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Funeral Homily for Gaetano Gagliano (1917 – 2016)

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Funeral Homily for Gaetano Gagliano (1917 – 2016)
St. Clare of Assisi Church – Woodbridge, Ontario
April 18, 2016

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation

Your Eminence Cardinal Collins,
Brother Priests,
Dear Sisters, especially of the Pauline Family,
Carissima Giuseppina and my adopted Gagliano brothers and sisters,
Friends in Christ,

Gaetano Gagliano would be thrilled to see this crowd assembled in his beautiful parish church of St. Clare of Assisi today – not because you have come to honor him, but rather that you have come to adore the Lord and thank God for Gaetano’s life.

The first reading from the Book of Wisdom describes so well what we now experience: “[Gaetano’s] passing away is thought an affliction and his going forth from us, utter destruction.”  But Solomon’s Wisdom also offers us this reassuring message: “the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them…. They are at peace.” We grieve and are sad, yet isn’t it consoling to know that Gaetano, whom we loved so much, is now in the hand of God and he will not experience any torment or suffering again?  

Gaetano was husband, father, grandfather, uncle, friend and business colleague to each of us because he was alive with God every day of his life. It was not only intelligence, savvy and success that made these things happen; it was also a humble, biblical wisdom that animated his life. Gaetano’s mantra was: “Never forget that money is useful, but it also dangerous. You have worked and received your reward. Many others cannot work or have not succeeded as we have. Do not be arrogant and selfish. Never close the door to those who ask for help.” It was from that storehouse of God-given wisdom that Gaetano nourished us. Gaetano was a clever man but also a very wise man because God was always at the centre of his life.

No one who knew Gaetano needed to ask what motivated and then sustained his profound familial, ecclesial, social and charitable concern. It was rooted in his belief that we are children of a good, just and loving God, and that every human life was sacred; each of us is our brother’s and sister’s keeper.  Many speak of the Gagliano family philanthropy to so many causes.  But this generosity finds its roots in the deepest meaning of the Greek word “philanthopia” which means hospitality, love of human beings and kindness.  These were the gifts and qualities that Gaetano passed on to his entire family.  

As we gathered around his deathbed in the family home in Woodbridge early last Thursday morning, the words of St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy were etched in our minds and hearts: “I have competed well; I have finished the race;I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance… . But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it.”

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But it is today’s Gospel reading that provides us with a penetrating, personal insight into Gaetano’s life among us.  This Easter Gospel story of Jesus and Peter is set against the incredibly beautiful backdrop of the Sea of Galilee. When Peter decides to go fishing, there is a certain feeling of resignation about it, alluding to the depression and discouragement he and the other disciples must have experienced after Jesus’ death. This simple narrative offers us one of the most personal and moving commissioning stories in the Bible.  “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?  Do you love me?  Are you my friend?” [Jn 21:15] Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus during the trial and crucifixion is now canceled out by the three-fold declaration of love. There are many other questions which we can imagine Jesus having asked Peter concerning his suitability for ministry.  For example, “Simon, son of John, are you aware of the responsibilities that you are undertaking? Do you realize your weakness?  Have you thought that it is difficult to bear others’ burdens?  “Simon, son of John, do you understand?  Are you aware of how many people about you are in need of help: the poor, the hungry, the sick, the needy, and the lonely?  Where will you find bread enough to give them something to eat?” But Jesus sums them all up in a single, basic question: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?  Are you really my friend?” 

Ten years ago, as Gaetano and I were preparing to film one of the more than 150 episodes of “In Conversazione”, he arrived in our Salt and Light studios all ready to go. For Gaetano, it was always “lights, camera, action” no matter what the theme or the program!  That particular episode was meant for the Easter season. Though his theological vocabulary was limited, Gaetano’s mind and heart were constantly on fire! I was planning to discuss with him today’s passage from John’s gospel.  When I read the story to Gaetano before the cameras started rolling, he said to me: “Padre Thomas, why did Jesus have to ask Peter three times if he loved him?  What’s wrong with Peter? You would think that Peter would have realized just who this man was and not need the question asked three times!” Gaetano told me: “If Peter were here now, I would let him know just who Jesus was!”  We enjoyed a good laugh together! I am sure that Gaetano has had a few good conversations with Peter by now to clear this matter up once and for all!

Simon, son of John, do you love me? “Follow me.” Those words were also addressed to Gaetano at so many moments of his long, fruitful life. As a young boy Gaetano heard the Lord’s voice speaking to him: “Gaetano, son of Francesco, mi ami tu? Do you love me? Then leave your home in that small farming town of Cattolica di Eraclea in Sicily and go to Padre Giacomo Alberione in Alba to begin your studies for the priesthood.” But very frail health prevented this poor, young country boy from pursuing that path. Twice he was sent back home from the seminary by Fr. Alberione, who told Gaetano that perhaps another vocation awaited him. Gaetano followed the Lord’s voice through the guidance of that wise, holy priest.

Gaetano would hear the Lord’s summons again at age 38. “Gaetano, son of Francesco e Giuseppina, mi ami tu? Do you love me? Then leave your homeland and travel to Canada, with Giuseppina your wife, five small children and forty dollars in your pocket. Some would consider this leap of faith to be pure folly.  For Gaetano, he had all that was necessary to begin a new life in a foreign land: faith, family and a desire to make a difference.  By day he laid tracks for the railroad and by night he printed wedding invitations and business cards in his basement. Laid off from the railroad, he became the sole employee, working day and night at what would later become St. Joseph Corporation.

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“Gaetano, son of Francesco e Giuseppina, mi ami tu? Do you love me? Let your family grow… five children would become ten.  Gaetano followed the Lord once again in building a deeply Catholic, Christian family. Together  with Giuseppina they would become grandparents to 35 beautiful grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.

Still another time Gaetano heard the Lord’s call, this time through a dream in which Fr. Alberione appeared to Gaetano in the late 1990’s.  “Gaetano, son of Francesco e Giuseppina, mi ami tu? Do you love me? Then do something for mass media. You must start a television network!”  What humor the Lord has when he invites people to follow him!  A man who knew nothing about television and technology finds a priest who knows even less and together we decided to follow the Lord in this great adventure now known as Salt and Light Television. Little did I ever imagine that I, too, would be used by the Lord to help fulfill a dream and a vision passed on to an old man of 86 years who was truly evergreen!  That dream, inspired by the Lord and mediated by Blessed James Alberione, founder of the Pauline Family – five Religious Congregations, four Institutes of Consecrated Secular Life, and a Lay Association – was the wind beneath Gaetano’s wings these past 13 years.

One year ago, Gaetano heard the Lord’s call once again. “Gaetano, son of Francesco, mi ami tu? Follow me on the cross of physical suffering.” A debilitating stroke did not make him waver, even in his inability to speak and move freely. Gaetano reminded us that aging and suffering are a natural part of being human.  In a land where an insidious law of euthanasia seems to have the upper hand, and where the old and infirm are so easily put away in nursing homes and often forgotten, Gaetano was a timely and powerful reminder that our parents and grandparents, the sick, the handicapped and the dying have great value.  How blessed we all were to witness his stamina, courage, faith and love even under the guise of physical suffering over the past year! How blessed was Gaetano to receive a care that was palliative, loving, generous and compassionate! Increasingly Gaetano entered into the communion of Christ’s sufferings; he understood the truth of the words: “Someone else will fasten a belt around you.” And in this very communion with the suffering Lord, Gaetano proclaimed the Gospel with the acceptance of his suffering.

How many times have those of us close to Gaetano heard his deep regret in not fulfilling his initial dream of becoming a priest with Fr. Alberione! Several years ago Gaetano and I had a heart-to-heart talk and I told him that to some along the way, Jesus issues the invitation “Come, follow me,” but to Gaetano, he says “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” I assured Gaetano that his was one of the most priestly lives I have ever encountered. For our baptism marks us all as a priestly people.  A priestly person is one who spends himself gladly for others and lays down his life for his friends. The opposite of a priestly life is a consumer who merely buys, spends and amasses wealth and people for himself or herself.  I reminded Gaetano that Jesus never rejected his application for discipleship and ministry, but accepted it fully. For who better than Gaetano Gagliano would have enough clout and credibility to preach the Jesus story? Who better than Gaetano would be able to speak with such conviction and passion about marriage, fidelity, family life, love, charity, kindness, business ethics, hope and generosity?

Early last Thursday morning, Gaetano heard the Lord’s voice for the last time on earth. “Gaetano, son of Francesco e Giuseppina, mi ami tu? Do you love me?  Follow me.”  I am certain that Gaetano’s response was very much like Peter’s: “Lord, You know everything.  You know that I love you.”

The love of Christ was the dominant force in Gaetano’s life.  Gaetano always recognized himself as a sinner in need of God’s boundless mercy. Let us give thanks to God for the life and witness of Gaetano Gagliano. Let us thank God for the myriad of ways that we were touched by him and for the lessons we learned from him.  Let us commend him to God’s mercy and love, pray for the forgiveness of his sins, the repose of his soul, and beg the Lord to give Gaetano the crown of righteousness that awaits him because the Lord stood by him and gave him strength, so that through him, the proclamation of the Gospel was completed and many nations welcomed it because of him.

[L’amore di Cristo fu la forza dominante nella vita di Gaetano. Gaetano si è sempre riconosciuto come un peccatore bisognoso della misericordia infinita di Dio. Rendiamo grazie a Dio per la vita e la testimonianza di Gaetano Gagliano. Rendiamo grazie a Dio per la miriade di modi in cui siamo stati toccati da lui e per le lezioni che abbiamo imparato da lui. Affidiamo Gaetano alla misericordia e all’amore di Dio. Preghiamo per il perdono dei suoi peccati, il riposo della sua anima, e preghiamo il Signore di dare a Gaetano la corona di giustizia che lo attende, perché il Signore gli stava vicino e gli dava forza.  Potremo dire con fiducia che attraverso la vita e la vocazione di Gaetano Gagliano, l’annuncio del Vangelo è stato completato e molte nazioni lo hanno accolto a causa di lui.]

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Pope Francis’ Divine Mercy Mass Homily

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On Sunday, April 3, 2016, Pope Francis presided over Mass in celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday. Below you will find the full text of his address.

“Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book” (Jn 20:30). The Gospel is the book of God’s mercy, to be read and reread, because everything that Jesus said and did is an expression of the Father’s mercy. Not everything, however, was written down; the Gospel of mercy remains an open book, in which the signs of Christ’s disciples – concrete acts of love and the best witness to mercy – continue to be written. We are all called to become living writers of the Gospel, heralds of the Good News to all men and women of today. We do this by practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, which are the hallmarks of the Christian life. By means of these simple yet powerful gestures, even when unseen, we can accompany the needy, bringing God’s tenderness and consolation. Thus continues the great work of Jesus on Easter day, when he poured into the hearts of his fearful disciples the Father’s mercy, bringing them the Holy Spirit who forgives sins and bestows joy.

At the same time, the story we have just heard presents an evident contrast: there is the fear of the disciples, who gathered behind closed doors; and then there is the mission of Jesus, who sends them into the world to proclaim the message of forgiveness. This contrast may also be present in us, experienced as an interior struggle between a closed heart and the call of love to open doors closed by sin. It is a call that frees us to go out of ourselves. Christ, who for love entered through doors barred by sin, death and the powers of hell, wants to enter into each one of us to break open the locked doors of our hearts. Jesus, who by his resurrection has overcome the fear and dread which imprison us, wishes to throw open our closed doors and send us out. The path that the Risen Master shows us is a one way street, it goes in only one direction: this means that we must move beyond ourselves to witness to the healing power of love that has conquered us. We see before us a humanity that is often wounded and fearful, a humanity that bears the scars of pain and uncertainty. Before the anguished cry for mercy and peace, we hear Jesus’ inspiring invitation: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn 20:21).

In God’s mercy, all of our infirmities find healing. His mercy, in fact, does not keep a distance: it seeks to encounter all forms of poverty and to free this world of so many types of slavery. Mercy desires to reach the wounds of all, to heal them. Being apostles of mercy means touching and soothing the wounds that today afflict the bodies and souls of many of our brothers and sisters. Curing these wounds, we profess Jesus, we make him present and alive; we allow others, who touch his mercy with their own hands, to recognize him as “Lord and God” (Jn 20:28), as did the Apostle Thomas. This is the mission that he entrusts to us. So many people ask to be listened to and to be understood. The Gospel of mercy, to be proclaimed and written in our daily lives, seeks people with patient and open hearts, “good Samaritans” who understand compassion and silence before the mystery of each brother and sister. The Gospel of mercy requires generous and joyful servants, people who love freely without expecting anything in return.

“Peace be with you!” (Jn 20:21) is the greeting of Jesus to his disciples; this same peace awaits men and women of our own day. It is not a negotiated peace, it is not the absence of conflict: it is his peace, the peace that comes from the heart of the Risen Lord, the peace that has defeated sin, fear and death. It is a peace that does not divide but unites; it is a peace that does not abandon us but makes us feel listened to and loved; it is a peace that persists even in pain and enables hope to blossom. This peace, as on the day of Easter, is born ever anew by the forgiveness of God which calms our anxious hearts. To be bearers of his peace: this is the mission entrusted to the Church on Easter day. In Christ, we are born to be instruments of reconciliation, to bring the Father’s forgiveness to everyone, to reveal his loving face through concrete gestures of mercy.

In the responsorial Psalm we heard these words: “His love endures forever” (Ps 117/118:2). Truly, God’s mercy is forever; it never ends, it never runs out, it never gives up when faced with closed doors, and it never tires. In this forever we find strength in moments of trial and weakness because we are sure that God does not abandon us. He remains with us forever. Let us give thanks for so great a love, which we find impossible to grasp; it is immense! Let us pray for the grace to never grow tired of drawing from the well of the Father’s mercy and bringing it to the world. Let us ask that we too may be merciful, to spread the power of the Gospel everywhere, and to write those pages of the Gospel which John the Apostle did not write.

Pope Francis’ Homily during Divine Mercy Prayer Vigil

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At 6:00 on Saturday evening in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis presides over the Prayer Vigil with those who follow the spirituality of Divine Mercy and take part in these days of the Jubilee of Mercy celebrations. At the end of the vigil, the Pope pronounces the homily which is found below:

With joy and thanksgiving we come together to share this time of prayer that begins Mercy Sunday. It is a liturgical feast which Saint John Paul II – he left us on this day in 2005 – ardently desired as a response to the request of Sister Faustina. The testimonies offered – for which we are grateful – and the readings we have just heard provide us the light and hope needed to enter the great ocean of God’s mercy. How many are the expressions of mercy with which God encounters us? They are numerous and it is impossible to describe them all, for the mercy of God continually increases. God never tires of showing us mercy and we should never take for granted the opportunity to receive, seek and desire this mercy. It is something always new, which inspires awe and wonder as we see God’s immense creativity in the ways he comes to meet us.

God has revealed himself, on many occasions, through his name which is “merciful” (cf. Ex 34:6). How great and infinite is the nature of God, so great and infinite his mercy, to the point that it is greatly challenging to describe it in all its entirety. Through Sacred Scriptures, we find that mercy is above all the closeness of God to his people. It is a closeness expressed essentially through help and protection. It is the closeness of a father or mother reflected in the beautiful words of the prophet Hosea: “I led them with cords of compassion, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them” (11:4). A father and mother’s embrace of their child. This image is extremely evocative: God picks each one of us up and holds us to his cheek. How much tenderness and love is expressed here! Tenderness: a word almost forgotten and one which the world today needs, all of us need. I had these words of the prophet in mind when I saw the image for the Jubilee. Jesus not only carries humanity on his shoulders, but his face is so closely joined to Adam’s face that it gives the impression they are one.

We do not have a God who is incapable of understanding and sharing our weaknesses (cf. Heb 4:15). Quite the contrary! Precisely because of his mercy God became one of us: “For by his incarnation the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin” (Gaudium et Spes, 22). In Jesus, therefore, we are able not only to touch the mercy of God with our hands, but we are inspired to become instruments of his mercy. It is easy to speak of mercy, yet more difficult to become its witness. This is a path that is lifelong and which should not be interrupted. Jesus has said to us that we must be “merciful as the Father” (cf. Lk 6:36). It is a lifelong endeavour.

How many expressions there are, therefore, of God’s mercy! This mercy comes to us as closeness and tenderness, and because of this, comes also as compassion and solidarity, as consolation and forgiveness. The more we receive, the more we are called to share it with others; it cannot be kept hidden or kept only for ourselves. It is something which burns within our hearts, driving us to love, thus recognizing the face of Jesus Christ, above all in those who are most distant, weak, alone, confused and marginalized. Mercy does not remain still: it seeks out the lost sheep, and when one is found, a contagious joy overflows. Mercy knows how to look into the eyes of every person; each one is precious, for each one is unique. How much pain do we feel in our hearts when we hear: “These people… these people, these poor souls, let’s throw them out, let them sleep on the streets…”. Are these words from Jesus?

Dear brothers and sisters, mercy never allows us to feel satisfied. It is the love of Christ which makes us restless until we reach the goal; it impels us to embrace, welcome and include those who need mercy, so that all may be reconciled with the Father (cf. 2 Cor 5:14-20). We ought not to fear for it is a love which comes to us and involves us to such an extent that we go beyond ourselves, enabling us to see his face in our brothers and sisters. Let us allow ourselves to be humbly guided by this love; then we will become merciful as the Father is merciful.

We have heard the Gospel: Thomas was hard-headed. He did not believe. And he found his faith at precisely the moment he touched the wounds of the Lord. A faith that is not able to touch the Lord’s wounds, is not faith! A faith that cannot be merciful, as the Lord’s wounds were a sign of mercy, is not faith: it is an idea, an ideology. Our faith is incarnated in a God who was made man, who became sin, who was wounded for us. But if we really want to believe and have faith, we must draw near and touch those wounds, caress those wounds and even lower our head and allow others to sooth our wounds.

It is good that it is the Holy Spirit who guides us: he is love, he is the mercy that is poured into our hearts. May we not place obstacles to his life-giving work but with docility follow the path he shows us. Let us open our hearts so that the Spirit can transform us; thus forgiven, reconciled, and sheltered in our Lord’s wounds, we will become witnesses to the joy that brims over on finding the risen Lord, alive among us.

[The Holy Father imparts his Apostolic Blessing].

The other day, speaking with the directors of a charitable agency, the following idea surfaced. I thought it would be good to share it with you this evening. How beautiful it would be to have as a reminder, a “memorial” as it were, in every diocese during this Year of Mercy, an institutional expression of mercy: a hospital, a home for the elderly, for abandoned children, a school where none exists, a home for the recovery of addicts… There are so many things that could be done… It would be very good for each diocese to consider: what can we leave as a living memory, as a work of living mercy, as a wound of the living Jesus for this Year of Mercy? Let us reflect on this and speak to the Bishops about it. Thank you.

Pope Francis’ Easter “Urbi et Orbi” Adddress

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At 10 am today, Easter Sunday and the Resurrection of the Lord, the Holy Father Pope Francis presides in Saint Peter’s Square at the solemn celebration of the Mass of the day. At the celebration, which begins with the ritual of “Resurrexit,” faithful of Rome and pilgrims from all over the world particpate in this mass on the occasion of Easter. At this mass, the Pope does not give a homily.  At the end of mass, Pope Francis delivers his “Urbi et Orbi  blessing and Easter Message to the Church and the world.

“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures for ever” (Ps 135:1)

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Happy Easter!

Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God’s mercy, out of love for us, died on the cross, and out of love he rose again from the dead. That is why we proclaim today: Jesus is Lord!

His resurrection fulfils the prophecy of the Psalm: God’s mercy endures for ever; it never dies. We can trust him completely, and we thank him because for our sake he descended into the depths of the abyss.

Before the spiritual and moral abysses of mankind, before the chasms that open up in hearts and provoke hatred and death, only an infinite mercy can bring us salvation. Only God can fill those chasms with his love, prevent us from falling into them and help us to continue our journey together towards the land of freedom and life.

The glorious Easter message, that Jesus, who was crucified is not here but risen (cf. Mt 28:5- 6), offers us the comforting assurance that the abyss of death has been bridged and, with it, all mourning, lamentation and pain (cf. Rev 21:4). The Lord, who suffered abandonment by his disciples, the burden of an unjust condemnation and shame of an ignominious death, now makes us sharers of his immortal life and enables us to see with his eyes of love and compassion those who hunger and thirst, strangers and prisoners, the marginalized and the outcast, the victims of oppression and violence. Our world is full of persons suffering in body and spirit, even as the daily news is full of stories of brutal crimes which often take place within homes, and large-scale armed conflicts which cause indescribable suffering to entire peoples.

The risen Christ points out paths of hope to beloved Syria, a country torn by a lengthy conflict, with its sad wake of destruction, death, contempt for humanitarian law and the breakdown of civil concord. To the power of the risen Lord we entrust the talks now in course, that good will and the cooperation of all will bear fruit in peace and initiate the building of a fraternal society respectful of the dignity and rights of each citizen. May the message of life, proclaimed by the Angel beside the overturned stone of the tomb, overcome hardened hearts and promote a fruitful encounter of peoples and cultures in other areas of the Mediterranean and the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, Yemen and Libya. May the image of the new man, shining on the face of Christ, favour concord between Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land, as well as patience, openness and daily commitment to laying the foundations of a just and lasting peace through direct and sincere negotiations. May the Lord of life also accompany efforts to attain a definitive solution to the war in Ukraine, inspiring and sustaining initiatives of humanitarian aid, including the liberation of those who are detained.

The Lord Jesus, our peace (Eph 2:14), by his resurrection triumphed over evil and sin. May he draw us closer on this Easter feast to the victims of terrorism, that blind and brutal form of violence which continues to shed blood in different parts of the world, as in the recent attacks in Belgium, Turkey, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Côte d’Ivoire. May he water the seeds of hope and prospects for peace in Africa; I think in particular of Burundi, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, marked by political and social tensions.

With the weapons of love, God has defeated selfishness and death. His son Jesus is the door of mercy wide open to all. May his Easter message be felt ever more powerfully by the beloved people of Venezuela in the difficult conditions which they are experiencing, and by those responsible for the country’s future, that everyone may work for the common good, seeking spaces of dialogue and cooperation with all. May efforts be made everywhere to promote the culture of counter, justice and reciprocal respect, which alone can guarantee the spiritual and material welfare of all people.

The Easter message of the risen Christ, a message of life for all humanity, echoes down the ages and invites us not to forget those men and women seeking a better future, an ever more numerous throng of migrants and refugees – including many children – fleeing from war, hunger, poverty and social injustice. All too often, these brothers and sisters of ours meet along the way with death or, in any event, rejection by those who could offer them welcome and assistance. May the forthcoming World Humanitarian Summit not fail to be centred on the human person and his or her dignity, and to come up with policies capable of assisting and protecting the victims of conflicts and other emergencies, especially those who are most vulnerable and all those persecuted for ethnic and religious reasons.

On this glorious day, “let the earth rejoice, in shining splendour” (cf. Easter Proclamation), even though it is so often mistreated and greedily exploited, resulting in an alteration of natural equilibria. I think especially of those areas affected by climate change, which not infrequently causes drought or violent flooding, which then lead to food crises in different parts of the world.

Along with our brothers and sisters persecuted for their faith and their fidelity to the name of Christ, and before the evil that seems to have the upper hand in the life of so many people, let us hear once again the comforting words of the Lord: “Take courage; I have conquered the world! (Jn 16:33). Today is the radiant day of this victory, for Christ has trampled death and destruction underfoot. By his resurrection he has brought life and immortality to light (cf. 2 Tim 1:10). “He has made us pass from enslavement to freedom, from sadness to joy, from mourning to jubilation, from darkness to light, from slavery to redemption. Therefore let us acclaim in his presence: Alleluia!” (Melito of Sardis, Easter Homily).

To those in our society who have lost all hope and joy in life, to the elderly who struggle alone and feel their strength waning, to young people who seem to have no future, to all I once more address the words of the Risen One: “See, I am making all things new… To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life” (Rev 21:5-6). May this comforting message of Jesus help each of us to set out anew with greater courage to blaze trails of reconciliation with God and with all our brothers and sisters.

Good Friday Service – Homily by Fr. Cantalamessa

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“BE RECONCILED TO GOD”

God . . . through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. . . . We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation.” Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation! (2 Cor 5:18–6:2)

These words are from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. The apostle’s call to be reconciled to God does not refer to the historical reconciliation between God and humanity (which, as we just heard, already occurred “through Christ” on the cross); neither does it refer to the sacramental reconciliation that takes place in Baptism and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It refers to an existential and personal reconciliation that needs to be implemented in the present. The call is addressed to baptized Christians in Corinth who belonged to the Church for a while, so it is therefore also addressed to us here and now. “The acceptable time, the day of salvation” for us, is the Year of Mercy that we are now in.

But what does this reconciliation with God mean in its existential and psychological dimension? One of the causes, and perhaps the main one, for people’s alienation from religion and faith today is the distorted image they have of God. What is the “predefined” idea of God in the collective human unconscious? To find that out, we only need to ask this question: “What ideas, what words, what feelings spontaneously arise in you without thinking about it when you say the words in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘May your will be done’”?

People generally say it with their heads bent down in resignation inwardly, preparing themselves for the worst. People unconsciously link God’s will to everything that is unpleasant and painful, to what can be seen as somehow destroying individual freedom and development. It is somewhat as though God were the enemy of every celebration, joy, and pleasure—a severe inquisitor-God.

God is seen as the Supreme Being, the Omnipotent One, the Lord of time and history, that is, as an entity who asserts himself over an individual from the outside; no detail of human life escapes him. The transgression of his law inexorably introduces a disorder that requires a commensurate reparation that human beings know they are not able to make. This is the cause of fear and at times hidden resentment against God. It is a vestige of the pagan idea of God that has never been entirely eradicated, and perhaps cannot be eradicated, from the human heart. Greek tragedy is based on this concept: God is the one who intervenes with divine punishment to reestablish the order disrupted by evil.

Of course in Christianity the mercy of God has never been disregarded! But mercy’s task is only to moderate the necessary rigors of justice. It was the exception, not the rule. The Year of Mercy is a golden opportunity to restore the true image of the biblical God who not only has mercy but is mercy.

This bold assertion is based on the fact that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8, 16). It is only in the Trinity, however, that God is love without being mercy. The Father loving the Son is not a grace or a concession, it is a necessity; the Father needs to love in order to exist as Father. The Son loving the Father is not a mercy or grace; it is a necessity even though it occurs with the utmost freedom; the Son needs to be loved and to love in order to be the Son. The same can be said about the Holy Spirit who is love as a person.

It is when God creates the world and free human beings in it that love ceases for God to be nature and becomes grace. This love is a free concession; it is hesed, grace and mercy. The sin of human beings does not change the nature of this love but causes it to make a qualitative leap: mercy as a gift now becomes mercy as forgiveness. Love goes from being a simple gift to become a suffering love because God suffers when his love is rejected. “The LORD has spoken: ‘Sons have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me’” (Is 1:2). Just ask the many fathers and mothers who have experienced their children’s rejection if it does not cause suffering—and one of the most intense sufferings in life.

* * *

But what about the justice of God? Has it been forgotten or underestimated? St. Paul answered this question once and for all. The apostle begins his explanation in the Letter to the Romans with this news: “Now the righteousness of God has been manifested” (Rom 3:21). We can ask, what kind of righteousness is this? Is it the righteousness that gives “unicuique suum,” each person his or her due, and distributes rewards and punishments according to people’s merits? There will of course come a time when this kind of divine righteous justice that gives people what they deserve will also be manifested. The apostle in fact wrote shortly before in Romans that

God will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. (2:6- 8)

But Paul is not talking about this kind of justice when he writes, “Now the righteousness of God has been manifested.” The first kind of justice he talks about involves a future event, but this other event is occurring “now.” If that were not the case, Paul’s statement would be an absurd assertion that contradicts the facts. From the point of view of distributive justice, nothing changed in the world with the coming of Christ. We continue, said Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, to see the guilty often on the throne and the innocent on the scaffold. But lest we think there is some kind of justice and some fixed order in the world, although it is upside down, sometimes the reverse happens and the innocent are on the throne and the guilty on the scaffold.1 It is not, therefore, in this social and historical sense that the innovation brought by Christ consists. Let us hear what the apostle says:

Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus. (Rom 3:23-26)

God shows his righteousness and justice by having mercy! This is the great revelation. The apostle says God is “just and justifying,” that is, he is just to himself when he justifies human beings; he is in fact love and mercy, so for that reason he is just to himself—he truly demonstrates who he is— when he has mercy.

But we cannot understand any of this if we do not know exactly what the expression “the righteousness of God” means. There is a danger that people can hear about the righteousness of God but not understand its meaning, so instead of being encouraged they are frightened. St. Augustine had already clearly explained its meaning centuries ago: “The ‘righteousness of God’ is that by which we are made righteous, just as ‘the salvation of God’ [see Ps 3:8] means the salvation by which he saves us.”2 In other words, the righteousness of God is that by which God makes those who believe in his Son Jesus acceptable to him. It does not enact justice but makes people just.

Luther deserves the credit for bringing this truth back when its meaning had been lost over the centuries, at least in Christian preaching, and it is this above all for which Christianity is indebted to the Reformation, whose fifth centenary occurs next year. The reformer later wrote that when he discovered this, “I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.”3 But it was neither Augustine nor Luther who explained the concept of “the righteousness of God” this way; Scripture had done that before they did:

When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy” (Titus 3:4-5). God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our own trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. (see Eph 2:4-5).

Therefore, to say “the righteousness of God has been manifested” is like saying that God’s goodness, his love, his mercy, has been revealed. God’s justice not only does not contradict his mercy but consists precisely in mercy!

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What happened on the cross that was so important as to explain this radical change in the fate of humanity? In his book on Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict XVI wrote, “That which is wrong, the reality of evil, cannot simply be ignored; it cannot just be left to stand. It must be dealt with; it must be overcome. Only this counts as a true mercy. And the fact that God now confronts evil himself because men are incapable of doing so—therein lies the ‘unconditional’ goodness of God.”4

God was not satisfied with merely forgiving people’s sins; he did infinitely more than that: he took those sins upon himself, he shouldered them himself. The Son of God, says Paul, “became sin for us.” What a shocking statement! In the Middle Ages some people found it difficult to believe that God would require the death of his Son in order to reconcile the world to himself. St. Bernard responded to this by saying, “What pleased God was not Christ’s death but his will in dying of his own accord”: “Non mors placuit sed voluntas sponte morientis.”5 It was not death, then, but love that saved us!

The love of God reached human beings at the farthest point to which they were driven in their flight from him, death itself. The death of Christ needed to demonstrate to everyone the supreme proof of God’s mercy toward sinners. That is why his death does not even have the dignity of a certain privacy but is framed between the death of two thieves. He wants to remain a friend to sinners right up to the end, so he dies like them and with them.

* * *

It is time for us to realize that the opposite of mercy is not justice but vengeance. Jesus did not oppose mercy to justice but to the law of retaliation: “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Ex 21:24). In forgiving sinners God is renouncing not justice but vengeance; he does not desire the death of a sinner but wants the sinner to convert and live (see Ez 18:23). On the cross Jesus did not ask his Father for vengeance.

The hate and the brutality of the terrorist attacks this week in Brussels help us to understand the divine power of Christ’s last words: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:24). No matter how far the hate of human beings can go, the love of God always has been, and will be, greater. In these current circumstances Paul’s exhortation is addressed to us: “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21).

We need to demythologize vengeance! It has become a pervasive mythic theme that infects everything and everybody, starting with children. A large number of the stories we see on the screen and in video games are stories of revenge, passed off at times as the victory of a good hero. Half, if not more, of the suffering in the world (apart from natural disasters and illnesses) come from the desire for revenge, whether in personal relationships or between states and nations.

It has been said that “Beauty will save the world.”6 But beauty, as we know very well, can also lead to ruin. There is only one thing that can truly save the world, mercy! The mercy of God for human beings and the mercy of human beings for each other. In particular, it can save the most precious and fragile thing in the world at this time, marriage and the family.

Something similar happens in marriage to what happened in God’s relationship with humanity that the Bible in fact describes with the image of a wedding. In the very beginning, as I said, there was love, not mercy. Mercy comes in only after humanity’s sin. So too in marriage, in the beginning there is not mercy but love. People do not get married because of mercy but because of love. But then after years or even months of life together, the limitations of each spouse emerge, and problems with health, finance, and the children arise. A routine sets in that quenches all joy.

What can save a marriage from going downhill without any hope of coming back up again is mercy, understood in the biblical sense, that is, not just reciprocal forgiveness but spouses acting with “compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness and patience” (Col 3:12). Mercy adds agape to eros, it adds the love that gives of oneself and has compassion to the love of need and desire. God “takes pity” on human beings (see Ps 102:13). Shouldn’t a husband and wife, then, take pity on each other? And those of us who live in community, shouldn’t we take pity on one another instead of judging one another?

Let us pray. Heavenly Father, by the merits of your Son on the cross who “became sin for us” (see 2 Cor 5:21), remove any desire for vengeance from the hearts of individuals, families, and nations, and make us fall in love with mercy. Let the Holy Father’s intention in proclaiming this Year of Mercy be met with a concrete response in our lives, and let everyone experience the joy of being reconciled with you in the depth of the heart. Amen!

Pope Francis’ Homily at Mass of the Lord’s Supper in Refugee Centre

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Pope Francis celebrated the Missa in coena Domini – the Mass of the Lord’s Supper – on Thursday, leading the Church of Rome into the sacred Paschal Triduum that culminates in the great Easter Vigil in the night between Holy Saturday and Resurrection Sunday. This year, the Holy Father celebrated the Lord’s Supper at a temporary welcome and living facility for refugees and asylum-seekers located on the outskirts of Rome.

English language working translation by Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

The gestures speak louder than pictures and words. The gestures… There are, in the Word of God that we read, two gestures: Jesus serving, washing the feet… He, who was the “head”, washing the feet of others, they were his own, even the smallest of them all. A gesture. The second gesture: Judas who goes with the enemies of Jesus, to those who do not want peace with Jesus, to take the money with which they betrayed him, the 30 pieces of silver. Two gestures. Even today, here, there are two gestures: the first – all of us together: Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Copts, Evangelicals but all brothers and children of the same God: we want to live together in peace. One gesture. Three days ago, an act of war, of destruction in a European city, by people who do not want to live in peace. But behind that gesture, just as behind Judas, there were others. Behind Judas there were those who gave the money so that Jesus would be handed over. Behind “that” gesture, there are manufacturers, arms dealers who want blood, not peace; they want war, not brotherhood. Two gestures, the same: Jesus washes the feet;  Judas sold Jesus for money. You, we, all together, different religions, different cultures, but children of the same Father, brothers. And there, those poor people who buy weapons to destroy brotherhood. Today, at this moment when I will perform the same action of Jesus washing the feet of twelve of you, all of us are performing a gesture of brotherhood, and we all say: “We are different, we are different, we have different cultures and religions, but we are brothers and we want to live in peace”. And this is the gesture that I perform with you. Each of us has a story within us. So many crosses, so many sorrows, but we also have a heart open to brotherhood. May each one of us in our own religious language, beg the Lord that this brotherhood be contagious in the world, so that there are not 30 coins to kill our brother, so that there will always be brotherhood and goodness. So be it.

Even at the height of his annihilation, Jesus reveals the true face of God, which is mercy

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Pope Francis’ Homily on Palm Sunday in St. Peter’s Square

At 9:30 this morning, Pope Francis presided at the solemn liturgical celebration of Palm Sunday and the Passion of the Lord in St. Peter’s Square. At the center of the square, near the obelisk, the Pope blessed the palms and olive branches and at the end of the procession through the square arrived at the altar where celebrated Holy Mass of the Lord’s Passion. As a prelude to the World Youth Day in 2016 that will take place from July 26 to 31 in Krakow, Poland, young people of Rome and other dioceses took part in the celebration on the occasion of the diocesan celebration of the XXXI World Youth Day on the theme: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Mt 5,7).  Following the proclamation of the Passion of Luke’s Gospel Pope Francis gave the following homily:

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (cf. Lk 19:38), the crowd of Jerusalem exclaimed joyfully as they welcomed Jesus. We have made that enthusiasm our own: by waving our olive and palm branches we have expressed our praise and our joy, our desire to receive Jesus who comes to us. Just as he entered Jerusalem, so he desires to enter our cities and our lives. As he did in the Gospel, riding on a donkey, so too he comes to us in humility; he comes “in the name of the Lord”.

Through the power of his divine love he forgives our sins and reconciles us to the Father and with ourselves. Jesus is pleased with the crowd’s showing their affection for him. When the Pharisees ask him to silence the children and the others who are acclaiming him, he responds: “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Lk 19:40). Nothing could dampen their enthusiasm for Jesus’ entry. May nothing prevent us from finding in him the source of our joy, true joy, which abides and brings peace; for it is Jesus alone who saves us from the snares of sin, death, fear and sadness.

Today’s liturgy teaches us that the Lord has not saved us by his triumphal entry or by means of powerful miracles. The Apostle Paul, in the second reading, epitomizes in two verbs the path of redemption: Jesus “emptied” and “humbled” himself (Phil 2:7-8). These two verbs show the boundlessness of God’s love for us. Jesus emptied himself: he did not cling to the glory that was his as the Son of God, but became the Son of man in order to be in solidarity with us sinners in all things; yet he was without sin. Even more, he lived among us in “the condition of a servant” (v. 7); not of a king or a prince, but of a servant. Therefore he humbled himself, and the abyss of his humiliation, as Holy Week shows us, seems to be bottomless.

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The first sign of this love “without end” (Jn 13:1) is the washing of the feet. “The Lord and Master” (Jn 13:14) stoops to his disciples’ feet, as only servants would have done. He shows us by example that we need to allow his love to reach us, a love which bends down to us; we cannot do any less, we cannot love without letting ourselves be loved by him first, without experiencing his surprising tenderness and without accepting that true love consists in concrete service. But this is only the beginning. The humiliation of Jesus reaches its utmost in the Passion: he is sold for thirty pieces of silver and betrayed by the kiss of a disciple whom he had chosen and called his friend. Nearly all the others flee and abandon him; Peter denies him three times in the courtyard of the temple. Humiliated in his spirit by mockery, insults and spitting, he suffers in his body terrible brutality: the blows, the scourging and the crown of thorns make his face unrecognizable.

He also experiences shame and disgraceful condemnation by religious and political authorities: he is made into sin and considered to be unjust. Pilate then sends him to Herod, who in turn sends him to the Roman governor. Even as every form of justice is denied to him, Jesus also experiences in his own flesh indifference, since no one wishes to take responsibility for his fate. The crowd, who just a little earlier had acclaimed him, now changes their praise into a cry of accusation, even to the point of preferring that a murderer be released in his place. And so the hour of death on the cross arrives, that most painful form of shame reserved for traitors, slaves and the worst kind of criminals. But isolation, defamation and pain are not yet the full extent of his deprivation.

To be totally in solidarity with us, he also experiences on the Cross the mysterious abandonment of the Father. In his abandonment, however, he prays and entrusts himself: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Lk 23:47). Hanging from the wood of the cross, beside derision he now confronts the last temptation: to come down from the Cross, to conquer evil by might and to show the face of a powerful and invincible God. Jesus, however, even here at the height of his annihilation, reveals the true face of God, which is mercy.

Man of sorrows

He forgives those who are crucifying him, he opens the gates of paradise to the repentant thief and he touches the heart of the centurion. If the mystery of evil is unfathomable, then the reality of Love poured out through him is infinite, reaching even to the tomb and to hell. He takes upon himself all our pain that he may redeem it, bringing light to darkness, life to death, love to hatred. God’s way of acting may seem so far removed from our own, that he was annihilated for our sake, while it seems difficult for us to even forget ourselves a little. He comes to save us; we are called to choose his way: the way of service, of giving, of forgetfulness of ourselves.

Let us walk this path, pausing in these days to gaze upon the Crucifix, the “royal seat of God”, to learn about the humble love which saves and gives life, so that we may give up all selfishness, and the seeking of power and fame. By humbling himself, Jesus invites us to walk on his path. Let us turn our faces to him, let us ask for the grace to understand something of the mystery of his obliteration for our sake; and then, in silence, let us contemplate the mystery of this Week.

Pope In Mexico: Homily at Ecatepec Study Centre

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On Sunday, February 14, 2016, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the Ecatepec Study Centre during the second day of his Apsotolic Visit to Mexico. Below you can find the full text of his prepared homily:

Homily of Pope Francis
Holy Mass at the Ecatepec Study Centre
Sunday 14 February 2016

Last Wednesday we began the liturgical season of Lent, during which the Church invites us to prepare ourselves to celebrate the great feast of Easter.  This is a special time for recalling the gift of our baptism, when we became children of God.  The Church invites us to renew the gift she has given us, to not let this gift lie dormant as if it were something from the past or locked away in some “memory chest”.  Lent is a good time to recover the joy and hope that make us feel beloved sons and daughters of the Father.  The Father who waits for us in order to cast off our garments of exhaustion, of apathy, of mistrust, and so clothe us with the dignity which only a true father or mother knows how to give their children, with the garments born of tenderness and love.

Our Father, he is the Father of a great family; he is our Father.  He knows that he has a unique love, but he does not know how to bear or raise an “only child”.  He is the God of the home, of brotherhood, of bread broken and shared.  He is the God who is “Our Father”, not “my father” or “your stepfather”.

God’s dream makes its home and lives in each one of us so that at every Easter, in every Eucharist we celebrate, we may be the children of God.  It is a dream which so many of our brothers and sisters have had through history.  A dream witnessed to by the blood of so many martyrs, both from long ago and from now.

Lent is a time of conversion, of daily experiencing in our lives of how this dream is continually threatened by the father of lies, by the one who tries to separate us, making a divided and fractious society.  A society of the few, and for the few.  How often we experience in our own lives, or in our own families, among our friends or neighbours, the pain which arises when the dignity we carry within is not recognized.  How many times have we had to cry and regret on realizing that we have not acknowledged this dignity in others.  How often – and it pains me to say it – have we been blind and impervious in failing to recognize our own and others’ dignity.

Lent is a time for reconsidering our feelings, for letting our eyes be opened to the frequent injustices which stand in direct opposition to the dream and the plan of God.  It is a time to unmask three great temptations that wear down and fracture the image which God wanted to form in us:

There are three temptations of Christ… three temptations for the Christian, which seek to destroy what we have been called to be;  three temptations which try to corrode us and tear us down.

Wealth: seizing hold of goods destined for all, and using them only for “my own people”.  That is, taking the “bread” based on the toil of others, or even at the expense of their very lives.  That wealth which tastes of pain, bitterness and suffering.  This is the bread that a corrupt family or society gives its own children.

Vanity: the pursuit of prestige based on continuous, relentless exclusion of those who “are not like me”.  The futile chasing of those five minutes of fame which do not forgive the “reputation” of others.  “Making firewood from a felled tree” gives way to the third temptation:

Pride: or rather, putting oneself on a higher level than one truly is on, feeling that one does not share the life of “mere mortals”, and yet being one who prays every day: “I thank you Lord that you have not made me like those others…”.

Three temptations of Christ… Three temptations which the Christian is faced with daily.  Three temptations which seek to corrode, destroy and extinguish the joy and freshness of the Gospel.  Three temptations which lock us into a cycle of destruction and sin.

And so it is worth asking ourselves:

To what degree are we aware of these temptations in our lives, in our very selves?

How much have we become accustomed to a lifestyle where we think that our source and life force lies only in wealth?

To what point do we feel that caring about others, our concern and work for bread, for the good name and dignity of others, are wellsprings of happiness and hope?

We have chosen Jesus, not the evil one; we want to follow in his footsteps, even though we know that this is not easy.  We know what it means to be seduced by money, fame and power.  For this reason, the Church gives us the gift of this Lenten season, invites us to conversion, offering but one certainty: he is waiting for us and wants to heal our hearts of all that tears us down.  He is the God who has a name: Mercy.  His name is our wealth, his name is what makes us famous, his name is our power and in his name we say once more with the Psalm: “You are my God and in you I trust”.  Let us repeat these words together: “You are my God and in you I trust”.

In this Eucharist, may the Holy Spirit renew in us the certainty that his name is Mercy, and may he let us experience each day that “the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus…”, knowing that “with Christ and in Christ joy is constantly born anew” (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 1).

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Pope Francis at Ecumenical Vespers Homily: Walk the way of unity

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Pope Francis asked for ‘mercy and forgiveness’ for the way Christians have behaved towards each other, saying we cannot let the weight of past faults continue to contaminate our relationships. The Pope’s words came in his homily at an ecumenical celebration of Vespers on Monday evening in the Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls marking the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In his prepared remarks, the Holy Father focused on the need for divided Christian communities to walk together in the way of the Lord, in the knowledge that unity is a gift of heaven and in the understanding that all service rendered to the cause of the one Gospel builds up the one true Church and gives glory to the one Lord, Jesus Christ.

“While we journey together toward full communion,” said Pope Francis, “we can begin already to develop many forms of cooperation in order to favor the spread of the Gospel – and walking together, we become aware that we are already united in the name of the Lord.”

Pope Francis placed his reflections in the key of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, saying that as Bishop of Rome, he wanted “to ask for forgiveness for the behaviour of Catholics towards Christians of other Churches” which has not reflected Gospel values. At the same time, he said, “I invite all Catholics to forgive if they – today or in the past – have been offended by other Christians”. “In this extraordinary Jubilee year of mercy, we must always keep in mind that there cannot be an authentic search for Christian unity without trusting fully in the Father’s mercy,” he said. “God’s mercy,” the Pope said, “will renew our relationships.”

Pope Francis told representatives of the other Christian Churches and communities present in the Basilica that we can make progress on the path to full visible communion “not only when we come closer to each other, but above all as we convert ourselves to the Lord”. At the start of Vespers, the Pope invited Orthodox Metropolitan Gennadios, representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and Anglican Archbishop David Moxon to walk with him through the Holy Door of the Basilica, while at the end of the celebration he invited them to join him in giving the final blessing.

Text courtesy of Vatican Radio.

Pope Francis’ Homily for Christian Unity Vespers

Pope Francis delivered the homily at the closing Vespers of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in the Basilica of St. Paul “Outside the Walls” in Rome on Monday evening. Below, please find Vatican Radio’s full English translation of the Holy Father’s prepared remarks.

“I am the least of the Apostles … because I persecuted the Church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace in me was not without effect.” That’s how the Apostle Paul sums up the significance of his conversion. Coming after his dramatic encounter with the Risen Christ on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus, it is not primarily a moral conversion but rather an transforming experience of the grace of Christ, and at the same time, a call to the new mission of announcing to everyone the Jesus that he previously persecuted by persecuting the disciples of Christ. At that moment, in fact, Paul understands that there is a real and transcendent union between the eternally living Christ and his followers: Jesus lives and is present in them and they live in him. The vocation to be an Apostle is founded not on Paul’s human merits, which he considers to be ‘the least’ and ‘unworthy’, but rather on the infinite goodness of God who chose him and entrusted him with his ministry.

St Paul also bears witness to a similar understanding of what happened on the road to Damascus in his first letter to Timothy: I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” The overflowing mercy of God is the sole reason upon which Paul’s ministry is based and at the same time it is that which the Apostle must announce to the everyone.

The experience of St Paul is similar to that of the community to which the Apostle Peter writes his first letter. St Peter is writing to members of small and fragile communities, exposed to threats of persecution, and he applies to them the glorious titles attributed to the holy people of God: a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession. For those first Christians, like today for all of us baptized Christians, it is a source of comfort and of constant amazement to know that we have been chosen to be part of God’s plan of salvation, put into effect through Jesus Christ and through the Church. “Why Lord? Why me? Why is it us?” Here we touch the mystery of mercy and of God’s choice. The Father loves us all and wants to save us all, and for this reason He calls some people conquering them through His grace, so that through them His love can reach all people. The mission of the whole people of God is to announce the marvelous works of the Lord, first and foremost the Pasqual mystery of Christ, through which we have passed from the darkness of sin and death to the splendor of His new and eternal life.

In light of the Word of God which we have been listening to, and which has guided us during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we can truly affirm that all of us, believers in Christ, have been called to proclaim the mighty works of God. Beyond the differences which still separate us, we recognise with joy that at the origin of our Christian  life there is always a call from God Himself. We can make progress on the path to full visible communion between us Christians not only when we come closer to each other, but above all as we convert ourselves to the Lord, who through His grace, chooses and calls us to be His disciples. And converting ourselves means letting the Lord live and work in us. For this reason, when Christians of different Churches listen to the Word of God together and seek to put it into practice, they make important steps towards unity.it is not only the call which unites us, but we also share the same mission to proclaim to all the marvelous works of God. Like St Paul, and like the people to whom St Peter is writing, we too cannot fail to announce God’s merciful love which has conquered and transformed us. While we are moving towards full communion among Christians, we can already develop many forms of cooperation to aid the spread of the Gospel.  By walking and working together, we realise that we are already united in the name of the Lord.

In this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, we must always keep in mind that there cannot be an authentic search for Christian unity without trusting fully in the Father’s mercy. We ask first of all for forgiveness for the sins of our divisions, which are an open wound in the Body of Christ. As Bishop of Rome and pastor of the Catholic Church, I want to ask for mercy and forgiveness for the behavior of Catholics towards Christians of other Churches which has not reflected Gospel values. At the same time, I invite all Catholic brothers and sisters to forgive if they, today or in the past, have been offended by other Christians. We cannot cancel out what has happened, but we do not want to let the weight of past faults continue to contaminate our relationships. God’s mercy will renew our relationships.

In this atmosphere of intense prayer, I extend fraternal greetings to his Eminence Metropolitan Gennadios, representing the Ecumenical Patriarch, to His Grace David Moxon, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s personal representative in Rome, and all the representatives of the other Churches and ecclesial communities who are gathered here this evening. With them we walked through the Holy Door of this Basilica to remind ourselves that the only door which leads to salvation is Jesus Christ our Lord, the merciful face of the Father. I cordially greet also the young Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox students who are here in Rome with the support of the Committee for Cultural Collaboration with the orthodox churches, working through the Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, as well as the students from the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey who are visiting Rome to deepen their knowledge of the Catholic Church.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us unite ourselves with the prayer that Jesus Christ prayed to his Father: “May they be one, so that the world may believe”. Unity is the gift of mercy from God the Father. In front of the tomb of St Paul, the apostle and martyr, kept here in this splendid Basilica, we feel that our humble request is sustained by the intercession of the multitudes of Christian martyrs, past and present. They replied generously to the call of the Lord, they gave faithful witness with their lives to the wonderful works that God has done for us and they already enjoy full communion in the presence of God the Father. Sustained by their example and comforted by their intercessions, we make our humble prayer to God.

Connect5: Archbishop Arthur Roche on the new Homiletic Directory and good preaching

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The foremost English-speaker in the Vatican’s Congregation for Worship examines the latest preaching tool for the Catholic Church.


How are you going to spend the next five minutes of your time?  You could browse social media or check your email, but how about meeting a fascinating person and learning something relevant that will broaden your perspective?  Sit down with host Sebastian Gomes and his various guests, and go straight to the heart of the matter.  It will be five minutes well spent…

Connect5 airs on our network every Friday at 8:25 pm ET, immediately following Vatican Connections. Catch a new episode of Connect5 online every Wednesday.