he stand against the right in a sense. To the end what he called the nation’s elite to was to embrace their better selves, not to a political reform, but to a personal revolution of spiritual conversion. He was trying to save the oppressors from their sins just as much as he as trying to save the oppressed from their suffering. Those political labels can never tell a story like that.
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Get your copy of Love Must Win Out via Novalis here.
The Producer Diaries
Cheridan Sanders, a Producer at Salt and Light Television, reflects on her experiences as she travels the world telling Catholic’s stories.
Today on Perspectives, news that Pope Francis met with Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis while visiting the United States.
Communication and Mercy: a fruitful encounter
The choice of theme this years has clearly been determined by the Celebration of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, and the Holy Father undoubtedly desired that World Communications Day would provide the appropriate occasion to reflect on the deep synergy between communication and mercy.
In the Bull of Indiction of the Jubilee Year, in paragraph 12, the Pope affirms that: The Church is commissioned to announce the mercy of God, the beating heart of the Gospel, which in its own way must penetrate the heart and mind of every person. He adds: Her language and her gestures must transmit mercy, so as to touch the hearts of all people and inspire them once more to find the road that leads to the Father.
It is helpful, in this regard, to remember that our reflection is situated in the context of an awareness that communication is a key element for the promotion of a culture of encounter.
The Pope, on this occasion, refers to the language and gestures of the Church but the context makes it clear that all men and women in their own communications, in their reaching out to meet others, ought to be motivated by a deep expression of welcome, availability and forgiveness.
The Theme highlights the capacity of good communication to open up a space for dialogue, mutual understanding and reconciliation, thereby allowing fruitful human encounters to flourish. At a time when our attention is often drawn to the polarized and judgmental nature of much commentary on the social networks, the theme invokes the power of words and gestures to overcome misunderstandings, to heal memories and to build peace and harmony.
Once again, Pope Francis is reminding us that, in its essence, communication is a profoundly human achievement. Good communication is never merely the product of the latest or most developed technology, but is realized within the context of a deep interpersonal relationship.
World Communications Day, the only worldwide celebration called for by the Second Vatican Council (“Inter Mirifica”, 1963), is marked in most countries, on the recommendation of the bishops of the world, on the Sunday before Pentecost (in 2016, May 8th).
The Holy Father’s message for World Communications Day is traditionally published in conjunction with the Memorial of St. Francis de Sales, patron of writers (January 24).
CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters
Today on Perspectives, Pope Francis looks back at Cuba – U. S. trip and launches a musical album.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7)
Dear Young People,
We have come to the last stretch of our pilgrimage to Krakow, the place where we will celebrate the 31st World Youth Day next year in the month of July. We are being guided on this long and challenging path by Jesus’ words taken from the Sermon on the Mount. We began this journey in 2014 by meditating together on the first Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3). The theme for 2015 was: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). During the year ahead, let us allow ourselves to be inspired by the words: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7).
1. The Jubilee of Mercy
With this theme, the Krakow 2016 WYD forms part of the Holy Year of Mercy and so becomes a Youth Jubilee at world level. It is not the first time that an international youth gathering has coincided with a Jubilee Year. Indeed, it was during the Holy Year of the Redemption (1983/1984) that Saint John Paul II first called on young people from around the world to come together on Palm Sunday. Then, during the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, over two million young people from around 165 countries gathered in Rome for the 15th World Youth Day. I am sure that the Youth Jubilee in Krakow will be, as on those two previous occasions, one of the high points of this Holy Year!
Perhaps some of you are asking: what is this Jubilee Year that is celebrated in the Church? The scriptural text of Leviticus 5 can help us to understand the meaning of a “jubilee” for the people of Israel. Every fifty years they heard the sounding of a trumpet (jobel) calling them (jobil) to celebrate a holy year as a time of reconciliation (jobal) for everyone. During that time they had to renew their good relations with God, with their neighbours and with creation, all in a spirit of gratuitousness. This fostered, among other things, debt forgiveness, special help for those who had fallen into poverty, an improvement in interpersonal relations and the freeing of slaves.
Jesus Christ came to proclaim and bring about the Lord’s everlasting time of grace. He brought good news to the poor, freedom to prisoners, sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed (cf. Lk 4:18-19). In Jesus, and particularly in his Paschal Mystery, the deeper meaning of the jubilee is fully realized. When the Church proclaims a jubilee in the name of Christ, we are all invited to experience a wonderful time of grace. The Church must offer abundant signs of God’s presence and closeness, and reawaken in people’s hearts the ability to look to the essentials. In particular, this Holy Year of Mercy is “a time for the Church to rediscover the meaning of the mission entrusted to her by the Lord on the day of Easter: to be a sign and an instrument of the Father’s mercy” (Homily at First Vespers of Divine Mercy Sunday, 11 April 2015).
2. Merciful like the Father
The motto for this Extraordinary Jubilee is “Merciful like the Father” (cf. Misericordiae Vultus, 13). This fits in with the theme of the next WYD, so let us try to better understand the meaning of divine mercy.
The Old Testament uses various terms when it speaks about mercy. The most meaningful of these are hesed and rahamim. The first, when applied to God, expresses God’s unfailing fidelity to the Covenant with his people whom he loves and forgives for ever. The second, rahamim, which literally means “entrails”, can be translated as “heartfelt mercy”. This particularly brings to mind the maternal womb and helps us understand that God’s love for his people is like that of a mother for her child. That is how it is presented by the prophet Isaiah: “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you” (Is 49:15). Love of this kind involves making space for others within ourselves and being able to sympathize, suffer and rejoice with our neighbours.
The biblical concept of mercy also includes the tangible presence of love that is faithful, freely given and able to forgive. In the following passage from Hosea, we have a beautiful example of God’s love, which the prophet compares to that of a father for his child: “When Israel was a child I loved him; out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the farther they went from me… Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, who took them in my arms; I drew them with human cords, with bands of love; I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks… I stooped to feed my child” (Hos 11:1-4). Despite the child’s wrong attitude that deserves punishment, a father’s love is faithful. He always forgives his repentant children. We see here how forgiveness is always included in mercy. It is “not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality with which he reveals his love as of that of a father or a mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child… It gushes forth from the depths naturally, full of tenderness and compassion, indulgence and mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 6).
The New Testament speaks to us of divine mercy (eleos) as a synthesis of the work that Jesus came to accomplish in the world in the name of the Father (cf. Mt 9:13). Our Lord’s mercy can be seen especially when he bends down to human misery and shows his compassion for those in need of understanding, healing and forgiveness. Everything in Jesus speaks of mercy. Indeed, he himself is mercy.
In Chapter 15 of Luke’s Gospel we find the three parables of mercy: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the parable of the prodigal son. In these three parables we are struck by God’s joy, the joy that God feels when he finds and forgives a sinner. Yes, it is God’s joy to forgive! This sums up the whole of the Gospel. “Each of us, each one of us, is that little lost lamb, the coin that was mislaid; each one of us is that son who has squandered his freedom on false idols, illusions of happiness, and has lost everything. But God does not forget us; the Father never abandons us. He is a patient Father, always waiting for us! He respects our freedom, but he remains faithful forever. And when we come back to him, he welcomes us like children into his house, for he never ceases, not for one instant, to wait for us with love. And his heart rejoices over every child who returns. He is celebrating because he is joy. God has this joy, when one of us sinners goes to him and asks his forgiveness” (Angelus, 15 September 2013).
God’s mercy is very real and we are all called to experience it firsthand. When I was seventeen years old, it happened one day that, as I was about to go out with friends, I decided to stop into a church first. I met a priest there who inspired great confidence, and I felt the desire to open my heart in Confession. That meeting changed my life! I discovered that when we open our hearts with humility and transparency, we can contemplate God’s mercy in a very concrete way. I felt certain that, in the person of that priest, God was already waiting for me even before I took the step of entering that church. We keep looking for God, but God is there before us, always looking for us, and he finds us first. Maybe one of you feels something weighing on your heart.
You are thinking: I did this, I did that…. Do not be afraid! God is waiting for you! God is a Father and he is always waiting for us! It is so wonderful to feel the merciful embrace of the Father in the sacrament of Reconciliation, to discover that the confessional is a place of mercy, and to allow ourselves to be touched by the merciful love of the Lord who always forgives us! You, dear young man, dear young woman, have you ever felt the gaze of everlasting love upon you, a gaze that looks beyond your sins, limitations and failings, and continues to have faith in you and to look upon your life with hope? Do you realize how precious you are to God, who has given you everything out of love? Saint Paul tells us that “God proves his love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Do we really understand the power of these words?
I know how much the WYD cross means to all of you. It was a gift from Saint John Paul II and has been with you at all your World Meetings since 1984. So many changes and real conversions have taken place in the lives of young people who have encountered this simple bare cross! Perhaps you have asked yourselves the question: what is the origin of the extraordinary power of the cross? Here is the answer: the cross is the most eloquent sign of God’s mercy! It tells us that the measure of God’s love for humanity is to love without measure! Through the cross we can touch God’s mercy and be touched by that mercy! Here I would recall the episode of the two thieves crucified beside Jesus. One of them is arrogant and does not admit that he is a sinner. He mocks the Lord. The other acknowledges that he has done wrong; he turns to the Lord saying: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”. Jesus looks at him with infinite mercy and replies: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (cf. Lk 23:32, 39-43). With which of the two do we identify? Is it with the arrogant one who does not acknowledge his own mistakes? Or is it with the other, who accepts that he is in need of divine mercy and begs for it with all his heart? It is in the Lord, who gave his life for us on the cross, that we will always find that unconditional love which sees our lives as something good and always gives us the chance to start again.
3. The amazing joy of being instruments of God’s mercy
The Word of God teaches us that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). That is why the fifth Beatitude declares that the merciful are blessed. We know that the Lord loved us first. But we will be truly blessed and happy only when we enter into the divine “logic” of gift and gracious love, when we discover that God has loved us infinitely in order to make us capable of loving like Him, without measure. Saint John says: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love… In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another” (1 Jn 4:7-11).
After this very brief summary of how the Lord bestows his mercy upon us, I would like to give you some suggestions on how we can be instruments of this mercy for others.
I think of the example of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. He said, “Jesus pays me a visit every morning in Holy Communion, and I return the visit in the meagre way I know how, visiting the poor”. Pier Giorgio was a young man who understood what it means to have a merciful heart that responds to those most in need. He gave them far more than material goods. He gave himself by giving his time, his words and his capacity to listen. He served the poor very quietly and unassumingly. He truly did what the Gospel tells us: “When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret” (Mt 6:3-4). Imagine that, on the day before his death when he was gravely ill, he was giving directions on how his friends in need should be helped. At his funeral, his family and friends were stunned by the presence of so many poor people unknown to them. They had been befriended and helped by the young Pier Giorgio.
I always like to link the Gospel Beatitudes with Matthew 25, where Jesus presents us with the works of mercy and tells us that we will be judged on them. I ask you, then, to rediscover the corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, assist the sick, visit the imprisoned and bury the dead. Nor should we overlook the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, teach the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the sorrowful, forgive offences, patiently bear with troublesome people and pray to God for the living and the dead. As you can see, mercy does not just imply being a “good person” nor is it mere sentimentality. It is the measure of our authenticity as disciples of Jesus, and of our credibility as Christians in today’s world.
If you want me to be very specific, I would suggest that for the first seven months of 2016 you choose a corporal and a spiritual work of mercy to practice each month. Find inspiration in the prayer of Saint Faustina, a humble apostle of Divine Mercy in our times:
“Help me, O Lord, that my eyes may be merciful, so that I will never be suspicious or judge by appearances, but always look for what is beautiful in my neighbours’ souls and be of help to them;
that my ears may be merciful, so that I will be attentive to my neighbours’ needs, and not indifferent to their pains and complaints;
that my tongue may be merciful, so that I will never speak badly of others, but have a word of comfort and forgiveness for all;
that my hands may be merciful and full of good deeds; that my feet may be merciful, so that I will hasten to help my neighbour, despite my own fatigue and weariness;
that my heart may be merciful, so that I myself will share in all the sufferings of my neighbour” (Diary, 163).
The Divine Mercy message is a very specific life plan because it involves action. One of the most obvious works of mercy, and perhaps the most difficult to put into practice, is to forgive those who have offended us, who have done us wrong or whom we consider to be enemies. “At times how hard it seems to forgive! And yet pardon is the instrument placed into our fragile hands to attain serenity of heart. To let go of anger, wrath, violence, and revenge are necessary conditions to living joyfully” (Misericordiae Vultus, 9).
I meet so many young people who say that they are tired of this world being so divided, with clashes between supporters of different factions and so many wars, in some of which religion is being used as justification for violence. We must ask the Lord to give us the grace to be merciful to those who do us wrong. Jesus on the cross prayed for those who had crucified him: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). Mercy is the only way to overcome evil. Justice is necessary, very much so, but by itself it is not enough. Justice and mercy must go together. How I wish that we could join together in a chorus of prayer, from the depths of our hearts, to implore the Lord to have mercy on us and on the whole world!
4. Krakow is expecting us!
Only a few months are left before we meet in Poland. Krakow, the city of Saint John Paul II and Saint Faustina Kowalska, is waiting for us with open arms and hearts. I believe that Divine Providence led us to the decision to celebrate the Youth Jubilee in that city which was home to those two great apostles of mercy in our times. John Paul II realized that this is the time of mercy. At the start of his pontificate, he wrote the encyclical Dives in Misericordia. In the Holy Year 2000 he canonized Sister Faustina and instituted the Feast of Divine Mercy, which now takes place on the Second Sunday of Easter. In 2002 he personally inaugurated the Divine Mercy Shrine in Krakow and entrusted the world to Divine Mercy, in the desire that this message would reach all the peoples of the earth and fill their hearts with hope: “This spark needs to be lighted by the grace of God. This fire of mercy needs to be passed on to the world. In the mercy of God the world will find peace and mankind will find happiness!” (Homily at the Dedication of the Divine Mercy Shrine in Krakow, 17 August 2002).
Dear young people, at the Shrine in Krakow dedicated to the merciful Jesus, where he is depicted in the image venerated by the people of God, Jesus is waiting for you. He has confidence in you and is counting on you! He has so many things to say to each of you… Do not be afraid to look into his eyes, full of infinite love for you. Open yourselves to his merciful gaze, so ready to forgive all your sins. A look from him can change your lives and heal the wounds of your souls. His eyes can quench the thirst that dwells deep in your young hearts, a thirst for love, for peace, for joy and for true happiness. Come to Him and do not be afraid! Come to him and say from the depths of your hearts: “Jesus, I trust in You!”. Let yourselves be touched by his boundless mercy, so that in turn you may become apostles of mercy by your actions, words and prayers in our world, wounded by selfishness, hatred and so much despair.
Carry with you the flame of Christ’s merciful love – as Saint John Paul II said – in every sphere of your daily life and to the very ends of the earth. In this mission, I am with you with my encouragement and prayers. I entrust all of you to Mary, Mother of Mercy, for this last stretch of the journey of spiritual preparation for the next WYD in Krakow. I bless all of you from my heart.
From the Vatican, 15 August 2015 Solemnity of the Assumption of the B.V. Mary